Saturday, May 17, 2014

My Daily Deer: Cats, Deer, Beer...

Between the deer camera and my iPhone, I've got a handful of new deer pictures to show.
Like a morning a week or two ago when I pulled out of the drive-way to find several deer crossing the street.  I had to stop to get my phone ready to take a picture and only got one good shot before they decided it was time to run. 
Then this week, same thing, better picture.  Since I use my phone for podcast listening, I have to grab it, bring up the camera app and then try to quickly focus.  I guess this is why the deer camera gets better pictures.
Like when Little Kitty has been out prowling around and sneaks back into the yard.
She isn't the only jumper.  I do like the photos of the deer jumping the fence.
And of course, once they are close to the camera they always seem curious about it.
It's not just deer and cats caught in the act...  I think this was the day I was going around to all the trees chopping off little limbs that were starting to make Eva nervous.  The more of this I can do on my own, the longer we can hold off on hiring a tree company to come in and do the trees.  Granted, if we hire someone, they probably won't come equipped with a machete in one hand and a beer in the other!

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Trip Report: Big Bend and Thereabouts - Day 3, 4...

If you missed Day 2, take a look right here.
After enjoying the the part of the trip that was really for my benefit, we headed back east from Alpine, through Del Rio and down south to Eagle Pass where we spent the night at the Kickapoo Lucky Eagle Casino.
By the time we got to Marathon, it was apparent that we could have figured out a way to go back down to Big Bend from Alpine, go through the national park and circle back to Marathon.  Maybe on our next trip we'll go that route.
We did stop in Langtry again (hey - when you find nice restrooms, you take a mental note), and we took about twenty minutes to pull over at the viewing areas for the Pecos River.
On our way to Alpine, we drove across the Pecos River bridge and I slammed on the brakes so we could stop and grab a few pictures.  Heading back east, we knew there were viewing areas both on the westbound and eastbound sides of the bridge, so we stopped and got a few good pictures.
I think this picture gives you an idea of just how out in the middle of nowhere this bridge is.  If I have not said it before, Texas is huge and there is a whole lot of nothing stretching for miles and miles.
Have you ever wondered what is in Comstock?  Now you know.  Enjoy.

Eagle Pass is on the US side of the river with Piedras Negras on the Mexico side.  It seems like a fairly modern, nice looking place, though by the time we got there, we were less interested in sightseeing and more interested in getting to the casino, the part of the trip Eva was eagerly waiting for!

Unfortunately, by this time, we were also about pictured out.  I wish I had taken some pictures of the Lucky Eagle, or as our neighbor, a frequent visitor of the casino calls it, The Unlucky Buzzard,  just to show how nice the place is.  As you approach down a long, probably 2 mile drive which is no doubt destined for lots of construction in years to come, there is a sense that Eagle Pass is long gone and you are once again out in the middle of nowhere.  Then, in the middle of the desert is the 5 or 6 story casino with nice landscaping and all the amenities of a high end hotel in San Antonio.  I hesitate to compare it to Vegas since there were no visible hookers or people passing out fliers for strip clubs.

Inside, we found our room to be very nice, comfortable and a complete escape from the desert that surrounds the place.   Eva has been wanting to go to the Luck Eagle for years and my hesitation has always been the idea of a smoke filled  place full of senior citizens with oxygen tanks lighting up new cigarettes with the butt of the previous, gambling away their social security checks.  In fact, the casino clearly is utilizing high tech air circulation systems and, though you can't completely avoid smoke from a person sitting nearby with a huge stogie, it really wasn't as bad as I expected.

And yes, during the day, they do bring in bus loads of people wanting to gamble, but by early evening, the crowd changed from busloads of tourists to people staying in the hotel like us, and probably a lot of locals.

After dropping our stuff off at the room, we were extremely hungry and went down to one of the several restaurants in the casino.  For a total of $29.00 (for both of us), we hit the buffet which was very good.  Again, sorry, no pictures.  There was a huge salad bar, a huge meat bar - prime rib, brisket, chicken, all the essentials, a huge dessert bar (none for me, thanks) and people coming by to refill the iced tea which was really good.  I stuffed myself then went back to the room and promptly passed out for at least an hour or so.

I did get a picture of something that made me giggle at the time.  

So Eva and I have two different ideas on gambling.  We both think it is cool to set a specific amount, then blow it with no expectation of even breaking even.  In my mind, you can have even more fun if you put $20 in the machine and walk away with $40.  In fact, I think at one point, Eva cashed out with an $80 ticket and in my mind, it was time for us to quit.

But on the other hand...  with $3.00 Dos X's (okay, $4.00 since I always give a tip), I was fine with sitting back and watching Eva win just enough to play a little longer before losing it all.  And this is how our evening went.
We do enjoy those Wheel of Fortune style slots and the "lucky" one Eva found was located by one of the large bar areas.  It just so happened that they were doing Karaoke and very horribly.  There was an attractive lady singing Selena songs and her screechy, off key voice was horrific, yet the polite crowd cheered her on.  Nice people.
In the end, this pretty much says everything you need to know about our gambling experience.    

The one negative that I have regarding the Kickapoo was that, against Eva's advice, I ordered room service breakfast for the morning.  Our breakfast consisted of some eggs and bacon, some potatoes, some toast, the worst tasting coffee ever, and some juice.  After gratuity etc, it came out to close to $35.00.  Keep in mind, we had stuffed our faces for $29.00 at the buffet, but I get it, it's room service.  Anyway, it was absolutely horrible. I did eat the bacon and the cold eggs, oh, and the juice.  If you go, skip the breakfast and head right back to the buffet.
Our drive back home on Friday morning was actually a very beautiful trip through lots of farm land along Highway 57 from Eagle Pass to Moore, a small town just south west of Natalia.  There are quite a few small towns and big farms growing all sorts of stuff.  Our only delay was about a 10 minute wait through one of the Border Patrol inspection stations which frankly, if I had to deal with on a daily basis would begin to piss me off.

All good things come to an end and this trip was both relaxing and interesting.  I do suspect now that we have been to the casino in Eagle Pass, we'll make a return trip.  Big Bend is a bit further and with so many other places we want to go (St. Augustine immediately comes to mind), it may be a while before we get back there.

For those that need more pictures, I do have a Tumblr that I will be posting the Big Bend pictures on, so feel free to check it out, here.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Trip Report: Big Bend and Thereabouts - Day 2

If you missed Day 1 of our trip, you can read and see it here.
Our plan for Day 2 was a simple route starting in Alpine, taking the highway down to Terlingua, then driving through Big Bend Ranch State Park to Lajitas and Presidio back up north to Marfa, and back to Alpine.
After a fine breakfast at the Hampton Inn, we drove over to Sul Ross University and the Museum of the Big Bend.  Not that it wasn't both free and entertaining, with these pictures you've pretty much seen the whole of it.  The lady working the counter was very helpful offering us suggestion for our trip down to the Terlingua area, and it was nice to look at a large interactive map of the area, so if you find yourself in Alpine, it is worth a brief visit.
I had mentioned previously that pictures simply don't do the drive and the views along the way justice.  As we departed Alpine on Highway 118 it was interesting to see the number of homes built into the mountainside.  And then, nothing for miles and miles.  There are quite a few fenced ranch areas with names of the entities and individuals who own them along with trespass warnings.  It may be wide open and out in the middle of nowhere, but someone owns it all.
 Interestingly, it was really hazy during our drive.  According to a lady we chatted with, it was just the dust.  They were in need of rain to calm things down and as luck would have it, they'd get it the following day.
As we were pulling into Terlingua proper, Eva just kept asking, Why?  Why would anyone want to come here?  My only responses seemed weak; things like beer drinking goats, chili cook-offs, getting away from it all. And when we got actual eyes-on glimpses of some of the "rustic" hotels we considered staying in, we were so very glad we chose Alpine.  We stopped in a convenience store/diner to grab a coffee and ask if there is anything we shouldn't miss.  The nice lady looked at me and just smiled.  She pointed to Terlingua Ghost Town just down the road.

 If we took the road further to the south east, we'd be at Study Butte which is the entrance to the National Park.  We had been told that there were lots of great things to see and even a nice restaurant deep in the park.  Instead, we headed west to Terlingua Ghost Town, really, my one must see place.
 We spent a good 30 minutes wandering through the Terlingua Trading Company, picking up a few souvenirs to take with us.
 The church and these other landmarks are all part of a short walking (or driving) tour around the small little area.
Of course, the first week in November is when the chili cook-off takes place, so I can imagine the place gets filled with all sorts of interesting characters, but for our visit, just a few minor oddities of interest.  When you look out at where they hold the cook-off and you see the sparse environment around, you realize this isn't an event for the faint of heart.  Even then, I bet it is a good time for those that attend.  FYI:  Several blogs I have followed, and specifically, Ms. Belinda at Terlingua Dreams, have written about what to expect.  If you ever feel the urge to go, don't take my word for it, read some of the blogs from people who have attended.
From Terlingua Ghost Town, it was off to Lajitas and the place where they keep Clay Henry, the beer drinking goat and mayor.
 Love the cowboy handicap parking sign.
They have built a golf resort in Lajitas called  which could change your attitude about the place.  We walked through the section where they had a few high end shops (compared to in Terlingua) and got the feeling that we were a little out of our league.  Pardon me, can you pass the Grey Poupon?
Not far from there, we stopped in the Big Bend Ranch State Park station to buy a few trinkets then stop for lunch in the nice picnic area.  I haven't mentioned the weather but it was actually perfect.  It was certainly breezy but for most the day, temps were between 68 and 70 degrees.  I was so glad we came when we did.

The road through the park is windy following the river and the mountains.  There are many times where you drive up the road and can only trust that when you get over the top, there is road on the otherside instead of a cliff.  Often,it was like a cool roller coaster, so keep that in mind if you suffer from motion sickness.  We did drive by numerous groups of motorcyclists and I can certainly see why they would enjoy the ride.
 Not far from Lajitas and the park station was a place called Contrabando Movie Set.  We stopped and took a few pictures but didn't venture down to the actual buildings. 
Looking accros the road from the camp, you can see the view of the mountians they were looking for as a background to the camp.
Another cool sight to see were these balancing rocks along the river.  Of course, that's me trying to balance myself on a protective fence.  The area we stopped to take pictures was a trailed head for hikers.  The park had these handy little boxes that allow those using the trails to pay the fees.  We weren't in a hiking mood, but did see several folks heading down for a walk.

The parts of the river we could see from above looked like it would make for a cool canoe trip.  You can see lots of canyon walls and, just based on some of the spectacular images I've seen on the Internet, I'm just assuming that our vantage point didn't even scratch the surface on the beauty.  I also suspect that timing is everything.  While beautiful, most everything was dry, desert-like and pretty much like seeing the same patch of landscape for miles with the occasional eye popping feature to catch your attention.  In a different month or season, this place probably looks way different.

We drove through the small patch of land called Redford and then on to Presidio.  Interestingly, our cellphones welcomed us abroad and asked us if we'd like to pay for the $19.00 data plan.  No, thanks.
 Presidio seemed like a huge city compared to everything we had seen that day but to be honest, not a single thing caught our eyes that would warrant a stop.  So, we took off on Highway 67 back toward Marfa, and on to Alpine.

The landscape changes tremendously heading north and it was a very pleasant drive.  Lots of cattle ranches but not a single buffalo in sight.  There are a few cool rock formations noted as you drive along.
First, Lincoln's Profile.  Can you see it?  Wait, that's me peeing on the side of the road.
 Now tilt your head to the right and look.  It really does look like Lincoln's profile.
And then there is the Elephant rock near Shafter.   I think this one is much easier to catch.  You just know that some little kids 100 years ago were wandering around the landscape and with no video games to play, had to use their imaginations to notice these features.

That evening we were up in the air about dinner.  I made use of the Urban Spoon to rule out a few spots in Alpine and we had pretty much narrowed it down to a few places, one of which was a cool looking diner called Penny's.  Making use of the helpful staff at the Hampton Inn, a front desk lady told Eva we should try Reata, given it was our anniversary and all.
There is no question, Reata has a nice feel to it.  We got the mistaken impression that it was an actual restaurant that stars from the movie Giant dined (not in the movie, but later), but according to the website, the name just came from the movie - no further connection.  Regardless, I called and asked for a reservation, and we were seated immediately when we came in.  Given the small size of the place, that has probably been a problem in the past (ahem, Urban Spoon, cough, cough).
Our waitress was fantastic.  She was really attentive but not overbearing, and she had no issue with helping us navigate the menu for something we wanted to eat.  For me, Chicken Fried Steak, for Eva, a burger.  I don't want to take anything away from Reata.  We had a nice meal, though I took 3/4 of mine in a to go box, and the atmosphere was enjoyable, the staff wonderful in every way.  Our only parting shot was that we felt like we probably missed an opportunity at Penny's Diner.
I did get to try a beer from the local Brewery, Big Bend Brewing Co.  It is their 22 Porter, darker than I ordinarily like, but it went very well with dinner.   Thanks to info from our waitress, we walked across the street to the grocery store and bought a few six-packs to bring home to the kids to try.

Day 2 of our Big Bend trip was great.  We got to enjoy the jacuzzi back at the hotel and even catch the end of the Spurs game.  Day 3 and 4 of the trip in the next installment.