The Coolest New Water Sport to Hit the Texas Skies!

Wednesday, June 25, 2014 by The Texas Travelin' Man

flyboard, flyboarding, watersports, fly boarding
Photo credit: Port Maguide Biscarrosse

When I woke up this morning, I didn't know that in a few hours I would be strapping a jet pack onto my feet and hurtling straight up in the air. But let me tell you, I had one of the coolest thrills of my life, and I can't wait to try flyboarding again.

Flyboarding?  What is that?

I had never heard of it until today. We were driving across the Lake Lewisville Bridge and out of the corner of my eye, I saw something odd in the distance.  It looked like a person being catapulted upward with jets of water coming out of their feet. I had to get a closer look.

flyboarding in Texas, flyboard, TXFlyboarding is a relatively new "extreme" watersport which originated in France and is becoming a new craze around the world. The appeal is obvious: it's an amazing, thrilling experience and it's easy. It's safe too, for ages 12 and up. Little or no skill is needed.  Just a quick lesson to learn the feel of the board and how to use the controls and 10 minutes later, you are flying! Beginners typically start by hovering just a bit over the water, maybe 5-10 feet. As you gain experience, though, you can get higher and higher. More experienced flyers hit heights of up to 30 feet and can do some very cool tricks. > Watch this fun flyboarding video

Flyboards are fairly simple devices -- essentially, a pair of jetski boots, attached to a board and powered by water pressure. A hose connects the board to the motor of a jet ski, which provides the power to rocket the board upwards. It lets you fly, straight up vertically, like Iron Man. With a little practice, you can also leap headfirst through the waves like a dolphin. 

Imagine the sheer exhilaration of rocketing high above the water's surface. In only seconds, you are flying!!!  It is amazing! I can't even compare it to any other activity I've done before.  You just HAVE to try this for yourself.

There are flyboarding locations all around Texas.  In the south, you'll find lots of options along the gulf coast beaches.  Further inland, look for large lakes that offer water activities.  

Prices vary widely, but on average, an hour of flyboarding, including instructions, will run you approximately $200.  Some places offer discounts for multiple riders and groups. Others have coupons or Groupons available.  I would suggest calling and inquiring about any available promotions before going.  I'd also urge you to make a reservation.  While I was able to just drive up spontaneously and get a spot, you may not be as lucky.

Add this one to your bucket list! Whether you make it part of a memorable Texas vacation or simply a weekend adventure, it's sure to be an adrenalin rush you won't forget!

Here is a list of just a few options around Texas to try this incredible activity. 

flyboarding in Texas, flyboard, fly board, TXNorth Texas
Flyboard North Texas - Lake Grapevine, Lake Ray Hubbard and others in Dallas/FW area

Flyboard Nation - Lewisville Lake, Frisco


South Texas

South Texas Flyboard - Lake Conroe, Montgomery

Max Pro Water Sports - Corpus Christi

Flyboard South Padre - South Padre Island

Extreme Water Sports - Galveston
 

Belton
Hydrofly of Central Texas - Lake Belton


Austin
Austin Flyboard – Lake Travis

 


 

Sam Houston: A Giant Among Men

Tuesday, April 8, 2014 by The Texas Travelin' Man

Huntsville, TX; Texas travel, Sam HoustonY'all don’t have to be from Texas to know that Sam Houston was a key figure in the history of this iconic state. The fact that one of our biggest metro areas is named after him is a clue that he did something significant.

In 1832, Sam Houston arrived in Texas which, at the time, was a territory of Mexico. Houston supported annexation by the United States and was tapped to command a ragtag Texan army against the Mexican forces. Houston proved himself to be a brilliant military leader and his decisive victory at San Jacinto secured Texas its independence.

You also don’t have to be from the Lone Star State to have heard the phrase: “Everything’s bigger in Texas”. And that's certainly the case when it comes to the way Texans pay tribute to the Lone Star Republic’s first president! In the city of Huntsville, which is about 70 miles north of Houston, you’ll find a 67 foot tall statue of Sam Houston standing on a 10 foot granite base. Built by artist Davis Adickes and named “A Tribute to Courage”, it's the tallest statue of an American hero, so don’t worry about not being able to find it! If you're driving along I-45 and see the traffic start to slow down as the statue comes into view, it's probably because people are trying to snap pictures of this awesome landmark. I would recommend that you concentrate on your driving and get off at the exit to the statue (if you're driving north, take exit 109; driving south, it's exit 112). This way you’ll be able to gaze upon and take pictures of the giant white man safely and without disrupting traffic. You'll also get the chance to visit the Huntsville Visitor Center. It’s a quaint, historic Texas building complete with charming porch swings. Inside there’s a gift shop, free brochures, and historical information about the Mr. Houston and the area. Granted, you won’t spend a full day here, but it is a nice place to stop, rest and learn about this historic area. And once you do, I’m sure you’ll want to plan on spending some time here exploring the many things to do in Huntsville

Besides, I’m sure it would please Sam Houston if you dropped by for a spell…and you don’t want to get a 67 foot tall man mad at you!

Visit the Sam Houston Statue and Huntsville Visitor Center on Facebook.

Photo source 

Galveston: Beyond the Sunshine and Sand Lies A Dark Side...

Monday, October 28, 2013 by The Texas Travelin' Man



Galveston is a beautiful city situated on an island on the upper coast of Texas on the Gulf of Mexico. With its warm waters and long stretches of soft sand, it's one of the state’s most popular destinations. But the fun, beachy vacation atmosphere of the city masks a dark history and chilling reputation as one of the most haunted cities in the U.S.


Galveston's past holds some incredible stories, with death, destruction and horror all part of the landscape. Tales of pirates, Captains of industry (Galveston’s location and climate attracted many of the formidable "old money" families of the Northeast) and Civil War soldiers haunting the area abound. The greatest legend revolves around one of the worst natural disasters ever to strike the United States: the Hurricane of 1900. Most of the city was completely destroyed, with a death toll between 6,000 and 12,000 individuals. With so many dead, it was impossible to bury them all.  Legend has it that many of the drowned victims still restlessly wander the streets, especially in the area known as The Strand where many of the buildings are original to the city and date back to the late 1800sThis historical district of downtown Galveston is known for its architecture, museums, shops, art galleries, restaurants and…its disembodied spirits!  Visitors to the area report images of ghostly children playing in the local shops, a frantic nun slamming doors up and down the hall of the Galvez Hotel searching for a lost child, wandering soldiers, pirates. Others don't see haunted visions but describe feelings of heaviness in the air, a blanket of sadness that overcomes you.

