Sunday, December 16, 2012

Christmas Tour of Historic Homes

Today we went on a Christmas tour of historic homes in Alpine. This home was designed and built around 1902 by well known pioneer architect and building contractor, William Daugherty.  The interior of the home has the feel of solid construction, and a designer that was ahead of his times.  Although it has a warm classic feel, there are many features in the interior architecture that seem modern.  Mr. Daugherty designed and built many of the finest homes, businesses and churches in Alpine.
The interior of this stucco home was our favorite!  The furnishings are very eclectic!  Everything about this home had a fascinating quality.  Super kudos to the owners on their decorating skills!  An article in the October 14, 1927 edition of the Alpine Avalanche announced in regards to this home that "one of the most modern and complete homes in Alpine" was be be built for Mr. and Mrs. J.C. Coleman.  Mr. Coleman was the first graduate of Sul Ross University.    
William Daugherty designed and built this home in 1908 for Mr. and Mrs. William Townsend, parents of noted Brewster County lawman and legislator, E.E. Townsend.  The home was later sold to A.H. Parmer.  Mr. Parmer's first wife and the mother of his children, was Susan Lavenia James, younger sister of the outlaws Frank and Jesse James.  The home is now owned by a couple from out of the area, who use it as a place to stay while in Alpine.  The home is very sparsely furnished.  Note the large windows and two front doors.  The front doors seemed of larger dimensions than usual and opened into two large rooms at the front of the house.  Large windows were prevalent throughout the house.  Even the rooms were expansive in floor space and high ceilings.  It gave the feeling that the expansive rooms would be wonderfully cool on a hot day, with all those large doors and windows circulating a breeze.  The house is reported to be a hybrid of Greek Revival and Victorian Styles.  I loved this home for its openness and aire of yesteryears!  
This home had a present day artistic feel.  It was built around 1901.  It has a Gambrel barnstyle roofline, popular in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.  The rooms are very small, and it has a steep narrow stairway to the upstairs bedrooms. This home in present times seemed comfortable for at most two people. There was a large church and one more home on the tour that didn't lend themselves to pictures.  Roy and I found it interesting that while we could appreciate every aspect of the homes on the tour, that neither of us felt any longing for home ownership.  That bodes well to the longevity of our gypsy life!

Thursday, December 6, 2012

The Marfa Mystery Lights

This is Highway 67/90 heading out of Alpine towards the community of Marfa.
Marfa is 24 miles through the desert.
About 8 miles before reaching Marfa is a viewing station for what is known as the Marfa mystery lights. 
This is the viewing platform.  The round portion of the building contains restrooms.
If you guessed it would be pitch black in the middle of the desert at night, you would be very right!  Lights in the viewing area and the driveway area leading to it are kept to a minimum for better viewing of the mysterious lights that appear over the desert.  There were cars along the drive, but when we got to the platform there was only one man with the hood of his sweatshirt pulled over his head.  The dark was spooky enough, but to share it with this shadowy lone figure was too much to relax and enjoy the light show.  To be fair I think we made him as nervous as he made us!  The night temperature in the desert in December didn't lend to our wanting to linger for the light show either.  A few minutes of nervousness and we all departed.  We did see the shimmer of a light or two before leaving.
This is an Internet picture of some of the lights.  The Marfa mystery lights have been appearing over this area of the desert since the 1800s.  They appear in all seasons and all types of weather.  The only stipulation is that it be nighttime.  Some are occasionally seen at dusk and early dawn.  They are about the size of a basketball, come in a variety of colors, and float from 10' to 400' in altitude.  Varying numbers of the lights appear, and they act independently of one another.  The individual lights may last a few seconds to an hour and move in all directions!  Some people report having been followed by them or having had them come close overhead!  Native Americans claim that they are spirits of their ancestors, some say they are U.F.O.s, and others say they are produced by swamp gas.  A common theory is that atmospheric conditions cause lights from vehicles 20 miles away and over the distant ridge to be reflected.  Others say that this can't be true, as the lights were being seen before cars were around!  Conspiracy theorists believe that because there was once an Airforce base close by that there is an underground laboratory where experiments are being conducted!  There are some videos on YouTube to explore and lots of information on the Internet to research.  I discovered that there are group tours out of Marfa.  That might be a more comfortable way to view the lights.  If we are in the area during warmer weather, I'd like to give viewing the lights another try.  They would definitely be fascinating!

