We often try not to drive on interstate highways when traveling, especially if we’re going through an area we haven’t visited before. That’s how you really get to know a place — by seeing its back roads and small towns.
There’s a line in the movie, Planes, Trains and Automobiles that we tend to quote a lot: “You don’t see nothin’ on the interstate but interstate.”
Besides a slower and less white-knuckled driving experience, taking the back roads routinely leads you past historic locations. These often are marked by roadside historical markers telling you a bit about what happened there.
One of the best historical marker systems we have encountered for this type of exploration is in Texas. The signs are plentiful, which you would expect in a state like Texas with its rich and vibrant history. At first, we were dismayed to see so many placed near areas where it wasn’t easy to pull off the road to read them, even when traveling in our Class B RV. Plus, the printing on the signs is so tiny you can’t even catch a headline when driving past.
But then we discovered that each sign also has a number assigned to it. And you can quickly see it from your vehicle.
The Texas Historical Commission has established the online Texas Historic Sites Atlas. There, you can tap into a free database to look up the signs by number and read what’s written on them. We would see a sign ahead and then note the number as we drove by. While I continued driving, Jessi would dig into the database and read what the sign was about.
You could always note the number and check out the details later. But we decided to look them up as soon as we could. There are more than 16,000 markers statewide, and there are some in every one of Texas’ 254 counties. So it could be easy to end up with a long list if you just tracked the numbers to refer to later.
We also found it more interesting to learn about a historical marker while we were driving by it. Seeing the terrain and other local features helped provide context to the subject matter of the sign.
It was a great way to learn about the area we were driving through, the historical events that took place, and the people who once lived across the Lone Star State.
If you want to dig even deeper into the state’s history, the historical commission has a nice website. It also has created thematic Google Maps covering numerous topics. These include the Texas Revolution, WWI history, Hispanic history, and Women’s history.
To take a historical trip that someone else planned for you, visit the state’s Historic Road Trip page. Here, you’ll find routes that can help you learn the history of German settlers in Texas or see sites key to the Republic of Texas era. You also can discover the top picnic spots with Texas history.
A state the size of Texas offers plenty of things to learn about as you travel. Thanks to the Texas Historical Commission, it has never been easier to do it from the seat of your RV.