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The legendary cowboy still exists, but Texas is now decidedly more urban than rural. Three of the nation's 10 largest cities are here: Houston, Dallas, and San Antonio. Texas today is as much a leader of high-tech industries as it is an agricultural and ranching state. There are world-class art museums and collections in Houston, Fort Worth, and Dallas, where local philanthropists have used their money and influence to import the world's most celebrated architects to build some of the nation's most talked-about museums. Although Texas is by and large a conservative place, Austin has long supported thriving hippie and renegade musician communities, and Dallas is nipping at its heels with a thriving music scene. The state is a melting pot dotted by pockets of Czech, German, and Irish communities; bilingual populations in the lower Rio Grande Valley and border towns; and more than four million people of Hispanic descent.

This enormous state also has immense geographical diversity. Cross Texas and you'll see desert plains in the Texas Panhandle, the Piney Woods in East Texas, beaches in the Gulf Coast, North Texas prairies, scenic wildflowers and lakes in Central Texas Hill Country, desert canyons in Big Bend National Park, and the rugged Guadalupe Mountains.

Still, some of the clich├ęs are true. Texas, the second-largest state in the United States in both landmass and population, is larger than any country in Europe. You can set out from Amarillo in your car and drive south for 15 hours and still not reach Mexico. And everything is bigger in Texas, of course: The ranches are bigger, the steaks are bigger, and the bigger and badder cars -- Cadillacs with longhorns on the grille and monster pickup trucks with gun racks -- really do exist. In Texas you can carry a concealed handgun -- even in church -- and the state is known as the capital punishment capital of the world. "Don't Mess with Texas" is more than an effective antilitter campaign.

Texans, though, are startlingly friendly and hospitable folks. Deals are still completed with handshakes, and adults say "yes, ma'am" and "nossir" to each other. Also, Texans love their sports, especially football. This is a place where entire towns pack the bleachers for Friday-night high-school games and preachers mention the game in their sermons, praying for victory in a kind of gridiron holy war.

Former Texas governor and owner of the Texas Rangers baseball team, and now former president, George W. Bush ended his two terms in office with the lowest approval ratings in modern times. Bush regularly retreated to his sprawling ranch in Crawford, Texas, outside of Waco, during his presidency, but now Bush will call Dallas home, as will his presidential library (to be built at Southern Methodist University, his wife's alma mater).

As Bush may have unwittingly illustrated, it's hard for most people to be indifferent about Texas. It's a place to romanticize and ridicule, to dream about and dismiss. Texans can leave the state, but sooner or later they'll admit their weaknesses for Texas dance halls and Old West saloons, Tex-Mex and barbecue, cowboy boots, and country music. From the big sky and flat plains and the Hill Country highways lined by Texas bluebonnets to the larger-than-life personalities like LBJ, Anne Richards, Lance Armstrong, and Willie Nelson: Texas stays with you.

Texas Types

The Wildcatter: An independent oilman, a gambler at heart whose fortunes rise and fall with the oil and gas industry.

The Roughneck: A laborer who operates the oil rigs. Often itinerant or immigrant -- down-and-dirty and flush with cash. A Texas sailor.

The Maverick: Originally denoted an unbranded calf, but came to be understood as a Texas archetype: the nonconformist, independent-thinking man (or woman!).

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.