Traveling to Austin, we do not expect to see mounds of trash 60 feet high, 40 different Texas pecans and rhinos & giraffes. All in 3 days!
Our first stop is a pecan farm on the banks of the San Marcos River owned by Paula Tuttle. We got to be friends with Paula & Merlin Tuttle on our last trip to Austin. Merlin happens to be the world’s leading expert on bats (Merlin Tuttle’s Bat Conservation) & Paula is a native plant whiz.
Paula’s farm is right on the banks of the river & is beautiful. So we stop on our way up from Victoria to see both her farm and her new camper. Boy is her camper cute and it gets the Gibbs seal of approval!
Pecans & Bats
While we are visiting the pecan farm, Merlin gets a call from another pecan farmer to stop by and check out his latest bat house blueprint. What fun, we get to tag along!
First, we learn there are over 1,000 species of pecan, with 40 species in Texas. Really? I thought a pecan was a pecan!
Then, we find out the pecan nut casebearer, a native moth has been devastating pecan orchids. Since the moths fly at night, they are potential bat food. So why not put up bat houses, attract the bats to the orchards and get free pest control without spraying. A win/win. Now that is a conservation project that makes sense to us.
What in the World is C2S2?
One reason for visiting Austin is to meet Katy Palfrey & Angelina Casillas with C2S2 which stands for Conservation Centers for Species Survival. We have been on tons of Zoom meetings with them but now we get to see them in person.
C2S2 works to save endangered animals from extinction by breeding captive insurance populations for future rewilding through their members. And they are doing really great things with cheetahs, scimitar-horned oryx (which were extinct in the wild until a recent release in Chad), and the American red wolf. We are working with them to develop a centralized communications hub (website) to provide current red wolf information, photos, videos, husbandry care and lesson plans for educational use.
And since COVID is running rampant in Texas, we decide to have our meetings in the RV. Plus Gibbs gets to participate! And we don’t have to move the RV! With take-out Thai food, this just gets better & better.
After our meeting, we get ready for a tour of Austin Savanna, one of C2S2’s members. Angelina has arranged for a visit to both their landfill and wildlife ranch. This should be interesting!
Trash & Wildlife: A Winning Combination
And it is not every day you get to visit a landfill, recycler & exotic wildlife sanctuary all at the same time. All three are owned by Texas Disposal Systems (TDS) and we are totally unprepared for what we see on the 3-hour tour. Justin Gregory, one of the founder’s sons, takes us around and his passion for the environment, animals and of course, trash is inspiring.
Processing 3-4,000 tons of solid waste a day, they are always winning awards for their green environmental practices. I feel like I am on another planet watching these giant machines roll back & forth over the trash to tamp it down just right. And every night, they put a layer of dirt over the trash.
It is so clean, there is not a bird in sight. And absolutely no smell. Incredible!
Think of the landfills you see with thousands of birds circling overhead. Not here! There is a guy sitting on a hill all day long watching the landfill. If a bird shows up, he shoots off a popper that makes a large bang to frighten the bird away. Not very high-tech, but extremely effective.
Recycling is a big part of their business and they recycle all kinds of stuff. Cans, paper, appliances, construction materials. In fact, Justin bought his first washing machine from their store that sells salvaged appliances.
But what does all this have to do with wildlife? And why are we touring trash? TDS, in looking for a way to give back and also a way to use their landfill land once all the trash is buried, found they could graze animals on buffer zones around the landfill. And not just any animals but endangered species!
Brushing a Rhino
Austin Savanna is their wildlife park which raises over 2,000 animals including the scimitar-horned oryx which is extinct in the wild. Giraffes roam freely along with tons of antelope on their 1,000+ acre facility. You can watch a quick virtual tour at the TDS Animals Tour.
Our favorite part? Brushing Rowdy, a white rhino. He loves to be scratched and brushed and how often do you get to scratch a rhino’s butt?
Being so close to an endangered animal is an honor and makes us want to protect them even more. We just wish everyone could have this experience! There might be a lot less poaching!
The Bats Are a No Show
Merlin Tuttle has forwarned us, we probably won’t see the bats emerge from the Congress Bridge tonight. About 1.5 million female Mexican free-tailed bats live under the Congress Bridge and emerge each night to eat an estimated 10-30,000 pounds of insects. Talk about free pest control! That’s a lot of mosquitos and other insects, many of which damage crops.
But why only female bats? Well, the bridge is a giant maternity ward for pregnant bats coming up from Mexico. Each bat will have one pup (a year) while living under the bridge. Then, in Sept, they fly back to Mexico to breed again.
Traveling in Austin is not complete without a visit to the bridge. But since it has been raining a lot which brings out more insects, the bats are well fed and in no rush to emerge before dark. We leave about 8:30 pm and still no bats!
However, we enjoy tapas in a newly renovated garage parking lot overlooking the bridge with Merlin, Paula, Teresa and the C2S2 folks (Katy, Angelina & Lee). Outdoor dining with a view! We are sad not to see the bats but there is always next time…
We score another great camping site at McKinney Falls. Dale is batting 1,000 at picking and researching amazing RV spots.
And although the park campsite map shows completely full, there are plenty of empty spots like the one on either side of us. Yea!
And is it hot! Our outside temperature gauge hits 102. But the RV has been staying cool with the air conditioning running full blast. More importantly, everyone has been very accomodating with Gibbs.
When we are gone, we either run the AC on electricity or run the generator to keep it cool for Gibbs. We also have a temperature monitoring system that sends an alert to our phones if the temperature in the RV goes above 84.
The night we go to dinner with Merlin & Paula, Gibbs gets invited to stay in their house with Zuri, the cat. Gibbs ignores Zuri and Zuri glares at Gibbs but they really don’t bother each other.
Merlin even babysits Gibbs while Paula, Dale & I hit the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center the morning after the no-show bat viewing.
Our second trip to the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center is just as amazing as our first 3 years ago. Paula is a docent and volunteer at the center so we get in early with her membership pass to beat the heat.
And she is such a wealth of native plant knowledge. Ah, but she doesn’t know about the “Picture This” app which is our favorite app for identifying plants. After she sees it working, she immediately downloads it and we spend all morning happily identifying plants throughout the garden. What fun.
We also pick up some ideas for our garden. I am dying to have a water feature for wildlife (like a small pond) and Dale is finally warming up to the idea. We see some cool variations of small ponds.
And around those water features are all sorts of beautiful insects. Queen butterflies, neon skimmer dragonflies, beetles & even a couple of frogs. So, I will keep working on the pond idea with Dale…
Next up? Fossil Rim in Glen Rose, Texas and dinosaur tracks. We can’t wait.