Texas Hill Country wildflowers title

In Texas Hill Country, meet wildflowers, learn to love electricity

three kinds of Texas Hill Country wildflowers
Bluebonnets, Texas stars (yellow flowers) and Indian paintbrushes (red flowers) along the roadside on Highway 16 in Texas Hill Country.

Imagine miles and miles of Texas bluebonnets. As far as you can see, fragrant wildflowers are carpeting the ground with a crazy quilt of bright colors. You must be in Texas Hill Country in the early spring. In the Hill Country, the wildflowers usually peak in early April. The scent is something that arrives straight from heaven. No competition: The best spring Texas Hill Country activity is wildflower watching. As you travel, observe how the flowers change to include differing species. And the show is all free!

Wildflower watching etiquette

Free, but not without etiquette. If you want to look at wildflowers, please do not step or sit on them. Step or sit in the spaces between the flowers. Stay away from private property unless you have permission.

Where to find Texas wildflowers

Where do you find these glorious jewels? We found ours on Texas Highway 16 from Fredericksburg to San Saba, Texas, but the brightest flowers were around Llano (pronounced LAN-oh), Texas. As with all natural phenomena, wildflower season varies year by year. Track the “bloom line” before you go.

More to do than just wildflower watching

In Llano, stop at Cooper’s Old Time Pit Bar-B-Que, where they sell meat by the pound. Definitely try their pork chops. We stopped late in the afternoon and barbecue was still available.

After Llano, head to  San Saba, the Pecan Capital of the World. Their downtown has seven pecan companies that will sell you all the pecans and pecan products your heart would ever desire. We love pecans and this was paradise. My mouth is watering just thinking about pecans. We love coffee, too, so the pecan coffee was a natural choice. Yum, yum! And recipes, so many recipes and so little time!

See a different kind of tree near San Saba. The giant Wedding Oak is just outside the San Saba city limits. Head to the tree with your significant other. If you’re married, it’s a great place to say I do all over again. If not, maybe a proposal is in order?

San Saba wineries

The Wedding Oak is so popular that San Saba has a winery named for it. Wedding Oak Winery has won numerous awards, including several Double Golds. (A Double Gold is a wine that wins Gold Medal votes from every judge in a contest.) Try the 2017 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition’s Best in Class winner¬†Sweet Alyssum, which is perfect for wildflower season. Wedding Oak crafts all its wines from Texas-grown grapes. Hours are 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Mondays-Thursdays, 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, and 11 a.m.-5 p.m. on Sundays.

Old Man Scary Cellars is just down the street from Wedding Oak. “Old Man Scary” was named for an abandoned house on the owner’s family farm. The farm is now called Rattlesnake Road Vineyards. Because of the rattlesnake tie-in, the tasting room has lots of (dead) snakes in its decor. If snakes don’t spook you, head to the tasting room and try Eclexia, a dry red blend. It features cranberry and sandalwood on the nose. They also host live music and other events.

Lady Bird’s legacy in Texas Hill Country

bluebonnets in front of the Wildflower Cafe
Bluebonnets greet guests in front of the Wildflower Cafe. (Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center)

Seeing Texas wildflowers explains why former First Lady Lady Bird Johnson pushed so hard for the Highway Beautification Act in 1965. She knew how beautiful a roadside could be. The act’s provisions limited billboards and screened junkyards from view. Her goal enabled people to see roadside beauty like the wildflowers. Lady Bird’s legacy is very apparent at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center 75 miles east of Fredericksburg on US Highway 290.

She established the center in 1981. Nearly 900 native Texas plant species grow there, but you will see more than just plants. The staff has recorded more than 143 bird, 15 mammal and 1,800 insect species.

How to enjoy Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center

Start your day early with a morning walk or birding hike, then refresh yourself at the Wildflower Cafe. If your hike wasn’t sufficient for orientation, climb the Observation Tower. The tower also serves as a 10,000-gallon cistern and is topped with a spineless prickly pear and fountainous Texas beargrass. Once you see the gardens’ layouts, head down whichever garden path(s) attract you. Allow at least an hour.

The center is open from 9 a.m.-5 p.m. daily. Admission is $12 for adults, $10 for seniors (65-plus) and $6 for youth 6-17 years old. Before you go to the center, learn what’s in season there. Even winter has its beauty.

Meet the Pedernales River at Pedernales Falls State Park

Eric filming in the Pedernales River in Texas Hill Country
Eric shoots some video in the middle of the Pedernales River.

President Lyndon Baines Johnson (LBJ) grew up in the Hill Country. President and First Lady Lyndon and Lady Bird Johnson’s family ranch was along the Pedernales River. He pronounced the river’s name as PERD-in-alice and the pronounciation stuck.

Meet the river at Pedernales Falls State Park. The park has everything you’d want from a state park along a river, including birding, hiking, horseback riding, fishing, and swimming. Admission costs $6 per day for everyone 13 years of age and above.

In the park, the river drops about 50 feet over a 3,000-foot distance. Enjoy watching the water cascade over limestone stairsteps. When we visited, the water was low enough to allow us to stand on a rock in the middle. It was fun! Please wear waterproof, slip-resistant shoes if you do that.

