Texas is known as the “Lone-Star State” not only because it was once an independent nation from 1836 to 1845, but also because of the independent and self-confident spirit that persists in its people today. Texans, indeed, have earned a deserved reputation for being cowboys at heart. With their John Wayne swagger, their direct say-what-you-mean communicative style, and their aggressive and rebellious personalities, they may rub you the wrong way at times but they sure are an interesting bunch. Down-to-earth Texans wear their hearts on their sleeves; they are incredibly friendly, warm, and hospitable when you are on their good side, but will let you know unequivocally when they are unhappy with you. Their advertising slogan and now adopted cultural motto “Don’t Mess with Texas” rings true in every sense, and epitomizes the way Texans are and the way they live life.
Perhaps Texas’ geography has had something to do with the culture and personality of Texans. The Lone-Star State is largely a flat, vast frontier of dry land whose horizon is endless because it is featureless. This setting of open range requires the personalities of cowboys to conquer and tame. Not all of geographic Texas, however, is like this. While western Texas known as “Big Bend Country” is the typical stereotype of the Old West we’ve all formed from watching old western flicks – canyons, mountains, deserts – eastern Texas known as Piney Woods is fertile and the scene of productive plantations that grow rice, cotton, and sugar cane. In the north or Panhandle region, you’ll find llano estacado plains that are dominated by large ranches with irrigated farms. In the central “Prairies and Lakes” region, you’ll find scenic wildflowers along man-made lakes used for recreational boating and fishing. Southern Texas known as the “South Texas Plains”, on the other hand, is full of heritage border towns in the style of old Spanish missions that are populated by large groups of immigrants. In the southeast is the “Gulf Coast” region, which is semi-tropical in climate and lined with miles of sandy beaches along the Gulf of Mexico that are dotted with citrus groves. The southwest or “Hill Country” is much like New Mexico – vast canyons, hills and mountain ranges with peaks that reach more than 6,000 feet.
Picture Texas and you’ll think about country music, Old West saloons and dance halls, Tex-Mex BBQ, and cowboys reeling in cattlehorn. This image still exists, but the cowboy life has largely taken on a more urban form. Texas is not all agriculture, ranching, and big oil, but is actually home to large modern cities like Houston, San Antonio, Dallas, Fort Worth, and Austin that are increasingly focused on education and high-technology. Houston, Dallas, and Fort Worth in particular are stocked with state-of-the-art architecture, world-class museums and a growing cultural arts scene. Austin is known as the “Live Music Capital of the World” with its young hippie musicians. And Houston has long been the mission control home of NASA. While still cowboy-like in spirit and largely conservative politically, the Texas of today is very modern, progressive, and artistically oriented. Be warned, however, that they also worship their sports, especially football.
Prior to the arrival of Europeans, Texas was roamed by Native American tribes such as the Apache, Cherokee, Comanche, Atakapan, and Wichita, among others. Today, only the Kickapoo, Ysleta Del Sur Pueblo, and Alabama-Coushatta tribes live in Texas. The first European to explore the area was Alonzo Alvarez de Pineda in 1519, and he immediately claimed Texas for Spain. However, the Spanish failed to establish any settlement. The French took advantage of this by establishing Fort St. Louis in 1685 and then claiming most of Texas. To enforce its claim, Spain returned to set up colonies as well. With the Louisiana Purchase in 1803 and the Mexican independence from Spain in 1821, both the French and Spanish lost their claim to Texas. In 1835, Texas was displeased with Mexican rule and revolted under the leadership of General Sam Houston. The revolutionary war featured the famous Battle of the Alamo near present-day San Antonio. The Texans lost the battle but stalled Santa Ana’s army long enough for General Sam Houston to regroup and resupply. After finally defeating the Mexican Army in 1836, Texas became an independent country, and remained so until 1845 when it agreed to be annexed by the United States.
The main tourist attractions in Texas are found in its main cities: Dallas, San Antonio, Houston, Austin, and Fort Worth. In San Antonio, expect a historical experience centered around the Alamo, which was the site of the famous Battle of the Alamo. Other historic sites like the San Antonio Missions National Park and the Casa Navarro State Historical Park will allow you to revisit the early days of the Spanish missions and the days under the rule of the Mexican Republic. Fort Worth takes you back to the days of the cowboys. The town retains much of its Old West character and look. Houston offers both historic museums retracing the battles between the Mexican Republic and the Texans under General Sam Houston as well as science-based museums related to U.S. space exploration like the Space Center Houston. Dallas provides probably the most cosmopolitan and metropolitan experience – you’ll find world-class museums and shops there mixed in with interesting historic sites like the old Texas Book Depository where Lee Harvey Oswald shot President John F. Kennedy. Austin, on the other hand, is an eccentric, off-the-wall destination. Home of thousands of students including many hippies and self-described “weirdos”, Austin provides a rich encounter with music and the arts. The city hosts numerous festivals and music concerts, and presents just as many theatre and film productions.
Texas’ natural attractions include the Big Bend National Park, lined with hiking trails that take you through rock formations, scenic canyons, mountains and river valleys, and majestic waterfalls, which all serve as the home of over 600 different animals and birds and 1200 different flower species. You’ll be able to spot mountain lions, black bears, warblers, flycatchers, and a rich tapestry of yucca, bluebonnets, and various cacti. For dramatic canyons, you should visit Palo Duro Canyon state park and the Caprock Canyons. To enjoy lakeside recreational activities like swimming, fishing, boating, and camping, you should visit the Lake Meredith National Recreational Area and its 10,000 acre reservoir lake near Amarillo or the Amistad National Recreational Area near Del Rio. Hikers will enjoy the numerous canyon trails at Guadalupe Mountains National Park while mountain climbers might want to consider climbing the Guadalupe Peak, Texas’ highest point at 8,750 feet.