We chose the Texas Hill Country for our first road trip of 2016
The Hill Country road trip in a nutshell
We took IH-35 South from Dallas, which, except for temporary road construction, is an easy drive south. Our first stop was the village of Salado, then spent the night in Round Rock so we could eat supper at Jack Allen’s Kitchen. The next day we visited Oatmeal, Johnson City, the Devil’s Backbone and Gruene. We left New Braunfels for last and drove back home, with a stop for lunch at Buc-ee’s.
Salado’s main claim to fame is, I think, its Scottish heritage. It was indeed founded by Scottish settlers in 1859 at the Old Military Road crossing of the Salado Creek. We arrived in the late afternoon with little natural light left.
The historic center is spread out along the Main Street, which parallels IH-35. The historic buildings now house mainly antique stores, boutiques and wine tasting rooms.
The sun disappeared and the moon came out behind the church. The church itself is quite modern but the effect of the moon rising over it and the Stations of the Cross in front marked with stones and a cross made with bits of wood was a bit eerie.
There is a place called Oatmeal in the vast, empty expanses of the Hill Country. It is very desolate, so much so that we were not able to find a town or village or hamlet. Instead, we visited with some goats.
Why did we choose to visit Oatmeal? For its name, why else! According to the Texas State Historical Association, it is “either an alteration of the name of a Mr. Othneil, who owned the first gristmill in the area, or a supposed translation of the name Habermill (Haber is a German dialect word for Hafer, “oats” and the name of the first family of German settlers)”. In 1990, the census showed a population on 20, which remained the same in 2000.
The main, and only, attraction is the water tower, painted like a box of oats. We figured that the sort of adjacent yard is where they hold the annual oatmeal festival. It’s a fun roadside attraction if you can find it.
Johnson City is the birthplace of Lyndon B. Johnson, the only Texan president actually born in the state. We stopped for lunch and then ambled to the historic buildings and antique stores. There seems to be an overabundance of antique stores in the Hill Country.
The Devil’s Backbone
“Outstanding views,” “well worth the detour,” “the most scenic route in the Hill Country.” With comments like those, who would be a fool to miss out on the Devil’s Backbone? After all this hype, my expectations were pretty high. Sadly, they were not met. We inadvertently drove past the “outstanding views” and had to do a U-turn to find them. My take is the views are nothing spectacular and not worth the detour.
Gruene (sounds like green) is named after the first German settler in the area, Ernest Gruene and lies on the Guadalupe River north of Austin. Gruene is a fun little town to spend a few hours tasting wine, shopping for antiques and listening to live music. It is a very popular destination for tubing in the summer months. Gruene boasts the oldest and continually operating dance hall in Texas, circa 1878.
I browsed the antique store and bought a green Wedgwood jasperware plate. We ate at The Gristmill River Restaurant and Bar, a restaurant housed in an 1870’s old cotton gin. I loved the way the recycled the building and the views of the river. Although there are a couple of gorgeous Victorian B&Bs in town, we stayed at a chain hotel for the night as it was cheaper.
We didn’t get to see much of New Braunfels except the main plaza with its historic bandstand and World War I and Civil War memorials and the 1888 Comal County Courthouse across the street. It’s not a happening place on Sunday mornings.
We made our way back to Dallas up IH-35 refreshed and ready to tackle the week ahead.