Last Sunday I completed my trip of Every Municipality in Harris County in 5 hours, 6 minutes, and 26 seconds. As stated in the previous post, I had 34 cities to cover, with almost half of them not even having 5,000 people living within the Harris County borders.
Myself and two random people, Kelly and Karen, whom I met through a meetup.com road trip group, gathered at On the Border in the northwest side of the county for lunch to fuel up for the drive. The restaurant was in a Census-Designated Place (not a city!) called Cypress, which is the epitome of suburbia. Every single store was a chain and every single house looked identical. I felt like I was in some kind of twilight zone...
I made sure to have lots of carbs and protein (steak quesadilla, yummy!), as I would need it sitting in the car for 5 hours. I don't know if this is actually helpful from an energy standpoint, but I like to rationalize eating anything that's not very good for me.
We set off due northeast on the aptly named Cypress-Tomball Road to the start point. Before we even got there, Kelly had to go to the bathroom. I forgave him since we hadn't started the timer yet :) So we made it to #1 Tomball without incident. So far I've already spent almost an hour in the car without starting the official timer. I wasn't looking forward to the drive back to On the Border, then back home again, but that comes with the territory. As soon as we crossed 249 heading towards Waller, I started my trusty Pampered Chef kitchen timer.
The drive out to Waller from Tomball (on the also aptly named Waller-Tomball Road) was nothing but trees; there weren't many signs of civilization. At #2 Waller we turned the corner and went south towards Katy. Keeping up with the road naming scheme, I was looking forward to the road being named Waller-Katy road, but for some reason it was called Katy-Hockley Road. I had no idea where Hockley was, but I sure hoped I wasn't heading towards it!
I hit my first blunder of the day when I turned a corner that didn't seem like I was supposed to turn at. So I turned around and went in the direction I thought I was supposed to go. Then I saw the freeway from the direction we came from, which I knew couldn't be right. Well, after that I just had to stop and look at a map. Turns out the first turn I thought I wasn't supposed to take was actually the correct direction. I turned around again and shamefully accelerated back to the route.
Katy city limits were well marked, with a sign as well as a different color pavement (usually a clear indicator that road maintenance has changed hands from one governmental body to another). We turned around after crossing the border to #3 Katy and went down Clay Road back towards Houston. Little did I know at the time that I was not following my own directions. When we hit Beltway 8, I told everyone that we had hit city #4 Jersey City and turned towards Houston. I jumped on the toll road then, suddenly... too suddenly, I-10 arrived. I looked at my directions and found that Clay Road was actually the boundary for Houston after we were supposed to hit Jersey City further north. So, without any fanfare, I told our group that we had actually been in #4 Houston for a couple of miles now. So I got off the toll road, turned around for 4-5 miles to get now #5 Jersey City. Then I turned around again, got on the toll road, again, and set off to begin our tour of cities that are completely surrounded by Houston.
The Memorial Villages are 6 of said municipalities, all grouped together, completely surrounded by Houston. First we hit #6 Hedwig Village, #7 Piney Point Village, #8 Bunker Hill Village and #9 Hunters Creek Village, then we crossed the freeway and hit #10 Spring Village and #11 Hilshire Village. We hit all 6 of them in under 15 minutes. The interesting thing about all these villages is that they are all independent municipalities, but they all share police and fire service separate from Houston. This was a very posh area; we saw quite a few very large mansions. Looking at some of the census demographics of the area, the median income of the villages ranged from $66,000 for Hedwig Village (a lot of Shopping Centers) to $185,000 for Piney Point Village (a lot of Mansions). It was a nice drive with lots of trees and beautiful houses.
Next up were the tri-cities of #12 Bellaire, #13 Southside Park, and #14 University Park. These cities are also in a cluster completely enveloped by Houston. A lot of business professionals live in Bellaire because they have one of the best schools in Houston ISD. University Park has a lot of early-retired rich people who want to live close to Rice University while their children go there. Just like the villages, it's way out of my price rage! Southside Park is so small I don't even really know what's in it.
Now we headed southwest to the annoying portion of our trip: Cities that really have no business being in Harris County. We went down US-59 and got off at the Beltway frontage road. We turned on a Stafford Road and went down one block to hit the tiny tiny area of #15 Stafford that was in Harris County, or so I thought. While writing this I was remembering that I needed to be in a little subdivision to be in Stafford in Harris County, and we never went in one. I went to my trusty TxDOT map and was able to take a sigh of relief. I had changed my route because there was a second, easier portion of Stafford to get to. Crisis averted, it counted!
After Stafford we got back on the Beltway towards Clear Lake and ran through #16 Missouri City, which is also mostly in Fort Bend County, but just happens to peek into Harris County. Then we hit I-45 and took it south, exited and hit #17 Pearland, which is mostly in Brazoria County. Now we were starting to get into true middle-middle class suburbia. All the houses looked under 2,000 sq. ft., and only half of them were kept up. Most of the cars parked on the road looked about 6-7 years old, and there was a not-so-spectacular-but-still-OK park nearby. Of course a lot of people are starting to move to move from the Clear Lake area (upper-middle class) to Pearland because of its low cost and proximity to Houston, so I have a feeling those property values are going to increase.
And finally we went far enough down I-45 to get to what's called the "Clear Lake" area, which is named after the lake the area surrounds. That lake happens to also be the Harris County/Galveston County border, so I only have to hit the cities on the northern portion of it. The municiaplities are going to come fast and furious now, since we're mostly past the reaches of Houston's gigantic land-grabbing hands. Only Clear Lake City was swallowed by Houston, the rest remain unscathed. So I exited NASA Road 1 and was immediately in #18 Webster, which is where I got married not too long ago! We took a right on NASA Road 1 and immediately after hitting the border for #19 Friendswood (mostly in Brazoria County), we took a left into Challenger Seven Memorial Park, the boundary for #20 League City (mostly in Galveston County).
