Friday, February 27, 2009
Thursday, February 26, 2009
We traveled to Galveston Island State Park for a long weekend with our daughter Gailey, her husband John and six of our fifteen grandchildren. What a grand time we had...all hot and wet and windblown...but it was worth all of the bottles of sunscreen (we're a fairly light skinned bunch.) The kids played in the surf for hours and hours just falling on the waves and being washed to shore. They fished, they played on their boogie boards, they built sand castles, they hunted shells, some followed me down the beach as I tried to get a picture of a strange bird that kept eluding me. We ate hotdogs and all that other good stuff you get to eat when you are out camping, we played games, we fed the birds, we had a grand old time!
We took our trusty little pop-up camper and the kids took their tents. We had side by side sites. Each site had a wonderful shelter, so we had plenty of room to spread out. The beach was just a short dune away from our sites and the sound of the waves easily lulled us to sleep after a fun, busy day in the sun...except for one night. The second night we were there the rains came and they were not alone. They brought their frisky friend the wind with them. I'm talking WIND! Not much sleeping that night. Those in the tent were busy trying to hold it down and those of us in the camper were just hoping that the wind would not be strong enough to toss us over. We all emerged the next morning dry but a little less rested than if we had just been listening to the gentle lapping of the waves.
At the time we were there, the state park had 149 camping sites with picnic shelters and water and electricty on the gulf side of the park. Not all sites were immediately on the water, but all were within a very short distance. The beach was extremely clean and much less populated than the beach along the seawall in Galveston. There were restroom/showers scattered all about the camping area, but there were no trees, thus no shade! Across the road from the gulf side campsites there were twenty campsites and ten shelters all with electricty and water. These were situated on a small lake and adjacent to a number of hiking and birding trails.
All in all, it was a clean, fun park and a great way to spend a long week-end. Hopefully they will be able to have it up and running again soon. If so, it's a super place to spend some quality time with your family.
It was a fun-filled, short, long week-end!
Monday, February 23, 2009
Leaving Goose Island
I've been away from the computer for a few days, following the call of grandchildren. Now, I am here to finish up Goose Island and move on to other interesting places. I want to apologize to my one faithful reader from Walsenberg, Co. for not having anything new for you to read. I haven't a clue who you are, but I do appreciate the fact that you are making an effort to follow my ramblings. I smile when I see that you have shown up on my blog.
The last morning at Goose Island was slow and peaceful. We delayed as long as possible before we had to start getting old "Trusty" in travel mode. But, grandchildren were calling and we had places to go and people to see before we could head home.
We pulled out of Goose Island State Park and headed toward Houston. I had been reading about the history of Matagorda and since we were in the general vicinity I thought we should go there. It wasn't a lengthy detour, and it was well worth the few extra hours that it took to get to our final destination.
Great Blue Heron beside road leading to Matagorda Beach
Matagorda is a small, coastal town packed full of Texas history that dates all the way back to the time of French explorer La Salle who sailed into Matagorda Bay in 1685. One of his four ships was grabbed by pirates and another sank. LaSalle was left with just two ships and a number of would-be settlers. One ship was sent back to France with many of the original passengers. That left him with just one ship and that last ship, the La Belle, sank in Matagorda Bay. LaSalle took a few men and went in search of help and supplies and was eventually murdered by his own men. The remainder of his small party who stayed behind on the coast were killed by the Karankawa Indians. The Karankawa were unusually tall (some say at least seven feet tall) nomadic indians who moved along the Texas coastal regions. They were heavily tattoed on their naked bodies and had their lips and nipples pierced with long pieces of sharpened wood . They smeared their bodies with alligator fat to protect themselves from insects and practiced cannibalism. Such was the fate of the few of the Lasalle party who stayed behind.
More than 300 years later, the LaBelle was discovered seven miles off shore in just twelve feet of water. What a find! The recovery of the ship was covered by PBS's Nova. It was remarkably well preserved by the Matagorda Bay silt and many of it's artifacts are in museums in small towns along the Texas coast. The museum in Matagorda has one of the ships ornate bronze cannons.
Matagorda was one of Stephen F. Austin's three original colonies and was at one time the third largest city in Texas, with a population of around 1,500. It was named the seat of the county government, and Austin had great hope for this city with it's great location on the Gulf of Mexico; however, repeated hurricanes and tropical storms continued to lash at the town and destroy what had been built. So, in 1984 residents of Matagorda County voted to move the county seat to Bay City just north of Matagorda. Today, it is a community of about 600-1000 residents that serves as a getaway for fishermen and people with weekend homes on the road that leads to the beautiful Matagorda County Beach.
The road from Matagorda to the beach ends in a beautiful park that has just recently been constructed. The park houses a nice, spacious welcome center, shelters for picnics and clean bathrooms. The beach itself is beautiful, clean and uncluttered. There are very few beach house on the beach itself which makes the beach more special. Actually, most of the "beach houses" are located along the road to the beach along the Colorado River. The Colorado River empties into the gulf right here in Matagorda and is a haven for fishermen. Most all of the houses along the Colorado have lighted piers on the river so you can play on the beach (which is just minutes away) all day and fish all night. Many of the houses are available as rentals. Now, that's just heaven on earth!
My plan is to rent a couple or three of those houses for a family vacation. I think it would be the perfect place to take young children and teenagers, especially those who love to fish (and I have more than a few). We could even use old "Trusty" because camping is allowed on the beach. (That may just be tent camping, gotta check on that.) Sounds like a plan to me. Gotta start saving my quarters!
Matagorda County is also one of the greatest places in all of North America for birding. It consistently rates #1 in the National Audubon Society's Christmas bird count. I'm thinking there's lots to do in Matagorda that I haven't done. Gotta get back down there.
Tuesday, February 17, 2009
Shrimp Boats in Port at Palacios
We only had a few days to spend at Goose Island, so the first day we ended up going into Rockport. Goose Island is just in Rockport. Now, Rockport is a pretty little coastal town. If you need to shop,you will find all your grocery stores and Wal-Mart and service stations...pretty much anything you might need for your camping experience. It also has a number of souvenir shops (my downfall). I love to shop for souvenirs. I'm especially crazy about buying coffee cups from all the places that we go. I just like it. I have a thing about cups. However, I can never buy the first cup that I see. I have to look at all the cups in all the souvenir shops and decide which one I like best. Then I have to remember where I saw the one that I like best. That takes a little while and can fill up a good portion of a day. So, that is how we spent a goodly portion of our first day away from Goose Island. Rockport does have a lovely park right on the Gulf of Mexico where you can relax and watch all of the beautiful birds. They also have several nice restaurants if you're tired of eating hot dogs. We chose to have dinner at a nice restaurant called, "Latitude". The food was good-not spectacular, but very good as well as pricey. It was a nice place. Glad we went there. After dinner we headed back out to Goose Island and enjoyed the quiet, the sounds of the Gulf Coast, and the campfire. What more can you ask? That's the best part about camping.
Sandhill Cranes just outside of Palacios
Double-crested cormorant perched on shrimp boat
My mind has deserted me. I will finish this tomorrow. See you later.
My mind has been summoned. It is rebelling, but I do believe that it is retrieveable!
The day after our Rockport sojourn, we decided to head the other direction toward the little community of Palacios (pronounced Pa-lay-shus). That's Texan for the Spanish pronounciation of Pa-la-ci-os. It was not a bad drive. You have to understand that driving along coastal backroads in Texas does not open up vistas of great beauty. You get your reward when you get to your destination and the vast Gulf Of Mexico opens up before your eyes. There you have the sight, the sounds,the smells and the feel of beauty that can never be equaled in the interior. I love the water.
Just before we entered the town of Palacios, we were treated to a wonderful sight (remember I have now become a bird lover!) But, whether or not you have a heightened interest in birds or not, you would have welcomed this sight. There was a massive flock of Sand Cranes in a field to our right. We stopped and just looked for ten or fifteen minutes. I don't know, maybe longer. Anyway, they were mezmerizing....great number of them! I'm not good with numbers, but there had be be at least 1,000 of them...well, maybe 75-100. It looked like a 1,000! And when they all took off at the same time, that was truly an incredible sight.
After leaving the Sand Cranes behind we drove on around and into Palacios and there we were greeted by shrimp boats. They were coming, and going,and docked...there were a bunch of them,maybe a 1,000..well, maybe 75-100. Anyway, there were a bunch of them, and in their own way they were also a beautiful sight with their colors and names and sounds and smells. Palacios is called the "Shrimp Capital", and it's port is home to one of the largest shrimping fleets on the entire Gulf Coast. You can only imagine the number of birds that follow those boats! It's a beautiful scene.
Palacious is a clean, pretty little coastal town, and probably the best part of the entire place is a quaint little restaurant called "The Outrigger". They serve some GOOD food. And guess what, they get their shrimp straight from the boats who are in dock just a stone's throw away. I'm trying to say that their shrimp is FRESH. Not only that, but they know how to fix that shrimp in a number of different ways. That's not all they serve, but who cares? If you happen into Palacious you definitely need to eat here. Besides, you might meet some interesting characters. The Outrigger is where all the locals hang out.
After meandering in and out along the Gulf Coast of Texas between Palacious and Rockport, we finally ended back at Goose Island State Park. What a lovely place to collapse. We leashed the dog and walked along the water and out onto the pier and just throughly enjoyed the fact that we were alive. Then, back to the trusty little camper where we relaxed with a great cup of coffee (what's better around an outside fire than a good ol' cup of coffee?) After counting a few stars and listening to someone gently playing the guitar at a camp site not far from us, it was time to fall asleep and think about heading home tomorrow. Camping is a delightful way to spend your senior years.
***An Imortant Note About This Area:
Adjacent to the Goose Island State Park you will find the magnificent Aransas National Wildlife Refuge. Here you will find any number of wild birds at different times of the year as well as javalina, deer, bobcats, alligators, all sorts of wild and wonderful things. But, MOST IMPORTANT OF ALL, you will find the nearly extinct Whooping Crane. This is one of only two places in the entire WORLD where these birds are found in the wild. The flock nests in Wood Buffalo National Park in the Northwest Territories of Canada. There, in the spring and summer, they build their nests and mate (for life). They then migrate to their wintering grounds in Aransas Pass. That's a 2500 mile trip! They fly during the day and make regular stops along the way. By December all, or nearly all have reached the marshes of Aransas Pass. Whooping Cranes are the rarest birds in North America. They are also the largest, usually about five feet tall with wing spans of seven feet. As spring arrives they begin their flight back to Canada. They usually migrate in pairs or family groups, sometimes in small flocks.
Is that not an interesting tidbit? We have the rarest bird in North America right here on our Texas Gulf Coast! That's definitely something worth making a trip to see. We didn't get to see them on our trip, but you can bet we will be traveling that way again soon. We will time our trip with their migration patterns.
You might want to make a trip to see them yourself.
Monday, February 16, 2009
The first trip that we took with our trusty little pop-up was to Goose Island State Park on the Gulf Coast of Texas. Now, this might just be the place that you would like to spend your winter months if your normal abode is somewhere up north. As a matter of fact a number of people with the "big rigs" were parked there for as long as they could possibly stay. Several of them mentioned that this is where they came every year. We found this out when people would stop and ask about our little pop-up or wonder what we were having for breakfast. They were attracted by the smell of bacon and onions cooking on the outside grill, and had to stop and say how good it smelled. They had just had their breakfast on the inside. I love our trusty little pop-up and cooking outside!
We found our little pop-up quite by accident. We were headed down I-35 towards Austin going to one of our grandson's football play-off games and Skip said, "Look, that's what we need." I agreed and on our way back the next day we stopped, and all of a sudden it was ours! It's an older model with an interesting history...seems a young girl lived in "trusty" while attending school at a nearby university. She and her St Bernard shared the living quarters until she graduated. It made an adequate apartment for a couple of years with plenty of room to sleep, a table at which to study and write, a small refrigerator and a small stove and sink. I'm assuming she must have parked somewhere near a place that had a bathroom. Anyway, "Trusty" had now changed hands and started on a new history.The campsites at this park are exceptional. You have a choice of camping at the back of the park where the sites are beautifully surrounded with trees and shrubs. They are very spacious, quiet, secluded and private...plenty big enough for the "big rigs." No one should have trouble backing their camper into one of these spots. The back of the park is also home to many tent only sites. If you choose to be right on the Gulf of Mexico, they also have a number of open sites right on the water. These sites all have shelters, water, electricty and close neighbors. It's all a matter of choice. All of the sites (seculded, tent,open) are well maintained and have clean bathroom/showers nearby. I might also mention that although you are right on the water...you can toss out a line and catch a fish from the fron of your campsite...there is no swimming here. The bottom of the Gulf at this point has an oyster shell bed. That means sharp and painful for bare body parts!
What Goose Island does have is BIRDS! Lots and lots of birds! it is a bird lovers paradise. I didn't know that I was a bird lover until I went to Goose Island. Of course I have always enjoyed birds, listening to their songs, watching them flit from tree to tree, but I had no idea about their names...mockingbird, cardinal, robin, sparrow...but that all changed after we went to Goose Island! Luckily I had binoculars and a camera in the pickup. Soon I had a book with pictures and names of birds. Now, I never go anywhere without that book.
We arrived at Goose Island in January. That just happened to be a migratory time for a lot of birds. We took the trail to the front of the park, where the land meets the water, and were just in awe at the number of birds we had never seen before. Luckily for me, they were just getting a bird watching tour organized, and of course I joined the group. Skip chose to sit and observe the gulf and its inhabitants from a bench. He's not quite as excited about birds as I am. The tour was conducted by a couple from Chicago, and THEY KNEW THEIR BIRDS! They come to Goose Island every year and give two tours a day. And, they showed me so many beautiful birds. I saw: White Ibis, Ruddy Turnstone, Long Billed Dowitcher, Brown Pelicans, White Pelicans, Laughing Gulls, Herring Gulls, Long Billed Curlew, Great Egret, Snowy Egret, Double Crested
Saturday, February 14, 2009
Friday, February 13, 2009
The dog traveling with us on this trip was "Hunter" our faithful old friend of 11 years This was his last trip. We now have a new faithful friend called "Dolly". She will never take the place of Hunter, but we sure do love her.
We finally got all those vehicles loaded and gassed up and started off on our lengthy drive to the Caprock Canyons State Park in far west Texas. It was after noon when we arrived and since all sites are on a "first come" basis, we were a little nervous about being able to find a good site for the tents. Not to worry! Even though there were a number of people in the park we were able to find two tent sites side by side in the Little Red Tent Camping Area. There are only ten sites in this area, and I think they are the best in the park. The site we really wanted was already taken when we got there, but would you believe by the next evening they had left. So, we just hurried on down to the office and changed our spots and there we were with the best two tent sites in the entire park. They overlooked a beautiful canyon with a shallow river running through it. It was a great place for the kids to meander along the river bed looking for whatever or pretending to be tracking the Commanches. At night we sat on the point in front of the tents laughing and talking and counting the stars. There are so many stars in the Texas sky after the sun goes down! It looks like pave diamonds. Having two sites side by side gave us lots of room for activities such as horseshoes or just kicking back in our big old
canvas chairs and reading or dreaming.
On the way into the park, we had noticed a riding stable advertising trail rides through the park and of course all the kids decided that was what they must do. So, Skip and the older kids went down to check it out and got it all set up for a trail ride the next morning. What fun they had! Now, I'm not into horses and trailriding so I contentedly continued my latest novel. When they returned later in the day all they could talk about was the beautiful scenery and what good horsemen they were. Now, I know for a fact that some of them had never been on a horse, but if they say they are excellent horsemen, I believe them. You know, genes go a long way back and I'm certain we had some really excellent horsemen in our ancestry. Not only can you set up a guided trailride, but if you are the type who travels with a horse trailer behind your pickup, Caprock Canyons has a special camping spot for you....complete with
corral and trails that can be ridden at your leisure. Anyway, the trailride was one of the highlights of the trip for all of the grandchildren. If you go to Caprock Canyons and you're into that sort of thing, then my family has several voices of encouragement. They say, "Do it!"
After the fairly long trailride everyone seemed slightly sore and stiff and ready to just sit around the campfire eating hot dogs and telling tall tales. We sat up until the camp curfew of 10:00 looking at the multitude of stars and telling stories with each person adding their own special version of the story. It was fun and it was great family time. Bed time came, and let me tell you something for which you need to be prepared: the wind! Springtime in west Texas means WIND. Not just a breeze, WIND. Make sure you have plenty of staves and ropes for your tent, make sure they are SECURE, and be ready to spend the night with the wind making strange noises and whistling through your tent. It's not a bad thing, just be ready for it.
Next morning after scrambled eggs, bacon and pork and beans (that's a must for breakfast every day you're camping,) everyone decided they wanted to do some hiking. Again, Skip and I are past the age of serious hiking; however, we do like a leisurely, maybe sometimes brisk stroll. So, it was decided that we would hike down one of the river beds. There were several areas of easy access, and the beds were all dry. This is a smart thing to do if you have small children or you are old like me. It was a great hike. The river beds were smooth with no boulders to climb and no inclines or declines, just straight, easy walking. Now, if there's a storm coming this might not be the trail of choice since these river beds can fill up rather quickly. Heavy rains are not that common in far west Texas, but just be aware. It was awesome to be at the bottom of the river bed and look up at the beautiful red rock formations .
lined with gypsum rising above you. It's a great time for discovery.
If you're really into hiking or mountain biking, Caprock Canyons is a good place to be. The older kids did some heavy duty hiking and related that the trails are beautiful and strenuous.
According to the Texas Parks and Wildlife website, there are 13 trails in all including 6 along the trailway. The trailway is an old abandoned railway that was donated by a railroad entrepreneur and turned into a trailway. It is 64 miles long (not necessary to hike it all at once). There are different starting points and destinations. Water is available at some points at the trailheads and developed primitive camping areas. You must carry water with you and use common sense on this trail. It is possible to camp along the trail if you wish, just register with the office. I understand that one of the really neat trails is the Clarity Tunnel trail. Round trip is approximately nine miles. On this trail there is an old abandoned railroad tunnel that is now inhabited by a population of Brazilian Free-tailed bats. They are usually there from April though October. You can contact the park office about good times and instructions before you go. Besides the Trailway, there are a number of trails inside the park that range from very difficult to moderate.
Our week didn't last long enough, but we all decided that it was a wonderful place to be and that we would return. We haven't made it back as of yet, but we will.
SOME THINGS YOU SHOULD KNOW BEFORE YOU GO:
There are about 35 very nice, good size, well-manicured sites for camping trailers and RV's. These sites have water and electricity. Tent only sites do not have water or electricty.
Wheelchair accessible restrooms, picnic areas and campsites are available.
The restroom/shower building and a nice playground are convenient to the camping spots.
The restroom is nice and clean and the shower is clean with hot water, but not too much privacy--just a curtain that doesn't close completely. It's almost a certainty that a number of deer will show up around dusk at the play ground area. They're pretty neat to watch. Dogs are allowed but must be kept on a leash.
There are two developed tent camping areas...The Little Red Tent Camping Area (my favorite), and the South Prong Tent Camping Area. Then there are two primitive camping areas where you need to pack everything in with you. Some people really like this and I'm sure they see beauty that the rest of us don't see.. That's great. I'm just too old. Each of the tent areas has a single chemical toilet (looks like an outhouse). Not too bad actually; however, if you need to take a bath you will have to drive about three miles to the shower. You could walk I guess, but you would need another bath by the time you got back!
Then of course there is the Wild Horse Camping Area that has the equestrian sites. There are about 10 or 11 sites.
If I were you, I wouldn't even consider Caprock Canyons in the summertime. It's hot and the rattlesnakes are out! I'm serious about the rattlesnakes. If you are hiking in the late spring or summertime, I would suggest you wear long jeans and boots, and be careful where you put your hands while climbing. They can be very dangerous. We've not been there in the fall, but I'm sure that it is wonderful starting about mid-October. We were there in March, and I'm thinking March and April are good times to go.
There are a number of animals in the park: Mule and White-tailed deer, Auodad sheep, raccoons, coyotes, bobcats (we saw 2) foxes and opossums. Of course, the state Bison herd is also housed at this park. They have a LARGE acreage just for the Bison at the front of the park. They are not always easily seen, depends upon where they are grazing.
There is also a small lake near the front of the park (Lake Theo) where there is good fishing for bass and catfish.
DO YOURSELF A FAVOR. FIND TIME FOR CAPROCK CANYONS STATE PARK.
Thursday, February 12, 2009
Skip and grandson, Chandler just sitting Skip, Troy and Kyle unloading the bikes One of our tent campsites. We had two
and talking...one of the beauties of right next to each other. Lots of room.
camping...you have time to talk.
Mid-March blew in blustery and cool just like it always does in west Texas. We loaded our trusty little chalet, the kids arrived with their cars and pickups loaded down with their tents, bicycles and all their camping gear, and we headed west into Indian Territory!
Really, during the early to mid 1800's this part of Texas was the home to some of the most savage Indian tribes in the country...the Commanche. They created havoc all over the plains and into central Texas and Mexico. They robbed and pillaged and murdered and kidnapped. They were feared by all, even other Indian tribes. Before you go to this part of the country, you really should pick up some books or other reading material about Quanah Parker, the last great Indian Chief and the son of Chief Peta Nocona and Cynthia Ann Parker. Cynthia Ann Parker was a white captive who was captured by the Commanche at the age of eight when the Indians raided her father's fort near current Mexia, Texas. She grew up as an Indian and later married Peta Nocona who would become the war chief of the Nocone Commanches. They had three children, two boys Quanah, and Pecos and one girl Topasannah. Their story is one of the great stories of Texas history and the American West. Cynthia and her daughter were eventually captured and returned to the Parker Family where they remained unwillingly for the rest of their lives. Topasannah became ill and died and Cynthia in her grieving starved herself to death. The place where the Texas Rangers and soldiers under the command of Sul Ross killed many Indians and captured Cynthia Ann and her daughter was on the Pease River not far from the town that would eventually bear his name, Quanah, Texas. This all happened in the area of Texas that you travel while getting to Caprock Canyons from the east-north east.
After his mother's capture, Quanah was taken in by the Quahadi Commanches (the original tribe of his father). They were known as the most warlike of all the Commanches and Quannah who had vowed vengence on the white man was one of their most feared warriors and later became the war chief of the Quahadis. They terrorized the frontier for years while being pursued by the US Army. They were never captured, but their number grew smaller and with the loss of the massive buffalo herds which were their life line, they finally gave up and allowed themselves to be moved to a reservation in Oklahoma. Quanah was a smart man, and immediately changed his ways. Being the great leader that he was, he was able to help his people prosper and he eventually became a wealthy man who was a close friend with Theodore Roosevelt. Roosevelt was the person responsible for getting Congress to declare the Wichita Mountains (near Lawton, Oklahoma) a National Wildlife Reserve. He then had many buffalo brought to that reserve. All of this was done at the request of his friend, Quanah Parker. Quanah was so well respected by the people of the area that he was elected sheriff of Lawton, Oklahoma in 1902.
I had not really intended to give a history lesson, but this area is so full of colorful, interesting characters and places, I just couldn't help myself. I certainly would encourage you to pick up books not only about Quanah and Cynthia Ann Parker, but also about Charles Goodnight, one of the great Texas ranchers who was responsible for saving some of the buffalo. His ranch covered many, many miles of the prairie that you will travel over while getting to Caprock Canyons. And then, don't forget Captain Sul Ross. All of these people have great stories to tell. You do yourself a disservice is you don't read about them. You can visualize them in the canyons and on the buttes of beautiful Caprock Canyons State Park.
Well, guys, it's late and I must get some sleep. I'll talk about camping in the Caprock Canyons State Park tomorrow. Don't forget to pick up books or at least Google the colorful Texas characters who were so important to Texas history.