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Saturday, February 16, 2008

Day 4: Aransas National Wildlife Refuge

A big visitor's center welcomed all guests. I couldn't wait to get started, after all that I have read and heard about Aransas National Wildlife Refuge. No self-respecting birder goes through life without a pilgrimage to this place.

Admission was only $3 but I couldn’t get a Golden Eagle Pass because the office only accepted cash for the $80 annual pass (an increase of $30 since the last time I bought a pass!) but I calmed down and listened to the ranger tell me of the better hiking trails in the refuge. She knew her stuff about wildlife here.

The park has a 16-mile paved auto route, and on the eastern side, along the ocean, are short hiking trails. The longest, The Heron Flats Trail, is a whopping 1.4 miles long. That was my first trail. I had already walked two miles in Goliad and Refugio combined.

As soon as I got to the trailhead at the overlook, I met three older men from Iowa, Virgil Smith, Marty and Ed. They were out looking at the bay. Two of the men were pointing to the third man to locate the black-and-white bird close to our platform. Virgil, the white-bearded of the three, came over to me and placed his right hand on my left shoulder and asked me “Hon, do you see that black and white bird there? Directly in front of you? See? It just bent down”

I saw something black and white move but couldn’t discern it.
The other man yelled out “It’s a dog! A Black and white dog!”
“What’s that doing out there?” I asked.
“It’s not on the endangered list!” said Marty sarcastically as they took off laughing at their own excitement. This was their first time at Aransas.
I ended up walking with the men the entire trail. Virgil Smith has hiked the Grand Canyon nine times. He travels alone now, as his wife is sick with emphesyma and can’t handle the traveling anymore. He’s in goo shape for his age, and likes to keep active.
Marty asked me if I’ve ridden the RAGBAI bicycle ride across Iowa. I haven’t, I replied, although perhaps someday I will. I have to finish the ride around Tucson with Bill first!

The guys were fun to be with and made the trail more fun. I stayed with Virgil and Marty and Ed were behind at a slower pace. After the hike we hugged and went our separate ways, although I saw them again at the Dagger Point trail, a pretty hike that takes people out to a small point off the shore where large trees lie on the beach. It was low tide, perfect for wildlife and beach shots. I also hiked the Big TreeTrail at the southern-most observation deck, where one can climb stairs to look out over the bay.

It was here, with the help of public binoculars, that I could see Roseate Spoonbills. Herons and egrets were plentiful here, but they are no longer the birds that bring out the “oooohs and aaaahs” of birders; they are so common along the shore.

I saw the guys one more time here, in their rental SUV drinking cheap beer: Lone Star, Miller and Keystone light. The guys were on their way to Corpus Christi. I told them I’d be in Rockport for the night, taking photographs of the piers at night and watching the sun rise.

I drove the auto tour as a finale, but didn’t see too much new other than two armadillos at two separate points scavaging and rooting around along the road. One armadillo sauntered across the road. It was already 5pm when I made my slow drive out of the park, and knew that sunrise wouldn’t be spectacular because of the overcast. I was thus in no hurry to leave the park.

My last view of Austwell, the small seaport town outside the refuge, wasn’t exciting at all. “Building codes strictly enforced” said one sign in town yet I saw the most run-down buildings here yet!

I made it to Rockport after dark. At first I was disappointed because I couldn‘t find the restaurants and drove around looking for them. I stopped at the pier to photograph the boats, took some downtown shots although there wasn’t much of the town per se.

I finally settled for dinner at La Jalipsco, a busy little restaurant. I ordered the special, a chicken enchilada plate for just $4.25. The bottled Corona (2) were $2.75. My grand bill with tip was a mere $13.00. Another great deal! I stayed there for an hour going over my trip notes, but left when one family of two morbidly obese women walked in.

The Sandollar RV Resort Park was a beautiful little park with live oaks shading the lots. It was a quiet, peaceful place for the evening. I can see why people from all over come down to the Texas coast.

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