Sunday, June 27, 2010

Saving the best for last - Brazos Bend

Although we've seen so many beautiful, interesting sights on this trip, we each have a special list in our minds - a list of favorites. The first addition to my list was Brazos Bend. Alligators Galore. Walking with Alligators.
Brazos Bend is a Texas state park, just southwest of Houston. It is in an agricultural area, with farms and trees. But in the park are lakes with dirt roads and trails around them. There are lots of alligators in these lakes, and in the late afternoons, they like to haul out on the banks lining the lakes, and sun themselves. People are welcome to walk wherever, right past the gators, often with just a few feet of separation! They have never had an incident between gator and human (see their factoids, etc., here:
I absolutely love looking for gators! (again, the Easter Egg Hunt Syndrome...!). So come see some of my new friends!
First, we stopped at their nature center and got to pet baby gators!!! Can you believe this little guy is all of 7 months or so old?!!! They grow very slowly - maybe a foot per year (up to 6 years, at which point they apparently tend to grow in width faster than in length). Isn't this baby a total cutie?!!

And look at all these adorable babies just dangling in the water in their little aquarium!

Gator skeleton.

OK, to really see some of these subjects, you will need to left-click on the photo and enlarge it. So, now can you find the gator in this picture?!! He/she's right in the middle!

Here, I had walked around one side of one of the most popular (and populated?!) lakes to the lookout stand. In this photo, I'm at the top of the stand, looking at the road at the far side of the lake, a road I walked a few yards on before chickening out and walking quickly back. The accepted practice is to just walk alongside the gators, and with a bit of trepidation, I was good with doing that - as long as the gators were pointed TOWARDS the lake and AWAY from the road/trail, and as long as their eyes were closed. However, on this one road, right at the beginning, I went by three good-sized gators that were either pointed towards the trail or paralleling it and largely had their eyes open. I was watching them very careful and my palms were no doubt sweating! I finally decided that, no matter that other people seemed to be OK with doing this, I couldn't! At least not with those awake, ready to go gators!!! They just didn't strike me as nearly sleepy or lazy enough!! So I rather quickly made my way back to the lookout. More on the return journey later...

This place was also awesome for birds and bird photography! Mr. Great Blue Heron was intently stalking his frogs and fish or whatever (baby gators?!), and apparently I wasn't bothering him much - and neither were the gators! It was so funny watching him in this one area (where he was farther away than in this photo). He was too far away for me to tell what was going on exactly. But he was standing in the water, near the edge of the lake, where I knew many gators were hanging out too... Anyways, every now and then he'd leap up like he'd been bit by something... But then he'd just settle in again - for a few minutes... And then jump again... ?!? (maybe some of the baby gators were fighting back?!)

Synchronized swimming?

Our dogs attract almost as much attention as the gators! (and no, we didn't take the dogs on the gator walk! In fact, I mostly did that one by myself, while Bill hung out in the truck and read - I did drag him out for a short walk to see how cool it was afterwards though!) It's funny how many people we've found on this trip who are fascinated by, but sort of scared of, the dogs. It seems that most people only have little dogs - medium to large dogs have been fairly rare sightings on our trip!!

Gallinule - there are a lot of them here, but the coots still rule! Way more of the mud hens.

Do you see him/her? Well, good! But imagine if only the eyes and nostrils were sticking up? Or maybe nothing! Doesn't mean he/she's not there!! And yeah, that's some kind of green plant that covers the water's surface (duckweed maybe? or "watermeal?"). This one was just a little bitty gator - maybe 2 1/2 ft long.

Now this guy was a lot bigger! But boy did he look comfortable! Or maybe dead! A lot of them look dead they're so lazy-looking! But I saw his eyes open now and then when I talked to him and stuff. The green duckweed line on them always cracks me up!

He was pretty obvious in that last picture, eh? But how about in this one? Even though he's not underwater at all, it's amazing how he can blend!

And cute turtle guy. And here there's reddish-brown stuff on top of the water - don't know what this is...

Cute babies!!!! Maybe a year old? They looked to be about a foot long.

Could this be Momma? Just peacefully snoozing on the bank. She/he never opened her/his eyes while I was around. But then again, I steered clear - if those were HER babies...!!??!!

And this one was right next to the trail - pointed AT the trail as you see! And with mouth open. I read where that means they're too warm and using their open mouth to cool off.

oops, guess I (or someone else) got too close - time to go back to the water. Mostly the gators ignored people and slept through the invasions, but if they did really notice, they always went towards the water. I just felt safer not pushing it!! If you enlarge the photo, you'll notice the green slime line on his/her mouth! Too funny! Like a green milk mustache!

There's that mustache again! And what a smile! Still overheated, I guess.

What a good looking gator! Man, I just love these guys!!!! They're so cool!

And the funnest thing is to see them pick up and walk! They remind me of the Citroen cars (never saw one, but Bill has described them to me)!

And I'm not sure what this guy is. Sure behaved like a heron or egret - maybe a juvenile form of one of those (maybe a juvie little blue heron?)? Anyone out there know for sure?

OK, we're back to that lookout now (sorry, some of these aren't in the order I would've liked, but it's too much of a pain to reorder them!). I'm at the top of the lookout and spy these two girls walking along the trail (middle of photo). What a set-up. See those shiny dark things on the bottom, left of the trail? Yup, two gators, and one of them is really big. Now it looked to me like those girls had no idea they were there...

Getting closer. Much closer...! Just toodling along, happy, oblivious.

And ta-da! Whoa!!!! They didn't notice the gators until they were almost on top of them! But boy did they notice then! You should've seen them jump! And then this one poor girl looked like she was going to faint! I wouldn't be poking fun at them, but I was amazed at how they weren't paying any attention whatsoever!!! And they couldn't NOT know they were in Gator Land. There's a big sign right out front that tells you BEWARE OF GATORS!!! As far as I could tell, unlike the girls, the gators were unimpressed by it all and didn't react a bit!

Looking the other direction from the lookout - this is the path to continue going around the lake. And I started out on it to return, but... OK, now we get to the part where I get to poke fun at myself!!! ;) When I went this way, I ran into yet another gator pointed at the trail, and awake! So I decided oh heck, I'm going to just return the way I came. Chicken!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Oh yeah, right! Good luck! Those two big gators that startled the two girls? Yeeeeah, they're still there. And that one guy is soooo big. By now, I'd had enough adrenaline from walking with the alligators all afternoon that I couldn't quite stomach going by them by myself without anyone else even in sight! So I waited. Till a couple other folks showed up, hippy-hopping down the bunny trail. And then I let this poor other photographer guy take the inside track, while I, Braveheart, took the outside track!!! Man, what a weenie, eh?! ;) Sorry folks! But hey! Let's see how close YOU want to walk to these guys and how many you can walk past and for how long you can remain in the close Company of Alligators?!

Another cutie heron type - a yellow-crowned night heron.

I just liked the reflections.

OK! Here they are - the stars of the show (from the OTHER side!)! These are the two guys right next to the trail - that tripped up the two girls and that yours truly did some fancy footwork to avoid. And you can see that one is pretty darn big - Bill says he was about 12'!!! That's about as big as the boys generally get!!!! But look how well-behaved he is. Quite the gentleman. And I think they are actually. The American alligators don't really go after people. Unless the people are asking for it (like walking right next to them...?!), or are dumb enough to go swimming in gator ponds, etc.!

The big picture. (You can see the lookout tower in the background) This was when I dragged Billy back with me. He just HAD to see these awesome creatures up close too! It was such a thrill for me. Not much is that exciting that often in life... Bill enjoyed the walk too - I'd say he thought it was worth it!

Spooked coots walking on water! I loved the way their footsteps parted the red plant material on the water's surface.

The path back to the car. What a day! It was by far my favorite day of the trip up to that point - and still one of the top 5 for me so far (and we're currently in PA and have seen A LOT of neat stuff!!). However, not for the faint of heart or for those that are snack size...! ;)
So there you have it. That's it for Texas! (finally!) Now, on to Louisiana...!

Saturday, June 26, 2010

More from "The Furry Foursome!"

Our kids always figure large into our days. Everyone wants to go for a walk. Everyone wants to eat - their food AND our food (well, except for Scratty - she's not much into people food, so why's she so fat? I have no idea! Maybe too much cat fud!!). Everyone wants to go for a drive and hang out the windows. Everyone wants to meet the neighbors...
And on this note... Tracky meets a neighbor puppy. Despite the sweet puppy's best intentions and attempts at connection, Tractor remains suspicious and stand-offish.

Scratty REALLY likes dogs and is quicker to give this pup the benefit of the doubt.

However, even she feels he's a bit "too forward!"

The cat on the catfish, again.
This is a favorite bed, no matter where the fish may be found in the RV.

And wow, is it ever great when Mom opens a cabinet - new place to explore!!!! (or re-explore!) (And no, we don't store cereal in the clothes closet. We're not that hard up for space - well, mostly not. There's camera gear in the box!)

Our RV park in Galveston Bay was also wonderful for our kids. Our site looked out on a large open field, and we took everyone out there often to play. Sometimes just the dogs, or just the cats, or one of each, or all of them together!
Here Tracky does his best "Squirrel" while undoubtedly looking for some poor, unsuspecting victim (bug?) to pounce on!

oooo, the Great Sneaky Cat Act!

And here he is in the middle of an all-out attack! Or maybe just in the middle of a pepsi box... You know, the usual uniform for a super hero...

Probably spying another new neighbor...

Because the adjacent field was so large, we took to letting all the critters go loose (as long as we were both right there with them and no one else was in sight). The kitties got to indulge their passion for exploration, tiptoeing through the short reeds and mud at marsh's edge (while Mommy & Daddy made darn sure no unexpected alligators were hanging out!!!) and running wild through tall grasses.

Happy Cat.

Scratty on the move.

All four kids (well, almost - 3 3/4!? I guess I wasn't standing far enough back!!) and their daddy, with our RV in the background.

Dad & doggies in sunset light.
At the end of another really good day...

Downtown Galveston: the beach and a taste of Hurricane Ike

Hurricane Ike did major damage to Galveston back in 2008. Wikipedia claims that it was the "third costliest hurricane ever to make landfall in the United States" (more info. here: This specific passage certainly rang true from what we saw, even so many years later: "On Bolivar Peninsula, Texas dozens of people were rescued as flood waters exceeded 12 feet (3.7 m) above sea level in advance of the hurricane. The peninsula bore the brunt of Ike's right-front quadrant, historically the worst part of a hurricane, and experienced catastrophic damage with the worst being between Rollover Pass and Gilchrist, Texas - west of High Island. Media estimates of lost homes exceeded 80% and could top 95%. A large number of people who did not evacuate in advance of the storm remain unaccounted for." We were impressed by both the obvious remnants of the hurricane's devastation and by the progress of the rebuilding. But while we admire the residents'/developers' optimism and tenacity, one has to wonder about the wisdom of choosing to remain in that area! You can see a collection of amazing images here: (hit the "click here" note under the four photos). Poor Galveston. Lightning definitely hit twice there!!!
The Flagship Hotel, a well-known local entity on the coast.

Ouray surveys the scene, as Mom gets out to photograph the building that now serves as a Hurricane Ike landmark as much as a Galveston landmark.

The current scoop: "Built on a pier that juts 1,000 feet into the Gulf of Mexico, the seven-story Flagship is the only major structure in the beachfront tourism district that still bears the scars of the Sept. 13, 2008, storm. The concrete drive linking the hotel to Seawall Boulevard is shorn away, and blown-out walls reveal the interior, in one place allowing a view straight through the building."

The "shorn away" concrete ramp.

The 17 ft. seawall that does its best to protect Galveston, and a special message. I wonder if Hannah said yes...

The view under the damaged hotel.