Tag Archives: Texas

TEXAS!

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Texas is a big state and we had to cross it to get where we were going. We have been through Texas before. Dick’s brother Dan lived in Fort Davis, Texas in a mountain range that reminded me of California and we visited him there in 2010. We drove the length of the panhandle and we made a stop in Lubbock to visit a colleague there before continuing to Fort Davis. Last year we began our trip south by driving to Galveston and we stayed there a week after a side trip close enough to Dallas to meet with colleagues there. So we had travelled the length of the west side and the middle from north to south. This time we had no agenda, we just need to get through Texas to the other side.

We left Albuquerque New Mexico and began the trip east on the I40 interstate. (Just in case you are wondering I40 east starts with some big steep hills climbing over 2000 feet to the mountain pass but we had no issues making the climb. The road was never a grade about about 6% and at every hill there were extra passing lanes so we could go as slowly as we need to. The total climb occurs over about 15 miles.) Our goal was Lake McLelland Recreation Area which is a National Forest campground. We found out about this spot by consulting the free and low cost campground website which has a wide variety of places suitable for both boon docking and staying cheaply. The site lists everything from welcoming Walmarts, to truck parking lots in remote areas where boon docking RVs are also welcome, to free municipal campgrounds, to all kinds of other campgrounds that charge $15 or less to stay.

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This part of Texas is what you expect if you’ve ever seen old cowboy movies. It is miles and miles of flat bushland and desert punctuated by the occasional oil rig. One of the new dominant items in the region of miles and miles and miles of huge windmills. I have never seen so many windmills. I have mixed feeling about windmills because they are considered “green energy” by those who accept the idea of anthropogenic climate change and the harm they think it will inflict on the earth. Yet these things are certain death to birds, bats and butterflies that get in their way. Their presence means that animals who have evolved to require wide sky no longer feel welcome. The windmills have seriously damaged populations of such creatures like the prairie grouse. The other thing that bothers me about windmills is the power they provide is intermittent. The day we were traveling there was no wind and these great structures were still as far as the eye could see. Because of this, windmills must have coal, natural gas or hydro electric back ups equalling their capacity for days when there is no wind. They are unreliable. This means windmills are generally not financially feasible without massive government subsidies and that means higher taxes, and higher utilities costs to consumers. To me they are great twirling white elephants, a passing fad, that will eventually result in rusting dead hulks spread all over the prairies when the fad passes.

We pulled into the Lake McLelland campground after dark. When we awoke in the morning it was a huge disappointment. The place was falling apart. The trees were twisted and mostly dead. There was a lot of blackened debris. The washrooms were perfectly clean around the toilets and the sinks but everywhere else there were bird nests, insect nests and other wildlife that had moved inside due to multiple chunks of missing roof and broken windows. There was also natural debris and garbage piled in every corner. When we started filling our tank to shower, our faucet spewed everywhere like a fire hydrant on loco weed. It was cracked on two sides down its length. The electric posts were similarly damaged. We walked around the campsite looking for a better spot. We like to stay two nights at each campground, one day to travel, one day to recover and enjoy the area. We could not find a site better than the one we were already in. Worse for us, I awoke wheezing and my husband had developed a nagging cough and eye irritation. While looking for a better spot, I spoke to one of the other campers who was a local from the area. He told me that the area had suffered devastating wildfires and severe storms that summer. I hope they fix the place up but we decided to move along that day instead of staying two nights.

 

Our second stop was at the Lake Arrowhead State Park. The drive was amazing. No more flat prairie; we now went up and down through gently rolling hills. The new campsite was a considerable improvement over Lake McClellan. The park was well kept and the bathrooms were clean although they could have used a coat of fresh paint. We saw a lot of big fat Texas size gophers, the big ones as big as our cat, which the locals called prairie dogs. They were comical and charming. They would pop up and chirp at us with their short tails up like a white tailed deer. If you approached them they vanish down their holes only to pop up behind us at another hole and chirp at us again. Misty tried several times to catch one but the prairie dogs easily defeated her. I could see they were playing with her and finding her gullibility amusing. Fred, being older and wiser, just ignored them. We saw several family groups consisting of a mom and half a dozen or more fat babies. These groups moved in big herds of dozens seeking grass further from their holes and if someone chirped everyone ran for home. I saw a big raptor who had a lot more luck than Misty and made off with a fat one for lunch.

