Krause Springs

Krause Springs is not for the weak.  It is not for the very young, or the very old.  It’s not handicapped accessible, or even that easy for those with balance issues.

There are slick spots.  There are sharp spots.  There are shallow parts and there are deep parts.  In order to get to some of the good spots, one might have to walk carefully over algae covered rocks, delicately walk across a balance beam-style concrete ledge, walk across fine little pebbles that cut into your feet, and dance around cypress tree roots.  You might have to lay down on your belly and climb up along rock faces, scramble a bit for good footing, which is what is going on in the picture above (no toddlers were injured in the making of this picture, although it seemed likely at some points).

In order to get in the water, you might have to carefully feel your water across the roots, and perhaps suddenly slide into spongy vegetation on the river bottom.  Or perhaps you might be standing on a rock ledge, then take a step further and sink into an abyss of unknown depth.  Perhaps, if you are very brave, you might get into the water by swinging off a rope from the top of the ridge, after having to climb your way up there along rocks and stand in a long line of others trying to prove their mettle.  If you are interested in a further challenge, you might enter the cold river by throwing your body off the ridge, slightly higher up.  The fact that we didn’t see anyone get injured this way is a testament to how deep the water is in certain parts.

For those in the 5-35 age range (with no physical handicaps), this place is great fun.  The kids in our group had a great time.  The two of us who were parenting a toddler were experiencing some stress trying to keep him safe.

Initially, I took him down to the river access area on my own, while my friend and her husband where with the older kids and my husband was still getting dressed.  I went for the obvious choice on where to enter the water – the first area you come to as you come down the steps on the far left, which looked fairly shallow.  I even asked some folks how deep it was and they said it was shallow there.  I got in first, and then stepped back a foot to allow the toddler room to follow me.  Only, it turns out I had been standing on a ledge that only extended about that first foot, and suddenly I was flailing a bit as I sunk into questionably deep waters.  My toddler, showing some good sense here, stepped back and said “No like river!” and then refused to come in, even when I got back in control and on the ledge.

After this, we tried the swimming pool area.  The pool is fed by the natural springs, and is very cold!  It has a gradually increasing depth, being about 2″ deep on one side and possibly 6-8″ deep on the other side.  On the deep side, kids lined up along the rocks forming the back ledge and jumped into the water, sometimes one at a time and sometimes in a group.  There are two ladders into the pool, and other than that, the whole surface is straight concrete and rock base.   We tried to cajole the toddler into the pool, but he dipped his feet in, felt the temperature, and said, “I no like pool!”.

We eventually got him in both places, but only for short times. A nice picnic was had by all parties. Some resting might have occurred by various parties while I was chasing the toddler around the grounds. He made friends with a three year old girl in the gazebo, although he might need a little work on his game (she had a scratch on her face, and his only lines he could come with were “Hi” and “You have owie on face. Are you okay?”). We admired the interesting features on the stone benches and planters (squirrels harvesting acorns and lion’s faces carved into them). We experienced all the grounds, including the incredible butterfly garden at the entry way when we arrived.

It was a very pretty place, although quite crowded on a summer Saturday.It was a good place to experience, a place we would go again, but probably not until several years from now, when little Sebastian is not so little and the place seems a little less fraught with danger.

Estero Llano State Park, in Photos

*not pictured:  the Common Pauraque that we only observed from the ranger’s scope, nor the Golden Fronted Woodpeckers that were often seen, some even from just outside our hotel, and many others

Cinnamon Teal
Common Yellowthroat
Black Crowned and Yellow Crowned Night Herons
Yellow Crowned Night Heron
Eastern Screech Owl (in the nesting box)
Tri-Colored Heron with Alligator escort
Another Alligator Friend
Yellow Bellied Sapsucker
Northern Shoveler and Mottled Duck
Northern Shovelers
Least Grebe
One of the three variety of teals that are park residents
Talk about having your ducks in a row!
Somewhere in this picture, a White Faced Ibis is hiding
We all marveled at this lovely turtle

Bentsen – Rio Grande Valley State Park: Dude, Chill

It’s a crisp Saturday morning in the Rio Grande Valley.  The air has that just-after-a-rain feeling, when the clouds had finally burst and released the humidity and all the plants look freshly washed.  A cool, refreshing breeze is blowing over us, assisted by the forward momentum of the electric tram.

