Sunday, March 1, 2015

Fossil Rim Wildlife Center

There's a little bit of Africa at Fossil Rim Wildlife Center near Glen Rose, Texas, where visitors are confined to vehicles while approximately 1,000 animals roam free about the 1,800 acre property.

The wildlife center's mission is preservation of native and exotic species in peril, including Texas' endangered Attwater's Prairie Chicken.

  A visitor on a guided tour feeds an addax.

But the center is open to visitors for driving tours, one of the ways the mission is publicized and financed.  Although the animals are wild, many are acclimated to accept food, and visitors may hand-feed or toss food (sold at the entrance).

Three species of zebras live at Fossil Rim. 

I don't recommend feeding zebras by hand, although the scrapes on mine healed without incident.

Ostrich are another species known for aggressive table manners. 

The aodad's horns look fierce but the horizontal pupils in this mountain sheep's russet-colored eyes make you want to stare into them.

A herd of giraffes sometimes hangs out in view of the Oasis diner, the (fenced-in) lunch and bathroom facility located about mid-way through the 9.5 mile scenic drive.  

When you roll down your window and a giraffe approaches, he stops about a bedroom's length away from the car, because that's how long his neck is. 

You hold out your hand and his head begins a slow descent, giving you time to realize just how big it is, how many teeth he has and how strong a bite it must take to eat leaves and shoots from trees. Then he brushes your palm with soft whiskery lips, inhaling the kibble in a tickle.

Folks who want to wake up with the wildlife may reserve a tent in a safari-like encampment (fenced in). The tents are actually more like tiny cabins, with AC, heat and private bathrooms complete with hot and cold running water, shower and flush toilet.  

For rustic luxury, the original ranch house is a B&B with more traditional accommodations. 

Advance reservations suggested for both.

Fossil Rim Wildlife Center, 254.897.2960, 
Park address:  2299 County Road 2008, Glen Rose, Texas 76043
Safari camp, Lodge address: 3002 County Road 2010, Glen Rose, Texas 76043

Take your sweetheart, kids or grandkids...and enjoy a little Africa in Texas.

Copyright 2009-2015 Kathleen Scott, for Hill Country Mysteries. Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Blanco and the Old Blanco County Courthouse

Texans love their historic courthouses, early structures of order in unruly lands.  Even if the courthouse is no longer the courthouse, as in the little town of Blanco where the seat of county government moved to Johnson City in 1890.

Today the classic 1886 Old Blanco County Courthouse designed by Austin architect Frederick Ernst Ruffini is owned by a community group and rented out for events.  No word if ghosts remain from her years as a hospital.  If you want to see for yourself, the building is also the town's visitor center, open Monday-Saturday 10 a.m.-4 p.m., Sunday noon-4 p.m.

As in most county seats, the courthouse has pride of place in the center of a downtown square populated with local businesses. Among my favorites is Liz on the Square, a shop specializing in an only-in-the-Hill-Country combination of lavender products and Harley Davidson leather-wear. If you're lucky, Liz's husband Nelson Broyal will be there when you go, or you'll be able to catch him playing somewhere that night around the square.  Click his name for a sampling of his soulful tunes.

Another favorite is Redbud Cafe on the other side of the courthouse. Simple food deliciously made. Don't miss the homemade soups. And get a sampler of Real Ale, locally brewed and changing with the seasons.  The Redbud pours more varieties than anyone, including the brewer.

When you're through at the Redbud, you might want to walk or swim it off at the Blanco State Park

A little further afield and if we've been blessed with timely rains, a spring-summer Hill Country drive may find the fields colored with petals. 

If you go in June during the Blanco Lavender Festival, you might also find rows of fragrant purple blooms. Check the link for locations.

Then check into the Best Western Plus Blanco Luxury Inn & Suites and smell the roses. Really. About 700 bushes surround the building in a floral rainbow. Inside, every room is a suite, more than comfortable, with free breakfast downstairs in the morning.

Texas is a big state of small towns and Blanco is one of the sweetest.

Copyright 2009-2015 Kathleen Scott, for Hill Country Mysteries. Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Sunset Meditation

Sunset at Corpus Christi Bay, Snoopy's pier.

A sunset is the beginning and the end and all the beauty in between.

