There is nothing that has been so consistent in the Harman Ranches career-book as a listing or four in Willow City, Texas. Someone jokingly called Mark “King Willow” a few years back and it’s not too far off. His middle name is King, and his presence in Willow City has been nearly ubiquitous.
First, there’s the “Loop”. Willow city isn’t really a city compared to the image that’s in your head, it’s a little bisection on a farm road just off HWY 16 North in Gillespie County. There’s an old school building, a volunteer fire department and a bar, that’s about it! What’s made this place a mecca for decades is the Loop, a small, nearly one-way road that winds its way through fields, cliffs, and rivers that lay covered in wildflowers every spring. It’s nearly a natural garden, when the winter rains are right, and comes to life in a dramatic and furious way every spring. Bluebonnets, white nettle, firewheels and all kinds of winecups and verbena litter the view as far as the eye can see. It’s like entering a little world of its own, just a few miles from a road where you would never know this exists.
Mark came to know the area more personally when his father bought a ranch at one of the first bends in the road. In later years, it became a haven for a small longhorn population, and the setting for a beautiful, sprawling home that was littered with windows and open space. It was a welcome return to the country life after a childhood growing up in East Texas where he’d spend his days wandering around creeks and small forests, chasing whatever winged or four-legged critters dared to raise their heads. As an adult, city life had consumed his time and focus. Dallas, Texas has a way of making us all forget about trees and scrub and stream-babbling. That’s nothing against a wonderful city, but after enough time, when you’ve got that creekwater in your blood, it’s time to get back in touch. He moved to Fredericksburg with his wife Pam. They thought a house in town would work, and it did for a while, then he had to get further out into the landscape, and purchased a small ranchette outside of town. That’s what Willow City has been to so many people over the years, a place to get back in touch with the natural world in a variety of different levels. Most people just take a Saturday or Sunday drive along the backroads, stopping to take a picture, pausing for a moment when a cool breeze whips into one of the valleys. For others, it’s more involved. This used to be the convergence of just a few family ranches, but it’s being transformed into more accessible, smaller parcels. People are building beautiful homes into the landscape, most of them hidden from view, but situated to capture their surroundings from every angle. What once were working ranches, replete with cattle, have become respites for people who need to slow down a little.
Convenience isn’t the priority
What Willow City really stands for is limiting everyone back down into a more rural pace of life. There’s no major highway that can get you to a Whole Foods in ten minutes, and when it’s night, you can actually see the stars because there’s just no one around. We talked in a previous story about the difference between “feeling” away and actually being away. For some, it’s important to put some distance between your life and all the noise, and that’s what’s here. Even the small country road isn’t all that impactful, because the topography insulates and shields so many places from whatever is going on around it. You can lose track of time, but not the seasons. It’s a definitive place to live with colors always changing. It never ceases to catch you off guard, when you work your way up to one of the taller hills or ridges, you can see for absolutely miles and miles. The semi-arid climate means the air is clear here, there’s so much less haze than what accumulates in more southern, humid areas of the state of Texas.
Water pours out of the rock, unexpectedly. Some springs have crept up into the hills and deliver constant waterfalls that cascade down hundreds of feet of granite creeks and streams that are shrouded in greenery and low trees. You hear them before you see them, because it’s just so quiet, the land is just not suitable for strip malls and highways. There’s nothing distracting when you’re here.
You’re only an hour and a half from downtown Austin, and about eighteen minutes from Fredericksburg, but every time you want to get there, you have to drive past something beautiful. It’s a vista every day, and there’s something that starts to unwind all that tension you never realized you were carrying around in your soul. There’s this huge “exhale” every time a resident comes home to Willow City, into those familiar sites and sounds.
Finding a sense of “Place”
When you’re sinking down into one of the valleys, you really know your “here”. The surroundings just don’t look like anything else around. It’s distinctive and has a presence that really pulls you into the moment. There’s nothing sadder than reaching the end of the loop on a mild spring day, and realizing the moment has passed so quickly. Maybe that’s something that makes one place higher in character than others, those combined distinctive elements that make it hard to leave, but easy to remember.