Thursday, November 16, 2017

Sixteen Bridges

In our quest to hike and paddle all of the trails in Martin Dies Jr. State Park, we decided to try the 2.25 mile Slough Trail. For those not familiar with the word "Slough", it means a swamp or backwater area. Because much of this trail is near swampland, there are sixteen small bridges and boardwalks along the way.

Most of the trail is heavily wooded, with tall pines and hardwoods providing a beautiful "tunnel" to walk through. 

We continue to be impressed with the size and height of trees here in the park. We've not spent much time in East Texas, but they sure do grow some dandy trees.

There were plenty of mushrooms and fungus growing on fallen logs and the forest floor. 

The American Beautyberry was still holding on to bright purple berries. Eventually birds will eat them. 

Our hike ended at the "Swamp Overlook", which is a large wooden bridge overlooking the lake in one direction and the slough in the other. 

More to come later from Martin Dies...


Saturday, November 11, 2017

Kayaking and Bushwhacking(?)

Bushwhacking refers to hiking through wilderness areas without trails. But what if you do the same sort of exploring in a kayak? Is is Marshwacking? Swampwhacking?

We took the park kayaks out again, and this time we decided to explore backwater areas of the lake rather than established trails. There were plenty of dead-end coves and channels, but we also found several connecting channels. We saw plenty of ducks and wading birds, and expected to find one of the many alligators that are said to inhabit the lake. However, we failed to find any of the toothy reptiles!

We came across large areas of water lilies and other flowering plants. What is amazing is that all of the foreground in the picture above are growing in standing water. The few areas of land are supporting the trees you can see in the background.

It was a beautiful day and we paddled about three miles exploring the back areas of the lake. We look forward to more exploration.


Sunday, November 5, 2017

Kayaking at Martin Dies Jr. State Park

Martin Dies Jr. State Park rents both canoes and kayaks, and one perk of being a volunteer is that we can use them free of charge.

Teri and I grabbed a pair of kayaks on our first day off and explored the Walnut Paddling Trail. This is one of four paddling trails in the park, and goes all of the way around the island where our campground is located. The map shows it as a 2.7 mile trail, but we traveled a little over 3 miles as we meandered around a bit.

The kayaks are smallish sit-on-top models. We've paddled in a number of different types of kayaks, and enjoy sit on tops when the water and weather are warm. They can get a little damp, which makes them less desirable in colder conditions. The picture above shows the launching area. The first order of business was to paddle out beneath the observation bridge. That area of the lake is shallow and weedy, so it took a little searching to find a clear way out. 

Out beyond the bridge the water was calm and clear. For the most part we stayed close to the shoreline, where huge trees overhang the water. 

We saw a few ducks and wading birds, including this Great Egret. 

There are many different species of trees in this park, but the Bald Cypress and Southern Magnolia seem to dominate the shorelines. 

It is interesting to weave in and out of the cypress roots. They make such an interesting habitat. 

At one point we could see our truck and trailer through the trees on the shoreline. 

About 2/3 of the way around the trail we entered a slough (channel) that took us back toward the launch point. This area was different than the open water we'd been on. 

Near the takeout we had to cross under the small bridge that accesses the island. 

We plan to try each of the paddling trails here in the park. Hopefully they are as enjoyable as the Walnut Paddling Trail!


Thursday, November 2, 2017

Strike up the Band(s) -

One of North Americas most interesting mammals is the Nine-Banded Armadillo. Restricted in the US to southern and southeastern states, many folks have never seen one of these unique critters in the wild. As we explored the 3/4 mile Island Trail here at Martin Dies Jr. State Park, Teri spotted this fellow rooting around in the brush.

Armadillos are the only North American mammal protected by bony plates. Their mid-section is crossed by a series of nine narrow bands that give it some flexibility, allowing it to curl into a ball if threatened.

They have rather poor eyesight, and if you remain quiet they will sometimes shuffle and snuffle their way right up to your feet. They do have a well developed sense of smell, and can sometimes be seen with their head raised, sniffing the air. 

This one got very close to us, but light was fading fast and we had to move on to finish our hike while we could still see. Click on the picture and count the central plates. Is the name correct?

We've since seen a couple of more Armadillos around the park, and look forward to seeing many more.


Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Home Sweet Home, For Now...

We have started a new volunteer gig, this time in deep East Texas. We were scheduled to return to Goose Island State Park to lead bird walks, but Hurricane Harvey did a number on the park and closed it temporarily. We offered to help them clean up, but they weren't sure of when they could accommodate volunteers so we made alternate plans.

We will be Park Hosts at Martin Dies Jr. State Park near Jasper, Texas. If you don't know where Jasper is, we're about 50 miles north of Beaumont, Texas and only 35 miles from the Louisiana border. The area is a wonderful mixture of pines and hardwoods, and we are right on B.A. Steinhagen Lake.

