Lake Buchanan and a submerged town – Texas

If you don’t want to get funny looks from people, you’ll say /buhk hăn uhn/ when in Texas.

Lake Buchanan is located in the Hill Country of Central Texas. Like most lakes in the state, it was artificially created as a water and hydroelectric power supply for the region. We visited Lake Buchanan during one of our road trips around Texas.

We stayed at the Canyon of the Eagles Resort, located on the mouth of Lake Buchanan and the Colorado River. It’s about a four-hour drive south of Dallas. The views of the lake down below were beautiful. Bald eagles nest in the area during the winter. Unfortunately, we did not see any but we enjoyed the magnificence of the flight of other big birds of prey.

View of Lake Buchanan from the Canyon of the Eagles resort
View of Lake Buchanan from the Canyon of the Eagles resort

We took a cruise around the lake. Our guide, a retired schoolteacher, told us the story of the lake and the dam, completed in 1939. She even taught us the correct pronunciation of Burnet, a nearby town, with a rhyme that went like this: It’s Burnet, durn it, can’t you learn it?” Really easy to remember. She also pointed out the local birds like egrets and herons.

An egret
An egret

The cruise included a tour of the remains of the town of Bluffton. In 1931, when the authorities started to plan the construction of the dam, the town was moved a few miles away and the site flooded. A severe drought exposed the ruins in 2011, which have become a tourist attraction ever since.

There isn't much left of Bluffton. It's exactly Atlantis.
There isn’t much left of Bluffton. It’s not  exactly Atlantis.

Lake Buchanan, Texas3

 

 

Ride the historic M-Line trolley in Dallas

Are you in Dallas and at a loss what to do next?  Now it’s the time to ride the vintage M-Line trolley.

You have already been to the 6th Floor Museum and stood on the Grassy Knoll looking towards the spot where JFK was shot. You have been to as many steakhouses and eaten as much BBQ as you possibly can. You have hit swanky bars on McKinney Avenue. You have shopped till you dropped.

The Green Dragon lumbering down McKinney Avenue

The Green Dragon lumbering down McKinney AvenueHead to the Arts District, allegedly the biggest in the country, and wait at the St. Paul & Ross stop, near the Dallas Museum of Art, until you spot a trolley trundling down the street. It could be Rosie (1909) or the Green Dragon (1913), Matilda (1925), Petunia (1920) or Betty (1926.) Watch out for cars when you step off the curb-some drivers are either careless or naughty. An attendant will help you, anyway. The ride is free of charge but a donation is appreciated because the McKinney Avenue Transit Authority is a nonprofit organization.

The motorman will greet you warmly. If there are small children with you or if you are a child at heart, he will let you step on the horn pedal. What fun! You sit on a hard-backed wooden bench and away you go, clickety-clack, clickety-clack.

Motorman and attendant
Motorman and attendant

You ride along McKinney Avenue, past bars and restaurants and chic boutiques, all the way to the M-line Uptown Station, where the trolley is turned around on the turntable. You have enough time to stretch your legs and snap photos of your trolley. Some passengers alight, some board and the trolley starts again. You might decide to get off at the West Village and take a stroll, do a little window-shopping, or actual shopping, soak up the ritzy atmosphere, and maybe have a cocktail. You hop onto the next trolley back to where you started.

M-trolley
M-trolley Turning around at Uptown Station

You can hop on and off at any of the stops, should you decide to do a little exploring. Do you feel like an elegant French meal? Step off at stop 9 and walk a few yards to the Saint-Germain Hotel. Are you in the mood for art and culture? The St. Paul & Ross stop is right next to the Dallas Museum of Art and round the corner from the Nasher Sculpture Center. The gardens at the Nasher are, in my opinion, the most beautiful in Dallas. Would you like to enjoy some peace and quiet? Head to Klyde Warren Park, an oasis in the middle of a busy city. If you are into local history, go to Greenwood Cemetery, where prominent citizens and veterans are buried.

