Sunday, May 1, 2011

Slaid Cleaves

Saturday, December 4, 2010

We got a chance to see one of my favorite artists on a rare Saturday night show at Uncle Calvin's Coffee House. Slaid Cleaves performed a wonderful set of original and cover tunes. He had the excellent side man Michael O'Connor with him to add some tasty lead guitar licks to the tunes. 

I volunteered to bus tables during the breaks, and thus, got in free. I bought a ticket for Ok Hwa. 

I managed to capture videos of four of the songs:

For more information about Slaid Cleaves, click HERE

For more information about Uncle Calvin's Coffee House, click HERE

Sunday, March 20, 2011

KNON Thanksgiving Blues Broadcast

Thursday, November 25, 2010
Our Community Radio Station, KNON 89.3 FM here in Dallas, has been broadcasting a semi-annual Thanksgiving Day edition of Blue Lisa's "Big Texas Blues" program. Lisa does the Thursday morning show on the station's morning R&B line-up, so it naturally falls to her to be broadcasting on Thanksgiving Day. A few years ago, she got an idea to have a big live broadcast   featuring some of the local blues artists. Her show is three hours, from 9:00 A.M. until noon, so it is billed as a Thanksgiving breakfast/brunch. One of the local eateries is tapped to cater the event, the station sells fifty tickets at $20.00 a head, and everyone is happy. The station makes some money, the caterer gets some advertising and new patrons, the artists get some good exposure and a chance to sell some merchandise, the broadcast audience is treated to some excellent programming, and the in-studio audience gets to get up close and personal with some great performances. What's not to love?

Ok Hwa and I have been volunteering to work the event since it's beginning. We get a free meal out of the deal, and a chance to see some very good live music. This year I decided to try to video the whole event. I almost succeeded. My video camera battery died during the first song of Greg Smith's set. I Plugged it in to recharge for about fifteen minutes, and was able to finish up getting all of Jackie Don Loe's set. My apologies to Greg Smith for the battery issues. 

This year's line-up was as follows: 
  1. Opening set by the Reverend K.M. Williams, including a duet with Blue Lisa 
  2. Aaron Burton
  3. J Mac
  4. Greg Smith accompanied by J Mac
  5. Closing set by Jackie Don Loe

The food was catered this year by The Alligator Cafe' here in Dallas, one of the finest Cajun seafood restaurants anywhere.

Links to Artists, Videos, and Photos:
KNON Community Radio 89.3 FM in Dallas, TX 

J Mac's blog post about this event

Reverend K. M. Williams

Aaron Burton

J Mac

Greg Smith

Jackie Don Loe

My Videos of the Event

My Photo Slideshow of the Event


Saturday, March 19, 2011

Boquillas Canyon

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

I had one more trail that I wanted to explore on this trip, so this day we headed down to the south-east corner of the park, to Boquillas Canyon

This is one of the three canyons in Big Bend Park that the Rio Grande carves between the US side and the Mexican side. They are, in upstream to downstream order, Santa Elena Canyon, Mariscal Canyon, and Boquillas Canyon. Santa Elena and Boquillas are easily accessible via well maintained paved roads. Mariscal, on the other hand, is very remote.

We entered the park at the Maverick Entrance Station, near Terlingua and Study Butte, then headed on over towards Rio Grande Village on the main park road, Texas 118. It's about forty-three miles from the entrance station on down to the Rio Grande Village area. What a beautiful drive, though. The middle section of the drive, near the park headquarters at Panther  Junction, travels along the north side of the majestic Chisos Mountains. The views along through here are spectacular. 

Continuing on past Panther Junction, the road descends for twenty miles down to the river at Rio Grande Village, and Boquillas Canyon just to the east. The closer you get to the river, the larger the amazing Sierra del Carmen looms in your windshield. It is on the Mexican side of the river, though, and is very difficult to get to.  

About a mile before you get to Rio Grande Village, the road to Boquillas Canyon cuts off to the left. It is four miles over to the parking area at the end of this road, and the trailhead. About half way there, you will pass the old river crossing into Mexico. This informal crossing allowed park visitors to cross into Mexico for a visit to the cantinas and restaurants there in the village of Boquillas. It was closed in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. There is a plan, which has been granted final approval, to re-open the crossing in 2012.

