Some Crappy Motel, Alpine
Our original plan was to camp in Marathon before heading down to Big Bend National Park, which we were told is a 'must see'. Camping was definitely not a possibility since the wind wasn't calming down, so we figured that we better stay the night in a motel.
The first reasonable option we came upon was in Alpine (although the place turned out to be a real dump!) We've learned that Puss doesn't care much for motels but we’d never seen her so agitated and out of it; she was restless for the entire night and loudly miaowing. Don said it was pent up energy from being in the tent for so long but I knew it had to be more than that. The place was simply driving her nuts! I realized that it was getting to me too only it was manifesting (slightly) differently. (Thank goodness! hehe) I’ve observed over and over again that my surroundings affect me in very real and tangible ways. In the Vipassana tradition Goenka talks about how the various sensations that we experience in our bodies at any given moment are determined by a number of factors including what he refers to as our sankharas or mental conditionings, the food we eat and the environment we’re in.
At least the motel had wifi so I was able to go online and check the weather predictions. Bad news; the entire area was under alert for the next three days due to wind gusts of up to 50 mph! Eeek! If you're a tough cookie you can take the rain, the cold, and even the snow while tenting, but the one thing that you can't handle is severe winds. We were doomed!
We’d found ourselves in a crunch before - feeling that it was time to move on yet not being clear as to where we were headed next. That morning in Alpine was the most challenging situation I've experienced thus far on our trip. It was clear that we couldn’t stay as Puss was NOT happy there (and of course neither were we). Our sole option was to find another shelter to wait out the windstorm. With the clock ticking away until check out time I looked frantically online and made several phone calls, but all the places in the area were either too pricey or not pet friendly. I explained our situation to a kind lady at a ranch in Fort Davis with a big lump in my throat but the best that she could offer was still a little over our budget.
Feeling that I’d exhausted all avenues, I fell on the bed and had a good cry. As the designated navigator I hadn’t a clue as to what we were meant to do. Actually, the one thing I could feel was that it wasn’t quite time for us to leave Texas yet. Amazingly I was able to somewhat gather myself together enough to bring Don up to date about my findings. He suggested that we go check out the place in Fort Davis anyways since it was the only one where there was any kind of opening, and take it from there. Alrighty, sounded good to me!
Off to Greener Pastures
The drive up on the 118 North was breathtakingly beautiful! It was as if we’d landed right in the middle of a western movie set! We could almost see Indians looking down at us from behind the big boulders on the mountains. Such a powerful landscape! In fact, I was so mesmerized by it that I virtually forgot all about our predicament! The fact that we’d have missed this magical drive if we’d decided to head straight to El Paso via the 90 told us that we ought to be going in the right direction.
Fort Davis is surrounded by the most extensive mountain range in Texas. Several Indian bands passed through it including Lipan and Mescalero Apaches as well as Kiowa Comanche. As west Texas settlements increased, raids along the San Antonio-El Paso Trail were becoming a major problem and so in 1854, Fort Davis was built in order to offer military protection. It is now one of the best surviving examples of an Indian Wars' frontier military post.
Fort Davis, the 'Highest Town in Texas', was charming and simply felt good. We learned later that it's in fact renowned for its relaxed and friendly atmosphere. Sure didn't take us long to feel right at home there. Some of our favorite hang outs during our stay included a cute health food store, a really neat thrift store where all the proceeds go towards helping homeless animals, and a beautiful old style library with a super helpful staff and - yay! - the much sought after wifi.
Prude Ranch, Fort Davis
Historic Prude Ranch is located a few miles out of town. Established over 100 years ago, for the last eighty years six generations of Prudes have run it as both guest and working cattle ranch. The woman at the office, Edith (who actually wasn’t even the one I’d talked to earlier!) warmly welcomed us. She took my hand in both of hers while I explained the tough spot we were in, then proceeded to set us up in one of the family cabins. With Don’s senior discount, it ended up costing us no more than one of those cheap chain motels! At last we’d found a roof, at least until the wind calmed down some. Phfew!
Don't think you can make it out but on the sign it says: "Welcome, we're so glad you're here." And you know what? We were too! ;-)
You could really feel the care and personal touch all around Prude Ranch. Each room had been given a name and interestingly enough ours was called the ‘Happy Place’. (I mean, how appropriate was that, eh?) It was a really warm and homey space with tile floors and wooden walls. We could feel ourselves relax as soon as we settled in. Even Puss quickly chilled out, all traces of her previous freak out had vanished!
