To fully appreciate Austin’s downtown skyline, you’ll need to stick around until dusk. The city center is located on the banks of Lady Bird Lake (the dammed-up water of the Colorado River). The lake’s southern bank also provides a great place for a stroll, and after just a few minutes of walking here, you’ll get a feel for Austin’s character — young, energetic, and hip.
Jumping back about an hour, I found a parking spot along Riverside Drive, near the railroad overpass (not far from Lamar Avenue). It was about a mile away from my ultimate destination, the bat colony underneath the Congress Avenue bridge, but I didn’t mind the walk. Lady Bird Lake Trail provides a wide path for running and walking, on both sides of the lake. I was there on a Sunday evening, along with plenty of Austiners, all taking advantage of the cloudy but comfortable March weather, as they and their dogs got some exercise (part of the trail is a leash-free zone).
After passing underneath the First Street Bridge, it’s just a short walk to Congress Street — the famous bat bridge you see in the picture above. You’ll need to pass underneath the bridge…
… to get to the popular bat-viewing area on the far side. This small hill has been prepared especially for the crowds of folks who like to show up nightly to watch countless thousands of those creepy winged creatures swarm out from their crevasses and into the Austin air.
And yes, it is a little frightening to walk directly under the bridge. Smelly, too. But chances are, you won’t have guano rain down on top of you, and it’s even less likely that a bat will get tangled in your hair (an old myth, which bat experts discount †).
They aren’t easy to photograph, but you can see a bunch of blurry bats in this photo.
As luck would have it, I was in town during the best bat-spotting time of the year. During March and April, Mexican Free-tail Bats migrate north and settle underneath the Congress Avenue Bridge. Many of them are pregnant females, who come here to have their babies. They stick around through summer and into the fall, when it’s time to head south again. Early evening is the best time to watch the bats take flight. Since they are nocturnal, this is just the beginning of their day.
Truth be told, I don’t like bats. I had a bad experience with them a long time ago, when they established a sizeable urban colony in my house. I had to move out for a few days, while exterminators tore the place apart, finding the squeaky creatures in the attic, in the folds of the window drapes, even the cracks of the door jams. After that, until I moved out a few years later, I could never walk into certain rooms without quickly scanning the ceiling for those flying mammals. The Congress Avenue Bridge brought back many of those memories. So I didn’t stick around for long.
Oh, and one more reason I quickly headed back to the car: I couldn’t find any public restrooms near the bat-viewing area, or anywhere else along the trail. With so many people enjoying the area, it seems like a rather odd oversight. So, be sure to plan ahead, and make a rest stop before heading out for a late-evening stroll along Lady Bird Lake.