Texas was once the home to many Native Indian tribes like the Apaches and the Comanches. In the 1600s, the French had a colony in Texas, which didn’t last very long. In the 1700s, the Spanish began the settlement of the area by establishing Missions. The Mexican war of Independence made Texas a Mexican territory. Initially, the Mexican government allowed American settlers in the area. But when they tried to clamp down the immigration, the settlers revolted and succeeded in defeating the Mexican army in 1836. After existing as an independent nation for a while, the Republic of Texas became a part of the United States in 1845. Thanks to its unique history, the heritage of Texas is a blend of Southern, Western and Mexican traditions – From cowboys and cattle to Tex-Mex and Cajun-Creole food!
Texas is one of the largest states in the US and offers a lot to see and experience. Although the Texan country and parks like the Big Bend were very tempting, we decided to visit those at a later stage in life. Texas has 6 of the 20 most populous cities in USA and so on this trip, we set out to see urban Texas.
Fort Worth is all about the Cowboy Culture. People on horseback seamlessly co-exist with pedestrians and people in cars. We attended a rodeo at the Coliseum here. It was a great experience. It brought back memories of experiencing the skills of the Gauchos of Argentina. But the Gauchos don’t have rodeos and don’t do bull riding while the Cowboys of the Wild West do. Some of the rodeo events had women competing in them too. The Cowboy Hall of Fame is located in the Coliseum as well. Billy Bob’s Texas claims to be the largest Honky-Tonk in the world. It was large indeed! Many famous country music singers have graced the stage here and the walls of the honky-tonk are adorned with their handprints. Billy Bob’s also houses the largest belt buckle in the world. Everything in the Stockyards area was pricey – food, souvenirs, parking. The whole town seemed to be geared towards tourists.
San Antonio has an old Spanish era charm to it. The Alamo used to be a Spanish mission. After Mexico won independence from the Spanish, the mission was secularized and used as government building and fort. It was a key landmark in the battle between the American settlers and the Mexican Army, in which all the settlers defending the Alamo were killed (although the settlers defeated the Mexican army at San Jacinto later, to become an independent nation). Today, the Alamo is a monument and a museum to all the brave men who helped form the Republic of Texas. We stayed at the historic Menger Hotel which was right next door to the Alamo. Established in 1859, the hotel has had notable guests like Theodore Roosevelt, Dwight D. Eisenhower Ulysses Grant, Mae West, Oscar Wilde etc. In 1898, Ted Roosevelt used the bar to recruit Rough Riders, who fought in Cuba in the Spanish-American War. The first ever public demonstration of barbed wire (used extensively in the cattle industry) was held outside the Menger Hotel in 1876. San Antonio is also home to the Tower of Americas which was the tallest observation tower in the US until the Stratosphere in Las Vegas was completed. The San Antonio Riverwalk is a nice place to stroll. The Riverwalk is dotted with restaurants. We had dinner at the Casa Rio and was seated right alongside the river. Food was good and we were serenaded by Mariachis during dinner. My only complaint with the Riverwalk was that it wasn’t very stroller friendly. There were too many steps that couldn’t be avoided.
Austin is a University town. But not any small town. It seemed to host many business and Texas Capitol building. The Texas Capitol has an impressive rotunda similar to the US Capitol. You can tour the premises (inside and out) by yourself or attend a guided tour which runs frequently. Austin is also home to the largest urban colony of bats that migrate from Mexico and live under the Congress Ave bridge.
Dallas is famous as the location of the assassination of American President, John F Kennedy. Lee Harvey Oswald allegedly shot JFK from the sixth floor window of the Texas School Depository building, as the Presidential motorcade passed below. Although official investigations concluded that Oswald acted alone, there have been several conspiracy theories that spark interest even 50+ years after the event. Today, the sixth and seventh floors of the building house a museum dedicated to JFK and the assassination in particular.
The drive from Dallas to Houston was interesting because of the billboards along the way. It seemed to represent Texas very well – a mix of religious and raunchy, all in the context of cowboys and food. For example, there was an ad for a steakhouse that promised ‘fabric-free’ entertainment as well. Along the same lines, the Texas chain Twin Peaks advertise ‘Eats, Drinks, Scenic Views’. Then there was a billboard for ‘Cowboys for Christ – Branded for life’. And the king of them all was one that said “Please! Stop the porn and be reborn – Jesus (John 3:3.)”. I am no expert, but I am pretty sure Jesus didn’t say that and the Bible verse reference was pulled out of thin air!
Much like the SF Bay Area, Houston is a melting pot of cultures. The star highlight of our visit to Houston was NASA’s Space Center in Houston. The center houses Saturn V, Apollo 17, samples of moon rock etc.
This trip was all about urban Texas. We hope to return to the Lone Star state to taste the wilder areas someday… sometime….