The first destination on Tuesday’s itinerary was Mt. Bonnell. We weren’t sure what to expect from “the highest point in Austin,” we really just wanted something to climb and a nice view from the top.
We got up early and drove to Covert Park in the relative cool-ish of the morning.We found a strip of parking spots and a stone staircase leading up a hillside.
There are about 100 steps, and when you’ve reached the top of the stairs, you’ve reached the top of Mt Bonnell.
There are shaded seating areas at the peak. This is a very domesticated “mountain.”
It wasn’t quite the climb we were expecting, but the views are great.
Luke said, “I think I can see Toad Hall from here.”
We found a trail at the top that runs along the crest and down the sides, curving around at both ends to emerge on either side of the parking lot. Once we had walked the full length of that, we felt like we had seen everything that Mt. Bonnel had to offer. We decided to just drive around for a while and see what there was to find.
We hadn’t driven far when we saw the entrance to Mayfield Park. A friend had mentioned that there are peacocks wandering around that park, so we pulled in. Can confirm: there are peacocks, and they wail in the trees like cats in heat.
We walked a nice little loop trail through the park and then continued our exploration.
Next we found the Contemporary Austin Sculpture Park. That was interesting.
After that we came to the Zilker Park Botanical Gardens.
I was honestly surprised by how little effort seemed to be put into this.
It’s like they had a few spare acres they didn’t know what to do with, so they decided to put in some stone terracing and a few pools and some koi and call it the Botanical Gardens.
The Botanical Gardens in Fort Worth and Dallas and hell, even Grapevine are nicer than the ones in Zilker Park, which was a genuine surprise to me. I don’t mean to sound complainy, it was still pretty and we enjoyed it. It just didn’t seem that different from any other park in Austin.
I have no idea why we’re standing so awkwardly far apart in this pic. I think it’s because I set the camera timer and ran over to join the kids and they just stayed where they were instead of scooching in.
I did like the dinosaur.
And there was a fun temporary exhibit of fairy houses made by local families and organizations. That was probably my favorite part.
It’s a hop, skip and a jump from the Botanical Gardens to Zilker Metropolitan Park, so that was our next stop. We wanted to see Barton Springs Pool and decide whether we wanted to go swimming there. On our way to the pool, we found a little miniature railroad that gives 25-minute rides around the park. We bought tickets. While we waited for the train, we checked out the pool and the adjacent creek swimming area and then had some snacks from a food truck. We were hungry enough for a full meal, but we had a 1pm lunch date with an old friend and didn’t want to spoil our appetites.
The train ride was fun and pretty.
We passed a kayak rental place and decided to come back and rent some kayaks after lunch. We passed Lou Neff Point and recognized the stone overlook as the place where we had decided to turn back on our hike the night before. In the distance we saw a big random heap of rocks in the middle of a field of grass, and of course we knew immediately that they must be climbed.
When the train ride ended, we made a beeline for the rocks. I have no idea why we love climbing stuff so much, but it’s a call that must be answered.
At 12:30 we headed off in search of a Whataburger. Now, I realize that visiting Austin and eating at Whataburger is like visiting NYC and eating at the Olive Garden in Times Square. But here’s the story for those who don’t know it: years ago, when play-by-email rpgs were my drug of choice, I played in a game called Austin After Dark. A key scene in that game was set in a Whataburger off of S Lamar. When I was planning the Austin trip, I messaged a fellow AAD player who lives in the area, told her that I would be in the city and asked her if she’d like to meet up at a certain Whataburger off of S Lamar to raise an iced-tea toast to our old characters and their adventures. She said that she would love to meet up, but that that particular Whataburger had closed down. However, there is another Whataburger off of S Lamar that would do just as well. So we met up there and had a really nice visit. I had only met her in person once before, on the 2007 road trip that launched this blog, but we have a gaming history that dates back to a Star Trek pbem I joined in 2002. (As we were pulling out of the parking lot, Luke commented, “I have no memory of that person, but that was a nice conversation.”)
After lunch, we headed back to Zilker park and rented three kayaks.
Elizabeth wanted to paddle all the way to the Congress Ave Bridge to see the bats underneath. I told her that the kayaks were rented out by the hour and that there was no way we could get to Congress Ave and back in an hour. She was very determined to try. So I told her we could make the attempt, as long as she agreed to pay for the second hour. She agreed to that, and we headed down the river.
Turns out you can’t actually see the bats in the daytime. You can hear them squeaking, but I guess parts of the bridge are hollow and they live inside. We chilled for a while and listened to their shrill little bat-voices.
Elizabeth got this shot with her phone camera. Swans!
My life’s philosophy in a nutshell:
Our expedition to the bridge and back took about an hour and twenty minutes. But the rental place only charged us for an hour, so Elizabeth was off the hook for her share.
Barton Springs Pool is fenced in and it costs money to swim there.
We decided that it would be more fun to swim in the adjacent creek area.
That would have been a good call if we had thought to bring pool shoes. The bottom of the creek is very rocky and slippery. And the spring-fed creek is COLD! We swam for less than an hour. Brr!
Our original plan had been to spend two days in Austin, but halfway through Day 2 we knew we wanted to stay for a third day. We didn’t want to stay at the same motel, though. We had only picked it because it was cheap and all we wanted was a place to sleep. But when we checked in they had added a bunch of bullshit extra fees (per-person charges in addition to the cost of the room? Really? AND you’re charging me per device for wifi?) that made it not-so-cheap. For the second night we stayed at a hotel next to the motel where we’d spent the first night. It was nicer and didn’t cost any more than the “cheap” motel had, since wifi was free and no weird fees were tacked onto the room cost.
Luke wanted to wait until dark and then walk around downtown to see the city lights close-up. I did not have the energy for another hike. We compromised: I napped at the hotel until dark and then we drove around downtown. That was pretty magical, and everything Luke hoped it would be.
Then we returned to the hotel and I slept like the dead for so long that we barely made it out of the room by the 11am checkout time.
Next: Day 3!