Wednesday, April 28, 2010


This year one of the best, if not the best, wildflower seasons ever. So make your plans now and spend the weekend touring the Hill Country. You don't want to miss the event of the year -- or perhaps the decade

Bluebonnets seem to thrive best in the granite soils of the area. This isn't to imply that bluebonnets won't be popping up all over the place, it's just that your best chance for the experience of a lifetime will most likely be found in these areas.

If you're new to the area you need to know that, next to hunting season, the Bluebonnet Trail is high on the Hill Country's list of things both sacred and secular. If you live in this neck of the woods, no matter your line of work, your well-being (sooner or later) hinges on these annual events, and both depend on the weather.
       Bluebonnets are finicky. Kinda demanding in a needy sorta way. To really be at their best they'll need a good rain and hard freeze in the Winter to crack their thick shelled seeds. Snow is even better but you have better odds on a finding two needles in a haystack. Early Spring has to follow up with a few good rains. When all needs are met the landscape is a natural cathedral. And all along the roadsides you'll see folks kneeling down on a carpet of flowers having their picture taken.
       It is from this ancient granitic soil in San Saba, Llano, Burnet and Gillespie Counties that stands out as prime Bluebonnet country. (Yes, some folks will dispute that too -- disputes seem to be something of a national past-time these days -- but I stick to some notions like a rusted lock, and this is one of them.)

Please understand,  there are no experts on Bluebonnets. That's like claiming to know all there is about womenfolk, teenagers or the stock market.   They're forces of nature -- inclined to whim, chance and opportunity --  and all men can do is wear camoflague and pretend to be parcicipating.
       Anyway, after decades as a feature writer for Hill Country publications, I have churned out more than my share of articles on the subject, so any comparison between myself and an "authority" may have some veracity.
       ( Veracity.  Thats a fancy word intended to imply that I'm a right smart feller, and if I can use it in a sentence I might just know a thing or two.  I ain't gonna disuade you from that notion; besides I'm assuming you're a grown-up and if you rely on my opinion youre on your own.)
     For years it was my task as a journalist and a "film location person" to predict if we were going to have a good season and, even under the worst of conditions, where the most abundant Bluebonnet fields could be located.    One year I had the audacity to suggest that, given the drought, warm winter and such, folks would have better luck seeing Bluebonnets in their photo album.
       Next thing I knew phone calls started coming letting me know that a suit of tar and feathers was one-size-fits-all. But since they weren't inclined to waste any raw materials on a five-foot-six loud-mouth I might want to come in for a fitting.
       It was too late for a retracraction so I just moved to the next county.  Ever since I've been conservative in my preditions.  That's to say my comments were crafted to keep everyone happy while conceiling the truth one way or the other.
       All that said,  I'm going out on a strong limb and predict this year will be one of the best Bluebonnet seasons on record.
 Paintbrush Fredericksburg Texas
Generally, the prime months are late March, April, and early May,
with Bluebonnets at their peak in April.  Even after the Bluebonnets
go to seed and fade away there are still plenty of wildflowers
such as the Indian Paintbrush (above) in bloom
to justify another road trip.
It really doesn't matter much which roads you take because this year the wild flowers are likely to be thick practically everywhere.  Highways 1431, 29, 281, 71, 29, 2323 and 16 are the main thoroughfares and you can't but help to travel those; but it's best to branch out and explore.
       If you're looking for Bluebonnets, they're most plentiful in the northern part of the Hill Country.  If you're traveling from Fredericksburg to Llano take highway 16.    Beginning at Willow City the Bluebonnets don't confine themselves to the bar ditches, but spread out into the fields.
       A few county roads, such as the renowned Willow City Loop  just north of Fredericksburg, will be (for good reason) thick with cars.   If you head that way on the weekend you'd best set aside a couple of hours due to the heavy traffic.
       For an out-of-the-way drive, take County Road 113 between Oxford and 2323 . Oxford isn't even a wide place in the road, but you'll spot the turnoff by the historic marker.   There's hardly any traffic at all on 113 and the unspoiled landscape is exceptional.  The Click Route just north of the Oxford Cemetery on County Road 315 passes through some awesome hills, but you will definitely need a 4-wheel drive. 

