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Driving backroads beats the tar out of the Interstate

Long stretches of farm land near Nome, Texas (photo by Sheila Scarborough)Those who drive long stretches of most US Interstate highways know that, while you’ll get there faster and there might be some good places to pull off, it will be a mostly boring trip.

Fast, efficient, but boring.

If you decide to jump off on a backroad (see William Least Heat-Moon’s Blue Highways) for at least part of the journey, it might add time and you might not see anything, either.

But the chances are good that you WILL make some sort of discovery, the kind that leaves everyone in the car grinning with delight (well, except your teenagers, but they’ll smile inwardly and appreciate it later. You know; years from now.)

That’s what I did driving from Beaumont, Texas back to my home in the Austin area after my high school reunion festivities; I pulled out the map and said, “Please, let there be some road that goes roughly in the correct direction but is not Interstate 10.”

Texas agricultural equipment; don't know what it is but I like it (photo by Sheila Scarborough)With the Neville Brothers Fiyo on the Bayou blaring in the minivan, I rolled through a multitude of teensy towns, puzzled at various bits of farm equipment (total mysteries to me as a city kid) ate a fine buffet lunch at Cookie’s Soul Food Kitchen in Ames, Texas, looked at grain silos for rice and pretty much had a blast.

Full disclosure: I did not have children with me, but if I had, I would have taken the exact same route and made those little suckers read every historical marker, too!

Here are my tips for maximum enjoyment of your own “blue highways:”

***  Carry a detailed map. Yes, those paper thingies. When driving in Texas, I finally learned to listen to my own Mom and carry the Mapsco Roads of Texas atlas of every poky Farm-to-Market or Ranch Road, country road and bizarre cut-through that your standard state map has never heard of.  No, I would not depend on GPS; it is only as good as the data fed into it, and I don’t always have much confidence that the Garmin Lady has checked out places like Cut and Shoot, Texas.

***  Start with a full tank of gas.  Why stress about the needle getting too close to Empty, in the middle of nowhere?

***  Observe and follow local road etiquette. Pay attention to posted speeds, and note what your fellow drivers are doing.   In much of Texas, the speed limit is, yes, 70 mph. Woo-hoo! But remember, these may be two-lane, curvy roads and Billy Bob in his pickup is in a hurry and is unimpressed with your 72 mph.  The local etiquette is to ease on over to the shoulder when you can and let ’em get by, often with a friendly headlight flash/hand wave exchange afterward.  Watch for slow-moving livestock trailers as well.

***  Be alert for farm stands, and stop to grab fresh fruits and veggies (if you have a place to keep them where you’re going.)

With kids, you have to build in a little more time for backroads adventures, but I think it’s always worth it.