Fire Cloud...
An irregular marking on the exterior of Native American pottery: usually resulting from burning fuel coming in direct contact with the vessel during firing

Friday, 29 May 2009

Cruising West Texas

Fort Davis, Texas

We've been cruising the highways of the plains and mountains of West Texas. The picture below is a lobby of a hotel in Marfa, Texas. The cast of "Giant" stayed here while the movie was being filmed (James Dean, Rock Hudson). I saw Giant with my parents in the old Tampa Theatre before it became a historical relic.

We visited the Museum of the Big Bend in Alpine, Texas. It's at a very nice Texas State University. I could live in Alpine. Maybe I could resume my teaching career? This is a picture of the Rio Grande that was n one of the HDTV exhibits in the museum.

The roads here are my favorite kind: two-lane, well-maintained and light traffic. They have an elaborate rest stop on US 90 between Alpine and Marfa where you can see "mystery lights" every evening. I saw some of those myself back at Seminole Canyon during the thunderstorm. It appeared to be a phosphorescent bird of some sort flitting about between lightning strikes.

I had to laugh at this sign in the museum. It was certainly true for me. Viet Nam? Is that a real place? Laos? Cambodia? How about Cebu City in the Philippines? Johnston Island? Guam?

We enjoyed our visit to the McDonald Observatory, run by the University of Texas. They only do spectral analysis. One telescope has a 372 inch mirror and a very clever money-saving design. They've come up with a theory to explain the somewhat empty, fuzzy center of a number of brighter, larger galaxies. They think that in many cases, revolving binary black holes act like an egg-beater and fling stars away from the galaxy center with gravity waves. They're setting up for an experiment tonight to try to learn more about "dark matter".

We run across some strange plants on the desert roadside. There are two mechanical problems. We have a flat tire on the Toyota. The local gas station doesn't have my size in a new tire , but they sell me a used radial with lots of tread for $15. I love small towns they are so honest and basic.. My camera finally died. It was damaged in a fall I took at Gibraltar last month. I buy a new one in the Alpine Radio Shack. The clerk says I am the second person in three years to give her both ID and a credit card at the time of purchase. I ask her if Alpine has as much credit card fraud as Miami and she laughs and says she knows almost all her customers by name.

Here are a few cactus flowers.

We see a lot of open road as we cruise the Davis Mountains. My favorite place was Alpine, a small town with good food and a modern state university. Fort Davis is nice too. High, cool with Uncle Buck's liquor store and a public library that sells used books to gypsies like us.

We're leaving Texas in the morning. However we will stop in El Paso on the way out to get my new Z-coil spring shoes.

Thursday, 28 May 2009

A Sense of Perspective

Fort Davis, Texas

It was cool this morning at 3AM. The Milky Way is out and bright, running from the horizon through the triangle formed by Deneb, Vega and Altair. Fortunately, we are usually spared the sight of the outer edge of our own galaxy. Otherwise we might always feel depressingly small and insignificant.

The Davis Mountains were called the Apache Mountains before Secretary of War, Jefferson Davis, established the Fort to protect against raids by the indigenous hostiles. The fort was abandoned during the Civil War. In 1866 the Ninth Cavalry, consisting of black "buffalo soldiers" reopened the fort.

It's high here and cool this morning. Today we plan to see the University of Texas McDonald Observatory, drive a long wildlife loop and go to the Chihuahuan Desert nature center. Maybe we will get lucky and see a black, hairy Javelina?

We drove to the West of the Pecos museum yesterday. It's located in Pecos. The bar has real bullet holes in the wall where two men were killed in a shoot-out. The bartender, Jesse, tells the story when you trip a motion detector entering the bar.

The drive to Pecos winds about 30 miles though the Davis Mountains and then another 40 over tabletop desert. I amuse myself trying to photograph mirages in the desert. This is a shrub desert without much diversity. Yuccas and agaves, growing with grasses and creosote bushes, give this desert its shrubby appearance.

They filmed "Lonesome Dove" here, so I guess that we've accidentally found it.

Tuesday, 26 May 2009

The Law West of the Pecos

Langtry, Texas

President Obama just sent me another E-mail. This one is linked to a video about the new Supreme Court nominee, Judge Sonia Sotomayor. The President invites me to "Digg", "Tweet", or "Facebook" his video. How cool is that?

