Saturday, March 17, 2018

Here Comes Spring

Technically, we still have a few more days until spring officially arrives, but signs of spring are beginning to show themselves all around.

On our recent trip, we saw several trees starting to bloom. I grew up in East Texas, but I usually don't miss it very often -- except during spring and fall. I have always enjoyed watching the daffodils bloom early, usually in February, followed by my personal favorite wisteria, as well as dogwoods and red buds. We don't have much spring color where I live now, but we do have some.

Along Southland Boulevard, there is a wisteria plant whose bluish blooms are hanging over a fence near the road. And there are numerous red bud trees all over town, some of them quite pretty.

I took a nice walk through Rio Concho West the other day, but was disappointed in the lack of color. Most of the trees are now leafing out, but there really aren't many colorful blooms. Later on we'll have some pretty yuccas and colorful prickly pear roses, but right now, I'm not seeing too much color.

Below are some pictures I snapped.

I don't know what kind of tree this is, but I love its beautiful and near perfect shape. It seemed to leaf out overnight. It is just a few houses up the hill from us.
I'm not sure what this tree is, but I would guess it is an ornamental pear of some sort. We have a handful of these in the subdivision.
Although this tree looks like the one in the above picture, it doesn't have as nice of a shape. In the fall, it has some nice colors, as shown in the archived picture below of the same tree I took this past autumn.

This is the same tree as above, but during November.

I'm not sure what this tree is. The blooms seem more like cotton balls than the trees in the pictures above. Could this be a dogwood? I just don't know.
Most of our trees have no color; they just leaf out in spring like this one. We are still waiting for the 2 oak trees in our yard to leaf out. 
This is the only red bud tree I saw in our subdivision, and it is rather pathetic. I do not think it gets much water where it is located next to the road, so it is probably suffering. The color is certainly not very bright, and the blossoms are scant.
I believe this is a mountain laurel. If so, there are 2 in our community. You can tell from the trees in the background that it is not a large plant.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Fort Griffin State Historic Site

Our last stop on our recent trip was at Fort Griffin State Historic Site, located about 15 miles north of Albany, Texas. Established in 1867, the fort's main purpose was to protect settlers and trade routes in this part of the Texas frontier. The post was established on a high bluff overlooking the Clear Fort of the Brazos River. If you drive to the scenic overlook in the 506 acre park, you can clearly see why this strategic location was chosen.

In addition to its strategic location atop a prominent hill, there was also a good water supply and a reliable river crossing. Settlers and others soon gravitated to the area. Before long, a town known originally as "The Flat" was established at the base of the hill, but it later became known as Fort Griffin. The town soon became rather notorious, and catered to cattle drivers, buffalo hunters, and the men stationed at the military post. A number of well known historical figures moved through the town, including Doc Holliday, Wyatt Earp, Bat Masterson, Pat Garrett, Dave Rudabaugh, and many others. It was, needless to say, one of the more colorful towns of the western frontier.

The post served as a major supply post during the Red River War of 1874-75, which more or less brought the Indian era in Texas to a close. Following this campaign, most native American tribes were forced to settle on reservations in Oklahoma, though a few raids did continue for a while. As a result, the Panhandle area of Texas became available for settlement.

The post was abandoned in 1881. Today, only the skeletons of a few buildings remain. A few buildings  have been restored. Start your tour at the Visitor Center, which has a few displays as well as a short video to provide some background information. Golf carts are available to visitors to tour the post, which is spread over a rather large area. Although most larger buildings were constructed of native stone, several buildings, including barracks, were constructed of wood.

Below are some photos of the post.

View of the grounds from the Visitor Center. Center of photo is the well, while a couple of barracks are visible on left. The skeletal remains of the administration building are barely visible just beyond the well on the horizon.
One of the displays in the Visitor Center
Restored mess hall. Note rock foundation.

Restored enlisted men's barracks. There were 4 rows of such barracks, and each row had its own mess hall.

