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  1. #1
    Join Date
    Mar 2005
    Tustin, California, United States

    Default Roadtrip Shorts II - Dallas to Houston, TX

    Once again my folks and I headed to Plano, TX for 9 days for some family time. Our original major roadtrip for 2015 had to be scrapped but we were able to salvage a bit of traveling for the year. For this round, it was decided to head down to the Houston area and check out the main attractions, including a few on the way. I had driven through on the 48-state trip, but now it’s time to explore! A minivan rental allowed our party of 6 to embark on this 3-day journey.

    A) Huntsville, TX (Sam Houston Museum/Statue, Prison Museum)
    B) Houston, TX (Space Center, Natural Museum of Science, Downtown Aquarium)

    Again, this is a short to-and-fro jaunt so it won’t be counted among our usual road trip series. We’ll have to shoot for 2016 in that department.

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Mar 2005
    Tustin, California, United States

    Default Day 1

    We left on Tuesday morning (9/22) shortly after 5:35am CDT from Plano, TX and made our way onto I-45 heading south. The sun did not rise until 7:00am when we hit our first rest area. An hour later, we stopped at Buc-ee’s convenience store (similar to Pilot or other truck stops) in Madisonville, TX for another bathroom break and souvenir shopping. Onward…

    Before reaching Houston, there were a few places in the Huntsville, TX area that seemed worthy of checking out. Arriving at 9:45am, the first was the Sam Houston Memorial Museum, which had anything and everything about the man whom the city was named after. Three separate wings display his life history, and out behind the museum holds most of the structures he used such as his hunting lodge, woodland home where he lived, and steamboat house where he died and had his funeral.

    Down the road, next on the list was the Texas Prison Museum, which gave you a rough history of prison life, famous inmates and escapes, and other memorabilia. They even have an electric chair on display and a mock-up jail cell where you can take your picture in striped shirts if you feel like paying a few bucks for the privilege.

    Next door to that was the Veterans Museum of Texas Hearts. We didn’t have time to go inside, but there were some vintage vehicles on the grounds: helicopters, tanks, and (my favorite F-16) jets from all different eras. We snapped a few pics and moved on.

    Finally, we headed over to the statue of Sam Houston, which stands 67 feet tall and overlooks I-45 as you exit/enter the south end of Huntsville. There’s a visitor center with a path that will take you right to the statue. You can only appreciate how big it is when you stand underneath it!

    That’s all for this round. We gather back in the van and by 12:45pm are on our way to Houston. The forests soon make way for the metro bustle and before you know it the Houston skyline comes into view. We continue past downtown and to the Hobby Airport, close to where our Best Western hotel is located. We arrived at 2:00pm, settled in for a few hours, and then began Part 2 of the day.

    Our feet had done enough walking already, so we deferred the planned heavy stuff to Thursday and went light on what there was to see for the evening. My sister-in-law looked up and found a place called the Williams Waterwall Galleria, a curved 64-foot tall waterfall, found in the shadow of the 4th-highest-in-TX Williams Tower. It took a bit of walking since parking wasn’t exactly convenient, but we finally found it at 4:45pm.

    Oh, I should mention the Houston, TX traffic is HORRENDOUS. The layout of the streets do not help either. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised, but man it’s approaching east-coast bad. Between rush/business hours, it’s pretty much a terrible drive all day long. That alone is reason enough for me to never live here.

    After the waterfall, we ate dinner at the nearby Galleria, then headed north to our final destination, the Waugh Bridge.

    What’s at the Waugh Bridge you might ask? Bats. Many Bats. About 250,000 of them. Not nearly as many as the 1.5 million in Austin, but nevertheless we decided to sit by the bridge at 7:00pm with the dozens of other spectators to get a glimpse of the bat flight. (Parking is also garbage here, so come early!) About 30 minutes after sunset, they all started swarming out of the crevices to begin their evening feed. Perhaps it was our location with most of the bats lost against the background of the riverbank, but it wasn’t quite as spectacular as I was hoping. I had seen the Austin bat flight so I was hoping for something similar, but alas, it’s never the same every night.

