Moving to Frisco, Texas?

Frisco continues to be amongst the fastest growing suburbs in the United States. The 2000 census recorded the city population at nearly 34,000. The 2008 estimates have it exceeding 100,000. Its easy access to areas within the DFW Metroplex, family-friendly environment, and phenomenal school district has made it one of the most desirable communities for professionals working in the Metroplex.

As with any move, it is recommended prior to the move that your destination is researched thoroughly for all that a community has to offer as well as the potentially undesirable characteristics. Frisco is no different. There are many wonderful qualities to this community as well as potential areas of concern. Use the following information as your guide to making an informed decision.

Frisco Independent School District

If primary or secondary education is a consideration, then Frisco is arguably one of the top, if not the top, school districts in the entire state of Texas. According to schooldigger.com, Frisco rated 49th out of 943 Texas cities across all grade levels. For the 2007-2008 school year the Texas Education Agency rated twenty-one of its campuses exemplary, eleven were recognized, four were acceptable, and one was not rated because of its newness. Nearly sixty percent of its schools rated exemplary compared to less than twenty percent for other DFW schools.

The philosophy of the school district is to maintain a better than average student to teacher ratio and remain at the 4A level to allow it students a more personalized education and ability to actively participate in athletics. The one downside to this philosophy is that as more schools are built, rezoning becomes commonplace. Depending on what area of Frisco you reside in, it’s likely your children will move schools at least once.

Denton and Collin County Property Taxes

The city of Frisco is split between two counties, Denton and Collin. The west side is primarily Denton and the east side is primarily Collin. Depending on where you are moving from, you may find that local property taxes are high. As recently as 2007, Texas ranked number two in the country for property taxes as a percentage of home value and number twelve as a percentage of income according to MSN Money. In Denton and Collin Counties, of which Collin is slightly higher, you can expect to pay nearly three percent of the tax appraised value. For a $300,000 house, that equates to approximately $8,000 – $9,000 each year. For those that choose to roll it into the monthly mortgage payment, this amount represents roughly $700 of your total monthly payment. The trade-off is that the schools and community service entities are of high quality.

Frisco’s Family-Friendly Environment

Frisco citizens maintain a median age of 30.9 years and primarily consist of young executives building their careers and family. Frisco ISD services approximately 30,000 students, roughly one-third of the city’s population. Not surprisingly, eighty percent of Frisco is family households. Kids are rampant in the neighborhood streets and most events hosted within the city are family-focused. While Frisco has several highly desirable retirement communities, its niche today is serving the more youthful citizens of the Metroplex.

While Frisco is certainly a family-focused community, beware of the pretentiousness and cliques that often exist within the neighborhoods. With a median income of nearly $94,000, which is nearly double the rest of the state, there is a certain ‘keep up with the Joneses’ culture that exists within its confines. This occasionally culminates with a lack of parental discipline of children and general disregard for civility. Don’t be surprised when you hear school-aged children screaming inside a restaurant or causing mayhem in the local Botox facility while the parent is receiving their injection.

Prices of Good and Services in Frisco

The cost of living in Frisco is generally about five to six points below the national average according to City-data.com. However, it’s below-average ranking is largely due to its average home prices well below other major metropolitan areas. The median house value in 2007 was $243,000. Similar houses in California, Arizona, New York, or Florida would go for double or more.

Goods and services, however, are another story. Expect to pay $300-$600, depending on the month, for gas and electric utilities. Water is another $100-$200 per month. The real spike comes from purchasing goods and services at retail locations. Rent for retailers in Frisco is high. It varies depending on location, but it’s not uncommon for it to be above $30 per square foot. With a relatively high median income and costly per square foot real estate, retailers often pass those costs onto consumers to protect their margins. While these are sound business principles for the retailer, consumers must know that Frisco is far more expensive than other DFW communities for goods are services. Don’t fall over when your little poodle’s grooming is $60 or that little ottoman for your living room exceeds $1,000.

Commute from Frisco to DFW Airport or Love Field

For frequent business travelers or casual vacationers, Frisco’s proximity to the Metroplex’s major airports is a breeze. Twenty-five to thirty miles down Highway 121 will land you at DFW or the twenty to twenty-five mile straight shot down Dallas North Tollway will thrust you into Dallas Love Field. Traffic is rarely a significant barrier and both roads are well-maintained and easily accessible from most of Frisco. Don’t forget your toll money, though. These roads will cost you.

Whether you are visiting or coming to stay, Frisco serves the needs of most people. By most accounts, it’s an outstanding community. The strengths far outweigh the challenges. However, don’t let the quantity of the strengths blind you from the brutal facts of the challenges.

Driving Tours of Texas

Texas is always entertaining and diverse. What other state offers such a diversity of food, culture, and pleasures for both humans and aliens?

