Saddle Up For Adventure In The Lone Star State

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by Richard Jones - 07 September 2018

Rugged mountain ranges, picture-perfect prairies and far-reaching forests – it's easy to see why people have flocked to Texas for the past three centuries. My wife Rachel and I sampled breath-taking scenery, as well as big city life, Tex Mex food, fascinating history and thrilling horseback adventure during seven days in the Lone Star State. 

Austin

We arrived in the Live Music Capital of the World, or the ‘Weird City’ as the locals call it, on a steamy Saturday afternoon. After picking up our car – a white Ford Explorer – from Hertz, we set off for an 80-minute drive south on the I-35.



San Antonio

Currently celebrating its 300th anniversary, San Antonio is home to the Alamo, a small compound that was the site of 200 settlers’ 13-day losing battle with Mexican Generalissimo Santa Anna’s troops in 1836 and is now a symbol of American and Texan defiance. And our base for the weekend was the Crockett Hotel named after the legendary Tennessean frontiersman, memorably played by John Wayne in the movie about the battle. We hopped on a City Sightseeing Bus which took us to some of the main tourist spots, including the Tower of the Americas, the Museum of Art and the Spanish Governor’s Palace. But for all the history and culture in San Antonio, what Rachel and I were really looking forward to was the food. We are both massive fans of Tex-Mex cuisine and the city is home to some of America’s best spicy, meaty and crispy dishes. Our favourites were the fajitas at the mariachi-sound tracked La Margarita on the vibrant Market Square, along with tacos at Cafe Ole and enchiladas at Iron Cactus on the River Walk.



San Marcos

A 30-mile drive back up the I-35 and we were at San Marcos Outlet Malls. There are two distinct outlet malls – the more upmarket Premium Outlets, featuring Abercrombie & Fitch, Victoria's Secret, The North Face and Kate Spade – and the Tanger Factory Outlet Center, featuring a Disney Store, Hollister, Levi's and Skechers. Both are great for picking up bargains and peace offerings for those loved-ones left behind at home.



Bandera 

When you mention Texas to most people, the first thing that springs to mind is cowboys and cowgirls. So fittingly, our next stop, after a pleasant drive across the TX-46 and Ranch Road 473 was the Cowboy Capital of the World, Bandera. We browsed the town's stores and picked out a couple of Stetsons, before selecting two juicy slabs of rib-eye steak from the town's Meat Market and heading to the famous 11th Street Cowboy Bar. Cowboys and cowgirls from all over the county threw meat on the fire-pit barbecues, danced along to live country and honky tonk music, and downed the local Lone Star beer.



Rancho Cortez

Our next destination was Rancho Cortez – a 250-acre dude ranch on Hay Hollar Road, 11 miles outside Bandera and deep in the heart of the Texas Hill Country. After checking into our room, Geronimo, wrangler Desree introduced us to our first trail horses – I was paired with the laid-back palomino Rascal, while Rachel got to know the energetic chestnut Playboy. During an exhilarating trail ride, we saw deer, jack rabbits and turkeys (thankfully no rattlesnakes!), before returning to the ranch where owner Larry Cortez gave us lessons on how to saddle a horse and rope a calf. He even convinced Rachel to get on a horse – but standing rather than sitting! Temperatures in Texas often get above 100 degrees Fahrenheit during the summer, so it was a godsend to able to jump in the pool prior to a singsong while toasting s’mores around the campfire.



Fredericksburg  

Our last couple of days in Texas were spent 50 miles north of the ranch at the beautiful Fredericksburg on the intersection of the TX-16 and the US-290. As its name suggests, the town has held onto its German influence since it was founded by Baron Otfried Hans von Meusebach in the mid-19th century. But Fredericksburg is also a forward-looking place and you can’t help but notice the growing number of vineyards in the area. We stopped off at Four Point for a wine-and-cheese pairing session with their jovial sommelier Jimmy (as the designated driver, I made good use of the spittoon!), before going behind the scenes of the brand-new Alstadt Brewery. However, for an authentic Texan experience, it doesn't get much better than enjoying a cold beer or lemonade under the oak trees while listening to music in the pickers circle at the legendary Luckenbach, made famous by the Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson song.



Enchanted Rock

In our Hertz car on the way back to Austin airport, we took advice from the locals and visited the Enchanted Rock State Natural Area a few miles up Ranch Road 965. After a hot and sweaty climb to the summit of the pink granite dome, we were rewarded with amazing views of Texas. From here, it was easy to see why settlers such as Meusebach wanted to make this place their home, and why the soldiers at the Alamo put their lives on the line to defend it.

To book your car hire in Texas, click HERE.

Richard Jones is an Editorial Writer for the Press Association and freelance travel journalist, specialising in adventure holidays and family breaks around Europe and the USA.

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