As I neared Beaumont in southeast Texas, I noticed the countryside started getting very green and lush.
Red and blue flowers grew along the roadside. Small oil rigs, known as pump jacks, dotted the landscape. The changing scenery hinted at the unique cultural and outdoor adventures waiting for me to discover in my destination.
Fire Museum of Texas
My first stop was at the Fire Museum of Texas in downtown Beaumont. Outside, I saw the world’s largest working fire hydrant, which weighs more than 321 stones and can soak you with 5,600 liters of water per minute! This was originally a prop for Disney’s “101 Dalmatians” video release party. Inside, I learned about the history of the fire service, from hand pumps, such as the “tub pumper,” dating to 1856, to the horses that pulled the engines. Children and adults can even dress up in firefighter outfits, known as turnout gear, and sit in the cab of a real fire engine.
Texas Energy Museum
Wanting to explore the history of the Texas oil industry, I visited the Texas Energy Museum. Exhibits tell the story of the petrochemical industry. Oil was discovered nearby at Spindletop on Jan. 10, 1901, when the Anthony F. Lucas Gusher exploded from the earth and shot 61 meters into the air. Within the first nine days, the well flowed over 900,000 barrels. I was astonished to learn that at the beginning of 1901, the population in Beaumont was 8,500. Within just 30 days of the discovery of oil at Spindletop, the population grew to 30,000.
McFaddin-Ward House Museum
The McFaddin-Ward House was built in 1907 by the McFaddins, who made their fortune from oil, cattle, real estate and other business ventures. At about 1,189 square meters, it is a palatial residence, even today. Everything in the house is original and beautifully maintained, from the stained glass windows and sleeping porch, to the six-headed spa shower and foot bath.
For a change of scenery, head to Cattail Marsh for a leisurely stroll along the Hildebrandt Bayou. You’ll see many different birds, either flying above or resting in the water and marshland. I was lucky enough to spot a killdeer sitting on her egg in the middle of the pathway. Don’t be surprised if you see an alligator or two.
From the Downtown Riverfront Park, explore the relaxing Neches River with Neches River Adventures. This was a perfect way to soak up the surrounding scenery and watch wildlife on the riverbanks.
Fierce Critters at Gator Country
My final stop of the day was Gator Country. When Gary Saurage and Jana Parr are not out catching alligators that have roamed into peoples’ backyards or filming their television program “Gator 911,” they’re running Gator Country. The park doubles as a rescue service and is home to more than 400 alligators, crocodiles, turtles and snakes. When asked if I wanted to say hi to “Big Al,” I replied, "Sure, why not?” When I got up close enough to touch the tip of his nose, I was slightly less enthusiastic. After all, Big Al is the largest alligator in captivity in the USA, weighing just over 71 stones and measuring more than 4 meters long.
If you’re looking to get a little something extra out of your holiday in Texas, stop by Beaumont.