Sunday, April 30, 2017

This West Texas Weather

I'm sure most of you have heard the old adage. Some attribute to West Texas specifically, others attribute it to Texas in general, and still others claim it for the part of the country (U.S.A.) where they live. In short, it states that if you don't like the weather, just wait and it'll change. That seems to be true for the San Angelo area lately.

We topped out at 96 degrees on Friday. Yesterday, we got no higher than 72, and this morning it was in the low 40s when I got up.

And that wind!!! I don't know that it will ever stop blowing. Now, I'm used to the wind blowing in West Texas, but most of the time, we can expect mornings to be fairly calm with the wind picking up in the afternoons. That has not been the case recently. Now it seems that the wind blows hard round the clock.

We could surely use some rain. As I've indicated in other columns this year, I have a fear that we may be heading back into a drought cycle after the past 3 or so years of good rain. I hate to see that for our area lakes are not anywhere near full, though all do have at least some water at present. The lack of rain combined with this constant wind just dries everything out.

But I keep hoping for that good rain. Maybe it will come one of these days.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Nature Photographs

Nothing to write about in this entry. I just wanted to share some recent nature photographs from the area.

Donna and I spotted the prairie dog family below on a recent drive around Lake Nasworthy.

On a recent drive through San Angelo State Park, the road runner below was just moseying down the park road in front of us. He finally veered to the left off the road and flew into a tree. He allowed me to get this quick photo before he disappeared into heavier brush.

We were disappointed to find that the little fishing pond at the state park is drying up. On a recent hike, we noticed that the area downstream from the pond was much drier. I do not know if the pond is spring fed, but that would be my guess. Folks have enjoyed fishing out here, so I hate to see it dry up.

People who don't really know the desert often criticize it, saying it is bland and ugly. I heartily disagree. If you know when and where to look, there is a great deal of color, all the more beautiful because of the environment. Below is a cluster of prickly pear cactus, with some yellow cactus rose flowers in full bloom.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

New Car

We strayed for a while, but now we are back in the fold. We own another Toyota.

After selling the trailer, there was no need to keep the truck. It is not fuel efficient, it is big and bulky (which makes it difficult to park and to keep in narrow lanes in some towns), and it isn't a good vehicle to travel in as the only storage is in the back seat. Also, to be honest, I just didn't enjoy the truck. Oh, it performed fine for it's purpose. It towed that trailer all over the Southwest and took us through Christmas Tree Pass and other challenging roads. But the service department at our local Dodge dealership is lackluster at best. Now that the truck is beginning to get some miles and age on it, it's just a matter of time before it begins to need some work. In fact, when we did need to work on it, we learned quickly to hook up the trailer, take it to Kerrville, spend some time in the park there, and let the Kerrville dealership perform the maintenance. That's a good dealership there, efficient and friendly.

It's good to be back in the Toyota family. All of our Toyota vehicles have been great, and service is second to none.

We splurged a bit this time. We decided we wanted an SUV, so we went with a RAV4, Limited Edition. This gives us a few bells and whistles I normally am not interested in. Donna wanted heated seats. Since we removed her heart some years ago, the old girl really has a hard time getting warm. Along similar lines, we decided to go with dual climate control so that Donna can set the temp to 110 degrees while I set mine on something much more normal. And I wanted a built-in navigational device to help in our travels. Along with these came some other perks, like sun roof.

The back seat has nice leg room, and the back seats fold down flat to provide plenty of storage in the back. The backseats of many SUVs today do not fold down completely flat, so this is a nice feature. We have numerous long trips planned over the next few years, and we wanted to be sure to have plenty of room for our luggage. Mileage is nice. It gets 23 mpg in the city and 29 on the highway. As a rule, because of our driving habits, Donna and I normally get a bit better than what is listed.

Below are a few pictures of our new vehicle. We're ready for a road trip now; in fact, we have a good one planned for next month to celebrate our 40th wedding anniversary.

