Category Archives: Outdoors

McFaddin Beach: Biologist’s Heaven or Hell?

Previously, I wrote about an amazing trip Hubby and I had to McFaddin Beach, fossil hunting. We had a great time, and we knew we couldn’t wait long before we were wanting to go again. It’s pretty rare that we have a weekend coming up that doesn’t already have plans, but last weekend just such an occasion arose, so we decided to head back to McFaddin to do some serious fossil hunting.

So let me back up: I have had one of the busiest months ever at my company. For those of you that don’t know, I’m in the Zombie and Poltergeist Prevention business. And baby, business is boomin’. We were already pretty busy, when all of a sudden Louisiana was under MUCH more water than it normally is. So, because of my job saving the planet from Zombie invasions, I have been doing A LOT of work in Louisiana, and I didn’t get home until 11 pm on Friday. Saturday morning we slept in, and finally decided to head to McFaddin Beach for the weekend. I wanted to be able to relax and not have to think about anything for about 48 hours. What better way to do that, then at the beach?

So we loaded up and got to the beach around noon. Immediately we got out and started birding, because we are working on our 2016 Bird List and it’s the beginning of Fall Migration and you can find some really interesting species this time of year. The mosquitoes were pretty bad if you walked in the grass, so we covered ourselves with bug spray and kept on with birding and then moved on the fossil hunting. I didn’t find anything spectacular, so I decided to read for a little while and take a nap on the beach. Perfect day for relaxing! I helped Hubby get the canopy set up, and then I went back to fossil hunting while he started to make dinner.

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I noticed a storm starting to build, and I kept an eye on it, thinking it was going to go around us. After all, we had checked the weather forecast for the area, and there wasn’t anything worrisome there, which is why we had headed down to the beach to begin with. As we sat down for dinner, we watched the storm roll in. The majority of the storm went south of us, and there was even a teeny-tiny water spout! Which was pretty cool since I had never seen one before and it was small, so we weren’t worried. We did get some rain after all, so we moved the generator under the canopy to keep it as dry as possible.

As soon as it stopped raining however, is when all hell broke loose. The mosquitoes came out in droves. We rinsed off as fast as we could and then ran to the camper. We were covered in mosquito bites, so we both took some Benadryl and I passed out. Hubby, on the other hand, couldn’t sleep. He was too concerned about the storm surge. It was still raining, and the water was getting higher. It’s a pretty small beach to begin with, so there wasn’t a lot of “wiggle room.” Finally, at around 12:30 am, Hubby opened the door to look outside. In a Benadryl fog, I wasn’t sure why he was doing that, except that he was letting in more mosquitoes.

He said he was concerned about the storm surge, and as soon as I looked outside, a wave came up the beach, and went UNDER THE CAMPER. We knew if we stayed there, we would be lucky to dig the truck and trailer out of the sand in the morning. Not to mention the  amount of money we would have lost with the generator, canopy, chairs, table, and cooking equipment that we had set up that would have been washed into the ocean. So we ran outside as fast as possible to move our stuff to higher ground. Hubby pulled the truck and trailer around into the grassy area while I ran interference for any debris that was in the way (there is a lot of garbage on that beach, unfortunately). I was getting devoured by mosquitoes, but I didn’t have time to think about it – we had to get our stuff to higher ground. Once the truck and trailer were at high ground, we moved the generator, all the cooking stuff and table and camp chairs, and then we had to get the tie-down weights untied from the canopy so we could move it without bending it, and then we had to re-tie them so the canopy would be over the generator, and not fly away. At this point I couldn’t handle the bug bites anymore. If I stood still it felt like I was getting attacked by needles all over my body. While I was running around moving our gear, I had to keep my mouth closed to keep from swallowing them.

Once we made sure that everything was moved to high ground, and Hubby put a car tail light at the water line (I told you were was a lot of debris on this beach) in order to see if the water was getting higher or not (if the tail light moved or was gone, the water was getting higher), we went back to the camper. Again, standing still, waiting to make sure that everything was okay, we were getting mauled. I looked at the camper and it was covered in clouds of mosquitoes. I swiped them away from the door as best I could before jumping into the camper. I cleaned the sand off my feet as best I could, and then began to SCRATCH. I hadn’t been this itchy in my entire life. It was like I had Chicken Pox on steroids. I was almost in tears, I was so itchy. Hubby jumped in the camper, and repeated my process. Smashing every mosquito we could find inside the trailer, I was crazy with the need to make sure they were all dead. I couldn’t handle getting ANOTHER mosquito bite.

When we finally began to win the battle again the mosquitoes inside the camper, I began to see what looked like evidence for a murder that happened inside the camper. The mosquitoes we had been smashing were full of blood, so there were blood smears all over the doors and walls of the camper. It was hilarious and horrific at the same time (probably only hilarious because of the delirium caused by low red blood cells).

We finally were able to settle down, and we watched the water to see that it wasn’t coming up any further. However, we confirmed that if we had stayed there, there would have been serious problems. It was not about 1 am. We took another Benadryl each and passed out, making sure the turn off the alarm we had set to get up early and take sunrise shots. Eff that, after the night we had.

The next morning we got up and it was still raining. Exhausted, itchy, mentally drained, and disappointed, we left the beach without doing any more fossil hunting. I was sad, but I just didn’t have the energy needed to put into fighting mosquitoes for another day. And the sad thing is, I know that storm pushed some amazing fossils to the beach. I just couldn’t muster the strength.

In closing, we will be going back. Just not camping there on the beach. There is a State Park nearby, called Sea Rim State Park, where we will be camping. The storm surge is much less of a concern (because you are MUCH further away from the beach) and the mosquitoes are on the tolerable level, rather than the insanity-inducing level.

But I have decided that McFaddin Beach is a special hell.

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(One should never pass up the opportunity for a Firefly reference – Ron Glass as Shepherd Book, image found on http://theretiredbridgeburner.blogspot.com/2013/05/hanlons-razor.html, source unknown)

Accidental Adventure

(This post is also way behind schedule – We did this trip in January. I’ve been busy – don’t judge me).

