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Abilene - Texas

 What to See and Do | Where to Stay | Camping

This was the second Abilene in the United States, named after the original Abilene in Kansas. Like that older town, the Texas version was (and still is) a classic "cow town," a railway shipping point for cattle. Before its founding in 1880, this area of Texas was a roaming range for the Commanche and other native Americans who followed buffalo herds across the Great Plains. After the last of the battles with the Commanche ended in 1876, the area was settled by Texans and a few year later, in mid-January 1881, the Texas & Pacific Railroad arrived in the area.

 

By January 2, 1883, when the Abilene was incorporated, the town boasted two newspapers, several churches and a school. The Taylor County seat was moved to Abilene from Buffalo Gap in 1883. Today, Abilene is an agricultural service community, in the center of a 20-county region, still devoted to cattle ranching and other forms of farming.

Located near the geographical center of the state, Abilene sits about 100 miles north of Texas hill country, with Interstate 20 running past the northern edge of the city. U.S. Highway 80 also links Abilene to Dallas and Fort Worth (to the east), and to Midland and Odessa (to the west).

What to See & Do

The history of the area is experienced in several local sites, including Buffalo Gap Historic Village, 14 miles south of Abilene. This is a great place to learn about the tumultuous history of Central Texas. The village consists of 19 buildings, most of them more than 100 years old. Among the structures is a log cabin, the original Taylor County courthouse and jail, and several early pioneer homes. While the village is open year-round, open hours vary with the seasons. From March 15 to November 15, hours are from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday through Saturday, and from noon to 6 p.m. on Sundays. From November 16 to March 14, open hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and from noon to 5 p.m. on Sunday. The village is closed on Christmas and Thanksgiving days. To get there, take drive south from Abilene on Buffalo Gap Road (FM 89), turn right on Elm Street and continue for two blocks.

Another small piece of Texas history is found north of town -- an old army post, used as protection for settlers during the period of conflict with the Commanche and other native tribes. The construction of Fort Phantom Hill , in 1851, marked the beginning of settlement in the Abilene area. Five companies of infantry were housed here, but only for three years when the army abandoned the fort. In 1858, it became a way-station on the Overland Mail Route using the Butterfield stage trail. By 1880, a little town had grown around the fort. There's not much remaining from this period. Only three buildings and a dozen chimneys are seen in the remains of the fort. To get to the ruins from Interstate 20, drive north on FM 600 for eleven miles, or take the Texas Forts Trail route on FM 2833. The site is open daily, and has no entry fee. Lake Fort Phantom, located near the fort, offers a picnic area, camping, boating and fishing.

The best place in town to get a feeling for the history and culture of the region is the Grace Cultural Center, a former hotel which is the home of three separate museums, known as the Museums of Abilene. The building sits across Cypress Street from the historic Texas and Pacific Depot. The Art Museum has displays of contemporary and historical western art, sculpture, and photography, along with permanent and special exhibits of folk art. The Historical Museum includes re-creations of historic rooms, as well as photographs of early times in the Abilene area, covering the period between 1900 and 1945. One part of the museum focuses on Camp Barkeley, and World War II army camp.

The Children's Museum is a combination art and science center with hands-on displays and other exhibits. The cultural center also contains a grand old ballroom, restored to its original state, and a roof-terrace dance floor. These are sometimes used for public dancing and big band concerts. The complex of museums is open Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and on Thursdays from 10 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. Admission costs are minimal, with free access on Thursdays from 5 to 8:30 p.m.

Two blocks away, at 352 Cypress Street, the Paramount Theatre is a wonderful example of the grand style of the great movie palaces of the 1920s and 30s. Built in 1930, the Paramount has been restored, and contains two fine staircases, a unique Pueblo/Deco ceiling, and ornate glass chandeliers. The auditorium features a Moorish theme, with clouds and stars floating on the blue ceiling. Many special events (including the West Texas Film Festival, in April) are held here, including showings of classic and art films, and live performances. The building is open for tours each weekday from 1 to 5 p.m.

The Abilene Zoo, located on Highway 36 at Loop 322, is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, and from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. on weekends and holidays. From Memorial Day to Labor Day, the zoo is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. The zoo and Discovery Center cover 13 acres, exhibiting more than 500 species of animals including birds, mammals, reptiles, amphibians, and invertebrates. You'll also see an excellent collection of plants of the American Southwest, compared to plants of similar regions in Africa. The Discovery Center is a series of indoor habitats including aquariums, a tropical aviary, and the Terrestrial Trail exhibiting mongooses, lemurs, and ring tails. Like most other attractions in Abilene, the zoo features low entrance fees. Nelson Park, including a playground and picnic area, is located next to the zoo.

