While in Houston earlier this year I went to inspect the new flood controls at Barker Dam, the very ones that were almost overwhelmed by Hurricane Harvey in 2017. A vast amount of concrete has been used to reinforce the defences against Houston being overwhelmed by flooding after days of continuous rain. We pray that it holds the next next time.
What I had not realised is that the dam lies at a very historic point, where the old San Felipe Trail crossed the Buffalo Bayou, enabling transfer of cotton from the plantations further south to the port of Harrisburg, inland from Galveston. Harrisburg burned down during the 1836 Texas Revolution, to be replaced by the new port of Houston. So Houston had its origins in the cotton trade.
In 1831 a travellers’ inn was established by Joel and Elizabeth Wheaton at this important ford across the Buffalo Bayou, very close to the point where these modern flood defences lie. Wheaton’s inn operated until the 1870s, when a new railroad replaced the old trail.
In the 1840s many refugess fleeing war in Eastern Europe made their way across the Atlantic, through Galveston and Houston and then westward along the San Felipe Trail (via this crossing point) to surrounding areas and the Texas Hill Country, where many settlements were founded.
After the civil war ended in 1865, the slaves of the Texas plantations were declared free, and many of the freed men made their way eastward along the San Felipe Trail to a new life in the Houston area. Indeed there is a Freedmenstown area in Houston.
That’s a lot of history for one inauspicious location between Barker Dam and Texas Highway 6!
Mission San José in San Antonio was founded in 1720, one of five mission communities formed along the San Antonio River at the northern frontier of New Spain, a territory of the Spanish Empire. These Spanish colonial missions aimed to transform local ways of life by introducing Christianity, farming, and settled communities.
Living quarters for indigenous people and the odd soldier were built within the mission, against the compound walls. The church was the focal point and the missionary lived next to it. Workshops and storerooms dotted the central grounds. Outside the walls were croplands and ranches.
The land became part of Mexico in 1821 after the Mexican war of independence, then part of Texas in 1836 after the Texan war of independence, and Texas was annexed to USA in 1845.
Today the mission is much restored and provides a historic and photogenic visitor attraction. Here’s a small selection from our visit. Click to see slideshow.
Apparently, they hop to propel themselves and fly away when threatened.
It is good to research and name these unknown (to me) species, although there is also a good argument to just be in, look and marvel at nature – rather than compulsively needing to name everything. Left and right brain – best to engage both!
A brownish moth was flying around at Garner State Park and suddenly went to ground, seemingly vanishing. Close inspection revealed this oak moth‘s excellent camouflage among the dead leaves of the park.
Red-winged blackbirds are pretty common in Texas, although it’s not that easy to get a good shot of the red patch on the wings. These were reasonably obliging at Brazos Bend State Park, Texas.
If you don’t see the red patch, they’re easily confused with grackles. If you look at the wikipedia entry, the females are rather different, with fairly dull marking. We saw some hiding in the trees, separate from the males.
The wide range of birdlife is usually the main attraction at Brazos Bend State Park, but this time we were welcomed by this rather large butterfly resting in the bushes. It turns out to be a giant swallowtail.
According to Wikipedia, this is the largest butterfly in North America (5-8 inch wingspan), and is abundant in parts of the Eastern states.
Just catching up with photos from our March visit to Houston. This butterfly at Brazos Bend State Park took a bit of identifying. It’s similar to some European fritillaries, but this one is called a phaon crescent.
The wing patterns are quite striking. Apparently these are quite common in the Houston area and much of Texas.
The final stop of our 1965 chess tour of Czechoslovakia and Russia was Moscow, then capital of world chess. Of course, we lost the matches, as we were each playing against significantly stronger players. But what stays in memory is the impressions of the then-capital of a mighty empire – the USSR.
The people seemed drab and depressed, compared to Western Europe, and compared to Ukraine (see previous posts 1965 Kiev and 1965 Odessa). The GUM department store had queues and empty shelves; the system did not appear to be working well for people here at the centre.
This suggested to me that the USSR was not a great success for its own peoples. It had clearly not recovered from WW2 as well as the West, and the people had not correspondingly benefited. Why would Russians wish to go back to those supposedly glorious days through the current ventures in Ukraine and other parts of the Russian border?
Paradoxically, there was also evidence of good organisation, modern technology and buildings suggesting a glorious history.
All this intermingled with drab buildings and worthy statues to the glory of the working man, rather strange to Western eyes. This was, after all, supposedly a communist state.
So I have very mixed impressions of Moscow at that time, a period when nuclear war between USA and USSR was only narrowly averted – times of peril that the Putin regime seems determined to go back to.
My only other photograph from that visit was this one of the huge Tsar Bell, considered to be the largest bell in the world. The bell was cast in the 1700s but never struck for real, because a fire caused a bit to split off before it could be hoisted into position to ring. That somehow seems to sum up Russia.
This white ibis at Brazos Bend Texas State Park was just asking to be photographed. In my experience this resting pose on one leg is less common that their habit of foraging in the vegetation in marshy areas.
The point where the outflow from Houston’s Barker reservoir runs into Buffalo Bayou is a great for a spot of fishing. Here a great blue heron waits patiently, intent on the running water. A snowy egret waits to the side, a good distance from the prime spot.
UK dragonflies tend to be so active that they are difficult to photograph. But these North American green darners at Brazos Bend State Park in Texas, March 2019, were just basking on the footpath in the sun.
They are so-called because of the supposed resemblance to a darning needle. Any young readers will probably say ‘What the heck is that?’.