Weekend Getaways

Boot Fences, Bluebonnet Blankets, and Bucking Broncos

HEADING WEST ON HIGHWAY 39 FROM KERRVILLE TO UTOPIA IS WHERE WE FOUND THE BOOT FENCE. WE CAN’T TELL YOU WHERE THE IDEA CAME FROM OR WHY IT’S THERE, AND WE’RE NOT SURE WE WANT TO KNOW. WE’LL JUST COUNT IT AS ONE OF THE PLEASANT SURPRISES THAT COMES WHEN TRAVELING THE HIGHWAYS AND BYWAYS OF TEXAS. AS WINTER DRAWS TO A CLOSE, WE FEEL THE URGE TO HIT THE ROAD, AND THIS MONTH WE REVEAL SOME OF OUR FAVORITE DISCOVERIES. SO THIS SPRING, TAKE A BREAK, ESCAPE FROM THE CITY, AND HIT THE ROAD. PACK UP THE KIDS, ASK A FRIEND, OR GO IT ALONE. EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW IS RIGHT HERE.

THE HILL C O U N T R Y

Family Escapade

By Christine Allison



After all, a family vacation is for grown-ups, too.

I am happy to report thai the Hyatt Regency Hill Country Resort passed the ultimate getaway test: last minute reservations. Labor Day Weekend, four children, and one parent.

Built on 200 acres just outside of San Antonio, it is a handsome limestone-and-wood compound built on a historic Texas ranch. Though the resort has a thriving convention and meeting business, it succeeds best as a playground, offering an endless array of children’s activities. For starters, they have Camp Hyatt, which is basically high-level day care from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. (Maybe I’m a sentimentalist, but putting a child in day care on vacation seems to miss the point. ) Fortunately, there are many other options: a 950-foot “Ramblin’ River,” great for tubing; two pools; water volleyball and basketball: badminton; croquet: ping pong; nature trails for hiking; and bicycles. Golfers can take advantage of the 18-hole Arthur Hill-designed golf course, and tennis buffs can reserve courts all day long. The resort also offers family events like camphres, hayrides, movies, and other group activities. Tired at the end of the day, we passed on the group activities and instead watched movies in our room, munching on buttery popcorn we bought from the excellent (but inevitably expensive) “General Store.” But, we didn’t worry because the exercise room is well equipped, so we actually were able to work off the popcorn.

What is a vacation without delicious food? A family vacation (little joke). But not at the Hill Country Hyatt. The Springhouse Cafe has an impressive staff, which in family-vacation terms means unfazed even the third time a Coke wipes out. The buffet was a little pricey but tasty, and you also could order entrees ranging from chicken-fried steak to “cuisine naturelle” from an extensive menu.

Since our visit the Hill Country Hyatt has enlarged upon its spa and pampering services, now offering a variety of massage techniques, facials, as well as the usual hair and nails salon fare. This development might cause me to retract my hasty and really unthinking comment about daycare being somehow mean-spirited on a family vacation. After all. it’s the grown-ups’ vacation, loo. And this is what the Hill Country Hyatt understands well and does its best to accomplish: a weekend getaway where everybody has a good time.

HOW TO GET THERE: Take I-35 south through) Austin then follow signs to San Antonio.

COST: Please call hotel with the dates of your trip.

ACTIVITIES: Tubing, water volleyball and water basketball, badminton, croquet, ping pong, nature trails for hiking, bicycles, golf, and tennis.

BEST TIME TO GO: Anytime.

CALL: Hyatt Regency Hill Country Hyatt, 98 Hyatt Resort Drive, San Antonio 210-647-1234, fax 210-681-9681.

GALVESTON



Beach Life

By Mary Brown Malouf



Galveston is a place with a patina of the past.

The sun was shining, and 1 had my shades on. As we cruised up the palm-lined avenue with the top down and the music turned on, my friend in the straw hat sang along with Brian Wilson. It was that good a day.

