There’s a sign on Interstate 10, just this side of Louisiana that says “Beaumont 23” and, oh yeah, “El Paso 857.”
(Or, if you didn’t want to drive through Houston, you could turn north, go 857 miles and end up in Omaha.)
Texas is big. Biggest state that doesn’t have the occasional death by polar bear. And — with the exception of those moments where half of Houston is insistent on nothing short of driving in your lane right now — it’s mostly empty.
Sometimes it’s not a great place to drive. But it’s a fantastic place to road trip. Epic destinations, epic distances, epic scenery interspersed with epic emptiness. Epic roadside stops. Hey, who wants to go to Omaha anyhow?
Here are 8 tips for Texas road trips …
1. First, and most important: Roadkill. When you come around a bend and there is a group of turkey vultures or black vultures crowded around something that was easier before it waddled into traffic DO NOT assume the birds are going to fly away from your car. No, large birds like vultures need to take off INTO the wind. Sometimes that’s toward you. Now’s a good time to not have a convertible.
(Pro question: Is it still messing with Texas if you decorate an expired armadillo with a Lone Star beer can? Discuss.)
2. As tempting as those 80 mph speed limits are, interstates and toll roads are no way to see Texas. The smaller the road, the bigger the adventure. Just remember to drive friendly and stay alert. Return that two-finger wave (with two fingers, please) and don’t be one of those people who come over the rise at 75 mph only to find farmer Bob and his combine taking up most of the 2 lanes at most of 5 mph.
3. Yes. You are totally allowed to pull onto the shoulder to let someone pass you. This is a crucial necessity on two-lane roads fortunate enough to have a shoulder. That doesn’t mean you need to tailgate and give the one-finger wave to Yankees who won’t do it for you. Drive friendly, y’all.
4. You might not believe it, but barbecue existed in Texas long before hipsters took to social media and prattled on about “sugar cookies” and “bark” as if they could’ve named a single barbecue joint a decade ago. Really, don’t pull up that app to pick a place to eat. Use your nose. Use your gut. Sometimes a great place is more about character than culinary perfection.
(Pro tip: Generally, Texas barbecue is best along the I-35 corridor and in East Texas. Which makes “West Texas Style Bar-B-Que” in the Deep East Texas town of Silsbee a delicious misnomer.)
5. Rules of thumb: If the town has a population of 500, it’s likely to have a Dairy Queen. If it has a population of 5,000, it’s likely to have a McDonald’s. If a diner is crowded at noon, that’s your spot. Don’t try to stop at Buc-ee’s on a budget.
6. Thirsty? Be thankful to be alive in the here and now. True, there are still 7 counties in this state that are entirely dry — good luck if you gotta find a drink in Tarzan, TX. But in 1954, a whopping 142 counties were entirely dry. In 1986, that was down to 62. And in 2013, there were 22 dry counties. But here’s the catch: Even these days, only 53 of Texas’ 254 counties are entirely wet. For the rest, it’s a confusing patchwork of laws. Here’s another rule of thumb: If the town you are in was or is an oil town, chances are you can drink up. If the main source of business was or is ranching, you’re likely gonna have a harder time getting that Flaming Dr Pepper.
(Pro question: Anyone have a pool going on the last dry county in Texas? Surely one is going to hold out for that distinction.)
7. If you’re heading out west of the Hill Country, you can go 30-40 miles or more without seeing a town or even a convenience store. Plan your gas stops accordingly. If you’re tooling through state highways in East Texas, you can expect a town every 8 miles or so and you can expect most of them to have a cop car watching over a precipitous drop in the speed limit. Press your gas pedal accordingly.
8. Anyone who’s been around long enough to know, will hear about your travel plans and tell you not to bother. It ain’t like it used to be. The radio endlessly scanning for a station was much better than praying for a cell phone signal. The best folks at all the old honky-tonks have either sobered up or died. The barbecue joints are full of hipsters. Don’t listen to them. Get out there on the road. Because things aren’t going to quit changing. Someday, you’ll miss what you could’ve seen today. Get on the road and go see it while you can.