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Famous Texans Reveal What They Love About Texas

From Liz Smith to Roger Clemens to Greater Tuna's Aunt Pearl, 25 Texas celebrities tell what they love most about their home state. Their choices reveal a lot about the ties that bind.

George Strait

George Strait

When I have time off the road, a trip to Port Aransas is always a pleasure. One of my favorite coastal pastimes is fishing for redfish in a flatboat. I like to cook the catch of the day on the barbecue. With the skin on. And whether I catch anything or not, I always enjoy the good eats at Pelican's Landing and Beulah's.

Born in Poteet, reared in Pearsall, and schooled at Southwest Texas State University in San Marcos, country music king George Strait has fans around the globe.

Dan Rather

Austin is home to me, although I wasn't born there. I remember being brought there by my parents, back in the late 1930s. We rode all day, with my brother and sister in the back of the 1936 Ford, and then, just as the sun was going down, we cleared a hilltop. And there was Austin. Purple and grey in the setting sun. Lights sparkling. The Capitol in the foreground, the Tower of the University of Texas just beyond it. Then, as now, the Capitol was a dusky pink, the Tower illuminated a pale gold. It was like seeing all of Texas at once.

Wharton native Dan Rather anchors the CBS Evening News and recently published a new collection of essays entitled Deadlines and Datelines.

Willie NelsonWillie Nelson

There's a freedom here and an independence that you're born knowing about, and I guess you spend the rest of your life telling everyone else about it.

Austin … if you were trying to describe it to someone who's never been there … I don't know, it's indescribable. It's everything imaginable, the people, the weather, the freedom. Those of us who are really touched by it, we don't find it anywhere else. There are other places around that are magic places for me, but Austin is definitely a big one. Plus, the sunsets are the greatest in the world.

It's hard to beat the Hill [the Pedernales Studio and golf course complex outside of Austin where Willie makes his home], but there are a lot of good spots.

Born in Fort Worth and reared in Abbott, Willie Nelson is perhaps Texas' most revered musical ambassador. He recorded his first songs in 1961.

A.C. GreeneA.C. Greene

In 1992, when my wife, Judy, and I started to follow the Butterfield Trail across Texas, I thought I knew every part of the Lone Star State. A native son, whether as author, historian, journalist, or professor, I had spent a career interpreting Texas. But Judy and I were unprepared for the Texas we found once we left the paved highways and began following the roads the Butterfield Overland Mail stagecoaches traveled from 1858 to 1861.

From the shores of the Red River, where the stages had entered Texas by ferry, to the massively beautiful rocks of Hueco Tanks, near El Paso, we journeyed by forgotten towns, like the grassy slope that was Uz, the ghostly vacancy of Hood, or Shep, hard by the rivulet at Valley Creek station. We came to frontier forts where the Butterfield coaches stopped, listening to the military sounds of the haunted parade ground at Phantom Hill; or Fort Chadbourne, where history quickly infects the viewer. We passed over lovely little Mountain Pass, where the station agent, named Lambshead, kept a flock of sheep. We found lonely Horsehead Crossing of the Pecos, and one unforgettable dawn, we reached glorious Quitman Pass.

But our most poignant time came one cool, bright January afternoon, at the adobe remains of Butterfield's Pinery Station, on the edge of Guadalupe Mountains National Park. As we stood, utterly alone, searching the heights of Guadalupe Peak and El Capitán, a blue cloud from the west came rolling over those heights in dark beauty. It spread across the sky and, to our astonishment, snow began falling. We clasped hands instinctively, knowing it was a moment we would never share again.

Writer and Texas historian A.C. Greene writes a Sunday column for The Dallas Morning News and has published some 20 books. His latest book, a novel titled They Are Leaving Ibiza, is his first work of fiction.

Catherine Crier

Texas is a state of mind. The crystal skies and distant horizons change a person forever. Long, open highways spark the wanderlust. When I lived in Texas, I thought nothing of making a weekend run from Dallas through Amarillo to Roswell and beyond…or a dash to the border from my college home in Austin. My best memory is of the overnight cruises when I'd take a break on a lonely stretch of road. Resting on the warm hood, I would drink in the night sounds and smells under an unobstructed blanket of stars.

I didn't realize how deeply my soul was marked until I moved to Atlanta. The area was lovely and green, but something was wrong. Finally I realized the heavy air and intense foliage were claustrophobic. Over time, I have adjusted to other places. I can move through tall buildings with barely a glimpse of the sky.

