Hayes Ring Plaza

Checking Out Texas A&M University

To close out winter break and start off 2019, I visited College Station to explore one of the largest universities in the nation – Texas A&M. Having been to many of the institutions of higher education that make up our state, I wanted to see what comprised Aggieland, as well as to cross Brazos County off the list of counties yet to be visited.

With a student body of over 68,000, the College Station campus is A&M’s flagship school in their system, which is made up of 11 different campuses. Texas A&M was established in 1871 as the Agricultural and Mechanical College of Texas, under the Morrill Act. 148 years later, this school is stronger than ever, with some $9.8 billion in endowments and 4,900 staff on the payroll. Additionally, A&M is also one of the largest college campuses in the nation, at over 5,000 acres.

Upon arriving, I parked at the Cain Garage, located directly across from Kyle Field. Since it was the weekend, there weren’t many cars there, so spaces were plentiful on the first floor right by the entrance. Parking fees were still being collected, although it only amounted to $4 for the hour or so I spent here. The car now in a place where it wouldn’t be towed, I was ready to start seeing TAMU.

cain garage at Texas A&M
The Cain Garage.

My first stop along my walking tour was Kyle Field, the school’s ginormous football stadium. To give you an idea of what “ginormous” means in this context, Kyle Field is the fourth-largest stadium in the nation!

All around the stadium, the saying “Home of the 12th Man” can be seen. This term dates back to 1922 when an Aggie by the name of E. King Gill suited up to help his team, who had sustained multiple injuries in a grueling game against Kentucky’s Centre College. Although he never ended up entering the field, the “12th Man” is representative of the A&M student body, who are willing to serve when duty calls. Duty and loyalty are common themes here, as I would see all throughout my visit.

kyle field a&m
One of the entrances into Kyle Field. Several statues are displayed around the stadium.

Past the stadium, around a five-minute walk away, was the Haynes Ring Plaza, home of a giant 12-foot replica of the iconic A&M class ring!

Hayes Ring Plaza

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For students, “Aggie Ring Day” is one of the most notable events that they will attend during their time here, as it symbolizes the completion of a specific set of academic requirements, and induction into an exclusive network of fellow Aggies. Ring Day takes place at the Clayton W. Williams, Jr. Alumni Center, located right next to the replica ring. Alongside the walkway, various Aggie quotes of respect, loyalty, and honor are displayed.

Haynes Ring Plaza

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After getting my photo taken underneath one of the most unique outdoor artifacts I’ve seen at a university, I began checking out the various buildings that make up Aggieland. Rudder Tower, named after former university president James Earl Rudder, was one of my first stops.

Rudder Tower at Texas A&M
Rudder Tower.

On the first floor is the Aggieland Visitor Center, where you can get maps, brochures, or go on tours of campus. A backdrop of the A&M school logo off to the side provided for a good photo op.

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If you are looking for a place to dine and get some good views of campus, the University Club, located on the 11th floor might just be your ideal spot. It was closed when I visited, however, according to their website they serve a buffet Monday thru Friday. It looks like a great spot to break for lunch during a weekday visit!

Heading further into the center of the school, I found myself on the Military Walk, one of the main walkways of A&M. Rooted in tradition, this was the spot where for years, the students making up the Corps of Cadets gathered daily. Many of these Aggies went on to become leaders in their respective fields.

Military Walk at Texas A&M
Military Walk.

Descriptions of the various notable points of the school’s history were displayed on both sides of the walkway. These signs provided me with a good introduction and understanding of the history I was surrounded by.

Military Walk at Texas A&M

Continuing along, I decided to go check out a building that I had seen while driving in – this tall building with an airport control tower “cab” look to it at the top. After walking for around ten minutes, I finally got to it. This structure was none other than the Eller Oceanography & Meteorology Building, the tallest building on campus.

Eller Oceanography & Meteorology Building
The Eller Oceanography & Meteorology Building.

