Rest and Small Projects at the Cabin

Cooking on a propane cooktop is challenging. At least that’s what Cheryl tells me. But somehow, it really doesn’t matter if the pancakes are too crispy or if something ends up on our plates a little on the burnt side. We are convinced that everything just tastes better at the cabin.With every trip to our cozy little off-grid cabin in Big Bend we become more convinced that life is better at the cabin. There is something calming about being surrounded by mesas and mountains, chaparral and cactus, and a night sky overcrowded with stars.

Cheryl and I spent Spring Break at the cabin. Our goal was to rest, piddle around doing small projects, feed birds, worship at Terlingua Ranch Community Church, enjoy the company of friends, and eat at The Chili Pepper Cafe, our favorite Mexican food restaurant in Study Butte. I am happy to say that we did exactly that and enjoyed every minute.

On our list of small projects was to set some t-posts on our new tract, paint our 55-gallon utility water barrels black, and do a few other little things that have been at the bottom of our project list because they are not essentials, just preferences.


We spent part of an afternoon setting t-posts between our cedar posts on the new tract. We did the better part of the western side of the tract. Only four more t-posts to set on that side and we will be ready for the next step which is to stretch field fence topped by a strand of barbed wire.
I painted our utility rain barrels black so that they will absorb more heat during the day. We supply these barrels with rain water from our larger tanks behind the cabin. This is the water we use for hand washing, dish washing, drawing water for our bird watering stations, miscellaneous projects requiring water, and bathing. I also painted the base on which these barrels sit.

I spent another afternoon splitting firewood, something I have been wanting to do for a long time. I also reinforced our firewood rack and then re-stacked all of the newly split wood. We now have enough wood to last us for several visits. I also did a little maintenance work on our composting area and added a new light to our outdoor shower area.
Some friends stopped by to camp and to visit the national park. They could not have asked for better weather for hiking and exploring Big Bend. And the moonless nights made the night sky all the more dramatic. There is no way to explain the beauty of the night sky in Big Bend — you just have to experience it.
We live a short distance from Little Burro Country Store which is the closest place to pick up provisions. I made a quick run there to buy our favorite Mexican fruit popsicles and met Pam, one of the locals who stopped by on her horse. You can count on meeting interesting folks at the Little Burro. Pam owns the nearby Cactus Farm and the Greasewood Grocery Bed and Breakfast cabins.
We always enjoy arriving at the cabin and always feel a tinge of sadness as we drive away. But we are grateful for how God uses this place to refresh our souls and revive our spirits. It is always worth the 600-mile drive from our home in Katy to the vast expanses of Big Bend that still take our breath away.

Wild Burros at the Cabin

There are particular signs along Highway 118 between the Little Burro Country Store, one hour south of Alpine, and Study Butte near Terlingua Ghost Town that caution drivers to watch for burros.

Feral burros have a long history in the wide spaces of Big Bend. They are somewhat iconic and conjure images of rustic days gone by in the old west. Burros just look good on the Chihuahuan Desert canvas painted in the colors of creosote, ocotillo, and distant mesas and mountains.

When it comes to the burros of Big Bend, there are folks who hate, love, or just tolerate them. Those who dislike these braying equids argue that they cause damage to Big Bend’s ecosystem. Others say the opposite. Concerned about the impact of burros at Big Bend Ranch State Park, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department is exploring non-lethal methods for removing or managing the wandering wild herds.
Earlier this month, I had my first close up look at the burros of Big Bend at my cabin. Near the end of a good day of working on projects, I looked to the South and noticed a herd of about 25 burros just outside our fence in the direction of Red Bluff. I walked over to the fence and just stood there enjoying the sight.

The burros hung around for a while and then wandered toward the road and moseyed north toward Legions Road. They stayed in the immediate area a couple of days. The next day I saw the burros hanging out near Jackass Flats where a few of their kin live on a fenced tract behind the Little Burro Country Store.

As for me, I weigh in on the side of liking the wandering desert burros. I say that strictly from a personal and not an environmental perspective. I will do more research and read both sides of the what-to-do-about-burros argument. In the meantime, I hope to see them again.


My First Deer … at Age 64

I did not grow up hunting, although I come from a family of hunters. Never really had much of an interest. But all of that changed a couple of years ago after I bought a shotgun for our off-grid cabin. Just wanted to have some kind of protection against snakes or pesky varmints but certainly not because I wanted to become a hunter.