We had hoped to go canoeing but it was far too windy. The lake was covered with white caps even in the quiet bay of the swim areas. Temperatures soared into the 80s (28C) so that we had to use the air conditioning in the trailer for a brief time in the afternoon. In addition to gophers and raptors there were many other birds. We saw familiar white pelicans from home, chickadees and thrashers in great numbers in addition to many other birds we were not familiar with in their winter plumage. The campground also had a small pump jack which had begun pumping oil before the establishment of the state park and it is still pumping today. It stank of sweet crude and thumped and bumped and made grinding noises around the clock so we were careful to pick a campsite far away among the prairie dogs. They were quiet at night.

We left the next morning for Bonham State park. We had planned to go farther but we had a flat tire just outside of Nocona, Texas. There was a lot of construction and it was slow going with frequent trips on the shoulder. We must have hit a nail or something. We were lucky because the tire did not blow out. It slowly deflated and then the tire flew off as we drove on the rim unaware. A farmer and his wife flagged us down and we stopped just inside town, astounded to see the damage we hadn’t felt.

Our only warning was I heard a funny metallic noise about a mile from Nocoma and I said to Dick “I hear something funny.”

He replied, “So close the window.”

I did and the noise went away so I stopped worrying about that funny noise until the farmer and his wife flagged us down. I must learn not to defer to Dick. Next time I hear a funny noise we stop and check.

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We called CAA from Nocoma and they had someone there within forty minutes to change the tire. The folks there were so kind and helpful that Nocoma is now my absolute favourite part of Texas. We had the best southern style pecan pie I ever had at the Texas BBQ just down the street from the hardware store across the street from where our injured rig was parked in the heart of Trump country.

 

A retired police officer gave Dick a lift to Mike’s, the tire store six blocks away on the other side of town. After the CAA guy changed our tire to our spare, the nice folks at Mike’s cleaned up and repaired the rim and mounted a new tire for us at a very modest charge. We were on way in under three hours. Still, we were behind schedule and Bonham was close enough that we were able to get there before sunset.

 

I am so glad we did! Bonham was a really nice state park and I was struck by how varied Texas is. In two stops we had come from a rather barren nasty desert to a lush green swamp cypress groves and mixed southern deciduous oaks, maples, magnolias and sycamores. A cold front came through so that the daytime high barely reached 40F (4C). In spite of the lovely little reservoir/lake we decided to forego canoeing again. This time it was just too cold. We did walk around the lake on the lovely trail. The highlight was when we came up to a big tree and we startled dozens, maybe even hundreds, of black vultures. We were right up close to them when they saw us and then took off. The thunder of their wings was wonderful. They are such huge birds and in a weird ugly way, absolutely magnificent.

We were going to go straight east to go over the top of Louisiana. The forecast was for more cold weather and even the possibility of snow. We decided to go south first instead of east. This also allowed us to travel through some new territory we hadn’t seen before. We got to travel the east Texas lakes and forest areas on our way to Brookeland Texas.

