Temple Railroad & Heritage Museum

If you’ve ever traveled on IH 35, you know that you need a stop (or four or five) to break up the monotony of the traffic. If you summer travels take you down Texas’ busiest highway, we recommend that in addition to the required stops at Bucees and Czech Stop, you stop at our June 2016 Museum of the Month, the Temple Railroad & Heritage Museum.

There are two components to the museum, located in the Historic Santa Fe Depot in downtown Temple. Outside, several pieces of retired railroad rolling stock are on display, including a Santa Fe steam engine and several cabooses. Just beyond the fence, rail fans can observe the operations of the active BNSF rail yard, and twice a day, Amtrak’s Texas Eagle stops at the Temple station. (Amtrak tickets can be purchased at amtrak.com, destinations include Austin, San Antonio, Dallas, Fort Worth, Oklahoma City, Los Angeles, and Chicago.)

Inside the restored depot, the ground floor is often used for special events. On the multiple visits to the museum over the years, the ground floor lobby have been set up for wedding receptions. After paying a small admission fee in the gift shop, you can continue upstairs to the exhibit area. Exhibits include model trains, photographs of train operations in Central Texas, and old railroad equipment such as lamps and telegraph equipment.

The museum is open Tuesday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. It is located at 315 West Avenue B.

Admission Fee

$4.00 (ages 13-59)
$3.00 (ages 60+)
$2.00 (ages 5-12)
Free admission for Active Military with current I.D.

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Our junior correspondent showing off next to the Santa Fe steam engine on display

West Texas Adventure

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by Rachel M., special contributor

To be quite honest, I love west Texas. The dry heat. The slower pace of life. The history. Everything. It’s just one of my favorite places on Earth, so it should be no surprise to anyone who has known me for at least five minutes to understand why I’d want to spend my entire weekend in the desert. I had the opportunity to trek from Grapevine all the way to Fort Davis, Texas. With just a few stops along the way…

Odessa’s Meteor Crater Museum

Did you know that Odessa, Texas is home to the second largest meteor crash site in the United States? Not only that, it is also in the top ten largest crash sites in the world. The Odessa Meteor Crater museum explained that some 20,000 years ago an iron meteorite crashed into Earth and made a cone shaped crater 500 feet wide and nearly 100 feet deep.

 

Our first stop was really complete happenstance. As we traveled down I-20, I noticed a small sign promoting the site. I’m always up for an adventure and the museum was only two miles out of the way, so I jumped at the chance.

This little museum doesn’t appear like much, but it actually has quite a bit to offer. Inside the museum you will find some history about different meteor strike sites around the world as well as information about meteors in general. After going through the museum, you’re able to walk down the trail and view the actual crash sites. It may not look like much at first glance, but Odessa’s Meteor Crater Museum has done an excellent job at keeping the audience informed about what happened. It was so interesting to think that at some point, such a large object crashed in such an unassuming location. Unfortunately, the crater itself has been filled in quite a bit over the last 20,000 years; however, you can absolutely tell where the meteor crashed and the way it pushed the land up and out to create the crater. I would not necessarily suggest you making a trek all the way to Odessa, Texas just for this museum, but it’s definitely worth a stop if you’re in the area.

McDonald Observatory

The McDonald Observatory is a research unit of the University of Texas at Austin and onemcdonald of the world’s leading centers for astronomical research. Fort Davis, Texas was selected as the perfect location for the observatory because west Texas has some of the darkest skies in the nation which allows the 107 inch telescope the opportunity to see some incredible things.

The Observatory has a few exciting programs available to the public:

  • Daytime Tours and Solar Viewings: Remember your mom always telling you not to look directly at the sun? Well, here you can!
  • Star Parties and Twilight Programs: Knowledgeable staff gives you the opportunity to use their nice, expensive telescopes to look at cool stuff in the sky.
  • Special Viewing Nights: This program gives you the chance to look through McDonald’s 107”, 82”, and 36” telescopes to give you a more exclusive look at celestial objects.

