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Immersive Van Gogh

Dallas, TX

I am a Commercial Art major and have loved Van Gogh since my days sitting in art history classes dissecting each of his paintings. When I learned that the Van Gogh exhibits were coming to Dallas, I bought tickets to both “dueling” exhibitions. My husband and I attended the first one, the original Immersive Van Gogh, this past weekend.

This exhibit is being shown in the iconic Masonic Temple known as The Lighthouse and is located on Harwood Street. It is very close to the Dallas Farmer’s Market and parking is scattered throughout the area. We paid to park in a lot just catty-cornered from the exhibit since we were not lucky enough to get nearby metered street parking.

The Lighthouse has a pretty impressive entrance and the towering steps are decorated with large pots of sunflowers and decorative lettering. Friendly staff members are stationed inside and outside to take photos of you and your group, if you like. Once you enter on the ground floor (masks are required), there are restrooms, a snack bar and gift shop. From there, attendants direct you up to the third floor where instructions are given and the show is projected.

The instructions were simple. There are three large rooms where the thirty-five minute loop plays simultaneously in each room. Walk through the rooms until you find a place to sit (chairs, benches, or the floor). Follow social distancing guidelines (this was easy to follow since fluorescent circles are marked on the theatre floors). You may take photos but without flash. Stay as long as you like. Watch the video once, twice, or until closing time. Your choice!

Once I settled in and sat down, I was taken to another world. All four walls and the floor come alive with Van Gogh’s art work. It is a sensory overload with bright, swirling colors and accompanying music and sounds. But don’t expect to see a video depicting his most famous paintings as they hang in museums today. Simply sit and watch as bold lines are drawn, windmills turn, water ripples, and roots push their way up through the earth and morph into beautiful blue irises. There are beautiful colors, brilliant lights and mesmerizing music. It all works together to create a very unique experience.

When watching the visuals unfold, I felt like there was some sort of a story being told. While researching this blog, I read two different accounts describing how the video plays out. One version said we are seeing the scenes as Van Gogh first saw them, full of movement and life-like colors as he began painting. Another version said the video illustrates how Van Gogh may have visualized his body of work at the end of his life. Regardless of what the narrative was, the show was full of beautiful, graphic images that took you to another place.

I had several favorite scenes during the night. Van Gogh’s cherry blossoms that dance and float across all four walls was one such moment. Another was the moon and stars that move across the dark skies and cause us to be transported into the swirls of Starry Night. At one point, dark brushstrokes morph into birds and fly up into the heavily textured sky. It was all a feast for the eyes.

After arriving on the exhibit floor, we had chosen the second theatre room (the largest) since we found a couple of available chairs there. We were very comfortable and had great views. On our way out, we noticed the third room had interesting mirrored spires in the middle of the sitting space. The reflections gave the video a totally different look. I would have chosen that room if I had only known!

Overall it was a very enjoyable evening. I went in with zero expectations and was really blown away by the creativity and technology that was necessary to make this show a success. My one regret – that the video was not longer. We could have stayed and watched the loop two or three times, but once I had seen it and taken it all in first time, I felt like I had gotten the full “experience.” We got up, moved on out, and let others who were waiting have our seats.

We exited the exhibit and enjoyed looking around the gift shop where one could buy a Van Gogh painting image on just about any item you could think of. Starry Night ties and socks – check. Cherry Blossom face mask – check. Smoking Skull water flask – check. Sunflower glasses case – check. Self portrait backpack, umbrella, key chain and mouse pad – check, check, check!

I hope all of you art lovers get to experience Immersive Van Gogh firsthand because it is a little difficult to fully describe. The images were truly breathtaking. The words of Don McLean’s Starry Night sum this exhibition up perfectly and played in my head all night:

Starry, starry night
Flaming flowers that brightly blaze

Swirling clouds in violet haze
Reflect in Vincent’s eyes of china blue

Colors changing hue
Morning fields of amber grain

Weathered faces lined in pain
Are soothed beneath the artist’s loving hand

Rest in peace, Vincent. ❤

Cheesemaking Class

Dallas, TX

I made cheese!

