Along the Natchez Trace

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Let's Back Up a Minute Here....

There are a few things in life that I'm very good at doing.  There are a whole lot of things that I do well, and some that I do well enough to get by okay...  and then there's the things that I'm really, really terrible at.  I could elaborate on some of my talents (or lack of), but hey... it would sound like I'm tooting my own horn...  and besides...  this is about a particular deficit in my make-up.

I can't back up a vehicle....

Okay, I can put the car or truck or whatever in reverse, apply the gas and move... but the results are never what I'm aiming for.

I've backed up trailers...  do a whole lot of zig-zagging to get the darned thing aligned right...  if I'm really determined I'll work at it for a LONG time.  (Don't even bother to tell me what turning the wheel to the right...  or left... will do... I KNOW that... just can't seem to do it right)

Once I got out of a truck, unhitched the trailer and manually parked it ... yeah... I grabbed hold of the hitch and rolled it so that it exactly lined up with the others.  I'm talking maybe 10' trailers that haul mowers and stuff like that.  No big deal....  I mean, all those ruts can be embarrassing when you're married to a guy who can park our rig... or anything else... without anyone directing him in.

I look in back of me...  I check out the rear-view mirror...  the side mirrors... I look for trees, animals and little kids.  Nothing there...  I back out... WHAM!  I smack right into a tree.  Bill & Norma can attest to that little experience when we were in Mexico one time.

So... why am I writing about this?  Well, Rick posted a photo of his trucks dents after a  little incident...  it's in the body shop as I write..  and it just so happened that I had a little incident of my own yesterday.

It went like this...  I'm in the McDonald's parking lot in Carrizo Springs.  I don't even eat at McDonalds, but they have free WiFi with a good signal.  I park... but see that the sun is blinding me... I'll never be able to see the laptop screen.  (Okay... I don't go inside because I feel I should buy something and I don't even like their coffee)  So, I back out to move to a better spot.

I looked!  Really, I did...  both ways and behind me.  But...  I'm really close to the entrance coming right off the street.  Sometime between the time I looked and looked back at the steering wheel, a truck pulled in off the street.  WHAM!

Thank goodness it was a big truck...  well, nearly every vehicle you see out here in this part of Texas is a truck... and usually a big truck.  I don't mean the 18 wheelers... there's plenty of those, but everyone drives a pick-up....  often high clearance with dual wheels on the back.

I drive a little Scion...  it's pretty much manufactured from plastic and tin foil.  Okay... not really tinfoil, but it's not very substantial.

After the "Wham" I get out to see what's what.  I think this truck was a big 4 wheel drive truck because my rear bumper ran right into his front wheel hub.  That hub looked to me like those spikes you see on those gladiator chariots.  Sounds bad... but that's good.  I'm the only one who sustained any damage. 
Oh Wow!  No Damage Here!

The young man got out of his truck... said something like "Looks like you're having a bad Monday as well."  Guess his day hadn't been going very good and I just made it worse.

Now... as bad a backer-upper that I am, this is the first time it's ever involved another vehicle.  (trees don't usually file claims).  There really wasn't any damage to his truck, and he asks me if I'm going to report this to my insurance company.  I looked at him and said that no, of course not...  my husband is very good at bondo and sanding (hmmm... wonder if he thought Bill needed to keep a supply on hand?)....  and besides, he could see that strip of duct tape that holds the front bumper on...  why not a little matching tape for
the rear?

 I determine that he's okay (actually this was my first priority...  we've all heard about whiplash and nasty things like that)...  and we exchange names and phone numbers.  He mentions that my husband can call him in the evening.  I give this a seconds thought then remember that I'm in macho land...  it's a guy thing.

I called him last night just to check in and apologise...  got  his voice mail.  Being a Texas gentleman, he called back this morning...  talked to my husband...  said his truck was fine and everything was okay. 

So...  today I drove back into Carrizo Springs...  would you believe some guy in a pick-up darned near ran into me when I was in the H.E.B. parking lot!  He wasn't even backing up...  but then, he can probably back up that truck better than going forward!

That's All For Today!

Monday, April 29, 2013

The Pond

It's been really quiet here...  we haven't had any traffic to speak of in over a week.  In fact,  in the past week we've had less than a dozen vehicles come through the gate.  So...  no dust, no noise....  and lots of birds.

We've identified 32 species so far.  There are a few more that we've seen but not made a positive ID.

There is a pond just up the road from our site.  It's about a 10 minute walk from our rig, but it takes me at least a half hour to get there because I'm always stopping to check out the wildflowers, the cactus, the birds or whatever I can see.

The pond is very low now...
It isn't a huge pond, but it has quite a diversity of wildlife that visit it frequently.  
The other day I saw a couple of deer drinking at the edge.  But most frequently I see...
 Green Heron
There are 2 that hang out here all the time.  One stays on one side of the pond while the other seems to prefer the other side.

 I see several frogs...  HUGE frogs!  They remind me of seeing just the eyes of alligators in the Louisiana bayous.

 Speaking of huge...  the turtles are about the size of small washtubs!  They are really hard to get a photo of because they sense my arrival before anyone else and slide quickly into the water.

This willet was a newcomer to me...  saw it for the first time yesterday.

The Great blue heron is also elusive...  he always flies off when I arrive on the scene.
One of my favorite evening birds is the Nighthawk...

I love watching their aerial displays each evening.  Sometimes they come in pairs or more....  sometimes alone.  But there are plenty of insects for them to snatch up.

 I usually walk up to the pond twice a day.  But no matter how often I go there is always something to see.
The End

That's All For Today!

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Why Guard a Gate?

This is kind of a continuation of my last blog...  about our latest adventure ...  being gate guards in Southwest Texas....

The company that we'll be working for puts us up in their own RV Park until they have a gate for us.  Gate Guarding is a serious business down here in southwest Texas...  there are a lot of companies drilling for oil, and business is booming.  Much of this land is owned by private landowners and is used as cattle range.  Some is used as game preserves...  both for indigenous animals such as deer or turkey, and some have exotic animals from Africa, like oryx or other deer-like critters.  So there's a lot of fenced land here.  You see very little road-kill and I'm guessing that the high fences keep the fatalities down.

This big guy came to visit us yesterday...  I don't know if he's a "domestic" or an import...  I can only say that the goats we raised never had such impressive horns!

When folks bought land several years ago they often bought it without buying the mineral rights, not realizing that what was below the earth would be so valuable later.  When wells are being drilled, which can take several months in all, the company who owns the mineral rights is responsible for maintaining whatever fencing, gates, and roads for access to the sites.

It's interesting to see who's around... if only by the tracks they leave.

When a well is being drilled, there's a lot of expensive equipment on site.  From the time the well site is on paper there'll be dozers, graders and all manner of heavy equipment getting the site ready for the really big stuff.  Then when the drilling starts many different companies will be involved.  We got at this site after the well was drilled and the fracking was in process.  There's the main company... then all the sub-contractors...  sand trucks, oil trucks, chemical trucks are some, and all the personnel that oversee all the various aspects.

It isn't practical to lock the gate and give everyone a key...  not only for the amount of keys that would have to be issued but also for the time it takes to get out of ones truck, unlock and open a gate, drive the truck through and get out and shut and lock the gate. 
Also, the main contractor wants a record of who is coming and going.  There's a lot at stake and the $150 a day they pay a gate guard is small change in the big picture.

There are scorpions here...  but this guy is harmless... he's a windscorpion...  about 2" long and looks deadly!

These drilling operations run 24 hours a day, 7 days a week until completion.  This created a whole new area of work, which can suit a retired couple with a motorhome just fine.  Seems like a whole lot of folks jumped on this bandwagon because the government got involved and a person must be licensed as a security guard, in our case, with the State of Texas.  This is a Class 2 position (no guns required or allowed), but you must pass a test and get security clearance... fingerprints and all.  Of course there is a fee for all this...  for a couple to become certified it will cost just under $175.  This is good for 1 year, then if you're still interested in this line of work, you must recertify.

The prickly pear cactus are in bloom...  most here are yellow, but I've been seeing these beautiful orange ones as well.

 The pay sounds pretty good...  the going rate here is $150 a day per couple.  If you break that down to an hourly wage, you're being paid $6.25 an hour.  But you are a contractor so must pay your own Worker's Compensation... which is $15 a day.  That brings your hourly wage to $5.625 an hour.  No taxes are withheld so it's wise to pay estimated taxes quarterly throughout the year.  You will be provided with an RV site..  maybe shaded, maybe not.  There will be electric, water and a dump station.  The electric is from a huge generator that will be running most of the time.  It definitely will be running all night long as it also provides electricity to the huge floodlights that light up the whole area.  The noise from "our" generator kind of drowns out all the noise from the drilling site which is several hundred yards away from out site. 
 You get used to it.

The dust from lots and lots of big trucks traveling on the unpaved roads is constant.  Right now the daytime heat is in the 90's and upwards.  Someone has to be ready to open the gate and record various information ....  license plate number, valid ID, company they work for etc.  This can be really busy or very slow.  The pay and the requirements are the same.

So...  why did Bill & I decide to try this?  Well, we've seen motorhomes parked at gate entrances all over the USA...  from the site in Alaska at a school that is on summer vacation (keeps the vandalism down) to the oil fields in SW Texas.  We kept saying "that's something we want to do".  We often volunteer at National Wildlife Refuges ( We've done this 20 times or more), we have been campground hosts at state parks in Alaska and Oregon, we did work that month at the Indianapolis Speedway back in 2003.....  and we seem to be spending more time on other means of travel these days.  So...  here we are, in the dusty, hot, mesquite flatland of SW Texas, finally crossing this off our bucket list.

By the time we pay the taxes on what we earn, I think I'd be hard pressed to say we're in it for the "big bucks".  Maybe we'll make enough to pay for a couple months in South America this coming winter...  who knows?

I don't know what this will look like when it grows up...  right now it's about 6" across and barely out of the ground.  It's quite beautiful...  but like everything else here, it's gonna hurt!

Did I forget to mention that we got our gate less than 24 hours after arriving at the RV park?  We've been on the job nearly 2 weeks so far...  phone service is good if you have AT&T (which we do for phone)...  we have Verizon for Millenicom internet...  but there's no signal here.  So...  unless I head to town often, my blogs will be few and far between.  That's a bit of a disappointment, but we'll live with whatever it is.

We had thought we'd do gate guarding for 1 month...  but this company would like you to work longer than that.  We'll see how a month is... then decide.
That's about all I know about our latest adventure...  hope to keep y'all up to date as time goes on.

That's All For Today!

Thursday, April 25, 2013

It's Wednesday evening...  been really quiet here this week since the fracking is done.  We don't know how long we'll be at this site, but there are still trucks coming in and out each day to monitor the wells.  This doesn't mean this well is finished...  the next step is to install tubing.  Right now there's just a hole in the ground with a valve on top.  To get the oil and gas out of the well the tubing and pump needs installed.  

Is this a stand-off?

What's with Wile E Coyote ....  he's supposed to be chasing the Roadrunner isn't he? 

I received a few comments that I'll try to answer...

Adjusting to night hours...  well, anyone who knows me knows that I'm NOT a night person.....  never have been.  Since we have to "guard the gate" 24 hours a day, I was kind of antsy about my ability to work the night hours.  We started out with me taking a long nap in the late afternoon and then working from 8pm up until around midnight.  Bill would sleep during this time, and relieve me around midnight.  We worked 2 hour sifts during the night for a few nights...  but after a couple or 3 days we worked longer (and slept longer while the other worked).  This worked okay as there was a lot of in and out traffic during the peak frac time.  But then it slacked off...  the real slow time was between 1 - 4 am.  I found that I did okay with this...  I think that the nighthawks and the insects were interesting enough to keep me alert.  I sat outside...  so that I could get to the gate quickly, and also so as not to disturb Bill's time to sleep.   Even now that the traffic has slowed WAY down (no night traffic), we can go to bed as usual, but we still have the monitor on to alert us if someone is at the gate.  There are other wells being drilled nearby and we frequently get trucks who are at the wrong gate and need directions.  But...  I think we've both adjusted to the weird sleeping hours....  though I will have to admit for a couple of days I felt just like I had jet-lag.

