Fossils of giant marine clams and snails are common museum exhibits from that period, but more significant for rock formation were their smaller relatives. Creatures as tiny as microscopic algae and foraminifera lived (as they do today) in numbers beyond comprehension. In death--part of lifeís endless cycle--their tiny skeletons settled to the sea floor as layers of limy mud. Those shallow seas periodically advanced and retreated, leaving limy strata from a few inches to many thick feet--and finally, limestone layers thousands of feet deep.
In between, continental forces brought layers of clay and gravel. Eventually an enormous layer cake of sedimentary deposits was built. Itís still there, much of it invisible beneath the entire Texas Coastal Plain and todayís Gulf of Mexico. Geologists have named a prominent part of it the Edwards Formation.
Then, from our perspective, forces in the deep earth growled to life, flexing and moving far beneath the layer-cake surface. Part of the surface bulged, and a huge section (the present Coastal Plain) slumped downward toward the Gulf Basin. The ragged fracture where the layered mass broke is the Balcones Fault Zone. The elevated remainder is the Edwards Plateau.
But todayís plateau isnít the solid monolith left from the seabed. As soon as the layer cake was elevated, erosion began to carve it. Every drop of rainfall dissolves a bit of limestone. Drops form rivulets that pick up undiissolved ;mineral particles and tumble them over the surface of bedded rocks, in turn yielding more particles. Rivulets coalesce to become streams. Stream-born sand and gravel scour channels deeper and deeper. In tie--todayís time--the result is a landscape of deeply sculptured valleys between more weather-resistant fragments of the former, unaltered whole; the Hill Country,.
First and foremost, the Hill Country is a land of scenery. The livelihood of its residents has traditionally been ranching, for there is no heavy industry, and farmland is very limited. Wildlife is abundant--birds in great variety, raccoons, opossums, foxes, coyotes, armadillos, squirrels, bobcats, an occasional mountain lion, and the nationís largest population of white-tailed deer.
The country is steeped in robust historical traditions, and in recent decades outdoor recreation has flourished. State and local parks make the most of scenic settings; caves lure visitors to eerie under-worlds; dude ranches cater to family vacationers, while boaters, fishermen, and water-sport vacationers enjoy a chain of beautiful highland lakes.
On a select series of highways, the Hill Country Trail introduces some choice portions of this majestic land. Because of space limitations in this supplement, descriptions in this supplement, descriptions are devoted mainly to driving routes. Before setting out, Trail drivers should obtain a free copy of the Texas State Travel Guide, which provides details about public points of interest in many of the cities and towns along the route. An Official Highway Travel Map will also be useful. Both may be obtained by mail from the departmental address at the end of this supplement, or at any Texas Travel Information Center.
For even more information about local accommodations, commercial campgrounds, tourist events, and activities, visit chamber of commerce locations in the various cities mentioned in this article.
The starting point is the city of San Antonio, the largest metropolitan area on the Trail. The route is then presented in a clockwise direction. However, the Trail is designed so that, with careful attention to the accompanying map and descriptive copy, it may be driven in either direction. See the map legend for information about special Trail signs and arrows.
San Antonio lies at the foot of the Hill Country just below the escarpment that separates the rugged hills from the lower plains to the south and east. With its abundance of visitor sites and attractions, San Antonio is one of Texasí premier tourist cities.
Five Spanish missions were established when San Antonio was an outpost of Imperial Spain, and the traveler can visit them today. One is the Alamo, hallowed cradle of Texas liberty.
Visitors can enjoy a series of superb historical and art museums, large parks, the excellent San Antonio Zoo, the Institute of Texas Cultures, a restored Mexican village of 150 years ago called La Villitia, a calendar spangled by colorful fiestas and festival events, and a visitor site unparalleled in the United States---the enchanting river walk.
San Antonioís multitude of attractions are highlighted in the state travel guide mentioned above. For even more, in-person details, visit the cityís Visitor Information Center, open daily from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. at 317 Alamo Plaza. Free maps, literature, and information about dining and accommodations will enrich your visit.
From San Antonioís Loop 410 Exit 10, the first leg of the Hill Country Trail aims west along FM 1957 across a low, rolling landscape toward the Culebra Hills. (1) Itís a sudden transition from the cityís bustling atmosphere to the rural character of hay fields and croplands.
In the chalky Culebra Hills (not the hills of this Trailís title), soils become thin and pale, cultivation disappears, and the sparse native pastures are infested with mesquite and prickly pear. The hardy, virtually worthless mesquite was once confined to deep South Texas. It now spreads statewide, requiring persistent and costly control measures.