Visit TourTexas.com for more information on Galveston Island

haunted Galveston TXWhile many visitors to Galveston Island come for the sun and sand, many others come in search of spirits. That’s where the "Ghostman of Galveston" comes in! Dash "Ghostman" Beardsley, a paranormal investigator, runs a company called Ghost Tours of Galveston.  Always interested in the mysterious, Dash investigated Galveston’s rich history and discovered many fascinating facts from his research and interviews with local residents. His "Original Ghost Tour on the Strand" is the most popular of the tours, although there are other excursions including a Restless Spirits Tour, and a Cemetery tour. Each one provides the chance to visit many fascinating locations in The Strand, while hearing haunting stories from the past and learning about the historical events that have shaped this interesting city.

Even if the only ghosts you see are trick-or-treaters, a visit to Galveston is never disappointing. Besides the lovely town, you'll be surrounded by beaches and marshes, a wide variety of birds (the Island is one of the country's largest bird migratory flyways) and a part of Texas you definitely won’t want to miss!

Happy Haunting!

 

Plan your trip to Galveston, TX with Free Brochures

 
 

10 Weird, Wacky, Unique, Morbid and Cool Texas Museums

Friday, June 22, 2012 by The Texas Travelin' Man

I've got nothing against a good art museum or a sobering historical exhibit.  In fact, I think a great museum is one of the high points of a trip to a new place.  But, as Americans, I think most of us also love to explore the weird, the silly, the strange and the morbid.  With that in mind, I present to you ten of Texas' weirdest, coolest and most unique museums. 

Cockroach Hall of Fame
2231-B West 15th St., Plano  ∙  972-519-0355
I stumbled upon this place a few years back and I tell everyone who's going to be near Plano to pay it a visit, if only to get a laugh.  Located inside a pest control supply store and "curated" by owner Michael Bohdan, the hall of fame features plenty of information about roaches and mounted samples.  In addition to the "dead" cockroaches, Michael also displays live Madagascar Hissing Cockroaches which are three to four inches long and nearly an inch thick. My favorite part, though, are the displays of roaches in costumes, each in a diorama depicting a scene.  For example, there's "Liberoachie", sitting at a piano in a sparkling Liberace costume.  And there's also Marilyn Monroach - a dead bug wearing the signature white dress.  You'll leave with a smile on your face and a greater appreciation for the lowly roach.
 
travel texasTexas Prison Museum 
Huntsville  ∙  www.txprisonmuseum.org/
At the Texas Prison Museum, even the tour guide is a genuine artifact: retired warden Jim Willet, who oversaw 89 executions during his career,  walked us around and told stories about the exhibits detailing the history of the Texas prison system.  Highlights include the Contraband Exhibit, the Famous Prisoners exhibit and "Old Sparky", an electric chair that fried 361 prisoners between 1924 and 1964.   You can have your picture taken in a real 9' x 6' jail cell at the Museum for a great souvenir.  This very interesting museum is a bargain at only $4 for admission.
 
 
 
texas vacationThe Dog Museum
Waco  ∙  antiquibles.com/
If you like dogs, this museum will get your tail wagging. With over 7,000 items on display, this collection includes all things canine: dog salt and pepper shakers, dog inkwells, dog buttons, dog figurines, dogs in photography and advertising -- some new, some vintage and some just downright antique.  The "slightly creepy" award goes to the taxidermied bulldog from the late 1800s.  The museum is free of charge and located in the Antiquibles Antique Mall about four miles north of Waco on I-35. 
 
texas vacationRipley's Believe it or Not! Odditorium
San Antonio  ∙  www.ripleys.com/sanantonio/
If you've traveled to many big cities, you're sure to have come across one of the several Ripley's attractions, showcasing weird artifacts, unusual relics and displays of world records.  The one here in San Antonio offers three floors of interactive displays including a piece of the Berlin Wall, the world’s largest tire, replicas of prehistoric beasts, Lee Harvey Oswald’s car, and iconic items of American and world history.  Tickets can be pricey, but there are almost always coupons available -- do a quick online search before your visit.
 
texas museumToilet Seat Museum
239 Abiso, Alamo Heights  ∙  210-824-7791
There's an expression that says "art is where you find it".  In San Antonio, you find it on toilet seat lids. This museum consists of over 1,000 toilet seats, but some might argue that the real treasure is its proprietor, 90+ year old Barney Smith, who can tell you the story of each seat. The toilet seat art covers historical events, newsworthy happenings, worldwide travels, hobbies, life  events, and celebrities (both famous and "not so famous").  The museum is located in the garage of Barney's private residence, but just give him a call and check that his doors are open when you want to visit.  He doesn't charge any admission, but you may find it in your heart to  purchase one of the small, handmade souvenirs for sale. 
 
National Museum of Funeral History
This is one of those museums that people invariably think is going to be boring or morbid and are then surprised by how interesting and cool it is. The National Museum of Funeral History contains the country's largest collection of funeral service artifacts and features in-depth exhibits on embalming, burial methods, mourning rituals and funeral practices of ancient civilizations through today. Artifacts include coffins, funeral vehicles from the early horse drawn variety to the modern hearses, authentic items used in the funerals of U.S. presidents and popes.  About a half hour outside of Houston's city center, but well worth the trip
 
texas vacation
The Salt Palace 
Grand Saline   ∙  www.saltpalacemuseum.org
Not only is this museum dedicated to salt, it's made of salt!  The Salt Palace, a small one-story building in downtown Grand Saline, is constructed of local salt blocks and features the salt industry, which dates back to 1845.  Displays inside the Salt Palace include salt mining artifacts, memorabilia and photographs. Morton Salt, which owns the actual mines, does not conduct an underground tour, but a museum videotape shows mining operations.  Every Salt Palace visitors takes home a souvenir salt crystal, so please, don't lick the walls.
 
 
The Art Car Museum
Houston   ∙   www.artcarmuseum.com
First of all, what's an "art car"?  Any motor vehicle that has been enhanced or transformed by the application of materials to express the artist's aesthetic or make a statement.  Installments here at the museum include several art cars, paintings and sculptures.  There are only a few cars on display at any given time so, don't expect a showroom filled with them, but the ones you will see will be beautiful and fascinating and definitely worth your time.  And there is plenty of other art here too to capture your interest.
 
