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Because we travel around the state a fair bit, and our readers often regale us with the charms of their far-flung communities, we know of the boundless possibilities Texas offers. We talk about how you can go almost anywhere and discover adventures if you pack your curiosity. Heck, throw a dart at a map of Texas, someone said, go wherever it lands, and I bet you’ll have fun.
So that’s what we did. Seven of us on the Texas Co-op Power staff tossed darts at a road map. Second tries were granted after a couple stuck in Oklahoma or the Gulf of Mexico. Ultimately, here’s where we and our darts landed: Brown, Burleson, Hemphill, Henderson, Medina, Scurry and Terrell counties.
We wanted to avoid the well-worn weekend trips and be surprised at what Texas has to offer, and our darts helped us do just that. Did you know you could go scuba diving in the West Texas desert? Did you know a Panhandle town has an old church that became a doctor’s home and is now an impressive art museum? Neither did we.
And that was the whole point.
Refreshing the soul at Independence Creek Preserve
By Suzanne Haberman
Seven-year-old Lindy Wrinkle bounds up the mesa, leading the way to a limestone cave overlooking Independence Creek Preserve in West Texas. Despite a pinkish bow holding back flaxen hair, dry wind blows wisps into her crystalline blue eyes as she bounds among prickly pear, catclaw acacia and ocotillo. Her mom, Lisa Wrinkle, Lower Pecos Program Coordinator for The Nature Conservancy of Texas, follows close behind, consenting to let Lindy introduce “the birdman.”
Near the top, eroded sedimentary rock forms a cave that provided shelter to indigenous peoples as long as 7,000 years ago. Lindy bops over boulders and finds the cave art, a weathered black image about 4 inches tall depicting a beaked profile on wide, winged shoulders. The young guide defers to her mom to describe the cave’s other features but observes with contagious curiosity the counting cuts, dulling grooves and a carved crosshatch pattern that perhaps indicated to early dwellers the presence of water in the desert.
In the valley below, Caroline Springs bursts with 3,000 to 5,000 gallons of water per minute before flowing into Independence Creek, a tributary and the largest freshwater contributor of the Pecos River in Texas. The water here is so pure that Lisa’s 9-year-old son, Logan, shows off by drinking directly from the spring.
Independence Creek Preserve, owned by The Nature Conservancy since 2000, covers about 20,000 acres in Terrell County roughly 120 miles south of Odessa. Lisa and the four other professionals who live on the preserve are restoring the former ranchland to a more natural state. Their efforts include watershed management to revitalize the wetlands and brush management to re-establish grasslands on mesa tops. The initiative aims to protect the land from being divided and foster habitat for the plants and animals of the Chihuahuan Desert, Edwards Plateau and Tamaulipan Thornscrub ecological regions that meet here.
Half the territory is opened to the public several times a year. My husband and I spend about 24 hours on the preserve, where we, inspired by Lindy, explore heights and depths with wonderment.
At dusk, we pitch our tent at a remote campsite away from the spring and other visitors. As the sun sets between mesas, the day’s last rays illuminate a cave near the top of a nearby mountain. We resolve to hike there come morning.
Navigating the steep and rocky terrain, full of every kind of pokey plant in three ecological regions, doesn’t come as easily to us as it does to Lindy, but after an hour, we near the summit. Childlike excitement wells up in me as I scale the last limestone rock face and step into the mouth of the cave.
Inside, we marvel at tiny stalactites, fossils, scat, fresh bones and jigsaw-like placement of rocks in the shelter, measuring about 50 yards wide, 20 feet deep and 15 feet high. We stretch our eyes over the distance and revel in feeling small.
Down at the headwaters, fellow campers swim, kayak and fish in the two small spring-filled lakes. I don my swimsuit and ease in while shivering children encourage me to just jump. Then a scuba diver lends me his gear for a better look below. Tank attached, I dip into the 68-degree water and enter another world. Red and green water primrose grows in columns and curtains, forming underwater chambers that are home to largemouth bass, sequin-like shiners and plate-sized Rio Grande cichlid.
I emerge from the spring feeling reborn. As Lisa said the day before as we looked out over the valley from the mesa, “It really refreshes the soul.”
To learn more, visit nature.org and search for Independence Creek Preserve.
