And so, after the warm ups, comes the main game….The USA…. Our six month road trip officially began when we picked up our first rental car at Dallas Airport one Sunday afternoon. The car has to get us to Las Vegas, two weeks and 2500 miles ahead, where we will collect our colourful camper for the rest of the trip. We were exceedingly pleased with ourselves that we managed to get the car (apparently upgraded by two groups to a ‘dad’s car’ size) – left-hand drive and driving on the wrong side of the road of course – all the way, without GPS or map, from the airport to the accommodation we had lined up. Our first day in Dallas was spent getting all our gear together for the trip – tent, GPS, camp pots, pans, plates etc. Not as easy as it sounds in an foreign city with unfamiliar shops. After that we were free to explore!
Dallas was a pleasant surprise – it had the tall office blocks as expected, but had a funky uptown district with bars and restaurants, a renowned arts district, and a free tram (or trolleybus as it was quaintly called) that slowly meandered into town. There was a wonderful park in the middle of the city (built over a freeway) where an array of lunch vans pulled up to offer a world of choice to hungry office workers and tourists, where there were also free books and newspapers to borrow, and free events put on for all ages.
Of course, no visit to Dallas would be complete without doing the JFK thing. We spent a good few hours in the museum set up in the infamous Book Depository room where Oswald took his fateful shots on that November day in ’63. There was also the grassy knoll and, more ghoulishly, two small crosses on the road marking the exact spot where Kennedy’s head was blown off…
Dallas was followed by three cities that could not really be more different from each other. Fort Worth is the geographically the twin of Dallas. But while the Big D is all shine, shopping and money, Fort Worth is the self-styled gateway to the West. Here we found proper cowboys wandering round the old stockyards straight out of a Western. The city centre had a great down to earth character and some interesting art deco architecture.
Austin, a few hours south, is live music capital of the States. With a big Uni population this was a cool, cruisey, hipster kind of town, where live music belted out of almost every doorway (even random shops). We had a look round the imposing State Capitol building (home of the Texas State Government), and the Uni campus, which included a staggering 100,000 seat stadium for their beloved Longhorns American Football college (ie amateur) team. This in a city of just 850,000 people. Incredible.
We also delved into the vintage clothing sub culture (Kirralee’s idea of heaven!) which is huge in Austin, checked out the Lyndon Johnson (LBJ) Presidential library, plus watched the literally millions of bats who fly out from under the main bridge in town like clockwork every sunset, a daily event watched by hundreds of people on the bridge or on boats in the water. Next up was a scenic drive through the Texas countryside, which is blessed with carpets of wildflowers in April / May every year. Our journey took us a little of the beaten track through some cute towns and LBJ’s historic ranch. We stumbled quite by chance on a place called Luckenbach, a one building town that was playing host to an annual motorcycle rally, complete with an awesome band playing the best Texas country music…
Last stop on this leg was San Antonio, famous site of The Alamo mission that was heroically but ultimately unsuccessfully defended by the Texans against a Mexican army waybackwhen. It’s a large town, very Hispanic in look and feel and cuisine, with probably one of America’s best kept secrets – a pedestrian boardwalk running along the river, below street level, in the city centre, packed full of bars and restaurants and, on a Saturday night as when we were there, packed full of people. It’s really kind of endearing, staying just the right side of kitsch, even though it does feel a bit like Disneyland doing Venice.
So we’ve got a few kms and a few cities under our belts. Next up it is time to experience some of the Texas wilderness….