uhhhm…but yeah should we talk about our first date? …ye- yeah there’s just not a lot a lot happened we went to a…a fairly nice restaurant here that was known for their nice desserts yeah and then I had to..get gas on the way there and I spilled gasoline like pretty much all over my pants?? and i stank sooo bad *laughing* yeah the smell was pretty intense was very overpowering. and then we were gonna go to barton springs, right? were we? and then it got-we got rained out? we got rained out..yeah…and I don’t remember what we did I think we went to Grace and Bristol’s pool. and swam in that instead…..oh yeah! Yeah it’s ver..very romantic. and then um..you knOW HAHA H A…YOU KNOW WHAT HAPPENS AFTER THAT A H AHAHAHAHA LITTLE BIT O THAT *grunt from home improvement* AND A SOME O THAT boINGUGUGGGUUH and a little bit o that OOOooohhNOOOooo and a little bit o that *gets real close to the mic and makes mouth sounds* and a little- a wHOLE BUNCH O THAT..C O W A B U N G A DUDE!! and some of that *borat voice* uh mY WiFE…and some of that *deep breath* MUH SWAMP *breaks out into laughter* and some o that- okay..okay please stop..I was gonna *laughing* i was gonna sit in silence until you stopped….uh but you really got me with my swamp
Austin might be shifting shape from a laid-back, hippy town to a booming tech hub, but it still retains all of its character. Austin local Caitlin M. Ryan shares the best reasons to visit.
When you’re officially known as the Live Music Capital of the World®, the bar is set high. You can catch scores of talented bands any day of the week here – even at the airport. Two-step to local, lauded honky tonk bands such as Mike and the Moonpies at The White Horse, or for a litany of indie rock try hip haunts Mohawk and Emo’s.
Also, always pop your name into the digital draw to try and win tickets to live tapings of the Austin City Limits TV show; it’s featured the likes of the late, great Johnny Cash and Etta James, plus current big-hitters Radiohead.
A frenzy of festivals
Photo by SteveHopson at English Wikipedia
Beyond the dive bars, black box theatres and music halls is a roster of now-iconic music festivals. Austin City Limits Festival, held in leafy Zilker Park across the first two weekends in October, is always a magnet for international heavyweight talent. In March, the world’s creative elite congregate for SXSW, a heady fusion of talks and performance spanning film, music and digital innovation. If camping’s your thing, make for Old Settler’s or Euphoria where impromptu jam sessions reign supreme.
Photo by Seefrank at Wiki Commons
Music might be what it’s famed for, but there’s a thriving sport culture in the heart of Texas too. Petrolheads must visit the state-of-the-art Circuit of The Americas™ track for adrenaline-fuelled competitions such as MotoGP and the United States Grand Prix. For a true Austin experience, join the crowds at a sporting event hosted at the University of Texas. The most buzzy atmosphere is found during the autumn’s football season. As the weather cools down, tailgate parties pop up, and Longhorn fans and students dressed in the team’s burnt orange kit descend upon the stadium just north of the state capitol building.
Tex-Mex is, of course a must, and Matt’s El Rancho is one of the best joints to try it. But Austin’s culinary scene is about so much more than just tamales and tacos. Uchi serves top-notch sushi; ask the chef for their special recommendations. For the best meat this side of the Mississippi, join the snaking lines outside Franklin’s Barbecue. Tasting carts at Emmer & Rye are stacked high with gourmet bites, crafted from the best seasonal and local produce. Cap off the lot with a sweet something at mod bistro Launderette overseen by acclaimed pastry chef Laura Sawicki.
The great outdoors
Photo by Larry D. Moore at Wiki Commons
To cut to the chase, Austinites are fit. There’s nothing they love more than hiking, biking, and rowing their way across the city. Zilker Park is the best patch for throwing down a picnic blanket and tossing a Frisbee with friends. Take a dip in Barton Springs, a refreshing spring-fed pool in the centre of the city, or catch some gnarly waves (albeit artificial ones), out of town at NLand Surf Park. You can choose from bay or reef swells, dependent on your skills.
Or, work off all that Tex-Mex with a jog around peaceful Lady Bird Lake, on summer nights at sunset you’ll find crowds at the Congress Avenue bridge – all gathered to watch the largest urban bat colony in North America take flight. Seeing some 1.5 million Mexican free-tailed bats spiral into the sky is quite something.
Bed down in style
Music lovers won’t find a cooler spot to snooze than the W Hotel in downtown’s 2ND Street District. It not only adjoins Austin City Limits Live at the Moody Theater, but also draws a cool crowd to its vinyl-packed records room. If boutique hotels are more your cup of tea, check in to South Congress Hotel, which has a clutch of neighbourhood restaurants next door; sip on rainbow-coloured cold-press juices at Mañana then feast on Japanese grub at Otoko. A hotel to watch out for is the Fairmont Austin, which opens this autumn. At 1.4 million square feet, it will be the largest Fairmont hotel in the world.
Find your style
Photo by skeeze on Pixabay
The crowd here dresses snappily no matter what the season; locals are known for their bold sartorial statements and love of vintage threads. Find old-school stonewash Levi’s, leather vests, quirky boots and prairie dresses at Feather’s Boutique and Prototype Vintage Design. Over on the east side at Charm School Vintage stocks colourful, eclectic garb from the 1890s to 1990s.
Okay so I work with tiny, white salamanders that live in springs here in Austin, TX. Of all of the vertebrates on Earth, these little guys have the smallest habitat - only one little area about the size of a small house; the entire species lives there and has always lived only there. That habitat happens to be called Barton Springs, and it’s a popular swimming hole smack-dab in the middle of downtown Austin (pretty much). At some point, somebody thought it’d be a good idea to clean this swimming hole with bleach and other chemicals…. So this species nearly went extinct. Right now it’s federally protected but still critically endangered and still in a public swimming hole.
These salamanders are called Eurycea sosorum, by the way - The Barton Springs Salamander. There are also a couple of others: E. waterlooensis, E. nana, E. tonkawae, E. rathbuni, E. neotenes… The list goes on.
So a lot of these salamanders live in springs underground, which is amazing when you think about it. The openings to these springs are sometimes only a centimeter across and they can be miles deep - completely dark, completely underwater, isolated in every way. Some have lived there so long that they’ve lost their eyes to evolution. Obviously these guys are extremely difficult to study because it’s basically impossible to observe the insides of these springs. Every few months a new species is discovered when a hole is dug for construction or a well or something. This is a great way to find these species…. while simultaneously destroying their habitat. How, then, can we find and characterize these species if we can’t enter their habitat and see them? That’s the question I’m trying to answer.
I’m trying to apply an idea called Environmental DNA to these salamanders. Everything loses bits of DNA during their lives. You, for example, lose dead skin cells, bleed, spit, excrete… all manner of ways to lose DNA. If you lived in the water, these bits of DNA would - in theory - float around in the environment. So it makes sense that water samples can be taken and looked at to find these bits of DNA. Of course, the amounts of DNA in these water samples is incredibly small. Like… there’s almost nothing there. Most of the time there actually is nothing there. BUT! Sometimes we’ll find something and sometimes it’ll tell us that this particular species lives in this water, and someday we might even be able to tell about how many of them there are. No interrupting their lives or destroying their habitats or anything - just taking water samples that bubble out of the ground in springs anyway.
Anyway, today I realized that that’s exactly what forensic investigators do. They comb the environment for little bits of DNA - the tiniest, most unnoticeable little pieces - and find out information about who left it, what they were doing, etc. It blew my mind to realize that this is what I’m doing. And I’m doing it to save a species.