entry I'll share a few of the things we did while we were in Austin besides
explore local trails.
If you guessed that its capital (the city of Austin) would have an
impressive capitol (building), you'd be right. I've seen a lot of state
capitols and this is definitely an impressive structure, both inside and out.
The building sits in the center of a four-block chunk of land that surveyors
designated as Capitol Square in 1839. It is nicely landscaped and full of large
trees, manicured lawns, and statues.
Yesterday was one of the few sunny days we've had during our visit to
Austin. After a workout at the YMCA and a brisk walk on the Town Lake Trail, we
drove farther uptown to take a gander at what we'd read is an imposing red
Texas granite building modeled after the U.S. Capitol building in Washington,
D.C. It is an imposing and very attractive façade.
Appropriately enough, the
Capitol is located at the north end of Congress Ave.
The present building, shown above, is not the first capitol that was built on the property; the original limestone
structure burned down in 1881. The new building was dedicated in 1888,
modified to its detriment over the years, and renovated in the early 1990s to restore it to its
original 1888-1915 appearance (and bring it up to current safety and mechanical
There were lots of school kids and adults touring the building either
with official tour guides or by themselves while we were there.
When we entered the west wing of the building we picked up a self-guided
tour booklet. We thought we might join a tour group and get the full
hour spiel but by the time we worked our way to the rotunda and foyer,
where the tours begin, we found ourselves in a sea of 8th-graders and
decided we'd much rather wander around by ourselves than wait for the
next tour -- which was also filled with rambunctious kids. That's
good, though; I think history feels more relevant to kids of all
ages, even 60, when they are in a grand place like this.
There is so much information in the self-guiding tour booklet and in exhibit cases
outside many of the rooms (example below) that we felt we'd gotten the Full Monty
without an official guide.
There were even more rooms available for public inspection than we had
the time or interest in entering. We were there over an hour and
could have spent a lot more time than that if we'd wanted; that gives
you an indication of the size of the place and the amount of reading
material outside each room. Some of the offices, like that of the
Secretary of State, are not open to the public.
We parked on the west side of the building and went in the door on that
wing. The front foyer probably makes for a grander entrance but if we'd gone
in there we would have missed the long vista from either the east or west
wing toward the center rotunda/dome and out to the end of the other wing.
I was immediately impressed by the beautiful antique furniture,
substantial woodwork, doors, and hinges, graceful fluted columns, and colorful designs
in the floors on all levels of the building:
The entrance foyer displays life-sized marble statues of Steven Austin and Sam
Houston, prominent figures in Texas history. A bust of the first female
governor of the state, Miriam Ferguson, graces the nearby rotunda. Large oil
paintings on the wall and terrazzo designs on the floor commemorate
battles fought on Texas soil.
One of the more interesting offices on the first floor belongs to the state
treasurer. A century ago the legislators and state employees cashed their
paychecks here; the Treasury Department was considered the bank of
Texas then. The front room, the only part we saw yesterday, houses many historical
artifacts such as antique business machines like this check perforator:
Note the "Do Not Touch" sign. Jim didn't see that until after he touched
The rotunda is awesome, with beautiful seals and other designs in the terrazzo
floor. The state seal is surrounded by the six seals of the countries whose
flags have flown over Texas.
They were installed iin 1936 to celebrate the
The seal representing the United States
Portraits of the presidents of the republic and the governors of the state
circle the four public levels of the rotunda.
We were intrigued with those levels and climbed the stairs to each one.
Looking up at the three upper levels from the floor of the
The views up and down from each level were very interesting as the perspectives
changed. If you go, use what they call the "monumental" stairs or catch an
elevator to reach each level and take a good look up to the dome and down to
the ground floor as you get higher and higher.
Zoom view of the dome from the floor of the rotunda
By the third level I had to hold on to the balustrade as I leaned 'way over to
take pictures of the floor below; I'm not usually afraid of heights but
I got a little dizzy with all the distractions around me. Here you can see
people on the balcony below us (far left corner) as well as down on the first
Looking down to the floor of the rotunda from the third
The dome fascinated us. I took photos of it from every level! Of course, the
detail is better on the fourth level than it is 218 feet below in the rotunda. The full-size (10-megapixel) photos of the
design are awesome but I can't show
Close-up view of the dome from the highest public level
To give some perspective, the Texas Lone Star at the center of dome is eight feet across.
