Hill Country Beauty Amidst the Thorns

Photograph: William Ervin. Sunrise over Texas Bluebonnets


The Texas Hill Country is a blending of diverse cultures, all woven into a single thread that tied Texas together. The Germans left their unmistakable accent on Brenham and New Braunfels and Fredericksburg, where Wurstfests, Sangerfests, and Schutzenfests are as common as bluebonnets in the fields.

The Wends left their traditions in Serbin and the Polish in Panna Maria. Czechs still serve up kolaches and koblase sausage in West. Refugees from the Canary Islands founded Floresville. And the French left a trace of the Alsace in Castroville.

Throughout the heartland are crumbling ruins of old forts scattered like weathered gravestones on a troublesome prairie. Hills rise up with broad, strong shoulders above the Texas backbone, a chunk of old-time Western legacy as solid as the pink granite beneath its scrawny soil.

Pioneers fought to own it. Farmers came to plow it. Ranchers brought their cattle and sheep to a landscape where it takes fifty acres to support a single cow. A U. S. President, Lyndon Johnson, left is mark beside the Pedernales River, watching it twist its way between Stonewall and Johnson City.

Severe canyons slice through juniper flats. Winding rivers slip reverently beneath the aching limbs of knock-kneed cypress. And the chain of Highland Lakes – Travis, Buchanan, LBJ, Inks, Marble Falls, Austin, and Canyon – quench the thirst of a sun-spackled countryside. Goats graze slopes too steep for man to stand. Whitetail bucks dart back into cedar breaks. And wild pigs tramp the marshes.

An old cowboy looked out over the bluebonnets, Indian paintbrush, and clover – the purple, orange, and red haze that ran up and down the rugged hill country – beauty amidst the thorns.

“This land ain’t worth a plugged nickel,” he told me “About all you can raise on it is rocks and a little cain now and then.”

He paused and sighed.

“It’s poor,” he admitted, “and too dadgummed hard to even leave a footprint.”

He smiled.

“But ain’t it pretty,” he said.

He bent low toward the sundown and slowly shuffled away. There were no footprints behind him to even prove he had ever come to or from the valley that separated Kerrville from the ranches that were calling him back to Bandera.


Caleb Pirtle III is author of Other Voices, Other Towns, 


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  • Truly spectacular, Caleb! Great story.

    • The Hill Country is the mythical Texas.

      • So I’ve heard. After seeing my first pictures of Texas taken somewhere in the panhandle with angora goats perched on boulders, the scene looking like something from the surface of the moon, I was glad to hear there was a region like the hill country. Everyone deserves a little beauty.

  • Jenny McCutcheon

    Challenging images of a diverse landscape. But what else can I expect from a state that is larger than most countries?

    • Unfortunately, you have to drive hundreds of miles to get from one beauty spot to another.

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