3 Fun Things to do in Palestine, Texas

Columbia Scientific Balloon Facility

Located in Palestine this NASA facility is managed by the Physical Science Lab of New Mexico State University. The purpose of the balloon facility is to launch large (440 ft. diameter) unmanned, high altitude (120,000 ft), research balloons. These balloons have equipment suspended beneath them for which provides NASA with valuable information about what is going on high in the sky.

The balloons are made of a material that is the same type of polyethylene film that is used for plastic bags, about the same thickness as a sandwich bag. The balloon system includes the balloon, the parachute, and a payload that holds instruments to conduct the scientific measurements that help scientists collect data to answer important questions about the universe and beyond.

The same gas that is used in party balloons (helium) is used to fill these balloons. These large balloons can carry up to 8,000 pounds and fly 26 miles high and stay there for up to two weeks!

Types of research the balloons are used for:

  •  Cosmic Ray studies
  • Gamma Ray and X-Ray Astronomy
  • Optical and Ultra-Violet Astronomy
  • Infrared Astronomy
  • Atmospheric Sciences
  • Magnetospherics
  • Micrometeorite Particles

The balloons from here have flown experiments for the following countries:

  • Australia
  • Brazil
  • Canada
  • Denmark
  • Germany
  • Great Britain
  • Italy
  • Japan
  • New Zealand
  • Norway
  • Russia
  • Sweden

Location: 1510 E FM 3224, Palestine, Texas 75803

Phone: 903-729-0271

Davey Dogwood Park

If you have ever wanted to just find someplace that is both beautiful and smells good then you really want to visit Davey Dogwood Park. Here you will find over 200 acres of peace with the rolling hills, the forests that bring out that wonderful smell of the dogwood tree (when in blossom), meadows to run in, and flowing streams to cool your feet after hiking through the beautiful area.

There are picnic areas for you to enjoy. Paved roads with overlooks make the drive through the park an easy outing for anyone.

This park is a featured area during the annual Texas Dogwood Trails, late March and early April. Jut north of Palestine on N. Link St.

Location: 210 North Link St., Palestine, TX 75801

Phone: 903-723-3014

Howard House Museum

Take a trip back in time and visit the Howard House Museum to see Greek Revival style construction built in the mid 1880′s by Judge Reuben Reeves who then sold it to the Howard family in 1850.

The museum has exhibits from the time and period furnishings that will transport you back to the time when things were a bit quieter and the pace slower.

The museum has been designated a Texas Historic Landmark.  The house remained in the Howard family until it was sold to the city in 1963.

Location: 1011 N Perry St., Palestine, Texas

Phone: 903-729-5094

Open: Saturday and Sunday only from 12 Noon – 7 PM

Museum for East Texas Culture is another stop you can make while you are visiting Palestine.  The Museum opened in 1982 in the old Palestine High School building which was designed and built in 1915/16.  There is a railway room the Fire Department Room, The Reagan Campbell Room, the Main Floor Hallway.  There is also a huge collection of business and commercial historical documents as well as genealogy records stored here.

Location: 400 S. Micheaux St., Palestine, Texas

Open: Monday – Saturday 10 – 5, Sunday 1 – 4.

Admission: $1

McClure-McReynolds-Fowler House

This house, located at 921 N. Perry St., Palestine, was built in 1849 by Judge McClure.  He and another man started the first newspaper in the region, the “Trinity Advocate.”

The house was built as a center passage dwelling but the next owner, Zachariah McReynolds, changed it to a U shape plan in 1884.  McReynolds was a confederate veteran from the great state of Georgia.  His daughter married John Reagan’s grandson, Colonel Godfrey Fowler.  When they retired they returned to the house in 1934 when McReynolds died.  The house is still in the McReynolds family’s possession.

Shelton Hall was formerly the Shelton Gin, one of the earliest Gins in Palestine.  It began operations in the early 1840′s.  It was originally the Eureka Cotton Gin and then later changed its name to the Morris Gin Company.  Since the ginning season was a short one the gin only operated for a few months of the year.

Location: Old Town Palestine, 304 E. Crawford, Palestine, Texas

San Antonio’s Kiddie Park

When I was a kid, we would go to the State Fair every summer and to the “Old Timer’s Day” carnival each fall in my small hometown.  I have such amazing memories with my aunts, uncles, and cousins from those times but one thing I remember clearly is being told time and time again that I wasn’t “big enough” for most of the rides.  I would get my 20 minutes or so in the little kids’ section then spend the rest of the evening following everyone else around and watching them have all the fun.  What I would have given for an amusement park that was nothing but rides that were just my size!

I first heard about San Antonio’s Kiddie Park when my mother-in-law mentioned taking our Big Girl there, shortly after we moved to Texas.  I remember thinking, “Why in the world would we take a two-year-old to an amusement park?”.  I was imagining some huge park that would take an entire day to explore, with no shade, on a blacktop that was a thousand degrees in the middle of summer, and filled with rides that she’d be dying to try but would be too small to be allowed a chance.  That is most definitely not Kiddie Park!

In case you’re unfamiliar with this historical cornerstone of downtown(ish) San Antonio,

“Kiddie Park, one of San Antonio’s most treasured landmarks, is the perfect way for children and adults to enjoy a nostalgic day of old-fashioned fun. Established in 1925, and renovated in 2009, Kiddie Park is the oldest children’s amusement park in the country! While modern updates have been made, the park has preserved its 1920’s style by maintaining all of the original rides. Guests can enjoy the park’s old-fashioned Ferris wheel, famous hand-carved Herschell Spillman carousel, and other classic children’s rides that have made Kiddie Park an iconic San Antonio attraction for over 90 years!” (source)

This park is small…and not in a bad way.  It’s the perfect size for taking young kids because you can make your way to all the rides in a couple of hours, then get home just in time for nap time.  It’s basically a dozen or so rides that go round and round but what else do kids this age need?

