Some mommas you wake up and just beta to get away. You’ve got the stressed-out, sick-of-soccer, sick-of-Central blues, and you need lime out, jar away.
That’s tough when you live in Dallas Not only is travel time difficult to come by-but where can you go without making a production out of the trip?
Fortunately, “far away’’ can be a state of mind After all, relaxation isn’t really about doing nothing It’s about doing something else.
Here are some of our favorite getaways-fishing in the Gulf, birdwatching on the coast, antiquing in Salado, surrendering to a Hill Country spa ,being pampered at Rough Creek Lodge. All the destinations are close enough so you can go for the weekend but different enough to provide a change of pace-and a change of mind Stalking the Elusive Redfish
WHY FLY-FISHING? PERHAPS IT’S “THE THRILL of holding a wild, living creature in your hands, then letting it return unharmed to its element,” says Andrew Clendenen, our resident naturalist and philosopher.
Or maybe it’s because it is so damned hard.
Bait-and-bucket fishing is how most of us first experienced the sport, until we slowly realized that there wasn’t much sport to bait-and-bucket at all. Fly-fishing is a considerable step up. Fly-fishing requires more dedication and offers more satisfaction, and in that lies its elegance.
In fly-fishing circles, the buzz for the past decade has been about the Texas Gulf. Even An Lee, dean of trout anglers on New York’s revered Beaverkill Riven told me that if he could start all over again he”d move to the Texas coast. The elusive redfish has captured the imagination of the angling world.
The Redfish Lodge is the only fly-fishing accommodation on the entire Texas Gulf. The guides are expert, the fishing waters are varied and extensive, the equipment and lodging is first-rate, the food is terrific, and the price tag is hefty and includes everything but liquor.
I can now say I have laid eyes on a redfish. One redfish. I didn’t catch him: I’m not even sure my cast came anywhere close to him. But I can say with absolute certainty that he exists.
Our Redfish Lodge guide was encouraging, which amounts to a job description. No matter that we had chosen the last weekend in October for our excursion to the Gulf, the absolute tail-end of the angling season. No matter that the sun disap-peared the minute we land-ed in Corpus Christi, that the rain came in sheets and the wind in gales. His job was to help us catch redfish, and by golly we would catch redfish-if it killed us.
On my second day of standing in freezing water, with the rain lashing at my face and my poor gnarled hand paralyzed into its grip on the rod. 1 made my decision. I would never attempt fly-fishing on the Gulf on the last weekend of October again. Of course, as we loaded our gear into the car for the drive to Corpus Christi, the sun dispelled the clouds, confirming that timeworn angling saw: You shoulda been here next week.
The staff is truly dedicated to providing a first-class angling experience. And they would, too. if the redfish would only cooperate.
Roughing it in Luxury
YOU CAN’T GET UP AT THE MANSION ON Saturday morning and get out the shotguns. Other than that, the luxury level at Rough Creek Lodge is equivalent to Dallas’ standard-bearer.
Along with a five-star restaurant, heated pool, fitness club, masseuse, and hot tub, Rough Creek offers guided bird hunting, trap and skeet shooting, and bass fishing. And service, service, service under the thoughtful eye of general manager Paul Boccafoglia.
Rough Creek is a corporate retreat but open to the public, and it’s a rarity in that exhausted parents (to take the most relevant example) can spend a weekend in utter luxury, knowing that their teenagers will love every moment-and actually want to spend time in the great outdoors instead of being sustained by room service and cable TV.
As you approach Rough Creek from the drive, the Lodge seems to appear out of nowhere. Perched on a small rise overlooking the lake, it was designed by architect Larry Speck with a barrel-vault metal roof over a stone-and-glass facade. The Lodge looks like the lost Hill Country ranch house of a Giant-sized Texas cattleman with a penchant for modem architecture.
Friday night, we sat down for dinner in the main dining room (presided over by William Boyd, a former concierge at the Adolphus and Hotel Crescent Court) and felt pampered hut not suffocated. Catered to, not condescended to. Kids asking for ketchup with their steak and fries elicited instant response, not frost, and the kitchen (directed by executive chef Gerard Thompson) produced meals equal to the best we’ve had in Dallas” top restaurants. In a wonderful personal interpretation of separate but equal, the kids slept in one of the hotel rooms while we retired to a separate villa.
