Sunday, March 16, 2014

Moss Creek Lake

There's a little reservoir east of Big Spring, TX called Moss Creek Lake.  Just big enough to scoot around on a jet ski.  We went there on a blustery Saturday.  West Texas spring must be here, because the wind is blowing.  72 degrees seems pretty warm on land, but go out on the lake and get soaked with spray, and you will freeze.  I did.

Mary rode with me for one or two laps of the lake.  The water level was fairly high and the water seemed pretty clean.  No other boats were out on the water, although some campers had kayaks pulled up on the shore.  Mary tired of riding so she went ashore to ride bikes with her mom.

Mare & me

We tried to splash Debi, who stayed on shore

Jet skiing is fun. But also cold.  Mary got off, then I could open it up.
Taking a break, rain clouds in distance!

The wind gathered speed and it got too choppy to have fun riding.  Debi backed the trailer into the water so I could load up.  We headed back to Midland after driving a bit through downtown Big Spring to check out the newly reopened Settles Hotel.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Cedar Lake - Lamesa - 11,000 MSL

On Sunday I went out flying in my Cessna 150.  It was a relatively cool afternoon.  After preflighting I took off from runway 16 and headed northeast toward Lamesa, TX, which is 55 nautical miles from KODO and therefore counts as a cross-country flight for log purposes.  I decided to climb.  The plane was running well and seemed extra powerful.  Just me in the plane and a cool day with low density altitude (3,600' at KODO).  Climbing toward Lamesa, keeping an indicated airspeed of around 70 mph.  About 10 nm from Lamesa airport I decided to turn NW toward Cedar Lake, which is a normally dry lakebed near Lamesa.  Legend has it that Quanah Parker was born on the shores of this lake.  At this point I was at about 10,000 MSL.  My previous record in the Cessna 150 was about 9500' MSL, so I decided to go for a new record, a nice round 11,000' MSL.

Cedar Lake from around 11,000' (8,000' above the ground)

Cedar Lake.  Note the islands and the drill pads for wells.

Drainage into Cedar Lake

Photographic "proof" of my altitude

After enjoying being "up high" for a while, I swooped toward Lamesa airport in a series of roller-coaster type dives.  Always fun.  A few split seconds of zero gravity at the "top" of each sequence.  I topped out at 145 mph indicated airspeed.  I landed in Lamesa and topped off my fuel tanks at the self-serve for $5.00/gallon.

On the way back to Odessa, I decided to stay low.  Low is fun because you can see more.  Low is also a little scary, because if there is a problem (engine failure), there is less time to think through what to do and to act.  Altitude gives you some measure of safety because (in theory) you have time to think about what to do, and some range to make a nearby airport or landing strip if one is available.  In reality, out here in west Texas, there are lots of places to land.  An engine problem at 700' AGL would be very scary, no doubt, but all you have time to do is get your airspeed set to best glide (Airspeed), look for a place to land straight ahead or with a slight turn into the wind (Best place to land), and then pull out the Checklist to see if you can restart the engine.  Probably no time for Checklist when you're at 700' AGL.

Flying at 700' is much more intimate than up high.  The higher you go, the more you can see -- but it's like using a wide-angle lens.  Sure, you can capture more of the landscape, but your film frame is still the same size.  So everything gets kind of... diluted.  When you're flying down low, you look more closely at individual things or places.  Also it makes you feel like you're going faster, which is important in a plane that cruises at 90 mph.

Frac pond north of Odessa, TX

Back near KODO, I loitered around in the air for a while, just enjoying flying.  Cross country can be a bit stressful, but when you're within easy range of your home airport, that melts away and it's fun just to hang around at 700 or 800' above the ground, doing lazy gentle circles.  The sun began to sink below the horizon and suddenly I had a thought -- why not climb to a few thousand feet and see if I could spot the silhouette of the Guadalupe Mountains far off to the west?  Ben and I had gone hiking there the day before, climbing to Hunter Peak.  Sure enough, when the sun sank to the right position and I got up to 2,000' AGL, there they were, in perfect silhouette.  The photo I snapped through the windshield with my phone was not that great, but it was awesome to see in person.  I could even pick out Hunter Peak.

The sun sank a little lower and I turned toward Odessa, calling my position 10 miles out on the KODO CTAF, 123.0.  A Beech twin passed by somewhere in the dusk, far above me, but I never saw him.  In a few minutes I was passing over houses north of Odessa on a straight-in approach to runway 16.  Taxied to my hanger, shut down the plane, got out, and backed it into the hanger with the tow bar.

