Aliens and Unreal Landscapes

It’s been an interesting week. Since leaving the green altitudes of Datil Wells, we’ve been camping in State Parks in New Mexico and Texas. Our camping preferences run like this…1) National Parks, 2) National Forests, 3) State Forests, 4) State Parks/County Parks,   5) Everything else. 6) If we are truly desperate, a parking lot like Walmart or Cracker Barrel (although we’ve never had to resort to that yet). We LOVE pulling into a new-to-us campground for the first time – the anticipation of finding the perfect campsite is always lurking around the next curve.

So, it was with great anticipation that we pulled into Bottomless Lakes Campground near Roswell, NM. 20170417_19154720170418_083819Of course, we wanted to investigate all the UFO business that has been Roswell’s calling card for 70 years. And, we anticipated a really deep series of lakes. Um, not exactly.

“Bottomless” refers to the fact that there are sinkholes here, caused by an underground river. Instead of deep lakes, we found a shallow, swampy chain of lakes, which had an appropriately swampy aroma, and swarms of flies to accompany same. (They nearly drove me insane!) One lake, on which our campground was situated, had enough water to have a picnic/pavillion/swimming area. But, we arrived shortly after Easter weekend, and this area was trashed! After two days, it still had not been cleaned up (same case with the bathroom/showers). Disgraceful. There was crap everywhere!

Roswell is all about UFOs.20170418_10571920170418_110804 There was a reported UFO landing in 1947, which has spawned an entire industry – movies, a museum, and multiple investigations. 20170418_10354720170418_165838Did it happen? Will we ever really know? But, the UFO Museum and Research Center has all the information for you to make your own decision.20170418_10475320170418_10562120170418_11045920170418_170354We spent a couple hours there, reading all the newspaper articles and looking at the photos. It’s all about self-promotion, and selling souviners. John bought an alien fly swatter, in the vain hope of helping to quash to invasion at the campground. We hiked, and wandered around a bit and enjoyed a bit of free WiFi in the campground – a rarity. After two days, it was time to move on.

Ever since our first trip into Palo Duro State Park several years ago, we’ve wanted to return, so we booked a four-night reservation. Sadly, we didn’t get into the campground we had hoped for (full). But, we were assured that this would change later this year, when TX State Park Reservations will allow visitors to make site-specific reservations. As it stands now, you can only make a ‘reservation’, and you’re assigned a site when you get there. We were lucky to get a  pretty decent site anyway. Next year, we’ll get the one we want.

Palo Duro Canyon is called the Little Grand Canyon, as it’s the second largest canyon west of the Mississippi.20170421_13585820170421_135823 It’s spectacular, and mid-April is a gorgeous time to visit. Trees are budding, everything is greening up, and it’s generally pleasant. Two out of our four days did touch 90 degrees (unexpected), but the nights were cool and comfortable. We explored the Park on two great hikes – the Lighthouse Trail was the first.20170420_104953-120170420_105838 This unusual hoodoo is tucked away three miles from the roadway, so the only way to see it is to hike (or bike) in. It’s well worth the effort, which was really minor in the scheme of things).

We also did the Rock Garden hike, another six-mile round trip, which extends from the canyon floor to the rim, through an amazing boulder field. 20170422_13433220170424_10445320170422_114800It really taxes my imagination to  see all these enormous boulders strewn around. Did it all happen in one big explosion, or over the course of thousands (or millions) of years? It’s a crazy feeling to wander through this rock field, as we crawled up toward the canyon rim, about 700 feet above.

We spent the rest of our time cycling around, exploring the nearby town of Canyon, and generally just hanging out, wondering at the beauty of this unexpected place in Texas. At the Visitor Center though, we were taken aback by the appearance of Darth Vader in a diorama with big-horned sheep. 20170421_140955What’s with that? It was in a back corner, and it occurred to us that it might have been placed there by a rogue State Park employee. I was also taken aback by this Unidentified TSM (Texas-sized Moth) which was hanging out in the women’s shower. Yikes!I had to run back and get my camera to get this photo.20170422_202408 (I really didn’t need to rush – he was in the same spot for two days!)

Our last two days have been in Copper Breaks State Park – we are really making the best use of our annual Texas State Park Annual Pass. Breaks refers to the splits in the ground here, which result in a red ‘mini-canyon’ about 50-60′ deep. The surrounding area is absolutely flat. 20170424_134905Although there isn’t a lot happening around here, this is a very pleasant campground, with great spacing between sites and crazy helmetlike shelters over each picnic table. 20170424_195354We are especially pleasant to have nabbed a site with a shade tree. Although it’s been hot – nearly 90 today, we can sit in the shade and breeze and thoroughly enjoy being outside. (As I write this, it’s 9pm, and there’s a coyote party going on not too far away).  We cycled the entire Park, and hiked a few of the trails, although there’s nothing really spectacular to see here. Probably the highlight of the hikes was this former shoreline, preserved in rock, a long way from any current water. 20170424_135203This is the kind of stuff we really love to stumble across on any hike.

Tomorrow we head into Oklahoma. We want to escape any serious prolonged heat, so we’re creeping north a bit. The weather forecast for the upcoming weekend looks dangerous in the Oklahoma/Arkansas area, so we’re going to have to be willing to change plans on the fly if necessary.

Big Bending

We’ve been in Texas so long already, that we might quite possibly be honorary citizens by now. Our plastic 2017 Texas State Parks pass already has the greasy patina a of a well-traveled credit card.

Leaving Laredo, the Grand Plan was to head to Big Bend National Park. That’s three days of travel, since we tend to move less like roadrunners, and more like armadillos when we are camping.  (A bit of Texas metaphor for you!)

Our first overnight was Garner State Park.wp-1485118480143.jpg We arrived early enough to take a pleasant four mile hike, and view this lovely State Park from an aerial perch.wp-1484679875709.jpgwp-1484679862102.jpg Part of the walk was through a juniper forest, where most of the trees were 10-12 feet high. I had the unusual (and quite pleasing) feeling of being a kid in a kid-sized forest. I liked it a lot.The park was quiet, the aging restrooms clean but unloved. For us, it was a good stop.

A change in plans found us happily stopping for a night at Seminole Canyon State Park, a repeat visit from our swing through this area four years ago. We had a pleasant campsite, and had enough time for a hike with Jezzy along the rim of this beautiful canyon.wp-1485118366645.jpgwp-1485118306292.jpg I loved the sculpture that overlooks the canyon from the Visitor Center. wp-1485118412159.jpg It celebrates the many petroglyphs which decorate the canyon walls here, and along the Pecos River Valley. There are enough hikes and sights here to easily keep a traveler happy for an additional day or two.

Ahhhhh, Big Bend. This isn’t a National Park anyone is just going to stumble upon. It’s remote, and big enough that it requires a full day just to travel from end to end to catch some of the popular sights. Our plan was to make the Chisos Basin campground (the highest at 5400′), our home for three nights, then move on for two nights to the Cottonwood Campground on the western end of the Park. But, we managed to grab a spectacular campsite at Chisos, and couldn’t bear to vacate, so we stayed for five nights. wp-1485118197936.jpgwp-1485118116433.jpgNo regrets at all about that choice.

Our first hike was to The Window, which combined a walk down through the bottom of the Basin with a gradual climb up a spectacular rocky canyon.wp-1485118178885.jpg Steps carved into the steep sides by the CCC in the 1930s made this a hike that anyone with even a moderate level of fitness could accomplish.wp-1485118160216.jpg The The Window at the end is the reward for your labors -a narrow keyhole which provides a grand view to the desolate valley below. wp-1485118149785.jpg We didn’t venture too close to the steep edge – the shiny patina on the rock was plenty of warning that footing was likely to be treacherous. We detoured on the way back to an overlook that provided not only spectacular views, but also a bit of unexpected cell service at a high peak. (There’s WiFi at the Visitor Centers, but no cell signal in the Park at all. In addition, we also couldn’t find any English-speaking radio stations – a blessing on inauguration day).This was a great hike – probably only 6-7 miles total, but packed with grandiose views.

We decided to haul out the bikes for the next day and do a Crankshaw Triathlon – truck, bike, hike.We drove down the steep switchbacked road from camp to a spot near Grapevine Road, a 7-mile gravel washboard, which would deposit us at the trailhead to Balanced Rock. The panniers on my bike were bulging with our hiking boots, extra water, lunch, and snacks. The ride to the trailhead was a nightmare! Grapevine Road runs downhill for these seven miles, and the bright sunlight on the white gravel made it impossible to see (and avoid) the worst of the ruts. Oh, it was a painful ride. When we arrived at the trailhead, I actually had to pry my fingers from their deathgrip on the bars. wp-1485118085914.jpg Lucky for us, we were again rewarded with a great short hike down a sandy wash through a boulder field. wp-1485118005132.jpg I love these Out West sights -there isn’t anything in my experience to compare them with. We scrambled up and around the giant boulders of Balanced Rock without interference by any other hikers. wp-1485118017417.jpgwp-1485118041496.jpg It’s such a treat to have a spot like this to yourself. As you might guess, the uphill ride back to the truck was tough. I had to stop three times, which really pissed me off! (once for a car, once for a gulp of water, and once from sheer exhaustion)

We knew bad weather was heading our way for Day 4. Winds of 25-40, gusting to 50mph were forecast, along with a 40% chance of rain. Sounds great, doesn’t it? We decided to stay close to camp – we took down our awning, rolled up our mat, and packed away all loose stuff. John actually bungeed our grill and stove to the picnic table, which was partially covered by a sun shade. We leashed Jezzy up, and hiked the half-mile up to the Chisos Basin Visitor Center, in order to check news, and update our library books, (we could not survive without digital books from the GR Public Library). Jezzy started to get a bit antsy, and we knew the storm was upon us – as we looked west, blue sky was replaced by an ugly yellow/gray smudge – dust kicked up by high winds. We were slammed all night. The Fireball held firm, but bounced back and forth as we were buffeted by big gusts. Rain came down in dirt blasts. It was the roughest we’ve experienced.

The next morning was clear, but still very breezy. It was our last day, and we were unwilling to sacrifice it to hanging around camp. So, we hiked to the Lost Mine (we never did figure out where the mine was supposed to be). We climbed steadily for about 2.5 miles, with a few great views of the Basin. Our campground is in the middle of this photo. wp-1485117911597.jpg At the top, a wide-open expanse across slickrock made the going a bit hairy – the thought of being blown off a 6700′ peak gives one pause.wp-1485117867984.jpgwp-1485117886775.jpg The thrill of an incredible view pushes us on. Rewards are ours.

That last evening, we joined up with our neighbor, an amateur astronomer with an incredible set of super-highpowered binoculars mounted on a very sturdy tripod. I actually saw the Andromeda Galaxy – a first for me. I can’t comprehend this vastness of space, but I love having the chance to cogitate on it all. Big Bend is a Dark Sky Park, and one of the least light-polluted areas of the US. There are thousands and thousands of stars you can see with your naked eye. I can’t begin to capture the fantastic sky with a cell phone camera.wp-1485117961911.jpg It is indescribable -my wish would be for everyone to get to experience this sometime.

I’ll quit here – this post has certainly dragged on long enough. Big Bend has cemented itself in our camping repertoire as a place we will happily visit every few years. Upon leaving, we were surprised to realize that we spent five days here, and never even saw the Rio Grande. How is that possible??

Space Cadets

If every impressionable fourth-grader in the US had the opportunity to spend a day at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, we probably would never hear about any science or math gap in our country. Hell, John and I even had astronaut dreams after visiting for a day. What an unbelievable mind-expanding day it was.

The first extraordinary sight as you approach the Center is the improbable vision of the Space Shuttle Independence perched on top of its 747 launcher. Ridiculous! Outrageous!wp-1483991235670.jpg And, so the day begins…..

Full disclosure here. I had mixed emotions about spending the time and money to visit the JSC (about $30 each, less our AAA discount). I’m not a space nut, nor a science girl. But, I would happily go again tomorrow. There’s so much to see, and it’s such an inspiring experience.wp-1483990719766.jpgThe cool thing here is that the JSC is not filled with mock-ups of space stuff. This is where REAL astronauts train on REAL lunar rovers. Thewp-1483990332262.jpg Orion capsule is the REAL working/training unit for Mars exploration.wp-1483990954206.jpg It’s unbelievable stuff.

We went to the Mission Control Center where early Gemini/Apollo missions were tracked (it’s now used for training).wp-1483990489129.jpg Real-time video from the International Space Station (ISS) ran before our eyes.

Like rockets? Redstone, Saturn, and the unbelievable Saturn 5 rockets are there. The Redstone, used to launch the first Mercury capsules, looks like a mere bottle rocket – slender and unmenacing. wp-1483991067546.jpgThe last of the Saturn 5 rockets, on the other hand, is unbelievably huge and powerful-looking. As we walked I to the hangar where it’s housed, the folks in front of us actually stopped and gasped upon seeing it. We did too – it’s cartoonishly huge.wp-1483991125221.jpgwp-1483991160476.jpgBeyond comprehension that it would lift vertically off the ground.

Of course, our 50 year space program has had its disastrous failures. Apollo I was the first, which results in the deaths of the first three Astro sure, including Grand Rapids’ own Roger B Chaffee, on the right in the photo below.wp-1483990828525.jpg The explosions of Space Shuttles Challenger in 1986 on ascent, and Columbia in 2003 upon re-entry, highlight the danger and the experimental unknown of the US space program.

It’s great to watch the enormous progress of the endeavour – single-astronaut shots in the Mercury program, followed by astronauts in tandem orbiting the earth in the Gemini program. We watched the film of Neil Armstrong stepping into the moon’s surface, while Walter Cronkite removed his glasses and wiped a tear from his eye. Did you know there were 135 Space Shuttle missions?20170109_133550.jpg That number was astonishing to me. And now, we have the ISS, staffed by crew from many nations. Up next? Mars.

I touched a moon rock that was 2.3 billion years old. Actually touched it – I was thrilled.wp-1483983256544.jpgWe both passed on putting ourselves in the capsules that would emulate some of the rougher (throw-up) simulations of being an astronaut. Hop aboard the Vomit Comet?? Not me!

Here are a few other sights from our JSC day. If you ever have the chance to do this, don’t hesitate. It’s an amazing experience. If you are jaded and uninspired about our future prospects, this will ignite a sense of hope.20170109_133930.jpgwp-1483990664115.jpgwp-1483990424939.jpgI was struck by the videos of JFK asking for an astonishing $7 billion 1962 to put a man on the moon. At that point, only the first Mercury capsules had been launched. Yet, in July 1969, Neil Armstrong was stepping on the moon’s surface. Can we not conquer Cancer with an all-out effort, as proposed by President Obama last year? Why not? Let’s dream.

Bush-Kennedy-Bush

This pretty much describes our last few days here in the belly of Texas. Our history lesson has been combined with sketchy weather that has followed us around – changing up from gray, cold and crappy to warm and sunny, then back again. The damned “wintry mix” is in the forecast for the weekend. What!!?

But, back to the history lesson. We are closing in on completing our grand tour of the Presidential Museums. The George W Bush Museum in Dallas was the first one this week. 20170105_210854.jpg It’s the newest of the Presidential Museums, having opened in 2013. Did you know that a President must be out of office for five years before his Museum/Library can open? We didn’t know that either – hope that doesn’t mean that we’ll never get to the Obama Museum in Chicago, since it can’t open before 2022. That sure sounds like a long time away – we sure aren’t getting any younger.

We decided to drive to the Museum from our campground at Lake Lewisville, about 20 miles north of Dallas.20170104_184921.jpg Then, we parked the truck and left it there, taking the commuter train into downtown Dallas to explore for the rest of the day. What a great stress-free way to explore. Our full-day tickets were $2.50 each. Love being a tourist on public transit!

The Bush 43 Museum was interesting, but not really very informative. We left, feeling like we had a better idea of Laura Bush as a person and First Lady than we had of W. 20170105_213025.jpg The introductory film was not working, so we missed our favorite way of acclimating ourselves to one of these Museums. Of course 9/11 and the horrible  events and videos of airplanes slicing into the WTC dominate. The capture of Saddam Hussein (the pistol he had with him is also enshrined there) is featured. Hurricane Katrina. Missing were clips of momentous speeches and personal notes. Few charming (or damning) letters from constituents. We both felt that the Museum was gorgeous, but lacking personality. Gifts from foreign heads of state were breathtaking, especially those from countries in the Middle East.

The stunning Christmas in the White House display was still up as well.20170105_211145.jpg

The Texas Book Depository, from where the shots were fired that killed JFK in 1963, was the other Dallas landmark on our must-see list. (The window on the second from the top story on the right side is where Lee Harvey Oswald fired. That corner, inside, is blocked off by glass, and preserved exactly as it was). No photos are allowed inside….wp-1483563797113.jpg As with the JFK Museum in Boston, we were were surprised to see the variety of people there. Many had thick foreign accents, and most were too young to have been around for Kennedy’s presidency, but here they were – queued up with their $16 in hand to see this site. What a rush of emotion and remembrance this visit released. I was in 7th grade when Kennedy was shot, and I still remember being in Mr. Gardiner’s geography class when another Mrs. Chaffee (Aunt of Apollo astronaut Roger B Chaffee) burst in with the awful news.

The Museum is set up on the sixth floor of the TBD. Every aspect of the Kennedy assassination is covered – logistics of the motorcade, the excruciating frame by frame sequence of the Zapruder film, news broadcasts of the funeral, and Oswald’s assassination by Jack Ruby, and Ruby’s trial. The Warren Commission. There were films of the funeral from all over the world, and I was again struck by Kennedy’s universal popularity. For me, however, the real power of this place was outside. On the street in front of the TBD are two large white Xs – marking the position of Kennedy’s limo when he was struck by each of the two shots.wp-1483563796881.jpg The grassy knoll….it’s all there. Wow – I was surprised at the emotional impact of all this on me, more than 50 years after the fact.

We wandered around Dealey Plaza and downtown Dallas. Lots of interesting sights.wp-1483563796954.jpg

No new city tour could possibly be complete without us seeking our a brewery, and we found a good one – Braindead Brewery. It was a good day to play tourist. We hopped the train back to the truck, and got back to our campground without incident. Dallas is a huge web of expressway construction – our relative ease of passage was no small matter. They are laying tons and tons of new roadway out there – it’s astonishing.

But hey – there’s another Bush Presidential Museum in Texas.The George HW Bush Museum is located on the campus of Texas A & M University in College Station, about 225 miles from Dallas. Although we had to camp in an RV park, with limited space (NEVER our first choice), we found a great one at RV Haven. It gave us the option to break out our bikes, and ride to the Museum and around town on a chilly, blustery day.

The George HW Bush Museum was very different in feel than the GWB Museum. GHWB had a pretty illustrious life before the Presidency -US Congress, Ambassador to China, UN Ambassador, CIA Director and Vice President. There’s lots of material there, and it left me with a positive feeling for the man, himself. He did begin Desert Storm – heard the term “scud missile” which I hadn’t heard in years. 1000 Points of Light. The dismantling of the Soviet Union and the Berlin Wall. It was an interesting day.wp-1483563796702.jpgHe spent an average of three weekends a month at Camp David, so there was a replica of the office there – first time we’ve seen that.wp-1483563796657.jpgI was taken by this photo of GHWB in 2013 with the son of one of his Secret Service Agent’s kids who had leukemia. Bush shaved his head in support of his struggle. wp-1483563796378.jpg

Texas A & M is a pretty uninteresting-looking campus. With few exceptions, the buildings are constructed of a blondish stone. They have an astroturf hedge near some of the engineering labs.wp-1483563796377.jpgThere is every kind of engineering department you never heard of located there. We cycled through an area where training is done for advanced firefighting techniques (we didn’t notice the No Trespassing signs). Rainroad tanker cars piled on top of each other, an old 737 laying on its belly with the bottom burned out, a chemical pipeline labrnyth. Crazy stuff which requires different techniques than fighting brush or house fires.

All this is enough to make a girl thirsty – Blackwater Draw Brewery to the rescue. John had an amazing burger there, while I feasted on Nemo Nachos – sashimi tuna with cucumber+avocado+ponzu sauce on chips made from wonton wrappers. omg

We’re now camped on the Gulf of Mexico at Galveston Island State Park. Beachside. If the wind ever dies down and the temp goes up 20 degrees, our next five days will be fantastic. Right now, it’s howling!

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!