Day Five – August 7, 2004
The fifth day of my trip started sort of late, thanks to me not wanting to get up too early. I did finally get up, however, and got ready to go to Fair Park, which, when it’s not home to the Texas State Fair for three weeks in autumn or the SBC Cotton Bowl in January, is the premier cultural and entertainment center in Dallas. It is home to a total of nine museums and six performance venues. We went to a couple of the museums, the first being the Dallas Museum of Natural History.
Before I talk about this museum, however, I should mention the way we took to Fair Park. Because it was only three miles from our hotel, the most direct route was to take residential roads to the park, instead of the interstate. If I had to do it over, though, I probably would’ve stuck to the interstate route. From our hotel, we had to go through the neighborhood of South Dallas to get to Fair Park. Well, this neighborhood is clearly one of the shadier sides of Dallas. I got a very eerie feeling that I was traveling through Mexico for a moment too, primarily because of the immense number of small shops and strip clubs in a state of disrepair with Spanish names and writing all over them. This is not to mention that every window and door to every building – including houses – had very thick steel and metal bars protecting them from criminals. The destituteness of the area was very apparent.
Anyway, after that downright scary ride, we finally made it into Fair Park and to the Museum of Natural History. It turned out that it was reptile day today, so everybody in the Dallas-Fort Worth area who owned a snake, tortoise, iguana, or other sort of reptile was there to show off their creature. The event was clearly designed for children – almost all the reptiles could be held or petted – but it was fun, nonetheless.
Since we were actually two of the few people who came to the museum to see the natural history exhibits, not the reptiles, I was able to enjoy everything inside the building mostly undisturbed by other people. Although it would never be able to match up to the Smithsonian’s Natural History Museum I saw last year, this place was actually very interesting. All of the exhibits inside had something relating to the natural history of Texas. I’d have to say I enjoyed the “Animals of Texas” exhibit halls and the Wild Wild Weather Exhibit best of all. The Weather Exhibit was the monthly exhibit for August, and featured information concerning just about every weather event that would ever have the possibility of occurring in Texas.
After visiting all of the exhibit halls, and even partaking in a bit of Reptile Day, we made the obligatory stop at the gift shop and proceeded out of the building. From here, the next place I wanted to go to was the Age of Steam Railroad Museum.
Finding this museum was a bit tricky, particularly because by the time we left the Natural History Museum, Fair Park became extremely busy due to a concert of some sort being held near the Cotton Bowl. Nevertheless, we did make it to the Railroad Museum, only to discover that nobody else was there.
Anybody who has an interest in trains (like me) – especially old ones – would just absolutely love the Age of Steam Railroad Museum. There are three long rows of nothing but old railroad locomotives (both steam and diesel-electric) as well as passenger cars almost a century old. Best of all, there are stairs that allow you to take a peek inside some of the locomotives. There are even a few steam locomotives and passenger cars that you can walk inside of as well.
The main office of the museum is located in a very historic century-old railroad depot, one of the first in Dallas. Take a look at the pictures I took from the museum below to see for yourself how neat this museum was.
After stopping at the obligatory gift shop to the railroad museum, we left for Fort Worth. Although there wasn’t one major attraction I wanted to see in Fort Worth, I was interested in seeing what the Burlington Northern Santa Fe headquarters – where all the dispatchers work – looks like. So, we got on the road and drove the approximately 30 miles from downtown Dallas to downtown Fort Worth.
We were going to explore downtown Fort Worth a little bit, but decided against it based on how bad the traffic was getting to the northern suburbs of Fort Worth.
There were a few elements that combined to make the trip from Dallas to Fort Worth less than enjoyable. First of all, we were visiting on Texas’s Tax Free Holiday Weekend. Texas, like many other states, has one weekend each year where most products that are usually charged sales tax – 6.25% in Texas – are exempted from it.
