Taken New Year's Eve -- have a wonderful 2009!
When we went to the Hidalgo Lights it was dark, and the 10 foot statue of the Killer Bee, dressed in a sparkling coat of Christmas lights, really just looked like a giant, nondescript white blob. So we went back during the daylight hours to see what it really looks like. Here it is, a memorial to the spot where Africanized, or Killer Bees first entered the United States. If you look closely, you can still see the mesh of holiday lights on The Bee (and fans of huge animal likenesses may want to compare and contrast The Bee with the Las Cruces Roadrunner):
In the same post on the Hidalgo Lights, I mentioned the Chinese Dragons made of glass bottles that are on display at the Hidalgo City Hall. Here are a couple more photos of them, including a detail of the bottles:
We went to Mexico a couple times, using the border crossing at Progreso. We parked in the U.S., and walked across the bridge over the Rio Grande. Looking into Mexico from the bridge, we spotted this farmer, still using a horse and cart for transportation. And, near the crossing, are the streets of Progreso set up to trap U.S. money -- they are a hodgepodge of dentists, pharmacies, liquor stores and street vendors, and they all take dollars instead of pesos:
A lot of folks in the RV parks of the Valley decorate, if I can use that word to describe what they do, their yards. Here are two examples -- a beer-can cactus, and a dog/teacup .... Something, placed intriguingly at the end of their drive (let's just call it "Yard Art"):
A couple miscellaneous photos, one of guy on a scooter or a bike (maybe a scike?), and a store that sells secret (shhh!) underwear (a must stop after going to the Pole-Dancing-For-Brides-Store):
And lastly, not for the squeemish, a common sight in some grocery stores -- pig and lamb heads. Hey, honey, what's for dinner?
My travels in 2007 are in blue, and 2008 in purple. Each of the campground symbols represents places I have stayed, and the push pins are side trips. Click on any symbol to see a photo of the area and the date(s) I was there.
Looks like I still have a lot of country left to explore!
American Snout Butterfly (Libytheana carinenta):
Malachite Butterfly (Siproeta stelenes):
Silver Argiope Spider (Argiope argentata):
Texas Powdered Skipper (Systasea pulverulenta):
Mexican Bluewing Butterfly (Myscelia ethusa) (and yes, it was hanging upside down!):
'TWAS THE NIGHT BEFORE SOLSTICE
by Jane Houston Jones
Inspired by the poem A Visit From St. Nicholas, written by Major Henry Livingston, Jr.
Twas the week before Solstice, when all through the city,
Not a planet was shining, now isn't that a pity.
The telescope was stored in the garage with despair,
In hopes that the weather would soon turn to fair.
The astronomers were nestled all snug in their beds,
While visions of nebulae danced in their heads.
And Mojo with his laptop and I with my starmap,
Had just settled down for a cloudy night nap.
When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from the bed to see what was the matter.
Away to the window I flew with a flash,
Tore open the shutters and threw up the sash.
The moon shone brightly, no clouds hid the glow,
The full moonlit lustre to objects below.
When what to my wondering eyes should appear,
But Pleiades, Orion, and Ursa Major, the bear.
With our trusty old telescope, the setup was quick,
I knew in a moment we had objects to pick.
More rapid than eagles, the targets they came,
We aimed and we pointed and called them by name.
"Now, Procyon, now Pollux, now Castor and Capella!
On Aldebaran, on Rigel, on Sirius, and Betelgeuse, the red fella :-)
To the top and around the winter circle of stars,
Now a quick look at Saturn, Jupiter, Venus and Mars.
As fireflies that before the dawns morning light,
Brilliantly flicker and soon are a memory bright,
A new wonder would paint the dark sky to pale blue,
The sunrise was nearing and morning twilight was too.
And then in a twinkling, I heard on the roof,
The prancing and pawing of each little hoof.
As I stepped from the telescope and was turning around,
Down the chimney the stranger came with a bound.
He looked like an astronomer, bundled from head to his foot,
Like a stargazer his clothes were tarnished with ashes and soot.
A bundle of toys he had flung on his back,
Looked just like our telescope accessory pack.
His eyes - how they twinkled! his dimples how merry!
His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry
He looked like we do after a cold winter starshow
Freezing but happy from the Milky Way glow
The stump of a flashlight held tight in his teeth
Its soft red glow encircled his head like a wreath
We asked him if he'd ever looked closely at Mars
"I'm working at night, I have no time for the stars".
He stepped up to the eyepiece, a right jolly old elf,
And I smiled as he gasped, in spite of myself.
A wink of his eye and a twist of his head,
Soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread.
He spoke not a word, but took in view after view,
Then he spoke with a sigh he had more work to do.
And laying his finger aside of his nose,
And giving a nod, up the chimney he rose.
He sprang to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle,
And away they all flew like the down of a thistle.
But I heard him exclaim, ere he drove out of sight,
Happy stargazing to all and to all a dark night.
Copyright © 2003 San Jose Astronomical Association
Reprinted With Permission
Tom Landry was born just down the road from here in Mission, Texas. He lived from September 11, 1924 - February 12, 2000, and some of what he accomplished in his "dash" is:
With most of the country shoveling and shivering, I know I shouldn't complain about temps in the 30s and 40s. But this is southern Texas! It snows here every century or so -- the last time was, oddly, the night of December 24th, 2004, and that was the first time in 109 years. But imagine how special it must have been to see snow for the first time in your life when you awoke on Christmas morning!
We did not see snow here last night, but they did in Houston, about 350 miles away. We had a freeze warning, an odd occurrence on its own, but the temperature didn't quite make it to 32 -- our low was 36, so we didn't even have to deal with frozen water hoses.
