75 Things We Love About Texas

Bluebonnets? Check. Enchanted Rock? Yup. Barton Springs? Duh. You probably guessed those. But what about buckle bunnies? Or goat barbecue? Or Thong Island? From Texas trademarks to personal favorites to the just plain weird, you’ll find everything here. And we do mean everything.

April 2006By Comments

1. Bluebonnets
Yes, they are a clichè. And no, they don’t smell particularly good, and you aren’t supposed to pick them on the highway, under penalty of something like death. You can get stung by bees or fire ants and God knows what else when you sit down for that annual photo. Even so, who can resist them? Every year, the fields along the roadsides blossom into a blanket of blue—in some parts a deep purple, in others a dusty gray—and we know spring is here. And then, in just a few weeks, the show is over. The fields go from green to brown, and the sun scorches the roads, and we speed from San Antonio to Houston again, claiming there’s nothing to see. Mimi Swartz

2. The Astrodome
As a baseball stadium, it had its shortcomings—foremost among them Astroturf—but there was a time when it was second only to the Alamo as the most important building in Texas. Houston in the early sixties yearned for recognition but, aside from NASA, had little to attract it. The Astrodome put Houston on the map. It was the manifestation of a Texas attitude that we could do something that everyone else thought impossible. Now it’s a reminder that all things must pass. Paul Burka

3. Big Red
With barbecue. But not by itself, and not with anything else. John Morthland

4. Friendliness
Being glad to see you—no matter who you are—is something our mamas taught us from birth. The wide smile, the firm handshake, the slap on the back—it’s the way Texans meet the world, the social grease that makes living here so pleasant and easy. Most of us were probably a little older before we realized that all that good humor had other uses; it masks intention and throws people off their game, particularly lawyers and businessmen from other parts of the country who mistake us for happy hicks. Glad to see you? Sure we are. But keep your hands on your wallets, guys. Mimi Swartz

5. The sopa azteca at El Mirador, San Antonio
Available only on Saturdays. Mimi Swartz

6. Booker Ervin’s version of “Berkshire Blues”
A classic cut by the late, great tenor saxophonist, who hailed from Denison. It never fails to put me in a good mood. Or make me regret that I quit smoking. Evan Smith

7. Everyone has a story about a pickup
Mine is called Ol’ Blue, a baby-blue 1977 Chevrolet Scottsdale three-quarter-ton with mud grips, dual gas tanks, and a Delco set to a station that plays country music and the farm report. With subtle hints of hay, pesticide, WD-40, chain saw gas, and manure, the cab has a genuinely rural smell, and the sides are scratched and dented, grill to tailgate, from years of deflecting tree limbs and mesquite thorns. Ol’ Blue lives on the farm that my father, a lawyer by trade, bought as a weekend hobby in the seventies. When I was a kid, my dad would drive and I would ride in the passenger seat. We’d head down the steep and rough road to the pecan bottom that sits on the Little River, near Temple, or to the back side of the farm, where there’s a stock tank half-circled with tall cottonwood trees. Sometimes I’d ride in the bed, and we’d stop every once in a while to look at a snake, an armadillo, or a cottontail. As I grew older and busy with teenage distractions, I lost interest in the farm. Still, my father would ask me to ride out with him to check on things; if there was trouble or concern, he would insist. Until his death, in 1998, the invitation was standing. Only recently did I realize that what he was checking on had very little to do with farming. Not often enough, for those few hours, it was me, my attention, and my dad, undivided in the cab of Ol’ Blue. David Courtney

8. The free advice at White Rock Lake, Dallas
If you live in Dallas and have a question—any question—then you know the drill: Get up on Sunday morning, stroll around White Rock Lake until you come to Jackson Point, and look for the sign “Free Advice.” That’s where all-around-good-guys Neal Caldwell and Roderick MacElwain have been waiting in their lawn chairs for the past ten years. Stock tips? Got ’em. Career trouble? No problem. Romantic quandary? Pull up a seat.
To think: Even Lucy charged a nickel. Brian D. Sweany

9. The humidity
It was August, a swampy, monsoonish August, when I moved from Albuquerque to Austin. I was living near the University of Texas campus in a co-op boarding house where mildew appeared on my shoes and toothbrushes never dried. For a desert girl, it was like living in a blister. One extra-sweaty day at dinner a fellow resident, a girl from Houston, bounced in and announced in a preternaturally perky tone, “Y’all, don’t y’all just looove Austin? It’s so dryyyy here!” Well, I didn’t just looove Austin then and it wasn’t dryyyy. It was weeeeet. But the years pass and the skin shrivels into beef jerky and the hair flattens to the shape and consistency of a thatched roof and you do come to looove Austin precisely because it is not dryyyy. In fact, you exalt every molecule of Lone Star moisture as it goes about its blessed work of plumping up skin and hair. I know, I know. Vast desiccated swaths of our state are as dry as anything New Mexico can dehydrate. But still, for me, in my mostly moist corner of Texas, it really isn’t the heat. It is the humidity. Sarah Bird

10. Barton Springs Pool, Austin
It’s only rocks and water—just as the Hope Diamond is only squeezed carbon and the Mona Lisa is only oil paint on wood. But in a burst of creative genius, triggered by a shift in the Balcones Fault, the earth partnered these humble materials in a geologic magic act that has wowed ancient people and Franciscans, deep thinkers and humorists, blue-lipped toddlers and topless hippie chicks, endangered salamanders and political activists. All—except maybe the salamanders—stare into the clear, green depths, test the temperature with a toe (even though everyone knows it’s always 68 degrees), shudder, then take the plunge into the heart-stopping chill, trying to absorb a smidgen of the irrefutable grace of this place. Suzy Banks

