Outdoors & Recreation
2000 Readers Poll
2000 Critics Picks
Best Adventure Story

Sanders, 23, spent six nights trapped on a glacier in the Swiss Alps and lived to tell about it. The Round Rock High graduate was hiking the sledding trails on Christmas Eve 1999 when a huge storm slammed into the side of the mountain near the famed Matterhorn. The lights of Zermatt, Switzerland, were about five miles away, but his frostbitten feet prevented him from making the hazardous trek. After the third day, search parties had given up hope of finding him alive in the 22-below-zero temperatures. On his birthday, the sixth day of the ordeal, a rescue helicopter appeared overhead. At the same time his mother was in a nearby town filling out the paperwork on a "missing person presumed dead."

Best Alternate Route To San Antonio

We try not to bitch too much about I-35; after all, it's our front yard. But as anyone who's driven to San Antonio knows, the trip plain sucks. What should be a fairly straightforward, hour-or-so trek has become anything but. Between the construction and the monolithic trucks, it's almost impossible to arrive at either destination without literally fuming road rage. So what about those good ol' Texas back roads? The 290 West bit toward Dripping Springs, the first leg of the trip, is a bit crowded, true. But from there, head south on TX 165 and revel in all that's beautiful about Central Texas. Rolling hills, lots of trees, two-lane blacktop and, most importantly, no traffic! Near Blanco, head down U.S. 281 and follow it smoothly into big SA. Ah, isn't that better?

Best and Brightest Historical Landmarks

Splendiferous name. In 1895, 31 originals were installed as lights illuminating our once-bucolic village, and today 17 remain in various locations. You may have overlooked them in Ausprawl, but they are tall - 165 feet tall - and impressive. Imagine back then ... each tower illuminated a circle of 3,000 feet using six carbon arc lamps so bright that a farmer could read an almanac on the darkest night. Though only 17 of the original 31 remain, that's still more than in any other American city, all of whom abandoned the inefficient mercury vapor lamps years ago. A victory of beauty over finance, long may they burn.

Moonlight Tower

Best Armadillo Watching

Austin is blessed with many reasons to put on your hiking boots. We've got places to canoe, fish, and bike. And right in South Austin we have world-class armadillo watching. We recommend a cold drink, comfortable shoes, and few hours to wander around McKinney Falls' 744 acres. We've seen four armadillos in an afternoon: Beat that.

McKinney Roughs Nature Park
1884 Hwy. 71 W.
Cedar Creek

Best Beer Ball

The Round Rock Express has given Austin the closest thing to a big-league sports franchise. Yet if minor-league baseball and Spike aren't enough to lure you out to cheer on the home team, maybe "Thirsty Thursdays" will with its $1 beers and sodas. What a deal! Just make sure to have a designated driver - after all, the way home is through Williamson County.

Dell Diamond
3400 E. Palm Valley Blvd.
Round Rock

Best Bowling Alley Food

Half the fun of going bowling is being able to eat and drink copiously while you roll. However, the Dart Bowl Cafe's food is good enough to attract a sizable crowd of non-bowlers. Their truckstop-style enchiladas are legendary, but their super-size hamburgers and fresh-cut French fries are no less magical. Try a meat-and-three lunch special during the week, and don't forget Dart Bowl's wonderful homemade bread.

photo by David Brendan Hall

Best Bowling Trend

It's late night at the bowling alley: The lights go down and the music and fog from the smoke machine come up. It's not your daddy's bowling alley, baby: It's extreme! It's wild! It's rock! It's disco! It's shake-your-groove booty, 10-pin, jungle-boogie action! Get your mind out of the gutter, shut yo' mouth! Bowling like this really can't be described, it must be experienced. One must see for one's self the effects of a black light on certain bowling ball colors - and the special resonance that a strike has when backed by the Village People. Make sure to get there early; you may have to wait to get a lane.

Highland Lanes
8909 Burnet Rd.

