MY PHOTOGRAPHER FRIEND PAT-rick and I were lounging under a still-green shade tree, waving away bumblebees and swatting the last of the mosquitoes on a balmy Dallas Indian summer morning. Longing for fall to hurry up and come, I unconsciously picked up the phone and called the unofficial “leaf-peeping hotline” at the park ranger station in Lost Maples State Park. “Hey, when is the best time to come down for some fall color?” I asked. He paused and said, as dry and snappy as a fall day should be, “Oh, I’d guess about 2 p.m., give or take an hour.”

We sprang into action. Grabbing a few necessities, we called Southwest Airlines on the way to Love Field and within the hour we were noshing peanuts on a flight to San Antonio. Our destination? The cool canopied color of towering Big Tooth Maples of Lost Maples State Nature Area. We planned to catch the trees at their very peak-give or take an hour.

After a short 90-minute drive south of San Antonio and west of Kerrville, we found ourselves lost in the middle of nowhere- Utopia, Texas, It may be a dot on the map, but just outside of town, the dust and scrubby terrain give way to a series of beautiful deep canyons lined with ancient groves of Big Tooth Maples. It was a startling transition-like seeing a penguin next to a cactus in the Galapagos for the first time. Fall color in Texas?

Legend has it that the trees at Lost Maples are relics of the last ice age. The deep and steep-walled canyons provide shelter from the heat of the sun and the drying winds and mother a unique community of trees and plants and were once home to Spaniards, Apaches, Comanches, and pioneers.

In the fall they hurst out in the song, color, and traditional garb of their heritage-foreigners now in a strange land, but all the more joyously celebrating a return of life and energy to their roots, like an Italian family in the Bronx, or, better yet, the Germans and Czechs of the nearby communities during Octoberfest, sporting lederhosen and feathered oompah hats. In their glorious annual ritual, the gold. orange, and scarlet of the Big Tooths are joined by other rarities- the black cherry, the red oak, the sycamore-leaf snowball, the canyon mockorange, and the cream to maroon Texas madrone.

Still awed by the sights of the park, we pulled into town for nourishment at the Lost Maples Cafe. Talk about color-this cast of Utopians was more like Robert Earl Keene’s ideal than Sir Thomas Moore’s. We settled in next to an eccentric camo-clad guy and his buddies who apparently spend their time hunting white tails, catching catfish in the Sabinal River, and munching burgers.

After a cold slice of coconut pie. we headed up a long unpaved road, over cattle guards, and around a big bend to the secluded Austin-stoned Utopia On The River Inn. Scattered through the grove and down the long slope behind the inn were a couple of dozen white-tailed deer standing around a pond stocked with catfish.

The next morning I strolled behind the inn and looked down on the Adirondack bank of the Sabinal River. I ran down the gently sloped embankment, like a hand running down the back of an old dog, head to neck to back and down the tail. On the last slope was a huge Cypress tree, 30-odd feet in circumference. They say that Apaches and Comanches camped in its cooling shade, no doubt on their way to leaf-peep the venerable, enduring Maples.

Before, that is, we discoverers proclaimed them lost.

-Steve Connatser

How To Get There Take 1-35 South to Hwy. 46 West. Turn right on Hwy. 16 to Medina. Turn left on Hwy. 337. Turn right on Hwy. 187. Utopia is a six-hour drive from Dallas.

Where To Stay Utopia on the River, Hwy. 187. Utopia. TX, 830-966-2444 or Rales: $85.

Blue Bird Hill Bed & Breakfast. Hwy. 1050. Box 697. Utopia, TX, 830-966-3525. Rates: $85-5115.

The Lodges at Lost Maples. RR 337, Box 215. Vanderpool, TX. 830-966-5179 or Rates: $95.

Where To Eat Lost Maples Cafe, Main Street, 830-966-2221.

The Garden of Eat’n, Main and Johnson streets, 830-966-3391.

C.J.’s Barbeque and Beanery, Main and Johnson streets. 830-966-4228.

What to Do Leaf-peeping, camping, fishing, hiking, biking, and tubing at Lost Maples State Park. HCR I, Box 156, Vanderpool, TX, 830-966-3413. Enjoy dramatic cliffs along the Frio River and great camping at Gamer Slate Park. HCR 70. Box 599, Concan, TX, 830-232-6132.

It’s midnight, and the sleepy town of Granbury, Texas, is lucked snugly away for the night. The guests at the Iron Horse Inn have made their way upstairs and have retired to one of seven unique suites-every guest, thai is, except me. Still hyper from a hectic workweek, I pace around the fishpond on the well-manicured grounds trying to relax. As I reach to open the front fence, I notice a wrought-iron marker-“William Cogdell 1907”-that put me in touch with the history of the inn. Cogdell, a banker and entrepreneur, was the original proprietor of the house and. if I believe the date on the gate, completed his 7,000-square-fool cottage in 1907. Immersed in fantasy, 1 marveled at his architectural vision-the 12-foot ceilings, maple floors, and beveled glass windows transcended his era. It’s almost like he knew that eventually the house would become the perfect setting for a bed and breakfast. Finally relaxed, 1 return to my room-theCogdell suite, of course-and continue in my amazement as I gaze out of one of the 13 windows that connect the solarium.

