Day Trips

A lattice formed of 1,700 steel struts waits for installation of the 91 hexagonal mirror segments that form the 433-inch Hobby-Eberly telescope at McDonald Observatory. The telescope opened in 1997 as the second largest telescope in the world.

photograph by
Gerald E. McLeod

Looking back on 1997, it is easy to see many events that contributed to the Texas myth and more difficult to find events that affected day tripping around our great state.

Events like the Republic of Texas fools in West Texas or the clowns romping around the State House in Austin make for often entertaining if not disturbing reading, but rarely touch our individual lives. Here are nine events that happened in 1997 from a day tripper's perspective. I can't shake that feeling that I'm overlooking something really important; after all, 365 days is a long time.

The weather was a wonderful change in 1997. The drought in much of Texas was broken with above-average rainfall. For the first time in decades, Austin had a summer without a day with the thermometer topping the century mark and finished the year with more than 15 inches of rainfall above normal.

Thank El Niño for the full stock tanks and lakes and blame the weather pattern for tornados that leveled Jarrell and allowed the Marlins to win the World Series. The wet year has benefited almost everyone with a bumper crop of pecans and other fruits and vegetables. Birdwatchers saw more birds and hunters harvested a better crop this year. From the Red River to the Rio Grande, Texas was a green paradise once again.

Former President George Bush selected Texas A&M as the site for his presidential library. On November 6, 1997, Bush returned to Bryan/College Station to dedicate the 69,000-square-foot museum and archive. It made us the only state with two presidential libraries and gives us a historical facility close to home. (California has the Reagan and Nixon libraries, but the Nixon monument is not a part of the National Archives.) For more information on the library, which is free, call 409/862-2251 or

Five Central Texas counties have united to form the Presidential Corridor between the Bush and the Johnson Presidential Library in Austin. For more information on the effort, see their website at

The Austin Children's Museum is another museum that gives day trippers something to explore close to home. Opened on December 13, the museum puts Austin in the league with museums in Dallas, Fort Worth, Houston, and San Antonio. Don't wait until you have out-of-town guests to explore this addition to downtown at Colorado and Second Streets.

The Hobby-Eberly Telescope (pictured) opened in October at the McDonald Observatory. While the addition of the second largest telescope in the world has little practical effect on day trippers, it will help UT keep interest focused on their West Texas facility, which is a tourist treasure.

The new telescope does have a visitors gallery where you can see the telescope in action, but the best part of visiting the observatory is the star parties on weekends. For information, visit their website at

Texas Motor Speedway north of Fort Worth opened on April 5 with the roar of thousands of race fans. After it opened, the owners of the second largest speedway in North America (second to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway) realized they have a major problem: traffic. Wary fans balked at high ticket prices and long lines and left two-thirds of the 150,000 seats empty when the Rolling Stones visited. Tours are given on non-event days, call 817/215-8565.

Traffic congestion continues to plague Texans no matter where they travel in the state. Political leaders entrusted to maintain the state's infrastructure have failed to lead and have allowed roads like I-35 to become a death trap and/or a parking lot. Failure to plan for the phenomenal growth in the Nineties might be overlooked had they not also turned a deaf ear to mass transit projects.

Amtrak survives another year. Vice-President Al Gore was in favor of saving the Texas Eagle when he thought the Chicago-to-San Antonio passenger rail service was endangered wildlife. It took Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison to work out a deal to save the passenger line, albeit with a loan from Texas.

The Internet continues to grow and be a source of exploring Texas without burning too many fossil fuels. Now you can order airline tickets, check game schedules, and learn history from the comfort of your local computer. It's a small world and getting smaller, but Texas remains a big place.

Those we lost in 1997 who made an impact on the travel industry in Texas include: Dan Sanborn, May 19, built Sanborn's Tours from a small shop in McAllen to one of the largest tour operators in the Southwest. Hallie Stillwell, Aug. 18, West Texas matriarch who helped define the area. Clara Heidemann, Oct. 18, owner and operator of Natural Bridge Caverns who forecasted the value of the tourist industry in Texas. Richard Pierce, Nov. 12, editor with the Texas Department of Transportation who helped develop the Texas Travel Guide, Texas Trails maps, and other outstanding travel literature.

Happy New Year, y'all.

Coming up this weekend...

Bald Eagles and Hill Country Vistas is the theme of a tour led by the Penfeathers of Houston beginning at Tow, Jan. 10-11. 281/445-1187.

Coming up...

Janis Joplin Birthday Bash in Port Arthur celebrates the area's contributions to rock & roll along with inductions into the Gulf Coast Musical Hall of Fame, Jan. 17. 409/985-5583.

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More Day Trips
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Gerald E. McLeod, May 14, 2021

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