STOP AND SEE THE FLOW­ERS

Grab your cam­era, buckle up and hit the roads through­out Cen­tral Texas.

Austin American-Statesman - - FRONT PAGE - By Mauri El­bel Spe­cial to the Amer­i­can-States­man

Where to spot wild­flow­ers — and take those adorable photos — right now

They’re back and as beau­ti­ful as ever. Texas’ beloved blooms ar­rived early this year thanks to plen­ti­ful fall and win­ter rain­fall

and an un­sea­son­ably warm win­ter — Austin’s warm­est on record. Even be­fore the cal­en­dar flipped from Fe­bru­ary to March, blue­bon­nets were pop­ping up all over the city, be­gin­ning their an­nual blan­ket­ing of road­sides, high­way me­di­ans and fields in those sig­na­ture bold and bril­liant blues.

“Like ev­ery­one else, we are see­ing wild­flower blooms come early this year,” said Lee Clip

pard, di­rec­tor of com­mu­ni­ca­tions for the Lady Bird John­son Wild­flower Cen­ter. “Be­fore March we were al­ready see­ing blue­bon­nets bloom­ing along I-35 and MoPac in Cen­tral Austin. Blue­bon­nets are about four weeks ear­lier than usual.”

But it’s not just the blue­bon­nets that got a jump-start on spring, said Clip­pard, who has spot­ted ev­ery­thing from an abun­dance of green­thread to iconic bloomers like Indian paint­brush spring­ing up ahead of sched­ule. And for weeks we’ve been see­ing — and smelling — the fra­grant flow­er­ing of the laven­der-hued Texas moun- tain lau­rel thanks to the higher-than-av­er­age Jan­uary and Fe­bru­ary tem­per­a­tures that coaxed them into blos­som­ing early.

While blue­bon­nets typ­i­cally peak the first week in April, Clip

pard said there are still plenty of plants that haven’t bloomed yet

and experts are pre­dict­ing a lon- ger, more spread out sea­son, with the state’s fa­vorite flower spring­ing up steadily over the course of the next sev­eral weeks.

This means we might not see those big, overnight bursts of blue across Texas like we did last April and May — rather they’ll come early and prob­a­bly stay late. Blue­bon­nets in South Austin and more bu­colic ar­eas out­side of the city’s hot­ter ur­ban core could align more closely with the

nor­mal time­line, said Clip­pard, peak­ing closer to mid-March and early April.

But with the wild­flow­ers ar­riv­ing ahead of spring this year, which of­fi­cially starts Mon­day, there’s no bet­ter time than the present to dust off your cam­era and buckle up for a flower-fringed drive. If any sea­son beck­ons a road trip in Texas, it’s spring. Kick off the sea­son’s quin­tes­sen­tial pas­times of wild­flower-watch­ing and pic­ture-tak­ing in Austin, or ven­ture be­yond your back­yard to the var­i­ous Texas towns and state parks that boast beau­ti­ful blooms this time of year.

Lady Bird John­son Wild­flower Cen­ter

The Lady Bird John­son Wild­flower Cen­ter is a great place to be­come be­guiled by the blooms, and there’s also un­par­al­leled di­ver­sity here, which means you might get a glimpse of wild­flow­ers that aren’t com­monly seen such as prairie ce­les­tials, Texas star and golden-eye phlox. Many are la­beled, too, mak­ing it an ideal first stop to be­come fa­mil­iar with in­di­vid­ual wild­flow­ers be­fore set­ting off on your own in search of blooms. Plus, the Wild­flower Cen­ter of­fers a safer al­ter­na­tive for pos­ing and pic­ture-tak­ing than high-traf­ficked road­sides. On April 29, hop on an ex­pert-led wild­flower bus tour ad­ven­ture through the Hill Coun­try to en­joy the beauty of the wild­flow­ers with­out the has­sle of driv­ing — the Wild­flower Road Show in­cludes in­ter­pre­ta­tion and iden­ti­fi­ca­tion by ex­pert guides, plenty of photo stops and a pic­nic lunch at Gar­ri­son Brothers Dis­tillery, Texas’ first and old­est le­gal whiskey dis­tillery.

