The Non-Metaphorical Journey. The nuts and bolts of traveling back and forth from Austin to San Antonio.

In the last twenty years I imagine the population in central Texas, from San Antonio to Waco, with Austin in the middle, has doubled. The main highway (IH-35) between the central United States and Mexico (as well as huge swaths of south Texas agricultural centers) has not doubled in size, not doubled in lanes; mostly not kept pace at all with the endless, relentless flow of traffic. This makes commuting back and forth, or visiting regularly, between Austin and San Antonio, an unpredictable nightmare.

What used to be a one hour and five minute journey is now, typically an hour and forty minutes. Each stalled car on the roadside adds an additional five minutes. Every wreck requiring police or ambulance attention can add 20 or 30 minutes of white knuckle driving to the tally. It's a modern sort of torture that reminds those of us who remember the wide, almost car-less expanse of highway back in the 1970's and 1980's that, where infrastructure is concerned, our country may have been comfortably first world then but we have, through neglect and lack of planning, demoted our public road resources to a decidedly third world standard that is neither safe nor convenient. Sadly, it's still the quickest way to get between the two cities for everyone without access to their own plane or helicopter. 

So, yesterday, we added over an hour to the journey. There were three major wrecks along the route. Mostly caused, I would bet, by inattentive drivers trying to multi-task via text or phone, which is always bad when combined with another subset of drivers who believe it is their manifest destiny to drive their pick-up trucks at 90 MPH, five feet from the bumper of the person in front of them.

After many roundtrips this year, taken at all different times of the day and night, I've resigned myself to this painful process and my intent is not speed but my own personal safety. 

After a nice visit with my father yesterday I headed home but instead of tossing the dice and taking another ride up IH-35 I took the longer and slower route home, heading up HWY 281 north. It's the back way. 

Is it dangerous to take photos out of the windshield of one's car?
Not when the car has been immobile in stopped traffic for at least 
five minutes or more....

HWY 281 is not yet subject to full stop traffic jams. Parts of that highway offer beautiful views of an undeveloped portion of the Texas Hill Country. There are a series of mini-mountains (maxi-hills?) that are referred to as, "The Devil's Backbone." Named because the early Texans with horse drawn wagons found the topology nearly impossible to transit. 

Because I had no pressing engagements I went further off the main grid by turning right at Blanco, Texas and taking the Henley Loop over to HWY 290. I don't know the real name of this two lane blacktop but I call it the Henley Loop because Henley, Texas is on the route to HWY 290. Whatever it's called it was largely deserted at 3:30pm in the afternoon and made for a much different, much happier journey home. From time to time I was so enchanted with the big sky of central Texas that I would pull of the road to click a frame or two of the landscape meshing with a dramatic skyscape. 

I had only my "car" camera. It's a Nikon D700 bought expressly to keep handy in the car and it generally rides along with a battered and crusty Nikon 35-70mm f3.5 manual focus lens that I've come to trust for sharpness and an almost Technicolor rendering of reality. I kept it close by, on the passenger's seat, set at ISO 200, with the aperture at f8, and left it to the camera to calculate a good exposure. With the distance scale set between 30 feet and infinity I didn't bother with focusing. 

At the time I wished I'd brought along a polarizing filter but when I went to post process the raw files today I realized that adding polarization to the mix would have been over the top. Too much.

I would never suggest anyone shoot from a moving car.....if they are the active driver. But I break the rules when I am at a stop sign and there's no other car for miles around. It's wonderful to see that there are still parts of Texas not completely ruined by the pervasive car culture. I'm pulling out the maps to try and discover new routes to San Antonio --- trading speed for calmness and appreciation of our remaining wide open spaces.


  1. There is something about the Texas sky.

  2. Have to disagree on your statement about infrastructure being third world. If you travel in the quote "third world" countries which like to be thought of as "Developing Countries" you would see what roads can really not be. I am thinking you are just used to wide open spaces in Texas and that is rapidly changing.

  3. William Eggleston took many pictures from his car. I understand he would sometimes sit on the back of the driver’s seat with his head (and camera) sticking out of the sun roof, and using his feet on the steering wheel! But don’t start doing this or we will have doubts about the longevity of the blog.

  4. On the recommendation of a shopkeeper, I drove the back way last week from New Braunfels to Austin. I'm positive that although longer, it was a much enjoyable and less stressful drive than I-35. Being originally from the S.F. Bay Area, I'm much more accustomed to traffic than your high temperatures and humidity. Not sure I could ever get used to that!

  5. You are dreaming if you think your Texan highways are third world. The wife's father lives in central Thailand, and we annually have to be driven up from Bangkok (would go by air, but not possible for this wheelchair user). 4 lane highways with deep treed ditches side and centre. Left lane often damaged and unusable. (note: they drive on the left in Thailand - supposedly) Buses and 4-wheel-drives at speeds up to, even over 100 m/hr, others at slow speeds, both either in the fast lane, or the other one. Motor scooters and carts on the verge, or crossing without looking. U turns every 5 miles or so - 18 wheelers turning from the left lane to get around and travel back to left turn onto minor roads. Others U turning into the fast lane, or the slow lane, up to them. Slow trucks pulling out to overtake slower ones without warning. Hoon van drivers weaving thru. Nobody slowing down - or ceasing tailgating if they want to go faster. The inevitable accident scene resulting in the 2 lanes in each direction becoming 8 altogether, so the local rescue/ambulance (often an open pick-up) can't get through (and no-one gives way to them anyway). Back through roads non-existent. We are fortunate in that my wife can pick drivers very carefully. Still, a nightmare!

  6. Sounds just like IH35 at rush hour, only quicker.

  7. The photos in this post remind me of the one thing that cannot be photographically duplicated anywhere else in the continental 48, those huge, beautiful Texas skies. The only place that I've lived than can even come close was when we were in Nevada, but the desert skies lack the day to day drama living in Austin could offer up. Lovely shots, agree with your "almost Technicolor" assessment, that lens and sensor together see color beautifully.

    It also reminds me of one of the top 3 reasons we left Austin. The traffic had become unbearable. We lived on FM620 in Northwest Austin, and the two mile drive between our townhouse and the nearest HEB was taking up to 20 minutes between 4pm-7pm during the week. Driving into town for ballet five days a week was a 40 minute jaunt, oddly only twice the time for 8 times the distance.


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