UNLIKE CALIFORNIA, TEXAS HAS NO single highway that hugs the coast. To stay as close to the shoreline as possible, my husband, Kit, and I zigzagged around, navigating some twenty roads as we made our way from Galveston to Corpus Christi. We drove through plenty of time-warped towns, passed more chemical plants than we ever could have imagined, and saw plowed field after plowed field. Where were the palm trees and breathtaking views? We found them, all right, but it took a while.
YOU FIND MORE THAN BARBECUE and red clay as you angle through East Texas on U.S. 79 and Texas Highway 43. There's European art, Sicilian donkeys, dusty pioneer trails, and gothic swamp things. Strangest of all, my wife and I realized that as you go north, you're heading into the Deep South.Actually, the drive begins in the Old West. Take Interstate 35 north from Austin fifteen miles to Round Rock.
TEXAS HIGHWAY 16 IS AN ODDS-AND-ends highway, seemingly cobbled together from bits and pieces of preexisting roads. I'd be tempted to call most of it a two-lane blacktop except that the color has faded to gray. It starts on the west side of San Antonio, cuts a swath through the Hill Country, then steers a semi-straight path northward through the west central part of the state to end some forty miles south of Oklahoma.
AFTER THREE DAYS OF DRIVING U.S. 83 from Brownsville to Laredo, I decided that "the border" is an inadequate term to describe the curving corridor. The highway, which is one of the main arteries of Los Caminos del Rio—the Roads of the River—cuts through a wide borderland where architecture, food, and language overlap. Texas and Mexico are so interwoven there that I often couldn't tell where one ended and the other began.
IF YOU WANT A QUIET GETAWAY where the tall pines are plentiful, the wildflowers beautiful, and the folks down-home hospitable, then East Texas is the place. This scenic region is also rich in history: Prehistoric Caddo Indians made their home here, and Spain and France sent explorers to the area in the 1600's. Though it was only last year that I made my first trip to East Texas, I feel at home hiding out in the Piney Woods.
WITH THE TERRAIN OF A PULLED hairpin—flat on the ends, bumpy in the middle—U.S. 281 changes little in landscape but a lot in personality over eight degrees of latitude. Beginning in Wichita Falls, I point my car south, with traffic whizzing by on both sides.
TEXANS HAVE ALWAYS been highly susceptible to the call of the open road, and nowadays that call is stronger than ever. Not only do car trips celebrate independence (you decide when to eat, stop, or frisk yourself), they also embrace the Zen-like notion that the journey itself, not the destination, is the thing. And journey we did, over the hills, through the Piney Woods, across the plains, and hugging the coast.
1. Repeat to yourself: The left lane is for passing. The right lane is for driving.
2. Just so you know, not everyone is a psychic like Miss Cleo. If you're changing lanes or turning, use your signal.
3. To merge is to blend or come together without abrupt change. If you are on the freeway, how hard is it to ease your foot off the gas for a couple of seconds to let another car in? If you're sitting on the on-ramp, do you really think you can get on the highway from a dead stop?
WOULD YOU BELIEVE THAT WACO is so called because the word is an anagram of "a cow"? That McAllen was named for a brand of scotch? That "Dumas" is a sanitized version of "Dumbass"?
DEEP IN A FAR SOUTHWESTERN corner of Texas, where the wild things outnumber the people and the Rio Grande makes a grand detour around exquisitely rugged terrain, lies Big Bend National Park. Encompassing more than 800,000 acres—1,250 square miles—of desert and mountains, the spread is so remote, surreal, and sprawling that the eye loses perspective: Is that mountain in front of you two miles away or twenty? Established in 1944 by Congress, the park may appear to be a vast wasteland to a first-time visitor.