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  • Writer's pictureSusan Byers

But Wait, There's More!

How could I have left Austin and not talked about two of the most remarkable places we visited?! Goodness ... Well, before we head to Waco, let me take you to the LBJ Presidential Library and the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, the state botanical garden and arboretum of Texas. Both are part of the University of Texas; both are remarkable and well worth a visit.

The LBJ Presidential Library is housed in a huge white block of a building tucked behind other buildings at UT Austin. Inside are three floors of displays and three times as many floors housing over 4 million pieces of paper that crossed LBJ's desk during his terms.

It's a whooooole lotta paper ...

For those of you who remember how Lyndon Johnson became president and then the war he oversaw that tore the nation to shreds, you will understand how painful some of the displays were to view. But Kennedy's assassination and the Vietnam War overshadowed an amazing list of goals and accomplishments. Lyndon Johnson's dream for the Great Society, while in many ways still unrealized, nevertheless changed America for the better.

I was not a fan of Johnson in his day, but I left the museum deeply impressed with the lanky, wily, driven Texan. He was a force to be reckoned with, a man of deep conviction and a man terribly torn by a war "I can't win and can't get out of." I left wanting to learn more.

As First Lady, Lady Bird Johnson also left a lasting mark on America. The Highway Beautification Act of 1965, built around her pet project to beautify America, funded local initiatives to limit billboards and other outdoor advertising, screen junkyards and other unsightly messes, and landscape green spaces along America's interstate highways, as well as to clean up city parks. We still see the results of her efforts, including broad stretches of wildflowers that still flourish along the interstates. And the Lady Bird Wildflower Center, dedicated to Mrs. Johnson, is a wonderful monument to its namesake. Even in January, it was fantastic and we spent a much longer time there than we'd expected.

The first thing you see is a large stone cistern, and a long aqueduct to move water to it from one of the larger buildings. Next is a tall stone entryway, with a pond to its left fed by a water feature that zigzags back and forth down the wall. Many structures are built of the red sandstone and white limestone so common in Texas, and almost all have ways to capture water and store it in cisterns.

Long gutters guide water off roofs to one of the two stone cisterns, while other buildings have smaller metal ones beside them.

The centerpiece of the gardens is a huge stone tower with a spiral walk inside that leads first to a green-roof patio then two look-outs (the higher of which was ... a tad too high for me). But at its heart is an enormous cistern, visible from one of the higher levels.

There's a tiny children's door in one building that leads to a small classroom. A children's garden tucked behind a wall next to it, is inhabited by whimsical metal creatures.

Sculptures and other art of various kinds abound; some are to look at ,,,

Some, well, can be interactive ...

... while some are to use, like giant "nests" of sticks ...

... or sections of cedars turned upside down and anchored for kids to climb through and on. Is it a tepee? A land strider? An enchanted forest? Things to stimulate imagination are everywhere!

One of our favorite features on the children's walk was a tiny hexagonal library. Double-sided glass cabinets form the walls--which can be swung open or closed in. Built-in benches highlight different types of wood found in Texas. It was an enchanting space.

In what is generally very arid environment, there are water features everywhere ...

... including one next to a series of "caves" for children to play in.

The back side of the children's "cave" is a beautifully planted embankment ...

... where we found this gray globemallow in bloom and abuzz with dozens of honeybees.

We saw these signs in two different locations; not something you usually see welcomed in a public place, but it is a beautiful vine, especially in fall, and here it is treated as just another specimen.

There are "grownup" gardens, too. One area was divided in blocks to highlight different ways to plant--around rocks, with cacti, in cattle troughs, with ground cover and hardy plants, and with water features, including ways to capture and store water.

Another water feature started in a grove of trees and ran through several other areas to a pool at the end.

We stopped in the gift shop on our way out and chatted at length with one of the ladies who works there. She knew Lady Bird well, and clearly adored her. After LBJ was gone, his wife moved from the ranch into Austin and was often at "her" wildflower center, where her enthusiasm, hard work and lack of pretense made her a favorite. The center is a fitting monument to her. And the next time you see a bright swath of wildflowers planted along the highway, whisper a little "thank you."

NOW we can move on to Waco!

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