With so much of Texas still in shock over last Friday’s deadly school shooting 30 miles outside of Houston and still recovering months after Hurricane Harvey, reset buttons Texans will have to push to recover physically and emotionally over and over for some time to come, I can’t help but think of my trip to Texas last spring long before those shots rang out in Santa Fe High School and those 50 inches of rain deluged large swaths of the state.
Before my week-long sojourn of the Lone Star State, wonderfully plotted by my favorite travel agent, my Lady Jane, I really hadn’t seen any of Texas beyond the airport in Dallas-Fort Worth. So, it was only after some 1,700 rental-car miles that I could throw my two or three cents in as to what I saw about everything being bigger in Texas.
So, for those of you who’ve never been there and lack the needed opportunity and/or desire, let me provide you with some Texas-style observations as to what indeed seemed bigger to me and what didn’t as I made my rounds from San Antonio to South Padre Island to Alpine and nearby Big Bend National Park to Fredericksburg and on to the capital city of Austin.
As for San Antonio, how striking it sometimes is when it comes to the difference between what we imagine and what we see. Regarding The Alamo, I always imagined it to be a pretty immense structure, almost castle-like, where brave mostly Texans held off thousands of Santa Anna’s troops for weeks before succumbing.
However, the former Spanish mission chapel is actually quite small, although there’s no mistaking the famous front to the building, once upon a time, just one of several in a compound.
Nonetheless, there’s something about the place that indeed did seem bigger in Texas. In front of The Long Barracks, the oldest building in the city and one originally used as the sleeping quarters by mission priests, there is a beautiful and massive oak with branches that canopies much of a courtyard area, without a doubt, the most impressive tree I’ve ever seen.
In South Padre, I discovered that what I always imagined to be a rather small island, one infiltrated each spring break by thousands of college types in search of their hedonistic pleasures, is, in reality, actually just a portion of the longest stretch of underdeveloped barrier island coastline anywhere in the world. The 113-mile strip that stretches all the way to North Padre acts as a divider between the Gulf of Mexico and the Laguna Madre, on the Port Isabel-mainland side.
The day we left South Padre is the day I think I really came to appreciate Texas’ immensity. We were bound for Alpine, and to do so, to put us within a hundred miles of Big Bend and the Rio Grande that forms the national park’s southern edge, we had to traverse a large swath of the West Texas Plains. Three tanks of gas and almost nine hours later, traveling most of the time at 75 and even 80 posted miles per hour, we finally reached our Quality Inn. How odd a speed-limit sign looks when the first number is an 8!
To put Texas-size big in perspective, at about 261,000 square miles, Ohio would fit inside Texas’ borders about 5 1/2 times, for crying out loud! So, I suppose without all those 80 MPH signs, Texans would never get anywhere in timely fashion, right?
During the drive, one as straight as a Robin Hood arrow, desolation surrounded Lady Jane and me on both sides, with few signs of habitation. Miles and miles stretched both to the north and to the south, barren dusty stretches dotted by sage and scrub brush with the only sentinels periodic pockets of cattle.
Finally, in Austin on a tour of the capitol building, I again came to appreciate Texas big. The building was immense, featuring a rotunda actually about 15 feet higher than the U.S. Capitol in D.C. and basement corridors lined with offices that stretched out like subterranean tentacles. Let’s not get carried away, though. Doing a little prep for this column made me realize there are actually five other capitol buildings larger. Looks like you’ve got some work to do, Stetson wearers!
So, there you have it, folks, a few observations about the state that boasts of its magnitude. As many of its citizens continue to clean up and, for many, start completely from scratch, let’s hope they continue to show themselves big in one other way, a heaping portion of Texas-large resiliency.
John Grindrod is a regular columnist for The Lima News, a freelance writer and editor and the author of two books. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.