In the morning, I make my way downstairs, where the living room is filled with guests sipping cups of hot coffee and glasses of freshly squeezed orange juice. Owners Bob and Judy Atkinson trade off mingling with the guests and preparing breakfast. Scents from the kitchen bring everyone to the dining table for plates of homemade quiche and other breakfast goodies. Over the last cup of coffee, everyone lingers to chat about the adventures for the day. Even though I planned to go solo, 1 team up with a couple (also from Dallas) and we set out for the town square.

Limestone from Cogdell’s quarry accent most of the facades of the buildings on the square where The Granbury Opera House sits grandly. The Opera House, built in 188(1, recently installed a super sound system and new seats. Groups from all over the country visit the Opera House to see productions such as Singing in the Rain. Fiddler on die Roof, and The King and I.

We continue to stroll in and out of various antique shops and country stores until we stumble upon a Granbury treasure-The Pan Handle-a “gourmet tool shop” with more interesting ceramic imports and cooking gadgets than Williams-Sonoma. I eventually purchase (proudly) what must be the world’s largest hand-blown martini glass. The Pan Handle also offers gourmet cooking classes with instruction from some familiar chefs, including the Mansion on Turtle Creek’s Dean Fearing anil Grady Spears of Reata in Fort Worth.

Famished, we head for Kelly’s Restaurant on the Square, Walking through lite enclosed courtyard, we enter the Western saloon-style restaurant. The locals drink cold beer in longneck bottles at the bar while we sit and order sandwiches and salads from the lunch menu. hi the evenings, dinner upstairs is a more formal affair. A fine-dining menu features hearty appetizers of fire-charred artichokes and entrees of lemon-crusted salmon steaks from the kitchen of Kelly Cameron, a former Dallas chef who honed his skills in the kitchens of Thomas Avenue Beverage Company, the Melrose, and the Green Room.

After lunch, we head into the Merry Heart Tea Room for a much-anticipated cherry crisp. Owners Dianne and Michael Davis usher us to our booth and periodically come by to check on us, When Michael learns that we are from Dallas, he laughs. “I lived in North Dallas. Then I got invited to a fish fry here arid never went back.”

Reluming to the Iron Horse, my new friends rush inside, bin 1 decide to settle into a rocking chair on the porch and read until dusk. 1 haven’t touched my laptop all weekend. Obviously the comfort and quaintness of Granbury has me wishing I’d been invited to that same fish fry. -Valerie Douglas

How To Get There Follow I-20 West to Fort Worth, then take U.S. 377 South. Granbury is a one-and-a-half-hour drive from Dallas.

Where To Stay Iron Horse Inn, 616 Thorp Springs Rd.. 817-579-5535. Rates: $95 and up.

Nun House Hotel, 121 East Bridge St., 817-279-9457. Rates; S57-S125. Baker-Carmichael House, 226 E. Pearl Si., 817-279-9668. Rates: $89-5150.

Where To Eat Hennington’s at the Nun House. 121 E. Bridge.817-573-8400. Kelly’s Restaurant on the Square. 115 E. Pearl St.. 817-573-9722. Live entertainment nightly.

Merry Heart Tea Room, on the west side of Lite Square. 817-573-3800.

What To Do Granbury Opera House. 133 E. Pearl St.. 817-579-5529.

The Pan Handle. 106 N. Crocket St., 817-579-1518.

October: The Harvest Moon Festival, 817-573-5299.

November: Country Christmas Celebration. 817-573-5299.

December: Granbury Candlelight Tour of Homes. 817-573-5299.

You’ve flashed by Salado’s Stagecoach Inn motel at 70 miles an hour on your way down I-35 to Austin a dozen times. This year, take a little detour-a few hundred yards and more than a 100 years. On the second weekend in November, the historic town of Salado will look a lot like Brigadoon, the mythical Scottish village thai emerges from the mist to suck visitors into the romantic but elusive past. The annual Gathering of (he Scottish Clans brings hundreds of people to this small town to listen to bagpipers, watch dancers perform Lilts and Highland Rings, and show off kilts made of clan tartans. There are so many beefy men in skirts that rednecks are well advised to stay away or risk getting a caber tossed al them.

Founded in the mid- 1800s, Salado was home to Major Sterling C. Robertson, who brought 600 families, mostly from Scotland, to Texas. Nol many settled in .Salado-named for (he spring-fed creek (“salty water”) that Indians thought had curative powers-but the Robertson plantation, built by his son. still stands.

Today Salado is home to about 1,200 people, a gaggle of bed-and-breakfasts, and a handful ol’ high-quality art and antique stores. One of the most popular places for history buffs to stay is a few blocks from Main Street: The Garrison Cabin at the Rose Mansion Bed & Breakfast. Built by farmer Mitchell Garrison (grandfather to Texas governor Miriam “Ma” Ferguson) between 1851 and 1855, it’s the oldest log structure in Bell County. Moved to the grounds of the Rose Mansion a few years ago, the cabin is furnished with quilts, animal pelts, and other rustic touches like a claw-foot tub. Though it has central air and heat, there’s no phone. (Cover the small TV with a quilt; it only gels four local channels anyway.)

Or stay in rooms furnished inTexas Victorian a( the Rose Mansion. a historic Greek Revival home built in 1870-72 by Major Archibald J. Rose and listed in both the Texas and National Historic Registers. Owners Neil and Carole Hunter have moved several Other farmhouses to the compound, each with a unique historic twist. George’s Cabin is three tiny rooms connected by a dogtrot. Be forewarned: You have to go outside to visit the bathroom, but it does have running water, a tin bathtub, and a wood stove.

