Bluebonnets and Washington-on-the-Brazos State Park

My best friend and I were looking for a place to take the kids last Sunday where we could all enjoy the outdoors and also find some wildflowers off the beaten path to take the obligatory kids-in-bluebonnets pictures that it seems like everyone who calls themselves a Texan has to take at some point.

I decided to pack us a picnic lunch, and borrowed my parents van for the day so that all six of us could ride in one car.  Jen and I and all four kids were like a mobile party on wheels heading northwest from Tomball.

First stop:  this field off 362 just north of Route 2 (north of Field Store, south of Whitehall). Last week when J and I stopped here, we had the place to ourselves at first, but this time, already there were three families there.  We headed further down the country road (turn right at the “fresh farm eggs” sign and continue on down past the third or fourth house.

Here are my favorite photos from there:

Aj and I, in his "angry youth" stage


My boys


My sweetest boy


After this diversion, we continued on our path to visit Washington-on-the-Brazos State Park, “birthplace of Texas independence”.  This location was the original capitol of Texas, and during Texas’s Battle for Independence from Mexico, the fledging government’s leaders were gathered here in a small log cabin, hashing out the details of the Declaration of  Independence that they all eventually signed after 17 days, and which remains on display in the museum here.

This park offers a sample of Texas’s past through its Barrington Living History Farm.  We made our way through this farm with the kids, after having a (hot) picnic lunch at the picnic area in the park.  Families with kids be aware: although the playground at the picnic area is a nice feature, there is little shade in this area (well, especially following a drought year), and all the playground equipment is metal, including the slide.  Hot sun plus metal slide can equal burned butts.  But….luckily our kids were smart enough to think about this and we didn’t have any incidents ourselves.

The Barrington Living History Farm is also bereft of shade, although if you stand in the dogtrot of the main family house, a cool southeastern wind is much relief.  Even on this lovely spring day, the temperature was almost into the nineties.

The first thing we checked out was the barns, corn cribs, slave quarters, and animal shelter areas of the farm.  We learned a lot of facts about oxen, hogs, life in the mid 1800s.  Costumed volunteers helped history come alive by involving themselves in pastimes of the age.  One man was carving wooden spoons, while another was cooking ham and beans over a cooking fire and drying venison jerky.  After this, we went to the main house, where Jen watched a sewing display, and I watched the kids who were watching a couple of musicians play songs of the day, and teach them the difference between modern instruments and their old fashioned ones.

After this, we went to the Star of the Republic Museum.  The favorite part of the museum in the kids opinion was the Discovery Center.  We spent quite a bit of time in here, assembling a faux log cabin  out of giant foam “lincoln logs”, learning about ancient medicine, playing with puppets, and playing with antiquidated toys and musical instruments.

Here are some of the favorite photos of the day:

All in all, it was a very enjoyable time with the kids.  I would recommend this park as a great place to enjoy the spring and fall months (although it might be a bit hot in the summertime).  Right now is a great time to enjoy this park, because as you can see in the picture right here, the bluebonnets are blooming in the park (and allegedly, some rare white bluebonnets or even indian paintbrush may be found in the park as well).

Country Roads and New Friends

Sometimes I have read that all you need for geocaching is a sense of adventure.  I always found that kind of interesting because I thought everyone HAD one of those.  Turns out, not so much. A love of nature and appreciation of the outdoors is also not as common as I would have thought.

That’s why finding someone else who has those qualities is like finding a rare coin, something to treasure.  Last weekend, I got to spend time with a new friend whom I met through blogging online who has those same inner qualities.

We invited her to join us to watch the bird banding and take a short walk around the Gulf Coast Bird Observatory.  We were kind of late (typical) and missed a lot of the banding, but my new friend got some good pictures.  See here.

Then we took a hike with her through the Wilderness Park next door to find this geocache J and I had our eye on.  Allegedly it was a four mile round trip hike, we might have made it more with circling about looking for the right trail to cut in.  Afterwards, we went out to eat at a combination greek/cajun seafood joint that also required a sense of adventure, I think, but turned out to be a real treat, just like my new friend.  I am so glad we got to meet in person and look forward to more outdoor adventures with her.

On the way back, J and I took the scenic route and stopped a few times for various distractions: wildflowers in bloom, a line of geocaches, a historic church, a pileated woodpecker sighting.  My favorite part was when I was looking for this cache near this old white church in the picture, when I heard this splashing sound behind me, and turned to see that I had spooked the largest herd of deer I had ever seen.  There must have been about a hundred of them, moving around in the forest on the other side of an eight foot fence. I am not sure if this place behind the fence was some kind of exotic animal ranch or a paint ball facility, as some had mentioned, but to watch that many animals take to the hoof at a time was kind of cool.  I also was hearing the high pitched screech of a hawk, and identified not one but two red shouldered hawks, flying back and forth from the tree I was near to another one across the road.  I felt like I was really intruding upon the animals environments out here but both incidents were cool to watch.

Here are some of the flowers we saw in bloom along this drive (Cow Creek Road south of Brazos Bend State Park and northwest of Lake Jackson), and along our drive the next day out 362 from Fulshear to Whitehall and back through Waller and Tomball.

Tomorrow I am going to go out looking for wildflowers again, with my best friend and our children, so hopefully I will have some more pictures of post of spring’s best gift in Texas.

