Outdoors & Recreation
2006 Readers Poll
2006 Critics Picks
Best Bird-Brained Propagators

Ever wondered what those white poles with the clusters of gourds on top are? You know, the ones around town that sort of look like shorter moonlight towers? Those are purple martin houses! And purple martins are some of the most desireable birds to have in your neighborhood. Why? Because, according to the local site, BirdHouseInfo.com, "Purple Martins (Progne subis) are known as aerial insectivores (which means that they only eat flying insects)." They only eat flying insects! Mosquitoes are flying insects! Local heroes Purple Martin Propagators promulgate the notion that natural solutions to pesty problems are better and that a flying insect in beak is better than a bunch of bugs in a bush. OK, we made that last part up, but we bet they'd concur.

Purple Martin Propagators
12345 Lamplight Village #326

Best Chance to Trance Out

All across America, there's a new trend in music that goes hand-in-hand with the explosion of yoga as a movement and spiritual-seeking as a national pastime: kirtan. And Austin has a few avid proponents. The most familiar kirtan artists include Krishna Das, Dave Stringer, Wah!, Deva Premal, and Jai Uttal. Kirtan, which literally means "to sing," is a type of participatory call-and-response of sacred chants, usually sung in the ancient Indian language, Sanskrit, and has the same soulful, longing ecstasy of American gospel music. Kirtan is an integral part of bhakti yoga, or "the path of devotion," which took the practice of yoga out of the exclusive realm of the priesthood and gave it to the people, the population at large. It is non-denominational, though Vedic in origin, and participants often bring instruments, like drums or guitars or even the harmonium. The chants are usually simple, the eyes are usually closed (so no self-consciousness) and the experience is always uplifting and fun.

Kirtan Austin

Best Disc-Golfin' Day Trip

Tucked away 45 miles over yonder in the Hill Country of Hays County you'll find Circle R Disc Golf Course, where not one, but two "world class," 18-hole courses are spread out along 106 acres of local beauty. As one of the world's most laid-back sports, disc golf is an upscale version of a leisurely stroll in the park and is nearly addictive. And speaking of leisurely, not only can you drain yourself and your forearm of the flying-disc high, you can also pop up your tent and camp on the grounds at Circle R. Like peas and carrots; very much our way to play.

Circle R
11801 FM 2325

Best Free Fall

Fortunate landscapes and genius minds have given Austin something many other cities are lacking; awesome lakes. We're darn proud of 'em too. Not only do our lakes offer boating, swimming, and fishing, but for the daredevils out there, cliff-climbing and cliff-diving. Paleface is one of the many notorious limestone cliffs along Pace Bend's nine-mile shore, and is ours, among many other folks, favorite. Clench your cheeks together when jumping off of this cliff. You know which cheeks.

Pace Bend Park
2011 N. Pace Bend Rd. (RR 2322)

Best High-Tech Golf Lesson

At every GolfTEC, there are scientists dissecting our swings. During each lesson, the PGA member instructors video tape every swing from different angles, to break down what we are doing right and what we are doing wrong, in slow motion. They attach sensors to our shoulders and to our hips, to scientifically see where we are shifting our weight. And they post each lesson on a Web site, so we can personally tune into their instruction moments before we chip out of the dried-up creek bed … again. Add on the cost of greens fees at any course in town to a lesson and it's a hell of a lot cheaper – and more futuristic – than joining a country club.

11000 N. I-35

Best Machine Pilates

At its core, Pilates is an exercise created by the injured, for the injured to make themselves better. For example, Gary Ames, an ex-cop and elementary school teacher was forced to have back surgery about five years ago because herniated discs were crushing his sciatic nerve – that's the one that allows you to move your arms and legs effectively. "I was walking around like Quasimodo," Ames says. To physically rehabilitate, he began an intense Pilates regimen and had himself certified as an instructor, merely to keep himself healthy. After teaching a few classes, Ames set up shop, running the Art of Pilates Studio off Burnet until April of this year when he moved to the east side of Downtown, into the aptly named new studio, East Side Balance. "It's very important to make Pilates nonelitist," Ames explains, noting the use of Pilates among Hollywood socialites and professional atheletes. "It's exercise for everyone."

