Some History, Some Views, and Then It's Time to Go Underground
There was a time in the 1890s when Llano seemed headed for, if not greatness, then at least a prominent place on the list of important commercial centers. The discovery of iron in the vicinity, along with the town’s granite production and the arrival of the railroad all seemed likely to contribute to a bright future. Around this time, a young boy by the name of Roy Banford Inks arrived in town. In the years to come, his name would become closely linked with Llano’s history. The Roy Inks bridge, which crosses the Llano River, would be named after him, as well as Inks Lake.
Let Me Just Pause for a Second
I’m going to hit the pause button in my continuing Hill Country story at this point, because I want to add something that doesn’t necessarily fit into the travel narrative. As much as I love driving around Texas and exploring, much of the enjoyment I get from writing this blog comes in the form of the research I do after the trips are over. I always have questions along the lines of “Why does the landscape look like that?” or “Why do I keep seeing the name Inks in this area?” Naturally, I have to find out. I usually learn so much more than what I use in the resulting blog post.
Have a Look at the Links
Many of the Inks family members have some very interesting stories. Roy Banford Inks had a large impact on not just the Llano community but also on the wider Hill Country community. His wife Myrtle had several uncles who fought at the Battle of San Jacinto. His daughter Mildred Inks Dalrymple was a member of WASP, and his son James M. Inks was a Purple Heart recipient. I’m going to assume that you, my readers, enjoy a good story as much as I do, and I will make sure in the future to add a link when I find one you might enjoy. Take a look at the ones I just listed. Now, let’s return to the story.
Llano’s boom period did not last. Today, it’s a small town with that slightly abandoned feeling that is much too common in similar towns across the state. The thing about Llano is, it has the makings of something more. The southern side of town sits on a rise above the clear waters of the Llano River and is defined by the courthouse square, where someone forgot to remove a Christmas decoration and the clock is off by a few hours. It’s a nice square and has the potential to be more than it currently is. There are some beautiful but empty buildings leading to the decorative 1936 truss bridge across the river. On the opposite riverbank lies the continuation of the downtown area, with a convenient pedestrian walkway over the bridge.
A Stop at the River
The Llano River is dammed just below the bridge, and the resulting lake seems to be a popular destination in the summer. I’m more interested in seeing the free flowing water on the other side, so we park the car and walk down a simple path. It’s clear that the geology here is a continuation of what we just saw at Enchanted Rock State Natural Area. We continue across pink granite boulders down to an area left in its natural state, but there’s really no river access, so we head back to the car and park it one street over. The things you do to avoid walking in the sun…
I Need Coffee
In town we discover a spacious cafe by the name of Fuel. The plan was to eat lunch here, but sandwiches are only served Monday to Friday. We decide food can wait and instead order a couple of very good lattes. After a walk up one side of the quiet square, we return to the car and head east on State Highway 29, toward Inks Lake State Park.
Inks Lake is not particularly big, or at least it doesn’t seem that way. It’s bordered by limestone cliffs all along the eastern side, creating outcroppings and inlets that form hidden hideaways everywhere. It seems to me the ideal place for childhood adventures.
Hoover's Valley Cafe
We stopped for gas southeast of the lake and discovered a cafe with great reviews. Hoover’s Valley Cafe offers typical country fare. The food is basic but very good, as I’m sure is the way the restaurant’s regulars prefer, and the decor is charming and fun. It’s the perfect place to stop for a meal if you’re in the area, as we are, to visit Longhorn Cavern.
My Favorite CCC Building
We’ve no more than arrived in the Longhorn Cavern State Park parking lot and I’m already fighting with my seat belt. Ever since I first researched the Civilian Conservation Corp, I’ve had fun discovering the many parks that saw improvement by means of their capable hands, and here, at Longhorn Cavern, I’m seeing the most beautiful stone building I have yet to come across. I take a few pictures before we go over to the park’s visitor center to buy our tickets for the cavern tour.
If you have a State Park pass, it will allow you access to the park’s grounds, but if you want to see the cavern, it’s an extra charge of $16 per ticket. A little cheaper for children. You will receive a 10% discount if you’re a pass holder. The tours start every half hour and last 90 minutes.
Take Some Pictures, Then Make Sure to Take Some More
While we wait for our tour to begin, I return to the CCC building to get some more pictures. While I’m at it, I make sure to get some pictures of the area around the cave entrance. You can never have too many pictures, but you can definitely have too few!
Once our tour begins, we follow our assigned guide, who turns out to be an efficient people manager and a historian. Our 90 minute walk is filled with interesting information and entertaining stories, such as the fact that confederate soldiers made use of the cave during the Civil War, the cavern was used as a speakeasy during prohibition, and that the CCC removed 2.5 tons of mud from the cavern before opening it to the public. During our walk, we come across three other tour groups. The cavern is clearly a popular destination, maybe especially so in the summer, when visitors have good reason to escape underground.
Out Comes my Phone
In the relatively dark environment of the cave, I’m relegated to having to use my iPhone camera. The pictures are not ideal, but enough to give an impression of the cave and hopefully convince you to stop for a visit.
By the conclusion of my next post, we will have arrived in Austin. Check back in a few days for that story.