Posted by Alyona Gorbatko, Information Assistant
When I found out that I would spend a year in Texas as an exchange student, I was a bit disappointed. I thought Texas was far less interesting than the rest of the United States. Now I can say, I wasn’t bored exploring the diverse areas of The Lone Star State.
To begin with, Texas is very different from the rest of the United States. Because of its unique history and culture the official Texas slogan is “Texas: It’s Like a Whole Other Country.” And it is. They say everything is bigger in Texas – well, no wonder, since Texas is the second largest state in the country (after Alaska), covering 262,017 square miles (the size of France). This huge area features many natural attractions, historical locations, scientific sites and recreation areas. It is a “Land of Cowboys, Oil, and Space.”
Texas became the 28th U.S. state on December 29, 1845. However, it is the only state to enter the United States by treaty instead of territorial annexation. It also is the only state that used to be an independent country, from 1836-1845. After Texas’s annexation, Mexico broke diplomatic relations with the United States, a contributing factor in the Mexican-American War. The two nations fought from 1846 through 1848, when they signed the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. That treaty gave the United States more than 1.2 million square kilometers (500,000 square miles) of Mexican territory in what now makes up parts of California, Nevada, Utah, Arizona, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Kansas, Colorado and Wyoming. Some say that without Texas independence, the U.S. map would look very different today.
Texas is widely associated with the image of the cowboy. This is due to its long history as a center of the cattle industry that thrived after the Civil War. Yes, there are still cowboys in Texas, but they don’t represent the majority of the state’s population. Despite the popular stereotype, not all Texans ride horses, and it’s quite unusual to drive down the highway and see someone riding a horse. However, it’s quite usual to see people wearing cowboy hats and boots as a sign of their Texan pride.
Another nationally recognized statement of Texan pride is a sign that says “Don’t Mess with Texas”, which you might spot driving through the state. Now a trademark of the Texas Department of Transportation, the phrase was a slogan of a statewide anti-littering campaign in 1986. Having become a Texas cultural phenomenon, it nowadays appears on countless items of tourist souvenirs.
The oil boom in the early 20th century led to rapid industrialization and wealth. As a result, cities such as Dallas and Fort Worth experienced construction booms and the education system was improved. One of the nation’s biggest universities – the University of Texas in Austin was built in part with oil revenues. Now you can see big and small oil pumps throughout the state while traveling.
Texas’s cultural diversity is celebrated by its citizens, many of whom enjoy the official state dance, the square dance, and typical Texas food. Texas cuisine is influenced from a wide range of cultural influences, including German, Mexican, Native American, and African American. The four best known dishes found in Texas are chili con carne, slow-smoked over wood coals BBQ, chicken fried steak and Tex-Mex cuisine. Texas boasted over 1,300 barbecue joints, ranging from side-of-the-road grease houses with slamming screendoors to sit-down restaurants with beautiful vistas. You can taste Texas’s Best BBQ Legends in the towns of Lockhart, Taylor, Elgin and Luling. These family-owned BBQ joints serve thousands of customers each day. Or you can visit a Big Texan Ranch in Amarillo, where a large cow statue welcomes you to a world-famous 72-oz. (2.04 kg) steak. The steak is free to anyone who, in one hour or less, can eat the entire meal, consisting of the steak itself, plus bread roll with butter, baked potato, ranch beans, shrimp cocktail, and salad; otherwise, the meal costs $72.00.
Texas’s largest cities are destinations within themselves. Houston is famous for being the biggest city in the state and the home of NASA’s Johnson Space Center, where the Mission Control Center is located. Made famous during the Space Race of the 1960s, the Houston Space Center is filled with exciting artifacts to view such as: space suits, flight capsules, and moon rocks. The Houston Space Center control room lets you experience an environment with no gravity and takes you behind the scenes in the space simulation laboratory.
If you want a truly authentic experience, you might want to go visit The Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo. It’s a world of its own with trail rides, cowboy cooking, contests, western art and just about anything else you can think of relating to rodeos and cowboys.
Dallas offers many places to visit for art lovers, such as the Dallas Museum of Art, which features a large collection of works from superstars such as Rothko, Pollock, Monet, Van Gogh, and Degas. Also on display are selections from the Aztec, Maya, and Nazca civilizations. History buffs may be interested in the Sixth Floor Museum, located in the building overlooking Dealey Plaza, where President Kennedy was assassinated in 1963. The location where Oswald allegedly fired is protected by Plexiglas and viewable to museum guests, as are hundreds of photos, personal accounts, and documentary footage from that infamous November day.
Close to Dallas is the Cowboy Stadium in Arlington – the largest domed stadium in the world, which seats 80,000 people and serves as the home of the National Football League’s Dallas Cowboys.
Any visit to Texas would be incomplete without a trip to the Alamo. The Alamo is located in San Antonio. It is where Texas defenders fell to Mexican General Santa Anna and the phrase “Remember the Alamo” originated. The Alamo is considered the cradle of Texas liberty and the state’s most popular historic site. And if you are in San Antonio, another must see there for any visitor is the Riverwalk – a famous shopping and dining district located along the winding banks of the San Antonio River.
And of course, there’s Austin, the state’s capital, also known as the Live Music Capital of the World with nearly 200 venues, offering everything from rockabilly to Tejano year-round, from unknowns to Texas giants like Willie Nelson, the Dixie Chicks and Los Lonely Boys.
If you are looking for an escape or a vacation destination, the gorgeous coastline awaits you on your trip to the Gulf of Mexico, where you’ll enjoy tropical weather alongside some of the world’s most beautiful coastline. You can also go to the Big Bend National Park that reveals the surprising diversity of the Texas landscape.
Texas is full of things to see and do. And if one questions that, you can tell them, ‘You may all go to hell, and I will go to Texas’.