TEXAS: The all-American state that's like a whole other country
America has long been a popular destination for Brits but there is more to the USA than tried and tested destinations like Florida and New York. In 2007 Texas is emerging as the place with something for everyone, with over 500 cities in 7 regions, from Big Bend Country in the West to the Gulf Coast.
Those looking for cowboys, ranches, the oil industry and the western experience will not be disappointed. But there are hidden delights too: Texas has more than 624 miles of coastline and great sandy beaches. Houston is the largest city in Texas and the first word that Neil Armstrong spoke when he landed on the moon. Space Centre Houston is the perfect tourist attraction for those dreaming of being the next astronaut.
If shopping is your game then Dallas has to be the first port of call. The home of JR Ewing boasts more shopping centres per capita than any other US city, including America's oldest one, Highland Park Village. All this and the aptly named Dallas Cowboys in the NFL.
In Big Bend Country, the sky's no limit. Nowhere else in Texas do the stars at night shine quite so bright or the sunsets seems quite so rosy. Here, too, you'll see the American landscape at its most dramatic. Prickly pear cacti bloom with fuschia ferocity and golden exuberance as desert vistas shimmer far into the distance. Nomadic tumbleweeds bounce erratically across lonesome prairies like a scene out of a thousand movies.
It's like a whole other country. What are you waiting for?
Eve Gardiner, Texas Tourism Expert joined Keith Betton online on Thursday 15th February.
H: Keith Betton, Host
E: Eve Gardner, expert
H: Hello and welcome to Holiday ’07, the program on the internet that allows you to put questions about travel to my guests. I’m Keith Betton. This week we’re going to be looking at one of the largest states in the United States of America. Do you know which one it is? It is the largest one of the main part of America; it’s about deserts, it’s about prairies, a coastline of 624 miles, and a coastline which has got amazing views over the Gulf of Mexico. So where are we talking about? We’re talking, about Texas, so let’s have a look at what you might traditionally think of as the views around Texas.
Well that was Texas, perhaps the view of Texas that you would normally have imagined the cattle, the big hats the old-fashioned view. It’s not quite like that really, it’s much more modern these days. But joining us in the studio today is Eve Gardner who is an expert on Texas. Eve, thanks very much for coming on the show.
E: Well thank you for inviting me.
H: It’s a big destination, I mean as I said it’s of the main part of the United States, other than Alaska it is the biggest of the States. I mean how do you plan a holiday in a place as big as that, a quarter of a million square miles?
E: It is and it can be very daunting for people to consider Texas but what you need is to speak to an expert, one of the tour operators that specialises on Texas and they will guide you where to start off, and really for the first time visitor I would recommend that they maybe go to some of the key cities that Texas has, they can do a fly drive, without having to drive for hours and hours on end and not see anything they can get a very scenic tour. An action-packed trip with lots of activities if that’s what they want, or it can be a very much more laid-back and relaxed holiday. So Texas has a lot to offer, very varied and really we can find something to suit whatever anyone’s looking for
H: Yes. I mean I read somewhere that Texas is the state, the only state in America that has 3 cities with more than a million people living in it, I think that’s Dallas, Houston and –
E: And San Antonio
H: San Antonio, yes. So it really is quite a different place. So let’s have a look at some of the ideas you might get about holidays in Texas by looking at the side of Texas you perhaps haven’t seen before
Well that was the side of Texas perhaps you haven’t heard of before with skyscrapers. Never seen cattle running through the middle of the city, and I hope I don’t if I’m driving the other way, but anyway that was looking at the side of Texas you maybe haven’t seen before. Eve Gardner’s here with us today, she’s going to be taking your questions later so any questions you have on Texas, get on the email, send us those questions and we’ll answer them here live on the show. So let’s have a look at Houston, I mean that is the, it’s the biggest city is it not?
E: Yes and it’s the 4th largest city in the USA so pretty big yes
H: Now I have to admit one thing and that is when I was a kid and Apollo 11 landed on the moon and I kept hearing them say you know “Apollo to Houston” I actually thought as a 9 year old that was a place in North London called Euston. Now does this space museum-type activity still happen there, I mean they’ve still got NASA there, they’ve got a museum of –
E: They have and it’s very important to Houston. They actually call themselves Space City, that’s sort of their strapline, but for the general public you can go to Space Centre Johnson, or the Johnson Space Centre should I say, and have a really good experience as to what it is to be an astronaut, go out and find out what it is to be weightless and quite often you will find real astronauts wandering around there and happy to talk to the public
H: You can’t go weightless in the museum can you?