Friday, November 30, 2012

Ann M. House, Author

We lived next door to Ann and her husband, Bob, for approximately a year while in Johnson City, Texas.  She would occasionally mention that she and a co-writer were working on writing a romance series.  The first in the series is That Carrington Magic.  It was written by Karen E. Rigley and has been published. 
Ann and Karen collaborated on the second book in the series, Wild West Cupid.  It came out in paperback October 12, 2012.  During Ann and Bob's November stay in Alpine, she received a box of the books.  I am super pleased to have been presented a copy of it to read!  Wild West Cupid, is set in West Texas between Alpine and Terlingua.  What a great experience to get to read it while in that area!  While I'm not typically a romance novel reader, I was hooked on the story by page three and by a third of the way into the book was already eagerly anticipating reading more of Ann's novels.  I found myself enveloped by the location and romantic relationship between a career woman and a West Texas rancher.  The dialogue flowed easily developing the characters personalities and relationship!  I highly recommend reading Wild West Cupid!   

The third book in the series is Highway to Love.  Given that steamy book cover, I've got to pick-up a copy soon!  This romance is set in New Mexico.  Although the books are a series, each stands on its own.  The fourth book in the series is Renegade Moon.  It will be released for ebooks March 20th and in paperback in May.  All these books and more by Ann and Karen are available online at:

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Big Bend National Park, Texas

Before Ann and Bob's December departure for Arizona, they treated us to a grand tour of Big Bend National Park and outlying areas!  We packed snacks and got a 10:00 a.m. start for the 108 mile drive south.  We took Highway 118 to Study Butte.  Study is pronounced Stewdy.  Study Butte at first glance appears to consist of a gas station, R.V. Park, and a few motels sprinkled along Highway 118.  Across the road within view is the occupied ghost town of Terlingua.  We stopped in Terlingua to check it out and then headed into the national park. The park is over 800,000 acres of desert lands!  Some of the higher elevation mountains are wooded with evergreen trees.  We were treated to a superb lunch at the park hotel lodge.  Ann and Bob took us to an overlook at Boquillas Canyon where we looked across the Rio Grande into Mexico.  On the map it is designated as Boquillas del Carmen, Mexico.  We circled through the park and as evening came returned north on Highway 385 to Marathon and on into Alpine.  Although we hadn't been out of the country, we had to go through a border patrol check station on our trip north!  There was a southbound station, also.         
There are large expanses of desert flora, with mountains at a distance.  People living outside of the park have homes in the desert.  Some have to generate their own electricity and haul water from other locations.  There is a local saying about why people choose to live in the desert. It's said that some people are running away from something and others are running towards something.  Whatever the ones are running from eventually catches up with them and they leave.  Those that are running toward something stay!  The desert has a serenity recognized by some people.  An appreciation for it might have to be acquired through living with the desert for awhile and slowing life to its pace.  Roy and I acquired a love of the desert during our years living in Idaho. 
This pathway made me think of the 3 day trek that illegal aliens from Mexico are said to make near Nogales, Arizona in an attempt to live in the United States.  It makes me appreciate how badly they want to escape Mexico and how privileged we are to live here.  We've heard that it is common practice for American citizens living close to the border of Mexico to leave a cooler with nonperishable foods and jugs of water for Mexicans making the crossing.  This is done at least in part to keep them from approaching one's home.  Have you ever wondered how different your life would be depending on what country or even what state you were born in?
This is the small business section of Terlingua.  It consists primarily of a gift shop. 
When researching Terlingua online, I came across the website of Dr. Doug, Borderline Mental Therapist: .  He offers guided group therapy sessions on the porch in Terlingua.  I was thrilled to see him on the porch and get a chance to meet him.  Check out his well done website!
Terlingua means three languages!  The languages at the time of its founding would have been English, Spanish, and Native American.  There are many ruins of small stone cabins from the 1800s, when Terlingua was a mercury mining town.  My first impression is that working with mercury at that time couldn't have been good for one's health!  Like me you are probably thinking that the primary use for mercury is thermometers.  My Internet research indicates that mercury was used as a fungicide until 1970, at which time it was banned for that use in the United States.  The current population of Terlingua is 58.  It has a view of the desert and mountains that could captivate one into staying! 
This is Boquillas Canyon Overlook, the Rio Grande River, and the border of Mexico!  There was a Mexican man across the river who waved to us.  He had a wooden rowboat on the shore.  Being on opposite sides of the river and knowing that we couldn't legally cross it for political reasons was a strange feeling.  The river, the land, and the trees are all just things of nature.  It's hard to conceive that crossing the river has severe consequences.  The uneasy feelings are compounded by knowing that the danger isn't from a challenge set forth by nature, but from government sanctions!  What a profound feeling!  
With all that said, a citizen of Mexico crosses the border to place trinkets out for sale.  They technically are illegal to buy.  He either thinks Americans are rich or will be generous in that many of the small items for sale are priced at $6.00!  The person may make them, but part of me has to question whether they are purchased wholesale.  Click on the picture to enlarge it and see the items better.
Not just one rock had trinkets, but all the large rocks along the overlook!  Ann and Bob lived in this area for 20 plus years, when the borders were open.  Citizens from both sides crossed the borders freely to visit and do business.
This is the Rio Grande looking to the southwest.  The community of Boquillas del Carmen can't be seen from the overlook other than glimpses of a few rooftops.
This is an Internet picture of Boquillas del Carmen taken from another American overlook.  Where we stood windows and doors couldn't be seen.  When I saw glimpses of the rooftops, they didn't register as buildings in a community.  They appeared to be large weathered wooden box shaped sheds of unusual colors.
This is an Internet picture of the main street of Boquillas del Carmen.  I saw on the Internet that the park was going to open a legal crossing to Boquillas in April 2012.  The customs station is built, but the crossing still isn't open.  The creation of a legal crossing here has been very controversial.      
This is an interesting map showing the extent of the Chihuahuan Desert.  In researching the desert I learned that there are four North American deserts:  Chihuahuan, Sonoran, Mohave, and Great Basin.  Now we know!  

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Fort Davis & McDonald's Observatory

Our friends, Ann and Bob, recently treated us to quite a road trip!  Ann packed snacks and we headed out!  This is the view heading from B.C. Ranch to the community of Fort Davis and the historic fort located there.  Fort Davis is 24 miles from Alpine.
This is the location of an 1854 homestead.  The building ruins remain.  It's a beautiful pasture tucked among the hills.  I can see why the people were drawn to settle here.  They eventually had to leave due to the severity of the Indian raids.  The homestead served intermittently as a Ranger Station from 1880-1882.
Welcome to historic Fort Davis!  Fort Davis was established by Lieutenant Colonel Washington Seawell with six companies of the eighth U.S. Infantry in October 1854 for protecting travelers on the San Antonio-El Paso Road.  The fort was named in honor of the then Secretary of War, Jefferson Davis.  Fort Davis was deactivated in 1891.  The building directly behind the flag pole is the home of the commanding officer.  The homes to each side make-up up Officer's Row.  The red roof building behind the homes is the post hospital.  
Here is a look at the hospital.  The fort literature says that the soldiers suffered mainly from diseases and accidental injuries, and not battle wounds.  The hospital has a central walkway with interpretive signs at each of the rooms.
Most of the homes of Officer's Row have not been restored.  The fronts of the homes have been given nice facades.  
These are the backs of the Officer's Row buildings.  If you look in the window openings, you will see the rubble of the collapsed flooring and interior structures.  
The commanding officer's quarters were constructed by 1869.  It is a very nice home that would be exciting to live in today!  Note the nice breezeway through the front door and out through the back. 
The home interior pictures were taken through Plexiglas.  I must say, I'm getting pretty good at it!  The trick is to put the camera lens as close to the Plexiglas as possible and turn-off or reduce the flash.  This is the sitting room.
This is the bedroom.
This is the dining room.
This is a music  room.
This is the enlisted men's barracks.  One of them now houses the visitor's center and a nice museum.

