AUSTIN, TX — Perhaps you’ve seen the meme on social media about when fall begins. The 2020 punch line: “I thought you were talking was about the fall of civilization until I realized you meant autumn.”
Drum roll, please. But seriously, folks, the first day of fall is Tuesday. And even in the middle of a pandemic, there are plenty of things you can do to celebrate the season in the Austin region.
The fall equinox officially ushers in the new season and its promise of crisp air, show-stopping leaf displays, and cool evenings just perfect for sitting around a fire pit and spinning stories about previous fall days spent at football stadiums and fall festivals.
The coronavirus pandemic has significantly altered traditional fall rituals. Football season is ongoing for professional teams and colleges, but many of the stadiums are empty given the need for physical distancing to blunt the spread of respiratory illness. “Friday night lights” — the moniker given to the high school football season — still shine bright, but social distancing guidelines have silenced cheers from the stands in communities across the U.S.
Still, fall is approaching, and no one wants to miss a chance to play in the sunshine before the cold of winter creeps in — the winter solstice is Monday, Dec. 21, if you’re keeping track on the calendar.
Until then, here are some fall activities in the Austin area:
Few things are as quintessentially fall-related as picking up a pumpkin or negotiating a labyrinthine corn maze at an area farm. Barton Hill Farms, 1115 FM 969 in Bastrop, Texas, boasts a five-acre corn maze. The kiddos can even feed the animals there for added fun. It's a little off the beaten track 33 miles east of Austin, but worth a visit from Oct. 3 through Nov. 14. A little further in Marble Falls, some 47 miles northeast of Austin, visitors can pick handpick pumpkins and gourds from Sept. 19 to Nov. 8 at the Sweet Berry Farm, 1801 FM 1980. For more fun, go on a hay ride, go into a corn maze, hit the pumpkin patch and pet the animals at the Sweet Eats Fruit Farm, 14400 East State Highway 29, in Georgetown.
The crisp air makes for good drive-in movie viewing, don't you think? Austin's sole drive-in movie theater, Blue Starlite, offers classic and indie films under the stars. It's fun for the whole family or a romantic outing for couples. There are three area locations, two in Austin and one in Round Rock.
Hoist a mug in celebration of cooler weather at any number of beer gardens across the region. For the most part, Oktoberfest events have dropped off the calendar given the ongoing need for physical distancing, but there are plenty of places to celebrate the region's German heritage with a healthy stein of brew. Try Banger's Sausage House & Beer Garden, 79 Rainey Ave., scheduled to reopen Oct. 1. Live Oak Brewing Co., 1615 Crozier Lane in Del Valle, Texas, has ample space to raise a glass or three. The spot is near Austin–Bergstrom International Airport a mere eight miles from downtown, at 1615 Crozier Lane. The grandaddy of them all, Scholz Garten, 1607 San Jacinto Blvd., is always fun — with a spacious beer garden offering a wide variety of beers and German cuisine to boot. Scholz Garten fun fact: The giant pretzel at Scholz Garten feeds four people. Another fine spot is Batch Craft Beer & Kolaches, 3240 Manor Rd. While not a classic/traditional beer garden, the popular spot has a terrific beer selection and a bevy of kolaches. Also offered is klobasniky, with is stuffed with Micklethwait meats. That's Micklethwait meats, people.
Coronavirus has shuttered the annual Fall Pecan Festival, but a virtual version will enable visitors to listen to live music while perusing artwork, handmade wares and home goods for purchase.
The Austin Zoo, 10808 Rawhide Trail, will be offering Boo at the Zoo events ahead of Halloween, with dates to be determined soon. The typical animal-gazing can be had, but seasonal train rides, puppet shows and a haunted mansion also will be in the offing.
You're spending more time with the family in this pandemic, so why not just go camping together? Opportunities abound at a number of attractive venues such as Emma Long Metropolitan Park; Inks Lake State Park in Burnet; McKinney Falls State Park; or Pedernales Falls State Park. There's arguably no better way to enjoy fall.
After a multi-day streak of triple-digit summer days this year, it's so nice to be able to spend time outdoors again without worrying about heat stroke. Hiking and biking is a pleasant, post-summer activity and can be had at a number of sites near your home. Try the Ann and Roy Hike-and-Bike Trail and Boardwalk winding around the bucolic shores of Lady Bird Lake. The Balcones Canyonlansds National Wildlife Refuge near Marble Falls offers stunning views of nature. Off the beaten track is the aptly named Enchanted Rock State Natural area near Fredericksburg, Texas.
The autumnal equinox isn’t a daylong event but rather occurs at the exact moment the sun crosses the celestial equator — that’s at 8:30 a.m. CT. Eastern Daylight Time.
We’re also coming up on the end of Daylight Saving Time, which officially ends on Sunday, Nov. 1, but that’s a while off. Yes, darkness will fall earlier in the evening. But that also means you won’t have to stay up all night to see a half-dozen fall and winter meteor showers.
The word equinox comes from the Latin words “aequus,” which means “equal,” and “nox,” which means night. That’s led to the perception that everyone worldwide sees the same amount of daylight and nighttime, but it’s not the absolute truth. To be precise, daylight lasts about eight minutes longer than nighttime on the day of the equinox.
Here are five other things to know about the September equinox:
There’s no guarantee, of course, but the chances of seeing stunning aurora borealis displays increase after the fall equinox, according to NASA. Both the spring and fall equinoxes are good aurora seasons, but autumn produces a surplus of geomagnetic storms — almost twice the annual average.
The date of the September equinox varies. Usually, it’s on the 22nd, as it is this year, or the 23rd, but it can occur as early as Sept. 21 or as late as Sept. 24.
A Sept. 21 autumnal equinox hasn’t occurred in several millennia, but some folks alive today may see it the next couple of times it rolls around, in 2092 and then again four years later in 2096. And the first day of fall hasn’t fallen on Sept. 24 since 1931, and that won’t happen again until 2303. Here’s the reason: A year is defined as 365 days by the Gregorian calendar, but it takes the Earth 365-¼ days to orbit the sun. What this means is the autumnal equinox occurs about six hours later than it did the year prior, which eventually moves the date by a day.
Thank Canada for spectacular fall sunsets with more vivid pinks, reds and oranges than at any other time of the year. The Weather Channel offers an explanation: As dry, clean Canadian air begins to sweep across the country, fewer colors of the rainbow spectrum are scattered by air molecules. That means the reds, oranges, yellows and pinks make it through for your sunset-viewing pleasure.
No matter where you are in the world, the sun will rise due east and set due west during the fall equinox (the same thing happens during the spring equinox). For the directionally challenged, it’s a good time for a reset. Go outside around sunset or sunrise, find a landmark and mark the sun’s location in relation to it.
Fall isn’t just a time for the human world to start buttoning things up outside. It’s rutting — or mating — season for deer, elk and moose, and males will battle it out by thrusting their antlers together until one of them gives up or dies. Swans, geese and ducks begin their migration south. Frogs burrow deep into mud holes to wait out the winter. Chipmunks retreat to their underground tunnels. Bears eat and drink almost nonstop as they prepare for hibernation.