Thursday, May 28, 2015

OYSTERFEST EXPEDITION!

I happened to be in the Rockport/Fulton area last March, on my way to attend a week-long Road Scholar program ( www.roadscholar.org) at Mustang Island, on the Texas coast.  The area was buzzing with folks in town for Oysterfest.  This event has been sponsored by the Fulton Volunteer Fire Department and town of Fulton, for over three decades.  As seen in this photo, the Rockport Volunteer Fire Department also had a big presence at the festival.
There were lots of announcements on the area television stations about it being the weekend of the 36th Annual Fulton Oysterfest, so I decided to check it out.  The publicity described the event as a salute to the tasty bi-valve found in local waters.  Although I am not a fan of eating oysters, my culinary training curiosity makes me want to learn more about the cuisine of various regions.  The volunteer firemen set up this tray that showed their most popular menu items for their operation---fried oysters, fried shrimp, and fried potatoes.  I do not recall ever tasting ANYTHING fried, that I did not like!  It's just the consequences of too much fried food that causes problems for me! 

I enjoyed watching the guys behind the fresh oyster bar demonstrate their skill at shucking the oysters.  Although some areas use mariculture techniques to "farm" oysters, and thus increase their harvest, I read that in Texas, oyster beds grow like weeds, so that the Texas Gulf is one of the few places that still harvest wild oysters.  According to the festival website ( www.fultonoysterfest.com ), the Oysterfest officials work with seafood sources along the Texas Gulf Coast to locate the freshest oysters possible, for this event that is always held the first weekend in March.  Oysters are harvested by dredging with a rake, that is pulled behind a boat.  They live in beds on the bottom of the shallows. 

Because of the abundant oyster harvest I observed at the festival, I am using this image as a visual aid for one of my First Place 4 Health ( www.FirstPlace4Health.com ) Bible memory verses about a  "harvest", that says, "Let us not grow weary in doing good, for at the proper time, we will reap a harvest if we do not give up."  Galatians 6:9 .

The eating of raw oysters is considered a health risk, but it has not been outlawed (despite the efforts of some health care policy makers).  Rather, each individual is provided with a warning about the risk of eating raw shellfish, and must make the decision on the spot, before consumption!  Perhaps it is at a time like this that you need to have your physician on "speed dial"!

Judging from the space allocated for the Beer Garden inside the festival tent, adult beverages are very popular during Oysterfest!

Have no fear, however, because a local church vendor booth had plenty of no-alcohol beverages available for purchase!

The Oysterfest is an event that is staged with the help of an army of volunteers.  Many of the local community groups have food vendor booths at the event, so that the visitors can choose a more popular type of ethnic cuisine, if oysters are not one of your favorites.

What festival would be complete without the delicious roasted turkey legs---a great choice for folks who want to skip the fried foods!

I went to the
festival very early in the evening, when it first opened and preparations were still underway to provide seating and dining space for the huge crowds that were expected later.  So far, the record attendance was 35,000 visitors in 2010, for this event held annually on the Fulton waterfront.

Like many festivals of this kind, the food and beverage vendors do not accept cash from customers.  Rather, each customer buys a designated amount of "tickets" at a central booth, and uses these tickets to pay for food and beverages. 

One of the large tents at the festival is full of arts and crafts vendor booths, selling everything imaginable.  This area has a history in the ranching business, so Western decor and clothing was a popular item to offer for sale in the craft booths.

Likewise,  this is a coastal area, so it is not surprising that many of the vendors offered items made with sea shells, and a nautical theme.

Many people come to the area to learn about the wildlife, especially the waterfowl.  I was pleased to see that the Texas Master Naturalist group had a presence at the event, since I am a member of the Arkansas Master Naturalist organization.

All those diuretic-inducing adult beverages mean that folks will need to relieve themselves, so there was an arsenal of portable toilets situated under the palm trees! 

I
had the good fortune to get a room for the weekend at the Sandollar Resort---located right on the water and within walking distance of the festival, even though I did not have advance reservations.  The desk clerk told me she had a cancellation because the weather was not cooperating for those folks who wanted to enjoy the outdoor aspects of Oysterfest. 

One of the amenities of many waterfront resorts is a fishing dock that extends out over the water, and I enjoyed walking out to see what the view was like from the end.

Walking out on the dock gave me a good vantage point to see the waterfront activities of Oysterfest.  I was also fortunate to get to see the fireworks show that is a part of Oysterfest.  It was delightful!

As I returned to my lodging, I saw a bit of blue sky in the dense cloud cover, which made for a pretty photo.   I was giving thanks to God that I was able to get a glimpse into the coastal communities of Fulton and Rockport, Texas.  My visit there gave me "MILES OF SMILES"!!

Sunday, May 24, 2015

VICTORIA EXPEDITION!

Anyone who has done much highway driving in the Southwest knows that you do not have to go to a zoo to see an armadillo.  Rather, they seem to appear every few miles along the highway, laying on their back with their feet stuck up in the air, and dead as a doornail!  Even so, there are still lots of folks who have never seen one and have no idea what these creatures are!  I was made aware of this when I emailed a photo of a "very much alive" armadillo crawling around my front yard, to my son who was living in the northwest USA.  A friend of his from Latvia (formerly Soviet Russia) saw the photo on my son's computer screen, and exclaimed, "What in the world is that creature??!!"  That is when I learned that armadillos may be as much an oddity to foreigners in the U.S.,  as the common Australian kangaroo is to an American visiting "down under" for the first time.  Hence, it is only fitting that the sign for the Victoria Zoological Park ( www.texaszoo.org ) in Victoria, Texas, includes an etching of this curious animal!  The purpose of this zoo is to provide a home to approximately 200 species of animals and plants indigenous to Texas, and exhibiting them in their natural habitats.  The zoo is located in Victoria's 562 acre Riverside Park.

Riverside Park is also the location of one of the prime sites for The Great Texas Coastal Birding Trail (www.tpwd.texas.gov ).  These trails are like a treasure hunt for avid birders, who want to find those special birds that may be missing on their "life list" of bird sitings.

The zoo in Victoria is sponsoring a photo contest for images taken by guests, when visiting the zoo, to be used in their 2016 calendar.  This provides a fun activity for competitive photographers who are motivated by getting one of their prize-winning photographs selected for the annual zoo calendar, which is then sold as a fund-raiser for the zoo .

The zoo also has a gift shop inside this old, restored general store, and it is where you can find out about the children's summer camps, and other family activities the zoo sponsors throughout the year.

The park is called "riverside", because it is adjacent to the Guadalupe River, that runs through it.

The Guadalupe River forms the Victoria Paddling Trail.  This 4.2 mile stretch of Guadalupe River is bordered by scenic soft banks, rather than the limestone bluffs of the Hill Country. You can learn more about this trail, and other attractions in Victoria, Texas, on their website, www.visitvictoriatexas.com  .

The "protrusions" seen in the front of this photo are called cypress "knees", and are formed from the cypress trees growing around this man made pond in Riverside Park. 

The areas surrounding the river in the park are very flat, and not much higher in elevation than the river, so it is not surprising that there are occasional issues with flooding.  On the day I visited in March, 2015, the entire park was open and available for scenic auto drives, hiking, and paddling.  However, on the Memorial Day weekend that I am writing this post, the entire park is closed down, due to extensive flooding of the Guadalupe River!  (The exception is that the PumpHouse Restaurant is still accessible, and open to the public).

This gazebo on a small peninsula in the pond, looks like it would be the perfect place to sit and watch the waterfowl, or daydream of places yet to be visited.


Since I only was able to visit the park once, I do not know if these colorful waterfowl are migratory, or permanent residents. 


Although the population of Victoria was measured at around 87,000 in the 2010 census, I saw more birds than people during my visit to this city, that is located just 30 miles inland from the Gulf of Mexico!

These 250-year-old teak and iron gates mark the entry to the PumpHouse Riverside Restaurant ( www.victoriapumphouse.com ), located within Riverside Park.  The facility consists of a compound of restored historic buildings.  After providing water service to the city of Victoria for over a century, the property was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1986 .  It was also named a Texas Historic Landmark in 2011.  It offers casual outdoor dining on decks overlooking the Guadalupe River, as well as indoor dining.  The original purpose of the Pump House was to provide water for the city of Victoria, and, in an indirect way, it is STILL providing water to residents and visitors to Victoria.  However, now that water is served in sparkling crystal glasses, along with a variety of delicious menu options.  It is a reminder of  the words of Jesus in John 7:37-38 that say, "If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink.  Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him."    This visit to Victoria, along with Jesus' promise of living water, is enough to give me "MILES OF SMILES"!!  Tricia








Saturday, May 23, 2015

PORT LAVACA EXPEDITION!