2014 Open Events Schedule
August 29–31, 3 p.m. Friday–noon Sunday
September 20, 9 a.m.–6 p.m.
Registration required for camping
Where Southern charm greets visitors in West Texas
By Grace Arsiaga
A visit to the West Texas town of Snyder takes travelers to a time when good food and service and small-town friendliness are still the rule. Dinner at The Butcher’s Block, known for steaks and seafood, is my introduction to fine dining in the comfortable atmosphere of a small-town restaurant. The menu showcases Southern favorites such as bone-in pork chops, fried catfish and chicken-fried steak, as well as lighter options such as blackened fish tacos and Texas redfish. My waitress suggests oysters on the half shell, but instead I order a juicy sirloin with salad, grilled asparagus and a baked potato. For a bit of country flair, drinks come in large mason jars.
I spend the night at the rustic Windmill Ranch Preserve, which includes a bed and breakfast run by Marianne Randals. The walls, floors and ceilings of the inn are all made of unfinished wood, and antique furniture and collectibles decorate each room. I stay in the Big House, with my own bathroom directly across the hall. Breakfast the next morning is served in the sunlit Pavilion, a spacious common room beside the Big House.
When shopping on Snyder’s town square, consider stopping for lunch at the Big Apple Deli. Owner Bill Robertson based the deli on a place in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, where he worked as a kid. The bricks at the bar came from Snyder’s streets and wood on the east wall from an old church. The dining room is the original lobby of the old Manhattan Hotel, which thrived during the oil boom decades ago.
A must-see in Snyder is the Triangle Sinclair gas station, restored in a 1950s style and featuring the Sinclair brand’s iconic green dinosaur out front. Built in 1935 and operated until the late 1960s by Ramon “Bushy” Hedges, the station fell into disrepair after Hedges had to sell it. In 2010, Snyder native Lynn Fuller bought the station. Fuller and his business partner, Franklin Bryant, refurbished the building. The station is not operational but frequently hosts class reunions, car clubs and tours. Inside, the office looks just as it must have 60 years ago.
Western Texas College in Snyder is home to the Scurry County Museum. Items in the permanent gallery, donated by area families, tell the history of Scurry County. The museum’s front lobby is dedicated to educational activities and is a popular field trip destination for area schools. Exhibits are changed regularly to encourage repeat visitors. Admission is free, and executive director Daniel Schlegel Jr. has boosted attendance from 600 visitors a year to 9,500 in his four years there. The museum is a great way to spend an afternoon learning about local history.
Big Country EC serves parts of Scurry County.
Plan a visit or learn more about Scurry County with the help of these resources:
A showcase for a Panhandle town’s world-class art collection
By Jeff Joiner
Driving along Sixth Street in Canadian, I can tell this Panhandle town is proud of its history and particular about its appearance. The hometown feeling is fostered by historic churches and stately 19th-century homes graced with manicured yards and huge shade trees. On the corner of South Sixth Street and East Nelson Avenue, my destination is an impressive structure that looks to be part church and part mansion, which is pretty close to being correct.
Once a Baptist church and later a family home, the grand edifice, now known as The Citadelle, is perhaps the best surprise a traveler to Canadian will discover.
The Citadelle is home to the extensive art collection of Malouf and Therese Abraham. No longer the family’s dwelling, The Citadelle is now a public art museum that rivals in beauty and architecture the small art museums found in cities several times larger than Canadian, population 2,832.
The Abrahams bought the abandoned First Baptist Church building in 1977 for $15,000 and began renovating and expanding it while preserving its original details, including stained-glass windows and ornate columns. The Abrahams not only renovated the 8,000-square-foot church but also began buying up surrounding property until they owned the entire block. In the place of the neighboring houses, the Abrahams transformed the grounds into elegant formal gardens.
Malouf Abraham Jr., the grandson of Lebanese immigrants to Canadian, was a doctor and enjoyed a practice specializing in allergies. Passionate art collectors, Malouf and Therese Abraham used their home as a showplace for their renowned art collection, purchased over four decades of travel. The collection began in 1972 when Malouf Abraham wandered into a New York City gallery and walked out the owner of the Norman Rockwell painting, “First Day of School,” now a central piece in the Abraham Art Collection.
