Most of my photos come on our travels, but we can’t travel every weekend. For various reasons, we have been staying closer to home recently. When we can’t travel I try to find good subjects for photography in my local area.
Keystone Lake is just a few miles upstream from Tulsa on the Arkansas River. With Oklahoma subject to periodic droughts, the Keystone Dam is often not very impressive, with just enough water flowing to generate power, but Oklahoma has been pretty wet this year, and there have been very heavy rains upstream, so they are running a lot of water through the dam right now.
We got up early to try and get a photo of the Moon setting over the dam, I had the location planned correctly, but I messed up on the timing. The Moon was setting just as we drove up, and I could not get the camera set up in time to get the shot. Still, we had some interesting light, and there was a strong mist from the dam that developed into a heavy fog. We stayed for a few hours and I took pictures in the changing light. Ren is very understanding and patient with my early morning photo jaunts.
The area below the dam was filled with birds, thousands of them. The Pelicans were passing through on their annual migration. As the sun was rising they began to feed.
As we were leaving we found that most of the flock were on the lake side of the dam. It was hard to tell in the fog but the lake was covered in Pelicans for as far as we could see. This photo only captures a tiny portion of them.
While I did not get the photo I was after, I am still pleased with the photos that I did get.
Most of our trips tend to be quick journeys over the weekend, or slightly longer trips over a long weekend, but sometimes we like to take the time for a longer road-trip. By the middle of 2016 we had already explored fairly well the area around Dallas that could be easily reached over a weekend. We were having to drive three hours or more to get to an area we hadn’t already visited. As part of her volunteer work, Ren was having to attend meetings in Austin once a quarter, always on Wednesday mornings. This offered us the opportunity to use Austin as a jumping off point for a longer adventure. So it was that on June 14th we set off on one of our longer road-trips.
Wednesday afternoon, we left from Austin headed toward the first stop on our journey, South Llano River State Park, just outside of Junction TX. This is a pretty little riverside park with a nice swimming hole. We arrived in the early afternoon, spent some time exploring the park, before going for a swim in the river. The water was very clear and cold. Perfect for cooling off on a hot June day in Texas. The park has hiking trails, a wild turkey flock, and you can rent rafts and kayaks in Junction and float down the river to the park, where they will pick you up at the end of your trip.
This park is an International Dark Sky Park, and an excellent place for stargazing. Light pollution is increasingly a problem in the developed world as the city lights drown out the night sky making it very difficult for many people to experience the wonder of the universe under a truly dark sky. South Llano River has very dark skies. Unfortunately due to the timing of our trip moon was too close to full for the viewing to be very good when we were there, and it was also a bit cloudy, I stayed up that evening to take some photos, but none of them were worth sharing.
After breakfast we set out the next morning headed west. The further west we went the more rugged and interesting the landscape became. This was our first trip into far west Texas, and we soon found ourselves asking why we had waited so long. Every region of Texas has its charms, but there is something special about the mountains. Ren and I were both awed by the beauty we found in West Texas.
After many hours of driving, we reached our first destination of the day. Balmorhea State Park, just outside of Balmorhea Texas. This unique park is in the foothills of the West Texas mountains, built around the San Solomon Springs, it is an oasis in the desert. In the 1930’s the Civilian Conservation Corps took this spring and made it into a huge swimming pool. Up to 30 feet deep in places, the cool, crystal clear waters flow up from the bottom of the spring at a rate of 25 million gallons a day and flow out through canals to irrigate the surrounding countryside. We were both surprised to find it home to fish and other underwater creatures. The waters maintain a temperature of 72 to 76 degrees year round. We expected to find this a refreshing stop, and we did, but we did not anticipate how beautiful the setting was.
After our swim, we headed for our ultimate destination, Davis Mountains State Park (DMSP), just west of Fort Davis Texas. Located in the Davis Mountain range, Davis Mountains State Park, (DMSP), is actually two Parks. DMSP and Indian Lodge State Park. Indian Lodge is a full-service hotel located within the larger park. Built by the Civilian Conservation Corps, (CCC), in the 1930s. It serves as a getaway for those who want to visit this area without giving up their creature comforts.
