[This is part of my vanlife series. I've spent 7 months and 25kmiles on the road in 2 years, exploring and rock climbing around the US.]
We’re now big city weaklings. After Houston, we passed over Austin, traveling through Texas’ smaller big side of hundreds of miles of open desert and a dozen little towns. We never expected to spend so much time in Texas—after all, it’s usually a pass through or a spot destination at Hueco Tanks—but we found ourselves climbing, hanging out and camping in an 1890s saloon, fortuitously running into friends, and checking another national park off the list.
La Grange, TX BBQ
On the way from Houston toward Austin is La Grange (pop. 4675, queue ZZ Top), a perfect stop for lunch BBQ at any one of the joints along Hwy 71. Compared to Jeremy’s smoked meats at our yearly BBQ, they came close, not a shoo-in, but were a slam dunk for atmosphere.
Making your way farther east, you drive through Texas’ hill and wine country. For desert it’s surprisingly green with numerous flood height markers along the roads. “Hill,” in comparison to California standards, is a max of 750ft elevation. There’s wineries, caverns, and state parks lining the Llano and Perdanales rivers.
Enchanted Rock State Park
Enchanted Rock State Park is about 100mi west of Austin. We unfortunately made it there at noon and had 5 hours to climb before the park closed for the week for hunting, but the park is stunning for its contrast of desert cactus, flowing streams, pink granite formations, and Sierra-esque domes. Climbing-wise, the sport routes are incredibly run out with death falls and the guide book was confusing, but we managed to set up a top rope after Jeremy trad-led a crack for a few great slabby face climbs.
Then one of the gems of our trip: Luckenbach (queue Willie and Waylon). Population 492 in 1904, population 3 in 2006, but reportedly a family death puts it now at 2, total 9 acres, and a handful of buildings dating back to the late 1800s. There’s the general store which used to be the town post office, the saloon, a dance floor, and an outdoor stage. The place is rocking, literally, on weekends when there’s bands; week nights are open mic. And what are the chances that the bartender lived on Oahu in the 60s and again in the 90s? It’s strangely awesome to exchange stories about Hawaii in a shoulder-to-shoulder saloon, in the middle of seemingly nowhere in Texas, with live country playing (with jamming bass!) 10ft away. Of course, we downed a few $3 beers and camped in their parking lot.
A few miles from Luckenbach, driving through the one-road downtown of Fredericksburg (pop. 10830), we strained our necks watching a black Ford van with double racks on top drive by us! We had climbed with Dustin and Liz in the Red a month ago, and who can forget this van? Such chances!
We climbed with Dustin and Liz for a day at Reimers Ranch near Austin other-worldly limestone. Much of the climbing is short sport on polished limestone with all kids of holds. There's a huge cave walled in with rounded, slick, limestone stalactites, and a stunning 12a, Liposuction. Start 180 degrees upside down:
Toeing and heeling your way across the roof (photo by Dustin Moore):
Pull up and over to a no-hands rest (photo by Dustin Moore):
To an overhanging roof (photo by Dustin Moore):
My mind was fully blank on this climb, my focus totally on the movement. I could replay each move immediately afterward, but it was fleeting, like a vivid dream that disappears once you're lucid. I was finally in the groove! I hung once, and it's definitely on my list to come back to. This is the feeling that I've been missing and why I love climbing!
We topped the day cooking dinner at a roadside pullout, with no other souls around, to the backdrop of Dustin’s guitar. We’d meet up with them again in a couple days (coming in Pt. 2).