Early the next day, we piled into a jeep and toured the property with John, a knowledgeable (and patient) man who takes guests on guided hunts for quail, Hungarian partridge, pheasant, and chukar in season, complete with trained English pointers.
We stuck to five-stand sporting clays. All four of us shot (after a gun safely demonstration), but my oldest son Eric, 14, proved that those Playstation games develop some real-world skills-he consistently busted his clay pigeons, putting the adults to shame.
1 recovered in the fishing event. Eric and I took off across Mallard Lake in one bass boat, Andrew and his dad in another. Though fighting a strong wind, we caught (and released) a handful of large-mouth bass before I snagged a five-pounder that impressed my kids and my husband.
We jumped in the heated pool and plotted our strategy for the evening meal- kids voted for room service and parents for an intimate, candlelit four-course dinner. We all got what we wanted.
The Road to Relaxation
WE TORE OUT OF THE OFFICE ON A FRIDAY afternoon, rushing to park a car at one house for the weekend, then doubling back for the tennis shoes and bathing suits we’d forgotten. We finally battled through the mix-master and headed south on Interstate 35, truck-to-truck all the way down the freeway. It’s a good thing Lake Austin Spa was at the end of our road. We needed it.
Four hours later we were following Rod, the day spa director, to the Healing Waters Spa for a honey mango scrub and massage. The late-night rubdown was more than our tired bodies could bear; once we hit the down pillows, we passed out without unpacking.
The next morning, from a reclining position under the linen duvet cover, we checked out our room. Small, charming: Saltillo tile floors, pine furniture, oversized pillows, and a cozy armchair with a chenille throw. Out back, we discovered a private Japanese meditation garden with a gurgling fountain.
Ten of the guest cottages at Lake Austin have been redone by ex-Dallasite Mike McAdams, past president of Trammell Crow Design Center. McAdams made the leap from stressed-out to blissed-out when the serene opportunity of buying and refurbishing the Spa became available.
He’s not alone in the quest for a low-key life. Most of the people working at Lake Austin Spa were there for their own spiritual health as well as for career opportunities. The manicurist dropped out of a high-pressure, 50-hour-a-week computer programming job to paint nails. Before she took up teaching the lotus position, our yoga instructor was a full-time mom. The lovely British woman who gave us a bikini wax turned out to be the ex-wife of The Who’s legendary rock V roll psycho drummer Keith Moon. “Been there and done that,” she said.
Lake Austin Spa is like summer camp for grown-up girls. Mealtime finds diners out-fitted in Spa-issued terry cloth robes, bits of facial masks still dotting their shiny pink faces. It seems the Spa has taken on the personality of Austin-laid-back and mellow.
The unpretentious atmosphere doesn’t affect the quality of their services. We’ve had candles burning in our ears and Chinese women walking on our backs in our search for tranquillity, but Lake Austin Spa’s Hot Rock and Rub was where we finally found radical relaxation. We lay slathered from head to toe in warm massage oil as hot river rocks rubbed on our stress points knocked our chakra to a higher plain. An 80-minute hot sea-salt body polish with freshly picked rosemary scrubbed a little hard, but once we showered and rubbed with lavender we felt replenished. And hungry.
Spas are no longer just “fat farms”; they are stress reduction and relaxation centers. And Chef Terry Conlan’s “Lean Star Cuisine” allows you to eat as much or as little of his low-fat cuisine as you like.
But then we got stressed out under the pressure of trying to find peace. And after three days of determined relaxation, we tore up the freeway to Gene Street’s Salado Mansion and found true serenity in a plate of nachos, gua-camole, and a few mar-garitas. Our mantras were in full balance as we sped up Interstate 35. popping peanut M&M’s.
Cowtown Party Town
FROM THE VISITOR’S POINT OF VIEW, FORT Worth is three cities in one.
