Saturday, March 27, 2010

What's Going On

Hey, everybody! Well, it's been almost two months since my last entry (I'm getting good at this procrastination thing!), so I thought I ought to sign in and catch you up on things. One of the major events lately was the return of my friend Alexa for a personal show at Talgar's Restaurant in Alpine. Being included in Artwalk/Gallery Night a while back was big news enough, but to have your very own show is extremely exciting. And a nice, artsy setting, too, I might add. Here is Alexa and her patron of the arts/person responsible for putting all this together, Betty Gaddis Yndo. They both look dressed for the part, don't they?

As I didn't get any real good shots of the works on the wall (I'm starting to slip a little), I did get a nice shot of the spread for this little soirée. I almost made myself sick on Talgar's green sauce and homemade flour tortilla chips. OHMIGOD!!! Truly manna from Heaven! (Their fish tacos, as I found out later, are to die for!)

The next day, Alexa and my friends Jennifer and Romaldo and I headed to the Redford area for a hike to a secluded little waterfall. The way was fraught with peril at slipping into moss-infested waters, but all made it there and back again without incident.

And here's a shot of the moss-infested waters I was talking about, just so you'll know I wasn't making this stuff up. ("It's a desert, Doug! How can there be moss?")

And here's some more stuff I didn't make up. Actually, if you look at the rock formation closely, you can see the high-water mark indicating that a lot more water used to flow through here. Amazing, huh?

And at last we're here at the waterfall. It's hard to believe that such a moist and lush place exists out in the middle of a sun-baked area such as this, but it happens more often than you'd think.

Everywhere around here were longspur columbine (just budding) as well as a host of other flowers, mostly yellow in color. This shot of a yellow rock nettle turned out to be one of my best flower shots to date, although I found out its leaves pack a pretty hefty wallop. It looks like some variety of buttercup, but don't let that fool you. It did me.

Well, before we move along (you can catch the entire show at my "Alexa's Back In Town" gallery at, here's a shot of Alexa after capturing what I'm sure will be her next show-stopping, award-winning photograph. Okay, fast-forward to present day . . .

Oh, BABY!!! You never know just what you'll find in the little town of Alpine, do you? I came across this window display while walking to do some errands while Pepe (he's my very own truck now -- I just made the last payment!) got his oil changed and had his other precious bodily fluids checked. Wo! I couldn't believe my eyes. And talk about just the right light, too. On my way back to the shop, I just had to pass by and check it out again, but the lighting at that point was all wrong. Those fleeting moments . . .

Tearing myself away from the window display, I found this scene a little further down the street. Too bad no one was making use of it. (Yeah, like you, Doug!) I'll have to do that someday.

One of the best things about that outdoor café scene was this old (I think) red Schwinn bicycle, standing proudly at the curb. Old or retro, you don't see these things much anymore in this age of high-tech bicycles. This was really nice.

Perhaps one of the best things to come out of this trip into town was the acquisition of my new best friend -- this pothos ivy I obtained at Morrison's True Value. I'd recently watched Leon: The Professional and found his love of his little plant quite touching, and it made me realize I don't have a single living thing in my place, which is unusual for me. So, when I went outside to Morrison's lawn and garden area and saw this little guy hanging up there bleaching himself in the unrelenting sun (the scrim covering wasn't really doing its job, but it helped), I just couldn't resist rescuing him and bringing him home. We're both a lot happier now. It doesn't take much sometimes.

So, gang, I guess that's about it for now. Hopefully, it won't be two months until my next entry, but you know me. Until next time . . .

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Weather And Stuff

The other day, a cold front began moving into the area, bringing with it some winter thunderstorms. As I happened to be working that day, I got the opportunity to photograph some truly phenomenal weather, such as this thunderstorm out over the Terlingua Ranch area, with the Corazones (the two peaks on the left) awaiting their chance at catching a little rain. As you can see between the dark, massive clouds and the open areas of bright sunshine, the lighting was truly awesome.

These curious-looking clouds have always fascinated me with their bulbous texture. They also can also be harbingers of turbulent weather systems, up to and including tornadoes. No tornadoes this day, but the weather was rockin'.

I just thought I'd include a photo of just the main mass of these unique clouds. They just look like they mean business, don't they? When they turn green, that's the time to head for shelter, as that usually means tornadic activity is right around the corner.