E: There is a room you can go into to experience it, yes
H: Wow. And they’ve got spaceships presumably, old ones and mock-ups and things
H: And that kind of thing is obviously very popular with the kids because presumably it’s pretty interactive too I would imagine?
E: It is it’s for all age groups, all children of all ages
H: But Houston’s actually very much for the culture vulture too though isn’t it, I mean it’s opera and things like that?
E: Yes it’s surprising it’s one of the few cities in the USA that has its own ballet company, symphony company and opera so – and big theatre district and museum district that it’s very very proud of yes
H: Ok and the actual port there is massive as well. Is that something that a tourist would ever look at or is it just something that’s there – can you visit the port?
E: You can and obviously the cruise ships going around into Mexico and the Caribbean do start out from either Houston or Galveston which is just down on the coast itself. So yes it’s very popular and hence Houston’s good for a pre or post-cruise stopover
H: Ok well we’re going to run through all the major cities and talk about all the destinations you can visit within Texas but we’ve got a first question here, Phillippe he wants to know “isn’t Texas just all about JFK and cowboys?” Well let’s talk about JFK briefly because obviously John F Kennedy was -
E: Assassinated in Dallas, yes
H: Dallas. I mean he wants to know if it’s all about that and cowboys, I’m going to now turn it around and talk about that, but I mean what can you see about JFK?
E: Well it’s a very important event in American history and rather than to be totally shameful about the event they have created this museum that talks about not only the event itself but the whole vision that Kennedy had and that whole era, and I think it actually turns around what was a dreadful event into something that’s much more positive and – a very very interesting museum to go through and appealing to all age groups, people that weren’t born when this event happened will find it interesting and it’s very moving -
H: It’s one of the defining moments isn’t it?
E: It is
H: You either were around and you remember it or you just haven’t got a clue. Actually Luke has emailed in, he says “that I went to Dallas last year for Christmas and saw all the JFK sites, the book depositary, the museum, and the memorial spot. Everyone should check it out.” So obviously something that made an impact on him
E: Yes and the memorial, it was designed by Jackie, the widow and it’s very moving
H: So Phillippe said is it all about JFK and cowboys, there’s lots more isn’t there?
E: No there’s a lot more
H: There’s culture you mentioned with Houston itself
E: There is and Dallas is also, it’s a very big, sophisticated city, I mean yes built up maybe from its oil roots and background but it’s so much more, and so people go there and have a very good experience, it’s a very lively town, they’ve regenerated or rejuvenated themselves and having people now living downtown, so it makes a much more livelier atmosphere for visitors to feel people are living in the centre that tourists would be staying
E: Rather than everyone’s gone home for the night, and leave a place that’s deserted as it can happen in some cities
H: Well I guess a lot of people do think back to the TV series Dallas, I mean it’s all about big hats and big hair, billionaires or millionaires at least, I mean do they really have things like the oil baron’s ball and you know -
E: They do and it’s, as I say it’s still a big centre for the oil industry, don’t necessarily see that many people around with Stetsons in Dallas itself because it’s a little bit more sophisticated, whereas somewhere else you might see Stetsons all over the town – but - I’ve lost my drift on the question, sorry
H: That’s alright, I was just saying the Dallas program, does that really reflect what it’s like in Texas -
E: Oh well, it’s a little bit fresher than what it truly is, but I mean it is a fun thing that you can actually go out to the ranch and see it for yourself
H: Is it just outside of Dallas or is it a big drive?
E: Yes it’s about 40 minutes drive from the centre of Dallas at to an area north of Dallas called Plano, and the ranch is there and visitors are welcome
H: You can actually walk through the house
E: You can walk through the house
E: Which wasn’t used in the program itself
H: No no no
E: Because they sort of had all the outside shots round the pool and that were used, were filmed in Dallas, and it’s fun, and anyone whose into it they can go into the museum they’ve created which shows old costumes and the whole storylines and so forth, so a fun experience
H: Ok. Well now we’ve got a question in here from Sarah, she says that “I’m looking for a summer destination for my family, would you recommend Texas, is there much to do there for the kids?” So I think the first point there, is it a summer destination or does it get too hot?
