Sunday, September 29, 2013

Let's Go to Luckenbach, Texas

Luckenbach is one of those uniquely Texan places that you can find scattered about the state, places like Terlingua and Uncertain. Usually a bit off the beaten path, these places create their own brand of culture and often attract the non-conformists among us. I'm glad we have places like this; we need to know that not everyone is toeing the line.

Luckenback has been a favorite place of mine for years, at least in my mind. Now, I don't hang out there, but I like to drive through whenever I'm in the Fredericksburg area and see what is happening there.

Luckenback was established just prior to 1850, mainly by German immigrants. It remained a small agricultural community until the 1960s, when it was more or less a ghost town. Responding to an ad, Hondo Crouch (rancher, entrepreneur, and unique character supreme) purchased the small community in 1970 and began marketing the old dance hall there as an entertainment destination.

This is about the time I learned of Luckenbach. In the summer of 1973, Jerry Jeff Walker, backed by the Lost Gonzo Band, recorded his breakthrough album, Viva Terlingua, in Luckenback and put the relatively unknown community on the Texas country music map. A few years later, Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson performed a duet called "Luckenback, Texas" that did very well on country music charts.

Over the years, Luckenback has hosted numerous concerts and picnics, and today has a steady stream of performers taking the stage under the sprawling Hill Country oak trees along Grape Creek, which meanders behind the general store. On most afternoons, you can usually find a few locals and tourists stopping in for a beer, a photo or two, and maybe even a little food at the grill operated next to the dance hall. It's a good place to pause for a while, eat a BBQ sandwich, and have a cold one. There's just a little bit of the old days drifting through the air, whispering through the oaks, telling everyone to slow down and "get back to the basics of life."

On a recent trip with my brother Larry and his wife Nancy, we looped through Luckenback, stopping for a few moments to snap some pictures.

Donna in front of the old Luckenback post office.

Donna in Luckenback, with the outdoor stage behind and to her right. I love the oaks.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Edward Abbey, an Overview

In my younger years, I remember watching two seemingly unrelated movies that made an impact on me: Lonely Are the Brave (1962, starring Kirk Douglas, Walter Matthau, Carroll O'Connor, Gena Rowlands, and George Kennedy) and Fire on the Mountain (1981, starring Buddy Ebsen and Ron Howard). I was particularly moved by the central characters, men who were essentially standing firm in the onslaught of progress. This is a theme I personally relate to. I'm something of a fossil myself, and for many things I prefer the old ways.

What I didn't know at the time that I saw these movies is that both were based on books written by Edward Abbey. Since then, I've become something of a fan of Edward Abbey and can identify to some degree with his attitudes towards the environment. Now, don't misunderstand -- I don't aspire to eco-terrorism or anything extreme like that, but I am a naturalist who wants to be a good steward of the earth, and Abbey does have something to say on this matter.

I've not read all the works of Abbey, but I've read many. If you are interested at all in the environment, especially that of the Southwest, then here is a pretty good list of Abbey works you might consider.
  • Desert Solitaire (if you have read The Last Season by Eric Blehm, you will see a lot of Randy Morgenson in here)
  • Down the River
  • The Brave Cowboy (the basis for Lonely Are the Brave referenced above)
  • Fire on the Mountain
  • The Monkey Wrench Gang
  • Hayduke Lives
  • The Fool's Progress (don't even try this book unless you are a fan of Abbey)
Abbey was quite an interesting man. He was born January 29, 1927, and spent his formative years in Pennsvylvania. Immediately following graduation from high school, he drifted towards the American Southwest, particularly the Four Corners region, and fell under the spell of the desert.

Abbey was drafted at the tail end of WWII. Following his brief two-year stint in the military, he took advantage of the GI Bill and attended the University of New Mexico, where he received a BA degree in 1951 (philosophy and English) and a Master's degree in 1956 (philosophy).

In 1956 and 1957, he worked as a seasonal ranger at Arches National Monument, an experience which formed the basis of his well received and respected work, Desert Solitaire, published several years later in 1968. Personally, this is my favorite non-fiction work by Abbey, and it was one reason why I visited that park last year.

Throughout the 1960s, Abbey continued to work at various parks around the country, all the while churning out novels and other writings. He was something of a controversial figure, espousing anarchism and opposing the construction of the Glen Canyon Dam, for example. Because of his novel the Money Wrench Gang, many consider him the father of eco-terrorism.

Not even death could tame Abbey, who requested that his friends bury him in an undisclosed location in the Arizona desert in his sleeping bag so that he could serve as fertilizer to the desert plants. He died March 14, 1989, in Tucson following surgery to correct a problem with his veins. His friends carried out his final request.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Good Reads: The Last Season, by Eric Blehm

Randy Morgenson was a veteran of the National Park Service, having served as a back country ranger starting in 1965. He was something of a legend among his fellow back country rangers. With an uncanny sense for knowing where to look for missing hikers or campers, he seemed born to work the remote areas of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, where he knew every plant and every animal.

Randy came across his calling naturally. He spent his formative years growing up in Yosemite National Park, the younger of two sons of Dana Morgenson, who worked for a concessionaire in that park. With Half Dome and other wonders of the natural world in his back yard, it was only a matter of time before Randy became a naturalist. He spent time in the Far East in the Peace Corps where he climbed some of the higher peaks there and experimented with Eastern spiritualism, which would help shape the man he was to become.

In July 1996, Randy was reported missing from his back country camp in Sequoia and King's Canyon National Parks, two parks abutting each other in eastern California. Several attempts at radio contact failed, but the radios used by the park service were notoriously unreliable. Eventually, a full-out search was initiated.

In The Last Season, author Eric Blehm recounts the search for Randy in the high country of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. As the search progresses, Blehm weaves Randy's past into the tale, giving us wonderful insights not only into Randy, but into the making of a back country ranger. Randy was completely at peace with the wilderness; it was his home, and there was no place he'd rather be.

What happened to Randy? Did he have an accident while on patrol? The previous year, he had experienced two particularly unpleasant encounters with park visitors. Could he have been the victim of foul play? His personal life was in turmoil, and his wife had recently served him with divorce papers. How depressed was he, and what was he capable of in this state? Or fed up with the bureaucratic failings of the system, had he grown tired of his job and simply walked off to surface later in another place?

This is my second time to read this book. Even though I knew the outcome on the second reading, I was held spellbound, especially by the accounts of Randy's background and his philosophy and relationship to the natural world.

This is a must read for all outdoor adventurers.

Monday, September 16, 2013

San Angelo Sunrise

Now that school has started, Donna and I have started driving out to San Angelo State Park from time to time for our morning walks, especially during the school week. There is an elementary school near our home, so traffic is pretty heavy on many streets in our neighborhood, especially from 7:30 to shortly after 8:00 AM. Since the sun doesn't come up until after 7:00 AM now and our walks last about an hour, that puts us right in the middle of school traffic. Later on when the weather cools, we'll take our walks in the late morning or early afternoon; for now, though, temps are still rather high and we prefer to walk early, so we will visit the park occasionally.

Since we are annual pass holders, the park put our names on a list so that we can get a combination to the lock on the main gate and go in early. On our way out, we stop at the office and let them scan our pass and enter our "count" (how many people in our party).

The park is nice early in the morning. We can walk without worrying about speeding traffic and enjoy the peace and quiet as well as the views. Last week on our early morning walk there, we saw 2 small bunches of deer, numerous rabbits, and a wild turkey. This morning, we saw several deer, some rabbits, and 2 coveys of quails.

We also enjoyed watching the sun rise over the dam of O.C. Fisher lake this morning. West Texas has some of the most spectacular sunrises and sunsets I've seen. The pictures below are more or less average for this area. Perhaps I'll catch some better sun rises at another time. For now, these pictures will allow me to share our sky with you.

The sun was just coming up, but was still behind the dam.

The sun tops the horizon.

We enjoy walking through the campgrounds and looking at all the overnight RV visitors in the park. We still have an interest in RVing and believe that one day we may full-time it for several years. The time we spent traveling in our trailer last year was one of the most enjoyable and rewarding times in our lives, and we miss many aspects of it; however, I don't miss towing at all. For now, we content ourselves with watching other RVers.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Good Reads: Robert B. Parker

As readers of this blog know, my favorite all-time western writer is Elmer Kelton. His books are historically accurate and his characters are true to life; on top of that, he tells a good story. But I've read all of Mr. Kelton's books -- at least twice -- and I needed to find a new author of westerns to read. I may have found one.

I had heard of Robert B. Parker before. Oddly, I first came across his name in Internet searches when I was looking for information on Robert Leroy Parker, the real name of Butch Cassidy. In fact, this is where I originally learned that Parker was the author of the Jesse Stone novels that are the basis of the TV movies starring Tom Selleck. Donna and I have enjoyed these movies; of course, Donna will watch anything with Tom Selleck. So when I learned that Mr. Parker had also written some westerns, I thought I'd give them a try. I'm glad I did.

The first book I picked up was Appaloosa. I didn't know it at the time, but this is actually the first of a series of books featuring the characters of Virgil Cole and Everett Hitch. Told by the character of Everett Hitch, the stories follow Cole and Hitch, two men good with guns who usually work as lawmen -- but not always. Not only are the stories entertaining, but I love the conversations Cole and Hitch have. They use few words, know how to get to the heart of the matter, and most of the conversations are laced with an undertone of humor.

Cole is the better gunman of the two, and he is always in charge of every situation in which the two find themselves. Hitch, a former cavalry officer and graduate of West Point, is quite capable as a gunman as well. The two complement each other in their work, and become well-known in their line of work.

Once I finished reading Appaloosa, I checked out other books in the series. If you are interested, they should be read in this order:
  • Appaloosa
  • Resolution
  • Brimstone
  • Blue-Eyed Devil
  • Ironhorse
I've read all of the above except Ironhorse, which does not appear to be in our local library.

Warning: There is a bit of colorful language in all of the books. It's not what I consider an overabundance, but even a little bit is too much for some people.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

The Sheriff Is Coming

I have to admit, I'm a bit nervous, even a bit intimated. In all honesty, I'm downright scared. The Sheriff is coming back to town. And you can see from his picture below that he's not in the mood for any foolishness, and foolishness is what I specialize in.

Recent photo of the angry sheriff; he takes no prisoners. Actually, he looks more like a ruling monarch in this photo; perhaps even a tyrant or despot.
The Sheriff doesn't put up with much nonsense; you can see from the above picture that he's a pretty serious fellow. I go out of my way to behave myself when he's around. He's in charge, and he knows it, and so does everyone else.

The little guy will be coming to town this weekend with his entire posse, so we'll spend the week getting everything ready for them. He's finally putting on some weight, and he seems to be throwing that weight around quite a bit.

You can bet I'll be on my best behavior this weekend.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Good Eats: 3 Parrots Taco Shop

I haven't posted a dining review in quite a while. Since Donna and I have not traveled recently (we'll be hitting the road again soon), we really haven't had much opportunity to try anything new or different.

Since our return to San Angelo earlier this year, a new eatery has opened on Knickerbocker Road. 3 Parrots Taco Shop has sort of a Jimmy Buffet/Caribbean/Mexican theme. When I first noticed the place, I visited their website to see what type of food they offer. Basically, this is fast food Mexican. The web site says that it was created to bring "quality and consistency to a fragmented Baja taco market." It further states the business is built around a "surf/beach theme environment with great art and music to instill the ideas of summer year round."

I'm sure that a lot of people will like this sort of place. Frankly, though, the price of the food and the taste will probably keep me from returning.

When I first saw the menu, I noticed that prices were a bit higher than other local places, and the menu is a bit limited. Quite frankly, there are full-service establishments in town with better food and better prices. I'm not saying the food is bad; I'm saying it is not to my taste. Again, there are many folks who, I'm sure, would enjoy this place.

We've been there twice now. After the first visit, I withheld writing a review because I just wasn't sure about how I felt about the place. But after our second visit earlier this week, Donna and I both agree that this is not the type of Mexican food we prefer. I admit we are kind of stuck in our ways on some things. I prefer traditional Tex-Mex cuisine.

On both visits, we used coupons we received in flyers. On our last visit, for example, our bill came to over $23; after the coupons were applied, the final amount was just over $15. $23 for fast-food is simply too much for us to pay unless we are getting some really good food. We can visit local fast-food Mexican places like Rosa's or Julio's Burritos and pay much less (as little as half that) and be much better satisfied. In fact, I was still hungry when we left 3 Parrots the last time, and I'm not a big eater.

On our first visit to 3 Parrots about 2 months ago, I had the beef fajita plate while Donna had the taco plate. On our most recent visit, I had the cheese enchilada plate while Donna had the burrito bowl. We shared an order of nachos. A bottle of chipotle mojo sauce adorns each table. I found it to have a very strong vinegary taste, unlike the strong smoky flavor of other chipotle sauces I've tried and liked. Most of the food also seemed to be heavily salted.

On our first visit, the place was doing a good business, with customers streaming in and out. On our more recent visit, which occurred at about the same time of day, only a handful of customers were present.

Again, I'm sure that there is a market for this type of food, but for traditional Tex-Mex fans like Donna and me, we probably won't be returning.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Gambling in the Movies

If you've followed my blog then you know we frequent casinos. We enjoy gambling, and consider ourselves serious and knowledgeable gamblers. We understand odds, and we're selective about the games we play. We spend quite a bit of time studying gambling techniques, so when we do play, we do so intelligently. Our game of choice is video poker, and we prefer to play in Las Vegas rather than other gambling locales because the odds are better.

I enjoy reading books and watching movies about gambling, and over the years there are some that have had an influence on me.

One of the first gambling movies I ever saw was The Hustler, starring Paul Newman, Jackie Gleason, Piper Laurie, and George C. Scott. This 1961 movie follows the development of "Fast" Eddie Felson as a professional pool player. Now, some people may not equate shooting pool with gambling, but when you play for money, that's precisely what it is. And one of my favorite all-time movies scenes appears in this movie.

Early on, Eddie engages the legendary "Minnesota Fats" (Jackie Gleason) in a night of high stakes pool. They begin by playing for $200 a game, but soon up that to $1000 a game. Eddie surges ahead, but begins drinking heavily. When behind almost $20,000, Fats stops playing, steps into a side room, and starts cleaning up. He washes his face and straightens his clothing, and a heavily intoxicated Eddie believes he is quitting. Instead, Fats returns to the game, and soundly teaches Eddie a lesson not only in playing pool, but in character. And it is this central lesson about character that separates a successful gambler from an unsuccessful one.

Another gambling movie that influenced me in my early years was The Cincinnati Kid, starring Steve McQueen. This movie was produced in 1965 but set in depression-era New Orleans. It follows Eric "The Kid" Stoner (McQueen) as he pursues a career playing poker, most notably five card draw. The film boasts a superb supporting cast, with Edward G. Robinson, Karl Malden, Ann Margaret, Tuesday Weld, Jack Weston, Cab Calloway, and Joan Blondell. My buddies and I used to get together in high school and play small stakes poker, dealer's choice, and five-card stud was always my preference, largely because of the influence of this movie.

A more recent movie about gambling is 21, produced in 2008. This film, based on the book Bringing Down the House by Ben Mezrich, follows a team of MIT students led by professor Mickey Rosa (Kevin Spacey). The team members learn the finer arts of card counting and are able to win large sums from various casinos. The cast also includes Laurence Fishburne and Jim Sturgess among others. Although both the film and book accurately show card counting methods, the actual incidents did not really occur. Also, the movie does not follow the book closely.