Ganado Cafe

When it comes to Texas towns with interesting names, Ganado is surely on the list. Located just a few miles east of Edna on Highway 59, Ganado is the second largest town in Jackson County. Ganado had its humble beginnings when a few cabins at the site of the present town came to be called Mustang Settlement, after nearby Mustang Creek. The early settlers were largely cattle ranchers who either drove their herds to New Orleans over the Old Spanish Trail or to northern markets in Kansas City.

In 1881, the Galveston, Harrisburg, and San Antonio Railway laid track near Mustang Settlement. A company official looked out the window of his rail car and observed a large herd of cattle. He casually remarked that the place should be called Ganado instead — the Spanish word for ”herd.” The name stuck and the rest is history. Sometime in 1882 the railroad built a station at Ganado and the town grew around it. A post office was established the following year.

The Ganado Cafe is one of the local businesses that has served the town for years. Located on a main thoroughfare through town, the cafe remains a popular eatery that serves up delicious meals to locals and passers-through alike. Not a very big place, it has retained its original footprint next to the town movie theater.

While on a road trip from Katy to the Rio Grande Valley, I decided to veer off Highway 59 to grab an early lunch in Ganado. When I arrived I was the first lunch-time customer of the day — although folks were already phoning in orders. It would not take long, though, before a steady stream of locals dropped in for lunch.

I ordered my usual bacon cheeseburger with a side of onion rings. I opted for water instead of iced tea since I had a large Buc-ee’s fountain drink waiting for me in my truck. I ordered my burger on a sourdough rather than a regular bun. This was definitely a very good choice.

While I waited for my burger, I perused a wall of historic photos of the town, including an old black and white pic taken of the interior of the cafe sometime, I figure, in the 1940’s. I love old photographs — pics planned and taken intentionally in the days before smart phone cameras turned all of us into amateur photographers.

As for the burger, my first glance told me it was going to be good. Wrapped in gingham paper, it looked great and smelled delicious. The meat patty was generous, the veggies fresh, and the bacon crisp. One bite is all it took to convince me that I had made the right call to take a detour into Ganado. The onion rings were mighty tasty as well.

I have to confess that I could not finish my burger, something that rarely happens. Delicious as it was, it was just far bigger than my appetite. I hated to walk away and leave the last third on the plate but, alas, I was stuffed and had no more room. I did manage to eat all of the onion rings, however.

All things considered, I am really glad to have discovered the Ganado Cafe and have added it to my list of places I would like to visit again. I hope that if you find yourself anywhere near Ganado at lunch time (or anytime) that you too will veer off the main road and wander down to this quaint small-town eatery. You will not be disappointed!

Terlingua Ranch Community Church

Terlingua Ranch is situated in the heart of Big Bend. This is rugged terrain by any measure, complete with iconic vistas that take your imagination captive. The Chihuahuan Desert with its distant purple-hued and silhouetted mesas is a beautiful place — but also one that demands respect. The flora and fauna that call this place home survive because they have adapted to the harsh environment.

The same can be said of the people who call Terlingua home. Folks out here know the challenges of living in a hard place. A combination of high levels of resiliency and resourcefulness are an absolute must. Determination and grit are also essential. And, as evidenced by old churches like the historic St. Agnes Church in Terlingua Ghost Town, faith also plays an important role.

On our recent visit to Dos Arbolitos, our off-grid property in the Big Bend Valley, Cheryl and I visited Terlingua Ranch Community Church. The church is located at the foot of a rocky hill on Church Road about a mile from the Terlingua Ranch headquarters. The small parking lot can accommodate a few vehicles and the hitching posts more than a few horses.

When we arrived, Pastor Hat Bailey greeted us warmly and invited us in. Ceiling fans turned slowly overhead, just enough to keep the place comfortable, as we took our seats on the wooden pew. But, just in case we needed a little more air, thy hymnal racks in front of us were stocked with funeral fans with a painting of Jesus as the Good Shepherd.

