Monday, December 18, 2023

Winter Wonders: 10 Outdoor Adventures in Texas to Feed Your Soul

Whether you're a seasoned hiker, a water sports junkie, or just someone craving a breath of fresh air, winter is the perfect time to explore Texas. And, to help you get started, I've identified 10 outdoor adventures to do in the winter along with some fantastic places to refuel your energy and enjoy delicious bites and sips. So, let's gooooo!

1. Hiking in Big Bend National Park:

Winter turns Big Bend National Park into a hiker's dream. Cooler temps make exploring the Chisos Mountains and canyons more enjoyable. Take on the Emory Peak Trail or opt for a chill stroll along the Santa Elena Canyon. Afterward, head to Terlingua for some grub at the Starlight Theatre. The Starlight is less a theatre and more a restaurant that offers a unique dining experience in a historic building, serving up tasty Tex-Mex and American delights. Order the "Chisos Mountain Enchiladas" paired with a local craft beer or a refreshing prickly pear margarita.

2. Bird Watching at the Gulf Coast:

Calling all bird lovers! Winter brings a flurry of migratory birds to the Gulf Coast. Head to places like Galveston Island or the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge to witness the spectacular sight of whooping cranes and other feathered friends. Post-bird watching, check out Gaido's Seafood Restaurant in Galveston for fresh Gulf Coast seafood, or keep it casual at Shrimp 'N Stuff. Indulge in the "Gulf Coast Seafood Platter" with a side of their signature seafood gumbo.

3. Camping in Palo Duro Canyon State Park:

Escape winter blues by camping in the second-largest canyon in the U.S. Palo Duro Canyon State Park offers stunning vistas, hiking trails, and stargazing opportunities. Campfires, crisp air, and starry nights make for a memorable winter camping experience. For a culinary adventure, drive to Amarillo after camping and indulge in hearty Texas fare at the Big Texan Steak Ranch. Take on the iconic "72-Ounce Steak Challenge" or opt for a hearty Texas T-Bone paired with a local craft beer.

4. Mountain Biking in the Hill Country:

Explore the rugged beauty of the Texas Hill Country on a mountain bike. Barton Creek Greenbelt and Hill Country State Natural Area provide exciting challenges and picturesque landscapes for bikers of all skill levels. After your biking escapade, dive into Austin's food scene. Head to The Salt Lick BBQ for mouthwatering barbecue or explore food trucks and craft breweries. Feast on the "Family Style All-You-Can-Eat BBQ" with sides of coleslaw and peach cobbler.

5. Rock Climbing and Scrambling in Enchanted Rock State Natural Area:

For the adrenaline seekers, winter is an ideal time to tackle the granite dome of Enchanted Rock. Don’t forget to explore the bouldering niches and crawl through the cave near the rock pile at the top of Enchanted Rock. With cooler temperatures and clear skies, climbers can enjoy the breathtaking views from the top of this iconic Texas landmark. Afterward, satisfy your hunger in Fredericksburg with some German delights. Try bratwurst and schnitzel at Otto's German Bistro or Altdorf Biergarten. Enjoy a plate of "Sauerbraten" with a cold German beer to celebrate your climbing triumph.

6. Fishing on the Guadalupe River:

Cast your line into the Guadalupe River for winter trout fishing. Enjoy the peaceful surroundings and, with a bit of luck, reel in a trophy-sized catch. For a riverside dining experience, explore eateries in New Braunfels or Gruene. The Gristmill River Restaurant and Bar is a great spot. Savor the "River Road Royalty" burger with a local craft beer on the scenic riverside patio.

7. Exploring Lost Maples State Natural Area:

Experience a burst of winter color in November at Lost Maples State Natural Area. The changing leaves of the Uvalde bigtooth maples create a stunning display. After hiking the trails, head to Utopia or Medina for Hill Country cuisine. The Laurel Tree offers upscale dining in a historic setting. Delight in the "Grilled Venison" with a side of sweet potato mash and finish with a slice of pecan pie. The Apple Store serves burgers and sandwiches, but the real treats are inside within the bakery where they offer pastries and apple soft serve ice cream.

8. Kayaking on the San Marcos River:

For water lovers, winter kayaking on the San Marcos River is a refreshing adventure. Paddle through crystal-clear waters and take in the scenic beauty. Afterward, explore San Marcos' culinary scene. The Root Cellar Café & Brewery offers locally sourced ingredients and craft beer. Pair your adventure with a flight of their craft beers and the "Root Cellar Burger" made with local ingredients.

