Published: May 2012
Abilene Texas: Cowboys and Culture  

Cowboys herding cattle on thousand acre ranches. Kids feeding giraffes at the Zoo. Rainbow hued hot air balloons and graceful wind turbines decorating a cobalt horizon. The Philharmonic Orchestra belting out Stravinsky’s “Firebird.” Fashionistas sporting chic cowboy hats and kickin’ handmade boots.

Abilene, Texas is an intriguing mix of cowboys, culture, and cuisine. This small town with big city class has transformed

from wide-open prairie, to a place where musicians, chefs, artists, engineers, ranchers and entrepreneurs…live and work together in style.


Abilene entertains visitors with fabulous attractions. Frontier Texas! brings one hundred years of Texas history alive with holograms, spirit guides, and interactive exhibits.  Indians and pioneers share compelling tales of their frontier struggles from 1780-1880. At Buffalo Gap Historic Village, twenty-one restored buildings from the past fifty years display Western and Indian artifacts, maps, photos, and paintings. Tour with history professor Dr. Don Frazier and learn about Texas tenacity and grit.

At The Abilene Zoo, kids stand on a bridge for hours happily feeding the giraffes. Who could resist an eye-to-eye love fest with these lovely long necked creatures? In the adjacent habitat, Botswana and Saba growl their raucous lion welcome. Inside the ocelot playroom, Jade and Clutch are cute as newborn kittens. But the Zoo’s star feline is Havar, a magnificent eight-year-old white tiger.

“Last week, I brought Havar two sixteen pound steamed turkeys,” smiles Amber Cree, a Zoo volunteer and Board Member. “I thought he’d like a treat. Sure enough, he pounced on those turkeys, inhaling every morsel.”

“Our devoted volunteers and expert staff help make us

Abilene’s number one attraction,” says Zoo Director Bill Baker. “Our animals are fed highly nutritional foods, which is why they’re healthy and active. Plus we give them toys to play with.

How many zoo cats have watermelons to roll and smash?”


Abilene hosts many film, music and outdoor festivals year round. The Balloon Festival, held the last week of each September, is one of the most popular.

At dawn in Red Bud Park, I watch balloons metamorphose from nylon sheets to airy orbs of color. Cold air fans and propane flames expand each balloon’s girth, as they prepare for flight.

“When I say hop in the basket, that means get in. Now!”

yells Ron McKinney, our pilot. I scramble inside the wicker basket and seconds later, Abilene’s neighborhoods resemble a Monopoly board. Dogs in tiny yards bark hello, kids from tiny houses wave up at us. Floating over schools, highways and homes, we’re celebrities, everyone cheering us on.

“I’ve been flying these balloons a long time,” says Ron. “Each time I float alongside the clouds, I feel renewed and glad to be alive.”

In the clear sweet air, the sun tints the horizon raspberry, flocks of birds swoop beneath. Life feels simpler up here, without computers, TV’s, cell phones. Just a basket of happy wind


After a too short half-hour, we drift back to Earth, landing

in a muddy field, alive with emerald grasshoppers and butterflies on dew kissed grass. What a perfect morning: floating in a tangerine hot air balloon over our crazy world.


Abilene’s art scene is always exciting. Stop into

Cedar Break Gallery and visit with renowned western artist Barry Arthur. Check out his painting contrasting old and new Texas:  cattle grazing peacefully as elegant white turbines harness

the wind. Next door at ACU Cockerell Art Gallery, chat with a

young photojournalist, just back from her Third World exploration.

The Grace Museum is a fabulous 55,000 square foot former hotel, now an art museum, history museum, and a children’s museum. The tenth largest general museum in Texas, the elegant Grace is deservedly on the National Register of Historic Places. Explore classic Western art, contemporary art, and iconic images by Texas photographers. Kids will enjoy the interactive exhibits and special workshops.

“In Abilene, we’re dedicated to helping each other,” says Donna Alban, a long time resident spearheading major humanitarian, philanthropic and Keep Abilene Beautiful programs. “We have 250+ non-profits, and we’re always raising funds for The Boys Ranch, Food Bank, Habitat for Humanity, Big Brothers/Big Sisters, and so many worthy organizations in our town.”

One of Abilene’s most beloved residents is Tom Perini,

an Abilene cattleman managing his family’s beef business since 1965. In his classic wide brim ivory hat, Tom welcomes guests to the Perini Ranch Steakhouse on his 600-acre property. Whether you dine outside among periwinkle wildflowers, or inside the funky former hay barn….the aroma wafting out of Tom’s kitchen will transform your appetite into a raging beast. Stay calm while perusing the menu: whole prime rib, pit-roasted over burning embers; bone-in rib eye rubbed with salt, garlic, pepper, and flame-seared; lean tender peppercorn encrusted strip steaks with bacon green chile hominy. Sip a smooth glass of Texas Becker Claret as the charming Mr. P. entertains with life on his ranch and lore from his “Texas Cowboy” cookbook. You’re gonna relish every story, and every delicious bite.


Budget minded travelers will enjoy Abilene’s Courtyard by Marriot, 325-695-9600.

For luxury and privacy, enjoy beautiful accommodations at Sayles Ranch Guesthouses,

We enjoyed dining at: The Beehive Restaurant & Saloon, 325-675-0600; Perini Ranch Steakhouse,;

Copper Creek,;

Lytle Land & Cattle Company,;

Cypress Street Station,

Attractions, Museums, Galleries:

Buffalo Gap Historic Village, 325-572-3365.

The Center for Contemporary Arts,

Barry Arthur’s Cedar Break Gallery,

ACU Cockerell Art Gallery,

Frontier Texas!

The Grace Museum,

The National Center for Children’s Illustrated Literature,

The Abilene Zoo,

Visitor Information: Abilene Convention & Visitor Bureau, 800-727-7704.

Photos by ©Steve Butman Photography