Category Attractions

Going Nutty for The World’s Largest Pecan(s) in Texas

Texans are proud of their pecans, as are Missourians. And so, for a time, Texas and Missouri engaged in a small skirmish about which state contained the largest pecan-shaped effigy. Texas built the world’s largest pecan first, then Missouri topped it with a larger pecan, then Texas struck back with an even larger one and several smaller ones on wheels, presumably to act as the larger pecan’s posse who just hang out in the background and say “YEAH” in the event of a pecan rumble.

The world’s largest mobile pecan

At the current World’s Largest Pecan in Seguin, Texas, I ran into a family with a young man named Logan. Logan was very interested in my camera, so I showed him how to use it and he took the next six photos–he has a natural eye, don’t you think? 

While Logan had my camera, I snapped some photos with my cell phone of the things that caught my eye in the museum, including the pecan that the world’s largest pecan was based on, and their collection of figurines made from pecans, prominently featuring a very well endowed Minnie Mouse.

This squirrel gonna cut ya

A worship service was setting up inside that Logan and his family were there for and it didn’t feel appropriate to be skulking around the pecan museum behind a religious service, so I prepared to skedaddle. Logan wanted to get a selfie with me so we took one:

and then I collected my camera, made sure I got a snap of the world’s largest pecan, and pointed my rental car in the direction of home, only to be confronted with another mandatory stop: The Berdoll Pecan Candy and Gift Shop. Not only do they have the world’s largest squirrel statue, the fourteen foot tall Ms. Pearl, they also have a pecan vending machine for people passing by after regular store hours (like me) so you don’t have to miss out on, say, an entire pecan pie. I tried to buy some pecan clusters but their card reader was broken and it wouldn’t accept my cash, so it’s more like a theoretical vending machine than an actual 24 hour pecan solution. 

The Elisabet Ney Museum of Austin, TX

Today you are going to learn about the absolute badass Elisabet Ney. Born in 1833 and educated in Germany, Elisabet was so certain she wanted to pursue sculpture as her life’s work that she went on a weeks-long hunger strike to otherwise persuade her reticent parents. They eventually relented, and Elisabet became the first female student at the Munich Academy of Art. She was a very talented sculptor; her forms are exquisite and her expressions are subtle and lifelike. Elisabet was also a dedicated and outspoken women’s rights activist, riding horses astride like men, refusing to take her husband’s name, and her dedication to avoiding housework was so strong that she slept in a hammock just so she wouldn’t have to make a bed. What. A. Badass.

After her death in her studio in Austin, the studio and its contents were donated to the University of Texas Austin, under the condition that the contents would not be removed. Now, these originals and replicas are on display for the public to view for free five days a week, and appears to be a popular place for artists to come and sketch the grounds and her work. How wonderful that although it’s no longer an artist’s studio, art continues unabated.

Antique shopping around Austin Texas

When I was a kid, there was almost nothing worse than being dragged along on my mom’s antique hunting trips. Room upon room of stinky old things that I couldn’t touch, and the only redeeming feature was that occasionally we’d go to the antique shop that was inside a converted barn so I could go out to the yard and try to lure the wary horses over to the hot wire fence with a handful of grasses. (Verdict: none of them wanted to eat grass out of my grubby hand so badly that they were willing to risk a shock, but I kept trying.) So of course now that I’m an adult, I spend my time in antique shops touching EVERYTHING with my older-yet-still-grubby hands. I visited three while I was in the Austin area: here’s the lowdown on each.

Uncommon Objects

Uncommon Objects is an antique mall with a real knack for arranging items in an appealing way, especially via color palette: red and teal or all white or emerald or primarily light blue. It’s a striking effect and shows off everything to its best advantage, which make the store feel more like a boutique than a vendor collective. No photos are allowed inside and I respected that, hence no interior photos to show here, but if you look online you can see plenty of examples of what I’m talking about. The boutique feel comes at a cost, however, as it seemed to me that many items were priced significantly higher than they should have been. I bought a beautiful art nouveau picture frame from Uncommon Objects and have since seen it twice at other shops, both times for half of what I paid at Uncommon Objects which is a hell of a mark-up.

Austin Antique Mall

Now I’m gonna see these baskets everywhere, aren’t I? Damn Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon!

The Austin Antique Mall is a VERY large space, and it’s not as well-curated as either of the other two options here, but there are some real gems here at all price points if you’re willing to spend the time and do some digging (and if you’re not, you’re probably not in the mood to go antiquing anyway!).

