Wednesday, April 18, 2018

A Recent Trip

In the previous post, I related the hike Donna and I took at Enchanted Rock. That was just the first day of a 4 day journey.

We left early Thursday to reach Enchanted Rock around 9:00 or so. Following our hike, we went to Fredericksburg to spend the night. Our first in town stop was Hoegemeyer's Barbeque Hall located near the Markplatz. Oddly, this was the location of the Thai restaurant we frequented in past visits. The BBQ at Hoegemeyer's is average, but the prices and quantity are good. But we thought BBQ was a good choice because we were pretty ragged looking following our hike, and we really didn't want to go someplace nice. The good thing about BBQ joints is that they are normally pretty casual affairs.

We then checked into our hotel, the Inn on Baron's Creek. Hotels in Fredericksburg are pricey. We normally try to get someplace within walking distance of Main Street. This was the first time to stay at this place, and it was a nice hotel with a better than average breakfast. After cleaning some of the trail off our aging bodies, we walked a couple of blocks to the Auslander and enjoyed a couple of dunkels in their biergarten. It was a fairly hot day, and the biergarten was open air. I needed a cooling down after the hike, so we strolled across the street to Culture's Bar and Grill to enjoy their air conditioning and some of their 47 beers on tap. We then returned to the hotel for the night.

Early the next morning, following a good breakfast at the hotel, we set off for Palestine. We drove east along US 290. I continue to be amazed at how the area between Fredericksburg and Stonewall is building up. Wineries and vineyards occupy much of the countryside, but there are other businesses as well. It wasn't that long ago that we could drive this route and see a few peach orchards and produce stands and little else other than countryside. Things do change.

We worked our way up through the Temple area and on over to Palestine, arriving in the early afternoon. As usual whenever we visit East Texas, we drove through some pretty heavy rain, especially from Temple on. The countryside was lush, stock tanks were full, and the crops, though young, looked promising. The first thing we did upon arriving in Palestine was stop at Little Mexico. I've mentioned this restaurant in my blog before. I grew up eating here, starting when it was just a little shop on the square. It has always been my standard for Mexican food. While still good, it really no longer appeals to me as it once did. The prices are a bit high, too, when compared with some of the places I normally eat. Oh well, as I said, things do change.

We checked into our hotel late that afternoon and settled in. Late that night, heavy storms rolled through, dropping quite a bit of rain. There was thunder, lightning, and hail in some areas around us. We rose early the next morning, had breakfast in the hotel, then set off for Lake Palestine. The whole purpose of this trip was to attend a family reunion, so that was our destination for the day. We had a good visit with some family that cool and windy Saturday. Later in the day, we set off west, returning home. We only made it to Hillsboro, though, where we spent the night.

Sunday, we rose early and headed home. It was rather cold that day, with temps in the mid 30s. That's a bit low for this part of Texas this time of year. It is always so nice to return home. We had a nice drive home, but both of us noticed the change in the countryside. While things east of I-35 were lush and green, west of I-35 the landscape became more parched as we drove homeward. Stock tanks held less and less water. Our part of West Texas continues to need rain. I continue to fear that we are in the early days of another drought.

Monday, April 16, 2018

Hike Report: Enchanted Rock State Natural Area

I don't know how many times Donna and I have hiked at Enchanted Rock State Natural Area; probably half a dozen times over the last 15 years or so. It remains one of our favorite places to hike.

The park is located about 17 miles north of Fredericksburg, one of our favorite towns in Texas. The surrounding countryside is typical of the Hill Country, and the beer selections at restaurants in Fredericksburg are outstanding. I can't think of a better after-hike activity than sipping on a cold dunkel.

It had been 3 years since we last hiked this park. In the past, I never found the hike particularly challenging or demanding, but I have to admit that this latest hike left both of us a bit sore and very tired. That's just a sign of our increasing age, I guess. This was the first time that I really noticed the ups and downs bothering me.

On this hike, we stayed more or less on the Loop Trail, which park literature indicates is anywhere from 4.25 miles to 4.49 miles, depending on the source. We altered the route slightly, taking the Walnut Springs Trail, so this added a bit to our distance. Our final tally was 5.16 miles according to my GPS.

We always park our car in one of the parking lots on the east side, then walk through all the parking areas, past the camping areas, and begin our hike on the west, following the trail in a clockwise direction. Most of the loop trail is wide and well maintained. Only the section along Sand Creek is actually a foot path.

