Sunday, July 31, 2011

Visit to McKinney Falls State Park--With Friends!

Saturday, July 30

This weekend we went to the state park closest to us. You would not believe McKinney Falls is right near very busy roads and the Austin International Airport once you are ensconced in the deeply wooded campsites, pathways and creeks here.
A few of the many trees in our campsite (#20)
We had a bit of a late start, thanks to me being busy with final job interviews (looks like I will be starting a new job, and even getting that elusive “vacation day” thing after a few months) and Lee having work issues. But, we fetched Ursula and had a relatively good trip down—it took a while to get from Georgetown to South Austin, but at least I had a good view—you can really see even familiar things differently from such a high vantage point.

The best thing about this trip, though, was that we didn’t spend the weekend all by ourselves. Last night our friend Jennifer joined us, as our first overnight guest! We had a real good time hanging around and chatting after Lee and I took a long walk around the campground area. We sat under the stars and enjoyed the peace and quiet, interrupted only by a couple of raccoon visitors, one of whom just sauntered by us as if he or she owned the place, then came inside to the wonderful air conditioning.
Lee and Jennifer enjoy relaxing and Words with Friends in the place where we would put a tent, if we, in fact, had a tent. We were also on high alert for deer and nighthawks.

We were all prepared to have a guest (even got Ursula some new towels!) other than I forgot to bring the guest blanket I finally finished. Oh well, next time for sure. And I’d promised her she’d get to see it on this trip!

We all slept until around 8, then Jennifer and I went on a long hike around the beautiful hiking trail surrounding the campgrounds, which also went to the upper falls (right now it is just one little stream, not the usual lovely waterfall). The weather was incredibly muggy, especially for so early in the morning, because it had rained just a tiny bit earlier. But we enjoyed the walk very much. In fact, we saw so many cool things that it was hard to stop! Here are some flora and fauna highlights:
  • The weirdest moss either of us had ever seen. We are told it only grows on dead or dying trees. It hangs like Spanish moss, but is brighter green and much lighter in texture
  • Very interesting moss in a dead tree.

  • A golden cheeked warbler, very easy to see, singing in a tree. It was a first for both us us, and as bird people, we were excited. We saw another one later. These birds are found only in this area, where there are also lots and lots of other types of warblers. No photo. I was too enthralled to actually grab the phone and take one.
  • The beautiful lagoon by the upper falls. You know I love those cypress trees.
  • Another raccoon, this one fishing on the shores of Onion Creek (no, they do NOT use fishing poles). We got to watch this for quite a while. It was quite charming. The whole section of the trail along the creek was fascinating.
  • He or she was a bit far away, but there is the busy little raccoon!
  • The cutest collection of turtles on a branch—and beside them a very large and content cormorant that ignored us completely
  • Turtles are on the left, the bird is one of the two dark shapes in the circle on the right. I can't tell which is bird and which is debris!

  • A kingfisher that we heard very plainly but only got a glimpse of. A LOT of the birds here are very vocal but hard to spot. We got a lot of use out of our Audobon Bird application on our phones. The feature that plays sound samples helped us verify the kingfisher.
  • Some really cool trees and natural features, plus the original stone fences from the first European settlers in the area.
  • Old rock fence. Those took a lot of effort to build!
    Just a cool tree. And don't let the greenery fool you. It's very dry.

    Even Cooler Tree. Jennifer said it looked like a rhino.
  • A mouse, rather large, but not a rat. It was right next to us on the path, and it seemed as startled to see us as we were to see it. Right after that, I saw a cottontail rabbit.
I had a lot of fun identifying plants, trees, bugs, scat, etc. Jennifer kept saying I was amazingly observant, which tickles me, because I do seem to have the feature of noticing details. And I was on a bit of a lucky streak on our hike!

If we saw this much cool stuff in the middle of an extreme drought and heat wave, imagine how nice this park would be in the spring and fall! One of my favorite memories of when my children were small is our first visit here, which was the first spring we lived in Austin. Some of the flowers were breathtaking, especially a huge field of baby blue eyes under tall trees. The colors were so striking. And Declan and I saw our first hummingbird moth here—the other two could barely drag us away from it.

By the time we got back, it was HOT. So we showered and relaxed until our second visitors arrived, our friends Rhys and Elizabeth (with their two very small dogs).
So happy to get to see Ursula. Of course, later they took many subversive photos of themselves in her, when we innocently went off for a walk.

We sat around, had lunch and goofed off during the afternoon. Elizabeth and I went to Target (so nice to have a CAR while camping) and got a third set of lights for the outside. As you can see below, they look really good now.
Photo copyright Rhys Edouard Samaniego-Finch

Then Ranger Louis Brown showed up.2

During the afternoon, as we were sitting and chatting, we had a visit from the Park Ranger, because Jennifer had parked her car slightly crooked and that is a big McKinney Falls no-no. He turned out to be a most charming and entertaining young man (he appeared much younger than his actual age—he must be at least mid 20s but looks like a teen), and he had some wonderful stories of his adventures in the Coast Guard reserve and being a drug enforcement and anti-terrorism person. He said it was always fun working where they had all those ranches where rich people go shoot things, because they would be all drunk and belligerent and not believe he had the power to arrest them, until they apologized the next morning. He also said they ALL either were lawyers or had one to quickly invoke. Anyway, we all were charmed by him, so it was good we broke a rule, so he could visit. I thought he would find us even weirder than when I said “karma” if I asked to take his picture so we don’t have one. Just picture the Boy Scout down the street. The really, really clean cut one who is very good with knives.

When it got to be late afternoon, Lee set up one of our new “tarps” (very nice squares of shade cloth) and covered the picnic table area so we could play a nice round of Scrabble. Jennifer has a really cool set her kids gave her—it’s portable, but large and sturdy.

