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For a restful weekend retreat, it would be hard to top the Red Corral Ranch. The rambling 1,100-acre spread—which lies halfway between Wimberley and Blanco in one of the prettiest and most solitary stretches of the Hill Country—boasts an organic farm, nature trails, and an abundance of wildlife. Only a herd of grazing cattle noted our arrival at the Red Corral, lowing when we swung open the ranch gate. Hand-painted signs led us along a rocky dirt road to Stillpoint Cabin, a secluded cottage in the woods where a vase of lilies and just-baked banana-walnut bread awaited us. The tiny pine-and-cedar cabin was decorated simply with Mexican blankets and illuminated by the ample sunlight that streamed in its windows, with a wood-burning stove for cooler nights. After unpacking, we took a leisurely walk through the woods, following a trail that wound past wildflowers, prickly pear, and a golden-cheeked-warbler habitat, where two white-tailed deer bounded across our path. Upon our return, we grilled dinner on the cabin’s hibachi and settled in for the evening with a bottle of wine, watching from our porch’s rocking chairs as the sun dipped below the horizon. We did not see a soul until the next afternoon, when we drove to the Limestone Lodge, the ranch’s elegant headquarters, where guests may also spend the night. (On advance request, meals using ingredients from the Red Corral’s organic farm are prepared here for an additional fee.) White peacocks strutted about the grounds, which include a swimming pool, ornamental gardens, and a meditation labyrinth, based on the original at Chartres cathedral in France. We left relaxed and restored, regretting only that we could not stay longer. PAMELA COLLOFF
Light years from dallas—actually, about a two-hour drive east—Cooper Lake is a wonderfully wild aberration in the world of Texas lakes. You’ll find no private development—no tract mansions, no marinas, no bait shops—marring the waterfront; every inch of shoreline is claimed by either the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department or the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. What you will find at Cooper Lake State Park are tidy facilities for campers, a secluded RV park, an enclave of screened shelters, ten miles of trails for horseback riding, and the fifteen spanking-clean Pecan Ridge Cabins.
Since we gave up sleeping on the ground years ago and are (I hope) a couple of decades from catching motor-home fever, Richard and I checked into one of the cabins after picking up our key at park headquarters. It was a chilly April afternoon. A steady north wind was launching whitecaps across the 19,000 acres of water, so we hunkered down in our temporary home with good books, cranked up the central heat, and listened to the gale howl. Although the cabins are clustered together, ours, nestled in thick woods, felt completely private. We were blissfully free from the distractions of telephone or television, and thanks to the wind and our midweek timing, the only anglers braving the choppy waters of this popular bass-fishing lake were a flock of white pelicans. Each of the identical sixteen- by thirty-foot cabins (okay, so I counted the floor tiles; it takes me a while to really relax) has one bedroom with two double beds, a living-dining area decorated simply with pine furniture, a big bathroom, and a minimally equipped kitchen (coffeepot, two-burner stove top, microwave, and small fridge, but no utensils whatsoever) with a big picture window that overlooks a deck with a charcoal grill. At sunset we hovered around the grill, burning tuna steaks and solving the world’s problems—since ours had melted away—while the rowdy lake kicked up a fuss nearby. S.B.
Waylon, willie, and the boys had the right idea when they sang the praises of Luckenbach (population: 25), a Hill Country hamlet where life seems to move at a more leisurely pace than pretty much anywhere else. A dance hall, a post office, and a barbecue stand are all there is in “downtown” Luckenbach, but locals gather here most Sundays beneath the live oaks to whittle, strum guitars, toss horseshoes, and drink beer. Luckily, the Luckenbach Inn is just as much of a find as the town itself, sitting on a rise that overlooks miles of pastureland and a creek lined with two-hundred-year-old cypress trees. Pheasants, turkeys, and guinea hens, along with a personable potbellied pig named Rooter, amble about the grounds amid wildflowers and live oaks draped with Christmas lights. We took in the scene from our porch, where hummingbirds darted around a bird feeder, then headed to nearby Fredericksburg for dinner. The inn’s main attraction is the adjacent Log Cabin, a beautifully restored 1860’s cottage of dark oak, with period antiques, carved wooden doors, and rocking chairs made from hickory branches. We would suggest staying here rather than in the inn’s new rooms, which have less character; the Smokehouse, a tiny cottage behind the Log Cabin, was a little too cramped for our taste. There are no televisions, no telephones, and no clocks; our wake-up call the next morning was a rooster’s crow. A full breakfast, complete with grapefruit brûlée and fresh cranberry-peach juice, was served in the sunny dining room—a perfect start to a day of sightseeing in Fredericksburg, at the LBJ Ranch, near Johnson City, and at Enchanted Rock. P.C.
There’s something comforting about being in the proverbial middle of nowhere—if you can find it, that is. And Parker Ranch, tucked away in the low canyons of the Pecos River Valley outside the town of Iraan—and some twelve miles north of the loneliest stretch of Interstate 10 in the entire state—is definitely worth searching out. It’s so lonely, I thought I was seeing things when three tall palms materialized from the desert scrub at the end of the dirt road that leads to the majestic Spanish colonial ranch house built by O. W. Parker seventy years ago. Dickie Dell Ferro, Parker’s granddaughter, came back to the family homestead in 1995 and opened four bedrooms to paying guests. Two of the upstairs bedrooms share a bath. You’ll find a television and a small, eclectic library downstairs in the living room, and Dickie Dell will let you use her phone if you really need to.
With more than ten miles of dirt roads and a network of trails and tracks crisscrossing the 3,700-acre spread, the Parker is an ideal setting for taking long walks or mountain bikes or riding horses (take your own). Even better, just kick back and decompress, watching the wild turkeys and the white-tailed and mule deer that wander up to the lawn for their evening feedings, then marveling at the dark, star-filled night skies.
Four miles west is Iraan, the site of the storied Yates Field, once one of the biggest oil reserves in the world. In the twenties the town was also briefly the residence of the late Vince T. Hamlin, who conceived his comic strip Alley Oop, about a caveman who time-traveled to modern times, here. There’s a small park that pays tribute to Oop, his gal Oola, and their pet dinosaur Dinny next to the Iraan Museum. Also in town is the Old House Cafe, whose Tex-Mex and American menu, not to mention its ice cream and milk shakes, are as good as it gets. Fort Lancaster (arguably the most scenic of the forts strung along the historic trail between San Antonio and El Paso), the Caverns of Sonora (hands-down the best tourist cave in Texas), and the Rankin windmill farm (107 165-foot-tall electricity-generating turbines) are all within an hour’s drive. J.N.P.
In the verdant limestone canyons west of Bandera, the Lodges at Lost Maples lie along Ranch Road 337, a winding road of steep inclines and hairpin turns that is one of the state’s most spectacular drives. Though these pine-and-cedar cabins are not as secluded as the one we stayed in at the Red Corral, they are new and attractively decorated, with full kitchens and airy living quarters. Each cabin has a fireplace and a screened sleeping porch. Horseback riding and tubing are good diversions here, but the main attraction is the Lost Maples State Natural Area, only seven miles away, where birding, fishing, and hiking amid the park’s lush foliage are some of the best ways we know of to shed urban woes. But be warned: The park, and the surrounding area, can get quite crowded from mid-October to mid-November, when visitors flock there to see the breathtaking fall foliage. The nearby towns of Vanderpool and Leakey have little in the way of restaurants, and it’s a dry county, so pack what food and drink you will need ahead of time. Each cabin comes with an outdoor grill, and your hosts will bring juice, coffee, and freshly baked muffins and scones to your door each morning. P.C.