10/22 – 10/25/2010
Detail on the floor of the state capitol building, Austin TX
I got into Austin late on Thursday afternoon, and my friend Kevin started right in on planning a fun-filled weekend. I told him that I wanted to see “the bats” while I was in town, and we headed out to see them that very evening. The Congress Avenue Bridge in downtown Austin is host to the largest urban bat colony in North America, reaching 1.5 million at the peak of the summer season. These are Mexican free-tailed bats, the same species that I saw at Carlsbad Caverns. They migrate to Mexico and Central America from approximately November through March, but I was lucky enough to catch them while they were still in town. At sunset every night, they fly out from their roosts under the bridge and swarm over Lady Bird Lake, looking for insects. It was pretty neat to see, but not quite as intimate of an experience as at Carlsbad. Not everyone can say they’ve stood downtown in the Texas state capitol with traffic speeding by and seen hundreds of thousands of bats fly off into the evening, though! I forgot to take pictures, but luckily some other folks have great videos posted on YouTube:
After checking out the bats, I had the first of many tacos in Austin. These were delicious fish tacos (from Wahoo’s), which would later on be joined by traditional tacos, and gourmet tacos (El Chilito – gourmet in flavor only; the price and atmosphere are as simple as you can get). Austin definitely has a lot of good food, and one could probably argue that tacos are its specialty. That person, however, might get some disagreements from fans of Barbecue, as Austin is located just slightly off of the “Texas Barbecue Trail,” and I had the opportunity to sample some of its finest on a busy Saturday night. Although good, I have to admit that large chunks of meat are not always my favorite food, so the experience may have been better than the flavor for me. There seemed to be a crowd there from a nearby wedding, stopping in for a bite between the ceremony and reception, perhaps?
Of course, before getting to Saturday, or Monday for that matter, we have to get through Friday. In the afternoon, I spent some time relaxing at Barton Springs Pool in Zilker Park. This is a 3-acre, 1,000-ft.-long pool fed entirely by an underground spring. The 68-degree temperature of the water was refreshing at first, but a bit chilly as the sun went behind the trees. As I lay on the grass drying off afterwards, I marveled at the courage of the topless bathers around me – not for baring their breasts in public so much as taking off a layer while I was shivering! After that, I went out and had a few beers while watching the Texas Rangers vs. SF Giants in the final game of the World Series. Make that a few too many beers… which may help to explain why I didn’t even remember who won the game!
As a result, Saturday started off somewhat slowly, but I eventually made it out to an Audubon preserve on the outskirts of Austin, where my friend Kevin showed me some of the local flora and explained his research. After an afternoon hike there, we were ready for the aforementioned barbecue, checking out a couple locales in downtown Austin, and catching a free outdoor show by The Old 97’s. The evening was even capped off by a stop at the famed Broken Spoke, where I enjoyed the live honky-tonk band and even tried a few horribly-executed two-steps myself!
The highlight of Sunday (after an exhausting game of street hockey) was a visit to Ginny’s Little Longhorn Saloon, a hole-in-the-wall dive bar that just happens to have the world’s greatest Sunday afternoon entertainment. Dale Watson played excellent classic-style country while simultaneously MC’ing the main attraction: Chickenshit Bingo. Yes, it is pretty much what it sounds like. They put a chicken in a cage on top of a board with numbers on it. If the chicken shits on your number, you win!
Ginny's Little Longhorn Saloon on a packed Sunday afternoon
Ginny keeps watch on the customers so no one can heckle the chicken
Texas State Capitol, Austin
On Monday I did some of the requisite stuff, like visiting the State Capitol, and had a delicious lunch and nice visit with my friend Lisa. I realized that I’ve never really toured the whole Wisconsin state capitol, and decided to do more of those “touristy” things once I returned home.
Texas Pride is everywhere
In fact, the return home was almost imminent. After all, Austin was my last planned stop on the trip. Before heading north, though, I decided to explore a little more of this great state, and headed for the coast to explore more about Texas history and take a dip in the Gulf of Mexico… topics for future posts!