The Lone Star State

Monday, 10 February 2014 15:30
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These boots were made for roadtrippin'My whole trip through Texas in one convenient post. 


The weather was starting to turn a little nasty again as I left Louisiana and headed for the Texas border. The southwestern part of Louisiana is big-time oil country, primarily servicing the rigs in the Gulf of Mexico, and that focus also spills over into a substantial part of southeastern Texas. All along the drive, I saw gigantic welding and steel shops, pump service places, pipe and drill suppliers, and huge, barnacle-covered truss structures sitting around that were obviously part of offshore rigs at some point. As it was raining and freezing (and I am a wuss), I didn’t stop to take pictures of any of that stuff, but it was pretty interesting to see. One thing I’ve definitely learned on this trip is that the oil business makes a huge mess where the rubber meets the road. I first saw it in the chaos around all of the fracking rigs in western North Dakota, and then again here in Louisiana and Texas. Even though these areas are considerably more mature as oil regions than North Dakota is, the results seem to be largely the same—lots of huge trucks running around the countryside, seriously torn up roadways, and acres and acres of equipment sitting around in muddy, hastily cleared fields. Basically, it’s a giant construction site that just never gets finished. As a pretty conspicuous consumer of petroleum products myself over the past several months (over 1200 gallons of gas and counting), I can’t really complain about where that fuel comes from, but it’s a bit sobering to see the process in person. (As a sidebar, fellow roadtrippers should note that if you’re traveling through oilfield areas, hotel rooms are going to be both expensive and hard to come by. A lot of the workers and technicians are itinerant, and their companies put them up in all of the nearby hotels.)

Drive friendly!

I crashed in Port Arthur that night and got up early the next day, as I was planning to travel down the coast to Galveston and then back north up to Houston, but I got a little delayed. The first holdup was that my car was completely covered in ice when I came out to get started. I’d caught the southwestern edge of the storm that was featured on the news as bringing Atlanta and Birmingham and most of the south to a standstill, and it manifested itself down here as freezing rain. The second holdup was that I figured the night before that I’d just get gas in the morning, as I was running low, but apparently I was running lower than I thought, as I ran out of gas in the parking lot while warming the car up for 15 minutes or so. Luckily, the hotel was right next door to a Chevron station, so I was able to walk over and get a can of gas, but it was still pretty amusing. I also managed to get the ice off of the windshield using a combination of the car’s defroster (which is kind of like a lukewarm hamster blowing through a straw, but better than nothing) and the blade in my Leatherman, since I didn’t have an actual scraper.

Visibility was a little limited until I got it scraped off Brrr....

There wasn’t too much ice on the road surface itself (other than occasionally on some of the bridges), but it was slick enough that I decided that I’d try to get some new tires at the next big city. The main problem wasn’t actually ice on the road, it was ice on the windshield. The freezing rain was still falling, and as it hit the windshield and moved off toward the sides, it froze there. Gradually, the ice on the sides grew until it was ice over most of the windshield (the defroster was useless except for maybe a 1” strip at the bottom of the windshield), and then I’d pull over and scrape it off so we could start all over again with a new ice sheet. It did make for a pretty interesting drive.

My slowly-icing-over windshield, en route to Galveston Rear view mirror icicle on the Galveston ferry

I eventually got down to the Bolivar Peninsula, which is a thin strip of land along the coast between Galveston and Port Arthur. One of the more distinguishing features was the houses on stilts, and by “on stilts”, I mean 15’ to 30’ in the air. This area is regularly flattened by hurricanes, and putting the houses up that high is an attempt to keep them from getting wiped out by some of the smaller storms when the water comes up during the surge. It seems a little odd to build a house in a place where you know for sure that someday relatively soon it’s going to get completely destroyed by a big hurricane, and even more odd to keep building them back up after they’ve been obliterated repeatedly in the past, but I suppose people will do just about anything for beachfront property. On a happier note, the residents seemed to have a tradition of painting the houses in some really bright colors, so you had the odd picture of these super-bright houses up on tall, gangly stilts with a very angry Gulf of Mexico as a backdrop.

