Wild Black Bear Sightings Increasing in Texas

Recent sightings of black bears in the western parts of the Texas Hill Country could indicate the dry hot conditions in the Lone Star State are causing wildlife to venture into wider migration patterns.

From April through June, rare bear sightings have occurred near Carta Valley, Barksdale, Camp Wood, west of Ingram, south of Tarpley, Asherton, Alpine, Fort Davis and Mount Livermore.

On June 20th, a black bear was sighted swimming near the shoreline of Lake Amistad.

In the past year, bears have also been observed not only on the lake, but near Fort Stockton, north of Laredo, and in nearby regions.

While no one is sure how many bears currently live in Texas, experts agree that wildfires in Mexico, as well as drought conditions in other regions, have likely caused bears to migrate to new areas, including many parts of Texas.

Michael Janis, Trans-Pecos district leader for Texas Parks and Wildlife (TPWD), said dry conditions are likely sending bears looking for food. Breeding season also moved bears around.

The conservation efforts in bordering states over the last 20 years have also led to bears crossing back into Texas, especially during the summer mating season, according to TPWD.

Most of these animals wandering further into Texas are young, transient males in search of food and other bears. Males have much larger home ranges than females, and sub-adults can travel many miles to set up a new one.

Click to read bear tips for hunters, campers, hikers and homeowners

To those not aware of bears, some people become quite alarmed when they hear about sightings. However, out of approximately 36,000 people in the U.S. who are bitten annually by wildlife, black bears rank 5th behind rodents, venomous snakes, skunks, and foxes respectively.

In West Texas where Big Bend National Park (BBNP) has had more than 6,592 bear/human encounters since 1950, only 2.5 percent of those encounters were classified as aggressive interactions. Most of those occurred when the bear made contact with property containing human food. There has never been a black bear attack recorded in BBNP.

When Border Patrol agents discovered a young black bear in a tree in north Laredo last July, it likely came from Mexico, noted Eric Garza, wildlife biologist with TPWD.

Not long after,  residents of SpinTech – Myers Ranch caught a strange image on a game camera. Maybe it was an overgrown wild hog, but most believe it was a bear:

TPWD is recording more road kills of black bears between Laredo and Zapata over the decade. Garza notes they were likely males dispersing from Mexico also.

“Zapata itself probably hasn’t seen any historic sightings simply because of the lake. It’s hard for them to swim across the lake, especially when it’s up,” said Garza. “This particular animal probably came across where the water is a lot lower. Not where it’s a lake but where it’s still a river.”

In a 2011 Starr County encounter, Garza notes the bear became habituated to residents, picking up scraps of food and eating out of trash cans. In those instances the bears need to be trapped and relocated away from humans, pet food and trash.

“The first thing we need to know is any conflicts between black bears and people can be avoided very, very easily,” Garza explained. “And the easiest way to avoid any conflicts is to make sure and not leave trash out for bears to get into, and really any wildlife to get into. Don’t leave pet food out. Bring that in and secure it. Don’t leave small livestock animals like rabbits or poultry.”

Late 2021 and early 2022, TPWD biologists were monitoring multiple black bear sightings near the North Double Diamond community south of Alpine.

It is believed the bear may displaying behavior typical of hyperphagia (excessive or extreme hunger). Reports suggested that the bear were attracted to and searching for easily accessible food sources (i.e. pet food, wildlife feeders, livestock feed, etc.). 

In June, 2021, Big Bend National Park camper Valerie King took photos of a black bear in the Basin Campground:

TPWD indicates anyone encountering a black bear in a camping area should immediately deploy aversive conditioning by creating loud noises (shout, handclap, air horns, car alarm, sirens, or bang pots and pans) to startle the bear. Once the bear leaves, report the encounter to your District Biologist or TPWD Game Warden.

It is critical that the Department is able to monitor any on-going situations with full extent of known black bear encounters. 

In the 1800s, black bear lived through every ecosystem in Texas but has long been hunted down and migrated away from settlements and eventually, cities. In 2009, a black bear that wandered onto a Mernard County (Central Texas) cattle ranch was the first ever confirmed in this century in that part of the state, according to Capt. Alan Teague, a TPWD game warden.

Click to read bear tips for hunters, campers, hikers and homeowners

A Liberty County judge reputedly slaughtered 200 bears in the late 19th century, a pursuit that earned Lewis Hightower the handle “the Bear-Hunting Judge,” according to the Handbook of Texas Online.

“I practice law for recreation,” Hightower would say, “and hunt bear for a livin’.”

By the 1950s, black bears were eradicated from Texas, experts say.

The state made bear hunting illegal in 1983. That decade, they began crossing from northern Mexico into the southern reaches of West Texas.

For the past 20 years, a small population has bred there, mostly in the region’s rugged mountains. Today, some biologists believe there may be as many as 100.

But bears in Texas recently have been on the move, staging an unprecedented return to regions such as the Edwards Plateau, Piney Woods and South Texas Plains, according to Nathan Garner, another TPWD biologist.

The True Story of Smokey the Bear

Texas lists the black bear as threatened. The penalty for shooting one is a Class C misdemeanor and a fine of $500, plus a civil restitution of $11,907.50.

One of the most bizzare encounters was in 2017, when a black bear was sighted in a neighborhood between New Braunfels and Spring Branch. The alleged black bear, weighing as much as 350 lbs., ran in front of a vehicle in the early morning hours.

According to TPWD, there were 61 Black Bear sightings in 14 counties in 2018-2019. State mammologist Jonah Evans said sightings tend to increase in the fall because the bears are foraging food and trying “fatten up” before hibernating for the winter.

Transient bears from New Mexico are also occasionally reported in the Panhandle counties of Dallam, Hartley and Oldham, according to TPWD district leader Brad Simpson.

bear
The communities south of Alpine, Texas are on a Neighborhood Bear Watch. (courtesy: Texas Parks and Wildlife – Trans-Pecos Wildlife District)

A study published in The Journal of Wildlife Management documents 63 people killed in 59 incidents by non-captive black bears between 1900-2009.

Of special note is this quote:

“We judged that the bear involved acted as a predator in 88 percent of fatal incidents. Adult or subadult male bears were involved in 92 percent of fatal predatory incidents, reflecting biological and behavioral differences between male and female bears. That most fatal black bear attacks were predatory and were carried out by one bear shows that females with young are not the most dangerous black bears.”

