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Georgetown’s beautiful San Gabriel River provides a lovely setting for outdoor fun, especially at San Gabriel Park and Blue Hole Park. We started out at the Randy Morrow Trail in San Gabriel Park. (We parked at the intersection of Stadium Drive and Lower Park Drive.) The trail is named after Georgetown’s first Director of Parks and Recreation, who had the vision to build a hike-and-bike trail along the San Gabriel River to connect parks and neighborhoods.

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Here’s a map of the trail around San Gabriel Park and its connections to other nearby parks. The park has a unique location: where the South and North Forks of the San Gabriel River meet.

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We couldn’t wait to walk around San Gabriel Park, which was was designated a Lone Star Legacy Park by the Texas Recreation & Parks Society in March 2012.

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We strolled along the riverbank.

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While swimming is not prohibited, there aren’t any lifeguards and it’s “swim at your own risk.”

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The ducks and geese were very friendly.

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We walked about 3/4 mile along the river. The boys just had to cross this dam.

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I walked on it, too. Here’s a picture from the middle of the river!

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Next, we went below the dam.

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My 11-year-old son found a tiny frog. (He is a strong believer in catch-and-release.)

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We were now near the eastern boundary of the park, close to the College Street bridge.

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It appears the old bridge I was reclining upon while the kids played was built by the Works Progress Administration in 1935-37. It’s no longer open to vehicles but is used by bikes and pedestrians as part of the City’s trail system.

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We began our return trip and the kids stopped to take advantage of some of the fun playground equipment. They thought this purple dinosaur–which seats two–was hilariously entertaining.

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This is another small playscape along the trail.

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My 11-year-old son liked walking perilously close to the edge.

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The boys’ generous cracker-throwing attracted an onslaught of ducks and geese.

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We escaped from our feathered friends and drove south toward Blue Hole Park, a lagoon on the South Fork of the San Gabriel River. This park is located just off of N. Austin Avenue, with the entrance at W. Second Street and Rock Street. It’s possible to hike from San Gabriel Park to Blue Hole Park. See route on this map.

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It was quite a sight!

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Like San Gabriel Park, there aren’t lifeguards and “swim at your own risk” signs are posted.

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The wading-depth water was too inviting to pass up!

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It was getting dark so we took one final look around.

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We hope we can make a return trip to Blue Hole Park and stay a lot longer!

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THE RUNDOWN:
Austin Active Kids Opinion: Your kids will love playing and exploring in these two beautiful parks along Georgetown’s San Gabriel River.
Outing Time: About 2.5 hours at San Gabriel Park and 45 minutes at Blue Hole Park. We went on a rainy day, with temperatures ranging from 75 – 80 degrees. In hotter weather, you might not be able to spend as much time.
Outing Distance: About 1.5 miles to walk along the river at San Gabriel Park (3/4 mile one way)
Reminders: San Gabriel Park has bathrooms, picnic tables, water fountains, BBQ grills, playground equipment, and more. At Blue Hole Park, you will have access to bathrooms, a water fountain, and picnic tables but no sinks. To make the most of your trip, pack towels, a change of clothes, sunscreen, water, other drinks, hand wipes, and snacks (and possibly snacks for the ducks and geese at San Gabriel Park). If you want to stay in Georgetown all day, consider visiting some other parks or their historic downtown square.

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Memorial Park and Chisholm Trail Crossing in Round Rock provide a great opportunity to explore Brushy Creek while learning about the area’s history.

We started out at Memorial Park (600 Lee Street).

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The park was pretty peaceful around 5 p.m. on a weekday.

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We headed east on the sidewalk and walked under IH-35. This bridge over Brushy Creek looked pretty inviting.

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This is the view to the east as we crossed the bridge.

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Brushy Creek must be quite a sight when it’s fully flowing. As you can see, the water level is low due to the ongoing drought.

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The exposed creek bed made for fruitful fossil hunting.

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My 7-year-old son was over the moon about finding this sea urchin fossil. It was upside down when he picked it up…what a fun discovery!

