Saturday, February 18, 2012

It's Raining

It's Saturday morning as I write this, and it has been raining off and on for a day and a half. The rain began late Thursday night. By daylight Friday morning, it had rained just under half an inch at my house. Most of Friday was overcast and misty, so there was no further accumulation of moisture, but at least everything had a chance to soak in.

Late last night (Friday), it began raining again. As of 9:30 this morning, I have about 1.1 inches in my gauge (starting from Friday night), and I expect more before this system moves out of the region. Water is puddling all over the yard, and that is good.

So far this year, the official tally for San Angelo is 4.26 inches of rain, and that does not include what we have received since Friday night. Our normal rainfall for this time of year is 1.72 inches, so we are ahead of the average. However, lake levels have not shown any improvement yet. What we really need is several days of constant rain. So far, the rains have been less than an inch at a time, so there has really not been a chance for runoff.

Currently, our area lakes are still way down. The data below indicates lake, current capacity, and acre feet of area lakes:
  • Nasworthy, 81%, 8,216 ft
  • O. C. Fisher, 1%, 1,015 ft
  • Twin Buttes, 6%, 11,557 ft
  • Spence, 0%, 2,297 ft
  • Ivie, 18%, 97.055 ft
San Angelo gets most of its water from O. H. Ivie Reservoir, which is located about 50 miles due east of Angelo. The lake is formed mainly from the Colorado River and the Concho River. The watershed for these rivers is mainly north and west of San Angelo, so that is where we really need the rain. O. C. Fisher, Twin Buttes, and Lake E. V. Spence are also dependent on these rivers.  So we need heavy, sustaining rains between San Angelo and the Lubbock/Midland area.

I hope the rest of the state is getting some of this rain. The area from the Metroplex to near Austin has received good rains in recent weeks, and they are currently not in a drought status, though most of the rest of the state remains in critical condition.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Texas Parks and Wildlife

If you love the outdoors, I've got a good deal for you.

Our state park system, Texas Parks and Wildlife, provides a State Park Pass that is good for one year for all state parks. The first pass costs $70; at the time you purchase this pass, you can also purchase additional passes for other members of your family for a mere $15. Donna and I make this purchase each year. So, for $85, we gain entry to all the state parks across Texas. If you happen to be 65 years of age or older, this price is further reduced.

With the pass, daily entrance fees to all parks and state natural areas across the state are waived. You do, however, still have to pay for overnight camping. However, without the pass, you would have to pay not only the camping fee but the daily fee as well. I find this to be a great deal, for we camp throughout the year. When we aren't camping, we often are visiting parks on a day-use basis, as recounted in some recent blog entries regarding San Angelo State Park.

I find this to be a great deal. By comparison, current ticket prices for 1 day at Six Flags Over Texas are $56.99, though by purchasing online you can get them cheaper than this. So, a family of 4 would spend well over $100 at Six Flags for 1 day of fun; and I don't deny that it would be fun. But for only $70, that same family of 4 could visit the state parks of Texas every day for a year.

And what can you do at the state parks? Well, different parks offer different forms of recreation.

For the history buff, there are parks boasting Texas history. These include places like Fort Richardson State Park in Jacksboro, established shortly after the Civil War to protect settlers against raiding Comanche and Kiowa Indians. The fort is well preserved and includes seven of the original buildings which have been restored: the post hospital; the officers' quarters (Commanding Officer); a powder magazine; a morgue; a commissary; a guardhouse; and a bakery, which baked 600 loaves per day. There are also two replicas: officers' and enlisted men's barracks. The officers' barracks houses the Interpretive Center. There are other parks throughout the system that have similar historical significance. The Battleship Texas is even in the state park system.