East Side Balance
906 E. Fifth Street, # 109

Best New Way to Avoid Poison Ivy

The Anacardiaceae family has ruled the Town Lake Hike-and-Bike Trail for about as long as the trail has been traversed and has trafficked its itchy wares with impunity. Trail users know the family members by their nom de guerre: poison ivy. But now there’s a new hope. A concerned hiker/biker—possibly masked and caped — armed with informative leaflets and pipe cleaner by which to hang them, crept stealthily through the trail, marking the locations of the bothersome vine. The citizen’s identity remains a mystery to the Austin Parks and Recreation Department. Plans for a spotlight signal with the shape of a Toxicodendron radicans are rumored but not confirmed.

Ann and Roy Butler Hike-and-Bike Trail at Lady Bird Lake

Best Place to Empty Your Wallet

We're certain that anyone who has made a wrong turn at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport and wound up at Iron Rock Raceway missed that flight. Is it any wonder? Racing at Iron Rock is the real deal — this place ain't your average go-kart joint. Before you hit the track, you'll need to sit through a short physics lesson and then suit up in racing gear, complete with a helmet, jumpsuit, neck brace, and gloves. You'll feel just like a real, live racer — until you get smoked on the track by an Iron Rock regular.

Best Place to Get Naked

Clothing got you in a cold sweat? Tan lines got your panties in a bunch? Well McGregor Park has your solution! Introducing the stranger to no one, yet stranger than your everyday, clothing-mandatory watering hole: Hippie Hollow, where cliff climbing and birthday suits go hand in hand. As the only clothing-optional public park in the great land of Texas, Hippie Hollow offers a one of a kind trip for anyone with few inhibitions. Located off of 2222 and Highway 620, this park is way out of the ordinary and yet so close to home. Only in Austin.

Hippie Hollow
7000 Comanche Trl.

Best Place to Pick Up Litter

With its high cliffs and cubbyhole ledges, the serene river bed and hike trail of Campell’s Hole on the Greenbelt is great for a romantic sunset, a walk with the dog, a jump in the creek when the weather permits … as long as the endless amounts of trash sprawled out along the thin wooded area is ignored. As the penthouse of the area homeless community and popular party spot, a lot of whatnots are left behind as traffic comes in and out of this public acreage. So as you grab the leash and a water bottle, grab a plastic bag as well, and keep a natural beauty beautiful.

Campbell's Hole
Spyglass access

Keep Austin Beautiful
2200 E. MLK

Best Scenery on Town Lake

Watch the paddles splash and the balls fly as the kayak polo players duke it out under the Mopac bridge on Town Lake every Wednesday at 6:30pm. A morphed version of water polo and basketball, kayak polo is an on-the-water game where players' helmets do little to keep them dry and spectators enjoy a so-ever unique sport that has taken members of the Austin Paddling Club to the national polo championships. Regular ol' Joes are even welcome to join with their own kayak or canoe and a trusty helmet.

Austin Paddling Club
Box 300388

Best Senior Exercise Guru

Oh, Ruth. We love Ruth! She's the Texas grande dame version of Jack LaLanne, the Jane Fonda of the senior set. She is bright and sunny and encourages folks in her age group to make movement and activity a crucial part of everyday life from her local television show that has been airing in Austin forever. And the lady's enthusiasm is not just for the senior set. All ages can learn from the more than two decades of fitness earned by this survivor who tackled a bout with cancer in the 1960s and a heart problem in the 1980s. Here in 2006, she is still going strong. While Ruth has moved operations up the road a piece to Salado, the Austin community TV fixture still airs on the Travis County station and has videos for sale for home use.

Seniorcise With Ruth

Zippiest Way to Get Around

Nerd alert! There they go, the lot of 'em, whizzzzzzing past the traditional pedestrian pace with their little helmets and big wheels. And they're always in a cluster! The tech is so new, and the first impression so much a head-turner that they are wise to honor the instinct to travel in packs. (We could imagine the too-cool-for-school scooter crowd wanting to slap them silly.) But you can't really accuse them of herd mentality. What they are riding stands out like a fuel-injected funny car at the Belmont Stakes. Ahhhhh, the brave and noble self-balancing eco-friendly Segwayers: Tourists, newbies, the curious, pioneers, all, seeing our town from a new vantage point on two wheels, standing tall.

621 E. Sixth

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