Recently in Texas Hill Country Category

[Part 1] [Part 2]



Trigger Warning: Here there be dragons. Or, at least, serpents. Elizabeth, you've been warned.


Having survived the Great Coax Caper and the Putrid Possum Pestilence, we were looking forward to a relaxing hike on the newly-christened Horseshoe Creek Trail with The Nephew, his wife, and their dog Sophie. (I briefly introduced the Trail in this novel-length post from last December.) So, at mid-morning on Saturday we caravanned up to the south trailhead, which is at the end of the winsomely-named Mausoleum Road.

You get to the trailhead by way of Mountain Dew Road, a steep and winding street that meanders through neighborhoods interspersed with the typical Texas Hill Country scrub woods. As we neared the Mausoleum Road turnoff, we encountered this lovely beast stretched out across the pavement:

Photo - Big honkin' rattlesnake

I jumped out of the truck and cautiously (an understatement) approached the snake, and snapped a few photos. Photo of rattlesnake rattleI estimate it was about 3-3 1/2' in length, but what was most striking (pun intended) was the thickness of its body. Rattlers tend to be this way, but some who have seen this photo suggest that this one was either pregnant or had just eaten a large meal. In any event, this was not only the first rattlesnake we've seen in the four years we've been coming to Horseshoe Bay, but also one of the largest we've encountered, period. A closeup of the non-business end of the snake clearly shows nine rattles plus a button...not a record by any means, but still a pretty good noisemaker. (By the way, contrary to popular belief, you can't judge the age of a rattlesnake by the number of rattles; they add one each time they shed their skin, but they might shed multiple times in a year.)

The snake paid us no mind, and didn't move until we got back in the truck. At that point, I had to make a decision regarding its fate. Had it been in an absolute wilderness with no homes or public trails around, I probably would have let it go, but in this case it was (1) moving toward the trail we were about to hike, and (2) fairly close to a number of houses. So, I chose to inflict Death by Michelin on the serpent. I'm never happy about having to kill an animal, but this one had the obvious potential to do serious harm to humans and their pets.

We proceeded to the trailhead, determined to do the planned hike, but you can bet that the thought of encountering more of these rattlers was at the forefront of all our minds. Horseshoe Creek Trail is not particularly challenging, but at this time of the year, it's covered with leaves and it passes over and through rocky terrain that provides perfect camouflage for snakes. I led the hike and didn't really see much on the first leg other than the ground immediately in front of me, trying to make sure we weren't stepping on anything hazardous to our health. Relaxing? Well, not really.

Fortunately, we didn't come across another snake, but my singleminded attention to the ground almost resulted in an even worse encounter.

We came to a rise in the trail, a section that required stepping onto some rocks, and at the last second, I looked up just in time to see a Big. Honkin'. Spider (!) drop down at eye-level. I'm not ashamed to admit that I'm a classic case study in arachnophobia, and this freaked me out way more than that rattlesnake. 

The spider had stretched its web completely across the trail, a distance of at least four feet, from a tree on one side to a bush on the other. Had I not seen it in time, I not only would have had a spider on my face, but I would have been wrapped in a web, and I think we all know what that leads to. 

Webbed Frodo
In my mind, every spider is named Shelob.

I may have screamed like a little girl, just the tiniest bit, but we did find an easy detour around this horror, and the rest of the hike was pleasantly uneventful. Here are a handful of photos take along the trail; click on the photos to see larger uncropped versions.

Horseshoe Creek - Not quite a stream in the desert, but close Horseshoe Creek Trail The trail winds through some semi-rugged terrain In places, you can catch a brief view of Lake LBJ The trail passes some serious boulders. Horseshoe Creek Sophie leading the rest of the intrepid band


OK, there was one stretch of dry creek bed that contained a startling reminder that perhaps the snake we encountered earlier was just an infant, a mere worm compared to what might inhabit that rough terrain through which we were traipsing:

Photo - animal skeleton

Is this the skeleton of a harmless deer...or is it more likely the remains of a prehistoric dinoserpent whose descendants still inhabit these hills? You'll have to decide for yourself; I'm still on spider watch.
[Part 1

Now, where were we? Oh, yes...I had completed a successful repair of a shredded coax cable that restored our satellite TV access, and life was good.

Except...something was slightly amiss in the air. There was a lingering odor, a smell that seemed to grow stronger depending on which way the breeze was blowing, and where one stood in the back yard.

As the afternoon went on and the temperature rose, the smell got stronger and became the unmistakable odor of something dead and putrefying. And, as far as I could tell, it was coming from beneath our deck.

I had feared this ever since we bought the house last fall and witnessed an armadillo crawling out from under the deck one night. What was the likelihood that an animal would expire under the deck, and how would we deal with it?

I wanted to seal all the possible entry points, but it was a Catch-22 situation: what if I locked in a nocturnal critter, causing its death by starvation, and thus birthing the exact scenario I was working to avoid?

But now, we had to confront the reality head-on. There was a bit of urgency to the task, apart from the increasingly offensive aroma in our back yard. We were expecting the arrival of guests that evening, and they were bringing their dog who would undoubtedly freak out at the possibility of rolling around in something dead. Hey, that's what dogs do, right?

*sigh*

The first order of business was to locate the exact source of the odor, because that would help me understand what would be needed to deal with it. There were no large openings in the deck, and I was fresh out of remote-controlled robotic nano-cameras to send in a search-and-recovery mission. So, I did the next best thing: I watched where the flies were swarming, grabbed my industrial strength flashlight, and began shining it into the small seams between the deck planks. My fly-directed instinct was accurate, and I quickly spotlighted a tail. As I moved across the next several seams, a clear picture emerged of an expired possum, and a fairly large one at that.

So, I knew what I was dealing with, and where it was located. I now had to figure out how to get to it. I first tried taking up the decking directly above the malodorous marsupial, but the wood screws had become inextricably merged with the decking and this approach was a non-starter.

Plan B was to remove a section of the deck siding directly adjacent to the stinking stiff. This was significantly easier than removing the decking, but still not without its challenges. I won't go into the minutiae of the process; suffice it to say that it required another trip to Ace Hardware, and I'm now the proud owner of a 4-foot crowbar, a mini-hacksaw, and a new garden rake. [Aside: This is a problem with having a second home...many of your tools reside somewhere else.]

Removing the siding was a relatively quick job - apart from the run to the hardware store - and it led to the most unpleasant part of the task: retrieving the reeking remains. That's where the rake came in, if you were wondering. We [by then, MLB was at my side, offering spiritual solace and a second pair of hands] put a heavy duty trash bag on the ground, and I endeavored to rake the offensive opossum out from under the deck and into the bag.