 
Miss Hattie's Bordello Museum
San Angelo   ∙  Facebook page
Like many Old West towns back in the late 1800s, San Angelo was known for boozing, gambling, and prostitution.  Today, it's a nice suburban community, but remnants of its colored past live on in Miss Hattie's Bordello Museum, memorializing one of Texas's most famous "gentlemen's social centers".  Miss Hattie's was in operation until 1949 until it was closed by the Texas Rangers. Today, in its original location on historic Concho Avenue, Miss Hattie's remains furnished much like it was during its heyday, providing visitors a glimpse into the past.  (Tickets may be purchased next door at Legend Jewelers.)
 
 
Devil's Rope Barbed Wire Museum 
McLean    ∙   www.barbwiremuseum.com/
Their tagline says it all:  "Everything you want to know about barbed wire and fencing tools".  Maybe you think you don't want to know much about barbed wire, but trust me, you do!  Barbed wire is a lot more interesting than you'd think.  Located on historic Route 66, the museum reveals the history of barbed wire, it's effect on ranching and its darker roles in prisons and in war.  Still not convinced? Read these interesting articles about the museum here and here - then add it into your travel itinerary!
 
 
OK, so tell me, did I miss any??

Medina River Kayaking: It'll Float Your Boat!

Wednesday, May 23, 2012 by The Texas Travelin' Man

You don't kayak the Medina River for a wild, whitewater, exhilarating day on the water. You kayak the Medina because you want a relaxing excursion, surrounded by pristine, natural beauty and wildlife, shaded by the arching cypress trees where you can just let the river do most of the work.

Still one of the best kept secrets in the Texas Hill Country, the Medina River in Bandera is about 20 minutes from Kerrville and 45 minutes from San Antonio. There are several kayak, canoe and river tube rental places in the towns of Bandera and Medina, and they can all advise you on good start and end places for your trip.  We drove south on Highway 16 from Kerrville and made a right on FM 2107. The road crossed the river once, then twice, then a third time, which was where we parked and hit the water. 
 
It was early May, the sun was shining, the sky was blue and the weather was a perfect  84°.  We started our trip on a wide open stretch of the river, but it wasn't long before we were paddling through a tunnel of bald cypress trees that lined both banks and created a leafy, ethereal canopy.  The Medina cuts through limestone bluffs and outcroppings with free-flowing springs that feed the river and the wildlife that live here. The sounds of birds, jumping fish and other hidden creatures could be heard echoing around us.
 
We paddled past a father and his son fishing for catfish and bass. Half an hour later, we passed some teens idly floating in tubes (whew! the water seemed a bit chilly to me, but they didn't mind a bit.) Other than that, we didn't pass anyone else on the river.  The Medina seems to be a hidden treasure, still undiscovered by tourists and weekend trippers.
 
Our three-hour trip was mostly a leisurely ride with Class 1 and under rapids, but we did encounter a few fast ripples of whitewater and stepped drops that made us gather up all our skills and recall what the pamphlets said about navigating the river.  It provided a few moments of adrenalin rush for our group of novice kayakers and a nice contrast to the dream-like state of the rest of the trip.
 
Floating along the crystal-clear waters of the Medina, serenaded by the calls of birds and the gentle sound of your paddle cutting the river's current, your soul is lifted and the real world is a million miles away.

Hit the road and view the blue -- Texas Bluebonnets!

Tuesday, March 27, 2012 by The Texas Travelin' Man

New England has its fall foliage, Washington DC is known for its cherry blossoms, but in my opinion,Texas wildflowers nothing compares to the strikingly beautiful Texas Bluebonnet.

Standing just over 12 inches, the Bluebonnet is a mighty big flower in the hearts of Texans. We don't need a calendar to tell us when winter is over -- it's the bluebonnets, poking their heads through the earth, blanketing roadsides and fields with their rich blue plumes, that let us know spring is really here.

All over the state, especially along highways, wildflower seeds are spread for beautification by the Texas Department of Transportation, but you'll often see civic organizations and volunteers pitching in to sow the bluebonnet love wherever a seed will take root.  Peak season for blooms is usually during the first two weeks of April in Austin and the Texas Hill Country, earlier in warmer areas, and later in areas with cooler weather.

And, where there's a bluebonnet, there's a festival or special event to celebrate the blue beauties. For example:

  • Burnet, TX Bluebonnet Festival - Burnet is considered one of the best places in Texas Texas bluebonnetsfor viewing wildflowers. The town officially gained recognition to the well-known fact in 1981, when the Texas State Legislature officially designated Burnet the “Bluebonnet Capital of Texas.”
     
  • Ennis Bluebonnet Trails Festival - The Ennis festival takes place in April, but at the time of this writing, the blooms are trending early and are already putting on a great show.  Check out their website for great up-to-the-minute information on driving trails for great bluebonnet spotting.  (For free brochures and more information on what to do in Ennis, visit Tour Texas.)
     
  • Texas Bluebonnet Wine Trail -  Experience the "Red, White and Bluebonnets" events along the Texas Bluebonnet Wine Trail,  offering visitors spectacular views and award-winning wines in Southeast Texas (Located between I-45 and U.S. Highway 290).
 
where to see bluebonnetsThis Dallas News article (published in 2011) gives a great list of where to see bluebonnets, but since conditions vary each year, use the websites and phone numbers provided in the article to check on current blooms. And, the Texas highway department (TXDOT) operates a wildflower hotline at 1-800-452-9292 and posts online updates at http://maps.dot.state.tx.us/flora/
 
Hit the road and view the blue!

 

 

El Paso: Boot Scoot over to Rocketbuster Boots

Tuesday, February 28, 2012 by The Texas Travelin' Man

I'm here on the far left edge of Texas state in El Paso and I've just walked through the door of Rocketbuster Boots. The unassuming appearance of the building's exterior does not prepare me for the sensory overload that hits just inside the threshold.  I'm bombarded with an explosion of color, the earthy, sensual smell of leather and...**sniff** is that popcorn?

