Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Trip to Texas

After my trip to Cold Spring Harbor, New York, to attend a research conference [1], we decided to make a trip to Texas to visit Leann's side of the family. This is convenient for me because whenever I go on a trip that's longer than a few days, my bacteria die out and I have to retrieve them from the –80°C freezer. It takes them about 3 days to come up so a 5-day vacation is essentially an 8-day vacation. Thus two separate trips represent more lost time than two sequential trips.

Considering how active she is, Lilli did pretty well on the plane and only fussed when she was ready for a nap. She was fascinated by the nozzles on the ceiling that blow air on you, the reading light, the safety instruction card, Sky magazine, the window shade, and the wing of the plane. And on the flight back one of the stewardesses pinned some fake wings on her.

She was thrilled with the animals at her grandparents' house (dog, cats, aquarium fish, chickens, guinea fowl, donkey, goat) and got to play with some new toys.

A couple episodes of The Best Thing I Ever Ate featured The Salt Lick [2], a barbecue restaurant with venues in Driftwood and Round Rock, Texas. Bobby Flay recommended the beef ribs and Duff Goldman recommended the brisket, the sausage, and the turkey. So we decided to try it out. Some people really like their barbecue sauces and copycat recipes are all over the internet. But I detected a secret ingredient that none of those copycat recipes seem to have: curry. Yep. Every one of The Salt Lick's barbecue sauces that I tried had curry in them.

One morning we got up early and drove down to Palmetto State Park with Leann's dad to do some birding. The park gets its name from the abundance of Dwarf Palmettos (which can be seen in the top photograph). It's sometimes swampy, which is why there are boardwalks, but when we were there most of the swamp was dried up (this is normal). We saw and/or heard: Black Vulture, Crested Caracara, Mourning Dove, Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Great Crested Flycatcher, White-eyed Vireo, American Crow, Cliff Swallow, Carolina Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse, Brown Creeper, Carolina Wren, Prothonotary Warbler, Northern Cardinal, and Common Grackle.[3]

At Palmetto State Park we also saw an unexpected variety of butterflies, particularly swallowtails. There were the Eastern Black Swallowtail (Papilio polyxenes), the Giant Swallowtail (Papilio cresphontes; top, left), the Pipevine Swallowtail (Battus philenor; top, right), and the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail (Papilio glaucus; middle). Besides the swallowtails, we also saw the Gulf Fritillary (Agraulis vanillae; bottom, left), the Hackberry Emperor (Asterocampa celtis, bottom, right), the Large Orange Sulphur (Phoebis agarithe), the Mourning Cloak (Nymphalis antiopa), and the Viceroy (Limenitis archippus). There were also red, orange, yellow, green, blue, purple, and black damselflies; red, hot pink, and spotted-winged dragonflies.

After that we went to the Hornsby Bend wetlands (which are near one of the waste treatment facilities for Austin, Texas). We saw: Snowy Egret, Little Blue Heron, White-faced Ibis, American Coot, Killdeer, Semipalmated Sandpiper, Scissor-tailed Flycatcher, European Starling, Red-winged Blackbird, and Great-tailed Grackle.[4] When we got home, we saw a Greater Roadrunner.

That evening we went to a Tex-Mex restaurant called Chuy's.[5] Leann often expresses dismay at the quality of the Mexican food in Utah Valley—the places we've tried are usually too American or too Mexican. So Leann was excited to get back to her roots. And Lilli had a great time pretending to be able to read the kids' menu (sorry about the noise).

The next day we went fishing with Leann's brother, David, in a creek that runs next to his subdivision. The water was slow-moving and never deeper than about four feet, so we waded the creek, working our way upstream. Much to David's chagrin, we didn't hook much (two cichlids, a largemouth bass, and a sunfish [6]). I didn't catch anything (except for a few pollywogs that came floating by), but I did spot a water snake [7] swimming through the water and a Zebra Heliconian (Heliconius charithonia) butterfly. Leann picked out: Turkey Vulture, Green Heron (nesting), Northern Mockingbird, White-winged Dove, and Great-tailed Grackle.

Later in the week we went to the family's favorite barbecue restaurant, The County Line.[8] The venue we patronized sits on the edge of Bull Creek, just north of Lake Austin. While you wait for your food you can toss bread out to the mass of turtles that congregate (left). We ordered the same selection of meat that we did at The Salt Lick (right). In defiance of the opinions of the well-paid celebrity chefs on the Food Network, the family consensus was that The County Line was a superior barbecue in nearly every way (and equivalent in the rest).


[1] See my post 2012 Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Meeting on Bacteria, Archaea, & Phages.

[2] See their menu at http://www.saltlickbbq.com/. See also http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The Salt Lick.

[3] You can see pictures of some of these birds at my father-in-law's blog, here.

[4] Ditto.

[5] See their menu at http://www.chuys.com/.

[6] He also 'noodled' a catfish. All of them were too small to keep, so we released them.

[7] I don't recall its head being diamond-shaped, so it likely wasn't a water moccasin/Western cottonmouth (Agkistrodon piscivorus leucostoma). It could've been a blotched water snake, (Nerodia erythrogaster transversa), a broad-banded water snake (Nerodia fasciata), or a yellowbelly water snake (Nerodia erythrogaster flavigaster).

[8] See their menu at http://www.countyline.com/.

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