Hubby and I bought a camper a few months ago and have already gotten some pretty good use out of it. Our maiden voyage was spent on the beach on a driftwood collection mission. The following weekend we were in the frozen tundra of North Texas, attempting to camp at Palo Duro Canyon State Park.

This time our plan was to camp on McFadden Beach, near the Texas-Louisiana Border. However, when we arrived, there was hardly any beach to speak of. It seems that the beach had been eroded away, and the road that used to be there was broken up and scattered in the water. Whelp….instead of heading home, we thought ‘we are so close to Searim State Park, we might as well give it a shot.’

It was pouring but we knew that the rain was supposed to stop around 6 pm, so we didn’t want to go home defeated. I tried to make reservations by phone and online while Hubby drove through the rain on the way to the state park, but the phone recording said “go to our website to make a reseservation” and the website wouldn’t let me make a reservation for the day of. It would only let me put in the next day’s date. So we had to make the drive to the park and hope that they had a spot for us. Even if they didn’t, we have a state park pass so we get in for free. If they didn’t have any camping sites available, we would check out the park while we could and THEN drive home defeated. (We know when we’ve been beaten).

Luckily though, there were plenty of spots for us to pick from. We hooked the camper up in the rain, walked the dogs in the rain (yes, we had 2 dogs with us this whole time, too!) And then turned on the tv in the camper to wait out the rest of the storm.

When it stopped raining the sky turned a beautiful orange color from the low clouds, which changed to pink and then purple.

Orangy-Pink Sunset

campground sunset

Runaway2
Our adorable little camper – no, it’s not a pop-up. It really is that tiny

It was stunning. We took the dogs for a walk and as we were headed to the beach we heard the loudest clam of thunder we have ever experienced (it set off car alarms and I could feel the shock wave IN MY TEETH). After checking out the beach for a  little while, we went back to camp and cooked some dinner. We had to eat in the camper with the dogs because it was so cold and windy, but it wasn’t nearly as chaotic as I thought it would be, considering that one of the dogs that we had with us is an 80 pound 2 year-old yellow lab with almost zero table manners.

The next morning we got up to see the sunrise over the beach (this is a great spot because you get sunrise AND sunset pictures at the beach!) and it was spectacular. Low tide was at 5:30 am, so the tide was out and the water was like glass. Birds were everywhere on the beach, probing the wet sand for worms and crustaceans.

Searim Sunrise

We came back and ate breakfast, then took the dogs for a walk along a boardwalk that goes through a marsh, while we birded some more.

redheads-wmLuke, the yellow lab, tried to chase the American Coots as they crossed over the boardwalk from one area of the wetland to the other, but then he suddenly got the overwhelming urge to go swimming. (He is a water dog after all). So he stood on the boardwalk, staring at the water and then just jumped right in. Hubby had a hold of the leash so Luke couldn’t go swimming after the Coots, but the look on his face said it all. “I’m in deep trouble.” After jumping in, he instantly turned back around and tried to get back onto the boardwalk but couldn’t make the jump so he stood there in the water with his feet up on the boardwalk with the guiltiest look I’ve ever seen on his face. We pulled him out and I couldn’t control myself. I think I laughed for about 10 minutes solid. I couldn’t even get my camera up in time because I was laughing so hard all I could do was try to not pee myself. Of course after that, he smelled absolutely terrible. If you’ve never smelled mud from the bottom of a swamp or lake, you can count yourself one of the lucky ones. It’s horrific. And after that little stunt he pulled, we had to load up into the truck and head out so we were stuck with stinky swamp dog for hours!

Before we headed home we went to check out the McFadden National Wildlife Refuge, which is an adjoining property. Basically, since the 1980s when people learned that it’s a bad idea to drain wetlands and build on them, they turned this whole area of the Texas coast into a wildlife refuge because there’s not much you can do with the land. Good for the animals! We drove around in the refuge for a while and I attempted to get photos of Luke looking like the majestic water dog he’s SUPPOSED TO BE but instead his A.D.D. kicked in, he leaped into the water, and started chasing any duck he could see. Needless to say, this did not improve his…aroma.

Bird List for the Weekend:

Osprey, Brown Pelicans, Laughing Gulls, Snow Goose, Killdeer, Redheads, Lesser Scaups, Willets, Black-bellied Plovers (non-breeding plumage), Piping Plovers, Northern Shovelers, Belted Kingfishers, Purple Martins, Caspian Terns, and Hudsonian Godwit. So far for the year, we have IDed 56 species.

#Opt Out (Freeze Out)

(Ok, I know this is WAY LATE but that’s what happens when you have photos on one computer and write a post an another…)

Typically, every year Hubby and I “opt out” from the jumble of Thanksgiving and Black Friday and use that time off of work to head out to the middle of nowhere and camp. (Even REI does #optoutside so you can share your photos from your hiking adventures, rather than getting run-over by a crowd trying to get the cheap tvs at Walmart for Black Friday.) A year ago we went to Big Bend National Park, and this year we decided to go to Palo Duro Canyon State Park outside of Amarillo, Texas. It’s the same amount of time in the car, and neither of us had ever been there before so we wanted to give it a shot. After we had booked our trip we discovered Run Away campers, and fell in love. They are affordable, they are comfortable, and they are TINY! We ordered our little Range Runner model camper (it’s actually the largest model they have at 6’x8′) from Florida and it was delivered just a few days later! We were excited to get it before our camping trip because that meant we would be able to glamp (glam camp) instead of being in a tent, which had been the original plan. The first chance I got, I called the Park Service phone number for reservations, but they were out of RV camp sites! I was sad, but I thought, ‘One last trip of rocks in the back and waking up stiff. After this, we will use the camper.’ But as we got closer to the date, every time we checked the weather it was looking worse and worse. The high for the day dropped from being in the 40s to being in the low 20s with freezing rain. It was going to be miserable. We were going to cancel, defeated and depressed. Until Hubby got the idea to check the RV site availability again. Lo and behold, other people had checked the weather too, and cancelled their trip so there were spaces available! I did a happy dance and we started planning for the trip once again. We left before the crack of dawn on Thanksgiving Day since it was a 9 hour drive, and got there just in time for the park office to tell us that the weather is going to get worse, so they will probably close the office over the weekend. “That’s fine,” we told them. “We have a tv and a stack of movies.” But we had no idea what we were in for.