A Texas flag color scheme Anti-hurricane stilts

The wind had been blowing the same direction for the whole drive, and the windward side of the car had about a half inch of ice covering it, while the other side had none. I had icicles hanging off the rear view mirror, and it was really cold, and really windy. Probably some of the worst weather conditions of the trip so far, actually. I know that I said back in North Carolina that I was done with ferries, but I didn’t know about the ferry from the Bolivar Peninsula over to Galveston. This is the last one, for sure, and it was a cold and rough trip over to Galveston. Speaking of hurricanes, Galveston is famous for being the site of the deadliest hurricane in American history. Back in 1900, a Category 4 storm slammed in the Gulf coast of Texas, bringing with it a 15 foot storm surge and 145 MPH winds, which is a big problem when the highest point in your town is normally only 3 feet above sea level.  The city and its residents were practically wiped off the map, with official estimates of over 8,000 dead about 98% of the buildings and structures wiped out. Galveston itself was pretty iced up when I got over there, and seeing as things weren’t really that conducive to doing much exploring, I just drove along the seawall for a bit, and then turned north toward Houston.

Prickly pear and oil wells cover a pretty substantial part of Texas Some old wells just gradually rust to death Hurricane damage on the peninsula

My destination in Houston was the house of a fellow Roadster owner, James. He’d generously offered to let me use his guest house for a couple of days while I explored the area, so after a couple of hours of driving, I arrived at his place. We chatted for a bit, checked out the roadsters he had at home (two ’67.5 two liter cars), and then went out for some very tasty local tacos.

SRL-311 #0048. The elusive 1967.5 Datsun Roadster 2000. James working on Dave's car, another '67.5 2000 The engine bay for #0048. Two liters. B cam. 44mm Solexes. Stupid fast.
Graffiti with a message   A closer look

I was headed out to the Johnson Space Center the next morning to complete my trifecta of space centers (Kennedy (Florida), Marshall (Alabama), and Johnson (Houston)). There are actually 10 major space centers, but those three are the biggies (although you could probably make a pretty strong argument for JPL and Goddard, I suppose…but let’s stick to the ones I went to.) Other than Kennedy in Florida, this is probably the space center that most people are familiar with, in no small part due to the famous “Houston, we have a problem” communication from Apollo 13. Each of the space centers has a central mission—in Florida, it’s vehicle assembly and launch. In Huntsville, it’s propulsion systems. And in Houston, it’s astronaut training and mission control. From a tourist perspective, the Florida and Huntsville centers are much, much better than Houston, both because they’ve got more cool things to see, and because they’re just designed and run better as attractions. Houston had a walk-around museum with some interesting displays, but nothing to rival the other two. The guided tour was via tram, with ten minute stops at the old mission control center, the astronaut training facility, and the Saturn V rocket they’ve got on display. I’m not big on group tours in the first place, but I’m certainly not big on tours that are trying to hustle you back onto the tram in ten minutes. The fact that 98% of the tour group I got on was made up of very loud, rowdy, and rude 13 year old Taiwanese students didn’t help much, but overall it wasn’t a great tour. That being said, it’s always fun to see space stuff, and it was really cool to see that they actually have full scale mockups of all of the International Space Station modules, a Soyuz capsule, and the new Orion capsule (among others) for the astronauts to train in. The historic Mission Control room was also something to see for real, and it was hard to believe they conducted lunar and shuttle missions in that little room on that old equipment.

ISS display. Astronauts train for ISS missions in the simulators here. Guess what's in this building The original Houston Mission Control
ISS (International Space Station) simulation modules Russian ISS module simulator, with mission patches The Soyuz simulator
Simulator for the new Orion crew capsule This is how Terminator gets started Telepresence robot testing
Saturn V, with transporter. I promise no more rockets after this post. Redstone in the rocket garden. F1 engine in the foreground. Saturn V third stage engine (J2) detail.

