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Hit the Road

Llano: Between a Rock and a Hard Place

This Hill Country town comes by its many assets naturally

You could be blindfolded and driven around for hours,” says Terry “Tex” Toler, “but you’ll know exactly where you are the minute you take the blindfold off.” Toler refers to his adopted hometown of Llano, where he manages Llano’s Main Street Program. He attributes the area’s rock-solid unique identity to geology, which is quintessential Hill Country with a mighty dose of moonscape thrown in.

The city of Llano sits amid modestly mountainous terrain. Round Mountain, Packsaddle Mountain and Dancer Peak are high points on the Llano Uplift. The uplift is an island of granite that got superheated about 2.5 billion years ago and then cooled, leaving giant bubbles of granite now exposed by millions of years of erosion. Enchanted Rock, the massive pink granite dome just 15 miles south of Llano, is a conspicuous upshot. Enclosed in a state park, Enchanted Rock is a mecca for rock climbers who revere the dome’s diverse climbs, with names such as Raw Meat, Fear of Flying and Stranger Than Friction that evoke a sense of what’s involved in ascending the 425-foot tall batholith.

The igneous excitement is reflected everywhere in this town of 3,232 people that’s anchored in its historic square, presided over by the two-story sandstone, marble and granite Victorian-style county courthouse. The courthouse faces Ford Street on the east (which becomes Bessemer Avenue north of downtown) and Sandstone Street on the south. The street names are reminders that Llano had an iron-mining boom in the 1890s and still enjoys something of a rock boom.

From its vantage point at the top of the uplift, Llano is front and center for all sorts of precious stones and minerals (including gold) that were kicked up over the volatile Precambrian years. That includes one-of-a kind llanite, a type of granite sparked with blue quartz crystals that is found only in Llano County. You can see a dike of llanite on a road cut on Texas Highway 16 about 9 miles north of town.

You also can buy llanite at Enchanted Rocks & Jewelry, owned by Frank Rowell and his wife, Patricia Felts, who is a jeweler. Rowell knows all the best places to look for rocks, but one of his favorites is the Llano River, not far from the courthouse. Wade into the stream downhill from the intersection of East Sandstone and Ash streets, where swimming also is allowed.

You can’t miss the river: It flows through the heart of Llano, underneath the beautiful Roy Inks Bridge, a four-span, steel, 1930s-era truss bridge that connects downtown proper to the rest of the city. That’s where you’ll find the other half of Llano, including the outdoor music venue behind the historic Badu House bed-and-breakfast. It features two decks and a patio with two fireplaces for heating up chilly winter nights. This is a soulful place that would inspire a bit of jealousy in many an Austin hangout. For more live music, Fuel Coffee House (just off the square) perks nightly with music ranging from the Ukulele Club to the Lake Bottom Jazz Band.

No visit to Llano would be complete without experiencing the fine barbecue. Laird’s and Inman’s Kitchen and Brother’s Bar-B-Que are contenders, but Cooper’s BBQ reigns supreme. Whiff the aroma of brisket, pork chops, ribs, chicken and sausage cooking in the huge pit in front of the restaurant. Some connoisseurs go so far as to insist that Llano is the real barbecue capital of Texas, but you can decide for yourself.

Deer season is big in Llano, which also calls itself the deer capital of Texas. But the city is a year-round happy hunting ground for more diverse events, including the Llano Art Studio Tour, Fiddle Fest, Crawfish Open, Blue Bell & Bluegrass Festival, Open Pro Rodeo & Parade, Rock’n River Fest and Starry Starry Nights. There’s also Llano Heritage Weekend, where Toler is planning to add a national rock-stacking contest to the other events such as the chuck wagon meal, shoot-out, author extravaganza and team roping. Rock stacking is similar to sand castle building, but practitioners use bigger elements and get taller results.

They are coming to the right place: Llano, it turns out, was made to rock.

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Read more of author Helen Thompson’s work at seeninhouse.com.