E: Well you have to consider that July and August it will be hot, and there could be days when the temperatures are exceeding 100 degrees, so you have to consider if that’s what you really want. Texas is really a year-round destination because it has really long spring and autumn periods where it’s perfect weather to go, so basically from late March through to June you will have lovely temperatures, 70-80 degrees, I’m sorry I’m in old – because of my age! And then into the autumn from September through to beginning of December you will have really really nice weather
H: But I imagine down on the coast though, on the Gulf of Mexico coast -
H: It will be quite pleasant still, I mean it will be hot
E: It will be hot
H: But you’d have the cooling breeze
E: You’ve got the cooling breeze yes
H: And you’ve got the water
H: Ok and what about Sarah’s question about children, are there things for children to do?
E: I think so, I mean you could consider going to a ranch for a stay with children because they love it, they can get involved with the animals, apart from just horses on a ranch there will be all sorts of other animals around that they can look after, they can tend the horses. Most of the Dude ranches will have other activities as well -
H: Hang on – Dude ranches, what’s a Dude ranch, is that ranch where ordinary folks -
E: It’s a guest ranch
H: It’s a guest ranch – Dude, ok. So you can take out a horse even though you’ve probably never ridden before, you don’t get suddenly put on a quarter horse and expect it to race around a sort of -
E: No they ask you how proficient you are and they will take – they have horses for everybody, for somebody who’s never been on a horse before to the really experienced rider
H: These cowboy experiences sound really good to me, I mean I’ve been hearing about ranch holidays, are they something that you can do easily, can you set that up from here or do you have to wait until you get to Texas?
E: Oh absolutely you can do it from here. Most of the main tour operators will have a ranch featured in their brochure and there are ranch specialists that do holidays just specifically for ranch holidays
H: Well actually we’ve got a question straightaway now, Kate, she says “I love riding, can you please recommend a good Dude ranch” – she obviously knows the lingo – “to go to in Texas?” So I mean would this be over in the western part of Texas or – where can you recommend?
E: To be honest there’s ranches all over Texas but I guess one of the main areas where they have the guest ranches have built up is around about 40 minutes drive from San Antonio, a town called Bandera, which is the cowboy capital of the world they call themselves, and it is a traditional cowboy town with the wooden boardwalks, the saloon doors, that idea, and all around it are really very good guest ranches where you can have a fun experience
H: And can you also do the proper camp out and have your cowboy breakfast under the stars?
E: Yes they will definitely do a breakfast, cook-outs, they will do campsite fires and dinners. Some of them will do overnight camping out under the stars, it will vary a little bit from ranch to ranch what they can offer
H: Ok. Now we talked about Dallas. I remember near to Dallas is Fort Worth, which is a bit of a different experience really, tell me about Fort Worth and really what you would get out of going there?
E: Right, well yes Forth Worth I guess to a certain extent is the opposite to Dallas. It’s cow town and it’s maintained its -
H: Cow town?
E: Cow town. It used to be the end of the line from bringing the herds up from Mexico, they’d come from Forth Worth to get on the train to go up to Kansas and Chicago and to the meat markets, so they all came into the stockyards in Forth Worth, so Fort Worth has maintained its history and kept its stockyards there and now is a great centre for visitors to go into
H: I imagine Fort Worth is not really the place you want to go to if you’re vegetarian really because a lot of Barbecues and steaks and you know quarter pounds steaks -
E: Well, you can always find something on the menu; no it’s not an issue for vegetarians
H: No, absolutely. And looking at that sort of area, what else would you do, I mean there’s quite a few museums
E: Oh in Fort Worth itself?
E: Yes it has a very good centre where many of the hotels are which is called Sundance Square which is really where they’ve got most of their good restaurants, venues for evening entertainment, their bass symphony hall there as well, and then they have their cultural district which has their botanical gardens, the various world class museums
H: And what about shopping because I mean people don’t think of Texas as a shopping destination, but when I was there I remember seeing you know you could buy the cowboy hat, have it made and shaped specially to fit your head and have the little dimples put in it, and cowboy boots
H: So what sort of prices do you have to pay, I guess sky’s the limit really -
E: It can be whatever you want to pay. I’ve bought a pair of cowboy boots for $60 in the right place, in an outlet, but you can be paying thousands depending on the skin and the workmanship that goes into it
E: But you can find a deal, but no Texas is great for shopping. And in the Dallas area, Dallas Fort Worth area you have Grapevine which has a super outlet mall
H: Well we’re talking about Texas today, one of the most amazing states in America with every possible combination, whether it’s coastline, the deserts, the prairies, or whether you like going on a ranch, Texas has got it all. Eve Gardner’s with us so do email your questions for Eve and we’ll answer them live here on the program, and we have another question from Steve. He says that he hears there’s a great theme park called Six Flags over Texas and can you tell a bit more about that, so first of all can you tell whereabouts is that?
