On a recent anniversary weekend trip over to Johnson City, Texas, we toured the LBJ Ranch. If you haven’t been there, you’ll love the scenic drive from Austin and the step back in time once you arrive.
It was in this historic place that Lyndon Baines Johnson was born, is buried and lived a totally Texas-style Presidential lifestyle in between.
First – Coffee!
Every serious road tripper knows that every serious road trip begins with a delicious latte, right? Fortunately, there’s a coffee shop in Johnson City where you can order your brew however you like it.
There’s only one downside. The barista is grumpy.
Yep. This is the Grumpy Barista of Johnson City, Texas, and he makes a mighty mean latte for your road trip from behind his counter inside the Black Spur Emporium.
Next – The LBJ State Park and Historic Site Visitor Center
Head 14 miles west on Hwy 290 to the Visitor Center where you can get a map of the ranch. For the self-guided tour around the place, you’ll also need to affix the free permit to the inside of your car’s windshield.
Photo courtesy www.nationalparkservice.org
Plan to Drive Around the Ranch
We wore our tennis shoes, expecting to do a lot of walking around the place. However, once we arrived, it was clear that the best way to experience the LBJ Ranch is to drive. There’s way too much ground to cover on foot.
The CD is a Good Idea
For $7, we bought the narrative CD that describes what you see on the drive. Some of the stories of the place are even told by President Johnson himself.
From the Visitor Center, we drove down Ranch Road One and then crossed the Pedernales River onto LBJ ranch land. This crane was stunningly perched upon that big rock until we stopped to take his picture. My kids used to do the same thing – take flight when I tried to capture them being serene.
After passing other buildings and structures, narrated so captivatingly on the CD, we stopped to buy our tickets ($3 each) for a tour of the Texas White House.
Photo courtesy www.nps.gov.
This is where Lady Bird and Lyndon Baines Johnson spent every minute they could. In fact, LBJ spent about a quarter of his presidency here at the Texas White House. Dignitaries came to the Texas White House for weekends filled with Texas hospitality, but it was also here that the presidential couple raised their daughters, Lynda and Luci.
No Photos Are Allowed Inside the Texas White House
Our park ranger / tour guide gave us the lowdown and made sure we knew – absolutely no photos inside the house. Too bad, because I really wanted to show you! It’s a fascinating tour, and our ranger did a great job of directing us through the rooms, providing lots of good background tales as we went. So I took his picture.
The tour takes about 30 minutes, and is truly worth way more than the price of admission. Anything that Lady Bird changed or updated after the death of her husband has now been restored to the original or period-proper decor, down to the most minute details.
So, truly, when walking through the house, you get to see it as it was during the presidential term of Lyndon Johnson. Things like the furniture, the kitchen wallpaper and the red phone make it easy to take a very historical step back in time.
The pool on the grounds of the Texas White House is beautiful, and our tour guide told us that, while it was put in for LBJ’s health, he spent very little time actually swimming in it.
There’s a Lot More to See on the LBJ Ranch
The amphicar itself is housed in a building set aside for the presidential vehicles.
Lady Bird took many thrilling drives across the bridges on the ranch with her rambuctious ranch-husband. Taking unaware visitors on a ride in the amphicar, careening toward the water as if nothing was amiss – that was one of the President’s favorite practical jokes.
In the voice of LBJ’s own secretary, we heard her describing routine flights in this plane from Washington to the ranch. During those 74 flights, the President gave directions and rehearsed speeches while she captured it all with her notes taken in shorthand.
As we drove slowly around the sprawling acreage with our windows down, listening to the narrative CD, we heard the voice of President Johnson himself describing this schoolhouse. LBJ started attending school at four years old here, where the teacher taught all the through the 8th grade in one room.
There are rustic fences in some places, keeping the cows where they belong.
In other spots, there are beautifully manicured yards, situated under majestic oak trees, kept separate by white picket fence posts.
Photo courtesy National Park Service
This portrait hangs in the building where the tickets are purchased for the Texas White House Tour. Once 12 people have bought tickets, another tour will begin. Souvenirs of all kinds are also available to purchase while you wait, including tall cowboy hats like the one LBJ is wearing.
There’s a Lot to Talk About
We had some greatly intellectual discussions, my man and me, as we later analyzed the happiness in this photo against the real backdrop of this president’s tumultuous days in office.
Even the Ranger who gave us our tour had been very honest about the country’s dissatisfaction with some of the decisions made by Mr. Johnson.
As we stood admiring the portrait, my eyes kept wandering over to the smile on Lady Bird’s face. It seems that we never see a photo of her without it. Claudia Alta Taylor seems to have been a very genuine, approachable first lady, whose days as a presidential wife were filled with joy. At least that’s what I see.
This was such a satisfying day!
As we reached the Johnson Family Cemetery where LBJ is buried, we listened to the voice of Billy Graham as he described a snippet of his relationship with LBJ.
How thankful are we for Billy Graham and how he prayed for our presidents through his years! Who among us can imagine the weight of responsibility on the shoulders of every president of these United States? If it were me or my own son (it certainly could be him someday!), I would covet the prayers of God’s people like nobody’s business!
Here’s a recording of one of the many heartfelt conversations between these two men. You can hear the trepidation in the voice of the President. You can also hear the comfort provided by the one and only Billy Graham.
I really loved this trip to The LBJ Ranch. It’s good to learn about the people who’ve made decisions that shape our nation’s history and paved the way for our own future success, isn’t it?
Education is the only valid passport from poverty. – Lyndon Baines Johnson
Encouraging everyday intentional adventure and an occasional Texas history lesson,
PS: Be sure you sign up here to receive my weekly newsletter!