Dyess Air Force Base is a large military establishment located to the east of Abilene, accessed from Interstate 20 via Arnold Blvd (Rd. 312), or from the south and U.S. Highway 277 via Rebecca Lane and Dub Wright Blvd. The base is the sole training base for crews of the B-1 bomber, and is home to an air combat command wing, with B-1s and C-130s. Dyess Linear Air Park is located on the base, with an exhibit of 31 aircraft ranging in vintage from World War II to Operation Desert Storm. Entrance is free, with temporary passes available at the base's main gate.

Abilene State Park offers camping opportunities, plus a chance to see part of the official Texas Longhorn herd, which is divided among a half-dozen parks. The park, located 16 miles southwest of town, beyond Buffalo Gap, is set on brushy prairie land, with wooded valleys containing streams and groves of juniper, mesquite, cedar, native pecan, live oaks and hackberry. You'll also see Texas red oak trees, along with red bud, and lots of wildflowers in spring. To get there, drive south from Abilene on FM 89, through Buffalo Gap, and then on Park Road 32 to the park entrance.

The park is located in a range of low hills called the Callaghan Divide, and covers 621 acres. Large groves of native pecan trees used to attract Native Americans, including Commanches, long before the arrival of Easterners in the area. The pecan trees now shelter the park's picnic area. Facilities include camp sites with water and electrical services, or with just water, a trailer area, dump station, and restrooms with showers. Camp sites include picnic tables and grills. They are found in four separate campgrounds. Cedar Grove has sites more suitable for tent campers, with water nearby. Brushy Trail Campground offers accommodation to large trailers and motorhomes, with water and electricity, and a dump station nearby. Pecan Grove is a multi-use area with water and electricity. Wagon Circle is the group trailer area, with a recreation hall in the center of a circular campground, and a dump station nearby. Also available are several screened shelters (rustic cabins) with picnic tables and grills, plus electrical lighting and water.

Park activities include sand volleyball, horseshoes, wading in a children's pool, and swimming in a larger swimming pool which is open from the Saturday before Memorial Day through Labor Day. Anglers will want to try fishing in Buffalo Wallow Pond. Park roads are available for cycling and walking, and hiking trails lead beside the creeks. Wildlife accessible for viewing includes white-tailed deer, raccoons, armadillos, foxes, squirrels, cottontail rabbits, and a sizable variety of birds. For park information, call (915) 572-3204.

Where to Stay -- Hotel Guide

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Abilene, Texas Guide

The city has two-dozen motels, including most of the budget and medium-priced chains, including Hampton Inn, Embassy Suites, Days Inn, Courtyard by Marriott and Comfort Inn, and the newer low-cost business motels such as Holiday Inn Express and Red Carpet Inn. Campgrounds are located away from the city center. Directions to camping areas follow, and telephone reservations are recommended.

Abilene Camping

Abilene Campground
Route 8, Box 859, Abilene TX 79601
(915) 672-0657
Located close to Interstate 20, east of town, Abilene Campground is reached from eastbound traffic by taking exit 292B, or by westbound traffic by taking exit 294. All sites have are pull-through sites with full hookups. The campground features a swimming pool, laundry, grocery store, and sells propane gas.

Abilene RV Park
Interstate 20 at Exit 292-B, Abilene TX 79601
(915) 672-0657
Conveniently located close to the freeway, this RV park features full hookups for trailers and RVs, with several discount plans available for AARP, AAA and God Sam Club members.

Johnson Park and Seabee Park, at Lake Fort Phantom, Abilene TX 79601
(915) 676-6218
These are civic camping areas, operated by the Abilene Parks Department. Johnston Park covers 37 acres, while Seabee Park has 40 acres. Both have flush toilets but no drinking water. A boat ramp is located at the east end of the dam, with fishing available. There are only five prepared camp sites in Johnson Park and four sites at Seabee Park. To get to these areas, drive north from Interstate 20 on FM 600, for 3.2 miles (Seabee Park) and for 6.6 miles to reach Johnson Park. For Seabee, take the local road east by Elm Creek. Johnson Park is beside the dam. No fee required, with a three-day limit for both areas.

KOA Kampground
Interstate 20 at Shirley Road, Abilene TX 7960
(915) 672-3681
This is a typical KOA operation, including sites for RVs and trailers, plus some tenting sites. The campground offers bare-bones camping cabins and other amenities. Seniors and KOA discounts are available.

 

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