Tag Archives: Texas

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)

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#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!

Texas Bucket List

For all you Texans, you get this. You probably have a Bucket List, but then you have a separate Texas Bucket List, for things that every Texan should do. For all you non-Texans, I’m sorry. Hopefully you can get here some day and check all these things off of your list. Luckily there is now a song dedicated to a Texas Bucket List. It’s called My Texas, and it’s by The Josh Abbott Band. There is also a little known guy named Pat Green that sings along with him. You may have heard of him?

Anyway, the list in the song has pretty much everything you need to do in Texas – here is the breakdown.

1. Climb Enchanted Rock    CHECK    At least 4 times

2. Drink a cold Shiner down in Luckenbach    CHECK     Of course I have! And I’ll do it again, too!

3. Take your baby to the River Walk     CHECK     And I’m planning on going in March again!

4. Float the Frio River       CHECK     Used to do this every summer as a kid!

5. Listen to Red Dirt music on the radio      CHECK     Back when I was in high school, we had a good Texas country music station. Not anymore….

6. Eat Cooper’s In Llano*         (sort of) CHECK        I have an * by this, because I have had Cooper’s from Llano, but I haven’t had it IN Llano. They were leftovers a friend brought for me to try

7. Go to the Houston Rodeo    CHECK     Pretty much every year of my childhood, and I showed a steer in Houston

8. Sing “Carry On” at a Pat Green Show     CHECK        I saw Pat Green AT the Houston Rodeo

9. See an Abilene sunset

10. Catch a trout in Port A(ransas)

11. Heard the words to “Corpus Christ Bay”      CHECK      Robert Earl Keen is one of the best – I know all the words!

12. Watch fireworks on PK (I had to look this up, it’s Possum Kingdom Lake)

13. Have a kolache when you go through West*   (sort of CHECK)       Again, the * means I had them when a friend (the same friend who brought me Cooper’s from Llano by the way, brought me some, but I haven’t had fresh ones. Doesn’t matter though – they were still A-MAZ-ING.

14. Heard of the Larry Jo Taylor Fest

15. Go to the Fort Worth Stock Show     CHECK     I showed a steer here too

16. Sing along with Cory Morrow     CHECK      Did this 3 times last year!

17. See a hill country sunset    CHECK      It’s beautiful every time

18. Hike through Big Bend    CHECK      I practically lived there for 6 years while I was in college!

19. Let your hair blow through the Lubbock wind

20. Be somewhere that they call you “friend”    CHECK     I count a lot of places, most of them in Alpine. You always run into someone you know there!

21. Go to the San Antonio Rodeo    CHECK       Showed a steer here too…

22. Sing “Everclear” at a Roger Creager show        CHECK          At least 8 times

23. See an El Paso sunset     CHECK       Best place in Texas to get factory direct boots, but it was quite a drive to get to even when I lived out West. So of course I saw the sunset!

So as you can see, it’s a lot of sunsets and listening to good country music. I’ve done most everything on this list. I think there are a few things that need to be added to it though. See live music at The Salt Lick (and get the Family Style bbq meal. Just trust me on this.), go to Wurstfest in New Braunfels, the Llano Crawfish Open, horseback riding on the beach on South Padre, have a beer on the Front Porch of Terlingua, swim in Jacob’s Well, see a Willie Nelson show, drive down a hill country road to see the bluebonnets at their peak, watch the sunset over Lake Travis at The Oasis, drink cold Texas beer on a hot Saturday night, go 4 wheeling on the Brazos River, eat Huevos Rancheros at Bob’s Taco Station, eat at  ALL of the Texas Monthly Top 50 BBQ joints, and go on every brewery tour (this is going to be a hard one, since new breweries are popping up all the time!), smell the wild Mountain Laurel blooming, get a Round Rock donut, go to Pete’s Piano Bar, and climb Guadalupe Peak, the tallest mountain in Texas. Sounds like I’ll be busy, because I have a few more to do. And the things I’ve marked off the list already, I’ll probably do again.

