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Archive for the ‘Austin Outdoors’ Category

Fall Golf in the Hill Country

by jeffrey | October 12th, 2010

Ahhh, Fall golf in the hill country cannot be beat!  The heat that typically keeps us off the course in August and September has lessened and the cooler evenings help the course stay in good shape until around Thanksgiving.  The weekends are nice and most courses are usually a little less crowded as some golfers are parked in front of their TV sets or are down at DKR to take in a game in person.  I’m even seeing a few discounted tee times on golfnow.com on Saturdays since the number of rounds are dropping at most courses.  The beautiful weather even allows some to walk and enjoy a round of golf…yes, some golfers still walk and play like the players on the professional tours.

A game that one can play from age 8 to 80 and learn so many things about life and business in the wonderful hill country with beautiful weather is pretty tough to beat…kind of like par.

If you’re lucky enough to be a member, Barton Creek Resort, Lost Creek Country Club, and Austin Country Club are excellent options but so are Grey Rock Golf Club, Avery Ranch Golf Club and Falconhead Golf Club for the Austin area.  So what are you waiting for, get out there and enjoy some fall golf in the hill country! …and remember, you can always catch the college football night game when you’re done.


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Hiking In and Around Austin: Grelle Recreation Area

by celeste.nunn | May 26th, 2010

After a long, cold, and painful winter, I have emerged from hibernation raring to go for summer 2010’s hiking excursions! Once I was done babying my sprained ankle way longer than was really necessary, I decided to (wo)man up, buy an ankle brace, and hit the trails. The first spot we decided to hit this summer was the Grelle Recreation Area, an LCRA park near Spicewood on the south shore of Lake Travis, containing campsites, swimming and fishing access, and hike and bike trails. Entrance fee is inexpensive for day hikers at $5 per vehicle.

Getting there? Not too terribly difficult, but perhaps a bit of a drive for those of you who live North and East. For us Southwest Austinites, however, it means about a 25 mile jaunt down the Highway 71 “leg” of the Y at Oak Hill, to the Spicewood area. Once in Spicewood, take a right onto Spur 191, then another right onto CR 404. Finally, you’ll take a left on CR 412 and travel about 1/2 mile to the park site. What is a bit tricky is finding the entrance to the hiking trails once you have entered the park grounds. Fortunately, a just-awakening camper helped us out…you have to follow the road to the right as it winds through campsites and then terminates in a small cove where the lake shore will be on your left and campsites to your right. The trailhead is visible from the parking lot.

When did we go? On a Saturday morning around 7:30 AM. We were trying to beat the heat but moderate temperatures prevailed! This trail, while shaded, does traverse small creeks leading downhill towards the lake, and I could see how it could be a sweatbox at high noon.

Pros: Relatively high lake levels made the view gorgeous! Not much gain in elevation but definitely a moderate hike due to the terrain and lots of ups-and-downs, so a decent workout for only 2 miles. Restrooms near the trailhead…every female hiker’s dream. Also, while it seems this is a popular spot for camping, fishing, and swimming, the hiking/horseback trails were pretty deserted, making for a more enjoyable experience. My hiking buddy noted the swimming cove near the trailhead as we were coming out, and we agreed to pack our suits next time.

Cons: This park seemed poorly maintained/attended to. We were disappointed to encounter the map box empty but for payment envelopes. Furthermore, trail markers were present, but the trail itself was not well-maintained and there were a number of side trails to confuse a first-time visitor. It was obvious that horseback riders had traveled trails that were marked “No Horses.” Campers’ unleashed dogs were an annoyance. Lack of trail maintenance lead to several zones of “Ankle-Break Alley” for this wary hiker. As with all Central Texas hikes near creeks and the lake, mosquitoes were a definite concern. Pack the bug spray!

Summary: On a sunnier day, with a map, this would have been more enjoyable. Although this hike was not a fave, the possibility of an apres-hiking dip in Lake Travis plus the great views and moderately strenuous workout make this a trail we’d visit again.


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The Backyard is back…almost

by Michael Scheffe | February 13th, 2010

After an almost two-year hiatus from the music scene, Austin’s most famous outdoor music venue, The Backyard is preparing to making it’s much-anticipated return in Bee Cave.

With most of the rest of us, I was heartbroken when it was announced in 2008 that The Backyard was closing its doors as a result of being squeezed out by the encroaching development that is the Shops at The Galleria.

