Tuesday, July 18, 2017

The Hummer House

We lived and worked for several years in the 1990s in Ozona, a small town about 80 miles southwest of San Angelo. That is how we came to know Angelo. While there, we met the Floyds, Charles and Nancy. Charles was a campus principal, and Nancy was a classroom teacher. When we retired to San Angelo, we discovered that they were retired and living here. Since retiring, first Charles and then Nancy became involved with banding hummingbirds. Today, they travel around the state banding the little hummers. Last year or so, they moved to the Davis Mountains, so we don't see much of them anymore. But they still come to the area from time to time to do banding. We were able to sit in on one of their sessions this past Saturday. It was extremely interesting.

When in this area, the Floyds work with hummingbirds at The Hummer House in Christoval, a small community on US 277 about 20 miles south of Angelo. The Hummer House is located on a private ranch a couple of miles southeast of Christoval on the South Concho River (See "Backroads Tour: Mertzon, Eldorado, Christoval, and Knickerbocker" from March 2017 for some pictures of the South Concho River).

I'll not try to act like an authority on hummingbirds or other birds. Follow the link above to the Hummer House website for accurate information. But I will share some of the pictures I took during our visit. By the way, work is not limited to only hummingbirds.

The first picture below shows Charles holding a small bird -- a young and/or female painted bunting, I believe -- and sharing some of his vast knowledge of birds. His wife Nancy is behind him banding a bird. The lady to Nancy's right is cataloging the data Nancy is collecting. The banding process includes gathering data about weight, size, sex, and approximate age, among other things.

Charles Floyd in action

Unknown bander measuring a hummingbird.

After birds have been banded, they are then released. Nancy and Charles brought the birds to various visitors, especially children, and allowed them to release the birds. Most of the hummingbirds would sit calmly in the palms of their holders. Some had to be encouraged to fly away. Other species seemed very eager to leave.
This is Nancy holding, I believe, a lesser goldfinch.

The next few pictures show a beautiful mature painted bunting.

Charles displaying a beautiful mature male painted bunting.

This angle better shows the yellow on the bird's back.

Both of these birds are painted buntings, and both are male. The difference is age. The bird on left is a very young male, while the one on the right is about 6 years old.

And here's one final angle to compare the young and old. This is a truly beautiful bird.

This is one device used to collect birds. This is a wire cage surrounding a hummingbird feeder. There is a small opening on the left. The birds get in easily enough, but have more trouble getting out.

This man is waiting to collect some birds from the hummingbird feeder next to the house. He is holding several small yellow mesh bags in his left hand. Each bird goes in to a bag to hold it until data is collected and a band placed on its leg.

It was a fun day. Charles made 2 trips to the river to collect birds trapped there in nets. Several visitors went along each time. I would like to have gone, but there simply was not enough room in his truck. There were quite a few visitors for this session. Nancy would press a small hummingbird against our ears so that we could listen to its rapid heartbeat.

If you enjoy birds, this is something worth investigating. Perhaps you can find some sessions somewhere near where you live.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

A Skunk and Some Monsters

For the most part, it's been a quiet week for Donna and me.

On Thursday, daughter Courtney brought our 3 grandsons for a visit. They stayed the day, arriving about 10 AM and leaving about 5 PM. I'm glad they left when they did because the two little ones were going into monster mode.

On my walk Friday morning, a skunk crossed the road in front of me about a quarter mile from my house. I would guess this is the same skunk that I've been seeing for the past month or so. I posted a picture of the little guy in a recent entry (see "A Morning Surprise and Other Things"). Before that, it crossed the road in front of me about the same place it did on my Friday walk. I've also smelled it on numerous occasions. I suppose it has a den in the pasture behind our development. I know that some people set out food for animals, especially the wild cats that roam the area, and it may be that the skunk has discovered these buffets and is helping itself.

We tried a new restaurant on Wednesday, Jalapenos Locos on East Avenue K. We both tried the shrimp tacos. Neither of us really cared for this dish, but we liked the place in general enough to agree to try something else at another time. I usually order cheese enchiladas on my first visit to a Mexican restaurant, but upon inquiry I learned that they use red sauce on their enchiladas, and I just really don't care for that. I prefer chile con carne on my enchiladas. We did enjoy their salsa; it had a nice bite to it.

The weather has been fairly mild for San Angelo. I think we have hit triple digits only once this week. We have been able to sit out some almost every evening and be comfortable. The humidity has been a bit higher than we like. We've not had any rain in San Angelo, but surrounding areas have received a sprinkle here and there.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Color at RCW

The recent rains have been a true blessing in our area. As I said in a previous post, the rains haven't been plentiful enough to really improve our lake levels, but they have kept the grass in lawns and pastures growing and they have helped the area farmers.

On my walks about the neighborhood, there has been some pretty good color lately, especially with the purple sage. I think I enjoy the purple sage more than any other plant in the desert. As a boy, I read Zane Grey's Riders of the Purple Sage (and I've read it several times since), and fell in love with the descriptions of the desert and the horses running through the purple sage. When sage is in its height of color, the purple is so vivid. My experience has been that if you regularly trim the plant, the blooms are even thicker and richer. But my pictures of purple sage in bloom never seem to capture the deep richness of the purple. And people seem to disagree about when sage blooms. Some folks argue that the sage predicts rain, and blooms just before the rain falls. I find that the blooms follow the rain. Whatever, it is a beautiful plant when in bloom.

