About five years ago, as rising gas prices and a uncertain economy forced families to think about nearby destinations when making plans for vacation, a new word was created: Staycation.
For many families, a vacation close to home makes sense economically.
With about seven weeks remaining until school starts, here are some ideas for a family staycation.
NORTH TEXAS JELLYSTONE PARK
Nestled in the pristine countryside of Burleson is Yogi Bear's North Texas Jellystone Park, formerly known as Rustic Creek Ranch.
The campground resort is a fun-filled smorgasbord of accommodations and activities and winner of the 2010 Best Accommodations Award from the Texas Association of Campground Owners.
The park also features Pirates Cove, a water play park that opened in 2012, and a large video game arcade. Both are open to the public every day.
The 69-acre park has full service RV and tent sites, 37 cottages, two large pools, and four recreation halls.
Each cottage is rustic-upscale, with unique handmade pine and oil-rubbed bronze furnishings from Mexico and East Texas. Many have two-person jacuzzis and stone fireplaces.
Owner and operators Ronnie and Ginger Bowyer, and manager Steve Stafford share a vision of family entertainment that continues to grow.
“Currently, RV campers can choose from back-in sites, landscaped upgrades with rosebushes, flowers and greenery, or V-pod lots that provide a large shared yard for traveling groups,” Bowyer said. “Cottage choices include The Wagon Wheel Circle, where several cabins share a backyard patio, tree swing and grilling area that's ideal for groups. Other options are private cabins and connecting room suites.”
Visitors can rent golf carts for zipping around the grounds, which are sprinkled with well-placed sculptures of horses, cattle and birds.
The campground is animal friendly and has a pet park and pet island for walking furry members of the family.
The Ranch house is connected to the main office and the hub for planned children's activities. Each week, a set of themed activities such as candle making, picnic lunches with Yogi Bear, candybar bingo, ceramic painting and movie and karaoke nights.
Yogi is on site daily to greet campers, pose for photos and take part in events.
The park is located 2301 South I- 35W. For information call 817-426-5037. The website is www.northtexasjellystone.com
Nestled along more than 800 acres of rolling partially wooded hills in southeastern Johnson County is Beaumont Ranch, a resort with a western twist.
“Because the land sits on the old Chisholm Trail of the 1880s, we called our town the Chisholm Fork,” Beaumont Ranch spokesperson Linda Parker said. “It's built to comply with construction from the 1860s. The first time people come here they are shocked. There's a plethora of things to do.”
Beaumont Ranch, located east of Interstate 35W on County Road 102 in Grandview, has a little something for everyone from children to seniors.
“You can find everything to satisfy children wanting an outdoors adventure to just sitting by the lake,” Parker said. “We even have a full-service spa in a brand new building.”
The first stop for visitors is well disguised lodging. A variety of bed and breakfast room themes are available, nine located in the town erected to resemble something out of the Old West. Nine lodges are located within the town with familiar western exteriors, such as dry goods merchants, saloon keepers and other merchants. There's even an old church in the town. The beds are king- and queen-sized.
But one of the room options is a bunk house like cowpokes might have used in the 1800s.
The western theme continues on the open range for those who so choose. It can begin with a cowboy breakfast and end with chuckwagon dinners, and in between the ranch offers trail rides and cattle drives.
Instruction is also offered on roping, shooting, black powder guns, horseback riding, horse grooming, animal husbandry and more. The ranch maintains about 100 head of cattle and has 25 horses.
Visitors would come from miles around just for the opportunity to play cowboy for the day. Then came the zip line adventure package. Participants get the chance to ride a cable through the air from one platform to the next, a treat ranch staff says can be intimidating and rewarding.
Instruction begins on the ground and progresses from 100- to 1,500-foot challenges over a 2,500-foot course that in some places is four stories high and in one place features a 95-foot elevation drop. Participants must be at least 10 years old and weigh between 75 and 250 pounds.
A full-service spa offers everything to pamper a guest and often can be the locale for bridal parties prior to a wedding.
Call the ranch toll free at 888-864-6935 or visit www.beaumontranch.com.
