by Trip Hilliard
First, let's take a look at what roads are on what list. The Texas Honda Sport Touring list has been out for several years while the Ride Texas Magazine list just came out several months ago. While they both sport many of the same roads, both contain a different flavor of roads unique to their region of the state that possess different qualities. Note: Checks indicate roads already ridden by Dale and I since October, 2001.
According to the Texas members of the Honda Sport Touring Association
1. TX hwy 118 from Kent to Study Butte.
2. El Camino Del Rio (TX 170) from Lajitas to Presidio.
3. TX hwy 16 between Llano & Bandera.
4. TX FM 337 From Medina to Camp Wood, then TX hwy 55 north to Rocksprings.
5. FM 1431 from Marble Falls to Cedar Park.
6. Texas hwy 4 from Palo Pinto to Granbury.
7. FM 390 from Burton to Independence.
8. TX 852 southeast from Winnsboro.
9. TX 224 north from Cold Spring.
10. TX 762 south from Richmond to Brazos Bend State Park.
Texas' Top Ten Roads
According to Ride Texas Magazine
1. FM 337, Hill Country, Medina to Camp Wood
2. FM 4, North, Jacksboro to Cleburne
3. State Highway 16, Bisects State, Antelope to Zapata
4. FM 1431, Hill Country, Round Rock to Lake Buchanan
5. Lime Creek Road, Hill Country, Nr Cedar Park to Austin
6. FM 335, Hill Country, Camp Wood to SH 41
7. FM 3090, Southeast, Navasota to Carlos
8. FM 170, Big Bend, Study Butte to Presidio
9. FM 118, West, Kent to Study Butte
10. FM 336, Hill Country, Leakey to SH 41
So, in planning our trip, Dale and I decided that we must ride the following roads in order to complete our quest:
Texas hwy 4 from Palo Pinto to Granbury.
TX hwy 118 from Kent to Study Butte.
El Camino Del Rio (TX 170) from Lajitas to Presidio.
Lime Creek Road, Hill Country, Nr Cedar Park to Austin
TX 762 south from Richmond to Brazos Bend State Park.
FM 390 from Burton to Independence.
FM 3090, Southeast, Navasota to Carlos
TX 224 north from Cold Spring.
Day One: Friday, May 16, 2003.
I had driven in from Lindale, TX. to Dale's house in Bedford, TX. the night before so we could get an early start. There had been a storm that moved through the Dallas area around 2:00am and although the streets were wet, it wasn't raining at the time of our departure. With both motorcycles loaded on the trailer and gear loaded in the back of the truck, Dale and I got on the road at 5:30am bound for Alpine. At 8:30am, we arrived to ride our first road of the trip, Highway 4. Dale had ridden hwy 4 several times, but this was the first time for me. Highway 4 proved to be a beautiful road. It offered a pretty view of the countryside with some gentle sweepers.After riding Highway 4, we continued on I-20 where we turned South at Monahans on hwy 18 which took us to Ft. Stockton. At Ft. Stockton we turned West on I-10 for several miles then turned South on hwy 67. Highway 67 sports some of the loneliest road I have ever experienced. Nothing but cactus, fence and road with an occasional abandoned building. Highway 67 runs into Highway 90. We turned West on 90 and down the road about 10 miles was the oasis city of Alpine. On our arrival, we checked into the Antelope Lodge, room #25. This was to be our resting place for the night. Tomorrow we ride the figure 8.
We checked out of the Antelope Lodge at 7:00am and traveled up hwy 90 a mile or so and pitched camp at the Pecan Grove RV Park. This is the only park in Alpine that will let you tent camp. The weather was supposed to be clear and dry for several days, so we decided to camp the rest of the time rather than spend more money for a room. Nothing against the Antelope Lodge, it was clean and comfortable, but at $55.00 a night, $11.00 a night for camping was much better on the wallet. After pitching our tents and setting up camp, we ate breakfast at the Bread & Breakfast shop in Downtown Alpine. At 9:00am, we left to ride the figure 8.
The figure 8 consists of riding 118 from Alpine through Ft. Davis toward Kent, stopping by the McDonald Observatory. The Observatory was a great place to tour. We saw a short film and got to see a live showing of sun spots on the sun. We toured only two of the observatories. The original McDonald observatory, built in the 1930's, was not open for viewing. The tour costs about $7.00 dollars and takes about 2.5 hours to complete. Well worth the money. We noticed that there were very few people there for such a beautiful Saturday. It appears that the talk of cutting funds to the observatories due to budget cuts has taken its toll on visitors. We were told by the tour guide that those rumors were false. Even though everyone at the observatory was tightening their belts, funds will not be cut by the University of Texas, which operates the observatory.
