September 2015 Archives

Blue Bell ice cream in grocery store
Our long national nightmare has ended

Our Labor Day weekend had a definite theme: Hills, Heat, and Humidity. Three consecutive days of 100°+ temperatures were bad enough, but when you factored in the humidity levels (~90% in the mornings; >70% in the evenings), even the slightest physical activity entailed copious sweating. Fortunately, we had plenty of changes of clothes.



We elected to leave the bike at home, so we spent some time each day walking or running through the neighborhood. That's where the hills came into play. I keep telling myself that running over those hills without having a near-death experience is just a matter of acclimation, but I'm either deluded or acclimation will require more than a once- or twice-a-month effort. (I'm pretty sure both factors are legit.) Nevertheless, we persevered, because we like to eat.

I didn't take any photos of the usually beautiful countryside because the drought has taken its toll on the landscape. Even the prickly pear pads are showing the effects of the lack of moisture. It's hard to conceive of how quickly the Hill Country transformed from a lush green, almost sub-tropical environment to a literal tinderbox of dead underbrush. In less than three months, the water level at Lake Travis has dropped more than three feet. The cloudy lining in this blue sky scenario is that rain is predicted for every day this week. Pray it happens.



One natural phenomenon in that area that isn't affected by the drought is the gathering of turkey vultures (or, as they're more affectionately known, buzzards) on the power line towers in the area. The birds begin gathering around dusk and spend the night perched on those towers. Walking near them is kind of eerie, in an Alfred Hitchcock sort of fashion. The birds are silent but never motionless, and you get the feeling that they're watching you carefully and if you stop moving for an instant, they'll assume you're road kill and swoop down for a bedtime snack.
 
Buzzards perched on towers
Buzzards perched on towers

These same towers are vacant the next morning, but the ground beneath them is littered with feathers, and reeks of...well, use your imagination.



We're always on the lookout for good opportunities to go dancing in the Hill Country, and this weekend was no exception. We continued our tour of the historic dance halls of Texas by visiting the Twin Sisters Hall located a few miles past Blanco on US Highway 281.

Twin Sisters claims it's the oldest hall in Texas, opening to the public in 1870. It's worth noting that Greune Hall in New Braunfels makes a similar claim - qualifying it as the "oldest continually operating dance hall" as it opened in 1878. Regardless, Twin Sisters is certainly historic, and well-preserved. It also isn't air conditioned (here comes that second "H"...and also the third one). The interior has a fair number of box fans scattered around the interior, but they didn't begin to succeed as an anti-sweating measure, especially considering the high energy music of the featured band on Saturday night.

Nevertheless, Twin Sisters could become one of our favorite dance destinations. The floor is spacious and in good shape, and there's plenty of seating around the perimeter. (They also have a rule against carrying drinks onto the dance floor...something Luckenbach should adopt.)

There are two downsides. First, they have public dances only on the first Saturday of each month. Second, beware when someone comes out and sprinkles an unknown substance around the floor. This is a completely unnecessary attempt to make the floor easier to dance on, but what it did for us is make it almost dangerously slick.
 
Twin Sisters Dance Hall
Twin Sisters Dance Hall - View of the stage
 
Twin Sisters Dance HallTwin Sisters Dance Hall - View of the main entrance

The band that evening was The Georges, with members hailing from from San Antonio and New Braunfels (they have a standing Wednesday evening gig at the aforementioned Greune Hall). They specialize in rockabilly music - or as they call it, Retro Rock. I'm not sure about the genre, but I can assure you that its primary feature is speed. Holy cow, did they ever play some fast songs.

The Georges
 
They did play a good variety of cover and original tunes, including songs by Dwight Yoakam, Waylon Jennings, Roy Orbison, and Elvis. (Conversely, there was a refreshing absence of "bro-country.") The lead singer, Jason George, has a powerful voice with an impressive range, and he's backed by some skilled instrumentalists. The only minor quibble we had with the performance was an occasional tendency to vary the tempo of the music during a song, which make dancing more challenging. In summary, while their musical style isn't one that we'd want for every dance, we'll certainly look for future opportunities to hear them.