Evidently, you CAN teach an old dog a new trick! I recently learned how to make fresh ricotta, mozzarella, a mozzarella & olive roll and string cheese. The Mozzarella Company, located in Dallas’s Deep Ellum district, has Saturday afternoon classes where you can learn to make these same cheeses. It was a very fun and informative class!


My husband and I took this class along with friends a couple of weeks ago to help celebrate my husband’s birthday. We donned our “closed toe shoes,” arrived at our assigned time and were given aprons and lovely hairnets. After snapping a few selfies of our “lunch lady” look, phones were put away, hands were washed, and instructions were given.

The class started with us being told the history of The Mozzarella Company (begun in 1982 by Paula Lambert). We were also given a behind-the-scenes tour of the working kitchen and facility. Afterwards, we broke into couples, manned a workstation, and began our cheesemaking endeavor. The cheesemaking process starts with raw milk (cow or goat) being pasteurized and cultures being added. This mixture turns into curds and whey. The curds are used to make the mozzarella and the whey becomes the ricotta.

We began the hands-on part of the class with each person stepping up to the industrial-sized cooker and scooping out a ladle full of watery ricotta. We placed each scoopful into a plastic basket where this cottage cheese-looking mass cooled and dried. This became the freshly-made ricotta that we got to take home. Yum!

Next up, we were shown how to make mozzarella balls by stirring curds in hot water, draining, and stretching until it became a “satiny mass.” We were instructed to then push the cheese up through your fists (think lightbulb shape), pinch it off, and toss into cold water to firm it up. Viola! Now we had a bucket full of fresh mozzarella balls to take home as well.

We were successful so far and were ready for the next task – making string cheese. Each couple made string cheese by using the same technique. This time instead of forming a ball shape, we continued pulling and stretching the mozzarella until lumps were out and the cheese was like taffy – in a long, narrow, ribbon-like strip. We then salted the “ribbon” and squeezed fresh lime juice over its length before rolling it up like a ball of yarn. Now we had a string cheese ball, or Queso Oaxaca, to add to our water bucket.

Lastly, we made a mozzarella roll stuffed with olives. We began with the same technique but patted this cheese out flat, like a pizza dough. We then spread a layer of chopped olives evenly over the cheese before rolling the cheese into a tight “log” form. This was wrapped tight in plastic wrap and chilled for us to take home later. I must confess, it was delicious!

After each couple in the class had made the assigned cheeses, we were treated to a Wine and Cheese Tasting! In a small room off the kitchen, there were pre-made plates of The Mozzarella Company’s specialty award-winning, fresh and aged cheeses along with some breads and wines. This cheese plate was delicious! We tried Queso Menonina, Queso Blanco, Hoja Santa (wrapped in a leaf that gives it a mint & sassafras taste), Herb Goat Cheese Log, Deep Ellum Blue (a favorite, for sure!), Dolce Habanero (apricot & habanero…hot!) and Caciotta la Cocina (with all types of colorful herbs from “the kitchen”) and several other types that I have forgotten. At this point of the evening, I was busy stuffing my mouth with delicious cheese samples and not paying attention to our instructor. What a fun and enjoyable experience this had been!

Before we collected our cheeses, gathered up our belongings and said our goodbyes – we were asked to pose for a class photo while wearing our aprons and hairnets. We gladly obliged. And what did we all emphatically shout out prior to getting our photo taken?

CHEESE!! 🙂

fruits of our labor!
graffiti in Deep Ellum
Max and David (the birthday boy)
some of my purchases!

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.

Rosini Vineyards

Rockwall, TX

Rosini Vineyards

It is time to raise your glass – your wine glass that is. Napa Valley has come to Rockwall, Texas!

