50 Things Every Texan Should Do

Have you hiked to Big Bend’s South Rim? Seen whooping cranes on the coast? Read Travis’ “never surrender” letter while inside the Alamo?

March 2001By and Comments

The more Texas changes, the more it stays the same. No matter how rapidly drawl-free newcomers pour into the state or how greatly computer geeks outnumber cattlemen and cotton farmers, an essential core of Texanness will always remain. No dilution of the native population could make the Alamo dull, the oil well trite, or the cowboy uncool. Thus, to enlighten novices and entertain veterans, we offer this checklist of fifty things every Texan should do—“should” not in the sense of “have to do ‘em all” but of “if only you could.” To compile it, we waded through hundreds of ideas, from the obvious (drive the 850 miles from Orange, on the Louisiana border, to Anthony, at the New Mexico state line) to the controversial (stand outside the Walls Unit in Huntsville and voice your opinion of the death penalty) to the downright goofy (get breast implants in Houston). The final culling represents a survey course in the state’s history, myth, sights, and sensibilities. More than a travelog, beyond boosterism, it’s a patchwork of adventures and advice that reflects the fabric of Texas, our Texas.

1. Read William Barret Travis’ famous letter of February 24, 1836, while inside the Alamo. At once impassioned and fatalistic, this 165-year-old missive captures the intractability and pride of Texas’ freedom fighters. “When you read the letter,” says Austin’s Stephen Harrigan, the author of the novel The Gates of the Alamo, “remember it was written by a twenty-six-year-old. Travis was untested, and he had a lot to prove—he was hoping to make his career and his reputation, if he survived. It has a youthful bravado to it, even a certain bombast. But it does deserve its place in the pantheon of great American epistolary literature.” a.d.

2. Raft down the Rio Grande through Big Bend’s Santa Elena Canyon. You’ll scramble for adjectives—glorious, majestic, breathtaking—but even a whole boatload of words can’t do justice to the panorama of sheer cliffs, sparkling water, and blue sky. Your most lasting souvenir of the journey will be the feeling of timelessness—seeing the same staggering vistas that ancient tribesmen viewed and venerated centuries ago. Says singer-songwriter Steve Fromholz of Austin, who has floated down the river some two hundred times: “Santa Elena is called the Grand Canyon of the Rio Grande, and you can’t see the canyon any other way than from the water—you just can’t get there. There are fifteen-hundred-foot cliffs on the Mexican side, and in some places the canyon is so narrow you can reach out and touch the rock on both sides. It’s like stepping back eight hundred, maybe twelve hundred years in time.” a.d.

3. Pick your own piece of meat from the giant pit at Cooper’s Old Time Pit Bar-B-Q in Llano. (Herbivores may skip to our next entry.)This regionally renowned meatery is a longtime favorite of such tall Texans as President George W. Bush. Follow the smell of woodsmoke and the parade of pickups downtown to 604 W. Young (Texas Highway 29). The line forms outside, and filing past the pit gives you ample time to admire the sizzling piles of sausage links, half chickens, and big ol’ briskets and make up your meat-eatin’ mind. We prefer to pig out on the “big chop,” which might well be the perfect slab of pork—moist, salty, seductive. Wash it down with a Big Red and chase the soda with jalapeños to sample the Texas equivalent of sweet-and-sour sauce. a.d.

4. Hike into McKittrick Canyon in Guadalupe Mountains National Park in late October or early November. Your reward will be the greatest show of fall foliage in West Texas. Maple, oak, walnut, ash, and madrone blaze orange, red, and yellow in the canyon forest, a stunning contrast to the earth tones of the surrounding Chihuahuan Desert. Choose either a 4.6- or 6.8-mile round-trip hike from the visitors center, at the mouth of the canyon, off U.S. 62 and 180. j.n.p.

5. Do the two-step on Bob Wills Day in Turkey. Where better to strut your stuff than in the adopted hometown of the King of Western Swing? On the last weekend in April, Turkeyites pay tribute to the creator of “Faded Love” and “San Antonio Rose” with two dances in the Bob Wills Center; you can swoop and sway to the Texas Playboys, including Wills’s contemporaries Joe Frank Ferguson and Leon Rausch, as well as to heir-apparent Jody Nix and his band. Locals don’t just swing-dance to the music; they’re also fond of waltzing and two-stepping. Notes Texas’ own Lee Ann Womack (right), whose “I Hope You Dance” has earned her four Grammy nominations: “Texans are apparently the only people who know how to do the two-step. When done properly, it’s as smooth as glass. When I first moved to Nashville, I remember thinking, ‘What’s with all this bobbing up and down?’” a.d.

6. Stand on the star in the floor of the Capitol rotunda, clap your hands to hear the echo, and then—looking up into the dome—twirl around till you’re dizzy. This three-step tradition at Austin’s statehouse is said to bring you good luck. The central location of the star maximizes the reverberation decibels, although the crack isn’t all that loud except to you. Capitol staffers are surprisingly tolerant of the clamor, which tends to perpetuate itself—you’ll pique the curiosity of people who hear you clap, and they’ll line up for a turn too. (And if there’s a school group …!) When your hearing returns to normal, tilt your head back and gaze up at the gold star 218 feet overhead, then twirl and enjoy the dizzying sensation (not recommended after a heavy meal). “Texas hospitality starts right here under the dome of our majestic granite Capitol,” says Governor Rick Perry (left). “This is one stop every Texan should make.” a.d.

7. Attend the Juneteenth Freedom Festival at the Miller Outdoor Theatre in Houston’s Hermann Park. This Texas-specific African American holiday—an official day off for state workers—is the oldest known celebration of the end of slavery. It marks the day in 1865 when Union troops led by Major General Gordon Granger landed at Galveston and informed Texas’ indentured residents of their freedom—almost two and a half years after Abraham Lincoln had signed the Emancipation Proclamation (news traveled r-e-a-l s-l-o-w back then when convenient). Picnics, parades, rodeos, and dances take place all over the state on June 19. But the biggest blowout and the one city event most reminiscent of an old-time country gathering—with its real music, real dancing, real food, and real people—is the free show at the Miller. j.n.p.

8. Mosey over to Fort Worth’s Southwestern Exposition and Livestock Show and inhale. The event, which will be held from the third weekend in January through the first weekend in February next year, kicks off with the All-Western Parade down Fort Worth’s Main Street. Genuine cowboys and cowgirls and the city’s elite don their boots and Western best and show off their horsemanship on the redbrick streets before heading over to the Will Rogers center to sit in box seats at the rodeo. You can visit the historic Stockyards district on the North Side any time of year to witness—and catch a strong whiff of—one of the twice-daily (eleven-thirty and four) runs of the city’s Longhorns, ten to fifteen head herded for show around the old Livestock Exchange Building (131 E. Exchange). j.n.p.

9. Eat a Fletcher’s Corny Dog under the armpit of Big Tex at the State Fair of Texas in Dallas (this year, September 28 through October 21). Why? The corny dog, a pioneering fast-food product, was introduced to the public on the midway here by Neil and Carl Fletcher in 1942. And Big Tex—a 52-foot-tall talking and waving cowboy who debuted at the fair in 1952—wears the biggest pants in the state (284W/185L). j.n.p.

10. Visit El Paso’s Concordia Cemetery on the Day of the Dead. Most of the year, this vast site (off Interstate 10, Copia exit, at Yandell and Stevens) is merely the coolest cemetery in Texas; for a week before and after November 1, however, it may be the coolest place en todo el mundo. That’s when it offers a quick immersion in the color and charm of Hispanic culture, as multigeneration familias turn out in droves to decorate the graves of their loved ones. Many of the markers are already appealing enough—adorned with broken-tile mosaics, hand-painted Virgins of Guadalupe, and homemade crucifixes—but on and around this day of remembrance, relatives further bedeck the graves with altars bearing candles, flowers, fruit,pan de muerto (skull-shaped bread), even cigarettes, playing cards, and other mementos. a.d.

