Dallas is Texas' most mythical city, with a past and present rich in the stuff that American legends are made of. The 'Big D' is famous for its contributions to popular culture – notably the Cowboys and their cheerleaders, and Dallas, the TV series that for a time was a worldwide symbol of the USA.
Oft-called 'Where the West Begins,' Fort Worth definitely has the cowboy feel. The city first became famous during the great open-range cattle drives of the late 19th century, when more than 10 million head of cattle tramped through the city on the Chisholm Trail. Today you can see a mini–cattle drive in the morning and a rodeo on Saturday night.
The Permian Basin is a flat, physically charmless region of Texas with a lack of vegetation so pronounced that early settlers named one small town Notrees. Instead, you'll see (and smell) forests of oil rigs, pump jacks and petroleum tanks, which have ruled the boom-and-bust economy here since the late 1920s.
'Lubbock or leave it' sing the Dixie Chicks, but this seemingly characteristic bit of Texas bravado isn't what it seems, as the song includes sardonic lines such as 'Got more churches than trees.' And while you'll see plenty of steeples on the horizon, what will really strike you about west Texas' liveliest city is its celebration of life beyond cotton and cows.
In contrast to somewhat prim Midland, hardscrabble Odessa has a downbeat feel. It's the classic split between management and workers, with the latter making their homes here. The low-rise downtown has some barely perceptible glories left over from the original boom; most notably, however, it has a very big rabbit.
Abilene is frequently called the 'buckle of the Bible Belt,' and not without reason (it has three bible colleges, for one). This is a buttoned-down town where nonconformists can feel seriously out of place. About 150 miles from either Midland or Fort Worth, the cow-dotted plains barely seem to yield to the city.
North of Dallas & Fort Worth
Much of region's phenomenal growth is in the north. Quaint little towns such as McKinney are now enveloped by the Metroplex. Towns such as Grapevine, however, have their own inherent charms and you can go far enough north that you leave all the urban hubbub far behind.
Palo Duro Canyon
The pancake-flat Texas plains have some real texture at Palo Duro Canyon, it's just that all the drama is below the horizon rather than above it. The meandering gorge is a place of brilliant colors and vibrant life (the name means 'hard wood', for the groves of mesquite). The nearby town of Canyon, 20 miles south of Amarillo, makes for a comfy base.