Not even going to lie — This was really the highlight of the entire trip for me. The evening began with a short, interactive discussion about the solar system. After that, we were invited out to view the site’s telescopes. Jupiter was the prime target for the evening. You’ve seen pictures and have grown up learning facts about this planetary giant, but nothing can compare to personally viewing the planet for yourself. In addition to Jupiter, we were able to view objects such as double stars and even other galaxies. The ability to see hundreds, thousands, and millions of light years away in the middle of Fort Davis, Texas was really quite a humbling experience. I highly recommend the McDonald Observatory to every inquisitive individual. This is one of those experiences that can be enjoyed by every person no matter what age you are.

Balmorhea State Park

The Civilian Conservation Corps built Balmorhea State Park in the 1930’s. This state bsppark has natural springs for swimming and scuba diving. There are 34 campsites and motel-style lodging if “camping” isn’t so much your thing.

Have you ever wanted to swim with the fish? Well, here’s your chance. I’ve heard rave reviews about Balmorhea, so I was really looking forward to this park. Unfortunately, I wasn’t prepared for what this park would actually look like. I expected hills and great hiking trails…that’s not at all what I got. Balmorhea is very little more than a really cool place to swim. If you’re going to make a weekend of it, check out Balmorhea, but spend your time at Fort Davis State Park and you’ll get the best of both worlds.

Fort Davis Historic Site

In 1854, the U.S. Army established Fort Davis. Initially, the fort consisted of crude wooden buildings with thatched and canvas roofs. Over time, the fort added brick barracks, a library, church, store, and commissary. Several of these original structures are still partially standing today. On average, 191 officers and enlisted men made Fort Davis their home. The troop abandoned the fort in April of 1861 before later being occupied by Confederate soldiers until August 1862.

 

I had every intention of making this a relatively quick stop before heading home. Two hours later, I had to drag myself away to make sure I wouldn’t miss my dinner plans. My initial impression of Fort Davis was how beautiful it is. The visitor center has a great museum that walks you through all the history of Fort Davis and even follows the bugle schedule the troops had in the 1800’s. Between the bugle calls and the exceptional preservation, it’s almost as if you can feel the presence of the troops that lived there. I’ve been to several historic sites before, but this was just something different. As I walked from building to building and viewed original structures still standing from so long ago, I truly felt like I was experiencing history.

1About The Contributor

My name is Rachel Mayes. I’m a north Texas native, but I fell in love with west Texas while working on my Masters in San Angelo. I’m a Reading Specialist at a kinder-8th grade charter school in Arlington, Texas. I love having a great job which gives me the opportunity to travel around this beautiful state of mine.

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May 2016 Museum of the Month: The Dallas Zoo

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The Texas Historical Commission marker for the Dallas Zoo

For those of us that spent any part of our childhoods in north Texas, the Dallas Zoo was likely a big part of that childhood. My late maternal grandparents, Dallas natives and Mount Pleasant residents, took my brother & I on many, many trips to Texas’ oldest zoological park. While I have many fond memories of those trips, by today’s standards, that Dallas Zoo seems very sad. Fortunately, beginning in the early 90s, the Zoo began a comprehensive overall of their operations, exhibits, and habitats.

 

Over the last 20 years, the Zoo has opened expansive habitats for primates, giraffes, and elephants, coming very far from the small, cramped living areas built across the country in the 50s and 60s. After a brief interruption for upgrades, a monorail providing access to a portion of the African habitats has returned, giving riders the feeling of being on a safari as they silently glide over secluded areas of the Zoo. The Giants of the Savannah habitat has recently received several elephants rescued from near certain death

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Ever wanted to feed a giraffe? 

in Swaziland, and the giraffes of the Giants exhibit rose to international acclaim last year after the live broadcast birth of Kipenzi, who would sadly die in an accident several months later. Other displays include gorillas, chimpanzees, and African penguins.

 

The “original” part of the zoo has also been updated. Two koalas and several Australian animals anchor the Koala Walkabout area, while New World primates and a tiger have taken up residence in the central part of the zoo. The reptile house not only has snakes from around the world, but many native Texan reptiles and amphibians, such as the blind salamanders known only to exist in the Texas Hill Country.

A children’s petting area includes a pony ride, a water play area, and the opportunity for kids to up close and personal with goats and other livestock.

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Texans of all stripes love Dr Pepper, be them little boys or gorillas.

