Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Corvette Graveyard

In Alamo, Texas:

Taken New Year's Eve -- have a wonderful 2009!


Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Rio Grande Valley Leftovers

We will be leaving the Rio Grande Valley at the end of December, so here are some leftover items from the "Tip of Texas" -- as always, click for a larger image:

When we went to the Hidalgo Lights it was dark, and the 10 foot statue of the Killer Bee, dressed in a sparkling coat of Christmas lights, really just looked like a giant, nondescript white blob. So we went back during the daylight hours to see what it really looks like. Here it is, a memorial to the spot where Africanized, or Killer Bees first entered the United States. If you look closely, you can still see the mesh of holiday lights on The Bee (and fans of huge animal likenesses may want to compare and contrast The Bee with the Las Cruces Roadrunner):

Click for Larger Image of ZoAnn and Killer Bee

In the same post on the Hidalgo Lights, I mentioned the Chinese Dragons made of glass bottles that are on display at the Hidalgo City Hall. Here are a couple more photos of them, including a detail of the bottles:

Click for Larger Image of Dragon Click for Larger Image of Detail of Dragon Bottles

We went to Mexico a couple times, using the border crossing at Progreso. We parked in the U.S., and walked across the bridge over the Rio Grande. Looking into Mexico from the bridge, we spotted this farmer, still using a horse and cart for transportation. And, near the crossing, are the streets of Progreso set up to trap U.S. money -- they are a hodgepodge of dentists, pharmacies, liquor stores and street vendors, and they all take dollars instead of pesos:

Click for Larger Image of Mexico Click for Larger Image of Mexican Street

A lot of folks in the RV parks of the Valley decorate, if I can use that word to describe what they do, their yards. Here are two examples -- a beer-can cactus, and a dog/teacup .... Something, placed intriguingly at the end of their drive (let's just call it "Yard Art"):

Click for Larger Image of Beer Can Cactus Click for Larger Image of Yard Art

A couple miscellaneous photos, one of guy on a scooter or a bike (maybe a scike?), and a store that sells secret (shhh!) underwear (a must stop after going to the Pole-Dancing-For-Brides-Store):

Click for Larger Image of Man on BikeScooter Click for Larger Image of Store Sign

And lastly, not for the squeemish, a common sight in some grocery stores -- pig and lamb heads. Hey, honey, what's for dinner?

Click for Larger Image of Pigs Head Click for Larger Image of Lambs Head

Friday, December 26, 2008

Where Have I Been?

I have just added a new feature to this blog -- a map of my travels that will live at the bottom of each page. You can move around, zoom or mooz, and select the type of view -- map, satellite, or terrain -- right from this page. Or, for a more traditional Google Maps experience, click on the "View Larger Map" link directly under the map.

My travels in 2007 are in blue, and 2008 in purple. Each of the campground symbols represents places I have stayed, and the push pins are side trips. Click on any symbol to see a photo of the area and the date(s) I was there.

Looks like I still have a lot of country left to explore!

Sunday, December 21, 2008

More Santa Ana Fauna

Some more fauna from the Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge:

American Snout Butterfly (Libytheana carinenta):

Click for Larger Image of

Malachite Butterfly (Siproeta stelenes):

Click for Larger Image of Malachite Siproeta stelenes

Silver Argiope Spider (Argiope argentata):

Click for Larger Image of Silver Argiope (Argiope argentata)

Texas Powdered Skipper (Systasea pulverulenta):

Click for Larger Image of TexasPowderedSkipper Systasea pulverulenta

Mexican Bluewing Butterfly (Myscelia ethusa) (and yes, it was hanging upside down!):

Click for Larger Image of MexicanBluewing Myscelia ethusa

Twas The Night Before Solstice

Click for Larger Image of Venus Through the Palms
Venus Through The Palms on December 20, 2008
Rio Grande Valley, Texas


by Jane Houston Jones

Inspired by the poem A Visit From St. Nicholas, written by Major Henry Livingston, Jr.