11. Hike to the South Rim in Big Bend National Park for the biggest view in Texas. It’s a strenuous 14.5-mile round-trip on treacherous mountain trails from the Chisos Basin to the top, but the effort is well worth it. On a really clear day, you can see the Chihuahuan Desert spread below and as far as two hundred miles into Mexico. j.n.p.

12. Meander around Marshall on a December evening admiring one thousand miles of Christmas lights. Few holiday extravaganzas anywhere can hold a candle to the Wonderland of Lights in the Harrison County seat, where nearly ten million bulbs adorn houses, stores, trees, telephone poles, yard art, and the dome of the Renaissance Revival-style courthouse, which warrants 200,000 lights all by its own self. Every year some three-quarters of a million visitors take a shine to this town of 25,000, whose goodwill toward them is as ample as its electric bill. a.d.

13. Get lost in the Big Thicket. To experience one of the most biologically diverse places on earth, walk at least part of the 17.5-mile Turkey Creek Trail. It begins at the Big Thicket National Preserve Visitor Center, on FM 420 north of Kountze, and cuts through the heart of what’s left of the old bear hunters’ haunt—the thick of the thicket, as it were—a dense-canopy forest harboring orchids, cactus, four carnivorous plants, and more species of birds than anywhere else in the state. j.n.p.

14. Take your copy of Lonesome Dove to Booked Up, Larry McMurtry’s book compound in Archer City, and ask him to sign it. His trail-drive epic is the ultimate Texas novel, and McMurtry is Mr. Texas Writer. Lord knows he tires of celebrity now and again, but if he happens to be at work riding herd on his employees and you show up with a copy of his Pulitzer-prize winner, perhaps he’ll scribble a quick autograph. Best of all, you’ll have a reason to meet—or reacquaint yourself with—Joshua Deets, Pea Eye, Blue Duck, et al. a.d.

15. Visit the Lyndon Baines Johnson Library and Museum in Austin to hear the audiotape of the late president complaining about his ill-fitting pants. No one gave orders like LBJ, and this short conversation showcases the specificity and thoroughness that marked his executive decisions. Talking to not just any tailor but to Joseph Haggar, the chairman of the board of Dallas’ venerable Haggar Company, Johnson requests pants the color of “powder on a lady’s face,” with plenty of extra crotch room. His famous homespun humor comes through in his complaint about his old trousers: “They’re just like riding a wire fence.” The audiotape is available for listening on weekdays; ask for citation number 4851. a.d.

16. Feast on eggs, sausage, sourdough biscuits, and a million-dollar view at the Figure 3 Ranch’s Cowboy Morning breakfast on the edge of Palo Duro Canyon. The chuck wagon, a staple of cowboy ranch life, was invented by Charles Goodnight, the pioneer Panhandle rancher whose 1.3 million-acre JA Ranch sprawled across the rugged red cliffs and valleys. The breakfast is held from April through October at eight-thirty ($19; reservations required; call 800-658-2613; the ranch entrance is 27 miles southeast of Amarillo on FM 1258). There isn’t a prettier view of the nation’s second-largest canyon. j.n.p.

17. Order a Brown Derby “with legs and loafers” from any Dairy Queen. For tens of thousands of small-town Texans, this chain supplies a vital social link. Dallas’ Bob Phillips (below), of Texas Country Reporter fame, may have visited more Dairy Queens than any other living Texan. “It’s the social center of any small town,” he says. “Go to a Dairy Queen in the morning, and you’ll always find the spit-and-whittle club drinking coffee and holding up a bench. Some Dairy Queens are open for breakfast, but they don’t serve food—just coffee and conversation.” Besides the usual burgers and such, some rural DQ’s serve homey regional dishes, like Denver City’s $1.99 all-you-can-eat cornbread-and-beans supper. After you lunch and listen, treat yourself to some edible nostalgia: Order a Brown Derby—the old-fashioned name for a dipped cone—“with legs and loafers.” If your server looks bewildered, explain that the “loafers” are a dollop of dipping chocolate squirted into the bottom of the cone; ordering it with “legs” just means “to go.” a.d.

