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Monthly Archives: June 2012

If you think the Hike and Bike Trail at Lady Bird Lake is only for kids who can still fit in a jogging stroller, think again! This beautiful trail is the perfect venue for an easy nature hike.

We parked along the street on Stephen F. Austin Drive, on the north shore of Lady Bird Lake near Austin High School. We walked toward Mopac Expressway to get to the Johnson Creek Trailhead.

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The lake shore is accessible at this part of the trail. My kids have named it “Town Lake Beach” and they think it’s a fun place to explore!

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Johnson Creek Trailhead has recently been renovated and it looks fabulous!

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Lady Bird Lake will provide many opportunities for you to appreciate nature, even though it’s in the middle of the city. We headed east on the trail and quickly spotted this lovely dragonfly.

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My 6 year old discovered this toad in a hollowed-out tree trunk.

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We had to stop and catch our breath after the toad excitement.

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As we passed the Texas Rowing Center, we noticed this sign identifying a Clay Pit Bucket Tower, a vestige of the brick-making plant located here in the early 1900s.

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Our turnaround point was an overlook area less than a 1/2 mile from Johnson Creek Trailhead. It was a nice spot to take in the scenery.

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At the overlook, there is an illustrative drawing of birds you might see around the lake. We saw a few of these while we were there!

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When we were ready to go, we returned to the trail and headed west to our starting point at Johnson Creek Trailhead. We packed a lot of fun into a one-hour stroll!

THE RUNDOWN:
Austin Active Kids Opinion: A laid-back adventure for curious kids
Outing Time: About 1 hour
Outing Distance: Less than 1 mile
Reminders: Remind your children about trail etiquette: stay to the right and watch out for bikes. You will probably be moving along more slowly than most of the people exercising, so help your kids avoid obstructing other trail users.

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Craving cool water in the summer heat, we visited Deep Eddy Pool (401 Deep Eddy Avenue) this afternoon. This famous pool is a true Austin landmark: it’s on the National Register of Historic Places.

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The land around Deep Eddy Pool was settled by Swedish immigrant Charles Johnson in the 1850s. In 1902, his children opened Deep Eddy Resort, named for a deep hole in the limestone bed of the Colorado River that caused the water’s current to form an eddy. The land was sold to A.J. Eilers in 1915 and he built the concrete pool. The City of Austin purchased the site in 1935. The Deep Eddy Bathhouse was constructed in 1936 and was the first Works Progress Administration project in Austin.

Today, Deep Eddy Pool beckons visitors from all walks of life. Deep Eddy Bathhouse serves as the entrance to the pool. You go down a flight of stone steps to the pool, where you can look for some shade to stow your pool bag. There is not any shade over the pool itself, so be prepared for full sun with swimming shirts, hats, and sunscreen.

This pool literally has something for everyone! There is a shallow wading area for very young children, a section that is about 4 feet deep for older children, another section that is 8 feet deep for the truly adventurous, and swimming lanes. The pool’s water source is a well that provides cold, clear water, which is not chlorinated. Even on the hottest days, you will feel refreshed!

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My 6-year-old enjoyed watching the bigger kids explore the deep side of the pool.

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As part of Austin’s Art in Public Places project, an incredible mosaic mural was installed at Deep Eddy Pool in 2011.

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The mural includes a timeline detailing Deep Eddy’s history.

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My children enjoyed examining the unique tiles that make up the mural.

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The pool seemed noticeably less crowded around 4 p.m., when we were getting ready to leave. Next time we visit, we will plan to arrive then!

THE RUNDOWN:
Austin Active Kids Opinion: Deep Eddy Pool has something for everyone. Jump in soon!
Outing Time: About 2 hours
Reminders: Check the pool’s web site for schedules and events like Splash Party Movie Nights before you go. Admission to the pool is free for infants, $1 for children ages 1 – 11, $2 for kids 12 – 17, $3 for ages 18 – 61, and $1 for ages 62 and up. Coolers and food are not allowed in the pool area. There is a snack shop on site that offers a variety of treats, including Jim-Jim’s Water Ice.

