The Texas landscape subtly shifted as we drove east from Guadalupe Mountains National Park, from the open desert into the lusher Hill Country. I hadn’t really been focusing on our overnight in the Hill Country or the following stretch in Austin, because I would be gone for four days of our Texas time to return only to tag out with Flight so he could go on a trip.
After our departure from GMNP, we stayed in Pedernales Falls State Park for just one night. We explored the local Pedernales River before grabbing one of our only dinners all together at The Salt Lick. I was happy to stay dry, maybe dipping my toes in the river, while the rest of the family went all in. Almost literally.
Flight and Keeper found the perfect rock from which to experience the newly popular spa treatment of having fish eat dead skin from their feet. I was able to try this out while we were in Cabo just after New Year’s and, frankly, it weirded me out.
I did okay with the experience until the wee fish swam in between my toes and then I had to resist the urge to yank my feet out of the buffet line.
Flight and Keeper almost giggled in response to that same sensation with their feet dangling in the river. I shook off the willies as I remembered that feeling as it most certainly exceeded my comfort level. At least they weren’t paying to be weirded out…
After a relaxing afternoon spent by the river, we packed up and returned to the campsite to change out of swimsuits before grabbing our first Texas BBQ. This well-worn menu captures The Salt Lick’s uncomplicated essence.
Two things this menu doesn’t mention: they were out of bison (bummer) and you have to specify what variety of BBQ you’d prefer from burnt, lean, and moist. We ordered some of each among Keeper, Flight, and me, and I preferred the burnt offerings.
The moist was too much and the lean simply wasn’t enough. Just what quality I’m describing, I’m sure I don’t know. Nor do I speak the technical jargon, but I preferred the crispy burnt morsels the best.
The next morning, the family ran me over to the Austin airport and I flew back to DC for my Navy drill weekend. My drill weekend last fall had most certainly thrown me for a loop and I was curious to see if I would have a similar visceral reaction to being back in the house. I knew I wouldn’t be there too much longer than the hours I would be sleeping, and made the opportunity to see family and a friend or two during my few unscheduled waking hours.
Fortunately my time in Maryland wasn’t nearly as traumatic as the last go around and I think that can mostly be attributed to our collective understanding that we would not be returning to resume our lives there. I was able to collect a few wayward items forgotten in our hasty departure and return outgrown clothes, completed books, and other superfluous items.
Drill weekend passed uneventfully, although I had a general pit in my stomach while away from my family. I attribute my unease to missing three sizable appendages. I have easily become accustomed to being around my kids 24/7 and felt their absence most acutely. I know that despite sometimes longing for some alone time I will look back on our travels as a sweet spot in our growth as a family.
While I was in Maryland, I made it a point to visit with my Academy roommate and her family. Lunch with her was one of the appointments I had to cancel to depart our house earlier than anticipated as we redeployed to Davista. Their teenage son is a budding chef and I got to watch him make Phad Thai for our dinner, which was exceptional. I also popped over to visit our cousins and our Aunt who was in town visiting them.
My last day in Maryland was actually pretty exciting as I got to cross something off my bucket list when I climbed the Naval Academy Chapel Dome.
The climb mostly involved crawling though the bowels of the magnificent Chapel dome, which is really a dome within a dome and at one point I felt as though I was scaling the interior of a chimney.
Intently ignoring the odd ways I contorted myself along the trek, I was rewarded with a most spectacular view at the top.
I was thrilled to have made the climb with a dear friend from my Academy teaching days.
I popped into the Midshipman Store before leaving the Yard and ran into a friend and classmate from back in the day.
Her husband had just taken orders to teach at the Academy and their son is getting ready to graduate next month before going to nuclear power school to become a submariner. As our oldest is in 6thgrade, contemplating his college graduation is pretty mind blowing. I dashed off to one more meeting at the Acupuncture Clinic at Joint Base Andrews (they have one – how cool is that?!) before sprinting to catch my flight.
And then I was back home with my family. The unease I felt during my absence instantly melted away once I rejoined them outside the Austin airport. As Flight would need to commute to Boston the next night, we made plans to enjoy our one full day in Austin en famille.
The day started with road-schooling activities while camping outside of Franklin BBQ.
In the middle of our schooling, a kind fellow from Franklin’s came down the line asking for general orders to ensure there would be enough of the BBQ to go around. Although I do not claim to be a BBQ aficionado, Franklin’s was, hands-down, the very best I have ever eaten. It was crazy good. Perfectly tender, flavorful, every variety (moist, lean, and crispy) was scrumptious.
Happily sated stuffed, we drove to Barton Springs to while away the afternoon perched on the banks of a local swimming hole.
One of the things I enjoy most about our travels is seeing how locals take advantage of where they live to recreate. Arriving in the early afternoon, Barton Springs was populated with a wide range of bathers. The spring fed lagoon was awash with a handful of serious swimmers, identifiable by their sleek caps and goggles, mechanically churning out lap after lap in the elongated pool.
Throughout the pool there were also plenty of waders, like our family, whose intent was far less measured and simply delighted in the refreshing cold water.
Keeper even dove off the diving board a few times. That’s my son!
All said, it was a perfect Austin day, sadly without any bats. Because we had to run Flight to the airport to commute to Boston, we saved witnessing the bat exodus from the Congress St. Bridge for another night. Sorry, Flight, no bats for you.
Our first day in Texas sans Flight was actually spent in San Antonio (and you can read all about that experience here), which meant we didn’t see the bats until our last night in Austin. Everyone talks about seeing the bats, so we put that on our Austin to do list. While I was in Maryland, Flight moved campgrounds twice, the first of which I never even laid eyes on. The second was in McKinney Falls State Park, which was a quiet place tucked into the south side of Austin, very near the airport. We spent our morning schooling at the campsite and then made the pilgrimage to the Congress Street Bridge in time to see the bats take flight.
The BatCon (that’s actually a thing) website suggested viewing times between 7 and 8:15 pm. Because I didn’t want to miss the opportunity, we showed just before 7 and claimed a spot on the south side of the river with our well-traveled blanket. Since I didn’t know how long the bats would take to launch or when they might begin, I was happy to let the kids pass the time playing on their respective screens while I retreated to reading a book.
As much as I prefer to feel the crisp pages of books as I read, I have to say it is very convenient, especially given our space and weight limitations, to be able to carry my current reading library on my iPhone.
The bats didn’t make their appearance until 8:13 pm. They emerged in a steady stream of spastic wings, incredibly without a single midair collision. I was reminded of a video I had seen of an enormous flock of starlings turning about in the sky. At least they could see. !!! That the 1.5 million fruit bats were able to accomplish the same close formations without the benefit of visual cuing was incredible to witness. A perfect manifestation of swarm theory and, clearly, WoodSprite thought the same.
Kidding! She did watch the bats take flight. I wasn’t able to get a good picture of their departure, but found this spectacular shot online.
Keeper and Firebolt both made the observation that it was not unlike waiting for the total eclipse to happen, maybe a little uninspiring during the anticipation of the experience, but, once manifested, well worth our time. Similarly, I wasn’t sure what to expect with our time in the Lone Star State, but found that, in retrospect, it heartily exceeded our (my?) expectations.