Thursday, October 27, 2016


A work meeting took me to the global oil and gas powerhouse known as the Permian Basin  (722 million barrels in proven reserves, but according to figures quoted recently, that figure could be well into the billions, with the Permian possibly becoming the world's largest oilfield as new fracking-related discoveries are verified).

Along the way, I managed to snag a couple of personal overnights at two state parks that could hardly be more different from each other.  Here's a photo tour of these unique places.
"Watch for sand on road"?  Ya think?!

There's almost as much money in West Texas as there is sand.  I was impressed by the Monahans Sandhills visitor's center - it had to be a seven-figure facility in an otherwise-underfunded state park system where some visitor's centers are little more than converted shacks.  
There's some sand on the road.  I watched for it, eh?  
The visitor's center rents plastic disks that kids use to toboggan down the sand dunes.  It's hilarious.  
By the way, I've left these photos almost entirely unprocessed.  You'll see the tones shifting back and forth from yellows to pinks to blues as sun angles and the compass directions of the photos changed.  That's part of what made this place unique - different colors manifested in every direction I turned.
It was a Monday night in late October - there were a couple of ham radio enthusiasts towing Casitas and three other miscellaneous dispersed campers, but the park was almost empty and I had this branch of the campground all to myself.  
It was very hot while the sun was still high, to the point where I plugged into shore power and ran our roof-mounted air conditioner for several hours, which is something I rarely do.  But as the sun sank lower in the sky, we went out to play.

Incidentally, this is the only state park I have ever seen that does not have defined trails.  The reason for that should be obvious.  Even if trails were designated, the sand would simply swallow them up.  So the humans do just as the animals - they walk wherever they please.
I've never happened upon a better track-viewing place in my entire life.  The density and diversity of unseen life was just amazing. 
Feline, I think. 
Big Bird, perhaps the one from Sesame Street?  Because what else could be out here?  Normally if I saw a bird track that large, I'd guess some kind of heron, but there's no standing water in this part of Texas.  
With tracks there are scents, and our dog reveled in the complexity of it all. 
Texana shot of the old windmill in the park, for contrast.
And the old section house, which is now rented out as a group lodge. 
There's a new term for me - "sand-bogged".  Like a physical analog to "mind-boggled".  
As the sun got lower and lower, the colors intensified.
We could have done without the color contribution from the inversion layer, however.  That air pollution you can see in the distance was originating with the Midland-Odessa metro area. 
What will happen
A dog instinctively knows
If she steps over
The angle of repose
Dog on fire, as we climbed our final dune to watch the setting sun. 
As we sat up there on that sand dune, the creatures that had made all those footprints began to emerge in droves, and we could hear them scurrying about in the twilight.  At one point, our dog began growling at the darkness and shaking uncontrollably with fear.  My guess was javelina, which will attack dogs if they are able.  At that point we retreated to our Airstream Interstate for the night.

After the completion of my work in the area, we proceeded to Junction, Texas.
I actually took the route in blue, which was not what the Apple app had told me in real time - I had to figure it out for myself.  My acute dissatisfaction with current navigational options and especially cell phone connectivity in rural areas (i.e., the lack thereof) is a rant for another day.

By the way, I had a very strong "wish I were 20 years younger" moment in conjunction with this leg of travel.  I broke camp in Monahans Sandills before dawn, traveled 20 miles to Odessa, put in a lot of technical work throughout the day (= mentally challenging), then drove solo 230 miles through vicious West Texas cross-winds with an unexpectedly car-sick dog to my next overnight in Junction.  I was so tired that I couldn't even manage to get the protective cover over the rear door of the Interstate that I left open overnight.  I just couldn't manage it - I crashed out on the sofa bed and did not get back up again until the next morning.   
Every natural venue has its pros and cons, and South Llano River State Park is no exception.
It boasted really good hiking in a diversity of of terrains (18 miles of trails), from the limestone relief that defines the Texas Hill Country to the river bottomlands.  But... 
...river access was mediocre.  Most banks were steep and there were almost no gravel bars or other low-lying physical features that would allow easy entry to the cool, refreshing water.  Not a good place for young children to splash.  
South Llano is famous for its wild turkeys, and in fact the river bottomlands were off limits for all but 5 hours of the day so that they would not be disturbed.  I didn't see any turkeys, but we did see plenty of insect life.  We are definitely well into autumn here, but not yet into the brownest, deadest part of the year, so there is still some color and activity.  
We hiked for almost three hours in the morning before striking out on the final 5-hour leg of driving back to our home in League City Texas.  That's actually my favorite way of traveling if I can manage it - hike in the morning, get everyone's legs tired, and then just relax and drive all afternoon and into the evening if necessary.
Two successive nights, two very different views - Monahans Sandhills on the left, and South Llano on the right.  I was carrying our Yeti cooler full of ice (I didn't need it but I find that the van drives more stably with it in place), and I didn't bother to drop it to the ground, so I only have single-door million-dollar views in these cases, as the cooler blocks the other door while it is in place. 

Monday, October 10, 2016


People have been using the hashtag #fallnotfall to describe how hot it has been in the greater Houston area.
A #fallnotfall image from Instagram. 
But as I like to say, if you want to prosper in Houston, you have to strike when the iron is not hot.  With a rare cold front penetrating the area on October 9, 2016, we struck out for a one-night boondock at Kelly Pond in Sam Houston National Forest.  Here are a few pics of this 28-hour trip.
How's that for the middle of freaking nowhere?!  That's one of the reasons why it's been on my bucket list - because it's about as far as you can get from any development in our area. This aerial photo square is slightly under one mile in each direction from the center smudge, which is the Kelly Pond dry campground.  
We were rewarded with this location on one of the little ponds.  There were two other people in the area, each about an eighth of a mile from us, and none parked on this particular pond. 
With so little time available, we did a bit of hiking, but mostly just hung out in a relaxed fashion and watched the day proceeding.
The cold front had given us various interpretations of a mackerel sky, my favorite kind of cloud formation. 
As the sun got lower, the trees got glowier.  Normally I would not bisect a photo in this manner, but somehow in this location, it seemed to work from an artistic perspective.  Rorschach symmetry.  
A couple of macro shots, because I can't make a post without macro shots.
I am done trying to take conventional pics of mushrooms.  I fail every time - they come out looking like whitish blobs.  Therefore, it's time to investigate weird angles such as this one. 
Insert 'fungus among us' quip here.
I don't know what that hairy stuff is to the right. 
The weather forecasts predicted overnight lows in the sixties.  We got a bit of a surprise on that one.
Ordinarily, this would be very good news.  However, if one is expecting 62 instead of 47, there's an immediate problem with the clothing that was packed.  We had to wait the next day until it warmed up a bit because we were not equipped for this. 
All that cold air gave rise to some interesting mist patterns over the very warm pond.  Watching the mist swirl and dance, I could easily imagine what has led some folks, especially those in historical cultures, to believe in spirits and ghosts.

BTW that's our no-see-um screen across the rear of our Interstate - we sheath the rear doors with contractor-grade trash bags and leave them open all night whenever possible.  I am still working on perfecting that screen, so I haven't made a comprehensive blog post on it yet.  
Yet another across-the-pond shot of our Airstream Interstate, with morning mist. 
We had a minor disappointment in trying to find a connector to the Little Lake Creek Trail from Kelly Pond, in that there was no connector that we could locate (logically there should have been one).  Not a convenient connector, at least.  Little Lake Creek Trail can be accessed by going some distance north on one of the trails associated with Kelly Pond, but I wanted to hike south toward Lake Conroe, so we did not try that option.  The problem is that, even if one goes bushwhacking across country (which we did), there is no way to cross the creek without getting soaked.  Having failed at that attempt, we instead drove for a few miles east pulled over for a hike on a short segment of the Lone Star Hiking Trail, near the southern end of the Stubblefield trail that we hiked about fifty weeks ago.  
Lake Conroe was much higher than last year, owing to our copious rains, and it backed farther up into its many tributaries.  Here's a carpet of green duckweed.
Short trip, short blog post.  Stay tuned as we are now getting farther along with our lithium battery retrofit, and I should have some posts on that soon.