National Park Road Trip 2011: LBJ Slept Here

A charming country home, and a stylish jet, await those who visit the Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park. Photos by David and Kay Scott.

Editor's note: As our lodging consultants, David and Kay Scott, continue to wend their way through the National Park System to update their book, The Complete Guide to the National Park Lodges, they find themselves in Texas.

Greetings from Fort Stockton, Texas, where the oil wells are gushing money, the wind farms are spinning electricity, and the land is dry as a bone.

Drought conditions in this West Texas region are rated “exceptional,” which is considered worse than “extreme,” and as bad as it gets. A region that is normally dry has for several years become much drier.

Tuesday’s drive from Austin to Fort Stockton took us through the Texas Hill Country, the region of the state that we like best. The small town of Fredericksburg is a real gem and has grown considerably since our last visit. Tuesday’s drive also took us by Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park, an NPS unit a short distance west of of Johnson City, site of the birthplace home of our 36th president.

We have visited this NPS site on two previous occasions, including one December evening about ten years ago when Lady Bird Johnson lit the Christmas tree. The evening was quite cool, but the experience was special. NPS enployees served cake and hot cider in the visitor center.

The Johnson family donated the home and 400 of the ranch’s 2,600 acres to the National Park Service in 1972, a year prior to the president’s death, with the stipulation that Lady Bird could live in the home until her death. When Lady Bird died in 2007, the National Park Service commenced guided tours of the Johnson home. Prior to her death, visitors were taken past the home in buses that departed from the visitor center. This was our first tour of the home and it was quite enjoyable.

The Johnson family purchased the home and 250 acres in the early 1950s from LBJ’s aunt and uncle. They later acquired an additional 2,350 acres. The home, which overlooks the Pedernales River, is shaded by several live oak trees, including one that is thought to be nearly 400 years old. The setting is magnificent and it is easy to understand why LBJ spent nearly a quarter of his presidency at the ranch. The president considered the ranch to be a second office and a parade of policymakers and dignitaries regularly visited here.

Today’s visitors can tour the home, view the jet (called “Air Force One-Half” by the president) that carried LBJ from the Austin airport to the ranch, take in exhibits housed in the building that once served as a hanger, and inspect several of LBJ’s cars that remain at the ranch. Guided tours of the home cost $2. A ranger in the visitor center told us the historical park is seeing over 130,000 visitors annually.

The historical park also includes a reconstruction of the LBJ birthplace home, the family cemetery where the president and Lady Bird are buried, and LBJ’s boyhood home in Johnson City.

An adjacent state historical park includes a visitor center plus a living historical farm. Free entrance passes and an audio CD for a self-guided driving tour of the ranch are obtained at the visitor center of the state historical park.

One of the great pleasures in traveling through this part of the country is seeking out small Mexican restaurants. We typically stop in at a local business to ask for their recommendation of where to eat. The other night we stopped at an auto supply store and they directed us to Mi Casita, a small operation in a yellow building on the south side of town.

Mi Casita opens for lunch and dinner, but only Tuesday through Friday. Seems sort of an odd business plan, but one that appears to be working. We were quite surprised when, after finishing a bountiful combination plate, the server stopped by our table and asked that we leave a comment on their web site. Technology has snaked its way to Mi Casita. View their site at www.micasita.biz.

Well sated, the next day we headed off to Big Bend National Park for two nights at Chisos Mountain Lodge.