Here's a [rather sedate] sample of their music.



In contrast to our experiences at the Mercer Street Dance Hall in Dripping Springs, the crowd at Twin Sisters was slightly older, although there were a few families present. But the dancers were also more skilled; we never feared for our lives because of the out-of-control "frat boy two-steppers" that are so prevalent nowadays. This could be because the location is a bit remote. 

In fact, if you're not glued to your turn-by-turn GPS, you can easily miss the entrance to the dance hall, which sits a few hundred yards off the highway and is hidden by trees. Ironically, it's easier to miss the entrance in the daylight, because at night they have the small sign lit from both sides by car headlights (yeah, no electricity for you!). But to make things easier for you:


Fort Stockton by Foot (and then some...)
September 1, 2015 8:58 PM | Posted in: ,

City limit sign
 
Next time you're in a small town, grab a camera and go for a walk. I'll wager you'll notice some details that are either missing in the city, or easily overlooked. 
 
I did just that last Saturday in Fort Stockton. For those who aren't from this part of the country, that's the west-of-the-Pecos burg where I spent my [misin]formative years. I still have family there and so we're regular visitors. Here are some of the highlights of our three mile stroll.


The path less traveled is sometimes enhanced by the scent of creosote.

Trail through mesquite and creosote


The irony of a buzzard constructed of scavenged parts wasn't lost on us.
 
Buzzard made of spare parts


"As long as we're Romaining around, lettuce follow this trail..."
 
Salad Fork sign

Red, white, blue...and purple sage
 
Red, white & blue windmill behind purple sage

Someone steered him wrong
 
Longhorn skull


I mowed this yard when I was in junior high. It seems much smaller now. And quite a bit less grassy.
 
Big front yard


This ammonite shrine is as awesome as it is inscrutable. Note the petrified wood base.
 
Fossils and cactus


It's hard to see in this photo, but someone is having their asphalt-shingled roof painted. This house will be visible from the moon. 
 
Roof being painted white


This is Comanche Elementary. My first grade classroom is somewhere in this photo; there are two more wings in back where I went to second and third grades. The school is now abandoned. I swear I had nothing to do with that.
 
Comanche Elementary School


This is all that's left of the original playground equipment. Today, it would either be the subject of a lawsuit, or relocated to the Navy Seals training facility.
 
Playground equipment


This palm tree has no business being so content in the back yard of the house I grew up in. It's outlived many other trees, gardens, people, etc., and proves that benign neglect is sometimes healthy.

Palm Tree


Addendum: Later, on the same day, we traveled down US 385 to Marathon and dined at the 12 Gage Restaurant, adjacent to the Gage Hotel. The route takes you through the Sierra Madera Astrobleme -- which, I believe, is Latin for "big honkin' hole" -- and past some of the prettiest scenery in the state. It looks desolate, and it is, but that doesn't mean it's not teeming with life. On the return trip, around dusk, we encountered the following wildlife:

  • Deer (some of which made the runty Hill Country specimens look like something you'd buy at Toys 'R Us);
  • Javelina;
  • Bullbats (aka Common Nighthawks, or more imaginatively, Goatsuckers) swarming to catch their insect dinners before total darkness fell (they have no echolocation capabilities like bats), and one of which fell prey to the windshield of our SUV (perhaps confirming that they have no echolocation capabilities like bats);
  • One very long -- about the width of our vehicle -- snake stretched across the highway;
and, last but not least, but perhaps most intriguing...

  • One wedding party standing in the middle of the highway so the photographer could shoot the bride and groom with the dramatic sunset at their backs.
US 385 between Marathon and Fort Stockton, Texas

About this Archive

This page is an archive of entries from September 2015 listed from newest to oldest.

August 2015 is the previous archive.

October 2015 is the next archive.

Archives Index