By Kathie Farnell
Photos by Jack Purser Jr.
Ninety minutes from Austin, Texas, the Lower Colorado River Authority has created an eco-friendly lodge on the shores of Lake Buchanan. At Canyon of the Eagles Lodge and Nature Park, visitors can listen for owls, kayak beneath a waterfall, explore the galaxy via telescope, or spend an evening with a cowboy poet. Located on 940 secluded acres, the Lodge includes a restaurant with a spectacular view of the lake, 14 miles of hiking trails, and porches for rocking and looking at the birds—including, in the winter months, American bald eagles—soaring past.
The 64-room Lodge offers rooms scattered about the grounds in cottages, some situated near the pool with its own rock waterfall, some providing spectacular views over the Lake from spacious porches. The restaurant blends Texas Hill Country cooking with European style. During my stay we enjoyed catfish, sauerbraten (a reminder of the Hill Country’s German past), and sea bass in addition to a fabulous array of desserts. The restaurant’s wall-to-wall windows provide a sweeping sunset view over Lake Buchanan.
The Nature Park features 14 miles of trails, including a bird and butterfly trail which leads through wildflowers and prickly pear cactus, loaded with fruit which is used to make jelly (and, in San Antonio, margaritas). The Park is a sanctuary for two endangered species of birds, the black-capped vireo and the golden-cheeked warbler. Our birding efforts included a night hike with a naturalist armed with a high-tech owl caller—the push of a button yielded the quavering call of the screech owl, which was answered by an actual owl. I heard the lovelorn creature at intervals for the duration of the trip—it’s probably still trying to figure out what happened.
The Park’s eco-friendly design extends to keeping lighting unobtrusive—guests are issued a keychain flashlight to assist them in locating their quarters. Part of the reason for this emphasis on dimness is the Eagle Eye Observatory, a dark-sky observatory operated on Park grounds by the Austin Astronomical Society, which holds regular “star parties” here. One dark night, we took a hayride out to the Observatory to look through the Society’s two large telescopes at Mars, the Moon and far-off objects including the Andromeda galaxy.
During daylight hours, Lake Buchanan—formed by a dam during the Depression years to provide hydroelectric power—draws visitors to fish, swim, and boat. Kayaks, canoes and sailboats are available for rent. The 23,000-acre lake is also home to the Vanishing Texas River Cruise, offering a close-up look at the spectacular Colorado River Canyon and a chance to learn more about the geology and history of the area. Lead, tin and silver mines once operated on the shores of the lake; today the Goodrich Ranch takes up a full 12 miles of shoreline. The lakefront is a paradise for wildlife; we spotted deer, great blue herons, and white pelicans.
For a closer look at the lake, including its spectacular waterfalls, we took a pontoon boat cruise with Lake Buchanan Adventures, and some of the more active members of our party got even closer to the waterline in a kayak.
Last Chance Forever, a non-profit organization which rehabilitates and releases birds of prey, presents educational programs at the Park featuring owls, eagles and other raptors which are not able to return to the wild. Founder John Karger, who began training as a falconer at age nine, uses his birds to demonstrate how the raptors hunt. As he spoke, turkey buzzards floated overhead, biding their time.
The Hill Country has become home to a number of successful wineries; we toured the award-winning Fall Creek Winery, on the shores of the lake, which was established by the Auler family on part of their cattle ranch. Many of the Fall Creek vintages are now in their 20th year, and the winery has hosted wine dinners at the White House as well as at the Mesa and Miracle Grill restaurants in New York, and at Houston’s Café Annie. A Ceremonial Grape Stomp in August draws a crowd—the stomped grapes are donated to the ranch’s cows, who seem to appreciate the gesture.
The old tradition of cowboy poetry and storytelling has achieved widespread popularity in recent years. At the Lodge’s patio, we were treated to a performance by Dennis Gaines who was named the Academy of Western Artists’ Cowboy Storyteller and Humorist of the Year in 2000. Gaines, whose brochure states he “may be bribed with vittles,” enlisted the aid of the audience to spin convoluted tales involving suicidal goats, mutant runaway show steers, and a possumphobic cowboy whose ill-starred foray into East Texas ends with one of the furry marsupials clamped more or less permanently on his head.
Rates at Canyon of the Eagles Lodge and Nature Park range from $89–$179 per night with breakfast. In addition to the Lodge, the Park includes RV and primitive camping. For more information, call 1-800-977-0081 or visit the website at www.canyonoftheeagles.com
The Lodge and Park is located about ninety miles northwest of Austin, in Burnet County. The closest airport is Austin, which is served by a variety of airlines including Southwest, Northwest and Continental.