Have you ever been to Texas? It is a favorite destination for tourists each year. I can give you a small tour so you can get an idea of what to do, and how to make sense out of such a big place.
The first view of Texas should be to stand back and look at the whole map. The state divides into regions. Let’s start at Texarkana, on the border of Texas and Arkansas. That is East Texas (Piney Woods). It extends all the way to Greenville, Texas just east of Dallas. It extends south until you come into the Houston area. There is a large statue of Sam Houston (photo) on the interstate road. From there south you are in the Coastal Basin of Texas. That area runs down the coast until you get to Brownsville, at the southern tip of Texas.
From there, you move northwestern along the Rio Grande and that would be the southern border of Texas. That area is pretty flat and good for growing produce. That area is called the South Texas Plains on the map above, but Texans refer to that area as The Valley. The towns along the Rio Grande are ports of entry from Mexico. It is a very unique culture there, different than anywhere in Texas, and most certainly anywhere in the U.S. In the summer, it is very hot. The men usually wear a guayabera shirt.
About ninety miles north of Del Rio, you will enter San Antonio. This town is famous for the Alamo and also the River Walk; a unique destination filled with shopping, restaurants and hotels build around an old city river that runs through the middle of town. On the north side of San Antonio you enter Hill Country; the mid-section of Texas. The capitol of Texas is Austin, just an hour north of San Antonio. That area consists of rolling hills and farmland. It is very scenic.
From Austin, heading north for 3.5 hours, you will arrive in the area named Prairies and Lakes. This isn’t the name I would use. The prairie begins in Fort Worth and heads west, and the lakes are located north and south of Dallas. Dallas and Fort Worth are not twin cities. They are close, but there are a few large cities in between. The whole are is called the DFW Metroplex. Few people like that name, but no one has come up with a better one. Dallas and Fort Worth have completely different soil. Fort Worth is the easternmost city of West Texas. Dallas is the westernmost city of East Texas. The soil in the Dallas area is good for farming. The soil in the Fort Worth area is good for pastures. As you drive from Dallas west beyond Fort Worth, you will notice distinct changes in vegetation as the terrain eventually gives way to miles and miles of prairie land.
As you move west about 3 hours, you end up in West Texas, which is referred to as The Panhandle Plains in the map above. The Panhandle is really Amarillo. There will be real cowboys up there! Lubbock is a University Town, but they have some cowboys there too. Head west and you arrive at Midland/Odessa. Midland is a white-collar town. Odessa (also known as Odeatha because of the heat) is predominantly blue-collar.
If you drive 3 more hours west, you will end up in El Paso, a hilly region that culminates in a small mountain range that provides a mountain pass into New Mexico. It is also a port of entry in Mexico. The contrast between the two cities is remarkable.
If you had gone south at Midland instead of west, you would have ended up in Big Bend Country. This is the most desolate part of the state, but it receives a lot of attention because of its beauty. You can view some photos at this link.
The Cities of Texas
Most people live in four cities in Texas which fall on the line of a triangle. From Houston head west 3 hours to San Antonio; head north to Austin and proceed to Dallas/Fort Worth. Highway 45 takes you back to Houston. Here are my personal recommendations for visiting Texas.
Houston – This city is a mess. It is unbearably hot and humid in the summer. The traffic is incredibly bad. When it rains, the water collects on the roadway quickly making traffic grind to a halt. Planning and Zoning is cryptic. Large office buildings are adjacent to housing. The people are in a hurry. Be careful. A lot of people have nice things to say about Houston. I am not one of them.
Dallas – This is one big bedroom community surrounding a modern downtown area. Traffic is much better. The people are friendly and generally happy. There are a few sites to see, but for the most part, it is just a giant suburb. Recommended for its shopping and restaurants.
Fort Worth – I like this city because of its preservation of the Texas culture. Shopping in the downtown area is convenient, quaint and a nice contrast from Dallas. You’ll see some wealthy cowboys here and there in Fort Worth. The suburbs are not as nice as what you will find in Dallas, but the people are Texas-friendly. A worthwhile destination.
Austin – If you get to Austin, and you can survive the traffic, then there is a lot to see. Sixth Street is a big attraction for local music. The University of Texas is there. Austin prides itself on its “weirdness”. On my several visits I have seen things I do not want to see again. One was a guy with a beard wearing a mini-skirt. Another was an 80 year old man who entertained on the street dressed in a thong while standing in a child’s wading pool. The rumor on the street was that he made a ton of money in tips each night. Austin is a recommended destination.
Best Time to Visit
Texas is at its best from April to mid-June. The temperatures are pleasant. The wild flowers are in bloom, and you will increase your chances of experiencing on of our marvelous thunderstorms. From the end of June to mid-September you risk being in temperatures that exceed 100 degrees. At night, the temperature dips down to 90. If you are unsure if you would like that kind of heat, there is a test you can perform. Pre-heat your oven to 325 degrees. Open the door and put your face right down in it, like you were checking to see if something was done cooking. If that is a pleasant experience for you, then head to Texas in August. Otherwise, visit from April to June.
September to December is temperate, but we do not have much of a fall season. By that time, the foliage is pretty tired. It’s not a bad time of the year; it’s just not the best time. We get cold rain from December to late February. It usually snows one day in February. The freeze date for planting (in Dallas) is March 15th usually, then the spring rains come: about six weeks of powerful, tornado and hail producing thunderstorms. That might not be for you. I love the storms, but they can be intimidating for visitors.
You can plan a trip that takes you to some of the smaller cities in Texas. The most efficient use of your vacation time will be spent vacationing in the San Antonio/Austin area of the state. There is easier access to more sites in that area.
A Word About Immigration
If you have strong feelings about illegal immigrants, Hispanics, Mexicans, or the Mexican culture, you would probably do well to keep your opinions secret while you are in Texas. There is very little racial prejudice in Texas. We would like to keep it that way. Keep in mind, San Antonio was founded as a city of Mexico about 500 years before any white settler arrived. Our children are taught to “Remember the Alamo”, but in Mexico that attack is referred to in textbooks as the “Invasion of North America”. No one is sore about the fact that we invaded and took some their country from them, but if you feel inclined to ask people “What part of Mexico are you from?” just because they speak Spanish, be prepared to hear a kind reply, “We were here first.”
Spanish-speaking Americans, who are of Hispanic descent (legal and illegal) are some of the nicest people you will ever meet. I am not a fan of deportation, and I do not mind saying so. I might be in favor of deporting some stupid, redneck, white people if there was a way to round them all up and get rid of them in one fell swoop. The trouble with that is there is no country on Earth that is looking for more rednecks. We already have our fair share in Texas, and we aren’t looking for any more. If you visit, mind your manners.