GREAT WOLF LODGE
Families are making tracks to Grapevine and finding lots of fun things to do at Great Wolf Lodge.
“It's geared to children, but it's a fun place for the whole family,” said Keene resident Stacie Fautheree. “There's a ton of stuff to do,” Fautheree said. “The water park area is gigantic and it took some of us four hours to complete the treasure hunt.”
The treasure hunt — Magi Quest — is actually a video game-type scavenger hunt utilizing all eight floors of the main lodge.
Hunters use a wand which automatically records when a treasure is found.
Overnight accommodations feature 605 suites built around 12 basic themes, such as an in-room wolf cave, tent, and a log cabin.
Summer rates begin at $319 per night for a family of four, but sometimes a lower rate can be found on the GW website at www.greatwolf.com.
Those staying at Great Wolf can bring a guest who isn't staying overnight, but that person or persons must pay a $40 daily-use fee. Otherwise, there is no day use.
Daily activities include Cub Club crafts, the Wolf Walk hike around the lobby to learn more about wolves, bears and other wildlife animals, The Great Clock Tower where Little Yellow Feather, Simon and all the animals sing about life in the forest, and the Great Pajama Story Time where children hear a favorite bedtime story.
Fort Mackenzie is a four-story interactive treehouse water fort offering 12 levels of ways to get soaked. It features the grand daddy of soaker buckets — a 1,000-gallon tipper that sits atop the fort. Every few minutes, a warning bell clangs and the bucket begins to tip its contents over the roof and onto everyone below.
Without doubt, the main theme of Great Wolf is water, including the indoor water park as large as two football fields and the 84,000-squrefoot outdoor pool.
The Grapevine Great Wolf is one of 12 similar lodges — 11 in the U.S., one in Canada — owned an operated by Great Wolf Resorts of Madison, Wis.
TEXAS RANGERS MUSEUM IN WACO
From its earliest days as a Mexican province to modern times, the Texas Rangers have been synonymous with the state of Texas.
You can take a walk through the history of arguably what is Texas' most recognizable symbol at the Texas Ranger Hall of Fame and Museum in Waco.
The museum is located along Interstate 35, at exit 335-B, University Parks Drive, in Waco. The facility is open from 9 a.m.-4:30 p.m. every day, except Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's Day. Admission is $7 for adults ($6 for age 60 and older) and $3 for children age 6-12. Children younger than 6 enter free.
Planning for the museum started in 1968, when Interstate 35 was nearing completion through the community. The facility was named the official Hall of Fame for the Texas Rangers in 1973 and as the official repository and archive in 1997. The facility tracks the Texas Rangers through the four major periods in their — and Texas' — history.
The agency formed in 1823 as a frontier militia under first the Mexican government then, following the Texas War for Independence, as an arm of the Republic of Texas.
The agency shifted its focus in 1901 to become a state policing body and continued in that role through the Texas oil boom, prohibition and the rise of so-called “motorized gangsters” of the 1920s and 1930s.
The agency was placed under the authority of the newly-formed Department of Public Safety in 1935, becoming the primary investigative agency for DPS, almost a state FBI.
The facility, by its very name, is more than just a museum. In addition to historic artifacts, it houses the Texas Ranger Hall of Fame, dedicated to Rangers past and present who have made a significant contribution to the service.
One of the museum's most popular attraction is the collection Texas Ranger badges, all made from Mexican coins.
The museum's toll-free phone number is 1-800-750-8631.
FORT WORTH NATURE CENTER
No matter whether you're an avid hiker, kayaker or all-around nature enthusiast, the Fort Worth Nature Center and Refuge has something to tempt you.
There are back-to-nature trails. There's the West Fork of the Trinity River. There's the visitors' center, were you can get an “up close” look at snakes, turtles and buffalo.
Many folks like to take advantage of the various trails crossing the 3,600-acre facility, including:
• Canyon Ridge trail, which connects ridgetop vistas, shady canyons and marsh views along a 3.25- mile route.
• Crosstimbers Loop trail, a 3.37-mile route through undisturbed forest.
• Deer Mouse trail, which connects the prairie and the riverbottom environments encompassed by the Center.
