What to do in Kerrville, Texas | Scenic Harper Road

what to do in kerrville

If you have a spare hour-and-a-half to two hours, make your way from Kerrville to Harper, Texas, by taking the scenic Harper Road, otherwise known as Ranch Road 783. Once you’re in Harper, an increasing number of shops and restaurants may prompt you to prolong your stay.

Dauna’s in Harper, at the intersection of RR 783 and US-290, is now selling “vintage” candy.

I decided to make the drive yesterday in order to stop in at Dauna’s. I had read on a Kerrville TX Facebook group that this store was selling vintage candy. My hope was to find Chuckles, the candy of my childhood that somehow ended up in my hand at the cashier each time I went into a candy shop. Chuckles had the al dente experience of gum drops but were less spicy and, frankly, more sophiticated. They came six in a pack, sitting properly in a row on a cardboard tray and wrapped in easy to open plastic. Today, someone would figure out how to sell them in blister packs, driving me to become the wolfman ready to devour the customer next to me.

While Dauna’s didn’t have Chuckles, the owner took note of the name and promised to look into it. (They now do have Chuckles, which you can also buy here.)

There was a glass jar filled with Mary Jane’s — an evil peanut butter and molasses mash-up, furthermore unsafely wrapped in a way that dastardly old ladies could hand them out on Halloween, just waiting for unsuspecting trick-or-treaters to perish of arsenic poisoning — that I quickly overlooked. I had one, one, as a young boy and barely escaped into adolescence after the experience.

“Scenic Harper Road”

what to do in kerrville
Lots of these along with their
counterpart left-pointing
ones along the way to Harper.

The other reason I took this drive is that the 19 miles between Kerrville and Harper has been branded as “Scenic Harper Road.”

Although I’ve made the drive a handful of times, and only a handful, I’ve not paid too much attention to how scenic it is. Or even whether it is.

It is.

Many visitors to Kerrville will start and end the Scenic Harper Road drive by taking Exit 505 off I-10 toward Harper. They usually stop about a quarter-mile north of that and then turn around and go back to Kerrville, Boerne, or even San Antonio. The reason they do so is that they’re on Harper Road to visit the James Avery store and only to visit the store. I’d be curious to learn how many continue north on this scenic road, because there’s more and more to attract visitors from the larger towns and cities in the south.

First, though, I have to call attention to two un-scenic parts of RR 783:

  • The straightaway road that starts 5 miles south of US 290 (or 25% of the route), making that last part a bit monotonous, and
  • The landscape scar being made with a sea-foam green pipeline, also not far south of Harper.

I don’t know the history or future of the latter, but as you take the drive from Kerrville, plan on doing your gawking during the first 14 miles.

The take-away here is that the drive is indeed fun and beautiful, but cap it off with your visit to the burgeoning town.

Downtown Harper, Texas

harper texas
This old Gulf station has been restored as a shop and is flanked by several others. Behind it is a large yard for events and gatherings.

There are a lot of abandoned buildings in Harper, which is not unique to this town. Even Kerrville’s Earl Garrett Street has a ~40-foot unoccupied storefront that can’t seem to keep a viable business in place. Our Water Street (perpendicular to Earl Garrett) is pretty much empty between the soon-to-launch Arcadia Live theater and The Humble Fork restaurant, which sits in the historic Pampells corner spot, and once prompted a city official to say to me as an aside, “We have to make this place successful.”

That should be the cats-meow retail location were it not for the fact that it isn’t. It doesn’t help that it’s also one of the busiest automobile intersections, making it all too easy to walk toward a sweet tea to slake your thirst and end up eating asphalt.

But amidst the shells of structures in Harper that appear more like the numerous dead cedar trees along Ranch Road 783 — which, by the way, make it more scenic and rustic — there is a series of four or so buildings on the south side of US 290, just west of where RR 783 juts east and then north again.

A little creativity and apparently a lot of hard work

The old Gulf gas station, in the middle, has been restored with other buildings on either side and filled in with shops, all inviting guests into a spacious backyard for events.

The man in the shorts and black shirt under the gas station overhang approached me with a “Can I help you?” when I stepped outside my idling car to take a photo of the Gulf sign.