As you drive into Port Lavaca, Texas,  ( www.portlavaca.org ) one of the first unique structures you see, is this hexagonal-shaped light house (made of cypress), located at the town's community center.  It has been moved from its original location of Half Moon Reef, where it was built in the 1850's, attached to strong iron pilings, to form a three-story lighthouse.  It is said to be the oldest wooden lighthouse remaining on the Texas coast.   Its beacon went out 12 miles, to warn sailors of sandbars and reefs between the open sea and the Texas Gulf Coast.  However, during the Civil War, the light was disabled by Confederate troops, in an attempt to disrupt federal efforts to capture Southern blockade runners.
The lighthouse greeting, is a clue to the importance of boating and fishing, in this haven for the many "Winter Texans" who come here from Canada and colder parts of the USA, to spend October through April.

Since the adjacent lands are "flat as the proverbial pancake", I got the impression that many of these boaters used pedal-power to make their supply runs, as bicycles were prevalent everywhere on the dock!

The calmer waters of the marina are a "must have" for boat moorings, because Port Lavaca holds the record for the highest wind speed ever reached!  During Hurricane Carla in September, 1961, winds were recorded to gust up to 170 mph!  On the day I was there, the weather broadcast said the winds were 55 mph!  As I was filling up my gas tank, the wind actually blew the nozzle out of the tank!  I don't recall ever being outside in that much wind in my entire life!

Although the population of Port Lavaca is listed as around 12,000, it can boast some boutique shopping experiences that compare with towns of a much larger size.  I spent about an hour wandering through this store, as the tremendous variety of merchandise it offered was a visual delight!

The title of this mural is "Main Street on Parade" and alludes to the town's colorful past.  A clue to that past, is in its name, as "La vaca" means "the cow" in Spanish.  At one time, the shipping of cattle, was an important part of this town's economic purpose.  Not only that, Port Lavaca, was the location of shipments of camels, during an "experiment" the U.S. Military authorized,  to test using dromedaries for transport purposes, in their Southwest operations!

The Lavaca Theater is no longer used for current movie releases, but its distinctive sign remains as a landmark on the town's Main Street.

This Confederate Artillery Battery Silhouette, with the Gulf waters in the background, is a reminder that this area was also touched by the conflicts of the Civil War, even though the battles fought here may not be as famous as the ones back East around Gettysburg.  Since I had a great grandfather that died in the Civil War, I am using this image as a visual aid for one of my First Place 4 Health ( www.FirstPlace4Health.com ) memory verses that says, "Do not grieve, for the joy of the LORD is your strength."   (Nehemiah 8:10)

This sturdy bench is bolted onto concrete to withstand the strong winds, and make sure it is available,  for those who want to sit and gaze at the horizon!  It may have been empty when I was there because many of the "Winter Texans" had already left, and the local folks were at work in one of the large manufacturing facilities that are nearby:  Alcoa, Formosa Plastics, and DuPont all have plants in the area. 

There is a very nice Nature Walk beside the water, that provides folks with a level place to do their outdoor exercise strolls.

This board walk enables the visitor to get "up close and personal" with the wildlife of the estuaries, without damaging it from foot traffic.

The covered gazebo on the water's edge would be a welcome repose from the sun, during the hot days of summer.


Lighthouse Beach is a man made beach, and has covered picnic tables, swimming, and shower provisions.  I liked the way the shower nozzles were "camouflaged" adjacent to the artificial palm trees!

The tire tracks on the beach show that no one had used it since it was groomed earlier in the day.  The row of black dots in the middle left of the photo show the beach is being patrolled by platoon of birds---hundreds were all lined up on the fence, as if waiting for a performance to start!

I couldn't resist my urge to start walking towards  these birds to see how close I could get, before they all flew away.  Some of them never did fly away!  I surmised they were more afraid of losing their spot in the line-up, than they were of some lady with a camera!

A new fishing pier was built for Port Lavaca in 2006.  Notice it has lights for night fishermen.  Game fish harvested here include Red Fish, Flounder, Drum, and Speckled Trout.


I was more intrigued by this sailing catamaran that I was by the fishing boats.  Sadly, I never saw anyone take it out during my brief visit to these waters.

Fishing is an important part of the local economy, especially for shrimp and oysters.  This boat was unloading its catch during my visit.  So even though the nickname of the town is "Port of the Cow", I did not see a single cow anywhere, while touring  Port Lavaca!  However, later in my trip to the Texas coast, I was able to enjoy dining on some of their fresh seafood, and it gave me "MILES OF SMILES"!.  Tricia

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

GOLIAD EXPEDITION!

