Saturday, December 29, 2012

Birding Centers of the Rio Grande Valley

As I have alluded to in previous postings, the Rio Grande Valley is on the migratory flyway between Central and South American and Canada.  Nearly 500 species have been sighted here.  On Thursday we drove over to Edinburgh Scenic Wetlands where there are winding trails and lagoonside platforms to view various forms of wildlife.  We had just started out on one of the trails when we noticed a bird perched over a small pond, he had a distinctive white collar and a ruddy colored breast with a dark green colored head.  We discovered later from our bird book that we had seen a green kingfisher, the smallest bird in that family.  Along one of the trails was another large pond where there were numerous waterfowl, one of which was a fulvous whistling duck.  It is hard to deal with both a binoculars as well as a camera, but I try!
On Friday we visited Quinta Mazatlan, a 10,000-square-foot 1930s Spanish Revival adobe hacienda set amidst tropical gardens.   We had a guided tour of both the house and the gardens.
Quinta Mazatlan is also a McAllen wing of the World Birding Center.  Over 100 species of birds have been identified here, one of which is the chachalaca.  That bird's only home is the Rio Grande Valley.
We watched a flock of about a dozen of those birds busily scurrying back and forth across our path, totally oblivious to our presence.  They also were constantly ascending and descending from a nearby hackberry tree which currently is loaded with fruit.  They look a bit like a road runner, but they are in a family by themselves and are a tropical-forest bird..  They give out a ringing cha-cha-lac sound.  In the gardens we heard many different bird calls, but only identified the kiskadee- which we saw several times.
Friday evening we did a full moon hike in another World Birding Center, Estero Llano Grande State Park.  We had an interpretive guided walk on the boardwalks and trails of the park.  Unfortunately it was a cool night, and our guide could not find many night creatures out.  Scorpions and tarantulas could not be found, but we did see the small gem-like eyes of many spiders in the grass.  Speaking of eyes, the red eyes of one goatsucker gave him/her away.  Goatsuckers are night hawks with wide mouths(those mouths help them catch insects), in that category are whip-or-wills and pauraques.  It was the latter which we saw, sitting on the ground near our path.  We also saw a great horned owl fly overhead and heard many whistling ducks who were perched in the trees.  I was very impressed by our guide who could identify the many night sounds!  He was also able to catch a glimpse of a bob cat who crossed our path, I only saw a white flash off in the distance.  The night walk was a first time experience for us, now we are anxious to do it again, but on a warmer evening.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Christmas in Rio Grande Valley

We are now comfortably ensconced in McAllen, Texas.  It is located in the Rio Grande Valley, which encompasses the area from the white sand beaches of South Padre Island down to the Rio Grande River along the U.S.-Mexico border.  It also extends to the north ranch country of Texas.  Nine international bridges connect the Rio Grande Valley to Mexico.  The area has sub-tropical weather, since we have been here we have enjoyed some rather warm weather.  Christmas day was in the mid 80s.  The park we are in once use to be the location of a citrus grove.  There is a ruby red grapefruit tree next to our home and the park has a policy that we can pick whatever is on our lot.  Looks like we have a winter of good eating!
 A couple living on another street in the park have a lemon tree on their lot, they were generous and gave us a sack of them.  Blooming hibiscus, oleander and poinsettias also surround us here in the park.  And a delightful floral smell hit me the other day as I was biking through the park in a Christmas parade.  I discovered that it was an orchid tree which was filling the air with that wonderful smell.
The beauty of the blossom of the orchid tree is as exquisite as its smell!
I once lived in McAllen.  In fact, the school where I once attended school and where my father was a teacher, is still standing.  That period of time was in the early fifties, when the building was not only a school, but also St.Paul Lutheran Church.  It now belongs to the Baptist Church.
Shortly after we moved from the town the church built a more modern building in another section of the city. That building and a school is still active today.  On Christmas day John and I attended church there, along with my brother Wayne and his wife Mary Jo.  Wayne was confirmed at St.Paul’s church, he is a older than I and has stronger memories of our time in McAllen.
I mentioned the Christmas parade, which we had here in the park on the 24th.  I put a Santa hat on and joined other bikers as well as people in decorated gulf carts for a parade through the park.  That was a bit out of my comfort zone!  Something else unusual we did on that day was to attend a bilingual Christmas Eve service. The church, Our Savior Lutheran, has a ministry to the Hispanic community.  There were a few Hispanic families who attended the Christmas Eve service;  their children wandered around the sanctuary during the service.  My guess is that they do not attend services very often. The pastor, Steve Herzberg, had a wonderful object lesson for the children.  He discussed the legend of the candy cane.  That sugary treat is a reminder that Jesus is our shepherd- the red stripes remind us of his suffering and death.  The gift of the baby Jesus, which portents for us life everlasting, is certainly what Christmas is all about!
Christmas day evening we drove to a small town south of McAllen, Hilalgo, to see their Festival of Lights.  We walked around the main section of lights, which were around the city hall and library.  After finishing that, we took the 3 mile driving tour around different sections of the town.  It was quite an impressive display for a little town, and all free of charge.  Our Christmas was a bit unusual but still a good one.   We wish all our faithful readers a blessed holiday season!