The rain turned to sleet, and the sleet turned to ice. We tried hiking around our camp site a little bit but the mud was caking onto anything that touched it and making a huge mess. I was afraid of slipping and hurting my back so I was being extremely careful. We got back to the camper to thaw out and ended up having to heat up canned soup inside the camper because it was too miserable to cook outside.

From Thursday night to Saturday morning we watched 3 of the Planet of the Apes movies and Season 2 of Scrubs. We got a little bit of cabin fever so we bundled up and headed out to do a little birding once the ice stopped falling. There was a thick layer of ice on every surface. Walking through parking lots was difficult because it was so slippery. But I got some great bird shots anyway! We saw a huge flock of turkeys (30 or more) and each bird had ice frozen on its back. We went to a birding station and the Cardinals and Finches had frozen feathers also.

female cardinal Gold Finch male cardinal turkeysWe headed back to camp to hike around a bit more (now that the ground was frozen, the mud wasn’t an issue) and Hubby saw the Park Host come by to fill the bathrooms with toilet paper. He went to go talk to them and they told his that the road to get out of the park was closed and we wouldn’t be able to get out until noon on Sunday! That was a problem. With a 9 hour drive, that was cutting it close. What if the roads didn’t improve and we were stuck longer? The last thing I wanted was to get home at 2 am and have to go to work the next day. So Hubby and I loaded up into the truck and checked the road for ourselves. He has all wheel drive so we weren’t concerned, and any point that the road looked icy, we would get out and check it before driving on it. (The road to get out of the park goes up through the canyon, so if you lose traction on the icy road, it’s quite a tumble down). The road seemed fine as we headed up, and I had him stop a few times so I could get pictures of the beautiful ice-covered grasses and yucca and barbed-wire fence.

frozen grassI even heard coyotes howling VERY close to me and I was so happy to hear them. Every time I hear coyotes, I’m the only one around for miles (while Hubby sits in the warm car!) and it seems like they are singing to me. I even saw one of the singers a few minutes later!

coyoteWe finally made our way to the park entrance and saw that the gate was wide open. The park host had told us it was closed and locked and we couldn’t get out! So we looked at each other and came to this conclusion: If the road freezes, it will be over night. The road is passable now, but in the morning there is no guarantee. So we got out while the getting was good and headed to Amarillo to spend the night.

We headed back down the park road and hooked up the camper. In 20 minutes we were back on the road, carefully heading out of the park. The highway was frozen so we took it slow and then pulled into the parking lot of our destination: The Big Texan steak ranch. Part of our plan on this trip had been to eat at The Big Texan because it’s an icon! It has been on tv shows like Man vs. Food and Day Tripper because they do the 72 ounce steak challenge. You have to consume a 72 ounce steak, a baked potato, a shrimp cocktail, salad, and a bread roll, all in 60 minutes. Of course, we weren’t going to be PARTICIPATING in the steak challenge, but we still wanted to eat there. Also, as it turned out, The Big Texan has a hotel ON SITE so we didn’t have to go anywhere by the end of the night! The parking lot was an ice rink so I was really happy we didn’t have to get back on the highway and find somewhere else to stay. (Also, I just saw on their website that they now have an RV park too, so that’s good to know in case our next trip to Palo Duro gets cut short again!)

The next morning, before heading home, we stopped at Cadillac Ranch.cadillacs3cadillacs

It’s literally a bunch of Cadillacs from the 1940s-1960s that were jammed into the ground in the 1970s as an art installation. The thing is, it’s legal to do graffiti art at this site. I guess that’s kind of the point – everyone is an artist if they are given the chance. We had never seen it before, and we might never come back to Amarillo again, so we had it on our list of must-dos while we were on the trip. We trudged out to the cars through the snow and ice, took a couple pictures, and got back to our heated car as quickly as possible. But I noticed some interesting things while we were there: there are so many layers of paint on the cars, that it looks like the cars are melting.

frozen paintThere had been people out at the site spray-painting in the snow and ice, so that the frost on the cars was painted orange and blue. The snow on the ground was also used as a temporary canvas, saying the typical “So-and-so Loves So-and-so” and happy holidays. Also, even the barbed-wire that surrounds the property had been painted. It was surprisingly beautiful.

Once we were done at Cadillac Ranch we headed home, stopping in Dallas to see some family, and then making our slow trudge home (the drive from Dallas to Houston is supposed to take 3 hours, but for any number of reasons, it always takes 6).

Our trips are always adventurous even if they don’t go as planned. I guess that’s how I know I love my Hubby too, because instead of being ready to kill each other by the end of the trip, we were planning our next adventure!

Driftwood Projects

As you may already know, I have been selling my photography at the local farmers’ market for about a year now.  I don’t go every weekend (especially in the summer when it’s boating time!) but in the fall I have been going more and more consistently, and I have even had several repeat customers! I gotta tell ya, it feels pretty darn good.

Table set-up at the Farmers' Market
Table set-up at the Farmers’ Market-I was selling lemons too 🙂

Anyway, I had been collecting driftwood for a while and then I stole borrowed my dad’s nail gun. I finally made the driftwood star for my guest room that I had been wanting to make.IMG_4282

The thing is, everyone that saw it said “Oh my God! You should sell those!” So I brought one to the farmers’ market. And it sold instantly. I made another one. It sold too. Every time I brought one to the market it sold. I couldn’t believe how quickly they went. Everyone said, “this is such a unique idea!”IMG_1198

Then one weekend before Thanksgiving an older married couple came up, looked at my star I had for sale, and asked if I make brands. Now, for those of you not familiar with what I mean by brands, I mean cattle brands. Some people design their own for fun, but others still have registered cattle brands that they use to brand their cattle (yes, it’s still a thing). Anyway, so he asked if I could make his brand, the M – (read as M Bar).

