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Dinosaur Valley State Park

Glen Rose, TX

One day, a long time ago, a family of plant-eating longnecks was walking along the muddy water’s edge grazing on yummy plants and ferns. Unbeknownst to them, a herd of hungry meat-eaters was hot on their trail. Let’s just say the day ended quite poorly for the plant-eaters.

What we are left with today at Dinosaur Valley State Park is the fossilized footprint evidence of this journey and the encounter. The round, elephant-like footprints were the plant-eaters and the three-toed prints were the meat-eaters. Over 100 million years ago, many types of animals lived in this shallow Mesozoic sea area. Tidal pools and coastal swamps covered what is now the state of Texas. Today, these lower Cretaceous rocks are where we find the Paluxy River and its shoreline containing hundreds of dinosaur prints.

One area within the park contains so many preserved footprints that it is named “The Ballroom” due to hundreds of tracks moving in all directions – as if they were all dancing (or trying to keep from being eaten!). Some of the prints are on the dry limestone creek beds, some are in shallow water, and some have (unfortunately) eroded over time. The park provides detailed maps showing all the track sites.

When I stood looking at some of these well-preserved footprints, I could barely wrap my head around seeing something from 105 million years ago. How is that even possible? It was the highlight of my trip, for sure.

Besides seeing the dinosaur prints in the park, my husband and I did quite a bit of hiking with our yorkie “trail dog.” There are over 20 miles of hiking trails running all through the park and the beautiful Paluxy River Valley. Trails lead into and along the river, up over limestone ridges, through shady cedar brakes, and beside grassy prairie lands. I really enjoyed our walks alongside the clear, shallow river spotting unusual rocks, dinosaur tracks, crawfish, and fish. We also saw lots of lizards, animal tracks, and beautiful wildflowers along the grassy and wooded trails.

A few of the trailheads start near the popular and more crowded attractions within the park. The Blue Hole (definitely green) looked like a family-friendly swimming area, as there were quite a few people there. The Main Track Site had the most visitors with ample parking and easy access to prints on dry land for close-up viewing. When we ventured off on many of the other trails, there were fewer people.

I suggest wearing good hiking shoes for all the varying terrain (rocks, dirt, roots, gravel) and bringing a pair of water shoes to get up close and personal to some of the tracks in shallow water and for river crossings on some trails. Pack a picnic lunch, bring plenty of water, and enjoy the park and all it has to offer!

Reservations are highly recommended as the park limits the numbers of visitors per day. The cost for a one-day pass is $7 per car. Overnight camping is also available with reservations.

See you on the trail!

Black Canyon of the Gunnison

Montrose County, CO

Another Covid-19 vacation is in the books! My family is vaccinated but we are still trying to avoid crowds when traveling. We have spent the past year renting homes/cabins and cooking most of our meals when out of town. This rural southwest part of Colorado seemed like the perfect place to check out a National Park and visit with our adult children for a few days. It turned out to be a great trip.

We took a morning flight from DFW to Montrose. The direct flight was only an hour and thirty-eight minutes – quick trip! The Montrose airport was small (4 gates) and very easy to navigate. Getting our rental Jeep was a breeze. Our Vrbo house actually ended up being a convenient ten minute drive from the airport. So far, so good! We were ready to explore the area.

The first excursion to check off our list: The Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. This area has only had National Park status since 1999 and I was not that familiar with it prior to our trip. After seeing a few pics on a National Park social media page recently, it got on my radar. Though not as popular as the Grand Canyon, it certainly seemed less crowded and had some spectacular views with towering walls, spiky peaks, narrow openings and startling depths. I put in a little bit of research, found out how to get there, and off we went!

The Black Canyon National Park entrance was only twenty minutes from downtown Montrose and the drive up to the park was quite scenic as our elevation changed (and ears popped!). This route took us to the park’s visitor center that featured cool displays, info on the canyon, picnic areas, restrooms, a gift shop, campgrounds, a nature trail and a great observation platform. It was well worth a stop. I got a map, a walking stick and went on my merry way.

The route through the park along the South Rim Road was easy to drive and well-marked. It allowed us beautiful views of the Black Canyon from many overlooks, most of which only required short walks. I loved seeing all the different landscapes, plants and trees along the way. Hiking there can be as simple as strolling to the various viewpoints and overlooks or as challenging as a 2,700 foot descent down into the inner-canyon to the Gunnison River, which we didn’t do (because we are sane people!).

The Black Canyon itself was breathtakingly beautiful with its dark, solid granite canyon walls that tower almost 3,000 feet above the greenish river snaking far, far below. The canyon gets its name due to the fact that certain parts of the gorge only get thirty total minutes of sunlight per day. The walls literally look black due to the shadows. It is very, very narrow and very deep! For you geology nerds, the canyon has some of the world’s oldest exposed rock that dates back two billion years to the Precambrian era. Today the impenetrable, steep cliffs provide homes and protection to the world’s fastest bird, the peregrine falcon.