Sunday, March 09, 2014

Hunter Peak, Bear Canyon, Tejas -- Guadalupe Mountains

I'm not accustomed to getting out of bed at 6:45 am on a Saturday. Maybe I should do it more often! The first five minutes were tough, but after I hit the shower I was awake enough to get excited about the days' adventure ahead. My friend Ben had suggested we do a day trip to the Guadalupe Mountains, about three hours west of Midland, in far west Texas. I threw my stuff together (backpack, some cold weather gear, three liters of water, two bottles of Gatorade, a Frappicino, some snacks) and picked Ben up at his house. We were on the road around 7:45 from Midland, driving west through Kermit, then Mentone, TX and up to Orla, where I visited a wellsite a while ago when I worked for Concho. We cut west near Orla and crossed part of Delaware Ranch, and saw a rig or two drilling Bone Spring horizontal wells. On 180, we headed SW into Guadalupe National Park.


Last time I was here was February 2013 when my parents visited. It seems like a few months ago, but they have already visited again last month. Ben suggested we hike McKittrick Canyon. We headed to the Visitor's Center to see if they had any food -- I had neglected to eat any breakfast. No food at the Visitor Center, but the employee we spoke with recommended Bear Canyon, and we decided McKittrick was going to be too easy for ambitious hikers such as ourselves. We drove over to Frijole Ranch (just the name made me hungry as I still hadn't found any food -- typical of me to undertake 5 hours of driving and a major hike with little or no food) and headed up toward Bear Canyon on foot. Guadalupe NP is a very nice place, but it's not exactly the busiest National Park you'll find. It was the first weekend of Spring Break and that meant instead of being totally deserted, we actually saw a few other people on the trails. At the Bear Canyon trail intersection with Frijole trail, we came upon a sign that read "trail closed due to flood damage". Hmmm, ok, the NP employees in the Visitor Center had just recommended this trail 30 minutes before. We pressed on up the Canyon.  Moderate at first, the trail soon became quite steep.  Although I can't remember much of it, because my blood sugar was so low, my brain was barely functioning and certainly wasn't recording memories.  Thankfully I took some pictures (with my phone, which takes better pictures than my 3-year-old $500 camera.  Progress...)

Bear Canyon

More of Bear Canyon

Bear Canyon again

The day was cold, and mostly cloudly and overcast, with occasional sun shining through.  It was an odd weather day, and felt much colder than it really was.  It also felt like it might rain at any moment.  The wind picked up throughout the day, and by the end I was wearing a full winter jacket, freezing and cursing the wind, hiking along as fast as I could with my hands in my pockets.  Yet at the truck the thermometer read 50 degrees!

Limestone boulders in Bear Canyon

Up, up, up we went in Bear Canyon.  Limestone everywhere; this is a mostly limestone range.  (Look elsewhere for the geology.  This is of course a classic locality.)  Ben said some things about the geology, and I kept reminding him that knowing about fossils doesn't help a person find oil.  Ok, maybe it does.  

Odd rock formation on wall of Bear Canyon

Rock Formation

Almost at the top

Ben, hiking partner

Up top, the trail flattened out and we had a pleasant walk through a wooded, grassy area.  Very nice.  But also very dry.

Guadalupe Peak and part of El Capitan

Not far and we came to Hunter Peak, about 8300' elevation.  Good views of Guad Peak and El Cap.  I've hiked Guadalupe Peak twice before.  It's tough up but even tougher down -- steep trail with lots of frustrating loose rock.

View from near Hunter Peak

Ben on the Rock of Contemplation

My turn


Hunter Peak with El Cap in background

Notice how there aren't any more photos.  From here we went down Tejas trail, which is a series of hundreds of switchbacks down to the Visitor Center.  In some places, it looks like the switchbacks are all around you, with some leading uphill.  It was getting a bit late so we started hoofing it.  We met several groups of hikers on the way up the trail - backpackers actually.  Some were well prepared.  One group of two people clearly were not.  One guy had a small backpack and a single rolled Mexican style blanket.  I felt bad for him because clearly he was going to feel warm until he stopped hiking and then he was going to have a very cold and miserable night up at 7500'.

Finally, after hiking for an eternity directly into a blasting, freezing cold wind, we arrived back at the truck.  I'd survived on a couple bags of pretzels and two bottles of Gatorade.  I think Ben had even less.  We went into Carlsbad for gas and tried to find some local food, but settled on McDonald's, which I could barely stomach with my hike-induced migraine-like headache coming on.  This is an assured experience for me on any hike over about 6 miles, especially with elevation change over a few thousand feet.