🔹Black bears mate during the months of June and July. This might account for some of the sightings in the Texas Hill Country, as bears travel to find a mate during the summer months.

🔹State biologists believe that female black bears in Texas hibernate while males do not.

🔹The young are born in January or February, while the mother is “hibernating.” She normally gives birth to two-to-three cubs every two years.

LOUISIANA MIGRATION

🔹Louisiana Black Bear sightings have been increasing in recent years so it’s possible they are making a comeback in Eastern Texas too.

🔹Louisiana is home to the Louisiana Black Bear, a subspecies of of the American Black Bear. There’s an estimated 750-1000 bears living in the state, but they can also be found in the neighboring states of Texas, Mississippi, and possibly even Southern Arkansas.

🔹Aside from the Louisiana Bear, both the Mexican Black Bear and the New Mexico Black Bear are found in western Texas in low numbers and are also on the state endangered species list.

2018-2021 sightings

.

NEW MEXICO MIGRATION

🔹The New Mexico Department of Game and Fish estimates that there are approximately 5,000-6,000 Black Bears living in all 14.6 million forested acres of New Mexico. There have been strict hunting regulations in place since 1927 in the state to help control the population of Black Bears in the state.

🔹In the early 20th century Grizzly Bears were common in the state, but now only the American Black Bear remain. They are also the state animal of New Mexico.

ARKANSAS MIGRATION

🔹Black Bears in Arkansas thrive in three places; the Ozark Highlands area, the Ouachita National Forest, and the lower White River basin. Pre-settlement there was thought to be over 50,000 bears in Arkansas, but dwindled down to just 50 bears in the 1930s. Thanks to conservation efforts and the importation of Black Bears from other areas, Arkansas is believed to have over 5,000 Black Bears now.

CAN INJURE WHEN PROVOKED

“The Black Bear is a stocky, large animal, one of the largest mammals in North America. Adults reach a length of 5 to 6 feet, height at the shoulder of 2 to 3 feet, and weigh 200-300 pounds,” notes information from Texas Park and Wildlife Department. “Although called a ‘black’ bear, colors can range from black to the occasional cinnamon brown. Front claws are generally longer than hind claws. The fur is long and coarse. Although appealing and generally harmless, Black Bears can injure humans when provoked and should be treated with caution.”

At least two subspecies of Black Bear are thought to occur in Texas: the Mexican Black Bear and the New Mexico Black Bear. Both are found in West Texas in desert scrub or woodland habitats within scattered mountain ranges, predominantly the Chisos and Guadalupe Mountains. Both subspecies are state-listed as endangered in Texas.

Colleen Olfenbuttel, the Wildlife Commission’s black bear and furbearer biologist, offers some advice about how to co-exist with black bears.

“Most bears that wander into a residential area will quickly retreat to their natural habitat, particularly if no food source is around,” Olfenbuttel said. “Bears have adapted to living near people; now it’s up to us to adapt to living near bears.”

BearWise has six Basics the public can use to prevent potential conflicts and live responsibly with bears:

• Never feed or approach a bear. Bears will defend themselves if a person gets too close, so don’t risk your safety and theirs.

• Secure food, garbage and recycling. Place trash outside as late as possible on the morning of trash pick-up — not the night before.

• Remove bird feeders when bears are active. Birdseed, other grains and hummingbird feeders have high calorie content making them very attractive to bears.

• Never leave pet food outdoors.

• Clean and store grills.

• Alert neighbors to bear activity.

“While these young bears (usually May-August), typically males, may appear to be wandering aimlessly around, they are not necessarily lost,” Olfenbuttel said. “Most are simply exploring their new surroundings and will move on, particularly if they are left alone and there is no food around.”

Unlike brown bears, black bears are omnivorous creatures that rarely pose a threat to humans, pets, or livestock. Like any large mammal, however, humans must take steps to be aware and coexist with black bears.

Black bears diet is very much like a raccoon’s.

🔹Up to 80 percent of their diet is plant matter, and they often scavenge the rest from carcasses of dead animals.

🔹In many circumstances, they will hunt for insects and worms for the “meat based” part of their diet.

🔹They have been known to kill larger mammals and even livestock. This is occurs mostly during late spring and early summer, when bears become active after hibernating, and juveniles “leave home.” This is when food requirements are high, and bears will find the most nutritious food they can.

🔹If there is a lack of fruits, berries, and other plant matter, they may feed on other animals. 

Signs of black bears 

If you suspect bears in your area, pay careful attention to signs such as, tracks, scat, and territorial markings on trees. Although you may not see the animal, the evidence of their presence is usually clear. Take pictures of suspected bear sign using a ruler or other standard item for scale and send them to your local biologist for interpretation. 

Bear tracks stand out and are unlike any other you might encounter. Bears use their teeth and claws to mark trees or other surfaces to mark territory.

Black Bears of East Texas. Photos provided by the East Texas Black Bear Task Force.
Black Bears of East Texas. Photos provided by the East Texas Black Bear Task Force.Hardin County News

BEAR ENCOUNTERS

If you encounter a bear, TPWD offers this advice:

  • If a bear regularly visits your deer stand, scare it with rocks, a slingshot or air horn.
  • If you encounter a bear at close range, talk in a calm manner while backing away slowly. Do not make direct eye contact
  • Do not run. Running can trigger a bear’s chase instinct.
  • Stand your ground and raise your arms if a bear approaches you, making yourself appear larger. Yell at the bear to scare it off.
  • Fight back aggressively with anything available if attacked. Let bears know that you are not an easy prey. Do not play dead.

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Elvis Presley’s Texas Home During Basic Training in 1958 Still Visited by Fans

In 2020, defying lockdowns and wearing masks, we took a 32 day roadtrip from the Texas Hill Country to Washington DC and back.

Our first stop was near Fort Hood in a central Killeen Texas neighborhood. If the walls of the circa 1950 ranch-style house at 605 Oakhill Drive could talk, they’d sing!

Photo by Loralyn ‘Dodie’ Dennis

It’s a nice house but doesn’t have any visual features that dramatically set it apart from the other homes in the area not far from Conder Park. It’s a one-story, brick home with a rather large mailbox out front.

