Solar Car Racing at Circuit of the Americas

Formula Sun Grand Prix

What: See solar cars compete head-to-head on the race track!
Where: 9201 Circuit of the Americas Blvd. Austin, TX, 78617
When: July 19th, 9 AM - 5 PM
Who can come: You! This event is free and open to the public.

23 universities are participating, 22 of which are using solar panels made by SunPower, one of the main event sponsors. Students built and will race the cars.

Join us at Circuit of the Americas and keep an eye out for the SunPower table, where Circular Energy will be sharing information about solar and signing up homeowners for solar assessments with a design consultant.


Our visit in 2013!!

A really fun event is occurring at the Circuit of the Americas tomorrow: the Formula Sun Grand Prix 2013 and the best part is that public entry is free!

The race - or rayce - as they call it ;o) consists of three 8 hour racing days. The objective is for the teams to complete the most laps within that time period.  The cars charge up their batteries the afternoon before and then run the entire next day on the batteries, as well as any other solar energy they soak up while racing.

Universities and colleges have sponsored teams for the last year to completely design, build and test their prototypes.  And it all culminates in these three days of racing.

According to the webpage, the last two days have been open for public viewing but we had to show the webpage to the security guard and have him talk to his manager before we were allowed in!  They were all very friendly and nice, but we were obviously the first spectators to come!

The cars take around 5 minutes to traverse the entire 3.4 mile track, and there are a maximum of ten cars entered into the race.

Although we went today, the big public viewing day is tomorrow from 9am - 5pm.  

There will be displays and talks about alternative energy as well as a workshop where kids can build a model solar car. 

The teams will be available to answer questions and for autographs!  These are a bunch of college kids, so they are really fun and easy to talk to!

It was really neat to see the various designs of solar cars and to cheer when the UT car went by!  

Here are some of the things we learned:

* An average solar car can run for around 120 miles on just a battery charge, and around 200 miles if it is running in the sun.  

* The maximum speed allowed for the cars is 65 mph, though most cars were going much slower.  The whole project is a balance of energy usage! 

*Teams run from around 15 persons to as large as 100, though most of these teams seemed around the 15-20 person mark.

*Yesterdays winning car completed a total of 66 laps or 224 miles!

Even if you aren't all that into cars, this is a really fun race to see.  

And a great opportunity to see the Circuit of the Americas at its lowest cost: free! 

Although we didn't make it up there, they do offer tower tours for $15 per adult, and $12.50 per child, which sounds like a lot of fun, and a great view!

Check it out!!

Natural Bridge Wildlife Ranch in San Antonio

This week, we visited Natural Bridge Wildlife Ranch just north of San Antonio and we had a fantastic time!!

The start of the tour began while waiting in line to purchase our tickets and enter the park.  Off to the left, we saw the giraffes!   The boys couldn't wait, and jumped out of the car to see them before we had even paid :o)

This May, Natural Bridge experienced a wonderful and unusual event!  Twin giraffes were born and survived.  

This is a rare occurrence, as mothers carrying twins frequently abort or one of the twins doesn't make it. In fact, this pair is the only set of twins currently living in the US and one of only two twin giraffes ever born in the US!  

They were born on May 10th, so they were just over a month and a half old. 

The  boy giraffe was clumsily cute.  At one point, he actually tripped over his long legs trying to move toward the fence!  

And watching the mama giraffe care for her young was really special!

If you get a chance to go out and see them, it is well worth the trip!

After we had parked the car and checked out the giraffes, we took a tour of the facilities.  There are some gibbon monkeys, parrots, lemurs and a variety of other animals in cages. 

But the true excitement comes during the safari drive!

I was really not sure what to expect.  

I had read reviews of visitors only seeing two animals in their whole trip, so in the first few hundred feet, I feared that would be our case.  

But almost immediately, we found all sorts of creatures roaming the prairie.  

As it was early morning, many of the animals came directly up to the car to be fed.  While the official rules state that you should not feed the animals directly from your hands, we were told that is more of a 'technicality'.  And most of the animals were very accustomed to approaching the car looking for a handout!

In the case of this ostrich, he came a little too close ;o)  That beak looked mighty sharp!

One of our favorites were the miniature donkeys.  (I'm sure they have some different and much fancier name, but that's what they looked like to us!)  In trying to reach the food, they would curl their lips back into a hilarious grin!

