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!

 

Hole in the Rock

Two Days Spent in Phoenix

To wrap up October, I set off to explore another state – Arizona. This trip had been in the works since May, when I decided to throw in a mini mid-week fall vacation. Since Southwest had bargain fares for Phoenix, I decided to head for “The Grand Canyon State”. After arriving on my early morning flight, I was ready to start seeing everything that this desert city had to offer!

Arizona is known for its mountains, and so I decided that Dobbins Lookout, a scenic mountaintop observation point, would be my first stop. A part of South Mountain Park, one of the largest municipal parks in the country, Dobbins Lookout is the highest publicly-accessible point in South Mountain. The best part is that there is no hiking required – winding mountain roads take you all the way up to the summit, clocking in at an elevation of 2,330 feet. Look at those views!

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A stone ramada made for a great place to hang out, while also providing shelter from  the direct sun in those hot summer months.

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Due to it being a weekday, there weren’t a lot of other people around. The lack of noise made it a pretty serene place to be, and although the temperatures were slowly starting to climb, the lack of humidity kept it relatively comfortable.

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Dobbins Lookout is one great spot to see Phoenix and the Valley of the Sun.

After enjoying the sights for about an hour or so, it was time to explore the city, starting with the Arizona State Capitol. Located close to downtown, the state capitol complex is unlike any other I’ve seen, with a design similar to the National Mall in Washington, D.C. Unlike D.C. though, there was an abundance of free parking!

Arizona State Capitol
Making up Arizona’s capitol complex is the Bolin Memorial Plaza, with the capitol museum and executive tower in the background.

Starting off with the Wesley Bolin Memorial Plaza, different memorials paid tribute to military veterans, law enforcement, and firefighters, just to name a few. There was also a 9/11 memorial, and other various markers commemorating the different wars the U.S. has been involved in.

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A mast and anchor from the USS Arizona, which was one of the ships bombed during Pearl Harbor, was also on display here.

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Before heading into the capitol museum, I stopped by the House and Senate buildings flanking it. Both were open to the public, and it was pretty neat seeing the legislative chambers where the laws of Arizona are made.

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The House chamber.
Arizona State Capitol
The Senate chamber.

The capitol museum, formerly the working capitol building until 1974, was well laid out and allowed me to get a good understanding of Arizona’s history. Different exhibits on the four different floors talked about various events in the state’s history, ranging from statehood to a boxcar full of gifts received from France. On that day, it was pretty busy, with a few groups of schoolkids coming here for a field trip.

Arizona State Capitol
The Arizona State Capitol Museum.

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The majority of the rooms were open for visitors to explore, including the old legislative chambers, the governor’s office, and Supreme Court chambers once used to keep Arizona running.

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The old House chamber.
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The historic Arizona Supreme Court chambers.

The capitol museum had a rotunda design, like most state capitols. However, I found it to be pretty small. It wasn’t just me, as one of the main factors that caused the state to build the present day Executive Tower was overcrowding of the historic capitol.

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Arizona State Capitol

Before leaving, I briefly looked around the Executive Tower. It really is as plain on the inside as it is on the outside – nothing but state employees walking around a rather un-appealing lobby. Definitely not worth the hassle of having to go thru security.

Arizona State Capitol
The Executive Tower, where the Governor and other state officials office out of.

After lunch was a journey to the days of the Wild West, with a visit to the Wells Fargo History Museum, located in the heart of downtown.

Wells Fargo Phoenix Museum
The Wells Fargo Plaza, which houses the Wells Fargo History Museum.

As the name implies, the museum is owned and run by Wells Fargo. Admission is free, although they are closed on the weekends and bank holidays. Here, you can learn the story of the company’s history, and how they started from hauling gold and other precious metals to being one of the biggest banks in the nation.

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In addition to different artifacts and relics from their early days kept in glass displays, there were also several interactive exhibits, perfect for families with kids. Here, you get to ride on a stage wagon, get your picture taken at two photo booths, and try your hand at Morse code.

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After learning about Wells Fargo’s connection to the American Southwest, I set off to visit another museum, this one talking about the Native American population here in Arizona. At The Heard Museum, all sorts of artifacts related to American Indians are exhibited, from rows and rows of pottery to different pieces of art.

Heard Museum
Due to copyright issues, I barely took any photos. However, this is a museum that’s worth seeing, especially if you are into art or Native American culture!

With two stories and over 40,000 items, the Heard is the largest private museum dedicated to exhibiting all things Native American. All-in-all, it was an interesting hour-and-a-half experiencing the culture and story of the indigenous peoples.

Heard Museum

With the sun setting soon, it was time to head to my last stop of the day, the Hole-in-the-Rock at Papago Park. One true geological marvel, it literally is…a hole in the rock!

Hole in the Rock
The Hole-in-the-Rock at Papago Park.