On Earth As It Is In Texas.

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.

Luxury Backpacking

As soon as I found out that I was getting Good Friday off of work, I called Hubby and said “WE HAVE TO GO CAMPING!” I hadn’t gone camping since Grad School, with the exception of one Canoe Camping trip that we did with a couple friends 2 YEARS AGO.  I had been feeling the itch to go camping for a while, and that was the perfect weekend to do it. Living in Texas, just about anywhere you want to get is a day’s drive to get there, so you want more than just one night away to appreciate the time you spent outdoors, not just in your car getting there.  The most beautiful areas of Texas are west of my current location, and the closest pretty place is about 3 hours away. But of course, since I didn’t know I was getting Good Friday off until most people already had their Easter plans, most of the pretty places we wanted to go were all booked up.

Enter – Inks Lake State Park. This is a tiny state park on a tiny lake which is part of the Colorado River chain of lakes in the hill country.  It is south of Lake Buchanan, which is a much larger lake, but they had campsites available for the Easter weekend so I booked it as soon as possible. The drive to Inks Lake was beautiful.  My favorite landscape type – rocks, hills, cactus, and huge trees, surrounded us. And to top it all off, we were having an amazing wildflower season, so the entire drive was breath-taking.

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Puddle in the rock
Puddle in the rock
Adorable little cactus
Adorable little cactus
China berry blooms
China berry blooms
Teeny Tiny succulents
Teeny Tiny succulents
Buckeye Selena King
Buckeye Selena King
Claret Cup Cactus
Claret Cup Cactus
Hubby at the top
Hubby at the top
Dry creek bed
Dry creek bed
Prickly pear skeleton
Prickly pear skeleton
Indian Paintbrush and rocks
Indian Paintbrush and rocks
Butterfly on Indian Blanket
Butterfly on Indian Blanket
Bluebonnets on the trail
Bluebonnets on the trail
Giant Spiderwort
Giant Spiderwort

The reason I say we were “luxury backpacking” is because the trail from the car was only 1.5 miles.  The backpacking we were used to was 12-16 mile long hikes in the mountains. Very different.  Because of the short distance we were going to be traveling we took a few items that we wouldn’t have carried on a 16 mile hike in the Chisos Mountains. Such as: eggs, wine, cookies, my giant camera with giant lens and a tripod. Things such as these were typically left at home on previous trips to save on weight. And on longer hikes where we didn’t have refrigeration, we would have to bring all of our food with us and it usually consisted of some sort of noodles and a packet of tuna or something. Since this was LUXURY backpacking, we only brought one day’s worth of food to camp at a time (and it was really awesome food at that!) That way we could keep all the extra food in the car in the big cooler, nice and cold, and go get it the next day when we had nice light-weight empty packs to carry.

Day 1: We got to the park at about noon and headed into our camp site. Then we had the rest of the afternoon to explore the trails and hills around us. I was constantly taking pictures and Hubby was walking around exploring and waiting patiently for me to finish whatever I was trying to take pictures of. When we got back to camp we started making dinner – home-made beef stew and biscuits.

While Hubby cooked dinner, I was practicing my night-time photography techniques. It didn't go well.
While Hubby cooked dinner, I was practicing my night-time photography techniques. It didn’t go well.

This is not quick or easy over one small burner, but as I write this it is literally making my stomach growl, thinking of what a great meal it made.  The stew cooked pretty slowly since it was fresh, raw potatoes, carrots, and onions, but once it was done, Hubby put it off to the side to cool while he made “biscuits.” Now, I say “biscuits” instead of biscuits because although it was Bisquick biscuit mix, we didn’t have a way of baking them. Instead they were more like biscuit pancakes. Hubby wasn’t sure how they were going to turn out so he didn’t want me to get my hopes up, but they were perfect! Slightly burnt in the middle where the flame hits the pan, just enough to give it that campfire flavor. We ripped them in half and dunked them into the perfect stew. The only problem was that there was a bit too much food, and no way to store any leftovers. I felt guilty about throwing it away because it was so good, and there isn’t really a good place to throw food anyway (because raccoons can always figure out where you put food) so I enjoyed my gluttony and pretty much couldn’t move for the rest of the night.  For dessert we had Whole Foods cookies from the cookie bar, drank our adult beverages, and then hiked to the top of the hill by our camp to watch the stars.

