Texas contains diverse landscapes, resembling in places both the Deep South and the Southwest. Traveling from east to west, one can observe piney woods and semi-forests of oak and cross timbers, rolling plains and prairie, rugged hills, and finally the desert of the Big Bend. The phrase "everything is bigger in Texas" derives in part from the state's geographic sprawl and the wide open spaces of its desert and prairie regions. Due to its long history as a center of the American cattle industry, Texas is associated throughout much of the world with the image of the cowboy.
Historically and culturally, Texas is usually considered part of the American South. However, with its Spanish and Mexican roots, and the topography and Southwestern vegetation generally west of a Fort Worth to Corpus Christi line, it can also be classified as part of the American Southwest. While residents acknowledge these categories, many claim an independent "Texan" identity superseding regional labels.
The term "six flags over Texas" comes from the multiple countries that have claimed the territory. Spain was the first European country to claim the area of Texas. France held a short lived colony in Texas. Mexico owned the territory until 1836 when Texas won its independence, becoming an independent Republic. In 1845 it joined the United States as the 28th state. The state's annexation helped set off a chain of events that caused the Mexican–American War in 1846. Texas seceded from the United States in early 1861, joining the Confederate States of America on March 23, 1861.
In the early 1900s, oil discoveries initiated an economic boom in the state. Texas has since economically diversified. It has a growing base in high technology, biomedical research and higher education. Its gross state product is the second-highest in the nation.
As of 2006, the state has an estimated population of 23,507,783, an increase of 2.5% from the prior year and 12.7% since the year 2000. The state's rate of natural increase (births - deaths) since the last census was 1,389,275 people, immigration from outside the United States resulted in a net increase of 801,576 people, and migration within the country produced a net increase of 451,910 people. As of 2004, the state had 3.5 million foreign-born residents (15.6 percent of the state population), of which an estimated 1.2 million are illegal immigrants. Texas from 2000–2006 had the fastest growing illegal immigration rate in the nation.
As of the 2006 US Census estimates, the racial distributions in Texas are as follows:
Grouped by ethnicity, the population was:
German descendants inhabit much of central and southeast-central Texas. Over one-third of Texas residents are of Hispanic origin; while many have recently arrived, some Tejanos have ancestors with multigenerational ties to 18th century Texas. In addition to the descendants of the state's former slave population, many African American college graduates have come to the state for work recently in the New Great Migration. Recently, the Asian population in Texas has grown—primarily in Houston and Dallas.
Native American tribes who once lived inside the boundaries of present-day Texas include Apache, Atakapan, Bidai, Caddo, Comanche, Cherokee, Kiowa, Tonkawa, Wichita, Hueco and the Karankawa of Galveston. Currently, three federally recognized Native American tribes reside in Texas: the Alabama-Coushatta Tribe, the Kickapoo Traditional Tribe, and the Ysleta Del Sur Pueblo.
Texas resides in the socially conservative Evangelical Protestant Bible Belt, and has the highest percentage of people with a religious affiliation in the United States. Dallas-Fort Worth, home to three major evangelical seminaries, also has several megachurches, including Fellowship Church, Potter's House, First Baptist Church, Dallas, and Prestonwood Baptist Church. Houston is home to the largest church in the nation, Lakewood Church, averaging more than 43,000 in attendance per week. Lubbock, according to local lore, has the most churches per capita in the nation.
The religious affiliation of Texas are as follows:
The largest denominations by number of adherents in 2000 were the Roman Catholic Church with 4,368,969; the Southern Baptist Convention with 3,519,459; and the United Methodist Church with 1,022,342. Also, approximately 400,000 Muslims live in Texas.
As of 2000, six incorporated places in Texas have populations greater than 500,000, two of which are beta world cities: Dallas and Houston. Texas has the most cities, three, with populations exceeding 1 million: Dallas, Houston, San Antonio. These three rank among the 10 largest cities of the United States. Austin, Fort Worth, and El Paso rank among the top 25 largest U.S. cities. Texas has a total of 25 metropolitan areas, with four having populations over 1 million (Dallas-Fort Worth, Houston, San Antonio and Austin-Round Rock) of which Dallas and Houston are over 5 million. Three interstate highways – I-35 to the west (Dallas-Fort Worth to San Antonio, with Austin in between), I-45 to the east (Dallas to Houston), and I-10 to the south (San Antonio to Houston) forms the Texas Urban Triangle region. The region contains most of the state's largest cities and metropolitan areas, as well as nearly 75 percent of Texas's total population.