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Bayfront of Corpus Christi

This last posting for Corpus Christi will cover what we have been doing in the last couple of days, which has been essentially hanging around the waterfront.  Yesterday the park we are residing in had a wiener roast on the beach close to where we were parked last week.  There is a sense of community in many of the recreational vehicle parks here down south.  A lot of the snow birds come to the same place yearly. and after the winter months return to their homes up north.  So at the picnic yesterday John and I were the outsiders, but everyone was friendly and introduced themselves to us.  The food was delicious and afterwards John and I joined a group playing ladder ball.  Before leaving the seashore we did take some time for walk on the beach.  For some reason numerous jelly fish could be seen partially buried in the sand.
The jellyfish pictured above is of a different variety than the one I posted last week.  The stringy substance above the fish are its tentacles.  We also saw numerous dead monarch butterflies on the beach, and wondered whether that was a normal occurrence when they migrate along the coastline.  Guess I will have to do some research on that!
Today, Wednesday, we drove into downtown Corpus Christi to visit the art museum.  The first section, made of poured concrete and shell aggregate, was built in 1972.  The second section was built in 2006 and features 13 roof-top pyramids. Currently there is a special display of Christmas trees from around the world.  Public and private schools in the area decorated the trees.  They were encouraged to research their chosen country, create themed decorations and trim their tree accordingly.  After the exhibit the trees with their decorations will be donated to needy families.  Many of the decorations were made from such simple materials as popsicle sticks, felt, paper, yarn and ribbons, and yet the total effect was quite beautiful on every tree!  I especially like the Italian tree, which had a culinary theme.
 The South Texas Museum of Science and History is next to the art museum, so that is where we headed next.  We arrived in time for a tour on the Pinta.   In 1983 the Spanish Navy and other specialists engaged in a study of the three Columbus ships.  They then drew up construction plans for building the ships, taking care to insure authentic reproduction of the historic vessels.  For a variety of reasons the carvels ended up on the waterfront of Corpus Christi in 1993.  Unfortunately, they have since been damaged by a barge and now sit in dry dock.  The Pinta has been partially repaired and we were able to board it with a guide.  Actually, there is not much to tour on the ship- there is no galley, sleeping cabins or heads.  The crew of 27 slept out on the deck, during storms they went below to the cargo bay where there just maybe could be animals running around.  On calm days they could cook hot meals in an iron kettle on the deck.  After seeing the primitive conditions on those vessels I have developed a healthy respect for our early explorers!

