Callie Rocha, 23, wanted to hit the rocks early.
Rocha, of Austin, woke up near dawn, packed up her climbing gear, and headed out to McKinney Falls State Park in southeast Austin to be the first one to climb the boulders after the parks reopened on Monday.
Did she do it for the bragging rights? To be No. 1? Not especially.
"Nobody's been touching them," the out-of-work restaurant employee said. "I thought I'd be the first one to touch those rocks without any germs on them."
She doubts she'll return until the threat of COVID-19 has passed because she figures more germy hands may land on them in short order.
She may be right. Visitors flocked on Monday to McKinney Falls, among the first of Texas' 89 state parks to reopen, per the governor's Friday order, after they were shut down mid-March due to concerns about the coronavirus.
Just over a dozen are still closed but could open later in the summer, parks officials said.
In Central Texas, parks that are reopening include Pedernales Falls, Possum Kingdom, Lyndon B. Johnson State Park and Historic Site, Longhorn Cavern, Lockhart State Park, Lake Whitney, Mineral Wells, Inks Lake, Garner, Blanco and Bastrop state parks.
Some limitations apply: Visitors are required to wear face masks, avoid large groups, and maintain six feet of distance between themselves and others. No overnight camping is being allowed yet—day use only.
At McKinney the swings were removed from the swing set to discourage use of the playground, which was off-limits. Roads to campsites were closed. Visitors were required to pre-register and then pick up their car permits stuck onto a kiosk just inside the grounds.
A park official greeted visitors and waved them through, eyes twinkling above a homemade decorative mask.
"Great to have y'all back!" she said cheerfully.
By lunchtime, there was a short line of cars waiting to get inside, the parking lots were half full, and visitors—nearly all of them wearing masks—dotted the falls, the picnic areas, the fishing pools and the swimming holes in sunny 80-degree weather.
"It was busier (than a normal Monday) due to people wanting to be outside," said Stephanie Salinas Garcia, public information officer for Texas Parks and Wildlife.
On Friday, Gov. Greg Abbott announced a multi-phased plan to reopen the Texas economy after weeks of social-distancing measures—and the parks were the first to come back online.
"We've been stir-crazy," said Tom Web, who traveled from New Braunfels with his wife, Beth, to hike the park. "Just cooped up in our house. We like to hike and get outdoors."
Austin veterinarian Frank Schuman, his wife Natalie, their three children ages 2-15, and aunt Marina Villarreal, headed to the falls to swim and get away from homeschooling doldrums.
One drawback: Masks in the heat.
"I'm hoping I don't break out," Natalie Schuman said.
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🗓 All weekend
Check out this highly anticipated art exhibition with illuminated art along Waller Creek. Tickets are free and the event includes food vendors, dazzling lights, live music, and hands-on activities
All weekend 6 p.m - 10 p.m | 📍Waterloo Park
This iconic holiday tradition lights up for the first time this holiday season starting this weekend! Reserve your spot for an enchanting light and sound performance, delicious hot cocoa, sweet treats, and some overall fun with your friends or family. The show runs till January 6th.
6 p.m and 9 p.m | 📍Mozart's Coffee Roasters - 3825 Lake Austin Blvd, Austin, TX 78703
This fitness event is free and open to the public. Get your morning started right with a "Fitness in the park" class for kickboxing! The class will be led by certified instructors and is a great way to get a cardio workout in while also honing your self-defense skills.
10 a.m - 11 a.m | 📍 Metz Park
Support local LBGTQ+ and female artists at this outdoor market with over 150 vendors. Get your holiday shopping out of the way at this event, with vendors for food trucks, handmade goods, raffles, hands on workshops and activities, and more.
Did someone say cheese?! If you're like me and always willing to get your hands on a bowl of mac and cheese, then this event is for you. Check out the Mac and Cheese festival happening this weekend to decide which vendor has. the best mac and cheese for yourself, and enjoy the bar with creative cocktails while you're at it. Tickets start at $45.
