5 small Texas towns you must visit

Experience Southern gentility and hospitality in these small Texas towns. Each one has a unique heritage forged by its location and history.

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Experience Southern gentility and hospitality in these small Texas towns. Each one has a unique heritage forged by its location and history

Antique shops, independent boutiques, wine tasting, and water sports are some of the activities they have in store for visitors. These towns are fantastic for all kinds of trips, from a romantic weekend getaway to a family road trip.

Discover a new side to Texas!

German-Texan heritage in Gruene    

Gruene is a gem of a town located roughly halfway between Austin and San Antonio, in the Texas Hill Country. Gruene, pronounced “green,” was first settled by German farmers in the 1840s. the Gruene family introduced cotton farming, which brought prosperity to the area. Some fine examples of late Victorian architecture still stand, like the Gruene Mansion or Gruene House, both Bed and Breakfasts now. Gruene was included in the National Register of Historic Places in 1975, which allowed it to retain an authentic turn-of-the-century look and feel.   

Antique stores, boutiques, art galleries, and a general store line the streets of Gruene. In addition, the town boasts the oldest continually operating dance hall in Texas, Gruene Hall, built in 1878. Another landmark is The Gristmill Restaurant, built in the shell of an 1878 cotton mill and has beautiful views of the Guadalupe River down below. In summer, people can rent tubing, stand-up paddle boarding, and kayaking equipment and go on the nearby Guadalupe and Comal rivers.  

19th century charm in Jefferson

Jefferson, once a bustling river port, now radiates Southern grace. The town was founded in the 1840s in Northeastern Texas. Jefferson is about 170 miles east of Dallas and less than an hour from the Louisiana border. Thanks to a giant log jam on the Red River, the water level of the Caddo Lake and Red Rover rose by several feet. This enabled commercial navigation to Jefferson from places as far as St. Louis and New Orleans along the Mississippi. The town flourished until 1873, when the Army Corps of Engineers blew up the log jam, considered a navigational hazard, thus lowering the water levels and making riverboat traffic no longer viable.

Many of the Victorian mansions were converted into Bed and Breakfasts. Jefferson has more registered historic buildings than anywhere in Texas, as well as the state’s oldest working hotel. The Excelsior House Hotel dates from 1858 and has had distinguished guests like Oscar Wilde or Ulysses S. Grant. Jefferson is said to be haunted, so visitors can learn all about local legends during a ghost walk. The Jefferson General Store, from 1879, is a must-visit. To take a break from so much history, swamp tours, canoeing, and fishing are available at the Caddo Lake close by.

Antique shops, independent boutiques, wine tasting, and water sports are some of the activities they have in store. These towns are fantastic for all kinds of trips, from a romantic weekend getaway to a family road trip. #Texas #travel

Historic Granbury

Granbury lies on the shores of Lake Granbury in North Central Texas. It all started when Tennessee emigrants came to settle on the Brazos River in 1854. Elizabeth Crockett, the widow of Davy Crockett, also settled here, on land given to the heirs of those who fought in the Texas Revolution of 1836. The settlement grew, and, in 1887, the Fort Worth and Rio Grande Railway connected Granbury with other towns.

Elizabeth Crockett also has her own statue at the Elizabeth Crocket State Historic Park, the smallest state park in Texas. Among other landmarks are the Historic Railroad Depot of 1914 or the Brazos Drive-In Theater from 1952, which is Texas’ longest continually running drive-in theater. The Hood County Courthouse, a three-story limestone building from 1890-1, dominates the square. The surrounding buildings, many of which are also registered historic landmarks, house boutiques, antique stores, and art galleries, among other businesses. The annual Granbury Wine Walk takes place in and around the square and features local wines, food, and art. Where to stay? In a Victorian B&B, where else!  

