Hill Country Trail
Visions of William B. Travis, Davy Crockett, and Jim Bowie fighting to the death at the Alamo in 1836 linger while we cruise and climb northwestward from San Antonio, Texas. The really inspirational driving starts in Bandera-"Cowboy Capital of the World"-where the Frontier Times Museum merits a visit. Its founder, John Marvin Hunter, born in 1880, published the local newspaper, wrote many books about the Wild West, and was a great collector of western memorabilia.
Outside the town, our torquey Pontiac GTO flexes its muscles on the Texas Hill Country Trail. Tiny settlements punctuate the road before we turn north near the entrance to Garner State Park. Walnut trees and live oaks overlook this stretch of Route 83, which was a feeder for the storied Chisholm Trail when cowboys herded cattle to the railhead at Abilene after the Civil War. A plaque in the scenic overlook north of Leakey reminds us that this is the Texas Vietnam Veterans Memorial Highway.
A few miles later, the Texas Hill Country Trail turns east and heads for Kerrville, running across limestone uplands carved by the Little Guadalupe River, which the road crosses several times. When that happens, long views contrast with cliffs, shady gorges, and a few of the Lone Star State's countless pecan orchards.
Be patient in Kerrville, where slow-moving traffic comes as something of a shock. Then finish the 180-mile drive in Fredericksburg, which is more German than many places in Germany. This attractive little town is where the future Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz was born in 1885. The "modest, calm, polite" son of a widowed mother became the Pacific Fleet's commander-in-chief after Pearl Harbor. His childhood home on Main Street is part of the nine-acre National Museum of the Pacific War.
Crockett, San Antonio (210-225-6500; www.crocketthotel.com). Not fancy, but a stone's throw from the Alamo.
Menger, San Antonio (210-223-4361; www. mengerhotel.com). Claims to be the oldest hotel west of the Mississippi.
Fredericksburg Inn (830-997-0202; www.fredericksburg-inn.com). Comfortable and modern, near Admiral Nimitz's childhood home.
Do set an hour aside to see Alamo-The Price of Freedom in San Antonio's IMAX theater.
Do heed all the water-on-road warnings on the Texas Hill Country Trail.
Don't keep going straight at the crossroads in Bandera. Our route doglegs right and left.
Eat & drinkMi Tierra Cafe, San Antonio (210- 225-1262; www.mitierracafe.com). A landmark in Market Square since 1941. Locals rave about the Mexican barbecue.
Colonial Room, San Antonio (210- 223-4361; www. mengerhotel.com). Classy restaurant in a hotel whose guests have included Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee.
Rose Hill Manor, Stonewall (877-767-3445; www.rose-hill. com). The best food in the Hill Country.
Texas Travel (800-452- 9292; www.traveltex.com).
13 Days to Glory, Lon Tinkle, Texas University Press.
National Museum of the Pacific War (830-997- 4379; www.nimitz-museum.com).
What we drove
The Pontiac GTO is a classic front-engine, rear-drive American muscle car. The cherished stereotype depicts Texas as the bigger-is-better state, so the 6.0-liter V-8's 400 hp and 400 lb-ft of torque were delightfully appropriate. There are slicker six-speed manual gearboxes on the market, but all that torque virtually eliminates the need to downshift.