A Solo Afternoon in Texas Hill Country.
Normally when I’m travelling I have an entourage in tow; my husband, family, friends or coworkers. I love having the company, sharing my enthusiasm for exploring and giving experiences for those closest to me; but with each person comes new needs, wishes and perspectives. On a recent Wednesday afternoon, having arrived a day earlier than a coworker for some training in Austin, I found myself with four wheels and a half a day to do whatever I wanted.Being in Austin I was spoiled for choice; I could explore the city, have an impromptu spa day, or check out the live music scene. But I had a car and an itch to go exploring, Texas Hill Country it would be.
The thing is I didn’t know much about Hill Country other than it was close to Austin. I thought I has heard something about there being a few wineries around as well.
A quick google search revealed that was indeed correct. I set my coordinates for a winery that looked good and made my way out of Austin. Within the span of 30 minutes the city transitioned to suburbs which gave rise to gently rolling scrub covered hills. Driving along the backroads the landscape was punctuated with Texas live oak, sage and the occasional sprawling ranch. This was the kind of drive that begs you to kick off your shoes, roll down the windows and throw some Tom Petty on the radio.
Arriving at Duchman Family Winery, I was surprised to find an ivy covered Italian villa framed by moss fringed oaks facing rows of late harvest vines. I was expecting a barn, some dust and a lot more cowboy hats. This was Texas right? In the tasting room I opted for a flight, I could choose 6 of their wines but I told the assistant to surprise me. I got a mix of three whites and three reds, Italian and Spanish in style but all made from 100% Texas grown grapes. Personal favorites were the crisp Vermentino and the slightly spicy Temperalillo. While enjoying my tasting I asked what else I should see in the area. “The town of Wemberly is cute” chimed a woman from Illinois; “Hamilton Pool is pretty” piped the girl from behind the counter. The later sounded vaguely familiar and warranted some checking out.
But first, barbecue.
I made a beeline for the Salt Lick, a Texas institution for all things smoked. Fairly deserted on a Wednesday afternoon (Saturdays are a different story with live music and lines out the door), I more or less had the place to myself save a few young families getting an early dinner. With an entire communal picnic table to myself it didn’t take long to place my order.
Ribs, sausage or brisket? This is the carnivore’s dilemma.
Thurman’s Choice solves that dilemma with a sampling of pork ribs, achingly tender brisket and the best damned smoked sausage I’ve had anywhere. Somehow there was also room on the plate for smokey baked beans, tangy potato salad and a thick slice of white bread to sop it all up. Elbows and barbecue sauce flying, it wasn’t pretty and I ate way more than I thought possible. When in Texas you go big or go home and that applies double when it comes to barbecue.
Windows rolled down and radio turned up to 11 I was back on the road, the further I got the fewer cars I encountered. It brought me back to my Las Vegas days in grad school where many weekends were spent driving down the back roads with no particular place to go and no particular intention except to see what lay ahead. It had been far too long since I’d had a drive like that. I pulled the parking lot of Hamilton Pool Preserve to find there would be a short hike down to the pool.Making my way down the stone path I enjoyed the silence of nature, aside from a crinkle of a leaf or a chirp of a bird it was beautifully quiet. Turning a corner it came into view, a crescent shaped grotto with the slightest hint of a waterfall trickling into the emerald water water below. I shared this cove with a few swimmers and a photographer snapping pictures around the periphery. I kicked off my shoes and waded knee deep into to the cool, still water; taking a few pictures myself but more just enjoying the moment.
Sometimes the best moments happen without a plan. Texas, thanks for giving me a great afternoon.
Have you discovered Texas Hill Country? Tell me about it in the comments!