Normally, at this point in a task, I would take a photograph to document the proceedings. But the thought of having a picture of a squishy, maggot-infested carcass on my phone trumped my documentarian tendencies. Feel free to thank me, dear reader. However, that doesn't mean that we don't have visual proof of the episode, courtesy of our game camera. I hope the following isn't too shocking.

Photographic proof: possums wear shirts!

[Note: I realize that some of you are thinking, "what a noob!" because this type of thing is old hat to you - the dead animal, not discovering it's actually Pogo - because you've lived in the country long enough to have encountered it many times over, and then some. But it's brand new territory for us city folks.]

With many exclamations along the lines of "ewww" and "ick" and "yuck" (and it's not easy to emit such exclamations whilst holding your breath) we managed to roll the corroded corpse into the bag, which I quickly sealed and hauled downwind for safekeeping until I could permanently dispose of it. MLB scattered some odor-absorbing pellets under the deck, and I then reattached the siding with a single wood screw on each end, in case we ever had to repeat this process.

Within an hour or so, only the keenest of noses could detect that anything was ever amiss in the back yard. Of course, that keen nose did eventually show up on the end of a curious German shepherd, but after much earnest sniffing, she lost interest and began to focus on the more important task of stick chasing.

However, there's one nagging thought: what was the cause of death? Silly me; I failed to perform an autopsy, so now I'm left with only speculation. As a wise coworker told reminded me, "everything dies," so it could have been natural causes. But what if it was something more sinister, like a hit by the local squirrel mafia? We've also had some suspicious characters roaming our back yard when all law-abiding mammals should be snuggled in bed. Perhaps there's a reason they always wear masks.

Raccoons: Nature's little felons

Anyway, to recap: two crises dealt with, and we could now relax for the rest of the weekend.

OK, there was just ONE. MORE. THING. 


MLB and I spent last week at Horseshoe Bay, and it turned into quite a busy time. (Important Note: The following is the equivalent of showing blurry vacation slides from that trip with your parents to Knott's Berry Farm to captive friends who reciprocate by never coming back to your house, even when tempted by a Pecan Log from Stuckey's. If it will help, try to imagine me narrating this in Samuel L. Jackson's voice.)

Horseshoe Bay is a little different than many places this time of year...it's less crowded and quieter because a lot of folks with lake houses aren't particularly interested in boating or skiing in winter weather (although the typical Hill Country winter isn't what you'd call brutal). Nevertheless, we managed to fill our schedule with some memorable events. Here are some of the highlights:

Saturday

We were invited by friends to attend a Celtic music concert in nearby Marble Falls. None of us knew what to expect from the event, which was a fundraiser for The Phoenix Center, a local nonprofit that provides mental health services to children and their parents. The concert, billed as "A Celtic Christmas," was held in the Uptown Theater, a renovated 40s-era movie theater which, despite its name, is located smack dab in the middle of downtown Marble Falls. It's a funky little place, very cool in its own way, and provided an intimate setting for what turned out to be a surprisingly delightful three hours of music.

The evening featured two musical groups. First to perform was The Here & Now, a quartet of Austin- and Dallas-based musicians. The fiddle player, Niamh Fahy, is an Irish lass who serves as a music therapist for The Phoenix Center. She was also the driving force behind organizing the event.

The Here & Now perform what I'd call traditional Irish music, although I'm hardly an expert in the genre. It's contemplative and lively by turns, and always lyrical.

The Here & Now
The Here & Now

It's worth mentioning that we were seated next to the stage, so we had a great view of the proceedings, which included some impressive dancing by Emily and Gavin, a couple of youngsters with extremely quick feet.

Emily and Gavin
Irish dancers Emily and Gavin

Gavin did step dancing (usually associated with productions like Riverdance), while Emily's specialty was old-style. I know this only because I visited with her during intermission where I succumbed to her atomic-powered dimple and bought one of the group's CDs.

Following that intermission, the trio known as Celjun took the stage. Celjun is a band based in Lafayette, Louisiana, and they specialize in a music amalgam of Celtic and Cajun genres (hence their name, right?). Their music is a bit more raucous...probably something you'd expect to hear around midnight in an Irish pub (not that I'm personally knowledgeable about that). I was most impressed with the skills of Pete Dawson, the flautist/whistle player (whistleist?) who hails from Baton Rouge. If you want a sample of his music, check out this video beginning at the 3 minute mark.

Celjun
Ireland + Cajun Country = Celjun

Sunday

We took a day of rest from social activities and enjoyed some beautiful weather and a nice afternoon bike ride. And, as usual, Mother Nature provided some entertainment.

The Hill Country isn't really known for its fall foliage, but you can run across some spectacular, if isolated, examples.

Fall colors
Beautiful fall color

Beauty in nature comes in different shapes and sizes. MLB spotted this amazing fungus during one of our bike rides, and I later returned to photograph it.

Tree fungus
It Came From Beyond: fungus growing on tree stump

There's an owl who (get it..."who...who..." OK, never mind.) hangs around our house. He (or she) is elusive, and I generally spot her (him) only as a shadow gliding through the trees...until now:

Owl in tree
The Watched watches the Watcher

There's one more encounter with the animal kingdom I want to share, but in the interest of building suspense, it will come at the end. Please try to stay awake.

Monday

One of the primary purposes of this trip was to attend the annual Horseshoe Bay Members Christmas Party, a free dinner and dance held at the resort. It occurs on a Monday to reduce attendance (my theory, anyway), but if that's an effective strategy, it was difficult to discern based on the turnout. Anyway, we enjoyed the company of close friends as well as acquaintances old and new, and even got to do a little dancing.

Music was provided by the David Young Band, an Austin-based group featuring musicians who can play basically anything in any genre (we got everything from At Last to Uptown Funk).

This was our third time to attend this event, and we learned early on that a 20' x 20' dance floor doesn't accommodate the 500 or so people who want to dance, so our best bet was to get in some steps early on, while most people were still in the buffet lines. But the evening had an inauspicious start, because some sound system problems seemed to have the keyboard player doing a different song than the rest of the band, and we were all confused.

They finally got that sorted out and we were treated to a song we could actually dance to. But...it was a tango. Nobody outside of the movies plays a tango at a party...primarily because nobody actually knows how to do a tango. OK, that's an exaggeration, because, well...WE do. And so we did, alone on the floor (until mid-way through the song, an(other) older couple joined us). It was actually pretty great, and someone claimed that one table gave us a standing ovation at the end, although I'm pretty sure they were just heading for the open bar for vodka shots.

David Young Band
The David Young Band - Don't be fooled by the suits; they can boogie.

Later in the evening, the dance floor resembled a mosh pit, if mosh pits are ever populated by over-50 affluent wine-infused white folks in sparkly clothes. But I admit when the band led the crowd in doing The Stroll during an extended version of Uptown Funk, it was magically surreal.

