THE OPEN ROAD — Well, not exactly. Traffic is stacked up as far as the eye can see, which in some parts of Texas is not very far. On a clear day you can see your shoes. But “sumer is icumen in,” as they say in Uvalde, and we need to start making our vacation plans. Yes, the better spots are already booked solid, but that’s what happens when we procrastinate. I’ll take down my Christmas tree shortly. Let’s go on a car trip around Texas. We don’t need a pat-down by airport guards, no metal detectors, not even surly and overworked flight attendants ordering us to put out that cigar.
In no particular order, here are some suggestions for the less touristy, less crowded Texas vacation delights. Like Waco. Yes, Waco. Don’t you want to visit the town where Steve Martin was born? There’s a great Texas Rangers museum, although they seem to be short of bats and balls. Maybe it’s the other kind of Ranger. Visit the Texas Sports Hall of Fame, which probably has guns and badges. The first suspension bridge in the United States was the Waco Bridge. Built in 1870 and still in use today as a pedestrian crossing of the Brazos River.
Drive to Cisco where Conrad Hilton bought his very first hotel, the Mobley. He later moved on to other West Texas towns. Hilton observed, “At Lubbock I found that Texas had no use for an imported French chef.” The Tyler Municipal Rose Garden is the world’s largest rose garden. It contains 38,000 rose bushes representing 500 varieties of roses set in a 22-acre garden. The city of Slaughter, Texas, has never had a homicide. Pass it on. Tired of driving? The world’s largest parking lot is located at D/FW Airport. The Dallas TV drama series ran from 1978 to 1991, and has been dubbed into 67 languages and broadcast into more than 90 countries. It was filmed on location at the Cloyce Box Ranch in Frisco, outside of Dallas. Go shoot JR. We’re in a drought, but from July 24 to 26, 1979, hurricane Claudette dropped 45 inches of rainfall near Alvin, which caused more than $60 in losses. (Old joke.) This volume of 43 inches is a record in the country in terms of precipitation spanning 24 hours.
You may want to visit Austin. There you must see the word’s first photograph. Just think, there have been billions of photographs taken, but one of them was the first. It was shot by Nicephore Niepce of France in 1826. The photo is now on the UT-Austin campus. You own it. Go see it. While on the 40 Acres, check out the Gutenberg Bible. Well, “check out” in the figurative sense, not the literal. Librarians are so possessive. Elsewhere around Austin, visit the usual spots like the State Capitol, but not during the day when gawking tourists come to visit their money. Do it at night.The dome of the building stands seven feet higher than that of the nation’s Capitol in Washington, D.C. It’s beautiful. Texan Rogers Hornsby is buried at Hornsby Bend near Austin. He was the best batter in the history of baseball. In 1924 he hit .424 and had a lifetime average of .358. Both records still stand.
We have mentioned some of these places before, but you still haven’t visited them, so this is a reminder. Moving on, let’s say you want to visit some Texas battlefields. Start with the bloodiest battle in Texas. No, not San Jacinto nor the Alamo. The little-known battle of Medina was fought 20 miles south of San Antonio on Aug. 18, 1813, between 1,400 rebels made up of Americans, Tejanos, Indians and former royalists, against 1,830 Spanish army troopsincluding Lt. Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna. The rebels were massacred and their bodies left there for nine years. So bring a metal detector. If you’re outside Brownsville, visit the site of the Battle of Palmito Ranch. It was the last land battle of the Civil War, more than a month after Lee had surrendered at Appomattox. The Confederates won.
El Paso: Debbie Reynolds and Justice Sandra Day O’Conner were born here. John Wesley Hardin was killed here. His grave isn’t much. While in West Texas, drop by Loving County, the least populated county in the nation. In January 2010, the census found only 40 people of voting age, but officials reported 105 registered voters. In the 2012 election, Romney received 54 votes to Obama’s nine. High Island: The grave of Charles Cronea, a cabin boy with Jean Lafitte’s pirates who stayed behind, as, reportedly, did much of the buried loot. Use that metal detector.
As you go zipping along the road, don’t forget to check out those red, white and blue interstate highway signs which are not only in Texas but all over the nation. They were designed by Richard Oliver, a traffic engineer with the (then) Texas Highway Department. The feds made one change: Oliver’s version was black and white. There are more than 70,000 miles of highway in Texas, of which 40,985 are paved farm and ranch roads. The unpaved roads are in Houston. TxDOT uses 1.6 million gallons of white and yellow paint each year to paint stripes along its highways.
Other stops to make: the city of Marble Falls, which was laid out by a blind man. Real County, where in 1924 Warren Pruett’s hardware store was hit by an airplane. The pilot was Charles Lindbergh. The oldest tree in Texas is a seaward evergreen oak tree situated close to Fulton. It’s thought to be more than 1,500 years old. Don’t carve your initials in it. So head out, with maps, native guide (me), ice chest and several CDs by Willie Nelson including “On the Road Again.” If it seems a long way from here to there, just remember Jeff Foxworthy’s observation: If you measure distance in hours, you may live in Texas.
Ashby travels at firstname.lastname@example.org