There was a time when I was a camping person … or at least I pretended I was. I truly loved the quiet nights, the stars, the dinner of charred hot dogs. And the best part was the reminder that I was not in charge — that none of us are — and traveling out of the city felt deeply healing.
As my life grew complicated with kids and work, losing a night’s sleep to a lumpy tree root under my sleeping bag was less annoying than catastrophic. Making sure we had everything for a “carefree” camping trip was overwhelming. (Just try to make pancakes when you’ve remembered every last thing but the spatula.) In the name of “self care,” I ordered the thickest, most plush Thermarest camping mattress available. (My kids called it the “mom mattress.”)
There came a time when I didn’t even want to camp at all. I still yearned for open skies and adventure, but I didn’t want to bring my own sponge. I was embarrassed to admit that I wanted a vacation that came with a bathroom, a bed and maybe even dinner served to me on an actual plate that I did not have to wash in the dark.
So it was with great anticipation that I headed to Burnet for a weekend at Container City, located next to Spider Mountain, Texas’ first and only lift-served mountain bike park, offering nine adrenaline-producing bike trails to whiz you back to the bottom.
Container City also is located on the banks of beautiful Lake Buchanan, where you can get on a stand-up paddle board, swim or rent a boat to water ski … or just watch the sun set.
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It was a pleasure to pack up the kids after school and zoom up U.S. 183 North, splurging on the toll lane and making it to Burnet in a little over an hour. I passed the H-E-B joyfully, not stopping for food or dishwasher detergent. We drove down a winding road, enjoying the hills, rolling down the car windows, and singing along to the local country music station. Cacti and live oak trees line Texas 29, and I’d been told to watch for deer and even wild hogs, which was exciting but not too exciting.
A large sign announced Templeton’s Tavern, Peddler’s Pies hand-tossed pizza and Container City. I turned in, spotting an outdoor stage and tavern, then followed a gravel road to Cabin 5, a container cabin that can sleep ten people. We climbed stairs to a spacious deck furnished with a table and chairs for lounging, and while I took in the peaceful view, the kids rushed inside, exclaiming over the cabin, which one kid announced was “the coolest thing I’ve ever seen.”
From across the way, I spotted the musician Gavin Tabone, who would be playing with his Gavin Tabone Quartet at Templeton’s Tavern. Tabone was grilling with his daughter on the outdoor fire pit, and I started to anticipate great live music, which I sure had been missing.
The ground floor of our cabin contained a full kitchen with everything we could possibly need, including sponges, a TV area, a small dining area and a private bedroom with a queen bed. Ignoring a cute sign reading, “Life’s short; GO OUTSIDE!” we climbed the stairs to the second level of the cabin. There, we found a foosball table, two more bedrooms and a living room with two bunk beds. We gleefully discovered checkers, chess, a pack of cards ready to go and a lovely second-story patio. Yes, my kids found the fast Wi-Fi and two more TVs immediately, but I also found them playing cards and checkers over the course of the weekend.
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It was a warm evening, and guests arrived at the cabins and RV slips, turning on strings of porch lights and lending the resort a festive atmosphere. We headed over to Templeton’s Tavern, where the band was warming up on stage. My children yelled pizza orders and dispersed to play outdoor games, and I looked over the menu from Peddler’s Pies.
I chose a selection of hand-tossed pizzas, which are made to order, baked in a wood-fired oven and served hot. The drink menu is extensive, from local craft beers to cocktails featuring regional craft spirits like the Spider ‘Rita (a prickly pear margarita), Goodnight Mountain Mule (with Goodnight Loving vodka, ginger beer, pomegranate and lime), Treaty Oak Old Fashioned and On the Rum Again (with Sailor Jerry and hot apple cider).
I joined the founders of Container City as the band began playing. “We just wanted to share the joy we’ve found out there,” says Matt Ball, who — along with his co-founders, Brad and Amy Beneski; Felix and Linda Villasana; and Matt’s wife, Andrea Ball — planned the container cabins down to the tiniest detail, including the interior designs of blues and greens; rooftop decks and porches; and vintage video games inside each cabin. (There also are RV hookups with picnic tables.)
Amy Beneski adds, “We’re a stone’s throw from Austin. It’s a perfect getaway to bike and explore the surrounding parks and venues and just relax in a beautiful setting. The sunsets are spectacular, and the Hill Country views are unmatched. We have unique accommodations, good food, and we have really great people working with us who share our desire to provide a one-of-kind experience. That was the goal.”
“We made an attraction out of dirt,” says Matt Ball, grinning.
Andrea Ball named Templeton’s Tavern after the mischievous rat in E.B. White’s book “Charlotte’s Web.” (She’s also an Austin teacher, no relation to the longtime American-Statesman reporter of the same name.) Brad Beneski loves to tinker and created spider sculptures throughout Container City out of unused and broken materials. Felix Villasana, says Amy Beneski, has a keen eye for building specs and know-how.
Andrea Ball laughs. “People always get a kick out of meeting us and realizing that the Andrea that they’ve been chatting with about check-in info and questions is actually one of the owners, and we’re all around on the weekends,” she says, “not to mention that we kept it in the family and my cousin Tedye and her partner, Rachel, run the bar.”
“We’re a great team. And we’re still friends!” adds Matt Ball.
We say a toast to friendship, hoisting ice-cold local beers and mocktails. Andrea Ball says she loves the Spider Bite shot: “It’s 512 Tequila, a little watermelon pucker and a drop of Tabasco. Sounds super gross but it somehow works.”
Our pizzas arrive, hot from the wood-fired oven. I have a high pizza bar, and let me tell you, Peddler’s Pies are amazing. It could have been the fresh air, the great music and the sight of smiling adults under the stars, but I was shot through with happiness and hope as I dug into my cheese, pepperoni and olive pie. The chef started bringing out new pizza creations: fresh jalapeño and barbecue from the trailer next door; a pie made with barbecue sauce, sauteed onions, and sweet pineapple.
I ordered another drink (and Shirley Temples for the kids, who were playing cornhole within sight). When I finished eating, I would leave my dishes behind. I knew I would sleep late in my cozy container (they boast heating and air conditioning). Maybe I’d see a deer while I sipped coffee on the deck, which overlooked Lake Buchanan.
I closed my eyes and exhaled. It felt, for the first time in such a long time, like I’d arrived at a real weekend, and could rest.
If you go
Where: 570 CR 133 in Burnet
Cost: $250 a night for a cabin that sleeps six
Contact: 512-939-6006, 512-924-4235 and [email protected]
More information: containercitytx.com