Friday, January 25, 2013

A Tour of the Texas Hill Country

From ranch to city life, the landscape offers a bit of California and Provence

LBJ Ranch in Johnson City, TX
      I was at the LBJ Boyhood home in Johnson City on the anniversary of the 70th birthday of President Johnson, which was August 27, 1978.  It was a 100º+ day in the Hill Country and the staff was celebrating by serving cake to all of the visitors that day.  We then took a rather private mobile tour of
the ranch on an altered golf cart.  I was reminiscing about all of this with Eric as we drove from San Antonio, attempting to get him intrigued for our pending visit.

LBJ Boyhood Home
      44 years later offered a few changes to the sleepy town.  There was a visitors' center on a hill behind the boyhood home with a well curated museum presenting the 36th President's personal and political life in a timeline framework.  
The Museum at the Visitors' Center
We were both taken aback at the remarkable programs he passed and the breadth of their achievements.  It was right before the 2012 presidential election and it hit us that many of these programs, if not all, would be in jeopardy in the near future.

The LBJ Ranch House
      From there, we drove the 14 miles to the LBJ Ranch.  The golf cart tours were a thing of the past, replaced with a car pass and CD from the visitors' center to announce the sites along the way.  We soon found the audio tour to be annoying and chose the map to be our best guide.  The route took us past his school, birthplace, family cemetery, show barn, airstrip runway, and finally the home itself where he and Lady Bird spent much of their life along the Perdernales River.  The rambling home is now open for viewing, although we found our guided tour to be a bit rushed.  

Texas Oval Office with "Her" Painting
It began on the porch that enters the Texas White House where Johnson spent an astounding 20% of his presidency.  The entire house has been furnished as it would have been during that time with three TV sets in most every room so that he could see all the major networks of the time simultaneously.  In the Oval Office, a TV set appeared in the paneled wall with one of the first remote controls displayed on his desk.  There were mementos throughout the home, two of which were in the office—portraits of Him and Her, his beagles—a gift from Barbra Streisand.  The tour continued in the 
Cowhide Dining Chair
living and dining rooms (he insisted on a cowhide office chair to dine in), through the bright yellow kitchen, into the entry hall, and on to Johnson's bedroom.  It was along the hallways that we would have preferred to linger to see the many family photos.  LBJ and Lady Bird had separate, but adjacent, bedrooms for years due to their varying schedules and his ongoing back problems.  It was in these bedrooms that both of them died with hers being virtually untouched since 2007.  From there, it's a few steps outside to the pool and driveway where several celebrities and dignitaries left signatures in cement reminiscent of Mann's Chinese Theatre in Hollywood.


      We continued to Austin via a series of rural routes that wound around, went up and down, downgraded in status along the way, and appeared at times to just end.  Despite all that, we made our 5:30 deadline to John and Mara's home outside of Austin.  It would be our home for the next three days waking up each morning with a visit to Java Jive, their neighborhood coffee house (see our separate review).  

Blanton Art Museum
       After breakfast the first morning, we all headed downtown to the University of Texas and the Blanton Museum of Art.  It's the largest collection by a public university in the country.  It's well laid out on two floors that are easily navigable, even with our 3 year and 10 month old guests.  We began at the 
Stacked Waters by Teresita Fernández
massive entry hall with a commissioned work titled Stacked Waters, 2009, by Teresita Fernández—an installation of cast acrylic pieces.

Greek and Roman Plaster Casts
From there, you'll climb the stairs to the second level that traverses several historical periods of art.  Starting with the galleries on the right, we moved from Greek and Roman plaster casts through International Contemporary and American Art.

Contemporary Sculpture
Oil Field Girls by Jerry Bywaters
There, one caught my eye—Oil Field Girls by Jerry Bywaters, a depiction of working girls in the 1940's Texan landscape.  We moved into the contemporary galleries and on to the European paintings, print and drawings.  Another highlight
Progress II by Luis Jimenez
was the fiberglass sculpture Progress II by Luis Jimenez, an El Paso artist whose contemporary vision of a rodeo was a show stopper.  The lower level was reserved for temporary exhibits.  We ended our visit at the museum café across the plaza.  Definitely not a destination in itself, the adjacent gift store was much more impressive.  

LBJ Library and Museum
      John, Mara, Lily, and Alex left us for an afternoon of touring the UT campus.  We walked past Texas Memorial Stadium, home of the Longhorns, on our way to The LBJ Library and Museum.  Much of it was closed for our visit due to renovation for the 100th anniversary of Lady Bird's birth, but there was more than enough to give us more of a glimpse of his life.  The unprotected Lincoln that he drove in around Austin was
Unprotected Lincoln Limo
displayed in the lobby.  Gifts and keepsakes are found on the 4th floor in a small area adjacent to a replica of the White House Oval Office.  It's a snapshot of history including the infamous three TV sets.


University of Texas Clock Tower
      The campus layout was easy to follow as we passed by museums and higher learning centers on our way to the iconic Clock Tower.  From there, we worked our way back to the car (parking is free downtown) and a short ride to the State Capital.

Texas State Capital
Made entirely of pink granite, it's taller than the U.S. Capitol building making it the tallest of all state capitals.  We decided to do a walk through after viewing the gardens and once we had stepped into the rotunda, we were glad we did.  Like a
Capital Rotunda
layered cake, it was staggering in height with all of the Texas Governors' portraits lining the first floor.  The front lawn overlooked much of downtown giving us a glimpse at its personality—contemporary architecture intermingled with small-town western cowboy.  


Driskill Hotel Lobby
      Meeting our friends at Chuy's, south of downtown (see our review from 12/14/2012), Mara decided to give John a night out with us to explore the Austin music scene.  We started at the Driskill Hotel, the oldest in Texas and haunted by past patrons.  It's a cross section of Texan lifestyle from the 1860s furnishings when it first opened to current locals at the upstairs lounge.  We worked our way along Sixth Street peering in
Sixth Street Bars
the different venues and listening to the sounds spilling into the street.  Although we didn't have time to spend inside any of them, it was still a means of getting a flavor for what Austin City Limits presents nationally each week on PBS.

The Jackalope on Sixth Street

Meet my new friend Jack.  
I guess everything really is bigger in Texas!

1 comment:

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