A State of Mind: Texas Hill Country

The Texas Hill Country is noted for its hilly landscape and also the great number of oases, rivers, and diversity of wildlife

The Hill Country rises out of south-central Texas like an island out of a vast ocean. A large area of rolling hills and valleys with limestone canyons, clear-water rivers, and a few scattered small towns, the Hill Country is quite densely wooded. Prepare to be amazed.

Buckhorn Lake RV Resort © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Ideally situated off I-10 near Kerrville, Buckhorn Lake RV Resort is a perfect base from which to explore this wonderland of scenic vistas, oak-covered hills, rocky outcroppings, and streams.

Fredericksburg © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Located in the heart of Texas Hill Country, Buckhorn Lake Resort is just an hour drive from San Antonio. Each pad site is designed with large coaches in mind—they include widely paved pull-through sites and roads.

Wildseed Farms © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

After arriving at Buckhorn Lake RV Resort we unhooked our dinghy and after setting up camp we ventured out. We explored Fredericksburg and the nearby Lady Bird Johnson Municipal Park, Wildseed Farms, Enchanted Rock State Natural Area, and further afield including a detour or two.

Lady Bird Johnson Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The most famous detour of all is Luckenbach, population 25, reached by driving six miles east of town on U.S. 290, then turning south (right) on Ranch Road 1376; continue on this little road about four miles till you see signs. If you cross the creek, you’ve gone too far—maybe it’s time to stop and ask directions, as signs to Luckenbach just don’t last long, thanks to souvenir hunters.

Enchanted Rock State Natural Area © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

These days Luckenbach, Texas is, to paraphrase John Steinbeck, a “State of Mind”—A Texas state of mind, where you can kick back, relax, and get away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life—like a step back in time.

LBJ National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In 1849, a general store opened in Luckenbach, a town made famous by Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson’s 1973 classic country hit, “Luckenbach Texas-Back to the Basics”. The store is still there with a bar, a dance hall for special events, and “prit near always” a jam session playing. Sometimes country stars make impromptu appearances, or there may be an armadillo race or horseshoe tournament going on.

LBJ National Historic Area © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Also nearby, east of Fredericksburg on Highway 290, is the not-to-be-missed Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park. The LBJ Ranch is in the heart of the Hill Country on the banks of the Pedernales River.

Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park tells the story of America’s 36th President beginning with his ancestors until his final resting place on his beloved LBJ Ranch. This entire “circle of life” gives the visitor a unique perspective into one of America’s most noteworthy citizens by providing the most complete picture of any American president.

LBJ National Historic Area © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Visitors are now able to tour the Ranch at their own pace in their private vehicle with the ability to stop at sites along the way such as the President’s birthplace, Johnson family cemetery, and the Johnson’s ranch house known as the Texas White House.

Guadalupe River State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

We’d become so absorbed in history during our visit to Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park that we truly welcomed the natural serenity of Guadalupe River State Park. The park has four miles of river frontage and is located in the middle of a nine-mile stretch of the Guadalupe River. Flanked by two steep pastel limestone bluffs and towering bald cypress trees, the setting couldn’t be more inviting for swimming, wading, or just relaxing.

Guadalupe River State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Countless springs and tributaries feed the free-flowing Upper Guadalupe, and by the time the river carves a winding path through the state park, it carries ample water for canoeing, kayaking, rafting, tubing, swimming, and angling. The four sets of gentle rapids are especially popular with tubers.

Guadalupe River State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The park is unique in the state park system in that it shares a boundary with a state natural area. Together, the 1,938-acre state park and adjoining 2,294-acre Honey Creek State Natural Area comprise more than 4,200 contiguous acres of Hill Country habitat. Access to the state natural area is by guided naturalist tour only.

Guadalupe River State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There’s so much more to Guadalupe River State Park than just a good swimming hole. The state park abounds with hiking trails that traverse the park’s upland forests, grassland savannahs, and riparian zones. Hikers, mountain bikers, and equestrian riders have access to more than five miles of multiuse trails that crisscross the uplands in a looping, figure-8 pattern.

For RVers wishing to stay overnight or longer, the park provides great camping facilities.

Texas Spoken Friendly

Worth Pondering…

Texas is a state mind. Texas is an obsession. Above all, Texas is a nation in every sense of the word.

