ONCE UPON A TIME VACATIONS were like Christmas. Vacation was the once-a-year, eagerly awaited catharsis, the big pay-off for 50 weeks of bringing in the bread. Trouble was that after two weeks on the road with the family, two dogs and grape jelly smeared on the windows, you returned home feeling like a guest-star at the Spanish Inquisition.
The three-day weekend is rapidly changing the entire concept of Vacation and, with a little imagination, planning and a basic Texas road map, a very real quality of leisure and excitement can punctuate your work weeks.
Unfortunately, not all of Texas' 168,648,320 acres are located along the Interstate highway system. It will be necessary to release your car's automatic speed control, leave these four-lane macadam conveyor belts, and discover the beauty of farm-to-market travel if you are thoroughly to enjoy some of the best weekend jaunts.
Here are 11 suggestions guaranteed to dissolve your ennui and angst and to help you discover the state you're in.
RUN SILENT, RUN DEEP—
Whooping Cranes rank in rarity with the ivory-billed woodpecker and candid politicians. Last year, 59 of them wintered in the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge. The best way to see the big birds is aboard the S.S. Whooping Crane which operates out of the Sea Gun Marina nine miles north of Rockport. Skipper "Brownie" Brown pilots his 65-foot motor vessel from the Marina every Wednesday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, departing promptly at 1:30 P.M. and returning about 6 P.M. Cruises are $5 for adults and $3 for children under ten.
The Whooping Crane has a comfortable lounge and snack bar and a capacity of 249 passengers.
To reach the Refuge by car from Rockport, take State Highway 35 north for 23 miles, then turn right on Farm Road 744/2040 for another 15 miles. The Refuge is open from 8 A.M. to 5 P.M.
daily. Pay a buck and travel the 20-mile loop road system, keeping an eye out (field glasses help) for white tail deer, javalina, wild turkey, and occasionally a whooper.
If you are feeling healthy, two hiking trails are open: Dagger Point Trail with routes of one-half and one and one-half miles and Big Tree Trail, which is three-quarters of a mile long.
The best seafood after a hard day of watching is at the Sea Gun Restaurant, just across the street from where the Whooping Crane docks. Overnight accommodations are plentiful near and around Rockport. Best bets are the Sand Dollar (Double: $12); Sea Gun (Double: $14); and Key Allegro (Double: $15.50).
THIS TRIP REQUIRES PLANNING WORTHY of the architect of D-Day. Work until Saturday noon several weeks in a row. Show up early at the office and work late. Polish the apple shamelessly. When the time is right, take off Friday and strike out for Big Bend National Park for a raft trip through any of four beautiful canyons in or near the Park.
Glenn Pepper and John Klingemann will guide you through the most beautiful canyons and exciting white water in Texas and furnish everything to boot. Each canyon is different. Each has its own character. Prices depend on the canyon and duration of the trip:
Santa Elena—one day: $50; two days: $100.
Boquillas—two and one-half days: $125.
Mariscal—one day: $50.
Colorado—eight hours: $25.
Facilities are available in the Big Bend Park at Chisos Basin. At Study (pronounced stewdee) Butte Motel and Cafe, rooms and cabins are available for $14 and $16. Three miles west of Terlingua the Villa De Lamina also has rooms and accommodations.
Before the chili contests began, mercury was the big thing in Terlingua. Mssrs. Pepper and Klingemann will guide you through the big mine for a dollar (50¢ for kids) anytime a crowd of one or more gathers. Successful float trips depend on water levels and good weather so call Glenn or John (915-364-2446) or write (Box 47, Terlingua, 79852) before starting out.
Floating through the deathly quiet canyons where walls over twice as high as the Washington Monument rise on either side of the Rio Grande is an experience never forgotten. Not many places remain these days where for even a day or two you feel you are the first human to see a place. In the timeless country of the Big Bend, it's still possible.
TIGHT SHOE DAY
I grew up in the city so I didn't know what "tight shoe day" meant. It seems that you don't plow and seed and milk in your new Brogans. These are saved for the once-a-week Saturday trip into town where you loaded up supplies for the next six days.
First Monday in Canton (off of Interstate 20, 50 miles east of Dallas) has been a trading tradition for 125 years, and new shoes from all over really get a workout. The first Monday of each month is the official trade day, but East Texas folk start setting up booths one and one-half blocks off the Canton square on Sunday afternoon about 1 P.M. It started in 1847 when the County Court would meet once a month. After business was concluded, deals went down, horses were traded and a swapping tradition began that remains unique in Texas. Today everything from bits of barbed wire to antiques are offered up to the bargain-conscious shopper.
Dog Monday Ground is the hound swapping area a little piece out of Canton east on State Highway 64 toward Ben Wheeler. Good old boys start camping out with Blue Ticks and Labs (not many Yorkies) Wednesday afternoon and the trading reaches the hot yowl stage by Saturday afternoon.
I have a friend who says of his native land, Wisconsin, that there are two seasons: July and Winter. Texas is open year round and is not closed eight months of the year due to snow or an annual rainy season. Take advantage of the variety and accessibility of Texas, of the outdoors, and of the finest highway system in the country by taking a weekend trip.
CALLING ALL SPELUNKERS