Thursday, October 28, 2010

Jack-O-Lanterns!

I LOVE HALLOWEEN!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Brazos Bend State Park--Trip Log

Yes, finally, the long awaited Brazos Bend Trip Log!  Sorry for the delay, but that's what happens when you come home with the flu!  I am feeling much better now and I'm ready to take you through my adventures at one the coolest parks I've been to!

We arrived on Friday afternoon with our car loaded to the max with camping gear, kids and dogs!  And as soon as I saw the sign, I knew this was gonna be a GREAT weekend!  We headed into the Ranger's station, selected our campsite and made our way through the park.  Sadly, when we claimed our spot, some old geezer from Houston came by and informed us that his church group had already reserved that spot.  But with a call to the front offices we were able to clarify that the spot was ours and life was good and we immediately started to set up camp!

Ah, Home Sweet Home!  We found a spot for the doggies.  "Sit boys, sit!  Good Doggies!"
By the time we were situated, it was time to get a fire going and cook dinner!  We had steaks cooked over the fire, a green salad, baked beans and some sourdough french bread!  Yum!  I don't kid around with camp food, we eat GOOD when we camp!  Once the fire settled a little,  it was time to bust out the marshmallows!  Nothing beats S'mores on a camping trip!  I've got to tell you, just sitting there, snuggled in a blanket with my kids, enjoying the fire and the noises of the night, it was heaven.  Seriously.

At one point, Big Daddy went to the facilities and came back with a trio of teenagers who were nice enough to show us a GARGANTUAN bullfrog they had pulled out of the swamp!  That thing was probably about 18" from head to toe!  And like an idiot I was so mesmerized by this thing and I was enjoying watching the kids so much that I totally forgot to get a camera.  I guess sometimes I need to realize that I can't snap a shot of EVERY thing we do or see!

One of the more interesting things I noticed about this park was the sheer number a certain type of spider.  These things were huge, at least 3-4" long with webs that went between the trees.  This little lovely was located about 15 feet up in the trees above our tent!
I would like to take a moment to acknowledge a guest photographer on my blog.   Several of the photos, including the one above, were taken by the Monkey Man himself!  I couldn't be prouder!

We eventually headed off to bed, enjoying all of the sounds around us, the croaking of the bullfrogs, the hoots of the owls and very late at night I heard coyotes and they were CLOSE.  It made me reach out and make sure all kids and doggies were safe and snug within the confines of the tent!  We woke up to crisp, chilly morning air and discovered that SOMEONE had tried to get into our cooler that night!
Pesky raccoons!  Oh well, they tried, but because we were smart and wedged it under the bench of the picnic table they weren't able to crack it open!  After a hearty breakfast of scrambled eggs and sausage, we got dressed, got our camera gear and headed out to explore the park.  One of the first things we saw was this sign...
and all I could think of was, "Ummmm, OK?!!"  It was quite apparent that this was some seriously swampy terrain.
I was completely enamored by the Spanish moss in the trees.  This shot made me think of a scene from "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil"!
And we all know my infatuation with old, dead trees.  This one was scrawny, but so cool nonetheless!
This shot was taken early in the morning and I was just amazed at how breathtaking this portion of the swamp was!  I'm so glad we stopped at the watering station for a drink!
As you can tell, the scenery was breathtaking, but what amazed me even more was the wealth of wildlife here.  And I mean in your face wildlife!  There were no fences, no enclosures, just paths and nature.  So let me show you some of the awesome critters we found in the span of just one afternoon!

Turtles!

 Hawks!
 Whistling ducks!
Yellow-crowned night heron
 Amazing dragonflies were everywhere, but hard as hell to photograph!
 Egrets that flew silently through the morning fog.
 White ibises
 The above, particularly cool and interesting shot was taken by the Monkey Man, there is no photo editing on this shot.  It reminds me more of a painting than a photo.  Click on it to get a better look!  SO cool!
 And of course one of the biggies of this park, is the Golden Silk Spider and it rules the whole place.  There are webs EVERYWHERE!  And the webs are HUGE!  What an incredible arachnid!
 But the one we all came to see was the American Alligator and did we ever see a few!  We saw Mama Gators,
and baby gators, (this one was a little over a foot long, so about a yearling)
 and BIG, DADDY GATORS!  He was probably about 12 feet long and all hauled out on the shore sunning himself!
And did I mention there are no fences or enclosures?  I had to keep a short leash on dogs and kids both!  After spending a good deal of time hiking, I took the kids over to the Nature Center to learn more about the animals we had seen that day.  It was small, but what it lacked in size it made up for it with well-informed, very friendly docents who discussed the local wildlife.  We were even treated to some up-close, hands-on experiences!