M Bar
M Bar

So when I made it and sent him this picture of it, he said, “great, now can you make 4 others?” He sent me a picture of the 4 other brands, which were all different, and to be Christmas presents for his kids back in North Dakota.

All of the brands together
All of the brands together

I worked on these brands for a while, but my work schedule got crazy busy, and then I ran out of small pieces of driftwood. So Hubby and I used that as an excuse to take our new little Runaway Camper out on her maiden voyage to the beach! We camped on the beach and filled half of the truck bed with driftwood. DSC_4160

I was able to finished the brands and get them to the new owner in time to ship them to North Dakota for Christmas. I also made some crosses, and one is a Christmas present for a friend of ours who moved far, far away (to Oklahoma City).

Cross

The blue background wood is the same wood from the table that I made (and seen below).  I wanted to make sure to use the wood for this gift, because the friend it is for is also familiar with the story of how I came about getting this reclaimed wood, and she would appreciate it (hopefully!) I’ve made a couple other crosses, but since this one was my favorite, at had to be the one I was giving as a gift 🙂 So here are the finished brands! I hope his kids are happy to get them, because I think they turned out pretty neat!

M Bar C+ CVC M+ MNM

I’ve been making stars like crazy, but the brands really took a toll on my small pieces, so I need to go out and harvest again soon. Luckily it’s been a really warm winter so going down to the beach in December won’t be a big deal!

Zoo Lights!

Every year, the Houston Zoo puts on the event known as Zoo Lights. It’s a lot of fun – you go to the zoo at light and the whole place* is lit up with millions of Christmas lights!

(*Not all areas of the zoo are lit up or accessible at the time of zoo lights. Mainly it’s just the large open areas of the zoo, in order to not disturb the animals too much.)

Hubby and I went last year and we had a great time, so we definitely wanted to do it again. And since my photography skills have gotten a lot better in the past year, I definitely wanted to try out some new techniques!

This year however, we made a big mistake. We went on the busiest night of the year for Zoo Lights! We went on the Saturday before Christmas. Holy geebus. It was packed. We didn’t even think about that being the busiest night to go. Parking was a nightmare, and I already hate driving around in that part of the city anyway, so the addition of super heavy traffic was really stressful. Luckily we found the “additional parking” lot pretty easily, and were able to park without a hitch, once we go out of the traffic. Of course, that means that we had a bit of a walk to make to the actual Zoo, but it was totally worth it, instead of trying to get into a crowded parking lot, and then circling for hours to find a spot. I would probably still be there if I had tried that.

I took a ton of photos of the lights and we ordered some wine and kettle cooked popcorn.  It was really expensive for popcorn, but I had LITERALLY never done that before, so it was worth it. Actually, come to think of it, I think it was still cheaper than movie theater popcorn, so if you are used to those prices, you will be in for a treat. I’m just WAY too cheap frugal for that.

When we were ready to leave, we headed for the front of the zoo. The Zoo Lights shuts down at 10pm, but we saw a line that practically wrapped around the zoo for people who hadn’t bought tickets yet! It was 9:50, and there were hundreds of people still in line. We were thinking about it, and knew that the zoo would never turn THAT MUCH MONEY away (it was about 200 people in like, at $15 each = $3,000!) If a zoo can afford to turn down $3,000, they have too much money! So we asked an employee what was going to happen, and they said that they were planning on letting people in until 11pm. It made me want to stick around and count all the people that made it into the zoo after 10pm, just to see how much more money they made.

There is a park around the Zoo that we had to walk through to get back to our car, so we slowly made our way through the park, while I took pictures of stuff. Lights on the steps, the cityscape, and even some Nutria that were feeding on grass roots on the bank of the pond. They were super cute and didn’t mind us at all, so I took a bunch of pictures of them. Of course, they were in terrible lighting so the pictures didn’t come out great, but it gave me some practice in my new Photoshop program, so….silver lining, right?

We had a nice time, and we definitely plan on going again next year, but maybe not the weekend before Christmas…live and learn!

Zoo Lights!
Zoo Lights!
Mysterious Wonderland
Mysterious Wonderland
Lighted Steps
Lighted Steps
Reflections
Reflections
Reflecting Pond
Reflecting Pond
The lights in the trees dance to music
The lights in the trees dance to music
My favorite statue in the zoo - a lioness taking down a gazel
My favorite statue in the zoo – a lioness taking down a gazelle (and trying out some Photoshop lettering)
This car is known as "Holly Berry"
This car is known as “Holly Berry”
Glowing Light Balls in the Cypress Trees
Glowing Light Balls in the Cypress Trees
Blue Elephant
Blue Elephant
Giant Agaves
Giant Agaves
The Crowd stretched from the beginning of the parking lot
The Crowd stretched from the beginning of the parking lot
all the way across!
all the way across!

Christmas Birding Trip

Since Hubby and I did most of our Christmas family gatherings on a day other than Christmas Day, we decided to go out and do some birding Christmas Day at Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge. Our goals were to finally see the Whooping Cranes and create a bird list of all the species we saw.

For some reason, we woke up at 4:30 am on Christmas Day. I guess our child-like brains were thinking it was time to open Santa’s gifts, but since we are adults now we didn’t have anything to open. So instead, we got up, ate breakfast, and headed down to the wildlife refuge early. It’s a bit of a drive for us, so leaving early was already the plan, but we ended up getting there at 7am!

On our way down to the refuge, we saw some cool species – we didn’t keep an exact species list, but mainly because we weren’t going to write down everyday birds like Starlings, Pigeons, or Cattle Egrets; however we still had a list of 12 interesting species! The first species we wrote down was an awesome sighting – a huge flock of Glossy Ibis. They were feeding in a flooded field – either a cattle pasture or a rice field, I’m not sure which. When a Kestrel flew over them, the flock panicked and took to the sky, allowing me to get some awesome shots of them flying together. Then they realized it was a Kestrel, and they were about 3x as big as it was, so they settled back down to finish eating.

