Deep in the Heart of Texas
A Personal Blog of Texas First Lady Cecilia Abbott
Friday, May 08, 2015
From amusement parks to museums to the NASA Space Center in Houston, Texas is certainly not lacking in family travel destinations.
One of my favorite kid-friendly destinations in Texas is Schlitterbahn Waterpark – the top waterpark in the world for 16 consecutive years according to Amusement Today. The park has multiple locations across Texas and its newest park opens this summer in Corpus Christi. I can’t imagine a better way to cool off on a hot summer day in Texas!
Families looking for an out-of-this-world experience will love Space Center Houston, the official visitors center of The Johnson Space Center and NASA’s base for human spaceflight training and research and flight control. Open seven days a week, Space Center Houston offers attractions like a full size replica of a space shuttle, an interactive presentation of life in space, lunch with an astronaut and much more.
One of Texas’ most unique activities for families is cave exploration. Hidden beneath the rolling landscape of the Texas Hill Country are thousands of caves and caverns with vast chambers, waterfalls and fossils of ancient animals. Longhorn Cavern is an hour and a half northwest of Austin and home to Crystal City, where hundreds of calcite crystals sparkle from every wall, and the Indian Council Room, where Comanche Indians communed hundreds of years ago. Georgetown’s Inner Space Cavern is considered one of the best-preserved caves in Texas and one of the few places where prehistoric remains are found. Located in San Antonio, Natural Bridge Caverns is the largest commercial cave in the state.
Descend deep into the Earth and explore these unique and amazing formations by viewing the #TexasToDo: Caves of Wonder film, https://www.traveltex.com/texastodo/films/caves-of-wonder .
Throughout the year, the Lone Star State’s many fairs and festivals will keep the entire family occupied. In the fall, the Texas State Fair hosts cook offs, livestock shows, live music, carnival rides and an abundance of fried food. Rodeo season commences in the spring and visitors across Texas can enjoy live-action rodeo events, livestock shows, musical performances, barbecue cook-offs and carnival thrills. San Antonio is home to Fiesta, an annual celebration of the city’s culture including parades, live music, traditional cuisine hosted each April.
For a thrilling adventure for the whole family, don’t miss Six Flags Fiesta Texas in San Antonio and Six Flags Over Texas in Arlington. Six Flags offers a wide range of amusements including pulse-racing roller coasters, family rides, a water park, entertaining shows, dining and shopping.
These are just a few examples of the family-friendly fun awaiting you in Texas!
Thursday, May 07, 2015
The Texas Gulf Coast is full of endless possibilities when it comes to beach vacations. Texas has more than 600 miles of coastline, with activities such as dolphin watching excursions, deep sea fishing, bird watching and surfing.
For a fun family adventure, Corpus Christi is a must-see and one of the top kite-boarding destinations in the world. Be sure to take a tour of the USS Lexington, the oldest working aircraft carrier, which served in 21 out of the 24 battles in World War II. South Padre is a gem too – if you visit, be sure to check out the Kemp’s Ridley sea turtle and Schlitterbahn Beach Waterpark.
In Port Aransas, you can charter a boat with a local guides that will take you out for a deep sea fishing experience that will have you reeling in red snapper, wahoo, grouper, blue marlin and more. Take a look at this #TexasToDo Gone Fishing film highlighting offshore fishing in the Lone Star State, https://www.traveltex.com/texastodo/films/gone-fishing
Another great Texas beach is in Galveston, a historical 32-mile beach town. Galveston boasts one of the largest and most historically significant collections of 19th-century buildings, with over 60 structures listed in the National Register of Historic Places. Additionally, Galveston Island is one of the top locations for birding in the United States, and is home to more than 500 species of birds, including the Reddish Egret and brown pelican.
With mild weather throughout the year, tasty seafood and beautiful beaches, I hope you get the chance soon to sink your toes in the sand on the Texas Gulf Coast.
To learn more about the Texas Gulf Coast, visit https://www.traveltex.com/.
Wednesday, May 06, 2015
Texas is home to a music scene as diverse as its population. Legends such as Stevie Ray Vaughan, Janis Joplin, Selena, Beyoncé, Buddy Holly, and Willie Nelson call Texas home, and you’ll find passion in every dancehall, festival and honky tonk across the state.