I suppose it’s almost rude of me to have started taking shots of something, as if I were at a zoo with objects of curiosity behind bars or thick glass, without first making a connection with those who have taken the time and care to make that something so photo-worthy. I also didn’t know if this was a repeat of my years-ago experience in Brooklyn or my time recently in London, Texas when I’d met a man who gave me a history of the area.

It was the latter.

Harper as destination town

The man I came to know soon as Henry gave me a tour of the facility, a series of unrelated buildings that somehow came together as one functioning destination.

The first, to the right as you stand in front, was an old two-story firehouse, fully restored with the original ceilings and floors, which has been reborn as the Gulf Fitness Station. At street level, there were stationary bikes, and in the basement there was a space cleared for cheer squad practice, cross-fit, and yoga.

To the left were two or three more buildings housing various shops and many nooks and crannies with sundry items. Nooks interesting enough that even an anti-nook guy like me — the guy who simply gets a coffee and bean burrito from Stripes and then back on the road — would want to stay and look around a little.

Behind one of the buildings is a porch with a bar with reclaimed wood siding and tables made from old doors, including one that still had its glass panes. (Please don’t play quarters on that one…!) The porch looked out on an acre or more of open yard.

In front of the shops, just to the left side of the Gulf station, was a small fresh produce market. I bought a jar of homemade peach salsa for $10, sealed tightly in a Ball jar. It has half-inch chunks of peach and large slices of jalapeño.

I was told it goes great with pork chops. So now we know what’s on the menu one night this week.

I never tire of looking at old barns, especially those with thistles and other wild growth hemming them in from unwanted inspection.
Like: “Leave me be, youngin’. I’m good.”

Key notes:

Das Shops at Harper on 290

23699-23727-23717 W US Hwy 290, Harper, Texas

www.gulffitnessstation.com

830-864-4966

Every 3rd Saturday of the month from 10am to 4pm there are events that include live music, food trucks, face painting (for kids as well), crafts and food sales. Next event is August 15 (then Sept 19, Oct 17, Nov 14, and Dec 5 and 6).

Best small towns in Texas | London, Hext, Doss

 

best small towns texas

A dorper is a type of sheep.

I learned this yesterday on my drive to London, Texas, which we had first passed when moving our oldest son to Ruidoso, New Mexico, over the weekend. “Twin County Dorpers” is a sheep breeding concern and lies ten miles north of Harper, where part of my wife Karen’s family lives. Okay. Enough talk of dorpers. I just like the word the more I write it.

Dorpers.

my trip to london and back
My round-trip to London and points north looked a bit like a tadpole. A Texas-sized tadpole. Now you can’t un-see it, right?

My drive:

When a state in our Union boasts within its borders a “Paris,” a “Rhome” (yes, pronounced like the place in Italy), a “London,” and even an “Iraan” (pronounced differently than the country), then you know we are talking not only about the largest state in the Union — no, Alaska doesn’t count — but we are talking also about satisfying our wanderlust with trips to each of those without having to leave the comfort of our cars or RVs.

Yesterday I checked off the second of four. (Iraan was the first, this past Sunday.)

A “No-STOP sign” town

I’ve tried to categorize the towns I visit in Texas and around the country by “large” and “small,” but it occurred to me this morning that while cities can be large or small, many towns are not small or even “little bitty,” and they are not ghost towns. Many are defined only by whether there’s a STOP sign or not.

London is of the “no-STOP sign” variety. So we were zipping through London last Friday en route to Ruidoso, and I promised myself I’d be back soon.

All I saw on Friday, since I was driving, were a few dilapidated buildings, but they intrigued me, since at least one had six-inch cedar siding that was bleached light grey from the sun and heat. (Of course, what provokes poetry in me might provoke wistfulness in another.) One building had collpased on itself but was left as a disheveled heap like a pile of dirty clothes on a laundry room floor. Another had a faded “Dayton Oil Co.” sign in raised metal letters on its façade.

best small towns in texas
“That’s my next project,” he told me, in London, Texas.

London, Texas…formerly one of the best small towns to live in

And maybe soon again.

London once benefited from the cattle trail, which a few miles south included the “Old Beef Trail Crossing” of the Llano River. (“Beef” trail, lest you think we’re merely leading Ferdinand the Disney bull across town, and the “LAN-oh” River.) The 19th century and Kerrville-based mogul Captain Schreiner herded cattle through here and as far as Dodge City. Word is that the cloud of dust kicked up by this half-day crossing could be seen for miles.

Yet Schreiner’s most “clever” business was his wool and mohair warehousing. You can read more here on Joe Herring Jr.’s site.

looking toward beef crossing
Looking down at the “Old Beef Trail Crossing.”

Among other things, London once had an active dance hall, as has Sisterdale yet, for instance, though it’s typically used for events, and which Crider’s in Hunt has during summer Saturday nights. If you’ve not been to Crider’s for their rodeo and dance with live music, or their catfish night on Friday’s, treat yourself.

Dayton Oil Co.

As you approach London from the south and if you look right, you’ll see an aged mesa. One day it will be even more rounded, but some time in the past it must have looked more like those we’re used to seeing more west of us, in Arizona or Utah. Certainly, deep in the heart of Texas is geological history, and plenty of dinosaur blood waiting to be extracted by the wildcatters in Houston and sent pulsing through our highway-hungry SUVs.

best small towns in texas
A mesa sits to the right, just south of London town center.

Not half a mile to your left then is Dayton Oil Company.

Dayton, Texas, is located northeast of Houston, and its oil and gas production effectively zero’ed out only last year. Oil production peaked in 2007 and gas in 1999. It’s unclear to me whether this abandoned service station was connected to Dayton Oil here or Dayton Oil in Ohio. Either way, the property is valuable enough that a hotelier couple from Austin bought the building.

Or so I learned from a local.

Yes, a local. (I saw a total of seven residents at the restaurant — three of them working there — and three more walking.)

Not exactly a “local”

As I entered London, a man wearing a light beige shirt, jeans, and ballcap waved to me. As a resident in a town this size, why not wave to everyone who passes through? It might be the one time that hour you raise your arm above your waist.

I waved through my windshield. Stopped a couple places to take photos — post office (closed at 1pm); Dayton Oil — and then drove 100 yards to stop in front of a beautiful cedar-siding structure, a 30-foot cube on your left. That one I saw on Friday.

As I was taking photographs, the waving man was to my left and crossing the street toward me. He waved again and shouted hello.

“Hi!” I waved again, and paused my shoot. Was I in trouble? Years ago and living in a known Mafia neighborhood in Brooklyn — a friendly area so long as you abided by local ways — I had nearly got myself in hot water when taking night photos of a changing street light on the corner. I wanted to capture all three colors so needed to use a small aperture and long shutter speed. Since I didn’t have a tripod and to steady the camera, I rested it on the hood of a car. Two different cars within a couple minutes of each other drove by and said to me out the passenger window, “Joey wouldn’t like that if he saw you,” and “Hey, that’s Joey’s car.”

I didn’t want to meet Joey, so I wrapped up my photoshoot.

This guy might be the Joey of London, just real friendly up until the point he opened a can of whoop-ass. I had no idea.

Studying for your real estate exam?

I was wrong. He’s a local developer/investor who lived south of here.

“That’s my next project!” he said with a smile when he was about twenty feet away. We didn’t shake hands. COVID.

I showed genuine interest and we small-talked about the building. I mentioned I was from New York and quickly added my wife was from Kerrville. That’s usually my get-out-of-jail cheap card. (Never “free.”)

When I mentioned the city, he examined my attire. “I see you’re wearing a western shirt,” he said.

“Yeah. I’ve loved snap shirts for twenty-something years.”

“Me, too. So easy.” I nodded. “I wear all-cotton, long sleeves to keep off the sun.”

I did a quick mental check on mine: 60/40 blend, short sleeves. No wonder I was sweating and he wasn’t. He wore a UTSA ballcap. The lid was frayed at the front and naturally so. Through wear. (You can tell.)

He told me there were photos of the old London in the Post Office.

“I missed its closing at 1pm.”

“Oh. The door’s unlocked. I own the building. You should go look at them.”

It was he who told me about the Dayton Oil Company, the building I was standing in front of, the collapsed building across the street (he owned the plot), the dance hall. After a 15-minute chat, I thanked him and went across to London Grocery and Grill for a bite.

Fourteen dollars an hour, but all the jobs are taken

The inside of London Grocery and Grill was nothing special. Having lunch at a table was a group of four — obviously not only locals but also a group that perhaps ate there daily. Maybe they were even family, evidenced by their familiarity with one another. They were the only diners. I asked a lady behind the counter if the grill was still open, being 1:45pm and 15 minutes from closing. It was.

I ordered a BLT and onion rings. No drink; I had waters in the car.

The woman preparing my food was on her first day here. I asked how it was going.

“It’s going ok. This is kind of full-time. I’m hoping to make some money here. They opened up a factory nearby, but I couldn’t get a job there. All the positions got taken pretty quickly.”

“What does the factory make?”

Hand sanitizer. They’re offering fourteen dollars an hour and they guarantee you forty hours a week.” She spoke it with a certain awe and envy.

I paid with cash and ate outside on a concrete stoop under a shade tree.

After lunch I forgot to go to the Post Office to look at the photos and instead got on the road heading north.

Next: Hext

best small towns in texas
Hext Trading Post & Cafe

Sorry. Couldn’t resist.

Hext, Texas, is 15 minutes north of London. It’s a pretty drive, as most everything around there is. Lots of ranches, mostly with single letters on the wrought iron gates that enclose the long drives up to the main house. One gate said “Bar Nothing” Ranch.

Siri told me to take a right turn at the STOP and I would “arrive at [my] destination.”

And so I did.

The Hext Trading Post & Cafe had no fresh coffee. It was about 2:30pm.

An older couple — late 60s? early 70s? — held down the fort, which consisted of a cash wrap to the left, four or five tables in the middle, and behind a voluminous and sleeping man, an 8-foot table piled high with clothes, magazines and ballcaps. On the corner of the table behind the man’s right shoulder and within his reach were perhaps a dozen or more pill bottles. His head was tilted back; his mouth open to a sideways oblong.

He awoke as I asked the lady whether they had any coffee. When he spoke I barely understood him because he seemed to be missing his upper row of teeth. This was compounded by an unusually heavy accent.

“Bit of coffee in that pot to the left. You could take the rest and we could put it in the microwave for you.”

I looked over at the pot. It was as low as one of the river crossings after a very dry June and looked like runoff from the red dirt bluffs.

“Umm. I think what I really want after all is a Coke.” Meaning a soda of some kind. I pulled a Diet Dr. Pepper from the refrigerated case, and after that ensued a conversation with him about caffeine. This turned to politics. (No idea how we transitioned.) We spoke openly about Trump and Biden now and Clinton in ’16. He shared his opinion and without malice, as I did mine. He also shared how they voted, speaking for his wife. We had plenty in common, except for our dental bandwidth.

Doss, and home

After paying for my coffee, he said, “Come back around 10 or 11 in the morning, and we’ll have some coffee for you!”

best small towns in texas
Grit, Texas. There is no “Grit School Road” despite Siri telling you so.

I exited and before getting back in my car, I looked again at the entrance. Wisteria wrapped around thin cedar trunk posts holding up dirty white aluminum that served as the awning. Hanging from the eaves on the left were six hummingbird feeders, and one or two birds flitted around, not staying still for me to capture them on film or otherwise.

GRIT – not one of the best small towns in Texas

On the way to Doss, I wanted to be sure to see Grit, Texas.

I do not exaggerate when I say that I couldn’t find much more in Grit than two run-down RVs on the left and a schoolhouse on the right that had a “Grit School Road” that no longer existed where Siri told me it did. Its alternate entrance on the other side of the school, on US-377, does not exist. You can check for yourself if you don’t believe me.

MASON AND POINTS SOUTH

Karen and I had been to Mason as well as nearby Art, so I circumvented the town square and continued south, toward Hilda and then Doss.

best small towns in texas
“Wilkommen” to the Hilda Church

The Bethel M.E. Church in Hilda (a No-stop sign town) was the “second church of any faith” in Mason County and also housed the county’s first school.

Doss was a 4-way STOP sign town that was as manicured as any Lutheran would be on a Sunday morning attending what seemed to be the town’s only house of worship. Well maintained and colorfully cheery, Doss’s STOP sign corner was crowded with shade trees that invited one to stay awhile.

best small towns in texas
Doss, Texas

I-10

Yet back to Kerrville I must.

I-10 is the kind of road William Least Heat Moon eschewed and found ways around. For the most part. But I needed to do a work call, which actually I was able to find better reception for in Doss than I have on parts of I-10.

Texas is filled with more small towns than anywhere else in America, by virtue of the Lone Star State’s size if no other reason.

A drive here clears the mind and fills the soul.

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