Testing the Top Ten Hikes Part Two – The Enchanted Rock

14 05 2009

A couple of weekends ago Chris and I and Chris’s mom decided to head out into the beautiful Texas Hill Country for another of the “Top Ten Hikes” according to Texas Monthly Magazine.  This hike consisted of the Loop Trail around Enchanted Rock and then, of course, heading up to the top of the main dome.  According to Hiking Texas by Laurence Parent, the dome is part of an ancient igneous batholith that covers about 100 square miles of the central mineral region of Texas, and is one of the oldest exposed rocks in North America with an estimated age of one billion years.

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We left our house on a Saturday morning around 7 and made it out to Enchanted Rock State Park by 9.  It had been raining in the days leading up to our hike but the weather held out for us, and even cleared up and got quite warm.  Enchanted Rock is definitely not something you want to do in the middle of the summer — I can’t imagine how hot it must get climbing up the dome in 90+ degrees (which, on the rock, probably feels more like 120!).

I’ve been out to Enchanted Rock twice before — once for another day hike, and once camping out in the primitive sites you have to hike to.  Both times it was cold and rainy.  I was excited to see the area on a warm and clear(ing) day.  Though we missed the peak of wildflower season, there were still some wildflowers here and there, and the moisture on the ground from the rains made for some beautiful shots. 

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Some of the cactus blooms were beginning to open too.

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I’m not even sure what this is, but I thought it was pretty…

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The Loop Trail is an easy hike that loops around the granite dome (around 4 or 4 1/2 miles long).  It follows Sandy Creek for almost a mile and then turns around the dome with small inclines here and there. 

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Once you make it around to the north side of the main dome, you’ll encounter lots of smaller rocks that I think make for some beautiful shots.  

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After we finished the loop, Chris’s mom headed to the shade to rest while Chris and I scaled the main dome.  While the trek up the rock is not long, it is steep, rising abruptly a few hundred feet.  Once at the top, the views are spectacular.

Chris at the top

Chris at the top

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And of course, the obligatory shot of us taking a break after reaching the top…

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What I like about this hike is the Hill Country setting — it’s beautiful out here.  The hike is a good distance — easy enough for a day hike but you can make it more challenging if you want to (by picking up your pace).  It’s hard to beat the views from the top of the dome, and really, the dome itself is really cool.  I also like how close it is to Austin.  If I had a complaint, it might be the crowds.  While we did not pass many people on the Loop Trail, the dome was crowded with all sorts of people…people wearing sandals (with heels!!) or flip flops and jeans who I’m sure must have turned around half-way.  Despite the crowds, though, I like the fact that people are out enjoying Texas parks, so I won’t complain too much about that.

After Chris and I came down from the dome, we headed back towards home — but stopped for lunch at possibly my new favorite burger place, the Alamo Springs Cafe.  This place was about 10 miles down Old San Antonio Road (just on the Austin side of Fredericksburg).  It’s casual, friendly, and the burgers were fantastic.  I had a burger with blue cheese, bacon, and mushrooms, onion rings, and a Fat Tire beer (probably not the most small-town Texas-y beer I could choose, but I think it’s a good beer and they were out of my first choice).  The burger itself was delicious, and they were very generous with the toppings.  The rings were sliced thinly and were fried perfectly with just the right amount of salt and pepper (which probably means they were fairly salty — I do like salt).  Chris had a cheeseburger with jalopeños on a jalopeño bun that had a touch of sweetness to it — according to him it was amazing.  Chris’s mom also got a cheeseburger and homemade chips.  Even the iced tea was great.  Next time I’m driving through Fredericksburg and I’m hungry, I’m definitely making a stop in Alamo Springs.

I only had my iPhone with me at lunch, so the photos are not that great…but I think it gives you a good idea of what I’m talking about.  Yummmm.

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Houston with family

6 04 2009

A few weekends ago Chris and I decided to show my sister, her husband, and their two kids what we like about Houston.  We lived there for many years, and my husband is originally from Houston (mostly — I like to tease him about this but it never gets me very far…he has huge Houston pride).  Several months ago my sister may or may not have said something to the effect of “I like Dallas better than Houston” within earshot of my husband (this is subject to dispute) and at that very moment he formulated plans to take them to Houston and show them what they have been missing.