Marble Falls, the heart of the Hill Country

Marble Falls is nestled among rolling hills, vineyards, and lakes in Central Texas. Marble Falls Lake is within walking distance of the Historic Downtown area and provides a welcome respite from all that walking and shopping and visiting art galleries. Art features prominently in Marble Falls. Its main street is lined with sculptures, and the annual Sculpture on Main Fest showcases the best local artists. There are plenty of eating and drinking establishments, but one stands out: the Blue Bonnet Café. This café has been serving homestyle pies since 1929 and still draws big crowds. Be prepared to wait.

Marble Falls is surrounded by wonderful places to enjoy nature that are very close. Locals and visitors go boating, kayaking, and fishing at Inks and Buchanan lakes. Would-be speleologists should take a guided cave tour of the Longhorn Cavern. The Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge preserves the habitat of endangered songbirds. Enchanted Rock is a colossal pink granite dome that people can climb or enjoy from a distance. The star of the Pedernales Falls State Park is the Pedernales River, which flows over massive limestone slabs and can turn into a raging torrent in the blink of an eye, as flash floods are common in the Hill Country.

Sulphur Springs’ revitalized downtown area

Sulphur Springs is in Northeast Texas, about 80 miles from Dallas. Its name comes from the now dried-up sulfurous water springs and it was settled in the 1850s. The advent of the railroad in 1872 gave the small town an economic boost. Later, in the mid-twentieth century, the dairy industry became a major component of the local economy. However, it started to decline in the late 90s, along with the town’s fortunes.

Recently, the town’s authorities started a process of revitalization of the downtown area, though. Behind colorful storefronts are independent boutiques, restaurants, and bars, among other businesses. Every façade has been restored to its past splendor. And the trees that line the streets provide welcome shade in the hotter months. The town square, also newly revamped, includes the Romanesque Revival courthouse (built in 1894-5), a very moving veteran memorial and a splash pad in the shape of the Lone Star. However, the biggest attraction are the glass public toilets. Not to worry! They are covered in one-way mirrors that reflect the light and blend in with the surroundings. 

Experience Southern gentility and hospitality in these small Texas towns. Each one has a unique heritage forged by its location and history
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5 pueblos texanos que no te podés perder

Viví la elegancia y la hospitalidad sureñas en estos pequeños pueblos de Texas. Cada uno tiene un patrimonio único forjado gracias a su ubicación e historia

Negocios de antigüedades, boutiques independientes, catas de vino y deportes acuáticos son algunas de las actividades que tienen reservadas para los visitantes. Estos pueblos son fantásticos para todo tipo de viajes, desde una escapada romántica de fin de semana hasta un road trip en familia.

Descubrí una cara diferente de Texas.

Herencia alemana en Gruene


Gruene es una belleza pueblerina ubicada aproximadamente a medio camino entre Austin y San Antonio, en el Texas Hill Country. Gruene, pronunciado “green“, fue colonizado por primera vez por agricultores alemanes en la década de 1840. La familia Gruene introdujo el cultivo del algodón, que a su vez trajo prosperidad a la zona. Todavía quedan algunos buenos ejemplos de la arquitectura victoriana tardía, como la Mansión Gruene o la Casa Gruene, ambos convertidos en Bed and Breakfast. Gruene fue incluido en el Registro Nacional de Lugares Históricos en 1975, lo que le permitió conservar su aspecto y ambiente auténticos de principios de siglo.

Tiendas de antigüedades, boutiques, galerías de arte y un almacén general pueblan las calles de Gruene. Además, el pueblo cuenta con el salón de baile más antiguo de Texas en uso continuado, Gruene Hall, construido en 1878. Otro hito es The Gristmill Restaurant, construido en las ruinas de una fábrica de algodón de 1878 y tiene hermosas vistas del río Guadalupe. En verano, la gente puede alquilar flotantes, stand-up paddles y kayaks e ir a los ríos cercanos Guadalupe y Comal.

