It was Easter, and I needed travel-sized bottles of Shampoo and toothpaste. The only store open on this particular Sunday was Walmart—I made special preparations and entered at my own risk. With my basket full of useless but adorable toiletries, I unloaded at the checkout.
“You must be going on a trip somewhere,” said Jodi, the pleasant Walmart associate. “Where are you going?”
Just as soon as Texas escaped my lips, the gal behind me quips: “I’m so sorry!”
Confused, I look around to make sure she hasn’t offended anyone before I reply.
“You don’t like Texas?” I queried.
“Me? No. Never been to the place. But who the heck would want to go?” she asked.
I had never been to Texas, or anywhere particularly close to the South—though Texas is arguably large enough to entertain both northern and southern proclivities while holding the same gun. I’ll also admit there does exist an unexamined prejudice towards Texas from many Californians. It’s likely the same prejudice the woman in Walmart was expressing—a kind of chitchat that people use to relate to each other over mutual distaste. But in my travels I’ve learned to curb my pubic opinions on culture, particularly when that culture could beat the s*** out of me.
A Trip To “The Hill Country”
Fredericksburg has a population of just fewer than 13,000 people. “The Hill Country” is what the locals call it, because it rises significantly in elevation about an hour north of San Antonio and 70 miles west of Austin. To me it looked flat, but one woman’s rolling hillside is another’s steep mountain terrain.
Germans and Texans are an unlikely pair, but in Fredericksburg, a Texas history showcasing German immigration is proudly on display.
In the early 1900’s German was the most common language spoken in Fredericksburg. Originally a Spanish territory, Mexico controlled the territory until a majority sought emancipation for slaves circa 1824. This pissed off a bunch of crazy slave owners but to no avail. The result was a new republic and Sam Houston became the first president of the Republic of Texas. He favored the idea of annexation to the United States, which didn’t actually happen until 1845, when Texas became the 28th state incorporated into the Union.
While all of this crazy s*** was going on, there was a mass movement of Germans to the south and central regions of Texas. Many of these Germans thought they were taking root in the Republic of Texas. Sorry German farmers. You’re all Americans now!
History is so boring when it’s laid out like this. I hate linear paths and I think most people do too, which is exactly why people have to go to Fredericksburg to understand why—especially if you’re from California—you should learn to hold your tongue inside a Walmart.
Here are some things I would recommend while in the “The Hill Country”.
This region of Texas is popularly known as “Texas Wine County” or “Texas Tuscany.” Prepare to make a day of the 290 Wine Road, and prepare to have someone else drive your ass home. If you’re a lover of the grapes, Texas is boasting one of the fastest growing wine industries in the county. Today, there are over 300 wineries producing Texas wine, which reflect many of the same complex flavors found in the Mediterranean or other vines that grow at this longitude.
Fredericksburg is home to dozens of unique tasting rooms and several very large wineries off the famous 290 Wine Road, including Becker, Grape Creek, Rancho Ponte and too many others to list.
My personal favorite was the Becker Vineyard, which had an amazing farmhouses and special event venue. Try a bottle of the Raven, for about $40 this concentration with essences of chocolate, toffee, dates, and espresso is a blend of Malbec and Petit Verdot. I have no idea what that means but I’m planning an entire meal around the bottle I brought home with me.
Museums and History
The National Museum of the Pacific War is incredible. The only Japanese midget submarine still intact from Pearl Harbor lives here. The tickets are good for 48 hours and that’s a huge benefit to guests—one could easily spend days looking at all of the information, artifacts and priceless treasures from WWII.
The Nimitz Museum is also one-of- a-kind in Fredericksburg. The late Navy Admiral was born and raised in “The Hill Country” and the town is damn proud of it.
Another major attraction is Lyndon B. Johnson’s Ranch in the LBJ National Historic Park and the Texas White House. When Ladybird Johnson died a few years ago in 2007, the Ranch home and its hundreds of acres were donated to the National Park Services. Only recently has the public been allowed to tour the former home of President Johnson and experience the incredible life story that is woven into the earth there.
The president’s entire life cycle can be traced in this single experience. The foundation of his birth home is still present along with the original schoolhouse he walked to as a young boy. The home he raised his family in and commanded the American Armed forces is completely persevered as it was in the 1970’s.
Aside from stunning natural beauty, Texas “Hill Country” has an abundance to offer travelers. So please, the next time you’re in Walmart, buy your useless toiletries and shut the hell up. Because we’re all a little bit country whether we know it or not. Texas is enormous, and at some point all of our histories cross. You don’t have to believe in the right to bear arms to appreciate the great things happening in the Lone Star State, but you do have to leave California in order to find out for yourself.