A hiking trail – and goats! – at Jester King Brewery

A hiking trail – and goats! – at Jester King Brewery

 

Visitors hike the new nature trail at Jester King Brewery west of Austin. Photo courtesy Jester King Brewery

Two known cures – at least in my books – for the Covid blues? Nature walks and goats.

Jester King Brewery, located on 165 acres of rolling Hill Country land west of Austin, just announced the opening of a 2-mile nature trail, which loops past the brewery’s goat barn, home to a herd of happy Nigerian dwarf goats. Those who don’t want to walk so far can take a shorter, half-mile farm loop trail.

I love Jester King’s goats. Their herder, Sean Peppy Meyer, invited me out two years ago to go for a mile-long goat run, and we rambled up and down hills and through patches of cactus with the bleating group of animals. (Read the resulting article at https://www.austin360.com/entertainmentlife/20191004/now-you-can-run-with-goats-at-jester-king.)

A herd of Nigerian dwarf goats resides at Jester King Brewery. Pam LeBlanc photo

These days, just getting out and walking someplace other than from the bedroom to the kitchen and back is cause for celebration. We’ve all had to spend a lot of time penned up at home, and getting out and moving is one way to lift the fog that has settled around us.

Turns out the beer’s pretty good, too. The brewery sells beer, pizza and smoked meats, which make for a nice post-hike snack.

To reserve a spot, go to https://jesterkingbrewery.com/reservations. (Walk-ups are allowed, but reservations are encouraged.) Facemasks are required, and visitors should maintain a 6-foot physical distance from staff and other guests.

Visitors need a reservation to visit the brewery. Masks must be worn. Photo courtesy Jester King Brewery

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It took one hour to make the Pennybacker Bridge overlook a little cleaner

It took one hour to make the Pennybacker Bridge overlook a little cleaner

Jeff Sheldon pauses during an hour-long trash cleanup at the Pennybacker Bridge overlook Wednesday to enjoy the view. Pam LeBlanc photo

 

One hour, six bags of trash and a moldy old rug.

That was the haul after an hour-long sweep of the trail at the Pennybacker Bridge overlook on the northwest corner of Lake Austin at Loop 360.

I visited the spot for the first time a few weeks ago, and was dismayed to find it littered with plastic bottles, beer cans, discarded face masks and food wrappers. I mentioned it in a post on Facebook, and a few friends suggested that we gather for an informal trash cleanup.

We did that today. It didn’t take long, and picking up trash (at least two pieces a day) is part of my list of New Year’s resolutions.

This is not pretty, folks. Ugly graffiti covers many of the limestone rocks at the overlook. Pam LeBlanc photo

We’ve named our little group the Cycling Cleanup Crew, and we plan to organize a quick cleanup at various locations around Austin roughly every month. Care to join us? Check back here. I’ll post details. All you have to do is bring a trash bag and gloves, and the willingness to leave our Austin greenspace a little cleaner than you found it. Participants are encouraged to arrive by bicycle.

Today, Dan Pedroza (whom I met while riding my bicycle across Iowa a few years ago), Jeff Sheldon (whom I met while picking up barbecue at the amazing Stiles Switch), and Margaret Licarione (whom I met for the first time today), and I made a quick run up the overlook, gathering trash like we were hunting for Easter eggs. It appears that people drop trash off the edge of the cliff (“I’m done with this bag of Fritos, guess I’ll just pitch it over the edge!”) while they’re up there enjoying one of the best views in Austin, and most of the detritus is precariously lodged in bushes on the cliff, just out of safe reach. What we really need are some rappelers to pitch in.

I removed at least three long tinsel garlands from trees at the site, along with a dozen or so broken Christmas bulbs. I love Christmas as much as anyone, but nothing says “I don’t care about the environment” like hanging cheap junk in trees on the side of the road and not cleaning it up afterward. Most of it winds up blowing off and spoiling our green space. Please don’t do it.

Margaret found an old rug in the woods, half buried in the trampled dirt. We pried it out and hauled it away.

