Texas: Hill Country, Family Vacations - Cowboys, Enchanted Rocks, and The Alamo.
Shades of green, rust and gray mark the rolling, cedar-studded hills and frame the valleys of the area described as the “Hill Country” with its rivers, lakes, quirky ranch signs, horses grazing, goats along the roadside and meadows of green often dotted with wild flowers. The area is definitely family friendly with small towns offering antiques, arts, ice cream and Texas style barbeque. The natural areas provide miles of hike-and-bike trails, river for tubing, caves to be discovered, arrowheads to be found and plenty of local cowboy humor. Walk the rocks.
The Enchanted Rock State National Natural Landmark is the ideal place to take a hike. Enchanted Rock was first designated a National Natural Landmark in 1970; the land encompassed one of the largest batholiths (underground rock formation uncovered by erosion) in the entire United States. Visitors to Enchanted Rock can enjoy primitive camping, camping, bird watching, hiking, rock climbing, picnicking, and star gazing. The park is open until dark, and year round. Need to know:
All rock climbers must check-in at headquarters; route maps and climbing routes are available. (The park is 18 miles north of Fredericksburg on Ranch Road 965, or from Llano, take State Highway 16 for 14 miles south and then go west on Ranch Road 965. www.tpwd.state.tx.us/park/enchantd
) Go wild, get muddy.
For those looking for an adventure, Longhorn Caverns State Park has just the ticket, the Wild Cave Tour: crawl, climb and squeeze through small passages and see the cave in a way which up until a few years ago was only seen by professional spelunkers. On-staff specialists guide the tour into parts of the cave never seen by regular visitors. If the Wild Cave Tour is too intense, Longhorn Caverns offers Geology Tours and the Backbone Ridge Nature Trail tour as well, both great ways to see the park and explore its natural and manmade history. (Located in Burnet County, Texas - six miles west of U.S. Hwy. 281, on Park Road 4. 1-877-441-CAVE (2283) or www.longhorncaverns.com
) Get with the cowboys.
Bandera, Texas is the self anointed “Cowboy Capital of the World”. Rancho Cortez in the heart of Texas Hill Country offers families day adventures, no experience required. Meet friendly barnyard animals and enjoy the ambience of an authentic Texas ranch. Test your skills a roping; help groom a horse, or try your hand in the blacksmith shop. The "Day at the Ranch" package includes meals and horseback riding, storytelling and a hay ride. Bonus points:
Bring your bathing suit and jump in our pool (heated) to cool off or warm up in the Jacuzzi. (Rancho Cortez 872 Hay Hollar Road Bandera, TX 78003. 1(830)796-9339, toll-free 1-866-797-9399 or www.ranchocortez.com
) Remember the Alamo?
On the not-to-be missed list for families, The Alamo stands as a Texan tribute to the value of freedom and symbolizes the courage necessary to remain free. On the grounds of the historic Mission San Antonio de Valero, the events are explained through displays of personal items belonging to the Alamo heroes. The chapel and the Long Barrack have been restored and are part of the museum experience. Audiovisual presentations provide visitors with a perspective that includes Republic of Texas and the events leading up to the arrival of Mexican General Santa Anna and his army. There are also audiovisual shows and exhibits on early Texas history. Bonus points:
For families the best benefit is the storytelling conducted on the grounds by uniformed staff members. Admission is free. (San Antonio Missions National Historical Park. Visitor Center is located at Mission San Jose, 6701 San Jose Drive at Mission Road. 1(210) 932-1001, (TTY) 922-7152 or www.nps.gov/saan
Or The Alamo and Mission San Antonio de Valero. Alamo Plaza, 78299. 1(210) 225-1391, www.thealamo.org
) Feed a lory.
In a shaded park like setting not far from downtown, the San Antonio Zoo offers families an easy way to walk around the world. Home to more than 600 species, the man-made habits replicate habitats around the world, providing visitors with a glimpse of the daily life of more than 3400 animal residents. For adults seeing one of the most varied collections of antelope in the world may be interesting but for kids, it is the lories that cause excitement. More than 40 colorful lories provide interactive fun as they welcome visitors, some perching on shoulders and landing on unsuspecting heads. Gregarious by nature the birds love to sip from nectar cups. Discovery:
The Children's Zoo features a "tropical boat tour" of miniature animal exhibits as well as a playground, desert building, animal arena Florida Everglades and rain forest exhibits. Bonus points:
Take an after-hours tour and observe how the residents behave at night. The zoo staff has created “Some Very Enchanted Evenings” filled with the sounds of hyenas laughing and lions roaring. (San Antonio Zoo. 3903 North St. Mary's Street, 78212-3199 (on the corner of Tuleta and North St. Mary's.). 1(210) 734-7183 or www.sazoo-aq.org
) Park and shop.
Adjacent to the River Walk at the heart of San Antonio, The Rivercenter Mall offers hours of browsing and some bargains. The first stop is the information kiosk. Helpful staff will quickly provide a shopping coupon book which is at the very least a plan for a shopping adventure. Bonus points:
San Antonio IMAX Theatre Rivercenter provides hourly giant film adventures. The 6-story screen and 6-track surround sound makes the “Alamo...The Price of Freedom," truly awesome. (San Antonio IMAX. Located in Rivercenter Mall, 803 Commerce Street. 1(210) 247-4629 or www.IMAX-SA.com