In contrast to the cities, Texas has rural, unincorporated settlements called colonias which often lack basic infrastructure and are marked by poverty. As of 2007, Texas had at least 2,294 colonias, located primarily along the state's 1,248-mile (2,008 km) border with Mexico. Texas has the largest concentration of people, approximately 400,000, living in colonias.
Texans have historically had difficulties traversing Texas due to the state's large size and rough terrain. Texas has compensated by building both America's largest highway and railway systems in terms of mileage, as well as the largest number of airports. The regulatory authority, the Texas Department of Transportation maintains the state's immense highway system, regulates aviation, and public transportation systems.
Texas's central North American location has the state an important transportation hub. From the Dallas/Fort Worth area, trucks can reach 93 percent of the nation's population within 48 hours, and 37 percent within 24. Texas has the most foreign trade zones (FTZ), in the nation, 33. In 2004 a combined total of $298 billion of goods passed though Texas FTZs.
Texans have heavily traveled their freeways since the 1948 opening of the Gulf Freeway in Houston. As of 2005 79,535 miles (127,999 km) of public highway crisscrossed Texas (up from 71,000 miles (114,263 km) in 1984). To fund recent growth in the state highways currently there are currently 17 toll roads in Texas, with several additional tollways proposed. In west Texas, both I-10 and I-20 have speed limits of 80 miles per hour (130 km/h), the highest in the nation.
Texas has the most airports of any state in the nation. Largest of these is Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport (DFW), the second largest in the United States, and fourth in the world. In traffic, DFW is the busiest in the state, fourth in the United States, and sixth worldwide. AMR Corporations American / American Eagle, the world's largest airline in total passengers-miles transported and passenger fleet size, uses DFW as its largest and main hub. Southwest Airlines, is also headquartered in Dallas, Texas, began its operations at Dallas Love Field. It ranks as the largest airline in the United States by number of passengers carried domestically per year and the largest airline in the world by number of passengers carried.
Texas's second-largest air facility Houston's George Bush Intercontinental Airport (IAH) serves as Houston based Continental Airlines's largest hub. IAH offers service to the most Mexican destinations of any U.S. airport.
Over 1,000 seaports dot Texas's coast with over 1,000 miles (1,600 km) of channels. Ports employ nearly one-million people and handle an average of 317 million metric tons. Texas ports connect with the rest of the US Atlantic seaboard with the Gulf section of the Intracoastal Waterway. The Port of Houston today is the busiest port in the United States in foreign tonnage, second in overall tonnage, and tenth worldwide in tonnage. The Houston Ship Channel currently spans 530 feet (160 m) wide by 45 feet (14 m) deep by 50 miles (80 km) long.
Part of the state's tradition originates from cattle drives in which wranglers herded livestock to railroads in Kansas. The first railroad in Texas completed in 1872, the Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railroad. Since 1911, Texas has led the nation in railroad length. Texas railway mileage peaked in 1932 at 17,078 miles (27,484 km), but declined to 14,006 miles (22,540 km) by 2000. While the Railroad Commission of Texas, originally regulated state railroads, in 2005, the state reassigned these duties to TxDOT.
Both Dallas and Houston feature light rail systems. Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART) built the first light rail system in the Southwest United States. The commuter rail service, the Trinity Railway Express (TRE), links Fort Worth and Dallas, provided by the Fort Worth Transportation Authority (the T) and DART. The Metropolitan Transit Authority of Harris County, Texas (METRO) operates light rail lines in the Houston area.
Amtrak provides Texas limited intercity passenger rail service both in size and frequency. Just three scheduled routes serve the state: the daily Texas Eagle (Chicago – San Antonio); the tri-weekly Sunset Limited (New Orleans – Los Angeles), with stops in Texas; and the daily Heartland Flyer (Fort Worth – Oklahoma City).