My husband and I were fortunate enough to attend Rosini Vineyard’s Grand Opening this past weekend. This beautiful vineyard had caught my eye several times while driving by on my way to and from Terrell. The perfectly-spaced grape vines out front and the gorgeous Italian-inspired building are quite impressive and certainly set the tone for a wonderful escape to Napa, Sonoma, or Tuscany. Let the night begin!

We entered the huge wooden doors and stepped into a large open, beautifully-decorated room and were immediately met by the owner, Greg Rosini. We appreciated his personal greeting and talked for several minutes. We were certainly made to feel welcome and learned a lot about Greg, his wife, and their vision for Rosini Vineyards. This was customer service at its best and something the staff here did very well the entire evening. Kudos!

A brief overview: Located on Hwy 205 between Rockwall and Terrell, Rosini Vineyards is the brainchild of Greg and Carol Rosini. Greg was originally in the restaurant equipment business and Carol worked in the commercial printing industry. They both closed this chapter of their life and decided on a new adventure – a winery it will be! In 2018 they bought the Double D Ranch, a rural 25-acre property in Rockwall County (east of Dallas) that came with ponds, barns, a house and a pool. It took 6 months to renovate the property that now functions as a Airbnb and VRBO rental. The new construction of the Italian-styled building began on the front of the property in the summer of 2020. It is now nearing completion. The entrance gate and a covered arbor in back were still under construction when we were there.

The main bulk of Rosini’s grapes are grown in other regions of Texas, many from east Texas, central Texas and the High Plains (Lubbock and Amarillo). Their first wines in 2019 were made from 19 tons of grapes at a “custom crush” facility in Nacogdoches. Greg and Carol are involved in every step of the winemaking. From the very second the grapes arrive through the crushing, tasting, bottling and label designs – they are 100% hands on.

The first harvest wines in 2019 were a Blanc du Bois (dry and semisweet), Cabernet Sauvignon, Tempranillo, Viognier, and a sweet Red Blend. Rosini wines were entered in the Lone Star International Wine Competition in 2020 and won a silver medal for their Blanc du Bois (dry version) and their Cabernet Sauvignon. I have tasted both and fully agree with the accolades bestowed upon them!

The Grand Opening we attended awarded us the chance to try these delicious wines along with a fabulous four-course “tasting meal” (think tapas) with wine pairings. We were welcomed with a tasty glass of champagne upon arrival and were given a coupon for a drink of our choice following the meal. Beautiful charcuterie boards were made available to us after our tasting meal so that we could graze, drink, and mingle with the other guests. The lovely sitting area inside the winery and the beautiful views from the back patio had all of us enjoying the food, drink and company. It was a most enjoyable evening!

Rosini Vineyards will soon be open to the public Thursday through Sunday. Stop in and visit their beautiful new grounds and have a glass of their award-winning wines. They will offer a limited food menu as well.

I may see you there. Look for the lady sitting contently with a glass of frozen blueberry/pomegranate/wine drink with a big ole smile on her face!

Cheers!!

Orange Beach Eateries

Orange Beach, AL

My husband and I just returned from another trip to the Orange Beach area and I readily admit, one of my favorite reasons for visiting the gulf coast is the food. In addition to the gorgeous white sand beaches and warm blue-green water, the fresh seafood definitely makes this vacation spot a win-win in my book!

A favorite breakfast or brunch spot for my family is ANOTHER BROKEN EGG CAFE. This restaurant has a great menu full of Southern fare offerings. It is located in a little strip center and can be quite crowded during peak times. The Biscuit Beignets, Biscuits & Gravy, Blueberry Bread French Toast, Biscuit Sandwiches, Crab Cake Benedict and City Grits are just a few of my favorite menu items. You can wash all this goodness down with coffee, a Mimosa or a Bloody Mary. Service comes with a smile and the food is always delicious. Very Southern – very good.

