Weekend Adventures: Pedernales Falls State Park

I haven’t gone on a photography walk since Christmas. But last weekend, I had the entirety of Saturday unscheduled and a desire to be out and about. So I texted my friend Savanni (whose photography skills are excellent) about going somewhere nearby for a good, long walk, accompanied by cameras. I has a specific itch to go somewhere with water, so we headed out to Johnson City, home to Pedernales Falls State Park.

We met up midmorning, and headed out on 290. Despite some traffic in Dripping Springs, we made it out unscathed, and spent nearly three hours climbing rocks and taking pictures. The water levels were low, of course, but that made for lots of good exploring. (Pedernales Falls is known for flash floods, and while Savanni and I would both like to see that one day, we would also like to observe it from a safe distance.)

While we were walking, I realized how long it had been since I’d spent extended time exploring the outdoors. I was at the beach in July, and since then I’ve pretty much been city-bound. And while I adore Austin, I didn’t realize just how much I’d been missing nature until I was immersed in it.

We had a perfect afternoon: climbing, walking, photographing, conversing. I ended up with a bit of sunburn (it’s autumn, but the sun here hasn’t lost intensity yet), and my calves are still sore, but it was all worth it to get outside, walk around, and enjoy Texas.

I like lens flares. So sue me.

We finished off our afternoon with a late lunch at Torchy’s, which officially solidified the day’s greatness.

Somebody snarked at us for taking photos of this rusted-out plumbing accessory. Haters gonna hate.

I’m also seriously considering investing in a Texas State Parks Pass. I would need to make one solo state park visit a month for it to pay for itself, and since I usually go to parks with at least one person, it would get cost-effective pretty quickly. Especially with the camping fee discount.

Weekend Adventures Part 2: Austin Chronicle Hot Sauce Festival

Printed on the side of the tortilla chip boxes. I don’t know. I just liked it.

Last year, it was 112 degrees on the day of the Austin Chronicle Hot Sauce Festival; on top of that, there was still one more day for ArmadilloCon. While the festival has been a must-attend for Jon and me ever since we lived here, between the weather and the conflict, we decided to skip out. This year, the con and the festival were on separate weekends, and the weather was much more temperate (it even rained a little bit!). And I’m glad we went, because there were some delicious new things.

Chips!

We started out in the tasting lines for the sauces entered in the competition. We hit the specialty sauces first, and tasted some amazing creations, from great habanero sauces, to those made with citrus or curry or cucumber, to one that included shrimp!

Shrimp salsa! Who would have thought?

But our favorite by far was from a newcomer to the festival this year: the Cajun Garlic Essence sauce from Jac’s Tailgaters, based out of Louisiana.

 

After tasting all the specialty sauces, we moved on to the green sauce section. Halfway through, we decided we were done with the long, slow lines, so decided to hit up the hot sauce vendors who were offering samples. And, of course, let people take our money in exchange for delicious hot sauce.

We ended up buying condiments from five different companies (in order of appearance on our festival meanderings):

High Octane Sauce Company

  • Rice Burner Sweet and Spicy Asian Sauce (I didn’t sample this, but Jon assures me that I’m going to love it)

Cin Chili

  • Cindy’s Cin-namon Apple BBQ Sauce (delightfully sweet and savory)
  • Hell’s Passion Hot Sauce (reminds me of my former favorite, Scorned Woman, before they changed their recipe for the worse)
  • Triple-C Steak Sauce (I don’t remember the last time I bought steak sauce, as I don’t really eat steak, but this was too delicious to pass up)

Austin Slow Burn

  • Habanero-Rosemary Jelly (I’m a big fan of their Habanero-Cranberry Jelly as well, but we decided to purchase the new flavor this year)

Jac’s Tailgaters 

  • Cajun Garlic Essence (I will reiterate: the best sauce entered in the competition)
  • Bayou Gold Chipotle Mustard Sauce (because I am a mustard addict)
  • Cajun Lightning Hot Sauce (I think it’s new, because it’s not on their website; it cost $3 more than the rest of the sauces, but was well worth the price)

Thai Gourmet

  • Thai Cumber Salsa, medium heat, with Thai peppers (Our first choice was the high heat with habaneros, but they were sold out; this was the next best thing, and still very delicious)
  • Massamun Curry Sauce (I can’t wait to cook with this!)

After over three hours of standing in the sun and sampling sauce, we came away with enough to last us at least six months (probably; we’re hot sauce addicts). And, at the end of all that, what was the natural choice? A trip to Amy’s Ice Cream, to chill out. The perfect ending to a perfect afternoon.

Guinness ice cream with Heath bar crumbles mixed in. Delicious.

Weekend Adventures, Part 1: Blue Willow Books

On Saturday, my friend Shubh and I drove to Houston to attend the kickoff Texas Poetry Calendar reading at Blue Willow Books. I had even more fun this year than I did last year, primarily because I knew so many people this year; in fact, last year’s Blue Willow reading was my major initiation into the Texas poetry community, and was the catalyst for many new friendships, with poets both in Austin and in other cities.

It’s fun to be one of the guests of honor.

Dos Gatos press editor Scott Wiggerman served as your emcee, and he ran a smooth event. There were twenty-one poets, and he still managed to keep the reading within the scheduled timeframe (this, I have noticed, is harder than it looks). Because we had so many poets in attendance, we only got to read two pieces: the poem we had in the calendar, and one other piece. Even though each poet only had a few minutes of time, it still gave me the chance to appreciate everyone there.

Of course, the real fun came when we arrived in Houston and I realized I’d forgotten the folio where I keep all of my poems. It was still sitting on my bed,  back in Austin. Of course, I had easy access to my calendar poem, so that wasn’t an issue. But, of course, there was still the issue of my second poem.

Now, while I don’t hold it against anyone who reads a poem off of their smartphone (folders get forgotten, notebooks get lost, things happen), I personally don’t care for the aesthetic of reading directly off of a small screen like that. Of course, my phone was pretty much the only access I had to my poems, otherwise situated 200 miles away. But thanks to the power of Dropbox, I managed to pull up a shorter poem that I had mostly memorized, get the middle portion square in my mind, and perform without the assistance of my device. Crisis averted!

After a wonderful 90 minutes of poetry, we had time to browse the shop, and then a group of us went to dinner at Carmelo’s, which I contend is the only worthwhile Italian restaurant in the entire state of Texas (there are many things I love about living here; the Italian cuisine leaves something to be desired). Dinner lasted even longer than the reading did, as we shared wonderful discussions about poetry, along with great food.

As much as I love the ravioli at Carmelo’s, the black truffle cream sauce on the capellini was calling to me.
Possibly the best salad ever.

As with any other poetry reading, when Shubh and I headed back to Austin, I was feeling inspired (this time even more so because of the great dinner and conversation afterward). I have ideas for new poems, and am returning to the idea I had earlier this summer, to create a feminist poetry festival in Austin (the amount of work is intimidating, but this idea can’t be shaken). We had a lovely drive home, and I couldn’t wait to get to work on Sunday.

Now I need to prepare to be the featured poet at the Kick Butt Coffee Poetry Open Mic in September (more on that later). My goal is to have the poems in my 30-minute set memorized….so I’d better get to work!

Weekend Adventures: Galveston Island

This is what convertibles were made for: waking up early and heading out with a friend to get possibly the best bagels in the entire state of Texas from Hot Bagels in Houston. And then putting the top town, heading out on I-45 South, and driving to Galveston. And as you’re heading down the highway, knowing you’re probably already getting too much sun even though it’s only 8:30 a.m., but accepting that this is a fact of living in Texas, and deciding it’s worth it to drive down with the wind blowing all around you.

I spent most of the morning fiddling around with the different settings on my camera, which is why this is overexposed. However, I like it anyway.

Sunday was my first time in Galveston, and also my first time on a Texas beach. I’d seen the Gulf of Mexico from Florida, but was looking forward to see some of my state’s coast for once.