Below are some pictures I snapped during my walks in RCW in the last few days. Some of the pictures were taken just as the sun was coming up, so the light was not at its best for picture taking. Still, I believe it will show some of the color of the desert plants around RCW.

I spotted these deer between 2 houses across the street from ours. Notice the purple sage on right. Behind our development is ranch land.
This is taken just to the right of the previous picture. You can see the same purple sage at far left. I love the color along this house. I can not name all the plants in this picture, but the purple, orange, and yellow hues blend nicely, I think.
These two houses also have some nice blends. 
Several desert plants in this photo, including the Mexican bird of paradise (orange flowers). This is the same plant as in other pictures. It is quite popular, colorful, and easy to care for. It is not to be confused with the bird of paradise.
There are a number of desert plants with yellow flowers, and I get them confused, so I won't venture a guess as to what these are. Notice the sage to the left. RCW has a mix of yards. Some are low maintenance (rock yards) while others do have grass. We are considering removing the grass in our front lawn and replacing with rock, but keeping the grass in our back.
Here are some sage plants lining the back of a house. Again, pictures do not do justice to the rich purple.
Here is another house with some beautiful sage.
These sage plants are just across the street from us, so we are able to enjoy their beauty throughout the day. These are regularly trimmed as opposed to those in the preceding pictures.

There is quite a variety of desert plants in this picture.

What a beautiful sunrise. This picture was taken near the entrance to our development.

I don't have the camera for taking night pictures, but I did want to share this shot of the moon Donna and I saw last night. It was a beautiful orange color, much like a harvest moon. The light spot near bottom center is the top of a street light.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

A Pretty Good Week at RCW

It's been a pretty good week at our home in Rio Concho West. Donna and I have been pretty lazy and haven't done much other than eat and relax.

On the evening of July 4th, a storm blew in from the north. It wasn't as violent as our previous storm (see "Stormy Weather") a week or two earlier, but it had some force. We had 60+ mph winds. There was no real damage in our area, at least not like the previous storm. The good news is that we had some good rain from this storm. I recorded an inch of rain. For the year, we are only an inch under the average for this time of year, so we aren't doing badly. The grass is green and lush for early in July. The rain we've gotten hasn't been enough to restore our lakes, but it has kept everything alive.

One of our favorite grocery stores, Lowe's, has changed its name to Food King. We have 2 of these stores in town, and over the years they run some of the best sales in town, especially on canned goods and vegetables. We are eagerly awaiting the opening of a new H.E.B. store. We like H.E.B. and we buy most of our meat there. But I like many of the H.E.B. store products as well. The current store is at a busy intersection a few miles from our house, but the new store is only a half mile from the entrance to our housing area. That will be nice. We also have a Super Mercado as well as 5 Walmarts (3 super centers and 2 neighborhood markets). Last but certainly not least, we have Market Street, formerly Albertson's. Market Street is part of the United chain, based in Lubbock. And if I'm not mistaken, United is a subsidiary of Albertson's. Market Street is probably the nicest grocery, though it's prices are usually not as competitive as H.E.B. and Walmart.

There is a lot of road construction around the new H.E.B. store as well as along the north loop between Sherwood Way and North Bryant. As a result, we tend to avoid those areas when we get out.

We tried a couple of different restaurants this week. Neither establishment has a web site.

First up, we went to What Da Pho, a Vietnamese restaurant. We ate there once right after it opened about a year or so ago. Donna really liked her meal at that time, though I didn't particularly care for the pho I ordered. This time we both ordered pho ga, which is similar to chicken noodle soup. Pho ga uses rice noddles. The soup is served with a large platter of basil leaves, bean sprouts, peppers, and lime. You add these to the soup as you eat. We both enjoyed the meal. The restaurant is rather small, but that makes it quaint. We intend to go back. Service was excellent.

On our second restaurant outing, we ventured to a recently opened place called Cajun Creations. Donna ordered a grilled shrimp plate, which consisted of 5 shrimp, cole slaw, hush puppies, and dirty rice. I opted for the shrimp po boy, and requested grilled shrimp rather than fried shrimp. They were happy to accommodate me. I also enjoyed the same sides as Donna. The food and service was good, and we will certainly go back. They have daily lunch specials at a fair price. Like What Da Pho, Cajun Creations is a small establishment.

Other than a few shopping trips to our local farmers' market and grocery stores, that is about all we've done this week.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

New Header

You may have noticed the new header above. The old picture was no longer relevant, so it was time to say goodbye to it. The former picture, shown below, was taken in June 2015 at South Llano River State Park, and showed our travel trailer resting in site 58. If you look carefully, you can see one of us sitting under the picnic table cover to the left; you can click the picture to enlarge it.

