Texas is chock-full of mockingbirds (our state bird), pecan pies (our state pie), and armadillos (our state small mammal), but when it comes to blue topaz (our state gem), there’s only one place to find it naturally in the Lone Star State. I headed to the town of Mason to hunt down this elusive gemstone, and to take in the food and history of this Hill Country town.
For more information, contact the Mason County Chamber of Commerce, 325/347-5758.
Chet Garner is the host of The Daytripper® travel show on PBS.
9:00 a.m. I headed to the Willow Creek Café, located in a historic building on the Mason square that once housed a Ford Model T dealership. I sidled up to a platter of pancakes, sausage, and homemade biscuits while the chit-chat of locals filled the air.
10:00 a.m. I set off on foot to the Mason Square Museum. From mammoths to modern artists, this small space packs a lot of history. The most awe-inspiring artifact was the massive, 6,480-carat chunk of blue topaz found in a nearby field. It remains the largest specimen ever discovered in North America.
11:00 a.m. I headed to the top of Post Hill to visit Fort Mason. Established in 1851 to pave the way for westward settlement, this frontier post housed many notable soldiers, including Robert E. Lee prior to his days as a general in the Confederate Army. While all of the original buildings are gone, the re-created officer’s quarters helped me visualize what it was like to attempt to tame the wild Texas frontier.
12:15 p.m. With the safety provided by the fort, the town began to grow. I drove the streets and admired the beautiful homes and churches built from the area’s native sandstone. I even stopped to pay my respects to Old Yeller, written by Mason-native Fred Gipson and now memorialized with a bronze statue in front of the Mason County Library.
1:00 p.m. I stopped at Square Plate restaurant, a local soup-and-sandwich shop on the Mason square, serving square meals on (you guessed it) square plates. My chicken-salad sandwich was delicious and upstaged only by a side dish of some of the best German potato salad I’ve ever had.
2:00 p.m. Ready for a lesson in topaz, I wandered up the road to Mason Country Collectibles, an antique shop and the town’s most respected broker of Mason County topaz. Owner Warren Grote showed me gem after gem, including some in the “Lone Star Cut,” designated the “Official State Cut of the Texas Gem.” While there were plenty to buy, Warren made it clear that his 587-carat blue oval topaz (pictured at left) is his pride and joy.
3:00 p.m. I decided to test my luck at finding some of my own topaz in nature. A handful of ranches allow public digs, including Bar M Ranch just west of town. So with shovel in hand, I hit the dirt, walking up and down the ranch’s Honey Creek and picking up every shiny speck that caught my eye. While I didn’t find my fortune in topaz, I did find plenty of quartz and interesting stones to make my time well spent.
6:00 p.m. The daylight faded, but the Wine Bar at Sandstone Cellars Winery was just perking up as I joined the locals packed into this old renovated home. Since Sandstone’s wines are made exclusively from Mason County grapes, the varieties are ever-changing based on supply. The only guarantee is that they’ll be delicious. I sipped on a glass of Tempranillo, which paired most excellently with my plate of homemade gorditas and queso delivered to my table from Santos Taqueria next door.
I may not have left with a pocket full of topaz, but I did leave with a head, belly, and heart full of Mason County memories. And that’s enough for me to concur that Mason lives up to its nickname as the “Gem of the Hill Country.” So whether you follow my footsteps or forge your own path, I hope to see you on the road.