Monday, May 30, 2011

Lake Livingston State Recreation Area

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I liked Lake Livingston so much I extended my stay there to three nights on the return leg of my trip.  It’s in the forest and feels very much like Cherry Lake in Stanislaus National Forest.  My camp was on a hill near the water line. 

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The lake is owned by the Trinity River Authority and the city of Houston.  TRA has 30% of the water rights; Houston the other 70%, It has 450 miles of shoreline.  I remember reading the capacity and thinking it is bigger than Melones,  but the exact number escapes me tonight! 

The park itself has 5 – 6 miles of hiking and biking trails.  Along with several more miles of roads.  I rented a bike and enjoyed it so much I bought a folding bike when I got back to Austin!

This is typical of the trail system.  The tree across the trail at the far end of the park looks like a gate!

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The Nature Trail is a one mile loop past a wetland area with an open pond developed to attract as many birds as possible.  The feeding stations were frequented by several brilliant cardinals.  Blue iris were blooming along the shore. 

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In the evenings I watched the egrets and herons flying off to their roosting areas and then returning to the lake in the morning. 

And one evening there was a gorgeous sunset.

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Lake Livingston is not more than 4 hours from Austin. I’m looking forward to kayaking and biking trip next fall.

Martin Dies, Jr, State Park

On my LA trip I stayed at two different state parks near Jasper, TX (on Highway 190) for a total of five nights.  My first night out was at Lake Livingston State Recreation Area.  Coming home I stayed one night at Martin Die’s Jr. State Park before heading west another hour and three nights at Lake Livingston again.

It was a Monday night in late April, kind of overcast, and the Martin Dies campgrounds were empty.  I choose a site north of the road and was the only camp on my loop.  It was actually a little spooky.  I almost left, but was so glad I didn’t when two Palliated Wood Peckers stopped on a pine tree directly out my window.  These were the first of several I got to see that evening.

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My other neighbors were Cotton Tails.  These guys are BIG; at least double or triple the size of our local little Cotton Tails in CA foothills.

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I missed the dogwood bloom this trip,  but the magnolia were amazing. They are as tall as the pines with many blooms in the very tip tops of the trees! (not this one)

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Martin Dies has miles and miles of trails.  They are in heavy vegetation and looked to be a bit overgrown.  I’d like to explore them sometime with a hiking partner along; next time!

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Saturday Morning at the Mall

…..with my new Mac Book Air!!!!

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I am so excited to be able to see my photos clearly!  Not to mention yours!  There will be many hours of rereading blogs to soak in the gorgeous photography I have been missing!

(My only worry is transferring my blog with Live Writer to the Mac.  Will continue to post on my Acer until I get acquainted with new computer!).

Friday, May 13, 2011

Lake Martin

(I fell in love with this whole area and am so sad reading the news reports.  Here is a link to a story today on CNN.)

By Sunday morning most of the gals were packing up to leave or ready for a quiet morning in camp.  Carolyn hooked up her fiver, towed it home to Butte Larose, and came back to go exploring Lake Martin with me and Birdie.

There’s a fabulous Visitor’s Center, a boardwalk through the swamp, and a trail around the lake.  People actually go boating on this lake with the biggest alligators you ever saw!  Kids playi along the shore, and fishers wade in the water.  It’s all about what one is used to I guess!

Birdie has eagle eyes when it comes to sighting birds.  She spotted this great Night Heron fishing in the weeds.

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It was amazing to me to see alligators in the wild.  Mostly they were out sunning themselves, but we did spot one swimming in the middle of a pool.

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The Nature Consevancy owns this area and operators the Visitor’s Center.  The volunteers were great and the photographs displayed were beautiful shots of the local wildlife. 

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We saw great birds on the boardwalk but no more alligators.  Good thing, that might have been too close for me.  The water is not more than a couple feet below the walkway.

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My friends, Carolyn and Nancy, graciously stopped for a quick picture.

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At the Visitor’s Center Carolyn confirmed the location of the rookery she had seen several years before.  This was just the best way to end our visit to the swamp.  Egrets, great blue herons, little blue herons, and roseate spoonbills were nesting in the woods about a hundred yards from the roadway.  With binoculars and long lens we got a really good look.  It was just the best!  Thanks Carolyn!!!!!

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OK, well,  maybe one more thing to top off the day.  A big platter of crawfish!   After a lesson in blending the perfect sauce and removing the tail meat from the shell, Birdie and I each finished off 2 pounds of crawfish and Carolyn declared us honorary CANJUNS!!!!!

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Henderson Swamp Tour

(The folks in this area are waiting to hear if and when the Morganza Spillway will be opened.  Maybe Saturday or Sunday)

The Atchafalaya River runs through the Henderson Swamp.  On some maps I see it referred to as Henderson Lake.  Not sure the difference. We choose a boat tour  from McGee Landing. (It’s on the other side of the levee in the previous post). Our Captain was born and raised on the swamp.  He is a real expert on the natural history of the area.  On that day two weeks ago tomorrow he told us he anticipated 10 feet or so increase in elevation of the water.  That was way before any idea that the spillway might need to be opened to relieve pressure on the Mississippi River.

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Cyprus trees live in the water and wood from stumps that have been under water for years is still sound.  What’s left of the Cyprus forest is now federally protected.

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In the middle of the main channel the water is 300-400 feet deep.  The juxtaposition of the stories of the swamp and going under the I-10 bridge was a bit disorientating.  Without this reminder of the 21st century it’s easy to get lost in the old days of the swamp.