A tall red-and-white microwave tower marks the eastern edge of the broad Medina River Valley. (2) The valley soils, rich and dark brown, result from river-laid sediments. This is a land of quaint, pastoral tranquillity. The area was settled by Alsatian pioneers about 1844. Among the modern farm buildings and homes, Trail travelers will see a few remnants of European style cottages whose distinctive feature is an unequally pitched roof, a characteristic of Old World architecture.
Nearing Castroville, the landscape of lush pastures with sleek cattle grazing, neat fields, and the townís distant church steeple is European in appearance.
Named for Henri Castro, who brought a group of Alsatian settlers to the area in 1844, the village is quiet and picturesque. Alatians were French by nationality, German in their language and cultural traditions.
Stop first at the Landmark Inn State Historic Structure, immediately south of the Trail highway (US 90) at the west end of the Medina River bridge. Restored by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, this vintage inn dates from stagecoach days and includes ruins of an adjacent old mill. Guests are still accepted, but because of the limited number of rooms, lodging is virtually unavailable except by reservation. Park personnel can provide information about other sites of interest in the village, especially the charming St. Louis Catholic Church and the picturesque grounds of an adjoining convent.
The local cemetery (3) off the Trail highway at the west edge of town, is a treasury of European-style headstones and markers that date from the 1840s.
The Trail highway west of Castrolville climbs out of the Medina River Valley and crosses a gently rolling landscape of plains toed by rich, dark soils. Prominent hay fields are examples of he landís potential, compared with brush "native" areas. But clearing to establish cultivation is formidable and expensive task.
Here the Trail highway parallels Southern Pacificís main cross-country line, the route of Amtrakís Sunset Limited between New Orleans and Los Angeles.
These first segments have sampled some typical aspects of broad coastal plains below the Edwards Plateau, but the lure of the hills invite a right-angle turn on Texas 173. Blue on the horizon ahead lies the Balcones Escarpment,(4) the scalloped edge of the mass that rose from prehistoric seas. On Texas 173 below the hills, geologists recognize dozens of fractures in the Balcones Fault Zone where the mass broke. Not to worry--the fault zone has been inactive for millions of years.
The highway begins to roll. Blue hills draw closer, growing in majesty as they are approached. The first real one is sliced by a deep highway cut--a portal to a different kind of land.
At the top of that first hill is a roadside picnic area offering a transition viewpoint: to the south, gently rolling plains; to the north, dramatic hills creasing the horizon. Exposed in this and many road cuts throughout the Hill Country are flint nodules that were formed in the limestone. It was a basic tool material of Indians who long inhabited the area.
The drive to Bandera is a fitting introduction to the landscapes for which the Hill Country is famous--scenic vistas in a big-shouldered land, steep slopes green with live oaks and cedars (junipers). Trail drivers may see some big, strong Texas longhorns grazing in roadside pastures. Highway signs of guest ranches soon appear, because Bandera is Texasí foremost dude ranch center.
General.. the population is 1,012 and the Alt. is 2,258 Bandera County
In this real Western town, take your pick of guest ranches; modern resorts with runways for fly-in guests or actual working ranches that accept a few guest interested in seeing ranch life as it really is. Trail rides and campfire cookouts are available at all, plus swimming, hunting for white-tailed deer and wild turkey, camping, hiking, square dances, and rodeos.
Historical markets are easily spotted around the town. The intriguing St. Stanislaus Catholic Church serves a Polish parish that dates from 1855. Nearby (23 miles) Medina Lake (5) is popular for water sports. For full detail. visit the Bandera Chamber of Commerce at 1206 Cypress on the Trail highway downtown, across from the county courthouse. The chamber is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday and from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday.
A feast of magnificent Hill Country scenery unfolds between Bandera and Utopia! Drive it at a leisurely pace and enjoy the panoramas. These landscapes result from the typical dramatic dissection of the Edwards Plateau into prominent hills and narrow valleys.
In Hill Country landscapes that arenít steeply up and down, travelers might watch for "thumbprints" of significant geological features; sinkholes. The Edwards Plateau bedrock, limestone, is soluble, some parts much more than others. Geologists explain that rainwater, seeping through the surface soil, often finds soft limestone and gradually dissolves it away. An underground void develops. Surface soil and rock begin to slump into a depressed "thumbprint," typically edged by an oval of small oak trees. These are the "poresí of the Edwards Plateau, filtering rainwater down to an enormous subterranean "plumbing system" called the Edwards Aquifer. Thousand of sinkholes speckle the Hill Country; even amateurs often can identify them.I
n the dim past, when this limestone layer cake was forming in prehistoric seas, a population of strange land animals lived here too--dinosaurs. That they occasionally took a swim, or at least a wade, is evidenced today by footprints have now turned to stone. Some examples are available two miles south of the crossroads community of Tarpley, on FM 462 (off the Trail).