Another great brunch place is the BRICK & SPOON RESTAURANT. Don’t let the crowds dissuade you – the food will be worth the wait! This restaurant serves a Cajun-Creole breakfast and brunch fare. They are well-known for their “Build Your Own Bloody Mary” with an extensive list of vodkas, veggies, herbs & seasonings, eggs, meats and cheeses to construct one that suits your own special taste buds. I saw a few of these specialty concoctions on nearby tables and they were towering works of art! The food menu is quite extensive. One of the standout brunch menu items for me was their Brioche French Toast. Delish! Whether you choose Cafe Beignets, Breakfast Tacos, Breakfast Shrimp & Grits or a Crab & Pepper Scrambler – there should be something on the menu for everyone.

If you want a quick and more casual breakfast, head on over to BUZZCATZ COFFEE & SWEETS. Drop in and pick up a specialty coffee, baked good or a weekly breakfast special item. You can take away their food & drinks or dine on-site. My husband and I stopped in here on a rainy morning and enjoyed dining on the patio. We watched all the “comings and goings” while eating a delicious Buzz Bowl and drinking chai tea. Our Buzz Bowls consisted of grits or potatoes topped with grilled onions & peppers, two over-easy eggs and cheese. You can also add bacon, ham or Conecuh sausage (similar to smoked sausage – yum!). The bakery cases are filled with Hollah breads, flavored biscuits, cinnamon rolls, quiches, muffins, sandwiches, salads, and cookies. I don’t think there are any bad choices here!

My favorite mealtime is dinner, or as we say in the South – supper! There are many restaurants along the Alabama Gulf Coast where you can have a great evening meal. I will share a few of my top picks. First and foremost is COSMOS. I have eaten here several times in the past few years and always have a great meal and dining experience.

COSMOS RESTAURANT & BAR almost always has a wait time, so just be prepared. This is a colorful, art-filled restaurant with outdoor tables, a full bar, indoor dining areas, live music, a pet-centered gift shop, and a wine shop all on the premises. There is a lively atmosphere with a celebration of some type always going on! The food is what I would call “eclectic Southern.” There are standard seafood and comfort foods on the menu with many having an artistic, global flare. I have always had delicious meals here. Be sure to stop in at the bar and have one of Cosmos’s specialty cocktails, a glass of wine, or local brew while you wait on a table. I highly recommend the BBQ Crab Claws for an appetizer (simply the best!). The Chicken Roulade and Banana Leaf Wrapped Sea Bass were the latest standout entrees we enjoyed. The food and service are always top-notch. I always leave here wondering when I can return – and it is never soon enough.

Another favorite dinner spot is COBALT, THE RESTAURANT. This restaurant gets extra points for location, location, location. This upscale dining venue is located under the Perdido Bay Bridge and next to the waterfront, which gives diners a bay view. When my husband and I dined here recently, we were lucky enough to get a patio table and had perfect weather with spectacular sunset views. We sat and watched waterfowl, pleasure boats, fisherman, yachts, tour boats, and floating tiki bars (gotta try one of these next time!) while enjoying delicious cocktails, entrees and dessert. Our appetizer, Garlic Parmesan Chargrilled Oysters, were outstanding and at one point I wished that I had ordered a double order for my meal. The Bronzed Gulf Grouper and the Gulf Shrimp and Grits were both delicious entrees. Add top shelf margaritas and a Bushwacker (alcoholic ice cream dessert) and we had an exceptionable meal overall. Food, location, atmosphere – check, check, check.

A more casual dining spot in the area is DOC’S SEAFOOD & STEAKS. Doc’s has several locations and is popular with locals and tourists alike. The fried shrimp is award-winning (according to all the billboards!) but we prefer the grilled shrimp and grilled fish. There is nothing fancy here, just good old-fashioned seafood, hushpuppies, and cole slaw.

COTTON’S RESTAURANT is another popular seafood restaurant on the coast but with more “upscale” prices. Cotton’s is located in an old wood-paneled 1950s beach house with several floors. They serve prime rib, steaks, lobsters, and all types of seafood and seafood platters. Many of the popular seafood dishes have been elevated (just a notch) to separate this restaurant from all the more casual fish & shrimp “shacks.” Service is very friendly and you may just feel like you have stepped back in time when dining here. Like most popular eateries on the coast, there is almost always a wait for a table.

