Weekender: The Eagles Have Landed
Canyon of the Eagles resort reconnects guests with nature
By Ramona Flume
Ben Franklin once famously said that the bald eagle was a “bird of bad moral character” and dearly wished that it would not be chosen as our national bird. His suggestion? The turkey. I’m not an expert on the moral fortitude of eagles, but I am glad they won the vote for our national symbol, if only because Lake Buchanan is all the more special because of their majesty.
The sun dipped low in the sky as I arrived at Canyon of the Eagles Resort near Burnet, where I had booked a room at the lodge for the weekend. Designed by Lake|Flato architects of San Antonio, the 64-room lodge occupies a wooded hillside on the north shore of Lake Buchanan, the centerpiece of the Lower Colorado River Authority’s 940-acre Canyon of the Eagles Nature Park. My room offered a panoramic vista of the water, and I settled into the rocking chair on my private porch and let the twilight settle around me.
The only problem, I quickly realized, would be deciding what to do first on my exploration of the resort the next day.
I could explore the 14 miles of pet-friendly hiking trails, where I might spot an eagle or migrating butterflies. I could fish from one of the wooden piers jutting into the lake below the lodge, or try my luck at kayaking or paddleboarding. Or I could try to spy an American bald eagle, a creature I’d seen only in books and on television.
The next morning, with eagles on my mind, I arrived early at the Vanishing Texas River Cruise loading docks for the popular Saturday-morning “American Bald Eagle Cruise.” Winter months are prime for eagle watching, but visitors can spot red-tailed hawks and other raptor species throughout the year.
I settled into the rocking chair on my private porch and let the twilight settle around me.
Gusty November winds made for a chilly start, but thankfully, the double-decked cruiser had an enclosed lower level in addition to an open-air viewing deck above. I happily spent the first half of the voyage indoors, learning about the lake’s winter bald eagle population. Each year around November, the captain told me, more than 50 bald eagles migrate to the shores of Lake Buchanan and remain until March. Like many bird species, bald eagles mate for life and return each year to the same nesting site, typically near a large body of water with fish and waterfowl to prey upon.
By the time I left the enclosed viewing area and ascended to the second story, the wind had subsided. The elevated perspective of the top deck offered an unrestricted panorama of the Colorado River and the trees along the banks, which blazed in fall colors. I had been standing outside for only a few minutes when two eagles appeared above the treetops.
The pair flew closer to the boat and started to swoop in synchrony in front of our slow-moving vessel, soaring in graceful loops while we glided gently upriver. Forty-five minutes later, we arrived at one of the area’s most picturesque attractions, a dramatic waterfall known as Fall Creek Falls. According to local historian C.L. Yarbrough, the wooded area surrounding the waterfall and swimming hole was a favored campsite for Native American tribes centuries ago. It’s easy to see why: The cascading falls create a crystal-clear pool surrounded by a semicircle of sheer cliff walls and towering trees.
There are often hundreds of people splashing around in this idyllic swimming hole throughout the spring and summer, but our cruiser was the only boat on the water that morning. Later in the day, I returned to the falls via kayak in an excursion led by guides with Buchanan Adventure Tours. I appreciated the tranquility of the off-season as I paddled alongside the limestone cliff walls. In fact, I pulled up my paddle several times to lean back in my seat and relax, spotting eagles overhead without distraction.
Back at the resort, I found the chefs at The Overlook Restaurant busy preparing such Hill Country specialties as pepita-crusted pork chops, sweet corn succotash, and an unbelievably juicy venison tenderloin served with a blueberry-jalapeño reduction. The glass-walled dining room affords spectacular views of the lake; it’s common for diners to spot deer grazing in clusters of wildflowers or a hawk perched on a nearby cedar elm.
My waiter recommended that I visit nearby Fall Creek Vineyards, where owners Ed and Susan Auler have been creating award-winning wines since 1975. So on my final day at the resort, I hopped on a boat to cross the lake for a tour of the vineyards and an afternoon wine tasting. I enjoyed several of the Aulers’ wines during my visit, including the popular table wine dubbed Ed’s Smooth Red and a perfectly balanced Cabernet, but I favored the full-bodied Meritus (a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Malbec) overall. I learned that all of Fall Creek’s wines are available for sale online—so I can take a taste of the Hill Country with me anywhere I go.
Suddenly, my last night at the resort had arrived, and I didn’t want to leave. I decided I would plan another visit, maybe in the summertime. The eagles would be gone, but this weekend’s surreal avian experience would sustain me for a long time. Besides, summer would be the perfect time to finally take a dip in that cliffside swimming hole.
From the June 2011 issue.