My friend Gil Harris is an avid hunter and outdoorsman. We both enjoy outdoor adventures and have traveled together internationally. When Gil found out I had purchased a shotgun, he and our friend Dennis Turnipseed invited me to join them on a turkey hunt at The Five Seeds Ranch — Dennis’ place hear Hallettsville.
I did not shoot a turkey but I did shoot my first feral hog with a rifle that Dennis had loaned me. I was hooked. Feral hogs are a nuisance to ranchers who are always more than happy to decrease the hog population. I was happy to do my part.

Gil was determined to get me on other hunting adventures and took steps to remove any excuses. He bought me a Mauser M18 .243 caliber rifle complete with a scope. That’s the same rifle I had used to shoot my first hog. “No more excuses now,” he said, “when I invite you to go hunting.”

After shooting more feral hogs, Gil and Dennis urged me to think about deer hunting. My nephew Ryan Rogers learned about my new interest in hunting and said he wanted to guide me on my first deer hunt at Casa Monte Lodge — an outfitting service that Ryan’s dad founded outside of Carrizo Springs. Ryan’s dad Robert Rogers has written several books on whitetail deer and hunting in Texas.

Earlier this week, Gil and I drove out to Casa Monte for my first deer hunt. After we arrived at Casa Monte, things unfolded quicker than I expected. By late afternoon, Ryan and I were seated in a blind, surveying corned cenderos, and waiting for the deer to show up. The deer did not disappoint. They showed up in big numbers.

We patiently watched until a mature eight-point buck arrived on the scene. Ryan patiently coached me, much in the same way that Gil does when we hog hunt. I breathed slowly, watched the activity through my scope, waited for the right moment — and then squeezed the trigger.
One shot right behind the left shoulder. The deer jumped, ran about fifty yards through the brush, and then collapsed in a dry wash. We waited to make sure the buck was dead and then hurried off to pick up Gil from a nearby blind. Together we walked into the brush and found the buck lying on its side.



After taking a few pics, Gil and Ryan dragged the deer out to an open area. Ryan initiated me into the deer hunting family by dipping his finger in the deer’s blood and then wiping it across my cheeks and forehead. Official member of the club now! With darkness fast approaching, we tossed the buck into the truck and headed back to Casa Monte.

At 64, this was an amazing experience for me. To share this adventure with men who love the outdoors made it even better. Apart from the kill, the fellowship in the blind and around the table at Casa Monte was great. The meals alone at Casa Monte are reason enough to book a hunt. Beyond amazing and totally delicious!
I am grateful to Gil for encouraging me to take up hunting, even at my age. To Dennis for his encouragement and opportunities to hunt at the Five Seeds Ranch. To Robbie and the Casa Monte staff for a great experience at the lodge. And special thanks to my nephew Ryan for making it possible for his old Uncle O to shoot his first deer. Thank you all for blessing me with an amazing adventure.

Snow at the Cabin

It happened!

On the day that Cheryl and I bought our little slice of the Chihuahuan Desert in Big Bend, I commented on how awesome it would be to see it snow in the desert. It rarely happens but it does happen when conditions are right.

All of the necessary ingredients to whip up a snow event came together yesterday. The temperature dropped steadily all day long. The wind picked up and pushed in moisture-filled clouds and packed them tight from horizon to horizon.

And then at about 7:30 last night, snow flakes started to fall soundlessly and gently — and continued to do so through the night. A light dusting of snow turned into several inches by morning. We woke up to a winter wonderland here in the middle of the desert.

We were wide-eyed, slack-jawed, and speechless at the sight. Had to get outdoors. Here are a few pics of our first snow day at the cabin.

Fencing, Fire Pit, and Friends

Cheryl and I returned to our off-grid cabin to spend the last few days of the year under the endless Big Bend skies. We look forward to every sunrise and sunset out here. Somehow something as simple as the sun coming up over Nine Point Mesa or painting evening skies with brushstrokes of fading light is just like a soothing balm for the soul.
Because we only visit the cabin a few times a year, we always have a few projects to do. This week we wanted to get the last eighteen rough-cut cedar posts in the ground on our new tract in preparation for the next phase of fencing.

Cheryl and I have our fence post routine down and can work pretty fast. Once we measure and mark the location of the posts, I dig holes with an auger and Cheryl cleans them out with a post hole digger.
Once a hole is ready, we set the post and then tamp it down. No cement necessary. Once tamped, the posts are set rock hard. Later we will add t-posts between the cedar posts and then stretch field fence and top that off with a single strand of barbed wire.
We also added a second fire pit in an area where we plan to build an outdoor cooking area. A friend gave us the fire pit and stone surround. Setting it up was easy. We invited friends who are camping on the property this week and one of our neighbors to join us for hot dogs. We sat around the fire until late into the night.
Our final big project was to add a few inches of caliche to the entry to our property. We have been wanting to do this for a while in order to keep some mild erosion in check. I ordered six yards of material from a local guy.
My friend Dan Williams helped me to spread and tamp it down. Dan and his family camped on the property this week while doing day hikes at the national park. They had a great time and we enjoyed having them around.
As I write, the wind is blowing hard, the temperature has dropped, and the sky is covered with clouds. I ran down to Little Burro Country Store to buy some propane and talked to a guy who had just come in from Alpine where, he said, it is snowing. Even though it’s cold, Cheryl are I are hoping for a dusting of snow.

