You can’t blame Texans for flocking lakeside during our blistering Texas summers. However, we shouldn’t be so quick to forget our lakes when the weather turns colder. During chilly months, Texas reservoirs take on a completely different personality. I set out in the brisk air to explore Lake Buchanan, or as the locals say, “Lake Buck-anan.”
9:00 a.m. Traveling west, I crossed over the Texas 29 bridge between Burnet and Llano. With Inks Lake below me, I looked to my right to view the impressive, two-mile-long Buchanan Dam, which holds back one of Texas’ largest lakes and the biggest of the Hill Country’s Highland Lakes chain. Not ready to hit the water, I head-ed up the highway.
9:10 a.m. A few miles past the lake I turned into the marked TxDOT pull-off, grabbed my binoculars, and made my way to a coun-try fence to peer intently at a large bunch of sticks in a tree … just sticks. I waited and waited with a handful of photographers, and was about to abandon my new birding hobby when suddenly, a large, white-headed eagle flew from the sky, landing on the sticks (actually a nest) as two smaller birds raised their heads from the pile. The family of bald eagles had made its annual journey to this spot for the winter to nest and fish in the nearby lakes and rivers. Seeing our national symbol in the wild was a truly amazing sight.
11:00 a.m. Inspired to see more of these elusive birds, I made my way to the east side of Lake Buchanan and boarded the Vanishing Texas River Cruise. Because of drought conditions, our boat could not pass the Fall Creek Waterfalls. However, the low water levels have revealed the lost Texas town of Bluffton, which was flooded in 1937 when the dam was built. The cruise dropped us off to walk the ruins of old foundations and peer into the stone wells of this forgotten ghost town. Just when I thought the bald eagles would be as unseen as the residents of Bluffton, we spotted a pair flying high above the water patrolling for fish. Pleased with my success, I put the binoculars down and enjoyed a box lunch inside the boat’s cabin.
2:00 p.m. Next on the schedule: a rough and dirty bike tour of Reveille Peak Ranch. This privately owned ranch is an adventure junkie’s dream with miles of trail-running and biking trails up and down the rugged granite slopes. A cou-ple of hours out here can humble even the toughest riders, but the views make it worth the effort. After my fill of mountain biking, I cleaned up onsite and hit the road.
5:00 p.m. For my final stop, I drove to Canyon of the Eagles, an LCRA nature park and preserve along the banks of Lake Buchanan with a resort and restaurant perchedatop one of the lake’s best lookouts. I grabbed a chair at the restaurant’s outdoor patio and sipped a glass of locally produced Fall Creek Cabernet Sauvignon as the Texas sun set across the lake.
6:00 p.m. I could have lounged on the patio all night, but the plummeting temperatures and my growling stomach called me inside to The Overlook restaurant. I took my seat at a candlelit, yet casual, table and savored every bite of my Tomato and Goat Cheese Crostini appetizer and the chef’s famous Pulled Pork Enchiladas.
The bald eagle is regard-ed as one of the wisest creatures in the wild. I believe it says something that these astute birds choose to spend their winters around Lake Buchanan. Perhaps we should all follow their lead. So, whether you follow my footsteps or forge your own path, I hope to see you on the road.
Chet Garner is the host of The Daytripper travel show on PBS.