But this may just be one of those rare instances where the newer version IS actually a better one.  The new location, just west and north of the old one (on the opposite side of Highway 71).  Is in a larger, more picturesque setting with…. wait for it… AMPLE PARKING.  That’s right, the owners are promising plenty of parking ON SITE!  No more parking a mile down 71 and trekking the oftentimes dangerous and dusty paths along a highway carrying cars speeding along at 60+ miles an hour. 

Looks like first up will be an “exclusive, First-Look” event on Saturday, May 1st, followed by the Gypsy Kings on May 6th and then Willie’s famous 4th of July picnic this mid-summer. 

Here is a link to a good video I found.   The Backyard is back…almost.


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Lake Travis Selected for 2010 AquaPalooza Event

by Michael Scheffe | February 1st, 2010

It’s official. 

Austin’s Lake Travis has been selected as the site for this summer’s “AquaPalooza” in late July.

For lake enthusiasts, it’s a huge deal.  The annual event draws thousands of boats and people.  According to its promoters, last year’s event at Lake Martin in Alabama attracted over 80,000 people and 15,000 boats. (I can’t decide whether this makes me want to make immediate travel plans for that weekend or head out to the lake myself to see what that kind of humanity would look like in the water.) 

As its name implies, “Aquapalooza” is essentially the marriage of an on-the-water music festival and large scale boat show.   The event’s sponsor, Sea Ray Boats, promotes it as “The World’s Largest Boat Party”.  The huge gathering features live entertainment, water-related games, contests, and giveaways.  Previous events have hosted such big name entertainers as Alan Jackson, Taylor Swift, Everclear and Soul Asylum.   In picturesque fashion, flotillas of boats, tubes and all form of watercraft “raft up” with each other to watch performances broadcast over giant sound systems and video monitors.

The selection of Lake Travis couldn’t be at a better time for local area merchants.  Two years of exceptional drought and the accompanying low lake levels have been tough on business.  But, 80,000 people will spend lots of money on groceries, restaurants, gasoline, sun tan lotion and everything else under the sun.  Lake Travis Chamber of Commerce President Laura Mitchell said in the Lake Travis View recently, “it will probably create the most significant economic impact the local business community has ever seen.”   That’s certainly great news.

Three cheers for this year’s El Nino!  Keep filling that lake up; we’ve got a festival to put on.


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Schlitterbahn Announces New Waterpark in Austin

by Michael Scheffe | January 27th, 2010

Schlitterbahn Waterparks is expected to announce shortly that it plans to develop a new waterpark and resort on a hundred acre tract in Cedar Park.  What would be the company’s 5th major park, is widely rumored to cost well over $100 million to develop.

According to a company spokesperson, the plans they intend to announce this Thursday evening are of a “resort destination,  much more elaborate than the waterpark most people think [they] are announcing.”  The plans are set to be unveiled at the Cedar Park Public Library at 550 Discovery Blvd, this Thursday evening at 5:30.

Stay tuned.


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Exploring the Wines of Texas with a Hill Country Wine Tour!

by celeste.nunn | January 20th, 2010

Although I am both a fan of wine (no I wouldn’t say “enthusiast” or “spectator” by any means, my taste usually runs in the $12-$20/bottle range!) and an Austinite, until recently I did not have much exposure to the wines of the Texas Hill Country. I’ll even admit shying away from the Texas wines section when selecting a bottle. That all changed Thanksgiving weekend, when I enjoyed a local wine tour in celebration of my good friend’s 30th birthday.  I had such a great time that I wanted to share my experiences with you–particularly because, as you may know from my previous post, I’ve been injured and unable to update my hiking blog. Drinking wine, unlike hiking, can be comfortably done with a plastic boot cast on.

First and foremost, I have to applaud my friend for her genius idea: renting a bus for the tour! The nice folks at Marriton Limo picked up two groups (both north Austin and South Austin locations chosen by our hostess) so that we could all ride together in comfort and safety while we enjoyed our adult beverages. Such a cool idea and HIGHLY recommended if you are going with a large group. The tour consisted of visits to four wineries, with tastings at each stop. The tastings ranged from about $5-$10 per winery, so the total I spent–before gifts I purchased at the wineries–was only about $25. What a deal! Here’s a breakdown of the wineries we visited.

Texas Hills Vineyard: Their tasting room was small and pretty crowded, and although their wines have a decidedly Italian influence (they mostly grow grapes associated with Italian wines, such as moscato (Muscat), sangiovese, and the first Pinot Grigio produced in Texas), their premises are designed in the style of a French bistro. Lots of wood and a chalkboard listing wine specials, plus a little cooler of cheeses, spreads and sauces for sale, small gift shop area and an outdoor patio, also fairly petite. All of the vineyards we visited were picturesque–it was the Texas Hill Country–but in terms of beauty and ambiance, I would have to say that this was my least favorite. However, they did have a cat and a dog, and I do appreciate a business with mascots.

