Southern Texas is situated in an optimal region for wildflowers. Field after field of bluebonnets, Indian paintbrush and other wildflowers are found hugging the rolling hills between Fredericksburg, Lampasas and Brenham. Austin, the state capital, sits in the middle of the triangle formed by these three towns.
While Austin is a central flight location, one of the smaller towns, such as Brenham, Marble Falls or Fredericksburg, may be a smarter decision for lodging. The National Wildflower Research Center is located just 15 minutes south of the capital. The institute has acres of flowers for viewing and photographing.
From the town of Mason, drive north to Fredonia, turn east on Route 71 to Pontotoc and back south along a dirt road to Route 29. Look for wildflowers in old cemeteries along this trail. Heading south on Route 87, and also on Loop 783 that rejoins Route 87, you'll often find blooms amidst rock fences and farmhouses with windmills.
Southeast of Austin, about 65 miles around the town of La Grange, you can find many flowers such as verbena, buttercups and wild prairie phlox among the bluebonnets. Peruse for flowers on Route 71 to Bastrop, west of La Grange, and all along Route 77 from La Grange south to Schulenburg. Remember, any small, unassuming road may lead to an unexpected kaleidoscope of color.
Weather has everything to do with the profusion of blooms. A dry summer followed by a wet fall that leads into a cold, damp winter yields fabulous spring blooms. The native plants set their roots before winter and "rosettes" continue their growth during the cooler months. With sufficient spring rains, the energy is released into rapid growth. Longer, warm days add to this bloom cycle. Spring in the Texas Hill Country provides temperatures in the high 60s and the 70s, with cool mornings and evenings. It's windy more often than not.
Under large oak trees, you'll find Indian paintbrush, coreopsis and pink evening primrose among the flowers highlighting the array of Texas bluebonnets. A multitude of vibrantly colored wildflowers can be found in the fields and under mesquite bushes to make picturesque settings exciting to any nature photographer. Old farm implements, rock walls and windmills add interest to the colorful displays.
A steady tripod and a wide-angle zoom, like the 28-135mm, is essential. Take macro gear for close-ups and any tilt-and-shift lens for large fields of color. Include a diffuser for harsh sun and wind, and an ultra-wide-angle lens, if you have it. A telephoto lens provides a way to single out one flower or grouping, and makes the surrounding field a colorful blur.
Late March to early May is the best time to find and photograph wildflowers in the Texas Hill Country. It's always a smart idea to check the local chambers of commerce, however, because the blooms occur differently each year. They will also be able to tell you where to find the peak color in their area. If you wait too late in the season, you'll find high grasses among the wildflowers competing for dominance.
Contact: The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, (512) 292-4100, ext. 129, www.wildflower.org; Washington County Chamber of Commerce, (979) 836-3695, www.brenhamtexas.com, Texas Dept. of Transpor-tation-Travel, (800) 452-9292, www.dot.state.tx.us.
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