We thought long and hard about the plans…there is so much to see and do and, more importantly, EAT in Houston!  We did not have much time.  We would also have to tailor this trip for kids — include things everyone in the family would enjoy.  We also wanted to keep costs as low as possible.  We would drive in Saturday morning and return by early afternoon the next day.  We would have to make time to drive up 45 to Chris’s parents house, acclimate the kids to my in-laws, then head back in for dinner and what-not.  Within those restrictions, we saw a lot, and I think we all had a great time.  The weather did not want to cooperate (it rained constantly and was unseasonably cold) but we were able to work that to our advantage…see, it actually rains in Houston.  Here in Austin, at least up until a few weeks ago, we were starting to forget what rain looked like…

Chris and I picked up the crew in my friend Mary’s Honda Pilot (thank you Mary!!) at 6:30 in the morning and hit the road, coffee in hand.  The kids tuned in to The Incredibles in the back-back and the rest of us settled in for the drive.  We made it to our first stop by 9:15 and headed in for a quick, “light” breakfast…

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…at Crescent City Beignets.  To me, one of the great things about Houston is its proximity to New Orleans and its own Cajun culture.  So, we ate a few freshly-fried beignets and drank cafe au lait and we were on our way. 

We headed straight to the Children’s Museum, and on this day the museum was celebrating the grand opening of its expansion with free admission, all kinds of musical and dance performances, and I think the space was now double in size.  There was a lot going, and there were TONS of people, but we got there right when it opened at 10 and managed to handle the crowds without getting separated too many times.  The museum is absolutely fantastic…the kids had a blast, and I really want to take them back on a less-crowded day.  My nephew had a lot of fun navigating the “Powerplay,” which I can only describe as a three-story structure of almost petal-like platforms enclosed by netting.  It’s part maze, part jungle-gym…it’s really cool.  My nephew and Chris went back later and Chris tried it out himself.  They both had a blast.  Here are a few shots from the side…

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We tried all sorts of pulley and lever contraptions, messed around with static electricity, and tried to do the climbing wall but the line was too long.  I don’t think we saw half of everything there, but what we did see was really cool.  We also checked out a few of the performances.  First, we saw the dance of the Lion with Lee’s Golden Dragon (my nephew really thought the dragon was coming after him…and really it kind of was!).  I mean, it was right on top of us.

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Later I enjoyed the dance of the Mixteco Ballet Folklorico with my sister and niece.  I still have not mastered the dancing photography (you may remember this from my Buenos Aires post) but I do kind of like the effect I end up with…

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By lunch time, the museum was really starting to get crowded, plus, we had a tight schedule to adhere to (this was my job — keeping us on schedule), so a little after noon we headed over to Rajin’ Cajun for lunch.  Chris and I used to love coming here for muffalettas and po’ boys…but today, I decided to give the crawfish another thought.  They were never my favorite in town when I lived here, but I have to say…they were pretty tasty, and seeing as how they are really hard to find in Austin, they really hit the spot.  Chris got an oyster po’ boy and onion rings.  I think everyone was very satisfied with lunch.  I took a few shots of the carnage…

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After lunch, we headed over to my favorite museum in town, the Menil Collection.  There are so many reasons I love this museum, from the beautiful building designed by Renzo Piano that nestles so perfectly in the surrounding residential neighborhood of gray and white bungalows, to the grounds where I have spent many a warm afternoon lounging under huge oak trees, to the expansive interior filled with natural light, to the impressive collection of modern and surrealist works (including a huge collection of Magritte’s paintings) as well as antiquities and a large collection of objects from Africa, the Pacific Islands, and the Pacific Northwest.  The kids especially loved all of the masks, tools, accessories, and weapons.  And I don’t think I mentioned another great thing about the Menil — it is free. 