Twas the week before Solstice, when all through the city,

Not a planet was shining, now isn't that a pity.

The telescope was stored in the garage with despair,

In hopes that the weather would soon turn to fair.

The astronomers were nestled all snug in their beds,

While visions of nebulae danced in their heads.

And Mojo with his laptop and I with my starmap,

Had just settled down for a cloudy night nap.

When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,

I sprang from the bed to see what was the matter.

Away to the window I flew with a flash,

Tore open the shutters and threw up the sash.

The moon shone brightly, no clouds hid the glow,

The full moonlit lustre to objects below.

When what to my wondering eyes should appear,

But Pleiades, Orion, and Ursa Major, the bear.

With our trusty old telescope, the setup was quick,

I knew in a moment we had objects to pick.

More rapid than eagles, the targets they came,

We aimed and we pointed and called them by name.

"Now, Procyon, now Pollux, now Castor and Capella!

On Aldebaran, on Rigel, on Sirius, and Betelgeuse, the red fella :-)

To the top and around the winter circle of stars,

Now a quick look at Saturn, Jupiter, Venus and Mars.

As fireflies that before the dawns morning light,

Brilliantly flicker and soon are a memory bright,

A new wonder would paint the dark sky to pale blue,

The sunrise was nearing and morning twilight was too.

And then in a twinkling, I heard on the roof,

The prancing and pawing of each little hoof.

As I stepped from the telescope and was turning around,

Down the chimney the stranger came with a bound.

He looked like an astronomer, bundled from head to his foot,

Like a stargazer his clothes were tarnished with ashes and soot.

A bundle of toys he had flung on his back,

Looked just like our telescope accessory pack.

His eyes - how they twinkled! his dimples how merry!

His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry

He looked like we do after a cold winter starshow

Freezing but happy from the Milky Way glow

The stump of a flashlight held tight in his teeth

Its soft red glow encircled his head like a wreath

We asked him if he'd ever looked closely at Mars

"I'm working at night, I have no time for the stars".

He stepped up to the eyepiece, a right jolly old elf,

And I smiled as he gasped, in spite of myself.

A wink of his eye and a twist of his head,

Soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread.

He spoke not a word, but took in view after view,

Then he spoke with a sigh he had more work to do.

And laying his finger aside of his nose,

And giving a nod, up the chimney he rose.

He sprang to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle,

And away they all flew like the down of a thistle.

But I heard him exclaim, ere he drove out of sight,

Happy stargazing to all and to all a dark night.

Copyright © 2003 San Jose Astronomical Association

Reprinted With Permission

Congratulations, Earth, on another trip around the sun!

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Tom Landry

"Leadership is getting someone to do what they don't want to do, to achieve what they want to achieve. -- Tom Landry"

Click for Larger Image of Mural

Tom Landry was born just down the road from here in Mission, Texas. He lived from September 11, 1924 - February 12, 2000, and some of what he accomplished in his "dash" is:

  • he was an WWII Air Force pilot, completing a combat tour of 30 missions and surviving a crash landing in Belgium after his bomber ran out of fuel
  • he played football for the successful University of Texas team, and then professionally for the New York Yankees (yes, there was a Yankees football team from 1946-1949 in the All-America Football Conference) and the New York Giants, where he eventually became the defensive coach
  • he became head coach of the Dallas Cowboys, and stayed in that position for 29 years, leading the Cowboys to 20 consecutive winning seasons
  • he was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1990
A block-long mural depicting Tom's life has been painted in Mission. His hand and footprints (and those of some teammates) are formed in the cement in front of the mural. Here are some additional pictures:

Click for Larger Image of Mural Detail Click for Larger Image of Mural Detail Click for Larger Image of Sidewalk Click for Larger Image of Cement

Friday, December 12, 2008

Physical Fitness for Brides

Every bride should embark on a physical fitness program, don't you think? This store in Mission, Texas, seems to support it!

