Looking For Spring In All The Right Places!
Texas has had some strange weather these past few months with the cold temperatures of a lingering winter, lots of rain, and a cool spring: the kind of strange weather that produces beautiful, vibrant wildflowers. My sister-in-law, LaVerne, and I decided to go looking for spring in the Hill Country. So, on an overcast Monday morning, we jumped (well, at our age maybe we didn't exactly jump - more like crawled) into my Ford Escape and we were soon on the road again heading into the unknown for another gray-haired adventure.
We left Houston and headed west on Interstate 10, exiting at Luling and continuing on to the picturesque town of Wimberley located where the Blanco River and Cypress Creek meet. Wimberley started as a trading post in 1848 and is now a favored resort town with visitors from all over the country who refer to the area as a "little bit of heaven". Graceful canyons surround the town with many secluded homes tucked into their rugged walls making this area widely sought after in the real estate market. We stopped to visit with a friend and his wife who recently moved to one of the beautiful canyon homes that sets on top of a bluff overlooking a cedar-lined canyon. To maximize the views, houses in the area all have large decks that look out over the vast landscape and offer a perfect viewing area to gaze at the brilliant stars of a moonless night while sipping a glass (or two) of Texas wine. I can only imagine that under those circumstances, it would be easy to see Pecos Bill reclining on a cloud in the night sky above, shooting out all the stars until there was only the brightest star left to shine down on the Lone Star state. (What Legend of Pecos Bill? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9QIOZAsCxZ )
After leaving Wimberley, we headed north on Ranch Road 12 until it intersected with Hwy 290 West at Dripping Springs. We then followed 290 to Fredericksburg. Fredericksburg is considered the perfect destination spot with travelers. The German-founded city with stone buildings and houses is unique in that it has maintained the Old Country influence even today, with signs proclaiming "Wilkommen" (Welcome) and greetings from shopkeepers of "Guten Tag" (Good Day). The city has a great shopping area, and is in close proximity to the many wineries that have sprung up nearby making the Texas wine area a legitimate contender with California's Napa Valley. While in the area, there are also many geographical areas for you to explore with the most popular being Enchanted Rock. This rock is a gigantic, pink granite dome that rises 425 feet above the surrounding land and has an elevation of 1825 above sea level. It is one of the largest batholiths in the United States and is on the National Register of Historic Places.
Fredericksburg also has many museums with the National Museum of the Pacific War and the Pioneer Museum complex among the more popular. The new Texas Rangers Heritage Center has completed the first phase of construction and is now open. The Marktplatz (Market Square) is a must-see. The square is located in the center of Fredericksburg and surrounds all sides of one of the most loved treasures of the city, the Vereins Kirche which is the site of the first church and first school in Fredericksburg. The garden at the back of the square is hidden from the main street but is well worth finding. Roses and purple irises combine with a slowly rotating water wheel to give the garden a tranquilizing effect. Visitors can relax while strolling through the paths to view the flowers and the nearly life-size bronze statues known as the Peace Pipe Statue. The statue commemorates a peace treaty between Fredericksburg founder, John O. Meusebach and Comanche chief Santana that was made on May 9, 1847 and has never been broken making it a rarity amongst Indian treaties.
After a full day of sight-seeing, it was time to check into our motel and rest a little before heading out to dinner at Mamacita's Mexican restaurant. On previous trips to Fredericksburg, we discovered a small and charming motel - Country Inn and Cottages. Located just west of the business district, it is an old style motel with only one row of cabins but it has those three C's that meet our requirements - Clean, Comfortable, and Cheap! They also have a property outside of town with individual cabins in a rustic environment which looks like a fun place to stay. We just might have to do that someday.
Having had a good night's sleep and a delicious breakfast of Migas and biscuits at Andy's Restaurant, we were ready to resume our quest of finding the perfect spring in the Hill Country. We took Hwy 16 from Fredericksburg and headed north towards Llano. I had been told by my friend in Wimberley that there was a beautiful scenic loop outside of Willow City that we should see. Even though the sky was cloudy, we were not deterred. Actually, the flowers look more brilliant when there aren't shadows from a bright sun shining overhead. We drove about 16 miles north and made the turn onto the loop. LaVerne and I weren't too sure what was ahead on this drive and I can say that we both were pleasantly surprised by the beauty of the terrain. We left gentle, rolling hills and were soon in the midst of a rugged landscape with more deep canyons carved by Coal Creek. The scenic two lane road made many turns that offered panoramic views of the secluded canyon with winding creeks that gently flowed over the rocks below. Pink granite rock formations jutted right up to the road and growing beside them, and even in the crevasses of the rocks, were the iconic bluebonnets and white poppies that covered both sides of the road. The loop winds for 13 miles through private ranchland and the views of the various individual ranches are as fascinating as the topography. We saw cedar fences with boots over the posts, a rusting old cultivator left in a nearby pasture as a monument to long ago days, magnificent Texas longhorn steers, and field after field of dazzling bluebonnets. As an interesting aside, I wondered what tradition was behind putting boots on a fence post. The internet gave some eye-opening explanations. One states that the boot is put over the post to keep the rain water from rotting the post. Other explanations are: the boot is there to represent the horses in the fence owner's life; or to let visitors know the owner is home. I kinda lean toward the keeping the water from being absorbed by the post theory.
