For our anniversary we decided to take an impromptu road trip through the Texas Hill Country to explore, camp, and kayak. Luckily we already had our camping gear packed up from our last camping trip a few weeks earlier to McKinney Falls with the kids. So we loaded up the car with our gear, kayaks, and an ice chest full of Lone Star and hit the road!
I planned our trip through the back roads and ghost towns from San Antonio up to Mason, Tx. Google Maps and Texas Escapes are my go to online resources for road trip planning. If we would've kept to the main interstates the trip should of taken about 2 to 2 1/2 hours....but instead we made a 7 hour adventure out of it, stopping at local bars, historic cemeteries, and even a family farm!
Our first stop was Sisterdale. Founded in the mid 1800s by German intellectuals fleeing and exiled after the 1848 Revolution. Mainly writers, scientists, artists, freethinkers, radicals and anarchists, they found this isolated oasis in the valley of the two Sister Creeks to build their utopia. They were adamantly anti-slavery and pro-Union, and when Texas joined the Confederacy over 30 men from the settlement were executed for refusing to join the fight for the right to own slaves.
The current population is 63. While in town we toured the Sister Creek Vineyards. The winery is housed in the restored Sistercreek cotton gin, originally built in 1885. After that we had a cold one at the Sisterdale Saloon. This is a great little roadside bar! There were a few locals lackadaisically sipping their beers, the waitress was super friendly and helpful, and the décor, original wood bar, and general atmosphere took you back in time to when the days were less rushed and hours were measured by where the sun was in the sky. She even loaned us house koozies to keep our frosty bottled Lone Stars chilled!
We had our beers and then headed back to the car. Before getting back on the open road, we realized we hadn't stopped at the Sisterdale Dance Hall, which originally served as Sisterdale's opera house, dance hall and community center. This is where George Strait filmed his Bud Light commercial, and Brooks and Dunn filmed their video for their classic hit song "Red Dirt Road". They appeared to be prepping for a wedding, but we sneaked around back and explored a few of the original buildings dating back to the 1860's, the original well pump and this old wagon.
Back on the road again. We made a quick stop at Sistercreek Cemetery and then a little further down Old No 9 road we found Grapetown Cemetery. Grapetown now has a population of 71, but it sounds like it was a roaring place back in the 1880's when the singing club and shooting club decided to merge and started the first annual Gillespie County Schuetzenfest (shooting festival), where participants allegedly sang, shot guns and consumed 140 kegs of beer in four days!
Somewhere between Sisterdale and Grapetown we passed a road sign for "Yard Sale and Vegetables". Couldn't pass that one up! So we made a sharp turn around and headed up the dirt driveway for about quarter mile to the yard sale. While there, the owner of the 100+ acres took us on a tour of his little vegetable garden, gave us some fresh peppers off the bush, introduced us to his cows and directed us to where he had some dried cut up wood for our campfire, gratis. Unfortunately for us, his honor system vegetable stand at the entrance of the property was already sold out for the day.
Next stop was the legendary town of Luckenbach, Tx. This place is it's own little ghost town filled with tourists. I'm glad we stopped here, because we've never been, and now we can say we have. But I was a little disappointed at the whole commercial tourist vibe. Yes, the property was interesting to explore with its old buildings and historical Texas music ephemera covering the walls of the inside bar. The live music was good, the beer was old, and the bathrooms were clean. But the place has morphed into, simply put, a "tourist destination" full of branded postcards, t-shirts, and random souvenirs... probably not what it was like back in the 70's when Waylon and Willie put the town on the map with their #1 country hit "Luckenbach, Texas". We had our obligatory Lone Star and hit the road again.
Next we were supposed to go up to Eckert to check out their historic cemetery. But I managed to get us lost. No big deal. We met some horses.... and a llama... and we discovered Harry's on the Loop in Willow City. This was an awesome little bar housed in a hundred year old house, with a piano and a cigarette machine (when was the last time you saw one of those?!). When we walked in Carla and Shawn made us feel so welcome. We sat down at the table with them and one of their local regulars and talked like we were old friends. Carla even served up some complimentary homemade spaghetti to get us through the rest of our afternoon road trip. The beer was ice cold and the atmosphere was charming and authentic. This is a place you need to go out of the way for!
