Given the history of the state of Texas, a big lure for Lubbock is its ties to the land.
Visiting the National Ranching Heritage Center (depts.ttu.edu/ranchhc) is a way to immerse oneself in that history.
“Once visitors who have never been on a ranch enter through our front gate and see those Longhorn steers and that rider at the fountain, the hair on the back of their neck just rises,” said Tony Spears, president of the Ranching Heritage Association board of directors and a rancher and businessman in nearby Gonzales, Texas.
The 27.5-acre site is home to nearly 50 structures, most between 100 and 177 years old, showcasing the trials and tribulations early ranchers faced in taming a harsh land.
But there’s far more to the center than simply a collection of old buildings.
“Ranching and the westward movement of America share the same chapter in the history books,” said Carl Andersen, executive director of the National Ranching Heritage Center. “Together, they tell the story of ranch families who moved out of their dugouts and log cabins to build the houses, schools, churches and cities that millions now call home.”
In addition to the series of buildings, 42 life-size bronze outdoor art pieces are scattered across the grounds. And a 44,000-square-foot museum contains seven galleries featuring exhibits of art, photography and artifacts highlighting historical and modern Western life.
Hills surrounding the site are berms created by piles of debris from a 1970 tornado that leveled downtown Lubbock.
The berms are planted with wildflowers and make for a showy display, but to really capture the beauty of the area, the Lubbock Memorial Arboretum (lubbockarboretum.org) boasts an array of about 130 species and varieties of trees, said Arthur Elliot, coordinator for horticulture board of trustees.
In addition to several species of oaks and elms, there are crab apple, peach, mulberry and hawthorn trees, to name a few.
The fall is a great time to visit, as the weather cools off and the trees explode into showy color.
“There are a lot of them that turn yellow,” Elliott said. “There are some reds and purples. Ash and certain are other trees are red-leafed all the time.”
Fragrant and colorful roses are also a specialty, with more than 150 varieties in the rose garden. Among those are the extra-hardy roses developed by Texas A&M that “were selected to stand about anything,” he said. “The dry, the wet, disease problems, insect problems. You just let ’em grow type of thing.”
The arboretum hosts an annual Pumpkin Trail —— this year scheduled for Oct. 13-16 —— that helps people get in the mood for Halloween. With nearly 2,000 carved and lit pumpkins, the event annually draws more than 20,000 people, Elliott said.
Another attraction, the Lubbock Lake Landmark (lubbocklake.musm.ttu.edu), is a 336-acre preserve that is both a working archaeological site and a natural history preserve.
Start at the interpretative center and museum, where exhibits are focused on the history that we have uncovered in our work excavating the cultural material, said Deborah Bigness, manager of site operations. “There’s a continuous record of human habitation for the last 12,000 years. This is a history of all the cultures that have been here over that long span of time.”
The best way to see the site is by three easy walking trails, she said.
“We have 4.5 miles of trails on our preserve, three different trails, each with a bit different focus on what they’re trying to explain,” Bigness said.
The longest one follows Yellowhorse Draw, a shallow valley that follows the contours of the topography featuring the native plants, flowers and trees.
Another is devoted to the natural history, featuring interpretive signs throughout.
The third focuses on the cultural history by encircling the archaeological exploration, with additional interpretive signs describing the time periods and cultures that lived in the area.
Four life-size bronze sculptures of Columbian mammoths, created using casts from fossilized bones discovered in the area are exhibition highlights.
And if all this scrambling around makes one hot, the Buffalo Springs Lake (buffalospringslake.net) is a great place to cool off, said Penny Jones, lake promotions director.
The lake is perfect for boating, with motorboats, kayaks and canoes on the water, and the fishing offers bass, catfish and perch, she said.