Gently refurbished and restored, Galveston is a place with the patina of the past. Like San Antonio and Austin, the state’s other two charming cities, Galveston has a sense of history. And it has not been gilded with the glitz that substitutes for grace in Dallas and Houston.

The Strand has been restored to full architectural nostalgia- downtown is lined with curiosity shops, art galleries, and mild tourist traps. In the old sections of the city, quaint Victorian houses have been converted to quainter bed and breakfast inns. Others, like the magnificent Bishop’s Palace and the Moody Mansion on Broadway, are open to the public.

As we tooled along the seawall, the big hotels that face the ocean could have won a beauty contest with any of Florida’s grande dames. For the fullest Galveston experience, we checked into the Hotel Galvez. the survivor of the worst natural disaster in United Slates history, the great storm of 1900 when at least 6.000 people perished. The marble-floored halls, potted palms, and luxurious high-ceilinged rooms are bargain luxury compared with ritzier resorts. The seawares were crashing just across the street. You could almost hear Glen Campbell singing.

Galveston’s colorful past as headquarters for the French pirate Jean Lafitte justifies the town’s emphasis on Mardi Gras-the celebration lasts 12 days in February and March. The town’s aspirations to tourist-attraction status inspire all sorts of festivals in Galveston’s calendar, from Dickens-on-the-Strand at Christmas to summer band concerts. We indulged in some of the town’s more low-down and unconventional pleasures, eschewing Galveston’s burgeoning chi-chi restaurant scene for a feast of fried seafood at the venerable Gaido’s and foregoing the miles of beach for a drive to watch the migrant water birds flocking on the mud flats.

Dallas to Galveston is a clean drive if you schedule your road trip to miss the snarl of Houston’s rush hour. We reached the ferry to Galveston Island in the late afternoon, propped our feet up on the dash, and enjoyed the boat ride into the sunset.

HOW TO GET THERE: Fly from Love Field to Hobby Airport (in Houston) then take I-45 south. Driving, follow I-45 all the way to Galveston.

COST: Standard rooms range $109 to $129 per night, and suites range front $250 to SS75 per night.

ACTIVITIES: Birdwatching, boating, fishing, greyhound racing, and Scuba diving.

BEST TIME TO GO: Anytime.

CALL: Hotel Galvez, 2024 Seawall Blvd. 409-765-7721; The Strand national Historic Landmark District, Strand Visitors Center 409-765-7834; Gaido’s, 3800 Seawall Blvd. 409-762-9625.

BRYAN



A Vintage Weekend

By Sherri Daye



Style and elegance du exist in Aggieland.

Of course, we arrived late. Our dinner reservations at the Messina Hof Winery’s Vintage House Restaurant were for 6:30, but poor planning on our part pushed back our arrival time to 7:45. “Not a problem,” said Judy, the innkeeper at [he ten-room Villa at Messina Hof. “We’ll hold dinner while you settle in your room.”

Had we been lovers, instead of a pair of half-starving, travel-weary journalists, the promise of a hot gourmet meal might have been forgotten after our first glance at the room’s-appropriately dubbed the Romeo and Juliet-romantic décor. Even with our stomachs rumbling in protest, we could not resist spending a few moments admiring the room’s perfect little details-the plush silk bedding in warm jewel tones, fresh flowers on the walnut inlaid English furniture, the home-made purl truffles perched by our pillows. and a bottle of one the winery’s finest bottles chilling on the marble vanity in the bath. Such style and elegance in Aggieland? Who would have ever thought? (The 100+channels in our room wasn’t a bad touch, either.)

Dinner at the Vintage House further convinced us that we had stumbled upon a jewel tucked away in the East Texas back roads. Like the Villa the restaurant was cozy and warm. As we were seated, vineyard owner Paul Bonarrigo left his own table to welcome us to his family’s home. He urged us to try the house specialty, the Paulo salad, “a culinary tale of marriages,” and reminded us to drink plenty of water in preparation for the next day’s fall wine festival. We took him up on the salad-a delicious concoction of anchovies, mustard, vinegar, port wine, and greens-but who drinks water at a vineyard? Dinner was accompanied by a fine Gewurztraminer.