This is near the start of the trail. Note how wide and well maintained the trail is. It climbs to the right of the hill in the distance.
Initially, the trail climbs up granite slopes to the western end of the park, then begins circling back. There are good views from this area, first to the east and later to the northwest as well. There are various rock formations -- hoodoos -- that are interesting to examine. If there have been recent rains, then there will be water flowing in various places.

There are numerous hoodoo formations like these along the western part of the loop trail.
The trail crosses granite along the base of the rocks in the background. There are good views back to the east from here.
View to the east.
There are many trees in the park, especially along the western section of the Loop Trail, that are covered with moss.
Here is a closeup of the moss from above. I believe this is called Ball Moss.
Our first good sighting of Enchanted Rock (Big Rock) from the trail.

We saw at least 3 composting toilets along the trail. This one was located where the Walnut Springs Trail splits from the Loop Trail. It serves the good folks who camp in the Walnut Springs camping area, and anyone else who happens along.
As the trail circles back to the center of the park, other trails will splinter off. One of the highlights of the trail is Moss Lake, but we missed that this time since we opted to explore the Walnut Springs Trail. Where the Walnut Springs Trail rejoins the Loop Trail, there are some good views of both the Big Rock (Enchanted Rock) as well as the Little Rock. The gap between these domes is Echo Canyon, and is worth exploring.

I happened to espy this little winecup along the Walnut Springs Trail.

This is the view just before the Walnut Springs Trail rejoined the Loop Trail. That is Enchanted Rock (Big Rock) on the left and Little Rock on the right. Echo Canyon is in the gap between them.

Enchanted Rock summit. You can see a few people at the top.
Farther east, the trail turns south, providing great views of the eastern slope of Enchanted Rock. You can really see the exfoliation process of the rocks from this side. Giant slabs of rock will slide down the slopes, causing rock piles at the bottom.

This picture clearly illustrates the exfoliation process. Those slabs of rock will eventually slide down the hill and come to rest in piles at the bottom.

Here are some rocks that have slid to the bottom of a nearby hill.
The last time we took this trail, it had been raining quite a bit. At Sand Creek, we had to take off our socks and shows and wade the stream in water that came to our thighs or so. This time, however, there had not been much rain and the creek was low, which is its normal level. We were able to cross on stones placed along the trail.

Donna crossing Sand Creek. 

Here I am after crossing the creek. 

This is what the trail looks like from the creek crossing to the trail head.

Turkey Peak, with quite a few people atop it. We could clearly hear them from the trail.

Here is the obligatory picture of blue bonnets the law requires you must take when you visit the Texas Hill Country in the spring.

The trail to the summit, with quite a few people scattered along it.
This is a busy park. Take the warnings about park closures on the web site seriously. On weekends and holidays, the park will reach capacity early and the park will close. We always go during the week, but we've never been there that a crowd was not present. I can't tell you how many people we met on the trail this time. True, most were near the trail heads, but we did meet several well along the trail. We ran into a young lady and her 2 rescue dogs near where we rejoined the loop trail after walking the Walnut Hills Trail. The dogs did not seem to be in good health in the first place, and they were clearly wearing out. Later, after we got to our car, we drove to a restroom to freshen up. The restroom is near the trail head, where the lady emerged with her dogs. They found a shade tree and plopped down. Donna and I offered to baby sit the dogs while the lady retrieved her truck. The poor dogs were exhausted, and this saved them from walking an additional half mile or more.

To see previous entries on hiking this park, please visit the links below:

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

A Short Drive Before Lunch

Donna and I had some free time early one morning last week. It was a beautiful spring day, plenty of sunshine and warming quickly. We decided to take a short drive in the country before lunch.

We started by heading west on US 67. We crossed the nearly always dry West Concho River, and continued on to FM 2335, which heads south to the old farming community of Knickerbocker. Just after turning off 67, we crossed a set of railroad tracks and then immediately turned back east onto FM 2166 to do a bit of exploring. We had never been on this road.

A few miles down the road, we came to the entrance for the West Texas Boys Ranch. I've always known the Boys Ranch was out here, but I know little of the place. I know that numerous fund raisers are held in Angelo throughout the year to support the ranch, but I know little else. The ranch provides a home to boys aged 11-17 who need a safe environment in which to grow. You can learn more by following the link above.

The entrance to the ranch is quite attractive as the road is lined with evenly spaced pecan trees. Fields of winter wheat spread out on both sides of the road. The ranch itself is not large, probably consisting of a few residences and a small number of buildings.

Entrance to Boys Ranch, with pecan trees and fields of wheat lining the road.

Some of the buildings at Boys Ranch.