Thankfully, our little cabin is well insulated and we have some warm blankets. We are just going to hang out inside and read, drink hot chocolate, and wait for snow.

Preparing for Field Fencing

Working on Dos Arbolitos, our off-grid property in Big Bend, has its challenges — not the least of which is long gaps between visits. However, after two and a half years of work divided up into segments of a few days to a week at a time we have made lots of progress.
Our cabin is a few miles shy of 600 miles from our home in the suburbs. However, we have become accustomed to the nine-hour drive. In some strange way, it just doesn’t feel as long as it did a couple of years ago. We make three stops for gas at our designated exits and a final grocery run in Alpine before heading south on Highway 118 to the cabin.

Cheryl and I spent the better part of a week at the cabin in October after the survey of our new tract was completed. Our goal was to find the survey monuments on the new tract, mark the corners with cedar posts, and then map out our new fence line. We were able to do that plus set the posts that will break the span on the West side of the tract.
This month my friend Philip Brashier joined me at the cabin. Our goal was to add and tension rough-cut cedar posts with cross braces on the corners and the spans. This is important because these tensioned braces will take a lot of pressure off the field fence once we install and stretch it.
We ran fluorescent mason’s line from corner to corner. This is really great stuff because it has lots of give. This enabled us to pull it taught to get a good line of sight. Once the line was stretched and taught, we were able to measure and mark the location of where to dig each hole.
This work is not necessarily hard but it is time consuming and it has to be done right. Having an auger made it easier to dig the three-foot deep holes — although we had to clean each hole with a post-hole digger. We then set the posts in the holes and made sure they were plumb. No need to set these posts in concrete. We used a 21-pound tamper to pack dirt in each hole.
Once we installed the posts in each corner and the midway spans, we added cross braces. We secured these in place using 3/8 inch rebar. These foot-long rebar nails held the cross members in place while we added barbless wire and then tensioned this wire with 2-foot long pieces of rebar.

With only a few hours remaining before having to return home, we installed the cedar posts along the West side of the tract. Later I will add t-posts between these cedar posts. This will give us a solid frame for adding 40-inch field fence topped with a strand of barbed wire.
I always enjoy fellowship with good friends like Philip while working on projects at the cabin. The best part of it all is how this time off the grid allows me to relieve stress and to reset my soul for the demands of my day to day work. This is a way for me to sharpen my axe in order to remain effective in my work. In the words of the writer of Ecclesiastes (10:10): “If the iron is blunt, and one does not sharpen the edge, he must use more strength, but wisdom helps one to succeed.”

Atop Bush Mountain and Bartlett Peak

Guadalupe Mountains National Park is located where the northern edge of the Chihuahuan Desert meets the southern tip of the Rocky Mountains. The park is home to six of the seven named peaks in the Lone Star State that rise above 8,000 feet - including Guadalupe Peak, the highest point in Texas.

I solo-hiked to the top of Texas for the first time on December 2, 2014. The day was cold, the hike was strenuous, and the views were amazing. I spent half an hour in silence at the summit before heading back down to the Pine Springs Campground. In the years that followed, I returned three more times to the top of Texas.

After summiting Guadalupe Peak I knew I had to at least try to summit the remaining six named peaks higher than 8,000 feet. My buddy Doyle Lowry agreed to join me in pursuing this bucket list. Thus began our adventure to stand atop the highest peaks in Texas.

Earlier this month, Doyle and I returned to the Guadalupe Mountains to check two more peaks off the list — Bush Mountain and Bartlett Peak. In addition to Guadalupe Peak, we have summited El Capitan, the signature peak at the park, and Hunter Peak, our favorite overlook.
We secured our backcountry camping permit at the park headquarters and hiked up the Tejas Trail toward Bush Mountain. The Tejas Trail is a strenuous trail that starts at the Pine Springs Campground and leads to the Pine Top primitive camping area. The trail gains lots of elevation over this five mile section.

The Tejas Trail intersects with the trail that leads to the Bush Mountain primitive campsite located about two miles to the west of Pine Top primitive campground. This section is also strenuous with lots of ups and downs. Having to carry our water for three days on the mountain made the hike up even more challenging.

