Archive | December 2011

Wildlife on the Texas Coast

October 27, 2010

Miles 7901-8080

Padre Island, TX to Aransas National Wildlife Refuge, TX

After leaving Padre Island, I headed north up the coast, stopping for seafood in a small town.  Unfortunately, their bay wasn’t opening for oyster harvest until the coming weekend, but I got to sample some other local specialties, with a side of hush puppies.

Fresh water at Aransas

That afternoon, I got to Aransas National Wildlife Refuge, where I was hoping to spot some of the early Whooping Crane arrivals.  While one pair had indeed arrived that week, they were staying deep in the refuge, in an area inaccessible by the casual visitor (as I was).  I drove the loop road, though, and got out to walk at every opportunity.  With the continued strong winds, only larger birds were flying, and they were staying low.  From an observation tower, I got to watch ospreys fish in the ocean and herons on the adjacent flats.  And… I came across a few alligators!  It was a fun experience, but I’d like to go back sometime when the rest of the birds are aloft…

Green Heron

Great Blue Herons at Aransas NWR

Heron bathing in the Gulf

A variety of habitats

Swimming in the Gulf!

October 26-27

Goliad, TX to Padre Island, TX

7866-7908

After passing through the revolutionary towns of central eastern Texas, I made my way through Corpus Christi and out to Padre Island.  I could feel the humidity and salt in the air by the time I got to Corpus – but all I saw there was traffic and bright signs!  Padre Island seemed like more of the same, with a few fancy tourist resorts, until I got into the National Park.  There, the subdivisions and flashy billboards gave way to seemingly endless sand plains covered with dune grasses.  Padre Island National Park preserves 60 miles of undeveloped white sand frontage in a barrier island on the Gulf of Mexico for wildlife habitat.  This is Texas, thought, don’t forget, and in Texas beaches are considered public highways below the ordinary high water line.    Yep, you can drive the whole beach (and back – there’s no crossing at the south end), if you don’t get stuck… and remember to watch out for endangered sea turtles!  There is a section of beach at the park that is reserved for swimmers and wildlife watchers, though, and I went there to take a dip.

An offshore oil rig looms in the fog east of Padre Island

Pelicans at Padre Island NP

It was too windy to lie out on the sand, so I swam for a bit amid the jellyfish and crabs.  It was really more body-surfing than swimming, due to the waves and wind, but pretty nice to be swimming in the ocean at the end of October!  I walked on the beach, watching the ghost crabs on the short, and the pelicans swooping low to catch their dinner.  I decided to camp out on the beach rather than paying for a spot in the crowded (and paved) campground, so I headed down to the public roadway section.

Only the northern 4 miles or so are passable with a 2-WD vehicle… and with the low clearance on my over-packed Camry, I didn’t venture more than a few hundred yards.   It was so windy that I knew my tent would be a hassle all night, and the balmy temperature (and romantic notions of sleeping next to the ocean) convinced me that it would be a good idea to sleep on the beach.   This turned out to be a horrible idea!  The sand was stuck to me all over, and more kept blowing on me, and the tarp I had spread out also kept blowing around under me.  I was plenty warm in the light sleeping sheet-bag I was in, but my toes were very itchy.  At first I thought it was the sand and salt, then thought of sand fleas or some other such creature, but after an hour or so of torment I realized that it was mosquitoes.  I sprayed my feet thoroughly with DEET, but it only seemed to keep them off for about five minutes.  After another hour or so of this, I gave up and got into the car to try sleeping for the rest of the night!  The wind increased in force as the night went on, until the gusts were shaking my sturdy car.  As soon as it was light, I drove off the beach, afraid that the sand would blow across the tracks made by vehicles the day before and that I would be stranded.

From my "campsite"

Pelicans at sunset

Sunset over the dunes

The Texas Revolution

Mission Espiritu Santo and the town of Goliad, TX, viewed from the Presidio La Bahia

October 25-26, 2010

Miles 7680-7866

Austin, TX to Corpus Christi, TX

En route from Austin to the coast, I passed through a region of great historical significance.  The small towns of Gonzalez and Goliad were key locations in the Texas Revolution’s battle for independence.

Gonzalez, along the Guadalupe River, was first established as a an American land grant colony within the Mexican state of Texas.  The settlers were given a canon by their Spanish rulers, in order to protect

Gonzalez, TX

the colony and the frontier from Indian attacks.  Ten years later, when revolutionary sentiment against the Mexican General Santa Anna began to circulate among the American-born Texans, the dictatorial government felt it prudent to take that means of defense back.  The people of Gonzalez raised a flag and a resistance, declaring “Come and Take It!”  In October of 1835, ten revolutionaries successfully fought off hundreds of Spanish troops, and retained their canon.  It now resides in the historical museum in Gonzalez, along with many other artifacts of the time, well-defended by a conscientious curator who is more than happy to dispense stories of Texas’s revolutionary period.

Later that same year, “Texians” took control of the Presidio (fort) of La Bahia, outside of Goliad, and began the siege of San

Presidio La Bahia, near Goliad, TX

Antonio.  However, in March of 1836, the revolutionary Texians received a set-back when they were defeated at The Alamo (which I did not get to in my travels), and a retreat began.  En route, they set fire to the towns they passed through, including Gonzalez.  Just outside of Goliad, Mexican troops

At La Bahia

caught up with the Texians, and a group of men led by Col. James Fannin surrendered.  Rather than being detained as prisoners of war, they were all executed the following day, which caused significant resentment among the revolutionaries.   It inspired the remaining troops to greater strength, and on April 21, 1836, with the cry of “Remember Goliad!” they defeated Santa Anna’s Mexican army at San Jacinto.

Gen. Ignacio Zaragoza was born in the Texas Revolutionary town of Goliad, and went on to play a key role in the Cinco de Mayo victory of the Mexican Revolution

The Mission Espiritu Santo has been rebuilt on its Spanish foundations next to Goliad State Park, Goliad TX

The former grounds of the Mission Espiritu Santo

Today, Gonzalez, Goliad, and other East Texas towns are sleepy American hamlets with old-world architecture.  Yet the flags of the revolution continue to fly proudly over them, reminding passers-by of their glorious moment in history.

Bites, Bats, and Bingo

10/22 – 10/25/2010

Detail on the floor of the state capitol building, Austin TX

Austin, TX

I got into Austin late on Thursday afternoon, and my friend Kevin started right in on planning a fun-filled weekend.   I told him that I wanted to see “the bats” while I was in town, and we headed out to see them that very evening.  The Congress Avenue Bridge in downtown Austin is host to the largest urban bat colony in North America, reaching 1.5 million at the peak of the summer season.  These are Mexican free-tailed bats, the same species that I saw at Carlsbad Caverns.  They migrate to Mexico and Central America from approximately November through March, but I was lucky enough to catch them while they were still in town.   At sunset every night, they fly out from their roosts under the bridge and swarm over Lady Bird Lake, looking for insects.  It was pretty neat to see, but not quite as intimate of an experience as at Carlsbad.  Not everyone can say they’ve stood downtown in the Texas state capitol with traffic speeding by and seen hundreds of thousands of bats fly off into the evening, though!  I forgot to take pictures, but luckily some other folks have great videos posted on YouTube:

After checking out the bats, I had the first of many tacos in Austin.  These were delicious fish tacos (from Wahoo’s), which would later on be joined by traditional tacos, and gourmet tacos (El Chilito – gourmet in flavor only; the price and atmosphere are as simple as you can get).  Austin definitely has a lot of good food, and one could probably argue that tacos are its specialty.  That person, however, might get some disagreements from fans of Barbecue, as Austin is located just slightly off of the “Texas Barbecue Trail,” and I had the opportunity to sample some of its finest on a busy Saturday night.  Although good, I have to admit that large chunks of meat are not always my favorite food, so the experience may have been better than the flavor for me.  There seemed to be a crowd there from a nearby wedding, stopping in for a bite between the ceremony and reception, perhaps?

Of course, before getting to Saturday, or Monday for that matter, we have to get through Friday.  In the afternoon, I spent some time relaxing at Barton Springs Pool in Zilker Park.  This is a 3-acre, 1,000-ft.-long pool fed entirely by an underground spring.  The 68-degree temperature of the water was refreshing at first, but a bit chilly as the sun went behind the trees.  As I lay on the grass drying off afterwards, I marveled at the courage of the topless bathers around me – not for baring their breasts in public so much as taking off a layer while I was shivering!   After that, I went out and had a few beers while watching the Texas Rangers vs. SF Giants in the final game of the World Series.  Make that a few too many beers… which may help to explain why I didn’t even remember who won the game!

As a result, Saturday started off somewhat slowly, but I eventually made it out to an Audubon preserve on the outskirts of Austin, where my friend Kevin showed me some of the local flora and explained his research.  After an afternoon hike there, we were ready for the aforementioned barbecue, checking out a couple locales in downtown Austin, and catching a free outdoor show by The Old 97’s.  The evening was even capped off by a stop at the famed Broken Spoke, where I enjoyed the live honky-tonk band and even tried a few horribly-executed two-steps myself!

The highlight of Sunday (after an exhausting game of street hockey) was a visit to Ginny’s Little Longhorn Saloon, a hole-in-the-wall dive bar that just happens to have the world’s greatest Sunday afternoon entertainment.  Dale Watson played excellent classic-style country while simultaneously MC’ing the main attraction: Chickenshit Bingo.  Yes, it is pretty much what it sounds like.  They put a chicken in a cage on top of a board with numbers on it.  If the chicken shits on your number, you win!

Ginny's Little Longhorn Saloon on a packed Sunday afternoon

The winner!

 

Ginny keeps watch on the customers so no one can heckle the chicken

Texas State Capitol, Austin

On Monday I did some of the requisite stuff, like visiting the State Capitol, and had a delicious lunch and nice visit with my friend Lisa.  I realized that I’ve never really toured the whole Wisconsin state capitol, and decided to do more of those “touristy” things once I returned home.

Texas Pride is everywhere

In fact, the return home was almost imminent.  After all, Austin was my last planned stop on the trip.  Before heading north, though, I decided to explore a little more of this great state, and headed for the coast to explore more about Texas history and take a dip in the Gulf of Mexico… topics for future posts!