Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Heritage Museum of the Texas Hill Country

One of the best places to learn about the earliest inhabitants of our area is undoubtedly the Heritage Museum of the Texas Hill Country. Located about halfway between Sattler and Startzville, it features exhibits devoted to the people who lived here in the years before Canyon Lake existed, to the immigrants who settled here in the 19th century, and to the Indians who hunted and gathered here before that.

Right: While the Heritage Museum of the Texas Hill Country is devoted to the legacy of local pioneer and Native American inhabitants, the dinosaur tracks that it preserves are its greatest claim to fame. 

“We have a German heritage, of course, in nearly all of this area, so we have a lot of German pioneer items in a couple of rooms,” said office manager Lelo Beth Cude. The museum also has numerous pieces of antique farm equipment and a room devoted to “a wonderful collection of arrowheads and Native American things that pretty much came from the Comal County area. We also have a before-and-after of Canyon Lake Dam room, with a really nice diorama.”

Left: Replicas of its tracks, T-shirts, and other dinosaur-oriented items are among the things that can be found in the museum’s gift shop. 

Below right: Antiques and artifacts from the settlers and residents of the mid-19th through the mid-20th century in our area are among the things on display at the museum.

The museum is, however, perhaps best known for preserving traces of even earlier residents, those who lived here about 125 million years ago, and is thus often referred to simply as “the Dinosaur Museum.” Two species of Cretaceous-epoch dinosaurs, in fact, walked across what was at that time a muddy coastal plain and left behind tracks that can still be seen to this day at the site.

One sort of footprints was left by a large ancestor of the Tyranosaurus Rex known as Acrocanthosaurus, which might actually have been an even deadlier predator than its more-familiar descendant and would have preyed upon a large herbivore called Iguanadon, the creature that left behind the second type of footprints. A third sort of tracks was left by at least two members of a species of large snail.

These tracks were discovered by the then-owners of the land in 1979, who because of them decided to forego plans to develop the site into an RV park and instead began operating it as an attraction called Dinosaur Flats. More than 350 tracks were ultimately discovered at the site, but many of them were subsequently damaged or destroyed by the elements over the ensuing three decades (one of these tracks can be seen at left).

Preventing that has thus been a big priority for the non-profit organization that has run the museum since 1994, which in 2008 completed a large steel-roofed structure — easily visible on the south side of FM 2673 to anyone driving between Sattler and Startzville — to protect the footprints. (Dinosaur tracks that have been discovered at nearby Canyon Lake Gorge are at the same elevation as those at the museum and might actually be a continuation of the tracks there and left by the very same creatures.)

Below right: One room of the museum is devoted to Native American artifacts and related items. 

One of the things Cude and museum volunteers are currently working on are preparations for the annual Harvestfest, the organization’s main annual fundraiser, which will be held the evening of Wednesday, October 4 (its other big event is Dinosaur Day in April).

Highlights of this event will include entertainment, a BBQ dinner and peach cobbler food prepared by local volunteers, a silent auction of items donated by local businesses, a raffle, and drawings throughout the night. Tickets for the event are $20 each and volunteers will begin selling them within a month or so.

Between 200 and 400 people typically attend the Harvestfest and this year, Cude said, the museum will be pushing for the upper end of that range and is hoping to attract people not just from Canyon Lake but also New Braunfels, Spring Branch, Bulverde, and the surrounding area.

The Heritage Museum of the Texas Hill Country is located at 4831 FM 2673, between Sattler and Startzville. For more information, go to or call (830) 899-4542. 

This still that is on display at the museum was used from the early 1900s through the 1930s to distill whisky at a location on the banks of nearby Cibolo Creek. 

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Cruisin’ Canyon Lake Getaway Weekend

Cruisin’Canyon Lake Getaway Weekend, a fun, diverse, and exciting three-day community event that debuted last year, is being reprised here next month and will have activities to choose from that include a party, dance, hikes, arts-and-crafts sessions, gardening classes, golf, kayaking, fishing, and more. It is being organized by the Pilot Club of Canyon Lake in cooperation with two other local entities and will run Friday through Sunday, September 29 – October 1.

“This really is a community-focused event,” said Diane Schaule, a member of the Pilot Club and one of the organizers. “We’ve partnered with the Friends of the TyePreston Memorial Library and with the CRRC, for use of their facilities and for volunteers.” Organizers are also encouraging people to invite their out-of-town friends to come out to the lake and participate in the weekend event.