Pastor Hat (love his name) wore more than one hat. He led the singing, the prayer time, the observance of the Lord’s Supper, and also did the preaching. A tall, thin man with a soothing voice, he led with passion and conviction. His message on prayer was spot on — a really good word that reflected some deep thinking.

Afterward, we stayed around for a brief business meeting before joining Pastor Hat, Michael, and Beechie for lunch at the Bad Rabbit Cafe at the nearby Terlingua Ranch headquarters. We enjoyed hearing the stories of how each of these men ended up in Terlingua. Every one of us at the table have developed the same love for this amazing part of the Lone Star State.

We also learned that the church never locks its doors. That’s largely because the church has a modest little food pantry where locals in need can stop by to get a few cans of grub to help them make it through lean times. All they ask is that folks write down what they took so that the pantry can be restocked. Stuff you can eat right out of the can and that doesn’t really require cooking is best.

What was most obvious to us is how much Pastor Hat and our new friends love the people of Terlingua. While Terlingua Ranch Community Church is not and likely never will be a ”big” church, it is undeniably a church with a big heart. We look forward to visiting and worshiping again with our new friends.

Water Catchment at Dos Arbolitos

The Chihuahuan Desert is the largest desert in North America. One of the challenges of living off the grid in a desert region is water. Drilling wells is expensive, and in this part of the desert there is no guarantee that if you find water it will be entirely potable. Because of its geological past, there is the presence of brackish water throughout the Big Bend of Texas.

There are several sources of water in the Chihuahuan Desert, especially in Big Bend. The Rio Grande River, even in dry times, is an ever-reliable source of water. Terlingua Creek, a tributary of the Rio Grande, as well as desert streams and arroyos also do their part to help hydrate the flora and fauna of this arid region.

The annual rainfall in Big Bend is somewhere around 12-inches per year. For off-gridders in the area, this rainfall (even if intermittent) presents the opportunity to resupply their water catchment tanks. I know that 12-inches does not sound like a lot of rain, but 12-inches of rain captured on just 500 square feet of roofing can yield as many as 3,700 gallons of water.

One of the considerations when ordering our cabin was the roof. Like so many roofs in the Big Bend area, we have a standing seam metal roof on our cabin especially for the purpose of rain catchment. We also purchased a 1,125 gallon water catchment tank fed by seamless gutters. We calculate that 1-inch of rain on our 420 square foot roof will capture as many as 260 gallons of water.

In preparation for the placement of our water catchment tank, Cheryl and I built a raised pad of tamped earth and pea gravel held in place by treated lumber. I will later add railroad ties to countersunk trenches around the pad to further strengthen it.



The good folks at Green Desert Living did a great job of installing our seamless gutters and feeding them into our tank with 2-inch PVC pipe. And now, we wait for rain, any rain, to start the process of filling our tank.


Advice on water catchment that I have received from several neighbors is to capture more than we will need. Good advice. We have the option of adding additional water storage in the future and likely will do so.

One of the things we did during our first week in our cabin was to recycle and reuse every precious drop of water. We captured the water from our foot-pump sink and used it to fill the tank on our camp toilet. We used the water we emptied from our ice chest to refill the tank on our foot-pump sink and to refill the two-gallon container on our off-grid shower. We used safe gray water to water the small trees around our cabin.

It really is amazing how much you can get done if you ration and use water wisely. For example, we showered all week with about 5-gallons of water. My camp shower is efficient, got us clean, and helped us to do so with little water wasted. The same with our efficiently designed flushing camp toilet — 5-gallons took care of our needs all week.

Learning to live off the grid is about the wise use of all resources, especially water. We know we have a lot more to learn and are excited about this new adventure. We are having the time of our lives learning to do new, and hard things, in our sixties.

Never stop learning and doing hard things. This is the best way to stay young! And, in the words of Toby Keith’s song, “Don’t Let the Old Man In.” Thanks for following our adventure.