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We saw The Round Rock, the City of Round Rock’s namesake, which is located just east of Chisholm Trail Road. The Round Rock indicated what was an important low-water crossing during pioneer times. In fact, it was one of the most famous markers along the Chisholm Trail, which stretched from South Texas to Kansas.

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This is a pretty famous rock! You can read more about it here on the Williamson County Historical Commission web site.

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We crossed Chisholm Trail Road to take a closer look at this small waterfall over an old dam. Interestingly, an 8- to 9-ft deep section of the creek just upstream of this dam was the city’s primary swimming hole, complete with bathing beach and bath house beginning in the early 1900s. The City of Round Rock plans to revitalize the area as part of Round Rock’s Heritage Trail Project.

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We walked south toward Chisholm Trail Crossing (500 Chisholm Trail Road). Greeting us was the “Bell Steer” sculpture. According to the sign nearby, a “bell steer” could help lead cattle herds and cowboys would keep track of this steer by tying a bell around its neck.

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Also at Chisholm Trail Crossing you will find the “Pioneer Woman” sculpture. It represents Hattie Cluck, who was the first woman to travel the Chisholm Trail. Believe it or not, she was pregnant during the journey! The “Pioneer Boy” is Hattie Cluck’s son Emmett, who was 5 years old in the spring of 1871, when the expedition occurred. You can read more about the bronze sculptures at Chisholm Trail Crossing here.

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As a mom of three boys, I was really amused by the toad in young Emmett’s hand. I guess some things never change!

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On our way back to Memorial Park, both my 7 year old son…..

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….and my 11-year-old son were determined to find more fossils.

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They were pretty successful!

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We could hardly believe that these grooves in the limestone were really from years and years of wagon wheel traffic. Pretty amazing!

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The boys still had some energy left to race to the bridge.

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We had worked up an appetite so we stopped in Round Rock’s Downtown Historic District for dinner. We enjoyed walking around and reading the informative signs on each building describing their history. We stopped to take a break at the Main Street Plaza before heading home. We did not take the opportunity to cool off in the Main Street Plaza Fountain since we forgot to bring towels. You might want to plan for that if you go!

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THE RUNDOWN:
Austin Active Kids Opinion: Brushy Creek was a fossil-finders dream and the historical insights were an added bonus.
Outing Time: 1.5 hours to cover both parks. Add another 30 minutes or more to that if you visit the Historic District and the Main Street Plaza Fountain.
Outing Distance: Just over a mile covered to walk from Memorial Park to Chisholm Trail Crossing and back.
Reminders: It’s important for visitors to know that neither park has restrooms or water fountains. There’s a port-o-potty at Memorial Park near the softball field. Bring snacks and drinks. If you plan to stop at the Main Street Plaza Fountain, pack a change of clothes and some towels.
While we were near the waterfall and dam, we saw a family swimming in Brushy Creek. The City of Round Rock does not prohibit swimming in Brushy Creek but it’s not encouraged. Use caution and your best judgment in any natural body of water. Remember to always avoid stagnant water.
If you are not familiar with the area, plan your route ahead of time. Memorial Park straddles IH-35 and the turns are easy to miss. This map shows our walk from Memorial Park to Chisholm Trail Crossing. We returned the same way.

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For over 50 years, the Austin Nature and Science Center has educated Central Texas youth about the natural world around us. This wonderful facility–a favorite of ours–is located on the western edge of Zilker Park, at 301 Nature Center Drive. The Austin Nature and Science Center’s parking lot is located off of Stratford Drive, under Loop 1 (Mopac).

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You are welcomed in style by this beautiful arch, Arboreal Passage by Colin McIntyre, which was part of the City of Austin’s Art in Public Places Program.

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A trail takes you to the top of a hill, where you will find the Ashford McGill House, which was built in the 1870s and is now the home of Nature’s Way Preschool.

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We were excited to be back at the Austin Nature and Science Center!

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There used to be a bee hive near the front door to the Austin Nature and Science Center, but it looks like the bees have “moved out!”

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The first stop was the Naturalist Workshop: our kind of place!

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This handy board tells you what creatures have recently been spotted at the Austin Nature and Science Center.