For active people, there are all sorts of activities at state parks, including hiking, biking, horseback riding, boating, swimming, river rafting, and fishing. Fishing in the state park system, by the way, does not require a license; in addition to fresh water fishing, you can also do salt water fishing at several parks, such as Galveston Island and Mustang Island State Parks. And this list is by no means exhaustive. At Enchanted Rock, just north of Fredericksburg, you can enjoy some challenging rock climbing. Rather than going up, perhaps you like going down. If so, then visit Longhorn Cavern State Park and take a cave tour. Some of my best memories are of the days when my daughter was young and we would camp at South Llano River State Park. We would spend our days in the river, shooting under the bridge and then riding our floats downstream.

For those who love wildlife, the parks offer numerous opportunities to view animals in their natural habitat. Bentsen State Park in the Rio Grande Valley is famous for its birding opportunities. Caprock Canyons  provides the opportunity to see bison roaming the prairie much as they did before the great slaughter following the Civil War. Other Texas wildlife, from Longhorns to deer to armadillos, can be found throughout the parks.

And then there are the parks that preserve natural scenery. One of my favorites of these is Lost Maples, which has stands of bigtooth maples in its protective canyons. Sometimes the parks protect and preserve native American artwork, such as the drawings at Seminole Canyon near Langtry and Del Rio and the drawings at Hueco Tanks east of El Paso.

And I've just scratched the surface. Our state parks offer myriad opportunities for recreational and educational activities, for the old and young alike.

Get out there and purchase a park pass and start enjoying the great outdoors.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Back Roads: Sherwood, Texas

Because of cooler weather, Donna and I have been staying inside lately. We needed to get out, so we decided to take a road trip to some spots in the general area.

We started by purchasing 2 hamburgers and some tea from a local fund drive for the area food bank at the Farm Bureau building. We grabbed our burgers and headed out US 67 a few miles southwest of town to a park on the shores of Twin Buttes Lake. Years ago, we owned some acreage in the Dove Creek subdivision across the lake. In those days, the lake was pretty full. Today, it is down to about 6% capacity and holds nearly 12,000 acre feet of water. We parked and enjoyed our burgers while surveying the landscape and the spotty lake.

Twin Buttes Reservoir with dam in background
Twin Buttes is formed by 2 rivers and 2 creeks: the South Concho River, the Middle Concho River, Dove Creek, and Spring Creek. With the drought still strong, though, very little water is flowing in most of these waterways.

Boat Ramp to Nowhere
After lunch, we continued out US 67 for several miles before taking a side road. The road crossed Spring Creek at a low-water crossing, then continued on to the old community of Sherwood. Spring Creek is a fairly constant flow creek, and farmers built aqueducts in the old days to use water from the creek to irrigate their fields.

Low water crossing over Spring Creek just outside of Sherwood
Sherwood was founded in 1886, and soon became the county seat of Irion County. The stone courthouse was constructed in 1901. However, as often happened in the early days of the railroad, the tracks bypassed Sherwood and instead went through the newer community of Mertzon a few miles to the southwest. Over time, Mertzon became the county seat and Sherwood faded away. The town is still remembered, though, as one of the busiest commercial streets in San Angelo is named Sherwood Way.

Courthouse in Sherwood was constructed in 1901
We drove a bit through Mertzon, a town we passed through often when we lived in Ozona years ago and would shop in San Angelo. Home to almost 800 people, there is not much in Merton. The courthouse stands atop a hill to the west of the highway, all alone up there as all businesses are located along the highway 2 or 3 blocks to the east. The school is located even beyond the courthouse.

The headwaters for Spring Creek are west of Mertzon, and there is always good water in the creek on the eastern edge of town.

Spring Creek, upstream from low-water crossing on the eastern edge of Mertzon
From Mertzon, we headed back to San Angelo by way of FM 853, which runs first north from Sherwood, then curves back due east. Just before the curve east, the highway crosses the Middle Concho River on a low-water crossing.

Middle Concho River, looking downstream. It's difficult to see, but there is a pool of water in the distance.