18. Take a picture of your kids in Washington County’s famous bluebonnets. It’s not illegal to pick a state flower or two, but it ought to be against the law not to snap at least one vista of flowers and family in your lifetime. Thanks to a wet winter, the upcoming crop promises to be a knockout. Any of the county’s fetchingly rural roads offers vast fields of bluebonnets, evening primroses, black-eyed Susans, and more; so does Washington-on-the-Brazos State Historical Park, which hosts a Texas Independence Day celebration on March 2. At the intersection of U.S. 290 and Texas Highway 36, even citified Brenham is awash in blue. a.d.

19. Follow President Kennedy’s route in Dallas on the day he was assassinated. Start downtown on Elm Street and head west, driving through Dealey Plaza in the shadow of the former Texas School Book Depository (now home to the Sixth Floor Museum), where Lee Harvey Oswald lay in wait, past the grassy knoll, and under the triple overpass. Kennedy’s assassination on November 22, 1963, forever ended the age of innocence in American politics and, rightly or wrongly, marked Dallas as the City of Hate, a label that took decades to erase. The Elm Street portion of Kennedy’s parade route is a much-traveled exit from downtown, but even if you’ve driven it a thousand times, knowing that you’re on the same path as the man whose death changed Texas and the world gives you pause. j.n.p.

20. Join the Los Vaqueros-Rio Grande Trail Ride. Starting in Hidalgo, in the Rio Grande Valley, and ending at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, the ride is just one of the horseback caravans to this big winter rodeo (for Los Vaqueros information, visit rodeohouston.com). Fifteen groups sponsor rides of varying lengths (the 386-mile Los Vaqueros takes three weeks) that converge on the city in the days preceding the event, recreating the great trail drives. j.n.p.

21. Eat chicken salad, orange soufflé, and popovers with strawberry butter at the Zodiac Room in the original Neiman Marcus in downtown Dallas. Texas’ ladies who lunch are also ladies who shop, and this is their restaurant and their store, both reflecting NM’s inimitable mix of beau mondewith accents of bubba and buckaroo. After wandering the wondrous floors (couture mecca: level two), rest your tootsies and pamper your palate at the classy restaurant where Texas’ Brillat-Savarin, Helen Corbitt, performed her culinary alchemy in the fifties and sixties. a.d.

22. Crack a cascarón over the head of someone you like while watching the Battle of Flowers Parade during San Antonio’s Fiesta. The spring bash (this year, April 27) is the biggest party in Texas’ biggest party town, and the elaborate procession winding through downtown is its heart and soul. First staged in 1891, it’s the only major parade in the United States that is produced entirely by women—all volunteers. The shattering of cascarones, the confetti-filled eggshells sold Fiesta-wide by the jillion, is practically required. j.n.p.

23. Wedge yourself into the standing-room-only crowd at the Brown Bar in Austin and listen to lawmakers and lobbyists doing that political thang. This small but swanky joint at 201 W. Eighth—which feels like a classy dining car from the heyday of passenger trains—is the current in spot for legislative schmoozing and boozing. So intimate is the Brown Bar’s space that eavesdropping is not only easy but unavoidable: You can listen with a clear conscience as senators and representatives, Republicans and Democrats, discuss redistricting, prisons, and other topics that will shape millennial Texas. a.d.

