Our family trip to Austin began with a 200 mile drive down State Highway 281. Our journey through the Texas hill country was punctuated by a series of very Texan small towns. Sadly, the severe drought had twisted July's typically green scenery to a pale yellow.
Our first destination was Longhorn Cavern State Park. The park offers hourly 1 ½ hour long tours of the main attraction, Longhorn Cavern, which begin at the back of the park's gift shop and restaurant. We ate our packed lunch upon arrival, and then took a look at the adjacent Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) House and Museum. The CCC worked to make Longhorn Cavern accessible to the general public. As a result of their efforts, the natural beauty of the cavern has been accentuated. Among other things, the cave contains long hall-like caverns which appear to be made of marble, and the world's largest geode. Historically, the cave has been used in all sorts of ways, from a church to a speak easy (illegal bar) to a nuclear fallout shelter for President Kennedy.
After our mile and a half hike through the 74 degree cavern, we came out into the 100 degree heat. We then drove east through the winding hills to our resort, The Shores at Lake Travis, in Lago Vista, Texas. After checking in, we unloaded our luggage, and made ourselves familiar with the layout of the resort. It was completely satisfactory. We stayed there for the rest of the trip.
We visited the State Capitol of Texas the next day. The Capitol looms large in the Austin landscape. Even though there are skyscrapers all around it still dominates downtown. When I went inside, I wasn't disappointed. The capitol dome is even more beautiful from the inside than it is on the outside. Besides architecture, the colorful paintings of scenes and people from Texas history are of such quality that they could hang in any museum. The Capitol is well run and easily accessible to sightseers, with free tours starting every thirty minutes. Additionally, parking is free on the weekends, admission to the capitol is always free, and Capitol security approaches the level of the TSA at a major airport.
After a couple days spent around our resort's pool, we went to see the the bat colony underneath Austin's Ann Richards Bridge. The colony has 1.5 million bats. It is the largest in North America. Each evening, 1.5 million bats take only about ten minutes to stream out from under the bridge. They merge into long formations that settle over Austin like a cloud. Sadly, this sight is often overlooked because it is difficult to find a good spot to view the bats from. The bridge is over a river, which pretty much eliminates watching from the ground. Most people have to walk out onto the bridge. However, we viewed the bats from the parking garage of the nearby Radisson Hotel, which overlooks the river directly, giving us an aerial perspective. The bats are a truly awe-inspiring sight.
We slowly made our way home after five days of vacation in and around Austin, Texas. We had seen all that we had planned to see, plus a whole lot more that we only discovered once we arrived. We saw a ten point buck, we discovered that the shores of Lake Travis are dotted with millions of tiny shells, and we found the O. Henry Museum. The most important thing that we learned is that the best family vacations are a flexible balance of planned and unplanned activities.
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