Trekking down Highway 29: A three-day Texas Road TripPosted by Eyeglass Dad on June 30, 2012
Three-day road trips are a winning vacation strategy for my family. These getaways are long enough to mentally escape daily routines, but require minimal packing and preparation. They also foster fewer expectations than longer trips and make it a little easier to simply appreciate experiences as they arise. Over the 4th of July last year, we trekked along Hwy 29 between Llano and Burnet. Llano itself is a worthwhile destination. From Llano, a scenic 30-minute drive east takes you to Longhorn Cavern, Lake Buchanan, and Canyon of the Eagles Park.
Located 30 miles north of Fredericksburg at the junction of Hwy 16 and Hwy 29, Llano is more kid-friendly and less commercialized than Fredericksburg. We like spending time on the banks of the Llano River that cuts the town in half. It’s a great place for finding interesting rocks, shells, and fossils — not to mention gold, if you’re lucky (and patient) enough. The Llano River remains a top site for current-day Texas prospectors. We had no problem gathering sandy silt flickering with gold dust, but we’ve yet to develop the panning skills needed to separate the two. We purchased our panning supplies in Llano.
Llano has a picturesque and strollable town square with eateries and specialty shops. Don’t miss Chrissy’s Homestyle Bakery just north of the river. It’s a short walk from the square (get there early!). Along the way you’ll find antique shops, a museum, and the old railroad yard. If you’re in the mood for barbecue, try Coopers a couple of blocks off the main drag. Llano offers several lodging options. We stayed at the Pinkerton House, one of several Railroad Yard Guest Houses located in heart of the city.
Off of Hwy 29, Park Road 4 dips and winds its way over to Longhorn Cavern. The cavern’s cultural history rivals its geological history. It was used during the Civil War as a Confederate stronghold where gunpowder was secretly manufactured. During Prohibition, when the cave was still in private hands, the large rooms were converted into a subterranean speakeasy where patrons sipped contraband cocktails and danced to big band music. Today, Longhorn Cavern still hosts scheduled “Concerts in the Cave.” On our trip, we enjoyed the music of Nathan Olivarez, a long-time Austinite and 12-string acoustic guitarist. The ghosts who supposedly inhabit the space also liked Nathan’s music, according to our tour guide, who swore he saw them bouncing around behind the artist during the concert.
As you travel along Park Road 4 back to Hwy 29, be on the lookout for Falkenstein Castle. This nine-story, over-the-top residence was built by a wealthy couple in 1996. As a private residence, it’s not open to the public, although it can be rented for weddings
Lake Buchanan / Canyon of the Eagles
We spent the morning of our second day on the Vanishing Texas River Cruise on Lake Buchanan. Don’t expect anything fancy, but you will have good opportunities to view the wildlife and scenery from the two-deck (partially enclosed) 200-passenger vessel. A tour guide provides an interesting history of the lake during the excursion. The boat stopped briefly at one of the small islands where Debi wound up in sinking ankle deep in quicksand (best Facebook post of the trip).
After the cruise, we drove a few miles and checked into the lodge at Canyon of the Eagles. This 940-acre nature park/resort, situated on the shores of Lake Buchannan, offers hiking, kayaking, canoeing, swimming, geocaching, and relaxing amid postcard-perfect surroundings. Once a month, the Austin Astronomical Society hosts star-gazing parties at the Eagle Eye Observatory in the park. We found the one restaurant in the resort to be well above average, and the views from the main dining area were spectacular. The rooms were comfortable and blessedly free of television. We drove back to San Antonio after spending most of the next morning kayaking on the lake.
If you want to extend your Hyw 29 adventure (or plan a separate trip), drive south to Kingsland and check into the Antlers Inn on Lake LBJ. This secluded retreat, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, gives you the option of staying in a restored Victorian hotel, a multi-bedroom cabin, or refurbished train car. We stayed in one of the comfortable cabins just off the waterfront and enjoyed complete privacy, expansive spaces for the kids to play, and lakeside wooded areas for hiking. We ate meals at Junction House Restaurant opposite the hotel.