Although it was closed for Winter Break, this 15-story building sure has an interesting design! Upon doing some Googling back home, I discovered that a Doppler radar unit is mounted on the roof. With all those panoramic windows, it would sure be nice to see the view from the 15th floor. Speaking of architecture, that is one area A&M is lacking in. Most of the buildings can be described as being pretty bureaucratic and plain. Several pieces of public art lined the courtyards and walkways, but it wasn’t anything super special by any means.

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The next stop was to the Sterling C. Evans Library, one of five libraries on campus.

Sterling C. Evans library
The Sterling C. Evans Library.

Inside, rows and rows of books lined the six different floors. If you want a good view of campus, head up to the sixth-floor graduate study lounge. Everything here was open to the public, so visitors can waltz right on in to see the landscape of A&M.

Sterling C. Evans library

 

On the first floor, there was a sizeable computer/study area, which works well for research or group collaboration.

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Heading out, I came across a replica of A&M’s mascot, Reveille the Dog on the first floor by the circulation desk. Reveille has served as the school mascot since the 30s, and there have been nine lucky dogs that have held this title. The Reveilles that have passed away have their own cemetery close to Kyle Field, complete with a mini-scoreboard so they can see the 12th Man outscore the visiting team!

Sterling C. Evans library
Reveille the Dog greets all who visit the library.

My last stop on my way back to the car was at the Memorial Student Center, A&M’s student union.

Memorial Student Center
The Memorial Student Center.

Located close to the Cain Garage and Kyle Field, this student union was one of the newer buildings on campus. Inside, you can find everything from the bookstore to different spots to hang out. Many of the facilities inside are named after the values and traditions of the university, such as Respect Lounge and 12th Man Hall. In fact, this whole building is considered a living memorial to those Aggies that gave their lives defending our nation. To that end, signs on the doors instruct visitors to remove their hats upon entering as a sign of respect.

Memorial Student Center
The main lobby of the Memorial Student Center. Banners overhead display the core values of the university.
Memorial Student Center
The Barnes and Noble bookstore inside the MSC.

One unique spot in the MSC is The Flag Room. Nicknamed the “living room” of A&M, it contains sofas, tables, and even a grand piano! This spot is great for Aggies and visitors alike to sit down, hang out, and take in the culture of the university.

Memorial Student Union Flag Room
The Flag Room is one great place to take a break and experience some of A&M’s history.

As the name suggests, the room contains various flags used in the history of the university, including many of those belonging to the Corps of Cadets. Other A&M memorabilia was displayed, making it an interesting location to congregate and learn about the history of the school!

Memorial Student Center Flag Room
Some of the many flags displayed in the Flag Room.

In conclusion, this was one nice first visit to see one of Texas’ most well-known schools, and one that has so many different customs and traditions. This campus is simply humongous, and could easily take half a day or more to see everything. With that in mind, a second trip is already in the works for when the government reopens, to visit the George H.W. Bush Presidential Library, located on the edge of campus! A lunch stop at the University Club would also be included in the itinerary.

Texas A&M water tower
This water tower reminds you that you are in Aggieland!

 

 

Texas Tech University

Howdy From Hub City – Lubbock, TX

Lubbock – a city that is known as the home of Texas Tech University, but also one of the main population centers in rural West Texas. After a great day spent exploring Amarillo, the family and I headed for “Hub City”, located two hours away. This nickname originated from the fact that Lubbock is the economic hub of the South Plains region. This wouldn’t be my first time in town- flying back home from Roswell, New Mexico last year, I stopped at the Lubbock airport for fuel and a quick lunch. Seeing that Texas Tech was one of the few well-known universities in the state that I hadn’t visited, it was an easy decision to swing by to see the school and city.

Leaving Amarillo, we took Interstate 27, which stretches from Amarillo to Lubbock. On the way there, we passed by towns like Canyon, Happy, and Plainview. Canyon is home to West Texas A&M, a small university that focuses pretty heavily on agricultural and equestrian studies.

West Texas A&M
Old Main at WTAMU.

West Texas A&M

West Texas A&M
The bell tower right in front of the “pedestrian mall” – the main walkway of the school with buildings on both sides.

Happy isn’t just some name you’ve heard in a movie – it’s an actual town! With a population of just 667, it is nothing more than a tiny community in the dusty Panhandle. Many of the roads weren’t well-paved, and the downtown area was little more than a few buildings.

Happy, Texas
Happy’s City Hall.

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With light traffic conditions, we entered Lubbock city limits ahead of schedule. After lunch, we began our tour of Hub City, starting with the most well-known place in town – Texas Tech University.

Texas Tech University
The school seal right by the main entrance to Texas Tech.

Established in 1925, the school was originally established as Texas Technological College. The state legislature formally changed the name to Texas Tech in ’69. Today, it is home to over 36,000 students and holds several distinctions including being the only campus in the state to have a university, law school, and medical school. Tech is also very well-known in the athletics department, with its football team competing in the Big 12 and holding status as a Division 1 school.

Doing a walking tour of campus, we explored the various buildings that comprise Red Raider Country. With covered arch walkways and different architectural features around several buildings, the campus looked pretty nice.

Texas Tech University

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Although there wasn’t as much green space as that of Iowa State University, the exterior layout still was well-designed and easy to navigate.

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Since it was Thanksgiving weekend, most of the buildings were closed. However, we did go inside the library, which was open.

Texas Tech University Library

Texas Tech University Library interior

Inside, it was pretty typical, with all the features one would expect for a university of this size. A coffee bar was located in the lobby area, along with computers and meeting areas on the first floor. Smart boards were installed by the little meeting pods, allowing students to collaborate using advanced technology.

Texas Tech Library Interior

The upstairs area was all books. Combined, the Texas Tech library has over 1.7 million volumes in its collection.

Texas Tech University Library Interior

Leaving the library, I came across this pretty neat statue of a walking “book man”.

Texas Tech University
The “Book Man” statue by the library.

The last place we visited here was the Rawls College of Business, located all the way on the other side of campus.

Texas Tech University
The Rawls College of Business.

The doors were locked, but peering inside the building looked pretty modern. This bear and bull piece of public art, representing the stock market with its lines indicative of the ups and downs was unique!

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All in all, I found this visit to Texas Tech to be pretty relaxing. It was neat seeing the campus of a school often discussed in collegiate football and talked about by friends who went here. Leaving Red Raider Country, it was off to our next stop, Prairie Dog Town – perhaps Lubbock’s most unique destination.

Prairie Dog Town

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A part of the city-owned Mackenzie Park, Prairie Dog Town is an enclosed area where prairie dogs live and get spoiled by visitors dropping food. It was started in 1935 by a guy name K.N. Clapp, after being concerned about the possible extinction of this species due to the government’s poisoning program. With two pairs of prairie dogs as its first inhabitants, this habitat flourished. Upon arriving, there were quite a few people, most with bags of carrots in hand.

Prairie Dog Town
It’s afternoon snack time!

Being that we didn’t prepare any food, we headed to the local supermarket and was back before long with several bags of baby carrots. Tossing them to these little creatures, they caught and ate the incoming supply of fresh food around half of the time. Other times, they seemed to be oblivious to the fact that a carrot had landed right next to them(or perhaps they just didn’t care).

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Signs here give the visitor some information about prairie dogs and their burrows. These creatures are pretty ingenious as I learned from this diagram- their underground habitat includes emergency exits, various rooms, and a food storage area!

Prairie Dog Town
Signs here educate visitors on the history and burrowing habits of the prairie dogs.

Birds were swooping in and walking around amongst the prairie dogs, but they didn’t seem to mind or have any sort of conflict at all.

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Between feeding and just observing these creatures in their natural habitat, we spent close to an hour here. Prairie Dog Town is a place I definitely recommend for a fun, family-friendly outdoor activity here in Lubbock. Time slipped on us, but we still headed for the American Wind Power Museum.

American Wind Power Museum
Some of the many windmills on display outside the American Wind Power Museum.