If the water is low, dinosaur footprints (6) may be seen in the solid limestone bed of Hondo Creek at the west edge of the highway. Impressions of toes and even claws are evident, through somewhat blurred. After all, theyíre at least 80 million years old!!!
Back on the Trail highway (FM 470) is a historical marker (7) that cites the murder of a deputy sheriff by Indians in 1876.
Rancherís pride and originality in creating striking entrances to their property is evident in the ranch gates that edge the highway. Throughout the Hill Country Trail, traveler will often see deer fences--large-mesh wire 8 or 9 feet high. Their purpose may be either to keep deer out of the gardens and orchards, or to contain them within a lease hunting area.
The Trail enters picturesque Sabinal River Valley (8) at the intersection of FM 470 and FM 187. Here are small cultivated fields and broad acres of hay pastures. The idyllic pastoral setting, with its frame of majestic hills, must have captivated the first nineteenth -century settlers, as it does visitors today. Those settlers named their community Utopia.
General.. the population is 360 and the Alt. is 1,400 Uvalde County
The rural community dating from 1852 remains a quiet village serving resident farmers and ranchers, as well as an influx of sportsmen during hunting season. Local inquiry will provide directions to several historic sites, including the simple white-frame Utopia Methodist Church, built in 1890 and still in regular use. Behind the church is a grove of native pecan trees where traditional dinners-on-the-grounds and camp meetings have been held for more than a century. Sparkling spring water is bottled here and distributed around the world.
On FM 1050 at the west edge of Utopia is a small, neat community park in a grove of live oaks by a small lake on the Sabinal River. Camping areas, screened shelters, cooking pits, and picnic tables are available. The scope and time scale of erosion are evident here, in this broad valley carved from monumental hills by such a small, insignificant looking stream as the Sabinal.
West of Utopia, the Trail climbs again into beautiful Hill Country scenery. Every season offers distinctive accents. In spring and early summer the roadsides are ablaze with wildflowers. Sunflowers and the wine-red ripening tunas of prickly pear cactus add color to the late-summer scene. In fall the hills are splashed with the crimson of sumac and red oak, the goldís of cottonwood, sycamore, and wild chinaberry. In winter, rich green cedars glow against gray-green live oaks, and scarlet-berried yaupons add festive notes.
Garner State Park, (9) one of the finest in the state park system, spans 1,420 acres along the Frio River beside US 83. Swimming and tubing are popular on the river, which flows clear and cold amid towering cypress trees. Facilities include tent sites, RV stands with hookups, shelters, cabins, hiking trails, scenic overlooks, and innumerable picnic sites...a perfect place to pause and enjoy a few hours (or days) or relaxation. An admission is charged.
Commercial camps and lodges along the Frio River are also popular leisure spots in the Concan area.
The intersection of US 83 and Texas 127 is called Silver Mine Pass, where a historical marker (20) cites early Spanish mining efforts. Modern geologists find traces of cobalt and zinc, but no silver.
A picturesque cliff at the Frio River in Concern is a good snapshot site. South of Concan the Trail begins to wind its way out of the hills, and scrubby, brushy landscapes appear. Suddenly, on FM 1049, the hills disappear, and youíre traveling over the wide Coastal Plain that extends all the way to the Gulf of Mexico.
Another transition is evidenced by rich, intensified farming (11) on deep, dark soils. Crops include soybeans, wheat, and food-quality corn used for Fritos, tortillas, and hominy. Gum from guar, a bean producing legume, finds use in diverse products ranging from ice cream to oil-well drilling mud. Winter vegetable crops include carrots, onions, and cabbage.
Travelers will often see giant sprinkler-irrigation systems on these farmlands. Water is drawn from wells that tap the Edwards Aquifer, that enormous water bearing stratum that in an integral part of the plateau. Edwards Aquifer water supplies San Antonio and many other cities and towns in a broad region of South Central Texas.
Since the route has left the limestone hills behind, whatís that thing the Trail highway aims at on its approach to US 9? Itís a volcano (12)..the eroded stump of one. Although some broken fragments of the plateau can be found here, many of the hills rising suddenly from these plains are volcanic intrusions from 30 to 40 miles deep. In the town of Knippa, a taprock mine quarries igneous rock from the throat of an ancient volcano. Volcanic activity here has been long dormant.
General.. the population is 14,908 and the Alt. is 913 Uvalde County
County seat and commercial center for surrounding agricultural activities, Uvalde is the location of Southwest Texas Junior College and Garner Memorial Museum, the former home of John Nance Garner, who was vice president under Franklin D. Roosevelt. The restored 1891 Grand Opera House is a feature of the downtown square.
