Tuesday, December 01, 2009

I'm back from a quick trip to Ireland, with Jon, Ryan and Nicole. It was a great trip. We arrived in Dublin on Thanksgiving day, and immediately hired a car and drove north to Newgrange in County Meath. Newgrange is a Celtic burial site from about 3000 BC. Not much is known about the how or why of these sites, which are ubiquitous in the area, but it is pretty amazing to see them rising above the Irish countryside and they are amazingly preserved. Interestingly, the inside of them is built in the shape of a cross, even though they predate Jesus' time here on earth by 3000 years. The opening above the entrance is a ceiling window which lights the inside throughout its 65' length at sunrise on the winter solstice. And, I've included a picture of Ryan, Nicole and Jon as we crossed the nearby river on the way to the site. The river was swollen from recent floods, but it did not affect us.
The next day we drove further north to Northern Ireland, still a part of the UK. There we visisted the Giant's Causeway. These are Basalt columns on the north coast formed when volcanic lava pushed up through the earth, then cooled and cracked into octagonal columns. According to legend, Cool McFinn built them as a bridge to a Scottish Island. When he arrived, he realized the people were bigger and stronger than himself, so he retreated back across the causeway. When the giants followed, he was dressed like a baby, so they thought if a baby was that big, the adults must really be huge, so they retreated across the causeway and demolished it behind them.
We also visited the Bushmill's distillery, the oldest distillery in the world, and drove along the coast a bit while there. Here are some pictures of the area.
Of course, along the way we got to see lots of beautiful Irish country side. Below are pictures of sheep grazing the a pasture along the coast, a castle which partially fell into the sea while still occupied, and the village of Bushmills.
Then, we spent two days in Dublin. We visited the Killmainham Jail, where much of 17th, 18th and 19th century history is revisited. Prisoners there were largely political prisoners who revolted agains English rule, but some were imprisoned for crimes like stealing a loaf of bread. Men, women and children were all thrown in together and they had as many as 2500 prisoners in the prison, which included only 112 small cells, so overcrowding was unbelieveable. One notable inmate was an American sentenced to life in prison, but after Ireland gained independence he was released and later became President of the Republic. They had a problem with disease in jails built in the city at that time, so they built this one outside of town, where they would be away from the population and have a nice fresh breeze. But, it had no heat and open windows and was built of limestone, which leaks heat but retains moisture. Prisoners were given only a light blanket, so you can imagine that disease was even worse here, between the damp, cold Ireland conditions and the overcrowding. Of course they eased the overcrowding somewhat by hanging prisoners on the gallows nearby, or taking them from their death bed to face a firing squad, making sure they were punished before they could die of disease. Here is a picture of a cell, taken through an opening in the door, Each cell was about 8' by 10'.We also visited the Guiness brewery and a Musical Pub Crawl.
Finally, we visited Trinity College and the Book of Kells, a few gardens, shops and churches and had a some nice walkabouts in the city. It was a great trip, if short and hectic.
I'm back in Texas for a few days before heading off to North Carolina and more adventures. I'll try to post occasionally to keep you up to date.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Lost Maples, Cool Water Acres

Today I made my annual pilgrimage to Lost Maples state park. I hiked the Maple trail, the East trail and part of the West trail, a hike of a little over 5 miles.
Maybe the new is wearing off after visiting for each of the past several years, or maybe it was the drought, but the scenery didn't seem quite a spectacular this year. Even so, the weather was great, sunny and upper 60s, and it was a nice hike.

Of course I took a few pictures. After looking at them I realized I should have had my date stamp on to prove that these were new. They are almost identical to ones I've taken before. Honestly, I really did go again. Here are a few pictures from the Maple trail.
Then, the obligatory one overlooking Can creek from the top of East trail.
Yes, it is a bit strenuous getting up there. About 2 miles of the trail looks like this. I've done it before with a full pack, so fortunately with no pack today it seemed a bit less difficult than I remembered.
It was a nice trip overall, but I'm hard pressed to say it was any nicer that strolling around Cool Water Acres. Here is a picture I took a few days ago of my cabin here. You can see why it is so tempting to just sit on the porch.
This is probably my last report from here, but I hope to be back on line with a report from Ireland in a couple of weeks.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Aggies 5, Texas 1

Once again I was fortunate enough to be in the area for the Big 12 soccer tournament, so I went into San Antonio for the semifinal round. It was enjoyable, as always, but this time even more so, as I got to watch the Aggies destroy the Longhorns.
Meanwhile, I've been following Gail and others on a mission trip to Thailand, which I could, and perhaps should, have been on in this time slot. You can follow their adventures at www.hellomaesot.blogspot.com .

Since this is my 3rd visit to Bandera, I'm having a hard time getting motivated to revisit places I've been before. I'm happy to just stroll around the property and enjoy the exercise, views and air.

The weather here has been beautiful. The weatherman remarked this past weekend, that the few clouds we were experiencing put an end to 8 straight days without a single cloud in the sky. Meanwhile, the temperatures were consistently in the 70s for highs, with lows in the 30s and 40s.

With the low temperatures, the trees are finally starting to change. I took this picture of the Medina river near the Bandera city park.

The color now is mostly cypress, with the best maple and red oak colors still a few weeks away. I'm not sure how the recent drought followed by a wet fall will effect things, as I've heard conflicting stories from various people. I have seen fewer deer this year, likely as a result of the drought. But, for the first time in this area, I've seen 3 different flocks of wild turkeys. As you can imagine, they are hard to photograph, but I did manage this picture of a flock disappearing into the brush, taken while heading over to Leakey for a singing at the local church.

My time here is nearing an end, which is probably a good thing. I need a new adventure to get me out of my chair. As luck would have it, I'm planning a first ever trip to Ireland with Nicole, Ryan and Jon over Thanksgiving. So, stay tuned...I'm looking forward to reporting on things I've wanted to see.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Texas Hill Country 2009
I moved to Bandera on the 15th of October, and picked up Gail for a long weekend stay on the way. Sorry, Gail, I guess all the decent pictures of you are on your camera. But, we visited a few of the old reliable sites in the area, as well as a few new, more out-of-the way places.
We took a scenic drive around the area, but unfortunately the leaves have not yet begun to turn. It has been dry here, so the rivers were low, but I did get these shots of the Medina and Sabinal rivers.
We also spent an afternoon/evening in San Antonio at the Alamo and the River Walk, which were quaint, but inspiring as usual.
Gail suggested a stop at the Medina Garden Nursery, which at first seemed a bit odd. But it was a very nice garden in Medina which caters to local plants and butterflies. Here is a nice butterfly perched on a beautiful Turk's Cap.

We didn't see a lot of wildlife, but I did catch these at midday from the comfort of my porch.

We topped things off with a slice of pie from the Lost Maples Cafe in Utopia. Just another nice, relaxing weekend in the Texas Hill Country. Another month of this, and I'll be spoiled rotten.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Check the Sky

Here in Temple, my top hobby recently has been checking the sky. A significant amount of rain over the past month has slowed projects to a crawl. We have gone from about 6" below normal rainfall for the year to several inches over normal within the last month, and several more inches are predicted for tonight and tomorrow. And, of course, as you know, getting in and out of my private retreat is often a function of the weather.

So, I've naturally started paying more attention to the sky. Last night I saw a shooting star for the first time in several years. Sunsets have sometimes been spectacular. And, the pond is full and occasionally reflecting a blue sky and green grass. Also, a few days ago, I witnessed a lightning show so spectacular that it prompted me to get out my camera. Lightning in the north lit up huge thunderheads like white pillows. Meanwhile, to the south and west, we had horizonal and dramatically forked lightning appearing to go both from the clouds to the ground, as well as from the ground toward the clouds. Unfortunately, good photos of lightning are beyond by capabilities. But after a few minutes of experimenting I did get a couple of shots that at least show some of what I saw.

