By Dan Carpenter
Whether your Spring Break goal is to relax or go all out, there are several destinations that won’t break the bank or require a refill on the tank.
A short, 20-minute drive south of San Angelo you’ll find the town of Christoval and The Hummer House, a three-cottage bed and breakfast. Each cottage offers privacy in the natural setting of live oak and pecan timber.
While this west Texas oasis is unique for its natural beauty, it is distinguished from other wildlife habitats because of thousands of tiny hummingbird inhabitants. The Hummer House is the summer home to Texas’ largest concentration of breeding Black-chinned Hummingbirds. Numerous bird species are native to the area and are joined by migrant birds as the seasons change.
The Hummer House is owned and operated by Dan and Cathy Brown. The property has been in the family for nearly a century.
“Dan’s family purchased the property in the late 1920s,” said Cathy. “It was a typical farm and ranch operation for many years. Dan built the house we live in in the late 1960s.”
Cathy said Dan always loved wildlife, and that someone was always coming to the house to ask to watch the hummingbirds.
“In the early 1990s, Texas Parks and Wildlife was promoting nature tourism; one of them heard about Dan feeding a lot of birds, so they visited and spent some time with him,” Cathy said. “They asked if he ever considered the idea of a B&B, and after kicking around the idea, the rest is history. He built the first cottage, called the Hummer House, in 1995, and after we got married, we added two more cottages.”
Cathy said the hummingbirds typically arrive in mid-March, and are prevalent until mi-September.
“They are here to nest and raise their young,” she added. “We put out nesting material, and there are feeders all over the property. We feed an average of 1,500 pounds of sugar every year.”
In addition to the hummingbirds, visitors to the Hummer House can watch the beautiful painted bunting, a bird known for its vivid fusion of red, yellow, green and blue coloring.
In addition to appreciating the beauty of the birds, there is a veritable plethora of things to do and see within a few minutes of the bed and breakfast.
Just six miles to the southeast is the Mount Carmel Hermitage. A community of men called to a life of silence, solitude, prayer, and penance live in separate dwellings around a central chapel, following the original Carmelite rule.
Just three miles from the Hummer House is the Christoval Vineyards and Winery, where Drex and Nancy Vincent produce award winning Cabernet and Riesling varietals. Considered by many to be one of the most scenic vineyards in the state, they have developed the 25-acre estate into what is truly a one-of-a-kind wine and event destination.
To the north of the Hummer House, the city of San Angelo beckons with a bustling array of offerings, including the San Angelo Museum of Art, San Angelo State Park, and the San Angelo Stock Show and Rodeo grounds, which this year – during spring break – will host the Texas Junior High Rodeo Association Region 2 Rodeo.
If the Spring Break “wind” is blowing you to the southeast, you only need drive as far as Brownwood to find a quiet place to relax and enjoy the Texas Hill Country. Just four miles from Brownwood on 20 secluded acres is the Star of Texas Bed and Breakfast, operated by Don and Deb Morelock.
“We offer private cottages for two each with unique décor, hot tubs and sitting porches; this is where the intimacy of a bed and breakfast artfully melds with nature at your door,” said Deb.
A gourmet breakfast is on your doorstep every morning at 9 a.m., and if you are delighted by a glimpse of wildlife or enjoy oak trees that sway in the breeze; or if native wildscapes, birds singing or relaxing in a hot tub while viewing a sky full of stars sounds inviting to you, Star of Texas may just the place.
“I have always loved tourism and the hospitality industry,” said Deb. “Each cottage has its own special look and decor, all have outdoor hot tubs, and all but one have outdoor fire pits. We have 20 acres with an art/nature trail, and we offer seclusion and privacy for our guests to enjoy their time here.”
The Morelocks opened their first cottage, The Oak Cottage, in May 1998. They grew with the business and added a new cottage every two years until they had five cottage rooms, a 1955 Spartan Park Home and a tipi. Over the last few years, they have downsized some, and now have three cottages and an extended-stay apartment.
If wine is on your list of must-haves, short drives to Comanche (30 minutes to the northeast) or San Saba (45 minutes to the south) will land you in award-winning wineries. The Brennan Winery in Comanche boasts a 16-wine portfolio that includes Viognier, Syrah, and Cabernet varietals. The Wedding Oak Winery in San Saba, headed by Master Wine Maker Penny Adams, takes its cues from classic old world wine, blending complimentary grapes and minimal oak aging to let the grapes express their true qualities.
There is no shortage of great food in the Brownwood area either. From the quirky and iconic Underwood Café, serving buffet style barbecue, to the fine dining and wine bar Turtle Restaurant & Enoteca, there is certain to be something to satisfy your hunger. Humphrey Pete’s, with a large menu that includes great steaks and baby back ribs; The Runaway Train, an old train dinner car serving burgers and shakes; and Steve’s Market & Deli, an eclectic deli downtown with great sandwiches, round out just a few of Brownwood’s eateries.
If you want to get back to nature, the Heart of Texas Wildlife Trail, the Wildflower Trails, Way Out Wineries, Texas Hill Country Wine Trail, and the Texas Forts Trail are all certain to meet your need for a glimpse of nature at its finest.
Venturing a little farther east, the towns of Granbury and Glen Rose await the Spring Break traveler.
The Iron Horse Inn, the largest restored historic home in Granbury, is a restored Craftsman-style mansion offering Southern hospitality, six luxury guest rooms in the main house, two private cottages, a two-suite ranch house, and two guest parlors and beautiful gardens for gatherings and special events.
Owned and operated by Don and Diana McBride, The Iron Horse has been featured in D Magazine, Southern Inns, Texas Highways, and numerous Fort Worth and Dallas newspaper articles.
Don and Diana bring extensive experience in the B&B industry having owned and operated Victorian Reflections in Abilene, Kansas, for 18 years where they were featured in Midwest Living and received numerous recognitions for hospitality and historic preservation.
“We bought the property in late 2012,” said Diana, who noted the property required extensive renovation before they could open it the following summer. “Preservation has been our avocation; this is the sixth historic property we have restored. This home is an excellent example of the Frank Lloyd Wright style house built in the early 20th century.”
The McBrides purchased all of the furnishings, fixtures, etc., during the renovation; everything is designed for the house to look just as it would have during its prime.
Something always seems to be happening in Granbury. The surrounding area offers numerous outdoor activities in addition to the activities on and around the historic square. Visitors can spend the weekend just visiting the many specialty shops on the square, enjoying the many cafes and restaurants, and perusing the numerous antique shops.
With a short drive from Granbury to Bluff Dale, the food connoisseur can dine at Let’s Eat. This highly rated “hole-in-the-wall” is run by Curren Dodds, a classically-trained French chef from Dallas who loves to experiment with all kinds of food. The restaurant is only open on Thursday, Friday and Saturday, and reservations are required for the two seatings each evening at 6:30 and 8 p.m. The menu changes fairly frequently, but diners get to watch Curren prepare the food right in front of them.
Just a few short miles up the road from Granbury is the town of Glen Rose, another place where a lot is happening. Enjoy festivals and historical museums, kayak, go on a safari, hunt for dinosaur fossils, mountain bike, hike challenging slopes, swim, or see endangered black rhinos and Arabian onyx.
If that’s not enough, you can ride horses, golf, camp, go antique shopping, attend bluegrass festivals, hunt, visit an outdoor amphitheater, enjoy world-class entertainment and food, peruse art galleries, or see a rodeo.
After all that, you might be ready to head back to Abilene, just so you can get some rest.