Klyde Warren Park on a sunny day
Klyde Warren Park on a sunny day

 

Take the historic M-Line trolley around Dallas. Hop on and off wherever you want. Enjoy the ride! #MLinetrolley #Dallas #USA

Hours of operation
Monday: Thursday 7 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Friday: 7a.m. to midnight
Saturday: 10 a.m. to midnight
Sunday and holidays: 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Go to www.matag.org for information about stops

George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum

I’ve always wondered what a Presidential Library is and how it works. We have one here in Dallas, the George W Bush Presidential Library and Museum at the Southern Methodist University campus. The Library was officially opened in May 2013. Why SMU? Because the university outbid other local universities, such as Baylor or Texas A&M, with its proposal.

I learned that a Presidential Library is an archive and museum at the same time, which preserves the written record and history of US presidents; that is, documents and artifacts written, received and owned by the presidents. They also organize special exhibits. Presidential Libraries are privately funded – and probably looking out for donations on a regular basis -, although they are managed by the National Archives and Records Administration.

SMU campus is very easy to get to, both by car and public transport. I drove and paid the 7 dollar parking fee. I had to go through security: a bag scanner and a metal detector. I was wearing a studded belt, which I was politely asked to remove, otherwise the metal detector would have gone bonkers. The entrance hall is light and airy, with lots of natural light. I paid my 17 dollar entrance fee and started my visit.

Along the walls of the circular hall are the gifts that President Bush, his wife or even Condoleezza Rice received during both his presidencies. Those presents belong to the American people and were divided geographically by continent. There were some amazing pieces of jewellery that I would have been loath to give up.

The collection is divided into themed exhibits that sum up the issues and events of his administration, such as the war against terror, 9/11, programs like No Child Left Behind or my absolute favourite, a full-size reproduction of the Oval Office.

George W. Bush Presidential Library, Dallas
The Oval Office put me in mind of Frank Underwood from House of Cards, actually.

George W. Bush Presidential Library, Dallas
View from the Oval Office. It doesn’t get any more Dallas than this.

I must admit that the main draw for me was the special exhibition devoted to the late Oscar de la Renta, Five Decades of Style. Laura Bush wore his designs on many occasions, as well as other First Ladies like Nancy Reagan and Hillary Clinton, not to mention Hollywood stars. The gowns and suits were divided into themes: the gardens that influenced his style, Spanish art and culture (he lived in Madrid), red carpet, day wear, his first designs.

Oscar, my friend, I adore your designs!

I was looking at what probably was my favourite dress when a security guard walked up to me. He greeted me and said “I just want you to enjoy yourself. Take your time, enjoy yourself.” I told him that I was. He then proceeded to give me fashion advice. A surreal but thoroughly enjoyable experience.

The other object that caught my attention was a length of twisted iron I beams from the Twin Towers. As I was inspecting them closely, a security guard told me I could touch them if I wanted to. I did. She then said that it is believed they came from a place close to the point of impact because of the way they’re twisted. Unless you’ve been there, nothing can bring home to you the real dimension of such an awful tragedy. Touching the beams brought me fractionally closer to understanding it – but not quite.


Victorian legacy in Jefferson, TX

Jefferson is a little gem of a town town with a historic Victorian core. Perfect for a weekend getaway from Dallas. #Texas #JeffersonTX #travel #getaway
It seemed like a thousand freight trains went past Jefferson.

After our little adventure on Caddo Lake, we drove a few miles to the town of Jefferson, TX, where we were spending the night. Our B&B was a lovely historic Victorian home, with lots of frilly lampshades, cushions and sundry knick-knacks. The creaky wood floors and slightly off-kilter doors spoke of old age and different construction techniques.

For dinner, I had the perfect marriage of Texas and Louisiana culinary traditions: a chicken fried steak po’boy. Jefferson lies a few miles from the state line and 168 miles east of Dallas. It is essentially Texan with a Cajun twist.

Jefferson is a little gem of a town town with a historic Victorian core. Perfect for a weekend getaway from Dallas. #Texas #JeffersonTX #travel #getaway
One of the many Victorian B&B in town.

