Fall foliage and waterfall along Bull Creek


Have you ever been surprised to discover something near your house that you’d never known was there? I was on Tuesday morning. Not five minutes from home, I noticed for the first time a narrow road paralleling busy Highway 360 just south of Spicewood Springs Road. On a whim I turned onto it to see where it led. A low-water crossing immediately came into view, blocking my passage as it was running high after last Saturday’s rain, but a parking area indicated there was a trail to explore along this section of the Bull Creek Greenbelt. (Scenic St. Edward’s Park, which I posted about last fall, is about a mile upstream.)


I got out of the car and crossed the road to look at Bull Creek running under Highway 360. In the morning chill, mist rose from the creek as if it were a hot spring.


Recrossing the road and entering the trail west of the parking lot, I admired gold and orange fall foliage — a nice follow-up to my leaf-peeping hike at Lady Bird Lake.


Soon I heard a shushing roar, and a long waterfall came into view. What a surprise! I’d had no idea this beautiful scenery was here.


Above the spill, Bull Creek broadens across a flat limestone escarpment, and then it drops over a long ledge approximately 8 feet high. I’m sure it’s more impressive than usual thanks to the recent heavy rain; Bull Creek often runs nearly dry in summer. I felt lucky to see it at peak flow.


Sycamores are growing in the creekbed, their tiny islands strewn with flotsam amid the high water.


They were shining like orange stained glass in the morning light.


There was plenty of golden foliage to enjoy as well.


I was so taken with the unexpected beauty of this quiet spot that I returned in the afternoon and convinced my kids to come along.


They weren’t as wowed as I was, but I think they enjoyed the short hike along the trail. It quickly deadends — at least for us — at a crumbling, steep ledge.


My husband later told me that when the creek isn’t running as high, you can cross it and continue the trail on the other side.


White mistflower gone to seed catches the afternoon light.


The “trail” running alongside the creek is a natural limestone ridge. Looking over it we could see two deep, relatively calm areas — good swimming holes at warmer times of the year, perhaps.


The kids climbed a boulder and humored me with a quick photo op. They may not always appreciate nature hikes when they’d rather be at home on the computer, but I think one day they will be glad for these moments and appreciative of Austin’s natural beauty.


I know I am.

Happy Thanksgiving!

All material © 2006-2014 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

Leaf peeping and Living a Great Story at Lady Bird Lake


After sightseeing and shopping on vibrant South Congress Avenue on Sunday, yesterday my dad and stepmother joined me for a post-lunch, 3-mile walk around Lady Bird Lake. Rusty orange bald cypress, golden cedar elm, and fiery red crepe myrtles have set the shore ablaze. This is as good as it gets in Austin, folks, so if you can spare an hour or two, go! — don’t miss it.


Washed clean by a cold front that had slipped in overnight, the sky was a blue dome and the perfect backdrop to the hundreds of majestic bald cypresses lining the shore.


Barton Creek, where it flows into Lady Bird Lake, was looking a bit muddy — and very full — following the heavy rain on Saturday.


Turtles were sunbathing on fallen logs, as turtles do.


Native cedar elm (Ulmus crassifolia) is one of my favorite shade trees, partly for its beautiful and reliable fall color.


This year, right now, they are just spectacular.


Crepe myrtles, so ubiquitous in Austin that I almost don’t notice them in riotous bloom in the summer, are now on fire with red foliage, renewing my admiration.


Crossing the lake on the Pfluger Pedestrian Bridge, we enjoyed views of the trees and new condos popping up like mushrooms north of the river. I realize I’ve called this body of water both a lake and a river, but that’s what it is and how Austinites talk about it. The Colorado River was dammed decades ago for flood control, and the resulting constant-level lake, which still looks like a river and has a current, was called Town Lake until 2007, when it was renamed in honor of Lady Bird Johnson. We use it as a point of reference — is something north or south of the river? — and longtime residents often still call it Town Lake. Lady Bird Lake (and nearby Barton Springs, which feeds into the lake) is the heart of Austin.


A flock of the state bird of Texas is visible downtown (the crane — haha). Graffiti artists have been busy on the railroad trestle.