Though we planned to walk over to the Byzantine Fresco Chapel next, the rain forced us to hop back into the car and drive the three or four blocks.  The Byzantine Chapel is part of the Menil Collection, and the way I understand it, these 13th century frescoes were stolen from a chapel in Cyprus in the 1980s.  The thieves broke the frescoes into 38 pieces and attempted to sell them on the black market.  The Menil Foundation in Houston managed to buy all 38 pieces with the knowledge and approval of the church of Cyprus and spent two years restoring them.  Today, they are the only intact Byzantine frescoes in the western hemisphere, and the building that holds them is a simple and fitting spot to admire the masterpieces. 

Next, we drove around River Oaks for a little bit, checking out the huge houses…some are really beautiful.  Others…they’re just huge.  At this point in the day, we are ahead of schedule due to the rain (we had planned on spending an hour or so on the grounds of the Menil, but no such luck).  So…what could we do inside in Houston…hmmm…of course.  The Galleria.  Suffice it to say, we were not the only people who had this idea.  It was packed!  The guys dropped my sister, the kids and me off and set out to find parking.  We headed in and immediately ran in to a fashion show.  After checking that out for a while, we met up with the guys and watched the ice skaters for a while (and my sister and I used this opportunity to leave the kids with the guys while we checked out a few stops).  Finally, it was time to head north.  The kids felt instantly at home with Chris’s parents who were really excited to have kids in the house.  When we left, my mother-in-law was in the midst of a ping pong match with my nephew and my niece was bouncing around watching them. 

Our night began with a late dinner at the best Mexican food restaurant in Houston, in my opinion — the original Ninfa’s on Navigation.  It is so hard telling people that my favorite Mexican food is Ninfa’s, because someone will invariably say “Oh, I’ve been to a Ninfa’s here.”  IT IS NOT THE SAME!!!  It is SO not the same.  Every other Ninfa’s is awful.  But the one on Navigation is where it all began, and it’s fantastic.  It starts when you walk in and right there, two women expertly making tortillas.  There is nothing better than homemade tortillas.  Also, every single time I’ve eaten there, and I’ve eaten there more times than I can possibly remember, I have had fantastic service.  Every time.  And I continue to recognize the same wait staff from years ago when I first ate there.  No matter how busy or big your party, you will be in great hands.  And of course, the food is great.  We started out with the queso fundido con rajas — the server prepares each cheese-filled tortilla tableside with two utensils.  It’s impressive, delicious, and a great way to start.  The margaritas are also a must.  Even the house margaritas.  Delicious.  I also devour my weight in the pickled carrots and chips every time I go.  They are highly addictive.  When I first started eating at Ninfa’s they were always on the table…now, you have to ask for them, but rest assured, they have them.  For the entree, it’s really hard to beat the beef.  We ordered enough beef fajitas for the table and before long we had a platter of beef, onions, peppers, and nopales in the middle of the table and other plates with frijoles borrachos, frijoles refritos, rice, guacamole, pico de gallo, and sour cream scattered about.  I usually ask them to throw in some grilled shrimp as well.  All of this with all of the homemade tortillas you can eat…makes for a great, and extremely reasonably-priced dinner.  I like to go back every time I’m in town.

After dinner we decided to hit up four different bars (thanks to Chris being more than happy shuttling us around)…two of which were old favorites from Chris’s and my days here.  First, we enjoyed a beer at the West Alabama Ice House.  Though it was cold and rainy, we settled up to the bar under the front cover and it wasn’t bad at all.  Chris and I once lived right across the street in the upstairs portion of  a duplex and have fond memories of this place…from the free hot dogs on Fridays (while they lasted) to the late-night blasting of New York, New York!  We also met so many fun characters over there…

Next, we stopped in at Rudyard’s…I always loved that place.  We used to see bands upstairs (especially when the Asylum Street Spankers came to town)…play darts downstairs…and its a great place to eat and drink a pint.  Even though it was a Saturday night we were able to sit right down at a table for a drink (I think more than half of the crowd was crammed into the outdoor smoking area).  Though it has been a few years since I’ve been here, it still seemed like the same great place I used to love.

