174. The hidden history of Texas – on Buffalo Bayou, Houston, USA


So reads the street sign, and everything they say is true. The sky, the buildings, the cars, the winter weather – they all seem so much bigger here.

Downtown, early morning. A fading twilight was lifting above the Astrodome when I peered out through the curtains five minutes ago, and now it’s nearly daybreak.

The eastern horizon is promising cool and blue and cloudless – a perfect Texas dawn is calling. For now, Houston has a sleepy air, the metropolis still dappled and drowsy and awaiting the day.

If you want to know a city, just run through it streets, and look up and all around you. Breathe its atmosphere and history, and immerse your soul in the rush before your eyes.

Live a different life, for a few brief footsteps, and surrender your mind to the wanderings of your feet. Lose yourself.

houston-texas-usa-downtown-winter-morning-by-roadsofstone.jpgThis morning, though, I know roughly where I’m going. And so I run past the prison, then right on Main Street and follow beside the tram tracks. Down to Commerce, and there I hang a left and weave my way towards the edge of Allen Park.

There’s a patch of green down there, above a river. The park is deserted at this early hour, and a qualm of fear rises for just one moment, before I scamper quickly past it.

buffalo-bayou-walk-houston-texas-usa-by-roadsofstone.jpgThe paved track here proves good for running, set intriguingly beneath a tangle of highways as they loop across the sky. The veins of this city are bringing its lifeblood back to work for one more day.

I trot five minutes or so. I’m in no hurry, and despite the muffled roar of traffic, it feels strangely calm and peaceful.

A sign announces this as the Buffalo Bayou Walk, and I try to imagine those massive beasts wandering down to drink here, just two hundred years ago. But the image doesn’t come.

Across a wooden footbridge, around a maze of concrete highway pylons, the path climbs steadily to meet a bridge. I’ve not come far, but when I look back, the city skyline stretches right above the river. Sharp points of sunlight piercing gaps in glass and steel.


I turn back to the path, and carry on. There’s green beside the stream now, some trees and bushes, too. The traffic isn’t far away, but I begin to sense the landscape beneath my feet at last.

The air is finger-stinging chilly here, and soon the grassy bank is shining silver all in front of me. A winter frost, dazzling me in its unexpected brightness.

houston-skyline-above-buffalo-bayou-december-2007-by-roadsofstone.jpgAnother mile or so of plod doesn’t bring another bridge, and finally I’ve no choice but to retrace my route.

Running back towards the sunshine, the light is almost painful. A smoke of mist drifts lazily above the water, vaporising city blocks behind a shield of leaves and steam.

Each eastward step brings me closer to my home, just a quarter of a world away.

city-skyline-from-sabine-street-bridge-houston-texas-usa-by-roadsofstone.jpgThis time, I run across Sabine Street Bridge and skirt the bayou’s edge before climbing back to town. The streets are slowly filling with their early commuters and emptying buses. Houston is opening up, and it’s ready for the day.

I cruise down Smith, loop across on Louisiana and find my way back to Texas Street, where my day began. Just an hour has passed, but I’ve found a new perspective on this city.

houston-texas-usa-by-roadsofstone.jpgA different Texas hides in Houston. It’s out of view, and still just in sight. Because alongside a million stories of these modern streets there’s another kind of history. Nature lies deeply buried and long forgotten amongst all that’s new, and yet glimpses of this landscape will still remain.

Not far beneath these freeways, not long before the traffic, the buffalo came to gaze upon the bayou. Winter frosts sparkled across the river’s grassy banks as the beasts came down to drink in the chilly, dazzling dawn. Steam rose above the sparkling water on cold December days, swirling gently as it drifted into crystal space above.

winter-morning-on-buffalo-bayou-houston-texas-usa-by-roadsofstone.jpgThe Texas sky was blue and brilliant and cloudless then. The horizon was clear and empty, stretching far across the morning.

And the dawn rose unbroken, out towards the east.

174. The hidden history of Texas - on Buffalo Bayou, Houston, USA : : 174. The hidden history of Texas - on Buffalo Bayou, Houston, USA : : 174. The hidden history of Texas - on Buffalo Bayou, Houston, USA : : del.icio.us:174. The hidden history of Texas - on Buffalo Bayou, Houston, USA : : 174. The hidden history of Texas - on Buffalo Bayou, Houston, USA : : 174. The hidden history of Texas - on Buffalo Bayou, Houston, USA

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12 responses to “174. The hidden history of Texas – on Buffalo Bayou, Houston, USA

  1. If you want to know a city, just run through it streets, and look up and all around you. Breathe its atmosphere and history, and immerse your soul in the rush before your eyes.

