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Texas With the Top Down

It didn't sound promising, but she was right. The rest stop was a simple brick pavilion with curled metal roof supports that mimicked the low, windswept oaks that cover this part of Texas brush country. The branding-iron medallions on the exterior were a nod to the area's ranching pedigree. King Ranch stretches from Corpus down to South Padre and is one of the largest working ranches in the country, about the size of Rhode Island.

At Raymondville, we left the main road and headed once again toward the coast. On the back roads, the pace of life slowed considerably—even the one-armed oil pumps seem to work at their own speed. Apart from a couple hugging the soft shoulder in an El Camino and an old man in a cowboy hat puttering along in a pickup, we had the road to ourselves.

Our sleepy meandering ended the minute we hit Port Isabel. We headed onto the Queen Isabella Causeway, the high-rise playground of South Padre Island appearing out of the mist. But as the light began to fade in this cheesy resort town, we wanted one last ride along the shore. Five miles north of the main drag, we pulled off the road and walked over the dunes to the water. A convoy of trucks and SUV's plowed down the beach, kicking up sand, until one Durango got caught in a dune. We sat and watched the frustrated driver spin his wheels into an even deeper rut, and my appreciation of the Bug grew. Sometimes the perfect beach car doesn't have to drive on the beach.

ITINERARY: HOUSTON TO S. PADRE ISLAND
Day 1: 245 miles. From Houston, take I-45 to Galveston. For the drive down the island, follow Seawall Boulevard as it becomes Route 3005. At Freeport, take 36 northwest to 35. Head south on 35 through Palacios, ending up in Rockport. Day 2: 35 miles. Continue south on 35 to Aransas Pass, then take 361 to the Port Aransas ferry. Continue down Mustang Island on 361 and cross the bridge to Padre Island. After visiting the national park, head to Corpus Christi on 22 (past the JFK Causeway, it becomes 358, or Padre Island Drive). Day 3: 150 miles. Leave Corpus by Chapman Ranch Road (286), turn right onto 70 and pick up 77 at Bishop. At Raymondville, head east on 186 to San Perlita, then take 1420 south to Rio Hondo. Continue south to Los Fresnos on 1847, then pick up 100 to Port Isabel and South Padre Island.

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