Elegancia victoriana en Jefferson

Jefferson, que alguna vez fue un bullicioso puerto fluvial, ahora irradia encanto sureño. La ciudad fue fundada en la década de 1840 en el noreste de Texas. Jefferson está a unas 170 millas al este de Dallas y a menos de una hora de la frontera con Luisiana. Gracias a un atasco de troncos gigante en el Red River, el nivel del agua del lago Caddo y del Red Rover aumentó varios metros. Esto permitió la navegación comercial a Jefferson desde lugares tan lejanos como St. Louis y Nueva Orleans a lo largo del Mississippi. La ciudad floreció hasta 1873, cuando el Cuerpo de Ingenieros del Ejército hizo estallar el atasco de troncos, considerado un peligro para la navegación, reduciendo así los niveles de agua y haciendo inviable el tráfico fluvial.

Muchas de las mansiones victorianas se convirtieron en Bed and Breakfasts. Jefferson tiene más edificios históricos registrados que en cualquier lugar de Texas, así como el hotel en funcionamiento más antiguo del estado. El Excelsior House Hotel data de 1858 y alojó pasajeros distinguidos como Oscar Wilde o el presidente Ulysses S. Grant. Se dice que Jefferson está embrujado, por lo que los visitantes pueden aprender todo sobre las leyendas locales durante una caminata guiada nocturna. La Jefferson General Store, de 1879, es una visita obligada. Para tomar un descanso de tanta historia, en el cercano lago Caddo se pueden realizar recorridos por los pantanos, hacer kayak y pescar.

Viví la elegancia y la hospitalidad sureñas en estos pequeños pueblos de Texas. Cada uno tiene un patrimonio único forjado gracias a su ubicación e historia. #Texas #viajes #EstadosUnidos

Raíces revolucionarias en Granbury

Granbury se encuentra a orillas del lago Granbury, en el centro-norte de Texas. Todo comenzó cuando unos pioneros oriundos de Tennessee llegaron a establecerse en el río Brazos en 1854. Elizabeth Crockett, la viuda de Davy Crockett (quien luchó en la Batalla del Alamo contra fuerzas mexicanas), también se instaló aquí. Esas tierras fueron entregadas a los herederos de quienes lucharon en la Revolución de Texas de 1836. El asentamiento creció, y, en 1887, el ferrocarril de Fort Worth y Rio Grande llegó a conectar Granbury con otras ciudades.

Elizabeth Crockett tiene su propia estatua en el Parque Histórico Estadual Elizabeth Crocket, el más pequeño de Texas. Entre otros lugares de interés, se encuentran el histórico Railroad Depot de 1914 o el Brazos Drive-In Theatre de 1952, que es el autocine más antiguo de Texas en funcionamiento continuo. El Palacio de Justicia del Condado de Hood, un edificio de piedra caliza de tres pisos de 1890-1, domina la plaza. Los edificios circundantes, muchos de los cuales también son monumentos históricos registrados, alojan boutiques, anticuarios y galerías de arte, entre otros negocios. El Granbury Wine Walk anual se lleva a cabo dentro y alrededor de la plaza y presenta vinos, comida y artesanías locales. ¿Donde alojarse? En un B&B victoriano, ¿dónde más?

Marble Falls, en el corazón del Hill Country

Marble Falls está ubicado entre colinas, viñedos y lagos en el centro de Texas. Marble Falls Lake se encuentra a poca distancia a pie del área del centro histórico. El parque junto al lago ofrece un respiro de tanto caminar, ir de compras y visitar galerías de arte. El arte ocupa un lugar destacado en Marble Falls. Su calle principal está llena de esculturas, y el festival anual de esculturas Main Fest exhibe a los mejores artistas locales. Hay muchos establecimientos para comer y beber, pero se destaca el Blue Bonnet Café. Este café sirve pastelería casera desde 1929 y atrae a grandes multitudes. Preparate para esperar un buen rato en la vereda.