Why I didn't think to grab my infrared filter and capture this scene in infrared is beyond me. I was just too mesmerized by the drama to think about it, I suppose. It was just perfect as it was.

About a week ago, I decided it was time to head down to the Hot Springs area and see what damage nature (and the Trail Crew) had wrought. It turns out that either or both of them did such a good job, I was too depressed to include any photos of the destruction. So, I decided I would concentrate on other stuff as I made my way to the Hot Springs and sought out the Hot Springs Bluff Trail. (I guess that's what it's called; I don't think it has an actual name.)

I'm always fascinated by these clay pot-shaped nests the cliff swallows make, especially in such a aesthetically-pleasing setting.

Well, what do you know? I found the bluff trail, at last. I'd always heard there was one, but never knew where to pick it up. (It actually starts back behind the old General Store/Post Office.) Here's a shot of the Hot Springs pool taken from up above, with Mexico just on the other side of the Rio Grande.

I'd always heard there was an old house ruins up here, which is why I decided to find the trail at last, so I could photograph it for my collection. Not much left, as you can see, but I found it interesting it had a concrete floor. They sure had a nice view, though, didn't they?

Here we have a reverse-angle view, showing the Sierra del Carmen Mountains off in the distance. Boy, they had a nice view no matter where they looked.

We're almost at the end of the trail now (I started where the trail ends up past the Hot Springs), and below we see the motel unit, the General Store/Post Office, and the parking area. Taking the draw you cross just before you get to the store will put you at the trailhead, although you won't find any markings directing you.

After I got down off the trail, I decided to poke around the area some more, and found one of the doors to one of the units opened just enough to get my hand (with camera) inside. The cracked dirt you see is leftover silt from the October 2008 flood. This unit just hasn't gotten cleaned out yet.

I've always been a big fan of cracked earth shots, so I thought I'd take one of the motel floor for posterity's sake. They always reminds me of our backyard on Ash Street in Grand Prairie during the summer, back when I was a kid. I don't know how many Army men I lost in those cracks.

And last, but not least, here we see a West Texas version of the ever-popular cardinal, called a pyrrhuloxia. This little guy comes and sits in the mesquite tree in front of the Entrance Station and keeps an eye on me, as you can see him doing now. They're so closely related to the cardinal, they even make the same peeping sound.

Well, that's all the time we have for today. As always, thanks for tuning in!

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Happy New Year, 2010!!!

Well, it's the New Year now, and I decided I had to celebrate by taking a little hike I've always wanted to do -- a trek up the Persimmon Gap Draw Trail and up the side of a mountain I've come to know as Abuelo ("Grandfather"). It wasn't an overly taxing hike or a long one, but it was well worth the effort. We'll start off with some exit shots of 2009.

Well, it's the last day of the old year, and I'm off to work (my Friday!). I was so mesmerized by the full moon floating ahead of me on the drive to work, I just had to stop and give it its due. What a nice way to end the year. It was kind of a dangerous drive, though, as I couldn't take my eyes off the moon.

Nothing too spectacular, as sunsets go out here, just a lot of nice, warm light due to a high, thin overcast. Adios, 2009!!! Don't let the door hit you in the butt on the way out.

Believe it or not, this is a very important piece of geology, as this mountain is composed of the oldest rocks of any in the park -- 500,000,000 million years old, dating back to the Ordovician Period. This mountain was formed at the same time and by the same forces that created the Appalachian Mountains, when the earth here got folded over and layers of rock that had been slumbering deep underground were suddenly thrust upward and laid atop the land. Pretty amazing stuff, huh? Since no one had taken the initiative to name this particular geological feature, I had been calling it The Old Man, but have now opted for Abuelo (Spanish for "Grandfather"), since it is indeed the grandfather of all rocks in Big Bend.

The small cairn of rocks in the foreground is the start of the Persimmon Gap Draw Trail, which will lead us up to the top of the mountain -- sort of. Some bushwhacking (or cactuswhacking, I guess you'd have to say) will be involved.

You can see evidence of the folding process that went on by looking at the various directions the rock strata takes. The different colorations in the rock are quite striking.

I came upon this rock with the prettiest colors in its layers. The striking light-colored layers truly fascinated me. Geology rocks!!! (Ha ha)

For the most part, the Persimmon Gap Draw Trail follows (or is) a dry waterway called a draw, hence the name. There's not much to see as far as views go while following this draw, but occasionally one pops up, such as this one here. I finally found the side trail just before the first bowl that was hidden by a huge catclaw bush. Much perforation -- as usual -- was involved in clearing the trail entrance. This was the view from up above the bowl.

