Happy Trails

A drive through the Hill Country and a brush with Texas's mystic side gave my world-weary self a breath of fresh air.
Stonehenge II
Photograph by Katharyn Rodemann

Car troubles, deadlines at work, unexpected bills, little sleep. It had been a tough week. And, as I often do when life feels too heavy, I had begun entertaining thoughts of airplane trips to faraway destinations, of vacation, of places where no one speaks English or knows my name.

So when Saturday dawned bright and clear, my yearning to escape from it all got the best of me. I would fly down the highway instead; find someplace serene where I could forget things for a while. I have, after all, made the claim that Texas encompasses much of the world, so in theory I had little need to leave the state in order to get my taste of distant lands. I jumped in my car, leaving my husband asleep in bed, and headed toward Kerrville.

My quest? Stonehenge, that most mysterious of megalithic structures whose unique architecture, I hoped, might inspire in me some calm. Or Stonehenge II, I should say—the original, of course, is in Salisbury, England. (I visited that one when I was about twelve years old, but alas, my recollections of it are vague.) The Texas version is near Hunt, about twelve miles northwest of Kerrville, and was built by Al Shepperd and Doug Hill in the middle of a pasture owned by Shepperd. Friends of mine had commented on the surprise of encountering it—as one drives along Farm Road 1340, the last thing one expects to interrupt the pastoral landscape is an unearthly arrangement of boulders. I was in the mood for something out of the ordinary.

Scholars have speculated that the original Stonehenge was a place of worship, perhaps for druids, or an important burial site erected by King Arthur and the wizard Merlin. It is also thought that the circle served as an astronomical observatory, in part because its stones align along the rising of the sun at the midsummer solstice. In any case, its remnants today seem to inspire lofty thoughts on history and humanity, and as I drove through the Hill Country in search of its Texas counterpart, I anticipated my own opportunity to reflect on deeper meanings and to commune with nature.

But first, breakfast. No hope of letting my mind roam free with a clamoring stomach. I stopped at the Hill Country Cafe, in Kerrville, for a hearty omelette. Already I felt rejuvenated; the friendly service, the smell of pancakes wafting from the kitchen, and a leisurely perusal of a magazine I’d been hoarding for weeks refreshed my numb senses. Musing distractedly over my orange juice, I realized I’d forgotten how glorious it is to drive through the Texas hills. No more bluebonnets, but the highways were vibrant with red and yellow and the sparkling freshness of new leaves. And as I returned to the road and navigated my way from Kerrville to Hunt, life jumped (literally) out at me: a huge bird so startled by the sound of my engine that it almost flew directly into my windshield; baby goats, staring at me from the fields; horses so close to my car that I just had to stop and admire them; canoes full of noisy kids on the Guadalupe; water rushing over a dam. All so breathtaking in a gritty, down-to-earth sort of way that when I finally arrived at Shepperd’s field, Stonehenge II really did seem like an apparition.

Shepperd and Hill’s creation is smaller (about half as tall) than the English landmark and represents what the original Stonehenge might have looked like complete, before some of its boulders fell or were taken away. The Texas structure is also not really made of stone; the pillars made of mesh, rebar, and concrete rods rang hollow when I knocked on them. Nevertheless, there was an eerie feel to the place: nothing but the wind for sound; a dark cloud of birds circling frantically overhead (they build their mud nests in the corners of Stonehenge II’s arches); and two forbidding Easter Island heads on opposite ends of the field. (Oh, yes. After visiting Easter Island, Shepperd decided to construct imitations of the famous stone sculptures and add them to his field too.)

But standing there was also strangely peaceful. I had forgotten the stresses of the week. And if I tried, I could picture myself far away, in England. A sign on the access gate to Shepperd’s field read “Its purpose unknown, and perhaps, unknowable.” After a week of mundane activity, I was glad for some mystery, and I decided I would return the next time I needed a chance to entertain more-sublime thoughts. Maybe at the midsummer solstice.

From Kerrville, go west on U.S. 27. Take a left onto U.S. 39. Turn right onto Farm Road 1340; stay on Farm Road 1340 until Stonehenge II appears on your left. Access is free, 7 days a week during daylight hours. Park on the road across from the main gate.

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