Czeching Out La Grange

We headed to the Central Texas town of La Grande to “Czech” out what might just be the “Best Little Day Trip in Texas.”

Texas Czech Heritage and Cultural Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Texas Czech Heritage and Cultural Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The events of La Grange’s famous Chicken Ranch inspired the stage play, movie, and the lyrics of a popular song, Best Little Whorehouse in Texas. Then there’s the ZZ Top song that still fuels Texas folklore.

The brothel is no longer around—it was officially closed in 1973 after operating for more than 130 years. The building was sold and hauled to Dallas where, for awhile, it served as a restaurant that served—what else? Chicken. Later, the building burned to the ground.

All that’s left these days is the legend and some fading memories. However, there’s still plenty to do in this town.

For starters, we Czeched out the Texas Czech Heritage and Cultural Center. This museum gave us a feel for the culture and early days of Fayette County when thousands of Czech immigrants populated the area.

The Czech immigration to the Lone Star State began in 1853 and was largely over by 1912. The estimate is that there are roughly a million Texans who trace their roots back to Bohemia, Moravia, Silesia, and Slovkia.

Nestled along the winding Colorado River in historic Fayette County, the picturesque Central Texas town of La Grange was first laid out in 1837. From buffalo and Indians in the 1500s to La Salle crossing the Colorado River, La Grange has been a major player in Texas history.

Rich in scenic beauty, La Grange was settled in the 1820s and named after the Marquis de La Fayette, a revolutionary war hero and his home in France near the Swiss border. The Marquis materially aided the American colonists in their struggle for independence.

Weikel's Bakery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Weikel’s Bakery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

La Grange is located between US Highway 77 and Texas 71, midway between Austin and Houston.

La Grange has a storied past from its early days of settlement by members of The Old Three Hundred, colonists under Stephen F. Austin, the “Father of Texas.” However, the town was primarily settled by succeeding waves of Czech, German, and Moravian immigrants.

The city lies below the bluff on the Colorado River and was originally selected as the location for the capitol of Texas until vetoed by Sam Houston.

It’s a great base for getting acquainted with the entire Fayette County region and beyond, offering the historic Fayette County courthouse and old town square, renown quilt museum, quaint shops, and good food—including delicious Czech kolaches and Texas BBQ.

One of the historic buildings on the town square, La Petite Gourmet Shoppe is a specialty kitchen shop across the street from the Fayette County courthouse. Le Petite Gourmet Shoppe features something everyone will love—from gadgets that make gourmet cooking a snap, to all the essential cookware, ingredients, and cutlery kitchen necessities.

The Texas Quilt Museum is housed in two historic 1890s buildings, which provide a fine showcase for both antique and contemporary quilt art with their high ceilings, brick walls, and original hardwood floors.

Texas Quilt Museum © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Texas Quilt Museum © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

To taste Czech culture and a delectable kolache—gooey, fruit-filled Czech pastries—and other bakery goods we headed to Weikel’s Bakery. They make their Cinnamon Rolls and Honey Bee Rolls from sweet Czech dough. Cinnamon Rolls come plain or with raisins and pecans. The Honey Bee Rolls are like a Cinnamon Roll, but instead of icing they have a thick honey and pecan topping.

For a real taste of Texas tradition, look no further than Prause Meat Market right off the square in La Grange. I got the feeling that the butcher shop is the main business and the BBQ was an afterthought which used to be true of most meat markets/BBQ pits in the distant past. They have been serving customers since the 1890s. Today the fourth generation of Prauses are manning the chopping block helping customers stuff their bellies with tradition.

Another must-see stop is the Monument Hill and Kreische Brewery State Historic Site. This park holds two incredible historic sites, one is Monument Hill honoring the Texan heroes who lost their lives in the Dawson Massacre and Mier Expedition, where Texans had to draw beans for their lives.

The other stop is the ruins of the Kreische Brewery and the house of the Kreische family.

As ZZ Top would say….”how how how how”.

While some may only know La Grange for its infamous Chicken Ranch or through the music bearded rockers ZZ Top, in truth this Central Texas town has much more to offer.

Fayette County Court House © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Fayette County Court House © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Please Note: This is Part 1 of a 7-Part series on La Grande, Texas

Part 2: Vitáme Vás: Texas Czech Heritage and Cultural Center

Part 3: La Grange: We Gotcha Kolache & Texas BBQ

Part 4: Frisch Auf: Monument Hill and Kreische Brewery State Historic Site

Part 5: La Grange: The Best Little Quilt Museum in Texas

Part 6: La Petite Gourmet Shoppe: The Best Little Kitchen Shop in Texas

Part 7: La Grande: Fayette County Courthouse & Old County Jail

Texas Spoken Friendly

Worth Pondering…

La Grange

Rumor sprendin’ a-’round in that Texas town

’bout that shack outside La Grange

and you know what I’m talkin’ about.

Just let me know if you wanna go

to that home out on the range.

Have mercy.

