Travel Trails By Martin B. Deutsch



January 1, 1965 -- Texas is a vast, friendly, wealthy state. There's always another oil strike, a field of gas wells, a ranch with 100,000 acres and at least as many head of cattle. Occasionally, someone has just one acre--in the heart of downtown Dallas.

The Lone Star State is also richly endowed with history and folklore. Many of our most colorful heroes achieved fame in the saga of the unique frontier years and in the dramatic struggles which culminated in statehood. The cowboy, the Indian, the soldier, the statesman, they've all left a permanent imprint on the trail of Texas history, a trail you and your family might well want to follow on your next vacation.

Texas has recently embarked on a program to package its historic, scenic and other resources with an eye to developing a product long overlooked here--tourism. They want you and the wife and the kids to come down and share the wonders of America's second largest state with them. They do things in a big way down there and this tourist drive is no exception. There's a busy Texas Tourist Development Agency in Austin, which was instrumental last year in bringing dozens of travel writers and nearly a hundred travel agents into the state from all over the country. They liked what they saw and what they did.

What is it that Texas has? After all, most people associate the state with flat, arid desert. The "Fun-Tier" State, as Texas now bills itself, is actually a land of contrasts. The terrain ranges from sea level to more than 8,700 feet. There are great forests in the east and southeast; hundreds of miles of sandy coast; hills with lakes and streams in the heart of the state; the majestic mesas and canyons of the Panhandle and the handsome, mountainous west. Texas has 4,500 square miles of lakes and streams, the second greatest expanse of inland water in the nation, topped only by Alaska. In addition, it has more than 600 miles of coast, so while the state does have its share of desert (which is very beautiful), the landscape is generally varied and almost always good to look at.

There's nothing haphazard or disorganized in the way this versatile terrain in handled. There are approximately fifty-five state parks and four national forests, most of which are open all year-round. (There are virtually no winter sports in Texas, since the weather is mild in the southern sectors from January through December.) State parks are divided into three categories: recreational, scenic and historical parks and sites. The first two categories generally include parks with cabins, camping facilities and trailer areas. Most of them also offer rest rooms and showers as well as picnic grounds, fishing, swimming, boating and hiking. Quite a few have shelters, grocery stores, golf and saddle horses. The historic sites, such as the Alamo in San Antonio, or Old Fort Parker, Groesbeck, provide no facilities.

There are four National Forests: the Sam Houston, Davy Crockett, Angelina and Sabine. The acreage of each exceeds 150,000. Headquarters for the four parks is Lufkin, a community which thrives on the lumber and paper industries, as well as two iron foundries. The Old Camino Real, Spanish for King's Highway, passes through this part of the state, and there are also several ancient missions, at least one of which dates back to the seventh century. (The first "tourist" in Texas, incidentally, way back in the early sixteenth century, was a Spaniard, Alonzo Alvarez de Pineda.) Getting back to the National Forests, each has camp sites and shelters, as well as swimming and boating facilities.

Fishing is a popular and rewarding pastime in Texas, with many sectors of the state high on the angler's list. Freshwater species include black bass and white bass, crappie, cat and bream. In the Gulf of Mexico, you'll find red fish and red snapper, flounder, salt-water drum, king mackerel and Spanish mackerel. If you're inclined to tangle with one of the most renowned of all fighting fish, there's the battling tarpon. In the autumn, the visiting hunter will find deer, as well as duck and geese, dove and quail. There's also an unusual activity--hunting the javelina, better known as the wild pig.

For those who hanker for more outdoor activities, the state's fifty-four peaks, which penetrate above 6,000 feet, offer a mountain-climbing challenge. In pursuit of less taxing sport, the state is happily endowed with dozens of golf courses, laid out in any way you like them--near pine groves, amid stately palms or in a desert setting.

Spectator sports are always on tap, including major-league baseball with the Houston Colt .45s and four major-league football entries. A fantastic show--and the admission is nil--will be found at the King Ranch, two miles northwest of Kingsville on the coastal plains. Nearly 1,000,000 acres hold the huge herds of Santa Gertrudis cattle, first breed to originate in the U.S. You can take a twelve-mile drive through the ranch grounds to see the feeding pens, show pens, thoroughbred-training stables, quarter horses, auction ring and the main ranch. You're welcome daily from six-thirty a.m. to six p.m.

Rodeos, fiestas and festivals enliven the Texas scene without letup. Rodeos come in the summer and early autumn, usually in conjunction with a stock show. The fiestas, dominated by the Mexican influence, are ever present. The most famous is the Fiesta San Antonio, held every spring in the city. The week-long pageant is marked by parades, including an illuminated nocturnal procession down the San Antonio River.