We tasted a 5-wine series, the most notable of which to my mind was the 2007 Toro de Tejas, a blend of Tempranillo and Cabernet Sauvignon, which their website describes as having “soft tannins” and flavors of  “dark berries and plum, and just a hint of spice.” Yum! I had a glass of that after our tasting round, while many of my tour-mates enjoyed a glass of the 2006 Kick Butt Cab (as the name suggests, a Cabernet Sauvignon) as well as their 2006 Syrah offering. Then, a few nibbles of cheese and veggies from our Spec’s deli tray, and we were off to our next stop!

Becker Vineyards: Becker had no shortage of ambience or yummy wines! Their lovely grounds include 3 acres of lavender fields, which were absolutely beautiful on a cloudy November day. The winery was designed with hosting events in mind, as it features a tasting room with a gorgeous antique bar and spacious covered patio, as well as the separate Lavender Haus reception hall.  While crowded–what did we expect for a holiday weekend?–it was spacious enough to be very comfortable for our tastings and for our large group to toast our hostess’s birthday.

One of the things I really enjoyed about Becker was that they allowed us to choose our own wines for the tastings instead of offering a pre-selected package. As I subscribe to my family’s old adage that you “only drink white wine when you are out of red,” this allowed me to focus on my faves and leave the rest to the others. I enjoyed almost all of the wines I tried, but ended up picking up a bottle of the 2007 Claret, a Cabernet-heavy blend which “produces essences of raspberries, chocolate, and spices,” for myself; and for my stepdad, who likes most reds but has been enjoying Zinfandels particularly of late, the 2008 Zinfandel. I would gladly drink any of the reds I tried at Becker again, including the Iconoclast Cabernet, Grenache, Malbec, or the Raven–a super-dark, Malbec-Petite Verdot blend that was delicious!

Becker also harvests and makes bath products from their fragrant lavender, like super-scented soaps and bath salts. A favorite stop on this tour.

Torre di Pietra: Texas wine with an Italian flair. This winery had a sort of whimsical, Tuscan feel to it, but the staff didn’t seem too knowledgeable about the wines. I tried a variety of reds, including the 2006 Primitivo and Black Spanish, and the 2005 Claret and Petite Syrah, as well as the  Texas Dirty Girl Chardonnay. Many of these wines seemed to have an herbal complexity to them that was in contrast to the red berry flavors of the vineyards we had previously visited; I enjoyed that but some of my companions thought these wines had too much going on.

I have to give high marks to the atmosphere at Torre di Pietra…the patio boasted a cozy outdoor fireplace, and beyond that was a covered pavilion where live music wafted through the air and patrons two-stepped. I could have relaxed here for much longer, but eventually we headed off to our last stop…

Grape Creek Vineyards: Grape Creek’s website promises “Tuscany in Texas,” and the grounds don’t disappoint. It was a perfect place to end the day as the sun was setting. However, I didn’t like the cattle-herding approach to wine tastings that they employed. In the first series of tastings, they introduced their white label wines, which were fairly unmemorable in my estimation. The staff in this portion of the tour had a hard time answering questions or making recommendations about which wines to try. We did get a take-home wine glass for our tastings, which has since become a favorite of mine. After the white label offerings, we were whisked away to the black label tasting room, where some of Grape Creek’s prize-winning (and pricier) offerings were being poured. We tried the 2007 Cabernet/Syrah and Bellissimo, but were disappointed that the winery’s award-winning Mosaic blend was not available for tasting. The black label staff knew their stuff, but seemed a bit rehearsed in their presentation. These wines were yummier, but a little pricey for everyday consumption ($36 and up.) Maybe for a nice dinner party, not for just any old Friday lasagna night!

In summary, if you live in Central Texas and like wine, you should tour at least once. In a group it can be inexpensive and fun. I highly recommend packing a picnic lunch and lots of water to ensure plenty of munchies and hydration along the way. And if you are unsure of the quality of Texas wines, you will have a better appreciation after touring. I can proudly say that I have purchased Becker Vineyards’ Claret a couple of times since attending the tour in late November, and it has never disappointed!


