A Rain as Big as Texas

Sunday brought an end to our stay in Village Creek. It was a bit grey and rainy as we hitched up and pulled out of the park.

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Deluge doesn’t even begin to describe the rain which assailed us on our drive south from Lumberton to the Brazos Bend State Park just south of Houston in Needville, Texas. The rain fell so heavily that we barely had visibility out the windscreen of our big blue truck. It fell in sheets and torrents. Thank heavens for Jim’s steady nerves and careful driving. He piloted our 48 foot craft skillfully through the darkened land and kept us from disaster. I shudder to think what would have happened if I were driving. At moments like this my strongest impulse is to shriek with horror and throw my hands in the air. Not exactly a prescription for safe driving.

Our progress was slowed by the weather and even more so by a terrible traffic accident on Interstate 10 in Houston. Traffic slowed to a complete standstill and we spent well over an hour inching our way forward. When we reached the accident, we saw some poor eighteen wheeler had hit the cement divider on the outer shoulder. The cab was completely separated from the trailer which still stood nose to the divider. The cab was crumpled like an aluminum can and had clearly burned as well. Cleaning this up in this weather was going to be a considerable challenge.

The rain followed us further south down Route 288 past Pearland and along Farm to Market 1462 to the park. We set up camp in the rain and were just able to sit out under the awning. Despite the fact that the ranger said the park was fully booked, we were almost completely alone. Was it the unrelenting rain? Just the fact that for people down here, this is winter? Who knows. It was a little strange coming on the heels of Palmetto Island. We felt lucky to have the park to ourselves, but where was everyone?

Our site was just lovely. We were nestled next to a large live oak who was our guardian. We were feet from the banks of the Brazos River and the park teemed with deer, all kinds of birds and big Texas armadillos. All were much in evidence during our stay.

Jim’s oldest brother, Jack, his wife, Phyllis and their friend, Dan, arrived in late afternoon. The rain was still falling but we could shelter under the awning and stay mostly dry and enjoy looking out at the verdant and sodden landscape. We spent several hours chatting and enjoyed brats and burgers for dinner. It was really great to see them. We don’t get to spend that much time with them and certainly had never had the chance to see them in their natural environment of Texas. Plans were made to head up to Pearland on Tuesday to see their home and get some necessary shopping done in the shopping centers there.

The sign welcoming visitors to Brazos Bend makes it clear who the primary tenants of the park are. The morning of our first full day in the park was devoted to laundry. The rain continued off and on, but it data=RfCSdfNZ0LFPrHSm0ublXdzhdrDFhtmHhN1u-gM,LdScLvlLmt6Al7fEQzBywPOD4L0u_I0VQZvmQ-oN8D6UpJzZfW0_mwEsdYo34OZSwpskzwjW0hNr-15GtXjt-jifUch5bkkzWmS3h3hI_nbe1cIW25_eEiE4_LVD33vMs1Dkf936Udf4swas quite relaxing to sit near the laundry and read. By mid-afternoon we were restless. The rain cleared off and the long absent sun appeared. We walked a trail around 40 Acre Lake. There was a nice breeze and it was warm, but pleasant. We saw several gators enjoying the sun. But once we hit the woods at the end of the walk, the mosquitos were unrelenting.

Tuesday dawned dry and we headed to Pearland—named for the former pear orchards which abounded until man discovered big box retailers—and some shopping as well as a visit to Jack and Phyllis’ house. One major goal was to get Jim’s electronic equipment up to current standards. After several hours and success at the Verizon store, we headed to Jack and Phyllis’ house in a very attractive, older development. Dinner that night was completely delicious barbecue and then we headed back to Brazos Bend.

Wednesday was alternately wet and dry, but we got in a nice hike around the Old and New Horseshoe Lakes and Elm Lakes. The two horseshoe lakes were formed by a river’s switchbacks slowly being cut off from the primary river. Over time the lakes fill in completely with vegetation and it was easy to compare the relative ages of the two lakes just by looking at the disparate landscapes around them. Old Horseshoe was well on its way to becoming marshy land while New Horseshoe was still very much a body of water.

We added to our walk with a loop around Elm Lake. Elm Lake was alive with bird life and alligators. This was their turf and they lined the banks of the lake. I got so nervous about them chomping down on Dakota that each time we spotted one, I carried him past. Nothing spoils a trip faster than a beloved dog becoming gator lunch. Jim tried repeatedly to get a good shot of one of them with his phone, but it was nerve-wracking to try to get too close. Nothing spoils a trip faster than losing part of a spouse.

We were just at the end of our loop when we heard a loud, sudden crack like a tree falling. Just across an inlet in the lake, a big gator had clamped his jaws down on an unfortunate egret and we watched with sickened fascination as the bird disappeared into the great creature’s gullet.

The sky was dark and overcast as we headed south to our next destination. Moving from park to park is a little like falling in and out of love successively. There is a mixture of sadness to be leaving and an itchy desire to be moving on to the next adventure. Our next adventure would be Goose Island State Park in Rockport, Texas.

Flying Solo on the Nature Coast

450px-Map_of_Florida_highlighting_Nature_Coast.svgHaving left Tampa, the three of us were now flying solo. We would be heading up the west coast, known as the Nature Coast, of Florida and away from the most heavily built up and touristed parts of the state. Mind you there were still plenty of license plates from northern climes, but the quotient of “real” to “plastic” Florida tipped in the right direction.

Our next stop was Manatee Springs State Park. Manatee Springs is just outside the town of Chiefland. Chiefland is the biggest town in the area, but it is less a garden spot than the largest agglomeration of commercial establishments in the area. Actually, that’s not quite true. At least half the local businesses are defunct. Empty stores and store fronts abound. Homes range from modest ranches to shacks and, of course, the ubiquitous mobile home. It is pretty clear that this part of Florida is just hanging on.

Manatee Springs State Park itself was very nice. As one might surmise from the name, there are local springs and underwater caves and sink holes. These are really popular with cave divers. You couldn’t pay me to dive down into underwater caves. It is dangerous enough that all divers are required to check in before the dive and check out after so the rangers can keep track of lost divers.  The springs are also visited by a good number of manatees. Intrepid souls can swim in the spring with the manatees—but the water was only 72 degrees so the souls would need to be cold blooded and intrepid.

Our campsite was nestled into a woodsy area. We had a good amount of space around us and were visited by many woodland creatures. The first evening we had six deer come within thirty feet of our trailer. Perhaps more exotic, several armadillos wandered by. These are the small nine-banded Florida armadillos and really quite cute. Dakota was incensed by the armadillos. Every time he saw one, he exploded into a barking, teeth-gnashing fury. The armadillos were mostly interested in snuffling in the leaves looking for food. They completely ignored him.

On our second day at Manatee we had an excellent hike through the park. The trails were extremely well-maintained and featured frequent signage pointing out local flora. One of the ways they protect these forests is with periodic prescribed burns. This keeps the underbrush from taking over, controls insects and pests and enriches the soil. It means hiking through the woods has a sometime smoky odor. These woods are full of loblolly pines. Their trunks feature rough bark that looks like rectangular scales. They have exceptionally long needles and large pine cones. The forest floor is blanketed with them.

Some of the other trees in the park featured calico patches of lichen and algae. The natural colors of these symbiotic organisms are so subtle and gorgeous. The variegated tones are probably un-reproducible by man or woman, but they beg to be replicated into yarn. During our hike, we watched a Red-Headed Woodpecker hard at work and saw more armadillo.

At the Ranger Station, Jim had picked up a flyer on the Levy County Quilt Museum. The afternoon of our hike we headed over to check it out. This was quite a remarkable place. The museum is the physical home of the Log Cabin Quilters. The group was founded in 1983 and by 1992 they had raised the funds for the building. The building was actually constructed in part by inmates from the Lancaster Correctional Institution—a fact of which they are proud. The group continues to meet every Thursday for lunch and quilting and they provide the staffing for the museum.

Displayed at the museum were historical quilts as well as creations from the members own hands and offered for sale. Jim engaged in a long and lively chat with the three older women on hand as staff. He also made a purchase to adorn our every campsite.

Apparently, this is the only quilt museum in all of Florida and they commemorate their visitors from in and out of state on the long front porch.

The weather was warm and we were enjoying sleeping with all of the trailer’s windows open to the night sounds and air. Our last night was marred by our next door neighbors. These people had a pretty ancient trailer and they decided to run their ridiculously noisy air conditioner all night long. Usually campgrounds are really quiet at night. There are always posted quiet hours and people observe them. Well, our neighbors’ compressor blew loudly all night long. It was beyond irritating. How could they not realize how loud it was? As we packed up the next morning, I found it difficult to be civil when they spoke to us. Campgrounds depend upon people being respectful and polite to each other. It is almost always the case–making it more striking the rare times when it isn’t.