Beyond the Festival Scene in Austin Texas: Amazing Urban Nature Experiences! (Guest Post)


Today I'm really thrilled to have a friend (yes someone I have known since university!) contribute a guest blog post about a city that he visited last summer.  When I saw his photos I was so incredibly jealous because even though he told me that he was going to Austin, Texas I had forgotten that Austin, Texas was THE CITY where the Congress Street Bat Bridge was.  (Ever since I saw this picture I have wanted to go!)  Along with these photos, he also shared images of another beautiful natural site that he spent time at while he was there.  His photos reminded me that Austin, Texas needed to be bumped back up to the top of  my "Must Visit" list!  (There's also the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center there!)  I'll let my friend Gerald tell you all about his trip so that you too can add this city to your urban nature travel list pronto:

Amazing Nature Experiences In Austin Texas

When most people think of Austin Texas they think of all the spectacular festivals: South by Southwest, music, film and television festivals. It is famous for its music scene year round. But there are a few natural outdoor attractions that you could miss if you just focused on the big fancy festivals. Here are a few that you may want to check out!

In between my festival-ling, I managed to go out to the Congress Ave Bridge just before sunset one night. You want to grab a spot on the lawn on the southside of the bridge which is a short walk from the downtown core. The bridge goes over the Colorado River which is quite wide as it snakes through the city.  The Congress Avenue bridge that spans over the river is quite large also.  And it needs to be because of what is found underneath it.  Not trolls but Bats!



-- Bats in Flight - Photo by Gerald Dykstra --

For some reason, this bridge houses approximately 1,500,000 Mexican Freetail bats. During the day they sleep and at dusk they start to wake up and fly out from under the bridge and down along the river to (I assume) collect a ton of insects that hang out near the river's shore. 1,500,000 is a lot of bats but they do not all wake up at the same time, so it is a steady stream for at least half an hour of continuous bats that are waking and flying away in large groups from under the bridge.

They're not giant bats and they move very fast (Wikipedia says up to 160km/h) so getting a good photo with a camera at dusk facing the river is a challenge. I tried to take a few photos and videos with the city skyline in the background. But it really doesn't do it justice. If bats don't freak you out you can sit and watch them as they take flight. They don't seem that interested in the hundreds of people on the river bank and on the bridge.  They just wake up and go about their business.  See my video of the Mexican Freetail Bats HERE (click link)!  It gives you a real sense of how many bats there are!  On this occasion there were storm clouds rolling in, so once the rain started, I abandon ship and crossed back over the bridge to downtown Austin where I stopped for some good old Texas BBQ.

-- Photo by Gerald Dykstra --

The next day after the last panel for the festival I was attending was over, I jumped on a bus and headed to the Barton Springs Pool. I did my research before going to Austin and was really looking forward to swimming in this all natural spring-fed pool. It is a large 3 acre pool  in the Barton Springs Park. You do have to pay to enter the pool (a little more if you are a non-resident). But it was totally worth it.


-- Natural Edge of Barton Springs Pool - Photo by Gerald Dykstra --

The pool is cemented on three sides so there is a proper pool deck but it still retains a natural feeling surrounded by grassy hills.  You find yourself in a natural setting as you walk around the pool  The water on the east side of the spring is quite shallow and probably good for kids.  And then to access the other side (which was the sunny side when I visited) you needed to take a small wooded path. I laid out my towel and immediately went to the diving board that was set up in the center of the pool.
After diving in and getting over the initial shock it was very refreshing and it felt very clean. No chlorine and suntan lotion feeling, and no sand and silt to murk up the water. I'm not sure how deep the pool was but the water was black.   The interesting thing with a spring-fed pool is that the water is always very cold (a constant 68 degrees) even in the Austin Texas sun and heat.

-- Photo by Gerald Dykstra --

To climb out there are ladders set up like a regular pool, but there you can also just climb out from the side, but you need to be extra cautious as it is a natural pool and the rocks under foot can have quite a bit of algae on them which makes them slippery. When not diving in the water, I did try swimming to the western edge of the pool, although not too many people were doing this.  I realized why once I got there, as there was a fair amount of algae/plants at the one end. I did walk around the whole pool and it was interesting to see where the pool fed into the Barton Creek on the other side of the western fence.  There you see lots of children, adults and dogs jumping and playing in the water.  It was a fairly steady waterfall at the start of the stream on the other side of the pool.  From there, it is a short distance for the creek to feed into the Colorado River.


-- View to Austin Highrises from Barton Spring Pool - Photo by Gerald Dykstra --

If I lived in Austin this for sure would where you would find me every Sunday afternoon.

I love this town for many reasons but these two wild wonders make it even more appealing to visit.



-- Silhouette of First Street Bridge from Congress Avenue Bridge - Photo Gerald Dykstra --

Guest Blogger Gerald Dykstra studied environmental studies at Waterloo University and now lives in Toronto Ontario, where by day he works at The Royal Conservatory of Music but by night he pursues his interests in film and film festivals, including: volunteering (20 years at the Toronto International Film Festival and counting), screenwriting, and festival tourism (travelling to other festivals outside of Canada).

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