Turning Our Dream Into Reality

In March of this year, my wife Cheryl and I purchased a few acres of land in the Big Bend Valley section of Terlingua Ranch. We named our little place Dos Arbolitos. We feel fortunate to own a little piece of the Chihuahuan Desert and all of the sky that comes with it free of charge.

Last month, a few of my buddies joined me to start fencing Dos Arbolitos. We were able to complete the front section of fence, including the gate. We also set and tensioned all of the corner posts and added bracing at the midway points of each property line.
Last week, I returned alone to Dos Arbolitos to camp out and to clear the brush along our property lines. This next step had to be completed in order to make it possible to finish the fencing in the coming weeks. With the boundary lines clear, we will have an easier time of setting the cedar and t-posts and then stretching and securing the welded wire fencing.

I don’t mind admitting that clearing brush is hard, especially when working alone. The before and after pics tell the story. The scratches on my body tell the rest of the story. And the feeling of satisfaction in my heart completes the story. So happy to have this phase finished.

One thing I am learning is that even though we have a small piece of property, there is always something that needs doing. I find myself thinking about the next project when my brain has a minute to slow down or when I go to bed at night. There is so much to think about and so much I am learning.
At sixty-two, I could have found an easier path — maybe road-road-tripping around the state. Instead, I am glad that I have something hard to do, something that challenges me to learn how to do things I have never done before. In my spare time I find myself reading about solar power and water catchment and desert flora and about all kinds of off-grid stuff.
The process of turning our dream of a desert getaway into reality is happening slowly but surely — a nickel and dime at a time. Dos Arbolitos is more than 600-miles from our comfortable suburban home in Katy. It’s a long haul to get there. We know it’s going to take lots of trips between dream and reality.

Every trip requires lots of planning. We have to make sure we have everything we need in order to complete a project because forgetting something means having to drive a long way to the nearest town for supplies. We make and check our supply lists at least twice.
One thing is certain, we are enjoying the journey. It’s fun to dream and to dream again — to draw up plans, rethink them, and then refine and draw them again. Every trip to Dos Arbolitos gets us a step closer to the day we will have our little place where we can get away to drink in the quiet, breathe in the refreshing desert air, and take in the spectacular views.

Thanks for following our adventure of making our little dream come true.

Fencing Dos Arbolitos

Standing behind the counter of the Little Burro Country Store located a few miles north of Terlingua, Betty greeted me with a friendly Texas howdy as I walked in. This little supply depot is where we turn east off of Highway 118 to get to Dos Arbolitos, our little place in the Big Bend Valley section of Terlingua Ranch.

I asked Betty if she had Texas roots. She did not. Curious, I asked how she ended up in one of the most remote parts of the Lone Star State if not the world. Without missing a beat she replied rather matter-of-factly, “My husband and I tossed a coin!” That was not what I expected to hear.

I wanted to know more. Betty explained the she and her husband were looking for a change and considered moving to either Alaska or the Big Bend of Texas. The rest is history. Big Bend won the coin toss and they have been here ever since — with no regrets.

There is a lot that is hard to put into words about this wide part of Texas. And while the folks who call the Chihuahuan Desert home all have a story about how they ended up here, they all share one thing in common — a hard to explain love for wide open spaces, vast skies, and views that just make your heart feel good.
The views, among other things, are what led Cheryl and me to look in this direction for a little plot of desert on which to build an off-grid get-away. And while our place is not at all big by Big Bend standards, it does give us access to million dollar vistas.
This past week, a few friends and I made the long trek from Katy to Dos Arbolitos to start the first phase of our fencing project. The fence is not designed to keep anything in but rather to keep curious and possibly pesky critters on the other side. And the fence will be low-profile so as to not obstruct any views.



