We decided this year to kick off the summer with a short vacation to Texas Hill Country. Our trip, from Friday through Tuesday, would include a couple of nights in San Antonio with my sister, her husband, and their baby. Then we’d head out to a day at a swimming hole and natural springs, swing by Luckenbach for a quick look around, and head to a hill country resort for a couple of days. I’m writing this first recap mid-trip – and it’s been just perfect so far.
The trip started with the stressful crush of preparing, as it always does. After a Thursday filled with frantic shoring up of all my cases in advance of leaving town for a bit, I had to leave early for a summer associate event. (I am in charge of managing the summer associates – it’s a LOT of work to add onto the billing, but I do enjoy it). We took our summer associates on a walking cocktail tour around the French Quarter, led by a tour guide who worked to incorporate some legal trivia into our evening.
We started with Ramos Gin Fizzes and Sazeracs at the glorious art deco Sazerac Bar in the Roosevelt Hotel. The bar was built in 1938, and has beautiful walnut-paneled walls, mahogany bar, and murals painted by Missouri artist Paul Ninas. Our tour guide regaled us with stories of its history (formerly the Grunewald, then the Fairmont, now the Roosevelt) and famous residents (Louisiana Governor and U.S. Senator Huey P. Long lived in the hotel a while, and once famously flew its head bartender up to New York to teach the bartenders there how to properly mix a Ramos Gin Fizz), while we sipped craft cocktails and strained to hear over the ambient noise of the busy bar. We next headed over to the Carousel Bar at the Monteleone (where we did not have a drink, it was too crowded). The bar, true to its name, looks like a fairgrounds carousel, and the main bar itself plus the seats around it all spin in a circle, completing one rotation every 15 minutes. We heard a little of the literary history of the place, which was a favorite of numerous authors and is featured in works by Tennessee Williams, Ernest Hemingway, Anne Rice, and others. Truman Capote famously claimed to have been born there, although he was not – his mother was staying there at the time of his birth, but he was delivered in the nearby Touro Infirmary (where Liam was born!)
After hearing about the Monteleone, we then stepped back out into the humid street and walked a few blocks to Hermes, the bar connected to the famous Antoine’s restaurant, where I had a sidecar and their famous potato soufflés. The bar has a checkerboard tiled floor and warm wood paneled walls, and we stayed a long while there, just chatting and getting to know each other. Our last stop was at French 75, one of the bars of New Orleans classic restaurant Arnaud’s and tended by Chris Hannah, one of the most celebrated bartenders in the city and beyond. Our tour ended then and we just finished one last cocktail before dispersing – some folks went home, others went on for more fun, and I had to head back to the office for an hour, then go home and do some more work. It was a wonderfully exhausting day.
The next morning, I got up early and tied up a few more work things (it’s so hard to get away!), then packed the boys’ and my suitcase, while the Prof got the dog sitter situated and made sure the dishes/trash/car/etc. was all set. We left the house at about 10, and headed West toward San Antonio, where my littlest sister and her husband were celebrating their baby’s first birthday.
The drive was not too bad – about 10 hours this time, due to a couple of accidents slowing us down a bit, but the boys handled it really well. They read part of the time, played part of the time, watched movies part of the time – they really were pretty great with being in the car.
We arrived at about 7:30 pm, and baby Charles was still up and gave us all big smiles and big hugs (no stranger danger yet! So delightful to get an enthusiastic hug from my baby nephew!), before heading down to bed. Our boys had pizza on the back porch, while we had pulled pork sandwiches, and then we all headed to bed as well.
Everyone was up and at ‘em at about 7 am the next morning – including Charles, who had slept beautifully. We had a big cooked breakfast and the boys showed Charles all the little boy toys that they had brought for him as hand me downs. He particularly loved the stroller and wagon, which he pushed/pulled all over the place.
He had an early morning nap, and the big boys played around the backyard while the adults got showers and ready for the day. We eventually left Charles and his dad at home, and we headed out to the Pearl district of San Antonio, which was hopping with a giant farmers’ market, a central splash pad/fountain, and tons of street food, all along the river walk. There were rows upon rows of brightly colored sun shades set up, with all manner of goods set out underneath. Giant leeks with bulbs the size of a fist, stems as long and broad as your forearm. Creamy new potatoes, honey, nuts, silver jewelry, small carts selling Mexican street food that smelled delicious – we were surrounded by luscious sights and smells. All round us towered mission style architecture – shops, the Pearl Brewery, the Hotel Emma. It felt very much like we were not in New Orleans – we were Somewhere Western – and it was a glorious day, bluebird sky, not so hot first thing in the morning but warming up. The kids splashed in the fountain while my sister and the Prof and I sat in the shade of a tree nearby and talked.
Eventually, Charles woke up and came and joined us, ready at 12 months old to get in there and splash with the big boys. Jack shepherded him around everywhere, a solicitous older cousin, while Liam somehow found a plastic cup which he repeatedly launched via fountain spray, and Craig slipped and smacked his face and got a bloody nose.
After the kids had exhausted themselves, we put on their dry shirts and walked down the river walk to get lunch at a restaurant called La Gloria.