I hung out with James again that night, and we took one of the two liter cars out for a little spin. He let me drive it, and man, that thing is way, way faster than my 1600. Amazing what another 40 or 50 horsepower will do for some get up and go. I’ve driven MGBs and TR6s and Alfas and similar cars in the “little two seat sports car from the 60s” class, and that thing would blow the doors off of all of them. I’m surprised Nissan wasn’t able to sell more of them than they did.

 Another fellow roadster owner joined us a little later for dinner, and we traded plenty of stories for a couple of hours, which was fun. Sports car projects are always good for some stories, and these were no exception. Between the two of them, I think they own something like six or eight roadsters, so there’s no shortage of story potential. Since everybody except me had to work the next day, we called it a night once we were storied out.

I had decided after dealing with some of the weather earlier in the week that it would probably be prudent to put a new set of tires on sooner than later, as the ones I’d started the trip with were pretty much done. Since I was in a major metro area, my chances of finding four of the funky size that are on the car would be much better than elsewhere, so I swung by a Discount Tire place, and they did have four of the same type I had on the car in their warehouse. It’d take them about an hour to get them over to the shop to put on, so in the mean time I did a little exploring around that area of Houston, and made a quick stop to take some photos in front of a pretty awesome graffiti display. Once the hour was up, I went back to the tire place, and they got the new ones mounted up in no time, and from there, it was off to Austin.

Baby needs a new pair of shoes. Two pair, actually.

Cool graffiti Profile Houston-themed graffiti
Pipes? No problem. Better Living Thru Vandalism Moeles?

On the way to Austin, I figured it was time to try some authentic Texas BBQ to round out my tour of cross-country BBQ tastings. There was a well-off-the-beaten-path place on the way called “Hill Country BBQ” outside of Hempstead, TX. I was there a little early for dinner, but they had the smokers working next to the place and the sign did say open, so I went in and got a whole pile of ribs and some dirty rice to go with it. They were pretty phenomenal, as you’d expect at a place like this. I didn’t finish that whole pile, but I did take the leftovers to go. 

Come on In! The high-tech smoker where all the BBQ magic happens Very, very tasty

I had an Airbnb place lined up in Austin for a couple of nights, and it was yet another great stay. My host Theresa is a cartographer, and we had some fun conversations about the trip and maps and places in general. There was Lauren, a second person staying at the house. She was in the midst of relocating to Austin after getting a new nursing job there, and was sort of getting things settled there while she waited for her husband to relocate as well. We hit it off pretty well, and ended up tooling around Austin in the Datsun the next day. As both of us were non-Texans, we took in some typical Texas sights—we stopped at a boot shop to check out all the Texan footwear and headgear, toured the capitol building, and visited Barton Springs, a public pool that’s fed by a large natural spring. We also partook of some of the local tacos for lunch, which were very tasty.

Lauren, my Austin companion for the day No shortage of boots in Austin Plenty of hats too, available in good guy or bad guy.
Rotunda of the capitol building. Note the T*E*X*A*S at the top Texans are very proud of Texas, and it shows everywhere The House was in session, debating minimum wage laws
The ceiling of the House chambers The capitol is famously made of pink granite. A little feminine for Texas, but it is Austin. The floor of the rotunda. Texas seal in the middle, seals of everybody else who's ever run Texas all around.
The Barton Springs pool, on a nice enough day to swim   Heroes of the Alamo memorial

Late in the afternoon, we had separate errands to run, so we parted ways and I took advantage of the great weather to clean up the car a bit, re-arrange the trunk pack, and do a little light maintenance. When dinnertime came around, I felt that I needed to try out the other side of famous Texas cuisine, their chili. For you connoisseurs, Texas chili is a ‘red’ chili, made with beef and no beans.  It’s also usually pretty darn spicy, and my bowl from the Texas Chili Parlor was the real deal. I only went for the “XX” hot instead of the “XXX” hot because I wanted to be able to actually taste it, but even then it had quite a kick.