There are air-conditioned, clean bathrooms WITH changing tables.  Amen to that.  The ground is sort of a pea-gravel type of material which is way better than asphalt in this Texas heat (but not great for standard strollers).  There are trees everywhere, offering refuge from the sun between rides.  There are a snack bar and tons of picnic tables spaced throughout the park to enjoy your snack, nurse a little one, or just take a break.

I am so glad we gave Kiddie Park a try because it is absolutely nothing like I expected and has now become one of our family’s favorite summer traditions.  And I think it’s pretty awesome that our kids get to enjoy the same amusement park their daddy did when he was a boy!

You’ll find the park at 3015 Broadway Street, not too far from all of your other favorite San Antonio attractions like the ZooBotanical Garden (read all about the Botanical Garden’s new Family Adventure Garden HERE), DoSeum (read about the DoSeum’s Tricentennial Celebration exhibit, “Dream Tomorrow Today” HERE), and Witte Museum.  Operating hours and pricing information can be found HERE.

Has your family explored Kiddie Park yet?  Do you have memories of the park from your own childhood?

Hill Country Texas Caverns

Cascade Caverns – Boerne, TX

Did you know that according to the Texas State Historical Association, “At least 3,000 caves and sinkholes are known in Texas, distributed in karst areas covering about 20 percent of the state…The majority of Texas caves occur in the Cretaceous limestones of the Edwards Group, Glen Rose, and Austin Chalk, distributed in the Balcones Fault Zone, the Edwards Plateau, the Stockton Plateau, and the Cibolo Creek and Guadalupe River basins.” (source). Meaning, RIGHT HERE in our own backyard!

The Concert in the Cave at The Cave Without a Name is really something every Texan should experience at least once, but I really think that if you do it once, you’ll want to do it again because it is really cool. However, we also recently toured and explored Cascade Caverns as a family and I’d like to tell you a bit about that.

The cave’s brochure tells us that Cascade Caverns has been declared a Texas Historical Site for its combination of history, geology, & archaeological significance. The cave was opened to the public in 1932, is 132ft deep in the upper cave and 230ft deep in the lower cave. It is 1670ft long and maintains an average year-round temperature of 63.1 degrees. The cave is 95% ALIVE and is the wettest show cave in Texas. It is also Texas’ only show cave with a 50ft waterfall. It was the filming location for the Patrick Swayze movie “Father Hood”, site of the novel “Hermit of the Cavern” and bison, mastodon, and saber-toothed tiger fossils have even been discovered there!

We chose to take the 4:00 pm tour so we showed up about 3:00 to purchase tickets and take a look around the gift shop.

Then we enjoyed a nice picnic lunch under the shady trees and of course, had to take a photo with Rex, the dinosaur that was left behind after the filming of “Father Hood”.

Cave Tour

Just before the tour was to begin, we took a bathroom break then met our tour guide by the flagpole where we were each given a flashlight and a few do’s/donts of visiting the cave. Then, we were on our way. Our tour guide was a local Champion High School senior who was very well-spoken, entertaining, and who really knew his stuff! So nice to see local high school kids working in (and for) our community and especially in a role that celebrates our local history.

The tour that we took was, I think, about an hour long. There are a lot of steps going down which also means a lot of steps coming back up! There were also times when we crouched a bit to walk underneath the lower parts of the cave. The floor was mostly wet, so sneakers or hiking shoes are recommended. Overall, this was a pretty easy cave to explore but it’s probably not for those who have a hard time with stairs, crouching, or slippery surfaces.

Once we came back up out of the cave, we got a nice tour of the rest of the grounds on our way back.

This was really a lot of fun for our family. The kids couldn’t believe they were in a real cave! They loved hearing about the fossils that had been found there and learning that the cave was alive. I will say though, that Baby didn’t really enjoy the darkness or being on the receiving end of the “cave kisses” (the drops of water that fall from the top), so he fussed quite a bit. Also, the older two were so excited that they wanted to shout and point and talk about everything! However, everyone (including our guide) was super understanding and we still managed to have a great time despite the distraction (thanks for that!).

You’ll find Cascade Caverns at 226 Cascade Caverns Road, Boerne, TX 78015. Basic tours are 45-60 minutes, Adventure tours are two hours, and Flashlight tours are 60+ minutes. Tours are offered year-round from 10:00-4:00, on the hour (with the exception of Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s). TIP: Pick up a “Cascade Caverns” brochure from the display rack in the gift shop and you’ll find coupons for discounted admission and campsites!

Have you toured any of Texas’ magnificent caves? Which are your favorites or which are on your bucket list? Love this wonderful, always surprising state of ours!

Exotic Freshwater Fish for Texas Aquariums

I can’t name the number of times I’ve switched my tank setup over the years. Especially when I got into the hobby, it seemed like every few weeks I discovered a new species of fish! Some people tend to think that you have to get saltwater in order to get exotic fish, but they’re wrong. There is plenty of exotic freshwater fish to choose from, though some take a little extra time & care. The below list is my personal opinion and I’m sure I’ve left some beauties out, these are just the ones that came into my head! Please feel free to add in the comments any fish you believe should be on the list as I’m always wanting to learn more from me. These are in no particular order.

1. Discus

Discus has got to be the king of the Freshwater aquarium. Native to the Amazon, they require higher temps and lower pH (dependent on where you got it from, mine do fine at pH 7). A lot of people will say they are difficult to keep (FALSE). They are slightly difficult to RAISE from juveniles. During their juvenile years, they are very sensitive to water conditions; require constant feeding and daily water changes. If you’re not up for the challenge but still want discus, fork up money for adult specimens. There are new strains of discus being created every year and if you’re interested in some of the varieties check out this list here.

2. Arowana

I’ve never had one myself yet, but they seem like such majestic fish. As cute as they might look when/if you buy them small, they will get BIG! Aside from requiring a large tank, it will limit your other aquarium inhabitants. Unless you’re going for a single show fish tank or are planning to keep monsters, I’d keep going down the list. One awesome (to some people) thing about Arrowanas is feeding them live food, other alternatives for live food feeding fish would be Oscars or Green Terrors.

