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.

Our First Year at Dos Arbolitos

As the year draws to a close, it’s hard to believe that our journey to develop our little off-grid property in the Big Bend Valley section of Terlingua Ranch started only ten months ago. We still can’t believe that we own a few acres situated right smack in the middle of some of the most amazing views in Texas.
The really cool thing is that all of the views of the distant mesas and mountains, of the magnificent sunrises and indescribable sunsets, and of the starry, starry nights are all free of charge. Every time we visit our little place we still shake our heads in awe as we breathe in the wonder of it all.
One of the first things we did was to set a timeline of things we wanted to see happen before the first anniversary of our purchase. First on that list was to have our acreage officially surveyed and then to file that survey along with all requisite legal documents at the Brewster Country Courthouse and at the Tax Office. Done.
Once our survey was completed we arranged to have our turnaround (basically our driveway) done. Watching the yellow Caterpillar sculpt our turnaround out of the desert floor was so much fun. As the big blade scraped away the creosote, it was easy to start imagining what this place can look like. The best part of its all was finally having access onto our property which sits a little more than a foot higher than the road.
Cheryl and I opted to fence in our place, mainly to keep critters out when we camp. Enter an amazing group of friends who made two trips with me to get the job done. I loved every minute of the fencing. I certainly learned a lot about putting in posts that are straight and stretching wire and all of the others things that make for a fence that should outlast me by a hundred years.
The final project we wanted to complete before the end of the year was purchasing and having a cargo container shipped to Dos Arbolitos. Earlier this month we purchased a container from Far West Texas Container Sales in El Paso and had it delivered two days after Christmas. Having a place to store some tools and future building supplies is a big plus. Tom, with the container company, took good care of us and helped us each step of the way from purchase to arranging delivery.
Cheryl and I drove out to Dos Arbolitos in the wee morning hours of the day after Christmas. We had to get a site cleared before the container arrived. So, we drove all night and worked all day but got the job done. The following morning, we met Mando, the freight company driver, in the parking lot of McCoys Building Supplies in Alpine.


Mando was kind enough to let us load some railroad ties and lumber for shelving onto his truck. Once we arrived at Dos Arbolitos and showed Mando where we wanted the container, he helped us get the railroad ties in position and then he placed the container on the ties. He was spot on and positioned it perfectly.


Cheryl and I spent the rest of our time building shelves and a small workbench inside the container. The best part was getting to leave our work stuff in the container and not having to haul it back to our home in Katy. And we still have so much room to store lumber as we look ahead to starting work on our little cabin next year.
So, the past ten months have been a fun journey. We can’t wait for the day when we will actually have a little cabin with solar power and water catchment where we can sit and enjoy our bazillion dollar views. But, until then, we are enjoying every minute of the journey — of watching our dream unfold just a little bit at a time.

We still have so much work to do and are pretty happy about that. It’s fun for us to do this together and with the help of good friends who are willing to drive across the state to lend a hand. Everywhere we look we see the kindness of God — a kindness expressed in practical ways through the hands of those who have blessed us with their presence and their hard work at Dos Arbolitos.

Thanks for following our adventure. We can’t wait to see what the New Year will bring.

Junction Burger Company

Ever on the search for the next good burger, my hunger intersected with Junction on my last road trip. There was no way I was going to drive another hour or even half-hour for lunch. I was hungry and my stomach insisted I stop at the nearest burger joint. So, I consulted my phone and learned I was within minutes of the Junction Burger Company.

Problem solved. That’s where I would eat lunch.

Junction is a cool little town located west of San Antonio along Interstate 10. It sits among some of the most beautiful scenery in the Texas Hill Country. Founded in 1876, the town was named Junction for its location at the confluence of the North and South Llano Rivers. Today, it is regarded as one of the state’s leading deer-hunting counties.

The Junction Burger Company was easy to find — located in a modest boxy building on Main Street just a short distance south of the interstate. I always get excited when I pull into a new burger joint. With my stomach growling, I was more than ready to chow down on a juicy burger.

Although the Heart Attack Burger was tempting, I opted for my usual bacon cheeseburger and a side of french fries. This time I ordered a cold root beer instead of tea. I was so hungry and really wanted for this burger to be good — no, better than good!

Well, suffice it to say that Junction Burger came through. Not only was my burger good, it was better than better than good. The crumbly patty was cooked to perfection, the bun was delicious and moist, the bacon was crispy. What more could a hungry man ask for? This burger did not disappoint. In fact, I regard to as one of the tastier burgers I have eaten since I started my Lone Star burger adventures.

