kayaking on Loch Leven near Glencoe, Scotland, 2018

kayaking on Loch Leven near Glencoe, Scotland, 2018

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Lake Arthur, Louisiana

I had heard of a town named Arthur somewhere in the area – the weatherman mentions rainfall amounts there, a friend’s husband works there, there’s a great Hispanic grocer there, it’s a beautiful area, no, it’s industrial – it’s in Texas, right? No, it’s in Louisiana . . . I’d hear or read. I was confused about Arthur. It took me four years to figure it out . . . Port Arthur is west of Lake Charles in east Texas. Lake Arthur is southeast of us, over in Jeff Davis Parish south of Jennings.

I’d been considering going to Lake Arthur, just to check it out, for some time. But a feature story in Sunday’s American Press convinced me to finally go. Promises of a pretty beach and an ice cream store clinched it for me. It’s a teeny tiny town, population around 3,000 in an area about 2.5 square miles. We stopped for lunch at Nott’s Corner Seafood and Deli. That’s a big crawfish!

Eric and friend Josh ate gumbo. Look at the size of those bowls! You would think we were in Texas!

Down the road from Nott’s we found the beach. They ship in sand from the Ouiska (pronounced whiskey) Chitto River, a place in Louisiana I’ve not yet been, which is known for its pretty white sand. The park has plenty of covered pavilions to escape the sun. It’s quite nice.

Water soccer?

This small town is currently in the process of revitalizing, a “work in progress,” as one proprietor told me. There are a few gift shops, but with three teenage boys in tow, I didn’t take the time for those. I heard there’s a new bakery, but I didn’t see it. We concluded our trip to Lake Arthur with a visit to LA Scoops, the new ice cream parlor I’d read about. They serve locally made Kleinpeter Ice Cream. The Triple Chocolate Stampede will leave you wishing you’d ordered two scoops!

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Sailing on Father's Day, 2011

It’s been even breezier than usual in southwest Louisiana lately, so we took advantage and went sailing today. Bob says a Sunfish is a one-person boat, but we easily fit two people on it. First Eric went out with him, then me, and finally Andrew. The lake is so warm right now, feels like bath water. And salty! Lake Charles is supposedly a freshwater lake, but Bob says the strong constant southerly wind this year has pushed seawater right up the ship channel and into the lake.

Great way to spend a sunny Sunday afternoon!

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Vacation Favorites and Other Notables

Over our two week trek through west Texas and southeast New Mexico, we experienced many things, but as is always the case, certain things stood out.

Favorite restaurant: La Trattoria, Alpine, Tx. Their dark chocolate hazelnut cheesecake is possibly the best dessert I’ve ever tasted in my life.

Favorite lodging: The Maverick Inn, Alpine, Tx. This quaint motel with a Zen cowboy atmosphere is owned and operated by a family of cats, but they have a couple humans working for them.

Favorite lodging lobby: Hotel El Capitan, Van Horn, Tx. This place is an old renovated hotel in a teeny town off I-10. I asked the desk clerk about the bullet holes in the stairwell window. “I don’t know, but it used to be a bank,” she said, shrugging her shoulders. I’m always looking for a good story.

And while I’m in Van Horn, this was our quirkiest discovery: “Fancy Junk.” No one was there to talk to, the place wasn’t officially open, but someone there has a knack for making artwork out of scrap metal . . . insects, spaceships, dinosaurs, etc.

Okay, while I’m still in Van Horn, what the heck is a Haul of Fame? No, we did not eat there.

Favorite critter encounter: This had to be a tie. I couldn’t decide between the colorful lizard or the tarantula. Both were photographed during a hike on McKittrick Canyon Trail, Guadalupe Mountains National Park.

Most nostalgic moment: At the Carlsbad Museum and Art Center, there’s an exhibit of 3D photography of the Lecheguilla Cavern. When I looked through the lenses at the first photograph, I immediately was reminded of “View Master,” one of my favorite toys as a kid.

Longest drive: Alamogordo, NM to New Braunfels, TX – over ten hours.

Biggest disappointment: So few bats flying out of Carlsbad Cavern at dusk.

Most educational visit: McDonald Observatory. This place has an awesome deal. For eight bucks, you get a three hour astronomer-led tour of some of the largest telescopes in the world. I learned more about the sun and how telescopes work – it’s all about mirrors – than I ever knew I wanted to know. Great place!