—recorded by ZZ Top (1973); lyrics by Joe Michael Hill, Billy Gibbons, Frank Lee Beard

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Happiness is a Texas Bucket List

From West Texas to the Panhandle to the Gulf Coast, El Paso to Texarkana to Brownsville, from outdoor enthusiasts to foodies to culture buffs, there’s always something to see and do in Texas.

Our Texas RV Travel Bucket List continues.

Monahans Sandhills State Park

Monahans Sandhills State Park is only a small portion of a dune field that extends about 200 miles from south of Monahans westward and north into New Mexico. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Monahans Sandhills State Park is only a small portion of a dune field that extends about 200 miles from south of Monahans westward and north into New Mexico. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Monahans Sandhills State Park consists of 3,840 acres of wind-sculpted sand dunes, some up to 70 feet high, in Ward and Winkler Counties, about a half-hour’s drive west of Odessa.

These sand hills once presented an enormous problem for pioneers and their wagon trains as they moved through the state. The Native Americans of the area, however, frequently camped in the area after discovering that pure, fresh water could be obtained by digging a trench between dunes.

This water has also been the source of nourishment for one of the largest oak forests in the country. However, the Harvard Oaks that cover more than 40,000 acres here seldom rise above 3 feet in height, even though their root structure may extend down 90 feet or more.

The park offers an interpretive center and museum, as well as picnicking and RV camping and a favorite activity of many visitors, sand surfing.

At Monahans Sandhills State Park, the visitor will experience a dynamic landscape. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
At Monahans Sandhills State Park, the visitor will experience a dynamic landscape. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Painted Churches of Fayette County

Driving the back roads of southeast Fayette County, it’s easy to leave the 20th century behind. Head out into the rolling hills to view the beautifully painted historic churches of Ammannsville (St. John the Baptist Church, 1919); Dubina (Saints Cyril and Methodius Church, 1912); High Hill (St. Mary’s Catholic Church, 1906); and Praha (St. Mary’s Church, 1892). You’ll start your tour in historic downtown Schulenburg.

These churches have some of the most beautiful painted artwork and stained glass you will ever see. The term “Painted” comes from the elaborate faux-finished interiors. Gold-leafed, stone, and polished marble columns and ceilings are—upon closer examination—actually finely-fitted woodwork. The paint is still vibrant and bright, even after all these years.

In 1856, Dubina, (the Czech word for “land of oaks”) became the first Czech settlement in Texas. Soon more Czechs, Moravians, and Germans joined the settlers, traveling by ox cart and wagon, and established the villages of Ammannsville and High Hill nearby. In a few short years, Bohemian immigrant Mathias Novak helped transform the neighboring settlement of Hottentot into Praha, the Czech word for Prague, the capital of their homeland.

These newcomers were devout Catholics, as religious as they were hardworking. Small frame churches sprang up alongside cotton gins, sawmills, blacksmith shops, and saloons.

As soon as they could afford it, the settlers built more-permanent houses of worship. Nostalgic for home, they fashioned pointed arches and vaulted ceilings, imported stained glass and ornate statuary from Europe, and commissioned elaborate, religious murals for walls, alters, and ceilings.

City Market, Luling

One of the great joys of RVing is visiting new places and making interesting discoveries. Another is just the opposite—revisiting those places that demand a closer look. Sometimes that second chance leads to a third—and a fourth.

City Market in Luling, is such a place. The meat-market-turned-barbecue-restaurant started in 1958, and over the years has become a barbecue icon. This is the arguably the best barbeque in all of Texas which helps explain why Luling is perennially included on our Texas itinerary.

City Market in Luling is the arguably the best barbeque in all of Texas which helps explain why Luling is perennially included on our Texas itinerary.© Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
City Market in Luling is the arguably the best barbeque in all of Texas which helps explain why Luling is perennially included on our Texas itinerary.© Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Long before there was a giant watermelon to point the way, barbecue fans were heading to downtown Luling to satisfy their craving for City Market’s succulent brisket, hot links, and pork ribs. The meat-market-turned-barbecue-restaurant started in 1958, and over the years has become a barbecue icon.

Customers form two lines at this gastronomic heaven—one to select their meat and pick up pickles and white bread or crackers in the back room, and the other for drinks (this is Dr. Pepper country) and sides—be sure you try the beans. The meat is sold by the pound—except for sausage; it’s by the link—and then wrapped in butcher paper, which serves as a plate. You’ll find the spicy, mustard-laced sauce in bottles on the long, wooden tables.

This is the arguably the best barbeque in all of Texas which helps explain why Luling is perennially included on our Texas itinerary.

Texas Spoken Friendly

Please Note: This is part 7 of an on-going series on our Texas Bucket List

Worth Pondering…

There is a growing feeling that perhaps Texas is really another country, a place where the skies, the disasters, the diamonds, the politicians, the women, the fortunes, the football players and the murders are all bigger than anywhere else.

—Pete Hamill

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RVing through Texas

In a state as diverse as Texas, there’s always an adventure around every corner and unique attractions at every turn.

Our Texas RV Travel Bucket List continues.