Our original plan was to stay at the Army Corps of Engineer campsite at Mill Creek. However we found out on arrival that during the winter they have no mechanism for accepting cash payments. You can only stay if you have reservations made in advance. We tried telephoning but could not get through to their reservation system and we did not have internet access. So we checked into the nearby Brookeland’s KOA. After days of no sewer hookup or internet we really appreciated having full hook ups and WIFI. We did our laundry and got all caught up on our email and planned more of our trip. Imagine our surprise to wake to a sunny warm day but snow everywhere. It was two inches of the kind of fast melting light snow we often see in October and April back home in Manitoba. For Texans and other southerners it was both a rare and wonderful delight and a nightmare. Folks down here don’t know how to drive in light snow. Schools were closed and children were out trying to make their first snowman and snow ball. The snow had quit where we were and the roads were already dry but road reports and weather forecast said that snow was going to fall all day in eastern Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. After some internet searching and with the help of my absolute favourite websites RV Parks Review we found a National Forest campground in Louisiana not far from Alexandria outside the snow area. We left Texas heading east through the lovely heavily rolling hills east of Brookeland.

I came away with yet another impression of Texas. Texas is huge. Texas is varied in both climate and topography and demanding of those who live there. Most important, Texans are generally big hearted and ready to help strangers. It is a place rich in resources and one of its greatest resources is its people. It is as broad and big as the Texas twang they speak with. I could be happy living in Texas, especially in the south east where it is lush and green, even in winter. Of course, since I don’t tolerate heat over 80F (27C) willingly, I’d have to go somewhere else for summer, like Manitoba.

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Moody Gardens Aquarium Pyramid

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After we finished viewing the Moody Gardens Rain Forest Pyramid we again took advantage of the Senior on Tuesday special where you can get into a pyramid for $10 and we took in the aquarium. Unfortunately for us, the aquarium is undergoing a major renovation so about half the displays were shut down. This was disappointing but we still had a great time because the big aquarium, the shark tank, the seal tank and the penguin habitat were open. The penguins are absolutely delightful to watch and they seem as curious about the visitors we we were watching them. They had several different species many of whom were swimming about and more than once they would swim right up to the class to look at us.

I noticed many of the fish in the aquarium were doing the same thing. About half of them just went about their business ignoring us but about one quarter actively approached the glass and interacted with us as if we were entertainment. The angelfish in particular seemed to find us fascinating. The last one quarter of the fish were very shy and could be startled if we moved quickly so we didn’t. They stayed well away from the glass. The aquarium is beautifully designed with many glass insets so you can get right up and almost into the tank.

The seals were also fun to watch. They are so fast and graceful. The seals are rescues who have lost an eye or two and are deemed unfit to return to the wild. How did that blind seal manage to move around so quickly and so easily without bashing into the glass?

The last display was the shark tank. It is a big tunnel the same as the tunnel at Assiniboine Park where you can see polar bears swimming above you. Here is a great white shark about four feet long. Frankly the polar bears put on a better display. The shark just did this random swim looking ominous.

If you are in Galvaston and you qualify as a senior (and then let you decide, they don’t check ID), be sure to check out Moody Gardens on a Tuesday. $5 per pyramid and well worth the wonder. Allow at least two hours per pyramid. There is a lot to to see. And wear proper shoes because it is also a lot of walking although if you need assistance the facility is fully accessible.

Moody Garden Rainforest Pyramid

Another great Galveston deal is that they have a special price for seniors at Moody Gardens. For $5 you can walk any of the big pyramid displays. We decided to do two of them, the Rain Forest pavilion and the aquarium. Now I should start with a caveat here, that being I normally avoid places wild animals are on display for profit. However I heard some good things about the Moody Gardens and I am glad I went.

One thing I really appreciated was that their reptile displays also had separate explanations about why reptiles make very poor pets and how damaging the reptile pet trade is to these gorgeous but vulnerable creatures. We got to see many reptiles and amphibians from teeny tiny little frogs in magnificent colours to huge Komodo dragons and monitor lizards. And there were many matching explanations on how they don’t make good pets. They had a few stunningly beautiful large Amazon parrots and again I was pleased to note big displays about why these long lived birds do not make good pets and how devastating the pet trade is on the wild population especially how many birds die to get one to a pet shop. They included a display on what kind of birds you can have as pets and they recommended only captive bred finches, pigeons and one other domesticated bird.