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Corpus Christi, Texas

One would think that, with our particular type of lifestyle, there would be little opportunity to get into the holiday spirit.  Quite the contrary, because we are not busily decorating our home, purchasing gifts or baking cookies, we have more time to enjoy the sights and sounds of the season.  Sunday afternoon we attended The Nutcracker by the Corpus Christi Ballet.  After the concert we drove along Shoreline Blvd.( it runs along the bay in downtown Corpus Christi), which is decorated with a very large Christmas tree.
The harbor here has also gotten into the festival spirit of the season, many of the boats are decorated with Christmas lights. And while we were on Shoreline Blvd. we found the memorial for the Tejano singer Selena Quintanilla Perez.  She was murdered in Corpus Christi on March 1995 by the president of her fan club.
The memorial is decorated with mosaic tiles of white roses, a favorite flower of the singer.  Our day Sunday ended with a Christmas concert given by the American Guild of Organists at a Presbyterian church in the downtown area.  We returned to the harbor in the city on Monday to tour the USS. Lexington.
This ship served longer than any other aircraft carrier in the world, 40 years (1943-47,1955-91).  She was called the "Blue Ghost" by propagandist Tokyo Rose who reported her sunk numerous times, but somehow she always manged to come back and fight.  In reality, she was hit by a torpedo in 1943 and in 1944 a Japanese kamikaze pilot hit her, killing 47 officers aboard.  Today there is the Rising Star of Japan painted on the aft side of the island (navigation bridge) where the ship was hit.  The ship was also the first in naval history to have women stationed aboard as crew members (August 18,1980). The ship currently has 20 planes, from WWll Warbirds to Blue Angels.  They can be found on the flight deck as well as in the hanger area.  Christmas carols played while we were touring the hanger,  and it was there where we saw a most unusual Christmas tree.  The tree has white cloth around it to make it look like a snowman.  Despite the presence of palm trees and blooming tropical plants, Christmas is present in Corpus Christi!

Saturday, December 15, 2012

South Texas Botanical Gardens and Nature Center

Shortly after we had paid our admission to this garden we were encouraged to check out the reptiles in the back room of the gift shop.  I did not realize until I got home that, according to the park's brochure, it is also a nature center.  At the time I thought it a bit strange to be looking at reptiles instead of flowers.  A carpenter was sprawled on the floor of the reptile room when we arrived there.  He was busily working on some sort of cabinets.  However, he got up immediately from the floor and warmly greeted us.  I must say that I saw some strange things in the room, but the staff member was eager to explain everything. He said that he was  there mainly to do carpenter work, but over time he has gotten to know the animals well.  A large African spurred tortoise was actively banging into the sides of his cage.  I have never seen such an active turtle!  The staff worker explained that someone had bought him as a pet and then turned him over to the gardens.  The  turtle can grow to over 100 pounds; he needs a large grazing area (his diet is largely grass) and he also has certain temperature requirements.  Usually the turtle, pictured below, is kept outside in a cage with a female, but lately he has been heavily courting her and the staff felt she needed a break from him.
There were also two diamondback terrapin in an aquarium. They seemed to be quite playful, coming out of the water to nip at our fingers.  The staff person said that they are usually looking for food, as well as attention.  In the reptile room was also a variety of snakes and one large green iguana.  As we headed out of the main building into the gardens we passed an office where another staff person was holding a cockatoo.  The bird's cage was outside, in the bromeliad conservatory.  However, Buttercup (the cockatoo pictured below) likes lots of attention- later we found another staff person playing with her near her cage
The gardens have a large wetland area, where normally it would be possible to see a large number of birds.  The drought, however, has dried that area up.  Gator Lake is gone, and we at first thought that there was no place of fresh water for the wildlife.  But, as we discovered walking around  that area, there is a creek flowing through the gardens.  The trail we took in the gardens gave us a good idea of South Texas vegetation called "mesquite brush".  Those plants are well adapted to a hot semi-arid climate.  The gardens also have a large variety of roses, and  tropical plants.  There is also a butterfly house.
However, we did not find the above butterflies in the house, but in the gardens where there were many of them flying around.  Not many birds around, just butterflies.  And we enjoyed the orchid house which had numerous of those plants in bloom.  I do believe that they are the most exquisite flower in the world!
As I said earlier, we met up with Buttercup again in the bromeliad conservatory. She was happily playing on the floor with some discarded planters.  In the conservatory, as well as in different parts of the gardens, are other caged birds as parrots, love birds and parakeets.  Some of them would try to catch our attention with a soft "hello" or a loud squawk.  I must say that this botanical garden was a most unusual experience for us!

Friday, December 14, 2012

Aransas National Wildlife Refuge

This park is about 100 miles from where we are currently parked.  It was largely a boring trip, we passed by miles of flat Texas cropland.  From what we could tell, some of those acres of land were cotton fields.  We were determined to visit the refuge while in this area because it hosts the largest flock of wintering whooping cranes in North America with over 250 birds.  By mid-April they depart in pairs or small family groups for a hazardous journey 2,400 miles north to nesting grounds at Wood Buffalo National Park in Northwest Territories, Canada.  Here in Texas the birds face many dangers with the presence of oil tankers and deadly oil spills as well as natural disasters.  There are intensive efforts currently underway to establish a new non-migratory in Louisiana, where the species once nested.  They were once nearly extinct, from a low of 15 in 1941 to over 500 cranes in North America today.  Aransas National Wildlife had been created in 1937 to protect whoopers on their wintering grounds along the Gulf of Mexico.  Our first stop at the refuge was in the visitor's center where we talked with rangers there to learn the location of the cranes.
 We found the cranes on the first trail which we took, in a marsh along the Heron Flats Trail.  Whooping cranes mate for life, and it seems that we found a family group.  The brown-colored crane is a juvenile.  The adult has a snow-white body accented by jet-black wing tips and red and black heads with long-pointed beaks.  Fascination with the cranes stems from their loud vocalizations and elaborate courtship rituals which strengthen the bonds between the males and females.  There is supposed to be other abundant wildlife in the refuge,  however we found very little other than the cranes.  John noticed a kingfisher sitting on a pier.
He was a good distance from us, however I am sure we identified him correctly because of the ragged crest on his head and his slate blue breast.  He also has a white ring around his neck.  Many of the trails in the park were not accessible to us because they are closed off for repairs.  We drove on the 16-mile loop trail, which we needed to do at a very slow speed because of the presence of many white-tail deer.
The pair above stood staring at us so long that I was able to snap a few pictures of them.  I am sure that they have lost their fear of humans and would be shot very soon if they lived anywhere else outside of the park!  Today we are leaving our beach-side rv park and moving our rig closer in to Corpus Christi.  I took a quick walk out on the beach this morning and found several shore birds feeding in the water.  Previous mornings the beach had been devoid of any such activity.  I was also thrilled to find a jelly fish that had just washed up out of the ocean.  On first glance it looked like a lady's fancy bonnet.  It did not take very long before sea gulls were pecking on the gelatinous surface of the fish.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

North Padre Island

We are now parked on a beach across the city of Corpus Christi.  Close to about 2 miles from here is where my cousin Gary lives.  I was told by other family members that he is an avid birder and would enjoy sharing with us what he knows about birding.  Many bird species migrate to Texas during the wintertime and, more specifically, the Padre Islands are a prime spot for bird watching during that time.  Unfortunately, soon after we arrived a cold front moved through with near freezing temps at night.  The first morning we were here John and I did a quick beach walk and it was COLD.  However, on the fishing pier we had our first bird encounter, and here I am not talking about seagulls.  A great blue heron stood about 5 feet from us.
Later that day we drove around with Gary to a variety of small coves and inlets were the birds were hanging out.  He eagerly pointed out to us a wide variety of ducks and shore birds.  Below is a reddish egret.
The shore birds we saw were sanderlings, plovers, stilts, willets, sandpipers  and one lone oystercatcher.  As with many of the ducks, I have quickly learned to identify the different birds by the color of their feet and characteristics of their beaks.  So many are difficult to identify because of their nondescript to dull colorings of gray, and brown.   However, a patch of white can make for quick identification, as with the bufflehead duck.  After Gary pointed out the white patch on the duck's head, as well as the feature of a steep forehead on a large puffy head, I then could readily identify the bird.  Same goes for the red breasted merganser with his crested head- he looked a bit tousled headed after he has dipped his head under the water!  Back out in the countryside we also spent some time looking for the aplomado falcon, a bird which local conservation people are attempting to relocate back into this area.  We searched for the bird around their nesting boxes which had been placed to establish a home base for them. We never found the bird but, while attempting to find him, we saw an osprey and a white-tailed hawk.  We also saw a northern harrier kite, he was way off in the distance from us,  but easy to identify by his characteristic hovering pose when capturing his prey. 
Wednesday morning Gary took us out to join up with a local birding group.  We were out in the early morning hours, it was cool but the sun was out.  I was immediately discouraged when, upon meeting the birders, there were comments all around me about what birds they were seeing and I saw nothing.  Turns out that one of the birds everyone was seeing was the yellow-rumped warbler.  I did espy it later at another birding park and then understood why I had not seen it earlier.  It is a small brown bird with a yellow patch on its rump, and constantly on the move- flitting from one tree to another.  We went with the bird group also to a marshy pond where many ducks were in a constant feeding mode. Here I saw a cinnamon teal, a ruddy duck, and many other ducks which Gary had helped me to identify the day before. We also had the enjoyment of watching a large flock of them arrive. Watching them land so gracefully and hearing the collective soft rustle of their wings was an awesome experience!
We then left the birding group and Gary took John and I to another birding area in a park.  What a pleasant surprise to immediately see the black-crowned night heron!  We first saw the adult, then lower in the tree was another one which Gary identified as the juvenile of that species.  He is pictured above, his orange eyes particularly stood out for me. While I was gazing at him a rather large yellow bird flew into my field of vision.
Pictured above is the kiskadee, a rather common bird to this area but one new to me.  While in this area we also saw a kingbird, who also is easily identified by his yellow belly.  Many yellow-rumped warblers were flitting about in this park.  With the weather now warming up I am looking forward to the rest of our time here.  There are many birding areas as well as a wild life refuge yet for us to visit.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Houston, Texas

