Sunday, February 13, 2011

Back to Texas

February 7, the day after the Super Bowl, we headed for Texas again. Before we left the state of Alabama we happened upon a charming village on the edge of the gulf named Fairhope. There was an inviting park between the road and the ocean that appeared just when we needed a break, so of course we stopped. The town is populated with quaint cottages as well as large “summer homes” One of the cottages supplied a real estate brochure listing its 1100 square feet for only 280,000. Guess the real estate along the gulf is not so depressed.

The beautifully groomed walkways curved along beside the roadway for about a half mile, with additional paths at a lower level near the beach. Mature trees and plantings, interspersed with sculptures added to the serene picture. Along the route were wooden benches, each carved with a dedication. I will put that in my list of fundraiser ideas for the future. The beach level included a long fishing pier, picnic and parking facilities, and a short distance into the water, multiple bird houses containing 266 condo units for the local Purple Martin residents. If you ever have to move to Alabama, and have the resources, Fairhope should be on your list.

Purple Martin condos

Dedication bench

When we reached Texas our plan this time was to drive straight across the state and head for Big Bend National Park. The weather report however, was for snow and ice all the way south to below San Antonio so we decided to follow the gulf route and try to avoid the worst of the cold. It did not help much because on Wednesday night Corpus Christie was 26 degrees, beating the last record low set in 1926 of 27 degrees.

By Friday the day temperatures had warmed up so we went on a tour of the King Ranch in Kingsville Texas. The King ranch was founded by Richard King in1853. He was a Mississippi River boat captain, who fell in love with the country after his first visit. He purchased a land grant for about three cents an acre and continued to add to his holding his entire life. After his parting speech about “never selling a single acre”, his widow continued to add to the ranch that today is still a family owned property of 825,000 acres as well as substantial agricultural holdings in Florida. The ranch was located on the Santa Gertudis River which accounts for the original name, Santa Gertudis Ranch. Long after King and his wife Henrietta had passed away, the ranch was incorporated by the family as the “King Ranch”.

The story told by our guide was that Mr. King went looking for cattle that could withstand the Southern Texas climate, he found them in Mexico, where he purchased, not only all the cattle in the town, but hired all the people living there to come and work on his ranch. Today many of the descendants of these original families continue to work the king ranch’s cows, horses, and other livestock. During his lifetime, King breed different strains of beef cows until he achieved his desired combination of size, weight, and durability into the registered Santa Gertudis breed. The ranch produced the first registered quarter horse and continues to bred and train a herd of over 350 horses, including a line of champions.

Well worth the time to take in the ranch tour as well as birding and agricultural tours offered here. The ranch maintains a balance of 65 percent agricultural and 35 percent wildlife habitat throughout their holdings. Since the location is included on the Texas birding trail where an incredible variety of bird species spend their winter, it is a birders heaven. We spotted a crested Cara Cara, a vermilion flycatcher, and hawks by the dozens during the 1 ½ hour ranch tour, as well as multiple deer, a coyote and of course rabbits.

champion quarter horse

Silo made from locally produced tiles

Santa Gertrudis cows

new born quarter horse colt

This barn was on a Ford truck commercial, except the King Ranch brand was covered by Ford Logo

The Commissary where ranch hands purchased all their needs

Weather reports hinted that the freezing nights were over so we moved along west and spent the weekend at Seminole Canyon State Park. This area of West Texas was the home to prehistoric natives who lived and worshiped in the naturally occurring limestone caves scoured out by rivers and flash floods eons ago. There are reportedly over 300 documented sites within a 60 mile radius of this park, all containing well preserved painted pictographs dating from 2500 BC. The park maintains a large site that was inhabited by many generations. The arid climate preserved tools, mats, sandals, and baskets as well as the pictographs. Tours of this site are given twice a day by knowledgeable volunteers.

On Sunday we took a tour of the White Shaman site, which is on private land located one mile from the park. This site is believed to be only ceremonial since no artifacts of daily life have ever been found here and it is a smaller cave. Our guide said the latest theory regarding this site is that the pictographs represent the creation story belonging to these people.

Sunday was a busy day at Seminole State Park. They were holding the fourth annual Archeolympics. The Archeolympics showcased skills possessed by the ancient tribes who existed in this area, skills necessary for them to survive. The event was attended by about 150 people, many of whom participated in the contests. Competition included Rabbit stick throwing, fire starting, and Atlatl throwing, as well as demonstrations of flint knapping (making arrowheads), cordage making (creating thread, rope, and basket materials from plant fibers), and exhibit from the Las Moras Living History Group with Civil War artifacts as well as demonstrations on the competitive skills.

The rabbit stick is shaped like a boomerang but is not meant to return to the thrower. It is thrown at rabbits in order to corral them into a net or to knock them out. The atlatl is a device for throwing a spear with increased force and distance. This weapon pre dates the bow and arrow. Watching the participants highlighted just how much practice was necessary to become accurate with these tools. It was a fun informative day that increased my appreciation for the ingenuity and cleverness of prehistoric man.

Living History participants

Soldier reaching for black square of compressed tea which is scraped into a cup for each use

Seminole Canyon

The archeoympics had demonstration stations showing various skills natives used to survive here.
Demonstration of making plant fibers from the Soto cactus plant. The leaves are beaten

then the fibers are separateWhen thin fibers are knotted they can be used like thread. Larger fibers are used for weaving

a carrying bag made from Soto cactus fibers

Bag woven from Soto cactus plant fibers

tinder pouch used when starting fire from sparks

friction fire starter When a spark is achieved, it is dropped into tinder. (looked like moss)

smoke in the tinder - success

Replica baskets made from plant fibers

Replica of native sandles

Replica sandle

Atlatl demonstration

boy scouts giving atlatl a try

adult atlatl throwing

flint knapping (making arrowheads)

Rabbit stick throwing contest

a hit with the rabbit stick (no rabbit, just a ball)

Adults give it a try

The park gives tours of the cave dewlling within the park boundry

Fate Bell shelter site where a colony lived

approaching the fate bell cave site in the park

The hike down to the White Shaman site

volunteer guide

pectographs from about 2500 BC

The White Shaman

View of the Reo Grande River

reproduction wiki ups - native huts

Modern statue of the White Shaman

This posting seems a bit disorganized. Intermittant internet connection had me a bit frazzled. Hope everyone had a romantic Valentine's day. Finally got this posted on Tuesday. Headed for Big Bend National Park today. Hope to send more pictures next week. I know there is no service in Big Bend, but we will move on from there to New Mexico. Stay Tuned. Judy & Marlin

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