• Interlocking trails on Greer Island, which was part of the original, 36 acres of the Nature Center.
• Limestone Ledge, a paved, 0.21-mile nature trail which accommodates visitors in wheelchairs.
• Marsh Boardwalk, a loop over the wetlands.
• Oak Motte Meander, a 2.16-mile walk through grasslands and clusters of red and live oaks.
• Prairie trail, a 1.13- mile hike to the Center's prairie-dog town.
• Riverbottom, which leads to the Boardwalk and the Canyon Ridge trails.
• Wild Plum, almost half a mile through the Center's wild plum thickets.
Once a month, one Sunday afternoon is reserved for canoeing. No registration is necessary — it's first-come, first-served. Go online to the Nature Center's website to see what Sunday is reserved.
Visitors also can take advantage of guided canoe tours during which they can see blue herons, beaver dams, ducks and turkey vultures.
The Center abounds with wildlife. The buffalo herd numbers about 20. No one knows what the population of the prairie dog town is, though it could be in the thousands.
If you're into aquatic wildlife, hanging around by the Riverbottoms may net you a sight of an alligator or two, Seleske said.
Other species who make the Nature Center home include white-tailed deer, beaver, nutria, raccoons, opossums, armadillo, coyotes, foxes, bobcats and fox squirrels.
There are several species of frogs and toads and birds abound as well, from the American White Pelican to the Yellow-billed Cuckoo.
Go online to sign up for a naturalist-led walk to learn all about the plants, animals and insects which abound at the Center.
Staycationers also can visit the Center's Hardwicke Interpretive Center, with wildlife exhibits, a bird-watching courtyard, a herbarium and a nature library.
Flora freaks also will love the Nature Center, with its 300 species of wildflowers.
Refuge hours from May through September are 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Friday and 7 a.m.-7 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.
Admission is $5 for adults (age 13-64), $2 children (age 3-12; under 3 free) and $3 for seniors (age 65 and older).
The Fort Worth Nature Center and Refuge is at 9601 Fossil Ridge Road in Fort Worth.
To get there, take Jacksboro Highway (U.S. 199) to the Confederate Park Road (FM 1886) exit ad turn right. It will take you right to the center. For more information, call 817-237-1111.
FORT WORTH CULTURAL DISTRICT
Some of the best exposure to post-World War II art from around the globe is just a short drive away at The Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth.
The permanent collection at The Modern features works in all media, from painting to sculpture to photography.
The Modern is the oldest art museum in Texas. It was chartered in 1892 as the Fort Worth Public Library and Art Gallery. In the 1930s and 1940s, the museum went by the name of Fort Worth Art Center.
The current museum facility was designed by Japanese architect Tadao Ando and opened in 2002. The facility features expanded exhibition space, the Café Modern restaurant, an auditorium, classroom and studio spaces.
The Modern is located in the Fort Worth Cultural District, just a short walk from The Kimbell Art Museum.
The Cultural District includes The Kimbell Art Museum and the Amon Carter Museum, focusing on American artists. Also nearby in the district are the National Cowgirl Museum and Hal of Fame, the Cattle Raisers Museum and the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History.
Gigantic rock formations, complex hiking trails and rugged terrain that is beautiful to view and photograph at Enchanted Rock State Park can challenge the most vigorous outdoor enthusiast.
The park consists of 1643 acres on Big Sandy Creek, north of Fredericksburg, on the border between Gillespie and Llano Counties. It was acquired by the Nature Conservancy of Texas through a warranty deed in 1978 from the Moss family of south Texas.
The state opened the 1,643 acre park to the public in 1984 with restroom facilities, shelters and camp sites.
The keystone of the park, a massive 640 acre granite dome pushing 425 feet to the sky, is indeed the enchantment of the park. Tonkawa Indians reported to Spanish Conquistadors the mountain held the spirits of their ancestors, which spoke to the them during nightly rituals.
Today we know the groans and cracking noises that come from the dome at night are caused by granite cooling after the heat of the day.
