Friday, 19 October 2012

Fort Morgan "Gangnam" Style!

N 30° 14.150 W 087° 53.250

On October 6th my little brother got married in Alabama. So we packed our bags and flew home for the weekend. The weather was great for an early fall outdoor wedding. After the ceremony and celebrations my wife and I and a couple of our friends headed for Fort Morgan Beach in south Alabama. The weather was pretty good for the season all weekend, with just a cool northern breeze persisting most of the time. Our condo had a heated indoor pool luckily where we spent a good bit of time but we did indeed brave the Gulf waters. They were surprisingly warm compared to the air temperatures. One of the big memes of the summer has been the K-Pop song "Gangnam Style" by PSY. Since I spend way too much of my time on the Internets, I felt the need to recreate this video around our condo. Enjoy the photo collage.

Yes beer and Lunchables... Don't judge me!

Getting "down" on the trail

Don't drink the blue water

Tiny head is tiny

Gurgle Gurgle Style!

That. Is how I roll!

Couldn't get any other dancers. What's up with that?

Thursday, 20 September 2012

Blue Bell Creameries - Brenham, Texas

N 30° 09.753 W 096° 22.708

We decided to attend a geocaching event in Brenham, Texas last weekend. It was planned as a fall gathering of the Texas Geocaching Association and sounded like a good excuse for a short road trip and a visit to Blue Bell. My wife and I both grew up with Blue Bell ice cream, but we had never visited its source.


The factory is located just outside of town and has fantastic saint augustine grass lawns (which we haven't seen since leaving Louisiana) and a nice little ice cream parlour attached to the museum and factory. A tour costs $5 a person but we get free ice cream at the end. No cameras (even cellphones) are allowed on the tour - trade secrets and such.

From wikipedia:
The Brenham Creamery Company opened for business in 1907 to purchase excess cream from local dairy farmers and sell butter to people in the Brenham, Texas, area. Beginning in 1911, the creamery began to also produce small quantities of ice cream. By 1919, the creamery was in financial trouble and considered closing its doors. The board of directors hired E.F. Kruse, a 23-year-old former schoolteacher, to take over the company on April 1, 1919. Kruse refused to accept a salary for his first few months in the position so that the company would not be placed in further debt. Under his leadership, the company expanded its production of ice cream to the local area and soon became profitable. At his suggestion, the company was renamed Blue Bell Creameries in 1930 after the Texas Bluebell, a wildflower that is native to Texas, which, like ice cream, thrives in summer. Until 1936, the creamery made ice cream by the batch. It could create a 10 gallon batch of ice cream every 20 minutes. In 1936 the company purchased its first continuous ice cream freezer, which could make 80 gallons of ice cream per hour.

We found it to be well worth the visit. The employees are happy and excited to talk about ice cream with you and are very knowledgeable. The parlour has about fifty flavors of ice cream and I am sure these rotate seasonally but there are many that are regional to certain areas like Rocky Mountain Road and limited release like Peach Cobbler.   

Pictured: Strawberry cheesecake and Krazy kookie dough. Eaten: Rocky Mountain road and Peach cobbler.
If you don't take the tour, or just want seconds, a large scoop is $1. Can't beat that. I discovered a flavor I've never tried before, Krazy Kookie Dough, which was awesome. It's a bit scary at first with brightly colored pieces, lots of food coloring I am sure. But the ice cream is cake batter and the cookie dough is sugar cookie, how can that not be amazing? I wish they just made the cake batter ice cream, I would eat way too much of it!

Blue Bell butterfly
One last thing to note. As we were heading down to Austin we took a wrong turn and ended up in Mason, Texas. I know there are some exposures of igneous rock in this region, but I had no idea that Mason is the type locality for Texas Topaz, the state gemstone. We also learned that for around $15 a day you can go to one of several ranches around town in non-deer season months and search for the stones in the local stream beds. This sounds like a LOT of fun and we are already planning a trip, maybe in March of next year!

"Milking" the cow

Thursday, 13 September 2012

Summer is HOT, but Winter is Coming!

It's been a long while since I blogged. I blame the heat. It's been too hot to enjoy much of anything outside, geocaching, hiking, camping, you name it... The first cool "cold" front of the fall/winter season has encouraged me to post this blog. Hopefully more will be soon to follow. Thanks for checking back!

