After a great three days in Galveston, it was time to get back on the road. I would head north to Houston, then on to Austin and eventually into Fort Worth.
Texas is a BIG state and there is lots of ground to cover. My first day would cover some backroads from Galveston and meander my way into Houston where I would stay overnight with my uncle.
There were things I had planned to see along the way and found a few things along the way as well. I figured that I may not get this way again (south of Houston) for a while, so I took advantage of a full day of driving to see some parts of Texas that many may not really get to.
My plans were to drive to Alvin, but along the way I came across an interesting house in Santa Fe, Texas. I had to stop and get a few shots. I discovered an unusual huge estate right on TX Hwy 6. It is called the Pignataro Estate, though many call it a castle.
According to an article I found from the Galveston Daily News, September 20, 1981, the home was originally built in the 1930s by a widow of a well-to-do Danish immigrant. It has since passed hands a number of times and has been owned by the Pignataro family since the 1970s. This larges estate apparently has 26 rooms and a number of other amenities. Following are a few more shots of some of the many white cement statues in the yard.
It is places like the Pignataro Estate that make it so worthwhile to take back roads and see the sites. After my brief photo shoot there, I continued north to Alvin, Texas, the birthplace of famed pitcher Nolan Ryan.
Alvin is about 25 miles southeast of Houston, and like Santa Fe, it is a town originally built around the railroad. Currently, there are just under 25,000 residents in this town known for its connection to Nolan Ryan.
Nolan Ryan spent a good part of his youth living in Alvin and playing Little League Baseball there and even became a famed high school pitcher at Alvin High School, where some players refused to go up to bat against him because of his amazing fastball. A Hall of Famer now, he serves as an adviser to the Houston Astros organization.
After the brief visit in Alvin and headed south to Angleton to visit the first of the Big Three statues in southern Texas. Angleton is home to the Stephen F. Austin statue, which stands 76 feet tall from the base.
Since I wrote extensively about the Stephen Austin statue in an earlier post, I am just including a couple of photos here.
While at the Stephen F. Austin Statue park, I came across a couple of what I have learned are Cattle Egrets. Smaller than a Great Egret, I saw them foraging in the grasses. I saw some of these birds in a horse field in Louisiana as well. Unique looking, beautiful birds. Cattle egrets exploit drier and open habitats more than other heron species. Their feeding habitats include seasonally inundated grasslands, pastures, farmlands, wetlands and rice paddies. They often accompany cattle or other large mammals, catching insect and small vertebrate prey disturbed by these animals.
From Angleton I headed to the small town of Lake Jackson, TX, to find my way…literally! The “main drag” of Lake Jackson is called This Way and they also have a That Way. Here are a few fun shots of these unique road names and the story behind them. (And, by the way, Kentucky’s Senator Rand Paul spent most of his childhood in Lake Jackson…and he found his way to Kentucky and the US Senate!)
All streets radiating from downtown Lake Jackson end in the word “Way.” Among the streets are Center Way, Winding Way, Circle Way, and Parking Way. There is an intersection of two streets named This Way and That Way. In the same spirit, a local church near Bess Brannen Elementary placed a small sign in their driveway named His Way. There is also an Any Way.
And then there is the old British Phone Box on This Way
Speaking of out of place, as I headed out of town on my way to West Columbia, TX, lo and behold, what do I see driving in front of me?
The next stop in my roundabout tour of SE Texas was in West Columbia, which was known as the First Capitol of Texas. The first Congress of the Republic of Texas was convened in West Columbia on October 3, 1836, when the town was still just named Columbia.
I always have a penchant for old theaters and the Capitol Theater in West Columbia is a classic.
This old theater was first open in 1937 and by 1941 it had its name changed to the Capitol.
From West Columbia I made my way to Damon, TX up Texas Highway 36. I have a friend in Lexington named Damon so I had to stop and send him a shot or two for fun!
Damon was actually a unique little place. Even the old road signs were still in use and had character, but weren’t too legible.