Our Off-Grid Cabin Delivered

“The health of the eye,” said Emerson, “seems to demand a horizon. We are never tired, so long as we can see far enough.” I think that is why I am drawn to the Big Bend of Texas. There is something about the expansive views in this wide part of the state that is hard to put into words — but that the heart understands.

Almost a year and a half has passed since we bought our little place in Terlingua Ranch. When we first set foot on what was to become our property, Cheryl and I were instantly captivated by the beauty of the surrounding mesas and mountains. Rising above a sea of creosote bushes and stands of ocotillo stretching spiny fingers toward the sky, these distant vistas made our eyes feel good, really good.

This past week we took another big step in our off-grid journey — the delivery of our cabin. We bought a Derksen cabin from the good folks at Green Desert Living. We added some larger windows to enjoy the views of Black Hill and Nine Point Mesa, two of the most iconic landmarks in the Big Bend Valley.

The delivery of the cabin went without a hitch. Johnny, the delivery guy, maneuvered the cabin with total precision into the area I had cleared on my previous visit to the property. Our larger windows look out toward Nine Point Mesa to the East and our front porch faces Red Bluff and the Christmas Mountains to the South.

Our neighbors, Joe and Lisa, showed up to watch the delivery. Joe has a YouTube Channel called Full Vegan on which he chronicles their off-grid journey in the Big Bend Valley. I have followed them from the start. Joe and Lisa have acquired many off-grid talents. Joe included some footage of our place on his post entitled Deliveries in the Valley at 5 minutes and 35 seconds into the video.

Joe helped me get our air conditioner set up and then wired our generator to the electrical box on our cabin. We will use the generator during the day until we get our solar panels and batteries installed. Loved having cool air during the hottest part of the day. The nights were remarkably pleasant.

Cheryl and I spent the week working on the inside of our cabin. We insulated all of the walls and added sheetrock. I will return later to frame out our bathroom and to tape, float, texture and add wainscoting. We also got a lot done outside the cabin. We are shredding the dead stuff around the property to experiment with making our own mulch and compost.

Perhaps the best part of the day came after all of the hard work. We loved sitting on the front porch, enjoying the evening breeze as the light of day faded and the evening stars and the Milky Way made their appearance. There are no words to describe the beauty of the night sky in Big Bend, regarded one of the darkest places in the nation. The night sky is absolutely crowded with stars.

We are loving our adventure at Dos Arbolitos. Some might not understand what it is about the Chihuahuan Desert that we find so enchanting. A Terlingua Proverb sums it up best: From the outside looking in, you don’t understand it. From the inside looking out, you can’t explain it. We are definitely happy and blessed to be on the inside looking out. Loving the adventure.

The Cheerful Black-Eyed Susan

I love wildflowers. On a recent bike ride down the bayou trails in Katy, my path was flanked by blankets of cheerful Black-Eyed Susan flowers. And even though this happy little plant was adopted as the state flower of Maryland in 1918, I am happy that it has found a home in the Lone Star State as well. Here are five quick facts about this sunny flower.

1. This flower has a very interesting name.
The scientific name of this flower is Rudbeckia, in honor of Olaus Rudbeck, a famous Swedish botanist who died in 1702. How cool to have a cheerful flower and not a weed named after you. As for its common name, no one really knows for certain where it came from. In some circles it is referred to as the Brown-Eyed Susan or Gloriosia Daisy.

2. This happy flower comes from a cheerful family.
The Black-Eyed Susan has the characteristics of a daisy. That’s because it is a member of the daisy family, hence the name Gloriosia Daisy. It most commonly appears dressed in various shades of yellow but also in golden and orange shades as well, each variety with its distinctive dark centers. Like a daisy, its brightly-colored petals just make me smile.

3. Native Americans found medicinal value in this plant.

Like so many other plants, the Black-Eyed Susan has medicinal value. American Indians used the root of the plant to make a tea to treat for worms. They also consumed this tea to treat cold and flu symptoms. Juice made from the root was also used to treat earaches. They processed other parts of the plant to wash sores and to treat snakebites and swelling, making this happy plant a helpful one as well.