Mama Rosa, Paul’s Brooklyn-bred mother. joined us for mimoas at breakfast, entertaining us with a discourse on the 22-year-old winery’s history.) Then we headed over to Joy’s Pottery just across the road to kill time before the festival. Joy’s place was another hidden gem. full of uniquely handcrafted pieces, with a porch out back overlooking a small pond and a sign out front asking, “Where does your Joy come from?” an allusion to Jeremiah 18:6. Joy herself was a joy, as friendly and sincere as the Bonarrigos across the street, an extended member of the Messina Hof family.

With another few hours or so before the festival began, we left Joy’s to tour the 40-acre vineyard on our own. By the time we browsed through the gift shop sampling wines for sale, visited the rose gardens still sampling the wines for sale, and walked unsteadily through rows of grapevines, the live band was the stage and the festival was in full gear. But our innocent tasting sips had caught up with us (Paul was right about that water thing); so we retired to our room for an early afternoon siesta so we would be sober enough for Merrill Bonarrigo’s wine and food pairing seminar later that day.

Besides the wine tasting, Merrill’s seminar turned out to be one of the most pleasant experiences of our stay. Thanks to her patient, simple instructions, even a pair of amateur-very amateur-oenophiles left feeling knowledgeable enough to choose our own wine next time we dined. “It’s all about the palette,” Merrill told us. “Take note of how which part of your tongue is stimulated by the food.”

At the Wine Premiere dinner that evening, we waltzed, dined, and imbibed (again) to our heart’s content, mingling with the locals who came out to help the Bonarrigos celebrate their harvest. The evening was capped off by the Bonarrigo family’s traditional wine and water ceremony. (Mama Rosa was the star.) Soon our eight-course meal was finished, the festival was over, and the only reminders of our weekend were the complimentary Christmas ornaments hanging from our rearview mirror and the souvenir bottles of wine rattling in the back seat.

HOW TO GET THERE: Daily flights from DFW into Easterwood Airport on American or Continental. Driving, take 1-35 south to Hwy 6, exit at Old Reliance Rd.

COST: The Villa at Messina Hof, rooms range from $140 to $250 per night. Keep in mind, special events-seminars, wine-tasting labs, dinners, festivals-may cost a little extra.

ACTIVITIES: Wine tasting, tours, fishing, celebrity-chef dinners, scenic walks.

BEST TIME TO GO: Anytime, but the biannual wine festivals occur in November and April.

CALL: 409-776-9483 or log on at www.messinahof.com

WlMBERLEY



Vibing to Nature

By Valerie Douglas



Relax in a distinctly Texas son of “resort.”

My friends hate me: I actually get paid to keep up with hipsters and hot spots. Vibing with the newest sounds on the clubscape, listening to my boyfriend’s band make music, and hanging out at smoky lounges till all hours are work .Hard work. Which is why my boyfriend and I decided 10 spend a weekend in the Hill Country.

With the help of our jeep, we navigated rocky terrain and winding paths until we reached Wimberley. a distinctively Texas sort of “resort.” if that’s not too ambitious a word. We had booked the Treehouse unit at Singing Cypress Gardens, which began life in 1874 as the Pleasant-Wimberley Estate and is now reincarnated as a bed and breakfast. Innkeeper Bob Island greeted us warmly and wasted no time filling us in on where to eat. where to go, and what to do. Luckily, the next day was “First Saturday Market Day”-an all day arts-and-crafts fair. Bob beamed when he told us Wimberley’s favorite son, singer Rob Roy Parnell (little brother of Lee Roy) was in town. That got my boyfriend’s attention-the Parnells played with the likes of Bob Willis and Joe Ely.