The Citadelle holds a variety of American and international works. The collection includes paintings, illustrations and sculptures representing many styles and periods. Going far beyond regional art, the Abrahams sought out the work of artists, including J.C. Leyendecker, Jessie Wilcox Smith, William Adolphe Bouguereau and Georgia O’Keeffe, who are represented in many of the nation’s most important museums.
“We have a substantial collection of internationally known artists,” says Wendie Cook, executive director of The Citadelle. “The pieces in the collection are very personal to the Abrahams. There’s no piece that doesn’t have some kind of emotional connection for them.”
In 2009, the Abrahams decided to preserve their collection and their mansion by creating The Citadelle Art Foundation and donating their art and home to the community. The mansion became the centerpiece of The Citadelle and houses a portion of the Abrahams’ permanent collection, along with their assortment of antique furnishings. A separate gallery built on the grounds features traveling exhibits and special events.
As I tour the gorgeous home and view priceless paintings hanging in every room, even the bathrooms, Cook tells me the Abrahams covered nearly every available square inch of wall space with art when they lived there.
The Citadelle has turned Canadian into an art destination for visitors from across the country and a valuable resource for locals, especially schools that take advantage of the foundation’s educational resources not available in any other small town in Texas.
Greenbelt and North Plains ECs serve parts of Hemphill County.
The Citadelle, 520 Nelson Ave. in Canadian, is open Thursday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Admission is $10 for adults, $8 for seniors 65 and older, and free to those 18 and younger. For information, including a schedule of visiting exhibits, go to thecitadelle.org.
A community’s rich history is proudly on display
By Kevin Hargis
Before I followed a dart deep into the heart of Texas, my knowledge of Brown County and its biggest town, Brownwood, was limited to two legends: Underwood’s Cafeteria and Gordon Wood.
But on my recent visit to the county on the northern edge of the Hill Country, I learned there is more to the place than the home of a decades-old dining institution and one of the country’s most successful high school football coaches.
In the early 1900s, Brownwood, near the geographic center of the state, enjoyed booms brought by oil and the establishment of nearby Camp Bowie, one of the largest World War II military training centers in Texas.
To explore the area’s rich history, I headed to North Broadway Street, where one part of the Brown County Museum of History resides in a former garage. A cornucopia of artifacts awaited: a pioneer’s log cabin and a one-room schoolhouse, both reassembled inside; olive-drab relics from Camp Bowie; and the Birdsong Circus, a miniature big top with a motorized display of hand-painted performers created by a Brownwood resident who was once a circus clown.
Across the street stands another museum building, the imposing former county jail, a castlelike sandstone and concrete structure that opened in 1903. Cramped iron cells on the second floor offer a glimpse at life behind bars. Prisoners were housed just a few feet from the trapdoor that was part of the jail’s built-in gallows.
Downstairs, in what once was the sheriff’s living quarters, two rooms are devoted to the Firearms Museum of Texas’ collection of antique rifles, pistols and shotguns.
A few blocks away on Washington Street, the city’s days as a rail hub are recalled. The restored Brownwood Santa Fe Passenger Depot is connected to the Brownwood Harvey House, a former rail-side restaurant. The Harvey House, now headquarters of the Brownwood Area Chamber of Commerce, includes a tourist center and gift shop. Ask at the gift shop’s counter—or call (325) 646-9535—for access to the replica locker room of the Gordon Wood Hall of Champions upstairs. The hall pays tribute to the coach who led the Lions to seven state championships and who retired in 1985 after 46 years of coaching with a nation-leading 396 career victories.
A sleek 6-year-old glass-and-steel building across Washington Street from the depot houses the Martin & Frances Lehnis Railroad Museum, a collection of equipment gathered during Martin Lehnis’ almost 50-year railroad career. The collection includes model train layouts he built, including an outdoor train big enough to ride (rides are offered only on Saturdays). The museum, adjacent to the main line running through town, has a train-viewing platform and includes a display of a caboose and passenger car.
A piece of living history stands on Commerce Street, where the Underwood family has been feeding customers since 1951. Underwood’s Cafeteria still offers stick-to-your-ribs fare such as smoked meats, fried chicken and chicken-fried steak, served cafeteria style with all-you-can-eat side dishes, rolls, cobbler and beverages.