We are in Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park, home of one of the nine World Birding Centers along the southern edge of Texas.  This park is unique in several ways, and one of those ways is that vehicles are not allowed in the park.  Once you pass the park gate, you are either walking, riding a bike, or riding one of these electric trams (kind of a bigger fancy golf cart).

We rode the tram twice: once on Saturday afternoon for the Nature Tour, and once on Sunday morning for the Bird Walk.  Both times, we had the same guide, a ranger named Roy who had some interesting stories to tell.  We did not realize when we decided to do both these activities that it would be mostly the same stories and same tour stops between the two days, but I understood.  He had somewhat of a script that he probably gave day after day in this job, and we were probably the rare visitors that came to both.

Plain Chachalacas

I try to find the joy in all experiences, so even when when we stopped for a long time to watch the same bird feeding station we spent time at the day before, I found new things to delight in, like the fact that my two year old could now point out and say “chachalacas” when those heavy brown year-round residents showed up at the feeder, or that instead of seeing a handful of Green Jays like the afternoon before, a handful of Great Kiskadees were present this time around.  I was entertained trying to get pictures of all the characters in this little nature play.  I would just sit on a bench or on step, feeling the breeze on my face and listening to the bird calls, feeling happy just to be out here.

Great Kiskadee

I could tell my ten year old was bored of it, though.  Sometimes he was engaged and listening, but when Roy started into a story we heard the day before, I could hear my son sigh, or see him start circling or flinging his hands around, habits he has developed to “entertain himself”, he says, when he gets bored.  Sebastian was having a hard time with the sitting still, watching and listening part, so this day, Jason just took off down the road on a hike to the Hawk Tower with Sebastian in the backpack, saying we could catch up with each other later.

Chachalacas and Red Wing Blackbirds

As we drove further down the road to other feeding stations and viewing areas, I thought about how it was going for Jason and Sebastian.  I knew exactly what Jason would tell me if I asked him how that morning was for him, that the peace and solitude had been refreshing, that the weather was perfect, that he really enjoyed just sitting at the top of the Hawk Tower watching the raptors soar and holding Sebastian in his arms.   At one point, he was mentally considering what he would say to that question, and came up with the same answers.  I didn’t even need to ask him, then, because I already knew.  When we finally did talk about this the next morning, we had a bit of a laugh about this because it is tied to this long-standing joke that we are already in each other’s heads, often thinking the same thoughts or predicting the other’s thoughts with startling accuracy.  I suppose it is something that happens in most marriages.

On our way to the overlook by the oxbow lake, we were approached by an older man (looked to be retirement age) carrying a camera with a nice, big lens.  He flagged the tram down, and then started harassing poor Roy about the feeding stations.  He was basically expressing anger that all the feeding stations were not full.  He said he had called the office just yesterday, and a few days ago, to verify that the “provisioners” would be freshening the feeding stations this morning.  Roy explained to him that it was Spring Break, and the volunteers he usually had to do that job were usually leaving the park by this time (“winter Texans”), and that they usually stopped feeding the birds around this time of the year each year because food was plentiful and bird feed would go to waste, so they had only fed at certain stations.  The birds had not been coming around so far even to usual expectations, so feeders had kept seed in them longer than desired.  All these logical reasons fell on deaf ears, as the man remained angry.  He then dismissed Roy with a wave of his hand, saying, “Well, thanks….FOR NOTHING!”

I have been thinking about this man ever since.  My son and I talked about his response.  I tried to get my son to think about this from Roy’s point of view, from the man’s point of view, from our point of view.  We tried to imagine what kind of scenario would even result in that man having the right to be so mad at Roy for that, or so disrespectful that he would stop a ranger in the middle of a tour and give him his piece of mind like that in front of all those passengers.  Could this man have gotten away with acting like the world revolved around him all these years?  Has life never taught him otherwise?

Maybe he spent a lot of money to come to the Valley and had specific target birds he wanted to get, or certain shots he wanted.  Maybe he is a professional photographer and not getting his shots meant he didn’t recoup his trip expenses.  Maybe he is having a Big Year and this just wasted his time because he didn’t see anything exciting.  Does any of that justify his behavior?

