Saturday, April 27, 2013

Places to Go

Do you have a bucket list? I suppose I do; at least, I have a list of all the places I want to see while I still wander this planet. I've never really considered it a bucket list, but I suppose that is what it truly is. My bucket list is probably quite long, and includes places from all over the country: Mount Rushmore, the giant sequoias of California, New England in the fall, Canyon de Chelly, and many, many others.

In the last couple of days, I've added a new destination to my list, the George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum in Dallas on the campus of SMU. The opening and dedication of the library has been in the news the past few days, and it was attended by all living members of the "Presidents' Club".

About 3 years or so ago, Donna and I visited the George H. Bush Presidential Library and Museum on the campus of Texas A&M University in College Station, Texas. I've visited the LBJ Presidential Library in Austin on the campus of the University of Texas on several occasions. Since Arkansas is not too far away, I hope to visit William J. Clinton Presidential Library and Museum in Little Rock, Arkansas, one of these days.

I enjoy these presidential libraries. They really give insight into their respective administrations. The newest library will, I'm sure, be especially interesting as regards items relating to the terrorist bombings of September 11, 2001.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Old Man Winter is Still Here

Old Man Winter just refuses to leave this year. This is the second time in as many weeks that a cold front has pushed through the area, dropping night time lows into the 30s. For this area for this time of year, that is cold. But as I write this early this morning, the temp is 58, and the high today is expected to reach nearly 70. Tomorrow, normal temps return, with highs in 80s.

In our house, we really don't notice the cold spells, but if we were still in the travel trailer, we would certainly be feeling the cold. If it is 39 degrees outside, it is just a little over that in the trailer, unless you keep the furnace set high, and that really uses lots of propane. So, I'm glad to be in a real brick and mortar house with strong insulation values.

I have ordered sod for our back yard, and it is due to arrive tomorrow. I've ordered a brand known as Celebration Bermudagrass. This grass is touted to be drought tolerant, and that is what we need in San Angelo. I've prepped my yard and am ready to start laying the sod. If you are free on Friday, come on over and lend a hand.

Monday, April 22, 2013

The Wildfire, the Buffalo, and Other Things

Our daughter Courtney, her husband Michael, and our grandson Alexander (we call him "Xander" for short, among other things) came down for the weekend. They live in a small town about 2 hours north of here, and they always enjoyed visiting us in San Angelo. It's a big city for them, and they enjoy the opportunity to eat out and shop. If you've ever lived in a small town, you'll know what I mean.

We grilled burgers when they arrived Friday evening, and we grilled steaks before they left on Sunday. On Saturday, we wanted to get out. The kids needed to pick up some things at Walmart and Sam's Wholesale Club, so those were our first stops. We then enjoyed lunch at CiCi's Pizza Buffet. Donna and I really enjoy CiCi's; it is probably our favorite pizza buffet. From time to time, they run a $5 buffet for an entire month, and that is really a good deal, especially when you can put away as much pizza as Donna can. A local magician was at CiCi's making balloon animals and other things for the kids, and Xander took home a balloon creation.

After lunch, we drove out to San Angelo State Park. Courtney had hiked the park with Donna and I when she was a youngster 20 or so years ago, but I don't think she has been to the park since then; I don't think Michael and Xander had ever been there. Xander is active in Boy Scouts, and Michael is an adult leader in that group, so they are always looking for camping and hiking opportunities, and I thought they would enjoy seeing what the park has to offer.

We've been going to the park for more than 20 years, but Donna and I had never seen the buffalo herd. When we entered the park on Saturday, though, the herd was next to the road and we got several pictures. The mesquites are thick in that area of the park, and unless the buffalo are next to the fence, they just aren't visible. After seeing the buffalo, we rode through the park and I pointed out the hiking trails to Michael.

Some of the elusive buffalo at San Angelo State Park

The buffalo are kept in the pasture on the right as you enter the park
As we were leaving the park, we notice a dark column of smoke to the southwest. Upon reaching the highway, a fire truck cruised by on its way to the fire. The fire was reportedly caused by sparks from a train; actually, there were six small fires located in proximity to one another. The fires were close to a fence company, and several piles of fence posts and poles were also inflamed. Many of the posts and poles were treated with creosote, thereby causing the black smoke. (see story here in the San Angelo Standard Times; I do not know how long the story will be archived).