Oh, did I mention that the whole thing was free?

Tuesday (hang in there; we're almost halfway finished)

Tuesday's plans centered around Christmas lights. But we first had a significant civic event to attend.

Today was the ribbon cutting for the new Horseshoe Creek Hiking Trail, and a pretty good crowd turned out in beautiful sunny weather for the event.

The trail begins near the Horseshoe Bay Mausoleum ("New niches coming soon!"), located on one of the highest spots overlooking Lake LBJ, and meanders along the Creek for just over two miles, down to Highway 2147. It's not a treacherous trek, but it is strenuous...hiking boots and a sturdy stick are recommended. We haven't yet done the hike, but it's on our "definite to-do" list.

The land for the trail was donated by Wayne and Eileen Hurd, who have donated untold amounts of acreage for civic use in the area. Mr. Hurd passed away in 2011, but Mrs. Hurd was present for the ribbon cutting.

Horseshoe Creek ribbon cutting
Eileen Hurd (center) cuts the ribbon to open the Horseshoe Creek Trail

I didn't even know that Horseshoe Creek existed, and it was a revelation to see (and hear) the live water coursing down and through the hills. I'm not sure it's always so energetic, but recent heavy rainfall had a wondrous effect.

Horseshoe Creek
Horseshoe Creek - a view from the new trail

That evening, we headed 20 minutes south to Johnson City with friends to take in the vaunted downtown square display. Each year, the courthouse and surrounding businesses go all out with lighted displays; the courthouse alone is draped with more than 100,00 lights.

We ate dinner at the Pecan Street Brewery (I heartily recommend the Pecan Sweet Fried Chicken), located directly across from the courthouse. After dinner, we braved the chill wind to walk around the square before heading back to HSB.

Christmas lights on the Johnson City square
A Christmas display on the Johnson City square

Christmas lights on the Johnson City courthouse
The lighted courthouse

The display was impressive enough to make the trip worthwhile. But wait! There's more!

On the way out of town, we pulled onto Highway 290 and something caught our eyes a couple of blocks away. Well, it would have been difficult to miss it, as it resembled nothing less than a premature sunrise, or perhaps a nuclear plant meltdown. Intrigued, we drove to the display on the grounds of the Pedernales Electric Cooperative headquarters, where we were greeted by a score of huge oak trees adorned with what we would later learn are 1.2 MILLION LED lights. Holy cow...I earlier described something as surreal, but this took the concept to a whole new level.

Lights on the PEC trees
Our electric bill payments at work

PEC has been doing this display for more than a quarter century; the blue lights were added in celebration of the organization's 75th anniversary a few years ago, and they apparently were popular enough (or difficult enough to remove) that they've remained.

Once our retinas recovered enough to drive safely back home, we resolved to drive into Mable Falls to view that community's annual Christmas display. In retrospect, we should have done that first, because pretty much anything will pale in comparison (both figuratively and literally) to the PEC installation. 

The town's "Walkway of Lights" has a gorgeous setting on the bank of Marble Falls Lake, and it's laid out as an out-and-back route of perhaps a quarter mile through hundreds of random holiday displays. It's a pretty impressive installation for a small town. It boasts of more than 2 million lights and 400 displays, but frankly, spread out over such a wide area, it's not as dramatic as some others (*cough* PEC *cough*).

Marble Falls Walkway of Lights
The entrance to the Walkway of Lights

On the other hand, it probably is more kid-friendly (not quite as overwhelming to the senses), and there were quite a few families exploring the trail.

We were a bit disappointed at how many "sculptures" had non-functioning lights; I guess it's hard to stay on top of 2 million of them. And the displays became a little repetitive. You can have only so many Santa-and-reindeer tableaus before they start to run together. There were some imaginative ones, though: Santa riding a jet ski; Santa in a helicopter; Santa gutting a reindeer to make jerky. OK, I made that last one up. But this is hunting country, so...

Wednesday

Nothing happened on Wednesday. Well, other than...

We made a day trip to San Antonio to do some Christmas shopping at La Cantera and The Rim. Despite the proximity to Christmas, both areas were remarkably calm, which was a pleasant surprise. 

By the way, if you're driving in from the north on Highway 281 and that area is your general destination, I strongly recommend exiting onto FM 473 a few miles south of Blanco and driving through Kendalia, then on to I-10, where you'll enter the interstate just a couple of miles from the Fiesta Texas exit. Believe me, even with the winding road and lower speed limit, you'll come out ahead by avoiding 281 as it enters San Antonio. Plus it's a much more scenic drive. Just try to come back before dark, as the deer encounters might be a bit intense.

On the way home, shortly before 5:00, MLB was noodling around on her phone and discovered that Andy Armendariz and 8 From the Gate were playing that evening at Pardner's in Lake Buchanan. Pardner's is an old-fashioned honky-tonk that features a decent dance floor, a live band every Wednesday night, and a crowd demographic that skews AARP-wardly. (The live music begins at 6:30 and ends at 9:30, so that should give you a clue.)

If you've never heard of 8 From the Gate (Quick...can you identify the source of the band's name? The answer is helpfully provided below.), don't feel bad; neither had we. But the music that MLB streamed sounded danceable, and we decided to forego dinner to get in some two-stepping before heading over to some friends' home to drop off a gift.

We arrived around 6:45 and the dance was in full swing. We recognized several of the folks in attendance, either from other dance venues, or from previous trips to Pardner's. It's a place for regulars, and you can count on most of the same people showing up every Wednesday.

Andy Armendariz and 8 From the Gate at Pardner's
Can't see it in the photo, but it was almost a cliche that
the steel guitarist played with a lit cigarette in his hand


It's a great place for people watching (we were particularly intrigued this night by the man pushing 80 years and 300 pounds, sporting a straw hat and denim overalls tucked inside cowboy boots, whose dance style was primarily limited to walking around the floor with much younger women...that is, until the band played Dwight Yoakam's Fast As You, and then he absolutely rocked out), and everyone is pretty friendly. As you might expect, the crowd isn't rowdy; the biggest downside is that it's not a non-smoking venue, and despite having a good ventilation system, we always leave feeling a little smoky.

The music was good, and we got in more than an hour of dancing before heading back to our appointment in HSB.

I mentioned that we had skipped dinner; dancing always trumps eating, but we were a bit peckish and intended to go to Marble Falls for a Whataburger or something equally...fast...after a quick visit with our friends.

However, it's good to have a gourmet cook for a friend, because they also had not eaten and were laying out a spread of leftovers that rivaled anything we had consumed thus far on the trip (up to and including chorizo-stuffed, bacon-wrapped dates and homemade chocolate-and-coconut truffles). Maybe next time, Whataburger.

Thursday (at last)


We spent the day at home taking care of some chores. The high point of the day (and perhaps the week) was when I discovered - following several frustrating nights of lukewarm-to-cold showers - that the hot and cold water connections on the shower were actually reversed, and all the work I had done to recalibrate the scald preventer in an attempt to get more hot water was actually just providing more cold. Sometimes, the best solutions are the easiest; I'm just glad I didn't give in to the impulse to call out a plumber, who would no doubt be blogging now about yet another idiot customer. 

And, incidentally, those of you who are more deeply steeped in the arcane plumbing arts are probably wondering what good a scald preventer does in a case like that. I can answer that with an assertive "none." In my defense, the mere presence of that device kept me from trying the ultimate solution until I simply ran out of options.

Following a wonderfully steaming shower, we headed for nearby Spicewood with our dear friends to observe a long-standing Christmas tradition of buying each others' dinners instead of exchanging gifts. They had recommended Apis as a good place for a special dinner, and it was.

Apis is one of those farm-to-table eateries that are all the rage nowadays; it's also an apiary, in case you're into bees (and who isn't?). Their menus are prix fixe, which is French for "you're gonna need a bigger wallet," so it's probably never going to be a replacement for the Bluebonnet Cafe. However, it serves nicely as a celebratory spot for special occasions.

Apis specializes in what I refer to as foo-foo food. You know, the dishes that are comprised of ingredients that require several adjectives to impress upon you their elegance and sophistication: it's not just crab, it's "Peekytoe Crab"; why serve mere pastrami when you have access to "Veal Brisket Pastrami"; and a simple radish can never compete with an "Easter Egg Radish." In other words, you pay by the adjective.

All kidding aside, the food was great, the atmosphere warm, and the service knowledgeable with just the right amount of solicitousness. Highlights for me included an appetizer of charred Spanish octopus (a whole tentacle, and I was able to resist the temptation to wrestle it, Lloyd Bridges-style, much to the relief of my table mates), and the Honey and Crème Fraiche Gateau, a dessert topped with a tiny curl of crispy honeycomb. OTOH, there was a small miss: I couldn't resist trying a sardine-based "snack" (which was sort of a pre-appetizer appetizer). I was interested to see what kind of magic they could work with sardines, but just as a pig with lipstick is still, at the end of the day, a pig...well, you can figure out the rest. (And no offense to pigs; your bacon is delicious.)

All in all, it was a great way to end a great week...and this seems to be a great way to end an endless blog post. So...

Not So Fast...

Those brave few of you who are indeed still awake may recall that I promised one last thing.

I grew up in Fort Stockton, about an hour's drive from Alpine where the high school football team is known as The Fightin' Bucks. Most of you may understand that that nickname comes honestly, as deer of the buck persuasion are known to lock horns, literally, to assert dominance and win a date with the homecoming queen, if you'll pardon the mixed metaphor.

We were returning home at HSB one evening before dusk and, as usual, there were a number of whitetail deer doing deery things in the open field across the street from our house. It so happened that a couple of them were engaged in the aforementioned ritual, and I managed to get a short video of the epic struggle on my phone. The quality is poor - we were 50 yards away in low light - but you should still be able to get a sense of how, well, ridiculous bucks look when they fight. I did speed up the video considerably; two minutes of this action is 90 seconds too long. (And keep your comments about the length of this post to yourselves.)




"8 From the Gate" is a rodeo reference. If you can stay on a bull for eight seconds after the gate opens to release your mount, then you've achieved a qualified ride. Good luck with all that, and let me know how it goes. [Return to the riveting account]
It's no secret that the Texas Hill Country is akin to Ground Zero for the state's live music scene. Austin is the mother lode for gifted musicians, but it seems that every surrounding town also has its own homegrown talents, and that translates to a lot of dancing opportunities.

I've already reported on some of our favorite Hill Country dance venues, which almost exclusively feature country music. MLB and I have enjoyed many country dances during the three years we've been transient residents headquartered in Horseshoe Bay, but we've not been able to replicate the active ballroom dance scene that we have here in Midland. I'm happy to report that we've made a couple of recent discoveries that significantly changes that situation.

The Flashbacks Big Band - Kingsland


A couple of weekends ago, our friends Doc and Sharon invited us to attend a Saturday night performance of The Flashbacks Big Band in the Kingsland Convention and Community Center [which is a pretty highfalutin label for a facility located in a town of 5,000 residents]. The promotional material billed it as a free concert and a dance, but we had no idea about how suitable the venue or music would be for dancing. Boy, were we pleasantly surprised!

According to the website, the Community Center includes a 4,900 square foot meeting hall, which is quite spacious...depending on the actual setup. As it turned out, the space set aside for dancing was more than adequate for the attendance. There were about 75 people present, but with 40 of them being members of a Sunday School class from a Baptist church in Marble Falls, the number of dancers was much lower.(1) (2) At any given time there were at most ten couples on the dance floor.

The Flashbacks were a revelation as well. Sixteen skilled musicians played classic ballroom dance tunes for three hours, with a sound as polished as anything you'd find in large cities. They're the real deal.

The Flashbacks Big Band

If you're a dancer, there are a few things to keep in mind. There's no food or drink available at the Community Center, but you're free to bring in anything you like. The floor is vinyl and a bit tacky, so leather- or suede-soled shoes are a necessity; apart from that, however, it's a really good dance floor. The dancers we saw that night were older, enthusiastic, but not really tuned into dance etiquette (one couple insisted on occasionally dancing clockwise around the floor, in opposition to everyone else). Dress is casual.

Also, the music skewed heavily toward fox trots and swings; don't expect to get much Latin dancing done. The band will take requests, but only for songs they've recently practiced, so don't be surprised if the response is "we'll make a note of that for next time." Finally, while there is no admission charge, tipping the band is encouraged because they are actually paying for the rental of the facility. My personal recommendation is to tip the same amount you'd expect to pay for a formal dance elsewhere.

The Flashbacks play at the Kingsland Community Center on the first Saturday of every month, 7:00-10:00 p.m.

The Republic of Texas Big Band - Lakeway


We extended our weekend stay in order to check out the Lakeway Activity Center where the Republic of Texas Big Band (ROTBB) was performing at yet another free concert and dance.

Lakeway is a thriving suburb of Austin, and the city's Activity Center is a multi-purpose facility featuring several meeting rooms and banquet halls. The banquet rooms can be configured several ways, with the largest layout being 3,675 square feet...again, potentially more than adequate for dancing.

Since this was our first visit to Lakeway and we weren't sure where the facility was located, we were among the first to arrive and thus picked out a table next to the dance floor. There were enough tables set up to accommodate well over a hundred people, but about half that number actually showed up...including a contingent from a local nursing home. Again, this was primarily an older audience, although there was a sprinkling of younger (i.e. 30-40 years) folks.