“Our Saturday night dance, which is really the highlight of the event, is going to be held at the rec center,” Schaule said, and will include music by the Grateful Geezers, a popular Houston-based band that specializes in songs from the ’50s through ’80s. “We want the whole community to join us for the Saturday night dance,” even if they are not registered for other weekend events.

More than a dozen events will be offered as part of the three-day program and most range in cost from $7 to $40. One is free, a Friday night welcome party at Tye Preston Memorial Library for people who have registered for weekend events that will include games and displays of creations by local artisans. Other activities will be held at locations throughout Canyon Lake, to include the Community Center building behind the CRRC Rec Center, and at the Lions Pavilion next door to it. Proceeds from the second-annual fundraiser will be split equally between the three partner organizations and used to support their activities (and amounted to about $2,000 each last year).

Activities participants can choose from include a walk/run at Canyon Lake Dam; a three-hour guided tour through Canyon Gorge (shown below); an “Adult Mud Pies” class where people can make pots and then have them glazed and fired; a Battenburg Cake-making class; a session on successfully growing orchids; a walk along the Guadalupe River that includes a box lunch; a luncheon at the library; a silk scarf-painting class; the “Sconehenge” scone-making class; an afternoon high tea; and a “sip and paint” class that is being run by two local artists.

“They’re going to take some wine glasses and paint on them and drink wine too,” said the Pilot Club’s Anna Burdick, who is also helping to organize the upcoming event.

Lakeside Country Club is also offering tee times on Saturday for participants in the weekend event. Participants in the weekend program can also sign up to go kayaking on the Guadalupe River or to take fly-fishing lessons, both through the Rio Guadalupe Resort, on Friday, Saturday, or Sunday.

“We used last year’s experience to develop this year’s events, what worked and what didn’t,” Schaule said, in putting together the itinerary for the weekend, and that certainly shows in the variety of fun things she and her colleagues have planned.

Registration for the Cruisin’ Canyon Lake Getaway Weekend is open now and you can reserve limited spots in its great events and create a personal itinerary for yourself now by going to You cans also get updates for the event and a chance to win free passes to it on its “Cruisin’ Canyon Lake” Facebook page. Check-in for the event will be at Overlook Park off of South Access Road and run from 2–5 p.m. on Friday and from 8–11 a.m. on Saturday. 

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Managing Inactive Accounts on Facebook

Last summer I hit upon a trick on that can be useful to anyone who has maxed out on the number of friends they can have on Facebook but still wants to add new people. One way I have seen people manage the onerous 5,000 friend limit on Facebook is by having multiple personal accounts there, but I have seen a number of downsides with that over the years (including putting already limited time into managing supposedly co-equal accounts). 

In short, if you go into your Friends list on Facebook and scroll through it, the profile pictures for deactivated accounts will display only as silhouettes. Any number of these are presumably accounts of people who just got sick of dealing with Facebook, or who never really started using it to any extent, but a certain proportion of them are people who have died and had their accounts deactivated by friends or family members. Prior to discovering this, it would not have occurred to me that deactivated accounts would could against the number of friends someone can have, but this is indeed the case. 

If you click on one of these silhouettes, you will get this message: "This account has been deactivated. Only you can see 'John' on your friends list. You have the option to unfriend 'John'." Those last two words are hotlinked and all you have to do is click on them. Some socially awkward people only use silhouettes, however, so if you don’t want to delete them you can click on their names to see if they are still active rather than just unfriend them! On my second and most recent use of this trick, however, I looked at a number of

The first time I used this trick, about nine months prior to posting this article, I easily cleared out 305 deactivated accounts in the course of an evening while watching TV; somewhat late in the process I also decided to unfriend people without Profile Pictures who I noticed had never actually posted anything or had not done so for more than a year and were thus clearly not ever or no longer active on Facebook.

I used this trick for the second time just prior to posting this article and removed 78 inactive friends, among them a handful who had only posted a few times and not at all for a number of years.

Hope this can be as useful to others as it has been to me! It takes a little bit of effort but shows respect for people we have become friends with by not unfriending those who are still active (and is infinitely preferable to those horrible, bullying messages some people post declaring they are unfriending anyone who doesn't respond by begging to remain in contact with them). 

