Meandering the Texas Hill Country

What better synonyms are there for riding than “motorcycles” and “Texas”? No matter your type of riding, the Texas Hill Country—the south-central area in and around Fredericksburg—will certainly appeal to your motorcycling instincts.

The Fredericksburg area was settled by German immigrants in the middle 19th century. Because strict inheritance laws in Germany gave the eldest son basically everything, many disinherited daughters and younger sons went off in search of a new life. Some of these immigrants settled the town of New Braunfels in 1845 and, because it reminded them of the Rhine River area, they likewise founded Fredericksburg the following year. The town’s heritage lives on in its German architecture, street names and the commonality
of its beer halls.

Back Roads to Meander

For riding in this area, I relied upon guidance from the good folks at Victory Motorcycles, who loaned me a Cross Country model for this trip; Neal and Sandy Davis’ Motorcycle Journeys through Texas and Northern Mexico (Whitehorse Press); and publications by Ride Texas along with various local guides. One published a compendium of the 10 Best Roads in the Texas Hill Country, and whenever its suggestions overlapped with those from two other sources I knew that I was onto something.

Texas longhorns are often seen grazing in the fields beside the road, and their horns serve as a model for motorcycle cruiser handlebars.
Texas longhorns are often seen grazing in the fields beside the road, and their horns serve as a model for motorcycle cruiser handlebars.

Back roads in the Hill Country meander up and down gentle hills with mostly gentle curves, with views of cattle grazing in the fields, low streams passing under—and sometimes over—the roads. Because of possible flooding, some water crossings are provided with flood gauges showing the depth from those Texas-sized storms that sometimes inundate the roads.

One of the most scenic roads I found in the Hill Country was the 21 miles of County Road 1340 from east of Hunt to State Route 41. Along it, wild turkeys waddled far off in the fields as deer grazed or lay in the shade. The road made frequent crossings of the Guadalupe River on low, wide concrete bridges, and many were named and carried historic markers. I was there during a dry April when the rivers ran low, wide and slow, their banks lined by fat cypress trees with their massive trunks.

Live groups perform at the Rock Box in Fredericksburg. These three brothers entertained us with a selection of cowboy songs.
Live groups perform at the Rock Box in Fredericksburg. These three brothers entertained us with a selection of cowboy songs.

Over by Medina, I pulled into the Koyote Ranch Resort, a rider favorite that also features small cabins and RV spaces. I met some folks at the campground who were motorcycle camping, an extended family that comes here on a regular basis. Today, they not only confirmed my list of roads to ride in the Hill Country, but also added to it. For lunch they recommended The Apple Store in Medina, where I ordered a sandwich in the enclosed picnic area out back. No sooner had I seated myself at one of the picnic tables than the official greeter, a calico cat by the name of Callie, approached me. She jumped up on the bench, took a liking to my jacket that I had folded beside me and soon fell asleep on it, curled up in a ball. The sandwich was good, especially followed by apple pie à la mode and some heavy purring from Callie.

The Three Sisters

Even the road signs in this fiercely independent state have an attitude.
Even the road signs in this fiercely independent state have an attitude.

One of the main motorcycle attractions recommended by virtually everyone is The Three Sisters—three scenic roads that are numbered 335, 336 and 337. The latter runs due west out of Medina, so when I said good-bye to Callie I turned the Victory west onto it. It’s quite a pleasant two-laner, climbing a hill here, overshadowed by trees there, crossing a river and occasionally offering a series of tight turns. I took it past Vanderpool and Leakey to Camp Wood where I headed north and was soon introduced to the second sister, Ranch Road 335 by name. She escorted me north and, to my right, I was astounded to see several kangaroos behind a high fence lying in the shade! And in the next fenced area were several African gazelles, the little ones with the racing stripes on the sides. Turns out that several ranchers have imported exotic animals from across the world and the public is invited to come in and sightsee.

Certain roads can be described as rollercoasters, and Ranch Road 335 is one of the truest to bear that name. It rises in a series of humps here, makes an abrupt turn at the top of a hill there, then plunges down, down, down…with another surprise at the top of the next hill. This twisted sister enthralled me as she kept me guessing until we reached State Route 41.

After a short few miles east on Route 41, I encountered Sister #3, also known as Ranch Road 336, which runs about 25 miles back south to the town of Leakey and completes the loop. In my opinion, it’s the lesser of the sisters, straighter than 335 yet still with a couple sections of decent curves, and not as much personality nor as pretty as 337.

Cypress trees line the Guadalupe River, which frequently crosses County Road 1340.
Cypress trees line the Guadalupe River, which frequently crosses County Road 1340.

As I pulled into town, I noticed signs by the high school stating that this was the home of the Leakey Eagles (don’t look up!). When I stopped at the local rider hangout, Bent Rim Grill, just a mile west of town on 337, I had to ask the guy at the counter for the pronunciation of the town’s name. Turns out it’s “Lake-y,” so there’s no worry about eagles with stomach trouble.

If you’re going to spend some time in Fredericksburg, take the short 9-mile ride over to Luckenbach, Texas, the town made famous by a song of the same name performed by Waylon Jennings. Locals had warned me about the town, saying, “Prepare to be underwhelmed,” and when I arrived…I was. We tend to think of a town as defined by having a certain minimum number of streets and buildings. Well, Luckenbach is essentially a bar, post office and dance hall, with an outdoor stage in the back and several picnic tables. It was a nice touch that a hen and chicks were pecking around outside the post office when I arrived. Visitors can order food, sidle up to the bar or stroll out back to a picnic table and listen to the music. This was a slow weekday evening, yet still there were a couple pickers ’n’ singers out back, and since it was slow the bartender joined them on the harmonica. Chickens roosted in the huge trees by the outdoor stage (don’t look up!), and I was able to talk with manager David Mann, who gave me some of the area’s history.

Water crossings are frequent in the Hill Country, and rushing water can be dangerous after a storm.
Water crossings are frequent in the Hill Country, and rushing water can be dangerous after a storm.

The town was originally named Great Creek in 1849, but around 1880 when it was supposed to get its first official post office it was discovered that there already was a town by that name in Texas. Instead, it was named for Carl Albert Luckenbach, who was engaged to a local woman. The dance hall was built during that same period, and the general store in 1890. The bar was added in 1905, but the original owner refused to hire bartenders, claiming he would lose more money to them drinking up the profits than he would make, so he served them himself.

A Touch of History

“Prepare to be underwhelmed,” was the warning I was given about Luckenbach, Texas, but the setting and music were appealing.
“Prepare to be underwhelmed,” was the warning I was given about Luckenbach, Texas, but the setting and music were appealing.

One of Fredericksburg’s native sons is Chester A. Nimitz, who served as an admiral with the United States Navy in the Pacific during WWII. Today, the Admiral Nimitz Museum is located in the hotel once owned by the Nimitz family, which has been restored to its original steamship façade. Adjacent to it is the National Museum of the Pacific War, and I spent much of a very interesting day touring these two facilities. One of the exhibits is an actual naval PT (Patrol Torpedo) boat, the 78-foot PT-309, which operated off New Guinea where it intercepted Japanese troop ships. Also on display is one of the five midget submarines that attacked Pearl Harbor. There is a great amount to see at these two fascinating museums.

Enchanted Rock

With 1,640 acres, Enchanted Rock State Natural Area draws countless visitors to its distinctive 425-foot-high dome of pink granite pluton rock. It is located in the Llano Uplift approximately 17 miles north of Fredericksburg, and 23 miles south of Llano. All campsites are primitive, accessible via either a short walk or a backpacking hike. The park offers seven miles of hiking trails, including the popular 0.6-mile Summit Trail, which involves a 425-foot elevation gain hike to the top of Enchanted Rock.

Other Area Features

The Hill Country provides sufficient curvy roads to keep any rider amiably entertained, along with tasty barbecue at the roadside restaurants.
The Hill Country provides sufficient curvy roads to keep any rider amiably entertained, along with tasty barbecue at the roadside restaurants.

To the north of Fredericksburg off State Route 16 is the town of Willow, where the Willow City Loop is a tight, two-lane road bordered by farmland that will have your big dresser running in mostly second or third gear. It’s all up and down hill, with frequent curves. Today’s entertainment was that I came upon four turkey buzzards feasting on some poor dead thing in the road, and I nearly nailed one as it lifted a little too slowly from the roadside carcass.

Music fans will love the Rockbox Theater at 109 N. Llano Street in Fredericksburg, an intimate venue that seats 392 and features a variety of local and visiting talent. The program is constantly changing and this night the crowd was treated to some local boys playing medleys of good ol’ rock-and-roll, with a mix of country, then three brothers performing cowboy music. This pleasant evening I heard everything from ZZ Top to Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson, George Strait, The Eagles and Tammy Wynette, with lots of humor and a moving tribute to our troops.

Finally, as if the riding and the named local attractions weren’t enough, Fredericksburg also features more than 30 vineyards and wineries, 20 art galleries and more than 300 B&Bs. Seems to me that many of the descendents of those disinherited Germans did pretty well for themselves. Now you go and enjoy yourselves.

Map by Bill Tipton/commpartmaps.com
Map by Bill Tipton/commpartmaps.com
The Bent Rim Grill, near Leakey, caters to riders with its motorcycle décor.
The Bent Rim Grill, near Leakey, caters to riders with its motorcycle décor.
This happy camper has just packed up after a stay at the Koyote Ranch, a campground, RV park and resort six miles north of Medina.
This happy camper has just packed up after a stay at the Koyote Ranch, a campground, RV park and resort six miles north of Medina.
This Japanese seaplane is on display at the National Museum of the Pacific War in Fredericksburg, which is next to the Admiral Nimitz Museum.
This Japanese seaplane is on display at the National Museum of the Pacific War in Fredericksburg, which is next to the Admiral Nimitz Museum.
The National Museum of the Pacific War also provides some very realistic battlefield settings.
The National Museum of the Pacific War also provides some very realistic battlefield settings.
Fenced cattle graze everywhere in the Hill Country, and are often seen along streams at water crossings. Watch out if those big boys get out by the road.
Fenced cattle graze everywhere in the Hill Country, and are often seen along streams at water crossings. Watch out if those big boys get out by the road.
Whew, those Texas jackrabbits can get mighty big! Oops, these hoppers are actually kangaroos visible at a ranch along Ranch Road 335.
Whew, those Texas jackrabbits can get mighty big! Oops, these hoppers are actually kangaroos visible at a ranch along Ranch Road 335.

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