However, there were many more dancers in attendance than at the Kingsland event. We sat out several dances because of the crowded conditions. The dancers also tended to be a bit more accomplished than at the other venue. As at Kingsland, dress is casual.

The ROTBB was at least equal to The Flashbacks in musicianship (I noticed that one musician was a member of both groups), and had both male and female vocalists who were simply awesome. Their repertoire was slightly more varied, but still heavily tilted toward fox trot and swing tunes.

Again, this is a free monthly event - it's been taking place for five years - and it's strictly BYOE (bring your own everything). The floor is also high-end vinyl and well-suited for dancing provided you have leather- or suede-soled shoes. Tips for the band are encouraged; in fact, someone carries a bucket around to each table during one of the breaks to make sure everyone has an opportunity to make a tangible expression of appreciation. Unlike the Kingsland event, the band plays for two hours.

The Republic of Texas Big Band

My one suggestion for improvement is that the dance floor could be expanded by removing a row of tables on each side, although I'm sure it's difficult to predict attendance at a non-RSVP event like this. But considering the overall quality of the venue and the music, this is a rather insignificant complaint and is not a factor for future attendance.

By the way, the ROTBB makes occasional appearances at The Oasis on Lake Travis, a big honkin' restaurant and bar best known for its views of sunsets over the lake.

The Republic of Texas Big Band plays at the Lakeway Activity Center on the second Monday of every month, 7:30-9:30 p.m.

In summary, following several years of wandering through a virtual ballroom desert, we discovered in one three-day stretch that there's a life-sustaining musical stream literally minutes away. Country music may rule the Texas Hill Country, but big band music hasn't faded completely away.
 
(1) The reader should not be misled; not all Baptists are non-dancers, this writer being a prime example. [Return]

(2) It so happened that we attended services at that church the next morning, and we were greeted by a couple of people with "you're the dancers from last night, aren't you?"...in a purely non-judgmental way, of course. [Return]
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:


We spent another long* weekend at Horseshoe Bay, where the six-week dry spell was broken, albeit in an insignificant way, by a quarter inch rain shower on Saturday morning. Normally, we would have groused about the disruption of our plan for a morning bike ride, but in light of the drought conditions we were happy to linger over coffee. And by early afternoon, all signs of the rain had disappeared.

The change in the countryside due to the sudden absence of rainfall is startling. After record spring precipitation that raised lakes to levels not seen in years and produced a stunning crop of wildflowers, most of the Hill Country had no rain in July, and the dry spell continues in August. Couple that with a long streak of triple digit temperatures, and the effect is depressing, and a little dangerous, as the threat of wildfire is very real.

Below are some pictures that illustrate the change in conditions. These photos show the land adjacent to our townhouse. They were taken about a month apart, and the differences are striking.

HSB field - July, 2015

HSB field - August, 2015

There's a small catch pond behind our neighborhood. It collects rainfall runoff, and up until now, it has stayed full. Again, here's a view from July, compared to now.

HSB pond - July, 2015

HSB pond - August, 2015

The second photo was taken after the rainfall I mentioned above. I suspect the pond is now completely dry.

I mentioned the wildfire threat, and it's very real. We saw evidence of small fires along the highway, and Horseshoe Bay itself had a fire that burned more than 100 acres a few weeks ago. On the drive home last Monday, we encountered a fire that had just started on the side of the highway between Llano and Brady. It was actively burning and was large enough that there was nothing we could do with our small extinguisher; Debbie called 911 to report it. I trust it was contained because I've seen no reports about it.

It's a strange state of affairs when the countryside in West Texas is greener than that in the Hill Country.

Despite the depressing heat and drought, we still managed to enjoy a dance. We stopped off at Pecan Street Brewing in Johnson City for dinner...our first visit, but definitely not our last. We then headed over to the Mercer Street Dance Hall in Dripping Springs where the People's Choice Band was performing. 

People's Choice Band at Mercer Street Dance Hall

People's Choice is a cover band from Austin and they are, in a word, awesome. Their set was primarily country, no doubt because of the venue, but they played everything from Patsy Cline to Meghan Trainor, and from Uptown Funk to Luckenbach. The lead singer bears a physical resemblance to Jim Morrison, but I doubt the Lizard King could have pulled off such an uncanny vocal impression of Willie Nelson. Anyway, if you have the chance to catch PCB (as they refer to themselves), my advice is to not miss it.

As I previously reported, Mercer Street is a great dance venue, but this Saturday night event wasn't without its challenges. It seems that the owner's daughter was celebrating her 16th birthday and so we had to contend with more than fifty teenagers in addition to the usual adult crowd. It was literally standing room only for much of the night, and there were times when the dance floor was so packed that we elected to remain observers. Here's an example (keep in mind, however, that this was a line dance, meaning that even if you couldn't dance or didn't have a partner, you were still qualified to be out there).

Line dancers pack the floor at Mercer Street Dance Hall

It would have been easy to resent the presence of the kids (and, honestly, had we known in advance about their presence we might have elected to stay home) but they were well-behaved and entertaining to watch, so we rolled with it. Crowded dance floors are just a fact of life, and there's no point getting stressed about it.

It's an hour's drive from Dripping Springs back to Horseshoe Bay, so we bailed a bit early and got home around midnight. But we were up early enough on Sunday morning to make the 9:00 service at First Baptist Church in Marble Falls, where they were enjoying their first service in their new complex overlooking Lake Marble Falls. It's a beautiful facility and is a few minutes closer to us than the old location. The planning for the new church began thirteen years ago; a lot of hard thought, hard work, and financial commitment went into the project and it shows. At some point, if our plans work out, this will be our post-retirement church home.

New worship center at 1st Baptist Marble Falls

The church's worship center has large windows on one side that I think give a view of the lake. They had remote controlled covers which were closed during the service, which I assume was to lessen the temptation to gaze at the scenery instead of listen to the sermon.

We also had a little wildlife excitement during the weekend, when Debbie spotted this snake in the corner of our garage.

Small snake in our garage

It's hard to get a true sense of scale (no pun intended) from the photo; the snake was about 18 inches long, but very fast and very aggressive. There was quite a debate on Facebook about the identification of the species, but the final consensus is that it's either a rat snake or a coachwhip. Neither is poisonous, which is good, since it disappeared under an exterior wall just outside our garage.

I did manage to get a video of the snake, which I think is interesting because of its "warning" behavior. Note the vibration of the tail (near the end of the video), like you'd see from a rattlesnake. As it turns out, many species of snakes exhibit this behavior (including the quite venomous copperhead).



We discovered that Monday mornings are probably the best times for paddleboarding on the lake. We ate breakfast at the resort hotel, then grabbed our Bic SUPs and spent more than an hour on glass-smooth water. I think we saw a total of three boats and one jet ski during that entire time...it was wonderful. Afterward, we hopped on the bike for one last ride around Horseshoe Bay West, and then it was time to bring the weekend to a close. 