You can get the Old West experience by staying at the Stockyards Hotel, having a “drank” at the famous White Elephant Bar, and two-steppin’ the night away.
You can live higher on the hog in a luxury suite at the Worthington Hotel, dine in the four-star Reflections, and limo from world-class art galleries to international symphonies at the Bass Performance Hall.
Or you can, as we did, park your car for the weekend and live it up where the bad boys of the 1890s-Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid-did: in Sundance Square.
Legend has it that the Hole in the Wall gang cruised the gambling parlors, saloons, and dance halls that lined the dirt streets now bordering Sundance Square. Their former haunts have been renovated with brick sidewalks, upscale restaurants, bars, and shops-plenty of places to get into 1990s trouble. We checked into our hideout for the weekend, Etta’s Place, a 10-room bed-and-breakfast on die square named after Butch Cassidy’s girlfriend (think Katherine Ross). We could have spent the weekend people-watching from our window overlooking the streets or lounging in the oversized leather armchairs in Etta’s cozy library.
Instead, we hit the streets, first stopping for habanera shrimp soft tacos at the “Mix-Mex” Cabo Grill. We lingered too long over our fresh lime margaritas and had to sprint two blocks to make curtain time at the Bass Performance Hall. After the show, we popped across the street for a glass of champagne at Grape Escape, an upscale hole-in-the-wall wine bar. Then we slowly made our way through the mural of the old Chisholm Trail by Richard Haas. Rounding the corner, we could hear Johnny Reno’s swinging sounds drifting from the Caravan of Dreams-a typical Fort Worth juxtaposition. This city moves from high culture to cowboys in less than a block.
We spent the next day window shopping, taking in the Cowgirl Hall of Fame Gift Shop and the Sid Richardson Collection of Western Art, and picking up things we love but don’t need, like another set of hand-painted wine glasses, at the The Modem at Sundance Square museum shop.
As the sun set, we relaxed in the piano bar of the Worthington Hotel, chatting with Gay Lynn, an old-fashioned bartender. With the eternal bartender’s wisdom that served the Sundance Kid as well as it serves Sundance tourists, she wiped water spots from a crystal brandy snifter, eyed it in the light and sighed, “We have everything here. It’s just a perfect big small little town.”
Hill Country North
OKLAHOMA IS NOT A SEXY PLACE TO VACA-tion-on the cachet scale, it ranks somewhere between Arkansas and Kansas. It’s not the kind of destination you name drop at cocktail parties. No one-no one- will be impressed. For starters, the Sooner State is too much like here-the state line’s only a few dozen miles from Piano, and much of the southern area is nothing but flat prairie punctuated by gas stations and country cafes. Sort of like Dallas minus all the amenities.
But there is always something to be said for mountains, and Oklahoma has them. Robbers Cave State Park, at the edge of the San Bois mountains and 200 miles away from Dallas, is the closest place to remind yourself what it’s like to be away from traffic, noise, television, and-literally, above all-flatlands.
Stay in one of the WPA built-to-last log and stone cabins. While the quarters do suffer from a touch of government-issue biand-ness-the sofa cushions are covered in thick plastic sheeting-there are plenty of creature comforts for cityfolk. The kitchens are fully equipped (unless you can’t function without a food processor and coffee grinder). But the grill outside each cabin is the best option for cooking on a warm spring night.
Twelve miles of hiking trails wind through the park’s more than 8,000 acres, dipping into low valleys and over rocky oak-and-pine ridges. You can rent horses or bring your own to ride the 50-plus miles of riding trails. Mountain bikes have meaning here. And like any good state park these days, there’s a rainbow-trout stocking program for the Norman Maclean set. The slow-moving water in Coon Creek, which snakes through the park, is dark green and cool in spring, with bream beds in the shallow banks and moss-covered rocks rising from the deep pools. The trails take you by two of the park’s three main lakes and, ultimately, to Robbers Cave itself, named after the late-19th-century outlaws who allegedly hid out here in between bank heists and train robberies. Whether that history’s a marketing creation or the truth, it’s easy to see why Jesse James and company might have hidden out here-the woods are secluded and rough, the perfect place to disappear for a while. Just what we had in mind.
On the way to Robbers Cave, be sure to stop at Krebs, a tiny immigrant town south of the park. Krebs bills itself as “Oklahoma’s Little Italy.” That’s a bit of a stretch, but Lovera’s Family Grocery is the real thing. Tucked away on an intersection at the edge of town, the 53-year-old grocery feels like a cross between a New York deli and a Deep South general store. The shelves are stocked with imported peppers, olives, tomatoes, and olive oil, but the counter at the back is where the store’s claim-to-fame meat and cheese is sold-Lovera ’s makes a ton of cheese and more than 500 pounds of Italian sausage a week. Homemade caciocavallo hangs over die counter, and links of fresh and smoked sausage lie in the meat case. Krebs is tiny and more than a little out of the way, but Lovera has developed a mail-order business, so you can restock your own kitchen shelves when you run out of gnocchi or meatballs. Whatever you buy, it’s worth it to hear the butcher discuss the subtle taste difference between caciocavallo and mozzarella-all in a nasal Oklahoma twang.
Where the Birds Are
“YELLOW-RUMPED ON THE LEFT!” Forty-three pairs of binoculars swing in unison to look out the windows of the bus, focusing on a little bird, with a spot of yellow the size of a quarter near its tail.
“Caracara on the right!”
The same binoculars swerve to the right to see a big carrion hawk drying his wings in a bare tree.
“And there’s some little dicky birds, but we won’t stop for those.”
It’s Warren Pulich talking, and we want to see what he sees.
Forty birdwatchers are on the bus, each armed with binoculars and a field guide, some with spotting scopes, too. With Pulich, the dean of binding in North Texas, as weekend scoutmaster, we’re going to the Texas coast to look at the holy grail of North American birds: grus Americanos, the whooping crane.
We’re a motley crew (as birders usually are- every caricature is correct): an attorney for NationsBank, a number of retirees, a student recently returned from a Peace Corps stint in Senegal, and a columnist for the Henderson Daily News. But we all have one thing in common-a weird passion for looking at birds.
The bus leaves the dark, cold parking lot at the University of Dallas at 6 a.m. sharp-to Pulich, tardiness means a bird missed. For 25 years, he’s been taking novice and experienced birders on this weekend birding trip.
By late afternoon, we were rolling into Rockport. In the 1940s and 1950s, Rockport was the home of bird guru Connie Hagar. who spent her life observing the hundreds of species that migrate through the area, in the middle of a major flyway. (Bird groupies: Even Roger Tory Peterson himself paid a visit to Connie!) Enthusiasts made pilgrimages to Hagar’s house until she died. Thousands of birders a year still make Rockport pilgrimages to see the whooping cranes, those few giant birds who winter in Aransas National Wildlife Refuge. Not long ago, the whooping crane was nearly extinct-there were only 19 birds alive in 1937. By this year that scant Hock has grown to 182 birds, which winter in Aransas, then fly north to nest in Wood Buffalo National Park, Canada.
The best way to see the cranes is from a boat; several docked at Rockport offer “whooping crane tours.” So the next day we bundled back on the bus (again in the morning darkness-this is a vacation?) to go to the marina, Usually, Pulich takes his group on Captain Ted’s tour-Ted being another legendary character in the bird world. But the guide on the Wharf Cat, Ray Little, was equally colorful and knowledgeable: Imagine Popeye expounding on ornithology, and you get the picture.
The water was smooth, the early light was clear, and the wind was cold. We huddled in the sunny spots, binoculars up, as Little and Pulich described what we were seeing. ’There’s a flock of roseate spoonbills on the right; to the left you can see some Forster terns, and there’s some Caspian terns over behind that second pool.” And then there they were-even from a distance, the whoopers are amazingly tall and awkwardly graceful. Often, birdwatching is more like bird-counting-fanatics get a positive ID, add it to their life list, and move on. But we lingered here, watching a small flock of adults and a few gray immatures. But they are oddly awesome, loo, maybe because it’s hard for a human to imagine such a small group of like kind.