We enjoyed many of the twelve lookout points along the rim with Pulpit Rock, the Painted Wall and Dragon Point being my favorites. The Painted Wall is the highest cliff (tallest vertical wall) in Colorado. From the rim down to the river, it stands 2250 feet high and as my daughter described it, “it looks like a big ole slab of marbled steak.” It is a huge, dark granite wall with wide, white “marble” streaks running through it. The size is somewhere in the neighborhood of ginormous!

At Dragon Point, the Painted Wall was across the gorge from us and far below was the Gunnison River. The river actually looked very curvy and small from our vantage spot so high above. Our view was quite deceiving. The Gunnison River actually drops an average of 43 feet per mile through the canyon, which is six times more than the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon – just to put it in perspective.

If we had more time, I would have liked to experience the canyon from the bottom up. There is a road at the park entrance that follows a steep, switch-back route into the canyon’s depths. This would certainly be a memorable day for hiking, fishing, kayaking or rock climbing. I would have loved to have seen the mighty river up close and personal. Maybe next time…

The Ute Tribe that inhabited these tribal lands for thousands of years referred to this area as “much rocks, big water.” I don’t think anyone could have said it any better.

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The Vampire Grave

Lafayette, CO

My daughter at the Vampire Grave

Want to hear about a vampire grave in Colorado? Cool! This is how the story goes.

In the early 1900s in Lafayette, Colorado (near Boulder) a pale, lanky man living in the area was pretty much a loner with no friends or family. No one knew much about him other than his name, Fodor Glava. When he died in 1918, townspeople took notice of his headstone at his gravesite. It was discovered that he was from Transylvania. Rumors spread through the town like wild fire that he was, of course, a vampire!

No one had ever seen him much during the day when he was alive. He had always been very pale. He was originally from Transylvania. The facts were undeniable.

Several townspeople dug up Glava’s grave and found blood by his mouth, his teeth seeming bigger than normal, and his nails long, pointed and still growing. The frightened and superstitious settlers drove a wooden stake through his heart and reburied him.

Of course, we now know that all of these physical changes are natural for a decaying body.

Shortly after his second burial, a tree “unlike any other in the area” grew straight up through the grave plot. Folklore claims it “grew from the wooden stake in his heart.” Red rose bushes suddenly sprang up around his grave. These wild roses were thought to be growing from his fingernails. They knew roses had some importance in his life since the word was on his gravestone. It was black magic at its best!

Back to present day:

My adult children live in Colorado. They always have fun things planned for us to see and do when we visit. Our most recent visit a couple of months ago was no exception. The first day there, we were off to see the Vampire Grave in Lafayette. My daughter and son-in-law had been given a book by a family member regarding “odd and interesting” places to visit in the state. We found ourselves marching through a wet cemetery in the rain to find this unusual tombstone. The folklore story is actually much more interesting than the actual gravesite.

Now for the truth: Theodore “Fodor” Glava was a very pale, tall and lanky Transylvanian immigrant who came to America for a better life. He lived a very quiet and modest life as a coal miner before dying from the Spanish flu during the 1918 epidemic that ravaged Colorado. He was buried in the poorest section of the local Lafayette cemetery in a pauper’s grave. It wasn’t until after his death that he gained his notoriety.

Glava’s headstone was carved/chiseled by a stonemason with his personal info, birthplace, and year of death. Among the inscription is the word “trandofir” which is the Romanian word for “rose.” Not much was known about Glava’s life in this area during this time, but the mention of his birthplace on his headstone actually sparked the rumors that he was a vampire. Many locals knew that Transylvania was home to Count Dracula and Vlad the Impaler, therefore he must also be a “creature of the night.”

The truth is most likely that this is the gravestone for Fodor Glava and his wife Trandatir (Rose). Both probably died from the influenza around the same time. He was from Transylvania (part of Romania today) and Rose was from Bucovina (part of the Ukraine and Romania today). They were both very poor and he worked as a miner, probably another reason he was so pale. He could also have been sickly and/or had a poor diet.

Unfortunately, Glava was an easy target for these uneducated settlers who tried to explain away natural happenings with superstition.

Rumors of this vampire still exist to this day. Local residents have claimed for many years that they have seen a mysterious figure walking near the gravesite late at night. Yikes!! If you do plan a visit to the Vampire Grave, go in the day time. It is also a sign of respect that you take and leave a small gift – a coin, rock, token or a bouquet of roses.

No garlic, please.

Note: This is what is actually engraved on the headstone. A vertical line divides the sections. The right side reads –

FODOR GLAVA, BORN IN TRANSYLVANIA, a small cross, AUSTRO-UNGARIA (should read Austro-Hungarian, which Transylvania was a part of), DIED DECEMBER 1918

The left side (that people seem to ignore) reads – + 2 ROMANION (two Romanians buried here), TRANDATIR (Rose), BORN IN PAR-HAUTIBOCVINA (from Parhauti Village in Bocvina, an area also in Austro-Hungary).