As big Elvis Presley fans, we thought there might be a landmark sign designating it as the house the most famous entertainer in history lived while going through Army training.

At the height of his early fame, the Army drafted Elvis in 1958, and at the Memphis induction center, he received his shots, his buzz cut, and his orders. On March 28, he and others were sent by military bus to Fort Hood, the Second Armored Division, General George S. Patton’s “Hell on Wheels” wild bunch.

Enroute the new troops stopped for a restaurant lunch break in Hillsboro causing “a small riot” when teenage customers recognized him. 

Elvis didn’t want any special treatment offered. His desire was to be just another G.I. His fellow soldiers saw that in him and Elvis became one of the guys.

Private Simon Vega recalled, “I thought he was gonna get special treatment but he did KP, guard duty, everything, just like us.” 

When basic training was completed, the Army allowed soldiers to live off base as long as they had dependents living in the area. It was not long before Elvis’ parents, grandmother, and a friend traveled to Killeen where they found a three-bedroom home to rent from Chester Crawford, an attorney who charged an outrageous $700 a month.

Soon crowds began showing up on Oakhill Drive to catch a glimpse of Elvis. It was common for him to stand outside and talk to fans for hours. Occasionally, he detoured through neighbors’ backyards to avoid the crowds, and according to neighbor Janie Sullivan, the clothesline in their yard once caught Elvis and the dog bit him. 

Elvis with friend Red West (far right)

Not everyone was thrilled by Elvis’ presence in the neighborhood. Some Oak Hill residents called the police to complain about the clouds of dust stirred up by the cars and the carnival-like atmosphere.

While completing an additional ten weeks of advanced tank training, Elvis had to take emergency leave to fly to Memphis to be with his mother, Gladys, who had returned home to be hospitalized. She died two days later on August 14.

After his mother’s funeral, Elvis returned and put in long days at Fort Hood learning to be a tanker. During his final days at Fort Hood, large crowds gathered outside his house, and some nights a hundred people kept vigil. The last night, on September 19, 1958, Elvis and his gang gathered at the home to make the drive to the troop train that would take him and 1,360 other G.I.s to Brooklyn to sail for Germany.


Biographers and friends reported that Elvis’ time at Fort Hood and in the Army was among the happiest of his life. For a time, he was almost “just another soldier.” Everyone agreed that Elvis was a good soldier, one of the best in the company.

His longtime girlfriend, Anita Wood, said, “he had finally found himself.”

Elvis said later, “I learned a lot about people in the Army. I never lived with other people before and had a chance to find out how they think.” 

In 1958, longtime Killeen resident Edith Carlile lived four doors down from the house Pvt. Elvis Presley lived in with his parents, Vernon and Gladys. Presley rented the home for seven months from a local lawyer when he was stationed at Fort Hood.

“The street was extremely crowded with cars going by,” said Carlile, who lived next door to the house Presley lived in before she passed away a few years ago. “People were standing in the yard, wanting to touch him, kiss him.”

Carlile was a mother of four at the time, and wasn’t really into the rock ’n’ roll music that Presley is famous for.

“I’m not a fan of music of that age,” Carlile told a local news reporter, adding she was more into the tunes of the big band era.

Her children did get autographs from Presley, but Carlile said she threw the signed pieces of paper away years later.

She said the rock ’n’ roll king dated a few of the local girls when he was here, and his presence made a big impact, especially in the Oakhill Drive neighborhood, which in 1958 was home to lawyers, business owners and other upper-middle class families.

More than 64 years later, the house is still standing, and although it’s aged, the outside doesn’t look dramatically different from when Presley lived there.

Surprisingly, more recent owners of the Presley’s rental house indicated they didn’t even know the house had once been lived in by Presley when they bought it some years ago.

To this day Elvis fans regularly pop by the house to take a video, some puctures or inquire about the former home of the King.

On display at Graceland complex in Memphis, Tennessee

Some drive hundreds of miles to do so. Others want to peep inside or look at the backyard.

Although there has been updated renovations (exterior windows and roof) owners are reluctant to offer details.

In November 2006, the 2,400-square-foot house was placed for purchase on eBay.

The owner at the time, Myka Allen-Johnson, a sales representative for CenTex Homes, said she wanted to sell the home to someone who would understand the historical significance.

“I didn’t buy the house with the intention of selling it on eBay,” Allen-Johnson told the Killeen Daily Herald in 2006. “I just don’t want people to forget that he lived here in Killeen.”

Ft. Hood front gate 1958

Penny Love was 3 or 4 years old and lived around the corner in 1958. She recalls her family seeing Presley sneak through her backyard to avoid the crowd that waited out front. She said she would sometimes sit on Presley’s father, Vernon’s lap on the front porch.

The community has missed out on any significant tourism and marketing opportunities over the years. In August 1958, Presley fans petitioned the Killeen City Council to change the name of Oakhill Drive to Presley Drive, bringing nationwide publicity to the area. Today, however, Oakhill is still the name of the street.

The owner said she allows Presley fans to take a quick picture of the front of the house. But those who try to pry closer are not totally welcome.

The backyard has a steep incline, she said, which can be dangerous, and a German shepherd patrols back there, too.

Favorite Fan Photos

Elvis Presley, The Rockin’ Motorcycle King in Photos

https://cleverjourneys.wordpress.com/2021/07/04/elvis-presley-the-rockin-motorcycle-king-in-photos/embed/#?secret=mCsDyQTdl8

More Rare or Unseen Elvis Presley Pictures From the 60s

https://cleverjourneys.wordpress.com/2021/06/10/more-rare-or-unseen-elvis-presley-pictures-from-the-60s/embed/#?secret=OrH73oXJB4

25 MORE Rare Photos of Elvis Presley in the Army

https://cleverjourneys.wordpress.com/2020/09/16/25-more-rare-photos-of-elvis-presley-in-the-army/embed/#?secret=QM7UuXuv5W

20 Rare Photos of Elvis Presley in the U.S. Army

https://cleverjourneys.wordpress.com/2020/05/20/20-rate-photos-of-elvis-presley-in-the-u-s-army/embed/#?secret=aoCYSwtQ3k

20 Elvis Presley Photos You May Have Never Seen From The 1960s

https://cleverjourneys.wordpress.com/2020/05/22/20-elvis-presley-photos-you-may-have-never-seen-from-the-1960s/embed/#?secret=dQQFfwxfNP

Elvis Presley: Rare Shots From the 1970s

https://cleverjourneys.wordpress.com/2020/05/23/elvis-presley-rare-shots-from-the-1970s/embed/#?secret=4h7ZdpV2LL

Elvis Presley Movies Ranked

https://cleverjourneys.wordpress.com/2020/05/26/elvis-presley-movies-ranked/embed/#?secret=4IUVI49WXl

10 Rare Elvis Presley Photos in the 1950s

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From award-winning Texas author Cynthia Leal Massey.
Visit Graceland

The Tale of the Texas Trooper and Circus Juggler on IH-10

Completed in 1990 after first being laid out in 1956, US Interstate Highway 10 is the southern most cross-country highway in the American highway system.