Our next sighting was a new species for us entirely! It was a male Rough legged Hawk. They are listed in the Sibley Field Guide as Rare in that area, so it was a special treat to see him!

When we finally got down to Anahuac, we saw the typical species that are common in wetlands – ducks, Coots, THOUSANDS of Snow Geese, Snowy Egrets, Great Blue Herons, etc.

The only duck we were able to get close enough to to identify was a Lesser Scaup, but we stopped at a huge wetland area and saw hundreds and hundreds of ducks! They were too far away to ID, but they had their adorable little duck butt sticking up out of the water while they fed, and it was so fun to watch them!

While we were driving around we also saw Northern Harriers, White tailed Kites, tons of Red tailed Hawks, and even a Bald Eagle! That guy was flying pretty far away from us so the only way to ID it was to take a blurry picture and zoom in on it. Needless to say, THAT photo isn’t exactly publish-worthy 😉

After we left Anahuac, we decided to go to McFadden Beach, which is another Wildlife “sanctuary”. It’s designated a wildlife sanctuary because the State of Texas couldn’t get anyone to buy the land, so they just turned it over to the wildlife. While we were there, we saw Brown Pelicans, Willets, and a Belted Kingfisher.

We took the Bolivar Ferry to Galveston and saw a Common Loon in the water along with the typical (and annoying) various gull species. Most of them are Laughing gulls, but I don’t try too hard to ID these guys. Mainly because they are several different color morphs, so I will be looking at 5 different birds and they are all of the same species, but I’m not quite sure because they look so similar to OTHER gull species, so it kinda makes me a little crazy…

Anyway, while we were on the ferry we also saw what I’m pretty sure what a shark feeding on something big. It was a large gray animal in the water (so either a shark or a dolphin) but it was thrashing around in the water, and I don’t think that’s a common way for dolphins to feed, so I’m like 90% sure it was a HUGE SHARK. Which is just too cool! Unfortunately, the salt spray from the front of the ferry was really bad, so I couldn’t have my camera out while we were on the ferry and I couldn’t get a picture of it.

We stopped in Galveston at the same place I always go to see pelicans close up. There is a shrimp boat marina behind Katie’s Seafood where there are always pelicans hanging out. In the winter we have White Pelicans, and all year round we have Brown Pelicans, so I was able to get some great shots of those guys too. Additionally, we were able to watch an adult dolphin with her calf while we stood on the pier at the marina too.

We never got to see any Whooping Cranes, but now it’s just going to be an annual pilgrimage for us to try next year!

Willet
Willet
White Pelicans Preening
White Pelicans Preening
Tagged White Pelican
Tagged White Pelican
Snowy Egret
Snowy Egret
Rough Legged Hawk
Rough Legged Hawk
Resting Pelican
Resting Pelican
Taking Off
Taking Off
Thousands of Snow Geese
Thousands of Snow Geese
Flying Pelicans
Flying Pelicans
Red tailed Hawk
Red tailed Hawk
Flock of Glossy Ibis
Flock of Glossy Ibis
Brown Pelican Preening
Brown Pelican Preening
Rocks on the Sand
Rocks on the Sand
Cross on the beach - I'm not sure, but I think this is related to Hurricane Ike from 2008.
Cross on the beach – I’m not sure, but I think this is related to Hurricane Ike from 2008.
Duck Butts
Duck Butts

This Year I’m Thankful For…

PERFECT WEATHER!

Hubby and I usually use Thanksgiving as an “us” holiday. We either get together with friends or go out on our own. This year we decided to go camping in Big Bend National Park. This is where both of us did our thesis research, and basically where we lived for 6 years, so we miss it terribly. Last year around the same time, we went to Alpine, Texas for Art Walk and there was a terrible ice storm. There was a thick layer of ice on everything, and it was snowing.

Ice on the False Red Yucca and Lantana
Ice on the False Red Yucca and Purple Lantana
Snow and lights decorate the Yucca
Snow and lights (and duct tape) decorate the Yucca

Normally I like snow and don’t mind ice too much, but all of our friends who still live in the area stayed indoors where it was nice and toasty, so we didn’t get to see a lot of people. And we had planned on going to BBNP for a day, but the roads were closed because of the ice.

The Parade was cancelled because it was so bitter cold, but the floats were still cool to look at!
The Parade was cancelled because it was so bitter cold, but the floats were still cool to look at!
Vendors had bought ice to keep things cold. Obviously it wasn't needed, so when they left, they tossed it out. It only froze to a harder ball of ice in the middle of the night.
Vendors had bought ice to keep things cold. Obviously it wasn’t needed, so when they left, they tossed it out. It only froze to a harder ball of ice in the middle of the night.

So what was there to do? Go to the coffee shop to drink coffee, and go to the bar to drink beer.

Vanilla Latte from Plaine
Vanilla Latte from Plaine

It was a great weekend, but not at all what we had planned.

Fast forward about 6 months, and I was getting pretty bad “city claustrophobia”. Every time I see a new building go up it makes me want to go back out to Far West Texas and never leave. So Hubby and I planned a camping trip for Thanksgiving Weekend in BBNP, in order for me to keep my sanity a little longer. Thanksgiving is the busiest weekend that the park has because the weather is usually fantastic (cold at night but nice during the day) and it’s a 4-day weekend for must of America. Of course, weather can also be terrible, like the year before. We basically had a 50-50 shot, so it was worth taking. And we won the weather jackpot. 40 degrees at night and 70 degrees during the day, with crystal clear skies. It was perfect. We managed to get a back country camp site on Pine Canyon Road and no one else was around. It was perfect. There were a few other campers further down the road, but far enough away that we couldn’t see or hear them. Solitude. Ahhh….