Site 58 at South Llano River State Park, June 2015
But since we no longer have the trailer, I thought it was time to replace that picture. The new header was taken by my brother Larry when he and his wife Nancy came out for a visit in June 2014. Larry, Nancy, Donna, and I had driven up to Big Spring to meet our daughter Courtney and her band of wild Neanderthals for lunch. Before meeting them, we visited Big Spring State Park, which occupies a high spot on the southern edge of the city.

That picture of our camp at South Llano brings back good memories. I do miss camping when the weather is good and there are things to do. But I'm glad we no longer have the trailer. I was reading a story in our local paper yesterday regarding the violent storm we had a week ago. The story contained several pictures of overturned RVs at San Angelo State Park. The damage was pretty bad. I am so thankful we never ran into anything that bad. You can see some of the pictures on the website of our local paper, the San Angelo Standard Times.

Friday, June 30, 2017

RCW Anniversary

Time has a way of slipping away, doesn't it. Although Donna mentioned something recently regarding this, I sort of let our 1 year anniversary at Rio Concho West get by me somehow. Yep, we've lived out here for just over a year now.

It's been a good year at RCW. Life is easy here. It's nice not to have to worry about things. During the recent storm, for example, there was no worry about clean up; after all, that is what RCW does. If damage had been done to our home, it would have been the responsibility of RCW to make repairs. Indeed, the crew has been busy this week cleaning up debris, cutting fallen trees, and making other repairs. The place is just about back in order now.

We really enjoy our home, and we are very comfortable in it. It's one of those homes that just seems to fit our lifestyle. The kitchen is light and spacious, as is the den/living area. We enjoy the big windows in our den that allow us to look out onto the street towards the clubhouse. Throughout the day, we can see our neighbors taking walks, riding around in their golf carts, and going to and from the clubhouse. It's a peaceful, relaxing environment with a strong small community feel about it.

We feel very fortunate to live here. I'm so happy that Donna investigated this place. I don't know of another place of this quality for the money.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

A Short Trip and 4 Restaurants

On our shortened trip to East Texas last week, we were able to squeeze in 4 restaurants. 3 were old favorites and one was a new one for us.

The first leg of our trip was to my hometown of Fairfield, Texas. Travelers on I-45 have been stopping at Sam's Original Restaurant for years, and most of them stop for the buffet. If you've ever seen it, you'll know why. It's arguably one of the best buffets you'll find in a small town. But I've never had the buffet there. They did not start the buffet until after I graduated from high school, and anytime I came home, my mind was on one thing, the BBQ. Now, Sam's BBQ may not be the best BBQ in Texas, but it is consistently good. I've said before that my favorite BBQ is what is served up in the Central Texas meat markets, such as in Luling and Lockhart. But Sam's BBQ never disappoints. The brisket is always trimmed so that on the brisket plate, you never have any fat, which you often get in the meat markets. The last time I ate in Lockhart, my brisket order was probably one-eight to one-fourth fat. Now, I realize fat adds flavor, but I don't want to eat the fat. The Sam's BBQ comes with 2 sides, dill pickles, and a thick slab of onion, as well as your choice of bread. I like the mini bread loaf, which is the traditional serving. I always order the potato salad as one side. Normally I opt for the pinto beans as the other side, but this time I got cobbler as a side, and it was great and generous. Sam's is also known for homemade pies. Sam has been dead for a number of years, but the restaurant is still family operated by his son, Ponte. Next time I go, I'll order the same thing.

Our second stop was another old favorite, Little Mexico in Palestine, Texas. I started eating at Little Mexico when I was in junior high. At that time, the restaurant was a very small café in a shop across from the courthouse downtown. But as its reputation and popularity grew, it moved to a bigger location. For the last 20 years or so, I've felt that it just wasn't as good as in the old days, but it was still very good Tex Mex. On this trip, I felt that the quality had slipped a bit more while the prices had risen a bit too much. I ordered the Matador Plate, my old standard, which comes with 2 enchiladas (cheese for me), a tortilla chip covered with chili con queso, beans, rice, and a wonderful taco. Now, I still think their tacos are great, but the enchiladas just didn't have the flavor they once had; I feel the ones I get in San Angelo are actually superior. Now don't get me wrong; the food at Little Mexico is still very good, but it just doesn't measure up to my memory, and that may well be my memory's fault. But as we drove away, I told Donna that I did not feel the need to return, especially considering the price.

Our next stop was a place we've been eating for 10 or 15 years, Athena's Greek and Lebanese Grill in Shreveport, LA. This turned out to be another minor disappointment, for 2 reasons. First, the new location on the Shreveport Barksdale Highway was closed. On our last visit, we ate the buffet there and enjoyed it. Not only was it a buffet, but it was considerably closer to the casino we frequent. But that location was closed on this trip. The original location on Line Avenue (at least, original for us) was still open, so we went there. Donna ordered the gyro salad while I had the gyro plate. The meat was definitely different this time, and we both noticed it. We didn't care for it as much. The salad, the hummus, and other items were fine, but the gyro is what we really look forward to, and it just didn't please us. Again, as we drove away, we discussed whether to return. We may give Yeero! Yeero! another try. We used to eat here frequently until we discovered Athena's.