As it turns out, late spring or early summer is a great time to visit the ranch.  

There were all sorts of baby animals along the way. 

While the babies rarely approach the car, you can see them just slightly off the road.  

Above is a cute one we caught halfway through the trip.

After we completed the tour, we wound up back at the main barn.  

We discovered, in addition to the caged animals, a small petting zoo with many goats.  

The kids had a great time getting up close and personal with all the animals!

Tips and Thoughts

* The key to having a great time is to go *early*.  We arrived right around 10am, about an hour after they had opened.  The day was still cool, and the animals mostly unfed, so we had a great experience.  I'd bet we wouldn't have seen so many animals had we arrived much later!

* The ranch gives you one free bag of food with your purchase, and then sells additional bags for $1 each.  We purchased an additional bag for each rider, and that was dollars well invested!  There is no place to purchase food along the route, so once you run out, you're out.  So make sure you purchase enough to last the whole trip!  (And as further proof of the previous point - with seven riders, we fed a whole lot of beasts before we exited - I would bet that after noon, most animals are no longer hungry!)

*  The driving tour probably took us around an hour and a half.  We went slowly and took our time.  Generally, we only moved on when a line had formed behind us.  I'm sure we could have made it through quicker - but that's not really the point. ;o)  This didn't include time in the petting zoo, checking out the giraffes, or lunch. All told, our total visit was probably around 3 hours.

* The entrance fee includes unlimited trips around the park for the entire day.  We were tired and hot, and didn't make it around a second time, but keep in mind that it is an option!

* The ranch's main area has a cafe with a variety of fairly reasonably priced fast food.  There is also a nice covered pavilion if you choose to bring a picnic lunch.

* If you're looking to save a few dollars, there is a $2 off coupon floating around the web that is good until the end of this year.  I think it might even be available on their webpage.

Goat Cave Karst Preserve

I have heard about Goat Cave many times, but have never made it over to explore.  

Today, we were looking for an interesting geocache and this place met all the criteria - fun, not too long of a hike, different and near ice cream ;o)

The Goat Cave Karst Preserve trailhead is located along the side of Deer Lane (off of Brodie).  

There is no special parking lot, so just park on the side of the road!

There are some informational signs at the beginning of the trailhead explaining what karst is, how these caves formed, and what wildlife you might see in the area.

The hike is very short (about .15 miles) and has three points of interest.  

The first point of interest, located only steps down the path, is the Wade Sinkhole.  

For us, this was by far the most fun as exploration is allowed here!

The boys and I climbed down into the sinkhole to look around, but the dark and the huge number of daddy long legs encouraged us not to delve much deeper. 

We used flashlights to take a deep look into the sinkhole, which goes back quite a ways!  

The second point of interest is a bit further down the path - called Hideout. 

This one is only open to exploration by wildlife (and teenage boys don't count!)  

It did not appear to go back so far, but that may be because the entrance was intentionally blocked from exploration by some large rocks. 

It was still cool to look at! :o)

The namesake of this trail, Goat cave is a less than 15 minute hike from the road. 

Unfortunately, it is surrounded by a chainlink fence.  So there isn't much to see :o(

I believe the point of the fence is two fold:  first, to protect its native bat population, and second, because apparently the entrance to this cave is dangerous as it open to a 28 foot vertical drop!

In addition to the fun caves, there was still a lot to see in this small nature preserve.  We saw a red shoulder hawk roosting in the treetops, and watched a common garter snake slither its way into the Wade sinkhole.  

The trails goes through fields of wildflowers.  We were a little late in the season, so we saw more seeds than blooms, but I'm betting a month early this field was breathtaking!

If you have a short amount of time, don't feel like walking very far, or have boys that love climbing in and around dark places, this is a great place to go!

Tips and Thoughts
* The mosquitoes were pretty bad around the sinkhold, so bring some bug spray!

* Definitely bring a flashlight or two.  It is really adds to the exploration!

* No dogs are allowed on this preserve, so leave Fido at home!

* The signs indicate that there is a bat population in Goat Cave, so it might be fun to head here around dusk, to seem them emerge!

Bullock Texas State History Museum

No photos allowed in the museum, so unfortunately, this is my only one!
The Bullock Texas State History Museum is one of Austin's newest museum; entirely devoted to providing information about the formation of Texas as both a country and a state. 

