Bird feeders full and our three elderly dogs fed, belly-scratched, and left to chase squirrels for the day, my husband Randy and I set off for Natural Bridge Wildlife Ranch to view creatures we couldn’t spy in our urban backyard. I had visited the ranch before, and I looked forward to seeing Randy’s reaction to the rather bumptious emus and ostriches, whose mealtime manners had left much to be desired.
Set on some 400 limestone-strewn acres between San Antonio and New Braunfels, the ranch makes for an easy day-trip from much of Central Texas. Whichever direction you’re coming from, taking the backroads in springtime reveals wide vistas and peaceful swells colored with purple verbena, prickly pear, and rugged Lindheimer senna, a drought-tolerant plant with yellow midsummer flowers that does well in xeriscape gardens.
At the entrance to the ranch, we met with the knowledgeable and gregarious Tiffany Soechting, who, together with her husband, Shawn; Shawn’s brother, T. Dudley; T. Dudley’s wife, Laurie; and the brothers’ parents, Trudy and Raymond Soechting, take care of the 600 or so animals who live here.
Nourished by clear streams and dotted with live oaks, the ranch and surrounding acreage (which includes Natural Bridge Caverns) has been used for agricultural purposes by Trudy’s family since 1884, longevity that earned the land recognition as a Texas Land Heritage Property in 1994. Both Soechting sons earned degrees in agricultural education at Texas Tech, a discipline that Shawn says prepared them for “working with the animals, taking care of the plants and land—doing a little of everything and anything.” From making sure the giraffes receive a proper diet to shoveling the prodigious poops of the two white rhinos that carry on a courtship here, the family keeps busy, year round.