Tag Archives: road trip

Blood Over Texas Horror For the Holidays 4: The Aftermath – 3

Plans for next year’s Blood Over Texas Horror For the Holidays show: more comfortable van seats. Finding a more regular source for Lava Lamp bottles. Explaining to the cats that we won’t be gone forever and ever and ever. Other than that, don’t change a thing.

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Blood Over Texas Horror For the Holidays 4: The Aftermath – 2

Because the only thing better than a Blood Over Texas Horror For the Holidays show is a festive screening of the Alien Holiday Special

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Blood Over Texas Horror For the Holidays 4: The Aftermath -1

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It’s a one-day show. At top speed, the commute between Dallas and Austin is still over three hours. Highway I-35, the only artery offering a direct route between two cities, has been under perpetual expansion and repair since I first moved to Texas 38 years ago. Oh, and Austinites apparently consider allowing fellow drivers to merge into traffic to be a mortal sin. With all that, not only is the Blood Over Texas Horror For the Holidays show an essential event, but I have only one complaint about it: it’s ONLY a one-day show. Two or three days with the sort of people attracted to a horror-themed gift market? Where do I sign up, and where was this 30 years ago?

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Glen Rose Interlude – 1

As can be told from the last year, managing the gallery means a dearth of posts. This is a shame on one level, because it means that an ever-expanding collection of photos builds up on backup drives, just waiting for a few minutes between plant maintenance, enclosure design and construction, ARTwalk setup and teardown, home maintenance, relationship maintenance, Day Job essentials, laundry, mowing the lawn, and the regular nervous breakdown every third Friday. If I had the time to find a definitive and permanent vaccine for sleep, I’d be all set.

With that said, with things cooling down and the temperate carnivores going to bed for the winter, it’s time to start updating and revising. Let’s start with a little palaeobotany trip down to Glen Rose, Texas, best known for its dinosaur trackways but full of all sorts of other surprises.

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The original idea, such as it was, was to get out of Dallas for a day during Memorial Day weekend and hit someplace that presumably hadn’t been flooded with May’s torrential rains. This time, it meant hitting Glen Rose, almost directly due south of Fort Worth, and stopping by Dinosaur Valley State Park. Neither of us had been out that way for a decade, but the idea of nature trails, antique stores, and possibly finding some of the Paluxy River’s famed Cretaceous petrified wood. The wood could wait: the dinosaurs couldn’t.

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Besides the draw of Dinosaur Valley State Park’s hiking and biking trails and campgrounds, there’s the real reason why people travel from all over the planet: its famed dinosaur trackways. Back in the 1930s, the fossil prospector Roland T. Bird rode into Glen Rose on a hot summer day on his Indian motorcycle and stopped for a drink of lemonade. While cooling off, he inspected a recently constructed bandshell next to the county courthouse, which was constructed of local stone. Among the huge chunks of gypsum and petrified wood was a fossil track of a predatory dinosaur, and inquiry by Bird led locals to show him the river bottom, which was literally paved with dinosaur tracks and trackways. Not only were the first scientifically described sauropod tracks found in the river, but they kept coming across tracks on multiple planes of what used to be muddy beach: one of the great surprises was of a whole trackway, most likely of the big predator Acrocanthosaurus and the sauropod Paluxysaurus, as the former chased the latter across mudflats. Those trackways were cut out and archived decades ago, but the river bottom still had other tracks to see, right?

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Well, as luck would have it, the Paluxy probably had plenty of new tracks visible to the naked eye…if the bearer of that eye also had gills. The river was as high as I’ve ever seen it, and about as clear and attractive as week-old coffee. It was also as close to white water as it could come, so taking a boat on it, even if that were allowed, was a remarkably bad idea. That didn’t stop innumerable innertubers on the nearby Brazos, but if the idea was to view geology instead of lining the banks with beer bottles, this was a bust.

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Maybe not a complete bust: on the far shore was a smooth softshelled turtle (Trionyx spp.) taking advantage of a lack of humans to get in a good bask. It stayed on the bank for about ten minutes, long enough to get photos, but it didn’t take well to spectators. Enough people collected on the near shore that the noise or the motion spooked it, and it slid off the sandbank and disappeared into the roiling river. Considering that the genus Trionyx is at least 45 million years old, and probably a lot older, it may not have been a dinosaur contemporary, but at least it added some ambiance. Besides, softshelled turtles are famously cantankerous, and since this one was the same diameter as a garbage can lid, anybody stupid enough to catch it would learn soon enough exactly how hard it could bite.

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Not far from the river were two old friends: the Tyrannosaurus and Brontosaurus statues from the 1962 World’s Fair, where they joined other life-sized dinosaurs in an outdoor exhibition sponsored by Sinclair Oil. These days, they’re in exceptional condition: when I first viewed them in the fall of 1980, they’d been neglected for decades since they were donated to Dinosaur Valley State Park. The Brontosaurus had been constructed in segments in order to make it easier to ship by boat to the New York World’s Fairgrounds, and the sparkle used to cover the seams had fallen out, giving it a strange checkerboard look. Meanwhile, the Tyrannosaurus had suffered from the loving attentions of the residents of Glen Rose: in 1980, it had all of two teeth left. Apparently, having a fake dinosaur tooth was a status symbol among Glen Rose teenagers, so the rest had been shot out with .22 rifles and picked up. That changed in the late Eighties with a big restoration and location change, though, and they look today as if they could go for a walk.