For our next stop, we wanted to go upscale, so we headed downtown to the State Bar.  Do people not go here anymore?  Is this more of a happy hour spot?  I’m pretty sure we were the only people there.  Nice views, nice interior…but really quiet!  It was midnight by this point, but people go to bars at midnight, don’t they?  We didn’t stay long.  Our last stop was the bar at the Hilton by the Toyota Center.  The Hilton was not there when we lived in Houston, but I have been there before and think the lobby is pretty cool (especially the glass light fixtures).  Once we finished our drink, we headed back home to get a few hours of sleep.

The next morning we picked up breakfast at the Hot Bagel Shop on Shepherd and the bagels are still delicious.  The cream cheeses are delicious.  And, they make these breakfast bagels I absolutely love — bagels filled with eggs and bacon.  YUM.  The plan was to take breakfast over to Hermann Park and hang out for a few hours.  Of course, the weather had another idea.  We were able to eat our bagels at a picnic table, but by the time we made it over to the reflecting pool, the rain was coming down.  We didn’t get to see the Japanese Gardens…and Chris was especially sad he couldn’t show our niece and nephew how to slide/roll down the hill by Miller Outdoor Theater.  Oh well…next time.

Our last planned event also had to be nixed…we were planning on going out to the San Jacinto Monument (which, I hear may be the tallest monument column in the world?).  It is also a very important part of Texas history…but alas, we were a few miles east of Houston on I-10 and the rain was just getting worse.  As a side-note, with all the rain, we were able to show how quickly and easily Houston floods…and how everyone there just deals with it!  It did not seem like a great idea to head out to a low-lying area where we could get stranded, though, so we decided to head back home.  I think everyone was pretty exhausted by the fast-pace of our trip…but really, when you only have less than 36 hours to experience a city with as much as Houston has to offer, you have to keep moving!





The Arts in Fort Worth and Dallas in a Day

13 03 2009

A couple of Saturdays ago, Rob and Amanda came over early with breakfast tacos from Tamale House (on Airport — the BEST breakfast tacos in Austin) and by 7am we were on I-35 heading north, travel mugs filled to the brim.  We found ourselves in Fort Worth around 10am or so and, after navigating around an apparent marathon (i.e. lots of coned-off roads) we pulled into the parking lot of the Modern Art Museum and found ourselves face to face with one of our favorite Richard Serra sculptures — Vortex. 

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The Modern Art Museum itself is modern art — it was designed by Tadao Ando and is a simple structure of concrete, glass, and steel, with lots of natural light.  I love wandering throughout the museum and looking from one room across the pond through another and into yet another.  There were two exhibitions this time — one was a sampling of works from the collection (“The Collection and Then Some”) and the other was a small exhibition of works by Jeff Elrod.  There were some interesting pieces, but I was most interested in seeing how each piece played off the structure of the building.

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I do love Ladder for Booker T. Washington by Martin Puryear…it plays with perspective and you can see it from two different levels.

After walking through the first floor of the museum, we decided to break for lunch at the Café Modern.  Chris and I have always loved this cafe — it is to your right once you enter the building and is situated right on the pond.  While dining you can look out the glass walls, across the pond, and back into the museum itself.  The food is generally terrific and very reasonably priced.  It was here a year or so ago that we discovered the duck pb&j.  We had to order it just because it sounded so strange — and it was absolutely wonderful.  A combination of flavors I had not tasted before.  Unfortunately for us this sandwich was not on the menu the next time we came (they change their menu seasonally), but in talking with the chef I learned this was a Susan Spicer recipe and I have now tracked it down and hope to try to make it myself.  It was so good.  But back to this trip…and lunch.  I ordered the lobster and shrimp macaroni and cheese and a glass of Riesling.  How decadent is that for lunch?  It was very good…the aged Gouda and fontina sauce was very creamy…and the lobster taste really came through.

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Chris had the Asian PB&J — a sandwich of Asian vegetables with plum jelly and a spicy peanut spread served with Szechuan potato chips.  The chips were delicious.  The sandwich was good — but not the most exciting thing we’ve ever tasted.  In some ways it tasted like a spring roll…not a bad thing, I love spring rolls.  I was hoping for a bit more, though.

