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  1. #11

    Default Texas Hill Country - Day 9

    Thursday, March 24, 2016

    Start: San Pedro Campground (NPS), Amistad NRA, Del Rio, TX
    Finish: Perdenales Falls State Park, Johnson City, TX

    Our day began at midnight when a severe thunderstorm rolled over us, pelting us with hail. Inside the metal shell of our cargo van it was LOUD! No damage and it passed quickly allowing us to get back to sleep.

    We stopped at the office/ visitor center for Amistad for the passport stamps and to fill water containers. The campground did not have water, but did have vault toilets and nice ramadas and picnic tables. We travel with at least 5 gallons of water and make sure to refill as soon as possible.

    Our next destination was north towards Texas Hill Country and we stopped in Fredricksburg for lunch. We had an excellent lunch at City Cafe on the west edge of town. This quaint, German heritage town is the hometown of Admiral Nimitiz and the National Museum of the Pacific War.

    Just down the road, heading east to Stonewall, is the Lyndon B. Johnson State Park & Historic Site which was the site of his boyhood home and ranch. This site is co-managed by the state of Texas and NPS. You first stop in the state section to receive a free auto tour pass of the ranch area. I really enjoy the drive across the creek, past his boyhood home, gravesite and back through the fields with cattle and ranch buildings before arriving at the hangar where Air Force One landed (and is on display) during his frequent visits to the ranch. At the hangar you can purchase ($3) tickets to tour his office in the ranch house. The displays within the hangar are filled with pictures and daily logs of his schedule during his stays. The people in the pictures, famous and not so famous, plus family are a window into history.

    LBJ National Historic Park- Johnson City unit


    We also stopped in Johnson City, a bit further east, at an NPS visitor center. This is the small town where Lyndon and Lady Bird grew up, and it is still a small town. Again the displays do an excellent job of detailing the 1960s.

    We ended the day at Perdenales Falls SP, which is east of Johnson City. After setting up camp we did short hike along the rim of the falls, it was a gorgeous Spring afternoon, temperature was in the low 70s. This campground was great, the campsites were large and well-spaced. Northern Cardinals were again the predominate birds, and a loud group of Mourning Doves.

    Perdenales Falls State Park
    Campsite


    Falls area


    Wildflowers





    Wildlife Sightings
    Turkey Vulture
    Northern Cardinal
    Northern Mockingbird
    Crested Caracara
    Black Vulture
    Greater Roadrunner
    Wild Turkey
    Brewer's Blackbird
    Common Raven

    White-tailed Deer

  2. #12

    Default San Antonio Missions NHP - Day 10

    Friday, March 25, 2016

    Start: Perdenales Falls SP
    Finish: M6 Floresville, TX

    Quiet night and lazy morning in camp. We were heading back south into San Antonio today, Good Friday. This worked very well because downtown was quiet. Our first stop was San Jose Mission, the primary visitor center for San Antonio Mission National Historical Park.

    Mission San Jose


    Besides visiting this site and getting the passport and Centennial stamps we did a 5 Km walk from the mission to walk along the San Antonio River. In the past we have been active with the American Volkssport Association. We have slowed down doing 5 & 10 Km walks after completing walks in all 50 states plus DC in 1998. We are still active with our local club. This year a club from Seattle is sponsoring a National Parks Centenntial Challenge, completing 15 sanctioned volkswalks in a NPS sites during the next 3 years which we are working to complete as we visit parks which also have sanctioned walks. We have completed this walk in the past and enjoyed walking along the river, the temperature and humidity was comfortable.

    San Antonio River


    Driving around Texas this time of year has been a treat, the roadside wildflowers have been spectacular. I have heard a lot about the bluebonnets (lupine), but I was surprised with the diversity, especially the prevalence of paintbrush. Often the best displays of roadside flowers has been on back roads, with no shoulders, so getting a great picture eluded me. The best I could do was this display as we walked back towards the mission.

    Wildflowers


    We did drive downtown for a quick visit to Casa Navarro, a state historic site, and another location for the El Camino Real de los Tejas. We had hoped to stop somewhere downtown for an afternoon treat, but street parking was not available. We headed south and stopped in the suburbs for pie and tea. With heading into the Easter weekend we had planned to motel it outside the San Antonio area. We drove to the southeast and ended up in Floresville, TX.

    Wildlife Sightings
    Northern Cardinal ( 2 pair)
    Turkey Vulture
    Northern Vulture
    Brewer's Blackbird
    Chipping Sparrow
    Mallard
    Cormorant
    American Coot
    Black Vulture
    Chinese Goose family (wild along San Antonio River)

  3. #13
    Join Date
    May 2011
    Location
    Southern California
    Posts
    4,533

    Default

    Pat, do you happen to know if there is a listing of the parks with the Centennial walk challenge?

    Also, when you mentioned "paintbrush", it reminded me of Tomie dePaola's book, "The Legend of the Indian Paintbrush". Love that book - of course, l love dePaola's illustrations.


    Donna

  4. #14

    Default Centennial Walk challenges

    Quote Originally Posted by DonnaR57 View Post
    Pat, do you happen to know if there is a listing of the parks with the Centennial walk challenge?

    Also, when you mentioned "paintbrush", it reminded me of Tomie dePaola's book, "The Legend of the Indian Paintbrush". Love that book - of course, l love dePaola's illustrations.
    Donna
    Hi Donna,
    Unfortunately there is no master list of Centennial awards, of which I know. So far I have had to ask at each site, some are showing it on their websites and others in the newspapers that are handed out when you enter a park. I think supplies are limited and they don't know the demand so each park is promoting it in their own way. No one in our club, National Park Traveler Club, has reported any other hiking challenges around the country.
    So far this what I have discovered;
    Joshua Tree NP - Hiking Challenge of 5, 10, 25, 50 or 50 miles recorded in a booklet they provided, upon request.
    Organ Pipe Cactus NM - I Hike for Health pin for hiking 5 miles.
    Coronado National Memorial - I Hike Health pin for hiking 3 miles.
    Chiricahua NM - I Hike for Health pin for hiking 5 miles.
    Ft. Bowie NHS - I Hike for Health pin for hiking 3 miles, the distance in and out.
    Big Bend NP - 3 hikes, specified for 3 patches. Sheet handed out at visitor centers, must be turned in at Panther Junction Visitor Center for patches.

    In 3 weeks we will be heading north through AZ, UT, ID, MT, OR and CA to visit a multitude of park sites. I will post the trip report after the fact, but will find a way to post Centennial activities I find along the way.

    Just this week, National Park Week, the NPS has released a Junior Ranger booklet which is a nation-wide program and earns you a wooden badge specific to the Centennial. Some parks have been handing it out in advance. I picked up a copy in New Mexico at the El Malpais NM Visitor Center. The ranger told me they didn't get as many visitors as other parks so they felt they could share in advance. The back of the booklet states that it is designed for 4th graders, but all are welcome to complete. So, this Senior/Junior Ranger will be working on the booklet!

    Thanks for the book reference. As I have more pictures of Indian Paintbrush, from all over the West, than all other flowers (as my husband can verify based on requests to stop or turn around the car) I think I will pick up this book to share with young visitors at home.

  5. #15

    Default South Texas - Great birding ! - Day 11 & 12

    Saturday & Sunday, March 26, 2016

    Start: Floresville, TX
    Finish: Pharr, TX

    We knew that traveling during Easter and Spring Break would affect our plans at some point - today was the day. Our plan was to travel south to Laredo to visit two sites associated with El Camino Real de los Tejas.

    We arrived in Laredo just before lunch and found both sites closed for the weekend, Friday and Saturday due to Easter. We had checked their websites before going down there and they mentioned the holidays they were closed, but did not list Easter weekend.

