Many moons ago, I had given AdventureMan a plasticized raptor identifier, all the raptors in North America, so when we spotted this little guy, who we didn’t recognize, AdventureMan reached in the glove compartment, took a quick glance and said “It’s a Merlin!”
He was very sweet about sitting still long enough for me to take a photo:
AdventureMan was chuffed. Here we are at the National Butterfly Center! There were already visitors there, early in the morning, but, for the most part, he achieved his goal. He had all the time he needed with the Butterfly Garden gardener, and the two of them talked plants that attract, plants that nourish and plants for the pupa and caterpillar stages. This was sheer luxury for AdventureMan, all the time in the world to talk shop with someone who cares about the same things he does – attracting and breeding butterflies!
They have a huge list of all the butterfly sightings and when they were sighted. The Center is right in the path for many butterfly migrations. They have a huge Butterfly Center Celebration at the end of October, early November during the height of the migration. Over 150 North American species of butterfly have been spotted at the NBC. If you click on the blue hypertext, you can see when this year’s festival will be.
These are just a few of the gardens used to propagate plants to attract, feed and nurture the butterfly reproduction:
Here is how to get there:
National Butterfly Center
3333 Butterfly Park Drive
Mission, TX 78572
The National Butterfly Center wasn’t opening until ten, and we decided to watch the sun rise over the Rio Grande. We had read you could see the Rio Grande from Benson – Rio Grande Park, so we got there by 0630. The park was closed, but campers told us people are allowed to walk in; you pay at the honors post, so we did. This is the only place on the whole trip I sprayed myself thoroughly with mosquito repellant, as mosquitos love me, especially at dawn and dusk. It’s one of the smartest thing’s I’ve done.
Walking into this park was a thrill. The birds are so excited about the sun coming up, and there is this huge, raucous clattering of bird cries. As we get further into the park, there are also owls calling to one another, WHOOOO-OOOOOOO, WHOOOOOOO-OOOOOOO; we can’t see them, but we can hear them, and it is thrilling. We keep walking to get to where we can see the Rio Grande, but all we can really see is almost the Rio Grande.
So before you go any further, remember, it is really dark, and I am shooting under the worst conditions. It is early morning, cloudy and foggy. I’m just sayin’ . . .
Benson – Rio Grande Park is part of the Texas Birding Trail, and later in the morning, like around 8, so not late, just later, all the bird watchers in the world start to arrive. They are looking for migrating birds, and they have their lists and huge bird-watching telescopes. We are not those birders. Mostly, I can identify cardinals, and blue jays. I can identify a raptor. I’m not a real birder, just a bird appreciator. These guys that come, they are SERIOUS birders, and they travel to Mission, TX to set up camp and tick off as many birds as they can, like in the movie The Big Year. This is either the National Birding Center, or a national birding center, and as day broke, hundreds of birders flocked into the park.
This is a part of the Rio Grande, but not really, it is a side-stream sort of Rio Grande place. The park guides told us if we really want to see the Rio Grande, there was a great restaurant you can see it from or you can go to Anzalduas Park, and told us how to get there. It was cloudy; I never did get a sun rising over the Rio Grande.
Campers are allowed to do ‘primitive camping’. I didn’t know what primitive camping was, but as it turns out, it’s what we used to do when I lived in Alaska. You bring everything yourself, you hike with everything on your back. There may be some paved areas, or minor structures, but you have to have brought everything you will need with you. No cabins, or things like that. There are, in this park, public restrooms and public showers. This shower is too public for me!
The floor is also covered with roly-poly bugs. Honestly, I am not born to camp. I applaud the park for having public restrooms in a place where it is simply impossible to keep the bugs out, but I cannot imagine walking on this floor in bare feet. There were some very brave primitive campers finishing up as I entered the restroom; they had showered and were brushing their teeth and they looked really happy. I am happy for them (shudder) and very thankful for a hotel with linens on the bed and hot water and no bugs!
Almost alone in the park, we managed to get turned around. I did my 10,000 steps before eight in the morning, and I was wearing the wrong shoes, so when we found benches at a bird feeding area, I was happy to sit down. There were glorious birds everywhere, and then, the happiest volunteers I have ever met came along in a little golf cart with bird seed and peanut butter, and put out breakfast. They were having the time of their lives, and gave us all kinds of good advice about Mission, Tx.
Early morning, low light and the birds wings are going faster than my camera can capture.
A little while later, the “tram” came by and we hopped on, happy for a ride back to the entry. It was a couple weeks before our blisters healed!
Mission, TX was full of surprises. It looked small on the map, like a little strip of city, not so much. We are here on a mission, AdventureMan wants to visit the National Butterfly Center (did you know the United States had a National Butterfly Center?) and I wanted to see the Rio Grande.
Mission was big, and modern. Contrary to much of our Texas experience, it has very new roads.