Field of wheat.
After our short drive through the ranch, we continued east on FM 2166. Eventually, the pavement ended, so we turned around. Looking at the map, I see that the road actually heads towards Twin Buttes Reservoir (North Pool).

Wild turkeys scampering across a newly plowed field. You can barely see one of the huge overhead sprinkler systems in the distant background.
Another shot of the turkeys, with a line of low hills in the background.
Back on FM 2335, we continued south, where we pulled off for a short drive through the little park on the east side of the road on both banks of Spring Creek. There were a couple of tents pitched along the north bank and a travel trailer was parked farther up the slope. Spring Creek is a pretty reliable source of water in this arid area of West Texas. It helps fill Twin Buttes Reservoir -- along with Dove Creek -- then continues downstream to merge with the West Concho River to form Lake Nasworthy.

Shot of Spring Creek from the park.

Park pavilion on the south bank of Spring Creek.

Spring Creek as seen from the highway crossing.
We then detoured through part of the Dove Creek subdivision. In the 1990s, Donna and I bought a few acres in this subdivision and thought that one day we might retire there. We ended up selling several years ago, though. It is an interesting place, with tracts ranging from 5 acres on up to 40 or so acres. Many tracts line either Spring Creek or Dove Creek, and there are two little subdivision parks on the banks of these creeks where you can launch a boat or do some fishing or swimming. The creeks empty into Twin Buttes Reservoir.

We came across these guinnea hens in Dove Creek subdivision.
Back on FM 2335, we continued south, eventually crossing tree lined Dove Creek and arriving in Knickerbocker, where we turned east back towards San Angelo. It was a nice morning in the country.

Saturday, April 7, 2018

A Little Color in the Park

Once again, Donna and I haven't been up to much. We're mainly just loafing about the house. We do our regular walks, putter about the house a bit, go out to eat once in a while, maybe take a drive around the lake, and that's about it.

Earlier this week, we went out to San Angelo State Park for a walk. Gosh, the wind blew so hard. It was blowing steady at 20 or more mph, and gusting at 35 or more. It really made walking hard. But we persevered and got our 5+ miles in.

I hoped to see some color at the park, but there is very little out there. It has simply been too dry this year, I'm afraid. I'd like to get down to the Hill Country to view the wild flowers; perhaps we'll venture there soon.

For now, I'll leave you with this pitiful collection of tiny flowers. It's all the color I could find on our walk.

We saw several stands of these purple flowers. They are quite small. I do not know what they are.
When we walk at the park -- as opposed to hike -- we stay on park roads such as this. This road is no longer maintained, and it gets very little traffic. As a result, it is a good place to walk. Notice the trail up the slope beyond the road.

I noticed these little orange blooms at the foot of this prickly pear. I look forward to watching the cactus roses later on.
Patch of little yellow flowers

Near the end of our walk, we passed this small herd of bison. Notice that the mesquite trees are leafing out.

Friday, March 30, 2018

Day Trip: Toe Nail Trail

We were getting a bit restless, so I pulled out a map and looked for a short day trip to some place interesting. I didn't want to go far, though. I finally settled on the Toe Nail Trail.

The Toe Nail Trail is roughly the route that connected Fort Concho in San Angelo to Fort McKavett down on the headwaters of the San Saba River roughly about halfway between Eldorado and Menard. In general, travelers from McKavett to Concho would have picked up the South Concho River somewhere south of Christoval and followed it to Concho. (For more info on Fort McKavett, see "Fort McKavett" from March 2012)

The area around Christoval began developing in the 1870s. People began to move into the area, and a dam was constructed and canals built to furnish water for farming. A post office was established in 1888. The town never was large, and today the population hovers around 400 to 500 folks, with many more in housing developments outside of the city limits. Christoval is close enough to San Angelo to almost qualify as a bedroom community, but it is far enough away to have its own distinct personality. As opposed to Angelo, which has few native trees other than pecans along the rivers, Christoval has large oak mottes all around. Those trees, combined with the spring fed South Concho River, give the little community a unique setting. I wrote some about this little community in March 2017; please see "Backroads Tour: Mertzon, Eldorado, Christoval, and Knickerbocker".

On this trip, we headed south from San Angelo on US 277, detouring briefly through 2 housing developments to just look around. On the northern edge of Christoval, we took Spur 110, which took us through the business district of old Christoval. There really isn't much there today, mostly relics from bygone days. But new businesses do pop up from time to time, such as the recently opened Concho Coffee House and Rootbound Food Company. Most of the businesses these days are located on US 277, including Cooper's BBQ and Hidalgo's Mexican Restaurant.

In town, we turned east onto FM 2088, known locally as the Toe Nail Trail. It follows the South Concho past the local high school on the left and Pugh River Park on the right. A mile or so farther down the road, we passed the entrance to the Hummer House (see "The Hummer House" from July 2017). Just beyond the Hummer House is the Concho Christmas Tree Farm.

From that point on, we more or less had the road to ourselves for the 28 miles to US 190. But there are some points of interest along the road. First, we came to the sign pointing the way to Carmel of Our Lady Grace monastery off Rudd Road. A group of Carmelite nuns live a peaceful and meditative existence on an isolated patch of ground in this remote area. We did not venture the 7 miles of dirt road, though, as we did not know if they accept nosy visitors. But I would like to see the place sometime.

Along the road, we saw some good wildlife. First, I spotted a large bird atop a pole. I didn't get a good look at it, so I turned around, got my camera ready, and headed back. But as we approached, the hulking bird flew away from the road to a roost in an oak. As it began to alight upon the branch, I saw quite a bit of red tint in the tail, making me believe it was a red-tailed hawk. I'm not knowledgeable about birds, so I may be wrong. I was not able to get a picture. He had a large white breast, and was larger than most hawks I see.

We resumed our journey, passing first one deer and then a second along the road. We were able to watch the first gracefully clear a fence to escape us, but the second hardly gave us a second thought as it continued to browse along the roadside. Then I spotted another hawk, much like the first.

At US 190, we turned west and headed to Eldorado, where we stopped to explore the courthouse. Many courthouses have numerous historical items, especially pictures, but the Schleicher County Courthouse doesn't have much.

Schleicher County Courthouse in Eldorado, Texas

The Eldorado water tower.
From Eldorado, we headed north on US 277. Just south of Christoval, we turned west on Allen Road to learn more about the Mount Carmel Hermitage. From Allen Road, a lesser road winds south through the oaks and the scrub brush to the home of the Hermits of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mount Carmel. The actual hermitage is completely surrounded by a tall rock wall. I did not want to violate the mission of these gentle souls, so we did not seek admittance; however, the hermitage is open throughout the year to visitors for special events, and Donna and I have made a note to try to visit at some point.

Welcome to Mt. Carmel Hermitage

Ring of religious statues near the entrance to Mt. Carmel

The hermitage and all of its buildings are behind this rock wall, which completely surrounds the place. What a feat of labor to build this rock fence.

Another view of the hermitage
It is interesting that we have 2 places such as this in the area. I have a high respect for these devoted folks, both the hermits and the nuns, and I admire the faith and devotion that guides their lives. What draws them to remote locations, where rainfall is scarce and the ground is rocky and largely unyielding? It is not unusual to see some of the hermits around San Angelo, as, like anyone else, they must buy supplies, visit doctors, and perform other tasks.

Anyway, we returned to the highway and made our way back to San Angelo. It's always interesting to get out and see the country.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Don't Worry -- We're Still Alive

Not much to post about lately since we've not been doing anything out of the ordinary.

We did drive up to Midland last week to check on some things. Had a nice lunch at Wall Street Bar and Grill, one of our favorite eateries there when we lived there about 20 years ago. Food is still good, but the place is a might cramped. Folks still throng to the place, though. I had my normal charbroiled gulf shrimp while Donna had a beef kabob. Both were very good, and the baked potatoes were excellent, as was the bread.

While driving through a neighborhood there, I snapped the following two pictures. They give an idea of some of the good spring color that is visible all over West Texas these days.

I really enjoy seeing a healthy red bud in bloom. When set against a tree with white blooms, such as in the picture above, I think it is really pretty.

The weather the past few days has been quite warm for this time of year. The nights have only gotten down into the mid 60s, so I've been walking early in the morning. I prefer walking early. The birds are coming to life then, and they are singing all around. And I get to herd deer on my morning walks. One morning, I came across a group of 3, then a group of 4, then two sets of 2 deer each. I do enjoy watching our animals.

Two nights ago, I was sitting on the back patio when a hummingbird came to the stand where the hummingbird feeders normally hang. I told Donna about it. She is in charge of hummingbirds around here. Yesterday, she set out 2 feeders, and it wasn't long before the little rascals found them. I stepped out this morning and caught one hummer chasing another away. Let the hummingbird wars begin! This will go on until fall now.

Rain moved in about midnight. It has been raining off and on ever since. So far, we've had just over half an inch, and I'm hopeful we'll have more throughout the day and into Wednesday morning. We need it. This is some pretty dry country now. If we don't get good rains soon, I expect Lake OC Fisher to completely go dry this summer.

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.