Surprised at the title? Texas is all about oil, longhorns (the animal and the university mascot), cowboys (those who herd the animals and those who play football), bluebells and yellow roses. Neiman Marcus in Dallas, San Antonio Riverwalk, Austin 6th Street, Big Tex at the State Fair, Lyndon B. Johnson … Don’t Mess with Texas.
My first impression of Texas was orange juice served in a glass shaped like a boot, in Amarillo, 1983. I swear it was this place, which has a stage for all those brave souls attempting to eat a 72-ounce steak (with fixins) in 60 minutes. When I was stationed in Corpus Christi in 1999, there was a Selena-themed night club. Apparently Planet Luna has faded –night clubs aren’t known for their longevity– but Selena’s memorial remains. We once drove to San Antonio to attend a bar that had not only a room devoted solely to two-step but also an indoor rodeo –all replete with Shiner Bock and Lone Star.
What could be more Texas than the above?
Lone Star Brewery now identifies as an art museum with a gallery of Latin American folk art donated by Nelson A. Rockefeller, a Meso-American collection as well as a nice once-over-the-world, from Cycladian figures to an anatomically correct woven pig.
Texas is also the ocean: Flower Garden Banks and barrier islands, where you can glamp in a yurt walking distance from the Gulf of Mexico. Port Aransas is one of the few places that allows driving and tent camping on the beach. If you want to make a career of the ocean, Texas A&M leads the world in nautical archaeology.
Inland, Texas is part of the Central Flyway and the only nesting ground of the golden-cheeked warbler and black and white vireo. Texas is flat, yes, until you hike back out of Palo Duro Canyon, which is a bit less flat than the south rim of Big Bend.
Big Bend National Park offers a very unusual border crossing to the town of Boquillas –an international port of entry actually inside the park, manned by Park Service personnel rather than immigration officers. Once you pass through the control point, you walk down to the Rio Grande and wave to the folks on the south side. A riverman then ferries you to Mexico in a rowboat.
Texas is also not a binary of Mexican and Anglo. The middle of Europe relocated to the middle of Texas as early as 1848. The language that has the third most speakers in the state of Texas … is Czech. Texas is as much kolache as chicken fried steak. If you are ever wandering the length of I-10 between Flatonia and Houston, you can visit the Czech heritage society and see an exact replica of a chandelier from the castle in Prague. (As a somewhat humorous side note, the abbreviation of the Czech heritage society is TCHCC –try pronouncing it). German settlers in Fredericksburg produced WWII era Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz.
But back to the Moorish influence.
What if I told you … the Moorish-style building pictured here is a Catholic Church in suburban San Antonio? It took Spain centuries to push out the Moors, during which time their culture contributed to language and architecture. If you don’t believe me, check out Mission Conception, just a few miles away from the better known Mission San Antonio de Valero.
So there is a bit of the Middle East right in the heart of Texas, alongside Czechs and Comanches, bird sanctuaries and barrier islands. History is richer and more varied than you would think.
What DO you think about this blog so far? I can only say so much in 800 words, so I’ve been trying to focus on the little known, unexpected and the out of the way.
What does your Texas look like?
In the winter of 1983, I visited the Gateway Arch in St. Louis. Mo. First impressions of the Show-Me State included broiling in my purple snowmobile suit and Moon Boots, riding an elevator the size of a ammo can, and being too short to see out the window. Thankfully, future experiences of Missouri were much improved.
Did you know Missouri offers scuba in a flooded lead mine, the largest WWI museum in the nation, and more fountains than Rome?
Fountains, trains, World War I, T.S. Eliot, Al Capone, and the Jazz Age have something in common: Kansas City, Missouri (KCMO).
KCMO reportedly has more fountains than Rome. Maybe that is where Eliot got his imagery of the pool filled with water out of sunlight? Before the fountains came the wagons; in the 1800s, this was the jump off point for the Santa Fe, Oregon, and California Trails. No covered wagons these days, but there good chuck at Arthur Bryant’s BBQ.
I would be here till the cows came home if I tried to relate all the tales of gangsters, locomotives, poets and saxophones, so I provided links. The one thing I do want to mention is the World War I Museum, as the War That Didn’t End Any Wars, Actually began 100 years ago this past week. The official WWI museum of the US, it has a gripping visual of the cost of war. You enter the lobby over a vast field of poppies … and a sign explains that each flower represents 1,000 dead.
If you don’t like cities but do like breathing underwater … Missouri offers Bonne Terre Mine. Caveat emptor: the owners have a monopoly on dive sites in St. Francois County, so the costs are high. (Apparently abandoned lead mines flooded with a billion gallons of vodka-clear water don’t pop up on Zillow just every day.)
Diving Bonne Terre Mine is like flying through the Mines of Moria, with fewer goblins. Tracks and equipment sit visibly rusting between hand-chipped pillars 60 feet tall. Get there the day before and take the narrated boat tour; the mine’s century of operation includes underground mules and an entire submerged city (still there and diveable if you have your cave rating). And you can pick up your dive gear at Diver’s Equipment and Repair back in KCMO [insert shameless plug for the best dive shop in the Midwest].