Our last eatery was in nearby Early, Texas (Brownwood). In all our years of passing through Brownwood, we've usually just stopped for fast food (Chicken Express or Schlotzsky's, for example) with the exception of a few stops at Underwoods. But we've noticed the Prima Pasta for several years now and had been wanting to try it. Donna suggested we stop there this trip, and I'm glad she did. It was quite good. Donna had spaghetti with mushrooms while I had baked ziti. Both were good. The sauce on Donna's spaghetti was rich and thick, not watery, and the cheese blend on my ziti was delicious. The salad was good, as was the bread. And since we ordered off the lunch menu, our price was reasonable, the least expensive of the 4 restaurants discussed in this entry. We will definitely stop here again.

Restaurants change over time; our tastes change over time. I'm glad that I still enjoy Sam's, and I'm glad we found a new restaurant, especially one not too far away. Since we pass through Brownwood/Early frequently, we'll be stopping in from time to time.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Stormy Weather

In my last post, I mentioned that we cut our trip to East Texas short because of bad weather in the form of Tropical Storm Cindy. Little did I know that by coming back home, we were going from the frying pan into the fire.

Our local weather forecast predicted a 30% chance of rain coming with a cool front. Yesterday, our high topped at 109 degrees, setting a record held since 1969. So, we were looking forward to a cooling trend.

Around 7:00 PM or so, we noticed the wind picking up, along with a light rain. We looked outside and were greeted by the smell of rain on a hot summer day. Then the wind increased, as did the rain. I was working on the computer, and Donna was watching a movie on Netflix. Normally, when the weather turns bad, Donna starts shutting things down, so I was a bit surprised that the TV was still on. Then the wind really picked up, and the rain began splattering with some velocity, and she began turning things off. Just before she turned off the TV, though, we caught a local weather alert, which indicated winds had reached 80 to 85 mph in the area, mainly north of here, I think.

The power then went off for several minutes, but came back on shortly. A few minutes later, the power shut down again, this time for much longer. We gathered our emergency items: flashlights, battery powered radio, candles, etc. We glanced outside and saw the north wind bending over all the trees. Our neighbor's flag, which we watch regularly for wind direction, was whipping boldly. The flag pole-- which extends above the neighbor's roof -- would soon snap at the base like a match stick.

Our power stayed off until 10:30 or so. The house was getting somewhat warm compared to the 72 degrees it was now outside. I was able to go out on our back patio once the rain eased and cool off out there and watch the most fabulous lightning show to the east I've ever seen. Streaks of lightning would fill the eastern sky, reaching in all directions. It was magnificent.

Finally the wind eased, and the rain ended. After the power returned, we crawled into bed and had a good sleep. For more info on the storm, complete with pictures, go to San Angelo Live.

This morning, we took a drive around Rio Concho West and I snapped the shots below. We sustained no noticeable damage at our house, so we feel very fortunate. I cannot tell you how much rain we received, though, for the wind blew the rain gauge away. I retrieved it from the yard this morning and remounted it.

Our neighbor's flag pole, which I mentioned above.
Debris covered the streets in the old section of our development.
This tree just split. It fell between 2 houses. I do not know if either house was damaged.
Another split tree, similar to the one above.

I'm not even going to venture a guess as to how this golf cart ended up between these 2 rows of houses. Several residents have golf carts, but they keep them in their driveways or garages. Notice the downed limbs.
Another split tree, this one at our club house, The Oak Tree Club. It looks as if the tip of the tree just brushed the building on its way down.
Luckily, this ripped tree fell into the street rather than on the house.
Down by the nearby Walmart, this sign for a medical care center was damaged, but crews were already repairing it.
The wind is still blowing today and skies are overcast, but nothing is on the radar at the moment. We do have a 30% chance of rain right now, increasing to 50% tonight. We'll see.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Best Laid Plans

Donna and I had planned a trip home this week, but we cut it short because of Tropical Storm Cindy.

On Monday, we headed to my hometown of Fairfield, about 65 miles east of Waco. We spent much of the day in rain, some of it heavy. We really didn't expect that much rain.

It was nice to see my hometown, though. There were places in the area I had not seen in a long time and I wanted to see them again. With each passing year, the distance between San Angelo and Fairfield seems to get greater, and the trips are harder to make.

We visited the cemetery at Shiloh, where my father, mother, paternal grandparents, my father's younger sister, and a cousin rest. Shiloh is an old community just south of Mexia along highway 39. Then we drove to Kirvin, about 10 miles west of Fairfield. I drove by my grandmother's old home there, then out to Woodland Cemetery, where my maternal grandparents rest along with my mother's older brother. There are other family members that are also buried there.

Then it was on to Fairfield, where we ate and spent the night. The next day, we drove to Shreveport, and this is where our plans began to change. We were scheduled to spend 3 nights at the Horseshoe Casino, then head down to Conroe, Donna's home town, just north of Houston.

I guess we just don't keep up with the news anymore. Wednesday morning, I rose early as I normally do at Casinos and went downstairs to play a while and enjoy a cup of coffee. When Donna came down later that morning, she surprised me by saying that we would leave Thursday morning as a tropical storm was coming through. Since Conroe is near the coast, it often gets pretty heavy rain from such storms, and we just really didn't want to deal with that. And come to find out, some of the heaviest rain was predicted for the Lufkin area, and we would be passing through Lufkin to get to Conroe.