Chili agreement. I ordered the "XX" level to be safe. Texas chili, with all the fixin's

Austin was pretty great, but it was time to go see the rest of Texas, or at least as much as I could reasonably cover, as true to its reputation, this is a really big state. I headed up to College Station, home of Texas A&M University, to hang out with Dave’s (my host and fellow roadster enthusiast in Calgary) dad and check out the area. The weather wasn’t especially great (which is sort of the subplot of my entire trip through Texas) and the ride over there was about as exciting as it gets in east Texas (i.e., not very), but Dave’s dad was great, and we had a good time chatting over dinner. He also gave me a tour through the university campus, which, being Texan, is amazingly huge. For breakfast the next morning, his wife also joined us, and we had another couple of hours of nice conversation and tasty Texas cuisine.

There's a strict code of honor at Texas A&M The big ring, where new ring-wearers go for a photo op Welcome to Aggieland

My next stop was a bit of a blast from the past from earlier in the trip. Way back in Walla Walla Washington, I had my only real mechanical failure of the trip, a hardware failure on the left lower ball joint. A guy named Gary Lowe, a fellow roadster owner, stopped to help me out, and with his help I managed to get the car sorted out at the local tow shop with a minimum of drama. (See the Walla Walla Washington post for more details.) Gary and his wife spend their winters down in Belton, TX, and I’d told him back in Washington that I’d swing by for a visit when I got down there, so that’s what I did. Texas is actually Gary’s home base, and he’s got some land there as well as a junkyard that he’s had for years. We took a walk around the junkyard, where he’s got a huge variety of pretty interesting cars, all in various states of disrepair and/or decay, but about 90% of which are probably rebuildable. There’s enough projects in there to keep an army of car guys occupied for years. He also showed me the actual print version of the Waitsburg Times article that my Airbnb host there had written, and it was a lot bigger than I expected; a whole front page spread.

Getting some fresh milk with Gary A familiar face in Gary's junkyard Roadster Roadtrip in print from the Walla Walla visit

We got some breakfast the next morning, chatted a bit more, and then I was off for a quick swing through Dallas to meet up with an old work friend of mine for some coffee, then down to San Antonio, which made for a pretty long day of driving. As previously mentioned though, it’s a big state, so some long days were to be expected, especially with my non-linear trip navigation tendencies.

Long train runnin' Some uncommon water in central Texas A bad spot to be in a flood
I wasn't sure if I was supposed to give them or get them A former roadside attraction Relaxing on the Texas plains

San Antonio was pretty cool. I got a really nice room in a vintage hotel (the St. Anthony) for dirt cheap (like, less than a Motel 6), as I booked it at the last minute while en route down there. I had a nice evening taking in the Riverwalk and getting some of the local Mexican food, and slept really great on the swanky high thread count sheets at the hotel.

San Antonio river walk More river walk This is right in the middle of downtown San Antonio

On the advice of some fellow roadtripping Texans, I headed out of San Antonio the next morning and into Texas “hill country”. It was a really nice day, so I put the top down while cruising around the countryside, working my way through Boerne (an inexplicably German town in the midst of Texas), Comfort (which was not all that comfortable), Kerrville (where I got another Texas staple, chicken fried steak), Utopia (which wasn’t), Uvalde, and Del Rio, right on the Mexican border. My final destination for the evening was Fort Stockton, which was still quite a ways to the west. I headed west on Route 90, which was quite a bit more rural than I expected, but still a nice drive. I was doing pretty decent on fuel when I left Del Rio, and it looked like there was gas within comfortable range at Langtry, which was about 60 miles west. Unfortunately, when I got to Langtry, it turned out that it really was more of a dot on the map than a real town, and the only gas pump there was closed for the evening. I checked my mileage and location, and there was no way I could continue west to the next likely fuel station and still make it, so I turned around and doubled back to Comstock, as it looked like I had just enough fuel to make it the 30 miles or so back there. Worst case scenario, I had to get someplace where I could get cell phone reception so I could call AAA to bring me some gas if necessary, and the most likely spot for the nearest cell tower was somewhere near Comstock as well, so off I went. After some tense miles of looking at the gas gauge sitting on “E”, I finally did make it to what was literally the only gas pump in Comstock, a single pump that took credit cards sitting in front of a closed service station. The car took 10.78 gallons (into an 11 gallon tank), so I was probably only about another 5 to 10 miles or so from running out, which was more excitement than I really wanted for that evening. Fueled up, I headed back west through nighttime Texas oil country to Fort Stockton, where I think I was the only car in a town full of pickup trucks. It was pretty late by that time, so I checked into my hotel and hit the sack.