Meanwhile we cross the Pecos and I walk over some bridge construction from the West side to snap a picture of the confluence of the Pecos and Rio Grande rivers. Unfortunately, I've left my shutter speed at about a full second and the first few morning pictures are bright white.

Langtry is a few miles West of the Pecos, where another Judge, Roy Bean, held court. It's a very small, dusty town on the Rio Grande. My GPS doesn't know it exists. The Judge moved to Langtry with a tent and ten 55 gallon barrels of whiskey. The Texas Rangers asked him to serve as Justice of the Peace in this lawless area.

Many of his customers were Irishmen and Chinamen working on the railroad though Texas. He was trying an Irishman for the shooting death of a Chinaman, when his courthouse was surrounded by Irish threatening to lynch him if he found the defendant guilty. After consulting his one lawbook, he stated that it said that while it was against the law to kill a human being, the law was silent on the subject of Chinamen. The defendant was acquited.

In another famous legal decision, he ruled on a corpse found with 41 dollars and a Smith & Wesson revolver. He said that it was against the law to carry a concealed weapon, especially so for a dead man. Therefore, he confiscated the revolver and fined the corpse 41 dollars.

The Judge was infatuated with the singer "Jersey Lilly" Langtry, to whom he wrote many letters. He called his home above an "Opera House" in the hope of luring her to Langtry. Eventually Lilly did visit Langtry, in 1904, a year after Bean's death.

Once. financier Jay Gould was scheduled to pass though Langtry on the railroad. The Judge stopped the train with an emergency flare and Gould spent several hours drinking with Bean. This caused a brief financial panic when rumors circulated that Gould had been killed in a train wreck. We put some miles on yesterday. We're in Fort Davis, the highest point in Texas. We'll stay a few days. There's a lot to see here.

Seminole Canyon State Park, Texas

On the Border Northwest of Del Rio, Texas

It will be dawn shortly. The clouds offer the possibility of some good sunrise photos. This place is on the Mexican border a short distance from the Rio Grande river. You can hike down into the canyon about two hours to see some impressive Indian ruins on a guided tour. They cancel the hike when the temperature exceeds 100 degrees, which seems very probable today.

We were treated to a fine display of nature’s fireworks last evening when a flock of heavy thunderstorms rolled over the desert. The rainfall approached four inches an hour in spots, triggering flash floods in the dry desert creek beds. Underground Weather has warnings of 60 MPH winds, flash floods and baseball-size hail. We were spared the worst of that. The storm did kill the Park electricity, so we are ran on batteries last night.

Before the storm, we were running both air conditioners, but couldn’t get the temperature below 87 degrees. We keep tripping the 30 amp Park breaker so I switched the refrigerator and water heater to propane and gave up on the ham hocks and beans in the crock pot.

We met Guy and Redding after we parked. They are a father and son who are bicycling from Georgia to San Diego in support of prostate cancer awareness. Guy is the 58 year old dad. The next 500 miles are steeply up and down in brutal desert heat. He seems a little surprised by the 60 to 80 mile distances between tiny Texas towns, many of which have no services. Redding is 18. I get the feeeling that this trip was a last minute father and son adventure before college, put together with minimal planning and research. They seem lightly laden with tents and a few other essentials. Out here, if they run out of water, they will die quickly.

After reading their blog , I realized they needed a computer. I took the laptop down to their campsite so they could do an update without having to find a library on this desolate stretch of Texas road.

I told them about a tent-friendly campsite 100 miles ahead in Marathon. Guy is a Urologist. I hope he is checked out on heat stroke prevention. We rode our motorcycle here a couple of years ago. It feels like riding into a giant hair-dryer.

The picture above was taken in darkened conditions with a long shutter speed. You can see Mrs. Phred's feet as she stares out at the lightning strikes. Mrs. Phred worries about Guy and Redding during the storm. The Camp Host told them to shelter in the Park’s bathroom.

Sunday, 24 May 2009


New Brunfels, Texas

Here is an idea I'm sure won't occur to anyone else. It's a hot Memorial Day weekend so let's go to the number one rated water park in the world. It's called Schlittenbahn, which means toboggan run.

Because of our advanced age, we get in at the same rate as children under 12, which seems oddly appropriate when you stop to think about it. It's definitely a place for young people with tattoos and children. We see thousands of people waiting in short and long lines with us, but no one else is close to our age. They may have only sold two senior tickets all day.

We go on a bunch of fun tube rides and down a variety of spiraling tubes and slides. At first we can't figure out how we can both ride, so one of us ends up holding the camera. Eventually we get smart and stuff everything we don't want wet in a rental locker.

The rides have names like Master Blaster, Soda Straws, Congo River, Wolf Pack and Black Night. They have a pool that generates big waves for body surfing. They have dueling water cannons and a five story waterfall. You can bring your own picnic in, but not if it includes and glass or alcohol.

This was one of my better ideas. We stop at a Sonic on the way home for a Sonic Blast for me and a hot fudge sundae for Mrs. Phred. A perfect summer day.

A short river runs though the park. The river originates in a spring and we see thousands of tubers taking the two mile float. They're almost wall to wall on the river. It's a warm summer Texas holiday weekend. Why not?

Saturday, 23 May 2009

Step Away From the Computer!

San Antonio, Texas

I went though basic training here in the summer of 1963 and then Officer's Training School in the winter of 1965-66. Mrs. Phred flew out to join me and we bought a little green Triumph TR4-A and loaded all our possessions into it and drove to San Francisco for the Summer of Love and Navigator training school in Sacramento..

Today we take Bus 24 to downtown and then wander the River walk for a time. We go to see the new Terminator movie at the huge mall on the River walk. John Conner has his hands full and Arnold makes a short virtual appearance. As we exit the mall, the skies threaten a downpour so we duck into a Mexican Restaurant on the River walk for margaritas and lunch. There are a number of Airman Basics wandering the River walk. These kids haven't earned their first stripe, but they have two or three medals already. Apparently this is a policy change. We buy yet another umbrella and make our way to the bus stop for the return trip.

There is a water park 40 miles north called the Schlitterbahn. It's rated as the number one water park in the world. I want to go tomorrow. Pictures to follow.

Meanwhile, Mrs. Phred has taken over the laptop while I step outside for a smoke. "STEP AWAY FROM THE COMPUTER, MA'AM", I tell her...I have things to share with my public.

Friday, 22 May 2009

Forever Autumn

Aunt Aura sent me a real letter about 16 years ago and I slipped it in a desk drawer intending to answer. I was busy. It never happened. We lost touch.

I Google her and find that she is 87 and still teaching Shakespeare at the University of Texas in Austin. We have a very enjoyable visit. Aura gives us a copy of her memoir. A publisher is very interested in the part where she taught Shakespeare to Mississippi black children in the 1960s.

I scan that and the part where she is teaching the "Crips" and the "Bloods" in South Los Angeles. It's well written, easily as good as the stuff we buy.

Aunt Aura has had some health problems recently. She tells me that she goes to sleep by reciting the names of the nine Supreme Court justices. I'm way overdue to write her a return letter.

Aura is living with her daughter Jo and her husband John. They seem to be living a dream life with a lovely home, four talented children and a a beach house. John explains that his company makes designer analog and digital chips for cell phones and other applications. They treat us to dinner. The hospitality is impeccable.

Aura's memoir is called "Forever Autumn". We also get a CD from the youngest son, Sammy and his group, the "Loose Cannons"... It's good.

A Vist With Our Niece's Family

We went to see Becki and Andrew, and their two young daughters, Clarissa and Ellie.

Andrew came home unharmed from the first Gulf War and gave me a 250 dinar note with a picture of Saddam Hussein.

Andrew fixes us bourbon and branch water and tells me about a local chicken franchise guy who is buying a million dinars in Iraq currency every week on speculation. The bank charges him $40 as a fee. so for $1040 he gets a million dinars .

I ask Andrew how many Iraqi dinars it takes to buy a Big Mac. He does a quick calculation and tells me 4,000. The dinar may rise again. I'm surprised that Saddam's dinars and picture are still the local currency.

Andrew blows up a portable water slide and grills Texas steaks. A very enjoyable visit. Nice to see young relatives doing well in a difficult time.

Thursday, 21 May 2009

Ranch Apocalypse

Waco, Texas
We drove to Waco yesterday to see what's left of the Branch Davidian compound and also to see the Texas Ranger Museum. The compound is about ten miles outside Waco just off Farm Road 2491.