But every trip through Texas, if only to change planes, requires a dash outside. I close my eyes and breathe in, as every part of me sighs, "I'm home."

Catherine Crier presided over the 162nd District Court in Dallas before beginning her broadcasting career at CNN. Today, she hosts The Crier Report on Fox News.

Joe Sears/Aunt Pearl

Joe Sears/Aunt Pearl

These days, I don't agree to a tour of our show A Tuna Christmas unless it has a stop in my favorite Texas city, San Antonio. Only Sarah Bernhardt could make such a diva-ish demand, but after my Broadway Tony nomination in 1995, "Aunt Pearl" gets what she wants. And Sarah never had to play 10 roles a night in San Antonio, but she might have, just to stroll across the lobby of the old St. Anthony Hotel. For you Tuna fans out there, please note that Vera Carp always stays at the most famous hotel, The Menger; she's always in the lobby during Christmas season.

Since most of my friends these days are on fixed incomes and their second set of partials, we stay at the highly recommended La Quinta at Market Square–flawless housing next to El Mercado, the marketplace. The marketplace has Old Mexico flair–concerts, entertainment, and fabulous restaurants. This is "souvenir city," and ladies, you can't get those incredible flower pots on the plane! It is a little slice of terra-cotta heaven, so be prepared to ship, but shop, shop shop! At El Mercado, the famous Mi Tierra is my all-time-favorite restaurant in the state. Whatever you choose from the menu, be sure to order a mariachi song or two.

In the mornings, I have a traditional Tex-Mex breakfast of migas at El Mirador restaurant, run by the Treviño family for generations. It's just across from my first sightseeing stop of the day, King William Street. The stately homes along this corridor can put some Savannah homes in the comfortable shade. "Lavish," "Victorian," and "astonishing" are some of the words that come to mind.

I also love the San Antonio missions–so old and beautiful. The grandmother of these missions is the largest one, Mission San José; this is the one you simply must tour! I meditated in the shade of those mesquite trees long ago. You can feel the serene reverence of the generations of families that still worship there.

After Mission San José, you're ready for the dramatic impact of the Alamo. The sign reads "Gentlemen, remove your hats" in honor of those who died at this shrine. I would also plan to keep Aunt Arlene's voice down and the kids from running. The Alamo Mission is taken seriously. My grandmother always said "The Alamo is felt," and not just Americans marvel at the defenders' bravery, but Europeans, too. And be sure to notice the Spanish names on the Honor Roll. Be prepared to shed a tear when you visit this overwhelming spot.

In 1982, Joe Sears, along with his stage partner, Jaston Williams, unveiled Greater Tuna, the first play in the wildly popular Tuna, Texas, trilogy.

Martin Banks

For me, there are certainly many things to like about Texas. For one, it's home. I particularly enjoy the state's green spaces and places…its many parks, trees, and nature areas. Some remind me of time I've spent in Germany. I like to fish, so I'm also quite fond of the Gulf Coast. In fact, I've got to get back to South Padre Island. I just won a trip there.

Noted jazz musician Martin Banks has played trumpet and flugelhorn with the likes of Ray Charles, Dexter Gordon, and Archie Shepp. He lives in Austin.

Jody Conradt

Athletic schedules require extensive travel. On every occasion, after traveling to hinterlands for basketball games or meetings, when I step from the Austin airport terminal, I am always so glad to be home! It just feels better here, smells sweeter here, and certainly is sunnier and warmer than any other spot in the Big XII Conference– all the time! Talk about a recruiting plus!

Inevitably, when we have guests visit from other parts of the country, they are amazed at and enamored of the unique aspects of our state and the wonderful lifestyle it offers. Some never learn to eat (or spell) jalapeños, but they are better for the experience!

In addition to the weather, the shopping, the restaurants, the lakes, and the parks, there are so many pristine golf courses, which help satisfy my other sports passion.

But what really makes Texas special is the people. The diversity of our state is unmatched by any other place in the union.

The people are friendly, and the pace of life is sensible. In small towns like Goldthwaite, where I grew up, everyone qualifies as a neighbor. In the major metropolitan areas, you can feel at home simply by saying you're associated with the University of Texas. (Other appropriate loyalties obviously apply, of course!)