Book a horse and carriage to take you to dinner at the best restaurant in town: The Range at the Barton House, run by Dave and Katie Hermann, who trained at the Culinary Institute of America. Built in 1866, the house is old, but the cuisine is New American with Mediterranean and French influences. (Because Salado doesn’t have liquor by the drink, to order beer or wine you must join the restau-rant’s “private club.” But it’s free.) For Mexican food and margaritas, try the outdoor patio al The Salado Mansion on Main Street. (Great smoky chipotle salsa.) Barbecue buffs like Lucye’s on the other side of 1-35, and people who have been coming to Salado for years still stop in at the Stagecoach Inn’s restaurant for home cooking.

The town goes all out for Christmas, starting October 13-14. with a shopping binge that has visitors swarming the antique arid gift stores on Main Street and booths at the Salado Civic Center. And for the first two weekends in December, Hie en (ire town is decorated with white lights for the annual Christinas Stroll and Tour of Homes. The whole village looks like a fairy tale. -Glenna Whitley

How To Get There About 150 miles south of Dallas on 1-35. between Temple and Austin, exit 284. Driving time is two hours.

Where To Stay ose Mansion Bed & Breakfast, One Rose. Way @ Royal Sheet, gOO-439-3828 or \ww.1ourin&exa$.wni/sdado, Rales: $80-$ 120.

Baines House B&B, 316 Royal St.. 800-439-3828 or www.touringte.xas-com/salado. Rates: $100-140.

Inn on the Creek B&B, 602 Center Circle. 877-947-5554. Rales: $90-250.

Make advance reservations for gourmet dinner Friday and Saturday.

Where To Eat The Range at The Barton House. 101 N. Main St.. 254-947-3828.

Lucye’s Bar-B-Que, exit 284 West on Thomas Arnold Rd., 254-947-4663.

Stagecoach Inn Dining Room. One Main St.. 800-732-8994.

What To Do Oct.13-14: Christmas in October

Nov. 10-12: Gathering of the Scottish Chins

Dec, 2-3 and 9-10: Annual Christmas Stroll

BELIEVE US WHEN we tell you that StagLeap Retreat is isolated: We had to get in our car and drive to the main road just to get a signal on our cell phone. There aren’t phones in the cozy cottages that dot the 200 acres ol’ land where Slag Leap is situated. Bui chances are, once you’ve submerged yourself in the piney-wooded retreat in East Texas, you won’t want any contact from civilization for a few days. Besides its understated beauty-pine trees blanket the land, towering over and shading the numerous walking trails that wind lazily through the acreage-the most noticeable thing about Stag Leap is how quiet it is. It took us 24 hours to adjust to the virtual silence. No city sounds, no people sounds-in fact, besides hosts Mai tie and Wayne Collins, we only saw one other person on the properly during our stay. But it wasn’t because no one was there.

The three cottages that sleep two to 12 are hundreds of yards from each other to ensuit- solitude. Golf carls and maps are provided for excursions through the nature trails, guaranteeing that even the most arduous wanderer won’t get lost. When we arrived at night we found thai someone had left the lights on with classical music playing softly in the background. Stag Leap Guest House is a two-story loft with a queen-sized bed and two twin-sized beds upstairs. Downstairs is the kitchen-fully slocked with breakfast foods and pots and pans for cooking-a full bath, and a washer-dryer. There is also a TV, VCR, and 20-plus movies for your viewing pleasure, and a balcony with a grill. All of the cottages feel like your grandmother’s home, complete with tasteful, country-style decor, comfortable beds, plenty of blankets, and reading material. Year-round activities include volleyball, horseshoes, and archery, among other things, and there is a bonfire every Saturday night, weather permitting. Bonaldo Creek winds through the property, and the bed-and-breakfast is situated just a few miles west of Lake Nacogdoches, so there is plenty of access to water for those who prefer to bask in the sun. While it’s likely that visitors will be content to simply wander the property, should you feel the need to venture into the town of Nacogdoches (pop. 31,197- mostly college students), you will he pleasantly surprised.

Attempts have been made to enhance the historical flavor of the area, resulting in the preservation of several old homes and landmarks. The main square is packed with antique shops, and restaurants fight for space on busy North Street. Fine dining options are limited, with restaurants mostly catering to the co-ed crowd with Chili’s-type offerings. There is also a bowling alley and a movie theater, but the lure of the East Texas town is not the businesses there, it’s the land itself. Being so close to town (13 miles) kept us city folk from feeling too isolated, but all in all, we preferred the seclusion of the bed-and-breakfast to the country bustle of town. Our hosts gave us our privacy to the point of near-avoidance, and on the day of our checkout, a handwritten note accompanied our bill, and we were able to leave our payment on the kitchen table of our cabin (check or cash only). You can’t get much further away than that.

-Shelly Grimes

How To Get There East on I-20. south on Hwy. 259. Nacogdoches is a three-hour drive from Dallas.Where To Stay Stag Leap Retreat, Rt. 3 Box 1267. 936-560-0766 or Rales: $80-100.

Where To Eat The Californian. 342 N. University Dr., 409-560-1985.

La Hacienda. 1411 North St.. 409-564-6450.

Clear Springs Restaurant. 211 Old Tyler Rd.. 409-569-0489.

What To Do Walking Tour of Nacogdoches, the oldest town in Texas, 409-564-7351. Piney Woods Country Club (private golf course! on Hwy. 59 South, 409-569-9821. Antique shopping: Pamphlets available at the Visitors Bureau, 888-564-7351.