Interior of an enlisted men's barracks, where as many as 4 soldiers shared accommodations. Note the fire place at end.
Skeletal remains of sutler's store.
Administration building

Exterior of bakery.
Bakery interior. Note ovens in wall.
One of the steers from the official state Longhorn herd located at the park.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Fort Belknap

After visiting Lake Mineral Wells State Park (see previous post), Donna and I spent the night in nearby Weatherford. The next morning, we drove up to Winstar World Casino for a couple of days of gaming.

We left Winstar early Thursday to return home, but we would make a couple of stops along the way. The first stop was at Fort Belknap a few miles west of Graham, Texas. We had passed by this old military post years ago, probably in the late 1970's, but I had forgotten anything about it during the past 40 years or so.

Entrance to Fort Belknap
The post was established in 1851, and over the years would mainly serve as a supply post or base of operations. During the War Between the States, it was abandoned, and the Texas frontier retreated as a result during the war years. Following the war, it was reoccupied briefly, but was soon abandoned for good. During its existence, the fort served as a hub for numerous roads, and the Butterfield Overland Mail route ran through it.

I recently read a book by Cynthia Haselhoff, Kiowa Verdict. The book was a fictionalized account of the trial of Kiowa chiefs Satanta and Big Tree for a raid they led on a wagon train just east of Fort Belknap in 1871. The trial itself took place in nearby Jacksboro, the home of Fort Richardson at the time. This was the first time that native Americans were tried in a court of law for violence against white men. It was very unique and is quite an interesting story.

The fort itself is not that well preserved today. It is out of the way, located just south of Newcastle on a lesser used highway. I'm not sure what organization owns the fort, but it may be the county. I saw no evidence of state control or funding. Most of the buildings standing today were restored or rebuilt in the 20th century, as most of the original buildings were cannibalized by local residents for building materials a century or more ago.

There is a small museum in the old commissary building with some very interesting artifacts, some related to the fort and some not. The grounds are covered with beautiful old trees, and the place is pleasantly quiet and serene.

Museum is located in the old commissary.
Rattlesnake rattles on left, arrowheads on right. There were several arrowhead collections in the museum.
Donna viewing the display cases in the museum.
More of the artifacts in the museum.
Beautiful old trees with some of the restored buildings in the background.
One of the restored buildings.

Group of buildings near the front of the post.
Unusual grape arbor makes a nice, cool spot for gatherings on a hot summer day.
We enjoyed our visit to the old fort. The countryside is really nice, and the Brazos River runs just a few miles to the west.

Friday, March 9, 2018

Lake Mineral Wells State Park

In March 2006, Donna and I hiked a long loop trail in Lake Mineral Wells State Park. A year or two before that, we hiked several miles of nearby Lake Mineral Wells State Park Trailway, which connects to the state park via a spur trail. Now, Donna is not especially good at recalling places, but for some reason, she recently began remembering our hike in the park. She even recalled landscape details. So, by executive order, "we" decided to return to the park for another hike.

The park is located just east of Mineral Wells. It contains about 640 acres, and includes a nice little lake. There is even a location in the park called Penitentiary Hollow which is considered by many to be the most popular place in North Texas for rock climbing.

Unfortunately, because of recent rains, all trails in the Cross Timbers section of the park were closed when we arrived at the park gate. (see park trails map). This is precisely where we wanted to hike. Now, there is another trail in the southern section of the park that was open, but it is very short and we were not interested in it. So, we made the best of a bad situation.

First, we decided to visit the aforementioned Penitentiary Hollow. We parked in the nearby day use area, then made our way down the short path to an area that provided an overlook to the hollow. I then worked my way down a serpentine set of rock steps to the bottom of the hollow. I'm not good at distances, heights, and such, but the bottom of the hollow looks to me to be about 2 stories or so below the land above. Rock climbers will hone their skills on these rocks. It is quite a unique place and worth a visit if you are in the area.

Approach to Penitentiary Hollow. The site was closed to rock climbers on the day we visited.
Lake Mineral Wells. The tops of the rocks at the bottom of the picture are found in the Hollow.
Some of the rocks of Penitentiary Hollow with the lake in the background. I snapped this photo as I was descending the steps.
The Hollow. The trash can gives some idea of the size and height of the rocks.
The steps leading into and out of the Hollow.
Donna with Lake Mineral Wells in the background.
After visiting Penitentiary Hollow, we decided to take a short hike along the Trailway. The Trailway follows an old railroad grade from Weatherford to Mineral Wells, a distance of about 20 miles. Years ago, we hiked 5 miles west from the Weatherford trailhead and back (total distance of 10 miles). We followed the connecting spur trail past a very nice and large amphitheater. A short distance beyond this, the trail then switchbacks down a slope before crossing an open meadow and connecting to the actual trailway.

Trailhead for spur trail from park to Trailway
Once we reached the actual trail, we headed west. We crossed the footbridge that crosses US 180, then turned back.

Amphitheater along the spur to the Trailway
Distant view of the trailway footbridge over US 180.

Our approach to the footbridge.

On the footbridge

Looking west towards nearby Mineral Wells from the footbridge. 

Looking east towards Weatherford from the footbridge.

Once back to the car, we decided to drive around the park. We always enjoy cruising through the camp grounds and checking on potential camp sites and seeing the rigs RVers have. To get from the east side of the park to the west side, you must cross below the dam. On this day, the wind was really strong and was blowing quite a bit of water over the dam.

A park vehicle is crossing below the dam.
We cross below the dam.
Recrossing the dam. In this picture, you can see some of the small whitecaps that were sloshing over the dam.
This is a nice park. There is a small store along the lake just east of the dam. The campsites are well developed, though I did not see any with full hookups. Water and electric sites are plentiful, though. There are lots of trees, and many campsites offer views of the lake. Should we ever RV again, this park will be a place we hope to spend some time.

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Angelo Civic Theater

We went to a play at Angelo Civic Theater (ACT) last Friday night. The play was a comedy called Crimes of the Heart  written by Beth Henley. Here is the summary from the ACT website:

"The three Magrath sisters have gathered to await news of the family patriarch, their grandfather, who is living out his last hours in their local Mississippi hospital. This is the story of how they escape the past to seize the future—but the telling is so true and touching and consistently hilarious that it will linger in the mind long after the curtain has descended. Winner of the 1981 Pulitzer Prize and the New York Drama Critics Circle Award."

The play was well received as evidenced by its awards. So why didn't Donna and I enjoy it more than we did? It's been a long time since we have really enjoyed a play at ACT. We've been season ticket holders since we moved to San Angelo, but that may change soon. With the new San Angelo Performing Arts Campus I wrote about recently, we may start transitioning to that venue. The shows there utilize professional traveling troupes. The price is higher, but the offerings are more varied and there are more of them to choose from.

I hate to give up on our little theater. Angelo Civic Theater prides itself on being the longest continuously running community theater in Texas, with its first performance dating to November 21, 1885. That's a long run. The theater relies largely on volunteer support, as a community theater should, and employs only 3 or 4 full-time people. So we really want to support the theater. Hopefully, performances will improve.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Ice Storm Blows Through

When we last saw our intrepid adventurers, they were drying out from an unexpected walk in the rain at the state park. After drying out and warming up, they fell asleep in their warm abode, only to awaken to rain and ice.

A winter storm blew threw early Wednesday morning. We had no plans for the day, so we were able to stay home, warm and dry. Rain fell throughout the day. Late in the afternoon, I emptied the rain gauge, which had almost an inch of rain. That is the most rain we have received in a few months. It was good to get enough moisture to seep into the ground. I'm sure the farmers enjoyed the rainfall, as it will help their winter wheat and get the ground ready for spring planting.

