Guadalupe Mountains National Park, TX to Austin, TX
Miles 7003 – 7588
I’m sitting here in Northern Wisconsin in November, thinking back on the day that I crossed back into the Central time zone last October. Today I am as far from Canadian waters as I was from the Rio Grande then. It’s a sunny, windy day here, and the stark, dead landscape of oncoming winter does look a little like the desert – but rather than welcoming the breezes as I did then, I’m wondering what effect they have on the windchill! I didn’t spend enough time traversing Texas to tell a good story about it, arriving in Austin just a day and a half after leaving the Guadalupe Mountains. I wish I had had time to check out places I passed by, such as the Davy Crockett Memorial, the Lyndon B. Johnson National Historic Park, the McDonald Observatory, and all of the Hill Country wineries! Those sites, though, along with many others, will have to wait for my next trip – and once it starts snowing, I may start planning it!
My route took me south through the Davis Mountains, then straight east on I-10 for about 400 miles, and ultimately winding through the tourist-thronged towns of the Hill Country. I left the Guadlupes in a little drizzle, which added some drama to the hills I passed through, making them look a bit more like the mountains they were supposed the be. The Davis Mountains were pretty,
with red rock outcroppings and occasional boulder fields surrounded by grass, shrubs, and low trees. I stopped in Fort Davis, TX to stretch my legs at the National Historic Site there – a fort established to protect settlers and frontier commerce along the El Paso-San Antonio Road from raiding Indians. The park includes a mix of historic foundations and modern reconstructions, a historical museum, and regular broadcasts of bugle calls to replicate the days when the fort was active. Most striking to me (through probably not to military history buffs) was the location of the fort, nestled in a plain and surrounded by rocky cliffs.
After that, I drove back north, hitting the highway near Balmorhea, where a state park takes advantage of a spring that was dammed and long ago turned into a brick-lined swimming pool. Since the next river wasn’t for 300 miles or so, I could see why people would pay $7 to swim there, but I decided to push on and try to find a more natural place to take a dip. As I headed east, I search in vain on the radio for a station that was carrying the Texas Rangers’ World Series game but I finally had to stop for a burger and watch some of it in the back bar with the employees at a chain Barbecue joint – they confirmed that baseball wasn’t broadcast on the radio around there, as far as they knew.
It turns out that there are no opportunities for camping, or pretty much anything else, through much of Texas – as I passed through the low grassland plains as night fell, I found there to be up to 100 miles between town! I finally pulled into South Llano River State Park in the middle of the night, pitched my tent, and dreamed of the long-awaited swim in the morning! Oops – turns out the river access is closed during turkey breeding season, so I had to settle for a regular old shower instead. Nonetheless, it was nice to walk through a landscape defined by water again, where bushy greenery covered the rolling hills, cows grazed in shade-dappled pastures, and pecan trees grew larger along rivers and creeks.
It turns out that the Texas Hill Country is also Texas’s wine producing region. While I didn’t get to any of the wineries themselves, I sampled several different varieties and vintages in Fredericksburg, a German town a couple hours west of Austin. I can’t say that I was really impressed with any of them, but then I don’t care for most Wisconsin wines, either. In Johnson City, I stopped for lunch, but had had enough of the touristy nature of the area by then, and didn’t stop at Lyndon B. Johnson’s birthplace or presidential homes. I finally got to Austin in the late afternoon, where I was informed that “If you drive from Houston to San Diego, you’re halfway there by the time you get out of Texas.”
“I know,” I replied, “It’s a long way!”