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While most adventurous types are gearing up for a summer full of camping trips, kayaking expeditions and long day-hikes in the park, here in Eastern Texas the adventuring season is coming to an end. And by the time Memorial Day rolls around and folks in other parts of the country pull out their dusty coolers and head to the great outdoors, we Hustonians will be bunkered down in our airconditioned homes for the long, merciless summer ahead. Because here, it’ll be just too durn hot outside.

In this part of the country, I was surprised to find that camping season starts in late February, peaks in late March – early April, and tapers off by the end of May. I learned this the hard way when, thinking I was going to outsmart everyone and take the kids camping in March, I started calling around and found out all campgrounds within a 3-hour vicinity were booked for the next few weeks.


But we stole the one remaining camp spot left on Easter day, took a deep breath and headed into the Hill Country.

On our way to our first destination we made several stops in the dazzling, blooming flower fields that expanded into the horizon on either side of the highway, threatening to consume it. We weren’t the only ones either. Dozens of cars were stopping, pulling out their dressed-up munchkins and Cannon 5D cameras, and rushing into the fields to take pictures.  The kids were sort of over that before I was, so to express my gratitude I took a small detour.

Driving by Brenham, I recalled that there was a BlueBell ice-cream factory somewhere around. I didn’t remember where, but when we were passed by three 18-wheelers proudly sporting the BlueBell logo, the kids yelled, “Follow that truck!” And we did. Since it was Good Friday the factory itself was closed for tours, but the ice-cream parlor was open, and that was good ’nuff. We filled up on German chocolate and home-made vanilla deliciousness, clambered in the car and drove on. By the way, I loved their slogan: “We eat what we can, and sell the rest.”

Our first major destination, where we ended up almost by accident, was Pedernales Falls State Park. We arrived there, SO ready to be out of the car, at around 5pm. What a heavenly place. The fields of flowers here were studded with fresh, succulent cacti in full bloom. There were butterflies, moths, grasshoppers, and all sorts of buzzing activity above the flowers. The Earth breathed in and out, deep, warm. As we made our way down the winding road through the juniper forest and towards the river, the dark green tones gave way to rolling hills of grasses reaching above our heads. We walked through like lilliputs in a land of giants, turning our heads here and there, exclaiming “Oooh!” and “Wow!” and “Hey look over here!”. The sun shone over our heads and the cool, lazy river beckoned us.

We floated down the Pedernales River in our inner tubes and the water was just perfect – cool, clean, loving. Since usually we swim in either chlorinated pools or the salty ocean, this was an incredibly welcoming change. Tamarack and larch lined the banks, their roots picturesque in the golden hour sunlight. Oh, it was lovely. We could have stayed there for a very long time.

But it was getting dark, so after lazing in the sand, looking at clouds drifting overhead, and watching the flower shadows crawl up rocks and tree trunks, we packed up. Before leaving the park we stopped by the actual “falls” – which weren’t falls at all. Took the last few pictures of the day, and drove off in search of lodging for the night.

The next morning we headed to Wild Seed Farms . This is a huge area covered by fields of different types of wild flowers – bluebonnets, red poppies, pink and white poppies, petunias, larkspur, etc. People come here mostly to stimulate their senses, take photographs, and shop in the large central market replete with gardening knick-nacks of all caliber. We followed their lead, took pictures and gawked at pretty things.  The colors of the flowers were so intense and unusual that you could literally feel parts of your brain firing wildly – RED!!! FUCHSIA!!! AQUAMARINE!!! Ahhh!!! COLOR!!! Ding ding ding!

Vierra picked out a gift for herself – it was a small butterfly and insect house which she proceeded to fill with catepillars. We studied and discussed their habitat and life cycle with the kids for the next two weeks and just this morning our very first moth hatched from one of the cocoons!

After the farm we drove south towards San Antonio and Natural Bridge Caverns . We had gone to see Inner Space Caverns by Austin last autumn, and the kids were thoroughly fascinated by the fact that we were under the ground. They talked about it often since then, and so I thought they would enjoy these caves, which are supposed to be bigger and longer. And they didn’t disappoint. This was evidenced by the lack of whining during the entire hour and a half tour. So yes – if you’re in that part of central Texas, definitely go there. See them.

