More of the beautiful Texas Hill Country around Inks Lake

Bluebonnets lined the roads around Inks Lake
Bluebonnets lined the roads around Inks Lake

Inks Lake State Park in Burnet (pronounced BURN-it DERN it) was our home for the 4 nights before Easter weekend. Thanks to my friend Tim in Arlington for recommending this park.

We arrived early in the day and were able to get a beautiful waterfront site. The bad news is we would have to leave on Good Friday because the park was full for Easter weekend. I knew we would love the area when we saw bluebonnets lining the roads to the park.

Our waterfront campsite was a great place to watch ducks, geese and all the water activities. We saw people paddling canoes and kayaks, floating on tubes,  and fishing from motor boats. The sunsets were gorgeous.

I love talking to locals to find out the best places to see. We stopped at Longhorn Caverns State Park one morning to ask about the tours. The ranger had seen me taking pictures of bluebonnets beside the road and he told us about a great scenic drive south of Llano. We were headed to Llano for lunch so we were off on a bluebonnet hunt after we stuffed ourselves with brisket and ribs.

Cooper's Barbeque in Llano, Texas
Cooper’s Barbeque in Llano, Texas

One afternoon we toured nearby Longhorn Caverns. During prohibition the cavern was privately owned and the cavern was run as a honky tonk and restaurant. In one of the large rooms was a bandstand with tables set up all around. When prohibition was repealed the owner gave the land to the state of Texas.

One morning we took a hike on the Valley Spring trail in the state park. The trail started out beside the lake and wound through the woods with wildflowers growing beneath the trees.

Inks Lake State Park has moved up near the top of my list of favorite state parks. Our site was a back in paved pad with water and electric hookups, a picnic table, fire ring, and lantern hook. We had a huge area beneath shade trees to set up our chairs and watch the world go by. There are two fishing piers, a marina and boat launch, canoe and kayak rentals, playground, camp store,  and several hiking trails. Click to read my campground review of Inks Lake State Park.

Exploring the Texas Hill Country around Canyon Lake

There is so much to see and do in the Texas Hill Country we could have stayed a month and not seen in all. Unfortunately, we only had about two weeks to explore this beautiful area in the heart of Texas. The hill country includes San Antonio and Austin and extends west about 200 miles. Driving through the area on mostly twisting, two lane roads we saw canyons and creeks, dance halls and wineries, historic sites and ranches, quaint small towns and old homesteads, green grass and more wildflowers than I ever imagined. We dined on barbeque and schnitzel and I bought a cowboy hat!

Our first home base in the hill country was Cranes Mill, a beautiful Corps of Engineers park on Canyon Lake near New Braunfels. We enjoyed driving on the country roads to explore the area. The bluebonnets were really starting to bloom and we saw more and more each day.

The first order of business was to eat some Texas Barbeque. One of my brothers lived in San Antonio for a few years and told us not to miss the Salt Lick in Driftwood, Texas. We started out our first full day in the hill country driving the back roads to have our first taste of brisket, ribs, sausage and turkey. After our delicious lunch we stopped to visit the Dr. Joseph Pound homestead. Dr. Pound and his family settled there in 1853 and raised 9 children. His descendants lived in the home continuously until 1983.

On a beautiful sunny Friday we took a drive to Luckenbach and a winery near Fredericksburg.

We enjoyed touring the LBJ State Park and Historic Site in Stonewall. Lyndon  Johnson was our 36th president and spent much of his presidency at his ranch on the Perdanales River. Adjacent to the ranch is the Sauer-Beckmann Living History Farm, a working farm which recreates a Hill Country farm at the turn of the 20th century.

The driving tour of his ranch goes around the air strip where he would land in a small plane he called Air Force One Half because Air Force One was too large to land on the landing strip. President Johnson left the ranch to be enjoyed by all the people so there is no charge to tour the park.

We also enjoyed visiting some of the towns in the area. Many of the older buildings in the hill country are made of stone because of the lack of wood for building.

On a sunny Palm Sunday we strolled through the town of Gruene where we enjoyed music at one of the oldest dance halls in Texas. Our Sunday drive continued to the artistic town of Wimberley and a walk along the banks of the Cypress Creek.

While driving around we passed many interesting ranches and the Albert Dance Hall and Twin Sisters Dance Hall. Although we were still a little early to see the bluebonnets in all their glory we enjoyed seeing patches of them beside the roads.

When we weren’t sightseeing we enjoyed our large lake front campsite at Crane’s Mill.

Barbeque, pie, and tamales in the Mississippi Delta – Part 1

James Beard Award Winning Barbecue

One of the things I enjoy most about traveling is eating local foods from locally owned restaurants. Although we do most of our own cooking in the RV, especially when we are in a campground far from civilization, we will go out of out way to find good food. To find a truly authentic place, we like to ask a local where the locals eat. When we find something we like, we have been known to get enough to fill up the freezer to eat later in the trip and maybe even save some to take home.

Jones' Bar-B-Q Diner in Marianna, Arkansas is the only James Beard Award winning restaurant in the state
Jones’ Bar-B-Q Diner in Marianna, Arkansas is the only James Beard Award winning restaurant in the state

Jones Bar-B-Q Diner in Marianna, Arkansas was just such a place. The only James Beard Award winning restaurant in Arkansas, we would have never known about it if park ranger John had not told us about customers lining up around the building to get some of the famous, award winning barbeque pork.  We would have to get there early. John told us the restaurant opened at 7:30 am and stayed open until they ran out of BBQ.

We could smell the pork cooking before we even found the restaurant. Arriving at at 9:00 am, we walked into a small dining room with only 2 tables. Two other people were leaving as we came in so we were the only customers. Pit-master and owner James Jones was standing behind the window where I placed my order for 5 pounds to go. Behind him I could see tables covered with loaves of Wonder Bread and large jugs of his famous sauce.The prices were listed on a sign above the window. The menu is simple – pulled pork barbeque by the pound or sandwich. The sandwich is served on white bread with or without coleslaw.

Jones' Bar-B-Q Diner has been in this location since 1964
Jones’ Bar-B-Q Diner has been in this location since 1964

As Mr. Jones wrapped my order in foil and placed it in an aluminum tray to go he told us a little about his business. His family has been making BBQ using the same recipe for several generations. Although the sign outside says since 1964, he told us family has been making BBQ using the same secret family recipe since the early 1900’s.

It was such a treat to meet Mr. Jones and spend time talking with him. He answered all our questions about winning the James Beard Award and traveling to New York City to receive it. I asked him if he had to wear a tux. His answer was “no, I wore a suit but one of the other winners had on overalls.” When someone asks for his secret recipe, he tells them his father would come back from the grave if he gave away the secret.

Back at the campground, I put some pork and coleslaw (served in a mason jar) in the fridge for dinner that night and the rest in the freezer for later.

When dinner time finally arrived, we enjoyed unbelievably delicious BBQ unlike any other I have ever tasted. Close your eyes and imagine the smokey aroma of pork slowly cooking over a hickory and oak fire. Imagine biting into pork so tender it practically melts in your mouth. Imagine the pork dripping with a BBQ sauce that is vinegary yet sweet with just the right hint of heat. Believe me, it is worth a trip from anywhere to try this BBQ!

Jones Bar-B-Q Diner, 219 West Louisiana Street, Marianna, Arkansas, is owned by James and Betty Jones and is one of the oldest African-American owned restaurants in America.

Next up: Homemade pie!

We were camped at Mississippi River State Park near Marianna when we visited Jones Bar-B-Q Diner.