Somehow we drove home to Midland from Carlsbad.  Ben slept a bit on the drive, and maybe I did too (not sure who was driving).  I dropped Ben at his house at 11:00 PM.  A long day. During the hike I thought several times "why do I do this?".   And today, the day after, I'm ready to go back and do it again.

Sunday, December 02, 2012

Debi blogs

I'm way behind on my blogging.  But Debi has done some catch-up today, so you can get an idea of what we've been up to this fall:

Monahans Sandhills
La Junta
NMOGA (in Santa Fe, NM)
Queen, NM (September trip)

Debi also blogged about Lake Amistad, although her blog is heavy on photos and light on text.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Houseboating Lake Amistad

A few weekends ago, we decided to go on a trip with our friends Erika and Simon, and their baby Alejandra.  We discussed renting a house on Lake Nasworthy, near San Angelo, TX, about two hours east of Midland.  But then Simon found info online about renting houseboats on Lake Amistad.  We decided that would be more fun.

Lake Amistad is a large reservoir on the Rio Grande, just west of Del Rio, TX.  The Pecos River joins the Rio Grande at the west end of Lake Amistad, and the Devils River joins at the east end.

We left town on Friday afternoon, driving south across the newly green terrain of west Texas.  This summer we've received quite a lot of rain; most areas are above average for the year.  Last year we had almost no rain.  Now, flowers are out; grass is growing; the mesquites are green again.

The drive south to Rankin isn't very scenic, but coming into Rankin presents a bit of topography with a large mesa behind the town to the south, and a sharp downhill going into town.  Rankin, like many west Texas towns, is an oil boom-and-bust town dating from the early 20th century.  Turning east we drive to Big Lake, another oil- and former railroad town.  The amount of oilfield traffic was amazing.  We make a bathroom stop at the Stripes in Big Lake, and we could barely get into (or out of) the parking lot between all the oilfield pickup trucks.  On the roads were dozens of 18-wheelers, making passing impossible and mostly futile.

South of Big Lake on 137 is a large, flat, treeless basin that used to be a lake -- the "Big Lake" that gave the town its name.  Changing weather patterns (and changing water use?) has caused the lake to dry up.  In the early 20th century, apparently the main families in town had houses on either side of the lake.  Must've been a neat place at that time.  Today, the dearth of vegetation in the dry lake bottom points to a high salt content of the soil, typical of small lakes in west Texas.

South from Big Lake, the road climbs a few long, high rises, lending a view of the pretty, green, and slightly rolling surrounding countryside of the Edwards Plateau.  137 then angles southeast toward the pretty little town of Ozona, sitting astride I-10.  On the way into town is a rather ambitious-looking earthen dam blocking off a dry wash.  The resulting "reservoir" looks like it's never held a drop of water.  I can't find any information on this structure; it may be a flood control dam, although the dry wash it blocks extends only a few miles to the northwest.  I've commented on Ozona before; a pretty town with some nice old big houses and a courthouse and school made of stone.

South out of Ozona, 163 winds its gentle way between oddly bare-looking rounded hills of grey limestone.  In some areas, it looks like recent fire has denuded the landscape.  After a few miles of easy 70-mph crusing, 163 loses its wide shoulders and gradually becomes a narrow, winding, barely 2-lane road.  The road dips repeatedly into low-water crossings of the Devils River, which flows into Lake Amistad.  On this dry and hot August day there was no water in the Devils until we reached one of the last crossings before 163 strikes out across the limestone hills to the SW.  In the last crossing, shallow blue water ran among bright green weeds and thick stands of Cottonwood and other trees.

163 deposited us onto US 90 in Comstock, TX.  We headed east on US 90 and, after a few U-turns, found the road to Lake Amistad Marina (aka Diablo East).  We arrived at 5:45 PM, and stepped out of the car into 108 degree heat.  Simon and Erika had not arrived yet, and the Marina folks told us Simon had to be there to take out the boat, because he had actually filled out the rental information online.  As we discussed this, Simon and Erika showed up and we began the process of gathering our stuff and bringing it down the substantial hill from the parking lot to the marina docks.

Lake Amistad is about 25' below "full" level; volumetrically, it is about 58% full.  So the marina docks are downhill, when "normally" they would be just below the level of the parking lot.

View Lake Amistad Houseboating in a larger map

We got our stuff loaded and the marina pilot steered the boat out into the main channel.  A motorboat from the marina picked him up and we were on our own.  I had picked up a detailed lake map from the Marina.  We followed the navigation buoys upstream along the drowned Devils River, ticking them off on the map.  The houseboat was a 50-footer with two 90 hp 2-cycle outboards.  At full throttle, it would move along at six or seven miles per hour = slow.  We chugged upstream.  It was now close to 8 PM and the sun was sinking in the western sky.  We agreed to tie up in a side canyon.  At first, we chose the wrong side canyon and had a little adventure as we backed out into the main channel.  The lake is surrounded by fairly low limestone hills, so "canyon" is a bit of a misnomer.

Full steam ahead

Eventually we found the tie-up buoy in Big Canyon and got the boat attached to it.  It was a little odd floating on this big craft in a small canyon, swinging to and fro like a windsock.

Big Canyon

I got up the next morning in time for sunrise.  Eventually everyone was stirring and we make breakfast.  

Insect on the upper deck


After a bit of trouble getting the engines started, we motored slowly out of Big Canyon and back into the main Devils River channel.  We pointed upstream and motored past some real cliffs.  Along the right (east) bank there were a number of vacation homes which we admired, although few or none had direct access to the lake below.

Dead trees along Devils River arm of L Amistad

Up the Devils River

Ale and Debi (and Mary)

Close-up of dead trees: ahhhh!

Motoring was fun but pales quickly.  We turned around and went back down the river toward the marina.  We tried to get into Twin Canyons but a number of other boats were milling around our tie-up buoy, so we continued south toward the marina.  Across from the marina we found a cove on the west side of the lake.  We tied off to a mooring buoy.  The water around was bright and blue and very warm (85 F).  Time to swim!

Mary launches off the built-in slide

Mary, the only legal fisher on the boat (we didn't catch anything)

After a few hours of swimming in the cove, we motored south of the bridges (one for US 90 and one for the railroad tracks) and followed the buoys west, along the sunken Rio Grande.  On our left was Mexico.  The lake being quite low, there were dead trees and bushes and reeds sticking up above the waters surface in many places.  We were bound for Cow Creek Canyon.  It took several hours but just as the sun began to disappear behind the horizon, we turning into Cow Creek and spotted a mooring buoy.  It was right next to some 20-30' cliffs of limestone.  We get tied off and it looked like we would swing into the cliffs.  But they have the buoys set correctly and we didn't even get close.

After another night on the boat, the next day, Sunday, we all went swimming again.  The water here seemed deeper and was less blue.  Just as we all were having a good time swimming, Simon and I realized we had to depart to make the 2+ hour trip back to the marina at the other end of the lake.

After dropping the boat at the marina we loaded up the vehicles and drove into Del Rio for a late lunch at Manuel's "Steakhouse", where I've eaten several times before.  It is not really a steakhouse but it is pretty good.

Next we parted ways and headed back to Midland.  We had all found our land legs.

The trip was fun, but it was expensive.  Two nights on the boat plus fuel, oil and cleaning fee ended up being about $1750, which the marina folks said is fairly typical.

Next time I think I might prefer to rent a house on land and rent jet skis to ride around the lake.  But there is a certain magic to being on the water all weekend.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Guadalupe - Sierra Diablo Scenic Flight

Saturday, July 21, 2012.

View Sightseeing Flight July 2012 in a larger map

Ben pulled up to my house at 6:15 am and we drove over to Schlemeyer airport in Odessa.  Preflight, check the fuel -- decide to stop in Andrews, TX to top off.  Andrews has self-serve tanks and cheap avgas, usually $1.25 less per gallon than full-serve-only at Odessa.  Off the ground at 7:15, flew the 20 minutes or so to Andrews.  Already our "early start" didn't feel early enough.  The sun was heating up the tarmac at Andrews airport.  Got off the ground with full tanks and pointed due west to Carlsbad.  Again stopped there and topped off tanks.  I wanted to have enough fuel to make Van Horn and return to Carlsbad if necessary.  No one answered the phone at Van Horn (Culberson Co. Airport), so I wasn't sure if I could get fuel there.