Great Kiskadees Singing In the Trees

I was talking to my son about that side.  I told him that we had spent money to come here as well, and I had target birds I wanted to see.  We were wrapping up our visit out here, and I had only one target bird left unfulfilled (the Altamira Oriole), but I explained to my son that even though we would try to find it in the area by the World Birding Center buildings, and maybe again the next day at the tropical section of Estero Llano SP, if I didn’t see it before we left, I wasn’t going to cry about it or blame it on the rangers for what provisions they did or didn’t leave out.

More Kiskadee

I felt very fulfilled and happy with our bird count for this trip, despite the fact that rangers at both parks we went to talked about how low the species lists were compared to normal.  Where they usually were finding 60-70 species, we only found 40-50.  Perhaps it is because I am a beginner birder, or perhaps it is because I have low expectations, but I was quite thrilled to have found all the birds we did find.

Northern Cardinal

I think living with the attitude I have will help a person be happier in life than the angry guy is, but I also wonder sometimes if it allows me to accept less than what others would.  I have had a couple people in my life tell me I should be a bigger diva, that I should stand up for myself more, demand more in my life, but sometimes I wonder, if I am happy with this, why argue the point?

More Chachalacas

As luck would have it, though, right after we talked and as we literally left the paved stone area of the park and headed to the parking lot, I saw the Altamira Oriole I was talking about, feeding in the trees above.  My feeling when I left the park was one of satisfaction, that I had gotten everything I wanted out of it.  I guess I could be more like that dude, but then I would be less happy with life, and that seems like a trade off I am not willing to take just to get my way more often.  I feel like in the end, karma will reward those who treat others (including park rangers) with kindness, and perhaps those dudes who need to chill will find karmic justice for their actions as well.

Altamira Oriole

Texas Geocaching Challenge: Brenham

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Neat Structure in Firemans Park

They say all you need to geocache is a sense of adventure and a GPS. These days, with the advent of the smartphone, you really don’t even need that GPSr. I think that sometimes we geocachers get so caught up in the game, in the numbers, in the bragging rights and competition, that we forget what got us into geocaching in the first place: that sense of adventure, a desire to explore our surroundings, to find something we never noticed before.
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This sense of adventure is probably one of my defining character traits, and I brought it with me to the Annual Texas Challenge (and Geocaching Festival), which was held the first weekend of spring break in Brenham this year. I had taken the Friday off work to spend Thursday night through Saturday night in Brenham to participate in as many of the events as I was willing to sacrifice other time for (I had left my family behind for the first night).
20160310_201656Part of the reason I wanted to go up on Thursday night was to experience the Antique carousel at Fireman’s Park. It is such a cool story to think about how a group of citizens just found the horses abandoned in a field in 1932. Now that is a real cache! They managed to get the city to purchase the horses from the landowner and refurbish them for the delight of generations of people in Washington County. After some research, it was determined that the horses on the carousel were made sometime in the late 1800s. The carousel has been through some owner changes and refurbishments since, but the city continues to keep it going for all to enjoy.
20160310_201842Despite the fact that we couldn’t actually RIDE the carousel horses (for kids only), it was still pretty awesome to sit in the bench seat or stand next to the horses and ride this ancient carousel. We had an ice cream social that night, complete with a barbershop quartet, which most people were too busy talking to listen to. However, the best part of the evening for me was when the whole event was over and all had left the pavilion except a handful of us core folks, and yet the barbershop quartet was still there singing, just for fun, practice, or for each other. They were singing a beautiful rendition of “Bridge Over Troubled Water” that I was particularly enjoying when it was time for me to go, but memory of them singing that song is a little bit of a treasure.

