Travelling to the South, Part I

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.

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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.

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I found a self-tour booklet for Luke and let him lead the way, since he’s the political/history wonk in the family.

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I loved all the little architectural details.

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Even the door hinges are lovely!

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In the early 1990s, an expansion was added beneath (or sunk into, I guess) the north plaza of the original building.

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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…

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…but my favorite sculpture was a large scene honoring the pioneers that settled Texas.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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…

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And got some sweet views of the Austin skyline lighting up.

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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.

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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

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Categories: A Plethora of Parks, Artwork, environment, Family, food, Humor, kids, Life, Love, Road trip, Travel, Weather | Tags: , , | 3 Comments

Sunday in the City

Luke spent his six weeks of summer in Anza. While he was gone, Elizabeth and I checked out a miniature railroad in Forth Worth that offers rides along the Trinity River from Forest Park to Trinity Park and back. The trains weren’t running the day we went, so we walked the track on foot. I included a few pics from that walk in my last post.

Luke’s return flight was delayed two hours by Texas thunderstorms. Elizabeth and I passed part of the time by walking to the top of the airport terminal parking garage, where I climbed a wall and got a nice shot of several layers of airport roadways/tramways/parking.

Luke returned on a Saturday night, and by remarkable good luck I had Sunday and Monday off. For Sunday we planned an excursion to Fort Worth. Our first stop was the miniature railroad.

The views are nice along the route and there was a cool breeze blowing off the Trinity.

We had planned to have lunch at Carshon’s Deli (best pastrami on rye in the Metroplex, hands down), but it turns out that they’re closed on Sundays. (!) Our next stop took us back past the Botanic Gardens, so we decided to have lunch at The Gardens. That’s the actual name of a little restaurant there that has its own little kitchen garden out back and specializes in fresh ingredients. Apparently it also has an all-you-can-eat brunch buffet on Sundays, so that was a pleasant surprise.

After we ate, I saw this majestic little fellow harvesting acorns in a low branch just above my head.

We hadn’t been to any of the art museums in Fort Worth yet, so we decided that Sunday was the day for the Kimball, which I enjoyed…

and the Modern, which mostly made me feel like I don’t understand modern art.

It’s good to have Luke home. Real talk though, I was amazed at how much less we spent on food while he was away. That boy can eat.

Categories: A Plethora of Parks, Animals, Artwork, environment, Family, food, kids, Life, Wildlife | Tags: , , , | 2 Comments

Summer Snapshots

Categories: Animals, environment, Family, Horses, kids, Life, trees | Leave a comment

Parr Park Sprayground and Kimzey Park

Spring is creeping back into the Metroplex. This is a beautiful place three seasons of the year, but holy crap is it bleak in winter. I’m always so glad to see that first translucent shimmer of green in the treetops.

I had never seen Bob Jones Park in any season but winter, but on my last ride there I finally saw the first hints of green.

Mahogany is never calmer than when we are cruising through those woodsy trails. I think she and I are forest-loving kindred spirits. She is even becoming a pro at water crossings and lakes.

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The kids and I celebrated the return of spring by combining our first real hike of the year with the addition of two new parks to our collection: Parr Park Sprayground in Grapevine and Kimzey Park in Colleyville.

The parks ended up on my radar thanks to a metal pedestrian ramp that runs for no apparent reason up out of the Big Bear creekbed to the bridge where Pool Rd crosses the creek. There is no place to park nearby to take a closer look at it, and Google Maps was no help. This was a mystery that required solving!

Then Google added that trail system to its maps, and the mystery was solved: the ramp connects to a bike trail along Big Bear Creek. The trail was immediately added to my to-do list for when the weather warmed up. Our first attempt was rained out, but for our second try we got lovely 70º weather.

Parr Park Sprayground is a great water-spray park for small children, a sports park for older kids and a connection point for a much larger trail system for the rest of us.

