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The first thing that comes to mind when one thinks of Texas is big. Texas has a reputation for big cars, big ranches, big homes, big everything. But how big is Texas really? Texas has a land area of 261,914 square miles; for reference, France has a land area of 216,641 sq miles (545,630 sq km). The distance from Texarkana, Texas to El Paso is 830 miles as compared to only 802 miles between New York City and Chicago, Illinois. At an estimated population of over 20 million (1999) Texas ranks 3rd in the United States behind New York and California. According to comedian Drew Carey, Texas also leads the nation in drive-thru liquor stores.
They talk about California being an alien universe from the rest of the United States. Texas in its own way is at least as freaky. They've got their own seccesionist movement (a bunch of apocalyptic Christian militia freaks) and the prerequisite number of freaky religions, including Branch Davidians, the Church of the Subgenius (which was actually born in Texas) and weird Pentecostal ministers who broadcast weekly from Dallas. There's also heavy Catholisism right in the buckle of the Protestant bible belt. And in the midst of all of this psychic interference, you'll find a burgeoning Pagan population who practise the faith of Santeria which has blown in across the Rio Grande from Mexico. Oh, and there's also voodoo that crawls out of the Louisiana swamps.
Land of Conspiracy
President Lyndon Johnson, a Texas native, took office under what are now considered to be suspicious circumstances after the assassination of John F Kennedy in Dallas. It is worth noting that nearly everyone involved in the decision making end of the security for this trip was a Texan.
The University of Texas was the site of the United States' first major spree killing in 1966 when Charles Whitman, armed with a sniper's rifle holed up in the bell tower for 96 minutes shooting 45 people, killing 14. No compelling reason has ever been found for this ex-Marine and former Eagle Scout's sudden snap.
During the spring of 1993, agents of the FBI and ATF besieged the compound of the Branch Davidians at Waco, followers of self-proclaimed messiah David Koresh. The siege ended on 19 April when the government forces moved in with tear gas and other weapons, and there followed a fire that killed most of the inhabitants inside the compound. Since then a web of conspiracies has been spun around the incident, helped in no small degree by the fact that new evidence has regularly surfaced contradicting earlier claims made by the FBI.
Texas has its own seccessionist movement called the Second Provisional Government of the Republic of Texas, whose members believe that Texas never actually entered the Union, and that Texas is a separate country and therefore not accountable to Federal courts1. They reserve the right to mint currency and to seize any lands currently held by United States nationals. They also issue passports, costing at the time of writing $25 US, and government manuals costing $10 US.
Tips for Travellers
The first thing a traveller in Texas should remember is that this is the ancestral homeland of rednecks everywhere. You are liable to run into many of them here, so act accordingly.
If you plan on driving slowly, especially if your vehicle has 'Yankee' license plates please remember that Texas allows its citizens the right to carry concealed weapons and gives out large numbers of concealed weapons permits every year.
And if you hear English being spoken in the kitchen, it's not a real Mexican restaurant.
Things to do in Texas
South by Southwest Music Conference and Festival (SXSW) in Austin was started in 1987 (a film festival was added six years later, and an interactive festival a year after that), and now features hundreds of unsigned and independent label bands looking for exposure as well as a trade show and music panels featuring professional musicians and people employed in various aspects of the music business. Registration is necessary to attend many of the industry functions. The festival takes place every March at venues all over the city, particularly around the 6th Street area, and finding lodgings at the last minute is nearly impossible; book early. In 2005, the BBC broadcast extensively from SXSW.
The Texas Book Depository (Dealy Plaza, Dallas) has the Sixth Floor Museum on the sixth floor, including the window set up to look exactly like it did on the day of the assassination of President Kennedy ('It's really accurate, ya know, because Oswald's not in it.' - Texas native, comedian Bill Hicks). The Sixth Floor Museum is open daily from 9am to 6pm, closed on Thanksgiving and Christmas Day. Audio tours are available in seven languages. Sorry conspiracy buffs, the 'Sniper's Nest' is glassed in so no one can stand at the window to see that the shot couldn't possibly have been made from there.
The Alamo (San Antonio) was defended in a losing battle with the forces of Mexican General Santa Ana during the Texas Revolution in 1836. Although the forces of Texas lost the battle, they tied up the forces of Santa Ana in an expensive victory that contributed to the eventual victory of the Texans. The Alamo is open every day of the year except Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Hours are 9am to 5.30pm Monday through Saturday, and 10am to 5.30pm on Sunday. Admission is free. (Factoid: Singer Ozzy Osbourne was arrested for urinating on the Alamo).
Schlitterbahn Waterpark Resort is a hotspot among native Texans. The park/resort is located in New Braunfels, TX between Austin and San Antonio. Features just about any possible water related activity. To avoid the crowds on weekends, come early or late in the season. Weekends in April, May, June, late August and September are less crowded than weekends from 1 July through mid-August.
The Salt Lick Bar B-Q in Driftwood, TX (near Austin) has what many consider to be 'the best damn barbecue on the planet'. Texas Monthly Magazine calls it, 'the essence of the Texas barbecue experience'. Located on Camp Ben McCullough Road (FM 1826), the Salt Lick is open from noon to 10pm from Tuesday through Sunday.
The Space Center Houston is the official visitor center of the NASA Johnson Space Center. They are open daily in the summer from 9am to 7pm, winter from 10am to 5pm Monday through Friday and 10am to 7pm Saturday and Sunday.