Our charming rustic refuge
As we braved the raging wind and went for a walk around the ranch later that afternoon, Don turned to me and said: “I guess The Mystery wanted us to come here.” At that very moment my eyes caught something written on the mountainside across the road. ‘GOD’ it read. Whoa! Talk about a confirmation that we had indeed been led there!
You might just be able to make the word out (in white center left) if you look with a magnifying glass. ;-)
Here's a few pics taken around Prude Ranch...
We encountered a long and skinny cactus we hadn't seen before.
This gave me a good chuckle. ;-)
And no ranch would be complete without horses!
It was only after the windstorm died down that I realized the silence floating around. Not only did we have the whole ranch almost to ourselves but there was even hardly any traffic passing on the highway. As I was walking Kylo on the property (Don was gone to get the van fixed), all I could hear was the sound of my own feet hitting the dusty ground and birds singing. Gee, I don’t even remember the last time I enjoyed such depth of silence! Oh, I know now! It reminded me of walks on winter days when the snow muffled all sounds while we lived at the retreat center in British Columbia.
Davis Mountains State Park, Fort Davis
The Davis Mountains were formed by volcanic activity during the Tertiary geologic period, which began around 65 million years ago. Originally known as the Apache Mountains, they were later named after Jefferson Davis, U.S. Secretary of War and later President of the Confederacy, who ordered the construction of the Fort Davis army post.
While we were staying at Prude Ranch, one afternoon we came to hike at Davis Mountains State Park. In spite of the still strong gusts of wind, on a ranger's recommendation we tackled a trail that started behind Indian Lodge. As we were starting off we saw a wild goat jumping from rock to rock. We took it as a good omen. Words and photos are too limited to truly capture the majestic beauty that we witnessed that day. “This is a gift, Carm!” Don declared with a huge grin on his face. Yep, that it was!
At some point we saw Kylo take off and then run right back. We then heard a deep grunt coming from the bushes. Whoa, what was hiding in there? We all stood still for a while but 'the beast' seemed to have continued on its way. Phfew!
Since the wind had finally died down, after spending three nights in our cozy room at Prude Ranch we decided to stick around a while longer and pitch our tent at Davis Mountains State Park. This was our best tenting spot yet! It was located at the end of a super private loop, was level and dry and everything was conveniently right there (water, electric and picnic table). The site was also close to the shower/toilet building, offered tree coverage as well as sun exposure AND a lovely view of the mountains. Oh, and to top it all off it was near two hiking trails. The only area where it lost some points was its proximity to the main state road. Ah well, guess you can’t have everything! ;-)
As there was still lots of daylight left, once everything was organized we walked part of another trail. Although it went all the way to the national historic site of Fort Davis, we only hiked as far as the nearest mountaintop in order to admire the panorama.
McDonald Observatory. Its jewel is the 432 inch Hobby-Eberly Telescope, one of the world's largest. The region has the darkest skies in the nation which makes it a prime spot for star gazing.
These were taken on yet a different trail.
As we were headed back, suddenly wave after wave of birds whizzed over our heads from behind us. We could hear the sound of their wings creating a strange vibration. Zoom. Zoom. Zoom. Wow, yet another one of those magical moments!
I managed to capture a few on camera.
Like most of you I'm sure, I've been adding agave nectar as a sweetener in many of my raw recipes. Since we've encountered some agave plants on our travels, I thought this might be a good opportunity to shed light on this much used ingredient.
I learned on Wikipedia that while the agave plants mostly grow in Mexico, they also occur in the southern and western United States and in central and tropical South America. "The plants have a large rosette of thick fleshy leaves, each ending generally in a sharp point and with a spiny margin... Each rosette is monocarpic and grows slowly to flower only once. During flowering, a tall stem or "mast" grows from the center of the leaf rosette and bears a large number of shortly tubular flowers." This 'tube' is what's used to make didgeridoos. Several years ago a friend of mine gifted me a stem he had picked in Arizona. I carefully cut it in half length wise, emptied the pulp and then glued it together. Lastly I added beeswax at the smallest end to make a mouthpiece. The result was a super light and resonant didgeridoo! You can see me playing it here.
It is a common misconception that agave plants are cacti. In fact, they are closely related to the lily and amaryllis families as well as the aloe plant.
On Madhava's site it says that the Maguey - a term that refers collectively to the some 200 species of agave that grow in many regions of Mexico - is one of the most important plants in that culture. It is known as the "Tree of Wonders" and is said to delay the aging process.
A few months ago I was sent a sample by a company called Xagave. Jonathan, their representative, was really helpful and patiently answered my questions. I told him that one of the main concerns for members of the raw community is whether agave is raw. He replied that while "most agaves on the market are blue agave that can not be processed in a raw manner...our agave is white agave...that is heated to a temperature of 117ºF in a vacuum boiler preserving its raw status. We tour the facility that processes our agave twice a year and know that it is both organic and raw."