Texas-sized chicken fried steak A pitstop at the former roadside attraction Hill country sunset
The roadster photobombing the sunset The pump I was going for...unfortunately closed. The loneliest gas pump in Texas, luckily open and accepting credit cards

It was another one of the wacky winter weather days I’ve been encountering when I got up the next morning. I’d gone from cruising around with the top down the day before to a brisk 23 degree morning with high winds and light snow. The truckers at the gas station where I refueled were exchanging stories of winter storm watches, ice, and snow back toward Houston, but luckily I was headed the opposite direction, so I only had to be cold rather than battling the elements.

The stars at night are big and are the semis in Texas. More stars, and a little moonlight. Orion nebula pretty clearly visible. Goofing around with my flashlight on the "red" setting

The first signs of the car starting to get a little tired had been showing up for the past couple of stops. My rear main seal leak was back, although it was pretty minor, just a drop here and there. That was joined by a new front seal leak on my differential, and this one was a bit more vigorous, but nothing to really be alarmed about. And finally, the crappy old rusty piece of junk muffler that I’d started the trip with had developed a pretty substantial crack in the housing somewhere along the way, so things were getting loud, hot, and rattly under my butt. I suspect all this had more to do with the repeated exposure to sub-freezing temperatures since about Atlanta  than it did with the mileage, but nonetheless there it was. I headed up to Odessa to see if I could get some while-you-wait muffler work done, but everybody was booked up, so I took my very sporty-sounding roadster down through Pecos and on to Carlsbad, NM, though the ocean of oilfield service trucks populating the roads of West Texas.

Late in the afternoon, I hit the New Mexico border. This marked the conclusion of my little side-quest of hitting all of the lower 48 states on this trip, as New Mexico was officially number 48. There was no fanfare, unless you count almost getting blown off the road by giant oil drilling rig trucks, but we made it, which was a really good feeling. I gave the car a good pat on the dash and a hearty congratulations, and we cruised through State #48 into Carlsbad to start our New Mexico adventure.


Next Stop: New Mexico!



#1 Datsun.Dave 2014-02-10 22:23
Man. Those ribs look good. And the chicken fried steak too. Glad you were able to catch up with Dad. The best weather I ever encountered in Texas was a hellacious windstorm in the middle of the night in Amarillo that ripped the louvres off the back window of my 74 260Z and threw them over top the length of my car barely missing the hood of my car. We had parked under a gas station canopy to avoid the golf ball sized hail, but elected to take our chances with the hail when the whole canopy started to sway back and forth... Post university graduation driving from Vancouver BC to Corpus Christi...
#2 Monkeygym 2014-02-10 22:34
Outstanding, Scott--congrats on hitting the lower 48!
Though you are probably out of the woods on this topic, if in the future you need a light-duty frost scraper, a credit or atm card does a good job of it.
Safe travels, and we can't wait to see you when you're in NorCal!
jim & Drusie & Belle & Tallulah
#3 FairladySPL 2014-02-11 03:17
"...and slept really great on the swanky high thread count sheets at the hotel."

You deserve that plus a turned-down blanket corner with a square of premium chocolate wrapped in thick foil.

Always enjoy your attention to detail!
#4 Jennifer 2014-02-11 08:29
It has been quite a ride to read along with you. I am overjoyed you are finishing up in a safe mode but feeling a bit selfish to want more of these marvelous photos, educated posts of things I would never think to visit let alone write about, and the continual sharing of the good vibes and generosity you have found throughout the 48 states. There have been precious gems in each post and I just wonder what the heck I am doing sitting in one spot. Thank you for bringing all these new dimensions of America to me. And I hope you just keep on blogging on and on when the road thins out as I am going to miss your turn of phrases most of all.

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