Texas, it has been said, is a state of mind. If that’s an abstract way of thinking, it’s at least rooted in a very physical reality: we live in a land of unending skies and disparate spaces, where mesquite stretches for miles in one direction and pine clusters densely in another, where rivers form borders and bayous, where the flatness of our plains rivals the depths of our canyons. For Texans our understanding of ourselves has as much to do with terrain—with place—as it does with our shared values of friendliness, independence, and barbecue.
How we each appropriate this place, of course, is entirely personal. Most of us can probably think of a particular road or a certain view or a special hole-in-the-wall that we return to over and over again—because it reminds us of a certain time in our lives or stirs our senses or renews our souls in a way that transcends words. These settings make this vast state feel intimate, immediate, and individually ours.
It’s with that distinct relationship in mind that we decided to ask famous Texans to identify their favorite place in the state and tell us why it matters to them. We then sent photographer Jeff Wilson on a journey to capture each spot. The resulting images provide a delightfully idiosyncratic view of what we might call our favorite Texas. Let them charm you, offer new meaning, and remind you of who you are.
My favorite place is my ranch in Luck. There’s a pasture at the top of a hill where the horses graze and hang out at the water trough. The view is fantastic, and the horses are beautiful, healthy, and happy. The quiet is astounding. And when I get on my horse, the whole world changes. I’m one step closer to heaven.
Nelson has recorded 69 studio albums, the latest of which, Band of Brothers, was released in June. He lives near Spicewood.
I have so many favorite places, but I’m picking St. Paul Lutheran Church, in Serbin, because besides being an authentically historic place to visit, it symbolizes how so many Texas communities came into being. St. Paul isn’t my home church, but its origins are much like those of the one I grew up in—Trinity Lutheran Church, in Klein, which was founded in the mid-1800’s by German immigrants seeking religious freedom and economic opportunity. My great-great-grandfather Adam Klein was a founding member of Trinity, but sadly the original building is long gone.
St. Paul’s building, however, not only survives but still holds services every Sunday, and when you visit it, you step back in time.
I have a family connection to St. Paul too. My maternal grandmother’s father, my great-grandfather Herman Schroeder, was the schoolteacher and minister of music at St. Paul after he retired from thirty years of service at St. John, in Lincoln. Great-grandpa Schroeder is the only person I know of whom I’m related to who was a musician.
Lovett is a singer, songwriter, and actor who has released thirteen albums. He lives in the Houston area.
My favorite place is in San Antonio: a huge cypress near my house, along the San Antonio River, where Crofton and Constance streets meet. It’s at least a century old and full of orifices for whispering or leaving offerings. Its roots are perfect for cradling in and reading a book. Once, it had a cleft in its belly, but someone cemented it up, I think because too many critters slept in there, two-legged as well as four-. Well, why not? Who wouldn’t want to sleep in the belly of a tree?
This is an ancient and sacred tree. Sometimes I find folks having a picnic there. Sometimes I find beer cans and condom wrappers. It seems everyone finds plenty of reasons to hang out by the tree. As for me, whenever I’m lost, I sit down on its lap and listen to what it has to tell me.
I featured this very tree in my most recent book, Have You Seen Marie?, so that no one would do it any harm. I think it should be given a Nobel Peace Prize. After all, it is full of peace and unity and offers love indiscriminately to all.
Cisneros is the author of The House on Mango Street and Caramelo, as well as various short stories, poetry collections, children’s books, and essays. She lives in San Antonio and central Mexico.
My favorite place is H&H Car Wash and Coffee Shop, in El Paso, because you can get a taco while you wait for your car to get cleaned. The exotic call of thinking, “Let’s clean up this vehicle and, while we’re at it, get a taco”—it just doesn’t get much better than that.
Gibbons is a founding member of the band ZZ Top. He lives in Houston and Los Angeles.
My favorite place is my grandmother’s front porch, in South Dallas. She lives next to I-45, and I always sit and watch the cars go by. As a child, I’d wonder who was in those cars and where in the world they could be going so fast. Now I know how those drivers must feel, yet a part of me is always six years old, and when I sit on that porch, I forget all about rushing to and fro. My mind is completely still.
Badu is a singer-songwriter who has released six albums. She lives in Dallas.
My absolute favorite spot is on the river in Santa Elena Canyon, in Big Bend. It is a reach-out-and-touch-the-face-of-God kind of place. Looking up at the “skyscraper” rock walls that shoot up from the riverbanks makes me feel small and insignificant, and I realize that the only thing temporary there is me. I have spent a lot of time in that place—one that most people in Texas will never see—and its beauty and enormity have spawned many thoughts, some good and some bad.
Once, as I was emerging from the mouth of the canyon, I ran into the musician Butch Hancock. He was sitting on a rock, playing his guitar and making up songs. I asked him why he was practicing his craft in such a remote place, and he said, “Life is too short not to mix business and pleasure whenever you get the chance.” Santa Elena inspires that kind of creativity.