24. Sit in the stands at the Stephenville YellowJackets-Brownwood Lions football game this fall. The annual clash pits longtime rivals from towns only 61 miles apart and exemplifies Friday-night lights in all their glory. In these communities, football is both entertainment and obsession, thanks in no small part to each school’s reputation for producing winners: The Lions have taken seven state championships and former coach Gordon Wood won more games than any Texas high school football coach, but during the nineties the Jackets dominated the matchup while winning four state championships. Buy that ticket well in advance: Call Brownwood High School (915-643-5644) or Stephenville High School (254-968-4141) for info. j.n.p.

25. Attend a star party at the McDonald Observatory. Fort Davis is too far west to be deep in the heart of Texas, but the stars at night are definitely bigger and brighter there than anywhere else in the state. Show up at the University of Texas’ heavenly science center (seventeen miles northwest of town on Texas Highway 118) at sunset on a Tuesday, Friday, or Saturday, and for $5 per adult ($15 per family) you can sneak a peek through various hefty telescopes, then step outside to look skyward as resident astronomers point out planets, nebulae, and other celestial sights (877-984-7827). Hmm—suddenly Texas doesn’t seem quite so big. a.d.

26. Make the Sunday-evening juke-joint circuit in Houston. Soaking up the blues, the most American of all music forms, in its native element can be a far richer musical experience than a concert at Carnegie Hall. Start at C. Davis Barbecue (4833 Reed) in the Sunnyside area, where I. J. Gosey, house bassist for the legendary Duke-Peacock record label, holds forth with his Supremes beginning at four o’ clock; then move on to the Third Ward blues jam led by Oscar O’Bear at Miss Ann’s Playpen (3710 Dowling), which cranks up around seven, or the El Nedo Cafe (3401 Ennis), where Eugene Moody and his Blues Back Band take the stage around eight-thirty. Wrap up the evening at Etta’s Lounge (5120 Scott), where Grady Gaines, the Houston saxophone treasure who was a charter member of Little Richard’s band, starts cooking at ten-thirty. j.n.p.

27. Look down on the Hill Country from way up high by driving the windingest, twistingest road in Texas. For sixteen miles, from Vanderpool to Leakey, FM 337 ascends and descends the steep hills and valleys of the Edwards Plateau until it finally reaches the crystalline, cypress-shaded waters of the Rio Frio. This half-hour ride makes it clear why the hills of Central Texas are considered so dang sacred. (Traffic can be heavy in October and November, when the Lost Maples State Natural Area, five miles from Vanderpool, puts on the flashiest show of autumn leaves in the Hill Country.) j.n.p.

28. Read the revealing monument in Texon at the site of the Santa Rita No. 1, the well that made the University of Texas rich. It was a gusher, and so is the text on the bronze plaques erected by UT to commemorate it. Named after the saint of the impossible, the well drilled in 1923 in the middle of UT’s extensive West Texas holdings rapidly filled the school’s coffers. Giddy with the knowledge of many more millions in royalties to come, the UT regents penned a long and breathless tribute to the Permian Basin producer when they relocated the original rig to the Austin campus in 1940: “The development of these tremendous resources is without parallel among the educational institutions of America. Cognizance of what took place here compels one to be amazed at the great goodness of Providence …” (And they couldn’t resist a line praising “the wisdom of the university’s governing boards.”) The high-blown language contrasts dramatically with the current state of the oil industry, the bleak terrain of Reagan County, and the scruffy environs of Texon; today the once-hopping company town is no more than a cluster of abandoned shacks and a reminder of the vagaries of fortune. a.d.

29. Look for celebrity signatures in the guest register of the Excelsior House in Jefferson. Along with the signature of Lady Bird Johnson (the former Claudia Alta Taylor), who grew up in Karnack, just down the road from this storied former riverboat port, the thick ledger contains those of Irish writer Oscar Wilde, three U.S. presidents—George W. Bush, Rutherford B. Hayes, and Ulysses S. Grant—and robber baron Jay Gould. Many residents persist in believing, falsely, that Gould participated in the Texas and Pacific Railway’s decision to bypass Jefferson, which caused the town to wither away in the nineteenth century and left it frozen in time. j.n.p.

