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THE 15-MINUTE FOREST: The South 1st Grotto and the Double-Lagoon

We had just been to the grand opening of the Pitch and Putt at Butler park, (the old Cottonwoods there, 3 stories high, blow my mind), and my friends wanted to stop by a food truck on South 1st on the way home. As they waited on their order, I told them we should eat at the picnic bench across the street, where there’s shade. It was, after all, our first day in the 90s. They hemmed and hawed, and I stood there with my hand over my eyes, blocking the sun. I looked again across the street, and noticed a trail this time, right by the bench. I also saw a young man with a backpack slip into the woods like he knew where he was going. Paydirt, perhaps? I quickly crossed the street without letting my friends know where I was going. Heck, I didn’t know. I told them I would be back, and went straight in.

Pushing aside the branches of a holly tree, I slowly stepped down onto the creek bed. A stream carved right through the middle of the rockbed like a dark, braided, emerald crystal. I looked to the bank on the other side, and saw a staircase that descended down to the creek bed. At the top, was a spray painted door that said, “YOU GET WHAT YOU GIVE.” I walked up and down those stairs like a dance choreographer, even though there was nothing on the other side, and admired the art work. I climbed down and followed the flow of water. Little did I know I would descend into a double lagoon, the channel feeding the first pool of water which then flowed into a second, larger one in the grotto below. Lime-green moss covered the stones around me and the dark, emerald water purled soothingly, accompanied by the birdsong from the woods. Cars whooshed by in the distance. I was waiting to see swimmers from some unknown tribe reveal themselves, and dive into the water at any moment.

When I looked up, I saw the young man with the backpack sitting under a tree, reading a book by Dale Carnegie. It made my heart happy to see him doing the same things I did when I was young, and I chatted with him a bit. He told me he had just discovered this spot a week ago and we talked about his book. I told him I would let him get back to reading in peace, and I walked back to the trail.


“WHERE YOU AT?” I got the text from my friend and I ran across South 1st to try some dosas and fermented rice. The heat was dizzying at this point, and we got in the truck, blasted the AC, and headed back home.

Several days later, I brought my wife here to Dawson Park, and I enjoyed her surprise when she found the channel and the lagoons. We went as far as we could go, doubled-back, and entered the woods. We circled around to the playground and found another Austin gem, a water fountain covered in a candy-colored mosaic. We hiked every trail in that little forest in 15 minutes, and squeezed by patches and patches of Poison Ivy and Ragweed reaching for our skin like arms coming out of the ground.

We made our way out and headed back to the car. I admired two large Oaks on the park grounds whose long, dark boughs stretched out horizontally like ink spills across a page. It was now dark, and the neon sign across the street flickered brightly. I asked my wife if she’d like to have some margaritas and chips and salsa at the restaurant. She didn’t answer. She just looked up at the lights, like a mannequin. I knew she wanted to go. It was just quarantine rust getting to her. I was feeling the same way, too, a mannequin myself, like I was posing with the Men’s Spring Collection at the department store.

We were welcomed inside and led to the patio in the back. We enjoyed some wonderful Mexican Martinis, and Sal, our server, was genuinely kind and hospitable in every way. Please go see him. Ask for him. (I told him you would). It’s a great way to celebrate a hike in the 15-minute Forest, right by the little neon district of South 1st, right in the heart of the city.


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