It's been almost a whole year since my last visit to Austin, TX. I've been there many times over the past seven years for SXSW and to sell my former company's products, Scarlet Garnet Jewelry, at the Renegade Craft Fair. These trips were amazing! I heard tons of live music, enjoyed Austin's culinary scene, fell in love with the grackles, witnessed the bats fly out from under the Congress Avenue Bridge at sunfall and even witnessed Val Kilmer eating tacos at Guero's I felt that these trips created a true sensation of the pulse of the city. It was alive and weird and I loved it!.
The infamous Grackle, they look prehistoric to me and fight for their food and territory like their dinosaur ancestors would. They are loved and hated, mostly because they will take food directly off your plate if you are not careful. They make prehistoric sounds, too. Their calls are part of what make up the sound of Austin, TX.
Although these trips were fun, they don't even compare to the trip I just experienced. This current trip introduced me to a different side of Austin, one that I believe is a more authentic experience. I was given a guided tour by one of my best friends, Lauren Pascale, to see many of Austin's natural water holes and excursions. I also got a chance to go hunting for the Texas State Stone, Blue Topaz.
Lauren, who's been a best friend of mine since drama class Freshman year of high school, has lived in Austin for over 6 years now. During her time there, she has performed as a musician at several of the "watering holes" of Austin, while also spending a lot of her days off relaxing at the true watering holes of Austin. I had no idea there were so many to experience! I also had no idea that one could mine for the Texas State Gemstone, Blue Topaz, only a mere two hour drive away from Austin. This trip was exactly what I needed - digging in the earth and swimming in her natural bodies of water. Batteries. Fully. Recharged!
Here's a recount of the best five days I've ever spent in Austin, Texas in chronological order:
I didn't take any pictures as I was tubing down a river and it was not compatible with my Iphone. But, if I had taken a photo every time I wanted to, you would see the complex root systems of the bald cypress trees lining the river's edge, turtles sunning themselves on the river banks, and gorgeous river rock beaches sprinkled along the river's edge. The photos below are ones I found on the Interwebs to give you an idea of how awesome this tubing adventure really is. It costs $19 per person to rent a tube and hitch a ride on the bus. You can rent a cooler tube for all your beer and food desires. If you are in need of extreme relaxation, this is the place for you! Just make sure to get there early if you want a truly relaxing experience. It gets a bit crowded in the afternoons and turns in to college kid soup.
This image captures the turtles sunning themselves and the bald cypress tree roots. Next time, I'm buying a disposable waterproof camera.
We took a day trip up Highway 71 North to Llano and then took State Highway 29 West to Mason, TX. From here, we were instructed to call Mark, the man who owns Bar M Ranch, for exact directions to his land. When we arrived, Mark was waiting in his pickup with his ranch dog to greet us. The ranch, which has been in his family since 1920, has a 10% topaz find rate but a about a 50% find rate for native american arrowheads, clear quartz and smoky quartz. You pay $15 a day to dig, and $6 to rent tools for the day. Mark explained that the stones will become dislodged after rain and will flow down the creek beds. They will get stuck in the bendy areas of the creek and will settle into the bottom of the creek, just above the clay area. Larger rocks on top of the bends in the creek bed are a good spot to dig.
Armed with this map, a metal screen, shovel, straw sun hats, a bottle of water and sun screen, Lauren and I went off to dig for topaz.
Lauren and I pre Topaz Hunt.
Due to the heat, we only dug for an hour. We didn't find anything but the experience was totally worth it. We were both a little disappointed but weren't willing to keep going in the heat. If I were to do this again, I would camp out for a few days, which Bar M Ranch allows for a day rate, and dig in the early morning and late evening. As were were heading back to Austin, we drove back through the quaint little town Mason, TX. I saw a sign that said "Topaz" and asked to stop.
Inside, I found the largest Mason County Topaz ever found and cut into gem size!
I couldn't afford it so I settled for these instead:
Although I didn't find them myself, they were found by a local rock hound and are authentic Mason County Topaz. They're mostly clear, three are a little cloudy, one of them even has a rainbow. I'm keeping the big one in the middle for myself but will make rings out of the other seven. Keep an eye on my Instagram to see what I make from them.
After the dig, we cooled off with a dip in the river at Blanco State Park.