It was a perfect night.

(Except for one thing. My camera had a little accident. >:{ So these are the only photos I have from the trip. BUT it was still a fantastic trip, and my camera is fixed, so all’s well that ends well, right?)

The next day we hiked around and watched the boats at the boat ramp, got some sodas at the general store, and even headed to Longhorn Cavern State Park, which was pretty much next door, to check out the cavern.

Now, you might be thinking, “come on World Traveler…you have been to Carlsbad Caverns. How can ANY cave even top that? What’s the point of even going to other caves after you have seen Carlsbad?”

Well Fellow Adventurers, first of all, I find all caves interesting, but this one had the strangest back story you have ever heard! First, it wasn’t a cave formed by water dripping over eons creating beautiful “sculptures” but it was formed by an underwater river. It was also a hang out for Comanche Indians, smugglers, bandits, train robbers, and at one time it was a Speakeasy. Yes. In the middle of nowhere Burnet, Texas, there was a Speakeasy in a cave.

Longhorn Cavern Speakeasy

(Photo courtesy of http://bougiegrnk.blogspot.com/ where you can read all about his travels, too!)

The cave was an awesome surprise on this trip that we wouldn’t have had time to do if we had only gone camping for one night instead of two. We went back to Inks Lake State Park, watched the boats some more, and then headed back to camp for a nap, and then we watched a spectacular sunset on the hill overlooking Inks Lake.

This trip couldn’t have gone better, and we definitely plan on going back, maybe taking a couple of the dogs with us next time. I recommend this park if you were thinking about going!

Panoramic Sunset
Sunset Over Inks Lake

 

 

 

Why I Love Canadians

My Canada trip started out pretty rough.

But the saving grace for the entire trip was that I was in Canada. You know what else is in Canada?

Canadians.

I swear, they are the nicest people you will ever meet.

They go out of their way to make you feel welcome and comfortable. It’s quite refreshing.

After my terrible first day, things started looking up.

My baggage showed up in the middle of the night…

My warm clothes!

And even though I had asked them to, the front desk people didn’t call me at 1 am to tell me it was here. And you know what? I’m glad they made that decision – what was I going to do with that information at 1 am? Run down and get my bag? No, I would have said ok, great. I’ll pick it up in the morning. So why call and wake me up about it? Better to just let me sleep and figure it out later. They are so nice.

I found out that my rental car wasn’t going to be ready until 10 am. I notified the people I was in town to see, and instead of waiting around all day for me to show up, they offered to pick me up at my hotel and take me to the property. Nice warm truck being driven by someone who knew where they were going? I’m in.

And when I was done for the day, he dropped me off at the rental car place. And this was my rental car…

Super Awesome Rental Car
Super Awesome Rental Car

They said that because I was so nice and patient with them since they had run out of cars the day before, they were only charging me for an economy car, but gave me an All Wheel Drive Kia Sorrento.

And a free GPS Rental.

See! When you are nice, nice things happen!

However, I didn’t have time to go see the polar bears.

It was an hour drive and they close early in the winter, so instead I drove to nearby Hersey Lake and took some photos, adding 4 new species to my bird list in the meantime!

Ruffed Grouse
Ruffed Grouse
Black-capped Chickadee
Black-capped Chickadee
Hairy Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker
Red breasted Nuthatch
Red breasted Nuthatch

And I also got to see something completely new and foreign to me…

Hersey Lake, frozen solid
Hersey Lake, frozen solid

First time in my life I had seen a lake frozen solid. It kind of scared me, I’m not going to lie. I was sure if I ventured too close to the edge I would fall through, even though those are snow-mobile tracks going across the middle of it!

