In a state full of beautiful things, it's not unusual that the hills and valleys of Texas are covered each spring season with the delicate but hardy colorful flower we call the bluebonnet.
Bluebonnets have been loved since man first trod the vast prairies of Texas. Native Americans (Texans) wove fascinating folk tales around them, crediting them with everything from having natural medicinal qualities to being spiritual messengers sent from the heavens. The early-day Spanish priests gathered the seeds and grew them around their missions to beautify. This practice gave rise to the myth that the padres had brought the plant from Spain, but the two predominant species of bluebonnets are found growing naturally only in Texas and at no other location in the world.
Just how the delicate blue beauty became the official state flower is a little-known story worth repeating. Back on 1901, when the matter was up for a vote in the state legislature, the bluebonnet was running second to the cotton flower and the bloom of the Prickly Pear advocated by John Nance Garner. Garner, who later became vice-president of the United States, lost out on his flower of choice and managed to be tagged with a nickname, "Cactus Jack", for his unsuccessful efforts.
It seems a ladies group had been lobbying for the bluebonnet, which, in the end, finally came to be known as the official flower of Texas.
Following the legislature's decision, however, another debate raged for decades as to which species of Bluebonnet was the actual state flower. In 1971 it was finally settled when the legislature decided that all six species of the bluebonnet would be known as the official state flower(s) of Texas.
Viewing bluebonnets in Texas is about as easy as hitching up the horses and heading out across the countryside for a long drive in the spring. Of course, taking the car and following the highways are a preferred method in contemporary times.
Where do you look for fields of bluebonnets? While bluebonnets generally grow in every corner of the state, the Texas Hill Country seems to be the favorite place if you're looking for concentrated growth. From the Highland Lakes region just west of Austin to the hilly countryside north of Uvalde, and everything in between, there are plenty of Sunday drives that will bring you into the heart of bluebonnet country.
Of course, different species of bluebonnets bloom at different times. Follow this guide to determine the best time(s) to hit the road:
Region: Central Texas
Look for: pointed leaflets, blue flowers tipped with white
Peak season: Late March to early April
Region: Hidalgo, Leon and LaSalle counties
Look for: blunt leaflets, widely spaced flowers
Peak season: Late March
Region: Big Bend country
Look for: Flowering stalks up to 3 feet tall, seven leaflets
Peak season: Early spring
Look for: 2- to 7-inch flowers in purple, lavender and white
Peak season: Early spring
Region: Panhandle plains
Look for: Stalks up to 2 feet tall
Peak season: Mid to late spring
Although there are many driving routes (known as bluebonnet trails) throughout the state, a good place to start is near the city of Burnet, which is known as the Bluebonnet Capital of Texas. Burnet is roughly 40 miles northwest of Austin. Follow TX Hwy 29 west out of Burnet for 3-1/2 miles, then turn right (north) on Ranch Road 234 and follow it about 6 miles. Turn left on Graphite Mine Road, which will eventually meet TX Hwy 29. Turn left to return to Burnet.
A variation of this drive will give you different but equally spectacular views of bluebonnets as well as of Lake Buchanan. Follow TX Hwy 29 west and again turn right on RR 234. If you stay on this road, you'll have 15 miles of vistas before it finally dead-ends. You can return via the same route or make the turn on Graphite Mine Road.
If you want to see even more of the Hill Country, simply stay on TX Hwy 29 west all the way to Llano, a distance of about 30 miles. In Llano, turn left (south) on TX Hwy 16 and follow it to Fredericksburg (39 miles). In Fredericksburg turn left (east) on U.S. Hwy 290 and follow it 32 miles to Johnson City, then follow U.S. Hwy 281 north 37 miles to Burnet.
Another beautiful bluebonnet drive leads west from Brenham on U.S. Hwy 290 to Giddings (35 miles), south on U.S. Hwy 77 to LaGrange (20 miles), then north on TX 159 and 237, which will get you back to U.S. 290 in the city of Burton, about 15 miles west of Brenham. Brenham lies midway between Austin and Houston.
Each April 24, Texas celebrates State Wildflower Day, and many cities have pageants, parades, and other celebrations. A partial listing of cities includes Mason, Chappell Hill, Keney, Glen Rose, Ennis, and Hughes Springs. The best way to learn what is scheduled is to contact the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, 4801 La Crosse Avenue, Austin, TX 78739, (512) 292-4100. During March, April, and May, the Department of Transportation also has a telephone hotline with information on where bluebonnets are blooming: (800) 452-9292.