Sunday, May 12, 2013

Butterflies for Mother's Day

This year for Mother's Day, my son is out of the country and my daughter is fifteen. I wasn't sure I could get either of them to do anything fun with me for Mother's Day. When I saw on Facebook that Walter B. Jacobs Memorial Nature Park was having a Butterfly Hike for Mother's Day, I took a chance and asked my daughter to join me. She said "yes" and for a week or so, my excitement was building. I've never gone on a butterfly hike and thought that it sounded like an excellent way to spend the day. My gift this year was Butterflies for Mother's Day.

Walter B. Jacobs Memorial Nature Park is about 30 minutes from my town of Bossier City, Louisiana. The 160 acre park is dedicated to helping citizens of Northwest Louisiana connect with nature by conserving a pine-oak-hickory forest for interpretation and recreation.

big headed bones
As my daughter, Laura, and I arrived at the park, we first sat down at the picnic area and had lunch. We had never been to this park and were immediately struck by the surrounding nature and bird sounds. After eating, we went inside the Interpretive Building and explored the exhibits. We found examples of the many species of plant and animal life found in the Northwest Louisiana area. There was a working bee hive, a live soft shelled turtle, several varieties of reptiles and many preserved models of wildlife.

Laura and I were excitedly waiting for about 45 minutes for our hike to begin. John is the former park naturalist who would be leading our Butterfly Hike, he was filing in for the day. Along with John was Kim, the Park Ranger and Naturalist. There were several families who also came out to experience the nature walk. Each of the children were given butterfly nets to assist in our search for butterflies for Mother's Day. John started the walk by explaining to us that there were three things that we might see on the hike: butterflies, moths and skippers. We would focus just on butterflies for the day. We learned that butterflies usually held their wings straight up and together when they landed. We were told that because butterflies don't get very much salt in their diet that they would often land on humans to lick the sweat for salt.

So off we went in search of butterflies. John told us many ways to look for butterflies. He told us to always look for the flowers. Not just any flowers, but the types of flowers that are made specifically for butterflies. Flowers that are fragrant, have nectar and also have petals that are flat for landing. Butterflies are cold-blooded, so like to sometimes lay their wings in the sun to get warm. He also said that butterflies have scales on them to protect from getting caught in spider webs. Very interesting stuff. We saw several butterflies and caught a moth or two along the way.  

Is it a Butterfly, a Moth or a Skipper?

In addition to the search for butterflies, we were exposed to many of the beautiful plant life found in the woods of the park. We were shown the milkweed, the may apple, thistle and the sassafras. John (with permission from the park ranger) pulled a sassafras root and let us smell it. ROOTBEER!! It smelled like rootbeer. In fact, sassafras makes rootbeer and gumbo file'. But my favorite plant in the woods was the honeysuckle. It's been many years since I pulled the stem from a honeysuckle and licked the nectar. That sure brought back memories. It was fun watching all the kids licking their honeysuckle stems.

If you haven't had a chance to visit this park, I recommend that you make plans to do so. It's a great place to take a hike and reflect on nature. There are five miles of hiking trails with wayside exhibits, a picnic pavilion, an herb garden, an outdoor area with captive raptors and deer. Walter B. Jacobs Memorial Nature Park is located at 8012 Blanchard Furrh Road, Shreveport, Louisiana and is open to the public Wednesday through Saturday 8:00 am to 5:00 pm and Sunday 1:00 pm to 5:00 pm. (answer to the video is:  Goat weed leaf wing butterfly)

I've scanned the brochure of upcoming events for Summer 2013, check it out!

Keep on livin' it up!
Robin Rials Williams

Soft Shelled Turtle

Friday, May 10, 2013

Zippin' Right Along

Gators and Friends Zip-lining Adventure
Who says there is nothing to do in Shreveport-Bossier? Whoever it was, doesn't know what they are talking about. Besides the awesome bowling facility that is Holiday Lanes (shameless plug), there's an awesome attraction just west of our area: Gators and Friends. If you haven't been to Gators and Friends, it's an exotic haven for alligators, camels, llama's and other animals that you may not have ever seen. But, I don't want to really talk about the animals right now.

Today I experienced the newest addition at their outdoor adventures: Zip-lining! This adventure has been officially insured and open to the public since yesterday, so I felt like I was one of the lucky firsts in our area to experience an adventure over alligators.

I serve on the Shreveport-Bossier Convention and Tourist Bureau Attractions Association with Jim, the proprietor of Gator and Friends. I knew the zip-line adventure was coming to our area. I also knew that the zip-line would go over alligators, which created a thrill and a bit of fear in me.What I didn't know was how cool the actual venue would be. I drove out thinking there would be one cable that simply allowed you to zip over a couple of gators. Oh my, no! There are seven, count them, seven towers that whiz over alligators, Claude the Camel, frolicking ponies and a massive Scottish cow.

Arriving at Gators and Friends, I kind of pushed my fear down into my belly. I have decided that I want to start doing the things that scare me. As I was suiting up in the safety gear, I actually didn't feel any fear, but before starting I still asked my guide, Kent, the question "if I'm too scared after the first zip, can I climb down and walk back to base?". The answer was "yes", but I could tell it really was "no". It's only when I began climbing the first tower that I started feeling a little queasy. Kent assured me that I would have a blast and in the end, he was right. Safety is a top priority with Gators and Friends and at no time did I ever feel concerned. Before you knew it we were all zippin' right along.

The seven zip-line towers are strategically placed throughout the park to give you a glimpse of both the menagerie and the wooded scenery. Each tower seems to get a little higher than the last and it is an exhilarating feeling as you glide from one to the next. Although, I will admit that a few foul words escaped my mouth as I hurtled toward the approaching towers. Amazingly, I had no feelings of fear, even at the heights that we climbed. Scaling the tower steps was probably more frightening than the whole adventure, but moderate overall. Imagine a spiraling staircase as tall as a pine tree - a tad wobbly, to say the least.

My Zip-Lining Gang
There were three other tourists from the Fort Worth area that were in my zip-lining gang. We became instant friends. We had so much fun, singing and joking along the way. Encouraging each other and whooping it up. The last tower (#7) is a double cable that allows two people to race over the alligator pit. This was too much fun. We noticed bubbles in the pond below and joked that it might be the last zip-liners being eaten by the gators. Our guides, Kent, Summer and Olga were super awesome and kept us safe and sound. In fact, Kent was so sweet and kept telling me how excited he was that I came out and faced my fear. He was a fabulous guide and made me feel proud of myself. The only way the adventure could have been better is to have a video or photo of myself actually zippin' right along, as proof that I did it. Jim says this may be a feature added at a later time.

Since it's only been open since yesterday, my guess is that most of you haven't been yet. Get your booty over there now! It's really an amazing adventure that you don't want to miss. Gators and Friends is located 10 miles west of Shreveport, just off of Interstate 20 at 11441 Hwy 80, Greenwood, Louisiana.  

(Zipline Pricing: Regular price is $70 but have an introductory reduced price special on weekdays (Mon-Fri) of "half-price" $35 through May 31, 2013. Call (318) 938-1199 to schedule a tour.)

Keep on livin' it up!
Robin Rials Williams

UPDATE - I went back again on May 24 with my daughter and friend (my new favorite activity). Not only was I a first customer, but I was the first repeat customer. How cool is that? Here's a video of my second adventure. (sorry about the portrait video orientation)

View from the top!