Copyright 2009-2015 Kathleen Scott, for Hill Country Mysteries. Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Unexpected Abilene

A few hours west of Fort Worth, Abilene sits in a sweet spot; a four season destination, not too hilly, not too flat, not too far, not too near. 

From the placement of the dot on the map, you'd think cattle or oil--and you'd be right--but you might not expect a climate of curiosity in a town of around 120,000 people...or an outdoor sculpture tour with more than 20 stops.

Pink Flamingo by Joe Barrington.

Childhood's Great Adventure by Rick Jackson

Bull Skull by Joe Barrington

If you stop to check out the town, you'll find multiple campuses of higher educationmuseums clustered around an historic downtown plus performing arts, a restored theater, tasty dining and a mini-brewery. 

Grace Museum exhibits include history, hands-on experiences, playfulness and art.  

The Frontier Texas! Museum wins my vote for most exciting and engaging museum in the West. Visitors follow a winding path as hologram actors tell real stories of settler's lives. At the end, lightning strikes, thunder claps and animals stampede around you in a 360-degree theater.

Sculptures and games--such as guessing the frontier cost of flour or fabric --bring other experiences to life. 

When you're ready to go back outside, take the kids in your party (including yourselves) to the zoo and hand-feed the giraffes.

Next stop, Cypress Street Station, both eatery and mini-brewery, and good at both.

Lunch and a brew sampler at Cypress Street Station and Abilene Brewing Co.  Yes, those are house-made potato chips.

Later on, a ride of about 20 minutes south to scenic Buffalo Gap takes food-lovers to iconic eatery Perini Ranch for old-time Texas fare. 

After mesquite-grilled steak or quail, and bread pudding with Jack Daniels sauce; when you wish you could taste it at home too, you can pick up a cookbook and the special steak seasoning to make it happen.

And you'll remember; a trip to Abilene is real Texas and real fun.

Copyright 2009-2015 Kathleen Scott, for Hill Country Mysteries. Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Pineapple Sage (Salvia elegans)

I'm planning plants for our new garden and Pineapple sage (Salvia elegans) is on the list--beautiful red tubular flowers, easy care, fragrant leaves for a tangy tea (said to be good for digestion, calming the nerves and promoting general health) and it feeds butterflies and hummingbirds. What more could a person ask?

Planted where it wants to grow and given a modicum of water, pineapple sage will bloom for months during warm-to-cool weather (in our region that's February/March-May/June and September/October-December/January), making it a welcome sight to spring hummingbird migrantslate-fall-migrating hummingbirds or overwintering hummers

This tender perennial in the mint family is reported to grow in zones 8a-11. Here in south-central Texas we're zone 9a and our sage stayed evergreen through mild winters, even flowering into January. Hard freezes took it back to the ground and a prolonged or deep freeze killed it. 

In the years I lost a plant, new ones sprouted in spring.  A fast-grower, the plants were bushy by fall bloom-time.
The best location for pineapple sage has morning sun and protection from blazing afternoon rays; good soil instead of our thin-clay-over-limestone strata, which means I'll build a raised bed and fill it with enriched, well-drained soil. The sage isn't a water hog but weekly deep waterings will help it during the scorch of summer.

In good conditions, plants will grow from three to four feet wide and high.

The only pests we ever had on the plants were deer. In years with good rain and plenty of food the deer left it alone.  But when times were hard, they nibbled it down.

Pregnant doe noshing on pink skullcap, another plant they typically don't eat.

I can't wait to look out my back windows and see flowers, butterflies and hummers this year. 

Maybe you'll find room in your yard for a bit of pineapple sage too. 

Copyright 2009-2015 Kathleen Scott, for Hill Country Mysteries. Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Hope Springs

Comal headwater spring flowing from the base of a hill, May 2008.

About 18 months ago, the gushing spring at the head of New Braunfels' Comal River went dry from continuing drought; first time since the 1950's. Broke the hearts of townsfolk who grew up courting on the springside benches made by the Civilian Conservation Corps during the Great Depression.

Water issues from more than 100 springs in Landa Lake, a protected waterway in Landa Park where the Comal River begins.

Thankfully, other springs continued and the river continued to flow, albeit low and slow.

Last November rain began to fall, about once every two weeks. Generally not a lot at a time but enough to nourish the land.  And the underground waters of the Edwards Aquifer, the waters that feed the springs, began to rise. 

Last month, water began to issue from the headwater spring again. It's a soft flow, but enough to wash away the fire ant nest that had risen at the mouth.  Enough for hope.

  Wood ducks winter in Landa Park, swimming in the Comal River. 

Copyright 2009-2015 Kathleen Scott, for Hill Country Mysteries. Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited.

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Beautiful Bonaire -- in the Dutch Caribbean

Bonaire is the quiet sister. Aruba is the party girl, Curacao the business-major. All the girls are charming, in part because of their mingled heritage of European, African and indigenous peoples.

But Bonaire may be the most unique.  A Caribbean dry-forest desert island about 50 miles north of Venezuela, Bonaire's famous treasure is a long stretch of coral reefs along the western shore, close enough for easy shore-diving. And because Bonaire preserved them as a marine park more than 30 years ago, underwater life is abundant.

Even so, you don't have to be a diver to enjoy the island. My husband Denny and I went to Bonaire to dive during the New Year's holidays.  And dive we did. But above the waterline we found beautiful sunsets, an appealing town with delicious dining, daredevil sports, mysterious caves, historical monuments and more.

Most hotels and short-term rental condos are on the western shore overlooking the horizon where the sun sinks behind the sea.

Photo courtesy of Bonaire Tourism; photographer Zsuzsanna Pusztai of Flow Bonaire.  

Green turtles eat algae among the reefs, delighting snorkelers and divers.

Driving south along the shore, stark white hills of salt rise from pink evaporation pools. Salt has been produced there for centuries and is still a major export. The production is also a contributor to the island's breeding population of flamingoes, which feed on rosy shrimp in some salt pans.

Until 1862, slaves worked the salt, sleeping 6-8 in tiny huts.

Windsurfers and kiteboarders fly with the year-round trade winds.

The island's dry-forest desert includes kadushi cactus. Bats eat nectar from the flowers; native parrots and lizards eat the fruit; and the local Cadushy Distillery makes a liqueur from the dried pulp of young branches.

Photo of Washington Slagbaai National Park courtesy of Bonaire Tourism; credit Flow-Bonaire

After which, visitors toast the sunset with a Cadushy cocktail.

Photo courtesy of Bonaire Tourism

Going underground takes visitors to a new dimension.  In one "dry cave", myriad stalactites surround age-old impressions of brain coral heads. And in the Hilltop Cave, a rigorous trek leads to snorkeling among stalactites and stalagmites in crystal-clear water. 

The caves are protected, with visits limited to guided tours of no more than six people. Currently, two companies are authorized to conduct the tours. Our tour with Flow-Bonaire was an extraordinary experience.

At the end of the day, we might not all be lucky enough to dine beneath a full moon, but anyone can reserve a patio seat overlooking the Caribbean at the 4 Seasons Restaurant, for a meal served with cheer and island spice. 

Copyright 2009-2015 Kathleen Scott, for Hill Country Mysteries. Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

The Bucks have it

Six-point buck, photo taken 1-6-14 in my (then) front yard.  

We moved last May from a country place to a cozy home in a neighborhood where the houses are close together and everyone has a high backyard fence for privacy.  I'm planning gardens now without regard to what dear eat, although we'll still focus on native habitat.  We're happy our landscape won't be on the deer trail; I'm secretly sad I won't look out the window on a sunny morning and see a twelve-point buck grazing.

Twelve-point buck in the (former) front yard 1-28-14.

We thought we'd also be leaving raccoons behind. No such luck. The neighbor across the street feeds a family of raccoons on her back porch. That family soon invited itself to our porch, finding bird feeders full of seed. 

We take the feeders in at night now but our cats watch the windows and tell us when the raccoons stop by to see if we forgot.  Sometimes they score, which says something about which side is more consistent.  

Copyright 2009-2015 Kathleen Scott, for Hill Country Mysteries. Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Finchy Days

On chilly winter mornings, the neighborhood house finches flock to our feeders.  I can't help but smile when I see them, so here's a short sequence to bring a smile to your day too.

The boys wear red; girls wear brown to blend in when they sit on nests.  For more info, see All About Birds.

What birds frequent your neighborhood? 

Copyright 2009-2015 Kathleen Scott, for Hill Country Mysteries. Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited.