Beyond the Beltway: Crocodile Encounter

Crocodile Encounter Tortoise
Address: 23231 CR 48, Angleton, TX 77515

You may have seen the Crocodile Encounter review that I did last year. Well, the place is so great that we decided to go back again this year!  We saw crocodiles and alligators and fed the tortoises.

Crocodile Encounter
The first part of our tour started out a little bit slow and scary. Our tour guide Jade marched right in to the first enclosure with the largest alligator (12 feet long and 800 pounds!) with a bucket full of raw chicken. She hit the water with a piece of chicken a few times, but the alligator refused to come out.

After that she went near its burrow and tried again. Even though we couldn’t see him, we sure heard him! A loud (and frightening!) hissing sound came repeatedly from that direction but that didn’t stop Jade.

She tried a few more times but the gator just wasn’t hungry and wanted to be left alone. She promised we’d get to see lots of other alligators and took us to the next stop on our tour. On our way there we did get a good view of the alligator’s head sticking out of his burrow and it was huge!

Crocodile Encounter Feeding Tortoises1
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Far Beyond the Beltway:  Texas Travel Information Center & Boardwalk (with Turtles, Fish, Snakes & Even Alligators!)

Texas Travel Information Center Lone Star1
Address:  1708 E. I-10, Orange, TX 77632

My Beyond the Beltway post for this week isn’t about a destination, but it is about a great place to stop on your way back from an actual destination!  Whether you’re coming back from somewhere as close as Louisiana or as far as Florida, the Texas Travel Information Center on I-10 can provide a welcome break from being stuck in a car.  It is located just past the Louisiana border and is a little over 100 miles from Houston so hopefully it will be your last stop before getting home!

Texas Travel Information Center Boardwalk
The Information Center isn’t just a rest stop.  There are very clean, large bathrooms as well as vending machines, but the reason we always stop here is to visit the boardwalk that is located behind the building. It goes out over a swampy area and we’ve seen fish, turtles, snakes, and even alligators down in the water!  The best places to see the alligators are to go immediately to the left or right as soon as you walk out of the doors.  They aren’t always there, but we have seen them during most of our stops if we look closely enough.

Texas Travel Information Center Turtle
Inside the building are free brochures for attractions all over Texas.  Even though we live here I like to check out the ones for the Houston area and that is where I got several of my ideas for this Beyond the Beltway series!  The people who work at the Information Center are always very friendly and if you go up to the counter you can get a free Texas map as well as a “Don’t Mess with Texas” bumper sticker.

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Beyond the Beltway: Bayou Wildlife Zoo in Alvin, Texas

Camel at Bayou Wildlife Park
Address: 5050 FM 517, Alvin, TX 77511
Cost: Adults: $20, Kids: $10, Free Under 2, Call for Group Rates

Our Beyond the Beltway adventure for this week was actually the BigKidSmallCity meet up at Bayou Wildlife Zoo in Alvin! Thanks so much to everyone who came out for this; we had a great time and hope you did too!

Osterich Eating
For those of you who missed it, the main attraction at Bayou Wildlife is the tram ride through the 86-acre property where exotic wildlife is allowed to roam. Not only do you get to see these animals up close, but you can even feed most of them. Buckets of food are available for purchase and many of the animals will come up and stick their heads right into the tram looking for food!

Feeding Animals at Bayou Wildlife Park
We saw a rhino, zebras, deer, water buffalos, wildebeests, camels, llamas, Watusi cattle, giraffes, ostriches and emus as well as many more types of animals on our safari-like trip. Watch out for those ostriches though, they really like their food! Also be sure to check out the tongues on some of those cattle; they are huge!

Osterich at Bayou Wildlife Park
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Beyond the Beltway: Dairy Ashford Roller Rink

Address: 1820 S. Dairy Ashford, Houston, Texas 77077

When a friend told me she was going to the Toddler Skate session at the Dairy Ashford Roller Rink I immediately decided we had to try it too! This session is only for kids ages 7 and under and adults with them, so I thought this would be a perfect opportunity to try out skating without getting run over by lots of big kids.

Dairy Ashford Roller Rink WallsF
As soon as we arrived, though, I started to have some doubts about the wisdom of our plan. Apparently Toddler Skating isn’t just for roller skates. The people in line around us had brought scooters, small tricycles, and even miniature grocery carts! Turns out that bicycles and motorized vehicles are not allowed, but pretty much anything else with wheels is fair game!

Dairy Ashford Roller Rink Stoller SkateF
Despite my concerns we paid our $5 per person and went in to get our skates. A short while later we were laced up and ready to roll! Well, sort of roll. At first it was more like inching along the wall! My friend Alex saved the day by bravely venturing out, on skates, with her 10 month old in a very stable stroller. All four big kids (two five year olds and two 7 year olds) immediately latched on to her and the stroller and it was hysterical!

Dairy Ashford Roller Rink SkatemateF
A short time (and many falls!) later the kids were starting to get a little more comfortable on their skates. They still didn’t want to get too far from me or Alex though, so I decided to rent a Skatemate for them to use. A Skatemate is a PVC pipe contraption that is kind of like a walker on wheels. The kids hold on to it as they become more comfortable balancing and it prevents most of the falls, although a few times they managed to take it down with them! After taking turns on the Skatemate all of the kids became comfortable enough to venture out a little further on their own.

