Thursday, 25 June 2009

One hundred degrees and counting

The Texas summer has kicked in and it's HOT here. We have succumbed to the lure of the air conditioning and are learning to go out only in the early morning or after dark. Heat-combating gadgets like hand-held misters or insulated bottle holders are suddenly looking very attractive. And sunscreen - well, anyone remember the song?

However, the hot weather does provide opportunities for doing some fun things. In Sundance Square, downtown, there is a free movie showing every Thursday, and last week we took our lawn chairs down and watched Young Frankenstein. It's a decidedly bizarre black-and-white film about the grandson of the original Baron von Frankenstein, who, despite initial opposition, becomes determined to carry on his ancestor's work and create life from death. This with every cliche in the book, including sexy blonde assistant, abundant thunder and lightning and an Igor whose hump mysteriously moves from one side of his back to the other.

The lawn chairs got another outing when we went to the Levitt Pavilion in Arlington for one of their series of free outdoor concerts. We relaxed to the chilled sounds of Beatlegrass, who do, believe it or not, bluegrass versions of Beatles hits. I can't say it's a combination which immediately grabbed me, but they sing some original bluegrass too, and that was pretty good.



Cool water is definitely the order of the day, so when we both had a day off we headed down to Dinosaur Valley State Park again for a swim in the Paluxy River. There's an awesome swimming hole which is deep enough to dive into in parts, and considerably bigger than the pool here at Firestone. Admittedly you have to share it with lots of tiny fish and a considerable crowd of children, but that's all part of the fun.

Friday, 12 June 2009

The colours of the canyons

Red and green. Not the garish colours of plastic Christmas decorations. But the soft, weathered, burnt-sienna red of rock worn into peaks and troughs by countless years of rain and wind. And the contrasting clumps of ever-changing greens from bushes, trees, cacti and grass, each clinging to their own little foothold. This was Caprock Canyon. And we were right in the middle of it all.


It had taken four hours to drive here. Four hours of long straight roads across flat bare countryside, passing through half-forgotten towns with their ramshackle shop fronts. Now we pitched our tent in the tiny campsite and soaked in the silence. Caprock Canyon is a sudden sharp schism in the landscape, jolting you in just a few miles from the homely farmlands to jagged edges of tortured sandstone. It’s the edge of a great plateau stretching across the landscape, and the sudden storms and ever-blowing winds have had their way with the exposed rocks for thousands of years. But all that violence seems far away when you watch the full moon rising over the still scene, the singing of crickets the only noise in your ears.

As we walked the next day, we passed peaks and pillars, cliffs and caves. A viewpoint opened up vistas down the entire canyon, blue sky arcing over green shrubby floor. Fern Cave, reached by a steep scramble down a rocky path, was a cool retreat of lush green leaves hanging from the damp dripping rocks. Graham jumped a few feet backwards as he suddenly spotted a flat-headed snake alert at the side of the path. It wasn’t long but it looked mean, so we gave it a wide berth. Back down in the dry stream valley, we admired castle-like walls of crenellated rock and sweltered in the sun as the day grew hotter and our water supply grew lower.








Later that day, we traded the solitude of that empty landscape for a cheerfully expectant crowd in Pioneer Amphitheatre. TEXAS has been put on every summer for 44 years on this outdoor stage in Palo Duro Canyon, an hour or so up the road from Caprock. We sat in the warm evening and watched as the story of cattle ranchers, pioneer spirit, love and strength was played out – complete with galloping horses, a Beethoven’s Ninth thunderstorm and an awesome prairie fire scene.

Our final hike was to the Lighthouse, a huge smokestack of knobbly rock that is the most well-known formation in Palo Duro. En route, we met lizards posing on rocks and scurrying across the path. We were watched warily by a big-eyed, slender snake camouflaged amongst the leaves. And we viewed with gruesome fascination a team of ants dragging the body of a huge bee back to their nest. In such a harsh-seeming environment, there was life going about its business everywhere we looked.


And for millions of years, humans too have found a place here. The ancient Indians survived by running herds of bison over the cliffs. Then came shepherds raising sheep, and the great cattle barons of the West. Now we are just tourists, with none of the hardships of their lives, but we felt privileged to have walked in their footsteps and shared the harsh beauty of the canyons.

Friday, 5 June 2009

Miscellaneous adventures

Well, it's been a while... we've been doing stuff, but just bits and pieces that I haven't quite got around to putting in blog form. The Memorial Day weekend (which is the same as the late May bank holiday in the UK) was pretty fun.

On the Saturday we went tubing with an outdoors group we're part of. What's tubing? Well, you get one big inner tube per person - and don't forget a spare for the cooler full of beer and snacks - find a suitable river, plop yourself in and float blissfully downstream.

Or that's the theory. The instant our tubes touched the water, a gentle drizzle started. Which progressed to cats, dogs and stair-rods. Then the thunder and lightning began. At that point we had a brief debate about whether we were safer in the middle of a river or on a wet, tree-covered bank, and decided to beach on a sand-bar until things calmed down a bit.

After that, it was actually quite a good trip. Here's us at a point where it wasn't raining.


From left, that's Amie, Dave, Graham and me. Don't we look relaxed?!

Sunday afternoon Graham and I decided to head out west to Lake Mineral Wells State Park. We drove for the first 45 minutes in yet more pouring rain (what, you thought Britain had a monopoly on bad-weather bank holidays?) wondering if this was really such a good idea. However, after a lunch stop in Weatherford, it cleared up a little and we had a nice sunny evening at the park. So much so that we were kicking ourselves for not bringing tents and staying the night!





One of the attractions at the park is Penitentiary Hollow, a feature which Wikipedia describes as "somewhat unique", but I can't find any other information about. It looks kind of like a little canyon, but on closer inspection it seems to be made up of huge individual blocks of rock, rather than being carved through the landscape.


There are chunks of varying sizes scattered all the way down to the lake, as if a giant picked up handfuls of rocks and flung them around a bit. There are big cracks you can walk through, and steps to climb up the side.

Like so many Texas state parks, this one is centered round a reservoir, and we ate ice-cream and admired the view for quite some time before reluctantly getting in the car again.