Reminders of the frontier era may still be found. An interesting historical marker is in a icy park in the 500 block of N. Park Street, along with some weathered raves of early settlers who were killed by Indians. The historical marker recounts the career of J.K. "King" Fisher, a notorious frontier character who was both sheriff and outlaw. Often arrested but never conflicted, he dressed flamboyantly and wore two silver plated revolvers. Eventually he and another questionable lawman, Ben Thompson of Austin, were ambushed and killed, in a San Antonio vaudeville theater in 1884.
For information about Uvlde attractions, lodging, dining, and events, visit the chamber of commerce at 300 E. Main Street; open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m Mon-Fri.
North of Uvalde the Trail threads among eroded southern fragments of the Hill Country. Travelers may see shaggy Angora goats in brushy roadside pastures. Their fleece produces a superb grade of mohair.
About 15 miles north, a historical marker (13) cites the Chalk Bluff Indian Massacre of 1861. At the base of the prominent cliff to the west (14) is a commercial camp that has been a popular family campground for decades. In a grove of native live oaks are rustic cabins and shelters, tent sites, some electric hookups for RVs, and picnic tables. Youngsters enjoy tubing on the Nueces River.
Birds are abundant in this area. Mockingbirds, wild turkeys, and mourning doves are year-round residents. Scissor-tailed flycatchers and white-winged doves from Mexico nest here in spring and summer; migrating golden eagles are seen frequently n the fall.
On barren slopes of these southern hills, strata of limestone laid by ancient seas are very evident. Average rainfall diminishes sharply from here westward, and hot, dry winds from Mexicoís Chihuahuan Desert sear these southern ramparts about six months of the year.
At the single-store community of Montell, a group of historical markers(15) identify the hometown of Confederate general John R. Baylor and the site of an unsuccessful Spanish mission, now disappeared.
Just south of Camp Wood is small, scenic Lake Nueces County Park, offering swimming, fishing, boat ramps, and electrical hookups for RVs. The rural community is a game-rich area popular with hunters.
Between Camp Wood and Leakey lies one of the Trailís most spectacular drives! (16) Skirting cliffs and gorges, the highway loops and plunges among breathtaking vistas. Roadside turnouts afford dramatic views where rocky bones of the hills loom above tiny, hidden valleys. In early spring travelers will enjoy a bonus: blooming mountain laurel draped with masses of purple blossoms. The route climbs to todayís surface of the Edwards Plateau, in places reaching elevations of 2,350 feet, some 1,800 feet higher than, for example, Austin, which lies at the foot of Hill Country.
The region appears almost uninhabited, but highway signs signaling stops for school buses loading and unloading attest that ranch families do live in these remote highlands.
Pronounced "LAY-key," the community in the picturesque Frio River Canyon is rich with Hill Country camps, resorts, and hunting lodges. Besides the abundance of naive white-tailed deer, several hunting lodges have stocked exotics, including black buck antelope, spotted axis deer, and mouflon sheep.
From Leakey thereís a route option. Drive north as the Trail is signed and described below, or continue west on FM 337 for another 17 miles of close-up, breathtaking scenery like the previous leg between Camp Wood and Leakey. Then north on FM 187 by Lost Maples State natural Area, (17) a choice state park described in the Texas travel guide under Vanderpool. Geology buffs can view a "textbook" sinkhole (18) immediately by FM 187, exactly 8..9 miles north of the park. Compare the options and take your choice; both routes are rewarding.
North of Leakey, the Trail route on US 83 follows the pleasant valley of the East Frio River for several miles of handsome scenery. In about 10 miles watch for a roadside picnic area (19) with a view that shouldnít be missed. From the picnic site, take a path down to an overlook that commands one of the finest panoramas on the Hill Country Trail! Gaze over a picture-book valley at Horsecollar Bend on the East Frio. The toylike cottages of a private resort camp dot the riverside below; cattle in lush pastures appear to be miniatures. The river is so clear that its rocky bottom, blue-green pools, and sand shoals are distinctly visible.
When the Trail route bends west on Texas 39, youíve again reached the high surface (20) of the Edwards Plateau. While the native pastures arenít especially scenic, his is where practiced eyes can spot dozens of sinkhole "thumbprints." Itís also prime habitat for Angora and Spanish goats, and other deer. Deer are more frequently seen in the early morning and late afternoon, but they canít really cope with vehicles. They may bolt right onto the highway. Be alert!!
Some 14 miles east on Texas 39, the highway begins to descent in rolls and sweeping curves. The hills become obvious again, steadily looming higher on each side. A rockhound creek appears, actually an upper tributary of the Guadalupe River, (21) which the Trail will follow, cross, and recross for miles.
Close to life-giving water is welcome scenery--tall pecan and cottonwood trees arch over the highway; picturesque cliffs frame stream channels and pools edged b y feathery cypress. Some of Texasí most popular youth camps, river lodges, leisure home, and cottages are abundant in this area of Hunt and Ingram. Driving by, donít you envy the folks who enjoy those idyllic facilities? Make some local inquiries; you can too.
A colony of artists and artisans live in this area. Note the Hill Country Arts Foundation and Point Theater (summer stock) in Ingram, the shops and boutiques in "Old Ingram" on the old highway just south of the trail route, and the intriguing murals on the Moore Lumber Yard building.
For vacationers, Kerrville is hub of the stateís greatest concentration of summer youth camps, plus an abundance of family camps, dude ranches, religious encampments, river resorts, and leisure homes. Accommodations are plentiful. Kerrville State Park (22) is on the Guadalupe River a few miles from downtown. The Classic Car Showcase and Wax Museum houses some of the most elegant motor cars ever produced in the world. Area history is capsuled in the Hill Country Museum in the Charles Schreiner Mansion, downtown. Festival events are regularly scheduled, the largest being the Texas State Arts and Crafts Fair on Memorial Day weekend and the weekend that follows.
Refer to Kerrville in the state travel guide, and stoop at the Kerrville Chamber of Commerce at 1200 Sidney Baker Street for free visitor literature and details; open from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., Mon - Fri., 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sat.
From Kerrville to Fredricksburg the Trail rises gently from the Guadalupe River Valley, crosses an area of moderate hills, then descends into the Pedernales River watershed. "Pedernales" is a Spanish word whose pronunciation Anglos just couldnít manage. Colloquially it is "Perdín-al-es." Nearing Fredericksburg, the traveler finds the Lady Bird Johnson Municipal Park, (23) an immaculate facility with abundant camping, picnicking, and sports facilities--one of the finest small-city parks in Texas.
Settled by German families in 1846, Fredericksburg is a delightful old town of rich historic traditions and nineteenth century building styles. German is still widely spoken, and festivals retain cherished European accents. Local bakeries produce fresh bread and ;pastries daily; restaurants combine Hill Country rustic and robust German menus. Headquarters of the Admiral Nimitz State Historic Site is at the unusual, century old "steamboat-style" Nimitz Hotel, built by the grandfather of Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz of World War II fame. The adjacent Garden of Peace was created in 1976 by a team of Japanese gardeners to affirm ties of friendship that now unite former military enemies. With its quaint Pioneer Museum and charming "Sunday houses," Fredericksburg is eminently worth exploring.
Even more details about Fredericksburg attractions are summarized in the state travel guide and may be obtained at the chamber of commerce on Main Street, just half a block north of the Texas 16/US 290 intersection, adjacent to the unusual eight-sided Vereins Kirche, called the "coffemill church,: The chamber is open 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday and 9 a.m. to noon, 1 to 5 p.m. on Saturday.
Worth a side trip off the Trail is Enchanted Rock State Park, (24) 18 miles north on FM 965. The massive dome of pink granite is a mile wide and rises 500 feet. It was held in awe and reverence by Indians, who believe that ghost fires flickered on its crest on moonlit nights. Open daily: nature study, hiking trails, primitive campsites, and picnicking.
Only a few distant hills are evident between Fredericksburg and Stonewall as the Trail spans the Pedernales basin. Soils are riverlaid sands, light brown to reddish. Travelers will see cultivated croplands, hay fields, grazing pastures, and peach orchards that produce superb fruit from the red soils.
If youíre a fan of Texas whimsy, a short side trip is available to Luckenbach, (25) of country-western song fame. The hamletís single general store is indeed amusing, and Sunday afternoons are still spontaneous "happenings," with banjo pickers, fiddlers, and assorted country characters who gather there.
Just before reaching Stonewall, the Trail bends north on Ranch Road 1, a pleasant drive that parallels the Pedernales River. The road offers several shady picnic spots and views across the river to the LBJ Ranch. (26) home of the late president Lyndon Baines Johnson. A roadside sign points out the location. Although trees obscure the ranch house itself, a flagpole identifies the site. Private vehicles may and not drive to the ranch.
LBJ State Park (27) is accessible from Ranch Road 1 or from US 290. The park features an interpretive center, historic structures, a nature trail, and a "living history" program, in which ;park ;personnel carry out a year-round regimen of farm life as it was early in this century--raising animals, gardening, canning, smoking hams, and doing other farm chores. Visitors may see deer, Longhorn cattle, buffalo, and an occasional wild turkey.
The National Park Service provides tours of the LBJ Ranch, the Johnson family cemetery (where the former president is buried), and a replica of the farmhouse where Lyndon Johnson was born. Tour buses operate on daily schedules from the state park headquarters.
In Stonewall during July and August, travelers will have abundant opportunities to buy the delicious, tree-ripened peaches for which the area is famous--and country-made peach ice cream!
The town is named for the pioneer Johnson family, ancestors of the late president Lyndon B. Johnson.
