Astral Nomads

One man, one woman, one rabbit......traveling with the stars.

Monday, January 31, 2011

Wandering Around Downtown Austin

From wild hill country to the urban experience: you get it all right here at the Astral Nomads blog. Today we did what we always do when we're in a strange city. We headed downtown and started wandering around. We took a cab from our hotel in South Austin because I wasn't sure about parking downtown. We were going to take in some museums but we decided to do as much outdoor walking as possible today because it was about 78F and by Thursday the high is only supposed to be 31F. So by Thursday I suspect we'll want to be inside as much as possible. The Astrals are guaranteed to bring a freeze everywhere they go. Chilling, isn't it?

Austin is a mid-sized city but to the Astrals, who measure
everything by New York City, it seemed curiously underpopulated.
You can walk down any street at lunchtime here on a weekday
and not be jostled by anyone. Even the traffic is very light for a city.
There's a very mellow vibe here and the architecture is a mix of
older late 19th century buildings like the one above and gleaming
newer skyscrapers.

Here's a bit of modern sculpture expertly captured by Astral Wendy.

We walked up Congress Avenue to the Texas Statehouse
and got completely lost in there for almost two hours. Not
lost in the sense of not knowing where we were, just lost
in architectural coolness and Texas government and history.
Plus, our tour guide was a total clone of David Letterman.

It's no Pantheon, but the rotunda is really pretty awesome. I got good
vertigo from the upper deck.

Here's the view from the top. Or at least as high as they would let you go.

They have portraits of all the ex-governors hanging
here so I decided to cool my heels under George W.

They have a cool floor mosaic under the rotunda celebrating the Six Flags
that have flown over Texas: Spain. France, Mexico, Republic of Texas, 
Confederate States of America, and the United States. 
And I thought it was just an amusement park
name. Astral Wendy just wants them to give peace a chance.

Since the Texas Congress was in session, we popped into the House
of Representatives to listen to some speechifying. I was hoping they'd
call on Wendy to ask her legislative opinion.

The statehouse grounds, like much of the city, were pretty empty.

C'mon baby, let's do the twist.

While walking down the street, we noticed this disembodied head
a whole block away. Deciding to check it out, we found a place to eat
lunch. The Cafe 1886 at the famous Hotel Driskill. It's no Econolodge,
but it was pretty swank. Just kidding, it's a world famous and world
class hotel.

Astral Wendy went for the brisket sandwich (not pictured due to 
focus issues) and I had the Cuban. Both were quite excellent.

The cafe was also a bakery but we were both so full after lunch
that we only ordered espressos. Too bad, the pastries looked awesome.

Then we wandered around the hotel, which was also pretty empty...

...and ridiculously opulent.

This big room off the second lobby on the second
floor was empty, so Astral Wendy made herself right at home.

The Hotel Driskill...Excuse me, sir, do you board rabbits?

This is a view down Sixth Avenue, upon which every
building is a bar featuring live music. Yikes. Austin
is billed as 'The Live Music Capital of the World'.

These pigeons dig the Sixth Avenue sound.

This mural was on the side of the Mexican Art Museum
here in Austin. We hope to check that out later in the week.

This is a lot bigger than my traveling guitar and has a 
much nicer decorative scheme. Of course, mine has

Since Wendy had her hair in braids, I made her pose
on Willie Nelson Boulevard.

Here's one of the newer skyscrapers.

Between downtown and South Austin lies Lady Bird Lake.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Balcones Canyonlands NWR and nary a bird!

Beautiful day in Austin, Texas today! About 78F with intermittent fluffy cumulus clouds floating across an azure blue sky. Despite the fact that we're staying pretty close to downtown, on a day like today you just know the Astrals are heading into nature. Today it was a drive northwest of city into the beginnings of Texas hill country. Checking the map we noticed the Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge (BCNWR) and made that our target destination. Canyonlands! Sign us up! The BCNWR was established to provide a protected habitat for two endangered species of birds: the Black-Capped Vireo and the Golden-Cheeked Warbler. I have included links for these birds in case you want to see them because we did not see a single bird all day. Ha! We did get in some good hiking in terrain unlike anything we've seen yet so it was a good day despite the lack of bird sightings. We did see two gray foxes loping through the canyon lands from about 20 yards, so the wildlife viewing was not a total wash.

The hills where we hiked were mostly covered with cedar. We did about four
miles on two well-established trails. The terrain rolled up and down
but there were no super strenuous climbs, just good ridge-line hiking .

Here's Astral Wendy sporting her new 'Cow-Maflage'
cargo pants. Looks like a floating torso, no? Those are
actually her legs!

Here's a bit of fluff.

This is one of the two grey foxes we saw running together. They
were moving pretty quickly but Wendy was able to get a shot. They
pretty much ignored us.

In addition to cedar, there's quite a bit of cactus scattered about.

There were some nice vistas from up on the ridge. 

Here I am with my snake-stabber. The sign at the trail
head warned of snakes, fire-ants, and prickly plants. We
didn't see any snakes but we thought we heard a rattle
at one point. 

Some of the terrain was desert-like in spots.

I can barely see Astral Wendy. Those pants are

Oh, there she is.

The parking lot was back along the ridge to the right. I could
actually see the Eurovan from this point.

Astral Wendy can always find a cool rock.

Instead of blazes, there were these painted trail markers. These
were the only Golden-cheeked warblers we saw all day.

The parking lot (empty when we arrived) was at the top of a
fairly steep gravel road.

This was on the way back down.

Like I said, it was a beautiful day.