Tag Archives for " Nature "

Texas State Parks

So far on our Texan adventure, we have enjoyed various RV hangouts, which have for the most part been free. These have included numerous Walmart car parks, outside the Hostel on Riverside, Pecan Grove RV Park in the centre of Austin and in front of Michelle’s house in North Austin.

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As we ventured a little further afield, we discovered the Texas State Parks and decided to pay the $70 annual subscription which allows us free entry at any of the 90+ parks and attractions across Texas. We no longer have to pay an entry fee (average $4-6 per person, per day), and now only pay around $20 for a full hook-up. This means we get mains water, electricity (air-conditioning), and somewhere to dump our “grey” and “black” water tanks. There is the added advantage of a beautiful park with rivers, creeks or swimming pools to cool off in the hot, Texan sun.

The State Parks often have far superior RV parking spots compared to privately owned RV parks. Primarily because they have space, and plenty of it! We have stayed in parks where we could park the RV and comfortably house up to eight people in tents. Together with picnic tables, fire pits, BBQ’s and shade, these parks have become our “home” of choice and we have mapped out our route west to stay at as many of the parks as possible on our way to New Mexico.

McKinney Falls

McKinney Falls, just a few miles south of Austin, was our first choice. A quiet, natural retreat on the bank of Onion Creek, we quickly made our way to the waterfalls to cool our bodies, which were struggling to acclimatise to the near 100 degree temperatures. The water was not clear, there were too many people stirring up the sediment, but it was deep enough to swim and have fun in the spray of the falls. We shared the water with turtles and fish, and we have become ardent “turtle whisperers” as we stalk them in the rivers, trying to get as close as possible without scaring them. They do nip occasionally, so we stay away from the big ones!

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There are two falls at McKinney, the upper and lower, where Onion Creek laps gently over the smooth white rocks that allow for a spot of bouldering. We preferred the upper falls as the water was consistently deep, allowing for better swimming and floating in our Walmart inflatable chairs!

On the second day we walked upstream to the primitive camping area with our floats and managed to make our way down the creek to both of the falls. We only had to walk a few shallow areas, and it made for an extremely relaxing morning. To speed things up a bit, we developed the art of “float running” – we lay forward on our floats and “ran” along the river bed!

Between the two falls we exited the river to clamber up to the Indian Rock Shelter. During storms in October 2013, the river had risen over 40 feet causing extensive damage to the small canyon edge and other areas of the park, which meant the shelter was inaccessible via the trails. It could still be reached (unofficially) from the river and we made it without too much problem. Here we found a large nest of “daddy long leg” spiders. They bounce on each other, hanging from the roof and creating “living ladders” if disturbed. We wouldn’t have known they were there, had Dillon not previously shown us how to identify them when we stayed with him and mum Tracey, a few weeks earlier.

There were a couple of 3 mile hiking and biking trails to explore. Unfortunately, Ian had a flat tyre which we were unable to fix, so we walked the trails. However, we did use Ian’s ingenious bike and walk relay to get us to the start of the trail more quickly!

We made full use of the parks facilities and soon our two days were over and we were on to our next stop in Lockhart.


Lockhart town has the official designation as the “BBQ Capital of Texas” and is also the site of the Chisholm Trail Roundup, an annual event celebrating the cattle drives of the 1870s. Lockhart is a town full of Texan character and history. This has made it a popular location for over 75 movies and commercials, including Transformers IV, and two great “true life” films we have just watched – Temple Grandin and Bernie.

We found the local Walmart where we planned to spend one free evening, and had hoped to eat at Smittys BBQ. Sadly when we cycled down, we found it was only open during the daytime. So we stopped at our second choice and feasted on a large plate of meat and salad. There really is nothing like Texas brisket and BBQ ribs! We are not alone in our thinking. There are five BBQ restaurants in Lockhart and the estimates suggest that 23,500 people visit each week. That’s 1,222,000 people a year who eat BBQ in Lockhart alone!

Downtown Lockhart

Downtown Lockhart

Lockhart State Park is one of only a few that offers a golf course. We were fast approaching Independence Day – July 4th – and RV spots were filling up quickly, but they managed to squeeze us in for a couple of nights. There wasn’t a lot to see, but we managed to cycle a few short trails (prepare for a few steep hills) and spent a further day relaxing by the swimming pool. We were enjoying our early morning cycle rides, which have become a regular part of our exercise routine.