Before mentioning Houston, I want to first comment on a hike which John and I took with my brother Jared and his wife Sherry in Texas City.  The walking path is in Anchor Park there, along the Galveston Bay.  The park has several memorials in recognition of a great disaster which took place there in 1947.  Several large freighters were in the bay, bound for Europe.  They were carrying cargo, such as ammonium nitrate fertilizer, to assist with the post war recovery effort.  One of the ships, the"Grandcamp" exploded and a second freighter, High Flyer" then caught fire.  Townspeople rushed to the harbor after hearing the first explosion, and many of them were subsequently killed.  The disaster resulted in the loss of life of 576 people, and injury to 5,000. 
Our trail through the park took us past a lagoon which is a highly valued bird habitat.  We saw numerous egrets, and pelicans in the water, as well as one rosetta spoonbill.
Saturday morning we drove into Houston to visit a friend.  Since the traffic seemed light around the downtown area we decided to turn off the expressway and wander through the heart of Houston.
We stopped at a park along the Buffalo Bayou to get a picture of the skyline.
I found it quite true what the AAA Texas Tour Book has to say about the Houston skyline, that there is more than one.  There has been no zoning ordinances and unrestricted development has consequently happened.  Also the architecture of the highrise buildings is very diverse and innovative, as you may note in the picture above.  I mentioned the Buffalo Bayou- the conversion of that  marshy winding body of water into the Houston Ship Chanel brought on rapid industrial growth for Houston.  It is now a major seaport.
Buffalo Bayou was one of the areas I hung out at with my brothers and sister in the mid 1950s.  One of our stops Saturday was at the school which I attended as a young child and where my Dad taught school.
Messiah Lutheran school, built in 1951,  is now only a preschool.  The area surrounding it has changed a lot in the past 60 years.  Where once there were small wood framed buildings there are now large brick multiple family dwellings as well as mansions.  A new church, which supports the preschool,  has been built in recent years and is located across the road from the school.   Time certainly moves on!

