More "Primary Highways": Texas, Austin, Hill Country, and San Antonio

Today we visit the state of Texas, on the day before its presidential primary (along with Ohio, Rhode Island and Vermont).

We start with the capital city of Austin, probably the only place in Texas I could actually live. It is considered a liberal and cultural oasis, with the University, major high-tech companies, and a lively music scene:

[photo by Larry D Moore]

Austin is also quite a scenic town. It is at the edge of the “Texas Hill Country,” and contains several artificial lakes along the Colorado River (no, it's a different Colorado River). This includes the downtown:

and nearby Lake Austin:

The last photo is the Pennybacker Bridge, carrying “loop highway” 360 over Lake Austin. Texas has several so-called “Loop” highways that must use a different definition of the word “loop” than most of us. Another of these is Loop 1, the Mo Pac expressway.

I did visit the Austin area last year, though I did not get much of a chance to explore the music or scenery. Indeed, my experience with the city itself was decidedly un-scenic, as we attempted to get from the airport to I-35, and encountered this infamous interchange:

This interchange connects I-35, the area's only interstate highway, with state highway 71, still called Ben White Boulevard even though a large portion has been converted to a freeway. However, significant portions are still not freeway, and as I discovered there is no way to connect to or from I-35 south of the interchange without going through at least one traffic light and/or stop sign. You can read more about it in my article from Austin. I think this excerpt from the site

This intersection is the worst traffic disaster in Austin. The 290/71 freeway ends about 0.5 mile to the west of the interchange, dumping all the traffic into this substandard intersection with a traffic light. But relief is on the way. The 5 level stack is under construction. Texas 71 will be depressed below grade, and the feeders will be at grade.

Fortunately, we quickly left this disaster for the bucolic Texas Hill Country. T

This is another area that doesn't fit the stereotypes, with rolling hills, woods and meadows. And towns like Wimberly with a mixture of rustic and New Age character one associates with tourist areas here in northern California – they even have a small wine industry. We meet this skinny little follow while there:

And well-known ranch critters, like white peacocks:

Heading further south from the hill country on I-35 (which I did not do myself), one arrives in San Antonio:

The former is of course Texas' most famous monument, the Alamo. THe latter is a local sculpture, the “Torch of Friendship.” Frequent readers will know I like to balance the old with the new. Speaking of strange combinations of old and new, consider this view from one of San Antonio's major freeways, US 281:

The photo above is from, which states “The 281 freeway in San Antonio was one of the more controversial freeways in Texas, and possibly the most controversial.” As the photo suggests, it weaves its way around existing structures:

This is probably the most interesting and usual feature of the freeway. Although not visible in the photo, Sunken Gardens in on the right, and Alamo stadium is on the left.

It reminds me of the freeways in New York City, which narrowly wind between over a century of previous buildings. Other, larger, highways include something you see in New York, but almost never in California: double-deckers, such as this section of I-35:

As the signs suggest, we are looking back north on I-35, towards Austin. And thus we come full circle.