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Hiking In and Around Austin: Wild Basin Wilderness Preserve

by celeste.nunn | November 9th, 2009

fallsThis week I re-visited a favorite from my summer hiking adventures, the Wild Basin Wilderness Preserve. That I enjoyed this hike even in the height of our recent mid-July drought says a lot about how enjoyable Wild Basin is! However, visiting in the fall, with cooler temperatures and an active creek and waterfall, was the best way to see this little slice of wilderness preserve just off of Capital of Texas Highway. I won’t recap the history of how this property came to be preserved–that’s available to read on the organization’s website–but suffice it to say that I’m so glad its founders believed in the importance of keeping Wild Basin wild; it is truly a treasure and I am always happy to deposit my $3 entrance fee in their collection box.

Getting there? You’ll take either 2222 (if you’re coming from North Austin) to Capital of Texas/360 South, or 2244/Bee Cave Road (if you’re coming from South Austin) to Capital of Texas/360 North. Regardless, once you get on Capital of Texas, the preserve is located to the east of 360, at 805 N. Capital of Texas Highway. (map)

When did we go? On a Saturday morning, around 10 AM. Moderate to cool temps, overcast when we started out and sunny on the return trip.

berriesPros: Recent rains made the falls and creek gorgeous! There are over 3 miles of trail, from the quick and simple trek to the falls (less than a mile) to the more moderate Madrone and Triknee trails (up to 3+ miles and some climbing.) Easy to drive to and pretty easy to find.  More accessible than some other trails. Experienced hikers can get a fairly good workout quickly–we were back at the car in about an hour and twenty minutes, having hiked a little over 3 miles. The trails appear well-maintained.

Cons: Some traffic noise at certain points in the trail, can be buggy during drought season if the water is stagnant. Don’t expect solitude, particularly during cooler weather months. The parking lot was fairly full and we encountered several groups, including a girl scout troop on a nature hike. No pets allowed–which could be a “pro” for some hikers. Watch out for slippery rocks and mud around the creek area, as I learned the hard way!

Summary: Wild Basin is definitely a favorite, and one which I plan to return to many times. A go-to hike for me because of its location and topography–quick to get to, quick to hike but still feels like a workout at some points. A great place to take out of town guests for a surefire enjoyable Austin hike!


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Hiking In and Around Austin: Onion Creek District Park

by celeste.nunn | October 26th, 2009

One of my favorite outdoor activities is hiking. I like it so much I’ve even been known to hike during our hottest summer months! Granted, you have to get up pretty early if you want to enjoy your hike in August or September. One of the best things about autumn and spring in Austin is that our weather is usually dry, crisp, and sunny–perfect for hiking! Therefore, I hope to be able to get some posts up in the near future about hikes I’ve tried here in Austin…and I’ll be taking advantage of the awesome fall weather as much as possible. Please note that I’m not a professional hiker, just a layperson who loves the outdoors!

The first hike I’m documenting, Onion Creek District Park,  is 2.46 miles and a little off the beaten path (or at least it was to me.) It was recommended by a colleague who rides horses here, and who thought it would be an enjoyable hike for us.

Getting there? We took William Cannon east to a right on Pleasant Valley. Then we took the next left (it sneaks up on you!) on Springville and immediately following, a left on Onion Crossing. Right on Vine Hill, then a final right when Vine Hill dead-ends into Onion Creek Parkway. Onion Creek Parkway terminates in a sign that says “no motorized vehicles” and you will see a playscape and restroom facilities to the right and trail-head to the left. Park to the right.

**NOTE: street signs were down on both Onion Crossing and Vine Hill…a GPS would have been handy but was not necessary, so plan to keep your eyes peeled if you don’t have one!

When did we go? On a Sunday afternoon around 1 PM. Moderate temps, dry and sunny.

Pros: Onion Creek was rocky, with clear running water that was ankle to mid-calf deep in some places. Extra points for a hike with water, although there’s no telling how it might look if not for recent rains. Designated an off-leash area by Austin Parks & Rec (which might be a con to some!) and also a horse path (ditto.) Not too strenuous, minor elevation changes. Solitude might be enjoyed even on a weekend day of very nice weather–other than right at the trailhead, we saw one horseback rider and one hiker with dogs the entire 3 hours we were out.

Cons: Path is extremely overgrown in some areas due to recent rains/probable low maintenance. Trails are not well-marked and there are a plethora of off-shoots that terminate abruptly. Mosquitoes were thick–wear plenty of repellent if you plan to undertake this hike after a rain or during humid summer months. Expect some creek-crossing if you plan to hike a longer distance. Horses appear to travel this trail frequently–enough said! If you venture off the beaten path, watch out for hunters and their traps! Although illegal, we were warned by a hiker about poachers on the property and we encountered a metal trap not far from the path.

Summary: Not my favorite hike, but worth doing at least once if you have an interest in Austin hiking. Onion Creek is very pretty and if you have a horse or dog(s), this hike might be for you!


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