Friday, December 7, 2012

Moody Gardens, Aquarium Pyramid

Pictured above is the spotted sturgeon.  The  Aquarium Pyramid was as interesting to us as the Rainforest Pyramid.  Here we learned about the many life forms found in the deep waters of the sea, from different kinds of anemones, to a variety of sharks   There is also a lot of information provided about coral reefs around the world.  Coral reefs rank second only to the rainforest in the diversity of its inhabitants.  And, according to an interpretive sign in the aquarium, coral reefs  "serve as the center of a complex food chain and the deterioration of this important natural resource has become a serious concern.."   The aquariums in this pyramid are very big and deep.  One tank in particular has several living kelp plants, about 30 feet high.  I am use to seeing dried kelp on the beach, here it is possible to see the whole plant under water.  They can grow as fast as two feet on a warm summer day.  It was interesting to observe fish swimming around the leaves of this plant.  The plant seems to serve as a natural camouflage for the fish pictured below.
The aquarium also had a variety of seahorses on display.  We learned that the seahorse has a ritual dance every morning for their mate to establish bonding with her.  There are two of them in the picture below.
We were fortunate to have one of the aquarium's staff with us when we were at the penguin area.  She told us she that she had observed the penguins when they were courting.  The male will offer the female a rock and if she drops it that is her way of telling him she is not interested.  The staff worker also pointed out to us a king penguin who seemed to be sitting on a nest.  All we could see under her was a little grey ball of feathers.  Also we noticed another king penguin sitting on a trash can lid.  That was the toy of the day for the penguins to play with.  However, we were told that Fiona, pictured below, usually claims the toy for herself.
Besides the king penguins the aquarium has several  other species of the bird.  There are a total of 17 species of penguins.  Pictured below is the chinstrap penguin.  It is easy to figure out why he has that name!

Galveston, Texas Revisited

We have now parked our home in Dickinson, Texas.  The town lies between Houston and Galveston.  We were in this area two years ago and have returned because my brother Jared and his wife Sherry live here.  We just had to return to Galveston, I have many happy memories from my childhood of times our family spent on that beach.  John and I were determined to get in some time yesterday just to walk on the sandy shores of the Gulf, which we did.  It was necessary to wear a jacket, but still the sun was warm whenever it did decide to come out.  While on the beach we happened upon Pleasure Pier, a recreational area overlooking the beach with amusement rides.  During World War II it was a recreational facility for the U.S. military.  Hurricanes Carla and Ike destroyed the pier twice since then, this past year it was once again restored.  The majority of our day was spent at Moody Gardens, a resort complex featuring beaches, gardens, a convention center and several theaters.  Three glass pyramids are the centerpieces of this complex.  There is an aquarium, rain forest, and science center in each one of those buildings.  In the background of the picture below is one of the pyramids. The gardens currently are decorated with holiday lights.  We were at the gardens late in the day, just before the lights were turned on.
We toured the Rainforest Pyramid while there was still light.  Immediately upon entering the building an interpretive sign informed us that there are more plants and animals in rainforests than any other habitat on earth.  What a sobering thought, in light of the fact that so many of those rainforests are now gone!  We had a delightful time in this pyramid.  It has streams, waterfalls, exotic plants, tropical fish and birds from the rainforests of Africa, Asia and South America.
One of the species of tropical birds in the rainforest is the scarlet ibis.  The ibis on the left in the picture above is the older one.  It takes 6-8 months for the kids of this species to have their feathers turn from black to pink, because of their special diet.  Also in the Rainforest Pyramid is a Butterfly House.  I could not pass up taking a picture of this zebra longwing who posed so beautifully for me!
Another creature who surprised me by suddenly appearing in front of me was the white-face saki.
I especially was thrilled to see so many orchids in the rainforest.  They are the second largest plant family in the world with about 22,000 to 26,000 different species.  You know one by taste- the vanilla plant.  In the rainforest there was a Christmas tree of tropical plants, including several orchids.
I have mentioned here only a few details of the many awesome sights which we saw in the rainforest.  We certainly spent more time there than we had planned to do, but it was worth every minute!  I will have to write about our time spent in the Aquarium Pyramid for the next posting. 