The primitive campsite on Bush Mountain is perfectly situated for a day hike to the top of Bush and a bushwhacking trek to neighboring Bartlett Peak. Once we set up camp we settled in for the night and rested for an early morning departure to Bartlett. We started with Bartlett because we knew it would take the most time.

At daybreak, we made our way to the southern edge of Bush to scout out the best bushwhacking route to the top of Bartlett. Once we agreed on our route, we started our descent into a valley that would then lead us to the ridge line we had chosen to take us to the summit. Make no mistake about it, bushwhacking is hard, especially on steep slopes with loose rock and some boulder scrambling mixed in.

The reward was worth the effort. As Doyle reached the top he discovered that our line had taken us directly to the ammo box containing the summit register. The views from Bartlett Peak are amazing. The summit overlooks Salt Flat to the West, New Mexico to the North, and Shumard and Guadalupe Peaks to the South.

We spent a little time at the top and then selected our route back to Bush Mountain. We decided on a different route back, one that took us down into to a beautiful ravine between the peaks. And then, we started the trek back up to Bush and our campsite. Once at our campsite we rested for twenty-minutes and then started up the trail that leads to the top of Bush Mountain.

This hike was a bit easier because we were on a trail and there was not a lot of elevation gain from our campsite the summit. The summit is carpeted in flowing grasses with stands of Ponderosa and Douglas Fir. Bush offers its own distinctive vistas from the summit — absolutely beautiful views of Pine Spring Canyon to the East and rugged formations to the North, looking toward New Mexico.

We were happy that we ticked off two more summits on our bucket list of seven. We only have Shumard remaining in this park and Mount Livermore in the Davis Mountains. We will have to bushwhack our way up these two remaining peaks on our list.

The following morning we were up early and started our trek down the mountain using our headlamps. The sunrise was breathtaking. It took us about five hours to descend the 8-plus miles from our primitive campsite to the Pine Springs Campground. We wasted no time in stowing our gear and getting a sponge bath. Even a humble sponge bath was amazing after three days in the same clothes. We felt like new men!

We drove to Van Horn for Mexican Food at Chuy’s and then decided to drive the ten hours back to Katy instead of stopping at a motel along the way for a proper shower. We are happy to have shared this adventure and look forward to the next summit on our list of seven Lone Star summits.

✓ Guadalupe Peak | 8,749 feet | Guadalupe Mountains
✓ Bush Mountain | 8,631 feet | Guadalupe Mountains
• Shumard Peak | 8,615 feet | Guadalupe Mountains
✓ Bartlett Peak | 8,508 feet | Guadalupe Mountains
• Mount Livermore | 8,378 feet | Davis Mountains
✓ Hunter Peak | 8,368 feet | Guadalupe Mountains
✓ El Capitan | 8,085 feet | Guadalupe Mountains

Expanding Our Off-Grid Property

We are now two and a half years into our off-grid adventure in the magnificent Big Bend of Texas — and we could not be happier. Dos Arbolitos, our off-grid property, is good medicine for us. The nine-hour drive no longer seems so long knowing that each mile takes us closer to our cabin and the opportunity to breathe in soul-refreshing vistas.

Earlier this year we purchased the five acre tract adjacent to the north side of our property, giving us a 10-acre footprint in the Big Bend Valley of Terlingua Ranch. I met another property owner down the road who agreed that the plus of our location is the visual access to million dollar views.
The first thing I did after filing our paperwork at the Brewster County Clerk’s office was to arrange to have the tract surveyed. Once the survey was completed, I made a trip to the cabin to check the survey monuments and to take down a 100+ year-old fence running across the property.

The old fence was still standing strong, even after all these years. Remarkably, the slender cedar posts were still as solid (and fragrant) as the day they were put into the ground. I rolled up the old barbed wire and cut the rusted field fence into 10-foot panels. We may use this old material in the future, possibly to make some gabion walls.


Once I removed the old fence, I put cedar posts at the northern corners of the new tract. I wrapped these with orange tape to make it easier to see them from a distance and to get a better sense of the property. I then stretched fluorescent mason’s line from corner to corner. This enabled me see the new fence line and get an idea about what I will need to clear to prepare for fencing.

The next step was to set the corner braces and midway brace on the west side of the new tract. Cheryl and I added cedar posts and cross braces and tamped them in place.


The final step was to tension the braces with barbless cable. This will add strength to the fence and take the strain off the t-posts when we add and stretch the field fencing and barbed wire.

