Austin, Texas April 11
Monday, April 10
Austin is a short drive down I-35 from Dallas-Fort Worth but we, of course, drove the longer, smoother, and more scenic route along two lane roads west of I-35. The wildflowers re-appeared but not in the same profusion as around Ennis. The northern half of the route is hilly, once again surprising us about Texas geography. The ranches are different from the farms of the Midwest-no huge silos to store the crops.
Our first stop was at the junction of I-20 and US 281 as we began the two lane road drive. Gilbert Pecans beckoned to us and we purchased some pecans for us and for my sister (to use to hopefully make a pecan pie). Our second stop was in Hico Texas, population 1300, for a piece of pie at a local, well-known pie shop.
In Austin, we visited the Presidential Library of Lyndon Johnson at the University of Texas-Austin campus. LBJ’s library is well done, being completed in 1971, shortly before his death. There are several levels of exhibits, with six floors of archived records also in the building. This was a Presidential Library which we both appreciated.
LBJ had a tremendous record of legislative accomplishments, although the Vietnam War legacy is one that he can not escape. Sometimes we forget that he chose not to run for re-election almost seven years before the war actually ended. During the five years of his presidency, monumental legislation was passed; such as: Medicare, Head Start, the War on Poverty, Civil Rights Act, Voting Rights Act, Immigration Act (changing from heavy European preference to world-wide acceptance), creation of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, Clean Water Act, VISTA, new educational programs, National Foundation for the Arts and Humanities (think Sesame Street and Corporation for Public Broadcasting, and other programs), etc.
It was somewhat disheartening to think that today, fifty years later, we are still arguing how to implement voting rights, how to get kids properly educated, how to allow immigrants in from non-European countries, etc.
One story we had to pull out of a library aide was the details behind the courtship of Lyndon and Lady Bird. The exhibits only mentioned the dates they met and the date they married. Lady Bird came from a well-to-do family, Lyndon did not. A friend lined up a blind date for the two of them when Lyndon was home from his job as a congressional aide in D.C. They spent the weekend together and Lyndon proposed, Lady Bird declined. They corresponded for the next two months, he came home at Thanksgiving, she accepted and they eloped.
The library allows you to listen to numerous selections of telephone conversations between Johnson and others on a variety of topics. One moving conversation we listened to was between the President and Jackie Kennedy about two weeks after JFK’s assassination. The fondness between the two was touching. Another feature here was a modern-day triptych, a series of three-part panels combining TV clips and memorabilia about the cultural and political happenings over three-year periods around the time of his Presidency.
After the Library, we had lunch at La Madeline, a national chain but a nice French cafe style restaurant. On our way to our Austin Evergreen hosts, we stopped at Mueller Lake. We thought it was just a park and we would get a little exercise walking around the lake. Turns out Mueller Lake is a 700 acre former airport now being converted into a planned community within the City of Austin. The lake does have walkways so we hiked around it land got our extra exercise for the day.
Our Evergreen hosts took us out exploring that evening. We visited Covert Park at Mount Bonnell. The park provides a great observation point for the city, showcasing the hills along the Colorado River; the other Colorado River. This Colorado River begins in Texas, south of Lubbock, and travels 862 miles to the Gulf of Mexico, all within the state of Texas.
After Covert Park, we made a quick stop at Mayfield Preserve, home to a group of peacocks. The peacocks were roosting in the trees for the evening. It was amazing seeing the birds with their feathers hanging down from the branch the bird was perched on.
Tuesday, April 11
One can not control the weather. We had planned for this day to be our time outdoors, hiking and observing nature. The rain slowed us down and made a slight adjustment to the planned schedule. The initial stop was at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center and the Texas Arboretum. Two and a half hours gave us plenty of time to walk the trails, view and smell the flowers, and even eat lunch during the heaviest portion of the rain.
The Center is 279 acres, self-supporting, devoted to education and research, an arm of the University of Texas, and specializing in native wildflowers of Texas. The gardens and trails were well laid out, with plenty of color to keep me busy snapping photos. The rains came about 90 minutes into our walk so we visited the inside exhibits and then had lunch in their cafe.
After lunch, the rain persuaded us to drop McKinney Falls State Park and went to the Texas State Capitol for a tour. The Texas Capitol is the largest capitol in the nation, is 14 feet higher than the U.S. Capitol, and underwent a major renovation and expansion in 1993. The Texas Legislature meets for 140 days every other odd-numbered year. Thus, it was in session while we were here. Tours could not go into the chambers but after our tour we did go into the visitor gallery and view each chamber.
The tour was strong on the major points of Texas history, the control by six different nations; Spain, France, Mexico, the independent Republic of Texas, the Confederate States, and the United States. Portraits of all Texas Presidents and Governors are on the walls, including the first woman Governor (who served two separate terms, the first being in 1924).
The Capitol itself was, while imposing and majestic, a disappointment in terms of artistic embellishments. Most of the state capitols we have toured have entire corridors devoted to large, grandiose, and impressive murals and paintings. The Texas Capitol walls are uniformly white. Only in the Senate chambers are two large paintings, one for the battle of the Alamo and one for the battle of San Jacinto.
A separate visitors center is located on the grounds of the Capitol complex, housed in the former General Land Office. In this building were excellent displays that explained the building of the current Capitol. In brief, this second Capitol (the first went up in flames) was financed by two Chicago investors who received a land grant of 3,000,000 acres of land out by the border with New Mexico. Unfortunately for the Chicago guys, the land grant did not make them rich. The market for beef fell apart. The land was too far out to really cash in on settlers homesteading the area. But the Capitol got built.
One other novelty was mentioned in the exhibits. O. Henry, the short story novelist, moved to Texas in 1882 when he was 20. From 1891-1894, he worked in the General Land Office (where the visitor center is located) and several of his short stories include significant references to this building and people he worked with while here.
After the Capitol, the skies were only gray and drizzly so we drove to the Zilker Botanical Gardens. This 31 acre garden has separate sections maintained by different garden clubs in the City of Austin. The Japanese Garden was built by one man, when he was 70, over the course of two years. He had retired and moved here to be near his son. He had free time and offered to help at the garden. They asked him to construct a Japanese garden. He designed and constructed the wonderful garden we observed today.
We spent 90 minutes here walking the grounds; we had our rain jackets but the skies remained just gray with no major rain. The rain earlier in the day made the walking stones slippery but the leaves still had raindrops glistening on them and the odors of the flowers were rich and heavy.
Dinner was at Dirty Martin’s, an establishment dating back to 1926. It is an old style (in the best sense of the words) hamburger joint, serving burgers, fries, and shakes-and alcohol now. We love to visit restaurants that have stood the test of time but which today have to fight the franchise chains and newest “in” restaurant. We talked to the staff, one cook having been here for 20 years. The General Manager showed us around and gave us the history. He is working to keep attracting new customers while still maintaining the regulars. In today’s world, the name Dirty Martin’s can have several negative connotations; yet the name has its history-it goes back to the original days when the floor was made of dirt.
I was impressed with the cleanliness; remembering back to my youth and the amounts of grease on and behind the stoves at the restaurants our family owned. Our Evergreen hosts had recommended the place and we were happy they had. Of course we had burgers with onion rings and tater tots, chocolate malt for Ed and an orange creamsicle for Chris (vanilla ice cream with Fanta orange pop).
Ed and Chris April 11