Thursday, November 12, 2015

Hill Country Drives, October 2015

Some of the most beautiful drives in Texas are found in the Hill Country. And of these, some of the most interesting are the lesser-used county and farm-to-market roads that crisscross the countryside.

On our recent trip, we took Texas 16 from Kerrville to Bandera on our way to Hill Country State Natural Area. This state highway spans Texas from near Wichita Falls in the north to Zapata on the Rio Grande in the south. Now, the quicker and easier way to get from Kerrville to Bandera is to take Highway 173, a scenic enough highway itself with smooth surface and nice shoulders and numerous passing lanes. But Texas 16 is so much more scenic.

As you leave Kerrville heading south, the highway looks good. The shoulders are wide, surface is smooth, and speed limit is normal. But at the junction with Highway 2771 (known locally as "Lower Turtle Creek Road"), things change pretty quickly. The shoulders disappear, the speed limit drops, and the country gets wilder in appearance. At points, the turns are so sharp that the speed limit drops to 15 MPH.The road often  parallels creeks with a few low-water crossings. The countryside is really pretty. Numerous small ranches -- and some larger ones, I suppose -- dot the roadside. The popular Escondida Resort is located about halfway between Kerrville and Medina. The Medina Children's Home also operates a nice facility on the east side of the highway.

Upon arriving in Medina, the road widens and the speed limit increases to what most folks would consider "normal". The highway then follows the cypress-lined Medina River from Medina to Bandera.

The other interesting drive we took was from Comfort, a small community east of Kerrville, up to the Old Tunnel State Park. The tunnel actually offers little of interest to daytime visitors, so I won't report on it. But the drive to the park is interesting.

We left Comfort heading east on FM 473. Just under 5 miles from the intersection of US 87, Old Road 9 splits off of FM 473 and heads due north. If you happen to be going to the tunnel from Fredericksburg, the road is called either the Old San Antonio Road or the Old Fredericksburg Road. It is a slow 8 miles from the intersection to the park, but take your time and savor the view. The road is narrow and there are numerous sharp curves. Look carefully and you may see some exotic wildlife in the open areas along the roadway. Imagine what it was like to travel this road 100 or even 150 years ago.

The park is located right on the road. About 100 yards down a side road is the very popular Alamo Springs Cafe. We had planned to eat lunch here, but the cafe was not open at the time. Oh well, just an excuse to travel some more Texas back roads at another time.

For our return to Kerrville, we continued north about 2 more miles, then turned west on Grape Creek Road. Although not as scenic as the road we traveled to get here, Grape Creek Road is still interesting. We crossed a number of cattle guards, and there is loose livestock in the area, so drive slowly. The landscape is dotted by various small properties. It's a peaceful drive, and one that should not be hurried.

Once we intersected with US 87, we turned south, kicked the speedometer up to normal speeds, and soon found ourselves back in Comfort and later Kerrville.

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