Thursday, June 18, 2009

Now This Is Texas

Last weekend as temperatures reached triple digits, my husband, dog, and I headed out to South Llano River State Park in Junction. I don't have any pictures from the wonderful park because as soon as we got there I got in the river and then five hours later I got out. It was perfect.

In fact, it's given me an idea for a way to survive Austin's summers: a wearable river. I'm thinking kind of like a Michelin man outfit or ones of those blow-up sumo wrestlers with water next to your skin. Of course, people would then have to wear their bathing suits all the time (or perhaps au naturel) and there would be inevitable difficulties sitting, driving, and navigating sharp corners. But just imagine spending your whole day floating on a river. Sounds better than spending your whole day covered in your own sweat, doesn't it?

I digress.

On our way home, our car broke down in the middle of nowhere of 290. Well actually we were about 30 miles outside of Fredericksburg near the one-light town of Harper. Fortunately, Harper is one of those places where old men sit around at the one store on Saturday nights ever ready to help stranded cityslickers.

All of this is a long-winded introduction to our trip to the LBJ Ranch on Sunday, where we stopped on the way home from Fredericksburg after picking up our car.

I hadn't been to the ranch since the house was opened to the public after Lady Bird's passing in July 2007. Ever since Denise Delaney, who worked at the Wildflower Center and now works with Austin's Grow Green program, had shared stories of her visits to the ranch with Mrs. Johnson, I really wanted to see the interior.So on Sunday afternoon we stopped for a visit. The tour has changed since I first went on it about 15 years ago. Back then we traveled in a small bus with a staff guide.Last time we entered the ranch via the low-water crossing seen above (just barely). The crossing is closed now and blocked off, but in the good old days LBJ liked to drive his guests over it and make them worry that the water was going to spill over into the car. (A lot of LBJ stories are about him trying to put others in uncomfortable positions. I find them hilarious, and such a part of LBJ lore. If I were on the receiving end of some of his tricks, maybe I wouldn't find them as funny.)

The tour now is a self-guided car tour. We picked up a map and an audio CD from the park office and headed out.

The first stop was the reconstructed one-room schoolhouse that LBJ attended and where he later signed the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.
Next stop was LBJ's birthplace, a dogtrot cabin.
Several magnolia trees, which I really didn't think would grow well in the Hill Country, were quite happily in bloom around the cabin.
Across the road from his birthplace, next to the Pedernales River, is his final resting place.That's President Johnson's headstone on the right. The vase of wildflowers is Lady Bird's maker. According to the park ranger, the family is having trouble deciding on what to put on a marker, which is why Mrs. Johnson doesn't have one almost two years after her death. I actually think that the rotating display of wildflowers might be just what she would want.For the rest of the tour, we drove through the ranch and around the airstrip to the barn where a horse, a cow and calf, and this Hereford, named LBJ Mischief 712, were hanging out.All the animals, well all with horns, had LBJ carved into them. (Apparently, the president was very fond of his initials and wanted everyone--daughters, dogs, etc.--to have them.)My husband told me that the weights are to keep the horns from growing straight up. This contraption reminded me of the weights--pieces of broken bricks, rocks, etc.--tied to fruit tree limbs at the Natural Gardener presumably to keep those limbs from growing straight up. (See how I keep tossing in gardening references just so you know that I know this is a gardening blog?)
During the long trip around the ranch, the audio CD included a conversation of LBJ with a rather beleaguered sounding ranch foreman, and LBJ's favorite song, "Raindrops Keeping Falling on My Head" by B. J. Thomas. Maybe LBJ was being ironic in his choice of song?Finally, we reached the house, christened the Texas White House. The park rangers estimate this oak tree to be 400 years old. Look how big it is!
Park rangers lead guided tours of the interior. No photos are allowed so this shot of a barn swallow outside the front door is as as close as I can take you inside.Only a few rooms in the house are open--a living room with the cool triple-wide television cabinet Denise had told me about (so the president could watch all three television channels at once), LBJ's office, a wet bar, and the dining room--all restored to how they looked in the late 1960s, including the phone attached to the leg of the dining room table in case LBJ needed to chat mid-dinner.

The seat cushions on the dining room chairs reflected Lady Bird's interests. Each set had a needlepoint of a different Texas wildflower.

In the future, the park hopes to open more rooms to the public once they're restored. I can't wait to see the his and her bedroom suites.

The former hangar next to the house now houses an exhibition space, including LBJ's collection of cars. My favorite car was this 1962 Amphicar, a car-boat hybrid.One of the president's many practical jokes was to take "unsuspecting victims" out on the property in this car, careen off the road claiming that the brakes were failing, and head into the Pedernales. Can you imagine how fun that would have been?

There are a few photographs in the hangar of life on the ranch, including various visiting dignitaries, but my favorite photo was this one of LBJ crooning with his beagle.I particularly loved the look on his grandson's face: If you are visiting Austin or looking for a quick day trip, I highly recommend the LBJ ranch. Just be sure to pack a swimsuit or a wearable river. Driving by and near the river that runs through the ranch will definitely make you ready for a swim afterwards. (Unfortunately, there's no swimming at the ranch.)


  1. Great pics. I haven't been there in years. Sounds like a nice trip, except for the car incident. I've been following your blog (a fellow gardener, trying to grow plants in unbearable heat). I saw your request on Twitter for a good gazpacho recipe. I saw one on the Serious Eats blog: Looks yummy!!

  2. I always enjoy being an armchair traveller if I'm reading one of your travel essays. Wish we had the time for little getaways like this.

  3. OH, gosh, that sounds like SO much fun. That Amphicar!!! That is LBJ. Thanks for the trip!

  4. Going to the LBJ Ranch has been on our one-of-these-days list for years - thanks for the tour, Vertie - maybe your post will actually get us there!

    While looking at the photos I kept imagining that the animatronic LBJ from the LBJ Library & Museum on Red River was telling me jokes.

    Annie at the Transplantable Rose

  5. You make me want to go back - Hubbie and I drove over to Johnson City on our honeymoon 34 years ago (romantic, huh?) Great pic of Pres Johnson and his beagle. Seems that all first families have dogs . . . If you get that aquasuit developed, let me know - maybe with one of those, I'll be able to handle Summer gardening in Texas.

  6. I love your little travelogues. One of these days, I will actually venture outside of Austin to witness other parts of Texas. ;)

    Also, the Amphicar story is hilarious.