The two prominent peaks off in the distance are called the Corazones ("The Hearts"). We've now left the draw and are heading up the mountain. There's no trail per se from here on, just picking the best route through all the prickly stuff -- an ocean of lechugilla, tasajillo, ocotillo, pitaya, prickly pear, and other such desert delights, as seen here. Again with the perforation.

Here's another little hill I intend to climb someday, Persimmon Peak. Even though this mountain sits right next to Abuelo, It's but a youngster -- a mere 65,000,000 years old, dating from the Cretaceous Period. The trick to climbing this fellow is finding the route up without getting "cliffed out." Not an easy trick, from what I can see.

It was funny, but I could see the top getting closer and closer, only to find that once I achieved it, the real summit still lay ahead. Well, it's not like it was a whole mountain over, as I've encountered in the past. It was an "easy" walk from here. Just look at all that lechugilla out there -- the sharp pointy bushes -- just waiting for a tender, unsuspecting ankle to bite. They are one nasty customer, believe you me.

And here we have the view from Abuelo's summit. If you click on the photo, you can make out the Visitor Center, the Entrance Station (with a car driving up), and the as-yet-completed housing unit to the right, 582' below. According to my GPS unit, we're at 3552' right now, in case you're interested. You can also see the draw that is the trail snaking from the VC through the lower left corner of the photo. Not a bad view for lunch, huh?

This is either George or Gracie, one of a mated pair of Chihuahuan Ravens who have taken up residence in Persimmon Gap. When I first saw them, they were flying below me, but after they found out I was up here, they came up and put on an aerobatic display. It could possibly have been a mating ritual. I've got a video I'll put up on my video blog.

Well, no New Year's Day hike would be complete without a New Year's self-portrait. I look pretty happy with myself, don't I? Well, I should be, as this is something I've wanted to do for a very long time, and it was the perfect time to do it. Happy New Year, folks!!!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Just So Yule Know . . .


My last blog entry, especially the part about my return to the booth, got me the same basic question over and over again: "So, is that all you do at work -- sit back and relax?" The answer is no, it's not; at 9:00 in the morning, it just works out that way sometimes. Just so you'll know (see how clever that was?), here's what it looks like a lot of the time, especially during this busy Christmas season. [This photo was taken on my co-worker Cindy's workday, not mine. Just so you'll know.]

And for those who inquired about what my view looks like while not thusly engaged, here's the same shot (roughly) taken without all the vehicles. Not too shabby, huh?

Okay, enough said on that little matter. Let's move on and catch you all up on what's been going on around here the past month. One of the most exciting things was my friend Alexa Walker's debut appearance at Alpine's Artwalk/Gallery Night last month. She was invited to show her spectacular photographs at the historic and beautiful Holland Hotel.

As you can see, the venue left a little to be desired from an actual space standpoint, but it just got you all the more involved with the work, as if you were actually there. I'll tell you, I've always been a big fan of her work -- having viewed it on her website on more than one occasion ( -- but it is truly remarkable stuff when you get to view it first-hand. Here's a shot of her standing next to one of her finest creations, The Guardian, in its handmade cedar frame she had commissioned just for it.

I was so excited about seeing her work, some of which I was personally responsible for, I just had to go back to the Hallie Stillwell Hall of Fame here at Stillwell's RV Park and re-shoot a stand of old boots they have there. They did some cleaning on the window used to light this shot, so it wasn't that nice diffused light as before, but you just can't beat the character of these boots. Are these fun, or what?

Another exciting event of the past month was to go to Terlingua and have Thanksgiving dinner with my friends Jennifer and Romaldo, and to meet their new dog, Chewy, a rather energetic red blue heeler. This little guy's a true nut and very personable, as you can well imagine from this shot here, taken during a game of fetch. It almost looks like a studio shot, doesn't it? He's a hoot, if ever there was one.

In my last post, we played the "Who Can See It?" game with the Sleeping Indian Prince, which most of you did well on. In that regard, here's another object that can be found on the way back from Alpine, and one I always look forward to seeing -- Dead Dino Rock.

It just looks like a dead Brontosaurus (or Apatosaurus, as they call it now) lying up on top of that hill, doesn't it? Sure it does! Hmm. Okay, how about this one -- The Electric Chicken -- which I see every workday on my walk from the Visitor Center to the booth at Persimmon Gap, so named because it looks like a chicken who stuck its beak in an electrical socket.

Okay, maybe that one was a stretch, but you've got to give me the dinosaur, okay? Yeah, let's move on, shall we? Now, for all you folks in the northeast (especially any of you from Virginia), this next shot may not seem like much, but for those of us out here in the desert, it's a true miracle. We actually got snow! It wasn't much, mind you (maybe a 1/2 inch), and it didn't last long at all (it was gone by noon), but just the event itself transformed our day and set the tone for the holidays, culminating in a crock pot full of homemade beef stew. This shot was taken as I sat on the doorstep of my trailer.

Another thing that set the tone for the holidays -- at least for mine, anyway -- was the arrival of a red cellophane wreath from my sister, Lyn, the same as the one my grandparents used to put in the living room window and we would look for from across the pasture on our way into town. I put mine in my own living room window so I can see it as I drive in from work each day. For us grandkids of Beanie and Stella Moore, there's nothing that says home for the holidays like this sight. Here's what it looks like from the entrance.

And so, with that I will wish you all a very Merry Christmas and a happy and prosperous New Year. May all your wishes come true, and may all your Christmases be white. (You folks in Virginia won't have a problem with that last one.) Happy Holidays!!!

From my home to yours -- Merry Christmas!

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Out And About

Greetings once again, folks. Well, it's finally turning autumn out here, not that you'd notice it much unless you were up in the mountains where we keep all the real trees, like these. I don't know what kind of tree this is, but its leaves are very small, about the size of a postage stamp. Still, color is color, and I'll take all of it I can get. It's certainly not the spectacular show up in Maine I'm so used to, but it'll have to do. Funny, but without my seasonal sojourns, I really have no idea what season it is anymore -- sort of like looking at a digital watch and having to visualize an analog one to "see" the time (which is why I don't own any digital watches or clocks). I'm just funny that way. Anyway, time to move along and catch y'all up on what's going on out here in West Texas.

Of course, what really says autumn to me is being back in my beloved booth (a.k.a. "The Box"), sitting in my high chair and watching faithfully for the onslaught of humanity roaring in to visit the park. And I do mean "roaring", too, as I almost got my head taken off the other day by a pair of Rio Grande Electric maintenance vehicles entering the park in a full 45mph run with no intention of stopping. I completely missed the first one -- or, rather, he barely missed me -- but I wildly gesticulated to the second one to slow the Hell down, which they did. They stopped the next time in.

But, all close calls aside, I'm still much happier to be out here in my little booth in the desert than in the Visitor Center, where the vast hordes of humanity can descend upon you without notice. I just like the peace and quiet of my own space, where I can gaze at the awesome view through my own picture window to reflect on life and all it's various permutations. And, no, I don't get bored. I can read if I wish (picture books are better, though, as you really don't have time to immerse yourself in a novel) or work on the computer (don't count on whipping anything out quickly or doing much surfing, as it's incredibly s-l-o-w) or gaze around me with my binocuclars at the various birds and other wildlife in the area. The park being on the migratory flyway the way it is insures there is no shortage of avian subjects to keep an eye out for and identify. Oh, yeah. The booth is good.

And here we have some of the other wildlife I was speaking of, the Snout Butterfly (Libytheana carinenta mexicana), a relative newcomer to the area, at least as far as I can discern. In all the years I've been coming here, I don't recall ever seeing one of these curious little creatures, but we have them in swarms around here right now. There were seven in the booth at one time the other day and I had to use my Catch-and-Release Unit (the clear glass turned upside down to my right in the preceding photo) to capture and release these little guys, at which point, of course, they merely flew back in after a bit. Might've been the same ones, I don't know. The Snout Butterfly's prominent "snout" is actually formed by its elongated mouthparts, scientifically called labial palpi. As I found out in my research, these little guys can be found in both North and South America, and the massive migrations of this species often attract attention in the Texas and Mexican newspapers. I never knew that. See how good the booth is? And educational, too.