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Beyond the Beltway: Seabrook Pelican Path + Scavenger Hunt Print-able!

For this week’s Beyond the Beltway adventure, we went hunting for pelicans on the Seabrook Pelican Path! The Seabrook Pelicans remind me of Houston’s Art Cows; however, they are mostly located in a small geographic area. This makes them perfect for a scavenger hunt!

Le Jardineier the Seabrook Pelican
The morning of our hunt we jumped in the car with some water, snacks, a scavenger hunt list and a map of the pelicans’ location. The map was useful, but it is slightly out of date*. Although we didn’t try to find all of the pelicans, we did find that some have been moved since the map was created (see below for some of the changes).  Most were still in the same location!

Scuba Pelly the Scuba Diving Seabrook Pelican
As we drove through Seabrook on our (mostly!) pre-planned route, the kids had a great time searching for the pelicans and yelling out when they saw one. For the first several we actually pulled into a conveniently located parking lot and got out to inspect the pelican. After that though, we just got out for the extra special ones and otherwise the kids were content to look at them through the window. That was fine with me because it seemed like it was taking forever get back in the car and buckle seatbelts before heading to the next one!

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Beyond the Beltway: Old Mac Donald’s Farm

Sheep at Old Mac Donalds Farm
Address:  3203 FM 1960 East, Humble, TX 77338

Many of our Beyond the Beltway adventures this summer have been educational, or at least informative, but this one was just plain fun!

Sand Mountain at Old Mac Donalds Farm
Old Mac Donald’s Farm is located north of Houston, not far from George Bush Intercontinental Airport. It is located on 15 acres of land and has lots of different activities for the kids to do. All activities are included in the entry fee, with only the animal feed and concessions costing extra.

Cavy from Old Mac Donalds Farm
One of the main attractions is the many different kinds of animals at the farm. Some of the ones the kids were able to look at were ducks, an emu, llamas, a Jersey cow and calf, donkeys, and a Patagonian cavy (a rabbit-like animal). If these animals were close enough to the side of the pen the kids were even able to pet them.

Feeding More Animals at Old Mac Donalds Farm
Other animals we were able to feed. When we arrived at the farm we bought a couple of feed bags for $1 each and these actually lasted for quite a while. We were able to go inside the pens with potbellied pigs, rabbits, goats, sheep, and chickens to feed them by hand. Watch out for those baby goats though. When we didn’t get food out fast enough for them they decided to taste my daughter’s skirt, my shoe laces, and my camera case instead!

Indian Village at Old Mac Donalds Farm
There are also peacocks and Axis Deer roaming the grounds. We didn’t get close to the peacocks, but the deer came right up when offered food. My kids quickly grouped them into two categories: greedy and lazy. The greedy ones pushed others out of the way to get more food while the lazy ones just lay in the shade and waited for us to go to them!

Riding Horses at Old Mac Donalds Farm
One of the other activities at the farm is the pony rides. All of the horses and ponies were very gentle and they were led around the arena at a walk. During our Saturday morning visit there were no lines so the kids did this at least 5 times!

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Beyond the Beltway: Sea Center Texas and Surfside Beach

Crab at Sea Center Texas
Sea Center Texas: 300 Medical Drive, Lake Jackson, Texas
Surfside Beach: 3312 Bluewater Hwy, Surfside, Texas

This week we traveled south down 288 to visit Sea Center Texas. Texas Parks and Wildlife Department operates three fish hatcheries, but Sea Center Texas is the only one visitors are allowed to tour! We reserved our tour spot by calling the number on this page.

We arrived at the Sea Center about 45 minutes before our tour and were able to go through the visitor center during that time. The first things that grabbed our attention were the large stuffed fish hanging on the walls. Those things are huge! Each has a nameplate beside it, so we were able to identify them. I didn’t need to read the plate to know what the hammerhead shark was, but I didn’t know how massive they were!

Sea Center Texas
Immediately after that the kids had to go check out the touch tank. Here they were able to touch live hermit crabs, anemones, and a few other kinds of crabs! There were even small fish flitting around in the water and a volunteer was available to answer any questions we had about the animals in the tank. This was definitely our favorite part of the visitor center.

Across the room from the touch tank was an area where the kids could make rubbings of eight different sea creatures. The plastic forms had raised ridges, so the kids were able to place sheets of paper over them and rub crayons along the paper to create the impression.

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Beyond the Beltway: George Ranch Historical Park

Address:  10215 FM 762, Richmond, TX 77469

It’s Shanna! This week we travel Beyond the Beltway to George Ranch Historical Park and had a great time! In fact, we stayed much longer than I had planned!

I really didn’t know anything about it before we arrived, but decided to go check it out anyway. What we found out is that it is a working ranch and living history site where visitors follow the story of four generations of a Texas family, starting in the 1820s when the land was first settled.

