Pride Journey: East Texas

Photos courtesy of Joey Amato
Photos courtesy of Joey Amato

I had a trip to Texas planned prior to the introduction of the anti-transgender bills in state Congress. I considered cancelling the trip completely, however I realized that there are thousands of LGBTQ people living in the state who would be negatively affected by boycotts and travel cancellations, so I decided to forge ahead. Texas is a red state with multiple blue dots including Austin, Houston, Dallas, and others.

I started my road trip in Dallas, a place I have visited multiple times before for business. Dallas is a fun city with a thriving LGBTQ culture. The city’s nightlife is centered around the Oak Lawn neighborhood and its main thoroughfare Cedar Springs Road. Dozens of LGBTQ-owned shops, restaurants, salons, and bars line the street giving locals and tourists a variety of options to choose from.

Don’t party too hard because we are about to hit the road and venture to Palestine, Texas, a town located about 2-hours away. Upon arrival, it doesn’t seem like much but as you explore the East Texas town you begin to notice its charm and appeal. Many coupled LGBTQ families are relocating from Dallas – or buying second homes here – because of its proximity to lakes and natural wonders.

One such park is Davey Dogwood Park. The 254-acre park is open year-round and offers eight miles of hiking trails. I was a bit early to see the bloom of the beautiful dogwood trees, but I heard it is quite a remarkable sight. I was visiting during the Texas Dogwood Trails Celebration and Davey Dogwood Park was the centerpiece for one of the key components of the festival, the Fairy Garden Trails. Dozens of locals recreate miniature fairy lands throughout the park for guests to view. I can honestly say this is the first time I’ve ever seen such a display.

After your morning hike, head to Shep’s Bar-B-Q, a favorite among the Palestine locals. The family-owned business has created quite a name in the town, so expect a long line when you arrive to the restaurant. It doesn’t look like much from the outside but once you taste the food, you’ll realize why it has become so popular.

Spend the night at the historic Redlands Hotel, located in the heart of Palestine. The property was built in 1914 and features 20 unique suites. I stayed in a fabulous corner suite which reminded me of boutique hotels in South Beach. The modern room featured white linens with pops of color. There is also an art gallery located in the lobby which features works from East Texas artists including Stacy Campbell and Cecilia Bramhall. I acquired works from both of those artists during my stay.

After breakfast head to Oxbow Bakery for a slice of their world-famous pies. It’s never too early for pie, especially when they have been voted one of the ‘South’s Best Pies’ by Southern Living Magazine.

Walk off your pie during a visit to the East Texas Arboretum & Botanical Society, about a 20-minute drive from Palestine. Enjoy two miles of hiking trails, live (enclosed) honeybees and the historic Wofford House Museum, the oldest home in Henderson County, built in 1850. The arboretum is dedicated to the preservation of the natural environment and the creation of formal and informal plant collections.

Not too far away is Oh My Goat, a family-owned farm offering goat yoga. I had been anxiously awaiting this the entire trip as I had never done goat yoga before. I was expecting two, maybe three goats interacting with me as I performed yoga poses, but as we settled on our mats, the owners opened the gates, a herd of goats swarmed the pen. They were so cute and curious, each with a unique personality. The baby goats were my favorite of course. They were so inquisitive and friendly. At one point, I had four goats laying on my mat. It made it difficult to focus on my yoga form, but I didn’t care. Oh My Goat also features a cute shop where people can purchase t-shirts to remember this memorable experience.

Head back to the Redlands Hotel for a quick wardrobe change before dinner. You can visit any one of numerous restaurants located throughout the town, or if you are tired from playing with the goats, try the hotel’s restaurant, Queen St Grille. The causal fine dining restaurant has been voted one of the best in the city and features a variety of southern favorites at a moderate price point. Most of the entrees are under $30 so feel free to indulge!

Palestine is also famous for its railroad history. Train enthusiasts will love taking a ride on the Texas State Railroad. Book your adventure well in advance because this experience is typically sold out during the spring when the dogwood trees are in full bloom.

Don’t expect to see many rainbow flags in this part of Texas as it is quite conservative. However, the people are friendly and welcoming, so if you like exploring small towns, then a weekend visit to Palestine should be on your radar.

Enjoy the Journey!

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