Friday, December 31, 2010

December 2010 at the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge

A deep seated roar seemed to surround us. It not only came from the air but it also seemed as if the water itself were vibrating. The others on the observation deck looked around and the only one unconcerned was the American Bittern that was concentrating on its fishing and possible morning breakfast.
We had decided to take a break from our busy schedule,(go ahead and laugh if you wish), and go birding at the Aransas National Wildlife refuge. It was kind of like our personal bird count for the end of 2010 and we hoped to at least see a few whoopers.
Leaving Wateredge it was a short drive to the refuge and Renita started to record our daily bird list. Quickly she started it with a northern harrier and then added a cara cara as we passed seven scattered next to the road way. A red tailed hawk perched on a pole and of course we saw northern mockingbirds and the usual little grey birds, although I was sure one was a black crested titmouse.
Arriving we registered at the refuge headquarters where the volunteers seemed a little unsure of themselves but they probably had just arrived and we got the expected whooper totals after a little prodding. Our first stop was at Jones Lake and the parking lot was full of cars as lots of birders where taking advantage of the holiday season.
As we walked out on the deck one side was full of cameras with large lenses and one of the photographers motioned to us to come near and see the American bittern. It was totally unconcerned with all the attention as it concentrated on its fishing and we got a great and close view of what for us was a new life list bird!.
A huge gator was across the lake and it shook the air with its mating call. It was the first time we have ever heard an alligator roaring and it really did seem to shake the air and water, much like one of those horns that shook everybody at the World Cup. Another gator answered in challenge but it was across the lake.
Renita pointed out the huge gator as it continued to roar and stretched out its head, pointing it into the air as it arched its body and emptied its lungs. Such a primal sound that has been heard for millions of years and we felt lucky to actually hear it.
We left the throng and mosquitoes at Jones Lake and headed to the Rail Trail and Observation Tower. As we climbed the Tower ramp we were greeted with a strong south wind that shook our spotting scope so much that it was almost useless. Across the flats a pair of whoopers were feeding and I thought I spotted another pair much further down the way, on some spoil piled along the Intercoastal waterway.
Next was the rail trail where hundreds of pintails started to fly away in wave after wave! A greater yellowlegs stood perched and sleeping on one leg while several lesser yellowlegs searched for food,(They have a updated bird list at the visitor center and it sure helps me zone in on the kind of birds to expect at each spot).
It was lunch time and we ate as we drove along the eleven mile road where more lgbs,(little grey birds), and a kestrel highlighted the drive. Our next stop was at Big Tree where we climbed down the eroded bank and then walked along the beach.
Turning around I noticed a rock underneath a stump and as I neared it took form, a large pleisticene fossil bone! Excited I noticed more bones underneath the stump and I turned over the stump to uncover someones cache of possible mammoth bones.
Hoping it was a park rangers find and not the pile of a fossil poacher I recovered the bones with the stump and headed back to tell Renita. I saw several smaller bones exposed along the beach front and even found a part of a fossil tooth, perhaps a piece of mammoth tooth , and took a photo of it before returning it to the spot it had laid in.
A sign nearby warned that the site was a place of archaeological significance and I was a little confused as to whether it was due to the mammoth bones or if it was the old site of early human habitation. We stopped at the headquarters to report the fossil bones and sure enough there was a display of mammoth bones and tusk pieces on the wall.
Of course we also stopped at Heron Flats where we saw a small flock of spoonbills and another and larger one of snow geese. We walked down the trail a little bit and there were the alligators and they looked like the same ones from last year. Another couple came by and the man suggested to his wife that she should go over by the gators for a picture but she ignored him and didn't respond.
Our final stop was at the small pond near the visitor center. A green kingfisher had been reported there that morning but we didn't see much as the rushes have overgrown the pond. Renita drove back to Rockport and we talked of the day, the beauty of the American Bittern and the bonus of the alligator's roars. A good day afield and an inspiration for more birding! Clear skies

Friday, December 24, 2010

A Day on the Beach at Padre Island National Seashore, Merry Christmas to All from the Coastal Bend

The forecast was  for temperatures in the 80's and so we had to head for the beach. We hadn't been to Padre Island National Seashore this winter and as it was officially the first day of winter we donned our shorts and beach gear and headed out.
Its about a thirty mile drive and we had to cross the ferry, but it wasn't very busy and we first stopped at the Parks Headquarters to inquire about the driving conditions. It was rated good to fair and it really was pretty good for a while. We drove along the beach until we passed the five mile sign where it states that four wheel drive is recommended.
We continued on until we started to notice many small shells. Backing up to the waters edge I set out two poles while Renita busied herself with the lawn chairs and it didn't take long before we were both busy with fish and wildlife. I caught a whiting and as soon as I landed it a great blue heron approached, hoping for a handout. It didn't get any as we believe wildlife should find their own food so the bird decided Renita was an easier touch and stood near her for most of the time we were on the beach.
About then my pole doubled over and I knew it was a good fish as it worked the surf rod pretty good, but it really wasn't that difficult a fight as it was my new pole and reel. a special setup for big fish and I soon was able to land a whiting and a twenty four inch black drum,dinner!
We fished some more and then ate our lunch, which of course brought in gulls and other freeloaders. I wonder if the dinosaurs used o crowd each other for handouts, or at least scraps. I returned to fishing as Renita walked the beach in the never ending quest for the perfect shell and she did find some sand dollars.
The tide was coming in and we headed back toward the beach access point, making several stops along the way for more shelling excursions. More sand dollars and a few new shells made it into our truck and I wondered where we would put them all but there always seems to be more room.
That night we had grilled black drum on a halfshell,(black drum fillets with their skin on), grilled to perfection. Seasoned with cajun spices and basted with a little butter it was about as good as it gets and fresh black drum is one of my favorite fish. We both felt a little guilty as we cleaned our plates and Molly was a little put out as not only had she missed happy hour but she didn't get any fish.
Sitting on the beach we talked about our Christmas past memories and we both agreed that our favorite Christmas event was spending a day in the Bighorns, sledding, cross country skiing, and finding the perfect Christmas Day. We have been so blessed in our lives and every day is a blessing, a day on the beach isn't so bad a memory either. Merry Christmas everyone and of course clear skies!

Saturday, December 18, 2010

The Lagoon Arts and Crafts Show, Our First Show

"Its really important to have a business card and have them out for your display. I get most of my orders after the  show." she said, We were being shown around the community center where we would be setting up our display and we had run into another show participant.
So we updated our card and bought some materials at Lowes for our display,(we ended up not using the materials of course), and did a practice set up on using our main room floor as a display surface.
Saturday arrived and of course we couldn't sleep much, or at least I couldn't, I got Renita up early and we arrived at the site a little early, but not to much. Others were already there setting up their booths.
As we set up others came by and looked at our goods and of course they were looking at our pieces. One vendor, a friend even told us that our prices were too low and that people would think that our rocks were cheap fakes from China but the prices she suggested seemed so high to us.
I put out a picture of Renita grinding a cabochon and a display that read, "We saw, grind, and polish our cabochons from the rough and then do the wrapping ourselves", hoping people would read a little about us and understand. Renita even went around to look at other booths and to check their prices and they seemed so expensive.
Nine o'clock arrived and people streamed in. We had a good flow past our booth but it wasn't as crowded as it usually is. It turned out we were competing with a show in Goliad and the Renaissance Fair in Rockport and so the other vendors fretted but we seemed busy.
People stopped and looked and some even took our card. Renita had bought a bunch of cheap silver plated necklaces and we sold a bunch of them. I got rid of a geode slice and we even sold a few of our pieces, enough to make a profit for the day! That with our presales  made it a good day as we had yet to pay for an order of silver wire that would soon be arriving in the mail.
The people thinned out in the afternoon and it seemed the few that stopped by were mostly interested in meeting us and talking about their own rock hounding. Contacts are important. Many of our friends stopped by, even our mentor Dick.  He was wearing a bolo tie of translucent petrified palm wood that he had made this morning and of course it glowed, as all his pieces do.
I even got a chance to talk to the wire wrapper and rock hound who had inspired us to become ones ourselves, and look at their pieces which included some made of expensive sugalite. Two o'clock arrived and most of the vendors were already packed up and so we filled our bins and I rode a golf cart to the vendors parking lot, retrieving our truck.
We were tired from the show but happy that we had made a profit for the day, and yes we did have post show sales that raised our totals, enough to almost pay for our soon to arrive supply order. We had sold enough that we signed up for the much larger show in February! Clear skies

Friday, December 10, 2010

Making cabochons at the Lapidary Shop, Getting Ready for our First Show

I watched Renita as she worked the stone. She was on the fourth wheel, one of the finishing wheels of a Genie Cabochon machine, and was working on a large and beautiful piece of red plume agate. It was a piece of rough that we had bought from one of our mentors, Dick, and she was making it for our private collection.
Meanwhile I was working on my own pieces, some were for our collection and some were for sale at the Lagoon Rv Park Arts and Crafts Show It was going to be our first show and we were both excited and a little nervous as we need to sell some of our pieces to pay for silver and more stone.
She finished and soon was sawing another slab on the trim saw, while I alternated from slabbing rough on one of the eighteen inch saws to working on the Genies wheels. Between the rock we found in Wyoming and the rock we bought at the rock shows, the saws have been busing reducing the boulders into slabs. On these slabs we draw the cabochon form, the rough form that is as most of our pieces are free forms, and then take them to the saw and then the grinding wheels.
The whole process really goes pretty fast as we can make a small stone into a cabochon in less then twenty minutes and even a large piece in about forty. The wheels are coated with diamond dust and make short work of any stone that touches their surface.
Mark, the shop Foreman, came over and looked at our work and its so good the way he makes gentle guided comments, hints and suggestions. He always guides them as a question that makes you rethink what you are doing. Dick on the other hand, wastes no time in giving you his true feelings, which you are allowed to do when you are eighty five years old! He has been rock hounding for sixty plus years and making cabochons and rock art for at least that long. We sometimes hear him make the dreaded comment. "Junk, why do you work on junk stone?", but today he had seen our wire wrapped pendants and had given us the highest compliment as he simply said, "beautiful".
It make us feel good that our work is respected by two such masters and so we look forward to Saturdays show. If its the right crowd we should sell some pieces, and if we don't we don't. It isn't going to stop us from working more stone but it would be nice to pay some of the costs of the materials. silver has doubled in price from when we started in January and we are now paying thirty five dollars an ounce for square and half round sterling wire.
Next year should be busy as we are going to try for three major shows, we even have to submit our work  to a jury for one, but we are confident that we have a unique style as few take the stones from the rough rock to the finished piece.  We never dreamed that retirement could keep us so busy as we learn more about working stone and explore carving jade and even making mosaics from polished and translucent rocks. Clear skies.

ps you can see some of our work at our online store  :

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

A Breezy Afternoon in Wilsons Cut, Port Aransas

Originally the winds were forecast to ease to 5-10 mph and so we planned to canoe Wilsons Cut, but the forecast changed to ten to twenty and  it was with some trepidation as we went ahead with oor plans. After a short drive to the cut from Mustang Island State Park and we quickly arrived at the put in point.
Never having canoed there before, we had launched at Fish Pass before and it was just ok, we backed right up to the water. The canoe slid out of the truck and we quickly loaded it with our gear before launching it into the shallow water. It was a falling tide, but it was still pretty high and so we quickly pushed off and headed into the cut.
Our original goal was to canoe the cut and then turn north east. making a short loop through the mangroves and back into the cut. As with most plans it quickly demanded a change as the wind picked up and blew so strong that we didn't dare leave the cut and journey into the open flats! In fact I was worried about getting back to the launch as the wind quickly pushed our boat to the west.
Finger mullet were everywhere and stopping I cast the net to get some bait as it seemed that stopping and fishing would be a better option for the day. Having the small four foot net I cast over a large school of mullet, but I only got two as the water was pretty deep and they sped out from beneath the net as the sinkers slowly settled the net to the bottom.
Another cast and a few more mullet and so we decided we had enough to fish. As we paddled west we saw a pole standing below a power line and it looked like it was hanging from the wire! We realized our mistake as a fisherman on shore rose from his seat and stood to let us know he wouldn't appreciate us boating over his line.
Turning to the other side of the cut we could see lots of lines hanging from the wire, hmmm must be a good place to fish and so we ran the boat into the sea grass, before baiting our hooks and casting into the deeper water of the cut.
Almost immediately Renita had a bite and she landed the largest piggy perch we have ever seen. Bite after bite followed and we even caught three red fish, all though they were undersized and so quickly released. A speckled trout attacked my bait as I wound it in but it was also a little small, 14 inches and it was also released.
The plans for an evening fish fry dimmed but it really didn't matter as we were catching fish from the canoe and having fun on the water! Wilsons Cut is a great place to launch and we will definitely return here again on a calmer day. Clear skies.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Mustang and North Padre Islands

We left Aransas Pass and drove all of twenty miles to Mustang Island State Park. It was the first time we took the ferry across Aransas Pass, with our fifth wheel, and we wondered why we didn't take it before.
Arriving at the park, we set up and headed for the beach.
Now the jetty's in the park are usually empty, or pretty much so, and so we were surprised to see them crowded with fisherman. As we watched they were catching fish after fish and finger mullet were everywhere. They were being chased by schools of trout, red fish and bluefish and of course the brown pelicans had joined in the feeding frenzy!
I started to tremble and shake and Renita could see that I was gripped by the same fishing frenzy! It was all she could do to calm me down as I hurried back to the truck for our cast net. I soon had lots of finger sized mullet and we found an empty spot at the end of the south jetty.
As fast as we threw out our bait was stolen! biatfish were being mauled and we weren't catching any of the fish. Finally I hooked a fish and caught a small bluefish, my first  Texas bluefish!  Now Renita and I love to eat fish but the worst fish we have ever had was bluefish and so back in it went. It was ok, we were catching fish and all was well.
The next day we went to the Packery Channel to See if they were catching flounder and the bridge was lined with fisherman. Again cast nexts were flying and we watched as trout and red fish and flounder were being caught. Not wanting to fight the crowds we drove to the Packery Channel jetty's, where the pass empties into the gulf/
Catching some mullet and ghost shrimp I soon had a sheephead and bite after bite from large piggys and grunts. Finally, I set the hook on a larger fish and I caught my first snook. It was too small to keep but it was a new species for me and that is always worth remembering. As I fished Renita watched the surfers.
On another day we went back to the South Jetty at Port Aransas. While Renita walked the beach and photographed dolphins I of course threw out some cut mullet for red fish and caught a perfect eater that measured 28 inches long. Fresh fish for dinner.
Now we do there things besides fish. We spend two days a week in the lapidary shop and we wire wrap our cabochons when the weather is too bad to fish.... Oh and we do walk the beach daily as that's what the beach is for. It has been a while since we were at Grand Isle, our last time on the beach, too long in fact.
Clear skies.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Canoeing the Sail Boat Channel

We pushed off of the bank and it only took a few strokes to cross the Sailboat Channel. A dolphin surfaced in front of us and the day was already worth the launch as Renita scrambled for the camera. From there we paddled up the old oil field ditch, intending to do some birding and fishing at several places Lannie had showed me last year.
Passing another kayaker who was fishing a small pass we reached a fork where we turned west and headed for an oil platfrom. It was low tide and mullet were quite simply everywhere. As we neared the platform we saw a third kayak fishing the south side of the hole and so we rowed to the north edge and fished the same place Lannie had showed me.
Piggy perch after piggy perch bit as fast as we threw in and Renita stopped fishing as there were rosette spoonbills all around us. The birds were taking advantage of the really low tide and were feeding as greedily as the perch.
They seemed unconcerned as we watched them swish their bills back and forth looking for crustaceons in the tide pools. A blue crab walked up to our canoe and I could have reached over and grabbed it but I knew better from the crabbing class I took on Grand Isle. There I had tried to grab a large blue crab and my sister Connie had simply yelled no!
The other yaker left and we paddled over to his spot but the fish weren't any bigger, although Renita did catch a few hard head catfish. Heading back up the cut we were able to turn south towards Brown Flats. Stopping just short of the shallow flats we tossed out our poles and again caught perch after perch.
The first yaker we had passed paddled up and told us we were at  hot spot and that he had watched another couple catch their limit of red fish the day before, hmm we should have been there yesterday. Several powerboats came, fished, and then left including a guide boat and I thought about how upset I would be if I paid for a guide and he took me fishing in such a heavily fished spot. Of course being an old guide I knew that a guide is often someone with a boat and without a job so the quality varies a lot!
We never caught any keeper fish, although I did actually catch a red fish. There were really alot of blue crabs everywhere we went and so we both talked about the possibility of a good year for the whoopers,(they need six to ten crabs a day to store up enough fat for the breeding season).
The wind came up as we paddled back to the truck but it was a cross wind and didn't cause us any difficulty.It had turned out to be an easy day and the most rosette spoonbills we have seen on a paddling adventure. The area is worth another paddling day when the winds allow. Clear skies.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Bull Redfish off the South Jetty, Port Aransas

Everywhere we looked people were fighting fish, and they were big fish! Some were fisherman in boats but as many where shore fisherman casting from the rocks. Walking out to the end of the jetty we passed two fisherman struggling to haul their catch to their cars. To say I was anxious to get to my spot and start to fish was an understatement!
I was surprised to get the spot I did and I quickly cast  a pole with cut mullet and another with dead shrimp.Soon I felt a tell tail tap and set the hook only to feel the line set firmly in the snaggy bottom. Of course I broke off not just one pole both.
Hmmm, typical jetty fishing I thought, and so I rebaited and recast out and snagged both poles. It didn't help that I could see a nearby boat catching one redfush after another and even some large pompano! They even had numerous doubles and the only doubles I was having were snags. I finally had a good bite but the fish pulled me into the rocks and I broke off.
Unable to stand it anymore we retreated back from the point of the jetty to a gap in the fisherman. We had seen them catch fish and had even watched one boat fight a big redfish for over an hour. Casting out a pole with a piece of cut mullet I baited a second pole with dead shrimp and started to retie a third when I heard the first pole's drag start to scream as a big fish tore line from the reel! Grabbing the pole I held on as the fish ran and ran and ran and I wondered if it would stop before I reached the end of the spool.
Increasing the drag I even used my hand to put more pressure on the spool and I was glad I had thirty pound braid and a twenty pound leader. Finally the fish stopped its run and I regained a turn of the spool before it went on another run.
It stopped and I was able to get a few more cranks. Getting even the fish and I alternated with both of us having the upper hand for a bit before It finally came to the surface and wallowed for a few seconds. About this time the fish made a short run and crossed another fisherman's line and now the risk of losing it increased.
Lucky for me the other fisherman realized what was happening,(It turned out he was a local and knew what he was doing), and so he walked over to me carefully keeping  pressure off my line. I was able to gain line and with his help we got our lines untangled.
Standing on a large boulder I gained line and was able to guide the spent fish into an opening in the rocks. There I was able to reach down and lift the fish out by placing my hand in its gill cover. Did I mention I forgot my net? Renita captured it all on film and she quickly snapped several pictures before I removed the number six ought circle hook from the corner of its mouth.
The fish went back into the water and swam away and that made my day, a big fish and a good release. The red was forty inches long and was a personal best. It was the reason I put up with the numerous snags and lost tackle and it made my day!
Casting out again I started to rebait my other pole when the first pole went off. It was another red but not as large as the first and it didn't take as long to fight the fish in and release the thirty eight inch fish. I only had enough bait left for one more cast and I quickly lost it to a small fish but it didn't matter.
The day brought back memories of other redfish, fishing with George on the South Jetty and fishing at Grand Isle with my brother in law Gary. Those were memories I won't forget, as was this day, and it was made especially sweet as I remembered it was a Friday and I used to work on Fridays! Clear skies

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Choke Canyon, Fall 2010

We left Hondo and made the short jaunt to Choke Canyon State Park. We have stayed there before and its one of our favorite state parks with excellent birding and fishing and so we planned a week there before we headed to the coast.
The frist night we heard animals outside our window and we woke up to find the campground full of deer. Bucks and does and fawns all seemed tame as they watched while we took our morning walk. The deer here are so small compared to their northern cousins but the surface area to size ratio dictates size in hot and cold areas.
The first full day we headed to the seventy five acre lake to check out the alligators and do some birding. It felt good, and so with the bird book in hand we reacquainted ourselves with the characteristics of the herons and egrets. Hmmm, black legs and yellow feet so it must be a snowy egret?
The water was up and we only saw one alligator but we did see a pair of green jays, along with a common marsh hen and  lots and lots of egrets. A pair of golden fronted woodpeckers flitted from tree to tree and we clearly saw the crimson red color on the top notch of the male.
Surprisingly, we didn't see any vermilion flycatchers, perhaps it was too early as we are usually here in mid November. Scissorr tailed flycatchers were in abundance and we did see our first cara caras, first for this fall anyway. So we did see most of the usual birds.
The next morning I went fishing, armed with some bait fish I caught with my cast net. I was pretty rusty with the throws and so it took me awhile to catch enough but I hoped the cut bait would at least catch us some catfish.
A flock of black bellied whistling ducks flew overhead, their high pitched whistling so distinctive and I thought of the old saying a bird heard is a bird seen. Small fish bothered my bait and I didn't have any luck, in fact my luck was really pretty bad as I got bit by a fire ant!
Going back to our fifth wheel I ate lunch and laid down and soon woke up with three bites on my shoulder and chest, with pain and swelling. A spider bite perhaps? I cleaned the bite areas and covered them with a topical first aid cream. It felt like my ears were swelling shut and so I took an allergy pill and the swelling eased, at least in my ears, (the swelling and pain lasted for two days and I was really concerned about it being a brown recluse bite but it finally returned to normal with no discoloring or other bad stuff).
The next day we returned to the Seventy Six Acre lake for more birding and got a great look at the alligators! Walking down the gravel path to the first bird overlook we surprised a rather large alligator next to the bank. It soon reappeared and it was a big one! Looking a little further out we saw the king of the lake, the eighteen footer! It was floating with only its head visible and oh my what a head! The ten footer near us was tiny in comparison and we glanced around nervously as we watched the gators and the birds.
We did go to town and stopped at an antique shop, but we weren't impressed. The fishing never did turn on but we enjoyed our stayed there. The birding and the peace and quiet, added to the beauty of the spot was the reason we had returned and the reason we will come back again. Clear skies.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

South LLano River State Park

After leaving from Amarillo we headed south to Junction, Texas and South LLano River State Park. There we hoped to spend a few days birding and maybe even floating a part of the rivers. Upon arrival the camping person assigned us to a place that had a low hanging tree branch and so we picked another spot that barely fit our fifth wheel and truck.
Now unfortunately it barely fit both and I had a wheel on the grass, which is a no no as we were soon informed by the park ranger. We next found out that a large part of the park was closed due to the turkey roosting, and I do mean a large part.
That left the bird blinds and so we headed to those. the park has four blinds and like many parks in Texas they actually put out feeders. Its something that is almost never done out west and while I have mixed feelings about feeding wildlife it does bring in the birds.
Cardinals predominated the feeders, followed by black crested titmouse, sparrows and a new bird for us, a grey catbird. At one of the feeders a flock of turkeys snuck up behind the blind but flew wehn we made some noise and so only Renita got to see them.
Another draw for the park is the monarch migration but only a few trickled in while we were there. As much of the park was closed, icluding trails we didn't really do a lot. The river trips were a bit long for us and we couldn't find anyone to share the vehicle dropping off situation so that left hiring a put in and take out sevice.
We never did float the river, nor did we fish. It really wasn't a good time to be in the park due to the closures and if we come back again we will be sure to be there when the areas are all open. Oh yeah, and we won't park on the grass! Clear skies. 

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Amarillo, Flatlands, Canyonlands, and Cadillacs

From Capulin, New Mexico, we headed  south on US 87. As we entered the Texas Panhandle we encountered some of the flattest terrain we have seen. So when we arrived in Amarillo we weren't planning on staying too long, but the rv park had a deal and so we paid for two nights and got the third night free.
As we registered we asked the campground host about things to do in Amarillo and she quickly told us about Palo Duro Canyon, the antique disrtict, and with a grimace the Cadillac Ranch. Renita collected all the info and we decided to head first for the canyon.
Now the Palo Duro Canyon State Park is about 30 miles from our rv park and as we drove across the Texas high plains it seemed unlikely that the canyon could even exist. However as we neared the canyons rim we were treated to a steep sided canyon that reminded us of the Devils Tover area. Entering the park the road quickly warned us to use low gear and  we drove down a really steep and winding road! Definetly not another place that flat landers would enjoy. Halfway down an impatient driver pased us on a double yellow line and just before a hairpin. Must have had an important date with an armdillo?
Stopping at the overlook we enjoyed the view of the Lighthouse, a natural erosional remnant/pillar, and a sweeping panoramic view of most of the state park. A volunteer told us aout the Auodad or Barbary Sheep and so we hoped we could spot some as we toured the canyon.
After the steep and sharp descent we drove along a good road that did dip as it crossed and recrosssed the river. We checked out the first campground and it was very nice but the further campgrounds all presented problems for a stay as we worried about crossing the many river fords. While they probably would be dry the steepness could present the possibility of high centering or at least dragging the rear end.
We stopped at a rebuilt dugout, a partially buried earth home. It looked a lot roomier that Luna"s Jacana at Big Bend National Park. We continued to make stops, looking for the elusive Barbay sheep but they stayed elusive. Renita did spot our first road runner and it was kind of like a welcome to Texas sign.
At crossing number six the river flowed over the road and so we got to wash off the bottom of the truck.
Further down we passed the trails to the Lighthouse and a bicycle trail that and both held promise for a future visit.
We never did see any Barbary sheep but it was midday and as I was missing my siesta we headed back to Amarillo. At least we had seen a neat place and a place worth visiting again the next time we travel through this area.
The next day Renita had scheduled a full day of antiquing and she had also found a rock shop/supply store so we headed there first. We had only planned on a quick stop but the place turned out to have room after room full of rocks and had a gated area filled with piles and drums with just about every kind of rock imaginable.
We had a nice talk with the owner and we did manage to find some rock to buy, some beautiful sowbelly agate,(its called this because it resemblew sliced bacon)< and some India bloodstone. It was a really good price and I thought about going back and buying more but Renita insisted that it was time for antiquing so we headed to that district.
Now the antique shops are all along a single road and so its pretty easy to park and walk from shop to shop. As usual some shops had some really nice items but many had refurbished stuff thst was poorly done or even worse modern stuff made to look like it had some age. We even walked into one shop that didn't have any antiques at all, besdies the owner, and it advertised antiques!
Just when I was about completely disgusted we entered a shop where the owner made custom fly rods. HIs flyrods had handles of exotic woods and stones and even antlers and we talked with the owners for quite a while about thier beautiful work.
Another antique shop and I was about worn out from so much shopping. On top of that the schools(prisons), were getting out for the day and I didn't relish the rush hour traffic so Renita reluctantly agrred it was time to head back home.
A final stop was at the Cadillac Ranch. Its not the one in the movie but an artwork where ten old cadillacs were buried nose down ionto the ground. The cadillacs all point east and have been placed at the same angle as the Pyramid of Cheops.. There is a constant streams of poeple stopping and walking to the site where you are encouraged to spray paint the ever changing art.
Amarillo is  one of those places that we classify as an unexpected pleasure. Its a place where we had fun and its a place where we will spend more time when we pass through again but next time we will bike and hike the canyon.  Clear skies

Monday, October 11, 2010

Capulin Volcnao National Monument

There where days when teaching was so easy that I wondered why they paid me, and then there where days when they didn't pay me enough. One of the easiest days was when I introduced my students to remote sensing and three dimensional imaging. That day I would start them with old stereo images of Capulin Volcano in New Mexico. Even the stoners were enthralled! So one place on my list has always been the Capulin Volcano in Northeast New Mexico. I can now cross that off my list.
We left Cheyenne, Wy, and drove across Colorado and into New Mexico. The drive was not pleasant as the signs, "strong crosswinds and high winds next 15 miles", were only too correct. Never the less as we crossed into New Meciao the winds stopped and Renita soon pointed out ancient lava flows.
Nearing the town of Capulin, New Mexico, we could see the Capulin Volcano off to the north. The next day we packed a lunch and drove up the road, all of three miles, to the entrance of the national monument. The cinder cone volcano is about as perfect a volcano as you will find anywhere in the Untied States.
After visiting the visitor center we drove up the steep road to the summit and the road is not a place to take flatlanders as there are only two guard rails all the way up! We stopped several times to admire the view and during one of the stops we actually saw a raven carrying a snake in its talon.(its the raven on the left and you can see the snake if you zoom in the image).
Reaching the parking lot we grabbed our gear and started up the crater rim summit. Stopping to sightsee and bird watch we saw a pinon jay and a prairie falcon, besides the usual ravens and little grey birds, some kind of junco? A canyon wren did stop to say hello and perched very close to us!
The trail was only a mile long but it did have several steep parts and we both had to stop as the gradient and the altitude, 8100 feet, caused us to pause to regain our breath.
The view along the way was superb! Sierra Grande, an ancient shield volcano, Baby Capulin, another cinder cone, and lava flow after lava flow all were below us. You could easily see the ripple flow marks from the first eruption of Capulin.
I learned a new term, "Boca", which describes a ridge/levee formed when a flow breaks out of the flank of a volcano. You could also see Rabbits Head, and the ancient Raton and Clayton lava flows along with the four recent,( 50000 years ago),distinct eruption flows of Capulin.
After we finished hiking the craters rim we had to descend into the caldera and stand at the vent. Renita so wanted a rock and it was all I could do to remind her that rock collecting was not allowed and that we had enough rocks in our fifth wheel,(We did stop after leaving the park and pick up some volcanic rock from the first eruption).
Now Capulin isn't our first volcano nor the largest, but it was a fine day of hiking and birding and any day spent on volcano is a good day! If you find your self passing this way, we would definitely recommend it. Retirement is so good! Clear skies.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Salt Lake City, a Tale of Two Churches

We had a few more days to spend in Salt Lake City, so we decided to visit The Cathedral Of Mary Magdeline and Temple Square. We love to visit churches to study the sytle and art and to get some understanding of each religion. Our first stop was The Catherdral of Mary Mageldine and we were immeadiately captivated by the gothic style of the exterior. Renita pointed out the gargoyles that were on each tower and the intricate carving of Jesus and the Cross greeted us as we walked up the steps.
Inside the church was darkened but the sweeping ceiling and brightly colored pillars told of man  reaching to God. The stained glass windows were as exquiste as any we have seen, including the windows in the Stained Glass Museum at the North Pier in Chiacago. The detail and the number of pieces in each work, along with their colors, told of pieces that were simply priceless. The side altars and front altars were carved from wood and reminded us of the altar in Mesilla, New Mexico. To say we enjoyed the beauty of the church was an understatement.
Leaving the catherdal we headed to the Utah State Capital Building and the Visitor center where we were able to park for free and walk down the steep hill to Temple Square. As we walked we both looked for the temple but it was hidden by the Latter Day Saints World Headquarters Building and it wasn't until we crossed the street that we were able to enjoy the Temple's simply yet towering style.
A church volunteer took our picture by one of the massive doors, built from the old testament specifications of the Temple of Solomon and the lady told us that the interior was only open to those who had earned the honor of partaking in the secret rites/ceremonies/worship. We were confused to say the least.
She further told us that when one was deemed worthy they were given a two year pass that would allow them to enter, and so we looked at the massive building, with its white heavily curtained windows and wondered. At the visitor center they actually have a model of the inside and outside of the temple along with pieces of the same Cottonwood Canyon granite from which the Temple was built.
No crosses adorned the outside, the most prominent feature was the gold figure of Gabriel blowing his horn, calling God's children? We enjoyed the beauty of the outside of the temple and we enjoyed the Latter Day Saints Tabernacle Auditorium but we walked away confused by the secrecy of the place.
It was an interesting day visiting two churches with such different policies, one in which any could enter and view and pray and another in which one had to be deemed worthy. To each their own way to peace and we wish all of you the same peace we have found in our faith. Clear skies.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Antelope Island State Park, The Great Salt Lake

Across the salt flat, a thin ribbon of water looked inviting but its high salt content held no true promise. Further the Wasatch Front stood and you could see the development as over two million people live along its flanks, yet here we were able to feel the first quiet in our week long stay.
To the west the Great Salt lake stood and we could see Fremont Island and the far distant mountains. Even though we were on the top of Buffalo Point we were still below the level of water that was held by the prehistoric Lake Bonneville and you wondered if the water will ever rise again and fill the basin? Small lizards were everywhere and we were both glad we had made the steep but short hike up Buffalo Point Trail.
We ate lunch at the Buffalo Island Grill and day use area and watched as families parked and walked to the distant waters edge. It was really pretty neat to remember last years travels to Mono Lake and Death Valley.
Large flocks of eared grebes and the largest flock of avocets we have ever seen fed greedily on brine shrimp and the egg cysts that floated on the waters surface. The avocets swung their heads back and forth as if in a feeding frenzy and it was a feeding motion we had never seen anywhere else. Shovelers and California gulls rounded out the bird list and we looked but didn't see the chuckers, even though they were said to be plentiful.
The road to the Fielding-Garr ranch was about ten miles long and as we drove along it I wondered at the families that had settled here and worked such a harsh environment. You could see the springs and their lush greenery that made ranching a possibility but it still had to be such a hard life and a long winter. A large herd of buffalo dominated the landscape although we did see a small herd of antelope and even a wandering coyote.
Driving back down the causeway we stopped at the marina and read the monument to the soldiers who had died here in a tragic helicopter accident. A group of young people from California took turns posing for pictures and they acted like it was a photo shoot for some skin magazine. It seemed so inappropriate for people to act in such a way near such a tragic site.
It had been a really nice drive and we decided that from now on we would rather dry camp at Antelope Island then stay at the rv park in Salt Lake City. Even though there were no facilities or hookups the solitude and  stars would make it possible for us to find the peace we both have searched for during our travels......Clear skies..