Exterior passenger side view. The exterior color is blizzard pearl.
It's difficult to see in this picture, but the rear storage extends to the back seats; their headrests are clearly visible. Cover extends from back seats to rear lift gate. Net can be removed. Spare tire is stored in compartment below net. 
Rear storage with back seats folded down.
Front seat. Interior color is nutmet.
Back seat. Arm rest folds down, providing two cup holders. Seats fold down independently (60/40 split).
Navigation console. Bluetooth capability for mobile phones, etc. Dual climate controls beneath navigation. The navigation screen can be split in multiple ways to show other options.
Our new RAV4 in her new home.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Winstar and Ft. Worth

We took a trip to Winstar Casino in Thackerville, OK, last week. We left home on Monday and spent 4 nights there. We had a good time. But as with RVing, visiting casinos is becoming tiresome for me. I enjoy a good gamble for a few hours, perhaps even a day or so, but certainly not for 4 nights. And the games at Winstar just aren't very good. We never leave the place a winner. In fact, neither Donna nor I have ever hit any type of jackpot. And I've never seen anyone around me hit a jackpot. So, we may not be returning.

The best thing about Winstar are the restaurants. There are several we enjoy and, as casinos go, the prices are not that bad. Toby Keith's I Love This Bar and Grill is arguably our favorite because they have a generous happy hour with good prices.

After our stay at Winstar, we took the short drive down I-35 to Fort Worth to visit my brother Larry and his wife Nancy. Larry has been retired for some years now, but Nancy still works. She is retiring in May. They have planned their retirement carefully, and will move soon to Florida where they have already purchased a condo. So, the purpose of our trip was to pay them one last visit before they move to the other side of the earth.

We did a lot of eating there, as we always do when we visit. For the entire trip, I gained about 5 pounds, so now I'll have to walk more and eat less to get all of that off.

On Saturday, Larry drove us to downtown Fort Worth where we walked around for a while. We strolled through the Water Gardens near the convention center. What a lovely park in the center of a large city! We then strolled north towards the courthouse, pausing a while in Sundance Square. The area is filled with inviting shops and interesting restaurants. He also drove us through the Stockyards area. The area was already bustling at 11:00 in the morning.

Below are a few photos of downtown Fort Worth.

This photo of Donna and I was taken in front of the convention center. The small building in the center of the photo in the background is the courthouse.
Water Gardens

Donna in front of one of the fountains/pools in the Water Gardens

Water Gardens

Chisolm Trail mural in Sundance Square

Quaint little alley behind Riscky's Bar-B-Q

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

We Sold the Trailer

We sold our travel trailer last Thursday.

Donna and I bought our first trailer, a folding camper (often called a "pop up") when our daughter was young, and we dragged that thing all over the place. Every opportunity -- weekends, spring break, summer vacation -- you could find us in a state park somewhere having a ball. Before that, we camped in a tent, so the camper was a big step up.

Since those days, Donna and I graduated to larger self-contained rigs, and we've enjoyed them all. Initially, we used the trailers as a way to get away on weekends or any other time. We used the rigs as an escape from work. We were always active outdoors then, and we would hike, bike, float rivers, and do all the other activities possible at our state parks. I never considered our rigs for anything other than a short-term vacation.

But I just don't enjoy those brief outings anymore. The last 3 trips we took -- which were about 2 weeks long each -- were just not fun for me. I think our passions and interests have changed over the years. Today, I'd rather throw a bag in a car and just use hotels. I've never enjoyed towing, and I certainly don't care for all the maintenance that any RV requires. And though some people think it is cheaper to travel via an RV, it isn't, at least not once you look at the total cost of ownership.

So, are we done with the RV lifestyle? Probably so -- at least, I hope so. However, there is one scenario where I can see us getting another RV. In our last 2 rigs, we took 2 long trips. In our Rockwood, we traveled for 8 months, and in our Coachmen, we traveled for 6 months. I like living that way. There is a great freedom to full-timing. I like not being tied to a place or schedule, and I like being able to move somewhere else at short notice. But if we ever elected to do this, we would get a bigger rig, probably a fifth wheel. I would want to be comfortable if we lived that way.

You might wonder why we just don't take off for 6 months in our current trailer and keep our house. Frankly, we just can't afford that. When you do that, you are basically supporting 2 households. Even if you are not living in a brick-and-mortar home, there are still expenses on that home, such as utility bills, insurance, HOA fees, and so on.

So, are we done traveling? Absolutely not. In fact, we have a nice little trip planned around our anniversary, and then a longer trip is in the works for the fall. No, we'll keep traveling. To be honest, though, I enjoy where we live so much that traveling doesn't interest me as much as it once did. But we like to go somewhere almost every month, so I can see us taking short 2 or 3 night trips each month to places within 300 miles or so of San Angelo, such as our recent trip to New Braunfels (see "Short Trip to New Braunfels").

