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Wild and Wonderful: 4 Amazing Wildflower Drives

... plus other brilliant bursts of color around the state
Written by Melissa Gaskill.

Drummond phlox in Gonzalez County. (Photo © Laurence Parent)

What's your flower IQ?The world didn’t end in December with the Mayan calendar. The zombie apocalypse has yet to occur. Sure, the weather has gone all cattywampus, but nonetheless, spring will return to Texas, bringing with it the annual miracle that is our wildflowers.

To provide this issue in time for you to take advantage of wildflower season, we have to dare to predict the future. Most of the time, we do pretty well, thanks to the tenacity of nature and experts at The University of Texas at Austin Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center and out in the field. But no one can say for certain what the conditions will be, and when, where, how many, and what kind of wildflowers will bloom. That depends on temperatures and rainfall—not just this spring, but the previous fall and even before.

“The good news is we received a little winter rain, but the bad news is that the key months of October and November were considerably drier than normal,” says Damon Waitt, senior botanist at the Wildflower Center. “The eastern half of the state was spared drought conditions to some extent. And last year’s season turned out spectacularly, even during a drought, after winter rain. I think you’ll find pockets of flowers this year due to microclimate conditions.” Rains in January and February helped the seedlings that had germinated and survived the fall, and warmth and sun in March and April will make a difference, as well.

With all that in mind, we invite you to try one, a few, or all of these suggested routes. We bet you will see some wildflowers and have a good time doing so.

Western Hill Country

Ranch-to-Market Road 337 from Leakey to Vanderpool navigates 17 scenic and hilly miles. This area boasts abundant Texas mountain laurel, along with goldenball leadtree, mealy blue sage, rock penstemon, and, on cliffs along the roadside, small white flowers of mountain mahogany, which typically call the Davis Mountains home. Look for white wild Mexican plum flowers, pink-and-cream devil’s shoestring, bright red cedar sage, Texas redbud, larkspur, lace cactus, Texas star, and featherleaf desert peony.

In Vanderpool, take a short detour north to Lost Maples State Natural Area to savor an abundance of blooms such as cardinal flowers, Mexican hats and other coneflowers, false day flowers, phlox, prairie verbena, sages, and more Texas mountain laurel, which fills the air with a scent that reminds some people of grape Kool-Aid.

location-mapFrom here, the road winds south with the Sabinal River to Utopia, home to a couple of restaurants and the Sabinal Canyon Museum (check out wooden and tin bathtubs). Soak up the peace and quiet and the flowers—bluebonnets, brown-eyed Susans, pincushion daisies, and Mexican prickly poppies—by spending a night. Clear Springs Lodging’s Hummingbird Cabin overlooks a deep swim-ming hole beneath stately cypress. Two miles south, The Laurel Tree Guest Table, a stone mansion surrounded by fields of poppies, serves Saturday lunch and dinner, with a menu that changes according to the whims of chef Laurel Waters and her gardens. A recent supper featured mixed fresh greens, fish with fresh-picked thyme, and caramelized apples with vanilla-bean ice cream and mint.

Continue south, crossing the river multiple times, then take RM 187 into Sabinal. Brown’s Deli and Gift Shop whips up sandwiches, panini, and wraps. Backtrack on RM 187 to Texas 127, then US 83 north to Leakey, past a plethora of cabins and river services along the Frio River and the entrance to Garner State Park. Stop to see the CCC-built pavilion and cabins, play a round of miniature golf, or picnic by the water. Mount up at nearby Elm Creek Stables for an hour-long trail ride through wildflower-bedighted hills on a veritable rainbow of ponies—paints, bays, palominos, and whites.

Back in Leakey, stop at Mill Creek Café for burgers, salads, Mexican food, and chicken-fried steak. If the shopping bug bites, you can search for treasures in The General Store & Cowgirl Chic, Ella Pearl’s Trading Post, or Josh’s Frio River Outfitter, which caters to the outdoor crowd with bait, inner tubes, and fishing supplies.