From Damon I returned east on Texas Highway 1462 towards Rosharon, TX with a quick turn off on TX 762 to visit the Brazos Bend State Park, known for ts alligator sightings. I had visited places in Louisiana and Mississippi earlier on this trip in hopes of seeing alligators, but never got to see any. Maybe this would be the charm!
Maybe I’ll find that elusive gator yet!
And walking around the swamp area I got another gator view.
The State Park had a couple of miles of rads and a few swampy areas.
With my Gator Sighting checked off my bucket list and totally hot and sweaty after my hike around the pond, it was back in the car and on to Rosharon, TX. Didn’t plan a stop in Rosahron, but I couldn’t resist a couple of shots of the Cherokee Rose Trading Post.
After my quick drive by, I back tracked and headed up Hwy 36 towards Needville, TX on my way to Wharton. Along the way I saw a good old vintage neon sign for a roadside cafe called “The Jay”, in Needville.
From Needville, I headed west towards Boling and Iago.
Nothing in those two towns but the signs were interesting!! Then it was on to Wharton. Lots of fun things to see in little Wharton.
My main reason for visiting Wharton was to visit the Tee Pee Motel, a retro throwback to the 50s and 60s. According to their website, “The Teepee Motel was originally built in 1942 by George and Toppie Belcher to serve travelers heading across Texas on State Highway 60. This was an era of grand roadtrips, family adventure, and American innocence. The Teepee operated for 40 years, until the Interstate Highway system and a new era of travel routed customers away from the motel in the early 1980’s. The motel eventually closed and would remain so for over 15 years.
Another notable set of items are a number of murals painted by Independence, Texas mural artist Dayton Wodrich. He has done at least five murals in Wharton (though I only saw four when I drove around town). Following are a couple more…
Wharton has a great old courthouse and theater in town as well.
After my visit to Wharton I then headed northeast on US 59 and eventually made my way to the outskirts of Houston into the Sugar Land area where I visited the second of the three Texas Giant statues, this one, the giant Quan Te Am Bo Tat statue at the Vietnamese Buddhist Center. The statue was designed an build by New Orleans artist Mai Chi. She escaped from Vietnam in 1989 and spent four years in a refugee camp in Indonesia.
From the Vietnamese Center I headed to my uncle’s for an overnight in Houston.
Next post will cover Houston to Austin via the heart of Texas.
After a long two days of driving from Lexington thru Tennessee, Mississippi and Louisiana, I got to spend three days with family relaxing on the beaches of Galveston Island and visiting many of the interesting sites on the island. And, for me, I got to spend some time watching the amazing brown pelicans as they flew in formation, glided over the Gulf of Mexico and took amazing dives for fish. It was a wonderously amazing visit.
Galveston is not only a city in southern Texas but is also an island. The city actually sits on Galveston Island and Pelican Island.
The town was named for Gálvez-town or Gálveztown in honor of Bernardo de Gálvez y Madrid, Count of Gálvez by Spanish explorer José de Evia during his charting of the Gulf Coast in 1785. Since that time many beautiful buildings were built, including some expansive hotels and old church buildings.
The main reason for coming to Galveston was a Kravetz family reunion. It was great to spend time with my cousins, uncles, aunts and sister and dad. It was nice to see the family…but no pics of them here.
Unfortunately, it was a bad year for sargassum seaweed buildup. The beaches had piles of smelly seaweed everywhere. In fact, there were tractors having to try to scoop up the stinky stuff. This was a result of cold fronts that kept the seaweed in the southern Gulf longer than usual, where it continued to thrive in warm waters. The seaweed then floated north, deluging many of the beaches along the gulf.
Despite the seaweeds, the beaches were still enjoyable. I usually am going going going, but, since family was all together, I was able to just take it easy. In fact, I sat in a beach chair and just watched the pelicans and seagulls and those strange two-legged mammals (humans) frolic in the waves.
Though family is always important, my fondest memories of Galveston will always center around the graceful brown pelicans. Their effortless floating over the city was fascinating. In fact, I loved how they flew in unison as many of the photos below show.