RECENTLY MY wife and children vacationed in Colorado. I stayed be-hind to work. And mope. I don’t like to be in the house when they’re away. Usually I go to the movies. From now on. I’m going to Weatherford.

Dan and Shay Buttolph. owners of the St. Botolph Inn Bed and Breakfast, a beautifully restored Victorian mansion set on a five-acre hilltop in the middle of Weatherford. graciously offered me an upper room. Si. Matthew’s. At St. Botolph. all six of the rooms are named after an apostle or someone in the line of David. For two days and nights, Dan and Shay look care of my every need: food, directions, talk of children.

Shay even set me up with Dexter Summons, a local historian. The true story of Larry McMurtry’s Lonesome Dove begins and ends in Weatherford. Only the most persistent case of self-pity can survive it. Mine didn’t. After a tour of the town. Dexter drove me to the Old Greenwood Cemetery. Mary Martin is buried there. “First off.” Dexter gently corrected, climbing out of his wife’s Buick, ’’Oliver Loving was nothing like the character in the novel.” Locusts hesitated at the slamming of car doors then resumed their scream. “He didn’t have cowboy vices.

“The first two cattle drives of Loving and Charles Goodnight were staggeringly successful,” Dexter continued. “On the third, however. Loving was badly wounded in an Indian ambush.” Dexter’s eyes pulled mine to a marble slab, the lettering almost unreadable. A historical marker is planted nearby but is no match for Dexter. “Before he died, Loving told Goodnight that he didn’t care to be buried in a foreign land. So Goodnight buried Loving in Fort Sumner. N.M., in September 1867 and continued driving the cattle to Denver. In January, he returned to Loving’s grave, dug up the coffin, and carted it home. Didn’t see another living soul for 600 miles.”

In addition to being the cutting horse and peach capital of Texas, Weatherford is home of the national champion pecan tree. Bill and Lynn Finch own it. About as much as anyone can own a 1,000-year-old tree. The Finchs live four miles north of the courthouse on Hwy. 51. The plastic sign on their ranch gate reads simply “Pecan Tree.” Bill greeted me at his drive dressed in a white tank t-shirt and nursing a hoarse cough.

“So what’s it like owning the national champ?” I asked.

“Nice little extra when 1 bought the place,” Bill grinned, between spasms. There was an authenticating certificate taped to the inside of Finch’s front screen door. 1 immediately tried to calculate how many pecans the tree had produced in its lifetime. “We picked up 500 pounds one year,” he said. “One hundred fifty is more average. Why don’t you go on down? Lucy’ll show you the way.”

Lucy, Finch’s farm dog, nosed a path mowed through tall Johnson grass. Rounding a shed, 1 could see the national champ soaring from a creek bed, buttressed with lesser trees that in Missouri or Maryland would bear polished plaques. By the time I reached the canopy, broad enough to shade five tennis courts, Lucy had disappeared into the brush. Bill’s pecan tree has the great Sequoias of California beat to sticks. I’ve leaned back at them, too. Pacific storms are no match for daily life in West Texas: A tornado tore a branch off Bill’s tree a few years ago. An Odessa company is still whittling pen and pencil sets out of it. They expect to get 10,000.

I stood with folded hands in the cool, dark cathedral. Far off a dog barked. Eventually. I looked at my watch and pulled away. My family was driving in that afternoon and I was going home. Almost whole. -Jeff Bowden

How to Get There Take I-30 West to Hwy. 80/180. Weatherford is an hour drive from Dallas.

Where To Stay St. Botolph Inn Bed and Breakfast, 808 S. Lamar St., 800-868-6520. Go for the Song of Solomon Chamber. It has an in-room Jacuzzi that would accommodate 1,000 wives. Or husbands. Rates: $85-$175. Angel’s Nest, 1105 Palo Pinto. 817-599-9600. Rates: $100-$150. Where To Eat Silverado Steakhouse. 10 miles south of Weatherford on Hwy. 51 at Silverado-on-the-Brazos, 817-341-1150. Cutting horse competitions the last two weekends in October.

What To Do The National Champion Pecan Tree, four miles north of the courthouse on Hwy. 51.817-596-4604.

JEFFERSON, Texas, is a tiny town with a big history. Once a booming river port in the late 1800s, it slowly declined after the townsfolk rejected the railroad. But much of the riverfront district remains, and only blocks away are lovely neighborhoods filled with antebellum, Greek revival, and Victorian homes, most of which have been converted to bed-and-breakfasts. In fact, this sleepy little town boasts more than 50 B&Bs-quite a feat for a town with a population of only 2,200.

We chose the McKay House Bed and Breakfast Inn, which, like many of the residences in Jefferson, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Built in 1851, this Greek Revival home has been housing overnight guests since 1983. Our Garden Suite included a comfy queen-sized bed, period antiques, and charming his-and-hers claw-foot tubs.

The famous “gentleman’s” breakfast-admittedly, the reason why we chose this particular B&B-is served at 9 a.m. in the English Garden Conservatory. Not all B&Bs take as much care in serving breakfast-Saturday morning we enjoyed a fresh fruit plate with mini homemade muffins, shirred eggs with ham, and real Southern biscuits served with homemade jellies. But proprietress Lisa Cantrell saved the best for Sunday morning-orange pecan French toast.

