Walter and Sara On the road to who knows where
On Sunday January 10th, we had another beautiful sunny day with temps in the high 40’s (though it did finally get up in the mid 50’s by late afternoon) at Brazos Bend State Park west of Houston. We decided to get a move on and do our walk earlier rather than later. This saved us from having to sit through the first half of the Vikings vs Seahawks game which turns out to have been a good plan. Actually, all you really needed to watch was the second half so we didn’t miss a thing.

Instead, we headed out for a walk around Elm Lake (where they actually have two different kinds of elms). This park turns out to be a very popular place with the folks from Houston and the day use areas filled up with families looking for alligators both on Saturday and Sunday. With all these folks avidly seeking these critters the parks people work hard to reduce gator-people encounters of the negative sort.

Alligator warning sign

We set out on the trail around the lake and quickly encountered two families with little boys (and a couple of toddlers in arms) looking for alligators. And sure enough, one of the dads spied a young alligator on a log over in the swamp. What we didn’t realize at first was there were two of them! Look over on the far left and you’ll see his buddy too.  

Little alligators Brazos Bend SP

The boys thought this was cool but they wanted to see a BIG alligator. We talked to them about some we had seen the day before and one of the dad’s became a little concerned when we told them about the big guy who had actually been on the move. So we talked some about alligator etiquette and the dad happily found the whole list of dos and don’t on his map while his wife pointed out the squirrel who was sitting at the bottom of a nearby tree.

Squirrel Brazos Bend State Park

The squirrel was cute but the boys still wanted a big gator. They didn’t have to wait long because not too far down the trail there were two good-sized gators out sunning on the bank pretty darned near the trail.

Alligators Brazos Bend State Park

We had gator number 1 resting up in the grass.

Alligator in grass Brazos Bend SP

And gator #2 with grass hanging out of his mouth.

Gator with grass in mouth Brazos Bend SP

He was totally photogenic and I couldn’t resist taking a close up shot of his head. Isn’t he magnificent?

Alligator Brazos Bend SP

We all stayed well away and these big guys happily basked in the sun and all was good.

By this point, the kids had decided we were pretty fun to be around and they walked along with us talking about birds and gators and rocks. And we all had a good time together. We spied another pair of alligators on the bank of a small islet in the lake.    

Alligators Brazos Bend SP

The front one has a totally black head—the only one we’ve seen like that.

Over in the swampy area on the other side of the trail there was a Little Blue Heron climbing on a branch. I spent some time shooting photos of him and then he hopped off the branch and gave me a nice profile shot.

Little Blue Heron Brazos Bend SP

There were lots of coots in the water but we also saw a few moorhens too. But up on the bank of the islet we kept seeing groups of reddish ducks that I didn’t recognize. The first group all had their heads under their wings—this does not help bird ID. But the next group held the key—there were several with bright orange beaks.

Black-bellied Whistling Ducks

And they all seem to have a dark brown stripe of feathers on their heads like Mohawk haircuts. These turn out to be Black-bellied Whistling Ducks. The ones with the orange beaks are fully mature while the grey beaks belong to juveniles—my what a big family these two have!

Not too far past the ducks we spied yet another group of 3 alligators on the islet. The littlest kids couldn’t figure out where we were pointing but the older boys figured it out right away.

3 alligators Brazos Bend SP

To round out our collection to an even dozen for the day, we spied another 3 gators on the same islet. We shared our binoculars with the kids and that was a big hit too. If you’re having trouble seeing 3 gators here, look carefully. We’ve got the big guy on the left, in the middle there’s a smaller one and then we have the back and tail of a third over among the grasses.

3 Alligators Brazos Bend SP

I now had a friend for life in one of the little boys. He happily pointed out everything he saw and wanted to know their names—including what seemed to be a piece of pink caution tape (a lost balloon maybe) floating in the lake.

He was thrilled when this Little Blue Heron landed right next to us, took off and then landed even closer to the trail a little further along. It was as if HE had caused this miracle. And then he had to make sure I’d gotten a picture, each time the bird took off and landed again. So this one if for him.

Little Blue Heron Brazos Bend SP

We said our good byes at the end of the trail and the parents thanked us for sharing with their kids—how delightful—fun kids and courteous parents.

We got back to the trailer in time to watch the second half of the Vikings-Seahawks game. When it came down to a 27 yard field goal for the Vikings to win, we both assumed, it was OVER. And then the football gods smiled on the Seahawks and the Vikings’ poor kicker missed the field goal and the Seahawks won. Wow. Talk about a shock. Way to go. All this with our rooftop antenna out in the sticks. Isn’t technology wonderful?

Monday it was cold and cloudy and we stayed home most of the day. Our hot spot had been working wonderfully and then on Monday morning poof, no internet. We drove out to the park entry where there was free WiFi and checked to make sure our account wasn’t low on gigabites but that wasn’t the problem. And to fix anything else we needed to be able to call Straightalk and that required a phone signal and guess what? Service but no bars on the Sprint phones. Ah well, we were headed to an RV park the next day and we’d deal with it then.

On our way back from our second trip out to use the internet (to research RV parks and grocery stores in the Port Arthur area) we saw a white-tailed doe along the road. This was our third sighting of the day and finally I got the camera out in time—sort of.

Deer Brazos Bend SP

Tuesday morning when Walter went out into the kitchen right after he got dressed, he was greeted by a HERD of deer—not just one or two but over a dozen. I came out in my all together and took photos through our back windows and managed to actually capture part of the herd in transit.

Deer Brazos Bend SP

And then the big buck stopped and stood looking back at the woods...

White Tail Buck Brazos Bend SP

Until a young buck came out of the woods and hustled along to join the rest of the herd. Later in the morning they worked their way back through in a steady stream with the young buck bringing up the rear again.

Just as we were getting ready to leave, I spied a Tufted Titmouse flitting around. He’s related to the black-crested titmouse we saw down in Brownsville. This one stayed still for a moment so I got a bit of a photo of him.   

Tufted Titmouse

We drove back towards Houston and then took the Sam Houston Toll Road—Houston’s beltway/ring road—to get to the east side of town and pick up I-10 heading east. This was the route Carmine, the Garmin, picked and it was fast but it was costly. Since we have 4 axles (2 on the truck and 2 on the trailer) it cost us $10.50 to make the full circuit from the west to the east side. A normal passenger car would have only paid $3.50! Ah well, this way we didn’t get lost or stuck in traffic.

We continued on out I-10 nearly to Beaumont and then turned off the highway towards Port Arthur and an RV park that was supposed to be pretty nice and inexpensive since it was part of the Passport America system. When we arrived at 2 pm, they were full—the first time this trip! It appeared to be populated with folks living in fifth wheels while they worked in the oil industry in the area. Okay—time to punt. We had decided to stay at this place because we needed to grocery shop and it was coming up on time to do laundry. We knew the laundry could wait, so we decided we’d head on down to Sea Rim State Park (on the gulf and nearly on the border with Louisiana) and stay there. We managed to find a Market Basket grocery store on our way there so we stopped and had lunch and then did the shopping. My oh my, was this an adventure! We’re in Cajun country—an entire section of mustard and no Dijon—but boy did they have lots of other choices. A HUGE section of sausage of every kind and type imaginable but no beef cut up for stir fry (no surprise). An enormous section of rice but no Jasmine rice and only one package of Basmati. We went up and down every aisle and managed to find nearly everything on the list (or something that would substitute) but it took over an hour.

Then we drove on, literally through the refineries at one point

Valero refinery Port Arthur TX

And on out to Sea Rim State Park. We got there just a little after 4 which was a good thing, since the office closed at 4:30. They have 15 water and electric sites here and 11 of them were available. We got a nice pull through site with a view of the water to the west out our back windows for $20 a night with our Texas State Parks pass paying our day use fees. The only hitch—mosquitos in great hordes in the lovely late afternoon sunshine.

I took this photo from our campsite looking southeast. There’s a nice boardwalk that goes out to the ocean here. But as you can see, there is serious wetland here too. Sea Rim denotes the point where the coastal marshes meet the ocean here in southeast Texas.

Sea Rim SP

We got settled in and discovered that our hot spot still didn’t work (and the signal was so weak it might not work anyway) so even though we had a phone signal we really couldn’t call and complain about the hot spot because there wasn’t a signal to check with. AND the free WiFi from the office wasn’t working right either. Ah well. It’s good to go without the internet now and then. It builds character or something, I’m sure. Actually we’ve had internet a remarkable amount of the time this trip.

Mother Nature however did not let us down. She put on a real whiz bang show at sunset.

Sunset Sea Rim SP

And the color lasted for well over half an hour. It was just super.

Walter fiddled around and managed to pick up a few TV stations from up in Beaumont so we tried to watch President Obama’s State of the Union Address. But the signal was pretty weak so we kept losing it. Walter kept fiddling and we managed to see most of it though there were still some parts we missed. Sometimes it’s hard to be a good citizen and live on the road! I know, we could get satellite TV but neither of us really watch it enough for that.

Wednesday January 13th, was another beautiful sunny day with temps in the low 60’s. And to make things even better there was a light breeze to keep the mosquitos at bay.

First off we drove to the office to find out where their WiFi antenna was in hopes of actually being able to connect to it. It was a small antenna on the side of the building so we sat in the truck and picked up our email (and not much else) with this lovely view to look at while we waited for things to load.

Sea Rim SP

Then we drove to the far end of the main park and did the Gambusia Nature Trail—named for a little fish that eats mosquito larvae (clearly there aren’t enough of them to make much of a dent in the mosquito population though). The entire trail is a boardwalk through a marsh. There were tons of coots and they all were making their way north across the the marsh. They even hopped up on the walkway and ran across it—something we’d not seen before.

Gambusia Nature Trail Sea Rim SP

There were a few Northern Shovelers around the edges of the marsh and of course every time we got close to them they took off. They have just enough white on their bodies that when they take off they give a really distinctive white flash. From a distance though, they looked a bit like odd mallards.

Northern Shoveler Sea Rim SP

But mallards don’t have white chests or those big beaks.

Northern Shoveler Sea Rim SP

It’s a loop trail and as we were coming back a pair of Great Egrets flew by.

Great Egret in light Sea Rim SP

And one stopped for a moment or two.

Great Egret Sea Rim SP

We drove on back towards the campground and headed for the boardwalk over the dunes to the beach. Here or there near the boardwalk there were clumps of these lovely yellow daisies—which are not in my flower book, of course.

Yellow dune flowers Sea Rim SP

From the boardwalk you get a view back across the dunes to the campground.

Sea Rim SP campground

The beach was a bit of a disappointment. There was no surf because there’s a shallow shelf here that goes out quite a ways (and makes the water look muddy brown)—though when we had a storm come through the next day we did have some surf. And there was a lot of Saragossum seaweed washed up on the beach. It doesn’t smell (at least in cool weather) or seem to attract flies which is nice but there were three great windrows of the stuff along the beach.

Sea Rim SP beach

There are lots of shells on the beach and many of them are really small so walking along the sand is a constant crunchiness. I can’t imagine walking barefoot on this stuff—it would hurt!

There were lots of clam shells of various sorts.     

Shell Sea Rim SP

And these big red objects that we’d seen from the campground that turn out to be life rings since they don’t have life guards on the beach. They didn’t have them on the other state beaches we’ve visited but hey, they’re a good idea.

Life ring Sea Rim SP

Someone had left this HUGE clam shell on the railing of the boardwalk.

Huge clam shell Sea Rim SP

Back in 2008, Hurricane Ike came through here and wiped out the park. It destroyed all the trails, the campground and the Visitors Center (which had hot showers) that used to be right here.

Remains of visitors center Sea Rim SP

The temporary building in the background is the park headquarters now. There’s no hot water in the park now and they have no septic on this side of the park either. There’s a day use area across the road in the marsh where they have their maintenance building and a kayak launch and the dump station. The camp hosts live over there because they need sewer hookups.

After lunch we drove into Sabine Pass to get gas and call Staightalk about the hot spot. We got that fixed okay--hurray, though there still wasn’t much of a signal back at the campground. From there we drove over to Pleasant Island, an artificial island along the shores of the Intercoastal Waterway. It’s mostly a reclaimed marsh with a few nicer houses down at the narrow end where there is some ocean view. The big view here is a HUGE refinery across the waterway over in Louisiana.   

Sabine Pass Louisiana side refinery

We took the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Bridge across the waterway to Louisiana—what a way to pre-celebrate his birthday!

Welcome to Louisiana sign

And funny thing, it looked just like east Texas!

We got back to Sea Rim well before sunset. And since there were a few clouds coming in, things were a little different than the night before. Long before sunset things started to color up and then it got seriously peach at sunset.

Early sunset Sea Rim SP

And then red and violet later on.

Sunset Sea Rim SP

It rained in the night on Wednesday night and continued well into the morning. We loaded the laundry into the car (in the rain) and drove on into Port Arthur to the Washateria—yes you read that right! There are two washaterias and one laundromat in town. This one was a Vietnamese Washateria complete with gold Buddha statues on top of the big load washers and electronic slot machines to play while you waited. Life is such an interesting adventure on the road.

Once the laundry was done we decided that we’d drive on back to Sabine Pass and try to find the Sabine Pass Battleground State Park as a place to have lunch. It was still raining but there was supposed to be a water view so what the heck.

On the way we passed a little marsh where I spotted one lone Roseate Spoonbill in among a group of Great Egrets and White Ibis. I was so excited I made Walter turn around and drive back so I could get photos.

Roseate Spoonbill

These are pretty weird birds. Like flamingos, the more shrimp they eat the pinker they get. And look at that bill! Now that is a real schnozzola.

Roseate Spoonbill 

I’d wanted to see one of these guys up close and now I was happy.

We continued on down to Sabine Pass and found the Sabine Pass State Historic Park without a problem. It actually commemorates 3 different forts in this area (in 3 different time periods and three different locations) only one of which was actually on this site.

Sabine Pass Historic Park signs

The big deal for the Texans is that they managed to win a decisive battle against overwhelming odds (and numbers) here during the Civil War. They sank two Union gun boats and the rest turned tail and headed back out into the Gulf of Mexico never to return. We had our lunch and walked around in the wind and the cold and read the signs. There was a bit of a water view but there’s lots of heavy port equipment around so it’s not all that scenic.

They do have one remaining piece from the USS Clifton (one of the gunboats that they sank). It was a steamship and this is part of it’s walking beam.

USS Clifton Walking Beam

We went on home and spent the evening swatting mosquitos that had somehow gotten into the trailer. It’s amazing what a mess you can make with a flyswatter and a horde of mosquitos. The good news is that they didn’t seem to be very hungry because we only got a couple of bits between us.

Friday morning dawned clear and sunny. It was already in the 60’s when we broke camp and headed over into the day use area to use the Dump Station. After we dumped our tanks we stopped so I could take a photo of the Indian Blanket Flowers growing along the road.

Indian Blanket Flower Sea Rim SP

Then we headed on up through Beaumont to Village Creek State Park in the Big Thicket where there are pine trees of a decent size and magnolias too. I hadn’t realized how tree hungry I was until we set up camp and I gave a deep sigh of relief to be in the woods. We found a nice spot in the woods with water and electric for just $15 a night with our Texas Parks Pass paying our day use fees. Such a deal! And the park WiFi worked just fine right at our campsite.

Campsite Village Creek SP

It was sunny and 75 degrees by the time we were settled in. Amazing. The weather here in Texas has been a real roller coaster ride—increasingly warm for a few days and then crashing down into the 40s or 50s with rain for a day or so and then rising slowly again until the next front comes through. We had a few errands to do and since we were actually in the suburbs (even though we were on the edge of the Big Thicket) we went and did them while we could.