The drive from Houston to Austin should take you 2.5 hours – if you stay on the main highways (I-10 and State Highway 71), but main highways are for traveling wimps. There are way more interesting things to see if you take the backroads. Mind you, the I-10 overpasses are pretty stunning to witness. Almost otherworldly.
If you do take the I-10, interesting food only starts to happen at the halfway point when you head northwest at Columbus and get on to State Highway 71. A good resource for quaint eateries is Jane and Michael Stern’s Roadfood.
We went off the Interstate near Sealy, letting our GPS guide us on a northwest zig-zag mission to Austin. As you leave the sprawl of Houston behind, the country opens to rolling farmland and grand ranches. The highways/roadways – not much more than hard-packed dirt in some cases – lined with pine and post oak are shared by tractors and pickup trucks pulling livestock trailers. You’ll see roadkill – lots of it, mostly possum – and you’ll need to be alert for deer that dart out of gullies and creek beds.
You’ll pass game farms, antique stores, western wear retailers, and gas stations and drug stores offering kolaches, a central European pastry popular in the Texan interior. Roads have quaint names like Cat Spring and Schmitt Creek.
Every now and then, a barbecue joint appears; the type of place where good ol’ boys with dirty, sweat-stained caps upon their heads sit around formica-topped tables laden with ashtrays full of cigarette butts. The radio is permanently set to a country music station and the heady aroma of woodsmoked meat hangs in the air. When you find these places, you have to stop in.
Our GPS took us through the quaint town of Bastrop, home to the Farm Street Historic Chicken Sanctuary – not that we knew of it, but suddenly we found ourselves a few blocks off the main street and smack dab in the middle of this:
Now we finally know why the chickens crossed the road – because they could.
Half an hour later (more or less), Austin’s skyline appeared.
The 2.5 hour trip from Houston to Austin took us just over four hours, and I wouldn’t have had it any other way.
Thinking of going? Visit www.traveltex.com for more of what this great state has to offer.