SPRING RITUAL

Where to find the Hill Country's best bluebonnets and wildflowers

Bluebonnet season is just around the bend. Photo by Kelly Keelan

This article originally appeared on CultureMap and was written by Melissa Gaskill.

It happens each year as if by magic. A few patches of wildflowers pop up followed by whole fields. Soon enough, Texas is alive with color. If you want to make the most of the short season, it's good to have a plan.

While bluebonnets enjoy the most fame, and the title of official state flower, Texas Hill Country landscapes offer a number of other abundant blooms, including Indian paintbrush, Indian blanket, pink evening primrose, Mexican hat, winecups, black-eyed Susan, coreopsis, and more. South Texas also enjoys plenty of spring blooms, including the usual bluebonnets. More unique flowers seen in the area include hairy tube-tongue, scarlet or tropical sage, blue shrub sage, red prickly poppy, and Mexican prickly poppy.

Andrea DeLong-Amaya, director of horticulture at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center in Austin, predicts bluebonnets peaking this year in late March or early April, depending on temperatures. "It's a prediction, I don't have a crystal ball," she cautions. The month of April, she adds, is spectacular in general. "Even once the bluebonnets finish up, there are so many other things coming on. There is life after bluebonnets!"

Know before you go

Remember that while it isn't illegal to pick the blooms, it is bad form. Leave them for others to enjoy and so the flowers can go to seed and make more for next year. By the same token, minimize trampling of the plants. DeLong-Amaya says that crushing the plants repeatedly (by, say, sitting on them) can destroy the flowers. Be aware that fields can also contain fire ants and the occasional snake. Be careful if walking through grass where it's not possible to see where you're stepping.

Finally, be respectful of private property — no climbing fences, going through gates, or driving up driveways to get that photo. You might get a less-than-warm welcome. Places like the Wildflower Center and parks provide ready public access to wildflowers.

Central Texas spots

Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center

For some of the most reliable and accessible wildflowers, head to the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, roughly 12 miles southwest of downtown. Open daily 9 am to 5 pm, it's free for members, $12 adults, $6 children ages 5 to 17, plus discounts for students and seniors. The center has native gardens, wild meadows, and experts who can tell you what you're looking at.

LBJ State Park and Historic Site

Get up close, without worrying about a shotgun-toting landowner or highway traffic, at LBJ State Park and Historic Site near Johnson City. It should come as no surprise that the park enjoys fame for its wildflowers, as Lady Bird Johnson deserves much credit for appreciation of them in Texas. Meadows surround the visitor center, and a nature trail wanders from there to the adjacent Sauer-Beckmann Living History Farm. Fredericksburg Trolley offers wildflower tours of the area in its vintage vehicles.

Pedernales River Nature Park

This 222-acre LCRA park off U.S. Highway 281 in Johnson City has lake and river frontage as well as hiking and mountain biking trails. It also has spectacular displays of the usual Texas Hill Country wildflowers (bluebonnets, Indian paintbrush, pink evening primroses, winecups, and the like) easily and safely accessible for those obligatory photographs.

Burnet

The town of Burnet north of Austin claims the title of Bluebonnet Capital of Texas. The town holds a Bluebonnet Festival the second weekend of April that includes live music, a carnival, food, races, birding and, of course, looking at flowers. Blooms line the highways in this area; some of the best are State Highway 29 from Burnet to Llano and Ranch Road 2341 from State Highway 29 to Canyon of the Eagles Nature Park, where some of its many miles of trails wind among wildflowers.

Georgetown

One of the few locations in the U.S. where red poppies grow naturally, Georgetown celebrates with the 20th Annual Red Poppy Festival April 26-28. The free, three-day festival includes parades, a car show, live music, cooking contest, art, food, and family-friendly activities. Henry Purl Compton, a soldier in Europe during World War I, sent poppy seeds to his mother, who planted them at her home in Georgetown. The flowers spread and today bloom abundantly in the area around the town square.

Willow City Loop

Wildflower drives are a long-standing Texas tradition, and one of the best in Central Texas is the 13-mile, two-lane Willow City Loop. Roadside property along this route is private, so no wandering into the fields. Or out into traffic.