May they both rest in peace.

Bluebonnet Trail

Ennis, TX

For all of us Texans still dealing with the outcome of the devastating arctic blast, there is a positive. The freeze that wiped out many of our trees, shrubs and flowers and spelled disaster to our state’s infrastructure, spared the bluebonnets and wildflowers.

It seems that all the snow we received in Texas actually acted as an insulator and saved many of the wildflowers and their root systems from the low surface temperatures. The bluebonnets weathered the winter quite nicely and they are currently in full bloom throughout many parts of the state.

Now more than ever during this pandemic, Texans are looking for fun outdoor activities to get us out of the house and the Texas Bluebonnet Trail is a perfect opportunity. My husband and I packed a picnic lunch this past weekend and drove down to Ennis, the Bluebonnet City of Texas. I wanted to see the state flower of Texas in all its glory!

Located off Hwy 45 and south of the Dallas metroplex, the Ennis Bluebonnet Trail is the oldest in the state and has over 40 miles of viewing opportunities. The best way to follow the trail is in your car because trails are mainly on paved or gravel roads and in park areas. The rule of thumb is that you can pull off on the side of any road as long as you do not block roadways, driveways or fire hydrants. Everyone is also asked to take photos – not flowers!

I downloaded a driving map off the Ennis Garden Club website (which is updated frequently) and we headed off. Our map told us the North Trail and West Trail had “peaked” so we headed to the suggested South Trail. It was rural, uncrowded and had acres of gorgeous bluebonnets as well as other colorful Texas wildflowers. We had some great photo ops!

We also visited the Meadow View Nature Area (and had a picnic lunch near Lake Bardwell), scenic Bluebonnet Park and the Ennis Veterans Memorial Park. The Veterans Park had acreage off to the side of the park with a large “natural” area that we really enjoyed.

The pastures, roadsides, meadows and yards along the marked routes are bursting with color! We noticed sapphire blues, fiery oranges, citrusy yellows, dainty pinks, scarlet reds, and deep purples all adding to Mother Nature’s spring palette. Most bluebonnets range in color from a light sky blue to a deep, dark navy blue – and all shades in between. We read that slight genetic modifications can occur and render the flowers white, pink or maroon as well but they usually don’t last long in the wild. I only saw blue, blue, and more blue!

A word of warning – bluebonnet fields are usually in rural areas and can be so dense that they provide shelter to animals and reptiles, especially snakes! Be cautious when moving around and through these areas. Bluebonnets are also toxic to humans and animals if ingested so keep an eye on your kids or pets when taking photos in or walking through the fields. This past weekend was late in the bluebonnet season and luckily for us, there were well-worn paths through most of the fields and no unwanted varmints were encountered.

April is the best month for viewing the bluebonnets but it looks as though they will still have at least another couple of weeks of peak season left. If you haven’t driven the Bluebonnet Trail yet, make plans quickly before they have lost their vibrant colors and healthy blooms. Kingsland, Marble Falls, Burnet, Brenham and Austin also have bluebonnet tours so pick your favorite spot and plan a trip SOON! Become a part of this incredible Texas tradition.

Beavers Bend State Park

Hochatown, OK

Our pandemic trips continue and we recently revisited Beavers Bend State Park and Broken Bow Lake in Oklahoma for a long weekend. We had rented a cabin and stayed in this same area earlier in the fall and enjoyed it so much that we decided to go back.

Sweetwater Cabins has some lovely rentals in this area and we chose one this time called Just-A-Swingin. The cabin was appropriately named, with a porch swing on the lower level, and had a beautiful, open-concept interior. The neighborhood is a hilly, pine-forested area just minutes off the highway and a stone’s throw away from the park entrances. Location, location, location! This cabin was perfect.

My husband and I had taken our yorkie on the last visit and she did so well that she was invited along again this trip! She seemed to enjoy hiking the nature trails with us so we are turning this nine-pound, nine-year-old spoiled lap dog into a decent trail dog!

We were lucky enough on this trip to experience great weather again. We grilled hamburgers on our deck the first night and prepared for two days of hiking to follow. Our days were full of activity and our evenings were quiet and lazy – just the way we like it!

The first full day inside the park, we chose the Beaver Lodge Nature Trail for our first hike. This was a 1.2 mile hike that started at the base of the Broken Bow Lake’s hydro-electric dam and was a great one-way hike with gorgeous scenery. The trail head was a little tricky to find since it began away from the dam’s parking lot, across a stream, and was not marked. Once we spotted some people coming off the trail, it was much easier to locate and follow.

This trail led us through a forested area, along a high ridge, and stayed parallel to the Mountain Fork River. I enjoyed the busy sounds of the rushing water and the wind in the pines. It was a truly beautiful hike. We saw several trout fishermen in the water and a few tourists climbing on the river boulders. We hiked until the trail became too narrow and treacherous and turned back around.