Returning to 5:00 a.m. alarms, 9-hour work days, and lawn mowing chores is difficult, but without them, a vacation is more satisfying because of the contrast. 

Ah, who am I kidding? I could get used to "vacation" on a permanent basis!

*"Long" in this case refers only to time, not perception. Our "long" weekend passed all too quickly.

Our Excellent Summer Texas Music Tour
August 3, 2015 8:48 PM | Posted in: ,

July was Live Music Month here at the Gazette, as we had the opportunity to hear - and sometimes dance to - the music of an interesting variety of Texas bands. Here's a quick rundown of what we saw and heard, and also a brief review of each venue in case you want to visit any of them.

The Fourth of July weekend found us at the Mercer Street Dance Hall in Dripping Springs. Two bands were on the bill that night: Silo Road, an Austin quartet playing Texas country and Americana and the headliner, the Tejas Brothers out of Fort Worth.

We arrived in time for just a few songs from Silo Road, but found them to be musically tight and danceable. We'd like to hear more from them in the future.

The Tejas Brothers are musically diverse, playing everything from George (Jones and Strait) to Joe Ely and Freddy Fender. Besides being excellent musicians, they're also polished entertainers, and whether you dance or simply listen, you'll enjoy their show. Frontman Dave Perez is an accordion virtuoso with vocal skills and personality to match.

Tejas Brothers at Mercer Street Dance Hall
Tejas Brothers

Venue Overview: Mercer Street Dance Hall is a relatively new (opened in 2013) venue with a unique terraced seating area, full bar, and a family-friendly non-smoking atmosphere. It has a good-sized plywood dance floor that was perfect for boot scootin'. The clientele was diverse, with a big local contingent sprinkled with Austin hipsters.

The following week we made our way to Buchanan Dam for the regular Wednesday live music dance at Pardner's, where Bubba Cox and the Can't Hardly Playboyz did not live up to their name, because those guys can flat out play some classic country and western swing. Bubba's 'Boyz are the house band at The Cotton Club in Granger, but they make the trip west to Buchanan fairly regularly. A highlight was the vocals of the keyboardist, David Kyle.

Venue Overview: Pardner's is the prototypical Texas honky tonk, with an octagonal (and very slippery dance floor that was often too crowded for spot dancing...you'll be fine if you keep moving, though) and a demographic that skews to late baby boomer (not a surprise when you consider the music starts at 5-ish on Wednesdays). It's a big venue, but be warned: smoking is allowed. Fortunately, we didn't see many smokers, and the ventilation system is top-notch.

Our next stop was at the historic Luckenbach Dance Hall to hear The Merles, an Austin quintet that specializes in "classic country and western swing." They had just begun their set when we arrived, and we experienced a bit of cognitive dissonance trying to match the look of the musicians with their sound. I won't try to guess their ages but I feel confident that the music they played was that of their parents (or grandparents). I would also venture to say that Bob Wills, Merle Haggard (the band's namesake), Patsy Cline, and Waylon Jennings would give hearty approval to their musical homage. Their drummer confirmed that they come by their musical tastes honestly; he told me he grew up listening to those classics in the cab of a tractor in the middle of a cornfield in Iowa.

We look forward to hearing them again.

The Merles at Luckenbach
The Merles

Venue Overview: Luckenbach probably competes with Gruene Hall for the title of best known dance hall in Texas. We've danced there on many occasions and always enjoy it. It's another family-friendly venue. The dance floor can be a bit on the crowded side, but on this particular night the tables and benches were arranged so that the dance floor extended down the center of the entire length of the hall, which seemed to open things up more than usual. Note that Luckenbach has no air conditioning, so come prepared to sweat.

We later traveled to Fredericksburg for the annual "Night In Old Fredericksburg" festival, which took place at the Gillespie County Fairgrounds. There was a variety of music throughout the day and night, and we sampled three distinctly different acts.

The first was a polka fusion group (that's totally a thing) from Austin called Off the Grid Band. Forget all of your preconceived notions about polka bands; these guys rocked. They did play some traditional German polkas and Cajun zydeco, but they also covered some rock and pop classics (e.g. the Stones' Paint It Black, Steve Miller's Swingtown and Mungo Jerry's In the Summertime). 

Highlights included the use of a Zendrum as the primary percussion instrument, and the absolute shredding skills of the picker who played a Steinburger-looking guitar. (Here's a good review of the band by a polka expert, which I'm not.)

Off the Grid Band at Fredericksburg
The Off The Grid Band

Venue Overview: OTGB was placed under a tent on a gravelly section of parking lot, so dancing was out of the question for us. That wasn't a problem as much of their music didn't lend itself to our style of dancing, but it was so enjoyable to listen to that we didn't mind. This is another band that we'd like to hear again, although preferably in a non-100-degree afternoon outdoor setting.

We returned to the fairgrounds later that evening in time to catch the end of the set by The Seven Dutchmen Orchestra. I counted nine people in the orchestra, so someone is confused about either nationality or gender. Anyway, this group does specialize in traditional polkas, although we danced one very nice waltz and then watched a Chicken Dance competition that went on far too long (one might say that's redundant, and I wouldn't disagree). If this is your musical stein of beer, keep an eye out for them.

The headliner of the night was the Chris Story Band, based in Kerrville although the members live throughout the Hill Country. We've danced to their music multiple times through the years - they've played in Midland on several occasions - and they're consummate professionals (for example, the piano player was in George Strait's band until his retirement last year). Their first set was a little too heavy on the "bro-country" genre that's unfortunately dominating the contemporary Nashville recording scene at present, but the group is quite versatile and you're sure to hear much that you like throughout the night.

The Chris Story Band at Fredericksburg
The Chris Story Band

Venue Overview: The evening dance was held on the "dance slab" at the fairgrounds, a huge uncovered circular chunk of concrete that will easily accommodate fifty couples or more. Although concrete is not the ideal dance surface, this installation is smooth and works just fine with leather-soled boots. And there's nothing quite as enchanting as dancing under the Texas night sky, with a slight breeze to dispel the day's heat.

Our final stop on this musical tour was at the annual "Beer By The Bay" festival at the Horseshoe Bay Resort. It's two nights of music, food, and of course, beer, held on the lush grounds of the resort hotel. We didn't attend the Friday night performances that featured Pam Tillis and Dale Watson, due to previous commitments, but we were there for the Saturday night performances. (In the interest of full disclosure, even though I'm calling this our "July Live Music Month Tour," the following took place on August 1st. I'm sure you can deal with that.)

