Texas Hill Country: Bluebonnets on Willow City Loop

Texas Bluebonnets Willow City Loop Hill Country Texas
Every Spring, Texas Hill Country comes alive with brilliant hues of blue everywhere you look. This magical springtime event brightens up every knoll and valley in almost everywhere in the Lone Star State. Alongside the roads, nestled beside Prickly Pear Cacti and tucked into rock crevices, they are everywhere you look! So, I took advice from the locals to go see the Texas Bluebonnets on the Willow City Loop.

Texas Hill Country Springtime Bluebonnets

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Guys + Flowers + Camera = NOPE!

Since Dan is not overly emphatic about stopping to take a photo of every little thing, I decided to go on this journey alone.  Don’t get me wrong, while he loves pretty flowers and beautiful views, he’s a guy. And guys just aren’t into ogling flowers for more than fifteen seconds.

And besides, Dan wanted to stay behind to do some much needed truck and RV maintenance done. Only days prior, we just returned from a month-long stay in the salty air of Galveston Island so it served both of our purposes for us each to get a little alone time.

One bright, warm, sunny Spring morning while we were parked in Castroville, Texas, I woke up early to go on a much needed solo ride in Texas Hill Country. I was set on a mission to see what all the hoopla was about the Texas Bluebonnets. I was told it’s something you have to see for yourself.

So, I rose with the sun, finished my coffee, and packed my motorcycle for a day ride. With my paper map and the sun on my face, I knew it was going to be a glorious day. I threw my leg over my Harley to ride my way up to the Willow City Loop from Castroville, TX. I meandered my way through the Cowboy Capital of the World Bandera, Kerrville and Fredericksburg, Texas.

About the Texas Bluebonnets

Since 1901, Texans have called the.                                                   Bluebonnet their official state flower.

The Bluebonnet is a name given to any number of species of the genus Lupinus. The beautiful blew flowers are predominantly found in southwestern United States. The shape of the petals on the flower resembles the bonnet worn by pioneer women to shield them from the sun.

On March 7, 1901, lupinus subcarnosus became the only species of bluebonnet recognized as the state flower of Texas. However, lupinus texensis emerged as the favorite of most Texans. So, in 1971, the Texas Legislature made any similar species of Lupinus that could be found in Texas the state flower.
As an extension of Lady Bird Johnson‘s efforts at highway beautification in the United States Highway Beautification Act.   She encouraged the planting of these native plants along Texas highways after she left the White House.
Today, the massive arrays Bluebonnet blooms are now a common sight along Texas highways and roads every Spring. They serve as a popular backdrop for family photographs and a photographer’s dream. So, you can see why seeing the Texas Bluebonnets was high on my bucket list.

More than a self-guided auto tour

I needed this ride. It was such a gorgeous, soulful day. I always waving to the farmers and ranchers on their tractors as they plow their fields.  It means Spring is finally here and the warm Texas sun will bless them with great bounty.  I noticed some of the fields were showing newly sprouted corn plantings rising through the small mounded dirt rows. Patches of colorful wildflowers along side the road led me into what looked like a page in a fairytale book. Unfortunately, stopping to take photos alongside the road was a no-go because there’s just no safe place to pull off and park my ride. So, I’ll just go with the memory to revisit it in my mind later.

Early Lunch in Bandera, Texas

I made my first pit stop in Bandera, the Cowboy Capitol of the World, to fuel up my motorcycle and get some good Texas BBQ at Sid’s BBQ. Sid’s is located on RT 16 right on the main drag downtown near the shops and business district. 

 

Once I got my plate, I kept admiring it before digging in. Holy moly, talk about meat overload!  I’ve come to expect that in Texas but they sure like their meat and lots of it!  It was nice to sit out on the picnic table with the warm sun on my back taking up a chat with some of the locals.



A couple local businessmen dressed in their cowboy business attire of cowboy hats, clean-pressed jeans, shiny boots and shirt with bolo tie sat on the benches of the picnic table beside me. Overhearing their conversations of Longhorn breeding, cattle sales and all that I have no clue about was my entertainment. But hey, that’s the life here in Bandera that you come to expect.

After finishing my carnivorous meal, it was time to saddle up and head down the road to see the real show.

Riding the Willow City Loop

Following RT 16 North all the way through Kerrville and Fredericksburg, which were quite busy as any small city is on a weekday, I noticed that I wasn’t the only one on this grand journey.  Tourist season in Texas Hill Country was in full swing.

