Whew!  What a crazy spring!!!  From SXSW to Fort Hood to President Obama to NBA Playoffs, I’ve been photographing everything I can put my eyes on for two months.  I’ve enjoyed it immensely, but it’s time I get back to traveling on my own terms.

First stop, Ennis – the bluebonnet capitol of Texas.

Bluebonnets are my all-time favorite flower.  Every spring I get giddy when I see them pop up on the sides of the highway, and I thumb through the pages of the wildflower edition of Texas Highways like a little kid looking at a new comic book.  I can’t help it, I’m a Texas girl.

So when deciding where I should go for my first trip back from a longer-than-expected hiatus, my first Google search was “bluebonnets.”

That’s Gina Rokas, tourism director for the Ennis Convention and Visitors’ Bureau, in the video.  She’s fantastically helpful!  More about her in a little while, though.

First, let me tell you about my accommodations.


I stayed at the Thomas Carriage House, owned by Russell and Nancy Thomas.  Russell is the mayor of Ennis.  He was away on family business when I was there, but Nancy was wonderful!  She has a lot of knowledge about Ennis and where to find the best wildflowers.

The room where I stayed was in the upper level of a guest house (the light blue building in the above picture) behind their home.  (How often do you get to stay at the mayor’s house?)  It includes a queen bed, private bath, kitchenette and sitting area, among other things, and is surrounded by a beautiful garden below.



I checked in to my room and wasn’t there long before Nancy knocked on the door to give me a few wildflower tips.  The first of which was to go to the Visitor’s Center.


That’s where I met Gina Rokas, who gave me a detailed map of the Bluebonnet Trails.

The driving trails are mapped and maintained by the Ennis Garden Club and they draw thousands of visitors every year.  There are a few trails to choose from, and they’re marked by road signs, but I highly recommend picking up a map at the visitor’s center.


I started with the southeast trail, which runs from I-45 to Mach Rd.

Mach Rd. is a magical place.  It was about 4:30 p.m. when I got on the road, and I was thinking I’d drive around and see a few flowers, then have some dinner and make it to the northeast trail by sunset.  It didn’t take long before I realized I wouldn’t be stopping for dinner.

I arrived at Mach Rd. and stepped out of my car.  The bluebonnet fragrance was amazing!  I wish I could bottle it.

I stopped to take a photo or two of a barn in a field full of color.


Then I stopped again about two minutes down the road at a barbed wire fence to take a self-portrait.  I set up the camera across the road and hit the timer.  by the time I walked back to the fence, I was distracted by the view and forgot to turn around in time for the picture.


With a view like that, you can see why.  The way the ground rippled with flowers made it exceptionally beautiful.


I got back in the car and had to stop again about a minute down the road.  Then again, and again.  Every field was better and better.





I looked at the time and there was no way I had time to stop to eat before sunset.  I got in the car with a whimper and drove up to the northeast trail.

The northeast trail runs from I-45 to Sugar Ridge Rd., the highest point in the county, and the perfect place to watch the sunset.

The best part about this trail is that there’s a field covered in wildflowers with no fence to keep you out.  A member of the garden club bought the property with the intention of letting visitors enjoy the flowers, which are naturally abundant and not seeded.  You can walk through the large field at your leisure.

When I arrived there were several people enjoying the colorful acreage.  So much so that I had to find my own little corner to photograph.

When I found my spot, the light was just starting to get good.  I nestled myself in the bluebonnets and Indian paintbrushes and started snapping while the sun sunk lower in the sky.AL3_3724





After the sun was below the horizon I decided to shed a bit of my equipment and get my tripod and flashlight to do some light painting.  On my way to the car, I met Jim.

Jim and I chatted for a minute or two about light painting and photography.  He had been out shooting for a while, but thought he’d give light painting a shot before he left for the evening.

I set up in my spot and messed with my flashlight for a few minutes before it got dark enough to see the stars.  I caught Jim up the hill trying his first few light painting photos.


I walked over to Jim to see how he was doing and realized I didn’t have my phone in my pocket.  I asked if he could call it, hoping that I’d hear it buzz on the ground near by.  No such luck.

We put our gear in our cars and went back out to do a proper search.  He kept calling and we kept looking and listening.  It got very dark and after an hour of searching (poor Jim) I was about to call it a night and try again in the morning.

I used Jim’s phone to call my husband and let him know what was happening.  Nick, my tech guru husband, told me that he could use an app called Find My iPhone to make my phone make a beeping, sonar-type sound.  It worked wonderfully!  We found my phone near where I was shooting and Jim and I sighed a big sigh of relief!

(THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU Jim, for not leaving me phone-less!)

I was tempted to stay out and take some night shots, but it was nearly 10 p.m. at that point and I was ready to call it a night.

The next morning I woke up at 5:30 a.m. with a nagging feeling that I didn’t get the photo I was thinking about all day.  I had missed my opportunity to get that picture I had in my head with the stars and the big tree and the bluebonnets in the foreground.  Since my trips are only 24-hours long, I knew I wouldn’t get another chance.

At that point in the morning, I couldn’t get stars, but I could get the sunrise.  I woke up, got dressed and drove around to find a good spot to photograph.  Well, the problem with shooting the sunrise is that before it starts, it’s too dark to see which fields have flowers and which don’t.

I ended up across the street from the Thomas Carriage House, which turned out to be a lovely view.



After watching a beautiful sunrise among my favorite flowers, I went back to bed and slept soundly.

When I woke up, I gathered my things and went back to the Visitor’s Center, where Gina gave me a few more tips.

Next door was the Railroad Museum.


The museum is housed in the refurbished 1915 Van Noy restaurant building.  It includes models, pictures, dishes, furniture and other artifacts from the rail station and trains that stopped there, as well as some general history from the town of Ennis.




For lunch, Gina suggested that I go to the Wildflower Cafe, which is inside Interior Ideas, just down the street.

When I walked in to the boutique, I was immediately drawn to a small table of paintings.


They reminded me so much of my great grandmother, Burnice Huggins, who used to paint very similar scenes.

These paintings were done by local Ennis artist LaJuan Schlegel.

The three local ladies I sat down to lunch with told me a little bit about LaJuan and her husband, who used to own a jewelry shop in town.

When I got home, I read LaJuan’s bio on a brochure, which said she learned from the late Louise Howell.  Oddly enough, Louise Howell is the name of another great grandmother of mine, but she was not an artist.  Even stranger, my mom reminded me that we have a painting that was signed Louise Howell.  That’s always been a mystery to us, knowing that Louise Howell, my great grandmother, was not a painter.  Now we know that the painting we have was likely done by Louise Howell the artist, not Louise Howell my great grandmother.  Also, that my great grandmother Burnice Huggins was at the very least a fan, if not a friend, of LaJuan’s teacher.  Ms. Schlegel unknowingly solved a family mystery!

Anyway, I was hoping very much to meet LaJuan, but she wasn’t in her studio that day.  Still, I was able to spend a moment in her workspace.


After lunch I had run out of time in Ennis, and I hit the road, already nostalgic for the bluebonnets.  I’ll be back again, I’m sure of it.

Here are a few links to help you plan your trip:
The Ennis Visitor’s Bureau  (including links to everything you want to see in Ennis)
Bluebonnet Trails  (including maps and sighting updates)
Thomas Carriage House (owned by the mayor and his wife)
Railroad Museum (worth a few minutes)
Interior Ideas/Wildflower Cafe (boutique/tea room)
LaJuan Schlegel  (local wildflower artist)
Galaxy Drive-In Theater  (open 365 days and where I would have gone, had I not lost my phone)
Find My iPhone  (app that saved my life, I mean my phone!)

One comment on “ENNIS
  1. jp thomas says:

    Wonderful photography and great story , I’ll have to see if the Thomas carriage house is in my family ..Thank you ashley for bring us more joy to go and check out ..
    Just wondering which # this would be if you adding up all the photography advantage’s .

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