Texas. It’s a whole ’nother country.
I believe the above statement, or catchphrase, to be true. I speak as a frequent visitor to the Lone Star State, and also as a former resident.
My first college teaching job was at Sam Houston State University in Huntsville, Texas. Huntsville is a very interesting east Texas town in that it is the home to a university and a number of penitentiaries. Every morning a klaxon sounds as the various prisons initiate an inmate count, and if all are found, a second klaxon rings to indicate a completed count. I don’t know if they still do this, but that was how the place worked back in the 1970s.
Sam Houston State is a beautiful old campus and they used to have a dog that was the campus mascot. It had three legs and they called it Tripod. I know this because the famous band composer Fisher Tull wrote a whimsical band piece about the local canine celebrity, in, you guessed it, three quarter time.
I tell you pardners, the place is huge. Recent, way cool democratic senatorial candidate Beto O’Rourke went by automobile to all 254 counties in his unsuccessful bid to unseat the newly hirsute Senator Ted Cruz. I suppose that would give one a 21st century version of saddle sores!
On a recent trip back east, the bride and I traveled eastwards across the top of Texas and stopped for pulled pork barbecue in Amarillo. Amarillo is the home of the “Big Texan” restaurant where if you consume a 72 oz. steak in a specified time frame, it’s yours for free. I’ve eaten there, but did not enter the competition.
Upon our return to The Land of Enchantment, we elected to travel mostly two lane roads northwest from the Houston area and into the Hill Country near Austin. It was long but glorious travel.
Using a cabin rental company, we secured a reservation on a delightful ranch approximately 45 miles west of Austin. We never saw the owners due to gate locks that featured combinations and private, crystal clear directions. Three magnificent horses greeted us to my complete delight. We watched the sunset from the front porch of our cozy ranch cabin as hawks and crows rode thermals above a cedar tree-lined pathway.
There are a number of reasons to visit Austin, Texas. It is a major film business hub, and its music scene is legendary. Thousands descend upon the city for the annual South By Southwest Festival in which filmmakers, musicians and game designers gather into a gigantic artistic confab.
However, our game plan consisted of one word: barbecue. Texas is noted for its hole-in-the-wall barbecue joints, and Austin is dotted with establishments that land regular spots on network travel and food shows.
The most famous, Franklin’s, was an immediate no-go. True barbecue lovers had camped out the night before, and the line stretched around the block. We went to plan B and struck barbecue gold in a place called Micklethwait’s. This place, on an open lot, had a number of barbecue faithful in place, but we quickly presented ourselves at the window of a converted van and ordered plates.
My bride summed it up as she took her first bite of smoky brisket. “I don’t know what to say,” she stammered. I looked around the joint and patrons were huddled over their plates like priests in deep prayer. If Franklin’s is better, then I can’t imagine. But I have a huge imagination.
The Hill Country west of Austin is a high net-worth neighborhood. The tech giants of the Austin scene have pitched imposing mansions overlooking the Pedernales River and other scenic vistas. Boutique furniture design firms dot the Texas Ranch Road network.
We continued our journey toward Lubbock and passed large cattle ranches whose gates must cost as much as my entire home here in New Mexico. Almost all sported flagpoles with the American flag in place alongside the Texas State Flag. It’s a whole ‘nother country.
The hills and flat cactus slowly gave way to the vast American plains and we stared at vistas so grand that they ended in mirages made famous by thirsty pioneers from the 1800s.
As we drove into the tiny village of Fort Sumner, New Mexico, a state sign caught our eyes. The grave of Billy the Kid was a mere two miles off State Highway 84. We had to.
On a breezy Sunday morning, we were the only visitors to the famous William Bonney’s final resting place. The actual tombstone is pretty small and is heavily braced into concrete due to its history of being stolen by various ne’er-do-wells. At the base of the tombstone, a pilgrim had placed an empty Jose Cuervo bottle in tribute.
It was at Fort Sumner, New Mexico, that U.S. forces, led by Kit Carson, interned the core of the Navajo Nation. The journey to this barren location is known by the Navajo nation as the “Long Walk.” They were expected to become farmers despite the fact that sheep herding had been their way of life for generations, and also despite the rancid water, lack of firewood and poor soil. Children and elderly died as their leaders’ pleas for mercy fell on deaf ears.
The U.S. government eventually declared the whole imprisonment of the Navajos a failure, and the weakened but not defeated nation was allowed to return to their more familiar lands. Fort Sumner is no more except for a tiny village nearby with the same name.
Perhaps history does repeat itself. The “Eyes of Texas” are upon you.