Saturday, March 7, 2009

Inks Lake State Park #4

Willow City Loop and Fredericksburg

Field of wildflowers on the Willow City Loop just north of Fredericksburg

We folded up camp, got ol' Trusty in travel mode and once more headed for the bluebonnet experience. We took two vehicles because Judy and Bob were headed back to Ft. Worth and we were headed to Montgomery after we left Fredericksburg. Not to worry, we stopped often enough that Judy and I got to discuss everything that we saw. It was just quieter between stops.

Our destination was the Willow City Loop. This is a narrow, county road that loops around a beautiful, rural area that is renowned for its wildflower displays. It's a great drive without the wildflowers, but during the springtime it is "car-stopping." The only difficult thing to remember is that you are not the only car on this narrow road especially during the season. On weekends it can be quite crowded; however, we were there in the middle of the week so it was not so difficult to find a place to pull over and take a picture, and that we did. It's not easy to paint a word picture of the Loop. It is just beautiful. There are fields and fields of wildflowers and in the middle of these fields are scattered homes where people actually live, bathed in the scented beauty of nature. Cattle and horses graze seemingly oblivious to the beauty that surrounds them. It makes you want to move to the Hill Country.

We spent most of our morning traveling the Willow City Loop. It's not really a long mileage drive, but it is a long stop, sigh and shoot drive. If it's possible, I have way too many pictures of bluebonnets.

We left Willow City and headed south on Hwy 16 to Fredericksburg. What a fun little town. Lots and lots of interesting shops, eating spots,art galleries, bed and breakfasts...its easy to spend an entire day just browsing and without a doubt you're sure to find something that pleases you. Not only is this a jewel for those who enjoy shopping, it is also loaded with Texas history. It is one of the original destinations for German immigrants coming to the United States. It began with 120 immigrants, each of whom received one town lot and ten acres near the town for farming. The farming immigrants were also a devoutly religious people. It was a long trip into town, maybe 20 miles or more with horse and wagon. Most of them who lived on the farms built "Sunday" houses in town for the use of their families on weekends and during religious holidays. Some of those houses still exist in Fredericksburg. They were a hard working people who built a strong, efficient community where their families could thrive. The families of Fredericksburg are still thriving today.

The town which began as an agricultural community has continued in that direction ever since. I think that once you have tasted peaches from this area you will never find another peach that tastes as good. Peaches are the number two cash crop in the county. They are delicious. Besides those wonderful peaches, you will find acres and acres of grape vineyards, and attached to those vineyards you will find wineries...good wineries. We checked out a couple.

We were only able to go to a couple of the wineries because of time constraints...we spent too much time in the tasting rooms! The first winery we visited was the Grape Creek Winery where we tasted as much as we could and left with as many bottles as we tasted. They had some good wines.

The second winery we "taste tested" was the Becker Winery. It really was the prettier of the two. It had a great little gift shop (I'm all about gift shops,) a super bar for tasting all of those wonderful concoctions, and a lovely, covered outside terrace for lounging and drinking. We took advantage of all of these ammenities, as well as a tour of their wine making facilities. Also on the grounds was a beautiful building that can be rented for special events. I thought it would be the perfect place for a family wedding that we had coming up, but she had different plans...oh, well. It would have been a lovely site. Adjacent to the winery is a lavender farm. We were there when the lavender was blooming. It was a most fragrant place to be.

Probably the most important person at the winery was the bar-tender... a bearded, Gaelic type who kept visitors laughing and tasting and buying. We fell right under his spell and left with more than we did at Grape Creek. I felt a bit guilty. We had promised Scrooge (Bobby) a cheap trip, but then we found the wine and Judy just cannot pass up a pretty wine bottle. Sorry about that, Bob.

We were about to part ways when we spied Wildseed Farms. Now that's a place you have to go. It has a huge wildflower garden plus plants and seeds to buy, a nursery stocked with beautiful plants, and gifts galore. You can spend a lot of time in this one place, and we did. I'm afraid that Bobby went home with much less money than he had planned, but what a delightful few days we had.

If you get a chance to visit Texas in the springtime, do it. You will leave with a smile on your face and if you are not careful, with boxes of wine in your trunk.

I understand that the wildflowers this year (2009) may not be as prolific as in the past couple of years because of the extremely dry conditions in central Texas. From what I have read, the best flowers will be to the east and south of Austin. Don't forget there is a Texas Wildflower hotline. You can google to get the number, or call the Texas State Tourism Dept. Enjoy.