The river is usually tranquil, but it does have a dark side. If you see the river rising or becoming muddy, leave immediately. The river may be about to flash flood. Always check weather forecasts.

What to do at Pedernales Falls in Texas Hill Country

For birders, the park has identified 150 bird species. About one-third of them are permanent residents. The park helpfully provides a bird checklist (PDF). If you come during wildflower season, look for golden-cheeked warblers. They nest only in central Texas. Please watch the birds from a distance.

In the water, swim, wade, tube, kayak, canoe, or fish. Catch bass, sunfish, and carp. Catfish are especially active after the river has risen. Remember, all anglers over 16 must possess Texas fishing permits. Those who wish to float or paddle the Pedernales River should put in at the swimming beach or Trammell’s Crossing’s trailhead. The park’s swimming area is below the falls.

Head out on the park’s trails

Hikers, bikers, and horse lovers will enjoy the park’s trail network.

The horse trail features 10 miles of steep, rocky ruggedness. Bring your own horse and stay on trails marked for horses. To ride in the park, riders should be experienced and horses need shoes. Water troughs are located at the trailer parking area and midway through the trail. Present a current Coggins at the office.

Hikers and bikers have seven trails to choose from, ranging from an easy 30-minute hike along Warfle’s Trail to the challenging 8.9-mile Juniper Ridge Trail and 5.4-mile Wolf Mountain Trail. Yield to horses.

Know your body’s limitations

Everyone should know their body’s limits. Be prepared for heat and sun by wearing appropriate clothes and shoes, wearing sunscreen and insect repellent. Bring a quart of water for every hour of activity. When biking, ask the park ranger how to match your biking skill with trail difficulty. Wear a helmet. Take your phone and/or GPS, but don’t count on them. Bring a paper map!

Camp at the park

If you fall in love with this park, spend the night. The park offers 69 campsites with electricity and hike-in primitive campsites. The hike is at least two miles. Camping fees of $20 for electricity and $10 for primitive sites are added to the park fees.

LBJ all the way in Texas Hill Country

Visit the President and First Lady at the LBJ state park and national historic park, which adjoin each other. You can drive around the ranch, but first you need to get a free driving permit at the LBJ State Park and Historic Site Visitor Center in Stonewall, Texas. The visitors center is open daily. Pick up driving permits between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. The ranch entrance gate is open from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. The exit gate closes at 5:30 p.m. Permits are only valid on the day of issue. Arrive at 9 a.m. for a packed day of fun and education.

Related: Meet Lyndon Johnson at his Texas ranch.

LBJ brings power to the people in Texas Hill Country

An ewe, a ram and a lamb at Sauer-Beckmann Living History Farm
Three sheep hang out under the shade of a live oak tree.
making cottage cheese at Sauer-Beckmann Farm
The docent explains how to make cottage cheese at the Sauer-Beckmann Living History Farm.

Start your LBJ visit at the Sauer-Beckmann Living History Farm. The farm shows life in Texas Hill Country before power arrived. LBJ grew up without power and he knew how electricity could improve his constituents’ lives.

LBJ brought power to Texas Hill Country.

When LBJ campaigned for his first term in Congress, he promised to bring power to the people. Electricity. Convenience. A lighter workload. He worked for years on this project before the blessings of electricity reached his constituents. LBJ and representatives from area counties formed Pedernales Electric Cooperative (PEC) in 1938. In the fall of 1939, the very first lights turned on in the Hill Country. PEC still exists today.

Related: LBJ was only two cars away when Lee Harvey Oswald shot JFK.

Experience life without power at Sauer-Beckmann Living History Farm

When you visit the farm, you return to a time when everything had to be done by human or animal muscle power. A time without air conditioning or refrigeration. Dressed in World War I-era clothing, the “family members” cook on a wood-burning stove. They plow with horses instead of tractors and harvest with hand tools instead of combines.

The animals are right there on the farmstead. Sheep graze in the farmyard. Free-range chickens search the ground for food and family members gather their eggs. The animals must be fed, the cows milked, and the stables cleaned. The family members plant a garden, weed it, and harvest it.

During harvest season, they preserve their food by canning and salting. They butcher some of the animals, then make sausage. The sausage is stored in lard layered in crocks. The remaining meat is canned. Trust us on this: Free-range chickens make the best eating. And the family members get to enjoy the food they have sweated to produce.

Feeling grateful for power

laundry tools at Sauer-Beckmann Living History Farm
Washboards and tubs at Sauer-Beckmann Living History Farm

I saw old-fashioned laundry equipment in a shed. I’m so grateful we don’t have to bend over a washboard while using lye soap. Oh, yes, they make their own soap, too. Buy some in the gift shop.

We felt as if we had gone back in time to our grandparents’ farms when our parents were little. The smell in the barn, oh, my. I closed my eyes and I was back on my grandparents’ farm, my favorite place ever in the world.

The farm is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily from September to May and 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. from June to August. They are closed on the last Tuesday of each month. Allow at least an hour.

We loved this place and we’re so glad we don’t have to live this way. After you visit the farm, you’ll never think about power the same way again.

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