Scene Change, Please
Some extended weekend trips that get you out of Texas, in spirit if not in fact.
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SUMMER IS THE HIGH SEASON for baseball, three months with the children, and yardwork, all corporal punishment of the severest sort. Also, it’s a time to spread out the maps and feverishly plot The Getaway.
Instead of the usual two-week trip ordeal, we suggest breaking up the summer monotony by taking several shorter trips of four or five days. By September, the whole thing will seem like a long nap between delightful play periods.
LOUISIANA CAJUN COUNTRY
Nowhere in the continental United States can you change cultures quite so dramatically and quickly as by traveling east of Beaumont into Southwestern Louisiana and the milieu of the Acadian French.
One hundred miles east of the Texas-Louisiana border via I.H. 10 begins the region where in 1765 French Acadians exiled from Nova Scotia found refuge. Beginning at Lafayette and extending south and east along U.S. 90 to New Orleans, the Cajun French influence dominates every aspect of life.
Lafayette, the “City of Flowers,” is the urban gateway of the Cajun country and your tour should begin here. Then follow U.S. 90 south and east along famous Bayou Teche, taking an occasional side trip to visit the unique and historical cities of this region:
Lafayette. I.H. 10, 105 miles east of Texas. Home of Evangeline Downs, a beautiful racetrack which is open Thursday, Friday, and Saturday from April through mid-September. The grandstand, club house and box seats are air conditioned. A substantial rival to New Orleans for excellent Cajun restaurants. You should try a mixture of redfish, shrimp, oysters, cooked in white wine, poured over rice known as Court Bouillon (pronounced Coob yon) at Don’s Seafood and Steakhouse or the Cafe Normandie. Home of the University of Southwestern Louisiana and headquarters for over 300 petroleum companies, Lafayette combines the modern Louisiana of 1973 with the historical ambience of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.
Breaux Bridge. Ten miles east of Lafayette on I.H. 10. “Crawfish capital of the World,” it says in French over one of the bridges crossing the Teche.
On the menus in Breaux Bridge, they are served up stewed, pied, pattied, boiled and fried. Try this delicacy at Mim’s in Breaux Bridge.
Last March a major segment of I.H. 10 from Lafayette to Grosse Tete near Baton Rouge was opened. If you are going on to New Orleans through Baton Rouge, you can cut 45 minutes off your traveling time and see the beautiful Atchafalaya swamp wilderness region.
St. Martinville. Fifteen miles south of Breaux Bridge on State Highway 31. The center of the famous Evangeline region. Behind St. Martin of Tours Church (built in 1765) is the grave of Emmaline Libiche, the heroine of Longfellow’s tragic poem of disappointed love. A few squares away is the beautiful Evangeline Oak and across the Bayou, Longfellow-Evangeline State Park. Picnic shelters, barbecue grills, tables and tent and trailer camping areas are available. There is an Acadian House Museum, built in 1765, and a nearby craft shop. In St. Martinville, try the excellent Acadian pastries at the bakery (open 24 hours a day) on the square across from St. Martin’s Church.
New Iberia. Eight miles south of St. Martinville on U.S. 90. Although settled by 300 Spaniards in the eighteenth century, nothing Spanish remains except on Iberia Street, crossing Main where the street sign is in the founder’s language. The beautiful ante-bellum mansion, “The Shadows,” is open every day except Christmas from 9 to 4:30. Hotel Frederick is the place to eat. Try the Crawfish Etouffe (chicken and crawfish fat, celery, onions and onion tips, bell peppers, worcestershire and tabasco sauces).
Seven miles southwest of New Iberia on Highway 675 and 14 is Rip Van Winkle Gardens, a beautiful collection of plants and tropical foliage from all over the world. It is open all year round from 9 to 5.
Avery Island. South of New Iberia seven miles on State Highway 83. A 4,000-acre salt dome known as an island because it thrusts 196 feet out of the salt marshes. It was the Confederates’ only source of salt and today is leased by the International Salt company. Across the road is the world famous McIlhenny Company, home of the bottles of fiery Tabasco sauce derived from special peppers grown on the island. Tours of the plant are welcome.
Delcambre. Several miles southeast of New Iberia. Small fishing villages on Bayou Carlin where each August the Blessing of the Shrimp Fleet takes place with a three-day carnival.
Cypremort Campground. A beautiful campground and recreational area, 16 miles southeast of New Iberia on State Highway 319. Three hundred camp and trailer sites with electricity, rest rooms and showers, grocery stores. Located in the heart of the Bayou region, it offers, within walking distance, a combination of the best salt and fresh water fishing in southwest Louisiana. The surrounding Vermillion and Cote Blanche bays are ideal for skiing, swimming and boating. Charge to camp is $3 a car per day.
