Alligator and Armadillo, that is.
It's a good thing we decided to take a day off here in Chicot State Park. We experienced our third thunderstorm of the tour (it seems like it has rained more, but it really is only three, mostly nights, of thunderstorms and rain). I was asleep when I heard the first clap of thunder. At that point it wasn't raining yet. It was about 12:30. I scurried out of my tent and retrieved my towel and t-shirts off the line. They were mostly dry. I left the shorts that were still very wet, knowing they would still be wet by morning anyway.
Shortly after I returned to my tent, I heard the first drops of rain. Since this is the third time of listening to the thunder and seeing the lightening, I dropped off back to sleep pretty easily. It continued to rain the rest of the night, and into the morning. Since we were taking the day off, there was no rush to get up.
The rain started to lessen by about 8:00 or so. I got dressed, pulled out my rain jacket, and crawled out of my tent. The neighbors around us were all up and packing. This being Sunday, they all have to head home. Shannon, from across the way offered Christian and I coffee and donuts. He's the guy that made the comment about the raccoon. I was mistaken in thinking he was Cajun. He is Acadian. His girlfriend, Betty, is Cajun. According to Shannon, he "can't find his way in a book no how, but he can hunt and fish and live off the land". And, he spoke only French to his dog. After we had donuts, he brought over a couple MREs that he thought we should have. His brother (?) "git 'em from the army". He told us how to prepare them. One is chicken and pasta, and the other is meatloaf. They are complete meals (including an appetizer--cheese and bacon spread and a wheat bread, a beverage--lemon lime drink, and dessert-- carrot sponge cake). They are a little heavy to carry, so we are going to eat them for dinner tonight. Should probably save them for a rainy night when we can't cook, but....
After awhile, Christian and I took a walk to check out the pool. We won't be swimming. Besides the rain, the pool is not open. We figure it is too early in the season. We also walked down to the lake by the cabins. The cabins are really quite nice and rent for $85-$125. Apparently, they are in hot demand and it can take up to two years to get a reservation.
Chicot Lake looks like a cross between a lake and a swamp (at least what I think of as a swamp). The Bald Cypress trees grow throughout the lake. There are also a lot of Magnolia trees and Tupelo trees. People do a lot of fishing for catfish on the lake. The folks staying in the cabins were not having any luck fishing from their decks.
Back at the campsite, we hopped on our bikes to ride to the Arboretum Nature Center. They had a somewhat nebulous sounding "Nature Program" starting at 11:00. It was about a two mile ride. When we got there it was pretty quiet. Eric asked if we were there for the program. We said sure, and signed in. We looked around the center at the displays while waiting for the program. Emma came and asked us what we would like to do--a hike? watch a video? She said it was up to us. We opted for the hike. I did express my fear of snakes. She said it would be okay.
We first headed out on a nice paved path to a part of the lake. Emma is a bird-watcher and could hear a tanager, but couldn't find it. She pointed out the various types of trees and why they grow where they do (for example, in standing water like the bald cypress). She also pointed out the different understory plants and trees.
As we were walking along a boardwalk over a floodplain, I spotted something in the water. I asked Emma, "Uh, is that what I think it is?" She said, yes, it was a cottonmouth (they are poisonous), and a big one at that! YIKES! She said we were safe on the boardwalk (yeah, right!). He was being very still. I was brave and took a photo (zoomed in, of course).
We continued our walk. We got to the end of the guided portion, but Emma said she would continue with us if we wanted. Of course we did (me thinking, I don't want to walk out here without her!). We stopped by a vernal pond (filled in the wet season, dry in the summer)--home to many salamanders, frogs, and birds. It was also blooming with lilies (some species and some hybrids). As we looped around, Emma continued to point out different interesting things. One was a bunch of stinging caterpillars (or, catapillahs as Emma says). They were making a train up this small sapling after they had devoured the lower leaves. She said their sting hurts for about two days, then itches for about a week. We took photos without touching.
After we had looped around and were headed back to the nature center, Emma stopped quickly as something skittered across the path. It was an armadillo! She said they are usually nocturnal, but when they have their babies (always identical quadruplets), they will be out in the daytime. We didn't get very good photos, but there is one below. Check armadillo off the list!
We returned to the nature center and Emma took us in to see the critters they have at the center. She had picked a globular green fungus (photo below) from a tree to feed to Morgan the box turtle (he liked it!). They also had a baby gator named Godard (pronounced Go DARD). They get them for one year, then they are turned loose. In addition to Morgan and Godard, they had a tarantula, rat snake, water turtle, skink, a toad, and another fish that I can't remember the name of.
Emma told us if we wanted to see more alligators, we could go to the bridge over one of the fingers of the lake. They could often be seen sunning themselves on the logs (turtles too). So, we left the Arboretum and rode to the bridge. We parked our bikes and walked out onto the bridge. We could see several turtles on a log. All but one plopped into the water when they heard us walking (I had my bike sandals on and they were making a crunching noise--later, I took them off and walked barefoot). We didn't see any alligators. We crossed to the other side of the road. More turtles and a large heron, but no gators. We returned to the other side. I pulled out my monocular thingy. I started looking farther in the distance. I saw a log with a large turtle. I looked further along. There, out on a somewhat distant log, was a big gator! A VERY big gator! I couldn't even see all of him! Then I looked to a log on the right. There was another one! This one was sharing the log with a big turtle. I showed them to Christian. I was able to zoom in with my camera held steady on the rail of the bridge to get a couple of photos. WOO HOO!!! Check alligator off the list!
We watched the gators do nothing for awhile, then headed back to our campsite. The sun was now out and it was warming up. Most of the wet stuff was dry. While Christian dried the footprint and bottom of his tent, I read my Kindle and fell asleep.
We had limited success with our MREs for dinner. I guess I wouldn't be a good soldier. I resorted to heating my chicken and pasta in my skillet when the heating thing didn't heat it enough. I probably did something wrong. I suppose a person could survive on MREs, but I'm glad I don't have to!
Tomorrow we are moving on!