By Melissa Gaskill
A chorus of birds and sunlight through the curtains woke me up. I started the coffee pot, pushed open the screen door, and settled into a chair on the deck. Through the tops of the trees, I caught glimpses of clear, flowing water and white limestone cliffs.
A few white clouds punctuated the wide blue sky overhead.
I could have spent the entire day in this spot at FoxFire Cabins in the western Hill Country. Four miles north of Vanderpool, and about 45 miles southwest of Kerrville, this collection of seven two-bedroom cabins offers a quiet retreat for the weekend. It makes a great spot to gather the entire family, too, without distractions from anything but nature and one another. The cabins are simple and comfortable, with queen beds in each bedroom, a comfy couch and wood-burning fireplace in the common area, and a small but complete kitchen. The cabins cluster close enough together to share social time with neighbors, but far enough apart for private conversation, or listening to birdsong during the day and the chorus of frogs in the river below in the evening.
Set on the Sabinal River, FoxFire’s five-acre property sports a wide, clear swimming hole surrounding a smooth rock large enough to hold several sunning youngsters. The spring-fed headwaters of the Sabinal are just a few miles upstream, and they keep the swimming hole full even in recent dry summers. I waded in the brisk water, spying tiny fish and several turtles, then warmed up on the spacious grassy slope above the pool’s thumbnail of gravel beach. I spotted a hummingbird and a dragonfly almost as large as the bird, while yellow butterflies the size of butter pats swirled over the water. I’d found my happy place.
In addition to the cabins and swimming hole, the property houses a playground under some towering oaks, a basketball rim, picnic tables in a grassy circle, and little gems here and there, such as a rope swing hanging from a tree. Around every corner, bird feeders beckon visitors like wrens and hummers. The office has a supply of games, puzzles, and fishing poles, and there’s a free laundry room on site. There are also campfire pits and grills outside. Perhaps best of all, my cell phone didn’t work, but just in case, there’s a phone in the office. The place, it seems, is custom-designed for quality family time.
“We’ve always been a place to get out of the city and away from all the hustle and bustle,” says Burt Herrmann, who owns FoxFire with his wife, Lacy. Lacy grew up on this land in a three-bedroom log home now available for rent. When Lost Maples State Natural Area opened just down the road in 1979, Lacy’s parents, Lanell and Bill Kellner, noticed more cars on the road. Knowing there was little lodging in the area, the Kellners decided to build some cabins on their property. In partnership with Lanell’s brother and sister-in-law, Wayne and Betty Boyce, they took out a bank loan, bought kits from Canyon Log Homes in Leakey, and put up seven of them, doing most of the work themselves. FoxFire opened in 1984, with the Kellner family kitchen table doubling as a registration desk. The Herrmanns, who are raising their own family nearby, bought the property 10 years ago when the Kellners decided to retire.
The FoxFire property makes a great base for exploring the area’s dining and sightseeing activities. I started with the drive between Vanderpool and Medina on Ranch-to-Market Road 337. The road ranks as one of the most scenic in the state, winding up and over a ridge with sweeping Hill Country views, which are especially beautiful in golden, late-afternoon light.
In Medina, I followed my nose to Keese’s Cafe & Fresh Pit Bar-B-Que, open for 13 years across from the post office, in the middle of the few blocks that make up the town. Diners have a choice of covered picnic-table seating outdoors or tables inside. Hearty breakfasts—everything from chili to oatmeal, biscuits and gravy, omelets, and pancakes—are served daily, and lunch specials offered Monday through Friday include Frito pie and a six-ounce rib eye. The barbecue aroma left me no choice, though: I ordered a brisket sandwich, which arrived piled high with thick slabs of meat—none of those thin “tourist slices,” owner Keith Keese assured me. The desserts include buttermilk, pecan, and cedar bark pie (walnuts and coconut in a pecan-pie filling, resembling cedar bark); cobbler; and German chocolate upside down cake, which is as rich as it sounds.
A few blocks away, The Apple Store sells all things apple, from the trees themselves to apple-flavored coffee, pie, and ice cream—all made with tree-ripened fruit from nearby Love Creek Orchards, where 11 varieties grow. The orchards open for pick-your-own harvesting when the apples are ripe in mid-summer. Take ad-vantage of the orchard picnic area, or, at the Patio Café behind The Apple Store, choose from a menu of hamburgers and sandwiches, topped off with a slice of apple pie, turnover, or some other apple-y treat.
One mile north of FoxFire lies Lost Maples State Natural Area, with about 12 miles of hiking trails through rugged limestone canyons, across windswept plateaus, and along the Sabinal River. There, I saw more birds and butterflies, springs, and a glimpse of a pair of elusive wild sheep.
Between the park and cabins, the Lone Star Motorcycle Museum sports a collection of racers and vintage bikes dating to 1910, all shiny enough to reflect your smiling face. Lost Maples Country Store, three miles in the other direction, in Vanderpool, carries most of the essentials in case you forgot something. You can also put together a complete picnic from the store’s selection of fresh sandwiches, gourmet chips, and bottled drinks.
Of course, you could just skip all the side trips and spend the entire weekend relaxing at FoxFire. I sure wouldn’t blame you.