Monday, February 16, 2009

Exploring the Texas Coast

After spending time in the Texas hill country, it was time for a change and we've moved to Goose Island State park, on the coast near Rockport. It's another quality state park, with large RV sites both in the woods and on the water, organized birding and photo workshops, and extensive fishing and boating facilities. We looked at the water sites, but they were not very level, it was very windy, and the smell from decaying seaweed was pretty offensive. The wooded sites, although small at the entrance, opened up into a large private area with picnic table, fire pit, and barbecue stand. The only drawbacks were that there were no sewer hookups and electric power was limited to 30Amps. It was a great location for day trips to explore the area, and our first trip was 40 miles down the coast to Corpus Christi. This is a large city with lots to see and do, but on this trip we explored the waterfront, had lunch at a dockside seafood restaurant, and visited the USS Lexington, an aircraft carrier which has been turned into a floating museum. Commissioned in 1943, it was named to commemorate the aircraft carrier sunk during the Battle of the Coral Sea in 1942, and when it was decommissioned in 1991, was the longest-serving carrier of its class. Nicknamed the "Blue Ghost" because of its unique paint scheme, it saw combat in WWII, then spent most of its remaining years as the primary training carrier for naval aviation students. Exploring the Lexington is a true learning experience; the first thing that amazed us was the sheer size for such an older carrier. Entering the ship into the hanger deck, you walk in each direction for a long way before reaching the bow or stern. The deck, filled with exhibits of naval aviation, also contains a movie theater, snack bar, and gift shop. Climbing up to the flight deck, we looked at the assortment of aircraft and climbed up to the bridge - an area much smaller than we expected. If you look close at the exterior picture of the bridge area, you'll see a Japanese flag painted there. This marks the spot where a Kamakazie aircraft struck the carrier during the Battle of Leyte Gulf. The most interesting area though, was the tour below the hanger deck into the different areas of the ship. It truly was a floating city, with medical and dental clinics, dining halls, living areas, and corridor after did anyone find their way around this maze of watertight doorways, up and down stairs, and mazes of pipes? Thankfully, the tour route was well marked or we'd still be down there somewhere. Overall, this was well worth the trip and we'd recommend stopping by if you're in the area.
Back at Goose Island State Park, we toured the "Big Tree". This coastal oak is over 1000 years old and reputed to be the largest in Texas. We were impressed with just how "big" the "Big Tree" is. Although for us, after seeing the Sequoias, Redwoods, and huge cottonwood trees of Arizona, this was more of a "sorta big", or maybe a "pretty-big-for-Texas" tree.
We also visited Aransas National Wildlife Refuge, one of the largest and most popular refuges in the country. Unfortunately, the extensive drought has resulted in the ponds and lakes being completely dried up and left the area with very few birds. On the day we visited, the winds were very strong and there were few shorebirds visible, but we still enjoyed our visit. In one of the picnic areas we came across this young Raccoon; he was very friendly and followed us around hoping we had some food. Brenda tossed him a piece of granola bar, after which he gazed lovingly at her and probably would have followed her into the car if she let him. Also in the area was this Nine-banded Armadillo, who was oblivious to us as it rooted around for insects. They're interesting to watch as they scurry around, never slowing down or stopping. They're very common in this area and seem to like the mowed areas near roads, which accounts for the high number of Armadillo "speed bumps" that you see on the road. We wrapped up our visit at a stop to watch this Alligator. There are a number of them in this area; this one was about eight feet long and enjoying the sun near a pond. They're not exactly fun to watch; aside from opening it's eyes every now and then, it could have just as well been a plastic model (not that I'm goint to get close enough to check).
We've moved on again, this time to a waterfront park in Palacios, another 50 miles up the coast. Stop back & see what we're up to!

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