Day Trips

The Mason County Courthouse in Mason stands as a quiet testament to the settlers who carved a living out of the rugged Blue Mountain Range of the northern Hill Country.

The courthouse, built in 1909, is at the intersection of US87 and TX29, and is the anchor of the business district. Beneath the quiet exterior of the town is an economy that serves the locals yet does not overlook visitors - after all, deer hunters have been a steady source of income to ranchers for years - but it wasn't always that way.

The county was part of the land grant sold to the German immigrant society that settled New Braunfels and Fredericksburg. Unfortunately, the land was not suited for the European farmers - and the area between the Llano and San Saba rivers was also claimed by the Comanches.

By 1850, settlers were spilling into the territory under the enticement of cheap land; 50cents an acre or less. With the white settlers, came the U.S. Army and Fort Mason. The fort was a part of a line of military outposts stretching from the Red River to the Rio Grande.

The post was commanded by future generals Albert Sidney Johnston and John Bell Hood, and was the last command in the U.S. Army for Robert E. Lee before he returned to Virginia and history's fate.

When the post was abandoned during the Civil War, many residents used the dark red sandstone blocks from the fort for homes, barns, and fences, and thus a reconstructed building of old Fort Mason overlooks the Hill Country south of the courthouse at Post Hill and Rainey streets.

Finding food in Mason can be the most difficult part of your visit; for a town of over 2,000 there are surprisingly few restaurants. Zavala's Cafe north of the courthouse on US87 is their most popular eatery, with a menu that offers Mexican food as well as steaks and burgers.

There is also a Cooper's Barbecue (affiliated with the Cooper's in Llano) on US87 south of the courthouse. A bakery on the courthouse square sells sandwiches until 5pm, and there is a Dairy Queen on the north side of town. Only two grocery stores and three convenience stores serve the town.

Mason County, especially around the tiny community of Grit, is the only place in the state where topaz, the state gem, can be found. Two ranches west of town allow topaz hunting for $10 a day, and the Seaquist Ranch also allows camping.

South of town, the Eckert James River Bat Cave erupts with the nightly emergence of one of the largest bat colonies in the state. Viewing the bats is free from mid-May to mid-October.

For locals, one of the favorite swimming holes in the area is the low-water crossing of the Llano River on Ranch Road 2389 south of town. Exploring the country roads is another popular pastime in the area. Mixed among the breathtaking scenery, watch for the abundant wildlife and rock fences and ranch buildings built by early settlers.

Finding lodging in Mason can be relatively simple, except in November through January when hunters fill the town. There are over a dozen bed and breakfast establishments in the area; accommodations range from converted mansions and motels to working ranches.

Antiques are a major industry in town. At Country Collectibles on US87 north of the courthouse, what looks like a junk shop is really a treasure chest of collectibles and the unusual. You can also buy topaz here, and view the largest topaz (the size of an egg) ever found in the area.

The chamber of commerce office across the street from the courthouse (915/347-5758) has information on lodging, food, and attractions in the area.

Coming up this weekend...

125th Anniversary is reason enough to celebrate in Round Top with a fall festival, Sept. 30. 409/278-3530.

Jail House Cell-abration begins the new incarnation of La Grange's 1883 jail as a visitors' center, after 102 years of being the County Crossbars Hotel. The town square will be blocked off for a weekend of shopping, food, and music, Sept. 29-Oct. 1. 800/LA GRANGE.

Coming up...

Octoberfest at Walburg Restaurant & Biergarten is a special time with the annual all-you-can-eat specials and live music every Friday-Sunday night in October Reservations recommended. 512/863-8440.
- Gerald E. McLeod

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More Day Trips
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