“Middle of the back seat,” I yelled enthusiastically as we headed out the door.

Okay, maybe I didn’t exactly call middle of the back, but that’s where I ended up as a few friends and I loaded into my Lumina “Goldie” for a recent Saturday road trip. The destination? Dripping Springs. The purpose? Shopping, hiking, and some good ol’ Texas music.

Dripping Springs came into being around 1853 when three families, including Joseph and Sarah Pound, John and Indiana Moss, and John Lee and Malvina Wallace, relocated from Mississippi to a piece of the Texas frontier thirty miles outside Austin. Moss became the first postmaster in 1857. It was his wife who named the town after the small “dripping spring,” which served as a gathering place for local Tonkawa Indians and the pioneers’ main water source. Most of the area’s income came from farming; however, Dripping Springs later became a stagecoach stop and part of the freight line between Austin and Fredericksburg.

With a current population of around 1,500, Dripping Springs, also known as the Gateway to the Texas Hill Country, still maintains its sleepy, small-town atmosphere. A friendly dog wandering across main street was our only company as we pulled into an empty parking lot on the town’s main drag and gathered our bearings.

Our first stop was the springs, the town’s namesake. We then made our way down Mercer Street for a little window shopping at a few local antiques and specialty stores. Offerings included everything from a gun-and-horseshoe-decorated lamp to “Keep Drippin’ Normal” T-shirts, but we resisted the temptation to buy. In one new boutique, Embellish by Valli, we encountered a couple of other Austinites satisfying their need for a little shopping therapy. We also took the opportunity to ask a resident about the town. Her response: “Dripping Springs is just starting to grow.”

Though a blue sign on the street promised “visitor information,” we never found the visitors center. Instead, we relied on the kindness and a map from yet another friendly local to point us in the direction of our next stop, Westcave Preserve, northwest of Dripping Springs.

The thirty-acre preserve offers guided tours only—an effort to minimize damage to the area’s ecosystem. We spent some quality time in the Warren Skaaren Environmental Learning Center checking out the solar observatory, where we saw a sun-spot clock, and learning about water conservation and composting before heading off on a canyon tour.

Our guide took us on what would turn out to be a leisurely walk through natural limestone breaks and down into the canyon. (Okay, it wasn’t so leisurely on the way up.) At the bottom of our descent we were treated to a view of a beautiful waterfall and climbed into a collapsed grotto where we saw layers of shells left over from when this part of Texas was covered by ocean waters. We then explored a small cave where new “drip stone” stalactites dripped down from the ceiling and a few errant bats hung in a state of hibernation.

For the perfect end to our Dripping Springs experience, we followed the beckoning neon cowboy into the Nutty Brown Cafe, housed in the former Nutty Brown Mills. We couldn’t resist stopping in for some dinner and, of course, the world-famous pralines. After stuffing ourselves relentlessly with some fabulous fare, we headed to the bar for a sampling of Texas music. There’s nothing like pulling up way too many chairs to a tiny bar table, drinking a round of beers, and trying out some new tunes. On this particular Saturday night, the cafe hosted a CD-release party featuring four home-grown bands who were among the talented artists on the compilation album, Live at the Nutt. After a couple of hours listening to Texas Renegade, Beth Garner, Gene Pool, and W.T. Special, our day in Dripping Springs was complete.

The end of the night left my friends and I wondering why we didn’t take these excursions a little more often. But that would be a question for another day. I was just content to ride shotgun for the drive home.