We are playing Scrabble under a tarp. I am trying to not look posed.

It was a fine afternoon, followed by a good dinner—we had melon afterwards, and that hit the spot.
It rather wore out Gairgunn.

Lee and I got brave and took another walk before dinner (still really muggy and hot), to the other section of campgrounds. There are some lovely sites there, too, but none have 50 amp service. Ours is actually one of the nicest 50 amp ones—I hope we can get it again if we come back, which I also hope happens! While we were gone, the kids "played" in Ursula. I stole this off Facebook.

Ahem. Don't drink and drive, young man. Especially with a tiny dog in your lap!

It’s been the kind of day I always wanted to have with Ursula. Hanging with friends, relaxing, and seeing some lovely nature sites.3

July 31, 2011

It was a bit cooler and slightly more breezy this morning, so sitting out and drinking coffee was more pleasant. Jennifer found raccoon tracks on her chair, so we know we had guests last night. We decided not to do another big hike, so Jen and I drove to the lower falls entrance and explored there for a while. It is a beautiful, unique kind of scenery, even with very little water. Here, enjoy some sample photos.

It was fun to see all the tiny fish fry in the little streams heading to the waterfall (which are generally slightly bigger streams). Some folks were swimming in the lagoon and said it was pretty darned hot in there. We were, by that time, boilingly hot ourselves. Walking in the sun on all those rocks generates a lot of sweat! I did notice a lot of brown leaves on the trees—I hope they are just going into premature autumn and not dead.

This is all that is trickling in to make a waterfall in this drought!

In the center is where that little trickle comes out.

After cleaning Ursula and emptying the gray and black water (the water we used showering and washing stuff vs. the pee and poo), we are about ready to head back to civilization. What a good weekend.

Trip Report: McKinney Falls State Park, Cypress Creek, Austin, TX—July 29-31, 2011
Another cool dead tree

Highlight: Tie between having our first guests and the golden cheeked warbler

Lowlight: Oppressively still air


  • Friday night Lee and I had sandwiches. Jennifer ate at home
  • More sandwiches for all at lunch on Saturday. Jen and Rhys did low carb stuff.
  • Another chicken and spinach pasta meal for dinner, on greens. The low carbers had some of that stuff, and we all had watermelon and cantaloupe (muskmelon to those in the know) for dessert.
  • I got some strawberry all fruit preserves, so I can have PBJ for breakfasts.
  • Exciting after dinner drink treat was Sprite and plum vodka, which I was assured tastes just like an alcoholic version of "Sprite Remix." Rest assured this was not consumed in public, Officer Brown.
Location Review:
This is the kind of park I really like. Both Lee and I declare it our favorite so far, even if Krause had cooler water. Lots of shade, woods, water and wildlife. I like the long trails (there are more than we could do in one weekend when it’s so hot). I like the 50 amp service and the very friendly staff. As the young people were saying, this is a place you could come to over and over. What’s to stop us? It’s nearby and we bought a State Park Pass. To be honest, I feel sort of bad that I haven’t been here in so long. It’s a lot less crowded than Inks Lake, and you have much nicer campsites.

Lessons Learned:
1. Bungee cords rock. Between the assortment I got at Target and the rope that came with the sunshades, Lee was able to get us a nice cover without damaging any piece of nature. He also used tiny ones to anchor the GPS where he can actually see it while he drives.
2. Raccoons are fearless.
3. Police officers, even State Park Police, have senses of smell. You are not hiding your roach by just lowering it when you check in at a park (from Officer Brown).
4. Having people come with us is as fun as we had hoped it would be.
Rhys's cool panoramic photo of Ursula's interior4

Guest Reviews of the Ursula Experience

Jennifer has come down with a case of Ursula envy. She says, “We have wonderful hosts. I have had such a fun day doing stuff I wouldn’t normally do.”
Sitting in the "bird watching area" and enjoying the sights and sounds of nature, not something she normally does.

Elizabeth says so far the best part is that it only took them 15 minutes to get to the park, though she hadn’t walked around yet, because it was hot, but the campsite was quite beautiful and shady. She declared, “I liked the Park Ranger. That was a nice ‘view’.” She added, “Ursula is way larger on the inside than she appears on the outside. If I had Ursula, I’d name her after the whale in Pinocchio, whatever its name. The amenities are top notch, and the spread is quite delectable, but the staff is just par. Luckily there is a Target just down the street.”

She rarely poses. Such a natural gal.

“Ursula is welcome shelter on a hot summer’s day. A splendid staycation.” Says Rhys.
When he is famous, he will have to drive the tour bus.

Gairgunn the Dog gives Ursula 4 out of paws. Leia the Dog didn’t have much to say, but seemed quite fascinated at the prospect of people dropping crumbs anywhere near Ursula.
Leia is on the left.

Notes from ELAB:
  1. Well, maybe you would. The trees don’t quite block out all the traffic noise. Then there is the occasional boom box car and jet. But none of that detracts from the countryside feel of this park.
  2. “Ranger” may be a correct word, but his shoulder patch actually said, “State Park Police.” He was very emphatic that his is actually a State Trooper and told funny stories about making arrests outside of parks. One guy actually asked him, “Do you know where you’er at, boy?” Never a good way to start a conversation with a cop—no matter who is asking the question.
  3. What I got done this weekend was to install the Blueray player and use teensy bungie cords to mount the GPS more permanently to Ursula’s dash.
  4. Didja notice I’m in the shot twice wearing two different sets of clothes? We’ll have to have a chat with Continuity.


  1. This all looks and sounds awesome. I am jealous of your guests. I hope you'll go back to this park soon!

  2. Sue Ann, this was so fun to read, even though I was there and already knew this stuff!!