 Summer started off with a Geocaching Flash mob. I intended to make it duck themed but found out upon arrival that the park discourages feeding the ducks bread! Bummer, still a good time was had by all.

When we went home for the Fourth of July I saw the Mighty Mississippi at the lowest I have ever seen it. Sand bars were exposed that I've never seen, and the riverboat casino here in Vicksburg was completely beached!

 I said goodbye to my Toyota Tacoma "Blue" and got a 2012 Subaru Impreza Sport! Her name is Samantha, and she is a lot of fun to drive! I wish I could drive a stick though, a WRX would be even MORE fun!

 That's going to leave a mark!

 I seem to have moved from Phooning to Planking as my silly picture posture of choice. I blame the Internets! Here I am at the Buddy Holley Museum in Lubbock, TX

 This is Buddy's grave, pretty simple for a legend! In case you were wondering there are Virtual Caches at the museum and the grave site, no containers, so were very respectfully done. I honestly never would have come to this location without Geocaching.

 Ah Summer Mummers.... Beer through a straw, silly T-Shirt, and a popcorn bag crown. I don't even remember this being taken. Ha! SCIENCE!

 One of the few short trips we took. My In-laws came to visit so since Midland has nothing interesting to do I took a day off work and we went to Carlsbad Caverns and Guadalupe Mountains National Parks. A crazy-short trip but a lot of fun.

 Collaborate and Listen?

 "The night is dark and full of terrors" Ok that's two Game of Thrones quotes in this blog, I really need to get outside some more....

 My favorite Cavern formation. It went from being sexist "Breast of Venus" to racist "Chinese Hat" It speaks to me in some kind of way. I can't figure out why?

 I haven't seen a stick bug in forever! Here is one hanging out on the NPS sign at the Pine Springs Visitor Center in the Guadalupes.

It was very very hazy when we visited. The only hiking we did was a walk on the Butterfield Mail Stage Trail near Pine Springs. I would really love to come back and see McKittrick Canyon in the fall soon!

Tomorrow we leave for Brenham, TX for a Geocaching Event weekend. Look for a new post soon!

Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Taos Ski Valley - Memorial Day Weekend 2012

N 36° 33.411 W 105° 25.017

Last Memorial Day weekend we headed to Taos Ski Valley to try and summit Wheeler Peak. While we had a great time at Williams Lake we weren't able to make the climb because we were wiped out from hiking through knee to waist deep snow the whole way. As I started to plan a trip this year I learned that the Forest Service had constructed a new trail from Williams Lake to Wheeler Peak last summer and although still a difficult hike, it cut out the need to scramble up 2,000 feet of avalanche chutes full of loose stone like the old trail. With this new information I planned a two day trip with one night of camping at the lake bookended by nights at a Bed and Breakfast in the Ski Valley. I chose a new path to get us there that took us through Roswell, NM where I got my geek on at the UFO Museum. I just wish I had more time!

I come in Peace... Mohawk Man!

One thing I thought of when we arrived in Taos was that my wife had only ever seen the Rio Grande Gorge from a distance and we had never been out to the bridge together. There is a lot of construction going on out there so parking can be a bit troublesome. We also ran into hitchhikers and panhandlers before we even got out on the sidewalk. Once we were there we took in the great views, my wife wouldn't let go of me the whole time though. Every vehicle that goes across the bridge creates a vibration that you can feel from head to toe. We didn't see any rafters pass below us but it is easy to see how big the river is even when you are 700 ft above it.

Steph: "My Insides Feel Funny"

Sun Symbols are the NEW Hidden Mickeys!

The food, the food, the food! One thing I love about Taos is that there is a wide and varied assortment of food choices. Friday night we ate at Hattori a la Sushi in the Overland Sheepskin Co. building. We had an assortment of sushi rolls and some of the best seaweed salad and sesame chicken I've had anywhere. Despite being in a land-locked state the seafood was fresh and tasty. After our camping trip we ate lunch at The Bavarian in the Taos Ski Valley. We knew from last year to get the grilled chicken sandwiches with goat cheese and roasted red bell peppers, but the BEST thing was Diet Coke. We had fasted from sodas for the week leading up to the trip to try and get hydrated, also Midland soda tastes terrible! Lastly, Sunday night we ate at The Gorge Grill in Taos Plaza. I had never eaten at this restaurant before but when I looked at the menu on my iPhone I saw that they had an eclectic menu of New Mexican inspired food. We had fried green beans to start and I had a burger with green chilies and homemade lemon aioli. Steph had a Ceaser Salad but they forgot to put dressing on it at first, oops!

I'm Licking My Screen Right Now

Now on to the hike! We left our warm room at the Alpine Village after a power breakfast Saturday morning. We drove to the hiker's parking lot behind the Bavarian and began our trek up the road to the Williams Lake trail. The trail begins as a pretty steep dirt road, but quickly levels out once you enter the spruce forest. This year there was MUCH less snow, there were only a few places we got ankle to knee deep and Pandora had no problem getting through those places. There were also a lot more people on the trail, we met other hikers of all ages and their four legged friends. The best part of the hike were the meadows created in past avalanches where spring was coming late and everything was green and blooming. The weather was calm with a temperature of about 75F so we made good time to the lake.

Late Spring in the Meadow

A Bouldering Corgi?

Which Way Do I Go?

The lake this year had no ice on it, last year it was almost completely covered. We set up camp where we thought we would have a good wind break. I bought a new three-season tent just for this trip because I was afraid it may be cold at night. Boy was I right... After setting up we went to the southern shore of the lake to see the waterfall that feeds the lake, then Pandora chased marmots and chipmunks while we made a dinner of backpackers lasagna. About sunset the nice warm breezes became cold winds and we ran to the shelter of our tent. All night the wind blew, sometimes at least 60 mph or more. For the most part the tent did fantastic, but our sleeping bags need to be upgraded post haste, I think it must have gotten into the 20's with wind chill. It was a very cold night!

Looks Beautiful, But at Night... BEWARE!
Williams Lake Waterfall
Sunday morning we got up and out into the sun to try and warm up but the wind was still blowing making it difficult. We melted some snow for water and made breakfast. I had planned to hit the trail to Wheeler early but with the cold night we were slow to get moving. Steph was having trouble catching her breath so she elected to stay in camp while I went solo to the summit. The trail starts off with a decent climb through the forest with frequent switch backs. There was more snow here than on the other trail of course it was higher in elevation as well. Williams Lake is just over 11,000 ft and Wheeler is 13,161. You gain 2,000 feet of elevation in about .7 of a mile. As you break treeline you have two choices of path. The switch backs add more length to the hike but are far more gentle than the avalanche chutes that the old trail takes. I chose the chute at this point because the new trail was still snowed in here, it seems most people are taking the path of least resistance. After you rejoin the path you have about 700 more feet of elevation to gain through two wide switch backs and a final loop to the southeast around the summit. On a clear day the views of Horseshoe Lake and Williams Lake are spectacular but unfortunately the fires in the area made the visibility lower than desired. coming back down I got jelly legs, but overall I am glad I made the hike again.

Roads? Where We're Going We Don't Need Roads!
From Here Everyone at Williams Lake Look Like ANTS!

Friday, 27 April 2012

Product Review: Olympus Stylus Tough 8010 Camera


Back in the Fall we were looking for a waterproof camera to take to Balmorhea State Park. We wanted something with a fairly high megapixel count, and light weight, but mainly we needed it to be waterproof. After reading many Amazon reviews and talking to friends I selected the Olympus Stylus Tough 8010 Waterproof Shockproof Freezeproof Digital Camera. It is advertised as a great little titanium cased action camera, capable of putting up with any kind of crap you can throw at it.

I purchased the camera from because they offered the best price I could find on the internet, free shipping, and they included a floating lanyard. I paid right around $200 shipped to my door. As I was writing up this review I checked Amazon and I see the price is currently reduced from $299 to $160.

Here are the specs from Olympus:

  • 14MP Digital Camera - 5x Wide Angle Zoom and 2.7 inch LCD 
  • Waterproof (33ft.) A revolutionary system of waterproof seals and gaskets keeps water out so you can take pictures as deep as 33 feet underwater.
  • Shockproof. Life can be tough, this camera is tougher. Rugged metal body and innovative shock-absorbing construction are designed to withstand a 6.6-foot drop, bump, or other mishap.
  • Freezeproof (14°F/-10°C) Boldly enter that winter wonderland without worrying about your camera. The Stylus Tough-3000 is winterized to perform at below-freezing temperatures.
  • Crushproof (220LBF.) With a rugged body and reinforced LCD, the Stylus Tough-8000 withstands up to 220 pounds of pressure so your camera and images are protected.
  • HD Video 720p A simple, one-touch button allows you to record movies with amazing clarity in high-definition, right from your camera.

At Balmorhea we used the camera both in and out of the water to take photos of the landscape, the pool, and the fish. The camera is light and easy to carry in a pocket without weighing down your shorts. The included floating lanyard is bulky, but when in the water I threw the camera around and it never let it go very far so it will more than serve its purpose. I would suggest keeping it in a bag or pack when not in the water. A few times grit got in the shutter of the camera, but by placing the camera lens up in water and opening and closing the shutter several times it was easily flushed out.

The screen is easier to see in bright sunlight than some LCD screens I have used before, including my iPhone, however it can be tough to see at times. My biggest hang up with the camera is that the internal software seems sluggish. It takes seconds for each photo to process before you can take another, which is inconvenient for action shots. Another gripe is the included internal photo editing software. This type of feature would be before served on a computer later, and save processing power and memory for the more integral features of the camera.

My final assessment after that trip and many continued months of use is that this is a great lightweight camera option for hiking, swimming, or rough terrain where you may not want to take a large expensive camera.

Sand and grit is easily flushed from the lens
Hawaiian float lanyard keeps camera from sinking
Action Shot Mode: Takes a rapid succession of photos
Double latch & seal system keeps battery and memory card dry and clean.
Size and weight are great for hiking
14MP camera takes good quality digital photos

Slow processing makes it difficult to take quick action shots
Photo Editing software wastes internal memory
LCD screen has typical sun glare problems
Float lanyard is bulky


Saturday, 17 March 2012

10th Annual Texas Challenge - Ray Roberts State Park

N 33° 22.811 W 097° 01.973

From the event page: For 10 years, the Texas Challenge has become THE annual geocaching social event of the state of Texas. The contest itself has grown into a weekend of activities for both people wishing to participate in the challenge and those people who wish to only casually attend! Last year’s attendance was over 300 people! 

The 10th Annual Texas Challenge MEGA coin

The West Texas team began planning our trip to the Dallas Fort Worth area around the first of the year. Very few of us had ever attended a Texas Challenge before so we were going mainly on the rumors and chit-chat we had heard from past attendees and speculation as to what to expect. Being the smallest team registered with only about 30 Challengers we knew we had an uphill battle ahead of us. Also, as if that was not enough the weather forecast appeared to be going south as we approached the weekend. Regardless, we saddled up and made a wet drive over six hours to Denton, Texas just north of DFW. Along the way we found a few caches, ate some great burgers at Red Robin in Abilene and hoped for a break in the rain.

Friday night we arrived in Denton to moist ground and drizzling rain. We checked in at our hotel (thank goodness we didn't plan to camp) and drove to the park for a Friday night icebreaker and early registration. The park was already busy with cachers, there were swag bags, tee-shirts, vendors, and best of all.... FREE dutch oven cooked cobblers in all kinds of flavors. Definitely high on my list in the cold weather. The hosts were kind enough to cook burgers for us all and we socialized with old friends and made many new ones. As the evening ended, we drove back to our hotel still hoping for less rain and warmer temps.

Sunset over Lake Ray Roberts

The next morning we awoke early and had some breakfast in the hotel before driving out to the park. The rain was absent and the ground had dried somewhat which was very good. I had elected to get a breakfast ticket for that morning but in the end I was glad I had eaten at the hotel. Our team assembled under one of the many picnic pavilions and began to discuss strategy. At 9AM our leader Travis was given a USB stick with coordinates to 120 unpublished geocaches hidden throughout the park. They ranged in difficulty and terrain, from a container under a tree, to climbing a tree, to swimming out to an island )no one on our team was that brave). There were also Mystery Caches that involved doing tasks like darts, and disk golf. We were all given scorecards to track our finds and at 10AM sharp the flood gates opened and we spread out to divide and conquer. 

Tools of the Geocaching trade
Travis and I started in the northern section of the park. We quickly racked up four First to Finds (FTFs) before meeting all the other cachers that had the same idea as us. Luckily, one of those FTFs were scooped from another team that missed locating the cache. In each of these virgin containers we found FTF Pathtags which are very nice little metal coins minted just for this event. Our biggest mistake came next when we decided to stick to the trails and hoof it down to the southern unit of the park. Despite only being 1 mile as the crow flies, it ended up being over two miles on a horse trail with very sandy soil. Also, about the time we entered in the trail the rain started again. At first it was a very light mist, but soon enough there was a steady downfall leaking into all our clothes and gear. Undeterred, we continued, and climbed a tree or two with shoes quickly becoming blister-creating buckets of water. After 15 finds and a few misses we made our way out of the thick to the nearest First Aid point where we could turn in our scorecard. Unfortunately West Texas finished last this year when the scores were tabulated, but despite the rain and cold I think everyone had a good time... well as good a time as you could have in 44F weather with rain and mud and wind :P

Just a few of the braze souls who made it through the storm

Sunday morning we met back up at the park to eat some breakfast burritos and pick up litter all around the area we occupied for our event. Many bags of trash were collected and very little of it was created by geocachers I am proud to say. We always like to leave things better than we found them. After this CITO event we gathered up everything and made the long drive back to Midland. Since it was day light savings we lost an hour of sleep, but luckily the rain finally broke!

The slightly soggy remains of the West Texas Team - Post event

For a geocaching event to be considered a Mega Event over 500 geocachers must attend, these events take loads of organization and are few and far between. Almost 800 people had posted their intent to come to Ray Roberts State Park March 9-11, 2012. In the end terrible rainy weather reduced the total to just 575 fearless rain-loving crazy people.

Monday, 6 February 2012

Odessa Meteor Crater

N 31° 45.422 W 102° 28.675
My wife and I decided to finally visit the Odessa Meteor Crater Museum after living in Midland, TX for over a year. It is one of those things people bring up from time to time in conversation, but it is just far enough away to never make it to the top of your To Do list. As a Geologist however, it is a very interesting place to visit even if there isn’t much to see at the surface.

Entrance to the Odessa Meteor Crater Museum
We drove about 20 miles west of Midland to Exit 108 on Interstate 20. There is a brown State Historical sign that directs you off the Interstate, then you drive down what seems to be an oilfield road for a few miles to a nice green tin-roofed museum and visitor center. It was very breezy and cool so we elected to tour the museum first. There are a husband and wife couple that live on the site and run the museum, they were very nice and very eager to discuss the crater with us. We took out time looking at the exhibits which feature many meteorites (and meteorwrongs) from around the world as well as news clippings, photos, models, and movie posters. There is a small seating area with a TV where documentaries on meteorites play on rotation as well.

Do Not Pick Up!
There is a show on Science Channel I believe called Meteorite Men in which two rock hounds travel around the world looking for pieces of meteorites. They apparently recently visited the crater and found some of the newest specimens in a caliche oil field road. These are on display in a cabinet made especially for the show. Having seen a few episodes I thought that was pretty neat. One last note about the museum is that the facilities were very clean, and I attribute that to the fact that this is their home as well as their business. There is no entry fee but donations are greatly appreciated.

Meteorite Men Display Case
Lastly, we took a short hike through the crater itself. There is a self guided trail from the covered picnic areas that takes you down and across the main crater and around the western rim. All told this is only about a quarter mile mostly flat walk. There is only 15 ft of relief from the rim to the center of the crater. There is a cross section of the rock layers, the fenced off site of the original exploration shaft, and signs about the excavations and rock types. I would recommend allocating yourself two hours to fully enjoy everything Odessa Meteor Crater Museum has to offer. What this visit has done more than anything is increase my desire to travel to Arizona and see the large Meteor Crater which is believed to be the same age as this little cousin in West Texas.

Me at the original exploration shaft entrance

I still have three posts from last Fall to make, one will cover our family vacation to Gatlinburg, TN, one is a product review for our new waterproof camera, and lastly our trip home to Alabama for Christmas. Stay tuned.
Just a short walk on the rim