We continued on the scenic loop, thankful that we were there on a cloudy day and a week day. In talking with the few people we met on the drive they said the area can be extremely crowded on weekends during the wildflower season with cars lined up bumper to bumper. We only saw a few cars on our tour and were more than happy to have missed the traffic jam. Leaving the loop, we headed to Mason. The city is about a one hour drive from the Willow City Loop via Hwy 16 North to Llano and then Hwy 29 West into town.
The city of Mason is close to Fort Mason, which was the last post of Robert E. Lee while he was with the U.S. Army and before he joined the confederate Army. The original buildings are gone but there is a recreated officers' quarters to give visitors a glimpse into how life on a frontier post functioned. The Mason Square Museum is worth a visit and has artifacts from prehistoric times up to modern day on display. They also have the largest Topaz in North America that was found locally in Mason County. While we didn't spend enough time there to get hungry, according to Chet Garner, star of the Daytripper show on PBS, Mason has a lot of great places to eat! After a full day of sight-seeing, we returned to Fredericksburg and our comfy room. I do have to mention that every ranch road, every scenic loop, and every highway we traveled on had the most beautiful wildflowers I have seen in years. The medians and sides of the road were overlaid with an abundance of every type of wildflower native to the state. It was like driving through a colorful English garden, Texas-style.
A favorite stop we always make when we venture out west of Austin is the Texas Wildseed Farms. This is the largest working wildflower farm in the country. Besides selling seeds, the farm has a retail store with home decor gifts of all kinds. There is also a nursery with a variety of plants for sale, and decorative garden statues or pottery that would do any garden proud. Another area sells specialty food products, and a good mix of Texas wines. During the spring season, they grow massive fields of bluebonnets and poppies for seeds that you can purchase for your own garden at the store or they can be ordered online. The farm is very busy during the spring months with buses full of visitors on wildflower tours stopping and discharging their happy travelers, eager to visit the gift shop or take a walking tour through the fields of flowers.
The area between Austin and Fredericksburg is Lyndon Johnson country. The LBJ Ranch located on the Pedernales River was known as the "Texas White House" during the Johnson administration and allows visitors to tour the ranch in their own cars and at their own pace. The ranch house is available for public tours and the whole ground floor is open. Visitors can also see the resting place of LBJ and Lady Bird. On the east side of the property, there is a large field that houses a herd of buffalo, or bison. That spot gave me my first up close and personal view of the huge animal that once roamed the area of central Texas. If real bison aren't your thing, watch closely on the south side of Hwy 290, and you will see a large metal sculpture of a Texas steer. The steer stands at the front of a road that leads down to more outdoor metal art pieces. I don't know the story of all the sculptures but a few years back, we drove down the road and seeing all the modern, welded metal pieces standing in the midst of cactus and mesquite seemed a little incongruous with the surroundings. However, after continuing on and seeing even more statues, they began to blend in with the landscape and even looked quite at home. If Austin is "weird", then the Hill Country - like most of Texas - is interesting and eclectic and keeps you wanting to find more.
The goal of this jaunt was to find a different spring and we definitely achieved our goal. In all my years of wildflower looking, I have never seen anything as beautiful as spring in the Hill Country. The weather conditions were perfect this year for all flowers and trees. Everything seemed anxious to burst forth with color and be free from the freezing temperatures of winter. A perfect wildflower season can never be predicted but I heartily recommend a trip to the areas we visited since the beauty of the land is not dependent on wildflowers but is certainly enhanced by them. We went looking for spring in all the right places and we definitely found it!
Blogger's note: Again, I have to say a silent "thank you" to Lady Bird Johnson, wife of Lyndon B. Johnson. She was dedicated to protecting our native Texas plants and many of the bluebonnets we enjoy today were planted due to her encouragement. The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center at the University of Texas at Austin is the state botanical garden and arboretum of Texas and is open to visitors. Visit their website for more information https://www.wildflower.org/
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