June 2012 Archives

Del Castillo
June 30, 2012 7:35 PM | Posted in: ,

During our recent visit to Fredericksburg, Texas, we caught a performance by Del Castillo, a band that was hitherto unfamiliar to us. The group was appearing at the Crossroads Steakhouse & Saloon, which is a relatively new (opened in early 2010) restaurant on Fredericksburg's main drag (across the street from Hondo's, if you're familiar with the area). 

We had a very good (and high dollar) meal in the restaurant and then took a stroll before returning to the "saloon" part of the establishment for the musical entertainment. The band was supposed to go on stage at 9:30 but that was apparently just a loose suggestion, because it was almost an hour later before they appeared.

They were worth the wait.

We've seen Santana in concert, and Los Lonely Boys. Both groups are icons of Latin rock, and both provide high energy shows featuring blistering guitar work that borders on unbelievable. And in my opinion, Del Castillo merits having either of those groups as an opening act. That may sound musically sacrilegious, but only to those who haven't been to a Del Castillo performance.

Photo - Del Castillo in concert in Fredericksburg, Texas
Sorry for the poor quality; it was the best my phone could do.

Brothers Mark and Rick del Castillo front the band and share the role of lead guitarist. They both play classical nylon-stringed amped guitars, but these are classical guitarists like no one you've ever heard. The following video showcases some of their talents (although this isn't a performance by Del Castillo the group; rather, it's an "all star" group, named Chingon, assembled by Austin filmmaker Robert Rodriguez - who is a pretty fair picker in his own right and introduces the song - but features the del Castillo brothers as well as their lead singer Alex Ruiz). If the song sounds familiar, it's Malagueña Salerosa, which was used by Quentin Tarantino in the soundtrack for Kill Bill, Vol. 2.

Electrifying as they sound in the video, they're even more so in person.

I was especially impressed with Rick del Castillo, who bears an uncanny resemblance to the British actor Alan Rickman:

See, I told you so.

I was even more impressed to learn that Rick graduated from Texas A&M with a degree in biomedical science. He has something to fall back on if the music gig doesn't work out.

I don't think he'll ever need that sheepskin.

We had a great time in Fredericksburg, and sitting ten feet away from the band with only about a hundred other people, and getting to dance to some great Latin rock and blues right in front of the stage was a highlight of the trip. We finally had to call it a night though when the band told the bouncer to waive the cover charge and let in the folks who were listening from the sidewalk. This resulted in one couple doing their impression of "dirty dancing" - much to the amusement of the band, and horror of some of the other spectators - and I told Debbie that when the hookers take to the dance floor, that's our cue to take our leave.

Hot Trike
June 27, 2012 10:07 PM | Posted in: ,

Why didn't we have these when I was a mere yute?

Photo of souped-up tricycle

Yard Art Follow-Up
June 26, 2012 1:59 PM | Posted in: ,

Yesterday's post about the cheesy lawn animals apparently struck a chord with some of you fellow rednecks art connie-sewers. I'm happy to see there are other serious patrons of yard art out there. In particular, I enjoyed hearing from Dale Thompson, an intrepid Gazette reader who enclosed some photos of an occupant of his back yard, along with this narrative: "Of course this is an old photo with the green grass. Went with the old saying 'go big or go home.' Dragon's head is about 9 feet with a 12 foot wingspan. Be careful with yard art; it can get out of hand."

Photo of metal dragon

Is that awesome, or what?

Dale explained that his metal masterpiece is truly a work of art, created by a local artisan and entered in a show in Odessa where it won the People's Choice award.

His warning about things getting out of hand is well-heeded. But, sometimes, too big is just big enough. So I'm kicking myself for not bringing this bad boy home to throw down with the dragon:

Photo of metal knight

As Daenerys will testify, never count out a dragon...but an armor-clad 12-foot-tall knight with a big honkin' sword is also a force to be reckoned with.

It would have almost been worth the $600 purchase price to strap it into the bed of the Ridgeline for the trip home.

Expanding Lawn Menagerie
June 25, 2012 6:38 AM | Posted in: ,

Did you ever pass by one of those stores where the inventory is crammed into a vacant lot and wondered what kind of unwashed, uncultured redneck rabble buys something like that for public display? Well, now you know.

Photo of lawn animals

Now, in our defense, since our lawn is almost dead, thanks to the drought and watering restrictions, we figured these things would be good ways to liven up the landscape. Plus, even the most hoity-toity amongst you can't resist the charms of this fellow:

Photo of metal burro

The spring-mounted head and tail add a certain joie de vivre (or, perhaps, je ne sais quoi) to the overall ambiance, if a poorly assembled metal burro can be said to possess ambiance.

