A Trip to Lake Travis, TX
By Steve Aughinbaugh (October 1999)
Lake Travis is just west of Austin, TX and was created in 1941 after construction of the Mansfield dam from 1937-41 by the Lower Colorada River Authority and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation. The dam is 266 feet high and 7,089 feet long and creates a lake 64 miles long covering 18,929 acres. All of this is nestled in what is called the Hill Country of Texas. Having lived in Texas for 15 years I have heard about the beauty of the Hill Country many times, but have rarely experienced it myself. Flying over the lake gives you an appreciation for the area as the lake snakes through the valleys and around the hills. It is a beautiful place. And on the shore of the lake is a great resort, Lakeway Inn, and near the resort is an airpark, Lakeway Airpark (3R9). This seemed like a great weekend destination. So off we went.
We left for our trip at 11:00 AM on Sunday. Actually the plan had been to leave at 10:00, but one of the wheel struts on N642RJ was low. So I got my portable 300-PSI air pump out to put some air in the strut. Unfortunately when I attached to air hose to the strut valve the hose blew off of at the pump releasing all of the air pressure in the strut and spraying my shorts with several ounces of red hydraulic fluid! Just one of the joys of owning your own airplane I guess. I got the pump fixed and the strut pumped back up to the proper length. I had packed an extra pair of shorts, so I changed and rinsed the red fluid from my old shorts and was ready to go.
We left Aero Country and headed south. I stayed at 2,000 feet and used Lancaster Airport as my first waypoint. This way I would stay under and to the east of the DFW class B airspace. After clearing the class B airspace south of Dallas we climbed to 3,000 feet. The air was a bit turbulent here just under a broken cloud layer. But the temperature was reasonable and with the forecast for a solid overcast in the Austin area, I elected to stay at 3,000. We stayed there and just watched the Texas countryside side by underneat us. We passed over Lancaster and Waco, then on down to Temple for our next waypoint. A direct route would have taken us through the Fort Hood restricted areas. I don't know what happens or can happen if you go into a restricted area. I guess you can be visited by an F-16 or perhaps shot at. Seeing an F-16 in-flight up-close might be fun, but getting accidently shot at would not be good. I do know that the federal aviation regulations prohibit me from flying there without permission, so I stayed away.
About an hour and a half into the flight, we passed just west of Georgetown, TX (GTU). We could now see Austin and its northern suburbs stretching toward us from the southeast. Toward the southwest, straight ahead of us, we could see the flat plains of north central Texas giving way to the rolling hills of central Texas. We could now see Lake Travis peeking at us through the gaps in the hills as we approached our destination. We were destined for Lakeway Airpark. Lakeway is a privately owned public-use airport with a 3865 x 70 foot 16-34 runway. The airport is only open from sunrise to sunset. There are also deer in the area. We did not see any at the airport but we did see some on the drive to the resort and from our room's balcony. We landed on one six with a left pattern that took us right over Lakeway Resort. We turned base over the lake. There is a displaced threshold 200 feet down the runway on each end. Even with a landing beyond the threshold we were able to slow down and exit the runway at the midway point into the parking area.
Overnight parking is $5 with the first two nights waived if you top-off with fuel from the credit card operated 100LL pump. While I was re-fueling, Cindy called the resort to ask them to pick us up. The fuel was $1.95/gal. You can contact the resort by calling (512) 261-6600 or 800-LAKEWAY. The web address for the resort is: http://www.dolce.com/properties/lakeway/ if you want more information.
There was plenty of paved parking with tie-down ropes and anchors. There is also a rest room and soda machine. We used both while waiting for the van from Lakeway Resort to arrive. Lakeway is a residential airpark with runway access for about 20 homes and tie-downs for several more. They are also in the process of building 4 hangers. It looked like each hanger had room for 4 airplanes. The Lakeway Airpark association has its own web page at: http://www.onr.com/user/3r9/ This is a pretty popular airpark with waiting list for both the grass and ramp tie-down spots as well as a waiting list for the hangers. I believe this has been the case here for a few years and the closure of the Austin-Mueller and Austin Executive airports have only made the tie-down/hanger shortage even worse in this area.
The drive to the resort is only about a mile and half. We had landed at 1:00 PM, two hours after we left and were in the lobby of the resort by 1:30. The staff at the resort is very good and friendly and it felt like they were waiting for us. The normal check-in time is 4:00 PM and our room was not quite ready. But we had already planned on this and checked our luggage. We proceeded directly to the Lake Travis Room restaurant for their Sunday brunch. The Sunday brunch is served until 2:00. The restaurant overlooks the lake with a great view. The view coupled with the great food helped us to relax and slow down. After a meal of eggs, bacon, potatoes and prime-rib we returned to the lobby to complete the check-in. We were taking advantage of the Lake Escape package which is offered Sunday through Wednesday and includes a room, breakfast for two and 30% discount at the marina.
