Category Archives: Texas

Rio Grande

While in Big Bend National Park to hike the Window Trail we traveled to see the Rio Grande which separates the United States and Mexico. It seemed somewhat ridicules to be this close to one of the US borders and not take some time to visit it first hand. From a distance there were mountains on the horizon which somewhat matched my expectations of what this area would look like.

The Rio Grande

For whatever reason, whether from photos or things I’ve read, I expected there to be a canyon kind of like the Grand Canyon with a river running through it and on one side would be the United States and the other Mexico. In this particular area that was not really the case. On one side was a desert, relatively flat, and the other was a tall cliff separated by the Rio Grande.

Looking north to Big Bend National Park and the Chisos Mountains

Making our way to the Santa Elena Canyon Trail we discovered that the river bends and enters a canyon with sheer cliffs on either side. Maybe this is why my expectations were of a canyon with the Rio Grande running through it. Even so, I was surprised by how steep these canyon walls are and how small the river is. At least how small it was while we were there. During times with higher rain amounts I imagine this river to swell considerably. While learning more about the Rio Grande we found out that one of the issues with it being a major border was that the river can change course over time from a rising and falling river which also can change the border between Mexico and the United States.

Rio Grande inside the canyon

Shortly after exploring the Rio Grande I realized that this completes our adventures from one end of the United States to the other. We’ve been to the Canadian/United States border after hiking in Isle Royale National Park, the United States/Mexico border while in Big Bend and the East Coast and West Coast. Also we explored Alaska/Canadian border. The only piece left is Hawaii which will be our final trip in 2018.





Playing in Padre

After several days in Big Bend National Park we sped across Texas going from the deserts of Southwestern Texas to the Gulf Coast for our next National Parks Monopoly board destination of Padre Island National Seashore. Fortunately the big spring break crowds were here a couple of weeks earlier leaving quieter beaches for us to explore. There was a brief debate about which is better, rocks to climb or the ocean beaches. It was a short debate with the ocean winning.

A quick walk in the ocean as the sun set behind us

Padre Island is a narrow, long island running along the southeastern portion of Texas providing miles and miles of beautiful sandy beaches to get lost in all day long. Padre Island National Seashore actually has 60 miles of beach that can be driven on if you have the right vehicle. Since we had a regular car we were unable to explore past the first 5 miles of beach which has sand packed hard enough for almost any vehicle to pass over. Beyond this first 5 miles the sand is more loosely packed making it possible to sink in and become stuck which is why 4 wheel drive vehicles are recommended.

Sandy dunes shaped by ocean breezes

In addition to enjoying listening to the waves continually crash against the shore and taking a leisurely stroll through the waves, there is plenty of wildlife to capture your interest for awhile. Some of them required your attention while walking by the water as there could be consequences if you get to close. One of those was the Portuguese Man-o-war’s floating into shore on an occasional wave and landing in the sand until another wave is able to bring it back out to sea. They can sting you even when laying along the beach so watching your step is important. Many of these stranded on the beach were varying shades of blue making a beautiful contrast to the beach.

Portugese Man O War stranded on the beach

Another creature to watch out for near the edge of the water are crabs. Mostly we came across blue legged crabs and if walking close enough, they may pinch you in an attempt to scurry away without being crushed. They were great fun to watch, as long as you saw them before you were too close, while they crawled on the sand scavenging for food. These ranged from almost colorless to an intense blue on their legs giving them their name.

Blue legged crabs near the edge of the water

A very common sighting on the beach are numerous birds scattered everywhere . There are a number of different types from gulls to herons all searching for the next snack in and out of the waves. A great source of entertainment while taking in the rejuvenating rays from the sun on a beautiful Texas afternoon. We were trying to determine what they were eating just inside the wave zone as they appeared to be plentiful. After watching for a short time and exploring the beach we realized what the meals were.

