En route to New Orleans for Jazz Fest, I set my course for Fredericksburg, Texas and the Texas Hill Country. I never heard of Fredericksburg until it was recommended by a full-time RVing friend and Texan. (Thanks, Kathy!) It was going to be a long drive from Roswell, New Mexico, but I was especially motivated when I consulted a map; Luckenbach, Texas is just a couple of miles from Fredericksburg.
If you ask me, there are no finer lyrics written than the intro verse of the tune, “Luckenbach, Texas (Back to the Basics of Love):”
“The only two things in life that make it worth livin’, are guitars to tune and good and firm-feelin’ women.”
The song has always appealed to me, due to the perfect alchemy of Waylon and Willie and lyrics and melody, but even more so now, since I simplified my life and exited the rat race. To say I was excited to go to Luckenbach is a gross understatement.
DEEP IN THE HEART OF TEXAS
Roadside wildflowers were just beginning to bloom in hues of red and blue as I drove through the Hill Country. At road stops and gas stations, men looked at me quizzically, followed by fascination when they realized I was driving the rig by myself. Some smiled and waved.
Everything really is bigger in Texas. RV Parks proliferate. Ranch decor and design stores sell larger-than-life windmills, cow statues and wagons for vast properties.
Something of mine got a lot bigger, too: my hair. The culprit? Humidity. My grandfather T.Z., a native Mississippian, called it “The Huma-ditty.” Unfortunately, along with volume came frizz. Ain’t I pretty?
JEWEL OF THE TEXAS HILL COUNTRY
Driving into Fredericksburg, it is easy to see its German roots in the architecture and layout of the town.
Fredericksburg was founded by immigrants in 1846. The Main Street, Hauptstrasse, teems with gift shops, bars, and restaurants. There are 600 places to eat in this little town and its environs. Many of the shops occupy former residences known as “Sunday Houses,” built by farmers to spend the night in town for worship and commerce.
As I sat outside at Vaudeville feasting on burrata and carpaccio, a retired Texas Ranger wearing a sidearm solicited money on the sidewalk from passersby for a memorial. Welcome to Texas!
Fredericksburg is the hometown of Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz, and The National Museum of the Pacific War is located there.
The Hill Country is wine country. There are 46 wineries in the area, including quite a few on the drive between Fredericksburg and Stonewall, home of the LBJ Ranch. At Inwood Estates I sampled the 2008 Magellan with a plate of pulled pork barbecue.
AIN’T NOBODY FEELIN’ NO PAIN
All set up at the RV park, I headed to Luckenbach as the sun set for a little live music. (I returned the next day in the sunlight to take some photos, and some of them are included here.)
The Luckenbach family settled the area in the 1850s. A short drive on the curvy Ranch-to-Market Road 1376 leads you to the practical ghost town, purchased for $30,000 in 1970 by Hondo Crouch when there was a dance hall, a post office/general store, and eight residents. It was then that Hondo decreed himself “Clown Prince,” and “Everybody is Somebody in Luckenbach.”
The post office closed in 1971. Jerry Jeff Walker recorded a live album at the dance hall in 1973, Hondo died unexpectedly of a heart attack in 1976, and THE song was recorded by Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson in 1977. Nowadays Luckenbach is home to free spirits, music seekers, motorcycle riders, and curious tourists.
I pulled into Luckenbach as it was getting dark, and the little general store lit up like a beacon in the night.
I paid my respects at Hondo’s bust and took a look around.
It was a Tuesday night, so the dance hall was empty,
but there was some picking going on in the bar at the back of the general store. Two guitarists played sitting at a table. I ordered a glass of wine and grabbed a stool for a listen.
This was more of a sing-along than a performance. The bartender sat in on many of the tunes. Everyone tapped feet and joined in. I figured it was too much to hope for to hear THE song, but two tourists older than me and with southern accents made a request for it.
“Better them than me,” I thought, expecting disdain, scoffing and eye-rolling from the locals. Instead, the two guitarists dove right in with glee, all of us singing. I had tears in my eyes.
On the way home, I experienced what can only be called a Big Ass Texas Storm. The windshield wipers could not keep up, despite their break-neck speed. There was thunder and lightning and sheets of water on the low-lying roadway, as I passed signs warning of wash-outs. I was very relieved to get back to the rig. In the short walk from the car the front door, I was drenched.
At the RV park the next morning, I was the recipient of southern hospitality when invited to coffee by Betty Boudreau, a Fredericksburg native and full-time RV park resident who approached me in the gravel lot wearing her housecoat and slippers. She saw the graphics on the rig and invited me over. She highly recommended a tour of the LBJ Ranch: “I never liked that LBJ much. I always thought he was a bleeding heart liberal, until I heard he started Medicare.” (Betty apparently overlooked the finer points of the federal social program.)
LBJ RANCH – “THE WESTERN WHITE HOUSE”
If you are a fan of post-apocalyptic storytelling, whether in the form of graphic novels, books, movies, or television, the protagonists must find a safe place to stay. Rick Grimes and his crew on “The Walking Dead” lived in a prison. On “The Last Man on Earth” starring Will Forte, the group lives in a mansion on a cliff in Malibu (Spoiler Alert: Will is not the last man on Earth!).
On this voyage of discovery, I realized a peculiar thing about myself: When I tour homes, I assess a property’s usefulness in the event of a complete breakdown of society. Are there adequate supplies? Can it be protected from marauders? I have dubbed this SQUAT – Suitable Quarters After Turmoil.
You would be hard – pressed to find a better SQUAT than the LBJ Ranch, also known as “The Western White House.”
LBJ was born there, and both he and Lady Bird are buried there. Johnson spent 25 percent of his presidency at the ranch. The house is 8,000 square feet and has 28 rooms. The Pedernales River runs through the property, and I saw many people fishing along sections that were not part of the state or national parks.
Six hundred of the 2800 acres were gifted to the National Park Sevice. The ranch is still a working cattle ranch, and on the drive to the house I stopped for Herefords on the road.
The airstrip adjacent to the house brought LBJ and his dignitaries via “Air Force One-Half,” a smaller plane that was able to land there.
Visitors now use the airstrip for parking.
Plentiful beef and fish, an airstrip, plane, safety and security measures left behind by the secret service – The Western White House ranks 10 out of 10 on the SQUAT Scale!
Say what you will about LBJ, especially as it relates to the Vietnam War, but in his five-year presidency over 5000 pieces of legislation were passed, including the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The only president who surpassed that amount of legislation was FDR, who served four terms.
And Lady Bird was a gift to the nation. She had a great sense of humor, too.
SO LONG, FOR NOW
On my last night in town I sojourned to Hondo’s On Main (owned and operated by Hondo’s daughter) for live music and a charity event for cancer research.
Gentlemen held doors open for me, and one insisted that I order a drink at the bar before he did, even though he had been standing there quite a bit longer. I grabbed my drink and Texas fried chicken plate and sat at a picnic table under the oak trees outside, listening to several local bands play country music from a gazebo stage.
Mothers twirled children in front of the stage as couples two-stepped around them. It was a perfect and fitting end to a restful trip to the Hill Country. I’ll be back when I visit Austin.