Interestingly, back-to-school products are one of the products still charged sales tax. I found this a little odd at first, but then I realized the rationale for it. You see, school starts during the second or third week in August in most of the southern states, meaning that the first weekend in August (when we visited) is going to be when the majority of people are going to be buying what they need to go back to school. I guess since the Texas government realizes people are going to be buying back-to-school supplies, they might as well try to save them money by sales-tax-exempting the other necessities – like clothes – that are needed to start a new school year – or something like that...
The other reasons why traffic was bad on this trip was that the Texas Department of Transportation leaves a lot to be desired in how well things are marked on their interstates – both state and federal. Also, think about all you’ve heard about Dallas drivers – it’s mostly true. Incidentally, if you click on the link on Dallas drivers, rules 2, 8, 10, and 18 are very, very true.
Nonetheless, we made it to the northern Fort Worth suburb of Watauga and did some shopping. I spotted what I thought to be a Whataburger from the side of the road, and immediately knew that I wanted to go there. I’ve watched enough King of the Hill to know that Whataburger is a genuine Texas institution. Well, it turns out that Whataburger and Wienerschnitzel have uncannily similar logos; we ended up eating at a Wienerschnitzel instead of a Whataburger.
After that mishap, we made it to a very suburban-looking strip mall. We stopped to do some wonderful tax-free shopping at the Marshall’s and Super Target store. I went into the Super Target, and I can say I really enjoyed myself listening to all the Texas accents being spoken. Of course, I knew people say ya’ll and everything in the south, but I had never been exposed to it on such a large scale before.
After spending a good couple of hours shopping and whatnot, we drove back to our hotel room in downtown Dallas. This drive was a lot better than the one coming the other way, probably because it seemed like everybody was at the malls going on their tax-free shopping sprees.
I then spent one more night staring endlessly out my hotel window onto the city of Dallas. There was a little twist tonight, however. Because there was wireless internet at the hotel, I was able to find and program the frequencies for the Dallas Police Department into my police scanner, which I had brought with me on the trip. So, for the couple of hours that I stared out the window, I also had my scanner with me, keeping track of all the action going on within the city. It was quite an experience to be able to stare directly down at the city of Dallas, and hear, over the police scanner, what sort of things were going on. It brought me right back to that Sim City experience again.
Anyway, even though every night seems to be rather busy for the Dallas Police, Saturdays are probably even more so. The police had quite a few domestic disturbances, DUIs, drug cases, assaults, etc. the Saturday that I listened. But there was also something else: a high-speed chase around Dallas and its suburbs. It was very interesting to listen to how the police handled the chase on the scanner, since I had never been listening to the scanner when one happened before. All in all, the chase lasted probably about 45 minutes, and even though spikes were about to be set up to catch the suspect, he finally crashed his car into a concrete barrier, and ended the chase. Check the pictures and video below for the full experience of what I did on this day of the vacation.
An ALCO locomotive at the railway museum
Standing next to the Union Pacific DDA40X - a monster of a locomotive
The information sheet attached to the DDA40X
Standing next to the Pennsylvania Railroad's GG1 electric locomotive
On top of the stairs to the GC1 locomotive, looking down at the rows of railroad equipment in the museum
Front of the Union Pacific "big boy" steam engine - these were the largest steam-powered locomotives ever built
Inside the cab of the "big boy"
Inside the 70-year old Frisco Railway standard passanger car
An artsy b&w shot inside an 80-year old Pullman Sleeping Car
A very artsy sepia shot of a Frisco Steam Engine (too bad it looks like it's going right for the depot in front of it)
One of the cabooses in the museum, this one is a former Santa Fe Railway caboose
An ordinary-looking shop in the South Dallas neighborhood we visited
The Fort Worth suburb of Watauga
They even have 7-11s in Texas
For the theme park lovers out there: here's a shot of Six Flags over Texas from the road
An artsy, out-of-focus shot of downtown Dallas at night
Nighttime shot of Union Station
Supurb photo of the Dallas skyscrapers lit up at night
A nice sepia photo of downtown Dallas at night (sorry for the camera)
Note: to see full-sized versions of any of the photos above, select the download feature above the picture. The photo will then be downloaded to your computer, and you can view the full resolution version of the picture (800 pixels in width).