We explored the shoreline on the way back, climbed over some boulders, and took a short rest in the middle of the rushing water on a rocky plateau . This is where “said trail dog” plunged into the shoulder-deep water after slipping on a mossy rock. She was wet and smelly but took it like the true trooper she is!

After lunch, we were back on the trails. Our next destination was the Lakeview Lodge Trail. This is a 1.4-3.5 mile trail that started at Lakeview Lodge on Broken Bow Lake. There were three loops to chose from and it is meant to be hiked in a clockwise direction. The trail had beautiful pine trees, great views of the lake, clear streams, colorful rocks and a varied terrain. It was very quiet and peaceful. We never saw anyone else on the trail and I was quite surprised that we didn’t see any wildlife other than birds. If there had been a chance of stumbling upon a wild animal, this would have been the place!

Day one was in the books. After a delicious dinner picked up from Rolling Fork Takery (wings and potato salad), all three of us were tired and ready for a good night’s sleep.

Day two found us inside the state park again on the 3/4 mile Pine Ridge Nature Trail. The trail looped like a figure-eight and winded through an evergreen forest, a lagoon, a piney ridge, and a floodplain. It was a short trail but had varied vegetation and different elevations that were unlike any other trails. We followed the path up, down and around some very beautiful spots on this easy, shaded walk. Lime green moss, ferns, cane, and new spring flowers were the highlights.

We took a break and explored the main areas in Beavers Bend State Park and played around on the rocks in the Mountain Fork River. We drove through the park and checked out the campgrounds, pony rides, train depot, fishing spots, and kayak/paddleboat/canoe rentals. There was more to do here than we ever imagined! Another trip may be in order.

Our afternoon hike was the toughest of them all. Cedar Bluff Nature Trail is listed as a “moderate trail with minimal terrain.” What the trail guide doesn’t tell you is that the 1-mile hike is all straight uphill through a pine forest! After a little huffing and puffing on my part, we made it to a beautiful rock cropping overlook. At that elevation, we were overlooking the river, bald cypress trees and rocky cliffs below. The stunning views were well worth the effort and we took a few minutes to soak it all in.

We met another couple at this overlook where we exchanged pleasantries and took each other’s photo before we headed off. Hiking down the trail was a much easier than the hike up!

We picked up a pizza and salad on the way back to the cabin and had a quiet dinner. All three of us were tired but energized from all that we had seen and done. Once again, our trail dog had done extremely well and exceeded expectations (she also slept the entire way home!).

Another great trip to Beavers Bend State Park was in the books. I would love to return in the early fall to hike a few more trails and see the colorful foliage. I highly suggest this area for a quick weekend getaway or for a longer stay to do more activities with family or friends. Check it out if you haven’t already – it is beautiful country.

I hope to see you on the trails soon!

Cedar Hill State Park

Cedar Hill, TX

Duck Pond

Between Covid-19 and Snowmageddon 2021 keeping us all indoors, it is time for a little outdoor adventure! Personally, I am very tired of always being inside and try to plan a weekend outing for me and my husband when the weather cooperates. During this pandemic, we have discovered that Cedar Hill has some great areas for hiking. We have already ventured to Dogwood Canyon, Cedar Mountain Nature Preserve and Cedar Ridge Preserve – all located in this area south of Dallas. Our last planned adventure was to Cedar Hill State Park.

Cedar Hill State Park is located just twenty minutes from downtown Dallas in Ellis County along the shores of Joe Pool Lake. We had to make reservations to enter the park ahead of time at the cost of $7 per person. This is easily done online prior to your visit. If you have a Texas State Park pass, the visit will be free but you still need a reservation to enter due to the pandemic or you will be turned away.

Once you are admitted into the park and pass the entrance, the roads are well-paved and there is plenty of signage to guide you. We studied our map, chose our destination and headed to the Talala Overlook. We parked here in the small parking lot at the trailhead and began our first hike of the day. The word “talala” is actually a Cherokee wood meaning “woodpecker.” I kept an eye out for one on the way to the overlook but sadly I never saw one.

Talala Overlook is one of the highest points in the park with great views of Joe Pool Lake. There is a 1.5 mile loop trail that led us through diverse terrain. The dirt path meanders through thickets, over creeks, and among the Blackland Prairie head-high grasses. This was definitely an enjoyable nature hike for me! I would rank this as a “moderate” trail for hikers due to all the ups, downs, tree roots, rocks and overgrown sections. We saw lots of wild animal scat on the trail making us wonder what animals had been on the same trail very recently! Yikes!

Dogs are welcome on all the hiking trails but they must be kept on a leash. If you do bring your pet into the park, make sure you have proof of a Rabies vaccination handy if asked by a ranger or upon admittance at the gate. It is a state park regulation.

After our first hike and a lunch break on the lakeshore, we loaded up and headed to our next stop – the Duck Pond Trail. This is the shortest trail in the park at just .7 miles long (unless you miss the signs like we did and make it about a 3 mile hike!). It is a partially shaded, wide trail that starts at the trailhead near the parking area and loops back. This is a very popular trail for families with children or anyone that prefers an “easy” trail.

