Thursday, December 20, 2007

Graduation Day and Beyond

The big day arrived on December 14th, although the buildup started a day or two earlier as friends and family began arriving.

Youngest son, Jon, walked across the stage at Texas State University and received his BBA in Economics. Later that day we had a small celebration at my place here in New Braunfels. All in all, another in a series of great days! As usual, the pictures of the walk turned out poorly, but I do have a couple from the celebration afterward.

With that, my days here in New Braunfels are drawing to a close. We'll be celebrating a quiet Christmas and New Years before I move out on January 1.

Looking forward, there is more excitement. Jon will be starting work for Shell Oil in Houston on February 11th, which is excitement enough in itself. But the timing gives us a window for one last, big trip before he enters the working world of big dollars and small vacations. After much research and discussion, we settled on a trip/cruise to South America and Antartica. We'll fly to Buenos Aires, where we'll catch a 16 day cruise to the Falklands, Antartica and Chile, then back through the Magellan Straits and along the coast of Argentina and Uruguay. As luck and airline peculiarities would have it, we'll also get to spend a few additional days in Buenos Aires.

If I can fit it into my busy retirement schedule, over the next couple of months I may get in some hikes I've been planning in the Hill Country as well. So, stay tuned...this wild ride is far from over.

One last item. On one of my walks around New Braunfels, I caught this deer playing through on the Landa Park course. And he didn't even ask. The nerve of some deer!

Friday, November 30, 2007

Canoeing on the San Marcos River

Ok, enough sitting around. I've put back all the weight I walked off over the last few months, plus some, so when Jon told me we could get a good rate on a canoe at the Texas State Outdoor Center, it was off to the river. You put in right there on campus, and if you are lucky and the water is not flowing too fast, you paddle back to the same spot. We were so worried about it we went down to the first rapids and back twice, plus a couple of excursions upstream from the takeout point.

Upstream, in Sewell Park, is the only place we came close to getting wet. I heard an unusual whistle and looked up to realize we were playing frisbee from the canoe with the world renowned Frisbee Dan. Jon tells me he's been written up in USA Today, but when I looked him up I found this video on Texas State TV at . It's harder than you might expect to catch and throw a frisbee from a canoe. Once we had water coming over the side of the canoe. Fortunately, we covered, since I was not prepared to go swimming and you'd have missed the picture version of the trip.

The San Marcos river is similar to the Comal, in that it is spring fed from the Edwards Aquifer. I'm still amazed to see these huge volumes of water flowing from springs. The San Marcos originates a short distance upstream from campus at Aquarena Springs, a well known recreation area.

Our original plan was for a half day trip, but when we arrived we realized we couldn't get the canoe until 2:00pm, so it became a 2 hour trip. The lower end of our trip was at Rio Vista rapids, pictured below. We didn't shoot them, since, as mentioned above, I wasn't prepared to go swimming. I also wasn't prepared to try to return to our pickup point from below the rapids.

Even though our trip was only a few miles, all within the city of San Marcos, there was some very nice canoeing and scenery.

Jon and I had a great time on the river, then capped it off with a nice dinner at sunset at the San Marcos Pub and Grill, which overlooks the Rio Vista rapids.
Here's a view looking toward the pub from below the rapids, and then sunset over the rapids from the pub. Riley had nothing on me.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

A writer or a blogger?

Wow, writing is a tough business. Ever since I was in elementary school, I've aspired to be a writer. It seemed such a cool, glamorous and lucrative occupation. In fact, back in those days, I used to write stories and essays and try to get my friends to read them. You can imagine the laughter. And yet I kept noticing the Reader's Digest offer of hundreds for short, simple stories about things like "Life in these United States." Even this blog probably has some roots in the aspirations of those days. But, as time went by, I departed for other careers, other ambitions.

So, after a few months of blogging I was glad to hear that at least a few people thought I had some writing talent. But, I was a bit disappointed that my readership was so low. About that time I noticed an advertisement on the blog for Helium. If you look back through my blogs you'll likely still see the ads. They publish on line and claimed a bigger readership than my blog, as well as connections to more traditional publishers. Could it be that a wider readership would recognize my considerable talents and lift me to fame and fortune?

I checked it out. I read. I dabbled by submitting a few articles. To my delight, I often rose into the upper tier among dozens of authors rated for each title. And so I wrote some more. Good ratings, but was anybody out there reading? Looking at my earnings, the answer was no. I was up to $2.50 after several months.

