Jim Stodola: Journey to the heart of Texas

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Jim Stodola/Courtesy photo
The Texas Capitol Vietnam Veterans Monument is on the grounds of the Capitol in Austin.
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For previous vacations, I have sent you off into distant lands. Today, I will keep you in the heart of our beloved state, Austin, and its surrounds.

I say its surrounds for a reason. Like many of you, my wife and I have traveled to Austin several times. Some of you go for dealings with the government, some for fun. We have family down there, but going down there just to be with them all the time might be boring, so we also plan little side trips. Don’t tell our kids about the “might be boring” part.

More about the side trips later. Right now I want to keep you in Austin, and mind you, keeping yourself only in Austin can take several trips. Let’s start with the most impressive, your Capitol grounds.

Most capitols I have seen sport a shining gold dome. Driving toward this one I was momentarily disappointed by our bronze-domed Capitol, until getting closer to see it fit with the rich bronze look of the entire building.

Walking the grounds, you’ll see monuments to our troops in major battles and wars we fought, even tributes to peace officers and Terry’s Texas Rangers. I spent a lot of time at the latest addition, honoring troops in the war in which I fought, the Texas Capitol Vietnam Veterans Monument. It was unveiled this March, a massive bronze of different colored alloys.

Inside the Capitol, you can take a self- or guided tour of several floors, viewing portraits of each of our governors, of the House and Senate chambers, the expansion tunnel. Have fun taking photos.

Drive through the University of Texas campus, by the 307-foot-tall UT Tower, which also is something to see at night. Drive by Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium.

Visit the Blanton Museum of Art, which holds 17,000 works of art, and the Harry Ransom Center, which holds manuscripts, photographs, rare books including a Gutenberg Bible and works of art.

A must-see is the newer Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum, three floors of our history plus an IMAX theater. In my opinion, the most substantial building on campus is the Lyndon Baines Johnson Library and Museum. You can visit three of the 10 floors for exhibits and audio-visual displays, with the 10th floor having a replica of LBJ’s Oval Office.

Austin is a music city, much as Denton, with the famous Austin City Limits you see on TV, South by Southwest and other music festivals. Austin has several parks and many of them are along the elongated Lady Bird Lake. Upstream and west of town is Lake Travis, but you might enjoy even looking at the lake after water levels rise again.

Let’s look at some of those side trips if you have the time. Johnson City, with LBJ’s boyhood home and Johnson Settlement, is about 50 miles west of Austin. Fourteen miles west of that is the 2,800-acre LBJ ranch, still a working ranch. As I remember, LBJ also ran Hereford cattle. Guess he believed they were God’s cattle, as I did when I used to raise Hereford on my old ranch. The ranch has his birthplace, cemetery and the Texas White House. LBJ had simple, inexpensive tastes.

Seventeen miles west of there is Fredericksburg, its Main Street lined with biergartens, German restaurants, varied shops and Market Square with its small octagonal museum. We happened to be there for festivities one Christmas.

A side trip another time was angling south-southeast from Waco on U.S. Highway 77, first to see our old architectural county courthouses, much as we have in Denton, in the towns of Cameron, Giddings, La Grange, then southwest to Gonzales, then doubling back up north to see theirs in Lockhart before hitting Austin. And on that same detour looking for courthouses, we stopped to see the famous painted churches in Serbin, Ammansville, High Hill, Dubina and Praha. And you really have to look to find some of these churches.

This Memorial Day, our side trip on our way to Austin again took us down U.S. Highway 77 from Waco to spend a night in Brenham in preparation for the next day’s outing. The next day our first stop found us on a tour of the Blue Bell Creamery. Go and you’ll see about two miles of stainless steel tubing and learn about the 55 to 65 flavors they have every year, adding new ones, subtracting old, some seasonal, some regional. Be proud, our Texas ice cream is the third most popular in the country.

Since my wife got to sample ice cream in Brenham (OK, I had some, too), she was nice enough to take us to Shiner to the Spoetzl Brewery so I could sample the beers. You might guess the name of the beer. With water from an artesian well, beer is brewed seven days a week, fermented for 28 days, and then shipped to 46 states. They tell me they make eight brews a day times 175 barrels times 31 gallons per barrel, which equals 43,400 gallons a day.

Back in Austin, I know I didn’t tell you about all the nightlife down on Sixth Street, but after thinking about all that beer, I just had to visit the houses of all the sons-in-law and drink some of their beer.

Now, I know that I subconsciously mentioned Denton a couple times here. Guess as much as we yearn to travel, we yearn to be back home. And I hope somebody far off is writing about how good it is to visit Denton.

Happy trails!

JIM STODOLA, a contributing columnist, can be reached at jimstodola1@gmail.com.

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