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Written by Texas Highways

Illustrated map of Pittsburg, Texas

In Pittsburg, the hot links are plump, mermaids abound far from the sea, and a Baptist preacher invented a flying contraption that got off the ground a full year before the Wright Brothers made their famous first flight.

Pie in Hico

This little town southwest of the Metroplex may be small but it’s not lacking when it comes to Texas-size tripping. Hico’s history is mysterious, its desserts are mouthwatering, and its silo-climbing is intense.

This iconic bar in the Fort Worth Stockyards boasts hundreds of cowboy hats nailed to the ceiling and walls, plus live music every night.

When friends and family visit me in Fort Worth, they ask to see the real Cowtown. Piece of cake, I say, and we head out for the north side of town to explore the Stockyards National Historic District. After what seems like hundreds of trips through the beloved old neighborhood, I still get a kick out of seeing our mounted city police force in their cowboy hats with their beautiful horses. Just as much fun is catching the re-enactments of an 1880s Longhorn cattle drive, which take place twice daily on the weathered bricks that cover North Main Street and Exchange Avenue, the crossroads at the Stockyards’ heart.

Since 1975, Fonda San Miguel in Austin has served authentic Mexican interior fare, including a lavish Sunday brunch.

Even before you step through the restaurant’s massive, hand-carved wooden doors, you’ve been transported to a place that usually requires a passport. A light breeze rustles palms and other exotic tropical foliage while young chefs clip fragrant sprigs of cilantro, mint, and epazote from the culinary garden. Inside, gleaming Saltillo tiles, the exhilarating aroma of freshly squeezed limes, and squawked greetings from Paco, the resident parrot, ensure you’ve reached full-on vacation mode. Welcome to Fonda San Miguel in Austin.

Roy’s Cafe in Corsicana serves breakfast all day, including a belt-busting option that combines scrambled eggs, hash browns, and chicken-fried steak.

Driving the 240 miles of Interstate 45 between Dallas and Houston reveals gentle changes in elevation, pastures in the north, pine forests farther south, and a relief from big-city traffic. If you are hungry and looking for an alternative to fast food, a few minutes’ diversion from the highway allows for some satisfying small-town Texas dining. Such options provide a respite from construction zones and 18-wheelers, with no charge for the smiles of hometown servers.

About 7 miles south of Weatherford, you can go “glamping” in a safari-style cabin within a mile’s hike of the Brazos River.

The ideal getaway experience doesn’t always involve traveling long distances to an elaborate resort, as I rediscover on a recent trip less than an hour from home. Hearing about a prime “glamping” retreat outside of Weatherford, my husband and I are intrigued to see what sort of escape awaits so close to our usual stomping grounds in Fort Worth.

Located in the Crockett County Courthouse square, Judy Black’s statue, "The Tie That Binds," depicts a young pioneer family.

You get the idea of just how empty and remote the country around Ozona is when you learn that local officials installed a red light on top of the 1902 Crockett County Courthouse not only to summon the sheriff’s deputy but to guide travelers to town after dark.

The Lake Mineral Wells State Trailway travels 20 miles between Weatherford and Mineral Wells, including 16 bridges.

A flash of bright green catches my eye, and I slam on the brakes, my bicycle kicking up gravel as I skid to a stop. A grass snake nearly 3 feet long slithers out of my path and into the underbrush, leaving a faint wavy line in its wake. My eyes return to the trail ahead, its crushed-limestone surface pale against the grapevine-covered thickets on either side. Sunlight filters through the canopy of leaves overhead, dappling the ground.

Visitors can stop by for a free tour any day of the week and spend time petting and feeding the rescue ranch's donkeys.

Mark and Amy Meyers, the founders of Peaceful Valley Donkey Rescue near San Angelo, have made it their mission to change perceptions about donkeys one person at a time.

Mission Tejas State Park commemorates Spain’s 17th-century attempt  to maintain its territory in East Texas

Despite my job as a Texas photographer and writer, I hadn’t visited many of East Texas’ state parks in years. Last year, when University of Texas Press asked me to revise my 2008 guidebook, Official Guide to Texas State Parks and Historic Sites, I seized my opportunity and hit the road. The experience was a bit like renewing old friendships; I not only saw things I remembered from previous visits, but I also found new surprises. Here are some highlights from my East Texas favorites.

Caprock Canyons State Park and Trailway lies along the western edge of the Llano Estacado.

Some know it as the Rolling Plains. Others call it Cowboy Alley. A land of open road and enormous sky, the Big Empty lies more or less north of Abilene and east of Lubbock. Larger than some states, with a population smaller than many urban zip codes, the seldom-traveled chunk of prairie is home to red-dirt farms and huge ranches, from the Pitchfork and Matador to the Four Sixes.

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