The Johnson family homes, where young Lyndon lived while attending public school, is maintained by the National Park Service as the Lyndon B. Johnson National Historic Site. A short walking trail leads to the nearby Johnson Settlement, original farmstead of the presidentís grandfather. Living-history activities interpret typical farm life of the era, circa 1867-72.
Northwest of Johnson City, FM 1323 skirts the upper rim (28) of the Pedernales basin--cultivated lands below, but rush, rocky native ;pastures here. Cattle guards are built across the highway, and this is prime deer country. It is always delightful to sight the slender animals--beautiful, graceful, vividly alert and alive.
This is another area to watch the landscape for sinkholes and to view remnants of rock fences--a European style brought by early German settlers.
Upon joining Texas 16, Trail drivers are in for an abrupt geological transition (29) just north of a prominent knob hill to the west. Dropping into a broad basin, weíve left the Edwards Plateau limestone and cycled back in time some 550 million years. In terms of elevation, this area is called the Llano Basin because higher edges of the Edwards Plateau surround it. But in terms of structure, it is the Llano Uplift--ancient igneous rocks thrust to the surface from 35 to 40 miles below.
The material is mostly extremely hard pink granite, which takes a beautiful polish. But there are other minerals too, whose variety and abundance delight geology scholars but frustrate mining engineers because commercial deposits are so hard to get to. In the hills to either side of this highway, unseen and largely abandoned, are mines that sought copper, iron, graphite, lead, magnesium, zinc, and a host of other minerals. Building stone is the only one that has proved a consistent commercial commodity, and thereís enough of it to last forever.
The town is at the heart of the Central Mineral Region of Texas, serves surrounding ranching enterprises, and hosts an influx of hunters during deer and turkey season.
Rock and mineral collectors comb the area for specimens of asbestos, barite, azurite, malachite, dolomite, galena, garnet, magnetite, opalized wood, milky quartz, amethyst, serpentine, tourmaline, and even traces of gold. A prime collectorís item is Llanite, a unique type of dark-pink granite like rock with inclusions of sky-blue quartz crystals. It is found nowhere else in the world.
Several mineral collections are exhibited in Llano, at the Llano Country Museum on Texas 16 just north of the Llano River, at a rock shop on the town square, and elsewhere. Inquire locally about spots for rock hunting, and always seek permission before entering private property.
In 1990 the downtown district was designated a National Historic Area. Obtain details about area attractions and accommodations at the Llano County Chamber of Commerce on the Trail highway (Texas 16) two blocks north of the river bridge; open from 8 a.m. to noon and from 1 to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.
East of Llano the Trail highway slants toward higher hills on the horizon ahead. Travelers are approaching some of the most delightful features of the Hill Country, the series of beautiful Highland Lakes with their abundant recreational opportunities. From Austin (almost 80 miles southeast) a chain of six major lakes stairsteps up the Colorado River on a winding course between dramatic hills and cliffs.
The highest and broadest of those reservoirs is the first on this leg of the Trail, Lake Buchanan. (30) First views of the lake come along Texas 261, but the extent of the huge lakeís 23,060 acres canít really be appreciated from this drive. A thriving colony of American bald eagles lives in a remote area on the upper reaches of the lake.
From the Trail highway, local roads branch east to lakeside docks, camps, and parks. Along the west roadside are granite domes of the Llano Uplift. many barely reach the surface, but geologists say weíre seeing the tips of buried granite mountains at least 20 miles deep.
At the intersection of Texas 261 and Texas 29 historical markers (31) at a roadside picnic area cite details of an old Confederate saltworks and an early Spanish silver mine.
Here on a short segment of Texas 29 are some sights to watch for. First, the Lake Buchanan Chamber of Commerce--just to the north of the highway at the dam that impounds the lake. Open daily, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., it in includes a visitor center with a small museum. Details are available there about lake cabins, lodging, and an unusual visitor experience called the Vanishing Texas River Cruise.
A little farther east on Texas 29, note a roadside park set among giant pinkish boulders. The boulders are Valley Springs gneiss, another prominent mineral of this region.
The Trail samples some beautiful
facilities. Here is your chance to get out and scramble up some granite domes. It is public parkland; go ahead and have a climb.
At the intersection of Park Road 4 and FM 2342 is the opportunity for a short side trip to Longhorn Cavern State Park. (33) Besides the subterranean labyrinth, the park offers marked nature trails, a museum, gift shop, and a snack bar
The Trail swoops close to Lake Lyndon B. Johnson (34) near Kingsland, then climbs Backbone Ridge for an impressive overlook of the lake. Historical markers at a scenic turnout detail Lyndon Johnsonís career in public service and tell of an immense land grant in 1844 to the German Emigration Company. Rock layers in the adjacent deep highway cut exhibit a wide range of muted colors---sandstone and limestone that predate the Edwards Plateau structure by nearly 500 million years.