9. Stargazing in McDonald Observatory:

Clear Texas night skies in winter are perfect for stargazing. Head to McDonald Observatory in the Davis Mountains for an astronomical experience. Attend a star party or explore the observatory's telescopes to marvel at the wonders of the universe. After a night of marveling at the cosmos, explore Fort Davis for breakfast or lunch at the Fort Davis Drug Store and Hotel. Enjoy a leisurely breakfast with a "Davis Mountain Omelette" and a cup of freshly brewed coffee.

10. Wildlife Safari at Fossil Rim Wildlife Center:

Embark on a unique safari adventure at Fossil Rim Wildlife Center near Glen Rose. In winter, animals are more active, and guided tours provide a chance to observe exotic species in a natural habitat setting. For a post-safari treat, check out the Loco Coyote Grill in Glen Rose for Tex-Mex dishes and outdoor seating. Indulge in the "Coyote's Special" featuring a variety of Tex-Mex delights, and sip on a margarita with a view of the outdoor seating.

Winter in Texas beckons adventurers to explore diverse landscapes, from the coastal regions to the rugged canyons and everything in between. Whether you seek the thrill of rock climbing, the tranquility of bird watching, or the beauty of changing leaves, Texas in the winter promises unforgettable outdoor experiences for adventurers of all kinds. So, gear up, embrace the cooler temps, and discover the magic of winter in the Lone Star State. Don't forget to check operating hours and make reservations in smaller towns. Happy adventuring and bon appétit in the beautiful state of Texas!

Saturday, November 25, 2023

During The Holidays, Spend Time Not Money

Spend time and not money with those that you value. Don’t go into debt buying things this holiday season. According to credit monitor Experian, the average American adult held $6,365 in credit card debt and the average auto loan debt per consumer was $23,479. Instead of accumulating more debt, try some of these outdoor activities that will, instead of creating more debt, hopefully create long lasting memories.

  • Hiking Adventures: Explore local trails and nature reserves – a refreshing hike costs nothing but promises stunning views and a connection with the great outdoors. Find hiking trails using the AllTrails app.
  • Picnic in the Park: Pack a homemade lunch, gather your friends or family, and head to a nearby park for a delightful picnic. It's a simple yet enjoyable way to spend quality time together.
  • Geocaching Quests: Join the global treasure hunt! Geocaching involves using GPS coordinates to find hidden containers. It's an adventurous and free activity that adds an element of mystery to your outdoor experience. 
  • Stargazing Evenings: Lay out a blanket, gaze at the night sky, and identify constellations. Stargazing is a serene and cost-free activity that encourages appreciation for the vastness of the universe. Download an app like Planets to help you identify constellations.
  • Photography Excursions: Grab your camera or smartphone and set out on a photography adventure. Capture the beauty of your surroundings, whether it's a scenic sunset, wildlife, or architectural details.
  • Botanical Garden Visits: Many botanical gardens offer free admission on certain days. Explore the diverse flora, learn about plant species, and enjoy a peaceful day surrounded by nature's wonders.
  • Spruce up the yard: Rake up leaves, plant a garden or decorate your house. Don’t think of these common house chores as work, think of them as opportunities to spend time together to accomplish a common goal.
  • Community Volunteering: Contribute to your community by participating in outdoor volunteer activities. This not only benefits others but also provides a sense of fulfillment without any financial burden. Find opportunities with VolunteerMatch.
  • Park Cleanups: Spend a day at a local park making a positive impact. Organize or join a park cleanup initiative to contribute to beautifying your neighborhood while enjoying the soothing sounds of fall.
  • Nature Journaling: Engage your creative side by starting a nature journal. Document your outdoor experiences, sketches, and thoughts. It's a meaningful and introspective way to connect with the environment. Here are some useful tips.

Spend time and not money with those that you value during the holiday season. Enjoying these experiences together fosters a sense of togetherness without creating a financial strainThese budget-friendly activities not only provide a welcome respite from the hustle and bustle of the season but also promote a deeper connection and might just create long lasting memories with the people that you love.

Sunday, November 12, 2023

Top 5 Waterfall Hikes in Austin, Texas

Autumn is generally marked by cooler temperatures and the transformation of colors. In Texas, this season is often accompanied by an increase in rainfall. While the prospect of cold and rainy weather might not immediately sound attractive, it does unveil some hidden gems that are often overlooked. More rain results in more water in the creeks which in turn results in more water flowing over waterfalls. One of the most exhilarating ways to experience the beauty of Texas in the Fall is by embarking on waterfall hikes. 