Just 10 minutes outside of town, the Star of Texas Bed & Breakfast offers a quiet setting for rest and relaxation. My arrival there coincided with a wedding being officiated by owner Don Morelock. The B&B’s rooms are in comfortably furnished individual cabins, but for the more adventurous, the Morelocks offer a stay in a teepee with an interior fire pit.
That evening, I headed back downtown for a memorable meal at The Turtle Restaurant, which touts a “slow food” approach and the use of local ingredients. I savored every morsel of a perfectly seared duck breast served on creamy polenta with a mushroom sauce. The rich chocolate mousse confection to follow was the icing on the cake of my visit.
Coleman County and Comanche ECs serve parts of Brown County.
Plan a visit or learn more about Brownwood with the help of these resources:
Steinbach House adds to Alsatian influence
By Andrew Boze
The idea of small-town Texas brings to mind tradition, ancestry and an everybody-knows-everybody sense of community. But in Castroville, the town’s claim to fame might not initially strike visitors as being “from ’round these parts.”
The Steinbach House opened as a tourism and cultural center in Castroville on April 8, 2002, but its adventures began overseas in the 17th century. The house was built between 1618 and 1648 in Wahlbach in the Alsace region of France, where it would remain for more than 300 years until plans were set in motion to bring the Alsatian structure to Texas.
The building was purchased by the Association Jardin des Racines, beginning a four-year relocation and restoration project, aided by faculty and students of the Lycée Agricole from Rouffach in northeastern France. The house was disassembled and put on a course for Texas, arriving in Houston in January 1998. The parts were then transported to Castroville by truck to be reconstructed on a lot along Highway 90.
Castroville, in eastern Medina County, is known as “The Little Alsace of Texas” because of its origins. Early European settlers in the area were farmers from Alsace, who arrived after founder Henri Castro contracted to colonize the town in 1844.
Reconstruction of the two-and-a-half story, 1,232-square-foot house began in 1998, beginning with the framework. Brick and mortar were added in 1999 to enclose the fachwerk, a style of timber framing. That same year, the Association Jardin Des Racines ordered roofing tiles to be shipped stateside. In February 2000, roofing and landscaping was completed with the help of the Lycée Agricole and the president of the Association Jardin des Racines, André Hartmann. The house’s exterior was plastered and painted soon after, and the interior was revived as a functional living space—complete with authentic furniture and items donated by residents of Alsace—in March 2002.
Sure, the Steinbach House might look a little misplaced to Texans who aren’t familiar with Castroville’s history. But just ask around town and you’ll discover it’s one more part of what makes our state unique. The house is open to the public for viewing throughout the week except Tuesdays, when the house can be viewed by appointment.
Bandera, Karnes and Medina ECs serve parts of Medina County.
Plan a visit or learn more about Castroville at castrovilletx.gov.
Escape to the beauty of the Brazos Valley
By Elizabeth John
If you know anything about Texas, you know how much the locals value their pecans. What’s not to love? If your fondness for pecans is as deep as mine, you must experience Royalty Pecan Farms in Caldwell in the heart of Burleson County, just west of College Station. With a population that barely exceeds 4,000, the town allows for a pleasant escape from the city’s fast-paced hustle and bustle.
Royalty Pecan Farms, east of Caldwell off State Highway 21, offers a variety of events, including orchard tours, wine tastings and recipe contests. The orchard is a sight in itself. Hundreds of perfectly planted rows of pecan trees stand on 500 acres of emerald grass and beautiful landscape.
Upon arrival, you’re invited to browse the farm’s gift shop and do some sampling. I suggest you come hungry. The options seem never-ending, with selections such as pecan pumpkin butter, jams, granola and coffee. You can taste pecans with mouth-watering flavors such as Cajun Thyme, Harvest Spice, Dulce de Leche and my personal favorite, CocoaMocha.
As I wait for the pecan tour to begin, I sit on the back porch overlooking the orchard and soak in all of its beauty. I’m told that many weddings and receptions are held here (a fact I make a mental note of). It’s a Saturday afternoon, and the weather seems as if it were pulled right off a postcard. There are no clouds to interrupt the deep blue skies, and a breeze complements the sun’s rays. I close my eyes and listen to the rustling of leaves.