    Our plan had been to camp between Laredo and the Brownsville area - again Easter weekend changed our plans. The state park that would have been our destination was expecting 5,000 people plus campground reservations had to be for 2 nights, and were full. Out of the six Motel 6s in the area, 4 were showing No Vacancy, I called one that looked to be in a good location for our Sunday plans and got a room.


    Sunday, March 27, 2016

    Start: Pharr, TX
    Finish: Padre Island National Seashore (NPS)

    National Wildlife Refuge day, for us! This was a main objective of our trip, to visit the 2 National Wildlife Refuges at the tip of Texas. Santa Ana NWR is small, but its locale on the Mexican border and so far south brings birds not seen anywhere else in North America. As we got out of the car we noticed the sky was full of large birds, our first thought was vultures, then we realized they were hawks. Refuge staff were also in the parking lot looking up. Turns out the sky was full of Broad-winged Hawks, their first day passing through the refuge on their migration north. We learned later that 5,000 of them passed over the refuge that day.

    They have a 90 minute tram tour (cost $4, discounted with Golden Age pass) which takes you through the refuge. We were the only riders, so we had the driver and guide to ourselves. The tour is not conducive to birding as it is noisy, but we visited the family cemetery of this land grant and walked several short trails. The grave sites and fence post edging the area were most interesting. The guides were very helpful in pointing out unique plants and giving the history of the area, plus helping to identify a few birds we did see.

    Tram tour
    Tram


    Cemetery fence


    While at this refuge we saw the Great Kiskadee, a beautiful yellow bird, the noisy and big Chacalacas (love that name) and a herd of javelinas. None posed for pictures. The flowering shrub shown below, Texas Olive, we had been seeing along the roadside that past couple of days.

    Texas Olive (cordia boissieri)


    At a pond we were able to see Black-bellied Whistling-Duck, but did not hear any whistling.


    We stopped by Palo Alto National Battlefield NHS and while out walking the trail we saw a very large (knee high and several feet across) pile of scat. We could not match it to any animal in our experience. Back in the visitor center the ranger told us it was a community pile left by Nilgai, a moose-sized animal imported by ranchers from Pakistan. Glad we didn't see one walking across the open field!

    Cactus at Palo Alto


    Close by was another NWR, Laguna Atascosa. The drive in was rough, the main road in is under construction and the detour was long. Their website did a food job of warning and giving directions for the detour. While there we were able to see the Green Jay, another bird unique to the area. The weather was turning, rain forecasted was starting.

    Green Jay


    We decided to head north on US 77, public camping was limited in this area of Texas, to Padre Island National Seashore. Along the way we found this marker at a highway rest area.

    General Zachary Taylor tree


    Arrived at Padre Island National Seashore, the calmer end of Padre Island. South Padre Island is famous (or infamous) for Spring Break activity. Last night and this morning while near Brownsville we saw a lot of state troopers, even saw their cars parked at a motel near ours. We are guessing they send extra troopers down during Spring Break to keep things under control.

    The campground near the visitor center was very nice and only $8 for full price. After 2 nights in a motel we enjoyed sitting beachside and watching the birds, especially the pelicans.

    Today was a big day for wildlife sightings - what we had hoped for when we planned to visit this area.

    Wildlife Sightings

    Northern Mockingbird
    Great-tailed Grackle
    House Sparrow
    Crested Caracara
    Egret
    Dove
    -Mourning
    -White-winged
    Black Vulture
    Red-tailed Hawk
    Rock Pigeon
    Great-tailed Grackle
    Great Kiskadee
    Broad-winged Hawk
    Plain Chachalaca
    Black-bellied Whistling-Duck
    Anhinga
    American Kestrel
    Great Blue Heron - finally!
    Brown Pelican
    Laughing Gull
    Green Jay
    American Coot
    Golden-fronted Woodpecker
    Red-winged Blackbird
    Brewer's Blackbird
    Northern Cardinal
    Harris' Hawk
    Scissor-tailed Flycatcher
    Western Meadowlark
    Turkey Vulture

    Javelina
    Cottontail Rabbit (Easter bunny)

  6. #16

    Default Birds, birds & more birds! Day 13

    Monday March 28, 2016

    Start: Padre Island NS
    Finish: Goliad State Park, Goliad, TX

    Woke up to wind, then thunder and eventually saw the lightning - very near camp. We were able to get hot morning beverages brewed before the rain and nearby lightning arrived in camp. The rain stopped and I was able to spend a few hours completing the Junior Ranger program at Padre Island National Seashore. The walk along the beach was great for bird watching and visual beachcombing.

    Pelican fly-over


    Using a bag I found on the beach I collected quite a bit of trash, including a woman's shoe. For my efforts I earned a colorful 'Adopt A Beach' patch.


    After we left the park we spotted a small water hole along the highway with some attractive birds.
    Roseate Spoonbill


    Reddish Egret


    After a tasty seafood lunch at Scuttlebutt's, just before leaving the island, we continued north of Corpus Christi to Aransas NWR. Besides known as the wintering grounds for Whopping Crane this was our first place to see alligators. Only 2 pair of the cranes were left in the refuge, and they were quite a ways away, but could still be seen from the tall observation tower.

    The shorter tower ramp was blocked by an alligator.


    We ended the day at Goliad State Park, which has some great historical buildings in the area. The birding continued to be great in the campground. We added Eastern Bluebird and Black-capped Titmouse (very loud call for a very small bird) and watched hundreds of Cedar Waxwings swarm into the treetops. It was our best day of identifying birds!

    Eastern Bluebird


    Wildlife Sightings

    Reddish Egret
    White Ibis
    Roseate Spoonbill
    Snowy Egret
    Laughing Gull
    Great-tailed Grackle
    Ring-billed Gull
    Marbled Godwit
    Least Sandpiper
    Brown Pelican
    White Pelican
    Great Blue Heron
    Turkey Vulture
    Common Gallinule
    Great Egret
    Little Blue Heron
    American Wigeon
    Short-billed Dowitcher
    Greater Yellowlegs
    Blue-winged Teal
    Black-necked Stilt
    Whopping Crane
    Northern Mockingbird
    Mourning Dove
    Scissor-tailed Flycatcher
    White-tailed Kite
    Black Vulture
    Cattle Egret
    Cedar Waxwing - many!
    Eastern Bluebird
    Northern Cardinal
    Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
    Black-crested Titmouse
    Swallows
    34!

    American Alligator
    Bat

  7. #17

    Default Re-routing - Day 14

    Tuesday, March 29, 2016

    Start: Goliad, TX
    Finish: Mill Creek Park (ACE), Brookeland, TX

    Woke up to overcast skies and a light mist. This state park is part of a historical area which includes the mission within the state park boundaries. This is also a stop along the El Camino Real de los Tejas NHT.

    Goliad Mission


    This part of the trip was unplanned, but the weather forecast of a couple days of rain (nothing like the Houston area is experiencing now!) caused us to re-route.

    Not blue skies


    We had planned to stay along the coast, but a few days of doing more driving and less outdoor time seemed like a good alternative. We had not planned to follow the Tejas trail any further north, but the stops along the trail looked interesting.

    El Camino Real de los Tejas NHT - northern section


    After leaving the park we headed north and stopped outside Houston at a Costco for lunch and snacks for the upcoming weekend event. Continuing NE on US 90 and then cross-country we stopped at Big Thickett National Preserve, a NPS site that preserves native ecosystems present back to the Ice Age. A very unique site, dense forest with a variety of locations scattered around eastern Texas. This was a repeat visit, this time I completed the Junior Ranger program. Mosquitos were very thick in the middle of the afternoon.

    Big Thickett NP - Inside Visitor Center


    Our goal the next day was crossing into mid-Louisana so we headed north and ended the day at an Army Corp of Engineers campground along Sam Rayburn Reservoir. The flooding from earlier in the month was apparent, a number of campsites were flooded and closed.


    Wildlife Sightings
    Eastern Bluebirds
    Northern Cardinal
    Turkey Vulture
    Killdeer
    Western Meadowlark
    House Sparrow
    Black Vulture
    Great-tailed Grackle
    Red-tailed Hawk
    American Crow
    Great-blue Heron
    Snowy Egret
    American Crow

    Bat
    Eastern Fox Squirrel

  8. #18

    Default Natchitoches or Nack-a-tish - Day 15

    Wednesday, March 30, 2016

    Start: Mill Creek Park, Brookedale, TX
    Finish: Natchitoches, LA

    It stayed dry overnight, again there was a light rainfall as we were waking up. We went into a small town for breakfast at a cafe. We worked our way out of eastern Texas into Louisiana. One of the highlights today was entering Louisiana and having the speed limit drop to 55 mph on a 2-lane highway. Driving in Texas is a high-speed experience and at times stressful. Two-lane highways with no shoulders have a 70 mph speed limit, a bit too fast for us.

    To begin our northern driving tour of El Camino Real de los Tejas NHT, we were headed to the eastern terminus in Natchitoches (Nack-a-tish). Nearby is Cane River Creole National Historic Park which interprets a couple of plantations. We visited the Oakland Plantation, which has a guided walking tour through the many buildings. The main house has a tour at 1:00 daily.

    Oakland Plantation - NPS
    Bermuda Store - 1868




    In town we stopped at Fort St. John Baptiste State Historic Site. After getting the passport stamp we walked through their small museum and out to the reconstructed fort of 1732. The fort rooms and outbuildings were furnished in the period. We were warned about snakes while we walked out around the grounds, due to recent flooding this was the first of many warnings about Copperhead and Cottonmouth snakes - none seen today!

    Fort St. John Baptiste SHS


    The next stop was at the Grand Ecore Army Corp of Engineers (ACE) Visitor Center, a stop within the Cane River National Heritage Area. This was a new stop for the passport stamp, we were the first to use the passport stamp. The center itself was well worth a stop, the displays of local natural and cultural histories were very well done. And for those interested in the ACE work along the Red River area there were good displays, as well. The volunteer on staff gave us a recommendation for lunch back in town, at Laysone's Meat Pies. We shared a meat pie, fried, and a plate of Red Beans & Rice with Sausage - very tasty.

    Natchitoches, the original French colony in Louisiana, is the oldest settlement in the Louisiana Purchase. Established in 1714, Natchitoches retains its European flavor through its architecture and heritage. It also the town that was the inspiration and filming set for the movie "Steel Magnolia". I think I spotted the house used in the movie for the wedding scene.

    Natchitoches - Steel Magnolias


    The weather was getting worse with a storm moving in during the afternoon. We checked into a motel and used the time for laundry. At dinner we went back into town for dinner at a low-key pub. The rain was intermittent, but predicted to get worse.

    Wildlife sightings:
    American Crow
    Great-blue Heron
    Northern Mockingbird
    Mourning Dove
    Great Egret
    House Sparrow
    Double-crested Cormorant

    Squirrel
    White-tailed Deer
    Green Anole (lizard)

  9. #19

    Default Eastern Texas along the King's Highway - Day 16

    Thursday, March 31, 2016

    Start: Natchitoches, LA
    Finish: Cagle Campground (USFS), S of Huntsville, TX

    It rained pretty steady through the night so a night in a motel was enjoyed. Natcitoches is the eastern end of the El Camino Real de los Tejas NHT. A couple of plaques I saw today explained the importance of this route. For this part of the trip we followed TX 21 which is the historic route for the NHT. It was pretty with Spring green and lots of roadside flowers - still too fast for our comfort.

    San Augutine Mission plaque


    Plaque along Highway TX 21


    At our first stop in San Augustine, TX a woman explained the origin of the two towns: Natchitoches and Nacogdoches . She told story of 2 Caddo Indian brothers who were sent to settle 2 towns by the father and told what to name them.

