Great Places to Ride: Washington County, Texas

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My favorite thing to do on motorcycles used to be see how fast I could fly through places like Texas. Lately the theme seems to have shifted to understanding that the motorcycle is the perfect vehicle for getting from one interesting place to the next within a given geographic area. Maybe the cruiser crowd has always known that? As it turns out, there are a lot of interesting places in Texas within an hour or two of Houston’s George Bush International Airport.

#1 Best Thing to do in Texas: Get plenty of sleep. But seriously, the theme for this trip to Texas (besides riding around on an Indian Chief Classic) was to take in the Texas Bluebonnet foliage outbreak. We were a little early; the only Bluebonnets I found were in this cemetery in LaGrange.

#1 Best Thing to do in Texas: Get plenty of sleep. But seriously, the theme for this trip to Texas (besides riding around on an Indian Chief Classic) was to take in the Texas Bluebonnet foliage outbreak. We were a little early; the only Bluebonnets I found were in this cemetery in LaGrange.

Ride like the wind

The Texas Tornado Boot Camp teaches you to ride on three or four different dirt tracks in and around the Cathedral of Speed. Then it teaches you the meaning of life in those chairs when the sun goes down. There is no beer, but there is plenty of Coors Light.

The Texas Tornado Boot Camp teaches you to ride on three or four different dirt tracks in and around the Cathedral of Speed. Then it teaches you the meaning of life in those chairs when the sun goes down. There is no beer, but there is plenty of Coors Light.

The number one interesting place for motoheads might be the Texas Tornado Boot Camp, run by former World Superbike Champ and current MotoGP star Colin Edwards. Located in Montgomery, Texas, the TTBC very well may be the best way on earth to achieve total motorcycle control in four days (though shorter camps also happen).

You do that by riding around in the dirt on Yamaha TT-R125s running knobby front tires and street rears, up close and very personal with a staff of fantastic instructors including the Tornado himself. Too bad I didn’t get this story written in time for you to sign up for the post-Austin MotoGP camp, but there will be plenty of other opportunities. Even more than most places in Texas, the food and bbq alone almost makes the Camp worth the price of admission.

Chill

Remember to close the gate or those longhorn varmints will come right into the yard.

Remember to close the gate or those longhorn varmints will come right into the yard.

A nice ride on one of Mr. Elick’s retired cutting horses is just the thing to make you re-appreciate your motorcycle.

A nice ride on one of Mr. Elick’s retired cutting horses is just the thing to make you re-appreciate your motorcycle.

After four days of TT-R125 boot camp, you’ll be ready to embrace the simple life, and an excellent place to do that is not too far west, just outside of Chappell Hill, at Texas Ranch Life. The Lonesome Pine Ranch was originally settled in 1823 by one of Stephen Austin’s original cronies (Washington County is the birthplace of the state of Texas, and never mind the Ranch is in Austin County). Mrs. Elick’s thing (she’s one of the owners) is dragging and restoring old houses onto the 1800-acre ranch, and you’ll stay in one of them – albeit with WiFi, running water, etc. – while you watch the longhorns mosey by and hear the coyotes harmonize at night under the stars, which actually are big and bright.

Mr. Elick’s thing is horses, longhorn cattle, shooting skeet, fishing – and he loves to share. Then there’s Texas Ranch Life’s new chef, recently imported from a big restaurant in Houston.

They love their vegetarians in Texas, which are fine eating: your cows, your chickens, your swine… All the plant-based dishes were delicious also, mostly organic veggies grown on site.

They love their vegetarians in Texas, which are fine eating: your cows, your chickens, your swine … All the plant-based dishes were delicious also, mostly organic veggies grown on site.

The man cooks a mean barbecue indeed. It’s fun to ride off on your motorcycle just so you can come back later and say ‘meanwhile back at the ranch.’

Listen to Music

Gruene Hall claims to be Texas’ oldest dance hall. You never know who’ll show up (unless you check the calendar). Just off the Guadalupe River in beautiful north New Braunfels.

Gruene Hall claims to be Texas’ oldest dance hall. You never know who’ll show up (unless you check the calendar). Just off the Guadalupe River in beautiful north New Braunfels.

I don’t know why this old Marshall Tucker tune gets stuck in my head half the time I’m riding a motorcycle somewhere, but it does. It’s even worse when I actually am down around Houston, Texas, where the sun shines most of the time. Other places to ride through in the area which are guaranteed to stick other songs in your head if you’re of a certain age include China Grove and LaGrange. Ride to Austin if you want, for plenty of live music. Or ride to Gruene, between San Antonio and Austin, and take in a show at Gruene Hall, Texas’ oldest dance hall. Careful you don’t fall through the floor. Very authentic.