Fifth Annual New Orleans Food Festival. Should you continue east on U.S. 90 to New Orleans, don’t pass this up. The Crescent City is world famous for its food; here is the opportunity to try shrimp remoulade and crabmeat; stuffed red snapper, flounder, speckled trout; pompano en papillote, tangy shrimp creole on plump pellets of Louisiana rice; crawfish bisque, a soup full of crawfish heads stuffed with meat of the tails. From June 29 through July 1 at the Marriott Hotel and the Rivergate Exhibition Center. Admittance is 50¢: advance ticket books for all three days can be purchased for $2.50 by writing Box 2410, New Orleans, La. 70116.
GUADALUPE MOUNTAINS NATIONAL PARK
We really travel to try to get a grip on the sense of place; to learn from people and places, from the landscape what that mysterious quality is that is “Texan” or “Louisianian.” Some of it is urbane and cynical: a few brassy cities shining and stinking like a dead catfish in the sunshine.
Again, some parts of East Texas are gentle and somehow forgotten, nodding in the warm sunshine like the old timers who scratch themselves and play checkers under courthouse pines.
And still others come within an ace of evoking The Creation: Primitive beauty that has been rarely disturbed by beer can or bootmark.
Of course, we learn from all these places and moods—for the state, if nothing else, is geographically great. There is greatness in diversity. The foreigner’s picture of Texas as bleached desert peopled by cowboys is as false as the idea of a uniform Texas psyche.
There is no singular purity of landscape in Texas. Nowhere else is this proved more dramatically than the finger of mountain canyons that sticks into far West Texas called Guadalupe Mountains National Park.
The Guadalupes are a wedge-shaped range continuing out of Southern New Mexico to a point in West Texas 110 miles east of El Paso and 55 miles southwest of Carlsbad, New Mexico on U.S. Highway 62-180. This spectacular combination of mountains, deep canyons and desert was authorized in 1966 by the late Lyndon Johnson to become Texas’ second national park.
The landscape in the Trans-Pecos counties of Hudspeth and Culberson is unchanging, uncompromising, parched blank with sun. Two hundred million years ago when the invertebrates were in charge, a 10,000 square mile sea covered West Texas and Southern New Mexico. Debris and sediment from this Permian Sea gradually built up a 400-mile horseshoe-shaped fossil limestone reef. Sometime a million or so years ago, the whole thing received a massive geological kick. Thus, the Guadalupe Mountains.
It must have been a healthy boot, for within the national park’s mountain chain are El Capitan (8,078), third highest in Texas and most prominent from the highway; and Guadalupe Peak (8,751 ), the highest peak in Texas and highest mountain point in the United States east of the Rockies.
How barren and strange this country looks from 50 miles out when El Capitan is first spotted. How unlikely it is that elk, 14-inch rainbow trout, aspen and the Douglas Fir live and thrive in this desert outback. And yet they do. This unprecedented admixture in Texas of the desert and the mountain occurs because 4,000 feet up behind Guadalupe Peak lies McKittrick Canyon; isolated and protected by the sheer cliffs of Guadalupe Peak, it traps 20 inches of rain or more each year and produces a mountain climate.
The only native rainbow trout in Texas are found in the sparkling four-mile stream that flows through the Canyon. The state’s only herd of elk, 150 of them, roam the Canyon slopes. Big tooth maples, ponderosas, rare columbines, Rocky Mountain and alligator junipers grow along side the century plant, creosote bush, yucca and the Chihuahua desert’s walking stick cholla. Pronghorn antelope mingle with mule and white tail deer along the base of the escarpment. Jack rabbits, bobcat, racoon and mountain lion prowl through the lower and middle elevations.
It was because of the generosity and good sense of two Texans that this unusual and beautiful part of Texas is now a national park. Wallace Pratt, rancher, geologist and founder of the geology department of Humble Oil, donated 5,632 acres in 1961 to the National Park Service. The ranch had been in the Pratt family since the early 1920’s and had been carefully and lovingly protected. J. C. Hunter, local rancher and former mayor of Abilene, sold over 70,000 acres to the United States Government for $1.5 million to complete the land acquisition for the national park.
Both men have spent their lives protecting their land, even forbidding horses and sheep to graze in McKittrick Canyon because of the delicacy of the ecosystem. These two men are a vanishing breed; both were lifelong oilmen and yet both were ardent conservationists, cautious and careful about the land, never rapacious or brutish in their demands.