3. Stingray

There’s no doubt that stingrays are bad-ass, especially when you can get them in freshwater! They’re inherently messy and require good water quality similar to discus. Just like the Arowana, they grow a lot larger than when you purchase them so unless you have a 90gallon+ tank I wouldn’t go down this road. Sandy bottoms and well-researched suitable tank mates are a must. I would also like to note that they require suitable water conditions to discuss…stingray+discus tank.

4. Flowerhorn

Quite the beast the Flowerhorn is. They are definitely cool-looking fish if you’re into the big balloon thing (personally I’m not). If you plan to get one keep in mind that it grows to be a fairly large fish and its aggression. Flowerhorns come in grades, so make sure you buy from a reputable source and check the overall health of the fish (healthy bump!).

5. Mbunas

A very popular first choice for many aquarium hobbyists (myself included). An amazing selection of fish, it’s easy to go overboard with these guys. Especially since Africans are one of the few fish groups where overcrowding can be a good thing (sometimes). Mbunas tend to be more aggressive fish, which is why higher numbers are recommended to disperse bullying. If you’re into constant movement with an array of colors swimming back and forth, go with Mbunas.

6. Apistos

Apistos AKA Apistogramma is a genus of South American Dwarf Cichlids. There are several types with an array of patterns to choose from. Not only do these fish look really cool, but a lot of them are also harder to get your hands on making them a little rare (at least in my area). One of my favorite things about these fish is they are so versatile in the sense that you could keep a pair in a 20g, or house them in a community tank with other fish.

7. Rams

I think I might like these guys more than discus, they’re so active and fun to watch. A lot of people comment on their shyness, but really if you spend the time to interact with them and feed them, mine always come to “investigate” me when I pass by. The three most popular breeds would be the German ram (classic), electric blue German rams, and Bolivian rams. They make great additions to community tanks or even on their own.

If you were like me at first and thought, “I must have the electric blue ones” please, PLEASE buy from a reputable supplier. A lot of people have contributed to the myth of electric blue rams being hard to take care for when in fact the fish are naturally weak due to bad breeding or hormone injections resulting in death within a week of taking them home.

8. Severum

I like to think of Severums as discus’s fatter cousin. They grow to be about the same size and in general, have mild temperaments. Since they grow to be around the same size as discus (7inch-ish), a 55g tank is probably the bare minimum to keep these guys. Although they are discus’s illegitimate cousin, most people do not recommend housing them in the same tank. There can only be one king! Oh also just like discus there are several color types to choose from, I posted my two favorite types here.

9. Cyphotilapia Frontosa (Frontosa)

Sometimes referred to as the king of Lake Tanganyika, the Frontosa is a definite trophy fish able to grow up to 12 inches long. Most well-known for their beautiful patterns and outgoing personalities, Frontosa’s generally starts getting their classic head bump around 4 inches in size. They are definitely one cichlid that gets better with age, just like a fine wine! You can expect a mature Frontosa to have a well-pronounced head bump and more elaborate fins flowing behind them.

If you do plan on obtaining one keep in mind that they can have unusually long life spans up to 25 years, definitely a long-term relationship type of thing. If possible, try to get your hands on at least one male as they tend to have bigger bumps and grow larger in size for a true trophy fish.
Frontosa’s are a group fish so it’s recommended to keep them at least in groups of 4. Keep that in mind with how big they can reach and you’ll need a fair-sized tank.

10. Peacocks

Peacocks are yet another very popular choice when it comes to African cichlids. It is quite common to see show tanks of both Haps & Peacocks together. Most people that run a Peacock tank opt for all males as they are the most vibrant, generally, females are dull.

Texas Presidios

Famous Presidios in Texas

Spain constructed many presidios, or forts, throughout Texas, most often in connection with missions. The presidios provided housing for Spanish soldiers, who were responsible for defending the missions and for providing escorts for travelers and supplies. Both presidios and missions were often built with a high wall surrounding the compound where the buildings were located. Presidios often had small chapels to serve the needs of the soldiers.

Relations between the missionaries and the soldiers were sometimes very difficult. In 1755, the San Xavier missions were abandoned after a friar was murdered by a soldier.

Here are a few of the most famous or best-preserved presidios in Texas:

Presidio La Bahia

The presidio at La Bahia (pictured above) was built to defend Mission Nuestra Señora del Espíritu Santo de Zúñiga (and later Mission Nuestra Señora del Rosario).  It was originally situated on Matagorda Bay near La Salle’s Fort Saint Louis on Garcitas Creek, to secure the Texas coastline from the French.  It was moved in 1749 to its present location on the San Antonio River (near the present-day town of Goliad).

La Bahia also served an important role during the Texas fight for independence; it was the site of the Goliad Massacre, in which almost 400 Texans were captured and executed by the Mexican army on orders from General Santa Anna.

The structure has been extensively restored; it is considered the best-preserved presidio in North America.  It is situated in the Goliad State Historical Park, which has recreational and camping facilities.

Location:  108 Park Rd 6, Goliad, TX 77963

Presidio San Saba

Presidio San Saba, once known as Presidio San Luis de las Amarillas, was built in 1757 to defend Mission Santa Cruz de San Sabá.  However, in 1758, the presidio was besieged while 2,000 Comanches attacked and destroyed the mission.

The presidio was abandoned in 1772.

In 1936, portions of the presidio were reconstructed.  Visitors today can see the ruins and reconstructed walls.

Location:   Menard, Texas 76859

San Elizario Presidio Chapel

The San Elizario Presidio was constructed in 1789.  The chapel was used until 1877 when the present church was built.  The chapel was intended to serve the garrison of the presidio and their families; it was not a mission.

The presidio was abandoned in 1772.

In 1936, portions of the presidio were reconstructed.  Visitors today can see the ruins and reconstructed walls.

Location:  1521 San Elizario Road, San Elizario, Texas 79849

Spanish Missions of Texas

Visit the Texas Missions

Although there were dozens of missions built in Texas, nothing remains of most of them. In fact, the exact location of many has been lost to time, although there are historical markers indicating their approximate positions.