For information on Leakey, call 830/232-5222; Sabinal, 830/988-2215; Clear Springs Lodging, 830/966-2164; Lost Maples State Natural Area, 830/966-3413; Garner State Park, 830/232-6132; Elm Creek Stables, 830/232-5365.

Chalk Mountain Area

Zexmenia in Walnut Springs, Bosque County. (Photo by J. Griffis Smith)

This loop starts in Stephenville, where you can fuel up on open pit, mesquite-smoked brisket and ribs at Hard 8 BBQ, on the corner of US 67 and US 281. Grab a toothpick and take US 377 east toward Granbury, through rows of broad pastures dotted with horses of every size and color grazing amid the bluebonnets and Indian paintbrush. Stop into Bluff Dale Vineyards (off County Road 148) for a glass of wine on the porch overlooking rows of grapevines and green hills beyond. In Granbury, stretch your legs as you check out the shops lining the town square, and savor banana pudding or chocolate meringue pie at Babe’s Chicken Dinner House, or sip a cup of coffee at Paradise Bistro and Coffee to perk up for more flower viewing. Both are on Pearl Street.

location mapFollow Texas 144 south to Glen Rose, and turn west on US 67, then left back onto 144. This winding road traces the Paluxy River and becomes FM 205—just keep going straight to the Glen Rose town square where you can park and stroll past shops and restaurants. If you missed Babe’s in Granbury, have a slice of coconut meringue at the Pie Peddlers. Those who want to linger a while can check in at the historic Inn on the River, which started as an early-1900s health spa. From the square, continue on FM 205 across US 67 to Dinosaur Valley State Park and enjoy flowers in the park’s open areas—swaths of bluebonnets, Indian paintbrush, coreopsis, Indian blankets, basin sneezeweed, Texas skeleton plant, gayfeather, and black-eyed Susans. Don’t forget to look for the dinosaur tracks in the riverbed, which earned Glen Rose the title “Dinosaur Capital of Texas.”

Heading west on US 67, take a short detour on County Road 2008 for a 9.5-mile, self-guided driving tour of Fossil Rim Wildlife Center, through fields populated by addax, elks, zebras, giraffes, and other exotic wildlife. Overnight guests at Foothills Safari Camp support this nonprofit’s efforts to preserve species at risk. A night in a cozy, safari-style tent complete with air conditioning and private bath ensures an early-morning start to the driving tour, when the animals are more active. If you want to be really popular, pick up some animal feed at the entrance.

Continue west on US 67, then take Texas 220 south to Hico, Texas 6 to Dublin, and US 377 back to Stephenville, watching for flowers all along the way.

For information on Stephenville, call 254/965-5313; Glen Rose, 888/346-6282; Granbury, 817/573-1622; Fossil Rim Wildlife Center, 254/897-2960; Dinosaur Valley State Park, 254/897-4588.

Blooming Grove Area

Start in Corsicana with a stop at Collin Street Bakery, famous for making the “world’s most widely distributed cake,” DeLuxe Fruitcake. The family-owned bakery has made this and plenty of other goodies, including pecan pie, for 117 years. Also worth a stop: the neoclassic Beaux Arts Navarro County Courthouse, built in 1905, with Ionic columns and stained-glass ceiling panels. The town is home to Cook Center Planetarium with a 60-foot screen and 200 seats. Then take I-45 south to Richland and Texas 14 to Mexia, enjoying blooms of Indian paintbrush, Mexican hat, horsemint, prairie verbena, and wild petunia.