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(thick northern Australian accent) “Now, this is a mature tyrannosaur! He’s about fifteen meters; that’s about 50 feet! Now, I’m gonna sneak up behind and jam my thumb up his butthole! That’ll really piss him orf!”

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Incidentally, there’s a very good reason why this tyrannosaur has a trapdoor for a cloaca. By 1962 standards, the World’s Fair dinosaurs were marvels of animatronics, and this trapdoor allowed access to the mechanism that opened and closed the tyrannosaur’s lower jaw. I’d known for years that other dinosaurs had similar mechanisms (the Triceratops had a head that moved back and forth, and the Ankylosaurus had a tail club that wagged), but I’d been told for years that the Brontosaurus was completely immobile. Imagine my surprise at Caroline spotting guide at the front of the corral that described the brontosaur’s neck moving from side to side. Nearly 55 years later, and you still learn something new.

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Another drastic change from late 1980: in a strange way, this was a more accurate locale for a big sauropod than anybody thought. In 1980, the scientific consensus still held that the big sauropods were swamp-dwellers that used water to buoy their massive bulks. The Paluxy dinosaur tracks seemed to confirm this: although plenty of sauropod front and hind footprints showed up in the river, not a single tail dragmark showed, up, supposedly confirming that the tracks were made under enough water to float the tails out of the way. What’s understood now is that sauropods held their tails out of reach of a wayward herdmate’s foot, and that most sauropods actively avoided swamps in favor of well-drained floodplains. Ironically, while the conditions most favored by tyrannosaurs are best represented today by southern Louisiana and the Florida panhandle, most of the big Jurassic sauropods would have been most at home in plains like the ones around Dallas and Fort Worth. If they could deal with the drastic changes in vegetation, that is.

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And on the subject of Texas climate, the seeming dead-fish eye on the Brontosaurus has a slightly disturbing story. This is the third head on this statue: when the big restoration project on both statues started in the mid-1980s, an effort was made to put a new, scientifically accurate head on the Brontosaurus, when “Brontosaurus” became a nomen dubiam for the previously described Apatosaurus. Unfortunately, as is often the case with a lot of science art, the proponents of accurate sauropods ran right into proponents of preserving art in its original form, even if it’s wildly inaccurate. Ultimately, molds were found of the original head, and this fiberglass replacement was made from those mold and reattached. The eyes, though, were made of clear resin, which has fogged and crazed from just a few years of Texas’s wildly high levels of ultraviolet light. Texas cars very rarely rust out due to our climate removing any need for salting roads in the winter, but the tradeoff is cracking car dashboards from heat and auto paint that turns into watercolors in ten years.

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Surprisingly for the whole foofarol about redoing the bronto’s head, nobody talks about redoing the tyrannosaur to match current theories. Namely, covering it with feathers. Here, I argue that this statue needs to be left alone to illustrate how dinosaurs were portrayed in the Twentieth Century…and put in a new accurate one just down the road a ways. You have to admit that seeing a “Roadrunner From Hell” tyrannosaur once you enter the park is a great way to make lasting impressions on first-time park visitors, right?

To be continued…

Glen Rose Interlude – 2

Want to know what you missed? Go back and catch up.


The main reason most people have for visiting Glen Rose, Texas is for dinosaur tracks. Whether it’s to visit Dinosaur Valley State Park or the oxymoronic Creation Evidence Museum up the road, it’s all about dinosaur tracks. Before one Roland T. Bird came into downtown Glen Rose for a glass of lemonade and found a dinosaur track incorporated into a WPA-built bandshell next to the courthouse, the town was one of a multitude of towns southwest of Fort Worth boasting scenic views and excellent diners, but nothing that would convince people to travel from the other side of the planet to visit. Now, Glen Rose has a plethora of antique stores and art galleries to give a reason to stay, just so long as you don’t spend so much time stomping around in the Paluxy River that you lose track of daylight.

Since the original plan to go slopping around in the Paluxy was capsized by the closest thing to white water that I’ve ever seen on it, this meant lots of daylight for other endeavors. The dinosaur trackways are on what used to be muddy beachfront, so they tended to catch lots of other items during regular rounds of sediment deposition. While I have yet to come across any reports of actual dinosaur bone preserved in Glen Rose, that mud preserved a lot more. In particular, the area is simply rotten with exquisitely petrified driftwood, most of which looks as if it came out of the surf last week instead of 120 million years ago.


