Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Out in the Country

Donna and I like to get out in the country from time to time and drive along some of the back roads. I'm always amazed at how different the countryside looks from these lesser roads than it does from the main highways we normally traverse.

We had recently heard a commercial for a small Mexican food restaurant in nearby Miles, so we used that as a pretense to explore some of the country in that area.

We started by heading northeast on US 67 through Miles and on to Rowena. We've passed through Rowena dozens of times over the years but had never taken the time to get off the highway and drive through this little community of 700 or so folks. I find it hard to believe there are that many people in this town. I did not see a single convenience store or any place to purchase gasoline, meaning that the folks here would need to drive into nearby Ballinger (about 7 miles northeast) for all of their needs. The main street through town, Edward Street, is fairly neat in appearance and shows that there once was a decent little business district. The most prominent structure in town today is the Saint Joseph Catholic Church, whose tower is visible on any approach to this small town on the prairie. Among historians, Rowena is reputed to be the birthplace of Bonnie Parker of Bonnie and Clyde fame.

The old business district in Rowena. Today it is almost like a ghost town, but it must once have thrived. The building in background on right is the Catholic Church.

I did not know it when I took this picture, but this place appears to be the home of Horny Toad Brewing Company.
Saint Joseph Catholic Church. Many early settlers were Germans and Czechs.

Old school building. I suspect that children today go to nearby Ballinger, but they may also go to Miles. Some students attend Olfen ISD to the southeast.
From Rowena, we hopped back on 4-lane US 67 to Ballinger. I'll not dwell on Ballinger much today as we plan another outing entirely to that town later on. We did drive quickly through their City Park on Elm Creek and then to Ballinger City Lake a few miles west of town.

Dam on healthy Elm Creek in the city park on the east side of Ballinger.
Ballinger City Lake a few miles west of Ballinger.
From the city lake, we headed back to Rowena, crossing the Colorado River. We picked up Highway 2133 which generally parallels US 67, but is more circuitous. I suspect at one time in the distant past it probably was the main road as it started out following the Colorado River. In those days in the arid west, people stayed close to water as long as they could when traveling, for when it ran dry, it stayed dry.

This is what the Colorado River looks like in our part of the country. It's hard to believe that this tiny river is at least partially responsible for so many lakes downstream, such as O H Ivie, Buchanan Lake, Inks Lake, Lake LBJ, Lake Travis, and others.
Back on US 67, we backtracked to Miles. Our first stop was Sklenarik's Smoked Meats in the downtown area. We've been stopping at Sklenarik's for years and buying their sausage. We normally buy their jalapeno and cheese. Today, we bought several packs of that for others, but for ourselves, we decided to try their ghost chili and cheese variety. Sounds hot to me. Ymmmm!

We then drove a block or two down the street to Los Carlos, the Mexican Restaurant we had heard about on a local radio station. The outside of the building may look questionable to some folks, but the inside is clean, bright, and well-maintained. Donna tried their calibacitas plate, which contained grilled chicken and some grilled vegetables. Whenever I try a new Mexican restaurant, I like to eat enchiladas. I prefer Tex-Mex enchiladas, though, and not the New Mexican variety with red sauce. Since Los Carlos uses red sauce, I opted to try something new. The special of the day was a beef guiso plate, so I decided to try it. I was a bit disappointed. The meat was tender and good quality, but it tasted like the meat you might find in a can of beef soup. It did not have the spicy taste I've come to expect from guiso. The rice and beans were fine. The chips were a bit thin, easily breaking if we dipped too much salsa, and the salsa, although pleasant, lacked any kick at all. But the food was quite decent, though a bit pricey, I think. Since it is basically a 50 mile round-trip from our house to the restaurant, I doubt we will venture back; we have too many Mexican restaurants in Angelo of a higher quality and more reasonable price.

Los Carlos Restaurant, on the north edge of downtown Miles. The place is much nicer inside than you would think based on the exterior.
From Miles, we headed north out of town and picked up Highway 1692. We passed through pretty flat countryside, some fields with cotton waiting to be delivered to the gin. We passed an old, crumbling schoolhouse. It basically was standing alone along the side of the road, making me wonder what community must once have been in that area.

