Saturday, March 26, 2016

Resaca de la Palma State Park, Brownsville, TX

For the next month. March 15 till April 15, we volunteered to work at Resaca de la Palma State Park in Brownsville, TX.  This is the same park we worked at last year for three months. The first week here was busy getting reacquainted with the staff, Park operations, taking driver safety tests, and checking out all the trails we had learned to love last year.  Our schedule of 20 hours per week will be somewhat varied according to what programs are planned in the park.   Here are a few photos we managed to get while exploring in the Park, when we remember our camera!!!!

 This years cardinal shot was taken right outside our camper.  This part of Texas has an abundance of cardinals, unlike the northern states, but I still enjoy seeing every one of them.

Last year, Marlin built and installed five new screech owl nesting boxes.  Everyone was so excited when all five were filled with owls during the very first week.  The picture below is from last year and taken from the tram road where all the visitors could see it.

Of course it was one of the first things we wanted to check out this year.  To our disappointment all five of the nesting boxes have been taken over by honey bees

No one seems to have an explanation as to why this happened or how there could be five separate swarms of honey bees looking for new housing all at the same time.  Anyone have any ideas????

There are many of these Green Anole lizards everywhere you look.  This day one of them wanted to ride with us in the gator.

Local Cormorants.  Were were trying to decide if theses were Double Crested or Neotropic.  I think, based on the size of the orange patch by their mouth, that they are Neotropic, but need a cleaner picture to be sure.

Marlin was stalking me, while I was stalking the birds.

This little guy did not care one bit that we were watching him.

This year we are allowed to drive the tram.  It holds 14 people and we do a narration about what there is to see in the park for plants, animals, some history and answer questions.  The tram runs every hour, and depending on how often you stop and how long you talk, it takes about 45 minutes to drive the 3 mile loop. 

Hopefully we will have more interesting pictures to share in the next few weeks, not only about Resaca, but about other locations and events in the area.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Austin, Texas

After spending a week outside of Baumont, TX, nursing bad colds, and catching some rest after our visit in New Orleans, we moved on to Austin.  Our favorite State Park, McKinney Falls, only had four days available because next week is South by Southwest, Austin's big music and movie extravaganza.  Our visit included camping near Ken and Terry Smeltzer, the couple we met the very first time we went to McKinney Falls back about 4 years ago.

Ken and Terry live in Wisconsin and come down to Texas each winter.  They have a son who lives in Fort Worth but have also begun to enjoy the Rio Grande Valley so much that they just purchased a home near Mission.

Ken and Terry showed us the ropes about getting around the City to enjoy inexpensive music in the early evening hours.  Most venues have bands playing any type of music you could want and in the early hours, from 6pm till 9, they usually play for tips. 

One night we drove out to a town called Gruene, pronounced "Green".   The town is named after the first settler, Ernst Gruene, who was a German farmer.  Its location along the Guadalupe River helped it to become a thriving cotton growing area in the late 1800 and early 1900, but a boll weevil  blight, the depression, and highway construction that bypassed Gruene, left it a ghost town by the 1950s.

Its resurgence as a tourist attraction began in the 70's when a University of Texas architecture student happened on the site with all its old Victorian buildings and set to work getting the town put on the National Register of Historical Places and saving it from condo development.  Today it is a quaint village with shops, restaurants, art galleries housed in the restored structures, and a very active dance hall hosting nightly music performances, the majority of them free.

One of Marlin's favorite stores in town

Gruene Hall opened in 1878 and is one of the oldest dance hall in Texas. Check out

The  night we went, a man named Brent Graham played and sang, non stop, for four hours.  He played lots of the oldies and we were amazed that we knew the words to almost everything he sang!  As you can see in the picture, the tables and benches were possibly original to the building

Brent up close

The weather was beautiful while we were in Austin. We enjoyed a meal with Ken, Terry, Ken's brother Maynard, and his wife Nancy.

It was also the time of year when the Blue Bonnets cover the ground in all directions

The blooms were just beginning the week we were there, so there were more buds than blooms. 

Two nights we traveled to Congress Street in Austin to see one of Ken and Terry's favorite bands, "Hot Club of Cow Town"  This was a trio of guitar, violin, and upright bass who play a version of Texas Swing music.  No camera on board, but a fun night anyway.  Aside from their great talent as musicians, the folks who came there to dance were enjoyable to watch.  This band will be playing in Boothbay Harbor, Maine in August.  Will definitely try to get to that event.

