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Canyon of the Eagles Lodge and Nature Park
By

Mark Glass - Click to Enlarge
by Mark Glass 

Mark Glass is a journalist trapped in a lawyer's body, balancing his practice with
writing and broadcasting on travel, entertainment and professional sports.  

If you recall some news items - mostly from the summer of 2003 -  you might think Texas tourism isn't a great idea. After all, George W. sold a Major League baseball team, vacated a mansion in Austin, and spends most of his time away from the ranch. Herds of Democratic legislators hid out in neighboring  Oklahoma and New Mexico for a while. But their reasons were different than ours, and their state remains a fine place to mosey around in, or just set a spell, podnuh.

My latest Texas discovery is in the Hill Country, due west of Austin (or, if you prefer, smack dab in the middle of the state). Canyon of the Eagles Lodge and Nature Park is a rustic getaway with a stunning bonus that its name and outward appearance don't prepare you for. More about that part later.

Those who visualize Texas as a few big cities scattered amidst a vast arid expanse are in for a real surprise as they drive through the region. It's rolling hills with plenty of greenery, wild flowers, rivers and lakes. Except for varieties of cactus in the mix, you might think you're in Southern Wisconsin.


The Lodge is a place designed for relaxing and enjoying nature. The rooms are big, but rather Spartan, and spread out in small clusters to keep everyone close to the flora and fauna, and minimally aware of other humans. The property sits high above Lake Buchanon (pronounced buck-an-un, not like the former president), with each cluster of rooms having views of the water, thickly wooded hills, or the Lodge's own gardens. No TVs, except the Texas-scale big-screen in the recreational room. Don't worry about the hot, dry summers; the air-conditioning works just fine, and there's a nice swimming pool in the middle. There are also camping areas and setups for those who prefer to stay in their own RVs.

Each day has its own schedule of recreational and educational activities - some specifically for families; others just for the children. The staff includes experts in the history and ecology of the region for hikes, lectures and interactive learning experiences. There are caves to explore; night-time hikes to hear (and see, if you're lucky) the animals you won't find by day. Hard-core birdwatchers will find a bonanza here, including some that are unique to the region. Among the 346 species identified thus far, much of the excitement surrounds the arrival of the American Bald Eagles each November.

Lake Buchanon is also a treat, offering another complete array of activities. It was created in the 1930s by damming part of the Texas Colorado River for power and conservation purposes. As a result, it's big, clean, and relatively pristine. You can rent canoes or kayaks for guided tours of varying length, from a few hours to a few days. On a hot day, paddle under one of the waterfalls to cool off. For the less adventurous, there are crewed sailboat outings; for the least energetic, there's the triple-decked Eagle II with daytime and sunset cruises, including narration and meal service. For fishermen (fisherpersons?), the Lake has a glowing reputation for striped and white bass.

They even grow wine-producing grapes in them thar hills. Some local vintners, like Fall Creek Winery (a short water-taxi ride across the lake from the Lodge), have racked up an impressive number of awards in national and international competitions, even though the area is a relative newcomer.


The first grapes weren't planted until after Prohibition; commercial wineries didn't really start developing until the late 1970s. In a charming merger of form and function, those Yellow Roses of Texas can be found at the ends of the rows of vines, providing an early-warning alert for crop-threatening blight, while still looking right purty.

And now, the promised bonus. The Lodge has a lovely restaurant serving three meals daily, with big windows providing a splendid view of the Lake and hills. But after driving through a bunch of small towns to this isolated setting you wouldn't bet on finding a menu with choices and quality that rival the finest restaurants in the most urbane cities.


That's due to talented young chef Kristofer Jakob, who combines his Texas and European training for superb, reasonably priced fare - some of which is quite elegant (see recipe below). Who expects creme brulee french toast, or omelet options like shrimp and avocado, or braised apple with brie and pistachio, in the middle of a nature preserve? Even the more predictable fare is given special treatment; his standing rack of baby-back pork ribs is the best I've ever tasted.

Canyon of the Eagles Lodge is among a group of vacation facilities spread along the river from central Texas to the Gulf of Mexico, under the aegis of the Lower Colorado River Association, which manages its resources for the optimal combination of recreation, energy and water conservation. For more information about the Lodge, including seasonal prices and highlights, call 800-977-0081, or visit its website www.canyonoftheeagles.com. For more about the area, including the Association's other properties, 800-776-5272, or www.lcra.org

Chef Kristofer Jakob's Smoked Sweet Potato Soup (serves 4)

  • peel and parboil 3 large sweet potatoes in salted, boiling water for 5 minutes

  • smoke the sweet potatoes on a b-b-q pit with a smoker for about 30 minutes

  • add potatoes to 4 quarts of vegetable or chicken stock; boil until done

  • with a hand-held mixer, blend the soup until smooth

  • salt to taste, and finish with 1 pint of heavy cream

    Bon a petit, y'all!!

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Email:  lotekguy@swbell.net (Mark Glass)

Mark Glass is a Mark Glass is a freelance writer and broadcaster, based in St. Louis, covering travel, entertainment and professional sports for his readers and listeners. Mark was travel editor for "St. Louis Connoisseur", and now have that role for "Life in the Midwest", based in Indianapolis. For the last fifteen years, he's written and broadcast features on travel, entertainment and sports, while maintaining his law practice in the St. Louis area. (More about this writer.)

 

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