Springtime in the Texas Hill Country

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North America » United States » Texas » Fredericksburg
March 18th 2021
Published: March 20th 2021
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Taking a trip ‘out west’ to see the great state of Texas had been on my wish list for some time, but visiting there had always been overlooked in favor of an international destination until April, 2019 when the time seemed right to see the “Lone Star” state. Planning an itinerary for places and sites we both were interested in seeing was actually pretty easy.

Texas is the 2nd largest state in the nation covering almost 270,000 square miles of territory, and just mentioning its name conjures up images of its legendary geographical attributes and independent-minded people. It is a state blessed with a variety of geographical features, and it is famous as the setting of more than a few, very profound moments in American history.

With only a week to visit, we focused on places ranking highest on our wish list, and as chance would have it, all of these lined up on the map. After flying into the Dallas-Ft. Worth area, we picked up our rental car and immediately set off on the hectic 4+ hour drive south on Rt. 35 to San Antonio.

As I wrote about in a previous blog (https://www.travelblog.org/North-America/United-States/Texas/San-Antonio/blog-1034465.html), we planned to
spend our first 3 nights exploring the delights of San Antonio. We chose the Hotel Valencia Riverwalk which proved to be a very good base from which to launch our daily on-foot explorations of the area which included the historic Alamo. Our final morning in San Antonio started off with a last heavenly breakfast in our hotel’s very inviting Dorrego Restaurant – the baguette French Toast topped with fresh strawberries and blueberries was my favorite while Rick liked the Spanish Eggs Benedict. Both the coffee and service here were excellent too.

I took a few last moments to wander near our hotel in Old Town San Antonio and noted some interesting architectural details which have been thoughtfully preserved – moldings, cornices, arched windows, relief details – early Texas style but with Spanish influences too. Particularly attractive was the E. Houston Street Bridge, built in 1925, with its graceful railings from the mid-20th century style. On the bridge’s wide sidewalks were 4 unique pillars, 2 on either side. Each 4-sided pillar had painted ceramic tiles depicting scenes of four of the five historic San Antonio Spanish Missions. In addition to all the major attractions and great restaurants, finding charming art,
architecture, bridges, gardens, curling staircases and walkways made Old Town San Antonio a delightful place to visit.

With so much still to see and do ahead of us, we were anxious to get on the road. It was warm, sunny and a perfect day for driving as we made our way out of the Old Town and Riverwalk areas of the city. We soon picked up Rt. 10 heading north followed by a stretch of Rt. 87 on our way into Fredericksburg, our destination for the day and night. The area called the "Texas Hill Country" begins shortly after leaving the San Antonio environs, and the area is home to some beautiful stretches of road, in addition to state parks, vineyards, breweries and German-heritage towns. Fredericksburg is just one such German heritage town and is a relatively short drive, perhaps 2 hours or less with a stop.

Considered to be generally located north of San Antonio and west of Austin while sitting on the Edwards Plateau and Balcones Escarpment, the famed Texas Hill Country covers approximately 31,000 square miles or more depending on the information source – they say everything in Texas is bigger and they’re not kidding!

We would soon see that early spring in the Texas Hill Country can be breathtakingly colorful and this was a major motivation to visit this area. As we drove we began to get a feel for the wide open spaces and dry, brushy terrain in this part of the state, but roadsides had patches of cacti, pines and the purplish, deep blue Texas Bluebonnets were in full bloom. We crossed both the Guadalupe and Pedernales Rivers on the way but weren’t able to see much of them. This early part of our drive while scenic in some places paled in comparison to the one we would be taking in late afternoon and the following morning.This had me thinking about a former 1960s First Lady of the United States who made it one of her missions to beautify America. It was President Johnson's wife, "Lady Bird" Johnson, who ‘planted’ the idea in many people’s minds to do something to beautify our cities and roads. “Thanks to Lady Bird Johnson’s Highway Beautification Act of 1965, wildflower seeds were planted along roadways across the United States and especially throughout her home in the Hill Country……”Where flowers bloom, so does hope,” said Lady
Bird, a nature lover at heart.” – Highland Lakes.com

Arriving in Fredericksburg just about lunchtime meant looking for a place to eat. We settled on Mac’s Bar-B-Q & Catering on E. Main St. hoping for some great Texas BBQ and we were not disappointed! My husband’s lunch was a 2-meat combination of pulled pork and beef brisket with sides of creamy mashed potatoes, coleslaw accompanied by a thick slice of bread. My own lunch was slow-cooked pulled pork with a side of creamy macaroni & cheese with pickles and slice of bread.

