Scavenger Hunt at Zilker Botanical Garden

Zilker Botanical Garden is a wonderful place to visit in the summer.  The cool, relaxing ponds in the Oriental Garden melt away the heat and the overhanging foliage blocks the hot summer sun.  My boys love following the stepping stones through the water, the dark cool tunnels, small bridges and the splashing fountains.

We love the pre-historic garden, with its
Jurassic plants.  I have long known that dinosaurs ate ginkos, but never exactly knew what one was until today!  And the first glimpse of the Ornithomimus makes us smile every time!

So, when we saw that one of the challenges in the Texas Nature Challenge was a Scavenger Hunt at the Botanical Gardens, we added it to our list.  We counted the number of different color roses in the Rose Garden; we listed the insects we saw flying in the butterfly garden and we identified native Texas plants.

The boys sat for about 15 minutes to watch a snake crawl through the ferns with the sound of a the stream bubbling in the background. 

It was a fun way to spend a few hours of a hot Texas afternoon.

Playland Skate Center

What better way to beat the heat than to spend the hot afternoon inside a roller rink?  I could only find one rink in Austin that was open during the day - Playland Skate Center

We are not avid roller skaters, in fact, this was D's first time, and K's second. So the boys spent a lot of time figuring out how to traverse the rink (and a lot of time on their bottoms).

But they had a good time, and improved dramatically by the time we left. And they are all ready to try it again some time.

Butler Park

Butler Park is located right behind the Dougherty Arts Center and next to the Palmer Events Center.  The highlight of this park is the large oval fountains that splash in differing heights and duration.
Next to the fountains is a 35 foot high observation hill overlooking Lady Bird Lake. This is a great place to grab a good snapshot of our beautiful city… or roll down!

Also on site is a small pond with turtles and fish. Take a break from the fountains to enjoy this area. There is a small concrete pad that is perfect for the kids to wade into and catch minnows!

Our visitThis is another family favorite of the last few years, and one we might visit again before summer's end.  This time, we went during the day, but I'd like to revisit it toward the end of summer so we can check out the evening laser show.

The boys always love splashing in the fountains, with brief breaks to roll down the nearby hill.  And it is amazing how cooling the spray can be on a very hot day.  My favorite part of this whole park is the skyline of Austin in the background.  Although I know that we live in a big city, I am usually outside of the city, or downtown.  Rarely do I get the close-up skyline view, and I really love it!

Tips and Thoughts
Parents with older children will have a better time if they go in the afternoon.  The morning seems devoted to toddlers and infants, who move at a much slower speed.  In the afternoon, the age and speed picks up
Bring some buckets and balls for the fountain area
Bring a blankets of camp chair to sit in the limited shade. There are no benches on site

The diving board at Garrison Park

I am assuming it is due to all of the liability issues, but have you noticed how few pools these days have a diving board?  In fact, the only other place that we have been with a diving board was at Barton Springs (where the water is so cold, only the truly brave venture out the board!)  So, when Dave told me he passed a pool in South Austin with a diving board, I quickly added it to my list of top 50. 

We went there today with some friends, and it was awesome.  The boys dove off the board, swam to the ladder, climbed out and did it all over again... for three hours straight!  They did cannon balls, can openers, belly flops, karate chops and more.  I had an amazing time just watching - though I couldn't resist taking a few dives myself :o)  In addition, this pool is olympic sized, so I got in a couple of long laps while they swam.  Loads of fun!

Country Roads - Geocaching in Dale, Texas... Pokemon Style

One of our family's newest interests has been geocaching, where objects are hidden at secret locations to be found using GPS coordinates posted on the internet.   So for Father's Day we decided to try a collection of geocaches in a nearby town.  But better than just any collection, this was a collection of Pokèmon caches - one for each of the Pokèmon types --and with D and K, it just doesn't get much cooler than Pokèmon!
This unique string of seventeen caches is located in a 10 mile ring around the small Texas town of Dale.  Dale is about ten minutes east of Lockhart, and 90 miles south of nowhere ;o) 

This turned out to be one of the most picturesque and enjoyable afternoons that we have spent in awhile.  We searched through cemeteries with graves dating back to 1878, drove by gorgeous ranches with painted horses, found an old trestle bridge and even a derelict outhouse.
Probably the most interesting stop was located outside an old abandoned church.  Next to the church was a small one room, non-air-conditioned building, with a sole car parked outside.  Through the open door, we heard the loud rant of a fire and brimstone preacher (it was 11:30 on a Sunday morning).  As we approached, we found the one room was full of people -- they must have walked, though no houses were located any short distance away!  And as we tiptoed past, the powerful voice inside stopped from his sermon for a brief moment to ask, "Would y'all care to join us?"  Quietly we thanked him, but continued on with our cache.

The conclusion of the string of caches was a "puzzle cache" identified through clues from the previous 17 caches.  Each cache contained a small bit of information, either a longitude or latitude number or a clue about the location.  All of the information led us to Dale's one school, which we assumed held grades first through twelfth, as the sign did not designate any grade levels.  And there, in the back, we found our final cache, the Dale Poke-Gym. 

The total collection took us around 3 hours, and we finished just in time for a late lunch.  We piled back into the car and headed the fifteen miles or so west to get some barbecue from Lockhart.  Apparently, there are three well know barbecue joints in Lockhart: Smitty's, Blacks and Kreuz's.  Well, when we pulled up to Kreuz's, we found it was closed on Sundays, so we turned around and went to Smittys.  As soon as we walked up, the owners placed a closed sign on the door.  Apparently they were running out of barbecue. 