—John Steinbeck, Travels with Charley: In Search of America

Visiting LBJ Ranch

The Texas Hill Country rises out of south-central Texas like an island out of a vast ocean

East of Fredericksburg on Highway 290, is the not-to-be-missed complex of Lyndon B. Johnson historical parks. Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park has two distinct visitor areas separated by 14 miles.

The LBJ Ranch is in the heart of the Hill Country on the banks of the Pedernales River.

Lyndon B. Johnson National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Operated jointly by Texas Parks and Wildlife and the National Park service, the LBJ Ranch in Stonewall and the Boyhood Home and Johnston Settlement in Johnson City constitute a remarkable historic preservation.

Lyndon B. Johnson National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In Johnson City you will find the National Park Visitor Center, Boyhood Home in which President Johnson spent his childhood, and the Johnson Settlement where the President’s grandparents first settled in the 1860s.

Lyndon B. Johnson National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park tells the story of America’s 36th President beginning with his ancestors until his final resting place on his beloved LBJ Ranch. This entire “circle of life” gives the visitor a unique perspective into one of America’s most noteworthy citizens by providing the most complete picture of any American president.

Lyndon B. Johnson National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Between the day he became president in November 1963, and the day he left the White House five years later, Lyndon Johnson returned to the Hill Country 74 times.

Lyndon B. Johnson National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

President Johnson had a deep attachment for place and heritage. The LBJ Ranch was where he was born, lived, died, and was buried. In 1972, the Johnsons donated their home and 690 acres for a national park. After the President’s death in 1973 at age 64, Lady Bird Johnson continued to live at the Ranch part time until her death in 2007.

Lyndon B. Johnson National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Visitors are now able to tour the Ranch at their own pace in their private vehicle with the ability to stop at sites along the way such as the President’s birthplace, Johnson family cemetery, and the Johnson’s ranch house known as the Texas White House.

Lyndon B. Johnson National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Obtain a free driving permit at the LBJ State Park and Historic Site Visitor Center in Stonewall. You will also receive a ranch map indicating the tour route. No Permits are given out after 4:00 p.m. A CD containing narrative audio for the tour is available for purchase in the bookstore and comes with a bonus DVD filled with videos and photos.

Lyndon B. Johnson National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Then, just like LBJ did over 50 years ago in his white Lincoln Continental, drive through the main gate—but not as fast as the heavy-footed president liked to speed through himself.

After leaving the visitor center, continue to Sauer-Beckmann Living History Farm, where visitors can see how the Johnson family’s German-Texan neighbors lived.

Lyndon B. Johnson National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

After touring Sauer-Beckmann head for Ranch Road 1 along the Pedernales River. The right guardhouse on the left, once manned by uniformed Secret Service agents, marks the previous low-water crossing on the ranch.

Lyndon B. Johnson National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

As part of the self-guided Ranch Tour, you may stop at the Texas White House for a ranger-guided tour.

Lyndon B. Johnson National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

You’ll see Junction School, the one-room schoolhouse where Johnson learned to read; the reconstructed LBJ birthplace, and the Johnson family cemetery, here generations of the Johnson family are buried, including the president. You’ll also see the ranch house, known during the Johnson presidency as the “Texas White House”.

Lyndon B. Johnson National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Once you arrive at the Texas White House, obtain a ticket for a house tour at the Airplane Hangar. House tour fee for ages 18 and older is $3.00.

Lyndon B. Johnson National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Texas White House was officially opened to the public on August 27, 2008. The entire ground floor is available for public tours. Rooms on the tour include the President’s Office, living room, dining room, and the Johnsons’ bedroom suites. The majority of rooms have been restored to their appearance during the presidential years (1963-1968) while the bedroom suites retain their appearance at the time of President and Mrs. Johnson’s deaths.

Lyndon B. Johnson National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A few miles east is Johnson City, named after LBJ’s family. Here, there’s more fine historic preservation, including Johnson’s boyhood home and the Johnson settlement, featuring several 1800s barns and cabins, an old windmill, and a water tank and cooler house.

Lyndon B. Johnson National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Texas Spoken Friendly

Worth Pondering…

There’s something different about this country from any other part of the nation.

The climate is generally pleasant.

The sun is generally bright.

The air seems to be always clean.

And the water is pure.

The moons are a little fuller here.

The stars are a little brighter.

And I don’t how to describe the feelings other than I guess we all search at times for serenity.

And it’s serene here.

—Lyndon Baines Johnson

Head For the Hills: Texas Hill Country

A road trip in the Hill Country is an adventure into beautiful parks with natural wonders and tiny towns that preserve remnants of Americana and the Wild West

Imagine hills, soft and scrubby, green valleys, and limestone cliffs. Conjure up ranches and communities of German heritage, wineries, fields of wildflowers, and sparkling rivers lined with cypress and oak.

Guadalupe River in the Texas Hill Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Ah, the Texas Hill Country. To some it is the state’s greatest natural resource.

No big cities, no hustle and bustle—just cafes with country cooking, water for fishing and inner tubing, and old places with timeworn comfort. Yes, it’s easy to feel at home in the Texas Hill Country.

Blanco State Park in the Texas Hill Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Hill Country rises out of south-central Texas like an island out of a vast ocean. A large area of rolling hills and valleys with limestone canyons, clear-water rivers, and a few scattered small towns, the Hill Country is quite densely wooded. Prepare to be amazed.

McKenney Falls State Park in the Texas Hill Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Ideally situated off I-10 near Kerrville, Buckhorn Lake RV Resort is a perfect base from which to explore this wonderland of scenic vistas, oak-covered hills, rocky outcroppings, and streams.

Located in the heart of Texas Hill Country, Buckhorn Lake Resort is just an hour drive from San Antonio. Each pad site is designed with large coaches in mind—they include widely paved pull-through sites and roads.

Buckhorn Lake Resort in the Texas Hill Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The resort also features an 8,000-square-foot red barn. The facility that not only hosts year-round activities sponsored by Buckhorn but also can be rented for other events. Other amenities include trash pick-up, a dog park, pools, and a fitness center.

Fredericksburg in the Texas Hill Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Trading the customary Howdy! for Willkommen!, we headed to Fredericksburg, just 30 minutes northeast of Buckhorn Lake, a community that celebrates it German heritage. Settled in the 1850s by immigrants from the Old Country, the town retains much of its Germanic influence through shop and restaurant themes, seasonal festivals including the annual Oktoberfest with its oom-pahs, polkas, and bratwurst.

Fredericksburg in the Texas Hill Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Marktplatz in the center of town commemorates the peace treaty between the German settler and Comanche Nation. The treaty is thought to be the only one with Native Americans never broken.

National Museum of the Pacific War © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Don’t leave Fredericksburg without a visit to the emotionally powerful Admiral Nimitz State Historic Site and National Museum of the Pacific War. Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, Commander-in-Chief in the Pacific during WWII, grew up in Fredericksburg. The museum covers eight acres and includes a Garden of Peace—a gift from the people of Japan.

The Pioneer Museum Complex is also located in Fredericksburg, telling the story of the mid-1800s German settlers. Open year-round, a four-acre museum community complex includes a home, a store, a smokehouse, a log cabin, and a bathhouse.

Lady Bird Johnson Municipal Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

On the southwest edge of Fredericksburg, 340-acre Lady Bird Johnson Municipal Park offers scenic paths, outdoor recreation, and 98 RV campsites with 50/30-amp electric service, water, sewer, and WiFi. The park’s Live Oak Wilderness Trail, a mile-long stretch on 10 creek-side acres, features a bird-watching station and a butterfly area.

Windseed Farms © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fredericksburg is also at the center of the Hill Country wildflower scene, best witnessed during the spring months of April and May, but there’s a nearly year-round floral bonanza to be found at Wildseed Farms, seven miles east of town. This the largest working wildflower farm in the world, where flowers are grown in endless rows for seed.

Fredericksburg bakery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sure, we love Fredericksburg, with its quaint Main Street and antique shops, biergartens, and bakeries. But after we’ve gorged on apfelstrudel to our heart’s content, it’s time to brush off the crumbs and open up our trail map.

Enchanted Rock State Natural Area in the Texas Hill Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Our enchantment with the area continued when we drove onto Enchanted Rock State Natural Area, 20 miles north of Fredericksburg. This 1,643-acre park is dominated by a 70-acre dome of pink granite that rises 425 feet above the bed of Sandy Creek, 1825 feet above sea level. One of the largest batholiths (an underground rock formation uncovered by erosion) in the US, Enchanted Rock is surrounded by oak woodlands as far as the eye can see.

With two main trails from which to choose, this is a great place to stretch your legs. The view from the top is worth the climb.

Lyndon B. Johnson National Historic Park in the Texas Hill Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Hill Country offers many other getaway options. Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park. The towns of Boerne and Comfort, New Braunfels and Gruene, Dripping Springs and Marble Falls, and Bandera, the “Cowboy Capital of the World”.