By the way, that longhorn skull is comprised of washers painstakingly welded together by free-range artisans working happily for coffee and organic, gluten-free scones in an idyllic setting overlooking a verdant meadow occasionally inhabited by unicorns. At least, that's what the label says.

Having poked fun at it, it's only fair to point out that to many, this is a legitimate form of folk art, and I can thank Burr Williams, founder of the Sibley Nature Center in Midland, for introducing me to the term rasquache. As he explains in this essay, the term implies "scraping together or scraping by" - making do with what you have. I may be stretching the concept a bit, but this proves we're simply patrons of the arts.

So, all we need now is for the weatherproofing of our Black Velvet Elvis to cure and we'll be in business.

"Honey, I shrunk the bike"
June 20, 2012 10:28 PM | Posted in:

I finally got around to trying my hand at disassembling our new tandem and figuring out how to load it into the truck. I'm not entirely pleased with either activity, but I figure they'll improve with practice.

The biggest problem I had was removing the timing chain. For you non-tandemists, that's the chain that connects the front pedals to the rear pedals, and keeps the riders in sync (hence the "timing" appellation). Unlike with a normal bicycle chain that runs through a derailleur, there's absolutely no slack in the timing chain, and reassembling it would go smoother if I had a couple of extra hands. Fortunately, I have a special tool that allows me to squeeze the loose ends of the chain together and holds them in place while I reinsert the pin that holds the links together.

The actual couplings built into the frame are very easy to disconnect and reconnect, as are the cable couplings. There are two frame couplings and four cable couplings. I initially noticed only three of the latter, and had everything disconnected when I discovered that I'd overlooked one. Much hilarity ensued as I tried to hold the two halves of the frame together with one hand while attempting to unscrew the final cable coupling with the other. Also, certain words may have been uttered.

Here's what the bike looks like broken in two. In case it's not obvious, the first photo is of the back half, and the second photo shows the front half turned upside down.


The two halves fit in the bed of the Ridgeline...barely. I had to remove both wheels, and the tie-down job looks like something out of The Grapes of Wrath. I've decided that the optimal solution for transporting this bike is a hitch-mounted rack. I'll have to remove both seats, but that's a pretty simple process. (The extra-wide handlebars may present a bigger challenge, though. Where's my hacksaw?) The current system pretty much makes the truck bed useless for hauling anything else, and access to the storage compartment is blocked. Plus, it takes 30 minutes to strap everything down securely.


On the upside, the bike clears the garage door opening. Not that I would ever drive under a low-hanging obstacle like, say, the entrance to a certain hotel in Amarillo, Texas.

West Texas from Above: The End
June 19, 2012 10:00 PM | Posted in: ,

Scarily observant Gazette readers Katie Hilburn, Gregg Ulvestad, Jon Wheeler, and Mark Springer correctly identified the final aerial photo in the series as the area around Hogan Park in Midland. The small body of water directly beneath the "fish" (which is a pond at Hogan Park Golf Course) is part of the wonderful nature preserve maintained by the Sibley Nature Center.


Sadly, we've come to the end of the series. It was a good excuse for me to not to have to do any actual blogging. But I've been very impressed with your perceptiveness and with the number of responses (we had a dozen different people submit correct guesses, and more than that participated). Thanks for making this a pretty darned fun project!

West Texas from Above: Part 8
June 15, 2012 10:01 PM | Posted in: ,

Incredibly eagle-eyed Gazetteers Gregg Ulvestad, Lisa Blake, and Les Blalock recognized foto numero siete in our series as..well...as a number of things, all of which were correct although not precisely the answer I was seeking. That's my fault for not being more specific.

The photo is of the Penwell area, a few miles east of Odessa on I-20. The feature that's shown but hardly recognizable is a portion of the Caprock Escarpment. Few people know that the caprock was actually an unintended consequence of an early 20th-century top secret government experiment gone terribly wrong, which resulted in a massive underground explosion that raised many miles of West Texas terrain by several hundred feet (and also provided a serious setback to the careers of a number of formerly prominent scientists and their sponsoring politicians).

OK, not really. It all has to do with some geology stuff, perhaps more scientifically plausible, but definitely more boring.

Anyway, everyone pointed out the cement plant (that big white area in the southeast quadrant of the photo shown below, which is a separate but equal answer. Les even provided some accompanying history (which unfortunately omits any mention of massive underground explosions).