The last night we were in Austin we went to a coffee house called "Radio Coffee and Beer" and listened to another incredibly talented musician, Erik Hokkanen.  Switching between the guitar and violin, he played an incredible  array of styles, including gypsy music, western swing, rock, bluegrass, and even classical.  Amazing to watch and listen to.  The two musicians with him were also talented and entertaining.

Another thoroughly enjoyable time in Austin, where even the old folks can have a good (and cheap) time!

Monday, March 7, 2016

More New Orleans

One of our daytime excursions was to the National World War II Museum.

It may seem like an unusual location for a "National" museum, however, two important connections explain why it is here.  The historian Stephen Ambrose, author of Undaunted Courage, and Eisenhower in Berlin, was a professor of history a the University of New Orleans from 1960 till 1995.  He donated the first $500,000 for the museum and campaigned for generous donations from the State of Louisiana and other well known celebrities.

The second connection is the Higgins Industries, the New Orleans company that designed and produced the landing craft for the D-Day invasion of Normandy as well as the PT boats also used during WWII.  A quote from President Dwight D. Eisenhower "If Higgins had not designed and built those landing craft, we never would have landed over an open beach"

The museum is a series of buildings, each telling a different piece of the WWII saga.  The experience begins with a 4D  movie, produced by Tom Hanks, that surrounds you with sounds, lights, and movement.  Quite a surprising experience.  With pictures, changing on-stage props, moving seats, blinding searchlights, the experience of the war build up, duration and ending are recreated for the audience.

The "Campaigns of Courage" building chronicles the war in the Pacific on one floor and the European campaign on the second floor. Displays include personal stories, actual film taken during the war, troupe photographs, and many artifacts.  Each section contained animated maps of where the allies were advancing or losing ground.  The visual impact of the graphic maps made me realize the enormity of the conflict much more than past reading about the war.

Higgins boats were on display in another building

Hard to believe they were still using carrier pigeons to relay information during this war.

After spending most of the day at the museum, we went in search of some music and afternoon refreshment.

We found both at a small garden cafe called Great Legends Park

After dark things get lively

An entire store full of Mardi Gras beads

The street is closed to traffic, crowded with people and sights you will never see in Bangor.

More sights that I determined not appropriate here.

Before we left we wanted to try the famous New Orleans  Beignets  at the Cafe DuMonde.  Twice when we stopped there the line was two blocks long, so we settled for some at a stall in the French Market. 

A fun visit to an exciting city.  Can't imagine what it would be like during Mardi Gras

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

New Orleans

Great way to start a visit to a new city is by taking a bus tour in order to get the lay of the land.  New Orleans has a "Hop On, Hop Off" narrated bus tour that is good for three days.  Since we were going to be there for five days we thought it was a good deal. Unfortunately, the bus had to move with the traffic, so we had to catch highlights on the fly.

Super Dome

Mardi Gras World, where you can see many of the floats that were in parades, at an additional cost.

A street sculpture  in honor of hurricane Katrina.  It was made from scraps of buildings destroyed by the hurricane.

Many of the trees along the parade routes were full of beads.  When float participants threw them to the crowds, they often over-shot the spectators and hit the trees.

After our first circle of the city we got off in the French Quarter District and walked for the rest of the day. The French Quarter is the oldest section of the city.  Narrow streets, iron balconies, hundreds of shops and restaurants make for lots of gawking while walking.  We returned to this area multiple times.  Seems to be where the action is.

The architecture comes from the Spanish who ruled this area in the 1700's

The famous Jackson Square, with St. Louis Cathedral in the background.  A beautiful Park with lots of street activity along all the side streets and the plaza in front of the Cathedral.

 The plaza in front of the Cathederal was packed with street vendors, mostly Tarot  card readers or fortune tellers, as well as street musicians

Strange people!

 Unique instruments


Guess he has been asked that question many times.

One afternoon ther was a program in the French Market, put on by the National Park Service.  It was labled "Gumbo and Jazz"

The Gumbo part was a demonstration of how to make a traditional New Orleans Gumbo.  This knowledgeable, entertaining, creole woman, who's name I neglected to write down, not only produced a gumbo for everyone to sample, she explained her long heritage going back to the 1700's. 

Between steps in the cooking process, the "Official"  National Park Service Centennial jazz band played classic tunes originating in this area.

The combo added some local musicians into the mix

More next time.