Saturday, December 30, 2006

Boxing Day at Surfside and my visit to Moody Gardens

Ah, this is more like it. Boxing Day dawned bright and clear. The above sunrise was captured from my front porch. For two days the skies were blue, the beach was beautiful, the sun was warm and Surfside lit up. Lots of new folks have shown up for the holidays. All six of the houses on my street are full and I've see numberous surfer and kite surfers.

I don’t believe I’ve shown any pictures of Bon Ton Roulet, my temporary home here, so I’ve included one with a few pictures of the gulf.

By Thursday, the fog and rain was back so I decided to go over the toll bridge to Galveston and visit Moody Gardens. I think my whole family has visited there, but I always seemed to be at work. I know it is cheating to show pictures of wildlife from inside a pyramid, but I couldn’t resist a few, including the Scarlet Ibis, the national bird of Trinidad and Tobago. Again, I find myself reminiscing about the days we watched hundreds of Scarlet Ibis' in the wild in Trinidad.

Speaking of wildlife, surfers and kite surfers turned up to take advantage of the warmer weather. These kite surfers, viewed from my front porch, were really amazing. These guys were flitting around at amazing speeds, jumping waves and reversing course at will. I wonder how many years of practice it takes to master this sport!?

I'll be leaving here on January 1. Jon and I plan to visit mom and dad in a few days, so in the meantime I'm planning to visit College Station and catch a game or two of Aggie basketball. They are playing great these days, winning their last game 101-27. They must have slacked off in the second half, since the halftime score was 65-13. Ok, I know the competition will pick up, but it looks like they have a real chance to make some noise in basketball for a change.

Football? All I can say is the season is over and Fran returned to the hotseat.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Wilderness Trail at Buffalo Camp Bayou and Brazos Bend State Park

I know I need to stop complaining about the weather here on the Gulf Coast, but after I returned from Stillwater on Sunday we had 3 straight days of heavy fog. This is fog so heavy it is hard to tell whether it is liquid or gas…hard to tell whether it is morning or afternoon. Near the end of the 3 days it seemed to lift a bit and I had decided I would get out if at all possible, so I laced up my boots and gathered my daypack and camera. Just as I got to the door, it began to pour down rain. I was bemoaning my luck when I heard on the news that the price of oil was creeping up because the port of Houston had been closed for 6 days due to fog!!

Fortunately, the rain was ahead of a front which cleared things up for the better part of 2 days, so I was able to do some of the hiking I had been planning. I had discovered the Wilderness Trail between the Brazos river and Buffalo Camp Bayou (no relation to Buffalo Bayou). Amazingly, this trail is on the Texas Birding Trail and is less than a mile from the Target and a major shopping area in Lake Jackson. Due to the rain runoff and a bridge which was out I wasn’t able to hike the entire 8 miles, but it was still a nice hike. There were a huge number of birds, including a red headed woodpecker, but again they escaped the publicity of a decent picture. The above shows Buffalo Camp Bayou and some of the nice scenery along the trail. Interestingly, vegetation on the trail such as the palmetto and spanish moss are reminiscent of the Low Country of South Carolina where I lived back in the 70’s.

Then, on the next day I drove over to Brazos Bend state park. I had visited this park before, but I realized there are a number of nice trails I had not hiked. Above are pictures of the Brazos river and scenery along the White Oak, Bluestem and Hale Lake Loop Trails.

But, I think when you visit Brazos Bend you have to take the 40 Acre Lake Trail, where you are sure to see alligators and other great wildlife, so I visited it again as shown above. I don’t know if it is a death wish or what, but when I see an alligator sunning on the grass near a trail I have an almost irresistible urge to grab him by the tail and see what happens. Hey, we’re in need of a replacement for the Crocodile Hunter, aren’t we?

As for the rest of the wildlife, I don't have a bird book with me so maybe someone could help me identify them. Blue Heron? White Cranes? Black bird with red beak?

