In March a fortune cookie told me it was time for another road trip:
So this week I cashed in some vacation time and we headed down to Austin. The trip was part recreation, part research. Once Luke turns 18 we’ll be free to relocate to wherever we please, so we’re checking out our options. There’s a lot to like about DFW, but we had never planned to grow old and die here.
We headed out bright and early on a Monday morning…and a warning light appeared on my dash display as soon as we pulled out of our parking lot.
My gallant Saturn, may she rest in peace, died a sudden and unjust death last fall when another car ran her out of her freeway lane and into the concrete divider. My new car has more bells and whistles than I’m used to, so I didn’t recognize the ominous-looking caliper-and-exclamation-point icon. Not going to lie, I was imagining the worst. But I stopped to get ice for the cooler as planned while Elizabeth googled warning light symbols for my car. Turned out it was just a low-tire-pressure warning. Whew!
The next stop was our favorite local donut shop, The Donut Wheel in Hurst. We have become indoctrinated in the Texas way of the kolache and needed a dozen sausage for the road. I recently read that the sausage ones aren’t really kolaches at all, they are klobasniki, but I’ve never actually heard anyone call them that.
Once properly provisioned, we headed to a nearby Firestone to put air in the tires. The warning light went out, and as an added bonus I’ve noticed a big improvement in gas mileage.
Of course we stopped in West, the kolache capital of Texas, to resupply. We went to a different bakery this time, because I’d heard good things about their cinnamon rolls.
Check out the nice scuff on my shiny new bumper. Just a few months after I replaced the Saturn, I got rear-ended by an uninsured driver. Their front end was all crumpled in, though, so I guess my little scuff could have been a lot worse.
Anyway, the cinnamon rolls turned out to be intimidatingly enormous, so we got a dozen fruit and cheese kolaches instead. They were yummy.
I was expecting traffic to start being awful somewhere around Temple and stay awful the whole time we were in Austin. Surprisingly, traffic wasn’t an issue at all, even within Austin proper, until our return drive.
When I first started planning the trip, it was all about the outdoor activities. But then the forecast showed temps above 100º both days, so we started thinking of ways to stay cool and still have fun. I asked Luke if he’d like to tour the State Capitol Building, and he gave me an enthusiastic yes. That was our first stop as soon as we rolled into the city.
It is gorgeous, every inch of it.
I found a self-tour booklet for Luke and let him lead the way, since he’s the political/history wonk in the family.
I loved all the little architectural details.
Even the door hinges are lovely!
In the early 1990s, an expansion was added beneath (or sunk into, I guess) the north plaza of the original building.
I wanted to explore the whole grounds, but once we were outside the heat made Luke cranky. I took a quick tour while he waited on a shady bench. I mostly saw tributes to Confederate soldiers and Texas’ role in the Civil War…
…but my favorite sculpture was a large scene honoring the pioneers that settled Texas.
It really was too sweltering to spend much time outside. We found a nearby motel and the kids napped through the hottest hours of the afternoon. I woke them up when it was almost time for the bats to emerge from the Congress Ave Bridge.
We wanted to explore the hike-and-bike trail around Lady Bird Lake, so I parked down by the softball park near Longhorn Dam and we walked up the boardwalk side of the bank toward Congress Ave as dusk gathered.
The unbearable crowds we’d been warned about never really materialized either. We saw people out and about, jogging or walking their dogs or just enjoying the parks and trails along the river, but we never felt crowded at all.
Luke and Elizabeth were mildly taken aback by Austin’s very casual dress code. In the Metroplex, at least in the areas we frequent, you would never see guys walking around in nothing but shorts and sneakers, or women wearing just sports bras and spandex shorts, the way you do in Austin. As Elizabeth put it, “DFW is King’s Landing and Austin is Highgarden.”
Another thing we noticed was an inexplicable absence of mosquitoes. Walking along a woodsy river at twilight in July, we should have been eaten alive. I don’t think I got a single mosquito bite the entire time we were in Austin.
I was expecting big crowds around the bat-bridge at least, but there was plenty of room for everyone. We decided to watch the show from up on the bridge itself. We got to the top just as the bats began to emerge.
I had imagined a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it event that lasts less than a minute, but it’s nothing like that. The bats just keep on coming. Suddenly the lack of mosquitoes made sense.
When the bat-exodus finally ended, we continued up the trail with the intention of hiking the entire loop around the lake.
We saw Stevie Ray Vaughn…
And got some sweet views of the Austin skyline lighting up.
Eventually we realized that we would not have time to complete the loop before the trail closed at 10pm. Since a series of bridges crosses the river/lake, we decided to cross the next bridge we came to and head back toward the car.
But somehow, even after we had crossed the next bridge and headed “back,” the city lights were still getting farther and farther away.
Finally we decided to just stop, turn around and backtrack to the car.
If it had been daytime, we would have easily seen the problem. But it was completely dark out by then and we were unfamiliar with the area. We were about halfway back to the car before I realized that the bridge we had crossed must have been the one spanning the Barton Creek tributary rather than the river itself. That’s not a mistake we could have made in the daylight.
We didn’t make it back to the car until around 10:30, but no one bothered us. The illuminated buildings provided some nice scenery along the way.
The most noticeable change after the 10pm curfew was that the joggers and dog-walkers were replaced by homeless people settling into the corners for the night.
I had been in so much of a hurry to see the bats that I completely missed the belts the first time across the boardwalk, but I looked for them on the way back. They are all along the railings: little sculpted metal belts with bits of song lyrics engraved onto them. You can barely see the letters in the glare of my camera flash, but this one says, “In dreams I walk with you.”
Our car was right where we left it, and we were all ready for a good night’s sleep.
Thus ended our first day in Austin. Much more to follow!
Read Part II here
Read Part III here