Jefferson’s historic downtown-an easy walk from the McKay House-is little more than a few antique shops, a general store, and tiny bakeries serving simple lunches of chicken salad and pimento cheese sandwiches. Visitors stroll the streets, pop in for limeade at City Drug Co., and pick up a jar of mayhaw jelly at the Jefferson General Store. We skipped the antiques and country kitsch in favor of a “special” at the Lafayette Street Sandwich Shop-turkey, avocado, and sprouts on a croissant-and topped it off with strawberry cake made from scratch and a glass of raspberry iced tea.

For dinner, we headed to Jefferson’s crown jewel: the Stillwater Inn, owned by former Dallasites Bill and Sharon Stewart (Bill once cooked in the French Room). The classic Continental menu features poultry, beef, lamb, fish, and vegetarian selections, a lovely assortment of homemade desserts, and an extensive, reasonably priced wine list. After our attentive waiter popped a bottle of sparkling wine, we selected our entrées-beef tenderloin and salmon. The salmon arrived piping hot-quite an accomplishment for a dish that cools so easily-and the tenderloin was prepared exactly medium rare. For dessert we decided on the simplicity of raspberries, plump and topped with whipped cream, and a bowl of homemade Java chip ice cream. Perfect.

But no trip to Jefferson is complete without dropping by Beauty and the Book, a combination hair salon and bookstore at the home of Kathy Patrick. You can settle in for a day of pampering with a pedicure while you catch up on your reading. But the real show is when Patrick, self-proclaimed “hairdresser to the authors,” hosts her monthly book club meeting for the Pulpwood Queens of East Texas-a group inspired by the much-talked-about Sweet Potato Queens of Jackson. Miss. Members from as far away as California don tiaras and chat about books. What else would you expect from a group of queens? -Jennifer Chininis

How to Get There Take 1-20 East to Hwy. 59, Jefferson is just past Marshall off Hwy. 59. Jefferson is a three-and-a-half-hour drive from Dallas.

Where to Stay McKay House Bed and Breakfast Inn. 306 E. Delta St., 800-468-2627 or Rates: $89-$169.

House of the Seasons. 409 S. Alley St., 903-665-1218 or e-mail: [email protected] . Rates: $130-$145.

Where to Eat Lafayette Street Sandwich Shop. 211 W. Lafayette St.. 903-665-8500.

Stillwater Inn (also a B&B), 203 E. Broadway St., 903-665-8415 or Reservations recommended.

Whal to Do Beauty and the Book, Rt. 4 Box 285. FM 728. 903-665-7520 or Walk-ins welcome. October 15. Beauty and the Book will have a booth at Taste of Jefferson downtown, featuring authors Richard Troxell, Ginnie Siena Bivona, and Mitchel Whitington.

December: Christmas Candlelight Tour. 903-665-2672.

DURING A VISIT to Wood-ville, my husband and I did a little touring and a lot of relaxing at The Antique Rose Bed and Breakfast. Our hosts, Jerry and Denies Morrison, were warm and friendly, and their personalities are reflected in the B&B’s welcoming décor, which is filled with lovely antiques. But they haven’t created a “look, but don’t touch” ambience; everything about the place invites you to choose one of the three lovely guestrooms (each with private bath) and “stay a spell.”

We settled into the Rebecca room, which included an antique white (and deceptively large) wrought-iron bed and country, blue-and-white color scheme. The room is lucked into a secluded spot off the upstairs back porch with a charming view of the grounds. Much to my delight, the bath included an antique claw-and-ball-foot tub-perfect for soaking, something I never manage to make time for in my own home. Even my husband, who is not a morning person, broke character by getting up early to spend some time on the porch before breakfast.

And breakfast at The Antique Rose is impossible to crilicize. Each morning we were served an incredible, multi-course meal thai kepi us going till late in the day. In the evenings, we discovered delicious local home cooking at The Picket! House, where fried chicken, chicken and dumplings, and seasonal veggies are served boarding-house style amid a collection of circus posters dating back to 1912, and The Homestead, a dog-trot house-turned-restaurant, where the small dining rooms are decorated with vintage ladies’ clothing. Don’t miss The Homestead’s chicken-fried steak-unless you’re having the catfish.

The Morrisons know every nook and cranny of the area and can steer you to the best shops, sights, and restaurants. History buffs will enjoy rambling through the Heritage Village (a pioneer town recreation), Shivers Museum, and historic homes. Nature lovers can choose from hiking, fishing, boating, or birding. Weekend power shoppers can hunt down bargains in the numerous antique stores, craft malls, and roadside Ilea markets.

But part of the charm of staying in a B&B is getting to know your hosts and listening to them spin yams of local legends. When we asked how they came up with the name for their place, we learned that when they bought the property, they found several Seven Sisters antique rose bushes. Inspired by the discovery. Jerry landscaped the grounds with a gazebo, water garden, and, at last count, 200 other varieties of antique roses. Now rose enthusiasts and avid gardeners seule al the kitchen table with their hosts to browse the extensive photo record of the roses and share horticultural triumphs and tragedies. My husband-whose thumb is green only because il is bruised from hitting the space bar of his keyboard-was so inspired by these stories that he asked where he could get some cuttings to start his own garden. -Jennifer Dodd

How To Cet There I-45 South to Hwy. 69 East to Hwy. 287 South. Woodville is a four-hour drive from Dallas.

Where To Stay The Antique Rose Bed and Breakfast, 612 Nellius St., 800-386-8926. Reservations should be made two weeks in advance. Rates: $85.

Where To Eat The Pickett House, in the Heritage Village, one mile west of Woodville on Hwy. 190, 409-283-3371. The Homestead, approximately live miles south of Woodville on Hwy. 287,409-283-7324.

What to Do Heritage Village Museum (hosts the Harvest Festival in October), one mile west of Woodville on US 190.409-283-2272. Big Thicket National Preserve-canoeing, fishing, hiking, birding, nature photography

Shivers Library and Museum, 302 N. Charlton Si.. 409-283-3709, Holiday Home Tours-Go back to Woodville for a little holiday cheer and some great decorating ideas for your own home-or at least a little inspiration.

ON THE SPUR OF THE MOMENT. MY FRIEND CASSADY AND I DECID-ed to just say no to work and just say yes to shopping. So we skipped town and headed to Canton. We had the perfect rationalization: We could knock off most of our Christmas lists by gelling there before all the good stuff was gone.

Our first call was to Karen Franks of Saline Creek Farm Bed & Breakfast, a quaint hideaway about 10 miles from the First Monday Trading Day fracas that happens downtown. The Franks offer three upstairs bedrooms in their home and three cabins, all overlooking the lake on their 20-acre property. Luckily for us, the Cowboy Cabin was available, and as soon as I gave Karen the expiration date on my Visa. Reunion Arena was in our rear view mirror.

One hundred and fifty years ago. First Monday was the day set aside for locals to meet and trade horses, excess crops, and fresh produce. Today 3,000 dealers spread out over 100 acres to hawk everything from antiques and collectibles to Lip Ink and Natural Viagra. In between is just about everything else imaginable-DKNY shoes. Moroccan lamps, handmade quilts, twig furniture, dogs, and satellite dishes. But unbeknownst to us the market is closed on Monday-the actual “trading” days now run the Thursday through Sunday before the first Monday of each month.

True to ourselves (and our bosses), we managed to find some Christmas goodies-a stocking for a new nephew, some handmade ornaments for the tree, and bundles of cheap wrapping paper. But be warned: Pack your tennis shoes and patience because shopping the miles of aisles in Canton is hard work.

We skipped the Indian tacos. tornado twisters, and Cajun twisty fries sold on the grounds and headed over to the Mountain Side Cafe, where we plunged into heaping platters of chicken-fried steak and fried catfish served with a choice of vegetables. Cassady got the answer she deserved when she asked how the spinach was prepared. Innocently, our young waitress shrugged her shoulders and replied, “It comes frozen in a box and we cook it,”

But our culinary treat came the next morning when we sat down to a home-cooked breakfast served at the sleep-in-friendly hour of 9 a.m. in the Franks’ dining room, As Karen cleared the plates, she detailed her strategy for conquering Canton. “You have logo down on Wednesday while they’re setting up. Usually all the good stuff is gone by early Thursday, but there are still good deals on Friday and Saturday. Sunday most vendors are closing up and they’re really ready to bargain.”

Since we had planned to do our wheeling and dealing on Monday and il was already Saturday afternoon, we bagged our shopping expedition and spent the rest of the day alternating between reading on the front porch and napping in the huge pine bed. Around sundown, we grabbed a complimentary box of Canadian Night Crawlers and a bottle of cold Riesling from our in-room refrigerator (BYOB- the closest liquor store is a 45-minute drive) and headed down to the lake for some sunset fishing. Cassady snagged a six-inch perch while a crafty turtle took me for the fishing fool that 1 am and left me wormless.

After sampling the heavy Cantonese cuisine, we opted to stay in and eat a light meal of the fruit and vegetables we’d bought from a roadside stand. Armed with a pile of videos, we satiated our soul with the legendary locally grown tomatoes. That night we slept peacefully knowing that even though there are only eight Canton shopping days left until Christmas, our lists were a little shorter.

-Nancy Nichols

How To Get There Take I-20 West to FM 1255 and turn left. Turn right on County Road 1316. Canton is a one-hour drive from Dallas.

Where To Stay Saline Creek Farm Bed & Breakfast. 182 VZ County Road 1316, Grand Saline. TX, 800-308-2242. Rates: S85-$125.

Heavenly Acres Guest Ranch, 660 Van Zandt, County Road 2X16. Mabank,

TX, 903-887-3016 or Rales: S104 and up.

Buffalo Cottage. 991 Buffalo St.. 903-567-6633. Rates: $80-5145.

Where To Eat Dairy Palace, open 24 hours for great burgers and Blue Bell shakes. Hwy. 19 @ I-20. 903-567-6551.

Mountain Side Cafe, fried cattish anytime. Hwy. 64 just east of Hwy. 19.903- 567-0918.

Whal To Do First Monday Trading Days: Sept. 28-Oci. 1; Nov.2-5; Nov.30-Dec. 3.

JUST AFTER MY HUSBAND AND I celebrated our 6th wedding anniversary, I decided we should get away for a weekend and recreate our honeymoon-just to make sure we didn’t develop a case of the “seven-year itch.” Since our post-wedding trip was spent in a small log cabin in the mountains of Tennessee, I had to come up with a Texas alternalive. When I came across the Palo Alto Creek Farm in Fredericksburg, I knew thai Aphrodite was on my side.

All the arrangements for our romantic retreat were made with one simple phone call-all we had to do was show up and get cozy. Unlike your typical bed-antl-breakfast, the “rooms” at the Farm are not in the main house. You can choose from the Bam or the Log Cabin-tooth circa 18S0 historic landmarks and romantically secluded among the rolling hills and towering trees. Normally the comfortable mix of antiques with whimsical cowboy accents would have been all the inspiration my husband needed after the five-hour drive. but the Jacuzzi for two sealed the feel of our honeymoon deal.