One of the most popular places to watch the sunset here in Phoenix, this giant rock formation was created by the forces of erosion over millions of years. Early indigenous inhabitants used this hole to mark the different seasons and positions of the sun. To get up to the hole, a short hike is involved, with different rock formations and man-made stairs leading you all the way to the top.

Hole in the Rock

Hole in the Rock
The view while hiking up.

The hike up took around 7 minutes, although I’m sure more experienced folks can ascent much faster since it’s not a steep elevation by any means. From there, I joined others watching the Arizona sunset.

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After picking a comfortable spot, I spent around 30 minutes up here, taking in the beautiful scenery.

There was some rain that had begun to fall on the drive to Papago Park, which luckily had stopped by the time I began my ascent. Seeing some dark clouds in the distance, I decided it was time to get back down before the rain moved back in. It took me around five minutes for the descent, and I was ready for dinner and wrapping up the day after that.

Hole in the Rock
The beautiful sunset with downtown Phoenix in the background. It was a successful and fun first day here in Arizona!

After breakfast the next morning, I was ready to start another day’s worth of exploring. Yesterday I had gone to see the stuff within Phoenix, and today I wanted to hit some spots in the suburbs. Universities are someplace I usually visit in every city, and so I stopped by Arizona State University, located in Tempe.

Arizona State University Campus
The entrance to Arizona State University.

Parking my car in one of the pay-per-hour covered garages, I spent close to two hours here, checking out the various buildings that made up one of the largest public universities in the nation by enrollment.

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Most of the buildings were pretty modern, and reminded me of my school, UT Dallas. The exception to that would be Old Main, the first building constructed at ASU back in 1898.

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Arizona State University Campus
Old Main.

Old Main, used by the alumni association, is open to the public and welcomes visitors. The lady that greeted me gave me a brochure, which detailed a self-guided tour thru various rooms like the historic auditorium. Unfortunately, most of these rooms listed were closed off. However, the second-floor balcony was open, providing a great view of University Drive.

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Arizona State University Campus
Photos show different historical milestones here at ASU.

After this short tour was over, I continued exploring the campus. I happened to walk into a random building when I discovered a room with a glass observation window. It turned out that this was the operations center of the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera, capturing the surface of the Moon in a partnership with NASA.

Arizona State University Campus

There were free posters, postcards, and other small souvenirs that were placed by the guest book for visitors to take. Definitely unique!

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Finishing up at ASU, I stopped by several other places on campus, like the Memorial Union and the W.P. Carey School of Business. Much like what I had seen before, they were new and modern.

Arizona State University Campus
The Memorial Union, ASU’s student union. On a weekday morning, it was pretty busy with students studying, visiting different offices, or grabbing some Starbucks.
Arizona State University Campus
The W.P. Carey School of Business.
Arizona State University Campus
A state-of-the-art video wall located inside the business school.

In the afternoon, it was time to get a real-world look into the lives of Native Americans, with a visit to the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community, located in Scottsdale. Having watched various documentaries of the living conditions on many of the nation’s Indian reservations, I was curious to see firsthand how good or bad these communities were. After driving around for a few minutes and seeing mostly barren land, this ominous sign greeted me, a reminder of the substance abuse problems present.

Salt River Indian Community
The sign reads “Tradition not Addiction”.

Not all of the roads here were paved, and there were some crops being grown in fields within the reservation.

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Offices used by the tribal government were relatively modern. I didn’t go inside, but they reminded me of my visit to the Choctaw Nation in Durant, Oklahoma.

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On the other hand, a lot of the houses here were in less-than-ideal condition. Unfortunately, the landscape of the community appeared deserted and run-down in general.

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Seeing how the Native Americans live today was a real eye-opener. Problems like alcohol and drug abuse, domestic violence, and suicide are prevalent amongst this group of people, and real change is needed so that conditions improve.

Departing Salt River, I headed for my last destination of the trip, the Hall of Flame Fire Museum, located close to Papago Park. Originally founded in 1961, the Hall of Flame is the world’s largest firefighting museum, containing over 90 fire engines in five galleries. Add in over 10,000 various other artifacts, and you have quite the collection that displays everything in the world of firefighting.

Hall of Flame Museum

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After paying the admission fee, I got handed a binder full of information about each fire apparatus on display, which served as my virtual tour guide. From horse-drawn wagons all the way to modern-day engines, it was super cool seeing how the technology of firefighting has evolved over the years.

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Close to the back of the museum, one particular engine stood out. It was the New York Fire Department’s Rescue #4, which responded to the World Trade Center on 9/11. I learned that none of the 6 people that responded to the scene on this truck made it back.

Another exhibit I found neat at the Hall of Flame was the patch wall. Over 4000 arm patches from fire departments across the world were displayed. I was able to find the ones used by fire departments close to where I live!

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For families, this would be a great place to visit, as there is a small Fire Safety section specifically for kids, with different interactive objects to teach fire safety. On top of that, there is an antique fire engine that everyone can board for photos.

