Big Bend and a Texas winter

This became the greatest adventure of all.

I drove 1,930 miles from Rhode Island to Texas in May. Over rolling hills in Virginia, past billboards outside Nashville. It’s not a new story. Austin grew by around four percent in 2017, or 36,690 people, according to city data.

My boyfriend and cat quickly followed, thank heavens. I’d never been in this part of the country before, making every trip an exploration. Austin has an impressive number of opportunities to get outside. We made hikes with friends a part of our weekly routine. We said we would go camping outside the city and kept putting it off. The reasons were legitimate—my cat was sick, the weather was too hot and then the weather was too cold and wet.

Remarkably, to me, the average temperatures in Austin in January range from highs in the 60s to lows in the 40s, according to The Weather Channel. Knowing this and vacationing in the frigid Northeastern U.S. for the holidays, I booked a weekend of camping in Big Bend National Park for my return. A wintry week in Connecticut made camping in just-above freezing seem doable.

Big Bend by Abby Bora

Big Bend National Park is a good seven-hour drive west from the capitol city, but its average temperatures are only a few degrees cooler. However, this particular weekend, the state was experiencing a cold front. As we prepared for our time away, we realized we’d be camping in snowy conditions and booked a “Texas-sized” hotel room in Alpine.

Telling the story to others sounds a bit foolish. My boyfriend and I drove eight hours on a Sunday, woke up early on Monday to spend a few hours at the park before driving right back. All in the ice and fog. Oh, the fog. Alpine seemed a sweet place—with charming storefronts and vibrant murals—but the thick fog enveloping the town gave it a dreary disposition that night.

It had a different effect on the natural landscape. Driving into Big Bend provides miles and miles of views for many of its visitors. While the fog limited the distance we could see, it added an extraterrestrial feel. We were either on Mars, or somewhere in Middle Earth.

Big Bend by Abby Bora

 

Big Bend is larger than the state of Rhode Island, and that’s just the national park—it also lies next to Big Bend Ranch State Park and two protected natural areas in Mexico, according to the National Parks Foundation. Once we entered the park, we had miles to go before reaching the popular Lost Mine Trail.

There were signs warning us of bears and mountain lions. The foliage was frosted with snow. The air got less chilly the higher we climbed, which was unexpected. I am so glad we visited when we did, because how often does someone get to see snow at Big Bend?*

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We couldn’t stay long. There was a long ride home ahead of us and work in the morning. Nevertheless, the opportunity to be among the mountains, desert and small Western towns was unforgettable.

*The answer: once or twice a winter, usually at high elevations, according to the National Parks Service.

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Cedar Park and Leander join area Amazon bid

Published by Community Impact Newspaper on Nov. 20.

“The cities of Cedar Park and Leander are among cities and regions across North America vying for a spot as Amazon.com Inc.’s second headquarters.

On Sept. 7, Amazon announced it was opening a search for a second headquarters to join its Seattle facilities. The company expects to invest over $5 billion in the construction of the expansion, which could generate up to 50,000 jobs, according to Amazon’s website.”

Read more.

Cedar Park files lawsuit against state utility commission over LCRA transmission line route

Published by Community Impact Newspaper on Nov. 10.

“The city of Cedar Park filed a joint lawsuit with landowner group Burleson Ranch against the Public Utility Commission of Texas in October, challenging the commission’s decision for a transmission line to run down Hero Way and Ronald Reagan Boulevard to RM 1431.

The utility commission voted to approve the Lower Colorado River Authority Transmission Services Corporation’s LHO-1 transmission line route from Leander to Round Rock in May. Once complete, the 138-kilovolt lines would connect power substations in Round Rock and Leander to proposed substations in Cedar Park and Leander.”

Read more.

Texas Museum of Science and Technology to open again after remodel

Published by Community Impact Newspaper on Sept. 20.

“After closing for renovations, the Texas Museum of Science and Technology in Cedar Park will reopen with four new or expanded exhibits in September.

The museum’s two permanent exhibits—the planetarium and “Timewalk”—are joined by the traveling display “Drugs: Costs & Consequences” from the Drug Enforcement Administration and another called “Machines in Motion” about Leonardo da Vinci’s inventions.

‘It’s going to be beautiful, functional and way better than it was,’ said Torvald Hessel, founder and chief strategy officer for TXMoST. ‘It’s day-and-night different.'”

Read more.

JetSurf Academy ATX the first of its kind in the US

Published by Community Impact Newspaper on Aug. 20.

“A little over a year ago, Kyle Ray and Jamie Naugle had never heard of JetSurf.

Now they run the first and only certified JetSurf Academy in the U.S.

JetSurf Academy ATX, which opened in May, sells and rents out JetSurf boards—gas-powered personal watercraft that look a bit like a snowboard and give riders an experience similar to surfing. By September the academy will also sell SUPjets, paddleboards powered by electric batteries.”

Read more.

Everything’s bigger in Texas: A lesson in entomology

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Me, marveling at one of Texas’s smaller bugs.

This past Tuesday, I went to a few parks. They’re city parks, manicured nicely, maybe with playscapes. This is important to mention because although I wasn’t in the desert with a cactus and some wild boar, I was about to be schooled in Texas.

I park and my car is dripping fluid. Dripping is an understatement.

I look under the hood and find nothing, but when I drive across the lot it literally leaves a trail of liquid. What the heck!!!!! It’s brand new! My car skills are minimal so I risk it all and decide to bolt home.

I arrive in one piece, only to later learn from a Texan friend that air conditioner condensation is a thing. All was well.

Sort of. In the process, I forgot what else I witnessed that day.

I was walking along and saw a tunnel in the ground. Logically, I thought it must be a snake hole. With similar genius, I stuck my face near the entrance in hopes to see its resident.

River Place bug

The monstrosity.

Imagine my surprise when I came face to face with the largest bug I’ve seen to date. It’s GIGANTIC.

I took some pics, was totally floored… and then the car fluid debacle occurred.

The following day, I find the photo again and my interest resumes. So I start searching the web. I find Lethocerus americanus, the giant water bug–an insect so large it can eat salamanders and fish.

However, the scholars of the internet seem to never have observed the species tunneling in the mud. This is groundbreaking stuff. I’ve potentially discovered a new behavior of the water bug.

Knowing I should at least double check with someone educated about insects before I jump to conclusions, I email an entomologist.

Surprise! It’s a young cicada emerging from its underground lair. They call them ciCAEdas here versus cicahda. And apparently they’re massive.

I’m learning something new every day. That’s it folks, that’s the end, sorry it’s anticlimactic. No giant water bug…. but maybe one day!

Remembering Fort Griswold’s community through gravestones

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The view of the Thames River from present-day Fort Griswold, Groton.

For a fight that quite likely didn’t last more than twenty minutes, the Battle of Groton Heights left an astounding mark on my hometown. The late-Revolutionary War attack by Benedict Arnold on rebel soldiers at Fort Griswold is remembered today through annual reenactments and tours, two battleground museums, an impressive monument and an organization called the Friends of Fort Griswold, which is dedicated to the preservation and memorialization of the battlegrounds.

Local historians have analyzed accounts of the battle written by witnesses and their descendants and examined artifacts left behind by soldiers to determine the facts and implications of the battle. But while the details of the battle have been kept alive, many stories of the men and women affected by the conflict slowly disappeared as time passed. The area surrounding the Thames River—present-day Groton, New London, Old Saybrook, Stonington, Gales Ferry and Ledyard, Connecticut—lost a great number of its able-bodied men to the British. Some neighborhoods lost all of their adult men. I can only imagine how devastating such a tragedy must have been to the colonial community.

I have found that the gravestones of the soldiers offer insight into the community’s emotional reaction to the battle. These headstones, scattered throughout the area’s oldest cemeteries, bear haunting inscriptions both honoring the deceased and cursing the enemy. Raw emotion was preserved and memorialized for generations to come, like in this chilling inscription from the tombstone of soldier Moses Jones:

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The headstone of Moses Jones in Turner Cemetery, Groton.

Will not a day of Rec-
koning come; Does not
 my blood for vengeance
Cry; How will those
Wretches bear their
Doom; Who hath me
Slain most Murderously.

When I first saw epitaphs like these, exploring the graveyards near my parents’ home, I felt as though I had a better understanding of the people who lived there before us. Their stories are hidden in these stones, slowly worn down by the rain, snow and wind. The families that created these headstones wanted their loved ones to be remembered by future generations. For my senior thesis, I took a long look at the gravestones and worked to understand what they meant to the people who created them, drawing on the research of local historians and memorial academics.