Mission, and McAllen, her next door sister city, are right on the Rio Grande. There is a huge Homeland Security presence in Mission and McAllen. Many of the TripAdvisor reports I had read to find a good hotel seemed to have been written by government workers, so I should have put it together, but I didn’t, and I found the hugeness of the security presence a little overwhelming, and seriously intimidating. I am guessing all the new infrastructure is in support of guarding our borders.
Our hotel was very new, very modern and welcoming. It was all polished surfaces and glossy textiles, clean white linens, totally lovely for a chain hotel. We jumped into our swimsuits to hit the equally lovely pool, only to discover it was really cold, and for an Alaska girl to say a pool is cold, it really has to be cold.
Fitness goals thwarted, we checked at the desk for a local restaurant recommendation. The desk clerk was very helpful, but recommended a chain, and we wanted something more truly local. Fortunately, there is Trip Advisor. In minutes, we found a place that thrilled our hearts. It was a Thursday night date night kind of place for the very married. People were flocking in and ordering platters of BBQ. The Lone Star was our kind of place.
We are not people who like to waste, so AdventureMan had to take about half of his beef brisket back to the hotel, thinking he would have some for breakfast. It was very lean and beautifully smoked. Unfortunately, we discovered we did not have a refrigerator in this lovely hotel, oh AARRGH, and the excess beef went to waste.
I had my favorite, BBQ chicken, and a really good potato salad. Normally, I am not a big potato salad fan, I don’t like too much mayonnaise, and I like flavor. This was really good potato salad, for me, and very tasty.
The entire time we were there, people were flooding in. We really liked the Lone Star BBQ. We do a lot of talking with locals, so we later learned that everyone goes to Lone Star for it’s famous grapefruit pie. Grapefruit pie had not sounded all that tempting to us, but before Homeland Security, Grapefruit was the mainstay of the Mission, TX economy, and Lone Star BBQ specializes in a wonderful, very sweet, Grapefruit Pie.
I have a feeling that in order to make grapefruit into a pie, it’s kind of like rhubarb, you have to use a lot of sugar, a LOT of sugar. I would rather like to try one spoonful of a grapefruit pie, just for a taste, but I am not all that sorry that we passed, only that it is something that Mission was once famous for.
This is an exciting day; this is a day we travel new roads, roads we’ve never travelled before. New roads make our blood race.
First, we have to get through Houston. It’s early in the morning, so Houston friends, I didn’t call. I know you’ll appreciate it :-)
One of the best parts of this trip was crossing rivers. We crossed lots of rivers. These are some of the rivers we crossed:
Colorado River (we crossed the Colorado many times on our journey)
San Antonio River
Texas can be a very dry state, but after this winter and spring, southern Texas is as green as Alaska, and the rivers are flowing. We learned that a swale is the same as an arroyo; we know them better as wadis – places where rivers or creeks may sometimes run, but which may also dry up. In a country like Tunisia, when we lived there, there were not a lot of public facilities available, so a bridge over a wadi always was a welcome sight.
We trust in Google, but sometimes we don’t thoroughly understand the instructions. On this route, when we got to Victoria, they told us to take the Southern business route, so we exited and tried to find it, but discovered (it was only about ten minutes) that the road we had been on was the southern business route around Victoria.
Some of the worst roads we travelled were in Texas. At one point, we gassed up and it was my leg for driving. It wasn’t an interstate, but it was a highway with two lanes going both ways, a 90 degree entrance to the highway, and fast trucks barreling down the road. I am not a person who likes screeching tires, but I had to screech my tires to get on that road, and I still feel resonances of the adrenaline jolt.
Along this long long route 77, we got hungry, and there aren’t a lot of likely stops – it’s a long, lonely road. When we saw the signs for Refugio, our tummies were rumbling and we knew we needed to take a chance.
Sometimes, luck is just with you. As Highway 77 went straight through Refugio, we saw, on the left, a place called Gumbo Seafood, and the parking lot was packed with big trucks, farm vehicles, cars; we’re not even sure we can find a place, and just as we start to turn into one, a big huge lawn-service kind of double truck takes it and we are forced to go to the back, where we find a spot. Inside, it is packed with customers, and loud, and food is going to the tables and it looks . . . Mexican!
We are shown to a table in a quieter area, where we order. When my meal comes, I am delighted – grilled shrimp, with sauteed onions and green peppers, a very hot pepper of some kind, and about half an avocado sliced. It was magnificent. In this hopping roadside stop, I had one of the best meals of my trip. AdventureMan’s tacos were stuffed to the brim, so much meat he couldn’t eat half of it, and he said it was not tasty, so he would rate this place lower than I would. Sometimes, it’s all in what you order, and there is no telling what you’re going to get. I loved this meal!
For some reason, we assumed all the seafood was frozen, and wondered how an interior town would specialize in seafood. Once we saw the larger map, however, we saw they weren’t all that far from the Gulf, and we had evidence that at least the oysters were very fresh:
A lot of times, we run across fun places to stop along secondary and back roads, but we didn’t find any fun places this time, like for home made goodies. It was all rural and agrarian, and a lot of it looked like it had seen better days, until we got to Mission, TX.