Snowy path around the lake
Snowy path around the lake
Sunset and snow
Sunset and snow
Birch Trees
Birch Trees
Birch Trees in the Snow
Birch Trees in the Snow

I met up with John again in the hotel bar that evening. The hotel staff were all having their staff Christmas Party, so it was me and him watching hockey in the bar and showing each other pictures of our dogs.

I had told him the night before after he so kindly paid for my dinner, that I would pay him back the next night. I’m sure he thought I had forgotten, but I always try to keep my word so I made sure to meet up with him again. Since the hotel staff were having their Christmas party and the restaurant was closed, we went to The Restaurant (I’m not making that up).

It was a dive restaurant (my favorite!) that was attached to a gas station.

I told John that I had to have the traditional Canadian dish of french fried and gravy, what the Canadians call Poutine. He said that The Restaurant was the best place in town for that, so that’s where I wanted him to take me.

Poutine
Poutine

We didn’t realize that they were close to closing when we walked in, but we ordered our Poutine (Quebec style, with cheese curds) and a couple sodas and sat and talked for a good while. There aren’t many people that I can just sit and talk to as if I have known them for years, so it was nice to be able to do that after I had had such a crappy trip.

After dinner the waitress came and got our plates with her purse in her hand, ready to go. We didn’t even notice that she was waiting on us! We got out as fast as we could and apologized over and over for making her wait. I paid for dinner like I told him I would, and then he asked if I had ever been to Tim Horton’s.

I had never heard of Tim Horton’s.

But apparently it’s another Canadian thing to do.

We ordered our coffee (decaf since it was like 9 pm by this time) and John had me pick out a Christmas ornament. He refused to let me pay for the coffee and ornament, saying, “it’s Christmas!”

Then he gave me a “toonie” which is the Canadian $2 coin, because he wanted to make sure I had actually seen a Polar Bear on my trip.

toonie

Again, we sat and talked like old friends, and enjoyed our coffee. He talked about once when he thought his eye was about to pop out of his head and I talked about when both my eardrums blew out in grad school. Then we discussed the differences of healthcare in Canada and in The US. It was great. John said that he had been trying really hard to NOT say “ahe?” the whole time (he apparently wasn’t doing a very good job of it because it was like every sentence) because “it’s so typically Canadian,” but all I did was laugh and say something along the lines of “I think it’s fine – you are Canadian afterall….”

The second day of my three day trip was spectacular.

John was a welcome new friend, and I hope we keep in touch.

Everyone else I met was so nice and made me wish I lived in Canada, simply because everyone in the country is automatically your friend.

However, seeing as how this was the temperature the entire time I was there…

That's in Fahrenheit.
That’s in Fahrenheit.

…I don’t plan on making the move any time soon.

Planes, Trains, and Automobiles

The Steve Martin/John Candy movie always seemed a little depressing to me. One guy keeps getting screwed over and the other guy doesn’t see anything wrong with that.  Well, today that movie seems to have come to fruition, and I’m Steve Martin.

planes_trains_and_automobiles1

It all started with Expedia.com.  I was trying to book a flight to Timmins, Ontario for work and the only way to save the budget for the project was to book through Expedia.  I was on a personal trip and attempting to book the flight from a hotel room. I was getting so frustrated because every time I selected a flight, I would go through all the hoops of selecting my flight, my seat, and everything else when I would get the next screen that would say this flight is no longer available.”

This should have been taken as a sign (Sign #1). Maybe I should have just put off the trip a little later and book it through a real airline instead of the discount site. But no. I was able to book a flight, a hotel, and a rental car, and it ONLY took 1 hour. When it should have taken 20 minutes.

I was continually getting emails from Expedia about booking my trip to Timmins. It was a little confusing because THEY of ALL PEOPLE should be well aware that I already booked my flight to Timmins, right? (Sign #2).

