San Marcos

What is Texas?

I experienced Texas over the course of 150 miles on foot, 1,600 miles on buses and 7 yoga classes during 15 days last winter. This is my blog entry to summarize, to bring closure, to just shut my brain up about my time in and between 7 Texas towns.

From bustling megacities to quiet countryside, Texas truly has it all….or so they want you to think (see my Dallas post to understand Texas boasting). The state is truly huge so there will be something that appeals to everyone somewhere within its sprawling borders. I saw the art of San Antonio, the music of Austin, the intrigue of life on the Mexican border in El Paso, and experienced the charm of Hill Country surrounding San Marcos.

You just might have to be on the road for 10 hours to get to what you want to see. I had to really stock up on road snacks and podcasts. I also can imagine how punishing the sun would have been if I had taken my journey at a warmer time of year. Texas is a parched land, even in January, with scarce amounts of shade and precipitation.

So what is Texas then? I’ve had trouble narrowing down my thoughts. Hard to summarize a state that covers so much territory and has so many millions of people. So to move on with my life, to move past the Lone Star State on this blog, I give you 10 things I found noteworthy in Texas; all backed by vivid photographic evidence.

First, though, I give you my favorite photo from the trip…because I can do whatever I want on my blog. This is Yoga House Houston in late afternoon light:

Also here’s the best classic song about Texas to listen to while perusing my list. You’re welcome:

On with my countdown:

Number 1: Gas Station Burritos

Gas station food in most of the United States consists of sticks of “meat” on rollers and/or a selection of processed things to blast hot in a microwave oven. In Texas, though, it was commonplace to encounter freshly made breakfast burritos from real kitchens back behind the sprawl of junk food. Happy to have fresh burrito goodness in hand here in San Marcos:

Number 2: Downtown Bus Stations

After many many miles on the road in Texas, it’s an amazing relief that most bus stations are centrally located. This is a modern day anomaly in America. Greyhound buses typically stop in back of gas stations near to interstate highways and often at the worst hours.

Not the case in Texas. San Antonio’s Greyhound station is mere blocks from the glorious River Walk. In Dallas, Greyhound drops you in the heart of the city. Here’s the classic architecture of the downtown Amarillo station:

Greyhound station in San Antonio at night:

When I waited too late to book Greyhound out of Austin, I was stuck walking to a Tornado Bus station on the southern outskirts of town. Right along a busy road, but no complaints because free snacks and coffee! Pretty sure I ate all these bags of Animal Crackers:

After getting off in San Marcos, I found the centrally located Greyhound station there right when I needed it most. Speed walking into the safety of a public waiting area was needed to shake an inquisitive man who had run across the street to follow behind me. Thanks Greyhound!

Number 3: Open Road

I had the chance to walk the roads in and just outside of San Marcos. Ribbons of 2-lane pavement rolled gently over subtle hills as far as I could see:

Traffic was light, giving ample leeway for all forms of open road activity. Walking, running….even dragging a large tire chained to your waist:

Number 4: Pride of Place

OK I don’t have photo evidence to back this one, but let’s just say pride is in the air in Texas. Asking staff at a local bar for ideas on what to see in Houston, I was struck by their passion for the city. They had me pumped to check out the lobby at Hotel ZaZa and see the Natural Science Museum the next day.

They even begrudgingly plugged the state history museum in Austin with an enchanting tale of the shipwreck of La Salle on display there. Their fervor for all things Houston and Texan kept me so engaged I was late leaving to get to a wedding reception.

Number 5: Quirks

This yarn on chain-link work resides in central Austin. The city slogan is “Keep Austin Weird” and even with a huge influx of new residents the city still retains lots of unique local businesses.

Other standout quirks in Texas stem from eccentric Amarillo oil, gas and broadcast billionaire Stanley Marsh 3. He sponsored Cadillac Ranch to the west of town where artists stuffed old cars vertically in the ground. I spotted evidence of his bizarre Dynamite Museum made up of random sayings on signs all around Amarillo:

Number 6: Rivers

In such a bone dry landscape sources of water stand out. San Marcos worships its clear river from manicured banks right in the middle of town:

San Antonio uses its gracious, curving waterbody as a focal point for recreation and tourism:

Dallas, though, is just plain scared of the Trinity River. Development is only at an extreme distance:

Number 7: Cattle Country

The vast, flat landscapes of Texas lend themselves to raising livestock. I saw many animal horns on proud display in various locales. Here’s a selection from the gift shop at Houston’s Museum of Natural Science:

The bus into Amarillo passed numerous dusty, densely packed cattle lots. I’ve never seen so many animals herded in so tightly together. The real shocker, though, was the billboard for The Big Texan advertising a 72oz steak challenge. Check in on the restaurant’s live feed here to see if anyone is making an attempt to eat 72 ounces of steak along with “shrimp cocktail, baked potato, salad, with roll, butter” in under 60 minutes!

Number 8: Big Money

Dallas seemed wealthy. Lots of valet parking, newer high-rises with elegant lobbies and pricey downtown restaurants. Evidently the city is famous for its big banks:

Also ample signs of wealth in Houston. There was a shiny Porsche that almost put me on its hood, several doggie day cares and some cosmetic dentistry options. I walked among numerous fancy condos:

Number 9: Territorial

Claiming so much land for one state is really something extraordinary. Fighting off Spanish and Mexican interests took great determination. On the front line of this endeavor was the Austin family. Stephen F. Austin carried out the will of his fallen father colonizing Texas. Here’s a statue of the determined Austin family patriarch, Moses, from downtown San Antonio:

Don’t forget the battle of the Alamo:

At the western extreme of vast Texas territory, El Paso wreaks strongly of New Mexico. Texas should really just give it up. So many buildings in the city have more in common with the architecture Taos or Santa Fe than a typical Texas town. Just look at this:

See that totally looks like it’s in New Mexico. Give up El Paso to its rightful owner Texas!

Number 10: Sunsets

A place with so much sunny weather gives ample opportunities to catch gorgeous colors in the late day sky. Here’s a Dallas sunset:

Sunset from my first night in El Paso:

And on my second night:

I narrowly missed the sunset event in Houston performed by their colony of Mexican free-tailed bats. 250,000 bats emerge from beneath the Waugh Street Bridge to feed on insects just after dusk. Austin boasts a similarly large bat colony as well.

Cheers for reading! Hope you’ve found my time in Texas traveling around without a car informative and somewhat entertaining. There are seven previous posts from Texas to check out if you crave a deeper understanding. Shoot me a message with any additional thoughts or experiences you have to share on the state. Blog posts from a new state soon:)