Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Texas Hill Country

After our week-plus in Houston and Beaumont, we set out for Boerne, Texas, on the evening of Monday, November 5. Boerne is north of San Antonio, in Texas’s Hill Country region, and it’s where our friend Tim lives. We worked with Tim at NetIQ, and he left the company around the same time as we did. But instead of staying in the software industry, Tim decided to study art and enrolled in the University of Texas, San Antonio. Now he lives on Majestic Ranch in Boerne and drives to San Antonio for classes two days a week as he finished his degree.

The story of Majestic Ranch is interesting. A group of businessmen bought the Majestic Theater in San Antonio, which had historic value but had been unused for years. They renovated it and eventually sold it for a profit, which they then decided to put into a non-profit organization supporting the arts. They bought a ranch, renamed it the Majestic Ranch, and built a couple of cabins for visiting artists. Soon they added an art school, and now several classes are taught there.

Tim found out about it through one of his art professors, Roxy, who’s the foundation’s administrator. Now he works for the ranch, doing various jobs – computer work, general handyman work, etc. In exchange, he gets to stay in a cabin on the ranch. When Tim described it as a cabin, we were expecting a one-room rustic cabin with kerosene lamps. But no, he has a large, open kitchen / living room, a nice-sized bedroom and bathroom, and an art studio. What’s more, the cabin is at the top of a hill with gorgeous views (at least, as Texas goes) of the surrounding hills.

The walls are largely decorated with the art that Tim has produced for his classes. Although he doesn’t give himself much credit, he’s clearly very talented. He’s done an especially great job with portraits of friends and acquaintances – he has a great talent for capturing the nuances of a person’s facial features and expression.

Another piece of art the result of an assignment was to draw an everyday object made of extraordinary materials – Tim chose to draw a wicker toilet. And here’s a self-portrait that Tim made of cardboard:

Tuesday was a quiet day, since Tim was in classes. On Wednesday morning, we walked around the ranch, got to see the studios and the darkroom, and met a few of the other folks on the ranch. We headed into downtown Boerne for a delicious lunch at Maggie’s, a Mexican restaurant that’s apparently a favorite of George Strait, who lives on a ranch somewhere in the general area. Then we walked around Boerne, searching (in vain, as it turned out) for Boerne postcards to send to friends. After we returned to the ranch, we took a long walk around the property – it’s 500 or 600 acres, so there’s a lot of ground to cover! We saw a deer and a lot of signs of cows – apparently, there are about six cows being raised on the property, but you’d guess it was more like 60 from the amount of manure! Along the way, we debated global warming, and Tim told stories of all of the poisonous and otherwise dangerous creatures he’d encountered on the property.

Then we headed to Wurstfest, a German festival in New Braunfels, Texas. We ate bratwurst, of course, and watched a four-tuba band. Then we danced the polka, swing, and the ubiquitous chicken dance. Beer was $25 a pitcher, so we passed on that, and instead we made brownies a la mode when we got home and accompanied them with bottles of beer. Delicious!

Thursday, we said our goodbyes and drove to Dripping Springs, Texas, which is outside Austin and is famous for the Salt Lick Barbecue, an all-you-can-eat meat-fest. We were going to meet a friend for barbecue, but we got into town about three hours early, so we looked around for something to do. We happened to find Heritage Park, a nice town park which turned out to contain a historic house known as the Pound House. The sign said it was open until 3:00 three days a week, including Thursdays, and it was only 2:50, so we walked up. We were greeted by a very friendly woman named Mary Ann, who proceeded to show us around the property.

Dr. Pound and his family were the first settlers of Dripping Springs, and he built his house, a simple log cabin, in the 1850s. He started a successful physician practice, serving the area for many miles around. Over time, he added on to the house, and it was occupied by his family and descendents into the 1980s. Then it was donated to the town of Dripping Springs, on the condition that it be turned into a museum. Because the house was continuously occupied for so long, many of its early contents remain, including much of the original furniture, kitchen gadgets, and Dr. Pound’s physician tools.

The house had some interesting innovations, such as a cistern that caught the rainwater so Mrs. Pound didn’t have to go down to the river to get water. In fact, she didn’t even have to go outside – she could just open a kitchen window and dump a bucket directly into the cistern! There was also a breezeway running down the middle of the house to keep it cool.

A parlor-type room contained a piano, an organ, and a variety of small pieces of furniture. We commented that even though the room was small, it seemed spacious because the furniture was also small – a living room of that size today would be stuffed full with a sofa and loveseat. Mary Ann said the furniture had to be small because the room was used for so many different purposes – entertaining, town meetings, dances – and depending on the use, the furniture had to be rearranged or pushed aside, so it had to be small and movable.

Mary Ann informed us that there was a campground right across the street from the Salt Lick. We didn’t know where we were going to stay that night, so a campground across from the Salt Lick sounded great – we could eat barbecue, drink wine, and walk home! She told us that it was actually one of the oldest operational Civil War reunion sites. Apparently during a certain time each year, descendants of Civil War soldiers get together and do whatever one does at a Civil War reunion – reminisce, dream of the day when the South will rise again, whatever. But the rest of the year, the site is a public campground. So we headed over there after the Pound House and found a campsite.

When it was time to meet our friend Lee, we went over to the Salt Lick and cracked open a bottle of wine. The Salt Lick is in a dry precinct, so you can’t buy liquor at the restaurant although you’re welcome to bring your own.

When Lee arrived, we headed in and admired the barbecue briefly:

Then we began the feast. Plate after plate of delicious Texas barbecue came to our table – brisket, sausage, ribs. There were some dinner rolls, potato salad, and beans somewhere on the table, but we only had eyes for the meat, covered with the Salt Lick’s delicious sauce – the version with habaneros for Brian and the version without for Sarah.

When we couldn’t eat anymore, we said goodbye to Lee and headed back to our campsite. It was only 8:30 or so, but we fell asleep pretty quickly. Then in the middle of the night, a loud voice and bright lights woke us from our slumber – someone was invading our campsite! As the voice continued talking loudly and as we gradually woke up, we realized that he was the caretaker for the campground and just wanted us to pay for our site. Signs at the front of the campground said that we should pay the caretaker (rather than self-registering, as is common in public campgrounds), and we had assumed that he’d just drop by in the morning, but no, he came by at 10:30 at night for his $10. He was quite friendly, and we fell right back asleep after he left, but boy, did he give us a start!

We took a picture of our new tent, after its first night as our new home:

After that, we drove on out of Texas, to Texarkana and into Arkansas.

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