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Nocona, Texas: A pleasant surprise
April 9, 2017 8:03 PM | Posted in: ,

Our road trip began in Midland, Texas, after lunch last Thursday and ended 950 miles later, on the following Saturday morning. During that time, we--MLB, my mother, and I--traveled through some of the best and worst parts of Texas.

The purpose of the trip was twofold, with one being significantly more enjoyable than the other. Our immediate destination was the city cemetery at Nocona, where we would attend the graveside service of my mother's sister who passed away about a week earlier.

Our second stop would be in Fort Worth, where my mother would visit with her remaining sibling (out of the original eleven twelve*), an older sister who was unable to travel to attend the service.

The round trip from Midland to Nocona, then to Fort Worth and back to Midland was about 720 miles. The remainder of the mileage came on Saturday morning when we drove Mother home to Fort Stockton and then returned to Midland.

Below is a map showing the route we took, in case you want to retrace our tire tracks. The annotations didn't appear on the original Google Map, but they should have.

Google Map excerpt

The drive from Midland to Abilene is rarely a treat for the eyes, and this trip was no exception, although the appearance of thick patches of bluebonnets around Sweetwater, thanks to the mild winter and timely rainfall, was a pleasant surprise. But the real surprise came as we turned northward from Abilene and entered the hilly plateau country of north central Texas (it probably has a specific regional name, but darned if I could find it). I've only been that way a few times, but I had never seen the foliage so green and thick nor the ponds, creeks, and lakes so full. An added pleasure was the absence of oilfield service trucks and oil tankers, an increasingly rare phenomenon in the Permian Basin.

While the second half of the drive to Nocona was a pleasant surprise, the actual town of Nocona was doubly so. We had reservations at the Red River Station Inn, located in the heart of downtown (if you can apply such anatomical references to an area of two blocks), and it turned out to be a delightful place to stay. The RRSI is a B&B-style inn consisting of ten rooms, each with a theme based on regional historical characters (we stayed in the Quanah Parker and Joe Hancock rooms. I knew about Quanah Parker, but I was unfamiliar with Joe Hancock, which turns out to be the name of both a famous Texas quarter horse and the man who owned him).

Photo - Red River Station Inn front desk
Front desk and spiral staircase leading to dining room and veranda

Photo - Red River Station Inn 1st floor hallway
The Inn's first floor layout seems to mimic an Old West town main street.

Photo - Red River Station Inn front desk
The decor in the 2nd floor hallway leading to the veranda is indisputably Texan.

The innkeeper and owner, Bob Ferguson, helped design and remodel the existing building to create the hotel, and the before-and-after photos on the website give some idea of the work that went into that project. It would be a great weekend getaway for anyone within a hundred miles of Nocona, and I'm not the only one to think that...reservations are hard to come by this time of year.

The inn offers free beer and wine in the evenings in the upstairs dining room and veranda, and DIY breakfasts each morning. An additional dining option is next door at the newly-constructed Red River Pizzeria, another pleasant surprise, featuring a variety of pasta dishes as well as hand-tossed pizzas.

Nocona and the surrounding area apparently has a lot going on. The town has a museum showcasing 120 classic cars (located downtown), and the annual classic car show and auction in May attracts people from all over the country. We also met the co-owners of the 4R Ranch Winery who described an apparently never-ending series of events, both public and private, going on at their location near Muenster, a short drive from Nocona. Several new businesses have opened or will soon open in downtown Nocona. 

Photo - Bench made from pickup bed
You can't park your truck on the sidewalk, but you can still sit on the pickup bed.

And if all that's not enough to attract you, the town has what I believe are the widest downtown parking spaces in the world. Seriously, I could have parked my truck sideways in the angled space. If the town achieves its apparent goal of becoming the next Fredericksburg, it will have to narrow those spaces to provide more parking.

Photo - Red River Station Inn and street parking
Those cars in front of the Inn are NOT parallel-parked.

Following a short but sweet and moving graveside service for my aunt, we headed for Fort Worth for another short and sweet visit with another aunt. This drive wasn't as pleasant as the previous day's, however, as we spent more time than desired on that special piece of Hell on Earth known at Interstate 35. Crews have been working on I-35 since the Ice Age, and will undoubtably be working on it when Jesus returns (much to the relief of those who will be raptured from the non-moving traffic in which they've been trapped since childhood). I told my mother that I'm now officially too old to ever do that again, and she agreed.

As an aside, I mentioned above that my aunt and my mother are the two remaining children from a brood of eleven twelve*. I find it interesting to reflect on the naming conventions their parents employed for the kiddos. I'm going to try to list the siblings, from oldest to youngest (more or less; some of the older details are fuzzy), to give you a taste of how children's names have changed over the past century. There was Seiver, Tressie, Ora, Odell, Richard (they obviously slipped up there and succumbed to conventionality), Rease, Curtis*, Burtis, Helen (another middle-of-the-road name), Euvela, Melba, and Jasper.

Now, contrast that with the siblings on my dad's side: Ray, Robert, John, Joe, Martin, Sally, Alice, David, Margaret. My dad's parents apparently drew on the Hardy Boys collection for naming inspiration.

We spend a little more than an hour visiting in Fort Worth, and besides the nice time with my aunt and her son and his wife, I also scored a few packages of waffle mix from my cousin Jerry, aka The Wafflemeister. (His secret: mix buttermilk and sweet milk in equal portions. But you didn't hear it from me.) We then hit the road for the return trip at about 5:00 p.m. and you know what that means. Fortunately, we made pretty good time getting away from Fort Worth and the further west we went, the lighter the traffic.

We did see the aftermath of three accidents, one of which was a horrific multi-vehicle affair that necessitated the landing of a life-flight helicopter on the interstate and backed up traffic for about five miles. Fortunately for us, all of those wrecks were on the eastbound side of the interstate, and our only delays were from the rubberneckers on our side.

This was not a trip I'd care to repeat on a regular basis, but all things considered, it was a good time and accomplished a couple of worthy goals.

*Update: Thanks to cousin Marshall for reminding me that I forgot my Uncle Curtis (which made for twelve sibs, not eleven. In my [weak] defense, I'm not sure that I ever met Curtis. But he shouldn't be forgotten.
Texas has 500 times more water underground than anything you see above the surface.  The question is, how much do we pump and how fast?
Late last year I reported on a project called Our Desired Future that focuses on issues surrounding groundwater conservation in Texas. I'm now happy to report that the new ODF website has launched, and one of its first video features is about the "rule of capture" in Texas, using Pecos County and Fort Stockton - my hometown - as examples of the complications that arise when people are allowed to legally pump all the water they can.

You can watch it on the ODF website, or you can view it right here:

Our Desired Future is an impressive and interesting resource for anyone interested in the potential impact of groundwater depletion in Texas. Most of our state is no longer in the grip of the years-long drought that emptied many of our lakes, but we're in no position to be complacent with respect to water usage. Education is key to combating complacency.

Regardless of where you come down on the issue of water ownership, the stories and statistics on the new website are worth spending time with.
Alert Gazette readers may recall this post from almost two years ago, where I tracked down and photographed the elusive flow of Comanche Springs in Fort Stockton. To my knowledge, that was the last time the springs flowed, thanks to a combination of drought and continued heavy irrigation in the Belding Draw area just west of town.

Photo - Comanche Springs source

The region has had some fairly heavy rainfall over the past few weeks, but I haven't been down there to see if the springs are flowing. But we haven't seen any reports of flow in the local newspaper, and that phenomenon usually makes the front page.

So why bring this up? Well, I received an email yesterday from someone who ran across that post and wants to use some of my photos in an intriguing project entitled Our Desired Future. The accompanying website describes it as "a multimedia project to educate Texans on the interdependence of our groundwater, springs and rivers," with a stated goal "to inspire Texans to bring about the changes needed to keep waters flowing for future generations."

This is a laudable goal, and as far as I can tell, there's no hidden agenda. The material on the website presents a balanced look at the often-conflicting motivations of the various stakeholders in our state's water resources, and it effectively presents the dilemmas via stories, anecdotes, interviews, etc. with the goal of helping us understand the nature and magnitude of the problems, which unfortunately seem to have no easy answers.

Regardless, it was interesting to see that the first report focused on something going on in the aforementioned Belding Draw area of Fort Stockton, where Clayton Williams, Jr's son is undertaking something quite unfamiliar to West Texans: rice farming.

I don't have the time or energy (or knowledge) to explain the complex issues, although the story does a pretty good job of at least skimming the surface. But I do want to weigh in on something that the article touches on, and that's the idea that even if water can't be exported in liquid form straight from the source, it is still being exported in the form of crops. From this perspective, rice farming in arid West Texas is a bit of a provocative political statement. Jeff Williams, the farmer, admits that it's not logical, but he says that his family isn't being allowed to sell their water via pipeline so they're doing so via water-intensive crops such as rice and alfalfa (along with something called teff grass). And he wonders why there's a difference in the way the two are perceived.

Again, I'm not qualified to describe, much less assess, the legal issues involved, but I feel confident that there's at least one perceptual factor that muddies the waters, pun intended, and that's the perceived value of the potential uses for water that might be sold to someone else. It's pretty easy to make a case that using water to grow food is an entirely different endeavor than selling water for use in filling swimming pools or irrigating private landscaping comprised of non-native grasses, trees and shrubs that probably should never have been planted in the first place. We can argue about whether the latter uses are as economically valuable as the former, and in both cases the water is taken from its source and consumed, but I'm sure that most people will have an emotionally-charged preference.

The only quibble I have with the article itself is the statement that 35 million gallons of water can be pumped from the aquifer underlying Belding Draw every day and "still leave room to spare." The data I've seen varies depending on the agenda of those who paid for it, leading me to believe that no one really knows for sure, and no one can predict with certainty what will happen to that aquifer if the current drought persists and worsens. If this sounds like something you've heard me say before, you have a great memory.

As I mentioned at the top, Our Desired Future has some lofty and worthwhile goals. If you'd like to provide some financial support to help the team execute their plans, their website tells you how to do that.

Any thoughts? Feel free to share them via email or my Facebook page.
Most of Texas was blessed last week with some of the best rainfall we've had in months, and lake levels across the state reflected the results of that bounteous precipitation. However, one lake that didn't get much benefit was Lake Travis, outside of Austin, as you can tell in the photo below.

