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End of Summer Bucket List

Squeeze a little more adventure before returning to routine
Written by Lois Rodriguez.

sandcastle tipWhen August rolls around, the schedule starts getting crammed with back-to-school shopping, and separation anxiety from summer fun starts to emerge.

But, don’t give up just yet. There’s still time left to squeeze in an adventure or two. And the truth is, if you run out of time, no worries. It’s Texas and the weather is almost always perfect for any of these. Just plan your weekends wisely.

By Land

South Austin Rock GymRock climbing and Bouldering

Climbing rocks is an invigorating challenge at Enchanted Rock State Natural Area near Fredericksburg, the Barton Creek Greenbelt in Austin, and Hueco Tanks State Park and Historic Site in El Paso. But if those rocks get too hot in the blaze of the Texas summer sun or if you’re just beginning, that’s where indoor climbing gyms come in.

Numerous rock gyms around the state offer a variety of climbing wall options and types of climbing, all within air-conditioned, padded comfort.

Search for rock gyms in your area.

Beginners are welcome as these gyms are a great place to start rock climbing or to hone your skills, because expert staff members can teach you proper technique and provide encouragement. Gyms also have the equipment you need, such as climbing shoes.

Hiking

Read more of Melissa Gaskill’s picks for Top 10 Texas hikes.

One of the best ways to get up close and personal with nature is to explore it, step by step, on a hike. Whether a short or long hike, through thick woods or open country, up mountains or flat terrain, Texas is just the place.

Find a stretch of land near you and explore as if you have the whole summer ahead of you.

Just outside of Bandera, the 5,369-acre Hill Country State Natural Area offers classic hikes on 40 miles of multi-use trails. Writer Melissa Gaskill says, “My favorite combines Routes 1 and 6 to loop out to the Wilderness Camp Area and back, going 5.8 miles through open stretches where tall grass undulates in the breeze, into shady groves of oak and juniper covered in berries, over rocky hills and down canyons, and even across a wide swath of ankle-scratching but wickedly beautiful sotol. A must is the detour on Route 5B, up a steep, rocky staircase to 1,760-foot-high Twin Peaks for a stunning, panoramic view of the almost unblemished countryside. There is no drinking water or supplies in the park, so bring everything you think you’ll need. Not that you’ll need much, with scenery like this.”

Step into a cave

47A-cavernFor lovers of Texas’ subterranean world, the mysterious caverns beneath the state’s varied topography provide wonderlands of discovery. It’s the ultimate late-summer chill-out.

The Caverns of Sonora lie in remote West Texas, beneath arid ground dotted with stubby live oaks, prickly pear cactus, and limestone boulders. But you’ll want to make the trip underground to see what speleologists describe as some of the most highly decorated caves on the planet.

The sights include the jumbled rocks and pitted walls of the Devil’s Pit, surreal Halo Lake—with water so clear it looks as if it isn’t even there—and the delicate, helictite-covered walls of Crystal Palace.

Guided walking tours cover about two miles and require about 360 stair steps. The cave’s temperature of 71 degrees feels more like 85, thanks to 98 percent humidity. That’s cooler than outdoors in the summer, but hardly sweater weather. If you’re feeling more adventurous, reserve the four-hour Discovery Challenge tour, which includes a 50-foot rappel into Devil’s Pit. Call 325/387-3105.

In the Boerne area, Cascade Caverns and Cave Without a Name offer intriguing underground passageways and formations like “cave bacon.” Natural Bridge Caverns, between New Braunfels and San Antonio, offers several varieties of tours, ranging from a half-mile tour along paved, interior “sidewalks” to some that require slithering through narrow passageways.

Longhorn Cavern, which formed as water dissolved the limestone bedrock southwest of Burnet, draws visitors to Longhorn Cavern State Park. Wonder Cave, formed by an earthquake along the Balcones Fault near San Marcos, anchors Wonder World Theme Park. Inner Space Cavern, in Georgetown, was discovered in 1963 as engineers constructed a new section of Interstate 35.

By Water

Texas Ski RanchWakeboarding at Cable Parks

Have fun wakeboarding or water skiing without a boat thanks to cable parks that have been popping up around Texas. Elevated cables do the trick.

QuestATX, on 130 acres near the Circuit of The Americas in Austin, sports a cable system that can pull six riders around the lake at one time, with a variety of rails, jumps, and obstacles for boarders. Two-hour, four-hour, and day passes are available, as well as rental equipment, including helmets and life jackets.

Texas Ski Ranch near New Braunfels has three cable systems, a boat lake, and land-based skate and artificial-turf snow parks, making it possible to do just about anything on a board here. The Ranch offers coaching and beginner cables for newbies, and various jumps and other challenges for advanced riders.

WakeSport Ranch, 30 miles from Fort Worth in Cresson, offers the complete wakeboarding experience on a lake with six cables, jumps, rails, obstacles, and 590-foot-long straight shots for real speed. For those who feel the need for speed on land, check out MotorSport Ranch, a 1.3-mile racetrack next door. Its DriveXotic program rents a Ferrari, Lamborghini, and other sports cars to visitors for seven-lap test runs.

