Outdoors & Recreation
1997 Readers Poll
1997 Critics Picks
Best (we Wish It Were A) State Park

With the Veloway hidden in the wilds of Circle C and the helmet laws crowding recreationalists off the streets, it's just about all a body can do to have fun these days. But thanks to the Department of Health building one of the most open, airy, gradually-sloping parking garages in town and placing it smack in the middle of two acres of pure, unadulterated asphalt, skateboarders, rollerbladers and cyclists have found a new home. Not only is this lovely park, er, parking garage perfect for beginners and experts alike, but it's blessedly empty on the weekends and after six on weekdays. Sure, the cops might run you off once in awhile -- but since they're probably there to catch the awesome view from the rooftop just like you are, they're pretty nice about it.

Best Bike Rider Who Complies With And Mocks The New Law All At Once

When Thor drums, he sounds like the God of Thunder. When Thor rides a bike he looks just like the rumbling deity – aside from his buff bod and long, Scandanavian tresses, his bike helmet is festooned with horns, just like the ones worn by the fat lady who sings at the end of the opera. Watch out for his hammer!

Best Birdwatching

There are probably more waterbirds at the Hornsby Bend sewage treatment plant, but who wants to smell sewage while birdwatching? Green herons, little blue herons, belted kingfishers and wood ducks are a few of the birds commonly seen on Barton Creek. When there's water in the creek this area can't be beat and it's in the middle of town.

Barton Creek Greenbelt
Zilker Park to Lost Creek, 512/974-6700
Twin Falls, and off MoPac, south of Loop 360, north of U.S. 290, 512/974-6700
www.ci.austin.tx.us/parks/greenbelts.htm

Best Disco Bowling

Highland Lanes is no mere bowling "alley," they're a bowling "center." Locating an appropriate house ball here is, well, an adventure, but we think that adds to the charm, and anyway, the inexpensive rates, drinks, and snacks more than make up for it. Your life will not be complete until you experience the Electric Bowl on Friday and Saturday nights (11pm-1am), when they bust out the disco lights, smoke, and loud, cheesy pop music to accompany your 7-10 splits.

Highland Lanes
8909 Burnet Rd.
512/458-1215
www.highlandlanes.com

Best Imitation Of A Broken-Down Drunk At A Lonely Hearts Bar

Moved from Reagan County and equipped with rambling loudspeakers, the Santa Rita oil rig has been telling the same old story for years - but as near as we can tell no one's ever stopped to listen to it. But it's an impressive rig, and underscores the importance of oil in our U's history. So if you've got a soft spot for faded glory, and care to hear the prattle of an old warhorse, give Santa Rita an ear. "I was somebody once. Why, did I ever tell you 'bout the time-."

Best Lifeguard

The City of Austin has a rather large aquatics program for a city its size and every year trains a slew of lifeguards to safeguard city pools. So who is the best guard. Believe it or not the city does surprises test, or audits, of its guards. This year's highest score goes to Barton Springs lifeguard John West, who scored 99 out of a possible 100.

photograph by Jana Birchum   Jana Birchum

Best Meteoric Longhorn

We are so proud of all our ex-Lady Longhorns who are venturing, for the first time, into professional U.S. basketball. Recent grads like Nekeshia Henderson and Danielle Viglione are making names for themselves in both the ABL and the WNBA. But a soft spot is reserved in our heart for 32-year-old Austinite Fran Harris, who blasted onto the pro scene in the WNBA's Houston Comets inaugural season this past summer. She waited eight years after her college glory days as a part of UT's undefeated 1986 National Championship team. Guess what? Houston went all the way to the WNBA Championships, too. Guess Fran Harris is a Lucky Star. You go, Fran! We're watching your comet soar!

713/627-9622

Best Pitcher

Up until four months ago, Christa Williams' story was as fairy-tale as it gets. Within the past year, she had graduated from Dobie High in Houston as one of the top recruits in the nation, with 47 career no-hitters and an 0.01 ERA, won an Olympic gold medal in Atlanta (pitching 9 2/3 scoreless innings), and become, as a 19-year-old freshman at UCLA, the marquee player at the most prestigious program in her sport. Yet only a couple of months after leading UCLA to the championship game in the College World Series – pitching all but three innings of the Bruins' six games and notching three wins (two by shutout), a save, and a tournament-leading 46 strikeouts – Williams announced that she was pulling up stakes and transferring to UT, a softball backwater with one year of varsity competition under its belt. Can Williams, pitching in the Horns' brand-new, deluxe stadium, turn around a team that was 6-10 in the Big 12 this past spring? Could be: There's no other team sport in which one position can dominate the way a pitcher can dominate women's fastpitch softball, and there's no doubt that Williams is one of the great ones.

photograph by Bruce Dye   Bruce Dye

Best Place To Contemplate The Endless Slumbering And Reawakening Of The Eternal Buddha

We've had luck with this at places as diverse as the barbecue shack and the beer garden, but for unfiltered eastern inspiration, no place beats Zilker Botanical's Oriental Garden. In specific, take a stroll across the Togetsu-Kyo, or bridge-to-walk-over-the-moon, and search out your reflection among the lilypads. You may not find everlasting bliss, but a tranquil moment is almost guaranteed.