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The BIG flood in memory was 1927.  We were encouraged to do some reading about it.  News stories I have heard this week say it’s different now because in 1927 they didn’t have the levees.  It would be interesting to compare the rainfall, run-off, and river flows from 1927 with the current situation.

All over the swamp are these ‘beautiful’ water hyacinth plants.  They  are an invasive species with their very own dedicated crews that that work to keep them under control.

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Along the edges of the swamp are hard wood forests.  And so many birds that were all beyond the capabilities of my little camera at these distances.  (But I did get some cool shots at Lake Martin!)

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Saturday, May 7, 2011

Breaux Bridge

(Flood Update:  The Corp is considering opening the Morganza Spillway on the Mississippi River by the middle of next week.  The sole purpose of this spillway is to relief pressure on the Mississippi.  When it is opened the water will flow into the Atchafalaya River Basin.  This will significantly impact Butte Larose,  but maybe not Breaux Bridge.  Google Morganza Spillway for an inundation map).

Last Saturday we drove over to Breaux Bridge for breakfast, more music and a walkabout.  It was a bit drizzly, but not enough to slow us down.

I wanted to do the history walk that started at the Visitor’s Center near the bridge.  They were fresh out of the tour maps, but the very helpful woman who was working the Center called her Mom to find the online version and then printed out a copy for me! 

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When we were out on the Swamp our Capitan mentioned how the addition of ice had changed the culture of the people who lived in the swamp.  Before ice, they lived day to day on what they could fish and hunt.  After ice came, they could hold their harvest to ship out of the area.   An ice house still stands on the south side of the bridge.

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Magnolia’s are blooming all over the south.

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Lucky for me it got just too rainy to continue my walk.  I ducked into Cafe Jacqueline’s where the gang was having brunch to find them totally entranced by Major Handy and his partner Louise.  Major was singing some old classic rock;  then did a quick change to his accordian to be accompanied by Louise on her ‘wash board’ and bottle openers for Cajun music.  They played for most of two hours and were absolutely the best.

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After lunch we wandered around the shops for awhile and then hatched a plan for the rest of the day.

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Some wanted to go explore the next little town, St Martinville and see the Evangeline Oak.  Darn I hated to miss that,  but couldn’t pass up the swamp tour.

A couple last snaps before leaving town…….

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Friday, May 6, 2011

Louisiana GTG

Because Houston is on I-10 between Austin and Butte Larose  where I would be meeting RV friends for a GTG (get together) I decided to take the northern route via Lake Livingston on Highway 190. Besides, by driving the ‘back roads’  I would get to see neat new parts of the state at less than 80 miles per hour!  For the first couple hours it was beautiful ranch land.  Lots of cows and horses.  Many sale yards with parking lots full of trucks and trailers.  East of Huntsville this one had a restaurant with such cleaver name I *almost* stopped for a burger,  but made do with a pic instead.

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It wasn’t long before I entered the ‘Piney Woods’.  So fun to see pine trees in Texas.  This is the perfect highway for a road trip.

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That first day was the day of the terrible tornadoes and it was really, really windy all the way.  I stayed at Lake Livingston State Park.  Really nice; more about the park in a later post.

My second day, it was a lovely morning and hard to leave my camp at the edge of the lake.  Sorry to say that the late start got me to I-10 at 5 pm, bumper to bumper traffic, but also my first glimpse of Henderson Lake/Swamp from the bridge.

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One of the excellent Louisiana Welcome Centers is located at the Butte Larose exit.  The two I have visited are both designed after old southern homes.  I didn’t take enough time here;  it will be my first stop next trip.

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There is so much to learn about this area I just skimmed the surface.  Like this special boat for the swamp,  don’t know what it’s called or even which end is which!

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But I *think* this is the back end. 

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Down the road less than a mile from I-10, but feeling much more remote is Frenchman’s Wilderness RV Park.  This is my camp……

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And here’s part of the gang (we eventually made it to 16!) on our way to lunch at Carolyn’s favorite Cajun restaurant. (FYI, it’s exit 115 north off I-10).

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Most of us had the lunch special “Crawfish Etouffee’ with rice, fried catfish, potato salad and a heavenly home made roll (read flour, sugar, and butter!).   The etouffee was absolutely delicious.  I could get a recipe,  but where would I get the crawfish?

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Our camp at Butte Larose was in the middle of the complex system of waterways of southern Louisiana.  The whole area is the Atchafalaya  Basin;  with the Atchafalaya River running the 150 mile length;  along the river is the Atchafalaya  Swamp;  also  the Henderson Swamp that includes the man made Henderson Lake;  Teche Bayou (among many others) that runs through Breaux Bridge; several ‘black water lakes’  and  canals that connect many of the above.  We were so lucky to have Carolyn who lives in the area to get us around on the back roads that snake between these waterways.

We visited several small towns near our camp……Breaux Bridge, Henderson, and St Martinville.  Just past our camp is this pontoon bridge.  The pontoons are adjusted up and down based on the elevation of the water.  Unfortunately the height restriction never changes and is too low for my van.

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The road into Breaux Bridge follows this levee that contains the Henderson Swamp (I hope that’s right).  On the other side of the road is another waterway.  No sure why the swamp needs a levee and what looks like a river on the other side doesn’t!  

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Over the pontoon bridge and along the levee to Mulate’s for more Cajun food and Zydeco music.  Breaux Bridge claims to be the first town to serve crawfish in restaurants.  And Mulate’s claims to be the original restaurant!

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Forest and Friends were playing amazing Cajun music.  Folks were doing the Cajun 2 Step; and the Cajun Jitterbug, it’s really, really fast!!!

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There’s more, stay tuned…