The country is dry, and I'm afraid this is just the first of many wildfires the area will see this year.I surely wish there was some way we could get some of the water those folks along the Mississippi and Missouri rivers are getting.

Later that evening, Court and Michael went out for a meal alone and left Xander with Donna and me. The kids always enjoy the opportunity to eat a nice meal sans Xander when they are in town, and we enjoy the chance to spend some time alone with the little monster.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Boom Town

I think we bought our house just in time.

There is a new oil boom in this area of West Texas, and people are moving in to the area. When we signed the contract on our house back in December, there were just a couple of other foundations being poured in this neighborhood, but now there are about a dozen under construction. An area not far from us is being cleared to expand an existing neighborhood. Activity like this is visible in several areas around town. Plans for new RV parks are being developed and are awaiting approval of the city council.

House prices are expected to increase in the days ahead as the full impact of the boom is realized. I'm not sure when that will be, but I'm sure it is coming.

San Angelo is a traditional town. It's economy has been steady over the years, based largely on ranching and related activities. It is home to Goodfellow Air Force Base and Angelo State University (about 7,000 students) as well as 2 very fine hospitals which serve patients from all over the Concho Valley. Tourism in the area has traditionally been lively due to area lakes and the city's history.

But with the discovery of the Cline Shale formation, the personality of this community could change. Only the westernmost part of  Tom Green County, of which San Angelo is the county seat, is located on the Cline Shale, the part that is the panhandle of the county. Most of the boom from this formation will occur in the Midland/Odessa area, for the oil infrastructure is already in place there. But some of the growth will spill over into rural areas and San Angelo.

And local speculators are rushing to cash in on the boom.

A new apartment complex with about 200 units is nearing completion on the west side of town. If rumors are correct, then all of the units are already rented. A few days ago, I was speaking to the brick layer on the house going up next door, and he told me that they have 67 new homes to brick.

I do not know how our community is going to change, but I am sure that there will be changes -- some good, some not so good. I'm concerned about the demands on our already limited water supplies. If 10,000 or 20,000 or more new people move into the area, where will we find new water sources?

I do feel fortunate that I was able to get a house before prices began going up.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

It's Good to Be Home

We woke up in our new house this morning. It's good to be home.

All the furniture has been moved. Boxes are stacked in the corners of rooms, waiting to be unpacked and their contents distributed about the house. We slept in our bed last night, and I slept really well. Donna soaked in a warm tub last night while I showered. It was so nice to be able to stretch my arms out while in the shower. You really come to appreciate the little things when you've been living in tight quarters for more than 8 months.

All utilities have been switched over. We have cable TV and Internet. Tomorrow, a Culligan's crew comes over to get our water softener and reverse osmosis system installed. Blinds have been installed in all windows. In the coming days, we'll hang pictures and really start making this place a home. I've already built 3 raised beds for our backyard and will work on getting grass up and growing this week. In the coming weeks, I'll get drought tolerant plants to landscape the backyard.

My biggest challenge is getting our entertainment center operational. Our television is functioning right now, but I need to connect it and the DVD player to our receiver and the wireless network to start getting Netflix, Pandora, and other Internet apps I've come to appreciate. I took pictures before disconnecting everything, so we'll see how well I can put the pieces of the puzzle back together. As a last resort, I'll get the Geek Squad out for a visit.

I'll probably start a routine of posting something about twice a week unless we are traveling or doing things out of the ordinary.

I'll see you down the road.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Back to the Present

The entry on McKinney Falls State Park yesterday was the last entry for our recent trip to Central Texas. We've been back in San Angelo the past week or so finalizing preparations for our house. We close on our house tomorrow (Friday, April 12). We begin officially moving in that afternoon. We should be completely moved in on Saturday by noon.

This will be a busy few days for us, and my connectivity will be questionable. I'll post when I can.

All utilities are being changed over on Friday, and our cable TV and Internet should be connected that day as well. Our new fridge is also being delivered then. Blinds are also being installed that afternoon.

We have a small moving crew coming early Saturday. They should be able to move all the larger items from our storage room in just a few hours. We really downsized when we sold our last house, so we really don't have much at this time.

On Monday, the Culligan crew will come by to install a water softener and reverse osmosis system. Water in San Angelo is very, very hard; without a water softening system of some type, appliances and pipes really take a beating.

Actually, we've been moving a few items over in our Tundra the past few days and getting the house ready. Our builder has been super to work with, and he told us to go ahead and start moving in. While Donna has been unpacking boxes and lining shelves, I've been prepping the back yard for putting out grass. The front yard is low maintenance (no grass), but we did want a grassy patch in the backyard. We don't have much yard in this house -- which is good for me -- so I'm working on designing an area in our backyard that will be pleasant for us when we want to sit out.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

McKinney Falls State Park

A cold front blew into the area early Sunday morning (March 24, 2013). For the next two days, temperatures remained cool and winds high, making it unpleasant to be outside. In fact, early morning temps were dipping close to freezing Monday and Tuesday. But Tuesday promised sunshine and low winds, so we decided to journey about 20 miles up the road from our camp in Lockhart and visit McKinney Falls State Park, on the southern outskirts of Austin.

The centerpiece of McKinney Falls is Onion Creek and the two small waterfalls on the limestone bed of that creek. The creek itself was not much more than a trickle. I’m sure that there are times that the creek is much more imposing, as evidenced by the exposed limestone that abounds near the creek. Numerous people were exploring the area, including 2 busloads of students from area schools.

Exposed limestone expanse along Onion Creek, which is barely visible in left-center of picture. Also note Homestead in right part of picture among the trees.

Lower Falls of Onion Creek. Water flow is very low due to drought.
Close up of cascade at Donna's feet in above picture.

After viewing the lower falls, we picked our way across the creek and hiked the 2.75 mile Homestead Trail, which is simply a loop trail that passes an old grist mill and the McKinney homestead.

Grist Mill

Our first glimpse of the Homestead through the trees.

Thomas McKinney built this house in the late 1840s. He was an active player in the early days of Texas.
After visiting the lower falls, we went upstream to see the upper falls. We were surprised to see a family swimming in the cool water of the pool at the base of the falls. As with the lower falls, the upper falls was little more than a trickle.

The Upper Falls
One of the rivulets forming the Upper Falls

The Smith Visitor Center near the Upper Falls
As we were leaving the area around the lower falls, we heard numerous sirens sounding nearby. We were surprised to see rescue personnel then appear along the creek, working their way to a young woman who had taken a tumble from a boulder along the stream. After a bit of exploration, they decided the best way to get to her would be from the upper falls area.

As we got to the upper falls area, we saw no fewer than 10 emergency and rescue vehicles in that parking lot, all for a single person who had suffered what we heard was a broken leg. Most of the rescue personnel were standing around in small groups chatting.

We drove through the rest of the park, looking at the camping areas. The park is heavily wooded with good hiking trails. There appear to be no full hookups except for hosts. A handful of shelters are available. Trailer spaces seem to be rather small. We saw many that were wedged in among the trees, and I wondered how a few had been able to park their trailers where they were.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Good Eats: Kreuz Market, Lockhart, Texas

Today we visited the last major BBQ place in Lockhart, KreuzMarket. Previously, we had eaten at Black’s, Smitty’s, and Chisholm Trail (in that order).

I gave some background on Kreuz Market in an entry about Smitty's a couple of months ago entitled "Good Eats: Smitty's Meat Market, Lockhart, Texas." The entry explains the family connection between Smitty's and Kreuz Market. Since there is a historical link between the two BBQ markets, we were expecting the food to be similar. However, we really were disappointed with Kreuz Market.

First of all, the quality of the food really wasn’t as good as I had hoped. We ordered ribs, brisket, and jalapeno cheese sausage. The ribs were juicy and good, and I enjoyed them. However, the brisket was disappointing. It was very, very dry, and the flavor did not match that of other local BBQ joints. The sausage was pretty good, and the casing had good snap, but there was absolutely no heat.

Second, we were a bit surprised at the prices. Of all the places we’ve eaten in Lockhart and Luling, this was the most expensive.

The building is huge, but I doubt there are few times when it is full. As we left, we drove by Smitty’s and noticed about twice as many cars in the parking lot there as at Kreuz’s. I guess that says it all. Should we ever return to this area, we will probably limit our dining to Smitty’s and Black’s, both located downtown. Kreuz does have a huge parking lot which would easily accommodate RVs, and that is a plus. It is also located directly on US 183, the main north/south highway through town. But the quality of the food, at least from this single experience of ours, is not enough to bring us back, especially when the price is factored in.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Lockhart SP: Hike Report

I hiked the trails at Lockhart State Park the morning of March 27th. The hike was an enjoyable one overall, and I would label the trails as easy with the exception of a couple of steep grades I encountered. Should you decide to hike these trails, a few of words of caution. First, the park map is not entirely accurate. Second, the park map does not name the trails, though signs along the trail do. Third, signs are not available at every intersection. I’ll address each of these issues in this hike review.

I began my hike at the bridge near the picnic area where the main park road cross Clear Fork Creek. The Clear Fork Trail begins here, and it follows Clear Fork Creek downstream for about half a mile.

Trail head for Clear Fork Trail. Although sign indicates name of trail, the park map does not.
Cascade on creek near beginning of trail

My first difficulty occurred about halfway down this trail. I came across a fork in the trail that did not appear on the map. There was a sign, though, indicating that the left fork was the Wild Rose Loop Trail. I decided to follow the trail. I turned left, then immediately encountered another fork. Thinking this was the beginning of the loop, I turned right to begin the loop.

Wild Rose Loop Trail, which is not on the park map at all.
As I moved along, I noticed numerous side trails, or areas that had been cleared. I decided to stick to the main trail, and felt better when it began curving to the left as if to loop. I continued along the trail, which soon passed through an impenetrable thicket; perhaps these bushes were the wild roses.

Are these the wild roses for which the trail is named? The thorn-covered brush is so thick that a mouse would have trouble getting through.

Indeed, they did contain a number of thorns. By this time, the trail had curved again, and I was confident the trail was looping. Soon a downed tree crossed the trail. Previous hikers had forged a path through the branches of the downed tree, and I followed, but soon came to the end of the trail at a fenced in area that looked as if it might be used to capture animals.

I do not know what this is. Looks like some type of pen to catch animals.
I began backtracking, wondering if I had missed the trail. Sure enough, at the downed tree, the trail curved away back to the west, and I followed it. Again, I came to one or two side trails, but kept to the main trail, and soon came back to the original trail junction. This loop trail really needs to be mapped in its entirety, and signs need to be erected at all side trails to prevent hikers from straying.

Back on the main trail, I soon came to my creek crossing. Fortunately, I had brought my hiking pole along, and I really needed it to keep my balance in a couple of areas where the rocks dipped below the water on the crossing. I was soon across, though, and in the circle on the Clear Fork Creek Camping Loop.

Creek crossing.

I then had 2 trail options: the Creek View Trail or the High Trail. I choose the Creek View Trail for it would provide a longer hike.

Trail heads just after creek crossing. These are at the end of the paved road on the Clear Fork Creek Camping Loop. Trails are not named on map. Trail on left is Creek View Trail, which is a bit longer.

For the first 100 or 200 yards, the trail did follow the creek, but it eventually turned away from the creek to follow a fence line heading west. There were a couple of unmarked side trails from this trail, by the way. Just after turning from the creek, the Persimmon Trail spurred off to the right, only to rejoin the main trail farther down. This spur is on the map, by the way, but it is not named. Somewhere along this stretch is a pretty respectable grade. When you get to the top, be sure to look back; you’ll have a decent view looking towards the city of Lockhart.

My back trail from the top of the grade. I'm about level with the tree tops.
An aging barn soon appears on the left. About this time, another spur trail – this one unmarked but on the map – veers off to the right. It will rejoin the main trail near the rusting windmill just beyond the old barn.

Windmill has seen better days

Just beyond the windmill, where the trail turns sharply north, the trail name changes to the Chisholm Trail. The next trail junction is a bit confusing. The map shows the main trail (which is the now the Chisholm Trail) continuing straight with a loop trail off to the right. Actually, the Chisholm Trail takes a 90 degree turn to the left down a slope. The loop trail, which is the Comanche Loop Trail, continues straight. It is a short loop trail. Go ahead and take it. At the farthest point of the loop, it overlooks the golf course below, but there are very view clear views because of the trees. Follow the loop back to the Chisholm Trail, then follow the trail down the hill.

Confusing trail junction. Picture taken from Chisholm Trail. Map indicates Chisholm Trail goes straight. As shown in the picture, the trail actually turns left. The trail continuing straight is the loop trail.
Somewhere down the slope, a creek appears on the left. The trail continues on down, then suddenly comes to a T next to a bench. Which way to go? Well, there is no such T on the map, and there is no sign on the trail.

Another confusing trail junction near the end of the Chisholm Trail. There is no sign on the trail, and the map does not indicate a junction at all. Take the trail to the left.

I took the trail to the left, and fortunately, this was the correct choice. I do not know where the trail to the right goes. Almost immediately, you’ll pass a side trail call the Rattlesnake Loop. I declined to follow this trail because it is not on the map at all. You’ll then cross a couple of culverts and see the green for hole #3 on your right. A gate appears in the trail. Just skirt around it to the left and you’ll be on another paved park road.

Green #3 along end of Chisholm Trail

Skirt fence to the left

Veer to your left and you’ll see the beginning of the Caddy Trail. This is a short, steep trail that leads to the Recreation Hall. I reached the top just in time to see 3 turkeys wandering away. The views from this hill are about the best in the park.

Near top of Caddy Trail. Entire trail was as steep as indicated in this picture.

Recreation Hall at top of Caddy Trail
CCC Trail Head behind Recreation Hall. This is perhaps the highest point in the park. The trail down is very steep.
View from the top. Note water tower for nearby Lockhart to the left, and cupola of courthouse in center.
Trail down is pretty steep

The trail continues behind the Recreation Hall. It is quite steep, so take your time. Once at the bottom, the trail is complete and you’ll find yourself at the tee box for the second hole.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Day Trip: San Marcos, Texas

A cold spell came through while we were in Lockhart, so we didn’t want to get outside very much. We simply don’t like cold weather. Looking for something to do that would keep us mainly inside, we decided to drive over to nearby San Marcos to look around.

For years, we had heard of the outlet mall in San Marcos, but we had never been there. Getting directions from the friendly staff in the park headquarters, we headed out and located the mall along I-35 on the southern edge of San Marcos. Actually, there are 2 malls, both located on the east side of I-35: San Marcos Premium Outlets and Tanger Outlet Mall. San Marcos Premium Outlets is by far the larger of the two; it really is massive. We stopped in to wander through a few stores, but really weren’t looking to buy anything.

We then rode around a bit, viewing the growing town. It had probably been over 20 years since our last trip through San Marcos, and we were surprised at the vast growth the town has undergone. Texas State University, formerly Southwest Texas State University, has really grown and dominates the community, with shuttle buses visible everywhere. It currently enrolls more than 34,000 students, making it the 5th largest university in Texas and the largest in the Texas State University System.

We found a little grouping of mobile food carts just off of downtown and decided to stop. Since our days in the Middle East, we have enjoyed “street food”. The concept of mobile food trailers grouping together is very popular in other areas of the country, especially Portland and Seattle, but has been slow to catch on in Texas with the exception of the Austin area. So when we came across The Hitch, we pulled in to see what was available.

At this time, only 4 carts are operating, and 2 were closed the day we stopped. One of the closed trailers, the caboose, served mainly Southern style fried food while the other closed trailer served Thai food. Drat! We could have really enjoyed some spicy Thai food. We looked over the menus of the 2 open carts. One served an eclectic menu of various foods, including a curry dish. But we decided to sample the food at St. Pita’s, where they serve “Heavenly Good Food”. We both ordered the Classic, which is essentially their version of a shwarma sandwich. Stuffed with schwarma meat, lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, and onions, and topped with their "Saintly Sauce", the sandwich was large and good. My only complaint is that the bread cracked and broke with handling, probably because it had been heated on the grill. But that is a small price to pay for this great sandwich.