We waited outside in the shade for about 20 minutes until a table was ready, and I made the boys pose with all of the funky metal characters out there. Texas seems quite good at dealing with heat, and they had lots of shade, lots of benches, and fans that blow cold mist on you. Those amenities plus the pomelo margarita that the Prof purchased for me kept me from melting while we waited.
This restaurant serves Mexican street food, so it’s a little like tapas – all ala carte. The Prof and I got four small plates to share, except one of them was not so small – the pork torta (basically a giant pulled pork hoagie). We also had a ground beef tamale wrapped in a banana leaf instead of a corn husk; a shredded beef tostada topped in avocado, tomatoes, and crema; and three tiny chicken-and-tomatillo tacos, which were by far the best of the four small plates. Our boys got hamburgers, because of course they did. We shared one more prickly pear margarita, and waddled out of the restaurant a half hour later, stuffed to the gills.
It was hot by this point – HOT – and after paying the bill, we staggered down a dusty path toward the towering Hotel Emma, a sort of mission architecture cum steampunk affair. We wandered through the lobby for a moment, and then beelined back for the car, small children melting into puddles of whiny tiredness along the way. (Mostly just Craig).
We drove past the Alamo on our way back to the house, and it looked like I expected from the pictures but it also was right in the middle of downtown, which gave it an odd vibe.
Once home, the boys played Wii, I snoozed, Craig full-on napped, and everyone relaxed after a full day in the hot sun. Once Craig woke up, we all took the boys to get haircuts – we wanted to see Charles get his first haircut, and then the big boys got one too. It was a bit of a fiasco and Jack ended up with a terrible mushroom cut that simply was NOT going to work, so my sister thinned it out a bit at home. She made it look so easy, I’m planning to go buy myself some clippers and scissors and then will try it once, botch it, and never try again, I’m sure.
We had jambalaya at home for dinner, a little bit of wine, a little bit of birthday cupcake, a little bit of Wii, a little bit of Parks and Rec, and then early to bed.
The next morning, we all woke once more at about 7:00 – perfect, not too early, not too late. We immediately got ourselves packed and moving out the door. My sister packed a giant picnic, I dressed little boys in their swimsuits, and by 8ish, we were on the road to Krause Springs, little boys giggling their hearts out over Mad Libs all the way.
Krause Springs, founded in 1955, is a property privately owned, with 32 natural springs, campgrounds, swimming holes, and a man-made pool. We parked in the dusty parking lot, gathered our picnic and towels and children, and picked our way precariously down a steep set of stairs, followed by an equally steep and slippery rock face.
Several of the springs feed a manmade pool, which has a constant flow of water in one end and out the other. The pool is at the bottom of the path and the top of the stairs pictured above, a nice place to swim on the upper level of the ravine. We walked by it in the morning, and went back up to swim there later in the day.
The outflow at the far end runs to a waterfall and swimming hole.
It is very much still a “play at your own risk” kind of place, which I loved – it has not been over-safety-fied, if that makes sense. The boys could scramble around slipping and sliding and scraping over rocks, and we swam in water that could be 8 feet deep in one spot, and then suddenly you slam your legs into a giant rock that lets you stand in water up to your shins. There were roots and waterfalls and caves and rocks and who knows what kind of wildlife, and the boys just loved every second of exploring it.
Charles had a great time too – dressed in a puddle jumper and thrilled to death to be out in the mix, he was completely unfazed by all the commotion. He really just dug being one of the group, it was so darling. He’s still a baby, but beginning to transition into a Big Boy, and he really loves his cousins (and they love him!) A small number of families were there before us, and we set up a picnic blanket on a wide stretch of rock, and then slipped and slid down the mossy rock face into the water. I wore my trusty old Chacos – so glad I brought them – and helped fish boys out of tight spots now and again. We adults all took turns jumping from a rope swing, and told the boys it was only for age 14 and up (a little white lie that I do not regret).
After a picnic lunch of PB&J for the boys and turkey sandwiches for us, I took Jack and Liam down the banks of the stream to explore. We scrambled over a mass of tangled, slippery tree roots, splashed through ankle deep water (toes squishing into who-knows-what), and made our way to a small waterfall of absolutely frigid water, where we rinsed off and screamed at the chill. We hiked the opposite bank before we came to an impasse, and then slipped and slid over rocks and roots and mess to doggy paddle back to the picnic blanket (Jack squealing with each step “what is this SUBSTANCE??! This is a slippery SUBSTANCE!”)
It was time to pack up the picnic items – the swimming hole was starting to fill up with 20 somethings with coolers of beer, and we figuratively passed the torch to them as we single-filed it up the slippery steps to the upper level, with the swimming pool. The pool was MUCH chillier than the swimming hole down below, being less in the sun and closer to the mouth of the springs, but we all got in and the boys took turns leaping off the rocks on the far end, while we adults sat together in the shallow end and talked a bit, passing the baby back and forth.
We all hosed off, dried off, got dressed, and hugged our good-byes, as the two family units were about to part ways – sister back home, us on to a resort, via a few other stops. And that will be my next post! Thank you for joining us on our grand summer kick-off adventure.