Houston’s Bayou Bend: An Elegant Trip Back in Time

Ima Hogg's mansion in Houston awaits your visit.
Ima Hogg’s mansion in Houston awaits your visit.

Bayou Bend is the magnificent-mansion-turned-museum of the late Houston philanthropist Ima Hogg (yes, that’s her real name, and no, she didn’t have a sister named Ura).

Bayou Bend gardens are full of classical statues.

Built in 1928, Bayou Bend is now part of the city’s museum of fine arts and a showcase for priceless American decorative arts. Situated on 14 organically manicured acres, the mansion brims with furniture, silver, paintings and ceramics, including almost 2,600 objects in 28 period room settings, and attracts thousands of visitors every year.

Bayou Bend is well worth the time it takes for a guided tour, and your first visit will make you wish you’d known the women who built it. Ima Hogg was born in 1882, the only daughter of Jim Hogg, the first native-born governor of Texas. The Hoggs were early Texan oil barons, and the family fortune gave Ima the ability to do pretty much whatever she wanted in an era when women were supposed to marry, have a passel of kids and keep their lips zipped.

In addition to collecting fabulous things, Ima donated to and underwrote numerous good works. A talented musician in her own right, she founded the Houston Symphony Orchestra. Widely respected for her knowledge and taste, she was on call to the White House for resolving decorating issues.
Caladiums do well in this shady garden.
Ima was famous for her horrible name (she was reportedly named by her father after a heroine in her uncle’s epic poem, The Fate of Marvin). She claims to have received 30 marriage proposals in her lifetime, all of which she turned down. Her personal stationery printed with “I. Hogg” or “Miss Hogg”.

Outside the house, you can stroll surrounding woodlands and a series of beautiful gardens (depending on Houston’s humidity level that day). When colorful azaleas bloom in the spring, the place is overrun with nature lovers. Enter the museum parking lot from 6003 Memorial Drive at Westcott Street in Houston. Do not use the original mansion entrance in the chichi River Oaks neighborhood. You’ll tick off some really rich people.

You’ll be asked to store purses, bags, backpacks, coats, and cameras in lockers during the house tour. Amateur photography and videotaping are allowed outdoors only. Kids 10 and older are welcome on guided home tours, and children of all ages are welcome on Sundays. Baby carriers inside the home are a no-no.

Phone 713.639.7750 for information, reservations, and to arrange special tours. The house is closed during August when you would probably die during the heat anyway.

by Pat Pape

Guided House Tours
(reservations recommended)
Tuesday–Thursday: 10 a.m.–11:30 a.m.; 1 p.m.–2:45 p.m.
Friday–Saturday: 10 a.m.–11:15 a.m.
Tours begin every 15 minutes

There are numerous water features in the 14-acre garden.


Highlights Tour (60 minutes)

• Visit several rooms on both floors of the house, including the main entertaining areas and upstairs suite

• See the home’s rarest and historically most important treasures.

• Learn about the Hogg family, and how Ima Hogg transformed her home into a museum to display one of the nation’s best collections of American antiques

Study Tour (90 minutes)

• Visit rooms in addition to those on the Highlights Tour

• Focus on the objects in the collection and how they reflect American history

• Receive in-depth information about American decorative arts

• See the full range periods represented by the collection (1630–1876)

• Option to visit focused displays on silver and ceramics

Self-Guided House Tours (No reservations needed)

Friday–Sunday: 1 p.m.– 5 p.m. (last admission 4 p.m.)

Tuesday–Saturday: 10 a.m.–5 p.m. (last admission 4 p.m.)

Sunday: 1 p.m.– 5 p.m. (last admission 4 p.m.)

Admission: Highlights Tour & Self-Guided House Tour

$12.50 Adults

$11 Students / Senior Adults (ID Required)

$10 Houston fine arts museum members

$6.25 Children 10–18

Free for children 9 and younger*

Admission: Study Tour

$15 Adults

$13.50 Students / Senior Adults (ID Required)

$12.50 Houston fine arts museum members

$7.50 Children 10–18

Self-Guided Gardens Tours (No reservations needed)
Tuesday–Saturday: 10 a.m.–5 p.m. (last admission at 4:30 p.m.)
Sunday: 1 p.m.–5 p.m. (last admission at 4:30 p.m.)
Gardens-Only Admission: $5 for ages 10 and up; Free for children 9 and younger

Day tripping in Guanacaste, Costa Rica: Part 2

At 5,437 feet, Costa Rica’s Arenal Volcano is one of the 10 most active volcanoes in the world. It formed about 7,000 years ago and has remained busy during its long life. In 1968, Arenal exploded and killed 87 people, and until the summer of 2010, minor eruptions with smoke and lava were fairly consistent.