There are just a few places in Texas that you can see interesting remains or reconstructions of the Spanish missions and presidios

El Paso Area Missions

The mission buildings in the El Paso area – the far west of Texas – are quite different from the missions of San Antonio and Goliad.  They have a distinct “New Mexico” feel.

There are several sites worth seeing in the area:

  • Mission Corpus Christi de la Ysleta – the oldest continuously operating parish in the United States.
  • Mission Nuestra Señora de la Limpia Concepción de Los Piros de Socorro del Sur – the beautiful mission church – the third on the site – was dedicated in 1843.
  • San Elizario Presidio Chapel – the San Elizario Presidio was constructed in 1789.  The present chapel was built in 1877.

San Antonio Area Missions

The San Antonio area has the largest concentration of well-preserved and reconstructed mission ruins and reconstructions.   In addition to The Alamo, best remembered for the battle in the Texas Revolution, there are several mission sites:

  • Mission Nuestra Señora de la Purísima Concepción de Acuña – a handsome stone church built in 1755.  It is considered a perfect example of Spanish colonial architecture.
  • Mission San Antonio de Valero (The Alamo) – the current stone structure was built in 1744, but restorations have focussed on restoring the site to its 1800’s appearance.
  • Mission San José y San Miguel de Aguayo – the stone church was constructed from local limestone in 1768.  It was restored by the WPA in the 1930s.
  • Mission San Juan Capistrano – the long, low adobe building was constructed in 1756.

Goliad Area Missions

Goliad State Historical Park features the beautifully restored Mission Nuestra Señora del Espíritu Santo de Zúñiga and Presidio La Bahia.

Weches Area Missions

Mission Tejas State Park features a reconstruction of Mission San Francisco de los Tejas, built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s.

Texas Missions

To understand the history of the Texas missions, you need to first understand their purpose, and the challenges the missionaries faced.

The Franciscan missionaries wanted to convert the Indians to the Catholic faith and to “civilize” them. They also hoped to teach the Indians skills ranging from cattle ranching to carpentry, which would allow them to be stable, self-sustaining communities.

The Spanish authorities wanted to extend the land under Spain’s control by establishing settlements. They also wanted to ward off encroachment by the French (from nearby Louisiana) into what the Spanish regarded as their territory.

The Indians sometimes welcomed the teaching that the missionaries brought, sometimes just wanted Spanish protection from their enemies, and sometimes wanted nothing to do with the missionaries!

Establishing a successful mission was very difficult. Texas was truly on the frontier, and the friars and their followers were far from supplies or support. Establishing a mission required courage and hard physical work. The missionaries were subject to disease, starvation, floods and other natural disasters, and attacks by hostile Indians.

Political support and funding for the missions ebbed and flowed. Sometimes a mission was established to discourage French encroachment, only to be closed due to fear of French attack, and then reinstated in another location a year or two later.

The Mission Period

The First Texas Mission

The first Texas mission, San Clemente, was constructed in 1684 (there may have been an earlier mission on the site, built in 1632), to serve the Jumano Indians.  The exact site has been lost, but it was near Ballinger.  The mission was abandoned after just a  few months, due to the presence of hostile Apaches, and there was no further development in the area.

There were many other missions built in various locations throughout Texas (see the Texas mission list), but most failed.  The most successful, in general, were those built in groups to support specific goals.

Legacy of the New Mexico Pueblo Revolt

The true birth of the Texas missions dates to the Pueblo Revolt of 1680.  After three generations of repression, Pueblo Indians in what is now New Mexico rebelled against Spanish rule. They burned the colonial headquarters in Santa Fe and killed more than 400 Spanish soldiers, missionaries, and civilians.

Refugees from the massacre resettled in a series of missions and settlements built near modern El Paso (including Mission Corpus Christi de la Ysleta and Mission San Antonio de Senecú).

Central and East Texas Missions

In 1685, the French explorer La Salle mistakenly landed on the Texas coast (he had been trying to reach the mouth of the Mississippi river).  He set up a colony, which failed very quickly.

The abortive La Salle colony, along with the French presence in Louisiana, made the Spanish fearful of French incursions into Spanish territory and provided a key motivation for most of the colonial efforts over the next few decades.

San Antonio

Starting in 1718, the Spaniards began to develop the area around San Antonio. The first mission built in the area was San Antonio de Valero (now known as The Alamo).  In 1731, Mission Nuestra Señora de la Purísima Concepción de Acuña and Mission San Francisco de la Espada, were moved to the area.

Eventually, the San Antonio area was home to five missions and a presidio.  It became a major supply and support center for the missions further to the east.


In 1722, Mission Nuestra Señora del Espíritu Santo de Zúñiga and a presidio were built on the Matagorda Bay near the site of La Salle’s Fort Saint Louis.  In 1749, it was moved to a site on the San Antonio River (now Goliad).  Another mission, Mission Nuestra Señora del Rosario, was built nearby on 1754.

The San Xavier Missions

From 1745 to 1749, the Spanish built three missions on the San Gabriel River (then known as the San Xavier), near the current town of Rockdale.  A presidio was added in 1751.

The missions were plagued by drought, disease, and unrest, and were abandoned in 1755.

The End of the Texas Missions

The final mission built in Texas was Mission Nuestra Señora del Refugio, founded in 1793.  After that, Spain shifted the focus of their missionary efforts to California.

Most of the missions that survived in Texas were secularized in 1794; their property was seized and their lands distributed to civilian authorities.  The mission buildings and the remaining presidios were put to a variety of uses over the ensuing centuries.

The Mexican War of Independence

By the time of the Mexican revolution (1810-1821), the surviving presidios and some of the other mission structures were controlled by the Spanish army.  In the resulting war, the presidios changed hands between Spanish loyalists and Mexican secessionists several times.

The Texas Revolution

From 1835 to 1836, residents of Texas (chiefly colonists from America) rebelled against the increasingly centralized Mexican government.  The Texas secessionists seized mission presidios, where they were attacked by the Mexican army.  Three major battles stand out as a major milestone in Texas history.

