This summer we're taking a look at interesting, odd, historic and just plain worth it road trips in and around the Lone Star State.
Clark Griswold didn't want to fly because he instinctively knew that all those National Lampoon road trips were the best way to reconnect with the fam. Although things rarely worked out the way Chevy Chase's character intended, there's something appealing about turning off the smart phones, putting a stop to the binge-watching marathons, and setting out to explore the expansive, and sometimes very weird, Texas landscape.
Not all of us were born in Texas, but we got here as fast as we could. Others, like the dinosaurs, beat everybody to the punch and turned the Lone Star State into their stomping ground 113 million years ago. Unless it's been raining a lot we can see dinosaur footprints in the bed of the Paluxy River at Dinosaur Valley State Park. With 20 miles of trails, campsites, horses and even geocaching, this trip to the Dinosaur Capital of Texas hits all the marks.
Dinosaur Valley State Park, 1629 Park Road 59, Glen Rose, 254-897-4588 and 512-389-8900, tpwd.texas.gov/state-parks/dinosaur-valley.
The dinosaurs were king of the Cretaceous Age but when they died off it paved the way for enormous mammals like the mammoth to flourish. Our nation has discovered only one nursery herd of Columbian mammoths and it's right here in Texas at Waco Mammoth National Monument. They flourished during the Pleistocene Epoch, also known as the Ice Age, and this particular herd drowned in the Bosque River during a flash flood. Visitors can see fossils from female and bull mammoths, and even a camel, at this paleontological site.
Waco Mammoth National Monument, 6220 Steinbeck Bend Road, Waco, 254-750-7946, nps.gov/waco.
Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery and, with Texas being the second largest state, we've got plenty of room for copying big ideas and making them our own. There's no shortage of towns or hotels called Paris that built their own replica of the Eiffel Tower, but the spectacle in Paris, Texas is unique in that it also sports a cowboy hat (which also makes it taller than the one in Tennessee).
Eiffel Tower, 2025 Jefferson, Paris, 1-800-727-4789, paristexas.com.
So apparently Americans have been recreating Stonehenge all over the place and we've got at least two here in Texas. One of them is on the campus of University of Texas of the Permian Basin. It seems that Chris Stanley, the chair of the Humanities and Fine Arts Department, always asked the art students to construct models of the prehistoric monument and the idea grew from there. The other one, known as Stonehenge II, was originally built in Hunt and later moved near the Guadalupe River on the grounds of the Hill Country Arts Foundation. But not before co-creator Al Shepperd added a pair of 13-foot-tall Easter Island head replicas. Which makes perfect sense to us when you're going all megalithic.
University of Texas of the Permian Basin, 4901 East University, Odessa, 432-552-2020, utpb.edu.
Hill Country Arts Foundation, 120 Point Theater, Ingram, 830-367-5121, hcaf.com.
Not all obsolete vehicles make it to Mexico. Ant Farm artists Chip Lord, Hudson Marquez and Doug Michels creatively planted ten Cadillacs into the ground, tailfins up, at the exact same angle as Egypt's Great Pyramid of Giza. The artists tried to get a nice cross section of models, ranging from 1949 to 1963, and this graffiti-covered spectacle is accessible 24/7. The Cadillac Ranch Gift Shop opened a few years ago and it sells spray paint in case you forgot to pack the aerosol.
13651 I-40 Frontage Road, Amarillo, visitamarillo.com/listing/cadillac-ranch/625 or cadillac-ranch.com.
Let the record reflect that the Orange Show Center for Visionary Art with its Beer Can House and colorful Smither Park will always represent junk and outsider art as the ultimate in untidy perfection. But we're talking road trips so we can't overlook Austin's Cathedral of Junk. Owner Vince "Junk King" Hannemann battled city officials over building permits and they won the war, sort of. The Cathedral of Junk, made entirely of people's castoffs, was allowed to stay but the artist is prohibited from advertising it as a tourist attraction. But weirdness will out and it serves as the unlikely site of a few private parties and weddings each year, and still gets its fair share of drive by lookie-loos.
4422 Lareina, Austin, 78745
With RodeoHouston's iconic "H" only getting trotted out once a year, we've got to look elsewhere for those cheesy, corny selfies that keep our social media timeline interesting. For some reason it's fun to take pictures next to big things and Texas has plenty of oversized attractions: Abilene's Big Bull Skull, Alvin's Big Tamale, Amarillo's Huge Pair of Legs, Burleson's Big Wrench and Lufkin's Big Roadrunner. Fort Stockton's Paisano Pete no longer holds the world record, but he remains one of the most photographed attractions in West Texas. Beep. Beep.
It's hard to get more "Texas" than the spur of a boot, and a creative Lampasas realtor and her clients thought up the idea of the World's Largest Spur, which comes in at a whopping 34 feet in height.
East Dickinson Boulevard and North Main, Fort Stockton, historicfortstocktontx.com/attractions-2/paisano-pete-fort-stockton.
Texas Real Estate Sales, 1902 Highway 281 South, Lampasas, 512-556-9090, worldslargestspur.com.
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The Marfa Lights are our version of the aurora borealis, but much more mysterious and definitely unexplainable. True believers claim the lights zoom across the sky at lightning speed; naysayers say it's just the reflection of car headlights. Either way it's fun to speculate about paranormal phenomena and the town of Marfa has certainly made the most of these red, blue and white mystery lights.
Marfa Visitor Center, 302 South Highland, Marfa, 432-729-4772, visitmarfa.com.
Here in Texas we love us some barbecue, and we also love psycho thrillers like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. In the film a group of teens stops off at the Last Chance Gas Station only to find that the pumps are dry and won't be refueled until the morning. Local businessman Roy Rose partnered with Ari Lehman (Friday the 13th's Jason Voorhees) to transform this location into a horror-themed destination. It's an uneasy pairing — purchasing brisket by the pound alongside a life sized Freddy Krueger statue — but The Texas Gas Station (aka We Slaughter Barbecue) knows exactly what it's doing. The whole town of Bastrop is also gearing up for the mega The Cult Classic Convention, September 28-30, in a celebration of murder, mayhem and mania.
Texas Gas Station, 1073 State Highway 304, Bastrop, 512-321-7297, texasgasstation.com.
The Cult Classic Convention, Bastrop Convention & Exhibit Center, 1408 Chestnut, cultclassicconvention.com.