Sunday, December 18, 2005
After leaving Menard, Kimble and Mason counties, it's tempting to head for Interstate 10 for the bright lights and traffic of San Antonio, but if you do, you'll miss the waterfalls of Colorado Bend State Park and Brady's Heart of Texas Country Music Museum.
No matter where you spent the previous night, the road to Colorado Bend State Park can be a little hard to find. The best way from Mason County is to locate Highway 87 at Mason, then take Highway 386 to Fredonia, turn east on Highway 71 and drive to Pontotok, where you'll pick up Highway 501 and go more or less northward until you reach Bend, and then follow the signs four miles to the park.
One caveat -- the guided tour to Gorman Falls, the most beautiful spot in the 5,328-acre park, is only offered on weekends. If your schedule doesn't allow you to see Gorman the first time, visit the park anyway, and hike the trail that runs along Spicewood Springs, where you will see smaller, but still lovely waterfalls; pools so clear that you can see the fish from top to bottom, swimming through the reflections of the clouds above; and if you're lucky, a glimpse of black-capped Vireos, golden-cheeked warblers and high overhead, bald eagles.
Even if you're not into birds or water, this park offers something for just about everyone, with 16 miles of hiking trails, 14 miles of mountain bike trails and places to camp, fish and kayak. Kayaks are available for rent.
Finally, there are cave tours on weekends. According to a park brochure, there is a walking cave tour 9:15 a.m. Saturday and Sunday (resources and weather permitting), and a crawling cave tour 9 a.m. first Saturday of the month (resources and weather permitting.) Reservations are recommended.
San Saba County (population 6,086) is shaded over most of its 1,138 square miles by pecan trees -- thousands and thousands of pecan trees, both native and developed. It was here that English immigrant Edward E. Riesen developed the paper shell pecan. He named San Saba "the Pecan Capital of the World," and with his prodigious harvests, established pecans as the county's cash crop in 1874.
Pecans still play a big part in the county's economy, with five pecan companies accounting for revenues second only to government/services in the 2006 Texas Almanac.
Leave San Saba (pop 2,637 and the county seat) on Highway 190, which takes you west into McCulloch County and the town of Brady, site of a goat cook-off every September and the Heart of Texas Country Music Museum.
The museum is a celebration of those heroes to all of us who learned about life hearing songs of love gone wrong and cowboys crying in their beer. Open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturdays and noon to 5 p.m. Sundays, the museum features stage costumes, musical instruments, autographs, posters and other relics of more than 100 country music artists, including Kitty Wells, who still comes to Brady regularly to perform, with her husband, Johnny Wright.
Radio station KNEL disc jockey Tracy Pitcox, who serves as museum president, said that most of the costumes have been donated by the artists eager to perpetuate the legend of country music.
The largest item in the collection, however, was bought at auction: the bus owned and sometimes driven by Gentleman Jim Reeves. It's a little shabby and inadequate by today's standards, still smells faintly of cigarette smoke and has a rusty running board step.
"We bought this bus for $3,000, and then it cost us $3,100 to get it down to Brady."
Pitcox said there is a story that he can't verify explaining the rusty step.
"Well, they say that Jim loved to drive this bus, and he drove it fast, and of course, there were often times when they would play all night, then have to be in the next town to play the next night.
"So Jim would be driving, and some members of the band would have to answer nature's call, but Jim wouldn't be willing to stop.
"So he would slow down, and the guy would come up to the front, and they would open the door just as long as necessary, then close it and go on."