Day Trips

The year of 2006 was a dry one for day-trippers

Riding the chute in Rio Vista Park
Riding the chute in Rio Vista Park (Photo By Gerald E. McLeod)

Looking back at 2006, it was a dry year for day-trippers.

The existence of global warming might be debated by scientists and politicians, but the drought that has hung over Texas continued for another sweltering year. All over the state, lakes were at, or near, record lows. The lack of rain was painfully evident at Lake Travis. Going into December, the major water-storage reservoir and playground for Austin was at a 42-year low. The shoreline was 25 feet below its average level. The all-time low for the lake was in 1951 during a decadelong drought. The odd part of the weather pattern was that West Texas, known for being bone dry, saw an above-average year for rainfall.

Being one of the few constant-level swimming holes in Central Texas, the spring-fed San Marcos River continued to attract tubers and kayakers with an improved playground. The city of San Marcos replaced a 100-year-old dam with a tube chute that includes three artificial rapids and a new sunbathing area in Rio Vista Park.

The Texas State Railroad came back from the brink of having its last run between Palestine and Rusk. In February, the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department announced that the excursion train would not open in the spring. After the local chambers of commerce rallied to save the train for the 2006 season, TPWD announced that due to budget constraints the train was doomed in 2007. The state Legislature came through with emergency funding to keep the boiler on the steam train stoked for another season.

The financial cliff that the railroad sits on is indicative of the entire state park system. There is no telling what the 2007 Legislature will do to shore up the dire conditions in the state agency that should be the pearl necklace of the state's crown jewels. At the end of the budget year in August, TPWD was woefully underfunded.

If you're heading outside the country, don't forget your passport. As of Dec. 31, 2006, the national travel document is required of all air and sea travelers to foreign destinations. By the end of 2007, passports will be required for land border crossings. That means if you're going on a shopping trip to Ciudad Acuña or Montreal, you had better take the proper document. A driver's license won't be enough to get you back into the U.S. anymore.

After years of waiting, drivers negotiating the traffic in the state capital will be able to travel Loop 1 (MoPac) from Round Rock to Circle C without stoplights or construction or can bypass Central Austin altogether by taking SH 130. The state began collecting the 75-cent toll for the north end of Loop 1 and $1.50 for SH 130 on Jan. 1. Cars with a prepaid account and sporting a TxTag get a 10% discount on the fees on the 209 miles of toll roads in four Texas cities without having to stop at the toll booths.

While Austin was opening new toll roads, Dallas was expanding the area's commuter rail system. Since it began operation 10 years ago, the Dallas Area Rapid Transit rail system has expanded to 45 miles, plus a 35-mile link to Fort Worth. With projects begun this year, the Southwest's largest inner-city rail system will extend 93 miles by 2013.

Also in Dallas, developers announced the closing of the West End MarketPlace in July. A major tourist attraction when it opened in 1986, the former warehouse, a couple of blocks from Dealey Plaza, was once full of shops, eateries, and nightclubs that attracted new activity to the abandoned western corner of downtown.

And finally, Texas day-trippers lost a good friend with the untimely death of Texas Highways magazine Editor Jack Lowry in a house fire on Dec. 23. As editor of the official state travel publication for 14 years, Lowry expanded the magazine's reputation for quality writing and dramatic photography. Although he will best be remembered as an editor, he was also a wonderful writer whose articles exhibited a depth often overlooked in an age of sound bites. He will be greatly missed.

810th in a series. Day Trips, Vol. 2, a book of Day Trips 101-200, is available for $8.95, plus $3.05 for shipping, handling, and tax. Mail to: Day Trips, PO Box 33284, South Austin, TX 78704.

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More Day Trips
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Texas Highways, Jack Lowry, Lake Travis, San Marcos River

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