Day 1 The floorboards of our rental car are immaculate. This won’t be true for long, though, as we are nearly to Padre Island, which boasts one of the longest expanses of sandy beach in the world. Located a short distance from Mexico and named for the priest who turned the unclaimed strip into a cattle ranch in the early 1800’s, Padre stretches 130 miles and has a split personality.
Here come the riders, stampeding out from behind a thicket of mesquite trees, drowning out the music and cheers from the stands and kicking up a curtain of dust that rises over the crowd. The Fort Griffin Fandangle has begun. More than 1,700 people are packed into the grandstand, which is built into a hillside that overlooks the stage, a small prairie surrounded by outcrops, scrub oaks, and mesquites. It is dusk, and a narrator’s voice comes over the loudspeakers. “This is not a chronicle but instead a show.
The Austin Chronicle Hot Sauce Festival will be a torture party, as 15,000 masochists endure the scorching offerings of some 350 liquid-heat purveyors, who will compete in one of three categories: individual, restaurant, and commercial bottler.
Fiesta Gardens, August 25, austinchronicle.com
Piece of Her Heart
Broadway has been attracted to Texas women lately. Ann, the play about Governor Ann Richards, just finished its run. And in September, A Night With Janis Joplin, a musical about Port Arthur’s booming voice of the blues, who lived fast and died young (when she was 27), in 1970, will begin previews at the Lyceum Theatre in New York.
The Kemp’s ridley, Texas’ official sea turtle, is born an underdog. Only one in 300 hatchlings makes it to adulthood, after an initial scamper across the beach, past preying sea gulls and into the water, where it is under threat of errant shrimp nets and poachers, who use its eggs as an aphrodisiac and its skin for cowboy boots.
A mere fifteen minutes after being buzzed into this secluded wellness resort about thirty miles northwest of downtown, I was floating in an infinity-edge pool with a margarita in hand. As I looked out over the wooded hills surrounding scenic (if drought-depleted) Lake Travis, I struck up a conversation with a fellow guest. A professor from Pittsburgh (by way of Italy), he had been at Travaasa for almost two weeks and had a couple more days to go.
This secluded country escape roughly halfway between Austin and Houston should have a warning posted at its entrance: “Caution: Guests may become incurably spoiled. Stay at your own risk.” Once inside its gates, you’ll wend your way along a narrow road through acres of bucolic farmland, passing organic gardens, pastures of grazing horses, and a sizable pond encircled by white Adirondack chairs, two of which are so laughably oversized they’d make Shaq look like Edith Ann.
Is that Mick Jagger taking an evening swim? It’s hard to tell in the glow of the neon “SOUL” sign that illuminates the tree-lined pool at this coolly decadent boutique hotel, but spotting rock royalty here is about as surprising as encountering a lion while on safari in the Serengeti. Lushly landscaped and well hidden even though it’s only a block off touristy South Congress Avenue, the Saint Cecilia is an ideal urban hideout, whether you’re dodging paparazzi or your preschoolers.
The first time I drove by hotelier Liz Lambert’s high-desert “kibbutz,” which sits on a large, flat plot of dusty land just off U.S. 67, I mistook it for a trailer park. Which it basically is, except instead of dumpy double-wides, it’s strewn with seven sleekly restored vintage trailers, from the 18-foot-long Little Pinky to the 45-foot-long Imperial Mansion.