Old World Antieks

The “moss” in his hand is the perfect touch.

Old World Antieks is about an hour outside of Austin in La Grange and it is worth the drive, with two showrooms, two warehouses, and an open-air barn stuffed full of amazing inventory: ornate carved doors and windows from around the world, stunning light fixtures, and basically everything else it would take to build an elaborate gothic temple. I had neither the funds nor the hauling capacity to bring home the vast majority of the things I oohed and aahed over (it tends toward the large and upscale, Willie Nelson mannequin and raccoon wearing chaps aside) but I was glad I’d made the last-second decision to pull over and check it out, and now that I know they have a website and they ship, I can look forward to never having money again. 

 

Blanton Museum, Austin, LBJ Presidential Library, and Skyspace

All of these places are on the University of Texas Austin’s campus, so I paid for parking, stuffed a raspberry kolache in my maw, and made a day of it.

Blanton Museum

Jacob Asking for Laban, Frencesco Castiglione, ca 1660-1710

The informational placard next to this piece identified it as representing “the Genoese fondness for animals in artwork, a taste stimulated by Northern European genre painting and depictions of keenly observed animals.:” I have keenly observed a lot of horses, and, not being familiar with this Biblical tale, can only assume that Laban is Jacob’s horse dealer and Jacob is REAL mad about the deformed horse Laban sold to him.

Suicide of Lucretia, Luca Cambiaso, 1565

Medieval animals are so ridiculous, I love them.

Casting the Runes [Tirando las Runas], Leonora Carrington, 1951

On its lower floor, the Blanton Museum featured a large exhibit by Ellsworth Kelly (the artist who also created the Austin installation on campus). I’m not much of a fan of minimalism or geometric color blocks, so Kelly’s work does not speak to me and I was much happier when I went upstairs and found their other galleries, particularly when I found some surrealism which was and is and probably will forever be my artistic movement bae. I was particularly thrilled to see a piece by Leonora Carrington, one of my favorite Surrealists, who infused her work with alchemy and Celtic mythology and the subversion of the feminine role.

Looking at their website now, I’m bummed that I missed their exhibit on photography and the American road trip, because that one also would’ve been right up my alley. 

Austin

This is a permanent structure on the University of Texas Austin’s campus, with the design concept gifted to the university by Ellsworth Kelly in January 2015. It was subsequently constructed and opened to the public in February 2018. It’s constructed like a chapel, with stained glass on three sides. The building’s exterior is striking, it transcribes Kelly’s work from the wall into the world. Rendered in this way, Kelly’s blocks of color are luminous and luscious, candy-like in their appeal. From the inside as light blazes through the glass, color plays over the walls. It’s not an easy structure to linger inside–the heat was oppressive even in March, and there’s nowhere to stand that doesn’t feel like it’s in the way of someone else’s camera, but it’s a rare thing to be able to stand inside of a non-architect’s artistic vision.

LBJ Presidential Library

I only had a brief thirty minutes to visit the LBJ Presidential Library and I spent five of them convincing the person at the front desk that, yes, I did want to buy a ticket at this late hour. I’d never been to a presidential library before and didn’t know what to expect, because apparently I didn’t have the intellectual curiosity to investigate the idea beforehand, satisfied to laugh without context at jokes like “Trump’s presidential library is just going to be 50 copies of The Art of the Deal“.

No, Melissa, a presidential library is meant to preserve papers, speeches, and essentially be the ultimate informational center about a given president. So the LBJ Presidential Library had floors and floors of materials only available to researchers, and then several floors accessible to visitors dedicated to the Johnson presidency (1963-1969), including replicas of both Lyndon B. Johnson’s office and the first lady, Claudia Alta “Lady Bird” Johnson’s office.

There were also examples of the white house china, campaign ephemera, and gifts that were given to the Johnsons on behalf of other nations–two that I took note of were golden swords from the UAE and Morocco, respectively. The gifts are there in part due to the Foreign Gifts and Declarations Act of 1966, which limited the dollar value of gifts presidents could accept ($390 in 2018) from foreign nations. Anything over that value is filed in the National Archive, and later is transferred to the Presidential Library when the president retires. These swords have to have been among the very first items to be affected by this rule change. And in doing some rudimentary research, I’ve found a lot of sources talking about how Johnson received a Burberry coat as a gift from the UK prime minister, tried it on, and upon finding the sleeves too short, sent his aides out running into the streets with the coat to chase down the prime minister to ask him to exchange it for the right size. However, I cannot find a single source that pinpoints the date upon which that coat was gifted and if it was the camelhair coat that made Congress act. Luckily, I know of a place in Texas where I could research this. 