Then, while sitting on the beach I saw something else that just blew me away. I witnessed these graceful pelicans take high-speed nose dives into the gulf. While diving, the pelicans appeared to rotate their bodies ever so slightly to the left. My research verified this and indicated that the rotation helps the birds avoid injury to the esophagus and trachea, which are located on the right side of their neck. They have also apparently learned that a steep dive angle, between 60 and 90 degrees, reduces aiming errors caused by water surface refraction. This is pretty amazing. I tried to capture a few shots of this unique practice.
I also enjoyed watching the seagulls. I have always been used to seeing white ones, but the ones in Galveston are darker and have black heads. These are apparently called Laughing Gulls.
Galveston island is about 27 miles long and about 3 miles wide at its widest point. During my visit I circumnavigated most of the island. My cousins rented a beach house in Jamaica Beach, which is on the southwestern end of Galveston Island and the only other town on the island. We went there a couple of times during the visit and it was a nice drive.
Before getting into Jamaica Beach, I passed the Pirate’s Beach neighborhood, which sits between the highway and the Gulf of Mexico. Some really amazing beach houses here, many of them built after the devastation of Hurricane Ike in 2008.
In the main town area there are a number of other rental properties that sit on some land that juts out between Jumbile Cove to the south and Carancahua Cove to the north. Many of the homes sit next to small waterways where boats can be docked and then taken out to sea.
One of the recurring themes of my trip down to Galveston (and home as well) was alligators. I visited the home of “Swamp People” in Louisiana the day before and on the way through Mississippi stopped in Alligator, MS. So, it was only logical that I would run into something alligator related while in Galveston….
I got a kick out of the product. “Smoked Alligator with Pork Jerky.” Made me wonder if the alligators were “pork fed” before being made into jerky…..
Back into Galveston….Seawall Blvd. is the “main drag” along the coast. This stretch of road runs between the resort shops, restaurants and fast food places and the main beach. Typical beach wear shops can be seen, as well as unique multi-person bicycles called surrey bikes. I had never seen these before, but it occurs to me that these are the perfect mode of transport along the beaches. There were rental places all along Seawall Blvd.
Unfortunately, I didn’t get to try one of these out. I should have!! But I enjoyed the beach scenes anyway.
Of course, there are all of the unique hotels, restaurants and shops to be seen. I tried a couple of the restaurants while there. Also drove by and captured shots of some of the hotels, condos, etc.
While I was in Galveston, my wife was with her sisters and brother on the beach in San Diego. I had hoped we could adjust our schedules and take photos at the same time on the beach…but it didn’t work out. But, I did capture something that was pretty fun. They were staying at a condo time share in San Diego called “Capri by the Sea.” I ran into one in Galveston and called her. So, we were both at Capri by the Sea at the same time…in different places.
There is a completely different part of the town of Galveston, called the Strand Historic District. While all of the family was on a boat ride, I drove around that area. There were large cruise ships, old shops, museums, seaside diners and more.
Back on Seaside Blvd. is Pleasure Pier, Galveston’s answer to “Coney Island.” The Current Galveston Island Historic Pleasure Pier was built 1,130 feet out over the Gulf of Mexico waters and had its “soft” opening on May 25, 2012. The new pier compile is located where the original Pleasure Pier stood from 1943 until 1961, when it was destroyed by Hurricane Carla. The original Pleasure Pier featured rides, an arcade, an aquarium, concessions, a large ball room, named the Marine Ballroom, and fishing at the end of the pier. It was also the site of the USS Flagship Hotel, an over-the-water hotel built in 1965 that was demolished after Hurricane Ike in 2008.
The Pier has a midway with games and amusements and then there are a number of rides, some of them that glide right over the gulf of Mexico. I didn’t visit….but we stayed close, so I did get a couple of photos.
Galveston does not have many sculptures, but there is one on the seawall that is well-known. Commissioned by the Galveston Commission for the Arts and installed in 2000, Galveston sculptor David W. Moore’s bronze sculpture is a monument to the victims and survivors of the 1900 Storm, which killed in excess of 6,000 Galvestonians, making it the worst natural disaster ever to hit the United States.
