There’s a soundtrack in my head that fills me with thoughts and yearnings of my hometown of Bandera. It’s a small Hill Country town that is so much more than just the “Cowboy Capital of the World.” A few of these songs that harken me back home include former Bandera resident Robert Earl Keen’s “The Road Goes on Forever (and the party never ends).”

Another one is “Take a Back Road” by Rodney Atkins, where he encourages us to put a little gravel in our travel.

Then there’s Tim McGraw’s “Meanwhile Back at Mama’s.” He tells of the things you miss “in a world gone crazy.”

A myriad of highways lead into the sawdust-covered gem that is Bandera. Each one can lead to a dirt road where you’re invited to discover a piece of peace.

There’s a saying – also used by my alma mater, Texas A&M University – that goes “From the outside in, you can’t understand it, and from the inside out, you can’t explain it.” There’s a long list of reasons why folks pilgrimage to Bandera time after time, but you might just need to experience it for yourself.

The good news is that anytime of year is a great time to go to Bandera. A family trip during spring break allows you to see wildflowers. A trip over Memorial Day or the Fourth of July harkens back to years when servicemen and women came back to small-town parades. Over Labor Day weekend, there may be no better place to take a break from the grind and enjoy a slower pace. It’s where I want to be for the holidays to celebrate gratitude around Thanksgiving and to enjoy the Christmas parade down Main Street.

Any time of year, you can find folks enjoying the crackle of an outdoor fire while looking up at the stars or just sitting on a porch with a cold beer, laughing with really good friends or family. During the summer, you can experience some of the most secluded and beautiful river tubing. And where else can you find a jewelry store in a bar like at the fun and famous 11th Street Cowboy Bar, where you can dance to live music on weekends.

Many visitors choose to stay at one of the dozens of guest ranches around Bandera. They run the gamut from a traditional family working ranch to a more tourist-filled experience offering nightly hayrides or trail rides.

Locals and visitors alike enjoy breakfast, lunch, or dinner at the OST, which stands for Old Spanish Trail. This diner has been around since 1921. Visitors might flock there to sit on a real saddle at the old bar or to dine in the John Wayne Room. Locals go there for the delicious and crispy chicken fried steak, or what some call the best nachos in the state. It’s also served by good people. Many of them have worked there for more than three decades just because they love the place.

While some people go to Bandera to relax, others go for some real exercise. It’s a popular destination for mountain biking. The Hill Country State Natural Area has 40 miles of recreational trails popular with cyclists from across the state and beyond.

So whether you’re looking for a cool spot in the Medina River, a throwback country dance floor in a basement at Arkey Blues Silver Dollar Saloon, or to experience an authentic show-deo rodeo with real cowboys, Bandera is where you can go to relish in the slower pace and the simple pleasures of life, where the road does go on forever and the party really never ends.

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