A quick scan around the store and I can see some pillows, belts and even dog collars for sale here, but the stars of the show are, without a doubt, the rows and rows of beautiful, colorful hand-made boots.  I'm greeted by a friendly blonde gal, Rocketbuster's owner Nevena Christi, who is busy measuring some lucky guy for his new custom boots. As I stroll around, looking at styles of boots, I can't help but pick up each one to feel the leather and run my hands over the detailing.  I've seen plenty of boots in my time, but these are special.  Styles range from classic "cowboy boot" designs, to intricate lacy cut-out styles. There's a line inspired by tattoo art.  If you're into a particular theme -- wine, chili peppers, music, fly fishing, Dia de la Muerte -- there's a boot here for you.

Rocketbuster boots are handmade on the premises using the finest leathers and exotic skins like crocodile and python.  They've cobbled hand-sewn custom boots for celebrities like Tom Cruise, Sharon Stone, Rascal Flatts, Brooks & Dunn, Oprah and even current GOP hopeful Mitt Romney.  Ranging from $800 to $5,000, these one-of-a-kind boots are all stitched and assembled by hand.  Each pair of boots takes so much time to make that Rocketbuster only produces 500 per year. 

As I continue walking the aisles, I spot a large popcorn maker.  Ah, that explains the smell. And there's one other thing you can't miss as you walk through the store: the world's largest pair of boots, as designated by a Guinness World Record certificate of authenticity, bestowed in 1999.  According to info on Rocketbuster's website, the boots are 5 feet tall and a size 328D.

While I didn't order myself a new pair of boots, I didn't leave empty handed either.  I treated myself to a really nice belt, black with a python inlay, which I know I will enjoy for a long time to come.

There are so many things to do in the fun town of El Paso and I will spend some time on those in a later blog entry.  You can read more about it here and order yourself some free brochures too.  If you do make plans to come, I'd urge you to call Rocketbuster and set up an appointment for a tour with Nevena.  It will be one of the highlights of your trip.

 

 

 

 

TOUR TEXAS: The Open Road is Calling

Sunday, January 1, 2012 by The Texas Travelin' Man

 

It’s a new year, a leap year. A whole new 366 days to explore the adventure to be found on Texas back roads, on Main Street, and in the heart of Texans who make this the greatest state in the Union.

On my calendar for this year are blogging and photo trips to new craft breweries such as the Karbach Brewing Company in Houston, and established wineries from Bernhardt in Plantersville to the Fairhaven Vineyards in Hawkins.

Minor League baseball will be played for the first time in Sugar Land when the Skeeters take to the diamond at Constellation Field this spring. I plan to be there to cover the action. 

I’ll be heading over to Grand Saline to check out the reptilian action at the East Texas Gators & Wildlife Park, paying my respects at painted churches, and continuing the search for the best catfish kitchen in the state. So much to see, so much report . . .

sour root

In 2011 Texas highways led me to some mighty fine food, new friends, little known historical spots, and quirky attractions. Quality time spent with retired railroad man Bobby Jack Middleton in Hearne and Frank the hobo in Tomball was unexpected. The thick chocolate malt that I found at The Diner in Corsicana brought back childhood memories, while hearing first person accounts of the ghosts of Galveston, San Antonio and on The Lex in Corpus Christi was chilling.    

Coming face-to-face with “Old Sparky”, the infamous electric chair at Huntsville’s Texas Prison Museum, was thoughtful provoking, and visiting the graves of men who fought for the Texas military during the American Civil War was humbling.

I loved touring the Tee Pee Motel in Wharton with its rows of cone-shaped lodges, a throwback to the day when the family summer vacation was made in a station wagon and Route 66 was more than just a tune on the AM radio.

Sampling Dr Pepper made from the original sugar laced recipe in Dublin was sweet . . . pun intended. The Sterling McCall Cadillac Museum in Warrenton was a nice surprise and exploring the historic Fulton Mansion near Rockport was really cool for a fan of architectural design.

Then there were the churches, big and small. The stained glass at the Bethlehem Lutheran Church in Round Top was “heavenly”, and the tiny Saint Martin’s Catholic Church on Highway 237 was so . . . small.

The mom-and-pop restaurants that I visited in 2011 were no less than awesome. The T-bone steak at San Antonio’s Josephine Street Café easily went head-to-head with the fried shrimp at the Laguna Reef in Flour Bluff. Barbecue at Holders in Dobbin was just as good as the original “pig sandwich” at the Pig Stand on Broadway in the Alamo City. And, the burger at the Chicken Oil Company in Bryan is still at the top of my list . . . well, at least for now.

My Texas getaways were seriously good in 2011. Maybe this year you’ll hit the road to create your own Lone Star adventures and meet a character or two.  I certainly plan to keep on pick-up truckin’ across the state on my own as a Texas trekker. It’s just too much fun not to!

Listen . . . the open road is calling. Can you hear it?  

mike





  Michael Baxter is the Texas Travelin' Man


Always visit TourTexas.com for Texas travel information, brochures, travel guides and more.

TOUR TEXAS: Santa is Good to Go!

Saturday, December 24, 2011 by The Texas Travelin' Man

 

“How jerky is that?” That’s what some of my friends might say when they open their Christmas gift from me in a couple of days.

I was driving home to Houston from north Texas recently and listening to non-stop holiday music thanks to my wife.  Between Thanksgiving and Christmas she has the incredible ability to sniff out every radio station in Texas that plays songs of the season 24-7. Needless to say I had Christmas on my mind.

As we drove along I-45 I thought about my own Christmases past, what I might be getting from Santa this year, and what I was going to get for my hard-to-shop-for friends. That’s when it came to me like a tide of Yule . . . so to speak. We were just minutes from Woody’s Smokehouse – “The Jerky Capital of the World”, and I was now a Santa on a holiday mission.

Woody

Woody’s Smokehouse has been a roadside destination for travelers passing through Centerville for a long time. One side of the shop is a traditional convenience store with grocery items, chilled coolers filled with soft drinks and adult beverages, and off-the-wall things from Christmas tree shaped auto air fresheners to jumbo sized cigarette lighters. But, it’s the other side of the store that beckons today . . . the side filled with jerky and jars of tasty southern memories to share on December 25th.

Through the glass of the market style display cases I could see all sorts of meaty gift ideas, dried and bagged for purchase. For the unadventurous there was traditional beef jerky and turkey jerky. Good choices under normal circumstances, but lacking as spicy stocking stuffers at Christmas.

