Texas 2015

Searching for Texas’ True Essence: The Alamo and Beyond

“Not all those who wander are lost.” – J.R.R. Tolkien

My journey to Texas was sparked by Philipp Meyer’s novel, “The Son.” The multi-generational epic chronicles a Texas family’s saga from the 1800s Comanche Indian raids to the early 1900s border disputes and the 20th-century oil boom. Through this gripping narrative, Meyer maps the legacy of violence and portrays the cost of power and passion for the land. The characters in the novel fascinated me and inspired me to experience and better understand Texas’ unique culture for myself.

During my trip, I sought to uncover whether Texas was merely a state or a state of mind. I visited several historical museums, talked to locals, and gained insight into the state’s culture. Through my experiences and conversations, I began to understand that Texas is not just a physical entity but an attitude, a way of life. Visiting the Alamo was the ultimate test that would help me understand this enigmatic state.

Travel Route: Houston – NASA – Rothko Chapel and the Menil collection

Houston, We Have a Mission: NASA’s Quest for Mars

The new frontier is Mars; sometime in the 2030s, humans will land there. The journey back and forth will take about 2-3 years, but we must first build a water supply, food, and other instruments. At the Space Center in Houston, one can see how NASA is reaching new heights in technology and science to explore the unknown.

When cropped into a camera’s lens, some exhibits, like the spaceship engine, look like an item in a modern art exhibition. 

Art Oasis in Houston: The Dominique and John de Menil Collection

Houston has a surprisingly exciting variety of art exhibits, primarily thanks to Dominique and John de Menil. Their art collection is exhibited in a few buildings within walking distance from each other, in a neighborhood of craftsman-style houses with lush green plants. Houston, in general, is lush greenery; there was no water shortage here.

My main interest was to see the Rothko Chapel, which has been on my list of places to visit for many years. The rest of the exhibits were a fantastic bonus, including Dan Flavin’s playful art with fluorescent lights. Even Cy Twombly, whom I usually don’t get his thing with text and line, has some beautiful paintings in a structure dedicated to him exclusively. More about the Menil on this site.

The Rothko Chapel: A Monument to Silence and Contemplation

“We saw what a great master can do for a religious building when he is given a free hand. He can exalt and uplift as no one else.” – Dominique de Menil, on commissioning Mark Rothko to create a sacred space for Houston.

The Rothko Chapel is a nondenominational chapel affiliated with the Menil Collection. It’s a place that forces you into a silent, introspective, and meditative mode. The dark canvases, a mixture of black and purple, are floor-to-ceiling and very imposing. They radiate a sense of depression and death. Rothko often wrote about human tragedy, ecstasy, and doom; he suffered from depression. The Chapel paintings were his last major commission before committing suicide. More about the Rothko Chapel is on this site.

Travel Route: Surfside Beach – Galveston – New Waverly – Giddings – Austin

Exploring the History and Culture of Galveston and Central Texas

Traveling – it leaves you speechless, then turns you into a storyteller.” – Ibn Battuta

The journey took me to Galveston through the Gulf of Mexico shoreline. The drive was very peaceful, and the shoreline was mostly vacant. Galveston is a city with a long history, one that was once wealthy, dramatic, and full of intrigue – until the hurricane of 1900 wiped it all out. Galveston’s main attraction is its Victorian district, notably Bishop’s Palace.

A Scenic Drive Through the Heart of Texas History

I had two days of scenic driving through forests and pastoral farmland in Central Texas. The landscape contains many gentle green hills. In the early days of the Texas Republic, this region had a significant impact. The area was home to many different tribes, settlers, and political groups, all of whom influenced the development of Texas.

One of the largest tribes to make their home in the area was the Comanches. They had a strong presence in the region, and their influence was felt by both the settlers and their Native American neighbors. This area saw a lot of activity as new cities, towns, and farms were established. The central region soon became a hub of economic and social life, with many of the new businesses and institutions of the time filling the area. As the population of the Texas Republic grew, so did the growth and development of the central region.

Travel Route: Austin – Guadalupe River – Fredericksburg – San Antonio

A Journey West to Fredericksburg.

A driving route west traversed through oaks and juniper trees, over hilly terrain, and ended at the not-so-clear but rushing waters of Guadalupe River. From there, through similar terrain to Fredericksburg, an attractive small town known for its wineries and as the birthplace of Admiral Chester Nimitz. 

