Veer off the interstate and explore strange, sublime, and breathtaking sights, along the Backroads of Texas
Texas is the second largest state in the United States, and you can be sure it’s home to plenty of incredible sights waiting just off the beaten path. Backroads of Texas guides readers off the main drag where they can find intriguing sites, offbeat characters, and glorious landscapes. These are the sights normally missed by interstate-centric travelers.
The book includes thirty backroad drives and excursions that take travelers into the boondocks where all the craziest natural sights occur. Watch frenzied bats as they fly by the thousands from San Angelo’s Foster Road Bridge. Catch your breath as you drink in the majestic Guadalupe Mountains. Get ready for goosebumps when you spelunk into the shadowy depths of Inner Space Cavern, and try not to get spooked when you see the paranormal “ghost lights” near the eclectic town of Marfa. These off-road sights are what truly set the Lone Star State apart from its neighbors.
Completely reimagined for a new generation of road-trip takers and explorers, Backroads of Texas is lavishly illustrated with photographs, maps, and vintage advertising of Texas’s many scenic, historic, and cultural attractions. You think you know what Texas looks like? Think again. Backroads of Texas has something to surprise and excite everyone.
Below is an excerpt from Gary Clark and Kathy Adams Clark’s new book Backroads of Texas: Along the Byways to Breathtaking Landscapes and Quirky Small Towns
Henrietta to Paris (Excerpt)
Start in the small town of Henrietta at the intersection of US Highway 287 and US Highway 82. Traffic from Amarillo, Wichita Falls, and Fort Worth speeds by on the outskirts of Henrietta, yet the
town seems locked peacefully away from the hubbub of the highways.
In 1860 when the US settlements were new to the area, Henrietta was the only town in Clay County. Local residents confronting hostilities from the Kiowa Indians , with Chief White Horse as the leader, had to abandon the area during the Civil War for lack of military protection.
A major battle took place in 1870 between the US Army and Kiowa, the latter being defeated and settlers being able to return. (The entire area was home to American Indians and their ancestors thousands of years before the arrival of Anglo settlers.)
You can learn about the history of Henrietta by visiting the Jail Museum and Heritage Center at 116 Graham Street. The museum is housed in the jail built in 1890. It’s a tan two-story building that still has bars on some of the windows. Inside are examples of 1890s décor, western artifacts, displays about ranching in the area, and photos of the original settlers.
Two blocks away is the Clay County Courthouse, a three-story red brick building with tan stone trim anchoring the town around Main Street. Stewart’s Sweet Shop across from the courthouse is a place to grab a pastry or to have lunch. Jefe’s Mexican Restaurant is nearby and offers tasty Tex-Mex cuisine.
Heading east out of Henrietta on US 82 offers a chance to drive through the undulating low hills of the Texas prairies to reach Nocona. This is the town where the Nocona brand of cowboy boots originated, and the old factory is visible on US 82 at the eastern edge of town.
St. Jo is the next community on this route heading east on US 82. Cattle drives along the Chisholm Trail brought life to this area in the 1870s, and a railroad came through in 1886. Since that time, the town has had a relatively stable population of about one thousand people. The town’s main square has a historic hotel, a custom boot maker, and coffee shops.
Wide Open US 82
Continuing along the wide-open roadway, US 82 makes it fun to pass through little towns, with nearly each one holding historic treasures. For example, as you slow down to enter Lindsay, you’ll notice a tall steeple towering among the trees in the community.
That’s St. Peter’s Catholic Church on Ash Street. The church we see today was rebuilt in 1918, one year after a tornado destroyed the original structure. A restoration in 2009 brought the church into the twenty-first century. The ornate interior is as astonishingly beautiful as many historic churches in Europe.
The town’s founding families in 1913 built four small chapels around the church grounds that not only add to the beauty of the church grounds but also enhance the beauty of the community. US 82 gets much wider as it crosses Interstate 35 in Gainesville.
Next Stop, Paris
Next stop, Paris, which anchors this route on the eastern end. The town is filled with so much history that you could spend a day to a week covering all the attractions. Settlers arrived in the area between 1824 and 1826, and a store merchant named George Wright founded the town in 1844 along the Central National Railroad of the then Republic of Texas.
Thomas Poteet, working for Wright, either named Wright’s store “Paris” or named the town “Paris,” depending on which historical account you read. No one knows precisely why Poteet chose the name.
In 1916, a major fire devastated the town. Townsfolk adopted the attitude of “smile and we’ll get through this.” One year later, in 1917, the majority of the community was rebuilt and Paris was back in business. Today “Smile!” is the town’s motto.
The Eiffel Tower in Paris will make anyone smile. The Boiler Makers Local No. 902 built the scale model of the Eiffel Tower that stands sixty-five feet tall on Collegiate Drive. In 1998, a red cowboy hat was added to the top of the tower to make it one of the best-dressed of the fifteen Eiffel Tower replicas in America.
A Tribute to Veterans
Next to the Eiffel Tower is the Red River Veterans Memorial. A towering gate, wide walkways, American flags, and black granite memorials combine to make this an outstanding tribute to America’s veterans.
The Evergreen Cemetery is a tribute to community leaders and located on Business Highway 19/24 and Evergreen with a convenient entrance between Fourth and Fifth Streets along Evergreen.
Two rows down in the cemetery and to the left is the famous grave of Willet Babcock with an ornate marble tombstone supporting a mysterious statue on top that some say is the figure of Jesus carrying a cross, while others say it’s Jesus leaning on a cross.
Still others say it’s an angel in mourning leaning on a cross and even others claim it’s a character out of Shakespeare—a bit of a stretch but proffered because of Babcock’s love of Shakespearian drama. No matter what the statue represents, one thing is for sure. It’s wearing cowboy boots!
When leaving the cemetery on Evergreen Street, turn right on Business Highway 19/24 or Church Street. Ornate homes and churches sit along the street near downtown. Stop at the Sam Bell Maxey House on 812 South Church Street, a home built in 1868 in High Victorian Italianate style.
The front is adorned with two porches, one on the first floor and another on the second floor. Large windows draw abundant light into rooms with towering ceilings. The Texas Historical Commission has preserved the house, and guided tours are available twice daily.
Historic furniture and accessories decorate the home built by Maxey as he moved through life as a soldier, lawyer, and state and US Senator. His body rests at the Evergreen Cemetery.
Continue along Church Street to Paris’s historic center around Business Highway 82. The town has maintained a large number of historic buildings that today house antique shops, restaurants, theaters, and offices.
The Paris Bakery is located at 120 North Main Street across from the Lamar County Courthouse. Drop in for breakfast or lunch or just a cup of coffee where the food in this Paris, Texas town really does recall food in the cafés of Paris, France.
Gary Clark is the weekly nature columnist for the Houston Chronicle and San Antonio Express News and a professor at Lone Star College-North Harris. The winner of eight writing awards, he also publishes feature articles in state and national magazines and has written several books, including Backroads of the Texas Hill Country, Texas Wildlife Portfolio, and Portrait of Houston.
Kathy Adams Clark has worked as a professional photographer since 1995. Her photos have been published in many magazines, calendars, and books, including Backroads of the Texas Hill Country and Portrait of Houston. Her images have also appeared with her husband Gary’s weekly nature column in the Houston Chronicle and San Antonio Express News. She teaches photography and is a popular speaker at local and national events. Kathy remains a proud native Texan; her family settled in Texas in 1845.
Sierra Sumner is a writer from Massachusetts, Hawaii and California. She loves the outdoors, such as hiking and kayaking, and has traveled all across the US. She hopes to continue her explorations and to encourage others to expand their horizons.