When the coronavirus pandemic hit, Jeannie Morrison and fiancé Renny Lopez started pondering how to get out of town without catching COVID-19.
“We traveled all the time before –– California, New York, Canada, Hawaii,” says Lopez, 71. “Since the pandemic, we’ve been afraid to fly. We canceled our trip to Costa Rica.”
The couple, who both live in Dallas, realized they could still enjoy a beautiful change of scenery by making day trips to Texas state parks.
“They’re all so wonderful, and we feel totally safe because they limit capacity,” says Morrison, 74. “They’re very clean, particularly now. They are beautifully maintained.”
An added benefit, Lopez says, is the ease of travel. “They’re at most an hour and 30 minutes away. It’s very easy to visit and be home by 5:30,” says Lopez, a retired courier.
The couple has explored many of the parks closest to Dallas — Bonham, Cedar Hill, Cleburne, Eisenhower, Fort Parker, Lake Tawakoni, Lake Ray Roberts and Purtis Creek.
They also took a farther excursion to Lake Colorado City State Park in West Texas, where they stayed in a hotel in nearby Sweetwater. All of those parks offer lakes as well as hiking trails.
“We swim, and when it’s cooler we always take a short hike,” says Morrison, a retired teacher and former science specialist at Highland Meadows Elementary School in Dallas. “I am a wildflower freak, and I take pictures of them. In some parks, there are thousands upon thousands of wildflowers.”
The couple also takes in sights near the state parks, especially if there’s an attraction featuring World War II history. Both of their fathers were veterans.
During their venture to Eisenhower State Park, they stopped at the nearby Eisenhower Birthplace State Historic Site, the white frame house in Denison where Dwight Eisenhower, the World War II Supreme Allied Commander and 34th president of the United States, was born.
Lopez and Morrison also made a short detour en route to Lake Tawakoni to visit the No. 1 British Flying Training School Museum in Terrell. It was the first and largest U.S. school that trained British cadets to fly during World War II.
“The English came to train there before the U.S. was even in the war,” Morrison says. “They have an original training plane that’s being restored, a film to watch and exhibits about the men who served there.”
In the same vein, the couple combined their trip to Lake Colorado City State Park with a visit to Sweetwater and the National WASP WWII Museum, honoring the Women Airforce Service Pilots.
Lopez was impressed to learn that women piloted demonstration flights of the fire-prone B-29 bomber to convince airmen that the plane was safe to fly.
In addition to visiting nine state parks, the duo has kayaked at Little Elm Beach, a town park in Little Elm, and rented a Jet Ski at Sam’s Dock on Lake Lewisville.
Sometimes Lopez packs sandwiches for lunch, but often he’ll do a bit of internet sleuthing to find a local barbecue joint. “We order takeout because we want to keep them in business,” Morrison says.
Among their favorite discoveries are Tender Smokehouse in Celina near Lake Ray Roberts and Big Boys Bar-B-Que in Sweetwater.
“She has a taste for adventure, as I do,” Lopez says. “We’re really lucky we met each other late in life.”
If you go
Jeannie Morrison advises that while it’s easy to visit the parks, they do require advance reservations online at tpwd.texas.gov. Print a copy to show the gatekeeper at the park entrance.
Adult entry fees are typically $4 or $5, which is discounted by about half for seniors age 65 and up. A $70 annual Texas State Parks Pass admits a carload of people into any state park for free. Visit tpwd.texas.gov for more information.