Big Tex Road Trip: Best Historical and Oddball

The Houston Press is getting closer to publishing its ultimate state-encompassing road trip that will take drivers to every region of this crazy big state. (Better get an oil change.)

In the meantime, we’ve compiled some of the coolest Texas history sites and roadside oddities.

If you have a favorite historical or oddball destination, let us know in the comments section.

San Jacinto Battleground and Monument, La Porte
You can almost hear the cries of “Texas forevs!” (or something like that) when entering the San Jacinto Battleground State Historic Site, where Sam Houston and the boys won the decisive battle of the Texas Revolution (damn straight). Located next to the Houston Ship Channel, the ode to Texas’s beautiful independence includes the 567-foot-tall San Jacinto Monument, an octagonal column that’s about 12 feet higher than the Washington Monument. Speed up the elevator for killer views of Houston and the USS Texas. Along with the Alamo, the San Jac site is pretty much a must for Texas citizenship. 

Lee Harvey Oswald's grave, Fort Worth
When Jack Ruby gunned down alleged John F. Kennedy killer Lee Harvey Oswald, nobody in Dallas wanted the remains of the purported murderer. Eventually, Shannon Rose Memorial Park in Fort Worth agreed to house the remains of the supposed killer. Fifty-two years after the fact, don’t expect a friendly Texas “howdy!” when asking a staff member for directions to Oswald’s resting place. They won’t even speak his name. Instead, they’ll direct you to his gravemate Nick Beef, who remained a mystery for years until The New York Times revealed that Mr. Beef is alive and well as a New York City-based comedian.  

Texas Prison Museum, Huntsville
The Texas Prison Museum up near the state prison in Huntsville chronicles the Texas penal system from 1848 to the present, and includes the history of the now-defunct Texas Prison Rodeo, a photography show of death row prisoners and their last words, and a replica prison cell complete with a toilet. The centerpiece of the museum, of course, is Old Sparky, which cooked the brains of 361 prisoners between 1924 and 1964. In case you’re thinking about offing yourself in some sort of ceremonial death act, too bad, because the electric chair is roped off. (Bummer, dude. Guess you’ll have to keep on living.)

Cadillac Ranch, Amarillo
In 1974, the hippie members of the Ant Farm art collective sank junked-up Cadillacs nose first into the dry, parched earth of the Texas Panhandle. In 1997, the cars, which sit at an angle similar to that of Egypt’s Great Pyramid of Giza, were moved to a cow pasture two miles to the west of their original location – on the south side of eastbound Interstate 40, to be exact – where visitors are encouraged to pick up one of the hundreds of spray paint cans and go to town on the sculptures. 

Buc-ee’s, New Braunfels
The self-proclaimed largest convenience store in the world is mental. Located off the feeder on the east side of northbound Interstate 35, the 67,000-square feet of ridiculousness includes 84 toilets, 80 soda dispensers, rows of snack mixes and fudges, UT and A&M paraphernalia, hunting supplies, Southern home kitsch, baby clothes and so much more. And that’s just the inside. Outside, there are 60 gas pumps of every octane. Every single time we’ve taken out-of-state visitors to this Buc-ee’s, they’re always like “WTF!?” It rules. 

Marfa Lights
Are they real? Can they be? Who are we and who are they? We can’t help you with any of that, but we do recommend trekking to the far West Texas desert to try to spot UFOs and other brightly lit spacecraft. There’s actually a developed viewing center, located east of Marfa near U.S. Route 67/90 on the way to Alpine. If anything, it’s a neat place to hang out in the middle of nowhere under the West Texas stars and listen to alien abduction stories on Coast to Coast AM.

Lipantitlán State Historic Site, Nueces County 
The little visited ruins east of Orange Grove are worth a swing-by while you're in South Texas. Mexican forces erected a wooden fort on this site in 1831 in preparation for big trouble. They would eventually get it on November 4, 1835, during the Battle of Lipantitlán (also called the Battle of Nueces County), when Texian insurgents took control of the site – and full seizure of the Texas Gulf Coast – during an important stage of the Texas Revolution.
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Steve Jansen is a contributing writer for the Houston Press.
Contact: Steve Jansen