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Twisted Sisters: The Texas Hill Country’s Most Famous Trio

A ranch valley from Ranch Road 337. These valleys are found in between the ridges in the Hill Country and most of them are jewels.

A ranch valley from Ranch Road 337. These valleys are found in between the ridges in the Hill Country and most of them are jewels.

Photo Credit: Russ Locke

Russ Locke
July 8, 2013
Filed under Favorite Rides: Motorcycle Rides from Rider Readers, Motorcycle Rides, Roads and Self-Guided Travel

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Three Hill Country Ranch Roads, 335, 336 and 337, are known throughout Texas as the Twisted Sisters, and riders come from near and far to enjoy them. For me it is near, just a short ride from my home to the first Sister. The first stop is usually in Bandera at the Old Spanish Trails Restaurant, better known to everyone as the OST.
But we’ll pass on it this morning, opting instead for Keese’s Café and Bar-B-Que in Medina, where pancakes and eggs give us a good start to the day. Keeses’ T-shirts have a rough map of the Three Sisters with the slogan, “A serious ride requires a serious breakfast!” So having had the breakfast, we are off on the ride.

Turtle (tortoise?) rescue! This big old guy, about 10 inches across, was getting ready to cross Highway 187 near Vanderpoole, Texas. We picked him up and took him across to help him on his way.

Turtle (tortoise?) rescue! This big old guy, about 10 inches across, was getting ready to cross Highway 187 near Vanderpoole, Texas. We picked him up and took him across to help him on his way.

The first Sister we encounter is Ranch Road 337, which starts at the north edge of Medina. Following it west, we pass many beautiful ranches, one with its own landing strip and double-size hangar. As we move from the relatively straight stretches through the fields and into the first of many twisty sections, we are reminded by a highway sign that the Sisters are not to be taken lightly: “Caution Next 12 Miles, Since Jan. 2006, 10 Killed in Motorcycle Related Crashes.” After about 20 miles, we come to a “T” intersection at the community of Vanderpoole. Right on Highway 187 for a mile brings us back to 337 again, and we turn left and head for Leakey and the next Sister, Ranch Road 336. Had we gone straight on 187 for another three miles we could have visited the Lone Star Motorcycle Museum, a tiny jewel set in the beauty of the Hill Country. We’ll stop on the way back! Sister 337 twists more on this leg, going up and over a pretty typical Hill Country hill, with lots of quick turns before descending into the Little Dry Frio Creek Valley. Continuing straight through Leakey on 337 for about a half mile, we come to the Frio Canyon Motorcycle Stop and the Bent Rim Grill. Everything is good here; for me it’s a diet drink and the bacon cheeseburger with sweet potato fries.

Two Harleys, two Hondas (the blue one with four wheels is a Honda too) and a Kawasaki at the Lone Star Motorcycle Museum in Vanderpoole. The Kawasaki KLR is mine! It was a slow day as temps were in the triple digits.

Two Harleys, two Hondas (the blue one with four wheels is a Honda too) and a Kawasaki at the Lone Star Motorcycle Museum in Vanderpoole. The Kawasaki KLR is mine! It was a slow day as temps were in the triple digits.

After a leisurely meal in the open-air atrium between the gift shop and the grill, and a quick check of the gift shop’s inventory to see if there is anything new, we fire up and backtrack into Leakey. Then it’s left on Highway 83 for a short distance, and then left on the next Sister, Ranch Road 336. This stretch starts off pretty straight, but then bucks and snorts and twists and turns in an effort to throw us like a bull in a Bandera rodeo. But we use good judgment and take her on with a calm head and a steady throttle hand—fast enough to be fun, but in control and ready for the unexpected. This is whitetail deer country, and they will pop up at the most inopportune times, like in the middle of a downhill, off camber, decreasing radius turn! Then there’s the occasional cage…they can be as unpredictable as a deer and seem to show up at inopportune times, as well.

This is “Bob,” mascot of D’Rose Inn and Cabins in Leakey.

This is “Bob,” mascot of D’Rose Inn and Cabins in Leakey.

But today it’s cows! A herd of them is leisurely making its way up the highway to where their owner has a feed wagon. We slow down and let them get off the road, but remain aware that there are no fences between us and the rest of their bovine brethren. After about 10 miles, 336 straightens up and, having lost a lot of her spirit, continues on to terminate at Highway 41. Before reaching 41, dual-sport riders might want to take a cutoff on RR 3235 for about 25 miles of dirt and pavement, coming out on 335 north of Barksdale. But we continue on to 41, make a left here and wick it up a bit for 14 fairly straight miles before turning south on the third and final Sister, 335. She is a wild one too, but a little less the maverick than 336, tending to act more like a rollercoaster with big dips and ups and downs and not as many curves. We ride her south to her terminus with Highway 55 and then continue on through Barksdale to Camp Wood, where we gas up for the return leg on Sister 337.

