Monday, November 9, 2009

Cibolo Nature Center in Boerne

Last Sunday I had a need to get out of town. The weather that weekend was gorgeous, and I needed an outdoor fix that my garden and the rest of Austin couldn't fill. I had long ago put Cibolo Nature Center in Boerne on my short list of places to visit after reading Pamela Price's tweets about it. (She also kindly assured me that dogs were indeed welcome to visit. After our trip last summer to Blanco State Park where we found out only upon arrival that dogs weren't allowed in the river, I wasn't going to make that mistake again.)

The trip takes about two hours, about the maximum distance for a relaxing daytrip. I wish I could have gotten a good picture of the Gulf muhly-filled meadow we crossed to reach the creek. Moths and butterflies covered the meadow. I almost had to swat them out of the way.I was actually surprised at how much water was flowing in the creek. I guess all the recent rain had helped fill its reservoirs.We walked the trail along the creek for most of our visit. It was cool and shady, and the cypress trees actually offered some fall foliage color.Benches and shelters throughout the center offered chances to sit and marvel at the foliage and enjoy the weather. Never afraid to multitask, we used our little breaks to make a dent in out leftover Halloween candy. (We might have had less if we'd actually been home during trick-or-treating hours, but that seemed an inefficient way to end up with more candy for me.)
Among the many native plants, this one was my favorite: I can't decide if this is a sunflower whose yellow has faded or this color was its original shade.

Here are some of its compatriots further along in their lifespan.After reaching a pretty obvious sign that we'd hit the end of the trail,

we turned uphill where the trail is shared with horses.The visitor center is closed on Sundays, but it certainly looks like it would be worth a return trip.
We headed over the Haupstrasse aka Main Street after our hike. I'm not a big shopper but if you are, there are lots of stores to check out. I was more interested in some of the signage than the stores. This flower decorated one of the shops.This store name left me a bit puzzled:Does the store offer one antique? antique pickles? or the unusual combination of old stuff and pickles?

It was this store, however, that really threw me for a loop:
The only dingo I know is the one that ate the baby. Who knew it could also be hip?

We were too stuffed from our Cocina de Consuelo's breakfast burritos to take advantage of Pamela's lunch suggestions: Boerne Grill and the Hungry Horse but perhaps on a return trip.

On the way back, we set the GPS to take the most meandering route home and enjoyed seeing some really gorgeous rural areas.

I wish that we could have made this trip and attended Novella Carpenter's panel at the Texas Book Festival. I highly recommend her book, Farm City, about her efforts to farm, raise, and harvest vegetables, chickens, ducks, and even pigs.

Alas, we couldn't do both but I think Novella would understand the need to be in nature.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Etiquette for Butterflies

Tomorrow (Saturday, October 24) is the Inside Austin Gardens tour presented by the Travis County Master Gardener Association. All of the yards featured are National Wildlife Federation Certified Wildlife Habitats, which means they are happy places for plants and animals.

I haven't yet certified my yard (it's on the list!) but I have made it a happy place for some animals, caterpillars in particular. (Of course, I've also inadvertently at times made it a happier place for one larger animal in particular.)

Of course, I would also like to make the yard a happier place for me, and that's where I think a few etiquette lessons for my new friends, the caterpillars, are appropriate.

First, you're welcome to any of the herbs I planted for you. And cheers to you for choosing the rue, which I only bought because I liked its foliage. I have no idea of its culinary uses.
Second, thanks for sticking around so I can see you metamorphisize through your various instars. You started here, also known as the bird shit stage (or I guess, if we are talking etiquette here, it should be the bird sh*t, bird poop, or maybe even bird "we don't discuss this in public").I found this stage to be very inventive, hiding you from potential predators who think you're just one of the above.

Third, I loved, loved, loved seeing you in your third instar stage. You're looking so cute! And there are so many of you!
How is it having 30 first cousins? Maybe though you could find another place to poop? Even though it's cute little caterpillar frass, it's still frass.Fourth, ah! Wow, behold the black swallowtail caterpillar.
Fifth, here's where we encounter the etiquette challenge. Generally, when I invite animals into my yard, I do so with an open heart and expect little in return, but let's not confuse little with nothing.

My stripped-bare rue has started to regrow in the areas you ate to the stems. And as I mentioned, I doubt really have much of a use for it. But the quid pro quo for providing food for you and putting up with your frass is that you stick around as a butterfly so I get to see how in all your glory. I'm not saying you aren't adorable as a caterpillar, but the whole metamorphosis thing would be pretty cool to see.

Leaving with nary a chrysalis in sight is not all that polite.

Sixth, you might want to take a lesson or two from your intraspecies friends, the gulf fritillary caterpillar. These guys munched on my passionflower vine and stuck around to form a pupa. Just look at this guy:

These caterpillars also returned to the yard as butterflies, the cute little pairs diving and flitting about. They even played chase with the dog. I know y'all can't write thank you notes so I happily accept the flybys as your token of gratitude.
Seventh, if, of course, your absence is a sign that your camouflage failed to protect you and that you got decapitated by a wasp, like this one of you, all is forgiven.
And in your honor, I will be offering future etiquette lessons for the wasps on to decapitate or not to decapitate.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Roadtripping Through National Parks

Pam of Digging is hosting a bloggers' celebration of national parks this week. As soon as she mentioned it, I knew I wanted to post about our roadtrip out west over Christmas/New Year's in 2006/2007. Between buying a new laptop and transferring photos and other files, and having said two-week-old laptop broken by a to-remain-nameless four-legged animal, it's taken me this long to post.

For the westward leg, we took the southern route out of Texas. The first couple of days were really just about driving. We were going to spend Christmas with our friends in Berkeley and needed to get there before, well, before the 25th.

Joshua Tree National Park in Twenty-nine Palms, California, was our first national park on the trip. Prior to our trip, I knew more about U2's Joshua Tree than the US Joshua Tree. (We stayed at the Harmony Motel where U2 stayed when recording that album.)This is the aptly named Skull Rock. Somehow I managed to not got a picture of the famed Joshua tree while at the park. I think I was distracted by the weather. To get this view, we walked up a short but steep path, and I swear the temperature dropped 20 degrees and it started snowing!As soon as we got back on the park road, the snow stopped.This is a field of ocotillo cactus really seemed more like a Martian landscape than California.From Joshua Tree we continued west, making a stop in Indio for a date shake at Shields Dates, which was really delicious and well worth a slight detour. We then traveled up the California coast toward Berkeley. We stopped in Big Sur, which is really gorgeous but primarily state parkland so I'll save it for another post.

After spending a few days in Berkeley, we headed east. After a stop in Las Vegas, we drove to the Grand Canyon National Park. It started snowing as we drove and was snowing pretty steadily and heavy by the time we reached the park. We had hoped to catch the sunset over the canyon but with the snow we really couldn't see much of anything.

Here's the view out of our room at the park: The next morning we got up before dawn to catch the sunrise on the park's eastern edge. And well, the snowfall again thwarted our efforts. It was still beautiful, just different.Later in the morning the skies started to clear, and we could actually see the winter wonderland.
After breakfast, we picked up the world's cutest to-remain-nameless four-legged animal from the park kennel. Did I fail to mention that we took our dog with us? She actually turned out to be a great traveler. I'll discuss a little more about national parks and dogs at the end. She loved the snow on first sight, and particularly loved finding a frozen Greenie buried six inches under the snow. All of our previous questions about whether she had a good sense of smell were answered as she quickly started digging and found the frozen treat. We hiked along the southern rim trail for a while. The northern rim of the Grand Canyon is closed during the winter months.The rim trail was exactly that--a trail ever so close to the edge of canyon. A few times I worried about losing my footing or having an overexcited animal chase a bird over the edge. Thankfully at the truly dangerous spots, there were railings.It's hard to see in the photo below, but this is a view back at El Tovar, the main canyon lodge.The snow at the Grand Canyon was just part of a blizzard that was hitting Colorado and northern New Mexico. Our original plan was to spend a few days, including New Year's Eve in Santa Fe, New Mexico. But the snow closed the only road into Santa Fe so we had to reroute.

We ended up spending an extra day in Sedona, Arizona, which turned out to be a great detour and allowed us to hike many of the red rock trails. And we had time to stop in another national park, Montezuma Castle. Technically, Montezuma Castle is a national monument not a park, but I think it still fits in with the theme.Montezuma Castle is a much smaller version of Mesa Verde. This castle is really all there was to see, a brief but enjoyable chance to stretch our legs.Our final national park on this trip was Carlsbad Caverns. My husband loves caves and caverns so this stop was a priority.Obviously getting some good shots in the caverns were a little difficult. In fact, I'm not entirely sure if the photo above is right side up. We took the King's Palace guided ranger tour.After Carlsbad, we made the long and fairly boring drive back to Austin. We had had a wonderful time though and were ready to sleep in our own bed (well, beds, the dog has her own).