Phillips is a television journalist who has hosted the weekly syndicated program Texas Country Reporter for more than forty years. He lives in Beaumont.
Big Bend National Park is one of my favorite places. When I was growing up, my mom and I went almost every year until I was fourteen or so. I think there are about eight pictures of me in front of the same rock on the Window Trail at various ages. I recently went back with some girlfriends and took a picture in front of that rock for Mom. From the Window Trail to the Lost Mine Trail to the sand-dune slide at Boquillas Canyon, the variety of hikes is incredible. Just drink enough water out there—it gets hot.
Jones is a singer-songwriter who grew up in Dallas and Grapevine. Her latest album, with her band Puss n Boots, is called No Fools, No Fun and was released in July. She lives in New York.
My favorite place is the Rothko Chapel. It is the Citizen Kane of chapels—a different experience every time. Sometimes transcendent, sometimes foreboding, often exhilarating, occasionally tedious, each experience is a confluence of the natural light, the other visitors—if any—and your own mood in the moment. The one constant: total absorption into the dark, imposing Rothko canvases. What a combination of art and architecture! I try to visit every time I’m in Houston—it’s a habit I got into in the eighties.
Linklater is a director and screenwriter whose movies include Dazed and Confused and the Before trilogy. His latest film, Boyhood, was released in July. He lives in Austin.
My favorite place is the stone tank on my family ranch, where I’ve made a home, on the side of a rocky hill, halfway between Marfa and Fort Davis. It’s one of the most remote, serene, and beautiful places on the planet, fed by the water underground, and when you stand naked on the tank’s edge, you can see nothing and everything for a hundred miles: a thunderstorm approaching, the moon rising, the soft white clouds in the achingly blue summer sky.
Originally a holding tank for water that was pumped up by the windmill to a high place on the property, it became obsolete with the installation of an electric pump for the house and the barn. Now it’s the most splendid infinity pool in the world.
Lambert is an entrepreneur who operates hotels in Marfa (El Cosmico), San Antonio (Hotel Havana), and Austin (Hotel Saint Cecilia and Hotel San José). She lives in Austin and on her ranch in far West Texas.
My favorite place is Gruene Hall. I have incredible memories there from when I was younger, growing up in New Braunfels, listening to great Texas country music. I still go to see my favorite artists. You can hear the roaring of the Guadalupe River in the background, and there’s always a friendly crowd that makes you feel at home, no matter where you’re from.
Kingsbury was a quarterback for Texas Tech University and is now the head football coach for the Red Raiders. He lives in Lubbock.
My favorite place is the Native Texas Park at the George W. Bush Presidential Center, at my alma mater, Southern Methodist University. Texas draws its beauty from the land, and the fifteen-acre park reflects that reality with prairie grasses, native wildflowers, and trees. Some of the trees—cedar elms, live oaks, and pecans—come from the tree farm at our ranch, in Crawford.
I love viewing this scene from season to season. In winter the golden grasses conjure images of a Texas ranch in the dead of January. In spring the wildflowers blossom into their reds, yellows, and blues, and all of them blow with the wind. In summer the landscape becomes still, much like the season’s slow pace. In fall the leaves of the oaks turn red and golden as the spent grasses prepare to renew themselves. Pausing atop a hill on the southernmost edge, you get a 360-degree panorama of Dallas’s dazzling skyline, SMU’s Georgian campus—and, of course, a certain presidential library.
Bush is a former teacher, librarian, and first lady of the United States. She lives in Dallas.
My favorite place is my wonderful Prairie-style mansion in Archer City. It contains my 28,000-volume library of books, a source of solace and tranquility whenever I’m among them. My second-favorite place is the Ranchman’s cafe, in the town of Ponder, about ten miles west of Denton. I’ve been eating at the Ranchman’s for, maybe, 55 years. I’ve lately learned that Ponder was the first place my forebears settled when they moved from Missouri, in the 1880’s. My grandfather broke horses there for ten years. There was, alas, no Ranchman’s back then.
McMurtry is the author of more than thirty novels (including Lonesome Dove), three memoirs, two collections of essays, and more than forty screenplays. His most recent work, The Last Kind Words Saloon, was published in May. He lives in Archer City.
When I first moved to Austin, in the late eighties, I would take these long, 120-mile training rides out west around Lake Travis, to Marble Falls and back. Coming into town on Redbud Trail, just past the intersection at Westlake Drive, I’d go up this little rise—the last hill of the day—and then I’d crest, and all of a sudden, this perfect view of downtown would emerge. Right in the middle, centered exactly, was the Capitol. That always told me, “You’re home now, welcome back.” The skyline has since changed—there was no Austonian, no W Hotel—and back then Austin wasn’t as crowded and the riding was safer. I don’t do 120-mile rides anymore, but I still ride into Austin from the west, still crest that hill, and still think, “I’m home now.”
Armstrong is a former professional cyclist. He lives in Austin.