This is my list of the top 5 waterfall hikes near Austin, Texas that promise stunning views, refreshing cascades, and a memorable experience. Lace-up those hiking boots, pack some snacks, and get ready to hit the trails!

  1. Three Falls Hike on the Barton Creek Greenbelt: Our first stop is the Barton Creek Greenbelt, a local favorite that offers the Three Falls Hike. This 7.3 mile out and back trail is a delightful mix of rocky terrain and serene beauty. As you navigate the rocky paths, you'll encounter three stunning waterfalls, each with its own unique charm. The sound of water rushing over limestone formations is a symphony for the senses. Explore the trail with this AllTrails map.

  2. Homestead Trail at McKinney Falls State Park: Next on our list is the Homestead Trail at McKinney Falls State Park, just a short drive from downtown Austin. This 3.4 mile loop trail takes you on a journey through lush greenery, leading to the majestic Upper and Lower McKinney Falls. The falls are surrounded by ancient limestone formations, creating a picturesque setting for a peaceful hike. The park's diverse flora and fauna add to the overall enchantment of this hidden oasis. Explore the trail with this AllTrails map.

  3. St Edwards Green at St Edwards Park: For those seeking a short hike and with a view of a waterfall, the St Edwards Green and Red Loop at St Edwards Park is a true gem. This 1.9 mile loop hike offers a mix of shaded trails and open spaces, leading you to a hidden waterfall that feels like a secret paradise. The tranquil surroundings make it an ideal spot for a contemplative hike or a peaceful picnic by the cascading waters. Explore the trail with this AllTrails map.

  4. Brushy Creek Trail at Brushy Creek Parkway: Venturing a bit north of Austin, the Brushy Creek Trail at Brushy Creek Parkway offers a family-friendly waterfall hike. This 6.4 mile out and back paved trail meanders along the scenic Brushy Creek, providing easy access to the refreshing beauty of Twin Lakes Falls. The waterfall is a perfect spot to relax and enjoy the natural surroundings, making it an excellent choice for hikers of all skill levels. Explore the trail with this AllTrails map.

  5. Infinity Loop at Bull Creek Metro Park: Our final destination is the Infinity Loop at Bull Creek Metro Park, offering a diverse landscape and, of course, a breathtaking waterfall. This 4 mile double loop moderately challenging hike takes you through woodlands and alongside the clear waters of Bull Creek, culminating in the mesmerizing Bull Creek Waterfall. The layered rock formations and lush greenery create a visual spectacle that's worth the hike. Explore the trail with this AllTrails map.

There you have it – the top 5 waterfall hikes near Austin, Texas. Whether you're a seasoned hiker or a nature-loving novice, these trails promise a rewarding experience. So, lace up your hiking boots, grab your camera, and immerse yourself in the natural wonders that the Austin area has to offer. Happy hiking!

Monday, July 24, 2023

The Optimal Overland Route Around Africa


I asked AI… 

How can one plan the most optimal overland journey across all African countries, considering factors like quality of experience, time efficiency, and cost-effectiveness, while ensuring the inclusion of the top must-visit attractions in each country?

AI answered…

Here's a step-by-step guide to help you with this ambitious adventure:

  • Research and Create an Itinerary: Begin by researching all the African countries and their top attractions. Compile a list of the top must-visit sights in each country, considering historical landmarks, natural wonders, cultural experiences, and wildlife encounters. Use travel guides, online resources, and recommendations from experienced travelers.

  • Plot Your Route: Once you have the list of attractions, start plotting your route on a map. Consider the geographic proximity of the countries and the most efficient way to travel between them. Plan your itinerary in a way that minimizes backtracking and maximizes the flow of your journey.

  • Set a Budget: Determine your budget for the entire trip, including transportation, accommodation, food, entry fees to attractions, and other expenses. Be realistic about the costs associated with such an extensive journey and allocate your resources wisely.

  • Choose the Right Vehicle: Since you'll be traveling overland, select a reliable and sturdy vehicle that is well-suited for long-distance travel. Ensure the vehicle is well-maintained and equipped for off-road conditions, as some areas in Africa might have challenging terrains.

  • Consider Time Constraints: Be mindful of the time you have available for the journey. Traveling to every country in Africa and visiting multiple attractions in each will take a considerable amount of time. Prioritize the top attractions and allocate time accordingly.