Monday, December 3, 2012

Georgetown, Texas

We have had a busy and wonderful week in Georgetown.  Friday night, after our tour of Austin, we stopped to do the Christmas Stroll and wander through Bethlehem Village.  The town's square had been lit the week before in preparation for the big doings.  Pictured below is the Williamson County Courthouse, built in 1911.
For the Christmas Stroll craft vendors filled the streets and local businesses around the square were opened for holiday shopping.  We returned to the area on Saturday morning to view the Christmas parade and also to see more of the town, which has many fine old Victorian homes.  Some of the shops around the square are also older buildings from around the turn of the twentieth century, as the building pictured below, constructed in 1882.  It is one of the few remaining examples of 19th century city hall fire stations. 
Also, while walking around town, we came upon an older home with an historical marker in front of it.  It was the home of Jessie Ames, suffragette and lynch reformer.  She fought against using lynching of African Americans as a misguided excuse for protecting the virtue of womanhood.  At the time it was known as "chivalry lynching".   In 1930 Jessie Ames formed the Association of  Southern Women for the Prevention of Lynching.  In 1918 she also led a group of women to the courthouse to vote for the first time.  It is very fascinating to me what interesting bits of history we discover while traveling around!
Also in the past week we have enjoyed the Lake Georgetown San Gabriel River Trail.  We have had some very nice warm days to spend time hiking and biking out on the trail.
After church on Sunday we toured Inner Space Caverns.  This cave was discovered in 1963 by a Texas Highway Department core drilling team.  They were taking core samples to determine if the ground was stable enough to support a large highway overpass (this is now Interstate 35).   After drilling through forty feet of limestone the bit broke into what is now the caverns.  Interestingly enough, this happened to be on the land of Pastor Laubach, founder of Christ Lutheran church which we had attended that morning.  The cave is not as spectacular as some of the larger ones we have toured, but it still has its own unique crystal formations.  Bats are living in the cave, our guided was able to point out a few of them which were close to our heads.  According to him the type of bat in the cave, the Eastern Pippistelle Bat, does not live in colonies and hence may not get the white nose fungal disease which is currently killing much of the bat population in other caves.  Equally interesting to us is that the cavern is a very important paleontological site.  The bones of a large variety of animals, both living and extinct,  have been recovered from three major areas within the cavern.  Some of the bones are displayed in the visitor's center.  On exhibit are the bones of the Columbian mammoth,  it is hard to imagine a sinkhole large enough for that size of an animal to fall through!                Our day Sunday ended at the Klett Center for the Performing Arts where we heard a wonderful Christmas concert by the Temple Symphony Orchestra.  Baritone singer Robert McFarland  sang a rousing Figaro's aria and O Holy Night.  Soprano Teri Ann Johnson did equally well with Angels We have Heard on High.  I also enjoyed the duet they did together of Gesu Bambino.  Today we are moving on to Houston.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Revisiting Austin, Texas

John and I remembered that we did not tour the capital of Texas when we were last in Texas, which was almost two years ago.  On my posting then I had a picture of the capitol, so I will not repeat that again here.  When we arrived in the capitol building we learned that another tour was not starting very soon so we did our own self-guided tour of the building.  It was built in 1888, and in some parts of the building we noticed that it is showing its age with cracked floors and worn steps.  From the written information received on the capitol, we learned that it was made from Sunset Red granite, taken from the quarry we saw the other day at Marble Falls.The terrazzo floor of the capitol's rotunda has the Great Seal of Texas surrounded by the six seals of the countries whose flags have flown over the state which are: Spain, France, the Republic of Texas,  Mexico, the Confederacy, and the United States of America.  I doubt that there many, if any at all, other states which can claim that in their history!  The chamber of the House of Representatives is the largest room in the building.  Currently the 2012 Lone Star Celebration Christmas tree adorns this room.  Members of the House of Representatives are encouraged to place an ornament on the tree which most uniquely is representative of their district.
Our son Daniel and his wife Amanda use to live in Austin.  They are the ones who recommended that we check out the Umlauf Sculpture Garden and Barton Springs while we were in Austin.  After leaving the capitol our next stop was the sculptor garden.  The sculptor, Charles Umlauf came to Austin in 1941 to teach sculpture and life drawing at the University of Texas.  In his later years he chose a wooded hillside overlooking Austin to display his sculptures, which he gifted to the city of Austin.  According to the information provided at the museum connected to the gardens, more of his sculptures can be found in public places of Texas than there are works of any other sculptor.  His subjects are quite diverse, ranging from family groups and animal to religious and mythological creatures and nudes.  The artist, having experienced the years surrounding both World War l and 2, also expresses the horrors of war in his sculptures.
His work of art titled "War Mother" is pictured below.
Barton Springs and Zilker Park are located across the street from the gardens. At Barton Springs  we discovered a large swimming area.  It was a warm day, many dogs and people were in the cool water.