Out of the 2,460.34 miles from coast to coast, beginning in Jacksonville, Florida and ending in Santa Monica, California, the largest stretch, at 881 miles, exists in Texas.

Here is a legendary modern tale, based on a stretch of I-10 where the speed limit is 80 mph, around two long hours of driving northwest out of San Antonio, Texas.

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Gov. Abbott Visits Medina Lake Area Fires

North of Medina Lake, Saturday

Prepare Now as More Evacuations are Possible

Governor Greg Abbott is currently meeting with local emergency crews and fire fighters in Medina and Bandera Counties in lieu of significant fires in the region that remain under Red Flag Alert.

Texas Division of Emergency Management (TDEM) Chief Nim Kidd tells us the Lone Star State has been experiencing many grassfires due to lack of rain, low humidity and gusty winds.

Abbott and Kidd

At least a dozen counties are currently under disaster declarations, with more expected by Gov. Abbott after his visit to the Medina Lake area today.

Fire officials are warning nearby residents to remain aware of fire development and be prepared to leave quickly if they receive an evacuation order.

As of 3 p.m. (CST), a large brush fire south of Medina Lake more than doubled in size since Saturday. It is now up to 1,062 acres (30% contained) fire officials report.

Medina County officials are monitoring to determine if more evacuations will be necessary Sunday evening and Monday.

Report at noon on Sunday.

“It’s always a good idea in these situations to have a ‘bugout bag’ prepared and in the car or near the exit of each home,” Kidd advised.

“Be sure to preplan your escape routes to leave early as possible as it is far safer than to be slowed down or trapped due to others evacuating at the last minute.”

Mandatory evacuations have been issued for this weekend with shelters provided for residents near the area. 

The fire began Friday night and has continued into Sunday. Fire crews will maintain their operations overnight to bring the blaze under control. 

People are advised to remain clear of the area. Smoke will likely remain visible from San Antonio and can directly impact the air quality near Medina Lake, Bandera, Pipe Creek, Boerne, Comfort, Medina, Centerpoint, Camp Verde and Kerrville. 

Immediate Areas of Fire Management concern:

  • East of County Road 271
  • West of the Medina River 
  • South of F.M. 1283 
  • County Roads 2651 and 2652
  • The town of Mico

Shelters are available at the following locations:

  • Loma Alta Middle School (266 County Road 381 South) 
  • Fire station on FM 1957  
  • Circle K at the corner of FM471 and 211

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From award-winning Texas author Cynthia Leal Massey.

Goettle HVAC and Plumbing services are located in Phoenix, Tucson, San Antonio, Austin, Las Vegas areas as well as regions in Southern California.

Clever Journeys in San Antonio and Texas Hill Country

A trip to San Antonio, the “Alamo City” isn’t just about the destination. The true beauty of this region can be found in the journey through and around it. Rolling hills, natural springs, meandering rivers and, come springtime, the beauty includes vibrantly painted landscapes of wildflowers up and down the highways and backroads.

As you head northwest west toward Boerne, Kerrville and  Fredericksburg, you’ll begin to see the landscape open up before you, with rolling tree-covered hills, exposed limestone cliffs and an array of colorful wildflowers.

In this area, known as the Hill Country, you’ll also find Johnson City, home to the Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park. Here you can tour the family ranch and view artifacts such as his boyhood home and first school. This is also the final resting place of LBJ, our 36th president.

Johnson City is also the heart of the Hill Country wine region. Why not take a detour and sample some of the best wineries in Texas on the 290 Wine Trail? Ab Astris Winery and Kuhlman Cellars are a couple of our favorites.

In the quaint town of Fredericksburg, you’ll want to visit two unique museums: the National Museum of the Pacific War, dedicated to those who served in the Pacific Theater of World War II, and the Pioneer Museum, honoring the lives of the early German settlers of this region.

Heading back south toward San Antonio, a worthwhile scenic route offers serene Hill Country views through wildflower-lined back roads.

Look for Luckenbach. It’s a stretch to call it a town, but for country music fans, it’s a mecca. It was made famous in the ’70s by outlaw country musicians like Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings. You can still regularly catch country acts performing on the outdoor stage.

Continue on the backroads south around Canyon Lake on your way toward New Braunfels. Just outside the city, stop at Texas’ oldest continually operating dance hall, Gruene Hall.

Families will love a stop at Schlitterbahn Waterpark, but check their schedule online as they’re open seasonally. Families will also love exploring the vast caves at Natural Bridge Caverns and the exotic animals at Natural Bridge Wildlife Ranch about 20 minutes west of New Braunfels.

Back in San Antonio. The Alamo is the Spanish mission made famous as a battle site in the war for Texas independence. But it is just one of five historic Spanish missions in San Antonio that make up a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The other four comprise the San Antonio Missions National Historical Park. All five offer an incredible look back at the history and culture that still influence this proud city.

Just 10 minutes north of downtown, you will find the revitalized historic Pearl district. This area used to be the home of the Pearl Brewery. Today, you can walk the Pearl to explore trendy shops, delicious dining and even a weekend farmers market. Nearby is Brackenridge Park, Witte Muesum, Children’s DoSeum, Japanese Tea Garden and San Antonio Zoo.

Dating back to 1919 – and receiving major updates throughout the years – the Japanese Tea Garden features a lush year-round garden and a floral display with shaded walkways, stone bridges, a 60-foot waterfall and ponds filled with Koi. The garden’s entrance is punctuated by a moon gate created by a Mexican artist renowned for crafting wood-look concrete sculptures. Free admission.