So, we cancelled our visit and decided to leave that evening to beat the rain. We drove west as far as Corsicana to spend the night, then made a leisurely drive home Thursday.

We'll reschedule our Conroe visit at another time. Besides, we really weren't ready for the humidity in East Texas, so we may wait for some cool fall weather before venturing that way again.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

A Morning Surprise and Other Things

In my previous post, I just missed getting a beautiful picture of a colorful sun rise. On my next walk, I left  a few minutes earlier in hopes of snapping a great photo.

But I got another photo instead. As I neared the entrance to our subdivision, it was still dark. The grass along the road was thick and tall as I approached a street light. Suddenly, out of the corner of my eye. I saw a dark figure moving. I pulled away, and was glad I did, for it was a skunk. It soon left the grass and moved onto the street, where I snapped the photo below in poor light.

Skunk under street light

We see lots of critters where we live, especially deer and turkeys. But the turkeys have been absent lately. I expect they will return when the pecans and acorns are ripe. I did see a doe early this morning as I stepped out the front door to begin my walk.

On other matters . . .

Summer is here in earnest. Yesterday, we topped out at 109 degrees. Sterling City, about 40 miles to the northwest, hit 112. Yep, it's pretty miserable out there. And the hot dry wind out of the south just further dries things out and makes it more unpleasant. Time to head back to the mountains.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Odds and Ends

Last week, I reported on the little family of Kildeers that came for a visit. Over the weekend, we saw the entire family again on several occasions. The chicks should learn to fly soon, and then they will probably move on to another place.

During my brother's visit, we did several things around town. First, we took Larry and Nancy to the north entrance to San Angelo State Park. They had never been there before, and that section of the park is quite different from the south entrance. Since the north section borders the North Concho River, there are quite a few trees there.

We also walked along the Concho River in downtown San Angelo one morning. That is really a nice area of our town. Some of the houses that line the south bank of the river are really impressive, and the whole area is nicely developed. All visitors to Angelo should stop by that area. The Visitor's Center on the south bank of the river -- between the north and south lanes of US 87 -- is also a great stop, as it provides great resources for the area. Also along the south bank -- between Chadbourne and Oakes -- is the San Angelo Museum of Fine Arts with its distinctive shape. Shops line Concho Avenue just a block north of the river.

Brother Larry and I stand along the north bank of the North Concho in downtown San Angelo.
I posed with Donna (left) and sister-in-law Nancy (right) along the river.
Chadbourne Street bridge in downtown San Angelo

Oakes Street Bridge in downtown San Angelo. The building rising above the tree line in the background is the Rio Concho Manor, where Donna and I often eat lunch when we ride the bus with our neighbors.

Looking towards downtown from the Celebration Bridge

Larry snapping a photo of his wife in front of the mermaid statue along Celebration Bridge. The San Angelo Museum of Fine Arts is in the background.

I took this photo of the Museum of Fine Arts a few years ago. It shows the saddle shape of the building from the side.
Visitor Center on south bank of the Concho River

I was walking early yesterday morning and snapped the picture below of the sunrise. Actually, I was a few minutes late. I first caught a glimpse of the sunrise about a quarter mile before I snapped the photo, but I did not have a clear shot. When I first saw the sun, it was a deep red, but in the 3 or 4 minutes it took to reach an area with a clear shot, the color had mostly faded and I was left with the image below.

Sunrise from the entrance to Rio Concho West.
It's hot and dry out here. Area cotton farmers are scrambling to plant before the insurance deadline. They had been hoping to get some moisture, but that just isn't going to happen. It may be a tough year for them.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Brother is Moving to Florida

My brother Larry and his wife Nancy came for a short visit this weekend. Nancy is retiring from her job this week, and they are on their way to a life of ease in Florida. Larry retired several years ago.

A few years ago, they bought a condo on the beach on the east coast of Florida. Since then, they have been remodeling and getting things ready for full-time living. Larry has always loved the water, since we were boys. They have been living the last several years in a lake community in Fort Worth.

They have sold their house in Fort Worth. They close later this week. They are taking very little with them, just a trailer with some clothes, personal items, and little else. They have given items to Larry's daughters, sold a few things, and included some furniture in the sell of the house. The condo is much smaller, so they have had to down size.

They leave on their new adventure at the end of this week. They will stop for a short visit with Larry's daughters in Mississippi, then continue on to the Atlantic shore. By this time in 2 weeks, they should have the trailer unloaded and be busy setting up house in the condo. Donna and I are excited for them.

Florida is a long way from Texas, so I don't know when I'll see Larry again. Heck, at our age, you just can't tell what will happen tomorrow, or if there will even be a tomorrow. Personally, I don't enjoy traveling east; Donna and I prefer to travel west. The idea of going to Florida just really doesn't appeal to me. I don't enjoy flying, so if we do go, we will likely drive, and that is a long, long drive.

But you never know about us.

