Spreading Joy – Not As Strange As You Would Think

People think of me as the photographer of the team, but the truth is that in many cases Ren has a better eye for what will make a great picture than I do. So many of my best photos happen because she sees something and points it out to me. I couldn’t do what I do without her, at least not as well. That said, we do have very different styles as photographers. I love shooting with my Sony A6000. While she does have a professional camera, she rarely uses it. She prefers the camera on her phone.

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But our photo styles differ by more than equipment. She has one project that she does that would never work for me. It’s called Seflies With Strangers. It’s pretty much what it sounds like. She will walk up to a complete stranger and ask to take a selfie with them. She always asks for the selfie right away, because, by the time she is done, the person will no longer be a stranger.

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She told me when she started this, that she wanted to make someone feel special for a few moments, to bring a smile to their face, and everyone smiles when you take their picture. Nearly everyone says yes when she asks, and then she will spend the next few moments, (or hours), asking about who they are, what they do, and what their interests are. In short, she learns what it is about this person that makes them special, and in the process reminds them that they are special. Often these people connect with us through our social media pages and become friends. As I said, she has to act quickly if she wants to get a selfie with a stranger.

More than once we’ve had someone tell us that they were having a rotten day, but that this encounter had turned it around and made things better, which was the whole point. I’ve gotten used to having our journey interrupted at unexpected moments while Ren pauses to bring a little joy into some strangers life. I accept it because I’ve learned that the person who enjoys it the most is Ren, and that makes me happy.

Safe Travels

Just Because I Have An Eye

Just Because I Have An Eye

Scott is really the photographer between the two of us. He geeks out over the cameras and their settings, while I am just trying to understand it all. I am told I have a great eye, but I just can’t seem to the get the excitement that he has. This can be rather frustrating for him, I fear. At one point we were at a Texas State Park called Mineral Wells State Park just outside of Mineral Wells, Texas. He was taking photos of the dam while all I could see was the tall grass against that turquoise water. When we compare shots, he had some of the prettiest dam shots and all I got was this grass photo. I think it is one of my favorites that I have taken.

Fort Worth’s Sundance Square taken by Ren
I tend to take photos of shapes, reflections, and down below shots. There is something about the dark shadows against the bright sky that just thrills me. Scott seems to prefer landscapes, but those tend to bore my eye and I don’t take photos while he is snapping away. I can, however, tell him which shots he should take. It doesn’t annoy him though because he uses that information to take some pretty amazing shots. He wanted to walk the Sundance Square in downtown Fort Worth and I kept getting distracted by the patio cover where we sat. It seems the photo came out rather well.

Fort Griffin State Historic Site Campground’s Mill Creek Access photo taken by Ren
We visited a place that was once a fort to protect the Texas Settlers from Comanche and Apache attacks. Fort Griffin was occupied from 1860 to 1881 to assist Texas Settlers from Comanche and Apache attacks. They are a historic site today with many ruins that make amazing backdrops for photography. Scott has taken some amazing photos of the ruins agains a dark, very stary sky. While these photos are beautiful, it was the steeps down to the Mill Creek access from our campsite that caught my attention. There is something about the lush green against the red clay dirt here that just took me away to another time.

Street Sign at the Veterans Park Southern Tip taken by Ren
Tulsa is, for now, our home. We are trying to learn as much as we can about as much of it as possible to help us appreciate the place we are living in. It’s just what we do every place we move to. There are so many wonderful parks in this city, we decided to see what type of photos we could get. As always, Scott was taking these amazing shots of the skyline, the statues, and the landscape. Me? I was taking obscure shots of tree limbs, flags and street signs agains the beautiful, golden-hour sunrise. This is one of those shots that just capture my imagination. Were they thinking this would someday be the perfect photo opportunity when they named these streets? Who knows, but I took the opportunity and have a great photo; if I can say so myself.

Selfie time! Me at Fort Griffin State Historic Site
I have to admit, I love taking selfies! I know some people think it is narcissistic, but I just love seeing the changes time has on me. There is just something about documenting what I am doing or who I am on that day and time. I am trying to learn to take better photos, even if this means selfies, so I am always thinking about the type of light and what the surrounding will look like. This is a good thing, really. It makes me more aware so I am paying attention to detail.

I don’t take many photos with an actual camera, but when I do I try to do the best I can. The photography is more Scott’s hobby, but to make it more enjoyable for him I join in. I can always tell a difference when we work together on a set of photos because he is happier and always appreciative for my input making his photos better. If that makes any sense.

Thank you all so much for taking a few moments to view my photos. I don’t share my own photos often, but you all have been so encouraging I felt they would be appreciated.

The Mountains Are Calling And We Must Drive

The Mountains Are Calling And We Must Drive

If you want to watch the video that matches Scott’s post, visit our dTube channel and view https://d.tube/#!/v/xcountytravelers/065bt48w

As I’ve said before, there is something about mountains that call Ren and I. When we get to the mountains, it feels like coming home. I don’t think we have ever visited the mountains without at least discussing the possibility of moving there, and I expect that eventually, we will do so.

One of my favorite trips was in June of 2016 when we headed west to Davis Mountains State Park. As you would expect, this is a State Park located in the Davis Mountains of West Texas. There are several attractions in this are that make it worth the trip.

After a long drive, our first stop before heading to the park was the nearby, Balmorhea State Park, just outside of Balmorhea Texas. This unique park is in the foothills of the West Texas mountains, built around the San Solomon Springs, it is an oasis in the desert. In the 1930’s the Civilian Conservation Corps took this spring and made it into a huge swimming pool. Up to 30 feet deep in places, the cool, crystal clear waters flow up from the bottom of the spring at a rate of 25 million gallons a day and flow out through canals to irrigate the surrounding countryside. We were both surprised to find it home to fish and other underwater creatures. The waters maintain a temperature of 72 to 76 degrees year round. We expected to find this a refreshing stop, and we did, but we did not anticipate how beautiful the setting was.

After our swim, we headed for Davis Mountains State Park (DMSP), just west of Fort Davis Texas. Located in the Davis Mountain range, Davis Mountains State Park, (DMSP), is actually two Parks. DMSP and Indian Lodge State Park. Indian Lodge is a full-service hotel located within the larger park. Built by the Civilian Conservation Corps, (CCC), in the 1930s. It serves as a getaway for those who want to visit this area without giving up their creature comforts.

The Park is between Five and Six thousand feet in elevation, the days were warm, but with the low humidity, not too uncomfortable, and the evenings were downright chilly. We spent the first day exploring the Park. The highest peak in the park is Lookout Mountain. You can drive to the top where there is an observation area with a great view in all directions. From there you can see McDonald Observatory to the west and Fort Davis to the east. You can drive nearly to the top, where there is a small parking lot. Nearby is an old CCC-built shelter giving you cool shade to take time to enjoy the amazing view. One of the hiking trail leads to the top of the mountain, then continues on, out of the park and down to Fort Davis. Neither Ren or I were in shape enough to do much hiking in the heat of the day, but the trail is clearly marked and well traveled.

We spent the next few days exploring the many things this area has to offer. We very much liked the town of Fort Davis. It is a small place and mostly survives on tourism, They do a good job of making you feel welcome. The reason they get so much tourism is that within the town of Fort Davis is the Fort Davis National Historic Site.

This is a well-preserved frontier fort from the era of the Indian Wars, active from 1854 to 1892, Fort Davis was built to protect settlers and freight on the Trans-Pecos portion of the San Antonio-El Paso Road. The Fort, the town, the mountain range, and the county were named for Jefferson Davis, Secretary of War when the fort was established. Much of the housing and several other buildings survive, and there are many exhibits built to help explain life on the frontier. Visiting here you find yourself trying to imagine what it was like to live in this beautiful but harsh country without the benefits of air conditioning and other modern conveniences.

As the day got warmer we took advantage of the air conditioning in our truck and drove through the Davis Mountains Scenic Loop. The Davis Mountains Scenic loop is a 75-mile loop that begins in Fort Davis, heads west into the Davis Mountains on Highway 118, before turning south on Highway 166 which will bring you back to Highway 17 and Fort Davis. The Davis Mountains are an ancient range of volcanoes, with many rugged and beautiful peaks. The Davis Mountains fill a rough square about 31 miles on each side. The Scenic Loop is one of the best ways to appreciate this amazing area of Texas. It takes 2 hours to drive if you do not stop, it took us more like 4 hours as we stopped frequently to take in the views.

Make sure you are well prepared before taking this drive. This is an extremely remote and empty country. Once you leave Fort Davis you will pass the park entrance, and a few miles later, the McDonald Observatory, after that there is nothing but a couple of ranches until you get back to Fort Davis. There is no cell phone service, and we only passed a couple of cars the entire day. The roads are in very good condition, but there are places where you are many miles from help, and you might have a long wait till someone else came along. Make sure you have plenty of gas and plenty of water. That said, this is an experience you do not want to miss. This was my favorite part of the entire trip.