OK, you're probably wearing out your eyes and Google Earth, so let's wrap up the series with one more aerial tableau. This is an urban scene, and it immediately caught my eye, and if you seen anything other than a gecko about to eat a fish, you're just not paying attention.

Don't bother clicking on the picture to see a larger version, because there isn't one.

Viewed from 7,200 feet

West Texas from Above: Part 7
June 13, 2012 6:30 AM | Posted in: ,

Photo of us checking out our scuba gearGazette-crazy map mavens Paula McKinney and Les Blalock recognized the sixth photo in our series as Balmorhea State Park, which has the distinction of not actually being located in Balmorhea, but "Toyahvale State Park" apparently doesn't have the same cachet.

Every scuba diver in West Texas has cruised the crystal waters of Balmorhea. Debbie and I did our check-out dive there when we got certified, and have returned repeatedly to give our the gear the once-over before dive trips. One memorable trip had us surfacing to find a light snow falling; the spring-fed pool is a constant 72°-76°, and it was 40° warmer than the air temperature that day.

Another interesting bit of trivia (well, interesting for us, anyway). If you happen to have a copy of the August, 1988, issue of Texas Highways laying around, check out pages 30-31. They feature a particularly handsome couple intent on checking out their scuba gear. You're forgiven if you didn't recognize us in the photo above; Debbie was rocking her Flashdance look, and I had lost my razor a few years earlier.


We're coming to the end of the series, and I must say that I've been impressed by your ability to ferret out the identity of famous features of West Texas. This next one is obscure enough that if you figure it out as easily as the previous photos, I'll have to consider the possibility that you've installed keylogger software on my computer. Have at it...

Click on the picture to see a larger version (opens in a new window or tab).

Viewed from 10 miles

West Texas from Above: Part 6
June 11, 2012 6:32 AM | Posted in: ,

Photo of warning signCartographically crafty Gazette readers Jon Wheeler, Joe Lee, and Chuck Rubins all correctly identified photo numero cinco as the famed Odessa Meteor Crater, renowned across the galaxy as, well, a semi-big hole in the ground. Some say it's proof that we Earthlings aren't the only ones who have problems texting and driving. Plus, it has snakes, or at least signs alerting one to the possibility of snakes. Or, this could actually be code for "watch out for alien life forms that might have hitched a ride on a big chunk of rock crashing into our planet." Your guess is as good as mine, but I advised heeding the sign on either account. Seriously, though, it's a registered national natural landmark, so no giggling.


Well, I didn't think anyone - let alone three people - would recognize that location, so I have no idea how challenging this next one will be. The only hint I'll give is that you don't have to be from the Midland-Odessa area to know what it is.

Click on the picture to see a larger version (opens in a new window or tab).

Viewed from 15,000'

West Texas from Above: Part 5
June 7, 2012 8:15 PM | Posted in: ,

Astoundingly intelligent Gazette readers Gregg Ulvestad, Chuck Rubins, and Paula McKinney correctly identified aerial photo numero cuatro as the world-famous Monahans Sand Hills State Park.

I have fond memories of the Sand Hills, despite taking two classes of fifth grade boys over for the day as a part of my Sunday School teaching duties. (Word to the wise: windy days and hot dogs don't mix well in that part of the country. I'm still brushing sand out of my teeth, even though that was 20 years ago.) Not only did I learn to sand surf there, but I recall a great zoological moment when, following a particularly wet spring, someone dug up a 9-inch long salamander who had emerged from a lingering water hole. How long had that critter been dormant beneath the sands, waiting for a wet wake-up call? But I digress. For those who didn't recognize the shot, here's something to help you get your bearings. (By the way, Chuck and I would like to know the identity of the oil field offsetting the park to the west.)


OK, I've been pretty easy on you up to this point, but this is where the gloves come off. I shall bow before your cartographical awesomeness if you can identify the following scene.

By the way, we're taking the weekend off here at the Gazette, because we've been working so gosh darned hard bringing you all this bloggy goodness. So the answer will be posted on Monday.

Click on the picture to see a larger version (opens in a new window or tab).

Viewed from 10,000'

West Texas from Above: Part 4
June 6, 2012 10:01 AM | Posted in: ,

Loyal Gazette reader Joe Lee once again had way too much time on his hands and easily identified aerial photo numero tres in this series as a view of Big Bend National Park, which covers almost a million acres of the most starkly beautiful country you'll ever lay eyes on. Don't let the apparent desolation fool you; life abounds here. From the National Park Service's website:
Big Bend is famous for its natural resources and spectacular geology. The park is home to more than 1,200 species of plants (including approximately 60 cacti species), 11 species of amphibians, 56 species of reptiles, 40 species of fish, 75 species of mammals, 450 species of birds, and about 3,600 species of insects. The park boasts more types of birds, bats, and cacti than any other national park in the United States.