This museum has three floors (focused on Land, Identity and Opportunity) with a variety of interesting displays about the native Indians, discovering oil, fight for independence and more.  My boys' favorite displays are the ones that include firearms. ;o)  There are many free movies to view throughout the museum, including one about the making of cowboy movies about Texas that we all enjoyed.

However, my favorite is the re-creation of a historic Texas 'dog run' home.  On a personal note, I have often found that the simple process of keeping my house clean and straight takes an overwhelmingly amount of time. And I wonder, how have so many people accomplished this simple feat for hundreds of years that now overwhelms me?? And every time I visit the museum, this display reminds me that our current homes are 3 and 4 times the size of homes from previous centuries.  And the number of possessions we own outnumber previous owners probably by 100!  Seriously, this museum provides perspective!

The museum also offers a couple of add-on options, including the Texas Spirit Museum and the IMAX theater.

The Texas Spirit Museum offers two shows: The Star of Destiny and Wild Texas Weather.  This theater is considered 4D, and incredibly entertaining.  The seats rumble along with the narration, lightening strikes and there is even a fine mist to go along with the show.  Over the years, we have seen both shows a couple of times and they are very fun and well worth the extra ticket price -  though I'd pick one per trip - two in a visit would be a bit much :o)   I would not recommend this theater for very young children (some loud sounds), but all others should find it a treat.

The IMAX generally offers an educational 3D movie to enjoy.  On our most recent visit, they had an absolutely wonderful movie about butterflies.  I believe we've also watched one on the underwater world in the past.  These movies are generally very well done, entertaining and educating, and I would recommend including them when purchasing tickets!

Tips and Tricks
* On the third Saturday of every month between 2pm and 6pm, the museum offers free admission to the exhibits (the movies are an additional cost), so if you are looking to save some $$$, check it out!
* Plan for around a 3 hour visit.  Of the many times we have visited, the exhibits take us probably an hour or two to go through - longer if you take the time to watch some of the video movies.  If you check out the IMAX and Texas Spirit Theater, add another hour.  
* There is no food or cafeteria available in the museum.  Directly across the street (north toward the Capitol) is a building that has picnic benches to enjoy if you pack a lunch.
* Parking is available in the lot below the museum for $7

Bull Creek Greenbelt Hike

The last words out of my son's mouth before we left for our hike was "Do I have to go?"  The first words out of his mouth after we arrived: "We should come here more often!"  :o)  

The Bull Creek Greenbelt is a gem of a hike, located near 2222 and 360.  The 3.5 mile hike has lots of small waterfalls, gorgeous wildflowers and all sorts of critters.

The hike starts at Bull Creek Park on Lakewood Drive. Bull Creek Park is a nice park with lots of large shade trees, a volley ball net and the creek to play in.  There are bathrooms, picnic tables and more. 

It used to be entirely leash free, but it now looks like only the south side is leash free. 

But a short hike along the creek will take you to a less populated area, where dogs frequently roam free.

A dam/waterfall makes for a nice swimming area as the water gets a little deep.  (though signs indicate there is frequently high bacteria, so keep your head above water!)  

A little further along the trail is another parking area called Middle Falls also accessible via Lakewood Drive.  There is a really great waterfall here!  The kids slid down the falls, dug under the rocks, tried to catch fish and had a great time.  We happened to find one of the largest craw fish I think I've ever seen!

Immediately after the Middle Falls, we crossed under the 360 bridge.  

If you take this part of the trail, be sure to look up as you cross under the bridge.  Hundreds of cliff swallows have made their home here!

This part of the green belt had only a few people on it.  The trail leads a little away from the creek, but then comes back in again.  It is somewhat shaded, with lots of wildflowers.

There are more waterfalls and swimming areas along the entire 3.5 miles.  We turned around and headed back, but we would love to come back another day to hit the upper falls.  The time required to hike this trail is entirely dependent on your willingness to stop along the way and enjoy the water!

What a great way to spend the first day of summer vacation!

Tips and Thoughts

* During summer months, bring a bathing suit and water shoes.  The trail crosses the creek many times, so you will either be removing your shoes often, or going barefoot!

* Bring lots of water.  Many of the swimming areas do not have much shade, so it can get pretty hot!

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