The Middle Concho is probably the driest waterway in the San Angelo area. Even in good years, the flow is not steady. However, early day travelers did use it to travel west. By following the river, they could find pools of water and good wood for several days of travel. Legendary Charles Goodnight followed the Middle Concho as he trudged west with herds of cattle towards Castle Gap and Horsehead Crossing on the Pecos River. Lonesome Dove, perhaps Larry McMurtry's greatest work, was based on the exploits of Goodnight and his friend and partner, Oliver Loving. It was during one of these trips that Loving and "One Arm" Bill Wilson road ahead to Ft. Sumner to start accepting bids for the herd; during the ride, they were ambushed by Comanches and Loving was wounded. He lost an arm to gangrene, and later lost his life from complications resulting from the wound. Goodnight took his friend's body back to Weatherford, Texas, where he was buried in Greenwood Cemetery. This incident forms the basis for McMurtry's epic story.

There is not much to see along Highway 853. It's almost like stepping back in time. There are few houses, probably fewer than 20 altogether if that many, and little traffic other than some gravel trucks running back and forth from a dig in the area. The old community of Arden is located about halfway between Mertzon and Angelo. The area was first settled by sheep rancher John Arden in about 1876. A few years later, others moved to the area, and a small community developed that consisted of a school, a single church serving various congregations, and a post office, among other businesses. However, population dwindled as a result of drought and other difficulties, and very little remains today to even indicate there was ever a community there. All I saw was a marker next to the foundation where the school was located, and a single ranch house on the north side of the road.

Looks like West Texas has been fighting drought forever.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Good Reads: Elmer Kelton's Texas Ranger Series

I’ve just finished reading the entire Texas Ranger Series of books by Elmer Kelton. I had already read each of these books previously, and some of them more than once. But I had never read the entire series from start to finish in chronological order as I did this time. Doing so really puts everything into better perspective.

As I’ve said before in this blog, Elmer Kelton is my favorite Western author. And I would argue that at times his writing shows quality equal to some of our greater American writers. What makes Mr. Kelton such a good writer is his character development and his faithfulness to reality, especially historical accuracy. For information on Mr. Kelton, refer to his web site at http://www.elmerkelton.net/.

In his collection of work, several series emerge, such as the Buckalew Family Series and the Hewey Calloway Series. The stories of these characters spread over more than one novel. But the Texas Ranger Series is Mr. Kelton's most developed series, and he devoted 9 books to telling the Ranger story.

The Texas Ranger Series spans a time from roughly 1840 to the 1880s. Initially, the series revolves around Rusty Shannon, but with the passage of time, the emphasis gradually shifts to Andy Pickard. In addition to Rusty and Andy, a number of other characters recur throughout the series, such as the Monahans family, Preacher Webb, Tom Blessing, Len Tanner, Bethel Brackett, Farley Brackett, and Fowler Gaskins.

The series is a good study of history, and provides good detail for the daily living conditions of rangers. As the series begins, the Rangers are concerned mostly with the western frontier where the Comanches and Kiowas roam free. As Texas becomes more settled and the Indian threat is removed, the Rangers first focus on the border region and then finally on common outlaws.

During the course of the continuing saga, well known historical events are covered, some in more detail than others. There is, for example, the Comanche raid in the 1840s that swept all the way to the Texas Gulf Coast and resulted in the well-documented battle at Plum Creek. The period of Reconstruction is covered in fine detail as well, especially regarding how common folks were affected. Not all of Texas supported the Confederacy during the Civil War, and that piece of history is covered. When Reconstruction finally came to an end, Governor Davis did not give up his office willingly, and Mr. Kelton included that political drama in one of his novels.

But it is the day-to-day existence of a Ranger that is most interesting to me. These men worked for low wages, and during certain periods they often went unpaid. They supplied their own horse and gun. There was no common uniform, not even a badge in the early days. While on the trail, they usually ate meager rations and usually slept on the ground or in a stable. With the development of the telegraph and the railroad, the Rangers became more effective at tracking down criminals, and Mr. Kelton treats these improvements in his novels. It is these details that I find the most interesting.

In all honesty, I do not find the Ranger Series to be Mr. Kelton’s best work. At times, some of the characters are rather stock, for example. But the stories are always enjoyable.

The novels making up the Texas Ranger Series, in chronological order with publication date in parenthesis, are:

  1. The Buckskin Line (1999)
  2. Badger Boy (2001)
  3. The Way of the Coyote (2001)
  4. Ranger’s Trail (2002)
  5. Texas Vendetta (2005)
  6. Jericho’s Road (2004)
  7. Hard Trail to Follow (2008)
  8. Other Men’s Horses (2009)
  9. Texas Standoff (2010)

Were I a Texas history teacher, I would include Mr. Kelton’s work in my course. While history books provide dates and details, they rarely give that glimpse into those parts of history that affect everyday people as they go about their everyday lives. Mr. Kelton fills that void for us.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Good Reads: Ron Rozelle

Donna and I are avid readers; we always have a book nearby, and we spend time reading every day. Donna normally reads novels, but she enjoys animal stories as well. I love novels as well, especially westerns, but I enjoy reading about the American West and hiking as well. I currently reading from start to finish all of the books in Elmer Kelton's Texas Ranger series.

While an undergraduate at Sam Houston State University, I met and became good friends with Ron Rozelle. Ron and I had a lot in common. We were both from small East Texas towns (Ron from Oakwood, I from Fairfield), our fathers were both school superintendents, and we both majored in English and minored in Political Science. In fact, we did our student teacher at Palestine High School at the same time, assigned to classrooms right across the hall from each other. Similarities continued as the years rolled by, and both of our fathers eventually suffered from Alzheimer's Disease.

Ron is still teaching English in a coastal Texas town, but he also teaches creative writing, and he's the perfect man for that job because he is an accomplished author in his own right. He's published numerous books, and his latest work, My Boys and Girls Are in There: The 1938 New London School Explosion, is due out on February 5th. I'm looking forward to it.

I spent the last 9 years of my career in Kilgore, just a few miles from New London, so the story of the explosion is familiar to me. I had heard the story since my youth, as it was still talked about as I was growing up.

I'm guessing this work will be historical fiction, as Ron has already established himself in that genre when he wrote The Windows of Heaven: A Novel of Galveston's Great Storm of 1900. In that work, Ron built a solid story based upon an historically accurate setting; in doing so, he brought that frightening storm to life. I'm expecting the New London novel to be the same quality. I can't wait to get my hands on it.

Ron's best known work, and the book that established him with critics, is Into That Good Night, which was a national finalist for the P.E.N. Prize and the Texas Institute of Letters Carr P. Collins Award. That memoir was especially meaningful for me for several reasons. First, it recounted Ron's life from childhood into adulthood, so I enjoyed getting a look at what Ron was like as he was growing up. Since I know Ron and knew his father, the town of Oakwood, and had been in Ron's childhood home, I felt as if I was visiting an old friend. But most of all, the memoir recounted how Ron's father became a victim of Alzheimer's and the effects on the family. Since I experienced the same events with my father, the memoir holds special meaning for me.

Among Ron's other works are:
  • A Place Apart
  • Warden: Prison Life and Death from the Inside Out
  • Touching Winter: A Novel in Four Parts
Ron has also written a book about creative writing.

For those interested in prison life, Warden (written with Jim Willett, a career employee of the Texas Department of Corrections) is a great read. Jim and Ron were roommates for a brief time during their early college careers. As many students at SHSU did in those days (and perhaps still do), Jim signed on for part-time work at the prison. Unlike most SHSU students, Jim stayed with the system and eventually became the warden of the Walls Unit near downtown Huntsville, where executions are carried out. If you stop at the prison museum in Huntsville just off I-45, you might see Jim, as he works some in that museum in his retirement.

Ron's done well, and all of his books are interesting. He has an easy-to-read and very personable style; it's almost as if you are sitting and listening to him, and that is what it reminds me of.

Once I've had a chance to read the book, I'll write a short review and provide more information about what to expect.