The main reason for our trip was the Shakespeare under the Stars Festival. The company was made up of local amateur thespians and high school kids. Their enthusiasm shone through; it was lovely to watch them recite –or rattle off- their lines, sometimes with a funny pseudo-British accent.

They performed famous scenes for The Bard’s plays in the square’s gazebo-cum-stage. During the balcony scene, Romeo’s soliloquy was interrupted by a series of booms but the 14-year-old actor didn’t bat an eyelid and carried on as if he were performing at the Royal Shakespeare Company. The freight trains became a constant feature throughout the night. We had hardly any sleep later that night.

The gazebo turned stage for the night
The gazebo turned stage for the night

After the show, and feeling like a nightcap, Sean and I headed to the historic downtown in search for a watering hole. We chose a swanky wine bar. Although I‘ve lived in Texas long enough, I still find scenes like this fascinating: a tall man, whom I called Marlboro Man in my head, leaning against a wall, one booted foot resting on it, head bent with his Stetson obscuring half his face.

As is the way of small towns, the owner of the wine bar was the pilot of the boat we’d taken earlier. He stopped by our table for a chat.

Jefferson is a little gem of a town town with a historic Victorian core. Perfect for a weekend getaway from Dallas. #Texas #JeffersonTX #travel #getaway
Downtown Jefferson. The entrance to the wine bar is between those two buildings

Breakfast at the B&B was an awkward affair. We sat around a communal table with other guests. Some were silently stirring their coffee; some were whispering to their partners, some kept checking their phone. What little conversation there was, was stilted at the best of times. I couldn’t wait to get out of there, I’m not a morning person and therefore not very sociable at that time of day. A little antiquing before hitting the road changed my mood for the better.

Jefferson is a little gem of a town town with a historic Victorian core. Perfect for a weekend getaway from Dallas. #Texas #JeffersonTX #travel #getaway
One of my favourite historic homes

What to do in East Texas: Caddo Lake

If you’re looking for what to do in East Texas: Caddo Lake is the answer.

“Where are you from?”

“Argentina.”

“They just had the Carnival, right?”

“No,” scowl. “That’s Brazil, our next door neighbor.”

“Oh.”

The atmosphere on board of the wood paddle steamer cooled down a bit. I do not appreciate it when people mix up Argentina and Brazil, it’s a pet peeve of mine. I turned around and saw Sean smiling. He knows how much this small thing bothers me.

The Graceful Ghost paddle steamer.
The Graceful Ghost paddle steamer.

The captain and the pilot did not stop talking for a second. They talked about the local fauna and flora and history and tried to engage the passengers. They also had a well-studied banter going on between them. I’m sorry to say that I would have liked to be able to enjoy the serenity of the waters and the sounds of Mother Nature.

We were on a tour of Caddo Lake, about two and a half hours east of Dallas. The lake straddles the Texas-Louisiana border and is the biggest natural freshwater lake in the South. Its name comes from the Caddo Indians, a peaceful group who inhabited the area. The US government bought their land in 1835 for $80,000 and the Caddo had to relocate.

Hello, friends!
Hello, friends!

One middle-aged lady kept saying “Where are the gators? ” I want to see the gators” over and over again. I casually said that the alligators were probably hanging out in a quiet spot far away from humans. She didn’t appreciate my comment. I felt like the Grinch Who Stole the Gators.

I actually liked the lake. It was overcast, so the combination of dark waters and Spanish moss hanging from cypresses was the ideal setting for a B horror movie. I half expected the see the Mommy thrashing about among the trees.

Watch put for monsters
Watch out for monsters

The lake is part of the Caddo Lake State Park and many people come here to camp, spend the day, kayak, fish or hike. A lucky few own a house on the shore with their own mooring.

Lake house living
Lake living

After this little excursion, we headed to the town of Jefferson to check in at our B&B and get ready for the evening’s activities.

It's a lot prettier on a sunny day!
It’s a lot prettier on a sunny day!

In search of Bonnie Parker in Dallas

Dallas is best known for the Cowboys, JR Ewing and as the place where JFK was assassinated but very few people know it’s also the last resting place of Bonnie Parker of Bonnie and Clyde fame. I came across that information a while ago. I made a note of the address of the cemetery where Bonnie Parker is buried as well as loose directions to her grave and put it away.