We are not averse to traveling in comfort when the budget allows, but for this trip, we were camping. We arrived after the office was closed, but we had already reserved our campsite online. We went to the bulletin board and found our site number. In most Texas State Parks we have visited, they mark which sites are reserved, and you are free to choose from those remaining sites. We were not used to having a site assigned to us, but we were happy enough with the site once we found it. On arriving at a new park, we always drive through the park to get a lay of the land. The office was closed, but we were able to pick up maps and ask questions at the Indian Lodge desk and gift shop. After driving through the park, we set up camp.
We had been concerned about the heat, being June in West Texas. We needn’t have worried. DMSP is between 5,000 and 6,000 feet above sea level, and being in the desert, the humidity is low. The days were warm but not excessively so, and the nights were downright chilly, getting down in the 50s. Having done our research, we were prepared for the local wildlife. While it has been many years since a bear has been sighted in DMSP, they do have a large population of Javelina. Javelina are a large pig-like animal. They are generally not dangerous to humans if left alone, but they can be dangerous if threatened. In the evening we heard them rummaging through our camp looking for food, but we had made sure to secure any food and garbage in our truck before going to bed. Our neighbors had not been so wise, and while they were away their camp was destroyed.
Friday Morning we drove into the Town of Fort Davis to have breakfast. There we found a nice little restaurant at the Fort Davis Drug Store, which is actually a gift shop, restaurant, and hotel; however, this was the actual site of the Drug and General Store during the days of Fort Davis. Their cheesy hash browns are one of the best things I ever ate, easily as good as the baked potato casserole at the Natty Flats Smokehouse. We ended up eating all our breakfasts there.
Fort Davis is the country seat of Jeff Davis County, so we had to go visit the courthouse. It is a picturesque Courthouse with a lot of historical information inside as well as some interesting wood carvings and hand embroidered quilts. Well worth the time to visit.
We very much liked the town of Fort Davis. It is a small place and mostly survives on tourism, They do a good job of making you feel welcome. The reason they get so much tourism is that within the town of Fort Davis is the Fort Davis National Historic Site.
This is a well-preserved frontier fort from the era of the Indian Wars, active from 1854 to 1892, Fort Davis was built to protect settlers and freight on the Trans-Pecos portion of the San Antonio-El Paso Road. The Fort, the town, and the county were named for Jefferson Davis, Secretary of War when the fort was established. Much of the housing and several other buildings survive, and there are many exhibits built to help explain life on the frontier. Visiting here you find yourself trying to imagine what it was like to live in this beautiful but harsh country without the benefits of air conditioning other modern conveniences.
As the day was warming up, we decided to take advantage of one of those modern conveniences, Air Conditioning. We set out to drive the Davis Mountains Scenic Loop. The Davis Mountains Scenic loop is a 75-mile loop that begins in Fort Davis, heads west into the Davis Mountains on Highway 118, before turning south on Highway 166 which will bring you back to Highway 17 and Fort Davis. The Davis Mountains are an ancient range of volcanoes, with many rugged and beautiful peaks. The Davis Mountains fill a rough square about 31 miles on each side. The Scenic Loop is one of the best ways to appreciate this amazing area of Texas. It takes 2 hours to drive if you do not stop, it took us more like 4 hours as we stopped frequently to take in the views.
Make sure you are well prepared before taking this drive. This is an extremely remote and empty country. Once you leave Fort Davis you will pass the park entrance, and a few miles later, the McDonald Observatory, after that there is nothing but a couple of ranches until you get back to Fort Davis. There is no cell phone service, and we only passed a couple of cars the entire day. The roads are in very good condition, but there are places where you are many miles from help, and you might have a long wait till someone else came along. Make sure you have plenty of gas and plenty of water. That said, this is an experience you do not want to miss. This was my favorite part of the entire trip.