4. This cheerful flower is attractive to pollinators.
Butterflies and bees love the Black-Eyed Susan and serve as the main pollinators of this plant. Birds, deer, rabbits, and other wildlife are drawn to this plant as a source of food. Birds especially enjoy the ripe seeds found in the eye or cone of the plant. Black-Eyed Susan also serves as a nursery. The Silvery Checkerspot butterfly lays its eggs on the plant. The petals then serve as a source of food for the caterpillars after hatching.

5. Variety is the spice of life.
The versatile and drought-resistant Black-Eyed Susan plants are at home in prairies and meadows as well as home gardens. There are an estimated 90 varieties of Black-Eyed Susan, many cultivated for use in bouquets of flowers. Varieties include Indian Summer, Goldstrum, and Denver Daisies to name a few. Cut flowers added to a bouquet of flowers will easily last a week or longer.

Site Prep Work at Dos Arbolitos

Finding time to travel from Katy to Dos Arbolitos, our off-grid property in Big Bend, is not always easy — but it is necessary. This week I made a quick trip to our little slice of heaven in the Chihuahuan Desert. Only in Texas can you refer to a 10-hour one way trip as quick.

Because Dos Arbolitos is just shy of 600-miles from our front door, we have to make every trip count and get as much done as possible. The top two things on my list this week were to order our cabin and to do the site prep work on our property. Getting our cabin on the property is the next step in our unfolding off-grid adventure.

Cheryl and I decided to purchase a made-to-order Derksen cabin. After lots of research and personally walking in and out of lots of different models, we settled on what we wanted. Fortunately for us, Green Desert Living, a Derksen dealer located on Highway 118 between Alpine and Terlingua, is just a few miles from our property. Really nice and knowledgeable folks!
We ordered a 14 x 30 foot painted cabin from Green Desert Living. We added some bigger windows on what will be the East side of our cabin in order to enjoy the views of Nine Point Mesa and Black Hill. We also added the electrical package that will allow us to tie in to our solar panels. The metal roof will drain into seamless gutters that will channel rainfall into our water catchment container.

In order to get ready for delivery of our cabin in July, I had to take advantage of my time to do the site prep work. I could have paid a guy to bring in a dozer to clear the spot where we want to place our cabin. Instead, I opted to save some money by doing the work myself. Fortunately for me, a brief rain on Monday softened the ground just enough to make my land-clearing job just a little easier.

After a day and a half of hard work under the hot Chihuahuan Desert sun, I finished the task. The site is now cleared and accessible and fairly level. The front door of our cabin will face South toward Red Bluff. Once the cabin is on-site, then Cheryl and I will work to finish the inside a little at a time. Our goal is to make our little place cozy and comfortable.

We are excited about finally having a place that will allow us to stay on-site when we visit our property. This will make it possible for us to save money when we visit. The thought of getting to stay at Dos Arbolitos where we can cook our own meals, sleep in own bed (cots in the meantime), enjoy the magnificent views of the surrounding mesas and mountains, and look up into the most awe-inspiring sky at night is a really good feeling.

Cheryl and I are excited to watch things unfold in such a good way. We are grateful for the gift of Dos Arbolitos and hope to enjoy many good days there for years to come. Thanks for following our adventure.

Water for Dos Arbolitos

Dos Arbolitos, our off-grid property in the Big Bend Valley section of Terlingua Ranch offers some of the most spectacular views of the surrounding mesas and mountains. Evenings come complete with breathtaking sunsets followed by dark skies brush-stroked with the unmistakable shades of the Milky Way.

The one thing we don’t have on our little slice of the Chihuahuan Desert is a well or running water. No worries! Water is available. A lot of the folks doing the off-grid lifestyle in Big Bend depend on water catchment. And even though this area only gets an average rainfall of twelve inches a year, it is possible to harvest lots of water.

