Bull Creek beauty worth fighting for

Bull Creek winds through one of the most scenic areas of Austin, under vertical limestone cliffs softened with maidenhair fern and dripping with water from numerous springs. In spring and summer, Austinites love to swim in the creek’s deep-water holes (although high levels of bacteria, often from dog poo washing into the creek, have in recent years made swimming less appealing). But autumn and winter are my favorite seasons for exploring the creek and hiking the trails that crisscross its length.

We can access Bull Creek just a mile from our house, at Spicewood Springs Road and Capital of Texas Highway, so that’s where we usually go. But last Sunday, David and I explored a different stretch, entering Bull Creek District Park at 6701 Lakewood Drive.

It’s a lovely stretch, with steep cliffs and enormous slabs of rock, long ago eroded from the cliff walls, creating picnic-worthy islands.

Kids scrambled on the rocks, and we saw a bouldering group setting up fall mats nearby.

Although it’s been dry lately, the creek was running nicely.

This shallow section was popular with people who brought their dogs.

We’d read on a park kiosk about wagon tracks from the 1800s in the limestone bed of the creek here, and we found them just upstream from the park entrance.

I can’t find more details online, but we speculated that farmers bringing goods to town traveled the edge of the creek to bypass the cliffs, and over the years their metal-rimmed wheels carved channels into the soft limestone.

We were amused to see small fish swimming in the channels where wagons once rolled.

There’s also a lovely grotto here, with maidenhair fern and bright-green moss wallpapering the underside of a rocky overhang.

Water drip, drip, drips from the mossy walls like a gentle rainshower…

…filling a small pool of clear water below.

Just beyond the grotto, the wagon tracks diverge into two paths and then fade away where, I’m guessing, the wagons would climb back up the creek bank to continue on. It really brings history to life to see these old tracks.

Beyond that, a weir creates a low waterfall. We turned around here and headed back downstream…

…passing a deep swimming hole under a natural waterfall.

The black, writhing trunks and limbs of live oaks evoke calligraphy, don’t they?

Flameleaf sumac (I think) starting to turn

We also drove to the section of the creek nearest to our house and walked Inga’s Trail. The wooded trail following the creek was much less crowded than the Lakewood area.

There are lovely, deep holes along the creek here too.

Wild places in our city, like Bull Creek, are a treasure we must preserve for all of us. But right now a developer is proposing to build an 11-story hotel right along Bull Creek at Old Spicewood Springs Road and Yaupon Drive, on a particularly fragile piece of land that’s also one of the most scenic drives in Austin. I’m not anti-growth, and I believe in urban infill projects that can help reduce sprawl, but an 11-story hotel along the creek, along with requisite parking and traffic, will certainly negatively impact water quality and the scenic beauty of the area.

I don’t know whether we can stop it, but we need to try. Please sign this petition against the project, which asks the City of Austin to annex the property so it will be subject to city development oversight, and asks the county not to approve the plan. Let’s be smart about Austin’s growth and save what makes Austin so special to residents and visitors alike!

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13 Responses

  1. Kris P says:

    I hope the petition helps get the message across, Pam. It would be a terrible thing to impair beauty like that.

  2. What a beautiful place. It would be a shame to not keep it as wild as possible for Austinites and their visitors to enjoy. Amazing that the wagons made those channels in the limestone and you can still see them. I can imagine that the channels and all of the beautiful fauna and flora would be destroyed eventually. If one big outfit comes in others will follow.

  3. Evan says:

    Such a beautiful place. I absolutely love creeks and rivers with solid slabs of rock, and that grotto is captivating. The wagon tracks are very interesting. It would be a shame to impinge on the natural beauty of this place, which everyone can enjoy. I am anti-growth, at least in the way it’s usually done, without thought for the long-term, bigger picture, the environment, or other people. I could get into an extensive rant on our unsustainable economy, dependent on growth for the sake of growth, but I’ll abstain.

    • Pam/Digging says:

      I agree that growth for growth’s sake is not desirable, Evan, so I’m with you there! Austin is growing no matter what happens, though, and I’m on board with the city trying to get infill projects with more housing on smaller tracts of land. Sprawl is a huge problem here, as is affordable housing in the city limits. This proposed hotel doesn’t check any of those boxes, and I hope it can be stopped. —Pam

  4. Margaret says:

    Wow – those wagon tracks are amazing and the creek looks like such a wonderful place to wander. Fingers crossed that the city will step in and stop the development – not only would the proposed hotel damage the delicate environment, I agree with Lisa in that it’s often a slippery slope.

  5. rickii says:

    what wonderful walks you have close to home.Oh! The boulders…the deep pools…the rills and falls. Must save this!

  6. gina Harlow says:

    Thank you for the pictures. They remind us how fortunate we are to have this gem in our city, and that it is precious. I also wanted to comment on your absolutely adorable purple pom-poms but was having trouble finding a place to comment on that post. Anyway, those deep hues look great against the varigated lily!

  7. […] We found the wagon tracks carved into the limestone creek bed in an earlier era. For more info, see my post about the tracks from late November. […]