Then I saw them and the holiday shopping frenzy began. There was hickory smoked peppered beef jerky next to spiced venison jerky. Hot elk and smoked elk jerky shared space with thick smoked buffalo jerky. There was sweet and spicy beef jerky and Teriyaki beef jerky, along with dried pork jerky. On top of the cases were what looked to be old round cheese hoops filled with more jerky . . . bags of jalapeno beef jerky, smoked turkey tenders, meat “sticks” of all description and more.   This was like a grown up version of a kid in a candy store.

The gift gathering continued as I turned to find Mason-like jars loaded with horseradish jelly and watermelon rind pickles. Shelves were packed with southern style pickled ocra, green tomato pickles, “Peachy Peach” halves, and cherry cobbler. “I didn’t know that my Mema worked in the kitchen Woody’s Smokehouse,” I thought with a grin as a grabbed a jar of sweet pickles.

This was nice. I was going to share some good eats and Texas-style memories with my friends this Christmas compliments of the old smokehouse in Centerville.

Oh, by the way . . . Santa is good to go. There was no reindeer jerky to be found. I asked!

mike







  Michael Baxter is the Texas Travelin' Man


Always check in with TourTexas.com for the latest Texas Travel Information, brochures, maps and great ideas on what to do in Texas.

TOUR TEXAS: Tradition or Not?

Saturday, December 17, 2011 by The Texas Travelin' Man

 

It’s Christmastime in Texas . . .

 

Traditions range from cowboy boot tree ornaments and long horns with Christmas balls dangling left and right, to snowmen decked out in western wear and Poncho Claus delivering toys to kids from his lowrider in the barrio.

 Whether you’re a fan or not, one Texas holiday tradition has been around since before the turn of the last century - the Christmas fruitcake from the Collin Street Bakery in Corsicana.

fruitcake

Loaded with fists full of pecans, cherries, pineapple, raisins, papaya, sugar and all sorts of other stuff, the DeLuxe Texas Fruitcake is a Lone Star legend. On a recent visit to the 105-year old bakery on West 7th Avenue in downtown Corsicana, I watched as hundreds of folks sampled and searched for the perfect holiday treat to share with their family and friends.

Just imagine . . . this is the fruitcake given to the Crown Heads of Europe by circus great John Ringling. It was enjoyed by American cowboy and humorist Will Rogers, and world famous Italian tenor Enrico Caruso.  There I was surrounded by fruitcake lovers and those, like myself, willing to give the much maligned holiday dessert a second chance based on reputation.

There were all sorts of tasty-looking options displayed behind the glass. There was an apricot pecan cake, a pineapple pecan cake, and an apple cinnamon pecan cake. Then there was the Texas Blonde pecan cake and mini pecan cakes in tiny tins. Deluxe Petites and chocolate Petites and apricot Petites and pineapple pecan Petites . . . it was overwhelming. But wait… there was more.

I had come to taste the legend and maybe take one home, but no . . . I was now confronted with the Collin Street Bakery’s New York cheese cake, a key lime cheese cake, a praline pecan cheese cake, berry cheese cakes of all sorts and something called a Pumpkin Extravaganza. Then there were the traditional cakes, pies and cookies, not to mention the candies and nuts. Why were they making it so difficult? Why?

I worked and weaved my way to the counter only to find that the covered sample tray had been picked clean by fruit cake scavengers ahead of me. It was a Christmas conspiracy . . . the anticipation, the waiting, and now this.

I broke from the counter, and based on pure faith and a century old reputation, I picked up a tin of fruit-laden Texas tradition and walked slowly to the check-out. 

Today as I wait patiently for the family Christmas dinner in a few short days I wonder, will this fruitcake from Collin Street Bakery become a tradition in my home? Maybe so, but if not I sure have a lot of other choices at the old bakery to work with and I have no problem giving each of them a try.

mike










  Michael Baxter is the Texas Travelin' Man


Always visit TourTexas.com for the latest Texas Travel Information and for Texas maps and brochures.

TOUR TEXAS: Bah Humbugs Not Allowed

Monday, December 12, 2011 by The Texas Travelin' Man

 

You’ve got to love Christmastime in small town Texas. From Orange to El Paso and Brownsville to Amarillo, lights are strung throughout downtown with care, in hopes that the tourist soon would be there. 

Not too far north of Dallas is the town of McKinney. For 31-years the community has staged one “Dickens of a Christmas” and this year I was there to join in the celebration. Though not as large or flamboyant as the famed Dickens on the Strand in Galveston, McKinney still throws a great holiday party on the Square every Thanksgiving weekend.

The gray sky, crisp temps and steady breeze added to the Victorian era theme of the decorated downtown.  As we strolled the 12-block historic district we noticed that “A Christmas Carol” was being performed at McKinney Performing Arts Center inside the old courthouse. Nearby, Santa was listening closely to a young boy as the child confirmed that he had been good all year long and that an X-Box would be the perfect gift to find under the tree this Christmas.

Dickens

At the corner of Tennessee Street and Virginia two women dressed in their Victorian best posed for a photo. “Make it quick”, one said as the cold wind whipped beneath her dress. They were heading inside for hot tea and cookies.

All around us families walked together, talked together, and experienced quality time together as if traveling with the Ghost of Christmas Past to time long ago. There was caroling on one street corner and hand bells on another. The Victorian magic show befuddled a group of kids as their parents stood back with their cups of hot coffee and tea.

Out front of the historic Grand Hotel McKinney was a garland wrapped karaoke stage where youngsters took turns singing loud and out-of-tune renditions of Rudolf the Red Nosed Reindeer and Jingle Bells. But, no one cared that they weren’t pitch perfect. It was Christmastime in McKinney and everyone was having fun.

The restaurants and shops around the Square were in full holiday mode. There were festive decorations both inside and out. The original Panty Restaurant was filled with festival goers at lunchtime looking for a ho-ho-home-cooked meal. I had the Blue Plate Special . . . a large portion of meat loaf with hot mashed potatoes and a bowl of beans. It was mighty fine on this blustery day in north Texas.

This is what Christmas in small town Texas is - happy faces, greeting everyone with a wave or a friendly nod, spending time with the family and joining in a tune or two celebrating the real reason for the season.  

Don’t even consider being a Scrooge if you’re coming to McKinney at Christmas. Bah humbugs are not allowed.  

