WHAT DO YOU SEE ON AN I35E ROAD TRIP THROUGH TEXAS?
Have you driven up Interstate Highway 35, traveling east between San Antonio and the remaining ninety miles of the State of Texas before reaching Arkansas? If you like a road trip of many hours, say ten, then read on, you may have fun. Frequently, as native Texans with interesting relatives who still live there, we head to Texas via I30W out of Memphis, take the 440 Loop around Little Rock, Arkansas, pass through Texarkana, stop for a barbeque lunch at Ramage Farms in Hooks, Texas, and before you know it, have spent seven hours and arrive in the Dallas area. We recently went on to Fort Worth, instead of stopping in Dallas, for a change. We spent a couple of nights, and then headed via I35 to San Antonio, and ultimately Boerne, a country-living small place in the Texas Hill Country. A neat bumper sticker for sale at the Flagpost Cafe reads “Life is too short NOT to live in Boerne.” Returning home to Memphis after a few days, I jotted some notes of what my eyes took in on I35E on that familiar Texas highway. I hope readers enjoy imagining a road trip in Texas, headed east from the San Antonio area.
If you left the Boerne Hill Country/San Antonio Urban area before 10:00 AM, you exit toward Austin by 10:15 AM. That is your first segment, allowing for a good bit of traffic, which is common. You may desire a coffee break just past the billboard advertising Gruene, a historic town geared for tourist activity, and past New Braunfels’ Rueckle Road Exit. New Braunfels is an old German city, larger than the old German town of Boerne. For the tasty java from the approaching Starbucks, take the Niederwald Exit. Time will be about 10:55, or less than an hour from departure. That particular Starbucks has the biggest round logo sign you have ever seen.
Back on the highway again with your Grande bold and vanilla scone, you are not far from Austin, a popular large city, next in size to Houston, Dallas, and San Antonio. Occasionally, traffic on I35 through Austin is horrific! I take care to have a pit stop before entering greater Austin. You can choose the high road or the low road, as both are I35 straight through. Either way, you see some of The University of Texas campus, some skyscrapers, and the dome of the Capitol Building. The capital city of Texas is a residence desired by many Southerners, Midwesterners, and others who think of Austin as rather freewheeling. After all, this is Tour de France Seven-time Champion Lance Armstrong’s home town and home of The University of Texas, which has over fifty thousand students. It goes without saying that big universities impact an environment. Even small ones do. Austin bears the claim to fame of “Live Music Capital of the Country,” not to be confused with Nashville’s distinction as “Country Music Capital.”
Leaving Austin headed toward Waco, home of Baylor University, traffic thins out. I saw a billboard stating that I need the info to be found at Texasbytrain.org. The billboard surprised me by promoting the light rail concept. Good for Texas! I did not know Governor Rick Perry was interested in the “separate country” of Texas adding light rail transport (jus’ kidding). Coming toward the cities of Belton and Temple, I notice that a town named Moody, and one named Lorena are in McClennan County. I am familiar with the neighboring Hill County, where my maternal grandparents settled. My paternal grandparents lived in McClennan County. In that stretch of road, at a seventy mile-per hour drive-by, I noticed some giant concrete statues– a pig painted pink and a rooster. These were huge; you could not miss them. There were many other shapes, but I was past them in a high-speed flash. I also noticed the trees became bright green and thick in foliage coverage, so thick it reminded me of the “Music Highway” between Memphis and Nashville, very green, claustrophobically lush for me, a lover of the Texas scrub landscape. The live oaks and cedars with their scrappy, worn-out trunks, look like antiques, some close to death and discarding, eaten up by moss balls. A billboard lettered with stately block style reads “BAYLOR + WACO = PROUD PARTNERS.”
As driver-passenger team, we tend to take note of road construction. Living away from Texas, our birth state, we go gaga at the forty- or fifty-feet-high overpasses engineered by Texans. Rumor has it that the Texas government has run out of funds for highway construction. Those funds lasted a long, long time. If you haven’t seen such unspeakable tons of concrete, the Texas overpasses will amaze you. On down the road a bit, I see three more billboards. I am not sure I believe the message on one of them: ”Great things are happening in Texas Public Schools;” “Fossil Rim Wildlife Center;” and “Taqueria Arrandes.” We sometimes stop in Waco and eat at Taco Cabana for a TexMex flavor treat: tacos with picadillo, frijoles refritos, rice, chalupa with guacamole, or fajitas, chicken or beef. The price of Exxon gas in Waco was $3.59, same if bought from Valero, and the Brazos River looked high. A most interesting fact about the unusual part of Texas that is Waco is this– a miniature Brooklyn Bridge exists there, as a historic landmark.
Driving on, a billboard advertising a Texas fruitcake tradition originating in Corsicana reminds you: mail order plenty of Christmas fruitcakes to friends and family from Collin Street Bakery. I have tried to like them, through the years, but . . . Next site popping up is LoneStar Windmills, wherein dozens of faux windmills are for sale, some as tall as twenty feet or so. Next, I notice Superstar Fireworks as we head into West, a Czech town near Hillsboro, a larger town. Do you like Czech pastries called “kolaches?” Pull into the Czech Inn, the Czech Stop Bakery & Deli, the Czech American Restaurant, or the Village Bakery (Their claim: since 1952– “The original Czech pastries”), all conveniently accessed from I35E.
(More to come.)