Youth camps have graced the Kerrville area of the Texas Hill Country since the 1920s, but Presbyterians were the first denomination to start a summer church camp there. Methodists, Lutherans, and Catholics soon followed suite. Currently, one can visit nearby Mount Wesley, Camp Chrysalis, and TECABOCA.
Mo Ranch is a 500-acre conference and camp center west of Hunt, which is west of Kerrville. Formally a Conoco Oil Company retreat, Mo Ranch takes its name from corporate executive and former owner Daniel J. Moran, who created much of the grounds’ singular infrastructure with repurposed oilfield pipe and locally quarried limestone. The Presbyterian Church acquired the property in 1949.
I first visited Mo Ranch as a child when Dad took me there during one of our annual summer vacations in the hills. We stayed at Casa Bonita Lodges on the Guadalupe River’s South Fork. Nearby stood the Helter Skelter Shelter and the Hodge Podge Lodge. One morning, while the rest of the family (three sisters and our mother) enjoyed other activities, the males drove around to the Guadalupe’s north branch. Nine river crossings separate Hunt from Mo. Even on that first visit to the resort, I remember the renowned slide, down which thrill-seekers ride a short board into the river. Somewhere there’s a photo of young me standing next to the slide. In the early days, the narrow highway wound through the property; today, a new bridge bypasses the former entrance.
After attending junior-high-age Camp Aranama, the logical next step in my maturity was to go to Mo, which I first did as a camper in the summer of ’69. It was then that I met Sallie H., whom I regarded as my best girl, though she didn’t. Boys stayed in the River Dorm, girls in Loma Linda. During the week-long outing, we campers listened to contemporary songs such as The Sound of Silence and discussed them, always with a Christian slant. Canyon wrens would serenade us during dances and services in the auditorium. We ran across the catwalk, which floor you could see through, daring each other to look down. We’d drop toast off the structure to see if it would bounce. I took walks next to the Guadalupe and marveled at old outbuildings. The promise of romance electrified every encounter.
We enjoyed Cokes in the Teen Canteen and bought James Avery jewelry in the book store. I learned about Malcolm Boyd and Marshall McLuhan, buying their books. I’ve still got The Medium is the Massage and later discovered an audio version. Those ideas would be pivotal in my communications studies at UT later. Summer of ‘70 was the year Hurricane Celia hit Port Aransas dead-center. I had escaped to Mo earlier that week, and heard that Corpus was destroyed—an exaggeration. I also went to a choir camp at Mo one off-season, from which I still cherish the sheet music.
Sallie proved to be a powerful attractant to my getting to Austin, along with my big sister’s pioneering move there. Ironically, Sallie left Austin just as I arrived.
I attended a bible church for my first couple terms at UT, but returned to the familiar Presbyterian fold in my junior year. That meant more trips to Mo, mainly for retreats during fall, winter, and spring. The photo shows one such visit. That’s me on the far right addressing our group outside the River Dorm. I’m not sure what I’m saying, but a good guess is a recitation of Prinderella and the Since, which I’d memorized back in high school for speech tournaments. My travel log records this trip on April 26, 1974, dutifully counting those nine river crossings. With each bridge, excitement would grow. A similar church group returned to Mo another time, camping at The Rapids just upstream of the facility’s more developed areas. On a different occasion, I provided music for a dance in the auditorium.
After obtaining my first degree (RTF) in December of ‘74, I was footloose and fancy-free for a few brief months. In early 1975, I heard about a hands-on workshop happening at Mo Ranch, so out I went. This was my first meeting with William S. Coperthwaite and my first time to help build a yurt. Bill, as he’s known, designed the modern yurt, a permanent version of the nomadic tents used for centuries in the steppes of Central Asia. Under Bill’s direction over a couple weekends, a crew of volunteers erected two nine-sided yurts just north of the catwalk. Each featured a flying roof of cylindrical sections. We’d hammer and saw by day, then hold conversations about architecture and social design in the evenings. These unique structures were meant to be staff quarters. The yurts lasted several years, but were, unfortunately, razed when new, unimpressed management took over. I, however, began a long relationship with Dr. Coperthwaite that continues to this day and that led to my building two yurts of my own.
Mo Ranch exemplifies a place of significant life happenings. The Hill Country is a special place on its own, but Mo became an even more extraordinary slice of those hills. Everything that makes the region attractive I found at Mo Ranch: juniper tree aromas, distant vistas, cold running waters, stout limestone ledges, and indigenous wildlife. Add to that physical beauty the important experiences of adolescent infatuation, hard work, deep thought, and fun times—and Mo remains unforgettable.