Landscape as art
The Texas Hill and River Country
is a land of shapes, designs, texture and color harboring a multitude
of wildflowers, wildlife and water. Because of this natural abundance,
the area offers visitors a diversity of outdoor activities from
traditional hunting, fishing and birding to hiking, biking, kayaking
For many, the splendor of the Texas hillsides
in spring easily competes with the likes of the Palouse agriscape
in Washington State or the Tuscan countryside of Italy. Unfortunately,
the rustic beauty and grandeur of Central Texas has largely been
off-limits to the public since over 90 per cent of the land is privately
owned. However, that is starting to change in a big “Texas-way.”
Private ranches open
lands to photographers
Ranchers, landowners, and the State of Texas
have come together with an initiative designed to open up these
lands to the lens. Rural hill towns such as Brady, Eden, Junction,
Menard and San Saba are joining forces to offer the authentic Texas
experience to more than just hunters; they are actively courting
outdoor nature photographers and birders to experience the wonders
of wildflowers and wildlife in the Texas Hill Country.
Many properties such as CAVU offer excellent
accommodations and amenities, along with guided wildlife walks and
photography tours of lands seldom seen by the public. (CAVU is an
abbreviation for “Clear and Visibility Unlimited” given
by its owners and former pilots).
Lynn Foreman, owner of CAVU says, “CAVU
provides access to Mother Nature for people from different walks
of life and different parts of the country.” Foreman adds
that there are four-season activities that should appeal to almost
everyone including birding, biking, hiking, walking, cycling and
of course, photography.
Lens on Wildflowers
While staying in the “Cool Cabin”
at CAVU, I simply walk out my front door to photograph the myriad
of wildflowers on the property. Prairie verbena is everywhere, accented
by Texas bluebonnet, Nodding thistle, Silverleaf nightshade and
Our guides at CAVU are locally-based outdoor
photographer Rod Gardner and Miles Phillips, a State Program Leader
in Nature Tourism with the Texas Cooperative Extension. After an
early morning orientation session along with photography pointers,
Gardner leads our small group out for the endless photo ops on site.
We start with a silent session sitting in one of four bird blinds
on property. Next, we go to CAVU canyon with its ancient limestone
walls and embedded fossil shells. Then it is by mule to the plateau
top teaming with prickly pear cactus flowers and birds.
Having first picked him up by his song, Phillips
astutely points out the colorful Painted Bunting flying amidst the
tree canopy. The male is staking out territory while trying to win
the affections of a nearby female. Besides the Painted Bunting,
Phillips explains that other bird sightings can include the Vermillion
Flycatcher, Indigo Bunting as well as the endangered Golden-cheeked
Warbler and Black-capped Vireo. Wildlife photography can include
whitetail deer, Rio Grande wild turkey, armadillo, bobcats, coyote,
and red and gray fox. Exotic and domestic species abound as well,
such as Watuzi cattle, emus — and Dee my favorite donkey at
On a different day, Gardner takes me to Menard
County for a bit of history. The Presidio de San Saba was the largest
Spanish Fort in Texas and probably one of the shortest in existence.
Established in 1757, the Presidio was destroyed a year later, in
1758, by a raiding party of over 2000 Comanche, Caddo, and Wichita
Indians. He leads me to the west Presidio entrance. “This
is where Jim Bowie’s name is carved,” says Gardner.
“However, the correct spelling of his name is Bouie.”
It's another photo op.
Day trips to various photography sites are
also available in the Texas Hill Country. For example, in Concho
County, former “Sheep Capital of the Nation,” there
are over 1500 prehistoric pictographs created by nomadic Indians
during the last 12,000 years.
Located on a limestone bluff overlooking
the Concho River, the site is on private land that is accessible
through a pre-arranged guided tour with Paint Rock Excursions. The
owner and guide, Kay Campbell, explains the different groups of
characters and what they may mean as she identifies the best spots
for photos. Campbell also steers you clear of rattlesnake dens and
habitat — a vital skill in this part of the country.
Of Rivers, Streams and
Known as “Former Outlaw Country,”
Kimble County has hundreds of natural springs feeding both the North
and South Llano Rivers. Within the county lies the small town of
Junction, claiming to have more flowing streams than any other Texas
county. As a result, the combination of abundant water and lush
valleys of the Llanos creates a haven for year-round water activities.
For example, Peacemaker River Expeditions can arrange for guided
canoeing, tubing, kayaking and fly-fishing excursions.
Be sure to explore the water’s edge
with your camera, looking for darting dragonflies, flitting butterflies,
and colorful caterpillars. A macro lens can extend your subject-matter
possibilities and result in unique and artistic images that will
dazzle friends and family.
Heart of Texas
The geographic center of Texas is the rural
town of Brady located on the Old Dodge Cattle Trail. This town offers
numerous iconic photo ops to capture images with the look and feel
of small town Texas. Of prime interest is the McCulloch County Courthouse,
an 1899 circa native stone structure built in the Romanesque Revival
Eden, on the other hand, lays claim to being
the geodetic heart of Texas. So, according to Genora Young, Economic
Development Director for Eden, that puts it roughly in the middle
of Texas — deep in the heart of Texas, the place where deer
and antelope play; where wheat grows; cattle, sheep and goats graze;
and the people are down-right friendly. The West of Eden town square
offers another photo op of quintessential rural town life.
Though photography may capture the spirit
of place of the Texas Hills and River Region, one must also taste
the flavors of Texas. And though the fast food of Sonics and Dairy
Queens definitely define the rural Texas town for easy and inexpensive
eats — also harbingers of economic success for small towns
— the local eateries offer true Texas fare.
For great “Tex Mex” be sure to
grab a breakfast burrito at the Burrito Express in Brady. For Chicken-Fried
Steak, a Texas favorite, head to Isaack Restaurant in Junction or
City Limits South of the Border in Eden. (City Limits also has great
“Tex Mex.”) And to satisfy your sweet tooth, be sure
to stop at the Sunshine Café & Bakery in Junction for
a huge slice of tangy lemon meringue pie; enough to share for two.
Going Nuts Over Central
Did you know that the United States produces
about eighty per cent of the world’s pecans? It’s no
wonder then that the pecan tree is the official Texas State Tree,
with San Saba County claiming the title of the “Pecan Capital
of the World.” Second in production only to the state of Georgia,
Texas produces some of the highest quality pecans available today.
Though native pecan trees flourished along
the banks of the San Saba in the 1800s, it wasn’t until Edmond
E. Risien founded his West Texas Pecan Nursery in 1888 that pecan
cultivation became a serious business. Risien focused on budding,
grafting, and mature pollination in order to produce varietals for
flavor, color, texture, and easy shelling. The result is his famous
thin, easy to shell, paper shell pecans.
Today, the pecan business in San Saba County
continues to thrive, with dozens of growers and retail outlets marketing
everything from shelled pecans to famous pecan pie, honey (pecan)
butter, and pecan candies.
The descendants of Risien continue his tradition
as the Millican Pecan Company. Winston Millican and his wife Kristen,
both graduates of Texas A&M University, cite an expanding product
line of pecans and online ordering as part of their “vision
for the future that is rooted in the heritage of the past.”
Be sure to try their Texas Pecan Pie; recently featured on the Food
Network and written about by Bon Appétit magazine
as well as Southern Living magazine. Coupled with a scoop
of vanilla ice cream, it’s some of the best I have tasted
in recent memory.
Besides being tasty, pecans are healthy
too. According to documented research referenced on the Texas Pecan
Growers Association site (www.tpga.org/index.html)
pecans can double the cholesterol-lowering effect of a traditional
Pecans raise Vitamin E levels and may support
prostate and intestinal health. Besides increasing fiber and nutrient
intake, pecans are also a concentrated source of natural plant sterols.
Finally, adding pecans to your diet can lower “bad”
Texas Soul and Savvy
The Texas Hill and River Country is a rural
and hilly heartland in which you will find dedicated individuals
with a deep connection to the land. Their welcoming hospitality
and heart-warming smiles bring instant sunshine in this land of
wildflowers, wildlife, and water.
Traditional Pecan Bread
(Courtesy of Millican Pecan Company)
2 cups flour
2 tsp baking powder
½ cup sugar
1 tsp salt
1 cup milk
1 egg, beaten
½ cup chopped Millican Pecans
Sift dry ingredients together. Mix milk and egg and add to dry mixture.
Mix thoroughly, but do not beat. Add pecans. Bake in greased loaf
pan at 350 degrees Fahrenheit about one hour or until a straw comes
out clean. Best kept for a day or two then sliced as thin as possible
and served with butter or cream cheese. This bread can be made three
or four days in advance. Also freezes well. Makes one loaf.
IF YOU GO
Consult the Central Texas Hills & Rivers
Region website at:
Paint Rock Excursions (Tours by Appointment)
P.O. Box 186
Paint Rock, TX 76866
Peacemaker River Expeditions
126 Flatrock Lane
Junction, TX 76849
Millican Pecan Company
1101 West Wallace
San Saba, TX 76877
Rod Gardner Outdoor Photography
Tel: 325-396-4590 or 325-456-1188
Where to eat
101 East 15th Street
Brady, TX 76825
City Limits Café
1031 US Highway 87 West
Eden, TX 76837
Heart of Texas Depot Restaurant
505 North Bridge Street
Brady, TX 76825
1606 Main Street
Junction, TX 76849
Ranelle’s Corner Deli & Bistro
101 East Main Street
Brady, TX 76825
Sunshine Café and Bakery
1907 North Main Street
Junction, TX 76849
Where to stay
Western Inn Brady
2200 Bridge Street
Brady, TX 76825
10400 East Rural Route 2169
Junction, TX 76849
Heart of Texas: Wildflowers, Wildlife, and Water
by Karin Leperi
It’s the heart of Texas
– a rural five-county area with wide open spaces known for its
ranching, farming and stark hillside beauty.
Consisting of the eastern portion
of the Edwards Plateau, this central Texas region is composed of limestone,
scattered boulders, and a sliver of top soil that is interspersed
with streams and rivers.
Come spring, the hills are colorfully
carpeted with a potpourri of wildflowers that includes prairie verbena,
Texas bluebonnet, Indian paintbrush, and blooming prickly pear cactus.
of Karin Leperi