11. Nachos
They are as Texan as the Alamo, and they have gone where no snack has gone before. I have personally eaten or seen nachos made with (not all at once, mind you) lobster tail, feta cheese, portobello mushrooms, fried oysters, crème fraîche, beef fajitas, caviar, hummus, hoisin sauce, crabmeat, Napa cabbage, barbecue sauce, boiled shrimp, chipotle mayonnaise, soy sauce, chili, and tofu—whew! And whatever the permutation, their Platonic nacho-ness remained intact. Patricia Sharpe

12. The three bells at Mission San Francisco de la Espada, San Antonio
The simple facade of the oldest, smallest, and most remote of San Antonio’s five missions centers on a Moorish door frame, and above the door stands a tower with three bells. Every Sunday those bells call parishioners, many of whom are the descendants of the natives who built the missions, to worship in the white stucco chapel. The ringing of those bells reminds me that three centuries ago Texas was a small, rebellious Mexican province and in some ways still is. The past is not distant at Espada. Already, 60 percent of the people of San Antonio are Mexican American, an easy majority. Soon, a majority of all Texans will be Latinos. The three bells at Espada toll not only for our past but for our present and our future. Jan Jarboe Russell

13. Keller’s Drive-in, Dallas
The flashing red-and-green sign on Northwest Highway is as high-tech as it gets. No Sonic technology has elbowed its way in over the past four decades; heck, at Keller’s you still have to pay with cash. Just park under a metal carport that sags with age and turn on your blinkers when you’re ready to order (I suggest the no. 5 special, a double-meat cheeseburger for only $2.70). A carhop will be out in an instant. Don’t forget to spring for onion rings and a cold bottle of beer, and leave your window up just a bit for the tray. Then relax and take in the crowd, which includes biker clubs and classic-car enthusiasts. Your food will be ready in no time, but with all of the sideshows, it’s almost beside the point. Brian D. Sweany

14. The sky
And no one captures the clouds and lightning strikes, sunsets and stars better than photographer Wyman Meinzer, whose new book, Between Heaven and Texas (University of Texas Press), was published in March.

15. The Alamo Drafthouse
This theater chain, with locations in Austin, Houston, and San Antonio and plans to expand, proves that the way to a cinephile’s heart is through his stomach—and his liver. By serving better-than-passable food and booze before and during whatever’s showing and by perfecting an indie sensibility that’s evident not only in what’s playing (a mix of art house fare and Hollywood must-sees) but what’s playing before the show (archival video, hip cartoons, trailers for movies that were released decades ago), the Alamo has won fans on this coast as well as the other two, including the editors of Entertainment Weekly, who christened it “the best theater in America.” My favorite Alamo-ism: the on-screen admonition before every show that patrons should keep their mouths closed and their cell phone ringers off or “we’ll take your ass out.” Let’s see the theater in the mall try that. Evan Smith

16. Larry McMurtry
For Horseman, Pass By and The Last Picture Show and his debunking of J. Frank Dobie—simply because he was ornery and talented and he could. For Terms of Endearment and sneering at the entire myth of Texas—only then to win the Pulitzer with Lonesome Dove. For recreating Archer City with his outlandish bookstore—only to threaten to close it (the store and the town) down. When he won a Golden Globe for Brokeback Mountain a few months back, someone who introduced him called him a genius; the camera happened to land on Johnny Depp, whose nostrils flared to contain his yawn. Then Larry was up there attributing everything wonderful in life to buying a manual typewriter from Europe, sparing himself the computer revolution. And when he received his Oscar in March for best adapted screenplay, he wore jeans and boots. One of a kind. Jan Reid

17. Dallas Cowboys fanaticism
Their seasons are our renewal, our life cycles. The rest of the year is pretty much a waste, waiting for the first kickoff of fall. This is such a solid franchise that even Jerry Jones hasn’t been able to mess it up. Gary Cartwright

18. Medina to Leakey on Ranch-to-Market Road 337
Take this drive on a Sunday afternoon in October. Trust me. Brian D. Sweany

19. The county courthouse
When I’m on the road, I make it a point to drive into county seats I haven’t previously visited and view the local courthouse. Texas has some magnificent ones, which is not surprising, since we have 254 counties and some of them should be expected to get it right. My favorite is Alfred Giles’ Second Empire courthouse in Marfa. Everything about it is perfect—the proportions, the pastel-peach exterior, the restored dome, the rotunda inside, the town surrounding it. Another Giles gem is in Lockhart. James Riely Gordon is the most prolific architect; his masterpiece is in Waxahachie. Paul Burka

20. Mexican border towns
Okay, they’re violent and dangerous now, but you had to see them through the eyes of a young man for whom cheap liquor and cheap thrills were the essence of freedom. In the words of Billy Joe Shaver, “that border-crossing feeling makes a fool out of a man …” May it ever be so. Gary Cartwright

21. Lubbock
A large university, Texas Tech, sets Lubbock apart from kindred cities on the plains, but its soul is music. Folks still talk of Buddy Holly styling through the Hi-D-Ho drive-in in a pink Caddy convertible with four girlfriends. In his wake came Joe Ely, Jimmie Dale Gilmore, Waylon Jennings, Butch Hancock, Terry Allen, Angela Strehli, Jesse Taylor, Ponty Bone, Lloyd Maines. Now a coveted and busy record producer in Austin, Maines used to take his quiet teenage daughter out to watch him play steel guitar in Ely’s band. In the blink of a generation’s eye, Natalie Maines was belting out number one country hits—and yes, sassing the president—as a member of the Dixie Chicks. Sprouting talent like mesquite, Lubbock is Texas’s cool and homely subcapital out west. Jan Reid