We also got to some totally new creatures, fresh water rays. We are very familiar with rays from Gulf Specimen Marine Lab but I had no idea there were lovely and beautifully patterned fresh water rays in the Amazon. I love finding out completely new things. We got there for feeding time and I also learned they have a vigorous breeding program. All the animals on display are females. Males are kept in the research areas and used for spawning. This ensures there is no cross breeding between the brightly patterned species types. As is so often the case, the guy doing the feeding knew an enormous amount about the creatures he cares for even if he was not one of the resident scientists.

The rain forest pyramid is set up so that you enter at the top of the canopy and spiral around and down to finally reach the forest floor. At each section there is something special featured. One section had lovely bright orange birds who are very tame and happily pose to the camera. There was section full of butterflies, insects raised right here at Moody Gardens. We saw a pair of monkeys and I got to see a tropical rain forest bat almost as big as my house cat. We have bats at home but they are tiny little mouse sized brown bats so it was fascinating to see these really big ones.

Near ground level they had a lot of pools and streams and waterfalls with fish and turtles in the tanks. The water seemed to be really clear and high quality and the animals looked very well cared for. We even saw some axolotls in sparkling good health. And so I am glad I went. it was well worth the mere $10 we were charged.

Galveston Historical Section Walk

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This is the dog sculpture. The tree had grown around the fence but the hurricane took it down. The paws of the dog replicate the way the tree had once grown over the fence. Many of the sculptures also had whimsical holiday additions.

There are a lot of things to do and to see in Galveston. One I can highly recommend is the historical homes walk. I got the idea from my absolute favourite RV blogger Ingrid at Live Love Laugh who posted about it in one of her blogs. There are many ways to do the walk. There is a company with a lovely open bus with padded seats where you can sit and you are driven around to see every site. We chose the cheap one, the self guided walking tour. The full distance of the walk is five miles. We started at the Galveston visitors centre, a move I highly recommend, and left with two pamphlets. One is a map of all the historical points of interest and one is a map of special tree sculptures.

The tree sculptures have a special history. In 2008 Galveston was flooded and damaged by hurricane Ike which landed as a category 2, near to category 3. Many homeowners lost beloved giant trees. Some of the homeowners arranged to have artists come in and carve the stumps and denuded skeletons in beautiful wood carved memorials.

Each historical house also has a sign explaining who built the house, why it is considered historical and information on the style of the building. One of the things that makes Galveston architecture so interesting is new European immigrants brought their home building styles with them and so you end up with Italian and German and English houses beside each other.

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The homeowners in the historical area take their responsibility very seriously and the majority of the homes were beautifully maintained and had gorgeous yards. A large part of the pleasure of the walk is enjoying the gardens. And many of the homeowners were out and they were all friendly and happy to chat with the tourists.

The walk took us about two and half hours because we took in so much and we quit halfway through. If you enjoy such things I recommend doing it in two sections. Best of all, it’s free!

Having Fun in Galveston

We’ve been having great fun in Galveston. It is very much a “tourist trap” place. The old historical centre is absolutely chock full of silly things to clutter your home and waste a lot of money on. Still it’s great fun to shop. And we did shop until we dropped. We just didn’t buy anything. Well that’s not true. We bought table salt, baking soda, and white sugar which I somehow forgot to pack when we left Alonsa but I don’t think that counts. Okay, so Galvaston merchants aren’t going to make a lot on us. One thing I was very sorry about was missing the Dicken’s festival held every year in the first weekend of December. Imagine our delight to find that due to a bad rainstorm the previous weekend, the festival had been postponed so we got to go anyway! We had so much fun. it was a visual feast of people in costume and doing Dicken’s England “things”. In addition to straight up period costumes in exquisite detail there were also a large number of Steampunk Victorians and other marginally correct folks but it was all in good fun. There were many food vendors selling everything from funnel cake to grilled alligator. We wandering the place feasting on the sights sounds and smells and, I am proud to say, not spending any more money than the $8 entry fee. What a pleasure!

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