Packing up the car and heading out to look at beautiful, blooming fields of wildflowers is a spring time Texas tradition, and central Texas is one of the best places in the state for taking colorful family photos and just plain ol’ basking in the beauty of nature.

Bluebonnets, known as the state flower of Texas, always take center stage when the countryside becomes painted with sweeping patches of dazzling color, but such beauties as Indian paintbrush, Indian blanket, pink evening primrose, Texas bluebell, black-eyed Susan, Mexican hat, wine cup, Texas dandelion and Drummond’s phlox also are on full display.

Down in Austin, the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center features not only wildflowers, but nearly 900 species of native plants among its gardens, natural areas and arboretums. The center is open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily at 4801 La Crosse Ave. For information on tickets, tours and more, go to www.wildflower.org.

Experts in Austin say this could be a great year for wildflowers, which started blooming early due to warmer than normal weather. Bluebonnet blooms normally peak around the end of March and into early April.

Between Austin and Killeen-Fort Hood, there are any number of prime wildflower viewing spots in and around the famed Texas Hill Country, including the city of Burnet, the “Bluebonnet Capital of Texas,” located along Highway 281, just south of Lampasas. Burnet is home to the annual Bluebonnet Festival, which is scheduled this year from April 10-12. A few miles farther south, neighboring Marble Falls also boasts spectacular fields of wildflowers every year.

A little further from home, but well worth the two-and-a-half hour drive, the city of Brenham is an excellent place to see massive fields of bluebonnets and other wildflowers. The website www.visitbrenhamtexas.com includes a “wildflower watch” blog that is updated regularly to provide wildflower viewing information.

The city of Ennis, a two-hour and 20-minute drive northeast of Killeen, is known as the “Official Texas Bluebonnet Trail,” with more than 40 miles of mapped areas to see bluebonnets. Their website is visitennis.org.

According to the Texas State Historical Association, bluebonnets are native to Texas, and were officially adopted by the Texas Legislature as the state flower on March 7, 1901. The name comes from its resemblance to a sunbonnet, and is also has been called buffalo clover and wolf flower.

“The flower usually blooms in late March and early April and is found mostly in limestone outcroppings from north central Texas to Mexico,” the TSHA website states. “Its popularity is widespread. Although early explorers failed to mention the bluebonnet in their descriptions of Texas, Indian lore called the flower a gift from the Great Spirit. The bluebonnet continues to be a favorite subject for artists and photographers, and at the peak of bloom, festivals featuring the flower are held in several locations.”

Meanwhile, nice patches of bluebonnets and other wildflowers can also be found in and around Killeen-Fort Hood, where Belton Lake Outdoor and Recreation Area (BLORA), at the intersection of North Nolan Road and Cottage Road, has a number of family activities available, including such things as camping sites, picnic pavilions, hiking, sightseeing, bird watching, hunting, fishing, mountain biking, paintball, 53-foot outdoor climbing wall and an archery range. Admission for military patrons is $3 per car; all others are $10 per vehicle.

The Outdoor Recreation Checkout Center, located within the garrison 14 miles southwest of BLORA, is available to authorized Family and MWR patrons, and offers such equipment rentals as kayaks, canoes, wake boards, skis, knee boards, tubes, camping equipment, pop-ups/travel trailers, accessories and more. Go to hood.armymwr.com for more information.

Fort Hood’s Apache Arts and Crafts Center is open 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, and 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday for those interested in do-it-yourself projects, including picture frames, ceramics and ceramics birthday parties for kids. Also offered at the center, 761st Tank Battalion and 62nd Street, Building 2337, is screen-printing, embroidery and a wood shop.

The center has a Resiliency through Art program that offers a quiet area with art materials for soldiers to create “whatever comes to mind.” It is available free of charge to all active-duty soldiers during the week until 5 p.m. Soldiers may take their work with them, or leave it at the center to be displayed for others to see. For more information, contact MWR.

In Killeen, indoor athletic enthusiasts will find almost too many activities to mention all in one place at Urban Air Trampoline and Adventure Park. The complex at 2102 Jennifer Drive, between West Jasper Drive and Highway 190, includes not only trampoline-jumping, but such things as a Sky Rider indoor coaster, ropes course, climbing walls, obstacle course, tubes playground, trapeze, dodgeball and a slam dunk zone. For more information on the park, go to www.urbanairtrampolinepark.com/locations/texas/killeen.

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