Bluebonnet Country

Most people call it Texas Hill Country, and to be fair, that is a perfect name for it. Low, rolling hills pucntuate the landscape in the southwestern part of Texas, and the landscape transitions from pasture to pristine in a heartbeat. Hill Country is known for quite a few things, but during the spring, the bluebonnets arrive in force, so it might as well be Bluebonnet Country.

I’ve long had a passion for bluebonnets, and an equally long, if not longer, interest with railroads. Combining these two is certainly going to capture my attention, and this small location just at the edge of Hill Country is one of my favorites. There we find an abandoned rail line which the bluebonnets have also found. I should, perhaps, refer to it as disused, since technically it not abandoned. In fact, the rail line here is on the National Register of historic places. It’s just that no one actually uses the rails anymore.

Except the bluebonnets, of course. They use it a lot.

83 miles to go on our Austin bound journey. Just 83 more miles and we are finally there. We’ve been riding the rails for a while now, headed to the city. Mile after mile the countryside rolls by and we are lulled by the creek and the sway of the cars as they whiz down the tracks. We round a small bend and now there is just 82 more miles until Austin. Outside the windows the miles continue to roll by. So do the years, because this vignette hasn’t happened since 1937 when the last passengers rode these rails. The historic railroad started as the Austin and Northwestern Railroad, which was purchased by the Houston & Central Texas Railroad which was then acquired by the Texas and New Orleans Railroad and finally by the Southern Pacific Railroad. Whew! Through all these owners and all these years the line has persevered, even though today it doesn’t see any rail traffic at all. The bluebonnets, on the other hand, have made extensive use of the rails. They find the lack of rolling stock perfectly acceptable and over the years have taken over the rails for themselves. We don’t mind, however, because now both the bluebonnets and ourselves are Austin bound.

The rail line eventually leads to Austin, Texas. If we were to stand in the middle of it, and look south, we would see something like Austin Bound. The rails, leading off to a bend just ahead, are covered in bluebonnets, making for a striking scene. Photographed in the early morning, it was quiet, tranquil and serene, shared only by a few passing rabbits, a stray deer, and of course myself.

Flower Rails, on the other hand, is anything but tranquil and quiet. The sunset roared to life this particular morning, and it swept into the day with a vengeance. The sun tore through the low-lying clouds at just the right moment, lighting up the trees and a distant trestle. The lines of color leading into the bridge really caught my eye.

There was a time, not all that long ago, when the rails were bright and shiny, regularly polished by the steam engines and rolling stock that moved along them as the train made its way to and from Austin, Texas. These days, however, the spur line is left to itself, a reminder of those days gone by. Its rails no longer glisten nor gleam in the in sun and only silence keeps them company. That and the flowers. For as seasons roll by and the years blend together, so do the flowers. One by one, then group by group, the bluebonnets overtake the rail line. The flowers rejoice in the solitude of the abandoned line and have begun to flourish here. The rails, happy for the company, seem agreeable to the arrangement, giving rise to the flower rails. Texas Hill Country has many of these obscure locations. Most days of the year they appear to be nothing special, but in the right light at the right time they tell a striking story. Flower Rails is no exception, and the flowers spilling over the rails, stretching into the distant trestle, provide a perfect example. The sun lighting up the trestle, beckoning the bluebonnets onward, makes it all the more compelling. This spur line might be abandoned, but it surely isn’t forgotten.

Actually, that trestle held my attention for days. As much as I adore Flower Rails, I also like the last photograph, Bluebonnet Trestle.

The rails lie quiet now, but certainly not forgotten. And the bluebonnets in central Texas that have overgrown the rails and up to the creek to create Bluebonnet Trestle most definitely have not forgotten the line is here, either. For they make excellent use of it, although not exactly for the purpose originally intended. The Austin & Northwestern Railroad intended the line to be used for hauling a wide variety of loads to Austin and beyond. Livestock, such as cattle and goats, stone, such as granite, building materials, and even passengers plied these rails, coming and going. The route was such an important one that when it fell into disuse it was placed on the National Register of Historic Places, ensuring its position in history. To the bluebonnets, however, none of this mattered at all. They are concerned in the here and now, and find the conditions exactly right. Blooming from March through May, more or less, of each year, they are slowly taking over the line as their very own. The Texas Hill County has numerous fabulous sights, and by any measure this one ranks up there with the best of them.

Where Flower Rails truly makes a statement, Bluebonnet Trestle is a different counterpoint and mood, bringing us back to a tranquil and warming image.

It’s hard to say which of these three I like best. They all well represent Bluebonnet Country, and they all have a different mood and feel. I’ll end up taking the easy way out and simply saying that I like them all.

Purchase Bluebonnet Country for yourself

You will always delight in bluebonnets by purchasing Austin Bound, Flower Rails and Bluebonnet Trestle.