Another added benefit to the reopening of the booth is the concept of the Special Project Day, of which most of you are well aware. For the benefit of the newcomers to this blog -- and to life as a Visitor Use Assistant -- alternate Thursdays in our workweek are spent working on special projects, counting money with our boss, or out on hikes on popular trails, called "roving," where we make contact with visitors and answer questions and otherwise keep them entertained with stories concerning park history and discussing the various aspects of the mythology of this wonderful land. On my first Special Project Day, I was unable to find my boss for money-counting and, as I had no specific special project to work on, I hit the Lost Mine Trail for the first time this season. Upon reaching one of the switchbacks in the trail, I came across this baby agave catching some morning sun. I have a special fondness for these little guys, probably stemming from the huge example that once dwelled on the west side of my grandparents' house in Central Texas.

And what this trail is noted for is its staggering vistas along the way and at the end, most notably the view down Pine Canyon toward Mexico, barely discernable here due to the rather heavy haze this morning. Still, any vista is a good vista, I always say -- except maybe for that one back in Acadia with the Jackson Lab stuck squarely in it. This is the view at the one-mile point, at marker post 10 along this self-guided trail. At this point I took off down a side trail that supposedly leads up to the top of Casa Grande, one of the most prominent features here in the Chisos Mountains. For even a seasoned trail worker, that little side trail was somewhat of a challenge, and I eventually just sat down and took a break and watched the view to make sure it didn't get away. That is one nasty little trail, let me tell you.

Due to this blog entry taking on a life of its own and growing larger by the minute, I hadn't planned on including a shot of Casa Grande, but since I mentioned it, I figured I'd better. Here we see it doing what it does best, according to the self-tour brochure -- looming. This was taken from the side trail, at the point where I stopped to eat my peanuts.

My reverie was interrupted by the hooting and hollering of a large pack of yammerheads heading up the trail, so I decided that I would sit still for a while until they proceeded past the viewpoint and, after chatting for about a half-hour with a batch of folks there, I called off the rest of the hike and took off to see what was happening in the Rio Grande Village area. Just as you cross over the long, curved Tornillo Creek bridge, you see this dazzlingly pretty rock strata just to the left of the road. There was a nice pull-out on either side of the road (apparently, the park figured it was a nice place to stop), so pull off I did and got out to capture this beautiful formation at last.

Okay, even though this blog is getting a little long-winded, I just felt you should get the full treatment. After capturing the hillside in a documentary style, I moved in -- or zoomed in -- for a closer look, attempting to render it in somewhat of a "color field" style, somewhere between Mark Rothko and Georgia O'Keefe. Of course, this isn't nearly as abstract as either of those artists' work, but I could take it and play with it later. The possibility is here.

Then, as I was pulling away, I found the view I was looking for, with these great, deep shadows between the "toes" of the hillside and it's colors. Oh, yes. This will do nicely. Photoshop, here I come!

One of the things that most likely cause a lot of wrecks (not really) upon nearing Rio Grande Village is the stunning vista of the Sierra del Carmen Mountains of our friends across the water, Mexico. I've seen these mountains in all kinds of light, but never in light so clear. On my first visit to the park on a photo workshop in 1986, our instructor asked us to pick out the Sleeping Indian Prince in the formation, which of course I did right away, having had practice in such things from an early age. Can you see him? Click on the photo to enlarge.

A lot of the other people had picked the formation to the right for the prince's nose, for some reason, but I could see the prince right away, and I can't not see him to this day. (That's one of my favorite misuses of grammar, if in fact it is a misuse.) I'll have to add a cropped shot of the prince to my "What Do You See?" file of observations from the natural world.

Moving on to do a hike into Boquillas Canyon (bad idea; hot day), we come across what is one of the sorest points to life here in Big Bend -- the closure of the border thanks to the 9/11 attacks. Due to that closure, the poor folks over in the little village of Boquillas, Mexico, who relied so heavily on our trade to make a living, now illegally cross over and set up these wares stands in the hopes that some unknowing visitor will drop their money in the jar for a sotol stalk hiking stick or wire sculpture. We at the park discourage any such activity -- and there is a pretty stiff fine for doing so, along with confiscation of the article -- but I can't help but feel for the artisans whose livelihood was taken away in such a drastic knee-jerk response to a situation they had nothing at all to do with. And such nice work, too. You can buy these very same articles in the Chisos Mountain Lodge gift shop, due to a trade agreement worked out with a woman from Marathon, but be sure to keep your receipt.

And so, with a view over the river of our neighbors a country away, I say Adios, amigos for now. I hope to see you all somewhere on down the trail. As always, thanks for tuning in.