Jun 23

Austin Zoo – Texas

Bear enclosure
Austin Zoo is not your typical zoo and would be more suitably called a sanctuary.  It takes in unwanted exotic animals and gives them a place to live.  We have been to other animal sanctuaries and support them in what they do.  However, when I tell my 5-year-old we are going to a zoo she expects a certain type of visit. Unfortunately, I did not know enough about the Austin Zoo to fully explain to my family what we were about to see on our visit.
Feeding the AnimalsYou might be wondering what is the difference between an animal sanctuary and a zoo.  Well in my experience a zoo especially the more modern up to date ones try to have natural enclosures. Try to provide bar-less viewing of their animals.     Of course, they are more able to do this through a variety of public and private funding.  An animal sanctuary tends to take in unwanted exotic animals and take care of them the best they can.  Most are just privately funded and have old fashioned chain link and bar enclosures.
Shell to shell
Animal sanctuaries fulfill a real need due to peoples selfishness.  A tiger cub is real cute until it becomes too expensive, dangerous, or too large to keep.   Then many times that leads to abusive conditions for the animal so a place like the Austin Zoo becomes the animals last chance at refuge.  I applaud the work that they do.  I just wish they would call themselves something different, to me they are not a zoo.
Little Monkey
Overall, our visit started out a little disappointing, but once figuring out what the Austin Zoo is all about we enjoyed our trip.  My wife and I more than our little girls.  Mainly because we understood the mission behind the place.  It is now home to 300 animals from 100 different species.  Many retired from other facilities due to age, health or other issues, unwanted exotic pets, and retired lab animals. Here they get a chance at some quality care and a better life. Like I said the people running the Austin Zoo are doing good work.
Austin Zoo
At the time of our visit the Austin Zoo was comprised of 15 acres with 34 main enclosures. Among its collection is a variety of small primates, birds, and reptiles.  As well as big exotic animals like lions, tigers, and bears.  My children’s favorite zone was their farm area where they had the opportunity to feed a variety of animals.  The zoo has additional 40 acres of space with the plans to keep growing.
Little Ducky
Keep in mind the mission behind the Austin Zoo when visiting.  State of the art million dollar enclosures and not going to be found at this zoo.  What will be seen is a second chance at life for some animals, many of whom did not have much of one to begin with.

To see our reviews of other Texas attractions, click here

Austin Zoo
Located at 10807 Rawhide Trl, Austin, Texas
Hours of Operation Daily 9:30 to 6:00 closes 30 minutes earlier during Nov, Dec, and Jan
Cost as of this Posting Adults 13 to 59 $11, Seniors 60 and over $10 and Children 2 to 12 $8
For more information visit their website at http://austinzoo.org/

Jun 22

Gorman Falls: Texas

Gorman Falls
Gorman Falls is one of the pretty features of the Texas Hill Country.  Located in the middle of nowhere Central Texas this one is a bit out of the way.  About two hours northwest of Austin Colorado Bend State Park was a bit of a pain to get to but seeing Gorman Falls made up for it.
Trailhead
We were driving through the area heading west to east going to Austin and decided to make the effort to see one of area’s best waterfalls.  The entrance to Colorado Bend State Park is off FM 480 in Bend, Texas.  Besides being home to Gorman Falls it is also a place to enjoy water activities and has 35 miles of hiking and biking trails.  We were limited on our time and only made plans to see Gorman Falls.
Trail
The trail to waterfall is a little under 3 miles roundtrip.  A rough dirt trail that is mostly exposed to the sun.  Wear sunscreen. If during the summer months I highly recommend hiking in the morning and bring plenty of water.  The trail can get very muddy if hiking after it has been raining.  If so be prepared.  I was not and the light-colored pants (only thing that I had to wear) will never be the same.
Rocky Terrain
Overall the trail runs pretty smooth until the last 100 yards or so.  At this point it gets a bit tricky and the easy hike moves into the moderate difficult zone.  It becomes a bit steep with some metal hand rails to help with the descent.  Now if the trail was muddy take it a bit easy because mud and an inclined rock do not play nice together.
Colorado bend state park sign
Once making it down to the falls there is a small platform with a bench to sit and rest and enjoy the view of Gorman Falls.  The waterfall is spring fed and has created a starkly different ecosystem from the hike above.  Whereas the hike was mostly barren with some sage brush and stunted trees here and there.  The Gorman falls area is a moss and fern draped paradise.   Amazing what a little water can do.

