Road Trip: The Llano Country

There’s no place like the Llano country! Where else can one photograph bluebonnets, watch nesting bald eagles, hammer away at the world’s only outcrop of an extremely rare rock (llanite), handle half-billion year old crustacean crap, enjoy Texas hospitality, and have a fine German dinner — all in two days?

What a refreshing break it was to get back down there for a couple of days on a rare springtime road trip that did not involve storm intercepts — at least not directly. Elke and I travelled down early Saturday from Norman and treated ourselves to a hail swath left on the side of state road 29 between Georgetown and Burnet, courtesy of the northern end of a broken squall line which dropped severe hail on parts of Austin. We had fine schnitzel dinners at the Auslander in Fredericksburg, and went eagle watching east of Llano on both days.

Easily visible from Texas 29, three adult bald eagles are caring for two chicks that, as of this writing, are almost ready to fledge. Last year they raised three chicks from the same nest. Apparently it is quite unusual for bald eagles to nest this far south (outside of the indigenous Everglades population), and also, for the young ‘uns to have three “parents” — probably mom, dad and an “Uncle Fred” of some sort that the mating pair tolerates as long as he brings food. [We saw only one or two adults at once.] The eagles look big and healthy, thriving on fish and turtles plucked from the adjacent Llano River. So far folks are staying behind the barricades and giving them their space. I hope no overzealous photographers, gun-totin’ redneck punks or other selfish yahoos get too close and ruin it for them, thereby ruining the experience for everyone else.

The bluebonnets haven’t peaked yet, but they’re up. Naturally, we did lots of photography, made difficult by large masses of stratocumulus that greatly dimmed the sunlight whenever we were ready to shoot the wildflower scenes. Some formations of bluebonnets and Indian paintbrush cohabitated in patriotic displays, and in one case, around the long disused, mid 1800s era Oatman Creek Baptist Church.

The Llano area also is a treasure trove of geologic delights, thanks to the Llano Uplift. The uplift, centered near the town of Llano, actually is a topographic basin of sorts where erosion of overlying sedimentary rock has left behind a roughly billion year old granite basement that, when it formed, was higher than all the surrounding rock. According to the USGS, the oldest rock mass here once was linked to what are now parts of Antarctica and Scandinavia. There are rocks of all types here, from Cretaceous to Precambrian, sedimentary to igneous and metamorphic. Two of my favorites are the green sandstones from the Cambrian period, and an igneous rock called llanite that is so rare it is found only in one small dike in central Texas.

Green sandstone sounds bizarre, but is more common than one may believe. During the Cambrian period, some marine animals concentrated the greenish iron mineral glauconite in their fecal pellets. Those, in turn, settled into the sand and became incorporated into the sandstone that now crumbles loose from outcrops such as the one I raided — a high bluffside roadcut on the east side of Buchanan Lake. In a sense, then, I collected fossilized trilobite turds from over 500 million years ago. Yum yum.

The next day, I made sure to stop once again at the one and only publicly accessible outcrop of llanite in the entire world — about 9 miles N of Llano on Texas 16. I had been here before, actually, and also with a previous night’s Auslander dinner in my digestive system — on 20 June 1999, the day after my Dallas Stars won the Stanley Cup. It was a driving tropical rainstorm, and I just didn’t get to collect much. This time I didn’t fare much better, but not for inclement weather or lack of effort. See, this is one of the world’s hardest rocks also — 37,900 PSI to pulverize. In other words, concentrate the weight of three large adult killer whales, plus a compact car, into one square inch of this rock, and you still might not be able to crush it! This rock is Texan as can be: strong and tough to the end. [No wonder this OSU geology student took to the big hammer, in vain of course.] But using natural cracks, leverage, and about half an hour of merciless pounding through a steel geologic chisel, this rugged human Texan was able to declare partial victory — hammering loose some pieces both for my collection of rock specimens and for a geology student who dropped by to examine llanite for her class report.

Often misrepresented as granite, llanite actually is a rhyolite, and a beautiful one indeed. Tantalizingly blue quartz spheres and large, rectangular, pink feldspar crystals float in an almost black base mass (in the pure, unweathered rock). The groundmass is a witches’ brew of microminerals: apatite, biotite, fluorite, ilmenite, magnetite, microcline, quartz and zircon, all pressed together into such extraordinary hardness. The source of the blue color in the quartz balls was a subject of scientific speculation and debate for over a century, but Zolensky et al. (1988) found that it came from Rayleigh scattering of light through microscopic flecks of ilmenite (iron titanium oxide) that accumulated in the middle part of the quartz crystals as they formed.

Top off a Llano country trip with several cases of bootleg Dublin Dr Pepper (the real thing) to bring home, and it was a great sojourn. Yet we still need to climb Enchanted Rock, plunge into Longhorn Cavern, eat lunch at Storm’s in Burnet and dinner at other German restaurants in Fredericksburg. I hope we can make it back much sooner than another six years.


One Response to “Road Trip: The Llano Country”

  1. bc on April 6th, 2005 11:08 am

    Beth and I ate at the Auslander in the spring of ’97 during a long weekend trip. While I can say the jagerschnitzel was second to none, the service could’ve been better. We were greeted by a teutonic waitress who looked like she could’ve taken on the Four Horsemen and won (in fact, one look from her and they would’ve tapped out). We were seated, drink orders were taken, and menus were perused. She showed up to deliver our Shiners, take our meal order, and again to deliver our meal about 15 minutes later. That’s it. Until it was time to pay up. I handed her my credit card and she scowled. She scowed further when I signed the receipt…she actually had the ‘nads to tell me (in a Michael Dorn-esque Klingon voice), “The top copy is MINE” then studied the tip I gave her (straight 15%) while we remained seated.

    Will I go back? You bet. Will I go back without backup? Hell no!

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.