Jonathan actually pointed out to me a really interesting article explaining how agave is made. In a nutshell, Agave Tequilana, aka Blue Agave, is processed by first removing the pina (the root or bulb of the plant) which is then ground down. "Water is run through it (hydrolisis) which pulls the fiberous inulin out of the ground down bulb. This fiber water full of fructans (Inulin is a form of fructan) is then boiled at high temperatures to break the fructans into fructose and glucose, or the common blue agave in it’s various shades."
Agave Salmiana, or White Agave, is processed very differently. At gestation it grows a large flower from the center of the plant called the quiote. When the plant is 7-8 years old the quiote is cut off before it fully grows creating a hole or pool of liquid in the center of the plant, called “Aguamiel.” "The plant is then milked twice daily as the Aguamiel collects. It is important to note that the Aguamiel is not the sap of the leaves as some have noted (the sap from the Agave Salmiana leaves contain saponins, raphides and calcium oxalate rendering it inedible). Aguamiel is the juice that the plant prepares to feed the quiote. It is full of nutrients as it contains large amounts of carbohydrates, fructans, vitamins and aminoacids. This juice, if left to ferment, turns into a mild alcholic drink, but the removal of the water in the juice by evaporation leaves us the White Agave nectar."
Wow, cool stuff eh?
I also mentioned to him that one of the big controversial areas around agave nectar is that some companies cut part of the final product with corn syrup. Here's what he replied: "We actually dug around and finally got to the source of where this (rumor) originated. Evidently in the '90s there was a company out of California that was doing this, most likely to lower their costs since the production of Agave is around 10 times the cost of sugar. This practice was discovered by the FDA and they subsequently went out of business. As far as we could find they were the only company to do this but as you can imagine with a product that is so relatively 'new' to most of the public these types of concerns remain. Having seen where our agave is processed, I can assure you our agave is not only unlike others on the market, it is produced with the utmost of care."
Carmella's Note: I just found out that Xagave addresses the question of High Fructose Corn Syrup in agave here.
Doesn't it look like a mandala?
One evening as I was working on this post at Davis Moutains we heard Kyky barking and getting very agitated. Don unzipped the tent to see what he was up to and noticed a moving shadow in the dark. No doubt that it was the mysterious animal we'd encountered on our walk a few days before. Our first thought was that it was a wild boar. It was only a few feet away from the tent, checking whether we had left any food out for him to munch on. Needless to say we brought Kylo in right away! We then kept watching it with our heads sticking out only to realize there was another one with it, then four more came all at once to join them. Eeek!
These guys are brave I tell ya! The sun had barely set and there they were, roaming around like they owned the place. Don put on his caveman voice and shooshed them away, banging the air mattress pump on the ground. Man, we sure didn’t want these dangerous critters to come charging at our tent with their big tusks!
The creatures kept coming back, tossing Kylo’s metal bowl around. So I took my courage in two hands and went outside in order to put it away on the picnic table. “Cover me!” I told Donnie in case he spotted some in the vicinity. Sure enough while I was out there I heard some ruffling in the nearby bushes (oh-oh!) so I started to grunt too. That gave Don a good laugh as he said: “They might think it’s a mating call and then you know what could happen!” hehe
The next morning I discovered that they weren't boars after all but javelinas. They look sorta like wild pigs but don't have any external tusks as we thought. In fact, they belong to the rodent family and boy, do they ever have a case of bad BO! lol Also known as the Collared Peccary, the javelina is primarily herbivorous, eating foods such as roots, bulbs, beans, nuts, berries and grass. No wonder these guys are after any bit of food that campers leave behind; there sure didn't seem to be much for them to eat at this time of year! However we learned that they can feed on cacti, agave and prickly pear. Wowsers!
They are called Javelinas because of their razor-sharp teeth, Spanish for javelin or spear. They sometime charge people and dogs but mostly only if you take them by surprise or seem to threaten their babies.
Let it Snow!
The last couple of nights spent in Fort Davis were the coldest we've camped in, with temps in the low 20s. All week there was talk around town about possible snow. Although since our arrival in the US we've found the weather forecast to be amazingly accurate, we were secretly hoping that the weather shamans were wrong this time. We managed to keep warm inside the tent with the help of our electric heater and a few extra woolen layers and sure enough we woke up on the morning of our departure with snow on the ground.
Gee. We thought we'd escaped from that white stuff by coming down here! lol
It took me a while to scrape off the ice and snow from the tent so that we could pack up. Brrrrr