The Austin Chronicle

Day Trips

By Gerald E. McLeod, December 5, 1997, Columns

by Gerald E. McLeod

Wyman Meinser and Andrew Sansom
photograph by Gerald E. McLeod

Wyman Meinzer and Andrew Sansom have traveled all over Texas visiting the sites that contributed to the making of the legend and the myth of the Lone Star State -- Meinzer as an award-winning photographer and Sansom as the executive director of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. Together they have collaborated on a new book documenting the incredible saga from ancient Texans to the new Texas.

Texas Past: Enduring Legacy is a tribute to the men and women who built Texas. While Sansom's prose gallops through a succinct tale of the progression of people and time, Meinzer's artful color photographs lounge in quiet reflection of the monuments to the struggle that took place before us.

The pair had collaborated on the 1995 book Texas Lost: Vanishing Heritage tribute to the state's most endangered natural areas. In Texas Past, they turn their creative skills to the cultural treasures of Texas.

"We wanted to call attention to the historic places that tend to be taken for granted," Sansom said. "Texas is a place that always has an eye on the future, which sometimes causes us to overlook our past.

"There are no examples of Anglo Texas settlements left," Sansom said. Places like San Felipe, Stephen F. Austin's colonial capital, were lost to revolution and time.

Historical places like Washington-on-the-Brazos, where Texas' revolutionary councils took place, have been rebuilt using an association of communities with the Parks and Wildlife Department. Important areas are in danger of being lost, Sansom said, "unless we can find the right combination of public and private cooperation."

While historical sites are being lost, public natural areas are being over-used. Enchanted Rock State Natural Area is an example of a paradise that is being loved to death. Visitors are being turned away when the park reaches its capacity. "There isn't going to be any place left affordable to go," Sansom said, unless private landowners can see economic incentives to open their property to recreational users.

"Public money just isn't there," Sansom said. "Even if we had the entire state budget, it wouldn't be enough to do all we need to do."

While the Parks and Wildlife Department struggles to keep up with their current inventory, they are also trying to increase usage. "Users make the best conservationists," Sansom said. He points out in the book that "if demographic projections are accurate, the majority of Texans will be of Hispanic or African-American descent." He added that only two percent of minorities do traditional outdoor activities. "We've got to get them outdoors," Sansom said.

"Black children don't know that their forefathers helped build this land," Sansom said. He points to the Buffalo Soldiers as a perfect example of an often overlooked segment of our history. Their service on the Texas frontier garnered 19 Congressional Medals of Honor. The story is preserved at parks at Forts McKavett, Griffin, Richardson, Concho, and Clark.

The Hispanic contribution to the Texas legend has been one of the most enduring. The Spanish missions established Nacogdoches, San Antonio, and Goliad, as well as the ranching industry.

Although he has photographed Texas for more than 200 magazines and books, Meinzer said that this project was a real education and that it was really sad to see the deteriorating condition of some of our state treasures. "Each place has its unique lighting," he said, "You have to put yourself at the right place and at the right time and then have a lot of luck."

Sansom writes in the book's epilogue: "The places that speak with eloquence of our past take many forms and are as diverse as the history of Texas herself.... Our policy for cultural resources should move from measures based on control to those based on incentive. We must reward private property owners for protecting their history and make preservation easier for them.... Finally, we must understand that we are making history every day and continuing to weave the tapestry of our culture."

The 150-page Texas Past: Enduring Legacy was edited by Jan Reid and is being distributed by the University of Texas Press. It is available in bookstores across Texas for $39.95. For information on state parks, call 389-8950.

Coming up this weekend...

A Varner-Hogg Christmas at the old plantation outside of West Columbia features history programs and games, Dec. 6. 409/345-4656.

Trail of Lights at Monument Hill Historical Park lights up the walking trail overlooking La Grange and ends with a tour of the Kreische home, 6-8pm, Dec. 7, 12, and 18. 409/968-5658.

Christmas Past at Sebastopol State Historical Park will have the house decked in Victorian decorations, 10am-4pm, Dec. 6. 830/379-4833.

A Christmas Stroll around the courthouse in Georgetown is a chance to shop, see a parade, and meet Santa, 3pm-8pm, Dec. 6. 512/930-5302.

Coming up...

Fate Bell Cave Dwelling Tours at Seminole Canyon State Park outside of Comstock goes to some of North America's oldest pictographs and cave dwellings, Wed.-Sun. 915/292-4464.

Lomitas Ranch Tour from the Rio Grande Valley State Park in Mission focuses on plants and their uses, Dec. 13 & 27. 956/519-6448.

Come and Get It exhibit at the LBJ National Historical Park in Johnson City honors the cook and chuckwagons of the cattle drive era, thru Jan. 4. 830/868-7128.

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