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After lunch we headed up to the second floor of the museum to wander a bit more.  My favorite area of the second floor is the little sculpture garden…

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Next we jumped in the car and headed East toward Dallas.  Once we got to town we did a quick drive through Dealey Plaza and the grassy knoll and looked at all the people taking pictures of a little x on the ground or looking up towards the School Book Depository trying to figure it all out.  I’ve been to the 6th Floor Museum before and it is really well done — very moving.  If we had had more time we would have gone in, but we were on a tight schedule today.  So after taking a look at the sights from the car we headed over to my favorite museum in Dallas, the Nasher Sculpture Center.  I love this place not only because it is home to another of my favorite Richard Serra sculptures (My Curves Are Not Mad) but also because the sculpture garden out back is beautiful.  The landscaping is beautiful — it almost doesn’t feel like you’re right in downtown Dallas.  On top of that, the collection is great.  I have photographed it many, many times, so this time I focused on subjects I have not photographed as frequently, like elements of the grounds I think are beautiful…

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Or pieces I revisit every time but try to photograph in different ways…

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La Nuit by Aristide Maillol is perhaps my favorite piece there (other than the Serra) and I try to shoot a different angle every time I come…

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And then this guy…La Caresse d’un oiseau (Caress of a Bird) by Joan Miró.  Miró is one of my favorite artists, but for some reason, I cannot look at this and NOT see that wine-holder guy you can buy from the catalogs on airplanes…the one that’s like an Italian waiter made from iron with places to hold wine bottles and glasses.  I’m sorry, Miró…if I had never seen that stupid wine guy think I never would have thought that….

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After the Nasher we headed toward the sculpture garden at the Dallas Museum of Art via the back of the museum where you can find a huge, beautiful mosaic mural by Miguel Covarrubias – Genesis, the Gift of Life.  Here are a few details…

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And then, on the sculpture garden.  The Dallas Museum of Art sculpture garden is also an impressive collection of works, but the grounds have nothing on the Nasher. 

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After walking around the sculpture garden we found ourselves inside the museum and decided to check out the extremely cool exhibit we had been eyeing from outside — Take Your Time by Olafur Eliasson.  The exhibition consisted of large-scale installations of cool light and color environments.  The first piece we experienced was the One Way Colour Tunnel into a room filled withvivid yellow light.  The color tunnel was like walking through stained-glass that changed the further in you walked.  And the yellow room was…kind of insane.  It made the world look black and white, except for anything that was black — which became purple.  We all stared at each other in this room and it was literally like being in black and white world.  It also made our vision ultra-clear, and the guard in the room suggested we look at ourselves in the mirrored exterior of the One Way Colour Tunnel.  That was…eh…perhaps a mistake.  With the ultra-clear vision and all. 

Once we left the museum we took turns changing into fancier duds in the car and enjoyed an early, leisurely dinner at Aló – a Peruvian and Mexican tapas-style restaurant.  The Sips menu is loaded with fantastic-sounding cocktails, and I tried a few.  My first was the jimador margarihna (muddled limes, sugar, citronage, and crushed ice).  Delicious.  Next, I enjoyed the granada (lime, orange, sugar, white wine, and pama liqueur).  Also, delicious.  Third cocktail, the pomosa (cava and pama pomegranate).  Very, delicious.

Ordering about three plates at a time, we devoured a tuna cebiche, sweet plantains and crispy plantains with three different salsas, crispy calamari potato causas, ribeye and wild mushroom gringas (corn tortillas), Peruvian tiraditos (raw tuna), pork carnitas tacos, tempura crispy shrimp tacos, and chaufachino latin0 rice with chicken (perhaps the only real miss of the night — it just tasted like fried rice). 

