Llano is a land of charming eccentricities
This is the fourth in an occasional series exploring places in Texas near and far that offer unusual views and experiences.
If you happen to have an extra $ 425,000 lying around, there is a prime property available in Llano. It would take a little more in your reserves to have the contents of the building with it.
Thousands of vinyl records form the core of the collection of various quirks inside Records and Stranger Things (nicknamed “RATS”), housed in the former Llano frozen crate factory built in 1893.
Owner Charles Slocumb wouldn’t put a firm price on the collection of records, books, posters, paintings, Wedgewood porcelain sets, old typewriters, antiques and boxes of old “mags” tastefully covered with a crisp white cloth in a back room, but he is looking to retire and has listed the property on Craigslist.
“It’s a white elephant”, Slocumb admitted from his collection, claiming he has yet to submit serious offers.
As noted in a previous Get Outta Town story, I am an avid vinyl record buyer and walked away with gems from Gal Costa, John Cale, country songs from the Everly Brothers, A Taste of Honey, and a 1971 curiosity. ‘a metal band called the Alamo, with a mediocre rendering of the iconic San Antonio landmark filling its cover.
Beyond old records, the town of 3,325 just two hours north of San Antonio offers plenty of opportunities for antique dealers and the curious, with shops along its main downtown thoroughfare, quaint sculpture and a downtown butterfly garden, a railway museum, a lovely public park along the river, and the very famous Cooper’s Old Time Pit Bar-B-Que restaurant.
The Llano River is dammed under the trestle bridge that connects the town center to the north side of Llano, creating a wide lake popular for swimming and fishing, and a waterfall that gently flows the river through ancient rock formations .
Along the north shore of the lake is Badu Park, a public green space suitable for picnicking and RV camping, although public toilets have been closed due to COVID-19.
The park is named after a prominent mineralogist who identified the unusual properties of llanite rock, also called opalene for its glittering opal flakes. Prominent sculptor Frank Teich, who oversaw the construction of San Antonio Town Hall and once had a granite courtyard next to the Alamo, made Llano his home in part because of its rocky bounty.
It is no coincidence that Llano remains popular among artists who use rock as their main material. Every March, the outdoors Llano Earth Art Fest (LEAF) welcomes rock stacking artists from around the world to its World Stone Stacking Championship, where prowess of height and balance are recognized, and artful arches are appreciated.
The remains of their efforts can usually be found scattered around the prominent ripples of llanite flowing out of the Llano River valley, visible from walking trails that also host more permanent sculptures created for LEAF.
No human creation quite compares to the nearby Enchanted Rock, identified by boulder stackers as “the coolest, most awe-inspiring, and tallest boulder in the world.” The popular state of the natural space limits visitors and can fill up quickly, so reservations are recommended.
From the path to the pit
A more formal sculpture garden is located just across the bridge, where the Llano County Master Gardeners Association created The Depot Garden opposite the old S&P Austin Northwestern station.
Amid the pride of Barbados, the butterfly-attracting esperanza and crossvine, a gravel path winds around several permanently installed stone, glass, ceramic and metal sculptures. Messages from Llano resident Lynda Hallmark Gammage, which continue the stacking theme with a collection of human-height ceramic sculptures, and the granite sphere by Maine artist David Allen, can be seen from the street .
The garden sits in the shadow of Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad Caboose # 3304, a historic remnant of the 30-mile railroad that once connected Llano to Fairland.
Sculpture enthusiasts can be forgiven for being hungry, all to blame for the smoke billowing from nearby Cooper’s Old Time Pit Bar-B-Que. The original Cooper franchise’s six-city home is gaining popularity year after year across Texas by sticking to recipes forged by Llanoites Terry and Karen Wootan, who bought the restaurant from Tommy Cooper in 1962.
(Full Disclosure: Not only is my wife related to the Wootans on her mother’s side, but her grandfather, Roy Oatman, is an Oatman family member who donated the original acreage for the town of Llano. She spent her summers visiting Oatman Street and Oatman Creek, and still remembers her near escape from the 1998 flood that nearly washed her into the river. I first visited Llano and Cooper before I left. ‘she and I knew each other, and in fact she told me I had the old family home scored big points with her when we were dating.)
Cooper’s is also believed to be behind the concept of an open-air barbecue, where diners line up outside to select slices of meat – there is no menu – which the pit masters drop onto. a tray to take inside and join alongside traditional Texas barbecues.
Terry Wootan said their success came from direct heat cooking, an unusual move in the barbecue business, where most pit masters use indirect heat to showcase smoky flavors. “We cook it like the cowboys did on the stove,” Wootan said.
It favors the natural flavors of smoked meats, and particularly tastes beef ribs and pork chops.
During hunting season in the “Deer Capital of Texas,” any Cooper guest who is not fully camouflaged will stand out like a sore thumb. Hungry hunters are as friendly as they are curious and will undoubtedly ask you politely where you are from.
Baby heads ??
After feeding both the art appetite and the belly, I ventured 10 miles north of Llano on Route 16 to visit Baby Head Cemetery.
After studying the uncertain history of the place, which includes a city and a mountain once with the same ill-fated name, I wanted to see for myself why any place could earn such a horrible nickname.
As if the name itself isn’t spooky enough, some modern visitors pay homage by leaving plastic doll heads on gravestones and the entrance fence.
As night fell, the worn footprints on some hundred-year-old headstones became difficult to discern, but I noticed an inordinate number of infants and toddlers buried. The year 1890 turned out to be a bad year for the townspeople, with Eugene E. Clary only living 65 days that year, with HE and EF Hall’s baby only living 48 days – not long enough for receive a name – and another unnamed child who “was born and died” on the same day in September.
Completely chilled, I left the site in my rear window and walked back through town, reflecting on the day. During several hours rummaging through RATS thinking about how much money I would need to buy the whole shebang, I heard a customer say to Slocumb: “This is a really cool place, I could spend days here. . “
Slocumb replied curtly, “I spend days here.”
If you are going to
How to get there
Two main roads connect San Antonio to Llano: the more direct route is US Highway 281 to Route 71, slightly longer is Interstate 10 to US Highway 87 to Route 16. Both are equally scenic, with a few quaint towns along the way. Route 16 passes near the Enchanted Rock State Natural Area.
Where to stay
As a popular tourist spot, Llano is full of hotels, guesthouses, and Airbnb options, many of which currently require a minimum two-day stay. The Mustard Seed Bed and Breakfast on the Llano is a favorite, nestled near the scenic south bank of the Llano River with its walking path, and in the shadow of the historic Red Top Jail.
Where to eat and drink
Cooper’s Old Time Pit Bar-B-Que is ultra-casual, open daily, with a take-out option available. Llano’s Hungry Hunter is a classic Central Texas restaurant, open daily for breakfast and lunch except Tuesdays. Joe’s Bar downtown offers classic pub food and a hometown atmosphere. The Badu 1891 gastronomic option is an unfortunate victim of the pandemic, with a sign “Closed until further notice” on the front lawn.
The Llano Beer Company down Main Street has a selection of 55 craft beers and ciders, with much nicer staff than the bar’s grumpy-faced hop logo suggests.