We came upon a coyote walking down the road. He was unfazed by our vehicle approaching, even when I slowed down to make a short video. He simply moved over to one side of the road, allowing us to pass, and never slowed down. I guess he sees a lot of tourists.

Also along this short road, we came upon a display that I've never noticed before, even though we've been down this road about five times. It was a sign and some artifacts relating the story of the old Aerial Tramway from Mexico to Texas. Evidently zinc, silver and lead ore from mines in Mexico were brought over the river to be processed in Texas. An interesting chapter of Big Bend history that I was unaware of. 

At the parking lot and trailhead, I got my cameras ready, and started out on the hike up into Boquillas Canyon. Ok Hwa decided to linger on the hilltop there by the beginning of the trail. There is a beautiful view into Mexico from the bluff there by the bend in the  the river. 

From the Hiker's Guide to the Trails of Big Bend National Park: "Boquillas Canyon Trail - Medium difficulty. 1.4 miles round trip. Starting from a parking area at the end of the Boquillas Canyon spur road, the trail climbs over a low hill and drops down to the river near a group of Indian bedrock mortar holes. Further down the trail is a huge sand slide formed by down-canyon winds that pile loose sand against the canyon wall on the Texas side below a shallow cave."

The Mexicans in Boquillas Village used to live off the tourist trade coming over from the park, until the border crossing was closed. Now they have fallen on hard times. Some of them try to make a little money by sneaking across the river and leaving trinkets and handicrafts for sale to the American tourists in the park. These things for sale are strictly on the honor system, as it would be dangerous for the Mexicans to be caught on the American side. If caught, they would be deported through Del Rio, Texas, about 150 miles downstream, or Presidio, Texas, about 75 miles up stream, and then would have to make their own way home from there. A few bold ones venture across regularly, and brazenly, though. Most notable is Victor the Singing Mexican. I've seen him several times before, always on the Mexican side. He waits in the shade of some low trees by the river until he sees someone come out onto the bluff on the American side. Then he emerges from his cool sanctuary, and begins singing old Mexican songs in a very loud voice. The effect of the canyon walls seems to project his voice directly to the listener on the American side. He's trying to elicit tips into the coffee cans he has left on the bluff there. 

On this day, there were several other small groups of tourists there. From the bluff by the bend in the river, I could see a bunch of people moving around on the Mexican side. Looking closer, I noticed several men on horseback, and what looked like Mexican soldiers on foot. Also, a couple of Mexican men on horseback had crossed the river and were checking on their handicraft sales. I could hear Victor singing, and when I looked for him, he was also on the American side, standing next to his canoe. I never figured out why they were so bold in coming across in broad daylight on this day. Maybe they knew something we didn't. Probably so, since they live there and we were only tourists.

I hiked on down to the river bank, taking short video segments along the way. When I got down to where Victor was, there were a couple of other tourists there enjoying his song and having a beer. I gave Victor a dollar, got a picture of him by his canoe, and kept on hiking. I wanted to get to the end of the trail to see how far down the canyon it went. 

As in Santa Elena Canyon, the trail here only goes as far into the canyon as the sandy river bank holds out. That was not very far. Reaching the end of the trail, I took a picture, then turned around and headed back. 

When I got back to Ok Hwa waiting for me on the bluff, she told me that one of the Mexican horsemen rode up and started talking to her. She is deaf, and really only knows Korean and a little bit of English, so their conversation must have been short. He was probably only trying to sell her something, but, she said that she was afraid he would grab her, pull her onto the horse behind him, and gallop off into Mexico! She doesn't trust strangers too much.

Well, we had a good time there by the river, and got a lot of good pictures. After we got back to the Bronco and put our things away, we drove over to the store in Rio Grande Village. There, we continued our tradition of an afternoon ice cream on the porch of the store, and visiting a little with the other tourists who were there. Then it was back into the Bronc for the long, but beautiful drive back to Terlingua.

This was our last full day in Terlingua and Big Bend. The next morning we packed up and headed back home, wishing all the way that we could've stayed a little longer.

The photos above are not in any particular order. They are, from top to bottom:
1. Victor the Singing Mexican, standing with his canoe on the American side.
2. Pebble Beach at the Mouth of Boquillas Canyon.
3. Old Ore Bucket left over from the Aerial Tramway from Mexico to Texas.
4. Boquillas Canyon Trail sign. 
5. Wire Scorpions, illegal Mexican Handicrafts left for sale on the American Side.
6. Ocotillo plant, with the majestic Sierra del Carmen in the far distance.