Exiting the Pfluger Bridge via the spiral ramp, you see a native-plant garden designed by Christine Ten Eyck (click for a tour of Ten Eyck’s personal garden). I like how she expanded the concrete sidewalk with a circle of decomposed granite surrounded by limestone-block benches. On a smaller scale, this would be a great treatment for a residential front walk.


Heading back now on the north side of the lake…


…I spotted the historic Lamar Boulevard Bridge through the trees.


More beautiful leaves


Arbor-shaded views beckoned us to stop and just look.


To our right, a duck was preparing for a swim. That water’s got to be getting chilly!


In a berry-laden possumhaw holly (Ilex decidua), a mockingbird — our true state bird — was feasting on them as if they were popcorn at the movies.


I hope all these healthy runners were appreciating the foliage and the views as much as we were on our leisurely stroll.


Native bald cypress (Taxodium distichum) lines the banks like cathedral columns.


Inspired by natural bald cypress allees, Austinite Tom Spencer planted a double line of bald cypress in his former garden. It was lovely.


Novice scullers were being coached on how to row. Look at that dog at the front of the coach’s boat — he appears very attentive, doesn’t he?


Other visitors were keeping the benches warm.


What a lovely spot for a chat.


Bald cypress and dwarf palmetto (Sabal minor). Though called dwarf, these native palmettos can still reach 10 feet tall. They are very slow growing, however.


Crossing the lake one last time under MoPac Expressway, I stopped to admire a gold, orange, and green tapestry — very 1970s, now I think about it.


Downtown buildings peek up behind the trees.


A swan and egret were enjoying this spot too.


Turning to face west, away from the city, I watched a paddleboarder work his way upstream. This is where I photographed slackliners balancing high above the water on another beautiful autumn day.


Days like this make you happy to be alive, living your own great story.

All material © 2006-2014 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

Drive-By Gardens: South Congress Avenue in Austin


This drive-by is really a walk-by. I was on South Congress Avenue on Sunday afternoon, the center of the funky-hip Austin universe, enjoying a blue-sky, 80-degree day with my family. Fall, winter, and spring days like this are what sustain me through Austin’s broiling summers.


When my face was not tipped up to the mellow sunshine, I was simply trying to take in all the action on the street, which included picture-perfect views of the state capitol, a string band playing on the street corner, throngs of people strolling along the street, unique shops with doors flung open…


…and even a couple guys riding horses down the busy street. Where in the world did they ride in from? They tied up their horses at Doc’s and went in for a drink and later rode back up the street.


Lots of businesses along the street have containers full of agaves and other architectural plants, but some have enough space for actual gardens, like this eye-catching combo outside TOMS, a shoe store/coffee shop. A silver agave holds court with full-skirted Berkeley sedge cascading down the slope around it. Turk’s cap and a silver-white cenizo add height along the top of the slope. I don’t recognize the plant on the right, but is that basil at the bottom?


Across the street, at the minimalist-Zen Hotel San Jose, a hip boutique hotel…


…the surrounding gardens wow, especially as they are tucked into slivers of planting space along the sidewalk and parking area. Here giant hesperaloe’s sword-like leaves create drama above a waterfall of silver ponyfoot.


Streetside, mottled crepe myrtle trunks rise from grassy beds of Aztec grass and rain lily in bloom after Saturday’s downpour. I saw so much more on S. Congress and wish I’d taken more pictures…


…but I want to jump to nearby South Lamar for a moment and show you a new outdoor garden area at Mockingbird Domestics. Mockingbird has always carried a few pots and succulents, but now they’ve dedicated an outdoor patio to the garden, with furniture, mod steel chimineas, steel planters (tempting!), concrete pots…


…and a metal jackalope, which I fell in love with a little bit. This garden patio could be really awesome if they spruce it up and do the same enticing merchandising that they do inside. Maybe they’ll take some inspiration from my favorite L.A. garden shop, Potted, but with a Texas twist.


Back to South Congress, and this eye-catching mural on the side of TOMS’s shop. I want to give thanks to you, dear reader, for being here — for reading and commenting and making up this virtual gardening club that I’m so happy to be a part of. Happy Thanksgiving, y’all!

All material © 2006-2014 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.