When mean it when we say the River Walk is a must to experience. One of the nations’—most famous attractions is the vibrant River Walk. Restaurants and shops line the banks of the San Antonio River, which you can explore on foot or take a boat tour on one of the colorful river barges.

Sightseeing, shopping, food, and fun. All on this world-renowned 15-mile urban waterway. The River Walk, or Paseo del Rio, is a San Antonio treasure and the largest urban ecosystem in the nation.

Tucked quietly below street level and only steps away from the Alamo, it provides a serene and pleasant way to navigate the city. Explore by foot along the river’s walking path or jump aboard a river barge for a ride and guided tour. In the heart of downtown, explore nearby attractions like the Alamo, the King William Historic District and more. Or, shop local favorites along the river’s Museum Reach at the historic Pearl.

A good way to see downtown is by catching a ride with City Sightseeing San Antonio’s double-decker buses for tours and curbside drop-off to many of thw downtown attractions and landmarks.

If you missed the rodeo and February, be sure to end the night at Tejas Rodeo Company, where they hold live rodeos every Saturday night from March – November. You can also eat like a Texan at Tejas Steakhouse & Saloon and enjoy fun, and entertainment for all. 

If you are staying downtown, don’t miss Mi Tierra Café and Panaderia is the perfect place for a traditional Tex-Mex breakfast, with everything from huevos rancheros to breakfast tacos.  Schilo’s has been serving German-Texan fare since 1917 and is the oldest restaurant in San Antonio.  You can’t go wrong when you order the Pioneer pancakes or biscuits. In the mood for some schnitzel and homemade root beer? Check Schilo’s out for lunch. 

From this are you can take a walk through La Villita Historic Arts Village, San Antonio’s first neighborhood. Today La Villita is a cultural hub, home to local artisans, shops and restaurants. Walk down the river to the Briscoe Western Art Museum for stories of the cowboy, the vaquero, Native Americans and the western landscape. 

San Antonio also features theme park giants- Six Flags Fiesta Texas and SeaWorld & Aquatica San Antonio.

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From award-winning Texas author Cynthia Leal Massey.

Texas Hill Country Thunder Rally is Back- March 24-27, 2022

Texas Hill Country Thunder Rally is back.

The March 24-27, 2021 event will be the 20th straight rally held at Bandera’s Mansfield Park.

Consisting of tent camping, poker run, vendors, food, and field events, there will be music throughout the day Friday and Saturday. Their bike show, tattoo contest, and Sunday morning church service are popular. 21 OR OVER, NO EXCEPTIONS.

One of the most popular Texas rallies, they feature a covered stage to  enjoy outdoor concerts and contests in “the wide-open fresh air, under the bright stars of the beautiful Hill Country.

“Ride the beautiful Texas Hill Country all day then come back and shop with our many vendors,” their promotional material states. “Enjoy your meals with one of nine Food vendors located outside the Barn, then go shop with over 30 Inside Vendors (spaced out) and over 40 Outside Vendors, before enjoying the evening concerts and contests.”

The first leg of Twisted Sister is now fully opened as the construction of a new bridge on Highway 337 is complete.

See TWISTED SISTER Leg 1 Here

“The fun doesn’t stop when the sun goes down. We start it off loud! Hot Bands rock the night away…We will treat you so many ways you are bound to like one or two.”

The Bike Show categories include Peoples Choice, American Touring,
Metric Touring, Radical Custom, American Cruiser, Metric Cruiser, Antique Trike/Sidecar and Sport.

Other events include a Tattoo Contest, Nightly Risque Contests, The Famous Weenie Bite, Balloon Toss, Drag Race, Slow Race, Pole in the Hole, Keg Push, Keg Throw and Burn Out Contest.

Other features include 2 Beer & Liquor Gardens Ice Sold Onsite Hot Showers Full Hook-Up Spots Available Free Tent Camping Sewer Dump Available Rain Or Shine Event
Lots Of Self Contained Camping
Free Auto Parking Vendors
and lots of shade in this rain or shine event.

“For further information or questions, please contact our office at (409) 655-8800 or visit us at http://www.bikerralliesoftexas.com or follow us on Facebook, Biker Rallies of Texas.”

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Texas Bikers Are Using Cynthia Leal Massey’s Latest Book As a Guide to Plan New Rides Across the Lone Star State

Now Available CLICK Here!
From award-winning Texas author Cynthia Leal Massey.

Goettle HVAC and Plumbing services are located in Phoenix, Tucson, San Antonio, Austin, Las Vegas areas as well as regions in Southern California.

Wise and Frugal Ideas For Christmas This Year

Have a Jolly, Holly, Frugal Christmas!

Be Honest With Your Finances

The first step is to be completely honest with your financial situation at the moment. You aren’t looking for handouts. You just want a dose of empathy and maybe a hug.

Just like everyone else, you want to give your family the world and shower them with gifts.

However, the center of Christmas is about our Savior, Jesus Christ, and coming together as a family and spending time with one another. You don’t need money for that.

Decide on a frugal Christmas budget and stick to it.

Christmas in Boerne, Texas
Church we were married at.

With gift exchanges, you don’t need to go out and buy a brand new present. This is a chance to find something in your house that will make a great gift for someone else.

Here are various types of gift exchanges that cost little or no money:

  • White elephant gift exchange
  • $5 gift exchanges
  • Unused item gift exchange
  • Cookie exchange
  • Used toy, puzzle or book exchange
  • Coffee mug exchange
  • Charity donation exchange
  • Craft supply gift exchange
  • Dollar Store finds gift exchange
  • Fabulously fashionable clothing exchange
  • Dropped that hobby gift exchange

There are just a few ideas on how you can get creative with holding gift exchanges. Not everything must be expensive to be an awesome winner!

Buy In Bulk And Divide Up For Gifts

A frugal trait is buying things in bulk to save money. When the holidays roll-around, this is where you use your DIY skills to come up with frugal Christmas gifts.

If you find a lot of people on your list to buy small gifts for, you can create nice packages of presents to give. Typically, these holiday gifts are ideal for teachers, neighbors, co-workers or other special people that you want to wish a Merry Christmas.

For example, you can buy scented candles in bulk and wrap a beautiful bow on the glass jar. That is an easy way to divide them up for multiple gifts.

Another idea is to buy Christmas treat bags and divide up assorted miniature candies to quickly put together many small presents.