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My sons’ favorite part of the Naturalist Workshop is the Trade Counter. You can bring special items like rocks, seashells, or seed pods to trade in for points that you can then use to select a new treasure. The Trade Counter is open 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Wednesday – Friday and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday.

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We went outside to see the wildlife exhibits.

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Most of these animals have been orphaned or injured and could not survive in the wild. This opossum was very cute but I couldn’t get a good photo of him through the fence.

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We were amazed by the size of this raven!

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The bobcat’s name is Conan. He is an ex-pet who arrived at Austin Nature and Science Center in 2003.

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The wildlife exhibit has helpful signs to teach you about each animal.

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We were sad to see that Martha the coyote had passed away. We always stopped by to see her when we visited in the past.

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The next area is my favorite: Birds of Prey! This exhibit features owls, hawks, and vultures.

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My 10-year-old son felt like the Great Horned Owl was watching him.

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At the back of the Birds of Prey area, you can access the Zilker Nature Preserve and Trails.

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The trails have been improved and expanded since we last visited.

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Time to explore!

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We crossed the dry creek bed (Medicine Wheel Creek according to the map above).

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We weren’t sure what Lookout Point was but it sounded fun. Up we went!

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The climb to Lookout Point was pretty steep! It began as a trail and then was rocky toward the top.

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This is how we felt when we made it to the top: exhausted.

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The view was worth it!

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After enjoying the view from Lookout Point, we returned to the trail entrance since the gate to the nature trails closes at 4:30 p.m. We definitely want to come back again and spend more time on the trails! Next, we checked out the Small Wonders exhibit, which includes all sorts of tiny creatures.

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Don’t miss the realistic bat sculptures by sculptor Chris Levack on your way in!

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Inside the Small Wonders exhibit, you will find birds, snakes, fish, and more! This Gulf Coast Toad was pretty serene.

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We went back outside to look at the pond.

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After that, we stopped at the Dino Pit, an outdoor paleontology exhibit.

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The shovels were irresistible and so was the sand!

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My youngest son had a big find: this Hot Wheel!

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After a lot of digging excitement, we passed this beautiful stream and relaxed for a few moments before we went home.

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THE RUNDOWN:
Austin Active Kids Opinion: A good mix of indoor and outdoor fun for nature lovers of all ages!
Outing Time: 1.5 hours
Outing Distance: On the nature trail, we probably walked about 3/4 mile (total) to Lookout Point and back.
Reminders: The Austin Nature and Science Center is open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday – Saturday and 12 to 5 p.m. Sundays. This facility has no admission charge but donations are appreciated. The trail to Lookout Point is very steep and could be treacherous for very young children or those new to hiking. Use caution.

While Auditorium Shores is usually in the news as a concert or festival venue, it’s also a great spot for a family outing with a fantastic view of downtown.

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There is a parking lot entrance for Auditorium Shores at 920 West Riverside Drive. If that lot is full, head west on Riverside Drive and look for street parking or a couple of small parking lots.

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The entire Auditorium Shores area will be getting a facelift beginning in Fall 2013 and the Fannie Davis Gazebo has already been refurbished.

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Under the South 1st Street Bridge (also called the Drake Bridge) is a beach-like area where children can explore among the rocks, shells, and knobby cypress knees (cypress tree roots seen to the right of the rock below).

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The kids enjoyed wandering around the lakeshore.

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Keep in mind that Auditorium Shores is a leash-free zone for dogs. You will see lots of happy canines playing, running, and jumping into the lake to fetch balls. Our dog had a great time!

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This little pier went out over the lake. It was like a magnet for the boys!

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We walked west along the trail to the Stevie Ray Vaughan statue.

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There was a lot to look at along the shore!

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We walked less than 1/4 mile on the trail and crossed Riverside Drive to get to Butler Park. The kids immediately ran straight up Doug Sahm Hill without bothering to follow the leisurely spiraling sidewalk.

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At the top of the hill, you will find this stunning view as well as benches so you can rest and take it all in.

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There also is a huge map of Texas.

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Looking southeast from the top of the hill, you can see Palmer Events Center and this field ready for play time.

