Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Exploring the Texas Coast, Part II

We've moved up the coast from the Rockport/Fulton area to Palacios (Texas pronunciation: "Play-shuss"), a small town on the Tres Palacios Bay and the home of the largest shrimp boat fleet in Texas. It's another of the coastal towns that exhibits lots of poverty with flashes of affluence. Driving down a street of decaying, junk-strewn houses, you'll suddenly come upon a large, well-maintained, and expensive home. The downtown area is largely deserted, although we enjoyed having a cup of coffee and browsing the local book store. We stayed at the Bay Side RV Park, a nice park that just reopened after a two-year closure. The owner and camp host have been wonderful - friendly and very helpful. On Friday, they hosted a free fish fry for the park occupants. Brenda baked a cheesecake (Williams-Sonoma Double Chocolate), others brought side dishes, and we had a great time getting to know each other and sharing stories. Once again, after the cheesecake, I lost my identity and became known in the park as "the husband of Brenda, the cheesecake goddess". The park sits on the bay and gave us an unobstructed view of the water, and in back of the park was the marina, filled with shrimp boats. Quiet nights, the morning water view, and the sound of gulls circling the shrimp boats made for a very pleasant stay.
This was a good location for field trips to Brazoria and San Bernard National Wildlife Refuges, located further north up the coast. In our posts of November, 2006, we describe our brief volunteer stint at Brazoria, and why we decided to leave. It was interesting to return and visit; not much has changed for the better, although the mosquitoes weren't as bad. Unfortunately, the salt-water damage from the storm surge of Hurricane Ike destroyed many of the fresh-water ponds, and those that were left were dried up due to the extensive drought. We did see some Roseate Spoonbills and a few Great Egrets, but overall were disappointed with the visit. We continued on to San Bernard NWR, where there was less hurricane damage and a large fresh-water pond that was filled with shorebirds and ducks. White and Glossy Ibis were everywhere, and I caught this Black-crowned Night Heron napping in the middle of the crowd. Brenda, our family duck expert, found these Fulvous Whistling Ducks, a beautiful duck that we hadn't seen before.
We also visited Port O'Connor, and Matagorda Island, two other waterfront areas with interesting birding where we saw our first Wood Stork, watched dolphins and their young play in the harbor, and took this picture of a Brown Pelican sitting on a pole.
In Bay City, we visited the museum to learn about LaSalle's ill-fated exploration of the area. It seems strange to think of French explorers in this area, and it's hard to imagine a more bumbling explorer than LaSalle. He missed the mouth of the Mississippi by 500 miles, ending up in Matagorda bay, a mosquito and snake-ridden hellhole where they established a small fort. It wasn't long before their ship was run aground by a storm and sunk, and soon hostile indians, snakebites, and disease had reduced their original number from 300 to 37. At this point, LaSalle took 17 men and left for Illinois (huh?) to get help. A year later, indians killed or kidnapped those left behind, and shortly afterward, LaSalle's men killed him somewhere in what is now Northeast Texas. Not exactly a Captain James Kirk exploration story. What was a good story is that his ship, the Belle, was found in 12 feet of mud and silt with many of the artifacts still intact. Instead of trying to raise the remains, a cofferdam was built around the ship to allow archeologists access the wreck. As a result, a large quantity of interesting items were recovered, and many of them are on display at this and other museums along the Gulf Coast. You can read more about the reovery of the Belle and her contents here.
We certainly stayed busy on our visit here and enjoyed eating fresh shrimp. Of course, on the Texas Gulf Coast, you're limited to fried shrimp, chicken-fried shrimp, deep-fried shrimp, and double-deep fried shrimp. Apparently Texans consider it unsightly to view a shrimp naked and feel compelled to cover the poor thing with batter. Ah well, it was still tasty.
We've left the coast and are heading for West Texas - come back and see where we are!

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