Thursday, May 29, 2014

High heels

I love the simplicity of my van. Being able to drive up, park, step into the back and immediately commence living without worrying about hookups or slide-outs gives me a warm-fuzzy, but lately I've been finding myself parked in spots that aren't quite as level as I would like. I don't know about you but sleeping with my feet too much higher than my head - well - it's not really sleeping so much as laying there waiting for your head to explode is it? And having to use one hand to hold the pan level so the pancakes don't all ooze down to the low side gets old fast.

So I gave the lady a pair of high heels the other day. I even gave her a choice. Flats for those days when she wants to go barefoot, 1 1/2" heels for those days when when she needs just a little sass and 3" spikes for when she's feeling dangerous.

They're not Gucci, or Prada, or even Walmart, but they'll do the job.

As usual, if you want to punish yourself with the gory details of how I built these and where they get stored, click here.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Inks Lake State Park

May 13-16 2014

Once again the long-range mid-week weather forecast called for no rain, cool morning and moderate afternoons so, of course, I grabbed my gear and headed out.

This time I was headed for a place with water because I had a new toy to try out and - well - it doesn't work too well without water.

Inks Lake State Park is clearly one of those 'family' places. You know the kind; packed with noisy kids with their boom boxes, loud voices and even louder engines, not to mention all the children running and screaming under their feet!

The park has a couple dozen cabins, a couple hundred campsites, several playgrounds, a store, canoe and kayak rentals and even a fishing gear loaner program.

Not a place I'd be too eager to frequent on a weekend but I figured mid-week a couple weeks before school lets out for the summer wouldn't be too bad, and, like I said, it has that all important water thing going for it.

Besides the cabins, the park offers a variety of camping options from hike-in primitive to walk-in electric to water only drive up and, of course, full water/electric. Being a popular destination and having a lot of infrastructure, this is one of the more expensive parks in the system but I chose a water/electric site anyway because I still had a couple second-night-half-off coupons left on my Texas State Park Pass and I figure I get more for my buck if it's half off the more expensive campsite. My two nights of water/electric with coupon cost the same as two nights of water only without coupon.

At up to $6 a day per person plus camping fees the Texas State Parks can get expensive in a hurry but for $70 you can buy an annual pass which covers all entry fees and gives discounts on some of the activities like guided cave tours, plus 4 of those half-off-the-second-night camping coupons. After 3 trips, 11 days and 8 camping nights I'm now $27 ahead of the game on my $70 investment and still have one half-off coupon left. (Lost Maples is another one of the expensive parks, maybe I'll squeeze in a 2 or 3 night trip over there. . .) From now on every time I enter a park with a daily entrance fee I'm making money!

On the way over to Inks Lake I stopped off to check out the Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge. I got the skinny on the place from one of the volunteers at headquarters. This is in a major flyway for migrating birds and is one of the dwindling habitats for the Red-eyed Vireo and the Golden Cheeked Warbler.  I picked up guides for the refuge's two separate trail systems (For another trip.) then wandered the short nature trail right out back of the headquarters building for a while before finally finishing the drive to Inks Lake.

I thought this old abandoned bridge deck across the creek (The highway is now a couple hundred yards south of here.) acting as a backdrop for one of the oldest plant types on earth was interesting.

Though only a few hundred feet from the headquarters building, this is the kind of place that can make the technology of the past couple hundred years insignificant.

Of course that doesn't mean we can't help out a little with some nesting boxes on predator resistant poles under a live oak.

After toying with me for a half hour or so this is the best shot (Right there in the middle.) I was able to get of what I think is a Red-eyed Vireo (Apparently they are more yellow than olive here in Texas.) hunting caterpillars.

And since these are Purple Martin nesting boxes I assume the birds using them are Purple Martins.

Finally over at Inks Lake, just behind my campsite, I encountered a much less endangered bird doing their best to stay much less endangered.

And no, they didn't wait the mandatory half hour waiting period after eating before swimming. (At least it was mandatory according to my parents even though we kids knew we would just die if we didn't get in the water soon.)

I decided to leave the geese to their swimming and wandered a mile or so on down the lakeshore. For a while I watched these guys doing a little fishing.

And having some success

Later I lurked in the trees and watched these two having a romantic dinner cruise.

But the drake sure was having a bad hair day!!

And as the sun set I spent time at the campsite trying to catch a shot of this Swallow Tailed Flycatcher in flight. He would sit there on the ground until he saw something delicious come his way then jump a couple feet into the air with his tail spread before diving on his snack. Problem was I never did get the knack of anticipating his jump well enough to get a shot with the camera at the right time. That's one of the downfalls of electronic cameras. When you push the button so many things have to happen there's a delay between button push and photo snapped.

The next morning I was up in time for Moon-set. (Because of the low res of these blog photos you will probably have to click on the photo and open it up full screen to see that the moon really is hanging up there in the sky above that reflection.)

And to prove it, I took a shot of the moon at full zoom. Not bad for aiming a lens 40mm in diameter at something a quarter million miles away!

I followed moon-set with sunrise on the lake.

So that's the new toy I was talking about there just beyond my toes. I used to have an inflatable kayak by Sea Eagle years ago. It was OK but had a bit of a toy feel to it and, being the inherently timid type, I never felt it was up to serious kayaking, like striking out across a mile of open water with whitecaps slapping at me, yet here I am with another Sea Eagle. You can blame a blogger I follow for that. She also used to own the same model kayak I had then upgraded to a different model, also by Sea Eagle, that uses a new technology that takes away the toy-like air-mattress quality and has a flat floor stiff enough to stand up in. Hearing her sing the praises of this new kayak and seeing her photos from the water side of the shoreline I couldn't resist.

And this is what a kayak is for!

But eventually I ran out of floatable water at the head end of the lake and got out to do a little hoofing.

Now we're talking some serious oomph to bend and fold this one billion year old granite!

But the lake was calling so it was back to the kayak and some more shore-side coasting.

Later in the day I was back on foot and wandering bottom lands supporting Pecan and other hardwoods, as well as scrambling a few hundred feet higher up on the Cedar/Mesquite scrublands and slick-rock of the Llano uplift.

Where I found a precursor of Stonehenge

And veins of brilliant white quartz gripped hard in the granite.

As I left this ancient world and returned to lakeside I had to wonder at the mark we seem to be compelled to leave.

But back on 'my' side of the lake things were looking much better

The next morning; Ho-hum, just another sunrise on the lake.

As I coasted along the shore this Green Herron kept pace with me. Maybe I was disturbing the fingerlings enough to push them over to where he could snag a few for breakfast.

But I'm pretty sure he gave me the stink-eye a few times. Maybe he thought I wasn't pushing enough fishy goodness his way. . .

I missed getting a shot of the raccoon tip-toeing along the shoreline and slinking into the reeds, but I did manage to catch this White-tail doing a little wading.

But alas, as the sun got higher the wind was picking up (But not to worry, that's why I headed southwest at dawn, straight into the faintest of breezes, so now the increasing wind was blowing me back where I came from.) and I had to think about getting out of here before the weekend hoards messed with my Zen.

So one last shot of the kayak before I head towards home. The 4 piece paddle, a collapsible canoe-style emergency paddle, a large dry-bag for my backpack, a small dry-bag for my camera, an emergency repair kit and the foot-bellows pump are all there in the sack with the kayak, leaving only the bulky life jacket which is hanging above and to the right from one more of those super useful Command hooks. But you can see that now my bath-towel is slightly cramped. Oh the sacrifices we have to make. . .

My travels at Inks Lake, both foot and boat borne


Now she's wearing black garters!

OK, more like suspenders but garters got your attention didn't it!

Actually, I took some stretchable netting, the kind designed to hook up over the opening of a cupboard or cubby in order to keep the contents in place when tossing around on the high seas or lurching down back roads, and created some suspended shelves in a few of my overhead compartments.

It was a pretty simple project. I screwed some of the plastic hooks that come with the netting, into the sides and back of the compartments at the desired height and suspended the netting in place off them. (Suspenders - garters - get it?!) Some of the screws that came with the netting were too long and would have come through the cupboard sides in places I didn't want them to come through so I used shorter screws of my own, but that was all there was to it.

I didn't add any new 'stuff' to the cupboards but now I have a convenient shelf in three of them that simplifies the storage situation.

I have since been out camping (Write-up coming soon.) and everything stayed right were it was supposed to and now it takes less digging and pawing to get my hands on the goods I'm looking for.

One of the nets before any suspending was done. This is the larger of the three
and will go in the long cabinet over the couch.

The simple but elegant (Nothing but the best for my lady! Oh, but don't tell
my wife I said that!!) and effective hooks by which the netting will be suspended.

And in place over the couch. Now my cold weather hats, gloves, etc. aren't laying
on top of my flutes and spare sheets.

I have two of these smaller cupboards but I'm only showing one
because my mom always told me to never air my dirty underwear
in public and that's what's in the other cupboard, though they're
not dirty, I swear!!

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Arizona vacation with Mom: Last days, Deming, El Paso, Ft. Stockton

Apr 12 2013

I don’t know if it’s getting down to lower altitudes or if I just wore it out by resetting it numerous times while checking to make sure I only had the one fault code, but somewhere between El Passo and here the EDI light quit coming back on.

Last night I actually met one of the owners of the Silver City KOA, Jim. Turns out he and his wife bought a Sportsmobile Sprinter last year and he came over to see mine.  Also turns out they have the campground up for sale (Hope the new owners keep it in as good a shape!) and plan on spending part of their retirement doing some traveling. In fact they have already started a blog, and have some information about their van as well as some trips they’ve already taken in it. I just finished reading through it and will be keeping my eye out for more in the future.

Tonight I’m in Fort Stockton TX again. It’s kind of fitting that I spend my last night of this trip in the same campground as the first night. Tomorrow I'll be home,

and so ends my vacation with Mom.

16 days
3360 miles
174 gallons of fuel
19.30 miles per gallon


Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Arizona vacation with Mom: Gila Cliff dwellings and sweating bullets

Apr 11 2013
This morning I headed north out of Silver City on SR15. This is not a road recommended for large RV’s, but of course I’m not large.
Just a few miles north of Silver City I took a short detour down Main St. in Pinos Altos. This was a mining town that, like many, flourished for a short while then pretty much became a ghost town, but has since been revived as a tourist destination and, if they aren’t original, many of the buildings on Main St. look like they are. Well worth the detour and a few photos, but today the pines, streams and mountains were calling so, though I did detour, I didn't linger long enough to take any photos but rather just drove on through.

First glimpse of the Gila cave dwellings on the climb up out of the ravine.
Shortly after passing through Pinos Altos I crossed back over  to the west side of the continental divide and into the main part of the very large Gila National Forest. From here on the road twists and turns as it negotiates its way up the Pinos Altos Range and across Wild Horse Mesa before dropping down towards Sapillo Creek.
The scenery is beautiful up here; wooded slopes, cascading streams and loads of trails to choose from. Except for a couple vehicles passing me going the other way early in the trip, the good news is I had the road to myself. And the bad news is, I had the road to myself. . .
After one of my numerous stops to take in the scenery, dabble my toes in one of the irresistible creeks, or poke my nose just a little ways down some of the trails, I climbed back into the van and it promptly threw an EDI at me. EDI is a fancy term for the check engine light and believe me, an EDI is not something you want to see when you are 20 miles from anywhere, including cell service, and all alone on the road!! Heart pounding I used the touch-screen on my Dash Daq to read the fault code but that didn’t help much because even then I couldn’t figure out what the heck it actually meant. (Update 2014: After the trip I asked a Mercedes service manager, and several of his techs, what the code meant and they couldn’t give me an answer either!). Using the Dash Daq I cleared the code and breathed a sigh of relief when the EDI light went out. About two minutes down the road I started sweating bullets again because the EDI came back!
Everything seemed to be running alright, and I kind of doubt there is a Mercedes or Freightliner service shop in Silver City anyway, so I mopped the sweat out of my eyes and continued on my way. Ignore it and it'll go away - right?
Just after crossing Sapillo Creek SR15 intersects with SR35. SR35 is the recommended route for large RV’s, but, large or small, from that intersection on the only way to go any farther is up SR15 as it continues its twisty, windy, up and down journey to the small community of Gila Hot Springs, then on to the Gila Cliff Dwellings.

The scenery did its best to distract me from that bright amber light on the dash but it was still a relief when I eventually pulled into the Gila Cliff Dwellings Visitor center and made it go away by turning the van off.
After checking out the exhibits at the visitor center I went on up the road just a little farther to the trailhead for the climb up to the cliff dwellings themselves. In fact there are several trailheads here as the Gila National Forest is crisscrossed with tempting trails.
From the trailhead it’s a short climb up a narrow ravine then some switchbacks to the dwellings. These are pretty impressive cave dwellings that were inhabited by people not normally known for making their homes in caves, but once you get up there and see how they are situated in a promontory with a feeder stream down in that ravine on one side and the valley of the west fork of the Gila River on the other you can understand why they picked this spot.
At first it seemed to my 'modern' eye (Face it kids, it won't be all that many years before today will be the good ol' days of the past and 'modern' will have moved on.) that this place is an awfully remote and isolated spot to create a community. But once I found a quiet spot, sat down and thought about it, I came up with a different perspective.

I once heard that half of the human's that have ever lived in the past ten thousand years or so are still alive today. (If you take a look at the chessboard and grains of rice exercise that's easier to believe. Put one grain of rice on square one then double that for square two and double that for square 3 and so on. By the time you get to squares 24 & 25 you jump from over 8 million grains to more than 1.5 billion. If that's the era you live in it makes the 64 measly grains sitting on square 7 rather difficult to put into perspective. in fact, take it all the way to square 64 and the second half of the chess board will have over 2 billion times more rice on it than the first half. Square 64 alone will have 9,223,372,036,854,775,808 grains of rice on it!)  All of which means that our current sense of population and isolation is wildly skewed from that of people that lived even just 700 years ago.

In the sixteenth century Machu Picchu was the political and spiritual center of the Inca empire, the capital as it were, yet the total population of 1000 would barely be considered a village today. So in the context of that I don't think it's too much of a stretch to think that the 100 or so people that lived here at Gila Cliffs in the fourteenth century made up a significant population center and weren't nearly as isolated as I might think from my perspective today in the 21st century.
But that doesn't change the fact that I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t be able to feed, clothe and protect a family out here with the tools available to them seven centuries ago, probably not even with the tools available today! It makes you think about the work and hardships these, and pretty much all, people faced for simple survival and how vulnerable we are today because we have lost so many of these basic skills.
OK, after scaring myself with thoughts of vulnerability, on the way back to Silver City I took the gentler SR35 route. I had planned to do this anyway to see that much more ground, but with that yellow light staring out of the dash at me I probably wouldn’t have tackled SR15 going back the other direction anyway.
Even though SR35 crosses back over to the east side of the continental divide along here it still seemed like a nice gentle, valley-bottom drive. Along the way it passes a couple of lakes and campgrounds and several trailheads as it works its way back to SR152 which takes you across to US180 and Silver City.

This evening closer inspection of my map shows that I should have cut the corner between SR35 and SR152 on Georgetown Rd. I see now that it is designated a scenic byway but missed that when I was out there.
I did stop at an overlook for the Chino mine, a massive open pit copper mine that you can actually see from Silver City once you know where to look.
I must have stood there at the fence for over an hour with my binoculars watching massive machines digging up huge hunks of earth and others hauling ore and overburden out of the huge hole. Some of the trucks would load up way down in the pit of the mine on various precarious man-made ledges then climb the spiraling ramps up and around and eventually dump their loads at a collection point for ore. Others would climb even higher and backup to the edge of dizzyingly high and steep slopes and dump the overburden over the side.
The town of Santa Rita had to move several times as the mine swallowed up more and more land until it eventually just faded away altogether in the 1960’s.
Like the massive piles of tailings that bury the original land forms in the area between Questa and Red River New Mexico, it kind of makes me queasy to see the land ripped apart and scared like this, but at the same time I’m certainly using my share of the products of these mines and would not be happy doing without.

And I think the ‘environmentalists’ in this country that would like to shut down mining of this type altogether are being very short sighted. Our demand for the products of these mines will not diminish so one of the primary results of driving mining out of this country is to increase mining in other countries, often countries where the regulations, oversight and safety measures are not so strict, therefor increasing the potential for real ecological damage.
So, you could raise the argument that the people working in US mines, feeding their families, driving the economy of their communities and adhering to the strict (Compared to many other countries.) regulations we have to minimize the impact of the mining process, may actually be better ecologists that our own home-grown Eco terrorists.
Park ranger on his way to work at the cliff dwellings.
Now that's a commute I could live with!
Oops. Some nights I need someone to just come along, take the keyboard away from me, and knock me off my high horse. . .