Once we got back to the park we headed over to Indian Lodge to have a great dinner at the Black Bear restaurant. I highly recommend that you have at least one meal there during your visit. The service was wonderful and they made sure Ren had a gluten-free chicken fried steak and gravy. Having a few hours of daylight left we explored more of DMSP. In addition to the Javelinas, DMSP is a haven for birds. They have a nice bird blind but there wasn’t much activity while we were there since it was later in the day when the heat is up.
The highest peak in the park is Lookout Mountain. You can drive to the top where there is an observation area with a great view in all directions. From there you can see McDonald Observatory to the west and Fort Davis to the east. You can drive nearly to the top, where there is a small parking lot. Nearby is an old CCC-built shelter giving you cool shade to take time to enjoy the amazing view. One of the hiking trail leads to the top of the mountain, then continues on, out of the park and down to Fort Davis. Neither Ren or I were in shape enough to do much hiking in the heat of the day, but the trail is clearly marked and well traveled.
The lookout closes at sunset, but for a small fee you can stay up after hours. Here you can watch the sun dip down below Mount Livermore and show off McDonald Observatory. We did just that, sharing a nice sunset with some of the local wildlife. and took the time to shoot a short video. It was actually very relaxing and we spent plenty of time appreciating the view.
This is one of the darkest areas in the state and is an outstanding area for astronomy, however, it was nearly a full moon so the stargazing was not the best. Still, I took the camera to see what I could get, while Ren took the air mattress so she could sleep in the back of the truck. We met another photographer named Jim, who was also staying on the mountain, and he and I visited and took pictures, while Ren slept. While Jim was shooting star trails, I took a series of long exposures of the lights from the cars returning to the park from the Star Party at the Observatory. We hadn’t been able to get tickets for the Star Party; however, we were able to visit the observatory the next day. At one point while we were taking pictures, a deer walked between us, then walked around the truck where Ren was sleeping and looked in curiously. She seemed to have no fear us at all.
After a while, we headed back down the mountain to get some sleep. We had another big day ahead, but this post is getting long, so I will save that story for another post.
Scott loves looking at the stars so he is often found at Palo Pinto Mountain State Park’s Tucker Lake to enjoy the Dark Sky. Twice a year, spring and fall, Palo Pinto Mountains State Park opens its gates and allows those who want to enjoy the dark skies to come visit. Because the park is not officially open this is a treat to those who visit and the Fort Worth Astonomical Scoiety come with telescopes of all sizes and types. This was our second Star Party and we did a bit more than just stargaze this time.
This future state park is a couple of miles from the city of Strawn and will include the once city park and Lake Tucker. Strawn has had a very interesting history from before the coal mining days with a huge population of over 20,000 to today’s current work to get a Texas State Park gate a few miles from the town center. You will find some of the original buildings from before the turn of the 20th century; an amazing, tiny musuem holding everything from orginal documents, photos, and even embroidery. This of course is one of the things that just thrills me.
I love a town that does what they can to preserve their history. Unfortuantely, there are only a few businesses using the downtown area, but the town is working to build and prepare for the up coming State Park. They already have the popular road trip stop Mary’s Cafe, famous for their country fried steak so the town already has some traffic but this sweet little town needs more business.
Not only will you find Strawn has a future Texas State Park, but you will find it is on the Texas Forts Trail. This is a 650-mile driving tour that will take you to the areas where there were many forts during the pioneer days.
You can find Strawn, Texas, exactly 76 miles west from Fort Worth or 76 miles east of Abilene just six mile north of highway 20 on highway 16.
Highway 16, also known as the Bankhead Highway, was constructed in 1916 and went from Washington D.C. to San Diego, California. This highway went directly across the northern section of Texas and included the city of Strawn. For Strawn, this was a huge deal and it still is. Because this year is the centennial celebration of the Bankhead Highway, Strawn will be celebrating with the rest of the road enthusiasts at their Bash On The Bricks festival April 22-24, 2016. Why not help them celebrate by visiting and seeing how much fun the people of Stawn are!