The water features are not in operation this early in the year, but there is a great playground for younger kids (and for those of us who never outgrew our affinity for climbing stuff).

There are a few different trail options here. We chose the one that would take us to the ramp at Pool Rd.

Part of the path was labeled “Bluebonnet Trail,” but we saw a grand total of three bluebonnets. Here they are in all their Texan glory:

We reached the metal ramp more quickly than we had expected. When you cross Pool Rd, you also cross from Grapevine…

…into Colleyville.

Being the contentious rebels that we are, we opted to cross under the bridge rather than utilizing the ramp.

Once across Pool Rd, Google instructed us to turn left and take a public road to Kimzey Park, but I opted to turn right and stay on the bike trail because I thought I was better at reading maps than Google.

Yeah…the bike trail eventually dead-ended. So we ended up taking the long way around via Colleyville Blvd and LongWood Dr.

We got there eventually.

We found a tree that was wearing birds instead of leaves.

For the return trip, we followed Google’s advice and took the road. It was indeed the shortest route. We crossed atop Pool Rd this time and took the metal ramp back down, and then backtracked the rest of the way to Parr Park.

Our next stop was Chan’s Mongolian Grill, which is basically an all-you-can-eat version of Genghis Grill. My fortune cookie told me that it’s time for another road trip.

As soon as Texas gets a bit greener, I think I might take my fortune cookie’s advice.

Categories: A Plethora of Parks, environment, Family, Horses, kids, Life, maps, trail rides, Travel, trees, Weather, Winter | Tags: , | Leave a comment

Crystal Canyon, and Back to Bob Jones

Our most recent park discovery is Crystal Canyon Natural Area in Arlington.

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This is a smallish park with a single half-mile soft-surface trail loop.

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It packs a lot of appeal into a tiny package, thanks to the woodsy setting and some interesting geographical features. The creek is fantastic, but you have to go off-trail to explore it.

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The “canyon” part is what lured us to this park. We miss the mountains of California and were looking forward to a bit of climbing, so we were kind of disappointed by the overall flatness of the loop trail.

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But near the end, a smaller “desire path” branches off from the main trail and heads straight up the canyon wall. It’s not exactly rock-climbing, or even particularly steep, but it’s a nice little workout and offers a rewarding view from the top.

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In the end we gave Crystal Canyon three thumbs up, but mostly for the creek and the hill-climbing detour.

In other news, the Texas mud has finally killed my 19-year-old Ariat riding boots.

My new Ariats are waterproof. Let’s see if they’re a better match for the Texas climate.

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The day after my new boots arrived, I got to try them out at Bob Jones Park, which was just as awesome the second time around.

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This time I used my Professional’s Choice saddle pad, which puts a solid inch and a half of high-density foam between the treeless saddle (and my butt) and Mahogany’s spine and withers. It also has a cut-out over her withers, so there is no pressure on them.  It was very comfortable for both of us, but almost comically oversized for the saddle. Here is a picture of me taking a picture of sailboats on Grapevine Lake, in which you can see the pad and the saddle .

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On a related tangent, every time I see a photo of myself on a trail ride, I am jarred by how much my camera case disrupts the lines of my clothing. I’ve decided to buy a small tactical pack to hang on my saddle that will hold everything that I carry on rides: camera, phone, keys, etc. I much prefer having that stuff on me rather than my horse, because if we get separated only one of us knows how to use the phone. I think vanity is going to win this one, though. Also my keys jingle-jangle distractingly when I hang them from my belt loop, and my phone tends to work its way out of my pocket at the trot. So I guess the pack will solve three issues at once.

Anyway, beautiful park. I can’t wait to see it in the summertime.

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I have a future post brewing about all of the benefits, problems and solutions involved in transitioning to a treeless saddle. Stay tuned!

Categories: A Plethora of Parks, Animals, environment, Family, Friends, Horses, kids, Life, trail rides, treeless saddle, Winter | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

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