Dis­tance from down­town: About 12 miles

Info: wild­flower.org, wild­flower.org/event/wild­flower­bus

St. Ed­ward’s Univer­sity

Blue­bon­nets are scat­tered in pretty patches across the nearly 160-acre cam­pus ex­tend­ing from Congress Av­enue to I-35. The most spec­tac­u­lar blue­bon­net scene can be found sur­round­ing the soc­cer fields in the cen­ter of cam­pus — here, you’ll get a vi­brant show­case of bright blue blooms set be­fore the his­toric univer­sity and Austin’s iconic sky­line.

Dis­tance from down­town: About 4 miles

Info: sted­wards.edu

McKin­ney Falls State Park

Nearby McKin­ney Falls State Park, a laid-back, peace­ful Hill Coun­try oasis south­east of down­town off of U.S. High­way 183, al­ready boasts plenty of blue­bon­nets prime for photo ops.

Dis­tance from down­town: About 11 miles

Info: tpwd.texas.gov/stateparks/mck­in­ney­falls

Wil­low City Loop

One of Clip­pard’s top rec­om­mended flower-fringed drives is the Wil­low City Loop, an idyl­lic Hill Coun­try route that gives way to stun­ning color-cloaked land­scapes of ev­ery­thing from blue­bon­nets and Indian paint­brush to fire-wheels and pop­pies. “Wild­flower sea­son is a great op­por­tu­nity to get out and ex­plore the state,” Clip­pard said. “For­age your way, find a new path and stum­ble on a new lit­tle town — see what this state can of­fer.” Tip: Avoid week­end traf­fic along the in­creas­ingly pop­u­lar nar­row 13-mile ranch road by mak­ing a mid­week drive.

Dis­tance from down­town: 76 miles

Info: fred­er­icks­burg­tex­a­s­on­line.com/Wil­lowCi­tyLoop

Wash­ing­ton County’s Blue­bon­net Trail

Spring is the most pic­turesque time of the year to cruise the 80 miles of flow­er­ing farm roads known as Wash­ing­ton County’s Blue­bon­net Trail wind­ing through Bur­ton, In­de­pen­dence, Wash­ing­ton, Chap­pell Hill and Bren­ham. The bloom-prone area known as “blue­bon­net coun­try” is on track for an­other spec­tac­u­lar wild­flower sea­son, ac­cord­ing to Bren­ham/Wash­ing­ton County CVB’s Lu Hol­lan­der. “The blue­bon­nets are com­ing out and look­ing good — and there are more and more pop­ping up ev­ery day,” Hol­lan­der said. “I think our typ­i­cal blue­bon­net drive will look good this year with Indian paint­brush and co­re­op­sis, and then Indian blan­kets that come later,” she said. Heed Hol­lan­der’s ad­vice and make the drive any time between now and the week­end of April 8-9, when Chap­pell Hill hosts its 53rd An­nual Blue­bon­net Fes­ti­val.

Dis­tance from down­town: 90 miles

Info: vis­it­bren­ham­texas.com/wild­flower-watch

Wild­seed Farms

Now is the ideal time to take a trip to Wild­seed Farms, a work­ing wild­flower farm brim­ming with more than 200 acres of wild­flower fields sand­wiched between Fred­er­icks­burg and Stonewall on High­way 290 East. “Our blooms this year are go­ing to be about as good as they’ve ever been,” said John Thomas, owner and founder. “Due to the warm weather, the blue­bon­nets are about two weeks early this year and they will be in full bloom by mid-March.” By April, Thomas said, the bright red corn pop­pies will be in full bloom. Aside from soak­ing in the spec­tac­u­lar sights of around 30 dif­fer­ent crops of wild­flow­ers that call Wild­seed Farms home, vis­i­tors can ex­plore walk­ing trails, browse the Blos­soms Bou­tique and Lantana Nurs­ery, and sip a beer in the Brew­bon­net Bier­garten or swirl wine at the new Wed­ding Oak Win­ery be­fore pur­chas­ing na­tive wild­flower seeds to plant at home.