Our view from Camp - Sierra del Carmen Mountain range
Our view from Camp – Sierra del Carmen mountain range

My main goal for the trip was to try out my astro-photography skills that I had acquired recently (with practice and YouTube) and I had a great time and some awesome success, if I do say so myself!

Stars through The Window
Stars through The Window
Stars over Casa Grande
Stars over Casa Grande
Moon and stars over the desert
Moon and stars over the desert
The desert floor was lit up by moonlight
The desert floor was lit up by moonlight
Stars over the Carmens
Star trails over the Carmens

We also made time to do a hike on the Pine Canyon Trail, and head into Terlingua for some culture…

Having fun with saturation and lighting, post-production
Having fun with saturation and lighting, post-production
Early morning sunrise over the Carmens
Early morning sunrise over the Carmens
Always look back when hiking on a trail. Sometimes the best views are behind you.
Always look back when hiking on a trail. Sometimes the best views are behind you.
Pine Canyon pour-off. The maples are golden against a blue sky.
Pine Canyon pour-off. The maples are golden against a blue sky.
Terlingua Cemetery
Terlingua Cemetery

For those of you who have never been to Terlingua, never heard of Terlingua, or couldn’t imagine how people could live in the desolate and harsh desert floor, you need to see it at least once. Terlingua was once a booming town, known for mining quicksilver, also known as Mercury. Unfortunately they no longer needed Mercury (and they discovered that it makes you go crazy) so the mines closed up and the town became a ghost town. Now the Terlingua Ghost Town is a tourist attraction, and people have begun moving back into the formerly vacant buildings. The cemetery is still in use today, but has graves from the 1800s as well.

The people of Terlingua are interesting. The desert provides inspiration for artists and solitude for outlaws, and Terlingua is the crossroads for these people. Basically, if you want to be left to your own devises, this is where you move.

Terlingua Trading Company - The Front Porch of Terlingua
Terlingua Trading Company – The Front Porch of Terlingua. This is usually where you can sit and have a beer while listening to the locals play guitar and sing.
Starlight Theatre - A famous landmark
Starlight Theatre – A famous landmark

After hanging out and listening to the locals play guitar for a little while, we headed back into the park to drive some back roads to Santa Elena Canyon and then back up to the Chisos Basin to do some more star photos. On our drive, we spotted a rattlesnake in the road.

Poor injured rattlesnake
Poor injured rattlesnake

He had been hit by a car (you can see the blood on his head and on the road), but he was still alive. So Hubby got a long pole out of the truck bed, I directed traffic (ok, one car, but they still almost hit the snake!), and Hubby got the snake off the road.

Snake, safely in the grass.
Snake, safely in the grass.

Snakes don’t have to eat very often so hopefully he can heal up and get better before he starves. We tried our best at least! He was clearly not very happy with us, but it was for his own good.

It was a wonderfully successful camping trip and photography trip, and as badly as I wanted to stay and never come back to civilization, I just wasn’t ready to become a permanent desert rat. That just means that we will probably have to make the trek out to BBNP again very, very soon.

Wildlife Justice Has Been Served

I believe that everything happens for a reason. Ok, maybe not EVERYTHING. I don’t think that you’re entire life is already planned out or anything, but I believe that there is such thing as Karma and Fate. And I can prove it to you.

We had an interesting weekend. First of all, Hubby and I spent Saturday morning at the Farmer’s Market in Sugar Land and it was a great day! The weather was perfect and people were there to spend money! I made some really good sales, and hopefully made some good contacts for future orders for photography. REMEMBER FOLKS, CHRISTMAS IS COMING, AND PHOTOS MAKE GREAT GIFTS! Ok, plug is over…

Anyway, Dad-In-Law came by the market and asked us to go see a movie with him. We had planned on going to the gym and then going to Brazos Bend State Park to do a little birding and photographing, but he REALLY wanted to go to the movie. So we figured we would just do the other things we had planned on Sunday. No big deal, right?

Then we spoke with some friends, Joey and Rachel, who said that they wanted to go with us to Brazos Bend. Rachel loves birds and wants to learn more about them, so we loaded up and headed to the park on Sunday afternoon. We went to the first lake in the park, closest to the park entrance. I don’t typically go to this lake for that exact reason. It seems that the people who care more about actually being in nature go deeper into the park, and the people who don’t really want to be there stop at the first lake, walk around real quick, and then leave. And are annoying the whole time they are there.

Rachel's first siting, a bullfrog!
Rachel’s first sighting, a bullfrog!

For example, as soon as we got to the lake we were trying to watch the birds and the bullfrogs when a family walked by. They had a Spanish radio station playing a soccer game. Loudly. If the game was so important to them that they had to listen to it, why on Earth were they walking in the park?? But I digress…

We continued to walk and saw a man attempting to fish in the pond.

While the man was fishing, the alligator ducked down and tried to grab his line.
While the man was fishing, the alligator ducked down and tried to grab his line.

It seemed like a terrible idea because there were three alligators nearby, and they were very interested in the movement of his bobber as he reeled it in and cast it out. (Not exactly sure what he was planning on doing if he actually caught a fish, because it was probably going to end up being an alligator’s meal instead of his). As we were taking photos of the alligators we saw 4 girls, young high schoolers probably, that had a bring green string with bacon tied to the end, and they were tossing it over and over into the water. At first we overheard them say that they were crab fishing. Our thoughts were, “good luck, girls. First, this is fresh water….Second, if there were any crabs they would probably be getting eaten by the alligators…” While we were taking pictures, one of the girls asked if we mind if they throw the string, since we were taking photos of the alligators. I said no. Then she said, “If it makes you feel any better, it’s biodegradable string.” All I said in response was, “as long as it doesn’t stay in the water, I don’t care.” It was a strange interaction, but I wrote it off as just that.

You can see the green line at the bottom of the picture, that the girls were throwing into the water, baiting the alligators in.
You can see the green line at the bottom of the picture that the girls were throwing into the water, baiting the alligators in.
One of the alligators that the girls were baiting.
One of the alligators that the girls were baiting.

