Austin, TX - 03/02/2012

Published at 10:51 PM in ,

The Texas state capitol in Austin
Today we visited the capitol in Austin, Texas.  This capitol is just like everything else in Texas - BIG.  It is the largest of all state capitols, and the fifth tallest.  Even with all of this, it is still only half of its original planned size. It's exterior is 'sunset red' Texas granite - and quite beautiful.  The surrounding grounds cover 22 acres and have 17 monuments covering various parts of Texas history.

Today was a particularly awesome day to visit the capitol because it was Texas Independence Day!  Texas celebrated the 176th anniversary of its Declaration of Independence from Mexico, in which it became the Republic of Texas - its own sovereign country.

A painting of Davy Crockett
We took a capitol tour that specifically highlighted Texas heroes, including Stephen Austin, Sam Houston, and Davy Crockett.  There was a lot of emphasis on the Alamo, and that even though the Texans lost that battle, it became a turning point in the Revolution.  The loss spurred the Texans on to the decisive victory at the Battle of San Jacinto, securing their freedom as a republic. 

Looking at the capitol from the Visitor's Center

Across the grounds from the capitol sits the Visitor's Center.  This center provides the standard tourist information, but also quite a bit of history as well.  We learned of Texas life on the plains, as well as how ranching became important in the state.  The sale of land in the Texas panhandle, which became the famous XIT Ranch, paid for the construction of the state's capitol.  There was also a great section that is a tribute to Texas veterans.  The state has acknowledged that the history that the veterans have to share is vital to learning.  In "Every Veteran Has a Story to Tell," they have created a program that has recorded veterans sharing their stories, and then they are in an interactive display at the Visitor's Center.

The RV parked at the top of the hill near the capitol

After finishing up there, we went back to the RV, which was only about 5 blocks away.  We were thrilled that we were able to find street parking for the RV.  We continue to have good luck like that!  I must say I can't imagine doing that in Atlanta, though.

Ready to watch for bats!

Our next stop was the Congress Avenue Bridge.  The Congress Avenue Bridge crosses over Lady Bird Lake in downtown Austin.  Due to its design, it has become a home for the Mexican free-tailed bats every spring through fall.  The bats have their babies, which learn to fly very quickly, and they add to the numbers that take flight each night in search of food.  At their peak in the August - September timeline, there are as many as 1.5 million bats under the bridge.  It is the largest urban bat colony in North America.  Every night at sunset, the bats take flight in search of food - devouring tons (literally!) of insects each night.  That's a lot of bugs.

Bats taking flight

We went down to the lake side to get a seat and watch for the bats.  In peak season, up to 1,000 people show up nightly to watch.  And sure enough, at sunset, the bats emerged.  We were in Austin fairly early in the season, but we still saw what we thought was a lot of bats.  Once they started, it continued for a solid five minutes of nothing but bats, bats, bats.  We thought they were done, but then they started again.  I'm not sure if it was a new wave of bats leaving the bridge, or if it was the same bats leaving for a second time.  Either way, it was really neat to watch.

Under the bridge

Jim got right under the bridge to see if he could see the bats in the crevices.  Michael got a little too close, and since the bats were flying overhead...well, he's pretty sure that he got some guano on him.  At least he could wash up in the RV!

This is a short clip of the bats in flight.  It is kind of hard to make them out through the trees, and you truly have to see it to believe it, but perhaps this will give you a little idea of what it's like.

We enjoyed Austin!  Tomorrow we are off to San Antonio!!

More pictures in the Photo Gallery.

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