Stabilized dune blow-outs, drilling pads and lease roads in west Texas

The Central Basin Platform of the Permian Basin is well-drilled

Ben at the controls

Pecos River near Carlsbad.  Area looks fairly green after recent rains

After a short stop in Carlsbad, we took off and followed the front of the Guadalupe Mountains to the south.  First, past Carlsbad Caverns NP.  We could see the visitor's center and natural entrance off our right side:

Carlsbad NP

Hills outside Carlsbad, NM

Along the front of the Gaudalupe Mts into Guadalupe Mt NP.  We were careful to stay far enough back from the range that we were outside of the park itself.  They request aircraft remain 2000' AGL over the park.  The view of the various canyons cutting back into the range was quite impressive, although the sun was already too high for the best lighting for photos.  

McKittrick Canyon

We kept climbing until we were near 8000' MSL as we passed Guadalupe Peak, the highest point in Texas, which I have climbed twice, and flown past once before.

From Guad Peak we cut straight south across the Dell City bolson to the north-facing cliffs of the Sierra Diablo.  Following the front of this range east then south, we found Apache Canyon, which cuts across the northern part of the Sierra Diablo.  Staying above the canyon rims (near 8000' MSL) we following Apache Canyon across the range.  Up the side canyons were some lovely green sheltered areas with drops that must be waterfalls during rain.  We did a wide descending turn and came back into the canyon, this time below the canyon walls.  This is the way to travel through a canyon -- downhill, not up (you could get trapped by rising terrain).  I kept the power setting high and we swooped down-canyon at an airspeed of 100 mph.  Out of the canyon, we turned south along the east face of the Sierra Diablo.  We spotted a quarry associated with an intrusive stock, and eventually, near Van Horn, we saw red Ordivician and Cambrian rocks underlying the Wolfcamp-equivalent Hueco Limestone.   Quite pretty and unexpected.

Ord and Cambrian red rocks

We did some turns around the various talc mines in this area.  Ben did his MS field research here for his geology MS from University of Texas.  We did some low turns over some of the active and inactive talc mines.  Ben took advantage of the open-out windows in the Cessna 150 to hang his camera out and get some nice photos.  

The talc mines are associated with thrusted preCambrian rocks, and they tell a complex structural story.  Ben is writing a paper for publication describing some of the findings from his MS research.

Talc mine west of Van Horn, TX

After our talc photoshoot, we leveled off and pointed east, following I-10 toward the low mountains around Van Horn, TX.  Just on the other side of the "pass" here is Van Horn and Culberson Co. airport.  No other traffic around, we put down and took a break to eat and drink.  At the airport we talked with a guy from New York who builds homebuilt planes and helicopters.  He showed off his newest creation; a single-seat helicopter he was building.

Van Horn is kind of a neat spot.  The airport and FBO has an old-timey, run-down feel.  A few pine trees struggle in the heat.  Wildflowers line the runways and grass and weeds grow up through the taxiways.  The elevation of near 4000' makes it a little cooler than Midland-Odessa (3000'), and gives a bit of a view down onto surrounding country in west Texas.

On the ground at KVHN

The day was warming up and I could see cumulus clouds forming in the distance to the east.  We topped off on fuel and took to the air.  Gradually I managed to climb to 7000' MSL and clear the top of the Apache Mountains.  I looked around to the north for the Daniels' ranch, which we visited earlier this year for the Rock House Ranch Reunion.  I didn't spot the ranch, and I didn't want to give up precious altitude to look for it, so we pressed on towards Pecos.  The ride got bumpy although no cumulus formation was visible in the area.  The air must've been too dry to form clouds, but the thermals were still operating -- the first time I've experienced this.  About 30 minutes out of the airport, Ben fell asleep (it was around 2 PM).  The iPad (with ForeFlight) stayed on his lap and I was able to lean over and see our location without any trouble.

The thermals brought us up to 7500' and back down to 6000' repeatedly.  I tried to stay at 7500' because we were eastbound (odd thousand + 500') but it was impossible, even at full power, to stay level in the downdrafts areas.  Coming into West Odessa, Ben awoke from his nap.  We were hanging around near 8000' MSL (thanks to the lift of the thermals) so I executed a number of "roller coaster" drops to lose enough altitude to stay below Class C airspace in Odessa.  Left pattern and on the ground at KODO.  6.0 hours in the air!  We've both had enough for the day -- six hours in a Cessna 150 in one day is far too much- although it was nice and cool up at 8000'.  Rosa's cafe beckoned so we stopped on the way back home for food and drink.

Quite an advanture!  I look forward to fall and winter when the thermals die down and the air gets nice and dense.  I've built a list of scenic flight I want to do, mostly around Alpine, TX and in Big Bend.  Next time, make it a weekend and break up the flying in 3-4 hour chunks.