Oh yes, and Luckenbach.

And these, my friends, are the subject of another post.

Worth Pondering…

I am humbled by the forces of nature that continuously -mold our great state of Texas into a beautiful landscape complete with geological diversity, flora and fauna. It is my goal as a photographer to capture that natural beauty and share it with others.

—Chase A. Fountain

A Cool Oasis in the West Texas Desert

Dive into the crystal-clear water of the world’s largest spring-fed swimming pool

In July, on a 100-degree day in the desert, 562 miles west of Houston, the San Solomon Springs Pool at Balmorhea State Park in Far West Texas, is a favorite place for many RVers and other travelers searching for respite from the hot Texas sun.

The water is so clear it’s like jumping into a dream. The water temperature hovers around 75 degrees, refreshingly cool in the heat of the summer and comfortably warm in winter. It is, in the opinion of many, the best swimming hole on Earth.

Balmorhea State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Set against the Davis Mountains where the Chihuahuan Desert transitions into the low, flat Permian Basin, the San Solomon complex of springs gush out 15 million gallons of artesian water every day, feeding a canal system that runs to nearby farms and the town of Balmorhea, 4 miles away.

Balmorhea State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In the mid-1930s, the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) built walls around the desert marsh to create the pool. Today, more than 200,000 people stop by every year to swim with fish, waterfowl, and amphibians.

Balmorhea State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The CCC-era structure is the world’s largest spring-fed swimming pool. More than 15 million gallons of water flow through the pool each day, gushing from the San Solomon Springs. The 1.3- acre pool is up to 25 feet deep, holds 3.5 million gallons of water with the temperature 72 to 76 degrees year-round.

Balmorhea State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Several years ago when we stopped by in early spring on our route west to Arizona, we had the park to ourselves. But on summer weekends so many people cram into the park that volunteers improvise parking in open fields.

Balmorhea State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

I always figured Balmorhea was too far away from major population centers, too in the middle of nowhere, to get overrun. I was wrong. In recent years, visitation has surged. For families between Van Horn and Odessa, Balmorhea is the one affordable place within 100 miles to cool off and picnic.

Balmorhea State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Scuba clubs from as far away as Kansas and Arkansas explore the springs on weekends year-round. Fitness buffs motoring coast to coast make detours for a swim.

Balmorhea State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

For almost three months, during the peak summer season, the pool was closed as staff figured out how to fix a collapsed retaining wall below the diving boards.

Balmorhea State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The closing was sudden and unplanned. During the annual cleaning in early May (2018), Abel Baeza, the manager of the local water district, was directing workers to make repairs in a nearby canal when he heard a noise, then turned around to see the underwater concrete skirting cracking off below the high dive.

Balmorhea State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The 80-year-old pool, like the nearby adobe San Solomon Springs Motor Courts which are closed during a planned restoration, requires constant upkeep. The concrete repairs were an even bigger deal. A dam had to be constructed to hold back water around the damage during the painstaking process.

Balmorhea State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

“There are five endangered species in the pool, and this is the only population left of this species of black catfish,” said Mark Lockwood, the West Texas regional director for Texas state parks.

“We can’t just open up the gates, let the water dry up everywhere, build a wall, and put it back together.”

Balmorhea State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In early August, the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department (TPWD) announced that pool repairs would begin imminently, with the cash-strapped agency forced to find creative ways to pay the estimated $2 million bill. Apache Corporation, the company doing most of the fracking exploration around Balmorhea, which some locals and environmentalists believe caused the damage, offered a $1 million matching grant through the nonprofit Texas Parks & Wildlife Foundation.

The Garrison Brothers Distillery pledged a portion of proceeds from its small-batch, $59-a-bottle Balmorhea whiskey. Even for a park as popular as Balmorhea, getting things done these days requires the governmental equivalent of a GoFundMe campaign.

This project is only one of the three major developments underway at Balmorhea State Park. Renovations to the San Solomon Springs Courts and campgrounds have been ongoing since 2017. Once these projects have completed, visitors to Balmorhea will have an enhanced park experience at West Texas’ most treasured oasis.

Balmorhea State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Texas Parks and Wildlife Foundation (TPWF) has established a fund to accept donations towards the structural repairs that are needed to reopen the pool. These donations will help ensure that Texans can continue to enjoy this historic spring-fed swimming pool and unique West Texas destination for generations to come.

The park remains open for day-use only with limited facilities.