This whole fencing thing is new to me which is what really got me excited. I loved learning to do something I have never done before. And that is exactly what happened. My friends Selim, Mike, Phillip and I worked under the guidance of our friend James - who actually knows what he is doing when it comes to building fences. We worked some really long hours to get the job done and together we accomplished what we set out to do.


The best part of this adventure was sharing the experience with friends. We camped on location, set up a bathroom and shower tent, cooked under a canopy, worked hard all day, and enjoyed some of the most spectacular sunsets any of us have ever seen. And the night skies — beyond beautiful!

After a couple of days of clearing brush, digging post holes, tensioning corners, driving t-posts, hanging a gate, and stretching welded wire, we completed phase one of our fencing project. I estimate it will take about three to five more trips to finish the work. But, no matter. Cheryl and I are absolutely enjoying the journey as our dream of a little getaway slowly blossoms into reality — one step and a few dollars at a time.
We understand that the Chihuahuan Desert is not for everybody, but it is a special place for us and made even more so because of the kindness of friends. I will continue to chronicle our progress at Dos Arbolitos. Thanks for following our adventure.

Purple Prickly Pear

At first glance, the Chihuahuan Desert appears as little more than a vast ocean of undulating waves of creosote crashing against striking outcrops of silhouetted bluffs along the distant horizon. The desert is, however, much more than that. Those who take the time to look beyond the ubiquitous creosote will discover a botanically rich and colorful environment bursting with life.
Most folks are familiar with the prickly pear, one of the most easily identifiable plants in the Trans-Pecos. There is, however, a variety of prickly pear that is found only in the Big Bend region of the Lone Star Stare — the purple prickly pear. Its scientific name is opuntia azurea. Spanish speakers call this distinctive cactus coyotillo or nopal coyotillo.
Because the purple prickly pear is endemic to the Big Bend region, it is also referred to as the Big Bend prickly pear. Intensely beautiful yellow flowers grace this plant from March through May and then are followed by juicy and edible red/purple fruits. As the plant ages, its long spines turn from golden or reddish to almost black.
I recently found several purple prickly pear plants at Dos Arbolitos, our little place in the Big Bend Valley region of Terlingua Ranch. I am working to identify all of the plants, shrubs, and trees on our property and am committed to learning how to nurture and care for them. Having purple prickly pear on our acreage is an added bonus.
If you have an opportunity to visit the Big Bend region of Texas, take the time to walk slowly along hiking trails and look for the small things that make the Chihuahuan Desert a really beautiful place. I think you will agree that there is much more to the desert than you ever realized.

Sunset at Dos Arbolitos

I have been in a hurry for as long as I can remember — at least in regard to the adult years of my life. I have lived my life in fast forward for so long that I am actually a bit fearful of slowing down. Don’t ask me why because I can’t explain it. On the bright side, however, I am convicted by the thought that God did not design us to live life dazed and out of breath because of incessant hustling.

That said, I do try to intentionally build periods of adventure into my schedule. Opting outside has proven to be very good medicine for me. There is something unmistakably therapeutic about the outdoors. Fresh air, beautiful vistas, and even muscles aching from strenuous activity somehow trigger my internal reset button. Perhaps that is why I can’t seem to get enough of the outdoors.

