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Friday, June 29, 2007


It doesn't take long to realize that Texas is unique. Below most of the American flags flying there's a Lone Star flag. Sometimes the Lone Star flies solo. Sometimes it flies at the same height as the country's Stars and Stripes. The lone star is emblazoned in concrete on the uprights supporting overpasses. It flies above stores and shopping malls. It is incorporated into clothing design. It’s used as an address marker on homes. Texas, after all, was a sovereign country for 10 years. When Texas joined the Union, the treaty it signed with the United States government gave this state the sole right to use its flag in this manner. No other state has this privilege. In a tour of the Capitol in Austin, visitors are reminded of this proud fact. My friend, Barbara, a transplanted New Yorker via California, Colorado, and Arizona, once sent an email comparing the benefits of living in Texas to living in the entire Northeast. Texas won. So this, our first visit to Texas since we drove cross country and crashed in Amarillo for a few hours' sleep in 1971, was a lesson in Texas culture.

Texas thinks big. Even from within, it is divided into sections. Remember Marty Robbins' lyrics, "Down in the West Texas town of El Paso..."? That's not a direction; that's a section. Rob and I were in Central Texas, the Hill Country. A gentleman on our tour bus at the LBJ ranch scoffed. "Hill Country? These are more like speed bumps!" Nevertheless, had there been a Texan in earshot, the tourist would have had to defend himself!

We are in the Hill Country. The Hill Country was formed by the limestone uplift of the Edwards Plateau. There are rivers and nice mountain climbing, canyons and caverns. Of Texas' more than 115 State Parks, at least 18 exist in the Hill Country. This area of gently rolling hills also includes some marvelous cities with interesting histories and attractions unique to themselves. The Colorado River runs its rugged way through one of the State parks, and we visited the Lyndon B. Johnson State Park and Historic site operated in conjunction with the National Park Service. We lunched in Fredericksburg, the heart of German Texas, and that's German with a Texas twang!

Texas is a case of location, location, location. There’s more to the Texas State of Mind. It's big! Everything is big! When we left the LBJ Presidential Library and Museum on the University of Texas Campus in Austin, we asked for a restaurant suggestion that would be very "Texas." We were directed to the Hyde Park Bar and Grill. Sounded more like upstate New York to me, but I was wrong. Here's the description of Rob's sandwich as well as it photo. Texas sized.

Here are some more big Texas ideas:
The cattle are longhorn--quite a stretch from horn tip to horn tip!

The distance from star point to star point of the star in the dome of the Capitol measures eight feet across. BIG!

Texas has an anti-litter campaign going. Here's the slogan you see on bumper stickers, t-shirts, and signs. I picked up a few bumper stickers initially thinking they represented the independent spirit of the place, but look closely and you see the highway markers in the pattern. Fines for highway littering are a threatened $1000.00. Big!

There’s even a Lone Star Beer!

Along many of the highways we've traveled are fences. The lands are still ranch lands and open range grazing lands. Even on the Ft. Hood military installation, soldiers on the ranges must be aware of cattle and cease exercises when cattle are present. There are cattle crossings on the roads. Off the main roads, you enter a ranch by driving over gravely, unpaved or old macadam roads, but you pass under an archway--not quite as elaborate as J.R. Ewings’, but an archway just the same--in stone, metal, or a variety of other building materials. The archway proclaims the name of the ranch. This is the archway to The Moser Ranch near Killeen, TX.

Texas is not all old ranching country either. Texas wine country is beginning to flourish, and there is a Texas Wine Trail extending through most of the Hill Country stretching from New Braunfels in the south, through Johnson City, and up toward Lampasas in the northern part of Central Texas. Tours, festivals, and tastings are available, and it looks pretty terrific--and Texas Big. Rob and I drove through a section of it heading toward The Lyndon Baines Johnson National Historical Park, but time did not permit a visit.

When you come to Texas, come to enjoy its enormity and its diversity. I wouldn't presume to go beyond my impressions of this one section of the vast state. I bet the flavor changes radically. Do your research beforehand, and if possible, take your time. Remember, too, that Texas is more than a state; it is a state of mind.

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