Water harvesting starts with having a metal roof that drains into gutters that channel rainfall into water storage containers. One inch of rainfall on 600 square feet of roofing can yield almost 400 gallons of water. Not bad! That is why it is important to have all of the rainwater harvesting components in place.

Cheryl and I hope to have our little cabin on site in a few months - complete with metal roof. Our first priority will be to have seamless gutters installed so that we can harvest rainfall. We will start with our 330-gallon container and then add another 750 to 1,000 gallons of storage. In the meantime, we will install two 55-gallon containers to capture any overflow from our 330-gallon container.

In order to have access to our water, I added spigots to our 55-gallon containers — a fun do-it-yourself project that took less than an hour to complete. Here are the simple steps to adding a spigot to a rain barrel.

I started by cleaning out the container which was previously used to store soap. Then I measured a line from one of the access ports on the top of the barrel down the side to the bottom of the barrel. I then used a 1⅜ paddle bit to drill a hole four inches up from the bottom to allow room for the spigot and attaching a water hose.

I lowered a piece of rope from the access port on top and fished out the rope through the hole I drilled at the bottom. I then slid the inside half of a bulkhead fitting down the rope, fished the threaded end through the hole at the bottom, and then threaded the outside half of the fitting and tightened it. This fitting uses a lefty-tighty configuration.

Once I tightened the bulkhead fitting, I wrapped the male end of the spigot with teflon tape and threaded it onto the fitting and tightened it with a wrench. That’s it! I added some water into the barrel to test and make sure there were no leaks and then turned on the spigot. Worked beautifully! Since this is a gravity-fed spigot, the water flowed slowly but surely. I added a bead of silicone around the fittings as a final measure to prevent any leaks.

These barrels will buy us a little time as we take the next steps and consider exactly what size water storage container we will add later in the year. We should have plenty of water for our occasional visits and also to give the surrounding trees a little drink as well.

Cheryl and I are definitely enjoying our new adventure and learning along the way. We look forward to many years of enjoying the mesas and mountains and Milky Way at Dos Arbolitos. Thanks for following our adventure.

Spring in the Chihuahuan Desert

Evidence of spring is everywhere to be seen in the Lone Star State. This is absolutely my favorite time of the year as the state begins to yawn and stretch and to wake up after its long winter slumber, such as winter may be in Texas.

The dull of winter is starting to give away to the most amazing palettes of color. Trees are shedding their dull and shabby winter coats and putting on their finest greens. This is also the season when Texas rewards us with bouquets of bluebonnets and bunches of wildflowers.

The signature of spring is scrawled across Texas — from the Panhandle to the Rio Grande Valley and from Houston to El Paso. The vast Chihuahuan Desert in the Trans-pecos is no exception. Even there you can see the most amazing colors as wildflowers make their brief debut among chaparral and cactus.

Our Spring-break road trip to our little place in the Big Bend Valley did not disappoint. Of the five species of bluebonnets in Texas, Big Bend is home to lupinus havardii — the largest of the species. The Big Bend bluebonnet grows up to three feet tall and made a proud showing this year.

Highway 118 just north of Terlingua was flanked with the most amazing blankets of blue rising above swaying native grasses. For any true-blooded Texan, bluebonnets just do something inside of us — triggering a mixture of pride and awe and overall feeling of wow, just wow!


In addition to bluebonnets, the desert was ablaze with all sorts of color. Desert marigold added its beautiful golden hue to the desert floor. This desert beauty begins to flower in March and will continue to bloom off and on until November — a beautiful gift to an arid landscape.

Clusters of other desert beauties, including the purple mock vervain, each contribute their respective beauty to the landscape. Moisture, the desert’s alarm clock, is all it takes to wake them up and get them dressed to make their colorful appearance.

There is something soothing about wildflowers. They are good for the soul. Like old friends who happen along at just the right time, wildflowers can make us smile and just feel good about being alive. So, if you have not yet ventured out to enjoy your part of Texas, make sure that you do so as soon as possible. Enjoy the bluebonnets and the colors that make Texas even more amazing in the springtime.

