Texas Roadtrips- Austin

Spring is the time of year when folk start thinking "roadtrips" - and of course, spring comes early in Texas. This past year, due to La Nina, we had no winter to speak of as it was. When I lived in Houston, we thought of February as spring, and started cutting class to go to the beach in Galveston, coming into the dorm cafeteria for dinner with patchy first sunburns, hungover, and full of that secret naughty joy at having skipped school. March and April are fickle in north Texas- hot and windy one moment, raining and cold the next. Just as soon as you put away your winter clothes, it'll drop down into the 40's to spite you. Just as soon as you plant your garden, we'll have one more frost. Yet everyone is in a rush to get their roadtrip underway before it gets too hot...it's a very narrow window of pleasant weather in spring and fall....and if you wait until late April, you'll miss all the wild flowers that bloom in central Texas near the hill country. While all the college kids head out for spring break to beaches in the Caribbean and Mexico, everyone else heads to central Texas for all the joyous things to see and do.

Non-locals will want to see the city of Austin and the State capitol building (proudly taller than our nation's capitol in Washington D.C.) Locals have seen it all before. Don't miss the Texas History Museum and all that stuff. It's fun if you like western things. In the 60's and 70's Austin was like Berkeley, full of hippies and eccentrics whose legacy lives on the popular "Keep Austin Weird" t-shirts that are now ubiquitous. However, something happened in the 80's that made the folk in Austin turn yuppie-fied and less interesting to look at. Maybe it was all the technology businesses that grew up there, turning the area into a Texas version of Silicon Valley. It's still a city of great clubs, music venues (the popular SXSW, i.e. "South by Southwest" music festival was in full throttle when we went, in mid-March, but tickets had long been previously sold out. I desperately wanted to catch Springsteen at a small venue this year, but it was impossible to get in to that show. If you want to go, buy your tickets early!), great shopping and restaurants- but the real lure nearly all year round is the outdoors.

Austin and surrounding towns are full of clear, spring fed rivers and lakes that stay 68 degrees year- round. People commence water activities- canoeing, kayaking, tubing, and swimming - just as soon as it is hot enough to tolerate the chilly water. Some great spots to get started are San Marcos, Gruene, and all the little towns in between  Austin and San Antonio, and places due west- just driving down the road one can follow the signs for "put ins" (where local entrepreneurs will drive you to a spot to enter the Guadalupe River in the flotation device of your choice, then meet you at a "take out" location, several hours and miles down river, and haul you back to your car, often in a dilapidated old school bus or pickup truck.I've done this 1000's of times - it's safe. Bring a picnic and its a wonderfully fun day.)
The annual event of millions of bluebonnets blooming across the state is not to be missed. Like the cherry tree festival in Washington, it is difficult to describe how magnificent the flowers are, and mere photos don't do it justice. Something magical just happens. Bluebonnets are wild flowers, meaning they don't do well in gardens but prefer dry, scraggly hills out in open fields with plenty of sun.The start blooming in late Feb-early March in south Texas, and through early April in north Texas. The highway dept seeds roadsides each fall, so there are plenty to view as your race by at 80 mph on the interstate, but it's much more pleasant to hit some of the back roads through Meridien, Blanco, Johson City, Brenham, Gonzales and Goliad, to see them. Another great daytime picnic event. It's a rite of passage that locals have to get their child's picture taken in the bluebonnets each year. You can flip through your family photo albums and watch your kids grow up on the pages, in front of bluebonnets as time marches on.

Hubster had a conference this year at The Domain, a high-end luxury mall (I know that sounds redundant, but the way the word "luxury" is banded about lately, just wanted to clarify) on the north side of Austin. I tagged along, making ample use of his swanky hotel with fabulous room service. Had a spa day at Spa Reveil, shopped, swam, ate out, toured the sites. Yes, its a rough life. We joined up with some Rice friends for dinner at a local brewpub.....nice little roadtrip, all in all. Rice University Trivia: The University of Texas tower, pictured above, was actually designed by an architect from Rice. When viewed from an angle, the top portion of the tower looks ever so faintly like an owl, with the clocks on each side forming the eyes, the corner architectural features forming the owl's beak. Can you see it ?  Hahahahahaha!

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