Deep in the Heart of Texas: Galveston-Houston

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.

Heart of Texas Route Day 1 - Galveston to Houston the long way
Heart of Texas Route Day 1 – Galveston to Houston the long way

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.

Pignataro Castle, Santa Fe, Texas
Pignataro Castle, Santa Fe, Texas
Pignataro Castle in Santa Fe, Texas
Pignataro Castle in Santa Fe, Texas

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.

White cement statuary of Pignataro Estate in Santa, Texas
White cement statuary of Pignataro Estate in Santa, Texas
White Stallions guard the front gate of the Pignataro Castle in Santa Fe, Texas
White Stallions guard the front gate of the Pignataro Castle in Santa Fe, Texas
Closeup shot of one of the cement stallions at Pignataro Estate in Santa Fe, Texas
Closeup shot of one of the cement stallions at Pignataro Estate in Santa Fe, Texas
Royal Statues of riders inside the fences of Pignataro Estate in Santa Fe, Texas
Royal Statues of riders inside the fences of Pignataro Estate in Santa Fe, Texas
Lion Fencepost at Pignataro Estate in Santa Fe, Texas
Lion Fencepost at Pignataro Estate in Santa Fe, Texas

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.

Welcome to Alvin, Texas, hometown of Nolan Ryan
Welcome to Alvin, Texas, hometown of 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.

Alvin Historic Depot Center, Alvin, TX
Alvin Historic Depot Center, Alvin, TX

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.

Nolan Ryan Center, Alvin, Texas
Nolan Ryan Center, Alvin, Texas
Nolan Ryan Statue, Alvin, TX
Nolan Ryan Statue, Alvin, TX
Sumoflam with Nolan Ryan in Alvin, TX
Sumoflam with Nolan Ryan in Alvin, TX

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.

Welcome to Angleton, Texas
Welcome to Angleton, Texas

Since I wrote extensively about the Stephen Austin statue in an earlier post, I am just including a couple of photos here.

Stephen F. Austin Statue as seen from the Highway
Stephen F. Austin Statue as seen from the Highway

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.

Cattle Egret seen in Angleton, Texas
Cattle Egret seen in Angleton, Texas
Another shot of a Cattle Egret
Another shot of a Cattle Egret

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!)

You can see that This Way is actually thatta way
You can see that This Way is actually thatta way
This Way is not until the next signal
This Way is not until the next signal
Ahh...there it is...This Way
Ahh…there it is…This Way

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.

At the Corner of This Way and That Way in Lake Jackson, TX
At the Corner of This Way and That Way in Lake Jackson, TX
Plaque at the corner of This Way and That Way
Plaque at the corner of This Way and That Way
So, which Way do I take?
So, which Way do I take?
To confuse, at one point there is a Three Way that leads to Center Way
To confuse, at one point there is a Three Way that leads to Center Way

And then there is the old British Phone Box on This Way

Shades of Dr. Who, not quite a TARDIS, but certainly out of place in southern Texas
Shades of Dr. Who, not quite a TARDIS, but certainly out of place in southern Texas

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?

UK Car in Texas.  The driver was all decked out in UK Gear too.
UK Car in Texas. The driver was all decked out in UK Gear too. Check out the License Plate!

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.

Entering West Columbia, TX with the note that there are historical markers in town
Entering West Columbia, TX with the note that there are historical markers in town
Historical Marker about West Columbia, TX
Historical Marker about West Columbia, TX
Sumoflam at the location of the First Capitol of Texas
Sumoflam at the location of the First Capitol of Texas

I always have a penchant for old theaters and the Capitol Theater in West Columbia is a classic.

Old Capitol Theater in West Columbia, TX.  A Classic Old Building
Old Capitol Theater in West Columbia, TX. A Classic Old Building

This old theater was first open in 1937 and by 1941 it had its name changed to the Capitol.

Mural on a wall in Damon, TX
Mural on a wall in Damon, TX

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, TX highway sign.  Unusual to see the name of the town on a street sign
Damon, TX highway sign. Unusual to see the name of the town on a street sign
This used to be Eddie's Garage...in Damon, TX
This used to be Eddie’s Garage…in Damon, TX
I sent this to my friend Damon.  The old clapboard style post office in Damon, TX
I sent this to my friend Damon. The old clapboard style post office in Damon, TX

Damon was actually a unique little place.  Even the old road signs were still in use and had character, but weren’t too legible.