A few practical notes on our trip: we purchased a national parks annual pass, which was a tremendous value at, I believe, just $50 then (it's $80 now). The entrance fee to the Grand Canyon alone is $25. We more than covered the cost of the pass and were able to use it later in the year at Big Bend National Park.

National parks are not actually the best place to take a dog. Dogs generally are not allowed on most trails. For example, at the Grand Canyon dogs are only allowed on the rim trail. You can't take them down into the canyon. At many national parks, you can camp with your dog but you must leave the pup behind when you go hiking. If you want a true hiking/camping experience with your dog, I would stick to state parks. For this trip, these limitations were fine, but they are one reason why we haven't yet made it to Bryce or Zion national park.

But the national parks do understand that many people travel with their pets and make accommodations for them. The Grand Canyon has an on-site kennel for dogs and cats. Carlsbad Cavern has a kennel where you can leave your dog while you tour the caverns. In fact, there are signs all over the parking lot advising you not to leave your four-legged friend in your car. I can imagine leaving a dog in the car would be much more dangerous during the summer months.

Thanks, Pam for hosting this celebration. It was nice to relive our trip. I wish I had time to find all the photos from the national parks I've visited on the east coast, but I just won't have time to get those up!

Saturday, September 12, 2009

The Big Island: Animal Edition

Rainbow over Kilauea Ike

Last month my husband and I were lucky enough to travel to Hawaii, the Big Island, for someone's big digit birthday. (Hint, it wasn't mine.)

When I saw all that was growing on the Big Island, I thought about a post comparing the beautiful, luscious plants to the same variety growing (or rather, not growing) in my yard. I quickly realized that such a post would be just overwhelmingly depressing. If you wanted to see dead plants, you could look out your door. After the summer we've had, I decided we needed a happier post. (And if I had actually gotten the post up two weeks ago as I'd planned, it would have been even more depressing. I think the rain is starting to make us all feel like our summer was just a bad nightmare.)

So here's a little summary of our trip.

We started our trip on the Hilo side of the island, otherwise known as the wet side. Hilo averages more than 130 inches of rain annually. Drought restrictions are enacted when the wet stuff falls below 70 inches per year. It's no wonder these signs are needed: (And, knock wood, it's beginning to look like we might need some of those signs here in Central Texas!)

We left Hilo driving along the northeast coast and of course had to stop at the Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden. It was raining as we toured but you don't let a little rain stop you when you live on the wet side so we took our borrowed umbrellas and forged ahead.One of the first plants we came across was this white bat plant. It's highly doubtful that it will grow in Austin, but it would be cool if it did.These are called lobster claws. I was not tempted to eat these because I am one of those freaks who don't like lobster. Plus, after I ate some mystery berries at Kilauea volcano, my husband wouldn't let me out of his sight when potentially ingestible plants were in my range.

(In my defense, he had read me Mark Twain's description of the berries as juicy. I assumed that meant that Twain had sampled them. And it's my husband's issue, not mine, that he doesn't want to spend his vacation speeding his wife to an emergency room.)My husband wouldn't even let me sample these beautiful flowering bananas. (Of course, I wouldn't eat a plant in a public garden.)I'm not sure why but a lot of plants had animal-related names like this cat whiskers and
this mule's foot fern and
this peacock fern.

I don't know the name of this beauty but had to include it because it was so pretty. (It was a little hard trying to write down plant names while maneuvering the camera and the umbrella and making sure I didn't slip on the walkway and once again potentially force my husband to take me to the hospital.)One of my favorite animal-related plants was this old-man palm.
with its cute little braid. I wonder if that's a gardener's task? No. 12 on to-do list: Braid old man.We traveled from the wet side to, you guessed it, the dry side of the Big Island. As we drove down the coast surrounded by nothing but lava fields and brown plants, I was unpleasantly reminded of Austin.

But then we checked into our free hotel (yea for the husband's travel points!) and had this view from our own private balcony: I immediately felt much better.

Add a bathing suit and a hat to this turtle, and this is pretty much how I spent the rest of our vacation.From time to time I wandered into the Pacific to cool off: Sometimes I had to flip over on my back.And of course, all this relaxing made us hungry so here's the last animal shot I have for you:
Roasted pig at the luau. Yum.