For safety reasons, the dome isn't open to the public. When we were up high we
noticed metal stairs leading to it for maintenance purposes -- and
wished we could climb up there, too. You can see the stairs to the left in the
This is a view of the third and fourth balconies from the fourth level:
Note the elaborate designs in the floors through the archways on the second and
third levels. The state didn't spare any expense when they built or renovated this
The state Senate and House of Representatives chambers are located in separate
wings on the second floor of the Capitol.
We were fortunate to be able to explore both chambers; neither body was
in session during our visit so I was able to get all the photos I wanted.
According to the self-guiding tour booklet we got, "Legislative sessions
occur for 140 days every odd numbered year beginning the second Tuesday in
January. The Capitol is very busy during sessions. The building is very crowded
. . . usually only the galleries of the chambers are available for touring
Gallery (balcony level) in the rear of the House chamber
We lucked out. This is an odd-numbered year but the Legislature hasn't been in
session for a while. We are amazed that such a large state conducts official business
only every other year. Montana did that while we lived there, but its
population is miniscule compared to Texas.
The House of Representatives chamber is the largest room in the entire
building. The 150 members of the House work with the 31 Senate members (hopefully, in more
harmony than in the U.S. Capitol!!) to enact the laws of the state.
The first thing that grabbed our attention was the large decorated Christmas
tree in the center of the room. That was a nice surprise:
View of the House chamber from the back of the room
looking toward the podium
I was intrigued by the rich architectural details and furnishings in both
chambers. There are old battle flags and historical artwork displayed around
the room. There are Texas stars and state seals everywhere you look:
Jim pointed out to me a portrait of Captain Audie Murphy on one of the walls.
Murphy was the most highly decorated person in the military in WWII. We know
him more because of his unfortunate death in an airplane crash just off the
Appalachian Trail in southwestern Virginia. I've previously shown photos of his
memorial on this website.
The Senate chamber is smaller but occupies much of the east wing of the second floor of the
Capitol. The next photo looks toward the front of the room where the state Lt.
Gov. presides during legislative sessions:
The back of the room showcases two huge paintings by Henry Arthur McArdle that
depict a couple of the most important battles in the history of Texas: the
Alamo and San Jacinto.
The chamber has been fairly faithfully restored to its 1889 condition. Unlike
the House, which has increased its numbers as the population increased, the Senate has always had just 31 members. The walnut desks are
authentic, with some modern electronic conveniences added. The chairs are
mostly reproductions of the originals; they wore out faster than the
OTHER FEATURES OF THE CAPITOL
The second floor also houses the governor's public reception room (the
governor's mansion is across the street) and the legislative reference library.
We didn't go into those.
Up on the third floor we admired the original Texas Supreme Court courtroom,
which served as the core of the state's judicial system until 1959. The Supreme
is now housed in a separate building and this room is used for meetings. It is
elaborately decorated in walnut furnishings, thick draperies, and fine wool
carpeting. While I was looking at the handsome room, Jim pointed out these fancy door hinges:
We did not tour the ground floor rotunda (which is below the main
rotunda shown in photos above) or the Capitol extension below that. The underground extension contains office space for the legislators,
hearing rooms, auditorium, cafeteria, gift shop, and two levels of parking.
That's a lot of space underground; either there isn't much
bedrock around here or someone did a bunch of blasting!
We went out of the grand front entrance when we returned to the truck. A group of high school students (above) was assembling
on the front steps. While we were walking away from the Capitol
we could hear them singing. What a nice touch to end our tour!
The 500-foot long promenade extending from the front steps to Congress Street is
called the Great Walk. Four large monuments flank the walkway,
commemorating some of the battles and people that were important in the
Even the decorative fencing surrounding the four-block Capitol
Square is "grounded" in history. The circa-1889 cast- and
wrought-iron fencing has a granite foundation around the
perimeter of the property. It originally
kept wandering livestock off the Capitol grounds! As you'd
expect, the fencing and eleven carriage and pedestrian gates
feature the Lone Star motif:
If you're ever in Austin we highly recommend touring the Capitol
building and grounds on a pretty day like this. Even if the
Legislature is in session, you can still admire most of the
architectural details and learn about the history of this
impressive building. Texans can be very proud of their Capitol.
LBJ PRESIDENTIAL LIBRARY & MUSEUM
After touring the Capitol we drove a few blocks northeast to the
Lyndon Baines Johnson Library and Museum, which sits on the
large University of Texas-Austin grounds. It is one of twelve
presidential libraries in the United States that is
administered by the federal government's National Archives and Records
Administration. The only
other presidential library I've visited is the Carter Library in
Jim and I spent at least an hour in the attractive,
well-organized museum looking at handsome exhibits and recalling
various events that occurred during our lifetime. Admission is
free and no tour guide is needed.
