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Sports & the Outdoors

Old Tunnel Wildlife Management Area. Hardly worth deeming a state park, this small piece of land (just 16 acres) is managed by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. However, it has a particular draw: bats. From April to October this old abandoned railroad tunnel is home to more than three million Mexican free-tailed bats. If you want to view them, arrive at the tunnel just before sunset, when the bats begin emerging in fleets of thousands for their evening hunt. You can view the bats seven nights a week, but may want to opt for an evening Thursday through Sunday, when interesting educational presentations are given on-site. After the bat-viewing, head to the Alamo Springs Café just down the road for one of the best burgers in the Hill Country. 102 E. San Antonio, a half-mile east of Fredericksburg, Fredericksburg, TX. take Old San Antonio Rd. south for about 10½ mi. The Old Tunnel WMA is on the left at the top of the hill. 866/978–2287. www.tpwd.state.tx.us. Free. Daily dawn to dusk.

Boating

For much of the year, even in the cooler months, Lake Travis is alive with boats, waterskis, and wakeboards. Public boat ramps are available in a number of different locations along the shores. Contact the marinas listed to get the nearest location.

To get a little piece of lake action, a few of the reputable boat outfitters include:

Lakeway Marina. Lakeway Marina 103-A Lakeway Dr., Austin, TX. 512/261–7511. www.lwmarina.biz. Daily 8–5, extended summer hours 8–7.

),

Hurst Harbor Marina. Hurst Harbor Marina 16405 Clara Van Tr., Austin, TX. 512/266–1800. www.hhmarina.biz. Daily 8–5 [May–Aug. until 7].

, and

Just For Fun Watercraft Rental (5973 Hiline Rd., Austin, TX. 512/266–9710. www.jff.net. Daily.)

Golf

Lakeway Golf Club. Two of Austin's most honored courses are in Lakeway. Both the Live Oak and Yaupon courses, which are part of the Lakeway Golf Club, have challenging rounds with rolling hills and tree-lined fairways. One World of Tennis Sq., Austin, TX. 512/261–7200. www.lakewaygolfclub.com. Daily. Call for reservations.

Sports & the Outdoors

Hamilton Pool Nature Preserve. About 30 mi southwest of Austin off Highway 71 is a small nature preserve that is home to one of the Hill Country's most beautiful natural pools. The continuously flowing Hamilton Creek spills over an enormous limestone outcropping creating a beautiful 50-foot waterfall that gently plunges into the crystal waters of Hamilton Pool. It's particularly crowded on weekends. Parking is limited and controlled by the State, with a nominal fee for entry, so it's best to call ahead to see if spaces are available. 13 mi southwest on Hamilton Pool Rd. from Hwy. 71 W (About 20 miles from Lakeway), Austin, TX. 512/264–2740. www.co.travis.tx.us. Daily 9–6.

Pace Bend Park. Explore some of Lake Travis's narrow coves and great limestone cliffs at Pace Bend Park. Here you'll experience spectacular sunsets over the lake. Visitors can hike and bike the rustic trails that lead to different lake and Hill Country views. Pace Bend Park is a favorite of college students who like to jump off the high cliff walls (up to 30 feet) into the water below. Be warned: the only way back up is to climb and varying lake levels make this a risky activity. 12011 Pace Bend Rd., ; from the intersection of RR 620 and Hwy. 71 take 71 west 11 mi to RR 2322 (Pace Bend Park Rd.); entrance is in 4.6 mi (About 20 miles from Lakeway), TX. 512/264–1482. Daily sunrise–9.

Fishing & Tubing

The Guadalupe River runs from the western points of Kerr County and stretches down to the Gulf of Mexico through Victoria. The upper river near Kerrville and Boerne is a wide, meandering centerpiece to the Texas Hill Country shaded by pecan and cypress trees. Below Canyon Lake, the Guadalupe River serves as a major recreational spot. White-water rafting and kayaking are both popular, but the more relaxed activity of tubing down the river trailing a cooler of beer is the main attraction in summer.

Below the Canyon Dam, the Gaudalupe is also considered one of the top 100 trout streams in the country. The state stocks the river with trout each winter, attracting anglers from miles around. While casting for beautiful rainbow and brown trout, you'll likely get a few hits from the native Guadalupe smallmouth bass (the state fish of Texas), largemouth bass, and Rio Grande perch.

Fishing Outfitters

There are many reputable fishing guides in the area.

Gruene Outfitters. For referrals and to stock up on fishing gear, visit Gruene Outfitters. 1629 Hunter Rd., New Braunfels, TX. 830/625–4440.

