Texas Hill Country Part V: Nature Cruise and More Texas History
When we checked into the campground we picked up a brochure for the Vanishing Texas River Cruise from the rack in the office. They have a year-round scenic wilderness cruise, plus seasonal cruises like a foliage cruise in the fall and bald eagle cruise when the bald eagles come to the river to spend the winter. The scenic wilderness cruise sounded interesting, so we put it on our list of things to do.
The cruises take place on the Colorado River - no, not the one that runs through Arizona and the Grand Canyon to the Sea of Cortez at the base of the Baja Peninsula. The Colorado River we took a cruise on is wholly within Texas. It has its source near Lubbock, TX, and empties out into the Gulf of Mexico not too far west of Galveston.
There are several man-made reservoirs along the Colorado River that are collectively known as the Highland Lakes. The Highland Lakes were formed when dams were built along the Colorado River in the 1930s and 1940s. The dams were built for flood control and to bring power to the farms in the area. One of these lakes is Lake Buchanan, which is where the Vanishing Texas River Cruise departs from. The Vanishing Texas River Cruise dock is in Burnet at the northeastern corner of Lake Buchanan, a little over an hour's drive from where we were staying.
One thing we noticed as we drove north was an increase in the number of blue bonnets along the road. From what we saw driving around the Johnson City area and walking around the Wildflower Center in Austin, the blue bonnets were well past their peak. However, there were many still in bloom just a few miles to the north. The blue bonnets were a beautiful contrast to the orange Indian blankets that were also blooming.
We arrived for the cruise about 30 minutes early as suggested. This gives everyone plenty of time to park, check in and board.
The boat has two decks, and since it was sunny and warm, we chose the open, upper deck. The cruise lasts about two and a half hours and sails northward up the lake and then a few miles up the Colorado River. Until about a week prior to our cruise, the water level in the lake was so low due to a several-year drought, and the flow of water down the Colorado was so low they couldn't take the cruise up the river. Instead, they went out into the lake and stopped above the remnants of an old town that was submerged when the lake was created. We're glad they had resumed the regular river cruise.
We didn't see much wildlife on the open lake except for a few gulls and vultures high overhead, but when we got to the shallower water near the upper end, we saw some ring billed gulls perched on a partially-submerged log where we could see them a little closer.
Although the boat has a flat bottom and a shallow draft, the captain still had to be careful to follow the original river channel to make sure we didn't get hung up on the bottom. When we got just about to the point where the lake ended and the river began, the water beside the channel got even more shallow, and the tour guide pointed out a beaver lodge. Beavers used to be quite common in this area years ago, but this pair are the only ones around now. Unfortunately, they were out of sight, but we did get to see the lodge. The water level in the lake is rising, so they may have to rebuild in the near future if the lodge gets washed away.
Ranches line the river, and a little farther along we saw horses (and later cattle) coming down to the edge of the water to graze and drink.
As we cruised up the river, there wasn't all that much wildlife. We did see some turkey vultures, a few black vultures, several large groups of plovers and one hawk. There were all so high overhead, or in the case of the plovers so fast moving, that we didn't get any photos.
The highlight of the cruise was the scenic area around Fall Creek Falls. The falls have never been known to dry up, even in the worst drought. With all the rain Texas has been receiving lately, the falls were in full flow.
Just to the left of the falls are several caves. These caves, along with others that ended up getting flooded and subsequently filled with silt after the dam was completed, had evidence of Native American petroglyphs. The caves are the dark spots near the center of the photo.
To the right of the falls is Ceremonial Rock. It gets its name from the fact that four Native American ceremonial knives were found there. We got an even better view of Ceremonial Rock after we turned around and were heading back down river. As a point of reference, the falls are behind the rocks to the right.
As we cruised back down the lake toward the dock, Margery stood by the rail on the forward deck and enjoyed the breezes.
The next day, we drove back to Austin to see the Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum. The photo below shows the entrance to the museum with the iconic single star in the foreground.
And the next photo is the star from the third floor window of the museum.
The museum is extremely well done and has displays on three floors that trace the history of Texas. Unfortunately, the museum doesn't permit photography anywhere in the exhibit areas. We were disappointed, but we still enjoyed the museum because it does an excellent job presenting Texas history. The displays are interesting, the descriptions are straightforward and easy to understand, and there are short, interesting movies about various subjects at several places throughout the museum. Paul particularly liked the one about how Hollywood treated Texas in the movies. There were old movie clips with cowboys like Roy Rogers, Tom Mix and John Wayne. Oops, we might be showing our age.
The first floor of the museum tells of the Native Americans who inhabited the area and of the early Spanish explorers. It traces Texas history through the missions along the San Antonio River like Mission San Jose and Mission San Antonio de Valero (aka the Alamo) that we saw recently. It also talks about Stephen F. Austin and his original 300 settlers like the Jones family that started the George Ranch that we also visited a little while ago near Houston.
The second floor follows the Texas history from the fight for independence, including the battles at the Alamo and San Jacinto, to admission to statehood, through the Civil War to reconstruction and readmission to statehood.
The third floor shows some of the things that make Texas such a great attraction to new residents, businesses and investors. It covers ranching, the discovery of oil in 1901 and the subsequent growth of the oil industry, logging, mining and space exploration at the Johnson Space Center.
They also have an IMAX theater showing various movies and another special-effects theater where they show a multi-media presentation called The Star of Destiny that tells the story of Texas. The special effects include lightening, thunder (complete with vibrating seats) and rain with real water.
Photography was permitted in the lobby, so while we were on the third floor, we got a shot of the terrazzo floor in the lobby below. The floor is called "The Story of Texas - Born Around the Campfire." It depicts various people and places of Texas as an overhead view. The campfire is right in the center, and there are a number of longhorns along the bottom edge that are easy to pick out.
While we were on the third floor of the lobby, we stopped for a photo of ourselves.
After the museum, we went back to the motor home and did our usual chores in preparation for departure the next morning. Look for our next post to see where we ended up.