Those familiar with the fossilized logs at Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona might be a bit disappointed with Glen Rose petrified wood, or most of the stuff in Texas for that matter. The Glen Rose deposits rarely preserve whole logs: the vast majority of pieces resemble the chunks and bobs that wash up in the Gulf of Mexico today: the bark is gone, but the surf wasn’t strong enough to move big logs and stumps onto land, so most of what’s here are smaller pieces that were broken up elsewhere. However, it’s beautifully silicified, preserving knotholes and insect damage, and it’s considerably more forgiving of erosion than its mudstone matrix, so it once collected in large piles. A tough but workable stone, with obvious attractiveness and durability: when given that sort of resource for construction, of course the people Glen Rose put it to use.


Based on the buildings still extant incorporating local petrified wood, you’d think that the area would remain loaded with logs. Making a trip out to Glen Rose 15 years ago, I heard some of the backstory from the former mayor, who ran a now-defunct bookstore in the town square. According to her, most of the available logs and larger chunks that weren’t already incorporated into local buildings were picked up and sold for the rock shop trade in the 1950s, and the high quality of the wood meant that people were keeping a close eye on the buildings. She related how a gas station near the square, made almost completely out of local petrified wood, had shut down and the land purchased by a local church for possible expansion. According to her, the church was evenly split between those who wanted to restore the gas station as a piece of local history and those who wanted to sell the petrified wood to a wholesaler, and this was settled when the gas station “accidentally” came down in the middle of the night. The petrified wood was salvaged and sold, and half of the congregation hasn’t talked to the other half since.


Even acknowledging that (a) the story might be apocryphal and (b) I should have taken notes rather than depending upon memories from a decade-and-a-half ago, the gas station story is believable upon seeing the structures still standing. So long as Cretaceous rock remains in the Glen Rose area, additional petrified wood will eventually erode out and gradually migrate to the bottom of the valley, but all of the easy pickings have been gone since the Great Depression. With luck, though, enough will remain that some aspiring palaeobotanist should be able to identify and classify the local flora, and give as much of a view of the plant life of Creataceous Glen Rose as the trackways give of the fauna.

To be continued…

Things To Do In Richardson When You’re Dead: Dr. Delphinium orchid open house

A quick signal interrupt, and an excuse for my fellow Dallasites to stay as far away from the Greenville Avenue St. Patrick’s Day parade as possible. (Dallas is particularly good at turning ethnic Catholic holidays of celebration and glee into excuses for Anglo Protestants to feed vast rivers of booze vomit running through our streets, which is why you avoid Greenville Avenue at all costs on St. Patrick’s Day and Cinco de Mayo.) For the last several years, I’ve had to skip out on the legendary Gunter’s Orchids open houses in Richardson because the open houses coincided with my first spring show at All-Con. Not that I’d tell you to skip out on All-Con for any reason (especially since the dealers, particularly Tawanda Jewelry, will appreciate the attention), but my not having a booth means that I’m free to head out for the open house. Much to its credit, when the florist company Dr. Delphinium bought out Gunter’s two years ago, the old traditions remain, and Dr. Delphinium hosts its open house this Friday through Sunday at its Richardson location. This means lots and lots of freshly-blooming orchids, and you might even luck out and see the revived Tahitian vanilla orchid in full bloom.

Me, I’ll be out there on Saturday at around noon, so anyone who wants to join me is welcome to do so. If you can’t, well, I’ll get plenty of pictures. One way or another, see you then.

Bloomapalooza 2013: the best-laid plans

The person who first described March as “coming in like a lion and going out like a lamb” apparently slept through July every year. This one in particular keeps getting better and better. Among other things, my niece Hailey and her husband DJ (one of the two best nephews-in-law a guy could ever have) just had their first child this weekend, which officially makes the Czarina and I a great-aunt and great-uncle. (Because she argues that she’s already a great aunt, the Czarina told me that she plans to encourage the next generation to refer to her as “Auntie”. In response, I’m planning to teach all of the kids to ask her “Who run Bartertown?” When I do it, she hits me.)

Even with all of the craziness coalescing within the next few months, we made tentative plans for a working holiday at the beginning of August. Nothing much: I figured that it might be nice to visit Michigan without needing a grandparent’s funeral as justification, and let the Czarina see my childhood stomping grounds when they aren’t decorated with carved blocks of frozen oxygen. (Or at least, that’s her perception. The first time she saw a snow broom in the back of a rental car, I thought she was going to have a heart attack when I explained what it was for. I didn’t have the heart to tell her about how the mosquitoes in summer were so thick that their carcasses tended to sandblast the paint off the front of vehicles, so we were actually glad for the snow when I was a kid.) When we heard about a combination independent garden center conference and music festival called “Bloomapalooza”, running maybe a thirty-minute drive from my childhood house, we both figured “Why the heck not?”

In the meantime, life intruded, and I learned today that Bloomapalooza’s organizers just canceled it. No trip to Michigan, and no music festival. I guess that means I’ll have to organize the “Manchester United Flower Show” after all, doesn’t it?

Upcoming shows and ongoing events

Well, we survived ConDFW and thrived, and now it’s time to let everyone know about the next big Triffid Ranch show, All-Con 2013, two weeks from today. In addition, because of specific interest in a demonstration, I’ll also add to the planned “How To Murder Your Venus Flytrap” lecture on Saturday evening with a display of carnivorous plant fluorescence under UV light. Where else are you going to see a presentation like this?

