After the bit or rain we had earlier in the week we caught a break with the weather and saw mostly sunny skies the rest of our time in Austin. As planned for our last day we again set out on the bikes to find a way to the lake. I’d reviewed a map of town that we’d brought along and figured out where we had gone wrong the day before. And so, after making the correct turn onto Parker Lane off of East Oltorf we soon found ourselves on the banks of the Colorado River and Lady Bird Lake.
Bordered by the Ann and Roy Butler Hike-and-Bike Trail (one of the oldest urban Texas hike and bike paths), it is 10.1 miles long with a smooth, mostly crushed gravel surface augmented with a few lengths of concrete and a boardwalk. We rode some distance up the south bank, under Congress Avenue ending up at the docks of river tour companies that offer an evening on the lake with the opportunity to see the nightly migration of the bats that live under the Ann W. Richards Congress Avenue Bridge.
We inquired about the bat-boat tours at Capital Cruises and confirmed the time and price, a mere ten dollars for what would later turn out to be nearly two hours out on the water. We made our reservation for that evening and rode back to camp to clean up ad relax a bit before heading back into town. We’d thought about cooking something for dinner but instead decided to hit a Mexican Restaurant on Burleson that we had passed quite a few times, Casa Vallarta.
It’s a fairly non-descript looking place but had a nice sized crowd when we arrived around 5:00 pm. Joanna ordered an iced tea and I had a Bohemia to wash down the basket of chips we plowed through in no time. I selected a two beef taco combination while Joanna opted for a chicken based entrée. Both came quickly and the tacos, while prepared in a pre-formed shell were OK, I had no complaints about the beans and rice. Joanna’s chicken entrée was a different story though, featuring a moist breast served with strips of sautéed onions, tomatoes, and bell pepper and topped with a mild cheese sauce.
Satisfied with our last Tex-Mex meal of the trip, we drove over to South Congress a block south of the lake and found convenient free street parking (the meters turned off after 6:00 pm) and walked down to the docks. After a short wait we boarded one of two flat-bottomed boats that could hold about 20 people and after exchanging pleasantries were joined by our guide for the night, Terry. He would turn out to be a very entertaining host with a spiel reminiscent of those that guide on Disney’s Jungle Boat cruise, full of dry, droll humor.
The bats don’t leave the Congress Avenue Bridge until just after dusk giving us an hour or so to kill on the water. We floated west on the lake, under a couple of bridges while Terry provided running commentary on the various sites we were viewing, life in Austin, and how much the town was changing as it continued to grow in population. As the sun started to sink in the west we cruised back towards the bridge, crossed underneath and then lined up on the other side, where we slowly circled waiting for the bats to begin their exodus.
The bridge and the banks around it were crowded with people hoping to catch a glimpse of the migration to come but as Terry explained they were bound to be disappointed as the bats are very small and fly very fast, so to spot them you need to be able to see them against the right background, which the view from the bridge does not provide. And he turned out to be correct as waves of the bats soon began taking flight, hurtling out from their nests underneath and soaring up and over a grouping of trees on the bank. We sat there for twenty minutes or so, watching wave after wave ascend and fly away and then made our way back to the dock, Terry explaining that it would take nearly an two hours for all of the bats to fly out for the evening.
It was a perfect ending to what had been a delightful stay in Austin, our first but surely not our last. Between the funky vibe present (I’ve referred to it since returning home as the Asheville of Texas), a broad range of good eating opportunities, decent cycling, and a truly great music scene I’d recommend it as a place to visit.
With a long drive ahead of us the next day as we retraced our steps back to Mobile for a stop on the way home, we departed early in the morning on Friday. It would take us nearly 12 hours to cover the distance, much it through the same area we’d traversed in January returning home and on the way to San Antonio. We spent the night at the La Quinta Inn we’d stayed in before, ordered pizza for the room and just generally zombied out in the room.
The eight-hour drive to Charlotte seemed short in comparison to the one Mobile the day before and with the exception of hitting some traffic in Atlanta (seriously, traffic jams on a Saturday? It’s as bad as being in Los Angeles) we arrived home late in the afternoon, pulling into the driveway to see water seeping out from underneath the garage door.
Our fifteen-year-old water heater was expiring and although it would cost us a tidy sum of money to replace (eventually with a Navien tank less version) it would survive until the new one was installed later in the week. So even a failed water heater couldn’t dampen the feeling of success we’d derived from our two-week sojourn to Texas.
This will be our pattern for the coming year, a series of shorter trips that take us to places on the east coast we’ve not traveled to, allowing us to become familiar with this area much as we’ve done throughout our lives on the west coast. Our next trip, after a early May campout to Mt. Pilot in North Carolina will be to Blacksburg, VA for a conference, then to the Outer Banks and then south for two weeks in total. We’ll start reporting soon on that one.
Lady Bird Lake: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lady_Bird_Lake
Ann W. Richards Congress Avenue Bridge: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ann_W._Richards_Congress_Avenue_Bridge
Capital Cruises: http://www.capitalcruises.com/
Casa Vallarta: http://www.yelp.com/biz/casa-vallarta-austin