Road Trip to Egypt

When it comes to planning a day trip I prefer scrutinizing a paper map to find the most interesting place names — and then seeing how I can get there off the beaten path. Texas has no shortage of places with fascinating monikers. And getting to those places makes for some really good windshield time.
Some names on the map are nothing more than “if you blink you will miss them” kind of spots. Almost always you can find evidence of what life was like there in years gone by — things like old cemeteries or long abandoned buildings slowly being eroded by the passage of time.
That’s how I came across Egypt, the oldest community in Wharton County. When I spotted the name on my map I couldn’t resist the temptation to head that way, especially because I have visited the “real” Egypt several times. So, off to the Egypt in Texas it was.
The original settlement was started in 1892 by Eli Mercer at the place where the road from Matagorda to Columbus crossed the San Felipe−Texana Road. Mercer operated a ferry across the Colorado River at that spot, hence the name Mercer’s Crossing.
The fertile soil in the area made Mercer’s Crossing a great place to farm. Farmers planted corn, cotton, and even sugar cane. During a severe drought, the farmers in the area supplied corn to surrounding settlements. As a result, folks started referring to Mercer’s Crossing as Egypt and the name stuck.
In November 1835, the Republic of Texas opened a post office in Egypt with Eli Mercer as postmaster. The US Postal Service still operates a post office in Egypt. Texas history attests to the role Egypt played in the pre-independence days of the Lone Star State. During the early days of the republic, many prominent Texans lived in Egypt.


Today, the population of Egypt is in the double-digits. Many former residents, including several from the earliest days of Texas, are buried in the old cemetery. It is worth taking some time to walk slowly among the old headstones. So much history here.


You will find some fascinating old buildings in Egypt as well as a colorful billboard mural in front of the old mill. Some of the old families remain to this day, continuing a long family tradition of farming. Considering the beauty of the countryside here, it’s no wonder that some folks have chosen to stay in Egypt.
As Texans we are fortunate to have so many miles of backroads that wind their way through the history of our great state. Make sure to take some time to get out and explore the places near you. You might want to start by buying a paper map of the Lone Star State as you plan your next adventure.

Our 2019 First Day Hike

John Muir is regarded as our nation’s most famous and influential conservationist. He inspired the people of his generation to experience and to protect what later became some of our country’s largest national parks. Muir famously said, “Of all the paths you take in life, make sure a few of them are dirt.”
There is indeed something therapeutic about taking a dirt path. Dirt paths give us access to vistas that most folks who opt to live life on tarmac never see. Those of us who live in the Lone Star State are fortunate to have 95 state parks — each with their respective dirt paths.
Today, my wife Cheryl and I participated in one of the many First Day Hikes offered by the Texas Parks and Wildlife folks. This year we chose to hike at Stephen F. Austin State Park just thirty-minutes west of our home in Katy. This is one of my favorite parks for hiking and biking.
The First Day Hikes program is a cooperative initiative among the nation’s state parks to get more people outside. Since its inception a few years ago, thousands of people across the United States have logged tens of thousands of miles on park trails.
Cheryl and I spent the morning strolling down trails at Stephen F. Austin. Cheryl is a Texas Master Naturalist, so we stopped a lot to look at and to talk about the flora along the trails. We also enjoyed looking at white tail deer and other wildlife. I learn something every time we hike together.
Our walk reminded me of something David Henry Thoreau said: “An early-morning walk is a blessing for the whole day” — and indeed it was. Taking dirt paths has therapeutic value. New research is showing that exposure to natural environments actually improves physical and emotional health. I believe it. I always feel better in every way after a good long trek through the woods.
As you look to the year ahead, make sure to schedule some time to walk down a dirt path. When you do so, make sure that you walk slowly, listen carefully, observe intentionally, and breathe deeply. Take my word for it, the walk will do you a lot of good — probably more than you may realize.