The beauty of Texas Hill Country is something that every true-blooded American should experience. With the striking bluebonnets in bloom, the long grass waving as you pass, the life-altering sunsets, and ever-changing weather – you never really know what discovery a new day will bring. Right smack dab in the middle of Texas, is Hill Country.
I love adventure and discovering new ways to get out of my comfort zone. On this trip, I found some adventurous things to do in the Lake Highland area just outside of Austin, Texas. I came face to face with a few things I had never experienced before: snakes, caves and eagles.
Canyon of the Eagles rests on 940 acres nestled in the Texas Hill Country and the Highland Lakes region. The resort (approximately one hour north of Austin, Texas) boasts 62 rooms with beautiful panoramic views, 14 miles of nature trails, campgrounds, a restaurant, and an Observatory. Each room has it's own stand-alone structure for privacy, seclusion and unique views.
Owner Cindy Bower is a rock star in the natural parks communities (no pun intended) and has fiercely protected the land. 720 acres are dedicated as preserved acreage where no development or vehicles are allowed. There are over 350 bird species that can be observed throughout the year in their natural habitat. Eagles nest in the trees and share the land with coyotes, armadillos and various reptiles. Sitting on the porch in the oversize rocking chairs, drinking sweet tea, listening to the birds sing, inhaling the fresh cedar and juniper air, while viewing the breath-taking vista of a Texas sunset - is a rare spiritual joy that every soul should experience in their lifetime. Nothing in the world compares to a real Texas sunset!
The staff is incredibly friendly and accommodating, which is a standard in Texas. We absolutely fell in love with the Southern charm of Mance, who was always available to help us with simple requests like ice or rekindling the fire. His quiet, polite nature and willingness to make every guest comfortable is a true asset to this company. David Freitag is the manager, and was also on hand to make sure all of our needs were met, whether it be for the group or individual. He also organizes the corporate events, meetings, weddings and other group bookings.
The award-winning Overlook Restaurant sits atop a hill overlooking the bluffs and the river. Menu includes unique creations from chef Sean Huitt and Frank Clawson, one of the best BBQ experts in Texas. The pulled pork enchilada is one of the best I've ever tasted.
I also enjoyed the bok choi noodles, the filet of beef with bleu cheese and the "Eagles Nest" for breakfast, which includes Frank's famous pulled pork, poached eggs, goat cheese, avocados, hollandaise sauce, and potatoes over a “nest” of crisp potatoes.
USA Today ranked Eagle Eye Observatory one of the top 10 in the country. It is also situated on the property and partners with the Austin Astrological Society. With their high-powered, specially crafted viewing scope, it's the only known place you can actually view the crater on the moon where Neil Armstrong planted the US flag. In the same area, the resort also offers “Owl Howl” where they play special bird calls from their cell phone apps that actually entice owls to fly up close enough to pet them.
Another fun excursion for visitors is geo caching. It’s a gps guided scavenger hunt to find hidden boxes that contain items placed there by fellow geo cachers. This adventure trend has been around for approximately twelve years, but has become vastly popular the last few years. There are nearly five million people who participate worldwide and it’s growing rapidly. You can rent gps devices from the resort and take a guided tour or you can buy your own devices or download specific apps through your cell phone. Our guide, J.P. Burchett, is the resort’s activities and adventure director. He is a wealth of knowledge about things to do in the area and it’s his job to come up with fun activities for guests. He is responsible to ensure that the items are safe that are placed on the property and knows where they are. He registers new boxes online and also searches for ones that guests leave behind. He punched in the coordinates and then we began to look throughout the area. Finding them can be difficult, especially if there is rugged terrain and it’s hidden under a rock or under grass. . Just beware of snakes if you are looking during certain times of the year. Anti venom costs $50,000 to $100,000!!! The snake won't kill you, but the medical bill could! We were lucky and found our box quickly, then decided to hide a box from our group in another location on the premises. J.P. registered our box online, placed our note and our mystery items in it, and it can now be searched for by anyone who visits the area, whether they are a guest or not.
With roaring fires, perfect for s'mores and tall tales, fine wine, great conversation and quiet solitude, this resort delivers a diverse array of unique travel experiences from a wedding, corporate retreat, family camping trip, wellness retreat or romantic getaway. The cuisine, libations, splendor and peacefulness of the resort make it so popular, it is often booked every weekend. Most guests book their next visit before they leave. One thing is for sure, one visit is not enough.
Just across the lake from the resort is Fall Creek Vineyards. Family owned for five generations, and the largest vineyard in Texas, it’s home to award-winning wine and rich history. Several years ago, 35,000 Indian artifacts were unearthed onsite and the famous Chisholm trail once ran through this property.
The winery was established in 1975 and is owned by businessman and rancher Ed Auler and his wife, Susan. Our favorite picks were the 2010 Chenin Blank and Ed’s Red, which is a great, rich table wine and very reasonably priced.
Next, we hopped aboard the Vanishing Texas River Cruise on Highland Lakes and spotted an American Eagle! On this tour, we learned a great deal about Texas history, the lakes in the area, and the creatures that inhabit the area. Benjamin Franklin wanted our national bird to be a turkey. I, for one, am glad he was outvoted! There are few things that create more pride, than to see an American Eagle soaring through the air in its native environment. We were lucky to see one on our visit and even get pictures of them nesting.
In between Burnet and Marble Falls is a hidden gem called Longhorn Cavern State Park. For those of you who have never been in a cave, it’s not dark and creepy like you would naturally presume. Miles of mood lighting have been added to enhance the natural character and curves that would make Fred Flintstone envious of this extreme makeover. In fact, it was actually authorized to serve as the Southern White House. It was the official escape plan for any nuclear threats or fall out during LBJ’s presidency. You could literally run the country out of this cave.
The cave has a rich history that makes for educational and entertaining tours. A variety of architects and highly educated people were involved in the complex process of excavating it, yet making it structurally sound, while preserving historical elements.
Truth is certainly stranger than fiction when you hear the story of how a beautiful socialite was kidnapped by Indians, then valiantly rescued by a Texas Ranger, whom she fell in love with and then married her hero. It was used as a hideout by outlaws and a refuge by Indians. It was turned into a speakeasy with a dance floor during Prohibition – and even served as a church the following day after each big party.
The cave is also officially haunted. Paranormal activity has been researched and documented. A paranormal cave tour is offered, plus photography tours, group tours, and other guided tours. It’s a fascinating stop on your Texas road trip adventure.
Food worth mentioning
If you want some really good southern comfort food, we suggest you stop at Tea-licious in nearby Burnet, Texas. They are famous for their sweet pickles. We also loved their sweet peach iced tea, perfect for sittin’ on the porch in the rockin’ chair watchin’ the sun set ya’ll. The french dip on toasted onion role was also pretty tasty and loaded up Texas style!
Tamale King in Buchanan Dam is well-known for their tamales, which are as sweet as cake. They are tender and made to perfection and pair perfectly with an ice cold Shiner Bock beer.
All in all, it was a fun trip with amazing views, sweet people, great food, fun excursions, and incredible accommodations. I hope you take the time to experience some of these adventures for yourself in Texas. All hail the mighty state!