Grab a map, hop in the car, and drive as springtime in Texas is calling you. A driving holiday this time of year features an abundance of bluebonnets, the state’s official flower, and red and orange toned Indian Paintbrushes color the landscape.

Brenham

Especially in the Hill Country, where life is sweet in Brenham – home to Blue Bell Creameries.

For the past 108 years, the ice cream made here has been delighting Texans and many devotees from the southeastern to southwestern states.

A free tour is offered on weekdays, with a taste of the Blue Bell magic promised for all. But do not dally – the tours are first come-first served, and limited to a certain amount of visitors.

College Station

Drive north and you arrive in College Station – home of the Aggies.

What is an Aggie? An Aggie is a proud student, or alumni, of Texas A & M University. Here geniuses in nuclear technology, engineering, and the obvious agriculture, are trained in all of the university’s 10 schools.

Stop by the visitor’s center at Rudder Tower for an update on all the activities.

Huntsville

Leaving student life behind journey to Huntsville in the Piney Woods and its equally large population of like-minded folks.

Huntsville is known primarily for having the oldest prison in Texas, which in turn has the largest prison system in the United States.

If you never thought of capital punishment as a tourism attraction – think again.

One of the highlights at the nearby Texas Prison Museum is “Old Sparky” the electric chair once used on Death Row for 40 years during the 20th century.

For loftier viewing – check out the 67’ statue of Sam Houston one of the state’s most illustrious statesmen of the early Republic – as Texas once was.

Traveling and touring drum up an appetite and here BBQ rules.

Driftwood

In the town of Driftwood, the Salt Lick still creates its smoky goodness on an open pit.

Hit the state capital of Austin and two places for tangy sauce, messy fingers, and good times rule – Stubbs (try the ribs), and the Iron Works that is celebrating its 30th anniversary in 2008.

Terlingua

From BBQ to chili – Terlingua, in the Big Bend Country is known for the world-famous chili kickoff every November. Just remember asking, “where the beans?” are fighting words here.

Aside from the arrival of chiliheads – the vastness and diversity of the Chihuahuan Desert can be explored and understood at the Barton Warnock Environmental Education Center.

Marfa

Full of gas? Continue on to Marfa.

The movie “Giant” with Elizabeth Taylor and James Dean was filmed here over 50 years ago, and still, the fans flock to this small town. Now more than the bright lights of Hollywood have attracted visitors. Marfa’s night skies often light up with unusual tones. Are they atmospheric or alien in nature – you can decide at the Marfa Mystery Lights Viewing Center?

These are just a few Lone Star ideas. Discover your own in the largest state in the continental US.

As the old saying goes…

“The sun is riz and the sun is set, and we ain’t out of Texas yet!”

Visiting the Davis Mountains & West Texas

West Texas Vacation Destinations

Those with a week to spend can travel a loop formed by Fort Davis, Alpine, and Marfa, with a short detour to Balmorhea. Those with only a weekend can choose any one of these points for an excellent getaway.

Activities for Nature & Adventure Lovers

Twenty-five percent of Texas terrain is karst, a paradise to geologists, paleontologists, archaeologists, photographers, and spelunkers. Caverns that are open to the public to attract many tourists. These underground sanctuaries naturally maintain a constant near-room temperature year-round. Some areas are wheelchair accessible, while a few offer ‘wild cave tours’ for the adventurous, with no trails or electric lights, and visitors, carrying flashlights, must be lowered into some passages by rope.

Continuing westward, Garner State Park encompasses canyons, streams, cliffs, and ten acres of riverfront. Enjoy river tubing, pedal boats, swimming, golfing, nature trails with an abundance of wildlife, bike riding, dancing, and a Cowboy Sunset Serenade. Facilities include campsites, screened shelters and cabins, a dining hall, and shower and laundry facilities. Note – pets are not allowed inside any of the buildings.

If you enjoy a good mystery, head to Marfa to see the famous Marfa Lights. Various explanations for the mysterious, dancing lights range from ‘ghosts of conquistadores’ to the more scientific ‘mirage caused by atmospheric conditions.’ They can be seen on clear nights about nine miles east of Marfa on U.S. Highway 90 between Marfa and Paisano Pass.

A few miles south of Marathon, on 385, civilization vanishes as you enter Big Bend country. Across the cactus-studded landscape, rock peaks and jagged cliffs reach into a clear sky. Big Bend offers a sense of freedom and wildness to those seeking escape from the stresses of modern life. Enjoy the quiet solitude of the Chisos Mountains or ride the Rio Grande River rapids.5

Scuba Diving in the Desert

Balmorhea State Park, just off Interstate 10, is home to the San Solomon Courts, a 1930s style motor court, as well as tent and RV campgrounds. The park’s centerpiece is a 77,053 square foot swimming pool, fed by San Solomon Springs, which pumps more than 22 million gallons of water through the pool daily. The waters then flow into shallow canals that wind past the motel and into a restored Cienega, or wetland, which houses endangered fish as well as other creatures.

The pool, open daily, is popular with scuba divers (Funky Lil Dive Shop across the street rents gear and provides air refills), offering excellent visibility, an abundance of fish, bubbling springs, and depths up to 25 feet. Visitors can also enjoy picnic tables, barbecue grills, and bird watching.

Davis Mountains State Park & Fort Davis

Hotel Limpia, a restored country inn from the early 1900s with a second-story veranda and turn of the century oak furniture, anchors the four or so square blocks that makeup ‘downtown’ Fort Davis. The hotel’s Boarding House Restaurant serves a full and varied menu. Davis Mountains State Park offers hiking, mountain biking, bird watching, and camping. Indian Lodge, a CCC-built hotel modeled after southwestern pueblos, with 18-inch thick walls and exposed roof beams, sits on a hillside deep within the park. It includes a restaurant and pool.

The park’s Skyline Drive leads to a scenic overlook that takes in the domes of McDonald Observatory, one of the highest points in Texas, and Fort Davis National Historic Site, a restored 1860s cavalry outpost nestled at the base of dramatic cliffs. A hiking trail leads from the state park to the Fort, which has a museum and a self-guided tour of the restored buildings and ruins.

The nearby University of Texas McDonald Observatory has public viewing nights Wednesdays nearest the full moon; star parties every Tuesday, Friday, and Saturday; and daily tours.

Many of the area’s working ranches have become guest ranches, offering lodging, horseback riding, and other activities. One of the oldest is the Prude Ranch, which has a lodge and family bunk rooms, a pool, horseback riding, hayrides, and cowboy cookouts.

Fort Davis Scenic Loop

The 75 mile Fort Davis Scenic Loop, which starts and ends in town, reaches 6,700 feet and goes through scenic canyons, past the State Park, the Observatory, and the Davis Mountains Preserve, a Nature Conservancy property with public hiking trails. The trails, open daily, start at the Laurence E. Wood picnic area on Highway 118. The loop route is outlined in the Fort Davis Visitor’s Guide (copies available at area hotels, restaurants, and attractions).

La Trattoria in Alpine is known for home-cooked Italian food and authentic espresso, and Alicia’s is the place to go for a hearty, but leisurely, breakfast. The Maverick Inn, a renovated historic motor court hotel, offers accommodations with the atmosphere. The Museum of the Big Bend is housed on the campus of Alpine’s Sul Ross University.

Art and Mystery Lights in Marfa

The rustic yet elegant El Paisano Hotel in Marfa opened in 1930 and hosted Elizabeth Taylor and James Dean during the filming of the movie Giant in 1955. Jett’s Grill serves dinner, and hotel guests can enjoy cocktails by the courtyard fountain. Food Shark, a diner truck under an awning between the town’s renowned book store and the railroad tracks, offers a unique combination of West Texas and Mediterranean food.

Art aficionados should drop by the Chinati Foundation, a contemporary art museum on 340 acres; Ballroom Marfa; and 2d Marfa. The mysterious Marfa Lights became so famous that the town built a roadside viewing area nine miles east of town on Highway 90, where thousands have reported seeing strange lights in the distance.

 

 

Kayaking in Texas

From Coastal Trails to Gentle Rivers, Texas Offers Kayaker Variety

Bring your kayak to Texas (or rent one here) and paddle a coastal wetland past herons and ducks, or down a fish-filled river through towering pecan trees.

With 3,300 miles of tidal shoreline, 15 paddle-worthy rivers, and thousands of streams, Texas is a kayaker’s paradise. Try out an official paddling trail, hire an outfitter as a guide or just to provide drop off and pick-up, or strike out on your own. Here are a few of the best paddles in the Lone Star state.

Lighthouse Lakes Paddling Trails

The first Texas Paddling Trail, the Lighthouse Lakes series of loops, ranging from 1.25 to 6.8 miles, explores a black mangrove estuary, sloughs, seagrass flats, and black lakes on the mid-coast near Aransas Pass. One trail takes paddlers near the photo-worthy 1857 Lydia Ann Lighthouse on North Harbor Island. A kayak offers a great way to get close to great blue herons, egrets, pelicans, and other resident birds, or to fish for flounder, red drum, and spotted sea trout.

Launch at the park on Highway 361 approximately 5 miles from the HEB in Aransas Pass, which has free parking and covered picnic tables. Or rent kayaks at the Crabman Marina, about one mile before the park. The Marina also sells bait and supplies and has restrooms for customers.

San Saba & South Llano Rivers

The San Saba River begins as springs just west of Junction, Texas, flowing through rocky rapids, under towering trees, and past wide pastures. An excellent paddle begins a few miles north of Menard, ending at a low dam in the Menard city park.

