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.

The Hardy Creosote

Creosote, also known as Cresotebush and Greasewood, is one of the most common shrubs in the Trans-Pecos. This rugged survivor has earned its place in the Chihuahuan Desert landscape. Early Spanish explorers called it gobernadora (governess), likely a reference to the shrub’s dominance throughout the desert.
To say that creosote is a hardy shrub is understating its ruggedness and determination to live. Twenty of twenty-one creosote shrubs growing at the center of the 1962 thermonuclear explosion at the Yucca Flat test site in Nevada re-sprouted ten years after the blast. If the world ever gets into a nuclear free-for-all, creosote and roaches may be the only survivors.

The leaves of the shrub are covered with a sticky and smelly resin which early settlers likened to the smell of creosote, a derivative of wood tar. Hence, the name. This tar-like odor is especially strong after a rain or when the leaves are crushed. These foul-tasting resins also make the creosote of little use to man or beast in the way of foodstuffs.
Several species of insects — including beetles, praying mantises, and grasshoppers — depend on the creosote for their survival. Some of these insects, like the creosote bush katydid, are monophagous. That’s a scientific way of saying that they feed only on this plant.

Mexicans and Native Americans who have lived in regions where creosote is endemic discovered medicinal value in the creosote. They developed an antiseptic to treat everything from arthritis to saddle sores, minor cuts and bruises, and bites on both themselves and their animals.

According to Native American and Hispanic folk traditions, tea made from creosote leaves were widely used to treat colds, stomach problems, gas pains, and more. In 1962, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued a warning against the internal use of creosote-based products.

Desert dwellers also found other uses for creosote. Hispanics of the Big Bend region used the roots of the shrub to dye blankets brown. The Apache applied the plant’s sticky gum to wounds to stop the bleeding. Southwestern tribes made a glue from the sticky substance that they used to mend pottery and to waterproof baskets. And, because the resinous leaves ignite easily, they are useful for starting cooking fires.
Desert survival is not easy for humans, animals, or plants. So, the next time you are in Far West Texas and see creosote shrubs carpeting the landscape all the way to the horizon, reflect for a minute on what it takes to make it in such a tough environment. Although not the prettiest bush on the landscape, creosote is worthy of a little respect.

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. 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.