Sunday, March 27, 2011
Saturday, March 26, 2011
This is a 30-mile drive which runs south in Big Bend, and is quite scenic. It skirts the western flanks of the Chisos Mountains and drops to the Rio Grande floodplain. The drive features historic sites as well as a number of classical geologic features. The historic sites included a couple of ranches and an old military outpost. Settlers and ranchers lived in Big Bend in the early years of the last century. At the Sam Neil Ranch there is still some evidence of an old pecan and fig orchard. The windmill is still there and continues to pump out water. Another ranch, the buildings of which are still there, can be seen from Soltol Vista Ridge. It once had cattle, sheep and goats at different times of its existence. Sotol and other grasses provided food for the livestock to graze on.
Friday, March 25, 2011
I probably should back up a bit here and explain Big Bend National Park. It derives its name from the u-shaped bend of the Rio Grande River which borders the park. The park is very diverse in its landscape, as it has three life zones. It is located in the very southwestern corner of Texas, so a lot of the park is desert. I have mentioned the river or are riparian areas. Another large part of the park are the Chisos Mountains which rises out of the center of the park. John and I had heard that a trained volunteer was leading a group of people on the first two miles of the Lost Mine Trail in the Chisos Mountains on Thursday and decided to join the group. It was described as "a sensual walk". The guide, as we hiked along with him, pointed out numerous plants and trees commonly found in the park and how to identify them by feeling their leaves or, in the case of cactus, seeing what kinds of spines are on the plants. He had small containers of alcoholic beverages (which the Mexicans make from the sotol plant as well as the agave) and had us smell them. He also had some gin, I did not know that the juice of the juniper seed flavors gin. Also, to our horror, he picked up some fox scat and showed us how to identify the animal who left it. After two miles with the guide, John and I continued upward alone along the northern slope of the Casa Grande (which is part of a chain of mountains in the Chisos). The end of the trail took us to a promontory high on a ridge overlooking Juniper Canyon. We were hot and tired, but the climb was well worth the effort. We had in front of us one of the best views in the park. The square-shaped rock behind us is Casa Grande.
Thursday, March 24, 2011
Wednesday, March 23, 2011
As you may notice from the heading, we have made it to the park, and it is HOT. Yesterday's temperature reached 101 degrees. We are learning fast how to live in this desert climate, and that the best time to be outside is early morning or evening. Fortunately there is a cool breeze coming in our windows at night and we can then turn off the air conditioning. We took our first hike in the park last evening at sunset. Big Bend is famous for its sunsets. The building below is the campground store.
Tuesday, March 22, 2011
Monday, March 21, 2011
John wanted to see this observatory while we were in Texas, he just was not sure when or how we would fit that in. Yesterday, when we decided to take a short drive into the Davis Mountains, he suddenly realized that we were driving very close to the observatory and might as well stop and check it out. We stopped and signed up for a tour. Fortunately, it being spring break week, a lot of the volunteers were gone and the research astronomers were giving the tours. Our guide had worked there at least 30 years and had plenty of information to share with us .After a lengthy explanation by him of the different telescopes and how they are used at the observatory, we left the visitors center to drive up to one of them on top of the mountain. At the building of the 107 inch mirror telescope our guide had us climb up 70 steps to the floor where it is located.
Sunday, March 20, 2011
Friday, March 18, 2011
Thursday, March 17, 2011
We had a very interesting day yesterday touring this town (population 90,000). Our first stop was the visitor's center, where we left our car and began our walking tour. While John got caught up in a lengthy discussion about the town with two men inside (Jerry and John), I wandered out the back door and immediately started taking pictures of the gardens and river walk. What a beautiful place for a visitor's center!
Monday, March 14, 2011
I was not too excited about touring another zoo, figuring not too many zoos can compare to the St.Louis or San Diego zoos. However, residents of this area encouraged us to check it out, and our AAA tour book rates it as a gem. It was quite crowded today because of spring break for many area schools, but a parking attendant told us that the crowd today was nothing compared to the number of people who would come out on a warmer day. It is a large zoo, 95 acres all total. I was impressed with the areas in which many of the African animals are given to roam, complete with deep rocky canyons and waterfalls. I was also intrigued with the area which had birds and animals of Texas. Texas has many different habitats; swampland to desert and hill country as well as piney woods and and sea shore. Not surprising, then, to find out that the state has coati (he looks like a raccoon), ocelot, bobcat, coyote, and jaguar. Another little critter who caught my attention with his bright green color was the cooter. The turtle resides in the Rio Grand watershed.
Sunday, March 13, 2011
Before driving over to tour the arboretum, John and I stopped in downtown Dallas at the Pioneer Plaza to see a large bronze sculpture. It is even more spectacular than the Las Colinas equestrian sculpture in Irving.
The above picture of a Texas Longhorn cattle drive does not even do the sculpture justice because there are many more cattle than just the few shown above. You may also notice the bored pose of the trail boss on a rocky prominence above the cattle. The arboretum of Dallas is currently having its Dallas Blooms days, that was our next stop Saturday afternoon.
It is the largest floral festival in the southwest with 500,000 spring-blooming bulbs. Tulips, daffodils, and fragrant-smelling hyacinths abound in colorful beds all over the arboretum. In the Dallas area tulips are an annual flower; the winters are not cold enough for them and, if left in the ground, they do not bloom well. We learned that piece of information from our garden guide. He is a docent for the garden and willing to tour anyone who desires a guide. He made our hike of the arboretum quite interesting, primarily because he grew up in the area. From him we learned a lot about the different gardens within the arboretum.Shortly after we began our tour we noticed a flaming red tree off in the distance. We checked it out before we left the garden and discovered it to be a peach tree in bloom.