The state of Texas is like a country, I’ve heard. All of South Korea could fit inside Texas seven times. Isn’t it amazing? Well, even the tourism slogan of the state is “It’s like a whole other country”. During our Road Trip USA, I finally had a chance to visit this country-like state.
From the White Sands National Monument in New Mexico, we crossed the state border to Texas. Weirdly, and as expected, a lot of signs say “Texas” rather than “USA” as if we’re in a different country. The Texas state flag is on a lot of products, even on beer cans. My encounter with Texas was certainly unusual. We drove from west to east, visiting iconic and also unusual places. I thought it’d be fun to spend a summer in Texas, exploring every corner of this intriguing place. Someday, maybe I can make that idea into a solid plan; “My unusual summer in Texas”.
To taste some of the uniqueness, consider these six unusual places to visit in Texas this summer.
We drove to Texas from New Mexico through El Paso. After many years, this drive in El Paso is still vivid in my memory, because of the border wall between Mexico and the US. This border became a huge issue in American politics and immigration in recent years. We drove along the wall for quite some time on our way to Fort Davis. I remember the odd feeling while driving along the heavily guarded wall that divided two countries. We could see the other side through the border fence, just a few meters from where we were. Mexico was right there yet felt so far away. We didn’t stay in El Paso overnight but I’ve heard it found its ‘cool’ and there are many cheap hotels in El Paso tx. Might be a pleasant surprise to experience the cycling path, big parks, and local dining.
As an astronomy enthusiast, visiting observatories is always on my list of things to do on my travels. I’ve been to quite a few including some well-known ones, but I still have a lot to go. Some of the southern states in the US are popular for the star-gazing community due to their darkest nights, such as Arizona, Utah, and Texas. When in Texas, find Fort Davis, the home to McDonald Observatory. As the highest town in Texas, it’s a perfect place to host big telescopes not only for researches but also to inspire and educate the general public.
A research unit of The University of Texas at Austin, McDonald Observatory is one of the world’s leading astronomical research, teaching, and education centers. As you drive closer to Fort Davis, you can see the white domes atop of Mount Locke and Mount Fowlkes in the Davis Mountains. There are daytime tours, Star Parties, and Twilight Programs, but you would need to book ahead especially during the popular period.
Have you ever imagined that you can float on a tube in the middle of Texas? I certainly didn’t. The only time I’ve heard about such thing as tubing was from Laos. Thanks to the crystal clear 72-degree water of the San Marcos River, now you don’t have to travel all the way to Laos to float down a river on a tube. It was voted as one of the top 10 best rivers for tubing in the US by USA Today’s readers. The river is not just a recreational area, it also serves as home to many endangered species. There’s a lot of life in this river.
You can bring your own tube or rent one from the outdoor center at Texas State University. We floated down the clear water along with summer lovin’ Texans on a hot summer day. Even though I lost my sunglasses during all the fun, it was still a memorable afternoon.
There was a several-page spread in the Smithsonian Magazine “When Texas was at the Bottom of the Sea“. The highest mountain in Texas, Guadalupe Peak was a flourishing reef formed about 265 million years ago and is one of the best examples of an ancient reef anywhere. Charles Darwin once described corals, “We feel surprised when travelers tell us the vast dimension of the Pyramids and other great ruins, but how utterly insignificant are the greatest of these when compared to these mountains of stone accumulated by the agency of various minute and tender animals!” Now this national park offers extensive hiking and backpacking opportunities and three different ecosystems to explore. Look closely when you are on the peak; you can glimpse into the glorious days when this reef was home to rich marine life.
The fun never stops in Texas. There are some unusual towns and attractions in this state, and how can I not mention the Toilet Seat Art Museum in San Antonio. Master plumber Barney Smith painted and decorated the toilet seats and lids over the years. Made with more than 1,200 toilet seats, this museum is free and open by an appointment, so give him a call if you are staying at a hotel in San Antonio! If you want to be part of the collection, you can donate a seat and he will engrave your name on it as part of his art.
The locals say “Keep Austin Weird”. It was a slogan to promote local community-based businesses and it became an anthem to this state’s capital city. Austin is hip and funky and it is different from rest of Texas. It definitely feels like Austin is an independent world of its own. Catch their bat-set (yes, you guessed it right, bat during sunset), 1.5 million Mexican free-tailed bats flying out from under the Congress Bridge around sundown. Order a breakfast taco. Watch the world goes by, filled with the most interesting fashionistas. Enjoy the wide variety of international cuisine. Check out some cool and hip Austin hotels too.
For someone from a small country like South Korea, traveling in Texas was a wonder itself. Some part of the state was so flat, we actually got bored and sleepy just driving on the highway. On the other hand, its cities and nature are amazingly unique and colorful. Texas is definitely an independent piece of the world.
What else unique places do you know in Texas? Please, do share!