Talk to your families about the idea of only giving gifts to the kids, not the adults.

Frugal Christmas gifts for adults

1. Socks

No you won’t get any awards for creativity. But it is almost guaranteed the recipient will use this gift.

2. Workout clothing

3. Books

Cookbooks and inspirational books are great choices. 

4. A nice pen and journal

5. Bath bombs and soap.

6. Insulated coffee mug.

Holiday lights tour

🔹Bundle up the kids in the car and go for a family drive when it gets dark. Drive your neighborhood or find out the best neighborhoods in your city and go for a festive drive.

🔹Make a holiday letter and send it to family with important highlights from the past year.

🔹Attend a local Christmas event: parade, lights, Church or other holiday happenings.

🔹Get Christmas coloring books and color with your family.

🔹Decorate the Christmas tree.

Secret Santa

🔹Have each family member draw a name and only give a gift to that one person.

🔹Make mason jar cookie mixes to gift.

Forgo wrapping paper altogether

🔹Just wrap gifts with some ribbon or a bow.

Reuse Christmas wrapping and Christmas gift bags.

Make a coupon book for gifts

🔹From cooking a special meal to a foot massage to experiences out.

Write a list of what you are grateful for

🔹This is a great exercise any time of the year but especially at Christmas when there can be excess. It’s a good reminder of how lucky the majority of us are.

Learn to make candles with your children

🔹This is a fun activity and could also be a homemade Christmas gift.

Buy Christmas lights from a dollar store and hang them from your outside trees.

Write a letter to Santa

🔹Mail it to Santa Claus 325 S. Santa Claus Lane North Pole, Alaska 99705

Have a puzzle day

🔹Get a puzzle that’s challenging enough for the whole family but easy enough that the little ones can participate.

Have a Christmas pajama day

🔹Stay in pajamas the whole day on a Saturday or Sunday

Make homemade Christmas ornaments.

Cookie swap.

Go Christmas caroling.

Watch Christmas movies.

Snuggle up with your family and play favorite nostalgic or new Christmas movies. Favorites that come to mind are A Charlie Brown Christmas, The Grinch Who Stole Christmas and Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer.

Texas Man Sentenced for Ponzi Scheme With $7.4+ Million in Losses

A Boerne, Texas man was sentenced this week to 135 months in prison and ordered to pay $7,424,927.10 in restitution for running a Ponzi scheme.

According to court documents, Victor Farias, 48, owned and operated Integrity Aviation & Leasing (IAL).

Farias, who lived in Fair Oaks Ranch, between Boerne and San Antonio, used IAL to perpetuate a Ponzi scheme resulting in net losses to victims of over $7.4 million. 

He also held part ownership in Fair Oaks Country Store, The Room Mens Grooming, Big Country Liquors, and Agabe Ventures Limited Liability LLC (now listed as a “Forfeiture Existence”).

The Rooms Men Grooming in Fair Oaks Ranch, Texas

Farias persuaded victims to invest in IAL by misrepresenting that investors’ funds would be used to purchase aircraft engines and that the aircraft engines would be leased to airlines for profit.  In addition, Farias also told investors he would not pay himself a salary or commission. 

Instead, Farias bought one aircraft engine and sold it shortly thereafter, making no profit for investors.  He used investors’ money to pay himself a salary, commissions, and personal expenses.  He also paid out false investment returns to prior investors and financed the construction of the Fair Oaks Country Store, a convenience store unrelated to the IAL investment.

Farias (San Antonio Police Dept)

On January 27, 2021, Farias pleaded guilty to one count of wire fraud.

“Through deception and greed this defendant stole from his victims, some of whom were retired public servants.  He deprived many of these victims of the restful retirement they worked all their lives to achieve,” said U.S. Attorney Ashley C. Hoff.  

“We hope the Court’s sentence  provides some measure of justice to the victims and sends a strong message to other fraudsters that their criminal activities will not be tolerated in our community,” Hoff noted.

“The defendant betrayed the trust of almost 90 people as he swindled them out of their retirement savings to finance his fraudulent investment scheme and his luxurious lifestyle,” said FBI Special Agent in Charge Christopher Combs, San Antonio Division.

“This case is all the more repugnant because so many of the victims were first responders who had spent their careers putting their lives on the line to protect our community.”

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Now Available CLICK Here!
From award-winning Texas author Cynthia Leal Massey.

What Lies Beneath: Texas Pioneer Cemeteries and Graveyards

Our beautiful visit with a long-time-ago friend brought charming remembrances, intriguing history and a fascinating new book.

Dodie and I recently had lunch with Cynthia Leal Massey to catch up and discuss her new book, What Lies Beneath: Texas Pioneer Cemeteries and Graveyards, being released today (August 1, 2021).

Our lunch was at the regionally renown El Chapparal Mexican Restaurant within the nearby hills of Helotes. A growing town in the northwest San Antonio metropolitan area, the city is known for Floore Country Store (Willie, Waylon and other legends have–and continue to perform–at this famous Hill Country dance hall.

Many of our trips into the Alamo City include a stop off at Old Town Helotes (antiques, quaint shops and plenty of charm are worthy) so Dodie can buy a bag of her favorite, Helotes Blend at the Texas Grounds Coffee shop.

Cindy is a popular figure in the area, a local historian, journalist and 14-year city council member. Her research has prompted the official designation of U.S. Historical Marker status at sites and buildings in the area.

This lunch was special for us, not only due to Cindy being a sponsor of CleverJourneys, but because she and Dodie had not seen each other in over 40 years.

Cindy and Dodie were in Student Council together back in their senior class days at McCollum High School in south San Antonio. Cindy and I also worked on the Chanter, our school’s newspaper staff (I was in the class ahead of them).

Dodie on the left. Cynthia on the right. 1973

We agreed the three of us shared commonality traits of being studious, spirited, dependable and “absolutely brilliant.” LOL.

None of us really hung around in a particular clique. “We were all over the place,” noted Dodie. “Sports, clubs, assorted activities and involvement.”

I recall Cindy being contemplative, industrious and thoughtful. She remembered me always “having a camera in your hand everywhere you went.”

Fortunately, Dodie knows that even though I may not be typing, “he’s always writing in his head. Always.”

“As the old saying goes,” Cindy laughed. “Writers write.”