11 a.m - 3 p.m | 📍Lantana Place - 7415 Southwest Parkway
Timmy and Tommy are ready to play.
As the 2-month-old white-and-tabby brothers swat feather wands, chase toys and generally hold court inside Purr-fecto Cat Lounge, a half-dozen potential adoptive parents look on lovingly, trying to get their attention.
“This is kind of like the speed dating of cats,” said Lupita Foster, owner of Purr-fecto Cat Lounge. “I intentionally didn’t put in any tables. That’s why we call it a lounge instead of a cat café because we have these lounge areas where you can sit and relax and cuddle.”
Foster, who has owned a cleaning company, Enviromaids, for 18 years, was inspired to open Purr-fecto Cat Lounge after adopting her own cat, Romeo, from a local shelter.
“When you want to adopt a cat, you have to spend a lot of time with them to get their personality,” Foster said. “I wanted to do something to help the community and something that makes me feel good, that warms my heart. A business with a purpose. This was a perfect idea.”
Actually, a purr-fect idea.
Inspired in part by a cat lounge she visited in Los Angeles, Foster began laying the groundwork for the business in late 2021 and officially opened the doors of Purr-fecto Cat Lounge, located at 2300 S. Lamar Blvd., in July 2022. Since then, she’s worked with rescue organizations such as Fuzzy Texan Animal Rescue and Sunshine Fund Cat Rescue to facilitate nearly 100 cat adoptions.
At any given time, there are 10-15 cats living in the space, which features an ideal blend of calm, cool corners and adorably Instagrammable backdrops with phrases such as “I want to spend all my 9 lives with you.”
Lina Martinez, 32, learned about Purr-fecto Cat Lounge from a friend’s Instagram post and made an appointment to visit two days later.
“My first impression was, ‘AWW!’” Martinez said. “The kittens were to die for. I felt happy and at peace – just what I needed.”
Visitors to the cat lounge pay $15 for a 30-minute CATXperience session or $30 for a 70-minute session that is spent getting to know the personalities of each cat. Foster said the first thing she typically sees from visitors to the lounge is a smile.
“Everybody that enters the door is smiling,” she said. “And we’ve seen people who have cried because they can’t have kids and they decide to go and adopt a cat instead.”
Foster said she loves bringing in cats who might not have a chance to be adopted at traditional shelters. She told the story of one cat named Izzy, who was partially blind, who was adopted by a family that had a deaf cat at home.
“Izzy was not going to get adopted anywhere else, but she’s extremely beautiful,” she said. “If she was in a cage in a rescue and you tell people she’s blind, she was probably going to be overlooked. But visiting our space, she doesn’t seem like she’s blind. She knows her way around. She moves around perfectly.”
Although Martinez, who had been casually looking for a pet to adopt since moving to Austin nearly four years ago, was interested in a cat named Ruby that she had seen on Purr-fecto’s social media, at the lounge she instead found herself drawn to 5-month-old mixed breed Tuxedo cat.
“I thought he was a star,” she said. “He worked the room and introduced himself to everyone. When I laid down to pet Ruby, he ran from the other side of the room and cuddled with me. It was game over. He got me.”
And she, of course, got him, complete with a commemorative photo that read “My Furrever Family” the day she took him home. Although his original name was Emmanuel, she renamed him Sullivan after her favorite DJ.
“Purr-fecto is special because of the amount of effort and love they put into taking care of the cats,” Martinez said, “and finding them good homes and making possible adopters feel at home.”
Foster, who spent a recent Thursday hosting a group of teenagers in foster care at the lounge, several of whom expressed interest in working there, said the best part about her new endeavor is that her heart is always full.
“I just feel complete,” she said. “I always felt as an entrepreneur that I was missing something. I knew I accomplished a lot, but in my heart I was missing a little connection with the community. Now I’m creating connections between humans and pets and that’s amazing. I’m creating family bonds. It’s just about love, you know. And we need that.”