The Old Farmer’s Almanac forecasts a wetter and slightly cooler (emphasis on “slightly”) summer in North Texas. If that’s true, the highways and byways leading out of the Fort look even more enticing for weekend getaways and daytrips: Less a.c. and open windows in the cruiser mean less gas used and fewer of those cartoon heat waves shimmering off the roads. So what restaurants, museums, parks, and sight-sees within driving distance will we enjoy in the cooler climes?
Golden Olden Times
The Billy the Kid Museum (114 N Pecan St, Hico, 254-796-2523), located about 90 miles southwest of downtown Fort Worth in Hico, features an exhibit of artifacts and a gift shop dedicated to one of the meanest Old West punks to ever shoot anyone in the back. (Hico claims to have the burial site for Billy the Kid, though there is some dispute.) Museum operators claim to receive visitors from Australia, Japan, and Brazil. Hico also boasts antique shops, candy stores, and many historic sites. Fans of small-town Texas history should visit the Coleman Museum at Heritage Hall (400 W College Av, Coleman Ave, Coleman, 325-625-2000) with early 20th-century cameras, medical and pharmaceutical equipment, a military collection, and more than 4,000 Native American arrowheads from the architecture-rich city of Coleman, located more than two hours southwest of the Fort. While you think you know Waco, you haven’t recently stopped by the kitschy, thirst-quenching Dr Pepper Museum (300 S 5th St, Waco, 254-757-1025) or the Texas Rangers Hall of Fame and Museum (100 Texas Ranger Tr, Waco, 254-750-8631), the latter the official site dedicated to the legendary law enforcement agency, not the baseball team.
Lady Bird’s Picks
Despite the propensity for wilting temps in Lone Star summertimes, there are still plenty of carefully cultivated floral vistas for folks who want to get back to nature. The East Texas Arboretum (1601 Patterson Rd, Athens, 903-675-5630) features over a hundred acres of native blossoms, trees, grasses, shade-protected hiking trails and spring-fed streams where the fauna — deer, frogs, and bugs galore — like to romp. The Tyler Rose Garden (420 Rose Park Dr, Tyler, 903-531-1212) is a public 14-acre park that has open trails, trees, fountains, and wildflowers even when it’s technically too hot for the world-famous 38,000 Tyler rose bushes to hit full bloom. (There is always some bloomage, even between the peak times of mid-April and mid-October). The Clark Gardens (567 Maddox Rd, Weatherford, 940-682-4856) has its open season (with $5-$9 admission) thru Jul 4 –– Jul 5-29, you must set up an appointment to tour the grounds. Wildflowers, native grasses, waterfalls, and ponds are home to swans, egrets, waterfowl, snakes, frogs, and exotic insects. (No open-toed shoes, please!) There are special events with model train exhibits and expert-guided garden tours.
Parks and Recreation
If you haven’t gotten the message yet: Kids love dinosaurs. Take your little monsters to the perennially awesome Dinosaur Valley State Park (1629 Park Rd 59, Glen Rose, 254-897-4588). In addition to fishing, camping, and guided wagon tours, visitors can follow the 110 million-year-old foot paths of the big-ass Acrocanthosaurus, the enormous “high-spined lizard” that used to eat other dinosaurs for breakfast. Literally. For a trip to the (grassy) beach that’s much closer to home, pack up the car and take the fam on a quick ride to Loyd Park (3401 Ragland Rd, Grand Prairie). Along with the lakeside beach areas, the website promises “more Texas tranquility than you can handle!” (sounds ominous) as you settle into its spacious camping grounds for tents, RVs, and cabins (with WiFi and satellite TV –– they’re not savages here). If mountain biking is more your jam, Cleburne State Park (5800 Park Rd 21, Cleburne) boasts six miles of bike trails over and around rocky hills with the 116-acre spring-fed Cedar Lake, which is suitable for fishing and swimming. Lake Mineral Wells State Park and Trailway (100 Park Rd 71, Mineral Wells, 940-328-1171): Hiking, hiking, hiking is the mantra here — on the 12.8-mile park trails to the 20-mile Trailway with flat grades and gentle curves — but there’s also swimming, rock climbing, camping, and horseback-riding, though the place is strictly BYOH (bring your own horse).
Sweet and Savory
No matter the temps or the time of year, one daytrip activity is always in season — eating. Stop passing through the immigrant-founded town of West on your way to Austin and head directly there for some Euro-gnoshing at The Czech Stop (I-35 at Exit 353, West, 254-826-5316), the atmospheric “little Czech bakery” with more than 60 different menu items, including kolaches, pepperoni and ham ’n’ cheese puffs, “hot chubbies,” lemon bars, sand tarts, apple streusel, and hummingbird cakes. The Ennis Farmers Market (104 N McKinney St, Historic Downtown Ennis, 972-878-4748) is open 8am-noon every Saturday through October and features an open-air orgy of straight-from-the-truck blueberries, melons, peaches, eggplant, garlic, green beans, okra, and tomatoes as well as many pickled items, fresh eggs, baked goods, cooked meats, wine, and beer. Activities for children and families are also available. Take a long leisurely drive down Hwy 281 from the Fort through the scenic Hill Country to Fredericksburg and hit the trough. You can tour different wineries, have lunch at a variety of Eastern European or German restaurants, do some antique shopping, do some more wineries, and then enjoy another European meal or an old-fashioned U.S. of A. entrée at Sunset Grill, Vaudeville, or Alamo Springs General Store and Café.