The Dallas Zoo has parking available for a fee, but we highly recommend taking DART’s Red Line to the Dallas Zoo station (we find it’s a bonus for our little assistant when he gets to go to the zoo AND ride the train!). Prices & hours vary by season and discounts are often available, so check http://www.dallaszoo.com/plan-your-adventure/hours-pricing/  for the latest information. (Warning: Some fake deals have been going around on coupon websites, so buyer beware, and trust only the official website.)

For their continual dedication to educating Texans on animals from across the state and across the world, while also constantly improving the conditions their animals are raised in, we are pleased to name the Dallas Zoo as our Museum of the Month!

Disclaimer: we use the term “museum” loosely when it comes to our Museum of the Month program. Almost any Texas museum, park, historical site, etc., can qualify.

George Ranch Historical Park, Richmond

IMG_5444On Saturday, March 12, 2016, we had the opportunity to visit the George Ranch Historical Park in Richmond. We were not in Richmond by accident but to celebrate a wedding that would be held at the Ranch that evening.

Established in 1988, the George Ranch is a 20,000+ acre living history ranch located 30 miles southwest of Houston, just south of US 59/IH 69 on FM 762 (take the Grand Parkway SH-99 exit). The working ranch strives to tell the story of four generations of a family that was among Stephen F. Austin’s “Old Three Hundred”, the original Anglo settlers of Texas.

We strongly advise you bring your walking shoes. While a tractor drawn tram is available, we walked most of the circuit of homes. The first home you come to is a reconstruction of a 1820s era “dog run” style house.

We encountered two living history actors here, a husband and wife. The husband was very quick to put my seven year old son to work fetching firewood! They introduced us to the George family and told the tales of how the Texas Coastal Plains looked when they first arrived, as well as a tour of their home.

IMG_5452From there, we moved on to the 1860s era home. We met a young man, likely 12 or 13, who was our guide.  He showed us the men’s and women’s parlors on the second level of the home as well as the kitchen, dining room, and the bedrooms upstairs. He even demonstrated his favorite game, hoop rolling, for my son.

From there we continued our walk towards a sharecropper’s residence. While walking, we observed a sign that warned us to “Beware of Alligators and Snakes.” My son asked me if it was a joke and I assured him that it wasn’t. No sooner than we had that exchange, we found that it was a warning to be heeded, in a small bayou just to the side of the walking path was a small alligator enjoying the lovely March day.

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Can you spot the alligator?

At the sharecropper’s house, we met yet another actor who spoke of the challenges he faced in growing crops and raising pigs. From there, we saw cattle loading pens, complete with a cattle car and then a blacksmith. The blacksmith demonstrated his craft, curling a piece of iron several times over.

Moving on we saw the 1890s home, the family cemetery, and took the tractor drawn tram to the 1930s era livestock era where cowboys still work the cattle and horses on the property.

The visitors center includes a cafe that is currently closed for remodeling. A historic church, post office, and the 1905 Guy Lodge Hall also stand near the entrance. The church and hall are available for event rentals, and in the case of the wedding that we attended that evening, make the perfect location for a country wedding within an hour’s drive of America’s 4th largest city.

Admission is $10 for adults, $5 for children. Tickets may also be purchased for the historic meal program, which is held on Saturdays. A 1930s era BBQ was held on the day we attended, each Saturday is a different style meal at a different location, the full schedule is on their website.

If you’re near Houston or Galveston and looking for an authentic Texas museum experience that will walk you through 100 years of history, you can’t beat the George Ranch Historical Park. We are pleased to announce they are the winners of our inaugural Museum of the Month award, honoring great education sites in Texas.

Happy 180th Birthday Texas!

The Unanimous Declaration of Independence made by the Delegates of the People of Texas in General Convention at the Town of Washington on the 2nd day of March 1836

When a government has ceased to protect the lives, liberty and property of the people, from whom its legitimate powers are derived, and for the advancement of whose happiness it was instituted, and so far from being a guarantee for the enjoyment of those inestimable and inalienable rights, becomes an instrument in the hands of evil rulers for their oppression.

unnamedWhen the Federal Republican Constitution of their country, which they have sworn to support, no longer has a substantial existence, and the whole nature of their government has been forcibly changed, without their consent, from a restricted federative republic, composed of sovereign states, to a consolidated central military despotism, in which every interest is disregarded but that of the army and the priesthood, both the eternal enemies of civil liberty, the everready minions of power, and the usual instruments of tyrants.

