The Story of Texas: The Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum in Austin

Lisa Fritscher December 26, 2011 No Comments

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Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum Exhibit Halls

The exhibit halls were massive!

When Dad and I headed out on our Western adventure in the spring of 2011, we actually knew relatively little about the region. But we were eager to learn as much as we could. In states as diverse as New Mexico, Utah and Arizona, we sought out major museum complexes and tiny roadside attractions looking for the truth behind each state’s tourist hype.

While we were successful everywhere we went, we truly hit the jackpot in Austin, Texas. As the name implies, The Story of Texas paints a detailed picture of that state, no easy feat for a place that was once an independent country and is second only to Alaska in size.

About the Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum

Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum

Plan to spend at least one full day at the museum

Five years in the making and named for the Lieutenant Governor who worked tirelessly toward its creation, the Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum opened in downtown Austin in 2001. Featuring a sweeping four-story rotunda, three floors of highly interactive exhibits, an IMAX theatre, a separate special effects theater, a 200-seat café and an underground parking garage, the museum is truly “Texas-sized.”

As of 2011, the museum is open 9 to 6 Monday through Saturday and noon to 6 on Sunday. The IMAX shows a mix of documentaries and nature films, IMAX classics, and first-run blockbusters. Although the schedule varies, in general the documentaries and nature films are shown early in the day, and first-run movies may have one or two screenings after the museum closes at night.

Museum admission is $9 for adults, $8 for students with ID, $7 for seniors over age 65 and military members, and $6 for kids aged 4-17. There is a slight surcharge for combination tickets that include the Texas Spirit special effects theater and/or the IMAX. Garage parking is $8 for the day.

Our Experience

Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum Bioregions

The first floor focuses on the influence of the state's bioregions

Dad and I arrived just after 9, prepared for a long day of exploration. We opted for tickets that included the museum exhibits and the Texas Spirit Theater, guessing correctly that we would not have time to take in an IMAX film.

We began on the first floor, which is themed to “Encounters with the Land.” The exhibits on this floor track Texas history through the exploration of its diverse landscape. The stage is set by a thorough examination of Texas’ wildly varied bioregions. Further exhibits focus on ancient Native American peoples, Spanish and French settlers, and westward expansionists. The story of their interactions is told against the backdrop of the role that the land played in their daily lives.

The Alamo Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum

The Alamo played an important role in Building the Texas Identity

The second floor is dedicated to “Building the Texas Identity.” Despite having been part of nations as diverse as France, Spain and Mexico, Texas has always been fiercely independent. Following the Texas Revolution, Texas became a sovereign republic in 1836. It became a U.S. state in 1845, only to secede as part of the Confederacy in 1861.

We were fascinated by the exhibits on this floor, which examine in great detail the factors that led to Texans’ strong independence. A particular highlight was a reproduction of Stephen F. Austin’s jail cell in Mexico City, where we sat and listened to a voiceover explain in Austin’s own words the importance of the coming Revolution. We also enjoyed the New Beginnings exhibit, dedicated to the role that women played in Texas’ social reform during the late 19th and early 20th century.

Star of Destiny at the Texas Spirit Theater

Don't miss The Star of Destiny at the Texas Spirit Theater

The second floor is also home to the Texas Spirit Theater. Our tickets offered the choice of two productions: The Star of Destiny and Wild Texas Weather. Having already spent several weeks experiencing Texas’ wild weather firsthand, we opted for The Star of Destiny. The character of Sam Houston served as our guide through many of Texas’ landmark events, from the Galveston Hurricane of 1900 to the Saturn V rocket launch. In-theater special effects, including a few built into the seats, help put audiences in the middle of the action. More than a few times, we were caught completely off guard!

By this time, we were starving, so we made our way to The Story of Texas Café. As you might expect, the menu was packed with local favorites from Tex-Mex to oversized loaded potatoes. They say things are bigger in Texas, and the portions are no exception. Plan to split unless your appetites are enormous! A limited kids’ menu is available.

Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum Longhorns

The Texas Longhorns were important in Creating Opportunity for Texans

After lunch, we headed to the third floor, “Creating Opportunity.” This floor traces Texas’ history from its 1936 centennial through today. The state has come a long way in the intervening years, from modern ranching techniques through the oil boom and into new developments in medicine and technology. Plan to spend some time on this floor, as three theaters (included in your admission) vie for attention. In a recreation of the old Abilene rail station, video presentations show off nine distinct regions of Texas. Meanwhile, the Cowboy Theater highlights the differences between the Hollywood version of cowboy life and the reality. Nearby, a video presentation narrated by Walter Cronkite explores the role that oil played in revolutionizing life in Texas.

Tips for Parents

Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum Rotunda Floor

The rotunda floor depicts themes of Texas history

Dad and I found it difficult to see everything The Story of Texas has to offer in a single day. Plan to spend two days if possible, or sit down with a guide map when you arrive and prioritize your activities. It is easy to get caught up in the various interactive exhibits, so plan to see fewer things in a single day than you otherwise might.

We saw The Star of Destiny with a theater full of young children on a school trip. Although most seemed to thoroughly enjoy it, a few of the youngest seemed frightened by the special effects. Explain to your kids in advance that their seats will move and perhaps bump or poke them unexpectedly. Some of the kids we were with had seen the show before, and those who knew what to expect squealed and giggled rather than becoming upset. If your child is very sensitive, consider holding her in your lap during the show.

Expect a lot of questions. The Story of Texas seems to fire up the imaginations of visitors of all ages, but the full story is long and complex, and younger children may have difficulty holding all the information in their heads. Refer to the detailed informational signs for assistance, and never hesitate to ask an employee to help answer questions.

Note that photography is not permitted in the museum. All photos for this article are used by special permission of the Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum.

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Lisa is a full-time travel writer. She lives in an RV with her disabled father and writes about their experiences. Although she has no children of her own, Lisa loves being an Aunt to her own relatives and the children of all her friends. You can follow her adventures on her blog, Travel Confessions.

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