Yesterday I got the email to check in for my flight within 24 hours of my trip. I tried to do that and it kept saying that it couldn’t do that. Call customer service. When I tried to call customer service, this was the recording. “Thank you for calling United Airlines. We are currently experiencing a large volume of calls. All of our representatives are currently helping other customers. If it is not an emergency, try again later.” Well it wasn’t an emergency, so I wasn’t too worried about it. (Sign #3).

Then this morning I headed to the airport in Houston and tried to check in for my flight. No dice. Every time I slide my card into the card reader, it said there was no itinerary that matched my name. (Sign #4). Probably why the website wouldn’t let me check in online either. The lady behind the counter, who looked like a 4-foot tall, black, female version of Dr. Frank-N-Furter from Rocky Horror Picture Show, was not remotely helpful or in a hurry.

Seriously.
Seriously.

However, it seemed that everyone was having issues with the kiosks, so I wasn’t so worried about it (take it back to Sign #3). I was finally given one boarding pass, from Houston to Boston, and Ms. Dr. Frank-N-Furter told me these exact words, “This is your boarding pass for Boston. When you get to your gate in Boston, ask for your other boarding passes. This will get you to Boston, but your bag will go on to Timmins.”

Awesome. One less thing to worry about. So I had enough time to get through security and even grab a breakfast sandwich before I walked right onto my plane for Boston. Easy right? Of course I still had two more flights to catch…

I landed in Boston and it turned out I had to go through security again. I thought that was weird, but the only flying I usually do is domestic and small airports, so having to go from Terminal E to Terminal B, it makes sense that I would need to go through security again. No big deal. The airport was pretty awful, but I also blame this on Expedia. See, since I couldn’t check in online, I had no idea what terminal I needed at which airport. I had the flight numbers and the flight times, but that was pretty much it. I had to ask around for where I could find Air Canada, and the guy told me to go to Terminal B. Follow the signs to C Terminal, go across the street, and you’re there. Across the street? How big is this airport? So I followed the signs, found the C Terminal, and was stuck. It took me a while before I could find Terminal B, and it really was across the street. Then I had to go to the ticket counter to get my boarding passes. Not the gate like Dr. Frank-N-Furter said (because I had to go through security again) but at the ticket counter. I got my tickets and was on my way. Then the Boston TSA guy said this.

“You’re going the wrong way!”

planes_trains_automobiles

All I could think about was Planes, Trains, and Automobiles (Sign #4 again). I knew people were just saying that because it is December and I’m from Texas, and going to Canada in December is probably suicide, so I didn’t think anything of it.

The flight from Boston to Toronto wasn’t bad, even though this was my “window seat” on the plane.

My "window seat"
My “window seat”

Toronto is actually a much bigger city than I thought it was. I would love to actually spend some time there.

Toronto as far as the eye can see
Toronto as far as the eye can see

When I got off the plane in Toronto everything in the airport was very well marked and stress-free. Where it wasn’t well-marked, they had employees yelling directions of where we needed to go. Flawless. I went through Customs and security again before I got to my Terminal for my final flight of the day.

Last flight of the day
Last flight of the day

This was a tiny little Turbo Prop that we had to walk out onto the runway to board. In the snow. Granted there wasn’t much snow, but it was still about 25 degrees F outside. The plane wasn’t full, so even though it was the smallest plane of the day, I had the most room.

The plane was making me a little nervous though. There was this ear-piercing whine for most of the flight. I’m not sure if it was the particular altitude we were at, or if it was when they turned the heat on in the plane, or what, but I really thought my eardrums were going to start bleeding if it didn’t stop. Of course, as soon as I thought I couldn’t take it anymore, the shrieking stopped, and I was able to read in peace. Then when we started to descend it started again. I would have preferred a crying baby. At least you know why that sound is being made and you aren’t afraid that it’s a breach in the bulkhead.

When I landed in Timmins I went to the rental car counter to get the keys for my rental car while I waited for my luggage. Apparently they were expecting me to pick up my car at 10 am. When I was in the air between Houston and Boston.