Once you arrive in Kent on hwy 118, you then go East on I-10 and get off at hwy 17, Balmorhea heading Southwest on 17 back to Ft. Davis, then staying on 17, you will hit Marfa. While in Marfa, we stopped to eat at the Pizza Foundation. If you order the calzone, make sure you have about 4 people to eat it. It's a lot of food for the money. Then it's East on hwy 90 and back to Alpine. On our way back to Alpine, we stopped at a roadside park specifically built for viewing the Marfa Lights. After talking with some of the locals, it appears that the Marfa Lights are caused by a combination of wind blowing against the nearby hills causing static electricity to be created off the dust and dirt. We were told that to see the Marfa Lights, you have to be persistent. They don't show up every night. We arrived back at camp before dark. We sat in our chairs with a cold drink and discussed the day's ride which was very enjoyable. Tomorrow we ride the Southern half of 118 and 170 to Presidio.
We woke up from a sound sleep and left camp around 6:30am. We wanted to get an early start because we knew the temperatures would climb as the day went on. We rode 118 South of Alpine to Study Butte. It's 80 miles of gently swerving road with some of the best scenery anyone could ask for. Plenty of mountains, buttes and peaks. Elephant Mountain was a site to behold along with Mount Ord, Cathedral Mountain, Santiago Peak and Packsaddle Mountain. Some of the buttes were so interesting that I named some myself. Such as the one across the road from Elephant Mountain that looked like someone got a burr haircut due to its gentle slope upward then harsh exposed rock with a flat top. Burr Haircut Butte it is! How do you register a name for a butte with the State of Texas?
After stopping in Study Butte and drinking plenty of water, we decided to do what we came for...ride the River Road, Highway 170 from Study Butte to Presidio. At the beginning of your ride, you come across the town of Terlingua, famous for the chili cookoffs and it's ghost town which is in plain view while you ride 170. Once out of Terlingua, 170 takes you down to the Rio Grande river where you run parallel until you reach Presidio. The temperature was climbing fast. It was 12 noon and already temps were in the 100's. 170 turned out to be a fun road with lot's of curves, some of which are blind so speed is not an option. What amazed me was there that were several roadside parks at which to stop for scenic viewing and rest. Once we arrived in Presidio, we stopped at the nearest service station, gassed up with fuel, drank more water, then it was back to Study Butte. You know what motorcyclists say, "a road ridden in the opposite direction is a new road" and 170 is no exception.
We arrived back in Study Butte around 2:00pm. The temp was recorded to be 107. Now it was back to Alpine via 118. Got back to camp at 4:00pm. 300 miles and 118 and 170 are in the books! Since we got back to camp early, Dale and I decided to eat at a local restaurant and take in a movie. Yes, Alpine does have a picture show. We saw The Matrix Reloaded. Riding Texas roads can be tough...but someone's got to do it. When Dale and I arrived back at camp, we sat in our lawn chairs, gazed at the stars and counted the satellites going by in the sky. There's a lot of them up there. Tomorrow we ride to Big Bend National Park via 385.
Since riding 170 can be somewhat treacherous, here is a list of things to consider before you ride it:
1. The day Dale and I rode 170 the temp reached 95 at 11:00am and 107 by 2:00pm. Even though you may not feel thirsty, a person riding in this heat must stay hydrated. Drink plenty of water on this ride. We can't specify this enough. We stopped and drank fluids when we arrived in Study Butte and when we arrived in Presidio. And, we stopped and drank fluids when we arrived back in Study Butte and when we arrived back in Alpine. It may seem a lot of trouble, but it could keep you from suffering from dehydration or heat stroke.
2. Dale and I both were stung by bees on 170. We were wearing our summer gear...full-face helmets, fingerless gloves, Joe Rocket Phoenix jackets, jeans and boots. With all that covering we still managed to get stung several times. A bee went up Dale's sleeve and announced his presence and I had a bee hitch a ride on my index finger. For some reason he didn't like my company and departed leaving me with a swollen finger. If you are allergic to bee stings, take this information into account and make your decisions accordingly.