Biggest event of them all is the State Fair of Texas, held every October at the fair grounds in Dallas. This permanent-exposition plant covers close to 300 acres and is open almost all year as a city park. It's closed for preparations two weeks before the sixteen-day state fair. The Fair Park is open from nine to five during the week, nine to six on Sundays and holidays. This is also the scene of the Cotton Bowl, the New Year's Day football classic. The stadium, home of the Southern Methodist University football club, seats over 75,000 fans. The fairgrounds also house several fine museums, an aquarium, a music hall and a garden center.

Since we're already in Dallas, we ought to motor twenty miles west toward Fort Worth for a visit to Six Flags Over Texas, in Arlington, an imaginative entertainment park, with a historical theme. Each section tells the story of Texas under a different rule, in live, dramatic terms. It's open Saturday and Sunday in spring and fall, daily during June, July and August. Admission is $3.50 for adults, and $2.50 for youngsters under twelve, and includes rides and shows. It's worth a visit. Incidentally, there's a very attractive Inn of the Six Flags right nearby, with more than 300 rooms and a number of restaurants and swimming pools. Rates average between $16 and $18 for two. It's advisable to write for reservations in advance when the recreation park is open. Just contact The Innkeeper, Box 2700, Arlington, Texas.

Since we're in the Dallas-Fort Worth area (two highly individual and competitive communities), we may as well point out that this is the starting point for a 2,800-mile auto tour of the state, as recommended by the Texas Highway Department. You need two weeks to cover this sprawling territory comfortably, but you can pick up and leave off where you like. Spend a day here or a week there; that's the great advantage of traveling by car without a hard-and-fast program. Driving clockwise, we'll take in such highlight as the Alabama and Coushatta Indian Reservation, the Aquarena at the headwaters of the San Marcos River, Austin and San Antonio, the caverns of Sonora, Big Bend National Park (a fabulous place on the Rio Grande), Fort Davis, Monahans Sandhills State Park and Polo Duro Canyon State Park.

Near Dallas, on the first leg of our itinerary, lies Lake Texarkana, a resort area with everything in the way of water sports and fishing. The "Rose Capital of the World," Tyler, is next, then the National Forest, which we covered earlier, and the state's Indian reservation. The Alabama and Coushatta Indians came to eastern Texas early in the nineteenth century; peaceful, progressive tribes, they certainly merit a visit.

Houston, with its fine deep-water port, is renovated for tours down the Ship Channel to Galveston Bay, San Jacinto State Park, the Manned Spacecraft Center (Project Apollo), several famous historical monuments, all with the pervasive feel that this town's on the go.

The state capital of Austin holds the University of Texas, the only French legation in the United States outside Washington, three excellent museums, and, just ten minutes from downtown, the lovely Highland Lakes area. Then on to San Marcos and the Aquarena, where you and the youngsters will enjoy underwater shows at the Submarine Theatre ($1.35 per head, kids six to eleven, eighty-five cents), and glass-bottom boat rides (same rates), plus Texana Village and a sky ride.

The Alamo, in downtown San Antonio, may well excite your interest and imagination. Erected in 1718 as a mission, the Alamo became a fortress during Texas' war for independence with Mexico. On March 6, 1836, after a siege of two weeks, it fell to the Mexicans. Immortalized were every one of the 183 defenders, including Colonel James Bowie and Davy Crockett. The battle cry of "Remember the Alamo" spurred the Texans on to victory at San Jacinto. The Alamo is open weekdays nine to five, Sundays and holidays, ten to five, no admission.

San Antonio is also famous for its San Jose Mission (1720); the restored Spanish Governor's Palace; La Villita, a reconstruction of a Spanish town as it was 200 years ago (no charge); Brackenridge Park; the Zoological Gardens and superb authentic Mexican cuisine.

Next stop is the King Ranch, which we've already talked about; then historic Fort Brown in Brownsville, oldest city on the lower Rio Grande. You can cross the border here to Matamoros in Mexico without tourist or car permits, provided the stay doesn't exceed twenty-four hours. Customs on both sides does inspect baggage. Laredo, chief port of entry into Mexico on the Pan American Highway, is rich in south-of-the-border atmosphere.

The Caverns of Sonora are distinguished by picturesque underground formations and free camping facilities. Admission to the caverns runs $1.50 for the elders, seventy-five cents for children. After Fort Stockton, Comanche Springs and Tunis Springs Ranger Station, we arrive at the state's last great wilderness area, Big Bend National Park. Covering nearly three-quarters of a million acres, Big Bend is a dramatic contrast of majestic mountains and the desert in all its glory. Inside the mammoth park are the Chisos Mountains and the Santa Elena, Mariscal and Boquillas Canyons. The Rio Grande flows through three magnificent gorges. The entire region is untamed, exciting, with volcanic rock, jutting peaks, several varieties of deer, coyotes, foxes and javelina.