After lunch we wandered the main street which was long, had diagonal curbside parking and was lined with lots of shops nearly all of which were similar with the exception of Dooley’s 5-10-25¢ Store. For me, childhood memories of a similar hometown store came flooding back as thick as syrup as I walked the aisles of Dooley’s. Often known just as 5 & 10¢ or "five and dime" stores, these childhood palaces of wonder offered a myriad of delights for children who were in possession of a few coins. Items such as candy, toys, kitchenware, dishes, figurines, clothing, toothbrushes, makeup, or soap, etc., would be displayed
on low counters in individual compartments separated by glass dividers. Larger items were displayed on upper shelves often backed with mirrors. The older stores had polished wood floors, and often a walk-up lunch counter, soda fountain counter, or small restaurant. It was surprising to find a store like Dooley’s still existed in this modern era of online shopping, but I was even more surprised to have childhood memories come back to life in a small Texas town.

We stopped in to try the local micro brew at the Fredericksburg Brewing Co. establishment housed in an atmospheric old building on Main Street. Small tables were scattered around the large room which had an antique, long bar with an exposed rock wall running its length behind it. Colorful country flags hung from ceiling rafters gave the place a festive air. Huge copper and stainless steel tanks held a variety of the craft beers with names such as Peace Pipe Ale, Pioneer Porter, Hauptstrasse Helles, and Harper Valley I.P.A.

While totally American, Fredericksburg was founded in 1846 by early Germanic settlers and was named after Prince Frederick of Prussia. The town stayed quite insular for many years with the people even
speaking a language known as Texas German. But things began to change when native Texan, Lyndon B. Johnson, became the 36th U.S. president. Not long after assuming office, President Johnson bought a ranch east of Fredericksburg in Stonewall where he was born, and the ranch house there became known as the “Texas White House.” President Johnson declared, “All the world is welcome here.”

Today, The Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park consists of that the Texas White House, LBJ’s birthplace, the Johnson family cemetery, the old Junction School, LBJ’s grandparents’ home and a ranch show barn; some sites are located in nearby Johnson City. Normally, all of this would be open to the public but as of March, 2021, it is currently closed. Although, a self-directed driving tour is not affected when a free driving permit is obtained at the Visitor’s Center.

Another native son, Chester Nimitz, was born in Fredericksburg in 1885, and drew attention to his hometown on becoming the Commander-in-Chief of the US Pacific Fleet during World War II. The National Museum of the Pacific War was located in Fredericksburg specifically due to Admiral Nimitz’ career and war time contributions.

Vestiges of Fredericksburg’s German-Texas
heritage still can be found in bits of its architecture, in several museums, annual festivals, the Altstadt and Fredericksburg Breweries, local business names and even in its Der Stadt Friedhof Cemetery.

Not wanting to waste any of the remaining daylight, we drove out of town for 13 miles north on Rt. 16 before reaching Willow City, and a bit farther on another road to reach what is known as the “Willow City Loop.” The Loop is a 13-mile stretch where it is fairly bursting with spring time wildflowers and resulting in its well-deserved claim to fame. It is truly a riot of color! Texas Bluebonnets, Indian Paintbrush, Large Buttercups, Indian Blanket/Firewheels, Purple Coneflower, Prairie Verbena, Pink Evening Primrose, and Wine Cup are some of the many varieties you'll find here. Covering hills, gullies, and roadsides, we saw cacti also a common site along with rustic split-rail fences, and long-rusting farm equipment. Windmills, used to pump water from underground, were a favorite sight for me.

Now and then a stream, though barely a trickle, could be seen wending its way through a bed of sand, and rock would be edged in bright green plant life making a pretty change.
The land in the Loop is privately owned and much of it is fenced ranch land. Flagpoles were not an uncommon sight -- an American flag waving proudly above the Texas flag, a reminder of the sentiments of the people here.

Though stopping along the roadsides is discouraged, we did so along with most others driving the Loop. Sometimes a caravan of cars made its way along to each, ever more scenic stop – all keen photographers were in hopes of having a particular scene to themselves but that rarely happened. At these stops, the car doors would literally fly open and a driver or passenger or both, with camera in tow, would race to find the perfect position for the best patch of flowers with the best light, or the best angle for photos.

