Roads Less Traveled

Chasing My Childhood Summer Through the Backroads of Texas

Photographer Lindsay McAleavy charts a course through Texas Hill Country searching for the swimming holes of her youth.

Photography by
Lindsay McAleavy
As told to
Anisse Gross
A woman placing her hands on rocks to climb out of a swimming hole.

With her San Francisco lease up a few months into the city’s quarantine, photographer Lindsay McAleavy decided it was time to stay with family in Texas. She packed up her cat, Diego, and her partner, Ricardo; loaded up a moving van; and headed to Houston. While McAleavy was excited to spend more time with her parents, she quickly remembered how oppressively hot Texas summers can be — so hot that the windows steam up during the day and temperatures remain in the 90s into the night. After sweltering-in-place together for a month, they decided what they needed was to get out in nature, somewhere — anywhere — cool.

Houstonians famously seek shade and water in the summertime, and McAleavy thought back to the road trips of her youth, when her parents would take her through the Texas Hill Country outside of Austin, swimming in creeks along the way. It was something the entire family looked forward to all year long, and she realized this was exactly what they needed.

They made a plan to retrace the route of their summer trips, stopping at their favorite rivers and swimming holes, hoping to recapture some of what life used to feel like before the new normal. McAleavy’s mom, Polly, made some zucchini muffins for the drive, and as soon as they got outside of Houston and onto the shade-covered roads of the Hill Country they were greeted with the fresh green scent of bald cypress trees, the chirping of cicadas, and the freedom of the open road. We caught up with McAleavy to hear the highlights of her trip.

The photographer's parents Polly and Steve sitting in a car with sunlight streaming through the window.
A tree tunnel just outside of Bandera, Texas.
A Prickly pear cactus lemonade from an old railroad station-turned-restaurant in Kerrville, Texas.
1. Lindsay’s parents Polly and Steve on day one of the open road. 2. A tree tunnel just outside Bandera, Texas. 3. Prickly pear cactus lemonade from an old railroad station-turned-restaurant in Kerrville, Texas.

“Our first stop was Krause Springs, a family-owned natural springs in Spicewood, just off the Colorado River. It’s only an hour outside of Austin, but it feels like a world away. When we entered the springs we felt nervous about taking off our masks, but we were able to find a perfect nook with no people around. The roots of the cypress trees tangled down into the spring, providing a natural ladder to climb into the swimming hole.”

A woman unwraps a zucchini carrot muffin from its paper cup in the backseat of a car.

I have to say, the zucchini muffins my mom made were a lifesaver. We ate them the entire trip — at the end there was only one muffin left, and we had to split it between the four of us.

Two folding chairs with towels draped over them on the bank of Krause Springs in Spicewood, Texas.
The sun creates a few shadows on the back of a young man.
The photographer's father Steve swimming in the water.
A serene swimming hole in Texas.
The photographer's partner Ricardo floating in the water with an orange inner tube.

The family escapes the heat with visits to swimming holes in Spicewood, Blanco, and Wimberley, Texas.

“The entire trip was Texas summer hot — close to 100 degrees every day — but because we traveled along rivers, there was always shade. Swimming without our masks on was the most relaxed we’ve felt since the pandemic started. It was so soothing to be in a place where you didn’t have to wear a mask, or worry about things — to just exist out in public freely like we used to.

Back on the road we used our memory of trips past as we drove through Bandera along the Medina River up to Boerne, where we stayed the night in an Airbnb cabin on a farm. We took a few wrong turns and saw a lot of livestock, vultures, antelope, and so many deer. We reminisced about swimming and floating in the Upper Turtle Creek, where I used to watch the turtles pop their heads up out of the water next to me as a kid.”

A bag of donut holes sitting on the dashboard of a car.
A gas station in Blanco Texas.
The photographer's father Steve looking at a historic roadside sign in Texas.
1. Donut holes—a road trip essential. 2. A stop for gas in Blanco, Texas. 3. One of many historical markers spread along Texas roadsides, noting a moment from the state's past. 

“The next morning, we woke up just after sunrise and saw a family of deer enjoying breakfast in the quiet field. There were also four chickens living there who liked to hop on the porch and socialize. Waking up in the middle of the countryside to deer and chickens roaming around was so therapeutic for all of us. We had grown so used to our routines at home that it was really nice to break out of that.”

Sunrise through a window of a cabin which shows the photographer's father Steve sitting on the porch.
A chicken roams the porch at sunrise in Boerne Texas.
A tree hangs over a river in Blanco Texas.
Morning coffee on the porch in Boerne, Texas, where chickens and farm animals roam freely.

It felt so good to wake up in a house that’s different from the one we’ve been quarantined in.
The photographer and her family walk along a winding road in Boerne Texas.
The entire family takes a morning stroll along a farm road in Boerne, Texas.

“Hill Country has a way of reminding you about the beauty of Texas. This trip showed us that there is so much natural wonder so close by that we can easily be accessing. It also really opened up how I view the rest of my time during this pandemic, that there are always ways I can safely still explore the world around me. Maybe I don’t have to just wake up and stay home all day. There’s such freedom on the open road, seeing the water, and waking up in a new place to a big wide open sky. These are things I need to prioritize; I need to find ways to take that feeling back home with me. This trip was a great reminder that there is so much beauty so close by.”

A picnic table with a towel, empty glass bottle, a corkscrew, and two apricots.

Editor’s Note: We recommend that you wear a mask, practice social distancing, and follow local and CDC guidelines at all times when traveling. You can refer to more tips in our guide to safely navigating road travel in the age of COVID-19.

Lindsay McAleavy

Lindsay McAleavy is a photographer and filmmaker originally from Houston, Texas. After completing a bachelors in film/video at Pratt Institute, in Brooklyn, she accepted the position as Photography Fellow at Airbnb, in San Francisco. Much of her photographic work explores the philosophy of the sublime and humanity's relationship with our contemporary, ever-shifting environment.

Anisse Gross

Anisse Gross is a San Francisco-based freelance writer and editor at Airbnb. Her work has appeared in The New York Times,, The Guardian, Quartz, Lucky Peach, The Believer, BuzzFeed, and The San Francisco Chronicle, among other publications.

Take a dip in Hill Country