Best Classical Music Day Trip

Now in its 30th year, the Festival-Institute in Round Top is world-renowned for its eclectic, time-spanning repertoire. The bucolic small town northeast of La Grange hosts about 50 concerts each year, including orchestral, chamber music, choral, vocal, brass, woodwinds, and solo performances. Concert pianist James Dick, the festival's founder and artistic director, makes frequent appearances throughout the season. And tickets are only $10 and $15 ($5 for children).

James Dick Foundation for the Performing Arts
248 Jaster Rd.; P.O. Box 89
Round Top

Best Excuse To Eat Boudin

So what exactly is boudin? Well, it's just something that you'll have to try for yourself. The perfect opportunity comes around every April at the Louisiana Swamp Romp & Crawfish Festival. This festival has it all. Great music, arts and crafts, and of course lots of authentic Cajun food. And we do mean lots of Cajun food, including the favorite boudin.

Louisiana Swamp Romp & Crawfish Festival

Best Gazing In The Grass

The graceful oasis in far Southwest Austin is the embodiment of Lady Bird herself: serene, natural, friendly, and charming. The Wildflower Center is the realization of a dream Mrs. Johnson had, and it has come to fruition in a way that exceeded our considerable expectations. It is a favorite site for weddings and other special occasions as the scenery cannot be beat and the facilities lend a uniquely Texan festivity to any event. Classes in a variety of things botanical have reached out to the citizens to share Lady Bird's passion. And the gift shop has some of the most sought-after items around. The most wonderful feature of all, though, is that it manages to capture the beloved spirit of its cherished namesake.

Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center
4801 La Crosse

Best Guilty Pleasure For Animal Lovers

The Squirrel-a-Whirl and its generic cousin the Squirrel Spinner are the funniest devices you'll ever have to flagellate yourself for enjoying. Ostensibly designed to distract squirrels from bird feeders, these apparati draw the rodent to treats mounted on a carefully balanced platform, which spins the squirrel off if he missteps. The real fun comes when teams of Austin's plentiful squirrels attack the task - when one makes a wrong move and the others go flying, you'll collapse laughing over the scolding he gets from his pals! You're a bad person!

Best Nature Experience

Whether you're looking for a place to commune with nature or for classes for the school-age explorers, the Wild Basin Wilderness offers the community an incredible resource. Hiking trails wind through a deep valley in the hills, a short drive from downtown Austin. Every weekend special programs introduce or reacquaint the visitor with the wonders of nature. As beautiful as it is educational, this is how the Hill Country looked before the Europeans arrived.

Wild Basin Wilderness Preserve
805 Capital of TX Hwy. N.

Best New Rec Facility

Austin doesn't have enough YMCAs to begin with, but state-of-the-art athletic facilities are but one of many amenities the Eastside could really use. And with the center of East Austin moving farther east all the time, it's becoming more important to having such amenities out past Springdale Road and along Ed Bluestein. So the East Austin Y is filling many needs in the nicest way.

YMCA East Communities Branch
5315 Ed Bluestein

Best Place For An Old Lady To Learn To Ride An Old Horsie

Lifelong Texan? And how old are you? You say you don't even know how to get on a horse? Well, "neigh" to that! The mercifully pretense-free Bear Creek Stables - free from $2,000 children's show saddles, high black riding boots, and horses worth more than a shiny pickup - teach riding plain and simple, with instruction safe and thorough. So get ready to saddle up, head \'em up, and move \'em out. But if you take our advice, you'll steer clear of the rambunctious Spitz, unless of course you're fond of standing for a week at a time.

Bear Creek Stables
PO Box 1571

Best Place To Dog-watch

This quaint little park tucked away in Clarksville is silent at night and during most of the day. But around 6pm, when everyone is getting home from work - let's just say, watch where you step! The park suddenly comes alive with all walks of life, of the canine variety, that is. Dogs have always seemed capable of bringing people together. And there's a veritable kennel-full of chatty gossip going on here every afternoon. With plenty of shade and a playground for the kiddies, this is the place to shoot the shit (pardon us) with fellow dog owners.