The National Park Service has carried on the careful spirit of these Texans in their operation of the Park. The rules are strict and they are enforced. Only 55 miles of mountain trails exist, all overseen by Rangers who do not tolerate any deviation from the marked pathways. Open fires are prohibited, but containerized fuel stoves are permitted. A campground with tables, trashcans and pit toilets is available at Pine Springs Canyon, one mile southwest of the Frijole Information Station near Pine Springs. Backpacking is allowed but you must check out with park rangers at the information station before departing. Pets must be leashed and kept in the campground area.
To reach Guadalupe Mountains National Park, turn north on State Highway 54 from I.H. 10 at Van Horn or follow U.S. 62-180 east 110 miles from El Paso. The nearest overnight accommodations are at White City, New Mexico, 34 miles northeast, or Dell City, Texas, 44 miles west.
To camp overnight in the Guadalupes after spending the year in a city is an exhilarating experience. The mood the Canyon evokes gathers its way slowly like a Bach fugue as you watch the late afternoon rays of sun leave the mountain’s back. The air is clear and cool; the appetite whetted.
As the blackness settles around you, your feelings are high and on the cusp and you wonder why everything is so complicated back home.
FAIRWAY FARM HUNT CLUB
From the unyielding, hard male landscape of the Trans-Pecos, to the rolling sleepy, lush forests of East Texas is a change not only of terrain but also of temperament. The terse, tightlipped and narrow-eyed cowboy gives way to the gregarious and relaxed East Texan, for in the Piney Woods life is more self-indulgence than struggle.
What makes the difference is an abundance of water: forty to sixty inches of rainfall a year. In much of the deep woods it is unseen, barely beneath the humus and needles that cover the forest floor.
East Texas has it and West Texas wants it.
And with the water comes everything else: the forests, food, the fish and game.
It was here, deep in this verdant section of the state, near its oldest town of San Augustine, that the late H. C. Benedum decided in 1961 to build a magnificent home and private club for his friends. Benedum was the nephew and an heir to the fortune of Mike Benedum, famed wildcatter and founder of Benedum-Trees Oil Company.
On 1,500 acres of East Texas woodlands, Benedum began building Fairway Farm. First, the 110 x 55 foot kidney-shaped swimming pool, flanked by bath house and living quarters. Then, two 18-hole championship golf courses carved out of the fringing forests; the south course was rated in 1967 as among the five toughest courses in the country by Golf Digest.
Next came a beautiful 37-room, 11-bedroom mansion overlooking one of the courses. Living quarters for the owner. Then the 24,000 square foot Lodge with 32 bedrooms, each opening onto separate living rooms; three dining rooms, two bars and a large pool room.
Across from the Lodge he built the Great Hall, a convention center seating nearly 250 people with an enormous bar furnished with the trappings from a 19th Century East Texas drugstore. Finally, another building called the Tavern with a big poker room in the back and an old timey post office ready for use.
Along with pool and golf courses, Benedum threw in tennis courts, skeet range and boats and fishing gear for the three lakes and 15 ponds on the acreage.
Whether the late Benedum realized it or not, he built Fairway Farm equidistant between two of the country’s best bass lakes and the two largest lakes in Texas. Twenty five miles to the northeast, Toledo Bend, rated number one in the United States by professional fishermen. Twenty five miles south, Sam Rayburn, rated number three. Guides from either lake come to Fairway Farm, take you fishing, and bring you back.
After Benedum’s death in December, 1971, the Club remained closed until it was bought by an energetic land developer named Herman Neusch who opened it to the public in June, 1972. Neusch bought Fairway Farm with a flair.
“I bought it sight unseen after a friend brought me a brochure showing the layout and facilities. I called Benedum’s lawyer at 10 one night and signed the papers the next morning.”
Although he grew up near Amarillo, Neusch loves East Texas and is confident that the natural environment of the place will insure success.
The food is superb. Three chefs, using no measuring instruments whatsoever, turn out meals comparable to Houston’s and Dallas’ finest. It seems an ideal mating between luxury and outdoor life.
Owner Neusch spends a great deal of time flying to Fairway Farm (it has a 3,500 foot all-weather landing strip) and planning further development. He has contracted the Los Angeles resort planning company of Wuesthoff-Pearson to oversee and develop future condominiums and private homes. What began as one man’s crony club is now Texas’ most beautiful golf and hunting club.
Fairway Farm Hunt Club: Located five miles east of St. Augustine, Texas, on State Highway 21. One hundred and sixty-five miles northeast of Houston; one hundred and eighty miles east-southeast of Dallas.
Price: American Plan, double occupancy is $29 per person a day; $34 per person per day, single occupancy. Special family rates available.