As we drive though this bucolic and sparsely populated area, I can't help visualizing carloads full of FBI Agents in black Suburban SUVs and an occasional flatbed truck hauling out an Abrams M1A1 tank or some other exotic piece of equipment.

The original Government raid on Mt. Carmel in 1993 went badly wrong, leaving four dead ATF agents and six dead Branch Davidians. The FBI took over at that point because of the death of Federal agents and a 51-day standoff began.

The siege ended even more badly than it began with the death of 82 Branch Davidians. Autopsies revealed that 20 had been shot to death and the rest died in a flaming building, including 20 children and two pregnant women. If you read Wiki about David Koresh, you find that Mt. Carmel had a somewhat turbulent history even before this disaster.

"By late 1987, George Roden's support had withered. To regain it, he challenged Koresh to a contest to raise the dead, even digging up one corpse to practice on it. Koresh went to authorities to file charges of corpse abuse against Roden, but was told he would have to show proof (such as a photograph of the corpse). Koresh returned to Mount Carmel in camouflage, with seven armed followers. All but one - who managed to escape - were arrested by the local police, who had been alerted by the sound of gunfire.[1] When deputy sheriffs arrived, they found Koresh and six followers firing their rifles at Roden, who was also armed. Roden had already suffered a minor gunshot wound and was pinned down behind a tree at the Compound. The sheriff called into the chapel by telephone and talked Koresh into surrender.[6] As a result of the incident, Koresh and his followers were charged with attempted murder. At the trial, Koresh testified that he went to Mount Carmel to uncover evidence of corpse abuse by George Roden. Koresh's followers were acquitted, and in Koresh's case a mistrial was declared."

It was always a strange place. Now the compound has a sign warning off trespassers. We drive in and take some snapshots of a granite stone and a small new church. A man comes out of the church to stare at us, so we wave "hello". Today we are the only visitors.

Koresh took over Mt. Carmel in 1989.

In 1989 Roden murdered Wayman Dale Adair with an axe blow to the skull after Adair stated his belief that he (Adair) was the true Messiah.[7] Roden was convicted of murder and imprisoned in a mental hospital at Vernon, Texas. Because Roden owed thousands of dollars in unpaid taxes, Mount Carmel was placed for sale. Koresh and his followers raised the money and purchased the property, which he subsequently renamed "Ranch Apocalypse."[1] Roden continued to harass the Koresh faction by filing legal papers while imprisoned. When Koresh and his followers reclaimed Mt. Carmel, they discovered that tenants who had rented from Roden had left behind a methamphetamine laboratory, which Koresh reported to the local police department and asked to have removed.[8]

A UPS driver reported that a package broken open on delivery contained grenade casings and black powder. That and the frequent sound of automatic weapons fire led to the ill-fated ATF raid on the compound.

The Texas Ranger Musuem is interesting. They have a 45 minute video about the 185 year history of the Rangers and lots of very pretty firearms elaborately engraved. The many portraits of the rangers seem less steely-eyed than I had imagined.

After that we visit relatives in Killeen and are treated to a Texas steak dinner.

Wednesday, 20 May 2009

Bill Bailey Won't You Please Call Home?

Austin, Texas

We've lost touch with Mrs. Phred's Aunt Aura, but remember that she lived in Austin 30 years ago when I put her last letter in a drawer and stopped writing. Though the magic of the Internet, I find her phone number and address and we make a date to see her Thursday.

Aunt Aura scores 27 million as least common name in America so she is easy to find. She is the only one with her first and last name...she is tied for last place with all the other unique names.

We discover that Aunt Aura, at age 87. is teaching Shakespeare at the University of Texas. Maybe there's still hope for all of us.

I have renewed hope of finding my old friend Bill Bailey. Problem is that there are 181 "William H. Bailey" names. Some of them are about the right age. Some live in about the right places. I try "William Holden Bailey" and "William Holden Bailey, III", but no luck with those.

If you read this and are the right Bill Bailey, please write and tell me the name of your favorite inventor and what my father did to the "Bill Bailey" corpse in Horseheads...or explain "Blue Flame"...

2015 Update....William H. Bailey appeared on the internet this April in the form of an obituary. Goodbye Bill....

I did find some cool shoes on the internet...these are a gottahave item. They're made by Z-Coil. $189.95 plus tax...I want the hiking boots, too...