Ray Roberts State Park – Isle Du Bois Unit

It was a wild wet weather weekend.
Yet, there we were, tent camping in the midst of all that.  Because we’re nature freaks.
No, really, it was because it was a weekend we could not miss, being the first Mega Event (a geocaching event drawing more than 500 particpants) in Texas since GeoWoodstock IV back in 2006. And, because it was the Texas Challenge, an annual competition among regions to see who can find the most caches in a four hour window. We go every year.
This was my fifth time to compete in the Challenge, and it might have been my best year. My oldest son did the competition with me, as well as a mom and teenage daughter that live relatively close to me. The four of us found 22 caches in that time frame, and hiked almost the entire time.
Here is my son along the trail:
He did pretty good with the hike. However, the weather was not our friend this weekend. It started raining about one hour into the four hour time span, and did not stop for about 24 hours straight. His hands got really cold, and he began whining about this about halfway through. He was a good sport though and kept up with us right until the very end, when he decided he had enough and headed to the first aid station about 15 minutes before us.
Our team won this year! We had a really good strategy for communications and technology. We also had this really awesome group of cachers that totally kicked ass and scored 35 caches each, and there were 7 people in their group. The winning region is determined by the team that has the highest average score per player. The bottom 20% of scores are tossed out, and individuals can earn bonuses by being the first to find a cache, and also the team earns bonuses for finding their “evil hides” – really hard cache hides that take an eagle eye to spot.
Here is our winning team (SouthEast Texas region) before the event started. Our team colors are pink.

The trails in this park are really nice. It seems small on the map, but when you are on foot, it seems to go on forever. Some portion of the trails are paved, but then there are several smaller footpaths (or game trails?) that go off of them. The scenery was awesome…however, it was impossible to get pictures during the Challenge because we had to move so fast and there was no time for idleness. Afterwards, it rained so much and was so cold that we could not go back out to explore. Plus, there were activities for the event, and dinner.
My idea of using our campstove to prepare hamburgers, skillet potatoes, and beans was out of the question, so we headed into Pilot Point for dinner (and to sit somewhere dry and warm for a while). Who knew Pilot Point was Texas horse heaven? There are 25,000 horses and 300 ranches in that tiny town – 7 horses per person in that town! It was really a pretty drive around town.
The park hosts a lot of deer – whitetail I am fairly sure, although they could be mule deer. What do you think you see in that first picture? We saw some but saw evidence of a lot more. Coyotes could be heard singing at night and at sunrise. There were some very noisy ravens. I had to take this picture as it was the overriding nature theme of the weekend.
Both mornings, I was up before the sunrise, listening to the birds wake up and trying to distinquish which ones they were. This birding thing is really hard for me sometimes! I think I saw tufted titmice as the sun came up Sunday, and saw some cardinals. There were other birds but I did not identify them.
We had about an hour in the morning Sunday where it cleared up and we were able to get packed up. Then we were in this big rush to get home so we could unload and get dogs and all this. I really wanted to get pictures of wildflowers and saw some cool ones on the way up there, but we were in too much of a rush both times. We want to go back out for a leisurely drive Sunday and see them, hopefully in nice weather this time.
Here is my parting shots – the best nature shot I got all weekend, and me with the “trophy” of the weekend – the infamous “Golden Ammo Can” – and our team captain.

Country Drive: Fulshear to Bellville and Back Again

WIldflowers are starting to come out, the weather is fabulous in Texas, and these two things inspire us to get out and explore.  Armed with cameras, binoculars, and the GPS, we set out this Sunday morning to celebrate God’s glory in what J calls his church – Nature.

We are having a coffee issue at the house, so our first stop is at the Essence Cafe in Fulshear.  This is a full service dining cafe, but you can get orders to go, including delicious frothy sweet frappucinos, which we did get, and gourmet lunch boxes, which we didn’t.  The lunch boxes may be an idea for the future, though:  chips, cookie and a drink as well as your pick of gourmet sandwiches such as Country French, Smoked Salmon, and the like.

After this, we headed north up 359 to I-10, then a little west towards Stephen F. Austin State Park.  We didn’t enter the park proper, but we drove right past the historical area commerating this public figure of Texas statehood, which was befitting since this weekend was the 176th Anniversary of Texas statehood.  We should have stopped to pay our respects, like many others – the parking lot was nearly full – but we didn’t, thinking we might come back around.  Instead, we got out nearby in a pull out for the Brazos River to let the dogs out for a romp, and find the Brazos River Run cache.

We were seeking birds, butterflies, and flowers today.  Didn’t get any pictures of the first two but we did see quite a bit.  The birds spotted were the usual suspects:  doves, chickadees, wrens, cardinals, pyrrhuloxia, grackels, sparrows, blackbirds, turkey vultures, and a few gorgeous red tailed hawks that we watched circle about with our binoculars.  I cannot even claim to be able to identify the multiple butterfly species we saw. Here are some of the plants and flowers that caught our eye:

Packera tampicana

Butterweed, surrounded by annual phlox

Phlox drummondii

Some may be interested to learn that phlox engages in an interesting genetic interplay in Texas, by which the plant blooms red in areas near Austin in order to naturally prevent two species from interbreeding.  See more info on that here.

Here is my favorite wildflower:

Castilleja indivisa
Acacia farnesiana

I really enjoyed the sweet acacia (species above)  trees today on the horizon, although this species is apparently considered a trash tree.  The little gold pom poms on the branches are really pretty close up, and the splash of color on the branches broke up the barrenness of the scrubby Texas plains.

Another sight that I found enchanting was the forests covered with a layer of buttercups shining in the sun.  Here is J getting the shot I wanted while I took his picture from in the truck.  J is the photographer, I usually want to just tell him what I think he should photograph.  I’m the “artist”, he’s the “medium”.  He would prefer not to get in and out of the vehicle, though, so lately he has been telling me how to take the picture, mechanically, so I can do it myself. I took all the pictures in this blog myself, mostly with his camera.


We had a great time exploring, and even hid a couple of caches while we were out there, and made plans for where to go next time we went that way.  Next drive, though, I want to go further north, so we can capture some bluebonnets with our lens.