ROUTE: Bandera to Concan (and back)
DISTANCE: 125 miles
NUMBER OF COUNTIES: 3
WHAT TO LISTEN TO: 104.3 FM, the Ranch
A great drive may be about slowing down and clearing your head, but who can resist roads lined with signs warning of “Earth Slides” and “Steep Grades, Sharp Curves”? Born of massive geological upheaval, this corner of the Hill Country is stunning, its lush valleys and stark canyon ridges painted in weathered hues of slate and ocher and moss. It’s a landscape that will make you slam on the brakes, camera at the ready, and declare, “Now, this is the Hill Country.”
The ideal jumping-off point for this beautiful loop is Bandera, a bohemian community of longtime ranchers and weekend cowpokes that some chamber of commerce official had the good sense to proclaim the Cowboy Capital of the World. Fuel up at the Grotto, where handsome young fellas are peddling Cornish game hen in a land where sightings of the Ben E. Keith truck are all too frequent.
Head northwest on pastoral Texas Highway 16 to Medina, the—wait for it—Apple Capital of Texas. There’s no better ambassador than Love Creek Orchards, where you can pick up your own apple tree and a cone of apple ice cream. Then go west on Ranch Road 337, with its dramatic dales and rolling hills, the latter crowned with the occasional manse, its walls made of glass the better to survey the tableau. Next stop is Vanderpool, so named for its first postmaster, who must have been mighty special to have his name supplant the town’s previous appellation: Bugscuffle. Together with nearby Lost Maples State Natural Area, the site is a veritable siren song for birders, hunters, and all manner of wildlife—bats, javelinas, wild turkeys, and the ever-present Harlius motorcyclus.
Roll on to Leakey, bearer of yet another lofty moniker, the Swiss Alps of Texas. The majestic 2,400-foot rock