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Hit the Road

Hill Country Paradise

Culture, creatures and custom crafts lure tourists off the river in Kerrville

Kerr County seems like a second home to thousands of Texans who have enrolled over the years at one of the 27 summer camps in this naturally blessed section of the Hill Country. Approximately 25,000 children pass through the camps every summer.

The children can grow into adulthood appreciating canoeing past towering cypress trees on the clear green waters of the Guadalupe River without ever having ventured into Kerrville itself. That’s an oversight. Kerrville, which accounts for almost half of the county’s 44,000 residents, has something for everyone.

Let’s start with the cowboy angle, since Kerrville is headquarters for The Museum of Western Art. The modest, gracious building was the last designed by San Antonio architect O’Neil Ford. In addition to offering artwork from the museum’s permanent collection or a traveling exhibit, the building has to-die-for Western touches. The recently refinished floors are made of mesquite, and the brick skylight ceilings are Mexican-style domes known as bóvedas. There’s a nice children’s exhibit and a 6,000-volume research library.

The town’s most prominent family, the Schreiners, traces its roots back to Capt. Charles Schreiner, Texas Ranger, cattle and sheep rancher, Confederate officer, merchant and banker. His Victorian home, now the Hill Country Museum, is open again after being closed for renovations. The Kerrville Convention and Visitors Bureau has brochures detailing an in-town tour of historical markers, and a local historian has created a driving tour of nearby Civil War sites.

It would be easy to spend thousands of dollars cruising area Western-themed shops specializing in art, jewelry and crafts. Just west of Kerrville on State Highway 39 in Ingram is a one-block shopping area called the Old Ingram Loop. Here, engraver and silversmith Clint Orms crafts gold and silver belt buckles that are works of art. Next door, 81-year-old boot and saddle maker Don Atkinson is still doing special orders. One pair of boots on display was commissioned by his dentist. The elegant black boots each boasted patches of red ostrich leather shaped like Texas; a shiny white leather “molar” marked the location of Kerrville.

The best-known artist in Kerrville is James Avery, who started crafting silver crucifixes 56 years ago and now has 54 retail stores in Texas and a handful of other states and brisk mail-order and online services. His headquarters in Kerrville is worth a tour. One can see a video, watch craftsmen working on individual pieces through a glass window and walk across the grounds to the sophisticated Southwestern-themed sales shop to purchase elegantly simple pieces made of silver and gold.

Kerrville’s cultural attractions include the Cailloux Theatre, where the Symphony of the Hills performs, and the Kerr Arts and Cultural Center and the Hill Country Arts Foundation. I particularly like the Arts Foundation’s outdoor theater that’s situated on The Point, where the Guadalupe River and Johnson Creek merge. (See story page 9.)

At nearby ranches one may hunt exotic game—the Schreiners’ Y.O. Ranch being the most famous—and preserves where one can simply appreciate them. Just driving down ranch roads you’re likely to spot aoudad (Barbary) sheep, Corsican sheep, greater kudu (African antelope), wildebeest, sika (Asian deer) and many other species.

After learning that exotic axis deer now flourish in more than 27 counties of central and southern Texas, I gave myself permission to order an axis deer hamburger with cheddar cheese at Rails … a Café at the Depot, 615 E. Schreiner St. It was everything a hamburger should be—thick, tender, juicy, delicious—and not a bit gamy. The menu had many other tempting items as well. Other good bets are River’s Edge, A Tuscan Grille (right on the Guadalupe), 1011 Guadalupe St., and the rather grand Mamacita’s Restaurant y Cantina, 215 Junction Highway, with its Mexican, Texan and Middle-Eastern architecture.

Well, we’re not even getting into the famed Kerrville Folk Festival, the spring event that highlights singer/songwriters. That’s nine miles south of town on Quiet Valley Ranch. The truth is, inside Kerrville or out on the road, the attractions are glorious.


Kaye Northcott recently retired as editor of Texas Co-op Power, but she intends to continue exploring Texas.