We had selected a parlor suite that includes a fireplace (with firelogs), wet-bar, couch and two easy chairs and a long balcony overlooking the lake. The rooms are located right on the lake or on the marina cove. Our room was on the lake and while we were enjoying the view of the lake a deer stopped by to stare at us for a bit. We said good-bye to the deer and changed into our swimsuits for an afternoon on the lake. A call to the front desk brought us a golf cart ride to the marina. It was not really that far but it was a help to have someone take us there the first time.
The marina is full service including party boats for dinner cruises up to 300 people! We rented a 125 HP runabout. You could ski behind this boat or rent a boat with driver if you wanted to ski. We just wanted to tour the lake so we only rented the boat without the ski equipment or driver. The marina personnel gave us a thorough briefing on the operation of the boat and then we were off on our own. I had not piloted a boat in over 15 years, but it is not that difficult and what I had known came back quickly. It was a beautiful day with puffy clouds providing us shade over half the time. We headed east toward the dam. The marina was at mile marker 16. The boat would go about 45 MPH at full throttle. Most of the time I kept it at 30 MPH for the smoother ride and besides we really did not have any particular destination or time limit to rush us. At a couple of locations we stopped to gaze up at and take pictures of some of the large homes on the cliffs and hills above the water's edge.
At the 8-mile marker we turned around to go explore the western part of the lake. We found that the eastern part is more populated, probably due to it being closer to Austin. There were a couple of sandbar areas that we went by with boats anchored there with people swimming. At about the 20-mile marker was a course that jet-skier used to play in. There were a few darting in and around the bouys spraying water in the air as they buzzed around. After about the 22-mile point the shore line get pretty rural. We even saw a small herd of beef cattle grazing along the shore. We turned around at the 28-mile marker and headed back. It is a little hard for me to believe that we could have gone over 30 miles more and still had a bit of lake left!
Back at the marina, I found that my skill at docking a boat had stayed with me as I perfectly brought the boat into the dock, reversed the prop and stopped the boat at the proper spot! Now if I could just be as precise with my airplane landings. By the way, my last few landing have been very good. Mike Hance gave me another pointer when he was up with me recently. He suggested that just before or as I am flaring to gradually pull the power to idle. With my Cherokee, you need to carry some power on final to keep the sink rate low. I had been pulling most of the power on short final and steeply dropping in. I still practice power-off landings just in case I need to do one for real. But this technique really helps me to make great landings.
That evening we had dinner in the Travis Room as the sun set. We looked out to the northeast and the few remaining clouds picked up the reds and oranges of the sunset to the west. The meal was great. I had a mushroom-stuffed beef tenderloin and Cindy had a pasta sausage dish. We also had a chicken quesadilla appetizer. The beef was very tender and seasoned well. Cindy enjoyed the pasta along with a glass of wine. Actually we both had a glass of wine. After all I was not going to be doing any flying in the next 8 hours. The next morning we had the included breakfast in the same restaurant. All of the meals at the Travis Room were excellent. This is definitely not the normal $100-hamburger place that many pilots fly to. It is a cut above both in quality and price. You get what you pay for and the quality of the food and service is well worth it at Lakeway Resort.
After breakfast, we packed-up and called the front desk for a ride up the hill with our bags to check-out. While we were checking out we talked with the staff about the major addition that Lakeway Resort is adding. By December of 1999 they will have completed the building of a new 6-story hotel addition. The new hotel is on the lake side of the property and will have excellent views of the lake. You will still be able to stay in the existing guest rooms if you wish. They were updated and remodeled in 1997. But now it was time to head back to the airpark and leave for Dallas.
Back at the airpark I found an envelope in the door of my airplane. There was a note with it and instructions to either leave the money for the over-night tie-down or write my invoice number from the fuel pump. Having topped-off yesterday to help keep any rain out of the tanks, I simply wrote the invoice number on the envelope and left it in the box provided for them. The airplane started as expected and in a short time we were climbing to the north over the lake with a gentle turn to the east so that Cindy could take a parting picture of the cabin that we stayed in.
Today the sky was mostly clear of clouds, so we climbed to 5,500 for the trip home. About 45 minutes out I contacted Flight Watch for an update of the weather in the DFW area. They told us that there was an overcast at 3,000 feet starting at about Hillsboro that continued through the rest of my intended route. OK, no problem, I wanted to drop down under the DFW class B and would need to be at 2,500 to do that. As we got to Hillsboro, the sky was hazy but mostly clear of clouds. So we stayed at 5,500. In fact the suggested clouds never materialized all the way to Aero Country. The ride was smooth for all but one small bump over Garland, probably a late afternoon thermal. We had a headwind going down and with the passage of the front we had picked up a head wind on the return flight. In the end, both flights took 2 hours time going and coming back.
The landing at TX05 was another good, smooth one (thanks to my original instructor Mark and Mike's advice). All in all this was another great weekend get-a-way that N642RJ helped us with. If you ever get the chance to spend some time in the Texas Hill Country and Lakeway Resort in particular, do it. You will not be sorry.