Since that time, however, the volcano’s activity has decreased significantly, although scientists insist Arenal is merely taking a snooze. Today visitors won’t see flowing lava, but they can enjoy its grandeur and spend time hiking nearby rainforests or swimming in hot springs pools.

The drive from my hotel on the Gulf of Papagayo to Arenal took more than three hours (about the same amount of time it took me to fly to Costa Rica from Texas). Thankfully, the tour through Swiss Travel was broken up by several side excursions. After the first hour, our group of four travelers, plus our guide, Meyer, stopped at a commercial coffee operation to sip delicious cappuccinos and see coffee beans growing on genuine coffee bushes. I bought bags of ground coffee (the best bargain of the trip).

After the second hour, we arrived at a giant wind farm, which is a source of pride for Costa Ricans, according to Meyer. Currently, 80 per cent of the country’s energy demand is met with hydro and geothermal power. During the dry season from December to May, when hydropower units operate at a partial load, the wind turbines provide electricity almost continuously, helping to reduce the need for diesel-fueled generators. Costa Rica plans to source 100 percent of its power supply from renewable energies by the year 2021.

A howler monkey demonstrates his  howlilng skills.
A howler monkey demonstrates his howlilng skills.

Continuing the drive, we came upon a Costa Rican family on the side of the road feeding a pack of white-nose coatis, also known as hog-nosed coons, pizotes or “snookum bears.” The family generously shared slices of white bread with me so I could feed them, too, an act that may be illegal though no one dissuaded me. The initial cuddly appearance of these raccoon cousins belies their aggressive behavior and sharp teeth. Some South Americans reportedly keep them as pets and train them to use a litter box. But after they teetered on their hind legs to catch pieces of bread and snapped at me a few times, that idea didn’t seem appealing.

Arrival at Arenal  

Four miles from the volcano is the town of La Fortuna where travelers can find good food and upscale hotel accommodations or schedule a variety of adventures: zip lining, white-water rafting, kayaking, rappelling, horseback rides or visits to a breathtakingly beautiful waterfall. Our La Fortuna activity was limited to a pre-arranged lunch of tilapia and flan in tidy café. We then drove to a lookout point at a privately owned rain forest to snap souvenir photos of the volcano. As it often is on overcast days, Arenal’s peak was obscured by clouds.

Toting his personal telescope so we could better view the wildlife, Meyer led us on a walking tour down a crudely carved path into the rain forest of 200-year-old trees with roots larger than logs, rope-thick vines, tropical flowers and exotic birds. My favorite memory is that of a spider monkey with a baby on her back. Whenever she moved from one tree to the next, she’d grab a branch with her feet and another with her hands, transforming her body into a bridge for the baby, who scampered across her to the other side. We also saw the Costa Rican version of a turkey, plus a white hawk and a Toucan. Meyer warned us to watch for snakes, but we didn’t spot any.

When we returned to our van, it was raining, and everyone was drenched. No worries. From there, it was off to a natural hot spring spa, the result of Arenal warming the local groundwater. One of several similar spas open to the public, ours featured six separate pools, each one higher up a hill than the next, and all of them surrounded by lush greenery and blooming orchids. Having planned ahead, we slipped into our swimsuits. We then ordered adult beverages and spent the next two hours in wind-down mode.

Hot Springs

After cleaning up as best we could (the hot springs spa had no hair dryer in the locker room), we were transported to a charming hotel restaurant with huge glass windows looking out on Arenal and serving delicious food. Afterwards, our group motored three hours back to the hotel in the dark. Besides the driver, I was the only one who stayed awake the entire time. I was busy planning my next day trip in Guanacaste.  by Pat Pape