It was enjoyable being around a fellow writer for a couple of hours.

I sensed the familiar enthusiasm and excitement as Cindy told us about her current novel in progress. It’s based on a true story, tentatively titled “Fowl Water,” a literary mystery about the 1958  murder of a South Texas turkey breeder.

My father, a homicide detective for the San Antonio Police Department, considered the events surrounding the crime quite legendary.

I’m looking forward to reading it as I’m more than halfway into her fascinating “Death of a Texas Ranger” chronicle of murder and vegence in the Texas frontier. It’s especially intriguing because we live in the area where much of the events occurred.

So what is Cindy’s new book about? Here is Amazon’s description:

Unearth the Mysteries of Those Who Lie Beneath the Oldest Graveyards in the Lone Star State

Texas, the second largest state, both in land mass and population, has more than 50,000 cemeteries, graveyards, and burial grounds. As the final resting places of those whose earthly journey has ended, they are also repositories of valuable cultural history.

The pioneer cemeteries—those from the 19th century—provide a wealth of information on the people who settled Texas during its years as a Republic (1836-1845), and after it became the 28th state in 1845.

In What Lies Beneath: Texas Pioneer Cemeteries and Graveyards, author Cynthia Leal Massey exhumes the stories of these pioneers, revealing the intriguing truth behind the earliest graveyards in the Lone Star State, including some of its most ancient.

This guide also provides descriptions of headstone features and symbols, and demystifies the burial traditions of early Texas pioneers and settlers.

About the Author

Cynthia Leal Massey combines her background in journalism and love of history to write award-winning historical fiction and nonfiction.

A former corporate editor, college instructor, and magazine editor, she has published hundreds of magazine and newspaper articles and several books.

She is a recipient of a Will Rogers Silver Medallion Award for Western Nonfiction and a San Antonio Conservation Society Publication Award for her book “Death of a Texas Ranger: A True Story of Murder and Vengeance on the Texas Frontier.”

She was a winner of the Lone Star Award for Magazine Journalism given by the Houston Press Club for “Is UT Holding Our History Hostage?” published in Scene in SA magazine. One judge wrote: “In her exhaustive look at the unique battle over the Bexar Archives, writer Cynthia Leal Massey manages to make history come alive, filled with dark plots and do-gooders of yesteryear, and allusions to cattle rustling and murder and more.”

The article was also a finalist for the Texas Institute of Letters O. Henry Award for Best Work of Magazine Journalism.

Pulitzer Prize-winning Lonesome Dove author Larry McMurtry called her novel, ” The Caballeros of Ruby, Texas,” a vivid picture of the Rio Grande Valley as it was fifty years ago [and] a very good read.”

Born and raised on the south side of San Antonio, Texas, Massey has resided in Helotes, twenty miles northwest of the Alamo City, since 1994. A full-time writer, she is a past president of Women Writing the West.

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CLICK HERE for Cynthia Leal Massey’s new book, “What Lies Beneath: Texas Pioneer Cemeteries and Graveyards”

How We Took an Inexpensive Caribbean Trip For Mother’s Day

For Mother’s Day weekend, Dodie and I went to the Caribbean, the Florida Keys, the Bahamas, Cancun and Hawaii.

A much needed trip, it was relaxing and offered us time to unwind. The pace there was irresistibly slow, but the service was top notch.

The best part of our islands adventure was that we only had to drive about 20 miles from home.

That’s right! Here in the beautiful Texas Hill Country between Comfort and Kerrville in Center Point, is a restaurant—No, scratch that out, it’s a destination— that evokes the good vibes and karma of a Caribbean island village. It’s Toucan Jim’s on State Highway 27, about 9 miles north of Comfort.

Jim Lackey and his business partner, Mike Blackledge were there to greet and make us feel extra special when we walked in.

Lackey & Blackledge

In 2007, Lackey decided to bring the beach atmosphere he loved to his hometown. His restaurant and bar, Toucan Jim’s, evokes a Caribbean vacation with island-inspired architecture and décor. A dry-docked boat and nautical flags along the highway led us right up to the near one acre oasis.

By the look on our faces, Mike immediately welcomed us and told us to settle down “anywhere ya’ want, whatever looks good” amid a lushly landscaped tropically shaded outdoor area.

We had our choice to sit beneath 27 different palapas, each emblazoned with the name of an exotic locale like Oahu, Playa del Carmen, and St. Kitts.

We chose Kauai.

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Toucan Jim’s

5814 SH 27, Center Point.
830-634-2640; toucanjims.com
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His own adventures to the beaches of Belize, Mexico, and the Florida Keys inspired Jim to open his restaurant in 2010.

“When I saw that blue water the very first time, it reeled me in,” he grinned. He and Mike can obviously tell when someone comes in for the very first time. With Dodie and me, our faces transformed from anticipation to “WOW” with an immediate sense of island time. A 40-minute professional massage couldn’t have done what instantaneously walking in there did.

A prompt sense of island time took hold, providing a place to relax and unwind.

“If it makes you feel that for five minutes, I’ve done my job,” Jim said on a recent Texas Bucketlist television travel show episode.

The grounds offer an assorted range of fun and amenities including covered dance floor and stage, an outdoor fire pit, a fake pillory for photo ops, a Bow-Wow watering station for dogs, and a Bimini ringtoss game.

From March through October, bands perform a variety of musical genres, including reggae, contemporary country, and oldies on indoor and outdoor stages every Saturday night.

When live music is not playing, Radio Margaritaville Siriusxm is, featuring Bob Marley, Jimmy Cliff, and Jimmy Buffett. (Note: Jim Lackey has been to 25 Buffett concerts. Look close and you may find a couple of pictures of him with Buffett hanging in the entry room).

Jim spent almost three years building his dream business. The main structure was his childhood home.

“After inheriting the property, he knocked down walls and transformed the building from the ground up: The former living room is now the kitchen, and what was once a bedroom currently serves as the women’s restroom,” read one account.

Partner Mike is a talented carpenter and cabinetmaker who helped construct the palapas, tiki bar, and brilliantly painted furnishings. Jim designed the splendid landscaping to transform St. Augustine grass into a tropical oasis complete with crushed granite paths that wind through oleanders, palm trees, and other flora.