South Texas spots

Bandera

Driving Texas State Highway 16 from Bandera to Ranch Road 337 and then heading west toward Vanderpool and Leakey offers plenty of scenery any time, including glimpses of the Medina River, but in spring, wildflowers sweeten the route. Farm-to-Market Road 470 west from Bandera to Tarpley is another option, as are the roads around Utopia. The 5,000 acres of Hill Country State Natural Area have miles of trails through a variety of landscapes with abundant bluebonnets, Indian paintbrush, primroses, firewheels, wild petunias, and more.

Blanco State Park

The Blanco River flows through this small park just an hour from San Antonio, where bluebonnet, Engelmann daisy, Texas paintbrush, firewheel, greenthread, and four-nerve daisy wildflowers bloom in spring. Enjoy picnic areas, camping, screened shelters, fishing, and kayak and tube rentals.

Continue reading on CultureMap to learn about more places to find the best bluebonnets.

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A WEEKLY REVIEW OF CRENNEL'S COACHING

Now my job: Texans feast on Lions

Photo by Getty Images.

Thanksgiving is full of tradition. There's the typical family gathering, large meal, and of course, football. Sometimes, new traditions are added and old ones are retired. I think the Texans did both in their impressive 41-25 win over the Lions in Detroit. Old traditions were carried on (Lions losing on Thanksgiving), some were put to rest (Texans not being able to get turnovers), and new ones were started (multiple passing touchdowns by Deshaun Watson in six straight games).

The fact that this defense got three turnovers in the game was unbelievable! They got all three in the first quarter within the span of eight plays. JJ Watt's pick-six was insane. He went for a batted ball, ended up catching it, and ran it in. They forced Jonathan Williams to fumble on the Lions' very next play from scrimmage and recovered it. On the Lions' next possession, the Texans recovered yet another fumble after the challenge was reversed. Great call by the coaching staff to challenge and win. The defense looked good. Tyrell Adams stood out because he was in on those two fumbles, made 17 total tackles with 14 of them being solo tackles. They also brought pressure that seemed to make Matthew Stafford very inaccurate and resulted in four sacks. I give defensive coordinator Anthony Weaver credit for knowing he needs to blitz to get pressure, but the run defense has to improve.

The offense kept the tempo up in this game as well. The spread and hurry-up were used to keep the Lions already staggered defense off balance. Knowing the Lions were without a couple defensive backs, I thought it would be the perfect marriage of their defense and the Texans' offense. A buddy asked before the game about the line (Texans -3.5) and the over/under (52.5). I told him bet the Texans and the over because neither team can play defense and both have good quarterbacks. Offensive coordinator Tim Kelly put together another good game plan and Watson executed it flawlessly. One route combo I saw later on in the game I particularly enjoyed. Two receivers were tight to the left side. Cooks ran a hook/curl and settled in the middle of the zone while Fuller ran a vertical route. Duke Johnson ran a swing route to that same side. It left Cooks wide open as the attention went to Johnson in the flat, Fuller deep, and the action to the other play side. Route combos are important because it gives the quarterback different reads as he goes through his progressions and lets him pick apart the defense based on what he sees. Combine that with Watson's play and the way Kelly has changed his play calling now that he's liberated from he who shall not be named, we're seeing a beautiful thing.

As good as things were, there's still room for improvement. The defense gives up way too many easy yards, both run and pass. They can't get pressure bringing only four and will often give up big plays if the blitz is picked up. Plus the run defense is still an issue as evidenced by the Lions' first possession of the second half. The Lions ran the ball 10 plays straight for a total of 58 yards on that drive. Utterly ridiculous! Watson was good (17/25 318 yards and four touchdowns), but he missed two more touchdowns with passes slightly off, and continues to hold onto the ball too long at times. The difference between these two issues I've presented here is the fact that Watson has so played well, his "issues" are minor and very correctable, while the defense is terrible and there's no easy fix in sight. But let Romeo Crennel and Anthony Weaver tell it, they're getting the most out of these guys and they're playing disciplined.

The thought that this team may actually creep into the playoff picture may take shape better after next week if they can beat the Colts. I doubt it, but it is getting interesting. Let's see what else happens around them because they need help getting there.

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