  • Plan Accommodations: Research and book accommodations in advance, especially in popular tourist destinations. Consider a mix of hotels, guesthouses, camping, and other budget-friendly options to balance the budget.

  • Be Aware of Visa Requirements: Check the visa requirements for each African country you plan to visit. Some countries offer visas on arrival, while others require pre-arranged visas. Ensure your passport has sufficient validity for the entire trip.

  • Plan for Safety: Africa is a vast and diverse continent, and safety considerations are crucial. Stay updated on travel advisories, political situations, and health risks in the countries you plan to visit. Register with your country's embassy in each country for added security.

  • Pack Smartly: Pack appropriate clothing for various weather conditions, as well as essential items for long drives. Don't forget to bring necessary documents, travel insurance, and any required vaccinations.

  • Be Flexible: Despite careful planning, unexpected situations may arise during such a journey. Stay flexible and open to adjusting your itinerary as needed.

Remember that attempting to visit every country in Africa and exploring the top attractions in each one is an ambitious and extensive undertaking. Depending on your time frame, resources, and preferences, you might need to adjust the scope of the journey to make it more feasible and enjoyable. Enjoy the process of planning and embark on this incredible adventure with a spirit of curiosity and respect for the diverse cultures and landscapes of Africa.

Creating a comprehensive route to cover every country in Africa and visit the top sights in each one is an extremely complex task that would require a vast amount of time and detailed planning. However, I can suggest a high-level route that covers the major regions of Africa and includes some of the continent's iconic attractions. Keep in mind that this route is quite ambitious and may take several months or even years to complete, depending on the pace of your journey. Feel free to research each destination in more detail to plan your trip thoroughly.

    • Northern Africa:

      • Start in Morocco: Explore Marrakech, Atlas Mountains, Sahara Desert, Chefchaouen.

      • Algeria: Tassili n'Ajjer National Park, Algiers, Roman Ruins of Tipaza.

      • Tunisia: Carthage, El Djem Amphitheatre, Sahara Desert oases.

      • Libya: Tripoli, Leptis Magna, Sahara Desert.

      • Egypt: Cairo, Giza Pyramids, Luxor (Valley of the Kings), Aswan (Abu Simbel), Alexandria.

    • Western Africa:

      • Mauritania: Banc d'Arguin National Park, Chinguetti Desert Town.

      • Senegal: Dakar, Goree Island, Djoudj National Bird Sanctuary.

      • Mali: Timbuktu, Dogon Country, Djenne's Great Mosque.

      • Burkina Faso: Ouagadougou, Bobo-Dioulasso, Ruins of Loropeni.

      • Ghana: Accra, Cape Coast Castle, Kakum National Park.

    • Central Africa:

      • Niger: Agadez, W National Park, Bilma Oasis.

      • Chad: N'Djamena, Zakouma National Park, Ennedi Plateau.

      • Libya: Tripoli, Leptis Magna, Sahara Desert.

      • Nigeria: Lagos, Abuja, Yankari National Park.

      • Cameroon: Yaoundé, Douala, Waza National Park.

      • Central African Republic: Dzanga-Sangha National Park, Bangui.

    • Eastern Africa:

      • Sudan: Khartoum, Meroe Pyramids, Nubian Desert.

      • South Sudan: Juba, Boma National Park.

      • Ethiopia: Addis Ababa, Lalibela, Simien Mountains.

      • Eritrea: Asmara, Massawa, Dahlak Archipelago.

      • Djibouti: Djibouti City, Lake Assal, Day Forest National Park.

    • Southern Africa (Continued):

      • Uganda: Kampala, Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, Murchison Falls.

      • Rwanda: Kigali, Volcanoes National Park, Lake Kivu.

      • Kenya: Nairobi, Maasai Mara, Mount Kenya.

      • Tanzania: Serengeti National Park, Ngorongoro Crater, Zanzibar.

      • Mozambique: Maputo, Bazaruto Archipelago, Gorongosa National Park.

    • Southern Africa (Continued):

      • Malawi: Lilongwe, Lake Malawi, Liwonde National Park.

      • Zambia: Lusaka, Victoria Falls, South Luangwa National Park.

      • Zimbabwe: Harare, Great Zimbabwe Ruins, Hwange National Park.

      • Botswana: Gaborone, Okavango Delta, Chobe National Park.

      • Namibia: Windhoek, Namib Desert, Etosha National Park.

    • Southern Africa (Continued):

      • Angola: Luanda, Kissama National Park, Tundavala Gap.

      • South Africa: Cape Town, Kruger National Park, Table Mountain.

      • Lesotho: Maseru, Sani Pass, Maletsunyane Falls.

      • Swaziland (Eswatini): Mbabane, Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary.

      • Madagascar: Antananarivo, Avenue of the Baobabs, Isalo National Park.

    • Island Nations:

      • Comoros: Moroni, Mohéli Marine Park.

      • Seychelles: Victoria, Anse Lazio, Vallée de Mai.

      • Mauritius: Port Louis, Black River Gorges National Park.

      • Cape Verde: Praia, Fogo Island, Sal Island.

Keep in mind that this route is just a general outline, and you may need to adapt it based on visa requirements, safety considerations, and seasonal weather patterns. It's essential to research each destination thoroughly and plan for contingencies while ensuring you comply with all local regulations and cultural norms during your journey. Happy Travels!

Wednesday, July 19, 2023

Free Swimming Pools in Austin for the Summer

Photo credit:

Summers in Texas can be notoriously hot. I've found that there is no better way to cool off than to hit up one of the free swimming pools around town. After a game of basketball, ultimate, pickleball or a hike, I like to drop by my neighborhood pool, rinse in the shower, then take a plunge. Sometimes I swim a few laps in the lap lane, but often I just wade in the shallow to cool my body temperature. Check out this list of free swimming pools. My favorite pools are Ramsey in my neighborhood, Canyon Vista in the northwest and I'll go for the free night swim 
at Barton Springs Pool from 9pm to 10pm. Check the schedule because some pools are closed on certain days for maintenance.  

North Austin:

  • Balcones | 12017 Amherst Dr. | Closed on Mondays | Schedule 
  • Brentwood | 6710 Arroyo Seco | Closed on Tuesdays |  Schedule
  • Canyon Vista | 8455 Spicewood Springs | Closed on Thursdays |  Schedule
  • Kennemer | 1031 Peyton Gin Rd. | Closed on Mondays |  Schedule
  • Murchison | 3700 North Hills Dr.| Closed on Mondays | Schedule

West Austin:

  • Ramsey | 4200 Burnet Rd.Closed on Thursdays | Schedule
  • Reed | 2600 Pecos St. | Closed on Tuesdays | Schedule
  • West Austin | 1317 W. 10th St. | Closed on Mondays | Schedule
  • West Enfield | 2000 Enfield Rd. | Closed on Wednesdays | Schedule
  • Shipe & Shipe Wading Pools | 4400 Avenue G. Closed on Wednesdays | Schedule

East Austin:

  • Civitan – 513 Vargas Rd. – Closed on Mondays | Schedule
  • Dottie Jordan – 2803 Loyola Ln. – Closed on Wednesdays | Schedule
  • Givens – 3811 E. 12th St.  – Closed on Tuesdays |  Schedule
    (From July 15-July 29 – Givens Pool will be closed on Mondays)
  • Govalle | 5200 Bolm Road | Closed on Tuesdays | Schedule
  • Martin | 1626 Nash Hernandez Sr. Dr.| Closed on Wednesdays | Schedule
  • Metz | 2407 Canterbury St. | Closed on Thursdays |  Schedule
  • Montopolis | 1200 Montopolis Dr. |  Closed on Tuesdays | Schedule
  • Parque Zarazoga | 741 Pedernales St. | Closed on Thursdays | Schedule
  • Patterson | 1400 Wilshire Blvd. | Closed on Wednesdays | Schedule
  • Rosewood | 1182 Pleasant Valley | Closed on Mondays | Schedule

South Austin:

  • Big Stacy |  700 E. Live Oak St. | Closed on Mondays | Schedule
  • Dick Nichols | 8011 Beckett Rd.| Closed on Mondays | Schedule
  • Dittmar | 1009 W. Dittmar Dr. | Closed on Tuesdays | Schedule
  • Dove Springs | 5701 Ainez Dr. | Closed on Thursdays | Schedule
  • Gillis | 2504 S. Durwood Ave. | Closed on Wednesdays | Schedule
  • Little Stacy Wading | 1400 East Side Dr.Closed on Wednesdays | Schedule


Barton Springs and Deep Eddy Pools are municipal pools and typically charge an entrance fee. However, at certain times of the day they offer free swim times. Check the schedule for hours of operation and free swim times.

  • Barton Springs | 2131 William Barton Dr. | Schedule
  • Deep Eddy | 401 Deep Eddy Ave.| Schedule


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