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Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Driving rural America

Sometimes a simple drive on unfamiliar roads produces an enjoyable adventure and reenforces a love affair with our vast country.

Yesterday, I decided to explore some new-to-me back roads south of Kansas City. Nothing spectacular occurred and I found no unbelievable views. I did, however, discover quiet beauty, history, an abandoned home, flowers, birds and the joy of adventure.

I saw a sign on a farm dating back to the 1850s. Recalling the history of the area, I wondered what part the farm played in the Border Wars between Kansas and Missouri in that decade. Long before the official beginning of the Civil War in 1861, abolitionists and pro-slavery forces vied for control of the two states. Did this farm see any of the bloody skirmishes or vicious shenanigans played out on both sides of the conflict? There were few saints caught up in those battles.

A little further down the road I found an old abandoned house and wondered about its history. My writing partner, Joyce Faulkner, and I often muse about the stories that houses and buildings could tell. My mind turned to a tour of the Missouri State Prison (in Jefferson City) that I took several years ago. I recalled my fascination with the stories of lives played out within those walls. What secrets did this little house hold? Is there anybody alive that knows anymore?

The farms along the way are decked out in vibrant spring greens and yellows. The trees are still birthing new leaves and the soft greens fill the landscape. I love spring but I know that in the fall these same views I photograph today will have a different splendor.

I spot a number of bluebirds - a real find this season. I've never seen as many as this year and I'm completely enchanted. I see several cardinals and I think about the redheaded woodpecker I saw the other day.

The sky remained overcast during my adventure but I felt sunshine
Redheaded woodpecker
in my heart.

Along the road

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Is it Spring yet?

Bluebonnets and Indian paintbrush in Texas
Although I'm loving the beauty of courageous spring flowers that brave the cold, I don't consider 39 degrees to be spring weather.

Indian paintbrush

A week ago we left the warmth of south Texas and headed to Kansas City. I loved taking photos of the wildflowers - particularly the bluebonnets and Indian paintbrush along the way. It boded well for spring. We arrived last Friday and since then it's been a seesaw of warm and cold.

Saturday we attended an outdoor birthday party that moved indoors because it was cold and windy. The birthday boy, Matt Krebs, managed to turn 30 regardless of the weather. Sunday turned warm and sunny and it looked like spring had arrived.

But yesterday, cold again and this morning's temperature of 39 was enough to keep me indoors and wish I were back in Texas. However, we have another birthday to celebrate today as our grandson, Ben, turns sixteen.

So, like the spring flowers, we'll keep blooming and smiling while we wait for the warmth! In the meantime, enjoy the color!

Tulips in the Kansas City area

Sunday, April 3, 2016

A Day Exploring in the Lower Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife Refuge.

The Lower Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife Refuge covers more than 90,000 acres along the banks of the lower Rio Grande River. If you drive out of Brownsville on Hwy 4, headed to Boca Chica Beach, you drive through parts of it.
I like to explore the side roads that go through the refuge. If you like to have the landscape to yourself, it's the ideal place. I hardly ever see another soul.
Today, the sun was shining and the flowers blooming. My goal was to capture some Prickly Pear shots and see some Scissor-tailed Flycatchers. Luck rode with me and I did both.
The cacti are just starting to bloom in the refuge - in another week, they should be gorgeous but unfortunately I won't be here then.
The refuge is on the Great Texas Coastal Birding Trail, so naturally I hoped to get some bird shots too. Last time I was there, I took loads of pictures of several Crested Caracara, but today I didn't find any.
I had heard the Scissor-tails were around Brownsville but hadn't found any yet. I saw a dozen or so today. Since it was late morning, the sun prevented me from capturing many good shots but oh, the fun of watching them. I so want to get a shot of them flying with those scissor tails open, but they are too fast for me. I'll keep trying.
The ducks saw me first, but I watched them fly away.
By the way, I saw at least 20 dump trucks running back and forth on Hwy 4. I assume they are hauling soil out to the new Space X launch site near Boca Chica Beach.

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Port of Brownsville Tour

Port Isabel Lighthouse
The Port of Brownsville in south Texas is known for its ship dismantling and offshore-drilling-rig construction and repair as well as its intermodal facilities.

We recently took a boat tour through the port and thoroughly enjoyed a close-up view of its operations. We’ve viewed it from nearby Highway 48 many times but the advantage of the tour was learning the names of the boats. We had taken a tour with Dolphin Docks several years ago before the aircraft carriers were brought in for dismantling.

The morning fog and wind didn't discourage us at all and, luckily, the sun came out midway through our cruise.

Shrimp boat heading out the channel
The Port of Brownsville repairs and/or dismantles approximately 300 ships per year and it is expected to double the load in the next few years. The intermodal port moves more than $3 billion of goods per year. It is one of the top free-trade-zone ports in the country.

Although shrimping is no longer the huge industry it was, the port is home to several hundred fishing boats. The shrimp basin is just to the north of the port facilities. Although I love taking photos of shrimp boats, I always recognize that shrimping can be a harsh way to make a living.
Drilling rig under construction

Once we traveled the 17-mile channel from the Gulf of Mexico at South Padre Island, we saw a number of ships at various stages of dismantling.

Three aircraft carriers are in process: the former USS Constellation, USS Ranger and the USS Saratoga. We saw a couple of destroyer tenders: the USS Yellowstone and the USS Shenandoah. We passed two vehicle -landing ships; the USS Comet and USS Meteor, both partially dismantled.
Ships being dismantled

Once we passed all the ships and turned around, the crew served a dinner of fresh jumbo shrimp, sausage, potatoes and corn on the cob. Crew members did a great job entertaining and feeding us.

If you visit South Padre Island, the 4-hour Port of Brownsville Tour is worth your time and money. We took the Breakaway Cruise tour but the Port tour is available from several different companies, some with food, some without. Prices vary accordingly.
Before the cooking started