Zilker Botanical Garden
2220 Barton Springs Rd.
512/477-8672
www.zilkergarden.org

Best Place To Dip Your Feet In

Okay so this creek gets a little help from the fact that its water comes from Stacy Pool and is therefore slightly chlorinated, but that doesn't detract from its beauty. There are myriad nooks and crannies along this meandering creek - many which just beg for someone to spend a leisurely afternoon with a good book or just a few minutes daydreaming. With the naturally carved limestone seating and shelter how can we resist?

Little Stacy Pool & Park
1400 Alameda
512/974-6700

Best Place To Scope

Let's be truthful about this. For many people the fitness aspects of jogging along Town Lake are just a fringe benefit. The primary activity out there may very well be sizing up the local talent. Take in a long walk or a good run and you can check out a couple hundred members of the opposite (or same) sex, many of whom could very well be available. And as a health club, you can't beat the initiation fee or the monthly dues ($0).

Hike & Bike Trail
Austin PARD
512/499-6700
www.austintexas.gov

Best Place To Watch Baseball

The Ballpark at Arlington is too damn far, the minor leagues aren't coming, and Disch-Falk - well, Disch-Falk has astroturf on the basepaths. What's a baseball fan to do? Simple: Grab a lawn chair and a cooler of cold beer and head over to Parque Zaragosa for Zaragosa League Baseball. It's pretty good ball - unpaid semipro, in one man's words - and the unassuming parque is a right nice place to be on a summer evening. Batter Up! League runs April-July with games almost every night.

Parque Zaragoza
2608 Gonzales
512/472-7142

Best Random Act Of Kindness

These sweethearts setup at the end of the MoPac bridge on the hike and bike trail and hand out free water and power-ade so people don't die of heat stroke (and so consequently, they will live to buy STILL MORE running shoes....)

RunTex
422 W. Riverside, 512/472-3254
2201 Lake Austin Blvd., 512/477-9464
www.runtex.com

Best Secret Makeout Spot

We probably should not be telling you about this, but if you want to get a smooch-on at the end of your date, this place is it. Good parking, lots of sky, and a great view of Austin downtown. Lip-smacking good.

photograph by Bruce Dye   Bruce Dye

Best Senseless Act Of Beauty

Heading south on the MoPac access road, it's the last clump of trees before West Enfield Park. Some subversive visual poet strung up some plain white lights to illuminate the trees and add some beauty to the urban landscape. The lights are still hanging in the tree, but unfortunately, they're left un-lit with ever-increasing frequency. Maybe some explicit appreciation for the person behind the plot can get those suckers turned on more often.

Best Way To Enjoy Athletic Gender Equity If You Missed It In College

For many a middle-aged woman playing sports just wasn't an option when growing up; but at the ARC, there're a few moms who are willing to prove they are tough - and don't be deceived by the apparent effortless beauty of the sport; there is plenty of pain involved - while discovering the previously foreign joys of athleticism, competition, and teamwork. There's no need to let your daughters have all of the fun, grueling as it may be at times.

Austin Rowing Club
74 Trinity on Town Lake
512/472-0700

Best Way To While Away A Sunday Afternoon

Few sports reward indolence as well as pickup softball; the regulars at Ramsey Park have raised it to an art form. What better excuse to stand around in the sun and scratch your belly for a few hours? To be sure, there's a game to be played, and a pretty good one at that, but the spirit is always friendly, and the pace relaxed, and there's not too much shame in grounding out to the pitcher, if ground out to the pitcher you must. Sundays at 3pm, year-round.

Ramsey Park
4301 N. Rosedale, 43rd & Burnet Rd

Biggest Upset Of A Cornhusker Football Team

When the Huskers came to town a couple of weeks ago, the defending Big 12 champs were undefeated and ranked #5 in the country. An NCAA quarterfinalist last year, Nebraska had never lost a Big 12 game. The Horns, on the other hand, were 1-2, had never had a winning season or beaten a top 10 team in their brief three-year history and had just been drubbed, 4-1, by a pretty lousy Missouri squad. But improbably, Rachael Safirstein's booming 25-yard rocket into the corner of the net early in the second half and some point-blank saves by goalie Cami Varnadore pushed the Horns to the upset, into second place in the conference, and into contention for a national ranking. Safirstein, by the way, became the Horns' first-ever Soccer America Player of the Week for her efforts.

471-9968

 
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