Of all the long-distance drives in Texas, Highway 6 is the most surprising. The purpose of a state route is to fill in the gaps between the major highways, not to go gallivanting off on its own—yet gallivant it does, from sea to Great Plains, one of the longest roads in Texas that is not an interstate or a U.S. highway.
I toured it from the coast inland, as I started doing as soon as I was old enough to drive. Growing up in Galveston, the route’s eastern terminus, I was imbued with the local wisdom that Highway 6 was a shortcut to Austin or San Antonio via Interstate 10, avoiding the dreaded Houston traffic. It never occurred to me then that I could continue all the way to western Oklahoma. Even today, I doubt that many Texans have driven the entire length of Highway 6; if someone wanted to go from Galveston to Quanah, there are faster ways to do it.
But speed isn’t everything. If you want to save minutes, take the interstate. If you want to save decades, take Highway 6. It is a road that leads not just to a different place but to a different time, one in which more Texans lived in and near small towns than in big cities. Here you can discover the forgotten Texas that was left behind during the great twentieth-century migration from farm to metropolis—a land of cotton and cattle, of graceful homes, of broken dreams, and the will to persevere. For travelers who want three-star attractions, the route has its share of those too.
Highway 6 departs from Interstate 45 amid the wetlands of Galveston Bay. Although it has been more than twenty years since I drove this route—it ceased to be a shortcut when the Houston suburbs reached the highway near Sugarland—the bleakness of the Galveston County mainland was all too familiar. Hardly a structure had changed, not even the rusted ruins of the towering Flamingo Isle logo, still touting a development that failed at least thirty years ago. A few signs still bore the names of the three communities that had joined together to become Santa Fe back in the seventies: Alta Loma Cafe, Arcadia Car Wash, Algoa Community Center. It was a relief to get to