When, long after the spirit of the constitution has departed, moderation is at length so far lost by those in power, that even the semblance of freedom is removed, and the forms themselves of the constitution discontinued, and so far from their petitions and remonstrances being regarded, the agents who bear them are thrown into dungeons, and mercenary armies sent forth to force a new government upon them at the point of the bayonet.

When, in consequence of such acts of malfeasance and abdication on the part of the government, anarchy prevails, and civil society is dissolved into its original elements. In such a crisis, the first law of nature, the right of self-preservation, the inherent and inalienable rights of the people to appeal to first principles, and take their political affairs into their own hands in extreme cases, enjoins it as a right towards themselves, and a sacred obligation to their posterity, to abolish such government, and create another in its stead, calculated to rescue them from impending dangers, and to secure their future welfare and happiness.

Nations, as well as individuals, are amenable for their acts to the public opinion of mankind. A statement of a part of our grievances is therefore submitted to an impartial world, in justification of the hazardous but unavoidable step now taken, of severing our political connection with the Mexican people, and assuming an independent attitude among the nations of the earth.

The Mexican government, by its colonization laws, invited and induced the Anglo-American population of Texas to colonize its wilderness under the pledged faith of a written constitution, that they should continue to enjoy that constitutional liberty and republican government to which they had been habituated in the land of their birth, the United States of America.

In this expectation they have been cruelly disappointed, inasmuch as the Mexican nation has acquiesced in the late changes made in the government by General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna, who having overturned the constitution of his country, now offers us the cruel alternative, either to abandon our homes, acquired by so many privations, or submit to the most intolerable of all tyranny, the combined despotism of the sword and the priesthood.

It has sacrificed our welfare to the state of Coahuila, by which our interests have been continually depressed through a jealous and partial course of legislation, carried on at a far distant seat of government, by a hostile majority, in an unknown tongue, and this too, notwithstanding we have petitioned in the humblest terms for the establishment of a separate state government, and have, in accordance with the provisions of the national constitution, presented to the general Congress a republican constitution, which was, without just cause, contemptuously rejected.

It incarcerated in a dungeon, for a long time, one of our citizens, for no other cause but a zealous endeavor to procure the acceptance of our constitution, and the establishment of a state government.

It has failed and refused to secure, on a firm basis, the right of trial by jury, that palladium of civil liberty, and only safe guarantee for the life, liberty, and property of the citizen.

It has failed to establish any public system of education, although possessed of almost boundless resources, (the public domain,) and although it is an axiom in political science, that unless a people are educated and enlightened, it is idle to expect the continuance of civil liberty, or the capacity for self government.

It has suffered the military commandants, stationed among us, to exercise arbitrary acts of oppression and tyranny, thus trampling upon the most sacred rights of the citizens, and rendering the military superior to the civil power.

It has dissolved, by force of arms, the state Congress of Coahuila and Texas, and obliged our representatives to fly for their lives from the seat of government, thus depriving us of the fundamental political right of representation.

It has demanded the surrender of a number of our citizens, and ordered military detachments to seize and carry them into the Interior for trial, in contempt of the civil authorities, and in defiance of the laws and the constitution.

It has made piratical attacks upon our commerce, by commissioning foreign desperadoes, and authorizing them to seize our vessels, and convey the property of our citizens to far distant ports for confiscation.

It denies us the right of worshiping the Almighty according to the dictates of our own conscience, by the support of a national religion, calculated to promote the temporal interest of its human functionaries, rather than the glory of the true and living God.

It has demanded us to deliver up our arms, which are essential to our defence, the rightful property of freemen, and formidable only to tyrannical governments.

It has invaded our country both by sea and by land, with intent to lay waste our territory, and drive us from our homes; and has now a large mercenary army advancing, to carry on against us a war of extermination.

It has, through its emissaries, incited the merciless savage, with the tomahawk and scalping knife, to massacre the inhabitants of our defenseless frontiers.

It hath been, during the whole time of our connection with it, the contemptible sport and victim of successive military revolutions, and hath continually exhibited every characteristic of a weak, corrupt, and tyrannical government.

These, and other grievances, were patiently borne by the people of Texas, until they reached that point at which forbearance ceases to be a virtue. We then took up arms in defence of the national constitution. We appealed to our Mexican brethren for assistance. Our appeal has been made in vain. Though months have elapsed, no sympathetic response has yet been heard from the Interior.

We are, therefore, forced to the melancholy conclusion, that the Mexican people have acquiesced in the destruction of their liberty, and the substitution therefore of a military government; that they are unfit to be free, and incapable of self government.

The necessity of self-preservation, therefore, now decrees our eternal political separation.

We, therefore, the delegates with plenary powers of the people of Texas, in solemn convention assembled, appealing to a candid world for the necessities of our condition, do hereby resolve and declare, that our political connection with the Mexican nation has forever ended, and that the people of Texas do now constitute a free, Sovereign, and independent republic, and are fully invested with all the rights and attributes which properly belong to independent nations; and, conscious of the rectitude of our intentions, we fearlessly and confidently commit the issue to the decision of the Supreme arbiter of the destinies of nations.

Dallas ’63

Much has been written about the assassination of our 35th President, John Fitzgerald Kennedy, as his motorcade traveled through Dallas’ Dealey Plaza. Dallas became known derisively by the rest of the country as “The town that killed Kennedy.” The course of history of the United States changed when a sniper’s bullets echoed through downtown Dallas the afternoon of November 22, 1963.

Of course, one of the largest challenges for Dallas, became how to appropriately commemorate the death of an American President. We’ve seen the same conflicting ideals play out in the last decade in New York City where the 9/11 Memorial had to properly balance the need to remember and reflect while the business of a city still carried on around the site.

We spent Saturday, November 7, 2015 on a walking/bus tour of Dallas’ Kennedy related sites.

We headed to downtown Dallas on the DART Light Rail system. The West End Station will drop you right by the Sixth Floor Museum and services all DART Light Rail lines (If you’re riding the TRE from Irving and points west, get off at Victory and connect to Green or Orange line trains heading south, Denton A-Train users will connect to the DART Green Line at Carrollton’s Trinity Mills Station.IMG_3979 We were in downtown well in advance of the Sixth Floor Museum’s 10 AM opening so we walked to the John Fitzgerald Kennedy Memorial located at Main Street and Market Street, directly east of Dallas’ Old Red Courthouse. At the memorial, you will find only a granite slab encased by an “open tomb” of concrete walls that are intended to shelter visitors from the noise and activity of downtown Dallas.  It is said that the granite slab with no monument upon it is intended to cast recollections on a life and presidency cut short before they could be fully realized.

Leaving the memorial, we essentially followed the route of Kennedy’s motorcade IMG_3980down Main Street to Dealey Plaza (note I say essentially because we walked on the sidewalk!). At Dealey Plaza, the motorcade turned north on Houston for one block before making that fateful turn onto Elm Street to head towards Interstate 35. As you face north, you come face to face with history. The red brick building located on the corner of Elm and Houston is the Texas State School Book Depository. The Sixth Floor corner window on the south side of the building is where Lee Harvey Oswald made his sniper’s nest and awaited the President’s arrival. Here, take a moment to take in Dealey Plaza. A Dallas City Park, built as a Works Progress Administration project in 1940, looks in many ways as it did in 1963. In 1993, the entire park was declared a National Historical Landmark because of the significance of the Kennedy assassination to American history and to help forever preserve the Plaza’s environs. You’ll find interpretive markers pointing out places such as where Abraham Zapruder stood while filming the motorcade, the location of the Grassy Knoll where some believe a second shooter fired a shot at the motorcade, and more. Unofficial “X”s mark the spots on Elm Street where the motorcade was during each shot. Try to avoid the conspiracy theorists who are peddling their theories to anyone that will listen, and please, don’t venture into the middle of Elm Street to have your picture taken on the X!

Now, here’s a little pro tip for you on a busy day.IMG_3983 Of course, you can purchase Sixth Floor Museum tickets on the JFK.org website and print them at home, but the Sixth Floor Museum has two gift shops. The one located on the northeast corner of Elm and Houston (across the street from the Depository) has a cafe, but more importantly sells admission tickets for the museum. Adults are $16, children 6-18 are $13, Senior Citizens are $14.00. Children 5 and under are free unless they also want an audio tour (there’s a family friendly audio tour in addition to the standard tour) in which case their admission is $4. Tickets include audio tours. We found buying tickets across the street to be helpful as when we entered the museum’s ground floor, there was already quite a line forming. We were ushered directly to the service counter and given our audio tours and pointed upstairs. (Note, tickets include a timed entry (30 minute windows) to help with crowding on the Sixth Floor.)

The main exhibit is of course the Sixth Floor. Photography is expressly prohibited on the Sixth Floor (and vigorously enforced by security staff). The audio tour does a great job of describing President Kennedy’s trip to Dallas, the social undercurrents in IMG_3986the city that preceded it, including then-UN Ambassador Adlai Stevenson’s assault several months prior at a Dallas event. The southeast corner of the floor, where Oswald’s sniper nest was found, has been restored to how it was found that November afternoon. A webcam broadcasting what would have been Oswald’s perspective is set up at the location and broadcasts 24 hours a day here. I took the picture to the right from the seventh floor of the museum (where photography is allowed) directly above Oswald’s window.

As you continue through the rest of the exhibit hall, you learn of the immediate reaction when President Kennedy was taken to Parkland Hospital, the arrest of Oswald, President Kennedy’s funeral, the murder of Oswald by Dallas nightclub owner Jack Ruby on live television, and finally the Warren Commission and the various conspiracy theories. On the seventh floor, photography is allowed as previously mentioned, and rotating exhibits are on display.

We left the museum and headed out for Oak Cliff. DART’s D-Link (Route 722) will IMG_3989take you to Madison & Jefferson, home to the Texas Theatre. The Texas Theatre is where Oswald was arrested by Dallas Police for the assassination of President Kennedy as well as the murder of Dallas Police Officer J. D. Tippit. The theater has been restored in recent years and shows new releases as well as restored classics. On the day we visited, the building was not open. For those that choose to, a seven block walk to the northeast side of Adamson High School will take you to the intersection of Tenth and Patton. A Texas Historical Commission marker marks the intersection as where Officer Tippit encountered Oswald and seeing that he matched the suspect description of the President’s assassin tried to stop and question him. Oswald shot Officer Tippit and left him for dead. A neighborhood resident used IMG_3990Officer Tippit’s radio to call for help. After killing Tippit, Oswald went to the Texas Theatre, entered a double feature of Cry of Battle and War is Hell without paying, prompting theater staff to call Dallas police.

The rest, as they say, is history. Oswald was arrested and taken to the Dallas City Jail. When being transferred to the custody of the Dallas County Sheriff two days later, Jack Ruby entered the jail garage and fatally wounded Oswald.

This photo of the Parkland Emergency Room entrance was taken in March 2015, before Parkland relocated to a new one billion dollar facility across Harry Hines Blvd. IMG_0377President Kennedy was declared dead in Trauma Room #1 at 1:00 PM. Prior to the closure of the “old” Parkland, a plaque in the building marked the site of Trauma Room #1. It’s status is currently uncertain.

We did not get the opportunity to visit Dallas Love Field, but in the Fall of 2015, a plaque marking the location of Air Force One when Stonewall native Lyndon Baines Johnson was sworn in as the 36th President of the United States. President Johnson’s inauguration marked the first time a President was sworn in west of the Mississippi River and the first time it was conducted by a woman (US District Judge for the Northern District of Texas Sarah T. Hughes, a Kennedy appointee). A replica of the plaque will be installed later this year at the Fly Bar on the second level of Love Field. A special beacon has also been placed in the tarmac so the location is visible to viewers at the Fly Bar. (Note: The viewing area is NOT in the secured area of Love Field and is generally open to the public. Contact Love Field on Twitter @DallasLoveField or by phone at 214-670-LOVE (5683) to confirm)

Howdy Folks!

Welcome to our recap of our 2014 trip to the State Fair of Texas!

Last fall, the State Fair of Texas was kind enough to invite us to spend a day tweeting the history of the Fair live from Fair Park. Below, you’ll find all of your tweets and pictures from the Fair. Will we see you on the Midway this fall? The 2015 State Fair of Texas runs September 25-October 18.