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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After the Mariners came alive late in Monday's series opener to hand the Houston the loss and keep their playoff picture hanging in the balance, the Astros returned to T-Mobile Park on Tuesday to try and decrease their magic number. Here's how the middle game went:

Final Score: Astros 6, Mariners 1.

Record: 28-27, second in the AL West.

Winning pitcher: Framber Valdez (5-3, 3.57 ERA).

Losing pitcher: Casey Sadler (1-2, 5.40 ERA).

Both teams trade first-inning runs

The Astros struck first in Tuesday's game, not waiting around until the ninth inning to get on the board. Instead, they jumped out to an immediate 1-0 lead after a two-out RBI-single by Kyle Tucker in the top of the first. The Mariners responded quickly, though, getting a leadoff single in the bottom of the inning before a two-out RBI-double of their own to tie it 1-1.

Astros score five in the sixth

The 1-1 score held all the way until the top of the sixth when the Astros would flip the script from the night prior, taking advantage of some mistakes by Seattle to put up a big inning. First, Michael Brantley started the inning with a solo go-ahead homer to make it 2-1. Then, Kyle Tucker would get his third hit of the night with one out before eventually scoring after a walk and two wild pitches, making it 3-2. With two walks to keep the inning alive and put some insurance runs on base, Martin Maldonado took advantage with a big three-run home run to extend the lead to 6-1.

Valdez finishes seven strong, Astros even series

After allowing the one run in the bottom of the first, Framber Valdez recovered and put together a solid outing on the mound. He allowed just five hits total, two of which came in the first, then back-to-back singles in the fourth and a single in the fifth, while otherwise keeping the Mariners at bay. He would end up completing seven innings of one-run baseball while striking out eight. His final line: 7.0 IP, 5 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 0 BB, 8 K, 0 HR, 108 P.

After Valdez, Enoli Paredes would take over in the bottom of the eighth, working around a leadoff single to get a scoreless inning to keep it 6-1. In the non-save situation, Josh James would come in for the bottom of the ninth and finish off the win for Houston.

Up Next: The finale and rubber game of this three-game set will start a bit earlier on Wednesday, with first pitch scheduled for 5:40 PM Central. The pitching matchup will be Nick Margevicius (1-3, 5.35 ERA) for the Mariners going against Zack Greinke (3-2, 3.90 ERA) for the Astros.

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