Road Trippin’ USA: heading west through Texas

By | December 24, 2023

Road Trippin' USA: Heading west through Texas photo

Road Trippin’ USA: Heading west through Texas photo

America is a huge country with countless highways, roads, streets, avenues and unpaved paths running in all directions. If you love driving, exploring as many parts of that web of trails as possible becomes a passion, and seeing new places through the windshield is a must. I don’t want a car to drive me, I want to drive the car; a road trip is the best way to enjoy the ride.

Are you thinking of setting a new course? I’m starting a series to fuel your road trip daydreams. Here’s my first recommendation, starting from my hometown: Austin to San Angelo, Texas.

Fast highways

I met and married a native Texan and moved to Austin in 2008, and we love it. Even after 15 years here, there is still so much of the state we haven’t seen. It’s huge: Texas is the largest state in the continental US at more than 160,000 square miles and has the most roads.

My husband’s parents are from West Texas and Will grew up in Midland. The first time I visited Midland I was struck by its sheer flatness; you could stare into the distance and the view goes on forever. And that’s saying something, considering I grew up surrounded by stable, parallel rows of corn in Indiana.

One of the most striking things about traveling through Texas is the speed. Just outside Austin, Highway 130 has a speed limit of 80 mph, the highest in the country. Appropriately, America’s fastest road leads to the Circuit of the Americas, where F1 drivers burn rubber in the fall. The very first time I drove on this toll road was in a sleek version Ferrari F430, owned by an exotic rental company. I had talked myself into reviewing the film for local coverage early in my career and couldn’t believe they let me get behind the wheel.

The owner of the company was in the passenger seat and as we approached the brand new on-ramp to Highway 130, he urged me to floor it.

“Floored it?” I repeated in a daze.

“Yes,” he insisted.

I kissed three digits and then just as quickly went back to the speed limit; a speeding ticket would have ruined my day and a high speed crash is stupid. Still, it was exhilarating, the feeling of flying across a flat, perfectly smooth ribbon of asphalt. Large parts of Texas are even more open, with stretches of road dotted with only a few other cars as you pass cows, sheep, goats, deer, and oil-producing pumpers.

Over Thanksgiving, my family and I tested a new one Nissan Frontier Pro-4X. Equipped with a 310-horsepower 3.8-liter V6 and Bilstein off-road shocks, this truck is ideal for farm work, and we stacked loads of wood and moved supplies from the house to the barn. But even on the highway, I really appreciated the Zero Gravity seats, which make even a long drive comfortable from start to finish. I parked it right next to my father-in-law’s first generation Nissan Titan, which is still running great after almost twenty years.

Exploring the rural parts of the Hill Country

Heading west on Highway 71 toward Llano, the Hill Country is a part of the Lone Star State that visitors don’t seem to understand. Much of Texas is flat, especially western Texas, but the stretch between Austin’s Travis County and northwest into Menard County is varied. Views sweep across Horseshoe Bay, where Ford has a Bronco Off-Roadeo site, by the town of Llano.

When you arrive in Llano, park the car at Cooper’s for some of the best barbecue in the world. There I said it. Kansas City, Memphis, Atlanta, you have nothing on Cooper’s chest. Cross the Roy Inks Bridge after passing the courthouse and then you have a decision to make: head northwest toward Brady or take the Mason-to-Menard route, almost due west. Brady has some fantastic antique shops and an excellent mechanic shop (as I discovered when my HHR SS overheated on the road). Mason has Nacho’s Café, Rico Café and the Beautiful and Historic Seaquist House.

Anyway, the road passes through Eden (which has a quirky, eternally optimistic Garden of Eden Park) and on to San Angelo. San Angelo, one of the largest cities in the United States without a freeway running through it, is essentially a small city, even with more than 100,000 residents. The university is strongly represented, as is Goodfellow Air Force Base.

Around town and on the way to Mertzon, where my father-in-law’s family settled five generations ago, cattle roam thousands of acres of ranchland. The roads in Texas are well maintained and the highway system is smartly constructed; When I first moved here, it took me some time to get used to the thoroughfares and maze of overpasses, but once I did, it became clear how the cities can avoid total gridlock.

Large open spaces

On the way back to Austin you will take the Toe Nail Trail through Christoval and pass the smallest functioning post office I have ever seen and a 40 year old vineyard growing Riesling, Tempranillo, Petite Sirah, Vermentino and Mourvèdre grapes . Again, between cities the roads are wide open and smooth, and if you have a vehicle that’s built for speed, the ride feels shorter.

This time I tested one Dodge Hornet GT coated with an Acapulco Gold finish. It feels like a compact rocket, just like its Alfa Romeo Tonale counterpart, sprinting from 0 to 100 km/h in 6.5 seconds. Powered by a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine that generated 268 hp and 295 lb-ft of torque, the Hornet GT offered a spirited ride on undulating roads that felt like a kid’s roller coaster, only way better.

Of course we had to leave the Yeti behind and couldn’t stock up on firewood because of the smaller cabin, but that’s okay. We come back.

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