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Art-Beat of Wichita Falls

Courtesy Kemp Center

Historic Texas
Of course, a full experience in Wichita Falls requires a look at the area’s rich history, which includes elements of the Wild West, the railroad, the oil industry and military heritage. The Museum of North Texas History has displays that cover all of those topics, from a collection of more than 500 historic cowboy hats to numerous train and oil models.

“Our oil and gas exhibit has a scale model of a full drilling rig operation,” said Charles Campbell, the museum’s executive director. “The entire thing is there: the platform, the derrick and all of the outbuildings and machinery that goes along with it. The collection also has a very early gas pump and some of the porcelain globes that would have sat on top of it. They’re in pristine condition.”

Among the museum’s strongest elements are its collections of historic military items, which range from the Civil War to modern times. Highlights include a fleet of naval ship models — all three to six feet in length — that were carved by a sailor serving on the USS Utah in Pearl Harbor. The museum also has a collection of hand-carved wooden airplane models that were used by the Army to train spotters in World War II.

One of the most special elements of the museum is the hangar it maintains at Kickapoo Airport, about three miles away from the main museum facility.

“That’s our exhibit dedicated to Call Field, which was an Army air base during World War I,” Campbell said. “The centerpiece of the exhibit is a World War I Jenny biplane. She’s one of five in the country that is still certified for flight, and we take her out and fly her on the first Saturday of every month.”

Natural Texas
The North Texas plains surrounding Wichita Falls aren’t just oil-rich — they’re also full of flora, fauna and natural beauty. At River Bend Nature Center, groups can get an up-close look at these natural treasures.

“Our mission is to connect people to the natural environment of Texas,” said Liz Martin, the nature center’s executive director. “We have a 22-acre site with a conservatory, gardens, trails, a learning center and a library.”

River Bend makes a great place for group leaders to turn their travelers loose. Adventurers can head off on their own down the Wild Side trail, which takes them down to bottomland forest at the end of the property. Museum-lovers can check out more than 30 live exhibits in the learning center, with toads, turtles, arachnids, snakes, salamanders and other animals native to Texas.

One favorite aspect of River Bend for many visitors is the 7,000-square-foot conservatory, a glassed-in garden that highlights a variety of Texas ecosystems.

“The whole conservatory is plants,” Martin said. “You cross through six different zones of North Texas, from the long grass prairies to the river bottom.”

Guides join visitors on their visits to the conservatory, introducing them to plants and animals such as Rocco, a rescued Texas roadrunner who now lives in the garden. The conservatory also features a butterfly room with a waterfall and hundreds of native Texas butterflies.

Wichita Falls Convention and Visitors Bureau

Brian Jewell

Brian Jewell is the executive editor of The Group Travel Leader. In more than a decade of travel journalism he has visited 48 states and 25 foreign countries.