From our base in Johnson City, we will explore the natural wonders and outsize ambitions that characterize Texas from the perspective of the Hill Country of central Texas. Our visit will focus on life in the twentieth century. Lyndon Baines Johnson was born in this area in 1908. The National Park Service now maintains LBJ’s birthplace, family cemetery, and ranch on the banks of the Pedernales River. We will have a guided tour of the Texas White House, where an airstrip and hanger sit in a rural setting complete with livestock. At the early twentieth-century working Sauer-Beckmann homestead, we will learn fascinating details about life and agricultural practices in a not-so-distant but very different time in Texas.
We will also tour Selah Ranch Preserve, a 5,500-acre property that J. David Bamberger started restoring in 1969. Over the past forty years, he has transformed an overgrazed, worn-out piece of land into a sustainable working ranch that nourishes wildlife and native plants. Over 200 species of birds, 97 species of grass, 245 species of wildflowers, and 28 mammal species are found on the property. Today Selah is an epicenter for landowner education and features an outdoor research lab and hands-on science classroom.
Our sojourn will feature a rare private visit to Bat Conservation International’s Bracken Cave Preserve, the world’s largest colony of bats. Here Cullen Geiselman, BCI board member, and Fran Hutchins, director of the Bracken Cave Preserve, will introduce travelers to the importance and ecological niche of bats. At dusk we will watch millions of Mexican free-tailed bats pour from the mouth of the cave. The preserve is also a sanctuary for other wildlife including hawks, owls, painted buntings, wild bees, bobcats, deer, fox, and the endangered golden-cheeked warbler.
Bonnie Baskin and Robert Elde created the recently-opened Hill Country Science Mill. They will welcome us to the museum and tell us about their vision for a STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math)-based museum. We will tour the facility and enjoyed a catered meal within the renovated walls of a former grist mill and cotton gin.
No trip to the region would be complete without a tour of a vineyard. Richard and Bunny Becker founded Becker Vineyards in the 1990s and have received rave reviews of their wines ever since. We will meet the Beckers and hear about how these pioneer Texas viticulturists have expanded into lavender, and sample the fruits of their vines.