Day Trips & Beyond: April Events Roundup

Plus Luther Hotel updates, Elephant Rock petition, more

No fooling: April is a great time to see sand sculptures on the Gulf Coast, drive through West Texas, or pick strawberries in Marble Falls.

Benoit Dutherage & Sue McGrew won first place in the Master Duo division at the 2023 SandFest with “Wish You Were Here.” (Photo by Gerald E. McLeod)

Sandy feats. Once a year, the beach at Port Aransas becomes an art gallery of sandcastles and sand sculptures. There is nothing quite like the Texas SandFest, April 19-21, in scope and creativity. Artists from around the world converge on the beach town to compete for juried and audience awards. The festival began in 1997 as a local event to raise funds for the PA Art Center and has grown into an internationally recognized phenomenon with music, vendors, and lots of fun. This year’s festival has attracted more than 30 master and semi-pro sand sculptors, plus there’s an area for amateur artists to try their hand at molding grains of sand into works of art. Canadian and Master Solo winner two years running, Abe Waterman, returns to defend his winning streak. Husband-and-wife team John and Laura Gowdy return in the Master Duo division after placing second place two years in a row. And don’t forget to look for Amazin’ Walter McDonald’s amazing sandcastle in the Non-Competing Master Category. At 82, Walter is the oldest contestant and has won nine awards after competing in almost every SandFest since its inception.
April 19-21, Texas SandFest, Port Aransas, www.portaransas.org/texas-sandfest

As the cleanup continues at the 130-year-old Luther Hotel in Palacios, it was announced that landmark has avoided the wrecking ball after a new contract was signed for its purchase.

Luther Update. The boarding has begun to come off the windows. Volunteers continue to sort and dispose of stuff accumulated over the 130-year history of the Luther Hotel in Palacios. Last month it was announced that after 18 months of uncertainty and the threat of demolition, the three-story wood structure has been saved from the wrecking ball. On March 15, Nick Herman, representing SouthVest BDC LLC, signed the contract to purchase the hotel from the Jack Findley Estate for $1.55 million. The venture capital company has a background in turning around distressed commercial properties. Based in Houston, Herman has a connection to the hotel through his father, who was stationed at Camp Hulen in Palacios during World War II and married a local girl. Plans call for returning the once-famous resort hotel overlooking Tres Palacios Bay to its former glory, including reintroducing “the longest porch in Texas” to the front of the building.

The fate of the Luther became questionable in 2020 when its longtime owner, Jack Findley, passed away without a leaving a will. The Ed Rachal Foundation of Corpus Christi contracted to purchase the bayside property from the heirs with the stipulation that the building be removed before the sale could be finalized. The agreement was allowed to expire last fall, opening the door to a new buyer.

In the meantime, a group of volunteers have worked diligently to clean out the years of accumulated furniture, kitchenware, and bedding so that the next phase of assessing the building’s condition can begin. It will be at least two and a half years before the first guests check into the restored Luther Hotel under a nonprofit/for-profit ownership and management arrangement, says Margaret Doughty, co-chair of the Palacios Preservation Association. The association hopes to raise $2 million toward the rehabilitation expenses.
Save the Luther Hotel, Palacios, 832/721-5915, preservationtexas.org/luther

Travel Notes:

Neither the supporters nor opponents of changing the name of Elephant Rock to Cibolo Rock seem to acknowledge that the lonely rock formation on US-67 south of Marfa doesn’t really resemble an elephant or a bison.

Elephant in the room. A group of residents in West Texas started a petition to have the name of a geological formation known as Elephant Rock changed to Cibolo Rock, according to a story in the March 13 issue of the Big Bend Sentinel. The rock formation appears along US-67 between Marfa and Presidio, not far from the Abe Lincoln profile on the horizon. Proponents of the name change say that the rock is on the Cibolo Ranch, was called Cibolo Rock as far back as at least the 1880s, and elephants have nothing to do with the area. The term “cibolo” means “bison” in the local Spanish vernacular. Opponents of the change cite nostalgia and “woke agenda.” The modern-day name evidently occurred in the 1960s when the Highway Department added roadside signage to entertain tourists. The petition asks TxDOT to change the current sign.