    Agreed. And if you want to know a country and its people, go into an appliance store and a supermarket and see what day-to-day life involves.

    Better you than me in Texas. 😉

  2. Well, Ella, some of us are natural historians, and romantics. And some of us are sociologists.

    Texas. Heat and blue sky. Warm winds blowing. That sounds good in a London January, I can tell ya’.

  3. See my earlier comment re: living in Houston on the Obama thread – I have a soft spot for the hard-hearted Texans and enjoyed my time living amongst them. Personally I’d rather suffer the macho bluster and BS that abound in the Lone Star State than the hideously implanted falseness of Southern California.

    If I am a little defensive – I think Texas gets a bad press in the rest of the US. There are understandable reasons for this, but it doesn’t mean there aren’t a lot of good, genuine folks living and working there. That, and when I lived there some twenty years ago as a young Englishman I found my gender out-numbered six to one, and those six were keen to learn more about my accent.

    Enjoy my second home, Roads. I’ll be back there in May. If you’re there in early Feb there’s an excellent 10k through Downtown – I think it’s sponsored by Conoco and happens just before the Rodeo. Safe travels.

  4. Thanks, Sweder. I’ve had many Texan bosses, and so of course I’ve loved them all. Especially the ones with large guns aboard their pick-ups.

    You’ll remember that there’s a Molly Malone’s on Main Street. And to use the vernacular, it checked out pretty good.

  5. Nice piece. I’ll catch you one of these days.

  6. Ah, Plodderama. It’s good to hear from you. I assumed your long silence was something to do with all those millions which you Queens Park Rangers lads had so luckily found at Loftus Road.

    The dream will rise, my boy. The dream will rise. The hoops will hoop.
    SQPR (sic), citizens.

    Have a great run in Spain this weekend. I’m sorry I won’t be joining you this time, owing to my simultaneous arrival at a different airport. But do please ensure that you make up for my excesses. Just don’t send me the bill…

  7. “If you want to know a city, just run through it streets …” That’s one of the most useful things about running; it connects you in a very intimate way with your neighborhood and your world.

    While in Houston, be sure to visit Rothko Chapel (an interfaith chapel featuring art by Mark Rothko). It’s a lovely, special space.

  8. Thank you for the thoughtful recommendation, BB. I’m afraid I’ve slipped a little out of real-time reporting here – so I’m not in Houston now. But I’ll try to check it out, next time I’m there.

    Meanwhile, I’m off to try out the running somewhere else tomorrow. Of which, more later.

    And not too much later next time, I hope.

  9. what a charmed life you live … run and writing … photojogging …
    nicely put, and I too, though WONDERING about America these days, do think it one of the most SPECTACULAR ‘countries’ on the planet … what humans both CAN and SHOULD NOT do always exist side by side. New York City is prime example. Run ritzy 5th Avenue sometime up Central Park … into Harlem …

    Ever thus, no? Keep the faith.

  10. Under the cities
    Lies a heart made of ground
    But the humans will give no love.

    – America: A Horse with no Name (1972).

    Yes, what a spectacular country. One remarkable thought which struck me whilst flying over Texas recently is that so much of the landscape has changed within just 200 years.

    In another way though, it might seem just as startling that clear traces of the terrain and its natural history do still remain. But the pattern of the bayous is for ever discernible under the grid pattern of fields stretching across the broad Texas plains. And even in the heart of one of the most artificially-constructed cities on Earth, patches of original wilderness survive, if only you look hard enough to find them.

    Finding buffalo roaming the streets of downtown Houston is a different matter, of course, but with the help of place names and road signs, you can still make a lot of headway in understanding a forgotten landscape.

  11. Horse with no Name: a great desert song.

  12. Yes, Silver Fox, it is. I love Ventura Highway, too. Fantastic guitar picking at the top.

    That track always reminds me of the opening scene of The Grapes of Wrath – the mysterious traveller walking down the wide empty road, with the story just about to begin.

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