And after dinner, it was time for the grand finale — the symphony.  The symphony is the original reason we were coming to town.  The night’s performance was entitled To Russia with Love, and featured a young, beautiful pianist, Yuja Wang, performing the Rachmaninoff Piano Concerto No. 3 first.  I was brought to tears…twice.  First, by the beauty of her playing…she moved so easily from soft and gentle to fierce and frenzied.  It blew me away.  The second time I was brought to tears I was just trying to imagine what it must be like to be up there in front of an entire symphony orchestra, with however many people filling the Meyerson, and to be the center of attention.  I played the piano for 12 years growing up and played in quite a few recitals, and I was often a nervous wreck at those things.  I cannot imagine what it must feel like to take the stage, sit down at the grand piano, and nod to the conductor (in this case, guest conductor Arild Remmereit) that you are ready.  Wow.  After Intermission we were treated to a Prokofiev (Symphony No. 7) and Khachaturian (Suite from Spartacus).  Just beautiful.

Once the symphony was over we got back into the car and headed back home.  Roughly 3 1/2 hours later we were back in the comforts of our house and the long DFW arts day had come to an end.





Testing the Top Ten Hikes — East Texas, here we come.

9 02 2009

Chris recently came across an old issue of Texas Monthly magazine that featured an article on the “Top Ten Hikes in Texas.”  Never ones to shy away from ranking our favorite restaurants in a given city, our “top five” albums we’d take with us to a deserted island, or anything else capable of being ranked and, of course, debated, we decided that one of our goals for 2009 would be to do each of these hikes and see what we thought.  After reviewing the list, we decided the Kirby Trail in the Big Thicket National Preserve would be a good one to start with, due mainly to the fact that if we waited until it got any warmer, the mosquitoes would likely be so thick out there they may in fact carry us away.  So, in late January 2009, we loaded up the mule (our Forester) and drove east.

We left Austin around 6:30 or so on a Saturday morning and headed toward Houston, passing straight through along I-10 to where the refineries start popping up all around, on into Beaumont, then turned north along 69 toward Kountze, Texas.  Before this day I had never heard of Kountze, though I am told I have family from the Woodville area, another 30 or so miles to the north.  We arrived in Kountze around 10:30 and, after stopping to fill up with gas, headed straight for the Big Thicket National Preserve.

We stopped first at the visitor’s center — a nice building full of information about the preserve, books and souvenirs, clean restrooms, and friendly staff.  We talked with a ranger about the best places to camp, and he directed us to an area off the Sandhill Loop (part of the trail system in the preserve).  There are no campsites in the preserve, so you just have to go in and register for a back country permit and then head out.  While Chris read about the park, I enjoyed the calm and cool weather from the rocking chairs on the front porch.

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A nice touch.

We then got back into the car and drove another half mile or so down the road to the Kirby Trail trailhead and prepared for the 2.5 mile hike.  The hike is an easy loop that takes you through a dense forest of hardwoods and pines and a fascinating environment of Baldcypress swamps and baygalls.  The trailhead is easy to spot…

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Parts of the trail are like boardwalks over swampy ground.

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This is a Southern Magnolia…I’ve never seen Magnolia trees grow so tall and straight up like these.

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This is a Loblolly Pine, another of the common trees in the preserve.

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Here are a couple of shots of the baygalls we walked past…

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The little stumps poking out of the water are called knees, and are thought to help anchor the Cypress trees.

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We also encountered trees growing in all kinds of shapes and sizes, such as a rhinoceros.

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Or these…

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After we finished the loop, we decided to head back to Kountze for some lunch before heading out with all of our gear.  We went to Caroline’s Quality Bar-b-q, and it was a delight.  The little building is right on 69 and has exactly three tables inside. 

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Caroline took our order at the cash register and we could immediately feel that great East Texas hospitality.  I ordered the three meat plate (brisket, pork ribs, and chicken) and Chris just got the brisket plate.  We sat down at the only empty table and within a few minutes, a different woman brought out two plates and asked which was which…after setting down the brisket plate in front of Chris she looked at me with a bit of disdain and said, “You gonna eat all this?”  I looked at my plate and noticed it was piled high with brisket and ribs (no chicken) and said, I’m gonna try!  She came right back with another plate and said “and who had the chicken?”  I raised my hand and she gave me another look…”you really gonna eat this?”  It was a LOT of meat, plus beans and potato salad.  I really wanted a good sampling of the barbecue, though, so I felt I HAD to order three meats (I had actually tried to get the sausage too, but they were all out).  I knew I had my work cut out for me.  The brisket was my favorite — they smoke their brisket for thirteen hours, and the flavor was deep.  I could cut it with my plastic fork.  They serve their barbecue with a thick, slightly sweet sauce that I enjoyed, though Chris prefers a vinegary sauce to dip the meat in, if any sauce at all.  The ribs were incredibly tender — meat fell right off the bone.  The chicken (I requested dark meat) was juicy and delicious.  I also thought the sides were fantastic (made eating all of the meat all the more difficult).  The beans had a nice sweetness to them, and the potato salad was light and fresh.  Needless to say, though I tried my hardest, I could not finish.  Caroline brought me a box for my leftovers (while there was no way I’d be able to take my leftovers on an overnight hike, I simply could not leave them on the table).  Here are my leftovers (and really, I ate a LOT!  the portions are really big!!).