Now, you may be wondering what the park being called a “living history” site means. The answer is that everything is kept as true to the time period as possible. All of the guides/interpreters dress in costume for the time period that they represent and remain in character. The homes on the property are authentic as well (with some small exceptions like air conditioning to preserve antiques in two of the houses). This gave us a wonderful feeling of being immersed in the history that we were learning.

3 Jones cabin at George Ranch Historical Park
The park has four primary areas, each of which focuses on a different generation of the family. Because the property was passed through the female side of the family, each location is known by last name of the generation being represented.

1 Jones cabin at George Ranch Historical Park
We started out at the 1830s log cabin of the Jones family. Henry and Nancy Jones were the original settlers of the land and moved here in 1824 when the land was still a part of Mexico. We were able to explore their small cabin and get a glimpse of what their lives must have been like. Mr. Henry Jones was the interpreter and explained in detail anything that we had questions about.

4 Jones cabin at George Ranch Historical Park
He showed my daughter how to work the large loom, let both kids hold one of his chickens, explained about the natural medicines available there, told us what expectations he had of his children, and much more. We also saw a couple of girls making corn husk dolls and cleaning and carding cotton. Then Mr. Jones demonstrated how the cotton was spun into thread. The kids and I found all of this to be fascinating!

2 Jones cabin at George Ranch Historical Park
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Beyond the Beltway: Battleship Texas and the San Jacinto Monument

View from top of Battleship Texas
Battleship Texas, 3523 Independence Pkwy, La Porte, TX 77571
San Jacinto Monument,  1 Monument Circle, La Porte, Texas 77571

For our Beyond the Beltway adventure this week we headed out east of the Beltway. I’ve often seen the signs for Battleship Texas and the San Jacinto Monument on our way out of town and decided it was finally time to see them for ourselves!

Battleship TEXAS was commissioned in 1914 and served in both World Wars. While I enjoyed learning about her interesting history, the kids were far more interested in simply exploring the Battleship.

Battleship Texas
From the moment we pulled into the parking lot they were awed by the large guns and as soon as we boarded the ship they went straight to the 3-inch guns.

They were able to sit at these and were delighted to find out that they could train and rotate them, tracking imaginary enemies. The kids weren’t the only ones at the guns either. We noticed that one was roped off because a bird had decided to build its nest there!

Xander at Battleship Texas
From there we explored the rest of the main deck and then climbed into the foremast. Besides enjoying the view, we got to see Pilot House on the Navigation Bridge where the Captain set the ship’s speed and course.

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Beyond the Beltway: Airplane Spotting at the Official IAH Airplane Observation Lot & Aviator Grill at Hooks Airport!

Watching Airplanes Pass By
IAH Offical Airplane Observation Parking Lot, Lee Rd, by Will Clayton Pkwy, at the end of runway 27
Hooks Airport & Aviator Grill: 20803 Stuebner Airline Rd, Spring, TX 77379
Cost:  Free for the observation lot.  More for the garage or for lunch at Aviators Grill!

Janie of Fun2Go Misters is here sharing one of son’s favorite activities: Airplane Spotting!  Read on to learn about Airplane Spotting at these locations!

  • IAH Official Airplane Observation Parking Lot (Pack a picnic, football & mosquito spray!)
  • IAH Parking Garage (Terminal D)
  • Hooks Airport in Spring
  • Aviators Grill, with a window out to the runway at Hooks Airport

Houston offers so many great sight seeing venues that can be fun for anyone including “airplane spotting”.   Airplanes are amazing traveling machines, and seeing them fly over can make young ones very inquisitive!

No matter what age, this free venue is a must for anyone that is curious about airplane spotting. Photographers, couples on dates and family outings have been made throughout the years at a special location that George Bush Intercontinental Airport (IAH)  has designated as an official airplane observation parking lot,  located on Lee Rd. at the end of runway 27.  It  can also serve as a park and wait area instead of sitting at one of the cell phone lots.

This  location has been a spot for us to visit since we were small and now I have the luxury of taking my family for the spectacular views of the airplanes arriving and preparing to land on runway 27.  The aircrafts are literally flying about a hundred feet over your head.

Here is a cute tip to help those curious minds, download a flight tracking app on your smartphone and you will be able to see a destination route of the plane that is flying over. You will need to be quick and have the phone handy and remember the airport abbreviation (IAH).

As the plane is hovering over, make sure you grab the tail number or the number on the bottom between the wing and tail, which you will then input on the app to find out a little more about the flight path of the airplane that just zoomed over your head.

Depending on your carrier, there are various free, flight tracking apps available and a simple one will give you the departure/arrival information once you insert the plane identification number.

UPDATE:  You can also ask Siri! On your IPhone, ask, “Siri, what airplanes are flying above me?”, and you could get the answer!  Look at this from IAH:

Siri Airplane
Another thing that you can add to your airplane spotting adventure, is having a picnic at the observation area.  If you have a truck, pull down the tailgate and set out a blanket, an SUV or van will work as well.  We have a car and on our last trip, we took a tv tray, a couple of chairs, a telescope (not that it is necessary), bubbles and a few snacks to enjoy watching the giant metal machines fly over us.

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