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Take a Brake

You’ll find more than relief during a long road trip at these five spiffy rest stops.

By July 2014Comments

Photograph by Artie Limmer

GRAY COUNTY SRA, WEST OF ALANREED

Long road trips, like life, are about the journey, not the destination. And it’s the pit stops along the way that make or break your voyage. A good roadside respite is transformative, pacifying pent-up children and saving many a marriage. Since Texas has more miles of highway—upwards of 310,000—than any other state, we’re serious about our pull-offs (see Buc-ee’s). The Texas Department of Transportation maintains 75 Safety Rest Areas (open 24/7) and has been steadily opening new SRAs and refurbishing dozens of the older models. Now they’ve got hotel-grade amenities, like landscaped gardens and workout equipment, and interpretive exhibits to rival those at any museum.

They’re also pretty hard to miss. Sixty-five miles east of Amarillo, three 57-foot-tall walls of white concrete rise from the side of a grassy mound, making the entrance to the Gray County SRA look like Texas’s own Batcave, one that doubles as a storm shelter and is bathed in red, white, and blue lights at night. Inside, you can walk around a metal windmill and read informative panels on the area’s history, topography, and weather. Out back, there’s a playground, Texas-shaped barbecue grills, picnic arbors inspired by tepees, and an expansive, unobstructed view of the High Plains. Wherever you’re headed can wait just a little bit longer.
Along I-40, exit 131 (westbound)

HILL COUNTY SRA, SOUTH OF HILLSBORO

Though among the state’s newest rest stops, these barnlike structures on either side of I-35 are already two of the most visited. That has a lot to do with their location nine miles south of Hillsboro, where the interstate splits, but you can’t dismiss the novelty factor of a restroom that looks like a metal grain silo. Exhibits include an ode to the Iron Mule (i.e., the tractor) and the interactive Drivin’ Texas Safety Game.
Along I-35, exit 362A (southbound and northbound)

CHEROKEE COUNTY SRA, NORTH OF JACKSONVILLE

Folks have been stopping at this scenic bluff since before the advent of automobiles. A Depression-era complex has been replaced with a timber and red-brick structure intended to resemble the tomato-packing sheds that once lined the nearby railroad. But the view from the nine-mile ridge, known as Love’s Lookout, hasn’t changed much. The valley below is rife with dogwoods in the spring and fiery foliage in the fall.
Along U.S. 69, five miles north of Jacksonville

CHAMBERS COUNTY SRA, WEST OF WINNIE

Built to combat a worrisome number of fatigue-related accidents along this stretch of I-10 between Houston and Beaumont, these two clapboard buildings are also a welcome sight for birders and naturalists, who can read about the area’s flora and fauna while strolling the elevated walkways. The tall white edifices have even been singled out by a few brides, who have said “I do” beneath their soaring ceilings.
Along I-10, exits 814 (eastbound) and 815 (westbound)

MYSTERY LIGHTS VIEWING AREA, EAST OF MARFA

The offerings are simple at this curved observation area: picnic tables, modest restrooms, informative plaques. Oh, and mounted binoculars, through which to view the swath of stars and the strange lights that have been spotted in the West Texas sky since at least the 1880’s. On any given (clear) night, you’ll find as many seekers peering toward the Chinati Mountains as there are theories about the origins of those glowing orbs.
Along Texas Highway 90, ten miles east of Marfa

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