Not only is Austin the state’s Capital City, it is also the Live Music Capital of the World, and home to two of the nation’s most popular music festivals, Austin City Limits and South by Southwest. The South by Southwest Music Festival is one of the largest, most influential, and most anticipated music events of the year! ACL Festival is a two-weekend fest that brings together more than 130 acts from all over the world to play rock, hip-hop, R&B, country, folk, electronic and more. No matter which festival you attend, you are bound to hear some of today’s top musicians and possibly spot the next big star.
For those looking for a larger-than-life music experience, Billy Bob’s Texas, located in the historic Forth Worth Stockyards, is the world’s largest honky tonk. Another great Texas honky tonk is Gruene Hall, which is the oldest dancehall in Texas and has hosted its fair share of country music superstars over the years since it opened in 1878.
Take a first-hand look at Gruene Hall, featured in the #TexasToDo: Two Step Across Texas film.
This summer you can find music festivals dedicated to every style of music under the Texas sun, starting with the KNBT 92.1 Americana Music Jam in New Braunfels, followed by the Memorial Day Gospel/Bluegrass Festival in Grapeland, National Polka Festival in Ennis and more. The Kerrville Folk Festival is one of Texas’ most popular music festivals, featuring 18 days and nights of music at Quiet Valley Ranch.
But not all music in Texas has a twang. In fact, there are two dozen symphonies in Texas where you can immerse yourself in history’s greatest compositions, performed by world-renowned classical musicians.
Between sounds, you can visit one of Texas’ many music museums. There’s the Gulf Coast Music Hall of Fame in Port Arthur, the Texas Polka Museum in Schulenburg, and the The Heart of Texas Country Music Museum in Brady, just to name a few. Other museums featuring individual musicians across the state include the Freddy Fender Museum in San Benito, the Buddy Holly Center in Lubbock, the Selena Museum in Corpus Christi, and the Bob Wills Museum in Turkey.
Come on out and hear the many sounds Texas has to offer across the state, and when you do, don’t be too shy to sing along! To learn more about the music scene in Texas, visit https://www.traveltex.com/ or http://gov.texas.gov/music/.
Tuesday, May 05, 2015
West Texas is a truly unique region of the Lone Star State. The beauty of the Big Bend National Park in Big Bend, the Davis Mountains State Park in Fort Davis, and the Franklin Mountains State Park in El Paso are truly astounding.
In addition to hiking through scenic mountain ranges, West Texas is home to a plethora of other outdoor activities. Swimmers can take a dip in the cool waters of Balmorhea State Park’s spring-fed pool. Balmorhea is the world’s largest spring-fed swimming pool, and visitors and families can enjoy swimming, scuba diving, picnicking, playing sports on the sport court area or just relaxing under the trees. Other adventures include horseback riding, white water rafting on the Rio Grande River, kayaking, canoeing and more.
Watch the video below to get a glimpse of some of the beautiful West Texas scenery.
While West Texas is certainly an outdoor mecca, the region is also home to unique arts and culture. At the McDonald Observatory in Fort Davis, visitors can stargaze or even join a Star Party to experience constellation tours of the night sky.
One of the most unique finds in this region is the town of Marfa, which is known for its robust art scene, ghost lights, and was the location of James Dean’s final film, "GIANT," which also starred Elizabeth Taylor and Rock Hudson. The beautiful, historic Hotel Paisano served as the center of activity during the making of the movie and remains a visitor favorite today. A must-do for visitors is to catch a glimpse of the Marfa Ghost Lights, which can be seen from a viewing station east of town. First seen by early settlers to the area, the lights glimmer across the Chinati Mountains and continue to mystify travelers, as their origin is unknown. And of course, you can’t miss the Prada Marfa.
I encourage you to make a trip out to West Texas to explore the region’s eclectic vibe and iconic natural beauty! To learn more about wonderful West Texas, visit https://www.traveltex.com/.
Monday, May 04, 2015
May 2 - 10 is Texas Travel and Tourism Week. All week long, I’ll be posting about a few of my favorite things to do and places to see in Texas. First up, some of my favorite things to eat and drink that you can only get in our great state!
Here in Texas, we are known for our famous barbecue, wineries and breweries. In fact, the Texas Hill Country American Viticultural Area (AVA) is the second largest in America, covering an area of over 9,000,000 acres. Those looking to take a tour of the Hill Country wineries will enjoy exploring Wine Road 290, which encompasses 13 award-winning wineries along US Highway 290 outside of Fredericksburg.