Then we begin our tour of NASA Road 1. This was the kingmaker of this trip: A straight road that goes through many municipalities, as well as (of course) the NASA Space Center! NASA is to us Houstonians like the Statue of Liberty is to New Yorkers. We consider it a tourist attraction, so we never actually go there unless we have out-of-town company or it was a school field trip. I've lived here 4 years and I've never been. My wife has been, but only on one of those school field trip. I've even passed right by it dozens of times when we were making trips down here from Baytown every weekend for wedding planning. But I digress...
Along NASA Road 1, we went through the main portion of Webster, then #21 Nassau Bay (Kelly really enjoyed saying the word "Nassau" for some reason), #22 Pasadena, #23 El Lago, a quick u-turn left on Kirby Drive to catch #24 Taylor Lake Village, then at the end of the road, #25 Seabrook. It was a beautiful drive along the northern border of the lake. We saw marinas everywhere. This was very much a marina community. Pam and I actually looked in this area to live when we first moved down here, but it was so much more expensive than Baytown was, so we decided against it.
Next was TX-146 going north. This is a road most people in the Houston area don't really need to go on. It's lined on both sides with refineries. If you're coming from Louisiana and going to Galveston and didn't want to take the ferry, this is the way you'd take to get there. But who doesn't want to take a ferry!? We drove straight through #26 Shoreacres and exited at Main Street after #27 La Porte.
The next city, Morgans Point, always seemed like an anomaly to me. From the freeway, as well as a satellite's point of view, it just looks like a large shipyard. A very large shipyard. It hardly seems like there could be enough people living there to justify incorporation. We crossed the city limits to enter #28 Morgans Point and, lo and behold, there was the city hall/police station/courthouse building on our left. There was even a single Morgan's Point Police Department patrol vehicle. We only saw a couple of houses to our right, so we knew at least someone lived there. After the trip I looked up more specifics of the city: In 2000, they had 336 people and 111 households. The children attend La Porte ISD. And the Morgans Point police are dispatched through the La Porte Police Department. They boast a property tax rate of 0.54%. City Council meetings are the first Thursday of each month and the municipal court is only in session one day a month on the first Tuesday of the month. They have garbage and even curbside recycling pickup. Who knew?
Next up was a Houston Landmark, the Fred Hartman Bridge. I swear, every time I see a commercial about Texas trucks, I see this bridge in one of the Texas landmark montages. The funny part is that this bridge is completely surrounded by oil refineries and shipyards. Even on that website I liked you too, it takes care not to show you the surrounding area. But one of the most interesting things about all the oil refineries is that, for safety, they are brightly lit all night. If you cross the Fred Hartman Bridge at night, it's one of the most spectacular visuals you could see of something so ordinary during the day. If you're ever in Houston, you should check out this bridge at night at least once.
Once we crossed the bridge, we immediately exited into the city where I lived for three years, #29 Baytown. Oddly enough, the fastest route back to the remaining cities was back over the bridge (because of the natural barrier of the Bay), so we turned around and headed back. Next was westward on TX-225 towards Houston. On the freeway we crossed #30 Deer Park and Pasadena again. Deer Park/Pasadena are famous for their roles in the 1980 movie Urban Cowboy, with John Travolta. Gilley's, the bar from the movie, was an actual working bar and remained in operation until a fire destroyed a portion of it in 1990. The bar was closed, but the structure remained until it was finally torn down in 2001. Unfortunately, I never got to see it myself.
We went down Shaver Street/Main Street in Pasadena to grab the most out-of-the-way city, South Houston. This is another small city that's surrounded by Houston on one side and Pasadena on the other. I made my last blunder of the day by missing my turn onto a road that was named something other than what the map said. We passed South Houston High School on our right and figured if we were in the Parking Lot of that, we would be in South Houston. I double checked when I got home and we were, indeed, in #31 South Houston, barely.
On the way back we went to the hottest Subway I had ever been to in my life. It was obvious the A/C wasn't working, but I thought it would of been too hot to even keep the store open. It was a relief to finally get outside, where it was 93 degrees in the afternoon sun. It must of been in excess of 110 degrees inside. It was not pleasant at all.
We drove all the way up main street to the last remaining automobile tunnel in Houston, the Washburn Tunnel. This is another one of those landmarks that most people who live here never go on. It's in between the I-610 loop bridge and the Beltway 8 toll bridge, so you can always just take a freeway across rather than take the tunnel. Luckily for me, the next two cities were just across the tunnel.
We took a left after the tunnel and we were in #32 Galena Park. This was definitely a lower-income area, as all the houses were small and run-down. The one thing that really caught my eye is that all the street signs were black on yellow. I had never seen a color scheme like that before. We turned on Main street and, after an open stretch of nothing, crossed into #33 Jacinto City. Jacinto City was like Galena Park, but a little more fixed-up.
The last city was pretty uneventful We took I-10 to I-610 to US-59 towards Cleveland (Texas). We got off near the airport, took a right into an area with lots of trees, and picked up the final city, #34 Humble (pronounced "Umble" for you northerners). The landscape in the northeast looked just like the northwest: lots and lots of green trees.
I stopped the timer at 5 hours, 6 minutes and 26 seconds and we drove 30 minutes back to the restaurant. I was really kicking myself for making those screw-ups at the beginning, but not enough to want to try a second attempt :) On to the next project, which will probably be the Every Local Bus in Houston trip.