“I hope everyone walked around to the trailer court to see the Inca doves,” Pulich remarked as we boarded the bus for home. An RV court sounds like a strange tourist destination, but that gives some idea of the single-minded- ness of the group.
The reedy marshes around the Texas Intercoastal Waterway provide a perfect habitat for hundreds of species-in the course of a busy weekend, besides the whoopers, my group saw 132 different types of birds.
Rockport is a low-key beach town; our accommodations-a tourist court on the highway-were barely basic. But the Oreo-sized, deep-fried soft-shelled crabs we ate at Duck Inn would have shamed any chef in Dallas. And the attractions are unique,
There is. after all, only one other place in the world you can see the whooping crane.
-Mary Brown Malouf
It’s hard to believe the healing waters of Eureka Springs did much for the battle wounds of Civil War soldiers. But we found Eureka Springs had a definite tonic effect on us. Founded as a curative destination, the town is now a tourist destination. A family of four, with 5-year-old twins, we were professional tourists for a weekend.
It’s a seven-hour drive from Dallas to Eureka Springs, and Alexandra and Spencer stayed buckled up all the way to the door of our downtown hotel. The 94-year-old Basin Park Hotel is named for Basin Spring, now plugged and buried under cement. We loved its old-fashioned, high-ceilinged, street-view rooms; the kids loved its mysterious creaks, dark carpeted hallways, and authentically out-of-plumb walls and floors, not to mention the generous spread of doughnuts and other sweets each morning in the lobby. Basin Park is owned by a couple of Connecticut refugees, Marty and Elsie Roenigk. who recently purchased an even older sister hostelry, the Crescent, which rises high on a hill above Eureka Springs.
Eureka Springs is a quaint village of Victorian and American Gothic structures set amidst the mountains and lakes. But the attractions are not all scenic. People moved here for Eureka Springs’ natural features, but they’ve improved on nature’s original with their own attractions; the Gay Nineties Button and Doll Museum; The Last Precinct (exhibiting ail types of police gear); and the Miracle Mountain Wedding Chapel. The latter features a “Wonderful World of Miniatures”-itsy-bitsy figurines of U.S. presidents and their First Ladies.
Once you’ve finished ogling a six-inch Pat Nixon, there are other diversions: You can sail and golf and hike, ride horses or go fishing. The phone book is full of massage and reflexology centers, and the stores are full of crystal and incense. There are natural caves, heart-shaped Jacuzzis, and a park called Dinosaur World, with a 40-foot-ta|] King Kong and RV park. But Spencer was unimpressed with the seven-story Christ of the Ozarks, the second-largest Jesus in the world. Perhaps he would have wanned to it more if Big Tex’s voice had been booming. “Howdy, folks, Welcome to the great Christ of the Ozarks.”
-Stephen G. Michaud
Streets of Salado
SALADO IS A PERFECT WEEKEND DEST1NA-tion. Consider this: Downtown consists of Main Street, a two-minute, antique-filled drive from end-to-end. Shopping it seriously, with enough time for serious relaxation, lakes up a whole weekend. But not much more.
We stayed at the Baines House, a quaint old home built in the Texas Dogtrot style with a saltbox shape. It once was the home of George Washington Baines, a Baptist minister, the third president of Baylor University, and the great-grandfather of President Lyndon B. Johnson. Current owners Rod and Sheryl Russell, former Dallas residents, bought the house eight years ago and turned it into a bed and breakfast last year.
We stayed in the Presidential Suite-two cozy bedrooms with an adjoining bath on the second floor of the house (the suite also included one downstairs bath with an old-fashioned claw-foot bathtub). The creaky old hardwood floors, the thick quills on the beds, the pitched ceilings, and the antique bedroom furniture contributed plenty of charm-and only the occasional drag racer roaring past the house cut into the welcome peace and quiet.
Virtually all (he stores in town close by 5 or 6 p.m. on the weekends–if your primary goal is shopping, better start early. Most shops (some you have to call shoppes) feature a hodge-podge inventory of artwork, antiques, jewelry, and collectibles: some specialize, like the fumiture/pottery store Barnhill Britt. The best were shops like Peddler’s Alley, which was really just a formalized flea market-its aisles were piled high with old dishes, cheap novels, and tin Coca-Cola trays.
