The original title of this post was to be Beer, Brisket and Bluebonnets, in anticipation of enjoying an abundance of those delights in the Texas Hill Country. It was pretty clear within a short drive from Austin to our first destination, Bee Cave, TX that we were about two weeks early to see blooming Bluebonnets. With or without Bluebonnets, these country roads are worth the drive.
Armed with a list of things to do and plenty of time to roam we flew into Austin, TX and set off toward Bee Cave. Over the next six days, we logged approximately 700 miles on our rental car in a fairly contiguous loop from Austin. The drive included highways, bi-ways, country roads and even a Texas “mountain.”
Priorities for our road trips are always the same; good food, scenic drives and lots of activities. This six day drive was chock-full of all of those things.
Situated in Bee Cave, Texas for three nights, we plotted out several destinations, based on our priorities.
Day One: Our first destination was Colorado Bend State Park and Gorman Falls. Along the way, we stopped at the Blue Bonnett Cafe in Marble Falls for a hearty breakfast. Mile high Pie is the main event here, but with roads to travel and rocks to climb, it did not seem the thing to do.
Even with no Bluebonnets in sight, the Hill Country roads are fun to drive. Almost anything living, growing, blocking entry or rusting in a field will grab our attention. Needless to say, we pulled the car over frequently to get up close with the environment.
Pay a $5 fee per person, on the honor system to park at Colorado Bend State Park and enjoy the day. While there is much to see and do in this park, we had one intention; hike to Gorman Falls. The “hike” is about 3 1/2 to 4 miles round trip, over a very rocky, but clearly marked trail. The last part of the hike is downhill, and has a rope to hold onto for assistance. Malcolm and I met several hikers along the way, some much younger and a few older. We caught up with a regular walking group of six women who said they were out “celebrating life.” We all made it down the steep embankment and back up again together, taking time to “celebrate life” in full view of the beautiful mist of Gorman Falls.
Later we headed to Cooper’s Old Time Pit Barbecue for a late lunch of brisket and ribs roasted on an open pit barbecue. Things are pretty simple at Cooper’s – you just step up to the pit and point at what you want. They will pass your selections off to a butcher who will carve things up properly and wrap it in butcher paper. Take the bundle of goodness to a picnic table, open up and have at it. Hot beans and drinks are self-serve. Yum!
A slow scenic drive around the Willow City Loop ended the day on a high note. Of course, the only thing that would have made it better would have been a Bluebonnet sighting! I am including the photo below, just so you and I will know what they actually look like. Thank you Google for the image.
Day Two: Our destination today was Fredricksburg, and the surrounding areas. Our first stop being the LBJ Ranch in Johnson City. After visiting the ranger station to receive a free pass, you can drive through the property and see the old school house, family grave site, and the airplane hanger (including the plane that LBJ used during his Presidency). For a $3 fee, you may tour the Johnson home, which was known as the Texas White House. We contented ourselves with a quick drive through, knowing that this was going to be a long day. One can easily spend up to three hours enjoying the full experience. It was a special treat to see several Long Horn cattle grazing in one of the pastures inside the ranch.
Downtown Fredricksburg has lots of locally owned apparel shops, restaurants, ice cream and candy shops. Standouts include the Five and Dime, a kitchen shop and the Auslander restaurant which serves German food and ice cold beer. If you enjoy war museums, this town has the granddaddy of them all – the National Museum of the Pacific War. You will need several hours to tour the museum in its entirety.
Highway 290, which leads into Fredricksburg is known regionally as the wine route. There are many wineries to choose from for tours and tastings. We chose Grape Creek Vineyards for a tasting and were very satisfied with the experience. For just$35 you can sample six wines and have a tour of the facilities. Tasting fees are offset when you purchase.
Wanting to end our day with a beautiful sunset, we drove to the Enchanted Rock, which is said to glow at sunset. It is a highly sought-out attraction and second in size to Georgia’s Stone Mountain. The walk to the top of this granite mound is about half a mile. The trail is rocky at first and then becomes smooth and steeply inclined. We made it about 3/4 of the way up and became concerned about the trek back down in semi-darkness. It was well worth the effort, but I would advise bringing along a flashlight for the return. Going up is considerably easier than coming down on the smooth granite surface.
This was a fun and fairly easy climb that we thoroughly enjoyed and recommend at any time of day. The park does get very busy and is subject to being closed, so call ahead and check conditions.
Safely back down, we enjoyed the last fading minutes of sunlight from across the vast expanse of a rancher’s field.
Day Three: Due to weather, today did not turn out as planned. The idea was to drive to Medina, rent a tandem kayak and paddle the river for a few hours while enjoying the crystal blue springs and taking photographs. Later we would reward ourselves with a piece of apple pie at the Love Creek Apple Store. I called ahead to check out the conditions on the river and was informed that the water was low, so we would have to take two singles, and that there was a chance of rain, which would lower the already low temperatures.
