Travel-free vacation ideas
By Tracy Patterson
Photography by Beth Dukes
Imagine a vacation with no “Are we there yet?” from the back seat of your car. No long lines at airport security checks, lost luggage, canceled flights or being stuck in your hotel room as a storm rages outside. Imagine minimal planning and the flexibility to do whatever, whenever.
No matter your recreation style – nature-loving, thrill-seeking, or total relaxation –you don’t have to plan an elaborate itinerary and endure traveling hassles to enjoy days off. Increasingly popular during breaks from school or work are “staycations,” defined by Wikipedia as “a period in which an individual or family stays home and participates in leisure activities within driving distance, sleeping in their own beds at night.” Abilene as a staycation “destination” offers a multitude of activities and attractions for a wide range of ages and interests.
Adventure in the Sun
If the beach is your idea of the perfect vacation spot but you don’t want to travel to the coast or deal with unfriendly sea creatures, look no further than Lake Fort Phantom and SUP Abilene. The family-owned business offers stand-up paddleboard and kayak rentals. Owner Amy Herndon describes their piece of the lake as a “beach-like atmosphere right here in Abilene,” featuring a lakefront sandy beach with hammocks and a gazebo. You can rent kayaks and stand-up paddleboards, or enjoy paddleboats, sand volleyball, horseshoes, and cooking out on the grill. Adventures are rented by the hour or by the day, and the venue is available for after-hours parties for groups or individuals who want a private beach. Visit SupAbilene.com or call 325-269-1812 for more information.
You can also make a day of water fun at Adventure Cove Aquatic Center’s waterslides, lazy river and a zero-depth entry pool, or at several smaller splash pads for the younger ones. Visit www.abilenetx.com or www.abilenevisitors.com/Major-Attractions for hours of operation and fees.
If you prefer outdoor activities on dry land, head just south of the Mall of Abilene to Shockey Stables, owned by David and Judy Shockey. Groups, families, or even couples can enjoy a special occasion horseback riding adventure for “whatever the reason or whatever the season,” Judy says. Riders start in an arena until everyone is comfortable on their horses and then are taken on a guided trail ride. Top off your day with a brisket or steak dinner at a local restaurant for a western-themed adventure. Visit www.shockeystables.com for more information.
For a different kind of ride, head to Buck Creek mountain bike trail on the north side of town on East Lake Road. Carved into the West Texas landscape are more than 14 miles of bike trails ranging from a flat beginner trail to more advanced technical trails with rocks, bridges and obstacles. A $30 Abilene Bicycle Club membership, which is good for members and their guests for a year, is required to get a key to access the trails and can be purchased at Bike Town, 1789 Industrial Blvd. You will also need to sign liability waiver, and helmets are required. Off-road bicycles are recommended.
Test your searching skills with geocaching, a fun and cost-free activity – with a dash of intrigue – that all ages can enjoy. According to geocaching.com, “Geocaching is a real-world, outdoor treasure hunting game using GPS-enabled devices. Participants navigate to a specific set of GPS coordinates and then attempt to find the geocache (container) hidden at that location.” Once you find the coordinates, search the area for the cache, which is a container that can range from a clear plastic box, to a pill bottle or a fake rock with a secret compartment. Inside the cache is a log-in sheet to sign your name and date of the find, and some of the larger caches contain trinkets that others have left, which you can take if you replace it with a trinket of your own. Geocaching.com lists over 200 caches in Abilene, many of which are free to access. Additional caches are available for a paid membership. Caches are labeled by size of the container, difficulty to find, and the terrain around the cache.
Families with young children, head to the heart of downtown Abilene, where you can stroll around and enjoy Abilene’s Storybook sculptures using the Storybook Adventure Guide, available at www.storybookcapitalofamerica.com or at the T &P Depot, 1101 N. 1st St. You can also download a free app called GooseChase, available for Android or iphones. Select the Storybook Sculpture Scavenger Hunt option, complete all of the missions and submit photos to the app to earn a Storybook Capital button available at the T & P Depot between 8:30 a.m. and 5 p.m. weekdays.
While you’re out and about, grab a free Seymour Passport and search for six 3-foot-tall Seymour characters which are permanently hidden at different Abilene locations. The Seymours were hidden in Abilene as a part of the 2013 Children’s Art & Literacy Festival honoring children’s author/illustrator Walter Wick. At each destination visitors can have their passport stamped and receive a Seymour sticker. Passports are available at each of the six locations where Seymour is hidden: The Grace Museum, Frontier Texas!, Center for Contemporary Arts, Abilene Public Library, National Center for Children’s Illustrated Literature (NCCIL) and the Abilene Zoo. These venues are also included in the Abilene Round Up Pass, which gets you in to these attractions with the addition of the 12th Armored Division Memorial Museum and Taylor County History Center. Purchase passes, which are good for a year from the purchase date, at www.abilenevisitors.com or at any participating locations.
Family activity seekers can also bounce around at the Maxx Air Trampoline Park, 949 South Judge Ely, or spend a day at Prime Time Family Entertainment Center, 4541 Loop 322, for mini golf, go carts, laser tag, XD theatre, bumper cars, bowling an escape room and much more.
Take it Easy
If a little R & R is your staycation preference, look to the skies, where the stars are the “stars” during Stars and Skies of Texas monthly star-gazing events during the summer at Fort Griffin State Historic Site, just a 45-minute drive from Abilene. This site has gained a reputation for having some of the darkest night skies in Texas. During viewing parties, local astronomers are on hand with high-powered telescopes, and visitors can view planets, nebulas, and galaxies. Take lawn chairs or a blanket and some snacks or a picnic dinner and gaze at the skies for a relaxing evening. http://www.thc.texas.gov/historic-sites/fort-griffin-state-historic-site (check the “News and Events” tab for dates and times.)
For more relaxing recreation of the outdoor variety, the Abilene State Park offers camping (RV, tent, yurts, shelters), biking/hiking trails, geocaching caches, boating, swimming and fishing. Visit www.tpwd.texas.gov/state-parks/abilene for information and fees. You can also camp overnight at your own home, either in your backyard (if it’s not too hot) or pull out sleeping bags and stay in your living room. Play games, pop popcorn, watch movies, build a fort, read, or run around with flashlights.
Prefer more pampering? Stay at a local hotel or bed & breakfast (check out the Sayles Ranch Guesthouses at www.Saylesranch.com). Have a spa day. Visit Abilene’s art galleries or museums. Shop at antique stores. Have a movie marathon. Attend a live theatre event. Order take-out. Ditch doing laundry or cleaning or answering emails. Rejuvenate!