Birds combing the beach in search of their next snack

Small clams of every shade lay just under the sand surface and would quickly emerge as a wave would approach revealing themselves to birds. As we watched and dug more these little sand dwellers were everywhere. When walking along the water’s edge you were walking on thousands of them, usually without ever knowing as they lye just below the surface waiting for the right wave to arrive. It was amazing and a little unnerving to know you were walking on hundreds of them with each step.

Clams rising out of the sand getting ready for the incoming wave

A quick brush of the sand and you would see them burrow to the surface all around you. There were white ones and blue ones, yellow clams and purple clams, some with strips while others were solid in color. Another great source of entertainment while relaxing on the beach. I don’t know what type of wave they were looking for but once the right wave was nearing the beach, thousands of these little clams would appear above the sand as if by magic standing straight up. Once the wave passed they would tip over laying on the beach and after another wave, disappear back into the sand making you wonder if you really saw this spectacle or imagined it.

Thousands of clams lying just under the surface of the sand

All in a days fun along the Padre Island seashore before retreating to find your next meal.

A Blue Heron taking in the sun rising over the ocean



Exploring History–Dealey Plaza

Dealey Plaza is the site of the assassination of John F. Kennedy in Dallas, Texas. Dallas is where we began and ended our Monopoly travels for 2016 and we wanted to spend some time in Dallas taking in a sight or two. When researching things to do and see in Dallas, Dealey Plaza seemed the most intriguing so that is the first thing we headed to see. Our flight landed mid-morning on a sunny, mild Thursday. After collecting our bags and renting a car for the week it was lunch time so we headed to a nearby place to grab a quick bite and then we were off to downtown Dallas.

Dealey Plaza panoramic

Map of the landmarks surrounding Dealey Plaza

Dealey Plaza is much the same as it was in November or 1963 making it easier to imagine the events of the JFK assassination (although some of the skyline has changed). Once parked on this warming spring afternoon, the first stop was the Sixth Floor Museum which was the location Lee Harvey Oswald shot from. Along the way from a nearby parking lot it hits you as you look to right, this is it, this is where President Kennedy was killed. Right there on that street! I’ve been asked a couple of times what the street is like. Many expect it has become a memorial no longer in use except by pedestrians exploring this historical place. To the contrary, it is a busy street much in use as any other street except this one bears an ‘X’ in the middle of it to mark the location of the killing shot.

X marks the spot

Entering the old book depository, which is now a museum, a sense of curiosity and sadness overtakes you. There is a place to purchase tickets and wait in line for your time to ride an elevator to the 6th floor to learn more about the assassination. Be warned, the procedure of getting tickets and entering the waiting line gets a little confusing and seems inefficient but there are staff to direct you around. As the doors open on the 6th floor you enter a dimly lit maze of informational boards, videos, and physical displays all there to provide information leading you to an unfortunate and expected end. There’s a look back at John and Jackie’s up bringing as well as their road to the white house as president and first lady and the policies put forth by JFK.  All of this is providing a better understanding of the potential reason Kennedy was not popular among some groups and why they may have wanted him killed. As you move through the museum, these displays move towards the assassination itself and the timeline of what happened during that short period of time and how that information was broadcast throughout the world. The museum ends with Lee Harvey Oswald being shot as well and the evidence used by the Warren Commission to declare Oswald as working alone and how he assassinated the President. There is a small amount of evidence pointing to the infamous ‘grassy knoll’. Our day in Dallas ended with a drive down Elm Street passing over the ‘X’ in the road to get one final perspective of the assassination of John F. Kennedy.

The grassy knoll in the upper right and triple overpass

You can watch documentaries or movies, read books, and see pictures of Dealey Plaza but it is not the same as being in the area and viewing it with your own eyes. Pictures and videos don’t give you the same sense of perspective. It’s difficult to imagine the skill required to make the shots Lee Harvey Oswald is credited with or where the crowds gathered, how sharp the turn is the motorcade made to go down Elm St until you see it yourself and walk through the depository looking over the plaza. An educational experience for those who are able to do so.