One Texas Bluebonnet covered field that stands out in my mind was particularly scenic. It was enclosed by a split-rail fence and a windmill seemed to stand guard over all below it. Rather early in the loop drive, this same field's most unique, eye-catching sight was the cowboy boots capping many of the fence posts near the road. These boots were left behind
by previous visitors over the years. Some boots were colorful and fancy while others were older and faded, and most often these boots were signed and dated by their owner – an “I was here” reminder of their visit. I almost considered this a form of “street art” though it was composed not of paint, or metal, just cowboy boots. It is one of the most unique street art compositions I ever recall seeing – certainly not complex or thought provoking, just spontaneous and simple Americana.

Although we drove the entire ring loop on this day, I knew I wanted to do it all again the following day. Now late-afternoon, we reversed course making our way to the Hangar Hotel a few miles outside of downtown Fredericksburg. This is one of the most unique hotels we’ve ever stayed in and I felt lucky to have found it. Located at an airfield and small airport, the hotel was purpose built to resemble the exterior of a World War II aircraft hangar, but to me it resembled a very large barracks.

Being here was like taking a step back in time. The hotel’s ambiance captured the romantic side of the
World War II era, and with some imagination it’s easy to think of scenes with ground crews hurrying to perform last minute aircraft checks, and brave pilots dressed in their fleece-lined bomber jackets and tilted officer caps eager to fly off on their next mission.

To further immerse you, the hotel lobby is furnished with 1940s-era antiques. Vintage suitcases placed next to a worn leather chair and a vintage floor-model radio. A vintage typewriter and phone switchboard are set behind the reception desk along with framed newspapers featuring the war news headlines in large typeface.

Just above the reception desk a number of mounted clocks showed the current time in New York, London, and Tokyo and Berlin. Just outside on the grounds we saw a few World War II era planes with their custom-painted nose art; positioned here too was a giant searchlight tilted towards the sky seemingly ready to scan the skies for enemy aircraft at night.

We were given a second-floor room which was large, comfortable and furnished in the '40s style with a masculine feel. Wood, leather furnishings, and a vintage-looking phone as well as an interesting framed copy of a watercolor print of
a P-51 Mustang kept the imagination going.

We made our way down to the charming “Officers Club” for the cocktail hour. It was a very inviting room fitted out with tufted leather seating, a fireplace, a bar and billiards table. The small bar offered plenty of variety and complimentary snacks. Interestingly, the hotel also hosts USO style dance nights with 1940s Big Band music and other events in the Pacific Showroom which add to the guest’s immersion in a bygone era. We finished the evening off near sunset with a climb to the second-floor observation deck and watched a few small aircraft maneuvering around the airfield.

The next morning following the complimentary continental breakfast, we checked out and once again followed the Willow City Loop in its entirety. The lovely morning light offered another perspective to the terrain and for most of the drive we had the road to ourselves. A light breeze sometimes made an entire field of flowers gently sway creating a ripple effect. Roadside flowers swayed whenever cars passed by. By then it was already mid-morning and we needed to be on the road to our destination for the night, Waco.

I will clearly
remember that while driving the length of the Willow City Loop it was the flowers here that were the showstoppers; however, one of my favorite sights was “Harry’s,” a “road house” that was pure Americana. Also known at the time as 'Harry's on the Loop', it sits on a corner, had a dirt parking lot, a rusting metal roof, and a collection of old signs announcing that beer and ice were available, and that a chili benefit night was scheduled. Here, too, the American and Texas flags fluttered from poles attached to one end of the building. The inside might look like it was from a bygone era, but it's said the food was great, and the beer cold. Next to the small, blue-painted frame entry door a sign proclaimed “This bar is owned & operated by a proud veteran of the United States Marine Corps.” For my brother, a former Marine himself, I will add, “Semper Fi.” But these days don't look for the Harry's like it is shown in my photo, because unfortunately, somebody didn't appreciate the nostalgia --- a crying shame.

Additional photos below
Photos: 27, Displayed: 27


20th March 2021

Springtime in Texas
This sounds a lovely part of the state at this time of year. I never thought of Texas in the way you've described it here Sylvia, and so much nostalgia thrown in for good measure too. That was a great idea by Lady Bird Johnson to line the roads and highways with wildflowers. Another informative topic which I thoroughly enjoyed reading, but I'd still like to know what happened to Harry's Bar.
20th March 2021

Springtime in Texas
Malcolm, thanks for reading and your kind comments! We've only just scratched the surface of Texas in terms of exploring it and learning much more about it, so I think we'll definitely go back for a return visit. But what we did see was pretty special. As far as Harry's (on the Loop), it was a real favorite of locals and travelers alike, famous for live music and the good vibes. Scores of pages have been written about it. But apparently, it has now been sold. Harry Hickman passed away in 2020. I saw one photo where all the character had been striped from it. At the same time, the new owners are restoring it to its original 1896 appearance. Not that it's a bad thing at all, but I kinda liked the 'honky tonk' look too, and I think its character will no doubt change.
21st March 2021