Old school at intersection of Highway 1692 and Klattenhoff Road.

Cotton waiting to be taken to market.
It was good to get out and see some country. We enjoy these little outings on the backroads of this part of the state we love so much.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Critters, Critters Everywhere

Donna and I had a couple of errands to run this morning. As we were leaving RCW, we passed a rather large rafter (flock) of turkeys. We actually have 2 rafters in RCW, and they usually stick close together. Occasionally, they will merge, and when they do, they number about 25 or more.

After running our errands, we stopped in for lunch. Quite often when we eat out, we like to ride around Lake Nasworthy. Our normal drive is by the swimming beach, then around through Spring Creek Park. Today is a dreary winter day in San Angelo, and it has rained off and on. On such days, you can often see lots of wildlife, and we did today.

We turned off Knickerbocker Road into Mary E. Lee Park, a small park where the beach is located. Just as you turn off Knickerbocker Road, there is a prairie dog town there, and the chubby little fellows were active. It's obvious these guys haven't missed many meals.

4 prairie dogs in this photo. The 4th one is in the background, left-center.

Yeah, these little rascals are healthy.

The fellow in back is about to enter his home.
We then continued on around on Fisherman's Road to Spring Creek Park, There we ran into a herd of deer. What we found funny is that when we stopped to admire these gentle animals, a turkey emerged and approached us. We wondered if he had been fed in the past and expected us to feed him. But several deer were following him. We then wondered if they saw him as their leader, or if they might be chasing him. I guess we'll never know. He came right next to our truck and I got a good picture of him.

Leader of the pack. This bold fellow strolled right up to our truck. I did NOT zoom in for this photo.

There are 9 deer in this photo. It is hard to count all of them, but they are there.
We then drove around to the Horseshoe Bend area of Spring Creek Park. There we came across a good sized rafter of turkeys.

Turkeys peacefully grazing around the pecan trees.

I spooked this bunch a bit. They didn't care for us getting so close.

It was a fun outing. We really enjoy watching wildlife. We have several deer that visit RCW. We always look out our back windows just before retiring each day and first thing upon getting up. We often see deer in our yard feeding on the soft grass. Sometimes, they even bed down right under our windows.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

The Weather Has Been Good

It's been another week of good weather here in San Angelo, Texas.

Donna and I have been trying to get back into a walking routine lately, and the good weather has certainly helped. I've walked 4 or 5 times this week, often wearing shorts thanks to the warm temps and bright sunshine. What a treat for early February.

After one of our afternoon walks, we went out on the back patio and repotted some plants. I also took advantage of the good weather to clean out our grill, the one we bought just before Christmas. With the good weather, we've started using the grill a couple of times each week, so I wanted to clean it up some. This week, for example, we've had steaks twice and burgers once. It's great to get outside.

On Thursday night, we attended the Valentine Dinner at RCW. We enjoyed a nice meal while listening to the mellow sounds of Farrel Smith and his faithful saxophone. He played a number of old and slow songs because, as he says, he is old and slow. And, as always, it was great to visit with friends and fellow inmates from RCW.

On Friday, we grilled burgers for lunch. There just isn't anything that compares to a good home made hamburger. Donna and I are always on the lookout for that old fashioned burger in our travels, and we've found quite a few good places. But homemade burgers are really the best. It seems as if it gets increasingly more difficult to find a place that makes a true burger. So many places today want to add all sorts of things to burgers, from bacon to French fries to cole slaw and other things that seem strange to me. I'm old fashioned and just want an old fashioned burger. Besides, one of those new fangled burgers is more than I can eat, and most are so large it is almost impossible to get your mouth around it.

The weeds had just about gotten out of hand in the front bed, so I crawled around out there in the sun and wind Friday afternoon to pull them. Donna and I walked earlier than usual Friday because high winds were predicted. Guess we didn't get out early enough as the wind blew us all around. I always use a GPS when walking. In addition to distance, it also tracks my time. I was amazed how much the wind slowed us when we were walking directly into it.

