The Bluebonnet Trail

In other parts of the country, April showers bring May flowers. In central Texas, those showers come with April bluebonnets--the only sure sign of spring a real Texan will accept.

Bluebonnets, the state flower of Texas, grow by the field- full along the highways of the Hill Country, an area of central Texas west of Austin. During early April, the Bluebonnet Trail winds through small lakeside communities and roadside displays of the flowers which perfume the air with supersweet scent. This trail has been quite popular for flower lovers in Dallas, Austin and Houston.

What began over 30 years ago simply as a drive from one bluebonnet field to another has blossomed into one of central Texas' major events, drawing bus tours, photographers, and vacationers. Don't be surprised to see 30 or 40 cars pulled off the road at some spots, with children squatting in neck-high fields of lupinus, better known as bluebonnets, smiling for the family camera.

The Bluebonnet Trail is self-guided, allowing visitors to spend as much time as they choose in the small towns and rugged countryside.

You can easily drive the entire route in a day, but if you want to stop at many shows or attractions, it's best to budget a weekend for the trip. This area of Texas is filled with historical spots, quaint shops, and lots of outdoor activities including boating and fishing.

The Bluebonnet Trail begins in the capital city of Austin. Highways leading in all directions are lined with miles of bluebonnets and other wildflowers thanks to the efforts of the Texas Highway Department and Lady Bird Johnson, whose highway beautification program is partially responsible for the profusion of wildflowers.

In fact, Austin is home to the National Wildflower Research Center, a research facility whose goals include educating the public about the importance of wildflowers. The Center boasts greenhouses, test plots, and an auditorium where audiovisual presentation are featured. Have a question about the wildflowers back home? Feel free to ask the botonists on staff. During Bluebonnet Trail weekends, you'll find botonists out in the small towns, on hand to answer questions about Texas' most colorful natural resource.

From Austin, follow the Bluebonnet Trail by taking busy Highway 183 North to FM 1431 West, a scenic drive that is your gateway to the rolling, rocky hill country. You'll find that the terrain gets even more rugged as you head west, away from the metropolitan areas and into the Hill Country ranches.

Marble Falls

The first stop on the trail is the small town of Marble Falls, perched on the bluffs of the Colorado River. The pink hills aren't marble at all--they're really granite! For over a hundred years, granite has been a big money-maker for Marble Falls. Don't leave town without a look at Granite Mountain, three miles west of town on FM 1431. It's one of the largest quarries in the world, producing building material that's been used all over the globe. In 1881 it supplied the granite used to build the Texas State Capitol, excavated and carried to railroad cars by hundreds of convicts.

Marble Falls is host to an excellent art show sponsored by the Highland Arts Guild. At this show and others on the trail, you'll find many bluebonnet paintings -- in every size and description. You can take home a souvenir bluebonnet painting on anything from a coffee cup to a sawblade, all done by Central Texas artists. In all, the Highland Lakes area boasts 450 artists whose crafts include oil painting, stained glass, jewelry, photography, and granite painting.

Marble Falls is also the home of Lake Marble Falls, just one of seven lakes that create a stairstep down the heart of the state. These man-made lakes, formed by the waters of the mighty Colorado river, were built to control flooding. For years, the river wreaked havoc on the ranches and small towns that lined its banks. During the wet season, it turned into a malevolent monster, hurling homes downstream as it quickly rose from its banks. During the summer months, it was undependable as a water source for the farmers and ranchers of the area, diminishing to a trickle at spots during droughts.

But in 1937, the Colorado was tamed by the Lower Colorado River Authority (LCRA), and today lakes stretch from the tiny town of Buchanan Dam all the way through downtown Austin. Like Marble Falls, most of the towns which are located along the lakeshores are small, many little more than fishing resorts, places to spend a few days skipping rocks or casting a line across the quiet lake waters.

When you leave Marble Falls on FM 1431, you'll soon reach Kingsland. This resort and retirement community is located on Lake LBJ, named for President Lyndon Baines Johnson. During his Senate days, Johnson fought for electrification of this region, an accomplishment brought about by the building of the dams which form the lake chain. This electrification was no small feat, and one about which President Johnson later wrote, "Men and women have been released from the waste of drudgery and toil against the unyielding rock of the Texas hills."

The Legend of the Bluebonnet

Kingsland was the site of the last Indian battle in this region. It is to the Indians that we owe a beautiful legend about the origin of the bluebonnet. The story says that one summer the land was dry and the buffalo had no food to eat. Soon, the Indians were faced with starvation.

The Great Spirit spoke to the chief in a vision, and said that the rains would come if the tribe sacrificed its most precious possession to the Great Spirit. Fine horses and beautiful bonnets were offered, but no rains came.

One evening, a small girl sacrificed her favorite corn husk doll, tearfully laying it upon the coals of the sacrificial fire. With morning came life-giving rain and a miracle -- the dry fields were covered with grass for the starving buffalo. And everywhere that the ashes of the fire had blown grew a carpet of beautiful blue flowers--the bluebonnet.

From Kingsland, continue on FM 1431 to Highway 29 west to Llano, the westernmost stop on the Bluebonnet Trail. The site of Indian raids a century ago, this small town hosts tours of historic homes, an art show, and a festival during Bluebonnet Trial weekends.

Lake Buchanan

Many of the bluebonnet festivities are centered around Lake Buchanan, the first and largest lake in the Highland chain. Contained by one of the largest multiple-arch dams in the world, this lake covers 23,000 acres--more than 30 miles in length and eight miles in width! Walk out on the dam for a look at sunning turtles along its edges, but save time to tour a free museum located here. It traces the development of the Highland Lakes Chain, and includes exhibits on native animals and fish. A Chamber of Commerce office is located next door to provide you with maps and brochures.

Buchanan Dam is also home to the oldest artists' cooperative in the U.S., which hosts a large art show during the festival. You'll find inexpensive bluebonnet paintings and crafts for sale under the shade of large oak trees next to the gallery. Step into the gallery for a look at fine bluebonnet paintings which are also for sale.

The land bordering Buchanan is the wildest of any shoreline on the lake chain, so look for massive fields of bluebonnets on this stretch, as well as some other native wildflowers. Small resort communities have built up along the water's edge, but miles of shoreline are untouched by development. The lake is a fisherman's paradise, featuring striped, white, and largemouth bass, catfish and crappie. A Texas fishing license is required, and you can obtain one at most bait stores along the lake.

If you're ready to let someone else take the wheel for a while, drive on up to Canyon of the Eagles, home of the Vanishing Texas River Cruise. This floating tour will show you a side of Texas unchanged by modern developments as you lazily cruise Lake Buchanan and on up the Colorado River. Sit inside the plush cruising vessel or on one of the two open decks for a look at bluebonnets, deer, wild turkey, wild goats, and even a waterfall. Vanishing Texas also runs a dinner cruise.

A unique attraction you'll pass on the lake is the Falls Creek Winery. Come back after your cruise for a look at the wine-making process, the vineyards, and a taste of a Texas premier wine.

Burnet

The largest town near Lake Buchanan is Burnet, and it's the host of several Bluebonnet Trail events. The Burnet Bluebonnet Festival offers everything from bed races to arts and crafts to a Saturday night street dance, as well as both 5K and 10K marathons for the energetic. For children, there's kite decorating, face painting, pet shows, and hot wheel races.

Burnet is also home to several year-around attractions. Stop by Fort Croghan, on Highway 29. This was part of a chain of western forts designed to protect the settlements from Indian attacks. Look through the museum and tour the many cabins on the grounds for a glimpse at pioneer life in the Texas hill country.

Just outside of Burnet lies Longhorn Caverns State Park. Although this cave lacks the showy formations of many caves in this area, it is rich in history and folklore. Indians once kidnapped a young woman from a local town, hiding her in the cave until her rescue by a Texas Ranger, whom she would later fall in love with and marry. During the Civil War, the cave was used as a Confederate gunpowder factory. Later, outlaw Sam Bass used the cave as a hideout, allegedly stashing loot which still remains lost in its dark recesses. During this century, the cavern was used as a speakeasy, when a wooden dance floor was built in the largest room.On Sundays, the same cavern room was used for church services!

Burnet brings you almost full circle through the major events on the Bluebonnet Trail. A word of caution for travelers, though. After a weekend of festivals, perfumed fields, and art shows, you may find yourself behaving just like the Texas bluebonnet -- returning to the roadsides of Central Texas year after year!

 

 

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