Seven miles south of Mexia, Fort Parker State Park occupies a convergence of Blackland Prairie and Post Oak Savannah. Bluebonnets, Indian paintbrush, winecups, Mexican hat, and groundsel bloom here, particularly around the entrance road. The park offers camping, picnicking, hiking, and biking, as well as swimming, fishing, and canoeing on a lake created when the Civilian Conservation Corps dammed the Navasota River in the 1930s. Hiking trails trace both the north and south shore of the lake. Just south of the state park is Old Fort Parker, a replica of the one that housed the Parker family in the 1830s, when Comanche kidnapped young Cynthia Ann Parker, who eventually became mother of Chief Quanah Parker.

location mapReturn to Mexia on Texas 14 and turn west on Texas 171. Drive through Hubbard and Malone to Texas 22, just east of I-35 and Hillsboro. On this route, you’re likely to see milkweed, Engelmann’s daisy, Texas star, and pink evening primrose. Take Texas 22 east to Blooming Grove, a town of about 900 friendly people and a lot of wildflowers.

Continue east to Corsicana, watching for wild petunia, prairie parsley, and more daisies. In more moist areas, such as bar ditches and river and pond banks, you may see water willow, obedient plant, and germander. Our wildflower drives in 2011 mentioned dogtooth violets, last officially sighted near Corsicana in the 1930s. Several sharp-eyed readers spotted the delicate, lily-white flower, which prefers sandy soil in forested areas, and blooms before trees put on leaves. (If you spy any, let botanist Michael Eason know at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..">This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..)

For information on Corsicana, call 903/874-4731; Fort Parker State Park, 254/562-5751; Old Fort Parker, 254/729-5253; Blooming Grove, 903/695-2711.

Highland Lakes Area

Texas bluebonnets and Longhorn in Kingsland, Llano County. (Photo © Sean Mathis)

Start in Llano, with an espresso and homemade biscuits and gravy at Little Red Espresso Hut & One Garden Nut on Texas 29, then head east toward Burnet, keeping an eye out for bluebonnets, prairie verbena, goldeneye phlox, and Engelmann’s daisies. Soon after crossing the Inks Lake bridge, turn right on Park Road 4 to Inks Lake State Park. Hike through cedar and oak woodlands, where abundant bluebonnets and Indian paintbrush pop up amid granite outcroppings. Bring a picnic or fishing pole, or spend the night in one of the cabins.

Location Map

Those who prefer cushier digs can drive a bit farther down Texas 29 and north onto RM 2341, skirting the eastern shore of Lake Buchanan to Canyon of the Eagles Resort, which has 62 Hill-Country-style guest rooms designed by Lake|Flato architects, all with porches and views. Wildflowers such as pink evening primrose, horsemint, white prickly poppy, wild foxglove, as well as sleepy, chocolate, Tahoka, and huisache daisies, cover much of the 940-acre nature park. Enjoy them along more than 14 miles of hiking trails, or from the wall of windows in the aptly-named Overlook Restaurant.

Back on Park Road 4, continue to Perissos Vineyard and Winery, a family-owned operation making wines from Texas grapes. Enjoy a tasting in the middle of the working winery; try a red blend called Racker’s Blend, or a crisp, citrusy white known as Roussanne. Put a designated driver behind the wheel, as the hilly park road from here to US 281 is a scenic roller-coaster ride with plenty of bluebonnets, blackfoot daisies, pink evening primroses, and winecups at which to gawk. Stop into Longhorn Cavern State Park for an hour-and-a-half guided tour of wonders far below ground.

Turn south on US 281 to Marble Falls, and detour through its historic main street district, home to shops, restaurants, whimsical sculptures, and great people-watching. Be sure to save time for a slice of one of the legendary pies (14 in all) at Bluebonnet Café.

Close out a colorful day back in Llano at the Badu House, an 1891 bank turned brew pub offering an extensive selection of Texas wines and craft beers, complemented with original recipes designed for both. You don’t have to leave here at the end of the night; book one of three rooms upstairs in the bed and breakfast.

For information on Llano, call 325/247-5354; Inks Lake State Park, 512/793-2223; Canyon of the Eagles, 512/334-2070; Marble Falls, 877/638-3927.

 

Also, see: Wildflower Festivals and Spring's the Thing! (wildflowers, contests and more)

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