Friday, June 9, 2017

The Killdeers Come for a Visit

This past week, a small family of Killdeers visited our yard. We saw 2 adults (mother and father, I assume) and 3 chicks. They spent several days scurrying about the yard. With each passing day, they would spend less and less time with us, but we would often see them in neighbor's yards.

The adults, as you might expect, were very protective of the young. On several occasions, black birds would get too close to the chicks and the adults would come to the rescue, driving away the intruders. We were careful about going outside, and made it a habit to look out the windows before venturing onto our patio. Quite often, the chicks would actually be on our patio, inspecting everything they came into contact with.

Then one day, we looked out and saw only a single chick. The rest of the family was not in sight. We watched for a while, but no one came to check on the chick. I guess it got separated from the rest of the family. Later that evening, we did see the family in our neighbor's yard, but I only counted 2 chicks and 2 adults. I think that was the last evening I saw the birds. I guess they have moved to greener pastures.

Below are a few pictures of our yard guests.

This picture shows all 3 chicks. They would just wander the yard, pecking here and there.
This is a close-up of one of the chicks.
One of the adults keeping a watchful eye on everyone, including me.
Both adults in this picture

This picture shows one adult (lower right) and 2 chicks (upper left)

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Life Without the Trailer, Part 3

In the previous 2 installments, I looked at what we missed about the trailer and what we didn't miss. In this last installment, I'll look at traveling without the trailer.

In our recent trip to Colorado, I really enjoyed the ease of traveling without the trailer. I could pull into gas stations, cafes, and other businesses with ease. It was nice to turn on the cruise control and just motor down the highway. And when we stopped for the night, I'd check in at the front desk of a hotel and we'd carry a few small bags to the room. The next morning, we'd eat breakfast at the hotel (if they had a free breakfast), load our bags in the car, and drive away. It was quick, easy, and efficient.

I don't even want to think about what it would be like to drag a trailer through some of the country we just traveled through. Traveling in our RAV4 was easy. And we made better time as well, not that this is important. When you full-time in an RV, you really aren't in that much of a hurry.

So, does that mean I'll never own another RV? No, not at all. However, as I've said before, I just don't enjoy traveling occasionally in an RV. If I have another one, it will be for full-time purposes. I do enjoy full-timing in an RV. I like the freedom that such a lifestyle provides. If I were to full-time, I would want to ensure I get a rig that is comfortable and that has all the perks I need for full-timing, including doing a great deal of boon docking. These are some of the things I would look for in an RV:

  • I'd want some power source, probably solar panels, so that I could spend time in remote areas and still have power. This would allow me to camp on public lands that might not have utilities available. 
  • I'd want reliable Internet. It's so much easier to plan your travels when you have access to Internet.
  • I'd want television regardless of my location. I guess that would mean some sort of satellite plan.
  • I'd want larger than average storage tanks so that I could stay in remote locations longer.
  • I'd want tank heaters for cold weather camping.
  • I'd want comfortable chairs for Donna and me to rest in at the end of a long day of hiking and exploring. And there are those times of bad weather when we would be confined to our rig, so you want to be comfortable.
  • I'd want a comfortable bed for a good night's sleep.
But right now, we're pretty satisfied with traveling in our RAV4. In fact, we have another trip coming up soon. I hope you'll travel along with us.

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Life Without the Trailer, Part 2

As you saw in the previous post, there are things we miss about our trailer, but there are far more things I don't miss.

I certainly don't miss emptying the holding tanks. That's never a pleasant job, even though it becomes routine after a while. And I really don't miss when things get clogged up or an "accident" occurs while emptying the tanks.

I don't miss towing. I have never liked towing of any kind, but towing a heavy travel trailer on busy highways, treacherous roads, during gusting winds and other bad weather can be very stressful.

I don't miss the ongoing maintenance. When you own an RV, there will be maintenance. After all, when you bounce down the road at high speeds, things just jiggle about and problems eventually result. We were fortunate in all our travels to never have any serious problems, but we did experience a few things, such as:
  • damaged sway bar bracket
  • damaged electric cord from trailer to truck
  • damaged water feed to toilet
  • leaky pump
  • numerous electrical issues
  • stripped gears on electric hitch
  • and various other minor problems
I don't miss setting up or breaking camp in cold and/or rainy weather and/or in the dark. This didn't happen often, but I well remember those times when it did. Luckily, I kept proper clothing in the trailer for such situations. Being properly clad helps tremendously. Most people today think of clothing as simply a fashion statement; to me, clothing is a tool.

I don't miss spending cold nights and/or days in the trailer. Yeah, the trailer had a good furnace, but when it switched off, the cold creeped right back in almost instantly. There's little insulation value in a trailer. It does get cold in a trailer.

I don't miss riding out violent storms in the trailer. When the wind is rocking and the rain is pelting, it's a bit unnerving. We were fortunate in all our travels to never encounter large hail.

I don't miss taking showers in a small shower with limited elbow room.

I don't miss maneuvering the trailer through tight spots, such as gas stations, parking lots, and busy intersections.

I don't miss cramped RV sites in overly priced parks. I much prefer staying in state parks and similar places where you have a little room to breathe.

Of course, this list is not complete, but you get the idea. 

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Life Without the Trailer, Part 1

Well, it's been about 2 months since we sold the trailer. Are we missing it at all?

The truth is that, yes, we miss it at times. Overall, though, we are happy with our decision to sell it.

I miss waking up in a state park or other similar place to the sound of happy birds. Or perhaps watching a deer wander through our campsite.

I miss the freedom of going where you want yet always being home. When you travel by RV, you take your bed, your favorite foods, your television, all your necessary clothes, and other comforts with you. You can pull into a picnic area and use the bathroom, fix a meal, or take a nap. I miss that relaxed mode of travel.

I miss being out of doors as much as we were whenever we traveled in our trailer. We would spend hours each day outside. We'd often start the day by cooking breakfast outside on our camp stove. Perhaps we'd take a walk around the park or take a hike. Sometimes we'd just sit outside watching the wildlife, watching other RVers come and go, or just enjoying the weather. Donna would often grab her poles and head down to the fishing hole if there was one while I'd relax around camp.

I miss the slow pace of life living in a trailer. We'd pick a place to go and allow ourselves plenty of time to visit the museums and other points of interest in the area. There was never a rush to do things because we were always "home" in the trailer.

I miss breaking camp in the morning and getting the trailer hooked up to the truck. Then, with a fresh cup of coffee to help me, we'd pull out for a new destination, a new adventure. I miss that feeling.

So, yes, there are plenty of things I miss. In the next installment, though, I'll look at the things we don't miss.

Friday, May 26, 2017

I Deserve a Medal

Our trip to Colorado and New Mexico last week was a celebration of 40 years of marriage for Donna and me. Actually, our 40th anniversary is today, but we had to take the trip early due to obligations here in Angelo.

I had just completed my student teaching assignment when Donna and I were married in the small side chapel of the First United Methodist Church in Conroe, Texas, Donna's hometown. For the next 2 years, we lived in a small cabin outside Huntsville while I worked on my MA degree and taught freshman English classes at the university in their fellowship program. From there, we've traveled far and wide, living mostly in West Texas but also working abroad a few years in the 1980s. It's been an interesting journey.

Yep, we done been married for 40 years. I must be a saint for putting up with that old woman for so many years. She's one lucky gal. But I'm getting kind of used to her now, so I guess I'll just keep her for another 40.

I wish all of you many happy years of marriage as well. I'm afraid that marriage as an institution is on the decline. I still believe in it, though; I believe in the commitment that it requires to make a marriage work. I believe in the trust that a couple builds over the years. I believe in the team work that a marriage requires.

I guess I'll take the old woman out for lunch today. I believe she deserves a good hamburger on a special day like today. I wonder if I have any coupons.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Bronco Billy's

We really enjoyed our recent trip, and we really enjoyed our time in Cripple Creek. Even though I mentioned our stay at Bronco Billy's in a previous post, I wanted to go back and provide more detail.

We spent 3 nights at Bronco Billy's. When we checked in at the hotel desk, we were greeted warmly and friendly. The clerk asked if we had player's cards; we said "no" and asked if we needed them before checking in. She replied that she could issue us cards. The hotel found that to be more convenient than sending customers to the player's club. Now, how many casinos do you know that provide this type of service. Imagine, trying to make things easier for the customer rather than the establishment! After issuing our cards, she then presented us with a rebate voucher, a coupon for 2 free meals at either Baja Billy's or the Home Café, and then 2 coupons for 1 free breakfast at the Home Café. All of these were given to us for each night of our stay; in other words, we were able to eat free twice each day during our stay.

The rebate voucher was a nice comp. Our individual accounts were linked together. As a couple, all we needed was to acquire 250 points a day for a $10 cash rebate and 500 points a day for a $20 rebate. We were given one of these vouchers for each night we stayed at the hotel. By my calculations, each point required $4 coin-in, so it was no problem for us to get 500 points daily. As a result, we received $20 cash rebate each day of our stay there.

We played mostly quarter NSUD, which is a 99.73% deuces wild game. There are probably a dozen or more of these games in the casino, mostly at the bar in the Tap Room or at another bar in another room 4 or so "levels" to the east (I don't know the name of this bar). Since the games are all progressive, they are actually worth more than 99.73%. The progressive feature enhances not only the royal flush but also quad deuces. I hit quad deuces twice, and the mini-jackpot netted me at least $250 each time. Donna hit the royal for over $1100 as well as quad deuces once. There are other progressive games at various denominations, but I don't play them so I did not note their pay tables.

Further, natural quads, including quad deuces, entitles the player to a wooden token they call a "Woody". When you get 4 such tokens, take them to the cashier and get $5. As if that is not enough, Tuesday is double points day, so points add up even faster.

The rooms at Bronco Billy's are old; after all, it is an old building. But they are well maintained and clean. Our room consisted of the bedroom, a dressing area consisting of the sink and closet, and the bathroom consisting of the toilet and tub. The bathroom was tight; we had to squeeze in to shut the door. But everything worked well. There was a microwave and mini-fridge, and the flat screen TV had plenty of channels. Even though we were above the casino and facing the street, we were not bothered by noise. One big lack is the insufficient number of electrical outlets, but this is to be expected in an older building.