More to come...

Friday, June 27, 2008

From Innerspace to Luckenbach

I thought about writing a tour about what I thought might happen. After all, what good is my Poetic License if, every now and again, I don't put it to good use?

As I was pondering the notion, Ollie Gravis showed up saying that if I'd take him along he'd let me pretend to be me. Offers like that don't come along everyday, especially from Ollie. So we lit out early on a Saturday for a quick stop to the Bar None Bar & Bar-B-Q for some Lone Star sandwiches.

Nigel the Land Rover was never running better. All the windows, lights and brakes worked; the tank was topped off with high grade gas; and that slow leak in the left tire shut itself off altogether.

We had hardly made any headway at all before Ollie yelled for me to stop. Which I did.

Reaching into the ice chest I pulled out a cold one, drank a fair amount right off then put it to rest on the coffee table while waiting for instructions from Ollie."Am I getting wages for this?"

"Like I said before," explaining the situation yet again, "You ain't getting nothing now and you're ain't getting nothing later, so what ya' got to lose?"

"Well at them rates," Ollie said, "I want to skip the driving part and find some down-home road house with maybe a few young fillys at the bar suffering from a powerful thirst and a decided preference for gentlemen of a certain maturity."

"You mean floozies?"

"Put the spurs to it! We can haggle details later."

With that I turned back to the laptop and commenced: Just up ahead on the right was The Bar None Bar and Bar-B-Q. The place was dark as the insides of a cow after stepping in out of the daylight. But Ollie could find a bar stool blindfolded with his hands tied behind him, and ear muffs on, so I just followed his shadow.

Once my eyes were able to give shape to things I looked around. The bar seemed to be put together from older, long-gone, wore-out cowboy cantinas. Off in one corner was a juke box framed in an arch of rainbow colored tubes with bubbles flowing up through them. Suddenly it started all by its lonesome with Patsy Cline singing "Crazy".

Behind the bar hung a large, dusty print of Custer's Last Stand from the Anneuser Bush Brewing Association. On a shelf were gallon jars of beef jerky, pickles, pickled eggs, pigs feet and hot sausage. A couple of old cracker tins completed the menu. Leaning up against what was probably a mirror with business cards crammed in around the edges of a sign:

"Please don't make us write don't signs."

While I was taking everything in, an extra-fancy cowgirl with blond hair just like Marilyn Monroe leaned over from behind the bar bracing herself with a rag in one hand and a cigarette in the other
which sported a wedding ring about the size of a Mason j

"What's your flavor?" she asked Ollie as if talking about something entirely different and sweetly intimate in nature.

"I just drink cold beer, sweetheart," Ollie smiled. "Get one for that feller sittin' next to me too. He's buyin'." Then he turned to me, "You're doing good kid, but where's them fillys? This one must be married to an oil well."

The words hardly left his lips when, just as I laid eyes on the door it swung open and the light blinded me like a Texas sized flash bulb. I was seeing spots but most of them turned out to be one of the prettiest red and white polka dot dresses I ever laid eyes on. What with the matching lipstick and polished fingernails everything fit together perfectly. The whole affair belonged to a filly some five foot-four in heels. She was girl-size vertically speaking. But her horizontal proportions were growed up for certain. I reckon God had to make everything about her small so he could put so many pretty parts on one place.

"City girl," Ollie muttered.

The door hadn't quite closed when in walks a pair of jeans so tight they might have been painted on. The bottom part was tucked into a pointy-toed cowgirl boots. The jeans were held up, as if that were necessary, by a silver concho belt that reflected light like beads of dew.

Higher up she wore a white cowboy shirt with sleeves cut off at the shoulders and pearl snaps down the front that strained to honor their task. She had just about run out of places to wear silver and turquoise jewelry, and topping off the outfit was a straw hat that blended into a long blond ponytail.

"See what you can do with a little extra effort,?" Ollie congratulated me with a rowdy slap on the back."A round for the house, " Ollie hollered to Married Marilyn as he swung his arm out wide taking in the whole bar. "And don't forget my sidekick, he's just getting started." Quicker than thought the place filled up with a small crowd.

"Jeez," I thought, "who's story is this anyway."