I appreciate that Texans value humor, honor, and fairness, and the state has long applauded women who pursue nontraditional roles in society.

The University of Texas has great men's AND women's athletics programs, thanks to the vision of its leaders, the terrific fan support provided our coaches and student-athletes wherever we compete, and the excellent facilities, scholarships, and other essential components of our program.

It makes my heart sing "Texas, Our Texas."

Basketball Hall of Famer Jody Conradt is the director and head basketball coach for women's athletics at the University of Texas at Austin.

David Lindsey

Whenever I travel away from home for any length of time, one of the first things I want to do when I return to Texas is to dig into a plate of Mexican food.

My earliest memories of Mexican food date to my childhood, when I lived in Starr County, near Rio Grande City, on the border. I fondly remember the braceros who squatted under the lacy shade of mesquite trees at noon every day and kindly indulged the curiosity of a small boy who regularly sought their company. They shared their simple tortillas and beans and hot coffee (that's right, even in the heat of summer) with me, and I ate happily as I listened to them talk in a language whose words I did not yet know, but whose cadences and grace I instinctively understood. I thought I was eating the best food in the world.

And I remember, too, the rich, spicy taste of cabrito, cooked slowly over mesquite coals that glowed with an infernal redness in long pits dug in the ground.

From those days to this, I have sought out Mexican food, in restaurants, cafes, and sidewalk taco and tamale stands in every Texas city, town, burg, and crossroads.

I eat Mexican food every week and sometimes several times a week. And I like it all, from fine cuisine to the potluck variety thrown together in a simple kitchen.

My wife and I dined grandly on Mexican food the night before our first child was born. Then, not long ago, we dined grandly on Mexican food with our daughter and son-in-law the night before our first grandchild was born. Call it chance, call it serendipity, call it what you will, but to tell you the truth, I think the happy reality was that those two little boys hurried into this world because of their mother's choice of Mexican dining. I think they just couldn't wait another day to get to Texas–and their first big plate of Mexicano especial.

Bestselling mystery-writer David Lindsey's latest thriller, The Color of Night, takes place in Houston.

Marion Winik

I never meant to fall in love with Port Aransas, with this funky, shrimpy, windswept, tire- tracks-on-the-beach Gulf Coast outpost, favorite of spring-breakers, retirees, oil-rig and shrimp-boat workers, families from Corpus and Boerne and San Antonio. But now, after a visit to Texas in the '70s that turned into a 20-year residency, I find it high on my list of the things I'll miss most.

I grew up in a seaside resort town in New Jersey, one that metamorphosed during my childhood from a tourist mecca with a bustling boardwalk and gorgeous Art Nouveau buildings to a shabby ghost town after race riots tore through the streets in 1968. Perhaps as a result, I am a total sucker for weird, coastal towns with the smell of salt in the air, a couple of bars, and rinky-dink stores selling painted conch shells and flip-flops.

I threw my kids in the car [a few months ago] for one last trip to Port A, and found myself floating on nostalgia and low-rent seaside joy. The drive down through Kenedy and Beeville. The ferry, the birds swooping down, and the dolphins leaping. Remembering my first trip there, camping in a tent on Mustang Island with my boyfriend, waking up buried in sand. Going with my babies, some years later, to show them an ocean warm and shallow as a puddle. No plans, no reservations–we always just rented a little place at the Rock Cottages or the Double Barr for 50 bucks a night. Later, there were more and bigger kids, and we stayed in a double-wide trailer. No matter how politically incorrect it is, I still love to drive on the beach. I love to shop at the IGA for steaks and cornflakes, then head down the road to the shrimp guy for some 20-count mamas. Can't spend much money in Port Aransas, even if you try. The tar on the beach is gone now. You can walk for miles and miles, and everyone does: dogs on leash, hand in hand, trailing children, serious runners in spandex and headphones. There at the edge of the world, picking up sand dollars and pale pink pebbles, watching the Gulf toss her waves like a horse's mane, lies a Texas I can't bear to leave.

A frequent commentator on NPR's All Things Considered, author Marion Winik recently married and moved from Austin to Pennsylvania.

Abraham Verghese

Transmountain Road, which runs through the Franklin Mountains, defines El Paso for me. The mountains are solid and unmovable, and yet there is something surprising about the way they suddenly arise from the flat desert basin, creating ledges, spines, saddlebacks, deep gorges. They are deep orange in the evening, but when a cloud bank comes spilling over the top, roiling and cascading like surf, they turn a dark brown. In place of one massive peak, they form a continuous ridge that seems to divide El Paso into west and east sides, the town wrapping around the mountain like a "U," with downtown as the junction of the two limbs.

Cattle rustlers years before had found a path–Smugglers' Gap–that cut through the Franklins from the east side to the bosques of the Rio Grande on the west side where a man and a good-sized herd of cattle could hide in the tangled jungle of cottonwood and mesquite. Now the shimmering asphalt of Transmountain Road commemorates that route, its straightaway rising several thousand feet, followed by a few beautifully banked, white-knuckle curves that cut through canyons– shadow and sunshine alternating on the windshield–then a downhill straightaway on the other side. I love driving this stretch of road, whether in a car or on my motorcycle. I think of Transmountain Road as the link holding two disparate halves of the city together.

It is the place I take most visitors to. I never tire of parking at the lookout point and taking in the evening show: a spectacular sunset on a limitless horizon.

Dr. Abraham Verghese is a professor of medicine at the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center at El Paso and the author of My Own Country (Harper Collins) and The Tennis Partner (Random House).

Don Walser

I have lived in and visited most all areas in Texas, and I never tire of my travels around the state.

Standing at the top of the Franklin Mountains at El Paso late in the day you can see the most spectacular sunset you ever would hope to see. In El Paso, I have seen the roses blooming in December. The people of El Paso are the most family-oriented folks I have ever met. It was great to have lived in this wonderful city for some seven years.

My wife and I often drive around the Hill Country in Central Texas in the spring and enjoy the world's most beautiful wildflowers. The beauty of the Hill Country is beyond compare. In the early morning, as sunbeams shine across the Colorado River down in a meadow, you often see a herd of deer grazing. As you watch them, a deep, peaceful feeling will soothe the most restless soul.

While near Port Arthur, we would watch as ships traveled down the channel on their way to Beaumont. We have vacationed near Corpus Christi and enjoyed other South Texas beaches. As a young scoutmaster, I took my troop camping in the Davis Mountains and enjoyed their beauty. I was raised in Lamesa, near Lubbock, and I can still see the cotton growing in the late summer. I was an oilfield roughneck, and I saw the joy on the driller's face when we found oil.

Here in Austin, where we now live, the world's greatest musicians play music that comes from the very heart and soul. Here, music is played that the whole world should hear.

The people of Texas for the most part fit the sign just outside of Stanton, which says (paraphrased): Home of some very friendly people and a few old soreheads.

I love Texas most of all because it is my home. I have spent my life here, and when the time comes, I hope to die here.

Since he retired from the Texas Army National Guard a few years ago, honky-tonk yodeler Don Walser has concentrated on making music. His band plays regular gigs in Austin and across the United States.

Bob Lilly

The warmth of the friendly Texas people is a big reason why I always look forward to coming back home from an out-of-state trip.

Texas has a multitude of small towns and communities with wonderful folks, just like Throckmorton, where I grew up. On Friday nights during football season, practically the entire town fills the bleachers at the high school stadium to cheer the home team on to victory. In fact, the enthusiasm of those Texas townspeople helped propel me into my career as a defensive tackle with the Dallas Cowboys for 14 years.

My favorite pastimes now include fishing on the coast and photographing wildflowers and courthouses.

Bob Lilly played defensive tackle for the Dallas Cowboys from 1961 to 1974. He was in the NFL Hall of Fame Class of 1980, the first Cowboy to earn that honor.

Roger ClemensRoger Clemens

Texas is home. I grew up in Houston. My family and I love it, and we miss it when we're away. As a professional athlete, I'm required to be away from home, and I miss working out and running in the warm climate Texas provides year round.

In 1983, after signing to play baseball professionally, I began trying another sport, golf, to relax. My wife, Debbie, bought me my first set of clubs in 1986, and now we both play all over the state we like to call "God's country."

I miss listening to the live music coming out of Sixth Street in Austin, and getting together with my brother for the barbecue cookoffs at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo just before heading off to spring training. Texas is the place to be at rodeo time.

Check out the gorgeous bluebonnets along Texas' highways, and along the way, make sure you have a big taste of Blue Bell ice cream (my favorite).

A former UT Longhorn and five-time Cy Young Award winner, Roger Clemens pitches for the world- champion New York Yankees.

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