Off the Beaten Path: Day-tripping Deep in the Heart of Texas Hill Country

May 15, 2013  •  Leave a Comment
The Lone Star State is a land of peculiarities. Often romanticized and demonized, this is a culture to itself where bears are bahrs and pop means soda. You are as likely to find a “bubba” in the local Whole Foods as an Information Technologies (IT) specialist at a rodeo. In a single day trip, you can sample this way of life by touring the Hill Country west of Austin.

Exhibit Center, Longhorn Cavern State Park, Texas, USA - © Ysa Adams / Incite Photography
Civil Conservation Corp built Exhibit Center - Longhorn Caverns
As with any proper Texan locale, legends abound about Longhorn Cavern. Once used as a munitions depot for the Confederate Army, it also reportedly doubled as a hideout for the notorious Sam Bass. From humble beginnings as a small time gambler and thief, Sam elevated himself to desperado status after relieving a Union Pacific train of $60,000 in gold in 1870. Later, double-crossed by one of his own gang, he was shot down by a Texas Ranger at the tender age of 28.

Much of his fortune however remains unaccounted for and is rumored to be hidden in one of the cave’s antechambers. 

Central Texas landscape, USA
Part of the Central Texas landscape
No matter where you travel in the United States, you eventually will come across a sign touting the local "scenic overlook". Texas is no different with the exception that much of the scenery is pretty hard to overlook in the first place.

One panoramic view of a mist-laden valley is checkered by tidily tilled parcels of land, alternately lush and loamy, spanning as far as the eye can see. Compared to the stereotypical parched landscape of Texas-based films like “Giant” and “Hud”, this is a revitalizing drink for the senses effectively putting the “Hill” in Hill Country.

St. Mary
St. Mary's Church, Fredericksburg, Texas
Founded in the 1840s by German immigrants, Fredericksburg is both synonymous with the words Oktoberfest and biergarten and another example of the complex variety of cultures and histories that make up the state. Often obscured behind the 'Stetson and Ropers' stereotype, Texans' roots extend to Mexico, Germany, Vietnam, India and encompass native peoples and descendants of former slaves.

Multiple wineries and vineyards lie within the local AVA, or American Viticultural Area. Signature vins are available at numerous restaurants and cafés flanking the town’s Main Street. Locally, Bell Mountain Vineyards, Becker Vineyards, and Fredericksburg Winery offer complimentary tours and tastings on weekends or daily with appointment. While contemplating the ample selection of cabernet sauvignons, chenin blancs, and gewürztraminers offered, you might even create a uniquely Central Texan gift basket: make sure to include a jar of jalapeno jelly, a dry spice rub for catfish, rich Lamme’s “Longhorn” candies, and a bottle of syrah.


Enchanted Rock State Natural Area, Texas - © Ysa Adams / Incite Photography
Enchanted Rock
Enchanted Rock State Natural Area, Texas - © Ysa Adams / Incite Photography
Enchanted Rock's Summit Trail - Almost to the top

“Enchanted Rock” initially sounds a bit cloying and a potentially precious tourist trap with nothing but a pebble of a hill to offer. Instead, the giant pink batholith is a mini central Texas version of Australia’s Uluru. At 425 feet tall, Enchanted Rock reaches to elevation 1825 feet at its summit. The exposed volcanic rock dates back several thousand years and was a place of worship for the Tonkawa and Comanche peoples. In addition, it was the site of a minor skirmish between local tribesmen and Texas Rangers in 1841. 

Hikers have a network of trails along the ridge including a taxing 4-mile path leading to the summit. Climbers choose from picturesque sounding areas like "Chunky Tuna", "False Determination", and "Easier Than It Looks". Overnighters are welcome for the pleasure of ‘roughing it’ at the primitive camp sites. Tenderfoots, however, can remain below and enjoy a day of picnicking and play. 

White-tails occasionally commandeer the parking area. Hungry, and obviously unafraid of humans without guns, they mill at dinner. Standing in the “Deer Capitol of Texas”, you yield right-of-way and wait until they've moseyed along to greener pastures.


While unlikely to run across buffalo roaming (outside of organized hunts), there are still plenty of animals ( and snakes and armadillos and ostrich and crickets) to see wandering unfettered through the (mostly rural) landscape. 

Trekking around the Hill Country yields an interesting mix of historic and eclectic elements, all vibrant and representative of the state itself. Whether considered highbrow or down home, you can find it here in the “heart of Texas”.

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