Texas has some beautiful stretches of highway, and it has some where you just want to pluck out your eyeballs.
Truth be told -- if you take out the urban panoramas of strip malls and national franchises -- there's probably more of the former than the latter.
Let's look at the five best first. Obviously, we could load up the list with Hill Country roads -- 71, 281, even the loop around Austin are all lovely. But for the sake of variety, we are leaving them out, with the stern warning that if you must, if at all possible, drive on 281 between Canyon Lake and Marble Falls at least once.
So, with that disclaimer...
5. State Highway 118 near Big Bend Wide open spaces -- you can get them in lots of places in Texas, but having some mountains relieves the monotony. State Highway 118, the gateway to Big Bend National Park, offers great vistas and some of that offbeat funkiness only isolated West Texas can provide.
4. U.S. Highway 59 in East Texas We tend to give East Texas and its Piney Woods ways a bit of grief, but that's only because the area seems to have more than its share of dumb criminals. Must be the meth. But driving on 59 can be terrific -- rolling blacktop, little to no traffic, and every so often some time-capsule town pops up. We wouldn't recommend driving it at night if you weren't very, very sure of your engine, though.
3. Highways 180/62 east of El Paso Guadalupe Peak is the tallest point in Texas (and really, it's not all that tall, at about 8,700 feet). When you're driving back to El Paso from your Carlsbad Caverns trip, you wind around it and El Capitan, getting great angles. You will also probably get a ticket when you fail to realize you have got up to 90 mph on the endless downhill slope, and a hidden radar gun has nailed you.
2. Highway 35, between Houston and Corpus Christi If you have to drive from Houston to Corpus, do not take the boring 59 option. Instead take 35, which -- to be sure -- has its dull stretches, but which ambles through sleepy coastal towns and gives you much better close-ups of the Gulf along the way.
1. I-30 near Big Spring Most unlikely Number One pick ever, besides JaMarcus Russell? Maybe. But I-30 offers the wide-open views you find when you're between the Panhandle and West Texas, and it also offers a glimpse into the state's energy past and future: If you come in at night, the Cosden refinery looks like a mini-Manhattan out on the plains. (Of course, when there's an accident, the refinery looks like it does in the above picture.)
Come in during the day, and you'll see the highly productive wind farms that dot the area. We guess they don't call Big Spring the Crossroads of Texas for nothing.
The five worst: We won't subject you to pictures of these things; some things are best left unviewed. But if you can avoid taking these roads, your impression of Texas will be greatly improved.
5. I-45 between Houston and Dallas: As utterly boring a trip as you can imagine, unless you can imagine I-35 between Austin and Dallas. I-45 gets the bonus points, though, because it's basically dry once you get out of civilization. Not that you should have a beer to break up the monotony, of course.
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4. Highway 59 south of Houston: As mentioned above, 35 is the much better option. But some people prefer watching paint dry, we guess.
3. The 610 Loop: 38 miles and exactly two redeeming features: The bridge over the Ship Channel and seeing the Astrodome sadly squatting next to Reliant Stadium.
2. I-10 in West Texas: So vast , so empty, so dull. And it never ends. One of the few interstates in the country with an 85 mph speed limit, and it still takes forever.
1. Highway 225 in Pasadena: Refinery Row. Smells as good as it looks.