My final stop on campus was at The Color Inside, a skyspace by James Turrell at the Student Activities Center. It’s a naked eye observatory (a room with a hole cut in the ceiling), and for an hour at sunrise and sunset, colored lights illuminate the walls inside the dome, creating an ever-changing colored frame around the sky that influences how you perceive its color. Reservations are required as the dome can only accommodate roughly thirty people. Silence is requested in the dome, and it’s unusual to be in a space with other people where everyone is silent as is the room. No music, no talking, just you and a couple dozen other people and the sky. People started to filter out after fifteen minutes or so, and nearer the hour mark, there were only four people left in the room. It was a true pleasure to take the time to mark the sunset in a different way, to watch the sky and not have anything else I should be doing, or could be doing.

Goga Goat Yoga

Practically as soon as I booked my flight to Austin I started looking for a place to do goat yoga, because I had stereotyped Austin in my head as the sort of place one would be most likely to find instructors dedicated to the art of practicing yoga accompanied by baby goats, and thankfully I was correct. Never mind that I hadn’t really done yoga for a while and needed to buy a mat to bring to class–I wasn’t going to let any minor considerations keep me from enjoying baby goats to their fullest extent. I could tell I was truly serious about baby goat time when I gave myself over an hour to drive to the rooftop where it was taking place “in case there’s traffic” at 6 am on a Saturday. 

There was no traffic.

However, there were several adorable baby goats awake and ready to play. GOGA sources all their goats from 2CrazyGoatLadies, and I absolutely do not recommend visiting that website if you think you might have even the slightest inclination to impulse purchase a goat because I almost immediately decided that I wanted three and, my friends, these goats are so inexpensive that I could have feasibly made that happen. But as much as I think I want tiny goats bounding around my backyard (and oh, I do, more than oxygen), I know that the reality of tiny goats in my backyard is not a good match if I want to travel ever again…unless, of course, I rent out my place while I’m gone to people who want to do yoga in my backyard with my goats. Hmm. 

The yoga class itself was a pretty rushed-feeling vinyasa class with ratio of people to goats being too high and the ratio of people to fenced-in square footage was likewise. It is the cutest to be doing a lunge and come face to face with a tiny curious critter. Other people had goats climbing on their legs and backs and in general, their presence was a delight. But the hustle factor was real. Often I had just barely found a position and it was time to be in another one. Inhale, exhale, inhale, exhale–breathing at that pace felt like hyperventilation. When asked for my feedback, I mentioned the class’ snappy pace and was informed that it was deliberate so “people feel like they’re getting a good workout.” Listen: I am not here for a good workout. I have a gym membership and can work up a sweat at practically any time of my choosing. I have literally any other time to focus on my core. I could be doing sit-ups right now. I woke up at the crack of dawn and showed up an hour early with my shirt on inside out because I wanted a fun and chill stretch and play session with goats, dadgumit!

At the end of the session, everyone had the opportunity to take a photo with the one week old baby goats who were too small to roam in class, and I loved them immediately. Overall, I didn’t have as much goat interaction as I would have hoped for in a goat yoga class, but as far as goat attentions go, I got lucky–at least I wasn’t the person whose shoe got used as a baby goat’s poop savings account.

The murals and art around (a small sampling of) Texas

This fucking 3d mural, you guys. I drove to San Antonio to see it, among other things, including a shop where you could buy tacos AND donuts from the drive-through, because of course that’s a place I would go. The 3d mural, Vision del Futuro, has its own permanent 3d glasses to view it, so naturally a helpful soul broke out both lenses. I suspected that might be the case beforehand, so I packed an old pair of 3D glasses from Halloween Horror Nights…and those only sort of worked. It was at this point that I realized I didn’t have my phone after frantically checking all of my pockets and every compartment of my purse. I then spotted it on the ground behind my rental car and dashed over: the screen was shattered and it seemed like it might have been run over by a car. Sigh. I suppose if it was going to happen, it’s better that it happened while Jason was there with his phone because otherwise I would have been alone and lost in an unfamiliar city. As it was, that was the end of the day I had planned and instead it became a tour of the endless strip mall that is San Antonio, first visiting my cell carrier’s store and not finding the phone I had intended to buy, and then visiting an electronics store only to find that they only sell the phone I wanted for other carriers because while you may be familiar with Murphy’s Law, Melissa’s Addendum states that not only will everything go wrong, but it needs to be the biggest, most expensive pain in the ass possible. I really did not want to buy a $600+ new phone that’s a runner up to the one I actually wanted, so I needed to find some other option. Eventually I found myself at San Antonio’s UBreakIFix, and while they didn’t have the screen for my (admittedly a couple generations old) phone, they called every other UBreakIFix in the greater San Antonio/Austin area and found ONE shop in the Austin area that had one. I begged them to hold it and told them I’d be there when the doors opened the next morning. It only took the better portion of the day and that’s why there’s practically no San Antonio to show for my efforts. 

This piece was made to draw attention to the critically endangered Houston toad, of which there is estimated only 3,000-4,000 remain in the total population worldwide.

This was near the churro food truck that I tried to visit three times that was always closed. I think it would take less effort to start my OWN churro food truck than actually catch this place open.

I don’t know what kind of armadillo centipede you’re trying to create here, sky prince, but I’m not here for it and I don’t think the people of Texas will stand for it.

No.

Art for the People is a cool gallery with a surprising amount of art packed inside at all price points.

Buc-ee’s, a friend to all travelers in need

It’s hard out there on the roads in Texas. Their highways are bigger, faster, and more complicated. You’ve got to watch out for flash floods and there are yellow warning road signs for churches so I guess you have to watch out for those, too. I still have minor PTSD thinking about my drives through Houston with its ten lane highways all swirling about one another with left and right unmarked exits and oh shit I need to cross six lanes right now. Lanes in general in Texas seem to be…more like suggestions. Same deal with speed limits and apparently driving while drunk, as it seemed like every stretch of road I traveled featured a sign with “drive sober or get pulled over” or “plan while you can.” I had a lot of time on these roads to think about these rhyme-based slogans and I’ve come up with some snappier ones that the state of Texas is welcome to use, free of charge:

  • share the road, you greedy toad
  • cut the chatter or get splattered
  • to these words pay heed: don’t you dare fucking speed
  • don’t make the highway a dieway
  • E.T. Leave your phone alone
  • when you drive like trash, don’t be surprised when you crash
  • drive drunk and johnny law will punch you in the junk

Sure, some are more usable than others due to potential copyright infringement issues but that’s for the courts to decide. I hereby absolve myself of all legal or financial responsibility should the state of Texas use any of these as their new road slogans. 

The point is, the night is dark and full of terrors on Texas highways something something chainsaw massacre and from that darkness emerges a friendly face on a yellow sign. Buc-ee Beaver ready to welcome you at all hours to his obscenely large convenience store, one of which is the largest convenience store in the world. 

THE LARGEST CONVENIENCE STORE IN THE WORLD. The world’s largest convenience store, featuring:

A size so immense it continues almost to the vanishing point!

Its own BBQ restaurant inside!

An almost shocking amount of Buc-ee brand souvenirs. “This is the magnet I bought to remember the time mom ate those bad tacos and we needed to pull over.” 

A straight-up ridiculous amount of Buc-ee brand preserves, candy, and baked goods, and charcuterie!

A coffee bar that has everything and you can make a gallon size coffee if you want. Plus walls and walls of drink and other food options. 

In case you didn’t realize just how large this flask truly is from the previous photo. This is the flask of a cave troll or a dedicated alcoholic.

A whole section of explicitly “Texas-y” merchandise–lots of leather and hide, flashy silver bits, big hats, gun rhetoric. My favorite thing made out of cowhide was definitely the coasters made to look like miniature cowhides. Are cowhides even good coaster material? Who cares!  I myself bought the flashiest, rhinestoniest belt with a fist sized buckle from a Buc-ees, and when I wear it, I look like a lumpy disco ball. It’s glorious.

PLUS this place has the greatest bathrooms. THE GREATEST. Tons of stalls. They’re huge and private. Hand sanitizer in each stall. Plus tons of sinks and mirror space and it’s cleaned constantly throughout the day. It’s the complete opposite of every gas station bathroom horror story you’ve ever heard, and it is a blessing to anyone who has ever spent three plus hours in a car and still aren’t at their destination. 

