Sunday, March 14, 2010

Gettin' Down in the Hill Country

Saturday, yesterday, we ventured into the Hill Country, making a loop from Johnson City to Fredericksburg to Llano to Buchanan Dam to Marble Falls and back to Johnson City. There were a number of things on the "hit list" to explore, and we had a perfect day to get 'em done.

About 15 miles north of Fredericksburg is Enchanted Rock, a large bulge of pink granite that rises 425 feet above the surrounding land and covers about 640 acres. People come in droves, from miles around, to climb to the top and enjoy the Hill Country views from this elevated position. Unfortunately, we didn't. Due to the agreeable weather, the weekend, spring break, and who knows what else, the line to get into the place was backed up at least a quarter mile onto the highway. There's limited parking and when it's full no one can enter until someone else leaves. We don't do lines very well and it didn't take long to decide that we'll come back during a weekday.

The next stop was Llano. We've been told Llano has some of the best BBQ in Texas -- and it just happened to be lunch time. Funny how those things work out. I didn't remember the name of the recommended BBQ joint but figured, hey, how many BBQ joints can there be in Llano anyway? Turns out there's three! So we picked one, Inmans Kitchen, that seemed very busy -- usually a good sign of quality. I was assured by the person that took our order that, yes, this is the best BBQ in Llano, and probably the world. Both Dar and I found it very good.

After lunch we strolled around the historic courthouse square. The courthouse, built in 1892, has recently been renovated and looks marvelous. It, and a few other buildings on the square, have been placed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Next on the agenda was Buchanan Dam on the Colorado River. I like visiting dams as there's usually some great photo opportunities around these massive structures. But not here. There's a small visitor area on the up-stream side of the dam where you could see a portion of the dam. But the impressive views are usually on the down-stream side and, according to a security guard, there's no public access to the down-stream side of this dam. Hmmm.

Just down the road from the dam are two State Parks -- Inks Lake and Longhorn Cavern. Inks Lake's main attraction is the huge campground that is located near the shoreline of Inks Lake. Here again though, the nice weekend coupled with spring break for many Texas schools made the park as busy as it probably is during the middle off the summer. Kids, dogs, toys, bikes, scooters, smoldering fires, weary adults collapsed in chairs, the scent of burning marshmallows, and steady din of people talking, yelling, laughing... are my memories of this park.

The other State Park, Longhorn Caverns, is centered around a large 13 mile long series of caves that run through the area. Found in the 1840's by settlers (much earlier by natives) the cavern was used in various ways during the early 1900's, most notably as a speakeasy during prohibition. During the depression it was extensively cleaned up and made accessible for the general public by the CCC in the late 1930's. Due to all the human contact and abuse, these caverns are mostly dead. Cave structures were taken as souveniers and human touch leaves oils behind that prevents further natural cave-building. We like exploring caverns and seeing them in different conditions provides an appreciation of the more pristine examples, and an example of what can happen when human activity and ignorance combines to forever change natural processes.

The drive back to camp was through Marble Falls, a town of about 5,000 people. But because of it's location along a dam-formed lake and in the middle of a well-to-do Hill Country ranches, it feels much larger -- like a wealthy suburb of, say, Austin -- which it almost is. Unfortunately the falls after which the town was named has long since been submerged by the dam that forms the lake.

Miller RV Park hosts live music on Saturday nights. Last night we were treated to a foursome -- "Table of Four", that is a recent fusion of two separate duos known as "Sol Patch" and "ShAnnie" We didn't know who was performing before walking into the clubhouse and were surprised to find the same four that we had enjoyed so much at Luckenbach back in November. I'm a sucker for good female vocalists, and these two are among the best I've ever heard. The mini-concert ended far too soon for me.

Dar has our photos from the day in an online album already if you'd like to check them out.

Taking Sunday off...
Thom