10. Lyndon B. Johnson State Historical Park
Cattle that escaped from Spanish ranchers in 18th-century Texas had to be tough to survive. And so they were—a hardy breed with extralong horns to combat predators, and an ability to thrive on the sparse vegetation. Texas longhorns were popular in pioneer times, but as modern breeds were introduced, their count declined. Mindful of its heritage, Texas now maintains a herd of longhorns that thrive at Lyndon B. Johnson State Historical Park.
Another of the park’s attractions is the Sauer-Beckmann Farm. Here folks in period costumes demonstrate the daily chores—canning, milking, churning, plowing—of a Texas-German farm family at the turn of the century. Buses leave from the state park for tours of the LBJ Ranch—the Texas White House—where Johnson conducted official business on his visits home. The route passes the reconstructed house where he was born, a one-room school he attended, and the cemetery where he is buried under a large oak tree.
11. Johnson City
For five years after the Civil War, Sam Ealy Johnson (LBJ’s grandfather) drove Texas longhorns up the Chisholm Trail to markets in Kansas, running the business from his ranch near the Pedernales River. When the price of beef dropped so low that cattle drives could no longer turn a profit, he returned for good to his home turf.
Here, at a unit of the Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park, visitors can browse every part of Sam Johnson’s original farmstead. In town, at the visitor center, they can view a film and displays relating to the life and times of LBJ and tour the white Victorian house where the longtime politician spent his formative years. Authentic family furnishings—even toys—create the illusion that the Johnsons have just stepped out, perhaps for a walk down one of the town’s quiet, tree-shaded streets.
12. Pedernales Falls State Park
Hill Country geology is plainly written in the landscape at this attractive park on the north side of Rte. FM2766. At the falls the Pedernales cascades down broad slabs of limestone tilted like tables with broken legs—evidence of the Llano Uplift, which long ago raised the Edwards Plateau. Deer and wild turkeys roam the hillsides, and farther downstream there is a fine spot for a refreshing swim. The short, easy Hill Country Nature Trail, which begins in the park campground and winds down to Twin Falls Overlook, provides a close look at native plants. Mesquite, shin oak, Ashe juniper, Texas persimmon, and sycamore are among the trees you’ll see along the way. In spring and summer also take time to listen for the short, buzzing notes that flow from the golden-cheeked warbler’s throat.
Almost fifteen feet higher than the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., the Texas-size state capitol in Austin is the largest in the entire country. Its construction in the 1880s called for some 15,000 railroad carloads of pink Hill Country granite. The immense building is just as imposing indoors, with details in its oak, walnut, cherry, cedar, ash, pine, and mahogany woodwork. The capitol is open for tours daily; a gallery and balcony on the fourth floor offers visitors impressive views of the finely worked terrazzo tile floor below and the sweeping arch of the rotunda above.
The city of Austin is studded with parks, among them the famed swimming hole at Hamilton Pool; Zilker Park with its formal gardens; Wild Basin Preserve; and nearby McKinney Falls State Park.
The Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum in downtown Austin engages visitors with the compelling story of Texas, using interactive exhibits and an IMAX motion picture as large as the state itself. From its signature Lone Star sculpture out front to a campfire scene with enduring appeal to the westerner in all of us found inside its lobby, the museum brings Texas to life.
For nature lovers an especially intriguing spot is the Congress Avenue Bridge across the Colorado River, south of the city center. Over a million Mexican free-tailed bats live here during the summer months—the largest urban bat colony in the country. Emerging each evening to feed on nocturnal insects, the swirling swarms of tiny mammals create one of the Lone Star State’s most wondrous wildlife spectacles.