The only other major sculpture of any consequence in Galveston is the “Texas Heroes Monument” located at the intersection of Broadway and Rosenberg Avenue. It was commissioned by Henry Rosenberg to commemorate the brave people who fought during the Texas Revolution. The monument was built out of granite and bronze. The sculptor of the monument was Italian artist Louis Amateis and was unveiled on April 22, 1900.
The monument is 74 feet high including the statue of Victory. The base of the monument is thirty-four feet in diameter. The bulk of the monument consists of four columns made from a single block of granite. These are fifty feet high.
At the top of the columns are words which represent the qualities of the men who fought for Texas: Patriotism, Honor, Devotion, Courage. The statue of Victory is twenty-two feet high. She holds a sheathed sword entwined with roses and her right extended hand holds a crown of laurels.
Finally, I should note the “quirky”… a couple of restaurants have some giant “crustaceans” resting on the roof. Got a nice chuckle from these…
Then there is the giant crawfish
Overall, I had a great time with family and a great time visiting Galveston….even in the middle of the summer!!
Highway 61 in Mississippi may be called the Blues Highway, but there is much more to it than the Blues. After my first long drive from Kentucky to Vicksburg, I woke up early the next day to visit the Vicksburg National Military Park before heading south on Highway 61.
The park preserves the site of the American Civil War Battle of Vicksburg, waged from May 18 to July 4, 1863 and also commemorates the greater Vicksburg Campaign, which preceded the battle. The expansive park includes 1,340 historic monuments and markers, 20 miles of historic trenches and earthworks, a 16-mile tour road, 144 emplaced cannons, a restored gunboat (the USS Cairo which sunk on December 12, 1862, on the Yazoo River, recovered successfully in 1964), and more. The Illinois State Memorial has 47 steps, one for every day Vicksburg was besieged.
Nearly 95% of the 1,340 monuments, markers, tablets and plaques, were erected prior to 1917.
I drove a good part of the main road through the park and didn’t have lots of time to stop and look at all of the monuments, plaques and other items. I kind of just shot those that struck me as unique or interesting. Following are a few more
One of the most visited locations on the property appears to be the Illinois Memorial. It was dedicated on October 26, 1906. There are forty-seven steps in the long stairway, one for each day of the Siege of Vicksburg. Modeled after the Roman Pantheon, the monument has sixty unique bronze tablets lining its interior walls, naming all 36,325 Illinois soldiers who participated in the Vicksburg Campaign.
There are apparently 144 cannon emplaced throughout the grounds. These were placed strategically such that one can envision what it may have been like during the war.
A few other scenes from Vicksburg’s Military Park
Indeed, an entire day could be spent visiting the numerous monuments, historical sites and cemeteries at Vicksburg. Further, a complete blog post could be dedicated to this powerful Civil War park. But, there is more in Vicksburg than just this park.
One usually thinks Atlanta when thinking about Coca Cola. But, not too far removed from the National Military Park is the Biedenharn Coca Cola Museum. The museum houses a wide variety of exhibits interpreting the beginnings of Coca-Cola, the history of the Biedenharn family, the process used to first bottle Coca-Cola, a reproduction of the equipment first used to bottle Coke, the history of Coca-Cola advertising, and Coca-Cola memorabilia from past to present.
As with my many other trips, I am always on the lookout for wall murals. There are a number along a wall that parallels the train tracks. Hard to get to from my location that day, I snapped a few shots through the fence. Not my favorite way to do things….
And finally…something to smile about….beautiful tree flowers on a tree in Vicksburg
After the lovely morning spent in Vicksburg it was time to continue south on US Hwy 61. The drive from Vicksburg south had many more trees and was more scenic than the northern Mississippi section of US Hwy 61.
The next stop along the way was the scenic little town of Port Gibson, MS. The town has some lavish 19th century homes and some unique places as well.
Many of the town’s historic buildings survived the Civil War because Grant proclaimed the city to be “too beautiful to burn.” These words appear on the town’s welcome signs, as shown above. Historic buildings in the city include the Windsor Ruins, which have been shown in several motion pictures. Unfortunately, they were quite a drive out of town and my scheduled didn’t allow for me to take that detour.