Arms loaded with pamphlets and fliers, we made our way to the Treehouse. a self-contained apartment three-stories high with a deck overlooking the grounds. Opening the cottage door, I noted that the furnishings were a little more “rustic” than I had imagined, but the idea was to commune with nature. Remembering that the innkeeper had gifted us with complimentary wine, my boyfriend asked coyly, while holding out the unmatched wineglasses, if I wanted the “big one” or “the little one.” After a few gulps, we set out quickly to explore Wimberley’s nightlife.

The Cypress Creek Café is wedged snugly between an antique dealer and a homemade icecream shop on the town square (which is not quaint, it’s a traffic triangle). The facade is still the original flagstone from the 1800s. but the inside boasts modern amenities like a cappuccino bar. The café was brightly lit and filled to capacity. We put on the waiting list and made our way to the music room in back. We ordered martinis-the litmus test of bartending-and we happily received ice-cold perfection with a 1,000-watt smile. When our name was called, we settled into a comfortable booth. I surveyed the menu for vegetarian dishes. Grilled tofu sandwiches are standard fare along with the usual chicken fried steak, so we stuffed ourselves to the gills and returned to the music room to dance off our dinners. Abuzz with the return of Rob Roy and the CD release party, the entire town of Wimberley – or what felt like it -filled the room. Rob Roy proceeded to rock the house with his homespun brand of country blues, and spent the evening whooping it up with the rest of the Wimberley night owls.

The next morning the quiet town was transformed into an artsand-crafts show large enough to attract folks from hundreds of miles around with U-Hauls in tow. We strolled though miles of booths, watching the bargain hunters cram shoulder-to-shoulder at the booths, anxious to get their hands on jars of fire-roasted homemade salsa, hand-beaded sweaters, and household gadgets. On the way back to our cottage, we stopped at Wimberley Glass Works, catching a hand-blown glass show where artists carefully craft brilliantly colored powders into vases, sconces, glasses, and even a lamp shaped like a cypress tree.

Later that afternoon, strolling along the banks of Cypress Creek {which runs though the middle of the inn |, we admired the 2,000 year-old cypress trees and watched orange-billed ducks waddle onto shore, shake furiously, and glide back into the crystal clear water while white-spotted baby deer darted tentatively across gravel-covered driveways and disappeared into secret pathways in the woods. We learned an important lesson: Vibing doesn’t always require music.

HOW TO GET THERE: Take I-35 south through Austin to Kyle, Take FM 150 to FM 3237 to Wimberley.

COST: Cottages start at $65 nightly.

ACTIVITIES: Swimming, horseback riding, shopping, camping and hiking. Pioneer Town Museum by appointment. Wimberley Glass Works, hand blown glass demonstrations daily, www.wgw.com 512-847-9348. Cypress Creek Café, dining with live music on weekends. www.cccmusic.com. Golfing at Eagle Rock 800-978-GOLF.

BEST TIME TO GO: Anytime, but from April-December, Market Days held the first Saturday of each month.

CALL: Wimberley Chamber of Commerce 512-847-2201.

FORT WORTH



Cowtown Fun

By Jim Atkinson



It’s not every evening you have the chance to drop by the neighborhood rodeo.

Fort Worth? Well, why not. It’s close, it’s reasonable, it’s very genuinely Texas. And it wants you.

Your first impulse is to stay at the downtown Worthington. but then you remember it’s just another over-priced hotel with a lobby mindful of Red Square and help with an attitude. Besides, you’re headed for a city that calls itself Cowtown….

Generally speaking, you try to avoid places that call themselves historic because that’s usually the one thing that they’re not. But the Stockyards Hotel turns out to be the real item. It even smells like the last chapter of a McMurtry novel, and while there’s the predictable collection of taxidermy and sepia-toned photos on the walls, somehow the whole presentation comes off as less phony.