Click for Larger Image of Exotic Pole Dancing Ad

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Hidalgo Festival of Lights

Location: Rio Grande Valley, TX

With most of the country shoveling and shivering, I know I shouldn't complain about temps in the 30s and 40s. But this is southern Texas! It snows here every century or so -- the last time was, oddly, the night of December 24th, 2004, and that was the first time in 109 years. But imagine how special it must have been to see snow for the first time in your life when you awoke on Christmas morning!

We did not see snow here last night, but they did in Houston, about 350 miles away. We had a freeze warning, an odd occurrence on its own, but the temperature didn't quite make it to 32 -- our low was 36, so we didn't even have to deal with frozen water hoses.

But earlier last night the temps were in the high 40s with a cold wind blowing, and it was definitely nippy outside - but we dressed in our warmest clothes, reminded ourselves that we are from cold climates and can handle it, and took a trip to Hidalgo -- a border city famous for:

  • a 1910 steam-powered irrigation pump that once pumped 400,000 gallons of the Rio Grande per minute to irrigate sugar cane, cotton, citrus and vegetable fields
  • being the first place in the U.S. to have Africanized honeybees (aka "Killer Bees") (1990)
  • and, our goal, one of the grandest displays of holiday lights in Texas, the Hidalgo Festival of Lights.

Click for Larger Image of Space ShuttleWhile a lot of private citizens and organizations join the fun, the City of Hidalgo, with a population slightly under 8,000, puts up over a million lights in city-owned property all over town, both rope lights shaped into figures and white lights wrapped around tree trunks and branches. Rather than buying them, the city employees fabricate most of the lighted figures, from the traditional Santas, snowmen, and candy canes to custom shapes such as steamboats, the space shuttle, dinosaurs, butterflies, the twelve days of Christmas, and even a Texas oil well. Most everything that can be draped with lights is -- even the 10 foot high statue of the Killer Bee.

Click for Larger Image of CarriageWe saw a lot of cars slowly snaking through the city (seeing the lights is free), but we opted for one of the guided tours that leave from city hall -- in a trolley, on a hayride, or our choice, the horse drawn wagon. Our two large white Percheron horses, Jack and Jill, pulled us through street after street and finally returned us to City Hall where the Chinese had provided a pair of large colorful dragons (made from small medicine bottles) and some of the 2008 Olympic mascots. We bought an excellent dinner from a street vendor -- two homemade tamales, rice, beans, and a cup of Mexican hot chocolate (made from scratch with added cinnamon and spices) all for only $5.

Great way to get into the holiday spirit!

Click for Larger Image of the 12 Days of Christmas Click for Larger Image of Steamboat Click for Larger Image of Chinese Dragons Click for Larger Image of Candy Workshop

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Changeable Weather

Location: Rio Grande Valley, TX

Yesterday we broke a temperature record -- it hit 91 degrees! Today, we woke up to a chilly 39. In between, we had winds of 30 miles per hour and rain as the cold front moved through. What a change!

Thursday, December 04, 2008

More Fauna!

Shooting Location: Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge, Rio Grande Valley, TX

Here are some more findings from the Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge:

Thornbush Dasher (Micrathyria hagenii)Click for Larger Image of Thornbush-Dasher-Micrathyria-hagenii

Laviana White Skipper (Heliopetes laviana)
Click for Larger Image of Laviana White Skipper-Heliopetes arsalte

Black Pondhawk (Erythemis plebeja) (Thanks to Richard for the identification!)

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Venus, Jupiter and the Moon

Location: Rio Grande Valley, TX

Did you catch yesterday's triangle of Venus, Jupiter, and the crescent moon?

So why didn't I set up the camera and tripod to get a photo of it, too? Because I was relaxing in an outdoor hot tub, watching the trio sink to the west through the waving fronds of a palm tree (northerners, especially those shoveling snow today, should pretend I didn't just tell you that -- or at least ignore the fact that this was on DECEMBER 1st!).

If you were "down under," you got to see the heavens smiling back at you -- they formed a smiley face!

Another nice northern hemisphere view, from a day earlier (the closest we got to a smiley face), is here.