La Feria Nature Center

A few of the hundreds of black-bellied whistling ducks that make their home at La Feria Nature Center. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
A few of the hundreds of black-bellied whistling ducks that make their home at La Feria Nature Center. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

With the opening of the Rio Grande Valley’s newest park, the La Feria Nature Center located at 1800 South Rabb Road, the La Feria Parks System was expanded by an additional 88 acres for the enjoyment of all who love the outdoors.

The park consists of two walking trails surrounding three bodies of water, several butterfly gardens, many native plants, and a children’s playground. Bird watchers will find this a perfect place to spend the day. There are four observation decks, a fishing pier, and a large pavilion that is available for rent for special occasions.

The walking trail around the observation decks is one mile; the walking trail around the playground is ½ mile.

On our visit, we spotted great egret, snowy egret, great blue heron, white ibis, American coot, loggerhead shrike, American kestrel, Eastern meadowlark, and hundreds of black-bellied whistling ducks.

Kloesel’s Steak House

Kloesel’s Steak House in Moulton makes a great lunch stop on the way to the “little brewery in Shiner”.© Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Kloesel’s Steak House in Moulton makes a great lunch stop on the way to the “little brewery in Shiner”.© Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Blink and you’ll miss Moulton—but that would be a mistake.

On a recommendation we received while in Luling we made a lunch stop at this sidetrack town 10 miles north of Shiner on Texas 95.

Incidentally we were on our way to tour the “little brewery in Shiner”.

Turn west off Texas 95 onto Moore Avenue, and see what I mean.

Moulton (pronounced MOLE-ton) prospered in the 1880s as the railroad and Czech and German immigrants came to town. Today, the town of some 1,000 people quaintly blends Old World style and Old West flavor.

During the past 40 years, Harvey and Diana Kloesel have turned a former grocery-café into a popular eatery. The Kloesels charbroil choice steaks. Other fare ranges from fettuccine to blue-plate specials, plus luscious pies and cheesecakes. All steaks at Kloesel’s Steak House are USDA choice beef and are freshly cut in the Kloesel’s preparation room.

The salad dressings and sauces are family recipes prepared fresh each week. The Kloesels also feature their own private label of Steak Sauce which is served in their restaurant. The sauces, salad dressings, homemade pies, fresh bread and buns, and fresh steaks are available for purchase.

Caddo Lake State Park

Caddo Lake, which straddles the Texas-Louisiana border northwest of Shreveport, is the largest natural lake in the South, a sprawling maze of bayous, sloughs, ponds, and channels cut through dense, lush forests. Spanish moss dripping from towering bald cypress trees creates a sense of mystery.

A subtropical wading birds related to the herons but distinguished by a long slender downwardly curved bill, the white ibis is often seen at La Feria Nature Center. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
A subtropical wading birds related to the herons but distinguished by a long slender downwardly curved bill, the white ibis is often seen at La Feria Nature Center. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Around eight feet in the shallows, Caddo’s depth increases up to 20 feet in the bayous. A visit to the lake often begins at the state park where one finds Big Cypress Bayou, a major watershed for the lake. Just above the swamps are hardwood bottomlands and eventually piney woods. Both Texas and Louisiana share the Caddo Lake shoreline, where fishing guides, boat rentals, camping, lodging, and restaurants abound.

With more than 70 species of fish—including the prehistoric-looking paddlefish—the 26,810-acre lake has always lured fishermen. But large numbers of birders, naturalists, and paddlers flock here, too, drawn by Caddo’s diverse flora and fauna.

Texas Spoken Friendly

Please Note: This is part 6 of an on-going series on our Texas Bucket List

Worth Pondering…

Texas is a state of the mind.

Texas is an obsession.

Above all,

Texas is a nation in every sense of the word.

—John Steinbeck

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College Students Help Replant Bastrop State Park

Flash back to Labor Day weekend in 2011 when high winds spawned by a tropical storm in Louisiana combined with epic drought conditions to fuel the most damaging wildfire in Texas history in and around the Central Texas community of Bastrop.

High school students planting trees at Bastrop State Park. (Source: statesman.com)
High school students planting trees at Bastrop State Park. (Source: statesman.com)

The wildfire that engulfed much of Bastrop County also consumed most of Bastrop State Park; however, Buescher State Park was not affected by the blaze.

The two adjoining parks are home to the famous “Lost Pines,” an isolated timbered region of loblolly pine and hardwoods. This 70-square-mile forest of loblolly pines is the state’s most westerly stand of these trees. These woods are called “lost” because they’re separated from the main mass of East Texas loblolly pines by about 100 miles.

The wildfire charred 34,000 acres and burned more than 1,500 homes, but Buescher State Park manager Cullen Sartor said his park dodged serious damage.

“The fire got within about two miles of our northern park boundary so it was pretty close,” Sartor said. “A little scary but we came out unscathed so that’s important.”

Buescher is only a sixth of the size of Bastrop State Park.

Massive help poured in then for the people affected by the fire.