After a substantial, if somewhat pedestrian, dinner at the hotel restaurant, the H3 Ranch (on reflection, you probably should have gone to the venerated Cattleman’s Steakhouse just around the corner, an old standby that’s still standing tall), you wander outside and damned if the first sign you see isn’t advertising Friday night rodeo, right there at something called the Cowtown Coliseum.

Though nearby Billy Bob’s beckons, you realize that you can listen to loud music and loud people anytime. But it’s not every evening you have the chance to drop by the neighborhood rodeo. So you plunk down eight bucks a head and settle back to watch a handful of cowboys, some looking impossibly young, others impossibly old, calf rope, bull ride, and barrel race before a crowd of, oh, at least a few dozen, all to the strains of heavy metal favorites like “Highway to the Danger Zone” and disco retreads like “YMCA.” You realize that you haven’t had such a hoot at a sporting event since you used to go watch minor league hockey in Dallas back in the 1970s.

The Fort Worth Stockyards has a cozy, easy-to-know feeling. The next morning, in fact, you exchange cowboy nods with a few of the wranglers at the Star Cafe, where some rib-sticking pancakes and muscular coffee may be had in an ambience reminiscent of some place Eastwood got shot in one of his Spaghetti Westerns. You window-shop for authentic boots, hats, and hand-tooled belts at the various stores; you visit the Stockyards Museum. You take something called the Tarantula Train, another quaint restoration, on an hour-long jaunt, which includes a couple of stunning vistas of the Trinity River in and amongst the junkyards and warehouses. Finally, weary of the Cowboy Thing, you jump in the car and head out in search of what else there might be to Cowtown. Fortunately, Fort Worth is more than up to the task, since one of the more fascinating things about this place-some would say spooky-is that it seems to exist as a series of parallel universes, of which Cowtown is only one.

You head south to the Fort Worth Cultural District, which, far from being an oxymoron, houses two of the finest private museums in the state: the Kimbell Museum, a charming and eccentric Louis Kahn creation laden with an impressive collection of works ranging from antiquities to French Impressionism to Asian art; and the Anion Carter Museum, with its splendid array of American and Western art. You find yourself wondering once again where the nexus of cow punching and high culture is, and realize it probably has something to do with oddly aristocratic sensibilities of the cattle and oil money that built the town.

Heading back downtown, you discover yet another layer to Fort Worth, Sundance Square. On paper, Sundance would appear to be another faux inner-city revival, replete with the predictable chain restaurants and bars (Starbucks, Chili’s, etc.), gas street lamps, carriage rides-you know the drill. But what sets Sundance Square apart is that, unlike most such efforts, it doesn’t seem isolated (Deep Ellum) or tacked on (The West End), but rather springs from the very viscera of downtown and radiates outward over an imposing 20 blocks. There may be a Chili’s, but there are also local ventures such as Randall’s Cafe, at which you enjoy a very reasonably priced bistro dinner that includes a truly inspired smoked shrimp sandwich. And even if you’re not headed for a specific venue, the area makes for great aimless strolling, particularly if you end your walk at the downtown Fort Worth Water Gardens.

On Sunday you drop by Joe T. Garcia’s Esperanza Mexican for breakfast and find yourself not only fortified but transported by a bowl of arroz con leche (hot rice and milk seasoned with nutmeg and a little sugar). You wile away the afternoon there and in nearby Forest Park, realizing that there’s no need to be in a hurry. Though you feel as if you’ve “been away,” you’re only a scant 30 miles from home.

HOW TO GET THERE: Go west on either I-30 or I-20. COST: Standard rooms are $125 weekdays and $155 weekends. ACTIVITIES: fort Worth Water Gardens, Museums.

BEST TIME TO GO: Anytime.

CALL: Stockyards Hotel (817)625-642; Joe T. Garcia’s Esperanza Mexican 817-626-4356; Kimbell Art Museum 817-654-1034; Anton Carter Museum 817-738-1933; Fort Worth Convention and Visitors Bureau 800-433-5747; Stockyards Visitor Center (817)624-4741.

ALBANY

Where Women Rule

By Nancy Nichols



My first clue that I was headed for a small town with a big sense of humor came as I passed a billboard just west of Fort Worth on 1-20 proclaiming. “Albany, Texas. It’s a John Wayne meets Martha Stewart thing.”

My second clue that Albany wasn’t just another pretty Texas limestone courthouse hit me when I walked into the Albany Chamber of Commerce. A young woman in jeans and cowboy boots greeted me enthusiastically, “Welcome to Albany. My name is Lee Clayton, but everyone ’round here calls me The Chamber Babe.” Half an hour later I left with a handful of brochures and an earful of inside information -“You want to see Albany. Texas, on a Friday night, you’d better be at the Beehive.”

So off 1 went to the only saloon in town, maneuvering my city-slick Volvo wagon through a parking lot of pickups and Suburbans loaded down with hunting dog cages, rifle racks, and decoys. Once inside, I bellied up to the bar between “Slim” and “Hoss,” who were dressed in camouflage, drinking longnecks, and telling tall tales about the “biguns” that got away. Behind the bar a strapping German woman named Beate kept the crowd lubricated by popping tops and shaking margaritas, still managing to wave “bye-y “all” to every customer. After three days of hanging with the locals, I discovered that while most of the men do the huntin’, fishin’, and drankin’ thang. this town runs on girl power. Underneath the West Texas twang lies a sharp sense and a woman’s touch.

Leaving the nightlife behind, I headed eight miles southeast, dodging jackrabbits and deer as I crossed the rolling plains leading to the Musselman Ranch. Owners Carolyn and John Musselman have converted a three-bedroom yellow clapboard ranch house on the property into The Foreman’s Cottage Bed & Breakfast. Each bedroom is available individually, or the entire house can be rented. I lucked into a slow weekend and had the whole place to myself. My plan was to do a tot of sleeping, hiking, reading, and sleeping. Perhaps I would also find time to sleep. Noting that Carolyn left the kitchen stocked with breakfast goodies, I easily settled in under a starry West Texas sky. With the windows open, I nodded off to the gentle sound of wind blowing through mesquite trees.

I woke to the sound of snorting horses and pulled back the lace curtains to find a curious herd eyeing me from the back fence. I poured a cup of coffee and wasted the morning watching meadowlarks. mockingbirds. and red-tailed hawks circle a squeaky tin windmill. After beating myself in a game of horseshoes. I headed off for a hike over the scrubby terrain studded with huge prickly pear cactus.

For dinner I hit the Fort Griffin General Merchandise Restaurant and feasted on a knockout ribeye steak and easily struck up a conversation with the members of the Volunteer Fire Department at the table next to me. Back under the quilts of my king-sized bed, the coyotes serenaded me to sleep.

Saturday afternoon, I visited the Old Jail Art Center (yes. that is a real Picasso, and this is a real museum worth visiting) and poked through the small shops on Main Street. In Terra Cotta, a gift shop complete with an espresso and cappuccino bar, I picked up a mason jar of local salsa. The cashier joked about being a single mom, “My husband said he needed more space, so I locked him outside.” Ka-ching. “That will be $10.50, please .”The girls in this town are all business.

Over a lunch of chicken-fried steak the size of my hiking boot at The Hunter’s Inn, my waitress Sharon, another single mom, waxed philosophic. “Albany used to be a town obsessed with all the he-in’ and she-in’ going on, but lately folks have become more spiritual, and it’s easy to live here and raise kids.”

Now that’s living Martha Stewart-style.

HOW TO GET THERE: Head west on 1-20 and go north on Hwy 283 to Albany. Total trip is about two-and-a-half hours.

COST: The Foreman’s Cottage on the Musselman Ranch, 8 miles southeast of Albany on FM 601, Carolyn Musselman, P.O. Box 1477,915-762-3576. Rooms start at S49 a night and up.