Due to the museum getting ready to close for the day, we opted not to see the exhibits inside, but we did walk around Lineberry Windmill Park, located outside. Many different windmills were represented here, including this Vestas V47 wind turbine. This thing is humongous!

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The huge Vestas V47 wind turbine.

Rising 164 feet into the West Texas sky, this wind turbine generates 660kW of power, enough to power the museum. Excess energy is sold to the local power grid. These modern-day windmills can be seen all over this region, however, it is here that you can get up close and personal with this masterpiece of technology.

American Wind Power Museum
These wind turbines are right at home in windy West Texas.

Leaving the Wind Power Museum, we did a driving tour of downtown. The whole area was deserted; with all the Texas Tech folks gone there just wasn’t any livelihood there. At the Lubbock Preston Smith International Airport though, our last stop, it was anything but deserted.  The terminal was pretty crowded, full of folks mostly coming back into town. While their terminal isn’t very modern, it was well-structured(at least from the non-secure side) with rental car counters located in the building; negating the need to hop on a shuttle.

In sum, it was a nice half-day spent seeing Hub City and what makes up the land of the Red Raiders! Being that this school revolves around the university so much, it might be worth stopping back in on game day, or at least when the semester is in session. I’d also like to see the exhibits that make up the American Wind Power Museum. But for now, it’s one more Texas city visited!

 

Amarillo – The Route 66 City of Texas

Historic Route 66 is one of this country’s most well-known highways, spanning from Santa Monica all the way to Chicago while stretching across portions of 8 states in the process. Texas wasn’t excluded from this 2,448-mile long roadway, with Amarillo as a stop along “The Main Street of America”. Over Thanksgiving weekend, my family and I headed up into the Panhandle region to see what this city of close to 200,000 had to offer. 

The drive up from North Texas took around 6 and a half hours. Taking Highways 380 and 287, we passed by towns like Wichita Falls, Vernon, and Memphis. Super flat plains dotted the landscape, with irrigation equipment stretching across fields like a giant grasshopper. A fair amount of traffic was present, although there weren’t many gas stations or rest stops. Upon arriving, we began our journey of exploring the largest city in the Texas Panhandle. 

Our first stop was Cadillac Ranch, located off Interstate 40 on the west side of town. While you won’t come across any horses or cows here, you will find 10 half-buried vintage Cadillacs, with thick layers of spray paint covering their bodies. 

Cadillac Ranch
The 10 half-buried Cadillacs making up this piece of public art.

This public art installation was the work of three men – Chip Lord, Hudson Marquez, and Doug Michels. They were part of the Ant Farm art group, in the practice of non-traditional architecture and art. And non-traditional this surely was! Here, you are encouraged to spray paint your own design on the cars, making your own little masterpiece.

Cadillac Ranch
Young or old, this is a perfect place to channel your inner graffiti artist.

Why Cadillacs? Ant Farm loved the styling of the Cadillacs from the mid 20th century, especially the tail fin design and envisioned a work of public art stemming from it. With the financial backing of millionaire Stanley Marsh 3,  the land was secured and the art installation opened in 1974. 

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Today, Cadillac Ranch is one of the top destinations to visit in Amarillo. There was a constant stream of people coming and going, Krylon can in hand. Everyone parks their car on the side of the Interstate 40 frontage road and enters via a small gate. A short walk takes you across the field and right in front of the cars. From there, you get to work making your own design. 

Cadillac Ranch entrance
The small gate you pass thru to enter.  It really gives the feeling that you are entering an actual West Texas ranch!
Cadillac Ranch
Dad beginning to spray paint his Chinese name.

It was a neat 45 minutes spent spray painting our names on different Caddys and just having a great time!

Cadillac Ranch

Leaving Cadillac Ranch, it was off to our next stop, the Jack Sisemore Traveland RV Museum. Located on the grounds of an RV dealer, this free museum offered a great glimpse into the world of motorhomes, from vintage Airstreams to camping trailers. 

