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Bandera Grey Forest Helotes
Lakehills Medina Pipe Creek
Tarpley Utopia Vanderpool

Bandera County is located northwest of San Antonio in the rugged Texas Hill country on the Edwards Plateau– where the limestone hills begin to rise up on the northern horizon, filled with rivers, horse and cattle ranches and a sprawling Medina Lake. The name is thought to derive from the Spanish for “flag,” which might have been placed to mark a certain point.

Bandera, the only town of any substance in Bandera County, founded in the mid-1850s by three businessmen, John James, Charles DeMontel and John Hernden. Bandera is the county seat and holds a really big place in the hearts of Texans, where a handshake was your contract, self-reliance was the norm, and chivalry was a given. Bandera County embodies the cowboy and many local dude ranches offer a taste of the cowboy lifestyle of past with horseback riding, trail rides, and chuckwagon meals.

They intended to build a water-powered sawmill on the site of a shingle-makers camp on a cypress-grown bend of the Medina River. They recruited newly-arrived Polish immigrants, who settled in and around Bandera, and who built St. Stanislaus Catholic Church, one of the oldest churches in Texas.

After the Civil War, Bandera became a staging area for cattle herds beginning the great trek north to the railway in Kansas, and has declared itself as the Cowboy Capitol of the World. Bandera is the home of the Frontier Times Museum, which has for over seventy years collected and displayed pioneer and cowboy-related relics, art and artifacts. On Saturday mornings, the Old Spanish Trail restaurant in Bandera (an unofficial shrine to the memory of the greatest cowboy actor of all, John Wayne) is the destination for motorcycle enthusiasts from San Antonio, who have been heading up Route 16 between Helotes and Bandera for more than thirty years.

After the days of the long-trail cattle drives faded, local ranchers turned to raising goats and sheep, along with cattle, and opening their ranches to paying guests. The Bandera Chamber of Commerce lists more than a dozen dude ranches among their members. Reenactment events are held on Saturdays in summer, rodeos and other events are regularly held, and live country music dominates the main-street honky-tonks most evenings. Bandera is near to the Hill Country State Natural Area, which offers forty miles of trails and opportunities for camping, backpacking, mountain biking and fishing. The Hill Country State Natural Area also serves as the venue for two ultramarathons, the Bandera 100K Trail Run, and the Cactus Rose 100 Mile Endurance Run.