San Saba River Adventures rents kayaks and provides shuttle service and guided trips. Paddlers can catch-and-release fish for largemouth bass and the official state freshwater fish, Guadalupe bass. San Saba River Adventures also provides shuttle service to the South Llano River, or paddlers can put in at South Llano River State Park.

Colorado River & Matagorda Bay Kayaking

The Lower Colorado River Authority provides a number of access points to the river, from north of Austin all the way to wetland trails where the Colorado River empties into the Gulf of Mexico at Matagorda Bay.

There, Matagorda Bay Nature Park offers an RV campground, restrooms and showers, covered picnic tables — and this area is known as one of the best birding spots in the country. Kayak rental and guided tours are available in the Nature Park. Call 800-776-5272, ext 4740 for information.

Buffalo Bayou Kayak Trail

This urban trail has 10 access points and covers 26 miles, passing through downtown Houston. Paddlers will see a surprising variety of plants and animals, and many points of interest along the way, including Discovery Green, the Houston Zoo, and the museum district. Rentals and shuttles available (see the website).

This list contains only a few of the many kayak opportunities available in Texas. Start with these, then branch out and discover others on favorite rivers or coastal shore.

 

 

Tour The Texas Bluebonnets Country Near Dallas

The State Flower Blankets the Roadsides from March Through May

Each spring, Texas wildflowers thrive along the highways between Dallas and San Antonio. The state flower, the Texas Bluebonnet, is the most spectacular and prolific.

Motorists driving the Texas Bluebonnet country in spring are greeted with stunning fields of Bluebonnets and other wildflowers. Taking the time to leave the freeways and explore nearby back roads is even more rewarding.

The Texas Bluebonnet

One of many lupines, the Bluebonnet (Lupinus subcarnosus) became the state flower in 1901. Seventy years later, this designation was expanded to include the Texas bluebonnet (Lupinus texensis) and “any other variety of bluebonnet.” Bluebonnets have also been called Buffalo clover, Wolf flower and El coneja (for the rabbit some see in the flower). It is thought that the bluebonnet name originated with early pioneers who saw a resemblance between the flower and women’s sunbonnets.

The Bluebonnet Blooming Season

Bluebonnets begin blooming in the southern part of the range, in and around San Antonio, in March, and the bloom works its way north through May. The season’s peak varies with location, but around Ennis, Texas, it is thought to be April 21, coincidentally the anniversary of Texas’ independence from Mexico in 1836 (San Jacinto Day).

Bluebonnet Towns of Texas

Wildflower enthusiasts can find photogenic fields of flowers by taking almost any freeway exit when Bluebonnets are seen from the highway. A number of communities lying between Dallas and San Antonio publicize local events focused on the flowers, including Burnet and Ennis. Burnet was named the “Bluebonnet Capital of Texas” by the Legislature, and Ennis was designated the “Official Bluebonnet City of Texas.”

Burnet holds a Bluebonnet Festival the second weekend of April, and Ennis hosts a similar event, the Trails Festival, on the second or third weekend of April.

Backroad Bluebonnet Trails Around Ennis

Ennis publishes an area trails map, with detailed backroads around the town. You can obtain this in town from the Convention and Visitors Bureau, at 002 E. Ennis Avenue. The Visitors Bureau highlights the map each year, showing the most prime viewing areas for that year. The map includes about forty miles of backroads, from Exit 259 to Exit 251 off of Interstate 45.

In 2009, some of the more beautiful areas include the shores of Lake Bardwell, southwest of the town of Ennis, and the Neck Road–Highway 813/Highway 660 loop about eight miles north of Ennis.

The Greater Bluebonnet Area

The Central Texas Bluebonnet Travel Council publishes a travel guide for the greater Bluebonnet area, and this guide can be picked up at any Texas tourist center. The area covered by this guide runs from Dallas/Fort Worth on the north end through Austin to San Antonio on the southwest and to Houston on the southeast. Although Bluebonnets can be found in many places in the state, the best viewings will be found within this area, which includes Interstate highways 35, 45, and 10.

Bluebonnets and More

The Texas bluebonnet country offers much more than wildflowers, but if you are able to visit this area in the spring, the flowers likely will be your most vivid memory.

Finding The Golden-Cheeked Warbler In Texas

Between March and June, the endangered Golden-cheeked warbler leaves its home in southern Mexico and northern Central America to spend the spring in Texas. To nest and breed, this beautiful bird requires a habitat unique to the Texas hill country.

The Golden-Cheeked Warbler

The Golden-cheeked Warbler (Dendroica chrysoparia) is just under five inches in length and presents a striking image with a lemon-colored face, black eye stripe, black crown, neck and back, white belly, and black wings with white wing bars.

The warbler is rare and considered endangered in the U.S. Due to its limited breeding habitat and the loss of that habitat to urbanization and clearing, the current population may be as low as 5,000 breeding pairs nesting within as few as 74,000 acres in central Texas, the only place it is found in the U.S.

