Visiting the United States? There are 50 states in all.

Everything is bigger in Texas, or so Texans like to say.

The Lone Star State actually is second in size to Alaska and in population to California, but it looms large in American history and culture, from fighting its own 19th-century battle for independence to tapping wealth from its oil fields to directing space exploration.

Texas stretches across almost a third of the continental United States. Between 1821 and 1845, Texas changed from a Spanish colony to part of Mexico to an independent republic and finally to the 28th state.

Almost two-thirds of the U.S. border with Mexico lies within Texas. Houston, San Antonio and Dallas rank among the 10 largest U.S. cities, but Texas still has plenty of wide-open spaces. Bluebonnets and other wildflowers abound along highways, where speed limits zoom up to 137 kilometers an hour.

Map of U.S. highlighting Texas in red (State Dept.)
(State Dept.)

The Texas motto is “Friendship,” but a phrase more often heard comes from an anti-litter campaign: “Don’t mess with Texas.”

Remembering the Alamo

People walking outdoors next to old stone fort (Texas Travel/Kenny Braun)
(Texas Travel/Kenny Braun)

The Alamo is the former Spanish mission where 200 Texans, led by James Bowie and William Travis, held out for 13 days in 1836 against Mexican General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna’s army. Texans later triumphed at the Battle of San Jacinto and established a republic until statehood in 1845.

The heart of the space program

NASA astronauts in underwater training (NASA/Bill Brassard)
Astronauts Peggy Whitson and Thomas Pesquet training underwater (NASA/Bill Brassard)

NASA’s Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center in Houston is where astronauts train and return after missions, as many know from that famous mayday call, “Houston, we’ve had a problem,” aboard the crippled Apollo XIII spacecraft in 1970.

Cadillacs and roller coasters

Row of colorfully painted Cadillacs partly underground (TexasTravel/Kenny Braun)
(TexasTravel/Kenny Braun)

The Cadillac Ranch in Amarillo, Texas, is an automotive Stonehenge, an art display of 10 vintage Cadillacs painted in psychedelic colors and angled into the ground. Roller coaster fans take note: The Titan roller coaster at Six Flags Over Texas amusement park has a 78-meter drop.

A hipster state capital

Sen Dog and B-Real in concert (© AP Images)
Cypress Hill performs at the South by Southwest festival. (© AP Images)

South by Southwest (SXSW) — a sprawling music, film and technology festival — is a launch pad for creative ideas. Twitter first caught the public eye here. Austin City Limits is the longest-running music show on public television. Food trucks and pedicabs are ubiquitous. Visitors can catch an unusual sight at dusk: more than a million bats lifting off the Congress Avenue Bridge.

Read more about Texas and check out the other 49 states. If you need a visa to visit, here’s how to get one.