Note: this post is from February 26, 2020 and prior to the Covid-19 lockdowns.
After spending time exploring the very busy, touristy area of downtown Fredericksburg, it was time for us to escape to explore the surrounding countryside.
Here are the highlights of where we went and what we did.
One of Texas Hill Country’s iconic scenic drives, the very popular Willow City Loop, a 13 mile two lane dirt road, winds its way through rolling hills, meadows, creeks and valleys. One of Frederickburg’s websites describes the drive this way; “the hills and low lying creek bottoms are ablaze with the colors of a multitude of wildflower varieties… Bluebonnets, Indian Paintbrush, Phlox, Coreopsis, Mexican Poppies, Sunflowers, Firewheels, yellow and white Daisies, Winecups, Horsemint, and Verbena”.
One segment of the drive is bordered with a fence. That doesn’t sound very unusual, now does it? What makes it a bit unusual is that someone has placed an upside down boot on each fence post. How cool! As you can see from the two photos below, there’s a sharp contrast of the colorful landscape that we didn’t see versus the drab one that we did see. Sigh…guess for now photos of the brilliant arrays of wildflowers found on the web will have to suffice! On a positive note, there wasn’t much traffic – we heard and read that when the wildflowers are blooming, traffic on the loop comes to a standstill!
Anyway, leaving town, as we drove along Ranch Road 1631 and Ranch Road 1323 towards Willow Loop Drive, even without the wildflowers, we had some very pretty views.
Perhaps the name Willow City conjures up images of skyscrapers nestled between an assortment of retail establishments similar to other cities. Nope, definitely not here – that image is very far from the real scenario! Instead this “city”, which is known as the gateway to the Willow City Loop, had an estimated population of 70 in 2000. The “city” consists of an old school building, a volunteer fire department and a bar located at the intersection of Farm Road 1323 and the loop road. Don’t blink, you might miss it!
Turning onto the loop, visitors are quickly reminded by the posted signs that the drive winds along private property for its entire 13-mile duration – parking or stopping along the road or walking in the fields of flowers is discouraged. Beware – violators may be prosecuted!
Although there were no wildflowers, there was lots of wildlife. There were cows, cows and more cows in a variety of colors. Hmmm, can cows be considered wildlife? Perhaps these can be since they were wild, free roaming ones (aka loose livestock), seemed like they were everywhere, in the road and on the side of the road. Drive carefully!
And then there were bisons and ostrich…
Located 17 miles outside of Fredericksburg and not to far from the Willow City Loop is the 1,644 acre Enchanted Rock State Natural Area which offers camping facilities, picnicking, 8.4 miles of hiking trails (see trail map here), rock climbing, a nature trail, interpretive exhibits, watchable wildlife and a park store. Entrance fee for the day is $7 per person, ages 13 and older. Children 12 and under are free.
Within the park, rising 425 feet above the ground and covering 640 acres is a massive dome comprised of pink granite known as Enchanted Rock. This rock is actually just the visibly exposed tip of one of the largest batholiths (a mass of cooled lava or magma called igneous rock) in North America while the rest of it stretches underground for another 62 miles. It is also unique as it is the largest monadnock (defined as an isolated structure that abruptly rises up from otherwise flat or gently sloping terrain) in the United States.
It has been a part of human history for at least 11,000 years, long attributed with spiritual powers by the Tonkawa Indians which you can read about here. At the Visitor Center in Fredericksburg, we were warned that if we had any intentions of hiking, we would need to arrive there early – once the park is at capacity, the park closes and no one else will be admitted. Unfortunately we never did find the time to do any hiking here.
For more detailed information about Enchanted Rock, check out this website.
Fredericksburg isn’t the only town around that can brag about a colorful history! Located just 13 miles northeast is the small hamlet of Luckenbach which was established as a trading post in 1849 by German immigrants. As the population grew, the town flourished with the addition of a post office, a consolidated school, a dance hall, a general store, a blacksmith shop and a steam powered cotton gin. But as the roads in the area improved, the farmers started to bypass the local offerings, traveling to nearby Fredericksburg for supplies instead. Because of this and other factors, the population declined until it was almost a ghost town in the 1960’s.
Fortunately in the 1970’s the town enjoyed a rebirth when actor Guich Koock and Hondo Crouch, a rancher and Texas folklorist often called a redneck version of Will Rogers, responded to a newspaper advertisement offering “town — pop. 3 — for sale”, subsequently buying Luckenbach for $30,000 in partnership with Kathy Morgan. Their reason for purchasing the town – they wanted the dance hall to stay open later. That’s as good a reason as any for buying a town I guess!
To hear more about the history of Luckenbach, check out this YouTube video by Expedition Texas!
It didn’t take long for these new owners to transform a broken-down Central Texas general store and beer joint and a separate dance hall into a magical place, alive with mirth and diversion, hosting such events (according to their website) as “Hug-Ins”, a Luckenbach World’s Fair, complete with a tobacco spitting contest – judged on distance and accuracy – and a buffalo chip tossing contest and the Ladies State Chili Bust as well as daily sessions of song-picking, domino playing and beer drinking beneath the 500-year-old oak trees.
Ever hear of a Mud Dauber? It is a harmless, slender-bodied, winged insect in the wasp family that loves to make mud pies, sticking them under the eaves and porches of buildings. Strangely enough, the exact same day the swallows return to Capistrano and the buzzards make their way back to Hinkley, Ohio, the mud daubers show up in Luckenbach to signal the beginning of spring in the Hill County. In 1975, Hondo Crouch and his Luckenbach cronies dubbed the Dauber the “National Bird” and created a festival to celebrate this industrious critter.
What really put Luckenbach on the map was music, especially with the advent of Outlaw Country music, fathered by Willie Nelson. In 1977, Waylon Jennings wrote the hit song with the help of Willie “Luckenbach Texas (Back to the Basics of Love)“. Every year Nelson visits the town for the annual Fourth of July picnic.
Today only two buildings remain – one houses the remnants of the post office (which closed in 1971), a working saloon, and a general store/museum while the other is the dance hall. Visiting here was like walking back in time! Great place to sit back and relax with a cold beer, enjoy some Texas grub from the Feed Lot under the oak trees, catch one of their live shows (some free, some require tickets) and dance the night away in the historic dance hall!
Despite the fact that it was pretty quiet during our visit, it was a fun stop. Bet this place is hopping on a weekend!
Located about 10 miles southeast on US-290, this 200 acre farm is the nation’s largest working wildflower farm in the US! Even without blooming flowers, this place was well worth a visit.
visitors can take a break and quench their thirst with a cold beer or enjoy an ice cream or sample some of their jams, jellies, salsas, and other goodies at the Brewbonnet Biergarten
or try some of their wines in the tasting their wine tasting room.
Another place that must be hopping when the wildflowers are in bloom!
We weren’t done with our sightseeing yet – we have one more local attraction to tell you about. Stay tuned!