Dis­tance from down­town: 70 miles

Info: wild­seed­farms.com/ home.php

Texas state parks

Texas state parks of­fer some of the best — and safest — spots to en­joy the wild­flow­ers. With around 100 Texas state parks to choose from, pick­ing your des­ti­na­tion is the tough­est de­ci­sion. But John­son City’s Ped­er­nales Falls State Park, Bur­net County’s Inks Lake State Park and Lyn­don B. John­son State Park & His­toric Site con­sis­tently teem with wild­flow­ers this time of year. Check out TPWD’s Pin­ter­est Board to find out what’s bloom­ing in which Texas state parks, like the pink blue­bon­nets cur­rently flow­er­ing at Lock­hart State Park.

Dis­tance from down­town: Var­i­ous dis­tances

Info: pin­ter­est.com/tex­as­parks/where-to-see-wild­flow­ers

Bas­trop

You don’t even have to get out of the car to soak in the spec­tac­u­lar sights of bloom­ing blue­bon­nets in and around Bas­trop County, such as the broad swathes of blue you’ll see along the High­way 21 West in­ter­sec­tion into Bas­trop.

Dis­tance from down­town: 35 miles

Info: vis­it­bas­trop.com

Texas Hill Coun­try Wine & Wild­flower Jour­ney

Noth­ing pairs bet­ter with Texas wines than its fa­mous wild­flow­ers sprin­kled through­out the Hill Coun­try dur­ing spring. The 2017 Wine & Wild­flower Trail (March 31-April 16) mar­ries wild­flower watch­ing with wine tast­ing at 46 par­tic­i­pat­ing winer­ies over 17 days dur­ing the Hill Coun­try’s most breath­tak­ing sea­son. Tick­ets ($45 in­di­vid­ual/$70 cou­ple) in­clude a full com­pli­men­tary tast­ing at each win­ery (limit of four winer­ies per day) and a 15-per­cent dis­count on three bot­tle pur­chases.

Dis­tance from down­town: 80 miles

Info: tex­as­wine­trail.com

Bur­net

Cel­e­brate the state flower at the 34th An­nual Blue­bon­net Fes­ti­val (April 7-9) in Bur­net, the pint-sized town of­fi­cially rec­og­nized by the Texas Leg­is­la­ture as the “Blue­bon­net Cap­i­tal of Texas.” Widely con­sid­ered one of the best places in the state to view the wild­flow­ers, you can bet the drive there will yield a bevy of bloom­ing blue­bon­nets.

Dis­tance from down­town: 60 miles

Info: blue­bon­net­fes­ti­val.org

High­land Lakes Blue­bon­net Trail

The High­land Lakes Blue­bon­net Trail is a self­driven tour guar­an­teed to wow ev­ery­one, from fam­i­lies on the hunt for pic­turesque photo spots to pro­fes­sional pho­tog­ra­phers. Start this scenic self-paced drive by grab­bing a map at the Mar­ble Falls Vis­i­tor Cen­ter, which will lead you in and around Mar­ble Falls, Horse­shoe Bay, Gran­ite Shoals, Kings­land, Inks Lake and Buchanan Dam.

Dis­tance from down­town: 50 miles

Info: tx­hil­l­coun­try­trail.com/plan-your-ad­ven­ture/ his­toric-sites-and-cities/sites/high­land-lakes-blue­bon­net­trail

CON­TRIB­UTED BY TOMMY SNOW/LAKE SOMERVILLE STATE PARK

Blue­bon­nets and wild­flow­ers found 10 miles north of Llano on High­way 16.

Fam­i­lies across Texas love pos­ing their chil­dren in patches of blue­bon­nets.

CON­TRIB­UTED BY THE LADY BIRD JOHN­SON WILD­FLOWER CEN­TER

In spring, the hills are cov­ered in a mo­saic of wild­flow­ers.

CON­TRIB­UTED BY BRENDA JACK­SON/WILD­FLOWER CEN­TER

Wild­flow­ers line road­sides in spring in Cen­tral Texas.

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