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The Apple of Your Eye

Charming Medina is the perfect snack stop on a Hill Country ride.


I love a drive through the Texas Hill Country, with its rugged, rolling hills and abundant trees, wildflowers and wildlife. A day’s trip from both Austin and San Antonio, this area is home to some of my favorite parks and natural areas in the state. Somehow, I’ve never visited Medina, a small town full of charm. And apples. 

To find Medina on a map, it’s important to note that there’s a town and a county that share the name. Some Google searches for “Medina, Texas” will turn up results for Medina County, an area west of San Antonio. Medina itself isn’t in Medina County but rather in Bandera County, closer to Kerrville than San Antonio.

Medina knows how to set the mood, offering winding roads, steady elevation gain and a beckoning canopy of shady oak trees as we drive in the dappled sunlight along the Texas Hill Country Trail on our way to town. The tree cover opens up to sunny pastures of exotic wildlife such as scimitar-horned oryx in high-fenced ranches.

It’s easy to understand why many people choose to experience the Hill Country by motorcycle or bike. Cyclists and motorcyclists, one after another, cruise by me on the other side of the road when I pull over to snap a few photos of the landscape. Recent significant rainfall means most area creeks and rivers had crested their banks and are flowing strong, while the grasses and trees are a lush and vibrant green.

Medina is the starting point (or ending point, depending on where you’re from) of one of the most spectacular motorcycle (or car) rides in the country, the Twisted Sisters. For 160 miles, riders traverse the steep and winding paths of FM 335, 336 and 337. Take your time to safely take in the sights; the section between Vanderpool and Leakey is nothing short of remarkable.

Medina first shows off some attractive buildings along the main drag, Texas Highway 16, such as a tiny and picturesque post office and the city library. The Medina Community Library is affectionately called “The Best Little Library in Texas,” and for good reason. The front of the library appears to be an older, historic building, but new additions to the library have a more modern style.

The library was organized in 2000 to provide activities, literacy assistance and a gathering place for the rural community. In 2001, the library’s founding group purchased a long-abandoned 2,400-square-foot space and converted it into the functioning library you see today. Through the help of donors, the Medina Community Library opened later that year. In 2003, the library expanded with an outdoor classroom and pavilion. The library hosts yoga classes, community meetings, book signings and children’s storytime sessions.

Smitten by the library, I am eager to see more of Medina. So many signs feature apples and orchards. That’s fitting, because apples, as I would come to find out, are Medina’s claim to fame. The town hotspot — as evidenced by the vehicles and motorcycles parked out front and across the street — is The Apple Store Bakery and Patio Cafe, part of Love Creek Orchards. The Patio Cafe has won awards for its charm and apple pie. We enjoy our meal and some pie al fresco.

Apple decor adorns multiple walls, and cafe seating is on picnic tables, allowing guests to enjoy some fresh air with their great food. Buy a whole apple or pecan pie to take home, along with jams, jellies and breads. You can order their goodies online, too.

Why apples? According to the Handbook of Texas: Medina was dominated by livestock raising and recreational hunting leases until 1980, when apple farming was introduced, an experimental orchard of dwarf apple trees. The dwarf trees produced regular-sized apples that were 40 percent sweeter than large-tree varieties.

Medina’s version of Johnny Appleseed was Baxter Adams, a Houston geologist who switched careers and lifestyles when he moved to the area with wife, Carol, and inadvertently set a new course for Medina. Adams’ apples (it’s perfect, right?) defied the odds and thrived on his old goat ranch, becoming the town’s signature crop. (About the same time, Adams also began growing native bigtooth maples on the ranch, becoming one of the biggest propagators in the state.)

PieJar

The Apple Store, part of Love Creek Orchards, sells a variety of apple goodies

In 1989 the Texas Department of Agriculture declared Medina the Apple Capital of Texas. The 300,000 trees in the Medina area produced 100 tons of fruit that year and attracted 20,000 visitors to the annual Medina Apple Festival, held on the last Saturday of July.

Apples aren’t the only type of local popular produce. In late spring and early summer, Love Creek Orchards welcomes visitors to pick their own fresh blackberries. In the fall, the orchard hosts The Great Hill Country Pumpkin Patch on select dates in October. Visitors can enjoy a hay maze, music and storytelling, an orchard tour, hayrides, a petting zoo and a cider press. Anyone who buys a pumpkin can paint it onsite for free.

The bright-red Old Timer General Store is a must-see for all who visit, with its old-fashioned but working gas pumps, with numbers that roll over one-by-one instead of being displayed on electronic screens. The Old Timer is the only place in town to buy gas, and sometimes they run out, but the store also has plenty of groceries and convenience store items. Inside there’s the usual Texas memorabilia plus mounts of a large white-tailed deer and an aoudad gracing the walls.

Something important to keep in mind about small towns in Texas is that if you happen to visit on a Sunday, several businesses may be closed. This is the case during my visit, but it doesn’t dampen my spirits. Next time I come, I’ll check out The Core Coffee House and Keese’s Bar-B-Que.

A good place to explore the Medina River, which runs along the southern side of town, is Moffett Park. The water is too rough for a swim while I’m there, but I notice multiple kayakers farther upriver and others on their way to put their boats in the water. Moffett Park’s also on my list as a place to visit again later in the summer for a dip in the clear water and maybe some fishing, too. 

If you want to enjoy other outdoor spaces near Medina, try Hill Country State Natural Area in Bandera, the Cowboy Capital of the World. The state natural area contains more than 5,000 acres of canyons, plateaus and the ruggedly beautiful land that the Hill Country ecoregion is known for. Hikes range from easy to challenging. There’s backpacking, exciting terrain for mountain bikers and scenic views for those who choose to hit the trails on horseback.

Thanks to Hill Country State Natural Area’s size and more primitive nature, visitors can expect to experience fewer crowds and more natural, untouched spaces. Pets are allowed but must be kept on a leash. Primitive campsites provide visitors a chance to truly get away from it all, but be aware, as their name implies, these sites are only walk-in and hike-in; water and electricity are not available. Be prepared to pack in and pack out all your gear.

Medina is only 30 minutes from Lost Maples State Natural Area in nearby Vanderpool, and an hour from Garner State Park in Concan. Lost Maples is packed with fall foliage enthusiasts, but savvy park visitors come in the off-season to enjoy stargazing, steep canyon walls, wildflowers and birds. Garner is no less than the place of summer dreams for many generations of Texans who climbed up to Ice Box Cave, played all day in the spring-fed river’s chilly waters and enjoyed their first dance to the jukebox in the pavilion.

If you’d like to make your visit to the Texas Hill Country longer than just a day trip and would rather not “rough it,” there are a few places in and around Medina to stay, such as small cottages
or RV parks, along with a few resort-style hideaways.

I know I’ll be heading back to Medina soon. There’s more to discover and always more apples to eat.

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