But you never know. As I've said before, Donna and I have a gypsy spirit, so we may wake up one day, buy a big rig, sell the house, and head on down the road to points unknown.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Slow Week at RCW

We've not done too much this week. Of course, we took a back country tour, which I wrote about earlier this week (see "Backroads Tour: Water Valley and Robert Lee"). On Friday, we went to the movies to see Going in Style starring Alan Arkin, Morgan Freeman, and Michael Caine. The movie is labeled a heist comedy film, and it is a remake of the 1979 movie by the same name. This movie will not garner any awards, but it was an enjoyable film. It's nice for older folks to have a movie they can relate to.

Early in the week, we returned to Taste of the Himalayas, our local Indian restaurant. When this place opened in 2014, Donna and I had high hopes for it. We like exotic food, and it isn't often that a town the size of San Angelo in the middle of ranching country gets such a restaurant. When it first opened, we really liked the place. Unlike other Indian food buffets, it had a generous selection of ethnic dishes, and all of them were tasty. We were frequent visitors. The place did a pretty good business and developed a local following, especially among personnel from Goodfellow AFB.

As time passed, though, changes became apparent. We noticed a lack of consistency in food preparation most of all. Then the place changed ownership. The quality, in our opinion, continued to decline with the new management. We ate there several months ago and decided we would give the place a rest of a few months before trying it again. So, this past Monday, we decided we had waited long enough for another test.

Boy, were we disappointed. The place has declined even more. And I think it is safe to say that we are not the only ones who think this way. We were in the place for a full hour. During that time, only 2 other customers came in. The place has turned into a graveyard. And it looks like the place has changed hands again, as we did not recognize any of the employees there. We have probably visited the place for the last time. If it is still open a year from now, we might give it another try, but for now, we have marked it off our list. That's a shame, for we just don't have many places that serve exotic food here.

Other than that, we've stayed close to home for the most part. I continue to walk between 4 and 5 miles every other day, but Donna has fallen off her routine a bit. I enjoy walking early in the morning, about sunrise. It's a bit early and a bit cool for Donna at that time, so she normally likes to walk later in the day. Unfortunately for her, as the day rolls along, the harder the wind blows in general, and she likes walking in the wind even less than when it is early or cool. The weather will level off soon, though, and she'll get back to it, I'm sure.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Backroads Tour: Water Valley and Robert Lee

Restlessness was settling in again, so the old woman and I jumped in the truck today for another backroads tour. This time we went north.

We started by taking FM 2288 (the road that fronts RCW) north to Grape Creek, then US 87 north to Water Valley. Water Valley is a small community in the north part of Tom Green County. The school there is always in the news as they produce some fine athletic teams in all sports. I'm not sure how they perform academically. There isn't much else in the community except a convenience store and a post office.

We turned west on Hwy 2304 for a few miles. There is a county park there along the North Concho River called Harper Park. It's a lovely setting for a park, with towering pecan trees and nice grass. There are several RV hookups within the park, which is popular with Water Valley residents.

Looking upstream at the North Concho River from the bridge on Hwy 2304

Pecan trees and grass in lovely Harper Park along the North Concho River, just west of Water Valley.
We then turned around, headed east, and crossed US 87, staying on Hwy 2304 towards Robert Lee. About halfway along the highway, we came across the historical marker below.

Shelving Rock Historical Marker on Hwy 2304

After returning home, I researched Shelving Rock but found very little. The site interests me because of the last sentence on the marker: "There Rangers, state militia, and a posse of settlers hunting horses and Indians rendezvoused a few nights prior to disastrous battle of Dove Creek, Jan. 8, 1865." The Battle of Dove Creek is one of the more interesting battles in Texas history, but few people have ever heard of it. To learn more about this "battle", consult the Handbook of Texas Online. I first learned of the battle while reading an Elmer Kelton novel. I believe the novel was Stand Proud.

A few miles past the marker, the highway falls away, offering a great view to the north. The photos below really don't do justice to the view.

Upon spotting the drop off, I parked the truck and crossed the highway to snap this photo.
As we were driving down the slope, Donna commented that this section reminded her a little of the Davis Mountains.
It's rugged country out there.

Just a short distance beyond this slope, we turned north on Paint Creek Road. This county road cuts through to intersect Hwy 158.