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To the west is a pond, where you can stroll along and look for fish or turtles.

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Directly south of the hill is the Liz Carpenter Fountain, with its jets of water in full force.

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It looks like the appeal of the fountain was impossible to resist despite the December chill in the air!

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THE RUNDOWN:
Austin Active Kids Opinion: Unbeatable fun in the city!
Outing Time: 2 hours
Outing Distance: Less than one mile
Reminders: Auditorium Shores has restrooms and a water fountain. Brings snacks, drinks, and a picnic blanket if you plan to stay a while. If you want to check the Liz Carpenter Fountain schedule ahead of time (so you can pack towels and an extra change of clothes), call Austin 3-1-1.
In case your kids still have some energy left, you can take them on a short 1.5 mile loop on the Hike and Bike Trail. From Auditorium Shores, head west on the trail past the Stevie Ray Vaughan statue. Take the Pfluger Pedestrian Bridge over the lake and go right once you’re on the north side of the lake. The South 1st Street Bridge will then take you back to Auditorium Shores. If you want to try out some other routes, check out these maps for ideas.
You might want to look up a calendar like this one before you head to Auditorium Shores to make sure there are no major events booked the day you plan to go.

Today we enjoyed one of our favorite outings: Mountain View Park (9000 Middlebie Drive) and Spicewood Valley Trail (accessed across Callanish Park Drive from the park).

Mountain View Park has a fun playscape as well as a pavilion, baseball field, and tennis courts.

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We followed this sidewalk toward Callanish Park Drive.

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We crossed the street and found the trail entrance, which looks like this:

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As soon as you get closer, you can see the trail heading down.

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The trail is easy to follow and has rails to help you down the steeper sections.

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As you can see, this part of the trail is not stroller-friendly.

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Once you get to the bottom of the steep section, the trail is relatively flat.

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We turned right at this distinctive rock.

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It looks like someone had a cool treehouse here!

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We had not visited the trail since Summer 2011, during the historic drought. What a difference a year makes! The boys and I really enjoyed the beautiful landscape.

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We went about 1/4 mile and stopped for a while at our favorite spot, where an old dam creates a small waterfall on Bull Creek.

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This is one of my 10-year-old son’s favorite fossil hunting spots. He said that all of the leaves on the ground made it harder to find fossils.

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The waterfall scene is very relaxing. It’s also a good area for the age-old kids’ past-time of throwing rocks into the water!

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If you are patient and observant, you will encounter many interesting things at Spicewood Valley Trail.

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Almost right away, the boys found this crawdad in the water.

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Next, they discovered a well-camouflaged frog.

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The boys were intrigued by this spooky little skull in the creek.

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Our dog Eva Green gives Spicewood Valley Trail “two paws up!”

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After spending some quality time exploring around the old dam, we continued another 1/4 mile along the trail and then turned around. As we walked, our dog spooked a lizard who dropped his tail when he scrambled away. Eva Green was completely fooled by the twitching dropped tail and the lizard escaped to safety under this leaf.

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The boys were amazed by this beautiful moth. If you look closely, you will see that the moth has an unusual blue and orange body under the white and black wings.

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Save some energy to get back up the ridge on the return trip!

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THE RUNDOWN:
Austin Active Kids Opinion: One of our favorite outings….it feels like an adventure and there are so many fun things to discover!
Outing Time: About 1.5 hours
Outing Distance: 1.5 miles
Reminders: Mountain View Park has restrooms, a water fountain, picnic tables, and a fun play scape. Bring mosquito spray, water bottles and a trail map if you plan to hike Spicewood Valley Trail. Please note that due to concerns (or lack of information) about the water quality, we do not go swimming in Bull Creek. Unlike our other visits, today we did not see any other people enjoying the trail.
Check out this Austin Explorer article for all of the details about Spicewood Valley Trail. If you want to experience a unique drive when you leave, take Spicewood Springs Road toward Loop 360. You will cross Bull Creek seven times and see lots of pretty sights. You can read about the history of this area in this Community Impact News article and view this Texas historical marker near the intersection of Spicewood Springs Road and Loop 360.

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.

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.