Written by Texas Highways
At age 76, “Little Joe” Hernández has spent more than half a century performing his personal brand of Tejano music on stages across the Lone Star State and well beyond. A lifetime resident of Temple, he grew up the seventh of 13 siblings in a family short on money but rich in music. He picked cotton and worked odd jobs before joining his cousin’s band as a guitarist at the tender age of 15. Several years later, in 1959, he took over the band, eventually changing the name to “Little Joe y la Familia” in 1970.
Just north of Houston sits a town that’s hidden in the shadows of its mega-metropolis neighbor. And while Tomball is rapidly growing, trippers looking for an off-the-beaten-path adventure will find hidden among the urban development a small town that’s full of history, food, and sweet Texas tunes.
As my friend and I pull into the parking lot of the newly renovated Dofflemyer Hotel in downtown San Saba, the first thing we notice is a weathered mural across the street from the parking lot on the whitewashed back wall of R.B. Bagley & Sons Pecan Company. “Buy Pecans Here,” it declares. And we know, officially, we’ve arrived in the right place.
Inside the administrative and archives office of the Texas Prison Museum in Huntsville, I thumb through old photographs and booklets that archivist Sandra Rogers has pulled for me to examine. One photo from 1941 shows more than a hundred people—men, women, and children—waiting in line to enter an imposing red-brick building.
The architectural styles found along Texas main streets stack together like a timeline of the state’s historical development and shifting tastes. In four towns in particular—San Elizario, Tyler, Waco, and Dallas—building shapes and facades illustrate specific chapters of Texas history, from the early 1800s to the present. From squat adobe structures to towering glass skyscrapers, the buildings on these central thoroughfares resonate with distinctive aesthetics of time and place.
Browsing the stands at a new farmers market in Fort Worth, I was slowly making my way through roduce and cheese offerings when a friend grabbed my arm. “Come look at this,” she said. “Lindsey has fried pies!”
Inside Das Peach Haus’ weathered wooden storefront off US 87 in Fredericksburg, the shelves lining the store’s perimeter overflow with dozens of brightly colored jars of salsas, jams, and jellies. Overhead, old-fashioned roadside signs advertising fresh produce decorate the walls from floor to rafters.
My dining party is enjoying our cobbler when a clang pierces the hum of lunch conversations at Ranchman’s Cafe in Ponder, a small North Texas town 10 miles west of Denton. “He just got his bell rung,” chuckles Dave Ross, the owner and patriarch of Ranchman’s. He points to a nearby customer who is polishing off his chicken-fried steak. There is much to celebrate at Ranchman’s, a restaurant also known as the Ponder Steak House.
Music has drawn people to the Deep Ellum neighborhood of Dallas since the 1920s, when Leadbelly, Blind Lemon Jefferson, and other country-blues guitar greats played for tips on street corners, and ebony divas Bessie Smith, Ida Cox, and Lillian Glinn sang in the clubs and theaters.
Everyone loves a good story, particularly when it involves Pancho Villa, gunslingers, and border crossings. Such is the legend-soaked history of South El Paso Street in El Paso. Here, Pancho Villa once entertained admirers at the long-gone Roma Hotel, sharpshooters like the lawman Dallas Stoudenmire once gunned down four bad guys in five seconds, and jumbo speakers now pump Mexican hip-hop and Norteño tunes from the many stores serving shoppers up from Mexico for the day.
I’m huddled with a half-dozen strangers in Houston, shouting into the darkness. The echo, which turns our calls into an eerie, multi-tonal melody of high-pitched peaks and low moans, stretches for 17 seconds.
Located between the angling hotspots of Lake Tawakoni and Lake Fork, the northeast Texas town of Emory is like a favorite secret fishing hole for fishermen, who stop by to fuel up on comfort food and stroll the quiet courthouse square. The lakes and their abundant wildlife, including bass, catfish, and crappie, also draw a different and notably iconic type of angler—bald eagles.