Town Lake Kayak to Congress Bridge to see the bats 8/11/22

Thursday, August 11, 2022

Town Lake Kayak to Congress Bridge to see the bats

Surprisingly cloudy and not too hot

Ian and Court

We used to live down by the Congress Avenue bridge from 2008-2010, so we’ve seen the bats plenty of times, but never from the water, so we decided to check it out! For those not aware, the Congress Avenue bridge in downtown Austin is home to the largest urban bat colony in the world with approximately 1.5 million Mexican free-tailed bats that come out every night to eat a billion bugs.

The Hill Country Conservancy set up a “Bat Paddle” from the Texas Rowing Center on this warm August night. There was a decent turnout of probably 20 or so people and we all set off as a pack, but eventually split up and went at our own pace.

It’s crazy to see the Austin skyline now, compared to when we last kayaked here back in 2015.

It took about 45 minutes to paddle down to the bridge and as the sun got closer to the horizon, the colors got more dramatic.

good reflection

Plenty of people were lined up on top of the bridge waiting for the bats. I often forget that this happens EVERY night in the warmer months in Austin (most months). They were right on time as the sun hit the horizon.

Video:

We hung out for 20 minutes or so and watched the river of bats in the sky flow out to the east. Then we started the paddle back in the sunset.

Lake Georgetown – Jim Hogg Park Trailhead 8/6/22

Saturday, August 6, 2022

Lake Georgetown – Jim Hogg Park Trailhead

warm, mostly cloudy, a little humid

Ian, Biff, and Finn

5.0 miles

With this hike, I have officially “section hiked” the full 26 mile loop around Lake Georgetown. Only took me like 5 years. I brought the dogs out early to avoid the heat. This was actually a fun and challenging part of the trail. It was very rocky and I had to watch my footing for the majority of the trail, but the terrain and scenery was varied and enjoyable.

There were plenty of deer out in the morning mist and Finn was super excited to see their white tails bounding away as we got closer.

This hike was roughly Mile 21-23 in the numerical mileage for the 26 mile trail. We reached the lake and while it is low, there’s still a good amount of water, considering we haven’t had rain in over a month in central Texas. That’s getting old. Got some good vulture shots though.

Lake view
Vultures riding the thermals

We headed back the way we came and there was a spot on the trail where the dogs started sniffing like crazy and then I saw a pool of blood on the trail and some off in the grass beyond. I’m guessing a coyote had gotten to something, or perhaps a bobcat.

We ended up at exactly 5.0 miles when we got back to the car. I’m glad to have hiked every part of this loop now and plan to again use the loop as training for my future adventure to come next spring.

Lake Georgetown – Tejas Camp to Russell Park 7/4/22

Monday, July 4, 2022

Lake Georgetown – Tejas Camp to Russell Park

HOT, partly cloudy, low 90s

Ian solo

11.7 miles

I completed the only section of the Lake Georgetown trail that I have yet to hike on this July 4th. I started off at Tejas Camp on the far west side of the lake at about 8am and followed the north shore about 6 miles to Russell Park.

I knew this section would probably be pretty exposed, so I brought along my new sun hoodie that I got for use in sunny hiking conditions because I really dislike putting on sunblock. My wife is a dermatologist, so I am VERY conscious of it.

The first half of the hike was very pretty with cool temperatures and some good cloud cover.

There was a hiker who started off right before me and I figured I would eventually pass him up, but he was trucking. I was averaging 3 mph, which is faster than normal for me, but I never did catch him until I got to the campground at Russell Park. I asked him how far he was going and he replied that he was going for the full loop. He looked like he wasn’t really prepared for a 26 mile hike, but far be it for me to judge, so I told him to make sure he had enough water and good luck.

Speaking of water, I had gone through half of mine (one liter) and walked down into the campsites to find a spigot to refill. I found an open shelter with one and hung out on the picnic table for a bit, airing out my feet and eating some snacks to refuel.

The day was starting to heat up so I headed back the direction I came. Most of this section of the trail is pretty flat and exposed, but there is a short section that is more like the south side of the lake, which is rocky and sharp, aka karst topography. One needs to watch their footing in order to not take a fall and get sliced open by this unforgiving terrain.

SHARP

Around 11am the sun really started to bake. I was trying to pace myself, but I haven’t done this much mileage in a while and actually had to take a seat in the shade at one point to cool down. Texas summers aren’t anything to mess with. Quick video below too.

I made it back to the car and blasted the AC. I got a couple of blisters on my left heel, which is a consistent problem area. I guess on a long trail I would just tape it and move on until it turned into a callous. For now, I am letting it heal and will be back on the trail next weekend.

