Southern Pacific

Albany (pop. 1,983), one of the more interesting-looking towns in this part of Texas, started as a stagecoach stop on the Butterfield Overland Mail in 1854. It’s still a tiny place, but it has a lively feel, the oldest county courthouse in the state, and more surprisingly, a small but intriguing Old Jail Art Center (201 S. 2nd St., 325/762-2269, Tues.-Sat., free) in the Old City Jail. A big surprise in the middle of the ranch lands, the museum contains an outstanding permanent collection of art by Modigliani, Renoir, and others, and also displays Chinese ceramics from the Tang and Ming dynasties, among others. If you’re here the last two full weekends in June, make plans to see a production of the oldest outdoor musical in Texas, the Fort Griffin Fandangle (325/762-3838, around $15), which began as a school play in 1938 and has grown to involve a cast of some 300 mostly local performers and live longhorn steer.

Coming from the west, US-80/180 makes one last small-town stop in Weatherford (pop. 29,969), where an opulent old courthouse anchors a lively town square. For a last taste of small-town Americana before or after a trip across Dallas, stop for breakfast, a bite of chicken-fried steak, or just a cup of coffee at the Weatherford Downtown Café (101 W. Church St., 817/594-8717), a block south of the square.