30. Catch a glimpse of the endangered whooping cranes at the Aransas and Matagorda Island National Wildlife Refuge Complex. Fewer than four hundred exist in the wild today, and nearly half of those winter at this 113,000-acre coastal preserve some eighteen miles north of Fulton on Texas Highway 35. Wannabe crane spotters who drive the sixteen-mile loop can enjoy the view from the forty-foot observation tower, but to maximize your chances of seeing one of the big white beauties, take Captain Ted Appell’s boat tour out of Rockport (800-338-4551). a.d.

31. Drive over the railroad tracks on San Antonio’s South Side where, according to urban legend, a school bus collided with a train some sixty years ago, killing all of the children on board.Heading west at the end of Shane Road near Espada Park, off Mission Road/Villa Main, put your car in neutral about one hundred yards from the tracks and feel it being “pushed” uphill over the apparent slight rise—an optical illusion—and across the rails (watch out for trains!). It’s said that on foggy nights, you can see tiny handprints on your car trunk, signs that the children’s spirits were trying to save you from the same tragic fate. (Alamo City Paranormal—210-227-3286—offers ghostly guided tours.) j.n.p.

32. Follow the River Oaks Azalea Trail through Houston’s wealthiest neighborhood to Ima Hogg’s mansion, Bayou Bend. We Texans love our Western heritage, but this springtime flower fest reminds us of the state’s Deep South roots (tickets $15; riveroaksgardenclub.org). The pink-, fuchsia-, and white-blossomed bushes add color and character to many of the grand houses of River Oaks, especially the neighborhood’s historical crown jewel, the pristinely restored mansion of governor’s daughter and philanthropist extraordinaire Ima Hogg (yes, her real name; no, no sister named Ura). The columned back porch of her Georgian-influenced home, at One Westcott Street (off Memorial Drive), offers a lovely view of rolling lawns and lush gardens. You can almost smell the mint in the juleps. a.d.

33. Dance under a string of year-round Christmas lights to the tunes of Johnny Bush, the Country Caruso, in the open-air pavilion at John T. Floore’s Country Store in Helotes. This place, at 14464 Old Bandera Road, is about as real as a Texas dance hall can be, from its rickety tables, long bar, and walls covered with memorabilia to the dance floor that’s slick from decades of scooting boots. Cattle drivers and sheepherders started coming here in 1886, and Hank, Ernest, and Willie have all graced its stage. Listen to Johnny warble his own compositions (like “Whiskey River”) while you chow down on hot homemade tamales and drink a cold longneck or two. j.n.p.

34. Drive FM 170—El Camino del Rio, the River Road—from Presidio to Lajitas, following the course of the Rio Grande.The fifty-mile stretch cuts through rugged canyons and weird formations left over from volcanic eruptions millions of years ago, with almost no sign of human habitation. In 1985 National Geographic declared that it “may well be the prettiest drive in America.” Make sure you start in Presidio and drive east to take advantage of the play of light on the mountains, and budget enough time to stop at the crest of the big hill fifteen miles west of Lajitas to get an eyeful of Colorado Canyon. j.n.p.

35. Take the folk-art tour of Houston. Folks in H-Town like to express themselves and don’t mind showing off their creative side in their front yards and on their porches (blame it on the heat, Southern tradition, or the lack of zoning). Start at the Orange Show (2401 Munger), the late Jeff McKissack’s whimsical tribute to the citrus fruit; then move on to the homemade wonders of the Pig Lady’s Pigdom, the Flower Man, the Beer Can House, the OK Corral, and the Art Car Museum. The Orange Show Foundation sponsors a folk art tour on March 11 ($50 for non-members; 713-926-6368) and also sells cassettes for do-it-yourself tours. A good time to take one would be during Art Car Weekend (April 26 through 28), which is highlighted by the Art Car Parade, the city’s greatest folk-art event. j.n.p.