The Duck Pond Trail runs through a forested area with several small bridges over the “rough” parts. The actual pond is located on the edge of the park and is a perfect place to spot deer, ducks and other wildlife coming for a drink. We saw several tracks but no actual animals. It is very pleasant, peaceful and beautiful here. This is a great spot for a picnic, rest stop or photo op.

When you take a wrong turn on the Duck Pond Trail like we did, you end up on the Plum Valley Overlook Trail. It was a fortunate mistake! This trail was a bit more intensive but still pretty easy. The trail led us mostly uphill, through prairie grasses and cacti, and ended up in a heavily forested area. The scenic overlook gave us great views of the Tallgrass Blackland Prairie and where it converges with the White Rock Limestone Escarpment that covers much of this area.

One area we did not explore within the park boundaries was the Penn Farm. Our trail map stated the following: The Penn family farmed this area for over 100 years, beginning in 1854. Today there are remains of old buildings, the estate house, and antique farm equipment on the grounds. There is a nice little trail here with old photos and scripted descriptions of what you are viewing. We will have to explore this area on our next visit!

Overall, we had a lovely day here. It was so nice being able to get outdoors, stretch our legs, exercise, and breathe in the fresh air. We truly enjoyed this state park and all the trails on a gorgeous winter day in Texas. The best part – our little spoiled yorkie is becoming quite the “trail dog!” Who knew?

Dogwood Canyon

Cedar Hill, TX

My pandemic adventures continue!

The only “safe” travel plans for me these days are those that are outdoors and where I can socially distance from others. This has led me to explore areas around Dallas when weather permits. This blog details a recent Saturday visit to Dogwood Canyon in Cedar Hill. Located just thirty minutes south of downtown Dallas, the landscape here looks as if you have driven five hours south, down around the Texas Hill Country.

Dogwood Canyon is a 200-acre wildlife refuge and forested nature preserve with hiking trails and bird-viewing areas. Due to Covid-19, the visitor center, classrooms, picnic area, restrooms, etc. are all closed but the trails are open. After researching the park, I made reservations online one week prior to our visit. The available admission times are Fridays and Saturdays from 8:00 a.m. – 2:00 p.m. and the center currently only allows 10 reservations per hour. The trails and parking lot gates are locked promptly at 2:00 so make sure you allow enough time to enjoy your visit.

Dogwood Canyon is a true canyon that rises 300 feet from the canyon floor to the highest hilltop ridge. Most of Texas lies in the Blackland Prairie region but this area is actually part of the White Rock Escarpment (once part of an ancient sea). When driving into the park on I-20 you will notice the white Austin chalk hills that reach an elevation of 800 feet in some areas. This is very unique geology for Dallas County.

This park opened in 2011 after the land was donated by a wealthy conservation-minded owner who had bought the land from a communications station. He had originally chosen to build a house but decided against it. There is an unusually large concrete pit in front of the visitor center that remains from the previous AT&T site when it was in operation. Instead of the land being a single-family home with acreage, it is now a natural ecosystem and home to many native trees, plants, birds and wildlife – some very rare or endangered.

As far as hiking options, there are three miles of trails within the forested canyon area. The Canyon Loop Trail is an easy half-mile trail near the visitor center. My husband and I took the more strenuous West Rim Trail which is a 1.65 mile trail with a modest 150 ft. elevation incline. This trail allows you panoramic views of the canyon, nearby areas, and Joe Pool Lake. It was very tranquil, quiet and most enjoyable. We only saw three other couples the entire time we were on the trail. Let’s just say this excursion was well within the Covid-19 guidelines for safety!

The leafy, unpaved trails are well-marked and lead hikers through wooded areas of oaks, junipers, dogwoods, and ash trees. We noticed many dormant greenbrier, grapevines, poison ivy and Virginia creeper vines in the undergrowth off the trails. There were rocks, boulders, fallen trees, small creeks, and moss-covered stumps all along the way. There was much more “color” on the trails than we expected during this time of year. We spotted lots of green winter grasses, blue & red berries, yellow & white lichens, neon green mosses, and many colorful leaves underfoot. With clear blue skies overhead and warm temps, it was a most enjoyable day.

We didn’t spot any wildlife other than birds on this hike but we did see scat on the trail. There are several species of plants (orchids and lilies) and birds (warblers and hummingbirds) that are very rare and call this canyon home. I would love to return here in the Spring months to see the forest wildflowers, flowering vines and dogwood trees in full bloom. I bet it would be beautiful!

I highly suggest visiting Dogwood Canyon for a day hike. It is a great place for a change of scenery and a nice walk in the woods. Get out of the house, unplug, recharge, connect with nature and get moving! It does a body good.

I’ll see you on the trail!