I completed listening to John Irving’s novel A Prayer for Owen Meany, which made me take a big breath as it was so exquisite

The Alamo: A Story of Resilience, Hope, Courage, and Success

San Antonio has long been one of the most popular travel destinations in the United States. It is home to historical sites like the Alamo, which serves as a reminder of Texas’ unique and vibrant spirit. This spirit has inspired not just Texans but people all across the world to visit this city.

The Alamo is an excellent place to pause and ask how a nation’s heritage, identity, character, and dreams are created. Every nation has its unique heritage, identity, character, and dreams created through history and experiences. Nations have unique stories of resilience, hope, courage, and success. These stories are often shared as a source of pride and identity. Additionally, they can help to create a sense of belonging and collective purpose.

The Alamo is a heroic story of Texans taking matters into their own hands and fighting for what is right. This event created a mark of identity: who we are, what the land means for us, what we will stand for, and whom we will become. People saw Texas as a place of possibilities that are made, not given. And this is why Texas is a state of mind!

Tomorrow I will start driving to west Texas, Marfa, and the desert. And being in the desert is, without a doubt, a state of mind I love.

Travel Route: San Antonio – Big Bend National Park – Alpine

Uncovering the Beauty of Big Bend National Park

“Travel makes one modest. You see what a tiny place you occupy in the world.” – Gustave Flaubert

It’s not one of the famous National Parks; it is certainly far and difficult to reach. And maybe that’s why it is one of the least-visited national parks. After a drive that took me 10 hours (with many stops), I arrived at Chisos Mountains Lodge. The picturesque landscape blew me away. The sky was a deep blue, and the sweeping panoramic views of the mountains filling the horizon were breathtaking.

The park takes its name from the U-shaped bend of the Rio Grande bordering the park, providing a natural border between the United States and Mexico. It’s not precisely “Grande,” as the water level is low due to drought that has left much of the river dry. You can cross the river into Mexico on foot at some points, although signs warn that it’s illegal. I noticed a significant presence of border patrol cars in the park and the surrounding area.

Terlingua: A Haunting Remnant of the Past

As I drove along the road, I encountered several small towns, one of which was Terlingua. Once a bustling mining community, it now remains a ghost town with only a few brave souls who have chosen to make their home in this remote and picturesque place. Curiosity led me to explore the abandoned mines and deserted buildings for an hour. The desolation was palpable, and the eeriness of the empty streets and silent buildings added to the unsettling atmosphere. The scorching summer heat, coupled with the distance from any major city, made me imagine the difficulty of survival that humans must have faced in this area.

Travel Route: Alpine – Marfa – El Paso

The Mysterious Charm of Marfa, Texas

While “big” may be the watchword for Texas, it doesn’t mean that every single person or place here is larger than life. Some of the “coolest” and most exciting cities in West Texas are small ones. And Spring’s colorful blossoms made the drive much longer because I had to stop every five minutes to photograph the scenery.

Marfa is a state of mind all on its own. A small town of 2,000 has become a haven for artists due to its captivating landscapes and small-town ambiance. The west Texas town became a magnet for creative spirits in 1971 when Donald Judd, a renowned Minimalist artist, moved to Marfa. He disdained the city art scene and wanted to create permanent installations for his sculptures.

I was deeply impressed by the spacious living compound he created for himself and his two children; he was a single parent. He converted two large warehouses in what used to be part of a military base into working, living, and library spaces, interwoven and neatly organized, accented with furniture which he designed. Today two foundations are working to maintain his legacy, managing the exhibition spaces and other activities, including several artist’s residency programs, which attract a stream of interesting people. 

Marfa is famous for the mysterious lights that sometimes appear in the night sky across the Chinati Mountains. It’s a phenomenon yet to be explained, which we did not see but met others who swear by it. Marfa was also the filming location of Giant, James Dean’s last movie.

It was a great place and with even a delightful company, Danna Sigal, to end two weeks tour of 2300 miles (3700 km) from East to West Texas.

My book recommendations

The Gates of the Alamo, by Stephen Harrigan

The Son, by Philipp Meyer

All the Pretty Horses, The Border Trilogy, Book 1, by Cormac McCarthy

No Country for Old Men, by Cormac McCarthy

The Frackers: The Outrageous Inside Story of the New Billionaire Wildcatters, by Gregory Zuckerman

On Juneteenth, by Annette Gordon-Reed