Spring in the Texas Hills

As you read this, somewhere around 7 million people are planning a trip to the Texas Hill Country. Much of this tourism occurs in late March and April, when the region’s famous fields of flowers are in bloom and much of the rest of the US is still dead and brown.

Last year my boyfriend and I unwittingly joined the throng and headed down to Fredericksburg. For some reason we thought that this would be a good way to get away from the crowds of the city. Though it was not the secluded nature getaway we expected, we enjoyed some good hikes and lovely nature, and learned a bit in the process.

Ethan with Indian paintbrush at Inks Lake

The trip started off… mediocre. The drive from Dallas felt longer than it should have; even though we’d avoided major highways, there was still an annoying amount of traffic. Embarrassingly, I fell into every possible tourist trap. Like lemmings, we obeyed the directions from the advertised websites: drive the Willow City Loop, visit Wildseed Farms. These were disappointing compared to the photos I’d seen online of full fields of flowers. I figured our timing was just off – a week too early, perhaps, or else the snowstorm killed them off.

The road through Fredricksburg was clogged with traffic. We walked around the town shops, which were cute but overly crowded. My favorite store offered free beer out of cooler! The restaurants had long lines of people waiting outside and the sidewalks were so full that it was nearly impossible to maneuver our way through. This all would have been slightly less anxiety-inducing if the town had blocked off the main road for pedestrians, but instead there were cars idling everywhere and the whole place reeked of exhaust. It’s not my favorite place I’ve ever been.

Tired and slightly defeated, we gave up for the day and drove off to find our campsite… which was when our luck changed. On a deserted stretch of back road, we suddenly found ourselves surrounded by bluebonnets and floppy white prickly poppies. We pulled over and wandered around in wonder, breathing in the sweetly-scented air. We had it all to ourselves, and plenty of time to savor it. This was perfect.

But that was just the beginning. We’d booked a private campsite at an 1800’s ranch, blessedly far away from the crowds. The Hipcamp description said we’d have the chance to interact with animals, which I assumed meant we could pet them over a fence. To my happy surprise, the owners released their longhorns into the field and they walked right up to us!

The cows were very curious about my two dogs and approached them fearlessly. In response, the dogs panicked and tried to run away. I spent a good while laughing before allowing the dogs to hide in the car. Which turned out to be for the best, because next we were visited by more delicate animals: royal white sheep.

Once again, I was surprised by their friendliness. The male in particular had no fear of us and allowed us to pet him. It was such a cool and unexpected moment getting to bond with these animals. The Hipcamp more than made up for any disappointment we’d felt earlier!

The next day we went hiking at Inks Lake State Park. It was a chilly, rainy day which worked out in our favor, as the park was emptier than usual. The park had an interesting mix of terrain and vegetation. Lush lakeside trees, rolling hills covered in flowers, and rocky outcroppings dotted with cactus and yucca. In other words, all the best things about the hill country.

Hiking on a rainy day

Before heading back North, we stopped by Luckenbach – another “must see” on the tourist list. Luckenbach is a historic western dance hall and bar which holds live outdoor concerts. It’s a fun and relaxed spot with beautiful big trees, natural ground cover, and lots of shade. A plethura of old-timey saloon decorations make for great photo opportunities.

That afternoon vibes were sweet. Garth Brooks cover songs mingled with the noises of children, dogs and lots of smiling people gathered on wooden on picnic tables. I was reminded of my childhood, spending sunny afternoons at Mishawaka concerts along the Poudre River. In fact, this community didn’t feel like Texas at all! I felt that I’d momentarily escaped the underlying Texas tenseness; the “you should be working harder” sentiment that seeps into everything throughout most of the state. I found myself both relaxed and connected to the people around me. It was a place without judgment, a place to be rejuvenated. Luckenbach is truly lovely and deserving of its good reputation.

On our way back to Dallas we stopped to have a picnic at the Hanna Springs Scupture Garden in Lampasas. This was another place with tons of photo opportunities.

Walking around the park, we stumbled upon a gate leading into a nature preserve. One peek inside told us we’d found somewhere very special. There was a spectacular amount of yellow flowers blossing from every corner of the park.

It’d been raining again that day, which had apparently encouraged snails to emerge. I don’t mean just a few snails. There were so many of these things that we had to look where we were walking to avoid stepping on them. I’d never seen anything like it! If you’re interested you can watch a video here (or a video of the full trip, here). Cooper Springs Nature Park was small but unforgettable.

Our initial struggle to find wildflowers was a reminder that nature is uncontrollable and unpredictable. The flowers choose where and when they want to bloom, without any care as to your travel plans. I learned that a trip like this requires patience and flexibilty, and perhaps a reduction of expectations. However, the wildflower trip ended up being extremely rewarding and educational in ways I didn’t expect.

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