Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Port Aransas Nature Preserve

We visited the Port Aransas Nature Preserve during our stay in Port Aransas. Sometimes referred to as the Nature Preserve at Charlie's Pasture, the preserve encompasses 1,217 acres of undeveloped land on the northwest part of the island bordering the Intracoastal Waterway. The preserve contains more than 3 miles of hike and bike trails, a pavilion, boardwalks over algal flats, crushed granite trails on the uplands, covered seating sites and two towers overlooking wetland areas around Salt Island.

During our visit, we parked at the pavilion and took the trail to the Salt Island overlook. (see map) We met several other folks along the trail, most of whom were bird watchers. We also met one bicyclist.

Boardwalk near start of the trail
Friendly little rabbit approached me on the trail before scampering off into the brush.

Various birds feeding in a pond along the trail.
Boardwalk seems to go on forever.
This photo was taken from atop the observation tower on Salt Island. It looks back at the trail we took.
Should you decide to visit the preserve, take along insect repellent. Bugs were quite aggressive with me along the trail through the brushy areas.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

The Marine Science Institute at Port Aransas

While at Port Aransas, we visited the Marine Science Institute on the northeast end of Mustand Island. The institute is operated by the University of Texas College of Natural Sciences. According to the literature, the institute is "the oldest and most significant marine research facility on the Texas coast and is home to cutting-edge scientists, graduate students and educators. The institute helps create more productive fisheries, educates our next generation of scientific leaders, and works to understand how our oceans and coasts are changing through time."

For the visitor, there are educational movies and a few small displays available. It did not take us long to work our way through all the displays, and since we visited early in the morning, the movies were not available. As we were leaving, we were told by an employee that some money had recently become available so there was some expansion planned for the facilities. But this is an educational facility, so research and training comes first.

Below are a few pictures from our visit.

The visitor center of the Marine Science Institute.

This is the lower-right jaw bone of a Fin Whale, the second largest of all whales. The bone was brought up in a shrimp trawl net about 80 miles southeast of Galveston. The bone is 14 feet long and weighs 240 pounds.
Dolphin skeleton
Donna viewing one of the salt-water fish tanks.
Skull of a Sei whale

As is, it doesn't take very long at all to view the few exhibits at the Marine Institute, but it is worth the time to include it as a stop.

Friday, April 25, 2014

On the Road: San Angelo, TX, to Port Aransas, TX

Donna and I just returned from a short trip to Port Aransas. I have several items to share with you, so I will be posting these over the next few weeks.

While most Texans favor places like Galveston and South Padre Island for their Texas beach trips, we have always preferred Port Aransas, which is more laid back and relaxed. Port Aransas is a small town of fewer than 4,000 souls on the north end of Mustang Island, which is just north of Padre Island.

From San Angelo to Port Aransas, a journey of 384 miles

We began our trip by taking our customary route from San Angelo to I-10 in Junction, Texas (see "Southern Hill Country Tip, 2012"). We then followed I-10 for a brief distance to Kerrville, where we took Texas 173 south. This is true Hill Country terrain, with high, pronounced hills, winding roads, and frequent small creeks, often shaded by cypress trees. We passed through the small town of Bandera, the self professed "Cowboy Capital of the World". The Medina River runs through the southern edge of this small, interesting town, which has really grown since the last time we were here several years ago. The hills stayed with us as we continued south on 173. About halfway to Hondo, roughly at the county line, the hills finally gave away and we entered the South Texas brush country.

The terrain pretty much remained the same as we passed first through Hondo, then Devine, then finally Jourdanton, all small towns. At Jourdanton, we turned east on Texas 97 for a short leg to Pleasanton, where we would pick up US 281. Jourdanton has fewer than 4,000 people and Pleasanton fewer than 10,000, so I was surprised at the buildup of businesses along Texas 97 between these two neighboring communities. I would have thought I was in a more heavily populated area. I guess there is an oil boom in the area as I did see numerous oil-field related vehicles. There are plenty of places to eat and numerous lodging opportunities on this stretch of road.

At Pleasanton, we turned south on US 281 for a few miles before joining I-37, which goes to Corpus Christ. We stayed on I-37 to just south of Mathis, where we exited to pick up Texas 188. Just before our exit, we noticed a sign indicating the wait time for the ferry we would later be using to reach Mustang Island. At this time, the wait was 15 minutes.

Almost as soon as we headed east on Texas 188, the countryside changed from brush country to farm land. I saw numerous fields of corn, some as tall as knee-high, as well as some young shoots of cotton. Almost all the land was being farmed until we reached Sinton. We passed through Sinton and picked up US 181 on the east side of town for a brief leg to nearby Gregory. We just grazed the north side of Gregory as we picked up Texas 361 on the east side of town. We followed 361 east through Ingleside, then curved north to Aransas Pass before turning east again to head to the ferry across a series of small islands and one small causeway across Redfish Bay.

The wait at the ferry was very brief, less than the 15 minutes posted. The ride across the Intracoastal Waterway was short, just long enough for us to step out, snap a few pictures, then get back in our car. The ferry employees do a great job of working traffic onto the ferry and then taking the riders across. I believe there are 4 moorings per side; I'm not sure how many ferries are actually working.

As soon as we docked on the island, the ramps were lowered and the traffic departed the ferry. As soon as we left the ferry landing, we passed through the traffic light and stopped almost immediately at the Visitor Center to pick up information to plan our stay on the island.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Strolling About the Yard

I took the camera for a stroll about the yard a day or two ago. It's worth noting that we enjoyed about half an inch of rain during the morning hours earlier today, so the yard should really come to life with the rain and the nitrogen. We are grateful for any rain we get here, and this is the best rain we've had for at least 4 months. I think it's appropriate that this life giving rain arrived on Easter Sunday.

I planted some 1015 sweet onions and some red onions back in late January. They are coming along well and should be ready to harvest pretty soon. If we store them properly, they will provide our needs for several months. About 2 or 3 weeks ago, I interplanted some Yukon Gold potatoes among the onions, and they are now up and growing nicely. As they grow and need more room, I'll harvest the onions from around them. You have to make every inch work when you have a small yard.

Red onions on the left (can you say homemade hamburgers?) and sweet 1015 onions on the right. With the rain we just received, the grass should green up quite a bit.
We planted some oregano, thyme, and lavender last summer, and it really came through the winter nicely. Back in January or so, I trimmed these plants thoroughly and really cleaned them out. They seemed to enjoy that, and they look healthy, even with very limited watering. In fact, they are beginning to crowd one another.

From left to right, oregano, thyme, and lavender in a bed bordering the house.
I did not take a picture of the two sage plants we have out front, but they are filling out nicely. The rain early this morning will help them greatly, and they will probably burst into flower in the next few days. Over the winter, they looked a little lean, but they look much better now. One of my yuccas appears to be dead. If so, I'll remove it and replace it with something else. For now, the other yucca is getting ready to bloom.

The surviving yucca in our front yard. The stem sticking straight up is full of blooms, which will flower in the next few days. Notice the very green and healthy sage bush in the background. It's a bit thin on the side facing the camera, but the rain this morning will really help that.

Finally, some of my neighbors have soft yucca plants that are already in bloom. I've always loved the milky blooms of yuccas.

Soft yucca across the street in full bloom.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Swallows in the Backyard

I'm not an expert on birds -- not by any stretch of the imagination. But I can recognize basic species on sight, and I can recognize a number of calls, such as those made by cardinals or doves. But when it gets to the particulars of a species, I'm not much use.

Lately, we've had a pair of swallows hanging around our backyard. They've pretty much made themselves at home. We had to take down our wind chime because they had begun sitting there and leaving their droppings on our patio.

As a rule, I'm a big fan of swallows. I enjoy watching their aerial acrobatics as they dive and swoop, snatching insects from the air. Many gardeners erect multi-holed bird condominiums on unusually tall poles to attract these beneficial birds, knowing that the little insectivores will eat many of the pests that can decimate a garden. Our little birds will sweep through our patio, up under the eave and then back out again. They are truly graceful little birds.

Growing up, I often heard folks refer to "martins", or even "purple martins". In fact, I've usually heard this term more than I have the term "swallow". Actually, I believe the martin is a sub-species of swallow. I'm not sure that the birds in my yard are martins; if not, I'm not sure what their precise species is. The purple martin, I think, has a rich blue tint to it, and I don't see that on the pair of swallows visiting my yard.

My swallows are interesting little creatures, and they don't scare easily. I can usually go about my business in the yard without their flying away unless I get within 10 feet of them. Even then, they usually return quickly and take up their positions again. They like to perch on my neighbor's rain gutter and face our patio. I guess they are trying to figure out what happened to their wind chime.

Profile of our frequent guests.

Front view of our little friends.

Donna set out her hummingbird feeders a couple of weeks ago. We've only seen 1 or 2 hummingbirds visiting, but we do get a number of other birds that like to visit these feeders, though, especially finches. We've even had a couple of doves perch atop the poles that hold the hummingbird feeders.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Hike Report: Looping to Cougar Outlook

My brother Larry and his wife Nancy are visiting. Yesterday we did a 6+ mile loop hike at San Angelo State park.

It was still a bit cool, perhaps in the upper 60s, when we started our hike at 9:00 AM from Pulliam Ridge in the southern section of San Angelo State Park. We would follow a route very close to one I reported in "San Angelo SP: January 20, 2012" more than 2 years ago.

After descending Pulliam Ridge on the old paved road on the southwest side of the hill, we cut through the Potts Creek area on an old trail not marked on the trail map developed by Rick Ogan more than 3 years ago and available for a small fee at the park office. To my knowledge, it is the best map of the hiking trails of the park. However, if you use Google Earth and zoom in, the trails will appear, complete with names.

Again, the trail we used to cut across Potts Creek to Antelope Ridge is not on the map, but veers off the Potts Creek Trail near the old corral area at the base of Pulliam Ridge.

Once atop Antelope Ridge, we cut through the old day use area with its eroding picnic tables and old restroom. We picked up the old paved road and followed it almost due south to near its intersection with FM 2288. Just before reaching the park boundary, we turned due north on another old park road, which took us past a cutoff to Bell's Point.

About half a mile past the Bell's Point turnoff, we came to a rest area and took a brief break.
Nancy, Larry, and Donna at the rest area. Note the bike rack, water fountain, water trough, and hitching rack, all to the right of Donna. There are numerous such places along the trails, making this park a good place for equestrians and bikers as well as hikers.
After a short break, we took the River Bend Trail for the next mile or so. At the second intersection with a park road, we turned north and headed to Cougar Outlook, our destination for the day.

Larry (left) and I along the River Bend Trail on our way to Cougar Outlook. Larry prefers shorts, but in country like this where you have so many thorny plants, not to mention rattlesnakes, Donna and I prefer long pants, even on hot days. Larry also likes a big Teddy Roosevelt stick. Donna and I prefer the lighter, telescoping aluminum hiking poles.

Cougar Outlook, taken from the River Bend Trail.

We stopped at Cougar Outlook for about 15 minutes to rest and snack on summer sausage, crackers, and cheese. From the outlook, you can see the North Concho River to the north. I was glad to see some water still in it, for this country is really dry now, having received only a third of an inch of rain in the last 4 months. At that rate, we'll get a mere 1 inch in a year's time. That's not good.

Nancy and Larry enjoying the shade at Cougar Outlook. Hitching rack for horses in the foreground.

North Concho River. The river bends and flows right from here. I was surprised at the amount of water in the river. Compare it to the picture below taken more than 2 years ago, when rain was more plentiful and we were not as far into the drought.
The Concho River, taken from near the same spot as above but on January 20, 2012. Since this photo was taken in the dead of winter, trees do not have green leaves.

From Cougar Outlook, we took the Flintstone Trail so that Larry and Nancy could see the table and chairs that give the trail its name. (See previous hike report for pictures). We then picked up the main trail from the Burkett Trail Head (South Park) to the Bell Trail Head (North Park) for the most direct route back to Pulliam Ridge. We did pass through a herd of Longhorns on our way. They were gathered around a watering trough near an old restroom.

Longhorns we encountered on our return trip. Note the little calf right-center. Silver water trough is behind herd.

Donna and the longhorns.

This was a good hike for a group of worn out old folks. There were very few up and down sections, and most of the hike was on a road or double track trail. Weather was good, though it was beginning to get hot at the end of the hike. We saw one bike rider along Antelope Ridge and another on the River Bend Trail. Otherwise, we had the trails to ourselves. There was quite a bit of road noise from FM 2288 anytime we drew near that highway (first half of hike). Otherwise, it was a peaceful hike.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Movie Review: Non-Stop

Donna and I went to see Non-Stop yesterday (Saturday), the action thriller starring Liam Neeson and Julianne Moore. We had planned to watch the movie when it first appeared here 2 or 3 weeks ago, but never got around to it. It worked out well, though, for yesterday we had the entire theater to ourselves except for one other couple. I guess everyone else saw it the first week or so it was in town.

Neeson plays Bill Marks, a U.S. federal air marshall with numerous personal demons he's dealing with. On a flight from New York to London, he receives a text from an unknown individual that a person will die on the plane every 20 minutes unless $150 million is wired to an account.

The action, like the flight, is non-stop. There are numerous twists in the plot, and I was never able to guess the perpetrator until the end. Fragments from Marks' personal life are revealed as the story develops. It's an entertaining movie, and should hold the interest of most viewers.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Pot Calling the Kettle Black

The new GM CEO, Mary Barra, is being grilled by a congressional committee regarding allegations that certain models of GM products were faulty and that GM was negligent in responding to the need to make necessary repairs.

GM should be taken to task. The problem existed for a decade with no real attempt to act responsibly. As a result, 13 people died. I'm not a big GM fan anyway as they are one of the two American auto companies that took stimulus money. In GM's defense, they have repaid this stimulus money, including interest, but for them to find themselves in a position where they needed such money bothers me. It smacks of mismanagement.

I do not know when Ms. Barra learned of the problems she is currently answering for. She's only been the CEO for 3 months, so she certainly wasn't in the driver's seat when all of these events were happening. But she's the CEO now, so the congressional committee is beating her up. Someone has to take the heat. And the lady is showing her ability to weather the storm. It will be interesting to see how she leads GM in the days to come.

But I find it a bit ludicrous that a congressional committee is taking GM to task.

I watch these congressional committees sit in judgement on all sorts of matters. Our elected representatives love to sit in their high-dollar chairs and peer down on those they are questioning. They can be -- and often are -- haughty in their manner, and they are quick to assign blame.

Don't you just love it when members of the most dysfunctional group of people in our country tell others what they are doing wrong? I'd love to form a committee to grill Congress on all of their faults and shortcomings and failures. The problem is, I only expect to live another 20 years, so that would not be enough time for me to even get started telling those hypocrites what they are doing wrong.