Sunday, December 30, 2012

Drizzly day

We visited our friend Dennis today and picked up 12 battery cores he donated from his defunct bank.  We also got to check out his latest project, repainting the dome exterior using this fancy 'Koolcoat' additive.  Supposedly it can add up to R2 insulating with these tiny foam beads (think fluffy grains of superfine sand).

In other news, we have been letting the chickens out to scratch and explore a few hours per day. But because of our tenacious coyote, these outings must be closely supervised!

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Things to See in Big Bend

Juan de Leon grave, BBNP
Ernst Tinaja, BBNP

Museum of the Big Bend, SRSU, Alpine

Cattail Falls, BBNP

Chimneys, BBNP

Gilberto Luna's Jacal, BBNP

Santa Elena Canyon, BBNP

Tuff Canyon, BBNP

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Dark December

Sorry for the long gap in entries ... we are just feeling overwhelmed lately.

But it is good to be busy, and we are happy to be moving forward on many projects at once.

The shooting yesterday at Sandy Hook Elementary reminds us that every moment is precious, and every day a gift. We hope that everyone is holding their loved ones a little closer.

Before the massacre in Connecticut, we celebrated Sara's birthday at Big Bend National Park. We visited Boquillas Canyon, near the border village of the same name (and the embattled border crossing -- will it ever open?).

Perhaps this brief serenade by Victor will lift your spirits:

Friday, November 23, 2012

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Fall Behind

It's been an interesting past few weeks since the last blog entry.  Sorry for the long gap, there's just been so much going on here that writing got bumped to the bottom of the To-Do List.

The abundance of flowers continues, even though we haven't had any recent, significant rain.  The ocotillo left is one of the few we have spotted blooming, and since the photo was taken, almost all the ocotillo have changed to autumn colors or lost their leaves entirely.

We are still enjoying lots of fresh chicken from the harvest in August. Our two favorite ways to cook the birds are oven-roasted ("naked" roast chicken!) and tequila-lime marinated.

We have also started a container garden growing carrots, spinach, cabbage, cilantro, and basil. The community garden is also very active right now, with lots of edibles growing in the yard. We stopped by the Terlingua Farmers' Market last week and got to see all the wonderful vendors and farm-fresh food for sale.  It is still fairly early, though, and there will be even more vegetables available in a few weeks. We would love to have enough eggs to sell there (once the girls finally start laying!) and Casey's pater wants to buy drought-tolerant tree seedlings to re-sell.

We are really excited to see what we can harvest in two to three months! The growing season here in the desert is the opposite of what we are used to in the Northeast, and we have never done a container garden before. Containers have the benefit of reserving moisture better, but the disadvantage of being more sensitive to temperature fluctuations. We have already had some near-freezing temperatures this November, and we brought each container inside overnight to protect the seedlings from cold (only hope and prayer protects them from the cats & dogs!). Today seems to be the start of a warming trend, so we hope we can safely leave the containers outside overnight again! 

We also recently bought an annual pass for the Big Bend National Park (why did we wait this long?!) and have been attempting a new hike each week.  We completed the Grapevine Hills trail and the Lost Mine trail, just the two of us, and then this week we took Casey's parents Kathie and Bob (along with Gigabyte) down the Window trail and around the old Sam Nail Ranch. 

On the list for future hikes are the Ernst Tinaja, Santa Elena Canyon, and many more...

Another project that has been taking up a lot of time and effort is closing off the Workshop. As of tonight, the remainder of the back wall is all framed out and waiting for metal sheathing. We coated the wall with a special cement product called "Quikwall," which is a super-strong, fiberglass-reinforced surface bonding cement. The product is intended for dry stacked block walls with mostly hollow cores, but also has many other uses.  The Quikwall went on easily and finished nicely, with a smooth, stucco-y look. 

OK, it's not all-natural, traditional goat poo plaster ... but we don't have the goats yet and this was much easier and faster. 

Anyway, aside from these developments, there have been a lot of exciting things going on in the world.  For one, the Superstorm Sandy hit the Jersey Shore, where Sara's maternal family lives.  Everyone came through the storm OK, but there was a lot of damage and the electricity was out for several days.  Luckily, none of the many trees that fell landed on their homes or vehicles, but there was an obvious (and in some cases, desperate) need for portable solar systems. 

And Alpine threw a big, annual bash called ArtWalk, where people and artists came from all over to have a good time with food, friends, and art.  We made it just in time to catch the parade, which featured a multi-person rattlesnake skeleton cycle (with red-stocking tongue!) and spinning butterfly cycles. 

Saturday, October 27, 2012


Since we've got so many flowers blooming right now, we thought it would be a good investment to buy a plant identification guide from the BBNP bookstore (instead of spending hours on the Lady Bird Johnson website and getting mixed results).  Of course, the real books are several hundred pages long and cost over $20, so we cheaped-out and got the laminated pamphlet version.  

We already own the "Snakes of the Trans-Pecos" pamphlet and we love it, so this little "Plants of the Chihuahuan Desert" field guide seemed like a good alternative to the more expensive, full length book.

It's really amazing how many plants we assumed were just scrubby brush that are now showing some beautiful flowers.  There are also so many flowers that we've enjoyed for years now, that we hadn't previously been able to identify.  Here are some new IDs we've been able to make, thanks to our new field guide (plus a little help from

  1. Black dalea (Dalea frutescens)
  2. Skeleton-leaf goldeneye (Viguiera stenoloba)
  3. Trailing windmills (Allionia incarnata)
  4. Bristly nama (Nama hispidum)
  5. Mock vervain (Glandularia bipinnatifida)
  6. Desert evening primrose (Oenothera primiveris)
But there are still a number of flowers and plants that are a complete mystery.  Since we had such good luck with Botaniker helping us ID the Lindheimer's Senna, we thought we might post the mystery plants too, and hope that someone out there savvier than us can ID them.

Here are the mystery plants:

This dark plant is a total mystery, especially since there weren't any open blooms to help. The purple/gray color is so unusual, and we haven't seen any more since these photos were taken.

This thistley, prickly plant is very common, but is not in our booklet.  We'd love to know more about it, since it is all over.

Yellow is the most common color for flowers out here, but even the ones that look the same are often different species.  At first we thought this flower was skeleton-leaf goldeneye, but on closer inspection it doesn't match at all.

This creeping succulent is beautiful even when it's not flowering, but the tiny pink/purple flowers make the plant seem even more delicate and lovely.

This strange flower is one we have never seen before or since. What in the heck is it?

The dark vine pictured above had several tiny, rose-like blooms along its length, but only the one pictured was open and ready for a close-up.

But here's the real star of this blog entry (I know, I know ... too many flower photos): Pectis angustifolia.  More commonly known in these parts as 'limoncillo,' this wild herb has an amazingly strong lemony fragrance and it is often dried to be used for tea or flavoring. 

Not a horse.
The first time someone told us about limoncillo, we thought he had said 'lemonsilla,' and when we Googled it, we found lots of pictures of horses, but no flowers. Another case where helped point us in the correct direction!

Friday, October 26, 2012

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Solar Sisters

Happy to report that the new SunStation survived the journey to Pink's Peak, and is electrifying the lives of Erica and her twin Erin.

The river guide sibs from the volunteer state were super excited and proudly called it "the sexiest thing that's ever been in the yard." Sorry fellas, you just can't compete with 425 watts of solar!

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Late Bloomer

Foreground: Torrey yucca. Background: Whitehouse Mtn.

Mail Surprise

We recently got a wonderful surprise in our mailbox. A note from our new friend Stacy, who came to visit with Dr. Deb a couple weeks ago.  

With the note was the best gift ever, some Leucaena seeds for our garden.  Leucaena, or Leadtree, is indigenous to our area (though we seem to have mostly acacias, which are also in the mimosa family) and an excellent source of nutrients. It is also a nitrogen-fixing plant, so it enriches the soil for other plants.

We can't wait to add this super-plant to our small container garden. Thanks Stacy!

Sunday, October 21, 2012


We had a VIP come to visit this week. Sara's mother Debra flew into El Paso on Tuesday and flew out on Saturday. Wednesday morning the desert welcomed Debra with a stunning orange sunrise.

Since we only had a couple of full days to show her around, we tried to pack in as much as we could. First stop had to be the Big Bend National Park. The national park was beautiful and almost every plant was blooming, thanks to recent and copious rain. But a lot of the roads we wanted to travel were closed due to washouts.

Despite that setback, we managed to see a number of great spots,including the Chisos basin, the Ross Maxwell scenic drive, Castolon, the Rio, and Santa Elena canyon. Debby got to take a photo of her first wild tarantula and discovered that she loves ocotillo plants, despite having trouble remembering the name.

The next day we gave her the two-dollar tour of Terlingua ghost-town, took a stroll through the graveyard, and tried to find something worth buying at the Terlingua Trading Company. Unfortunately, we were treated very rudely by the man behind the counter and did not buy anything.

Just a few miles down the road, we had a completely opposite experience at the Lajitas resort. The posh resort, which basically is its own town, sits right on the Rio Grande and boasts many amenities and luxuries for its guests. After checking out the wares at Christina's World, we were strolling down the boardwalk when an employee came out to greet us. We thought that he was going to ask us to take the dogs away, but instead he enthusiastically greeted the dogs first and suggested we take them over to the amphitheater where they could play off-leash.

He gave us a mini-tour of the resort while guiding us to the amphitheater  and told us we were welcome to eat at the restaurant with the dogs if we didn't mind sitting outside. With a veranda like this, who could mind?

But we had already planned to eat at the Starlight Theater, so when we were done exploring the resort we all piled back into the truck and had a very nice meal accompanied by live music.

All in all, I think we did OK as far as giving the whirlwind-tour. Let us know if we missed any of your favorites -- we'll add them to the list for next time.