Galley Wench Tales

Exploring the world through the people we meet
and the food they eat.

Something along this lines of this Earl McGehee image  is what we were hoping to see in Austin Texas.

On Day Five of our semi-leisurely drive cross-country, we entered the vast state of Texas while the day was still young. 

In some ways, state lines seem like such arbitrary boundaries when traveling across the states. Yet there are some changes we notice immediately, and ponder what they tell us about the differences between these United States.

Entering Texas, for example, you are greeted by a large and well-appointed Welcome Station, and there is usually a noticeable improvement in the roads compared to Texas’ less well funded neighbors, Mississippi and New Mexico, both of which are among the USA’s poorest states.

This tractor slowed (viewed through our Prius windshield) our trip along a Texas highway.
Fortunately, we weren’t behind it for long.

Tractors or not, our drive for the day was an easy one. We were bound for Austin, as Wayne agreed to indulge my curiosity. 

We had lots of good company there to see Austin’s famed bats. Here, we looked up at the Congress Bridge
from below. The bats nest below the bridge from March through October.

It was about sixteen years ago when I met someone from Austin at a Portland Oregon conference who asked if I’d ever heard about Austin’s massive bat population. At the time, I hadn’t. It turns out, Austin is the home of the largest urban bat population in the world.

Other folks who shared our vantage point below Austin’s Congress Street Bridge for bat viewing.

In more recent years, I’d heard Austin’s job market was thriving and the city rivaled Portland Oregon’s vibrant culture. Wayne has also never been to Austin.

We needed to spend the eve in Austin as that’s when the bats emerged after dusk, in masses up to 1.5 million to help rid the city of its insect population. Austin’s learned to capitalize on this bizarre natural phenomenon to the tune of $7.9 million annually in increased tourism, though at their peak the bats can still outnumber the residents. The Austin Bat Organization champions these furry winged mammals and does a terrific job of protection them while informing the public. The Austin Bat Refuge Organization also does a great job of informing bat viewers. For a great giggle as well as some pragmatic advice, be sure to scroll down the page to read “a semi-tongue-in-cheek rant by an Austin Bat Refuge docent.”

This bat mural is one of many signs of Austin’s capitalizing on the mystique of its seasonal furry flying population.

In our case, we arrived on a delightfully balmy night early enough to find a decent parking space and a good place to watch the action. Along the way we roller-coastered our way through Austin’s hills, as we passed an inviting array of shops and restaurants. We chose the knoll below bridge level, where the Austin skyline light purportedly made the bat flight more visible as dusk shifted into darkness. Most notable of the building was a Gotham-like building, which we later discovered was the Frost Bank Tower

The iconic Frost Bank Tower,.. both lauded and reviled. It  is, however, a LEED Gold building.

Between those watching from our vantage point, the bridge and the opposite shore, my guess is there were 500 or so folks there to see the spectacle. While we waited, we got a kick out of meeting Andy, who was brandishing a red devil holding a mini mike for Andy’s podcaster podcasting podcast. Appropriately, Andy was out for a podcasting convention, and of course, the bats, which he was also podcasting about. We joked about the delay in the show due perhaps to the bats securing an agent, requesting a bigger cut of the revenues they were bringing in. Or perhaps some tastier mosquitoes.

Are we part of Andy’s podcaster podcasting podcast? Not sure if we were sufficiently witty.
Andy, however, most definitely is!

Eventually, the bats made their way out from under the bridge, first in a trickle, then a bit more. They were almost a mirage, in ghostly white. Not one of their better showings, but still a fun experience.

 Dan Pancamo’s fantastic bat image captures the bat’s flight with Austom’s iconic
Frost Bank Tower in the background. 

We cruised Austin a bit by night after the show and agreed it would be worth a return visit, with a bigger budget and more time.

Kayakers clustered below the bridge for another fantastic vantage point of Austin’s fames bat flight.

We did slip in a visit to the Zilker Botanical Gardens, to get a chance to see at least a little more of Austin before we hit the road. Not sure when we’ll be back, but look forward to it.

The prehistoric portion of Zilker Botanical Gardens was my favorite part, complete with horsetails, ferns, cycads
and of course, a dinosaur.
We couldn’t figure out what the mass of daddylonglegs spiders were doing beneath this rock in Zilker’s
prehistoric garden. Orgy perhaps? They were vibrating. Seriously.
This waterfall was a welcome sight in Zilker Gardens after the weird daddylongleg spider mass.