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.
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”
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.
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
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 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.
Das Shops at Harper on 290
23699-23727-23717 W US Hwy 290, Harper, Texas
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).