Free (or Cheap) Fun in Parker, Texas

How to spend a day in the best Dallas suburb — without entering Southfork.

There is no J.R. or Sue Ellen among the alpaca at Jacob's Reward in Parker. Instead you'll find the likes of Mordecai and Gizmo. photo courtesy of Jacob's Reward
The best suburbs of Dallas are clearly great places to live, but should you want to visit them? D Magazine online editorial intern Ryan Jones was dispatched to make a day of it in each of our top-ranked cities.The challenge: he’s got only $5 at his disposal. First up: Parker, No. 1 in our 2010 ratings.

When I was tasked to find a way to spend a day in Parker, visions of J.R. Ewing pull-string dolls and tiny toy Lincoln Continentals danced in my head. All I knew about this tiny town was Southfork Ranch: a shrine to TV’s DallasOn the surface, ­Parker is just about what you’d expect. Crop fields and cattle pastures dot the roadsides, and while there are some typically suburban neighborhoods, most of the place is unabated countryside.

So I stopped by Southfork, which fictitiously served as the home of a fictitious family of oil barons during Dallas’ 13-year run. And I came away a bit disappointed. I didn’t see much because I wouldn’t (couldn’t) pay the $9.50 tour fee, but the house seemed small compared to the grandeur espoused by real-life oil tycoons like Jerry Jones and T. Boone Pickens. Maybe you have to love the show to appreciate it. Either way, I cut out on Southfork quickly, determined to find something — anything — off the beaten path. And then I met Cindy Telisak.

Telisak runs Jacob’s Reward, a small sheep and alpaca farm off a little dirt road. Equipped with a theater degree and experience as a copywriter, childbirth educator, and morning DJ, Telisak made the unlikely jump into farming when her family bought a Parker plot six years ago.

“This farm just sort of evolved,” Telisak says. “I just knew that I wanted to live on land, and I wanted to have animals.”

Jacob’s Reward has six alpaca and more than a dozen sheep, most of which are named for biblical figures like Ezra, Isaiah, Boaz, and Mordecai. The two exceptions — a pair of alpaca named Moonstruck and Gizmo — sound more like Frank Zappa progeny. The animals are sheared once a year, and their wool can be spun into yarn to make goods like shawls, scarves, and sweaters, while some is distributed to the farm’s CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) shareholders.

But Telisak doesn’t limit herself to woolly creatures alone. Free-range chickens cluck and peck around her land, laying white, brown, and even green eggs that she sells straight from the farm. There’s also a barn cat named Smokey, and a dog, Jonah, who does his best to scare off coyotes.

Visitors are welcome to drop in for tours on Friday afternoons and Saturday mornings, by appointment, and Telisak teaches classes on subjects like knitting and spinning Monday nights and Tuesday mornings. She’s also starting a weeklong day camp for kids this summer, and she has ablog that keeps friends of the farm updated on the latest news.

If getting your hands dirty doesn’t appeal to you, Khatter Vineyards has you covered. Owned by Jay and Carolyn Khatter, the winery is hidden off a bend of Brookwood Drive, its presence noted only by a generic blue road sign and, occasionally, a few other markers Carolyn puts out when the vineyard is open. A paved stone path to the left of the family home leads visitors through a wrought-iron archway and into the vineyard. There about 200 vines grow cabernet grapes.

No, it's not exactly Napa Valley. But Khatter Vineyards does make its guests feel welcome. photo by Ryan Jones

The Khatters first started cultivating grapes nearly a decade ago, when Jay abandoned his vegetable gardens in favor of something sweeter. The grounds have a patio where live music is sometimes hosted, the quaint Peacock Room for wine tastings, and a small winery where grape juice ferments and is eventually transferred into barrels to age, usually for about two years. Khatter Vineyards is open to the public on Saturdays and occasionally Sundays from noon to 6 pm, and tastings are free.

You’d be hard-pressed to find a furry farm animal or a flourishing grapevine while wandering through downtown Dallas, but Parker provides exactly the type of small-town charm you’d expect without veering too far from the city. Best of all? I made it through the day without buying a single soap opera souvenir.