The Battle of Concepción

In 1835 Mission Concepción was the site of the Battle of Concepción, in which Texas revolutionaries under James Bowie defeated Mexican troops; some of the buildings were apparently damaged during the fight.

The Battle of the Alamo

In February 1836, at the Battle of the Alamo,  a small number of Texas defenders held off more than 5,000 Mexican soldiers under the command of General Santa Anna for 13 days. Eventually, the Alamo fell and over 200 defenders were killed. The Mexicans reportedly sustained over 1,000 casualties.

The Alamo became a rallying cry for Texans, who won their independence later that year.

Based on the events of 1836, the Alamo is remembered today primarily as a fortress rather than as a mission.

The Goliad Massacre

In March 1836, the La Bahia Presidio, at Goliad, was held and defended by approximately 300 Texans under the command of James W. Fannin.  Facing a much larger force – approximately 1500 Mexican soldiers – the rebels attempted to retreat.

They were caught on open ground and surrendered, believing they would be treated as prisoners of war.  Instead, following orders from General Antonio López de Santa Anna, the Mexicans shot and killed almost 400 prisoners (Fannin’s troops as well as other prisoners), galvanizing Texas resistance to Mexican rule.

Texas revolutionaries began to yell “Remember Goliad!” along with the more famous battle cry, “Remember the Alamo!”

Less than a month later, Texan forces under General Sam Houston defeated General Santa Anna’s army in the Battle of San Jacinto, winning independence for Texas.

Life in a Texas Mission

Mention of Franciscan Friars may bring to mind an image of a quiet, contemplative life. But life in a Texas mission was anything but contemplative – it required courage and hard physical work!

Life on the frontier was dangerous. There was a risk of malnutrition and even starvation, as well as disease. There were natural threats such as flood and fire and the constant fear of attacks from hostile Indians.

However, life was not lived in constant fear. The friars, soldiers, and Indians that made up the mission community spent most of their attention on day-to-day tasks.

New missions were supplied by more established missions, and even from Mexico, but they were expected to become self-sufficient.

The missionaries and the Indian neophytes they trained were responsible for building their own structures. Initially, these may have been made or sod or logs, but more permanent structures were built of adobe or even stone.  This sometimes required experts such as architects or stonemasons to be brought from Mexico.

The missionaries also planted and raised crops, including the “three sisters” – squash, corn, and beans. Some of the missions had extensive herds of goats, sheep, and cattle, which had to be managed and herded. In fact, the missions were the start of the Texas cattle industry.

Some of the missions were built very close to rivers, which provided a source of freshwater.   Others built extensive systems of ditches and aqueducts to carry water over long distances.

The missions required much more than just food.  Missionaries wove cloth and made clothes, tanned hides, fired pottery in kilns, built furniture and carts, and forged metal tools and utensils.

The missionaries taught all of these skills to the Indians who were converted and chose to join the mission community.  The Indians were then required to provide most of the labor to sustain the mission.

The mission routine was very strict, and punishments for breaking the rules were often harsh.  Indians who attempted to leave the mission were pursued, captured, and punished.  The harsh treatment sometimes led to uprisings and even the destruction of some of the missions.

Beyond practical skills necessary for survival, the missions often taught reading and writing, music, and even art. Some of the missions featured beautiful frescos, and others were renowned for their musicians and choirs.

The missions were hard-working, vibrant communities that gave rise to Texas culture.

Fun and Interesting Facts about the Spanish missions in Texas

What mission is recognized as the oldest continuously operated parish in the State of Texas?

How To Get Rid Of Gophers: Lethal And Non-Lethal Methods

Gophers are a pest known to many gardeners and hated by most.  They live in all areas of North America except for the far north and east. in Texas, we have the Texas pocket gopher. The Texas pocket gopher is found in southern Texas as far north as Val Verde County and San Patricio County.

With their front claws and front teeth, gophers dig tunnels 6-12 inches below ground that can be up to 800 feet long.  These tunnels are concentrated in open fields, lawns, and the gardens we love.

Get rid of gophers in gardens and fields. Lists both lethal and non-lethal techniques.

While a mole will dig tunnels and eat mainly grubs and worms, gophers go right for our good stuff—our coveted produce and flowers.  They aren’t overly picky and will eat buds, grass, nuts, roots, and vegetables.  Carrots, lettuce, and radishes are a favorite, although any vegetable that is juicy will do.  I have a particular problem keeping them away from my young pepper plants.

In our area, with its short growing season, gophers have one main breeding season, and that’s usually in June.  One minute we’ve got a few tunnels, and we’re planting our garden.  The next minute, we’re overrun with gophers.  I’ve learned over the years that if I can employ a variety of means to get rid of them in June, the rest of my season isn’t so bad.

If you live in a warmer climate, however, you could see 3-4 breeding cycles a year in your area.  How do you get rid of gophers?  It’s not easy to do, and it’s a task I have to tackle every single year.

Here are some ways you can try to rid yourself of these rodents from killing them to trying to convince them to leave on their own, and some other things you’ll need to think about as you consider your options.

To Get Rid of Gophers

When someone wants to get rid of gophers, most of the time, they aren’t looking for a way to get them to mosey on down the road to the next house.  Most of the time, people just want to kill them.  The three most common ways to do this are to trap them yourself, poison them, or to have a predator do the dirty work for you.

There are two varieties of traps you can look to in order to catch your gopher.  You can try-catch and release, where you catch the little buggers and call animal control to release them for you if you have this option available in your area.

Alternately, you can get a pincer trap (most common) which will kill them.  This is the messiest option, and one of the more time-consuming ones, but highly effective.

If you are going to use traps, make sure to get two traps so you can put one at the entrance and one at the exit of the tunnel.  You’ll want to cover all the other holes and make sure your traps are far enough in the tunnel that the light can’t shine on them.

If you are going to use traps, be sure to place them according to the instructions so you don’t get small birds or other animals in them unwittingly.