After another morning walk Saturday, we slapped some steaks on the grill along with some veggies and enjoyed a nice lunch. After lunch, Donna went back to the trailer to finish the cleaning she had started last week.

When I awoke this morning, it was 56 degrees, but the high today is only expected to be about 10 degrees warmer. A cold front is blowing through. Tomorrow, the high will be in the 40s. Rain should start blowing through late tomorrow, and Tuesday should be wet and cold, but we can always use the wet. It should warm again later in the week.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

It's Been a Good Week

It's been a good week here at Rio Concho West (RCW).

The week came in with good weather. It was nice to see lots of sunshine and temps reaching into the 70s and even the lower 80s for the first few days of the week. We were able to get out and begin walking again in earnest on a regular basis, and we even managed a 5+ mile hike at the park on Monday. That was great. (See the "Hike Report" from earlier this week.)

We visited the tax appraisal office one day this week to do all the filings appropriate for us in an attempt to keep our taxes down for 2017 and beyond. Donna got her hair done at the little salon in our club house one morning this week. Our community newsletter arrived this week, so we sat down to plan our activities for the month. I guess this is something of a slow month, for there aren't that many things we signed up for.

We also planned our next trip, which will be to the Winstar later this month. Based on our play there late last year, we have started receiving offers from them for free rooms, so we will take advantage of that.

We spent one afternoon this week working on the trailer. There was some cleaning we needed to do, so we took advantage of a warm day to spend a few hours working there. The old girl was due a good cleaning.

And we got out and about and did some shopping and eating out. We're still watching our weight, so we ate pretty light when we did go out.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Retirement Anniversary

It was exactly 6 years ago (February 1, 2011) that Donna and I enjoyed our first full day of retirement. It was so wonderful to sleep in that morning knowing that we could spend the rest of our lives doing exactly as we wanted.

We've enjoyed these past 6 years, and we've done quite a bit of living.

Throughout these years, we've done a lot of traveling. We've traveled all over Texas, from the Panhandle to the Gulf Coast; from the East Texas piney woods to the mountains of West Texas. Most of our travels have been in our beloved Hill Country.

We've also traveled quite a bit outside of the state. In 2012, we took our trailer out for an extended 8 month trip, enjoying several western states. We repeated this earlier this year with a 6 month tour of the Southwest, hitting some places we had not been before.

We've done a lot of walking. I have recently started tracking my walking. Since moving in to Rio Concho West in late June, I've plodded over 350 miles on foot. We've enjoyed some nice hikes over these past 6 years. And we're still hiking when we get the chance. Our legs are getting a bit worn, but we still enjoy seeing what is around that next bend.

And we're not about to stop yet. We have some trips planned over the next few years, long trips that will take us through several states. We don't have anything definite yet, but we are beginning to narrow things down.

Most of all, though, I've really come to enjoy living in my home in Rio Concho West and to enjoy the simple pleasures that San Angelo provides. We enjoy our eateries, our community theater, an occasional movie, and spending time with friends and neighbors at RCW.

Retirement has been good and continues to get better.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Hike Report: Multi Trails at San Angelo State Park

The high today was expected to climb into the 70s with sunny skies. Donna and I felt it would be a good time to take a short hike at the park.

We're fortunate to have San Angelo State Park so near us. From our garage to the gate is literally only 3.5 miles. It's a great place to hike because there are about 50 miles of trails throughout the park.

We left our house at 10:00 with the temperature about 50 degrees but climbing quickly. We decided to put together a loop hike of several trails, including the following:
  • Chaparral Trail
  • Lankey Lackey Trail
  • Winding Snake Trail
  • Talley Valley Trail
  • Nature Trail
  • Red Dam Loop Trail
You can view all the trails on the San Angelo SP Trails Map, but keep in mind that not all the trails shown on the map are named. Also, we did not hike all the above trails in their entirety.

Almost our entire route today took us through an area of the park that was recently part of a controlled burn. As a result, everything looked much more open. Just over a year ago, I posted some pictures regarding a prescribed burn that had just been performed. You can view those pictures at "Prescribed Burn at San Angelo State Park" from December 12, 2015.

