Texas has seven climate regions within its borders. And Texas’ landscapes help define the culture and people of those regions. Let’s look at those zones.
Big Bend Country
The Big Bend Country region is in West Texas is desert with rugged plateaus and desert mountains. You thought Texas was flat? Not here! The only mountains in the state are found here. Named after the big bend of the Rio Grande, the area teems state and national parks, wildlife and history. Big Bend National Park is one of the most well-known parks in the country. The Big Bend region is the Texas we see in old movies. Here there are vast canyons and miles of open space. Big Bend is known for its untamed, rugged and remote beauty.
Activities abound in the Big Bend Country region, such as mountain climbing, hiking, mountain biking and river rides on the Rio Grande. There are two national parks, one national wildlife refuge, one national historic site, one national recreation area and four state parks in the Big Bend Country region. The two national parks include Guadalupe Mountains National Park and Big Bend National Park.
El Paso is the largest city in this region. But you’ll find many small communities, including Alpine, Del Rio, Fort Davis, Marfa, Midland and Odessa. Marfa draws visitors with artists, high-end shopping and Ghost Lights. Visitors regularly see unexplained orbs of light that glow in the sky. Residents have seen these lights since the late 1800s! Other, smaller cities and towns are spread far and wide throughout this area.
Like the Big Bend area, the Panhandle Plains boasts wide-open spaces and people and towns spread far apart.
Madeline calls this region Canyon Land. The nickname refers to the nation’s second largest canyon located in this region, Palo Duro. The Texas-sized wonder stretches 120 miles. A state park protects it for generations to come.
Caprock Canyons State Park offers more dramatic natural landscape. A national recreation area, two national wildlife refuges and more state parks fill the region with natural wonder and entertainment.
Amarillo, a city of about a quarter million people, long served as a popular stop for cross-country travelers driving the famous Route 66. The historic highway ran right through the heart of the city. The Big Texan Steakhouse is a must-eat spot with its famous 72 oz. steaks. South of Amarillo lies the cotton production capital of Lubbock. The city isn’t known for cotton so much anymore. Now it makes its mark with a vibrant wine industry. Lubbock-are producers ship grapes to wineries throughout Texas. And their local wines regularly win international awards.
Another unique attraction in this region includes Cadillac Ranch. Maybe you’ve heard of Cadillac Ranch from the Boss? On Bruce Springsteen’s album, The River, he pays tribute to the monument in the song titled, “Cadillac Ranch.” We’ve heard it at many of his concerts:
Well there she sits buddy just a-gleaming in the sun
There to greet a working man when his day is done
I'm gonna pack my pa and I'm gonna pack my aunt
I'm gonna take them down to the Cadillac ranch
Eldorado fins, whitewalls and skirts
Rides just like a little bit of heaven here on earth
Well buddy when I die throw my body in the back
And drive me to the junkyard in my Cadillac
Cadillac Ranch has an interesting history. A group of San Francisco artsy hippies called the Ant Farm created Cadillac Ranch from. Their silent partner was Amarillo billionaire Stanley Marsh III. Marsh wanted public art that baffled locals, and the Ant Farm delivered with a tribute to the Cadillac tail fin. The artists drove ten Caddies into one of Marsh's fields, and then buried them nose-down with their tails aimed at the sky. The angle of the cars supposedly mimics the same angle as the Great Pyramid of Giza. They face west in a line, with a 1949 Series 62
club sedan in front and a 1963 Sedan de Ville in the back. Their tail fins hold high and proud for all to see amidst the wide-open Texas panhandle.
The art installation opened in 1974. Today, the Cadillacs have been in the ground as art longer than they were on the road as cars. And the cars look different than in 1974. Over the years, people have taken pieces of the cars and spray-painted graffiti or left their name. Still, Cadillac Ranch draws sizable crowds today.
The Hill Country is located in the center of the state. Its hilly terrain makes for lovely views. Note we didn’t say mountainous; the only mountains in Texas are in the Big Bend Country region.
Hill Country boasts many springs and steep canyons with hidden, underground lakes and caves. The state flower, the bluebonnet, thrives throughout the Hill Country region.
The largest city in this region is the state capital, Austin. It’s famous for its music, food, tourism and bats. Yes, bats. Thousands live under bridges. No visit to Austin is complete without seeing the bats head out at dusk to feed. People love the little creatures because they feast on mosquitoes every night.
Other popular tourist spots, including New Braunfels, Fredericksburg, Wimberley and Gruene, offer Texas history, winemaking, rest and relaxation and natural wonders. The Hill Country provides beautiful natural attractions, like Enchanted Rock, the Guadalupe River, and Natural Bridge Caverns. Six state parks dot Hill Country region.
South Texas Plains
The South Texas Plains region runs from the southern edge of the Hill Country to the subtropical regions of the Lower Rio Grande Valley. Much of the region is hot and dry and covered with grasses and thorny brush.
This region ranks high on the list of birdwatchers. Many from around the world visit the World Birding Center to view the wide variety of birds.
San Antonio is the largest city in the South Texas Plains, which is rates as a popular vacation destination. San Antonio offers endless sites to see and activities to do: historical landmarks, sporting events, theme parks, shopping and the beautiful River Walk. Other cities and towns in the region offer their own interesting and unique goings-on, including Brownsville, Crystal City, Laredo and McAllen.
One national wildlife refuge, one national historic park and five state parks provide year-round natural beauty and activities.
The Piney Woods region, also known as East Texas, lies in the easternmost region of Texas. It’s known for—you guessed it!—its pine trees. You thought Texas only had sagebrush and tumbling tumbleweeds? A thick forest of pine trees covers this region, which is part of a larger forest extending into Arkansas, Louisiana and Oklahoma. Swamps also are common here, especially in the southern most area of the region called the Big Thicket.