Crown Hill Memorial Park is in an area of North Dallas, Webb Chapel, which I never have any reason to visit. Since I was meeting a friend for lunch in trendy Uptown and the cemetery was more or less in between Uptown and my home in the northern suburbs, I thought it was a good time as any to try and find Bonnie.

Bonnie Parker
A trendy restaurant in Uptown Dallas

Bonnie and Clyde

Bonnie Parker was a famous outlaw from the Great Depression era who had a partner called Clyde. Their story caught the imagination of the public, who created a romanticized image of the criminal couple. In my mind, they looked like Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway, the actors who portrayed the outlaws in the 1967 film.

Bonnie met ex-con Clyde Barrow in Dallas in January 1930, where she lived with her mother and siblings. She was 19 and he was 20. They fell madly in love but their relationship was put on hold when he was sentenced to two years in prison for auto theft. After that, the couple went on a 21-month criminal spree, mainly armed robberies and murder, in Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Missouri and Louisiana, in part to escape poverty and in part because of their utter contempt for authority.

Bonnie and Clyde successfully evaded many police ambushes. They were always one step ahead of the authorities until they were caught in a roadblock in Louisiana and a hail of machine gun fire put an end to their lives. This marked the beginning of an American legend.

In search of Bonnie

After lunch at Mercat Bistro (2501 N Harwood St.), I entered the cemetery’s address (9700 Webb Chapel Rd) in my phone GPS and set off. I took Harry Hines all the way down to Webb Chapel Extension. The stylish Uptown buildings soon gave way to Southwestern Medical District and, farther on, the industrial looking area behind Lovefield Airport.

The landscape changed dramatically in less than 7 miles. The neighbourhoods got progressively more rundown and rougher. The buildings looked old and low-rent, many in need of a lick of paint. The physiognomy of the people and the language on the store signs changed as well: carnicería (butcher’s) La Michoacana, taquería La Paloma, tienda (grocery store) La Tampiqueña.

The neighbourhood

Webb Chapel is a working-class neighbourhood whose residents are mainly of Mexican ancestry. I started to worry I’d be mugged or have my car stolen. The newspapers are full of stories about Latin gangs and their criminal activities and, whether we like it or not, they permeate our unconscious mind and shape our view of the world. There are areas in Dallas with high crime rate, like everywhere else, but this one wasn’t necessarily one of them. However, I was out of my element; I wanted to be back in the swanky French bistro in Uptown or my safe suburban townhome.

Then I mentally slapped myself. Look at these people, I told myself: a mother pushing a pram, a granny carrying grocery bags, kids walking home from school.  They are hard-working people trying to carve out a better life for their families, not criminals. Shake off your silly prejudices, you spoilt brat. Duly chastised, I carried on my search.

The cemetery

Bonnie Parker
Main mausoleum at Crown Hill Memorial Park

Although I have no sense of direction and need a GPS to go almost anywhere, I don’t always interpret its directions well. For example when it said “slight left on Webb Chapel Road” I turned left into Lombardy Road and had to do a U turn.

After a couple of unintentional detours, I finally managed to find the cemetery. I drove in and tried to find parking. The place is a big park crisscrossed with concrete paths. I wasn’t sure where to go or if it was legal to drive there, let alone park. I wasn’t comfortable with leaving the car anywhere (I didn’t want a ticket) so I drove around.

I drove past the central mausoleum, which had an Art Nouveau air to it, and some dark granite smaller contemporary ones. Cemeteries say a lot about the changes in society. I noticed that the older tombstones all had English names engraved on the dark granite and were sober and somber.

The newer headstones bore names and phrases in Spanish, like “Abuelita, te extrañaremos por siempre” (We will always miss you, Granny) and were decorated with gaudy flowers and ribbons, probably left over from the Día de los Muertos festivity that took place a few days earlier.