I’m ramping up my training and am hoping to make another run at the PCT in 2023. More details later. Let’s ride.

Sicily – Zingaro Nature Reserve 6/14/22

Tuesday, June 14, 2022

Courtney, her parents, and I met up with her cousins and uncle in Sicily on the back end of our 2022 Italy trip. The youngins (I’m including myself in that) did a short hike to a hidden beach in Zingaro Nature Reserve near the small town of Scopello on the northwest corner of Sicily.

The trek wasn’t long, but the views were beautiful. Zingaro was the first officially protected nature reserve in Sicily, but it was only created in 1980. You enter through a tunnel, or a “gallery”, as the sign below calls it.

There were a ton of other trails in this reserve, but they were pretty intense and we were only dressed for a short trip to the beach, so those would have to wait for another life. The path was pretty easy and we soon got to the crowded beach and staked out a spot to stash our stuff while we floated in the Mediterranean.

Our destination
Closer
Very refreshing

After an hour or so of swimming we packed up and headed back up the dusty trail. Sicily is beautiful and I’m glad we got a short hike in while we were there.

More views
map

Exuma, Bahamas – Scuba Diving 5/02/22

Monday, May 2, 2022

Scuba Diving

Location: Exuma, Bahamas – Half Moon Reef and Stingray Reef

Divers: Ian, Tyler, Ned, Kyle

Depth: 30-40 feet

Scuba selfie

So here’s a new category for this blog! I recently went to the Bahamas with my buddies and got re-certified for scuba beforehand. I was certified when I was a kid, but hadn’t dove in years, so I figured I might as well start from the beginning. I convinced Tyler and Ned to get certified as well and Kyle was already certified, so there were four of us.

We stayed in Exuma and had a great time. We only dove one day, but this is looking to be an annual guys trip going forward, so we should get in some more dives. We are going to try and get in some other dives in Texas and perhaps other locations throughout the year also.

We did two dives to two separate reefs, Half Moon and Stingray. When we arrived at the dive shop in the morning, we found that they had mixed up our reservation and we were actually supposed to go that afternoon, but luckily there were just two other divers there (a father and son) who said we could go with them on their charter. They were both experienced divers and it was nice to have them along to keep an eye on us newbies.

This was my first attempt at underwater photography on my little knock off GoPro camera, but I think it came out ok, considering I was just holding it in my hand and praying I didn’t drop it. Nothing spectacular, but it did the job. I’ll include everything I got, including the videos.

Video 1:

Tyler
Ned
Coral
Ned again – still waiting on his GoPro footage!

The reef was actually a little better in terms of health than the reef we were on in the Maldives a few weeks back. Sadly, in 2016 there was a worldwide coral bleaching event and most reefs are still recovering. I’m hoping against hope that we can reverse course, as these are some amazing creations that play such a vital role in our existence, even if most people don’t understand it.

In terms of wildlife, we saw a couple of huge lobsters, a barracuda, and a nice reef shark. Of course, I don’t have pics because I wasn’t even sure my camera was going to work, but you’ll have to take my word for it.

Video 2:

Top to bottom: Tyler, Kyle, and divemaster
Coral
Divemaster and Kyle
More coral

Video 3:

Colorado Bend Overnight 4/9-4/10/22

Saturday, April 9th – Sunday, April 10th, 2022

Colorado Bend State Park – River Trail and River Backpacking Area

Windy, sunny, high 80s in the day, low 60s overnight

Ian, Court, Biff, Finn

About 9 miles

The weather finally cooperated for our April Colorado Bend trip, after raining us out in 2020 and then having stinging caterpillar issues in 2021.

Trail head
Gearing up

The river backpacking area at Colorado Bend is only .7 miles in from the regular camping area, but it is so much better. Especially the site we reserved, which has its own private beach on the Colorado River.

We hiked in and set up camp by about 1pm and then slack packed (thru hiking term, which means we had our packs, but mostly empty with just what we needed for the day hike) up the River Trail.

Hiking to camp
Blowing up sleeping pads
Biff leading the way
Day moon

I have renamed the River Trail as “Armadillo Alley”. They were EVERYWHERE. We counted 13.5 going one way. Yes, there was half an armadillo. Some animal had gotten to him, but I didn’t take a pic, so you are spared that image, dear reader.

We were going to try and finally hike the Tenaja Trail, but decided it would be a bit too far to push the dogs on a relatively warm day. Courtney thinks that trail is just not meant to be hiked by the pair of us. I hiked it solo in 2020 and it’s a great trail, but Court has never done it.

We stuck to the River Trail and backtracked back to camp after about 4 miles, returning through Armadillo Alley. The dogs, especially Biff, were supremely interested in them. No armadillos were harmed though.

