5. Lost Maples State Natural Area
The scenery along Rte. FM337 east of Leakey is among the Hill Country’s finest. The drive twists through valleys below oak-covered ridges and climbs to panoramic-view-offering heights of the eroded plateau and its many hills.
Where the highway descends toward the Sabinal River, turn north on Rte. FM187 to Lost Maples State Natural Area, by any standard one of the loveliest places in Texas. The “lost” bigtooth maples here are actually relics of a prehistoric age when the climate was wetter and cooler. Surviving in a deep canyon carved by the Sabinal, the maples (along with oaks, walnuts, and other trees) are protected from the hot summer temperatures and drying winds found throughout the entire Hill country region.
Guadalupe bass, found only in central Texas streams, glide along the rocky Sabinal, while tiny green kingfishers not much bigger than sparrows patrol the river for prey. Rare golden-cheeked warblers and black-capped vireos nest on hillsides above the river. Endangered, these birds symbolize the area’s unique natural heritage.
Before turning northeast on State Rte. 16 at Kerrville, stop at the Cowboy Artists of America Museum for a look at historic and recent artwork that captures the romance and vitality of the largely bygone era of open range ranching. Nearby Kerrville-Schreiner State Park, along the Guadalupe River, is a fine spot for a short hike, a picnic, or a refreshing swim.
Shortly after German immigrants settled here in 1846, the town’s leaders offered a peace treaty to their fierce and feared Comanche neighbors. While talks were under way, one family’s children became frightened by Indian signal fires on nearby hills. Their mother calmed them by saying that the Easter Rabbit had started the fires to boil eggs for the holiday. To this day, Fredericksburg celebrates a yearly Easter Fires Pageant in memory of that story—and of the fact that the treaty became the only one in Texas history never to be broken by either side.
Fredericksburg still echoes its strong German influences, from the cuisine in local restaurants to the town’s Old World fachwerk (timber and stone) architecture. Distinctive “Sunday houses” were built around the turn of the century by farm families who came to town on weekends to shop and to attend church; many of these simple dwellings have been renovated for modern use, including service as bed-and-breakfast inns.
8. Enchanted Rock State Natural Area
Indians, who heard strange noises and saw eerie lights emanating at night from this colossal mound of pink granite, believed it was possessed by supernatural powers. Today we know that the sounds are caused by expansion and contraction of the rock, and the illumination results from reflected moonlight—yet Enchanted Rock retains its magical appeal. Geologists call it a batholith and claim it is more than a billion years old. Visitors, with or without scientific interest, are awestruck by its sheer enormity. Encompassing 70 acres and rising to 400 feet in the air, Enchanted Rock is included among the largest monolithic masses of exposed granite in the United States, nearly comparable to Stone Mountain in Georgia. The view from the summit rewards those who hike the trail to its top.
Bluebonnet Fields Forever
One of Texas’s most enjoyable spectacles is the kaleidoscope of wildflowers that carpet its roadsides—the result of decades of planning. Beginning in the 1930′s, the state harvested tons of seeds from donors and planted them along the highways (thus eliminating mowing expenses). In 1982 one of the program’s most ardent champions, Lady Bird Johnson, founded the National Wildflower Research Center in Austin, where visitors can enjoy the sight of such native wildflower species as the Texas bluebonnet, the official state flower (shown here in the scattered company of red Indian paintbrushes). 9. Ranch Road 1
President Lyndon B. Johnson, like his fellow Texans, pronounced the Pedernales River as PURd-’n-allis. As you drive along Ranch Road 1, which branches north off Rte. 290 and parallels the river into the heart of LBJ country, you’ll quickly understand why this land was so beloved by the late president. The meandering Pedernales, flanked by rolling pastures and scattered groves of live oaks, seems to be the very embodiment of true pastoral serenity.