This was the day I had managed to snag a campsite reservation, so after the caverns we packed back into our van and drove the hour or so to Guadalupe River State Park. Again I marveled at the sprawling fields of unabashed glorious colors flanking the highway. And again I was impressed by how unexpectedly and vibrantly the landscape changes as you traverse it. Guadalupe River State Park seemed to be in a drier, more arid micro-climate. The trees were lower, there were copper soil deposits and more cacti along the way. But there was also a lot of green, and the camp sites themselves were pleasantly nestled in another forest of juniper and low-growing conifers. We got there towards evening, leasurely set up our tent, had dinner, crawled into our cozy portable home and were asleep almost instantaneously. Some racoons woke me up in the middle of the night – they had found the one container with cookies that I forgot to put back in the car. After that I could not fall asleep for a while, listening to the night forest rustling, hooting and jittering all around us. The kids tossed and turned and I had to stuff them back into their sleeping bags several times because the night air was chilly.

The following morning we were in no rush to get anywhere. We took our time, had breakfast, caught caterpillars. The kids played in the trees while I managed to read half an article and have some “alone time”. After intensely communicating with the kids for the past two days, even half an hour of uninterrupted time was much welcomed. Eventually we packed up and headed to the Guadalupe River. Apparently, everyone from central Texas had gathered there, baking in the sun (it was hotter that day), grilling, frying, splashing, swimming, yelping, giggling, and doing everything else that humans do outdoors. Here the river was embellished by a dramatic bank rising a good 100 feet vertically up from the other shore. We swam, drifted down with the current on our inner tube and noodles, chillaxed beneath the fresh green firs. At some point in the afternoon I felt like we had had about as much relaxing as we could handle, and since we still had a three hour drive home ahead of us, we started getting ready to go.

We got home in the evening – the kids fully recovered after a three-hour nap in the car, me pretty exhausted after the drive and all of the excitement of the long weekend. Overall, it was an incredibly fulfilling, packed trip. I’m sure we will be back to explore some more, and I highly recommend going to all of the places that we went. Just do it before the summer kicks in.

(My photographs are shown in the order that they were taken and in the order that I described our adventure. Click on the first one to get the slideshow.)

While I am busy reminiscing on the desolate winters of the Midwest, spring is in full swing here in southeast Texas. And spring in the South this is the season for picnicking, exploring, camping, and doing other outdoor activities besides madly dashing through the stifling heat between your car and the nearest building (this we do in the summer).

So, to take full advantage of this fleeting season, a week and a half ago my mama, the kids and I went to Brazos Bend State Park – a great place for alligator sightings. To be specific, there are over 300 American alligators dwelling wildly within the boundaries of the park. In other words – nobody brought them. They just live there – it’s their home, their natural habitat. And so they are given free reign over the lakes, riverways and marshes while we the humans are encouraged to stay on the dirt paths and not approach the seemingly benign beasts. We tried to follow instructions and thoroughly enjoyed the afternoon walking around the jungle-like forest, climbing on trees and stumps, sighting adult and baby alligators (and a rosaline spoonbill – that’s the pink bird in one of the photos).

I even managed to take a few pictures along the way. Here they are! Enjoy! (Click on the first pic to get the gallery going.)


So last Friday the apocalyptic snow storm that has been enveloping most of the nation descended on Houston. Or, rather, some people were afraid bits of frozen percipitation would drop on the city and therefore closed the schools, the Johnson Space Center, and most ever other center of human activity in a desperate attempt to keep inexperienced snow and sleet drivers indoors.

So most of Friday we shivered in fear in our apartment, while outside there was NO PRECIPITATION OF ANY KIND. Nor was there anything on the streets save tons of salt cubes. And some crazy Russian EVA specialists who had to sign the protocol that ended two weeks of conferencing with their American space walk counterparts. Since the Space Center and all supporting structures were closed, having bunckered down to weather Houston Armageddon 2011, we ended up signing the protocol in the Russians’ hotel.

Then, on Sunday, the kids and I went for a walk. Below are the pictures.

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