Texas History: Itching to hit that history trail again
Six months is too long to go without a good Texas road trip.
Merely reading about Texas history, as I have done with varying degrees of patience and pleasure during the coronavirus pandemic, is no substitute for connecting in person with the far-flung land, people and historical sites of this great state.
I have, however, been making lists and daydreaming about landmarks I’ve never visited or have not visited in a long time. To write up the following preliminary list, I paired places by themes and proximity.
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Tracing the Canadian River in the Panhandle one winter, we tried to reach Alibates Flint Quarries National Monument as well as Adobe Walls, but snow and mud got the better of our city car. The first spot, where humans mined flint amid the bluffs for thousands of years, is one of only two official national monuments in Texas. Not far away, Adobe Walls, once a buffalo hunters’ trading post and now a ghost town, was the site for at least two pitched battles between allied Native Americans and their military and civilian opponents in 1864 and 1874. (64 miles apart)
In the low mountains east of El Paso, Hueco Tanks State Park and Historic Site beckons because of its hiking trails, birding and stargazing, but especially because of its pictographs left by ancient peoples. Paint Rock, located above the Concho River, is not at all nearby, but nothing in West Texas really is. So road trips there take time. The pictographs near the town of Paint Rock are on private land, but the ranching family that owns the site allows guided tours by appointment. (427 miles apart)
The Casa Navarro State Historic Site sits in the middle of San Antonio not far from the River Walk and once served as the home of José Antonio Navarro, a merchant and one of only two native Texans to sign the Texas Declaration of Independence. We have passed by its Gothic Revival-style neighbor, San Fernando Cathedral, many times crossing the city’s Main Plaza. Yet we never explored its interior. Time’s up. (.3 miles apart)
By custom, our family stopped at Rockport on the way to my grandparents’ house in Corpus Christi, or perhaps on the way back to Houston, but we never stepped into the imposing Second Empire-style Fulton Mansion State Historic Site, recently recovered from Hurricane Harvey. Speaking of grand houses from the past, we’ve tooled around historic residential neighborhoods in Victoria farther inland but never got out of the car. Why not? (63 miles apart)
These two landmarks we’ve visited many times. Improvements have been made, however, at Washington-on-the-Brazos State Historic Site, site of the Convention of 1836, where the Texas Declaration of Independence was signed, and San Felipe de Austin State Historic Site, which colonist and empresario Stephen F. Austin made his HQ on the Brazos River. The museum at the first site has been updated during the intervening years, and the Texas Historical Commission is creating a pioneer village at the second site. (56 miles apart)
Located in Nacogdoches, the Old Stone Fort Museum is a replica of a structure built in the 1770s by Antonio Gil Y’Barbo. I’ve visited Stephen F. Austin State University in East Texas, oh, a dozen times, but never toddled over to the Old Stone Fort part of campus. I don’t know how I also missed the Alabama-Coushatta Tribe Cultural Center on the combined tribe’s East Texas reservation all these decades, but a stop there is long overdue. (76 miles apart)
Once a Black freedom colony, the Deep Ellum section of East Dallas became a bustling arts and entertainment district, but artists and historians are making sure that the deeper history is remembered. For most of my life, nearby Fair Park meant only two things to me — no, not the Cotton Bowl or the annual State Fair, but instead the giant Music Hall at Fair Park and the Children’s Aquarium at Fair Park. I need to spend more time on the fairgrounds, site for the Texas Centennial Exposition in 1936, which attempted to redefine the identity of the state. (1.5 miles apart)
Can you believe that, after a lifetime of road tripping in Texas, I’ve never visited the only two national historical monuments in the state? The Waco Mammoth National Historical Monument lies between the Brazos and Bosque rivers where a couple dozen Columbian mammoths and other mammals from the Pleistocene Epoch were unearthed. And heck, why not, I drank enough of them in my day, so I should go to the Dr Pepper Museum and Free Enterprise Institute. I’m not sure how the second part of the museum title relates to the beloved soft drink, but I’m game. (6 miles apart).