3. In riding 170 you'll find out quickly that there are many blind hills and curves. Even though there are signs telling you the proper speed to take the curve and what direction the curve is in, keep your speed slow when engaging these curves as some of them can be rather treacherous.
4. If it happens to rain, watch out for sand that will accumulate in low areas of 170. Sand can wash in pretty deeply in low areas of the road which can be treacherous for a two-wheeler.
5. The elevation in the Big Bend region is higher than other areas of the state. This means that your tire pressure will be higher than when you left home. A check of your tire pressure is advised before you ride any roads in the Big Bend region, and again when returning to lower elevations.
6:15am came early. One doesn't need an alarm clock when camping. The birds will wake you up right before the sun comes up with their gentle singing. We left camp at 6:45am headed toward Marathon which is East of Alpine about 30 miles on highway 90. When we arrived in Marathon we stopped at a little bakery to eat breakfast. Shirley's Burnt Biscuit Bakery turned out to be one of the best places to eat on the trip.
We met the owner Shirley Rooney who offered us the best tasting donuts, breads, biscuits, cookies and fried pies any human being could put in his or her mouth. If you get a chance to drive through Marathon, make it a point to stop at Shirley's. Her bakery is located down the street East from the Gage Hotel.
With our stomaches full, we decided to gas up before we headed down to Big Bend National Park on highway 385 South. In this region, one must fuel whenever he can. Once we left Marathon, there was not a gas station in sight until we reached the Big Bend Post Office, which was more than 90 miles away. The ride to the park was great. Highway 385 wasn't as scenic as 118, but it was a nice road to ride. We arrived at the entrance of Big Bend and stopped to take some pictures. The entrance is still 20 miles from the Panther Junction Visitor Center and Post Office. Once we checked in, we rode up to the Chisos Basin which turned out to be a very nice twisty ride.
After riding around the Big Bend area we pointed the bikes toward camp and rode highway 118 back to Alpine. Got back at camp about 2:30pm. Drank some more fluids and decided that since we got back so early, we would set out to ride the Ft. Davis Scenic Loop, which was an additional 125 miles. The Scenic Loop turned out to be the highlight of the whole trip to the Big Bend area. The countryside was beautiful and the roads were great. The Scenic Loop consists of riding out of Ft. Davis Southwestward on highway 17, then turning West on highway 166. Highway 166 then meets highway 118 which takes you South back into Ft. Davis. Well worth the trip. If you're ever in Ft. Davis the Scenic Loop is a must ride whether you're in a vehicle or on a motorcycle. But you'll enjoy it more on a motorcycle.
We got back to camp about 6:30pm. After riding about 250 miles for the day, we were ready to eat dinner and hit the sack. We ate at La Casita restaurant, a very good Mexican food restaurant located on the South side of Alpine on Avenue H. Tomorrow we pack up and head for the Texas Hill Country.
Today would become a travel day. Now that we had highway 118 and 170 out of the way, it was time to head toward the Austin area to get Lime Creek Road in. It just so happens that our favorite road, Ranch Road 337 was on the way to Austin. So, the plan was to camp Tuesday night at Garner State Park located near Leakey, Texas, our favorite camping spot and treat ourselves to riding 337 as a "gravy" ride before getting down to business with Lime Creek.
We got up at 6:30am Tuesday morning to a cold front and some light rain. We quickly packed our gear and got on the road to Garner at 7:00am. We ate breakfast at Penny's Diner located on highway 90 on the Eastern edge of Alpine. After traveling to Marathon and linking up with 385 North, we hit I-10 and managed to arrive in Junction, Texas around 1:00pm.
While in Junction we stopped and did our laundry then proceeded to travel South on highway 83 to Leakey and Garner State Park. Arrived at Garner with the sun at our backs. We pitched camp and then rode our bikes into Leakey and ate at the Frio Cafe. Then it was back to camp for a little star gazing and shut eye. Tomorrow...we ride the King of Texas roads...Ranch Road 337!
Day Six: Wednesday, May 21, 2003.
I actually woke up before Dale did this morning. I was pretty excited about getting to ride 337. Got out of my tent at 6:15am and was ready to ride into Leakey for breakfast shortly after. Dale and I ate breakfast at the Frio Cafe. When we walked outside to start the ride, we noticed water...everywhere! Yep...it was raining. And no self-respecting lover of Ranch Road 337 would dare ride it in the rain. It just wouldn't be right. So, our plans to ride 337 were quickly scrapped. We rode back to Garner in the rain, packed up our gear and left Garner via our truck and loaded trailer for Cedar Park. We arrived in Cedar Park about 1:00pm.