Corner of Live Oak and ??? in Damon, TX
Corner of Live Oak and Woodward in Damon, TX
Corner of Live Oak and Stockwell in Damon, TX
Corner of Live Oak and Stockwell in Damon, TX
West of the Brazos Bar and Grill sign in Damon, TX
West of the Brazos Bar and Grill sign in Damon, TX
Highway 36 in Damon, TX
Highway 36 in Damon, TX
There is Planet Hollywood and then there is Planet Damon...
There is Planet Hollywood and then there is Planet Damon…this “water tower” was about 14 feet tall

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!

Turn off to Hwy 762 and Brazos Bend State Park
Turn off to Hwy 762 and Brazos Bend State Park
Brazos Bend State Park, Texas
Brazos Bend State Park, Texas

Maybe I’ll find that elusive gator yet!

Caution - Alligators
Caution – Alligators

And, voila….

I found a gator!!
I found a gator!!

And walking around the swamp area I got another gator view.

Gator Land
Gator Land
Another Gator
Another Gator

The State Park had a couple of miles of rads and a few swampy areas.

Moss Covered Tree in Brazos Bend State Park
Moss Covered Tree in Brazos Bend State Park
Flowering Lily Pads in the swamp
Flowering Lily Pads in the swamp
More Flowers
More Flowers

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.

Cherokee Rose Trading Post in Rosharon, TX
Cherokee Rose Trading Post in Rosharon, TX
Pink Pigs and Pink Flamingos for sale at Cherokee Rose Trading Post
Pink Pigs and Pink Flamingos for sale at Cherokee Rose Trading Post
Side view of Cherokee Rose Trading Post
Side view of 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.

The Jay Cafe in Needville, Texas.  Vintage neon sign
The Jay Cafe in Needville, Texas. Vintage neon sign
A big metal rooster sits in front of the Jay Cafe...doesn't look like a jay to me.
A big metal rooster sits in front of the Jay Cafe…doesn’t look like a jay to me.

From Needville, I headed west towards Boling and Iago.

Welcome to Boling, TX
Welcome to Boling, TX
Iago, Texas
Iago, Texas

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.

Sumoflam at the Tee Pee Motel in Wharton, TX
Sumoflam at the Tee Pee Motel in Wharton, TX

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.

Tee Pee Motel in Wharton, TX
Tee Pee Motel in Wharton, TX

The Tee Pee Motel is reminiscent of the Wigwam Villages (they are still around in San Bernardino, CA; Holbrook, AZ and Cave City, KY).  I visited the one on Kentucky a couple of years back (see photo).

Wodrich mural in Wharton, TX
One of three murals in Wharton painted by Dayton Wodrich. This one is 100′ wide and offers one historical peak at Wharton, TX

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…

Black History Mural by Dayton Wordrich
Black History Mural by Dayton Wodrich
Future of Wharton, TX Mural by Dayton Wordrich
Future of Wharton, TX Mural by Dayton Wodrich
Historical churches of Wharton, TX mural by Dayton Wodrich
Historical churches of Wharton, TX mural by Dayton Wodrich

Wharton has a great old courthouse and theater in town as well.

Old courthouse in Wharton, TX
Old courthouse in Wharton, TX
Old Plaza Theater in Wharton, TX
Old Plaza Theater in Wharton, TX
Buildings in downtown Wharton, TX
Buildings in downtown Wharton, TX

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.

Vietnamese Buddhist Center in Sugar Land, TX
Vietnamese Buddhist Center in Sugar Land, TX
Giant 72' tall Quan Am statue in Sugar Land, TX
Giant 72′ tall Quan Am statue in Sugar Land, TX
Sleeping Buddha Statue at the Vietnam Buddhist Center
Sleeping Buddha Statue at the Vietnam Buddhist Center
Marble Lion Statue
Marble Lion Statue
Pagoda at the Vietnamese Buddhist Center
Pagoda at the Vietnamese Buddhist Center
View of the Gardens and Quan Am statue at Vietnamese Buddhist Center
View of the Gardens and Quan Am statue at Vietnamese Buddhist Center
Sumoflam at the Vietnamese Buddhist Center
Sumoflam at the Vietnamese Buddhist Center

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.

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