If you want someone else to do the dirty work for you, you can locate a professional exterminator or you can invest in their natural predators.  Predators you can choose from would include:

Barn owls

    • One family of barn owls can eat 12,000 rodents a year.
    • Building owl boxes will encourage owls to frequent your area. However, when the food supply is low, they will travel to find food.  If another source of food is highly available close by, your owls may choose to fly to the other food source and overlook your one or two gophers.
    • Another thing to consider is the critters you have that you want to keep. If you have baby chicks, cats, or small dogs, you might not want to bring a family of barn owls in.

Non-venomous snakes

    • It’s not uncommon for those who live in the country to get a non-venomous snake (or two) for their garden at the beginning of the season.
    • As the gopher (food) supply dwindles, the snakes may actually just move on by themselves.
    • The non-educated individual, however, may be tempted to purchase a gopher snake as their first choice—be very careful if you are leaning in this direction. Gopher snakes are known to hurt cats and small dogs—or other small critters you may want to keep around.


    • Many breeds will hunt, and even eat gophers. Many breeds will not.  If you are going to get a dog mainly as gopher control, do your homework first.
    • I have heard that two Jack Russell Terriers will actually work together and tag team a gopher.


    • Cats are natural predators to gophers, although I’ve heard stories of large gophers actually hurting small cats.

If you have no interest in traps or predators, but you’re certain you want to kill your gophers, you’re left with the option of poisoning them.

Let me be very clear, smoking a gopher kills them.  I don’t say this to be crude, but rather because I didn’t know the first time I pondered smoking gophers.  I really thought they would dislike the smoke and just leave.  I know they are just gophers, but I felt really bad when I found out that the smoke kills them.

Be warned if you plan to smoke gophers, that this also kills moles, prairie dogs, voles, groundhogs, ground squirrels, badgers, and any other burrowing animals you may have.

My preferred method to get rid of gophers is to use Juicy Fruit gum.  I stick a piece down every opening I find.  It takes a day or two, but then they leave.  Because they just move a ways away, this method can drive you crazy and you’ll find yourself pulling out the gum on a constant basis unless you just get a bunch and do it all at once looking for every hole you can find.

Grandpa did this to get rid of gophers and it still works for us.  Although I’m under the impression that they just leave (since the gum is still sometimes there weeks later when I look), I have heard some people say that it kills them.  I am unable to find any studies that lean in either direction.

As far as poisons, there are four worth my mentioning:


    • Strychnine is not only the most common of gopher poisons but also the most damaging to the ecosystem. The poison stays in the animal it has killed.  Any other animal that disturbs the dead gopher or eats it (say a dog, or cat) will ingest the poison by a secondary method.
    • I strongly urge you to consider possible consequences before choosing this route.

Zinc Phosphide

    • Zinc phosphide is used less often than strychnine because it is not as effective. It also may cause secondary poisoning.

Chlorophacione (RoZol)

    • Chlorophacione is an anticoagulant that can be more favorable to strychnine or zinc phosphide because it poses less of a threat to the surrounding ecosystem. It can be less desirable however because it is needed in ten times the dose as the other two.

Aluminum Phosphide

    • If you call a professional exterminator to eradicate your gophers, s/he will most likely use aluminum phosphide, which reacts with moisture in the soil and the air to produce a highly toxic and fast-acting toxic phosphine gas.
    • Many companies that use Aluminum phosphide offer a guarantee. It leaves no residual poison, so you don’t have to worry about animals or children returning to the area.  It also leaves no secondary poison.  If your dog or cat eats a gopher that has been killed with aluminum phosphide, it shouldn’t get sick from “secondhand” poison.

Remember when using poison, that you can’t 100% control what ingests it.  Consider other options if at all possible if you have children or valuable animals frequenting the same area.  If you still plan to use it, always make sure it is deep enough into your tunnel ends that birds aren’t getting to it.

Gopher “bombs” or blasters are also available.  I think those are self-explanatory.  Be sure to follow all manufacturer’s instructions carefully, and also look into your local laws regarding these.  Even though they are easy to obtain, there are local laws in some areas that make them either illegal to use or illegal to use in large quantities.

Deter Gophers From Moving In

While not nearly as effective as killing gophers, there are ways you can deter gophers away from your yard and crops.  Try deterring gophers with specific plants, predators, and noise.

A border of certain plants may keep gophers from continuing further and crossing your border.  Some plants to try to include castor beans, daffodils, marigolds, and oleander.  It’s the roots in the oleander plant that are offensive to gophers, so planting them with an offensive above the ground plant should yield the best results.

I use a one-foot-wide border of marigolds (which are supposed to be the biggest above-ground offense) every year, and I still occasionally get gophers in my gardening area.  Although I would highly suggest trying plants to deter your gophers, I wouldn’t wholeheartedly rely on this method alone.

Using a predator waste approach for deterring gophers consists of using waste from natural predators—namely dogs and cats—to scare gophers away.  Try dropping dog and/or cat waste down in gopher tunnels and bury the hole to keep them from coming back.

This would be a technique for a flower garden, but certainly not a produce garden you intend to eat from.

Multiple noise and vibration devices are available to keep gophers away.  Also, it is said that loud noise from barking dogs or playing children could keep gophers away, but would need to be employed on a frequent basis for consistent results.

Get Gophers To Leave Your Garden

If you’ve already got gophers, but you don’t want to kill them, then you’ll need to find a way to “ask” them to leave.  This is the hardest of all strategies and must be done with great patience.  Strategies include decreasing their food supply, flooding them out, and using castor oil.

My first reaction when someone suggested I decrease their food supply was probably about as sarcastic as the one you had in your head when you read that.  Um…hello…it’s a vegetable garden… But just hear me out.

Decreasing their food supply simply means decrease what is available to them.  Bury chicken wire at least a foot down around the fence of your garden, but know that gophers have been known to burrow as deep at six feet down.

Use raised beds with chicken wire at the base, or galvanized steel wire mesh on the bottom.  Regular galvanized wire can erode in 3-4 years if your water contains a large amount of iron and your soil is acidic, making it easy for a gopher to chew through it.

Make sure your raised beds are at least one foot tall to keep gophers from climbing in.