This past week, my wife Cheryl and I have been hard at work outdoors. Earlier this year we purchased a few acres of land in one of our favorite places in Texas — Big Bend. For the first time since signing on the dotted line, Cheryl had the opportunity to return with me to Dos Arbolitos, our little slice of heaven on earth. With our property officially surveyed, we couldn’t wait to start piddling around on our place — or at least piddling with a purpose.
We drove across the state with a list of things we wanted to accomplish. Until we decide on what kind of tiny house we will build we have plenty of other things that need attention. Our first order of business was to identify all of the trees on the property that have the potential to accentuate our place with their own natural beauty. We marked more than forty trees we would like to nurture.
We started with the mesquite trees located on or near our turnaround. When it comes to mesquites, folks either love them or hate them. As for me, I love mesquites. The mesquite is the tree of my youth. They are rugged, defiant, grow in whatever way suits them, and are hard to kill. Every mesquite is unique because of the way it grows in response to the challenges of its environment. I love that about mesquites.
Because the annual rainfall in the Chihuahuan Desert is only a few inches per year, we wanted to give our trees a little advantage. So, we pruned all of the sucker branches and scooped out the ground around the perimeter drip line of each tree. This way, when it does rain, each tree will have its respective water catchment basin. This should give these trees a little growth advantage in their tough desert home.
Cheryl and I worked from early morning to sunset. We set up our canopy, camp chairs, and ice chest packed with electrolyte drinks and food and then worked like Trojans. The absolutely best part of the day was watching the sun go down and then waiting for the first stars to grace the expansive night sky. The colors at sunset in the desert are beyond amazing. There is no way to describe the magnificent colors painted on the canvas above layers of rugged mountains in the distance. Each sunset in the Big Bend is indeed a masterpiece.
Sunset at Dos Arbolitos was everything we imagined it would be and more. Getting to watch a magnificent thunderstorm move across the Big Bend Valley one afternoon was an added bonus.  We can’t wait to come back later this year to continue our labor of love and to just slow down and unwind in what is truly the great outdoors — the Big Bend of Texas. We are beyond refreshed, unquestionably blessed, and excited to watch our Dos Arbolitos adventure continue to unfold.

The Strawberry Cactus

I am struck by the singular beauty of the Chihuahuan Desert. I really can’t explain why. It’s just something I feel deeply inside — something that causes me to be silent and, for lack of a better word, reverent.

While some may look at a vast desert landscape and regard it as nothing more than a hard and mournful kingdom of sand and rock and shrubs, it is indeed much more than that. The desert is a canvas on which the beauty and resilience of life is on display.

Anything that can survive and even thrive in the desert has my deepest respect and admiration. It is these survivors that each lend their respective beauty to the desert, some in ways more obvious than others. Among my favorites is the strawberry cactus.
The strawberry cactus is one of the most beautiful of desert plants. Its name is derived from the strawberry-flavored fruit that it produces. Its appearance has also earned it numerous aliases, including strawberry hedgehog, hedgehog cactus, porcupine hedgehog, straw-colored hedgehog, and pitaya.
While the desert intimidates other plants, the strawberry cactus is at home in the harsh environment of the Chihuahuan Desert. This hardy specimen can be found in most areas of Big Bend, from the low desert to mountain slopes as high as 5,000 feet.
The strawberry cactus grows in clumps that can be several feet in diameter. Throughout spring and early summer, these clumps are adorned with large and colorful flowers. The distinctively beautiful magenta flowers make the strawberry cactus easy to identify.
The reddish-purple fruit of the strawberry cactus ripens in July. Before eating it’s important to remove the thorns. The fruit has a tart-flavored taste that is similar to that of strawberries, hence the name. The fruit of the strawberry cactus has been a favorite of desert-dwellers for generations.
The next time you drive across the Chihuahuan Desert make it a point to look more carefully at the plants that call this wide part of Texas home. They are there because they are tough — and they each make a special contribution to life in the desert. Look carefully and you too will see a distinctive and singular beauty in desert places.

Surveying Dos Arbolitos

Beauty is indeed in the eyes of the beholder. And when it comes to Texas, I especially love the beauty of the Trans-Pecos — where the sprawling Chihuahuan Desert paints the landscape with brushstrokes hundreds of miles long. This wide part of the Lone Star State is not every Texans cup of tea. But for me, there is a beauty here that is hard to explain.
A few months ago, my wife and I purchased a few acres of land in the Big Bend Valley section of Terlingua Ranch. Our little slice of Texas is located between Big Bend National Park and Big Bend Ranch State Park, two of the most beautiful places on the planet. We have named our place Dos Arbolitos, the subject of an earlier blog.
Our intent is not to retire at Dos Arbolitos but rather to have a place where we can occasionally get away from it all — a place so quiet we should be able to hear the sun coming up in the morning and so dark we should be able to see the Milky Way bisecting the night sky. We are beyond thrilled to have visual access to some of the most amazing views of the Big Bend from Dos Arbolitos.