Plan B. We decided to drive to Medina in hopes that the weather would clear. At this point we had no intention of taking two kayaks, (I can’t paddle a boat and shoot pictures), but at least we could find a place to walk along the river and enjoy the view. A stop in Comfort for breakfast and a quick run into the Elephant Story was a good beginning.
We reached Medina and headed straight to the apple store for a slice of pie. Oh my, what a slice of pie. Each pie has four pounds of apples. Our slices were moist and just sweet enough. Malcolm likes a crispier crust, but I found the whole thing just wonderful. Now, where is that river?
Locals gave conflicting reports as to the best place to view the river, so we took our best guess and headed toward Leakey, TX. It was a beautiful drive up what seemed like a mountain to us, but is most likely classified as a hill. Hairpin turns and steep embankments made for a white-knuckle ride for me, but Malcolm was as cool as could be. I took these shots through the car window at the beginning of the drive. Fifteen minutes in, I put away the camera and sat quietly admiring the view.
Where are our pictures of the Medina River? There aren’t any. We were so intent on getting to Leakey that we missed the park just below the bridge at the beginning of the drive. Malcolm wanted to go back and explore Medina and Bandera, but my nerves were fried. Time to head back to the hotel and drink a bottle of the Grape Creek Vineyards Riesling that we purchased on day two.
Days Four and Five: We relocated from Bee Cave to San Antonio for a two night stay. Our hotel was perfectly situated on the famous River Walk in downtown San Antonio. Having two full days here provided plenty of time to see the highlights of the city.
Mission San Jose, the Japanese Garden and the Botanical Garden filled our first day with sight-seeing and history. On the second day, we visited the Alamo and spent time exploring the River Walk. Looking for an indoor option as weather again became an issue, we took a short drive to San Marcos and Dick’s Classic Car Garage.
For all of you Norm’s Thursday Doors fans who have been patiently waiting for a lovely door, (and there were many), this is where I found a couple of favorites.
The Mission compound is surrounded by a rock wall, that has two entrances; the original entrance, that remains locked and once led to the front of the church and the public entrance. Both entrances have remarkable doors.
The Alamo was a short walk from our hotel, and worth the price of admission (free), unless you purchase a headset. Being from Florida, we identified with the history of multiple occupations of this region as Texas struggled for independence. We thoroughly enjoyed our self-guided tour.
The Mission itself no longer houses artifacts and is quite unadorned inside. Photographs are not allowed. This historical compound literally sits in the center of a bustling city so much of its original area has been built upon with modern structures. It is a remarkable juxtaposition of the past and present.
Just outside the city is the beautiful Brackenridge Park that consists of several properties including the Japanese Garden, a Botanical Garden, ball parks, a zoo, walking trails, etc. We spent a beautiful morning walking the Japanese Garden and the Botanical Garden. Again, since we were literally just weeks away from full-on Spring, the blooms were sparse, but the experience was enjoyable on this perfect day.
More from our day in the gardens….
Dick’s Classic Cars in San Marcos was the perfect answer to a dreary afternoon in San Antonio. Malcolm loves antique cars and although I am somewhat indifferent to the experience, I am always willing to compromise. Surprise, surprise, I actually loved this museum. The cars in this collection are individual works of art and easy to appreciate.
My personal favorite was a Cadillac from the 1930’s. Who wouldn’t love this car?
Malcolm’s favorite was the blue 1959 Fleetwood Cadillac in the photo above. His Dad actually owned a car like this one.
Day Six: We relocated to San Marcos, which brought us within thirty-five minutes of Austin airport, our departure point. Getting an early start, we drove to Natural Bridge Caverns. This experience was the icing on an already beautiful cake.
Watch this video to see how, in 1960, four college students discovered one of the most beautiful caves in the United States. You will be amazed.
This is a must see for any visitor to the Texas Hill Country. The decent and climb (over 180 feet) to access these caves was never uncomfortable for us. The passages narrow, then widen to reveal extraordinary treasures, all within the natural comfort of 72 degrees and 100% humidity. Handrails along the way keep the passage as safe as possible, but it is challenging to hold on to the hand rails, gasp at the beauty and snap photographs while in the presence of about fifteen other guests. I found myself lagging behind during much of the tour. Malcolm pressed on and waited for me at each turn to make sure I was still with the group. The pictures I took do not do this majestic place justice, but I will share a few anyway. Go, if you get the chance. If you are not already a believer in a power higher than yourself, you will be.
This room was so large, I nicknamed it the Cathedral. The feeling of majesty is overwhelming as you traverse these previously hidden spaces. Emotions spanned from reverence to glee as we spotted shrunken heads, floating jelly fish, King Titan, or a grumpy old man in the formations.
My only regret for this day is that I did not have enough time to really see everything and take it in properly. That being said, the duration of the tour was appropriate for a group, especially given the maximum humidity factor. We were definitely ready for a cool blast of air when we exited.
We chose to visit the Texas Hill Country for three reasons – beer, brisket and bluebonnets. After having this wonderful experience, it seems trite to have summarized it so flippantly. Texas Hill Country is anything but trite. It is unique, diverse, dramatic and filled with history and wonder.