A Hill Country adventure fit for the whole family
By Bernadette Noll
Seeking a change of scenery after a few days of urban sightseeing in Austin, my husband, Kenny, and I packed up our four kids and their visiting French cousin for a short road trip to Wimberley. Rather than taking a straight shot south on I-35, we hopped on US 290 West to Dripping Springs, then turned south on Ranch Road 12, a winding, two-lane highway that traverses some of the prettiest countryside in Texas.
As we neared Wimberley, my niece commented on how much the landscape—rolling hills and rocky outcroppings dotted with sprawling live oaks and craggy vegetation— reminded her of her home in the Languedoc region of southern France. As we passed a small vineyard, we all agreed that this Central Texas topography was a dramatic departure from the desert environment foreigners often envision when they think of Texas.
We arrived in Wimberley in the late afternoon and found our lodging for the weekend, the 16-room Mountain View Lodge, which, true to its name, overlooks the gentle summits surrounding the Blanco River Valley. Landscaped with Texas redbud, agarita, yucca, sotol, and wizened live oaks, the property attracts cardinals, goldfinches, scrub jays, and hummingbirds practically year round. Upon our arrival, we noticed a mob of ruby-throated and black-chinned hummingbirds buzzing the feeders outside the main office.
On the way to our rooms, the kids squabbled over which bed they’d claim for the weekend, but they quickly abandoned the battle when they spied the gleaming pool. While the kids swam, I lounged on the deck jutting out over the hillside, taking in the inspiring view of rolling hills and rocky mesas covered with contorted, scrubby plants. Kenny, binoculars in hand, hiked the lodge’s nature trail, which meanders through the 5 -acre property. (A nature-trail guide, available at the front desk and in each room, identifies animals and plants you’re likely to encounter.) When he returned, he told us he’d found the property’s Allosaurus footprint, which was embedded in a creek bed during the late Jurassic period. That announcement piqued the interest of the kids, who scrambled down the hillside for a look, still dripping from the pool.
After a quick cleanup, we piled into the van for the short drive to downtown Wimberley. The town square is just a few blocks long, but it’s jam-packed with boutiques, galleries, restaurants, and shops with a predominantly Western flavor. Midweek, the sidewalks were quiet, so we took advantage of a little window-shopping, admiring vintage and new cowboy boots, handmade jewelry heavy on the turquoise and silver, artwork both traditional and modern, and handmade, kitschy crafts.
Nearby, Cypress Creek, which flows into the Blanco River in the center of town, reminded me of the perfect habitat for woodland gnomes. We entertained that thought on an old stone bridge, surrounded by knobby cypresses, as the kids scampered around on the crooked tree limbs and splashed in the cool water.
Back at the hotel, we spent a few hours stargazing from the deck. Far, far in the distance, we could make out the muted lights of Austin. Several shooting stars lit up the skies, and we were grateful for this glimpse of the sky—a view not granted us in the city lights of home.
The next morning, we visited Wimberley Glass Works, a gallery and working glass studio between Wimberley and San Marcos. With children in tow, I felt some trepidation exploring the showroom, which is filled with fragile vases small and large, sconces of nearly every shape and color imaginable, gleaming floor lamps, multicolored chandeliers, and hand-blown paperweights that look like they hold tiny alternate universes. Toddler held close to my hip, we made our way around the shop, entranced.
To learn more about the glass-blowing process, we scrambled into the bleacher seats in the attached working studio to watch two trained glassblowers give a fascinating demonstration. With a long, steel blowpipe, one artisan picked up a blob of molten glass from a furnace, rolled it in crushed glass to add color, then returned it to the fire. Next, we watched them work the glass—blowing through the pipe and shaping it with tools and more fire—into a one-of-a-kind lampshade. We appreciated the glassblowers’ patience as they answered questions, and we admired their remarkable skill in creating such beauty. We all agreed that the place, the prod-ucts, and the process were wondrous indeed.
Back in town, we paid a visit to the Senior Citizen Thrift Store, one of two thrift stores near the town square. (We’ll have to drop by Village Thrift on a return trip.) I love thrift stores, especially when traveling, as they provide a glimpse into the personal stories of residents, both living and long-passed. Here, among the antique women’s hats, timeworn coveralls, and kitchen implements, I was thrilled to find—for just a dollar—an out-of-print volume of children’s poetry I had been seeking for years.
From there we made good on a promised visit to the Wimberley Pie Company, which has been baking pies and other sweet treats in its rustic stone building since 1989. We deliberated awhile over the array of pies (some 20 at any time!) before opting for four generously sized slices of lemon, pecan, buttermilk, and apple pie. We passed them around the table, sighing in delight as we declared our favorites. In the end, there was no clear consensus, other than each was a winner.
We opted to spend our final afternoon swimming at a spot on Cypress Creek called Blue Hole—one of our favorite swimming holes of all time. With grassy banks, cypress-shaded picnic spots, rope swings, and clear, cold, blue-green water, Blue Hole offers something for everyone in my family. While the little ones waded in the shallow end, the big kids learned some tricks from the local teens, who were proudly displaying their daring Cirque du Soleil-style tricks from the myriad ropes, chains, and rings that dangled from tress over the deep end.
As a family, we liked Wimberley. We were grateful to delight in the splendor of the Hill Country, bask in Wimberley’s magnificent natural beauty, and take in its easygoing character. We made a list of things we’d try next time: a hike to the top of Old Baldy, a rocky summit with a 360-degree view of the Hill Country; the zipline tour by Wimberley Zipline Adventures; and the summer “walk-in” movie at the outdoor Corral Theatre.
As we often do at the end of family road trips, we voted on whether or not we should return, and we all responded with a resounding and enthusiastic “yes!”
From the April 2011 issue.