Then I saw it. They sponsor contests, with prizes like $75 for the top prize. That's not a lot, but could it launch my writing career and finally recognize my talent? The key was to write more good articles than anyone else on topics within various categories. How hard could it be? After all, I was #1 of 38 on at least one of my articles. And so, last week I jumped in with both feet. I wrote about things I knew. I wrote about things when I could barely guess what I had to say. I spent the better part of 5 days writing a dozen articles. The contest ends today, and if I'm lucky I might get one of several $5 consolation prizes. Boy, am I glad I went into engineering instead of writing!

From now on, I think I'll stick to the life of Riley. Jon and I plan a canoe trip on the San Marcos river tomorrow. Maybe after that I'll use the services of my good friends Sonny and Reva Harris on their travel website, . I think I'll be content with communicating my experiences, wisdom and whereabouts to my small group of friends and family in this space. And maybe I'll stick to pictures. How can I go wrong? In an attempt to get back on track I'm throwing in a couple of picture from the "meadow" between my condo and the Guadalupe river.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Landa Park and Panther Canyon Trail

I've visited Landa Park in New Braunfels several times, but never really spent the time to get to know it. Today I spent a few hours there and found a pretty amazing place. Landa Park is a 200 acre New Braunfels city park in the middle of the city. One of the most interesting features is Comal Springs. This amazing spring today flows over 275,000,000 gallons per day of fresh, clear water. Its maximum flow was measured in 1977 at over 355,000,000 gals per day. The water flows from hundreds of outlets from the Edwards Aquifer into streams which flow into the Comal River and a small lake in Landa Park. A hydroelectric plant nearby generates power for the city. As I walked along the river I could see rainbow trout swimming several feet down in the swift current.

The park has lots of monuments and plaques with interesting historical information about the area. For instance, did you know that the 1850 census shows that New Braunfels was the 4th largest city in Texas, or that it was one of the major camps along the Camino Real and later for the railroads. I'm sure lots of clean, clear water had a lot to do with that. And then there was Sesquecentenial Oak. It was a so designated in 1986 at the celebration of the 150th anniversary of Texas Independence. It was a small sapling in about 1700, and legend has it that when bands of Indians of that time left camp they bent a sapling over to indicate to those that came later which way they had headed, thus the horizontal trunk shape.
Again, pecans everywhere. I picked up another pocketful at the park. They make great hiking snacks, but my hands are sore from cracking them against each other. Pecans were one of the staples for the early settlers as they moved into this area.

Also, I discovered that there is a nice trail, the Panther Canyon Trail which runs from the Park to New Braunfels High School. I hiked this quiet nature trail along a dry creekbed right through the heart of New Braunfels.

Pretty amazing for a city park.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

New Braunfels, Guadalupe River, WurstFest and It's a Boy

New Braunfels agrees with me, so far. My condo is very nice, with a great view of a meadow and pecan orchard leading down to the cypress-lined Guadalupe River. It is pecan season, so I'm getting fat picking up and eating pecans I find on my walks around the property and a couple of small city parks located nearby. Lots of hours spent watching football, basketball and movies on TV help with the fattening process. That's not such a bad thing, since a couple of months of roughing it have my old pants sagging a couple inches lower than normal. If I didn't fatten up a bit, I'd have to buy new clothes! Anyway, here is a picture of the view from my living area.

Here is a view from the kitchen which shows a bit more of the living area.
A view of the Guadalupe from the pool/hot tub area.

Finally, a better view of the Guadalupe from the water's edge on the property.
Jon has visited several evenings, so it has been a great time with him. Yesterday we went to WurstFest (Sorry, no pictures... I forgot my camera.), a popular local festival that is going on right now. We enjoyed some Kartoffel Poffers (potato pancakes) with our wurst, topped off later with fried cheesecake and brownies. Jon even sampled the German beer. We visited all three music venues, Das Kleine Zelt (Little Tent), Das Gross Zelt (Big Tent) and WurstHalle (Sausage Hall), and got to listen to all 5 German bands. Each had its own flair. Unfortunately, I didn't find a frau to dance the polka with, and Jon wasn't game, so no dancing. Jon heads off to Guatamale tomorrow for a few days.

Meanwhile, I just heard that the latest sonagram shows my first grandbaby is doing just fine in NC, and is a boy. These are good days.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Sunset on The Temple Project

Well, I’m moving on. Next stop, New Braunfels. I know New Braunfels is an interesting place for a weekend in the summer, but it will be interesting to see how it fares as a wintering place for a couple of months. I’m not really sure what I’ll find to do there. Perhaps catch some of Jon’s open mic shows, catch the Big 12 soccer tournament in San Antonio and College Station, or a few basketball or football games. I do still have a few places in the Hill Country that I want to hike. However it works out, I’m sure it will be a change from Temple.

I’ve had a great time in Temple. A typical day in Temple has included 4-6 hours working on some project, followed by an outdoor shower warmed by the sun. Then, I visit one of several places for a late lunch, which usually includes some web time on WiFi. Then, I either shop Lowe’s for building materials or catch a movie matinee. Maybe fish or hike around the place, then grill a steak or chicken over a mesquite fire, while checking out the sunset. Catch the Nightly Business Report on PBS and some TV or sports on the radio, or maybe attend church. Or, maybe do some more web surfing…I can’t get it in the cabin so far, but if I go to the north side of the pond I’ve discovered I can piggyback on my neighbor’s WiFi by hanging my receiver in a tree. My War Driving WiFi setup is making it possible for me surf from an ever increasing number of places. I can even lunch at Taco Bell and log on to the Hilton network over a quarter mile away.

I’ve added a small kitchen counter with a sink I snared from a landfill. It is really nice to be able to wash dishes, shave or brush my teeth without a visit to the pond(of course, the water still comes from the pond, but now it meets the definition of running water and is a bit warmer on these cool mornings). I ‘ve added the room for a small, primitive bathroom in one corner, but I’m a few days away from finishing it. I wasn’t sure whether to add these improvements, since I’m not sure how much time I’ll spend here. But, the truth is, I enjoy the projects.

Church has been great, as well. This past Sunday, I decided to the visit the Canyon Creek Church of Christ. I’ve visited there several times over the years and have found it to be a very pleasant, sound, friendly church, though smaller than Western Hills. And, the singing is great in their packed, small building. This visit confirmed the impression. I was invited out for lunch. Then, I was invited to the preacher’s house for tortilla soup and their group meeting on Sunday night. They are watching a video called the “Truth Project” by Dr Dobson( Not James). It was very interesting and thought provoking and led to a good discussion. And, over the course of the day I got to know several of the brethren better, enjoying the fellowship and study.
I’m looking forward to something new in New Braunfels, but all-in-all, I almost hate to leave here

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Houston Hiking

After almost a week of full time access to internet and cable TV, not to mention hot water, a kitchenette, visiting and shopping here in Houston, I found myself anxious for some outdoor activity or hiking. The weather is beautiful here, after the first significant front of fall came through yesterday. So, I decided to spend the afternoon on a trail that runs just a mile or so from my hotel. It runs between the West Houston Airport and the Katy Freeway.

For those unfamiliar with the area, the closest things to a ridgeline or snowcovered mountain in the area are the RR right of way and the Williams Tower, but, as usual, I was amazed to find enjoyable hiking and such a diversity of flora and fauna so close to the city. First the flora…pine, live oak, cedar, grapes, berries and a host of plants I couldn’t identify. These were interesting, but not so surprising. The fauna, on the other hand, did surprise me. I, of course, did run into the usual cardinals, mockingbirds, sparrows and crows. Then it was a couple of deer. See if you can pick them out.

Then, I spotted this snake trying to warm up in the sun after the cool night and morning

A red cockaded woodpecker....

There were even airplanes passing within 100 foot of me as I passed a stone’s throw from the airport. Of course there was some noise from the planes and the occasional jogger (mostly women) or biker, but overall a very pleasant and scenic 3-4 mile hike.

Tomorrow, it is back to Temple and a bit more outdoor activity, and a bit less luxury. I expect to enjoy that lifestyle until November 1, when I’ll take up residence on the Guadalupe River in New Braunfels for a couple of months. I’m looking forward to the time on the river, but I may go mad in the same place for 2 months. Time will tell.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Back on the Farm

After a couple of days on the road, I managed to get back to central Texas. I had a nice evening with Jon in San Marcos/Gruene, Texas, and then settled at my farm in Temple for a few days of projects and fishing. Then, Tommy invited me to join him and Lyn for dove hunting in south Texas, so we had a nice day trip there. I plan to spend the next few weeks catching up with friends and relatives here in Texas.

Speaking of farming, a lot has changed since I tried my hand at it. A few days ago, the fellow who works my place showed up with his tractor and plow to turn under the remains of the corn after combining. He worked about 3-4 hours and completed plowing half my 200 acres. He showed up a couple of days later and completed the job. In between, I caught the above glimpse of his tractor. If that is not intimidating enough, you should see his planter and combine. The planter takes up most of my 30’x40’ barn in its folded configuration. I can’t imagine how many bushels of corn it takes to pay for these babies. There was a time I thought I might actually take over the farming one day, but on second thought, I think I’ll just keep puttering around and collecting the checks while letting him do the work.