Golden-cheeked Warbler’s Habitat

The Golden-cheeked Warbler is far more widespread and flexible in its fall and winter habitat, being found in the pine-oak highlands of southern Mexico (primarily Chiapas) to Nicaragua. In the spring, the birds migrate through east-central Mexico into Texas, finally settling in the hill country of the Edwards Plateau and Balcones Escarpment.

To nest, the warbler requires a unique forest habitat consisting of oaks and other trees and, necessarily, the Ashe juniper. Besides the Ashe juniper, other trees found in the habitat include Spanish oak, Live oak, Texas oak, Arizona walnut, Sycamore, ash, and elm. The loose bark of the Ashe juniper is a key element in the warbler’s nest, and clearing of junipers for fenceposts and other use has negatively impacted the population. Nests typically are built in tree crotches about fifteen feet above the ground.

Where to Find the Golden-Cheeked Warbler

Some of the more likely sites to observe the warbler are:

  • Travis Audubon Society’s Baker Sanctuary
  • Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge
  • Lost Maples State Natural Area
  • Kerr Wildlife Management Area

Travis Audubon Society’s Baker Sanctuary

Austin is better-known for its popular nursing colony of Mexican free-tailed bats, but endangered Golden-cheeked warblers are also found within the metropolitan area.

The Travis Audubon Society owns and maintains a 690-acre tract northwest of Austin that is part of the Balcones Canyonlands Preserve. The Baker Sanctuary is a hilly area that includes a spring, a creek, and three trails that wind through the woodland. Spanish oak and Ashe juniper predominate, together with Arizona walnut and Sycamore. Taking the Baker Springs Trail and looping around to the Hatfield Trail (about 1.5 miles) is probably the best choice for Golden-cheeked warbler encounters. Warblers will chase Black-crested Titmice out of their nesting territory, so linger where the titmice are heard or seen as well.

The Baker Sanctuary is private, fenced, and locked, and permission must be obtained before non-members may enter. For more information and to obtain entry permission, check the Society’s website or call (512) 300-2473.

To reach the site from I-35 in north Austin, drive 10 miles northwest on Highway 183. Exit at Anderson Mill Road and drive west about 7 miles to Lime Creek Road. Turn left on Lime Creek Road and drive seven-tenths of a mile to the main entrance on your left.

Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge

Entrance to the refuge is not far from Baker Sanctuary. To get there, take Highway 183 north, but continue past the Anderson Mill Road exit to Highway 1431 and drive west toward Marble Falls. The refuge is on your right before Marble Falls. Drive uphill to Warbler Ridge and take the Cactus Ridge trail, which is an easy six-tenths mile walk through prime Golden-cheeked warbler habitat.

Lost Maples State Natural Area

Lost Maples is closer to San Antonio than Austin, and can be reached from Kerrville on Interstate 10 west of San Antonio. Drive south on Highway 16 to Medina, then west on Highway 337 to Highway 187 near Vanderpool. Turn north on Highway 187 to the park’s entrance on your left. There are campgrounds in the park (which is open until 10:00 PM to non-campers), as well as rental cabins just south of the park. There are bird feeders at the visitor center and at a blind next to the overflow parking area with lots of observable birds, but you will have to take one of the trails to see the warbler. The East Trail follows Can Creek, and the one-mile section toward the ponds is ideal birding habitat.

Kerr Wildlife Management Area

This area is close to Lost Maples, and in addition to Golden-cheeked warblers, birders also have an excellent chance of finding endangered Black-capped vireos. The Vireos are more predominate through the main entrance’s drives, but the warblers may be more commonly found at the secondary trailhead just seven-tenths of a mile south of (before) the main entrance. To get to the wildlife area, drive north from Lost Maples on Highway 187 to the junction with Highway 39. Turn right toward Hunt, then left on Highway 1340 to the entrance on your right.

The Texas Hill Country

This part of Texas is beautiful and inviting year-round. In spring, birders have the added enticement of seeing the rare and endangered Golden-cheeked warbler.

Bats of Bracken Cave Near San Antonio, TX

Witnessing an emergence of bats from the maternity colony at Bracken Cave is an awesome experience that may soon be available to the public.

No two bat emergences are ever the same. Except that every time, skeins of bats will unfurl into the twilight. Overhead, the sky will become a flickering canvas of brown on blue. Whorls of bats fly overhead and the leathery flap of wings combines with a sound like crickets or cicadas as wave after wave of bats flutter past. Those clicks are bat echolocation, of which only the very lowest pitches are audible to the human ear.

Braken Cave

Bracken Cave is open only on select nights and almost exclusively for members of Bat Conservation International (BCI), until a planned visitors’ center and other facilities are in place. However, for visitors to San Antonio who are interested in natural history, a trip to Bracken Cave is definitely worth the BCI membership price of $35.