Fort Worth Botanic Garden

Fort Worth

Run – don’t walk – to the Fort Worth Botanic Garden and Japanese Garden this November before weather changes things! You will definitely want to see all the colors on display this autumn before the freeze hits and the winter winds blow foliage away. The plants, flowers and trees are absolutely beautiful right now.

I researched the gardens a couple of weeks ago and discovered that November was one of the best months to visit. Truth!! The warm weather, the fall colors, the small crowds, and the colorful flowers all made for a perfect day.

I had never been to the Fort Worth Botanic Garden but had visited the Japanese Garden years ago when my daughter was a student at TCU.  The city has now combined these two gardens and admission is $12 per person (no charge for parking).

I highly suggest wearing your good walking shoes because the combined gardens now cover 110 acres and feature 23 separate specialty vistas/courtyards/gardens. I logged some very serious FitBit steps!!

The Fort Worth Botanic Garden is the oldest public garden in Texas.  There are over 2500 species of plants and flowers currently on display. The gardens are filled with beautiful fountains, pergolas, tiered garden beds, arbors, sculptures, bridges, waterfalls, trellises and animal-shaped topiaries. There seems to be a eye-catching surprise around every corner.

A new highlight for me since my last visit was the 1000-foot Texas Native Forest Boardwalk that connected one garden to the entrance of the Japanese Garden. This wooded boardwalk was an elevated walkway that led you through a section of dense natural forest. One side had all native trees, vines, and brush and the other side had non-native plants and trees introduced by humans to this area. Signage provided information on forest ecology, plant & animal life, conservation and wildlife tracks. There were also all sorts of interactive tasks for children. 

My absolute, hands-down favorite part of this visit was the Japanese Garden. The scenery was breathtaking this time of year! This eight-acre garden was created from an old quarry and was originally designed as a place for meditation and relaxation. Even though there were quite a few visitors here – the area still maintained an overall feeling of calm, tranquility, and peacefulness. It was all very Zen-like. 

Each and every view in the Japanese Garden was worthy of a photograph. The deep reflective pools, serpentine paths, Zen gardens, waterfalls, pagoda, teahouses, bridges, stonework, and koi-filled ponds were dramatic, peaceful, and colorful. The Japanese maple trees were bright orange, vivid red, and burgundy. The green waters churned with white, black, gold, orange and silver koi. It was all a delightful color palette.

Bright green foliage, silver evergreens, weeping willows and bamboo plants were reflected in the still water. Turtles napped in the sun on rocks and along the sculptured hillsides. A water snake calmly swam through a school of koi that were jockeying for positions to eat pelleted fish food being fed by visitors. Dramatic waterfalls tumbled onto the rocks below and stepping stones crossed babbling brooks. Every corner of the gardens had something new and interesting to observe. Photo ops abounded! 

From the Japanese Garden, we trekked to the Fragrance Garden and then on to the multiple rose gardens. I was amazed at how many roses and other flowers were still in bloom this time of the year! Colors abounded and all the gardens and terraces were beautiful. 

We ended our visit with a walk up the steps of the Shelter House for a beautiful view of the Rose Ramp and Lower Rose Garden.  We visited the Water Conservation Garden, the Rock Springs Garden and then called it a day.  We were off to a nearby city park to eat a late picnic lunch. It was a most enjoyable afternoon and a perfect day to be outdoors. I hope you can find time to visit in the next couple of weeks. It will be well worth your time!

Note: I suggest booking your tickets online prior to your visit with the Covid-19 regulations in place. The Rainforest Conservatory is closed and the cafes and gift shops have limited hours. Restrooms are open. Water fountains throughout the gardens are also closed. Picnics are no longer allowed on the property due to the pandemic. Masks are required inside all buildings and are “highly suggested” while exploring the gardens. Social distancing guidelines are encouraged throughout the property.

Beavers Bend

Oklahoma

It was time for a break! I needed a break from the house and a change of scenery from the four walls that have kept me contained since the pandemic hit in March. Between Covid-19, the husband working from home, canceling vacations, not dining out and social distancing – I was itching for a means of escape. An Oklahoma, long weekend getaway seemed like a perfect solution.

I researched, booked a cabin, packed up the dog, prepped food, loaded supplies and headed north across the Red River for a few days.

The drive from our home (the Dallas area) was a little over two-and-a-half hours. We traveled small highways and drove through many rural Texas towns with sprawling farmland and ranches. We actually stayed a few miles north of the actual town of Broken Bow in Hochatown (“Hoach”-a-town), Oklahoma where the entrances to Beavers Bend State Park are located.

I had booked a pet-friendly cabin through airbnb (Sweetwater Cabins) located on Eagle Mountain and just minutes from the park entrances. We lucked out and had a luxurious new cabin located in a very quiet, wooded area in a beautiful neighborhood. The cabin was perfect for us and we couldn’t have asked for more.