Scene from the fire that devastated  Bastrop State Park in 2011 (Source: KVUE-TV)
Scene from the fire that devastated Bastrop State Park in 2011 (Source: KVUE-TV)

Now, fast forward to the February 16-17 weekend when hundreds of Texas A&M University students partnered with the Texas A&M Forest Service (TFS) and Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) to help the Lost Pines ecosystem recover by planting thousands of pine seedlings, tamutimes.edu reported.

The student aspect is being led by Aggie Replant, a student environmental organization.

Approximately 800 Texas A&M students bussed to Bastrop State Park to start planting 30,000 seedlings as part of Replant’s community outreach efforts. The students separated into four groups—one Saturday and another Sunday and repeated the process following weekend—in planting loblolly pine seedlings to replenish the trees lost in the fire.

The event kicked off with brief remarks by representatives of the participating entities and invited dignitaries.

Texas A&M System Chancellor John Sharp was instrumental in bringing the key groups together to carry out the initiative, citing the benefits to the state and its citizens.

“This a grand example of working together for the common good—Aggies volunteering their weekend time to join teams from the Texas A&M Forest Service and the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department to restore this state treasure—the Lost Pines of Bastrop State Park—for future generations,” Sharp notes.

“For our Texas A&M University students, this event demonstrates our core value of selfless service, while also carrying out the land-grant mission of the Forest Service and The Texas A&M University System overall for the benefit of Texas and Texans.”

John Han, Aggie Replant director, agrees with Chancellor Sharp, saying, “I am excited for the opportunity that has been given to Texas A&M. We are taking the initiative to assist a community in need and that is truly exemplary. I think that this project does a good job of embodying Texas A&M and its core values.”

TFS foresters are helping facilitate the Aggie planting events and training the students on proper planting technique, working alongside Bastrop State Park rangers.

Since wildfire recovery replanting started in December, 214,089 seedlings have been planted at Bastrop State Park. The park has reopened since the fire, including all campgrounds, cabins, and almost all trails.

See the Bastrop State Park web page for complete visitor information and the latest on wildfire recovery.

Pine seedling, the start of reforestation of Bastrop State Park in Texas
Pine seedling, the start of reforestation of Bastrop State Park in Texas

Last fall, Texas A&M Forest Service, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, and Arbor Day Foundation launched the Lost Pines Forest Recovery Campaign, a public-private partnership to raise money to plant more than 4 million trees. Since then, more than $2 million in donations has been raised to aid Bastrop wildfire recovery.

Tree plantings this season are being paid for by the Apache Corporation, Friends of the Lost Pines, Nobelity Project, and many other donors.

Worth Pondering…

I go to nature to be soothed and healed, and to have my senses put in order.

—John Burroughs

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RV Around Texas

With 267,000 square miles of amazing opportunities and unforgettable destinations, an RV visit to Texas is always exciting.

Our Texas RV Travel Bucket List continues.

San Antonio River Walk

The River Walk has grown to a stunning eight miles and will stretch to 15 miles by 2013. Each part offers a unique look and feel. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
The River Walk has grown to a stunning eight miles and will stretch to 15 miles by 2013. Each part offers a unique look and feel. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The famed San Antonio River Walk is 2½ miles of beautifully landscaped waterfront with hotels, restaurants, nightclubs, and shopping and is one of the main tourist attractions in the state of Texas. Historically, the waterway was used by Spanish explorers to provide water to their missions. In 1929, Robert H.H. Hugman submitted his design plans to turn the area into a beautiful urban park with apartments, dining, shopping, and boat rides.

Since 1938 the River Walk has been a hub of culture for San Antonio. You can learn about San Antonio’s history aboard a river cruise, people watch as you enjoy delicious food on many of the restaurant’s outdoor patios and simply enjoy this beautiful piece of the Lone Star State.

The World Birding Center (WBC)

The World Birding Center (WBC) is a network of nine unique birding sites in the Lower Rio Grande Valley along a 120-mile corridor following the Rio Grande from Roma to South Padre Island.

The mission of the WBC is to protect native habitat, while increasing the understanding and appreciation of birds and wildlife.

Combining Birding and Photography with our life on the road is like enjoying pecan pie with Blue Bell ice cream for dessert following a turkey feast on Thanksgiving Day! © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
In addition to nearly 30 bird species found nowhere else in the US, the Lower Rio Grande Valley is home to an astonishing concentration of more widespread birds. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Drive through subtropical Texas to share the borderlands mix of Texan and Mexican heritage, and take time to look for any of the more than 500 bird species that have been documented in the region.

Three Texas state parks are part of the WBC. They contribute to the Valley’s reputation as a nature destination where visitors come from around the world. Like us, many stay for months at a time, to enjoy the climate, culture, and access to hundreds of species of winged creatures.

The WBC’s network of nine nature sites include Roma Bluffs, Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park, Quinta Mazatlan, Old Hidalgo Pumphouse, Edinburg Scenic Wetlands, Estero Llano Grande State Park, Harlingen Arroyo Colorado, Resaca de la Palma State Park, and South Padre Island Birding and Nature Center.