36. Pick your own peaches at Whitworth Orchard in Stonewall. Except for first love, nothing is quite as intoxicating as the smell of ripe peaches warmed by the Hill Country sun; even germophobes can’t resist plucking a fat, fuzzy little fruit, polishing it on a pants leg, and biting into it right then and there. Gillespie County’s most ambrosial crop ripens in June and July, and this orchard two and a half miles west of town on Jenschke Road, off U.S. 290, has long welcomed locals and city folks alike to pick treetop treasure. a.d.

37. Ride the Bolivar Ferry and take a loaf of bread to feed the seagulls. This day trip from the east end of Galveston Island to Port Bolivar is a great way to absorb the feel and fun of the Texas coast. Sure, we adults know that seagulls are the avian equivalent of squirrels, but children adore tossing crusts to the cawing horde (actually, what works best is wadding up whole slices of white into balls, which fly higher). The breeze is bracing enough to balance the sun’s ferocity, and then there’s the salty, evocative tang of the bay (with just a soupçon of rotting shrimp). a.d.

38. Swim in the 68-degree waters of Austin’s Barton Springs with the Polar Bear Club on New Year’s Day. It doesn’t require that much stamina or determination—in the winter, 68 degrees actually feels warm. Come to think of it, a scorching day in August would do just fine too—the water feels downright therapeutic then. So jump in: The fact that you can swim in a clean, clear natural spring within sight of skyscrapers anywhere on earth, much less in Texas, is nothing short of a miracle. j.n.p.

39. Buy a Resistol at the company’s outlet store in Garland. The Stetson may be more famous, but the Resistol, manufactured here since 1938, has been the headgear of choice for any Texan who does more than tip his hat to tradition. (The name refers to its sweat-resistant interior headband.) LBJ wore a Resistol and that’s a fact; so did fictional fat cat J. R. Ewing, whose hat is now in the Smithsonian. The outlet, at 721 Marion, is just down the street from the factory. a.d.

40. Attend a South Texas pachanga. One of the great social rituals of Mexican American life in the Rio Grande Valley, the pachanga, originally a hunting camp feast, evolved into a political event in the 1890’s. Held on Sundays across South Texas in the weeks preceding an election, these festivities are better than polls at gauging how a campaign will fare—the more popular the candidate, the better the pachanga—and are a bonding experience for the entire community. Savor pan de campo, a crusty hand-made bread that was originally baked in a pit in the ground. And the barbecue is pretty good too. j.n.p.

41. Go to Muster on the Texas A&M campus on San Jacinto Day. Aggie customs and quirks abound, but for both students and alumni no rite reveals the depth of the collegiate bond more powerfully than Muster, an April 21 ceremony in which Aggies old and new and their family members gather to remember classmates who have died. Although a mini-Muster can take place anywhere—legend has it there was one on Corregidor—the massive Muster at Reed Arena on the College Station campus is standing room only, with as many as 12,500 people in attendance. At the end of the evening, a speaker reads the roll call of the dead, and when each name is called, a friend or relative says “Here.” Compared with the solidarity of the A&M family, the rest of us may feel emotionally, well, marooned. a.d.

42. Ride the wooden Judge Roy Scream roller coaster at Arlington’s Six Flags Over Texas and then have a Pink Thing to calm your nerves. This classic coaster may not have the rep or the stature of the amusement park’s Texas Giant, but it is a knockoff of the grand old Comet at the State Fair of Texas, which was the epitome of wild thrills hereabouts until it was torn down in 1989. As for the Pink Thing, it’s a gloppy, artificially flavored, artificially colored frozen concoction that’s an addictive, cheap respite from the heat. j.n.p.

