Texas Hill Country – Day-3 (Saturday) – Part-1… Scenic Drive and Lost Maples…

Another couple, retired, was staying in the Texan cabin, next door to mine.  The routine was, the guests would head up to the main house at 9:00am for what turned out to be a-MAZ-ing breakfasts, made and served by Brett and Gil, along with conversations that helped us get to know each other a little, and get ideas of places to go and things to see in the greater-Bandera area, depending on our interests.

I wish I had the presence of mind to have snapped a few pics of the first morning’s breakfast: venison bacon, venison sausage, homemade fried green tomatoes, Gil’s homemade biscuits with gravy (she taught us the proper way to prepare them on our plates…you break up the whole biscuit and drizzle your own gravy over it), scrambled eggs made with eggs from the ranch, yellow tomatoes and red habanero peppers from their garden.

I didn’t know how to eat the whole habaneros (which were small enough to eat whole, but pack a bite), so Brett instructed me.  You first take a bite of other food, then take a little bite off the tip of the habanero, while the original bite of food is still in your mouth.  Then, chew the mix together before swallowing. Worked like a charm.  Adds just a little kick to whatever you’re eating.  Now, I want to try it back home.

So, this was how guests’ mornings started on the Double U Barr Ranch.  I highly recommend staying here when you’re in the area.  I got very lucky finding this lodging during my pre-trip research.

Today, my main goal was to hike one of the trails at Lost Maples State Natural Area, which I think may be one of the few…or the only…place in the Hill Country, or Texas, to see fall foliage colors.  I was there too early in the season to see the foliage, but that was fortuitous, since the park has limited parking, and the park and main road to the park get jammed up with traffic at the height of the foliage.

Brett suggested that I take the East Trail at Lost Maples, as this is the one with the highest elevation and best scenic views, so that became my goal.

Brett and Gil also highly recommended that, since I was going to be out that way, that I should stop for dinner on my way back, in Tarpley at Mac & Ernie’s, which is where Brett said that he and Gil always go when they want a special dinner in the area.  So, I added Mac & Ernie’s to my day.  With ranch breakfasts as amazing as Brett and Gil’s, I knew I was in for something special at Mac & Ernie’s.  You just have to go with the flow when you get local insider info like this.  I’ll get into Mac & Ernie’s in my next post.

I had also planned a scenic route to get to Lost Maples that started west of Kerrville, which is north of Bandera and is the largest town in the Hill Country.  My entire route for the day made a large counter-clockwise circle from Bandera…north to Kerrville (where I stopped for an oil change.  That’s how many miles I’m logging on this trip!)…onto TX-39 west…out to Ranch Road 187 South…down to Lost Maples…continuing south on RR-187 (after my hike) to Ranch Road 470, out to Mac & Ernie’s in Tarpley…and returning to the Double U Barr Ranch in Bandera.

But, the stretch from Ingram (southwest of Kerrville), down along the Guadalupe River, and continuing down RR-187 South to Lost Maples was the main scenic route.  This was beautiful countryside, and was arguably my second favorite scenic drive in the Hill Country.  The entire Lost Maples area is beautiful.

As Brett suggested, I did hike the East Trail, and as a park ranger suggested when I got to Lost Maples, I did the trail loop counter-clockwise, which is a little easier than clockwise.

Following my experience hiking Enchanted Rock, I opted not to take my DSLR camera, or my cellphone, to save weight (the DSLR is a bit brawny), and for fear of dropping and damaging my cellphone (which I’m relying so heavily on for GPS on this trip) on the rocks (which luckily did not happen at Enchanted Rock).  In hindsight, it would have been nice to have a couple of snapshots from the trail and the scenic overlooks on the ridge, but it was one less thing to worry about, not bringing them.

The East Trail is about 4 ½ miles long and is beautiful.  It’s also very challenging and a bit treacherous on the two steep stretches (heading up to the ridge…and then back down).  But, the lengthy level areas…leading to and from the steep stretches and along the ridge…are really pleasant.  The level stretches at the lower elevation cross a number of trickling brooks via stepping stones, which is cool (and challenges your balance!).

Hiking the loop counter-clockwise, the steep ascent to the ridge heads nearly straight up the side of the hill via a mix of natural rocks and manmade rock steps (versus any sort of traversing back and forth).  This is easier on the way up, when your legs are fresher.

The steep descent is a seemingly endless loose-rock-and-gravel slope that heads nearly straight back down the hill.  Although you really need to watch each and every step to avoid gaining any momentum, whatsoever, and to avoid slipping on the loose gravel, I think this is still a little easier than climbing down an endless stone staircase when your legs might be close to rubber by this point.  Just my personal preference.  Folks were hiking in both directions.

By the end of this hike, it was getting to late afternoon, and Brett and Gil strongly recommended that I get to Mac & Ernies before 5:30 (it opens at 5:00), because items on their limited menu quickly begin to get crossed off, the later you get there.  So, off I went.  Yikes!

Texas Hill Country – Day-2 (Friday) – Part-3…Bandera and the Double U Barr Ranch…

By the time I finished the hike at Enchanted Rock, I needed a meal…a late lunch or early dinner.  My original plan was to stop at the Hilltop Café, just north of downtown Fredericksburg.  I had read about the Hilltop Café in my research for this trip.  It sounded like a very cool, funky place.  Unfortunately, I didn’t realize that it is closed from 2:00pm to 5:00pm, and it was now about 3:00pm.

But, I was headed that way, anyway, so I stopped in.  It was closed, but as I was confirming the closed sign on the door, a very friendly woman came to the door and asked if she could help me.  I briefly explained my trip and my interest in seeing what the Hilltop Café was all about…and she invited me inside, not only to show me around, but to give me the history of the place and of the blues-guitarist owner, Johnny Nicholas, who has played (and still does) with many well-known musicians, like Bonnie Raitt.

I was actually too tired to take any pictures, despite Kayla, my guide, telling me I could take as many as I’d like.  So, this is one of those situations where I know I’ll have to come back.  If you are in the Fredericksburg area, you should definitely check it out.  It’s one of the coolest places in the Hill Country.

I was still looking for somewhere to get a good meal, so I asked Kayla.  She suggested Hondo’s on Main Street in Fredericksburg, so I headed there.  Now, I didn’t make the connection at first, but Hondo (reading his abbreviated bio on the Hondo site), was the self-proclaimed mayor of Luckenbach, TX, among many other things.  Hondo was a character, according to everything I’ve read.  And his spirit lives on at Luckenbach and Hondo’s On Main, and many other places in that area of the Hill Country, I suspect.

Hondo’s is another stop you should try to make if you get the chance.  The vibe is very funky…and the food is great.  I opted for the pulled pork tamales.  Here’s a photo of my nearly half-gone half-dozen:

And by the time I was done with my dinner, I was too tired and it was getting too late for any more scenic drives, so I decided to skip the latter plans on my turn-by-turn directions and head straight to the Double U Barr Ranch, just outside of Bandera (cowboy capital of Texas), where I’d be staying for the next two nights.

The Double U Barr is a guest ranch, but they have quite a few animals…half a dozen longhorn steer, chickens, dogs, cats…along with the armadillo that was rooting around the front porch of my little guest cabin…and deer all over the yard.

Here are a few random snapshots I captured:

Here is the main house and my cabin…the Cowboy cabin (there are two.  The Texan being the other), as well as the main driveway with pecan trees to the right.

And here are my hosts…owners of the Double U Barr, and two of the kindest, nicest, friendliest and most helpful people you’ll ever meet…Brett and his wife, Gil:

Whether alone or in a group, Brett was extremely sociable and loved conversation.  Gil was more reserved in a small group, but one-on-one, she had as much to say as Brett.  I learned so much about them, how they bought and renovated the ranch over the past twenty years, Bandera and the Hill Country…from the inside.

There were two last stops in downtown Bandera that I wanted to at least briefly check out this first night in Bandera, so as soon as I got settled and freshened-up in the Cowboy Cabin, I headed out into the pitch black night (have I mentioned that outside of any town (and minimally in small towns, for that matter), there are absolutely no streetlights in the Hill Country?  The Hill Country is as dark as pitch at night.  It can be very disorienting.  You really have no idea what direction you are heading in, driving at night, unless you live there and gradually get used to how to get here and there.)

So, the two downtown Bandera destinations were, the 11th Street Cowboy Bar, and Arkey Blue’s Silver Dollar (I could not find an official website), a true sawdust-on-the-dance-floor old-school honky-tonk.  Both were one easy walking block from each other, so it was easy to get a glimpse of both at one time.

I knew I was going to be in Bandera for another night, so I did not bring my DSLR camera, and only took a couple of snapshots with my cellphone.  Here is one from the ceiling of the indoor bar of the 11th Street Cowboy Bar that I’ll leave you with, just to give you an idea of what you are in for when you go: