November 30, 2013

11/27/13 - Amistad NRA

Amistad National Recreation Area looks like it's a really interesting place, but we didn't get to see the good parts.  They're only accessible by water.  (We brought bikes, not a boat.)  If we can’t drive or walk, we need more than a paddle.

Amistad means friendship in Spanish.  The lake just outside Del Rio, Texas, was created by Amistad Dam and is operated by both the US and Mexico. On the edge of the Chihuahuan Desert, the lake flooded canyons on the Rio Grande, Pecos and Devils Rivers.  As expected in Texas border country, there’s a big Border Patrol presence.  And since Texas has been in a drought for 3 years, the water level is waaaaay down.
This is why it's called Panther Cave
Since we didn't have a boat, we checked out the Visitor Center to see what we were missing--lots of archaeological sites and some of the coolest rock art in the country.  The one at Panther Cave has a big panel 100’ long with 18’ high panels.  We've seen big panels other places, but haven’t seen any others that big—and we didn't see this one either...

One of the rangers suggested we hike a nearby trail.  He said we’d see deer (and we did—high-tailing it away from us when they heard us clomping through the rocky trail) and listed a bunch of water birds we might see.  Since the trail doesn't go anywhere near the lake anymore, we didn't see the birds.  Well, a few ravens, and something little and brown...
It was a nice little stroll, winding through the prickly pear, blackbrush and mesquite.  This scary looking barrel cactus called “Horse Crippler” was the most interesting part of the hike.
Just so I could get some pictures of the lake, we drove west on US-90 to Governor’s Landing. The railroad bridge is right next to the highway bridge.

Here's a link to a few more pictures:  Amistad NRA

11/18/13 - Attwater Prairie Chicken NWR

George noticed Attwater Prairie Chicken National Wildlife Refuge on the map, near where we were staying near Columbus, TX.  I didn't know what an Attwater Prairie Chicken was, but I liked the name and wanted to go see one.   It wasn't our most successful outing.

More things I didn't know:
I never found out who Attwater is  The Attwater's Prairie Chicken is about the size of, well, a chicken.  As part of their mating ritual, the males inflate their bright orange air sac and emit a booming sound across the prairie grasses to impress the hens.  These poor things are stuck forever in a display case at the Visitor Center, never to boom or be impressed again.
There used to be about a million Attwater Prairie Chickens, but now there are millions of people in this part of Texas, so the birds lost 99% of their habitat for cropland and pastures and other signs of "civilization", like buildings and asphalt.   I'm sure a lot of them were ingested by humans.  After all, what looks like a chicken, is called a chicken, probably tastes like a chicken.  
Prairie Chickens are on the Endangered Species List.  They're so endangered there were only 42 remaining in the whole world by 1996.  Captive Breeding Programs at Texas zoos have helped increase the prairie chicken population to about 250.  Zoos don't always lock 'em up.  Sometimes they hatch and release.

George and I walked the Sycamore Trail, starting behind the Visitor Center.  It's a trail through the prairie and wetlands.  What can I say?  It's a prairie.  We didn't see prairie chickens.  We didn't see anything  interesting except a caterpillar, a trail of leaf-cutter ants and a whole bunch of huge black mosquitoes who left a trail of blood (mine!) on my legs.  

After that we went went on the 5-mile Auto Tour Loop through the refuge.  The brochure says to "use your vehicle as a slow moving blind to see many wildlife species".  We're in Texas--there are deer blinds in every other field, so it's a way to relate to the locals.  George put the truck in gear and just let it idle along the dirt road.  Every time we went across another cattle guard, the road got worse.  We didn't see ANY wildlife species.  (sigh)  No Prairie Chickens, no buffalo, no wildlife species.  
We stopped at the Observation Blind--there we saw an egret, a heron and half a dozen crows fly past.  Whoopie.
Here are more pictures of the wildlife refuge.  Attwater Prairie Chicken NWR

November 29, 2013

11/1/13 - George Bush Presidential Library

Presidential Libraries are a rather unique national monument.  Historically, the ex-President, not the government,  "owned" all the documentation from his term of office.  Now the ex-President is responsible for raising the funds to get the library built and set up to store the stuff, then turns over the running of the place to the government through the National Archives.

Presidential Libraries have personalities as varied as the men they memorialize.  I say that with all the authority of one who has visited 1.1 of them. (Because of the sequester, we were only in the lobby the Clinton Library, so it hardly counts--just enough to give me an impression of what it is.  We did watch the video and see his limo.)
First, you have to get into the right frame of mind.  Whatever your politics, each president is part of the history of the US.  We've seen Civil War battlefields on both sides of the Mason-Dixon Line, and each has a leaning toward the Union or the Confederacy.  You take them as they are, even if you disagree with the viewpoint, it's history and part of the legacy of the country.  So it is with the leaders.

The George Bush Presidential Library and Museum is built on the campus of Texas A&M.  Bush didn't go to school there--he just liked the attitude of the Aggies and the people of that part of Texas.  We've been in Texas long enough to see how excited Texans get about college football, so I think I get it.  You can look across the back lawn and see the stadium.
The interior is a rather clever maze, a guide through George Bush's life and political career.  You learn things you didn't know about him, and remember things you'd heard and forgotten.  It's a lot more personal than just watching the news or reading something in Time magazine.  Then you start thinking about the things that aren't there.  Just ignore the spin and enjoy the tour.
Lobby and store at George Bush Library
Presidential limosine


Bush flew a plane like this in WWII
There are displays about his early life, family, how he met Barbara.  This Studebaker is like the one they owned when they first got married.
In the Oval Office, the docent let us sit at the replica of his desk, showed us the baseball mitt he kept in the drawer, told us interesting anecdotes about what's on display.  She was a kick!  It was worth going to just talk to her.

There's an exhibit with displays of Gifts of State, which didn't photograph well for me except for this Mother of Pearl Inlay box. (The gifts belong to the country--not the President.  I asked.)

The Berlin Wall came down during Bush's administration; this is a chunk of it.  (As a semi-relevant aside, my first husband was in the Army and stationed in Germany.  We went to Berlin, took a bus tour into East Berlin, passing through Checkpoint Charlie.  It was 1969 and scary.)
Graffiti on West Berlin side
This side was facing East Berlin
Outside is a sculpture of stampeding horses, jumping over the fallen wall, symbolic of the end of the Cold War.  When I first saw it, I thought the graffiti was a defacement of this sculpture, but the sculptor replicated them from the wall itself.
The Day The Wall Came Down, A Monument to Freedom
by Veryl Goodnight
Gulf War Situation Room
There are lots of other exhibits:  the Congressional years, Bush as VP, displays about the First Lady.  there are displays the White House Dining Room, Camp David, Desert Storm.
George in the President's Chair
I asked one of the docents about the Library upstairs.  It's not like a public library where you can browse the shelves.  You have to have a specific research reason, fill out forms, get authorization.  She said many of the 44 million documents aren't completely organized and are still stored haphazardly in boxes stacked all over the place.  

Presidential Museums are like many museums.  You can't possibly take it all in on one visit.  Docents help point you to the really interesting parts and often share anecdotes that help you remember what you saw.  They're trained to be non-political, but you're not going to find a Democrat volunteering at Bush's Pesidential Library!

More pictures here:  George Bush Presidential Library