Beautiful Spring Weather Sends Out the Invitation for a Gulf Coast Day Trip

Pleasure Pier is being constructed at the location of the Hurricane Ike-damaged Flagship Hotel.

Finally, I have a few–and I would say, “well-deserved”–days off.  It’s not really enough time to go on any major vacation, and really, with this great, spring weather, I’m just happy to putter in the garden, catch up on some much-needed tasks around the house, and just kick back a little.

Yesterday, my niece, her husband, and I headed out to one of our favorite day-trip destinations–Galveston.  Though it’s just about an hour’s drive down I-45, Galveston’s old port city flavor and the wide-open waters of the Gulf of Mexico always make for a fun time.  Less than 4 years has passed since Hurricane Ike inflicted major destruction upon the island city and the surrounding coast and even further inland;  however, little evidence of Ike remains, and at lunchtime, mid-week, vehicles buzzed along Seawall Boulevard, a surprising number of sunworshipers dotted the beaches, and a good crowd of other diners had decided upon Fish Tales as had we.  From our breezy spot on the upper deck, we could watch the construction of the new amusement complex, Pleasure Pier, where the Ike-damaged Flagship Hotel had once stood.

Bolivar Ferry is part of S.H. 87, connecting Galveston Island to the Bolivar Peninsula.

Though the sky was cloudless, the northern breeze crossing the restaurant deck had raised goose-bumps, so we were glad to escape to the sun-heated car (not something we’re usually glad to do most months in southeast Texas) and decided upon another of our favorite “to-do’s” when in Galveston–ride the Bolivar Ferry.  Actually a part of the Texas state highway department, this fleet of car-carrying ferries crosses the mouth of Galveston Bay and connects the east end of Galveston Island to the Bolivar Penisula.  You can get out of your car and have a great vantage point to see all kinds of boats, landmarks, and wildlife.  On this particular day, I couldn’t help but notice the intimate juxtaposition of the gulf coast’s naturaleza (I like that word in Spanish better than just “nature” in English) with the petro-chemical complexes of the area.  As part of the state highways, the ferry is free to ride, and those who just want the enjoyment of the ride can park their cars, walk on board, and make their own polical–or non-political–observations.

Once more on solid land, we headed down S.H. 87, which scoots merely yards from the rolling gulf surf.  I was particularly amazed at the great number of new beach houses that have been built since Ike tore up this peninsula.  Though raised high on tall piers, I couldn’t help but think that these summer getaway houses would be like tinkertoys if another hurricane were to make its path across the peninsula.

Smith Oaks Sanctuary's Rookery and other areas are filled with roseate spoonbills, cormorants, egrets and other birds.

The paved beach highway comes to an end just south of the small town of High Island, and unless you decide to turn around and go back to the ferry and return to Galveston, you go north and after about 20 miles, hit Winnie, where I-10 will take you back west to Houston, or east and

This web-footed neotropical cormorant perches on narrow branch.

onto Beaumont, then Louisiana.  However, we drove into High Island, which sits on raised area about 1/2 mile from the coast.  In High Island, my niece and her husband took me to one of those places that truly surprise you upon discovering them.  Smith Oaks Sanctuary was once a farm, which belongs to the Houston Audobon Society.  I had never been there before, so rather than write what I have since found out, I suggest that you read about this wonderful place here.   Whether you are and avid birder or just enjoy nature and wildlife, Smith Oaks, though off the beaten path, was for us a great desitination for a day trip from Houston.

A great egret protects its nest while two roseate spoonbills roost nearby.

A rose-breasted grosbeak munches on a mulberry.

A scarlet tanager chooses its next mulberry

Advertisements

A Sunday Drive: In Search of Bluebonnets

Barely out of the car, Annie is panting in the hot sun at Washington-on-the-Brazos State Park. These were some of the few bluebonnets we encountered.

Having finally accomplished the long-put-off doing of my income taxes before noontime, and with the yard and garden work already finished for the weekend, I coaxed Annie into the car and off we headed out 290 in quest of bluebonnets.

The bluebonnet is the the Texas state flower, and for a few weeks in spring, the roadsides and pastures can be ablaze in color from the bluebonnets and other wildflowers, especially the Indian paintbrush

Without seeing a glimpse of a bluebonnet, we drove as far as the quaint, old town of Chappell Hill and turned onto a side road.  This asphalt lane, like so many other roads in the Texas Hill Country, seems to be filled with natural beauty and history.  It never ceases to amaze me how on one piece of land you’ll see a humble dwelling that probably was once a share-cropper’s house, and then, not even a quarter mile down the road, a 6 or 7 figure “swankienda” stretches out into the acreage.  But these, along with the green meadows and wooded creeks, make for a drive that forces you to go at a speed slower than that of Granny going to church.

After about 50 miles of driving, a small, hillside field showed off its indigo glory, but the cars and motorcycles that were already stopped left no place to pull over and try to take pictures of a small dog romping amongst the bluebonnets.

So on we went a few miles, and ended up at Washington, Texas, which is the place where the Texas Declaration of Indepedence from Mexico was signed.  Many years ago, a big part of the area was made into the Washington-on-the-
Brazos State Park
.  It’s really a wonderful place, not too overdone with the history part.  There’s a museum and a visitors center, but there are also places to picnic and lots of trails to walk and discover the history as well as nature’s beauty.

With a 92-degree south wind pushing at us, a maybe mile-long walk was about enough to do in a guy and a little dog.  I’d brought water for her, which she lapped up when we got back to the car, but after getting the AC going, I began looking for a convenience store to find a cold drink for myself.

We did find some bluebonnets in the park, but either it’s still a bit early or the drought has caused the bluebonnets to suffer this year.  Whatever.  We had a good day on our quest, finding more than the flowers.

Independence Hall, the site of the signing of the Texas Declaration of Independence. This looks like a replica to me; maybe some of the boards are original.

Some of the flowering plants growing along the pathways. The pinkish-purple appears to be a native verbena. The white blossoms on the other plant were pretty, but the stem looked very prickly.

The park has many trails to wander, some along the Brazos River. Here and there, youll find informational signage, telling about the history of the site, but these signs do not interfere with just enjoying the tranquillity of the area.

Pieces of history, like this old water well, are evident throughout the park, but because the park has not been "over-developed", the visitor can almost feel like he is discovering artifacts.

Located outside of the state park, current-day Washington, Texas holds hardly more than some kind of eatery and a post office.

Perfect October Weather Calls for a Day Trip

A Texas longhorn grazes on the dam of a pond

After the long, hot Texas gulf coast summer, one almost feels that these near perfect days and nights are something deserved.  The low humidity and temperatures in just the 80s in the days and into the low 60s or even 50s at night bring smiles to faces, and more than just the dogs seem to be frisky.

It’s the time to get out and enjoy the refreshing Texas countryside.  This week is the fall version of the Round Top Antiques Fair, a twice annual affair that over the years has spread itself out further and further.  There are vendors of many types housed in tents, sheds, old houses for miles around the little hill country town.  Sitting about half-way between Houston and Austin, Round Top makes a good destination for a day trip.

Going early in the day, the attendance seemed somewhat sparse, but the incoming bumper-to-bumper traffic later indicated that business was going to pick up for the vendors.

For sure, neither the sellers, buyers, nor those just going to have a great day could be disappointed by the weather.

A tranquil setting greets visitors at Marburger Farm Antiques

Bright Texas sun creates shadows from sale items on the walkway

Not the Big Kahuna, but the Big Banana

Colorful lampshades among the great variety of items for sale