by: Melanie Warner

Texas never ceases to amaze me. It’s not just a vast state with varied cultures and vultures – it’s a state of mind. I was born and raised there, spent years traveling around the state – and still manage to discover something new every day about my beloved state.

There a wide variety of geographical features, ecosystems, and wildlife – and that is just from the colorful taverns along Sixth Street in Austin! Seriously, there is so much to see and do in the Texas Hill country, one could spend a year there and still not see everything. An hour outside of Austin, the area consists of rugged hills (the closest things to mountains in Texas) with thin layers of soil atop limestone or granite. It’s a nature-lovers paradise with sprawling ranches, nature reserves, exotic bird watching, and even – a place to view bald eagles in their nests. I can’t think of anything more American than looking for eagles.

Hop aboard the Vanishing Texas River Cruise on Highland Lakes and you will have the chance to spot an American eagle in its natural habitat. It’s in Burnet, Texas (pronounced “Burn-it”) Leave it to the Texans to come up with simple, but complex names. One way the locals teach others how to pronounce it is “Burnet, dern it, can’t you learn it”? The river is actually the Colorado River that flows through Central Texas. This cruise has been offered for the last 25 years and has slowly evolved as the drought continues to lower the banks of the river.

On this tour, we learned a great deal about Texas history, the lakes in the area, and the creatures that inhabit the area. The guides were knowledgeable, entertaining, and full of historical relevance. For instance, did you know that Benjamin Franklin wanted our national bird to be a turkey? I, for one, am glad he was outvoted! We have enough of them in Washington. There are few things that create more pride, than to see an American eagle soaring through the air in its native environment. We were lucky to see one on our visit and even took pictures of them nesting.

There are different themed tours that also include dinner. There are wine tours, sunset tours, charter fishing tours, bird-watching tours, and many more. They even offer a rare opportunity to release rehabilitated raptors back into the wilderness called the Freedom Flight Cruise.Last Chance Forever is a nonprofit organization that helps sick, injured or orphaned birds of prey return to their natural habitat. Together, they organize cruises that allow guests the one-in-a-lifetime opportunity to release birds back into nature. This is certainly one diversion that is worth the trip.