Sunday, February 27, 2011

7-Day Forecast for Latitude 29.5°N and Longitude 103.43°W (Elev. 4330 ft)

Red Flag Warning and Wind Advisory!

National Weather Service is warning that there will be blowing dust!  Well, there's been blowing dust for months, but I have to say that today is especially windy.

And not a prevailing, steady wind from one direction, the wind today is "snaky" and coming from every which-way.  So we aren't getting any real electricity out of it.

The worst part is that the gusts blow our yard items around like crazy.  We are working on clearing a spot to build a shed, but for now much of our stuff is just sitting out waiting to be put away.  And just when you think you've battened down all the hatches and secured everything in the yard, something gets grabbed by a dust devil and spat out a hundred yards away.  There I am standing in front of the window thinking, "oh yeah, of course that would blow away.  Why didn't I put that away better?"

Oh well, we'll spend today at home working on estimates and orders, and chasing after flying debris.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Hard Work

This past Wednesday we finally got started on the biggest solar array in Brewster County!  Tim's got over 7 kilowatts of PV cells that had been sitting in a storage locker for over a year, along with 24 batteries that each weigh 107 pounds.

After pulling out the PV panels and arranging them on the trailer, we finally had access to the batteries that were sitting on the bottom of the pile.  The batteries are 12V AGMs, and despite sitting for that long, they were all over 12 volts.

We loaded up all the batteries and panels, and helped move them to Tim's remote location in the Solitario/Agua Fria outskirts.

Unfortunately Old Smokey's (the red truck that used to be woodgas powered) beleaguered fuel pump decided to die on the way out, and after we dropped off the equipment we had to limp the truck home.

Tim was kind enough to follow us all the way back to Phil and Gina's home, and actually towed us the last ten miles with his Touareg.

The whole day was a lot like a VDub commercial.

The next day Casey spent hours replacing the fuel pump.  We had actually been planning to replace the pump soon, so we had the parts on hand.  The hard part was pulling the bed, thanks to all the bolts being seized with rust and undercoating.  We eventually got all six bolts out and with four people the bed lifted off fairly easily.  Of course there was an inch of road dust on everything under there.

By Friday afternoon the truck was running better than it had and Casey was back to work, fixing other people's cars.

Saturday was an at-home day, and we finally got the tar paper and metal roofing up on the bathroom extension.  There are still quite a few bug-holes, but we are happy to be able to check that job off the list.

We also replaced the control arms in the new truck and the brakes.  Starting the chicken run had been on the to-do list, but we ran out of daylight sooner than expected (again).

Monday was spent pouring a pad for a client's battery bank.  This installation is for 6KW per day, and will power an off-grid RV hookup.

While the concrete was drying, we went to visit one of our suppliers who lives on the Ranch.  Ron had just gotten back from East Texas, and had brought back a trailer full of low-priced AGM batteries.

We picked up eight for the installation and chatted with Ron and Missie for a while.  We really like the convenience of getting as much of our supplies from local sellers as possible.  It saves us a long drive and supports local business too!

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Parks and Recreation

IMG_4308.JPGThe bathroom is now fully enclosed! Next up, roofing felt and metal. 

IMG_4339.JPGOn Sunday we spent some time checking out a neighbor's property that is for sale.

Monday morning had a beautiful sunrise.  It was a great start to a fantastic day spent at the Big Bend National Park.  Our good friends Phil and Gina gave us the one-day tour, beginning with a hike on the Window Trail in the Chisos.

IMG_4404.JPGThe weather was beautiful, sunny and warm, but you could tell all the plants at the park were thirsty.  The last real rain I can remember was in July.  It seems like the "blue hole" has us in its grips!


IMG_4447.JPGIMG_4454.JPGFrom the Window -- a huge crevasse in the ring of mountains surrounding the Basin -- you can see many miles across the park.  The crevasse was formed by a fault line and polished over the years by the flow of water.  At the Window, the creek spills down a 200 foot waterfall.

Unfortunately there was no water flowing in the creek because of the extremely dry conditions.

IMG_4441.JPGNothing finishes off a good hike like stopping for lunch at the Overlook restaurant!  I highly recommend the all-you-can-eat soup and salad bar -- lots of yummy choices at a reasonable price.

After lunch we piled back into the vehicle and set out for the Boquillas overlook.

The overlook used to be a popular crossing for tourists into Mexico, but since the border was closed after 9/11 you can no longer cross at Boquillas.

This was a very bad thing for the residents of Boquillas who have built their town on the tourism dollars from the park.  The town itself used to bring in food and supplies from the US side of the Rio since 1944 (when the park was established) because the town is surrounded on the Mexican side by hundreds of miles of barren desert.  Now the town is largely abandoned, though some brave entrepreneurs continue to sell trinkets illegally.

IMG_4467.JPGThese men have dropped off some handmade walking sticks, jewelry, and art on the US side with a plastic cup for money.  They called out to us from the other side of the river, encouraging us to buy some souvenirs.  If a Ranger sees the items for sale, or being brought home by tourists, he or she will confiscate them as contraband.  It's the job of the man on the horse to ride across the shallow river when officials are near and gather up their wares and earnings before they can be confiscated.  It seems like a lot of hard work and risk to sell souvenirs, but they are dedicated business men.

