Bastrop has always been one of my favorite day trips, and it’s one of the few places in Central Texas that reminds me of my Piney Woods hometown. I was quite nervous the first time I returned after the devastating fires of 2011, but what I found was a town offering more hope and opportunity than ever.
8:30 a.m. While the wildfires destroyed more than 34,000 acres in the area, Bastrop’s downtown was untouched and remains a charming glimpse into the city’s past and its claim as “The Most Historic Small Town in
Texas.” I squeezed into an open seat at Maxine’s Cafe for some coffee and a massive country breakfast consisting of sausage, eggs, and a “griddle cake” so big that it hung off the plate in every direction. Needless to say, I didn’t come close to finishing it.
9:45 a.m. Originally settled in the early 1800s, Bastrop was strategically placed at a crossing along the Colorado River. Eager to explore the river itself, I head-ed to Rising Phoenix Adventures outfitters for a kayak
trip down the El Camino Real Paddling Trail. Setting out from Fisherman’s Park, I spent the next few hours bobbing along a slow-moving stretch of the Colorado, stopping every now and then for a dip in the water or to try out an inviting rope swing. My six-mile trip ended at the Lost Pines Recreational Trails, and
the Rising Phoenix crew shut-tled me back to my car.
1:00 p.m. For lunch, I stopped at Billy’s Pit BBQ, a Bastrop temple of smoked meats. Housed in an unassuming metal building, what Billy’s lacks in appearance, it more than makes up for in meat, and my sliced brisket sandwich hit the spot.
2:15 p.m. Ready to see the aftermath of the 2011 wildfires, I took a short drive down Texas 71. Just past town, the vibrant green forest turned to an ex-panse of charred trees reminiscent of something from an extraterrestrial landscape. The majestic trees I once knew had been reduced to black trunks.
3:00 p.m. One area hit particularly hard by the fires was Bastrop State Park. I entered the park and was happy to see all of the major CCC structures still standing. However, as I took a walk with Park Ranger Reagan Faught (at right in photo), the true devastation set in. The park is taking great measures to restore the area to a thriving pine forest and to ensure the future of the endangered Houston Toad. The opened trails offered me the rare opportunity to hike through the heart of a scorched forest. While it will take many decades to restore the forest, I’m excited about the chance my children will have to enjoy the next generation of Lost Pines.
6:00 p.m. Just outside the park sits Roadhouse, one of the best burger joints in Texas. I found the restau-rant packed with folks lending their patronage to Bastrop. I ordered the house specialty, the Jalapeño-Cream Cheese Burger, and as my mouth siz-zled, it occurred to me that supporting a community had never tasted better.
7:30 p.m. In spite of all the trips I’ve made to Bastrop, one tradition I had always missed was the chance to “spit off the bridge” at the historic Colorado River Bridge. Inspired by an Andy Griffith Show episode, Bastrop’s S.O.B.S. (Society of Bridge Spitters) formed to honor this time-tested activity. After singing the required song, I reared back and sent one flying as far as I could. It disappeared below me until it hit the water with the smallest ripple and drifted downstream. I was now a full-fledged member of the S.O.B.S.
Though Bastrop suffered through the worst wildfire season in Texas history, the town is filled with the collective resilience to march forward toward recovery. On this trip, it became clear that the town isn’t really “back,” but in truth, it never left. So, whether you follow my footsteps or forge your own path, I hope
to see you on the road.
Contact the Bastrop Visitor Center online or call 512/303-0904.
Chet Garner is the host of The Daytripper™ travel show on PBS.