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Blog of Bell Springs Winery
Depending on which direction a person is driving, Texas Hill Country marks the beginning or the end of the American Southwest. The area covers several cities in the middle of the state such as Austin, San Antonio and Fredericksburg. It is characterized by its unique mix of Spanish and German influences and a wide range of wildlife. There is almost always something going on, so expect to have lots of options when planning a weekend in this part of the state.
Grab the largest belt buckle you can find and head to Bandera for the annual Cowboy Mardi Gras. Bandera already has the reputation of being the Cowboy Capital of the World. Here people can immerse themselves in the cowboy lifestyle with rodeos, lodging at the dude ranch and country honky-tonk. The Mardi Gras celebration kicks it up a notch with costume contests for both human and dogs, live performances and the most delicious Gumbo Cook-Off outside of New Orleans. The three-day event includes a Mardi Gras Parade down Main Street.
Texas Hill Country is home to dazzling natural scenery. Sunsets often light up the rocks in hues of purple and pink, and patches of bright wildflowers pop up during the spring and fall. One of the best places to experience this is Enchanted Rock in Llano County. The rock is simply a large slab of pink granite, and its formation dates back to more than a billion years. The rock has played a role in Native American folklore. The Tonkawa tribe in particular attributed spirits to the creaking and groaning sounds commonly heard at night. Geologists later attributed the sounds to the rock contracting after releasing the sun’s heat. A very popular spot among hikers, this area has topped the list on the best campsites in Texas.
Families flock to the Schlitterbahn to escape the area’s summer heat. As the name suggests, this water park has a Bavarian theme. There are multiple locations, but the original opened in New Braunfels in 1979. It has expanded from its first design of just four waterslides to include thrilling rides and calm tube rides. The park is consistently rated one of the best water parks in the world, winning Amusement Today’s Golden Ticket award for 19 years straight.
Austin is both the state capital and the gateway into Hill Country. There are many things to do in the city, as it is known for its live music, food scene and technology start-ups. The city has a diverse and growing population. It recently reached more than 900,000 residents, with many expecting it to hit the 1 million mark by 2020. The city has a few major festivals such as South by Southwest and Austin City Limits. But a lesser known experience is right under the Congress Street Bridge. Every year, more than 1.5 million Mexican free-tailed bats emerge from the bridge at dusk. The event can take up to a half-hour as the animals travel for their nighttime search for food. The city has its own festival dedicated to the event going on 13 years now that includes live performances, food and a bat costume contest.
Go up, up and away at the annual Balloonapalooza in Sugar Hill, Texas. Thousands of people head to this festival to ride or just watch as the majestic hot air balloons fill the sky. The festival also has a carnival, arts and crafts and musical acts. There is a tethered balloon ride available for those nervous about flying, where the balloon’s pilot lifts to 50-70 feet in the air before returning to earth. The most popular event however is the night glow show. Each evening, the balloons fill the night sky and coordinate with music to create an enjoyable visual effect.
Built in 1878, Gruene Hall is the state’s oldest dance hall that’s still kickin’. The 6,000-square-foot hall has maintained its original design, and the walls are lined with advertisements from the 1930s. Expect to see a variety of acts every night representing blues, country and Americana. Many music icons have graced the stage, such as Willie Nelson and George Strait. Some of these performers even come back regularly to test the crowds on new material.
One of the best times to experience wildflowers in Texas Hill Country is at the annual Lavender Festival in Blanco. The flowers start to bloom in mid-May and continue until July, with the prime in mid-June. During the festival, lavender farms in the area open to the public and host a variety of activities. The Lavender Market at the Blanco County Courthouse is the highlight of the festival. Vendors and artisans flock the area with lavender merchandise and foods flavored with the plant. Speakers will give educational programs at the courthouse on how to plant and find various uses for lavender. The festival also features beer from Blanco’s Real Ale Brewing Company and wine from local wineries.