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Written by Texas Highways

Outside of the Mansion

Bayou Bend stands apart in Houston’s famously non-zoned cityscape. The pink stucco mansion and estate—now known as Bayou Bend Collection and Gardens—sprawls across 14 acres near Buffalo Bayou, in the old-money neighborhood of River Oaks.

In the debut of Texas Highways’ new monthly essay, Open Road, novelist Sarah Bird writes about walking the trails of J. Frank Dobie’s Paisano Ranch in the Texas Hill Country with the ghost of Cathy Williams, the only woman to join the Buffalo Soldiers, the African American army regiment formed after the Civil War. Since 1978, when Bird first heard about Williams at an African American rodeo, she had hoped Williams’ remarkable but mostly forgotten story would be told. After almost 40 years of waiting in vain, Bird decided that she would have to tell the story herself. The resulting novel—her 10th—is an exuberant, mind-opening page-turner of historical fiction, Daughter of a Daughter of a Queen.

Main street in downtown Weslaco.

WE ARE LOST. 
After U-turns on the edges of grapefruit groves, repeated pullovers to study our Rio Grande Valley street guide, and a precarious three-point turn on the narrow levee road where a border patrol truck blocks our path, we are really lost. Like so many wanderers before us, we are searching for La Lomita Mission, which a local history buff named Frank told me about at an Edinburg bar the night before. “Just travel the Old Military Highway that goes along the Rio Grande,” Frank said. What Frank didn’t say was that Military Highway, much like the river it runs along, is a trickster that stops, starts, and twists in unexpected ways.

The Franklin Mountains at sunrise

A mile or two into my hike to the top of Mount Livermore in the Davis Mountains, I stepped to the side of the trail as two speedsters overtook me on the uphill slope. “I guess that’s where we’re headed,” I said, nodding to a rocky outcrop on the horizon far above. “Nope,” one of them responded. “Baldy Peak is beyond that—you can’t see it yet.”

An island in Lake O’ the Pines

No one lived on the island. As far as we knew,

it didn’t even have a name—just a spit of green on the choppy waters of a Piney Woods lake. Even still, it beckoned. A few friends and I approached by boat and motored through a gap in the hardwoods at the island’s edge. Nosing ashore, we gathered fishing poles and camping gear and spilled onto dry ground, over a big fallen log, and into the shadows of the forest.

 A lemon olive oil cake on a plate

Using Sandy Oaks’ olive oil in this simple recipe keeps the cake moist, while the limoncello, an Italian lemon liqueur, gives it a little kick.

Ingredients

  • 2 c. all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. baking soda
  • pinch of salt
  • 3 eggs
  • 3 c. sugar
  • lemon zest
  • 1 c. Sandy Oaks extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 1/2 c. milk
  • 1 T. limoncello

Directions

  • Beat eggs, then mix in oil, sugar, milk, and limoncello. In a separate bowl, mix dry ingredients.
  • Add dry ingredients to wet and incorporate until blended.
  • Add mixture to a greased 9×13 pan and bake at 325 F for 45 minutes.

Serves 10-12

A horse grazes in a field

When most people travel, they might come home with photos and a souvenir T-shirt, or maybe some housewares or local art. Saundra Winokur brought back an entire olive orchard.

Visits to Italy in 1994 and Spain in ’99 inspired Winokur to recreate that Mediterranean setting in her home state, just south of San Antonio. After living in Manhattan for 14 years, taking art classes and illustrating children’s books, she had returned to Texas to help take care of family. “I’m a sixth-generation Texan, and most of my folks ranched, so certainly I wanted to have cattle, but I also wanted to do something else,” she says. “It seemed to me that olives could be a good crop for Texas. That was based on spending time in a number of places that, when I visited orchards there, reminded me of Texas.”

Gerard Thompson

Gerard Thompson wields a large, sharp knife with one hand and carries a wooden stand holding a cured hog’s leg in the other. He moves quickly to greet tables of newcomers and regular guests at Rough Creek Lodge. Thompson, the lodge’s executive chef, shaves off paper-thin slices of prosciutto from the ample pig trotter and hands them out as appetizers.

Smoked turkeys hang

Sam Greenberg, the third-generation owner of Greenberg Smoked Turkeys, can pinpoint the day his bird became the word: Nov. 11, 2003. Oprah Winfrey’s people had called. The famed talk show host wanted to feature Greenberg turkeys on her annual—and very influential—gift-giving episode, “Oprah’s Favorite Things.”

“The die was already cast as to how many turkeys we were going to sell that season,” Sam says. “A 42-second thing of her talking about our turkeys sold us out in a matter of weeks.”

A Longhorn from the state’s official herd grazes

An up-close visit with a Longhorn or bison can be humbling. The animals’ large chestnut-brown eyes reveal a complex blend of wild animal and domesticated stock. It’s hard to know whether they’re plotting an aggressive charge or happily anticipating a bucket of feed.

These iconic creatures still roam the Lone Star State thanks to efforts by legendary Texans nearly 100 years ago. Now, some Longhorns and bison are protected as legislatively designated official state herds, ensuring future generations of Texans will get to experience these noble beasts.

San Felipe Mayor Bobby Byars

San Felipe, the hub of Stephen F. Austin’s original colony, may be the most historically significant Texas town you’ve never heard of. But that’s understandable: In 1836, residents burned San Felipe to the ground to keep it from the hands of the advancing Mexican army after the fall of the Alamo. The entire town—homes, taverns, one of the earliest print shops in Texas—was left in ashes, and few of its citizens returned.

The Come and Take it Flag flies

When you’re known as “the birthplace of Texas freedom,” you have a lot to live up to. Gonzales doesn’t disappoint, celebrating its past like Austin does its live music scene. This town of 7,628 has the only state-designated Texas History Museum District, plus there’s a Pioneer Village of cabins, blacksmith shops, a barn, a church, and a smokehouse that embodies the 1800s. A few miles outside of town, a monument marks the site of the battlefield where the first shots of the Texas Revolution were fired in 1835. The actual cannon is on display at the Gonzales Memorial Museum; flags depicting it with the defiant “Come and Take It!” slogan, which taunted Mexican troops, are omnipresent reminders that Gonzales might as well be nicknamed the “Live Texas History Capital of the World.”

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