By Melissa Gaskill
For the enlightened and adventurous traveler, serendipity transforms every trip: Hiking a new trail and rounding a bend to encounter an unexpected vista, journeying to a destination you’ve heard about—or visiting a familiar place with someone who’s never been—without an agenda. Or, in the case of pursuing Texas wildflowers, finding yourself surprised with the splashes and brushstrokes of red, blue, orange, and purple that appear in the landscape.
See the print edition for additional information on compelling roadside stops, places to stay, and other attractions, so you’ll have fun on your road trip no matter what.
Brenham/Chappell HillSet aside a few hours to enjoy this 90-mile drive that scrawls a rough figure-8 around the Brenham area in Washington County. Start from Brenham and
head northeast on Texas 105 through rolling hills, pastures, stands of oaks, and blooming flowers such as purple coneflower, verbena, beardtongue, coral bean, skullcaps, and prairie parsley. A few miles from the city limits, look off to the right for the Monastery Miniature Horse Farm, where the Franciscan Poor Clare nuns maintain a herd of cute, waist-high horses.
If you’re in no hurry, visit Washington-on-the-Brazos State Historic Site, home of the Star of the Republic Museum and Barrington Living History Farm. However, be forewarned. You’d need an entire day to do it justice. Because wildflowers rule this excursion, hustle back to scenic, flower-lined FM 1155.
Drive slowly down the single street that passes through Chappell Hill’s quaint business district. Turn right at US 290 and take the Austin exit in Brenham to remain on 290 roughly 14 miles to the turn-off for Burton, FM 1697. Pay attention, because this stretch of highway often provides some of the lushest bluebonnet spreads in the entire state. Also look for Indian paintbrush, yellow wild indigo, thistles, blue-eyed grass, rattlesnake flower, blanket flower, and rosinweed.
In Independence, stop in Old Baylor Park on the side of the road. Site of the original Baylor University, the park now boasts excellent bluebonnet photo ops. Other usual suspects rounded up here include primroses, lyre leaf sage, prairie Brazos mint, and mayhaw trees. Turn right on FM 50, which takes you back to Texas 105 and Brenham.
This rough and winding route puts many miles on your vehicle, but the visual treats will prove more than enough reward. In the morning, take RM 170 west to the Barton Warnock Environmental Education Center, a source of information on points of interest along the scenic River Road, including Big Bend Ranch State Park. The Center’s herbarium houses 1,100 plant specimens discovered by noted Texas botanist Barton Warnock, plus exhibits on area geology, natural history, and a
In addition to wildflowers, look for herds of pronghorn antelope. The drive on US 90 east to Alpine is dominated by grasslands where yucca and sotol bloom in the spring. In Alpine, have lunch or dinner at La Trattoria, celebrated for authentic Italian fare. Then turn on Texas 118 South back toward Terlingua. Along this scenic road, look for Mexican buckeyes and more wildflowers in the mid-elevations, and flowering desert scrub in lower areas.
Northeast Texas, Caddo Lake State Park, Cass County
You’ll begin and end this wildflower drive in Marshall, which offers numerous accommodations on US 59, including a handful of B&Bs. Head north along Texas 43 from Marshall to Karnack, and you may see bull thistle, coreopsis, and, at the edge of the woods, beardtongue. In low-lying areas, keep your eyes peeled for common rose mallow and giant coneflower, the latter with yellow blooms that can soar six feet high. Take FM 2198 to Uncertain, where crimson clover and coreopsis often bloom, along with partridge pea, downy phlox, bluebonnets, Mexican hats, and wild indigo.
Make your way back to Texas 43 and continue north to Atlanta, then take US 59 to Linden. Along the way, look for coreopsis, crimson clover, spiderwort, phlox, and bachelor buttons gracing the landscape. Continue on Texas 155 to the tiny town of Avinger, then Texas 49 to Jefferson. A bustling port in the 1840s, Jefferson faded when the railroad arrived in Marshall, but you’ll find plenty of mansions turned B&Bs, as well as the historic Excelsior House and Jefferson Hotels, both famously haunted. Consider a bayou boat tour or a ride on a paddlewheel steamer on Caddo Lake, then treat yourself to French cuisine at the Stillwater Inn Restaurant. Or, to keep the pie theme going, visit House of Pies, then take US 59 back to Marshall. Other flowers likely to show themselves along this route include Indian paintbrush, larkspur, red buckeye, butterfly weed, and black-eyed Susans.
This route follows Loop 375, or the Trans-Mountain Road, through Franklin Mountains State Park, at 37 square miles, the nation’s largest urban park—all of it within El Paso’s city limits.
Many more amazing photos are featured in the print edition.
From the April 2009 issue.