US roadtrip - how I long to do that again
It was a few years ago since we went on a roadtrip in the US ourselves last time. We absolutely love doing that and Texas would be a great place to do it. Thanks for writing about your visit there. /Ake
21st March 2021

US roadtrip - how I long to do that again
Ake, I love road trips and our trip to Texas was a lot of fun. But we only saw a little bit of it during this trip. Texas is so big that we focused on a relatively small area of it because it had so many sites we wanted to see. I have 2 more places to write about -- Waco and Dallas. Thanks for reading!
21st March 2021

Love those flowers!
I've not really thought of Texas as a possible road trip destination but after reading this and your previous post on San Antonio I am starting to change my mind. If we come we must do so in spring to see those beautiful flowers! What month would you recommend? And I love the look of the Hangar Hotel too - what a find!
21st March 2021

Love those flowers!
Texas is an enormous state with lots of variation in geography and sights. Looking at a map of Texas, you could see we only visited a small slice of it. I really think early April is a great time to visit the Texas Hill Country but other areas as well. The flowers are blooming and it is not exceedingly hot yet. However, the weather in Dallas can change on a dime -- we had hail the day we were originally scheduled to fly home! Hopefully, I will be writing about Waco and Dallas soon!
22nd March 2021

I only think of one thing when I hear of Waco
To me Waco is known for one thing only - the Waco siege. Would a typical American think of something else when they hear of that city? /Ake
22nd March 2021

I only think of one thing when I hear Waco
To people of a certain age, I think you are correct. However, that happened almost 30 years ago. For the last 8 years or so, Waco has taken on a much different character, and is happily known for something quite different that appeals to many people.
28th March 2021

What a great post.
What an interesting post. I have never been to Texas and it looks like I never will now but this just makes me regret that omission all the more. I particularly like the look of that 40's hotel, how quirky. Having it actually on a working airfield is just the final touch. It is a shame someone couldn't see the attraction of Harry's though, why does everything have to be destroyed all the time?
28th March 2021

What a great post
Hello Fergy, thanks for your nice comments. This part of Texas was an interesting place to visit. The Hangar Hotel was really unique. As for Harry's, after the original owner died, the property was sold. Online photos from last year show that it has been painted a dark gray with white trim, no flags, no signs, etc. So they have stripped it of all its character and they are still working on a renovation which may or may not restore it to its 1896 original look. The old Harry's look was "funky" and maybe what you'd call "honky tonk" but I like it a lot better the old way. Change isn't always for the better! Hope you are doing well!
1st April 2021

Road Trippin'
There is nothing better than Texas hill country when the spring flowers are in bloom.
2nd April 2021

Road Trippin'
So true! I think a lot of people would be very surprised to see that part of Texas in Spring. Glad we finally had the chance to see it for ourselves!
6th June 2021

Americana and Nostalgia
I love everything about Americana and nostalgia, and imagine this road trip would have been highly enjoyable, evoking many memories I'm sure. Ah, this greatly inspires me for a lovely road trip or two in the future, hopefully that may become reality soon. I enjoyed reading about "Harry's on the Loop", and the impromptu cowboy boot street art! Thank you for an enjoyable and inspirational read. I'm glad you were able to get out and see more of your amazing country ?
6th June 2021

Americana and Nostalgia
I'm so glad to hear you like Americana and nostalgia! I know not everyone appreciates Americana and sometimes I am overly nostalgic! Road trips can be so wonderful and filled with unexpected finds such as Harry's -- live music and the Texas sky on a warm summer night. I hope to do more exploring in the southwest part of our country if I'm lucky!! Thanks for your very nice comments as always!!
8th May 2022

Like a painting!
Hi Sylvia. I love the composition of this photo and its colours! Just gorgeous. My idea of Texas has been formed by how filmmakers, songwriters and authors chose to portray it, so it's nice to see it for what it actually is. I've only just logged into TB after a very long time and it's so nice to read about your road trip :)
11th May 2022

Like a painting!
Thanks for reading, Ren!! I don't think I could ever really describe Texas because it's such a large state, and it's geographically and culturally diverse, and ripe with very important American history. I guess I would just say there's something for everyone there!! The Texas Hill Country was especially beautiful and evocative! Thanks again for reading!!

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