Goodbye to a car. It was announced that Houston’s beloved Art Car Museum will close on April 28. Since the museum’s two founders died, Ann Harithas in 2021 at age 80 and James Harithas in 2023 at age 90, the gallery’s future has been in question. The museum at 140 Heights Blvd. housed some of the best creations of the annual Art Car Parade (April 11-14, 2024). Affectionately known as the “Garage Mahal,” it opened in 1998 and was a centerpiece in what made Houston weird. A descendant of the O’Connor ranching family of South Texas, Ann and her husband, a noted museum curator, were heavily involved in the art scene in Houston and Victoria.

La Petite Belle is a half-scale working model of LaSalle’s ship La Belle found at the bottom of Matagorda Bay. It is used as an educational tool and ambassador for Palacios. The design of the 30-foot fiberglass sailboat was based on drawings of the original ship. (Photo by Gerald E. McLeod)

Ship ahoy. In 2011, the Palacios community joined together to construct a seaworthy half-scale replica of the French explorer Rene-Robert La Salle’s ship La Belle that sank in Matagorda Bay in 1686. La Petite Belle launched on Dec. 14, 2012. Currently the small ship is dry docked and getting much-needed repairs. Volunteers are again needed to assist with the work. If you have some elbow grease or funds to donate, contact rickhjenkins@gmail.com. It is hoped she will be relaunched in late spring. The very cool City by the Sea Museum and the Palacios Area Historical Association have more information on the historical facsimile.

Award-winning. The Bastrop Museum and Visitor Center were honored with an Award of Excellence in Museums from the Texas Historical Commission. Run by the Bastrop County Historical Society, the combined-usage building anchors the downtown historic district at 904 Main St. Besides greeting visitors with brochures and maps, the museum in the old City Hall building contains 18,000 artifacts, has research facilities, and features rotating exhibits. The annual THC awards announced in February recognize outstanding historic preservation around the state.

Other April Events:

Jump to a region: Big Bend | Gulf Coast | Hill Country | Panhandle | Piney Woods | Prairies & Lakes | South Texas | Out of State

BIG BEND

Hike the badlands on the Pecos River to see some of the oldest rock art in the country.

Spirits of the West Wine and Beef Fest
April 1-20, Alpine, www.spiritsfestwtx.com

Shumla Rock Art Treks
April 13, 14, 27, 28, Comstock, shumla.org/shumlatreks

GULF COAST

Black Restaurant Week
April 1-14, Houston, blackrestaurantweeks.com/houston-black-restaurant-week

Windfest
April 4-7, Portland, www.portlandtx.org/windfest

Steampunk Festival
April 5-7, Galveston, www.galvestonsteampunk.com

Night Light 2024
April 6, Houston, buffalobayou.org/event/night-light-3

Cajun Heritage Festival
April 6, Port Arthur, www.visitportarthurtx.com

Texas State Surfing Championship
April 6-21, South Padre Island, www.sopadre.com

Nothing is more exciting or weirder than the Art Car Parade in downtown Houston.

Art Car Parade and Festival
April 11-14, Houston, www.thehoustonartcarparade.com

Neches River Boat Tours
April 13, 20, 27, Beaumont, www.nechesriveradventures.org/public-tours

Open Day Garden Tour
April 13, 27, Hempstead, jfgarden.org

FeatherFest and Nature Photo Festival
April, 18-21, Galveston, www.galvestonfeatherfest.com

Texas SandFest
April 18-21, Port Aransas, www.texassandfest.org

San Jacinto Museum celebrates the 188th anniversary of the Battle of San Jacinto.

San Jacinto Day
April 20, La Porte, thc.texas.gov/events/san-jacinto-day-celebration

Worldfest International Film Festival
April 23-28, Houston, www.worldfest.org

Birdiest Festival in America
April 24-28, Corpus Christi, www.birdiestfestival.org

Big Thicket Bus Tour
April 27, Beaumont, www.bigthicket.org/events

HILL COUNTRY

Handpicked berries are the sweetest at Sweet Berry Farm in Marble Falls.

PYO Strawberries
April 1-May 31, Marble Falls, sweetberryfarm.com

Wildflower Celebration
April 1-30, Fredericksburg, www.wildseedfarms.com

UtopiaFest
April 5-9, Utopia, www.utopiafest.com

Moontower Just For Laughs Comedy Festival
April 10-21, Austin, www.austintheatre.org/moontower-comedy

Texas Whiskey Festival
April 20, Bee Caves, www.txwhiskeyfest.com

Spring Native Plant Sale
April 20, Kerrville, www.riversidenaturecenter.org

Butterfly Festival
April 20, Wimberley, www.emilyann.org/butterfly.html

IluMen Chorus in Concert
April 21, Fredericksburg, www.fredericksburgmusicclub.com

“Witness to War” featuring Susan Toomey Frost
April 21, San Marcos, www.thewittliffcollections.txst.edu

Founders Day
April 26-28, Dripping Springs, www.cityofdrippingsprings.com/founders-day

Red Poppy Festival
April 26-28, Georgetown, poppy.georgetown.org

Wings & Wine
April 27, Fredericksburg, thc.texas.gov/events/wings-wine

Banff Mountain Film Festival World Tour
April 27-28, Austin, www.austintheatre.org

PANHANDLE

Get your cowboy or cowgirl on at Lubbock's celebration of ranching.

Tom Lea Trail and Heritage Trade Show
April 14, Seymour, www.tomlea.com/events/tom-lea-celebration-2023-24
Ranch Day
April 20, Lubbock, ranchingheritage.org/nrhc-events/ranch-day

SOUTH TEXAS

Celebrate the strawberry in the place that's famous for it: Poteet.

San Antonio Highland Games
April 6-7, San Antonio, www.sahga.org

Strawberry Festival
April 12-14, Poteet, www.strawberryfestival.com

San Antonio Book Festival
April 13, San Antonio, sabookfestival.org

Fiesta San Antonio
April 18-28, San Antonio, www.fiestasanantonio.org

Texas Cavaliers River Parade
April 22, San Antonio, www.texascavaliers.org

PINEY WOODS

Azalea Trails
April 1-15, Nacogdoches, www.visitnacogdoches.org/p/things-to-do/tour-texas-largest-azalea-garden

The Woodlands Waterway Arts Festival
April 12-14, The Woodlands, www.visitthewoodlands.com/events/art-events/waterway-arts-festival

PRAIRIES AND LAKES

Music in the Park
April 5-May 31, Elgin, www.elgintexas.gov

Sherwood Forest Faire
April 6-21, McDade, www.sherwoodforestfaire.com

Scarborough Renaissance Festival
April 6-May 27, Waxahachie, www.srfestival.com

Celebrate the state flower at Chappell Hill.

Bluebonnet Festival of Texas
April 13-14, Chappell Hill, www.chappellhillhistoricalsociety.com

Main Street Fort Worth Arts Festival
April 18-21, Fort Worth, www.mainstreetartsfest.org

Thoroughbred Horse Racing
April 18-July 14, Grand Prairie, www.lonestarpark.com

Chuckwagon Races
April 19-21, Neches, www.1836chuckwagonrace.com

Cotton Gin Festival
April 20, Burton, www.texascottonginmuseum.org

Southwest Black Art Show
April 20-21, Dallas, aamdallas.org

Dallas International Film Festival
April 25-May 2, Dallas, www.dallasfilm.org

Dallas Blues Festival
April 26, Grand Prairie, texastrustcutheatre.com

Derrick Days
April 27, Corsicana, www.derrickdays.com

Prairie Wildlife and Wildflower Adventure
April 28, Waxahachie, ruralheritagefarm.org

OUT OF STATE

On April 20, enter for free any of the NPS properties that charge a fee, like Big Bend National Park.

Agave Heritage Festival
April 18-21, Tucson, Ariz., www.agaveheritagefestival.com

Free Entrance Day in the National Parks
April 20, Various locations, www.nps.gov/planyourvisit/fee-free-parks.htm

Merle Fest
April 25-28, Wilkesboro, N.C., merlefest.org


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.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for over 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

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