Marble Falls está rodeado de lugares maravillosos para disfrutar de la naturaleza y que se encuentran muy cerca. Los lugareños y visitantes salen a andar en bote y kayak y pescar en los lagos Inks y Buchanan. Los aspirantes a espeleólogos deberían realizar una visita guiada a las cuevas de Longhorn Cavern. El Refugio Nacional de Vida Silvestre Balcones Canyonlands preserva el hábitat de aves en peligro de extinción. Enchanted Rock es una colosal cúpula de granito rosa que la gente puede escalar o disfrutar desde lejos. La estrella del Parque Estadual Pedernales Falls es el río Pedernales, que fluye sobre enormes losas de piedra caliza y puede convertirse en un torrente furioso en un abrir y cerrar de ojos, ya que las inundaciones repentinas son comunes en el Hill Country.

Sulphur Springs y su centro modernizado

Sulphur Springs se encuentra en el noreste de Texas, a unas 80 millas de Dallas. Su nombre proviene de los manantiales de agua sulfurosa, que ahora están secos, y se estableció en la década de 1850. La llegada del ferrocarril en 1872 dio a la pequeña ciudad un fuerte impulso económico. Más tarde, a mediados del siglo XX, la industria láctea se convirtió en un componente importante de la economía local. Sin embargo, comenzó a declinar a finales de los ’90, junto con la fortuna de la ciudad.

Sin embargo, hace poco, las autoridades del pueblo iniciaron un proceso de revitalización del centro de la ciudad. Detrás de coloridos vidrieras se encuentran boutiques independientes, restaurantes y bares, entre otros. Cada fachada ha sido restaurada a su antiguo esplendor. Los árboles que bordean las calles brindan una agradable sombra en los meses más calurosos. La plaza del pueblo, también recientemente renovada, incluye el palacio de justicia, de estilo renacentista románico (construido en 1894-5), un monumento a los veteranos muy conmovedor y una fuente con la forma de la Estrella Solitaria, el símbolo de Texas. Sin embargo, la mayor atracción son los baños públicos de vidrio. ¡No es para preocuparse! Están cubiertos de espejos unidireccionales que reflejan la luz y se mimetizan con el entorno.

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!

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.

Dinosaur Valley State Park (Texas)

It is possible to walk in the footsteps of dinosaurs in Texas. Really. At the Dinosaur Valley State Park, located in Glen Rose, about ninety miles southwest of Dallas. We went there on a late summer day and had a T-Rex of a time! (Bad joke alert.)

Although the scenery is beautiful, the main attraction is the genuine dinosaur tracks on the bed of the Paluxy River. They advise visitors to call in advance to check on river conditions to make sure the tracks are visible before setting off. We didn’t call ahead but figured it’d be all right since it was summer and quite a dry one at that.

Dinosaur Valley State Park
Paluxy River

The terrain is quite hilly and the river meanders along a small valley. We had to climb down the rocks to get to the riverbed. I was so excited to see the tracks! We had visited the interpretation centre, which gave us an idea of what had happened (or what they think happened), millions of years ago. It was something like this: a group of dinosaurs (maybe brontosaurs) was probably drinking water when another group of hungry dinosaurs showed up and probably ate them up (carnosaurs). Well’, that’s my interpretation of the interpretation.

Dinosaur Valley State Park
Theropod tracks (I learned the name thanks to Kuban’s Paluxy Website. Thanks!)

More Theropod tracks

We saw some local fauna, like these lovely white-tailed deer. Other local species are coyote, bobcat, various rodents, raccoon, beaver, skunk, opossum, armadillo, fox squirrel, rabbit, lizards and snakes. I’m terrified by snakes so I wasn’t too keen on walking among rocks. However, I’m sure they were more scared of me than I was of them.

White-tailed deer

 The Dinosaur Valley State park is located 4 miles west of Glen Rose. Take U.S. Highway 67 to FM 205 for 4 miles to Park Road 59; then go 1 mile to the headquarters.

Mesquite Pro Rodeo

As soon as I got out of the car at the Resistol Arena in Mesquite (Texas), I was assaulted by the pungent smell of horse urine stewing in the heat. For some reason I thought that was an indication of good things to come.

We bought our tickets and walked around the arena to kill time until the start of the rodeo. There was a merry-go-round with real ponies, a couple of food stands, and a stand where you could have your fingerprints taken (never figured out what for), a cowboy boot and hat stand and a barbeque restaurant. At one end there was a pen holding a few bored steers.