Galveston

The Bishop’s Palace is recognized as one of America’s finest examples of Victorian exuberance and Gilded-Age extravagance. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
The Bishop’s Palace is recognized as one of America’s finest examples of Victorian exuberance and Gilded-Age extravagance. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

One of the oldest cities in Texas and a major port, Galveston sits on a barrier island two miles offshore, surrounded by 32 miles of sandy beaches, numerous attractions, and one of the largest and best-preserved concentrations of Victorian architecture in the United States.

Once known as “the Wall Street of the Southwest,” Galveston later became the site of the worst natural disaster in U.S. history.

But the Hurricane of 1900 changed everything. Galveston’s prosperity suddenly came to a halt on September 8, 1900, when the deadliest natural disaster in United States history hit Galveston Island.

Centerpiece of today’s city is the Victorian restoration, in which many neighborhoods have been restored to their 19th-century splendor.

Galveston boasts four districts on the National Register of Historic Places: The Strand National Historic Landmark District, East End National Historic Landmark District, Silk Stocking District, and Central Business District. Galveston is home to three National Historic Landmarks: Tall Ship Elissa, East End, and The Strand. There are approximately 1,500 historic buildings on the National Register of Historic Places.

One of the most popular of these landmark districts is The Strand National Historic Landmark District, formerly known as “Wall Street of the Southwest” and now home to more than 100 shops, antique stores, restaurants, and art galleries. The Strand has one of the largest and best preserved concentrations of Victorian, iron-front commercial architecture in the United States.

Today, this barrier island city, situated approximately 40 miles southeast of Houston, is a living history adventure.

Texas Spoken Friendly

Please Note: This is part 2 of an on-going series on our Texas Bucket List

Worth Pondering…

Winter Texan is Better Than No Texan

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Start the New Year Off with a First Day Hike

With New Year’s Day just around the corner, people everywhere are zeroing in on their new year’s resolutions for 2013.

First Day Hikes 6460810215_b6a5b965f7Some will vow to add more exercise into their routines, and others will promise not to stay indoors as much.

You can start the New Year off on the right foot, the left foot, or any foot by tackling both those resolutions at once and at the same time create a new family tradition by participating in a “First Day Hike” at a park near you, and together start off your year in a new direction.

America’s State Parks announces that all 50 state park systems will sponsor guided First Day Hike Programs on New Year’s Day 2013.

First Day Hikes originated over 20 years ago at the Blue Hills Reservation, a state park in Milton, Massachusetts. The program was launched to promote both healthy lifestyles throughout the year and year round recreation at state parks.

State involvement has grown to the point where, for the first time in 2012, all 50 state park systems joined together to sponsor First Day Hikes.

America’s State Parks anticipated 50 events but were amazed at the number of Americans willing to skip New Year’s Eve revelry in order to get up early January 1 and hit the trails.

They ended up with 400 outings that drew 14,000 people, hiking a total of more than 30,000 miles.

This year will be even bigger, with more than 660 events from a cross-country ski outing in Alaska to a sunrise hike in Hawaii.

A perfect holiday tradition for the whole family, a First Day Hike will help make a commitment to a healthier lifestyle while appreciating the beauty of nature.

Enchanted Rock State Natural Area is a huge, pink granite exfoliation dome, that rises 425 feet above ground. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Ring in the new year with a Summit Trail Hike. Come climb the rock and see what amazing geology, ecology, and cultural history Enchanted Rock has to offer. Meet at the gazebo at 9:00 a.m. or 1:00 p.m. for a 2-hour hike. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Choose from guided hikes led by rangers, volunteers, or Master Naturalists or choose your own trail with a hike that meets your desired difficulty and length.

Pennsylvania

Eighteen of Pennsylvania’s state parks will sponsor free, guided hikes on New Year’s Day to help visitors ring in 2013 with healthy exercise and a glimpse of nature’s winter beauty.

“We are excited to join in hosting these hikes as part of this national effort to get people outdoors and into our parks,” Department of Conservation and Natural Resources Secretary Richard Allan said.

“For the second consecutive year, First Day Hikes offer a great cure for cabin fever and a chance to burn off those extra holiday calories.”

Virginia

Last year 3,708 people hiked 5,583 miles as part of Virginia State Parks 2012 First Day Hikes. Hikers are encouraged to bring field, guides, a natural journal, and a camera.

Wyoming

The Wyoming Division of State Parks, Historic Sites and Trails are offering eight guided hikes on New Year’s Day at venues statewide. It’s the second year Wyoming has participated. More than 500 people participated in the four hikes the state held last year.

Park staff and volunteers will lead the coming hikes, which average one to two miles or longer depending on the state park or historic site.

Texas

In Texas the First Day Hikes vary in difficulty and fitness levels, and range from short, leisurely nature walks through forested trails and along boardwalks, to special bird watching hikes, to climbs into the mountains of the Chihuahuan Desert.

Most hikes are guided by state park staff and volunteers and feature an interpretive message about native plants, animals, or park history. The walks average one to two miles in length, but many also offer shorter or longer trek options as well. There’s something for everyone!