This past week we were able to check off two more important items on our checklist as we take baby steps to develop our property. The first of these was to get our property surveyed in order to identify our corners. My friend Gil Harris accompanied me to Dos Arbolitos to meet the surveyor.
We agreed to meet the surveyor at the Little Burro Country Store at the corner of Highway 118 and American Legion Road, the dirt road that leads back to Dos Arbolitos. While we waited we enjoyed some great conversation on the front porch of the store with the Deputy and some of the locals. One things for sure, folks in the area are pretty friendly.

Relaxing and chatting on the porch at Little Burro got me to thinking about the absence of front porches on homes today. I think that we lost something special when we abandoned our front porches and opted to do all of life inside of our comfortable homes. The conversation and interaction of years gone by has been replaced by so many high-tech distractions inside our homes.

A porch is definitely on our to-do list for whatever tiny home structure we build at Dos Arbolitos. Since our place is so remote, we will depend on solar power (available in abundance) and rain catchment. So, no distractions — just plenty of opportunities to sit on the porch and feel the warm desert breeze.
But, back to our survey. Our surveyor set up his very cool equipment which connects with satellites and marked our corners to within an inch. He drove his markers into the ground and Gil and I added T-posts to more easily see the corners from anywhere on the property. As soon as I get our Metes and Bounds document I will file those papers at the Brewster County Courthouse in Alpine.
The second key thing I was able to check off our list was getting our turnaround cut into the property. This will give us easy access from the dirt road that runs north and south on the west side of our property. Dennis, who operated the heavy equipment, helped me identify the best location for the turnaround as well as a potential site for future building.
Something transformative happened when Dennis drove his big rig onto the property and began to clear land. Seeing the creosote bushes scraped away and the mesquite trees exposed made it much easier to visualize the potential of our little place. I can’t wait to go back to trim trees and arrange for phase one of the project which will be a permanent shade awning that will become an outdoor cooking and seating area.
So, the adventure continues. Cheryl and I know that it will take time for all of the pieces to come together and are committed to inching along at a pay-as-we-go pace. We don’t want to incur any debt in the process. So, if that means doing things a bit slower, that’s ok. We will enjoy the journey.
I will continue to post updates on the development of Dos Arbolitos. Hopefully my posts will be helpful to others who are considering owning their own little slice of heaven in Texas and developing it on a budget.

Special thanks to my friend Matt Probsfelt for taking the photo of the sunrise over Nine Point Mesa to the east of our property and the drone photo of Dos Arbolitos.

Guadalupe Peak 4.0

I stood at the top of Texas for the very first time four years ago. In search of my next adventure, I had researched Guadalupe Peak and then set off to solo hike to the summit on a cold December morning. And what an amazing adventure it was!

I summited Guadalupe Peak a second time and then a third time after bushwhacking to the summit of El Capitan. Since I was in the neighborhood and so close to the peak, a buddy and I decided to go for the peak, a third summit for both of us.

This month, I led a group of men and boys from my church to Guadalupe Mountains National Park to do something hard. We drove six-hundred and fifty miles for the opportunity to stand at the top of Texas.

In preparation, I had told the group that hiking Guadalupe Peak is hard. The hike along the steep and winding trail to the top is rated as strenuous. I knew for a fact that it would not be any less strenuous for me on my fourth bid.
We met at the trailhead at 6:30 in the morning while temperatures were still tolerable. Huge amounts of excitement swirled in the morning breeze and mixed with bits of anxiety as we waited like race cars with engines revved high.

