Saturday, October 02, 2010

Memories of West Texas heaven

An old bighorn ram overlooks the valley below on Elephant Mountain, Elephant Mt Wildlife Management Area north of Big Bend National Park in West Texas. Photos Copyright (c) 2010 Wendee Holtcamp.

I have finally gotten a spare minute to upload my West Texas photos. Here are a few of my favorites. It was a fantastic trip, made even more fun and special by the presence of my dear friend Laurie. We met at Texas A&M during the "Information Technology in Science" (ITS) 2-year program we participated in, which was a partnership between the College of Science and the College of Education. Each participant was an educator in some way, most middle and high school teachers and a handful, like me, were college instructors. Laurie taught at an inner city school in San Antonio and after this program (where we each earned an ITS Certificate) she went on to earn her Master's degree, and is now working in Administration.

We've traveled together to West Texas before for my Top of Texas cover story for Texas Parks & Wildlife magazine, back in 2006, and also to Granbury, west of Dallas-Ft. Worth a couple years ago.She's got the most contagious laughter and is a fantastic traveling companion! And she loves West Texas. It also is my favorite region of Texas. It reminds me of New Mexico, which I also find absolutely magical.

A view of part of Elephant Mountain from below. We went here looking for desert bighorn sheep with the WMA biologist for an article I'm working on.
A shot on top of Elephant Mountain.
Froylan Hernandez, WMA lead biologist, looking for bighorns amidst the clouds that kept rolling in atop the mountain.
Froylan scouting for sheep.
Laurie & I at Balmorhea State Park.
Scott & Jenny Turner, who manage Davis Mountains Lodge & Expeditions. After our Enterprise rental car pooped out on us, we stayed there one night because we worried we could not make it back to the hotel another 40 miles away. They have guided birding and hiking trips in Texas as well as Mexico, and are the friendliest couple! Jenny also cooks delicious food, epecially the sopapilla cheesecake. ZOMG!
Darren Wallis is actually the birding guide who took us out in the field. He was awesome! Very knowledgable about the flora and fauna, and super nice. Turns out, we had a mutual friend from way back when it College Station. (Not a great pic, I know - it's all shaded, but it's the only one I really had of him)
A collared lizard in Davis Mountains State Park, where we went hiking with Darren.
A colorful, gigantic grasshopper!
A canyon tree frog was oon the shelter at the base of the trailhead we took to the top of the trail, overlooking the Davis Mountains and nearby Fort Davis.
Also at the trailhead we saw a flock of lesser goldfinches. This one is a female.
And a male!
At the top of the trailhead in Davis Mountains State Park, we could see Indian Lodge, a pueblo style lodge inside the state park built by the CCC in the 1930s.
A cholla cactus and desert mountain scenery.
These cute little ceramic dolls were inside the Indian Lodge gift shop, which we stopped by on the way out.
We also went birding at Balmorhea State Park and then 4 miles down the road, Lake Balmorhea.
We saw several of these brilliant blue damselflies near the water's edge. We also saw a bunch of Clark's grebes, including a baby one who was trying to hop on its mom's back. I didn't get a good shot of the grebes though. Apparently Darren didn't realize they breed here, and this may be an interesting find.
On the road, we spotted a roadkilled badger. I've never seen a wild badger, dead or not, so this was exciting. I also took this photo for my friend Eliza who is documenting roadkill and writing a book about it!
The town of The water from the San Solomon spring at Balmorhea State Park runs through these aqueducts all through the town of Balmorhea, and then empties into the lake, which is a reservoir rather than a natural lake (Texas has only one natural lake - Caddo Lake in North Texas).
This is the back side of a hotel in Balmorhea. The pic looks pretty cool but Balmorhea is very small and quaint, and the photos may make it look even better than it does in person. :) Nevertheless it has its charm! And the skies are amazing! You don't see "Wild Turkey crossing" signs very often! This is outside Balmorhea.
Recent rains had the land flush with green and color. Sunflowers were everywhere, and the skies are almost always this gorgeous robin's egg blue, with scattered clouds.
This is a shot of historic Wild Rose Pass between Fort Davis and Balmorhea. The cutest little ground squirrel eating a pretzel outside our door, at the San Solomon Court, a lodge built by CCC at Balmorhea State Park.
A crawfish was sitting on the sidewalk, and we rescued him back into the water.
San Solomon Spring- a natural artesian spring that gushes 1 million gallons per HOUR. The spring pool stays at a constant temp of 72 degres F. The visibility is amazing, and the water is emerald. The spring bottom is natural -algae covered rocks, mud, etc and you can see a lot of wild aquatic organisms - turtles, fish, etc. The CCC built this concrete lining around it back in the 1930s, but not on the bottom.
This is a cienega, Spanish for desert wetland. Back in the 1930s, the CCC destroyed the wetland when they created the Balmorhea pool from San Solomon Spring. They restored it in the 1990s, and are working on creating additional cienega habitat.
More of the cienega habitat.
One evening we went to the artsy town of Marfa, and had dinner with my friend Jeff McCoy at the historic Hotel Paisano's Jett Grill. We sat outside - it was a lovely evening! Then we went to see the Marfa Lights, which we did see. I was expecting somethng like the aurora borealis so seeing the little tiny orbs of flickering lights was mildly disappointing. I was surprised there isn't yet a clear scientific explanation. I guess it's some sort of mirage of lights, or something akin to ball lightning or St. Elmo's fire but none of those phenomena precisely match the situation here. Why doesn't some scientist go study it, for crying out loud!
At Elephant Mountain we spotted this desert box turtle. You can tell it's a male by its red eyes. Very colorful, no? It's the same one as in the photo from the previous entry, different view.
Laurie and her awesome laughter, on top of Elephant Mountain!

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