To get to Cedar Park from Leakey, one must go through a small town in the hill country known as Marble Falls. Marble Falls is known far and wide for the best tasting pie on the planet. And what restaurant do you get this pie at? Why the Bluebonnet Cafe, of course. Located on highway 281, affectionately called the "Pie Road", the Bluebonnet Cafe has been voted to many a top ten list for food in Texas, including the top ten list with Ride Texas Magazine.
After filling up on meat loaf and pie, Dale and I traveled to Cedar Park, unloaded our bikes and rode Lime Creek road. In my book, Lime Creek won first prize in the "steep twisty" category. Lime Creek is an exciting road to ride, but watch out for the construction being done on the highway 1431 side. Once you're past all the dirt left on the road by trucks, then you're good to go.
With Lime Creek in the books, we loaded Paladin and Bronson and traveled to Houston. Our next road to ride was TX 762 south from Richmond to Brazos Bend State Park. We arrived in Houston at 5:55pm and checked in to the Motel 6. We quickly unloaded our motorcycles and took off for 762. 762 did not rate very high in my personal list, in fact while I was riding it, I was wondering why it was even included on the Texas Honda Touring Association list. But after concluding our ride, I realized that 762 offered something that no other road did...power straight-aways! With its arrow-straight lanes that eventually made a 90-degree turn to another straight-away, 762 gives the rider the opportunity to really crank up the speed if he or she desired. I hadn't found that quality in any road until I rode 762.
On our way back to the motel, we stopped and had a meal at Joe's Crab Shack on highway 6 in Houston. We got two roads in this day. Tomorrow, it's on to ride the final three.
We got up at 6:00am to a final day of road riding. We had plans to squeeze three roads in...390, 3090 and 224. We left Houston at 6:30am and arrived in Navasota, Texas at about 8:45am. From Navasota, we had easy access to 390 and 3090. Unloaded the bikes and stored our truck and trailer at a Chevron station at the corner of hwy 90 and hwy 6. Our thanks go out to several service station attendants who allowed us to park our truck and trailer for hours while we rode.
We traveled out hwy 105 and began our journey on the scenic highway 390 that took us from Independence to Burton. This road lived up to its reputation. Rolling hills, beautiful farms and ranches, even an old one-lane railroad bridge to pass through. It had all the charm and beauty that makes up this region of Texas. 390 ranked high on our list.
Once back to Navasota, we fueled up and traveled North to ride 3090, Navasota to Carlos. 3090 surprised Dale and I. It ranked very high in our book for some of the best turns and sweepers. If you ride 3090, expect a good time, however beware of the bad asphalt. It appears that 3090 is frequented by heavy trucks that, over time, have done a number on the surface. Back at the Chevron while loading our bikes, Dale reminded me that we were down to our final road...224. After loading up the bikes on the trailer, we headed for Huntsville, our final stop and ride.
We arrived in Huntsville at 1:30pm and checked into the Motel 6 off I-45. By 2:00pm, we were unloaded again and on the road toward 224 by way of highway 190. 22 miles West of Huntsville, a turn to the right on highway 156 took us to the final road on our quest...TX 224 north from Cold Spring, Texas. This road is so shaded in places you can smell the pine through your full faced helmet! I can see why 224 was voted to the Top Ten list. Not only do you get a good view of Lake Livingston, but the road gently draws you into every turn. Even though I'm from East Texas, I was very impressed with the foliage on 224. It was a joy to ride! Dale and I recommend this road to anyone looking for a relaxing ride on a Sunday afternoon.
Once Dale and I reached the end of 224, it finally hit us. All Top Ten roads on both lists had been ridden! For us, that was a real accomplishment, a quest we had started almost 2 years earlier. Dale and I got off our motorcycles, shook hands, and congratulated each other on our victory. After traveling back to Huntsville, we ate dinner at El Chico and discussed our day's rides. Tomorrow we head home to Bedford and Lindale. The Quest has come to a victorious end!
This accomplishment may not rank up there with winning the Indianapolis 500 or climbing to the top of Mt. Everest, but for two Texas natives who love to ride the roads, this victory is at least worthy of a little bragging around the water cooler. Who knows, maybe someday my grandchildren will ask what my greatest adventure has been. And my answer will be..."Carreras de Camino"!
All requests to use material from this page should be sent to Robert Hilliard.