    We drove into Nacgdoches and stopped at their visitor center for the passport stamp and for directions to the Stone Fort on the Stephen F Austin University campus. While there we saw a display that showed the Nine Flags Over Nacogdoches; Spain (1519-1685, 1690-1821), France (1685-1690), Magee's Republican Army (1812), Long Expedition (1819), Mexico (1821-1836), Fredonia (1826-1827), Republic of Texas (1836-1845, State 1845-Present), United States of America (1845-1861, 1865-Present) and finally Confederate States of America (1861-1865). Whew - glad I never had to study local history as a student in this town.

    Stone Fort




    Our last stop along the trail today was at Tejas Mission State Park. Within the park is a reconstructed mission which was established here in 1690. The building was constructed by the CCC (Civilian Conservation Corp) in the 1930s. Also in the park is a portion of the original trace of El Camino Real (King's Highway) de los Tejas. This is the only place along the NHT where we saw the original trace.

    Tejas Mission SP




    Once we left this park we made our way south towards Houston for our weekend event. We stopped south of Huntsville at an excellent USFS campground - full hookups were $28 or $19 with senior pass and showers on site for no cost. Along I-35, just south of Huntsville, is a statue of Sam Houston - as they say - everything is bigger in Texas!

    Sam Houston statue




    Wildlife Sightings
    Northern Mockingbird
    Great-tailed Grackle
    American Crow
    Great-blue Heron
    Northern Cardinal
    Double-crested Cormorant
    Turkey Vulture
    Woodpecker

  10. #20

    Default Weekend Letterboxing - Day 17 & 18

    Friday & Saturday, April 1-2, 2016

    Start: Cagle Campground
    Finish: Stephen P Austin State Park, San Felipe, TX

    A steady rain started about 6 AM and let up by 8:30. We enjoyed a cooler, and refreshing morning in camp before heading south. We were meeting a group of people for lunch in Sealy, TX and then setting up camp for 2 nights nearby at Stephen F Austin State Park in San Felipe, TX. One of our hobbies is letterboxing and we were attending the T.A.L.E. 13 event; 13th Annual Texas Area Letterboxing Event. Almost everyone of the 70 attendees would be new to us, however the letterboxing crowd is very friendly and easy to join in anywhere. Hide a letterbox and we have something to look for, we are happy. An event can have up to a 100 new boxes to find, a bit overwhelming at times.

    The weather stayed good, but the bugs descended! Gnats that literally swarmed and flew into our ears, eyes, and mouth - and out on the trails very large mosquitos were present. We spent a lot of time in the screened group shelter meeting lots of delightful Texas letterboxers. We did not find a lot of the boxes for the event, but enjoyed our time there. And then there were the snakes - Copperheads and a Coral snakes were seen by others. Once you stepped off the trail the grass was thigh-high and dense, making it difficult to see what 'lay beneath'. In previous years, at other locations around the state, participants have been bitten by Copperheads. Luckily they aren't deadly, just painful and usually require morphine, not anti-venom.

    Screen house & gathering


    Flowers along the trail


    There had been a great deal of rain prior to our arrival, several trails in the park had been closed and some still had substantial mud. A pair of letterboxers came back with their boots in the condition below. When they left them outside someone 'tagged' them.

    Boots


    On a more positive nature note - an amazing 'conclave' of Northern Cardinals were present at the campsite next to us. The camper next to us had put out bird feed and the trees and ground were covered with cardinals. At one point we counted 12 cardinals, male and female. I tried for a group photo, but they were camera shy.

    Northern Cardinal


    Wildlife Sightings
    Northern Cardinal
    Turkey Vulture
    Black Vulture
    Great Egret
    Northern Mockingbird
    Brewer's Blackbird
    Red-headed Woodpecker
    Great Blue Heron
    Inca Dove

    Eastern Fox Squirrel
    Green Anole (lizard)

    Snakes seen by other attendees;
    Copperhead, at least 4
    Coral Snake, by 2
    Unidentified snake with a frog partially ingested.

    And most annoying;
    Gnats, gnats and more gnats than imaginable.

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