Austin State capitol - Lake Travis - McClusky's Crawford George W. Bush Ranch Corpus Christi Padre Island Amarillo The Big Texan - Cadillac Ranch - Palo Duro Canyon Lubbock Buddy Holly museum Midland Oil City - Petroleum Museum Odessa Crater & museum Presidio Brewster county - El Camino del Rio - Big Bend El Paso the City - Scenic Drive - Magoffin House El Paso Mount Cristo Rey Interstate 10 from Fort Stockton to Austin San Antonio the Alamo - the Riverwalk Houston Sam Houston Toll Way - the Galleria Mall Dallas Kennedy assassination - the Southfork Ranch Article the Flu - Influenza | the Margarita Other pages other states | articles
This is an extract of what to see in this state, with small photos. You will find the full description, history and full-sized photos, in my e-book View America: South West
In the travel series View America, South West covers Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, and Texas. It is not a traditional travelogue, but a non-commercial and more or less objective chronicle of an in-depth exploration of these states. Each state is described with its own brief historical background and its main sights, tourist attractions and points of interest.
My book does not describe lodgings, restaurants or entertainment, except where these may interact with the narrative. It is illustrated with more than 100 full-sized photos.
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TEXAS is also known as the Lone Star State, because of its flag with one star, dating from when it was still a republic. Texas was Spanish territory, until Mexico became independent in 1821. The name Texas comes from tejas or teyas, the way the Spanish pronounced the Indian Caddo word for friends in the 16th century.
Texas is the second largest state after Alaska, with a surface of 692,000 km2. Its land surface represents seven percent of the total U.S. surface. Texas by itself is as big as Ohio, Indiana, all of New England, and all of the Atlantic states put together! Only 11% of the surface is forested, while the rest is grassland.
Texas has the second largest population in the U.S. after California, with some 21 million inhabitants and a density of 31 per km2. Because of the large distances, air connections have become indispensable, and there are more than 1,280 airports in the state!
Texas has nearly the most natural resources of all states. Its enormous size and the very brisk development of the economy through these resources turned Texas into a legend, with as main players cattle and cattle ranches, oil and chemicals. Cotton has also become an important crop, although its development only started when the Boll Weevil parasite devastated the cotton production in the eastern states.
The north of the Panhandle contains the High Plains or Llano Estacado (land with sticks). Guadalupe Peak, the highest point in Texas, is located in the far west and has an elevation of 8,751 feet (2,667 m). The largest river is the Rio Grande, which runs along the border between Texas and Mexico. The official river border measurement ranges from 889 miles (1,431 km) to 1,248 miles (2,008 km), depending on how the river is measured. Other Texas rivers are the Colorado (with artificial lakes and dams), the Trinity and the Brazos rivers. Its largest island is Padre Island.
In the eastern part of the state one can admire beautiful landscapes with pine forests, and in the southwest part one finds rugged mountains and colorful deserts. There are more than 350 artificial lakes and dams. Other points of interest are the Big Bend National Park along the Rio Grande, Padre Island, the Spanish missions in San Antonio (the Alamo), Odessa's meteor crater, the Terlingua Ghost Town, and the many colorful rodeo's.
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THINGS TO SEE
Austin is the capital of Texas. The State Capitol was built between 1882 and 1888, and it is the largest parliament building in the United States. Over the last decennia, the city evolved very rapidly from a sleepy university city to a bustling capital, and it saw an enormous expansion in construction. Nevertheless, Austin's environment is most delightful and very green. Especially Loop 360 offers most pleasant panoramas.
In 1982, the famous restaurant Oasis opened its doors. It is strikingly located on Lake Travis, with a panoramic view over the lake. Next to its culinary aspects, its elevated location allows spectacular sunset views over the lake, and often the spectators are so overwhelmed by the magnificent spectacle that an applause breaks out spontaneously!
McClusky's used to be an exceptional meat-restaurant in Austin. The customer was allowed to approve the meat, before it was cooked to taste. Besides the traditional cooking specifications such as rare, medium or well done (in French bleu, à point or bien cuit), several more subdivisions were possible. Both the quality and the taste of the meat were remarkable! However, the restaurant was closed in June 2007, another victim of soaring real estate prices.
Corpus Christi is located along the Gulf of Mexico, and it has a very nice shoreline. Though there is no sandy beach, the stone beach is lovely and well maintained.
Padre Island is a nature park along the coast. Miles and miles of dunes have been carefully replanted, and they are protected by wooden walkways and well documented for tourists. South Padre Island is completely open to tourists, and often even Recreational Vehicles drive down to the beach and park there for a while!