Man Made waterfalls
These tiny fish bite! Not hard, but it will startle you.
Day 3: Barton Springs Pool
I met up with artist, Calder Kamin, on day three of my trip. A KCAI Alumni, Calder and I met while both living in the Columbus Park neighborhood in Kansas City, MO. We lived on the same block, a few apartments away. Calder is a native to Austin and moved back there from KC a few years ago. She offered to take me to Barton Springs, a naturally spring fed pool located in the center of the city. The pool is over 3 acres large and an average of 65 - 70 degrees farenheight year round, perfect for the scorching summers of southern Texas. The pool is home to the endangered Barton Springs Salamander, and is a federally protected habitat. Afterwards, we ate tacos at Polvos, an Austin tex mex staple, which is known for it's salsa bar with pickled vegetables.
After lunch, Calder took me to an amazing bead store called Bead It on Lamar Street. It's the largest bead store in Austin and I was very impressed with their vast inventory of vintage offerings. I normally don't use glass unless it's Ancient Roman glass but I'll make exceptions for vintage German and Czech glass from time to time. I scored some awesome pieces and plan to make an "Ode to Austin" collection from them for my July 1st First Friday. Here are my finds:
Antique Czech glass from 1920's
Antique German "Lobster" glass from the 1940's
Antique Japanese Glass from 1930's
Vintage Swarovski Crystal Ship pendant from 1950's
Antique Japanese lucite with warrior face from 1940's
Antique German glass with rhinestone from 1940's
Antique German glass from 1940's
Antique bone mah jong game pieces, 1920's
Keep up with my progress on the "Ode to Austin" mini line on my Instagram. I'm thinking rings for a lot of these pieces but we'll see how the creative energy flows. I am so excited to have found such wonderful antiques to play with.
Day 4: Gus Fruh
Barton Creek winds its way through the city and Gus Fruh is right in the heart of Austin. The trail head entrance is in a neighborhood, and you have to hike not quite a mile down a gorgeous trail to get to the creek. During rainy season, the creek fills up with water and stays full for at least half a year. The water is shallow at parts but can get up to 15 feet deep at others. There are some natural springs and waterfalls along the way. People come here to relax, picnic and play. Follow this link to a map that will take you there: Gus Fruh
These piles of rock form the "kiddie pool" area.
The rocky beaches aren't too bad until the afternoon sun heats up the rocks.
The pebbles you see in this photo are what make up the bottom of the creek bed, mixed in with larger stones. The rapids at Gus Fruh made wearing flip flops in the water impossible and going barefoot really hurt the arches of my feet. so I wore my hiking boots in the water, although I recommend river sandals. As Calder says, "It's Teva Country here in Austin". It's worth investing in a pair for this trip!
Day 5: Twin Falls
It's my last day in Austin, and I didn't have to be to the airport until 3:30pm. Lauren read my mind and offered to take me on one final natural water adventure, Twin Falls. Also on Barton Creek, the Greenbelt, Twin Falls was exactly what I needed for my final moment in the Austin sun. To get to Twin Falls, you have to park off the side of the highway and find the trail head. Follow this link to get there: Twin Falls and Sculpture Falls The hike was a bit longer and a bit rockier than Gus Fruh but it's well worth it. The water was the warmest out of all the natural water I had experienced on the trip. Although the creek bed was lined with pebbles and rocks, there was not much current so it was easier to go barefoot here than at Gus Fruh.
The stone trail to Twin Falls
Twin Falls, further along the same trail about another half mile you run in to Sculpture Falls
Return to Reality
After spending five days having natural water adventures in Austin, I was a little sad to return home to Kansas City. We have the Mighty Missouri River but not many inhabitable bodies of water to lounge in. I will cherish this trip forever and hope to make it an annual thing. Other than my plane ticket, and not counting the cost of the beads and topaz, I spent around $200 on this trip. It was the most affordable spa week ever! I want to give a huge thank you to Lauren, her man Luke and baby Arthur for showing me such a wonderful time in Texas! I made them pose for this picture after our dig as they reminded me of an Austin version of the famous American Gothic painting.
Thanks for following my adventures. Stay tuned to my Instagram to see how the "Ode to Austin" mini line takes shape.
Love and Light!