Tales of Long Ago

Tuesday, January 17, 2012 Road Junkies 0 Comments

To Big Bend and Back, Day 13 

SAN ANGELO, Texas— Icy fingers of wind assailed us when we stepped outside this morning, crawling down our collars and penetrating through to our bones in the five minutes it took us to pack the car.  We continue to adjust to the smaller vehicle and its storage capacities, disciplining ourselves to pack more precisely and compactly.

After a quick drive-by letterbox in Abilene's city cemetery, we fueled up at the local gas station and at Starbucks before heading south to Abilene State Park in search of another box.  The park lies in a valley surrounded by low limestone hills sparsely wooded with mesquites and other small trees.  In contrast, the Elm Creek floodplain that forms the park nurtures a thick woodland of oaks, willows, cedars, pecans and elms.

Elm Creek Nature Trail
The letterbox was was missing from its home in a tree on the nature trail, but four white tail deer nibbling on tender cedar growth rewarded our search with the opportunity for a little wildlife watching.

Driving west on TX-89, we began seeing tall white three-bladed wind turbines drawing energy from the pervasive Texas winds.  After turning south onto US-277, we found ourselves driving through the middle of the Buffalo Gap Wind Farm, with windmills on both sides of the road extending to the horizon.  In the distance we saw a new substation built to transmit nature's power to the grid.

Not just the windmills of our minds
Buffalo Gap is a 296-turbine farm with a generation capacity of 524 megawatts, enough to power 150,000 homes.  In addition to being the largest domestic producer of oil, Texas also produces more wind power than any other state.  The wind boom in Texas has been greatly assisted by state government initiatives and incentives. 

Fort Chadbourne in the midst of a working ranch
Twelve miles north of the town of Bronte, we rode into the grounds of Chadbourne Ranch, so named for Fort Chadbourne, a nineteenth century frontier outpost established to protect settlers moving West.  The fort surrendered to the Confederates early in the Civil War and was later abandoned.

In 1876, the site of the fort was sold to a family who built a ranch there.  The ranch is still operated by the descendants of this family, who established a foundation to preserve the fort and who generously allow the public to visit the ruins. 

On the way to Ballinger, we came across a flock of 300 or so sandhill cranes feeding in a roadside field.  Fossil records document the existence of this species for at least 2.5 million years.

Sandhill Cranes (photo from outdoorcentral.com)
Sandhills breed on the tundra of Canada and Alaska and in the marshes and grasslands of the northern states in summer, and they migrate in large numbers to spend winters in Texas.  (Since we don't have the camera equipment or talent to capture this magical sight and Woodie wasn't with us, we borrowed this image from www.outdoorcentral.com.)

On the courthouse square in Ballinger, a cowboy stands forever young by the side of his faithful horse.  The only son of a local rancher, Charlie Noyes, 21, died in a freak ranching accident in 1917.  His neck was broken when a calf he was roping collided with his horse and caused both horse and rider to fall.  Noyes' parents commissioned a Chicago sculptor to create the statue which was originally meant to be erected where the cowboy had fallen.  However, the parents were so heartbroken over their son's death that they sold their ranch and moved to Florida, so the tribute was placed near the high school Charlie had attended as a boy.

According to the historical marker at the site, the sculptor, Pompeo Coppini, studied horses for two years before sculpting the statue.  The boy's actual bridle, saddle and boots were sent to Chicago to ensure authenticity.

One mystery which has puzzled us since we arrived in Texas is how the letterboxes here manage to stay in such new condition even after being out in the elements for several years.  We have letterboxed in 37 states, 5 Canadian provinces, and 8 other countries. In Georgia, and most other places we've boxed, the inside of the box frequently gets coated with moisture from condensation and often we find boxes that have been waterlogged for one reason or another.

After four years out in the elements

Never have we come across so many pristine letterboxes as we have in this part of Texas. When we opened a box a few days ago that was planted in 2004, the inside of the box and all the contents were just as dry and clean as they were the day it was planted.  Finally a Texas letterboxer lent some insight.  The dry climate in these parts probably accounts for the arid conditions inside the boxes.  Finally, a positive result from all those Texas droughts.

Tonight we're holed up in San Angelo before moving on south toward the big bend of the Rio Grande tomorrow.

  • Started in Abilene, TX; ended in San Angelo, TX
  • Weather:  Sunny and windy, 34° to 54°
  • Miles driven: 154          (Trip total:  2,150)
  • States: 1 (TX)          (Trip total:  6)
  • Letterboxes found:  5         (Trip total:  61)
More Photos from Today
Yurts for rent at Abilene State Park
Ken and the Wonderstick explore Fort Chadbourne
Buffalo Gap Wind Farm
Cacti at San Angelo State Park