Since I hadn’t shown up, they gave away my car. And didn’t have any other cars either. Not exactly sure how you can overbook rental cars, but the girl behind the counter said that they were still expecting two more drivers, and they had no more cars to rent out?! Anyway, I blame Expedia for this too.  I booked my rental car through Expedia, and USUALLY when you book a car through the airline, it automatically sets the time you will get there for when your flight lands. But for some reason Expedia decided that I would be able to pick up the keys on my way to Boston first, so they set up the rental agreement to start at 10 am. True, it was my responsibility to double-check the rental time, but remember how I said it took 1 hour to book flights and a car? I didn’t remember what time my flight was supposed to get in. I was just glad I remembered what DATE I was flying in.

Rental car girl set me up for a rental car for the morning, and I finished waiting for my luggage. I’m still waiting for my luggage. Because Dr. Frank-N-Furter doesn’t know how her job works. My bag is still in Toronto. Apparently I was supposed to get it off the conveyor belt in Toronto and go through customs with it, and then re-check the bag. NOT WHAT I WAS TOLD IN HOUSTON. (Sign #12).

So I called a cab from the airport and waited. And waited.

People came and left in taxis. Mine never came.

I called again, and the guy on the phone said that there had been an accident and he was trying to re-route a taxi to me.

I waited some more. Finally I gave up and called a different cab company. A lady who had just walked in asked if I was waiting for a cab, and when I said yes, she said, “well, there is one down there upside down in a ditch. I bet that one was yours.”

The other cab company showed up within a few minutes, and it turned out that the upside down cab was in fact the one that was supposed to be picking me up. Apparently, my driver, Dan, told me, that that guy is a horrible driver and I should be glad I wasn’t in the car with him. He is actually banned from driving with the company that did pick me up. Wow. (Sign #20).

Dan was really nice. Everyone is Canada is really nice. That’s the only saving grace for this trip so far. He told me of a place where I can see Polar Bears while I’m here. I liked Dan.

Dan only takes cash. The first cab company advertised that they took Visa and Master Card, which was why I called them in the first place. I had enough cash for Dan luckily. He took my American money. Phew.

I got to my hotel and they had my reservation. You know why? Because I booked THIS through Hotels.com. I love Hotels.com. Anyway…

I told the lady at the front desk that I’m expecting a bag, so if they could call me when it comes in, that would be great. Even if it comes in at midnight. I just want my bag.

I went to my room and saw a restaurant in the hotel with a couple people sitting at the bar. I was starving. All I had eaten all day was a breakfast sandwich and three bags of airline pretzels. I went to my room, checked to make sure the wifi was working (because I didn’t think about international charges on my phone, so I’m not sure what to do about that), and I told Hubby that I was safe and sound via Facebook messenger.

I went to the restaurant and asked if I could still order dinner. She said all she had were what basically breaks down to as TV dinners. For $7. I don’t care. I’m starving and I don’t have a car to go anywhere else.

I got her to heat up a shepherd’s pie, and while I was waiting I had a wonderful Canadian lager. I sat and talked with a guy named John for a while, and like all Canadians, he was very nice. I finished my beverage and asked how much I owe. She said $12.50. I said do you take Visa?

No, cash only.

FACEPALM.

A restaurant in a hotel that doesn’t take cards when the hotel does? I tried to use the ATM and it wouldn’t read my card.

John paid for my dinner and I ate in my room.

$7 dinner
$7 dinner

To be fair, I usually travel with cash. But my reasoning behind it was, I RARELY use it, especially when I am on company trips, and I wasn’t about to spend money switching to Canadian currency when I was just going to be here for a couple days. Everyone takes cards these days, anyway, right? Lesson learned.

I lost track of how many signs there were that this little Texas girl was going the wrong way. That something just doesn’t want me to be in Canada. But maybe it was just a bad day.

But tomorrow is another day.

Tomorrow there might be Polar Bears.

polar bear