Google Maps is, perhaps, my most beloved app on my phone. I use others more regularly, and with greater urgency, but Google Maps allows me to punch in a brand-new destination that I’ve never been to and tells me precisely how to get there. A few taps of my phone transforms me from Brendan McLeod, mild-mannered software designer, into a modern day Caesar, plunging into darkest Gaul and braving the far-off Britannia. Conceptually, anyway.
Thus it was that I set off for a long weekend, exploring the Hill Country of Texas on my own before rendezvousing with my brother-in-law-to-be for a trip to a ranch in the wilderness.
Thursday kicked off with a visit to Longhorn Caverns State Park: the most subterranean of the state parks I’ve visited to-date. Longhorn Caverns has a long and rich history: used as a ritual site by indigenous peoples, a speakeasy by bootleggers in the 20s, and a bomb shelter during the Cold War. Beautiful gem formations and wondrous rock walls can be found throughout this relatively easy-to-explore tunnel.
For the afternoon, I ventured down to Exotic Resort Zoo in Johnson City. Perhaps it was the fact that it was midday on a Thursday, or maybe it was the pouring rain, but I had the honor of being the Zoo’s ONLY guest when I arrived!
This made me very popular in the petting zoo area.
Exotic Resort Zoo is a drive-thru zoo, like Natural Bridge or Lion Country Safari, but you’re not allowed to drive your own vehicle. Instead, you’re loaded onto a large truck and treated to a tour by one of the ranchhands. I got the VIP treatment on my tour of the premises, meeting all manner of hungry critters.
The next day, I ventured through Fredericksburg, Kerrville, and the far-south of Concan, where I was to meet up with my fellows for the ranch trip.
The destination itself, High Places Ranch, is a massive privately-owned family ranch that we had full access to for the weekend. Five of us shared an enormous space, complete with air conditioned kitchen, patio deck, firepit, grill, fully-working bathrooms (hot showers!), and even a WiFi signal. The porch had a spectacular view of a mighty hill and a lovely lake.
We immediately set out to do some exploring once we arrived, and ventured out to a cave set in the side of a massive cliff-face on the property. My photos capture some of the grandeur of the cave but not the ascent: this was not a state park with a carefully crafted trail for us to follow. Portions of this were essentially a vertical climb, complete with hands grasping for purchase and feet testing the stability of rocks in recently-moistened mud. It was thrilling.
Little did I know that an even more challenging climb awaited us the next day: a venture up the side of an enormous hill in search of a plane that’d crashed there years before. If I thought the climb to the cave was exciting, this was a battle for survival. By the time we found the shattered hull of the airplane, I felt less like Caesar and more like a very weak Reinhold Messner.
The view was worth it.
Some very welcome rest and relaxation followed, along with a paddleboat visit to the lake, and an evening trip to the highest point on the property — this, mercifully, we drove to.
I felt enormously lucky to have had the chance to see such sights – we had spectacular weather and spectacular camaraderie for this visit, and I felt enormously privileged to have been given this chance. As the weekend came to a close and I began the journey back to Austin, I pledged to do what I could – both fiscally, and physically – to make ready for another such trip whenever I could.