One of the night critters...
No wonder the nighthawks are so prevalent at night... those flood lights sure bring in the insects!

 Another question...  Isn't this job boring?  In a word... NO.  But I don't think I'd want to do it alone.  Working together as a team allows us both to leave the gate  - just not at the same time.  That means we can take a walk through the area...  or go to the grocery....  or the post office...  or wherever...  we just can't do it together.  One complaint we've heard is eating out....  since we seldom eat out anyway we don't miss that. 

A few of the birds we see each day...
 Curved bill thrasher...  she has a nest (with young) in the cactus just across from our rig.

There are lots of different flycatchers in the area...
 Western Kingbird....

 I haven't ID-ed this flycatcher yet...  there are many around.

This Harris hawk is beautiful!
 He looks like he's King of the Mountain!

We see lots of Lark Sparrows...
 He's got quite a beautiful color pattern on his head.

This Orchard Oriole was in a mesquite tree just outside our rig...
We also have Bullock's Orioles...  but no photo of it yet.

So what do we do?  Well, we both have our Kindles with lots of books waiting to be read.  We both have our laptops, though the internet service is really bad here.  Yeah... we have all kinds of antennas and boosters and stuff like that... but if there are no Verizon cell towers, there just ain't no Verizon service. 

We each have our own interests...  Bill has been doing genealogy for years and continues his research with our limited internet service.  I work on my Spanish lessons every day. 

Bill found these geophones in the field across the road...
They are used to determine what the different strata are below the ground.  They transmit to a computer signals that bounce off whatever the earth below is made up of.   It always amazes me how much Bill knows about stuff like this.... but I guess with his being a geologist it shouldn't surprise me.  If I came across these on my own I'd never had a clue as to what they are for.  The thing that surprised me is that about a half dozen of these are just laying there...  looks like an expensive set-up to me!

We both enjoy the birds here.  Bill found two ponds...  one just across the road and one in back of us.  There aren't many birds there...  some herons and turtles.  There are lots of critters...  I scared up a deer today.  Sometimes we hear packs of coyotes nearby. 
Looks like a watercolor of a Green heron...  but even my 300mm lens had trouble picking this guy up.

And the birds!  Birds we don't see very often....  right now (8:45 pm) there are several nighthawks swooping just in front of our rig.  We have to keep the floodlights on all night and those light attract lots of insects...  so... a whole herd of nighthawks!

There are lots of wildflowers blooming...  my photography interests keep me busy trying to get a good photo...  and then trying to ID the plant.  I have my watercolors with me but still haven't done anything.  I have yarn to knit a sweater...  but haven't even picked out a pattern yet.
 I haven't checked this one out yet...  but it's pretty, isn't it?

 Devil's Bouquet

Mexican Hat

So... are we bored?  No...  but we aren't folks who get bored easily.  Even though we have our electronic toys we both find our surroundings interesting enough to keep us entertained.

  One of the scissor-tail flycatchers that visit us each day...

A kind of blurry shot but here you can see the red-orange under the wing.

I'll admit that I've found the (lack of) internet service frustrating, but am coming up with some options that help.  I'm now typing my blog on Word...  loading the pertinent photos in a folder, and then when I drive into Carrizo Springs to the grocery I can stop at McDonalds and compose my blog.  I won't do this every day, but if I can manage a couple times a week I'll be happy.

Now y'all know way more than you ever wanted to about what folks like us do while we're out in the boondocks of SW Texas guarding a gate!
The End!

That's All For Today!
See where we are - click on the line below to get a map.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Week one.... weak internet

Week One Just Flew Past!

We've been here at this site one week.  The wells have all been fracked and most of the equipment has been removed.  Today the porta-potties and dumpster were hauled out so I'd guess this company is finished. 

I don't know what happens next...  or how long we'll be here, but I kind of like it that there's not much traffic.  I'm sure Bill likes the constant in and out of trucks...  that's right up his alley!  He knows exactly what every piece of equipment that comes and goes out is used for...  has used a lot of it himself when he did the drilling at Ohio University...  and he's on first name basis with a lot of the drivers already.

When we're busy and I take my turn at the gate I'm doing good to write down the company name correctly.....  and when I ask the purpose of their visit, I pretty much feel like .... well... duh... you're here because of the drilling.  Okay... so I'm a bit of a slacker...  there's all kinds of reasons...  everything from bringing in sand to taking out equipment; there are folks who monitor wells and folks who cater meals....  you name it.

I have left the area a few times.  I found a church about 5 miles away that has a Saturday night AND a Sunday mass...  I went to the Saturday night service as it's the one in Spanish.  Those 2 months in school in Spain are just the beginning of learning for me.  I have to laugh though... I can ask a question in Spanish, but heaven help me if they answer in Spanish.  I'm still at kindergarten level.

The new H.E.B. (grocery) store opened last week in Carrizo Springs.  That's less than 20 miles away so is a quick trip. 
How would you like to fill up this grocery cart?

And today I drove to a laundromat in C. Springs.  Also picked up a couple of geocaches.  I do have my priorities, you know.

My favorite bird here is the Scissor-tail Flycatcher.

He has really red plumage under his wings, but the only time I caught that the photo is really blurry.

The Curved-billed Thrasher eggs hatched yesterday, and the Golden-fronted woodpeckers eggs hatched today...  both nests are just a few yards from our rig.

I haven't been able to get a good photo of the Black-throated sparrow yet.  We have several different kinds of flycatchers here... sometimes they can be difficult to ID.  There are both ravens and crows....  also thecaracara flies overhead frequently.

When I was outside most of the night, I'd see a few nighthawks, as well as a whole spectrum of moths, insects and other "night fliers".  One of my favorite was the IO Moth.

He's only a couple inches wide with spread winds...  again... another blurry photo.

Internet still sucks...  don't know when/if I'll be able to send this as a blog.  I keep trying.... (written Monday this week...  at McDonalds in Carrizo Springs sending this on Wednesday)

That's All For Today!

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Down In the Boondocks...

Well, sort of..... we're out in SW Texas... gate guarding.  The phone system of choice here is AT&T, which is great for phone service.  But our internet service is on Millicom which uses Verizon...  and the reception for that is practically zero.  We're barely able to use our internet... as Bill says, it's worse than the dial-up system we used 20 years ago.

The birding here is pretty good...  gate guarding isn't as boring as we thought it might be.  Yeah, there is a lot of dust at times, but hey.... it's a new adventure.

I haven't been able to post a blog for a week.  I have been able to read a few blogs, but getting the photos takes forever.  This post is gonna be short...  after a week of frustration using the other laptop, I resorted to my old one, and ... would you believe?  I can get on using it.  But... now I have to see if I can send it.

So...  I hope to keep up but...  we'll see.

That's All For Today!

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Our New Adventure Begins...

Bill & I spent most of this past week getting ready for our latest endeavor...  as gate guards in south Texas.

We may be guarding a gate in a remote area but even if it's not remote, this is a 24/7 job.  One of us must be "on the job" to record the in and out traffic at all hours.  Since this is our first time doing a job like this we can only guess what it will be like or whether we are truly suited for it.  

I'm assuming that we will only head to the nearest town when we need groceries or the laundromat, and, of course, only one of us will go.  We're told we will have electricity, water and a dump station, so it's not exactly like we'll be boondocking.  However, our fridge isn't very big, so we'll be limited as to how much fresh veggies we can keep.

I had written earlier that Bill took the concealed weapon class so that he could carry in Texas.  I will mention here that having a firearm in one's motorhome is not permitted while working this job.  Alcohol is also prohibited and we could be subject to drug or alcohol tests at any time.  

That was my silly sense of humor speaking when I wrote of speaking Spanish to the illegals.  If any of you have lived in areas where the illegals attempt entry, you know that the last thing they want is to encounter people, no matter if that is a person of authority or just average everyday folks like us.  

Celeste fixed a wonderful dinner last evening...  grilled veggies, salmon...  and the best bacon wrapped/cheese stuffed jalepenos I've ever eaten.  What a send off!

So this morning, we hooked up and ran through out check-list.

Hmmm...  the brake lights and turn signals weren't working.  After about 20 minutes of checking everything out, Bill gave some little box under the hood a whack...  and the lights have worked since.
Everything's ready...  just after 8am this morning we said our goodbyes and headed south. 

There were a lot of wildflowers along the highway, but I never did get a good shot of any.  These bluebonnets and Indian paintbrush are just a few of the many species we saw. 

As we neared these colorful tents, we speculated on what they were.  Our 3 guesses were 1) a circus  2) a casino  3) a church revival.
Hope I don't sound too irreverent, but they do kinda resemble each other in a way....
Well, it was a church and tent revival...
And, no, we didn't stop.

We drove down Rt 281, to San Antonio.  There we caught I35.
 We've spent some time here in the past, so nothing drew us into the city.  But if you ever get a chance, it's really fun eating at that revolving restaurant at the top of that space needle.

On past San Antonio...  to Rt 85, then to Highway 468.
A distance of 315 miles from when we left Glen Rose, Tx this morning at 8am, we arrived at this RV park around 4pm.  Yeah, the speed limit is 75 most of the way, but Bill never drives our rig that fast, and we made a few stops for lunch and breaks.
This is the entrance to the RV park where we're at.
It's a locked gate, but we had the key code to enter.
We quickly got parked and set up.  

After sitting in the rig all day we were both ready for a walk.

The wildflowers are blooming here.  Even the prickly pear cactus is blooming, but I didn't get a photo of that yet.

Right now (6:30 pm) the outside temperature is 100 degrees.
After being cold for so long, I'll have to admit that it feels pretty good to me.
That's Bill...  walking down the dirt road in this RV park...  We'll be here in this RV park until a gate position comes open...  may be a day or two...  may be longer.  There's no cost to us and we have our phone and internet, as well as a full hook-up.  We're ready for our next adventure.

That's All For Today!

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

A New Career or Maybe Just Another Adventure....

Looks like we're finally getting caught up with things.  One biggy was taxes...  we got all the tax info coordinated and sent it off to our CPA in Ohio.  Looks like we'll have to get an extension this year.  That will be a first for us, but it is what it is. 

Last Saturday Bill took the test to apply for his concealed weapon permit.  We don't carry a firearm of any kind with us in our motorhome, but there's something about the government taking control  that makes a person feel they must stand up for their rights.  That was a 10 hour class.   Bill passed just fine, now he has to get all the paperwork done and submit it.

We drove back to Ft Worth today...  more paperwork, including fingerprinting...  to become Gate Guards.  I think some of you are surprised that we'd even consider this job as it ties a couple down to being there 24/7 for weeks on end.

Well, we do enjoy our freedom, but it's not the first time we've taken on "jobs" that restricted us.  Heck, when we lived on the farm, we took separate vacations because someone had to be home to milk and take care of the critters.  As for living in a remote place, we lived in Utah for 4 months... in the desert, 63 miles one-way, on a dirt road, from the closest grocery store (which was a military commissary) and picked up our mail once a week.  

 Ladybird Johnson would be so happy to see these beautiful Blue Bonnets along these Texas highways!

We've never lived like "the family next door"...  in fact, we've lived in places you couldn't even see where the family next door lived.  After we retired, we both worked for a temp agency doing anything from merchandising, to data entry, to delivering flowers.  I had fun for a while being a "secret shopper", and one week I was a cook, fixing meals for 60 kids in a day care center.  We both love doing the "unusual" and both love the challenge of learning something new.  

Actually, the oil/gas business isn't new to Bill at all.  Both Bill's great-grandfather and grandfather worked in the oil fields in New Mexico, and his dad worked for a while in an oil refinery.  When Bill was with the geology dept at OU, he drilled and monitored water and gas wells on campus.

Indian paintbrush...  another roadside wildflower, here in Texas.

One thing I wanted to do after I retired was to work at a cooperative restaurant in my hometown.  It is worker-owned, uses local and organic produce and other goods, and serves innovative meals... both vegetarian and non-vegetarian.  Kind of a pseudo Mexican cuisine...  great food and atmosphere.  I never did that... too many other things kept getting in the way.

So... now this opportunity to be a gate guard has come up.  Maybe we'll hate it.  Maybe not...  but we'll never know unless we try it.

As for our "newly learned" Spanish language expertise...  heck, it might come in handy speaking to the illegals in south Texas....

That's All For Today!