Highland Lakes -- The six dams built by the Lower Colorado River Authority in the late 1930s through the early 1950s not only controlled the flooding that had plagued the areas surrounding Texas's Colorado River (not to be confused with the river of the same name that flows through the Grand Canyon), but also transformed the waterway into a sparkling chain of lakes, stretching some 150 miles northwest of Austin. The narrowest of them, Lady Bird Lake, is also the closest to downtown. The heart of urban recreation in Austin, its banks are lined by trails and a shoreline park. Lake Austin, just upstream, divides West Austin from Westlake Hills. On its banks is Emma Long Park. Next in the series is Lake Travis, the longest lake in the chain. It offers the most possibilities for boating and general recreation. Together with the other Highland Lakes -- Marble Falls, LBJ, Inks, and Buchanan -- these compose the largest concentration of freshwater lakes in Texas.

Nature Preserves

City of Austin Nature Preserves -- Highlights of the remarkably diverse group of natural habitats Austin boasts in its city-run nature preserves include the following: Blunn Creek (1100 block of St. Edward's Dr.) is 40 acres of upland woods and meadows traversed by a spring-fed creek. One of the two lookout areas is made of compacted volcanic ash. Spelunkers will like Goat Cave (3900 Deer Lane), which is honeycombed with limestone caves and sinkholes. You can arrange for cave tours by phoning the Austin Nature Center (tel. 512/327-8181). Lovely Mayfield Park (3505 W. 35th St.) directly abuts the Barrow Brook Cove of Lake Austin. Peacocks and hens roam freely around lily ponds, and trails cross over bridges in oak and juniper woods. Visitors to the rock-walled ramada (a shaded shelter) at the Zilker Preserve (Barton Springs Rd. and Loop 1), with its meadows, streams, and cliff, can look out over downtown Austin. All the preserves are maintained in a primitive state with natural surface trails and no restrooms. The preserves are free and open daily from dawn to dusk. For additional information, including directions, phone tel. 512/327-7723, or log on to

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