After spending over an hour here checking out all the different pieces of equipment, it was time to head to the airport, since my flight was leaving in a couple of hours. I enjoyed my time at the Hall of Flame, and Phoenix in general. This city wouldn’t have been much fun to visit had it been July, but the relatively temperate fall weather made it nice for all that exploring. Every state that I’ve visited had something unique to offer, and Arizona was certainly no exception. Although “The Grand Canyon State” is now officially off the list of states I have yet to see, I know that since I haven’t visited the Grand Canyon National Park, I will be back!

picture of downtown durant

The City of Durant: Beyond the Casino

Durant, a small town just north of the Texas-Oklahoma border, is known by most as the place of Choctaw Casino & Resort. One of the main casinos in Oklahoma, people come here from all places in hopes of winning big. But did you know that Durant is also home to other places of significance, such as the headquarters of the Choctaw Nation? Over this past long weekend, I decided to pay a visit to this town of over 17,000 to see what was there besides the casino.

After a one and a half hour drive up from Dallas, my first stop was at the Bryan County Courthouse, in the heart of downtown. Built in 1917, this three-story building was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1984.

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The Bryan County Courthouse.

Like most courthouses in the south, this one had a military memorial, as well as a Confederate statue on its front lawn.

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The military memorial.

Down the road from the courthouse was the Durant City Hall. Normally there isn’t much to see at a city hall(unless it’s the one in Addison, Texas), but a rather interesting display sat outside. It was none other than the world’s largest peanut!

surant city hall
The Durant City Hall.

Well, not quite. After doing some research, it turned out that this peanut isn’t the world’s largest anymore, but was at the time it was built. In fact, Oklahoma is nowhere near the top when it comes to states that have a peanut harvest. Kind of a nutty deal, but nevertheless it was a neat little attraction.

Since I was already in downtown, I decided to stroll down one of the main streets. Like many of the town squares I’ve seen in Texas small towns, this area was dead quiet. As I recall, there weren’t too many vacant buildings, but most of the stores were closed due to Columbus Day.

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Downtown Durant.

From there, it was off to the Southeastern Oklahoma State University, located about five minutes away. I had heard about SEOSU in the past due to their aviation program, but never really looked much into it. Thus, when I was doing my planning for this trip, I was surprised to find this university so close to the Texas-Oklahoma border.

The buildings consisted of a mixture between old and new.

southeastern oklahoma state university

southeastern oklahoma state university

While this university is quite small, some of its buildings don’t look bad at all! The library had a fairly grand look to it, and the Greek-style design made it fit into the campus environment well.

southeastern oklahoma state university

Walking in these buildings, however, I have to say that there wasn’t anything notable about the interior design. The various hallways and classrooms were quite dated, and had somewhat of a high school-like feeling to them.

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Being that this university is located in Oklahoma, there was a connection to Native Americans. I passed by this building, which housed the Native American Institute. Here, there are a multitude of programs centered around Native American education.

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Speaking of Native Americans, the Choctaw Nation Headquarters was my next stop.

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The Choctaw Nation Headquarters.

This new building, opened in 2018, houses the various offices of the nation’s third-largest Indian tribe. From member registration to the legal department, pretty much everything is combined under one roof. Although no one was available to give me a tour, the first and second floors were open to the public. While the second floor had nothing but offices, there was some stuff on the first floor, such as the Hall of Chiefs and Tribal Council displays.

Choctaw Nation Headquarters

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The Constitution of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma.
The Constitution of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma.

The Chief’s office was also located on the first floor, and I got to tour his office, thanks to his friendly receptionist. It was pretty neat seeing the room in which the leader works out of.

Choctaw Nation Chief's Office
Chief Gary Batton’s office.
Choctaw Nation Chief's Office
The waiting area outside Chief Batton’s office.

In the lobby, there were some display cases containing Choctaw Nation artwork. If you want to take some Choctaw merchandise home, a gift shop sells t-shirts, artifacts, and more.

Choctaw Nation Headquarters

Being that this was the heart of Choctaw country, many of the signs had Choctaw language on them.

Choctaw Nation Headquarters

As I walked down one of the hallways, a display talking about domestic violence caught my eye. Domestic violence is still an issue within the Native American community, with 64% of Indian women being assaulted in their lifetime, according to the Choctaw Nation. There are facilities here where tribal members can seek help.

Choctaw Nation Headquarters

After all this sightseeing, I was ready for lunch. I decided to eat at Roots Cafe, an office building-like cafeteria attached to the headquarters.

Choctaw Nation Headquarters roots cafe
Roots Cafe.

Usually, I would expect the food of a place like this to be quite bland, but the Fettuccine Alfredo and green beans I got were actually pretty delicious!

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Surprisingly delicious!

After lunch, I had to start heading back to Texas. I found it pretty cool to see the Durant most folks aren’t privy to, as well as learning more about the Choctaw Nation. If you happen to be passing by Durant on Highway 75 and have some time to spare, I would suggest a detour, even if it’s just to see the world’s largest peanut and visit the “White House” of the Choctaw Nation!