The quiet hanging over 20 acres of white kentucky fence-lined prairie is broken with the opening chords of a power ballad. Lori Ragland is in a light-rock kind of mood today, and has chosen the soundtrack for the afternoon’s riding lessons accordingly. Finding this balance between the serenity of nature and ebullience of horseback riding is key to Lori’s approach to providing a controlled yet supportive learning environment for all of her pupils. A seasoned equestrienne who started her riding career at the tender age of 5, she strongly believes that a rider should possess a solid knowledge of riding safety and horse anatomy before stepping into the stirrups, which is why much time is spent with beginners reviewing these basics. Lori and her equally passionate crew of instructors pride themselves on their almost preternatural ability to pair up riders with their perfect steeds. They carefully analyze each rider’s disposition, comfort level, and fluency in colloquial neighing before matching them with a well-tempered mount from their fleet of 32 predominantly arabian horses.
Bel Canto Farms owner Suzanne Warmack has been enamored of equestrian sports since she took her first horseback ride at 18 months of age, more than 40 years ago. Now, in a facility where two dressage arenas, a derby field, and a 90-foot round pen segment the grounds, she leads a team of three regular instructors whose combined experience in teaching and showing surpasses 60 years. Since the facility is also outfitted for full boarding and pasture boarding, horse owners who lack stables or whose stables have been overrun by iguana flash mobs can house their steeds there, selecting one of three stall sizes equipped with a constant supply of hay and water and fans in summer.
"It's like throwing a party every day," Byron Severance, who co-owns The Jumpy Place along with his wife, Cathy, told the Hays Free Press. "It's the most fun I've ever had in a job." Byron and Cathy's indoor playground—kept immaculate with a strict socks-only policy, daily disinfectant washes, and an unbudging ban on trashcan-dwelling Grouches—relieves the endemic of excess energy common to youths aged 10 and younger. As children bounce in and slide down air-filled fortresses, adults entertain themselves with complimentary coffee, WiFi, and cartoon-free television. Both locations are open every day except Tuesday, and each admission grants all-day access that allows families to come and go as they please.
Sunset Bowling Lanes opened in 1959 with 24 solid-wood lanes and a stockpile of miniature pencils to keep track of spares and strikes. The alley has since upgraded to computerized scoring systems while also maintaining the charm of classic tenpin entertainment. In addition to its open bowling and league opportunities, Sunset Bowling Lanes hosts events such as college nights—which provide students with discounts so they can save up for books or exam mulligans—and keeps its patrons fueled for the eternal turkey hunt with burgers and drinks from the snack bar.
The tale of the Austin Children's Museum begins in 1983, when a band of parents and teachers started setting up educational exhibits and children's activities throughout the city. This “museum without walls” stretched into schools, parks, and malls, delighting children and families with a sense of whimsy and a place where play was rewarded. In the years that followed, the museum shed its nomadic beginnings and found a permanent home inside the pleasant green walls of the Dell Discovery Center. Firmly rooted, its exhibits have entertained and enlightened more than 800,000 youngsters and their parents while earning praise from the writers of Little Austinite.
Today, the sprawling 12,500-square-foot facility is a kaleidoscope of color and lights, where whippersnappers play with giant building blocks, cobble recycled materials into crafts, and marvel at golf balls as they soar through loops and shoots. Others explore the miniature Global City, where they take on roles such as veterinarians in the pet clinic, cooks in the diner, or stray raccoons hiding in the grocery store.
Throughout the week, a team of educators leads Discovery Time, guiding lads and lasses through kid-friendly science experiments that launch paper helicopters and make slime. The museum also hosts Storytime, where grownups read playful stories aloud to encourage creativity and instill a love of literature in young readers.
Water trickles through a stone roof in the shape of a butterfly, flowing through a Roman-styled aqueduct to a cistern placed for harvesting rainwater. Thorn-crested agaves and evergreen succulents flourish beneath the eaves. The architecture of this rainwater harvesting system—itself a recreation of a South Texas mission garden—embodies the dual purpose of the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center: to preserve native plant life and promote environmental and conservation research.
Although North American native plants thrive in this region when left to their own devices, urban development, agribusiness and the introduction of invasive species have slashed their numbers, reducing wildlife habitats and disrupting the fragile ecosystem. Lady Bird Johnson founded the Wildflower Center in 1982 to preserve these native plants and natural landscapes. Native Texas wildflowers and shrubs fill its 23 public gardens and trails, which form a natural habitat for cochineal insects and red-eared slider turtles. The center's Land Restoration Program restores damaged landscapes, and the Native Plant Information Network retains an online database of more than 7,200 native species.