But our favorite store was Fletcher’s, a 30-year-old family-owned bookstore whose reputation reaches outside Texas. The store’s shelves are stocked with rare Texas literature, military history, religion, and classic literature; we found a copy of Stephen Vincent Benét’s epic Civil War poem, John Brown’s Body- virtually impossible to find in your average bookstore.
Like most potpourri communities. Salado has ils share of tea rooms and cafes, each serving sandwiches on homemade bread, along with soups, salads, and desserts. The surprises are the more substantial options-The Salado Mansion; Inn on the Creek, a bed and breakfast that serves dinner by reservation on the weekends; and The Range, a restaurant serving New American creations in a 19th century home. Meals at the Baines House-served in an antique-furnished dining room-were simple but delicious: fruit salad, toast, and turkey with peas in cream sauce. And for dessert, Rod whipped up a rich chocolate pie with butterscotch sauce, light flaky crust, and a dollop of whipped cream. Rod and Sheryl’s motto: “Why not? You’re on vacation!”
Fairway to Heaven
OK, KNEES SLIGHTLY BENT. ARMS RE-laxed, grip firm. Weight evenly balanced. Slow, steady backswing.
Pause…now rip it!
Where’d that deer come from? Does he understand fore?
Nearly got an eight-point buck. Can you do time for decking a deer with a golf ball out of season? Who let them out here, anyway? Get away from my ball!
Six shots later, triple bogey. And that’s on Horseshoe Bay’s easy course. Maybe if I had practiced a little first….
Oh well, it’s not even worth keeping score. Why ruin a beautiful day and those panoramic views of some of the prettiest golf holes in Texas?
Even if your game is a little off, you’ll find plenty of other distractions at Horseshoe Bay Resort and Conference Center. Maybe too many.
Tucked away in the Texas Hill Country on me shores of Lake Lyndon B. Johnson, Horseshoe Bay Resort is spread over 6,000 treed acres, where white-tailed deer roam freely, annoying permanent residents who think of their flowers as decorative landscaping, not salad. (For golfers like me, they do provide a good excuse. Who can concentrate with Bambi strolling halfway down the fairway?) You can spend a long weekend of golf, tennis, boating, and swimming, lazing in luxury and taking in a variety of fine dining and entertainment-all without ever having to leave the grounds.
Golfers will find joy in the frustration of 54 holes designed by Robert Trent Jones Sr., in varying degrees of difficulty.
Slick Rock and its signature 14th hole, where your tee shot crosses a waterfall tumbling into Slick Rock Creek, is for players who prefer a forgiving layout for less-than-perfect shots. Last year’s multi-million-dollar renovation of Slick Rock included reconstructed bentgrass greens and a clubhouse expansion adding a glass atrium, sports lounge, billiard room, and piano bar.
Apple Rock challenges both scratch golfers and middle handicappers. Start by teeing off on the highest point on the property, but don’t let the breathtaking views of the hills and lake distract you.
Ram Rock is rated as the state’s toughest layout, rewarding good shots and severely punishing mis-hits. The narrow fairways lead to well-protected, undulating bentgrass greens that require accurate reads and perfect touch.
But golf is just the beginning.
The 28,000-square-foot Yacht Club contains three dining rooms and the Captain’s table, serving heavily French-accented Continental cuisine; the casual Waterfront Pub and Eatery offers more familiar fare ranging from burgers to steaks and chicken.
An Oriental water garden surrounds the 18 tennis courts. There’s even an outdoor croquet court and two sand volleyball courts. You can pamper yourself at the Bayside Fitness Center’s beauty spa, sauna, and steam rooms, then complete me session with massage therapy.
The Yacht Club provides access to Lake LBJ’s boats, or you can lounge by the huge black-marble pool with a spa, sand beaches, and an outdoor abana.
If you want to have fun instead of playing golf, Whitewater Putting Course takes miniature golf to another level.