I know, it's not a bluebonnet. It's pretty though, isn't it?

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Inks Lake State Park #3

The Backroads

Precious "Jesus" donkey standing in the bluebonnets. It's called a "Jesus" donkey because the hair on his back forms a cross.
It's late, I've been gone all day and I'm tired. Thought I could write, but I can't. My muse is stuck in a bottle and I can't find a corkscrew. Maybe tomorrow.
I'm not sure, but I think I found the corkscrew.
When I left you, we were leaving Inks Lake State Park, right square in the middle of all those lovely bluebonnets. We were prepared. Judy and I had little journal notebooks and pens so that we could jot down exactly what we saw and where we saw it, and of course there were fresh batteries in the cameras. Since that time I have misplaced that little notebook, but Judy who is our family keeper of everything has it all written down. I know all the general areas that we covered but if I mention anything specific you will know that I have called Judy and gotten the information. I did, however, retain all of my photos. Never lose sight of those important things.
We headed sort of north/northwest toward Lake Buchanan and found that every backroad we took was brimming with wildflowers...mainly bluebonnets. I think that 2007 must have been a banner year for the bluebonnets for we were not disappointed at any turn. Bobby was driving and was not used to my command of , "Stop, stop quick!" Therefore, we spent a lot of time backing up, because I found my self issuing that command quite often. He was a great sport and soon was anticipating our stops. He would see a bluebonnet growing inside a discarded old tire and realize that Judy and I would certainly want a picture of that. And so we passed our day driving slowly and stopping all around the Highland Lakes area...Lake Buchanan, Marble Falls, Fuzzy's Corner (Judy has that written down,) Kingsland, and a beautiful area between Longhorn Cavern and Inks Lake. There was no place we turned that wasn't full of beauty. We stopped to take pictures of bluebonnets in front of rocks, in front of old rotted trees, in the middle of cracks in the road, in pastures filled with the reds and yellows and pinks of all the other wildflowers. We stopped at a wonderful roadside park and had our lunch of crackers, cheese, bologna, pickles (Judy's homemade dills,) apples and oranges. We could not have picked a more beautiful dining room. There is never a day more beautiful than one spent with people you love in the middle of one of God's masterpieces. And that's where we were, in the middle of one of God's great watercolors.

What a great day! Late in the afternoon we headed back to ol' Trusty, our little pop-up who was quitely waiting for us to return to Inks Lake. Tomorrow, we were headed to Fredericksburg by way of the Willow City Loop.

Kicked back after a long day of starting, stopping and backing up

Monday, March 2, 2009

Inks Lake State Park #2

With visions of bluebonnets dancing through my mind, I picked up the phone and called my cousin and my best friend, Judy. I told her the plan. Skip and I were getting our trusty little pop-up hooked up and filled with all the neccessities for a wild (flower) weekend. I suggested that she and her husband Scrooge (actually his name is Bob, but we affectionately call him Scrooge because he really hates to get rid of those nickles and dimes,) might want to come along with us. Judy, who also packs a mean camera, was ready as always. It was just a matter of explaining to Scrooge that it really would not be all that expensive. They could
share our camper and we would split the cost of food. He finally saw the logic in our presentation and agreed to come along. I'm glad he did. We always have a good time.

They headed out from Ft. Worth. We headed out from Possum Kingdom Lake, and we met in the little town of Hamilton. Met up, had lunch and headed for Inks Lake State Park. One of the places to be for Bluebonnet season.

We got into the park in the early afternoon, and since we were there in the middle of the week (one of the great perks of being a senior,) we found a great camping site right on the lake and not far from a bathroom. I found that it's extremely important to be close to a bathroom after I took my diuretics by mistake with my evening meds one night when we weren't camped near a bathroom. That was maybe the least enjoyable experience of my camping days! About every hour I would reach over, gently touch Skip and whisper in his ear, "Darling (I made sure to call him darling,) would you like to escort me to the bathroom?" He was a great sport about it all, but since then we have made bathroom nearness a priority.

Anyway, our camp spot was beautiful and we parked our trusty little pop-up easily under the trees and set up camp. It was a most enjoyable site. It was quiet. Our neighbors couldn't hear our conversations and we couldn't hear theirs. That's a nice thing. The four of us enjoyed a quiet evening talking, playing cards, enjoying a spectacular sunset, and just being happy that we were all together. Then the four of us climbed into old Trusty for lights out and a good night's sleep. I have to admit, Trusty's facilities were a bit snug for four adults and a Big Yellow Lab. We slept on the bed, Judy and Bob slept where the table was supposed to be, and the dog had the floor. Difficult to step around the dog when you got out of bed, and of course there was no privacy. At our age, who needs privacy? We were happy to have a place to sleep.

