Month: December 2015

Bird Brains

Pathway to hiking

10 minutes south of downtown Dallas you will find an outdoorsman’s gem in the rough—Trinity River Audubon Center (TRAC)—only 7 years old and little known. Last year it was visited mainly by 25,000 school children on field trips. But it’s a great wedding destination and birder’s paradise, too. That explains the Audubon moniker. But there’s a lot more to it. Audubon is a national organization dedicated to learning about birds and their environment.

The Audubon Society runs this preserve but the City of Dallas owns it and built a great sustainable building on the property. The building itself is something to see, with insulation from recycled blue jeans and other materials from what are normally by-products and waste materials.

Visitor centerSample of blue jean insulation

Insulated with old blue jeans (right) the visitor center is itself very interesting.

Exhibits in the visitor center include a movie and other displays that explain this unique property devoted to retaining several different types of landscapes from wetlands (including ponds and river) to prairie.

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Angels in the Blue Sky

Blue angels planes

The Smithsonian’s Air and Space Museum in Washington, DC, is often cited as the best airplane museum in the U.S., but Pensacola’s Naval Aviation Museum has them all beat. TripAdvisor ranks the museum as the 12th best in the U.S., and I don’t doubt it for a minute. Who knew the Navy was so into airplanes anyway?

To get to the museum, fly. Arrive at either the Pensacola or Mobile airport, each about one hour drive from the museum.

So far, the Navy still supports the museum — there is no fee to enter. Located on an active Naval Air Station, part of visiting is just experiencing a large military installation. It’s like a small city — 24,000 people work there — including the Blue Angels and personnel, pilot instructors and students of the Naval Air Schools Command.

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Hageman Reserve near Dallas, Texas

DSC_5163

Bald eagles at the Reserve. Photo courtesy of John O’Hanlon.

 Only 45 minutes north of McKinney, Texas, and close to Sherman, Texas, Hageman Reserve is one big secret. Officially, it’s the Hageman National Wildlife Refuge — part of the National Park Service — devoted to helping conserve wildlife, fish and plant resources and their habitats.

Winter is a prime season at Hageman. That is when migrating geese from Canada descend on the Reserve.

If you live in the Dallas area and are looking for a great activity with the kids or grandkids, it’s worth a short road trip everyone is certain to enjoy.

Many species of birds and small animals thrive at the park, all of which is explained in a cozy visitor center staffed by helpful volunteer-environmentalists. There is a schedule of guided tours, but mainly the park is designed to be driven — a safari park experience but not artificially constructed. Warning: make sure your car’s shocks are good. The roads are rough — your car or pickup will get mighty dirty — and a good car wash is likely on the agenda afterwards.

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