On the final night of our visit to the coast, we had had a very long and tiring day. Instead of cleaning ourselves up, changing clothes or dining out, we decided to order in. My husband called in an order to MOE’S, picked it up, and we ate in the hotel room. It was delicious! Moe’s is a little BBQ beach shack serving up Alabama-style smoked meats, fried shrimp and catfish, and barbecue platters. We ordered Pimento Cheese ‘n Chips and Moe Nachos. Both orders were huge servings and absolutely delicious. Their white BBQ sauce is a “must!” Loved it.

There are so many more great eateries in this area and I have never had enough time to try them all! Hopefully if you are heading down to the Alabama coast in the near future, this will give you some ideas on where to dine. I have certainly made myself hungry typing up this blog! Now I get to search through all my food pics, which will just elevate my hunger even more.

Grilled shrimp tonight, anyone?

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!

Cedar Ridge Nature Preserve

Dallas, Texas

During this pandemic, all travel plans had to be postponed. Since I am one who craves adventure and loves to visit new places and see new things, my only option has been exploring local nature preserves, parks and trails. My husband and I have a list of day trip options to choose from so that we can get outdoors and explore new places while socially distancing and staying safe.

We have had a couple of “just okay” excursions (trashy urban parks). Our latest really enjoyable outing was to Cedar Ridge Nature Preserve which is located about twenty minutes southwest of downtown Dallas. This is a 600 acre tract of “hill country-like” land that I didn’t even know existed!

Our research revealed that the park is maintained by Audubon Dallas and includes 10 miles of walking trails (13 trails total) that loop through a hilly, heavily-forested area that is well-known for its unusual topography. We were sold! Cedar Ridge Preserve sounded like a great choice for an excursion so we packed a picnic lunch, loaded up, and made the 45 minute drive.

We arrived mid-morning on a warm, sunny weekend and the parking lot was packed. Note to self: next time get an earlier start! The main park buildings, education center and water fountains are closed due to the pandemic (restrooms were open). I highly suggest bringing your own water or snacks and wearing sturdy shoes for the trails.

Once inside the preserve, there was a large signage board where the trail heads begin. It shows a detailed map of all the trails, routes, and the distances. There is also information depicting plants and animals you may encounter. There seemed to be trails for all skill levels. We began with the 1 mile Bluebonnet Trail and it was lovely and not crowded. The trail is unpaved with natural rocks, roots, and leaves this time of year. The Bluebonnet Trail had a gentle terrain with a lookout point midway that overlooked the valley and Joe Pool Lake. We also took a few minutes to stand in a “nature blind” to watch a rare bird species (black-capped vireos) dart to and from a watering hole. There was a wide variety of prairie grasses, trees, mosses, plants, cacti and birds that we spotted along the way.

After looping back to the main trailhead, we chose an intermediate trail for our next hike. This second trail had more limestone hills, good canopy cover, several bridges, and more steps. This more diverse terrain was rich with juniper, honeysuckle, yucca, sumac, prickly pear, oak and other types of native trees, grasses and wildflowers. It also granted us a pretty good workout!

There are trails with varying degrees of difficulty. Some are very flat. Some have more inclines, descents, and more cardio challenges. No matter what trail you choose, you will not be able to miss the unique and beautiful limestone hills, bluffs, and ridges that resemble the terrain found in and around the Texas Hill Country.

I was really impressed with this little slice of nature within the Dallas metro area and thoroughly enjoyed my day here. I think we all deserve a place where we can unplug, get outdoors, breathe fresh air, exercise and connect with nature in a personal way. Cedar Ridge Nature Preserve is a bright spot among all the asphalt, heavy traffic, and the grind of our daily lives. Check it out!

I’ll see you on the trail!

Note: Dogs on leashes are welcome. The preserve requires no fee but suggests a $3 donation. Check the website before venturing out due to closures of the park and trails during the pandemic.