|Deciding to stay put in Beaumont through Thanksgiving, we have been finding lots of things to see and do. One day we drove to the Gulf of Mexico (Mike's first glimpse) south of Port Arthur which is just south of Beaumont. Had fun playing on the beach, looking for shells and talking to lots of friendly people out fishing for sea trout and catching crawfish. The devastation from the hurricanes to the Port Arthur area is still very visible and lots of businesses along the Intracoastal Waterway have not rebuilt. They had damage from Hurricanes IKE, RITA and KATRINA. Most houses are up on stilts at least 8 feet above ground. We've seen them on TV but is quite something to see in person. One day we drove to "The Big Thicket" which is north of Beaumont. It is a National Preserve and one of the few places in the world where four climates collide from the Ice Age Days. The Southwest Deserts, the Central Plains, The Eastern Forests and the Southeastern Swamps all meet in the Big Thicket so there are plants and animals from all four regions who adapted and make their home there. It is home to 4 out of the 5 carnivorous plants found in the U.S. and also boasts 18 different kinds of orchids. It is also home to 5 different kinds of snakes, alligators, armadillos,coyotes and bobcats and many species of birds. The thicket is almost impenetrable so there are no roads to drive through it. At one time it once spread over 3.5 million acres but is now less than 300,000 acres. Reportedly many of the men who refused to fight in the Civil War moved deep into the thicket to keep from being found. It is rumored to have been home to many longhorn cattle during the Civil War and after the war men would go into the Thicket to round them up for food and to sell. Most of the cattle were so wild, some so much so, they were tied to oxen to tame them so they could be driven from the thicket. It also became the home of many bandits, crooks and thieves. When oil was discovered in Beaumont, pioneers came in droves and harvested the timber and many of the animals for food. It was said by the early people who lived in the Big Thicket that it contained everything they needed to live on and they never left.