Thursday, July 16, 2009

281 Reasons To Drive To San Antonio

What do you get when you put two 15 year old girls, a laptop, headphones and three seasons of CSI Miami on DVD in the back seat of a car for a 5 hour drive? Silence. But to be fair to Sister, only the day before we'd driven 9 hours from Columbia, Missouri to Dallas, so she was a little road weary. Not me, I couldn't wait to get on the road, because I love the drive south - no, no, no, not the drive on I-35, the drive on Highway 281. Most people believe that because you stop in several small Texas towns along the way that it is longer trip - every time I've gone this way (non-stop) it's taken 5 hours flat, which is about the same as the interstate, just delete the semis and the crazy drivers.

And the towns are the point of this ride. They have some great treasures, from antiques to food to historical significance, even the smallest communities have something of interest to look at as you pass by. For those not in a rush, spend an entire day stopping along the way - it's really a hidden Texas jewel of a road trip.

From Dallas you head south on Highway 67, passing the ugly monolithic Midlothian cement plants, dusty and dry structures plopped in the land of flat. But beyond, the scenery becomes more beautiful beginning with the semi-arid plateaus that emerge from the rolling prairies in Glen Rose. Turning south to catch 281 in Hico the landscape becomes more agricultural, hay was being harvested, cattle, horses and goats are plentiful. The hills become taller as you approach the "lake region" around Marble Falls, a beautiful town on the west end of Lake Travis. Between the lake and San Antonio is the Pedernales, and their hilly beauty is accentuated with the rivers Comal and Guadaloupe winding within.

And food? This route could be an orgy for Texas gourmands: BBQ, jerky, bakeries, cheese makers, a chocolateria, fruit stands. And for those willing to go off-roading a bit, shooting off to the east and west of 281 are the Texas wineries in Llano, Wimberly and other small towns. Also olive farms are in abundance in the region as discovered recently when researching where to buy one for my backyard.

Yikes - I need to set this up as a food tour for others looking for an agri-licious experience!

Maybe you too collect aged items related to food, well US281 has the density of antique stores to keep even a quick shopper busy for a week. And some years there are nesting bald eagles over towards Llano that can be fun for those who love bird watching. Looking for a higher activity level? There's tubing or canoeing - you can rent equipment on the Brazos river in Glen Rose or choose between the Colorado, Comal or Guadaloupe rivers in south Texas.

Ultimately you come to San Antonio, and we took advantage of the summer's special rate at Hotel Contessa, $129 (weeknight rate, as advertised in this months DMagazine) for a suite in a beautiful hotel located along the river. Our room overlooked the "marriage island", one of several small islands with over 150 years of history. Additional costs at the hotel include $30 per night valet (pretty standard to pay for parking in downtown SA), and $10 per night for Internet connection (or you can use their business center computers for free). But hey, they stock Aveda products in the bathroom, the rooftop pool is amazing (especially at night), and their bar knows what a "healthy" pour is.

During the days we went to Seaworld (very hot) and Schlitterbahn (hot, but who cares if you stay in the lazy river all day?). Seaworld was having an internet rate special as well, adult tickets were lowered to the kids ticket price. I thought the $2 we saved online for Schlitterbahn was good, until I realized that we could have saved another $10 per pass by purchasing them at the HEB down on the corner in New Braunfels (or any located in the Austin/San Antonio region - just not Dallas, we don't have HEB in Dallas).

At night, all the riverwalk restaurants were just a block away, our customary first evening meal at Casa Rio did not disappoint. You can even combine the river boat tour with an evening of dinner, they have several "dinner boats" that feed you while you learn about the city's history.

On the road trip back north, we stopped at a fruit stand between Marble Falls and Blanco, I'd noticed the large peach orchard next to it and had made a mental note to return. McCall Creek Farms - this place, out of all the others is the one I would return to again and again. Peaches, tomatoes, melons, peppers, okra, home canned and home baked items, homemade vanilla ice cream made with chopped peaches folded within. Total spent $71, but we left with a car full of eats.

Now here's my really helpful hint, Hamilton has a state trooper's headquarters, and they take the 70 mph speed limit on that stretch of road very seriously. They'll be warning you too if you're going too fast.

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