Saving lives, seeing sights in the Brazos Valley
With The Blood Center of Brazos Valley now a fully operational affiliate of Gulf Coast Regional Blood Center, I’ve been learning more about the community we serve there to get a better idea of who our Brazos Valley donors might be. Opening a Neighborhood Donor Center in College Station has presented the opportunity to explore the region a bit – something this native Houstonian has been thoroughly enjoying.
I decided to list some of the neat finds I’ve encountered thus far in the Brazos Valley. If you live in Houston, this area is just a day trip away (and totally worth visiting); if you live in the Bryan/College Station area – well, you still may not realize what treasures are right in your backyard.
1. The Texas Bluebonnet Wine Trail.
Lots of folks know about the gorgeous Messina Hof winery in Bryan, but it’s actually only one of a handful (and one of the largest, believe it or not) of the wineries that populate the map between Houston and the Brazos Valley, making up the Texas Bluebonnet Wine Trail.
This past weekend, a friend and I visited two wineries to the south of Bryan/College station, in Brenham – better known as Blue Bell Country.
The Pleasant Hill Winery is not far off 290 and a lovely place to take in a sunny day. Run by the Cottle family, the winery is a well-oiled machine that exclusively uses Texas grapes, many from its on-site vineyard. The tasting room was busy on an early Saturday afternoon, though not too crowded.
Follow a tour with a tasting (just $3 per person or $5 per couple), then check out the plants up close. Nothing could be sweeter than sipping a glass of Pleasant Hill’s popular Blanc du Bois while walking along the grapevines. Keep an eye out for the friendly, black and white winery kitty that makes her home among the grapes.
A little more challenging to find is the Windy Winery – formerly known as Windy Hill Winery, but changed recently to avoid confusion with Pleasant Hill and a California outpost by the same name. The winery is many twists and turns into a secluded little pocket of Brenham, a tiny structure built next to the home of winemaker August Meitzen and his wife, Linda.
The couple, now retired from a finance business with outposts in Kerrville and Brenham, welcome their guests warmly; their wines range from a sweetly dry Chardonnay to the “Saucy Red,” whose bold name says it all. Rows and rows of thriving green grapevines fill the land alongside their home, one of the telltale signs of the winery’s presence as you approach from down the road.
Any of the wineries will be happy to stamp your Texas Winery Passport – collect four stamps and go online to redeem a special gift!
2. Brazos Valley Museum of Natural History.
On a recent trip to the Brazos Valley, plans to visit a health expo at the Brazos Center fell through when I found out I’d misread the hours of operation. But next door the Brazos Center, sharing the same buidling, a vaguely familiar name beckoned me – The Brazos Valley Museum of Natural History.
I’d previously browsed the museum Web site and seen its name listed in local attraction guides, but an improptu visit with Executive Director Dr. Deborah Cowman assured me that the museum is actually very much a “hidden treasure.” On the eve of its 50-year anniversary, the museum is still being discovered every day by lifelong Brazos Valley residents and those just traveling through the area.
With several permanent collections on hand, including extensive history of plant and animal life native to the Brazos Valley, the museum also is home to a fossil collection and plenty of hands-on activities for visitors. Classes and programs for all ages fill the museum’s calendar – most notably the children’s nature camps currently in session and “Game Day Learn and Play,” an educational offering for kids during Texas A&M home football games.
The day of our visit to the museum, Cowman was anxiously readying for its next temporary exhibit, The Caddo: Traditions and Heritage. Opening to the public tomorrow, the exhibit depicts the life of a living tribe through vivid works of art. Cowman said it was important to her to bring this exhibit to the Brazos Valley Museum of Natural History to remind individuals that Native American tribes have a presence in our state today, not just in the history books.
3. Historic Downtown Bryan.
Many cities attempt to revitalize their failing downtown districts by bringing in new business and cultural offerings, with varying degrees of success. Residents of the Bryan/College Station area say that “historic” Downtown Bryan is one that has done it right.
With the Downtown Bryan Economic Development Association at the helm, this district has blossomed into a pedestrian-friendly shoppers’ paradise, with boutiques, galleries and restaurants for every taste. Notable finds are the unpretentious but still sophisticated Square One Bistro; the hands-on family fun of the Children’s Museum of the Brazos Valley; and the funky live-music hub, Revolution Cafe.
A monthly “First Friday” event kicks off at 6 p.m. and invites residents of the Brazos Valley to experience all that Downtown Bryan has to offer, with shops staying open late, live music from local artists and visual art on display. Visitors who want to avoid pounding the pavement all day can take it all in from the seat of a horse-drawn carriage.
The Blood Center is excited to have a Neighborhood Donor Center in Brazos Valley, a place where the locals can help save lives in their own community by donating blood – something else to add to the list of things to do in the area. What are some other can’t-miss spots in Bryan/College Station and the surrounding communities? Give us even more reasons to love having a home in the Brazos Valley!