From the bustling cities to the Piney Woods and West Texas deserts, no state has as much to offer travelers as Texas. I keep an ever-growing Texas To-Do list; here’s one of my many entries.
Even though it’s felt like spring for a few weeks now, the season officially begins today. And I’m already daydreaming of traipsing through fields of Texas wildflowers—allergies, be damned! Although the random clumps of bluebonnets that pop up on the side of the highway are beautiful (and oh-so-photogenic), I’ve always wanted to expand my floral horizons and head east to Orange.
This small town near Beaumont kisses the Louisiana border and is better known for plants of the petrochemical sort, but it also boasts the Shangri La Botanical Gardens and Nature Center, a 252-acre Eden situated along Adams Bayou. First opened in 1946 as a pet project of local timber baron H.J. Lutcher Stark, it was decimated by a freak snowstorm in 1958, and wasn’t reopened until 2008. (I wrote about the occasion here.)
Now, Shangri La’s lush gardens are abloom with more than 300 plant species, including primrose, jasmine, trumpet creepers, rain lilies, coral honeysuckles, dendrobium orchids, and azaleas (41 varieties!). I’m looking forward to exploring both on foot and by boat: In addition to a two-hour guided walking tour of the botanical gardens, there’s a ninety-minute jaunt via pontoon to an outpost in the cypress swamp, which will get you up close and personal to the Survivor Tree, a pond cypress that’s one of the oldest living things in Texas. (It’s about 1,230 years old.) Currently, tours run at 10:30 a.m. and 3 p.m. on weekdays and every hour on the weekend (but call ahead for the most up-to-date schedule).
(Photos courtesy of Shangri La Botanical Gardens and Nature Center)
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