I will just briefly touch on the Cave Restaurant, since it has closed. This was a neat little place where you could dine underground. Average food, but it was a fun evening and close to Fort Leonard Wood.
And the story behind “Show Me?” After years of befuddlement, I did finally get the 411 on its mysterious state motto: apparently it comes from a 118-year-old political speech.
“I come from a state that raises corn and cotton and cockleburs and Democrats, and frothy eloquence neither convinces nor satisfies me. I am from Missouri. You have got to show me.” Perhaps he was decrying 1899’s version of fake news? Maine attacked in Havana last year?
One more in memory of the Cave Restaurant in Pulaski County. It now lives only in legend and song. But you can still swing by Lost in the Woods and check out the U.S. Army Military Police Museum. Of the troops, for the troops … ticket the troops going 29 in a 25 through a NON housing area on Fort Leavenworth that SHOULD have been 35. Not that I’m holding onto that or anything.
Next up … Texas! There’s so much more than the two options provided by Gunny Hartman.
So I am going to have to admit a deep level of ignorance on the Land of Lincoln. Why is it state #4 then? Because I am writing about the states in the order I visited them. My dad, brother and I drove from Michigan to California in 1983, but my first memory of the trip is the St. Louis Arch. Google Maps tells me that we must have driven through Illinois. Unfortunately, my first impressions of winter car travel in Illinois were the same as in Michigan –black snow lace heaped on the side of the roads, growling salt trucks, sodium light orange haze.
My Illinois at this point is O’Hare and Midway airports, high school senior class trip, a beautiful wedding in Chicago, and fish unseen.
My high school class visited Chicago for the inevitable senior year trip. I think the school didn’t want to figure out how to get everyone on an airplane and go to Orlando or some other be-palm-treed location, so we chartered a bus to Chicago. At some point we must have enjoyed a deep dish pie and popcorn. We visited the Hard Rock Cafe‘s popular franchise, where the hamburgers were tepid and no one could figure out the proper tip. And you can tell from the photographic evidence that I (and the rest of the assembled company) were rocking the 90s hair.
My next trip to Chicago was for a wedding in 2005. A bunch of college friends stayed in this cool little BnB, which is still going strong. It was like living in an attic: always another personal artifact, out of print book, abandoned lares and penates and other household gods to discover. The omelettes were delicious. And the couple is still happily married. The BnB’s household gods apparently had good omens.
Historical facts? Just two, one personal and one unusual. In World War II, Northwestern University opened a training unit at Abbott Hall, where my grandfather earned his Navy commission. Second, Illinois, not Utah, is the home of the Mormons. There was even an actual battle, in a town called Nauvoo, which sounds like it should be a planet on Star Wars.
Illinois requires more investigation from the staff of this blog. I will confess that I have not even visited Shedd Aquarium, but I have plans to amend this situation in October.
What is your Illinois?
Next up: Missouri, the Show Me State. Show me what, exactly?
Even though Indiana borders Michigan, where I grew up and was educated (such as they could make stick) –I haven’t actually visited for any length of time. So today I offer my distinguished readerships some facts and two personal anecdotes.
Indiana is known in movies for basketball and football triumphs, cue “Hoosiers” and “Rudy.” Though only one President (Benjamin Harrison) called Indiana home, the state has produced six Vice Presidents. In Indiana, Lewis met Clark. Like Michigan, it has beautiful dunes. It also has a state poem, which I find to be a nice touch, especially as only four other states bothered to acquire one.
For military historians, Camp Atterbury housed 3,000 Italian POWs in WWII, who painted a beautiful chapel. Indiana limestone was used to construct the Pentagon. Twice in 60 years. Indianapolis is home to the headquarters of the American Legion. I joined the American Legion in 2013, across the nation at the Hollywood Post 43 –and had a small world moment. On the wall hung a picture of my Great-Grandfather Kelly from Michigan. He was a WWI and WWII vet and had been the national commander of the American Legion in 1939-40. His picture had hung there for seven decades, apparently just waiting for me to take a happy snap. (Of course I obliged.)
Back in Indiana, both great-grandpa and his son Grandpa Kelly were proud Notre Dame grads, so occasionally the family would drive to South Bend to watch football games. Touchdown Jesus gave the home team an advantage sometimes. But what struck me about this beautiful campus was the Grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes.
It was probably here where my fascination with sacred places began, places of peace and places of power. Grottoes are carved by water springing from limestone. Across cultures, water and the underground link us to other worlds; the Oracle at Delphi was connected to a spring, and the original grotto actually at Lourdes is believed to have healing powers. (Grottoes are also difficult to research using Google, as apparently one figures highly in a video game called “The Elder Scrolls.” It is unclear if either Apollo, or Our Lady figure in, although according to the Wiki, both Spriggan Sprites and Falestini Peepers play crucial roles.)
Final note… Indianapolis Opera. And you thought this post was going to be about agriculture and rusting industrial cities … admit it …