They did allow us to be the last in a long, hot line of waiting diners, but they couldn't promise there would be any barbecue left by the time we got to the front.  With two hungry and increasingly impatient children, we chose not to wait, but instead ran by Black's only to find the line just as long there. 

Without bothering to get out, we decided to take our two hungry children to a quick lunch from Whataburger.  The cashier at Whattaburger gave us a huge hint.  He told us we could bypass the entire line at Black's if we were purchasing take-out.  With that bit of information, we returned to Black's and bought a couple pounds of barbecue to enjoy for our Father's Day dinner later that night.

All in all, this was an incredibly fun way to spend a Father's Day!  Dave was just glowing; in the end, he scored nineteen caches and three pounds of barbecue.  And it just doesn't get much better than that!

Cathedral of Junk

This has been on my list of to-dos for quite a number of years.  We were all geared up to go last year, but it turns out the city closed it down for seven months to fix some easement issues (read: angry neighbors).  The Cathedral was recently re-opened, slightly smaller in size.

Not sure quite what to expect, I called the phone number provided to set up an appointment to visit.  From talking to Vincent on the phone, we realized that this was his personal house, but he was more than willing to schedule a time for us to stop by and check it out.  He receives over 10,000 visitors a year.

We pulled up into the neighborhood - just a typical older Austin neighborhood located in South Austin.  Normal, that is, until you hit 4422 Lareina.  As I was parking the car, the jaws on all the boys just dropped.  The house is bright purple and yellow, the front yard filled with an assortment of gardens and looming over the back of the house is literally... a cathedral of junk.

You really have to go see this thing, it is amazing.  Everywhere you look, there are bits and pieces of memorabilia, all piled into a three-story structure.  There were Trolls and Barbies, a prosthetic leg, roller blades, typewriters,  telephones, every kind of computer hardware that ever existed, bicycles, cd roms, toilets (at least two), a drum set, and surfboards.

With the owner's permission, the boys very merrily climbed their way to the top.  Dave followed closely behind.  With my extreme aversion to heights, it took everything I had to make it up there.  The structure has three floors, and the owner had an engineer in there recently (required by the city) to ensure the safety of the structure.  He told me he had pulled 400 gallons of water up to the second floor, to prove its stability.  So, I climbed up the rope ladder provided to the second floor, and then climbed the home-made ladder to the top.  I'm afraid I didn't have the guts to cross the diving board to the balcony, but the boys did with glee.

This is, by far, the oddest summer adventure we have had.  But well worth the trip!

Gone Fishin' - Southeast Metropolitan Park

As I have always said: I love fishing.  It's the catching I don't like.  But K has been begging me to take him fishing and after four cub scout day camps, I felt ready to take it on myself. But, I must admit, there was with some fear in my heart as we headed out early one morning last week. 

I did some online searches, and found that the Southeast Metropolitan park seemed like it might be the place to go.  It has two ponds stocked with fish accessible via a short trail. 

Early that morning K and I headed into Wal-Mart, purchased a cup of worms
and a fishing license for me and then headed just east of the airport.

We found the primitive trail head at Southeast Metro Park fairly easily, parked the car, and started down the trail.  It was about a fifteen minute hike down the trail to the first pond, including a water break halfway through on a conveniently placed bench.  When we got to the first pond, we prepared our rods, and confidantly cast our worms.  Immediately our bait was taken.  We re-hooked another piece of worm, and cast again.  Gone.  Lather, rinse and repeat.  I still am not sure how those darned little fish kept taking our bait, without biting the hook, but they did so for over an hour. 

Somewhat frustrated, we headed two minutes down the trail to the next fishing pond.  This one had a covered pier.  Again, there were lots of small fish right under the pier that loved stealing our bait, but nothing hooked.  We still had a great time, enjoyed the morning breeze, the gorgeous scenery and had the pond almost completely to ourselves (just a few joggers passed us by). 

But after a fruitless hour, we somewhat dejectedly decided to call it quits and head home.  As a last ditch hope, I convinced K to try one last time at the first pond.  We threw our lines into the water and within two minutes, I had hooked our first fish.  Then K caught one.  Then K caught another.  Then I caught one...  All in all, we caught 16 fish in less than an hour.  They were all bluegills and ranged in size from teeny tiny to pretty hefty (for a bluegill).  It was very exciting and fun!

So, from my first trip fishing, here is what I learned:  I brought along gardening/work gloves, and these made de-hooking the fish a lot easier.  I would strongly recommend bringing a pair!  We used both worms and corn as bait, but the fish seemed to prefer the worms.  We did learn to only use a small piece of worm; the bigger the piece, the more likely it was to just get stolen.  We also learned to thread our worms up the hook (with the hook through the mouth) rather than piercing the worm.  This seemed to prevent the fish from stealing our bait. 

Other things that were helpful:  hat and sunscreen, water bottles, extra hooks and scissors (just in case we had an irretrievable snag) and of course a camera to capture our captures.  Things I wish we had brought:  wipes to clean our hands.  (Yuck!)  Fortunately, there was a restroom located conveniently near the head of the trail that we used to rinse off afterwards. 

Things we might not have needed:  the huge assortment of fake lures we had in our tacklebox, the corn (worms were plenty) and one of the rangers indicated that I might not have needed to purchase a fishing license.  He said since the pond was catch and release, he didn't think it was necessary.  He said I could call Travis Country Parks and Rec to verify this.

Overall, this was a great summer adventure!!
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