Instead of traveling, I used some vacation time to complete a household project that we had been planning for awhile, but until this week had been unable to carve out the time to tackle. The timing of the week off also coincided with the anniversary date of our wedding. We received a congratulatory card from old friends and included with it was a spinoff of the Christmas letter. They are retired and brought us up to date on their travels over the summer months. On one motor trip they said they drove on as few freeways as they could manage. The comment reminded me of a column I wrote when we came to Brownwood; it published in the summer of 1997.
“Let’s take the scenic route.” Generally when I hear that request from my regular co-driver it means the trip is going to take considerably longer. This time I thought she was kidding. Two days earlier we had spent five and a half hours driving to Amarillo, I couldn’t imagine what she had seen to warrant making the trip any longer on the way home.
Our Rand McNally Road Atlas incorporates small green dots to identify a roadway as a scenic route. What constitutes a scenic route? Did the cartographers at Rand McNally develop a list of criteria they defined as scenic, and then indicate the roads that lead travelers through an area that meets one of the criteria? Or do the symbols merely indicate routes within a state that are more scenic than others?
The distinction is important, because the list of famous or familiar scenic routes in America is lengthy. For instance, Highway 1 along the Pacific Ocean in California would make most top 10 lists of scenic routes. From the northern border with Oregon, the highway provides breath-taking views of the Pacific as it makes its way south to the Mexican border. Another border connection is Highway 61 in Minnesota which connects Duluth with Thunder Bay in Canada, and it would make our personal list. Rarely does one fail to get a spectacular view of Lake Superior along the north shore route.
Another scenic route meandering along a famous waterway is Texas 170. It follows the Rio Grande from Presidio, south to Lajitas and Terlingua, and into Big Bend National Park. The river border cutting through the Christmas Mountains and the arid southwest landscape presents a striking contrast to the deep blue waters of Lake Superior and the mountain overlooks along the Pacific. However, I believe one would get a consensus from travelers who have traversed all three that they would qualify as scenic routes. I was not sure my co-pilot was going to find a course even remotely similar to any of the three up on the high plains.
Inspired by an evening watching the presentation of Texas in Palo Duro Canyon, my navigator was determined to find a route which would allow the rush to last a little longer. Rather than taking the faster route down 27 and 84 back to Sweetwater and Interstate 20, we headed for Claude to find highway 207. We followed the narrow two lane road as it cut through grasslands and wheat fields that seemed to head toward the horizon in every direction. When suddenly, and without warning, the terrain opened up and we were confronted with deep and rugged canyons.
The focus of our venture was located off of Highway 86 out of Quitaque, Texas, Caprock Canyons State Park. Billed as an area where geology and ancient history come to life, the park is named for a scenic and rugged escarpment. The whitish color of the caprock stands in sharp contrast to the red bluffs and arroyos which surround it and form the backdrop for the park.
To say we all need to slow down and even make an unscheduled stop occasionally, may be trite, but the idea is valid. Out previous experiences on the high plains of Texas were from the many trips passing through on our way to the ski slopes of northern New Mexico. Amarillo was the half way point and there never seemed to be time to stop and explore. We had snow skiing on our mind.
We learned that setting the planned schedule aside and taking the time to follow the green dots can really enhance a journey.
Robert Brincefield is vice president and publisher of the Brownwood Bulletin. His column appears on Sunday. He may be reached by e-mail at bob.brincefield@