Thursday, March 14, 2019

Getting outdoors in Austin, Texas

One of many features in
Zilker Botanical Garden
Zilker Park.  2100 Barton Springs Road. Spreading over 360 metropolitan acres, Zilker is truly a park for all seasons and all ages. A prime attraction is Barton Springs Pool, a spring-fed swimming hole where constant 68-degree water attracts locals for daily dips year-round.  Across the street is Zilker Botanical Garden, 22 acres of plant lover’s delight—a showplace for native foliage, roses, ponds, formal and Oriental gardens, and 100-year-old dinosaur tracks.

Stevie Ray Vaughan overlooks
Lady Bird Lake in Austin.
Adjacent to the park is Town Lake Hike and Bike Trail—ten miles of downtown trails around the lake.  It’s a verdant oasis and social hub for casual walkers and cyclists as well as a popular training ground for serious runners. 

On the south side, you’ll see the famous statue of deceased blues guitarist Stevie Ray Vaughan, who still inspires countless wannabe musicians.  Thousands of professional and amateur kite-flyers enjoy competitions every spring; other attractions include summer outdoor theatrical performances and musical events, mile-long pedestrian holiday Trail of Lights and spectacular Christmas tree, and collegiate rowing competitions on Town Lake.

Outdoor sculptures at Umlauf
Umlauf Sculpture Garden and Museum.  605 Robert E. Lee Rd. Adjacent to Zilker Park is an exquisite sanctuary for anyone who loves beautiful art and peaceful landscaping.  More than 130 pieces by Charles Umlauf, world-renowned sculptor and former UT professor, are displayed in natural outdoor settings and indoors.  Wander leisurely on paths in this almost-secret wooded urban area while admiring figures of children, animals, and religious figures cast in bronze, stone, terra cotta, and exotic woods.

Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.  4801 La Crosse Ave. Springtime bursts with gorgeous wildflower displays along roadsides of Texas, thanks to persistent efforts of Lady Bird Johnson.

A variety of wildflowers bloom at Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center in Austin 
The Wildflower Center (now under the auspices of University of Texas) honors her dedication to highway beautification by promoting research and growth of native plants and providing a scenic viewpoint for visitors.  Linger on serene limestone porches or stroll paths that meander around gardens, waterfalls, and open fields of flowers.

Spectacular bat flight in Austin
Congress Avenue Bridge Bats. 10 blocks south of the Capitol Building.  Only in Austin would flying bats become a bonafide tourist attraction. From late March through early October thousands of people gather nightly on and around the Congress Avenue Bridge to watch a black cloud of 1.5 million Mexican free-tailed bats stream out from under the bridge at dusk. 

When the bridge was constructed over Town Lake in 1980, no one imagined that bats would consider crevices under the bridge to be a perfect roosting place, but the bridge now shelters the largest urban bat colony in North America. Once thought to be a nuisance, the bats soon gained honorary status as people realized that they eat up to 30,000 pounds of insects on their nightly flights.

Mount Bonnell is a favorite scenic spot
for both locals and visitors.
Mount Bonnell.  Viewing the skyline of Austin from Mount Bonnell is like seeing the city with a wide-angle lens.  After climbing 99 steps to one of the highest spots in the city, you can look over the Pennybacker Bridge, commonly called Austin 360 Bridge, and see landmarks like the University of Texas tower and the Capitol, a panorama of luxury mansions on Lake Austin, and gorgeous vistas in one of the most romantic spots in town.  The summit, at 785 feet, is a picturesque setting popular for picnics and sunset watching. 

Laguna Gloria.  Visit renowned Austin Museum of Art at Laguna Gloria, 3809 W. 35th Street, and enjoy art as well as beautifully landscaped grounds and an historic villa on Lake Austin.  Stroll this iconic lakeside destination, which is often the site of outdoor sculptures and displays.
The historic mansion at Laguna Gloria
Numerous hiking trails are scattered throughout Austin in parks and other venues. Since central Texas is known for its hills and rivers, you can find more outdoor fun within an hour's drive from the city.

Photos by Beverly Burmeier

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