Once I made it past the quaint German town of Fredericksburg (about 10 miles), I noticed a small sign pointing the way to the Willow City Loop. I turned right shortly after arriving in Eckert onto CR 1323.

Let me tell you, the town of Willow City is tiny. In fact, watch out if you sneeze because you’ll miss it! So, keep a lookout for that sign. Anyway, I turned left onto the Willow City Loop. Notably, there’s a road sign advising motorists and visitors to please be respectful and not trespass onto private properties and livestock ranches. Literally, the road passes right through the ranches.

What’s pretty cool is seeing the large prestigious looking cattle ranch gates along the way. This one is the Mark Harman Ranch. Lots of cash goes into these as there’s obvious camera surveillance and automated gates with secret passcodes that keep us out and whatever’s inside, in.

I do want to note here. Even though I mention that tourist season begins in the Springtime, I highly recommend going on a Monday instead of the weekends for obvious reasons. You’ll get better views and photography opportunities without having to be bothered by other tourists getting in your shots.

Boots and Bluebonnets…

Every once in awhile, I’d find myself a safe spot to park alongside the road so I could dismount and take in the view and grab some camera shots. Now, I admit, I’m an emotional person when it comes to seeing some of what nature has to offer. And this, was one of those epiphany moments. Literally, tears were rolling down my cheeks. I was in awe at the masses of endless trails of bluebonnets with sprigs of Texas Indian Paintbrush (the reddish-orange flowers).

I was getting to witness what 99.9% of the world’s population will never get to see in person. The flowers were as perfect as what you see in encyclopedia photographs and travel brochures.

At times, my solace was short-lived. Whenever other shutterbugs would arrive, it was my cue to move along. In moments like these, I prefer not to be around people. I want to take in the scenic beauty alone; no interruptions, no words, no screaming kids or conversation. It’s time to mount up and move along to the next peaceful stop.

The Bluebonnets stretched as long as I could see along the fence of this ranch.  THIS is what I had waited for; to see the Texas State Bluebonnets. It certainly didn’t disappoint.

It was mere perfection; not one deadhead nor wilted flower to be seen.  It looked like a blue carpet of flowers.

On the first leg of the Willow City Loop, there’s the notorious 486 acre Mark Harman Ranch. What’s unique about this particular ranch is each fence post hosts an upside down old cowboy boot (or cowgirl).  It’s a pretty cool photographic find.  I’m sure every boot has its own story; who wore them, where they came from and when they’re placed on each post.
If you’re lucky to have another nearby, It’s a great gesture to take each other’s photos next to the boots with the Bluebonnets on the other side. As the saying goes, ‘it didn’t happen unless there’s pictures’.

After about 15 minutes of taking a million photos (precisely the reason why Dan didn’t go), another 100 yards down the road is this. Selfishly, I kind of wished I had my own hat to leave my mark of my visit however, I certainly wasn’t giving up my $40 blinged Harley Davidson hat in my saddlebag.

Taking a few million other photos, it’s time to move on down the road because there’s still miles of Bluebonnets to see.  The best I could describe this road is that you see in storybook fairytales. Illustrations of roads painted with perfectly green grass and brilliantly-colored flowers. Willow City Loop feels like a magical place; a fairytale of my own.

By now, most would be ‘okay, we’ve seen enough, let’s go’ but not me. Those Bluebonnets were everywhere and as far as I could see. Some appeared as mass seas of blue in the far distance while closer, they’re like thick blue shag carpets. And yes, occasionally, there’s a red and orange Texas Paintbrush peppering the blue landscapes. Kind of like small sailboats with bright spinnakers on blue water.

I have to caution those who want to venture this way. Willow City Loop is not a fast road. Again, this road traverses through private property but also, with the short turn-offs and narrowness of the road, you have to be patient. You will encounter several grated cattle guards over brooks and streams. There may be an occasional rancher or farm tractor that isn’t in any hurry to get somewhere. So, I say politely, leave your New York or San Francisco back there. This is the Texas and the south. Life is slower here. Enjoy it…slowly.

Likewise, be mindful of other tourists or shutterbugs who may be suddenly stopping or pedestrians crossing the road.

In fact, I barely even got out of second gear most times.

Getting back to those ranch gates I talked about earlier. Some ranch gates are big iron-clad poles suspending ornamentation with family names overhead. While they’re quite elaborate, there were simpler gates that are more humble in appearance. But they all have one thing in common, no matter of size or ornamentation, they all have Bluebonnets growing wild at their every entrance.