Today’s cleanup didn’t take long, and it felt great to get outside and leave a tiny corner of Austin nicer than we found it. Want to join us? Check my Facebook page for upcoming details.

Jeff Sheldon, left, and Dan Pedroza, right, hoist an old rug into the bed of my truck. Pam LeBlanc photo

 

 

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Texas-made Sotol, perfect for sipping around the campfire

Texas-made Sotol, perfect for sipping around the campfire

Desert Door Distillery in Driftwood is the only producer of sotol in the United States. You can buy it in a bottle or a special flask. Pam LeBlanc photo

I sat around a backyard campfire a few weeks ago – well before Dry January set in, during which I’ve given up booze – sipping something new with a few friends.

Desert Door Distillery in Driftwood had sent over a bottle of sotol, and we poured out a few shots. I expected the amber-colored liquid, made from the sotol plant, a distant relative of asparagus, to taste like its cousin tequila, which is made from the agave. Both plants are spiky and native to Mexico, after all, and in my mind I assumed any liquor distilled from either would taste roughly the same.

Not so. The sotol tasted more like smoky bourbon than something I’d mix into a margarita. (I also wondered if it would make my pee smell funny, the same way asparagus does, after I drank it. The answer is no.)

It seemed to pair well with the log burning in my fire pit.

Eager to learn more, I read an article in a 2017 issue of Esquire about a group of entrepreneurs in the northern Mexican state of Chihuahua who were working to popularize the spirit around Mexico and beyond. Which explains, sort of, why suddenly it’s popping up in bars and backyards all around Texas.

Three entrepreneurs here in Austin, who met at the University of Texas’ McCombs School of Business, founded Desert Door that same year. Today the distillery, at 211 Darden Hill Road in Driftwood, has a large outdoor patio and a desert-themed tasting room where you can sample the stuff.

The company uses sotol plants harvested in West Texas to make its spirit, which the company describes as having a sweet citrusy and herbal flavor, like a desert gin crossed with smooth sipping tequila. “Versatile as vodka!” they said, suggesting it as a substitute for tequila in a ranch water, paloma or margarita.

I don’t have a sophisticated palate, but I know what I like. I didn’t taste the citrus, but I did catch a breath of that bourbon-esque combo of toffee, vanilla and spice, with a smoky overtone. (Or maybe that was the firepit?)

I like the idea that it tastes a little like earth, too, since the distillery, the only producer of sotol in the United States, just introduced Back Burn, the first offering in its new “conservation” series. The variant is made with Texas sotol plants charred during prescribed burns at the sprawling 7 Oaks Ranch in West Texas.

Back Burn is the first in Desert Door’s “conservation” series of stools. Photo courtesy Desert Door

According to a press release, Back Burn features hints of mint and eucalyptus, plus an undertone of wet earth and smoke. It sells for a suggested retail price of $49.99, and a portion of proceeds will fund the distillery’s next conservation project – and sotol variant.

“When we started Desert Door, we fell in love with how the sotol plant represents West Texas and the land itself. Whether through our harvesting techniques, conservation efforts, or educational content, we look at all of these components as opportunities to increase the conservation of the plant and the land it thrives on,” partner Ryan Campbell said.

Also worth noting: When the pandemic first hit, the company added hand sanitizer to its regular operations and donated more than 70,000 8-ounce bottles to first responders, police departments and restaurants, and contributed 3,000 gallons to supply hand-sanitizing stations at the University of Texas in Austin.

All of which makes me want a little more, perhaps to go. And just my luck. Besides more traditional containers, you can get a 200-ml container of Desert Door sotol packaged in a special metal flask, making it perfect for that next Big Bend camping trip.

 

 

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Behold, my 2021 New Year’s resolutions…

Behold, my 2021 New Year’s resolutions…

 

I’m a few days late in compiling my list of resolutions for the new year, but I’m giving myself a pass, considering how 2020 turned out.

