The hot Texas sun beamed down on our family reunion in New Braunfels, threatening to melt anything in its path, but we were unperturbed because we had the river. The Other Place, the resort where we were staying, was conveniently located at a bend in the Comal River.
We plunked tubes in the river at one end of the resort and slowly floated in the cool water around the bend to the other side of the resort. The 30 minute float took us past limestone houses, plantation style homes and flood-proof homes built on tall columns. The short float was ideal for our family, with different groups going in all directions at any given time as various whims were satisfied. One day we completed the float four times, with different family members joining in for one trip or another. If we had an hour between activities we could fit in one loop; if we had no plan we could complete multiple loops until someone came up with a plan.
One day we reluctantly left the comforts of the river with the thermometer hovering around 101 degrees F in favor of another cool activity. We headed south on Hwy 35 to visit Natural Bridge Caverns, the largest of several caves in this part of Texas. It is thought that when Texas was covered by a shallow sea in the Cretaceous period different layers of limestone formed, and that the caves may have been created 20 million years ago when faults allowed water to course through the limestone, creating cave systems. The 75 minute guided tour took us through ever larger rooms punctuated with stalactites, stalagmites, stately columns, graceful curtains, glittering crystalline formations, deep streams, narrow passageways and feet-thick bat guano from the large bat population believed to inhabit the caves in previous times. We went deep beneath the surface to 180 feet, admiring the courage and curiosity of the discoverers of the cave who had to wriggle through tiny passageways on their bellies to gain access to enormous halls. Discovered by four young men in 1960 from St. Mary’s College in nearby San Antonio, they gave many of the rooms and formations fanciful names based on their studies of philosophy and mythology. We thoroughly enjoyed our underground experience, enhanced by cooler temperatures than aboveground, though still maintaining a fair amount of humidity to keep the formations from degrading.
The next day we completed a loop of our mini-tube route while the family sorted themselves out, then took a contingent on the shuttle to catch the tubing float from upstream, expanding our favorite activity to a two hour float. When we arrived at the put-in spot we could not believe our eyes as we beheld a massive assembly of tubers and a significant amount of infrastructure to support the scene, from a large police presence directing traffic, manning roadblocks, patrolling the river in kayaks and standing on the banks to assure safety, as well as numerous facilities renting tubes and selling all the necessary summer accoutrements such as beer, ice, coolers, suntan lotion and the like. Shuttles towing tubes disgorged fresh tubers every few minutes and we joined the flow of humanity down to the river where we pressed forward to get our tubes in the river, jockeying for space and gently bouncing off of strangers’ tubes like so many bumper cars. Tubes stretched across the river from bank to bank, forming an amoeba-like form that undulated with the flow of the river. Soon after launching our tiny, round craft we encountered the first of several “tube chutes”, places where the dammed river forced the tubes into a narrow, curved chute that catapulted tubers to a lower level of the river. Bouncing from side to side in the concrete chute it was impossible to control one’s direction so we gave ourselves in to the rush of water with squeals of laughter, getting dumped into the churning mass of humanity swirling in a back eddy at the end of the chute. Several minutes were needed to paddle out of the eddy into the main channel, reassemble our group, assess lost sunglasses and beer and continue downriver. Just as we got everyone reconnected, hooking toes onto adjacent tubes to keep the amoeba connected, we were upon the second chute, less dramatic than the first but repeating the same general process of dispersion and reassembly. Passing Schlitterbahn Water Park the floating crowd was entertained by the brave souls being cranked up to do the Skycoaster, seemingly freefalling into the river, but really soaring over the park in their harnesses. As the afternoon sun heated up we escaped from our tubes to submerge in the surprisingly clear, emerald waters of the river. The late afternoon billowing, dark clouds then began to mass together and not long after we spotted brilliant streaks of lightening, accompanied by tremendous rumbles of thunder. A roar of appreciation arose from the river as much-needed raindrops began to fall to this drought-parched land. Luckily the launching spot for The Other Place appeared and we scuttled out of the water, thunder nipping at our heels. Unfortunately the rain passed through quickly, giving us a too-short time to enjoy the downpour from our cozy decks.
After rinsing off the river water we assembled again and headed off to check out the Texas wine scene. We managed to herd most of our group to the Mandola Estate Winery, located in a lovely setting in rolling hills just south of Austin, with rows of grape vines improbably planted among the cattle ranches and barbeque pits of this area. A beautiful limestone building houses a restaurant and winery, with wine tastings available. We tasted a Pinot Grigio, Viognier, Rose, and Zinfandel, among others. Most were not memorable, though drinkable, with the Viognier standing out as the crowd favorite. The ambiance was lovely and the family enjoyed cheese and crackers, sipping wine and enjoying each others’ company.
We arrived too late to enjoy a group activity in Gruene, at the Gruene Dance Hall, where the gang had a great time dancing the warm night away. My Aunt Carol and Uncle John had presented the two youngest boys, Kolter and Julien, from New Jersey, with a traditional Texas outfit, complete with ostrich skin cowboy boots, jeans, shirts mimicking the flag of Texas and sheriffs’ badges. Despite the heat the boys refused to take off these treasured items, even when rivulets of sweat tricked down their faces. In subsequent days these items even prevented the boys from tubing at times as they refused to compromise their values by removing their boots to get in the river. True Texas blood courses in their veins.
The Other Place was ideal for a family reunion, with various sizes of cabins available to suit a variety of needs. Cabins are grouped in a U shape along the bend in the Comal River in a wooded setting, with many picnic tables and barbequing facilities located in the center of the U. A volleyball court, horseshoe court, play structures and swings provide ample opportunities for outdoor entertainment. Our cabin had not been renovated but was comfortable in a retro sort of way, and air-conditioned, which was the most important element. Shelly’s unit had been renovated and featured microwave, dishwasher, granite countertops and updated furnishings that were quite nice. The family that runs The Other Place, is very friendly and helpful in sharing information about the local area.
We all owe Shelley and Nathan, who reside in Austin, for hosting, with substantial assistance from the rest of the Texas relatives, Aunt Dorothy and Uncle Don, and Aunt Carol and Uncle John. Of course, the rest of us tried to help out, but the brunt of the coordination fell squarely on Shelly’s shoulders. Nathan endeared himself to the family by providing the best homemade venison and pork sausage, and fantastic grass-fed beef from his personal cow, in addition to his easy-going personality. We appreciated Louise protecting the environment by collecting all the recyclables after every meal, and for planning, with Mark, the next reunion in the Northeast. Scott regaled us with stories of his searches all over the world for WWII downed planes. We barely overlapped with Reid and Henrietta but were glad to see their smiling faces. Dan, Bryce and Nick showed up in the nick of time so we could hear stories of the Northwest settlers and tales of extreme humidity in H-Town. Steve and Karen, naturally, left with the minimum of time allotted for their drive to the San Antonio airport, Steve relying on his car racing background to achieve maximum efficiency within the limits of the law. We also remembered those not present, including those who couldn’t make the trip, and those who departed this earth prematurely. They were with us in spirit, and their memories live on in the Deaver clan, ever a part of the big Texas landscape.
The Other Place
New Braunfels, Texas
Mandola Estate Winery
Schlitterbahn Water Park
New Braunfels, Texas