Conroe, Huntsville and Tyler make up the larger city selection in the area. But there also are many small towns with lots of interesting history and charm, like Jefferson, Palestine and Texas’ oldest town, Nacogdoches. An 1890s steam-engine train runs between Rusk and Palestine and is a draw for many tourists. It’s an opportunity to take a relaxing tour of the region. We recommend going when the Dogwood trees are blooming.
When the railroad was built through this region, loggers and sawmills moved in and established stations in Conroe, Crockett, Palestine and many others. Do you think of Texas as a place for pine forests or sawmills? State and federal government is conserving these forests with four state forests, eight state parks and four national forests in the region.
The Gulf Coast region stretches along the coast of the Gulf of Mexico. The region brims with marshes, barrier islands, prairies, grasslands and bays.
Larger cities in the Gulf Coast region include Beaumont, Houston, Galveston and Corpus Christi.
When we were growing up, we were fascinated by the NASA and the astronauts traveling all the way to the moon. We heard references on TV to Mission Control. The Johnson Space Center (originally called the Manned Spacecraft Center) lies just outside of Houston. (Houston, we have a problem!) Today, the Space Center offers educational fun.
People love the Gulf Coast region its many festivals, fishing, windsurfing, bird-watching, swimming, sailing and beaches. These beaches aren’t like Florida or California beaches. The water is a cloudier and the weather not quite as warm. So, if you visit during the winter, don’t expect 80 degrees and sunshine.
But spring arrives early! Tourist flock to the region see flowers blooming and birds enjoying life in the sunshine. The Gulf Coast region hosts six national wildlife refuges, one national seashore and six state parks.
Prairies and Lakes
The Prairies and Lakes region, often referred to as North Texas, covers north central and central Texas. It includes the Dallas and Fort Worth Metroplex, College Station, Waco and countless other large and small cities and towns.
The land here gently rolls, and as the name implies, contains lots of lakes. It’s also home to one of the nation’s largest metropolitan areas: the DFW Metroplex. But the cities of Dallas and Fort Worth couldn’t be more different from each other.
We live in Denton, the northernmost part of DFW. When we fly into the DFW airport, the flight attendant invariably says, “Welcome to Dallas!” Madeline cringes! While the airport lies between Dallas and Fort Worth, it’s in neither city. The airport has its own zip code! Why don’t they say For Worth, too? As someone who grew up in Fort Worth, her hometown pride demands some respect.
And that is a good way to look at the Dallas and Fort Worth diaspora. Fort Worth is modest and solid working class. Dallas exhibits a cosmopolitan flair with many businesses, high-end shopping and world-renown museums. And all but one of the region’s pro sports teams carry the Dallas name. (Though three of those teams don’t play within Dallas city limits!)
Big Tex welcomes visitors to the State Fair of Texas, which runs for 24 days. The old saying “everything is bigger in Texas” rings true for its fair. The State Fair of Texas attracts more than two million visitors every year. The 55-foot Big Tex, the fair’s official icon, greets visitors as they pass through the gates of the largest state fair in America.
Fort Worth prides itself in its cowtown heritage and historic stockyards. With daily cattle drives down the main street and myriad western wear shops and honky-tonks, you can experience the spirit of cowboys.
Madeline worked at Six Flags Over Texas and Hurricane Harbor, so we’re giving a shout-out to these amusement parks that offer big entertainment and a relief from hot Texas summers.
This Prairies and Lakes region boasts the most state parks in Texas with seventeen. It’s also home to one state historic site, one national wildlife refuge and one national historic site.
So Much to See and Do
Texas ranges from desert badlands to swimmable coastlines to sprawling prairies. Sophisticated cities, large and modern, coexist with rustic small towns. Texans pride themselves in their history, with rodeos, line-dancing and horseback riding. And they love their art, whether it respects Texas’ history or pushes boundaries.
Many visit Texas for the food. Do you like barbecue? Texas entices with heaping plates of ribs or brisket and plenty of home-style sides. Texas gave America Tex-Mex and still offers the best is the country. And chili, the official dish of Texas, became popular here, and then spread throughout the nation.
History buffs immerse themselves in Texas history and its rich cultural legacy. San Antonio is home to the Alamo, a centuries-old Spanish mission and the site of a long, bloody battle in 1836. Austin, the state capitol, offers world-renown music, entertainment and food.
Small towns provide much history and fun, too! In Paris you’ll find an Eiffel Tower—topped with a cowboy hat. Lajitas Ghost Town is led by a beer-drinking goat as its mayor. In Abilene, you’ll find Frontier Texas! This museum devotes itself to the “Wild, Wild West,” using life-sized holograms.
Texas is replete with unusually named towns. If you are amphibian minded, move to Frog. Change your mind? Move to Frognot. Other fun names include Ben Hur, Dimple, Beans, Noodle, Rabbit, Scissors, Tool and Tuxedo. Astronauts might like Earth, Mars, Venus, Mercury or Saturn. Texas doesn’t have a Neptune, Uranus or Jupiter yet—just wait a while!
Some names might confuse you. West Texas lies in Central Texas. Desert is in North Texas, where you’re more likely to find lakes and bluebonnets than sand and cacti. If you live in Muleshoe and drive to Halfway, you’ll pass through Earth, which is about halfway. Feeling like going traveling to far-away cities? Try Atlanta, Detroit, Paris, Carthage, Dublin, Naples and Port-Au-Prince. They’re all in Texas.
The seven regions of Texas offer so much to see and do. When planning your visit, make a list. And be sure to jot down Jot 'em Down, a bustling town of 10 residents in Delta County. Have fun!