When I was in high school, one of my favorite summer reading assignments was “Blue Highways – A Journey into America,” by William Least Heat-Moon. This non-fiction treasure was so named because of the off-the-interstate “blue” marked highways that appeared in the Rand McNally road atlas.
Recently, my family and I embarked on our own blue-highway road trip from Dallas to the Tuscan-like terrain of Texas Hill Country. While we could have made the journey to Kerrville, Texas, on the direct (and boring, and traffic-clogged) route of Interstate-35, we opted instead to take smaller highways through classic Texas towns that have changed little over time. Places like Glen Rose, Hico, Goldthwaite, San Saba and Fredericksburg. Our ultimate destination was Kerrville, where we would sample the legendary Kerrville Folk Festival the first weekend in June.
As we exited west off I-35 for US-67, we discovered that our children had not eaten lunch at camp that day. That meant that we would partake in one aspect of the road trip that is 100 percent Texas – a requisite stop at Sonic. Two orders of burgers, tater tots and chocolate shakes later, we were back on the road heading to Glen Rose, known for its dinosaur bones, ranch resorts and the first hills of Hill Country.
We turned south. The landscape changed almost immediately to scrub, stone outcroppings, cattle and hills, along with a welcome but unexpected surprise – stunning wildflowers along the sides of the road. Texas is famous for its wildflowers – bluebonnets, Indian blanket, prairie paintbrush to name a few from more than 100 varieties – but it’s not common to see them still blooming in June. This year’s spring was marked by cooler-than-normal temperatures and a lot of rain, which gave extra life to the season’s wildflowers. Bursts of color were everywhere.
As we passed through each small town, you could picture a time when stagecoaches would stop for food, lodging and supplies. There were more historical markers than I could count on street corners, and I yearned to read them in detail to better understand the people that came to these towns and what they did there.
Today, many of these towns are quiet, but there are signs of a population that prefers a slower pace of life. Least Heat-Moon used to look for “three calendar diners” in towns like these. His rule-of-thumb was that if you could find three calendars on the wall behind the cash register, it was a sign of longevity and quality in a small-town restaurant. You might not get a great meal, but you’d get a good one from people who care. Hico, Goldthwaite, San Saba … there were some three-calendar places there for sure.
My kids loved crossing bridges over the Brazos and Colorado Rivers, and soon the hills were taller, the air cooler and we arrived in Kerrville. We knew we were in for a Texas weekend when we walked into our hotel lobby and saw an incredible display of taxidermy – from buffalo to giraffe – with the pool and swim-up bar just beyond.
As for what we saw at the Kerrville Folk Festival and the road trip return to Dallas … that’s a blog entry for another time.
To see a slideshow on our trip, visit http://youtu.be/P1lh8G7NuAo.
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