The next day I had no particular plan except to show up, so in the morning I found a few places and had a coffee from the little coffee bar in the Pomegranate store/Funky Art Cafe that literally made me happy, and that I will look for in all the other coffee shops I go to in the future. I went to Fireman’s Park and watched Gary and his group assemble “cows” made out of plywood cutouts for a “milking” contest at the park before going for a ride with a couple I had met a few years back (Sue and Ron) to find a few caches with “Nashville Joe”, a guy who is a full-time RV-er, a lifestyle which I found fascinating. The caches we found were not that interesting in themselves, but they were near these juxtapositions of civilization and nature that kind of reminded me of what geocaching is kind of like, the mix of modern technology with bliss in nature.20160311_111101
We got back to Fireman’s Park in time for me to find 20160311_111112another couple to hang out with, Kenny and Kelly, but as we were preparing to go to lunch, we also needed to find Donna and Lola, who had the coins I needed for registration. We all ended up going to lunch together at a place called Must Be Heaven, at which I had a delicious muffuletta sandwich. This restaurant is like an old fashioned soda fountain but has lots of healthy options for those on diets. I enjoyed it, but I am not the only one, because it has 4.5 stars out of 235 reviews on tripadvisor and is rated #1 out of 63 restaurants in Brenham.  We also later had a dinner at Yumm! Eats and Sweets and Andrea’s Taco Shop, and a lunch at Smitty’s Cafe.  All in all, I found myself pleased with all our culinary choices in this 20160311_123004town, and I would say exploring new restaurants is one of my favorite hobbies.
Afterwards, I rode along with Donna and Lola to work on some lab caches. Lab caches are special finds set up for certain events, and are only available during a specific time frame. You don’t log them on the regular website, and they won’t show up on your list of finds, but they will count as a number for your find count. Instead of finding a container, you find a specific thing in a location, details of which are giving on the external website link, and you log each one by typing a code word into the website for each one. I worked on the lab caches with these two girls and then later with Jason and Sebastian, and20160311_132351 here are some pictures of what you might find at the location. Through the lab caches, we had 20160311_155511the following experiences over the weekend: discovering a sweet shop called Bliss that sells gourmet cupcakes and truffles, walking through Washington on the Brazos State Park down to the Brazos River and observing how high it was at this time, buying ice cream cones at a classic old grocery store/bbq shop at the corner of a dirt road, pushing the stroller through Main Street in Chappell Hill and checking out the shops, being the only visitors at a quiet old museum and a park in Independence and letting Sebastian run around and explore.
These were some of the best times of the weekend.  Memories of these experiences are the real treasures we find while geocaching.
We also work20160311_112404ed on finishing our Birthplace of Texas GeoTour, and by Saturday midday, we had completed enough to claim our geocoin that you earn for obtaining 25 points on your passport. Points can be earned by finding the geocaches as well as eating, shopping and lodging in Washington County (but you have to turn in your receipts to prove purchases). Jason had wanted to help the scoring team get set up with another computer and do some other misc things, so I put Sebastian in the stroller and walked from the Chamber of Commerce to the Visitors Center down in the old-fashioned downtown area to turn in our passports and pick up our coin.

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One of the ammo can trophies won in the Texas Challenge on display at the Visitors Center

After we picked up our coin, we had fun exploring all the little antique shops and art galleries. One of my favorite finds during the hour or two my baby and I strolled down there was this stand of cool little stuffed animals made out of alpaca fur. They were so soft and neat looking and I contemplated buying one for Sebastian, but in the end decided they were a little too pricey 20160312_134135(but so adorable).

Over the weekend, Sebastian explored natural areas and items, discovering things like the magic of dandelions and the boldness of older kids.  He helped us find actual geocaches, sift through antiques, and learned about cisterns at a little historical area that we found walking about downtown.  He had fun all the places we went, and so did we.    For this reason, now Brenham will be dear to my heart, the same way Bastrop became after the Challenge that was hosted there in 2014.  We have been back to Bastrop quite a bit since, spending weekends and money there having further adventures, and I feel like we might do the same in Brenham in the future.

For this re20160311_093705ason, I think that a geocaching event is more than just claiming a smiley, getting the icon on your profile.  It is more than the people you meet, and the other caches you find in the area.  Just like geocaching is mostly more about the journey than the actual destination/find, this weekend was more about the exploration than finding hidden containers.  In a way, the whole town was our “cache” – a treasure trove, a place where valuables (like the neat little alpaca toys, great coffee, all the fun places we discovered together) are stored.

I didn’t compete in the actual Challenge this year, but I had more fun than I usually do, less pressure, and more time to just explore.  There has been talk (usually from my husband) that maybe we should do away with the competition aspect of the Challenge, as it just brings out the worst in people.  Maybe after this year, they might, but I think in the future, I am going to approach big events like this with the same attitude of exploration, and find all the neat little gems about the town along the way.

Here are some other scenes from downtown Brenham:

 

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Under this fake rock lies a geocache
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Sign we found in one of the restaurants
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Seen in a shop window

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