Bedroom at Bronco Billy's. Window overlooks Bennett Avenue

This is what I call the "dressing area". To right is closet, while sink is to left. Notice that bath area is very small. Microwave and mini-fridge are out of sight on right.
Photo taken from door to dressing area. Flat-screen TV on wall on left. Windows overlook street.
We enjoyed eating at Bronco Billy's. We arrived on a Sunday and immediately went to Baja Billy's to get our free meal. The coupon entitled us to ANYTHING on the menu. I ordered the carne asada plate while Donna had the taco salad with chicken. We enjoyed these items very much. In addition, we enjoyed the chips and the 2 salsas and frijole dip that was served. We looked forward to returning; unfortunately, the restaurant was closed our remaining days (Monday - Wednesday) so we did not get to eat there again.

We ate breakfast each day at the Home Café. This is a small place, but full of character. The waitresses are old style; they could teach waitresses at fancy restaurants quite a bit about customer service. For example, our waitress one day noticed we were having trouble getting ketchup out of the bottle, and she brought a new bottle for us. Our drinks were always full and nothing else was lacking. They were efficient and friendly. There is a $.49 breakfast served each morning, and that is what the coupon allows. I ordered something different each day. The first day I ordered the omelet. The next day I ordered the pancakes. The last morning I tried the eggs. The omelet and egg orders came with hash browns and toast/biscuit. I preferred the toast to the biscuit. The pancake breakfast came with 2 pancakes that literally flowed to the edge of my plate. We also ate a late lunch at the Home Café.

In all honesty, the food at the Home Café is not great, but it is very decent and very filling. No, it is not gourmet food; it is down-home basic stick to your ribs food. And that is the way it should be in a casino like this.

The Tap Room was only open Sunday during our stay there, and that is a pity. Now, you can still play when it is closed, but there is no one tending bar when it is closed. The one day we played at that bar, we were able to order Dunkel beer on tap, and it was good. Dunkel is one of our favorite beers, and it is difficult to find. Of course, while playing, the beer is comped, so we are essentially able to drink free. During summer months, I think the Tap Room is open more days.

There is a lot about Bronco Billy's that reminds me of what I call "old Vegas." It's difficult to find a casino these days that give the player a good gamble and good service. We are already planning our next trip.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Bosque Redondo

The following event occurred on Thursday, May 18.

On our way home from Santa Rosa, New Mexico, Donna and I stopped just outside the small town of Fort Sumner to visit the Bosque Redondo Memorial.

Bosque Redondo Memorial
Along the banks of the Pecos River, one of the sadder episodes in our nation's history occurred. Under the direction of Brigadier General James H. Carleton, Commander of the Military Department of New Mexico, U.S. troops rounded up Navajos and Mescalero Apaches in the early 1860s and herded them onto a newly formed reservation on the barren plains of eastern New Mexico. The Navajos lost over 1,000 people on the "Long Walk" of 450 miles from their tribal homelands in the Four Corners area. The land was unable to support the number of people the army placed there, and conditions were horrible. The Apaches finally left one night and disappeared into the countryside. When General William T. Sherman investigated conditions at the post in 1868, he found the conditions abominable and reported his findings to Washington. General Carlton was removed from his post, and a new treaty was signed with the Navajos, allowing them to return to their homeland.

Mural in the memorial depicting the "Long Walk" taken by the Navajos.

Close up of the above mural.
Later, the Maxwell family acquired ownership of the post and its buildings. A small ranching community sprang up. During the late 1870s and early 1880s, Fort Sumner played a role in the Lincoln County War as it was a popular stopping place for William Bonney (aka Billy the Kid) and his companions. In fact, it was in Pete Maxwell's home that the Kid was killed by Pat Garret on the night of July 14, 1881.

Supposed final resting place of William Bonney, aka Billy the Kid. However, in the years following his death, there was flooding along the Pecos River, and bodies from the Fort Sumner cemetery were often washed away. It is unlikely that the Kid and his pals actually are resting here.
Today, irrigation makes farming possible, especially alfalfa. Canals crisscross the countryside and fields were green and lush as we passed by.

If you stop, allow 1 to 2 hours to really take a close look. Start at the visitor center, where numerous displays are available. Then walk over to the remains of the military post, passing the Treaty Rock and Travel Shrine along the way. Spend a few minutes in the soldiers' barracks, then take the walk along the river.

Navajo Travel Shrine. These rocks were first carried here from the Navajo Nation in 1971 to commemorate those who were exiled her and who died here.

Navajo Treaty Rock marks the field where the Treaty of 1868 was signed by Navajo leaders Barboncito, Manuelito, and Delgadito, as well as US officials William T. Sherman and Samuel Tappan.
Soldiers' Barracks (right) and Artist-in-Residence Home (left)

Interior of soldiers' barracks.
Plaque placed near location of Maxwell home
Marker indicates specific location of William Bonney's death.

Marker at exact location of William Bonney's death.
This goat was grazing next to the memorial. I found the horns to be highly unusual, so I stopped for this photo.
The murky and alkaline Pecos River, working its way downstream. This is the water the Navajos and Mescaleros were expected to live on.