As big as Texas

Tuesday 23 to Monday 29 April

It was another interesting drive along the Mississippi Delta (which is actually upstream from New Orleans, mostly along the border of Mississippi state with Louisiana and Arkansas). Our destination was Houston, 345miles (555km) – a long day. We arrived in Houston late in the afternoon and found our very ordinary Microtel. Actually, we were in Nassau Bay and we’d come to see the Johnson Space Centre.

Houston is huge, it is America’s 4th largest city and spreads for miles. We had no desire to explore this sprawling metropolis, so what we saw was very focussed.

Breakfast was a challenge – the motel was full, the breakfast area was tiny and the offerings were decanted lolly water and pre-wrapped pastries. We decided to give it a miss and explore other offerings on Google. We found la Madeleine café which served fresh pastries, fresh fruit salad, fresh orange juice, or Mimosa if you prefer bubbles with that, and good coffee. Many a mum was enjoying a bubbly orange juice after school drop off. Houston must be a sophisticated city!

Our motel was across the road from the Space Centre, an easy walk. The Space Centre told the story of America’s achievements in the Space race and how they finally overtook the USSR in hours, people, and of course landing on the moon.

We had visited the Kennedy Space Centre in Florida, so this was the other half of the story. Florida hosts the launches whereas Houston is the control centre. Its location was selected to secure the democratic vote in Lyndon Baines Johnson’s home state of Texas.

The focus of the exhibition was on celebrating the 50th anniversary of man landing on the moon. Unfortunately, that meant that the control centre was being revamped so it was just a Work In Progress.

Some of the highlights were the various Apollo rockets, or in some cases parts of them, as they were too large in their entirety, and the Space shuttle Independence which sits on top of the Boing 747 used to transport it. Size was amazing.

Once again, as in Florida, the pain of missing the opportunity to watch the moon landing 50 years ago came to the fore. My boss nominated me to be in charge of the computer I was operating, rather than join the rest of my colleagues in the board room to watch the live stream on TV. I don’t imagine he ever got to visit the real space centres.

We left Houston and drove one of the outer ring roads to skirt the city. It is an enormous place, but so is Texas.

Our next stop was Austin, the capital city of the state of Texas. It sits on the Colorado River of Texas.

There are two Colorado Rivers in the USA. The word colorado is Spanish for red or reddish-brown and describes the silt laden river. The best known Colorado River is raised in the state of Colorado and flows through the famous Grand Canyon and makes its way on the western side of the Rockies to the Gulf of California.

The Texas Colorado River is raised in the Llano Estacodo and flows south east before emptying into Matagorda Bay on the Gulf of Mexico. This river is totally contained within the state of Texas.

We arrived in time for Friday night drinkies in the historic Rainey Street precinct. It’s a quaint area of bungalow style homes, many built between the wars. They have been converted to bars and restaurants, specialising in craft beers and sustainable food. The vacant lots between the houses are full of food trucks.

Despite the sustainable nature of the precinct, most food was served on in-disposable polystyrene containers with plastic flatware. We did however find a real restaurant with real sustainable food on real crockery with real flatwear. We left just as the music was ramping up and the crowds were arriving.

Our walk on the Colorado River took us past The Contemporary Austin Museum Without Walls. I was amazed to see yet another installation of Ai Weiwei called Forever Bicycles.

His work alludes to the Forever brand of bicycles that flooded China’s streets during the artist’s childhood yet remained financially out of reach for many.

I have seen the same installation in Melbourne and also in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

Next morning we drove downtown to visit the Texas Capitol building and the beautiful gardens it is set in.

The granite and marble structure was built in 1888 and has a significant rotunda and dome plus chambers for the local parliament. This is Confederate territory and statues to Terry’s Texas Rangers of the Confederate Army and heroes of The Alamo were prominent.

There was a rather nice installation of the history of Texas from the Spanish Tejanos who were descended from the Spanish explorers in the 16th century, and the ongoing battle to declare Texas independent from Mexico. The state, north of the Rio Grande, was annexed by the United Stated in 1845.

Our next destination was San Antonio, but we detoured via Wildseed Farm near Fredericksburg which claims to be the largest working wildflower farm in the nation. It is also a tourist destination with fields of flowers to tour, a market centre for gifts and home décor, native plants and pottery.

It is poppy season and the walking track was a mass of reds mixed with yellows, blues and mauves of other flowers such as Californian poppies, BlueBonnet and Primrose. I’m always happy to stop and look at flowers, so this was a lovely treat.

We called into the small town of Fredericksburg for lunch. The town was named after Prince Frederick of Prussia and was founded in 1846 by German immigrants, who originally refused to learn English and created their own Texas German dialect. It was a pleasant town to walk around with wide streets and verandaed shops.

We arrived in San Antonio to be directed away from our B&B by road marshalls. It turns out we had arrived amidst another festival – this, the Fiesta San Antonio, honours the memory of the heroes of Los Alamos.

After negotiating luggage drop off we were directed to take our car to a nearby government car park, where they promised the car would be safe. We wandered along the River Walk which was full of revellers. Unsurprisingly we ended up at a craft brewery called The River’s Edge for dinner on the San Antonio River Walk.

Our accommodation was self catering, so we had bought enough goodies for breakfast, which turned out to be a good choice, as the main parade passed right under our window – we had a bird’s eye view. After the parade we wandered the local streets, where houses were decorated, and neighbours were enjoying front garden parties.

We returned to downtown San Antonio along the river walk. Barges were transporting the tourists around the waterway and some Crowned Night Herons were keeping watch.

The other most important attraction in San Antonio is Los Alamos.

We had come across the story of Father Miguel Hidalgo who called out to Mexicans to demand independence from Spain in 1810. Over the next two decades the battle for independence of Mexico from Spain continued

Antonio de Padua María Severino López de Santa Anna y Pérez de Lebrón, usually known as Santa Anna or López de Santa Anna, was a Mexican politician and general. In 1833 Santa Anna was elected president and in 1834 he led centralists and created new constitution for Mexico.

On 2 October 1835 the first shot of Texas revolution was fired from Alamo. Later, in December the battle of Béxar won Texas independence however in February 1836 Santa Anna brought 6,500 men to crush the Texas rebellion. On 6 March Alamo fell to Santa Anna. Santa Anna was captured in June 1836 in San Jacinto near Houston and ordered to leave Texas, leaving it as a state of the United States.

In honour of the brave men who fought at Los Alamos and San Jacinto, the very first Battle of Flowers parade took place in 1891, marking the beginning of Fiesta.

We wandered back to town, exhausted after a long day of sightseeing and stopped for a refreshing drink. We met a couple of jolly Americans, Hersh and Tim and enjoyed an interesting conversation with them. I doubt that they would remember us, or the conversation!

After all the festivities of the past 10 days it seemed that the town of San Antonio was exhausted and dinner was a quiet affair. We found Rosario’s Mexican Café and like the rest of town, made it an early night.

Most of our southern USA drive was on the Interstate 10. Our next planned destination was El Paso on the border of New Mexico state and Mexico, 552 miles (888km) distance. A little bit of research suggested an overnight stop at Fork Stockton. It was a flat desert drive, with little of interest en route. The knitting is coming along nicely.

We made a reconnoitre of Fort Stockton and found little of interest. It was hot and dry with the temperature reaching 81F (27C).

Cape Stockton was established in 1859 as a frontier fort outpost around Comanche Springs, one of the largest sources of spring water in Texas.

Irrigation farming developed in the area, but by the late 1950s the Comanche Springs was dry due to the pumping. Since the 1920s oil has driven the economy of the area and is in expansion mode. The town certainly didn’t show of any wealth, but we did love the rather cute road runner statue called Paisano Pete, by the railway line.

Following a recommendation from our host, we walked to K-Bob’s Steakhouse, probably one of the best steaks in all our travels through the USA, and a fun, barny sort of place.

Texas is big, very big. It is to the United States what our massive state of Western Australia is to Australia. Fiercely independent, with its own economy and its own way of doing things.

Our last stop in Texas was El Paso, another 240 mi (390 km) down the road. There were warnings about accommodation there, so I played it safe and booked the casino, which happens to be in New Mexico. That’s another story.