Here's a Mexican Milk Snake.
This particular snake is NOT native to the park, but they keep him on hand as a way to educate people on the coral snakes that ARE native to the park.  Next we got to pet this girl...
She was all shiny and soft since she just shed her exoskeleton about 3 days before!  And last but not least, BABY GATOR!!!
This little twerp was about 2 months old.  From what I understand, they try to catch a lot of them after they hatch.  They raise them for about a year until they are a little over a foot long, then they release them back into the wild to give them a little better chance for survival.  It had a wonderful scaly little back and the SOFTEST little underbelly!  I don't generally think reptiles can be classified as cute, but this little stinker was CUTE!

We headed back to camp for Piggy naptime and Big Daddy took off to get in line for tickets to the observatory for the Saturday Night viewing.  We had a nice dinner of Chicken Tortellini Pasta Salad and then we packed up the kids and the dogs and headed over to the observatory.
 Poor, little pipsqueak dogs had to hang out in the car.  Luckily as the sun was going down the temps were lovely and the breezes were blowing, besides, after all the hiking that day, these dogs were POOPED and all they wanted to do was sleep!  It was still light enough to get a decent pic of two of the telescopes.
As it got dark, a large group of amateur astonomers began to set up.  They each focused on different things and allowed the public to come and look through their telescopes.  They were more than happy to discuss things with the kids.  They pointed out some of the major constellations and one guy had his scope trained on the bottom of the Northern Cross which was so incredible.  It was actually two stars, one blue and one yellow and I had to go back 3 times to look because it was so cool!  After having nice chats with all of the amateur astronomers, it was time for our orientation, then up to the platform to wait our turn for the big scopes.  We started with the 36" telescope where they had it trained on the M-15 cluster.  The Piggy, being the shortest was allowed to go first as they raise the floor and drop it according to height!  Afterwards we headed to the smaller scopes,  which are 14" and 18", where we were treated to we the M-16 cluster and Jupiter with 4 of its moons!  The kids liked this the best!  You could actually see a dark black band which was a storm.  Totally awesome!

And that my friends, concludes our Brazos Bend adventure (at least the exciting, blog-able stuff).  The rest of the time was spent playing games, roasting marshmallows, having glo-stick dance contests and just having a wonderful time together as a family!  If you are wondering whether I would recommend this park, I absolutely would, UNLESS you have problems with spiders, snakes and large reptiles!

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Who-hooooooos on my chimney??

A wonderful thing happens at my house when the weather starts getting chilly at night, we get OWLS!  The past few nights we've heard their calls in the distance, probably over in the field across from our neighborhood.  They have steadily gotten closer.  On Friday night we were treated to the telltale hoots coming down our chimney.  So, armed with a spotlighter, we all headed out to see what we could see and lo and behold, one of our great horned owls!  It seemed a little smaller than the ones we normally see and quieter too.  I'm thinking it may have been a young one.  But either way, I sent Big Daddy in to retrieve the camera!  Great horned owls are cool!  They are even more cool when they hang out on your chimney, undisturbed by your light and let you take pictures!  Thanks little owl!

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Great Anticipation

We are two sleeps away from our big camping trip!  We found all the gear, checked to see if everything was in good order, went to the store to make sure we have plenty of batteries and plenty of water.  I have been excited about this trip for WEEKS!  And just where are we heading?  Brazos Bend State Park!  I have been wanting to go to this particular park for a couple of years now.  It boasts a large array of critters such as North American River Otters, gray fox, spoonbills and of course a large population of American Alligators!!!  (Needless to say, children will be monitored closely and pipsqueak dogs will be leashed or tethered in full view at ALL times!)  Another big perk is the George Observatory.   It opens every Saturday night for viewing through the 36", 14" and 18" telescopes!  The Monkey Man is really looking forward to stargazing!  In fact, the kids can hardly contain their excitement about this trip!  The park sounds amazing, the weather is going to be phenomenal and I can't imagine a better way to spent my weekend!  You can keep the swanky hotels in Vegas, just give me a tent, a campfire, some marshmallows and big blanket in which to snuggle with my munchkins and I will be in paradise!!  Needless to say, cameras are charged and packed and ready for action.  I can't wait to get out there and "shoot" something!!!  ;)  The Monkey Man will be in charge of one camera as it will be his "assignment" to take photos and write a journal about what we see and what we do on the trip so when we get home, he and Big Daddy can compile the official "Brazos Bend Trip Journal"!  I can't wait to see things through his eyes!  So we bid a fond farewell to Austin and the ACL Fest, you all enjoy the madness!  I will be enjoying the crackle of the campfire and the croaking of the bullfrogs!

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

A Garden Beauty

I was in a pretty piss-poor mood when I went out to clean my car.  The world was seeming like a pretty ugly place.  Then I happened to look over and see this little lovely hanging out in my bulbine and all of a sudden life seemed a little softer and nicer!  Sometimes it's the little things.