IMG_4477.JPGFrom Boquillas we rode to the Hot Springs, where a hundred years ago the wealthy would come to stay at the hotel and bathe in the sulfur-rich water.  They thought the waters would cure their illnesses, but now it is illegal to soak in any National Park hot spring.  The giant palm trees were staggeringly huge, and each small room of the hotel had a quaint desert mural on the wall.

After the Hot Springs, the day was getting late so we headed back to Study Butte and then home.  We had a wonderful time thanks to Phil and Gina, and we hope to get back there soon!  Hopefully after some spring rains!

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Words, words, words ...

Last week's cold snap made a brief recurrence this week, surprisingly enough.  Tuesday was a beautiful, sunny (though windy) day but then Wednesday and Thursday were just above freezing.  Friday gave us another beautiful day, though!  Occasional cold snaps aside, nothing can compare to the record lows we experienced last week.  It got so cold Casey felt compelled to photograph our digital thermometer.

Three degrees Fahrenheit may be normal for some areas of the country at this time of year, but my good friend Andrea has been living in the Big Bend for a decade and she says she has never before seen single-digit temperatures.

We didn't waste time during the cold though -- we made good progress enclosing the bathroom.  The photo above was taken from the roof looking into the bathroom, right before we affixed the last panel of OSB.  Just one more panel to go and we can open the doorway between the bathroom and the rest of the house.  Once that space is available, we can move most of the interior items in there and finish off the main space. I can't wait to have sheetrock walls I can paint and hang shelves!

One of our other major projects this week was a Simple Pump installation in Alpine.  Simple Pump isn't a description, it's the brand name.  In fact, it was quite complicated and not really simple at all. 

The pumps are very interesting and have a lot of advantages, to be sure.  They are -- in essence -- hand pumps designed in the old style with a pump cylinder and a sucker rod.  This installation dropped the pump cylinder about 60 feet down, and then pumped water through what is called a "pitless adapter" by means of a 12VDC motor.

The original Simple Pump doesn't have a pitless adapter or an electric motor to run the pump.  And when at the end of the day the pump didn't produce water, we immediately suspected one of these features as the culprit.  What we discovered when we removed the pump head and well cover was that the pitless adapter came detached.  The problem is that the pitless adapter was not installed deep enough into the well casing. 

In truth a pitless adapter is not really recommended for our latitude.  Up north, the pitless adapter allows the water to exit the well and pump below the frost line, so the water will not freeze in winter temperatures.

The Simple Pump company will probably send us parts to remedy the problem, but until then the installation will focus on the solar power side.

We also spent some time at our neighbor Robert Beauchamp's garage.  Casey helped him diagnose some electrical problems on his tow truck and I helped however I could, but I spent an awful lot of time playing with Beechie's dogs.

Beechie has the only garage on the Ranch and we are very lucky to have him and his wife Nola as neighbors.  Someday we would like to have our own modest garage with a lift, but until then it is a pleasure to work with Beechie for shop time.

IMG_4297.JPGIMG_4298.JPGOne neighbor we don't like at all is the electric line that runs down Lake Ament road.  It's more like a nextdoor nightmare in my opinion, but I am a little biased. 

The Rio Grande Electric Co-op is installing new poles and lines in our area, but they also seem to be "upgrading" the lines.  We have gone from having three lines per pole to eight, and you can hear the EMF in the radio when you drive under the wires.

Just to really make me sour on the subject, the power company has also installed a super-bright street lamp at the corner of Lake Ament road and Terlingua Ranch road.  I guess they are trying to prevent theft (tons of their supplies for working on the lines are sitting at that corner, waiting to be used) but the light is really obnoxious.

I guess if you love paying through the nose for unreliable electricity, then this is good news.  For the rest of us, it's just another eyesore and health risk.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Back to normal

Last night only dropped to 39 deg. f and today is 65 and sunny so you could not ask for more. After our week of below-freezing temperatures we only lost a few plumbing parts, but among them was our Flowjet water pump which split open. Our chickens all made it, and they do look happier at 60 degrees F.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Dangerous weather...

When I went to sleep last night, it was about 15 degrees Fahrenheit at 10 pm.  We're not sure how cold it got, but it was windier than Chicago and snowing to boot!

Here's a photo of the frost on our sliding glass door.
All of the chickens pulled through, amazingly enough!  We have set up some OSB as windbreaks for them, but they are on their own as far as making heat.  Tonight will be even colder.  One degree Fahrenheit, with a wind chill of -15 degrees.  We hope that the windbreaks will help and they will come out alright again, but we know that there is a real possibility that we may lose some birds. 

We will update again tomorrow.


Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Wind and Cold

An arctic front has moved in to our area and temps are going to be in the teens tonight, plus the wind has been whipping so hard our workbench got flipped twice.  There's going to be a lot of plumbing problems soon, I think, all over the ranch.

Once we've got the house warmed up, it is easy to maintain a comfortable temperature but there are still a few indoor luxuries we don't have.  Otherwise, our house has remained quite pleasant despite the bitterly cold wind outside.

If this were last year, we would have hunkered down in a neighbor's house or taken a short vacation in Alpine at the Antelope Lodge.

We'll report on any damage tomorrow or the next day.

Stay warm!