Water in West Texas ditch

Sad, isn't it? OK, just kidding*.That's actually what's left of the standing water in a ditch (of unknown origin and purpose) just south of our neighborhood. On those rare occasions when we get enough rain, this ditch becomes a magnet for pickup trucks driven by teenagers (or full grown men who wish they were teenagers) to go mudding.

I took the photo this afternoon during a run through the pastures surrounding our neighborhood. We normally have a dance class on Thursday nights, but our teacher canceled on us - I think she can take only so much of our ineptitude - and so I had an unexpected opportunity for a workout. It was the first time I'd been out on the trails, and I figured I should give it a try before it got too hot (today's temps were in the upper 80s).

Running on trails is more entertaining than running in the street. I have to focus more on the terrain and foot placement (as well as being attuned to the possibility of rattlesnakes), and thus I don't dwell quite as much on how miserably out of running shape I am. It did occur to me, however, that trail running is sort of like riding a conventional road bike in that you spend most of your time staring at what's immediately in front of you instead of taking in all the surrounding scenery (as we can do on our recumbent bike).

Anyway, I also think that running on dirt is easier on my aging (aged?) legs and feet, and navigating the varying terrain is also good for my balance. All of these benefits are somewhat offset by the continuous feeling that I'm going to keel over and die at any moment due to the effects of unfamiliar exertion, but, is a risk, right?

Seriously, no matter how many cycling miles you get, no matter how many hours you spend on the elliptical, no matter how much iron you pump...the only way you get into running shape is to either go back in time forty years, or, you know, run. The former approach is desirable but unfortunately just out of reach, and the latter takes time and energy.

Nevertheless, it was a good run, if depressingly slow. But I'm at the point where it really doesn't bother me to record 9:30 miles, especially if I can rationalize them by pointing out that trail running is inherently slower than street running. Plus, as I said before, this was like a free workout so it's all good. Now, we'll see if I'm singing that tune in the morning when I fall out of bed.

I didn't spot a lot of wildlife - a few Texas spotted whiptails, a couple of cottontails and one jackrabbit, several pairs of quail, and zero rattlers. Barn swallows were swooping over the ditch water shown above, and I heard a few mockingbirds making fun of my running style. I also thought I caught a whiff of skunk at one point, but it was later in the run so it was probably just me.

By the way, for the benefit of any local runners who might come across this, here's a map of the route around Woodland Park; it's a little less than four miles.

Route map

Those zig-zags are simply mileage extenders...some dirt roads going in and out of the undeveloped part of the neighborhood.

If you think you'd like to try off-road running, I recommend getting some use-specific shoes. I really like my New Balance 910s - dumb name but great shoe. They're stable, work well with my orthotics, and I never have to worry about trapping gravel in the treads that could scratch our hardwood floor. They look like a kid threw up eight flavors of cotton candy on them, but I can live with that.

*Well, actually, that photo isn't all that far from reality for Lake Travis.
I don't write about political matters very often, primarily because it's just not that much fun. But sometimes a story comes along that demands the widest possible platform. [Note: That last sentence has nothing whatsoever to do with Gov. Christie or his alleged TrafficConeJamNeenerNeenerMayorGate. Unless you think it does.]

The revelation that the Democrats' über-liberal Texas gubernatorial golden girl candidate, Wendy Davis, might have fudged just the teensiest bit on her biography is one of those compelling story lines that needs wider distribution, because I doubt you're going to see much about it in the national media. And if you think this is just a Texas issue, you're probably missing the bigger picture. Like it or not, Texas politics have a way of morphing into national politics.

Anyway, the Dallas Morning News reports that Davis "blurred key facts" about her travails as a single mom who pulled herself up by her bootstraps and graduated from Harvard Law School through sheer determination and grit. It's a great story, at least until the facts sort of mess it up.

Here are the key parts of the DMN report:
Davis was 21, not 19, when she was divorced. She lived only a few months in the family mobile home while separated from her husband before moving into an apartment with her daughter.

A single mother working two jobs, she met Jeff Davis, a lawyer 13 years older than her, married him and had a second daughter. He paid for her last two years at Texas Christian University and her time at Harvard Law School, and kept their two daughters while she was in Boston. When they divorced in 2005, he was granted parental custody, and the girls stayed with him. Wendy Davis was directed to pay child support.
In other words, the true single parent was actually her ex-husband, an apparently very beneficent man who cashed in his 401K and took out a loan to pay for Wendy's Harvard education. In case you're wondering, an academic year at Harvard Law School is the tune of $79K (today; granted, it was a bit cheaper in 1993 when Wendy's ex-husband's investment paid off...for her, anyway). Oh, and tuition nowadays at TCU is a cool $36,500 per semester, so multiply that times four and add and stir.

I freely admit that I don't like what Wendy Davis stands for. Her aggressively pro-abortion agenda is odious to me, and I can think of few things worse than to have her as our next governor. That alone is sufficient reason for me to speak out against her agenda. But as we get to know more about the "real" Wendy, it should become even more obvious that voters haven't up to this point gotten a true picture of the glamorized "crusader." 

Fall Fredericksburg Fandango
September 25, 2013 9:50 PM | Posted in: ,

We've just returned from a long weekend in Fredericksburg, where we were able to do many of the things we like to do best, including bicycling, dancing, and eating.

We stayed at a bed and breakfast on North Cherry Street, in a quiet neighborhood close to the western edge of town. It's one of the few B&Bs in the area that gives off a distinct Santa Fe vibe, both from an architecture and a landscape perspective. It also has the distinct advantage of being roomy enough to park a 10-foot-long bicycle inside without disrupting the flow of the space. I'd give you the name of it, but I don't want anyone else staying there so it will always be available for us. Well, that and the fact that I can't remember. That seems to happen a lot nowadays. What were we discussing?

Even though much of the Texas Hill Country enjoyed torrential downpours - and Fredericksburg got its share - we were still able to get in bike rides every day of our stay. I don't believe in karma, but one might make a convincing case that this was payback for our Memorial Day trip where we hauled the bike 300 miles only to watch it sit forlornly in the steady rain that kept us off it for the entire weekend. Anyway, we rode a total of 62 miles - a metric century, if you care about such things - and nothing fell off the bike, including us. That's always A Very Good Thing.

As an aside, we can remember when we rode that far plus a hundred miles on long weekend trips to the Hill Country. It would be nice to think that we could still do that, but as we get more miles on ourselves, getting more miles on the road no longer holds a great attraction. We just need to ride enough to justify eating well.

Following are a few photos from around the B&B. By the way, in the interest of accuracy in advertising, they should change the name of these facilities to "B&C," where the "C" stands for "coupons." Almost no one still offers breakfast. Instead, you get a coupon to apply towards a meal (generally breakfast or lunch) at a few choices of restaurants. Our hosts provided us with $7 coupons (per person), which we chose to use each morning at the Java Ranch Espresso Bar & Cafe where the kolaches, cinnamon rolls, and pecan coffee are highly recommended.

Photo - Passionflower
This passionflower was blooming in front of our B&B.

Photo - Green Anole
The geckos and green anoles (like this one) were busy
keeping the insect population in check.

Photo - Bugs on Cactus
Well, some insects were spared. These were getting ready to rumble.

Photo - Snails
Conspiratorial gastropods creep me out. They're talking about me, I just know it.

For those who are familiar with the Fredericksburg dining scene, we had dinner at Pasta Bella, Navajo Grill, and Crossroads Steakhouse, and lunch at the Peach Tree Tea Room, Bejas Grill, and Cranky Frank's. Yeah, that's right...not a German restaurant in the bunch. Oh, and we enjoyed fine al fresco dining at Luckenbach on Saturday evening; more about that later. I have to say that the lunches were uniformly superior to the dinners, although Pasta Bella never disappoints.

We made the obligatory side trip to the Wildseed Farms. It was nice to be there in double-digit temperatures. Seems like the last few times we've visited, it's been 100º+. And while it's no longer peak wildflower season, the grounds were in excellent shape, especially the butterfly garden.

Photo - Butterfly Garden
The Wildseed Farms butterfly garden was resplendent.

Photo - Butterfly Garden
We're getting toward the end of butterfly season in Texas,
but that just makes us appreciate those that are left that much more.

As I mentioned above, we played tag with the rainshowers during the entire weekend. We got in a two hour ride Thursday morning without getting out of the city limits (we were checking out real estate), and got back to home base about an hour before the rain started.

On Friday morning - the day that the forecast called for a 100% chance of rain - we contemplated taking a rest, but then decided to try to get in a brief ride. We had a very pleasant 45 minutes on the bike, and returned just as a light sprinkle was beginning. But within 20 minutes after pulling the bike into the house, here's what kicked in:

That's an awfully purty sound to a Texan's ears, especially if you're not hearing it from the soggy seat of a bicycle ten miles from home.

Saturday was clear and cool, if a little breezy, and we did a 30-mile ride into the country, where we enjoyed a number of pleasant and/or provocative sights.

Photo - Rushing river waters
It was good to see water in the Guadalupe and Pedernales Rivers.

Photo - Road sign
It was also good to know that we could squeak by on the weight limit.

Photo - Mushrooms sprouting in a cow pattie
You know that saying about blooming where you're planting?
Is this what they had in mind?

Photo - Turtle in road
This turtle was obviously disoriented by the rain, as he left the safety
of the mud for the danger of the road. (We rescued him.)

Photo - Rough green snake
This guy (gal?) picked a dangerous spot to catch some rays.

This beautiful creature is a rough green snake (some might refer to it as a grass snake). I had to look it up, because we don't have them in our neck of the woods, unless they're brought in with loads of non-native trees or shrubs. It was laying motionless in the middle of a rural road, one that was fortunately not well-traveled.

He didn't move a scale while I took a series of photos, and, in fact, I finally had to grab his tail to convince him to move off the road and into the pasture.

Photo - Rough green snake
She (he?) was wary but unmoving.

Photo - Rough green snake
Is this a threatening countenance? I think not.
(I've taken a lot of snake photos in my time, but this might be my favorite.)

One of the main reasons we like visiting the Hill Country are the plentiful and diverse choices of live music. There's no lack of dancing opportunities either, although claiming a spot on the dance floor is often a contact sport. (We're not averse to cutting the legs out from under our fellow dancers, provided they're older and slower than us. Which, come to think of it, never happens.)

On Friday night, we moved from the restaurant to the saloon at Crossroads, where a band out of Austin called the Debonaires performed a surprising variety of modern country and classic rock. Seriously guys, the ironic name is fine for those who know you, but we almost skipped it thinking you were a Fifties do-wop group. Not that there's anything wrong with Fifties do-wop, mind you. Crossroads has the world's tiniest dance floor, and some of the most inebriated young-women-whose-dates-won't-dance-with-them-so-they-"dance"-with-each-other. I'd insert air quotes around "dance" if I knew how, but I trust you know what I mean. Nevertheless, we weren't deterred.

Saturday had more opportunities than we could handle. Almost Patsy Cline was performing in Harper at 8:00 p.m., while Chris Story's CD release concert and dance was scheduled at Luckenbach at 9:00. Then, back at Crossroads, Del Castillo was also set for a 9:00 show. We've seen, heard, and danced to all of them, and they're each outstanding in their own way, but we decided to head out to Luckenbach.

We got to Luckenbach early enough to grab something to eat at the walk-up diner, and then got some prime seats inside the dance hall. It was eventually standing room only, and once again we had to fight for space on the dance floor. But that's sorta part of the fun of really is a family-friendly venue, and there were kids in strollers and octogenarians, and everything in between.

The band was even more awesome than usual. Chris has brought his band to Midland several times over the past few years, so we knew what to expect. But he's got a new guitar player (who also produced the new CD and wrote many of the songs) and he's absolutely amazing.

If you've been to Luckenbach, you know that the seating is at rows of picnic tables lined up perpendicular to the stage. The bench seating and limited space means that you'll likely be joined by strangers, and we eventually found ourselves surrounded by a group of folks who seemed to know each other, even though they were from different cities. As it turned out, one group was from Big Spring (just a few miles down the road from Midland, for you readers who aren't from our part of the state), and they were so excited to find some other West Texans that we were apparently made honorary family members (right down to the farewell hugs at the end of the night). In addition, one of the men in the group - Bryan Maynard - wrote one of the songs on the CD, which was pretty cool. And, on top of everything else, he gave us a copy of the new CD (entitled Chapter can buy it here, but it's not available for download yet).

By the way, Chris Story and his band will be in Midland - along with Almost Patsy Cline - for the Wine and Music Festival in early October. 

So, that about wraps up our trip report, and...uh...what's that? Shopping? Well, yes, shopping did take place, and I even captured some photographic evidence. Sort of.

If you're a regular visitor to Fredericksburg, you probably know about Madlyn's, a women's clothing and accessories store that's well away for the main shopping area. It's been there forever, and I have no idea how they stay in business - we were there for an hour on Saturday afternoon and were the only customers during that time. But they do manage to stock some good stuff; Debbie seems to always find something and this trip was no exception. But here's what caught my attention:

Photo - Ceiling tiles

Recognize it? Well, sure, it's a section of ceiling tiles, but it's also apparently a part of the store's sound system. As far as I can tell, they've scattered their speakers around the store behind the tiles, so as you walk around the sound sort of fades in and out without an apparent source. It's really not a bad idea. However, it was sort of jarring to hear Texas rock from an Austin radio station coming from the ceiling of a store that caters to women who cut their musical teeth on the Lawrence Welk Show.

May 29, 2013 10:09 PM | Posted in: ,

Even though there is some Biblical support for the adage that if you want to hear God laugh, tell Him your plans, I've never bought into that concept except as it applies to plans that are clearly contrary to His will. And so when I tell you that we took our bike to Fredericksburg for a long weekend of riding and ended up getting on it not even once because it rained every day, don't believe for a second that I think God broke a region-wide drought just to foil our plans.

Not that it didn't cross my mind.

But I do believe that when a door closes, a floor opens, and thus we found ourselves in the happy position of dancing through an entire Memorial Day weekend, in ways we never imagined. But I'm getting ahead of myself. And I hope you're intrigued enough to stick around for yet more vacation slides.

But first, you need to know that I now plan to devote my life to becoming the premier frottoirist in Texas, if not the world, as I've come to realize that the rubboard represents the pinnacle of musical achievement in the history of mankind. There's really no higher calling.

Frottoir player - Zydeco Angels
My new musical hero


We booked three nights in the "Gabrielle" unit of the Patio Sisters bed & breakfast (motto: "big breakfast"). If you follow the preceding link, you'll see a professional presentation of the photos I took, shown below, except you'd never know there was a toilet by looking at the professional pictures. So I recommend going with mine, especially since I spent so much time on them. But it's your call.

Exterior View Our door had a name The patio The fireplace More patio We never even uncovered the hot tub The interior was spare We were never sure of the barrel's purpose Good bed, excessively pillowed Country chic ceiling Metal-lined shower with bumpy floor Ah...there's the toilette

Here are the takeaways from the weekend's accommodations:


  • Great location - within walking distance of Main Street, but far enough to escape much of the traffic noise.
  • Quiet
  • New constructions - clean and well-maintained; everything worked
  • Comfortable bed and effective HVAC

  • The corrugated metal and rustic wood motif was a bit tiresome
  • River rock on shower floor very uncomfortable on some feet, and overhead "rain" shower head may not be everyone's cup of tea
  • No closets. No chest of drawers or bureau. No problem if you don't mind living out of your suitcase.
There was a time when I'd have listed "no breakfast" as a drawback, but the current standard seems to be to provide certificates good for breakfast (or, frequently, lunch) at local eateries. In this case, we had certificates for $7 each for each night's stay, and the restaurants were ones we liked anyway (Bejas Grill, Rathskeller, Java Ranch, etc.). The certificates never cover the entire cost of a meal - at least, not the way we eat; YMMV - but it's a nice gesture, and beats the meager "continental" breakfasts served by many B&Bs that still give lip service to the second "B."


I already touched on that above, so we may as well round things out. Frequent visitors to Fredericksburg will recognize the following:

  • Peach Tree Tea Room - sandwich sampler and chilled avocado soup ($$)
  • Pasta Bella - eggplant parmigiana ($$)
  • Bejas Grill - fish tacos, chips and hot salsa ("hot" as in who microwaves their salsa?!) ($$)
  • Hondo's - grilled mahi mahi sandwich ($$)
  • Navajo Grill - beef tenderloin and lemon pie with a brûlée topping and fresh berries ($$$$)
Oh, and this...

Big honkin' German pancake
Big honkin' German pancake


It rained on and off through the weekend. Did I already mention that? So the time that we would have spent on the bike was instead spent going through every store on the main drag. Every. Store. Fortunately (for me), the only thing we bought was foodstuffs, and empty calorie stuff at that.

That means we passed up some real finds.

Cowboy wine bottle holder
This would be an elegant addition to any decor


The Texas Hill Country has not completely escaped the drought that has ravaged most of Texas, but it's faring pretty well this year - especially after last weekend. Did I mention that it rained all weekend? San Antonio got some historic, flooding rainfall, and while Fredericksburg wasn't similarly afflicted, I suspect that over the next week or so the landscape will start to display the luxurious green hues that should be the norm. Also mosquitos, stifling humidity, and fire ants, but what's lemonade without a few lemons?

I understand that the bluebonnet crop wasn't quite as good this year as in the past, but that doesn't mean that the wildflowers didn't make a showing.

Wildflower-filled pasture
Wildflower-filled pasture

You don't have to get out of the city limits to enjoy nature. This guy was sunning just a block from Main Street.

Witness some of the worst looking legs and feet in the Animal Kingdom

We went for a walk around the neighborhood at dusk on Sunday, and were mesmerized by the sight of dozens of fireflies twinkling all around us. Fireflies make make even really good things better.

We also drove through a number of neighborhoods, with an eye toward possibly investing in some real estate at some point. There were some very nice neighborhoods where people had seemingly neglected their properties, as we saw broken and even boarded-up windows. This was puzzling and a little disturbing until we learned that the town had been hit by a monster hailstorm about a week earlier...softball-sized hail had done a number on houses across the north side of Fredericksburg. We saw big agave plants that had been smashed to jelly, and oak trees stripped of their foliage; cars were missing moonroofs, and houses had tarp-covered voids where skylights once resided. Bad mojo, and the only thing that would have kept something like that out of the news was the F5 tornado that tore through Oklahoma the following day.

Entertainment ("Here there be dancing")

You perhaps heard that it rained most of the weekend, thereby stifling our cycling plans. We even skipped our planned outing to Luckenbach on Friday night, not wanting to deal with the muddy conditions. But we're nothing if not adaptable. As it turned out, the annual Crawfish Festival was taking place within walking distance of our B&B, and for $15 each, we got weekend passes to live music starting around lunch each day.

Variety was the musical theme for the weekend. On Friday night, we danced to country music by Jake Hooker and the Outsiders, on Saturday night we danced to big band ballroom music (at the Hangar Hotel, at a fundraiser for the USO) provided by Bill Smallwood and the Lone Star Swing Orchestra, and on Sunday afternoon we boogied to zydeco as performed by Jean-Pierre and the Zydeco Angels. And somewhere in there we squeezed in some Latin moves to an arrangement of Santana's Black Magic Woman as ably rendered by the Walburg Boys (who, in an awesome display of musical versatility, also provided some of the best yodeling we've ever heard, although, frankly, that's not saying all that much).

There's something about copious amounts of crawfish and Cajun music that makes otherwise normal people make questionable choices in haberdashery. Beer might have also made a contribution.

People wearing crawdad hats
Head-mounted crustaceans: cutting-edge fashion trend

The dance floor at the Hangar Hotel was small and tacky (in the sense of being sticky, not in poor taste, although to a dancer the two are synonymous). Also, because the orchestra had "swing" in its name, and there was a swing dance lesson beforehand, most of the dancers seemed to feel obligated to dance swing steps to every song, which made doing foxtrots and waltzes somewhat challenging. But it's a rare thing to be able to dance to a big band doing the standards of times past, and we enjoyed it thoroughly.

Hangar Hotel dance
All reet, you jive hep-cats

The floor was slightly less crowded at the Crawfish Festival, especially on Sunday afternoon.

Dance area at the Crawfish Festival

The thing about good music and an open floor is that it leads to, well, dancing...and that dancing can originate from unexpected (but delightful) sources.

So, what's your excuse?

That gentleman rolled in with his walker and spent most of the afternoon twitching in his chair until he finally couldn't stand it any longer and had to give in to the urge to surge.

The music, by the way, was provided by the aforementioned Zydeco Angels.

Jean-Pierre and the Zydeco Angels

That's Jean-Pierre on the squeezebox, but the real star is, of course, the rubboard player. Did you know you could get special rubboard gloves? They're the mark of a true professional; here's a closeup:

Gloves of a frottoir player

Actually, these are very high-tech compared to most, which use either bottle caps or thimbles to generate the percussive sounds. Also, rubboards (aka frottoirs) are not exactly cheap. But I'll let nothing stand in my way of becoming a world-class washboardist, so I'm cashing in my 401K. Pretty soon.

So, we didn't get to bicycle around some of our favorite haunts, but we didn't let the rain dampen our enthusiasm. It pays to have a fallback passion, one that doesn't depend on the weather. As long as we can find some good music and a bit of floorspace, we'll do just fine. And last weekend, Fredericksburg repeatedly rose to the occasion.

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.

The Stupidity Cycle Pedals Onward
May 16, 2012 5:48 AM | Posted in: ,

I don't know why I waste my time reading Facebook comments (other than those left on my own posts; all of my friends are consistently intelligent and full of grace). The level of sheer stupidity and/or cluelessness is enough to make one weep for the future of our society. But, like a moth drawn to a nuclear reactor in full meltdown, I can't seem to resist, and so I found myself scrolling through the comments on a question posed by one of our local TV stations, to wit:

The "Ride of Silence" will start at 7PM tonight, from the UTPB CEED Building at SH 191 & FM 1788. What do you think needs to be done to improve bicycle safety?

The "Ride of Silence" is a bicycle ride honoring the memory of cyclists who have been killed in Midland county. (One of those, George Hoffman, was a high school classmate in Fort Stockton.)

I hoped to see some constructive suggestions in the comments, perhaps along the lines of "motorists need to exercise more caution," or "drivers need to stop texting while driving," but instead I saw a string of complaints about having to share the road with those idiot bicycle riders. Meh. I've heard all that before, but then I saw this comment, and couldn't help going into Mel Gibson Answering Machine mode:

Screen capture of stupid Facebook comment

I've blurred the name of the, um, fellow who left this stupefyingly inaccurate comment, to spare him the embarrassment of being recognized as someone who can't sit on a bicycle saddle because his head is in the way.

My response was simple and to the point (as well as utterly ineffective, I have no doubt): You don't have a clue about Texas vehicle laws, do you? Misinformed people help make bicycling more dangerous than it needs to be.

I believe that. If a driver sets out with the mindset that all bicyclists who ride in the street or attempt to exercise the same rights as a motorist are lawbreakers, he or she will be angry, and that anger will affect their driving, perhaps unconsciously but still in a real and dangerous manner.

I've ridden more than 25,000 miles through the years on the streets and highways of Midland and Ector counties, and can count on the fingers of one hand the times I've felt threatened by drivers. In every case, I could sense a tangible, if inexplicable expression of anger on the part of the motorist who was intent on putting me in harm's way, and I suspect they were driving under the same misconceptions held by the ignorant fool who posted the comment shown above.

I would have thought that by now we didn't have to re-plow the Texas Bicycle Laws furrow, but there's apparently a need for continuing education. For those who already know this, you can move along, but for anyone googling something like "idiot bicyclists who don't know the laws of Texas" perhaps you'll follow this link and learn something that will cause you to adjust your attitude. Based on what I see on Facebook, it's a hope held in vain, but I must try.

And if you're too lazy or disinterested to follow the link, I'll simply sum up the relevant law: Texas bicyclists are considered vehicles (NOT pedestrians, Mr. Used To Be A Bike Racer In Abilene), and as such have the same responsibilities AND rights as motorists, unless specifically legislated otherwise.

If I seem a little exercised about this issue, please understand that for many of us, this is a matter of life and death.

A Vicarious Ride Across Texas
April 2, 2012 9:07 PM | Posted in: ,

I can't remember how I came across this blog, descriptively entitled "Southern Tier Bicycle Tour- 2012," but it's one I find myself visiting daily. It's the account of a couple traveling by bike across the US, and while a good number of people do this each year (and blog about it), it's pretty rare that they choose a southerly route that takes them across some of the most desolate parts of Texas.

Beginning with their entry into the Lone Star State from Deming, New Mexico, continuing past Van Horn and around the Davis Mountains, and on into the Hill Country, the couple is documenting their impressions of Texas (and Texans). Their photography is beautiful, capturing not only some of the freedom and adventure (and angst) of unsupported cycling, but also the dramatic range of experiences that we Texans might sometimes take for granted. I recommend it.

You can start here if you like, as they first ease their way into lovely Anthony, Texas. If you read far enough, you'll eventually learn the meaning of "PUDs" (which, for my petroleum engineering friends, isn't what you think).

Their experiences in the Hill Country are especially interesting as they ride over some of the same roads - and make some of the same climbs - Debbie and I have done for years. I never had the forethought (or patience) to stop and take photos, although some of those hills are indelibly etched in my memory.

Another Wind Farm Aerial
February 1, 2012 1:04 PM | Posted in: ,

In response to the previous post, my aunt wondered how the wind farm adjacent to her [real] farm looked from outer space. I grabbed the following from Google Earth, which depicts the turbine sites and terrain just outside Muenster, Texas, from ~45,000' above the planet. The photo was taken in 2008; nothing more current is available from the app.

If you squint just right, this looks like either a lightning bolt or a constellation.

Satellite Photo
As you've probably already heard, the Texas Railroad Commission (the oversight agency for the Texas oil and gas industry, for the non-Texians in the audience) today approved a regulation that will require the public disclosure of chemical ingredients used in hydraulic fracturing of oil and gas wells permitted on or after February 1, 2012 [read the RRC's news release]. This is a groundbreaking (no pun intended) move that, among other things, demonstrates that the industry can work in harmony with traditionally adversarial groups when it wants to. These regulations were widely supported not only by environmental and public advocacy groups, but also by oil and gas operators.

The report from the hearing [PDF] in which the final rules were approved makes for interesting reading, especially the sections documenting the public comments regarding the proposed regulations. (One item of note is Exxon's hearty approval of the rules, despite the fact that they are not one of the companies [PDF] who is currently voluntarily providing the information.) Update: Sorry; I just noticed that Exxon is actually listed under the entry for XTO Energy.

Many people may not realize that about eighty oil and gas companies doing business in Texas have already been voluntarily making these disclosures via a website called FracFocus. Not every well fracked by these companies is listed, but there's a big database already being built, and a very user-friendly interface for searching for wells in a given geographic area to find out what's being pumped into the ground to make the wells more productive. This same website will become the vehicle for the required reporting under the new regulations. 

I think it's safe to say that the Texas regulations will become a model for other states to follow as they deal with concerns over hydraulic fracturing (which, by the way, has been around for 60 years, has been applied to more than a million completions, and which has never - in Texas, anyway - been linked to groundwater contamination, regardless of what propaganda like the "documentary" Gasland would have us believe). This action will also probably head off federal intervention which would undoubtedly be more onerous and less logical.

I expressed support for public disclosure on this site a year ago. I thought it was a wise idea then, while I was a non-industry worker, and I still do, as an oil and gas company employee (a company that is already voluntarily disclosing frac ingredients via the FracFocus website).


I doubt that disclosure of the list of chemical ingredients is going to be of much practical use to most people. A list of obscure compounds simply won't be meaningful to the layperson. For example, let's look at the Hydraulic Fracturing Fluid Product Component Information Disclosure sheet [PDF] for SM Energy's University 7 Berkley #6 well located in Andrews County, just north of Odessa. SM Energy is my employer, by the way; it's only fair to use one of our own wells in this example.

The Berkley #6 is an oil well with a vertical depth of almost two miles. During the completion process, the formation was fractured using a solution of over 700,000 gallons of water (an Olympic-sized swimming pool holds only about 600,000 gallons), into which was mixed a combination of 27 additional substances, ranging from the mundane (citric acid) to the exotic (dodecylbenzenesulfonic acid, cytclohexene, and alkylaryl ethoxylate). Some of these substances comprised as little as .0005% of the total injected volume, or the equivalent of less than four gallons. I don't know about you, but I really can't assess whether this concentration of 2-butoxyethanol or sodium metaborate is a bad thing or not. This stuff is 10,000' underground, with several million (billion?) tons of rock on top of it. How can I assess the risk of having a chemical that, for all I know, occurs naturally elsewhere, pumped in relatively minute quantities into a deep hole in the ground?

If you looked at the above-linked PDF, you may have noticed a column labeled "Chemical Abstract Service Number (CAS #)." The CAS is a division of the American Chemical Society, and it maintains a database (registry) of more than 60 million substances. If you can access this database, you can learn a bit about the nature of these substances. Unfortunately, you have to be a paid subscriber to access the official CAS registry; fortunately, other organizations are more altruistic and offer alternative methods of access. The best CAS search engine I've found is provided by the National Institute of Health's PubChem service. Simply type the CAS # into the search box, click "Go," and on the resulting page, click the "Full Report" link to get more information about the chemical than you probably ever wanted to know.

I'm of the opinion that giving the public more information is almost always better than giving it less, even if that information might be subject to misinterpretation or even misuse. Our industry stands to lose a lot more than it might gain by continuing to keep fracking contents secret.

Car Wash Rules
October 23, 2011 10:06 PM | Posted in: ,

I took the pickup in for a wash job yesterday. It was the first time it had been washed since May, due to our drought-related water usage restrictions. As you might imagine, the truck was badly in need of a good scrubbing.

A lot of other people had decided to do the same thing, so I found myself in a line of about a dozen cars. The line moved slowly so I had time to observe some things...such as the fact that I was driving the only vehicle that truly needed a wash job.

Photo of a seriously dirty carSeriously. The white Lexus SUV that was ahead of me looked pristine, and every other car in sight had no visible signs of dirt and grime. It made me wonder how many of the owners had their cars washed as a matter of habit. "Oh, it's Saturday morning; time to get the car washed." Frankly, this kind of mindset has no place in a region that's received less than 4" of rain during the past year, and the lakes supplying most of the drinking water are drying up.

There may come a time in the next few months that car washes will be banned completely. That will, of course, be a terrible blow to those whose livelihoods are derived from providing that service, but the luxury of a clean car cannot compete with the necessity of having water to drink.

But, for now, sitting in that line of clean cars, I came up with a few simple guidelines to help you know When You Can Wash Your Car During A Drought*.

  1. White vehicles cannot be washed. Don't whine. You know good and well you picked out that boring white car for the sole reason that it doesn't show dirt and dust like darker colors. So, own it, and live with it.

  2. Black vehicles cannot be washed. You knew what you were getting into when you picked out that bad boy. Own it, and live with it.

  3. Clean vehicles cannot be washed. And by clean, I mean if you can tell the true color of the vehicle by looking at it, it's not dirty enough to require washing.
I hope these simple rules will prove effective in prolonging our scarce resources. There's no shame in driving a dirty car at this point in time. Just like having a dead lawn indicates you're a good steward of water, a filthy car shows that you really care about our water supply.

*These rules do not apply to those who are willing to hand wash their cars using Ozarka water or cheap beer.
As parts of the country endure flooding while other regions continue to suffer from a history-making drought and water shortage, it's logical to wonder why we can't figure out a way to move some of that water from one area to the other. Associated Press Science writer  Seth Borenstein writes that the idea is simply not feasible, either economically or politically. The article is a good high-level survey of some of the arguments against this redistribution scheme, but it's a bit short on specifics.

Giant Straw in the RiverThe politics and legal issues of the situation are possibly insurmountable, but the cost of building infrastructure that could transport enough water to make a difference is just mind-boggling.

I've not seen a cost estimate for a massive water transport project, but with a little back-of-the-envelope calculating, it's possible to create an order-of-magnitude guess by using another massive and well-known project as a comparison: The Trans-Alaska Pipeline (TAPS), completed in 1977 to move crude oil from the North Slope of Alaska to Port Valdez in south Alaska.

TAPS consists of a 48" pipeline stretching for 800 miles. It cost about $8 billion in 1977 dollars, and has a capacity of around 2, 000,000 barrels per day (equivalent to 84 million gallons per day). The crude oil that the pipeline transports weighs about 7.4 pounds per gallon.

Using these facts and some additional assumptions, we can paint a very primitive picture of what it would entail to build a similar pipeline to transport water.  Let's assume that we want to grab water from the mighty Mississippi River and move it to Lake O.H. Ivie in west central Texas, a major source of water for Midland. We'll use Vicksburg, Mississippi as the assumed origin of the pipeline, since it's roughly at the same latitude as the end point.

It's about 600 miles from Vicksburg to the lake. All things being equal, the cost of the pipeline would be $22.5 billion, based on the inflation-adjusted cost of TAPS ($30 billion for 800 miles). You could rightly argue that the rough Alaskan terrain inflated the TAPS cost considerably; drastic elevation changes required expensive pump stations, and other factors such as weather, water crossings, environmental safeguards, etc. drove up the cost.

However, the TAPS project had one huge advantage that our MS-to-TX project wouldn't have: less than 10% of the land crossed by the pipeline was privately owned; the rest is state- or federal-government owned. While I have no doubt some rather intense negotiations went on to get easements across those lands, it must have been a cakewalk compared to getting easements from potentially hundreds or thousands of landowners between Texas and Mississippi.

There are a couple of additional considerations to complicate things. Water is heavier than crude oil (at least the crude produced from the North Slope of Alaska). Pumps have to be bigger to move the increased weight. (Also, scientists created a substance that was mixed in with the oil to make it slide more easily through the pipeline ­- known in the trade as "slickum" - that reduced the required pumping capacity, but I'm pretty sure you wouldn't want it mixed in with your drinking water.)

While 84 million gallons per day sounds like a lot of water, it's still only enough to meet the daily demands of four cities the size of Midland (based on our current 22 million gallons per day usage). And we haven't even considered the cost to operate and maintain the pipeline.

So, if a pipeline doesn't provide the necessary capacity, what about digging a big ditch? Canal systems have been used for centuries to distribute water.  I have no idea what it might cost to dig a canal from Mississippi to Texas, but the logistical issues are probably many times more complicated (it's comparatively easy to run a pipeline under an interstate, for example). Then there's the issue of elevation change. Vicksburg is essentially at sea level; O.H. Ivie is about 1,500' higher. With few exceptions, water runs downhill, and you have to convince it to do otherwise. I'm sure there are some engineers in the audience who can compute the horsepower needed for pumps that will move a few hundred million gallons of water per day uphill. I can't, but I'm guessing it's a bunch (sorry to have to use such technical terminology).

Having said all of this, I suspect that if we were starting with a blank slate today, we'd conclude that our current interstate highway system could not be built, due to imposing economic and political roadblocks (pun intended). A national water distribution system is achievable, but I doubt we have the national resolve to make it happen.

Drought and the San Saba River
August 22, 2011 7:57 PM | Posted in: ,

The effects of the ongoing drought are depressingly evident throughout the Hill Country of Texas. We traveled from Midland to Fredericksburg last weekend, and brown was the dominant theme for the countryside. Except for a brief oasis-like hint of green around San Angelo (thanks to some very isolated recent downpours), the countryside was distressed beyond belief.

Below are a few photos we took of the San Saba River just outside of Brady. The last time we stopped in this particular location, people were swimming in the middle of the river, where now there is only bare, dry rock. What water still remains is stagnant and ugly. We spotted a number of turtles, so there must be some fish in these pools, but that won't last long if more rain doesn't come.


Texas governor Rick Perry's plans to host a day of prayer and fasting in Houston's Reliant Stadium on August 6th have - not surprisingly - evoked a wide range of reactions. Some are accusing the governor of crossing the line between church and state, some are suing to stop the gathering, and some are applauding his initiative.

The local NBC television affiliate posted a question via Facebook, asking for opinions regarding the event and whether it should be called off. My non-scientific tally indicated that a pretty big (that's a statistical term of art, in case you're wondering) majority of respondents were supportive of the event. But to my mind, one of the more interesting comments accused Perry of hypocrisy, citing this report revealing that the governor has given only $14,243 to churches and religious organizations - out of total earnings of $2.68 million - during the period 2000-2009. This report, based on Perry's federal income tax returns, is leading some to conclude that he doesn't "walk the talk."

While I won't dispute that such a report does raise questions, I'm pretty sure there's no law that requires one to report all charitable deductions on one's tax return. My point? We need to be cautious in drawing conclusions about a public official's moral, ethical, religious, or any other kind of behavior and/or motivation with no other support than what's found in that official's tax return.

So, why wouldn't one report all possible deductions, as a means of lowering one's tax liability? (This question is particularly relevant to Perry, a strong advocate of smaller federal government, and state's rights; you'd think he'd be at the head of the line of those wishing to give the feds as little money as possible.) I don't have an answer to that, other than to observe that we all have our own priorities and motivations, and they're not necessarily intended for public consumption.

For example, my wife and I don't include any cash donations under $25 in our tax returns, nor do we ever include the value of non-monetary items (such as clothing and food) we donate to local charities. Why not? Well, that's our business, not yours, although I'm not offended by the question.

Anyway, while it's interesting to inspect someone else's financial records and speculate on the meanings between the lines, the numbers don't necessarily paint an accurate or complete picture. We're all more than the sum of our tax returns.

Concealed Handgun License Renewal
July 6, 2011 8:32 AM | Posted in: ,

Around the same time that Janie was qualifying for her Concealed Handgun License (CHL), Debbie and I were taking the renewal class. Texas CHLs are generally good for five years, but through a quirk in the scheduling and the way our birthdays fell, we got only about 4½. So we found ourselves at Gaylene Stansberry's renewal class on a Monday evening for the 5 hour refresher course required by state law.

Contrary to what you might think, the Texas CHL process is geared toward convincing you that using a handgun against another person is a Very Serious Idea. The educational classes focus on the legal and emotional implications of carrying and using a gun for self-defense. If one is paying the least bit of attention, one will leave the class understanding the full burden of responsibility that accompanies the decision to carry a concealed weapon. It's not glamorous nor exciting.

The renewal class is mostly geared toward any recent changes in Texas laws and regulations concerning concealed carry (for example, since we took the first class, Texas now has a statute that allows anyone to carry a handgun in their car, for any reason and for any duration, provided they're not subject to other restrictions on handgun ownership. Previously, you had to be "traveling," and the definition for that term was the subject of ongoing debate). And there's the expected refresher on the basic rules for concealed carry, and a focus on the difference between the use of "force" and "deadly force" in a self-defense scenario...along with the aforementioned implications of what to expect if you decide to use the latter.

Screenshot of CHL renewal status
Even so, the class did have its moments of levity. At the beginning, we went around the room, introducing ourselves and giving one reason why we each decided to renew our permits. Most had the expected usual reasons of not wanting to be a victim, or wanting to exercise their 2nd Amendment rights, but some were, well, a little different. More than one person mentioned that they'd never gotten a speeding ticket since they got their CHLs; police and DPS officers seem to be more willing to cut you some slack if you have a CHL. You can guess at the possible reasons for this, and I've never experienced the phenomenon personally (perhaps only because I've not been pulled over since I got my CHL), but the anecdotal evidence to support it is plentiful. I'm not suggesting that if you have a leaden foot you should run out and get your CHL, but a couple of speeding tickets would more than pay for the course and the license fee.

The class went well, although we ran behind schedule which meant that some of the students were doing their target shooting in the dark. I was a little disappointed in my shooting performance, shooting a few points less than the first time around, but I do have an excuse.

The guy to my immediate left on the shooting range was a rancher who was firing a Kimber .45 auto (complete with a laser sight). It's a beautiful gun, and he knew what he was doing; he was extremely accurate - in two directions. You see, the Kimber ejects its brass straight out to the right, and I was right in the line of "fire." Almost every time he fired, a spent cartridge would plink me in the head. One even caught me in the eye just as I pulled the trigger, resulting in a complete miss. I realize that I shouldn't have been distracted by something like that; it wasn't painful or dangerous, but I wasn't ready for it and so it affected my shooting. Well, that's my story and I'm sticking to it.

Anyway, we all passed both the classroom and shooting tests, and our renewed licenses should be on their way very soon. The Texas CHL website provides an updated status of the process, and we hit the final milestone less than two weeks after submitting our paperwork.

