The world’s most beautiful spots

June 16, 2021 • 1:30 pm

I guess I’ve written a post like this before, but like to periodically refresh it. Today I’ll simply list the five places that I consider the most beautiful spots I’ve seen. Most of the pictures I have of them are on 35 mm Kodachrome slides, so I really can’t reproduce my photos here. I will add two of my own for Antarctica.

Click the photos to enlarge them.

1.)  Mount Everest from the Khumbu Valley, particularly from the Thyangboche Monastery. At the monastery one gets a view of not only Everest, but the great wall of Ama Dablam rising up before you. Since there are primitive guest facilities at the monastery, you can watch the Himalayas become gold and purple at sunset, and then reappear in the morning. The view looks something like the photo below. But one can’t convey in a photo how high these mountains really are, rising up to nearly the height of the Sun in the sky:

Source

 2.) Machu Picchu, especially viewed from the overlooking Machu Picchu Mountain.  When I visited decades ago, all one could see was a solid green forest stretching to the horizon, and then these ruins sprouting from a hilltop. It was fantastic, especially seen from above. What a place to build a city!

3) The view of the extinct volcano from high up on Santorini.  Before Santorini became popular and a tourist madhouse, I visited it in 1972 on my way back to mainland Greece from Crete. We stopped for a few days on Santorini and were able to get a room right on the cliffside (the island is the remnants of a huge volcano that blew up, supposedly destroying the Minoan civilization. The main town sits on a vertical cliff that was once the inside of the crater.  The view down toward the still-active area (a few smokeholes on a small island) is fantastic, and to sit on your balcony and watch the sun set over the Aegean Sea is to get as close to paradise as you can on this orb. A view (I bet these hotels are now pretty expensive):

4.) The Taj Mahal, especially during a full moon. Yes, it’s one of the most touristed spots on Earth, but it justly deserves its fame. Just try to go at a time when it’s not crowded (probably almost never) and especially at night during the full moon. Fortunately, we stayed in Agra at such a time, and in full moonlight the great mausoleum turns pearly blue, almost appearing to float above the ground. If you’re in northern India, you must go.

Source

5.) The Antarctic continent. My latest discovery, and there is so much that’s beautiful that I can’t single out one spot. Just go, and go where you can cruise along the Antarctic Peninsula, with icebergs floating by, and see the majestic mountains which are, to steal a Gordon Lightfoot phrase, “too silent to be real.” Here are just two photos I took in the late fall of 2019. I am desperate to return late this year or early next year: keep your fingers crossed for me. I swear I’ll give great lectures to the passengers!

But of course there are also birds:

The point of this post, of course, is not only to cheer myself up (when I’m low I like to remember how lucky I’ve been to see these places), but to ask readers to list the most beautiful places they’ve been. I’d be really curious to hear!

Photos from my past

May 28, 2021 • 3:00 pm

It is the weekend, I’m busy with ducks, and all I can do is put up some photos from my past. Click photos to enlarge them.

Wine tasting with my best friend (now deceased), Kenny King. Denton, Englnad, August, 2008.  And what a lineup of wines: my favorite Rhones, Côte Rôties, all from 2001. Yes, they were drunk a bit young, but they were fantastic.

A tasting of Sauternes the next night.

Jane, Kenny’s wife, put together a great spread to go with the wine:

Sept., 2008, a seafood feast at the Littorina snail meetings (don’t ask how I got there!) in Galicia. The Spanish really know how to have a meeting. These are just the appetizers.

November, 2008; back to Denton for a tasting of white Burgundies. Kenny and Jane were fantastic hosts, and he always pulled out his best bottles for me. He taught me to love wine, and I miss him.

I visited Matthew Cobb in Manchester right after this; here he is looking at a cat I presume to be Ollie, who laid open my nose that night with a deft swipe of his paw.

My last Ph.D. student, the indefatigable Daniel Matute, now a professor at UNC Chapel Hill. January, 2009. He likes to work hard and play hard.

Dick Lewontin, my Ph.D. advisor, lecturing in front of the coelacanth at Harvard’s Museum of Comparative Zoology. It was “DickFest”, in which 200 of his students, postdocs, and associates showed up to celebrate his unwillingness to retire.  His talk was about not putting your name on your students’ papers. And he didn’t miss the metaphor of lecturing in front of a living fossil (preserved in this case in formalin).

A picnic overlooking Panamint Valley on my way to Death Valley for fly work, September, 2009. Over the mountains lies Death Valley—and flies!

Me at Artist’s Drive, Death Valley. And yes, if you put out banana baits, you’ll attract flies at a vegetation-free place like this:

At this viewpoint, the entire length of Death Valley is laid out before you. Note the white salt pans; there are also flies in those godforsaken spots.

And on to the mist forest, Guatemala, October, 2009. I saw a quetzal in this forest. More to come. . . .

 

Readers’ wildlife photos

May 21, 2021 • 8:00 am

Here are some travel photos by Joe Dickinson. You can enlarge them by clicking on them, and Joe’s captions are indented.

Here is a second set of my favorite photos.

This is a diverse collection of cacti in Baja California.  I can’t identify the species.

This is a campsite in Nine Mile Canyon, Utah, with my wife and our dog, Ruby.  We purchased the camper van when I retired in 2002 and passed it along to her brother-in-law just a few months ago.

Oregon coast near Canon Beach:

The Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles:

Our Granddaughter, Erin, on Hilton Head Island, South Carolina.  I always imagine her saying “I hereby claim this land in the name of…”  We just attended her high school graduation.  Time flies.

My wife and I on the stairs down to Point Reyes Light.

Kolob Canyon in the redrock area of southern Utah, winter.

Multnomah Falls along the Oregon side of the Columbia Gorge.  We plan to cruise that canyon in a few months.

A personal indulgence if I may.  I am an amateur horn player and had just received a replica of an early 19th century horn of the type that Mozart and Beethoven wrote for, pictured with some typical music written for horns in that style.  The smaller circle is one of a set of interchangeable “crooks” that put the horn into different keys.

Another shot along the Oregon coast, near Coos Bay, I think.

Our dog, Ruby, in deep snow at a cabin we had in the Wasatch mountains near Salt Lake City.  She had, shall we say, an unfortunate affinity for snow.

Finally, a view from Zabriskie Point in Death Valley. [JAC: I spent a lot of time in this locality while collecting and releasing flies in California, and there’s a movie called “Zabriskie Point” filmed by Antonioni in 1969. It’s not a very good movie.]

Readers’ wildlife photos

May 19, 2021 • 8:00 am

Today’s photos come from reader Richard Bond, and the set is called “Tree Roots.” Richard’s captions are indented, and you can enlarge his photos by clicking on them.

Two years ago I was on a guided tour in Cambodia. Inevitably the tour concentrated on temples and museums. After three days in the Angkor Wat complex, I was suffering from temple overdose and I started to take a broader interest in the sites, which were previously overrun with forest that had been only partially cleared.

The first thing to catch my eye was a lone tree (photo #1); from where its greenery remained, I assume that it was an example of a tree that normally forms the forest canopy.

The second photo shows a termite nest using a ruined temple (not part of Angkor Wat) as a foundation.

The next seven photos show what really piqued my interest, at the Ta Prohm temple: trees self-seeded on top of the buildings have spectacular roots that are finding their way to ground level. On checking the spelling of this temple, I was initially discouraged to find that the internet is hoachin’ with such photos, but I suppose that that is true of many of your readers’ subjects. However, some of my photos include people, giving an idea of scale. I was unable to identify the tree species at the time, but the Wikipedia entry on Ta Prohm gives some guidance.

In any case there is a sting in the tail. Ta Prohm is infamous for a carving that creationists claim is a stegosaurus, “proving” that dinosaurs lived with human beings, There are several things wrong with that (see next to last photo): the “plates” are the wrong shape, and in only a single row; the head is far too large and on too short a neck; the relative proportion of the legs is wrong; and there is no sign of the thagomizer. The clincher, if any were needed, comes from viewing the carving obliquely.

The last photo (which could have used more depth of focus) clearly shows that the “plates” are not in the same plane as the centre of the creature, as defined by its tail. Almost certainly, the carving is of a small animal against the background of a flower. Some sort of chameleon has been suggested. This idea is supported by what appears to be the weathered remains of a neck frill, which is much more easily seen when one is actually there, as opposed to in a photo.

Readers’ wildlife photos

May 12, 2021 • 8:00 am

Today we have a set from James Blilie, or rather a set of photos taken by his father in East Asia. James’s captions and introduction are indented, and you can enlarge the photos by clicking on them.

Here’s another batch of my Dad’s photos from Japan, for your consideration. You previously posted his photos here and here.

These are more street photos my Dad (James L. Blilie, 1923-2010) took in Japan in 1952 and 1953.  All are scans of his B&W negatives.  These are mainly shot on Kodak Super-XX film.  I spent many evenings in February and March this winter scanning in all his negatives from this tour of duty in Japan (several hundred).  (Thousands more to go from elsewhere!)

My Dad served in the US Army Air Force in WWII, flying a full tour of combat missions (35 when he was in) in the 8th Air Force over Germany and occupied France.  When the Korean war broke out, he was called up in 1950 or 1951.  Since he’d done his full combat duty, he was assigned to Military Air Transport, where he continued to fly as a navigator on cargo airplanes.  He was mainly based in Tachikawa Air Base in Japan; but also flew frequently into Clark Field near Manila in the Philippines, Taipei, and Taegu and other fields in Korea:  The work involved supplying US forces in Korea.

When he was not on duty, he wandered the areas around the air bases.  These photos are ones that he took around Tachikawa, Japan.

I have scanned his negatives, cropped the images, adjusted exposure and contrast, occasionally spotted out a distracting element, and spotted out the dust (some of my dust-spotting is sub-optimal).  My Dad’s equipment:  A Rolleiflex (twin-lens reflex camera, Schneider lenses), a Leica IIIf, and a compatible Canon III rangefinder.  I think these were among the first 35mm cameras to use interchangeable lenses and were the high-tech cameras of the time.  My copies of his cameras (the Rolleiflex is actually his original camera, he gave it to me in the 1980s) can be seen here.  (L to R:  Rolleiflex, Argus C-3, Leica iiif, Canon iii)

As my Dad noted:  “Japan has changed greatly since 1952-53.  These photographs represent an era that has passed, as I have been told by various people from Japan. I think this makes the pictures more interesting and valuable.”

Stevedores unloading bulky cargo at the docks in Tokyo:

Woman at Nikko, following a trail lined by funeral markers:

View from the window of a guest house where my Dad stayed in Kawaguchi-Ko.  I love the details of the shutters (if that’s what they are, maybe just decorative framing).  You can see my Dad reflected in the glass at the left.

Portrait of a young man (I wish my Dad had written his name down!; I can find nothing) holding the wooden model C-54 airplane he was building for my Dad.  He built 3 airplane models for my Dad: the C-54, a C-97, and a B-24.  My Dad flew these types often (the B-24 during WWII).  We still have these models.  They are beautiful.

The remainder are shots of people from around Tachikawa City, Japan.  No further details are provided in his notes.

Finally, another photo of the guy who took these photos.  My Dad, at Taegu, Korea.

Readers’ wildlife photos

May 6, 2021 • 8:00 am

Today we have more  travel photos from Anne-Marie Cournoyer of Montreal, who guided treks all over the world. Her captions are indented, and you can enlarge her photos by clicking on them.

Euskaraz badaizu? Do you speak basque?

Souvenirs from hiking trips I guided in 2004.

I visited the « pays Basque»  a few times, and remember it as always green. Guess why! One must not forget to carry an umbrella!

When I was scouting in May, the skies were mostly clear. On the other hand, September was more moody and gray, creating a mysterious ambiance that delighted my clients hiking under the rain.

The Basque country is situated in the western Pyrenees, in adjacent parts of Southwestern France and Northern Spain. Both sides have been sharing the same language, culture and traditions for centuries.

The Basque language might be one of the oldest language spoken in Europe; it has nothing in common with French and Spanish

Meeting a Pottok on La Rhune, a mountain tied to Basque mythologies. The Pottoks are semi-wild ponies roaming the Pyrenean pastures. Notice the gentleness of my client: presenting himself and letting the horse decide whether or not to make contact.  One should never impose on a horse. A true relationship emerges from a dialogue, not a monologue.

Rain is in the air: a typical old Basque house.

 

Walking on the GR10 (hiking route) toward Ainhoa. GR is an abbreviation for «  Grande Randonnée » which means « long distance hike » . This hiking trail runs the length of the Pyrenees, parallel to the Spanish border.

The red and white lines found along the trail signal that we are on a GR route and the direction to follow.  The 2 other signs refer to the Camino de Santiago Compostella road.

«  Les Aldudes »  is a French village and a valley situated in Spain. The region’s pastures are administrated by France, which is paying a rent to Spain. Every year, at the end of May, the transhumance begins.

 

Cattle are marked with a red iron before being led to high pastures for the summer.

 

Crossing the Pyrenees from St-Jean-Pied de Port to Roncesvalles, one of the most beautiful hikes in the Basque Country.

 

Entering Spain on the Camino Frances toward Santiago de Compostella.  I took the next two pictures on the way down. Same hour of day, very different weather.

Entering Spain on the Camino Frances toward Santiago de Compostella.

Readers’ wildlife photos

April 14, 2021 • 8:00 am

Send in your photos, please!

Today we have a set of swell travel photos from Joe Routon, showingw a place you’ve heard a lot about lately. Joe’s captions are indented, and you can enlarge his photos by clicking on them:

One of my favorite countries for photography is Myanmar, so it’s heartbreaking to hear about the country’s spiraling into chaos, with the military killing so many protesters.

My photos show some of the country’s beauty and its people in better times.

Bagan, with its collection of more than 3,000 temples, pagodas, and stupas, is the number one tourist attraction in Myanmar. Most of the structures were built between 1057 and 1287.

Public transportation in Myanmar is not for the faint of heart.

Ox carts carrying families are a common sight. They often travel in caravans. The people are very friendly, and most of them enjoy being photographed.
This is one of my street portraits in Myanmar.

Here’s a young sculptor carving a statue of Buddha.

Burmese shopping cart.

This lady works in the rice fields. The white paste that you often see on the faces of women in Myanmar is thanaka, made from the bark of the thanaka tree. In addition to serving as a cosmetic, it helps protect the skin.

Readers’ wildlife photos

April 12, 2021 • 8:00 am

These aren’t really wildlife, but these photos of old Antarctic expedition huts are of immense interest, at least to me. The photographer is Michael Hannah, a paleontologist at the University of Victoria at Wellington, and you can enlarge his photos by clicking on them. Mike’s captions are indented.

Here are some pictures of the “heroic era” huts on Ross Island, Antarctica along with some comments. I’ve included a couple of Ponting’s original photos. [Herbert Ponting, the photographer on Scott’s Terra Nova expedition in 1910-1913.]

It was always thrilling to work in Antarctica, where over five drilling seasons I was involved in a lot of amazing science. But one of my proudest achievements was to be made an official guide to the historic huts on Ross Island. In the end I never guided anyone through them – but the appointment is listed on my CV!

There are three huts in the vicinity of McMurdo Station and Scott Base. The oldest dates back to Captain Scott’s first expedition (1901 – 1904). It was built at Hut Point, now just across the way from McMurdo Station.

This wasn’t a very comfortable hut. Designed in Australia, it had wide verandas all around to keep the sun off and was poorly insulated and as a result it was cold and miserable – the expedition never used it as accommodation. They stayed on their ship Discovery which was frozen in nearby.

 

The hut was prefabricated and you can still see the code marks used to match up the various pieces.

There is not a lot to see inside – which is not the case with the next two huts.

 

Shackleton’s hut at Cape Royds dates from his first Antarctic expedition (1907 – 1909). This small hut is probably my favourite – it is preserved almost exactly as it was when the expedition left it.

This visit there showed lots of snow blown against the hut

Under that snow is the jerry-built garage and a pile of junk. Conservators have argued about what is junk and what should be preserved! On a later visit it looked like this:

Going inside is like stepping back in  time – clichéd I know, but true. Unfortunately, I made a mistake with my camera and my pictures are pretty rubbish. Here are a few of my better ones:

On of the beds had a headboard constructed of old packing cases -which carry Shackleton’s signature – this image is not upside down.

The Cape Royds hut is very close to the world’s most southern rookery of Adele penguins – and i was lucky enough to be there while they were nesting.

