It takes a while to get out to Van Zandt County, located about 50 miles east of Dallas, but it's no wonder you find so many people who have or want a country place there. Parts of it roll like the prairies and are filled with just enough pines and oaks to provide scenery and greenery. The locals say the southern part of the county is the prettiest. So next time you head out to Canton in search of a wagon-wheel table (or whatever) at First Monday Trade Days, head south of town for a taste of Texas countryside.

Fossil Rim Wildlife Center
Just 50 miles southwest of Fort Worth off Interstate 20, Fossil Rim offers the opportunity to drive through and visit with hundreds of rare and endangered animals from around the world that roam free on 1,500 acres of unspoiled countryside. It's open rain or shine, from 9 a.m. until two hours before sunset every day except Thanksgiving and Christmas. After you see all the wildlife in a habitat that mirrors its African terrain and climate, you can make a 20-minute drive over to Dinosaur Valley Park in Glen Rose and see where animals from another time left their footprints in the bed of the Paluxy River. Or:

OK, so controversy over the government actions against the Branch Davidians is fading from the mainstream. Reports clearing the feds of the most egregious accusations have surfaced, and civil trials have fizzled like wet fireworks. The fact remains, the siege of Mt. Carmel was a definitive moment in U.S. history, a debate flash point over freedom of religion and the responsibilities and limits of government. The place is beautiful and eerie, and the characters who flock there are intriguing and relevant. There is something pure about going to a place that has no signposts off the highway, no official markers or souvenir shop. It's simply the Place where Something Happened, undistilled and unvarnished. The real pain in the ass is knowing how to get there. Here are directions: Take Interstate 35 to North Loop 340 and turn eastward. Continue to FM 2491 and turn left onto it. Follow it to Double E Ranch Road. Turn left onto Double E Ranch Road. Follow it approximately 1/4 mile to the entrance of Mt. Carmel on the right. You'll see a rebuilt church and a small building where David Koresh's mother sometimes lurks.

Bent low by generations of scampering feet and hands, the trees at Tietze seem specially designed for piñatas and blindfolds, but get there early. Tietze is a popular spot, and you could find yourself up against a wedding picnic or a wake.

Riceboys, beware. Your suped-up Geo Metro SiR or Toyota Corolla VTEC isn't going to cut it here. You'll find hordes of Honda Preludes, Acura Integras, and supercharged Ford Mustangs speeding up and down these streets looking for a race. Rev your engine, and you're ready. The mufflers are big, the exhausts are loud, and the cars ride low. Go quickly, though. God and the Plano police willing, after this the dragsters will be looking for a new neighborhood to endanger.

Owner Doug Henry has a reputation among some musicians for not always following through with his promises and doing business at the expense of others. While that may be true, Henry's club has a reputation for being the best place in town to see and hear the blues, a place steeped in tradition but not overwhelmed by it. Since moving across Commerce into its present location, Blue Cat Blues has gotten even better, offering more room to dance, better food, and the same quality blues acts Henry has always booked. People might not like the way Henry does business, but you can't criticize the results.

Look, we won't pretend to know much about this category. We grew up with polka music, which is pretty close to the conjunto that makes up the play list at most Tejano clubs, including Tejano West. Still, we're oh-so-very Anglo and somewhat out of our depth here. Meaning: We don't, as a rule, hang out at Tejano clubs, so we had to dust off the boots and the Spanish language tapes. After a bit of inspection, however, we can say that Tejano West is the best Dallas has to offer, a haven for fans and neophytes alike. It has good music, good people, and once the music starts that's all that really matters anyway.

In a city where everything old either becomes new again or gets canonized, Deep Ellum's historical value is shown only in glimpses--the name of Clearview Complex's Blind Lemon bar, the crumbling buildings, and constant street construction. The Boyd Gallery, however, has embraced its accidental history while showcasing the creative works of commercial artists. Once called the Boyd Hotel (and before that, the Talley Hotel), the space has given shelter to both the infamous and the famous who slept in its beds and lingered in Ma's Place, its speakeasy, where legendary blues men entertained guests in the early 20th century. We're awaiting the "Bonnie and Clyde Slept Here" sign.

Dallas Arboretum and Botanical Gardens
Courtesy Dallas Arboretum
Ever have absolutely nothing to do, and your children are bored to no end, and you can't stomach the thought of standing in line to eat cardboard-tasting pizza and look at another flying plastic ball? Pack the family in the car, clean out the moldy picnic basket and pack it full of finger foods and an old blanket and head over to the beautiful gardens of the Dallas Arboretum. All you'll need to do is kick back, relax, and enjoy the sweet sounds of music played by a live outdoor band. The Arboretum invented the Cool Thursday music series for everyone to enjoy at the beginning of June (it ends August 31st). The Arboretum offers various festivals throughout the year but this Cool Thursday jazz fest is the best for a weekday outing with the family. Don't forget to check out the Celebration of Culture in September and all the other harvest and holiday fests quickly approaching. The fresh air--what Dallas has of it--will do you worlds of good.

Ginger Man

Centrally located just north of downtown, this place looks like it stepped right out of "Hansel and Gretel." The Ginger Man has 70 beers on tap and more than 80 in bottles. And these aren't simply St. Louis, Milwaukee, and Golden's finest. Beers are available from every country imaginable, and then some that haven't been discovered yet. With that many brews available, you may even fine one that goes well with gingerbread.

The kids love it. Pick up the train at the main stop downtown or at Park Lane. You get to go through a tunnel if you opt for the latter. You'll be providing your children with a truly urban experience if you choose this route, a feat not easily accomplished in suburbanized Dallas.

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