Best Place To Relive Junior High

Couples skate, all-boy skate, all-girl skate. Aw yeah, you know what we're talkin' about. Ever thought about reliving those nights at the rink? Well now you can. Every Tuesday night, 7-10pm, it's adult skate night at Playland Skate. Bring your own wheels if you've got 'em; rollerblades are welcome as well. It's just like you remembered. Well, except the bathrooms are a bit smaller these days.

Playland Skate Center
8822 McCann

Best Potential For A Live Music Venue

If only every Saturday could be spent bowling with the sweet pop melodies of Houston's Junior Varsity and Japan's Lotti Collins playing in the background, as they did, right here in Austin last spring. Does Austin really need another live music venue? Yes!

Best Reason To Attend UT

Boasting an indoor jogging track, a seven-lane swimming pool, a climbing wall, 10 wallyball courts, a horde of sorority girls (when in season), and so much more, the relatively recently revamped Gregory Gym is available to UT students for the incredibly low price of: nothing (if you don't count the massive student fees that Mom and Dad pay). Students can also sponsor the memberships of friends and family who are non-university affiliated. What better reason to maintain a 1.5 GPA?

University of Texas at Austin
727 E. Dean Keeton, 512/471-3434
Sarah M. & Charles E. Seay Building, Speedway & Dean Keeton, 512/471-1157
UT Architecture Library, 200 Battle Hall, 512/495-4620
University of Texas Department of Art & Art History, 2301 San Jacinto, 512/475-7718

David Brendan Hall

Best Snorkeling

We love snorkeling. On a hot day, nothing feels better than donning a mask and fins and diving in. And only at Barton Springs can we find the elusive crawfish. The fascinating turtle. The filmy forests of seaweed. And most thrilling of all, the many varieties of kicking, paddling feet.

Barton Springs Pool
2131 William Barton Dr.

Best Something For Nothing

Don't know pool from pinochle? Well, partner, here's your chance to learn. At the Cue, the drinks are always cold and the pool is always free. And as our momma always told us, you can't beat free. Grab a huge, frosty Cue 'rita in one hand and a pool cue in the other and claim your table; with yummy food, good, strong drinks, and plenty of entertainment all just a few steps away, it could be a long, long night.

Best Sunset With A Shiner

If Regis hasn't called recently but you still want to feel like a million bucks, head to the Dry Creek. You've got the same view as the mansion down the street! You've got a cold beer and an Austin sunset! So what if your wooden chair is broken and your table is covered with cigarette burns? Just take a sip and savor. This is the meaning of life.

Dry Creek Cafe
4812 Mount Bonnell Rd.

Best Swingin'est Swings

We've never flown so fast, climbed so high, swallowed as many bugs, and fallen on our butts so often. Tucked between north campus and scenic Hyde Park, with plenty of shade, the Eastwoods Park swing set is the perfect spot for a cool breeze across the face and the chance to hearken back to the days when who was highest had everything to do with fun and nothing to do with illicit substances.

Eastwoods Park
3001 Harris Park Ave.

Best Underground Scene

For 11,000 years (that's 550 generations) people lived along the banks of Brushy Creek in Cedar Park, leading lives so well attuned to the landscape that, eventually, no one remembered or could tell that anyone had lived there. But in 1973, archeologists scouting in advance of a Cedar Park-Round Rock highway found the Wilson-Leonard site, named after local landowners. Working through fits of funding over the next two decades, they eventually discovered the site had been occupied for 11,000 years and was preserved throughout 15 feet of geological strata. Amazing enough, but they weren't finished: They also found the Leander Lady - one of the oldest intentional burials in the new world. The road from Cedar Park to Round Rock could have spelled doom for the Leander Lady's former haunts, but thankfully the Archaeological Conservancy intervened, purchasing and preserving the Wilson-Leonard site in the face of development all around. And this year the Texas Department of Transportation published their monograph on what remains of the site. A tip of the trowel to both groups for preserving an irreplaceable example of our ultimate heritage and the human habitat - and perhaps prompting us to revise our definition of "new in town."

The Wilson-Leonard Archeological Site

Best View For Pretending You Live In L.a.

