The Austin Chronicle

Day Trips

By Gerald E. McLeod, April 23, 2004, Columns

Bluebonnets and barbecue make springtime in Texas special. The annual show of colorful wildflowers lining the roads accent some of the most scenic drives in the world, as if you needed an excuse to drive 60 miles or so to get succulent, smoked meats.

Generally speaking, the wildflower season stretches from March through May, but weather conditions can prolong or shorten the blooming season. Think of Texas as a big black-and-white picture with the paintbrush of spring spreading color across the state from the Southwest to the Northeast.

Finding the peak displays of wildflowers can be a hit or miss proposition without roadside assistance from someone like the Texas Department of Transportation's wildflower hotline (800/452-9292 or Mother Nature can be a fickle old gal, and gorgeous mixes of pastel colors can come and go as the miles roll past your windshield.

Fortunately, barbecue isn't as capricious as the blooms of wildflowers. Sure, a cook might have an occasional bad day or you get there too late for the choice cuts of meat, but a reputable dealer will seldom disappoint. Mix the two, and you have the makings of a weekend to remember.

Many connoisseurs claim that Llano is the epicenter of Texas barbecue. There is no shortage of culinary destinations in this small town with Kenneth Laird's Bar-B-Q Pit, 1600 Ford St. (TX 16); Cooper's Old Time Pit Bar-B-Que, 604 W. Young (TX 29); Brother's Bar-B-Que, 406 W. Young; or Inman's Kitchen & Catering, 809 W. Young, all within a few blocks of one another.

There is no shortage of scenic routes to get to Llano. TX 71 and TX 29 are the obvious choices, with TX 29 offering the most buena vistas. The beauty of FM 1431 on the northside of the Highland Lakes has been discovered by too many drivers who think the winding road is a racetrack. For short excursions, explore FM 2342 and Park Road 4 around Longhorn Cavern State Park.

To drive the road less traveled to Llano, head to Johnson City and then go west about 30 miles on FM 1323 from U.S. 281 north of town. There isn't much at Willow City anymore except Harry's on the Loop, an old-fashioned barbecue stand with a smoker in the back. From Harry's, take the county road to the right and drive the famous Willow City Loop: about seven miles of jagged canyons, lush creek beds, and pastoral pastures. Once you hook up with TX 16 at the end of the county road, head north to Llano if Harry's was just a snack or has sold out.

East of Austin, FM 390 is the only highway in the state to get both a scenic and historic designation. The 35-mile road begins at U.S. 290 at Burton and winds through Independence, where Sam Houston once lived and Baylor University was founded. Then the road drops down through William Penn to TX 105 just north of Brenham. There are lots of scenic backroads in Washington County to explore, but one that never disappoints is FM 1155 from Washington on the Brazos to Chappell Hill.

There are several good barbecue stands along U.S. 290, but Brenham has some of the best. Big Daddy's BBQ, TX 290 Bypass (FM 389) near Blinn College; Brazos River BBQ, 1503 S. Market; and Tex's Bar-B-Que, 4807 TX 105, all offer pit-cooked meats.

For most barbecue lovers, traveling the back roads north of Brenham usually leads to Navasota and Ruthie's Pit Bar-B-Q, 905 W. Washington (TX 105). Robb Walsh lists Ruthie's as one of his favorite stopovers in his fine book Legends of Texas Barbecue Cookbook. The old, red house beside the highway on the edge of town is typical of East Texas joints where the ambience is rustic and the food is first rate.

In spring it seems that colorful wildflowers line every highway, and every road leads to barbecue. For wildflower information around Brenham, call 888/273-6426 or visit For sightings in DeWitt County, "the wildflower capital of Texas," call 361/275-9942 or go to East Texas wildflower sightings are posted on, or to talk to a person call 903/757-4444. The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center posts sightings, what's in bloom, and other links on their Web site at

671st in a series. Day Trips, Vol. 2, a book of Day Trips 101-200, is available for $8.95, plus $3.05 for shipping, handling, and tax. Mail to: Day Trips, PO Box 33284, South Austin, TX 78704.

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