We arrived in Austin a couple of days ago and set up camp at McKinney Falls State Park, which is a short 20 minutes at most from downtown Austin. The campsites are fine, not as nice as some of the other state park campgrounds we’ve been to, but the waterfalls make up for it. There is an extinct volcano just outside of the park’s boundaries (it just looks like a simple hill now ). Some 80 million years ago, when Texas was a shallow tropical sea, it was “the only exposed submarine volcano in Texas that geologists know of. This means it was partly submerged under water and partly above the surface, with seawater seeping into the throat of the volcano and creating steam explosions as it encountered hot magma. The volcanic material was pulverized, thrust high into the air and eventually settled into the sea floor.” Now, you can clearly see the results of volcanic explosions as you approach the river. We felt like we were walking on the moon as we crossed a couple of acres of smooth, dark stone pockmarked with small pools of water leftover from recent rains.
The closer you are to the river, the dark rock turns to more of a limestone color and texture, and you can clearly see that the river, which occasionally floods after very heavy rains, has spent millions of years carefully chiseling out caves and overhangs that the native Americans used for shelter.
As you walk farther along downstream, you find yourself walking on a dried up rocky riverbed. This area must fill with water when the river floods. It was quite interesting and very beautiful. They say that prehistoric fossils of sea life can still be found in the rocks, so I walked along looking for shale and other layered rocks to split open. I didn’t find any fossils, but did find this awesome rock, which I presume to be some kind of cooled molten rock. I joined an amateur geologist page on Facebook to see if anyone can tell me what it is, and within minutes I had an ID. It’s called a chalcedony, which is “a microcrystalline type of quartz occurring in several different forms, including onyx, agate, and jasper.” The people on the Facebook page said mine looks like flint, which is kind of boring to them, but fascinating to me! (Tell the kids that science is awesome and you never stop learning!)
But, that’s not why we came to Austin! We came because this is the live music capital of the country. We took in a couple shows, and they were all really, really good performances. But there is a big information gap when it comes to visitors to Austin. There are web pages that go on and on showing the names of bars and the bands that are playing every day, but unless you are familiar with each band and know what type of music they play, you are left searching the internet for information or videos of each band. Sometimes the band listed on the listing sites does not jive with the information on the bar’s website. Sometimes, you just get tired of searching and decide to stay home and have a beer! So, we didn’t listen to much music at all in Austin. Maybe if you are willing to walk down 6th street trolling the bars you’ll find some good music.
Another thing that you can’t help but notice in Austin is the number of panhandlers and homeless people. Despite the nighttime temperatures in the mid-30’s, we saw a small group of homeless with all their belongings piled up around them in a highway overpass. And so many panhandlers on the street corners holding signs, walking up and down the cars waiting at the lights. We had a situation where the car started making a really bad noise, so we pulled into a parking lot to check it out. Immediately, a man told us that parking on the street is free on Sundays, and lots cost $10. We said ok and turned away. He told us again, and we said thanks, but we have car trouble here. He wandered away. It dawned on me after that he was hoping his information was worth a couple of bucks to us. Minutes later, a man in a wheelchair with a Veteran hat on made his way over to ask what the problem was and tell us he was a mechanic. He listened to the noise and quickly diagnosed an exhaust problem. Bob said that wasn’t likely since the manifold is on the other side of the car, and the diagnosis quickly changed to: fan, water pump, pulley, can you help a vet?
By the way, the noise went away and we haven’t heard it again. Thank goodness!
We took a ride around the Austin suburbs and decided to check out Georgetown, where one of the New Years Eve couples lives. What a cute town! Very western architecture, a few shops, restaurants and wineries. That town deserves a second look at some point. We also took Tessa to a very nice dog park in Georgetown and met a couple of nice people: a man who is from Malibu California originally, moved to Hawaii for a few years after retirement, and then to Georgetown area; and a woman who hails from Missouri, moved to Cambridge, UK, when she married her British husband, and then to Georgetown. Another thing we have learned on our travels is that few people seem to be native to these places anymore. Everyone has come from somewhere else. So it goes when traveling is easy!
Time to move on. Today we’re heading west to really, honestly The Middle of Nowhere. For the next 350 miles or so, there is really no place to stay except two Walmarts and one highway rest area. Tomorrow, we continue to Big Bend National Park. Government Shutdown be damned! The park is open, but the toilets are locked and trash is not being emptied. They request that you carry out everything you carry in, including toilet paper. We can do that!