Be sure to visit TourTexas.com for a complete list of Christmas festivals and celebrations throughout Texas.

mike






  Michael Baxter is the Texas Travelin' Man


Always visit TourTexas.com for the latest Texas Travel information, travel guides and Texas brochures.

TOUR TEXAS: Christmastime in Grapevine

Tuesday, December 6, 2011 by The Texas Travelin' Man
grapevine


There should have been a big banner over the street that read “Just add snow!”. 

 

Christmastime surrounded us as we walked along the crowded sidewalk in scenic downtown Grapevine. Everywhere you looked there were colorful lights and smiling faces, giant red bows and displays of the season.  But it was more than the festive decorations; Christmastime was in the crisp north Texas air. You could feel it and it felt real good.

 

Grapevine knows how to celebrate Christmas and it shows in the weeks of activities staged throughout December. On this particular night we were there for no particular reason other than to just enjoy the atmosphere that is Grapevine during the holidays.
 

 

The animated North Pole was a favorite for kids. I stood and watched as they ran from a Keebler-like treehouse with busy elves, to a toy workshop, and then on Santa’s bedroom where more elves frantically tried to wake their bearded buddy for his annual trek to the south.

 

A short walk past whimsically decorated collectible shops and boutiques was a park with thousands of synchronized holiday lights. The gazebo flashed multicolored patterns in the night alongside a conical Christmas tree towering nearby. First solid green then red, next came a rainbow of light followed by total darkness only to repeat again to the beat of traditional Christmas tunes. It was hypnotic and fascinating to watch standing there with hundreds of others who had come to share the joy.

 

Hung high above the traffic along Main Street were reindeer in lights. The sales and wait staff in shops and restaurants were dressed in their winter pajamas to celebrate the North Pole Express making a holiday stop at the Cotton Belt Railroad District through Christmas. 

 

From the Grapevine Opry Country Christmas to the historic pioneer cabins, and the City’s signature wineries and tasting rooms, Christmas was everywhere and everyone was filled with the spirit of the season. You could see it in the children’s faces. But, it was not just the Santa kind of Christmas. It was bigger than that as it should be. It was a peaceful, Joy to the World, reason for the season sort of thing and I’m glad that Grapevine is one of the spots that I chose to spend this holiday season.

 

Merry Christmas y’all.

 

For a listing of more Christmas celebrations across Texas, check TourTexas.com now!

mike






  Michael Baxter is the Texas Travelin' Man


Alway check TourTexas.com for the latest Texas Travel and Vacation information, brochures, maps and more.

TOUR TEXAS: Malt Shop Memory Maker

Tuesday, November 29, 2011 by The Texas Travelin' Man

 

My chocolate malt was a tad thicker and creamier than any that I have had in years. Topped with a mound of whipped cream and a single stemmed maraschino cherry, it was more than tasty . . . for me it was a flashback to the days of Billy Hailey, Chuck Berry and the Big Bopper. This was the real deal right in the middle of Corsicana, Texas.

Originally opened in 1905, The Diner on North Beaton Street is the oldest continually operating soda fountain in Texas and with the same ice cream machine purchased in 1922 it still cranks out old-style Dr Pepper floats, sodas, sundaes and banana splits to customers from the Piney Woods to Waco and north to Ennis. 

Diner

It’s been years since I had a Purple People Eater – a tall drink of grape soda and vanilla ice cream, or a Brown Cow – an incredible mix of root beer and chocolate syrup with vanilla ice cream. When was the last time you even heard of a Phosphate? For readers under the age of 50, a Phosphate is a well balanced mix of flavored syrup and soda water over ice. The perfect combination should be left to the professionals like Pepper, our waitress and hand scoop extraordinaire.

As we sat at a red vinyl booth it was impossible not to take in the history around us. The scuffed, stained floor was worn white tile with Art Deco patterns in black, red and teal green. The matching green and red counter was original with a row of chrome-railed red and black vinyl swivel stools. Above the mirrored back wall behind the counter hung a large sign from the early days that read “Hashop Drugs – ice cream”.

Well used Coca-Cola and Dr Pepper fountains rested on the counter top as customers sat and enjoyed their meal to either side.

 I ordered my cheese burger done the old fashioned way, the way burgers used to be served up during the heyday of diners and soda shops. It was loaded with great taste and better memories.

As I savored those memories along with the ¼ lb. stack of beef, lettuce, tomatoes, onions and extra mustard, classic country tunes from the ‘60s floated over head. If only for a moment it was small town Texas from decades past and I was hanging on to every second of it for as long as I could.

When the check came I quickly returned to present day reality . . . there was no 5-cent dipped ice cream or 15-cent soda on my tab like there used to be. But, the modern day price was well worth the cost of admission to this malt shop memory maker in Corsicana.

mike







  Michael Baxter is the Texas Travelin' Man


Always check with TourTexas.com for the latest Texas Travel Information, and for Texas City Maps, Brochures and Travel Guides.

TOUR TEXAS: Small Town Pageantry

Tuesday, November 22, 2011 by The Texas Travelin' Man

 

It’s parade season. Multi-million dollar productions in New York City, Anaheim and elsewhere around the country fill the holidays and our television screens with glitz and pageantry.

But, despite their uber budgets – ask a Hill Country German if you need a definition - those nationally televised events can’t compete in spirit and pride with the productions staged in small town Texas.

Earlier this fall I stood elbow-to-elbow with thousands of spectators along the curb at the Gillespie County Parade in Fredericksburg and the annual Holiday Parade in Tomball.  The excitement and anticipation in the air was as thick as the oak and pecan-infused smoke at the Salt Lick around lunch time.

parade

A jacked up, tricked out F-150 with a local beauty queen, sponsored by a neighborhood florist, and wrapped in yellow roses and tinsel streamers is every bit as special to a small community as a two story fairy tale float on 34th Street in the Big Apple.

The pride of the local high school band, smartly dressed in its performance garb and marching to the beat of a precision drum line is contagious. There are the old military vehicles sporting the red, white and blue and carrying veterans from WWII, Korea and Vietnam as ROTC units march in step nearby.

In Fredericksburg there was a canopied flatbed trailer filled with seniors rocking back and forth while waving to the crowd. In Tomball it was a Camaro convertible with the recently crowned Mrs. Senior Assisted Living surrounded by her great grandkids.