On our next trip I will add the cedar posts interspersed with t-posts along this side of the property. The final step will be to add the field fence topped with a strand of barbed wire. Then we will repeat this whole process two more times to complete the fencing.

The good thing is that we can add the new fence a side at a time and without getting in a rush. Even though the work is hard, there is something very satisfying about fencing. The whole process is stress-relieving and enjoyable.

This past weekend the Jackass Flats Improvement Association sponsored a fun event at the Little Burro Country Store location. Cheryl and I took a break and visited with local artists, heard some good music, and met new friends. We also bought a couple of art pieces for the cabin that we will enjoy for a long time.

We look forward to our next visit to the cabin and the wide open spaces that have captured our hearts. Thanks for following our adventure.

Small Conveniences at the Cabin

Some folks equate off-the-grid with primitive or uncomfortable. While off-grid living does have its challenges, it does not have to be either primitive or uncomfortable. Without question, those who choose an off-grid life-style must be considerably more intentional than folks connected to the grid. But that is part of the allure of the off-grid lifestyle.As we continue to make progress on our off-grid cabin in Big Bend, we have to make every trip count. That means planning ahead, making careful lists, making sure we have everything we need for projects, and that we have contingency plans in place. There is nothing more frustrating than laying everything out for a project and realizing one thing is missing.

On our last trip to the cabin we added a small sink to our indoor bathroom. This adds just one more layer of comfort and convenience to our little place in the Chihuahuan Desert. Once I secured the vanity and sink to the wall, I jury-rigged parts from our old foot-pump sink to work on our new sink.

The sink is fed by a foot pump attached to a five-gallon water basin. I rigged the goose-neck faucet to work on the new sink. The water then drains to a five-gallon catchment bucket underneath the sink. We use this water to nourish the trees around the cabin. Nothing is wasted. This is part of the circle of life in the off-grid world.
My buddy Selim accompanied me to do some work on our trees. I have been slowly working to add water catchment basins around the mesquites on the property. These catchment basins will allow us to capture as much water as possible from the infrequent rain that falls in the desert. The water in the basins will slowly seep into the area around the trees rather than just running off the property.

I also added a deck of sorts to my shipping container workshop. For the time being, I packed dirt into the frame and then topped it off with a layer of pea gravel. In the future I will add pavers to make this area even more usable. On a previous trip I added solar power to the container so that I can have lights and operate power tools without having to run an extension cord to the cabin. Small steps toward convenience.
Of course, the best part of being at the cabin is enjoying the amazing views of the surrounding mesas, bluffs, hills — and the awe-inspiring night sky. At the end of a long day of projects, what I love best is watching the transformation of the sky from daylight to darkness. The night breezes are an added bonus. And the satisfaction that comes from having made more progress makes for a good night’s sleep.

El Camino del Rio

I am a road-trip junkie. Because I have spent so many years traveling around the planet on I-have-lost-track-of-how-many-hundreds-of-flights, there is nothing I enjoy more when I am home than windshield time in my pick-up.

Since establishing our base camp on our little off-grid place in Big Bend, I am taking advantage of every opportunity to explore this amazing part of the Lone Star State. For reasons I can’t explain, I am drawn to the vast Chihuahuan Desert that spans the Trans-Pecos.

The small town of Lajitas is not far from our cabin. The name Lajitas is Spanish for “little flat rocks” and refers to the Boquillas limestone of the area. Located along FM 170 on the western edge of Big Bend National Park, Lajitas has a goat for a mayor and a world-class golf resort and spa that attracts visitors from around the world.

The stretch of highway along FM 170 between Lajitas and Presidio is known as El Camino del Rio, or the River Road. National Geographic Traveler rates this spectacular road as one of the top ten scenic routes in the Unites States. This drive should be a bucket list item for any road-trip junkie.

El Camino del Rio follows the curves and turns of the Rio Grande River through Big Bend Ranch State Park from Lajitas all the way to Presidio, a name that originates from the Spanish word for fortress. The highway plunges over mountains into steep canyons and then up again like a desert roller coaster. Drive slowly and savor the views.

There are several scenic overlooks with views that will take your breath away. The magnificent vistas will allow even an amateur photographer to take amazing shots and look like a pro. The geography is about as iconically cowboy as it gets in Texas and the place names hail back to the days when Spanish explorers came through the region.
Whether you start your journey in Lajitas or Presidio, don’t be in a hurry. Take the time to stop to take in the views and to snap a few pics. Be sure to take water and snacks. And remember that there is no cell-signal on this 51-mile stretch of road.

I hope that you will add El Camino del Rio to your adventure list. You will be glad you did. Enjoy your drive and be safe.