Placing a hose in the main entrance/exit of a tunnel system will flood the gophers out.  This can take a while before you’ll see the water coming up out the other end, so have patience.

Gophers will run out, but unless you manually remove them (with a trap, shovel, or predator), it’s highly likely they will return to their tunnel.

Some gardeners swear by Caster oil.  This is a safe method, although not as easy as others.

Approximately one pound of castor oil granules per 1000 square feet of the treatment area is needed.  It can be hard to tell how much you are applying but can start working within hours under the right conditions.

Once applied/broadcasted, get the granules wet either by spraying or waiting for rain.  As the granules get wet, they will slowly dissolve, releasing an offensive scent.  (This works for moles as well.)

Granules break down into Caster oil, soap, and corncob granules, making them a nontoxic method to employ.

Get Rid Of Gophers In Your Farm Field

Now obviously, when we get gophers in our fields, we can’t really employ these techniques, other than keeping owl boxes on the edges of our fields—which we do.  We must employ other methods to keep them out of farm fields.

When you farm organically, you aren’t using pesticides on your crops.  Your techniques are going to include deep tillage and crop rotation.

If you have implements that till deep enough, you can take out large groups of tunnel systems.  When a gopher in the middle of a field suddenly has all its tunnels taken and there is no immediate food available, gophers will usually leave.

Tilling thoroughly and deeply before planting is a way to encourage gophers to move on.  Since we technically live in a desert, we try to do this right before the rain so the soil is catching as much moisture as possible.  With wet soil, we aren’t working it for a bit.  By the time it’s dry enough to work again, many gophers have moved on.

With our alfalfa fields, however, we can’t till them every year—which is a problem since gophers have a particular love of alfalfa.  If possible, the answer lies in crop rotation.

Alfalfa is usually replanted about every seven years.  A gopher that has lived on a plot of alfalfa for years isn’t as likely to move on after a deep tilling.  It may stick around to see what happens and if his alfalfa comes back (and all his other gopher friends as well).

Planting a year of wheat is enough to convince a gopher it’s going to have to leave to find his coveted alfalfa plants.  The next year when it’s time to plant alfalfa again, you’ll till deeply and then start off with a minimal gopher population.

It’s not a solution for the other six years, but crop rotation can be a big help in eliminating a large population of gophers on larger plots.

What various methods of getting rid of gophers have you tried in the past?  What has worked?  What hasn’t?  Leave your experiences in the comments.

Texas Panhandle Plains Attractions

Things to Do in Texas Panhandle Plains

Enjoy the endless horizon while learning about the art, history, and natural beauty of the plains. There’s nowhere quite like the Texas Panhandle Plains, with its breathtaking canyons and wide-open plains, as well as its trademark cowboy heritage. When you visit this part of Texas, you’ll see some of the most iconic symbols of the American West, such as rugged desert landscapes, historic roads, and one-of-a-kind roadside attractions. Hike the rugged trails of America’s second-largest canyon, drive Historic Route 66, or pay a visit to the birthplace of a rock and roll legend. These are just a few of the activities available in the Texas Panhandle Plains region.

Wonderland Park

Texas’ Greatest Amusement Park. In operation since 1951, Wonderland is one of the most progressive parks in the country.

The Grace Museum

The Grace Museum houses three museums in the historic Grace Hotel — The Art Museum, The History Museum, and The Children’s Museum. The first floor of The Grace Museum includes an elegant, historic marble ballroom, a glass loggia, a large enclosed brick courtyard, a restored lobby, and a beautiful gift shop. The rooftop has a large, open-air terrace.

Don Harrington Discovery Center

You get hands-on experience at the Don Harrington Discovery Center. Participate in static and visiting exhibits, planetarium shows, special events, educational/outreach programs, and children’s science workshops.

Buddy Holly Center

The Center collects, preserves, and interprets artifacts relevant to Lubbock’s most famous native son, Buddy Holly, as well as to other performing artists and musicians of West Texas. Changing exhibitions in the visual arts provide an arena for celebrating the creative talents of fine artists at work in a region distinguished by vast distances and a rich tradition of creative resources.

Figure 3 Ranch

Ride through the pasture of the Figure 3 Ranch to the rim of Palo Duro Canyon for an authentic chuck wagon breakfast and ranch activities.

Carson County Square House Museum

The historic Square House is just one of 21 buildings, galleries, outdoor diorama, and large outdoor artifacts that make up the Square House Museum complex. Case exhibits and full-sized diorama tell the story of the Texas Panhandle and its people.

Mackenzie Park/Joyland Amusement Park

Joyland features over 30 great rides and attractions ranging from water caster and roller coasters to junior rides and family classics, like the colorful carousel, food favorites, exciting fun games and group outing facilities. Mackenzie Park also boasts a golf course, disc golf, and Prairie Dog Town.

Amarillo Museum of Art

Six galleries are programmed with 16 exhibitions per year focused on changing loan exhibitions and art from the Museum’s permanent collections. Educational and children’s programs available.

National Center for Children’s Illustrated Literature

A gallery exhibition of the works of award-winning illustrators of children’s literature.

The American Quarter Horse Association

The Heritage Center features many hands-on exhibits, fascinating artifacts, dramatic video presentations, horse demonstrations, and breathtaking works of art. There is even a research library and archives for serious owners and enthusiasts.

Texas Big Bend Country Attractions

Things to Do in Texas Big Bend Country

West Texas is another name for Big Bend Country. Visitors flock to Big Bend National Park, the Rio Grande River, Guadalupe National Park, the Davis Mountains, and Big Bend Country cities and towns such as El Paso, Midland, Odessa, Alpine, Del Rio, Langtry, Marfa, Wink, Terlingua, and others.

At Monahans Sandhills State Park in Big Bend Country, you can surf down a sand dune. Swim in one of America’s largest man-made pools at Balmorhea State Park.

Natural History Museum of El Paso

Over 300 exhibits spanning the wonders of the universe, the progression of life on earth from the most ancient to the most recent, and the dawn of civilization, including state-of-the-art-mounted laboratory casts of dinosaur skeletons as well as the famous “Lucy” skeleton and museum-quality reproductions of ancient Egyptian artifacts from King Tut’s tomb.