The World’s Largest Colony of Warm-blooded Animals

The species that gathers at Bracken Cave is the Mexican free-tailed bat, a small brown bat. Each year, these tiny migratory mammals make an arduous trek from Texas down to Mexico and back, following hordes of migrating insect pests and depleting their ranks just in time for farmers to begin spring planting. Present in Texas from April through September, bat pups are usually born in mid-June and nurse for about five weeks.

A maternity colony of roughly 20 to 40 million Mexican free-tailed bats, mothers and babies, spend their summers in Bracken Cave – emerging each night, an ethereal sweep of winged bodies fanning into the sky. The hairless young hang in their own nursery area after birth: a swath of pink across the cave’s ceiling. Mother bats find their babies by returning precisely to where the young were deposited. Each mother recognizes her baby by its own peculiar scent and voice.

The Importance of Bracken Cave

A mere 30-minute drive from downtown San Antonio, Bracken Cave lies surrounded by a natural amphitheater. During an emergence, the amphitheater becomes animated by literally thousands of bats at a time pouring in cooperative confusion from the cave mouth

Bats — even those as numerous as the Mexican free-tailed — are extremely vulnerable because their nature is to gather in vast numbers in a few large colonies like the one at Bracken Cave. They become easy prey for the uninformed or can readily transmit new diseases such as the white-nose syndrome that is currently killing off alarmingly large numbers of bats in the northeast U.S.

Bat Conservation International

Founded in 1982, Bat Conservation International (BCI) is based in Austin, Texas, and is devoted to conservation, education, and research initiatives involving bats and the ecosystems they serve. An organization dedicated solely to bat conservation was needed because of alarming declines in bat numbers around the world and the importance of protecting these species.

Bats, distributed worldwide, are essential to the function of many ecosystems and provide ecosystem services important to humankind. They are prodigious consumers of insects, many of which are considered pests. For example, the roughly 40 million bats of Bracken Cave will consume approximately 200 tons of flying insects in one night!

Bats are also pollinators, and some plants such as the agave from which tequila is distilled, are entirely dependent on bats for pollination. Fruit bats also play an important role in spreading the seeds of native plants.
View a Bat Emergence

To witness an emergence at Bracken Cave, join and contact Bat Conservation International. As the emergence winds down, the fliers looping overhead will grow fewer. Night will have fallen and the bats’ silhouettes may flicker against the moon. However it ends, a bat emergence from Bracken Cave is truly one of nature’s most awe-inspiring spectacles.

Day Tripping Through Austin, TX

When traveling through Texas, perhaps on the way from Shreveport, LA, to San Antonio, be sure to spend the better part of a day in Austin.

Austin, Texas, a city whose name comes from that of its first Secretary of State during the time of its Republic in 1836 is a beautiful and well-constructed city. Like most southern cities, its consistent growth over time allowed past planners to construct it in an orderly fashion unlike cities such as New York and Washington, DC.

While in Austin for only a few hours travelers might want to stay within its geographic heart, which is Congress Avenue. Congress Ave. provides everything a day-tripper might be looking for in a new city between restaurants, the Congressional Building, and even local wildlife.

Visiting Austin in the Morning

When planning to see Austin in the morning it is recommended that travelers rise or arrive early. For those who are staying overnight before enjoying the Capitol, the Courtyard Marriott on East 4th Street is a great choice. It is two blocks from Congress Ave., approximately half a mile from the capitol building, and surrounded by several art museums.

Additionally, lodging for a family of four can be found at under $150 providing access to two pools, a gym, and a restaurant neighboring a Starbucks that can be accessed from the main lobby. One downside to this hotel is that there is no complimentary breakfast. For those on a tighter budget lodging at prices ranging below $100 a night is just outside the heart of the city.

Rising early in Austin is an integral part of the city’s experience. While walking, listen for a slight chirping sound above. These are not songbirds, but bats. According to AustinCityGuide.com, an estimated 1.5 million bats inhabit the city, consuming more than 10,000 pounds of insects every evening (the equivalent weight of 4,000 Sony Vaio TX laptop computers) leaving Austin relatively pest-free. But the real show is in the evening.

Visiting Austin in the Evening

When traveling to Austin in the evening it is highly recommended that visitors make their way to the Congress Bridge. Every evening the city’s bats descend upon it in a river-like formation as a means of protection from any possible predators before parting from one another to engage in their solitary hunting.

For those who would prefer a different view, several companies offer cruises along the river for a fee of less than $10 a person.

If the idea of more than 1 million bats upon the skies above brings thoughts parallel to something out of the Blade trilogy, then be wary of driving through the city at all. Motorists wishing to enjoy the cool night air will find the sounds of the bats all around. But no fear is to be had as they are very cautious not to bother humans because of how small and defenseless they are.

Art on and Near Congress Ave.

