One Year on the Road

Austin with Aly

From Guadalupe River, we drove with Aly up to Austin, where we had reservations at McKinney Falls State Park. We would have three full days here before Aly had to fly back to work and college in Seattle. We wanted to see some Austin highlights, relax in the park, and visit my niece, Heidi, and her boyfriend, Jamie.

McKinney Falls State Park

Lower McKinney Falls.

This is a gem of a park, just 15 minutes south of downtown Austin. We arrived Saturday afternoon on their most popular weekend of the year (Easter) and both campgrounds were full, so we were very lucky to get an absolutely ideal spot. Site 43 is on a quiet loop; it’s large and grassy with both shade and sun and enough trees to put up all three of our hammocks. We would be here five nights, so we unpacked all our chairs, strung lights from the awning, and spread out like we owned the place.

The park is beautiful this time of year – brilliant green with Texas blue bonnets just starting to bloom. There’s a 2.8 mile hiking/biking trail that goes all around the park, and many more hiking paths. There are two separate waterfall spots, both quite scenic (if small by Oregon standards). Locals told us that often the falls are completely dry, but with recent rains this month, they were running full, with an inviting swimming pool at the bottom of the lower falls.

Easter Sunday

On the bridge with Aly and Heidi.

Easter’s not a big holiday for us, ever since the kids grew up, but we did get Aly a chocolate bunny, and I made blueberry pancakes for breakfast. After exploring the park awhile, we drove into Austin to meet up with Heidi and Jamie. Jamie had to work till 7:00, but we visited with Heidi in the top-floor lounge of their high rise apartment building, and then walked down to the Congress Bridge where thousands of Mexico free-tailed bats live during the day. Before sunset, local and tourists flock to the bridge to watch hordes of bats take to the sky. On the river below, people in tour boats and kayaks and funny rented bicycle-boats craned their necks upward. Bats flew upward in spurts, joining together in jittery clouds, moving off into the distance.

We walked south on Congress Avenue to HopDoddy Burger Bar, where Jamie joined us for dinner. This local spot is so popular that there are usually lines around the corner. On this Easter evening, the lines were shorter. We still had to wait 45 minutes for our meal, but it was worth it. Definitely one of the best burgers I’ve ever had.

Lunch in Lockhart

Lockhart is a cute little town just half an hour south of Austin, best known for its barbecue and its beautiful courthouse. It’s also where Waiting for Guffman was filmed in 1997. Guffman is one of my favorite Christopher Guest “mockumentary” movies, and we watched the DVD with Aly the night before coming so we could recognize shots of the town.

Lockhart’s County Courthouse.

Years back, my sister had taken me to Smitty’s Market there, which has to be one of the oldest and most interesting BBQ places in Texas. From the outside, you can’t even tell it’s a restaurant. Just a hanging sign and a nearly empty storefront that advertises “homemade weiners.” Old wooden doors open to a large empty hallway with bench tables on either side; the walls and ceiling are painted black (probably to hide the smoke soot). When we stepped inside, Aly gave me a dubious look, and I had to assure her it really was a place. We walked to back to the BBQ room, where a large wood fire burned next to the smoker. Here’s where you buy your meat by the pound – brisket, pork or ribs – and it’s piled onto brown butcher paper with slices of white bread.

Take your pile of meat into the next room where long tables are set up like a school lunchroom and you can buy sides, drinks, and Bluebell ice cream cones separately. On this grey Tuesday, the place was packed with locals. The meat was delicious, and Aly was sufficiently impressed by the authenticity of our Texas barbecue experience.

Congress Avenue

Aly and Willie.

The day before Aly had to fly back to Seattle, we returned to Austin’s South Congress Avenue area, which is known for its fun, funky shops. Antique stores full of taxidermy and bizarre collectibles, a giant costume shop, a circus-themed candy store with retro sweets, an import store chock full of Day of the Dead art. We’d been here several times before, and it was fun to show Aly around. Kate got a pink cupcake with sprinkles at the cupcake Airstream. Aly got an espresso sundae at an ice cream trailer. This part of town epitomizes the Austin’s unique character for me.

Camera Woes

My Nikon D7000 goes everywhere with me; I feel naked without it. But while we were in Austin, it stopped working. Intermittently, the shutter made a strange noise and the resulting photo was pitch black, the display area showing “Err.” Then the viewfinder started jiggling during autofocus. The only way to get it fixed is to mail it to Nikon. So I packed my camera lovingly in a Priority Mail box, nestling it with soft dog toys that were headed to Goodwill when I couldn’t find enough packing material. (Maybe the repair person will be a dog lover and appreciate that unusual touch.)

I used my dad’s address as the return address and hope that it will be returned by the time we get there in three weeks. In the meantime, I’m glad I brought along my old Nikon D80 as backup. Now that I’m using it again, I can really appreciate the difference. I can’t wait to get my D7000 back.

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