Morning found us up and ready for the bluebonnets. Now, Inks Lake State Park itself is a lovely place to be, what with its dramatically beautiful pink granite outcroppings and it's Devil's Waterhole swimming destination. It was too cool for swimming while we were there, but during the warm months Devil's Waterhole is full of young people jumping off of ledges and climbing over boulders. Bluebonnets scattered about the park greeted us and invited us to just stay in the park for awhile, but we were in the Hill Country for the big show! And, big show is what we got!
We left Inks Lake and headed for the backroads...(next post.)

Sunset over Inks Lake from our campsite
Important Facts About Inks Lake State Park:

This is a very popular state park year round and reservations are highly recommended

There are 137 camp sites with water and electricty.
Many of these are right on the water.
Others are in easy walking distance.
Easily accessible bathrooms/showers
There are 50 water only sites
A number of walk-in sites
There are very good hiking and biking trails...some strenuous, some not so strenuous.
There is a 9 hole golf course.
There is fishing, swimming, scuba diving, water sports, and lots of wildlife (white-tailed deer, wild turkeys, Osprey, Bald Eagles lizards, etc.
Your best chance to see Bald Eagles is during mid-November until mid-March. The Vanishing Texas River Cruise near Lake Buchanan is the best place to view Bald Eagles.
It's an easy place to spend some time.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Inks Lake State Park

Bluebonnets In Texas

Field of Bluebonnets near Brenham, Texas

There is no place more beautiful than Central Texas in the springtime! That's a fact. The highways and byways are loaded with wild flowers. The most prolific and the one that's guaranteed to take your breath away is the bluebonnet. It's the state flower of Texas and it fills up the fields and roadsides so thickly that at times you think you are seeing a lake of blue.

You will find bluebonnets all over Texas mid-March until mid-April, maybe early May. The one place where you will find them in more abundance than anywhere else, is the Hill Country of Texas. Could be the hub of the Hill Country is Austin. Whether you are coming or going from Austin, you're almost promised lots of bluebonnets; however, when you get out into the countryside around Austin you will be in for a spectaular experience.

The Highland Lakes area is just to the northwest of Austin and includes places such as Marble Falls, Burnet, Kingsland and Lake Buchanan. This is picturesque country and usually has lots of bluebonnets.

The Llano/Fredericksburg area is west/northwest of Austin and is home to some of the most spectacular bluebonnet displays. this area includes Llano, Fredericksburg and Stonewall. The LBJ State Park is located near Stonewall and almost always has a good wildflower display. The wildflowers of Texas were Lady Bird Johnson's passion and she did much to ensure that the Texas highways would be awash with color.

The Mason County area is northwest of Austin. It's a rural area with many backroads, stone fences and stone houses. They can make for great backdrops for the bluebonnets. This area includes the town of Mason and Fredonia.

The Washington County and Brazos River area is east of Austin. It includes the towns of Brenham (home of Bluebell Ice Cream,) Chapell Hill, Hemstead and Navasota. The area around Brenham and the Brazos River are often called the best wildflower scenic drives anywhere in Texas.

The LaGrange area is southeast of Austin. It includes the towns of Bastrop, Schulenburg, La grange and Fayetteville. South of La Grange in the vicinity of Hwy 77 you will no doubt find some excellent wildflowers. You will also find the "Painted Churches" trail in this area. Beautiful old churches with ceilings and walls painted many years ago by immigrant artists. A beautiful sight to see.

Yoakum and DeWitt County is east of San Antonio and April is the best time for viewing wildflowers in that area.

I'm giving you all of this information with the hope that you will gas up your car, hitch up your camper, strap that camera around your neck, and hit the backroads of Texas during the Spring. You're guaranteed to see wildflowers. Of course, the great abundance of flowers depends upon the amount of rain the area has received during the winter months. There is a Wildflower Hotline at the State Capitol. You can get it by contacting the state tourism department. And, right in the middle of all those bluebonnets in the Hill Country sits the charming Inks Lake State Park. More about that tomorrow. It's late. I need my sleep.

Lip-licking, longhorn in field of Bluebonnets near Brenham, Texas