Break time

We got back to camp and cooked dinner on the beach. There were some beautiful birds (cranes? herons? both?) in the river at sunset and they were a little ornery with each other, much like flamingos in the zoo. We heard them still squawking as we got into the tent for an early night and fell asleep quickly.

Private beach
Camp kitchen
View
Birds
Sleepy Biff

We were up with the sun and packed up and headed out. Successful trip to one of the most underrated state parks. Pups had their usual naptime on the 2 hour ride home.

Lake Bastrop LCRA Park – Swift Trail, Gideon, and Loblolly Loops 3/5/22

Saturday, March 5, 2022

Lake Bastrop LCRA Park – Swift Trail, Gideon, and Loblolly Loops

Overcast, windy, but pleasant – low 70s

Ian, Court, Biff, and Finn

5.21 miles

Another new trail!

To be honest, this wasn’t the best hike, but it was good to get out into the world regardless. The dogs enjoyed it.

Lake Bastrop is an LCRA park. The Lower Colorado River Authority administers 18 parks around Central Texas. It is just north of Bastrop State Park, which was devastated by wildfires a decade ago. The pines are coming back and it’s been interesting to see the recovery of the area.

That said, the trails are fairly flat and the whole area is covered in shredded wood, which I’m guessing is the remnants of the trees that died in the fires. It makes for kind of a bizarre, sparse landscape.

Ducks!
Break time
Finnigan
End of trail pic
map

Spring Lake Preserve – San Marcos, TX 1/17/22

Monday, January 17, 2022

Hike: Spring Lake Preserve – San Marcos, TX

Weather: cool, sunny, upper 50s

Hikers: Ian, Biff, Finn

Length: 4 miles

New trail! Even though I went to school here, I never knew this preserve existed. Spring Lake Preserve is about a mile from the Texas State campus.

From the Texas State website:

“Spring Lake Natural Area is a little known 251-acre park that sits just above Spring Lake, the headwaters of the San Marcos River. It offers many miles of natural surface trails and is open to the public for hiking, biking, birding, photography, and is a perfect companion to a visit to The Meadows Center.

Spring Lake Natural Area contains the typical meadows and woodlands found in the Edwards Plateau, with a wide variety of flora and fauna, ranging from Mexican buckeye to deer and other large mammals. The geology includes layers of the Eagle-Ford, Georgetown, Del Rio clay and Edwards limestone. The endangered golden-cheeked warbler breeds only in central Texas and nests in the ash juniper and oak found here.”

I got to the trail head around 9:30am and got a nice little hike of 4 miles in about 2 hours. Court unfortunately didn’t have MLK Day off, so I went and met her at her office in Kyle after my hike. The pups enjoyed getting out in the chill morning and burning some energy.

These trails are well maintained and marked, with metal blazes and trail junction markers throughout.

Blaze

The terrain is varied and the trails go from dense woodlands to more grassy and open parcels. There’s also a pond and some sections with spanish moss hanging from the trees.

It’s nice to have found a new trail system fairly close to home. I want to come back with Court so she can experience it too. Until next time!

Commons Ford Ranch 12/5/21

Sunday, December 5, 2021

Commons Ford Ranch – Waterfall Trail

Overcast, warm, pleasant

Ian, Court, Biff, Finn

2.7 miles

One of Court’s favorite hikes in Austin is Commons Ford Ranch. There are a wide variety of eco-systems, varying terrain, and in the fall, lots of color. It’s an easy hike and not crowded, so thumbs up all around.

The winter doesn’t usually hit in Texas for real until January or February, so we took advantage of a warm December day to get out and hike with the pups. The leaves in Austin have just started to change and they only last a week or so usually.

We went on a dry spell with rain for a while, but had a little in the past couple of weeks, so the waterfall was flowing ok. Always pretty.

As we headed down off the ridge toward the Colorado River (Lake Austin), the colors really started to show out.

We added on an additional loop to this hike that we didn’t get to last time and it was really beautiful. I love the contrast of the colored leaves on the forest floor.

End of trail pic!
map

Big Bend National Park – East Rim and Emory Peak – 10/23-10/24/21

Saturday, October 23 – Sunday, October 24, 2021

Hike: Pinnacles Trail to Emory Peak to East Rim (overnight) to South Rim to Laguna Meadows Trail

Weather: warm, low 80s, mostly clear, beautiful

Hikers: Ian, Josh, Ryan, David

Length: 17.3 miles

Long blog post incoming! I have been wanting to get out to Big Bend National Park my entire life. In early May, I got inspired to finally make the trip by my buddy Lee and booked a night out on the East Rim in the fall and a couple of nights car camping in the Chisos Basin. Sadly, Lee couldn’t make this trip, but I wanted to give him the credit for the idea anyway.

There ended up being four of us: myself, my college buddy Josh, my friend Ryan from Dallas (who I hiked with at Yosemite a couple of years ago), and his friend David, who was a former Boy Scout guide at Philmont in New Mexico.

Josh and I made the long drive from Austin (8 hours) on Friday morning and met up with Ryan and David at the first campsite around 4pm. We set up camp and took a quick hike to see the sunset in The Window, which is a gap in the rocks that surround the Chisos Basin, through which all the water in the basin drains.

The Window

I also found the Stephen Mather plaque. Mather is the father of the National Parks System and he and his second in command, Horace Albright, are responsible for so much of what the National Parks are today. The last line on the plaque says it all: “There will never come an end to the good that he has done.”

We got back to camp and all laid out on a big rock at our site to watch the stars as they came out. Unluckily, the moon was almost full, so we only had a couple of hours of star watching before the moon rose and washed out most of the stars. The moon should have gotten the memo about Big Bend being an International Dark Sky park.

We awoke early the next morning and packed up to hit the trail. We drove to the lodge parking lot where the trail head was and started off on the Pinnacles trail. This is the steeper direction to do the loop, but I figured I’d rather have a tougher first day and cruise down on a more gentle slope coming back the next day. Honestly, either way was a good and hard hike.

The motley crew – L to R: Ian, Josh, David, Ryan

The weather couldn’t have been better as we climbed the trail up to the junction with the Emory Peak trail about 5 miles in. Emory Peak is the highest point in the park. We stashed our packs in the bear boxes at the junction so we could make the 3 mile round trip to the peak with less weight on our shoulders.

Starting on trail
These guys were common along the trail
Views of Chisos Basin as we climbed
Views off of the Emory Peak trail
Top of Emory Peak, looking towards Mexico

We made our way back down to the junction and had lunch in the shade. We still had a few miles to go to get to the East Rim, where we were camping for the night. Setting off into Boot Canyon, we came upon a lot of water, which would have been nice to know, since we were all carrying 5-6 liters each. That translates to 11-13 pounds, or about 1/3 of my total pack weight. It was a pretty canyon at least.

Water, water everywhere!

Finally we started to climb out of the canyon and up the last 500 feet of elevation to the East Rim. We were all extremely tired, but the views were amazing. We started to set up camp and I got into my camp shoes, after which I promptly stubbed my toe on a tiny stump sticking out of the ground near the bear box. It hurt like hell for a couple of minutes, but I got it wrapped up and it wasn’t that big of a deal, though I was dreading the hike down in the morning a bit.

Resting after a long climb up
Broken toe nail
Curious deer

After about an hour of decompressing at camp and hanging out with the friendly deer who are not afraid of humans at all, we went out to the Rim to eat dinner and watch the last rays of sun hit the incredible landscape laid out before us. Truly an awesome experience. Ryan also got some great shots of the Milky Way once the sun went down. The morning would be even better.

Sunset
Photo credit: Ryan

We woke up around 7am, bundled up, and went out to the Rim to watch the sun rise. The wind was pretty fierce and I’m glad I had my puffy, though it was probably in the upper 40s, so nothing too terrible. This was something I will never forget.

Waiting for the sun
Not a bad view
Sun peeking over the horizon
Ryan getting some epic shots

After soaking in the experience, we packed up and headed on the trail to the South Rim, which gets more notoriety than the East Rim, but I thought it was a little overblown. I’m splitting hairs here, but I’d choose the East Rim, personally.

One view off the South Rim
Looking back toward the East Rim where we camped

The trail down was pretty, but long. Got a nice video of some more curious deer right along the South Rim trail.

We were all pretty wiped out when we got down to the basin again. We stopped at the lodge restaurant for lunch and a couple of beers. We had planned to do the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive and maybe another short hike that day, but once we set up camp, we decided to just veg out in the shade for the rest of the day.

We had another epic night of star watching and then woke up to make the long drive home. This was a great adventure and everyone did really well on the hike. I’ll have to bring Court out here, even though she isn’t a big fan of the desert. I’m betting this could change her opinion.

Last sunset from camp – alternate view of The Window
Andromeda Galaxy – photo credit: Ryan
photo credit: Ryan

As for hiking plans the rest of the year, we were supposed to go to Sequoia in December to see the trees in the snow, but the KNP Complex fire forced the lodge to cancel all reservations until next year. Huge bummer. We will reschedule for sure. Thanks for reading!