For further information write Ms. Dorothy McCallum, Drawer T, San Augustine, 75972; or call 713-275-2145.
If there is anything Texas has a shortage of, it’s mountains. A few years ago The Texas Observer published a parody of the Texas Water Plan, that multi-million dollar boondoggle to shuttle East Texas and Mississippi River water a thousand miles uphill to the arid plains of the Panhandle. Called the Texas Mountain Plan, it proposed to import excess West Texas dirt to construct a range of 18,000-foot peaks from Beaumont to Corpus Christi, because, among other reasons, “Houston has long lacked an adequate waterfall.”
Pending Legislative approval of the Plan and the eighty-billion-dollar tax increase it would require, Texans who wish to get away from it all in the cool, dry mountain elevations must be prepared to do some hard driving or shell out for an airplane ticket. One of the most delightful choices within reasonable range, especially for residents of Dallas and Fort Worth, is Santa Fe. Summer is a glorious time of year in the Sangre de Cristo Range, and the village-like New Mexican capital throbs with creative vitality.
Much of the early Spanish architecture still survives in the town center, lending an old-world atmosphere to your strolls. Nearby Canyon Road is lined with art and craft shops. The Indian pueblo settlement of Taos is an easy ninety-minute drive to the north on U.S. 64. From there you can continue on a circle drive through sub-Alpine evergreen scenery to the skiing town of Red River, returning on New Mexico Highway 38 through Red River Pass and the serene, exquisitely beautiful Eagle Nest. Rugged Cimarron Canyon is only a ten-mile excursion from Eagle Nest; closer to Santa Fe, the ancient Indian cave dwellings at Bandelier National Monument stand in enigmatic rocky splendor.
Special events abound. The Rodeo de Santa Fe is July 12-15; the Taos Pueblo Corn Dances, July 25 and 26; the Spanish Colonial Market, July 28 and 29; the Indian Market, August 18 and 19.
Santa Fe’s finest hour, however, is the annual outdoor summer opera. There is no finer regional opera in the United States. The big-name stars and excellent staging draw packed houses of opera lovers from as far away as Europe, eager to savor a program that boldly includes premieres of controversial modern works along with the standard warhorses. This season, the seventeenth, lasts from July 6 to August 25 and as usual has something for everyone
Traditionalists will relish The Marriage of Figaro, the Mozart favorite; La Boheme, the lachrymist favorite; and The Flying Dutchman, the Kraut favorite. The Merry Widow gets a fresh mounting in a production by Allen Charles Klein and Bliss Herbert, Le Rossignol, Stravinsky’s strange, hour-long ballet-ish opera about an emperor who falls in love with a nightingale’s song, shares a double bill with the even-weirder Enfant et les Sortileges by Ravel, a surrealistic affair filled with witchcraft, talking clocks, and teakettles.
Highlight of the season may well prove to be the American stage premiere of Britten’s Owen Wingrave.
Tickets, always in heavy demand, can be obtained along with schedules from the Santa Fe Opera, P.0. Box 2408, Santa Fe, N.M. 87501. Phone, 505-982-9802.
Staying in Santa Fe is a matter of making reservations early at La Fonda, an extraordinary old Spanish-type Harvey House Hotel dating from the days when most towns out West had only one hostelry to speak of. Most of its generation are gone with the sandstorms of yesteryear, victims of local disinterest and the resulting wreckers’ ball. Santa Fe cared enough about this classic inn to see that it was preserved. It has character, ambience, good food, a bustle of activity that knows no snobbish class lines, and thoroughly reasonable rates. Rooms in the old wing are cheaper and more fun; rooms in the new wing are more comfortable but more staid. The usual array of motels exists in Santa Fe as everywhere else; but if you don’t book a room at La Fonda you’ll regret it after you arrive
The address is l00 East San Francisco (zip 87501). Phone: 505-982-5511.
Getting to Santa Fe by air was rendered more difficult last year when the airport was shut down because of unsafe runways. At press time it still had not reopened. The nearest working airstrip is Albuquerque, sixty miles away, which is served by Texas International, Braniff, and Continental. Onward transportation to Santa Fe is tricky: contact the airline. If you choose to drive, a hard day from Fort Worth will get you there. New Mexican roads are a little better than Haiti’s, but not much.
NEW ORLEANS AND MEXICO
American railroad travel has enjoyed a remarkable resurgence under the AMTRAK system, which now operates three passenger trains through Texas. The railroads have always been a close runnerup to steamships as the most civilized mode of travel, but until AMTRAK came on the scene some railroad companies (notably the Southern Pacific) treated passengers like prisoners of war. Now that the facilities and cars have been nationalized in a public corporation, you can experience the pleasures of rail travel in a congenial atmosphere while AMTRAK and the railroad company officials argue out of earshot about schedules and roadbeds.