43. Sit in the Country Store in Cotulla on the first weekend of deer season and listen to hunters talk about their day. Regardless of how you feel about hunting, for generations it was a necessity of Texas life, and the tradition continues today, though primarily for pleasure. Cotulla, a town of four thousand in the brush country southwest of San Antonio, is a mecca for hunters seeking dove, quail, javelina, feral hogs, and especially whitetail deer, which are in season November through January. At this combination cafe, convenience store, and bar (Interstate 35 access road, one mile north of the FM 468 intersection), you can thrill to tales of the kill as camouflage-clad hunters use mysterious lingo like “B&C points” and “mass.” Tourists who drop in off-season can scope out the dozens of photos and souvenirs adorning the walls. a.d.

44. Kiss someone you love on Scenic Drive in El Paso after dark. This road at the southern base of the Franklin Mountains overlooks most of the city, the pass that gave it its name, and the even larger city of Juárez beyond. At dusk, the dusty streets and crooked roads in Mexico and the entire border magically disappear—this is the largest metropolitan area on any international border anywhere—and the twinkling lights of the two cities in the vast bowl of the Rio Grande Basin melt together, making for the most romantic nighttime panorama in Texas. j.n.p.

45. Watch the sun set and sailboats glide under the causeway from the Wahoo Saloon in the town of South Padre Island.This vacation hotspot is the closest thing Texas has to a tropical paradise, and after a tiring day of sun, sand, and surf, natives and tourists alike coast into this local Margaritaville on the bay side (201 W. Ling) for some (sun)downtime. The complete experience includes cold drinks and exceptional people-watching, savored to the smell of sunscreen and, later, the sound of live music. Dress down, way down—tank tops, cutoffs, and thongs (the foot-related kind, that is). Or install yourself at Dolphin Cove Oyster Bar in Isla Blanca Park at the island’s southern tip to gulp down oysters and brewskis while watching the fishing boats come in at day’s end. a.d.

46. Stroll through the forest of some forty oil derricks in downtown Kilgore. Start at the corner of Main and Commerce streets, in what was once known as the World’s Richest Acre. The rigs went dry decades ago, but at the height of the boom, in the thirties, there were more than 1,100 derricks erected within the Kilgore city limits, the greatest concentration of oil in the East Texas field. Get the full story at the East Texas Oil Museum (U.S. 259 at Ross Street), which pays tribute to independent oilmen and wildcatters like Columbus Marion “Dad” Joiner, whose Daisy Bradford Number 3 gusher started the boom in 1930. j.n.p.

47. Take the hand-pulled ferry to Mexico at Los Ebanos, about fifteen miles southwest of Mission in the Rio Grande Valley. This historic river ford shaded by ebony trees was first used in the 1740’s by explorers and colonists from the José de Escandón expedition, the first European colonization of what is now South Texas, and operated steadily during the Civil War, the Mexican Revolution, and Prohibition. With a maximum capacity of three cars, the ferry runs every day from eight to four. The nearest Mexican town, Ciudad Díaz Ordaz, two miles from the river, has little to offer tourists. It’s the ride that matters. Noted Tex-Mex composer Wally Gonzales (“El Taco Kid en CB”) hangs out at the crossing and sometimes takes requests. j.n.p.

48. Consume rice balls, shrimp étouffée, and a heaping platter of Cajun culture at the Texas Rice Festival in Winnie. On the first weekend in October, one of the biggest harvest festivals in the state pays tribute to the oldest cultivated grain in the world, and the side benefit is total immersion in rural Cajun life, right down to the bayou bands and the red beans and rice. There are other Cajun extravaganzas—notably ShrimpFest on Port Arthur’s Pleasure Island in August and Spring’s Texas Crawfish Festival in May—but in Winnie you’ll experience how real country folks interpret laissez les bon temps rouler. j.n.p.

49. Listen to Willie Nelson sing “Stay All Night”—anywhere. No one epitomizes the Lone Star State like Abbott’s favorite son, the only person who can transform even the most sterile performance venue into a real Texas honky-tonk simply by strumming his guitar and opening his mouth. j.n.p.

50. Pass my Texas cultural literacy quiz. a.d.

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