• Monica Stanley

Travel Time - Dripping Springs, Texas

Travel has long been a passion of mine. I've done it most of my life, with breaks between of course due to life. My parents traveled when and where they could, we had family vacations when and where we could, my grandparents were essentially RV nomads for a while checking out all the places they could on 4+ wheels on our continent.


When I left home, my need for travel didn't change. I still traveled where and when I could - and I couldn't afford much so it was often an adventure.


I've traveled with companions and without. I enjoy both ways of it and am perfectly fine sharing my experience or having one of my very own. I do, now that we have all the added responsibilities I lacked in my youth, really need a few days a month to just go off solo and do my own thing, and reset. It truly makes me better.


I've camped in tents, in high-end hotels/resorts, on a mountain, at the beach, and just walking and learning the streets of a new city. I've been on planes, cruise ships, and short and long road trips alike. I really do enjoy it all, so long as it's something new, a break from my daily routine. Somewhere to learn something new and breathe in some different air.


Due to kids, COVID, money, life... all the things... travel hasn't been as consistent in the last several years as it really needs to be for the quality of my mental health. So now that the kids are older and we seem to be in a place to make a little more time for that, I'm excited to say we have a plan, and a new-to-us camper van we named Vern to go on some adventures with! I look forward to seeing what our Voyages with Vern bring us.


I think my grandparents would be awfully proud of that decision - to give ourselves and our girls a perspective we might not get otherwise. It's just important to two kids (the hubs and I) from small towns in East Texas that we show our kids there is life outside of the city as well. We want them to experience and hopefully develop a fondness for camping and all the things the great outdoors offers. It can be such a place of respite and refilling that I wouldn't be the parent I want to be if we didn't do this.



For this particular adventure though, the hubs and I had already booked a cabin in Dripping Springs, Texas, so we just took Vern with us to road-test him while we enjoyed our glamping experience at this really special place. I'm happy to report Vern did very well and we can't wait to hit the road again once we get a little more setup.


The Hill Country down in the Austin, Texas area is well known and well loved, for very good reason. I have been here many times and it just doesn't get old. It's close to home, has major highways and towns along the way (nice when you aren't the van motor expert), the views can be quite impressive, it's an outdoor adventurers happy place, the live music, the breweries/wineries/distilleries, the laidback folks, and the food, all make it my soul's happy place.


This time I returned to the 13 Acres Retreat. I came here in early April of this year and I really had such a restorative experience that I took the hubs back 5 months later to join me. 13 Acres is adjacent to its sister property, D6, where the less primitive cabins and the pool are.


Let's be clear here, this is glamping. So when I say "primitive" I really just mean you don't have a toilet or shower in your room, because beyond that there isn't much primitive about it. Tara and her team have done an amazing job building out Tara's vision. This is a mindfulness community intended to facilitate communing with nature, one another, and yourself if that's what you're needing. 13 Acres/D6 offer yoga and meditation classes, hiking trails right off the cabins, both community gathering and solo spaces, a cafe when available, a small store, a pool, is in close proximity to so many things you'll want to do, a view that can't be beat, and team of caretakers that truly wants your experience to be whatever it is you're trying for it to be.



You can even rent some or all of the property out for a retreat or wedding or reunion... anything like that if you want. This particular time someone had rented the D6 area out in full for a private event, so we weren't able to access the pool and I forgot to get pictures when we first got there so you could see what it looks like. It's real nice though, you'll have to take my word on that one or go check out their website at https://www.13acrestribe.com.


In April I stayed in the "Gratitude" cabin, a converted gazebo with lots of windows and light, and a top-notch view all from your bed. This time around we stayed in the "Courage" cabin because it is a tiny bit larger than Gratitude, has a private wooden deck, and party lights... the hubs really likes party lights. All their cabins are well appointed and make you feel very special and, for me at least, find some stillness/calmness. There is a coffee maker in your room but beyond that you'll be using the impressively nice flushing toilets in a remodeled metal building, outdoor sinks, and outdoor shower for your daily needs. I personally love the outdoor shower. The water heater is plenty hot my friends! It's liberating. Bring a cooler and an extra fan/heater depending on the time of year you are there. The cabins have small AC units and a fan that do well, but nothing can keep up with the Texas heat in the middle of the day when it's doing its thing, or how cold the hills can get at times - the goal here is mitigation at best. You're still camping.



We arrived at the retreat in the late afternoon on a Thursday, so we basically had time to get our stuff sorted and organized, and then head out in search of food. Lucky for me I had been here in April and knew exactly where I wanted to go for dinner and it is super close to the retreat, so double-bonus!


We had dinner at Proof & Cooper. There weren't lot of people there when we were (early bird eater here) but I can imagine how great the energy is here when it's hoppin' and the music is playing. One day. We had the salt roasted beets, brisket, jalapeno cheddar sausage, baked beans, and potato salad. The beets were really delicious with a white vinegar dressing. The brisket had great bark and I could have eaten just a plate of the sausage casing. The beans were so good even the hubs, that isn't a big bean eater, had multiple bites. The potato salad was nice a creamy and I liked the dill. The BBQ sauce had a good balance of spice and vinegar.



Bellies full, we headed back to the cabin to watch the sunset from our private deck and then head to bed for some much needed rest! The sunsets here are unique each night, depending on what is on the air. This first night was the most colorful sunset of our stay. It was stunning.



Friday morning we awoke and were headed to Pedernales Falls State Park for some exploring. But first, food. We heard the Ice Cream Shop (that's its actual name) down the road (near Proof & Cooper) had a cafe open for breakfast so we gave it a try. This isn't a fast food joint, so don't be in a rush. She was the lone person running the show, so when she got an unexpected rush right before we walked in, it slowed her down a bit. But the food was very good and she had many options to choose from. Hubs had the breakfast quesadilla with sausage, which he enjoyed quite a bit and he really liked the salsa that came with it. I did a bacon and avocado sandwich on sourdough and the bread was perfectly crunchy and buttered up, the bacon crisp and salty, and the avocado creamy yet still had its integrity. And the fresh fruit that came with both was, indeed, quite fresh and a really welcome treat to the warmth that was already coming on that morning.


Now that we've fed the beast (it's me, I'm the beast) it's time to get to the adventuring at Pedernales Falls!


So you know, what will mostly happen is the hubs will go mountain bike and I will go hike around somewhere, then we meet back up later and continue the day. That's our routine.


I dropped him off to handle his two-wheeled passion while I hit up my two-footed passion.

Those that know me know I have a myriad of hobbies that I enjoy. Many might assume my "soul's happy place" is when painting, cooking, singing, designing, or something of that nature. It's none of those things. My true love, my soul's happy place, is hiking. Doesn't matter if it's the hardest or easiest hike on the planet... if I'm walking in the woods, I'm good. I've hiked my entire life and I will up until my body says "no more". I like to load my pack with snacks (don't let me get hungry!), water, and sunscreen and hit the trails for as long as I want to be out there.


The falls, trees, and river here at Pedernales Falls State Park are a real testament to how time, and even some catastrophes, can reshape a landscape over millions of years. I love seeing all the "little" things you miss when you're on a bike in the woods vs. on foot. We hit the river to cool down when we met back up and boy was it cold! Annnnndddd rocky on the bottom... so wear your water/hiking shoes for sure - it's wobbly!



After our adventure, we headed in search of more food. This time we went for a specific taco truck, but as they were closed at that time, we wound up on Plan B and were very happy it played out that way! 12 Fox Beer has a great setup out near Pedernales Falls. There is a big playground, lots of shaded seating, a stage for live music, and food trucks to compliment the brewery's offerings. The vibe was fabulous and we were happy to just linger there, even when what we really needed was a nap. We tried a couple different beers and the raspberry pina colada was pretty legit, and I am not a big frozen drink person.


Since the taco truck wasn't open, we hit up Stony's Pizza next to it. You can get pizza by the slice or a whole pie. We went for the meat lovers and the pepperoni and sausage slices and were impressed with how good the toppings and crust were. The crust is cracker crisp on the bottom, but still has a bit of depth to it, which is my jam.



We headed back to camp to shower and get a little rest in before going on another food adventure for dinner. Since we ate such a large and late afternoon snack, we kept dinner pretty light. We tried Alice's at Treaty Oak Distillery and, yet again another outdoor venue made for hanging around. A small playground for kids, live music, lots of shady spots to dine, and a great laid-back atmosphere. There is also a bar on property here, but it was closed for a private event.


We shared the queso, cornbread muffins, and cold dip trio that came with smoked chicken salad, guacamole, and pimiento cheese. The queso reminded me of your favorite game-day queso with rotel... the good stuff. I could have eaten 100 of those cornbread muffins - perfect balance of sweet with a nutty flavor. The smoked chicken salad was my favorite, it just had a flavor and texture that really appealed to my senses. The guacamole and pimiento cheese were both on point as well. We left some chips on the plate, but it was a perfect sharing size for a light dinner.


The servers were really attentive and truly interested in ensuring you were enjoying yourself. Watching the people, and the dogs, and the kids is an entertaining use of time, I assure you.



Then it was back to the cabins again for some sunset views, a nightcap, and lights out!


I awoke Saturday and hit up the yoga class on the deck at 13 Acres, which is a nice balance of meditation and yoga. This isn't a heavy flow or power yoga class. This is intended to help you stretch, relax, and still your mind to focus on your intentions for the day. It's a really nice way to start your day and, again, the view cannot be beat.


After class the hubs and I shared a breakfast taco plate from the awesome chef at 13 Acres. These are so fresh, and flavorful - and the salsa should be in a bottle. Again, super fresh fruit alongside it that really hits the spot against the light spice of the tacos. She does breakfast tacos on Saturday and Sunday mornings and I believe Pizza on most Friday Saturday nights.



After breakfast we loaded up to head to Reimer's Ranch park for some more mountain biking/hiking fun. This is literally just down the road from 13 Acres, super close. I would say Pedernales is more appropriate hiking for myself and Reimer's Ranch has a couple of options my kids could enjoy doing. I love having those options, depending on what kind of trip I am on. Don't get me wrong, Reimer's Ranch had good hiking, but they at least had some "nature trail" type hikes available for the kids and a much easier entry into the river below. All good things. Reimer's Ranch is less tree-heavy than Pedernales so be sure you bring appropriate sun gear.



Lunch was time to finally get those dang tacos! We didn't go back to the same place, in case it was closed again, but we tried a food truck and dog park, called Fetch, not far from 13 Acres. There we came across a fabulous truck called La Nortena. It was really hard to choose what to get from the menu because it all sounded so good. I wound up ordering the sope with green pork (hard for me to resist when I see it on a menu) and the hubs had the brisket birria tacos. Both were BOMB. So good I hated that I left a couple bites, but I was going to make myself sick if I kept going. Hubs said if he had that truck where we lived, he'd be 50 lbs heavier, easily. I don't disagree. The gentleman was also so kind and friendly and really concerned about how we felt about our experience and the food - and would we please return. Oh buddy, you're going to be our first stop when we are back this way. Bet that.



Back to camp for another shower and a nap - finally! But where oh where would tonight, our final dinner food adventure, take us? We've had bbq, pizza, tacos... the trinity. So now, we are free to fly and get anything under the sun. What's a hungry girl that's been hiking for 2 days pick? Italian of course! Carbs carbs and more carbs!


I did my research and, after struggling to get a reservation at the early bird eating hour I prefer, we went with a local place right down the road that has great reviews. It's in a shopping strip next to a gas station (nice one) and the Ice Cream Shop, so we were a little hesitant, but we were off to Carmela's Pizza & Cafe regardless. Atmosphere/decor is on the traditional Italian-American restaurant side of life and could use a light update, but it was quiet and they had it setup where you really didn't notice you were in a shopping strip looking at a street. And the food... oh yea... it was seriously delicious. So glad we gave it a chance because I was very upset with my tummy for not being able to take in more... but it's best I refrained.


The focaccia bread with dipping sauce was spot-on. The focaccia was perfectly crispy with some good depth on the interior. I could eat the whole thing. The shrimp appetizer with the artichoke lemon caper cream sauce was delightful. There wasn't any of that sauce left because we used it for the pasta and the bread later too. We also had the Mama Carmela's Verona Chicken with pasta. All the sauces were fabulous. This is most certainly somewhere we will visit again and would be regulars at if we lived in this area. Our server was very sweet and attentive as well. They had beer and wine, no liquor here.


After the pasta coma we headed back to camp for the final sunset of our trip. Sleep came easily tonight, exhausted from two days of adventuring and a belly full of delicious carbs. It was an early night!


The next morning we packed the van, I saved a frog (poor fella got stuck), and then I did one last yoga class and ate my final plate of breakfast tacos on this trip. We took in the view one more time and hit the road to get back home to our life, kids, and furbabies.


Vern was hummin' along, the music was right, and the wind had a nice coolness in it for the first time in a while. It was good times.



On the drive home we stopped for lunch in Waco at Coach's XXX BBQ. This is very much a college town hotspot. We were there on a Sunday for lunch, so it wasn't crowded, but I bet it can get that way pretty easily. The big rollup garage doors to let the air in, the big screen TVs for the games, and the drinks and food would keep just about anyone coming back.


We had the fried pickles with ranch and the Hobo Bowl to share. The texture of the crust on the fried pickles were the best I've had and the pickles were perfectly sour. It could have used a bit more seasoning, maybe a little spicy shake over the top, but beyond that I'd eat the whole tray and be okay about it all. The Hobo Bowl has - hold on to your hats - tots, brisket, jalapeno sausage, campfire beans, cheddar, fried jalapenos, mojo, and bbq sour cream. Let that sink in. Yea, it was as good as that sounded. I'm a big fan of pretty much everything they listed on the ingredients and I wasn't disappointed. Good lord I'm glad I don't live here.



Anywho, that's the sum of that particular adventure to Dripping Springs, Texas. I won't always "eat" my way through places, especially since Vern the Van is setup for making it where we don't have to do that so much. But it sure is fun when I get to!


Check out all the photos in the Dripping Springs, TX Sept 2021 album on our Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/artfullyunfiltered.



Til the next adventure,

Monica


@13acresretreat #13acresretreat #drippingspringstx #pedernalesfallsstatepark #pedernales #travel #hiking #travelfoodie #foodie #austintx #glamping #camping #cabinlife #sunsets #vernthevan #voyageswithvern

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