The best train in Texas unfortunately doesn’t go anywhere the extended-week-end summer tourist is likely to want to go; it runs from Houston through Fort Worth and northward to Kansas City and Chicago. But there are two others, perfectly acceptable, that not only are fun to ride but also take you some place fun to visit.
Houstonians can board the Sunset Limited at the Southern Pacific Station any Thursday morning at 10:30 and arrive in New Orleans at 7 p.m. the same day, with plenty of time left for a sunset stroll before dinner at Arnaud’s or one of the other fine French restaurants. The ride takes you through the Cajun Country. Both coach cars and comfortable, private roomettes are available. (The train also leaves on Sundays and Tuesdays.)
The attractions of New Orleans are too well known to need repeating here. You should get a copy of the New Orleans Underground Gourmet before you go, and be prepared for many leisurely strolls both day and night through the French Quarter.
If you can spare the time to stay until Monday, AMTRAK returns at 1 p.m. sharp and pulls into Houston at 9: 25 p.m. Otherwise—unless you are willing to hurry back on the Friday train or stick around until Wednesday—your best bet is to hop aboard an airplane. Six major airlines make the trip; the flight takes less than an hour. Continental’s $28.37 jet thrift fare is the least expensive.
The one-way coach fare on AMTRAK is $18.50; one-way roomette is $28.25. There is no discount for round trips, but the family plan (husband pays full fare, wife and children over 12 two-thirds, children 6-11 one-third, children under 6 free) is the most generous offered by any major transportation company in the U.S. Tickets are available from the AMTRAK office in Houston or at no additional cost from most travel agents. (San Antonians wishing to make this trip, incidentally, may do so by catching the Sunset Limited at the AMTRAK Station at 6 a.m. on its way to Houston.)
If you need a car while in New Orleans, AMTRAK has arranged an attractive auto-rental deal with, of all people, Airways Rent-a-Car. Reservations can be made toll-free at 800-336-0336, and you get your discount when you show your AMTRAK ticket.
Residents of Austin, Dallas, Fort Worth and San Antonio can now take advantage of the new “Inter-American” service from the Panther City to Laredo, with connections to the Aztec Eagle onward to Mexico City. Compared to the great transcontinental runs, the Inter-American is a rather dinky train, and slow besides (eleven hours for the whole run). But it is a train, and it is fun to ride, and for those who can get away long enough to travel in scenic comfort to Mexico, it is a remarkable bargain.
The savings come on the Mexican end of the line. One-way coach fare from Nuevo Laredo to Mexico City is the munificent sum of $10.86; a roomette for one will cost you $10.35 more, or a roomette for two only $11.83 additional. At these rates, a couple could travel in a private roomette round-trip from the border to the Mexican capital and return for under $50.
One-way coach fares on AMTRAK Inter-American to Nuevo Laredo are $22.50 from Fort Worth, $13 from Austin, and $9.50 from San Antonio. (There is connecting bus service from Dallas to Fort Worth for $1.40 one-way.) There are no roomettes on this run.
The Inter-American leaves Fort Worth every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday at 7 a.m., passing through Austin at 11:55 and San Antonio at 2:10 p.m. before reaching Laredo at 6:05 p.m. Limousine service connects you with the Aztec Eagle across the border, and after customs formalities the Mexican train pulls out at 6:25 CST. Following a route through Monterrey, Saltillo, and San Luis Potosi, it deposits you in Mexico City at 5:21 p.m. the next day.
The return trip is a little faster, leaving Mexico City at 10:05 a.m. daily and arriving Nuevo Laredo at 6:30 a.m. Be careful which day you pick, because the Inter-American will be waiting for you in Laredo only on Sundays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. It departs at 11:30 a.m., reaching San Antonio at 3:20 p.m., Austin at 5:37 p.m., and Fort Worth at 10:50 p.m.
You can of course get off the Eagle at an intermediate stop in interior Mexico like San Luis Potosi or Pozo Blanco (which has connecting bus service for the short trip to the now-overAmericanized arts-and-crafts town of San Miguel de Allende). Tickets to these places are correspondingly cheaper than the full Mexico City run.
Reservations and information are available from the AMTRAK offices in the major cities on the Inter-American’s line. If you need more information about the Aztec Eagle, you can also contact the National Railways of Mexico office in Laredo (P.O. Box 595, phone 512-723-5152).