Before I'd ever been to Texas, I used to picture the Lone Star State as a dusty desert, filled with dude ranches, cowboys and cattle. Perhaps watching too many TV westerns gave me an incorrect perception of the totality of Texas landscapes.
During our stay, I was blown away by some of the beautiful outdoor spaces, lush gardens and natural landscapes we encountered there. The above shot was taken at Bayou Bend in Houston. The former home of Texas oil baroness Ima Hogg, Bayou Bend is now open to the public (with a small entry fee). A lovely way to beat the heat, these gardens are beautifully manicured and maintained.
Another great green space in Houston is just outside of the Renzo Piano-designed Menil Collection museum. These gardens are free and open to the public (as is the museum), and are well used by locals and tourists alike. The shade trees and outdoor sculptures make for a great afternoon picnic or study session.
Head a few hours west to Austin, and you'll find the Texas State Cemetery. As I travel around, I often find myself in a cemetery, as it's a great place to discover local history and remove myself from the touristy din. The peaceful gardens and ponds make it a great place for reflection and solitude. Lots of local heroes have been laid to rest here, including everyone from Stephen F. Austin to Tom Landry.
While manicured gardens are a sight to behold, sometimes there's nothing like the real thing. At the Barton Creek Greenbelt in Austin, there's all kinds of natural beauty for a more outdoorsy experience. I was barely out on the trail before I saw rock climbers, sunbathers, swimmers and hikers. This lush landscape is well-used, and packed full of lots of outdoor Texas-sized fun.
(Images: Smith Schwartz)