Driving South Texas

I returned home last week after doing one of my County Road Trips in Texas. I flew into Harlingen, which is down in the bottom corner of Texas, rented a car, spent a week driving through 73 new counties, and then returned to Harlingen. I did some sight-seeing and some music-listening along the way, but my main objective was to visit new counties (as noted in yellow of the included map). Mapping the most efficient route through the most number of counties was a good objective to have on this trip because there wasn’t too much else I wanted to do except to have a week of relaxing drives.

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As usual, I wanted to do this trip cheaply, money-wise and points-wise. I use two primary credit cards during the year (always pay your balance in full every month, kids). I have a Southwest Airlines card and a Choice Hotels card. I use those when I can during the year…and then use the rewards to travel some more. This is partly what pointed me toward South Texas. I checked the Southwest Airlines flight calendar to find where I could fly for a low number of points in late November and/or early December. I then compared those locations against my map of counties I needed to visit (on mob-rule.com). From there I picked where it might be the best weather. The winner was South Texas.

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Since the winner was Texas, I thought it prudent to find some outstanding live music while I was adventuring. This pointed me in certain directions. I went to Pollstar.com and started looking at who was playing where and when, and how close were any hotels where I could get free nights with my points. I found Joe Ely playing at Sam’s Burger Joint in downtown San Antonio on my Friday night. Two nights later, also at Sam’s Burger Joint, Ramblin’ Jack Elliott was playing. These two singers were still on my Need-To-See-Them-At-Least-Once List, so, in one crazed night of web-based transactions, I booked my airline flights, found a rental car at a decent rate, reserved two different hotel rooms in San Antonio (dictated by fewer points), and purchased concert tickets.

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After I arrived early in Harlingen, I zig-zagged my rental Yaris around south Texas, finding free hotel nights in Victoria, Conroe, San Antonio, Ozona, San Antonio again, Cotulla, and Harlingen. My zigging and zagging went on for 2302 miles through 73 new counties.

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In case you haven’t been out there, Texas is flat, though I didn’t see the flattest part of Texas, which is up in the panhandle. On this trip, I saw dirt plains, farm plains, brushy plains, city plains, and, in West Texas, some slow-rolling hilly plains, though I don’t feel comfortable using the term “hilly”. Maybe “slightly-inclining plains” of West Texas would be better terminology, at least on the small edges of West Texas that I saw.

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There were two major things I noticed to be different from previous visits to Texas. One, windmill farms. I’m not talking about those cute little windmills used to pump a little water on cattle ranches. I’m talking about those giant power-producing windmills, with towers 212-feet tall, blades 116-feet long, sweeping out an airspace of almost an acre. I saw them from the air before landing in Harlingen, I saw them in the plains near Del Rio, and I saw them randomly every day I was in Texas.

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The second thing I noticed was the ranch fencing. The traditional seven-string barbed-wire fence of the cattle ranches seemed to be going out of favor and being replaced by the seven-foot tall mesh small-animal fence with a single string of barbed-wire along the top edge, to help keep in the trophies of the Exotic Animal Ranches, I suppose. Many ranched have gone from raising cattle to farming and hunting exotic animals. Whatever works, I suppose.

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I didn’t see a lot of specific and entertaining things on this trip, but that wasn’t the objective. My objective on this trip, as with most of my other trips, was to see what’s out there. Sure, I enjoyed the concerts in San Antonio, the ferry ride in Galveston, and even just cruising the streets of Laredo. But I also enjoyed seeing the miles of empty plains, listening to farm and crop reports on the local radio stations, seeing the crumbling old buildings of small crumbling towns, enduring the immigration security checkpoints, getting lost trying to get around on those damn Frontage roads off the interstates, stopping-and-going with the traffic of the Houston suburbs, and feeling the hum of the highway as I road tripped south Texas.

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