Adios, Texas

Fourteen days after crossing into Texas from New Mexico, we’ll finally be crossing into Louisiana tomorrow.  Whew!  It’s been a marathon trek .  Seeing the Whooping Cranes at Goose Island was definitely a highpoint – the RV park in Ft. Stockton was a big low.  Lots of middle ground.

Leaving Hill Country (Austin area), we headed for Galveston Island State Park.  In the three years that we’ve wandered around in the Fireball, this is the only place we’ve returned to each year (with the exception of our favorite camping spot in Michigan).  Hard to pinpoint the reason for this, other than it’s the perfect storm of history, fabulous scenery, cycling, and food.  We enjoy moseying around the beach.  I was told that these holes may be hermit crabs.  Further research says (maybe) ghost crabs.  In any case, they are curious….(I put the penny down for size in photo #2)20150316_19261320150316_192059For this first time, though, we were unable to camp on the Gulf.  For us, it’s amazing to be camped right on the Gulf of Mexico, where we can hear the surf pounding all night long.  But, it’s Spring Break, and we didn’t make reservations early enough.  So, we were forced into a spot on the Bayside Loop, which actually should have been pretty great.20150316_142407Except it wasn’t.  It was a HIKE, (or actually a bike ride) to the bathroom/shower.  We rely on campground facilities for these needs.  It was a long way away from our spot.  There are no firepits at the campsites. The mosquitos were ridiculous!  No fault of the State Park, but we were bombarded!! Even with all of our best pest-protection in place, we had dozens of blood sucking pests inside all night.  My feet and legs are a mass of welts.  The Fireball ceiling is a bloodbath (where we thought we were carefully plucking mosquitoes off, but actually smashing them into the fabric that covers the ceiling.)  Hopefully, the blood is our own.  Can’t want to get home to get this cleaned up properly.  Ugh.  We did have some nice views, though.20150316_191717BUT, although it was a soggy, wet campground, it’s still Galveston.  We decided to cycle down the beach into town.  It’s about 15 miles.  The beach is lively.  There are access points for cars, and folks are pulled up right to the surf.  Radios are blasting, and there’s a lot of bikinis-babes and muscled-up young men working their magic on each other.  Riding directly on the beach is a treat.  We don’t get that chance very often.

Sand art abounds.  A tiny young girl (about 7 years old) had just finished this when I rolled past.20150317_123656 Another guy was finishing his tribute to a friend who had drowned nearby.20150317_12420820150317_124126 There’s something for everybody here.20150317_124850We wandered around through the historic area, the touristy area, and the not-so-desirable area.  All fun to see.We couldn’t help ourselves, so we stopped for takeout ribs at our favorite BBQ joint from last year.20150317_154436(Sorry, Leon….the Austin folks have you beat.). You still rock, though.

We may need a Barbecue Intervention.20150317_191421 As we turned toward camp, the fog was rolling in.  It got chilly in a hurry, and the cycling turned from a fun romp into a slog.  It was REALLY thick.20150317_16081920150317_162539Leaving Galveston the following morning (on the ferry), we headed to Village Creek State Park in Lumberton, TX.  These will be our last two nights in Texas.  We’ve chosen this site because it’s about the only spot to camp between Galveston, and the next place we WANT to be – New Iberia, LA.

This State Park was a pleasant surprise.  It’s located right near the center of a small town.  The park itself isn’t anything special, but it is relatively new (about 20 years old).  Campsites are level – we have a firepit.20150318_184440 There are trails, although most are under water.  The map they gave us at checkin has the closed trails marked.20150318_160016

We need firewood, so I cycle into town to see what’s available.  Wow!  Huge bags!  I do love carrying a bunch of stuff on my bike, but this taxed me to my limit. It wasn’t the weight so much, as the fact that I only had one bungee cord.  One of the workers at the grocery story offered to give me a ride to camp (“I’m into overtime, so I punch out for a few minutes to give you a ride”).  Can you believe that?  20150318_154936After crossing some bumpy railroad tracks, my load shifted.  I rode into camp, holding on to the bag, behind my back, with my right hand, trying to keep the wood out of my spokes.  (John owes me for this one!)

The best thing about camping in Lumberton, TX is that we are only 20 miles down the road from The Big Thicket, a National Preserve.  The Thicket is an area where several divergent ecosystems converge – cypress swamps and pine forests.  The westernmost slopeforest and arid sandylands.  All in a relatively small area.  After a stop at the Visitors’ Center, we decided to hike the Kirby Nature Trail, Cypress Loop, and the Sandhill Loop.  The heavy, overcast air seemed to kill any photographic light, but we still saw some gorgeous landscapes.  20150319_12231920150319_132052There was a deciduous holly tree that with a very unusual bark that really caught my eye.  I couldn’t quite get close enough….it was alive with color, although I’m not sure if the red spots were natural coloring, or a lichen or growth that lived on the tree.  20150319_12362020150319_12373420150319_123747We saw a turtle, and the tiniest little snake I’ve ever seen (about 4″ long, and about as big around as an earthworm).  The mud was impressive, from recent rains.  Other hikers turned back – we slogged ahead (happy to have our boots on!)