Our first evening, we were content to settle in front of the gas fireplace and share a bottle of wine from the nearby Becker vineyards. In the morning we continued our lounging act with breakfast in bed-the kitchen was stocked with complete breakfast fixings.

Even though Fredericksburg is a great place to kick around, the Palo Alio Creek Farm makes it hard to leave-they offer a number of private spa services, performed in the comfort of your own guesthouse. Cozy rooms in both the Cabin and Barn are set aside for licensed professionals from Fredericksburg’s European Day Spa to pamper you in any number of ways-massage, reflexology, facials, hand and foot treatments, or any combination thereof-for sessions ranging from 15 minutes to two hours.

But eventually we headed out to explore. For a shopaholic like me, Fredericksburg is heaven: Main Street is dedicated to consumerism. Whatever you’re into-quilts, dolls, books, art glass, jewelry, gourmet fare, or (fill in your particular passion here)-there are more than three shops on Main Street specializing in just that and waiting to show you all the things you never knew you needed. If your wine cellar is a little bare, the numerous tasting rooms and local vineyards can help you fill that void. too.

We took our hosts’ advice and tried two of the locals’ favorite Main Street restaurants for lunch and dinner. The Navajo Grill offered tasty New Southwest Cuisine (don’t miss the portobello wrap), and Ernie’s served up a romantic ambience as well as delicious Mediterranean fare. We started with the crostini with kala-mata-mushroom tapanade and thought life couldn’t gel any better until we sampled the salad. When our entrees arrived-Ernie’s ravioli of the day (four cheese in an outstanding bolognese sauce) and a tender and juicy rack of lamb-we declared the meal ideal for celebrating a second honeymoon. We were sorely tempted by the dessert menu, but we’d lingered loo long and I had a surprise for Hubby dearest waiting at our rented love nest-a one-hour massage, after which we poured ourselves into the Jacuzzi for a soak before bedtime.

When we awoke the next morning and made our preparations to return home, we were refreshed, relaxed, and cooing at each other like a pair of newly weds. Just as I’d planned. -J.D.

How To Get There Take I-35 South to Hwy. 290 West. Fredericksburg is a live-hour drive from Dallas.

Where To Slay The Palo Alto Creek Farm. 90 Palo Alto Ln., 800-997-0089 or Rates: $143-$179.

Alte Welt Gasthof (Old World Inn). 142 E. Main St., 888-991-6749. Rates: S150.

Old Home Ha? Guest Ranch, 979 Old Kerrville Rd., 830-990-1183. Rates: $149-5159.

Where To Eat Ernie’s Mediterranean Grill. 423 E. Main St., 830-997-7478.

Navajo Grill. 209 E. Mam St.. 830-990-8289.

The Nest, 607 S. Washington St., 830-990-8383.

What To Do October-November: Wine Trail-16 Hill Country wineries host special weekend events.

Oktoberfest. Enjoy a weekend of overindulgence as you eat. drink, and be merry.

Fredericksburg Herb Farm. 402 Whitney St., 803-997-8615.The Admiral Nimitz Museum and Historical Center. 340 E. Main St.. 830-997-4379.

WAXAHACHIE IS A SLEEPY TOWN FULL OF SURPRISES-EVEN FOR a latté-sipping, SUV-driving urban dweller like myself.

Like many small Texas towns. Waxahachie’s tourism is generated by its collection of vintage homes and period architecture. But dig beyond the prerequisite layers of antique stores and historical markers and you’ll discover a burgeoning arts scene, fine dining, and plenty of eclectic shopping.

Most surprising is the town’s proximity to Dallas-a mere 40-minute drive to the south. Though most of Waxahachie’s urban development is on the northern end of town, there’s little need to venture beyond southern Waxahachie’s Main Street. Stunning Victorian homes-dating back to the early 1900s-line the avenue. Dubbed the “Gingerbread City,” many of Waxanachie’s abodes boast extravagant wooden lacework. A few have been converted into bed-and-breakfasts. like The Rosemary Mansion, a charming example of Georgian Revivalism. Hosts Dennis and Judy Cross have restored the 1916 home to its original grandeur, complete with period antiques, vintage cut crystal, eclectic art. and lush landscaped gardens and ponds. The silver-spoon treatment includes evening hors d’oeuvres and cocktails and herb-enhanced gourmet breakfasts like egg and ham soufflé with rosemary sautéed potatoes and fresh melon with lavender sauce. Though the trappings are regal, the experience is one of comfort and home.

In fact, it’s much like the city itself. Waxahachie’s downtown square is a maze of antique shops, restaurants, and Southern hospitality, anchored by the Ellis County Courthouse-a lowering gran-ite-and-sandstone centerpiece built in 1894. But if. like me. “antique” is not a verb to you. wander down the side streets for funkier fare. The Webb Gallery, run by former Dallasites Julie and Bruce Webb, houses a renowned collection of offbeat, thoughtful folk art by both local and national artists. Around the square, Cheryl Kirkpatrick sells herbs, pure lotions, and holistic remedies at Piper’s Apothecary, while her daughter owns the vintage clothing shop Exactly What around the comer. Waxahachie even has a downtown coffeehouse-the Daily Grind-where fresh-baked pastry and heady brews court local workers and wandering tourists.