From Fort Davis and the pioneer days, we traveled to McDonald's Observatory and studying the stars!  This is the observatory complex.  The observatory offers a variety of what they call Star Parties for guided star gazing.  We've heard that they are great!
 This observatory allows a free self-guided tour.
 This is the interior structure and mechanical workings of the dome.
 The dark metal at the top of this picture is one of the areas of the dome that opens.
This chart tells how the observatory works.  Click on the picture to enlarge it.  When I got to the description in dark blue on the right hand side of the chart telling that the astronomers operate from computers in an adjacent building, I felt a great sense of disappointment.  I think I had envisioned a scientist wearing a white lab coat looking through the eyeglass of a huge telescope and seeing the stars and planets first hand!  Sitting at a computer screen seems so boring by comparison!  We had a super day of good company, studying the desert flora and terrain, learning some area history and about modern stargazing!

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Alpine, Texas

When you come into Alpine on Highway 67/90, one of the first buildings of interest that you'll see is Penny's Diner.  Ann and Bob treated us to dinner there.  The chicken fried steaks cover half a dinner plate!  Yum!  Roy and I had to return another day for some more!  I see other good things on the menu to try.  Eating at Penny's Diner could get to be a yummy habit!
Further into Alpine is the campus of Sul Ross University.  It has a large campus with beautiful red brick buildings.  I checked out the curriculum and it is diverse. 
Welcome to Alpine!  This sign is located near the Sul Ross Campus.
This view of Alpine is taken from high up on the university campus.  This is looking west through town.  The mountain peaks on the left side of the picture are local landmarks called, Twin Peaks.
Going straight down this street will take you to the university.  The cross street is Highway 118.  Turn left on it and it goes to B.C. Ranch R.V. Park.  This corner has wonderful shopping.  There is an upscale Thriftway grocery store with a super selection.  The red sign to the left in the picture is the location of a large True Value Hardware.  It is unlike any hardware I've seen.  It carries gift items, small appliances, assorted craft items, sporting goods, and of course the standard hardware items.  There is a Radio Shack in the hardware and a garden center across the street.  This is where we do most of our shopping, although there are a comfortable number of other options.
This is the beautiful old courthouse near the downtown.  It makes me think a person could publish a book on historic courthouses.
This is the modern U.S. courthouse.  Isn't it an interesting design!
This is Holland Avenue, one of the downtown streets.  It runs east/west through town.  I love murals on walls of buildings.  They seem prevalent in Texas.
I always enjoy driving by this intriguing antique shop called, The Cheshire Cat.  Note the big black cat in the bird cage!  There is a large Family Dollar shown in the picture and across town is a nice Dollar Tree.
Amtrak runs through town and there is a station in Alpine.  Across the tracks are some interesting shops and an older community with several small stucco homes.  There's a large second hand shop called the Bargain Barn.  Roy and I like to go there occasionally to see what we can find.
This is Our Lady of Peace church.  There are several historic churches in the area.

Alpine is at an elevation of 4,514'.  Its 2012 population was 5,905.  It is the largest community within 75 miles.  Nearby community populations are 1,914 for Marfa, 1,201 for Fort Davis, and 430 for Marathon.  Leaving Alpine in any direction takes you into the Chihuahuan Desert.  I found myself saying to Roy recently that a person could live here 30 years and never leave town!  That's quite an admission of the community's completeness coming from me.  We were at McDonald's one day and overheard a man say that if there was a post office on the side of town where he lived he'd never have to go to the other side!  Wow!  Alpine can't be more than 3 miles across town in any direction!!!  Alpine is a serene community with an audible quietness.  Roy and I are always amazed at how few people we see, when driving around Alpine.  The people we've encountered are pleasant, but not talkative.  Alpine is a self contained magical place located in the middle of a desert.  There seems to be an endless variety of patterns and colors in the sunrises and sunsets over the mountains.  It will haunt our memories when we leave and call us back!