Most physically challenging endeavor: Hiking to the top of Emory Peak, Big Bend National Park. (See previous post.)

Most pleasant surprise: There are no mosquitoes in west Texas or SE New Mexico!

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Big Bend National Park

Big Bend is a study in rocks, geology, a rugged arid cragginess hugging the Rio Grande River. It’s desolate, deserted, barren, and yet beautiful in a majestic sort of way. We camped for three nights in the Chisos Basin.

Camping is very different in west Texas compared to what we’re accustomed to. Because of the severe drought and risk of wildfires, there's a burn ban in effect. No campfires or lanterns. Later, at Guadalupe Mountains National Park, we weren’t even allowed to use our camp stove at the site. Camping isn’t quite the same without toasted marshmallows and s’mores. I don’t know if it’s true for all national parks, or only the ones in the desert where there’s not much water, but there are no showers at the campgrounds! We got pretty good at sponge bathing.

The mornings and evenings were comfortably cool, but the afternoons were stinkin’ hot. We escaped the heat by sight-seeing in the car or hanging out at the Visitor’s Center. West Texas boasts some of the darkest night skies in North America, providing some pretty amazing star gazing.

Rio Grande River

Wild horses over on the other side, in Mexico.

Casa Grande

This opening into the basin is called the “Window.” Great spot to watch the sun set.

These Century plants are everywhere here. They grow for about a decade, bloom once, then die.

I kept meaning to ask a ranger what made some prickly pear cacti turn pink, but I never remembered. Does anyone know?

When we weren’t sweating profusely, the only thing to do was hike around this rugged landscape. Our best, longest, and certainly most challenging hike was climbing to the top of Emory Peak, elevation 7,832 feet. Here’s a shot of Emory Peak from our campsite. It’s the tallest peak in the center of the photo.

The ten mile trek took us about seven hours. We rested frequently.

The effort was worth it, not only for the sense of accomplishment, but for the spectacular views.

Here we are reaching the summit.

Guess what we found at the top? Ladybugs!

Thursday, June 9, 2011

White Sands National Monument

Big Bend boasts rocky majestic peaks and incredible starry nights. Guadalupe Mountains hold lush canyons and hidden oases. Carlsbad Caverns reveal an underground treasure trove. But one of the coolest places we went on this vacation was White Sands National Monument.

Through geological and weather wonders, 275 square miles of granulated gypsum fill a mountain-ringed basin, like a giant sandbox, the wind constantly blowing and building dunes on this ever-changing un-earthly landscape. Like a North American Galapagos Islands, White Sands is home to some creatures and plants that live nowhere else on earth.

We slid down the dunes on saucer-shaped sleds.

That’s Andrew and Bob walking in the distance. The sand is so VAST.

I love this shot . . . the sand and dunes, the mountains in the background, storms clouds above. It did rain some that afternoon.

New Mexico’s state flower – the Soap Tree Yucca

Quite by happenstance, we came upon a foursome who asked if we’d mind taking their photo together. We obliged, and then they offered to take our photo. Seems a couple of them were professional photographers, so they got a few fun shots of us.

At the end of the day, we took a ranger-led “sunset stroll.”

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Carlsbad Caverns National Park, New Mexico

We spent the day underground at Carlsbad Caverns National Park. I’d only visited a few caves prior to today, but Carlsbad is by far the largest and grandest. I highly recommend a visit if you’re ever in the area. How incredible that such splendor can exist beneath the surface of the earth. I was truly astounded, as always, by the imagination of our Creator.

Photos cannot do the cave justice, but my budding amateur photographer Andrew, tripod in hand, did an admirable job with his camera.

There are two ways to enter the cave. By elevator from the Visitor Center, or by a 750+ f00t descent from the natural entrance. We took the elevator down and opted to hike out the in door (below). Great workout!

We stuck around till dusk to see the bats fly out of the cave. In the past, 200,000 or more bats would band together in exodus, swirling in a vortex up and out into the night. Quite a sight, so we’re told. Sadly, the bat population seems to be declining at Carlsbad. Rangers speculate it could be due to the drought, and maybe they’re migrating to water. Anyway, only a few hundred bats exited the cave this evening, a few here, a couple there. Rather unspectacular. Great day, though.