With that mess clearly in the rear view mirror, I’m looking forward to 2021. I try to cover all areas of my life when I set yearly goals. I try to keep them attainable and at least some of them measurable. I like variety, so I usually include stuff that keeps me healthy and fit, personal goals and something wacky or unusual.

I had mixed results with last year’s list. My first book finally came out, I made it into Texas Monthly magazine with regularity, and I celebrated lots of things with friends, until the pandemic hit. I was on track to use less throwaway plastic utensils, cups and straws, too, but after March it seemed that practically everything was individually wrapped.

Due to the circumstances, I’m reconstituting a few of last year’s goals for 2021. Without further ado, my 2021 New Year’s resolutions:

 

  1. GIVE A HOOT: I vow to pick up at least two pieces of trash every day. (In a related note, anyone who wants to join me can meet at 2 p.m. Monday, Jan. 11, to pick up trash at the Pennybacker Bridge overlook. Email me at pamleblancadventures@gmail.com for details.)
  2. FLY GIRL: I’m bringing back an old favorite – I’ll finish every swim practice I attend (and typically that’s five a week) with a 50-meter fly.

 

  1. LESS TEQUILA: I’m cutting down on booze. I’m five days into Dry January (but plan to break for a brief toast on Inauguration Day.) Weekend cocktails are fine, but I’m done with the nightly glass of wine.
  2. ANOTHER BOOK: I’m going to pitch at least two more book ideas to editors and agents.
  3. ARCTIC EXPEDITION: Last year’s expedition with the Arctic Cowboys got postponed due to Covid, but I’m hoping to follow a trio of Austin paddlers this summer when they kayak through the Northwest Passage, and report about it for major media outlets.
  4. READ ON: Something weird happened while I was hatching my own book – I forgot to read for pleasure. I’ll treat myself to at least one novel a month, unrelated to work, just for fun.
  5. CELEBRATE: My happiest times are those I share with friends. Those times don’t have to be formal or fancy. I’ll invite people to backyard fire pit sessions, meet friends for coffee, and host more dinner parties (when it’s safe.) And I’m inviting people I admire but haven’t previously socialized with in a small group setting.
  6. LOVE HONESTLY: I’m a passionate person, but sometimes I bottle stuff up inside. I’m sharing the love, unapologetically. Especially after the shit show we call 2020.
  7. CAMP: In 2020, I spent 26 nights camping, including four nights under the stars during a rafting trip in Idaho, four nights on the Devils River, two nights in my backyard, and a handful of nights on swampy beaches along the Texas coast. If you tack on screened-in shelters and campervan overnights, the number is closer to 35. I’ll rack up even more nights in the wilderness in 2021.
  8. BE HAPPY: I’ll once again do my best to wring happiness – or at least a little humor – out of every day.

About Pam

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YMCA offers free six-week fitness program

YMCA offers free six-week fitness program

The YMCA is offering a free six-week Reset Challenge that starts Feb. 1 and includes free online classes. Photo courtesy YMCA

 

Add the YMCA of Austin’s six-week Reset Challenge to the list of free fitness opportunities around Central Texas.

The program begins Feb. 1, and anyone can join by texting RESET to 866-943-9622.

Those who register will get three texts a week outlining challenges and workouts and offering motivation, plus access to virtual exercise classes. Even better, they get free access one day each week to any YMCA of Austin facility, where they can swim, work out or take an in-person classes.

Masks and social distancing are required at all YMCA of Austin gyms, which are operating at limited capacity.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has worn us down,” YMCA of Austin President and CEO James Finck said in a press release. “It’s isolated us in so many ways. This challenge provides an opportunity to get active and healthier by yourself, with neighbors or as a family.”

Virtual offerings include YMCA Live and On-Demand classes such as Zumba, yoga and HIIT. Children’s programming will also be available. The Reset Challenge will also include outdoor activities like pop-up classes, bike rides and nature walks.

For more information go to https://www.austinymca.org/Reset-Challenge-2021.

 

 

 

About Pam

I’m Pam LeBlanc. Follow my blog to keep up with the best in outdoor travel and adventure. Thanks for visiting my site.

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