For a circle tour of the park, covering nearly 200 miles, you follow a trail from Marathon via park headquarters at Panther Junction to the Chisos Mountain Basin to Alpine. Big Bend is also crisscrossed with many miles of riding and hiking trails. Saddle horses, pack animals and guides are available. There's also fishing along the Rio Grande. Accommodations include campgrounds, limited trailer facilities and cabins, open all year.

Fort Davis is the highest community in Texas, over 8,000 feet above sea level, and there's a typical frontier military compound of adobe buildings and rows of barracks. Also worth a visit is the McDonald Observatory; the conducted weekend tours are free, Monahans Sandhills State park has been described as a "playground of striking, wind-sculptured beauty." Sand dunes often reach seventy feet and the shifting winds continually unearth relics and remains of wagon trains and victims of Indian attacks. Further on, we'll find Palo Duro Canyon, considered one of the state's scenic wonders. Here, wind and water have worked visual wonders with the erosion of sand and rock. Open all year, admission is $1 per car. Make sure the camera's in good shape.

Then Amarillo and Buffalo Lake, home of crappie, bass, channel and blue catfish. There are some housekeeping cabins here and boats, a nice spot to relax for a day or two before pushing on to Fort Worth on the final leg of our journey. Amarillo, by the way, the "high point of the Texas Star," was once the focal point of a search by Spanish conquistadores for the legendary Seven Cities of Cibola. Today, Amarillo is the home of the world-renowned Cal Farley's Ranch, for boys who "never had a chance." They get one here.

Out to Fort Worth, where the Amon G. Carter Museum of Western Art displays what is probably the most important collection of Western pictures, sculpture, books and other valuable objects. The city's Children's Museum is also of interest, especially the "Hall of Man" and the "Live Animal Room." The aura of the Old West is perpetuated by Fort Worth's Southwestern Exposition and Fat Stock Show, with its first-class rodeo. The Casa Manana Theatre presents Broadway musicals in the summer and road shows in the winter.

On our way back to Dallas, we go once again through the Six Flags Over Texas. It's been a lot of travel for two weeks, but if you follow this route, at least you've touched on most of the tourist attractions this vital, versatile state has to offer. Next time, you can revisit at leisure those places which took your fancy.

Aside from this "Complete Tour of Texas," the Highway Department has also designed three other two-week trips for he traveler with special interests.

The Scenic-Historic Tour spans 1,253 miles, reviving the Old West as it still exists today. You'll drive from Dallas to Grand Saline, Tyler, Kilgore, Nacogdoches, Lufkin, Huntsville, Houston, Stephen P. Austin State Park, La Grange, Bastrop, Austin, San Marcos, Brackettville, Del Rio, Sonora, Fredericksburg, Marble Falls, Salado, Waco, Fort Worth, and Six Flags.

The state park and national park "Rugged West" tour meanders over 1,282 miles. The accent is on the outdoors, modern camping facilities, as well as big-city-type accommodations for a change of pace. Suggested starting point is Lubbock, and you'll visit Midland, Monahans Sandhills State Park, Fort Stockton, Big Bend National Park, Alpine, Fort Davis, El Paso, El Capitan-Guadalupe Peak Safety Rest Area, Palo Duro Canyon State Park and Amarillo. El Paso, which was haven't touched on before, is the largest city on the Mexican border, and its Spanish-American flavor is exhilarating. Across the Rio Grande, in the sister city of Juarez, there are picturesque old missions, Mexican markets and some beautiful drives. Ciudad Juarez also has bullfights at the Plaza de Toros, "Alberto Balderas," with action on Sunday afternoons most of the year. Just east of El Paso lies Ysleta, the oldest town in Texas, founded in 1662.

Final itinerary is the 1,274-mile coastal tour of Texas, with two alternatives, both starting in Dallas. One hugs the coast and takes in Fort Parker State Park, West Columbia, Rockport-Fulton, Corpus Christi, Brownsville and the Lower Rio Grande valley, San Antonio, San Marcos, Austin, Salado, Waco, Fort Worth and Six Flags. The alternate bypass West Columbia and Rockport-Fulton, replacing them with Sugar Land, Victoria and Goliad.

Any way you decide to go, there's a lot to see and do in the Lone Star State.

This column originally appeared in Argosy magazine.

Copyright 1962-2007 by Martin B. Deutsch. All rights reserved.