I suspect you may have a simple question at this point: "Do you generally carry a concealed handgun?" The answer is equally simple: "It's none of your business, but the important thing is that the bad guys don't know the answer either." Uncertainty often equals deterrence, and crime/conflict avoided is an even better solution than that which is confronted and defeated.
I see that the Midland Reporter Telegram is officially supporting Clayton Williams's request to pump and sell to Midland more than 40 million gallons of water each day from his land west of Fort Stockton. The Middle Pecos Groundwater Conservation District board begins hearings today to consider the issue, which has huge ramifications for a variety of stakeholders.

The MRT's editorialist acknowledges that competing interests make compelling arguments for and against this transfer of our region's most precious resource.

Nevertheless, we think Williams' plan stands the test of Texas law and science. First, Texas tradition allows property owners to harvest, ship and sell goods coming from the owned property. Oil is a good example. Property owners share in oil revenue as royalty owners when oil is discovered on their property. We see little difference in this model here with the exception that Williams plans to do the harvesting of the water himself rather than through an investor such as an oil company.

I'm not a lawyer or an expert in the area of Texas water and mineral rights, but I do question the analogy to the oil industry. While it's true that mineral owners in Texas have the right to capture the oil and gas under the acreage they own, that right is not unlimited. There are laws and regulations designed to protect adjacent mineral owners from drainage of their property by another owner.

In addition, there are also laws and regulations governing how water can be taken from surface streams and rivers. As far as I know, a private landowner does not have an unrestricted right to dam a river and take all the water from to the detriment of those living downstream. In the sense that the aquifer in question in Pecos County can be likened to an underground stream, there's a legitimate question as to whether the kind of pumping proposed by Williams is encroaching on the rights of those landowners "downstream." (It's an indisputable fact that formerly free-flowing springs to the east - the direction the aquifer extends - dry up when pumping begins.)

The idea that granting the pumping permit is consistent with current law might mean that perhaps the law itself needs to be revisited. If this issue ends up in the Supreme Court, as some think, a fresh look at an old law might be the most useful outcome.
Forbes Magazine has created an interactive graphic showing population movements into and out of every county in the United States in 2008, based on federal income tax-related data provided by the IRS. A mouse click on each county reveals lines emanating from that county to every other county where people moved to or from, and showing the number and per capita income of those who moved. Here's Midland County's snapshot:


Here are the details behind the map:

County # of People Into Midland Avg Income Per Capita - In # of People From Midland Avg Income Per Capita - Out Net Change in Population Net Income 
Kern Co, CA 30 24,200 0 - 30 726,000
Los Angeles, CA 51 18,200 18 38,800 33 229,800
Orange, CA 23 23,200 0 - 23 533,600
San Diego, CA 50 18,800 23 13,000 27 641,000
Riverside, CA 24 30,100 0 - 24 722,400
San Bernadino, CA 38 17,200 0 - 38 653,600
Clark, NV 45 11,700 0 - 45 526,500
Maricopa, AZ 77 13,500 32 39,400 45 (221,300)
Denver, CO 21 18,600 0 - 21 390,600
San Juan, NM 24 53,700 0 - 24 1,288,800
Bernalillo, NM 21 35,600 26 21,100 (5) 199,000
Dona Ana, NM 34 18,300 18 14,200 16 366,600
Chaves, NM 24 20,100 20 13,600 4 210,400
Roosevelt, NM 24 9,200 0 - 24 220,800
Eddy, NM 42 20,400 27 18,900 15 346,500
Lea, NM 136 36,000 71 18,700 65 3,568,300
Tulsa, OK 26 36,900 31 83,100 (5) (1,616,700)
Oklahoma, OK 42 25,400 49 33,500 (7) (574,700)
Cleveland, OK 24 24,800 0 - 24 595,200
Potter, TX 41 26,800 28 25,400 13 387,600
Randall, TX 65 46,300 56 22,300 9 1,760,700
Hale, TX 26 13,900 0 - 26 361,400
Lubbock, TX 327 22,400 310 21,000 17 814,800
Hockley, TX 33 20,700 0 - 33 683,100
Yoakum, TX 57 21,100 0 - 57 1,202,700
Gaines, TX 41 27,400 30 47,500 11 (301,600)
Dawson, TX 84 13,000 67 12,700 17 241,100
Scurry, TX 46 29,600 36 21,900 10 573,200
Andrews, TX 86 19,300 76 17,700 10 314,600
Martin, TX 121 18,200 109 18,300 12 207,500
Howard, TX 157 18,800 155 19,800 2 (117,400)
Mitchell, TX 0 - 23 28,000 (23) (644,000)
Nolan, TX 12 30,200 0 - 12 362,400
Winkler, TX 34 33,700 30 17,200 4 629,800
Ector, TX 1042 25,400 902 21,000 140 7,524,800
Taylor, TX 107 30,300 75 19,800 32 1,757,100
Reeves, TX 65 18,400 41 19,700 24 388,300
Ward, TX 63 26,400 61 18,300 2 546,900
Crane, TX 38 29,700 38 52,300 - (858,800)
Upton, TX 41 44,900 27 16,600 14 1,392,700
Reagan, TX 24 21,000 0 - 24 504,000
Tom Green, TX 201 18,400 117 21,900 84 1,136,100
Pecos, TX 64 36,600 54 16,700 10 1,440,600
Presidio, TX 77 9,200 45 9,200 32 294,400
Brewster, TX 102 13,700 37 11,200 65 983,000
Brown, TX 25 22,100 20 31,200 5 (71,500)
Webb, TX 34 8,400 0 - 34 285,600
Wichita, TX 42 18,200 0 - 42 764,400
Denton, TX 62 24,200 91 30,100 (29) (1,238,700)
Collin, TX 61 26,300 98 45,200 (37) (2,825,300)
Parker, TX 20 22,400 37 34,800 (17) (839,600)
Tarrant, TX 173 26,100 280 26,100 (107) (2,792,700)
Dallas, TX 163 32,300 156 34,400 7 (101,500)
Hood, TX 27 26,300 58 75,700 (31) (3,680,500)
Johnson, TX 0 - 36 31,700 (36) (1,141,200)
Ellis, TX 0 - 22 21,300 (22) (468,600)
Smith, TX 33 27,200 28 29,800 5 63,200
Gregg, TX 0 - 18 64,200 (18) (1,155,600)
McClennan, TX 20 29,800 24 14,600 (4) 245,600
Bell, TX 56 18,200 49 18,300 7 122,500
Williamson, TX 52 28,500 78 28,100 (26) (709,800)
Travis, TX 89 21,400 107 33,200 (18) (1,647,800)
Hays, TX 34 17,800 17 32,400 17 54,400
Comal, TX 22 30,800 27 52,100 (5) (729,100)
Bexar, TX 106 21,000 159 23,300 (53) (1,478,700)
Brazos, TX 22 23,500 22 30,400 - (151,800)
Montgomery, TX 52 43,600 62 48,600 (10) (746,000)
Harris, TX 265 38,800 202 46,000 63 990,000
Fort Bend, TX 66 39,900 46 39,800 20 802,600
Brazoria, TX 26 45,300 14 77,100 12 98,400
Jefferson, TX 25 24,400 0 - 25 610,000
Nueces, TX 48 23,700 18 19,400 30 788,400
Totals 5,233 4,301 932 15,438,100

It's difficult to draw any conclusions from this data without making some shaky assumptions. There's no explanation regarding methodology or clarification regarding the source of the data. There is a footnote that explains that the IRS doesn't report inter-county moves for fewer than ten people, which does explain why it appears that no one moved in or out of Midland County from or to any states other than California, Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, and Oklahoma.

It's interesting to note that all interstate movements resulted in a net population gain for Midland County. 

It's a different story for many movements within Texas (although Midland still picked up a net of 491 from intrastate moves). The Metroplex in North Texas picked up a significant net gain from Midland County. My assumption is that the big movement (a net loss of 107 people) to Tarrant County (Fort Worth) was related to the Barnett Shale gas drilling boom that was in full swing in 2008.

Oddly enough, and probably contrary to common perception, the Houston area sent more people to Midland County than it took. We netted 63 people from Harris County.

Harris County was the anomaly for the major metropolitan regions in Texas. Midland had a net loss to each of the counties where Dallas-Fort Worth, San Antonio, and Austin are located.

I have no idea what to make of the "average income per capita" numbers, which in total indicated that the net gain in income for Midland County was over $15 million. But that assumes that people moving in and out made the same income where they landed as where they started. At first glance, that seems to be a reasonable assumption, but it doesn't hold up given that there are so many reasons for people to move.

If you're a data hound, this provides plenty of playground to roam.
Update [October, 2011]: C.S. Fuqua has published a book entitled "Alabama Musicians: Musical Heritage from the Heart of Dixie." Why do I tell you this? Because Gene Sullivan was from Alabama, and Mr. Fuqua included a chapter about him in the book. He also included the photo shown below, and provided yours truly with a nice attribution. I recommend the book, and not just because my name appears in it; it's quite interesting.

Below is yet another scan from Debbie's mom's collection of '30s and '40s memorabilia. This one features a couple of musicians, Wiley Walker and Gene Sullivan. I hadn't heard of either of these guys, but there's a pretty detailed bio here.

Sullivan was a boxer before turning to music, perhaps to avoid the burden of expectation that would accompany such a prestigious pugilistic appellation.

This flyer appears to be a promo for a tire company in Lubbock (the floating tire is obviously superimposed on a photo of the musicians; one can only guess at their relationship to the company). According to the bio, they worked radio stations in Fort Worth and Lubbock, so it's safe to assume that they were well known in Lubbock at the time this flyer was produced.

Flyer - Wiley Walker and Gene Sullivan

The duo formed in 1939, which seems to correspond with the general vintage of the collection of the miscellany I've been scanning and posting on this site. In 1941, they recorded "When My Blue Moon Turns to Gold," which Elvis Presley turned to money when he recorded a pop version in 1956. Here's a recording of the original version, courtesy of YouTube.

Below is another scan from Debbie's mom's collection of '30s and '40s memorabilia. The Chuck Wagon Gang is still going strong (I wonder what the original group would have thought about the idea of a website?), billing itself as "the oldest recording mixed gospel group still performing with ties to the original founding."

The scan appears to be a promotional flyer, on heavy card stock, and it highlights the group's appearances on the era's Big Dogs of Texas radio: WBAP (Fort Worth), KPRC (Houston), and WOAI (San Antonio).

The "Bewley" in the name refers to Bewley Mills, a flour company. What was it about flour companies that made them sponsors of musical groups on the radio?

According to the group's website, at one time the Chuck Wagon Gang was Columbia Record's second highest selling artist, behind only Xavier Cugat and just ahead of some upstart hillbilly named Johnny Cash.

An interesting tidbit is that even back then, musicians assumed different names for their public personae. In the case of the CWG, Dad was Dave Carter, and he was the father of Anna (real name Effie), Rose (Lola), and Jim (Ernest). I have no idea who Cy is...perhaps the announcer?

Flyer - Bewley's Chuck Wagon Gang

Light Crust Doughboys
October 14, 2010 8:37 AM | Posted in: ,

Debbie was going through some of her mom's memorabilia a couple of weeks ago, and ran across a flyer for "Parker Willson and the Light Crust Doughboys."

I suspect that most people in Texas have at least heard of the LCDs, which, according to Wikipedia (the font of all human knowledge, or at least semi-informed opinion and/or conjecture) bills itself as "the longest-running country band in the world."  The group was created in 1931 to promote the products of Burrus Mill and Elevator Company of Fort Worth, Texas, back when radio advertising was in its infancy. That company's president, Pappy O'Daniel, was parodied in the movie, O Brother, Where Art Thou? The LCDs had a very popular live radio show that ran more than twenty years. For a comprehensive history of the group, check out a book entitled The Light Crust Doughboys are on the air: celebrating seventy years of Texas music.

Near as I can tell, Parker Willson fronted the band as emcee during the period around 1939-41. The photos below are scans of the flyer, and the reference to Vocalion Records on the reverse side seems to indicate that this was a promotional piece put out by that studio. The Vocalion label was discontinued in 1940 (again, according to Wikipedia), which further narrows down the age of the flyer.

Click on each thumbnail to see a larger version of the image.

Scan of flyerScan of flyer

High Wire Act
July 7, 2010 8:33 AM | Posted in: ,

This walking stick was hanging from an electrical line over our B&B at Canyon Lake last week, barely in reach of my zoom lens. I don't know what he thought he'd find up there, and he seemed to make a great target for a hungry bird, but I guess he knew what he was doing. Well, insofar as any insect "knows" anything.

This is a vastly different kind of "stick" compared to the one I photographed last year. This one is Mike Tyson, while that one is Michael Cera.

Photo - Walking Stick on Electrical Line
I apologize in advance for another political post, especially to those who don't care about the Texas governor's election, but politics are like a tarbaby...once you get a finger in the mess, it's hard to make a clean break.

In case you haven't heard, Debra Medina's interview on Glenn Beck's radio program yesterday turned out to be an absolute train wreck, both for her and for Beck (although she had a lot more to lose than him, given that he specializes in causing train wrecks). If you missed it, you might want to take a moment to read the transcript posted on Beck's website. I'll wait here.

*whistling* *thumb-twiddling* *heel-rocking*

Pretty cringe-inducing, huh? Now, take a look at what Medina meant to say.

This stands out pretty clearly:
I have never been involved with the 9/11 truth movement, and there is no doubt in my mind that Muslim terrorists flew planes into those buildings on 9/11. I have not seen any evidence nor have I ever believed that our government was involved or directed those individuals in any way.
In order to get a true assessment of the damage done to Medina's campaign for governor, contrast the preceding statement with the Associated Press headline that appears today in newspapers around the state: "Governor candidate Debra Medina: 'Good arguments' US involved in 9/11." While the phrase "good arguments" in that headline are indeed taken directly from Medina's comments, they are also removed from the context that she provided for them: she isn't in possession of all the facts about 9/11, and citizens have the right to question the federal government about everything. She goes on to say that she's not taking a position due to her not having all the facts, and, further, that the issue is irrelevant to the Texas gubernatorial campaign.

Medina's appeal to me all along has been twofold: her passion for state's rights and strict adherence to the US Constitution, and the fact that she's not a career politician. Unfortunately, the latter factor proved to be detrimental yesterday as she gave an unpolished and, frankly, a bumbling answer to a question that someone more experienced would have quickly dismissed. She compounded the problem by going on a tangent about screening her staff that served only to make her sound evasive and unsure. Having heard her speak in person, I know that neither of those descriptions are accurate, but given the absence of nuance in reportage, they're damaging beyond estimation.

The Texas blogosphere is hotly divided today between those who are defending Medina as being honest almost to a fault, and the victim of a nasty, carefully planned setup by Beck, and those who feel that we're at last now seeing the true candidate, an unskilled person in over her head and aligned with fringe political elements.

To me, this was a gigantic misstep for Medina, one that will hurt her already slim chances of getting elected. I was disappointed at her response (while at the same time being outraged at Beck's behavior; but then, he's not a journalist, he's an "entertainer," although his idea of entertainment and mine aren't even in the same universe), and I'm not sure there's enough time before the election for damage control.

Even worse, it's a distraction from the really important issues that should be driving this election:  ensuring that Texas continues to be a leader in preserving and honoring the constitutional rights of states, and ensuring that private property owners in Texas are not overly burdened by governmental interference. To the extent that the Beck interview damages Medina's chances to make that happen, we'll all be losers.

Caution: Band at Work
January 20, 2010 7:56 AM | Posted in: ,

Former Midlander Kyle Lent owns a recording studio in Georgetown (TX) and is also the lead guitarist for The Justin Cofield Band. The band is embarking on what it calls a "Grand Experiment," an aspect of which involves allowing us to watch their recording sessions via webcam.

If you've ever been curious about what goes on during a professional recording session, this is your chance to find out. They're streaming a session this morning beginning at 10:00 a.m. I assume that they'll provide a link somewhere on the above-referenced sites to allow you to tune in. (Unfortunately, I have a client meeting at the same time so I won't be able to watch.)

Update: I just realized that "Wednesday, January 19th" is an impossibility for 2010. Kyle, you need to check your calendar, bud.

Aggie Bonfire - 10 Years Later
November 18, 2009 9:42 AM | Posted in: ,

Today marks the 10th anniversary of the collapse of the bonfire on the Texas A&M campus that killed twelve students and injured many others. The university marked this anniversary with a week-long observance, which culminated in a candlelight vigil and memorial service beginning at 2:42 this morning, the precise time of the collapse. Photos from that vigil plus other recollections of the tragedy are found on this Facebook event page.

Statewide, media have provided coverage of the anniversary. Perhaps the most widely seen coverage will be the story in the current edition of Texas Monthly Magazine. I haven't read the article, but by all accounts it's an accurate and even moving description of the disaster, as well as an unexpectedly sensitive treatment of the tradition and meaning for A&M students. (I say "unexpected" because Texas Monthly has a reputation for being biased toward A&M's arch-rival, the University of Texas.) The website also has an interesting video about the creation of the photo on the cover of the magazine, which features a computer-generated version of the bonfire. (Perceptive viewers will notice that a Mac was used for the 3D modeling.)

Locally, Jimmy Patterson has written an article for the Midland Reporter Telegram about the anniversary of the bonfire collapse. He's done his typically excellent job in reporting, and the only quibble I have with the article is one that probably isn't his fault anyway: if you're going to refer to the aforementioned University of Texas using the Aggie acronym, it's "tu" (lower case). I'll give him the benefit of the doubt and chalk that up to an editor's eye.

I worked on one bonfire during my five-year stint at A&M. As a freshman in the Corps of Cadets in 1970, about the only thing I remember is how long the four-hour work sessions were, and how short the four-hour rests seemed. I was perpetually sleep-deprived anyway (that being the typical state of a Corps fish), so the bonfire work is really just a hazy memory. It was also the hardest work I'd done in my life up to that point.

The fact that I never participated in another bonfire construction (I didn't return to the Corps after my freshman year) probably puts me in that shameful "two-percenter" category, but it's a fact of Aggie life that far more students didn't work on the bonfire than did. That doesn't lessen my respect for the tradition it represents.

However, I also agree with a number of commenters on the Texas Monthly article who point out that the bonfire is not Texas A&M, nor are the rich heritage and traditions of the university diminished significantly by its absence.

My wife and I visited the on-campus Bonfire Memorial a couple of summers ago, on a day so brutally hot and humid that it was all we could do to muster the energy to walk from the car to the Stonehenge-like setting where the twelve students who perished were honored. But we found the memorial to be so moving that we spent more than an hour reading the stories of those young people, and watching other visitors move respectfully along with us, no one speaking above a whisper. To me, that desire and ability to honor fellow Aggies is the most important tradition of them all, and as long as that doesn't change, the A&M heritage is secure.

Aggies Infiltrate Austin
September 21, 2009 6:05 AM | Posted in:

It was possible that in the hubbub surrounding some football game that took place Saturday night in Austin (*yawn*), a more momentous occasion was overlooked. We at the Gazette want to do our part to ensure it's recorded for posterity.

This photo was graciously sent to me by Gazette reader Lisa, a Georgetown resident  whose husband's construction company just celebrated the topping-out of what is now Austin's tallest building (legacy media news report). Here's an excerpt from Lisa's transmittal email:

This past week, my husband's construction company celebrated the Topping Out (not Topping Off, as the media likes to call it) of the city's now-tallest building. It was a big day in Austin, covered by lots of media. What they didn't talk about, however, was the tradition of construction companies to mount a tree to the uppermost part of the building to symbolize its completion. And since this project is managed by a bunch of Aggies, they celebrated with this photo. And that shot? It was taken from Mack Brown's unfinished suite on the 17th floor.

In case you don't know, Mack Brown is the head football coach for UT (or, tu, for my Aggie compadres). I can't help wondering what surprises might await Coach Brown once he's moved into his new digs.

Austin to do what the state won't
August 28, 2009 3:14 PM | Posted in: ,

In the preceding post, I issued a mild lashing to Texas Governor Rick Perry for vetoing the Safe Passing bill that would have required motorists to give bicyclists and pedestrians at least three feet of clearance. Now I see that the Austin city council is stepping up and doing for its citizens what the governor refused to do for the state's citizens.

As "Newsroom Stew" puts it, it does seem odd to suggest that Midland should follow Austin's lead in, well, just about anything (full disclosure: Stew and I are both Aggies, and predisposed by genetic make-up to disagreeing with just about anything coming out of Austin), but in this case I think they're getting it right. Of course, Stew was probably referring more to the ban on texting while driving more than the safe passing issue, but I do agree that both would be welcome additions to our local ordinances.