Though most of the park is heavily wooded, our camping area is surprisingly open. With the short days of winter approaching we're pleased to be out in the sunshine. So far the weather has been crisp and cool. We actually had frost our second night!

Our duties are pretty simple. We'll do site checks in the morning (making sure the folks who came in during the night have paid), occasional after-hours car counts, and cleaning up campsites when folks check out. Firewood sales are on the honor system so we won't be involved with that. You can see our John Deere Gator parked behind the firewood rack. This is our main transportation when checking and cleaning sites. 

This is a weekend destination park for folks from Houston (2 1/2 hours away), and we will fill up completely on Friday night, and then empty back out on Sunday. Weekday traffic is very light, though Thanksgiving week is booked. After Thanksgiving we're told that even weekend camping will be very slow. 

The park has extensive hiking trails, along with a network of canoe/kayak trails. We plan to try them all, so stay tuned...


Wednesday, October 25, 2017

One Last Round

There are two really nice 9 hole disc golf courses close to us.  Mark plays one of them almost every day we’re home.  I usually go with him.  Sometimes I pick up trash and sometimes I just enjoy getting outside in this beautiful area we live in.

We’ll be leaving for our next volunteer assignment soon and Mark wanted to get in one last round.   We loaded up some trash bags and loppers and some tools. 

There isn’t a lot of trash on this course but I can usually find something to pick up.  Today my goal was to pick up a lot of broken glass that has been there since last year.  This is an old window that someone put in the ground to use as a information board.  It was a good idea.  Unfortunately, some people can’t resist destroying things.  So, all the glass was busted out. 

A few days ago I started to pick up glass and was immediately aware of very large wasps starting to surround me.  So today I’m prepared.

They're no match for a big can of Raid.  After dispatching a dozen very large red wasps, I started picking up a bag full of glass.

For a couple of years now Mark has been cutting grape vines out of the large old oak trees here.  The grapes are great for wildlife but kill the trees.  The oak trees in this area are already stressed by oak wilt and we have noticed a few new dead trees this year.

 There was one disc golf basket that needed repair.  See the loose chain? 

 We stopped at the hardware store on the way and bought an S-hook so Mark could make the repair.

Don’t you wish people that throw trash on the ground would throw it in the open so those of us who pick it up don’t have to crawl under bushes?
We were so busy picking up trash and trimming grape vine, I don’t think Mark ever played past the first hole.

We've got a new volunteer assignment starting soon.  It will be in a new state park for us too.
So stay tuned!

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Give Me a Moment, Would Ya?

We visited the Riverside Nature Center in Kerrville to see what birds and butterflies might be hanging on a cool fall day.

We immediately came across a female Gulf Fritillary that had recently emerged from her chrysalis and was drying her wings. I hadn't even raised the camera before a male joined her, obviously interested in being the first to mate.

We had learned previously that some males in this family (Fritillaries and Longwings) will attempt to mate with females even before they have fully emerged from their chrysalis. Survival of the fastest, I suppose!

In the above picture (click to enlarge) you can see that they are mated. The female is now turned upside down and the tips of their abdomens are joined. Mission accomplished!

We've noted that Monarch butterfliles are migrating south. This one made a pit stop to refuel before its journey continues.

We also saw several Queens enjoying the Blue Mistflower, which seems to be an all-time favorite of butterflies in Texas.

This was a good day for orange and black butterflies!


Thursday, October 19, 2017

Still Crocheting!

As you know, my hobby is crocheting.  Mostly I crochet blankets that I donate to a group called The Linus Connection.  This year I will probably end up donating about 25 afghans.

Here are a few that I made this summer:

There's still plenty of time to make a few more this year!

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Sometimes You Strike Out

Another rainy day finds us at the Frontier Times Museum in Bandera.  This turned out to be the strangest museum we’ve been to. There seemed to be little rhyme or reason to what was displayed or how it was organized.

The first room inside the front door.

Established by J. Marvin Hunter, Sr., the Frontier Times Museum opened its doors on May 20, 1933.

It's hard to see but J Marvin Hunter is spelled out in marbles.

The museum is absolutely packed to the brim.

There were some interesting things to see

Then we would come across the weirdest things:

And this:

The museum is a larger than it looks from the outside and has several different rooms.  This tramp art picture frame was nice:

 Close-up of one corner.
We both left the museum thinking it was just very odd.

After we returned home I looked at their web site and it all made a little more sense:

“As visitors walk through the museum’s doors, they are transported back to the days when museums served as cabinets of curiosities, displaying wonderful and weird treasures.

Museum founder and luminary, J. Marvin Hunter, Sr., never said no to a gift to the museum’s collection.  He felt that if the artifact was important to the donor, then it should be important to everyone.”

Oh well, sometimes it’s a hit.  Sometimes a miss.