I had never been to this area of Oklahoma so I mapped out some hiking trails and things to do in Beavers Bend State Park and Hochatown State Park. The first day, we drove into each of the three nearby park entrances, walked along the shorelines, visited the marina, and hiked nearby trails. We watched the sunset over the lake. We marveled at the numerous white-tailed deer and colorful fall foliage. It was very peaceful and a perfect place to relax and immerse yourself with nature. Note: Dogs are welcome inside the park as long as they are leashed.

The second day, we woke up to a misty morning and had to wait until noon for the skies to clear. We loaded up Scarlett, the yorkie, and headed to the Forest Heritage Tree Trail. This was a 1.1 mile trail that began at the Forest Heritage Center Museum. This very scenic path led us past a large Indian sculpture and meandered along the shale floodplain of Beaver Creek, across a bridge, through the woods, and back to the Forest Heritage Center, with informational signs along the way telling the history of the area. The fall foliage was beautiful and the towering pines were marked in white to keep us on the path. With the exception of a few places where we wanted to climb on rocks and cross the creek, this was an easy trail, and perfect for a nine-pound canine on a leash. She loved every minute!

It would be hard to run out of things to do here at Beavers Bend and we really needed one or two more days. One could go hiking, biking, boating, fishing, golfing, jet skiing, kayaking or canoeing. One could also just enjoy the geographical beauty of this area – the beautiful Broken Bow Lake and Mountain Fork River, the pine and hardwood forests, and the rocky shale cliffs. We found it to be a fantastic way to reconnect with nature, to view spectacular scenery and remain socially distant. You could choose to do as much – or as little – as you want to do.

Along the highway near the park entrances, there is a one-mile strip with pizza parlors, wineries, souvenir shops, breweries, go-cart tracks, mini-golf, a saloon, coffee shop, cafes, etc. Due to Covid-19 we did not frequent any of these places but there seemed to be a very lively business going on regardless of the pandemic. To each, his own.

If you plan to visit in the future, cabins are available for rent throughout the resort area. Some are rustic and some are breathtakingly luxurious. Rentals range in size and style and feature any and all amenities. There are tiny houses and huge homes that sleep 24 people. There are also plenty of RV sites, tent campsites, and Lakeview Lodge – if you prefer more of a hotel-style stay.

A couple of days here turned out to be the perfect little vacay for my family. We enjoyed the fresh air and hiking trails. We enjoyed cooking all our meals and relaxing in our cabin. We especially enjoyed not having to enter a public facility or deal with crowds or congested hiking trails. I will definitely be returning in the future!

If you would like any additional information, please do not hesitate to ask about my experience. I would gladly welcome comments and other people’s experiences!

Palo Duro Canyon

Canyon, Texas

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I have found the perfect trip to take during these days of Covid-19!

Why not check out Palo Duro Canyon State Park and visit our nation’s second largest canyon? Consider it a mini Grand Canyon and one of Texas’s best kept secrets. This park covers 30,000 acres and is located a few miles outside of Amarillo in the Texas Panhandle. Palo Duro Canyon offers spectacular views, fun outdoor activities, lots of fresh air and few social interactions with others. Why not get a change of scenery, have a great time and enjoy nature  – all while social distancing? Win, win!

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My husband and I recently drove to Palo Duro Canyon (6 hours from DFW) and stayed in a wonderful cabin (Skyhouse @ Dove’s Rest Cabins) five minutes away from the park entrance and spent two days in the park. If you go, be sure to purchase your State Park day passes on-line a few weeks in advance due to limited availability. Tickets are only $8 per vehicle per day and the park is currently open 7:00 a.m. until 7:00 p.m.

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The morning we arrived, there were only a couple of cars ahead of us checking into the park. After entering through the main gate, there were 16 miles of paved roads ahead of us that descended 800 feet to the canyon floor. We stopped along the park road several times and enjoyed fantastic scenic views, historical sites and markers, picnic tables, miles of hiking trails and the visitor center (with limited hours). There were also public restrooms, biking trails, horseback riding trails, a souvenir shop with grill, camping areas suitable for day trips, and overnight tent camping. Several areas were closed due to the pandemic, including the outdoor amphitheater and park cabins, but there was still plenty to see and do.

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We were there on a Sunday and Monday and may have seen two dozen people – tops! The parking lots, trails and roads were nearly empty. We passed a couple of people on each trail we were on. The most people we saw in one place happened to be at a snow cone stand at one of the major trail heads. It was great!

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Our first morning hike in the park was on the Pioneer Nature Trail that looped down to the river and back. It is a popular place to spot Texas horned lizards/toads/frogs (my daughter graduated from TCU so I will hereafter refer to them as horned frogs!). We found three snake skins (yikes! lots of rattlesnakes in the canyon), small lizards, tons of red ants (horned frog food), and a half-eaten coyote pup skeleton.  Near the end of our hike on this trail, lo and behold, we came across a Texas horned frog. He froze, we took pics, and went on our merry way. I was a happy camper!