From today’s AOL news, surprising and counter-intuitive findings:
Obesity is linked to a whole slew of illnesses like cancer, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease, just to name a few.
However, new research surprisingly finds that obesity can actually reduce your risk of a devastating and fatal condition: dementia.
A study out of the UK found the link after analyzing data from nearly 2 million people over the course of decades.
According to the research by Oxon Epidemiology and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, underweight people had a 39 percent higher risk of dementia versus people of average weight. The shocking part is that overweight people had an 18 percent reduction in risk and those who are clinically obese, a 24 percent reduction.
The lead researcher told BBC News, “The controversial side is the observation that overweight and obese people have a lower risk of dementia than people with a normal, healthy body mass index. That’s contrary to most if not all studies that have been done, but if you collect them all together our study overwhelms them in terms of size and precision.”
It is important to note that while this study is certainly controversial, it’s not the be all and end all in determining how weight correlates to risk of dementia. If nothing else, though, it certainly opens the door for further research.
We still get restless. AdventureMan still gets calls asking him to come check something out, even goes back to Doha now and then, and I visit family. But we get so restless. We need the stimulation and challenge of other ways of seeing things, other ways of thinking, new sights, new smells, new adventures. There are so many places I have never seen!
Some people are just wired that way. I can remember, even as a young girl, being at the Juneau Airport, smelling that aviation fuel smell, and wishing I were going somewhere. It’s just the way I’m wired. I still love the smell of aviation fuel.
I am so lucky to be married to a man who indulges me. AdventureMan isn’t wired precisely the same; he is better at growing roots than I am, but he still likes to shake things up a little when it’s all same same same, day after day.
We’ve both had to adjust. I grew up in a family where when we were going, say from Germany to Italy for a vacation, we got up early and went, as AdventureMan so colorfully puts it, “balls to the walls” driving 12, 13 hours until we dropped from exhaustion. We were just intent on getting there. AdventureMan’s family traveled in shorter segments. It’s taken us about 40 years to find a happy medium. He has adjusted to sharing the driving with me. I’m a good driver, and I love driving. He goes to sleep, and I can drive for hours, it’s sort of a zen thing.
So off we went. We put over 6,500 on my two year old car, more than doubling the total mileage. It was a wondrous and joyful journey, full of surprises, full of delights, and with a couple days of truly awful driving.
We packed too much. When you are going someplace every couple days, you really don’t need a lot of clothing. I worked out of a large duffel; I would put what I needed for the next day or couple of days in a smaller bag to carry into the hotels.
At our church, we collect toiletries for the homeless population in Pensacola and the recovery population. I came back with a lot of toiletries :-)
Our first day was to Beaumont, TX. No particular reason to stop in Beaumont, it was just a good place to stop en route to where we were going, which was The National Butterfly Center and the National Birding Center, both of which happen to be in Mission, TX. Mission is right on the border, on the Rio Grande, and I have never seen the Rio Grande before and wanted to see it.
When lunchtime came, we were just passing Baton Rouge, where one of our very favorite restaurants, Al Basha, serves mouthwatering Arabic food. It’s just off I-10, we can see it from the road and what a great way to start our journey. But as we enter, every table is filled!
No worries, the waiter hurries over and leads us to a table way in the back, against the wall, which happens to be my favorite place. They have stuffed vegetables on the menu, which AdventureMan orders in a heartbeat, and of course, too much food comes.
We first became acquainted with stuffed vegetables long ago, living in Amman, Jordan, where it was a very common dish, served to family and to guests alike. Later, living in Kuwait, my friends knew how much AdventureMan loved stuffed vegetables and would make extra for him when they were preparing food for family or gatherings. What great memories this lunch brought back!
Louisiana is a quirky state, a state we like a lot. At a gas station near Lafayette, we saw three restaurants and an antique shop, including one with Lebanese food.
By the time we got to Beaumont, it was nearly dinner time. Beaumont is an oil refining town, and the hotel was full of men working in the refineries or about to be hired to work in the refineries. It was a very male populated environment. I went to the pool, but there was a large group of men sitting out on the patio by the pool, and I didn’t stay long, I wasn’t comfortable. It reminded me of the Middle East. I don’t like being oogled.
We were still so full from our Al Basha lunch that we found a local supermarket and got salads for dinner. It was a great first day on the road.
This was on GoodReads Books today:
what we mean
by Maya Stein
I took out the trash to apologize. You made dinner to thank me for finishing
our taxes. I stayed on the couch for my bad mood. You went to bed early
for yours. The croissant, a peace offering. Two loads of laundry,
repentance. The sidewalk you shoveled while I slept, something resembling
forgiveness. When the words fail, the house still rings with conversation,
its rooms, wide mouths, the unswept floors, a burgeoning embrace. A kiss waits
inside every spent tube of toothpaste. When the milk sours, we fall in love
all over again. So I am saving the garage for the hard argument.
You are keeping the basement
in your back pocket.
Today the church prays for the diocese in Mbeere, in Kenya. It is north of Nairobi, mountainous, farming area.