Austin is a city alive with expression. The best example of this is on the corner of East 4th St. and Congress Ave. where pedestrians on their way to lunch, or simply doing business at the Frost Bank Tower, will find Craig Hein’s sculpture, Vibrancy. The surrounding streets, such as Brazos St. boast independent galleries while the Austin Museum of Art (AMoA) is just five blocks north of E. 4th St. and two blocks south of the capitol building.

With the opportunity to see so much art in one place it would only be a small disappointment for those stopping in the Capitol for that purpose alone on a Monday or holiday when the AMoA is closed.

Dining on and Near Congress Ave.

For those looking to exercise extreme discretion with their budget while dining Austin offers an array of reasonable meals. There are two pizza shops located between E. 7th and E. 9th St, and one block east of Congress Ave. on E. 6th St. is Ana’s Mart where a sandwich and drink can be purchased for under $5. In addition to low prices, Ana’s Mart offers a wide assortment of cigars, a fair selection of wine, and even the New York Times, all of which can be enjoyed at one of the two tables set up on the quiet sidewalk.

For those who choose Ana’s for a quiet, thrifty outdoor lunch it is advised to arrive before 11:30 while the tables are in the shade.

Diners who wish to indulge in a bit more luxury might want to visit one of four restaurants located in the InterContinental Stephen F. Austin Hotel on the corner of Congress and E. 7th St. For breakfast, Cafe Julienne has a wonderful menu boasting four different kinds of eggs benedict as well as crepes with an assortment of fruit or shrimp and crab meat. All of this can be enjoyed while overlooking E. 7th St. from one story up.

For a more seasonal and regional menu, the Roaring Fork is just one floor down. Its current appetizers include green chili pork stew and New Mexico fondue with lamb and chili-pistachio bread. For main courses, a large hamburger is available as well as long bone ribs with Dr. Pepper barbeque sauce, or one could simply enjoy the market-fresh fish.

All of this can be enjoyed within the confines of less than one mile along Congress Ave. allowing for a great day trip.

10 Remote Texas Destinations Offer Peace and Quiet, No Crowds

Ten Texas Places to Get Away From it All

Remote places miles from nowhere offer stunning scenery, abundant wildlife, dark skies, and solitude. Here are ten relatively accessible and affordable getaways in Texas.

A state as big as Texas naturally has some undiscovered or hard to get to corners, places where those looking for a respite from cell phones and wi-fi can enjoy a little downtime.

Padre Island National Seashore

This undeveloped shoreline, one of the nation’s longest, stretches some 60 miles, with those beyond mile marker 5 accessible only by boat, shank’s mare, or four-wheel-drive. Adventurers who venture farther will see little more than an occasional hard-core fisherman, wind, waves, sea birds, and, if they’re lucky, a sea turtle. The entire beach is a primitive campground, offering sunsets over grass-covered dunes, star-studded skies, and, occasionally, bioluminescent waves.

Guadalupe Mountains National Park

The rugged slopes of this park, miles from even small towns, are actually an ancient fossil reef, home to thousands of plant and animal species, many found nowhere else. Roads don’t go far here, which keeps down the crowds and noise. Eighty miles of trails include a steep one up Guadalupe Peak with an unsullied, 360-degree view.

Hill Country State Natural Area Wilderness Primitive Camp

The Wilderness Primitive Camp is some three miles from any trailhead in this undeveloped and remote park in the Hill Country. The route there covers rocky hills, grasslands, groves of oak and juniper, and swaths of sotol. Shaded picnic tables and fire rings are available at the campground, capacity 40, with a small, still pond nearby. First-come, first-served.

Big Bend National Park

One of the largest parks in the country at more than 800,000 acres, Big Bend is also one of the least visited. The remotest areas of the park include 118 miles of the Rio Grande River, accessible only via canoe, kayak, or raft, and around 40 backcountry campsites that require a high-clearance vehicle. Campers must stash everything in bear-proof boxes before kicking back under a blue-black dome filled with a million sparkling pinpoints from one jagged horizon to the other.

Matagorda Island Wildlife Management Area

This 38-mile-long barrier island across the bay from the fishing village of Port O’Connor can be reached only by boat, but local fishing guides provide shuttle service for a fee. On the unpopulated island, trails lead to a circa-1852 lighthouse, on the National Registry of Historic Landmarks. Miles of beach show barely a sign of human hands. Visitors must bring their own water, food, and other supplies, and arrange in advance for a return shuttle.

Lost Maples State Natural Area, Primitive Campgrounds G and H

At 2,200 feet of elevation and more than five miles from the park entrance, which is already in a sparsely populated area, these primitive backcountry sites guarantee peace and quiet. Crowds swarm the first part of East Trail along the Sabinal River to see the maples in fall, but few of them even know the West Trail exists. It traverses steep limestone canyons, plateaus, woods, and creeks, and hikers may spot fox, bobcat, or some of the park’s rare species of birds, such as the Green Kingfisher.