Kayaking, Rafting & Tubing Outfiitters

River outfitters are easily found dotting the banks of the river, where tubes, rafts, and kayaks can be rented for the day. A few to try:

Rockin 'R' River Rides. Rockin 'R' River Rides 1405 Gruene Rd., New Braunfels, TX. 830/629–9999.

Gruene River Co.. Gruene River Co. 1404 Gruene Rd., New Braunfels, TX. 830/625–2800.

, and

Rio Raft & Resort (14130 River Rd., New Braunfels, TX. 830/964–3613.)

Texas Ski Ranch. For those looking for a little adventure, or who have teenagers along for the ride, the Texas Ski Ranch offers a great outlet for skiers and skateboarders. Most recognized for its cableway circular lake that uses cables to pull up to six skiers, wakeboarders, or kneeboarders at all levels around the lake, the 70-acre park also features a 15,000-square-foot skateboarding street-style course offering everything from ramps and rails to half pipes. The park also has a challenging moto-cross track featuring a mix of flats, obstacles, and hills, but it is only open to members who pay an annual $425 fee. Off I–35 in New Braunfels, between San Antonio and Austin, Exit 193 or 194, New Braunfels, TX. 830/627–2843. www.texasskiranch.com. $23–$36 (skiing, does not include rentals), $5 (skateboard course). Mar.–Sept. daily 9am—dark (night rides available until midnight on Thurs.); Oct.–Feb. Fri.–Sun. 11–dark.

Sports & the Outdoors

Schlitterbahn. Thousands of sun-beaten travelers seek refuge from the Texas heat each year at this 65-acre waterpark with more than 40 rides and family activities spread over six areas. Off I–35, Exit 184 or 190B, New Braunfels, TX. 830/625–2351. www.schlitterbahn.com. $36. Late Apr.–mid-Sept.; call for hours.

Boating

Boating Lake Marble Falls and Lake LBJ. In the warmer months, if you want to know where the good time is, you'll have to get out on the water. Most of the recreational activity centers around Lake Marble Falls and Lake LBJ in the spring, summer, and early fall. These two lakes are known for being more family-friendly than Austin's wilder lakes Travis and Austin. Lake LBJ Yacht Club and Marina can assist in outfitting you and your crew with the perfect watercraft. 200 S. Wirtz Dam Rd., Marble Falls, TX. 830/693–9172. www.lakelbjmarina.com.

Outfitter

Cypress Valley Canopy Tours. Cypress Valley Canopy Tours zips you through the treetops to experience nature from a bird's eye view. Tucked away in a ravine lined with bald cypress trees, the Canopy Tour leads you along a maze of zip lines and sky bridges. For even more adventure, the Canopy Challenge is an additional course with endurance high ropes obstacles. Bird-watchers may also enjoy the Sunrise Birding Tour, which is guided by a local biologist. 1223 Paleface RR, Spicewood, TX. 512/264–8880. www.cypressvalleycanopytours.com. $65–$125. Mar.–Nov., 9am–sundown.

Granite Mountain

One of Marble Falls' economic foundations is Granite Mountain. The great granite dome rises 866 feet; its more than 180 acres of exposed granite serve as the largest granite quarry of its kind in the United States. Although visitors are not admitted to the quarry itself, you can get a great view of the mountain from J Street toward 2nd Street.

Sports & the Outdoors

Krause Springs. If you need a little relief from the Texas heat, a trip here will certainly cool you off. Just a few miles east of Marble Falls in Spicewood, the springs are actually two separate swimming holes on a private ranch opened to the public. From Highway 71, splash through a low-water crossing and up to a hilltop bluff with hypnotic views of rolling grasslands, sprawling oak trees, and an undisturbed horizon. Park your car near the main house and stroll down a flight of outdoor stairs to the spring-fed pools. Be prepared for the biting chill as your toes hit the water. 404 Krause Springs, Marble Falls, TX. 830/693–4181. $10. 9–sundown.

Golf

Horseshoe Bay Resort Golf Courses. With three championship Trent Jones, Sr.–designed courses and a future Jack Nicklaus golf course to open by 2009, the resort is a haven for those who love to spend their days on the green. The Ram Rock course (18 holes, par 71) has been deemed the "Challenger" course, offering some of the toughest fairways in the country. The Apple Rock course (18 holes, par 72) has racked up a number of awards and is known for its amazing scenery as it hugs Lake LBJ. The Slick Rock course (18 holes, par 72) and the Whitewater putting course are also favorite options. 101 Horseshoe Bay Blvd., Marble Falls, TX. 830/598–2561 Slick Rock; 830/598–6561 Apple Rock; 830/598–6561 Ram Rock; 830/598–2591 Whitewater Putting Course. www.hsbresort.com. $110-$150. Daily dawn to dusk.

