Head for the Hills

There’s a reason you get a flashlight with your room key at Canyon of the Eagles Park and Resort. It’s just a little more than an hour’s drive from Austin’s bright lights and music scene to the 940-acre nature park teeming with wildlife and opportunities for hiking, bird-watching, fishing, and other outdoor activities.

In nearby Burnet, there is dining, shopping, and Texas history. A Vanishing Texas River Cruise provides an opportunity to see eagles, osprey, pelicans, and a variety of wildlife on and around Lake Buchanan. There are mountain bike and running trails at Reveille Peak Ranch, a 1,300-acre location for extreme sports events, adventure, and education. And there is wine tasting at a winery inspired by the owners’ year in France.

At the resort, you may well meet Cindy Bower, president and CEO of Calibre, the management company that recently brought new ideas and a hands-on approach to hospitality and guest services. I don’t know if the flashlight was her idea, but that is the kind of thing she would think of.

Why the flashlight?
The Eagle Eye Observatory, operated by the Austin Astronomical Society and the Lower Colorado River Authority, is free to guests of the resort. A USA Today article praised it for its accessibility and listed it as one of the top 10 dark sky observatories in the country.

A 16-inch Ealing “Educator” Cassegrain Telescope gives guests research-quality views of the moon and stars. The 12.5-inch Newtonian telescope is also available. The park practices what is known as “dark sky protocol,” keeping light usage to a minimum. The stars at night are big and bright in this part of Texas.

Gravel to Gourmet
Whether on a campsite or in one of the resort rooms, visitors can take a gravel path to the pool, the bar, or to fine dining in the Overlook Restaurant. A table near the fireplace is great in the cool seasons of the year, and the view from a window wall explains the restaurant name.

Water and Wine
When Lake Buchanan rises above its drought-affected level, visitors can take a boat across the water to Fall Creek Vineyard to sample some of the best wines in Texas. A scenic drive around the lake will also get you there.

The words “Texas” and “wine” do go together, historically and in the present. Franciscan missionaries made sacramental wine in the 1650s. Ed and Susan Auler went to France in the 1970s and discovered there were soil and micro-climate similarities back home in the hill country. They helped lead new wine production in the 1970s, just a decade or two before Indiana vineyards began to flourish. Today, Texas is the fifth largest wine-producing state in the nation, following California, New York, Washington, and Oregon.

A little information about a big state
The Texas Hill Country includes 19 counties, and Austin and San Antonio are the biggest cities in the region. Visitors from southern Indiana and much of the Midwest should feel welcome among the many settlements and farming areas established in the 19th century by German immigrants.

Burnet County, Canyon of the Eagles Park and Resort, and Reveille Peak Ranch are in the northernmost part of the hill country, amid the granite domes and limestone bedrock of the Llano Uplift.

Reveille Peak Ranch offers extreme sports, mountain biking trails over granite outcroppings and dry stream beds, and other adventures. It is a host for the Wounded Warrior Project for members of the military returning home to their families after deployment. Emergency service teams also use the ranch to learn and practice rescue maneuvers and to scuba dive in an old graphite quarry.

The Highland Lakes area includes Lake Buchanan and bills itself as one of the best family getaways in the state of Texas, with many locations for camping, swimming, fishing, and boating. Lake Buchanan, seriously affected by the drought of recent years, is the northernmost of five lakes in a chain leading southeast toward Austin.

Trips by Day
After a night of stargazing, a day trip might take a visitor to the home of President Lyndon B. Johnson – a short trip, even by Indiana standards, of about 50 miles.

No vacation is complete without tasting local foods: Try pickles and peach tea with lunch at Tea-Licious on Burnet’s historic square and then dinner at the Tamale King in the community of Buchanan Dam. In between meals, taste the locally bottled Tempranillo wine on your tour of the Fall Creek Vineyard, where grape vines flourish in warm days and under cool breezes from Lake Buchanan.

Enjoy any meal at the Overlook Restaurant at Canyon of the Eagles. My most memorable was the signature Eagle’s Nest breakfast of pulled pork and poached eggs with avocado in a nest of hash brown potatoes.

‘Tis the season
If you tour the area in December, as I did, you are invited to join visitors from throughout the United States to see “Main Street Bethlehem.” Thousands come to wander among costumed townspeople in the marketplace and among camels, sheep, bakers, sellers of brass, tax collectors, tavern keepers, and Roman soldiers, to witness what life might have been like at the time of Christ’s birth.

Also, some hiking trails at Canyon of the Eagles are off limits during part of the year (March 1 to Aug. 31) to protect nesting sites of the black-capped vireo and the golden-cheeked warbler.

Spring is the time to enjoy fields of bluebonnets, the state flower. Burnet calls itself the “Bluebonnet Capital of Texas” and hosts an annual Bluebonnet Festival the second week in April.

Best place to stay
A good place to spend the night would be Canyon of the Eagles Park and Resort for tent camping, RV sites, or in one of the 62 comfortably casual rooms patterned after 1920s Hill Country homes (with hair dryers and coffee makers in the room and rocking chairs on the porch – but no TVs). The resort includes the observatory, a pool, outdoor movie viewing area, nature hikes, ranger programs, geo-caching, a complete bar, a full service restaurant, and a TV set in a centrally located recreation room (if you really have to have it). The resort is family-friendly and pet-friendly. It also welcomes corporate retreats and weddings. See www.canyonoftheeagles.com.

Where to learn more
•  Austin Astronomical Society
•  Buchanan Adventure Tours
•  Burnet Chamber of Commerce
•  Fall Creek Vineyards
•  Longhorn Caverns State Park
•  Main Street Bethlehem First Baptist Church
•  Reveille Peak Ranch
•  Tamale King
•  Vanishing Texas River Cruise

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