Not much water in Paint Creek, but any water is good water in the west.
At Hwy 158, we turned west for perhaps a quarter mile to Dripping Springs Road. We turned north on this road, then a hundred yards later, we turned west over a cattle guard. Almost immediately on our right, we came upon Dripping Springs. This is basically a grotto. The picture below is only a small part of the ledge. I tried taking pictures of the other areas, but I was looking directly into the sun so they were distorted. Where I was standing when taking the picture, water runs over the ledge. I suppose there is a spring just upstream a bit.

Dripping Springs
I like discovering these places in our area. Of course, native Americans knew most of these places. For them, they were life-saving sights. As soldiers and pioneers began entering this area, they also discovered these places.

We turned around, got back on the highway (158), and headed east towards Robert Lee. We began seeing good stands of bluebonnets and other flowers along the highway right of way as well as in pastures.

Beautiful stand of bluebonnets in a pasture, with a nice backdrop of hills.
Close up of bluebonnets
In Robert Lee, we took Hwy 1904 towards the dam of R. V. Spence Reservoir. At the top of the dam, I took the picture below of the lake. This poor lake has never recovered from the drought. Although it has some water in it, it is a long way from fully recovering. At present, it is at 14% capacity.

E V Spence Reservoir, near Robert Lee, Texas
Back in town, we drove around the downtown area before heading south on Hwy 208 to return to San Angelo.

Coke County, Courthouse -- Robert Lee, Texas

Downtown Robert Lee, Texas
About 5 years ago, we drove around this area one spring after learning this was one of the better places in our area to view wild flowers. I wrote a blog entry entitled "Coke County Wildflowers" if you'd care to look back at it. Since it dealt with the drive along Hwy 208, I will not repeat that section of our trip here.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

A Quiet Week at RCW

It's been a fairly quiet week at Rio Concho West.

Early in the week, a storm front blew in from the southwest, dropping temperatures and bringing about .2 inch of rain. We really need some rain in San Angelo, but I guess we were fortunate this time. This storm brought lots of hail and tornadic activity to areas just north and east of us. If you watch the national news, you undoubtedly saw footage of the aftermath.

The RCW "Happy Bus" picked us up on Wednesday for a short trip across town to Rio Concho Manor. Usually, the bus makes a trip to the Manor each week, but Donna and I only go once a month. To be honest, the food there isn't that good, though it is very decent. And it is certainly balanced, as you have a choice of 3 entrees and various vegetable sides, salads, breads, and deserts. And the price is certainly right, costing RCW residents only $6.50. Where else can a couple eat for $13 these days -- and no tipping is allowed! You can pile your place as high as you want, but only one trip through the line. But we really go for the social aspects. We enjoy our fellow inmates, and it's nice to spend a couple of hours with them both on the ride to and from as well as in the dining room.

There are certainly some interesting characters out here. One of our favorite fellows is just a good ol' Texas boy, full of good humor and colorful sayings. He's very active, dragging his travel trailer all over the place to visit old friends and family. Then there is a retired pharmacist who goes out to meet friends for coffee every morning. These group of guys seems to know all the news, both local and otherwise, so we go to the pharmacist whenever we want to know what is happening around town. It's an interesting group out here.

Friday night found us at the Angelo Civic Theater watching Over the River and Through the Woods, a play by Joe DiPietro. This warm-hearted family comedy is set in Hoboken, New Jersey, and centers around a close-knit -- perhaps a bit too close -- Italian-American family. Grandson Nick, a marketing executive, struggles with a decision to move away from his family to Seattle, Washington. His grandparents, whom he visits every Sunday, then plot to keep young Nick at home. As the play progresses, the comedy lessens and the play becomes slowly more dramatic, with Nick learning about the real value of family and the give and take of love. Donna and I both enjoyed the evening.

We dodged another weather bullet Saturday night and early Sunday morning. Another front moved through late Saturday, bringing reports of a tornado to the nearby Ballinger area, about 30 or so miles northeast of Angelo. Hail was also reported in various locales. We missed the violence of the storm but were fortunate to receive almost an inch of rain. That amount will keep us on pace with our yearly average at this time.

And that is about all that is happening out here. I leave you with some pictures of the ocotillo plants at the clubhouse. I posted some in a recent entry when the blooms were first appearing. The blooms are further along now. I snapped these pictures during my early morning walk on an overcast day, so the color and lighting are a bit off.

Lighting is especially bad in this photo, but you can clearly see the blooms at the tips of the stalks.
Several blooms up close.

When in their prime, the orange of the blooms contrast nicely with the green of the stalks, but there isn't much green on these plants.