E: Ok, Six Flags over Texas, there are – about 3 of them are in Texas itself, so there’s on in San Antonio, there’s one up in the, near Dallas Fort Worth and one near Austin. And they are big theme parks, so if you like the roller coasters and those sorts of rides, that’s the place to go and enjoy
H: Ok now you mentioned Austin, and that’s another one of the major centres that people would go to
E: State Capital
H: It’s the State capital, ok
H: Ok well the culture I guess there is the thing that people learn about, particularly the music – it’s the live music capital of the world isn’t it, so they claim?
E: It is indeed, well they have live music there 365 days of the year, basically along an area called 6th street in the warehouse district they have many venues that there are all genres of music being played, night after night and it’s just becomes the place to go and now has two big music festivals
H: What sort of music are we talking about, is it going back to the original days when Texas was part of Mexico, and the Spanish influence -
E: It’s anything and everything
E: And the south by South music festival where a lot of British bands go to be discovered
H: And what about jazz, that’s quite big as well isn’t it?
E: Yes, blues, jazz, country and western, rock - whatever
H: Ok now a lot of people are interested in sport, I would have thought of Texas as being a bone dry countryside where there’s absolutely no chance of having a blade of grass, it’s not really true is it?
E: No it’s not, it can be very very green, especially in hill country
H: How many golf courses are there in Texas?
E: Over 900
H: They’ve always got to have more than everybody else haven’t they?
E: Of course
H: And are these championship courses or -
E: Yes, there are some stunning courses, I’m not a golfer so I can’t wax lyrical to make, to put it across to golfers, but they do have courses that are part of the PGA tournament and some beautiful ones, various – because the terrain’s so different from area to area they have some really beautiful courses
H: So is it possible to have a kind of golfing package where you fly from the UK and then literally go from city to city playing golf in – are there tour operators arranging that kind of thing?
E: There are yes, yes there’s golf specialists that feature Texas
H: Any other sporting activities?
E: All sorts. I mean obviously with the coastline there can be water sports. Obviously we’ve talked about the ranching, hiking, biking, mountain biking -
H: American football?
E: American football, yes they’ve got -
H: So tell us all about the Dallas Cowboys
E: The Dallas Cowboys
H: They’re the best known team in the world aren’t they really?
E: Yes I don’t know if it’s the players or the cheerleaders that have the most attraction
H: It depends
H: Ok we’ve actually got a question here from Howard, he says “which Texan city would you recommend as a base for holiday destinations such as you know Houston or Dallas, which would you go for Houston or Dallas?
E: Phew that’s difficult
H: And Houston have got a good American football team as well haven’t they?
E: They do
H: I’m going to put you on the spot and ask you to name them
E: You’re going to put me on the spot!
H: How would you differentiate? It’s the Houston Oilers isn’t it?
E: I think you’re right
H: Yes. The two cities, I mean is one an obvious choice for a family where as one might be an obvious choice for a couple?
E: Mmm, that’s a difficult question to answer -
H: I do my best!
E: I know, and I’m trying to think what would make them different, I think maybe location within the state would maybe dictate, because you can fly into both those cities directly from the UK but say if you started off in Houston then you would move on to a different part of Texas than if you were up in Dallas
H: Ok so you’d probably go down the coast -
E: You would do the coast, I would say Galveston then down to Corpus Christi and San Antonio
H: Let’s talk a little bit about the coast actually because I think that’s probably what they were looking for information on, I mean as you go down that coast towards the border with Mexico you’ve got South Padre Island
H: And places like that. Is it Brownsville?
E: Brownsville’s just the other, because it is like the Sand Bars Islands all the way down the coastline so South Padre is the island and Brownsville’s on the mainland
H: Are we having pebbly beaches or sandy beaches?
H: Ok. So is it really on a par with say parts of Florida, that kind of coastline?
E: Yes I mean definitely like the Gulf beaches of Florida, Texas is the same. Colour of sand maybe varies a little bit, it’s slightly browner up in Galveston and gets lighter and lighter as you get down to South Padre
H: Ok well I hope that answers Hugh’s question because he wanted to know about the kind of coastline it had, 624 miles
E: It’s a lot of coastline
H: I mean most people think of Texas as being where’s the coastline, it must be pretty short. On that border then, going over the south west part, or the southern part of Texas on the border of Mexico, a lot of border with Mexico but that bit by the coast, that’s very important for migration of wildlife isn’t it, because it’s pretty close to Latin America – why is that?