America’s State Parks

Bring a  hat, sturdy shoes, binoculars, camera, warm clothes, and water to Alamo Lake State Park in Arizona. The one mile hike begins at 9 a.m.  © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Bring a hat, sturdy shoes, binoculars, camera, warm clothes, and water to Alamo Lake State Park in Arizona. The one mile hike begins at 9 a.m. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

America’s State Parks is committed to promoting outdoor recreation in state parks as a way to address obesity, especially among children. Getting kids outside and unplugged from video games and other electronic media creates a unique connection with nature that promotes physical and mental well-being and encourages creativity and stewardship of our shared resources.

Details about hike locations, difficulty and length, terrain and tips regarding proper clothing are listed on the America’s State Parks website.

To find a First Day Hike near you click on your state park of interest.

Website: americasstateparks.org

Worth Pondering…

So many trails…so little time…

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Bentsen Palm Village Awarded 2012 Park of the Year

Bentsen Palm Village has received the campground industry’s highest honor, the Park of the Year Award, from the National Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds (ARVC).

Bentsen Palm Development 1173826v1v1The 250-site campground won the award in the medium size park category, which is based on several criteria, including customer service, employee training, operational excellence, national directory ratings, and community service, according to a news release.

Bentsen Palm Village General Managers Guy and Juanita Carvajal received the award during a November 30 ceremony at the Rio All-Suite Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas, which was hosted by ARVC.

Built 10 years ago by developer/builder Mike Rhodes and his wife, Lori, Bentsen Palm Village is located next to Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park & World Birding Center and has a lot of visitors who come to enjoy the resort’s native plants, which host butterflies and birds.

“Our guests love to come bird watching and butterfly watching,” Carvajal said, adding that the park also has two miles of frontage along the Rio Grande River.

“We have pontoon boats that take people on the river for bird watching and nature tours.”

Although Bentsen Palm Village was built from scratch, the owners planted native trees and shrubs, which are becoming more beautiful each year as they mature, Carvajal said. The park was designated by Texas Parks & Wildlife as a certified wildscape and is the largest of its kind in Texas.

Bentsen Palm Village RV Resort Super Site
Bentsen Palm Village RV Resort Super Site

Texas Wildscapes is a habitat conservation plan for rural and urban area. It enables Texans to contribute to wildlife conservation by developing wildlife habitats where they live, work, and play.

But while Bentsen Palms has a scenic setting, Carvajal said it’s the park’s exemplary customer service that results in high ratings.

“The majority of our business comes from referrals,” she said.

“I get a lot of calls from people and the first thing they say is, ‘We have some friends and they recommended your park.’”

Bentsen Palm Village has 5.5 miles of onsite hiking and biking trails as well as numerous organized activities and workshops, from couples dancing and Zumba classes to gourd painting, Swedish blanket making, water color painting, and woodshop.

The dog park at Bentsen Palm Village has become so popular that the owners recently added a second park so that guests could have separate running and play areas for big dogs and small dogs.

“About 70 to 75 percent of our guests have dogs, so these kinds of amenities are important,” Carvajal said.

Of course, while pet friendly amenities are attractive to Winter Texans, that’s not the only attraction at Bentsen Palm Village.

The 250-site resort recently set aside an open area of the park where its guests can grow their own organic fruits, vegetables, and herbs.

“It’s like a community garden,” Carvajal said, “but we give each guest a 10 by 10-foot section where they can put a stake with their name on it. They often grow kale, peppers, tomatoes, onions and radishes. Sometimes, they grow so much they bring it into the office to share.”

Details

Bentsen Palm Village RV Resort

The colorful green jay is a common visitor to Bentsen Palm Village. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
The colorful green jay is usually seen in brushy areas and dense woods in the lower Rio Grande Valley.. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bentsen Palm Village RV Resort is one of the most unique RV Resorts in South Texas and is part of the 2,600-acre Master Planned Community of Bentsen Palm Development.

Bentsen Palm Village is located in South Mission at the entrance to Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park on South Bentsen Palm Drive.

Bentsen Palm Village is only minutes from shopping, medical facilities, and easy access to Expressway 83.

Bentsen Palm Village offers over 250 large pull-through and back-in sites, full hookups, rental cabins and casitas, and native landscaping.

Super Sites offer a 10×12 storage building that can be locked and secured when necessary. The sites are extra-wide concrete pads that include a picnic table and a charcoal grill.

Bentsen Palm Village is affiliated with ARVC and a member of the Texas Association of Campground Owners (TACO).

Phone: (877) 247-3727 (toll free)

Website: bentsenpalm.com

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Worth Pondering…

Winter Texan is Better Than No Texan

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2,000-Acre RV Resort Opens in Texas

“Everything is bigger in Texas,” and at 2,000 acres this certainly rings true for the nation’s newest RV resort.

Located just an hour northeast of Houston, the Preserve RV Resort recently launched a national marketing effort.