But earlier last night the temps were in the high 40s with a cold wind blowing, and it was definitely nippy outside - but we dressed in our warmest clothes, reminded ourselves that we are from cold climates and can handle it, and took a trip to Hidalgo -- a border city famous for:
While a lot of private citizens and organizations join the fun, the City of Hidalgo, with a population slightly under 8,000, puts up over a million lights in city-owned property all over town, both rope lights shaped into figures and white lights wrapped around tree trunks and branches. Rather than buying them, the city employees fabricate most of the lighted figures, from the traditional Santas, snowmen, and candy canes to custom shapes such as steamboats, the space shuttle, dinosaurs, butterflies, the twelve days of Christmas, and even a Texas oil well. Most everything that can be draped with lights is -- even the 10 foot high statue of the Killer Bee.
We saw a lot of cars slowly snaking through the city (seeing the lights is free), but we opted for one of the guided tours that leave from city hall -- in a trolley, on a hayride, or our choice, the horse drawn wagon. Our two large white Percheron horses, Jack and Jill, pulled us through street after street and finally returned us to City Hall where the Chinese had provided a pair of large colorful dragons (made from small medicine bottles) and some of the 2008 Olympic mascots. We bought an excellent dinner from a street vendor -- two homemade tamales, rice, beans, and a cup of Mexican hot chocolate (made from scratch with added cinnamon and spices) all for only $5.
Great way to get into the holiday spirit!
Here are some more findings from the Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge:
Did you catch yesterday's triangle of Venus, Jupiter, and the crescent moon?
So why didn't I set up the camera and tripod to get a photo of it, too? Because I was relaxing in an outdoor hot tub, watching the trio sink to the west through the waving fronds of a palm tree (northerners, especially those shoveling snow today, should pretend I didn't just tell you that -- or at least ignore the fact that this was on DECEMBER 1st!).
If you were "down under," you got to see the heavens smiling back at you -- they formed a smiley face!
Another nice northern hemisphere view, from a day earlier (the closest we got to a smiley face), is here.
Mother Nature finds ways to hide her creatures -- here are some from a walk through the refuge on Black Friday. It sure was a nicer way to spend the day than fighting the crowds at the mall!
(Click for larger image if you have trouble seeing some of the creatures)
First, let me apologize for this post to all of you "up North" who are shivering in below freezing temps or -- gasp -- shoveling the "S" stuff so you can get to the store to buy bread, milk, and toilet paper! But here in south Texas it's beach weather, and the lovely barrier island, South Padre, is less than an hour away.
South Padre is actually in the "off season" now -- things really get going around spring break, when all the sun-worshiping kids who don't go to Daytona show up here. There were ads for snorkeling, para-sailing, horseback riding on the beach, dolphin watches, and, my favorite -- taking sandcastle-making classes for -- get this -- $75 an hour! Whoever thought up that career should get an Entrepreneur-of-the-Year Award!
We were there on the weekend, and the sun was shining, the waves were high, the pelicans were hunting, the surfers were paddling (and sometimes riding, sometimes falling), and the beach was perfect for walking. The sand is very compacted here, and soft on the bare feet. A lot of children were playing in the surf, but I'm guessing the beach would be almost deserted during the week when they are -- hopefully -- back in school.
The Padre Islands are a group of barrier islands that run from Corpus Christi, 160 miles to the north, to Brownsville, the southern-most point in Texas. The upper portion is a National Seashore, while the lower portion is the spring break playground. The island almost runs into the spot where the Rio Grande used to dump into the Gulf of Mexico -- I say used to, because the amount of water siphoned off for drinking and irrigation is now most of the river. This site on Google Maps shows the water puddling just short of the Gulf, its exit blocked by sand -- sand that the Rio Grande itself may once have deposited there.
The Rio Grande Valley -- my home for the next six weeks -- is a 60-mile stretch of land from Brownsville, TX to Mission, TX that hugs the Mexican border. It is a haven for northern snowbirds, who here are called "Winter Texans." I am near the western side, in Alamo, about 5 miles north of the Rio Grande River. This area is a contrast of cultures -- the desperately poor neighborhoods, where the per capita income is under $10,000, are within walking distance of shops like Macy's and Penney's, expensive restaurants, movie theaters, outlet malls, and all the other amenities of "The Strip."
Due south from Alamo is the Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge, where large numbers of birds, butterflies, insects, and a few interesting mammals such as bobcats, coyotes, armadillos, and jaguarundi can be found. Many of the flying creatures are migratory, and use this area as a stop-over as they head north in the spring or south in the fall.
The refuge has an hour-and-a-half tram ride, and we managed to get on the last ride of the day. A tour guide pointed out flora, fauna, and history along the way, and we stopped every so often for short hikes. As we were walking on one of the trails we spotted... something... odd ... on the ground. There were small green leaves in a pile at the base of a tree, and it sure looked like the leaves were moving!
It turned out a long, single-file string of ants were marching from a high tree branch, down the side of the tree, and into a hole in the ground -- each one carrying a leaf! Unfortunately, we didn't think to look higher to see how the "cutters" were felling what to them was the equivalent of a tree!
The tram continued through heavy vegetation where butterflies, dragonflies, and damselflies were everywhere, then on a side road that led to an old cemetery, and finally to the Rio Grande River itself. We could see evidence of crossings -- abandoned bottles that had been used as flotation devices and clothing that had been dropped littered the shore. After we left the area, we heard an Immigration powerboat go speeding down the river. From our viewpoint, it looked to be a pretty easy crossing.
Here are some additional pictures:
I can already tell that this refuge will be a favorite of mine while I'm here!