When I first found out that I was going to be working in Austin, I
started to go through a bout of self-pity. After all, the image of
Texas you saw on TV as a kid was a dry dusty town with tumble weed.
The fact that I was strolling down Dallas Alley, the heart of
"night life" Dallas, in 1991 during Mardi Gras did not change my
opinion of Texas. Even the ghost towns depicted in the movies were
more lively than the night clubs in Dallas. Myself and a fellow
adventurer were literally chased down by no less than 4 desperate
living dead trying to lure us into their restaurant filled with
ghostly band members, lonely ribbons and beads, and the shadowy
forms of empty seats.
Now hold your horses. Don't round up the posse before you read further. I was wrong. Austin, the "Live Music Capital of the World," lives up to its name. All around the Sixth Street area, you can find everything from blues and reggae to swing and rock. Their world famous South by Southwest Music & Media and Film and Multimedia conference and festival is the music entertainment equivalent to the Cannes film festival. Thousands of bands from all over the world would make an annual pilgrimage to this music mecca. Aside from cooling off my tired feet from trying out the various music venues, I also picked up swing dancing along the way. Unfortunately my feet have forgotten most of the steps by this time while waiting for that certain someone to ask me to dance!
I thought that I could see everything worth seeing if I took a two week vacation in Austin. Yeah, right. Two weeks was not long enough. Let me briefly highlight some of the things worth seeing and share some of the anecdotes from my trip...
Before I get accused of being a party animal, I should say that Austin is located in the middle of the Hill Country. That's right folks, hills, trees, rivers, and lots and lots of caves. Plenty of places to explore and get lost. For example my perfect day is to pack a picnic lunch and head out to Texas's most beautiful swimming hole, Hamilton Pool Preserve . Imagine a short pleasant hike through a lush terrarium to appear in front of a 45 foot waterfall that spills into a "jade-green" grotto-like pool. The pool was formed by the collapse of a dome of an underground river thousands of years ago. As we admired our lovely surroundings, we took turns worshipping the sun god and playing with the water sprite. Watch out! The little fish bite! I had a red toe at the time to prove it.
After lunch, we called a truce to the battle with the fish and swimming squatters. With perfect timing we headed out to the Westcave Preserve for one of their restricted guided tours through the grassland savannah filled with ashe juniper and live oaks. Pretty soon you reach the lower half of the ecosystem where you can see what the Hamilton Pool would look like if it had not been destroyed by swimmers. With a delightful 10F degree drop in temperature, we were able to enjoy the beautiful limestone crevice surrounded by giant cypress trees, orchids, and ferns.
Okay, so I did not keep my promise to be brief, I'll try to do better...
If your idea of hiking is through a cultured garden, then you would love Zilker Park. This place has everything, from botanical gardens and biking trails to sport fields and boathouses. Still not convinced? Barton Springs swimming pool is absolutely delightful! Barton Creek was dammed up to create a 900 feet, year round swimming pool of 68F degrees. Depending upon where you are the rocky depths vary to provide different access from ladders to diving boards.
Pedernales Falls State Park has interesting features such as boulder-strewn gorge, natural-rock dams, and layered falls. The 50 foot deep, 3000 foot long river limestone was formed from a 300 million year-old Marble Falls formation. Subjected to flash flooding and rising water made the geology even more interesting for the explorer as you hop along among the beautiful rock formations. Sample wildlife including coyotes, bald eagles and wild turkeys are known to inhabit the area.
Since I don't want to turn this into a novel, other places worth mentioning are the Austin wineries in Stonewall as you head toward Fredericksburg for a bit of German atmosphere and beer gardens. For the serious wine conniseur, it is not Napa valley but it provides a wonderful backdrop while you have lunch.
Excerpt: "North Window Bush" image is Copyright © 2000 by Michael Reichmann of The Luminous Landscape, Inc. All rights reserved.
Also, Dallas has a very active nightlife as this one author had partaken back in summer of '01.  I did not take a lot of pictures in Austin, too busy having too much fun.