This past Memorial Day weekend, my Better Half and I took a trip to the Texas Hill Country to see some of the sights we’d had on our “Texas To Do” list for some time.
I’d never done the Vanishing River Cruise on Lake Buchanan and the Colorado River or visited Longhorn Caverns. We also wanted to see Inks Lake and visit some wineries.
We set off without a firm itinerary or even a hotel reservation. Not a good idea on Memorial Day weekend, we discovered, as we arrived in Burnet only to find every hotel and motel room booked.
We drove around Lake Buchanan. Same story at the resorts and cabins. Inks Lake State Park was packed, too.
Finally, we ended up in Llano about 25 miles to the west. I’d liked the look of the town when passing through on previous trips to Fredericksburg, but had never stayed there.
Our lack of planning proved to be fortuitous because Llano turned out to be such a cool place to visit. I found myself drawing lots of comparisons between the town and Glen Rose and thinking about what made a destination attractive to visitors — and what keeps them coming back.
Llano, the county seat, is a bit larger than Glen Rose, with a population of more than 3,200.
But both towns have a river running through them. The Llano River is a lot wider than the Paluxy and the bridge over it is much higher and longer. It's a beautiful 1930s-era truss structure with four spans and a cantilevered pedestrian walkway with lattice railings on each side. The Roy Inks Bridge — named for a former mayor of Llano — was built after a catastrophic 42-foot flood surge demolished the previous bridge, the remnants of which remain in the river bed.
The Glen Rose Economic Development Corporation has been discussing the options for constructing a pedestrian bridge over the Paluxy to link downtown with Heritage Park and the Riverwalk. After crossing the Llano River on the pedestrian bridge, I was convinced that was a good thing. I wouldn’t have wanted to be walking on the narrow sidewalk, facing cars and trucks on the state highway. It also was nice to stop along the way, admire the scenery and take photographs.
Both towns boast well-known barbecue shrines. Cooper’s in Llano is a destination eatery, famous for its pit-style barbecue where diners choose their meat from big black smoking pits and dine inside on long tables and benches.
It was good, but I couldn’t help drawing comparisons with Hammond’s, the Ranch House and the Loco Coyote and concluding that I like the ribs at all three of Glen Rose’s eateries much more than Cooper’s. The same goes for the smoked turkey. Llano has several other 'cue restaurants.
Again, we're so fortunate in a town of our size to have three good places for barbecue as well. I found Llano lacking, though, in the variety of restaurants. And only two were open for breakfast on Memorial Day.
Strangely enough, when I picked up a copy of the Llano County Journal, I discovered that a former editor I worked with at the Dallas Times Herald, Roy Bode, is the editor and publisher of that paper. It’s a small world, indeed.
Downtown Llano also has a courthouse square lined with shops, service businesses and restaurants. Unfortunately, only one was open on Memorial Day. I know it’s hard for shop owners to stay open on a holiday, but we were disappointed that more places weren’t available to explore.
I'm sure some visitors to Glen Rose often feel that way on holidays, but I know shopkeepers need a day off, too.
Like Glen Rose, Llano has several nearby state parks — Inks Lake, Enchanted Rock and Longhorn Caverns — as well as lakes and lots of natural scenery. Llano bills itself the Deer Capital of Texas; Glen Rose is the Dinosaur Capital.
At Longhorn Caverns, I heard many foreign languages being spoken. The same thing goes at Fossil Rim Wildlife Center.
And like Glen Rose, Llano is experiencing growth in new residents but not a lot of growth in business or industry. Ranching and tourism are the biggest economic forces and we all know that both industries have suffered in recent years.
Both towns also have attracted artists. According to the Llano Chamber of Commerce, about 20 artists work there in mediums ranging from clay, fabric, glass, iron, jewelry, leather, metal, paint, photography, wood and more. Rather than hold a monthly Art Meander, as Glen Rose does, Llano stages an annual Llano Art Studio Tour, one of the rare times when artist studios are open to the public, the last Saturday in March. Maybe that’s an idea we should think about “borrowing.”
All in all, I came away viewing Llano and Glen Rose as kind of Hill Country “bookends.” Both have a lot to offer tourists and residents alike and I've been lucky enough to experience the best of both those worlds from the perspective of a visitor in one and a resident in the other.