The first of those was by Brandon Rhyder, another Texas Country (I'm using that as a genre; if you're from Texas, you'll know what I mean) singer/songwriter from Austin. He had a number of enthusiastic fans (and family members) in the audience, but frankly his music didn't suit us, and the sound system was unfortunately turned up to the point of painful distortion. It may be that the environment was such that we didn't get a chance to fully appreciate his talents.

Brandon Rhyder at Horseshoe Bay
Brandon Rhyder

The next performance was, for us anyway, everything the previous one was not. The Nightowls are a 10-piece soul/R&B/pop ensemble from - you guessed it - Austin, and they had the crowd on its feet throughout the night with original and cover tunes and choreography that evoked Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder, Earth, Wind and Fire, and the Temptations. We bought one of their CDs after the show, but this is a group that you have to see and hear in person to fully appreciate. Highlight: The closing performance of Shout, complete with audience participation.

The Nightowls at Horseshoe Bay
The Nightowls

The BBTB finale featured the legendary Asleep at the Wheel, a group that's been in continuous existence since 1969, although the only constant member is Ray Benson, its founder.

This was our first time to see this group live, and I had wondered if they could live up to the hype. Listen, you don't win nine Grammy Awards for phoning it in, and we found that, if anything, the hype fell short of the reality. You may not even like Western Swing, but if you get a chance to see them in concert, don't pass it up. Highlights included: a completely unexpected and animated sax solo by the steel guitar player, Eddie Rivers (whose persona up to that point appeared to be an incarnation of Junior Samples in a straw Stetson and pearl-snapped short-sleeved shirt); several astounding fiddle duets; and the ultra-bass notes that Benson hit on one song that could be the cause of the earthquakes that are starting to pop up around Texas.

Asleep at the Wheel at Horseshoe Bay
Asleep at the Wheel

Venue Overview: The grass-covered grounds of the Horseshoe Bay Resort are a pleasant setting for these performances, but it's a crime against nature to have groups like The Nightowls and Asleep At The Wheel appear at a venue without a dance floor. Nevertheless, more than a few people braved the lawn in front of the stage to dance, and MLB and I got in a very nice swing dance to one of AATW's tunes. OTOH, if you like to get up close and personal with the musicians, you'll find no better setting that this. There are no barricades in front of the small, low stage so one can get almost uncomfortably close to the performers.

Fish Dinner
July 7, 2015 5:43 PM | Posted in: ,

We were giving some friends an afternoon tour of Horseshoe Bay and were driving across the low water crossing where Slick Rock Creek empties into Lake LBJ when I spotted a crane* diving under the water, presumably in pursuit of a fish. Sure enough, he surfaced shortly thereafter with a large silver fish grasped firmly in his beak.

The crane walked slowly over to a shallow water-filled depression in the rocks and dropped the fish, which was still weakly wriggling. The depression was just deep enough to prevent the fish from escaping back to the lake.

Crane with fish in bill

The bird stood over the fish for a brief moment, seemingly contemplating his next move (or, perhaps, praying over his next meal).

Crane inspecting captured fish

After another brief pause, he bent down, picked up the fish, and...well, you can imagine what happened next. OK, you don't have to imagine, because video. You might want to go to full-screen for the playback.



I stripped out the audio from the movie to spare you the exclamations of "yuck!" at the point the fish went down the bird's gullet and seemed to pause for a last wriggle. That could have just been the crane's throat muscles at work...yeah, we'll go with that.

If this has whetted your appetite (no pun intended) for another video of a bird swallowing an impressive meal, try this one from an earlier trip to South Carolina.

*I've referred to the bird as a crane, but to be honest, I'm just guessing at that. It does vaguely resemble a sandhill crane but the coloring doesn't really match. However, the photos and video aren't sufficiently clear, and I'm not sufficiently knowledgeable, to render a positive ID. Feel free to email me if you have a better idea.
Prickly Pear bloom

The bluebonnets are thinning out in the Texas Hill Country, but wildflower season is far from over. The amazing fields of blue are giving way to even more vivid arrays of yellow, red, and white blooms, and not just from the typical flowering plants. Cacti are busy putting out their own displays of color.

And, of course, where the flowers go, bugs are bound to follow. And, sometimes, creatures more reptilian.

We spent last weekend at Horseshoe Bay and on Sunday afternoon Debbie and I took our cameras out for a walk. The first thing I did was drop my macro lens on the pavement. Fortunately, Canon makes a really rugged lens and even though it suffered a few scratches and dents, it continued to perform perfectly. 

It was quite breezy and those of you who do macro photography know what a challenge it is to get decent closeups when your subject is swaying continuously. But my technique of taking about 8,000 photos at a time paid off in a dozen or so semi-decent images.

Here is some of what we came back with. You know the drill; click on each picture to see a larger, uncropped version, complete with pithy caption.

Rainbow cactus bloom Unknown bug on unknown flower Bluebonnet photobombs cutter bee on firewheel
Hedgehog cactus bloom Bloom on prickly pear (do bugs have allergies?) Flower buds on prickly pear
Blue damselfly Blue damselfly (thinks he's hiding behind that stalk) Unknown bug on unknown flower (again; do I look like an entomologist?)
Unknown bug on knockout rose (in Midland) Bee on knockout rose (in Midland) Prickly pear bloom
Can you spot the lizard?

The following is primarily a photographic essay, with just enough text to give the pictures some context. Click each small photo to see a bigger version. If you see this icon in the upper right corner of the photo - - clicking it will expand the photo even more; click this icon - - to collapse it to its original size. Also, while you can click the arrows to move through all the photos, you'll miss my sparkling commentary by doing that, so exercise moderation in clicking.

Easter weekend 2015 in the Texas Hill Country was all about the wildflowers...well, other than The Real Reason for Easter (more about that later). We've been coming to the Hill Country for about thirty years, and neither of us can remember a spring where the bluebonnets were more plentiful and beautiful than this one. Following are just a handful of photos of some of bluebonnet-centric scenes we encountered in and around Horseshoe Bay.
 
Bluebonnets in the field adjacent to our townhouse complex Bluebonnets between Florentine & Golden Harvest (HSB West) Bluebonnets between Florentine & Golden Harvest (HSB West) Bluebonnets and rocks Bluebonnets with a cactus background Bluebonnets don't just grow in manicured spaces One of the deer in the group grazing among the bluebonnets Fault Line Drive - Horseshoe Bay West

However, it wasn't just about bluebonnets. Nature was doing a bang-up job with other varieties of flowers as well.

Flowers of unknown identity Yellow Flax (Linum berlandieri) A field of Fiveneedle Dogweed (Thymophylla pentachaeta) White Pricklepoppy (Argemone albiflora) Grass head - just because I liked it Dandelion among bluebonnets

Spring also marks the return of the more mobile inhabitants of our townhouse's tiny back yard, chief among them the green anoles that regularly patrol the wrought iron fence.