While in the Hill Country, you can’t miss eating Texas barbecue! An iconic favorite is The Salt Lick, which is located in the town of Driftwood and features family style platters overflowing with tender pork ribs, luscious brisket and savory sausage. Just a little ways down the road from Austin, the town of Lockhart was designated as the official state barbecue capital by the 76th Texas Legislature. In Lockhart, BBQ joints include Kreuz Market, Smitty’s Market, Black’s Barbeque and Chisholm Trail Barbeque, each serving up lean brisket and superbly smoked meats all around.
The small town of Lexington, about an hour east of Austin, is home to Snow’s BBQ. The spot seems unassuming - a red shack and some picnic tables - but its barbecue is anything but. Lucky visitors get an opportunity to meet Tootsie Tomanetz, one of Texas’ great pitmasters. To see what the big deal is about Tootsie and Snow’s BBQ, you need to view this #TexasToDo: BBQ Obsession, https://www.traveltex.com/texastodo/films/bbq-obsession.
After some delicious barbecue, a beer from one of Texas’ more than 80 microbreweries is bound to quench your thirst. Austin is home to several breweries, such as Hops & Grain, Independence Brewing Co., Austin Beerworks, and Jester King. In Houston, Saint Arnold Brewing Company is Texas’ oldest craft brewery, operating for 20 years. In San Antonio, the city’s rich brewing history parlays well into the craft beer trend and visitors will enjoy Ranger Creek Brewing & Distilling, which offers both beer and bourbon, and Branchline Brewing Company. The Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex is also home to a number of craft breweries, such as Rahr & Sons and Peticolas Brewing Company.
If this doesn’t tempt your palate, I don’t know what will! I encourage you to pull up a chair and enjoy your explorations of Texas’ iconic cuisine. To learn more about Texas’ one-of-a-kind cuisines, visit https://www.traveltex.com/texastodo/films.
Friday, May 01, 2015
Yesterday, Greg and I – along with the Governor’s Commission for Women – hosted a luncheon honoring the women members of the 84th Texas Legislature. I enjoyed the opportunity to honor and thank each of these extraordinary women for their steadfast leadership and commitment to the State of Texas, and I am so grateful they answered the call to serve the Lone Star State. I look forward to working with all of our state’s legislators to ensure that every Texan has the freedom to aspire, to innovate, to grow and to prosper.
Monday, April 20, 2015
Ralph Waldo Emerson once wrote that the “earth laughs in flowers” – and how right he was.
With wildflowers blooming along just about every roadside in Texas, it’s clear that spring is in the air. I find it hard to look at Texas wildflowers without being inspired by their beauty and bright, cheerful colors. If flowers are the earth laughing, it sure makes me want to laugh along!
Here in Texas, we are fortunate to have such a gorgeous natural landscape that welcomes us to spring each year. From Indian paintbrushes to Mexican hats, and from Texas lantana to our State Flower of Texas – the bluebonnet – we are blessed with so many beautiful wildflowers…more than 5,000 species in all!
This week, while you’re taking a walk or going for a drive, I hope you’ll take a moment to appreciate our state’s native flowers and celebrate the joys of a Texas spring! To find more information on Texas wildflowers visit http://www.texashighways.com/wildflowers
Note: Photo courtesy of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.
Thursday, April 16, 2015
I had the pleasure of attending the 17th Annual Leo C. Benavides Awards Dinner earlier this week in Fort Worth. The Leo C. Benavides Award was presented to 34 high school students in Tarrant County who have exhibited outstanding leadership and servant volunteerism, and who are committed to helping others and making a difference in their schools and communities. To see a list of all of this year’s award recipients, click here.
And what a difference those kids are making in their communities! The things they are doing to help others blew me away – from raising chickens in her backyard so she can donate the eggs to the local women’s shelter, to volunteering at the local children’s hospital and delivering for Meals on Wheels – all while excelling in school – these young Texans are going above and beyond to help their fellow Texans. It makes me so hopeful to see that it is our youth who are leading the way. These young Texans are not only helping others - they are empowering and inspiring others. Congratulations to all of this year’s Leo C. Benavides Award recipients, and thank you for all that you are doing to ensure that even the future is bigger in Texas.
Friday, April 10, 2015
Today is Texas Ending Modern Slavery Day, and I was proud to join students from UT, Baylor and A&M, and many other Texans, at the #Stand4Freedom Rally at the Capitol. It made me very hopeful to see so many students and people of faith at the rally. They are all witnesses to the good that we can do together to end human trafficking. In the face of such evil, we may feel too small and too weak to make a difference, but nothing is impossible if we believe. And I do believe, because I’ve seen the commitment of the leaders here in Texas, including my husband, Governor Greg Abbott. I read a letter to the attendees from Greg, who has fought his entire career to protect the defenseless, and is a national leader in the fight against human trafficking.
To read Greg’s letter, click here.
I am so proud of the work Texas has done – our great state has been a national leader, and with your support, Texas will continue to lead the fight. I am confident that together we can end human trafficking.
Monday, March 30, 2015
On Saturday, I had the pleasure of attending the 2015 Texas Science and Engineering Fair in San Antonio. I was able to meet many of the talented Texas students participating in the fair and view some of their exhibits.
And what an impressive site it was – there were over 1,000 Texas students in grades 6th through 12th who had won their local and regional science fairs, and were now competing on the state level. The Texas Science and Engineering Fair is an annual state science competition where students showcase their research projects in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Of those 1,000 students, about 50 students will ultimately win scholarships to the Governor’s Science and Technology Champions Academy in June. To learn more about the Fair, visit https://www.txsef.org/.
I also read a letter that Greg had written to the students. The letter stated in part: “Congratulations on your hard work. I hope you enjoy learning from each other this weekend, and I look forward to learning more from the students who advance to the Governor’s Science and Technology Champions Academy...There are many career paths ahead for you, and we want you to reach your dreams. Because when you succeed, Texas succeeds.”
Congratulations to all of the student competitors, and the teachers and parents that have nurtured their success. Together, we will make sure that even the future is bigger in Texas.
Wednesday, March 25, 2015
I had the privilege of spending last Friday morning in Irving visiting with students and teachers at Thomas Haley Elementary School. I received a very warm welcome from Principal Alberto Zavala and Irving ISD Superintendent Dr. Jose Parra, and visited several classrooms – a Kindergarten classroom, 1st Grade classroom, 3rd Grade classroom, and 5th Grade classroom. The 5th Grade classroom I visited is taught by the Irving ISD Teacher of the Year – what an honor for Thomas Haley Elementary! And Irving ISD was the National AP District of the Year – I am very proud of everything Irving has achieved.
It was so wonderful to be back in a school and have the opportunity to visit with teachers and students. I felt like I was back at home. The children were so motivated to be learning, which made me feel excited about our state’s future. As a former teacher and principal, I know that the path to success begins with education. Greg and I are committed to making sure that all Texas students have access to the best education possible, and we look forward to working with administrators, teachers and parents across our great state to create the best education system in the nation. I had a wonderful time seeing the students work and I encourage all the students and teachers to keep up the great work!
Tuesday, March 10, 2015
Greg and I are so honored to serve the people of Texas, and we are privileged to be the 40th family to live in the beautiful Texas Governor’s Mansion. The Texas Governor's Mansion pre-dates the Texas Capitol and is the oldest continuously-occupied governor’s residence west of the Mississippi. The Greek Revival-style home was completed in 1856 – ten years after the Republic of Texas became a state – and occupies a city block near the State Capitol in Austin.
In June 2008, the Governor’s Mansion suffered significant damage from arson, but Texans refused to let an arsonist write the last page of history on the Governor's Mansion. Thanks to the dedication and hard work by many, this historic home was not only restored, but much-needed improvements were made. Now, the Texas Governor’s Mansion stands ready to be occupied by governors and their families for many more decades to come.
There is so much history contained in this majestic house, so many tales of Texas’ past to be remembered and celebrated. And though the Governor’s Mansion is now our home, the Mansion does not belong to us. We are its stewards, preserving its past and its future, and we are thrilled to share its history with those it belongs to – the people of Texas.
If you are interested in visiting the Texas Governor’s Mansion, public tours are available on Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays, as well as one Saturday per month, from 2:00 PM to 4:00 PM. A reservation is required, and the tour is free of charge. For more information and to make a reservation for your tour, visit http://gov.texas.gov/mansion/tours.
Greg and I hope that you will visit the Texas Governor’s Mansion soon to see the incredible treasures housed here from our state’s storied history, and the painstaking restoration work that brought this national landmark back to its full majesty.