One smiling patron, a regular, tells us that “every time I walk in I feel welcomed and relaxed like I’m on vacation. Ever’ body is just so damn friendly here all the time. They just can’t help it.”

They do have weekly specials, but we tried cheeseburgers (we were in paradise, after all), and sampled sweet potato fries and Toucan Toothpicks (fried jalapenos and onions).

Besides burgers, we also noticed tacos, brisket sandwiches, boneless wings, and pulled-pork sliders. Talking with the friendly staff and patrons, we learned Toucan Jim’s is known for its specialty drinks: piña coladas, daiquiris, and other concoctions that provide a taste of the tropics.

Because Center Point is a dry municipality, guests can only indulge in tasty alcohol beverages on the premises if they have a membership. Mike signed us up quick for free and now we are proud owners of membership cards. They are valid for 99 years so we are good to go until 2120.

We sat at Kauai.

Jim says their signature drink is rum punch.”

“We tried different drinks in the Florida Keys, Mexico, and Costa Rica, but we liked the one in Belize the best,” his straight face turned to laughter. 

“We stretched our test tasting out five months longer than we needed to,” he grinned again.

When you go out to the deck, you’ll find “twenty-seven palapas, two stages, two bars, seating for three hundred and more palm trees and plants than we can count.”

Mike told us most people don’t just come in to eat and leave like in typical restaurants.

“They stay to relax, enjoy the scenery, listen to the island music and be at peace,” he explained. “It’s an experience.”

He was right. We stayed almost two hours. It was rejuvenating like a mini vacation should be–only it was close and far less expensive.

We told Jim and Mike they’d start seeing us around more often since we are bonafide members now.

Clever Journeys Ratings (1-10 scale) 9.28

Food & Drinks 8.7
Atmosphere: 9.4
Service: 9.6
Friendliness: 9.4
Cleanliness: 9.3

Saving a Dog From Drowning: Golf Marshal Adventures

Five years ago today I saved a dog, Buster, from drowning. Here’s what I wrote that night:

I’m so pumped. I saved this dog. It was trapped in the big lake between #6 and #14 on the Black Jack golf course and couldn’t get out. Brigitte Gramstat Griffith and her husband Pat, were playing golf next to the lake and heard it yelping. They waved me down as I was driving on #16 towards the retention lake.

Exhausted, he approaches edge.

I climbed up on the hill and could see the dog swimming in the middle. So I drove along the edge to the side closest and least difficult to rescue from. The lake has very slippery lined slopes.

I radioed the Clubhouse to have someone bring an extension ladder because I thought that would be my only access to save him. I scurried around the trees and brush while whistling to coaxed the dog toward my direction.

Serendipty kicked in as he made it to where it was shallow enough for him to catch his breath. As I approached I found some cord tangled on some branches. At this point, I looked up and saw more golfers lined up high across the lack. Too busy to notice before, they were yelling me on. Whew, was I glad to unravel the cord.

Fair Oaks Ranch, northwest of San Antonio.

No way I would let him drown. He was facing me so I’d have to rope his whole body in by getting it all the way around him. On my 12th attempt was able to loop it around his rear and hind legs. When he made it to shore he knocked me down, jumped on top of me…wouldn’t stop licking. It was emotional.

About this time Christopher Godwin drove up with a ladder. A beverage cart girl also arrived. Chris looked on his tag. His name is Buster. Owners came to Fair Oaks Ranch Golf Club to pick him up.

The owner and I are now Facebook friends. This is what I wrote her:

“Mrs. Tisdale, it was good for my soul. I keep thinking about the look in his eyes and I blurted out ‘Don’t you worry, you’re gonna be alright.’ I think talking to him calmed him down and he quit thrashing and yelping. That’s when I figured out he was a swimmer. So he followed me to a point the slope wasn’t as steep… To a point I thought I may be able to reach his collar and pull him out. But I couldn’t. It was just too slippery.”


“He tried, but kept sliding in. At least he was in shallow enough water to stand near the edge and not have to thrash. This gave him time to rest while I found the rope. After about 12 tries, the loop went around his hind legs and that was enough.”

“I remember grinning, but being afraid he might bite. No way. He jumped on me and knocked me backwards and licked my face. I just started laughing and held him. Then he got off and started walking away but sliding down. I went to him and he shook the water off and then followed me up the dirt berm and brush to the top and over.”

“That’s when I called on the radio ‘I’ve got the dog.’ Chris drove up with a ladder we were going to use and I asked him to take my picture when I read his name tag that his name was BUSTER. I called out the phone number to Chris who called you. The beverage cart girl drove up as Chris left to take Buster to the golf shop. She told me people kept trying to call me on the radio, but didn’t even hear them after I started looping him with the rope. Anyway, I love dogs. Have written many articles about them and I’m so very happy Buster is back home with his loving family tonight. Give him a hug for me.”

I learned Buster loved to go swimming in the family pool with their young daughters. For some reason he escaped from the backyard yard a few miles away from the golf course. We surmised that when he saw the lake he jumped right in!

Jillski’s Art

One of my favorite watercolor and graphic design artists is Jill Vance Bukowski out of Hewitt, near Waco, Texas.

I first met Jill–from Portales, New Mexico–in December of 1983. As the construction supervisor overseeing a new H-E-B Food-Drugs store we affectionately name “Challenger 7,” (it was the 7th store in Waco at the time), Jill was one of the retailer team Partners during the final phase before opening the store.

Very talented, with her trademark smile and happy disposition, Jill was fun to be around. Over the years we remained friends as she moved to San Antonio H-E-B headquarters at the historic U.S. Arsenal complex to work in graphic design in 1985. We would take our children, (Jill’s: Lacey and Logan, mine: Jennifer and Mark) to the circus or zoo back in the day.

Her husband, Paul, is a hardworking, dependable plumber with his company, Bukowski Brothers Plumbing, in Waco nowadays.

Paul & Jill

Over time her son, Bo and my youngest boys, Jack and Brady came to know each other at our lake house on Lake Buchanan (good halfway point between Waco and San Antonio) in the early ’90s.

Although I haven’t seen them in over 15-years, through the magic of internet we’ve kept up as our children have grown into adults with kids of their own.

Recently, I noticed she has Jillski’s Art in Hewitt and recognized the same familiar talent and style in her watercolor offerings.

See for yourself by clicking here.

Johnny Gimble