22. The spring-fed swimming pool at Balmorhea State Park, Balmorhea
The last time we were there, on a summer trip through nearby Marfa, we tried to take the picture for our Christmas card: me jumping in, then my wife, Julia, our daughter, Carson, and finally our son, Wyatt. Dad and Mom obliged, and so did big sister, but the normally fearless little guy, all four and a half years and 35-odd pounds of him, couldn’t bring himself to do it. And why would he? The temperature in this 77,000-square-foot, 25-foot-deep, 3.5-million-gallon pool, which was built by FDR’s Civilian Conservation Corps before World War II, is consistently on the quite-cold side of refreshing, even in the scorching heat. The algae-covered pool bottom is the slipperiest on earth. And there are the creatures: endangered species of fish and turtles, which swim right under and alongside and through you. We never got that picture—well, we did; the three of us in midair and him peering skeptically over the side—but we had a great time, as we always do. Balmorhea is, not just spiritually but literally, an oasis in the desert. Evan Smith

23. 8 a.m., weekdays, Las Manitas Avenue Cafe, Austin
Because every big-time city needs a place where power breakfasters can feed their need for gossip, schmooze, and the ritual taking care of business. This Tex-Mex cafe is owned by Cynthia and Lidia Perez, Henry Cisneros’s sisters-in-law, who are unabashedly bluer than the Danube, but the crowd of lawmakers and lobbyists and lawyers and media blowhards who gather here is absolutely bipartisan; Karen Hughes and Karl Rove, among others, were semi-regulars back in the day. At the moment, you’ll have to elbow state-senator-to-be Kirk Watson, People for the American Way statewide director Deece Eckstein, and Rick Perry’s former legislative director Hector Gutierrez out of the way to get one of the prized booths; lotsa luck. Also: The food is terrific. Evan Smith

24. Ruby Red And Star Ruby Grapefruit
No other grapefruit is worth all the rigmarole required to prep it for eating. John Morthland

25. The size of our ranches
King Ranch (825,000 acres). Briscoe Ranches (640,000 acres). Waggoner Ranch (524,000 acres). We could go on. Paul Burka

26. The downtown Neiman Marcus, Dallas
This is still the holiest site of Dallas’s religion of shopping, and in those halcyon days of “Mr. Stanley” Marcus’s impeccable taste and legendary customer service, it was less a finishing school for the nouveau riche than a secular temple where a generation of Texans whose wealth still came out of the land threw themselves on the altar of fashion, seeking redemption for the sins of vulgarity and boorish excess. The miracle of Neiman Marcus is that they found absolution and, from this sacred place, an entire city moved fashion-forward to become a stylish retail mecca. Michael Ennis

27. The World Championship Barbeque Goat Cook-Off, Brady
Established 33 years ago partly as a joke—Brady was struggling to find a civic-celebration theme other towns hadn’t already taken—this Saturday-of-Labor-Day-weekend blowout maintains a great sense of humor about itself. To say nothing of producing pounds and pounds of lean, succulent, smoky kid goat that goes down rich, smooth, and easy; the overall level of the entries is unusually high for an open cook-off. (Meanwhile, most regions of America don’t even know yet that you can eat goat …) John Morthland

28. The Broken Spoke, Austin
Long before Austin began dubbing itself the Live Music Capital of the World, this honky-tonk was busy playing host to the best country acts in the world—up-and-comers like Willie Nelson and George Strait, progressive cowboys like Asleep at the Wheel, and later still, alt-country rockers like the Derailers. These days the Broken Spoke still features live music five nights a week, and you can dance on a waxed concrete floor, drink longneck beer, and eat chicken-fried steak. Check out the Tourist Trap Room, where you can see pictures and hats from celebs who’ve popped in and onto the stage, from Dolly Parton to Kris Kristofferson. The latest addition to the club are new rear walls, courtesy of the tour bus driver who accidentally floored her bus into the interior of the club one night in October. The Spoke is proof that if a classic honky-tonk stays open long enough, anything can happen. Michael Hall

29. Sunsets at Enchanted Rock, near Llano
As you approach it from the north on RM 965, Enchanted Rock looks as if a bald giant were poking his head out of the ground. The pink granite dome rises 425 feet, covers 640 acres, and is just begging to be climbed. The hike is by no means a cinch, but almost anyone can make it with enough will and a comfortable pair of shoes. And nothing rewards the effort like resting on the windswept peak as the sun falls in the west. On a clear evening, as the stars begin to shine, it’s as though the entire Hill Country below you has become soaked in orange light and deepening shadow. You’ll never take sunsets for granted again. Brian D. Sweany

30. Lady Bird’s daffodils
As a girl, the future Lady Bird Johnson, whose mother died when she was five years and nine months old, took long walks in the piney woods around her hometown of Karnack. Every spring, when Lady Bird spotted the first daffodil in bloom, she held a private ceremony and named the flower Queen. It was a solitary ritual, a game that provided solace and left Lady Bird hungry for beauty. Years later, during her five years as first lady, Lady Bird supervised the planting of two million daffodil bulbs in Washington, D.C., the largest planting of daffodils in history. I never see the first daffodil of spring that I don’t see the beauty of all that I have lost. Jan Jarboe Russell