Because of its rock formations, crags and cliffs, Enchanted Rock is a gold mine for rock climbers, rappellers and extreme hikers.
There is no danger in accessing the famous dome — just a half-mile uphill hike. When climbing the dome, there is more to encourage you than knowing coming down is going to be much easier.
Hikers who endure it to the top are treated to a 360-degree vista of hundreds of miles of Texas Hill Country. It is hard to relate in words how large the dome is, but the top is about four acres and accommodates dozens of sightseers.
Make reservations at Enchanted Rock at least a month in advance, because the park is popular and will close to nonregistered guests if it reaches capacity on the weekends.
For fees and other information, visit the park's website at www.tpwd.state.tx.us/state-parks/enchanted-rock.
FAIR PARK IN DALLAS
The park includes the Museum of Nature and Science, the Age of Steam Railroad Museum, the African American Museum, the Women's Museum, the Texas Hall of State and Texas Discovery Gardens.
The Dallas Aquarium also makes its home at Fair Park. In addition to offering a variety of educational programs and special events for children and adults, the Texas Discovery Gardens offers an opportunity to get up close and personal with the several varieties of butterflies which call Texas home.
There's more — much more — to Fair Park than museum exhibits and loud noises.
Other Fair Park attractions include:
n The Old Mill Inn, a former exhibit building for the flour milling industry that features fieldstone cladding and heavy timber. It now serves as a restaurant.
n The Esplanade, a 700- foot long reflecting pool. The fountain is being renovated so that it can feature “dancing waters” and a light show, according to Artis.
n The Crystal Terrace, a restaurant on the Fair Park grounds that will serve meals appropriate to the setting of whatever musical is playing at the Dallas Summer Musicals.
Those are just the permanent features of Fair Park. More than 1,200 events take place there over the course of a year, Artis noted — everything from “murder mystery dinners” to concerts by big-name artists to trade shows and the monthly antique shows.
To get to Fair Park, take U.S. 30 east to Dallas and continue on that highway until you reach Exit 46. Turn right (south) and follow the signs to Fair Park. Gate 6 is the main gate.
GENE AUTRY MUSEUM, SPRINGER, OKLA.
If you grew up watching TV cowboys like Roy Rogers, Hopalong Cassidy and Gene Autry, and want to lasso some memories from your past, then get-a-long for a two-hour ride to an Oklahoma museum that will take you back 50 years or more.
The Gene Autry Oklahoma Museum — located in Gene Autry, Okla., north of Ardmore
— and dedicated to the legacy of the singing cowboys of the “B” Western films of the 1930s, ‘40s and ‘50s, is a rare collection of memorabilia — mostly devoted to the late Autry — but also honoring straight shooters such as Roy Rogers, Dale Evans, Rex Allen, Jimmy Wakely, Tex Ritter, Ken Maynard, Hopalong Cassidy, Dale Berry, Pee Wee King, Johnny Western, Ben Johnson, Dick Jones, the Long Ranger and Gail Davis.
Once you're past Denton, I-35 becomes a pleasant and scenic drive as it crosses the Red River, climbing and falling across the rolling hills of the Sooner State's south.
From Johnson County, it's about two hours to Ardmore, and another few miles north to Exit 40 and State Highway 50. From there, it's seven miles east to Gene Autry — watch for the museum sign on the right shortly after you pass the Melody Ranch campground and dirt bike facility. Turn right (south) and go south 1.5 miles on Happy Trails Road. Turn east (left) on Tumbleweed Road and go about 1.8 miles east.
The museum, an old schoolhouse, contains what is probably the finest Gene Autry collection anywhere, including movie posters, photos, comic books, record albums, cereal boxes, toys, western wear and lots of merchandise from bed spreads to kitchen utensils.
There are similar collectibles — just not the volume or variety — for Rogers, Evans, Hoppy, the Lone Ranger and the others.
In 1991, the people of Gene Autry celebrated the 50th anniversary of the city's name by remodeling the old school building into a museum dedicated to the singing cowboys of Hollywood's B movies, with most of the mementoes devoted to Autry.
Brian Porter and Andrew Brosig and Candice Montemeyer contributed to this report.