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TRAFFIC JAM

Thanks to violent tropical weather, Texas highways have seen their share of travelers in late September. How can you avoid a half-million car traffic jam? Perhaps it's time to discover those great Texas backroads and destinations. Get ready to avoid the crowd...


If you found yourself in the Houston area in late September you may have discovered the real meaning of the term "traffic jam." Literally tens of thousands of motorists took to the highway as evacuation orders were issued from Port Arthur to Brownsville the last week of the month, and nearly a million and a half Texas residents hit the road to flee the fury of the approaching storm.

The unprecedented evacuation, the largest in U.S. history,  clogged highways and byways causing massive traffic jams, fuel shortages and flaring tempers as motorists found themselves in near impossible situations, many stranded on the side of the highway and out of gas.

A check across the state indicated there were very few available motel and hotel rooms as Hurricane Rita approached the upper Texas coastline, and parks and campgrounds were full as displaced coastal residents sought shelter from the storm. The communities of Huntsville, College Station-Brehnam, Lufkin, Dallas, San Antonio and Austin seemed to be some of the favorite destinations for evacuees. But hotels and motels in Kerrville, Fredericksburg, Waco, Tyler and  Fort Worth were reporting full capacity as well.

Out of state travelers and Texas residents planning getaways for the Sept. 24 weekend found themselves smack in the middle of the historical evacuation and were often required to change travel plans or seek alternative destinations.

If you consider the Lone Star State was the host to nearly a quarter-miilion evacuees from the Hurricane Katrina disaster earlier in the month, the total number of "unexpected" travelers on Texas roads may have topped the two million mark, a strain on the state's normally-healthy travel industry.

However, a few wise travelers didn't let the crowded roads spoil their road plans. Opting for less traveled roads and byways and less popular destinations, families hit the road in their RVs, cars and SUVs to seek uncrowded getaway destinations. And until evacuees of two states are given the green light to return to their homes, you may be well to consider the same.

But where to go?

Check the short list below or apply a little imagination of your own in selecting a great place to escape to avoid the crowds.

South Padre Island
Sure - South Padre Island is normally a very busy travel destination. But because South Padre was at one time targeted by Hurricane Rita, few evacuees even considered traveling there to avoid the storm. And since this is the slow season for the island, travelers can find bargain lodging. If you're RVing it, try Destination RV. At last count, there was plenty of available spaces.

Marathon/Marfa
Tired of crowded highways? West Texas offers a happy alternative regardless what time of year you travel. And the communities of Marfa and Marathon offer some classic hotel getaways that are hard to beat if you're trying to avoid the crowd. Discover Big Bend national park if you're pulling or driving an RV and get ready for some great West texas hospitality.

Fort Davis
Yep - another West Texas destination, but one that promises plenty of wide-open spaces and elbow room. Take in historic Fort Davis, home of the Buffulo soldier, and the University of Texas McDonald Observatory. The mountain air is cool at night, and the people just don't get any friendlier.

Port Aransas/Corpus Christi
Same as South Padre - once considered in the path of the storm, Port A was mostly a ghost town. The hotels-motels are empty and the usual lines at popular restaurants are non-existent. Same is true of Corpus Christi, where a mandatory evacuation order was issued before the storm turned to the east leaving the city virtually untouched. Take in the texas State Aquarium and enjoy the great Texas seafood.

Wimberley
If cool Hill Country streams appeal to your senses, Wimberley, near Austin and San Marcos, offers plenty to do and see and hasn't seen the huge influx of evacuees - at least not as of this writing. Discover Wimberley's many offering. Get introduced to this great rural destination.

So what are you waiting for? There are plenty of great destinations where you can escape the crowds. This is Texas! Of course you can find plenty of wide-open spaces. Happy traveling!