We drove the loop from Fort Davis to Alpine, to Marfa, and back to Fort Davis. While this is not officially a Scenic Byway, it could be. The scenery is beautiful and dramatic, and Alpine and Marfa are both interesting towns, well worth a visit.

We were there during the day, so we did not have a chance to look for the famous Marfa Lights, but we did spend a few hours at an interest resort called El Cosmico. El Cosmico is a resort that is an odd mixture of tents, mobile homes, RVs, tipis, and yurts. It has something of a hippy vibe to it. We relaxed for a while listening to obscure 60s LPs and drinking homemade sangria.

Nearby is the McDonald Observatory. We had not made reservations in advance, so we were not able to get tickets for the evening star parties, but we did attend the daytime tour and solar viewing. If you get in this area I highly recommend it. The tour is very interesting. The telescopes are impressive, and the views from the mountain are amazing. Be sure to reserve a space in advance, they do sell out.

Back at Davis Mountain State Park, they close Lookout Mountain after 10 PM, but for a small fee, you can get permission to stay up there after hours, which we did. This is one of the darkest areas of Texas, and famous for stargazing, but we were only a day or two away from the full moon, so the conditions were not especially good for astrophotography, but I took the camera and setup anyway. Ren brought an air mattress and a blanket and slept in the back of the truck while I, and another photographer we met there, took pictures. I did get some nice photos of all the cars driving back to the park after the star party ended at the observatory. I combined them to make a light trail.

It really was an amazing trip, and I look forward to going back for another visit, preferably when the moon is not full. What is your favorite story about the mountains? Let us know in the comments.

Travel safe my friends,

We Drive

We Drive

Traveling Thursdays
August 23, 2018

Scott and I drive a lot when we do our travels. There are 3,144 counties in the United States and we intend to pass through each of them; driving tends to be the way we are best able to do this. It enables us to stop and visit a town, getting to experience the people, their foods, and their culture. This is a bit slower than flight, but we both feel the hours getting to a destination is well worth it when we see the colored in space on the maps.

When we decide to go on what we call “Collecting Grab” trips, we sit down with Google maps or even a paper road map to plan the best route there and back going through as many different counties as possible. This often means never taking the same road twice. It is extremely rare for us to take the major highways or toll road unless we need to get through previously collected counties.

If we are on trips that are more than a day trip, we will fill our SUV up with delicious food, changes of clothing, and hammock/sleeping gear. While Scott is at work, I am able to get everything together and packed away; this enables me to pick him up as soon as his workday is finished and we can be on the road towards our destination.

Since we started doing these three to four-day trips to cover as much ground as possible we find National Forests and State Parks that are along our route to rest when we can no longer drive. We will pull in to a camping area and set up our hammocks or, due to weather, we will inflate the air mattress and sleep in the back of the SUV. Both are quick to set up and take down so we are able to pull off the road as late as we need and leave as soon as we can minutes after we have woken up.

One of the things we find ourselves saying when we travel is that it is never a true adventure until we have left the pavement. Surprisingly, this happens to us a lot. We have been driving along a perfectly good paved road when “BLAM!” we have crossed onto a gravel road. These roads, however, have been some of the most beautiful places and there is almost always a surprise waiting for us.

Yes, we drive a lot. This means gas is our largest expense when we are on the road. Because of our style of travel we do and not needing to use a hotel room, we are able to afford it. There have been times we needed to stay at a roadside hotel or motel, but we will stay in the most inexpensive place we can. We have been able to find some really awesome deals at Priceline Express Deals. However, a room with a view is a very rare occurrence for us.

Scott and I enjoy driving along the county roads within our country. This has enabled us to see what each state has to offer its people and how the people live and celebrate their lives. We love the miles we put behind us on the roads we drive upon no matter if they are paved, gravel, or dirt. We enjoy the adventure of having our expectations changed because the trip shows us so much more to a place. Yes, we drive, a lot; but, it is what we love to do.

Safe travels to you,

Longhorn Cavern State Park April 2016

Longhorn Cavern State Park April 2016

Traveling Thursday
June 28, 2018

When you hear people talking about the Texas landscape you often hear about the beautiful red canyons and orange mesas and cactus everywhere seen in the old western movies.  However, Texas is surprisingly much more diverse in its landscape. There are seven distinct regions in this massive state: Panhandle Plaines, Prairies and Lakes, Piney Woods, Big Bend Country, Hill Country, South Texas Plains and the Gulf Coast. Each of these areas are extremely beautiful and both Scott and I have found something special in each region.  One of these regions we had been told how amazing it was but had no clue just how breathtaking and beautiful it was.  Not only did we fall in love the landscape but we were in awe of the down below.

