Thursday, May 26, 2011



Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Mountain Climb

Our solar installation in the Solitario is moving along.  We are currently waiting on parts, but there is still much to do with what we have.

Our group has some experience with wireless technology, and when you have a large area to cover with electronics that becomes useful. My parents' new property does not have internet service, but we do. So our solution is to wirelessly (WiFi) transmit internet to their house.

The distance between the two homes is only a mile, which would not be a problem if we were making a point to point connection, but there is a hill between the properties. WiFi is usually transmitted line-of-sight, meaning if you cannot see the source of your signal, you probably can't receive the signal no mater how powerful it may be. Arick has recently been modifying wireless routers for use as WiFi repeaters, meaning that it simply takes a signal and repeats it. So, voila! The perfect device to put on the hill between the two homes.

We built version 1.0 with a 15 watt solar panel a 20 amp-hour AGM battery. We put the router in a five-gallon bucket for weatherproofing. We have set our repeater up and it works, but it still needs a few more design tweaks before it will be perfect. Right now the signal on the other end is a little weak, so we are raising the antenna five feet.

Recently, we all went for hike up the mountain on the new property and it was quite the journey. We chose to ascend the steep side. There was plenty of lechugilla in our path, but some carefully steps protected our shins. Also, we followed Sprocket's lead, since he usually knows the best path to climb.

At the top of the mountain (technically the foothill of the West Corazon) we found a spacious ridge with all kinds of geological features and foliage. But some of the most amazing sights were the 360 degree views.

We descended the other side of the mountain which was more gradual, and for much of the way we were able to use a solid limestone water runoff that was carved into the mountain. Beautiful and functional.

Yesterday we visited our friend Dennis to see how the results of our solar consulting turned out. The amended setup was a success! Dennis added three 200 watt Sun Electric panels and a MorningStar charge controller.

After that, Sara and I did a run to Alpine for food, building supplies, and Sprocket's booster shots. We got supplies to finish our workshop/shed and lots of materials for Tim's job.

Friday, May 13, 2011


I'm going to try to sum up our activities for the past several weeks in fewer than five hundred words.

Here goes...
IMG_4816.JPGOn April 16th, we got to talk to a documentarian from East Texas about living off the grid.  We had a great time talking about what we love, and we got to know fellow interviewees Tim and Julie McKenna, who recently became full-time Ranch residents.

We were sad to see that the Grub Shack is closed until they get their septic system installed.  Hopefully Jerry and Eva will reopen soon -- we currently have three closed businesses at the end of the Ranch Road.

IMG_4815.JPGEven though there was no food or drinks for sale, Casey found something interesting to check out.  John's motorcycle and sidecar seem like a perfect Ranch buggy.

IMG_4848.JPGLast weekend we set up a small solar array for neighbors Julie and Whitebear.

IMG_4851.JPGWe had to walk away from the project before it was 100% finished so that we could meet with Tim Dean and Fred Porter in the Solitario.

IMG_4869.JPGAfter marking the locations for the pole-mounted arrays, Tim took us on a beautiful walk along the water drainage.

IMG_4886.JPGThe erosion caused by the water flow is dramatic and stunning.  The Solitario area of the Ranch has many natural wonders, though Tim's piece is one of the most picturesque.

IMG_4895.JPGA day later we went back to the Spirit Tracks Ranch to finish the solar setup we had started.  Working there is always a pleasure, not only because Julie and Whitebear are so nice, but because there are so many beautiful and friendly animals around.  Mishka (above) kept coming around for petting, and the cats we very interested in the panels.

IMG_4901.JPGAnd our truck!

IMG_4914.JPGThen there was the wonderful, but brief, rain we enjoyed last week! 
There is a 20% chance of storms tomorrow, so let's hope this is the
beginning of the rainy season and not just a tease.

IMG_4922.JPGWe even managed to get some work done on the chicken coop last week.  It still needs a lot more attention, but the chickens love their new extension.

IMG_4924.JPGThe camouflage netting from Bennet works like a dream and gives the birds tons of shade to enjoy, while being protected from hawks and owls.

IMG_4928.JPGThe metal Casey and Tim picked up in Midland/Odessa is currently in the yard, waiting to be cut and welded into pole-mounted racks.  The new Polish welder is on it's way!

IMG_4931.JPGWe headed back into the Solitario last Monday to see the holes and trench excavated by Porter Construction.

IMG_4933.JPGWe were met there by Jack Sullivan and former Ranch road crew operator Mayo Villa. I was surprised and pleased to see my former coworker.
Jack and Mayo set the poles in concrete, and we drove the ground rods.

IMG_4945.JPGCasey even got to use their nice Miller arc welder to attach reinforcing bar to the poles.

IMG_4948.JPGThe poles are arranged in a V formation pointing north/south for optimal insolation.

IMG_4958.JPGThe fires burning in Alpine/Sanderson/Marathon are really affecting our air quality.  At night and sometimes during the day the smell of woodsmoke is quite strong.

The particulates in the air are really dense today, and are obscuring even the very close West Corazon (above) and Turtle/Mummy Mountain (below).

IMG_4960.JPGUsually when you look down our valley, you can see clear to Nine Points Mesa, Jack Edom Mesa, and even Black Hill, which is a neighbor of Santiago Peak.

But today, all you can see is gray, polluted air.

594 words.  Not too bad.