The property offers amenity-rich, Texas-sized sites averaging 10,000 square feet, along with five fishing lakes, 1.2 miles of white sandy beach on the Trinity River, hiking, biking, equestrian trails, swimming pools, and pavilions, according to a news release.

Model sites are complete and preview tours are underway.

“As part of the build-up to our launch we attended the FMCA Show in Indianapolis and the Southwest RV Supershow in Dallas,” said John Mangum, sales director.

“Our larger sites and beautiful amenity packages are a far greater value than any others in the country today. There’s no other resort in America offering such a special connection to nature at the same time situated just a stone’s throw from major city conveniences. I can fish all morning and then take my wife, Dolly, to lunch in Houston’s museum district.”

Resort amenities include:

  • Private gated security entrance
  • 5 fishing lakes with boat access
  • 1.2 miles of white sandy beach
  • 2 miles of riverfront
  • Walking, hiking, and biking trails
  • Equestrian facility with 20+ miles of equestrian trails
  • Resort cottages
  • Guest RV sites
  • Large outdoor pavilion and meeting area
  • Community events and entertainment
  • Swimming pools
  • Expansive clubhouse and resort style pool under development
  • Welcome center (under construction)
Platinum Site at The Preserve RV Resort

For a limited time, the developer is offering several ownership incentives. Private tours are now being scheduled.

Visit the website or phone the resort (details below) to learn more and/or request a tour.

The Preserve RV Resort offers three ownership amenity packages, in addition to either a Resort Cottage or Equestrian option. Owners can also select from a limited number of waterfront private sites.

The basic Silver package has a 30-by-80-foot custom brick paver pad, landscaping package, fire pit and full hookups with early bird pricing starting at $44,000.

The upgraded Platinum package includes the addition of a spacious resort casita, stone fire pit, personal resort spa with steam room, shower, bathroom and an outdoor kitchen. Platinum sites currently start at $88,000 while construction is underway.

Details

Preserve RV Resort

Trail ride at The Preserve

The Preserve RV Resort offers a one-of-a kind fusion of pristine surroundings and man-made amenities.

Here you can connect with nature, adventure, and most importantly, your loved ones. While we cherish the beauty and perfection of this natural destination, we wouldn’t exactly call this roughing it!

User groups, RV clubs, and individual owners are encouraged to schedule a preview visit today.

Mailing Address: The Preserve of Texas, 201 Cypress Lakes Circle, Cleveland, TX 77327

Phone: (800) 414 – 4280

Website: preservervresort.com

http://www.preservervresort.com/

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I love Texas because Texas is future-oriented, because Texans think anything is possible. Texans think big.

—Phil Gramm

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Big Rio Grande Valley Welcome for Winter Texans

It’s no secret that RV parks and resorts in the Rio Grande Valley (RGV) whose livelihoods depend on the annual influx of Winter Texansare facing several challenges.

The Roseate Spoonbill uses its long, flat, spoon-shaped bil to strain small food items out of the water. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
The Roseate Spoonbill uses its long, flat, spoon-shaped bil to strain small food items out of the water. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Many of today’s winter visitors are younger and more mobile than their counterparts of years past.

“They may go to Arizona this year, Texas next year, and Florida the next year,” said Kristi Collier, president and CEO of Welcome Home Rio Grande Valley, which markets 74 RV parks and resorts from Mission to South Padre Island.

Snowbirds unfamiliar with the RGV are also more likely to be concerned by publicity about violence in Mexico, even though cities in the Rio Grande Valley have less crime than other popular winter resort destinations in other states.

Despite these challenges, RV parks and resorts across the Valley are finding that they can continue to grow their business base for the winter season if they offer plenty of organized activities and continue to invest in new amenities for their parks, said Brian Schaeffer, executive director and CEO of theTexas Association of Campground Owners (TACO).

Pet Amenities

These new amenities include walking areas and agility courses for people with dogs as well as special pet-related activities.

“Dog parks are a big deal,” said Jacqueline Gomez, who is the marketing director for Llano Grande Lake Park Resort & Country Club in Mercedes, Victoria Palms Resort in Donna, and Alamo Park Mobile Home & RV Park in Alamo. She said each of the resorts has two, off-leash dog areas.

The great kiskadee has yellow on its crown that is often obscured by the black stripes that frames it. However, if you get a view of the top of its head as I did in this photo, the yellow brightly stands out on this Rio Grande Valley specialty. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
The great kiskadee has yellow on its crown that is often obscured by the black stripes that frames it. However, if you get a view of the top of its head as I did in this photo, the yellow brightly stands out on this Rio Grande Valley specialty. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The dog park at Bentsen Palm Village in Mission has become so popular that the owners recently added a second park so that guests could have separate running and play areas for big dogs and small dogs.

“About 70% to 75% of our guests have dogs, so these kinds of amenities are important,” said Juanita Carvajal, Bentsen Palm Village’s general manager.

Community Gardens

Of course, while pet friendly amenities are attractive to Winter Texans, that’s not the only attraction at Bentsen Palm Village. The 250-site resort recently set aside an open area of the park where its guests can grow their own organic fruits, vegetables and herbs.

