A Spine-Tingling Ride

You can go for the history, the hysteria of ghost stories, the scenery, the stops – or all of the above. Yep, the 75-mile Devil’s Backbone loop just west of San Marcos sounds like a perfect day trip to us.

It’s possible to drive the whole thing in under two hours if you’re in a hurry. But what would be the point? Better to plan a half-day with a picnic, optional shop-hopping and hiking, an overlook stop and an obligatory, ice-cold beer.

The drive’s namesake is a 20-mile “racerback” limestone ridge that rises 1,274 feet along the Comal and Hays County lines. Apaches and Comanches considered the ridge a spiritual place, but the late writer Bert Wall (who wrote several books set in the area) thought the nickname – which comes from a Spanish phrase for “spiny devil” — might have commemorated an overbearing mid-18th century missionary. Appropriately, the area around the Fischer has become a haven for paranormal enthusiasts over the years.

Here’s the fun way to get there:

San Marcos to Wimberley (15 miles): From Kissing Tree, head toward San Marcos, then turn West (left) at Ranch Road 12 past the Purgatory Creek Natural Area. Wimberley could be a full day of its own, what with all of its crafty shops. But if you want to start this journey well-sated, make your first stop The Leaning Pear, Rachel and Matthew Buchanan’s hip-looking and warm-hearted restaurant, where the emphasis is fresh, seasonal and local.

Wimberley to Blanco (24 miles): Head northwest on Farm-to-Market Road 2325, which eventually merges with FM 165, and enjoy the scenery from the north side of the backbone. If you want to stretch your legs, hop out for a walk around Blanco State Park, right in the middle of town. Got a swimsuit in the car? The park’s Blanco River spillway is a popular cooling-off spot.

Blanco to Fisher (13 miles): Head south on Loop 163 or US 281, then exit southeast onto Ranch Road 32. Now you’re on the stretch of the road officially known as “Devil’s Backbone,” a winding roller-coaster that runs parallel to the ridge, with gorgeous views of the escarpment and rolling plains to the north.

There’s a fine picnic area at the Devil’s Backbone Overlook just before you arrive at Fischer, a historical Hill Country ranch outpost that clings to its unpretentious attitude. Take a slight detour just a little to the north, on Fischer Store Road, to see the Fischer Store, a Texas landmark that dates to 1902 and has served as a post office, a bank and a saloon. You also can’t miss the Devil’s Backbone Tavern, a friendly and legendary dive where ghost stories abound. One of the most famous involves a stampede of phantom horses, but the locals are happy to share others as well. This is also where you’ll find that obligatory ice-cold beer. Bring cash, and don’t expect WiFi.

Fischer to San Marcos (23 miles): Just a few miles out of Fischer, where the ridge ends and Ranch Road 32 meets Ranch Road 12, the road straightens out and drops dramatically into the valley before you head back toward San Marcos.

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