January 4, 2011

Sites to See in the Texas Hill Country Near Austin

There is so much to see in the Texas Hill Country. Pendernales Falls, Hamilton Pool, Barton Springs, Lyndon Johnson's Boyhood home, the bat caves near New Brunsfels, and so much more. This post is just a quick glance at the must-see places to see if you are in Austin sometime and like to get out into nature.

The alcove at Hamilton Pool

One place to get a great introduction to what the Texas Hill Country is all about is the Hamilton Pool Preserve. The main reason the landscape in the Texas Hill Country seems so arid is because the limestone bedrock is so well drained that even with sufficient rainfall, it drains so rapidly that it is too dry for many plants. So, you begin to see dry-adapted plants of the Desert Southwest like live oaks, junipers, cactus, and grasses. But, down in the cool ravines where springs provide ample water, not only can bald-cypress and palmettos grow, but epiphytic air plants can survive on the humid summer air.

To get to Hamilton Pool Preserve, you can take Texas-71 west out of Austin. Drive until you see Hamilton Pool Road and turn left. Follow this road 14 miles until you arrive at Hamilton Pool Preserve on your right. It is a Travis County Park and they charge $10 for a day pass. But, it is well worth it. Especially if you want to take a dip in its cool waters on a hot summer day.

For more information about Hamilton Pool, check out my post about its hiking opportunities at:

Another great place to check out and go hiking is Pendernales Falls State Park near Johnson City, TX. It is probably between 60 and 90 minutes west of Austin off of US-290. The same Pendernales River you may have seen at Hamilton Pool tumbles down a series of very interesting cascades and waterfalls here.

The Pendernales River during the dry season

There are springs that pop up along the sides of the river and narrow chasms where the water rushes through. Of course, you can tell by the color of the limestone, that when water levels are high after heavy rains, what may appear as a placid stream flowing down the smooth rock faces can be a raging torrent covering the entire river bottom.

But, it is a beautiful place to go for a hike and get a sense for what the Texas Hill Country is all about.

And, if you do happen to be in the Johnson City area to see Pendernales Falls, then you want want to head on over to the Lyndon B. Johnson National Historic Park. Here, the National Park Service preserves Lyndon Johnson's boyhood home in Johnson City (yes, named after his great grandfather who founded the town).

LBJ grew up pretty poor and you can see what conditions here like in this region in the early 20th century. The park has a museum that goes through his political life including his long stint as a congressman, senator, vice-president, and of course the 36th President of the United States. Another unit of the park contains the LBJ ranch, where he spent much of his adult life outside of DC and was know at the time as the "Western White House".

Downtown Austin along Town Lake

But, even if you are unable to get out of the city of Austin while visiting, there is a lot to do right in town. The downtown core sits along the banks of Town Lake and there are numerous bike/hike trails that go on either side of the lake, as well as, up various drainages that feed into it.

A flock of coots congregate along a cove on Town Lake

A popular place for Austinites to hang out on sunny days is Zilker Park. It contains some nice trails, lots of activities, a small train to ride, and access to several springs coming out of the Edwards Aquifer. It is also common to see kayaks and canoes wandering down the lake and up the various coves around the park.

Zilker Park also happens to be the home of an endangered and endemic salamander species called the Barton Springs Salamander. It lives in only four spring-fed pools in the park. While endangered, people can actually go swimming with them in the main Barton Springs Pool, which is an available swimming hole with waters between 68-71 degrees all year round. After rigorous scientific studies by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, University of Texas, and environmental groups, it has been determined that swimmers and salamanders can co-exist with proper management.

Exploring for aquatic creatures in Barton Creek

Austin is also home to the Congress Avenue Bridge, which has become famous for the over 1 million Mexican Free-tailed Bats that roost under it in the summer. This makes it the largest urban bat colony in the world. Each night the massive emergence of these bats attracts thousands of visitors to watch the display. In fact, a tourist economy has developed here and there are restaurants strategically placed so people can watch the event while dining.

Cormorants roosting above Town Lake

Austin is a really a great city for those who like to get outdoors and explore. It's ravines and washes are filled with trails lined with riparian vegetation and interesting creatures. With a progressive attitude and infrastructure designed for active people, Austin is a great city for those looking for the best of both worlds (Urban and Natural). Plus, it is the home of Whole Foods, so you know you can get the organic foods you crave.

A view of Town Lake and Austin from the top of the hills

As you head south of Austin toward San Antonio, there are also many other things to see and do. There are the beautiful limestone caverns near New Brunsfels including one of the largest colonies of bats in North America. San Antonio is also a great city and worthy of a post all its own.

Limestone layers in the road cut of I-10 in Texas Hill Country

So, even if you have never thought about heading to Texas before, just remember that the Texas Hill Country, and Austin in particular, is a wonderful blue island in a sea of red. If you get my meaning.

1 comment:

Cathy said...

may i use one of your pictures as part of a logo for my church?