Saturday, October 25, 2008

Houston, Texas

In the Eastern region of Texas is Houston, one of the top ten largest cities in the US. The name Houston comes from Sam Houston. Sam helped win the war of independence of Texas from Mexico. In a decisive battle, General Sam Houston defeated General Antonio López de Santa Ana, the president of Mexico and commander of the army, in a matter of minutes with very few casualties. The legend behind the victory is that the Yellow Rose of Texas, a mulato housekeeper that was seized in Galveston by the Mexican army, had seduced General Santa Anna at the time when General Houston launched his attack. This had the Mexican army unprepared and unorganized to fend off General Houston's attack. Above, I am posed before the monument to Sam Houston.

At one time, in fact in Sam Houston's time, Texas was its own country. It was only with reluctance that Texas joined the US officially as a state. This hesitation can be seen by the fact that Texas is the only state in the US that has a legal right to break the union with the rest of the United States because this was one condition that the Texans demanded before they would join the union.

This is the outside of Museum of Fine Art, Houston where I got to see some great artwork.

I think that I shall never see a poem as lovely as a [painting done in a pointillistic style of a] tree...

This was a beautiful painting of a girl with her younger sibling.

This is in the backyard of the museum. Pretty nifty!

One thing Texas is known for is barbecue. It certainly ranks among the best that I have had. There is hardly a commercial street without a BBQ business. This Pig Stand was one of the more inventively named establishments.

Further East of Houston in the Channelview region is the White Elephant Flea Market. This was about as close as I got to it.

There are times when you realize that zoning laws and Home Owners Associations can be a very good thing. Such is the case for the residential neighborhood with the honor of hosting the Orange Show.

The Orange Show is the product of one man's passion for his favorite fruit; the orange. Over the course of 34 years, mail carrier Jeff McKissack built this monument to oranges out of common building materials and recycled junk.

Unfortunately, the Orange Show was closed for renovations at the time I was there. So he can only imagine the wonders kept within...

Someone realized that the Orange Show neighborhood had a good sense of humor about creative living spaces. So someone decided to build a home out of a recycled rocket!

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Carlsbad Caverns National Park

In the Chihuahuan Desert of the Guadalupe mountains is an amazing spectacle of nature. But you will not see it until you go down. Way down. Down. Way, way down underground. Well, maybe not that far down; the deepest point is only 1037 feet below the surface. However, this underground journey took me into a whole new world. The world of Carlsbad Caverns.

I was a little cold in my shorts and t-shirt, because it was about 56 F (13.3 C) down in the caverns. However, the chill was totally worth it to see the beauty that existed below the desert surface.

Water is a key component to shaping, forming, and carving many natural national treasures, and it was certainly the case here. Scientist theorize that the caverns used to be a reef of an ancient ocean 250 million years ago. The sea dried up and the reef was buried. Roughly 3 million years ago, the Earth's crust started seeing some uplift in that area, exposing the reef rock to erosion. Water seeped down through the limestone. Meanwhile, sulphide-rich water was being squeezed up from oil and gas deposits down below. The two waters mixed chemicals to create sulfuric acid, which dissolved the limestone and opened up much of the cavernous volume over time.

After the caverns opened up and the sulfur-rich waters stopped oozing up from below, the cave was decorated over 500000 years with various limestone, calcite, and aragonite deposits from additional water seeping down from the ground surface up above. Today we see the result of billions and billions of drips in the form of stalactites, stalagmites, soda straws, draperies, flowstone, columns, mineral lily pads, cave pearls, popcorn, helictites, aragonite crystals, and rimstone dams.

Unfortunately, I had to miss one of the premier attractions to this cave; the bat flight. From early spring to October, hundreds of thousands of Mexican Free-tailed bats leave the cave at dusk for their nocturnal insect hunt. Carlsbad Caverns was discovered by US settlers in the 1800's. Prior to the time that the caverns became a national park in 1930, the cave was mined for bat waste, known as guano, for use as fertilizer. With all those bats, you can just imagine that there was a lot of guano!

Multicolor flowstone and stalagmites

One of my favorites; draperies

A big stalagmite and lots of soda straws on the cave roof

Stalactites and stalagmites

This one is called The Rock of Ages

Columns, soda straws, and popcorn, oh my!

The wonders of water, acid, and dissolved stone

More cool draperies and flowstone