Written by Texas Highways
When you think of romantic French country fare, the Central Texas town of Burton (pop. 302) may not immediately come to mind. Yet this blink-and-you’ll-miss-it burg, situated on US 290 amid the pastoral rolling hills of Washington County, is home to the Brazos Belle—a cozy weekend bistro serving French-inspired cuisine in a former 1871 general store.
I started collecting travel memories in the form of jewelry when I was about eight years old. In recent years, I’ve added a chunky amethyst pendant from Wurstfest in New Braunfels, a Celtic-style necklace from the Texas Folklife Festival in San Antonio, a mother-of-pearl necklace and earring set from Grapevine, and some moonstone earrings from the gift shop at the Black Dragon pirate ship in Port Isabel.
Twelve years ago, my suburbanite parents got a wild hair and bought five acres of rugged terrain in Bluff Dale, a stoplight-free, unincorporated community 58 miles southwest of Fort Worth. Back then, a filling station and a deer processor were the extent of area attractions. Today there’s still no stoplight, which means unassuming travelers cruising US 377 between Stephenville and Granbury may miss one of the state’s most delicious destinations—one that usually inspires first-time visitors to wonder, “Why haven’t I been here before?”
The river rounds a bend and six mossy-backed turtles sunning on a row of rocks drop into the water—plop, plop, plop, one after the other, as if in a water ballet. Ahead, the shores pull farther apart and I see several bright white egrets and yellow-crowned night herons standing statue-like at the waterline. A breeze ripples the tall grasses around them.
The country roads east of Brenham traverse a region steeped in Texas history, the very heart of Stephen F. Austin’s colony. Driving these verdant rolling woodlands and fertile prairies, it’s easy to understand why colonists arriving in the 1820s fell in love with the area.
It’s the smell that first grabs you when you enter the Collings Guitars Factory in southwest Austin—that heady intermingling of hand-milled spruce, mahogany, rosewood, maple, and other high-end tonewoods, layered with the pungently pleasing odor of varnish and lacquer.
It’s bumper-to-bumper in Weatherford, and most everyone is smiling. Traffic moves at a crawl around the courthouse, its picturesque red cupolas reaching into an azure sky.
Every year, from October through March—and sometimes into April— hundreds of endangered whooping cranes show up to spend the winter on the Texas coast after flying more than 2,500 miles from their summer homes in Canada. The best place to find them? Aransas National Wildlife Refuge, north of Rockport.
My mom has always loved dogwoods, those graceful understory trees common in East Texas, whose blossoms remind me of ethereal confetti. My sister and I have gifted her with dogwood jewelry on her spring birthday in years past, but last year we discovered an even better way to celebrate.
One of many reasons that I like to take car trips with my son is that they never fail to inspire conversation. As anyone who has ever raised a teenager knows, anything that will get one talking is to be treasured. And while my relationship with Elliott has always been close, something about being on the road inspires camaraderie different from our usual mother-son rapport.
North of the Hill Country, but south of the Panhandle; west of North Texas, but east of West Texas, is a region that can only be described as “Big Country.” It’s a land of rugged prairies and epic stories as legendary as Texas itself. I headed to the heart of this region to explore its biggest and most fabled city—Abilene.