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  • Candace Ahlfinger

Texas Hill Country at Its Finest--Burnet

Covid-19 has changed many of our travel habits and given us the opportunity delve into more hiking and fewer town and city visits. We needed a short 2 night trip and Burnet (rhymes with “durn it”), in the Texas Hill Country, was the perfect answer for our need to get away.

The rain was pouring down and the constantly gusting cold winds influenced our decision to skip hiking on our way to Burnet. Instead, we stopped at Longhorn Caverns State Park to explore the cave. We purchased our tickets before arriving and received a discount because we are Texas Parks and Wildlife Park Pass holders—a great investment if you’re planning to visit lots of Texas State Parks. (Most state parks in Texas are currently requiring reservations to ensure that crowding does not occur during the pandemic.)

I had called ahead about how many people would be on our tour. The pre-Covid limit was 40, but currently up to 25 guests can be on every tour. We were fortunate in that the three of us, my husband, our friend, and I, were the only visitors on the tour. We had a great private tour of this interesting cavern.

Longhorn Cavern is one of 4 river-formed caves in the US. Instead of the water simply seeping through the ground and causing erosion, an underground river created this cave. Unfortunately, the river brought and deposited a great deal of debris, so the Civilian Conservation Corps was put to work in the 1930s. (The CCC was a program provided by FDR’s New Deal that gave over 3 million men jobs on environmental projects during the Great Depression.) The men who were part of the CCC were paid approximately $30 per month, $25 of which had to be sent home to their families. Much of the rocky debris was used to build the stone administration building and the observation tower. Because the cave is relatively young cave, stalactites and stalagmites are not common. However, the presence of soda straws, tubular stalactites, gives promise that other features will develop in the distant future.

Tri-Color Bat in Hibernation

We were not the only ones in the cave. The residents quietly made themselves known. Tri-colored bats were hanging close enough to touch (We didn’t!) since they had entered their hibernation period. These pudgy bats are different from the more common free-tailed bats in that they did not hang out in groups, but at quite a distance from their roommates. They seemed undisturbed by our visit, less so than the cave crickets who moved rapidly if we got too close.

The 1.1-mile trek took 90 minutes and did require some ducking on our part—even at my 5’4” height! We passed through Lumbago Alley, so named because of the stooping required, visited the Queen’s throne room, and saw the Indian Council Room. Our guide regaled us with stories all along the way. For example, the cavern boasted a 2,000 square foot dance floor at one time. Unfortunately, the floor was made of untreated wood which the CCC discovered did not hold up well in the humidity. (There is a wild cave tour that can be booked. We opted not to sign up when we read that special caving gear was required!)

Longhorn Cavern made a great alternative to hiking on a cold, wet, windy day. We made our way back to the surface and spent some time exploring the CCC-built administration building and overlook of the park—very picturesque. I enjoyed exploring these creations and the view from the top was great.

Our next task for the day was finding our night’s lodging, Canyon of the Eagles Resort. Located about 25 minutes out of Burnet down beautiful farm-to-market roads, the resort has fishing, a beach, kayaking, hiking, and an observatory. The resort also offers educational and guided tours. Throughout the year there are outside movies and live music for guests as well as activities for children. (It was too cold in October for us to venture into the water, but the pool and hot tub looked nice.)

We checked in to our cabin that came with its very own rocking chairs and spent some time taking in the views of the surrounding countryside. The spacious rooms offered microwave and mini fridges that allowed us to bring our own breakfasts and lunches. We picked up dinners at the restaurant and were very pleasantly surprised to find the meals were excellent. Over two nights the three of us had the chicken fried boar, crab cakes, beef tenderloin, and hamburgers. We were disappointed that, because of Covid, we had chosen not to eat in any restaurants because the view of the sunset was magnificent out the large picture windows, but we always choose to err on the side of caution.

Sunset at Canyon of the Eagles

The next morning broke windy and cold but we decided to take our first day’s hike anyway. We wound along the shore of scenic Lake Buchanan with a special eye out for bald eagles. We saw a blue heron but no eagles. (We didn’t see any eagles on this trip to Burnet, but we have in the past.) After a 3-mile hike, we retreated to our cabin for hot coffee and to regroup for a trip into town.

Downtown Burnet has a winery and several antique stores. We didn’t sample wines at Wedding Oak Winery due to Covid, but the tasting room was large and beautiful. We would love to go back and do the tasting. We headed out to the Buchanan Dam and enjoyed the scenic drive on our way before returning to the resort. When we had visited Burnet before, we had gone on a Vanishing Texas River Cruise that was beautiful and peaceful. We saw many eagles and waterfalls during our two-hour cruise. The cruises run year round, but call ahead for their hours and days. We had also visited the Fall Creek Winery in Tow. The tasting room is beautiful and the wine excellent, but to get there from Burnet requires driving all around Lake Buchanan.

The weather made us very lazy, so we filled the rest of the day with visiting and reading. The sunset from the main area also called our names, so we ordered dinner from the restaurant and went to the overlook to watch the last glistening rays of the dying sun while our food was prepared.

Hiking and Gorgeous Views at Canyon of the Eagles

Finally, gorgeous weather for our final ½ day in Burnet! We took one more hike--4 more miles of their 14 miles of trails, each with varying levels of difficulty and length. The staff was very helpful in giving us details and recommendations about which trails best fit our parameters.

The primary plants of this hill country area were two types of cactus, cedar (Achoo! Achoo!) post oak, and mesquite trees. Our first day’s hike was flat while our final day’s hike led us up a mountain and gave stunning views of the lake below. We also saw beautiful deer and a few coyotes. (The coyotes ran away from us faster than we could have run away from them!)

We finished the trail, checked out by 11, and headed home. Refreshed after a great, but socially distanced, trip to nature in the Texas Hill Country.

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