Day Trips & Beyond: November Travel Roundup

Port A's Harvey recovery, Millican's pecan pie, and fall travel news

Thank you, Lord, for the blue skies and bright sunshine of Texas autumn. This is why we live in Texas. Now is a great time to get out and enjoy fresh air at the beach, on a hike, or picking up pecans.

Harvey: Hell & High Water in Port Aransas, Texas documents the resilience of the small beachside community.

I first went to the beach at Port Aransas when I was in high school. Over the years I’ve watched Port A grow and change, but still maintain that fishing village/beach town vibe.

That’s why I was stunned when the worst storm since 1970 hit the island on night of Aug. 25, 2017. As Hurricane Harvey dumped barrels of rain on Houston it hit Port A with a six- to 10-foot storm surge and 132 mph winds. Remarkably, no one was killed by the storm and only one person died during the hurricane.

Over the last three years my family, friends, and I have watched as the Port A slowly put back the pieces. Our favorite vacation rental, Executive Keys Condominiums on the Beach, finally opened this summer after wrestling with insurance companies and contractors.

The little museum at the University of Texas Marine Science Institute remains closed. A Laughing Horse Lodge and the Rock Cottages are gone. The old Biltmore and Son hardware store had to be bulldozed. But after the herculean cleanup effort, so much is back better than before.

It was with eager anticipation that I awaited my copy in the mail of Harvey: Hell & High Water in Port Aransas, Texas. I wanted to see the how a community that I’ve come to love showed the resilience that Texans are famous for.

The 128-page hardcover book published the year after the storm is full of color photos, stories about survival, and remembrances. This is a history book and a keepsake for all who have had a love affair with Port A.

Published by the Port Aransas South Jetty, Port A’s local newspaper, the book is a lovely tribute to the town that is celebrating its 110th anniversary. The weekly publication shows that newspapers are still a relevant and an important part of the permanent and visiting communities. Within the newsprint pages are city council meetings, high school sports scores, rules for driving golf carts on the roads, upcoming events, and advertisements for restaurants. The newspaper didn’t miss an issue even while the staff was struggling with their own housing issues.

Bravo to the residents, to first responders, to the thousands of volunteers, and to the thousands of visitors that continued to support the island’s businesses during the long struggle to rebuild. Port A, it’s great to have you back with a fresh coat of paint and a renewed smile.

Harvey: Hell & High Water in Port Aransas, Texas can be purchased by calling 361/749-5131 or stopping by the Port Aransas South Jetty office at 141 W. Cotter in Port Aransas. The cost is $43.25 or $51.25 with shipping.

More news:

If you haven’t planted your bluebonnet seeds you should do so by mid-November to have a good spring crop of the state wildflower. Planting in the fall allows the seeds time to germinate and grow throughout the winter months. The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center offers helpful tips to increase your bluebonnet yield.

Take a walk on the bright side this year in Marble Falls at the 30th season of Walkway of Lights. The holiday spectacular in Lakeside Park opens on Nov. 20 and runs through Jan. 2 from 6pm to 10pm every night. The free walkway includes more than 350 lighted sculptures reflecting off Lake Marble Falls. In addition to the tunnels of lights there will be ice skating and local food vendors. The season kicks off with a lighted parade in downtown at 6pm on Nov. 20.

Take a camping trip without the hassles at Collective Hill Country outside of Wimberley. The collection of luxury tents offer all the comforts of home plus an on-site chef, wine tastings, and a view of the valley. Each accommodation is spaced around the wooded hillside for natural social distancing. The Collective Hill Country season only runs during the cooler months and closes in March 2021 to reopen next October.

All who wander are not lost, but those who miss interesting landmarks on their hikes need a good guidebook. That’s why Half Day Hikes guides are so helpful. The three-guide set written by Robert and Jenny Fuller now includes Lost Maples State Natural Area. Others in the series are Big Bend Ranch State Park and Franklin Mountains State Park. The pocket-sized books help hikers get the most out of their visits, especially to places as large as Big Bend Ranch and the Franklin Mountains. In all three parks, the guides help the visitor locate landmarks that might go undiscovered. Half Day Hikes donates 50% of the proceeds to the state parks to support ongoing trail maintenance. The books are available on Amazon, at REI stores in Austin and San Antonio, or at the park visitor centers.

