The coastline of Texas curves southward more than 350 miles from Port Arthur, on the Louisiana border (a petrochemical town and the birthplace of Janis Joplin) to the delta of the Rio Grande, which snakes northwest to form a 900-mile natural border with Mexico. Encompassed in this eastern section of the state is an interesting mix of big-city life and rural, backwoods culture.
Houston, population 2.3 million, dominates the region. It is home to corporate headquarters, renowned medical centres and art museums flush with oil cash – NASA’s Space Center Houston is also 25 miles south of the city. Outside of Houston are tall pine forests that bear more relation to Louisiana than to the rest of the state. While undeniably Texan, locals here identify themselves culturally and geographically with the adjacent corners of Arkansas and Louisiana – the “Arklatex” – and you’ll find jambalaya and gumbo in restaurants along with standard Texas dishes. The smaller population centre of Galveston, on the coast outside Houston, offers easy beach access. Galveston was hit hard by Hurricane Ike in September 2008. The blow wasn’t fatal, though – the city has begun to rebuild its battered downtown and for the most part tourism has returned to pre-hurricane levels.Read More
The fourth-largest city in the United States, HOUSTON is an ungainly beast of a place, choked with successive rings of highways and high on humidity. Despite this, its sheer energy, its relentless Texas pride, and, above all, its refusal to take itself totally seriously, lends it no small appeal. For visitors, its well-endowed museums, highly regarded performing arts scene and decent nightlife mean there is always something to do.
They city’s very existence has always depended on wild speculation and boom-and-bust excess. Founded on a muddy mire in 1837 by two real estate-booster brothers from New York – their dream was to establish it as the capital of the new Republic of Texas – Houston was soon superseded by the more promising site of Austin, even while somehow developing itself as a commercial centre.
Oil, discovered in 1901, became the foundation, along with cotton and real estate, of vast private fortunes, and over the next century wildly wealthy philanthropists poured cash into swanky galleries and showpiece skyscrapers. That colossal self-confidence helped Houston weather devastating oil crises in the 1980s, and more recently it endured the Enron corporate scandal. Houston has also developed a growing workforce eager to bring alternative energy to scale. Solar and wind projects offer the most promise in Texas; more than 25 percent of Houston’s energy load, for instance, comes from wind.
Several megachurches headquartered downtown – with smooth-talking celebrity pastors like Joel Olsteen – have become powerful social, cultural and political forces, drawing as many as 16,000 people to their Sunday services, which are open to the public.