Jun 26

Chase Lake Falls – Cottonwood Falls, Kansas

Chase Lake Falls
Chase Lake Falls is a scenic spillway waterfall located near Cottonwood Falls, Kansas.  Like many waterfalls in the state they are man-made from reservoirs.  Meaning that their beauty and water flow is determined by the amount of water in the lake they flow from.
Start of the Trail
On our particular visit to Chase Lake Falls the water was flowing at a trickle.  So, we were not privy to the full beauty of the waterfall.  However, Chase State Fishing Lake is scenic and we were in the area to see the Tallgrass Prairie Nature Preserve.  All-in-all a pretty good day of sightseeing.
Chase Lake Waterfall
Chase Lake Falls is located just few miles West of Cottonwood Falls off of Lake Road.  Once at the park find a place to pullover near the earthen dam.  It is located at the beginning of the Chase State Fishing Lake area.  Walk across the dam and turn left and there you will see the short trail that will take you to Chase Lake Falls.  The trail is well worn and easy to see and follow.
Chase Lake Falls Trail
The waterfall itself has three main parts and several little drops further along the creek.  Upper Falls area is about a 10-foot drop.  The Middle is the most scenic especially when it is really flowing with 25 to 30- foot drop and the Lower Falls that is wider then it is tall.  Over the course of the creek it probably drops about 100 feet.  While we were not at the most scenic time it was still worth a visit if the falls are flowing.  An earlier spring trip or a visit following heavy rains would have produced better results.

To see our reviews of other Kansas Attractions, click here
Chase State Fishing Lake
Chase Lake Falls
Located at 1130 Lake Road Cottonwood Falls, KS
Hours of Operation 24/7
Cost as of this Posting: Free
For more information about Chase Lake Falls visit the state website at http://www.kansastravel.org/chaselakefalls.htm

Jun 24

Tallgrass Prairie Natural Preserve: Kansas  

tallgrass prairie
Set in the rolling Flint Hills of Kansas is the tallgrass prairie last hope.  Once covering 170 million acres of North American land the tallgrass prairie is down to less than 4%.  The Tallgrass Prairie Nature Preserve protects 11,000 acres of that once vast sea of grass.  It gives its visitors a chance to walk though and imagine what the land used to be.
Visitor center
The idea for conserving the prairie has been around for a long time  D.W. Wilder the editor of the Hiawatha World said, “Whenever you stop on the prairie to lunch or camp, and gaze around,
there is a picture such as poet or painter never succeeded in transferring to book or canvas…
[We] ought to have saved a ….Park in Kansas, ten thousand acres broad – the prairie as it came from the hand of God, not a foot or an inch desecrated by ‘improvements’ or ‘cultivation.’  It is only a memory now.”
That was in 1884.  Those 10,000 acres were finally created and set aside when a National Park Trust was able to buy the Spring Hill/Z Bar Ranch.  The sale take place in 1994.  By 2005 the National Park Trust completed its mission and the tallgrass once again has a home on the range.
checking it out
Our particular visit was a quick visit.  I have wanted to go to the Tallgrass Prairie Nature Preserve for some time now always passing it on our way to my parents’ house. Having a little extra time on this particular trip we decided to get off the interstate and check it out.  We found out there was a lot more to do there than we imagined.
manison home
While we had no time to hike the national site has over 40 miles of trails.  It also has catch and release fishing as well as a resident herd of bison and other prairie wildlife.  If you go in early March you might see the highly entertaining mating dance of the endangered Prairie Chicken.  Furthermore, on the 1st and 3rd weekends of each month from Memorial Day through October they have living history weekends.  Where they have historic cooking, music programs, and showoff a variety of homesteading and ranching skills.
learning zone
We mainly stuck to their very nice visitor center and the 1880s historic home.  The visitor center had a variety of activities and things to look at for my young girls. There is a short orientation video as well as some educational displays explaining just what is a Tallgrass Prairie and what animals make its home there.  My eldest, who just turned five, loves touch tables.  So very excited when they had one.  My wife’s favorite part was the 1880s historic home.  The 1880s limestone mansion is a self-guided tour that is a must see when visiting the park.  The grounds and historic building are gorgeous and what you would expect of a wealth ranch in the 1880s.  Complete with one of the largest barns I have ever seen.
home on the range
Our time there was like a good scouting mission learning about the things we would like to do during our next visit.  A visit during a cooler month would be great so I could get out and hike some of their trails.  While the girls want to go back during the spring and see some of the wildlife in action.  This was just our first visit to the Tallgrass Prairie Natural Preserve and as long as I have kin in Kansas it probably will not be our last.

To see our reviews of other Kansas Attractions, click here

Tallgrass Prairie Natural Preserve
Located at 2840 KS highway 117, Strong, KS
Hours of Operation: The trails are open 24/7 while the visitor center is 9 to 4:30 opening a half and hour earlier during the summer months
Cost as of this Posting: Free
For more information visit their website at https://www.nps.gov/tapr/index.htm

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

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