Jack Sisemore RV Museum

Themed after Route 66 and the spirit of road-tripping across the country, the museum contains many different models of RVs, including the world’s oldest Airstream and the first Itasca, serial number #1. The different generations are well-represented, with models dating back to the 30s all the way up to the 70s. The best part is that the doors on the majority of these models were open, and you could walk in and see how the interior layout was structured.

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world's oldest airstream

Jack Sisemore RV Museum

Not only were there a lot of campers, but many vintage memorabilia from the Route 66 days were also seen here, such as this soda fountain mock-up. Seeing all these relics made it feel like I’d gone back in time!

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We spent around 45 minutes here, seeing all the different artifacts. It felt like going to an antique store, except the stuff on display here was much larger! An RV museum isn’t something you come across regularly, and it was cool being able to get a glimpse of life inside a motorhome. 

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After that, we went to go see Amarillo’s downtown, an area I usually visit on any excursion. A couple of mid-sized buildings dotted the landscape, with the Potter County Courthouse close to the center of it all.

image of the Potter County Courthouse
The Potter County Courthouse.
amarillo tx downtown and potter county courthouse lawn
Downtown Amarillo, as seen from the front lawn of the courthouse.

This courthouse, the 5th used by Potter County, was built in 1932 at a cost of $420,000. From the exterior, it didn’t look that old! There’s not that grand and gorgeous appeal as that of Hood County’s in Granbury, but it fit in well with the downtown landscape. 

potter county courthouse entrance
Those doors are pretty neat. Looks like something that can be seen at Dallas’ Fair Park.

From there, we headed to The Big Texan Steak Ranch, the last destination of the day.  Much more than just your typical restaurant, this place can arguably be the busiest place in town.

The Big Texan STeak Ranch
The Big Texan Steak Ranch.

What draws everyone here? Their world-famous 72oz steak challenge. Finish the whole meal(consisting of the actual steak, a bread roll, a baked potato, a shrimp cocktail, and a salad) within an hour and its free. The idea came after founder Bob Lee decided to hold a contest to see which of the cowboys in the area could consume the most steaks in an hour, with a small monetary prize. Opening in 1960, it was originally right off…you guessed it, Route 66. It eventually moved to its present location off Interstate 40 in 1970. 

Since we were vegetarian, we didn’t eat at The Big Texan, however, we went in to look around. In addition to the main dining room, there is also an ice cream stand, bar, and gift shop located in the “lobby” area. 

The Big Texan Steak Ranch
Various coin-operated games were placed around the “lobby”.

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The Big Texan Steak Ranch
The gift shop sold t-shirts, postcards, and various other Texas and Route 66 souvenirs.

In the dining room, the folks up for the challenge sit front and center, on a raised platform with timers right next to them. Other diners aka those that opt for smaller portions get to watch the gobbling happen, and there is even an online webcam stream available! 

The Big Texan Steak Ranch dining room
The dining room with the contestant’s table up front.
The Big Texan Steak Ranch
The table where the contestants sit.

Right next door, in a Wild West-looking Main Street setup, is a mini-motel run by the restaurant. It’s a convenient place to call it a night should that 72oz steak meal leave you unable to move. All-in-all, they seem to have done a great job with turning a restaurant into a destination and experience. 

Big Texan hotel
The exterior of the motel.
Big Texan Steak Ranch
This dinosaur “Big Tex Rex” is just one of many things that let you know that this isn’t a typical steakhouse, if you didn’t notice the bright yellow building, that is!

In conclusion, the cities touched by Route 66 are always fun to visit, and Amarillo was certainly no exception. When I was first planning this trip, I envisioned this city as a relatively boring and slow town with absolutely nothing to do, and it turned out to be a place with its own culture and some pretty unique destinations. Regardless if you happen to be passing by on Interstate 40, or just want to check out an area of Texas different from the usual Austin or San Antonio tourist scene, Amarillo is a great place to experience the Lone Star State and Route 66 at the same time!

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People coming and going at Cadillac Ranch. It was a nice first visit to the Panhandle region, where the landscape is extremely flat and the land seemingly never-ending.