East Texas and The Gulf

Blue Bell Ice Cream, Huntsville, Cagle Recreation Area & Lake Conroe, Big Thicket, Sea Rim, McFadden Wildlife Refuge, Houston Space Center


After a great couple weeks in Hill Country and the Austin area, we struck out to East Texas and the area known as the Piney Woods. Our route east took us through Brenham, TX, which rang a bell in my head but I couldn’t figure out why for a little while. Then I saw an advertisement on the side of the road and realized it – home of Blue Bell Creamery! We had Blue Bell distributed along the Front Range back in CO, and it is really delicious ice cream with a distinctive container that stands out anytime you see it. They’re mostly distributed in the South, so we hadn’t had their stuff growing up in Illinois. Anyways, stopped in for a weekday afternoon scoop or two and there was barely anyone there. Also, we didn’t realize how huge their scoops were…and ended up with more than we could eat (you can see our 4 gigantic cups in the picture below). HA! But no worries – just popped it in the Sundancer’s freezer and it still tasted fresh after dinner.

Our first stay in East Texas was at Huntsville State Park on Lake Raven. We got there a bit late and were pretty tired. Had a bit of bad luck that night, too – our heater went out! Luckily, we were able to schedule a service appointment nearby in Huntsville the next morning, but it did get pretty chilly that night and we ended up breaking out the backpacking sleeping bags! Felt like backpacking and was fun to sleep in our sleeping bags on the bed. We slept nice and toasty that night all bundled up. And the next morning, I went for an early walk down by the lake and watched all the morning mist disappear off the water as the sun slowly angled upward.

We also camped at Cagle Recreation Area. Both Cagle and Hunstville State Park are within Sam Houston National Forest. The forest is around 160,000 acres, dominated by longleaf pines like much of the Piney Woods of East Texas. Plus we saw a lot of lichen hanging from pines, which I believe is Spanish moss. So pretty to hike these trails! Reminded me of Savannah, Georgia – Spanish moss makes everything seem mystical and dreamy.

We also were lucky to be there for an absolutely epic sunset over the lake, and walked over to a little beach spot for good viewing. David even set up his camera tripod to get really good sunset photographs, and below are a couple of the best ones.

Another day, we had a warm and clear day to kayak Big Thicket Natural Preserve! This was a blast. We called around to a couple different kayak rentals, and arranged to have the guy meet us at the put-in location. We got to spend the afternoon out on the Neches River a little bit north of Beaumont, and went through these incredible thickets of bald cypress and water tupelo trees. Their root systems actually can grow upwards out of the swamp water and create “knees,” which then can start to grow as another tree! You can see some of the cypress knees in the pictures below – they look like little tree stubs.

Our night at Sea Rim State Park was cloudy and drizzly, so we didn’t get a whole lot of exploration in. Plus a lot of things seemed like they were flooded, and the beach boardwalk hadn’t yet been repaired from hurricane damage the year before. However, what IS really cool about Sea Rim SP is that it’s smack dab on the Gulf, right next to the Louisiana state border. Would be a fun beach walk on a clearer, less soggy beach day!

The Texas Gulf Coast between Galveston and Louisiana is famous for being a BIRDER’S HEAVEN. Many different kinds of coastal birds can be found here at various times of year, so there are a number of wildlife refuges that have been established in the area. We spent an afternoon exploring one of them, McFaddin National Wildlife Refuge, and BOY, did we get to see some BIRDS. By the time we left, David and I were volleying back and forth “Oh, remember that one!” “Yeah, and that one!” “Oh, don’t forget the hidden one!” – neither of us had ever seen so many different species of birds in one day, even at a zoo. It was amazing! We parked the RV next to a stream in McFaddin, turned off the engine, and had lunch while we watched egrets, herons, ospreys, pelicans, cormorants, terns, kites, and MORE just fly around us, land, and go fishing.

Here are some of David’s favorite shots from our day on “The Great Texas Coastal Birding Trail.”

Our awesome birding-afternoon carried its momentum into a fun evening – that same night we had tickets to the Houston Space Center’s seasonal Galaxy Lights exhibit! They decorate everything during the holiday season with all sorts of high-tech lights and fun space-Christmas-advanced-technology themed, and it’s both indoors and outdoors. Aaaaand our evening turned out to be a classic Gulf Coast DOWNPOUR outside, so we just got soaked, laughed, and enjoyed the fun of the exhibits in the warm rain. Rain may make everyone else run inside for cover – but not us ❤

P.S.

Okay, I’m looking at a lot of these Houston Space Center photos for the first time since the night we took them and I’m just gonna come right out and say it….these pictures almost turned out cooler BECAUSE of the rain! The sheen on the sidewalks, the gleam of the light displays, the glows reflecting against the raindrops – LIVING for it.

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