Seeing different wildlife continues to be some of what I enjoy most about traveling to various parts of the country. Florida alone can present unique wildlife encounters from one part of the state to the next. After all, we came across gators, manatees, and bottle-nose dolphins just to name a few. But most recently we've enjoyed, or rather experienced, what Texas has to offer.
East of Dallas - Lake Tawakoni, TX
LJ, Baby A and I are on an evening bike ride along the mostly paved campground roads. The sun is slipping behind the far edge of the lake. An orange glow blankets the wooded paths as the falling sun sends streaks of light between the trees, making things slightly hard to see in the glare - until it's almost too late. I notice a snake on the road a half second before the left wheel of the bike trailer takes off the snake's head. But just in time the snake recoils, barely avoiding a quick and painless death. I pull the bike around to show LJ the snake. We stay about 10 ft back, the snake maybe a foot and a half long itself, and observe. LJ eggs me on in an attempt to get me to agitate the creature into moving.
Throw rocks or a stick, he asks.
I tell him when you encounter wildlife, particularly snakes, you keep your distance and never touch.
"Throw water on it!" is his only response.
"No, you just stay back and can look."
Just then, a family cruises by on their golf cart and offers the typical campground friendly hello. "How are you this evenin'?" the man, about my age, asks while still rolling.
I say good, just checking out this snake. That's enough for him to pull over for a closer look himself, along with a second golf cart coming up from behind joining in on whatever it is we have going on. Just as I'm reminding LJ to stay back and that we don't touch snakes, the man walks right up to the snake and brings his tennis shoe covered foot smoothly down on the snakes head. It seems he is planning on picking it up to transport it off the street and over to the forest.
The second man, from the second golf cart, chimes in. "That there's a copperhead. Just rip its head off. We don't want that 'round here."
So the first man, with his foot securely on the head of the snake, grips the tail end with his bare hand. "Yeah, my brother got bit by one of these. Hand swelled so bad it split open three places. Nasty suckers," he says while getting a better grip.
From his golf cart I hear his wife, while shaking her head back and forth, say, "Bo, you're such an idiot. You're gonna git bit."
Bo, apparently his name, pulls the snakes tail with all his might. It looks like the snake is stretching to twice its original length before springing back. At this point I'm trying to turn my bike and trailer around to get some distance between what I see is a bad situation. Just in case the snake gets lose or is thrown by Bo in some sort of struggle, I'd like to be well clear.
The second man chimes in again. "Just crush its head!"
So Bo, in his tennis shoes, grinds this snakes head into the crumbled asphalt road until there is nothing left of it. LJ and I both look on in horror, wanting to leave but unable to turn away. The gruesome scene has us captivated.
Thanks to Bo, the campground is now safe from this small copperhead. As for my lesson to my son about not touching snakes, Bo may have destroyed that too.
...And Tawakoni offers some excellent bass fishing in the lily pads to boot!
After pulling into our campsite for our first evening, still needing to get the trailer parked and settled in, we come across a visitor. The boys are quite excited. Brynn, on the other hand, is not. A Texas Tarantula has apparently become enamored with our RV "front yard", creeping back and forth between the tires to the front doorway. Maybe he likes the lingering bits of shade as the sun sets? Or maybe LJ is small enough to look like a tasty treat? A second tarantula is spotted near the truck tire. Brynn makes it clear from the get go - if one tarantula is found in the trailer, we're listing it for sale, no exceptions.
One of the campground hosts, when we share of our animal discovery, says, "Oh yeah those spiders love to come out just about this time every evening. They're all over the place! Makes you feel right at home."
She wasn't kidding. Brynn sees another three that evening.
Sweetwater, TX (Stop "A - Day 1") It's hot, dry and very dusty. I'm not exactly looking to go for a nature hike. We've still got to get settled into our campsite and get dinner going anyhow. So we pull into our first spot. A pull-through site, which will make things easy. I go to open up the electrical box and makes sure everything is working properly. Lifting the lid is just enough to cause a wasp nest to drop to the ground, flying insects of pain and misery caught off guard. I run long way around the trailer and jump back in the truck. We'll try the next spot over, I think.
So I venture to the next spot, and carefully open the electrical box. A large and mean looking spider has set up home, web and all, right on top of the 30 amp outlet. Maybe we'll keep looking.
We find a third spot one row over. Wasps. This time I don't even touch the box. I know they're in there.
We pull the trailer back to the spider's hideout. A spider doesn't fly, so I figure I can handle it. He's clearly more scared of me than I am of it, because as I reach the electrical cord up to plug into the box, the spider retreats into the hole for the ground of the 30 amp. Well, this is easy, I think to myself. I plug the the cord in and the spider is never seen again.
Sweetwater is also apparently home to the most millipedes I've ever seen in one place, to very large and very red looking ants that don't so much as make an ant hill, but excavate the earth, and home as well to the usual cottontail rabbits. This place has a strange beauty to it, and certainly feels very wild.
Carlsbad Caverns* ("Stop A - Day 2")
A treat for nature lovers. Our stay is at Brantley Lake State Park, a reservoir in the desert about 45 minutes north of the Caverns, and there is no shortage of wildlife here. We see quails scurrying about as they chatter, doves cooing from our front shade trees, bright yellow bellied Western King birds zipping from limb to limb, a scorpion perched outside the bathhouse, jack rabbits moving about in their strange-for-a-rabbit kind of walk, cottontail rabbits hopping all over, wild looking striped and colorful lizards, and roadrunners frequently spotted running along, not surprisingly, the road. If it counts, we even see a porcupine on the road after it was introduced to the front end of a truck, but still plenty recognizable. We don't catch a glimpse of any mule deer, but we know they're out there too, somewhere. The desert seems to come alive in the evening, transforming from a hot and inhospitable climate into a beautiful wilderness with large skies and endless views.
The Caverns themselves treat us to cave swallows that seem excited to share their home with us human outsiders, swooping, flying and chirping all over the natural cave entrance. Inside the cave the boys learn about cave crickets, and LJ is quickly concerned of the possibility of these crickets being very lonely. And of course we saw bats. Many thousands of Brazilian free-tailed bats, which every evening escape the cool confines of the cave to join in mans' battle to eradicate mosquitoes from the natural world. It was a long wait to see the exodus of flying fur balls, but we enjoyed the experience, particularly after having hiked down the same route they fly out each evening.
We went to the ABQ zoo, but those animals can't be included in our regional wildlife records. What we do see, however, is a horny toad, or horned frog, depending on what part of Texas you hail from, I figure. Like us, it was enjoying the cool climate 9,000' up in the Salida Mountains.
After visiting a small, but lovely zoo in Carlsbad, we learned of the pronghorn. A small, gazelle like creature native to our very own country. And capable of, get this, a speed that rivals the cheetah - running up to 70 mph. And wouldn't luck have it that while driving up a small highway with the Rockies a stones throw to our left is the occasional pronghorn. None outran the Excursion down the highway - probably too hot out - but we saw at least a dozen grazing or relaxing in the cattle pastures. When I was finally able to get AJ to pull away from his Dragons movie and glimpse this creature, he said "Yeah, I see it" and turned back to the zombie screen. There were many occasions where the movie was paused for our children to enjoy the world around them, even if only for 5 minute chunks.