Cal and I have a history with Austin, and we have visited our daughter and her boyfriend several times since she moved here a few years ago. It’s a booming city with traffic issues, and much easier not to deal with than to think about venturing anywhere in our big Ford truck. We have done most of the things that would be on a “must see” tourist list, although I did see a brochure for some interesting museums that are currently closed for Covid. That will be for next time. We do miss the funky, sleepy little university and capitol city that Austin used to be, and remembered restaurants and hang-out places are gone. But shades of the old Austin still reveal themselves, which keeps things fun. We have our favorite places, and are finding new ones. This blog will be about two of the favorites, and one new place, that we have visited this time around.
Zilker Park is Austin’s large city park. It was donated to the city of Austin by Andrew Jackson Zilker in 1917. There is a botanical garden in the park, which I love, and here is a picture of it from an earlier visit a few years ago:
Today’s adventure at Zilker, however, was about kayaking. We canoed here, long ago. My experiences with canoeing over the intervening years have mostly led to wet hair and lost equipment, including shoes, so I decided long ago that canoes are best avoided. This was only our second time kayaking, and it we both enjoyed it.
We started out on Barton Creek. The first thing I noticed was all the turtles. Turtles swimming next to us, turtles sunning on rocks, turtles jockeying for space on logs. They climb onto the lowest part of the log, and the whole crowd slooooowly moves forward. It’s a fair system–the first one on eventually gets pushed back on the water, like a game of musical chairs.
We also saw a couple of snakes slithering through the water. I’m not sure if I’ve ever seen snakes swim before.
Barton Creek was tranquil, and on a Monday morning we there were no other kayakers about. Once we turned into the larger Colorado River, there was more traffic. We paddled all the way under the downtown bridges.
Turning back into Barton Creek, we navigated past the kayak rental and up to Barton Springs, below. The upper level, beyond the fence, is a huge pool. If this had been a weekend day, it would have been packed with people. The whole of Barton Creek is a popular swimming hole. We saw lots of ropes hanging from trees for swings.
Later on, we walked on the hike and bike trail, which goes along the river where we had kayaked, and there were many more people out enjoying the day.
Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center
I usually seem to find myself in Austin in April. April is when the wildflowers bloom, and Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center is a great place to go and see them. However, we didn’t think the wildflowers here were as thick as they had been the first time we were here. I don’t know if it was because of the big February freeze. The freeze certainly didn’t seem to hurt all the wildflowers that we’ve seen along the roads and in fields this month. Regardless, this garden is a beautiful place to see all sorts of flowers and Texas botanicals. If one had children, there are all sorts of things to play on – gardens and spaces just for them.
Right inside the gate, a volunteer was eager to tell us that there were owl babies up inside a planter.
The wildflower center has had a nesting pair of great horned owls for more than a decade. The female is named Athena, and every year she lays her eggs in this aerial courtyard planter. I was lucky enough to be able to see one of her two owlets through the zoom in my camera. So cute! They were almost ready to leave the nest, and move with their mama to the nearby woods.
Every turn in the path led to something else.
“Lady Bird” Johnson was the wife of our nation’s 36th president, Lyndon B. Johnson. She was passionate about beautifying the nation’s roads and was an advocate of the Highway Beautification Act of 1965. In Texas, she is responsible in great part for all the beautiful wildflowers that can be seen along the roadways in the spring. She also co-founded this garden in 1982 as a wildflower research center, and it was named after her later in 1997. It has the most diverse collection of native Texan plants in North America. The garden claims that this is “a signature piece of her environmental legacy” and I, for one, agree. It is a gift for all to enjoy.
When we were all tired out from all of the various gardens, we were not done. There were also miles of Texas woodland trails to be explored. Back in 2016 my daughter Katie, her boyfriend Larnell, and I tramped on all of them. We came upon an area of live oaks with all sorts of swings – doubles, singles, and even ones for babies. What a great idea! This time around, I made sure Cal and I had some time on one of the swings. The first two pictures below are from 2016; the last, of Cal, from this visit.
McKinney Falls State Park
This state park is only 13 miles from Austin’s capitol building, but it feels a world away. It helped that we were here on a chilly weekday morning. Large parking lots and masses of picnic tables told us that this is a very busy place on the weekend; another urban getaway similar to Zilker Park, but without the “downtown” feeling. When we first hit the hiking trail here, we were pretty much by ourselves.
The land that the park contains was a farm for Thomas McKinney, one of Stephen F. Austin’s original colonists. The ruins of his his homestead can be seen in the park from a hiking trail. When he died, his widow sold the property to the Smith family, and the descendants donated the park in the 1970’s.
The picture above shows Onion Creek flowing over limestone ledges as part of the Lower Falls. This was an important river crossing for natives, traders and settlers for centuries. Below, the massive area of limestone was part of a 2,500 mile road, called El Camino Real, that stretched from Mexico to Louisiana. I could just see wagons massed here waiting to make the river crossing, and once again had that history-beneath-my-feet feeling. Cal obligingly stood there for me so you can get a sense of just how large an area it is. In rainier times, this would be covered with water.
There is camping here, and yet more trails that we did not have time for, so I’m sure we’ll be making a return visit!
Next time – the last posting from Austin