31. Boca Chica
The name says it all—“Boca Chica” sounds exotic but means “small mouth” in Spanish—and the spot where the once-mighty Rio Grande flows quietly into the Gulf speaks to how fragile the international border is. The stretch of beach remains undisturbed—no showers, no restrooms, no improvements of any kind. And within shouting distance are Mexicans on their side of the river doing exactly what you’re doing: splashing in the water, soaking up the sun, and easily straddling cultures. Brian D. Sweany

32. San Jacinto
Okay, let’s admit it. The park doesn’t really work. The monument to Texas’s independence is an all-too-obvious effort to top the height of the Washington Monument. The battlefield is not evocative, and the battle itself is hard to envision. And the site is surrounded by one of the ugliest industrial landscapes this side of New Jersey. In the end, though, the only thing that matters is that because of what happened here, Texas is a state that was once—and always—a nation, and that makes all the difference. Paul Burka

33. Buckle Bunnies
See Photo. Photo is not available online.

34. The caverns of Sonora
Reading the billboards along Interstate 10, you suspect a classic tourist trap. Then you get inside these desert caves and realize you’re seeing things you won’t find anywhere else. With its unprecedented preponderance of helictites—neither stalactites nor stalagmites but growths that twist and turn out from the caves’ walls—nearly every inch of Sonora, not just the floors and ceilings, bursts with complex colors and formations. And unlike the trails in most show caves, Sonora’s put you right on top of it all. The guides have an infectious enthusiasm and a singular take on things that’s just as rare. John Morthland

35. Tejano dancing
My first attempt at tejano dancing occurred in the name of research. I was a college senior writing about music and identity, so it made sense that I should learn. Several spins around a vast dance floor in San Antonio had me doing the tejano update of the tlacuachito, a Mexican American dance form that emerged in the thirties. With the modernization of conjunto music into tejano, a younger Mexican American generation added countrylike moves and made the tlacuachito a sleeker affair. University of Texas professor of American literature and anthropology Jose Limón describes it this way: “The idea is not to skip, hop, and jump or pump our arms, as Anglos often do when they attempt this dance.” With the waning of the tejano music industry, there are now fewer clubs to go for a dance, although a resurgence in conjunto music has led to the reopening of long-defunct dance halls. Still, I wistfully remember those days of endless spinning around the floor and the way that life then felt so whole and perfectly composed. Cecilia Balli

36. Cat Osterman
As a Longhorn senior, the tall, round-cheeked softball pitcher from Houston is still in quest of a national championship at Texas. But last year she had a record of 30-7, with an ERA of 0.36. In her three seasons with the Longhorns she’s thrown fifteen no-hitters and averaged fifteen strikeouts a game. Plus she led the United States to a gold medal in the 2004 Olympics. Texas is known for its fastballers: Clemens, Ryan, Street. But because she’s left-handed and will have a short career—prospects for a post-collegiate league are not bright, and the sport won’t be in the Olympics after 2008—I liken her to Sandy Koufax. Players go to the plate against her feeling as if they have a toothpick in their hands, not a bat. Jan Reid

37. The Pecos Rodeo
Although Pecos (population: 9,501) is hidden away in Reeves County, in far West Texas, professional rodeo cowboys from around the country still make the long trip to compete at the old arena on the last weekend in June, in part because of tradition (Pecos could very well have hosted the world’s first rodeo, in 1883) and also because the small and often struggling Pecos businesses still raise about $200,000 each year for the prize money. One thing that makes Pecos’s rodeo weekend really special is the rodeo parade, perhaps the greatest celebration of old-fashioned American patriotism you’ll ever see. Skip Hollandsworth

38. Food
My favorite? Definitely the lemon meringue pot at Wink, in Austin. And the truffled egg custard in an eggshell at Aurora, in Dallas. Oh, also the goat cheese appetizer with morita-chile-and-Mexican-brown-sugar sauce at Liberty Bar, in San Antonio. And absolutely the dry-Jack-cheese-crusted lemon sole with citrus beurre blanc at Hibiscus, in Dallas. But wait: the Parmesan-topped focaccia at Taverna in Austin and Dallas. And I could not possibly live without the enchiladas de Michoacán at Las Manitas, in Austin. Or the Don Mamón salmon ceviche at Red Onion Seafood y Más, in Houston. And the posole at Rosario’s, in San Antonio. Oh, oh, oh—the saag paneer at Indika, in Houston. And yes, the green-chile-chicken enchiladas at El Asadero, in Fort Worth. And … Patricia Sharpe

39. Donald Judd’s installations, Marfa
When I first visited Marfa more than twenty years ago, the late Don Judd had been there for more than a decade and was still installing the planet’s most avant-garde objects in an abandoned cavalry outpost. It was a rare chance to see history in the making, because Judd’s Minimalist monuments are already venerable masterpieces of twentieth-century art. Merging the factory with the sculptor’s atelier, Judd filled the old armories with rows of precisely machined aluminum boxes and arrayed a procession of hard-edged concrete megaliths across a half-mile of desert like a futuristic, in-line Stonehenge. Years before Marfa enjoyed its current trendiness, global tastemakers made the pilgrimage to West Texas and returned home to invest everything from architecture to furniture to retail design with Judd’s austere, industrialized, yet transcendent aesthetic. In this tiny town, Judd didn’t just change the way the world looks at art; he changed the way the world looks. Michael Ennis

40. The Texas Legislature
When it is good it is seldom very good, and when it is bad it is horrid. Paul Burka

41. Our own way of pronouncin’
Manchaca = Man-shack
Mexia = Ma-hay-ah
Palestine = Pal-es-teen
Miami = My-am-ah
Humble = Um-bull
Burnet = Burn-it
Iraan = I-ra-ann
Manor = May-ner
Refugio = Ruh-fyur-ee-o Christopher Keyes