Perhaps one of the most unique things I saw in Port Gibson was the steeple of the First Presbyterian Church. It is definitely a one of a kind steeple!
The “Hand Pointing to Heaven” is the unique feature of this Romanesque Revival style edifice. The first hand was carved from wood by Daniel Foley, a young local craftsman. The ravages of time, however, destroyed it; and around 1901, the present hand was commissioned and installed. It was taken down in 1989 to be repaired and replated. It was raised again in 1990 and placed atop a newly re-enforced steeple.
Of course, like many of the Hwy 61 towns, Port Gibson is steeped in Blues Music tradition. The Rabbit’s Foot Company (also known as the Rabbit’s Foot Minstrels) was established in 1900 by Pat Chappelle, an African-American theatre owner in Tampa, Florida, who owned the leading travelling vaudeville show, with an all-black cast of singers, musicians, comedians and entertainers in the southern states. After his death in 1911, the company was taken over by Fred Swift Wolcott (1882-1967), a white farmer, who based the touring company in Port Gibson after 1918 and continued to run it until 1950. The Rabbit’s Foot Company remained popular, but was no longer considered “authentic.” A historic marker on the Mississippi Blues Trail has been placed by the Mississippi Blues Commission in Port Gibson, commemorating the contribution that The Rabbit’s Foot Company made to the development of the blues in Mississippi.
There are other remnants of the past that can be seen in this little town on the Mississippi.
Used as a movie theater in the past, it was closed but in the 1980s the ‘WestSide TheAter” served as a night club and entertainment spot, even as late as 2011 (according to Facebook).
This old relic of a neon sign above is actually more than it shows. In fact, it is also a relic of the early 1900s Jewish heritage that once thrived in Port Gibson, MS. According to a 1991 article in the New York Times, “The first Jews came to Port Gibson in the 1840’s from German states and Alsace-Lorraine. They were itinerant peddlers, carrying their wares in 75-pound packs on their backs. Then, as Port Gibson began competing with Vicksburg and Natchez in both commerce and the glory of its antebellum homes, the Jewish community became a bulwark of the town’s economy, and newspaper advertisements were filled with names like Bernheimer, Marx, Meyer, Cahn, Traxler and Ullman.” The old neon sign reading H. Frishman-Red Goose Shoes is all that remains on a building now occupied by Mississippi: Cultural Crossroads, a community center mostly serving the town’s predominantly black youth. The only other remnant of the once thriving Jewish heritage is the old synagogue with a Moorish Dome, which was restored in 1991.
Today, Port Gibson appears to be predominantly black in population. Most, if not all, of the Jews moved away years ago. Scenes like the man on the porch below were quite common on my trip. It was obvious that poverty thrives in these small Mississippi towns.
After my long visit to Port Gibson, I was back on US 61 heading south towards Natchez, MS. On the way I stopped by the “Old Country Store” in Lorman…more for a look see than to stop and eat (mainly because I had plans to stop at another cool place to eat just down the road — see below!). They claim to have the “World’s Best Fried Chicken.”
Though I honestly missed out due to schedule, I did learn that people travel for hours to partake of Mr “D”s ‘Heavenly Fried Chicken’. On their menu: An all-you-can-eat lunch buffet is served from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. seven days a week. The buffet includes fried chicken and other meats (sometimes catfish and ribs), tossed salad, cucumber/tomato salad, potato salad, coleslaw, mac & cheese, corn on the cob, green beans, turnip greens, dirty rice, field peas, sweet potatoes, dressing and cornbread. All for about $10. And owner Arthur Davis (Mr. “D”) entertains diners by singing a song about his Grand Mama’s cornbread. Sounds fun and too bad I didn’t have the time!
A visit into Natchez was really not meant to be, so I continued south of of town to the Mammy’s Cupboard Cafe….the epitome of vintage novelty architecture.
Built in the 1940s, this unique place is a MUST SEE and MUST STOP destination if anywhere close.
