Friday, September 5, 2014

On the Beach

Colorado River near La Grange, Texas
Texas has most of the biomes of the world; the exceptions are rain forests and tundra. It’s hard to have a favorite, but I seem to end up at the beach (marine biome) most often. Between north Texas and the beach is the Hill Country; this pretty area is an intersection of the temperate grassland and temperate forest biomes. It is also a great stop over with interesting things to see and do.

Dad joined the Navy at the ripe old age of 17 to support the war effort. He became a medical corpsman and was stationed in Hawaii for a few months. He’s told me a few stories about his time in the Navy, but what was really fun was visiting the National Museum of the Pacific War in Fredericksburg, Texas
with him. As a veteran of WWII, Dad got in free and was given a permanent ID badge. I had
Japanese rice bowl, submarine, museum entrance
expected to spend a couple of hours looking at a bit of memorabilia, reading a few plaques and watching a couple of movies. Not so. The first day we spent two hours, then came back the next day and spent another three or four. This is an excellent museum with first class exhibits, incredible audio/video presentations, full size dioramas with military machinery, and more information than you can imagine. My favorite part included material about the actors who served during the war, propaganda posters from both sides, and artifacts that the soldiers and sailors brought back. There was also a good section on females in the military and in factory jobs. Outside there are some of the larger pieces of military equipment, a set of monuments to leaders during the war arranged as a timeline, and a very nice Japanese garden with benches and fountains. History buffs will fall in love with this museum, and those who are not will enjoy the manner in which the information is presented. Fredericksburg, itself, is one of those Texas towns filled with antique shops, places to buy handmade gifts, and small cafés. Founded in 1846 by German immigrants, Fredericksburg maintains its ties to German food and culture. The town holds numerous ‘fests’ throughout the year and is home to vineyards and breweries.

Monument Hill, lizard
Not too far down the road is La Grange. Probably best known as the home of the ‘Chicken Ranch’, it is the Fayette County seat and was settled by Czechs in the 1800s. On a bluff overlooking the Colorado River is Monument Hill. The monument that gives the hill its name is to heroes of the Republic of Texas who died on the Dawson Massacre or were executed on the Mier Expedition. Around the monument is a small park with picnic tables and wonderful old oak trees. No one was around the day that we were there, but an inquisitive lizard popped out to take a look at us. He probably decided that as far as humans go we were Near-Normal. The views from this hill are wonderful, particularly with the Colorado River gleaming up through the trees.

Even though it’s summer, a trip down to the coast isn't complete without a short stop at the Aransas Wild Life Refuge. This is one of the places the Whooping Cranes come to spend the
Refuge entrance, Texas Black Vultures, White tail deer
winter, but in the summer there are plenty of other birds and wildlife to see. We always go looking for alligators and many times can see them in some of the fresh water ponds. On this visit we didn't see any gators or any of the wild hogs that roam around this refuge. We did see lots and lots of Texas Black Vultures. They were so thick in some of the oak trees that visitors to the park were scared to use the picnic areas around those trees. These birds are rather shy and will readily fly if you slam a car door or even if you point a camera in their direction. However, if you leave your lunch unattended for a few minutes, they will swoop down and take a bit ~ or all of it. We also saw lots of deer. Although it was the middle of the day, the deer were wandering down the dimly lit, tree covered trails, browsing on grass and seedlings. Not quite as skittish as the vultures, they didn't seem to mind us getting out of the car for some pictures and to watch them eat. 

Corpus Christi is a wonderful place to wander the beach, watch people and count pelicans. The
Brown Pelicans perched, flying;
Dad watching the waves
Texas Brown Pelicans seem to love this part of the coast and squadrons of them can be seen diving down into the waters of the bay after fish. They are also likely to be perched on anything that is sufficiently far away from people and large enough to accommodate their weight. At one of our dinner stops I was wandering around the building trying to get a close-up of a pelican’s head when a cook came out and dumped a bunch of fish parts in the water. He grinned and told me that I should be able to get some good pictures very soon. And in fact, the pelicans mobbed the offering not only letting me get pictures, but making me laugh at their antics. Evidently food overcomes the need to get away from humans. Corpus also has its share of museums. One of my favorites is the Asian Cultures Museum and Educational Center with its displays of armor, kimonos, and porcelains. Dad and Dave really like the Texas State Aquarium, particularly being able to observe the denizens through the large glass walls and to glimpse the various types of jellyfish floating in a huge tank. The upside down jellyfish caught my eye; I liked their lacy oral arms. These critters lie
Upside down jellyfish, Texas State Aquarium
on the bottom of the bay and only float toward the surface when the currents indicate that there is something to eat in the waters above them. Having encountered them once in the wild, I was much happier seeing them in an aquarium.

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