The fungal growths on this sawn tree were unusual in their patterns.20150319_134223One of the big mysteries we saw were the giant mound of leaf-cutter anthills.  One colony, off by itself, was crazy with ants carrying green leaves OUT of the mound.  We couldn’t figure it out – stood there and watched – yep….the leaves were coming out, not going in.  YOu can see a few of the red ants if you look closely.  Their ability to carry these large leaf pieces is impressive.20150319_135033Just a ways down the trail was an entire village of mounds.  But these did not have the leaves being moved outside.  Instead, the ants were carrying other insects in, and moving pieces of sand/ground matter out.  This was the only spot along five miles of trail where we saw any anthills.20150319_135802The other aspect of life in East Texas that really intrigued me was the Loblolly Pine.  These huge pines grow straight up, and have needles only at the very top.20150319_134652The needles are HUGE – probably 12″-14″ in length.  They grow in clumps of 3.20150319_152445We enjoyed wandering around the Trails in this unique area for several hours.  The heat and humidity were quite unexpected, though.  Down in the swamp, there was zero moving air.  I had doused myself with bug spray in anticipation of an attack, and was surprised that we found no mosquitos in the area.  Guess they are all in Galveston.

So, tomorrow morning we head off for New Iberia, LA.  Fans of author James Lee Burke will understand why we are headed there.  (For those of you who may listen to audio books while traveling, I have to say that his Dave Robicheaux mysteries are the bomb!  The reader Will Patton is incredible).

See ya, Texas!  We sure made good use of our $70 State Park pass!

Austin, Big Birds and Big Trees

Meat sweats.  Perhaps that’s the technical term for what we’ve been experiencing after four days of Hill Country Brisket Pursuit.  Can’t look a cow in the eye anymore, and I’m craving salad, or things that crunch.  The BBQ Bus can pass right on by – I’m done!

We tried to make the most of our time in Austin, but honestly, Day 3 was a bust.  We were just bagged out, and wanted nothing more than to lay around with books.  Strolled around the three-mile campground loop with Jezzy, and waited for the BBQ hour to strike.  About 2pm, John announced that Vic’s BBQ would be out strike for the day.  We roused ourselves from a meat-induced stupor, dragged our bikes out from under the tarp which kept the intermittent rain from making the saddles wet and nasty, and headed off for a late lunch.  John enjoyed ribs/brisket, and I sampled sausage/chicken.  It was good, and the coleslaw was magnificent.  Vic’s is not a fancy location by any means – right on the corner where we pushed the pickup truck the previous day.  But, Vic really knows how to smoke meat.  In spite of our good intentions to just QUIT, we did get a few bones to take back for snacks later.  We may both need Twelve Step Programs when we get home.

Day 4 was our day of reckoning.  This was to be our last day in Austin, and we still hadn’t really seen much of the town yet.  Our agenda included the LBJ Presidential Library/Museum, the State Capitol building, and some kind of beer/BBQ joint for lunch.  Compared to our previous days, it was an ambitious agenda.

The LBJ Library, on the campus of the University of TX was an interesting way to spend a morning.20150312_124801 20150312_125214Until this past week, I probably haven’t given LBJ ten minutes of thought in the past 40 years.  Although I know he ‘inherited’ Vietnam, in my mind, it was HIS war.  So, it was so unexpected for me to see this sympathetic view of him – hearing him say, “I can’t get out (of Vietnam), and I can’t win it with what I’ve got.”   It’s been on my mind since we were there.  Hard to believe that his domestic legacy has to be trashed by a lousy, ill-advised war.  (just my opinion – we can argue all day about that).  Protests during his Administration were legendary.

What was interesting to learn that LBJ was a freshman congressman in the 1930s, and was an ardent FDR supporter.  His Great Society plan was intended to pick up and finish what the New Deal left undone.20150312_132135 He signed the Civil Rights Acts of 1964 and 1968.  Check out this photo from a protest about that.20150312_131123 Thurgood Marshall was appointed the first African American Justice of the Supreme Court by LBJ.  He created Head Start, Medicare, and Medicaid, and signed the Immigration Act of 1965, which liberalized immigration policy for non-Europeans.  He signed more bills into law than any other President (other than FDR), in spite of being in office only five years.  It would be easy to spend hours at the Library – I can’t wait to visit other Presidential Libraries – this was my first one.

We left the Library with more information about LBJ as an individual than we had ever considered.  Isn’t that the point of a visit like this?  He apparently didn’t hesitate to go nose to nose with anyone to reinforce an opinion, or solicit a vote.  But, John decided to give ol’ LBJ a Crankshaw Cranium Crushing.  20150312_140202While cycling up a big hill to UT, we passed a cemetery which had several large and distinctive grave markers visible from the street.  We stopped to investigate.  This was the Texas State Cemetery, where all the Who’s Who of Texas seem to be buried.  20150312_121944 20150312_121909 20150312_12174820150312_121644 There are dozens of familiar names.  The most interesting marker, though is that of General Albert Sidney Johnston,of the Confederate Army, killed at Shiloh in April 1962.20150312_121158It’s a beautiful and peaceful spot in central Austin.

Next on our agenda was the State Capitol building.  From our vantage point on the hill at the cemetery, we could see the oddly colored dome.  The trick was to find a bicycle-friendly route to get there in midday traffic.  Yowza!  But, since I’m here to relate the story, you can surmise a happy ending to our ride.

It’s impressive. This shot looks up into the dome. 20150312_14342920150312_144601But, the outside is painted a very unappealing color.  We dubbed it Benjamin Moore Oil Sludge Tan.  It’s awful.20150312_150601On our way out, a large group had gathered just inside the entrance to protest the Governor’s stance on deporting parents of Dreamers (Dreamers are children, born in the US, to parents who who do not have legal immigration status)20150312_145121 The protest, although orderly, was loud.  It attracted little attention though, leading us to believe that this may be a fairly usual occurance in Austin.  Cops entered, we exited.20150312_145558We made a quick stop at the Stevie Ray Vaughan statue.  Loved his music, always.20150312_160925Black’s BBQ was our lunch stop.  Good, not the best (sausage ROCKED, though).  Long ride back to camp to cap a terrific four days.

On to Goose Island State Park, along the east coast of Texas.  We’re headed there on the recommendation of blogs we’ve read, and also on the advice of Glen and Caite, with whom we shared a beer and a campfire while in Austin.  With all the Spring Break camping traffic, we felt lucky to snag a site for three nights.

Not only is Goose Island home to the Texas Big Tree, a Live Oak estimated to be nearly 1100 years old.  It’s over 35′ in circumference, and is impressive in a sprawly, majestic manner.  I wished for something to be at the base to help with the scale of this massive tree.  The photos really don’t do it justice.20150315_08130720150315_081645The Live Oaks in this area are a real curiosity.  Along the Gulf Shore, there’s a spot where they are all severely bent over – away from the Gulf.  There’s speculation that it’s due to gravity or wind, but the cause is unknown.  It’s gorgeous, though.20150315_14433820150315_144429One of the real draws of this area though is that it’s near the Aransas Wildlife Refuge, where the 500 Whooping Cranes in existence winter.  We were fortunate to see maybe a dozen of them, in flight and on the ground.  They are the tallest birds in North America, and are a stunning white with black wingtips.  In flight, they are unmistakable.  Near the State Park, there’s a farm with a large field where several of the Whoopers congregate every day.  We cycled over at various times to see them.  With such a small number in existence (although this is a HUGE increase in the past years), we were thrilled to hear and see perhaps 20 different birds, on the ground, and in the air.  One of the other highly visible residents of this area is the Turkey Vulture.  They are everywhere!  Circling, and reminding me not to move too slowly.  20150315_080846There are also Ospreys, elegant and fierce hunters.  We were treated to a shouting contest between Great Horned Owls one night.  After about a half-hour, they both left.

On the waterfront, the pelicans rule.  20150314_17520520150314_175139In Texas State Parks with a river or water source, you can fish without getting a fishing license.  This is a huge attraction, and makes for many restful opportunities.20150314_12334020150314_10291220150314_124540Needless to say, we loved our stay at Goose Island.  We made a new T@B friend, Liz from Wyoming.  She’s a free spirited artist, and we loved sharing dinner and stories over a campfire with her one evening.

Just a few little Texas-y things though…….

We made a trip into Rockport, TX from Goose Island. This involves travleling over a long bridge which spans the Causeway.  The road is two-way traffic, with hardly any room on each side between the roadway and the guardrail.  We crossed behind a Sheriff’s car.  The suddenly braked, and the Deputy on the passenger side got out of the car and picked up a big piece of metal trash which was in the narrow space between road/rail.  We figured he would put it in the trunk of the cruise.  Hope!  He chucked it over the rail into the water!  Did he look to see if there was a boater or fisherman nearby?  Nope!  Could have been ugly!

I’ve got poison ivy, plus 300 mosquito bites (give or take a few).

Don’t know about this Texas drought thing.  We’re encountering rain wherever we go.  For example, how do you like this picnic area at Galveston Island SP, where we’re currently staying?wpid-20150316_154857.jpgHope your snow is melting wherever you are.  We are pushing toward home, but not too quickly!