Everybody wears a hat
Everybody wears a hat

Almost everyone was wearing cowboy boots or hats or both. I tried to blend in and put on my beloved boots. I hope I succeeded.

The announcer asks everyone to stand up and bow their heads. I expected to hear the Star Spangled Banner but he started praying. For the members of the military fighting for their country, for those back at home and for the cowboys who were going to compete later. “Ave, Caesar, morituri te salutant1. After the prayer the lights went out and a singer finally sang the national anthem. An amazon trotted into the arena bearing the flag. All very dramatic and patriotic.

By then I was ready for some action and I wasn’t disappointed. The first event was the bareback riding, in which, according to my program, “the cowboy attempts to stay aboard a high jumping horse for an eight second ride with only a leather circingle (surcingle?) around the horse with a built in handhold.” It was mesmerizing to watch.

Bareback riding looks painful
Bareback riding looks painful

The bareback riding was followed by the steer wrestling. Those bored steers were roused from their stupor into the arena, where a highly skilled cowboy riding alongside him dismounts and flips the steer as quickly as possible. This reminded me of a scene from an old film in which a gladiator breaks the neck of a bull.

Two more events involved bovines and ropes, the tie down roping (“allows the calf a head start as the cowboy follows closely and tries to rope and tie the calves three legs in the fastest time possible”, quoted from my program too) and the team roping. Every cowboy showed remarkable skill and great instinctive communication with his horse. Man and beast joined in an act of communion.

Team roping
Team roping

The saddle bronc riding was the second most exciting event of the night. Each cowboy tried to ride a bucking horse for eight seconds and in order to get the most points he had to do it while keeping his toes turned outward. It must have seemed like eight hours, what with all those spins and jolts and bucking. No one got seriously hurt tonight and no one got trampled, although it looked like some cowboys are going to wake up to a bruised body and joint pain.  The star of the night, the event I was looking forward to was the bull riding. I could feel the sheer, unbounded physical strength of those bulls. It was scary and thrilling.

That’s going to leave a mark

1 Hail, Emperor (Caesar), those who are about to die salute you.

Mesquite Arena 
1818 Rodeo Dr.,  Mesquite,  Texas
Mesquite ProRodeo Series
Every Friday & Saturday
June 1 – August 25 at 7:30 pm
 

 

 

West Texas Road Trip

We left on Friday after a fantastic lunch of brisket tamales at Emelia’s in The Colony. Our first port of call in our West Texas road trip was Mineral Wells, described in the guidebook as a “winning town.” I beg to differ. Its first impression was that of a rundown, depressing place. The welcome committee was made up of boarded-up houses, empty shops and deserted streets.

The Baker Hotel, along with the Bat World Living Museum, is one of the town’s attractions. The 1929 building is a prepossessing building. The ugly chain link fence around it and the graffiti that defaced its walls could not entirely ruin its stately look. The cacti growing on the eaves contributed to its air of poignancy.

Mineral Wells
The Baker Hotel (Mineral Wells)

 It was time for the next town. Palo Pinto is a few miles from Mineral Wells. It is so small that only the Main Street is paved. We wanted to visit the County Jail Museum Complex but it was closed. It sounds more grands than it really is: a handful of restored tiny historic constructions. It closes at 3 pm, in case anyone is interested. The park across the street is rather nice. It has a tabernacle and, according to a fading sign, it is forbidden to park inside.

Palo Pinto
Palo Pinto park with tabernacle

We pushed on to Wichita Falls. This city has a rather deceiving name: it’s nothing like Iguassu Falls or Niagara Falls. Rather, the local falls are man-made (the original, natural ones were destroyed by a flood in 1886) and 54 (16 m) feet high. However, we weren’t disappointed because the whole point of coming here was to see these artificial falls. They are located in Lucy Park, which is quite a nice place for a stroll (but not when it’s over 100 F (38 C)!)

