Texas, the biggest state in the lower 48, has never been shy about flaunting its assets. If you think of Texas in terms of sand and sagebrush, you’re giving short shrift to the rest of the state’s landscape – only 10 percent of Texas is covered in desert. The Lone Star State is vast and varied. It ranges from swamps to rolling plains, to piney woods, to rugged mountains, to grassy prairies. Texas’ fiery history includes interludes as a Spanish, French and Mexican colony. In 1836 it became an independent republic, and in 1861 was made the 28th state. It seceded during the Civil War, but afterwards was welcomed back into the Union. Lovers of sand and surf flock to the Gulf Coast, where 624 miles of shoreline on the Gulf of Mexico welcome visitors. The centrally located hill country of Texas boasts the city of Austin, with its thriving reputation as “the live music capital of the world.” In the Texas panhandle city of Abilene, you can experience life in the Old West at Frontier Texas, where recreations of Indian battles, buffalo stampedes and card game shootouts place you at the center of the action. In the state’s largest city, Houston, the University of Texas Medical School has educated over 5,000 new doctors since its inception in 1969.