Another fine example of a Texas gate, note the flagstone driveway. I call these Texas gates, but in other parts of the world, a “Texas Gate” is what we call a “cattle guard”—rails set in the ground over a pit to prevent cattle from getting out. They are used instead of gates and can be found on almost any rural Texas Ranch Road.

Another fine example of a Texas gate, note the flagstone driveway. I call these Texas gates, but in other parts of the world, a “Texas Gate” is what we call a “cattle guard”—rails set in the ground over a pit to prevent cattle from getting out. They are used instead of gates and can be found on almost any rural Texas Ranch Road.

From here to Vanderpoole is arguably the best section of 337, and one of the best of the three, though everyone has their favorite. We pass through Leakey again and detour slightly at Vanderpoole to say “Hi” to Alan Johncock at the Lone Star Motorcycle Museum. If it were lunchtime, we might have an Aussie Meat Pie or a burger; Alan’s wife does a great job with either. Alan is an Aussie and he and Debbie know their meat pies! But this time it’s a cold soda and back down to 337. At this point, we could continue straight for a few miles on 187 and pick up FM 470 back into Bandera. But 470 is relatively flat and we need one more go at the twisties on 337 before we quit.

After 170 miles and six hours with several stops for photos, we arrive home with grins. Although there’s the Lone Star Museum and some great pull-outs with beautiful views of the Texas Hill Country, this ride is less about roadside attractions and more about the roads and riding. It has been a great ride, and one that is close by whenever the urge strikes.

(This Favorite Ride was published in the July 2013 issue of Rider magazine.)

An “art car” decorates the corner of Highway 83 and Ranch Road 337 in downtown Leakey, Texas. The car is at the entrance to The Hog Pen, a motorcycle friendly eatery and store.

An “art car” decorates the corner of Highway 83 and Ranch Road 337 in downtown Leakey, Texas. The car is at the entrance to The Hog Pen, a motorcycle friendly eatery and store.

 I think a little gasoline and a new battery and the Farmall might run! The rubber on it looks better than my bike tire! “Rust N Peace” is just east of Camp Wood on Ranch Road 337.

I think a little gasoline and a new battery and the Farmall might run! The rubber on it looks better than my bike tire! “Rust N Peace” is just east of Camp Wood on Ranch Road 337.

This old giant may have lost his life but not his character; he reminds me of one of the giant, talking trees in the Lord of the Rings trilogy. If you look carefully near the center of the photo you can see his eyes! He can be found standing guard a few miles west of Medina on Ranch Road 337.

This old giant may have lost his life but not his character; he reminds me of one of the giant, talking trees in the Lord of the Rings trilogy. If you look carefully near the center of the photo you can see his eyes! He can be found standing guard a few miles west of Medina on Ranch Road 337.

 A few of the bikes in Alan Johncock’s private collection.

A few of the bikes in Alan Johncock’s private collection.

A nice little cabin, probably used as a guest house by the ranch where it is located near Medina.

A nice little cabin, probably used as a guest house by the ranch where it is located near Medina.

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Comments

3 Responses to “Twisted Sisters: The Texas Hill Country’s Most Famous Trio”

  1. Martin Buck on July 27th, 2013 4:23 pm

    Things ain’t bigger in Texas. I can see bigger hills outside my kitchen window. And my panoramic lounge windows show even bigger hills to the west. Here in New Zealand there are few if any straight roads, and all roads are attacked at as severe a lean angle as we can attain. Maybe this explains Harley handling, and the ground clearance issues American cruisers in general have. All our destinations are within a daily ride (400 miles on our roads in ENOUGH), but the fun per mile ratio is unbelievable.

    If those slight bumps resemble “hills”, then God I pity you.

    [Reply]

    John Reply:

    To the Cocky Kiwi – come and ride the Twisted Sisters and then speak about severe lean angles. Harley is only one riding option. Hats off to the NZ scenery, but you are too full of it.

    [Reply]

    Ivan Rodriguez Reply:

    Dude! Take a chill pill. We all know NZ is awesome, and so are New Zealanders… I think, not sure abiut you, though. But you will always be welcome in Texas. Just don’t be a prick.

    [Reply]

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