Meanwhile, two weeks before All-Con means that the next two weekends are the usual pre-show bad craziness, but that doesn’t preclude the annual February trip to the North American Reptile Breeders Conference in Arlington this weekend. If you’re going to be in the vicinity, just look for the albino in the motorcycle jacket and the International Carnivorous Plant Society T-shirt. If you’re not able to get out this time, make plans for the August NARBC show, because that, if everything goes well, may be the big Triffid Ranch event of the year.

Yet more “I Would If I Could” moments

The mantra “If I could be in sixteen places at once” becomes particularly forceful these days. Well, I wouldn’t say “forceful” so much as “whiny”. At this point, the Czarina no longer tries to wake me up when I start crying bitterly in my sleep. Instead, she just acts the way she does when she dreams that I’ve done something wrong: one punch to the throat, and the sounds of my choking on my own blood eases her back to slumber. These days, she gets so much practice that she could take down Mike Tyson with one shot.

The reason why I’m whimpering and sobbing when I should be dreaming of repotting Sarracenia? Let me count the ways. Among other things, discovering that the Australasian Carnivorous Plant Society is hosting a carnivorous plant show at the Blue Mountains Botanic Garden in Mount Tomah, New South Wales next month…yeah, I heard that catch in your throat.

Oh, but it gets even worse. I’ve wanted to hit the Philadelphia Flower Show for a while, and discovering that it’s running on the same two weekends as the ACPS show is rough enough. Discovering that it’s paying tribute to the centenary of the RHS Chelsea Flower Show by going with a British theme is worse. Of course, being the wiseacre that I am, I’m wondering how far they’re going to go with the theme, or if some enterprising individual starts offering distinctive potting sheds for sale.

Ah well: at least I won’t be there, blatantly plagiarizing valid commentary on British gardening television. We should all be thankful for small miracles.

MICROCOSM: I would if I could

We all deal with it at one time or another: commit to some interesting activity because the calendar is full of fluff and barf, and you find something new and much better about thirty seconds after you pay for the plane tickets. Or you discover the event of a lifetime, scheduled for the same weekend as something else that simply cannot be moved. My life story involves repeated instances where, as much as I’d love to break commitments and peruse something new, I acknowledge that I’m already on the line for something as important and do the grown-up thing. (Remind me to tell you the free lobster story one of these days.)

And then there’s the real bonecruncher: staying home and getting ready for a major show the weekend before, so I’m not frantically potting plants right after coming home from the Day Job, and then finding something that, if it were any week, running that credit card plumb dry in order to get plane tickets. Or selling body parts. Heck, selling my body parts.

And so, for those wanting to explore the frontiers of aquaria, terraria, and vivaria, get thee hence to MICROCOSM in San Diego the weekend of March 1. Of course, I only learned about this today, and of COURSE it’s the weekend before All-Con, the first really big Triffid Ranch show of the year. Instead of feeling sorry for myself, I’m just going to ask for a volunteer who’s already heading to MICROCOSM to grab as much promotional material as possible at the show and mailing it this way. I’ll definitely make it worth your while, so give a yell if you’re interested. And then there’s next year’s show.

Upcoming shows, probably not involving the Triffid Ranch

In every hobby and business, you get years where the calendar is as bereft of excitement as a terrestrial radio playlist. Other years, you’re practically tripping over exciting events and opportunities. 2013 is one of those years where I’m going to need to invent something really life-changing to be able to afford the garden show trips.

Firstly, while I could never return to living in Portland, Oregon, any excuse to visit both St. Johns Booksellers and Sarracenia Northwest is a good one, and I have a beaut this year. Namely, the Peninsula Park Rose Garden is 100 years old this year, and the park needs to put down a lot of mulch to get it ready for the Portland Rose Festival in May and June. After the main show season ends in May, well, this may be an option.

Likewise, this year also marks the centenary of the RHS Chelsea Flower Show, and I’d probably head out there if I could get proper pontoons for my bicycle. Sadly, this isn’t a likely show, but if it coincides with the opening of the Manchester United Flower Show, I may have to make it happen. Between that and a trip to Kew Gardens, all I’ll need is clothes, money, and my pet ferret.

Other than that, I’m still waiting for word on the 2013 International Carnivorous Plant Society conference, seeing as how crashing last year’s conference wasn’t an option. It’s almost like they’re trying to keep it quiet to keep me from attending or something…

Road Trip: Bloomapalooza

The last time I was in Michigan to see the old ancestral stomping grounds was in 2009, for my maternal grandfather’s funeral. The last time I was in Michigan for any appreciable length of time was in the summer of 1982, shortly after my paternal grandfather had the first of a series of heart attacks. I haven’t been to my birthplace since shortly after I moved from there in 1976, and I have a lot of new friends whom I’ve met since then who still live there. I’ve been looking forward to the idea of a working vacation for a while, I’d like to see the place one last time, and I’d love to show the Czarina my childhood haunts. Anybody else interested in meeting us at Bloomapalooza in Litchfield next August for a very overdue homecoming?