For all that, the rain has put a damper on my fun here in Temple. Mosquitos have become an issue for the first time in months. Fishing or hunting with the mosquitos is less fun than otherwise. The dove I enjoyed hunting in the first few weeks of the season have become more dispersed. Besides, hiking around the fields in their pursuit is less pleasant in the muddy conditions. I've even gotten to the point where I can tell almost to the minute when the rain will start by looking at the radar on the full time weather station. So, I'll soon be moving on. I leave this weekend for College Station and an Aggie game against Oklahoma State. (Oddsmakers say there is a good chance I won't like the ending, but I'll enjoy the game.) Then, it is on to Houston for a couple of days and eventually back to Bandera, where I'll be for a month and a half. I've worn out most of the great hiking spots there, but Bandera is lovely in the fall. And, several folks have promised to visit there, so maybe I'll pull out of my hermit persona for a while. After that, a quick trip to Ireland with the kids. Then, who knows... North Carolina, perhaps?

Ahh, the life of Riley!

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The Great Flood of 2009

The drought around here has been so bad, we prayed at church last Wednesday night for rain. Be careful what you ask for! Even though there was some possibility for rain in the forecast, it looked little different from many other hopeful forecasts which had fizzled with a few clouds and nothing more than a scattered shower. On Thursday the rain started.

By Friday, the news was full of reports of flooding, with 12-14" reported in Salado, a city nearby. I didn't get that much, but it must have been several inches. And now, forecasts were suddenly talking confidently of heavy rains for several days. My pond was still 6 foot below full, so I was still hoping for more. Meanwhile, I decided I better try to get the car out. Too late. I moved it about 50 feet before getting stuck.
I remember the old days, when I was paranoid about getting rain here and getting stuck. But after several months of getting out easily, spread over several years, I had become a bit complacent. Even then, I wasn't too worried. I'd just wait a day or two for things to dry up and would extricate myself. Ha!

The rain continued to fall. The ground finally had adsorbed what it needed and the excess started to flow.

As you probably know, I take my water from the pond. It had been so dry I had twice moved the pump further down the slope to keep it in the water. Now, it disappeared. I drug it out and threw it up the bank in anticipation that the water might rise further. A couple of hours later, I realized it was again in the water and the water was still rising. Again, I drug it out and threw it further up the bank. A couple of hours later, it was again under the water. I had forgotten how high the pond could rise. It had been several years since I'd seen it full. Fortunately the drainage is such that it is almost impossible to actually flood. The water overflowed the spillway, leaving it about 8 feet from the cabin.

Ok, I had gone to the store on Thursday, so I had plenty of food. I had a full gallon of milk and a full package of cookies, not to mention 3 liters of Diet Coke and plenty of food for probably a couple of weeks. I was ready.
Five days later, the rain stopped. I'd missed the Texan's game. I'd missed my doctor's appointment. I was beginning to appreciate Noah. Cabin fever was setting in, and the car was still hopelessly stuck. So, I went to work. I jacked all four wheels of the car up out of the ruts and placed a large rock and pieces of plywood under the wheels. Then, I walked the car forward one piece of plywood at a time until I had progressed about 75 feet to higher ground. I was ready when a few hours of sunshine made the high ground passable.
Today I made the run, and just managed to get out. Schlotski's had never looked so good, and you can thank their free Wi-Fi for this report. Now, some of the forecasts are saying the low pressure area that resulted in this rain might move back this way. Time to stock up on groceries, water and some mud boots, since mine were worn out in this siege. And, I think I'll be more careful where I park the car.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Mundane Monthly 2009

Well, several have mentioned that even "Mundane Monthly" might be better than "No News is Good News". So, here you are, the latest edition of the Mundane Monthly.

In the last few weeks, I've been watching the sunsets and sunflowers, examples follow:

I've also been completing a few projects. For one, I've finally completed the soffits under the gable ends of the cabin. Since this was not really doing any harm, it had never been quite high enough on the to do list to get attention, despite my best intentions. Here are photos showing the before and after.

I've also been working down my supply of mesquite for cooking, toward the critical level, because my chainsaw gave me some problems last time I used it. So, I managed to get it running long enough to put up a reasonable supply.
While excavating my ladder and materials out from under the cabin for the soffit work, I did discover evidence that the snake I killed last year was part of a family that lives part of their life under the cabin, a shed snakeskin about 4 foot long.

Football season is finally here, at least the preseason version, so I've been journeying back and forth to Houston. On the last trip I dug my shotgun out of storage, determined to take advantage of a good supply of dove around the place. That began to pay dividends yesterday on the first day of the season. Just need to pick up some jalapenos and bacon for my first mess of dove on the grill.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Back on the Farm 2009

Well, I made it to Temple and got everything set up. I had to put my pump in the pond and connect up the electricity and hoses to bring water into the cabin. I took the lawn mower out of the cabin, mowed the grass and parked it underneath to clear some space. Then I moved in what I would need to set up housekeeping for a while.

Everything seems in order, although a few mice have moved in and set up housekeeping as well. Looks like they consumed all my D-con and survived. No evidence of the snakes that sometimes follow them. No problem, just a few minutes of cleanup and a note to replenish the rat poison. Also a note to self to try to find out how they get in. It seemed like the place was tight as a drum when I left.

The corn has been harvested, and from what I can see, it looks like we had a decent crop. So, I should get a nice check. I was a bit worried, since extreme drought in the area was prominent in the news, but it looks like we may have been on the edge of it and were lucky to get a few extra showers that prevented a disaster. I can see a significant deterioration of the crops even just a few miles to the south.

Speaking of crops, many people ask me what crops are grown here on the farm. Most people recognize the top two, corn and wheat. But many are unfamiliar with a third, milo. So, I thought I would include this picture taken of a nearby field. Unfortunately it was taken just a few miles south, so you can see the crop is marginal. Just a couple of miles further south, it looked even worse. And, I think milo, also know as maize or sorghum is a bit more drought and heat tolerant than corn. I’m not completely clear on its uses, but I think it is mostly hog or chicken feed.

Across the road, I saw a new crop. Looks like they are raising sunflowers for seed production. I picked a head, and have been savouring the snack. But, with the small amount of edibles from each seed, I wonder about the economics of sunflower seeds. Wild sunflowers certainly thrive around here. In fact, where I come from they are considered weeds. Check it out: it looks like they are ready to be harvested.

I made a quick trip to Houston and picked up my Houston Texans tickets, taking advantage of the opportunity to spend a long weekend with the luxuries of cable and internet service at Jon’s apartment and great meals with several friends. Jon’s apartment is very nice, including a view of downtown

Now, it is back to the farm and some more mowing and clearing of brush plus addressing a few other maintenance issues. I’ve tried a bit of fishing with moderate success. The pond is less than half its normal depth and size, due to the drought. We could use a nice gully washer, although that would mean I’d be marooned here for a couple of days. There is no way out after a heavy rain.

I planned on a big steak over mesquite for my first night here, but pork chops and sweet corn will have to do until I find some reasonably priced steaks.

That pretty much brings you up to speed on my travels. After reading through this post, it looks like it is back to the Mundane Monthly instead of Max’s Adventures. Oh well, stay tuned. Maybe something really exciting will happen soon. Could be there is a 10 lb lunker lurking in the cooler water at the deepest part of the pond. I better go check it out.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Wind River Titcomb Basin

I made it. It was quite a journey, the kind that make these trips worthwhile.

It started in Pinedale. The Elkhart Trailhead is 16 miles up a paved road from Pinedale, where I spent the night prior to the trip. This is the only paved road to a trailhead in the Winds. The others are rough gravel roads of 10-25 miles. Pinedale and Elkhart were the starting point of my first visit here in 2006. The picture below shows the Winds from a suburb of Pinedale. Quite a view for a really nice small town.

Last time, I took just a 10 mile day trip to Photographer's point and back on the Pole Creek Trail. I traced those same steps on this trip, so I got some friends I made on the trip to reprise this photo from the previous trip.

But, this time I continued on to Titcomb basin on the Seneca Lake, Highline, Indian Basin and Titcomb trails for a trip of about 31 miles, billed by my guide book as the best of the Winds. My original plan was to camp about halfway to Titcomb at Hobbs lake, making the trip in 4 days of about 7.5 miles each. However, I reached this location about 3:00pm. I was tired, but while I rested and thought about it, I was being eaten alive by mosquitoes. I knew the next good camping area was about 3 miles further, along the Highline Trail. I decided to push on. Little did I know that the most rugged pieces of the trail were still to come. I finally arrived, dog tired, at a beautiful site on a 10,600' knoll near the intersection of the Highline and Indian Basin trails. It was a rugged day of 10.5 miles with about 2000' of elevation change.

The net result was that I was able to complete the trip in 3 days of a little over 10 miles each day. It also meant I could hike the second day with only a partial pack. Good thing, because I don't think I could have made it with a full pack. But, best of all, the camp site was probably the most beautiful I have experienced.

From beginning to end, the trails were both difficult and beautiful. Much of the high country trails were still covered in snow. But the snow was rapidly melting, making for muddy trails and high water crossings. In places we were forced into scrambling up almost sheer cliffs to avoid areas where the trail was underwater. In others we had to make our way around downed trees. Where the trails were not snowy, muddy or water covered, they were rocky. Meanwhile, any rest or meal stops were swarmed with mosquitoes, so it was not practical to take extended rest stops, despite generous applications of deet. The result is that I arrived in camp each night dog tired, barely managing to force down some dinner and hit the sack. Not that I slept...I always have a problem sleeping on these trips and that continued. But at least my tent and sleeping bag gave me some rest and respite from the mosquitoes.

Forgive my fanciful engineering, but I calculate that between weight carried, slipping in snow and mud, rock hopping and elevation change, my efforts were equivalent to running a marathon on three consecutive days. And yet, around each corner was a spectacular view that made it all worthwhile. Here are a few more pictures from along the trail to give you a sample.

I mentioned the campsite. My guidebook had indicated that there were good campsites where I camped, but I was so tired by the end of the first day that I was ready to accept anything. Suddenly I look up a knoll and see what looks like a beautiful spot. Sure enough, after climbing the knoll, it was perfect. I had a least 2 parties along the way remark about seeing my tent on the knoll and what a great site it was. Here are a few pictures taken from the campsite.
And finally, I arrived at the coup de grace, Titcomb basin. This is an area of 12 glacial lakes completely surrounded by 13,000' mountains. They fail to do it justice, but here are pictures looking in all directions from inside the basin.

Wildlife? Not so much. I failed to see signs of bear, deer or elk, though we are assured they are there. About the best I could do was this marmot, whom I saw both out and back in nearly the same spot before he spied me and ran for cover.

I've had people ask me if I'm worried about hiking solo. While most hikers do travel in groups, it feels perfectly safe to hike solo. Everyone is extremely nice and friendly, and there is enough traffic along the way in case of emergencies. I probably passed an average of 5 groups per day. I even met one female hiking solo.

All in all, a great trip. But, it took so much out of me, I've decided to head back to Texas tomorrow for a more docile life of grilling steaks over a mesquite fire followed by a real bed on my farm in Temple, and maybe an occasional visit to the big city for some football.

Ah, life is good.