Coyote Video


Thursday, March 17, 2011

Santa Elena Canyon

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

After visiting John Wells at the Field Lab, we headed back down into Big Bend Park for some more exploring and picture taking.

Just inside the west entrance to the park, there is a turn off onto an unpaved road to the right. This is Old Maverick Road. It is a short cut, of sorts, down to Santa Elena Canyon. The paved road to the canyon is the main park road, to the junction of Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive, then down Ross Maxwell to Castalon, and from there down to the mouth of the canyon, a distance of around forty miles. Old Maverick Road gets you to the same destination in about fifteen rough, dusty miles. 

There are a few interesting sights to see along the way. The first you come upon, after about five miles, is Luna's Jacal. This is an old rock, mud, and stick house left over from the old days before the park. The old Mexican, Gilberto Luna, lived here for many years with his large family, until he died in 1947 at the venerable age of 108. We always stop here for some pictures when we come by.

Aside from all the beautiful scenery, and the occasional javelina, road runner, or coyote, the other interesting stop on Maverick Road is Terlingua Abaja. This is the site of an old farming community on the banks of the lower Terlingua Creek, hence the name. There are the ruins of some houses here, and a derelict 1920's automobile, slowly melting into the landscape. It's an interesting stop, but we didn't make the stop this year. It was getting late, so we pushed on down to the end of the road at the mouth of the canyon.

Parking in the little lot there, we noticed quite a few other vehicles there, also. There was a van full of elderly tourists disembarking, being lectured on the natural history of the area by a guide. They were from Far Flung Adventures, one of the major touring and river rafting outfitters in Terlingua.

I was going to hike up into the canyon on the short nature trail. It goes up into the canyon for about a half a mile, to the spot where there is no more river bank, and it's just sheer canyon walls and river. Ok Hwa decided to stay near the parking lot, making pictures. There were several people nearby, with easels set up, making paintings of the dramatic canyon entrance. 

To get to the canyon trail, you have to cross Terlingua Creek at the spot where it joins the Rio Grande. Depending on how recently it has rained, this crossing can be dry, muddy, or wading through flowing water. The water was flowing a little, but I was able to step across on a series of strategically placed stones, without getting muddy or wet. 

On the other side the trail climbs quickly, through a series of switchbacks and poured concrete steps. This initial climb near the mouth of the canyon gets you to a great vantage point, high on the hillside, with a spectacular view of the desert and mountains in the distance to the east, the Terlingua Creek/Rio Grande junction in the foreground, across the river into Mexico off to the right, and, back to the west up into the canyon. This spot is really as far as most people really need to go. It's the most bang for the buck, so to speak. 

It is a pleasant hike up into the canyon, though, and I love to explore, so even though I've hiked it before, I always like to do it again. It gets cool and secluded up in there quickly, especially in the afternoon. There's something majestic about the close proximity of all that massed rock formation, and the way the soft, but persistent river has cut a path right down through it over the ages. 

I made it to the end of the trail in about twenty minutes. Along the way I passed a couple of middle aged gals, and we exchanged pleasantries. They caught up to me at the end of the trail. We took turns making pictures of each other with each other's cameras, like a bond between fellow explorers. You have to document the highest and farthest points on your travels.

Having duly communed with rock, water, flora, and fauna, I felt comfortable in returning to the relative civilization of the parking lot. Ok Hwa was having a great time making pictures down on the bank of the Rio Grande. She was fascinated, also, by all the folks there making paintings. 

Back in the Bronco, we headed the eight miles downstream on the paved road to Castalon Village. Another ice cream on the porch there awaited us, then the beautiful drive back to Terlingua via the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive.  

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

The Field Lab

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

No trip to Terlingua is complete without a visit to The Field Lab. John Wells started this off-grid, sustainable living experiment about four years ago, and keeps his many followers up to date with the progress via his blog. 

We visited John for the first time on the trip last year. He seems to enjoy showing visitors around the place, so we felt comfortable going by for another visit this year. He was home, and expecting us. 

There was a lot of progress around the place since last year. The big, new project when we arrived this time was a recently completed dam of a small arroyo on his property. When it ever rains, he is going to have a small, deep lake there. 

He wanted to show us a new section of the property, a recently purchased twenty more acres adjoining the the original section, so we all climbed aboard his little dune buggy for the ride over there. A short ride brought us to the edge of the canyon, a little ways downstream from the new dam. This was a beautiful spot, with excellent views of the surrounding mountains, and of the canyon below. He told us that the long term plans called for a couple of guest cabins here, overlooking the canyon. I sure would like to spend some time here when he gets them finished.

Back at the house, we visited for a while more, and talked about the progress of the huge greenhouse there. He was about to start on finishing up the roofing of the greenhouse, then the gutters and tanks of the water catchment system. The greenhouse should be water self-sufficient with the capture and storage of all the water coming off the roof. What an awesome project this is. He's been working on it for a couple years, now. When complete, it should supply him with all the fresh vegetables he can eat, and maybe some left over to sell, or barter. 

It was great to see John again. He's such a friendly, upbeat guy. We really enjoy visiting him. Through his blog, we have learned so much about a so many different things. He is a very intelligent guy, and the followers who comment on the blog all contribute so much to the conversation, and supply their own insight and wisdom. Most of us would be hard pressed to  keep up with his energy level and persistence, though. We wish we could visit more often, but, until next time, we'll just have to follow along on the blog.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive

Monday, November 8, 2010

After leaving Terlingua Ranch, we drove down into Study Butte, to stop at the bank and the Study Butte Mall. We needed to hit the ATM for cash, and the Study Butte Store for road munchies for our afternoon in Big Bend Park. The Study Butte Store is my favorite store anywhere! 

Stocked up with gas and supplies, we headed down into the park. We decided on Ross Maxwell scenic drive on the west side of the park. This is a beautiful drive along the western edge of the Chisos Mountains, through the desert and down to the Rio Grande River at Castolon, and Santa Elena Canyon.

We stopped at the beautiful overlook at the Homer Wilson Ranch, then headed down to the Mule Ears Peaks overlook. After taking lots of pictures, we got back on the road and drove on down to Castolon. 

Coming into Castolon, the most prominent feature is the majestic Cerro Castellan, a large, flat topped mountain standing alone in the desert. I always like to take a good picture of Castellan when I'm in the area - it's just so beautiful.

Our favorite thing to do in Castolon is to buy an ice cream, and eat it on  the porch of the store. From the porch, there is a beautiful view across the desert to Santa Elena Canyon. 


Thursday, January 20, 2011

Terlingua Ranch

Monday, November 8, 2010

Our plan for this day was to head to visit our friend John Wells at his "Southwest Texas Alternative Energy and Sustainable Living Field Laboratory", or The Field Lab for short. This is his off-the-grid homestead in the Terlingua Ranch area, about fifteen miles north of Study Butte. John's place is a couple miles off Hwy. 118, along one of the unpaved ranch roads. John was not home when we got there, so we left a note on his door. We went back to the paved road and stopped at The Grub Shack to see if anyone there knew when John would be back. No one there had any information about John, so we left. 

Since we were at the main entrance to Terlingua Ranch, we decided to head on over to the Terlingua Ranch Lodge, the heart of this development. Calling it a development is sort of contrary to what it really is. True, they have sub-divided a large portion of the desert here, and sold lots to a lot of people, but there is no development to speak of. There are a few scattered homesteads, but the only development is the Lodge. There is a paved road for most of the way from Hwy. 118 to the lodge, a distance of about sixteen miles. 

If you're looking for a secluded get-away, this is the place. It's not primitive, but it sure is rustic. There is the main office, a great two story hall made of stone that serves as the restaurant and dance hall. There are also some cabins for rent, RV spaces and a restroom building with showers, a swimming pool, a great outdoor plaza, a shooting range, and a game processing shop. Evidently there is some good hunting in the surrounding hills and mountains. They also have an airstrip for those who want to fly in.  

We had been here once before, several years ago. I had heard that the Lodge had closed, and so, wanted to go check it out for myself. We went to the office and there were three people there who assured us that the Lodge was indeed open for business. Good news. They gave us permission to wander around the place, so we spent about an hour there taking pictures.

I'd like to stay here at the Lodge for a few days, but it seems the only time we're in the area is during the Chili Cook-Off. From the Lodge back to the highway is about sixteen miles, and from there it's about twenty more miles down to the Chili Cook-Off, a bit too far to be driving every day during the Chili Cook-Off. We may come down some other time just to stay at the Lodge and chill out.