The First Annual Reptile & Amphibian Day – Turtles

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Back on October 13, I accepted an invitation from the Dallas-Fort Worth Herpetological Society to show carnivorous plants at its first annual Reptile & Amphibian Day. The photos continue, starting with the one reptile most herpetophobes can tolerate. Yes, it’s time for turtles.

Tortoise

As far as local turtles and tortoises are concerned, the alligator snapping turtle (Macrochelys temminckii) is about as large as we get. To see a truly exceptional specimen, make plans to visit the Children’s Aquarium at Fair Park Dallas to see one the size of an 18-wheeler tire. This Aldabra tortoise (Aldabrachelys gigantea was about as large in life, but nowhere near as snuggly.

Aldabra tortoise shell

And then we come to the stalwarts. The Eastern box turtle (Terrapene carolina carolina) doesn’t make it this far west, more’s the pity. One of the first turtles I ever kept was a beautiful male Eastern rescued while attempting to cross a highway in northern Michigan, and if you’re able to get out to the Fenner Nature Center in Lansing, you can still see him. One of these days, I need to head up that way to visit: I know perfectly well that the turtle won’t remember me, or recognize me, but I know I’ll recognize him.

Eastern box turtle

Texas, though, isn’t lacking in box turtles, and these two are native to my immediate area. On the left is a classic example of a three-toed box turtle (Terrapene carolina triunguis), and on the right is an ornate or Western box turtle (Terrapene ornata ornata). Both are steadfastly terrestrial turtles, although they both like the occasional soak, but the ornate box turtles are generally found more in cattle fields and plains, while the three-toes tend to stick to scrub and forested areas. Either way, I’d recommend them as pets, but I heartily recommend working with captive-bred turtles, as they’re rapidly disappearing in the wild thanks to fire ant depredations of their nests and habitat destruction.

Three-toed and ornate box turtles

A few friends may remember “Stella,” the three-toed box turtle I rescued in the late Nineties. Stella became best-known for falling madly in love with Leiber, and she’d chase him all over the house, desperately trying to get him to notice her. What’s funny is that she actively tried to attack humans, earning her the nickname “The World’s Meanest Box Turtle,” and I joked that this was a turtle so hostile that she had zimmerit on her shell. She looked harmless but tried to wipe out all mankind: by comparison, ornate box turtles all look vicious, but they’re almost always sweethearts. Go figure.

Ornate box turtle

Finally, we have the height of herpetological cuteness: box turtle hatchlings. Well, they’re almost as cute as crocodile monitors, but you can’t convince the Czarina of this. And so it goes.

Box turtle hatchlings

And there’s more to follow…

Catching Up: the First Annual Reptile & Amphibian Day – 1

Whew. It’s been an interesting week. Between strangeness at the Day Job, weather fluctuations, preparations for moving a greenhouse from underneath a dying silverleaf maple, and a resolution of the issues with Cadigan and Leiber (it turns out that Cadigan’s issues lay with cat litter that was too rough for her to use), the last few weeks have been a bit different. I haven’t even started with discussing the upcoming Shadow Society Halloween event this weekend and the upcoming Funky Finds Experience show two weeks after that. *deep breath* You know it’s a rough time when I do the math and realize that if I live exactly another six months from today, I’ll have outlived H.P. Lovecraft.

Triffid Ranch display

Anyway, on October 13, I accepted an invitation from the Dallas-Fort Worth Herpetological Society to show carnivorous plants at its first annual Reptile & Amphibian Day. As opposed to most Triffid Ranch shows, which are intended to show and sell plants, this one was purely a “look, but don’t purchase” show. Not that this was a problem: it meant that we had a lot of attendees who simply wanted to learn more about carnivorous plant care, as well as more who had never seen any carnivore other than Venus flytraps This worked out remarkably well.

Display detail

Partly because of more abnormally dry weather, and partly because I was rebuilding and propagating stock after last month’s FenCon, the examples were a little small. This time around, it was a basic presentation of the major groups of carnivore (sadly missing both a Heliamphora or Cephalotus this time around, due to the insane dryness), with demonstrations on how their traps worked. This led to one of the most satisfying things a carnivorous plant enthusiast can hear from interested laypeople: “You mean that there are other carnivores besides flytraps? COOL!”

Greater Dallas - Fort Worth Bromeliad Society display

And don’t think I was the only purveyor of botanical wonders at the show. Shawn Crofford of the Greater Dallas/Fort Worth Bromeliad Society was out as well, demonstrating the value of bromeliads in providing nesting habitat for arboreal frogs and other amphibians. (And yes, that’s a life-sized cutout of a saltwater crocodile in the background. One of the draws was a whole set of Masonite cutouts of various giant reptiles, from leatherback turtles to reticulated pythons, to give attendees a sense of scale. It definitely confirmed that if I’m going to raise salties in the back yard, I’m going to need a bigger pond.)