Not only can you find a nice espresso, but Waxahachie’s dining scene goes far beyond the typical chicken-fried offerings of most small towns. Large lunchtime crowds gather at the Dove’s Nest to feast on chicken apricot salad and slice after slice of the intensely decadent chocolate bourbon pecan pie. Majid and Denise Shavandy-owners of Fort Worth’s The Pegasus-still run the Crazy Horse Cafe, one of Waxahachie’s finest and most inventive kitchens. But don’t worry, this town still knows how to ladle out the cream gravy in good old country style like the cheap breakfasts at the 1879 Townhouse, where a request for an egg-white omelet is unheard of and red-and-white gingham is the pattern du jour.

Like its dining scene. Waxahachie strikes a soothing blend of historical pride and modern tastes. It’s a celebration of small-town comfort amid Victorian splendor, with little concrete and steel to mar the tranquil picture. The fact that you can still get a nice fat-free latte? Well, that’s just enough urban icing for this city boy’s cake.

-Todd Johnson

How To Get There Take I-35 South to Hwy, 287 (Main Street!. Waxahachie is a 40-minuie drive from Dallas.

Where To Stay The Rosemary Mansion, 903 W. Main St.. 972-935-9439. Rates: $75-$200.

Chaska House Bed & Breakfast. 716 W. Main St., 800-931-3390. Rates: $ 100- $130.

The Bonneynook Inn. 414 W. Main St,, 972-938-7207. Rates: $65-$115.

When; To Eat Daily Grind. 127 W. Main St., 972-923-9695.

Dove’s Nest, 105 W. Jefferson St.. 972-938-3683.

The Crazy Horse Cafe, 103 E. Main St., 972-938-9818.

The 1879 Townhouse. 111 S. College St.. 972-723-9343.

What to Do The Webb Gallery, 209-211 W. Franklin, 972-938-8085 or

Piper’s Apothecary. 213 S. College St., 972-937-0010.

Exactly What. 108 E. Franklin Si? no phone.

November-December: Candlelight Historic Home Tour. 972-937-2390.

IS THERE ANY-thing better to do in Brenham than sit around and watch the ice cream melt? You bet there is. While this quaint little burg nestled in the geographical black hole called “southeast central Texas” (the space between Austin and Houston) is best known as home to the Blue Bell creamery, it’s also the county seat of Washington County-which only happens to be the womb of the erstwhile Republic of Texas.

Whether you come to educate yourself, or simply to vegetate, you’ll want to stay at the Mariposa Ranch Bed and Breakfast, a verdant 100-acre spread about 10 miles outside of town. There are several B&Bs in the area-as there seem to be these days in any wide spot in the road where some heir was smart enough not to raze the house he inherited from Grandma. But here you can choose from a restored 1850s Texas Ranger log cabin with a sleeping loft; a renovated farmhouse (best for families, as it has three bedrooms); an early 19th-century Greek Revival home containing two suites; a cozy honeymoon cottage; or airy rooms in the main manor.

Breakfast is ample and rib-sticking: Fresh fruit and fruit juice, scrambles, hash browns, sausage, and pancakes was one morning’s menu. Between meals and naps, there’s a seemingly endless array of ranch dogs to play with, one of which-a border collie named Queenie-was tirelessly obsessive-compulsive when it came to stick fetching.

You could easily wile away a weekend on the capacious front porch watching the leaves of russet, red, and gold in the fall. But history beckons. A short drive up the Bahia Trail you’ll find the site of the first capitol of Texas, Washington-on-the-Brazos, in a charming stale park of the same name, and further on, other important venues and artifacts from those heady days of Texas’ stint as an independent republic. None of this exactly competes with Ml. Rushmore, but it will give you an opportunity to learn some of the Texas history that the state’s public schools didn’t bother to teach you. Along the way, you’ll be struck by how different the topography and tone of the territory east of 1-35 in central Texas is from its counterpart in the west. When you lire of squinting at historical markers, take almost any back road around here and you’ll encounter precious little settlements like Burton, Gay Hill, and Chappell Hill, where lime stands still and the antique shops are anything but picked over.

All that driving around is bound to work up an appetite, and though only 10,000 or so folks call Brenham home, they seem to eat very well. The plump and spicy spinach ravioli at Volare’s, a little Italian bistro just off the recently gentrified courthouse square downtown, is proof positive that gastronomy knows no bounds. And it was hard to decide which had more sizzle at the K&G Steakhouse, the surprisingly fluffy chicken-fried steak or the kitschy décor, which hadn’t been so much as dusted since 1957.

All of this won’t leave much room for dessert, but you can’t visit Brenham without having at least one dip of Blue Bell ice cream. While you’re at it, you might as well plunk down four bucks a head and take the tour of the creamery itself, where you’ll have a dandy time watching the ice cream freeze.-Jim Atkinson

How To Get There Take I-35 South to Waco. Take Hwy. 77 South, to

Hwy. 290 East. Brenham is a three-and-a-half-hour drive from Dallas.

Where To Stay Mariposa Ranch Bed and Breakfast. 8904 Mariposa Ln..

409-836-4737 or Rates: $90-$250.

Nueces Canyon Bed and Breakfast. 9501 Hwy. 290 West, 800-925-5058. Rates: S79-S125.

Ingleside Bed & Breakfast. 409 E. Main St.. 888-643-7707 or Rates: $85-$120.

Where To Eat K& G Steakhouse, 2209 S. Market Si., 979-836-7950. Volare’s, 205 S. Baylor St.. 979-836-1514.

What To Do Blue Bell Creameries, two miles south of downtown on Loop Farm Road 577, 800-327-8135.

November: Fail Festival of Roses. 409-836-5548.


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