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Cool Max Celebrates Christmas on the Texas Coast

I know, a new post is well past due. Sadly, I have done none of the things I usually report in this space. Most of my hiking has been at the mall or the Target parking lot as I shop and try to stay out of the rain. Oh yeah, throw in occasional hikes to the airport parking lot.

I have done a minimal amount of walking on the beach, working around the rain and fog, as shown above. This was taken in the middle of the afternoon last week, but the reality of the fog issue hit me Sunday night as I was returning from Stillwater, Oklahoma. The fog began to gather as I drove through Lake Jackson and became impenetrable as I crossed the bridge to Surfside, right on queue. Not to worry, I’ll catch up on my sleep and by the time I’m up it will have burned off, right? Wrong! By this afternoon the fog was still around. I didn’t take any pictures today, but if I had they would have looked like the ones above. As for wildlife, last week a stray cat followed me down the beach, and today it was a stray dog.

Fortunately, I’ve had better plans. My family visited Surfside and we celebrated Christmas. It was a quiet affair, reflecting my lack of hosting and social skills, but it was good to enjoy the company and catch up. And, I traveled to Stillwater to catch the graduation from Oklahoma State of my adopted son, Jay. It was great to see the first of “the boys” graduate and I got to spend some time with my son Jon as we traveled.

I did have a couple of nice days on which to be Joe Cool and catch a few rays. Hiking the Rockies did nothing for my tan! I had to borrow sunglasses someone left in my car (Thanks, Mike.), since the flip-ups I normally wear over my prescription glasses don’t register on the cool scale. Here’s hoping for some more nice weather, although the weather man seems to be indicating it will get worse before it gets better. I knew it wasn’t July, but I was hoping for more sun and less chilly wind and moisture.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Surfside Texas

Apparently, I miscalculated somehow. My thinking was that I would stay in the hill country through the fall colors and then move south to the gulf coast where it would be warmer. But while the thermometer says it is 10-20 degrees warmer here in Surfside(at least for the night time lows), the humidity and wind more than make up the difference. And the uninsulated tile and hardwood floors and porous windows on the house I rented don’t help. So, if you are coming to visit, don’t forget your warm fuzzy slippers and a jacket. Ok, I know an artic front blew in a couple of days before I left Bandera and has hung around and I’ve been under the weather for the couple of days I’ve been here. Is it just cold or did I have a fever? I suspect it may have been a little of each.

Anyway, I’m feeling better now. Surfside is very quiet, with most of the houses being rental houses and almost all of them empty. I did get dressed up warm enough this morning to take a nice walk on the beach and take these pictures looking east and west down the beach in front of my house.

The positive side to the weather is that the beaches are nearly deserted. In an hour of walking I saw only one other person, who quickly walked out to the beach and turned around immediately and went back inside. Seemed very strange until I reached the area and realized they had thrown out some bread and the gulls and other birds were quickly gathering. Seems the birds greatly outnumber the people on the beach at this time of year. Although, on the first night I was here there was a group of about 10-12 people who had built a big bonfire on the beach and were standing around soaking up the warm. It looked like a lot of fun, but I was unsuccessful in taking a decent picture of it.

Above are pictures from my front porch. I’m the last house on the east end of Surfside, and these pictures are of the beach, dunes and vegetation looking east. Unfortunately, I am immediately behind another house which obscures the direct view of the beach so I’ll have to settle for the oblique views.

Finally the crossover to the beach in front of my house. Accesses to the beach, for both people and cars, are everywhere here, but I thought this one made a nice picture.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Farewell Texas Hill Country, Hello Freeport/Surfside

This is my last post from the Texas Hill Country. Tomorrow I pack up and head for Surfside. I have very much enjoyed my time here in Bandera, but even so I am looking forward to some new experiences on the Gulf Coast. Before I leave I wanted to show a few pictures of the Hill Country from the last few days.

Last week I visited the Hill Country State park again and took the above picture of the old ranch house at the entrance to the park. Then I took several trails further West in the park, which are the more rugged areas. The following were from Cougar Canyon overlook.

Also, I noticed over the past few days that Cool Water Acres has undergone a transition in colors since I've been here. When I arrived the cypress were in full color, but little else was changing. Now, the cypress are nearly defoliated and the spanish oak are a brilliant red and the pecan/hickory and other trees have turned yellow. So, for your enjoyment I'm including a couple more pictures from here on the place where I've continued to enjoy hikes despite the fact that I've been over all the trails many times.

Also, on Sunday night I decided to visit a church in Utopia that I had seen when I visited Garner State park. I was invited to dinner with several members at the Lost Maples cafe and had a great visit with Christians both at church and at the cafe. I plan on visiting again for an old fashioned singing tomorrow evening. On the way I couldn't resist stopping to take this picture of the scenic road near Utopia.

Today I visited Kerrville and Fredericksburg. I took a short hike along the Gualalupe river near Kerrville and took this picture of a small waterfall over a dam and the picture below of the trail.

One of the more amazing things here is the wildlife...deer, wild pigs, armadillos, etc. I've seen axis, llama and even a buffalo. I've even seen a few woodpeckers with partially red heads. I think of them all as redheaded woodpeckers, but according to a bird book I found around the place they may officially be ladder backs. Amazingly, they always seem to avoid getting caught in a decent photo. But probably the funniest is this ostrich (I think) which was strolling along highway 16 between Medina and Kerrville this afternoon.

I hope everyone is doing well and if all goes according to plan I will weigh in soon with a post from Surfside, although I won't have full time internet access as I've had here.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Bandera City Park at Medina River

I had driven past the City Park in Bandera several times. I noticed it looked nice, but had not taken the time to visit. Today I was in town for an oil change and groceries and decided to take a look. It was a pleasant surprise... Despite the fact that Bandera was bumper to bumper with hunters and bikers, the park was very quiet and relaxing. There were just a few people fishing and a couple of hikers, and the park turned out to be surprising in size and scenery. It runs a half mile or more down the Medina river, with 2'-4' diameter cypress trees lining the banks. As I looked down from the banks I could clearly see the bottom 6-8' down through the blue green water. Here are a sampling of the views:

I thought my walkabout was about seeing things I've never seen and certainly there is some of that. But, amazingly, a big part of it is reliving my younger days. Here is an example of that...a rope swing. When I was a kid they were fairly common, but I haven't seen one in years. And yet, here in City Park there were several. You'll see the steps up the tree in the foreground, but that is just for beginners. Look carefully across the river and you will see a much taller tree with steps and a crude platform about 20' high hanging out over the river. From that point I can imagine quite a ride along the length of the river.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Medina River, Forest Fire, Utopia and Garner State Park

I was out driving south of Bandera a couple of days ago looking for hikes along the Medina River. I didn't find anything, but just after I took this picture of the river I noticed there was a forest fire just up the hill. It was pretty scary, since it has been dry here and and the a dry NW wind was blowing about 30 mph from a front which came through the night before. I was there before the fire department, although they showed up a couple of minutes later. The fire was amazing, going from a small fire to a huge one within just a few minutes. The small local volunteer firefighters apparently battled it all day and eventually got it out with the help of helicopters.

Today I finally pulled myself up by my bootstraps and headed over to Garner state park. I went through Utopia about noon and spent the afternoon hiking at the park. I started by taking the Old Baldy trail to the top of the mountain shown here, from the bottom and a few views from the top.

Then I hiked past George's Patio overlook and down the Bridges trail. I assumed there must be some spectacular bridges, but I didn't see anything like that. Maybe it was named after someone named Bridges. Anyway, here are some photos from the trail.

Then I took the Madronas trail along the Frio River and the Bird trail up to rock cave.

Garner was on my list to see, but I was a bit discouraged by Shannon's unfavorable comparison to Hill Country SNA. I enjoyed some nice hiking and found it very nice, although if you are looking for quiet nature I could see Hill Country would be better. Garner is very developed, with several huge campgrounds, shelters, cabins. It has a couple of stores, volleyball courts, tube rentals, etc. Obviously it is pretty much oriented to recreation on the Frio river and so was pretty quiet at this time of year, in contrast to the summer months.