Day Trips & Beyond: January Events Roundup

Nature, history, and more to explore in 2023

Start the new year with a new list of places to explore: This month starts the yearlong centennial celebration of our state parks; there’s also a Renaissance festival in Kerrville, Lunar New Year festivities in Grand Prairie and Houston, and a food party in Surfside Beach. Stay warm and stay curious.

Pedernales Falls State Park outside of Johnson City opened in 1971 and was formerly the Circle Bar Ranch. Now it caters to all kinds of recreational activities. (Photo by Gerald E. McLeod)

Happy Birthday to us. In 1923 the state Legislature created the State Parks Board with the task of acquiring donated land for public use. It was the humble beginnings of our state parks system. With 95% of Texas land privately owned, and often jealously guarded, our state parks are the best opportunity most Texans have to get outdoors and experience nature.

This year the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department celebrates the centennial of our parks system, and Texans should be proud. The parks provide access to rivers and lakes. They give us mountains to climb, beaches to comb, canyons to hike, and forests to camp.

Through several iterations, the state parks department has contracted and expanded over the years. The men and women at TPWD do a lot of different things to protect and maintain our state’s important natural resources.

State-sponsored conservation efforts began in 1895 with the Fish and Oyster Commission. It became the Texas Game and Fish Commission, and in 1963 merged with the State Parks Board to become TPWD.

The State Parks Board was created as a standalone entity to set aside land as parks. The earliest vision of a state park system pictured roadside parks where travelers could pull off and camp. Many of these still exist along our highways as picnic areas. It wasn’t until 1933 when the board was funded to acquire land, the year the federal Civilian Conservation Corps was founded.

The first official state park was Mother Neff Memorial Park, begun when Isabella Neff's son Gov. Pat Neff donated the family’s private recreation area to the state in 1934. The park opened to the public in 1937. Palo Pinto Mountains west of Fort Worth will be the newest state park when it opens later this year, after a hiatus of 20 years since the last new park opened.

There are 89 state parks and 50 wildlife management areas. Austinites are blessed with a number of the state parks at our back door. McKinney Falls boasts a great swimming hole on Onion Creek. Blanco State Park is beautiful as well as being a popular fishing hole. Lockhart has a 9-hole golf course plus lots of hiking trails. Pedernales Falls has the falls, a sight to see in non-drought years. Bastrop and Buescher parks encompass the “lost pines” and are regenerating after the devastating fire in 2011.

Quanah Parker in 1890 near the Comanche Reservation in Oklahoma.

A friend of mine asked me recently which state parks I like best. Pressed on the issue, my three favorite state parks are Fairfield Lake, Tyler, and Guadalupe River. Ask me again in 12 months and I’ll tell you something different.

One-hundred years of state parks is a gift to Texans that we should all enjoy. What’re your top three favorite state parks?
Texas State Parks’ 100th Birthday Celebration, statewide all year,

Travel Notes:

Parker posing. Few Native Americans were more instrumental in leading their tribe from war to peace than Quanah Parker. The son of a Comanche chief and Cynthia Ann Parker, a captured white girl, led the transition to the modern world. "Quanah Parker: One Man, Two Worlds” is an exhibition of more than 40 rare photographs of the famous mother and son sponsored by the Texas Historical Commission. The show will be on display from Jan. 14 to April 15 at the Temple Railroad and Heritage Museum.

The largely undertold story of African Americans in the American West comes to the African American Museum, Dallas. (Courtesy AAM Dallas)

Cowboy Story. One of the more overlooked aspects of the history of the American West is the contributions of the Black cowboys. "Black Cowboys: An American Story” at the African American Museum, Dallas examines the lives and work of free and enslaved Black men, women, and children on ranches and cattle drives at the turn of the 20th century. Using more than 50 artifacts, photographs, documents, and films, the exhibition highlights the evolution of the Black cowboy in the West. On view from Jan. 22 through April 15, the show was organized by the Witte Museum of San Antonio.

Historic markers around the state help give history a sense of place. On the Texas Historic Site Atlas you can read all 17,000 markers plus other historic data without leaving home. (Photo by Gerald E. McLeod)

On this spot… I have to admit that I’m a sucker for a historical marker. I once permanently stained the carpet of a brand new car with a Big Red soda by making an abrupt stop to read a historical plaque beside the highway. That was before the internet. Now everybody can read more than 300,000 historic records including the more than 17,000 official Texas historical markers and National Register of Historic Places without leaving home. The Texas Historic Site Atlas is maintained by the Texas Historical Commission. Click on one of the green dots on the map to access the location and text of the historical marker.

Ahoy Matey. Sign up now for a chance to be a sail training student on the ELISSA. The 6-hour working excursions on the 1877 Iron Barque into the Gulf of Mexico are sponsored by the Galveston Historic Foundation, April 12 through 21. Trainees ages 10 to 17 must be accompanied by a parent or guardian. The learning adventure aboard the Official Tall Ship of Texas costs $250 per person and is an experience that won’t soon be forgotten.

The art museum in Boca Raton, Fla., is currently showing backdrops from Hollywood movies, many that came from a UT collection. (Courtesy Boca Raton Museum of Art)

More than background noise. The magic of Hollywood can transport us around the world. One of the tricks the producers used was the backdrop, some of the largest paintings ever created. Twenty of the massive masterpieces are on exhibit, including Mount Rushmore used in North by Northwest on loan from the Texas Performing Arts Hollywood Backdrop Collection at the University of Texas. If you find yourself in southern Florida this month, make a detour to Boca Raton Museum of Art to see "Art of the Hollywood Backdrop" through Jan. 22. It is the first museum exhibition dedicated to the backlot artisans who painted the immense works of art, some of which are almost 100 years old.

Other January Events:

"Dinosaurs Live”
Jan. 1-Feb. 20, McKinney,

"Mandela: The Official Exhibition”
Jan. 1-April 23, College Station,

Glassell School Open House
Jan. 5, Houston,

Gospel Music Festival
Jan. 6-7, Rockport,

Lunar New Year
Jan. 6-8, 13-15, Grand Prairie,

Bison Field Harvest
Jan. 7, Fredericksburg,

Pearl Bluegrass Jam
Jan. 7, Gatesville,

Harlem Renaissance Family Day
Jan. 7, Temple,

Battle of Galveston Strand Walking Tour
Jan. 7-8, Galveston,

Jacob’s Well Guided Tours
Jan. 7, 14, Wimberley,

Wimberley StoryFest
Jan. 12, Wimberley,

Hill Country Indian Artifact Show
Jan. 14, Fredericksburg,

Blues Festival
Jan. 14, Luckenbach,

Second Chance/Second Saturday
Jan. 14, Magnolia,

Raptor Center Tours
Jan. 14, 28, Houston,

"Quanah Parker: One Man, Two Worlds”
Jan. 14-April 15, Temple,

Take 3: Violin, Piano, Cello
Jan. 15, Fredericksburg,

MLK Grande Parade
Jan. 16, Houston,

See all kinds of characters at the Kerrville Renaissance Festival starting Jan. 21

Trade Days
Jan. 20-22, Fredericksburg,

SPI Market Days
Jan. 20-22, South Padre Island,

Bird Banding
Jan. 21, Lake Jackson,

Star Gazing Party
Jan. 21, Lampasas,

Hill Country Gem and Mineral Show
Jan. 21-22, Fredericksburg,

Dallas Area Train Show
Jan. 21-22, Plano,

Kerrville Renaissance Festival
Jan. 21-22, 28-29, Feb. 4-5, Kerrville,

Surfside Food and Art Festival
Jan. 28, Surfside Beach,

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 and follow him on Facebook.

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Day Trips, Texas State Parks, Quanah Parker, Black cowboys, Witte Museum, Texas Historical Commission, African American Museum, historical markers, ELISSA, Galveston, Texas Performing Arts

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