E: Yes basically because it’s on the migration route between north and south Americas and Texas is really lucked out in having these birds come through over this area and it’s really they’ve worked very hard in creating the great Texas birding trail to make it very user-friendly for visitors to go and have an experience -
H: So how does that work if you’re visiting the area, what do you do?
E: You can pick up the maps and because it’s, you know a big area we’re talking about, because it goes along most of the coastline, and then along up to the Rio Grande valley, they’ve sort of put it into sections, so you can get if you’re only doing one part of that State you can pick up a map for that area, and then find out what the birding and wildlife and butterflies you can see in that area and go to the different visitors centres that they’ve put there so you can get more information, and speak to guides and get direction
H: Well I think your answer, you’re very much answering a question that’s been put by Jane because she says she’s known the northern part of Texas and she’s saying “what about the southern part?” I mean they are very different, they’ve got completely different climates haven’t they?
E: It would seem like it, I mean yes definitely you go down south you’re into sub-tropical and you can see the terrain vary which is why they’ve basically broken Texas up into sort of 7 regions, and the name, because of the terrain that – I mean is in that region, so Big Bend is the national park and one of the regions which is right down by Mexico
H: Ok so this is right over to the west now
H: And this is pretty dry country isn’t it, most of it?
E: Most of it, yes I mean there is – because there’s mountains and rivers and so forth but it’s pretty – it’s very varied, it’s scrubby, it’s desert, it’s all sorts
H: Now you’re good on food aren’t you?
E: I love food
H: You’ve got to be good on food, I like my food as well as people can probably see, I’m trying to hold the paper so you can’t notice it, Peter, he says “I know America has a great reputation for food but Texas, what’s this Tex-Mex thing he’s heard about, it’s been described as South West cooking so come on Eve, what is Tex-Mex?
E: Tex-Mex is really the fusion of Texas cooking with Mexican, basically that’s the simplified -
H: So hot?
E: It’s spicy rather than hot
H: And there’s a lot of outdoor cooking isn’t there?
H: I mean a lot of Barbecues, they get very upset don’t they if you talk about B-B-Q, they hate that, it’s got to be the full word hasn’t it?
E: Yes they take it very very seriously and they have big cook-out competitions going around the State, throughout the year and people build their own barbecues which are massive things to have serious barbecue parties
H: So is that the same as having a cook-out?
E: Yes it would be but it could vary, a cook-out could be like what the cowboys did over an open fire, rather than a barbecue is as we would know a barbecue
H: Ok now the other thing I know you know a lot about is shopping, we touched on it earlier. Maria’s saying are there many outlet malls near downtown Dallas, now these are the shops where you can get the clothing at really really good factory prices, is that the kind of thing you find in Texas as well?
E: Texas as a whole there are areas where there’s good outlet malls. There’s one down near Houston, one near Dallas near the airport and there’s a big area outside Austin that has like a village of outlet shops which is really very good shopping but Texas overall is very good value, it’s not an expensive state when compared to other US states, you always get good value for money
H: Ok well now if people want to go to Texas, the practicalities of getting there, I mean obviously you have to fly
E: You do
H: Depending on where you live, but you’re probably going to have to fly, getting there from the UK is presumably pretty straightforward is it, what is it about 10 hours or so flying?
E: It’s about 10 hours, we’re very lucky because we have two key cities that there is direct service from the UK into Dallas Fort Worth and into Houston
H: And the entry requirements presumably very similar to the rest of the United States, so you probably don’t have to get a visa beforehand depending on your own personal circumstances
H: But do check before you do that, plenty of information available. Of course there’s plenty of information available on the website for Texas, do you know the address for that?
E: I do indeed, it’s the 3 w’s.traveltex.com, that’s TEX for Tex
H: Well I’m pleased to know that people are watching us today, it’s not just you and me
E: Good, yes!
H: Ginger has emailed in, he says “I’m a Texan, emigrated to London when I was 22, I’m now 56, married with 2 children, can I just say this webchat is great and I’m now feeling rather homesick” so I’m sorry about that but we’re glad we bought you some happy memories of what it was like in Texas all those years ago, maybe he’ll go back. A lot of people are going, I mean how many people go every year to Texas from the UK?
E: From the UK I think the last numbers I got, we were about 180,000
H: Ok well that’s been today’s program, talking about Texas, my guest has been Eve Gardner, an expert on Texas, a great destination, one of the largest states of the United States and very very popular with holidaymakers, so I hope you go there as a result, and we’ll look forward to seeing you next time on the show, thank you for joining us