Autumn trips are perfect for exploring the roads and sights of Texas. As the long, hot summer winds down and before the capriciousness of winter comes howling across the plains, the fall weather can be an ideal combination of day and night temperatures that won't be matched again until spring.
The kids have gone back to school, and the winter Texans won't be showing up until after Thanksgiving. This is the time of the year for the year-round residents to enjoy the best the state has to offer. Here are four destinations that take advantage of the cooler temperatures and the smaller crowds.
As in most tourist destinations around the state, the traditional season along the Texas coast runs from Memorial Day in May to Labor Day in September. Most accommodations offer lower off-season rates and there is generally less traffic.
Port Aransas is a personal favorite, and the beach seems to be even more inviting when there is a bit of a chill in the evening air. The little resort village has managed to maintain a small-town ambience despite being inundated with tourists during the summer. For information on Port A, call 800/452-6278 or visit www.portaransas.org.
For a nice change explore the fishing village of Rockport. A struggling colony of artists works the galleries and shops in the downtown area and there are some terrific restaurants like Shorty's Cafe. The area is world famous for its birding with the whooping cranes taking up winter residency from October through March. For information on Rockport, call 800/242-0071.
Start your Christmas shopping early in the mercados along the Rio Grande. The Official Texas Travel Map lists both Laredo and Del Rio as being 232 miles from Austin. Travel time to Laredo is a little less because you have interstate highway the entire way. The shopping district seems bigger over the border in Nuevo Laredo, but it is also more crowded. For information on Laredo, call 800/361-3360 or visit www.visitlaredo.com.
Ciudad Acuña, Mexico, across the river from Del Rio, tends to be a little more spread out, but more laid back. The public squares give the town a more genuine feel and less of a turista atmosphere. While you're in Del Rio stop by the Val Verde Winery. Founded in 1883 by Italian immigrants, it is the oldest winery in Texas. For information on Del Rio, call 830/775-3551.
Austin to Amarillo is 478 miles, but the journey can have the highlight of visiting the second-largest canyon in the continental United States. Palo Duro Canyon is a sight to behold. Miles of multi-colored layered walls under a blue sky are as majestic as any painting. Camp on the canyon floor, stay in a cabin on the rim of the canyon, or enjoy the comforts of a motel in town. While you're there don't forget to check out the Cadillac Ranch west of town off I-40. For information on Amarillo, call 800/894-9103. On the trip save time to stop by the Buddy Holly Center in Lubbock. For information on Lubbock, call 800/692-4035 or visit www.lubbocklegends.com.
Autumn is one of the best times of the year to visit the Big Bend region. Migratory birds increase the aviary population and the cooler weather makes hiking more of a joy. Study Butte is the perfect base camp with several motels and a close proximity to the national park and fun of Terlingua. The International Frank X. Tolbert/Wick Fowler Memorial Championship Chili Cook-off and the CASI International Chili Championship are held on the second weekend of November in the former ghost town. For more information on the area go to www.visitbigbend.com.
The Big Bend is a big place, and there are lots of places to explore. If you haven't been to Fort Davis, it is a fun little town to explore. Marfa has a growing cultural community as well as the famous Marfa mystery lights. Alpine is the "big" city of the district, but has its own quaintness. The old part of the Gage Hotel in Marathon is fairly rustic, but the new wing of rooms offer the utmost in comfort and conveniences, plus the restaurant offers world-class fare.
588th in a series. Day Trips, Vol. 2, a book of Day Trips 101-200, is available for $8.95, plus $3.05 for shipping, handling, and tax. Mail to: Day Trips, PO Box 33284, South Austin, TX 78704.