WakeNation Houston, a cable park on a 12-acre lake, provides plenty of aqueous terrain for visitors to wakeboard, water ski, kneeboard, or wake skate. Sign the kids up for lessons, or turn them loose on the lake’s inflatable play scape—and brace yourself for their resistance when it’s time to go home.

Flyboarding

Or have a blast learing to flyboard.

At South Padre Island Water Sports on South Padre Island, you can hover above the water on a water-jet board connected to a personal watercraft during a flyboarding lesson. After a short orientation, spend about 30 minutes with hands-on training, hovering up to six feet above the water. Half an hour is usually quite enough for first-timers, but those who still have get-up-and-go can add 10 minute increments of time.

South Padre Island Water Sports also teaches surfing, kiteboarding and stand-up paddle boarding lessons.

SUP (Stand-up paddle boarding)

It’s easy to see that more and more people have caught on to the SUP (stand-up paddle boarding) craze. There are plenty of opportunities across the state to take in a lesson and start paddling Texas’ lakes, rivers and ocean.

At Lake Carolyn in Irving, Stand Up Paddle North Texas sells and rents boards for plying the Las Colinas canals—through tunnels and under fountains. Call 972/567-7871.

In Austin, the activity has exploded in popularity on Lady Bird Lake. Rent equipment at the Texas Rowing Center and paddle one-and-a-half miles upstream to explore scenic Red Bud Isle. Call 512/467-7799. Also, The Expedition School on the northeast shore of Lady Bird Lake leads full-moon outings on June 13, July 12, and August 10.

Sailing

Don’t just admire the sleek sailboats at the Watergate Yachting Center in Kemah, spend two days at Bay Area Sailing School where American Sailing Association-certified instructors teach you to sail one. After completing the basic keelboat course, rent sailboats from Sackett’s Sailing Center and cruise nearby Galveston Bay. Once you’ve mastered that, consider the next level course that teaches bareboat chartering, a skill that opens the door for sailors to go anywhere in the world.

Riding Texas' Rivers

Texas Parks and Wildlife shares a list of the state's many paddling trails.

Texas has nearly 191,000 miles of rivers and streams providing adventurous travelers with plenty of opportunity to explore new perspectives of the Lone Star State. From the Neches River to the Colorado, Brazos, Devils, and Rio Grande, outfitters can recommend trips of various lengths and difficulties for those who want to navigate these public waterways beyond the sprawl of our cities and towns, past farms and ranches, and into the wilderness where roads just don’t go.

In East Texas, paddle 40 miles of the Neches River through the Big Thicket National Preserve. Eastex Canoe Trails provides canoes or kayaks, paddles, maps, shuttles, and their local expertise for the two-nights-plus outing. The outstanding scenery includes cypress and tupelo sloughs, oxbow lakes, and shores thick with mixed pine and hardwood forest. Camp on snow-white sandbars and watch for herons, egrets, and kingfishers on the shore—and if you’re really lucky, beaver or otter—as well as fish, turtles, and the occasional alligator. One-night Village Creek trips explore similar scenery, but are shorter and less remote.

For serious solitude and scenery, try a two-day float on the Rio Grande through Big Bend National Park’s Santa Elena Canyon with Big Bend River Tours. Day one reaches the mouth of the canyon to set up camp on the sandy shore while guides prepare a campfire supper. With no man-made lights for miles, prepare to be awed by the stars. On day two, navigate the river through this 10-mile slash in the park’s Mesa de Anguila, where canyon walls top 1,500 feet and sometimes narrow to a 30-foot gap. Conditions are best in mid-July through October.

If your appetite for adventure remains unsated, venture into Big Bend National Park’s lower canyons and the 83 miles of Wild and Scenic River beyond. That’s at least seven days on the water with only one way out—downstream.

By Night

48 TelescopeThe stars at night are big and bright, especially deep in the heart of dark-sky country.

At night, soak up the summer stars shining in dark skies across the state. You haven’t really star-partied Texas-style, until you’ve taken in the skies at The University of Texas McDonald Observatory near Fort Davis, one of the darkest places in the state. Star parties every Tuesday, Friday, and Saturday night include guided viewing of constellations, planets, stars, and galaxies.

In Burnet, Canyon of the Eagles Resort hosts telescope viewings at the Eagle Eye Observatory, led by members of the Austin Astronomical Society. Lodging and camping on-site make it easy to stargaze to your heart’s content. Check with the front desk for the latest observatory schedule. Call

At George Observatory at Brazos Bend State Park in Needville, the Houston Museum of Natural Science operates three domed telescopes, and amateur astronomers set up a dozen or so more around an outdoor plaza. Public viewings are held every Saturday, starting just after twilight. Indoor celestial-themed exhibits open at 3 p.m.

From the August 2017 issue.

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