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Trips to Bountiful 2010: Heart of the Hill Country

Written by Melissa Gaskill.

From Lampasas, take FM 580 west about 20 miles to Bend. Along the way, you may see delicate white windflowers, yellow tansy-mustard, and prairie penstemon. Stop in at Colorado Bend State Park, home of stunning Gorman Falls and 16 miles of hiking trails, including one along Spicewood Creek’s travertine falls. This area’s climate and soil are excellent for growing grapes. Alamosa Wine Cellars, just off FM 580, opens weekends for tastings of its signature El Guapo tempranillo and other wines.

Put your designated driver behind the wheel and continue north on FM 580 to US 190, watching for bluebonnets, of course, plus blackfoot daisies, pink evening primroses, and winecups. Turn west on US 190 to San Saba, which bills itself as the Pecan Capital of the World. The area produces millions of pounds of tasty nuts annually, including a few types developed here, most notably the papershell (my personal favorite). Pick up fresh pecans, trail mixes, and candies for the rest of your drive at Oliver Pecan Company (US 190 at Hope Street) or Great San Saba River Pecan Company (234 West US 190), where you can picnic among 10,000 pecan trees.

Follow Texas 16 south 33 miles to Llano, passing through more bluebonnets, prairie verbena, goldeneye phlox, and Englemann’s daisies. Llano loves its barbecue, with Cooper’s Old Time Pit Bar-B-Q a real favorite. But for a fun alternative, try Stonewall’s Pizza, Wings and Things on the town square, where employees hand-toss the dough, encourage kids to write on the walls, and make the shakes with Blue Bell Ice Cream.

Heading east from Llano, Texas 29 parallels railroad tracks and the picturesque Llano River on your right, while wildflowers paint the fields on your left. Seventeen miles from Llano, Buchanan Dam represents the country’s longest multiple-arch dam, a design that required more labor but used fewer materials. Get a good view of it from the bridge over Inks Lake. A bit farther along, turn south onto Park Road 4 to Inks Lake State Park, where hikes of varying lengths explore cedar and oak woodlands amid granite out-crop-pings on the lake’s south end. Blue-bonnets and Indian paintbrush typ-ically bloom abundantly here. The park offers picnicking, kayak rental, fishing, and one of the state’s best swimming holes, if you have time to linger. Stay the night in one of the limited-use cabins, which have beds, electricity, air conditioning and heat, and outdoor picnic tables and fire rings.

Return to Texas 29 and continue to Burnet, then take US 281 north for about 22 miles back to Lampasas. Expect to see more bluebonnets, Indian paintbrush, and buttercups along the way. In Lampasas, stop by locally owned Storm’s Drive-In for a thick, juicy burger and maybe another shake to celebrate a drive well done.

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