Buy Stuff

Here’s my borrowed Indian Chief Classic on its way to the wrong side of the tracks in Brenham, which is every bit the quaint Texas town you’d expect. A nice place to visit.

Here’s my borrowed Indian Chief Classic on its way to the wrong side of the tracks in Brenham, which is every bit the quaint Texas town you’d expect. A nice place to visit.

Brenham is the county seat of Washington County, complete with courthouse square, straight out of an old movie. It’s a great place to eat way too much and drop off the members of the party who are tired of riding while you head off into the hinterlands. The main industry of Washington County, other than production of Blue Bell Ice Cream, is selling antiques (junk) to each other and tourists. Brenham’s got over 400 shops, enough to keep the historical-shopping inclined cross-eyed for days.

The presidential suite is swank indeed.

The presidential suite is swank indeed.

City folk will want to stay at the beautifully restored Ant Street Inn, right in the heart of it.

Drink wine

Jeanne from Pleasant Hill Winery. Know when to say when. Also know when to say, “Hit me again Jeanne.”

Jeanne from Pleasant Hill Winery. Know when to say when. Also know when to say, “Hit me again Jeanne.”

Did you know Texas has more than 400 wineries? When we toured Pleasant Hill Winery in March, the sap was literally rising: As soon as vintner/pruner/owner/bottler Bob Cottle would prune a branch, it would start bleeding onto the ground immediately. The Portejas Blanco – a white port – is amazingly different. Meanwhile down I-290, nobody expected much from Saddlehorn Winery’s Barn Red. Maybe that’s why it tasted so good?

Larn things …

The shroud of Norris.

The shroud of Norris.

Washington-on-the Brazos State Historic Site is the birthplace of Texas’ freedom, though you’ll have to work it out yourself exactly who from? From whom. Stephen Austin led the first pack of 300 families down from Missouri just in time for Mexico to split from Spain, and then for Tejas to split from both of them. Soon everybody was kung-fu fighting at the Alamo. Later, the Mexicans got on Geronimo’s bad side by massacring his woman and children and it all became quite a mess; some will tell you Texas still ain’t right. (I give you Gov. Rick Perry.) In any case, the star attraction of the museum for me is the actual jacket worn by Chuck Norris in Walker, Texas Ranger.

There’s also a working farm there, Barrington Farm, which is run using the farming techniques of the mid 19th century. Most of us wouldn’t want to go back there, but it’s a good place to visit. Crazily enough, in the 21st century, the biggest problem is the feral pigs that come in from down by the Brazos and root up all the crops.

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When you’re a Texas longhorn bull with an itch, you scratch it.

Lead the Free World

Steve Kirtchner, standing in for Leader of the Free World #41, reacts to the idea that George Jr. might someday succeed him.

Steve Kirtchner, standing in for Leader of the Free World #41, reacts to the idea that George Jr. might someday succeed him.

The George Bush Presidential Library is in College Station, home of the Aggies. This “world-class museum offers a unique glimpse into the life and career of our nation’s 41st president, George Herbert Walker Bush.” I was dealing with a flat tire that day and didn’t get to go, but supposedly there’s a “situation room,” wherein you get to make fateful history-altering decisions. My friend Steve Kirtchner (bywaysmagazine.com) felt more comfortable hitting the “Bombs Away” button from the Oval Office. It’s a little more intimate.

Stop and smell the roses.

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It only recently occurred to me, while defending my off-road habit to a tree hugger, that we motorcycle people really are at heart nature lovers. We want to be out there in it. I really dug the Antique Rose Emporium. Two or three decades ago, Mike Shoup got bored selling the usual nursery plants to people, and began to notice all the antique varieties of (mostly) roses that survived in old cemeteries, from a time when it was common for them to be planted along with the loved one. In contrast to modern roses, which require a lot of care and are bred for perfect flowers, many of the antique varieties Mike now deals in are unique and hardy survivors, from a time when roses were grown also for fragrance. When luxuries were few and beautiful things semi-scarce, people grew their own from seeds imported from all over the world. Who knew?

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Thanks to Indian for the use of its Chief Classic. Thanks to the very nice people in Brenham, Texas for putting up with us. www.visitbrenhamtexas.com, 1-888-BRENHAM

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  • Gregory Smith

    The picture of Gruene Hall…isn’t. That’s the dance hall at Luckenbach.

    • ShaeLynnP

      It absolutely is Gruene Hall. i recently visited both venues. Love them both!

      • john burns

        Hah!