Oh yeah, and one station I visited had the world’s largest carwash, too, so now all I need for Buc-ee Bingo is the world’s largest  gas pump, which I have to assume is out there somewhere. I’ll keep an eye out for it the next time I’m in Texas: don’t let me down, buddy.

 

Photo post: Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center in Austin, TX

Jumping spider? Maybe? 

The famous Texas Bluebonnet was juuuuust coming into bloom on my visit. I particularly like the way its fuzzy leaves appear to be softly highlighted in chalk.

What is this!?!

Looks like a Texas spiny lizard to me! Someone or something startled it and I heard its rustling through the leaf litter and looked until I found it. 

Cecropia moth

 

Spotted on the Roadside: Congress Bridge Bat Colony in Austin, TX

Before dusk, crowds start to gather on the Congress Avenue Bridge overlooking the Colorado River and the lawn in front of the Austin American-Statesman. On the day I visited, there were people holding up a giant white cross on the bridge itself, so I elected to go to the park instead. The park immediately felt like the right choice as I chatted with people and pet their dogs. Out on the river itself were a number of swan boats, canoes, kayaks, and even a party boat, all there to watch the bats. When I visited in March, it was early in the season, but still thousands of bats streamed out from the bridge, all hunting for dinner. Or is it breakfast? I bet they go to a diner so they don’t have to decide between eggs or a meatloaf sandwich. Over the course of the evening, as they become satiated, they’ll return back to their spot under the bridge as individuals. 

The truth is you do have to experience it to understand just how many bats live there, but I didn’t choose to post no bat photos to force you to go see it for yourself. I have no bat photos to post because every “bat photo” I took was an indistinguishable grey blur against a white background interspersed with like a thousand branches. These photos look like an x-ray of a nightmare. 

Footpath starts at 200 S Congress Ave in Austin, Texas.

Museum of the Weird in Austin, TX

In case it somehow isn’t 100% clear to you from the photos that I absolutely, positively loved Austin’s Museum of the Weird…I absolutely, positively loved it. The Museum of the Weird has every classic roadside attraction element:

  • A museum incorporating lots of sensational posters, travel ephemera, movie props, and taxidermy including at least one feejee mermaid
  •  An area with a larger legend surrounding it that you can look at but not photograph
  • Enter and exit via a gift shop

In addition, this museum has another museum built on top of the first one full of classic horror movie icons rendered in wax and your tour guide for the legendary part of the tour you can’t photograph is a man who claims to be a wizard and does a brief cold reading show. You heard me. A mother-flipping wizard. 

But first: The legendary Ice Man. The owner of this museum saw the Minnesota Ice Man as a child when it came around on tour in the 60s, which is not really the sort of tour you see going around anymore. Admittedly, I don’t browse ticket buying sites often but I still don’t think “dead guy in block of ice” has much of a chance if it’s in town the same dates as The Book of Mormon. Regardless, dead guy in a block of ice made a big impression on this child, and he began to collect weird items, like a mere glimpse of the ice man radicalized him to a gothic awakening. In 2013, that same Minnesota Iceman was listed for sale on eBay, and the only way I can explain as to why I didn’t know about this/bid on it was that I was going mildly insane with wedding planning at the time. Otherwise I never would’ve missed a chance to bid on something that had a feature on Unsolved Mysteries

On to the wizard: In the ice man room, the wizard put on a show. He had a man in the group picture a person in his mind while holding a crystal in his hand. He gave me another crystal and told me to vividly picture a place I found special or interesting, real or imaginary, somewhere I would want to go. I chose Egypt because I’m dying to go and have wanted to visit since I was a kid, so I suppose in a way Hatshepsut is my Minnesota Iceman. He had the man and myself write down who or what we were picturing, respectively, fold the paper twice, and hand them to someone else in the audience. She mixed them up until she didn’t know which was which, and then she handed them to someone else, who also shuffled them. Saul Ravencraft (the wizard) took one of the papers and burned it. There was then a whole thing about the man in the group’s person but since that part’s not about me and I don’t know how true or false any of his guesses general statements wizard oracles were, let’s skip to the part that’s about me.

…As I go through my notes, it’s clear to me how this particular wizardry worked but it’s delightful all the same, and if a visit to Egypt does indeed “inspire a very interesting creative work” I’ll be sure to quote the wizard on my book cover.