Viva El Paso!

Experience four centuries of El Paso’s history in the picturesque outdoor McKelligon Canyon Amphitheater. A breathtaking drama in a natural desert canyon setting, VIVA’s legend relives the adventure of the earliest settlers through the Spanish conquest, Mexican revolution, the establishing of Fort Bliss, and the coming of the railroads.

El Paso Museum of Art

The El Paso Museum of Art collections include works that encompass richly diverse artistic periods, styles, and movements, including American Painting and Sculpture, European Painting and Sculpture, Mexican Viceroyal Painting and 19th Century Mexican Folk Retablos, and many others.

El Paso Zoo

The El Paso Zoo is an eighteen-acre home to more than 700 animals of 175 species in a variety of natural habitat exhibits including a Reptile House, American Biome, Americas Aviary, Paraje, Birds of Prey, Forest Atrium, Asian Grasslands, Asian Endangered Walk, and an Elephant Complex.

The Presidential Museum

Extraordinary collections and exceptional library and archival materials are being acquired to detail the private and public lives of our country’s first families.

The Globe of the Great Southwest

Bringing a bit of British flair to the West Texas landscape is this replica of the original Globe Theatre, the home of William Shakespeare’s acting company in England. The Globe hosts community theater performances, monthly country-western shows called The Brand New Opree, and other community activities.

Permian Basin Petroleum Museum

As a unique education facility, the museum serves to teach the cultural and technical stories of the oil and gas industry. Its interactive exhibits cover all aspects of the petroleum industry from the formation of oil, its exploration, geology, pipelining, marketing and refining to the economic and political impact of the industry.

American Airpower Heritage Museum

The Museum’s exhibits present an imaginative environment that allows visitors to discover the World War II experience. The Confederate Air Force preserves in the flying condition the world’s largest collection of combat aircraft flown by the U.S. during World War II. Fourteen to 20 airplanes are always on display and change quarterly, so there’s always something different to see.

Western Playland

Western Playland Amuseument Park offers a variety of rides and attractions including kiddie rides, thrill rides, family rides, water rides, bumper cars, roller coasters, go-carts, and more.

Indian Cliffs Ranch at Cattleman’s Steakhouse

This 26-year-old landmark east of El Paso offers great family fun. You can see Texas longhorns, buffalo, deer, Belgian team horses and many other animals. There’s also an Indian maze, movie sets, the Fort Apache playground for kids and hayrides on Sunday afternoons, plus the admission is free for steakhouse guests! After the sights, stay for dinner at the world-famous Cattleman’s Steakhouse.

Texas Hill Country Attractions

Things to do in Texas Hill Country

For centuries, visitors have been drawn to the Texas Hill Country by its scenic beauty and abundance of natural resources. Today, the region is a must-see for anyone visiting Texas because of its diverse cultures, variety of things to do, legendary events, and creative culinary scene. Whether you prefer recreational activities or big-city culture, the Texas Hill Country has something for everyone. This region of Texas is known for its rolling hills, scenic rivers and lakes, and one-of-a-kind small towns with their own tales to share. Hike to the top of a massive pink granite mound, visit grand museums, kayak down a pristine river, or visit award-winning wineries.

Austin Zoo

At Austin Zoo, both adults and kids can enjoy the Hill Country setting and experience a close-up visit with animals from around the world. Austin zoo serves as a sanctuary for animal residents and visitors alike; providing an atmosphere for fun, living, and learning.

Dixie Dude Ranch

Dixie Dude is a working stock ranch. Explore the ranch on hiking trails, hunt for fossils and arrowheads or check out their century-old barn and Range War Cemetery. You and your family can enjoy your choice of planned activities such as horseback riding, swimming, hayrides, campfire sing-alongs, dancing and lots of Western fun.

Austin Nature and Science Center

A “living museum,” whose efforts are focused on the creative use of specifically planned interpretive exhibits, programs, collections, and trails.

National Museum of the Pacific War

The only institution in the continental United States dedicated exclusively to telling the story of the Pacific Theater battles of World War II. Located on a seven-acre site, the Center includes the George Bush Gallery, Admiral Nimitz Museum, Plaza of Presidents, Veterans’ Walk of Honor, Japanese Garden of Peace, Pacific War Combat Zone, and the Center for Pacific War Studies.

Natural Bridge Caverns

Take a tour of the caverns, visit the Natural Bridge Caverns Mining Company and learn a lot about identifying gems and minerals while filling your pockets with treasure, or take the Adventure Tour through the South Cavern — a physically demanding and thrilling excursion into one of the world’s premier caverns.

The Exotic Resort Zoo

A resort designed for wild animals where people can enjoy their company. Daily guided Safari tours with over 500 animals including over 80 different species.

X Bar Ranch

Enjoy a variety of activities including the observation of ranching activities, horseback riding, birding, bar-b-que dinner, and stock tank swimming.

Clearsprings Aviaries & Zoological Gardens

Clear Springs Aviaries and Zoological Gardens is a privately owned collection of rare and endangered exotic birds.

Caverns of Sonora

The Caverns of Sonora is a natural cave that is one of the most active caves in the world, with more than 90% of the cave still forming. The cave is both a Natural/National Landmark. The Caverns has many activities to keep you busy such as: Sluicing for gems, exploring a nature trail, camping out, and guided tours.


Schlitterbahn’s 65-acre waterpark and resort complex features more than 40 rides and family activities in six themed areas.

Friedrich Wilderness Park

Friedrich Wilderness Park is a nature preserve, with 5.5 miles of hiking trails wandering through the beautiful Texas Hill Country.

Diamond W Longhorn Ranch

Activities include Chuckwagon Display, Cowboy Memorabilia, Old General Store, Bull Head Roping, Boot Hill, Horseshoe Pitching, Shoot An Old West Six Shooter, Washer Toss, Make Your own Rope, and Cow Chip Tossing.