42. Big Hill
For many years this steep formation prevented El Camino del Rio, the river road (FM 170), from connecting Lajitas and Presidio. Even with the road, this is one of the most isolated places in Texas. The 15 percent grade challenges trucks and RVs. From the scenic viewpoint at the crest, the Rio Grande lies a thousand feet below, and Mexico is so close you might be tempted to throw a rock into it. Paul Burka

43. Farm-to-market roads
The result of the Colson-Briscoe Act of 1949 to “get the farmer out of the mud,” today they serve city folk who want to escape their concrete canyons and get into the backcountry. Traffic is light, development even lighter, and vistas can be grand. Farm (and ranch) roads take you through the national forests of East Texas, into the heart of the brush country of South Texas, deep into the emptiness of the Trans-Pecos, and, best of all, along the rivers and ridges of the Hill Country. Paul Burka

44. Mustang Donuts, Dallas
Let the masses have their Krispy Kremes. Since 1983, Dallasites have flocked to the tiny doughnut shop across from the Southern Methodist University campus. I started going there with my high school girlfriend, when we’d pick up a bag of treats: thick chocolate cake doughnuts, creamy èclairs, and anything with sprinkles. Each time we’d stop in, I’d try to impress her by answering the daily trivia question—ranging from SMU history to current events to Russian literature—which would have earned me a free glazed doughnut and untold admiration. For years, I never got one of them right; when I finally did, it no longer mattered. By then, my girlfriend had been my wife for more than ten years. Brian D. Sweany

45. Queso
The texture is vaguely plastic, the color resembles an overripe mango, the taste—well, more about that in a minute. From any rational culinary standpoint, queso cannot be defended. I mean, we’re talking about Velveeta melted with Ro-Tel tomatoes and chiles. Please. But something about the salty, oozy cheese (excuse me, pasteurized prepared cheese product) and the spicy, sweet tomatoes makes it impossible to stop after one bite. Which is why, for decades, no game-watching party, bridal shower, or open house in Texas has failed to include a big pot of queso in the middle of the dining table. You could serve queso flameado—the true Mexican ancestor of the National Dip of Texas—and every one of your guests would applaud. But I’ll bet you dollars to doughnuts that if you put them out side by side, the queso will still be bubbling away when the queso is long gone. Patricia Sharpe

46. The Other Place, New Braunfels
I like to vacation in Santa Fe, Aspen, London, or Paris as much as the next person, but it’s so damn hard to get there. When my family has a few spare days, we sneak over to New Braunfels and (mostly) ignore the insanity of Schlitterbahn, preferring instead a cottage at the Other Place. Yes, the wooden cabins can sometimes smell musty, and the lighting is not for those predisposed to cataracts, but it’s quiet, clean, cheap ($150 a night), and kid-friendly in a laid-back way (seesaws, swing sets), with a kitchen and no TV. All you get is a metal rocker on a wide porch overlooking the emerald-green Comal and the drunken tubers floating by—in other words, near-perpetual serenity. It’s the place that proves time travel is possible, even if it’s only to Central Texas circa 1960. Mimi Swartz

47. Lower Westheimer Road, between South Shepherd Drive and Brazos Street, Houston
The collection of shops and restaurants here defies and defines the word “funky” and also happens to be one of the few parts of Houston where street life exists outdoors, even on the most blistering summer day. Sip coffee at the hip Empire Cafe or the even hipper Brasil and watch the parade of gays, straights, street people, and society matrons, or sample the best food in town at Da Marco, Churrascos, or Mark’s. Between meals, you can scavenge for mid-century modern furniture or the occasional Stickley rocker, try on recycled designer clothing, and even get a tattoo. Mimi Swartz

48. Crush’ns at Amy’s Ice Cream
“People can have the Model T in any color, so long as it’s black,” Henry Ford is rumored to have said, thus breaking a fundamental rule of sales: The customer may not always be right, but he should always have a choice. This is the beauty of the “crush’n.” At any of the thirteen Amy’s locations throughout Austin, San Antonio, and Houston, you can combine your choice of (a) ice cream with your choice of (b) fixings to create an endless number of personal variations. I’ve tried too many to count, finally settling on something simple: coffee and Heath Bar, small. Christopher Keyes

49. Pride of place
I will never forget the horror I felt watching the second season of Survivor. On the first episode, that beloved good-ol’-boy Texas contestant, Colby Donaldson, proudly announced that he had brought along to the Australian Outback—as his one allotted luxury item, mind you—a Texas flag. When, like me, you don’t have the benefit of growing up inside this state’s borders, it is precisely that kind of inexplicable loyalty that makes you view Texas pride as, well, an astonishingly annoying character trait. But then I moved to Austin. On my third night, a group of new friends took me to see the Gourds, at Antone’s. For the encore, the band played Doug Sahm’s “At the Crossroads.” I hadn’t heard of Doug Sahm before; everyone else there had. A few minutes in, the entire crowd joined in unison: “You just can’t live in Texas if you don’t have a lot of soul!” It was the first time I understood Texas pride—and desperately wanted a part of it. Christopher Keyes

50. The dance floor at Billy Bob’s, Fort Worth
For the last quarter of a century, the greatest country-western dancers have come to Billy Bob’s, couples who are not just from Fort Worth but from far West Texas, the towns and blue-collar suburbs east of Dallas, even from Oklahoma. They move around the floor faster than NFL cornerbacks. They do the two-step, then the three-step. The men “wrap” and “whirl” their ladies. If you’re quick to dismiss the difficulty of western dance, go see for yourself. Just show up on a Thursday night at about ten-thirty, when the house band launches into “Boot Scootin’ Boogie.” Skip Hollandsworth

51. Glenwood Cemetery, Houston
There are cemeteries and cemeteries in this town, but Glenwood has something the rest of Houston lacks: hills. Driving from Howard Hughes’s elegant, austere grave site to George Brown’s sturdy brick plot is not unlike riding a roller coaster in an arboretum crossed with a graveyard that is a veritable who’s who of famous Houstonians. Up and down the steep, curving lanes, you can visit Cooleys, Mastersons, Cullinans, and that great society florist of the eighties, Leonard Tharp, all laid to rest under breathtaking live oaks and bountiful magnolias. Mimi Swartz

52. Sunday services at the Potter’s House, Dallas
Just when you think we’ve had our fill of great theatrical preachers, another comes along who sweeps us away. T. D. Jakes, the 48-year-old pastor of the 30,000-member nondenominational church called the Potter’s House, in southwest Dallas, could very well be the best of them all. You can catch him on one of the religious channels on cable, but to understand what he can really do, you need to see him live. A huge man with an eighteen-inch neck, Jakes is an unbelievable showman, but in religion, of course, showmen are a dime a dozen. What makes Jakes bring his audiences to tears, Sunday after Sunday, is his compassion—his understanding of people’s deepest fears and doubts. Skip Hollandsworth

53. The Capitol basement, Austin
Here hang the composite photographs of long-forgotten legislatures. The hall is almost always empty, so you can scan them in silence, looking for a familiar name while musing on who might have been a hero or a rogue in his day. And sometimes you can be rewarded with an unexpected find, as in the 1919 photograph of Sam Johnson, who has the same nose and ears as his son, the future president, and the 1911 photograph of the young Speaker Sam Rayburn. Paul Burka

54. Elbow room
Our old stereotypical braggadocio about bigness has faded, thank heavens; it was parochial and offensive. But notions of Texas and largeness—freedom to roam and aspire, in an almost metaphysical way—remain synonymous in much of the world. An English singer named Chris Rea honored the mystique some years back with a hit tune simply titled “Texas.” One line conveyed his envy and yearning: “They got big, long roads out there.” Jan Reid

55. The “pan dulce” at Mi Tierra, San Antonio
The Ricardo from San Antonio’s Mi Tierra bakery represents all that was sweetest about the happiest years of my childhood. Both of them. For one known to self-medicate with carbs, pan dulce was the drug of choice and Mi Tierra’s panadería the whole farmacia: marranitos, the stout, brown gingerbread pigs; pan de huevo, the basic unit of pan dulce, in white, pink, brown, or yellow; empanadas, their tender bellies filled with pumpkin or sweet potato. All had their charms. And all, back in the day, were cheap. The most expensive, though, was always the Ricardo, a Mi Tierra exclusive named for the baker who’d created this delicacy. A sweet bun filled with a “creme” unlikely to have ever met a cow and covered in caramel glaze and lots and lots of pecans, the Ricardo can quell a lot of anxiety. Sarah Bird

56. North Island, Lake Texoma
Lake Texoma is one of the few lakes where the shoreline is not dotted with boat slips and lake houses. And in the middle is North Island (also known as Thong Island), one of the state’s great hedonistic gathering spots for guys who like to drink beer and women who like to wear bikinis. On holiday weekends at North Island, hundreds of boats are tied together. Everyone hops from one boat to another, flirting outrageously and shouting such memorable lines as “Let’s party!” It’s just ridiculous—and blissful. Skip Hollandsworth

57. “Personage With Birds” and “Untitled,” by Joan Miró, Houston
Walk into the Menil Collection, continue back into the galleries of twentieth-century works, and you will find yourself in my favorite place in Texas: standing in front of Untitled, a painting by Joan Miró. It hardly seems like much at first. Most of the canvas is eggshell white. Just left of center is a circle of red. Nearby is a much smaller black dot. It looks like a planet circling too close to its sun. To the right of center and slightly higher, there is a pale yellow circle about the same size as the red one. That’s it. How can something so simple be so deep and beautiful? Sometime after World War I Houston Post columnist Hubert Mewhinney wrote, “Houston is a whiskey and trombone town.” Personage With Birds, Miró’s brash, colorful monumental sculpture, on Milam Street, not far away from the Menil, captures this side of Houston, though this was certainly not his intent. But Untitled represents a more personal Houston that insiders come to recognize, a place possessing beautiful and mysterious secrets. ( Untitled is currently on loan but will return to the Menil in September.) Gregory Curtis

58. Code switching
Me da un Whataburger with no cheese y también una orden de french fries, please.” The hybrid language of Mexican Americans is often referred to as “Tex-Mex” or “Spanglish,” but neither label does justice to its richness and complexity. While most people believe that speakers who switch languages within a sentence are linguistically deficient, language specialists argue the opposite. Their studies have found that “code switchers” blend languages to achieve myriad outcomes—to emphasize or clarify, for example, or to mark breaks in narration for dramatic effect—and that Spanglish is governed by its own rules of grammar. Code switchers know when to speak what language to whom, and only in an insignificant number of cases do they resort to mixing because they can’t express their idea in one tongue. Languages come together in the same creative style that cultures do. To speak Tex-Mex or Spanglish is to choose to live in two worlds. Cecilia Balli