The distinctly different sirens of a 70-year-old unit and a state-of-the-art fire engine wailed in harmony as they rolled down the flagged boulevard. Men and boys removed their well-worn caps and western hats each time Old Glory passed by. Young girls cringed and giggled when the horses “pooped” on the asphalt.

Wide-eyed kids found it hard to focus on any one element of the procession. Cowboys on horseback to the left were competing with colorful clowns on motor scooters to the right. An Uncle Sam on stilts loped along the yellow stripe on Main Street in Tomball. Antique tractors and hand-pulled red wagons toting costumed farm dogs rolled by in the “Burg”. It was eye candy for all ages and it was all Texas.

Big city parades may have their high flying helium filled cartoon characters, heart-throb celebrities and rose covered rolling wonderlands, but they will never have the down home authenticity of a locally owned parade. It’s a spectacle of community pride. It’s small town Texas and I’ll take that over big city pomp any day.

mike










  Michael Baxter is the Texas Travelin' Man


Always check out TourTexas.com for the latest Texas travel information, when planning your family vacations in Texas, and for Texas brochures.

TOUR TEXAS: Let's Go To Luckenbach,Texas

Saturday, November 12, 2011 by The Texas Travelin' Man



Its name was made legend in a song. Luckenbach.

Over the years the stories, the music, and the history have all combined to give this iconic community between Fredericksburg and Boerne an image that any place would have a tough time living up to.

I had no idea what to expect as I turned onto the Luckenbach Town Loop off of Ranch Road 1376.  I rounded the final curve in the narrow road and there it was . . . a spread of old-style tin-roofed barnwood buildings set beneath towering shade trees and surrounded by rows of motorcycles, SUVs and pickup trucks. Welcome to Luckenbach!

It could have been a movie set, but this was the place of “blue eyes cryin’ in the rain…”.

luckenbach

The dust rose in puffs around my boots as I walked toward the Post Office. A tourist sat on the front porch of the historic old wooden building. A sign overhead read “U.S. Post Office, Luckenbach, Texas, 1850-1971”. We both nodded as I walked past.

The path I picked led to a live acoustic guitar venue where a single performer played his Texas tunes to a small audience of appreciative guests. Like me, some were first timers, while others were regulars who come to Luckenbach when they feel the urge to leave it all behind for an hour or two, listen to a little Country music and sip on a cold Lone Star.

The smell of barbecue filled the air as I took a quick look into the nearby dance hall with its well-worn hardwood floor and array of overhead string lights.  This was the stuff that memories are made of. Some of Texas’ most well known performers have sung their songs here. Ray Benson, Gary P. Nunn, Charlie Robison, and Willie’s daughter Paula Nelson were set for gigs around the holidays. I closed my eyes and could almost hear them among the sound of revving Harley’s and children playing in the manicured glade across the creek.

As the web site reads, “ Luckenbach . . . A Texas state of mind, where you can kick back, relax and get away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life—like a step back in time.” That’s true, but for me it was more. It was a look at how Texas used to be and how many of us sometimes wish it still was.  Now that I’ve found it, let’s go to Luckenback, Texas . . . more often.

mike







  Michael Baxter is the Texas Travelin' Man

Always check in at TourTexas.com for the latest Texas Travel Information, for Texas Brochures and Travel Information.

TOUR TEXAS: Dilemma in Dobbin

Wednesday, November 9, 2011 by The Texas Travelin' Man

I was torn. What would it be? What would it be?

I had heard that Holder’s Barbecue and Burgers was the best. Not just in Montgomery County, but among the best in Texas. 

The tales of Bobby Holder’s barbecue brisket sandwich were legend. I’d also been told stories about the juicy cheese burger and how people would drive for miles to his restaurant along Highway 105 in Dobbin between Montgomery and Plantersville. 

Holders

As I stood at the walk-up window waiting to place my order I couldn’t help but gawk at the décor. Hundreds of license plates from across the U.S. carpeted the rustic barnwood walls. A handwritten cardboard sign near the register read, “If You’re In A Hurry, Go To Houston!” 

I do love a good cheeseburger, but today the thought of a smoked barbecue brisket sandwich sounded real good. I got it with extra sauce, pickles, onions and pickled jalapenos. As a good friend of mine says, it was “mighty fine.” The brisket was piled high on a fresh bun and the sweet iced tea washed down a side of hot, crispy fries with ease.

The smoky sweet barbecue sauce worked its way into my mustache and ran down my chin. I didn’t even try to stop it. This was good Texas eatin’.

As I savored this roadside treat I took in the atmosphere. Seated to my right at a heavy wooden picnic table with names and hearts carved into its surface was a monk, a gypsy, and two civilians . . . obviously on the way the Texas Renaissance Festival a few miles to the east. A large ice house-style dining room and dance hall to the side featured a whiskey keg bar surrounded by barnwood walls and topped with a high rusty tin ceiling.

Deer and boar head mounts shared wall space along side neons and signs with slogans like, “Fish Naked . . . Show Off Your Bobbers”, and a bikini clad mannequin cowgirl on a balcony overlooking the scene.

The wooden floor had been intentionally designed to creak with the sound of a much older building and the wide garage doors across the way opened onto an oak shaded yard where live music plays when the weather cooperates.  This was the whole package.

The building, barbecue, burgers and Bobby Holder . . . It was a Texas-style treat for the senses, and a great outcome from my dilemma in Dobbin.

mike







  Michael Baxter is the Texas Travelin' Man

Always check TourTexas.com for the latest Texas Tourist Information, to get Texas Travel Brochures and more . . .

TOUR TEXAS: The Menger - San Antonio's Haunted Hotel

Sunday, October 30, 2011 by The Texas Travelin' Man

Ghost sightings are nothing unusual in San Antonio. The downtown is filled with “spirited spots” said to be the favorite haunts of the departed.

With all the carnage surrounding the siege of the Alamo in 1836 it should be no surprise that the historic site and the city blocks surrounding it are said to be loaded with paranormal activity. Add to that natural deaths in the years to follow and you have the perfect scenario for specters and spooks near the Riverwalk.

menger

The beautiful Menger Hotel is reported to be among the most haunted of San Antonio’s historic downtown locations. Directly across the street from the Alamo and built on the site of Texas’ first brewery, the Menger Hotel opened for business in 1859. From President Theodore Roosevelt to baseball great Babe Ruth, the Menger continues to provide a nostalgic place of rest for the living  . . . and the dead.