For an insight into the appalling sex life of the Adele Penguins, you should look up the publication by George Murray Levick, a scientist with the 1910-13 Scott Antarctic Expedition. The publication was so scandalous it was never publicly released at the time. [JAC: I did post on Levick a while back.]

Of course the most famous hut on Ross Island is the one built by Scott for his 1910-1913 expedition. The hut was also used by Shackleton’s Ross Sea party who were there to support his attempt to cross the continent in 1914-1917.  So the hut when I saw it was as the Ross sea party left it – not Scott. However, since then the Antarctic Heritage Trust who look after all these historic sites have restored it to as it was in Scott’s day. Part of this was the reconstruction of wall made of packing cases that Scott had originally put up to separate the officers from the men.

This was a much more successful hut. Well insulated and warm. The interior contains relics of both Scott’s expedition and Shackleton’s Ross Sea party.  The hut is dominated by the large mess table:

The table was made famous in this photo by Scott’s photographer Herbert Ponting. I think this is Scott’s party celebrating Christmas dinner around the table.

This set of bunks was known as “the tenements”:

This is Ponting’s picture of the tenements.  The people I recognise are (from left to right) Apsley Cherry-Garrard, (author of The Worst Journey in the world), “Birdy” Bowers and Captain Titus Oates, both of whom died along with Scott on the return Journey from the pole.

Ponting’s darkroom is still there.

Tucked away next to one of the bunks is this pencilled note:

It was written by a member of the Ross Sea Party – W. Richards (I know nothing about him). The top names on the list are (Victor) Hayward – spelt wrongly here, (Aeneas) Mack(intosh) and (Arnold Spencer-) Smith, all of whom died during the expedition. The final entry – Ship (?) refers to the ship that transported them to Antarctica – the Aurora. It was blown out to sea before they had unloaded their supplies and couldn’t make it back leaving the entire party short of supplies. They didn’t know what happened to it so they were unsure if it would be back to pick them up.

Texas, Day 10: Lagrange to Austin via Lockhart

April 8, 2021 • 12:00 pm

Yes, today is my last half-day in Texas, as I’m flying home around noon from Austin. But I didn’t leave without one more visit to a BBQ joint. Yesterday I decided to go back to Black’s (homage to Amy Winehouse) in Lockhart, as I hadn’t tried their famous Giant Beef Ribs, and it was only a half-hour drive to the Austin Airport, near where I stayed last night.

The drive from La Grange to Lockhart was lovely, going mostly on small roads through tiny towns—just the kind of drive I like. I’ve managed to almost completely avoid the Interstate Highway system here, though Texas state roads can also be large and soulless.

When I saw a bunch of cows huddled around a giant wooden cross, I knew I had to stop. How often does one see good Christian beeves?

I stopped and communed with the cows for a while. They were much tamer than most of the cows I’ve encountered, which tend to move away from you. One even came up to me and thrust its muzzle against the fence, demanding a petting:

This cow was really demanding, so I had to pet and scratch its head for a while:

On to Black’s, where my heart was set on a giant beef rib. I haven’t had too many ribs this trip, and Black’s serves the Mother of All Ribs. You’ll see what I mean below.

The unprepossessing entrance with a GIANT BEEF RIBS! sign:

The line at 11:15 (Black’s opens at 10 a.m.) Ten minutes later it was out the door.

As you wait for your ‘cue, salivating over the smells from the pit, you pass a picture of one of the Black family with LBJ, who used to throw BBQs, complete with a chuck wagon, for dignitaries visiting the Western White House.

These, I guess, are the owners themselves in days of yore:

The dining room (there are two), full of happy people. How can you be glum when eating BBQ?

The menu. You have to choose quickly. The giant beef ribs aren’t cheap—$18.99 per pound—but I was going to get one come hell or high water.

You start by ordering the sides (usually the meat order is first), and then go one-on-one with the Meat Man, who cuts and weighs your BBQ:

My plate: a giant beef rib with my usual sides: potato salad and pinto beans. There were also gratis onions and pickles, and I purchased one of their homemade jalapeño corn muffins. I got a small container of sauce, but used it for only one dip. Texas BBQ is invariably degraded by sauce—except at the City Market in Luling, which makes a magic elixir that really enhances the meat.

That rib weighed well over a pound, but I was hungry. Here’s a side view with my finger for scale. It’s like a huge gob of brisket on a stick!

And praise me, people, for I ate well and finished the entire plate except for some big pieces of fat on the rib:

And that, ladies and gentlemen, brothers and sisters, comrades and friends, concludes my BBQ tour of Texas. Here’s a list of my bests for foods (and remember, I had but one visit to every place but Black’s):

Best brisket: Louis Mueller, Taylor

Best brisket with sauce: The City Market, Luling

Best beef rib: Black’s, Lockhart

Best sausages: Louis Mueller, Taylor

Best BBQ pork chop:  Cooper’s, Llano

Best breakfast: Migas at The Monument Cafe, Georgetown

Best pie: Chocolate cream pie with pecan crust and a thick topping of whipped cream, The Monument Cafe, Georgetown

Best coleslaw: Louis Mueller, Taylor (it was really fresh and had some spice to it)

Best local ambiance: Peter’s BBQ, Ellinger

Best chicken-fried steak: (not this trip, but overall): Hoover’s, Austin

Coyne’s Blue Ribbon for BBQ: Louis Mueller, Taylor

Remember: this represents only ten days of eating. Texas is big and there must be thousands of BBQ joints here. I have not yet begun to eat.

Texas, Day 9: Around La Grange

April 7, 2021 • 12:30 pm

I’ve spent two nights in La Grange, Texas, a small town (population about 4,600) near the Colorado River. I’d hoped to go to a well known (non-BBQ) restaurant in nearby Round Top, but it’s open only from Thursday-Sunday, as are many of the other recommended places around here, including BBQ joints. However, I saved the day by finding a very good local BBQ place out in the sticks, and today I’ll head back to Lockhart to either try another BBQ place or (as Jen Psaki says), “circle around” and return to Black’s BBQ, the site of my first meal on this trip.

After the trip is over, I’ll make a list of the best places I’ve been, and which places are best for which items, including side dishes. But be aware that I’ve had only ten days of culinary fieldwork in Texas, and the state is very large.

Back to La Grange. Google says that the town is famous for two things:

La Grange may be best known for two things: being the home of the Chicken Ranch, the inspiration for The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, and the subject of a classic ZZ Top song. The town began as a small fort built in 1826 to protect settlers in the area from Indian attacks.

For the first time I had a bit of breakfast, for I woke up at 5 a.m. and wasn’t going to eat for at least six hours. I headed two blocks north to a famous food emporium in town, Weikel’s Bakery, which specializes in one thing: kolache.  These are a sweet bun heavily laden with fruit (not really jam, as it’s very thick—more like thick preserves. There were many kinds on offer (see below), but I was abstemious and chose only one type: blueberry. I knew I’d be returning later in the day.

It was absolutely spectacular, laden with full-flavored fruit. With it I had a large Colombian coffee, and that was all I needed to hold me until lunch.

After a bout of feverish restaurant-Googling last night, and having gone through several places, all of which were closed until Thursday, I found one that had good ratings, and was only 15 miles away. It was Peters BBQ in Ellinger, Texas, right on route 71. The ratings were good, and so the laws of physics sent me there.

And here ’tis, as they say. Note that, at about 11:15 a.m., the parking lot was already crowded and most of the vehicles were pickup trucks. Both of these are very good signs. Note that the guy is wearing a mask.

This was the most “authentic” BBQ I’ve been to—not in terms of authenticity of the food, but because it was truly local. Everyone there seemed to know everyone else, and all spoke with a heavy Texas accent. I was the only Yankee, but everyone was super nice to me.

As with most such places, you go to the meat counter first, order what you want (including sides, which are dished out by a nice lady from a steam table in the next room), and pay. Sweet and unsweetened ice tea are available ad lib in the dining room.

The locals (a lot of older people) were enjoying their lunch. Many got BBQ to go, as well. It’s cattle country here, and some of these folks may be ranchers or workers on a ranch.

My plate is below. I had the lunch special: two meats, two sides, free bread, jalapeños pickles and onions,along with tea and BBQ sauce (to be used only sparingly) on the side. My meats were brisket (of course) and pork ribs, and the sides were, as usual, pinto beans and potato salad. (There was no cole slaw, which also counts as a vegetable.)

I was lucky to find the place, as the food was very good. The pork ribs were tender and meaty, and the brisket, pictured below, while not the best I’ve had, was better than at other “famous” places I’ve eaten, like Cooper’s or the Southside Market. (Again, there can be brisket-to-brisket or day-to-day variation.) Here is “juicy” (i.e., fatty) brisket, and by now you should know to look for the outer char, the red “smoke layer”, and a ribbon of fat.

Yum! I was plenty full, believe you me, and it was about $15.

All over Texas I’ve been seeing signs with just a picture of a beaver wearing a hat. I guess the Texans know what it means, and I found out yesterday that it’s a chain called Buc-ee’s, which has 39 locations in Texas, Georgia, Alabama, and Florida. They are convenience stores and gas stations that also sell food (see below). I wouldn’t eat there, though occasionally, as with Weikel’s Bakery, a gas station can have great food.

As I drove around the area, I saw a bunch of cars pulled off onto the shoulder of Route 71, and of course I stopped to see what was going on. Below the road was a sunken field, glorious with blooming Texas bluebonnets (Lupinus texensis), the state flower. People were luxuriating in the flowers, taking selfies, and even having picnics. I’m told that entire hillsides can be in bloom like this, with many different flowers, but this is the only mass bloom I saw:

What a lovely sight to see, especially with a belly full o’ BBQ:

x

Bluebonnets and Texas Indian Paintbrush (Castilleja indivisa).

An unflattering selfie. I need a haircut and am unshaven, but so be it.

A few miles down the road, I pulled over because I saw a field of Texas longhorn cattle, the official State Large Mammal. (The Official Small Mammal is the armadillo, and the Official Flying Mammal is the Mexican free-tailed bat.) Look at those horns! They have a cool history; as Wikipedia notes:

The Texas Longhorn is a breed of cattle known for its characteristic horns, which can extend to over 100 inches (2.54 m) tip to tip for cows and bulls, with the biggest-horned steer measuring 127.4 inches (3.23 m) tip to tip. They are descendants of the first cattle introduced in the New World, brought by explorer Christopher Columbus and the Spanish colonists.

Descended from cattle that thrived in arid parts of Southern Iberia, these cattle have been bred for a high drought-stress tolerance. Texas Longhorns are known for their diverse coloring, and can be any color or mix of colors, but coloration mixes of dark red and white are the most dominant.

Here’s a group (I can’t tell if the adults are male or female):

As the article notes, there’s substantial variation in color among individuals:

Adult and adult in statu nascendi:

A longhorn calf with the horns starting to sprout.

In the afternoon I took a tour around La Grange, which of course didn’t take long, for the good bits of these towns comprise the courthouse and a few blocks around it, with sprawling roads out of town lined with McDonald’s, Wal-Marts and the like.

Here’s the Fayette County Courthouse, built in 1891.

And the customary courthouse square, lined with old buildings (“old” in America means “older than 100 years”).

Finally, I went back to Weikel’s to get two kolache for an evening nosh (as I said, I have one meal and one treat per day, though I also had a kolache at breakfast). You can see that the bakery is part of a gas-station/convenience store/restaurant complex, which proves that you can get good food in gas stations.

I found the place because the Sterns gave it a “memorable” rating on Roadfood, but I’ve heard of it from other food sites as well. Kolaches are a remnant of the Germans and Czechs who settled in Texas long ago.

Here are all the kinds of kolaches they had. Hard to choose!

Left to right: cream cheese, strawberry,peach, apple, blueberry, and cottage cheese.

I got a strawberry and a cream cheese, which seemed to me a good pairing. The strawberry one got squished a bit in the car. The cream cheese one was good, but the strawberry, with whole berries, was fantastic.

As I head out to BBQ in Lockhart today, I’ll stop by Weikel’s again to get a few kolaches for an evening treat, for I’ll be spending the night in a motel near the Austin airport, ready to catch a flight home tomorrow. That’s when I start my kale juice cleanse. (Only kidding! But I am going to eat very abstemiously for a while. . . )