Some 'Day Trips' highlights
The best of daytrippin' is a tall order. There are so many possibilities and there is so little space to list them all. I'll have to go with just a list of some of my current favorites.
The Texas state parks system is one of the best in the country, especially if you consider the number of obstacles that the dedicated staff must overcome. The system preserves a diverse section of the state's natural beauty and historic treasures despite a budget that has remained flat over the last decade. The Texas Parks & Wildlife Department commission found out that selling off a part of the Big Bend Ranch State Park to raise funds was not the way to go after public outcry condemned the idea.
Still, it is remarkable the variety of property held in the public trust ranging from the swampy Brazos Bend State Park southwest of Houston to the Wyler Aerial Tramway in the Franklin Mountains outside of El Paso. But every Texan should make a pilgrimage to Palo Duro Canyon State Park south of Amarillo at least once in their lives.
Often called the Grand Canyon of Texas, Palo Duro Canyon, with its familiar lighthouse rock formation, almost defies description. The red and yellow walls glow in the sunset against the dark green of shrubs and grasses that manage to survive in this harsh environment. This year the park got even better with the addition of 7,837 acres.
Before you head out for the Panhandle or any long haul, log on to www.delocator.net to find the independent coffee shops along your route. Nothing makes the miles of highway melt away like a good, hot double latte. To find the cappucino-slingers in the neck of the woods you'll be traveling simply put in the ZIP code and it gives you a list. You can even use the site as a sort of travel log by letting them know about coffee shops you've found.
The best coffee shop I have found has to be Beeman's Coffee Bar at 229 Beach in Port Aransas. Not only do they have great hot and cold drinks, but the eggs Benedict with crab meat on Sunday morning is worth the drive to the beach.
Man and woman do not live on coffee and pastries alone, and the best new winery in Texas is Flat Creek Estate near Lago Vista. Actually, the winery is about three years old, which is very young in the wine business. This past summer the owners, Rick and Madelyn Naber, won major awards for their 2003 Super Texan, a Tuscany-style wine made from the sangiovese grape. Visit the beautiful new tasting room off of RM 1431 Tuesday through Sunday, noon to 5pm. For information, go to www.flatcreekestate.com or call 512/267-6310.
Texas wine drinkers have another reason to celebrate. As of Sept. 1, they can have bottles of wine shipped directly to their homes. The best thing the state Legislature did was to rescind the ban on such shipments after the Supreme Court struck down two states' laws on wineries selling directly to consumers.
And speaking of wineries, Becker Vineyards, between Johnson City and Fredericksburg, has come up with a blend of homegrown lavender, basil, and other spices that is the best addition to the cook's tool kit. The winery's Herbs de Provence goes well with meat and vegetables, and the best time to get it is at the annual Lavender Festival held the third weekend of May. The party is part country fair and part food seminar.
For fun and games, nothing beats the Wiener Dog Races in Buda held around the fourth weekend of April. It's OK to laugh at the sight of half-a-dozen dachshunds running for the finish line; they're used to it. The two-day annual festival includes a barbecue cook-off and, if you're lucky, an appearance by the Oscar Mayer Wienermobile.
The best cheesecake that I've had all year was at the Oaks Restaurant on TX 237 between Round Top and Warrenton. The slice of heaven was large and slightly sweet without being dry. Available Thursday through Sunday, the cheesecake comes with a variety of toppings. I think the subject deserves more research, though.
748th in a series. Day Trips, Vol. 2, a book of Day Trips 101-200, is available for $8.95, plus $3.05 for shipping, handling, and tax. Mail to: Day Trips, PO Box 33284, South Austin, TX 78704.