Why move there when you can sit up on the lush hill and look out over lights that could just as easily be Hollywood, so long as you concentrate on the computer millionaires' mansions and ignore the UT Tower?

Mount Bonnell at Covert Park
3851 Mount Bonnell Dr.

Best Way To Get Bats Out Of Your Belfry And Into Proper Housing

Bats have a bad rap. Starring in horror movies and getting linked to that vampire cult were definitely bad career moves. Geez, If only we'd known our Mexican free-tail friends eat more mosquitoes than we do potato chips, there would have never been any misunderstandings. Bat Conservation International is a locally based group doing worldwide pro-bat PR. They offer membership, bat house plans, and info about North America's largest bat urban colony - the one located right here in Austin, Texas, under the Congress Avenue bridge.

Bat Conservation International
500 Capital of Texas Hwy. N.

Best Way To Land In The Cooler

Offering a combination of the fear of being caught by the fuzz and the physical shock of exposing one's self to the Plutonian temperatures of Barton Springs after 10pm (not to mention the potentially high fecal coliform levels), late-night aquatic recreation at the popular swimming hole can be one of the most benign, enjoyable ways to end up meeting a member of the APD.

Barton Springs Pool
2131 William Barton Dr.

David Brendan Hall

Finest Moonlight Prowl

Bullet wounds in the George Washington statue, the final resting place of UT's first mascot, and tales of history, romance, and protest fill professor Jim Nicar's unofficial tours of the university campus. The gregarious lecturer presents a side of the school that you won't find in history books. It's like hearing the family history from a favorite uncle. The history tours are held on alternating weekends in the spring. Nicar also gives a UT architecture tour, called Sunday Stroll, in the spring. Sign up early at his e-mail address.

University of Texas at Austin
727 E. Dean Keeton, 512/471-3434
Sarah M. & Charles E. Seay Building, Speedway & Dean Keeton, 512/471-1157
UT Architecture Library, 200 Battle Hall, 512/495-4620
University of Texas Department of Art & Art History, 2301 San Jacinto, 512/475-7718

Hardiest Perennial/Most Free-growing Herb

As our collective St. Augustine lawns toast to a crispy brown, there's one perennial that remains hardy, giving, and green. It's rosemary. New residents may not realize that those dried flakes in their cabinets are a poor substitute for fresh branches of their large and fragrant backyard hedge. Poor soil? No water? No problem. Cheap, dependable, delicious.

Most Amazing Footprints

And we thought we were Austin old-timers. In the back of Zilker Botanical Gardens, a large fight took place millions of years ago between a turtle and a dinosaur. Nowadays, the prints are visible, and we love to take sandwiches over to gaze at them and think about who really lived in Austin in the good old days.

Zilker Botanical Garden
2220 Barton Springs Rd.

Nicest Way To Take It Off & Put It Right Back On

There's no better way to explore our fine city than on foot. And on a leisurely afternoon, with a cool breeze and that cloudless blue Texas sky, here's the perfect idea to while away the time. Begin at the river, you know, Town Lake, follow Congress up to the Capitol, head north through UT's scenic campus, then up the famously funky Guadalupe Drag to that Austin original, Amy's Ice Cream. Indeed, you've covered some ground, but there's lots to see between here and there, and ahhhh, those sweet rewards!

Amy's Ice Creams
1012 W. Sixth, 512/886-5737
3500 Guadalupe, 512/886-5933
2805 Bee Caves Rd. #416, 512/883-4187
10000 Research #140, 512/886-5955
AUS: Amy's Ice Creams, 3600 Presidential Blvd. #20, 512/530-2918
1301 S. Congress, 512/440-7488
4477 S. Lamar #790, 512/886-5998
13265 Hwy. 183 N., 512/918-2697
5624 Burnet Rd., 512/886-6153
9600 S. I-35 Ste. 400-C, 512/399-8030
12800 Galleria Cir. Ste G-150, Bee Cave, 512/262-9447
2901 S. Lamar, 512/447-2697
2002 Manor Rd., 512/551-8225

Critics: Media
Critics: Politics & Personalities

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle