Friday, September 30, 2016

Old Fat Man Adventures

During our recent stay in the Davis Mountains, we met a gentleman named Barney. We visited late one afternoon at our site for 2 or 3 hours, then ran into him again atop Skyline Drive a few days later. Barney full-times in his Artic Fox travel trailer, and seems to have a great time. Like me, Barney shares his adventures through his blog, which he calls "Old Fat Man Adventures."

I enjoy reading blogs by other people, especially those who do a lot of traveling or hiking. I can relate to these folks, and I usually learn a great deal from them. Barney's blog is especially interesting. He has a talent for noticing things that the rest of us might miss or take for granted. And he takes good pictures of these things. Barney's a good writer, and he makes some very astute and often humorous observations on life. You can tell he enjoys living the way he does, and he seems to really enjoy people, animals, and plant life.

It takes a bit to catch on to Barney's writing style. One reason for this is that he refers to himself in the third person. For example, he might say something like, "The OFM (old fat man) slept in this morning." He refers to his trailer as "the Castle," and he calls his GMC truck "Sierra". Taken collectively, he refers to his entire outfit as "the team." By adding this distance between writer and subject, he is able to laugh at himself. I always enjoy folks who can make fun of themselves, like recent commercials featuring Peyton Manning and Lindsey Vonn.

Another thing I like about Barney's blog is that his travels seem to cover areas Donna and I are familiar with. During our visit at Davis Mountains State Park, we discussed campgrounds we had both stayed in and places we like to eat. It was nice to visit with someone who knew the same areas we knew. For example, both of us had recently been to Brantley Lake State Park outside of Carlsbad, New Mexico. He even quizzed me on the best BBQ in Junction, Texas, and I passed his test by answering Lum's rather than Cooper's.

Barney has much more mechanical skill than I, so lately I've been interested in some repairs he has been making on his trailer following a tire blowout. I never would have thought about checking the undercarriage for damage to LPG lines and brake wires. This is how you learn more about RVing.

And one last thing about his blog . . . Barney is pretty regular in posting to his blog. For the most part, he seems to publish almost every night. He does a much better job of this than I do; but then, as a full-timer, he is doing a lot more living than I.

I've added a link to Barney's blog to the right. If you like to read about people traveling about the country, I think you'll enjoy what he writes.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

A Rainy Day in West Texas

I love rainy days. They are a rarity in West Texas. And we rarely get those all day, slow falling rainy days. Those come far too infrequently for me. Most of our rain comes with violent thunder and lightning as well as high winds. I'm not crazy about those storms, but I always welcome the moisture.

Today, we are blessed with one of the good rains. It moved in late last night. When the rain first arrived, it was accompanied by some thunder and lightning, but that soon gave away to the slow, easy rain we are still enjoying as I write this.

We currently have just under 2 inches, as evidenced by the picture of the rain gauge below. But I expect more to fall before the system moves out of our area.

Almost 2 inches of rain in less than a day. Great!

Below are some pictures I snapped from both my front and back patios of our neighborhood. Enjoy!

This is the street that runs in front of our house. You can see the wet surface. We have a single oak tree in front as well as one in back.

This view from our back patio looks northeast to the Oak Tree Club, which houses the  administrative offices for our community as well as meeting rooms, kitchen, exercise room, pool room, game rooms, library, and hair salon.

This view looks southeast from our back patio. Our regional airport is off in this direction in the distance, and we can watch the planes arriving and departing. Donna loves to watch planes in the sky.

One of our hummingbirds

Another shot of the same hummer.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

How Much Is Enough?

How much is enough? I guess it depends on who you are. Earlier in the year when we were out west, I watched a strange trend developing that alarms me a bit. Perhaps this has been going on for a while and I had not noticed it. I’ve not really seen it happening in Texas, at least not on a large scale. But I’ve seen it quite a bit in the RV parks where Donna and I stayed in Nevada.

I have a Dodge Ram truck that I pull a 28 foot trailer with. That is it. If we take our bicycles, we carry them in the back of the truck. There are many larger rigs out there, especially 5th wheel trailers and motor homes. Some are quite large in their own right. But a new development is for these already enormous rigs to pull some pretty sizable trailers. Some of these are open trailers, while others are enclosed utility trailers. I would venture that most trailers contain some sort of ATV, for driving the desert out west seems to be a very popular pastime. But some also carry motorcycles, and I’ve seen a few that even carry cars. It’s not unusual to see a motor home towing a small car that can be used for transportation once the motor home is parked, but those are relatively easy to tow.

I’m concerned about this trend for numerous reasons. First, when you are rolling down the highway with all these different pieces, there have to be some safety issues. For example, how fast do you pull these trailers down the road? Most trailer tires are rated for 65 mph, but I see these rigs traveling faster than that. I can verify this because I get passed by them quite a bit. And when you have this much weight – weight from the RV itself as well as the weight of the attached trailer and its contents – there is an added element of danger.

In the RV parks themselves, I watch with some amusement as these folks attempt to park these enormous rigs. Many of them are upset because there is not enough room for them. As a result, many of them end up with some of their equipment sticking out somewhere and causing a bit of a traffic hazard. And because of their large size, some of them spread out into their neighbor’s area. They feel that because they are larger than a little outfit like mine that they are entitled to sprawl wherever they can. But I pay for a spot, and that entire spot is mine – they have no right to any of it. I’ve paid for my space, and I’m entitled to all of it whether I use it or not. Now, if they want to sublet part of it, I'm open to negotiations.

But this trend is just a reflection of how we live our lives in all areas. We go to a fast food place and we “supersize” our order. Homes continue to get larger and larger. Our televisions continue to get larger. We seem to be consumed by a passion for everything to be larger. Our American appetites are enormous. Will we ever be satisfied?

Well, to each his own, I suppose, just as long as it doesn’t affect me.

Below are a few pictures of these oversized rigs. I've blotted out any identifying information, such as license plates.

Big motor home, big trailer, and dune buggy. Note the flat tires on the dune buggy. And there was a car with this rig as well. I don't know if the trailer carries the buggy, the car, or something else.
Imagine the total length of this rig going down the highway. You have the truck pulling the travel trailer, which, in turn, pulls the utility trailer.

Another large motor home with utility trailer. The car at left belongs with this rig. I do not know if the car was hauled in the trailer or not. If so, it must be a tight fit. Notice the window unit at front of motor home -- odd!

This fifth wheel is pulled by the white truck that is partially shown at far left. There is a flat bed trailer the man is working on, and it carried the dune buggy at right-center. This is another very long rig on the road.

Another large motor home and a very long utility trailer. I'm sure the trailer carries the VW, but overall length of these two vehicles is quite long.

At least one simple trailer carries the car and the boat.

Another large motor home and another very large utility trailer that is almost as large as the motorhome.

And another very large motor home and utility trailer.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

At Home Between Trips

We enjoyed our outing to the Davis Mountains. It's nice to go out in the trailer for a while but then return to a comfortable home. But we like traveling, and we have trips planned frequently throughout the next several months.

In the meantime, we are staying busy at home. Donna has been especially busy. The old girl discovered a way recently to freeze avocados. The method works well. With the price of avocados steadily rising these days, Donna is taking advantage of this system. This past week, a local grocery store had a sale on avocados for $.28 per pound. We bought a lot, and Donna has been putting them up. We'll be eating avocados for quite a while now.

And Donna has fallen in love with Hatch green chiles. These have been on sale recently in the area, and Donna bought a bunch and canned them. So, we may have nothing else, but we'll be eating chiles and avocados throughout the winter.

I've been waging war on fire ants, especially in our back yard. We've had fairly frequent rains this summer -- which is great -- but it surely brings out those little varmints. As soon as I get 3 mounds treated and under control, 2 more pop out somewhere. In between these skirmishes, I've been doing some little odd jobs to make the place more homey.

And we have our Rio Concho West events we participate in. Last week, we attended a piano performance by a lady from our local symphony orchestra. This week, we have a performance by a magician. On another day, we are hopping on our bus for a ride to a sister property for a meal.

We also have guests coming. This coming weekend, my brother and his wife will be stopping in for a night on their way to the Big Bend country. They have never been to that part of Texas, so it has been on his bucket list for a while. I'm excited for them to see that part of the state that Donna and I love so much. I hope they enjoy it. I'll be the first to admit, though, that West Texas can be an acquired taste. You have to have an appreciation for the desert and isolation to enjoy it out here. Not everyone does.

The following week, Attila and her Huns (our daughter and her little brood of terrorists in training) will invade our peaceful community. We've alerted all the local authorities, and SWAT teams will be standing by. We'll need some rest after they leave, so our next trip is planned for a few days later.

In the meantime, we just continue to enjoy retirement, one day at a time.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Hike Report: Primitive Area, Davis Mountains State Park

I'm really ashamed to even call this a hike. We really only walked a mile or so. But the scenery was great and the experience was interesting.

Several years ago, Davis Mountains State Park acquired land across Highway 118 from the park headquarters. The area is largely undeveloped, and currently consists of primitive camping and several miles of trails, including opportunities for equestrians and mountain bikers. As I mentioned in a previous post, DMSP does a great job with presentations and other events (see Events on their web page). I noticed one event where staff would lead a hike in the new area, so I thought this would be a great opportunity for Donna and I to see that section of the park.

We rose to overcast skies last Saturday. Temperatures were cooler than they had been. Donna and I put on our hiking gear and headed to the HQ. We met our guides there, a volunteer couple from the Austin area who spend several months a year at the park. We had met them a couple of nights before when they gave a presentation on the birds of the park. We were joined by only one other person, a younger man from the Houston area.

After signing in, we jumped in our separate vehicles, and our guides led us the short drive (quarter mile or so) down the highway to the locked gate on the other side of the highway. After opening the gate, we drove through and made our way down the natural surface road to the parking area. Our guides told us that due to recent rains, Limpia Creek was higher than normal. Since the trail crisscrosses the creek repeatedly, we would not be able to hike far.

View northwest from the parking area. I believe this area has the highest elevations in the park, but I'm not absolutely positive of this.

If you view the Trails Map, you'll see that the primitive area (as I will call this area north of Highway 118) is pretty extensive. From the parking area, there is a trail not on the map that runs almost due north to the creek. This is called the Seep Trail because of the seep along the creek in that area. The tour normally follows that trail, but because of the condition of the creek, we headed west along the Sheep Canyon Trail instead.

I'd really like to explore this area of the park more extensively some day.

After a very short walk of a quarter mile or so, we reached the creek. It was running nicely. Had Donna and I been alone and we had all our hiking gear, I would have put on our water shoes and forded the stream and continued our hike to the other side. However, this was not a true hike, so we had not brought hiking gear we normally might have carried; instead, this was a short outing to view plants and animals.

First crossing of Limpia Creek. You can barely make out the trail on the opposite bank. The creek is not deep here, perhaps a foot or two. As I understand, the trail crosses the creek 2 more times. However, we turned right and bushwhacked along the shore.
We then began following the creek downstream, bushwhacking through the brush. Our guides and fellow hiker were bird enthusiasts, so they were happy to stop every few yards and scan the trees and skies in search of birds. Although Donna and I enjoy birds, we are more interested in seeing mammals and hiking. And there are larger mammals in this part of the park that are visible, including aoudad (Barbary sheep), deer, and pumas. However, we saw no mammals on our hike, and we saw very few birds.

In some places, the creek was very shallow, but spread out over a larger area. It would have been fairly easy to ford here.

Cottonwoods line the creek almost the entire distance from west of the park to Ft. Davis.

Nice shot between cottonwoods along a deeper pool in the creek. I really wanted to see some aoudads on that slope.

This photo gives some idea of the flood line of the creek from the recent rains.
As we bushwhacked down the stream, it began to mist lightly. When the brush became too thick, we turned around and began heading back upstream. We arrived back on the trail and turned back east to the parking area. As we worked our way down the trail, stopping occasionally for our birding friends to scan the skies with their binoculars, the mist turned into a light rain. The light rain then grew heavier. I had a hood on my jacket as well as a cap, so I decided to just tough it out for the short walk back to the truck. Donna had no head covering, so we broke out her pancho to cover her already soaked head.

We knew the hike today would be short, so we did not take any real rain gear or hiking gear other than our thin, light-weight panchos and hiking poles. Had we expected a longer hike, we would have taken our rain gear and water shoes and been able to cross the creek and endure the rain more comfortably. As it was, we were happy to get back to our trailer, where we turned on a space heater, took hot showers, and made some hot coffee. Ah, coffee -- the best camping libation there is!

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Hike Report: Montezuma Quail and Indian Lodge Trails at Davis Mountains State Park

One of these days I'm going to know better. I keep setting off on these hikes that a man my age shouldn't be doing in the first place, and then I don't turn around when I know I should. This seems to be happening more and more as the years go by, and it's simply a matter of time before I don't return from one of these hikes.

But what a way to go . . . .

My latest adventure combined 2 trails at Davis Mountains State Park. When we were here last year, Donna and I watched people hiking the trails on the mountains just to our west. We decided at that time that we would hike those trails on our next visit. The trails on these mountains are the Montezuma Quail Trail and the Indian Lodge Trail. You can find both of these trails on the park map, but more information is provided on their newer trails map. The Montezuma Quail Trail is the shorter of the two trails. Named for the elusive Montezuma Quail, it is actually a loop trail. The 2 access points to this trail are about a quarter mile apart on the main park road from the entrance to the Indian Lodge. Depending on which map you refer to, the Montezuma Quail Trail is perhaps a total of 2 miles long. The Indian Lodge Trail is a linear trail that stretches from the backside of Indian Lodge to near the center of the Montezuma Quail Trail. It is roughly a mile and a half in length. So the entire length of my hike was probably about 2.5 miles long. Since I walked to and from the trail heads, you can add another mile to this total. Now, this isn't a great length, but the elevation change is what caused the problems, along with the nature of the trail surface.

Maps like this are located at all trailheads in the park.
I began my hike at the trail head for the Montezuma Quail Trail next to the Wildlife Viewing Area along the main park road, about halfway between park HQ and Indian Lodge. The trail briefly starts up the slope of the mountain, then veers back towards the road, where it intersects with the short Headquarters Trail. My trail then heads back up the mountain slope on a fairly gentle grade. A large rock outcropping appears up the mountain, and the trail skirts below it before a short series of switchbacks that climb the mountain to a cluster of trees. Once atop this crest, the trail heads west towards the neighboring, higher mountain. From the saddle, views towards the west are impressive. There is no place in the park that I know of where these views are available except from these trails. Limpia Creek carves a canyon along Highway 118 to the north, and views stretch to McDonald Observatory. On the day of my hike, the skies were overcast, so I could not see as clearly as I otherwise might.

Cairns and signposts such as this are located along the trail. This one is at the junction of the Montezuma Quail Trail and the Headquarters Trail.

This is near the beginning of the trail as it begins its ascent. It will skirt below the rock outcropping, then switchback gently up to the top.
This is a view of our campground from the top of the first slope. You can see how it is nestled in between hills. Note Skyline Drive on the slope of the mountain to the west.

I zoomed in the previous picture for this. Our campsite is in the red circle. You can see how this campground is open with few trees. The views from the campground are really good in all directions.

View of Indian Lodge from Montezuma Trail.

I took this shot from near the junction of the Montezuma Quail Trail and the Indian Lodge Trail. It is another view of our campground. If you click on the image, it will enlarge; you can then see Donna standing with Barney, a gentleman we met. They are in front of the restroom at lower center in the picture. Donna is in yellow, on the right. Our trailer is immediately above the restroom.
Soon the trail connects with the Indian Lodge Trail. At this point, you can head down the mountain on Montezuma Quail Trail or take the slightly longer Indian Lodge Trail. I opted for the latter. Almost immediately, the trail curved north along the side of the mountain, slowly climbing while doing a bit of ledge walking. The great views to the west continued. Then the trail turns abruptly to the west and begins perhaps the steepest climb of the hike. Up and up it goes, eventually topping out with views back to the east and the campground where our trailer was parked. Gosh, what beautiful, rugged country this is.

View of Limpia Creek running along Highway 118 towards Ft. Davis. With the good rains, the creek maintained a good flow of water throughout our stay.

This view of Limpia Creek is towards the northwest. The good water in Limpia Creek as well as the trees are 2 reasons why a military post was located in this area.

There's a little bit of ledge walking along this section of trail. That is my hiking pole at lower right. I neglected to move it for the picture.

Another great view of Limpia Creek. At right center of picture is entrance to the park off Highway 118. The land on the other side of the highway also belongs to the park. It was only acquired a few years ago.

It was overcast during much of our stay in the park, and this day was no exception. This is a view towards Mount Locke, home to McDonald Observatory. You can barely make out a dome on the mountain at center right.

The trail then continues west, passing 3 large, sprawling cairns, each at a slightly higher elevation than the previous one. The trail then runs along the western boundary of the park, along a barbed wire fence. Occasional views of Indian Lodge appear from time to time to the east. The trail then begins its descent, and Indian Lodge and the rock outcroppings behind it are in almost constant view. But it seemed that the Lodge and the end of my trail never got any closer, as the trail actually circles the lodge during its descent. But the trail does eventually end at the back of the Lodge.

This was the first of 3 large cairns I encountered on top. At first, I thought it marked the high point of the trail, but the other cairns were at higher elevarions. I added a single rock to each cairn.

Skyline Drive to the east.

I zoomed in for my first view of Indian Lodge as I neared it. The pool is clearly visible at lower left. The Black Bear Restaurant is located top center.

Water trough on neighboring ranch. Note barbed wire fence, which marks the boundary of park.

The trail loops past Indian Lodge. It works its way to an area just behind the rock outcropping at right in picture, then switchbacks down the slope.

Because of the good summer rains, parts of the trail were really overgrown, such as the section in this picture which almost completely disappears. I used my hiking pole much as a blind man might use a cane to work my way through the tall grass.

I've worked my way past the rock outcropping, and I'm looking up the valley. Indian Lodge, of course, is in foreground. In center of picture is the camping area.
The distance hiked is not that great, but the elevation change is considerable for older, arthritic knees. And the entire trail is rock. I don't believe I took a single step on dirt the entire hike. Every step is on loose rock, boulders, and every kind of rock in between. You have to make sure that every step you take is secure, especially on the ledges on slopes. Because of the good summer rains the grass was also quite tall along the trail, in many places completely hiding the trail and reaching my stomach or higher. I found this quite unnerving in rattlesnake country. As I mentioned earlier, the skies were overcast during my hike. I started by hike in very comfortable weather in short sleeves. Once on top of the mountain, though, the cloudy skies and high wind made conditions a bit cool. My ears, especially, were quite cool to the touch, and I wished I had brought my light jacket for a stretch there.

During the hike, I did not encounter another person. What a great place for solitude. The trail is well marked, and I never had any doubt as to my location.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Davis Mountians, September 2016

We spent September 5-12 at our beloved Davis Mountains State Park. We've been visiting this park off and on for more than 30 years, and it remains one of our favorite places. So, after so many trips there, what keeps dragging us back?

Park Headquarters at the entrance.

One thing we like is that it is an escape from the heat Texas endures during summer months. During our stay, temperatures were about 10 degrees lower at the park than they were in San Angelo. In fact, in the mornings, we'd sit out drinking our coffee with light jackets on. One day, the high never rose past 70, mainly due to a rain system that slowly passed through the area.

Of all the state parks in Texas, I don't know of a single one that provides better for its guests. The park offers more programs than any other park I know of. Just go to the Events page to see what programs or other events are available at the park. We always take time to attend as many of these programs as we can, as all of them have been informative in the past. The more you know about a place, the more enjoyable it is. It's also a good way to get to know park staff and other campers.

Not all parks in Texas offer full hookups (electricity, water, and sewer), but DMSP does. In addition, it is the only park I know of that offers cable TV. Although we don't watch much television when camping, it is nice to have a news and weather source available. And for those times when the weather is bad, a little television can really help out.

Even though we've done about everything in the area there is to do, we still enjoy repeating some of these. For example, on this trip we once again drove the Davis Mountains Scenic Loop even though we drove it just a year ago. Because of Hurricane Newton moving up from Mexico, the skies were often overcast, and it was interesting to watch the clouds dance around Mount Livermore. And there are one or two places we always look forward to eating. We especially like the Drug Store in Ft. Davis, which offers some very good old fashioned burgers and some really good old fashioned soda fountain malts. The onion rings are pretty good as well. Yum!

We usually see quite a bit of wildlife while in the park; however, on this trip, we did not see as many animals. That may be a result of the good rains earlier this summer as well as increased traffic in the park. We did see a few mule deer, though. The javelina herd that has been a fixture in the campground for the past several years was noticeable by its absence on this trip, though.

And those night time stars are clearer and closer than anywhere else in Texas. There is a reason why McDonald Observatory is located just a few miles up the road.

There are lots of reasons why Donna and I continue to return to DMSP. Most of all, though, it has come to feel a bit like home to us.

Below are some pictures I took on this trip.

Building in very center of picture is the Interpretive Center, where most of the presentations are held. Our campground is just to the right.

If you look carefully, you will see Skyline Drive switchback up this mountain. Look for the diagonal lines. You get some great views of the area from atop this mountain. Our campground is at the base and to the right.

At top left, the water tower is clearly visible. But look closely at the center of the picture. Do you see the man-made structure there? This is known in the park as the "Loo with a View". The restroom was built years ago by the CCC and hugs the side of the mountain.

Donna sitting on the wall outside the "Loo with a View". Yeah, the ground does fall away, doesn't it. I was surprised she was able to pose on the wall for this picture.

Donna snapped this picture of me stop the water tower. In the background beside my right elbow is the entrance to the park off Highway 118.

The amphitheater is located behind our campground. The interpretive ranger told us during a presentation that it would soon be replaced by a newer one.

 We camped in site 27 this trip. There are 2 camping areas with full hookups. We normally choose this one, which is on a slope. The views are great, but the sewer connections are all located up hill, so to speak, and I don't care for that. Most sites are in the open, which is fine during nice weather. The other camping area has much more shade, which is great for the hottest months.

Another view of our campsite.

Below are links to entries related to the Davis Mountains from past trips:

I have a couple of related stories on our recent trip to publish over the next few days.

Friday, September 2, 2016

I Hate Change

I knew the time was coming, and I dreaded it.

My faithful computer of many years had been showing signs of old age. It was becoming cantankerous and fussy, and I knew it was just a matter of time before I would have to put the old boy out to pasture.

Well, that time came last week.

I do hate change, and I hated the idea of getting a new computer and getting it set up. It takes so much time to get a new computer personalized the way you want. Fortunately, I perform a backup of my data files every night, so moving files to a new computer is probably the easiest thing for me. But getting your programs installed, settings personalized, and just learning the ins and outs of a new OS is not something I enjoy doing.

For the past few years, I've been running Vista, so I knew I had a big adjustment ahead of me. My new computer runs Windows 10, and it is vastly different from Vista. And to be honest, I don't know that there is any improvement. There probably are many advantages behind the scenes. Security is probably enhanced, and some things are probably more seamless. But after only a week, I'm struggling. For example, on my previous computers, when you turned the Num Lock key on once, it stayed on until you turned it off. Not so with my new computer. Every time it restarted I had to turn Num Lock back on. Yes, that isn't really a big issue, but when you use the keypad and you log into your computer using an alphanumeric password, it can become a bit troublesome. So, after some research, I found a registry edit that fixed this little issue.

And that is just the tip of the iceberg.

But I'm plugging along, researching Windows 10 and trying to learn how to use this new OS. And I decided that since I was upgrading my computer, I would also update some of my programs. I've been using Office 2007 for years, so I figured for security reasons it was time to upgrade that software suite as well. I'm testing the new package now on a 30 day trial, and I'll probably purchase at the end of this period, but I may only purchase a one-year license. I intend to look at some free programs during the upcoming year, such as Apache Open Office, to see if they offer the features and security I want.

Probably one of my biggest complaints is that you don't just buy a computer and OS anymore. Computers today come packaged with all types of software, most you probably don't want or ever use. They just consume space on your hard drive and pop up occasionally with some aggravating little advertising message. Personally, I'd prefer a clean computer with only the OS installed. But then, I suppose I'm an old fossil. We're moving in the direction of everything being run from and stored on "the cloud", and our young folks can pick up a new computer and be running it efficiently almost immediately. I still work from the old basis -- I want things on my computer.

I suppose it won't be much longer before someone puts me out to pasture.