After spending almost four months in Texas, longer than we have ever spent in any other state besides our own, it’s time to reflect on our experiences here. We’ll start with the positive stuff:
Texas is a great state for campers. Northeastern states have precious little real estate for campgrounds, but that’s clearly not a problem here. While we didn’t make it to all 134 of the state parks in Texas, we made good use of the annual park pass, which also gave us coupons for free nights of camping. Without exception the state parks here have been impressive places to visit and great places to camp. Sites were spacious and came with many amenities that we do not take for granted at public facilities. Golf courses and swimming pools were common. Booking on line was efficient and changing our minds after we had made a reservation was also easy. Every state has budget issues these days and we appreciated how well staffed and kept up the parks were. Both families and geezers can find something to love at Texas state parks.
Texas has a wonderful road system. Once we learned that every expressway has frontage (usually one way) roads, we were able to navigate efficiently wherever in the state we were. Because the state is so large, many areas do not have expressways, but four lane divided highways are common and good enough to handle the traffic in the less densely populated areas. Because ice and snow are rarities especially in the south where we spent the most time, the roads are smooth and not pocked with pot holes as our highways are. When we are traveling to unfamiliar areas, we try to choose major highways whenever possible, which means avoiding highways with three and four digit numbers. But even those roads, which are usually called FM (farm to market) or RR (ranch road) were spacious enough for the motor home. Even small roads had picnic areas where vehicles as large as we could stop for lunch or a rest break. The rest areas on the interstates offer free WiFi - another benefit travelers appreciate.
While you can find every chain and franchise restaurant that is available all over the US, Texas has a food culture that is truly unique. The brisket and BBQ were outstanding and the TexMex food, while often imitated in other parts of the country, is never duplicated. We can easily imagine that a Texan living in another state would get very homesick for food from here.
We love the beach and the Gulf Coast of Texas has many beautiful ones as well as wildlife viewing areas. The fact that we also saw so many huge industrial complexes on the coast took away from our enjoyment. Maybe they needed to be there; we don’t know for sure. But there are plenty of ugly, flat, deserty places in Texas where the jobs connected with them would be appreciated and there is much less wildlife and beauty to disturb.
Which leads us to some caveats:
Because Texas is so large, we saw a huge variety of scenery. But a lot of it was as boring as the cornfields at home. Inevitably we would read the guide books and tourist brochures and end up feeling somewhat disappointed. Texas suffers from hyperbole; everything is not bigger and better in Texas and even if it is big, that doesn’t make it better. It’s hard for Texas to live up to its own hype. We met a professional photographer at a street fair, who put into words the feelings that we had. “Texans don’t believe their own advertising either. When they go on vacation, they go to New Mexico or Colorado. I never bring photographs taken in Texas to Texas. They wouldn’t buy them.”
For example, the tourist brochures had us breathless with anticipation when we arrived in Big Bend country in West Texas. The national park was very nice, but doesn’t hold a candle to the somewhat similar red rock country of southern Utah. People levitated with excitement describing the beauties of the Hill Country. It’s a nice area and the blooming flowers made it special, but the similarly named Black Hills of South Dakota are much more striking.
We couldn’t believe it when Houston boasted that it had the second largest theatre area after New York City. When we received clarification that this statistic referred to the number of theatre seats in the theatre district, we sat down and counted the seats in the theaters in Chicago within walking distance of one another. No contest! When we read that the wine trail in the Hill Country was the second most popular in the country after Napa/Sonoma, our anticipation did not live up to the hype. We have been to a number of other vineyard areas, which were easily as nice and as well loved by tourists. Both Dallas and Houston boasted about their architecture, especially skyscrapers. We found them nice, but unremarkable. Older east coast cities have much more to boast about in that regard. And so on...
So, perhaps it sounds like we are sorry that we came here - not at all. We simply wish that Texans would tone down the rhetoric, ease up a bit and let us enjoy this huge state without the hoopla. If we hadn’t been expecting much too much, we would have been much more impressed.