6535509889_8ef023a1e9_zMaybe you drive to Austin a few times a month, or maybe every once and a while, like the upcoming SXSW in March. The road most traveled takes you down Interstate 10 with a northwest turn onto State Highway 71.

On a recent cruise to Austin this route was ablaze with newly painted signs and stores, as if to say Stop Here. No sooner had I taken the 71 turnoff outside of Columbus, and crossed the Colorado River, I noticed a series of signs that stretched for about 100-yards. Approximately seven or eight miles past I-10 the signs were advertising a new establishment billing itself as “off the grid.”icm0531

Industrial Country Market beckons as a rest stop but it’s anything but the usual array of antique stores, gas stations and bar-b-q joints that liter the landscape. Once you enter the gates you realize the place is huge. Sure there’s lots of tchotchkies and items you might use for camping along with some books and locally made works of art, but the thing that instantly catches my eye is one of the sales clerks with a holstered pistol on his hip and a dog behind the cash register. That’s right this is Texas, and the sight of a rural storeowner packing heat seems more normal than non.

But wait, then the employees are offering free bottled water, and recommending a trip to the adjoining art gallery. Along the way you pass the solar powered energy station (that you’re welcome to walk into to check out the current voltage) and few solar powered latrines, a pretty ornate garden dotted with sculpture before coming to another large building that in addition to housing easels and art supplies has a gigantic train set with multiple tracks and four large trains.Greenhouse-300x224

Visitors are encouraged to play with the trains via electronic controls. One staffer mentions that the trains are seasonal and will be stored in upcoming months only to come out again at the end of the year.

ICM offers classes in hydroponic agriculture, making solar panels, and pastel painting. They’re also amenable to artists and musicians who want to display their wares. If you want an excuse to take a country drive or are on the way to Austin you should make Industrial Country Market a destination.

— Michael Bergeron