A photo of a photo of President Johnson in
the Oval Office
The brochure we got at the reception desk describes the exhibits
and explains the purpose
of the museum. In President Johnson's words, "I hope that
visitors who come here will achieve a closer understanding of
the presidency and that the young people who come here will get
a clearer comprehension of what this nation tried to do in an
eventful period of its history."
Eventful, indeed. Several of the most memorable events in Jim's and
my lifetime occurred during LBJ's administration.
Johnson served as Vice President of the United States from 1960
until John F. Kennedy's assassination in 1963, when he was
suddenly catapulted to becoming the country's 36th president. Jim and I both remember exactly
what we were doing when we got news of the assassination.
Johnson's hasty, informal swearing in after
JFK's assassination; Jackie Kennedy is on the right.
Johnson was subsequently elected to the office of the presidency
in 1964 by the largest popular vote up to that time. (Do you
remember who his VP was?)
He served as President during the beginning of the Viet Nam War, a
very divisive period of time in our country's history, and the
assassination of Martin Luther King, which set off additional
riots and public unrest.
1968: what President Johnson called
his "nightmare" year
Jim's memory of Vietnam is especially sharp; he spent a
year there with the Army in 1968-1969. My own
worst memory of the war is getting tear-gassed on the Ohio State
campus as I walked to class during a riot -- hardly as
traumatic as fighting in the jungle but still an eye-opener to
Both the JFK and MLK assassinations and the Vietnam War are seared in our nation's
collective memory and overshadow many of the other things
administration tackled, such as the war on poverty and the "Great Society" programs.
The museum preserves not only Johnson's presidential papers and
considerable political memorabilia from his administration, it also
chronicles his and Lady Bird's lives from childhood to
retirement. I enjoyed learning about their history prior to
occupying the White House.
We skipped the 20-minure audiovisual presentation of LBJ's life
and spent most of our time reading the information in the
exhibits on the third (entry level) and fourth floors. There are
permanent historical and cultural exhibits as well as special
traveling displays related to American history.
Permanent features include numerous documents and artifacts
related to the presidency, sculptures of the President and Lady
Bird, gifts from foreign heads of state and the American people,
Johnson's 1968 Lincoln limousine, photos of the Johnson family
through the years, portraits of every U.S. president and first
lady, and even a life-size replica of Johnson telling some of
his tall tales (he was known for his Texas humor).
We could see the multi-story, glass-walled library in the center
of the building as we ascended the stairs to the fourth
The library occupies the fifth to ninth floors (they are short floors).
43 million pages of historical documents, over half a million
photos, a million feet of motion picture film, and 5,000 hours
of recordings from LBJ's three decades in public office.
Although most of the archives are available to the public, the
can't just walk into it; some of the information is still
The tenth floor houses
an interesting exhibit of Mrs. Johnson's legacy as humanitarian,
diplomat, and environmental activist and
a replica of the Oval Office during President Johnson's administration.
The furnishings in the replica are life-size
but the room itself is 7/8ths size, apparently to save museum space:
President Johnson did not seek a second term in 1968. He retired
to his Texas Hill Country ranch west of Austin in 1969,
oversaw the construction of the museum and library (which opened
in 1971), and remained active teaching and conducting symposia
on a variety of issues until his death in
1973. I'd forgotten that he died only four years after leaving
office; good thing he didn't run again in 1968.
We enjoyed that walk through history; it brought back a
lot of memories, both good and bad.
The museum is open from 9-5 every day except Christmas.
President Johnson insisted that the library bearing his name
exist for the people to visit free of charge. It is reportedly
the only presidential library in the U.S. without an admission
fee. Although the library is under the auspices of the federal
government, all funding for the museum exhibits and preservation
of artifacts is derived from private sources, so donations are
OTHER ACTIVITIES IN AUSTIN
Our running friends Marcy and John Beard, who used to live in
Austin and continue to winter here in their RV, graciously
us a list of things to see and do while we were in town. We
followed their suggestions to tour the Capitol building and
explore Town Lake Trail.
If we hadn't needed so much R&R, we would have followed more of
Jim and I aren't big on shopping or eating out. The only
shopping we did in Austin was at Wal-Mart, Penney's, and Sam's Club;
we didn't even go to REI (we don't have one of those in Roanoke
so we hunt for them when we're traveling).
