A friend of mine is currently driving cross-country from East Coast to West. Green with envy, I am following her blog DC Confidential at http://wdc-confidential.blogspot.com/ as she drives.
I love to drive. Most people I know prefer flying. Maybe that's because we here in West Texas are 300 miles, in any direction, from a major city. And about 150 of those miles are flat land with scrubby mesquite trees, some pumpjacks and nothing conventionally pretty to see. The landscape grasses are brown from ten+ years of drought, although it doesn't really change that much even when it rains. I hated driving when I was a kid, nothing but boring, brown, barren land for miles. As an adult, however, I can listen to some sweet tunage and let my thoughts wander and flow throughout the familiar landscape, knowing the best is yet to come.
Drive 300 miles east to Dallas. Downtown where one building (name anyone?) is outlined in green argon: stark, modern, unusual; and the twinkling lights of the revolving Hyatt tower where the food is overpriced and the view is worth it. Lots of hip bars, upscale dining and the Dallas Museum of Art. Bright lights, big city, big hair.
Alternately, drive 300 miles west to El Paso. Though immortalized in song, EP is one of the ugliest cities in Texas. Because it is a border town, the smog from Mexico's ecologically-insane factories hangs over the city; and the stench of the stockyards assails one's olfactory system and beats it senseless. Great shopping, though, with lots of factory outlets. Any El Pasoans out there who would like to disabuse me of my bleak opinion and enlighten me on your fair city, please comment. Drive just a little farther west on I-10, however, and one finds the picturesque town of Las Cruces, New Mexico. A friend turned me onto this gem when we drove there in 1993 to see Paul McCartney at a football stadium. As in most New Mexican cities, there's a town plaza, and Las Cruces is tourist-friendly, but not touristy.
Let's see. Not quite 300 miles in a northerly direction is Amarillo, way station on the cattle drives to Kansas City. Home of Palo Duro Canyon, almost as beautiful as the Painted Desert and far more accessible.
Now, 300 miles south of West Texas is my favorite part of the state. Austin: home to the funkiest bars, fabulous dining, and great music. Home of Stevie Ray Vaughn and Willie Nelson. Counter-culture capital of Texas. Beautiful, stately oak trees and Lake Austin. Granite quarries southwest of town. Spend as much or as little as you want in Austin: you'll have a good time either way. And no, the Austin chamber of commerce did not pay me to shill for their city -- but they should.
Having written all that, there are gems within a 2-3 hour drive. North to Lubbock, home of Texas Tech University and Buddy Holly. San Angelo, to the southeast, is a beautiful town with lakes, a river running through the town, and the best antique-shopping (at reasonable prices) anywhere. And southwest are the small artist colonies in the Big Bend area of Alpine, Fort Davis and Marfa. In the inky blackness of night, watch the Marfa lights dart around: swamp gas (though there's no swamp around Marfa), optical illusion or aliens playing jokes on clueless earthlings -- who knows?
So who cares if you have to drive awhile. Chillax. Explore and enjoy.