We didn’t think much more of them and continued to take photos of the alligators, and moved further on down the trail around the lake.  Then Rachel saw him.  A small alligator, only about 2.5 feet long, sitting at the surface of the water. We would have walked right past him if Rachel hadn’t seen him, but then she saw something else. The alligator looked to be tangled in the same green string that the girls had been using.  At first I was angry and disappointed. But then we saw the truth. See, the green string was camouflaged with the green vegetation, which is why we didn’t see it at first. Once we had our search image set for the string, we could see that the little alligator had swallowed their bait and had the string in his mouth. When the girls realized that they had in fact CAUGHT A FREAKING ALLIGATOR they tied off the end of the string to some vegetation, preventing the alligator from getting away.

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Poor guy was doing all he could to get away, but he was stuck.
Poor guy was doing all he could to get away, but he was stuck.
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You can see the green string tangled in the vegetation.
The string was tied to some vegetation to prevent the alligator from getting away.
The string was tied to some vegetation to prevent the alligator from getting away.

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You can clearly see the string in the alligator's mouth
Even though it’s not the sharpest picture, you can clearly see the string in the alligator’s mouth. I was trying to get pictures of him while he was thrashing in the water, so my camera had trouble focusing on him.

By this point I was livid. Hubby was livid. Even little Rachel and Joey were livid. WHO DOES THAT?! Who just baits in an alligator and then ties it off so it can’t go anywhere? They poor guy was trying so hard to get away. He was pulling with all his strength but it just wasn’t enough. I called the BBSP phone number and reported it to the park police. As we waited for the police to show up the girls walked by, as if nothing happened.

So we had a little chat.

Hubby: “Did y’all catch an alligator?”

Girls: “No.”

Hubby: “Really? Because it looks like you did.”

Girls: “No, we didn’t catch him. We lured him in.”

Me: “So, you did catch him…”

Girls: “No, we lured him in. We didn’t bring him in.”

Me: “You still caught an alligator.”

At this point they continued to walk away, so I yelled, “You know it’s illegal to hunt alligators in the state park, right?!”

Girls: “We don’t kill things.”

Me: “You could have killed him! You don’t know!”

Wow….we don’t kill things. I was so angry I was literally shaking. As we waited for the park police to show up a volunteer came by on her bicycle. We told her what happened and pointed at the girls who were still in view further down the trail. She said she was going to have a “chat” with them. Then park police showed up a few minutes later. We told him the same story and he assured us that the Nature Center people would take care of the alligator and he was going to try to find the girls.

We felt a lot better then. It was in the hands of the police. We did our good deed. We continued to walk and take pictures of the beautiful swamp.

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Clouds and sunset reflection on the water.
Clouds and sunset reflection on the water.

Hubby though, was not yet satisfied. He went on ahead, concerned that the girls weren’t going to get caught by the officer. Hubby knew that if we didn’t know how it was going to end, we were going to be thinking about it for a long time. He got to the truck and didn’t see them in the parking lot. “Damn,” he thought. They had gotten away.

We were disappointed when we got to the truck, but the sun was going down so we headed out of the park to go home. And then we saw it. Glorious day! The officer had found the girls and was busy writing them tickets! We pulled over into the parking area and waited. I snuck a picture of “the leader” standing next to the officer’s truck. She was embarrassed and angry, and when she saw me she shot daggers at me. Man, if looks could kill…

The Leader of the Group.
The Leader of the Group.

We waited there until the car load of miscreants left, and then we go out of our truck and thanked the officer over and over again for his good work. He told us that they have a date with the judge, and Hubby gave him his business card in case they needed our account of what happened. I have never wanted to get subpoenaed more in my life. I would gladly tell a judge what these terrible people were doing. The officer then assured us that he was going to take care of the alligator now, but he wanted to make sure the catch them first.

A giant weight was lifted off of our shoulders when we saw the officer’s flashing blue lights, with the girl standing next to his truck. Although we will never understand what could have possibly been going through their heads when they decided to do this, I can (almost) assure you that they will never do it again.

We were meant to go to the park on Sunday. And we were meant to go to that lake instead of one deeper into the park. We were meant to help that little alligator. Everything happens for a reason.

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Niagara Falls

As you probably already know, I have the opportunity every once in a while to travel to some pretty awesome places, thanks to my job in the Toxic Waste Division of Zombie and Poltergeist Prevention, Inc. A few weeks ago I was sent to Canada for the third time in a year.  This was by far the best trip of the three, but that probably wasn’t hard to do. Let me esplain. No, there is too much. Let me sum up.

I went to Ontario in December. Yes. You read that correctly. Ontario. in DECEMBER. Typical flight delays occurred, in addition to my baggage getting left in Toronto (where I was NOT), my rental car was given away, the first taxi I called ended up upside down in a ditch, and the second taxi I called only took cash (which I only had American, but he was happy to have it). When I got to my hotel late that night, I ordered dinner at the hotel restaurant which was also cash only. I had used all of my cash on my taxi. I wasn’t sure if I should laugh or cry by this point, but a Good Samaritan in the hotel restaurant bought my dinner for me, and turned the entire trip around. The rest of the trip was uneventful.

I went to Alberta in April. You have to remember something. There isn’t a Spring Season in Canada. There is Winter and there is Summer. April is still Winter. While I was trying to follow my site contact to the property, he was driving 100 kph (about 80 mph) THROUGH A SNOWSTORM.  Although I was able to take some beautiful photos and see some beautiful country, the entire province was covered in snow and ice.  Being from Texas, I could only stand that for so long.

But this time, I was in Ontario and Quebec in the last week of September and first week of October. It was gorgeous. The leaves were at their peek for fall colors, and I drove a lot of miles through beautiful country. A LOT OF MILES. 730 miles, actually. And that doesn’t even include the mileage to and from my hotels – that is simply from the airport, to my sites, and back to the airport. All in 5 days.