My friend Jo Cox spent many years working in San Antonio’s hospitality industry. From the legendary St. Anthony to the Crockett Hotel, and other properties, she says the Menger still ranks at the top when it comes to things that go bump in the night.

There is the story of ghostly hotel chambermaid who was murdered by her husband. Sallie White was so loved by the hotel staff that they paid for her funeral, and out of apparent gratitude she is said to still roam the halls of the Victorian wing of the Menger late at night attempting to continue her assigned housekeeping duties.

The spirit of a woman wearing a blue dress and small, metal spectacles is often seen knitting in the old lobby. It is said that she appears to be an “intelligent” haunting, and actually rude to anyone when spoken to.

Tales of the ghost of King Ranch founder Captain Richard King persist to this day. King spent the last days of his life in his suite at the Menger and his funeral was held in the parlor there. Many employees and guests have said that the spirit of Captain King simply drifts in and out of his former suite without regard for walls and closed doors.

On occasion items have moved on their own or “floated” in mid air, and for years staff and guests have reported hearing voices and laughter when there is no viable explanation. As my friend Jo once told me, the Menger Hotel is the place for a supernatural stay in the Alamo City.

mike







Michael Baxter is the Texas Travelin' Man


Always check TourTexas.com for the latest on Texas Family Vacations, Texas Travel Information, and to get free Texas Brochures.

TOUR TEXAS: Galveston's Mardi Gras Ghost

Monday, October 17, 2011 by The Texas Travelin' Man

For years the Mernard House at 33rd Street and Avenue N 1/2 has been known as "the" haunted house of Galveston.
Menard
Built in 1838, the home of Michael Mernard - one of the original signers of the Texas Declaration of Independence, sat empty for many years with its windows boarded shut. The imposing oaks surrounding the mansion only added to its eerie appearance. In fact, long time Islanders such as my old friend Sheila Lidstone still talk about crossing the street as kids in order to avoid passing directly in front of the "creepy" old house. Like Ashton Villa, Mernard House is today one of Galveston's most beautifully restored historic homes with rumors of its own resident ghost.

According to local legend, well before the Civil War the Mernard House was the site of Galveston's first ever Mardi Gras Ball. At midnight a young woman tripped on the front hall stairway, fell and broke her neck.

For years that followed on Mardi Gras night, Mernard's slaves were said to have seen the ghost of the young woman standing on the stairs. It is not known for sure who the young woman was, but it is believed to be Mernard's daughter, Clara, who reportedly died in her teens.

Another ghostly tale of Galveston Island . . .
 
mike




  Michael Baxter is the Texas Travelin' Man

Always use TourTexas.com for Texas City Maps, Texas Brochures, Family Vacations in Texas and more...



TOUR TEXAS: Music Among the Manuscripts

Monday, October 17, 2011 by The Texas Travelin' Man

Music Among the Manuscripts

If asked to name the most "spirited" cities in Texas, San Antonio, Galveston and a few others would probably top most lists. But among the rocket scientists, oil workers and its towering office buildings, Houston has accumulated a fair number of haunted hangouts over the years. After all, the Bayou City has been around since 1836.

Right in the heart of downtown is a bit of ghostly gossip that has lived on for more than 70-years. The Julie Ideson Building at the old Houston Public Library opened in 1928, and with its opening a custodian named Mr. Cramer and his shepherd dog Pete were there.

Mr. Cramer was loner who lived in a basement apartment beneath the library. After working all day he found companionship in Pete and his ever-present violin. Seldom was the night when Mr. Cramer didn't stroll through the building playing beautiful melodies on his instrument, eventually making his way to the ornate rotunda where he would perform one man concerts late into the night. It was said that his lilting version of the "Blue Danube Waltz" could bring a man to tears.

Sometime in the late 1930s Mr. Cramer died in his small basement apartment. But even so, folks said that his music could still be heard throughout the building for years after his passing. Skeptics believed that it was only the wind blowing through the drafty old library, but those who heard the "Blue Danube Waltz" on windless nights were convinced that Mr. Cramer and Pete were still on the job minding the manuscripts at the Houston Public Library.

mike





  Michael Baxter is the Texas Travelin' Man

Always visit TourTexas.com for the latest Texas Tourism Information, Texas Travel Guides, Texas Brochures and more.

TOUR TEXAS: On Texas 35

Monday, October 3, 2011 by The Texas Travelin' Man
rockport

A short drive up the coast from Corpus Christi are the communities of Rockport and Fulton.

I had driven through several times over the years, but on this particular day I decided to stop and see what it was that many of my friends found so endearing about this part of Texas.

Sure, being on the Texas Gulf Coast in itself was a plus, but there had to be more. There had to be something else that draws guests by the thousands  . . . it didn’t take me long to find out why.

We came into Rockport down a drive of eclectic shops, restaurants and art galleries. The pastel colors, shingle signs, and wall murals were what you might expect from a quirky coastal community.

 My favorite wall art was a faded advertisement for The Cool Coast Camp. An almost folk art image of what appeared to be a giant sawfish was painted on a building along with a notation of its 17-foot length, 6 ½ foot width and 2,000 lbs. weight. To the side it read free admission, and at the bottom was brushed, “Hamburgers and Ice Cream”. I love this stuff!

Our next stop was the marina with row after row of gulf worthy vessels, some with masts, others without, but all really cool for a guy who has spend very little time on the water. Nearby were the public beach and the Texas Maritime Museum. A boater told me that the Museum was the site of the annual Rockport Festival of Wine & Food, and was filled with stories about the rich maritime history of Texas. He had me at wine and food.

From there my Texas Travelin’ Gal and I drove over to the neighboring community of Fulton with its resort-style homes and hidden getaways. It was there that we happened upon the incredible Fulton Mansion, completed in 1877. 

With an architectural design reminiscent of the Addams Family with a Texas flare, the Fulton Mansion offers a rare glimpse into the posh Victorian world of a prominent South Texas family during the days when central heating, interior gas lighting and flush toilets were a novelty here.

From birding and fishing, to shopping for art treasures, or just relaxing in the salty breeze, I now have a better understanding of why my buddies like this part of the state. The Rockport/Fulton area is now on my list of places to spend more time when traveling along the south Texas coast on Texas 35.


mike









Michael Baxter is the Texas Travelin' Man


Alway use TourTexas.com for Texas Tourist Information, Family Vacations in Texas and Texas Brochures.