Thursday, November 28, 2013

To the Southern Tip of Texas

Brownsville and McAllen are known as the southern most cities in Texas. Los Ebanos is actually the furthest and is a small border town between Texas and Mexico. We headed into Los Ebanos to take the hand drawn ferry, the only one of it's kind on the U.S. border. As our luck would have it, we arrived at 3:45PM and the ferry stops at 4PM. Not wanting to get stuck on the wrong side of the border, I snapped some pictures, spoke at length to the border guards and stayed on our side of the Rio Grande....

As we headed towards the border, this fella pulled in front of us. We decided to allow him to go ahead and were content to a very great distance. His cab was packed with televisions an tons of other "stuff". It was hard to see how he could even drive. Scary!

We were amazed at the number of flowers in this cemetery. Almost every gravesite had flowers and it was very well groomed. This was in contrast to the neighboring homes which were extremely run down.

As we approached the ferry landing, this sign caught our eye. It offered free information about the ferry, clean rest rooms and ice cream and candy. I'm pretty sure the store was closed.....see below.

This is the American side of the Rio Grande River. Even though this is a hand drawn ferry, make no mistake, this is a border crossing. The ferry can hold up to three cars at a time. The crossing utilizes the same protocol as any border other crossing, with inspections, dogs and passport requirements.

The ferry is a 44 foot long wooden barge and is pulled across the Rio Grande with ropes attached to a cable system. It is the only ferry in the world between two countries that uses human power.  The ferry is pulled by six very strong men. The toll is 50 cents for walk ons and $2/per vehicle. The men who work the ferry get paid only $1/hour.

Here's the "store" offering ice cream and candy. What do you think? We didn't dare see if it was open or not.

The City of Hildalgo really goes all out in the Celebration of Christmas. They were setting up decorations all around the City offices.

Even "Angry Birds" got into the spirit. Wishing all a Merry Christmas.

The City of Hidalgo boasts the World's Largest Killer Bee. It stands as a reminder of that day in 1990 when the first "Africanized Honey Bee" crossed the border and entered the United States.

These bees are very aggressive and seem to attack the head area which has resulted in the most deaths due to stings. 

The first attack by these bees occurred in 1991 in Brownsville, Texas. The first fatality was reported in 1993 in Harlingen, Texas.

Hildalgo's mayor decided to proclaim Hildalgo the "Killer Bee Capital of the World" and convinced the City to allocate $20,000 towards the construction of the killer bee statue. During the Christmas parade, the bee is removed from it's place in the park and paraded down main street.

How big is this statue? I wasn't able to find any information other than it was commissioned and constructed by an artist from Wisconsin.
 Since I couldn't get the information about the sculpture's size, I used Debi and Jasmine as props.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

South Padre Island, Texas

One of the reasons we wanted to go to the Rio Grande Valley was to visit South Padre Island. There was so much hype, we wanted to visit and see what it had to offer. We were a little disappointed. While it's certainly a beautiful place, we thought it was a bit over rated. We were there on a Friday night and we both felt like there just was no energy. Sure, there are hotels, restaurants and many gift shops but the energy wasn't there. I guess we expected something like downtown Chicago or New Orleans but it just wasn't there. In fairness, I'm sure during the summer and/or Spring Break it's a hopping place. We could see that. The KOA was a nice park but old and certainly not secure. We would probably choose the Isla Blanca Park if we were to stay there....

Enroute to South Padre Island, we spotted Bobz World. Bob has a jungle theme crossed with dinosaurs and sea shells. Pretty weird.

The dinosaurs were lifelike though and well done. This big guy was being harassed by three smaller stegosauruses.

Besides the dinosaurs and the jungle theme, you can see the huge sea shell in the background with these dolphins jumping out of the water.

King Kong kept a close eye on us while we were in the parking lot.

Bobz World, of course, sells souvenirs, t-shirts, shells and other touristy items. But, you had to dodge this awesome shark to get inside.

After scoring some t-shirts, we bid King Kong adieu and headed down toward Port Isabel and South Padre.

Welcome sign to Port Isabel.

This ship with attached mermaid actually is the entrance to a liquor store. Certainly an eye catcher and interesting architecture.

The Port Isabel lighthouse, built in 1852, is still standing today. It was in use until 1905 at which time it was abandoned. It sat empty until 1927 when the Federal Government sold the lighthouse and land to a local citizen. In the 40's a movement was started to save the lighthouse as a historic site. On October 5, 1950 the Texas State Park Board accepted the lighthouse and land as a gift. Restoration began and the lighthouse was opened to the public in 1952.

Along the boardwalk, just east of the lighthouse is a restaurant, bar and gift shop. Although the restaurant sports a pirate theme, the bar features what is claimed to be the "Worlds Largest Fishing Pole".

"Black Jack" keeps watch over the entrance to his galley, saloon and gift shop.

Port Isabel is a working deep water port. Originally used for the exportation of cotton, today it is used primarily to lower transportation cost focusing on offshore oil and gas industries.

We decided to spend some time on the beach and found it pretty empty. While many hotels line the beachfront, we saw several that were boarded up. It's possible they were damaged so severely during the hurricane of 2008 that the cost to make them habitable again was too great.

As tempting as the water was, I decided to forego anything more than wading due to the presence of a large amount of  Portuguese Man O' War  found on the beach.

