Officially, Llano is known as the “Deer Capital of Texas.” But what is a daytripper to do in this Hill Country hideaway when it isn’t deer-hunting season? I set out for the day determined to find out.
9:00 a.m. I cruised into town early to energize at Fuel Coffee House, a nonprofit coffee shop that supports the local arts scene, just off Llano’s main square. As the epicenter of coolness in town, Fuel is often brimming with art, poetry, and live music, especially on Sunday evenings, when Fuel grills up free burgers for anyone with an appetite.
10:00 a.m. Llano tags itself as “the way Texas used to be,” and I set off on foot to explore downtown. Past the old Red Top Jail with its gallows still in place on the top floor, I took a hard right to stroll across Roy Inks Bridge and peek down at the Llano River. Back on the square, I circled the 1893 Llano County Courthouse and popped into Enchanted Rocks & Jewelry. Owner Frank Rowell told me that Llano draws almost as many rock hunters as deer hunters. Turns out Llano is situated on top of the Llano Uplift, a geologic formation created when rock thousands of feet below the surface pushed its way to the top and kicked up all sorts of precious stones and minerals, including “Llanite,” a type of granite found only in Llano County, and even … gold. I left inspired to go on my own rock quest, but first things first.
12:00 p.m. I was so hungry I could have eaten a rock. But there’s no need for a Llanite lunch when Cooper’s Old Time Pit Bar-B-Que is nearby. I took my place in line and salivated as I inched closer to Cooper’s outdoor pit, where diners get to choose their meat straight from the fire. My turn arrived, and I ordered enough food to feed a hundred hungry prospectors. To make matters worse (or better), I couldn’t resist Cooper’s signature pecan cobbler.
2:00 p.m. Next, I focused on finding my fortune in the river’s flowing waters. Frank had directed me to the end of Ash Street, which allows easy access to the banks below. I rolled up my pants and waded in, and spent the afternoon inspecting rocks and following every shiny speck in the water. While scavenging the river bottom, I inadvertently wandered all the way to the waterfalls beneath Roy Inks Bridge and over the Llano Dam. Already soaked from the waist down, I decided to jump in full-on. The swim washed away my illusions of wealth, reminding me that whether we’re rich or poor, the Texas sunshine was made for all of us.
5:00 p.m. Still hoping to find Llanite in the wild, I drove Texas 16 to a rock outcropping 10 miles north of town (just beyond the gates to Baby Head Cemetery, all that’s left of the Baby Head community). There, I found Llanite with its pink hue and signature blue specks.
6:00 p.m. Back in Llano, and not even remotely hungry, I sipped a glass of Fall Creek Cabernet Sauvignon at the Badu House Wine Pub, an historic house originally constructed as a bank and later occupied by the mineralogist who discovered Llanite. The bar counter is a beautiful, 14-foot-long specimen of polished Llanite.
7:30 p.m. The neon lights of the LanTex Theater summoned me in. Built in 1927, the LanTex is one of the few historic movie theaters in Texas still showing current movies. That is, when it’s not hosting the Llano Country Opry.
The house lights dimmed as I munched on my popcorn dinner and settled in my seat for the movie. I may not have struck it rich in Llano, but my day trip was richly abundant nonetheless. So, whether you follow my footsteps or forge your own path, I hope to see you on the road.
Contact the Llano Chamber of Commerce at 325/247-5354 or 866/539-5535; www.llanochamber.org.