ACTIVITIES: Fort Griffin General Merchandise Restaurant and Beehive Saloon 915-762-3034; The Hunter’s Inn, 500 N. Main 915-762-2543; Blanton-Caldwell Trading Company, 125 S. Main 915-762-2370; Terra Cotta, 129 Main 915-762-3570; Old Jail Art Center, 201S Second 915-762-2269; Fort Griffin State Park, home of the official longhorn herd of Texas 915-762-3592.

BEST TIME TO GO: Anytime, fort Griffin Fandangle, an outdoor musical based on the pioneer chronicles of West Texas, held annually the last two weeks of June S15-762-383B. CALL: Albany Chamber of Commerce, Lee Clayton 915-762-2525 www.albanytexas.com

Hot Springs



Consider the Source

By Victoria Clan



The Arlington Hotel, a leviathan of a structure, sits like a matriarch at the top of Central Avenue also known as Bathhouse Row. A succession of elegantly draped. 30-foot windows flank the frescoed walls of the ballroom, and outside, the colonial-style wrap-around porch is populated with white easy chairs filled with ladies sipping mint juleps. Most of the public bathhouses now are incurious disrepair. Only the Buckstaff is operational, and the Fordyce has been restored as a visitors center for the Hot Springs National Park.

Reminders of Hot Springs colorful heritage are seen along Bathhouse Row, but the general tone is now more Wal-Mart than Gatsby. The town has a homespun, quirky feel. Pizza parlors, coffee houses, and bakeries serve affordable snacks to shoppers who stroll along the central area of town. Retail is geared toward tourists, with the expected craft galleries, trinket shops, and country clothing boutiques.

“Consider the Source” is the slogan adoptcd by Mountain Valley Spring Water, which is bottled at the source in Hot Springs. A tour of the company’s building gives me some insight to the importance of the geology of this area, and its greatest natural resource: Water. Hot water. Hot mineral water, I’m told that in the horseshoe-shaped mountains surrounding Hot Springs, a unique combination of rock absorbs rainfall through pores and fractures, conducting it deep into the earth. The water becomes hotter and hotter as it seeps further downward. The seeping naturally filters out impurities, and eventually pressures force the water back up to the surface al a temperature of 143°. It is naturally sterile. The process takes 4.000 years.

Yesterday, I began the morning with a thermal bath and massage at the Buckstaff. Today, [ am on the private bathhouse elevator on my way to the third floor to try the services at the Arlington. The ritual is unchanged from the way bathers experienced it in the early 1900s. By today’s standards it is no-frills, but the charm of the process becomes its own kind of pleasure. An able-bodied attendant wraps me in a white sheet and leads me to a private whirlpool tub for a 20-mitiute soak in 100° mineral water. “Drink this, baby.” she instructs, handing me two paper cups of hot water. “It’ll get ya all warmed up inside. too.” I drink and relax and then halfway through, she returns to give me a vigorous scrub with a loofah mitt. Next, she ushers me to the steam cabinet for a couple of minutes, and then to a row of lounge tables in the cooling room. “Where do you want your hot towels, sugar?” she asks. “Um, I don’t know. Where do you recommend?” is my light-headed reply. “Where do you hurt?” she chuckles. 1 decide on my back and shoultiers. I rest on the hot towels and marvel that they seem to retain their heat for the entire thirty minutes 1 recline in the cooling room in a dream-like state. Then it’s on to the needle shower where multiple levels of spraying, high-pressured water to stimulate the skin bombard me. I’m wrapped again in a white sheet, given another cup of hot water, and shown to the massage table. This masseuse is definitely experienced. She kneads and stretches just the right places with perfection. When it “s over, she gives me a peppermint and a big hug. I’m totally at ease, feeling an extraordinary calm.

HOW TO GET THERE: Driving, take I-30 east to Texarkana and follow signs to Hot Springs (about 5 hours). Big Sky Airlines has three flights daily from DFW to Hot Springs.

COST: Standard rooms range from $86 to S112 per night; suites range from $172 to $400 per night.

ACTIVITIES: Baths, horse races, hiking, several museums, www.hotsprings.org

BEST TIME TO GO: Anytime.

CALL: Arlington Hotel 800-643-1502; Buckstaff Bathhouse 501-623-2308; Mt Valley Spring Water 800-843-1501 www.rnonntainval-leyspring.com; Duck Tours 880-682-7044; Outdoor Adventure Tours 800-489-8687; National Park 501-624-2308 or 501-624-3383, ex 640 www.nps.gov/hosp/

Padre Island



Redfish Haven

By Wick Allison



Padre Island will never be quaint. Less an island than a thin pencil of land sliced through the middle by a four-lane road, it will always be gaudy in a seaworn way. littered with gas stations and bars and tee-shirt shops.

But Padre has its charms, which most people would number as exactly two: sun and beach. The angler adds a third: Padre has red-fish.

They lurk in Laguna Madre. the long and shallow backwater bay that stretches between Padre and the mainland from Corpus to Poil Isabel. And “lurk” is the right word: Redfish are as shy as trout, and the lagoon affords them plenty of room for privacy. For feeding purposes they tend to hover near islets and sand bars, and that’s when they usually show themselves, as they nose the bottom for shrimp, inadvertently breaking the surface with their tailfins.

On our first morning, resident philosopher Andy Clendenen and I are scheduled to meet the estimable Eric Glass. Padre’s renowned flyfishing guide, at the pier at 6:30 a.m. sharp. I’ve suffered the scowls of waiting guides enough to have learned to want to avoid them, so we are early. Erie, alas, is late. Andy and I are beset with the anxiety every impatient angler knows: We can smell the fish, we can feel the sudden tautness of the line, triumph awaits us-if only we can get going. When Eric pulls in (only ten minutes delayed), we’re so eager we leap to the skiff’ while he”s still stowing the gear, and a few minutes later (eternity), we’re skimming the water toward the happy hunting grounds.

And a hunt it is. As he pulls into a likely spot, Eric kills the motor and mounts a specially designed lookout to begin the search, polling along the flats with eyes focused for any hint of movement. Needless to say. Eric has x-ray vision: He simply sees things no other human being can see. And pretty soon he sees fish. By the third day. Andy and I leant that the fish appear in one of four guises: as puffs of sand from where they’ve been lying on the bottom and been scared into movement by the boat (impossible to catch), as silver rockets darting through the water on their way to unknown destinations (impossible to see. much less to catch), as brown submarines casually roaming a foot below the surface (hard but not impossible to see. cast gently-gently a foot or so ahead-gently!-arrrgh), and as a pod of two or more tails breaking the surface (cast above and retrieve the fly through the pod like food trying to escape-wham!). The hit is hard, the fight is ferocious-and for godssake keep that line tight.

The great thing about flyfishing in Padre is that the angler needs nothing. Accustomed to traveling with rods, vests, flyboxes. waders, and assorted other paraphernalia. I feel strangely unencumbered. The guides provide the rods and flies; waders in 70-degree water are an affectation; my vest– guardian and repository of a hundred items-proves useless and unnecessary. With externals eliminated, this is flyfishing reduced to the essential, to the hunt. One sighting, one cast, and an angler’s heart is filled with joy.



HOW TO GET THERE: Fly from Love Field to Harlingen.

COST: High season rates for a two-bedroom condo start at about S125 a day and go up to $300 or more.

ACTIVITIES: Padre Island actually boasts one movie theater. The historic graveyard in Port Isabel is worth a visit, if you’re historically minded. And there’s the beach.

BEST TIME TO GO: May and September.

CALL: South Padre Island Convention and Visitors Bureau 800-SO-PADRE. 800-767-2373, www.spionline.com. To pick a flyfishing guide call Larry Haines at The Shop 956-945-1765.

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