We hung around the seawall and spent the morning relaxing, alternating between the water and the sand. The waves were small at first,  but they started to pick up, and I had a ton of fun playing in them. There were also schools of fish that kept swimming by and jumping out of the water, as though just daring the gulls to try to eat them.

When the sun started getting intense, we headed out to get some food. Being on the coast made me want oysters, so we ended up at The Spot, where I indulged my whim and ate a full dozen oysters. Which I realize is not the most well-balance meal ever, but it was delicious, and exactly what I wanted.

The perfect lunch

Finally, it was time to head on back. Meaning more time driving my wonderful car, listening to good music, and enjoying the wind. And winding up with quite the sunburn, despite liberal applications of sunscreen. Welcome to summer in Texas.

Weekend Adventures: Deep Eddy

(Note: In case you haven’t noticed, I’ve changed the focus of my Weekend Adventures posts. Rather than giving a rundown of everything I did, I’m focusing on one or two specific places I visited. They might be new, or they might be a revisit to somewhere I love, but right now I’m more interested in exploration and travel, even if I’m staying local.)
 

This past Saturday, my friend Carly and I went swimming at Deep Eddy. Carly is leaving Texas soon to take an amazing teaching job at the Illinois Institute of Technology, and while I’m thrilled for her, I’m going to miss her so much. She was one of my first enduring Texas friendships. So any time I get to spend with her this summer is especially important.

While I’ve been to Barton Springs fairly often (last year, when I worked in the ’04, I even had a season pass), and have been swimming at Lake Travis several times as well, I’d never been to Deep Eddy. But I’m glad we chose to swim there. Although the parking is just as frustrating as any other Austin hot spot, it was otherwise a smaller, more laid-back vibe than Barton Springs. As much as I enjoy Barton, it gets incredibly crowded on summer weekends, and Deep Eddy drew a smaller crowd. Plus, it’s exciting to say that I got to swim in one of the oldest (if not the oldest) public pool in Texas.

We sat under this tree. The sun shining through the branches was pretty much the photogenic highlight of my day.

Carly and I spent the afternoon just hanging out and talking. The sun was out, the water was cool, and the air wasn’t even all that hot. Though you can tell I’ve gotten very used to Texas when I describe mid-90s as “not that hot.” I don’t know what my Ohio self would make of me.

Deep Eddy is definitely a place I plan to visit again. It’s charming, laid-back, and relaxing. I need more summer afternoons like this one.

Weekend Adventures: McKinney Falls

A long weekend is perfect for exploring. This past Friday, I celebrated four whole years of living in Austin. On Sunday, I realized that, despite having lived here for four years, I have not once spent time at McKinney Falls, which is a lovely hiking/camping/swimming destination just a few miles away from the airport. So armed with a camera, a traveling companion, and a bottle of water, the adventure commenced!

When I say that I don’t like flowers, I mean that I don’t like flowers slowly dying in vases while attempting to symbolize affection. I very much enjoy wildflowers growing in their natural environment.

Most of the trip was spent on a hiking trail, trying to avoid poison ivy (I was not 100% successful in this endeavor). I also fell in the river, which was nice for the heat, but not so nice because I reeked of algae all afternoon. Also, thank goodness for waterproof camera bags!

There are turtles in this photograph! I swear! *sigh* I need a better lens…

After dealing with the chronic dryness of last summer, it was refreshing just to sit and listen to the water. We’ve had some decent rain in Austin this spring, and I wouldn’t mind a little more before summer hits us hard, but the chances for that are quickly passing us by. Let’s just hope this summer isn’t quite as intense as the last one. As much as I adore living in hot, dry climates, I do have an affection for water.

Weekend Adventures: Photos from Enchanted Rock

This Saturday, a friend and I headed out on 290-W for a sojourn to Enchanted Rock. The last time I went out there was in August of 2010, and I ended up with heat exhaustion, so it was nice to be able to get out in cooler weather and see more of the park. We climbed the rock, wandered through a gully, got lost, and then found ourselves again. It was a lovely way to spend an afternoon, and I got some great pictures.