Saturday, August 8, 2009

Road Trip to Big Thicket National Preserve

Road trip. That's what we were taking. From July 29-31 Ron, Lauren and I took a road trip to Big Thicket National Preserve in Texas to learn about their education program. The trip took almost 10 hours each way, but was filled with great conversation, small towns, LOTS of beverages (which yielded just as many restroom stops), and much more! I think the photos is the best way to share our adventures with you.

The way down was full of fun little stops. We searched and searched for "Something Different" to stop and eat at, per the suggestion of the gentleman at the Post Office. After a little round of Who's on First, I picked up on the fact that Something Different is the name of a local restaurant. Turns out though that Something Different was harder to find than expected. We explored other options along the way, stopping to pose for photos of course. Here, Ron and Amy sport the local look. Convincing, huh? :)

We never did find "Something Different" despite our efforts. We ended up in a local little restaurant. Ron was most please because they had country fried steak, exactly what he was looking for! It was fun to be at a local eatery.

Lesley, our contact at Big Thicket, arranged for us to stay at the Field Research Station. None of us were quite sure what to expect. Our stomachs first sank when we spotted the porta-potties outside when we pulled up. But when we opened the door to the station we were greeted with this....
Those porta potties were just a farce! Our place was swanky! In addition to the common room you see, there were two dorm rooms--one male and one for females, bathrooms for each, a kitchen, a dining room, and small offices. They were wonderful accommodations! Ron had his room to himself (unless you count the giant stuffed bird that seemed to stand guard over the boy's room) and Lauren and I shared the room with four girls the first night and two girls the second night. The accommodations were fantastic, but I must admit they made me realize what a city girl I am. IT WAS SOOOOOOOOO DARK when the lights were out! YIKES! I don't think I've ever been in such a dark room.

We met Lesley shorty after 9 am on Thursday. We were eager to learn about Big Thicket and see how their education program works. Lesley took us on a great tour of the Visitor Center and we met some of her Teacher Ranger Teachers....Lesley employs FIVE of them during the summer, basically in lieu of seasonal rangers. That morning, while we learned about the park, education at the park, and how she handles school groups, a storm moved in. It rained and rained and rained. The rain with the trees and greenery made for an awesome outdoor smell. I spent at least 15 minutes outside watching it rain and the wind blow the tall, tall pine trees. Before we knew it, we were off to lunch at a local restaurant that Lesley recommended....Pretty great food and I finally got to try the illustrious fried pies I'd heard from. This was pretty delicious, although it reminded me of a McDonald's apple pie--I've been told that a "real" fried pie looks like a little half moon pie with baked fruit inside....similar to the Hostess pies that I coveted in my friends' lunch boxes growing up, but without the preservatives.
After lunch we took a walk with Lesley. There are five main parts to the park and spread out in some areas more than 20 miles between sections. It's pretty unique park that yields some pretty unique challenges with staffing, outreach, education, and unity. In between the strips of park, some of the land is owned by lumber companies--it creates almost a patchwork quilt in the sense that one area is dense with trees and ground cover and then another section is barren while another section has newly planted trees and newer growth. Really unique. Lelsey took us on the Sundew Trail and showed us some of the really cool nature.

Probably the coolest plant I learned about is the Pitcher Plant. It actually attracts little insects to its hollow tube and then traps them inside. It is not a Venus Flytrap but is similar.
Lesley opened one up for us and this is what we saw. While you might not be able to see it here, we could see little insects inside, some with their wings still on. It was very fascinating.
We walked a ways further and were taught about this plant (whose name escapes me right now--see below). Lesley says they have contests to see how long they can make each seed dangle by its sticky thread. Lauren won this time (winning length not pictured here). The seeds have a sticky thread attached so they aren't washed away from their surroundings by water when the forest floor floods.
And then, there was the sassafras plant. This was cool because each of the leaves below is from the sassafras. Note that each leaf has a different shape, yet they're all from the same plant.
Of course Lauren and I couldn't leave until we had our stamp!!!! :)

After a really full, and exciting day in the park we headed out to get gas for our next adventure. And while we were filling up, I spied with my little eyes, this very cool contraption in the parking lot next door. It looked so fun that I couldn't resist going over to find out about it. It's a trike of sorts but has no motor and you don't push off to make it go. You merely use quick movements to tork it in one direction and then the other. The woman who's trike it was was kind enough to let me try. It was very fun and cool, but much harder than it looked like--I think it would be a great workout for oblique muscles.

After we filled up, Lauren, Ron, Susan (a Big Thicket TRT) and I headed out in search of dinner---in a round about fashion. I was really focused on getting some great photos of cypress trees and their knobby roots. Long story short we stopped in this section of land maintained by the Nature Conservancy. There was only one cypress tree visible in the distance on the grounds but we did find lots of Spanish Moss.

And these beautiful grapes....

We hopped back in the car and continued south. To illustrate how far south Big Thicket is I will let you know that the Gulf of Mexico was nearby. Lauren was really excited to see the Gulf and Ron was really kind to off we went! :)

We drove for a little bit and crossed the Inter coastal Highway....

And then came upon the Gulf!

We just pulled off the side of the road and all headed toward the water...

We saw pelicans flying in formation....

A picture perfect sunset...

Walked in the very warm water and collected seashells....

And of course, took lots and lots of photos!
It was a wonderful ending to our day!

But it wasn't quite over! We stayed until the sun had set and then started our drive back. By this point we were all pretty hungry. We had scoped places out on the way down and Ron and remembered passing this place: Papa's Place. It looked local, well visited, and fun....

Dinner was indeed fantastic! I had the largest Cobb Salad I've ever seen, everyone tried etouffee and gumbo, and we listened to some live country music. It felt like a true Texas experience.

We slept soundly that night and were up early the next morning to drive back to Sulphur. Our must see stop though (for me, anyway) was the large Sam Houston statue we passed on the interstate in Huntsville, TX on the way down. He was just hanging out along the highway. Soooooo fascinating.

So we stopped. We learned that he made is premiere in 1993 for the bicentennial of Sam Houston's birth. He is 67 feet tall and stands on a 10 foot tall pedestal....that's one big Sam! Thank you Ron and Lauren for entertaining my whim! :) He was cool to see! I love historical statues--especially ones you don't expect to see!

After our Sam Houston statue experience we drove for a bit more. Ironically, we got off the interstate for gas and there, in front of us, was the restaurant Something Different that we had tried to find two days earlier. Lauren and I went inside to explore and were taken by its charm ...and cakes...So we stopped for lunch! I was more focused on dessert though....trying to figure out what I was going to have! In the end I ended up with a coconut, pecan type of cake (which I couldn't begin to finish) as well as a piece of 7-up pound cake to take home with me. Ron had a piece of Lemon Icebox Pie and Lauren had tres leche. All of it was so good! I'm glad we don't live near it because it could be a very unhealthy place to live near!

Alas, our trip ended around 6:30 when we pulled into my driveway in Sulphur. It was a most exciting trip and I really appreciate Ron for taking us! Lauren and I learned a lot from the park and all it had to offer! And we had a lot of great laughs along the way! Thanks Ron!


Jonny T said...

The adventure was, well, an adventure! Seeing the Gulf is very cool but I'm setting my sights on those cakes, fried pies, and other culinary treats! Oh man ... (drool)how did you only get two slices of cake? I see at least 5 cakes in the pic.

Jonny T said...

By the way, I liked the nature learning in your post. Thanks

Jonny T said...

Oh and great Texas stance by you and Ron

Sorry so many comments, but there is just so much to comment on