Summer 2009 CSANews Issue 71  |  Posted date : Jul 21, 2009.Back to list

"IT'S LIKE A WHOLE OTHER COUNTRY"!  That proclamation appears on the cover of the state's maps, accommodation guides and brochures.  A good many people have certainly been inspired to feature Texas in films, stories and songs.  There is indeed much to see and do "Deep in the Heart of Texas."

That would include "Big D." Oh my, yes!  And you could look for the "Rose of San Antone" while strolling along the Paseo Del Rio.  Glen Campbell had a hit singing about "Galveston" and Marty Robbins left Rosa's Cantina in "El Paso" in a hurry.  I'm not sure if you could find the Chicken Ranch, site of the "Best Little Whorehouse in Texas," but I am sure that this popular stage show and movie brought a lot of visitors to Lubbock.  Bing Crosby crooned "I'm an Old Cow Hand from the Rio Grande." Even Davy Crockett, the hero of the Alamo, was featured on an early television series.  The Ewing TV family made their Texas home at Southfork Ranch. 

Probably the most popular part of the Lone Star State for snowbirds is that strip along the Gulf of Mexico known as Padre Island.  On our first visit, we stayed at Corpus Christie near Padre Island National Seashore.  At that time, some three decades ago, we took a small boat into Aransas National Wildlife Refuge, where we were thrilled to see some 45 whooping cranes, about half of the world population at that time.  Real snowbirds, these!  They had flown down from their breeding home at Alberta's Wood Buffalo Park. Standing proud at over a metre in height, they were a magnificent sight while foraging, an even more wondrous spectacle when they flew. 

Heading south from Corpus Christie, we had our first look at what is now a very popular destination for 'human snowbirds'.  Developers have installed gracious homes and condo accommodations, plus golf and tennis facilities within easy reach of the long national seacoast.  Corpus Christie itself offers boats for charter for those fishing enthusiasts hoping to land the 'big one'.

The great humorist-philosopher Will Rogers called San Antonio "one of America's Four Great Cities" and after spending time there on three separate occasions, we have to agree. Several years ago, a few locals got together declaring that a good portion of the downtown needed to be revitalized.  The San Antonio River ran behind a series of buildings that had seen better days and a plan was put into place to correct the situation.  A pathway on both sides of the waterway was constructed with 20 specially designed bridges linking the river's banks.  New specialty shops, boutiques, restaurants and bars opened onto the River Walk, with entrances into buildings that were once warehouses.

Locals don their finest attire for the Easter Parade on the Paseo.  On St. Patrick's Day, the Irish use vegetable dye to paint the river green!  I had my first green beer at Jim Cullum's Landing, a delightful bistro now operated by the original Jim Cullum's son…also named Jim, his slogan is 'Bix lives'.  He fronts a Dixieland band that is so well-received that a radio show featuring the River Walk Band is in syndication across the nation.  The Arneson River Theater is on a bend in the river; we enjoyed an open-air performance with Mexican dancers and musicians on one side, the audience taking in the colourful review from the amphitheatre opposite.

There is much Spanish influence in San Antonio.  You should immerse yourself in it at the Mercado – lots of stalls selling souvenirs, sombreros, maracas, blankets, ponchos, even refried beans to enjoy at home. And here's a suggestion for something different – attend the mariachi church service (Sundays at noon) at the Mission San Jose.  The musicians play inside and outside the cathedral for your enjoyment.  San Antonio's most famous landmark is obviously the Alamo.  I suggest that you visit the theatre behind the building to see an IMAX presentation about the history of the mission, and its position in bringing Texas into the Union. 

It is relatively easy to visit Mexico itself.  The Rio Grande can be crossed at several Texas border points – Brownsville (Matamoros), Laredo (Nuevo Laredo), Del Rio (Acuna) or El Paso (Juarez).  A visitor's permit to enter Mexico may be required.  You should park your car and walk across the bridge, where the shopkeepers will try their best to sell you souvenirs.  Be sure to haggle!

For a bit of Western lore, stop by Langtry, 80 kilometres west of Del Rio. Here you will find a museum dedicated to the legendary 'Judge' Roy Bean. In the 1880s, Bean was appointed as a justice of the peace in Del Rio.  Long fascinated with the British actress Lillie Langtry, Bean placed her picture on the wall behind the bar in the Jersey Lily saloon that he operated in Langtry.  The bar doubled as a courtroom, where the judge laid down the 'Law West of the Pecos'.  A long-dead tree still stands a few metres away. Legend suggests that this was the hanging tree.  However, there is no proof that the colourful judge ever sentenced anyone to die for his or her crimes.

Rugged wilderness can be explored in Texas' Big Bend National Park, named for its location where the Rio Grande makes a sharp turn on its course to the Gulf of Mexico.  One of the largest parks in the United States, it covers 800,000 acres along 118 miles of the river, providing many photo opportunities throughout its broad expanse. 

Now, about "Big D, little A, double LL, A, S." Sure, the world focused on Dallas for a few years when the TV series was a prime-time hit.  The Ewings' head office was downtown, but the escapades that shook the world of nighttime soap operas spotlighted the ranch at Southfork.  Actually located at Plano, a short drive from Dallas, Southfork Ranch is open to visitors.

A museum contains the gun that shot J.R., Lucy's wedding dress and other memorabilia from the TV show.

The Old City Park on the edge of downtown Dallas is an open-air museum.  On its 13 acres, the park contains a historic bank, an antebellum mansion and other structures dating from the early 1800s.  One of the oldest buildings in Dallas is the Old Red Courthouse, which opened in 1892. It has been restored to its original elegance and is home to the Dallas Tourist Information Center.  The Sixth Floor Museum at the former Texas School Book Depository is an educational facility on the life, death and legacy of John F. Kennedy.  

Visit Fort Worth to see the Stockyard District, now a national historic site.  There is a Texas Cowboy Hall of Fame where, on most weekends, a rodeo with competing professional cowboys and cowgirls takes place.  Also in the Stockyard District is Billy Bob's Texas, billed as the world's largest honky-tonk.  It offers country/western entertainment on a huge stage, a rodeo area and a 600-foot-long bar.  Fort Worth also has many art galleries and museums, including the Amon Carter with many examples of work by Georgia O'Keefe, Fredrick Remington and Charles Russell.  There is also a Museum of Science and History, a recently opened Modern Art Museum, and a Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame.

If museums are your passion, then Houston will be your nirvana.  There are more than a dozen of them located in one of the city's most scenic areas.  Above all, if you'll pardon the intentional pun, is the NASA Space Center.  Here, there are live shows and presentations, an IMAX theatre and, on a behind-the-scenes tour of the Johnson Space Center, actual spacecraft such as Mercury, Gemini and Apollo capsules.  There is even a Kids Space Place.  After all of the special excitement, go downtown to experience the aquarium train ride through the shark tank and dine while observing a half-million gallons of marine life.

Who knows?  After a full tour of the Lone Star State, you too may be inspired to write a song about Texas.  At least I'll bet that you will be singing its praises.  After all, "It's Like a Whole Other Country"!

Pic 1: USS Lexington Museum in Corpus Christi.

Pic 2: Houston

Pic 3: NASA Space Center

Pic 4: Hiking at the Big Bend National Park.