What was only a few-mile loop, I made into an all-day ride. Stopping every few hundred yards, I’d take it all in and of course, take a million more photos. Because it’s a place I’ll visit only once and a place I want to share like here in our blog.

 

There’ small hill that overlooks the valley below. It literally looks like a small lake or pond reflecting the blue sky above. But instead, that blue is the millions of Texas Bluebonnets.

I couldn’t help taking photos of some interesting native Prickly Pear Cactus amidst the Bluebonnets alongside the road. Each has it’s place and funny, how each doesn’t discriminate the other. I hope you enjoy the following nature shots I found on my journey.

…and of course, some other native Texas wildflowers.

Check out these perfectly-shaped White Poppies basking in the sunshine.

But still, the Texas Bluebonnets steal the show! Because they’re everywhere!

 

After taking what seems to be a zillion photos, I noticed my shadow was on the other side of me which meant I was on the other side of noon. I needed to make some headway getting back to Castroville before sunset. Hill Country is also known for big game animals as well.

Speaking of animals

I didn’t get a few hundred yards further down the Willow City Loop and this happened.  This big heifer cow literally bolted right in front of me to get to the creek bed on the other side of the road. Another reason to drive or ride slow on this road.

I actually giggled to myself thinking, “whew, those large critters start tormenting motorists early.”  My Harley engine must have spooked her to bolt like she did.  I almost forgotten that this road IS on ranch land.

After gathering my composure and making sure I got photo evidence for this story, I rode another few miles to a decent size pull-off. There’s another motorcyclist parked taking photos of the sky to his right. Inquisitive at what he was photographing, I looked in the direction where he was pointing his camera and thought to myself, “WOW!” And of course, I just had to stop and to take the photos also.

What we were taking photos of are spires looked like stone castle turrets. It was something I certainly didn’t expect to see in the Texas. But then again, the secrets of Hill Country remain to be seen but for those who will slow down and pay attention.

After only a hundred photo shots later and mounting up again, my journey around the Loop was almost complete. I was nearing the end of the loop back to Route 16.  I was thinking, “NOW I REALLY need to get moving!!” because the sun started hiding behind some of the trees.

But wait! I was looking down the highway only to finish my quest and proof that I rode the Willow City Loop.


 

 Finally, I turned left to head home back to Castroville on Route 16.  I left only footprints.  But I took with me this beautiful memory that will be etched in my mind forever.  I can now say, “I got to see the Texas Bluebonnets”.
I didn’t know who’s smile was bigger; mine or the sun’s that day.  It was just me, my bike, a crinkled up roadmap and the sun to steer by.

Texas Hill Country Willow City Loop Bluebonnets

Road notes and advice

If you’re wanting to enjoy this amazing photographic journey yourself, plan ahead and heed my advice:

      • Take this self-guided auto tour during the early days of the week to avoid crowds and traffic.
      • If you’re allergic to bees, bring your EpiPen. Or, stay in the car. Or, don’t go and just enjoy my writing here with the photos. 
      • Be aware that Rattlesnakes love to nap within the flowers. So, even though you see those photos of babies, kids and lovers plopped down in the middle of the Bluebonnets. Don’t be irresponsible and careless; for you and them. Rattlers win all…the…time! The closest hospital is an hour away and even then, anti-venom is probably farther away.
      • Do not enter the Bluebonnet patches or fields not just because of the Rattlers but also, standing, kneeling and sitting on them breaks the stems and eventually kills the flowers. For every Bluebonnet damaged or killed, it means those flowers will not be able to seed or propagate creating more plants. So yea, don’t traipse through the flowers. They are meant to be looked at; not mangled and killed.
      • Be respectful of the landowners, wildlife and livestock as well as fellow tourists. Watch for pedestrians and bicyclists. In fact, be vigilant of anything that could move.
      • Be patient! Again, this is not a fast road. Enjoy the beauty and nature at a slow pace. You’ll get more satisfaction and score millions more photos.

I hope you enjoyed coming along my journey to see the Bluebonnets on the Willow City Loop. If and when you’re visiting Texas Hill Country in the Springtime, put this on your bucket list!

One Reply to “Texas Hill Country: Bluebonnets on Willow City Loop”

  1. Thank you for sharing your beautiful bluebonnet trip. I've never actually seen bluebonnets. but through your pictures,
    I now have an appreciation for how lovely these seas of blue are.

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