Here's a Portuguese Man O' War. These creatures are not really jellyfish but float and feed in a similar fashion. The difference between these and the ones we saw at Goose Island, is these guys produce a powerful sting from their tentacles. The large sac you see here can be inflated or deflated depending on it's needs.
The sac inflates to allow it to float on the surface while letting the tentacles to float underneath. The tentacles can grow as long as 33 feet! Any of them release a powerful venom that paralyzes their prey before being brought up to it's body. 

The Man O' War is not a single organism but rather a colonial organism of many small individuals called zooids.

The sting from one of it's many tentacles can be extremely painful so I decided today was not the day for swimming.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Harlingen, Texas

Continuing down the Gulf Coast of Texas, our next stop was Harlingen, Texas. Deep in the Rio Grande Valley, Harlingen is home to many snowbirds from many of the northern states. These  "Winter Texans" come spend the warmer climate of the Rio Grande Valley (RGV) and forego the snow and freezing temperatures of the Northeast. We had never visited this area, so this was a first for us. We selected Tropic Winds RV Resort for our stay. Here's some pictures....

Remembering our troops....Keep them safe!

Highway 35 just outside the City of Harlingen, Texas. This drive was interesting as most of the area is barren desert with some crop activity. However, they have planted many palm trees in the median, probably to give the area a more exotic Polynesian flair.

Here's a sample of the area on both sides of the highway.

You can see some of the palm trees in this picture.

This guy never moved, even though Jasmine wanted to play. Notice his eyes are not closed either. His coloring was certainly different.

In Harlingen there is a museum dedicated to the flag raising at Iwo Jima. As part of the museum, they display tanks, howitzers, cannons and other artillery. The red sign says, "Please do not climb on or fire the artillery". Umm, OK!

Posted here and below is the memorial dedicated to the flag raising.

This monument recreates the photograph taken on February 23, 1945 on Mount Suribachi, Japan.

It dipicts 5 US Marines and one Navy corpsman raising the flag.
Sadly, three of the marines were killed in the line of duty about three days after the picture was taken. 

As the soldiers raised the flag on Mount Suribachi, Japan, a journalist snapped a photograph of the event and sent it back to the States. It became extremely popular during and after the war. Later, it became the only photograph to win the Pulitzer Prize for Photography in the same year as its publication, and came to be regarded in the United States as one of the most significant and recognizable images of the war, and possibly the most reproduced photograph of all time

In 1954, the image was used to sculpt the Marine Corps War Memorial which is located adjacent to Arlington National Cemetery in Washington D.C. This is the original mold for that sculpture.

There are two museums in the area that we decided to visit. San Benito, Texas has a museum as a tribute to Freddy Fender, a country singer who had several gold records. Los Fresnos, Texas has "Little Graceland", a tribute to the King of Rock and Roll, Elvis Presley.

Unfortunately, they both were closed during our visit. Little Graceland appeared to be simply someone's house dedicated by an over the top fan of Elvis.

Next up....South Padre Island

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Corpus Christi, Texas

After leaving Port Aransas behind, we decided to go into Corpus Christi the following day. Literally translated from Latin, Corpus Christi means "Body of Christ". It got it's name from the Spanish Explorer Alverez who "discovered" the bay on the day of the feast of the "Body of Christ".  There were several eclectic and weird things in Corpus Christi so we went in search of them. Here's what we found....

First up was the USS Lexington. This aircraft carrier was active during WWII. Originally named  Cabot, it was changed to honor the original Lexington which was scuttled after suffering major damage during the Battle of the Coral Sea while this ship was in construction.

It is an Essex class carrier, 872 feet in length and built to carry 110 aircraft and 2600 officers and enlisted men and women.

Near the USS Lexington, we spotted this tourist trap selling clothing, beach towels and tattoos. Debi and Jasmine checked out the JAWS!

This was actually the way into the building with the doors about midway through the shark.

Corpus Christi is also home to the Port of Corpus Christi, this country's 5th largest port. It handles over 6,000 vessels and over 80,000 tons of cargo each year. 

Port Corpus Christi operates without receiving any city, county, or state tax dollars.

Corpus Christi skyline as seen from Texas Highway 35.

A closer view of downtown Corpus Christi.

Like McDonald's restaurants nationwide, Whataburger restaurants are popular in the State of Texas. This one in downtown Corpus Christi is their first.

The City of Corpus Christi is protected from the Gulf of Mexico by Padre Island. It does, however surround the Corpus Christi Bay which offers many boating, fishing and water related activities-both commercial and recreational.

This marina, and the one above serve many of the people of Corpus Christi. There are others, of course, but these two are adjacent to the downtown area.

In front of a chuch along the boardwalk, a likeness of Jesus in a boat welcomes anyone who wishes to enter. This statue is made of bronze and is lit at night overlooking the bay harbor.

Looking west from the downtown marina. Notice how groomed the sand is along the boardwalk.

Turning around and looking toward the marina, you'll see empty beaches and blue water.

We spotted this interesting piece of "art" near the downtown area. It's a replica 1953 Chevrolet Corvette made out of cement with two statues, a male and female looking over the car as if to buy it. There is a "For Sale" sign in the window.

The "car" is not really for sale. There was some confusion as the car was originally in front of a car wash and people assumed the two statues were washing it. The woman appears to be looking at it through the windshield while the male is kicking the tires. The For Sale sign was added to clarify the artists intent.
This one was creepy. This huge demon holding a pitchfork overlooks a recycling plant just to the north of town. Originally designed for an amusement ride, it now draws attention to the recycling plant. I think it's interesting to see a demon of this size in a town whose name means the "Body of Christ".