Along Highway 16, just north of downtown you will find Zim’s Farmers Market and Cafe. It is the original site of Zim’s Dr. Pepper Bottling Company where there was a tourist stop complete with car hops! Fortunately this property has been kept up and is now owned by Diana and Gary. They have opened up a farmers market where you can get “fresh from Diana’s garden” produce, happy chicken eggs, and George’s delicious breads. They also serve
some wonderful “pork butt” sandwiches, huge fantastic salads, and fresh squeezed lemonade for a really great price. They are only open on Saturdays from 9am to 1pm, but it is worth the stop. Scott and I enjoyed the sandwiches and stayed to chat and enjoy getting to know them. We also met Jeff, a past chamber of commerce president, and George, the bread guy. We learned so much about the community and their work on getting the future Palo Pinto Mountains State Park going.
Not only do Diana and Gary have the farmers market, Gary is the owner-potter of Coldpiece Pottery. He made the dishes and candles for the cafe and they are amazing for sure. However, his signature piece is the flowerpot candle filled with lavender infused wax. You can find his candles there in Strawn at the local stores or online at Perriberri.
After we had lunch at Zim’s and walked around downtown looking in the shops and musuem, we headed to Palo Pinto Mountains State Park for the Star Party. Scott and I decided we were going to camp because the one hour drive is just a bit much at 3am for us. So, we were told where to pitch our tent, set up and then Scott set up our spot for stargazing (it’s the patchwork quilt area) and I hunted down Jeff Ferguson, Park Superintendent, to see how I could help. I was put on food duty with Danny Miller, Strawn City Secretary. We had a wonderful time serving hot dogs and sodas to help raise money for the Partners of Palo Pinto Mountain State Park. I was able to meet so many people from Strawn, the Sierra Club, and the Fort Worth Astonomical Scoiety.
Scott was able to really enjoy the night sky. He took plenty of photos but the one he was most proud of was of a nebula. Since he has learned how to use his camera, he is definately improving. I love how happy he gets when he learns something new.
The photo below is my favorite from the night. I love how the red lights everyone uses helped to show everyone. Of course the shadowed mountain in the distance and the sky doesn’t hurt any either.
Once the consessions was closed, I headed over to our stargazing spot for a hug and snuggle in Scott’s sleeping bag. It was so cold and we were not expecting it to be as cold as it was. As much as I enjoyed the stars and hearing people call out the M’s they were looking for, I fell asleep. About 2am Scott had enough and we headed to the tent to sleep.
As much as I enjoy spending time with Scott and supporting his hobbies, I did not enjoy camping that night. It is a shame because it was the very first night we camped at this park, before it is a campable park. It should have been a night to celebrate, unfortuantely it was so cold and I was not ready for that. The sun was just up and we had began moving around; my first words were, “I want to go home now.” I did not want to enjoy the park any more; I was cold to the bones. I do not do cold well; I become rather grouchy. Fortunately Scott suggested we get into the truck and eat some breakfast while the cab warmed up. After a few minutes of warmth, coffee, and banana, I felt better.
Jeff told us we were allowed to hike, explore and enjoy the park area while we were there so we did just that. We ate a full breakfast, well, as full as one can have cold camping, at the lake to get some photos in the morning light. Then we got adventurous and explored further back from the star party area. It has really helped to excite me about the construction of this park over the next couple of years.
I am so glad we did more than just attend the Star Party this time. I loved meeting the people of Strawn, shopping in their stores, and seeing the town. Why not take April 22-24 and visit Strawn for their Bash on the Bricks Festival? It’s not that far and there is so much fun to be had!
Scott and I were discussing everything we have been doing lately and we realized we had not been updating our blog with everything we have been doing. Looking at the blog this morning, I was stunned to find our last post was October 24! It always amazes me how time flies; especially when you are having fun and we have been having lots of fun.
October was a very busy month of us. Scott had attended the O’Flarherty Music Retreat and not only worked on his guitar playing, but he was able to do a little bit of photography. I was home working on embroidery for the four days he spent in Midlothian at Camp Hoblitzelle playing music. It was such a quiet weekend for me and I was able to get pretty far on the Thistle Thread Shady Bowery project.
When Scott came home he was extremely focused on music once again and played as often as he could. I love to listen to him playing music, especially after he has been to O’Flarhety. When we moved to the apartment there was a bit of concern for how we would deal with his practice. Fortunately he is improving every day and it has actually become something I usually look for ward to. Granted, there are days I need to find something else to do away from the house giving him time to practice and me a bit of piece and quiet.
The first week of Novemember I attended an EGA workshop through the Fort Worth EGA Chapter. Tanja Berlin, from Berlin Embroidery in Canada, taught her Needle Painting with Thread course. The group had four different projects to choose from and I decided to go with the Red Fox. We all had so much fun, but it was a very focused class causing me not to be able to take photos.
As you know, I can’t keep my embroidery projects to just one thing so I have added a few more projects. Haha. I decided to began working on Christmas projects for 2016. So now I am working on the Shady Bowery project, Red Fox needle painting, and the various Christmas projects to finish for 2015 and now afgahns for all the grands. I am pretty excited about the afgahans. So far I am only working on the mermaid tails for the Grand Sarina and Grand Aubrey, but they are turning out so cute. I am using the pattern by Nadia Faud on her blog Yarnutopia. I am hoping to be teaching this in the Hurst, Texas, area in February.
We went home to Oklahoma to visit family in November; it was a short but a good trip. We decided to take a bit of a detour and drive through Sulpher, Oklahoma. We had not been through there in a while and so the detour was a nice way to avoid all the end-of-the-weekend-traffic. One of the “breaks” we took was stopping at the Chickasaw National Recreation Area just on the edge of Sulpher. We had forgotten just how much we loved this place. It was once a sulpher spa people were drawn to for healing. Unfortunately it was getting late and we were not able to spend any real time there.
Eventually we did go back and visit Chickasaw. He came home from work a little early and I was ready to head out. I wanted him to be able to get some good photos so we needed to be there before the sun went down. Since this was the goal we needed to leave about noon because it is about two hours from the apartment. We had such a great time. Scott was able to take some great photos and actually took some decent photos of me. I usually hate having my photo taken, but these turned out great!
Scott loves to take photos of water. It seems to be something he loves to do; not sure why. He was practicing to get the blur of the water. He does this by lowering settings on the camera so the shutter stays open longer. I do not completely understand it, but he has gotten pretty good at it, but that is just my opinion. There are a few other adventures we have taken recently taken, but I would like like that to be another post. So I will leave you with the photos he took from Chickasaw National Recreation Area. Please enjoy and safe adventures to you.
Scott and I have really been visiting the Texas State Parks recently so we thought we would step out of my comfort zone and do something that Scott loves to do; we went to a Star Party a couple weeks ago. The newest park, Palo Pinto Mountains State Park, invited guests out to star gaze during the new moon phase. We were fortunate to meet up our good friend Kristi from Rambling Woolysheep. She and her son were a hoot.
When the lunar eclipse occurred a month or so ago, we also met her and her two boys at Mineral Wells State Park & Trailhead. It was fun as well. I had never seen a lunar eclipse and was in awe. Kristi wrote about her experience on her blog and I thought I would share it with you. She has some wonderful photos a few telescopes and such that were there as well as the eclipse.
For most of human history, mankind has been intimately aware of the heavens. The wonders of the night sky were there to see in all their glory any evening when the sky was clear. In much of the modern World that is no longer true. In our desire to drive out the darkness we have lost the stars. From the city or even a small town, all but the brightest stars are washed out by the artificial light. The official name of this is Light Pollution. Many people have never seen the Milky Way, and have no idea what a truly dark sky looks like. Drive an hour or so away from a city, and find an area a few miles from the nearest town and you can see many more stars than you will in town, but even these skies, as impressive as they may be, are not truly dark.
The International Dark-Sky Association is an organization dedicated to preserving the few areas where the night sky is free from light pollution. Two of the Texas State Parks, Enchanted Rock and Copper Breaks, have received gold-tier ratings from the International Dark-Sky Association. Along with the City of Dripping Springs and Big Bend National Park, this gives Texas four where the wonders of the night sky can be seen as they should be seen.
On the weekend of June 6 – 7, Ren was out of town with friends, the weather was nice, so I packed up my spotter scope and tent and headed out to Copper Breaks State Park for some stargazing. The park is about three hours Northwest of Fort Worth, a bit Southwest of Wichita Falls. It was just after 7:00 PM when I arrived, so I had a little over an hour of daylight left to setup camp.
I had arrived after the Park office was closed, the procedure is to find a camping site and either drop payment in the after hours box, or pay in the morning. There were no sites with electric hookup left so I headed toward the group camping / equestrian area as it was further back from the main area of the park. There was one family in the Group Camping area, and they were packing up to leave, so I decided to setup there. After they left I was pretty much the only person in sight.
I quickly got camp setup and settled in to watch the sunset. It’s not often that I take the time to sit back and watch a sunset, in a nice setting with no distractions.
Sunset was about 8:30, Twilight lasts for about an hour after the sun sets, and during that time the stars slowly begin to appear. First the brightest and then the dimmer ones. The difference between fair viewing and great viewing is how many of the dim stars become visible. One of the keys to good viewing is to be as far as possible from any lights. There are two reasons for this, first, any lights will reflect form haze and dust in the air and obscure the dimmer stars, and second, to see the dimmest stars you need your eyes to be fully adjusted to the dark, and any lights prevent that from happening. In this case I could see one campground that was lit up across the valley, and some other light in the woods a few miles away. It was easy to find a location that blocked both of those lights.
Venus and Jupiter were the first things that were visible in the West, and I spent some time looking at them through the spotter scope. To be honest that was not that big a deal as both of these are easily viewable even in the city. They are pretty much the brightest objects in the sky after the Sun and Moon.
As twilight ended it soon became clear that these were really good viewing conditions. I have been interested in astronomy since I was a kid and often try to find good skies for viewing, but these were the best I had ever seen. Even in a good location there is an area around the horizon where all but the brightest stars are washed out by light pollution from the surrounding towns. The better the site, the smaller this area is. Near a city this area pretty much covers the entire sky. At Copper Breaks I could see stars almost all the way to the horizon in nearly every direction.
Each season has it’s own gifts to offer the stargazer. In summer the constellations Sagittarius and Scorpius are clearly visible in the south. These are interesting because the center of the Milky Way Galaxy lies in that direction and there are a lot of bright star clusters in that area. The Milky Way is also high in the sky in the summer. Often this is not that big an attraction because it requires the very darkest skies to be able to see the Milky Way. Despite several recent stargazing trips, I had not seen the Milky Way in decades. Here it was clearly visible.
As I took a break from stargazing I found that Copper Breaks had yet another wonder to offer. I saw the occasional firefly in my camp, but when I turned to look out over the valley I saw the entire valley lit up with thousands of fireflies. It looked like a river of lights. I had never seen anything like it. I tried to get a picture, but the camera on my phone was not able to capture it.
Growing up in a small town in Arkansas, fireflies were a part of my childhood. Over the years the firefly populations have seen a sharp decline. The reasons are not entirely clear, but pesticides and light pollution are suspected to be at least some of the problem. Many species of firefly use their lights to attract mates, and the presence of artificial lights is suspected to interfere with that.
Moonrise was about 12:30 AM. The presence of the moon was sufficient to wash out the dimmer stars, and spoil my night vision, so the stargazing was pretty much over. I did watch the fireflies a bit longer then went to bed.
I set my tent up to face the east because it had been even longer since I had watched a sunrise than it had been since I watched a sunset.
After breakfast, I packed up camp, stopped by the Park office to pay for my site, and headed home.
Below are a few other pictures I took.