Wichita Falls
The falls at Wichita Falls

We spent the night in WF. Sean found a nice Greek restaurant called Salt and Pepper, where the food was very good. The highlight of the night was our waiter. As it turns out, he plays rugby at college, which is rather unusual as rugby is not the most popular of sports here. He was so delighted to hear that Sean was Welsh and played rugby at school that he sent a beer “on the home team.”

I slowly came to the realisation that this road trip was not about visiting spectacular landscapes or seeing breathtaking views. It was about slowing down, listening to people’s stories, appreciating the small things that make life worth living.

On the road
On the road

Our next stop was Memphis. Texas, of course.

We were greeted by a scene from The Twilight Zone. There was almost no car or pedestrian traffic on the streets. Like in most towns, the courthouse (a beautiful old building) dominated the centre. There was a kind of fundraiser going on which consisted of four stands selling trinkets and one selling food (smoker included).  It had something to do with war veterans. It was the early afternoon and there was no one except us, a couple from Fort Worth and the stallholders.

We walked around the courthouse and, lo and behold, we came across a war memorial dedicated to the sons of Memphis who lost their lives in every war since the Civil War. There was the requisite Confederate soldier too.

Memphis

There wasn’t anything else to see or do in Memphis so we pushed on. The further west we went, the redder the earth became. Red and yellow. The drought was so severe that everything looked dead. Even the nodding donkeys were still. There were countless black patches all over the place left by recent wildfires.  Every single river we crossed was completely dry. Dust devils swirled here and there. Heat, dust, draught, road kill, a straight road without end: a typical Texas road trip.

Follow along our West Texas road trip: Mineral Wells, Palo Pinto, Wichita Falls, Turkey, Matador. #roadtrip #Texas #travel
The endless road

Turkey was supposed to be one of the highlights of the trip. Yet it turned out to be another Twilight Zone experience. Just like Memphis, the streets were deserted; the shops were either closed or closed down. It was a big disappointment. The streets signs were pretty, though. The first settlers found wild turkey roosting in the area and called the settlement Turkey Roost, which was shortened to Turkey. A wild turkey is this ghost town’s mascot.

We were excited to stop for lunch at this little cafe called Peanut Patch, which I’d read about in that magazine article. We didn’t have the exact address but in a town this size, with one main street, it wasn’t really necessary. We drove up and down until we found the building, only to find out that it now housed a local museum.

Follow along our West Texas road trip: Mineral Wells, Palo Pinto, Wichita Falls, Turkey, Matador. #roadtrip #Texas #travel
Turkey

Matador was a lovely surprise. This town is bigger than Turkey and more prosperous. It even has street lights and a grocery store! We checked in at the Matador Hotel. The 1914 building was lovingly restored by three sisters who are all retired school principals. One can imagine how efficiently the place is run. Their attention to detail, from the period furniture down to the chocolates on the pillows, is phenomenal.

One of the ladies recommended the Windmill Cafe in Roaring Springs for dinner. They do “Saturday night steak” from 5 till 9. We got there around 7. Just like in the old Westerns, as soon as we came in, the –mostly senior- clientele stopped chomping on their steaks or talking and looked up and stared at us.

Follow along our West Texas road trip: Mineral Wells, Palo Pinto, Wichita Falls, Turkey, Matador. #roadtrip #Texas #travel
Roaring Springs

To Sean’s chagrin, Motley is a dry county. We ordered rib eye steak. Words fail me to describe this flavoursome, buttery, tender, delicious steak. Hands down, the best I’ve had in Texas.

Thunder cracked and reverberated inside. Rain began to fall, softly at first and then with all its might. Everyone looked pleased and hopeful. We started chatting with our neighbours. They told us they hadn’t seen rain since July 2010. Many ranchers were selling off their livestock because they ran out of last year’s grass and couldn’t feed the animals. At least the price of beef is good. But they will have to start all over again next year, buy new cattle, and start bloodlines. Decades worth of hard work is lost in the worst drought since the 1950s.

 

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