“So, what’s with the shorts and cowboy boots that all the younger girls are wearing? Is that a local thing?” I asked the self-confident teenager running the Pavilion gift shop at 1,419-acre Garner State Park in the Texas Hill Country area southwest of San Antonio.
“Yeah, it’s a thing for sure, but not local. The locals don’t dress up to come here. I grew up and live about seven miles from here and I’d never wear that.”
I can also report that summer dance participants turned Devo’s Whip It into a line dance, and they all made a lasso-ing motion during the “whip it good” lyric. As someone who remembers watching Devo videos on 1980’s MTV, that was a little weird.
Tube tops are still a thing, though. Girls know that they only have about a five year window to get away with them, so they WORK it.
Long, swingy teenage hair (a super-shiny head usually means she’s on the swim team) is also still a thing. You need either the blown straight or curled-up version to toss while flirting with some cute guy wearing “cowboy formal” – pressed pearl snap long-sleeved shirt, pressed Wrangler jeans, boots, and a fancy belt that often has a giant buckle from the wearer’s success at a rodeo.
Parents are dressed more casually. They’re usually not on the prowl quite like the teenagers, although maybe the guy wearing that “Brisket is Sexy” T-shirt had some sort of mating agenda.
The Garner State Park summer dance has been going on since Depression-era workers with the Civilian Conservation Corps – specifically CCC Company 879 – built the Park between 1935 and 1941. The Pavilion building and its dance-friendly open area under a giant live oak overlook the clear, cold Frio River below.
Fun fact – “Garner” is John Nance Garner, aka “Cactus Jack” from nearby Uvalde. He was the U.S. Vice President 1933-40 during the height of the Depression and New Deal programs.
You can still see the CCC’s craftsmanship in the Pavilion’s hand-forged iron door hinges, cypress woodwork, and native limestone walls. The gift shop used to be part of the dining hall and still has the original colorful tile floor and giant fireplace.
You pay $1 a song, and anyone can pick one after looking over the laminated song lists scattered on tables around the jukebox itself.
The music selections run more to the country side mixed in with oldies, like Texas classic Amarillo By Morning plus Rockin’ Robin, plenty of Patsy Cline, and Ben E. King’s Stand By Me.
Someone played my personal favorite The Road Goes On Forever (But The Party Never Ends) which doesn’t really have the beat to be a good dance song, but has those amazing Robert Earl Keen lyrics:
“Sherry was a waitress at the only joint in town
She had a reputation as a girl who’d been around
Down Main Street after midnight with a brand new pack of cigs
A fresh one hangin’ from her lips and a beer between her legs
She’d ride down to the river and meet with all her friends
The road goes on forever and the party never ends”
You’ll find the jukebox, plus an old-school photo booth, together in an odd little tower near the Pavilion’s ice cream concession. This is hunting country, so get used to a bunch of deer heads staring at you as you pick out a tune….
Garner is insanely popular in the summer. They will shut down access if it gets too full during the day (check the Garner Twitter account for updates) but they’ll reopen around 6 p.m. to let in people for the dance, which runs from about 8:30 p.m. to 11 p.m.
Early on there’s plenty of room in the dance floor area, but it’s pretty packed by about 9 p.m. Many people bring chairs to sit around the perimeter, or under the nearby trees.
It’s a very family-friendly atmosphere, and quite pretty on a clear night as the moon rises above the live oak tree and the tree lights come on. I enjoyed watching younger kids learning how to dance from adults who themselves learned as kids at Garner, including the Dad who took his daughter’s flip-flops and stuffed them into a pocket of his cargo shorts when she gave up trying to boot-scoot backwards in flops.
To see the Frio River down below, you need to clamber down a few steps from the Pavilion.
The river is not very big or wide in this part of the park, but it makes for some nice scenery.
There are bites to eat at the “Garner Grill” – a converted Airstream food trailer near the Pavilion – plus a mini-golf course that is lighted at night.
I had no problem finding parking, but I arrived at about 8:15 p.m. and got lucky. Try to get in earlier if you can.
If you don’t snag a cabin or campsite in Garner, I recommend staying about 30 miles away in Uvalde, for other fun things to do and see.
The next morning I went looking for a good local breakfast, and found one at Julio’s near downtown Uvalde, in a blue building with a rustic interior including more deer heads, and big light fixtures that were made by the owners and staff from galvanized washtubs.
It’s bar-b-que AND Tex-Mex, so you can’t go wrong.
There was no way that I could decide between the Migas Taco and a Mark’s Brisket Taco with pico de gallo and guacamole, so I had both. The chips, tortillas, and salsa are all homemade, too….
I can also recommend eating at the Garner Field airport in Uvalde.
Yep, you heard me.
I included the airport’s Hangar 6 Air Cafe in my list of unique local places to eat in Texas. If you happen to fly in, get the $100 Hamburger – “Your choice of any burger [including the ‘P51 Mustang’ with bacon and mushrooms, or ‘The Stearman’ with pulled pork and coleslaw] plus $100 worth of Avgas or jet fuel.”
After the dance, a good night’s sleep, and breakfast, it was time for some fine art.
So, I went to the bank.
That’s because the bank houses the Briscoe Art and Antique Collection, but you can only see it during banking hours: 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., Monday through Friday, either self-guided or with a helpful bank employee.
Walk in the main bank entrance fronting Nopal Street, and here is the stunning lobby, complete with chandeliers, ornate maroon wall hangings, wood paneling made from oak, willow, and pecan, plus Victorian-style furniture all around….
The art pieces were collected from around the world by former Texas Governor Dolph Briscoe, Jr. and his wife Janey Briscoe (the Briscoe family is from Uvalde and still owns the bank.)
Items are often arranged in room-like settings, like this one near the bank entrance that includes two large paintings from 1760, the Count and Countess of Shaftesbury by Joshua Reynolds.
First State opened in 1907. It is an old-line farming and ranching bank, but even with the opulent setting, it is not a stuffy institution.
Bank tellers are right up front, and behind them on the wall is a series of oil paintings about Western life and cattle drives, “Trails of the Southwest” by Melvin C. Warren.
I wonder how many of the customers have ever really toured their bank’s incredible artwork. While I was there in the lobby, most marched in and and out and took care of business, including a rather dashing local gentleman in a sombrero. (Update: the photo originally posted below this was removed at the request of First State Bank, to protect bank customer privacy.)
There are works by Gainsborough, Remington, Warren, and Salinas, plus a couple of Rembrandts.
Here is one of the Rembrandt etchings, “Christ Before Pilate” from the “Stations of the Cross….”
If a bank employee is with you, take a look into the bank’s boardroom, which is full of more paintings, furnishings, rugs, and a lovely clock.
There is a telephone on a side table, but otherwise, the 21st century has not intruded into this room.
But save the shorts and boots for the Jukebox Dance.
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