We're also once again hosting a family of barn swallows over our front door, and hummingbirds were investigating the flowers in the yard. I was even buzzed by a portly bumblebee...a welcome sight given the dire predictions of their dwindling population.

Green Anole displaying its dewlap Green Anole (yes, they can turn brown) Green Anole sunning itself

This weekend of the annual Horseshoe Bay balloon festival. Unfortunately for all involved, the weather was too windy and drizzly for the balloons to lift off. But we didn't realize that the festival was taking place directly across the highway in front of our place, so we had a birds-eye view (albeit a grounded one) of the balloons without leaving home. We did get to witness the balloon glow on Saturday night. (For you photographers, the night shots were made with a 100mm lens, hand-held, with an ISO setting of 1600, and no image stabilization. I think they turned out pretty well.)

Balloons at rest Lighting up the balloons Photo - Lighting up the balloons

Of course, the highlight of any Easter weekend is getting to celebrate and worship our risen Lord with fellow believers, and we did so in a rather unique setting: on the bank of Lake Marble Falls, with the congregation of First Baptist Church, Marble Falls.

The preacher said that there were 1400 people in attendance. I would never accuse him of exercising preacherly hyperbole, but even if there were only a thousand people present, it was still a great turnout on a cool and drizzly Sunday morning.

One interesting aspect of the service is that the church's newly-constructed campus on the top of the hill across the lake, shrouded in the mist. It's a stunningly beautiful campus and setting, and they'll be moving to it next month. We're looking forward to worship in the new facilities. I can only assume they'll be drier.

At the end of the service we all released butterflies. Most of them weren't too interested in flying in the drizzle, which made for an anticlimactic event.

Easter service on the bank of Lake Marble Falls The new campus of First Baptist Marble Falls across the lake (top middle of photo) The preacher delivered his message from a boat

One morning I walked out the front door and noticed that during the night, a giant had stopped by and coated our truck with the dregs from a bag of Cheetos. Well, that was my first thought, but then I realized it was actually pollen from the live oak trees. This is an occupational hazard of living in this area. If you want to get a better picture of what I'm talking about, the following photo shows the surface of the pond behind our complex; that pond scum is actually floating pollen.

Pollen floating on the pond

In closing, I kicked a fire ant bed, just to let them know who's in charge.

And it's not me.

This is what happens when you kick a fire ant mound

Acquiring Culture in the Hill Country
January 9, 2015 2:40 PM | Posted in: ,

During a recent stay at Horseshoe Bay we made a day trip to Fredericksburg, primarily to eat lunch at the Peach Tree Restaurant, but also to browse through the approximately 800 stores crammed into the three-block downtown shopping area. We didn't anticipate that we would leave far more cultured than we arrived...not that that would be a steep hill to climb.

For the record, an overcast 35° mid-week day in early January is the best time to visit F'burg if crowd avoidance is your goal. The Java Ranch Espresso Bar and Café was doing a brisk coffee business, but most of the other shops were barren of customers.

Most of the clothing shops cater to women (shocking, I know), but I did manage to score some awesome ankle artwork at one store:

Socks

My sock drawer is beginning to rival the Louvre, now that it houses (from left) Manet's The Fifer, Toulouse-Lautrec's Moulin Rouge: La Goulue, and Botticelli's The Birth of Venus.

Perhaps you scoff at the idea of cultured footwear, but if you bothered to follow the links I've helpfully provided - we're all about education here at the Gazette - you'd be able to quote the following fascinating facts that are guaranteed to make you the life of any party:

  • The painting of the young flautist was featured in an episode of Hogan's Heroes.

  • La Goulule is French for "the glutton," and presumably referred to Louise Weber's (the real cancan dancer who was the subject of the artwork) penchant for draining the glasses on the table of the patrons lining the dance floor as she moved past them. Also, her favorite partner was a man known as "No Bones" Valentin, due to the fluid contortions he performed on the dance floor. And am I the only one who didn't realize there were male cancan dancers?

  • The original painting of The Birth of Venus is about nine feet tall. Also, there is a bit of subtle and possibly unintended humor in the Wikipedia write-up about the alternate interpretations of this artwork, particularly in the second paragraph of that section of the article. I'll leave the reader to his or her own devices in that regard.
Our last stop at the end of the day was at the River Rustic Gallery. We arrived at precisely 5:00 p.m., not realizing that was the art gallery's closing time. The woman coming out the door as we were going in was actually the manager who was about to lock up. We apologized, explaining that we were just browsing, and started to leave, but she insisted that we come in and look around, assuring us that she had nothing better to do.

This is a relatively new gallery in F'burg, and while it features work from a variety of artists, its focus is on the rock art of Carlos Moseley. And by "rock art" I mean that rocks are literally both his canvas and palette. (If you haven't been to Fredericksburg in a few years, you might remember that he had his own gallery next to the Old German Bakery and Restaurant.)

One piece in particular stood out, a "painting" entitled Two Stepping. See if you can figure out why it caught our eyes:

Rock art by Carlos Moseley

One of our favorite themes in art features fish, and the gallery had a couple of different pieces sculptured from stainless steel from an artist named Bear McLaughlin. Bear is also known as Tammy (yep, she's a she), and hails from Colorado. Based on the little I can find about her on the web - this article is the most insightful I could find - most of her work tends toward a grand scale, but this piece of wall art, entitled Big Fish, is an exception:

'Big Fish' by Bear McLaughlin

Incidentally, I hope we in some small way compensated the kind woman for keeping the gallery open for us as both of these pieces now adorn the master bedroom wall of our weekend place in Horseshoe Bay.

But the preceding examples of fine art were far from the only cosmopolitan culture we acquired during the day in Fredericksburg. I leave you with a view of a wonderful little piece of kinetic sculpture, title unknown. We didn't buy it, but the next time we're in the market for a puking chicken, this will be at the top of our list.


A Bike Ride at Horseshoe Bay
October 31, 2013 9:40 PM | Posted in: ,

Lots going on lately. You'd think it would generate plenty of blog fodder, and you'd be right, but my next post may be entitled "10 Ways to Keep from Writing," because I seem to have perfected the skill of literary silence. Anyway, let it not be said that I missed an entire calendar month, because I'm slipping under the wire with this.

"This," by the way, is some video evidence of the sort of busyness that's kept me from blogging. I can't honestly say that I've chosen poorly, for a bike ride is almost always a superior alternative to just about any other use of time, especially when it's accompanied by the excellent scenery of the Texas Hill Country. Don't be surprised if more of these scenes start popping up on the Gazette.

Music is by The Lost Dogs, in case you're wondering, from their Little Red Riding Hood album.


About this Archive

This page is an archive of recent entries in the Texas Hill Country category.

Texas is the previous category.

Thinking Allowed is the next category.

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