The woman’s skirt holds a dining room and a gift shop. The skirt is made out of bricks, and the earrings are horseshoes. She is holding a serving tray while smiling. Mammy’s Cupboard has been through several renovations, the exterior has been repaired and the interior refurbished.
All of the food is home made. I had a nice sandwich with their wonderful homemade bread. But their homemade cake was to die for!! I couldn’t resist….
From Natchez I finished the last leg of the Mississippi portion of US 61 through Woodville and into Louisiana.
And into Louisiana….
From the Louisiana/Mississippi border I continued south towards Baton Rouge. From the highway the tallest State Capitol Building in the US can be plainly seen.
I continued past Baton Rouge into Plaquemine, LA, where I would finally leave Hwy 61 and get on Louisiana Hwy 1. Another town worth a visit, no time on this trip to explore.
As I noted above, I didn’t have time to visit Plaquemine because I had another objective on this portion of the trip. First off, I exited onto Louisiana Hwy 1, the longest numbered highway of any class in Louisiana. This is a scenic byway along the Mississippi River, which I took into White Castle, Louisiana before heading south into bayou country on the back roads.
White Castle, the town, was carved out of the George Wailes Plantation “White Castle”. The 1883 Charles H. Dickinson Survey of several parishes of Louisiana shows the “White Castle” Plantation property. Nearby is the plantation property of John H. Randolph called “Nottaway”.
In White Castle I turned south on Louisiana 69 which enters the Atchafalaya Swamp, the largest wetland and swamp in the United States. Ultimately, my goal was to go hunting for “Swamp People.” It is an interesting story and I actually created a full post on it HERE. Once Hwy 69 hits Hwy 70 I took that south into the small bayou town of Pierre Part, LA. The town was founded by Acadian French (Cajun) settlers around 1755, during which much of the French population of Acadia was expelled by its British conquerors. The town remained isolated from most of the world, since it is surrounded by water and was inaccessible by land until the mid-twentieth century. Before the Great Depression, the inhabitants of Pierre Part were fishermen. Very few people continue the traditional ways of fishing and living off the land with each generation, but one that does is the Landry family (including Troy, who is noted in my previous post.)
As noted, my hope was to track down and meet Troy Landry…the whole purpose for going through Pierre Part. I found him at the family bait shop/gas station (Duffy’s Shell on LA 70). The whole story is on my “Swamp People” post. But here is a photo of me with Troy…a bucket list item now checked off.
After my short visit there, I made my way down a back road just a tad south of Duffy’s. Once I got to Shell Beach Road, I detoured to head towards P’Maws Bait Shack, a really offbeat and fun place. This place is the site of the Animal Channel’s SWAMP’D Reality TV Show (which I have never seen). I had hoped to meet P’maw as well, but he wasn’t there. This place is open 24 hours. There is a fun video of P’Maw giving a fishing report:
Of course, I have photos of the place too!
One thing I had hoped to see in Pierre Part was a live gator. No luck…and I drove along a good part of the swamp. Oh well, off to Galveston. I continued south on LA 70 to Morgan City and US 90. I then headed west on US 90, passing by New Iberia (I had hoped to visit the Tabasco plant but it was too late). I continued northwest towards Lafayette, LA and just kept rolling in order to get to Galveston at a decent hour.
By this time it was nearing 7 PM and I still had a ways to go, so I jumped on I-10 west towards Lake Charles, LA and Beaumont, TX, since it would be the fastest. Once in Beaumont, I continued southwest towards Winnie, TX. I then headed south on TX 124 with the intention of driving along the Gulf Coast on the Bolivar Peninsula.
I finally hit the Gulf around 9 PM and the sunset was amazing. Pelicans flew overhead and I could smell the salt in the air as I drove along with my window open to hear the waves crashing a few yards to my left.
The road ends at Port Bolivar where you need to drive on to a Ferry to cross the inlet to Galveston Bay.
I got there and was third in line, but many more cars followed. I waited about 20 minutes for the ferry. But, when they loaded the cars I was put first in line. Really cool!!
I got into Galveston late, but much of the family was still out and about. My next post will be about my visit to the wonderful island of Galveston, TX.