HWY 71


For most of my adventures, I spend at least a couple hours researching where I might go and what I might do when I get there.  There’s always some flexibility in my plan – these are adventures after all – but I usually have a list for each place.

Recently a friend asked me, “how was your trip?”  Because of my busy schedule, I hadn’t planned as much as I normally do, so I answered, “it was good, but I think I need to plan more next time.”  He responded, “or less.”

Huh.  He had a point.

So this time, I set out on the road with no plan.

I was headed to San Angelo (click here to read about my trip), but I left a day early just to see what was on the way.  I chose a stretch of Hwy 71 between Austin and Brady, knowing I’d have to head north west, but those, and my 24-hour time limit, were my only parameters.

It was a cold, windy, cloudy day, but I was determined to find something spectacular immediately.  I drove down a few back roads closer to the Austin area, but I kept running in to new home construction.


Not very interesting.

After not too long, I saw a sign that said “Antique Stained Glass” attached to a mailbox.  I pulled over to check it out, since the windows were displayed so originally, but the gate was locked and no one was home.



Still not terribly interesting.

I spent a lot of time searching for something, but I couldn’t find it.  Instead, I just got back on Hwy 71 and relaxed a little, hoping something would find me instead.

Moments later, among the new home construction part of the city, I saw these:



There was a grouping of about half a dozen log cabins.  I assume they’re replicas, made for the residents of Spanish Oaks (since the sign said “Private Park – Spanish Oaks Residents Only” …I may have trespassed a little), but if anyone knows the real story behind these buildings, please let me know.

I looked around a little, then got back on the road.

There are some great views out on Hwy 71 near Lake Travis.  I pulled over to catch a glimpse of the lake in the distance.


Before too long, I got to a bridge over the Pedernales River, which is fed by Lake Travis and the Colorado River.

There’s a gravel road that goes underneath the bridge.  I don’t recommend taking this road unless you have some kind of SUV.  My little Civic slid quite a bit before I gave up, parked and started walking.


My walking was for naught, though.  The water is so low that I’d be better off repelling to get to the riverbed.


I still wasn’t having much luck on this unplanned adventure, but I kept going.  I stopped a few more scenic places and took a picture or two.


Then I saw a sign for the Bluebonnet Cafe in Marble Falls.

It was getting dark and the clouds were too heavy to see any kind of sunset, so I hung a right on to Hwy 281.

Bluebonnet Cafe is less than 10 min. away from Hwy 71, and totally worth the detour.


I had chicken fried chicken, mashed potatoes, corn on the cob and salad, with iced tea and home made rolls.  Classic diner deliciousness.


But the best part?  The pie!!!  Meringue as big as your head!  Oh, and did I mention they have pie happy hour Mon.-Fri. from 3-5 p.m.?


When I left it was dark, but I had a long way to go still, so I kept driving.

I pulled in to Llano about 7 p.m. or so, and the first thing that I saw was the down town courthouse.  The trees around it gave it an eerie quality.  That, and the left over reindeer Christmas decoration made me pull over and get out my camera.



I walked around the little down town square for a few minutes.  It was really cold outside, but something about the down town area intrigued me.



Finally, my fingers went numb, so I turned in for the night.

I stayed at the Days Inn in Llano.  There aren’t a lot of options in Llano at the last minute.  It was your basic Days Inn.

In the morning, I sampled the continental breakfast then checked out and walked down to a bridge I saw the night before.

Before I got to the bridge, I stepped in to a little store called Whimseys Antiques.  It’s a great store with some really unique items.



That wire Ferris wheel came home with me.

I walked down to the bridge after my shopping spree.  It was still cold outside and windy!



It’s a sturdy bridge over the Llano River, with a dam on the west side.  There are foot bridges with lovely views on each side of Hwy 71.


I spent most of the morning walking around a bit, then got back on the road.

Just before leaving Llano, I drove past Cooper’s BBQ.  I thought for about 10 seconds before turning the car around.


Cooper’s is one of those places that every Texas BBQ connoisseur (what Texan isn’t?) has to go to at least once.  You choose your meat straight from the pit before going inside to your choice of sides – bacon mac & cheese or jalapeno bacon mac & cheese.  Help yourself to bread, sauce, beans and pickles on the picnic-style tables.



I ate my brisket and jalapeno bacon mac & cheese and sipped on Dr. Pepper while listening to a group of four men with cowboy boots talk about high school football…in February.  It was a beautiful thing.

When I could hold back the tears of happiness, I got back on the road.

The sun had finally come out and I was feeling much more optimistic about my Hwy 71 un-plans.

I stopped at a historical marker in Valley Spring.  There was a building, which used to be a school in the 1930s.  It’s now a community center.  Before the building was built, that location was the birthplace of James Field Smathers (1888-1967), inventor of the electric typewriter.


On down the road a bit I saw a cemetery shaded by a large tree, with a big hill in the background.  It was so beautiful that I had to stop.  There was still dew on the grass.



About 100 yards away was Cold Creek.  I peaked down under the Hwy 71 bridge and the water looked clear and inviting.  I took off my shoes and put my feet in.  With a name like Cold Creek, one wonders if the water is actually cold.  Believe me.  It is.



There are a few tiny towns on Hwy 71 out in that direction, but Pontotoc made me stop.  There are some interesting ruins on the south side of the road.



It turns out that Pontotoc was a promising city in the mid-1800s, and was the home of San Fernando Academy, which was established in the 1880s.  In 1887 typhoid fever struck the town and Pontotoc never really recovered.  The ruins of the school, which closed in 1890, still stand.

Hwy 71 ends near Brady, TX, and so did my unplanned adventure.  The cold dampened it a bit, but I’ll try it again with another highway on another day.

Here are a few links to help you plan your trip:
Hwy 71  (a map)
Bluebonnet Cafe  (official web site, including pie options)
Whimseys Antiques  (official web site)
Cooper’s BBQ  (official web site)
James Field Smathers  (wikipedia)
Pontotoc  (info on the lost city)


One comment on “HWY 71
  1. jp thomas says:

    Thank you ashley for your wonderful spirit , wonderful photography and great story , I look forward to checking it out ..plus I’am going to make you a great road music CD to drive too ..

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