I started out wearing a hooded jacket, but I took it off after the first mile and was then wearing only a short sleeve shirt. It was simply a beautiful day for a hike. By the time we finished, the temp was 72 degrees. Basically, we hiked a loop trail from the parking area next to the Red Arroyo Camping Area near the park entrance to Burkett Trailhead and back. Below are the stats for our hike:
  • Distance: 5.4 miles
  • Duration: 2:13:51
  • Speed: 24:38 per mile
  • Elevation Range: 1808 feet to 1934 feet
I noticed that the Talley Valley trail near the start of the hike had quite a bit of erosion. I'm not sure of the reason. That area is heavily used by bike riders. Their use combined with heavy rains from the past year or so may be part of the problem. Overall, though, this is a good hike with several good ups and downs for exercise.

Also, the area downstream from the fishing pond between Isabell Harte and Burkett Trailhead was dry. The normally wet area along Winding Snake was completely dried up; we could have walked across it. In the past, there has always been water running along here. The fishing pond was considerably lower as well. I can't speculate on the cause, especially considering the good rain we've had the last year or so.

Below are a few pictures I took, but they really don't show the effects of the burn very well.

This area is usually very thick with mesquites. In warm weather, you can not see far at all. Notice the pale color of the prickly pear cacti.

The lake is still holding water well. Normally, it would be difficult to see the lake from this location due to plant growth.
Even though the burn occurred just about 2 weeks ago and it is still only January, we saw much evidence of new life, such as the greenery emerging from the burned clump above.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Old Man Winter Came Back to Life

It's been a pretty good week here at Rio Concho West on the outskirts of San Angelo.

We started the week with some pretty good weather, even reaching the low 80s one day. It began cooling a bit on Thursday, but then Friday really turned cool. Just before retiring Friday night, Donna and I looked out the window and saw a pretty good snow flurry. Fortunately, the ground was a bit too warm for much of the snow to stick, otherwise we would have had some pretty good accumulations. On Saturday, the sun returned and we began warming again. Things should be pretty mild this week, I think. As I write this on Sunday, the sun is shining, and there's nary a cloud in the sky.

After being gone for a week, we did quite a bit of grocery shopping this week. We always stock up when we see good sales. We often see good meat buys at H.E.B., and our local Lowe's grocery store usually has great vegetable and canned good sales. Lowe's -- not to be confused with either the big box home goods chain or the Carolina based grocery chain -- is a chain of grocery stores serving small to medium sized towns primarily in West Texas and New Mexico. There are a few stores scattered across Arizona and Colorado as well. I like Lowe's for several reasons. First, the stores are much smaller than Walmart, H.E.B., and other large chains. It almost feels like a grocery store from the old days. Second, they really have great sales, as noted above. Finally, my first full-time teaching job back in the late 1970s was in Olton, Texas, where the first Lowe's grocery store was located. I like that connection.

During our week trip to the boats and my brother's house, we put on a few pounds, so the Fuhrer put us on diets. Since returning home, we've been eating lots of salads and other low calorie dishes. Donna manages to stay pretty trim, but I could stand to lose several pounds.

During my month-long illness, I was not able to walk much. I tried once or twice, but I just didn't have the energy to walk far. But this past week, we did begin walking a bit and will continue. We hope to get out to the state park this week as well and hike some of the trails. The weather is predicted to reach the 70s and 80s throughout the week, so it looks promising.

Towards the end of each month, our community newsletter -- the Rio Concho West Acorn -- is distributed. We use it to plan all the activities we want to participate in for the coming month. We are eagerly awaiting it so that we can plan some travel. Since our stay at Winstar in our travel trailer a couple of months ago, we have been receiving free room and other offers from that place, and we'd like to venture up there again. We are not that familiar with the country between here and Winstar, so we would use the trip as a way to explore the area, perhaps detouring here and there on our way either to or from the Winstar to visit some new destinations.

And that is about all the news from my neck of the woods.