Lockhart State Park swimming pool

Lockhart State Park swimming pool


  • August 4, 2014

Purple Martin roosting phenomena

A spectacular natural event at a car lot in Austin

Last night we were invited to join the locals to watch an amazing spectacle in a parking lot behind a “Jack in the Box” fast food outlet in Central Austin. The instructions told us that we should bring a lawn chair, a hat and binoculars!

Until mid-August, Purple Martins come to roost here in just a few trees for the night. After migrating to Brazil for the winter, the birds travel back to their homes in the US and Canada each spring, where they lay eggs, raise their young and prepare for travel. Some birds leave as early as July, whilst others stay as late as October.

When not breeding, the martins form large flocks and roost together in great numbers. We are not talking about a few birds here. We were told that from 8.00pm until sunset, somewhere between 300,000 and 500,000 birds would swarm overhead. This was not to be missed, and so we headed down at around 7.30 in the RV to claim our spot in the car park.

Crowds gather in the car lot to see the Martins

Crowds gather in the car lot to see the Martins

When we arrived, the car lot was already filling up with couples and families, many seated and ready to watch a natural phenomena that has been occurring in this same spot, we were told, for many, many years. No-one seemed to know exactly how these birds “home” back to the same few trees each year and we were fascinated to see how so many would all find space to roost!

We found a spot and settled back to watch the skies. There were probably no more than a dozen birds scouting the skies above us when we arrived. But as sunset turned the skies pink, more and more birds swarmed in ever growing numbers, synchronizing their flight patterns just above us.

Purple Martins swarm in the darkening skies

Purple Martins swarm in the darkening skies

Purple Martins (Progne subis) are the largest of the North American swallows, averaging around 20cm. Adults have a slightly forked tail and have a steely blue-purple sheen, more pronounced for the males. The females have some lighter colouration on their lower belly.

Male and female Martins

Male and female Martins

It was hard to believe that we might see up to half a million birds in this one location, but during the next hour we watched mesmerized, as the skies filled with more and more martins performing aerial acrobatics with great speed and agility. Others dived from high above to join the mass that was congregating above the trees.

Purple Martins build their nests in cavities, however, following the release and spread of European starlings in North America during the 20th century, a severe population crash occurred. Where the martins once gathered by the thousand, in the 1980s they had all but disappeared, as they competed for nesting sites. This is when a new bond was created between people and martins which cannot now be undone. The martins became totally dependent on human-supplied nesting boxes, and east of the Rocky Mountains, martins nest almost exclusively in man-made houses where they can raise their families each year.

Nesting House

Nesting House

This human interaction has provided the conditions for a regeneration of the martin population, and we were thankful to be able to see just one of the consequential flocks in this small area of Austin.

As we scanned the darkening skies, the martins behaviour intensified. A dark cloud of birds seemed to fly in a circular frenzy as the horde grew in numbers. There were many “oohs” and “aahs” from the crowds as the birds swept back and forth across us before finally settling to roost.

Final roosting place

Final roosting place

As the evening came to a climax, a number of us moved toward the three or four trees that would be home for the night and were astonished to see just how many birds were claiming space in such a small area of shrubbery. As the birds settled, huddled together on  branches, they became still and calm. It was fascinating to watch as the remaining birds jostled to find a perch for the night, and how the intense chirping of the birds droned out the sound of the passing cars on the highway just beyond.

Lining up for a good night's sleep

Lining up for a good night’s sleep

This was certainly an amazing spectacle that at times sent shivers down my spine. Experiencing nature in this way has a unique and moving effect, and as we the car park started to clear I felt privileged to have been part of this extraordinary event.

For more information about Purple Martins, check out the “Purple Martin Conservation Association”.

Their website can be round at http://www.purplemartin.org and they can provide help and information about how you can set up nesting boxes to ensure that future generations of martins have safe haven in North America.

Travis Audubon Information center at last night's event

Travis Audubon Information center at last night’s event

Also visit the Facebook site for Travis Audubon for local events, at:


Travis Audubon promotes the enjoyment, understanding, and conservation of native birds and their habitats.

  • July 27, 2014