Since my wrong turn (somewhere along the road) put us on this wonderful, yet unplanned, detour our time was getting cut short. We wanted to make it to camp with enough time to set up our tent and do some fishing without feeling rushed. We finally got a phone signal and Google mapped it up to Llano to restock our ice chest then head west. Along the way we stopped at the Crabapple Cemetery and Oxford Cemetery. Oxford is also known as "Cat Town", it is not a pretty story, but if you are wondering why it is called Cat Town you can read up on it here ...just keep in mind entertainment was hard to come by a hundred years ago!
I had wanted to stop at Enchanted Rock State Natural Area, but running short on time, we had to pass this one up. It will have to be a trip for another day. From Llano we headed West on TX29 making a b-line for our campground just south of Mason, Tx. On our way we went through Art, TX...we couldn't pass up the opportunity to take a picture by the town sign!
Since this was a last minute trip and all the Texas State Park campsites in the area were booked, I had to search elsewhere. I was able to find us a camping spot at Dos Rios, along the Llano River, using this awesome platform called HipCamp (it's like Airbnb, but for camp and rv sites!). Check in was at 3pm, but we arrived sometime around 6pm. When booking online the only tent site they still had available was Tent Site #2. It had nice flat ground, a picnic table, a bench, and a rock fire ring which included some complimentary unburned wood by either the previous tenant or camp host. It was a little too close to the road and within visibility and earshot of all the RV sites. But it was shaded, up on a hill, and river front, which was great. Next time I think tent site #1 would be our first choice. The bathhouse was just up the hill and was clean, included showers and laundry facilities AND was air conditioned!
We got our tent set up and campsite organized and headed down to the river for a little fishing. Neither of us are experience anglers, and I don't know what we would've done if we had actually caught a fish and had to prepare it for dinner.... luckily we had campfire sausages on a stick wrapped in tortillas as a back up, and we were satisfied, exhausted...and maybe a little drunk.
In the morning, we rose with the sunrise, and dragged out the kayaks and headed down river. The river was low and we did have to portage in a few spots, but the scenery was beautiful and the water was so refreshing! Since the river was running slow it was fairly easy to get back up stream, but near the end there I started to get "spaghetti arms"! Once back at camp, we packed up, showered off and hit the road back home.
We only had one stop to make on the way back and that was Cherry Spring Dance Hall on Hwy 87 between Fredericksburg and Mason. The place has gone through various name changes since the 1930's...Klingelhoefer Hall, Last Chance Tavern, and then Cherry Spring Dance Hall. An amazing number of important musicians have graced the stage of this off the beaten path historic roadhouse including: Left Frizzell, Marty Robbins, Ernest Tubb, George Jones, Hank Thompson, and many more.
On what was undoubtedly a memorable Sunday evening in October of 1955 it was host to the Louisiana Hayride traveling show. For $1.50 patrons were able to enjoy the live music of Johnny Cash, Wanda Jackson, Johnny Horton, Floyd Cramer, Porter Wagoner, and a lil' unknown 3 piece band with a 20 year old lead singer named Clovis Presley. Oops! I believe they meant Elvis Presley, but the advertisement was printed wrong and no one noticed the mistake at the time! Unfortunately, this building has fallen into disrepair, but the stage still remains. I wonder who owns this now. I hope that someone can make an investment to restore it to its former glory. Texas Dance Hall Preservation had a campaign to restore it, however, I don't know if that has gone anywhere yet.
Driving away from the Cherry Spring Dance Hall and heading home I felt mixed emotions. I was grateful for this little 2 day adventure we had as a celebration of our anniversary, but I didn't want to go home just yet. I want to explore the world, find those hidden gems in the middle of nowhere, not keep track of time, pop open a cold Lone Star with a friendly stranger at a roadside bar, sleep under the stars, and soak in the river. I'm sure I'm not the only one who yearns for a less rushed and more mindful life though. I am, however, left feeling inspired to find a way to make this happen for me at some point (preferably sooner than later). So here's to adventure, exploring, love, learning, new friends, and spontaneity - Buenos Tiempos and Happy Travels!