We did go out for one dinner and two lunches this past week,
which is more than we usually eat out when we travel. It was a
nice treat to let someone else cook!
We enjoyed a meal Sunday afternoon with the Beards at a popular
Bohemian restaurant, the
Kerbey Lane Café
on S. Lamar. It is one of four stores in the chain in Austin. We had trouble choosing from among many items that
sounded tasty, including breakfast items that are served all day
long. Jim liked his turkey and bacon sandwich. I was
happy with a big grilled chicken salad with feta cheese,
avocado, purple onions, tomatoes, black olives, and a ginger-soy
dressing on a bed of baby spinach leaves. The food and prices
are good at this casual restaurant.
The first time we worked out at the Town Lake YMCA, Jim asked
the staff at the front desk for suggestions for lunch. The women
immediately pointed up the hill toward the
Whole Foods Market.
That's the first we've ever been in one of these stores and it
won't be the last! We liked it enough to go back for lunch the next time
we went to the Y. The stores are located in most
states but the closest one to us in Virginia is two hours away.
I don't think the chain was in Atlanta when I lived there ten
years ago. Somehow it's been off my radar screen until now.
On our first foray through the bright, expansive, attractive store we
were nearly overwhelmed by the huge selections of luscious --
and pricey -- edibles. It was total sensory overload.
This is upscale food, a total 180°
from the food section at Wal-Mart, let me tell ya!
OK, we aren't that naive or low-class. We have been in upscale
food emporiums before but never one this humongous, crowded
(what recession?), or tempting. There
were so many choices for lunch that we
took at least twenty minutes going back and forth looking at the
One of Austin's three Whole Foods Markets
I'm serious! It was after 1PM and we were
famished but everything looked so good, we simply couldn't
There is a wide variety of American and ethnic foods from sandwiches
and soups to
buffets to fresh meals prepared before your eyes.
There is plenty of seating on two floors so patrons can
eat in if they choose.
We both finally sat down at tall chairs around the Trattoria and
asked a young man to whip us up some delicious shrimp scampi on angel
hair pasta. We didn't have long to wait for our meals. The large
servings came with a salad and bread. Jim wandered around
hunting for something to drink and came back with an exotic,
tasty bottled fruit drink that we shared with our dinner --
we decided that was our main meal for the day.
I can't recommend this place more highly. I wonder if every
Whole Foods Market is this big and clean? There is a plethora of fresh
produce, specialty breads and pastries, meat and fish and dairy
products you probably won't find anywhere else within one store, unusual canned
and frozen foods, numerous wines and beers and other beverages, and every
ethnicity from around the world that you can think of.
The only thing besides lunch that we
purchased on our first trip tot he store was a loaf of "home made" cranberry-walnut
bread that we picked at the rest of the afternoon -- and
finished before supper!
I think that's like eating cookie crumbs, isn't it? If you
nibble a cookie in little pieces instead of gobbling it down all
it once, it doesn't have as many calories. Right??
The staff at this Whole Foods is young, attentive, and full of
energy. Folks act like they actually enjoy working there, not
like it's an imposition if you ask them for help. Customer
service is obviously an important part of this store's culture.
I can see why locals would be loyal.
We liked the place so much that we returned a couple days later
and (finally) chose the Indian buffet, where the price of eachr
meal is determined by weight -- of the food, not the
consumer! Even after being inside the store twice, we still
didn't get up and down all the aisles or venture to another
floor downstairs. I could spend hours in
there just looking, breathing in the scents, and getting
inspired for new menu ideas.
On the internet we've located lots of other Whole Foods Markets
in other cities we frequent on our travels; we'll have to
make a point of visiting some of them.
There are lots of things we'd like to do see on our next visit to
Austin (possibly as soon as mid-January):
the governor's mansion, Blanton Museum of Art, French Legation
Museum, Lady Bird Johnson Wiildflower Center (that would
probably be best in the spring), and historic
residential areas. We'd also like to run and hike more of the
50+ miles in the greenbelt network and explore
more of the parks and lakes on the west side of the city.
We've enjoyed our visit to Austin but it's time to move farther
west tomorrow. We've got a two-day, 1,000+ mile drive to
McDowell Mountain Regional Park in eastern Maricopa County,
Arizona, our favorite place to hang out in the Phoenix area.
Next entry: greetings from the sunny (we hope) desert
"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil,
and Cody the Ultra Lab
© 2009 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil