36 Hours of Adventure: Hills and Horns

The bull was less than pleased to see me approaching the edge of his fence. He snorted as I slowly knelt for the photo, and then proceeded to stare disapprovingly as my shutter clicked once and then twice. Lowering the camera to read the sign once more, a smile crept across my face. Prayer is the best way to meet the Lord, but trespassing on this property is faster… classic.

The Lone Star State is known for many things, but taking kindly to trespassers is not one of them. People who accidentally wander onto someone else’s property uninvited are encouraged to leave immediately, often by the business end of a firearm.  Needless to say, it pays to steer clear of private land in these parts. Trouble is, there’s very little land in Texas that isn’t private.

Between the constant creep of urban sprawl, the seemingly endless ranches and farms, and of course the oil claims, it’s tough to find two inches of dirt to explore. But over the years, we’ve found a stretch here and a few miles there on which to unwind. One of the more popular ones is just an hour west of Austin, and runs through the heart of the state’s hill country.

From its unassuming start just off of Highway 71, this graded road makes its way west towards the small town of Mason, before turning south for Fredericksburg. Along the way it crosses cool creeks running over loose sandy bottoms, snakes between rock cliffs, and winds over sandy washes. It lacks the technical allure of many traditional four-wheel drive trails, but its central location combined with the excellent food, breweries, and wineries of the cities that dot its length have made it a favorite among Texas overlanders.

We began this journey like so many others, with a late night arrival. It was the first opportunity we’d had to test out our IPF LED lights, and besides my barely acceptable aiming job, they did great. With cows and deer well avoided, we rolled into camp exhausted and ready for bed. There was no fire, no stories, not even a real camp set up. We just opened the tent and hit the sack.

Since we nearly buried our 4Runner in a sandy creek during out last jaunt down this route, we decided to air down to a cushy 25 PSI. Luckily our first creek crossing with the softest sand had been reinforced, but it didn’t take long to find the dirt we’d been hoping for.

We didn’t linger long at any of the ranches along our route, but occasionally we just couldn’t help but stop and appreciate the livestock. No matter how long you live in Texas, there’s something strange and interesting about seeing a longhorn, especially with horns this size. Just be sure to keep them at a good distance if they’re short tempered.

It may not be the most spectacular drive in the U.S., but the way this road winds through the hills has a unique beauty to it. It’s like you’re stepping back in time to see a landscape unchanged by the years, where cowboys still ride around the corner and tilt their hat.

 

The creeks were lower than we had expected and had been recently strengthened with layers of rock. Where our 4Runner had nearly buried its back end last time, our Excursion floated right on through. It certainly wasn’t as exciting, but it beat digging out our diesel beast. 

One of the most interesting parts of exploring the back country is finding old buildings, but I found more than I bargained for at the old barn pictured below. While snapping photos, the familiar sound of a rattle told me it was time to leave the home I had disturbed.  

It wasn’t long before the canyons and creeks gave way to wide open views and red dirt roads. The smooth trail rolling beneath our tires was dry and dusty, leaving clouds of silt to swirl and dance in the wind.

One of our many friends we made along the way. He enjoyed posing for pictures. 

I truly wish we could have witnessed this wash with flowing water. The rock structure was stunning, and filled with many tunnels and small waterfalls which cascaded further down into a deep pool.

As the sun dropped, the colors finally began to come out in the dry landscape. We made camp near some lush fields and began cooking our dinner: carnitas and pico de gallo with a Texas beer.  

We thought our meal smelled pretty good, but our neighbor seemed to disapprove.

 

With dinner complete and the sun sinking low, we zipped up our Foxwing and opened the BunduTec for the night. The evening colors in the sky were amazing, and our camp behind the crest of a hill gave us the perfect place to watch the show.

Unfortunately, our long night of rest was not to be. We slept soundly beneath the stars for hours until a forgotten phone alarm woke us both. With little time before dawn we dropped the tent and set out for one of Austin’s great breakfast cafes, our IPFs lighting the way.

Born and raised in Dallas, Texas, Chris didn’t receive a real taste of the outdoors until moving to Prescott, Arizona, in 2009. While working on his business degree, he learned to fly and spent his weekends exploring the Arizona desert and high country. It was there that he fell in love with backcountry travel and four-wheel drive vehicles, eventually leading him to Overland Journal and Expedition Portal. After several years of honing his skills in writing, photography, and off-road driving, Chris now works for the company full time as Expedition Portal's Managing Editor.

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