Bonnie Parker
A view of the memorial park

According to my notes, Bonnie Parker’s burial was located “to the left of the hedge.” OK. Which hedge? The one that ran around the whole place? Reading each headstone would take all day but still drove on, taking a few turns, driving very slowly, trying to read the engraved names.

Crown Hill Memorial Park is Bonnie Parker’s family burial site, this is the reason she’s buried here. But the cemetery requires non-family member to request permission in writing in order to photographs any graves. I’m not a family member and did not have a written permission.

Just like Bonnie eluded the authorities during her and Clyde’s criminal career, she also eluded me. I was not able to find her grave.

It was time to go and leave the elusive Bonnie be.  

The architecture of Downtown Dallas

Follow this self-guided tour and admire the architecture of downtown Dallas: Late Gothic, Beaux Arts, Renaissance Revival, and modern #Dallas #travel #Texas

I met Penny, from Adventures of a Carry-On, through social media first and in person last week. She’d published an article on the architecture of Downtown Dallas, I commented on it, and then we continued the conversation on Twitter and finally exchanged phone numbers. Since we both live in Dallas, we arranged to meet for lunch and a stroll.

Our meeting point was outside the Wilson Building, on the corner of Main and Ervay streets. The Wilson was built in 1903 and its design was inspired by the Grand Opera House of Paris.

Follow this self-guided tour and admire the architecture of downtown Dallas: Late Gothic, Beaux Arts, Renaissance Revival, and modern #Dallas #travel #Texas
The Wilson is now dwarfed by modern high-rises in downtown Dallas

Main Street was given its less-than-creative name by John Neely Bryan, the founder of Dallas. The area became the financial and commercial centre of the infant city and still remains so. It had periods of growth and decadence and now it’s experiencing a kind of revival, with new businesses, hotels and old office buildings being converted into lofts and apartments, like the Kirby.

The Kirby Building (1509 Main St.) was built in 1913 in the Late Gothic style by Adolphus Busch, he of Budweiser fame. Originally, it housed offices and a department store. The lobby reminds me of a church with the decorative ribs of its ceiling and the marble staircase. The views of Dallas from the 18th floor terrace are spectacular, including that of the red Pegasus.

The Kirby
The Kirby

The red Pegasus is a symbol of Dallas. The original is on display inside Dallas Farmers Market and used to be on the roof of the Magnolia Building. Magnolia Petroleum (now Exxon Mobil) built their headquarters in 1922 in the Renaissance Revival style. The red Pegasus was its emblem and was placed on the roof in 1934. Nowadays, The Magnolia is a high-end hotel (1401 Commerce St.)

Follow this self-guided tour and admire the architecture of downtown Dallas: Late Gothic, Beaux Arts, Renaissance Revival, and modern #Dallas #travel #Texas
The Magnolia seen from the Kirby’s terrace

There are a handful of landmark buildings in this area, like The Adolphus, on the corner of Commerce and Akard. This splendid hotel was built by Adolphus Busch in 1912 in the Beaux Arts style. It must be wonderful to have a luxury hotel built and name it after you. How does the Ana Hotel sound? Not very grand, I’m afraid.

Two other historic buildings are being redeveloped: the Merc (the Mercantile National Bank Complex – Main, Ervay, Commerce and St. Paul streets), built in 1943. It was the tallest building in the city at the time. The 1931 Lone Star Gas Co. building is an Art Deco gem located on 301 S. Harwood St

Lone Star Gas Co. Building
Lone Star Gas Co. Building

Notes from a road trip to the Texas Hill Country

Local flora: prickly pear
Local flora: prickly pear

“I’ll need something as collateral, sir. Your keys, your wallet, your watch…the clerk said. This E-Z gas station is located outside Granbury. Customers have to pay inside before pumping. I guess many have not been as honest as they should have and the clerk was forced to take precautions.

“I love your accent” was a recurring comment throughout the trip. Sean’s British accent was indeed a big hit with locals. They were super friendly and asked us a lot of questions. Usually, they would realize I was standing there too once the spell cast by Sean’s accent was broken: “Oh, do y’all have an accent too?” A foreign accent, yes, but not British. “Say something so I can hear it… Are y’all German?” No, I’m not.

