San Antonio Mission Road: A Historic Day Trip

Did you know that Texas’ most famous Mission, the Mission San Antonio de Valero–the Alamo–is only one of a chain of missions strung along the San Antonio River?  There are four other San Antonio River missions–Concepción, San José, San Juan, and Espada (going from North to South.  Established between 1718 and 1731, these missions were built only to spread the Catholic faith, and also to serve multiple foreign policy objectives for the Spanish government.  Today,  all four mission churches still have active Catholic parishes that hold regular services.

Mission San Jose

Mission San Jose

The missions and surrounding land, make up San Antonio Missions National Historical Park which opened in 1983.   The park’s visitor’s Center is in Mission San José (6701 San Jose Dr., San Antonio, TX 78214), where you can view a quick movie, Gente de Razon, which tells the story of life in the missions during the 1700s.   If you love architecture, history, and nature the Mission Trail is well worth a visit.   You can walk, bike or use your car to go up the trail.   Count on spending between two to four hours to visit all the missions.   Admission and guided tours are free but donations are welcome. Continue reading

Nonstop Flights from Austin, Texas

I’m never really going to afford a private jet and am far to cheap to fly first class (heck I usually fly Southwest Airlines and there ain’t any first class seats).   To make flying easier I look for nonstop flights from Austin–makes the flight quicker (often cheaper) and certainly lessens the chance of delays as well as lost luggage.  You can fly to a surprising number of cities nonstop from Austin—London, Boston, Orlando, Washington, and my favorite during ski season Salt Lake City.  ABIA’s website has been kind enough to list all the cities and airlines that offer Nonstop service from Austin at Continue reading

Lady Bird Lake Gazebo (Fannie Davis Town Lake Gazebo)

Presented to the City of Austin “for the enjoyment of all the people of Austin,” the gazebo at Lady Bird Lake represents a four and half year commitment by the Austin Chapter of Women in Construction. The project, begun in 1967 and dedicated in 1970, was intended to serve as a “lasting tribute to the construction industry” and to spawn other beautification projects along Lady Bird Lake.  Built for $6,000 with a lot of contributed labor and materials, it is sometimes compared to a spaceship. The structure was designed by Sterry Nill, Jr., to match the architecture of the nearby Municipal Auditorium and to blend with the beauty of Lady Bird Lake.

The gazebo has been renovated many times (most notably in 1985) at cost that is a whole lot more than $6,000.  A bit of trivia, the gazebo is one of the few structures named after a living person when in 1985 it was named after a charter member of NAWIC–Ms. Fannie Davis (who passed away in 1997).

Town Lake Gazebo

Town Lake Gazebo

This Gazebo is located just east of the dog park near Riverside and the South First Street bridge as it crosses the Colorado River.

More information on the Gazebo

UT Tower Celebrates it’s 77th Anniversary

One of the buildings that has defined the Austin skyline, the University of Texas main building (the Tower) is turning 77 this year.   The 307-foot tall UT Austin Tower, designed by Paul Cret of Philadelphia, was completed in 1937.  The tower replaced the beloved old Victorian Gothic Main Building.  The old main building was razed in 1934 despite the objections of many students and staff.   All that remains of the Old Main Building are its old carillon bells (called the “Burleson Bells”, which are now exhibited outside Bass Concert Hall.

UT Tower History

UT National Championship Tower

UT National Championship Tower

Tower Lighting

While the tower usually appears illuminated in white light in the evening, it is lit in various color schemes for special occasions–warm orange light to announce honors and victories, and crowned in fireworks at spring commencement ceremonies.

Carl J. Eckhardt Jr, head of the Physical Plant in 1931, supervised construction of the building of the campus landmark.  Eckhardt devised the tower lighting system to take advantage of the iconic building to announce university achievements.   Eckhardt’s orange lights first flooded the tower in 1937. In 1947, he helped create guidelines for using the orange lights.

A number “1” on all sides highlighted by orange lights signals that the university won a national championship.  The full Tower glowing orange alone represents a victory over Texas A&M University, Commencement and other occasions the president deems appropriate. The Tower top bathed in orange symbolizes other victories or a conference title in any intercollegiate sport.

Tower Lighting Configurations

The Tower Bells

The sounds of the tower carillon are part of the UT community’s everyday experience.    Every 15 minutes, you can hear the pealing of the bells, and on the hour, you hear the largest bell across campus.

A carillon is a set of at least 23 fixed, chromatically tuned bells sounded by clappers controlled by a keyboard and foot pedals. The design of the new Main Building’s belfry allowed for thirty-nine bells, but in 1937 the university could only afford to buy 16; Lutcher Stark, a member of the Board of Regents, donated the 17th bell. However, UT still did not have a full carillon, which posed a problem for carillonneurs. Not having all the notes available limited the number of songs the carillonneurs were able to play.

