The road less traveledThe River Road, along the Texas-Mexico border

Rio Grande River Road sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Since I’ve got a road theme going this week, I thought I’d spend the next couple of posts highlighting some of my very favorite squiggly lines on the map. Everyone seems to have California Highway One at the top of their road trip bucket list (for good reason!), but FM170 in West Texas deserves to be on that list, as well.

Rio Grande River Road sketch by Chandler O'Leary

The River Road isn’t nearly as well-known as the Pacific Highway because it’s in the absolute back of beyond. Whoever coined the term “middle of nowhere” probably had this place in mind—but as it’s right near a national park, it probably also escapes the notice of tourists wanting to take the faster state highway to and from the park.

Rio Grande River Road sketch by Chandler O'Leary

And that’s a shame, because this road is a gem. It winds right alongside the Rio Grande, through the Santa Elena and Colorado canyons, passing ghost towns and old Spanish missions along the way. In the 70-mile section we traveled that day, we only saw one other soul—and that was a local immigration cop parked along the roadside. We didn’t pass a single tourist along the way.

Rio Grande River Road sketch by Chandler O'Leary

I would have loved to drive this road (I have a thing for taking mountain curves with a stick shift!), but I wanted to spend the time drawing. So the Tailor, bless him, tackled the hair-raising turns, and didn’t bat an eye when I made him pull over about a hundred times for spectacular vistas.

Rio Grande River Road sketch by Chandler O'Leary

I can’t recommend this road enough. If you go, though, make sure you have plenty of drinking water, engine coolant, gasoline, and a fresh spare tire, just in case. If you break down, you’re going to need the tools and skills to get yourself back out again—this is the type of route that laughs at puny human concepts like mobile phone coverage (pro tip: there isn’t any) or roadside assistance. This is the kind of place that analog map freaks like me are talking about when we say GPS ain’t all it’s cracked up to be.

Rio Grande River Road sketch by Chandler O'Leary

But if you’ve got a paper map and a good sense of adventure, hit the road: because this is the place.

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