59. The park road to Palmetto State Park
The flat, scruffy terrain along U.S. 183 near Luling, in South Texas, isn’t so much serene as it is narcolepsy inducing. Quick, before you pass out, veer off the highway onto Park Road 11 for a refreshing jolt of scenery. The short two-mile jaunt—the landscape equivalent of a shot of espresso—is long on visual stimulation: a hill (where’d that come from?), a counties-big vista across orchards and plowed fields, red rock walls built by the Civilian Conservation Corps, and a green tunnel of pecans, oaks, and sycamores with palmetto palms tickling their trunks. Suzy Banks

60. Whooping cranes, Aransas National Wildlife Refuge
Over four feet tall and weighing a mere fourteen pounds, they are the supermodels of the avian world. And like paparazzi stalking Kate Moss, birders converge on Aransas National Wildlife Refuge for a glimpse of these winter residents, whose population has grown from a low of fifteen in the forties to two-hundred-plus this season at Aransas alone. The most rewarding sightings are from atop the refuge’s forty-foot-tall observation tower, where snowy couples, perhaps with a russet-colored junior in tow, stand out in sharp contrast against the evergreen marsh. A high-powered spotting scope brings the cranes so close that it’s like having a front-row seat right next to the runway. Suzy Banks

61. The Fort Worth Cultural District
It says something when the Amon Carter Museum, designed by the most attention-grabbing architect of the past century, the late Philip Johnson, is often overlooked among Fort Worth’s closely spaced trio of world-class (really) art museums. It was here, in 1961, that Johnson gave Postmodernism a trial run. Six years later Louis Kahn built what may well be the twentieth century’s most admired building, the sublimely proportioned, barrel-vaulted Kimbell Art Museum. In 2002 Tadao Ando made it a trifecta with the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, his sophisticated global fusion winning raves and setting an exquisitely high bar for twenty-first-century greatness. Michael Ennis

62. “My Hometown,” by Charlie Robison, and “My Brother and Me,” by Bruce Robison
The Robison brothers came of age in early-eighties, pre–cable television Bandera, where their only meaningful exposure to pop culture came from country music radio and heavy-metal concerts in nearby San Antonio. These two songs tell you what that world looked liked. Bruce’s is a ruminative family history detailing how four generations of wildcatters, whiskey drinkers, teetotalers, and hayseeds took root in the Texas Hill Country. Charlie’s is an anthem about using any means available—summer pipeline jobs, football, music—to get out. Neither song wastes time on apologies or nostalgia; both close with the prodigal storytellers back home in Bandera. Taken together they give a good idea of what Larry McMurtry might have accomplished if he’d grown up in the eighties instead of the fifties and fallen in love with a guitar instead of a typewriter. Put them back to back on a playlist and subtitle them “Metalhead, Pass By.” John Spong

63. T-Bone Walker’s guitar sound
The Linden-born bluesman transformed his instrument from a rhythm into a lead voice and invented the guitar solo, which today is taken for granted. But it’s not just that everyone who’s since plugged in, especially in Texas, has a little T-Bone in him. It’s that Walker’s tone, touch, dynamics, note selection, harmonies, and emotional expression have rarely been improved upon in the ensuing six-plus decades, only refined. Have the elegant and the down-and-dirty ever absorbed each other into one package quite so eloquently? John Morthland

64. Dog Canyon Campground, Guadalupe Mountains National Park
This place is so remote you can’t even drive to it from Texas. Sixty-five miles of New Mexico byway brings you—only just—back across the state line into a forested canyon hidden high in the Guadalupe Mountains. The range is a national park, and from a campsite here you can explore eighty miles of trails that lead through sky islands of ponderosa pine and Douglas fir to six of the state’s ten highest peaks. Up here, there are bobcats and elk, green-skinned madrone trees and white-eyed phlox, and more than three hundred kinds of birds. I recommend making your way from Dog Canyon along the McKittrick Canyon Trail for a view over this famous glen, whose hardwood trees explode into color every fall. For nature lovers, photographers, and adventure seekers, this place is a very holy grail. Charlie Llewellin

65. Dublin Dr Pepper
For three decades now, the original Dr Pepper bottling plant, in Dublin, has refused to make the switch from cane syrup to the cheaper—and inferior—alternative, corn syrup. The result? Dublin Dr Pepper, a soft drink of cult status. Because of a franchise agreement, Dublin Dr Pepper is readily available only in a forty-mile radius around Dublin. But a few retailers elsewhere bend the rules a bit. “We call them bootleggers, but we mean that in the best way,” says Jeff Pendleton, Dr Pepper creative director. But the best place to drink it is at the Dublin Dr Pepper Museum, where a soda jerk still serves it ice-cold from a fountain. Laura Griffin

66. Dallas freeways
To me, freeway intersections can be as thrilling as the most provocative art installation. The junction of I-30, U.S. 75, and I-45 in Dallas is one of the most stunning, especially in the evening, when the towers of downtown are silhouetted against the hyper-real colors of a Texas sunset. A downtown skyline is the face of a city, and Big D has one of the most instantly recognizable. From this gravity-defying nexus, you can stare straight into the unflinching eye of this great conurbation. Charlie Llewellin

67. “Fandango”
The movie’s premise is familiar to anyone who ever tried to stretch an extra semester out of adolescence: Five drunk frat brothers blow out of a party in the middle of the night in a car loaded with beer and headed for anywhere. In this case, the year is 1971, the school is the University of Texas, and the boys wind up in Big Bend. Led by then-unknowns Kevin Costner and Judd Nelson, the group celebrates one last, lost weekend in which beer for breakfast still staves off graduation and growing up. Slacker Costner sums up the struggle for straight-arrow Nelson while the latter showers off in a Marfa car wash: “There’s nothing wrong with going nowhere, son. It’s a privilege of youth.” The film tanked at the box office but soon found a home in frat-house VCRs. Since then it’s validated bad-idea, spur-of-the-moment road trips undertaken from every campus in the state. John Spong

68. The Devil’s Bowl Speedway, Mesquite
Spend an extra $2 for a reserved seat so that you can sit in the center section. Buy a beer and a cheeseburger. And then watch these drivers, almost all of whom spend their weekdays working in blue-collar jobs, race around the half-mile oval track, slamming into one another and spinning out so hard that dirt can fly into the parking lot. Between races, pull out your binoculars so you can get a good look at the “pit lizards,” girls who wear jeans that leave only enough room for a pack of cigarettes in the back pocket. Skip Hollandsworth</p

69. Festival Concert Hall at the International Festival Institute, Round Top
A tall, steep roof and silvery cupola rising above the farmsteads and oak mottes—that’s the Bismarckian profile of Festival Concert Hall, a magnet for musicians who appreciate fine acoustics. A unique example of folk architecture begun in 1981 by wood craftsman Larry Birkelbach and his crew, the still-unfinished 1,100-seat hall was conceived in process and has developed slowly under the direction of the institute’s founder, pianist James Dick. Inside, one sees why: Intricate designs in wood parquetry embellish every surface. Above, two great stars anchor swirls of wooden diamonds, and 110 Celtic-patterned medallions line the balconies, a delight to the eye as well as the ear. “Sound has to be broken up,” says Dick. “The diamonds do that.” Chester Rosson

70. Dirty’s, Austin
Because when Martin’s Kum-Bak Place started serving burgers to University of Texas students in 1926, it had a dirt floor, thus the nickname. Because the legend goes that Bobby Layne, the Longhorn quarterback of the mid-forties who should have been mentioned in all those recent articles about the greatness of Vince Young, drank beer at Dirty’s on Saturday mornings before suiting up. Because Earl Campbell still stops in at least once a week for a beer and an OT Special. Because Wesley Hughes, who flipped burgers there from 1957 until 2003, still goes in on weekdays to serve as Head of Public Relations. And because not once in its eighty years has anyone ever dropped a frozen meat patty on the grill. John Spong

71. The “pachanga”
It’s the heart and soul of politics, South Texas–style, a combination beer bust, barbecue, dance, and political rally that gives voters a chance to meet candidates. In the suburbs, Anglo candidates block-walk; in the Rio Grande Valley, Hispanic politicos travel the pachanga circuit. On weekends close to an election, this means attending four or five pachangas in a day, working the crowd, grabbing a taco, washing it down with beer from a keg, and shooting zingers at their opponents. The rituals harken back to a time when politics was intensely personal and political rallies were a form of entertainment. Paul Burka

72. Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center, Austin
It was the Gutenberg Bible I first fell in love with, then the love letters and dream diaries of Graham Greene. More recently it’s been the center’s big-name acquisition coups—Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein’s Watergate papers, Norman Mailer’s archive. But what keeps me coming back to the University of Texas’s unplumbable cultural repository are its more intimate gems: John Steinbeck’s original draft of East of Eden. Gertrude Stein’s letters. A lipstick-stained note to Arthur Miller. E. E. Cummings’s artwork. All I do is flash a photo ID, and the world is mine. Katharyn Rodemann

73. The Commemorative Air Force Hangar Dance, San Marcos
This may not be the only hangar dance around, but—with the Glenn Miller–inspired nineteen-piece orchestra and the jitterbugging World War II vets in vintage attire—it has to be the most popular. The Central Texas Wing of the Commemorative Air Force sponsors this annual shindig around Veterans Day in a forties-era hangar at the San Marcos Municipal Airport to honor the Greatest Generation, and I know of no better way to pay your respects than with a Lindy Hop with an eighty-year-old pilot. Besides, it’s hard to say no to a man in uniform. Katharyn Rodemann

74. Houston criminal lawyers
What is it with these guys? Their scary-smart rapport with the press? Their go-for-broke contempt for prosecutors and plea deals? First there was Percy Foreman, who successfully defended Melvin Powers, the lover/nephew of socialite Candace Mossler, against the charge that the two of them murdered Mossler’s husband, in the society trial of the sixties. His protégés, Dick DeGuerin and his brother, Mike DeGeurin (the former reverted to the older spelling of the name), have taken up a string of celebrity clients, from Kay Bailey Hutchison to Tom DeLay to various Branch Davidians. Along the way there has been Richard “Racehorse” Haynes, who freed, among others, Cullen Davis, charged with murdering his stepdaughter in the seventies. (Wasn’t the murderer really aiming for his estranged wife?) Then last year Dick DeGuerin, the smoothie, and the folksier Mike Ramsey teamed up to free Robert Durst, who chopped his Galveston neighbor into little pieces and then claimed self-defense. Now Ramsey has Ken Lay for a client. One final question: Is it Houston lawyers or Houston defendants who make life here irresistible? The answer: irrelevant, as long as they put on a good show. Mimi Swartz

75. Quail hunting
It’s the most exhilarating and most dangerous type of hunting this side of going after big game. Dogs take the lead, followed by hunters, three or four abreast, advancing through brush and tall grass. You can be right on top of a covey and not know it. With no warning, the birds flush, and the air is filled with quail. It’s a Hitchcockian moment. Then you’re firing in close quarters with an incredible adrenaline rush. Just don’t forget the two most important rules: Never, ever shoot behind you, and if you shoot somebody, it’s your fault. Even if the White House blames the victim. Paul Burka

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