The restoration of the San Solomon Springs Motor Courts should be finished by spring. The fallen wall in the pool should be repaired any day now. I’m standing by.

Balmorhea State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Another sunny 70 degree fall or spring day with little wind will do just fine. Odds are, we’ll have the park all to ourselves.

If you wait until next summer, y’all will be waiting in line with the rest of y’all.

Texas Spoken Friendly

Worth Pondering…

No matter how far we may wander, Texas lingers with us, coloring our perceptions of the world.

—Elmer Kelto

The Absolute Best Places to RV This April

April is an amazing month for RV travel

April pops to life after a long stretch of colder months and it welcomes outdoor exploration before the heat and humidity of summer step in. April is all light showers, cool breezes, and flowers galore, making it the perfect time to hit the road in an RV.

Here are five of the absolute best places to find you and your family in the merry month of April.

Fredericksburg, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Texas

There is a lot to see in Texas, and you’ll definitely want to take it in before May, that’s for damn sure. Texan summers range, but you can bank on serious heat rolling through the cities and countryside—and it’s not like a coastal breeze tumbles across the state. So April’s your last month to do up Texas right for a good spell.

San Antonio Riverwalk © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Don’t worry, though, because April features an incredible score of festivities throughout the entire Lone Star State, including the Andrews Wild Wild West Fest, Fiesta San Antonio, Austin Reggae Festival, Celina Cajun Fest, Dallas International Film Festival, Fort Worth Food & Wine Festival, Galveston Island Food & Wine Festival, Grapevine Jazz Wine Train, Houston Comedy Film Festival, Katy Jazz Festival, Kilgore Film Festival, and on and on and on. The whole state is a party in April and anyone’s welcome.

Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Sedona, Arizona

Sedona is regularly described as one of America’s most beautiful places. Nowhere else will you find a landscape as dramatically colorful. The towering red rocks and jagged sandstone buttes matched against an almost always blue sky have beckoned to professional and budding artists for years

Sedona Red Rock Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

The best time to visit Sedona is from March to May when the temperatures are warm—but not scorching—and the area is in full bloom. Hikers love this season, as desert flowers add a pop of color to the rust-colored trails.

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Arches National Park, Utah

Arches National Park encompasses a collection of red rocks that make visitors feel more like they’re on Mars than near the northern edge of Moab. Sandstone monuments like Delicate Arch and Balanced Rock scatter the park, which spans nearly 77,000 acres.

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

The otherworldly atmosphere draws avid photographers in droves, while the wonky landscapes attract adventurous hikers and rock climbers. Note that Arches National Park is in a high desert region, meaning temperatures can vary widely throughout the day, sometimes by as much as 40 degrees.

Parker Canyon Lake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Parker Canyon Lake, Arizona

This medium-sized 132 acre lake is nestled in the gentle Canelo Hills east of the Huachuca Mountains. Just seven miles north of Mexico, Parker Canyon Lake was created in 1966 by the Coronado National Forest and the Arizona Game and Fish Department.

Parker Canyon Lake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Ringed with cottonwoods, juniper, piñon pine, scrub oak, and manzanita, Parker Canyon Lake offers a number of recreational possibilities for those willing to drive the dirt roads that lead to it.

From just about any point along the shore, Parker Canyon Lake doesn’t look very big. Take off on the trail around the lake, though, and you’ll find it’s a heck of a lot bigger than you thought.

Mount Dora, Florida © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Florida

Before the entire state turns hot, humid, and expensive, you can have the time of your life in Florida. There are an estimated billion things to do across the state, though Orlando’s metropolitan area obviously holds many of the big-time sights—Walt Disney World, Epcot, Magic Kingdom, Disney’s Animal Kingdom, Disney’s Blizzard Beach, Disney’s Hollywood Studios, Universal Studios Florida, and Universal’s Islands of Adventure, to name a few. There’s also the Florida Film Festival as well as the Florida Music Festival and Conference in April.

Lake Okeeochobee © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

If you’re looking for less chaos, though, spring is also the best time to visit the Everglades. It may be peak season, but it’s still the best stretch of months weather-wise for such a swampy (and seriously beautiful) national park. Meanwhile, the Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral will blow your mind, Busch Gardens will bring you to Tampa, and the reef islands of Dry Tortugas National Park is definitely something to see, and the Florida Keys are unreal fun and wonderful—especially Key West.

Worth Pondering…

Beauty is before me, beauty is behind me, beauty is below me, beauty is above me. I walk in beauty.

—ancient Navajo poem