I know that there are easier and quicker options to sate my appetite when on a Texas road trip. But it’s not about quick. It’s about the adventure of discovering another good burger eatery. It’s about meeting hometown folks who take great pride in making a delicious burger. And it’s about adding a measure of quality to a road trip that makes the journey from here to there all the more enjoyable.

Bottom line — my experience at Junction Burger Company was good, really good. There is no doubt in my mind that this is a burger joint I will visit again. I hope that if your travels take you anywhere near Junction you will stop by and check out Junction Burger for yourself. I think you and your taste buds will agree that you made the right choice.

All Fenced In

By now, those of you who follow my blog are familiar with Dos Arbolitos. That’s the name my wife and I gave to our little tract of land in the Big Bend Valley section of Terlingua Ranch. It’s really too small to be called a ranch or even a ranchette for that matter. But to us, it’s our small slice of heaven on earth.
Purchased less than a year ago, we have made every ten-hour drive from our home in Katy to Dos Arbolitos count. This month my fencing friends and I made the trek to far west Texas with our supply laden trailer in tow to finish fencing Dos Arbolitos. We departed Katy at 2:00 AM and arrived at the front gate before noon.
We wasted no time because we only had a day and a half to get the job done. So, we set up camp and then each took ownership of specific tasks and got to work. My wife Cheryl and I had put in all but four of the remaining cedar posts on our trip to Dos Arbolitos in November.
Our first order of business was to put in the remaining cedar posts as well as almost a hundred t-posts. Pounding in t-posts and keeping them straight is a task in and of itself. But, we got it done. Between the cedar posts and t-posts, the fence will have good bones and should easily outlast my lifetime.

Once we finished pounding in the t-posts, we stretched several 330-foot rolls of welded wire fencing. As I noted in a previous post, our intent is not to keep anything in but rather to keep any pesky critters on the other side of the fence. We then topped the welded wire with a single strand of barbed wire.
Fortunately, the weather was amazing. With forty-degree nights and seventy-degree days, we worked long hours with no problems. One of the best things about this final fencing trek was sitting around the campfire in the evenings. The night sky in Big Bend is indescribably beautiful. We mostly sat quiet and watched the flames dance under the Milky Way.

With the fencing completed, I am now turning my attention to some type of storage unit for the tools we need to keep at the property. It will be exciting to watch this next phase unfold. At this time I don’t know if we will purchase a unit or build one from scratch. Still researching and looking at the most cost-effective options.
Our little sub-ranchette has already become a fun getaway destination. Cheryl and I are excited about watching this dream become reality. We are enjoying the journey. We know it will take time for all of this to happen but, in the meantime, we are having the time of our lives. We find ourselves talking a lot about the place and bouncing ideas off each other.

Thanks for following our adventure as our Dos Arbolitos story slowly unfolds. It will be fun to look back years from now and reflect on the journey. We want to make sure that we make lots of good memories that we will enjoy for a lifetime.

Salas Better Burger

When it comes to finding a delicious burger, I am drawn to places that have been around for a while — in buildings that show the wear and tear caused by lots of local customers. Neighborhood eateries that have passed the test of time are the best. They have survived because they serve consistently good food.
While traveling home from far west Texas, I found just such a place in Del Rio. Salas Better Burger is just slightly off the beaten path. Housed in a modest box of a building in the middle of a worn-out parking lot, a steady stream of neighborhood patrons flowed in and out the door.

Located some 150-miles west of San Antonio on Highway 90, Del Rio is situated just north of the Rio Grande River. Its sister town of Ciuad Acuña is located on the Mexican side of the border. Visitors come here to enjoy time on Lake Amistad, the third largest lake in Texas, to see the amazing petroglyphs at Seminole Canyon State Park, or to enjoy other outdoor pursuits.
Salas is an unpretentious place that has perfected their burger making. Look up to see the menu, place your order, and wait for the staff to call your name and hand you your order in a white paper sack. It’s that easy.

I ordered my usual bacon cheeseburger with a side of fries and iced tea. My buddies and I sat at one of the picnic tables out front because all of the tables inside were taken. No problem. We were all starving. And having just spent a few days in tents, eating at a picnic table was actually an upgrade for us.
My burger was tasty. Really delicious. I was happy about that. I was not there to eat some fancy gourmet burger, just a burger that lived up to the advert on the sign — a better burger. And this burger lived up to the promise. The fries were pretty delicious as well.
I like places like Salas - places whose cooks are as seasoned as the grill and who deliver on their promises. Better burgers are made by folks who actually care about what they do. That’s why Salas has been around for so many years and will likely stay around for many more. If you find yourself anywhere near Del Rio at lunchtime, make your way over to Salas and enjoy a better burger.