We continue our aerial tour of West Texas with another striking natural phenomenon. We get a little closer to earth than before, only about six miles up. This one should be a piece of cake.

Click on the picture to see a larger version (opens in a new window or tab).

Viewed from 33,000'
For those who were unable to experience the joyous, mystical, deliriously magnificent spectacle of Venus crawling across the face of old Sol like a mobile blackhead, you'll get another chance to see it in about 105 years. But if you have other plans - like, say, washing your flying car or catching Betty White live on the 200th season of Dancing With The Stars - never fear. I've painstakingly rendered a faithful, um, rendering of today's astronomical anomaly, so that no one will have to miss out on this special event.

And, as is so often the case where serendipity smiles on the innocent bystander, I also managed to capture a concurrent astronomical event that happened so quickly that I doubt that anyone but me saw it, much less recorded it. What can I say? That's mi vida loca, you know. Anyway, scroll down and tell your grandkids you saw it here. (Bonus: If you scroll really, really fast, you'll get a special visual treat.)

Scientific Rendering
Scientific Rendering
Scientific Rendering
Scientific Rendering
Scientific Rendering
Scientific Rendering
Scientific Rendering
Scientific Rendering
Scientific Rendering
Scientific Rendering

West Texas from Above: Part 3
June 4, 2012 8:07 PM | Posted in: ,

Perspicacious Gazette readers Wallace Craig and Berry Simpson correctly identified aerial photo numero dos in this series as a view of Guadalupe Mountains National Park, home of the highest spot in Texas, and an irresistible attraction to hikers from around the country. The most obvious attractions are Guadalupe Peak and the imposing face of El Capitan, shown below. Neither looks too impressive from 28 miles in the sky, but the view from ground level is amazing, as is the one from the top of Guadalupe Peak.


OK, the first two have been pretty easy, at least for most people familiar with West Texas. It gets a little more challenging now. How good are you at recognizing terrain from an altitude of almost 50 miles? Some people might wonder if this is even a picture of earth.

Click on the picture to see a larger version (opens in a new window or tab).

Viewed from 49 miles

West Texas from Above: Part 2
June 3, 2012 6:30 AM | Posted in: ,

Alert Gazette reader Joe Lee correctly identified the initial aerial photo in this series as the Yates oil field, located in Pecos County. As indicated below, the town of Iraan is in the northeast quadrant of the photo, and the Pecos River meanders down the east side. The Yates field is one of the largest oil producing properties in the US; more than one billion barrels have been pumped from the field and it's still active.


Ready for the next mystery scene? This one focuses on one of the most significant natural wonders of West Texas. It's a beautifully desolate area (OK, not that unusual for our part of the country), but that doesn't stop it from attracting thousands of visitors each year.

Click on the picture to see a larger version (opens in a new window or tab).

Viewed from 28 miles

Life with the new Elliptigo
June 2, 2012 7:11 AM | Posted in: ,

We've had our Elliptigo for about two months, and the Gulfstream recumbent tandem for almost a month, but we still have surprisingly little experience with either one. This is due to a combination of travel schedules, weather, assorted family issues, and, you know, just life in general playing hob with our leisure plans.

I have been able to take the Elliptigo out for a couple of extended rides, one for 10 miles and another for 12, plus a handful of shorter cruises around the neighborhood, and I can share a few observations for anyone who is contemplating an investment in this peculiar form of transportative exercism.

  • The Elliptigo has the aerodynamic precision of a dumpster (I almost compared it to the south end of a north-bound dump truck, but I guess there could be wind-cheating dump trucks somewhere in the world). The tiny wheels and inherent pedaling motion guarantee a workout in any conditions, but add a little headwind and you'll empathize with the Tour de France cyclists laboring up Alpe d'Huez.

  • The bike is not well-suited for rough pavement, or unpaved trails. The aforementioned small wheels, high-pressure tires (100 psi), and stiff frame transmit every bump and hole to the rider. The bike feels solid for the most part, but it's not something you'd want to jump curbs with.

  • Photo
    Not me. And not Midland.
    I'd pay to see a circus act featuring someone skilled enough to ride an Elliptigo hands-free, because I don't think it can be done. The handling is plenty stable if you have a good grip on the bars, but "squirrelly" is an understated adjective for riding with one hand. The rake (or trail? I always get 'em confused) of the front fork combined with the exaggerated "pedaling" motion is such that you need to concentrate on what you're doing. Now, I'm sure this will be less of an issue with practice, but it's never going to disappear. 

  • One important implication of the preceding observation is that a hydration pack is almost essential for rides long enough (or in hot enough weather) to require water. This assumes that you won't pull over for a drink...I've never seen anyone serious about exercising who's willing to do that. The act of extracting a water bottle from a cage with one hand, taking a drink, and returning it to the cage requires skill and balance that's beyond me, and I think I'm fairly competent in both areas. Plus, there's really no good place to mount a water bottle cage other than on the handlebar.

  • I'm not sure whether I've dialed in the proper riding position; the user guide is so intent on warning you about all the ways you can die on the bike that it neglects to talk much about ergonomics. Although, really, there are only a couple of adjustments you can make: the position of the handlebars and their height. The latter is the more important of the two. I think the first time I went for a long ride, the handlebar height was too low and I experienced some back pain as a result. I raised the bars for the second ride and that helped.

  • Did I mention that riding the Elliptigo provides a good workout? As in death-march-brutal-slog-cry-all-the-way-home good? Sure, you can coast (which turns out to be surprisingly uncomfortable until you find the sweet spot of body position relative to foot placement), but if you have only 30 minutes for a workout and you don't want to suffer through a boring indoor routine, this device will git 'er done. It stresses body parts that don't get much attention during regular cycling or running workouts, not to mention providing a powerful aerobic routine. [Disclosure: I've never been an aficionado of stationary elliptical trainers, so I didn't come to the Elliptigo with a relevant base of fitness. In other words, I have no muscle memory to help me; your mileage and/or pain threshold may vary.] 

    It does give one a deeper appreciation of what this guy is accomplishing:

  • For what it's worth, I averaged about 13 mph for the two longer rides. Both were on fairly windy days, which is par for the course in our neck of the desert. I haven't mounted a computer on the bike, but the MapMyRide iPhone app does a great job of keeping track of the important stats.
I realize this seems to be a lengthy laundry list of Things I Don't Like About the Elliptigo, but in reality, I think it's both a lot of fun, and an efficient way to get some exercise at your own pace. I like not having to wear special shoes or workout-specific clothing. But it's an expensive machine, so it's important to understand as many pros and cons before making the investment.

By the way, if you decide to buy one, please treat it as a regular bicycle when it comes to the rules of the road. Ride with traffic, not against it, and wear a helmet (which I do faithfully, despite what you saw in the video). And be prepared to return many smiles of passing motorists...even if you can't take your hand off the bars to return their waves.

And speaking of bicycles, I'll have a similar report on the Gulfstream soon. We've had some interesting challenges with it.

West Texas from Above: A Series
June 1, 2012 5:11 PM | Posted in: ,

I'm fascinated by aerial photography, and especially by the images provided by Google Earth. Apart from their cartographic usefulness, which has assumed greater significance because of my new job, the different perspective on natural and human-created features provides a constant source of delight. Sure, there's something of a voyeuristic thrill from peering into the neighbors' backyards - or so I've heard - but the real treat is the way that features that are so familiar at ground level take on new characteristics when viewed from miles above the earth. The world somehow becomes more accessible, more comprehensible.

I have no idea how many Gazette readers share this fascination, but I want to issue a friendly challenge. I'm going to post a series of screen captures of various geographic features located across West Texas; the challenge is to see how many of them you recognize. If you've never lived in this area, you'll likely have a hard time identifying any of them, and that's OK. I wouldn't have a clue as to what East Texas looks like from the sky. But if you're a long-time resident of the Llano Estacado or Permian Basin, some or all of these photos should at least have a ring of familiarity to them.

There are nine photos in all. I'll post them one at a time over the course of the next few weeks. Feel free to leave your guesses in the comments or email them to me if my sucky commenting process won't work for you. At some point, I'll post all the answers.

I guess it's only fair to drop a hint for each photo. This first scene should be recognizable to anyone who's in the oil business in West Texas. Oil fields are everywhere, but there aren't many like this one.

Click on the picture to see a larger version (opens in a new window or tab).

Viewed from 38,000'

About this Archive

This page is an archive of entries from June 2012 listed from newest to oldest.

May 2012 is the previous archive.

July 2012 is the next archive.

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