We took a moment to share final thoughts about our adventure, we prayed, and then we hit the trail. Every guy knew that the first mile and a half would be the hardest because of the steep elevation gain.
Like a brick wall, the first mile and a half stop those who are either unprepared or don’t want to summit badly enough. This is where we have to decide whether we are willing to push past the pain.

The heat only added to the difficulty. As the morning wore on the temperatures continued to creep higher until they inched past the hundred degree mark. Our bodies craved hydration and electrolytes and power bars.
Every man and boy quickly settled into his respective rhythm as they trudged up the trail, slowly eating away at the elevation. My hiking mantra on this particular trail is pace and place — maintain a steady pace and watch where I place my feet.

Every one of the guys hiked his own hike and just past mid-morning, we began to populate the summit and feast on the amazing views. I felt just as excited as the day on which I first solo hiked to the top of Texas.
Standing at the summit of Guadalupe Peak with an amazing band of brothers was worth every hard step along the way. This is something we did together — a shared adventure, a reminder that we must do life in community with other men because alone is dangerous.
One thing is certain, the guys on this adventure will always share a special bond. We made it to the top of Texas on one of the hottest days of the year. We watched out for and encouraged one another. We enjoyed great fellowship. And we did it as a band of brothers.

If you are in search of adventure and in good physical condition, consider a trek to the top of Texas. This is one of the coolest bucket-list adventures in the Lone Star State. Although the hike is hard, the reward is worth it. Do your research. Hike prepared. Push past the pain. Enjoy the view.

5 Facts About Red Buckeye

If you enjoy hiking in East Texas, you have likely seen the red buckeye on your treks. This handsome shrub shows off its clusters of firecracker-shaped blooms from March through May and then drops its leaves by summer’s end. This red-flowered plant also has a yellow-flowered cousin that can be found along streams in the western part of Texas. Red buckeye is named for the color of the flowers and the similarity of the seed to a deer or buck’s eye.
1. Red buckeye is a shrub with an alias.

Like other Texas plants, the red buckeye is also known as scarlet buckeye and as the firecracker plant — for obvious reasons. When in bloom, the red buckeye produces a cluster of tubular-shaped flowers that resemble firecrackers. This makes it easy to identify this shrub when hiking through our state parks.
2. Red buckeye is a beast.

While beautiful to behold, this beauty is a beast that packs some powerful poison in its seeds. Indigenous peoples crushed the seeds and put them in water in order to stupefy fish to make it easier to catch them. The toxin-packed seeds of the red buckeye have also killed cattle who feasted on them.
3. Red buckeye is favorite of hummingbirds.

While the toxicity of this plant poses a threat to humans, cattle, horses, and sheep, it is a favorite of hummingbirds, bees, and butterflies. Even squirrels like to feast on the nuts produced by this leafy plant.
4. Red buckeye can help you clean up your act.

Indigenous people were really genius people who discovered more than the harmful side of shrubs and plants. Native Americans produced a foaming soap from the roots of the red buckeye as well as a black dye from the wood. Pretty clever stuff.
5. Pioneers found medicinal value in the red buckeye.

Native Americans and early pioneers made home remedies from the bitter bark of the red buckeye. Poultices were used to treat infections and sores. Like other plants, the red buckeye helped meet needs of both native Americans and early settlers who lived in the days before the conveniences we enjoy today.