Goliad State Park in south Texas has something for everyone:  History buffs will be intrigued by the Visitor Center, with American Indian and Spanish colonial artifacts, and dioramas that tell their story.  The park's 188-acre area also has camping, picnicking, hiking trails, boating, fishing, and swimming.  Goliad State Park is less than a mile from the small town (population about 2,000) of Goliad, Texas.  The town may be small in population, but it is large in history, as it is listed as one of the oldest towns in Texas!

Goliad State Park is where you will find Mission Espiritu Santo De Zuniga, a reconstructed 1749 church.  Guided tours of the mission are available, which show the church's period furnishings, as well as a workshop that displays period craft materials.  A museum displays exhibits that tell of mission history and daily life of the Spanish missionaries and  Karankawa Indian converts. 

Although there is no charge to check out the Visitor Center, a small fee is in place to guide visitors through the church, which is located a short walk from the Visitor Center (phone 361-645-3405 for updates about current hours of operation). 

At its peak, the mission was headquarters for hundreds of residents, with vast herds of livestock that supplied Texas and Mexico.

The architecture of the Visitor Center reflects that of colonial Spain, and the Spanish-style archway  makes a nice frame for this photo. 

Historical markers emphasize what the Visitor Center, Mission Museum, and textbooks teach about the location.  If you have ever celebrated "Cinco de Mayo", you have a connection with Goliad State Park!  That is because this area was the birthplace of Ignacio Zaragoza, the general in the Mexican army, best known for defeating French forces on May 5, 1862!  Hence, "Cinco de Mayo" is celebrating that victory!  The park also has the ruins of Rosario Mission, which is now an archaeological site. 

Just across the San Antonio River from the mission and Visitor Center, you will find the impressive Presidio La Bahia, which is a fort constructed by the Spanish army.  It was the only Spanish fortress for the entire Gulf Coast area from the mouth of the Rio Grande to the Mississippi River.  Civilian settlements sprang up around the Presidio in the late 1700's. 

Besides being a fortress, there was also a small Catholic chapel within the walls of the Presidio.  Presidio La Bahia is a fort, however, and not a mission.  The chapel (called Our Lady of Loreto Chapel) was erected in the quadrangle for the sole use of the soldiers and Spanish settlers living in the town of La Bahia, surrounding the fort.  It is the oldest building in the compound, in continuous use since the 1700s.    The chapel is still used for services. 

The First Declaration of Independence was signed inside the fort's chapel in 1835.

The chapel is also where General Fannin's men were held during part of their captivity before being massacred.  James Fannin was the commander of La Bahia Presidio.  He and his men were executed by Mexican Soldiers outside the walls of the Presidio, March 27, 1836,  in an event called The Goliad Massacre. 

All these different flags flying at La Bahia attest to the many conflicts that it witnessed over the decades.  Soldiers from Presidio La Bahia assisted the Spanish army fighting the British along the Gulf Coast during the American Revolution.  This action gives Goliad the distinction of being one of the only communities west of the Mississippi River to have participated in the American Revolution!

La Bahia is ranked as the most attractive of the Presidio sites in the U.S.  For all the readers who enjoy eating beef, it is also interesting to note that La Bahia is where the cattle industry of America had its beginnings.  The soldiers of the Presidio presided over vast herds from the nearby missions, and supplied troop escorts for cattle drives to supply other settlements in the Spanish Southwest. 

When I first drove by this location, I had no idea what it was (students from Arkansas are not required to take a course in Texas state history---a fact that astonished my Texas-born-and-bred-and-educated brother-in-law!).  The thing that caught my attention was the architecture, because I noticed immediately it was the same design as the tourism logo for Puerto Rico.  I had purchased a ceramic candle holder with this design when I visited Puerto Rico, so I look at this design element  every day.   The turret along the walls of the fort serve to GUARD it from unwelcome invaders.  Therefore, I am using this image as the visual aid to help me learn one of my First Place 4 Health (  www.FirstPlace4Health.com ) memory verses that says, "And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus."  (Philippians 4:7).   I am so thankful that I turned my car around, and went back to this impressive mountain-top fortress, to learn about its colorful history.  Likewise, if you would like to pay a visit to this area, log on to www.presidiolabahia.org for more information.  I think you will find that, like me, exploring this area will give you "MILES OF SMILES"!  Tricia