“It’s like a community garden,” Carvajal said, “but we give each guest a 10 by 10-foot section where they can put a stake with their name on it. They often grow kale, peppers, tomatoes, onions and radishes. Sometimes, they grow so much they bring it into the office to share.”

Birding, Hiking and Wildlife

Bentsen Palms also markets its proximity to the World Birding Center while also highlighting the rare birds and other wildlife that make their way into the park.

“This past season, we had a family of elf owls that stayed in our park,” Carvajal said, adding that the owls are only 5 inches tall.

“The season before we had Black vented Orioles,” a rare bird native to Mexico and Central America that has a black hood, upper back and wings, and a bright yellow-orange underside.

The Black-vented Oriole made its home a short distance from our RV site at Bentsen Palm Village. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
The Black-vented Oriole made its home a short distance from our RV site at Bentsen Palm Village. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Many Valley visitors enjoy state parks, national wildlife preserves, and other nature reserves. Others like taking bike rides and walks and kayaking down the Rio Grande River.

Other Activities

RV park operators are finding that other types of organized activities are also critical for today’s Winter Texans.

El Valle del Sol in Mission offers more than 100 activities each week for its guests including classes in wood carving, ceramics, and painting and Tai Chi while its food related events range from pancake breakfasts to potluck dinners with Hawaiian, Cajan, Western, and other culinary themes. The park also has live entertainment with polka bands and other musicians.

Winter visitors like their surroundings to be nice, too, which is why many Rio Grande Valley parks are also investing in aesthetic improvements and other creature comforts.

“We just put in a high powered Wi-Fi system this summer and everybody is real happy about that,” said Ruth Dearinger, manager of VIP Park in La Feria.

Other improvements at the 256-site park include resurfaced streets, landscaping, and the installation of more campsites with 50 amp electrical hookups.

Texas Spoken Friendly

Worth Pondering…

Winter Texan is Better Than No Texan

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Cool, Crisp Camping Weather Major Texas State Parks Draw

With summer vacations a distant memory, cooler temperatures on the horizon, and foliage morphing into dazzling shades of crimson and gold, autumn promises optimum camping conditions in a Texas State Park near you.

Whether you’re a novice to the outdoors or seasoned camper, there’s no better time of year to pitch a tent or park your RV on a sunny beach, beneath towering pines, or overlooking a sparkling lake at such destinations as Galveston Island, Buescher, and Possum Kingdom state parks, according to a news release.

“Fall’s a perfect time to camp out because of cooler evenings, but daytime temperatures typically remain warm enough to enjoy water-based activities like canoeing and fishing,” says Ky Harkey, Texas State Parks outdoor education team leader.

Harkey recommends campers focus on three priorities: safety, Leave No Trace camping practices, and simply having fun.

He says for visitor safety and the protection of the environment, set up camp only in designated camping sites. Campfires are great for enjoying quality family time, but to keep the forest healthy avoid collecting firewood. Don’t forget the marshmallows and playing cards to complete a perfect evening.

For those who have never camped or haven’t done so in many years, Harkey suggests participating in the Texas Outdoor Family program. Since its launch in 2008, the program has grown to include state parks across Texas and its workshops have expanded to meet the interests of curious campers.

Enchanted Rock State Natural Area is a huge, pink granite exfoliation dome, that rises 425 feet above ground. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The goals and objectives of the Texas Outdoor Family Workshop program include:

  • To teach traditional outdoor skills in a relaxed and pressure-free environment
  • To promote family-oriented recreation
  • To teach responsible use of city, county, state, and federal parks
  • To lead novice families in a genuine camping experience
  • To encourage volunteer teaching and sharing of experiences by local outdoor enthusiasts
  • To promote healthy, active lifestyles in our citizens

For only $65, families up to six can try a two-day workshop held at state parks throughout Texas that focus on teaching families how to set up a tent, cooking in the outdoors, and learning valuable outdoor skills, such as paddling, geocaching, and fishing.

Upcoming Texas Outdoor Family learn-to-camp programs include:

November 17 — Dinosaur Valley State Park (near DFW) – Special Theme – Dutch Oven Cooking

November 17 — Stephen F. Austin State Park (near Houston) – Special Theme – Buffalo Soldiers Living History

November 17 — Lake Casa Blanca State Park (South Texas)

December 1 — Enchanted Rock State Natural Area (near Austin)

December 1 — Brazos Bend State Park (near Houston)

December 8 — Enchanted Rock State Natural Area (near Austin)

December 8 — Lake Mineral Wells State Park (near DFW) – Special Rock Climbing Event & Cowboy Christmas celebration!

December 8 — Brazos Bend State Park (near Houston)

Details

Texas Outdoor Family (TOF)

Additional information and a complete schedule of the winter/spring Texas Outdoor Family program are available on the website.

Website: tpwd.state.tx.us/outdoorfamily

Worth Pondering…

No man should go through life without once experiencing healthy, even bored solitude in the wilderness, finding himself depending solely on himself and thereby learning his true and hidden strength.
—Jack Kerouac

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