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.

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.

Botanical Detectives

So what is this?

We first encountered this plant while we were hiking through the Armand Bayou Nature Center, finding answers for an Earthcache out there.  I was fascinated with the unique color of the leaves and the soft, rounded seed capsules beneath them.  (Actually, I think I remarked that to me, they bore a resemblance to monkey nuts, but that is just the demented primatologist in me).  In this picture, you can also see a worm moving along the petals, which also intrigued me that day.

This first encounter back in September, we took pictures in hope that we can use them to identify it later.  Only, I couldn’t figure out how best to do that.  A few weeks later, we were at an outdoors expo at Discovery Green, and I talked to a TPWD employee about their recommendations on free online field guides to identify plants.  The lady referred me to the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center’s online field guide, which is awesome.  However, it is somewhat difficult to use when you want to do what I was trying to do, which was match the picture up with another one that had a name attached to it.

Another month or two later, we were out for a lunchtime walk at the Shadow Creek Ranch Nature Park, and I thought I saw a picture of the plant etched into an interpretative sign.  I couldn’t be sure though, because there was no color on the sign and the etching was not a perfect replication.  Also, I meant to remember the name of the plant on the sign that resembled it and look it up later, but I forgot the name I had seen.

Around Christmastime, we were flipping through field guides of plants at bookstores and couldn’t figure out what book would be best to buy to find information like this.  Then, last night, we were at Katy Budget Books and found a pamphlet with color pictures called “Texas Trees and Wildflowers”.  I told him, “this is just what I need!”, then went on to browse the other nature books.  Then he pointed to a picture on the pamphlet and said, “There it is”.

Snow-on-the-Prairie.  Euphorbia bicolor.

Mystery solved.