To see our reviews of other waterfalls, click here

Gorman Falls
2.6 mile trail that is an easy to moderate hike.
Located at Colorado Bend State Park in Bend, Texas
Cost as of this Posting: $5 per 13 and over 12 and under are free
For more information visit their website at http://tpwd.texas.gov/state-parks/colorado-bend

May 30

Twin Falls – Texas

Trailhead of Twin Falls
Obviously, the main attraction to Perdernales Falls State Park is Perdernales Falls.  If it wasn’t then the state park would be grossly miss named.  But do not overlook the short hike to Twin Falls.  It is a small waterfall.  Though it has its merits.  One being waterfalls are few and far between in the Plains.  It is a short hike just under a mile roundtrip.  Also, the Twin Falls Nature Trail will provide lush green environment to walk through.  Twin Falls is spring fed so runs pretty much year-round helping to keep the area much greener then the rest of the park.
Trail to Twin Falls
Twin Falls trailhead is located at their campground. There is a small parking lot near the start of the trailhead that a person could park at if the state park is not busy.  There is also parking at the entrance to camping area for day use visitors.  I think the hike from the parking lot to the trailhead might actually be longer than the hike itself.  Once on the trail the hike is pretty straight forward.  Follow the marked trail and before you know it you will be at the overlook.  Now the view from the overlook was ok.  A view from the base would be better but there were plenty of signs up asking people to stay on the trail. I stayed to the marked area. but I could see there was a steep but worn path down to the base of the falls.  Hopefully someday, the park will be able to make the path down an official trail.
Twin Falls at Perdanelles State Park
While most of your time at the state park should be used hiking the other trails, escaping the Texas heat with a quick swim or exploring the Perdenales Falls area.  Twin Falls is worth the quick walk over to see it.  If nothing else the trail showcases a different type of ecosystem that can be find in the park.

To see our reviews of other Texas attractions, click here

Twin Falls at Pedernales Falls State Park
Located at 2585 Park Rd 6026 Johnson City
Hours of Operation: 8:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. 7 days a week
Cost as of this Posting 13 and over $6
For more information visit the Pedernales Falls State Park website at http://tpwd.texas.gov/state-parks/pedernales-falls

May 29

River Bend Nature Center – Wichita Falls, Texas

River Bend Nature Center
We are always looking for interesting and educational experiences for our girls. My wife and I feel that if we can make learning fun while they are young maybe they will enjoy it when they are older.  So, nature centers, zoos, interactive museums are all on the top of our list when it comes to outings with the girls. Main thing is for them to have fun.  Which our girls did at the River Bend Nature Center.
Activities
The River Bend Nature Center is basically three attraction areas in one place.  Their learning center is filled with a variety of tanks that house amphibians, reptiles, and insects.  Depending on what time of year this might be the best spot in the whole place.  A butterfly house and Texas habitat conservatory which during our visit was just starting to come to life.  What ended up being our favorite part of the River Bend Nature Center was their walking trail behind the place.
Prairie Dog
The Bryant Edwards Learning Center at the River Bend Nature Center was a real hit for my girls.  First off, they do a great job with having lots of activities for kids to do.  Each table in the center had a different project to work on.  A variety of coloring books, crafts to make, as well as touch tables and minerals to look at.  Along the wall, they have a variety of animals to see.  The staff was incredible you could tell they really cared about the place, the animals, and trying to give their visitors the best experience they could.
Monarch
The area that I thought was going to be the most impressive was their 7,000-sq. ft. conservatory.  Now we were there in early spring and I am sure by summer when everything is green and luscious it would have more of a wow factor than it did during our visit. Overall, the place has a pretty neat setup.  Showcasing the native flora of Texas with over 100 native plants on display. We were just there at the wrong time of the year to see it.  Along with the plants they do have a few animals on display including several Bob White Quail running around.  There was also an indoor pond with native fish and turtles to look at.
Nature Trail
At the back of the conservatory they have a butterfly enclosure called Peyton’s Place.  It is a nice little butterfly room with a variety of the winged wonders on display.  If money was no object, Karen and I have often talked about opening up our own butterfly house/nature center in our city.  There is nothing remotely close to it in our metropolitan area.  Until Karen and I strike it rich we will just keep visiting places like River Bend Nature Center.
touch table
Now what came as a complete surprise to us was their “backyard” nature trail.  Located behind the conservatory was 17 acres of forest and wetlands. I took my two little girls for some daddy/daughter time and we hit the trail.  The plants had not quite blossomed yet but nevertheless we had a good time.  Saw more wildlife than we expected.  A nice variety of birds overhead as well as a deer that we crossed paths with twice.
Sisters
Overall, we had a good time at the River Bend Nature Center.  I am sure in the late spring and summer months there is a bit more to see.  Though the native plants had not quite got their act together during our visit there was still plenty of other things to see and do.

To see our over reviews of Texas attractions, click here

River Bend Nature Center
Located at 2200 3rd St. Wichita Falls, Texas
Hours of Operation: Monday to Friday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Sunday 12 to 4 p.m. closed Easter, July 4th, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day
Cost as of this Posting: 2 to 61 $5.00 62 and over $4.00
For more information visit their website http://riverbendnaturecenter.org/

May 25

Storybook Capitol of Texas – Abilene

Jack Frost
My eldest loves to read.  She always has.  Hope she always will.  So, when we were in Abilene, Texas.  We had to stop by and see the character sculptures. Walking around the park and several of the downtown streets to see them ended up being a real treat for her.  Though a few of the storybook characters I had no idea who they were.  On the bright side gives us something to look for in our next trip to the library.
Green Eggs and Ham
One might ask how in the world did Abilene become the Storybook Capitol of Texas.  Well the city came up with the idea to showcase children’s literature by building a museum.  After the National Center for Children’s Illustrated Literature was created the city’s next step was to build a series of sculptures of some of the most beloved characters in children’s literature.  Abilene is now up to 24 and still adding more. All-in-all it made for a nice little walk in their downtown area.
Dino and Car
From my kid’s perspective, she really enjoyed seeing the characters up-close.   She had a blast being around them, striking poses, and modeling for the camera.  M would run up to the ones she knew and became inquisitive about the ones she didn’t.  From a dad’s perspective, it was a lot of fun having a little daddy/daughter time touring the area.  It was great to see her love for reading.
Bunny Guardian
I thought the storybook character sculptures were all well done.  Some of the selections were interesting.  Not for sure if there is some sort of licensing agreement on why some are picked over others. Though we had no idea who some of them were just seeing the artistic work of the sculptures still made them enjoyable to see.
Storybook Capitol of Texas
Unfortunately, Abilene was a stopover for us.  By the time, we arrived the storybook museum was closed so I could not tell you if that would be a good stop or not.  The statues were well worth seeing especially the park area with several Dr. Seuss characters.  It was nice stop, got us out of the car which when driving with a 4 and a 2-year-old is what helps make for much more enjoyable trip.

For our reviews of other Texas attractions, click here
Horton and M
Storybook Capitol of Texas
Located at 1101 N. 1st St., Abilene
For more information about the Storybook Capitol of Texas see their adventure guide by click on the link
https://www.abilenevisitors.com/media/uploads/files/Storybook%20Sculpture%20Guide%20for%20Internet.pdf

May 24

Pedernales Falls – Texas

Pedernales
Not 100% sure that Pedernales Falls qualifies as a waterfall.  Since I am no expert and the Plains are lacking in the waterfall department.  Might as well be like the majority of things out there today and just go with it and sort out the truth after.
Pedernales Falls
Pedernales Falls is basically the lowering of the Pedernales River. the amount of water flow will determine just what the waterfall looks like.  Pedernales Falls is in Texas Hill Country which means the area is subject to flash flooding.  So, when exploring the falls be aware of your surroundings.  Especially if walking out onto the river bed.   The whole area makes for a very scenic backdrop for some portrait shots.
Slick Rock
Pedernales Falls State Park lies 45 miles east of Austin Texas.  Needless to say, it is a popular state park.  The falls are easy to get to and the trail out to the falls is well marked.  The tricky part is out on the slick river rock.  A little water here some smooth rock there adds up to an injured bottom.  So definitely tread lightly when exploring the river area

For our reviews of other Texas attractions, click here
Pedernales River
Pedernales Falls State Park
Located at 2585 Park Rd 6026 Johnson City
Hours of Operation: 8:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. 7 days a week
Cost as of this Posting 13 and over $6
For more information visit the Pedernales Falls State Park website at http://tpwd.texas.gov/state-parks/pedernales-falls

May 22

Texas Military Forces Museum – Austin

Armor Row
The Texas Military Forces Museum is a hidden gem.  Free! Can’t beat that.  So off to a good start there.  However, the number of artifacts, military vehicles, and dioramas was incredible.  The Texas Military Forces Museum made this history buff extremely happy.
Texas Military Museum
Located at Camp Mabry an active military base. Meaning that upon entering we had to stop off at the check-in gate.  Here my wife and I had to show a photo-I.D. before we could proceed further.  Simple travel tip have your ID at the ready.  After a few days of road tripping my front seat area was littered with toys, kids snack wrappers, and various miscellaneous things.  Why when I got in the car that morning I sat my wallet down in that mess.  When it became time to show the I.D. it took a few minutes to rummage through the mess.  Luckily there was nobody else in line and the guard was extremely nice about the whole ordeal.
rommel's hat
The Texas Military Forces Museum is deceptively impressive in both size and scope.  Situated in the old mess hall.  This military museum from the outside does not look like much.  However, it has 45,000 square feet of exhibit space as well as an outside row of tanks, artillery pieces, and planes.  What we thought would be a quick one hour visit ended up being one of the more informative and enjoyable parts of our vacation.
Texas Miliary History
Tons of history on display.  Starting with the formation of the state’s first militia force in 1823 to what the Texas Army and Air National Guard are doing in the war on Terrorism.  This place covers it all.  Besides the incredible displays the staff and volunteers at the Texas Military Forces Museum were extremely knowledgable and friendly.  They treated my two little girls so nice.  Encouraging them to try on the military uniforms and feel the weight of the helmets.  They even have some activities for children to do while touring the museum.  Helps keep them entertained and informed as they go.   It was nice to go to a place where the people that work there seem to genuinely care about it.
Alamo Diorama
We were impressed by several things during our visit to the Texas Military Forces Museum.  Some of our favorite highlights were their dioramas of key battles in Texas military history.  The little set pieces were so detailed it was amazing.  Their timeline telling the story of Texas Military Forces was really interesting to look at.  It was like seeing a military history book come alive.  A great field trip destination.  I liked seeing some very historical artifacts.  A piece of the Berlin Wall, Gen. Erwin Rommel hat, rubble from the 9/11 attack on the pentagon.  As a history teacher those things really made it an interesting trip for me. Of course, it would not be a great military museum without the vehicles, tanks, planes, and various other war machines.  Those things they had in spades so if you are in to that this place has you covered.
Texas Military Forces Museum
We are always on the lookout for free attractions to visit.  Free attractions are like my girls favorite new treat, blind bags, you never know what you are going to get.  The Texas Military Forces Museum was an incredible free attraction.  Really worth our time which is our most precious commodity.