Summer is definitely here! The heat was getting to us so we decided to check out the Pease Park Splash Pad (1100 Kingsbury Street, Austin, 78705).

Not only is Pease Park historic, it is also home to Austin’s famous Eeyore’s Birthday Party.

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There were many other kids playing on the splash pad to escape the afternoon heat but there was still plenty of room for everyone.

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This water feature seemed to be the most popular: all of the kids wanted to play under the “umbrella” of water.

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After getting cooled off, we went down to the banks of Shoal Creek for some fossil hunting.

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It was a little too hot in the afternoon for the playscape, but we will return one morning to climb and slide!

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If you would like to add a little hiking to your splashing and playing, you can access the Shoal Creek Hike and Bike Trail at Pease Park. This trail goes all the way north to 38th Street.

THE RUNDOWN:
Austin Active Kids Opinion: Easy way to have some fun in the sun
Outing Time: About 1 1/2 hours
Reminders: There is not a lot of shade near the playscape or splash pad so you might want to plan this outing for the morning hours. Or, a shorter-than-usual outing for the afternoon is another option. If the splash pad water is not running when you arrive, look for the button on top of the purple pillar.

We celebrated the first “official” day of summer (June 20) by spending the afternoon visiting the cool and inviting Texas Memorial Museum on The University of Texas at Austin campus at 2400 Trinity Street. The museum serves as an “exhibit hall” for the Texas Natural Science Center.

We parked in the San Jacinto Parking Garage and followed the signs to the front of the museum. This mighty saber-toothed cat welcomed us!

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The entrance takes you to the Great Hall, featuring the museum’s most valuable specimens like Quetzalcoatalus northropi, the Texas Pterosaur.

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Also in the Great Hall, you can view the E.M. Barron Exhibit of Minerals and Gem Collections. You might be surprised by how much your children enjoy looking at these “rocks.”

On the third floor, we saw this beautiful display in the Hall of Texas Wildlife.

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The Hall of Texas Wildlife also includes wildlife dioramas, which are models (or examples) of different creatures that live in Texas, from ducks to snakes to fish.

We took the stairs to the fourth floor exhibit, the Hall of Biodiversity, where you will find an interactive learning center focused on the understanding of biological evolution. My 6-year-old son was interested in this computer exhibit about diatoms.

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We took the elevator down to the first floor, the Hall of Geology and Paleontology, which holds over 500 dinosaur and fossil specimens. This is our favorite part of the museum!

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(You better not hit that armadillo with your car!)

The museum has a cell phone audio tour so you can learn more about featured exhibits, like this giant ground sloth.

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Kids love the Discovery Drawers. All sorts of irresistible items are stored within!

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A “real life” paleontologist was on hand in the Paleo Lab to talk with visitors about fossils.

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The Texas Memorial Museum has a unique history: it was built in celebration of Texas’ centennial in 1936. The University of Texas, the State of Texas, and the Texas American Legion joined forces to establish this state museum. “Erected to commemorate the heroic period of early Texas history and to celebrate a century of the independence and progress of Texas as a republic and state and dedicated to the study of the natural sciences and civic history” is engraved on the western facade of the building.

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Architecture aficionados will note the building’s 1930s Art Deco style, exemplified in the bronze front doors.

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After exiting the doors on the west side of the building, we walked toward the Mustangs statue, across San Jacinto Boulevard, and down to Waller Creek. The boys spent about 30 minutes exploring around the creek bed and taking a “hands on” approach to their natural science education!

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THE RUNDOWN:
Austin Active Kids Opinion: An educational indoor escape for a sweltering afternoon!
Outing Time: About 2 hours 15 minutes
Reminders: Admission to the museum is free. (Donations accepted.) There is a gift shop on the 2nd floor, adjacent to the Great Hall. The parking garage costs $9 for 2 hours on a weekday. On weekends, you might be able to find street parking and avoid the garage expense.

Austin Active Kids went on our first out-of-town excursion: San Marcos or bust!

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We arrived at Aquarena Center (921 Aquarena Springs Drive) at 10:15 a.m. If you haven’t visited in the past few years, erase from your mind your previous experience of Aquarena Springs in its “amusement park” incarnation. The old visitor’s center and other buildings (including the underground theater) are being torn down and removed. The ultimate goal under the stewardship of Texas State University and the Rivers Systems Institute is to return Aquarena Springs–specifically San Marcos Springs and Spring Lake–to its natural state.

Fortunately, the famous glass-bottom boats are still in service. The 30-minute boat ride costs $9 for adults and $6 per child over age 4.

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The glass-bottom boat tour guide was very knowledgeable about the springs, their history, and their ecological significance.

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The lake below was clear and beautiful. One of our favorite parts of the tour was seeing spring water bubbling up through the limestone far below us (visible as the circular areas in this photo).

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We will be talking about this boat ride for a long time!

Next, we went to the education center to see the new aquariums.

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The aquarium area is relatively small but that didn’t make the creatures within any less fascinating to the kids (or me). The highlight of the aquariums was the Texas blind salamander, an endangered species that lives only in the Edwards Aquifer beneath and near the City of San Marcos. I could not believe the creature on display was real! I asked a staff member, who told me that not only was he real but when he moves he has robotic motions. Despite my waiting around, he stayed still during our visit.

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Our next stop was about 1.5 miles away: the Children’s Park at 205 South CM Allen Parkway. This park has an incredible playground, lots of shade, and several picnic tables. We ate lunch and took advantage of the sprawling playscape.

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Across the parking lot is a trail along the San Marcos River. If you head north on the trail (to your left from the playground) and walk less than 1/4 mile, you will find a scenic area where you can enter the river for wading and splashing. The water was cold and refreshing!

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The kids found a lot to investigate in and around the river. There were some other visitors enjoying the river (including these folks floating by) but it didn’t feel crowded.

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My sons were happy to have a friend along to share in this adventure.

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THE RUNDOWN:
Austin Active Kids Opinion: A whole day’s worth of fun in just a few hours!
Outing Time: About 3 1/2 hours (not including travel time to and from San Marcos)
Reminders: Pack water, snacks, lunches, towels, bathing suits or change of clothes, water shoes, nets, and buckets.

Today we explored one of our city’s incomparable treasures: the historic Texas Capitol. Since we are “Austin Active Kids,” this was not merely a stroll through the Capitol building but rather an indoor/outdoor extravaganza!

We arrived at 10 a.m. and parked in the Capitol Visitor’s Parking Garage at 1201 San Jacinto. We crossed San Jacinto at 12th Street and walked toward the Capitol. The Lorenzo de Zavala State Archives and Library Building was directly on our right so we decided to take a peek. The front of the building has beautiful mosaics like this for each the six flags of Texas.

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Look at the amazing front door!

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We went inside for a few minutes to see the lobby area, specifically this striking mural entitled, “Texas Moves Toward Statehood.”

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From the Archives and Library Building, we had a short walk to the east doors of the Capitol. Visitors to the Capitol are required to go through a metal detector. There was not a line and we moved through the security area quickly.

We walked through the east wing of the Capitol toward the rotunda and appreciated this famous view.

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Many tourists were visiting the Capitol and taking advantage of the tours provided by the Capitol Information and Guide Service, which is located in the restored Treasurer’s Business Office on the first floor of the Capitol. Tours were being offered about every 20 minutes. We preferred the self-tour option so we picked up a self-guided tour brochure. (“Slow down” is not always in the boys’ vocabulary!)

We took the stairs to the second floor to view the House of Representatives chamber, in the west wing of the Capitol. Since I saw the kids’ eyes glaze over during my explanation of how Texas government works, I encouraged them to entertain themselves by looking for examples of unique, detailed craftsmanship that can be found throughout the Capitol. When we entered the Texas Senate chamber, we found a perfect example: this chandelier in which the lights spell out T-E-X-A-S.

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We returned to the first floor and took these stairs down to the ground level (basement) of the Capitol.

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Although included in the official Capitol tour, the ground floor of the Capitol has an off-the-beaten-path feel. It is a neat place to find some unusual views, like this one looking up and out toward an exterior wall of the Capitol.

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Or this one, where you can see the limestone foundation of the Capitol, under the “sunset red” granite.

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From the ground floor, we took the steps down into the Capitol Extension. We walked through the extension, took an elevator up, and came out on the north grounds of the Capitol. The Capitol grounds contain many historic monuments as well as this beautiful rose garden in bloom.

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We walked toward the west side of the Capitol to take a break and have a snack. The kids really knew how to enjoy the luxurious landscape, primarily by rolling down these little hills.

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The children loved all of the extraordinary trees on the Capitol grounds, which we later learned is called the Trail of Trees.

We walked around to the south side of the Capitol, to take in this classic sight.

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On our way across the south grounds to the Capitol Complex Visitors Center, we saw the new Tejano Monument that was just completed in March.

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I was pleasantly surprised by how much the boys liked the Visitors Center.

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My 13-year-old son was intrigued by the Voices of Veterans exhibit. My 6-year-old son loved this “cut away” of the Capitol Dome.

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The building was fun to explore.

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The multimedia exhibits on the second floor grabbed the kids’ attention and so did this telescope where you can get a closer look at the Goddess of Liberty on top of the Capitol.

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We had an interesting and educational visit to the Texas Capitol. What a magnificent place!

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THE RUNDOWN:
Austin Active Kids Opinion: This outing will get your kids moving (indoors and outdoors) and it has an important educational aspect, too!
Outing Time: About 2 1/2 hours
Reminders: You might want to review these maps ahead of time if you are not familiar with the Capitol Complex. Talk to your kids about not wandering off too far: the Capitol is a big place with a lot of people! When the Texas Legislature is in session, you should plan to visit the 3rd Floor Visitor’s Gallery of the Texas House of Representatives and Texas Senate (instead of House Floor and Senate Floor on the 2nd Level).

This morning we explored the Barton Creek Greenbelt, beginning at the Spyglass Drive entrance.

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Our goal was to locate Campbell’s Hole (a section of Barton Creek deep enough for swimming). There was a map at the trail entrance; however, once you are down a trail with your kids, the map is not much help! I reviewed this map online last night, so I had a general idea of where to go.

We arrived at 10 a.m. There were a few people biking, jogging, or walking their dogs, but the trail was not very crowded.

At the beginning of the trail, you go down a rocky, steep path about 1/10 mile long. At the bottom of the hill, turn left. The path is a little rough but the shade is nice.

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I was not prepared for all of the forks in the trail. I knew that we would find Campbell’s Hole along the creek bed, so we always took the right fork and stayed by the creek. I had a hard time keeping the kids on the trail: they wanted to explore the creek bed!

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The boys were really delighted by these little frogs.

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About a 1/2 mile down the trail, we found Campbell’s Hole! There were not any trail markers or other signs. There were a couple of “No Diving” signs and that inclined me to believe we were at the right spot. We were the only people there. What a treat!

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After some fun splashing and swimming, the kids were ready to explore the shallower area of Campbell’s Hole.

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My youngest son found these stacked rocks in the creek bed.

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We saw a lot of tadpoles.

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And more of the fantastic frogs.

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On the return trip, I could hardly get the boys on the trail at all. I walked on the trail with our dog and watched the boys’ progress in the creek bed.

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Before we even made it back to our car, the children were already asking if we could return to this enchanted place!

THE RUNDOWN:
Austin Active Kids Opinion: A reasonably short hike with a splash-y reward!
Outing Time: Just under 1 1/2 hours
Outing Distance: About 1 mile round trip
Reminders: Campbell’s Hole is a natural body of water. Talk to your kids ahead of time about water safety and closely watch your children when you are there. The depth of Campbell’s Hole will go up and down based on recent rains. It is likely to be shallow if we have not had much rain or could be deeper than usual if it’s been rainy. Kids can play in the water in their regular clothes or wear bathing suits. You might encounter some trail users walking their dogs off-leash. Remind your children not to run up to dogs they don’t know. Pack water, snacks, and towels. No public restroom facilities.