After a few relaxing minutes, it is time for the orchard tour, and the real entertainment begins. My fellow visitors and I load into a covered wagon, where we will spend the next 45 minutes roaming through the rows of trees. The tour begins with the guide explaining from his tractor seat through a loudspeaker that the farm, which started in the mid-1970s, thrives in the rich soil of the Brazos River bottomland. The guide periodically stops the plodding, jostling wagon to point out new buds on trees and damage caused by wild pigs, which also love pecans.
Along the way, we seem to be informed of everything one can imagine knowing about pecans: how they are cultivated and harvested, and how they get from tree to table. Whether you are just passing through Burleson County or looking for a weekend getaway to enjoy the beautiful countryside, drive out to Royalty Pecan Farms for a truly yummy experience.
Bartlett and Bluebonnet ECs and Bryan Texas Utilities serve parts of Burleson County.
Plan a visit or learn more about Burleson County with the help of these resources:
Where tranquil landscapes and big fish hook visitors
By Tom Widlowski
Gently rolling hills, dotted sparsely with tiny towns, hint at the timberland that takes over the terrain the farther east you head. To the north and west looms the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex, barely an hour away, but the reach of the urban rat race has yet to settle here. The tranquil scenery and open roads of Henderson County might compel you to continue an enjoyable drive, though the major arteries lead to Athens, where reasons to stop beckon.
In Athens, it’s easy to feel like a big fish in a small pond. Windows along the self-guided tour at the Texas Freshwater Fisheries Center put visitors eye-to-eye with the many species of fish that inhabit the state’s streams, lakes and ponds. Huge buffalo—the fish—and carp lumber near the bottom of a pond. Paddlefish and gar, sleek and long of snout, meander around a tank, oblivious that they are prehistoric remnants thriving in a 21st-century exhibit. Across the walkway, three alligators loll about in their own dwelling.
But bass are what get Texas anglers out of bed early in the morning, and the fisheries center is big bass central. Texas Parks and Wildlife’s ShareLunker program headquarters here. The program encourages anglers who have caught largemouth bass 13 pounds or bigger to lend or donate them to the fishery for spawning. The more than 400 lunkers that have participated since the program began in 1986 have helped the parks department populate the state’s reservoirs with big bass.
At the fishery’s Lake Zebco, visitors can cast for catfish, sunfish and rainbow trout. Rods, reels and bait are provided at no charge. The pond is a favorite of school groups and novice anglers, and several of the loblolly pines along the banks are adorned with dozens of dangling red and yellow floats, the result of errant casting. “Yeah, they catch a lot of ‘tree bass’ out there,” noted a staff member.
Across town, the East Texas Arboretum & Botanical Society features 100 acres of gardens connected by trails. On a serene, early spring day, horticulture’s colors had yet to take center stage, but birds in the overhead branches certainly produced a determined clatter.
The Henderson County Veterans Memorial, dedicated on Veterans Day 2013, assumes a prominent position off the main trail in the northwest corner of the arboretum. The names of some 9,000 Henderson County military veterans, from the Civil War to the present, are engraved on granite panels.
Cedar Creek Reservoir in the northwest corner of Henderson County is one of the largest lakes in Texas, with more than 320 miles of shoreline. A dozen towns sit lakeside or close by, including Gun Barrel City, which features a wheelchair-accessible fishing pier built by the Cedar Creek Lake Parrot Head Club to honor members of the military. Passionate fans of singer-songwriter Jimmy Buffett are called Parrot Heads, with hundreds of clubs in the U.S. (Remember his 1977 hit “Margaritaville”? It supposedly was inspired by a refreshing beverage Buffett enjoyed in Austin.)
Northeast of Athens, near Murchison, the Cleveland Amory Black Beauty Ranch provides sanctuary for more than 1,000 animals rescued from near-death situations. The 1,300-acre ranch is not a zoo, but twice a year it opens its doors to the public, and visitors can see bison, antelopes, apes, camels and other animals. In all, 43 species call the ranch home. The next open house events are scheduled for October 11 and October 18.
For the more adventurous traveler, head east from Athens, the county seat, toward Lake Palestine to New York Zip Lines, where visitors can glide among the pines at up to 100 feet above the ground.
Even for the earthbound, zipping around Henderson County proves to be a breeze. That’s part of the joy of visiting. But so is stopping and enjoying the attractions.
Trinity Valley EC serves parts of Henderson County.
Plan a visit or learn more about Henderson County with the help of these resources: