DALLAS HAS ALMOST EVERYTHING A PERSON NEEDS. THERE’S SHOP-ping, dining, arts-you name it. But sometimes, the thing you need is exactly what’s not here, like a log cabin in the woods or a sunrise on a quiet coastal marsh. Maybe a cup of coffee from the balcony of an 18th-century bed-and-breakfast.
The answer? A weekend out of the city, free from distraction. There are more options than you might think-not just the trips you already know about, but bed-and-breakfasts you’ve never heard of, quaint restaurants not found in any travel guide. You can find that unexpected place that you had imagined didn’t really exist. And you don’t have to kill yourself getting there-you can drive to each of the following destinations in five hours or less. Dallas may seem like a city surrounded by nothing, but if you plan it right, a few hours in the car can land you in another world.
For the landlocked fisherman in Dallas, Beavers’ Bend Resort Park is a bit of heaven.
THE HOT OKLAHOMA SUN SLIPS BEHIND the cool mountains of the Ouachita range and I reflect on the beauty and quiet of this unassuming state park. Water released from the bottom of the Lake Broken Bow dam cools the entire river valley, Large hardwoods, hickory and oak, retain that coolness and. fly rod in hand. I wade the comforting river flow to a casting vantage which puts me, undetected, below a steadily rising brown trout.
Having left behind the gnawing worries of Dallas, my mind cannot quite accept the fact that here there are no traffic jams, no airplane paths, no FedEx drop boxes, no faxes, pagers, cell phones. It takes a day or two to disengage from all that technology.
At Beavers” Bend, such disassociation is helped along by horses, hiking, canoeing, camping, and fishing. Especially the fishing. Trout bums like myself will pursue the holy grail of trouting into Montana and Alberta and Colorado to the point of financial ruin and social ridicule. Just short of being served with papers, kitchen pass points running at a déficit, a quick trip to Beavers’ Bend can preserve one’s sanity as well as one’s marriage. Better still, it’s a place to take the whole family without all those niggling, take-out-a-second-mortgage details.
Any of Dallas’ fly-fishing shops can advise you on equipment to take to Beavers’ Bend. Guide services are available on the river and again, any of the Dallas shops can provide the details.
My favorite outing at Beavers’ Bend is to walk south along the logging road adjacent to the river. From the southern boundary of the park, below the “low-water dam,” a special catch and release area begins. Here the largest trout can be found, mostly browns but some rainbows, as well as the most challenging fly-fishing. The woods are lovely and dark-a nice place for a picnic.
In the other direction, a hike along Beaver creek is complete with wooden bridges and the soothing sounds of cascading water, The creek drops rather sharply from its source at the lake, and most fishermen will avoid the hiking trail and walk directly up the creek.
Children often fish within the park for stocked rainbow trout. Bait fishing is the most common, and the park has generous harvest regulations. The impoundment, Lake Broken Bow, is popular with the zillion horsepower bass boat crowd in the summer and with eagle watchers in the winter. Eagles can be seen on the river harvesting white bass that have made the unfortunate choice of swimming into the lake’s small power generation turbines. The station’s activation warning horn is really a great Pavlovian eagle dinner bell.
Putting aside such man-made oddities, Beavers’ Bend is perhaps the most beautiful, and different, place to go within 200 miles of Dallas. The sense of really being in the mountains will satisfy nearly anyone who hasn’t actually lived in the Rockies.
WHEN YOU GO
Beavers’ Bend Resort Park is about a four-hour drive from Dallas. You’ll find the park on any map of southeastern Oklahoma, just north of Broken Bow and Idabel. For cabin reservations, call 405-494-6300. Golfers can call the Cedar Creek golf course at 405-494-6456. Lakeview lodge can be reached at 405-494-6179.
RANCH LIFF MADE EASY
At Cullen Ranch, you can feel rustic without sacrificing luxury.
THE ’90S, YOU COULD SAY, IS THE DECADE of gentrification. Beer isn’t just beer anymore-it’s handcrafted a!e. Kids don’t wear hand-me-downs, but all-cotton khakis from Gap Kids. And hunting in East Texas? Let’s just say the Cullen Ranch isn’t your average camouflage and cowboy hat kind of place. Comprised of 2,000 acres only 40 miles east of Dallas, the ranch is the quintessential pampering retreat, a destination elegant enough for recent visitors such as Carl Lewis and Kevin Costner.
The first thing that struck us about the ranch was the lodge itself. Inside the main room, the decor is a mix of Old World classicism and East Texas chic-deep green walls, exposed cedar roof joists, carved-wood chandeliers. At one end of the lodge is the smoking room, furnished with leather chairs and original artwork by John P. Cowan. At the other end, connected to the large lobby overlooking a fountained pond, is the dining room. The walls here are painted burgundy and hung with ranch-scene artwork.
What’s most impressive about the dining room, though, is what goes on there. Executive Chef Rougei Shenouda was born in Cairo, but he cooks as though he ’s been preparing Texas game all his life. Our dinner started with an appetizer of Beluga caviar served with homemade potato chips and a sour cream sauce. That was followed with a not-too-heavy pheasant-tortilla soup and a field green salad. After a bite of sorbet, we got to the main course; grilled chukar with apple-cider glaze, roasted garlic mashed potatoes, and a mix of green beans and squash. A rich soufflé with mixed berries and cream on the side ended the experience. The meal wasn’t just good for ranch food, it was excellent by any standards.
So where do all the game birds Shenouda cooks come from? Ah yes. the hunting. We hunted once in the afternoon and again the following morning. Jason Samples, our guide for the first hunt, trains all of the ranch’s two dozen dogs. For the uninitiated, the sight of a pair of dogs on point is something to behold. Tails rigid in the air, one leg Lifted, noses an inch above the wispy grass, the dogs appeared statuesque for just a second, until Jason gave them the command, and they dove forward to Hush what they had found. With that, the birds lifted into the crisp air and we shot, sometimes downing a ring-necked pheasant or quail, other times watching as the birds turned with the wind and coasted in a semi-circle to another field. In two hunts, we bagged a half-dozen pheasant and two dozen quail.
For those who do not hunt, the Cullen Ranch still offers a chance to get away from all of life’s minutiae. There’s horseback riding, a world-class sporting clays course, and, maybe best of all. plenty of comfortable chairs. You can lounge on the lodge’s back porch, or if it’s cold out, sit inside the lobby by the fireplace and catch up on that book you’ve been meaning to read. Rougei will be glad to fix you some lunch and a glass of wine, and the big-screen satellite TV has hundreds of channels if you just can’t stand to be out of touch with the world.
WHEN YOU GO
The Cullen Ranch Is about one hour east of Dallas, near Rockwall. Hunting packages begin at $555 for two days, with customized hunts available. For reservations, call 888-TEX-HUNT.
At Chain-O-Lakes Resort, the romance of nature meets the practicality of plumbing.
CAMPING OUT IN THE wilderness looks great in glossy books and brochures, but close encounters with nature aren’t really my style, Still, when the grind of big-city living feels like a burden. I want a place with rural seclusion, but also the civilized spoils of linens, lavender soaps, and toilets that flush.
Chain-O-Lakes Resort is that kind of place. The 300-acre spread is nestled next to the Big Thicket National Preserve four hours southeast of Dallas. On weekends, tent-style camping is allowed if you feel comfortable with the great outdoors; if not. sign up for a lakefront, furnished log cabin. (We’re talking full kitchen and bath, fireplace, coffee maker, central heat and air-but no TV or telephone.) Arrive late on Friday and the night watchman will meet you at the General Store and escort you to your pine bungalow, explaining along the way the noises that can spook city folks who suddenly find themselves in the middle of nowhere: The heavy footsteps thumping across your front porch is your personal woodsman delivering firewood ( if it’s cold outside ); the cowbell ringing at dawn on Saturday (unless it’s raining) signals your horse-drawn carriage that is waiting to carry you to a breakfast buffet at the Hilltop Herb Farm Restaurant on the property, where everything is homemade.
Come in the summertime and you’ve got the option of swimming in the pool or the lakes and picking blueberries. Otherwise, the rest of the resort’s activities are year-round: hiking, horseback riding, fishing. basketball, shuffleboard, canoeing, and feeding the alligators that migrated from the nearby Trinity River. (Staff members swear the animals aren’t confrontational. I asked. ) A five-course meal at the Hilltop on Saturday night is the only event you need to set your watch for. But if you get too attached to the inside of your cabin and your cozy, warm fire, you can opt for the “White Tablecloth” room service dinner instead. Unfortunately, I tried it and can’t recommend it. As elegant as it sounds on paper, the $70 service consists mainly of pickled shrimp and lunch meat, potato salad and Cook’s champagne, with a complementary paperback of Robert Browning love sonnets as a centerpiece.
On Sundays, the Hilltop restaurant is closed and the best alternative to gathering nuts and berries on a nature walk is to make the 13-mile drive to Matlock’s Restaurant, a small-town cafe that serves breakfast all day. When you get back, you’ll still have time for one last horseback ride or paddle around the lake before trekking back to the big city. Then, as dusk approaches and you’re reluctantly packing your car, the only worry you’ll have is figuring out how much of a tip you’re supposed to leave a woodsman. -Sara Peterson
WHEN YOU GO
Chain-O-Lakes Resort is four hours southeast of Dallas by car. Cabins range from $45 to $160 per night, depending on occupancy and amenities. To make reservations, call 281-592-2150.
LAZY ON THF RIVER
At the Guadalupe River Ranch, you can stay active outdoors-or simply float downstream.
THE GUADALUPE RIVER RANCH IS LAIDback elegance at its best. It’s an old, comfortable, no-frills place on a limestone bluff overlooking the Guadalupe, where stone walkways meander along St. Augustine grass to the pool, the tennis court, and plenty of hammocks strung between live oak trees. A 100-step stairway leads to the river below.
We checked in on a Friday night. After taking a peek at the room-very comfortable with a four-poster bed, a balcony suspended in the treetops, and not a television or phone in sight-we wandered through the main guest house and found ourselves a glass of Hill Country wine. Happy hour was spent in the tree house, rocking and talking and gazing across the river at the verdant, squared-off pasture dotted with golden hay bales.
Guests have the option of dining al fresco on the stone porch overlooking the Guadalupe valley or inside the main guest house. Tables, covered in crisp white cloths topped with fresh flowers, add to the ambience. Chef Michael McClure, known lor his Hill Country-inspired cuisine, draws dinner guests from San Antonio, a 45-minute drive. That night we supped on scallop and pork dumplings, cucumber and watercress salad with mint dressing and a sprinkling of sugared pecans, followed by orange roughy with basil butter sauce, potato squash pancakes, and asparagus. The asparagus, herbs, and salad greens were grown in the ranch’s garden-everything was delicious. After dinner we looked at the stars while soaking in the hot tub.
Saturday morning began with hot coffee and a buffet of eggs, bacon, and waffles. By 10 a.m., we were on a tube floating down the river with eight other guests, and after about 15 minutes, we found ourselves completely alone. This stretch of the Guadalupe, clear, cool, and fast flowing, is lined with cypress trees and pebble beaches. Getting on the river, in a tube or canoe, is so easy and convenient that you can break up river trips with a dry-seated, civilized meal at the ranch. (We had homemade focaccia bread pizza, Caesar salad, and cookies.)
While you’ll be tempted to do nothing more than eat. drink, sleep, and float, there are plenty of activities for busybodies: tennis, zip lines 500 feet over the canyon, trail rides, mountain biking, and miles of hiking trails through Quail and Fossil canyons and along the river. We opted for the lazy approach. We took a nap in the hammock, read by the pool, and got a massage.
For those who need a getaway before the summer, the Ranch is hosting a vintner weekend April 24 and 25. The $309 per person rate includes two dinners. two-night lodging, and lots of Hill Country wine.-Courtney Denby
WHEN YOU GO
The drive to Guadalupe River Ranch takes about five hours from Dallas. The ranch offers two plans: The Complete Plan includes lodging, dinner, breakfast, and lunch for S258 double occupancy; the Sightseer Plan includes lodging, dinner, and breakfast for $21B double occupancy. For reservations, call 800-460-2005.
HILL COUNTRY DELIGHT
Epicurean adventures in Fredericksburg, the best little German town in Texas.
IN THE HEART OF THE HILL COUNTRY, about 90 miles west of Austin, is Fredericksburg, rich in German ancestry and small-town charm. Although known for its antiques, this town is more than just shopping; it’s full of fantastic food and surrounded by vineyards. This is truly a place in which you can indulge. And we did.
We began our weekend with dinner at the Hill Top Cafe. This gas-station-turned-eatery is the best thing to happen to vacation. Because we had no reservations, our only option was a small table next to the juke box. practically in the hallway to the bathroom. But the food made up for what our setting lacked in ambience. Appetizers included tiropites and spanakopita, and entrées ran the gamut from Cajun-style gumbo to chicken-fried steak to fresh flounder. Everything was made with herbs grown on the premises, and it was all delicious.
After dinner, we headed to our suite at Baron’s Creek Inn. This cozy bed-and-breakfast is perfect fora romantic weekend for two. but it fit all four of us comfortably- two in the spacious bedroom and two on the living room sofa sleeper. The continental breakfast was a little bit of heaven: homemade cakes and breads and fresh peaches.
After breakfast, we headed out to Bell Mountain Vineyards. Co-owner Evelyn Oberhelman gave us a thorough lour of her vineyards, and afterward, we tried all the winery’s samplings, bought a bottle of chardonnay, and headed back to town.
For our big night in Freder-icksburg, our first stop was the Lincoln Street Wine Market, a cute and stylish wine, cheese, and cigar bar. This intimate house-turned-wine bar could be a trendy hot spot in Dallas. But in this town, it’s a low-key, must-do for the weekend. We took a seat, and one of the young owners poured us each a glass of wine. We could have nibbled on an array of cheeses, patés, olives, and bread, but we were saving room for dinner.
Later that night, it was back to what we seemed to do best on our vacation: eat. At Ernie’s Mediterranean Grill, we sampled a little from every course. One appetizer was a portobello mushroom in a green peppercorn sauce; pastas included shrimp atop capellini in a tomato-basil sauce; one entrée was macadamia-nut-stuffed snapper. And we would not dream of skipping dessert. Anne Briggs, who runs the front of the house while husband Ernest tends to the kitchen, is also the pastry chef. We indulged in a crème brulée and a flourless chocolate cake to round out our perfect meal- and a perfect Epicurean excursion.-Jennifer Chininis
WHEN YOU GO
Fredericksburg is about a four-and-a-half-hour drive from Dallas. For reservations at Baron’s Creek Inn, call 800-800-4082. Suites are $95 for one or two people, and $15 extra per person up to four. For dinner reservations at the Hill Top Cafe, call 830-997-8922.
ALL BOOKED UP
For true bibliophiles, James McMurtry’s hometown, Archer City, is a gold mine.
WHEREVER YOU’RE COMING FROM, YOU have to want to go there. Archer City is miles of empty, two-lane blacktop, two hours and a civilization or two from Dallas. Bui a few people are finding their way there just because Larry McMurtry wants them to. It’s a quixotic endeavor, and its unlikely story requires a certain suspension of disbelief; Larry McMurtry, successful writer, Texas’ prodigal son, returns to found an improbable empire in his dying hometown. It has the taint of a Texas tale, a grandiose, eccentric, ego-clouded vision wished on an unrecep-tive population in a hardscrabble landscape.
McMurtry has a vision. A confirmed book lover (he was a book peddler in Houston long before he was a published author), he’s owned several bookstores over the years. Now he’s moved his own book collection to Idiot Ridge, the family ranch outside Archer, and he’s transferred the bulk of his bookstores’ inventories into Archer City storefronts. His idea is that Archer City could become the next Hay-on-Wye, the formerly forgotten, quaint Welsh hamlet that has become a world destination for bibliophiles. Unfortunately, Archer City could never be called quaint. It might become a destination, but until Larry showed up again, it could have been called dead.
The model for McMurtry’s Last Picture Show, the Royal Theater, is a ruin, although there is an organization alive trying to rebuild it. The town’s only restaurant, the Texasville Cafe (also named after a McMurtry novel) is closed.The stone courthouse stands in the middle of a square lined with shuttered stores. There are only four mobile homes in the trailer park. But Booked Uptakes up four buildings in downtown, all filled floor to ceiling with books. In the main store, glass cases display the precious books-everything from a first edition of Italian Villas and their Gardens by Edith Wharton to a wanted poster for H. Rap Brown. To get from one store to another, you have to cross a flat, four-lane highway, the kind of street that’s death to armadillos. There are rooms and rooms and rooms of books, one opening out of the other, lined with shelves like Citizen Kane’s warehouse. Sales help is nonexistent- your only guides are the labels sticking out from the plain white shelves: military history, Canadian history, photography, art, fiction. There’s a whole wall of the works of P.G. Wodehouse. Another one of the works of Larry Mc-Murtry. Books are sacked on the floor and boxes of books are parked by the shelves. It’s quiet in there, and the few people browsing the stacks don’t talk much. Book people don’t talk much.
The place to stay in town is the Spur Hotel, a recently restored old hotel across from the Archer Public Library. But it’s not the book buyers who are filling its rooms; it’s deer hunters-you can buy a hunting license at the front desk. The hotel offers a package deal for hunting groups. There’s no such deal yet for the bookworms.-Mary Brown Malouf
WHEN YOU GO
Archer City is a two-hour drive from Dallas. Once there, the Spur Hotel is your only choice, and it’s only open Thursday through Saturday nights. Rates are $62-$69 per night; call 940-574-2501.
In the river town of Nachitoches, history lives on every street.
IN 1714, FRENCHMAN LOUIS JUCHEREAU de St. Denis commissioned the construction of a small tort on the Red River in central Louisiana. Nachitoches (pronounced NAK-eh-tush). the site of the fort, became a bustling port for the cotton trade, and the wealthy landowners of that Old South industry spread out across the flat and fertile landscape, carving up the land and building beautiful plantation homes. But Mother Nature had other plans, and the river altered its course, leaving the new settlement isolated. For the tourist in search of a little Old South gentility, though, that iso-lation means one thing: Not much has changed in Nachitoches, and that’s the best reason to visit.
Located a little more than an hour south of Shreveport, Nachitoches is everything you’d imagine a quaint antebellum town would be. Front Street, which runs along the Cane River Lake in the middle of town, is bordered by a row of small antique shops ; and markets. Across the street, a sloping green-grass hill leads to the slow-moving water. (The blockbuster movie Steel Magnolias was filmed here, and the movie’s opening sequence shows this quaint block of town.) One of the best restaurants in town i is The Landing, which overlooks the river and features classic Cajun cuisine, including rich shrimp, crawfish, or oyster gumbo. Around the corner on Second Street is Lasyone’s Meat Pie Kitchen, the town’s real culinary claim to fame. Louisiana offers ; more than its share of great food, but the meat pies at Lasyone’s rival anything you can get in New Orleans. If you’re like me, Lasyone’s will be the first-and last-thing you do in Nachitoches.
But what most people come for is the history, and here that means touring the plantations. Atlanta may have Tara, but spend an afternoon at the Melrose, Beau Fort, or any of the other plantation homes nearby, and you’ll know what antebellum life was like, at least for the landowners. The Melrose, built in 1796, is a National Historic Landmark only a few minutes from town. Clementine Hunter, the state’s most famous folk artist, worked and painted her colorful, simple paintings at this elegant mansion.
After touring Melrose, head back north to Beau Fort Plantation. Now a 265-acre working cotton plantation. Beau Fort featurc beautiful year-round gardens and one of the best examples of Creole architecture in Louisiana. Break away from the tour for a while and find a quiet spot on the porch, and you’ll swear you can almost hear Scarlett whispering out from near the edge of the cotton fields.
When you ’ve loured all you can, head back to town and settle in at one of 33 bed-and-breakfasts. The Levy-East House on Jefferson Street is one of the nicest, furnished throughout with period antiques. At night, you can sit on the second -floor balcony and sip a glass of wine, imagining the town as it must have been two centuries ago, before the river shifted. It’s nice to know that some things never change.-W.M.
WHEN YOU GO
Nachitoches is about four-and-a-half hours from Dallas by car. One of the nicest bed-and-breakfasts is the Levy-East House, 318-352-0662. Weekend rooms here are $125, including breakfast Dinner at The Landing is a must; call 318-352-1579 for reservations. For information on plantation tours, call the Nachitoches Tourism Board, B00-259-1714.
GOT THE BLUES?
For the music-hungry, Austin has all the beat you need.
MY FRIEND AND I ARRIVED IN AUSTIN IN search of jazz, hoping for blues on the side. The goal: hit as many pubs and clubs as we could in a weekend. We wouldn’t catch every stage show we read about in the Austin Chronicle while fueling up on blueberry pancakes at legendary Kerbey Lane Cafe. But it was worth a try, if only for the tales we’d bring back on Monday when we were once again awash in the office ordinary.
We made reservations at the posh Driskell Hotel-a 19th-century structure that is a quintessential slice of upscale Texas tourism in a city that is becoming more and more un-Texas. Valets dress in Western-wear; rooms are decorated in a classy cowboy motif. Try to know exactly what you want to do in Austin before you check in, however. The weekend we visited, the concierge was missing in action, and the front desk staff registered clueless when we asked them where we should go for Sunday brunch. (We stumbled upon live jazz and tasty migas at Manuel’s on our own.) If the Driskell is too bourgeoisie for your taste, try the Austin Motel-it’s dumpy in a fashionably quirky kind of way. Near downtown, the mom-and-pop inn is flanked by funky Austin art and antique stores-Uncommon Objects, Aqua, Yard Dog-that make shopping in Dallas seem so predictable.
For dinner we picked the hot spot Mezza-luna, which had a two-hour wait, The gnocchi, the rainbow trout, the wood-fired margherita pizza, and-of all things-the smoky-tasting olive oil rewarded our patience. Waiting for our table, we killed time next door at Ringside, an intimate hangout with red wood tables that can’t hold much more than a couple of scotches and a candle centerpiece. It’s a place to be mellow, sit, and listen to a sexy saxophone while ordering cocktails from tuxedoed waiters.
If you’re looking for a place with loud energy and you don’t mind if a little beer gels splashed on you, check out Antone’s, famous for blues. A Warehouse District, exposed-brick building, Antone’s was dancing-room-only when we got there. Buckwheat Zydeco- that Cajun, bluesy band with their clamorous washboards and accordions-had the crowd in syncopated stomping.
A furtive alleyway leads to Speakeasy, a ’30s-style swing club with dark paneled walls and antique movie posters. The place was packed with pretty people wearing everything from chiffon to khakis, locking limbs to the music of the Lucky Strikes. Other spots we would go back to for more: Elephant Room, a dark, cellar bar that books jazz only, and La Zona Rosa and Liberty Lunch for alternative, artsy bands. Austin is full of 50,000 laid-back twentysomethings that keep the city energetic, but never on edge. Vibrant and up all night. If you’re not drop-dead drained by the lime you get back, you probably didn’t do the place right.-S.P.
WHEN YOU GO
The drive to Austin takes about three hours. To make reservations at the Driskell Hotel, call 512-474-5911 or 800-252-9367; rooms range from $155 per night to $1,500 for a suite. For a simpler (and cheaper) stay, try the Austin Motel, 512-441-1157; rooms range from $46 to $99.
Houston’s freewheeling ways have cultivated a vibrant folk art scene.
SEATED HIGH IN A TRACTOR SEAT AROUND an empty concrete amphitheater, you could take it all in-rows of the metal seats, railed with plumbing pipes, fenced with rows of metal-spoked wheels welded together, painted orange, yellow, and red. Once, the Monitor-like steamboat circled the concrete wading pool to demonstrate an important part of commercial orange-growing. Striped awnings shade more bright handmade displays extolling citrus. Welcome to the Orange Show, folks.
Texans traditionally speak in superlatives-biggest, most, best-so of course Jefferson Davis McKissack called his Orange Show “the most beautiful show on earth, the most colorful show on earth, the most unique show on earth.” The 6,000-square-loot display on M linger Street look McKissack 20 years to perfect. He believed it would be an attraction greater than the Grand Canyon, that millions of people would travel hundreds of miles to see it. He built the Orange Show as a testament to the orange, which he believed to be nature’s perfect food, but it stands as a testament to the spirit of the folk artist, who creates to satisfy his own imagination in the face of a misunderstanding, unappreciative-and possibly totally unaware-public.
Il could seem oxymoronic to call a trip from one Texas metropolis to another a “getaway’” (it could seem, more simply, moronic). But a trip to Houston does change a Dallasite’s pace because in many ways, Houston has cultivated the Texas traits that Dallas has tried to tame. Houston’s disorderly, unorganized, and maverick sensibility is the opposite of Dallas’ controlled, goal-oriented culture.
We picked up a map from the little house across the street that serves as the Orange Show Foundation’s offices and embarked on a slow-driving tour of Houston’s no- zoning art monuments. On a breezy day with the car windows down, we could hear the Beer Can House before we could see it. Strings of beer can tops festooned from the eaves sound like change jingling in a pocket. Built by John Milkovisch, it’s an aluminum fantasy completely covered with flattened beer cans.
Across town, in the Third Ward, we found Cleveland Turner sitting with a friend outside his embellished Flower House, a testament, he says, to his sobriety. And we were invited inside the OK Corral, |where on some Friday nights people drift in to eat barbecue behind the painted, boot-studded walls. There’s lots of mainstream art in Houston, too-the Menil Collection was fea turing an exhibit of Joseph Cornell assemblages when we were there, the Rothko Chapel draws visitors from around the world, and the modern art circuit is also livelier than Dallas’ anemic scene.
When Willard “Texas Kid” Watson died, his decorated yard in Dallas was broken up, sold to collectors, and destroyed. When Jefferson McKissack died, its admirers rallied, pledged to preserve it, and formed a foundation for that purpose. The foundation holds fund-raisers-including the famous art-car parade, a cavalcade of automobiles decorated in idiosyncratic style-throughout the year to raise money for the site’s preservation, and it promotes awareness of other folk art sites.-M.B.M.
WHEN YOU GO
Houston has hundreds of hotels, but the Allen Park Inn seems to fit the folk art theme of this trip: Rooms are decidedly simple, but clean, a relic from the days when America vacationed by car. For two adults, rooms range from !B96 to $275 for a suite. To start your folk art tour, call the Orange Show at 713-521-9321. You can begin your tour there and get information about other artists in Houston.<BR>BIRDS OF PARADISE
For bird-watchers around the world, the Texas Gulf Coast is the place to see.
AS THE SETTING SUN PAINTED THE SKY shades of pink and azure that would have embarrassed a South Texas truck-stop muralist, I stood knee-deep in a salt marsh in a state of bliss. Moments before, my bird-watching companions and I at the Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge had flushed out not only a secretive Yellow Rail, but a rare Black Rail as well. I was bleary eyed, rain sodden, and suddenly aware that my fire-ant ravaged legs were being pickled in the brackish water.
In short, it was the end of a day of near-perfect Texas Gulf coast birding. And as a final V of Ibis flew overhead in silhouette, I groped for the words to sum it up. “Wow,” I said.
Veteran birder Charley Amos, who with the help of a group of North Texas birders, a couple of tag-along Brits, and 20 feet of roped-together empty bleach bottles, had organized the rail drive, gazed at the Ibis and answered, “You have no idea.”
Few Texans, in fact, have any idea that their state’s Gulf Coast ranks among places like the Galapagos Islands, Costa Rica, and Antarctica in the feathery dreams of the world’s birders. A German couple I met told me that their friends were appalled to learn they were flying to the United States solely to visit a place called High Island, Texas. “We told them. ’We are going to Texas where the warblers are.”’
The Germans had timed it right, hitting High Island’s equivalent of the jackpot. With one day left in their stay, the annual spring migration was disrupted by a birder’s dream and a bird’s nightmare-a storm over the Gulf of Mexico. The wet, ugly weather pounded the northbound warblers, buntings, and grosbeaks, forcing the exhausted survivors to land by the thousands at the first landfall-a few trees on top of a salt dome northeast of Galveston called High Island. Birders refer to these staggering avian inundations as “fallouts.” And when one happens, bird-watchers crowd High Island’s bird sanctuaries maintained by the Houston Audubon Society.
In the nearby Anahuac (pronounced ana-WAK) wildlife refuge, I met two Finns standing motionless in the driving rain staring at a trio of willows. The Finns had flown across an ocean in hopes of seeing a Cape May-a less-than-sparrow-size bird. The Cape May didn’t oblige the Finns, but they saw more than 100 avian species.
Although April and May are the best times to see the northbound songbirds and perhaps luck into a fallout, Texas’ upper coast is a birding destination year-round. The fall hawk migration peaks in November, and in the late fall, Snow Geese fill the skies over the refuge. The gulls and shore-birds are always plentiful at the nearby Bolivar Flats Shorebird Sanctuary.
WHEN YOU GO
Much of the Texas Gulf Coast offers excellent bird-watching, but the Anahuac Wildlife Refuge, 45 miles east of Houston, offers some of the best. To obtain information, call the refuge at 409-267-3337. The Houston Audubon Society can also help with maps and suggestions for the best places to see; call 713-932-1392.
HOT SPRINGS AND EASY LIVING
For a weekend of VIP pampering, try Hot Springs, Arkansas.
YES, THERE’S A LOT OF ASPHALTTO TRAVel, but, aaahhh, the reward that awaits: a city whose very existence glorifies the spa. Since the first Indians stuck their toes in, trappers, settlers, movie stars, gangsters, presidents, residents, and tourists have been sinking into steaming pools of mineral water here to soak away whatever ails them.
Savvy travelers arriving at The Arlington late Friday afternoon will have scheduled their first Bath House treatments for soon after arrival. Those who haven’t made reservations must be content to indulge, margarita in hand, in the 100-plus-degree hot tub on the hotel’s big seventh-floor deck. Behind the cozy gazebo housing the tub, romantic strolling paths crisscross the cool, green mountainside. Dinner is available in the hotel or out, at one of the city *s numerous restaurants. The famous Coy’s serves excellent aged beef and seafood.
The Arlington’s Bath House (on the third floor) opens at 7 a.m., women to the left, please, and gentlemen to the right. It’s all spotless white tile, white towels and sheets, brass and chrome, and rocking chairs-classic and timeless. Ask for “The Works”-bath, whirlpool, and massage-and charge it to your room.
You are first wrapped in a bath sheet, toga-style. Then you are escorted to a private tub for an exhilarating, 20-minute whirlpool and a brief, brisk loofah by your personal attendant.
Afterward, you are dried, wrapped, and directed to lie upon one in a row of low benches, where another attendant covers you with a hot sheet and puts another really hot one under your back. What follows is fondly referred to as “the car wash,” a cagelike structure of pipes that sprays you side to side and top to bottom. You are dried, rewrapped, and sent to sit and rock awhile before your massage.
As in the old days, bathers are encouraged to exercise. Trails leading up Hot Springs Mountain-to picnic and camping grounds and, finally, the spectacular views from the Mountain Tower-offer all the activity you’ll need.
But if you don’t feel up to it, there’s always another bath, another massage. That’s your prescription for transforming from stress-wracked zombie into happy egg noodle. Repeat as needed.-Elizabeth Eckstein
WHEN YOU GO
The Arlington Resort Hotel and Spa Is about five hours from Dallas by car. Rooms range from $82 to $295 or a package for $260, including your room and one mineral bath and one massage per adult. Additional mineral baths are $17.50; massages are $22. To make a reservation, call 800-643-1502.
ADVENTURES IN ANTIQUING
You can find some of the country’s best antiques in the twin towns of Round Top and Brenham.
WHEN I WAS A CHILD, MY mother’s idea of a family vacation was to drag me, my dad, and my brother though antique stores all around New England. Recently, when my mom and I set out like bloodhounds on the trail of antique shops lining the highways from Round Top to Brenham, I realized not much has changed.
Midway between Austin and Houston, Round Top-population 81 – annually hosts two huge Antique Fairs. Junkers from all over the country gather to sift through a melange of authentic antiques, collectables, and junk. Even in the off-season, the streets from Round Top east to Brenham, famous for the Blue Bell Creamery, are crammed with stores claiming to sell antiques. Under my mom’s tutelage, we managed to find some real gems.
We based our expedition at Francis and Bill Harris’ Heart of my Heart bed-and-breakfast. Their ranch house is classical Victorian with a 2,000-square-foot gingerbread porch. The property also has a romantic 1839 log cabin complete with kitchen. fireplace, and VCR, but we opted to stay in the main house. Frances’ breakfasts of green chili and egg casserole, coffee cake, and heart-shaped waffles are as legendary as Bill’s hokey storytelling. Every morning he retells the tale of how they met. If you’re on a schedule, slip out the back; if not, pour another cup of coffee and linger for the hour-long tale of their romance.
Our shop-a-thon originated in downtown Round Top, where most of the shops tend to be more of the arts-and-crafts variety. Local folk artist PJ Hornberger displays her whimsical redwood carvings inspired by her pet chickens in a small red barn just south of the main square.
We hit the mother lode in Brenham. We found lots of junk and collectables along with some beautiful Tiffany lamps at Today and Yesterday. South of downtown we found Nancy’s Antiques. We wandered through rooms displaying antique furniture and found a great tramp art cupboard and some lovely tin trays. Our last stop was Vernon’s, where we found several special pieces, including a beautiful 1860 Texas pine and cedar pie safe.
Back at Round Top, we turned at the blinking yellow-light that designates downtown and pulled into Royers Round Top Cafe, a casual country cooking restaurant with a national reputation. Here, steak is the star- either pan-fried or a two-inch Angus tenderloin served with grilled onions cooked to a perfect medium rare. The pies are just as legendary, and we grabbed a whole blueberry and two forks for the ride back to Dallas.-Nancy Nichols
WHEN YOU GO
Located halfway between Austin and Houston, Round Top hosts its annual Antique Fair April 3-5 (and again Ot:t. 1-4). Rooms at Heart of My Heart range from S135 to $225; call 800-327-1242 for reservations.
For some of the best golf in Texas, Barton Creek Resort is the place.
FOR TRUE GOLFERS, ANY FOUR HOURS spent on the course is a vacation, no matter the city, nevermind the scenery. But the sport of serenity suffers when you can hear nearby traffic. At Barton Creek, you have no choice but to relax. Located 20 minutes outside of downtown Austin, the resort is removed enough that you can get away from everything.
I had been to a really nice, posh hotel before, the kind where the people are so gosh-darn nice all the time that they make you feel guilty. You don’t deserve all the attention, you tell yourself, and they’re only smiling because they’re paid to smile. The indulgence at Barton Creek, however, is comforting and genuine, as though Southern hospitality were invented here.
The lure of Barton Creek, of course, is more than friendly people and cozy bathrobes. The reason to drive three-and-a-half hours is for some of the best golf in Texas, There are three different courses, each one as challenging as it is beautiful.
Ben Crenshaw and his partner. Bill Coore. designed one of the courses at the resort. The 6.678-yard. 7l-par tour of the hills has tree-lined fairways and grand views of breathtaking scenery. (Don’t be surprised if you see a deer or two as you look for your ball in the rough.) The Crenshaw-Coore course has greens as big as parking lots, which is great news when you’re trying to reach them but bad news when you’re trying to putt them.
Also at the resort is the Tom Fazio-designed course, primarily intended for members of Barton Creek Country Club, but guests are allowed to play. too. If they dare. The Fazio course is punishingly brutal. The lush landscape soon becomes daunting for anyone in pursuit of a respectable score.
The Arnold Palmer-designed course is at nearby Barton Creek Lakeside, featuring picturesque views of Lake Travis. The Lakeside course is a short drive from the actual resort. It’s like a getaway from a getaway.-Adam McGill
WHEN YOU GO
The drive to Barton Creek from Dallas takes about three-and-a-half hours. To make a reservation, call 800-336-6158. Rooms are $215 for a double. Golf packages are available, starting at $410 for two golfers (one night stay, one day of golf).