To see our reviews of other Texas attractions, click here
Family at Texas Military Forces Museum
Texas Military Forces Museum
Located at 2200 W 35th St. Building 6 Camp Mabry, Austin
Hours of Operation: Tuesday through Sunday 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Cost as of this Posting: Free
For more information visit their website at http://texasmilitaryforcesmuseum.org/

May 15

Jacob’s Dream – Abilene, Texas

House of God
Impressive is probably the best way to sum up Jacob’s Dream.  The 40-foot tall bronze sculpture of the biblical account of Jacob’s Dream of a stairway to heaven.  Located on one of the nicest college campuses I have ever seen.  Abilene Christian University looks brand new even though the Jacob’s Dream statue was dedicated at the university centennial birthday celebration in 2006.  I had never heard of Abilene Christian University before.  From just driving around the campus I left awe-struck
Jacob's Dream M
It is a powerful work of art.  Jacob’s Dream was created by art and design professor Jack Maxwell.  Over the last 10 years the bronze statue has been used for baptisms, weddings, a site for devotional gatherings as well as just a good photo op.
Jacob's Dream
A larger than life sculpture whose message is fully reveled after viewing from multiple angles.  Well worth a stop if you ever find yourself in Abilene, Texas.

To see our reviews of other Texas attractions, click here
Family at Jacobs Dream
Jacob’s Dream Sculpture
Located at Acu Dr. Abilene, Texas
Hours of Operation 24-hours a day
Cost as of this posting: Free
For more information you can read this article http://www.acu.edu/news/jacob-s-dream-celebrates-10th-anniversary.html

May 10

Abilene Zoo – Texas

Ladybug
Big or small it does not matter we like to go to zoos.  It has become our vacation ritual.  We had never been to the Abilene Zoo before and finding ourselves in the area decided to go.  Zoo trips with our kids does not get much better.  Our 4-year-old loves animals and has a head full of facts.  Our youngest wants to do whatever the oldest does so it usually makes for a pretty good outing.
Wetlands
The Abilene Zoo is a small zoo at just 13 aces.  Pretty much the ideal size for us when we are on vacation.  Does not take a whole day to visit.  We get up early anyway so we can be there when it opens.  Kids get up moving around and start the day off well before we need to hit the road again.  Even though it was small there were still plenty of animals to see.  The Abilene Zoo has over 1,000 animals from 250 species including several big attraction animals like rhinos, giraffes, and lions.
reptile house
We visited in March on chilly morning and not all the animals were on display.  For the most part that was to be expected.  Not that big of a loss for us because with a local zoo membership we get a pretty nice discount at most zoos we see.  The main thing is letting my girls experience seeing animals, learning from the informational signs, having a good time.  They are little so attractions do not have to have that wow factor yet.  Trying to keep the bored syndrome at bay for as long as possible.  As for my wife and I we like to have the “if we ran a zoo” discussion about the size and types of exhibits.  While we still enjoy seeing the animals it is becoming more interesting to see who does what with the space and money they have.  Almost every zoo we have ever visited has at least something that stands out and something that leaves us pondering on what they were thinking.  The Abilene Zoo was not the exception to that line of thought.
Caribbean Cove
A few areas of the Abilene Zoo that stood out to us were their Wetlands of the Americas area.  Nice collection of birds as well as a large 13-foot alligator.  Nice collection of reptiles in their reptile house.  Their North American area also had a nice variety of animals in relatively natural enclosures.   Our kids favorite area was the Caribbean Cove and their sand box area where they had a good time playing in the sand.
Frog
Now their best area is their large giraffe enclosure where you get a chance to feed giraffes.  This was also the most disappointing area for us.  Our girls have fed giraffes a few times so we don’t always pay the extra money for that experience.  However, like anybody that visits a zoo we like to get the best view of the animals that we can.  That is what we paid the zoo entrance fee for.  Unfortunately, when we went to the railing to get an unobstructed view of the giraffes we were sternly asked to back away.  The reasoning that the giraffes would be teased that we did not have food for them.  We were not pretending we had food.  Did not have our hands out.  Nor were there any signs up that said we could not be there or anything.  I know zoo operation costs are astronomical, but come on don’t take away the best views just to make few extra dollars.  There are many other ways to help with costs.  So we left that area with a bitter taste.
Giraffe Yard
Overall, the Abilene Zoo was a nice small town zoo.  They had enough variety of animals to make it interesting.  Great for little kids.  No wow exhibits but young children do not need that to have a good time.  We will probably never find ourselves back in that part of Texas so I’m glad that we saw it when had the chance.

To see our reviews of other Texas attractions, click here
M at the zoo
Abilene Zoo
Located At 2070 Zoo Ln, Abilene Texas
Hours of Operation 9 to 5 daily with extended hours Thursdays during the Summer
Cost as of this Posting Adults 13 to 59 $7 Seniors 60 and over $6 and children 3 to 12 $4.50
For more information visit their website at http://abilenezoo.org/

May 09

 Fort Phantom Hill – Abilene, Texas

Fort Phantom
Lines of chimney stacks is what greeted us as we took in some Texas state history at Fort Phantom Hill.  There was something ghostly about the ruins there.  A sort of uneasy feeling about walking around the grounds of the abandoned fort.  I imagine the soldiers stationed there had a similar feeling.  Kind of out in the middle of nowhere Texas in dry brush country hoping for a good water source which apparently, the soldiers of that time period did not have.  Rough life but somebody had to do it.
Abandoned Fort
Never officially named, probably was not the best of signs, but known as the “Post on the Clear Fork of the Brazos.”  Fort Phantom Hill was first established in 1851 as Texas seek to protect its settlers moving west.  Unfortunately, a water source was hard to establish and the army abandoned it in 1854.  So after it burned to the ground.  Leaving a dozen or so chimneys, stone powder magazine, a stone guardhouse, and an almost-intact commissary.  Some of the buildings were restored in 1858 to be a stage stop for the Butterfield Stage Company.  Once again it became a base of operations during the Civil War, but by the 1870s it days were numbered and eventually dried up when the railroad bypassed the area for Abilene.
Path at the Fort
The ruins of Fort Phantom Hill were in much better shape than I thought.  It offered interesting photo opportunities.  At the entrance to the fort there is an informational stand with an original map of the fort.  Makes it easier to visualize what it was like.  There is short marked trail that weaves throughout the ruins.  The trail is a gravely path but remember this is rattlesnake country so be careful when walking around the stone ruins.  Another visitor gave us a warning about seeing a snake however we did not see any during our time there.
Fort Phantom Abilene
To help make more sense of stop to old ruins I highly suggest taking you time to read the informational map and brochures.  It will give a fuller understanding of the fort and history.  Now I would say that Fort Phantom Hill is an interesting stop if you find yourself near Abilene, Texas.  However, it would not really be worth going out of your way to see.   Unless you have a hankering for the supernatural.  Legend has it that area is haunted.  Now we did not see any apparitions.  Though the ruins of an old fort coupled with an old farming community, Native American land, and just the amount of history in place like that. A person would have a pretty good storyline to an old-fashioned horror movie.

For our reviews of other Texas attractions, click here
Post of the clear fork of the Brazos
Fort Phantom Hill
Located at 10818 FM 600 Abilene, TX
Hours Of Operation: Dawn to Dusk 7 days a week 365
Cost as of this Posting: Free
For more information visit their website at http://fortphantom.org/

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