Situated along the banks of the Brazos River and down the road from the trails and paths of Cameron Park, Outdoor Waco connects the community to Waco's most exciting outdoor adventures. Whether they're selling a bike, repairing a flat, or renting out a tandem kayak, the knowledgeable staff members pride themselves in their fervent love for the outdoors and all the cool gear that comes with it. This same gear awaits within their showroom, waiting to outfit customers in search of bikes, watercraft, apparel, and equipment.
When nights get longer, so do nightmares. This fall, Vampire Inc. has erected two thrilling haunted houses, just next door to one another. Chainsaw Nightmare recalls the very place where the massacre took place, made famous by the movie and its remake staring Bozo the Clown. In the Dead Zone, monsters and madmen hide in corners waiting to steal the breath and email passwords from freaked-out visitors.
Brave souls attempt to walk the length of Haunted Hollow's woodsy trail, where the spirits of those who were once buried nearby attempt to find hosts in unsuspecting visitors. As they meander along the path, they encounter monsters, ghouls, and zombies that attempt to thwart their way. To defend their loved ones, adventurers can rent lung-powered marshmallow blasters that can distract the creatures lurking nearby.
Around harvest time on Rising Star Vineyards' verdant acres, vines of chardonnay, merlot, and other Old-World grapes hang heavy, ready for their transformation into the small-batch wines the vineyard is famous for. As detailed in the Abilene Reporter-News, the grapes are trellised several feet off the ground, which owner Michael Oubre says “produces superior fruit” for their distinctive blends of Old-World flavor and Texan style. Their Salado cheesery and tasting room serves salads and sandwiches on locally baked bread for lunch, while vending cheese and other sundries exclusively made by Texas producers. In addition to cheese plates featuring fresh chevre from Bonney Goat Cheeses and Watonga flavored cheddars, the shop serves frozen wine margaritas to sip as talismans against the Samarian curses of the hot sun. The winery also holds regular wine-education and tasting classes, from a basic Wine 101 session to a food-and-wine-pairing session.
Beaumont Ranch is the realization of a dream. Ron Beaumont, the founder and family patriarch, was enamored with the cowboy lifestyle from a very young age, and envisioned himself one day running a ranch like the ones he saw in his favorite western movies. The vision came to fruition in July of 1997, when he and his wife Linda opened their 800 acres of land to the public, allowing visitors to live like cowboys and mingle with their herds of Texas longhorns and horses.
Today, three Beaumont generations live on the ranch, and the guest accommodations have expanded from a 22-room bed-and-breakfast to a 32-room facility boasting an events center, a common area, and a bunkhouse with an additional 48 beds. Well-rested patrons can explore the natural prairies that stretch as far as the eye can see on the transportation of their choice: ATV, horse, or even zipline. After a day spent riding bucking broncos and roping cattle, visitors can kick off their cowboy boots and remove their 10-gallon hats to enjoy pampering serenity at the ranch spa. Here, the aestheticians soothe weary cowpokes' muscles with massages and body scrubs, which were what kept John Wayne so cool under pressure.
Weddings at The Vineyard at Florence hark back to an unhurried age, when horse-drawn carriages ferried couples to the ceremony, guests stayed in villas overlooking verdant rows of grapes, and the next morning began with a dip in the infinity pool. The sprawling venue embraces this mix of old-world Italy and modern luxury. Intricate stonework on the Tuscan inns contrasts with the sleek lines of its gym equipment, and the murmurs of a spring-fed creek accompany live musical performances in the amphitheater.
Guests needn't be getting married to explore the setting—there are single-day excursions such as the Sunday yoga class. Of course, estate wines remain a prime focus for the staff and the vineyard's visitors, with tastings held most Thursdays and weekends inside the Villa Firenze, where contemporary culture mingles with antiquated charm. Italian decor and architecture typify the rustic interior, though its main hallways give way to galleries where local artists can exhibit their work. Gigantic wooden barn beams grace the ceiling in the traditional wine shop, and the outer decks afford views of the polo field alongside the arbors and herb gardens.
Rather than preserve their slice of countryside with uninterrupted quiet or a colossal snow-globe dome, the vineyard's tenants strive to fill the hills with life. They host classes on topics from pairing wines to organic farming, and welcome diners to sample handcrafted confections at Bissinger's Chocolate Experience and Café. Bands fill the wine-tasting room with new rhythms each week, and festivals such as the Harvest Celebration Weekend—where attendees can glimpse stone carvers at work and dine on homegrown cuisine—imbue the rural expanse with a close sense of community.
Wayne Standefer, the head pilot at Balloon Adventures, is well versed in Dallas-area scenery and topography, knowledge that helps him regale passengers with information during flights. The adventure begins as the aircraft is brought to life before your eyes. Once his balloon reaches its full height—more than 10 stories—Standefer invites you inside the tightly woven wicker basket to soar above rooftops and trees and dip low over fields and rivers. Total flight time is usually around an hour, though the whole experience can take three times as long from start to finish.
Balloon Adventures also charters its services for weddings, arranges surprise flights for special occasions, and offers instruction in specific tasks such as rigging the balloon, navigating in-flight, and shooing away flocks of paper airplanes. In addition, the company participates in hot-air-balloon festivals, where clouds of bright purple, orange, and yellow balloons fill the daytime sky or illuminate the festival grounds at night.