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Monthly Archives: September 2012

I had noticed the uniquely-named Goat Cave Karst Preserve a few times on maps of South Austin. Today we felt adventurous enough to try something completely new to us so we headed that way. The 9-acre preserve is located at 3900 Deer Lane, between South Mopac (take the Davis Lane exit) and Brodie Lane. Check a map before you go because it is a little confusing if you are not familiar with the area!

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We passed the park entrance the first time but easily turned around and found a small parking area across Deer Lane from the preserve. As the photo below illustrates, you have to dash across Deer Lane to enter the park. This is not for the faint of heart: the traffic was pretty heavy and the line of sight was limited. Be cautious!

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Once we made it across Deer Lane, it was a breeze to find the trail and view interesting information about the park, including what karst features are and why they are important.

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The sign states: “Austin sits above layers of fine-grained limestone formed approximately 100 million years ago. when most of Texas lay at the bottom of a warm shallow sea, teeming with life. Over the millennia, the limestone sea floor rose to become dry ground. Then, rain and surface water dissolved a network of holes and tunnels into the limestone bedrock. Geologists call these cavities ‘solution features.’ Many of these below-ground openings and passageways are connected into a vast subterranean formation stretching from Uvalde to Austin. It forms the ‘plumbing’ of the Edwards Aquifer, a huge natural underground water storage area. ‘Karst’ is the geologist’s term for landscapes formed by this process.”

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Karst topography is characterized by sinkholes, sinking streams, and springs. Goat Cave Karst Preserve contains sinkholes and caves typical for the area, specifically (from left to right on the graphic below) Goat Cave (home to a bat colony), Hideout Sink, and Wade Sink.

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We started along the path, excited to locate the caves!

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We quickly came upon the first and smallest sinkhole, Wade Sink, by taking a short path to the left off of the main trail.

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Just a short distance later, we found Hideout Sink.

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This one was a lot more exciting, especially when we saw this daddy longlegs nest!

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Even though I had read that the main attraction–Goat Cave–was surrounded by a fence, I was nonetheless surprised by the extent to which the fence prevented even a minimal view of Goat Cave.

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The City of Austin is serious about its fence! Check out the barbed wire at the top.

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I took this picture with the zoom lens of my camera from behind the fence and, as you can see, it’s still not much to look at! This web site has some pictures from inside the cave.

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We decided to forge ahead even though we were disappointed by our “view” of Goat Cave. As we walked along the path, we were right next to the barbed wire fence marking the border of the preserve.

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We reached the end of the trail, turned around, and headed back to the entrance. Tracing our way back was much easier than our original journey down the trail. No one else was visiting the preserve so it felt quite isolated despite being directly adjacent to houses and busy streets.

THE RUNDOWN:
Austin Active Kids Opinion: This short outing was interesting and educational but it has some definite downsides, specifically the parking situation and the limited view of the cave.
Outing Time: About 30 – 45 minutes
Outing Distance: Less than 3/4 mile
Reminders: Goat Cave Nature Preserve does not have water fountains or restroom facilities. The trail is not particularly stroller-friendly and the dash across Deer Lane certainly is not. This outing is probably better for older children who are able to have a realistic expectation of what the “caves” will really be like. Austin Explorer described Goat Cave Nature Preserve in this article.

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We wanted to take advantage of this afternoon’s “cool” weather (only 90 degrees!), so we headed to Mount Bonnell and Mayfield Park, historic and beautiful public parks located off of 35th Street in West Austin.

Mount Bonnell provides stunning views of Lake Austin, the 360 bridge, and downtown. It is located at 3851 Mount Bonnell Drive, where you will find street parking. Mount Bonnell is a true Austin landmark. This much-beloved spot has won dozens of “Best of Austin” awards from the Austin Chronicle. Interestingly, there is dissension about who the scenic location is named after: George W. Bonnell or First Lt. Joseph Bonnell. For now, the historical marker still recognizes George W. Bonnell.

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The park is officially known as Covert Park at Mount Bonnell, thanks to the generous donation of the summit of Mt. Bonnell to the City of Austin by the Covert Family in the 1930s.

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My kids practically raced up the stairs! They could not wait to get to the top.

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As you can see, the main viewing area has stonework you can sit on as a well as a fence for safety.

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Here is the amazing view of the 360 bridge.

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We went over to a lonely little picnic table. Just as I was wondering why this particular spot without any shade had been singled out for picnics, I looked east and saw this view.

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The kids followed a trail down the hill and we easily found our way back up.

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We went to the northern side of the park where, as you can see, there is no more wrought iron fence! Make sure your kids understand that the bluff is dangerous and that they should be cautious.

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This section of the trail had a small rope fencing off the bluff but you can see how close the edge is.

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After surviving our “walk on the edge,” the boys had fun hopping along these big rocks.

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We then drove less than five minutes to Mayfield Park (3505 West 35th Street), where you will find an enchanted place populated by peacocks and surrounded by beautiful gardens.

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My sons were intrigued from the moment we parked the car. They couldn’t wait to go explore the grounds.

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The property was originally purchased by Allison Mayfield in 1909 as a summer and weekend retreat. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, Mayfield Park was donated to the City of Austin in 1971 by Mary Mayfield Gutsch. The park includes this historic cottage, gardens, lily ponds, and a 21-acre nature preserve. (We did try to go in the cottage, but all of the doors were locked.)

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There were many beautiful peacocks on the Mayfield Park grounds, which is a popular spot for weddings and outdoor photography. Amazingly, these peacocks are descended from peacocks given as a gift to the Mayfield-Gutsch family in 1935!

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My youngest son had hopes of finding a frog in the lily ponds but he didn’t have any luck.

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We had many creative ideas about what this curious stone building might be but we did not guess “pigeon cote.”

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I couldn’t pass up an opportunity to photograph this beautiful water lily!

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After we thoroughly investigated the gardens and lily ponds, we headed to the nature preserve’s trails.

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While there were several trail markers, we were not successful in figuring out our location on the trails so we just wandered around. Because the nature preserve is only 21 acres, we did not get lost. It was very quiet and relaxing.

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This creek must be amazing when the water is flowing! We are already planning to return after we get some rain.

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This bluff area was very beautiful. My 6-year-old son really liked this tree growing out of a rock.

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As we got ready to leave, we saw this chimney swift tower, a nesting and roosting site for chimney swift birds. What will they think of next?

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THE RUNDOWN:
Austin Active Kids Opinion: A great “duet” of fun outdoor activities!
Outing Time: About 1.5 hours to visit both Mount Bonnell and Mayfield Park.
Reminders: If you have children under age 5, you might want to have at least one other adult with you to help you monitor the kids at Mt. Bonnell due to the high bluff. Also, Mt. Bonnell is not stroller-friendly so the only way to get up that hill is leg power. Mayfield Park is a much easier outing for young children, although the trails in the nature preserve are a little rough and might have some spots that are tough for a stroller. Both Mt. Bonnell and Mayfield Park had quite a few visitors on the Saturday afternoon we were there. It was certainly not overcrowded but you will encounter plenty of other people. There are no restroom facilities at Mt. Bonnell and Mayfield Park has a port-o-potty.
This article in the Handbook of Texas Online has an interesting historical sketch of Mount Bonnell. Our friends at Free Fun in Austin have visited Mt. Bonnell, too.