Saturday, February 11, 2017

An Exercise in Resolve Redux

One of the things I did throughout 2015 was post an ongoing log, month-by-month, of my daily exercise, particularly the distance I was covering and the weight of the gear I was carrying with me. In general, I was carrying either a "light" or a "medium" load and hoping to build up the a "heavy" one while not reducing the length of my walk. For reasons that seemed good at the time I decided not to continue doing this in 2016 and believe that my exercise routine suffered a bit as a result of my not tracking it (and probably also because me feet were not held to the fire by public posts). January was pretty chaotic for me, as a result of getting ready for and then going to East Asia for a couple of weeks, and I certainly did not have a regular routine — although I did get a lot of walking in when I was overseas. With the start of February, however, I once again started walking regularly (and doing other exercise somewhat less regularly), with an eye toward preparing for a long hike I would like to do this fall, and I decided to once again start tracking my activity here. 

February 1: Walked 2.0 miles with a light load. 
February 2: Walked 3.2 miles with a light load. 
February 3: Walked 2.8 miles with a light load. 
February 4: No walk! On the road for CRRC article, visit with friends, etc. 
February 5: Walked 3.2 miles with a light load. 
February 6: Walked 3.2 miles with a light load. 
February 7: Walked 3.2 miles with a light load. 
February 8: Walked 2.5 miles with a light load. 
February 9: Walked 0.6 miles with a light load (i.e., up to the mailbox and back)
February 10: No walk! Had to take a sick pet to the vet. 
February 11: Walked 3.2 miles with a light load. 
February 12: Walked 2.6 miles with a light load. 
February 13: No walk! Had to pick up a pet at the vet and it rained.
February 14: Cool, damp, and windy 57-degree day here in Texas Hill Country but managed to get in 2.5 miles with a light load! Still trying to boost my exercise ... 
February 15: Increased full walk slightly to 3.5 miles; warmed up to 64 degrees and was less windy than the day before. 
February 16: Walked just 0.6 miles, up to mailbox and back. 
February 17: No walk! Friend was visiting from out of town. 
February 18: Took a c. 3-mile overland hike with my visiting buddy Karl (below), to include a fossil hunt and visit to a 19th-century German cemetery. 
February 19: Walked 2.0 miles with a light load; achy and dragging a little. 
February 20: Walked 2.5 miles with a light load. 
February 21: Walked 3.2 miles with a light load; warm day and was feeling it. 
February 22: Walked 2.5 miles with a light load. Pretty hot, dry, and cloudless — especially for February! 
February 23: 
February 24: 
February 25: 
February 26: 
February 27: 
February 28: 

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Going Beyond 'Year of the Rooster'

On February 5, 2017, the New Braunfels Herald-Zeitung newspaper here in south Texas ran "Year of the Rooster, a feature article about the recent voyage on the Celebrity Millennium cruise ship from Hong Kong to Shanghai, China, via Vietnam, the Philippines, Taiwan, and South Korea, for which I served as the destination-oriented special-interest speaker. As usual, I submitted more photos than the publication could reasonably be expected to use (13 versus the four they were actually able to run), and so I am posting the balance of them here, along with the captions I wrote for them, as a supplement to the article. A major theme of this story is preparations for the Chinese New Year, which in 2017 is the Year of the Rooster. 

Main gate into the old imperial citadel of Hue in Vietnam, site of a brutal battle during the Lunar New Year in 1968. 

Left: Author Michael O. Varhola with one of the many statues that can be found in the gardens of the maze-like complex surrounding the mausoleum of 19th century Vietnamese Emperor Tu Duc. Right: A rooster, symbol of the incoming Lunar New Year, that the author auspiciously met at the Pagoda of the Celestial Lady, located on a bluff above the Perfume River in Hue, while working on this story. 

Jeepneys, adapted from the old U.S. military Willy's jeeps, are the most characteristic form of transportation in the Philippines.  

Left: A view of the skyline of Taipei, Taiwan, capital of the nationalist Republic of China, with the massive Taipei 101 commercial center at left. Right: A colorful display of paper lanterns, used in Chinese New Year celebrations, at Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall in Taipei. 

Inside the shrine of the 14th-century Haedong Yongkung Temple, in Busan, South Korea, with gold figures representing the past, present, and future Buddhas. 

Left: A small portion of the sprawling waterfront of Shanghai, which, with more than 24 million residents, is the most populous city in the world. Right: A colorful holiday display at Shanghai Pudong International Airport, a place that, while very busy, is almost uncannily quiet and serene by American standards. 

Below is a detail from the first page of the two-page treatment of "Year of the Rooster" that appeared in the New Braunfels Herald-Zeitung. Additional photos, videos of the six presentations I gave, and more can be found on my TravelBlogue