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We then hiked a short distance off-trail around the site of the historic Battle of Palo Duro Canyon where the high red walls and percolation caves (caused by wind and water) reminded us of the rock formations in Sedona. This whole area has that eerie “battlefield” feeling I have felt other places – it just makes me feel sad and uneasy remembering the history and loss of life here. The vibe is unsettling and disturbing. You can read more about what happened here at the end of this article.

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Back on the main road, we chose the Sunflower Trail for our next hike and it was my favorite of the trip. This trail led us alongside a creek on one side and a large red, Permian wall on the other. This 300 million-year-old wall had beautiful horizontal veins of shiny white gypsum running through it. Most of the trail was shaded by tall cottonwoods and the clay-like ground underfoot was filled with animal tracks. We recognized raccoon, deer, rabbit, bobcat, coyote, and mountain lion tracks. I don’t think I would want to be on this trail at night! We also had to avoid stepping in piles of wildlife scat along the way that was teeming with iridescent dung beetles. The circle of life is alive and well in the canyon!

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The following day began at the visitor center where we enjoyed the scenic view from the overlook at the canyon rim. We drove halfway down into the canyon and hiked off-trail again to climb a large prominent rock that overlooked the canyon floor. The views from there were amazing. This trail was full of cacti and the climb was not easy but I made it! We had to be very careful where we were stepping and constantly be on the lookout for snakes, scorpions and centipedes. Many things were ready and willing to stick, bite or sting!

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We hiked back to our car, drove a little further into the canyon and parked near the Kiowa trail head. We walked along the Kiowa Trail and followed a dry creek bed through mesquite groves for great views of another prehistoric Permian wall formation that gives the river its red color. We didn’t spot any wildlife here but saw many animal trails and tons of grasshoppers that would suddenly fly up and scare the bejesus out of you!

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Later that afternoon we found ourselves at the Lighthouse trail head. This is the most popular trail and leads to the iconic Lighthouse Rock “hoodoo,” the symbol of the park. This is a six-mile hike round trip and where most of the park’s heat-related injuries and deaths for people and pets occur. We were warned to not start this hike if the temp was above 80 degrees (it was) and not unless you have at least one gallon of water per person (we didn’t). We decided to hike down the trail far enough to see the Lighthouse, take a pic, and head back – which is what we did. We then made a beeline to the snow cone stand in the parking lot! 

Note: the canyon floor is always 10 to 15 degrees warmer than the temperature on the canyon rim. It was hot! hot! hot!!

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Afterward our much-enjoyed snow cone, we made a couple of brief stops at pull-outs and had a picnic lunch. We saw more beautiful rock formations, a big green lizard, and a turkey.  After two full days of exploring the park and canyon, our trip was coming to a close. We enjoyed it immensely and I would love to visit again in the spring or fall when temps are a little cooler. One major highlight of our trip (besides the gorgeous scenery) was that the lack of crowds could not be beat!

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More information on the park itself:

People have been a part of this scenic canyon for 12,000 years where they hunted large herds of mammoth and giant bison. More recently, the Apache, Comanche and Kiowa Native American tribes called this canyon home. They left behind rock art, arrowheads, and pottery shards that clue us into their way of life here. Early Spanish adventurers exploring the canyon, named it Palo Duro, Spanish for hard wood. The visitor center has a video and some of these artifacts, fossils and relics if you are interested.

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For you history buffs – a large part of this canyon’s history centers around the Red River War and the Battle of Palo Duro Canyon (mentioned above) which was an ongoing battle between the U.S. Army and the Plains Indians. In 1874, the U.S. Calvary attacked a large camp of Comanches, Kiowas, and Cheyennes at dawn. Many in the camp fled throughout the canyon while the army attacked the surprised natives, captured 1,500  horses (and killed 1,100 after taking their picks), burned all the teepees, food, clothing, tools, and provisions. With no horses or winter supplies, the remaining Native Americans had no choice but to surrender themselves to the reservations. A marker now stands in the far end of the canyon and details this battle. As you stand in this spot, it is easy to visualize the haunting event that took place on these grounds and to imagine the sounds of the guns and the screams of the frightened people and horses. It is a bitter pill for me to swallow.

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 With the Native Americans out of the way, the canyon and surrounding area quickly moved into the “ranch era.” The resident buffalo were hunted almost to extinction for their hides and their carcasses were left to rot and be eaten by scavengers. The few small buffalo herds that remained were run out by the ranchers to make way for longhorns. The State of Texas bought this land for the park in 1933 after it had been used as a cattle ranch since the late 1800s.

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Currently Palo Duro Canyon State Park is ranked the “number one” State Park in Texas and ranks in the “top twenty” of U.S. State Parks according to several travel guides. No surprise there!

My husband and I thoroughly enjoyed our days spent in the park. It was a great little trip and a nice change of scenery. If you are a fan of the outdoors and enjoy hiking, rock formations and wildlife and don’t mind red dirt, cacti, and being up close and personal with nature – plan your trip today. I hope to go back soon so maybe I will cross paths with you there.

See you on the trails!

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