Texas Sketchbook

April 1, 2011

Watercolor painting in one of our hotel rooms

I did manage to do some watercolor sketches in Texas, but I found it very difficult to find the time to paint while on a road trip.  I realize now that I need to be alone to do any sketching or painting, and solitude is hard to find on a short vacation.  Here are the few pages from my moleskin journal with my Texas sketches:

Texas bluebonnet

Armadillo. (I saw two armadillos at my uncle's home near Ft. Worth.)

Texas wildflowers

Miscellaneous Texas images

More Texas wildflowers

Sketches from my Texas road trip

Watercolor sketch of blue heron

Watercolor sketch of laughing gulls

Two laughing gulls pose for a photographer at the Leonabelle Turnbull Birding Center in Port Aransas, Texas

I am embarrassed by how little I know about birds, and there were many times on this trip when I wished my brother and sister-in-law, both biologists and birding enthusiasts, were travelling with us to help identify and locate birds on the Gulf coast.  This region of Texas is a birder’s paradise.  Here are some of the birds we saw:

Laughing gull in flight

Laughing gulls scavenging for food on North Padre Island

Blue heron on the boardwalk at the Leonabelle Turnbull Birding Center in Port Aransas

Blue heron

This bird reminds me of someone wearing spats

Black-crowned night heron hiding in the reeds, Leonabelle Turnbull Birding Center

Two roseate spoonbills in flight, Port Aransas

White egret in flight, Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge

We saw vultures soaring in the skies on every part of our road trip.

Texas bluebonnets

We saw our first Texas bluebonnets in a ditch from the windows of the car rental shuttle at the Houston airport, but we couldn’t stop for photos.  That first sighting whetted my appetite, so the hunt was on.  I next saw some at a nursery in Chappell Hill.  Chappell Hill is on the “Bluebonnet Trail,” and I had read that one could sometimes find early blooms along the trail at Old Baylor Park in Independence, so we made a point to stop there.  We were in luck.

Potted bluebonnet for sale in a Chappell Hill nursery

Bluebonnets and white wildflowers at Old Baylor Park

Wildflowers in bloom at Old Baylor Park in Independence, Texas

 After Independence, bluebonnets proved elusive until later in our trip when we drove south of San Antonio.  Suddenly we saw bluebonnets growing in profusion in huge patches along I-37.

Texas bluebonnets along I-37 south of San Antonio

Bluebonnets along I-37

We saw plenty of other wildflowers along the roadsides of Texas.

Coral-colored Indian paintbrush near Old Baylor Park

Butterfly and wildflower

Flowering plum and butterfly

Tiny blue wildflowers

White wildflower

Cactus in San Antonio

Patch of evening primroses growing wild in a ditch

Coreopsis growing close to the ground, North Padre Island National Seashore

Prickly poppies, Aransas National Wildlife Refuge

Huge thistle near Aransas National Wildlife Refuge

Wildflowers in a meadow near Brazoria

Wisteria in bloom on the drive to Huntsville, Texas

Bee in the wisteria blossoms

Sampler platter at Pizzitola's Barbecue in Houston

We ate some delicious food in Texas!

The theme was “meat” for the first two days of our trip.  We arrived in Houston at suppertime, so we drove straight from the airport to Pizzitola’s for barbecue cooked over an open flame brick pit.  My husband and I both ordered the sampler platter — three kinds of meat and a plate of white Wonder bread!  I ordered a side salad, and it was the tiniest bowl of iceberg lettuce with two tomato wedges.  Clearly, meat was king here.  The staff was very friendly and sent to our table a complimentary sample of their homemade smoked sausage.  Then they invited us back into the kitchen to see the barbecue pit, and they finally sent us away with a gift of banana cream pudding to eat later in our hotel room.  Our trip was off to a great start!

Barbecue ribs, brisket, and chicken at Pizzitola's

The homemade sausage was very good dipped in barbecue sauce.

On our drive to Dallas the next day, we stopped for breakfast at the Chappell Hill Sausage Company.  I ordered more meat — a breakfast sandwich of scrambled eggs, cheese, and sausage, grilled to perfection on good bread. 

Sign on truck for the Chappell Hill Sausage Company

My breakfast sandwich had a sausage link made on the premises. Excellent!

After our stay in Dallas visiting relatives and eating catfish instead of meat, we drove south to the Gulf Coast.  We stopped for breakfast at the Koffe Kup Kafe in Hico, Texas.  The parking lot was full of pickup trucks (always a good sign), and the local clientele sported farm-implement caps and well-worn jeans.  The Koffe Kup Kafe is known for its pies, and I regretted later that I did not order a slice of coconut cream pie to go.

Pies at the Koffee Kup Kafe in Hico, Texas

We planned to arrive in time for supper at Joe Cotten’s BBQ in Robstown, just outside Corpus Christi, but we drove up to a burned up shell of a building.  The restaurant had suffered a fire two weeks earlier.  Joe Cotten’s was a roadside barbecue joint popular with politicians and celebrities, and we were sad to miss the experience of dining there.

I did want to eat Gulf shrimp, and based on the recommendation of a local pharmacist in Port Lavaca, we ate at the Bayside Restaurant there.  It was my best meal on the trip.  My husband didn’t see that alligator was on the menu until after he had eaten, or he would have tried that.

Grilled shrimp and dirty rice at the Bayside Restaurant in Port Lavaca

All that was left of a delicious meal

My favorite part of Texas was the Gulf Coast.  We followed the coast from Corpus Christi to the Louisiana border.  Much of the time we were driving on narrow, barrier islands.  The land is flat, so we could see how easily this area can be devastated by hurricanes.

The shore was lined by sargassum weed (not seaweed), washed up from the Sargasso Sea

Laughing gull standing on sargassum weed, North Padre Island National Seashore

Sunset over our campground, North Padre Island National Seashore

Sunrise over the Gulf, delayed by a cloud bank on the horizon

Morning, North Padre Island National Seashore

A flat expanse of the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge

The entire Gulf Coast is a mecca for fishing. We saw people fishing in the surf, from the shore, from piers, and on boats.

Landscape near Brazoria, Texas

Fishing pier, Galveston

Brilliant blue jellyfish washed up on a Galveston beach

Galveston had many lovely, old houses like this one.

The coast is lined with homes on stilts, like this one near Port Bolivar.

I’m back from Texas and will be sharing some of my trip photos and impressions over the next few days.  We travelled 1,566 miles in our rented car, so we saw quite a bit of Texas.  If I had to describe Texas in two words, they would be flat and windy!  We enjoyed the Texas weather, which was in the 70s and 80s.

Here are some photos from our Texas rambles:

Landscape near Chappell Hill area, east of Houston


Vintage Dr. Pepper sign on building in Chappell Hill. Dr. Pepper was invented by a pharmacist in Waco, Texas.

Weathered sign along a Texas back road. The Wild West is still alive!

The Edythe Bates Old Chapel at the International Festival Institute near Round Top, Texas. It is used as one performance space at this music academy.

Concert Hall at the International Festival Institute. Mighty fancy digs in the middle of Texas!

Inside the Stuermer Store in Ledbetter, Texas. The store has been in business since 1891. We stopped in for malts from its soda fountain (formerly a saloon bar).

Cash register at the Stuermer Store, which is part museum, part local store.

The proprietress of the Stuermer Store is the grand-daughter of the original owner. She rang up all sales.

A maze of bridges near Dallas, Texas.

More bridges in Ft. Worth. Heaven help you if you didn't know where you were going!

Exterior, Chapel of Thanksgiving in Dallas

Magnificent "Glory Window" in the Chapel of Thanksgiving

Reflections on a Dallas skyscraper look like distortions in a fun house mirror.

Pioneer Plaza Cattle Drive sculpture in Dallas: 70 larger-than-life bronze cattle and 3 cowboys

Silhouette of windmill

The flat fields near Corpus Christi were so huge that it took three tractors in tandem for planting.

The ubiquitous Texas state flag. We saw them flying all over on our trip.

Imagining Texas

March 15, 2011

Cowboy boots for sale in a store window

“Journeys are like that; they start out as imaginings, generated from a word heard here or an image seen there, then they take on a vitality of their own . . .”
     — Roger Housden, Sacred Journeys in a Modern World

I’m off to Texas for a week!  I’ve never been to Texas, and I’m looking forward to exploring a new state.  We’ll be meeting up with my Dad, my uncle, my sister and brother-in-law for a few days, then will take off on our own.  I won’t be sending posts from the road, but I’ve got some in the hopper to last until we get back.  So do continue to check in.

Here’s a list of Things I Hope To See and Do in Texas (compiling it was part of the fun of anticipating, planning, and imagining this trip):

  • Travel the back roads; avoid freeways
  • Sketch a blue bonnet in bloom
  • Sample as much authentic Texas barbecue as possible
  • Window shop for cowboy boots
  • Keep an eye out for armadillos and long-horn cattle
  • Fill one Moleskin notebook with trip notes and sketches
  • Sit for a few minutes of contemplation in the Rothko Chapel
  • Read Lonesome Dove aloud in the car
  • Collect some sea shells from the Gulf coast
  • Savor TexMex and Cajun food
  • Leave footprints on a sandy beach
  • Photograph some quintessential cowboy hats, Western shirts, and belts
  • Go to a rodeo