    That’s all for Day 1. Back to the hotel we go. The next day should be fun…

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Mar 2005
    Tustin, California, United States

    Default Day 2

    We begin by heading south, away from all the metro craziness, to one of my most anticipated stops, the Space Center Houston.

    One of the old Space Shuttles (part of a new upcoming exhibit) greets you in the parking lot. We arrived shortly before the 10:00am open and we all bought Houston CityPass tickets, which get you into the top 5 Houston attractions for a greatly discounted fee. (This is a no-brainer if you plan to do the typical tourist thing.) As soon as the front doors open, the greeter told us we should make an immediate bee-line for the tram tour. And it’s a good thing we took her advice, because the lines for the tour later in the day were insanely long, and departures were only every 40 minutes. The tour takes you onto government property, where you get to look at the original Mission Control room that spearheaded the Apollo missions, the giant “Building 9” with mockup ISS and next-generation vehicles/equipment, and the Saturn V rocket, which is so big it needs its own giant facility. Amazing stuff, especially if you’re a space nerd. Prepare at least 2 hours for this.

    Back at the lobby, we had a bite to eat, took a look around at some of the exhibits and caught some of the presentations for the day. My brother and I even tried a simulator where you shoot down enemy fighters, but we were upside down most of the time (he was flying, I was shooting). Pretty fun, regardless.

    Our next stop was the Kemah Boardwalk, about 10 miles away, which is one of those carnival-type places with shops, dining, games, and rides. Our CityPass gave us unlimited access to the rides, so we thought to make a few hours of it. Since it was early afternoon on a work day, hardly anyone was here so lines were pretty much non-existent.

    Now most of the rides were pretty standard… carousel, ferris wheel, train, a couple of energetic ones like the tower drop and flying swings, but all-in-all pretty tame. So it was assumed that their wooden roller coaster ride Boardwalk Bullet would be the same deal. Four of us headed over and got in the first rows of the coaster without a second thought (again no lines). We were all expecting a Disneyland-type thrill.

    Well, ladies and gentlemen, a terrible mistake had been made. This was a SIX FLAGS type of ride where the drops were steep, turns were banking near 90° angles and the top speed was 51MPH. It was WAY more intense than any of us realized. I’ve got my poor 80-year-old dad next to me and my brother/sister-in-law behind us getting thrown about. Dad made it through alive, but the others ended up with bruised ribs/aching backs after that one. I’m pretty sure we’re done re-living our childhood.

    Unfortunately the situation quickly turned even worse, as we’re walking away from the coaster and I realized my iPhone was missing. I had put the SLR camera in their holding box but left everything else in my pocket. Since the iPhone has a tracker, I could use another device to locate it on a satellite map. And sure enough, it was pinpointed directly under the first turn of the coaster. It must have wormed its way out of my pocket and took a spill over the side. Unfortunately the entire grounds underneath the coaster is a fenced restricted area while the ride is operating, and no amount of begging/pleading was going to get me access to retrieve the phone. They told me to report it to the ticket booth and they would search the next morning. In the meantime, I remotely marked it as lost with a phone number/message in case it was turned in. I was obviously devastated because it’s an expensive phone and had everything important on there. (The phone was backed up before I left for Texas so I wouldn’t lose much data, so I guess that’s something.)

    After reporting the phone, we all headed over to the Aquarium restaurant for dinner. The views of their fish tank were impressive, and although expensive, the food was tasty. I probably would have enjoyed it more if not mourning for the loss of my dear companion.

    Last day of Houston coming up. What will become of this tragedy?

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Mar 2005
    Tustin, California, United States

    Default Day 3

    I devised a plan. After checking out of the hotel, I dropped off everyone at our next outing around 9:00am, the Museum of Natural Science. So while they’re continuing their sightseeing, mom and I headed back down to Kemah and see if I could get my phone back. Although arriving 90 minutes before the park opened, we quickly learned that was a waste of time. Absolutely no one was allowed access except Maintenance and they were busy with repairs to the rides. Even though I explained my situation and how quick/easy it would be to retrieve the phone as I knew exactly where it was, the general manager had zero empathy and told me there was nothing she could do. She even threatened jail time if anyone was caught hopping the fence (which I saw the barbed-wires and wouldn’t have attempted anyway). I get they have their policies (however illogical) but that’s just not very customer-friendly at all. Some people just like to throw their authority around I guess. Yeah it’s my fault for making assumptions about the ride and not securing my stuff, but man, some people have no heart.

    Feeling defeated, I gave more details at the lost & found (including a printout of the satellite map location). That was all we could do. Luckily I could still access the lost phone remotely with dad’s iPhone, so I completely wiped my phone’s contents (leaving only the lost message/phone number) and de-activated it so no one else could use it. Small chance it’ll be returned but I’m assuming it’s gone at this point. Back to the Museum of Natural Science we go.

    By the time we got there around 11:00am, the others had already finished most of the museum before they got tired. While they ate lunch, mom and I quickly did a Cliff’s Notes version and sped through a few of the exhibits, such as Egypt, dinosaur overlook, and Texas Wildlife exhibits.

    While the CityPass covered the museum, the movies and butterfly exhibit cost extra, so we just decided to head on over to our final outing, the Downtown Aquarium. Here they also have carnival-type rides and places to eat, but we certainly weren’t going to repeat any of that! We went inside and followed the path that revealed many species of tropical fish. They also had reptiles and birds as well. It’s not very long though, it only took 30 minutes to gander through the whole thing.

    However the finale at the end becomes worth it when you round the bend and come eye-to-eye with a rare live white tiger. Apparently only 1 out of every 10,000 have this gene that creates the white fur, and the female just laid there behind the glass wall staring at all the visitors intently. Once in a while they’ll bring out the male counterpart but we didn’t quite time that right. No matter, it was still awesome.

    We headed through the gift shop and over to the stingray pool. Here you got a small packet of fish where you could pet and feed the stingrays. Although it may seem intimidating to some, they just lightly suck on the minnow sticking out of your fist. They’re actually pretty cool. Got some great video for the family.

    No more Houston. We pack it up and head back up I-45 away from the Metro area, only stopping at Buc-ee’s again for a drink and break before rolling all the way back through Dallas and home to Plano, TX. The end.

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Mar 2005
    Tustin, California, United States

    Default Conclusion / Stats / Pics

    Well, it’s probably not a place I would want to return, but it was nice to see the highlights of one of the largest metro areas in the nation. I could do without the traffic, street design, and parking, but I guess you could say that about any of the big cities. It just further solidifies that I’ll never live/work in more than a suburban area.

    Houston Space Center was far and away the best thing of the entire outing. I probably don’t have to tell you what was the worst. :)

    (FYI, in case you were curious, I ended up purchasing a new model iPhone 6s that weekend and transferred my backup data over to it, so I’m back in business. Unfortunately I’m still under contract so I had to pay full price. I have yet to hear about my old phone…)


    Miles: 726.4
    Time Elapsed: 2 days, 13 hours, 15 minutes
    Gallons of Fuel: 31 (23.4 MPG)


    In addition to Houston, there are also pics of George W. Bush Library and the Dallas Arboretum, as well as a few family shots. The pic of the rest stop sunrise is where the Houston side trip begins:
    (You don’t need a Facebook account to view these.)

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Jan 1998
    Las Vegas, Nevada

    Default Road trips are always an adventure


    Thanks for this latest field report. Sorry to hear about the phone.

    And I agree the Houston Space Center is a very cool place to explore. Still chuckling over your description of never needing to..." re-living our childhood"


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