It doesn't hurt that the ACLU is opposed to them.

Link Love
August 28, 2009 8:24 AM | Posted in: ,

Ran across a few interesting links I think you might enjoy as you contemplate the wonder that is Friday.

  • Now, about that cover... is a post from the author of the book by the same name, and it deals with how the quite striking cover of his book came to be. The photo shown on the front cover depicts a book that has been soaked in water and the pages arranged into a striking organic shape. This technique is the brainchild of Houston-based photographer Cara Barer, who is quick to point out that no valuable books are harmed in the making of her pictures.

    I feel compelled to note that my wife has at times created this effect by nodding off in the bathtub with book in hand.

  • And speaking of bending paper to your will, check out these amazing origami creations by Won Park. Given the value of the dollar lately, this is as good a use as any for a bill.

  • I'm a sucker for panoramic photography, because I can't figure out how to do it myself. Here's a great example, taken at Shoshone Point in the Grand Canyon National Park. If you have a fast internet connection and faster computer, click the "full screen" link to get the full vertigo-inducing effect.

  • And, last but not least, I was happy to see that Texas Governor Rick Perry garnered Bicycling Magazine's "Wheelsucker of the Month" award for his veto of the Safe Passing bill at the end of the last legislative session. Perry claims to be a cyclist, and, indeed, recently injured himself during a ride, so you'd think he'd have more empathy. But he's a politician first and foremost, and thus can't be counted on to do the right thing. Anyway, BikeTexas, the state's cycling advocacy group, has an online petition urging passage of the bill (while simultaneously expressing displeasure at the veto). If you're a Texas cyclist, pedestrian, farm equipment operator, or "concerned motorist" (which should pretty much encompass all of us), please consider dropping by to sign the petition. It may not accomplish anything more than making me feel better, but this is, after all, all about me.

    The more perceptive among you may also notice a large button on the right side of this page that links to the petition, in case you weren't able to read this far.
I suspect that many people in the Permian Basin don't realize that in addition to the federal government's Car Allowance Rebate System (CARS or "Cash for Clunkers") program, Texas is also offering a cash incentive for the trade-in of an old auto for a new one.

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) created the "Drive A Clean Machine" program with an explicit goal of removing proven polluters from state roadways. It offers a cash voucher up to $3,500 for the trade-in of a vehicle that's at least 10 years old, gasoline-powered, and that has failed an emissions test.

Interestingly, this program can be used in conjunction with the federal program, so that those fortunate few who qualify can receive up to $7,500 towards a new car. In fact, I had dinner last night with a recipient of this governmental largess. He's now driving a cool little Kia instead of an SUV with 200,000 miles and a steadily burning "check engine" light.

So, why haven't we seen this program trumpeted in the endless dealership ads in our area? Simple. The state program is limited to residents of 16 (out of 254) Texas counties. Presumably, these are the counties deemed to have the worst air quality in the state and thus most likely to benefit from the removal of the "clunkers." All of the counties are in the Austin, Houston, or Metroplex areas (wonder why Bexar County - San Antonio - was left out?).

The program also has a number of other restrictions, including limits on the income of the buyer and cost of the new vehicle (which doesn't actually have to be new; some used vehicles qualify).

Unlike the federal program which gives only lip service to environmental motivations, the Texas program is explicitly tied to a measurable (albeit still non-quantifiable) benefit to the environment.

And while we in the Permian Basin may be tempted to chafe a bit at not having access to this program, we should find consolation in (at least) three things. First, we live in an area where man-made air pollution* is simply not an issue. Second, the process for taking advantage of the state's program makes the federal program look like child's play; the feds could learn something about bureaucracy from the TCEQ. And third, we don't have to live in Austin, Houston, or the Metroplex.

*Let us agree not to discuss blowing dust.

Major Award
July 15, 2009 6:55 AM | Posted in: ,

Programming note: If you read this post yesterday and found that it had an abrupt and unfulfilling ending, you might want to take another shot at it. Not that the ending is any more fulfilling, but at least it has one now. In the meantime, I'll be away taking a remedial course in blogging in an attempt to remember the difference between "Save as Draft" and "Publish."

As I've mentioned a couple of times, we spent the July 4th weekend at Canyon Lake, in the Texas Hill Country. We went there without much of an agenda, other than tubing down the Guadalupe River (a pastime, by the way, whose attraction escapes me, but Debbie grew up with fond memories of tubing the Frio River so I suppose we were trying to recapture her childhood. But, I digress; this is not about that.).

Having a relatively uncluttered schedule, when we saw numerous signs advertising a "sock hop" featuring the music of Johnny Dee & the Rocket 88's, one of us decided that we ought to go.

Parenthetical aside, sans parentheses: Now, lest you misinterpret the preceding sentence, let me assure you that despite all claims to the contrary, I am not a stick-in-the-mud. Well, not always. I'm just, well, deliberate. I had my reasons for initially being less than enthusiastic, and those reasons proved to be remarkably relevant as we shall soon see.

It took us a while to discover the reason for this event - it was a fund-raiser for a community service group, but after talking to a couple of enthusiastic volunteers and learning that it was an annual and well-attended event, we decided to shell out $50 for two tickets. We decided that, if nothing else, we could hear some fun music, and maybe get to practice a few dance moves in front of people who would likely never see us again. That's a liberating concept, by the way.

Neither of us had packed in anticipation of a dance, but with the understanding that this was a very casual affair, we headed for the J.C. Penney's store in nearby New Braunfels where Debbie found a fetching sundress and I scored a couple of pairs of ridiculously plaid shorts, the kind all the Kool Kids are wearing nowadays. Shoes were a slight concern, but I figured that my low-top All-Stars would fit in with the sock hop theme, and Debbie never travels with fewer than a dozen pairs, and surely one of them would work.

We had been informed that while the dance got underway at 8:00pm, there would be a dance instructor on hand earlier to give a few swing lessons to those who were interested. Since this was our first time at the event, we showed up early, and joined in the group lessons even though they were pretty basic. It was during those lessons that my initial concerns began to assume enhanced credibility.

If you were anywhere near the Hill Country over the 4th of July weekend, you know how hot it was. Temperatures were in triple digits every day, and the humidity pushed the heat index into the danger zone. Thus the temperature was still in the upper 90s when the dance began, and did I mention that it took place in an non-air-conditioned, gym-sized metal building? The organizers had set up an industrial strength fan in front of one of the four garage doors set in the sides of the building, but there was no cross ventilation so the fan didn't provide any relief unless you stood directly in front of it.

And thus we found ourselves glowing intensely following the rather mild dance lessons...and it was obvious what was coming.

The band fired up promptly at 8:00 (and if you've never been to a JD&tR88s show, you're missing a great time; these guys are pros, in every sense of the word) and while the majority of the 300 or so in attendance were content to sit and listen, the concrete dance floor was crowded throughout the evening. As you might expect from a 50s/60s retro band, most of the music was fast, and so we spent most of our time doing swing and cha cha, with an occasional rumba thrown in. We also spent all of our time sweating.

We'll never again complain about the air conditioning not being turned up enough at our ballroom dances, because we learned that evening what it means to truly sweat to the oldies. I'm talking dripping-off-your-fingertips, flung-off-the-ends-of-your-hair (well, not mine, of course), do-you-think-these-clothes-are-ruined? levels of sweat. And that was after just three dances.

Still, we quickly realized that everyone was in the same boat - the same sticky, soggy, smelly boat - and we decided just to enjoy the music and the dancing. As I said, chances were good that no one would ever see us again, and there's a lot to be said for anonymity in a situation like that.

But when the band took its first break, the aforementioned dance instructor made her way through the row of tables to where we were sitting (and dripping). She crouched down next to us and quietly asked if we could come up to the front of the bandstand at the next break. Oh, great; we've violated a local standard of personal hygiene and they want to make an example of us before they run us out of town. OK, that sounds silly, but not as silly as the real reason.

The instructor leaned forward and said (I swear this is the truth), "we've been watching the dancers and we want to recognize three couples who are doing the best job, and you are one of them." Debbie and I could barely stifle our disbelieving laughter. I mean, while we weren't falling down on the dance floor, or if we were it was gracefully choreographed, we also weren't (in our humble opinions) doing anything worthy of what was obviously A Major Award.

But, I'll admit we were flattered. And so we gratefully and humbly accepted our Major Award during the next break, still sweating like Mississippi chain gang workers. Finally, we had tangible evidence that the literally thousands of dollars we've invested in dancing (if you total the cost of the lessons, dances, ball gowns and shoes, tuxedo and accouterments, and so on) over the last three years has paid off.

And we have the denim apron, soy candle, and bar of scented soap to prove it.

What can I say? It was a fund-raiser, and local merchants donated the awards. And, as they say, beggars can't be choosers. Especially really sweaty ones.

On the Trail of the Naked Indians
July 13, 2009 1:27 PM | Posted in: ,

We stayed in a great bed-and-breakfast over the July 4th weekend, the Firefly Inn, located near Canyon Lake in the Texas Hill Country. If you're following my Twitter feed (and why wouldn't you?), you may have seen my daily reports on the terrific breakfasts we enjoyed during our stay. But I don't believe I mentioned one of the most interesting aspects of the B&B: its address. The Firefly Inn is located on Naked Indian Trail.

When we checked in, the proprietor - a friendly fellow named Jack - anticipated our question. The name of the road is derived from the presence of Texas Madrone trees (Arbutus xalapensis) on the hillside on which the Inn is constructed. Madrones have a fairly limited range in the Texas Hill Country and Edwards Plateau, and the "Naked Indian" nickname is derived from their "bark exfoliation" characteristic. That is, they periodically shed their bark, and the new bark has a wide range of colors, going to a deep apricot or red that gives rise to the politically-dubious ethnic appellation.

Can't picture it? Here are a few photos I took of some of the specimens on the hillside above the Inn.

Photo - Texas Madrone
Photo - Texas Madrone
Photo - Texas Madrone

Jack told us that while he wasn't aware of any scientific evidence to prove it, it seemed that Madrones will flourish only in the presence of cedar trees. There's no known symbiosis involved, and it could be coincidental that wherever you see a Madrone, you'll also find a cedar close by, but we did indeed observe that phenomenon, without exception, in this locale.

About this Archive

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

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Texas Hill Country is the next category.

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