Tennis

Whitewater Tennis Center. Tennis fanatics will feel right at home here with 12 professional courts including six red clay courts, four hard courts, and two Pro-Grass courts. The new Andy Roddick Kids' Courts are the first in the United States to feature USTA cutting-edge, shorter, 60-foot courts to give children a training ground for learning the game more quickly. 101 Horseshoe Bay Blvd., Marble Falls, TX. 830/598–2591. www.hsbresort.com. Free for guests of the resort, $10 for visitors. Call for reservations.

Yacht Club

Horseshoe Bay Resort Marina. To get the full experience of a stay at Lake LBJ, be sure to reserve a boat from the marina and cruise the lake for an afternoon. A wide variety of watercraft are available for rent as well as ski and Jet Ski rentals. 101 Horseshoe Bay Blvd., Marble Falls, TX. 830/598–2591. www.hsbresort.com. call for pricing. Call for reservations.

Bat Watching

Eckert James River Bat Cave. One of the largest Mexican free-tailed bat colonies in the world is found in the hills of Mason County. Managed by the Texas Nature Conservancy, Eckert James River Bat Cave, a maternity bat cave, is home to more than 4 million Mexican free-tailed bats. Only females inhabit the cave, inside which they bear and rear their young each spring; they depart from the cave in mid-October. You can watch in the evening and morning as the entrance to the cave swarms with female bats leaving and returning from an evenings hunt to feed their pups. Stand clear of the entrance, unless you don't mind bat guano (droppings) or having thousands of female bats buzz by. The best way to glimpse this phenomenon is from a safe distance a few hundred yards away. 325/347–5970. $5. 6–9 Thur.–Sun. late May–mid-Oct. 6.

Blue-Topaz Hunting

Mason County has the great fortune of being the only place in Texas where you can find blue topaz, the state gem. It is naturally found in many of the granite outcroppings in the area. You can try your hand at panning for the rare blue gem from streambeds and exploring ravines. Two Mason County ranches open their property to the public for topaz hunting, but you have to call in advance to make an appointment.

Garner Seaquist Ranch. Mike Seaquist of Garner Seaquist Ranch will meet you in town and take you to his working ranch for a day of topaz hunting. Be sure to wear comfortable shoes, and bring a shovel. 108 Fort McKavitt, Mason, TX. 325/347–5413. no Web site. $15. Feb.-Oct.

Lindsay Ranch. The Lindsay Ranch also offers topaz hunting. 460 Lindsay Rd, Mason, TX. 325/347–5733. no Web site. $10. Feb.–Oct.

Fly-Fishing

Though the Guadalupe River has received much acclaim for its vast angling opportunities, the Mason County side of the Llano River is little slice of heaven for fly-fishers. It's one of the longest remaining wild rivers without flood control or electric generation in the country. Anglers will delight in the copious amounts of largemouth bass, blue gills, and Guadalupe River smallmouth bass (the state fish of Texas). And if you're lucky, you'll get a hit from the beautiful Rio Grande perch, a dark gray perch dotted with brilliant sapphire spots. Large outcrops of granite protrude from the river depths, creating easily navigable rapids and great deep pools. Some of the river is wadable, but a kayak or canoe is advised.

Rock Crawling

Though going vertical on massive boulders in a four-wheel drive vehicle is a site normally seen in Moab, Utah, rock crawling is actually possible at the Katemcy granite outcropping on the Kruse Off-Road Park 10 miles north of Mason. Off-roading adventurers will find a number of trails and obstacles to master on this 800-acre property.

Katemcy Rocks at Kruse Off-Road Park (Kruse Off-Road Park, Mason, TX. 325/347–6333. www.katemcyrocks.com. $30. No credit cards. Feb.-Oct.)

Hunting

Though considered a controversial pastime in certain parts of the country, hunting is a favorite hobby among many Texans, and the Llano Basin has the highest density of whitetail deer in the Unites States. As a result, Llano Country is considered by many hunters to be the Deer Hunting Capital of Texas. In the fall, when hunters head to West Texas through Llano, you'll see big pickup trucks towing trailers with deer blinds, feeders, ATVs, and camping gear. In fact, banners are strung across the main streets welcoming hunters to town. There are a number of leases available for hunting deer, quail, dove, and turkey in the Llano area as well as exotic game ranches that attract hunters from across the nation.

Those interested in a lease can check the lease list at the Llano Chamber of Commerce. Hunting licenses and a Hunter's Education certification are required for all in-state and out-of-state hunters. Hunting and fishing licenses are available at most sporting-goods stores, gun shops, and some department stores across the state. See the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department Web site for more details. www.tpwd.state.tx.us/huntwild