Of many quarries along the Trail, the most famous is the Granite Mountain quarry (35) just north of Marble Falls. The quarry provided stone for the state capitol in Austin during the nineteenth century and has furnished superb quality pink granite for monuments and public buildings throughout the United States. Details are given on historical markers in a roadside picnic area near the quarry; visitors are not admitted to the quarry site.
Hill Country vacationers, fishermen, boating, and water-sport enthusiasts flock to lakeside camps and resorts in the Marble Falls area. Visitors enjoy several prime golf course, tennis courts, trail rides, summer youth camps, and events including rodeos, arts and crafts fairs, boating regattas, water-skiing meets, fishing tournaments, fish fries, and barbecues.
For details about local dining, accommodations, and events, visit the Marble Falls Chamber of Commerce, housed in a small yellow and brown vintage railroad depot on US 281 just a block south of the Trail highway (FM 1431); open 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.
Hill Country panoramas, typical ranch country, and glimpses of long, winding Lake Travis (36) to the south are landscape features between Marble Falls and Austin. This trail segment skirts the edge of Lago Vista, one of several resorts in this area. Leisure homes and prestige residences are complemented by marinas, golf courses, and a variety of recreational facilities. Jonestown is also the location of camps and lodges.
The Trail joins US 183, a busy metropolitan artery for Austin, for a few miles before turning again into the hills toward Lake Travis. The brushy ranchland is interspersed with neat suburbs reflecting Austinís growth. Suddenly the landscape opens up in all directions, and the highway plunges into the spectacular Colorado River Valley.
Lake Travis stretches away to the north, with the deep gorge cut by the Colorado River to the south. Here are recreational sites unlimited. Signs ;point to marinas, boat ramps, lakeside camps, and residential developments. At the west end of the Mansfield Dam, (38) which impounds Lake Travis, a roadside turnout offers an impressive overlook. Opposite (at lakeside) is the public Mansfield Recreation Area, with boat ramp, camping, and picnic sites.
Besides the abundance of water-oriented recreation and scenery, this region attracts naturalists and fossil collectors. Deer are commonly sighted. Among the birds that make this their habitat is the rare golden-cheeked warbler, which nests in the cedar thickets. The Lake Travis shoreline rewards fossil collectors with abundant marine specimens from some hundred million years ago. Weathering out at the shoreís edge are fossils of oysters, clams, snails, whelks, scallops, and tusk shells. Among favorite finds are internal molds of heart cockles, often perfectly shaped an about the size of a large apricot.
Between Lake Travis and Bee Cave is the entrance to Lakeway Resort, where world-class tennis tournaments occasionally are held and golf courses line the sloes of the rugged hills. The drive between Bee Cave and Austin (39) is almost a roller coaster experience. The highway is busy and should be driven with caution.
Winding through several miles of pleasant Austin suburbs, the Trail enters Austin through the cityís Zilker Park, site of Zilker Gardens and the famous Barton Springs swimming pool. Both are well worth a visit!
From the state capitol on 46 acres of immaculate grounds...to the historic French Legation, dating form the days when Texas was an independent republic...to the impressive LBJ Library and Museum...to the distinctive Austin sound of country-western music, the stateís capital city offers a rich slate of visitor experiences; museums of science, art, and history. East Sixth Streetís night scene, fiestas on the shores of Town Lake, the Austin Symphony in concert, water sports, shopping, dining, and more than 5,000 acres of parks.
To whet your appetite for sightseeing, review Austinís summary in the state travel guide. Better yet, pay a visit to the Convention and Visitor Bureau at 421 East Sixth Street, open from 8:30 am. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday; and the Tourist Information Center in the state capitol, operated by the State Department of Highways and Public Transportation, open seven days a week 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. except Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Eve, and New Yearís. Both will provide abundant details for a full Austin experience.
Between Austin and Wimberley the Trail crosses the Balcones Fault, (40) in the suburban town of Oak Hill, where Convict Hill was the first to quarry for the stone to build the state capitol. The quality of the limestone proved inferior, and the state made the fortunate decision to use ink granite from Marble Falls.
The Trail crosses several small, picturesque Hill Country creeks, some of which may be dry during periods of drought, while others flow clear and cool among smooth, white stones. These are characteristic landscapes of the Edwards Plateau, dissected by watercourses into steep hills and narrow valleys.
This quaint Hill Country village serves a very popular leisure home and residential area--cottages set amid scenic hills accented by clear streams and towering cypress trees. A random joining of roads forms the town "square," where visitors explore rustic structures devoted to arts, crafts, antiques, and country-store items.
Vacationers find dude ranches and summer camps, picnic spots, and opportunities for climbing, hiking, fishing, and swimming. Check out the scenic tranquillity of Blue Hole, and old-fashioned swimming spot thatís been popular for generations.
Pioneertown is a re-created Western village at a nearby resort camp; open June through August and featuring weekly medicine shows and melodramas. Details about Wimberly attractions, camps, hunting, fishing, and events are available at the chamber of commerce just of the "square" on Ranch Road 12 south; open open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mon. - Sun.
On the abrupt dividing line between the Hill Country and the blackland prairies, San Marcos is a pleasant old town with two popular tourist attractions, both resulting from the Balcones Fault. At the very edge of the hills. Wonder World features a cave created by earthquakes when the fault was active millions of years ago. The attraction includes a wildlife park, miniature train ride, sense-deceiving gravity house, and sight-seeing tower.
Aquarena Springs is a water-oriented attraction within the town, where clear, cold springs well up from the fault to form the beginning of the San Marcos River. Visitors ride glass-bottomed boats over the springs, cross the lake in an aerial tram, see underwater shows from a submarine theater, stroll through cliffside gardens, a frontier village, and a Mexican market. Facilities include a restaurant and lakeside hotel.
San Marcos is the home of Southwest Texas State University, alma mater of the late president Lyndon B. Johnson, and San Marcos Baptist Academy, well-known prep school for boys and girls.
Information about city attractions and parks is available at the chamber of commerce, 202 C.M. Allen Parkway, open 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mon. - Fri., and at the San Marcos Visitor Center on I-35 just north of the city.
Leaving San Marcos, the Trail passes several fine old homes on FM 2439/Hopkins Street. Parallel to the Trail route and just a block north, the Belvin Street Historic District showcases even more vintage architecture. Itís well worth a drive or a stroll (only a few blocks) to see some superb examples of nineteenth-century homes.
Southwest of San Marcos the Trail highway travels precisely on the Balcones Fault, (42) illustrating its astonishing geographic demarcation. On the south side of the highway are dark, rich farm soils on a gentle landscape; immediately opposite is thin, rocky soil that barely covers the chalky slopes rising to the hills. The age difference between land on either side of the highway is at least 30 million years.
After a short county-road segment, the route heads north on FM 306 toward one of the most attractive features on the Hill Country Trail--Canyon Lake. (43) About six miles north is Wildlife Wilderness, a drive-through exotic animal showcase. Your travel guide details the park and he preserved tracks at Dinosaur Flats, a feature of the Trail on FM 2673 along the south edge of Canyon Lake.
Glistening among timbered hills, 8,000 acre Canyon Lake is a gem among Corps of Engineers impoundmentís. The Trail route takes you close, but not to the lake itself. Access roads do wind on both sides of the lake to public recreation areas, ;parks, boat ramps, and camps. Fishermen seek black bass, white bass, crappie, bluegills, catfish, and reentry introduced striped bass, which may weigh 15 to 20 pounds.
The cold waters of the Guadalupe River (44) below the dam are stocked with rainbow trout; a rare treat for Southern anglers. Trail drivers will see river raft and canoe outfitters, and tube rentals for old-fashioned fun on the rapids below the dam.
Another of the towns established at the edge of the Balcones Escarpment (like Austin, San Marcos, and San Antonio), New Braunfels dates from the nineteenth-century German immigration led by Prince Carl of Solms-Braunfels. German influence in language, culture, and traditions is sill prominent, and the town is a favorite visitor spot both for summer vacationers and for "Winter Texans" from northern climes.
In town, springs bubbling from the fractured edge of the Edwardís Plateau form the Comal River. They are the largest springs in Texas, and the Comal is the stateís shortest river--running only 2.5 miles before it joins the Guadalupe. Riverside parks and camps enjoy idyllic settings along these streams.
The state travel guide highlights New Braunfels attractions and events. For up-to-the-minute visitor details, stoop at the New Braunfels Chamber of Commerce on the Trail route (S. Sequin Street), two blocks south of the typical German market square in midtown.
From New Braunfels, the Trail joins I-35 for a swift trip back to the starting ;point at San Antonio. North of the highway, industrial plants (46) line the edge of the hills. Several extract lime and clay, basic, ingredients for the manufacture of cement.
Those who have completed the whole route can speak with authority about the Texas Hill Country--a land of majestic vistas and abundant wildlife, a presidentís land, a land of scenic lakes and outdoor recreation. But a word of caution; Texasí dimensions dwarf even this large region, and there are other ;parts to discover before the whole can be measured. Against these wooded hills compare treeless, table-flat plains stretching from horizon to horizon, green-canopied ;pine forests, moss-hung bayous, and hundreds of miles of golden sand along the sea. That, too, is Texas! When travel efficiency is in everyoneís best interest, Texas Trails are the way to go!!