Devils River State Natural Area

South of Sonora and north of Del Rio is something of a blank spot on the Texas map, except for this park. It contains nearly 20,000 acres, but its crown jewel is a mile of shoreline on the Devils River, a pristine, mostly spring-fed channel. The river offers excellent fishing and wildlife watching, and there are ancient rock paintings in the park.

Palo Duro Canyon State Park

This 120-mile-long, 800-foot-deep canyon drops dramatically out of the high plains. Developed parts of the park are relatively popular, but much is remote. Where the road ends at the equestrian camp, a trail goes five miles through tall grasses, juniper, and cottonwoods to the park border. The Givens, Spicer & Lowry trail to the loop in Little Fox Canyon twists and turns past colorful walls representing a geologic history spanning 250 million years.

Matagorda Bay Nature Park and Beach

Thanks to the intracoastal waterway, Matagorda Peninsula is actually an island. Only the first three of the 22 miles of beach are maintained, so few people venture farther. Maximum remoteness happens around mile ten or 12, as the island’s far end is accessible by boat from Sargent Beach. Four-wheel-drive required.

Devil’s Sinkhole State Natural Area

This vertical cavern reminded an early discoverer of the entrance to hell. Day tours offered at the visitor’s center in Rocksprings allow pondering the 150-foot deep collapsed cave from a viewing platform cantilevered over the opening. From May to September, millions of Mexican free-tailed bats depart the cave every evening, attracting dozens of onlookers. But few people visit during the day.

Austin’s Weird Past & Present

From the University of Texas Tower at one end of Congress St. to Stevie Ray Vaughan’s statue and bat tours at the other end, Austin offers the visitor a whole mixed bag.

Austin will surely stretch any intrepid tourist who has preconceived notions of Texas. It’s not that the cowboy ethos is absent; it’s just that there is a certain weirdness there. For instance, Congress St. and E. 6th St. are two arteries that will get the blood flowing- cowboy boots and sandals, live country music and blues contests, students and legislators, bat tours, and famous writer’s haunts. Austin has history aplenty but the city also throws life at y’all.

Austin’s Weird Past & Present

Austin’s small business association coined the slogan, “Keep Austin Weird” that has come to have several shades of meaning. As illustration:

The University of Texas

It has an enrolment of over 48,000 on the largest campus in the US. and draws over 98,000 to watch the football Longhorns. It also has the highest structure in Austin, the 307 ft. Tower as a symbol of Texas pride. Unfortunately, it was also the site from which Charles Whitman killed 14 people in August 1966.

Veteran’s Day

The Nov. 11 parade and speeches honoring the veterans of America’s many wars, from Civil & Spanish-American to Vietnam and Iraq. There were those in attendance with Veterans of Foreign Wars insignia but they politely saluted 4 Vets of Iraq For Peace. Another Vietnam vet had a live python draped around him. In spite of machismo, this year’s theme honored women in the forces.

E. 6th Street

Situated south of the State Capitol, it’s four blocks counter any suit staidness with live music, tattoo parlors, pool halls, and restaurants. The Austin Official Visitors Guide (2008) claims Austin is the live music capital of the world, boasting some 1,900 local bands and 200 live music venues. Austin adopted Stevie Ray Vaughan and at the Friends bar one could listen to the likes of the Swamp Sauce.

Austin’s Weird People

Weird means showing some tolerance for contradictions. For instance:

Governors in the Capitol

The dome rises 218 ft. and there are 4 levels circling the rotunda. Each level displays portraits of the Presidents of the Republic (1836-1846), like Sam Houston, and the Governors of the State, including the first woman governor in 1925, Miriam Ferguson and George W.Bush, the first governor to go on to the American Presidency).

These leaders represented the whole political spectrum; Houston as both a president and governor was a slave owner but supported the Union and made peace with the Cherokee. Ma Ferguson was a teetotaler who supported the wets in Prohibition.

O. Henry, aka William Porter

The famous short story writer of “The Gift of the Magi” lived in Austin from 1884-1898, albeit with 2 year interlude evading a charge of embezzlement from his bank. The city now provides a walking tour of the author’s haunts, like the Lundberg Bakery on Congress near his job sites like the General Land Office and the elegant landmark Driskill Hotel.

Blues and Bats

Austin declared November 26, 1989, to be Stevie Ray Vaughan Day, Patron Saint of Austin Music. His statue is by the Colorado River and within sight of the Congress Bridge, which happens to be the home of the largest urban bat colony in North America. There are over 1.5 million Mexican free-tail bats under the spans that emerge at dusk to forage.

One last gauge of Austin’s weirdness is political. Austin was the only area in all of Texas to vote against Proposition 2 (The Texas Marriage Amendment) in 2005 which banned homosexual marriages.