Reaching as deep in my pockets as I could out came a wad of bills the likes of which I'd never seen. I peeled off a hundred dollar bill while Ollie was introducing me to Dottie and Boots. Smoother than the slightest shift in the wind, Ollie and Boots were on the dance floor two-stepping to the Hank Williams' tune, "Hey Good Lookin".

That left me and Dottie to ourselves.

Now I was really on the horns of a delima knowing this scene was at least partly my doing and anything I pondered might transpire. I had to be extra careful and back off from my usual train of thought around pretty womenfolk. In short, I had to pretend to be somebody else.

Then, looking out on the dance floor, I saw Ollie and Boots doing the Texas swing. As he spun her around an extra turn he winked at me again as if he knew my situation.

I was slipping deep in thought -- or to put a finer edge to it -- out of thought as I tried to keep my imagination under control when the tune on the jukebox turned to Kitty Wells singing "It Wasn't God Who Made Honkey Tonk Angles."

As Ollie and Boots joined Dazzling Dottie and me at the bar he leaned over and whispered, "Relax pardner. Nobody shares your reality. Figured you'd have a handle on that by now."

"Ollie," I whispered back, "the road trip. We're supposed to be on a road trip."

"Hot dang!" Ollie shouted. "Ladies, how's about going honky tonkin?"

Like a shot out of a shovel, Ollie and Boots were in the back seat of a red and white '56 Ford Fairlaine with white tucked and rolled leather seats, a brilliant red dashboard and Dazzling Dottie at the wheel. We were going honky tonkin'.

The landscape was different to a fraction. The highways were all two-lane and the traffic was thin to the extreme. As I was pondering this Ollie put in, "Ya know, pardner, your friend Nigel wasn't made for these roads. Not yet."

At my best reckoning we were tourin' Texas back in 1958. The weather was ideal in every respect, including that little white puff of a cloud that followed along overhead blocking the sun just right.

On the radio Hank Williams was singing:

If you've got the money honey, I've got the time,
We'll go honky-tonking and we're gonna have a time.
We'll make all the night spots, dance with the music fine
If you've got the money honey, I've got the time.

Dottie and Boots were laughing at Ollie's lies, but I was still busy trying to pretend to be somebody else. The trouble was I couldn't settle on one that didn't share the same too-familiar thoughts regarding Dazzling Dottie I was laboring so diligently to avoid.

We must have hit every dancehall in the Hill Country -- Gruene Hall, Devil's Backbone, Fisher Hall, Twin Sisters, Cherry Springs, Sisterdale, Anhalt Hall and several others. As soon as someone mentioned a honkey tonk we'd be pulling into the parking lot. As if that wasn't confusing enough, sometimes it'd be well into the night, then afternoon, then night all over again.

I thought I heard Ollie say, "Looking back," as I was pondering parallel universes, black holes, remote viewing, time warps, stargates and therapy. Suddenly things started looking right familiar. We were in Luckenbach.

Or at least I was. Dottie, Boots and Ollie were nowhere to be seen. I was sitting inside Nigel the Land Rover and staring at a congregation of shiny motorcycles across the street. Grabbing my camera I went looking for everyone. Approaching the General Store/Post Office end of the bar I came across Dottie's Fairline, empty.

I remember the high pole with a mailbox on top -- for airmail; and back in the early days you could check out a little blacksmith shop with chairs hanging like pictures on the walls. Reckon those were highchairs.

Then there was the double-wide outhouse. Inside the men's part, light poured through cracks beween the wall slats. Carved out about eye level was, "Pay toilet. Put dime in slot." next to a crack that ran clean to the ground. These days city folks will find more familiar accommodations.

Ordering a longneck at the bar I reached in my pocket... there wasn't as much as I hoped there would be, just some $23 and spare change. With beer in hand I seated myself at a table in the bar. To my right hung a "Please don't make us write don't signs" sign with enough business cards stuck around it so that, with a little reverse engineering, you could have a sizeable hunting cabin.

