Field Agent Trip Report: Texas 2014

Texas trip report featured copySince a significant majority of our readers come from outside the US, we’ve decided to start posting a few US trip reports here at 80 Diapers. Our first one comes from Brad Allred who took his family to Texas last summer.

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Since I’m a school teacher, when summer rolls around I have more time than money. As a result most of our family vacations are road trips around the United States. Last year, our destination was Texas.

After a long drive, our first stop was the Cadillac Ranch outside of Amarillo. The Cadillac Ranch was created in 1974 as a public art project. It consists of ten Cadillacs (1949-1963) half buried in the ground with their tailfins sticking out. Visitors are encouraged to add their own mark to the “sculpture” by spray-painting the vehicles – which have numberless coats of spray-painted messages and designs. It was a perfect place to get out and stretch our legs before continuing our long drive to Wichita Falls.

Cadillac Ranch

From Wichita Falls, we continued on to Fort Worth, where we stopped at the Water Gardens. This magnificent public park consists of several different pools: the Active Water Pool, the Aerated Water Pool, and the Quiet Water Pool. The park was designed to be a “cooling oasis in the concrete jungle.” The Active Water Pool is the primary attraction, and visitors can descend into the very heart of the pool by following a series of stone steps down to the small pool at the bottom.

Fort Worth Water Gardens

After the Water Gardens, we headed to the Fort Worth Stockyards Historic District. The Stockyards, which appear on the National Register of Historic Places, were an active livestock market from 1890 through the 1950’s. Today, the Stockyards consist mainly of entertainment and shopping venues which cater to the cowboy image associated with the town – including the Cowboy Hall of Fame and the Texas Trail of Fame (a series of circled stars with names of famous Texans similar to Hollywood’s Walk of Fame). After visiting the remodeled stables, we rode the mechanical bull and raced each other through the Cowtown Cattlepen Maze (featured on the TV show The Amazing Race). We also watched the live cattle drive down the main street.

Fort Worth Stockyards

For dinner we ate at Riscky’s Bar-B-Q. The all-you-can-eat ribs were fabulous. In fact, a sign painted on the air ducts warns “Our Ribs May Be Habit Forming!” After trying them, I believe it.

In the evening, we drove over to the Ballpark in Arlington. The stadium was built in 1994, and has been well-maintained. We enjoyed the nice Texas evening as the hometown Rangers beat the visiting Marlins 6-0.

The following day, we started in Dallas, where we visited the famous 6th Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza – formerly the Texas School Book Depository. The museum examines the life, death and legacy of President John F. Kennedy, who was assassinated by Lee Harvey Oswald, who was perched in the sixth floor of the building as the presidential motorcade drove through Dealey Plaza. The exhibits and self-guided audio tour were very informative, allowing us time to listen, read and reflect upon the tragedy at our own pace.

Originally, we had planned on spending the afternoon at Hurricane Harbor – a local water park. Unfortunately, it was raining; so we went to plan B and drove down to Kemah, where we spent the evening at the Kemah Boardwalk. My older daughter and I rode the Flare (a loop roller coaster) and the Bullet (an old school wooden roller coaster that reaches speeds of 51 mph), while my wife and youngest daughter rode the Carousel and the train. We enjoyed the rides and would have bought all-day passes if we had had more time there. We ate at the Aquarium Restaurant, where we enjoyed watching different fish swim by in the floor-to-ceiling aquarium as we ate our meal. After dinner, we took a leisurely stroll along the boardwalk where we spotted several fish jumping several feet out of the water to snag passing bugs.

Kemah Boardwalk

The next day, we drove down to Alvin, TX to visit the Nolan Ryan Museum. If you are a baseball fan, it is definitely worth the visit. It was filled with memorabilia, included video of his career, and even let you experience the feel of catching one of his pitches.

From there, we drove down to Galveston, where we went on a dolphin excursion in the Gulf of Mexico. We saw lots of dolphins, but couldn’t get close enough to get any great shots. We followed that up with an hour at the beach. It wasn’t great as far as beaches go (silt instead of sand, muddy water), but the girls still had fun. We drove back to Houston in time to change before heading off to Minute Maid Park to watch the Astros lose 6-1 to the Tampa Bay Rays. Once again we were impressed by the cleanliness of the stadium.

The next day was NASA. This is a must-see for anyone visiting the Houston area. They had a fabulous exhibit on Mars, which included several interactive activities that let you experience the gravity difference between Earth and Mars, as well as a “glider ride” where you can watch footage taken from space vehicles skimming over the Martian terrain. We went on one of the tours that allowed us to visit Mission Control and a museum that chronicled the major events of the U.S. space program throughout the 20th century.

NASA – soaring over Mars

In the evening, we visited the Downtown Aquarium. There were a few small rides, and lots of marine life exhibits. The main attractions were the white tigers, the shark tank and the sting ray tank – where my daughters enjoyed petting and feeding the sting rays.

From Houston, we headed west to San Antonio. Our first day there, we visited the Alamo – a walled Spanish mission that was the sight of one of the most famous battles in U.S. history. The line to get in was long, and you weren’t able to take pictures inside the church, but it was nice and cool inside compared to the 100+ degree weather outside.

Remember the Alamo

We also took a boat ride along the Riverwalk. The ride was relaxing and the surrounding architecture was beautiful. After our ride, we strolled along the riverbanks and ate at the Lone Star Cafe. My steak was delicious, and my daughter claims that the hamburger was the best she’s ever tasted in her life.

Of all the things we did, the most fun might be the Natural Bridge Wildlife Ranch. The ranch is full of grazing animals from around the world. As you drive through the park, you are encouraged to feed the animals (with the food pellets they sell you). Naturally, they come right up to the car window to catch the food you toss out, making for some great photo opportunities. We got some awesome video of my daughter feeding a zebra, and an ostrich pecking at the car window sill encouraging me to feed him.

Cheese!

We also visited the Tower of the Americas. At 750 feet, it was the tallest observation tower in the U.S. until the Stratosphere was built in Las Vegas in 1996. The view of the city was spectacular, and the 4D movie Skies Over Texas was well worth the price of admission.

Since the Spurs won the NBA championship while we were there, we saw people sporting their Spurs’ gear all over the city. We stopped by AT&T Stadium and took some pictures. We also visited the Japanese Tea Gardens at Breckenridge Park. Unfortunately, they were doing repairs, so the pools were drained and the waterfall wasn’t flowing. At least the flowers were pretty. We finished up our tour of Texas by visiting the San Jose Mission. Most of the mission has been restored over the years, and the chapel still hosts and active congregation. The tour was interesting and informative.

Mission San Jose

Overall, we thoroughly enjoyed our trip. One thing we almost learned the hard way is the importance of filling up your gas tank whenever you come to a town and your tank is under half full. Texas is huge, and there are long stretches of highway where the nearest service station may be an hour away. Luckily, we had an atlas with us and were able to locate a small town several miles off the highway where we were able to purchase gas for over $4/gallon. The main thing is we made it home safe and sound.

To find out more about some of the places we’ve been, including spotlights and travel tips we’ve learned over the years, go to travelthepathlesstrodden.blogspot.com.

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