Antique store in Llano

We stopped off at Llano on our way to Canyon of the Eagles. On a whim, I decided we should visit an antiques store. I bought a red train set that seems to date from the 1960s. No, it isn’t a toy train but an oversized makeup case. My grandmother used to have a pearl grey one so my new acquisition in a way reminds me of her.

I also bought a book printed in 1854. The front page reads “The Fourth Reader or Exercises in Reading and Speaking. Designed for the higher classes in our public and private schools.” It was printed in Portland, Maine. How on earth did it end up in remote Llano, Texas, in 2012?

We took a cruise around Lake Buchanan (pronounced buhk hăn uhn). Our guide, Miss Candy, a retired teacher from the area, helped us spot some local wildlife, such as egrets or ospreys. She shared very interesting information about the history of the manmade lake. We hopped off the boat to visit the ruins of Bluffton, a town that was submerged in 1937 when the Buchanan Dam was built. There wasn’t a lot to see; however, her narration was captivating.

Egret on Lake Buchanan
Egret on Lake Buchanan

“Burnet, durn it! Learn it!” is apparently a popular way to learn and remember the correct pronunciation of Burnet (BER nĕt) because of the easy rhyme. We learned this from Miss Candy too.

Burnet
Burnet

Hello everyone. I’m going to be your guide today. My name is XXXXXX and I’m a fifth generation Texan and a secessionist” This is how our guide to the Longhorn Cavern introduced himself. No doubt as to his lineage and political views whatsoever. Actually, he wasn’t the only person we met this trip that expressed a similar view. Sean struck up a conversation with a three people while we were waiting for a table at a restaurant in Burnet and somehow they managed to mention secession as well. It’s not a subject that usually crops up in conversation in the city.

Besides the egrets and ospreys, we spotted other local wildlife too. One night, we stopped the car the let a tarantula cross the road (no, really!). I’d never seen one before; it was as big as my hand. Just in case, I watched her progress from the safety of my car. We also saw some buzzards eat a dead animal lying beside the road. We spotted a roadrunner, which wasn’t running but flying low. I looked up to check that an ACME safe wasn’t falling from the sky. Last, but by no means least, we say a herd of buffalo grazing on a field. That was a first for me too.

Buffalo
Buffalo!

The award to most creative (and scary!) ranch gate has to go to the folks whose gate reads “We don’t dial 911” below a shotgun. Across the road there is a satellite dish with a biblical quote.

Only in Paris, Texas

We searched high and low for the elusive Eiffel Tower. We drove around Paris for a good while, navigating unknown streets, scanning the horizon, trying to follow the GPS directions. At long last we saw it in all its 65 foot high glory.

And a red cowboy hat on top.

Welcome to Paris, Texas, the home of the second tallest Eiffel Tower in the world. Or it used to be, as the tower in Paris, Tennessee, is 70 feet high and the Las Vegas reproduction is 540 feet high. Although it proves that not everything is bigger in Texas, it is a display of local creativity and pride.

Eiffel Tower in Paris, Texas

I’ve said this before, but I’m strangely drawn to old cemeteries. The historic Evergreen cemetery had a special appeal: a statue of Christ wearing cowboy boots. It marks the grave of a Mr. Willett Babcock, who died in 1881. I read somewhere that this statue caused some controversy at the time. I think it represents what Mr. Babcock believed in, but since I’ve never met him, I can’t say for sure.

Statue of Christ wearing cowboy boots

After rummaging in an antiques shop (I did, Sean waited outside) and strolling around the main square, I wanted to go back to the Old Courthouse to see something that had caught my attention earlier.

It was a monument to the Confederate Army. Each side honours someone different: the heroes fallen during the Civil War (1861-5), the women of the South who supported their men, the sons of Texas who fell in battle and, I think, the entire Civil War as the inscriptions reads “From Ft. Sumpter to Appomattox”, the battles which marked the beginning and the end of the war. There are four busts, one of which is General Lee.

Confederate monument

Politics aside, I found the very existence of this monument very interesting. It speaks volumes of who the Texans are and what they believe in. In my opinion, it is not so much about secession now but about asserting their identity and sending a clear message: this is us, we fought, we lost but we are proud and we don’t forget. As far as I can see, this sentiment is very much alive in smaller towns than in big cities.

Road trip to the heart of Texas

Maybe the Mayans and Nostradamus are right. Maybe the end of the world is drawing nigh. An ice storm followed by a snow storm in Dallas left the city covered with an inch thick sheet of ice and a foot of snow on Super Bowl weekend -or maybe even thicker. This was the weekend we chose to meet our friends in Austin.

We were hesitant to brave the inclement weather. But what the hell. We decided we would risk going out and drive as far as we could without winter tyres. As a matter of fact, we made it all the way to Austin.

Our street

Our street was a sea of white. Practically the only visible objects were the traffic lights. Sean steered the car deftly towards the Dallas Tollway, which was tolerably drivable. There were more cars than I imagined. Traffic was slow because there were a couple of snow ploughs and gritters clearing the snow.

It was a bit boring but at least was safe. What seems like a good idea at the time turned out to be a mistake: exiting the Tollway to overtake the convoy using the slip road was dicey because it was very icy (and it rhymes too.)

Somewhat redundant warning signs…

Sean has experience driving on snow and ice and drove very carefully, never breaking suddenly or making brusque manoeuvres. But the same could not be said about other drivers. Some were texting, taking pictures of the signs that warned about icy roads (it was kind of ironic, though,) chatting on the phone or with their companions as if it were a normal day. Oh yes, and doing the same stupid things people do on a daily basis like not signalling when changing lanes. I’m not sure some people should be allowed behind the wheel.

Chunks of ice flew from the roof of the sixteen wheelers that rumbled past us, their wheels splattering slush all over our windscreen blocking our view. That was the really scary part.

The snow and ice followed (and preceded us) as far as Waco (yes, THAT Waco,) where it began to disappear gradually. In a way, it was a pity because the snow made the countryside and even industrial areas look quite pretty, especially when the sun was out and the ice glistened in the bright light.

Magic light on the road

It took us less than six hours to reach Buda, a town south of Austin. Not bad, considering the driving conditions for the first half of the way. We checked into the hotel and drove to Lockhart for a barbeque dinner with our friends.

We woke up to a gloriously sunny morning and hit the road after breakfast. Our plan was to get to Lexington as early as possible to attend a cattle auction and eat lunch. We’d heard of this barbeque place called Snow’s and decided that life was not worth living if we didn’t try their allegedly out-of-this-world barbeque. It was all that and more.

Lexington is such a tiny town that if you so much as sneeze while driving, chances are you’ll miss it. This is the quintessential rural town: rusty silos, a livestock exchange, wide empty streets, easy chairs on the porch, haystacks, barns, and lots of peace and quiet interrupted by the odd bellow or squawk.

Quiet streets

Unfortunately, the cattle auction was cancelled due to inclement weather. I was disappointed because I really wanted to see it, I wanted to touch and see the heart and soul of the Texan heartland.

I walked around the livestock exchange building to try to catch a glimpse of the few heads of cattle I could hear but not see. A very polite employee asked me if I needed help and gave me a strange look when I said I just wanted to have a look and could I take photos too? “Feel free to walk around.” So I did.

I climbed up a ladder to a sort of metal gangway from which one can see the cattle milling around in the pens. There were a dozen cows, calves, and a couple of goats. They all stopped doing whatever it was they were doing to stare at me in absolute silence. It was eerie. So I waved and said “¡Hola, chicas!”

 

 

The rural smells and sounds reminded me of home. Of traversing the grassy vast pampas sprinkled with brown dots that transformed into cows and horses as the car advanced. Of once thriving small towns whose fortune declined when the railway stopped running. Of abandoned barns and tiny cemeteries at the side of the road that can tell the history of the place.

Pickup trucks, tractors, seeders, cattle floats, old clunkers lumbering along. I could have been anywhere in the Argentinean pampas. But I was in the heart of Texas.

In a strange sort of way, I felt at home.

Grazing in the plains

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