I liberated one business card showing off a pretty Whurlizer juke box. Like the late Hondo Crouch (Clown Prince of Luckenbach) used to say, "You can't forget memories." But it doesn't hurt to have a little token to jump start the brain work.
My fondest recollection of Luckenbach is standing outside with Hondo and James Hamm, a co-conspirator in the writing business. Sadly, they're both gone now and it's just me left holding on to the memory.

It was one of those crystal clear Texas nights with fireflies and stars mingling in the treetops while a full moon scratched its belly on the upper branches. Ho
ndo was reciting his poem, Luckenbach Moon, "...This kind of moonshine makes you crazy to sleep in it, they say. But I think you're crazy not to try it..."

There's no point in writing about Luckenbach without paying tribute to Hondo Crouch. His business card read: Hondo Crouch, Imagineer, Authorized Distributor, Luckenbach. Some folks might compare him to Will Rogers, except Hondo didn't hold forth twirling a lariat -- Hondo held a whole town in his hands when he showed up. Apart from providing live entertainment he was the writer, Peter Cedarstacker, for a column in the Comfort News. Reckon he had to be two people so's he could split up the workload.

Founded in 1849, Luckenbach is "The oldest store in continuous operation I know of. --Moses". About its early days Peter Cedarstacker once wrote " ...the present Principality of Luckenbach was nearly a part of the United States but when the Washington politicians and statesmen came down to look over the proposed annexation they threw a whale of a stag party with girls. In the commotion they all signed what they thought was a deer huntin' lease and freed us.

"John Lyles, a way off lawyer is now tryin' to get Luckenbach in the United Nations as a Thiefdom, or somethin' like that..."

On another occasion Hondo was telling a crowd of us he was going to secede, declare war on the U.S. of A., lose quick-like and apply for foreign aid.

There's a book, Hondo My Father, by Becky Crouch Patterson which is fine in every respect and does more justice to his
memory than I ever could.

Hauling a second longneck around I went over to the Feed Store for a real hamburger. I gave up looking for Ollie and the girls and joined the crowd of folks sitting under huge live oaks listening to live music. It must have been about four in the p.m. when, from the treetop, a rooster crowed.

"He's running kinda late," someone said. But -- between my imagination, memories and the present -- time was slipping and sliding all over the place so the rooster's timing didn't seem to be off in the least. (If roosters crow, what do crows do?)

Naturally, It's all put on," Bill explained, "but it gives you a chance to shoot alot of bullets."

We swapped a few Luckenbach memories and agreed that, today, the motorcycle crowd is doing more than their fair share holding up the tourist economy in the Hill Country. Determined to be home before dark, Nigel the Land Rover and I headed out. As I turned left onto the county road I recalled another old friend, Matt, living nearby so I hung a quick right to The Full Moon Inn.

Matt's pet pig, Rooter, which had grown mightily since its piglet days, was sleeping on the front door mat and a fair portion of the porch. [Sadly, since this writing Rooter has passed on to Hog Heaven.]

After a little catch up conversation, Matt gave me a tour of the place which had undergone so much expansion since my last visit some four years ago it made the pig look like a piker.

Matt was putting the finishing touches on his new restaurant/bar which gleamed like a silver dollar. I reckon Matt heard that voice. You know, the one that says, "Build it and they will come".

Matt has been in the same business in the same location since we met. I reckon he is the top hand at hosting awe
weddings some Hill Country style and private parties. It's not just cause he's a friend that I'm lavishing all this praise on The Full Moon Inn. It really is a class act.

Back outside I spotted a '57 Rocket Oldsmobile 88 which look like it had just rolled off the assembly line. Knowing my timing was all off I needed one of those reality checks, and Matt assured me, ELvira was real enough.

On the road again, I was headed home when Nigel the Land Rover took the lead and turned off Hwy 16 toward Willow City and stopped at one of my favorite watering holes, The Knot in the Loop Saloon. For a time I had the place pretty much to myself so I settled in with memories for company.

All played out, and pondering Dazzling Dottie, Boots, Ollie and Hondo I was cowboy lonesome. So there I was at the shank of day, playing all of the sad songs and drinking the cheapest beer.

Then, from somewhere, faraway, Ollie's spoke up. "Relax, pardner. We can go road trippin' again sometime. Remember," he added, quoting a men's room scribe, "reality is for folks who lack imagination."