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After lunch we headed back out to the Kirby Trail, but this time loaded up our packs and instead of looping back around, took a left at a bridge and continued on toward the Sandhill Loop.

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We took the Sandhill Loop and started wandering off the trail somewhere around the first or second “L” looking for a good spot to set up our tent.

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Chris marked the campsite on his GPS device…

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Happy with our choice, I set up our tent and we relaxed with some wine (yes, I backpacked with wine) and enjoyed the weather for a bit.  Dinner came from a bag…a Mountain House vegetable lasagna.  To be honest, we were quite pleased with dinner…it really was not bad at all, and nothing beats a hot dinner when it’s chilly outside.  Once the sun went down completely it got even colder, so we decided to turn in early.  Really early (I’m not even sure if it was 8pm yet).  We stared at the stars from the tent for a bit, then eventually drifted off to sleep.  By 2am, Chris was wide awake.  I suppose we had basically gotten a full night of sleep.  He woke me up and told me he was going to get out, make some coffee, and sit outside for a while.  I was not ready to get up (it was still cold and dark) so I stayed in the tent. 

I heard him rustling around a bit, then I noticed what seemed like a bright flickering light through the tent.  That did not seem right to me, so I called out to Chris and asked if everything was okay.  His response was simple:  “No…I think you should probably get out here.”  I jumped out of my sleeping bag, out of the tent, and into my boots and saw a fire!  Apparently, we had a bit of a burner malfunction, and when he tried to ignite the burner flames shot out of the entire canister (even though it worked just fine for dinner).  The burner fell over on its side as he jumped back to avoid burning his arm, and the fire spread to the leaves, pine needles, sticks, etc., all around…and quickly!  We tried dousing it with what little water we had left but that did nothing.  We threw a pot down on the burner but it did nothing to stop the flames.  I was really surprised at how quickly the fire spread and for a few seconds seriously feared we had started a forest fire (though, to be honest, it was probably only a few feet)!  Chris, thinking quickly, grabbed a big stick and cleared a perimeter around the fire so that it could not spread any further, and it finally began to burn out.  We stood and watched as the flames from the canister got smaller and smaller and smaller.  Once it was out, we looked at each other, then at our watches (it was 2:45 am).  It was the middle of the night, but we were wide awake…out of water…so no coffee…we decided to hike back.  Luckily it was not too difficult finding the trail again, and once on the trail it was an easy hike back.  We were back at the car around 3:15 or so, and back home by 7:45 in the morning.  This really was not how we had envisioned the camping trip to go, but it was still fun and we later got quite a few laughs out of the “incident.” 

Now, back to the top ten list.  The best thing about this hike and the preserve in general was the environment.  The mix of trees and swamp was pretty cool — I’ve never seen anything like it.  The hike itself was very easy, though, and there weren’t any grand vistas.  My biggest complaint, however, was that it did not seem remote enough.  Throughout the night we both woke up off and on due to the sounds of dogs barking, gun shots, and other unidentifiable noises.  We also seemed to be right underneath a flight path.  Civilization felt too close.  The only wildlife we spotted were birds and squirrels.  At night we only heard crickets and deer snorting.  It is, however, a beautiful part of the state, a part I had never seen, and a reminder that the Texas landscape includes so many different environments.  That in and of itself is pretty cool, and one of the reasons I love living here.