April of 2016 we ventured out toward Hill Country and were stunned to see these hills of limestone covered with trees and plenty of wildflowers. There had been so much rain that the wildflowers literally covered every inch of the hills along the road. We saw Bluebonnets (the Texas state flower), Indian Blankets, Indian Paintbrush, Milkweed, Texas Sunflowers and Winecups.  So many colors blurring along the road as we drove along the roller coaster type road towards one of our destinations that weekend.

Scott, being the photographer of the family was wanting to stop way to often to take photos of this wildflower phenomenon, but we had a short window to get from our home in Bedford to the state park we were planning to visit that day. It seemed as if every hill we went over became more brilliant with blues, purples, oranges, and yellows.  It almost made the eyes hurt it was so bright. I know it was killing Scott because you could hear him howl with anticipation and pleas to stop so he could take photos.  However, I tend to be focused when we are on a deadline and rarely stop unless it is a bathroom break.  This is one of the main reasons we do not plan a lot on trips because it seems to breed anxiety in me and that gets rather ugly.

With our destination in sight, I was able to relax a bit and pull over so Scott was able to take a few photos. There was this one hill where an old abandoned stone built building stood in the middle of a field covered with Indian Paintbrushes and I knew that was where he needed to take his photo.  We found a semi-dry spot, pulled over and out he flew with his camera in hand.  You could hear the shutter clicking as he tried to find the best angle. It was like seeing a child in the toy store trying to find the best toy; yes, I was seeing pure joy and loving every minute of it.

You see many old abandoned buildings such as houses or barns all over Texas.  I always feel a bit of sadness because these were once homes to people who must have loved the land, how could they not? So much history and beauty in this state. These buildings take you back to a time when life was all but simple and there were so many dreams of a Texas that was still young. Unfortunately, progress tends to pull people away from the countryside and these buildings are left unattended and forgotten. In this spot, I just imagine a woman outdoors doing her laundry while admiring the thousands of wildflowers blooming all around her home. However, the time of dreaming had come to an end and we needed to be getting along to our destination, Longhorn Cavern State Park.

The Texas State Park System has a wide variety of state parks ranging from historical sites like Fort Richardson State Historic Site to gulf sea shore like Galveston Island State Park; from massive canyons filled location Caprock Canyon State Park to the mesa perched Big Springs State Park; then there is Longhorn Cavern State Park in the middle of Hill Country.  This park is unique in many ways. One, it is CCC park built during the 1930’s by the Civilian Conservation Corps giving thousands of families an opportunity to live by sending their sons away building parks, roads, and buildings.  This program enabled these young men to receive $25 a month to send to their families, saving many from starvation and giving them skills to help them in the future. When WWII pulled the United States into the fray, Company 854 was called to serve their country.

The buildings of the CCC era has a distinct style. The materials used to build the structures on this 639-acre state park were sediment and limestone and they were all from below them. Here over 2.5 tons of silt, rock, and debris was hauled out of the cavern that had been used by the outlaw Sam Bass.  It was also where the Confederate army obtained bat guano to make gunpowder for their weapons. But this was not the only history of this location, it was also a church, nightclub and now a state park.

Longhorn Cavern is a very unique cave because of the way it was formed. At one time Texas was under a shallow sea and the limestone was created by the weight of the mud and millions of years of dead shelled sea creatures. Eventually, there was a  mountain-building force that caused an event “Llano Uplift” that caused fractures which allowed water to get through the cracks and dissolve the limestone. This caused the caverns that are now gated and protected by the Texas State Park system.  Here we enjoyed the normal tour, but we did learn that there were Wild Cave Tours for those who liked to venture on the “wild” side.

Scott and I try to keep an open mind when we travel. We have found things that have increased our knowledge, enabled us to teach others, and given us an opportunity to experience new cultures. This has given us an open heart enabling us to have empathy for others and their situations. We travel to learn, we travel to experience, we travel to find out much more about ourselves. Here, in the Hill Country, we were able to learn about the down below geological history of a state that is rich with tradition and history. It was one of our favorite travels in Texas, but there are so many more of them to tell you about; however, that is for another time.

Safe travels and see you on the next Travel Thursday.