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Four Beautiful Midwest Drives Made Better Through Cheap Gas

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January 16, 2015

Who’s calling “shotgun?” Let’s go for a ride.

The sharp tumble in crude oil prices since last summer continues to provide extended post-holiday dividends to American motorists. Earlier this week, regular-grade gasoline at the pump fell to a nationwide average of about $2.09 a gallon, the lowest since spring 2009, according to AAA’s Fuel Gauge Report.

Energy industry analysts expect fuel prices to remain subdued for the time being. You know what that means? Long, leisurely drives, without the budget-driven guilt. Remember those? With that in mind, let’s map out a few road trip ideas for five states where gas is among the cheapest in the country.

1. Texas. You could spend a lifetime cruising the Lone Star state (2,623 miles from west to east), but consider a Hill Country drive for starters; it begins just north of Austin and continues south to San Antonio (neither a bad destination, right?), and sweeps some 200 miles west before flattening out. Try a northwesterly route out of San Antonio on Highway 16 to Bandera, through Kerrville, Fredericksburg, and New Braunfels (which includes historic dance hall and country music mecca Gruene Hall, still offering live music), on to Austin. This drive mixes the best of Mother Nature’s and mankind’s footprints.

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FIGURE 1: LET'S DANCE.

New Braunfels offers Gruene Hall, Texas’ oldest continually operating honky-tonk and dance hall, which draws fans from far and wide. Pat Benatar played there in November. Source: Gruene Hall. For illustrative purposes only.

2. Kansas. Surprise: Kansas isn’t entirely billiard-table flat. Yet there’s something authentic about driving through the parts that are. In central Kansas, the Flint Hills Scenic Byway (K-177) gives drivers 48 miles of a little bit of mixed terrain, including the largest remaining tallgrass prairie. This route packs plenty of history, including some two dozen historic Santa Fe Trail sites and Emporia, hometown of legendary muckraker William Allen White.

3. Oklahoma/Arkansas. Follow in the footsteps of the Vikings who popped in for a brief stay some 1,000 years ago. The roughly 50-mile-long Talimena National Scenic Byway stretches along the ridge of the Ouachita Mountains and National Forest (see figure 2). Gateway cities include Mena, AR, and Wilburton, OK. Travelers enjoy several lookout points, Native American culture, fishing, hiking, and the unique plant life courtesy of the unusual east-west run of this mountain chain (yep, most U.S. mountains run north-south).  

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FIGURE 2: HIGH-LEVEL VIEW.

The Ouachita Mountains run between Little Rock, AR, and Atoka, OK. Source: Talimena Scenic Drive Association. For illustrative purposes only.

4. Missouri. Most “Best Drives” lists skip the interstates. But I-70 cuts the Show-Me state in half, linking Kansas City and its unique style of wet barbeque (slow smoked over a variety of woods and covered with a thick tomato- and molasses-based sauce) with rib-mecca St. Louis. Sometimes the road best traveled is the one that gets you to your destination. In this case: BBQ, "PDQ." Check out the state tourism site’s Tour de BBQ for stops in the anchor cities and along the way.