In 1985, Ms. Hedwig Thusnelda Kniker bequeathed money to buy 22 more bells for the carillon as well as the console and installation. However, the C# and B bells would not fit in the elevators. As a result, The University decided to put additional bells in the upper register, acquiring 39 instead of 22. The Kniker Carillon is 56 bells, making it the largest in Texasboth in terms of tonnage and weight.

The University of Texas Guild of Carillonneurs is the student organization responsible for ringing the bells in the Main Building Tower.  Did you know you can request a song to be played on the Kniker Carillon by sending an email to

Information about the Kniker Carillon

UT Tower Tours

45 minute tours of the Tower are available for a cost of $6 but it is best to book ahead.  Reserve a ticket by either stopping by the Texas Union Hospitality Center at 24th and Guadalupe, or by calling (512) 475-6636.  Group tours are available for groups up to 25 people.  Make sure your check on restrictions (e.g. no bags, no pocket knives, etc.)

Additional Tower Tour Information

Go fly a kite at Zilker Kite Festival

Austin Kite Festival

Austin Kite Festival

Spring is in the air and one of Austin’s favorite spring events is scheduled for the weekend.  Everyone is welcome (even pets) to come fly their favorite kite at Zilker Park.     The nations oldest continuous kite festival is at Zilker Park this Sunday, March 2, 2014 (as predicted delayed to March 9, 2014 due to rain).    The kite festival was started in 1929 by The Exchange Club to help foster creativity in children.

Parking is extremely limited for this popular event so please plan on taking the shuttle bus.

The festival is presented each year by the Exchange Club of Austin, an all-volunteer  organization dedicated to the prevention of child abuse. Exchange is a group of people working to make America a better place to live through one national project, the Prevention of Child Abuse, and other community service projects.

The Texas State Capitol

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The Capitol Complex is in the heart of downtown Austin and one of the most visited attractions in the state. The Capitol building dominates the Austin skyline and is visible for miles, especially approaching from the south.  Free tours, which last about 45 minutes, begin in the South Foyer every 45 minutes and are available seven days a week, excluding major holidays.

Texas Capitol Facts

The Capitol :

  • Was built in 1886 in the Italian Renaissance Revival style with pink granite mined about 50 miles from the Capitol
  • Is the largest state Capitol in the U.S. in square footage.  Standing at 308 ft tall the Texas State Capitol is 19 feet taller than the United States Captiol which is only 289 ft tall.
  • Is the fourth building to house the state government of Texas.
  • Is surrounded by 22 acres of grounds and monuments
  • Beautifully carved wooden doors are hinged with custom bronze hinges.   The eight inch by eight inch hinges are inscribed with the words “Texas Capitol” and weigh over seven pounds each.

Texas Capitol Visitor’s Center

As you enter the Capital grounds, the Visitor’s Center is the large castle-like building to the right. The Visitor’s Center is located in the restored General Land Office Building. Built in 1856-57, it is the oldest state office building in Texas. The building opened in 1994 as the Capitol Visitors Center with the goal of educating visitors about the history of Texas. There are several exhibits, as well as travel counselors from the State Department of Transportation to help you plan the rest of your visit.

Plan your visit to the Texas State Capitol

Texas Capitol Historical Marker

Year Marker Erected: 1976
Marker Location: W 11th at Congress

Information provided by Atomic Axis’ Texas Historical Markers App

Texas Historical Landmarks App

Austin became the capital of Texas Jan. 19, 1840, and this hill was platted as Capitol Square. A modest statehouse built here in the 1850s soon developed structural flaws. The Constitutional Convention of 1876 set aside about 3,000,000 acres of public land to finance another building. This was authorized after the 1850s Capitol burned on Nov. 9, 1881.

Architect E.E. Myers of Detroit won a national competition with his plans for this Capitol. The contractor was Mattheas Schnell of Rock Island, Ill. Basement excavation began early in 1882. Railroads built especially for this project hauled limestone from the Oatmanville quarries in Travis County as well as stone donated by the owners of the Granite Mountain in Burnet County. The 900 workmen on the project included 86 granite cutters brought from Scotland. Charles B. and John V. Farwell, Chicago bankers, funded the construction and were repaid in land in ten panhandle counties, on which they founded the famous XIT Ranch. At dedication ceremonies on May 18, 1888, the Capitol was accepted on behalf of the People by State Senator Temple Houston, son of Texas hero Sam Houston. He called it “a Structure that shall stand as a Sentinel of Eternity”. (1976)

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