Turtle and tortoise display

And then there were the folks out to see the real beasts perform. Snakes, turtles, lizards, frogs, salamanders, toads…I think someone brought a few caecelians, and only the regular influx of new attendees kept me from exploring the far side of the display hall. Next year, then.

Ave atque vale, Ralph the Swimming Pig

I’ve officially reached that age where everyone stops sending me the latest memos. For all intents and purposes, I’m residing in the basement, with only my red Swingline stapler to keep me company. Nobody loves me enough to let me know that the world changed while I was taking a nap, and it’s all to make it easier to laugh at me when I ask where the VHS tape rewinder went.

Well, that’s okay. I’ve wanted to visit Aquarena Springs near San Marcos for decades, mostly because it still preserves a host of flora otherwise wiped out when Texas warmed and dried out at the end of the last ice age. Another reason is because Aquarena Springs is the closest I’ll be getting to Wakulla Springs in the Florida Panhandle for a while. (Nearly ten years away, and I still desperately miss that place.) But the most entertaining reason? For years, I was tantalized by the various tourist flyers for the amusement park at Aquarena Springs, including the star attraction, Ralph the Swimming Pig.

Well, I’m too late to watch Ralph, or one of the many Ralphs trained over the years, perform his famed “Swine Dive”, after discovering that the amusement park was acquired by Texas State University in 1996, and the attractions removed in order to protect the indigenous and often highly endangered wildlife in the springs. Even the Submarine Underwater Theater is gone, having been pulled up with one of the world’s largest cranes last May.

Well, a life without Ralph also means a life with the unique fauna and flora of San Marcos Springs. Schedule permitting, a weekend trip down that way next spring is in order.

Convergence XIX: the quandary

It’s been nearly four years since the Triffid Ranch officially launched, and the Czarina still goes into a slow burn over the celebration at Convergence 14, the big goth culture convention in Ybor City, Florida. It wasn’t because of the show itself, or the people, or even the drive from Dallas to Tampa. No, the grinding of her molars, like tectonic plates, was when we tried to make a nonstop straight burn from Dallas to Tallahassee, based on my memories of moving back to Dallas from Tally six years earlier. What I remembered, in my vague sleep-deprivation hallucinations, was a 12-hour drive, which was extreme but still doable. Apparently, I actually did closer to 17 hours of straight driving, and we learned that the hard way on the rush down the Florida Panhandle. Oh, and did I mention that we arrived in Tally about five hours late on her birthday?

Not that the trip itself wasn’t worth the effort. Convergence and its attendees were still recovering from the disastrous show in 2007 in Portland (often referred to by Convergence survivors as “Gothapalooza”), and we started our trip right at the beginning of the big economic meltdown of 2008. Naturally, gasoline prices peaked the very weekend we made the trip, so when we were done tallying costs versus returns, we chalked it up as a working vacation and left it at that. Not that we wouldn’t do it again: we met a considerable number of people who are still good friends today, we had a chance to see Ybor City at its peak (as well as understanding why everyone talks about the food there), and we both learned exactly how far we could drive at one time before the Czarina threatens to go Big Barda on my skull.

In subsequent years, we’ve considered bringing jewelry and plants to another Convergence, but the logistics kept getting in the way. Moving large numbers of carnivorous plants across the US is problematic at the best of times, and the trip has to be balanced between the cost of fuel and vehicle maintenance versus the actual return. In the meantime, we both figured that if a future Convergence was held in Texas, we’d both consider the possibilities.

Welp, it’s good news and bad news on that front. Alt.Gothic just released the bids for next year’s Convergence, and the devil vomits in our faces again. The first bid is for Seattle, which is a great city for spooky things, but it’s scheduled the weekend after next year’s World Horror Convention in New Orleans. That’s in addition to crossing a fair amount of the North American landmass and at least three mountain ranges to get there. Sorry, but with that kind of distance, this is the sort of road trip where Oscar Zeta Acosta himself would stay home and say “Let’s just watch television instead, okay?”

And then there’s the second bid, in Austin. Unlike other events in Austin that seem to go out of their way to run during the hottest part of the year, the Austin bid organizers understand that visitors to the city might actually enjoy it at times when the big yellow hurty thing in the sky isn’t trying to destroy all life on the Texas prairie. Besides, the date for the Austin bid coincides with the return of Mexican freetailed bats to the Congress Avenue bridge.

The only problem? If Austin gets the bid, then Convergence is two weeks before Texas Frightmare Weekend, and previous attempts to do shows with such short time between them hasn’t worked out well. We may have to reconsider that thinking for next year, because this looks too good for us to miss out.

EDIT: naturally, after all of that agonizing, I got word from this last weekend that Austin has the bid. Time to make plans for a road trip next year, eh?

Things To Do In Galveston When You’re Dead

The Czarina and her best friend are absolute suckers for visiting Galveston in the off-season, but I’ve had to beg off their previous trips because of Day Job and plant schedules. (We love each other dearly, but sometimes our taking vacations by ourselves is the only way the other can get anything done without interruptions, such as starting an idle conversation that ends sometime around 3 in the morning.) However, hearing about the new Amorphophallus titanum bloom at the Moody Gardens Rainforest Pyramid in Galveston means that I may have to tag along on the next trip. Besides, how could I resist visiting a plant nicknamed “Morticia?