I did, however, find time for a little fun. See, when you are traveling to or from Canada, it takes ALL DAY. I couldn’t plan for my work day to be done and get to the airport by noon, and then try to fly home that same day. First of all, if I had planned that then something would have gone wrong and I would have missed my flight. There is just not enough wiggle room to do that, and when you aren’t flying Southwest, things need A LOT MORE WIGGLE ROOM. With Southwest you can just hop on an early flight home if you want. Not with other airlines. You have change fees, cancellation fees, PIA fees, and whatever other fees they feel like tacking on. So I gave myself ample time to travel home on Friday, and save the headache.  But because I had extra time on Thursday, I took advantage of my close proximity and was able to visit Niagara Falls.

It was A. MAZ. ING.

Niagara Falls
Niagara Falls

I know what you are thinking. “I have seen pictures of this my whole life. It’s a big waterfall. Meh.”

Seriously, you are wrong. And I know just HOW WRONG you are, because I thought the same thing. I thought, “I have seen waterfalls, and I have seen pictures of Niagara. There is not a real reason to go up there.” Oh man, I was DEAD WRONG.

Niagara Falls, with Maid of the Mist for scale
Niagara Falls, with Maid of the Mist for scale

You don’t realize how MASSIVE the falls are until you see them. Until you hear them. There are people walking and talking behind you, and you can barely hear them over the raging water. Even the size of the river itself was amazing. If I had seen a river like that in Texas, I would assume there had just been a massive flooding even, and the river had breached its banks.

Shipwreck on the Niagara River
There is even a missive shipwreck on the Niagara River, known as the “Old Scow”

As I stood in awe of the river and the falls, I literally zoned out and heard nothing but the raging water. I was almost brought to tears by the beauty. Just across the street was a pub with outdoor seating, so I sat down and ordered a while and watched the falls. I also had a cell phone signal from the US, so I called Hubby without international charges (SCORE!) and played on facebook a while. Then my dear sis-in-law asked me a very interesting question: “Are you staying to watch them light up the falls?”

WHAT??? I don’t even know what that means, but YES I’m staying for that!

I was going to have to wait until 7 pm, but I couldn’t leave when it was so close! So I waited at the restaurant for a while, then I decided to head back to my car to get my coat before it got too cold. By that time I was starting to have second thoughts. I still had a while before sundown, and as I did the math in my head, I realized that I was going to be paying at least $25 in parking. Dang. That’s not cheap. And I was mad at myself for not parking in the $18 lot originally, because I was pretty sure that was for all day. My lot was $5 per hour. I was going to do good on parking prices until I realized I was going to stay so much longer. And then my foot started to hurt. Bad. Hubby and I had run 4 miles a couple days before, and since I had hurt my back in the beginning of the Summer, I hadn’t been running. So that 4 mile run really did a number on my foot. I couldn’t imagine walking all the way to my car to get my jacket, all the way back to the falls, and then ALL THE WAY BACK TO MY CAR AGAIN after the light show! So regrettably, I limped back to my car, stopped in the botanical garden to take some pictures and rest my poor foot, and got ready to head to my hotel.

A greenhouse I was definitely jealous of!
A greenhouse I was definitely jealous of!
Adorable sculpture of a boy ride a snapping turtle
Adorable sculpture of a boy ride a snapping turtle
Beautiful Japanese Maple, starting to turn from green to red
Beautiful Japanese Maple, starting to turn from green to red
Roses of every color!
Roses of every color!
pink fuchsia flowers
pink fuchsia flowers

And then a miracle happened.

There wasn’t a guy in the pay booth. The gate was open. The tenant of the parking lot was gone! FREE PARKING!! I even waited for a couple minutes to make sure he wasn’t walking back up to the booth or something, but he was officially GONE. Now, I know you know that I love a good deal. A free, my friends, is the best deal you can get.

I headed back to the falls, planning on parking much closer. I was willing to pay $5/30 minutes to park super close to the falls, now that I wasn’t going to be there much longer. But then I saw something even better. MORE FREE PARKING. Holy crap on a cracker! At the pub where I had relaxed earlier, there was a free lot. This was Karma’s way of telling me that I needed to stay a little longer to appreciate the beauty of the world, and I obliged! And this is what I waited to see. Magic.

New York, USA, the American Falls
New York, USA, the American Falls
Horseshoe Falls, the falls that separate the US from Canada
Horseshoe Falls, the falls that separate the US from Canada
the lights changed color every few minutes
the lights changed color every few minutes

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I didn’t stay much later than sunset, because I still had to drive to my hotel, but this just makes me want to take Hubby to see this, so we can do the Maid of the Mist tour and stay much later so I can get better pictures! (Also I hadn’t brought my tripod because of packing restrictions, so I will have that too!)

By the time I got to my hotel I was exhausted, and I had to get up at 5 a.m. the next morning to make my flight, but it was so worth it.

For Sale! Part 2

I had a very successful first sale day at the Farmer’s Market!

Many people were interested in my photography, and I passed out a lot of “business cards.” I say this with quotation marks because I haven’t gotten my cards yet! Luckily though, I had the forethought to bring a small pad of paper and a pen, so I was able to spread the word about my online Photo Gallery, and generate some interest in placing orders.

Soon though, I will have my very beautiful business cards that I designed, so I can hand those out at the next Farmer’s Market!

For anyone that is interested in ordering online, I have created an order form to make this a quick process.  To give a little more detail on the ordering process, here goes:

You can order prints in 5×7, 8×10, 11×14, or 16×20. The panoramics are either 6×18 or 8×24.

I prefer to print on metallic paper, because it makes the photos look much more 3 dimensional; however, the Professional Print (on glossy paper) looks fantastic as well.

If you would like the photos to be matted, there is also an option for that on the order sheet.

If you are interested in ordering photos online, feel free to send me an email at mywildhoodphotography@gmail.com, and we can discuss it further!

And, so you don’t have to search for them again, here are the photos that I have for sale right now!

ALSO, I ALMOST FORGOT TO MENTION THAT I TAKE PAYPAL! Secure payments made online, so you don’t have to worry about sending cash or check!

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