Of course, an inch of rain does not break a drought; it doesn't even put a dent in in. For us, we need enough rainfall for runoff to fill our lakes, and the ground soaks up a slow rain like this as soon as it touches down. I doubt we will see any noticeable improvement in the lakes as a result of this rain.

We hope we will get some more rain in coming days, as the forecast does call for scattered showers into the weekend.

This is the tree in our backyard. If you look closely, you can see ice in it. You can also see a frosty coating in the general landscape. Notice there are no leaves in the tree.
I took this picture of the same tree as above just a few minutes ago before the sun came up. There is a street light as a backdrop. Remember, this tree has no leaves, but the ice makes it look as if it does.
Ice was building up at the base of the water spout near our back door.
What a beautiful sight! Our gauge has not had that much rain in a long time. Notice ice along top of wall.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

What Is This Wet Stuff Falling from the Sky?

For the past 3 or 4 days, we've had a chance for rain. The most we have been able to get, though, is just a dampness . . . until today.

It was about 60 degrees when I awoke this morning, so I thought I would walk early and get that behind me for the day. In winter, I normally walk after lunch, but with morning weather this warm, I thought I'd knock my walk out first thing in the morning. But as I was getting dressed, I heard rain began to fall. It was just a light rain, though, lasting only a couple of minutes, but I decided it was probably best to postpone the walk. I checked the rain gauge later and saw only a drop or two there.

After lunch, Donna and I drove the 2 miles down the road to the state park (San Angelo State Park) to walk on the roads within the park. Sometimes we hike out there, but more often than not, we simply walk on the roads because it is so peaceful and easy. We have a route that takes us up and down several hills, so we get a good workout. The route is almost 5 miles long.

The skies were overcast, but they had been overcast for days and we had gotten nothing. So, we grabbed our ponchos from the back of the car and set off down the road. The skies were really interesting, so I snapped several pictures.

The skies were really threatening as we began our walk. Note the small clear spot near right center.

Those are some pretty stormy looking skies.
Someone to the north of us is getting some rain in this picture.

You can clearly see the horizon in the center of the picture, beyond the lake. To the left, though, the horizon blurs into the rain. Lake OC Fisher, by the way, is at just over 5% capacity. We are in a drought, and one which is getting more serious with each day.
We had gone about 1.5 miles or slightly more, when we felt some sprinkles. We continued our walk, thinking the clouds would quickly move on. Then the sprinkles got heavier. When we finally decided to break out the ponchos, it was too late. We both were soaked as the sprinkles turned into a downpour. I had told Donna before the hike that we were going to sacrifice ourselves in order to get some rain, as I figured the only way the rain would fall is if we were out there in the open.

We finally got the ponchos on and then plodded on a quarter mile or so to a restroom where we could get some shelter. By that time, the rain was slacking off but we were drenched. I wanted to take a picture of Donna so that my blog readers could see what a drowned rat looks like, but Donna gave me a good lookin' at when I pulled out the camera, so I wisely returned the camera to my pocket and backed away slowly.

Interesting bird nest, sort of wedged between to upright branches.

This armadillo crossed the road in front of us as we were finishing our walk. Yes, that is water on the road.
When we got home, I checked our gauge. There was not a bit of moisture in there. We live only 2 miles away, and we did not get a drop. After changing into dry clothes, we sat on our back patio. Before long, it did actually rain for a few minutes. The amount was less than a tenth of an inch in my gauge, but we are thankful for anything we can get.

Yes, that is actually water coming out of our downspout. It's not much, but it's something!
It's raining! This is our across-the-street neighbor. Look at his dark truck and you can clearly see the rain drops. We love the flag you see. It is our wind gauge.
What better way to end a brief rain storm than with a lovely rainbow.
As I write this, the temperature is 48 degrees. About 2½ hours earlier, it was 82 degrees. We have a winter weather advisory in effect, and temps are expected to dip down below freezing tonight and tomorrow night, with a high tomorrow in the mid 30's.