Texas’ Big Bend:A Photographic Adventure

Today’s guest blogger is Mike Marvins, a fourth generation portrait photographer. His photographs, featuring the wilderness of Big Bend National Park in Texas, are currently on display on the mezzanine of HMNS. In this post, Mike discusses his experiences at Big Bend National Park.
Texas’ Big Bend region has been a part of my life for over 40 years. As a new Scoutmaster, just off a four year stint as an officer in the Army, I was determined that my troop in Houston get a taste of high adventure backpacking. That first trip was a real learning experience for the boys and me. With July temperatures at over one hundred degrees on the Rio Grande we began the week with a downpour the first night. A real desert storm – and we had no tents. Even with all the hardships we were all entranced with the vastness and grandeur of Big Bend. That was the first of many, many trips — both with the Scouts and then with camping buddies and family.

Being a fourth generation portrait photographer,  the two months leading up to Christmas were filled with eighteen hour workdays. Then on December 26 each year, I would go off to Big Bend for some mind-clearing solitude. That’s the one thing most people have told me they treasure most about the area. 

My photography in Big Bend started with snapshots of the people who were sharing the experience with us. Then, came many years of pictures of things that just caught my attention. These were just personal mementos, tucked away in albums. They were not made with any publication, articles or exhibits in mind. That let me be creative and make pictures that truly came from the heart. They reflect both the incredible natural history of Big Bend and its human history as well.

Several years ago, friends and clients urged me to share my pictures with “the world.” That resulted in the book “Texas’ Big Bend; A Photographic Adventure From the Pecos To The Rio Grande,” published by Bright Sky Press in 2009. It’s the first book that encompasses the (850,000 acre) Big Bend National Park, Big Bend Ranch State Park, historic towns and ranches.  The exhibit, now on display at the Houston Museum of Natural Science,  is based on photographs from the book and prints that have been acquired by major art museums.

Lois: What Happens Next [Corpse Flower]

Corpse Flower Cutie!
Lois mania will soon die down, but we hope her
bloom has inspired kids like Elora
(who made this amazing hat with her mom!)
to stay excited about science.
Check out the rest of our Lois photos on Flickr.

NOTE: The last ticket time available to see Lois tonight will be 11 pm. The Museum returns to normal operating hours tomorrow, Monday, July 26. Lois will remain on display throughout this week, and the Lois webcam will remain live, while she works on returning to a dormant state.

Lois is nearing the end.  What a show it has been! This is what has happened over the past couple of days.

Friday, the female flowers inside Lois’s chamber (the swollen portion at the bottom of the spathe) became receptive.  When this happens, the big spadix starts to heat up to volatize the stinky pheromone (scent) and send it far and wide.  In nature, insects attracted to rotting, stinky stuff such as decaying bodies would come flocking, thinking they would find something good to eat or especially a place to lay their eggs.  Of course this is nothing but a trick.  The insects crawl down into the corpse flower’s chamber through small openings around the spadix where the spathe is constricted.  Hopefully these insects had already been fooled by another corpse flower, and so came bearing pollen (completely inadvertent on their part).  Once inside they would roam around,  scrambling over the flowers inside, looking for the rotting meat.  Alas, it is just a hoax, and they are trapped inside the chamber for 24 hours or so.  Meanwhile, the male flowers open to shed their pollen.  Only then are the insects able to crawl back out – and fly on to the next corpse flower, perhaps many miles away.

So – in Lois’s case, Friday her female flowers were receptive – so the stink was strongest to draw in pollinations.  Saturday, there were only faint remnants of her scent. The female flowers are no longer receptive; now it’s the males’ turn. We plan to collect some pollen to freeze (the best way to preserve its viability) so we can send it on to any other botanical garden that might want to fertilize their corpse flower when it blooms.

In Lois’s case, she is too young and too small to be pollinated.  It is very costly [Ed. note: hard on the plant] to produce that huge inflorescence (bloom) and to spend another year ripening the fruits might do her in.  Instead Lois is starting to wilt and her spadix will collapse soon.  We are not sure how fast this will happen, but the entire flowering structure will eventually crumble or rot and fall away, leaving only the tuber – which will have lost up to 25% of its weight.

At that point we will unearth Lois and examine her tuber to make sure she’s okay.  We will weigh her and dust her with powdered sulfur to prevent fungal and insect damage.  After the tuber dries out for a few days we will repot her in fresh soil, but will keep it quite dry until next spring, when we hope she will produce a leaf again.  It may be several more years before Lois has recuperated enough mass to bloom again.  We hope that next time her tuber will be much bigger and at that point, she might be able to survive the ordeal of producing fruit.

BLOOM! [Corpse Flower]

Well, Houston – the stank is upon us.

We got the call at 4:30 this morning, with the news that those of you who were queing up to see her  overnight already knew – Lois is a stinky, stinky plant.

Seriously. She smells. Bad.

So bad that staff and media in the gallery with Lois are availing themselves of gas masks to cope. And we’re not even to peak stink yet. Lois’ spadix (the tall center spike) is heating up – and that heat is what helps the stench to spread. As of 7 am, the spadix was 90 degrees, while the surrounding environment was a mere 81. Zac has also measured Lois height a final time – and she stands at 69.75 inches tall.

It’s a BLOOM! See the rest of the updated Flickr photos from this morning.

If you’re coming to see Lois this weekend, make sure you get your tickets online – this will reserve a particular time for you – as certain times are selling out in advance.

For the latest updates, check out our Twitter, Facebook and Flickr pages! And, you can share your photos of Lois with us in our Flickr pool!

VIDEO: The Beginning of the Bloom? [Corpse Flower]

Lois has made lots of progress today – the upper spathe has separated dramatically from the inner spadix even since last night. but Lois is, as always, unpredictable! We’ll continue to keep everyone posted through Twitter, Facebook, Flickr, the Corpse Flower webcam, and the museum web site.

Here’s the latest from Zac, our horticulturalist!

Can’t see the video? Click here.