World Horror Convention 2013: a new Triffid Ranch show?

Until very recently, I’ve been reserved about doing out-of-town Triffid Ranch shows for many reasons. Not that I haven’t had convention and event promoters asking. At least three times a year, I’m asked, very nicely, by the folks at a big steampunk convention in Oklahoma about attending, and I decline, very nicely, and explain why. Namely, it comes down to pure economics. Doing a show in Texas outside of the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex is expensive enough with gasoline, vehicle rental, hotel accomodations, and food allocations. Combine that with the necessary legal permits required to transport plants across state lines, and I do NOT want to make Wikipedia for being the guy who introduced some horrible invasive species or deadly floral disease to a new area, and the finances get a bit thin. When I explain to the steampunk convention crew how many plants I’d need to sell just to break even, they blanch and apologize for up my time.

(As a sidenote, I’ve been planning to compose a little essay on why vendors to shows and conventions choose the shows they do and why. In the interim, let’s just say that repeated nagging to attend a gaming convention with an admitted attendance of 200 to 400 people, screaming “You never got back with me!” at another convention, and literally whining about how it was in my best interest to cancel an existing commitment and reschedule isn’t the way to do it. And yes, that really happened last year.)

Recent news makes me reconsider this assessment. For the last fifteen or so years, I’ve received regular postcards from the folks at the World Horror Convention, a big traveling show hosted by a different city each year, asking about becoming an attendee. I had considered being a vendor at the 2011 WHC in Austin, until I saw it was scheduled opposite Texas Frightmare Weekend, and the logistics came into play. (The fact that I’d sooner live in Houston than so much as soil a gas station restroom in Austin had something to do with it, too.) This year’s WHC is in Salt Lake City, which is just a little too far to travel in the summer with a truckload of plants. In 2013, though, World Horror comes to New Orleans.

I reiterate: New Orleans.

My first encounter with New Orleans was fourteen years ago this coming November, when I was invited by the god-in-human-form Robert Fontenot to be a guest at a new genre and pop convention in New Orleans called ExotiCon. I’m still good friends with many of the people I met there in 1998, and I came back for the next two shows run by Robert. So did the Czarina, with her now ex-husband, and she’s still famous for running the world’s most quiet convention party at the 2000 show. I still tell him, to this day, that were he insane enough to try this again, we’d both come down, without hesitation, and do our best to promote the show as much as we were able. In the intervening years, we’ve looked at other excuses to head down that way, and just haven’t quite had the opportunity.

Well, now that may change. I’ve already contacted the WHC 2013 crew for further information, but the thought process ran roughly similar to this:

Negative: One solid day of driving between Dallas and New Orleans, and flying down there with plants isn’t an option.

Positive: New Orleans.

Negative: Considering the cost of renting a cargo van, including mileage, it may actually be cheaper to buy one.

Positive: New Orleans.

Negative: A big portion of the trip entails going over the Atchafalaya Basin Bridge, which is one of the most knuckle-whitening, anus-puckering trips I’ve ever made…in a truck full of carnivorous plants.

Positive: New Orleans. Oh, and did I mention the food?

Negative: Phytosan permits, hotel reservations, trying to go anywhere outside of the hotel, old writing acquaintances terrified of leaving the hotel for fear they might miss out on an editor they haven’t already harangued, going back home, and all of the usual logistics of doing a big show combined with the logistics of doing one outside of Texas.

Postive: NEW ORLEANS.

I haven’t brought this up with the Czarina, but that’s on the plate for this evening. I pretty much know what the answer will be, though, without asking. If I don’t check, I know what that answer will be, and if I’m going to be rolled up in a fetal ball while she beats me with a rolled-up magazine and screams “WHAT the hell is WRONG with you?”, I’d prefer for it to be something worthy of the offense.

I get by with a little hemp from my friends

One of the greatest gifts I’ve yet received in the past ten years is the collection of friends, cohorts, and interested bystanders gathered together through a mutual love of plants. I get calls and E-mail at all hours, asking “Do you know about [this]?”, and I answer them as best as I can. In return, they keep an eye open for particularly intriguing additions: they understand more than I do that the slogan for the Triffid Ranch is “Odd Plants and Oddities For Odd People”, and they do their best to live by that slogan.

For instance, I’d like to introduce you all to Jeremy Stone, a friend who lives southeast of Dallas near the town of Ennis. Jeremy’s wife Jamie has been a friend for nearly a decade, but I’ve only recently had the opportunity to make his acquaintance. He has quite the commute to work (it’s a bit hard for most people outside the state to understand why none of us balk about driving for three and four hours to get to anything, because sometimes that’s the only way we’re going to see the best things about the state), so he had quite the surprise when he found something very odd along the northbound side of Highway I-45.