The Big Texan restaurant in Amarillo is famous, well beyond the Texan borders, for its formidable publicity stunt! It offers you a remarkable challenge and eventually a free meal. That is, if you can devour the appetizer, the main course with a 72 oz. steak (2.2 kg), plus the dessert in less than one hour...
Hundreds, if not thousands, have attempted to accomplish this prodigious feat, and quite a few have succeeded. Their names and their "performance time" adorn the walls of the establishment. The fastest eater actually cleared this remarkable job in less than nine minutes, and some others even managed to devour two complete menu's...
Texas is undoubtedly "the biggest" in everything, and so the restaurant also sports an extremely large chair for the Big Texan...
The Cadillac Ranch lies next to Amarillo, on exit 60 of interstate 40. Ten Cadillacs have been partly buried upside down in a wheat field, a scant three hundred feet from the interstate. In 1974, this work or art was created by Chip Lord, Hudson Marquez, and Doug Michels, members of the art group Ant Farm. It is an expression of the American enthusiasm for local attractions and cars, and the freedom to go anywhere.
The "monument" was built with old Cadillacs, and the angle at which they were buried into the ground is the same angle as that of the Great Pyramid in Giza, Egypt. This somewhat special achievement was mentioned in the Walt Disney and Pixar movie "Cars", and in a Bruce Springsteen song in his album "The River".
The least that can be said is that the sight of these cars is most unusual. Over the years, they have become one great mass of graffiti, painted by aerosol-aficionados, but unfortunately all of these seem to have left their empty spray-cans on the ground...
The Presidio is a really out-of-the-ordinary region, located in south Texas. The Mexican province that encompassed almost all of Texas was named Presidio del Norte. After the Mexican war this territory was divided between Texas (USA) and Presidio (Mexico), but the latter province was later renamed to Ojinaga, after a Mexican general. Brewster County, which includes Big Bend National Park, is the largest county in Texas. It is about as large as Connecticut and Rhode Island together.
Highway 17 exits from Interstate 10 at Balmorhea, a town named after three land promoters, Balcom, Morrow and Rhea. Apparently it has seen better days, and its Spanish roots are still very noticeable. The highway continues right through the southern mountains, which produces a few sturdy climbs to more than 6,500 feet (2.000 m).
The panoramas in the mountains are most spectacular against the background of eroded and worn peaks. The road leads past tiny and ancient towns, such as Fort Davis and Marfa, that clearly missed the modern economic development train and still present a 1950 spectacle!
After Fort Davis another plateau appears, and amazingly the vegetation changes back to prairie grass, but curiously enough it was interspersed with purple cactuses! We later discovered that these are the same type of vegetation, but that their chlorophyl production had been damaged by a freeze. The next signs of an increased economic activity is the appearance of cattle herds and enormous greenhouses of some 1,000 by 350 feet (100 x 300 m), where pear-tomatoes are cultivated.
On the way to Presidio, the cattle raisers are active again, and you'll also see monstrously large greenhouses, where tomatoes are grown. With ultra modern technology they are able to grow about forty times the traditional production, with only 20% of the water!
The next village, Shafter, is a Ghost Town, a remnant of an old silver mining town.
Highway 17 continues along the Camino del Rio, and the quaint villages of Lajitas and Terlingua. At this location, the Rio Grande river is not very impressive, and it is only some 30 feet (10 m) wide.
The Camino del Rio (trail of the river) received its name because it runs along de Rio Grande river. For more than 1,000 miles (1.600 km), the Rio Grande/Rio Bravo river forms the international boundary between Mexico and the United States. With its total length of 1,896 miles (3.051 km), it is the fourth or fifth longest river system in North America.
This Camino is in itself very scenic, since it loops through the Texan Mountains and offers outstanding panoramas. The only slight inconvenience may be that the road is rather winding and jumps up and down, but that is a small price to pay for the many astounding views.
In 1588, the town of Lajitas was founded by the Spanish as a crossing of the Rio Grande. Today it is a small village, in which a striking replica of an old Wild West main street was built as a tourist attraction.
A little ahead lies the ghost town Terlingua, which derives its name from the fact that the local inhabitants spoke a mixture of three languages: English, Spanish and Comanche!
Big Bend National Park is the 8th largest national park in the lower 48 states. With a surface of 801,163 acres (3.242 km2) it is larger than the state of Rhode Island! The park includes more than 1,200 species of plants, more than 450 species of birds, 56 species of reptiles, and 75 species of mammals.
The natural beauty of this park is quite unusual, and literally indescribable! The lowest point in the park is Rio Grande Village at 1,850 feet (564m), and the highest point is Emory Peak at 7,832 feet (2.387m). This extraordinary variation in elevation greatly influences temperature, but also plant and animal life.
The Visitor Center presents extensive information about this beautiful park. About fifty million years ago this area was covered by a shallow sea, that scoured the surrounding mountains and gradually covered the soil with sediment. The landscape looks like a desert, covered with stones and sand, and the ubiquitous shrubs and cacti.
On a clear day, it is possible to see for more than 100 miles (160 km). Note for the more mathematically inclined; our view of the horizon is theoretically limited, depending on height above ground, to some 200 miles (360 km), because of the curvature of the earth...
The name El Paso comes to us from ancient times, when in 1598 Juan de Oñate prepared his voyage to El Paso del Rio del Norte (the crossing of the river to the north). A mission was founded on the bank of the Rio Grande, and soon it was called El Paso. The part of the city that is located on Mexican territory was later renamed to Juarez, after Benito Juarez.
The Interstate 10 to El Paso leads through vast plains, but they are totally empty and completely barren. Before reaching the city, you'll see houses on both sides of the Interstate, for miles and miles. The city itself is not only an extremely busy place, but its buildings are spread out over an area of fifty by fifty miles. The surrounding hills are closely packed with homes, stuck together like sardines in a barrel. In the "nicer" neighborhoods, sporadically trees are planted between the houses, but that is about the only difference..
The traffic on the El Paso Interstate can best be compared to a traditional corrida... The Scenic Drive above El Paso is located along Interstate 10. It may take a bit of searching, but the drive begins around Mesa, and it is the location of choice for several high-class villas. It offers magnificent panoramas over the crowded hills around El Paso.
Last but not least, El Paso is also the birthplace of the Margarita !
The statue of Mount Cristo Rey is actually located on New Mexico's territory, but this grand attraction is obviously connected with El Paso. The majestic statue of Mount Cristo Rey looks over El Paso from a mountaintop, which is similar to Rio de Janeiro in Brazil. It is located on the border of Texas, New Mexico and the Mexican state of Chihuahua.
It was built in 1934, with the sole financial and active support of parish volunteers. First, a dirt road was built to the top, and then a wooden cross was set up. Later, an iron cross was added, and finally in 1939 the current 29-foot statue was built. All the necessary materials, including forty tons of limestone for the image, were carried to the top on the backs of the volunteers!
Around the statue there is a viewing platform, created in the shape of a crown. Every year some thirty-five thousand pilgrims wearily engage in the climb to the top as a pilgrimage, with twelve stations. The entrance of the park is decorated with a large warning sign, stating that people should be alert for theft and robbery during the climb. The entire way to the top is closely monitored by a Deputy Sheriff and several armed deputies. During our climb, they effectively drove by in their Jeep, although the tires of their vehicle edged dangerously close to the edge of the narrow path...
The climb to the statue is four kilometers long, with a difference in altitude of 240 meters. The first three hundred meters are exceedingly steep, but the panorama becomes increasingly imposing as you get higher. The last two hundred meters to the summit are the most difficult part, since you'll inevitably start noticing the steep abyss alongside the path, and perhaps get a bit dizzy.
After an hour of climbing the top is reached. The view is simply breathtaking, assuming of course that you still have any breath left after the hike... The way down is far easier, despite loudly protesting calf muscles, and in 45 minutes you'll be back at the entrance.
Sheriff Rudi and his thirty-five deputies maintain order and protect the pilgrims against mostly Mexican thieves and robbers. He told us a touching tale of an unselfish and long dedication, that cannot but be admired. He also provided information about the history of the statue, and the religious considerations that led to its construction. An absolute must!
The Alamo is the old Spanish Mission, where a handful of troops and many famous trappers managed to stop the Mexican forces of General Lopez de Santa Anna, long enough to give General Sam Houston the opportunity to bring back an army. All of the troops and trappers were killed in this heroic battle, which has become an immortal legend in American history !
As you can see in this 1989 picture (on the right), since then the monument was perfectly restored... Not far from the mission, there is an IMAX-theater, that presents an interesting and romanced movie about the battle, with many famous movie stars, such as John Wayne, James Stewart, etc.
Another touristic must is a nostalgic visit to the Southfork Ranch, which became world famous by the almost legendary television series "Dallas". The ranch is located in Plano, northeast of Dallas, and it can be visited daily. It is even possible to spend the night in the ranch, because it is actually run as a touristic hotel.
A pleasant anecdote is that both the house and the pool are actually far smaller than what the TV made us believe. Thanks to special lenses, the images were expertly "doctored" to adapt them to the "prestige" of the super-wealthy Ewing clan!