Back in the spring, I came up with the notion of celebrating summer with a Texas seafood cookout on our very own Gulf Coast. I thought it was a good idea then, and I think it’s a good idea now. Despite the devastating effect of the BP oil spill on our neighbors in the eastern Gulf of Mexico, Texas has been spared. Prevailing ocean currents have kept the oil and tar far from our beaches, and locally caught seafood is safe.
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I set off on foot my first day here in the historic center to find a bite to eat. The bright red buses cruised by, each one decorated with its own imaginative artistry; I’ve ridden public transport all over Latin America, but here in Central America’s biggest and perhaps craziest capital city, I’d been warned to stay away.
Unless you’re breaking out of a maximum-security prison, an escape should be as effortless as possible while still shaking you free of routine. To this end, we asked ourselves some serious questions about the nature of the journey and scoured the state for answers. The results are a mix of quick jaunts, some to the middle of big cities and others to the end of a road to nowhere, some with focused activities and others whose focus is inactivity.
Austin Street Retreat, 408 W. Austin Street (one block north of Main), Fredericksburg (830-997-5612, fax 830-997-8282; www.fbglodging.com). Double occupancy $125 (breakfast not included). No telephones in some rooms; no televisions; hot tubs with handheld showers only. Children allowed in Maria’s only. No smoking indoors, no pets. AE, DS, MC, V.
The star-spangled blizzard of GOP faithful descending upon Houston this month will arrive with the confidence that they’re in George Bush Country. But how certain will they be of this when they leave? They won’t find any houses in the city owned by Bush, any buildings bearing his name, or for that matter, anything in Houston to suggest that he has left behind something resembling a political legacy.
West of the Pecos everything shifts. The landscape gives up any pretense of being nurturing or pleasant, and the creatures that survive amid these harsh rocks tend to be prickly and self-sufficient (though most of the humans, at least, can be kind and generous). Mountains slash across the desert like knife scars, but in fact they are the crumbling bones of the world, connected to the Rockies, the Ozarks, and Mexico’s Sierra Madre.
One of the best ways to get to know the area is to cruise west along I-10 from Balmorhea to Fort Hancock, passing, in order, the Davis, Apache, Wylie, Carrizo, Beach, Quitman, Malone, and those Finlay Mountains, as well as the Sierra Blanca and Devil’s Ridge. At first sight most of these ranges, not high enough for the kind of bio-diversity you find up in the Guadalupes or Chisos, appear to be nothing more than sweltering piles of collapsing rock.
Texas likes to think of itself as having it all, but when it comes to climate and topography, the state’s otherwise hugely varied terrain lacks one major feature: big, old mountains glistening with pillowy snow under a brilliant blue sky on a gloriously cold (but not too cold) winter day.