Speaking of taking a hike, join a free guided morning hike at Jacob’s Well Natural Area outside of Wimberley at 9am on Nov. 23, Dec. 14 & 28, and Jan. 11 & 25. Jacob’s Well is one of the best swimming holes (May 1 to Sept. 30) in the area and one of the prettiest natural areas. Privately owned for many years, the headwaters of Cypress Creek is now owned and managed by Hays County. To sign up for a guided tour send an email to or call 512/214-4593. Unguided hiking is allowed anytime during daylight hours on a limited basis.

Tickets are on sale for Dickens on the Square, formerly known as Dickens on the Strand in Galveston. Begun in 1974, the annual festival has become the island city’s largest pre-Christmas celebration. Using the historic downtown as a backdrop, Victorian costumed street performers transported visitors back to the era of Charles Dickens. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the street party has been reimagined. In morning and afternoon time blocks, a limited number of guests will be allowed into five Dickens squares around town, each with food, drink, entertainment, and shopping. This year’s event happens on Sat., Dec. 5, and Sun., Dec. 6, 10am-2pm, or 2:30-6:30pm.

The Alley Theatre in Houston has canceled its annual production of A Christmas Carol because of the pandemic. Instead everyone can watch the musical online Dec. 4-Dec. 27. Each actor was film in their respective homes for the holiday classic like it has never been seen before. To receive a free link to the show, simply register at the theatre’s website. The production will be closed captioned in Spanish and Vietnamese.

If you do make a personal appearance in Houston during the holidays, drive by the George R. Brown Convention Center to see the Alley Theatre’s annual Deck the Trees. Spectacularly decorated trees will be on display in the convention center’s windows allowing social distanced viewing Nov. 20-Jan. 3.

E.E. Risien developed the early paper-shell varieties of pecans in San Saba, and you know his wife Elizabeth made a mean pecan pie.

Millican Pecan Pie

Pecans contain over 19 vitamins and minerals including vitamin A, vitamin E, calcium, potassium, and zinc. When you consider the nutritional value of the Texas state nut, then that slice of pecan pie at Thanksgiving dinner can darn near be considered a health food.

Millican Pecan Company is one of the oldest, if not the oldest, family-owned pecan orchard in the state. The company’s founder, E.E. Risien, developed many of the popular paper shell varieties of pecans. The family has made a lot of pecan pies over the generations. This is Kristen Millican’s recipe for pecan pie.

2 1/2 cups raw pecan halves or pieces
1 9-inch pie dough (store bought or homemade)
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1 cup light corn syrup
1 cup light brown sugar
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
3 large eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 teaspoon salt
  1. 1) Place baking sheet in oven. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. 2) Gently line pie pan with rolled-out pie dough. Be sure to press into edges and up the sides. Use fingers or a fork to create a decorative edge of your choice. Set aside.
  3. 3) In a large bowl, whisk together butter, corn syrup, brown sugar, and vanilla extract. Add eggs and salt and whisk until mixture is even. Fold in pecan halves.
  4. 4) Pour mixture into pie crust and spread evenly with a spatula. Take pieces of aluminum foil and gently cover edges of pie crust. Place pie on preheated baking sheet and bake for 60 to 70 minutes or until pie is set in center.
  5. 5) Remove pie and allow to cool completely before serving or chilling. Pie can be made the day ahead and refrigerated overnight. Allow pie to come to room temperature before serving.

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Gerald McLeod has been traveling around Texas and beyond for his "Day Trips" column for more than 25 years. Keep up to date with his journeys on his archive page.

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Travel, Port Aransas, Hurricane Harvey, Port Aransas South Jetty, bluebonnets, Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, Marble Falls, camping, Wimberley, Lost Maples State Natural Area, hiking, Big Bend, Franklin Mountains, Jacob's Well, Dickens on the Square, Galveston, Houston, Millican Pecan Company, Chronicle Cooking, recipe

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