Besides, that gives me more time to watch football. Tight wins by both the Aggies and Texans this weekend provided plenty of excitement.
I attended church today at Western Hills Church of Christ in Temple. They were having a "We are the Sermon Day" today, with just short devotionals at the normal time in the morning and evening. In between, they worked on service projects, working on the local Ronald McDonald's house, several other local charities and homes of elderly and disabled. Looks like several hundred participated. There was quite a buzz. No wonder the congregation is growing.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Back in Texas, Big Bend NP
After traveling through 18 states, I’m finally back in Texas. I came in from the west, so I decided to visit the Big Bend NP in southwest Texas, one of the most remote national parks. Despite what the calendar says, fall has not arrived in SW Texas. At low elevations temperatures were around 100 degrees. Fortunately, Big Bend features the Chisos Mountains. I camped in the Chisos Basin, a bowl at about 5400’ elevation surrounded on all sides by the Chisos Mountains. Temperatures here were very pleasant. Most of my hiking was between 6000-7200’. Below is a picture of the Chisos Mountains from about 20 miles away. The South Rim is to the left side of the mountains.

As I mentioned, Chisos Basin is surrounded by mountains. All drainage in the basin exits through the lowest point in the perimeter on the NW side, called the Window. Back in 1981 I hiked to the Window, so this time I settled for a picture from the Basin. You can see the Christmas Mountains through the window, about 30 miles away.

The mountains to the south of the Basin form a popular hiking area known as the South Rim. Here is a view looking south from the Basin.
I hiked the Laguna Meadows, SW Rim, South Rim, Boot Canyon and Pinnacle trails to see views to the SW and SE of the Chisos mountains across the Rio Grande river into Mexico, about 30 miles away. You can see the Sierra del Carmen mountains up to 50 miles SE in the first picture and the Santa Elena Canyon to the SW in the second.

I also took this picture looking back toward the Basin from the trail.

Here is a closer view of the Sierra del Carmen, from about 10 miles away. The Rio Grande cuts the Boquillas Canyon between the mountains in the part of the range in the US in the foreground and the Mexican part in the background.

Here is a picture of the Rio Grande river at Boquillas Canyon. I decided not to swim the river as I did in 1981. Yes, indeed, I am a wetback, twice (over and back). It was common in those days, but Border Patrol is everywhere and pretty stern about it these days. Since I was here in the 80s the Rio Grande has been designated a Wild and Scenic River by the US.

Of course, many Mexicans don’t have a problem with crossing. I saw two places on the trail where Mexican goods were laid on the side with a note asking you to purchase or donate (on the honor system) their products for the good of the children of Boquillas village in Mexico(must be related to Nancy Pelosi). Just before I turned the corner in the trail to find this cache, I would swear I heard voices, but no one was visible when I arrived. Pretty eerie. Being here and seeing the hundreds of miles of remote, unpopulated border reinforces my opinion that closing the border is an impossible task. Next stop, central Texas.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Great time in Yosemite these last couple of days. I had been there once before and am getting ready to settle down for a while, so the visit was pretty quick. Even so, I saw more than I remember seeing the first time.

I started off with a short walk to a view of Bridalveil Falls.

Then, to Yosemite Falls. Again a short walk to the base of the lower falls, where I supposedly would see a dramatic falls with lots of water dropping over 2400 feet. Unfortunately, fall is not the best time to look at waterfalls. There was just a small drizzle, as explained by the sign below.

So much for waterfalls, but there was a trail to the top of the upper falls with some excellent views of Yosemite valley. It has about 2700 foot elevation gain...more than I wanted to tackle at this point. But Columbia Rock, halfway up, was rumored to have some great views as well. Sure enough, I took this photo of Half Dome and North Dome.

Next, it was up to Tunnel Vista, an overlook on the opposite side of the valley. Great views of El Capitan on the left, and Half Dome in the center. Also a better view of Bridalveil Falls.

Finally, to Mariposa Grove of giant Sequoias. I took a loop trail around the grove, where I saw many Sequoias and learned a bit about them. The largest (about 15 feet diameter) and oldest of them was Ol’ Grizzly. It is over 2000 years old. Can you imagine it was around at the time of Christ!? Sequoias can live to be about 3000 years old.

Almost as amazing, after these redwood trees fall, they are so insect and rot resistant that it can take them up to 1000 years to disintegrate. This tree fell about 300 years ago! After a couple of days camping, I was ready for a shower, a bed and some TV and computer time, so it was off toward Southern California. I made it as far as Palm Springs tonight and expect to head over to Big Bend NP over the next couple of days.