Marie’s Old Fashioned Hamburgers & More

A good thing has happened as my blog on my adventures in the Lone Star State continues to attract more readers — and that good thing is recommendations. I love recommendations from those who email to tell me about things they enjoy doing in Texas and especially about places that serve a great burger.
That’s how I learned about Marie’s Old Fashioned Hamburgers & More. The Granger family, good friends who moved to the Beaumont area, alerted me to the grand opening of Marie’s in Fannett. Exciting news to someone like me who is always on the look out for a new burger joint. I couldn’t wait to head toward Beaumont to visit with my friends and to share a meal at Marie’s.
A few days after Marie’s opened its doors, I was there and eager to place my order. Located along Highway 124 near Beaumont, Marie’s occupies a simple building along this highway that parallels Intestate 10.
As usual, I ordered a bacon cheeseburger with a side of onion rings and a tall glass of iced tea. Whenever I see a burger joint tag their burgers as old-fashioned I am immediately interested. I am not opposed to specialty burgers (I would eat one in a heartbeat). It’s just that I am quite happy with a good old tried and proven bacon cheeseburger.
Marie’s promises hand-pressed patties on oversized buns with fresh vegetables and endless options to top off your burger. Burger buns are a super important component so I was happy to read that Marie’s offered oversized buns. For whatever reason, burger buns have a tendency to shrink once you start eating your burger. So, oversized is good.
I am happy to report that Marie’s kept its promises on all fronts — oversized buns, fresh vegetables, crispy bacon, pepperjack cheese. Combined, each of these ingredients did its part to contribute to one really delicious burger. I was happy that my two-hour drive was not in vain. The burger was definitely worth the drive.
We are indeed blessed to have countless places in Texas that serve great burgers. I would need another lifetime just to visit them all. But, because I don’t have another lifetime, I am content to enjoy as many burgers as I can as I travel across Texas. Occasionally I stumble across a burger that is not noteworthy, but that is to be expected. I prefer to be thankful for the many places, like Marie’s, that serve up a delicious burger.

As I have often noted on my burger reviews, since you are going to eat anyway, be adventurous. Take a risk and discover new places to eat. And when you do come across a place that serves a great burger, please be sure to let me know.

Gator Country Adventure Park

There are few creatures that are as immediately intimidating as the American alligator. Encased in tough prehistoric armor, these big reptiles can more than defend their place on the food chain. Even the animal kingdom thinks twice before getting too close. These creatures are some kind of tough.
The same holds true for their kin. I have seen crocodiles stacked like cordwood on the banks of the Nile River near Murchison Falls and caiman gliding along the waters of the Amazon River. And no matter where I have encountered these cold blooded creatures, my response has been the same — maintain a healthy distance!
I recently visited Gator Country Adventure Park at the invitation of my five-year old friend Elizabeth Granger. Elizabeth loves animals, is a big fan of the television show Lone Star Law, and is fascinated by alligators. So, she wanted to have her fifth birthday party at Gator Country in Beaumont.
Gator Country has been featured on television shows like Animal Planet. And with good reason. This 15-acre sanctuary is home to more than 450 American alligators, crocodiles, caiman, snakes, and an assortment of different reptiles. That is a lot of alligators in one location.

It all started back in 2005 when founder Gary Saurage invited the public to come out and see his collection of live-captured alligators and other reptiles. Gary and his team added to their collection by rescuing nuisance alligators from people’s yards, ponds and swimming pools as well as animals that were displaced and stranded after hurricanes and floods.
For years, Big Al held the record for being the largest alligator in captivity in Texas. You have to see Big Al to really understand just how big he really is. This behemoth weighs 1,000 pounds, measures 13 feet and 4 inches long, and is believed to be 84 years old.
Big Al held the record until Big Tex was captured. Big Tex measures in at 4½ inches longer than Big Al, just enough to take the title from the old octogenarian. Both gators have their own pond. Big Al is less aggressive than Big Tex but just as intimidating.
The folks at Gator Country are committed to research, education, and overseeing the welfare for the animals in their care. They work with universities and schools to foster a better understanding of these magnificent reptiles and even have internship programs for students eager to get some hands-on experience with the various reptiles under their care.

If you are anywhere near Beaumont, it’s worth your time to stop by Gator Country. You might even see my five year-old friend Elizabeth there feeding the gators. It’s one of her favorite places. Elizabeth now holds the record for the coolest birthday party I have ever attended for a five year old. Happy Birthday, Elizabeth.