Basic thistle

For instance, the photo above illustrates the main features of the Texas thistle (Cirsium texanum), a very common weedy plant through the state. It has a lot in common with the citizenry: prickly if disturbed, able to thrive in conditions that kill just about everything else, and ignored at your peril. This time of the year, it can produce flower scapes about 1.5 meters tall, and it usually grows rapidly and goes to seed before the really bad summer heat hits. The surprise, really, is that such a beautiful flower is so ignored, but that’s mostly because it thrives in superficially poor soils, so it’s everywhere.

Anyway, Jeremy was heading to work one day when he spotted something unlike any other Texas thistle he’d ever seen. Like the rest of us, he figured that if he didn’t get some kind of proof, he’d leave out valuable details on his discovery. Worse, he knew that the state could mow the grass alongside the highway at any time, so he had the fear that it might not be there by the time he got back that evening. He took photos, posted them on Facebook, and asked me “Do you know what this is?”

Cristate form of the Texas thistle

As can be told, this was a bit, erm, unorthodox. I could joke and say “The last time I saw something like this, it was trying to convince me not to follow my ex-wife to Z’Ha’Dum,” but that doesn’t really answer what this what is. I’d seen dandelions with multiple fused stems, but nothing quite on this level. And with this being south of Dallas, Jeremy wanted to know if this was some aberration produced by low-level radioactivity, overuse of pesticides, excessive solar radiation, residue from the cement kilns in Midlothian or fracking operations, or just sheer perversity.

Cristate thistle blooms

As it turns out, “sheer perversity” comes closer to the situation than I knew. Lorie Johnson, an old friend and and fellow heliophobe, took a look at this and did a bit of research. In the process, she came across what’s probably the best general-knowledge guide to cristate and monstrose plant forms I’ve yet read. Both unusual plant growth patterns are well-documented in succulents, but that’s mostly because cristates in particular have a tendency to survive for years. This, though, was an example in an aster, not in a cactus.

Cristate thistle stem

And let’s not forget the Czarina. I showed her pictures, and she didn’t question my sanity. I suggested “You want to go out to Ferris, dig up this monster, and drag it home?”, and she didn’t call a psychiatrist and ask about the cost of Thorazine by the gallon. In fact, she figured that if there was any way to rescue it from the lawn mowers, we should give it a shot. Saturday was spent dealing with a truly horrible allergy fit, but Sunday’s air wasn’t quite to our usual “a bit too thick to breathe, a bit too thin to plow” pollen standard this year, so we tossed plastic crates, shovels, cameras, and other implements of destruction, and made a road trip of it. Jeremy sent photos for context to show its exact location, and after wandering along the highway’s service road for a little while, seeing firsthand how the area was still recovering from this month’s tornadoes and killer thunderstorms, we finally found it.

Crushed by the Texas winds

Well, we would have been better off if we’d been able to get out on Friday. Unfortunately for us and the thistle, the winds on Friday night had been particularly bad, and they snapped the two main cristate stems at about the level of the surrounding grass, also breaking off a normal stem at the base in the process. By the time we found it, the plant was obviously dying, and we figured that putting it through the stress of transplantation would only compound the situation.

Cristate thistle bloom, closeup

Jeremy wasn’t the only person to ask “Why don’t you collect seed from it and see if you can grow new ones?” If only I could. The factors that cause cristate and monstrose plants are still completely unknown, and they almost always show up without warning. Almost all cristate succulents fail to produce viable seed, and apparently this is also true of other cristate plants.

Cristate thistle stem

The worst part was that with the combination of a dying plant and the ridiculous intensity of the sun that day, most of the photos of the plant’s structure didn’t come out well. This was probably the best view to the thistle’s stem: instead of expanding outward evenly, the stem grew laterally, making it resemble an organic old-style ribbon cable. That was also the source of its doom, as the wind cracked it right along the flat of the stem, and it may have survived if the edge had been facing the prevailing winds. Combine the increasing dryness of the season and the stronger winds, and it just didn’t have a chance.

The Czarina and I finally left the ailing plant, hoping that it might go dormant over the summer and come up when the rains returned this fall, but we didn’t have too much hope. We just counted ourselves incredibly lucky that we spotted it in the first place, and that the local police didn’t assume that we were looking for ditch-weed instead. As it was, we couldn’t get over the impression that we were being watched, and not just by the drivers on I-45 asking “What the hell are they doing?”

The Eyes of Texas Are Upon You

Texas. With high weirdness like this, I really can’t imagine living anywhere else.

Garden shows in the Home of Happiness

I haven’t had any reason to visit Denton, home of the University of North Texas Flying Worms, since my best friend moved back to Dallas a decade ago while fleeing a hipster infestation. After reading about next April’s Redbud Festival, I think I now have reason. The show specifically states that vendor space is only open to home and garden-related services, and it may be time to bring a carnivorous plant show to the Home of Happiness. (And don’t think that I’m picking on Denton. Anything but. I still have nothing but fond memories of my time on the UNT campus, even as I’m also insanely glad that I never got my journalism degree from there. Or from anywhere else, for that matter. Talk about throwing my money into a tree mulcher.)