Fort Phantom Hill

The occupation of Fort Phantom, north of Abilene, only lasted two years and five months.  Yet, on some days, it must have felt like a lifetime.

Soldiers traveled from forts in Arkansas and from the Indian Territory to erect this new fort.  The purpose of the fort was to protect travelers and settlers from Comanche raiding parties.

The grand, ghostly chimneys don’t begin to convey the hardships endured during these short years.  Yet, the feeling of isolation is still present even though a state highway divides the fort.

While living in tents, the soldiers constructed wooden houses for the officers using limited building supplies.  The enlisted men lived in pole huts with dirt floors and grass thatched roofs.

The Guard House or Jail was used to house soldiers for fighting or drinking whiskey, called bug juice.

Unusual for Texas, some houses had a cellar.

The ubiquitous Prickly Pear Cactus was as thorny a problem for them as for present day land owners.

Rattlesnakes are a fact of life in Texas. As the soldiers traveled to this location, a Texas Blue Norther struck.  Temperatures dropped quickly and the wind blew fiercely.  One teamster, twenty-seven oxen and mules froze to death in the sudden cold.

In the beginning, there were few problems from the Comanches.  But by 1853, travelers were attacked, some killed and scalped and others kidnapped.  After Indian Agent Jesse Stern was slain, the mood changed.  A new commander did not change the situation and the fort was abandoned.  As they left, he ordered that the fort be burned.

The water near the fort was full of minerals and tasted bad.  A deep well was dug but often ran dry, so water had to be hauled from a small spring four miles away.

Mesquite trees provided the only shade.

Hardships included scorching hot summers, freezing winters with ice and snow, and the ever present wind.  And, then, there were snakes, spiders, insects, ants, and other vermin.  There was rarely enough food and illnesses resulted.

What is it?

This stone bottom level of a two story commissary remains.

The monotonous view contained these three elements:  cacti, prairie grasses, and mesquites.

Across the present day highway, the Magazine still stands.  It was designed with a tall ceiling and vents to keep the gunpowder and shot dry.  The fort had muskets, rifles, and two brass cannons for protection.

Anyone want to go back to the good old days?  Not me.

“I cannot imagine that God ever intended white man to occupy such a barren waste land.”  Lt. Clinton W. Lear, Nov. 19, 1851

“Other states were carved or born, Texas grew from hide and horn.”  Berta Hart Nance

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A Walk Following Freezes

One sunny afternoon a couple of weeks ago, we took a walk through some pastures.

winterwalkLots of tall dried Broomweed (Gutierrezia sarothrae) or Broom snakeweed to get through.  Fortunately, cows had made a passable path.

Bloomweed is a prenniel with small yellow flowers from June to October.  It can take over pastures preventing grasses from growing.

It is also toxic to cattle, sheep, and goats.  So Broomweed is not a desirable plant.

winterwalk2Lots of dead grasses shine in the late afternoon sun.

winterwalk3An old plow use to till the soil.  I think.

winterwalk4Don’t know what decade this is from.

winterwalk5Garden chairs like this rusting one can often be seen in “antique” stores.

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winterwalk9This tiny Prairie Verbena still blooming was a surprise.  They are hardy, though.

winterwalkaA Live Oak that has succumbed to Oak Wilt.  A sad reality that is widespread in Texas.

winterwalkb Agarita (Mahonia trifoliolata) is an evergreen.  I recently read that it’s a good barrier shrub because it is so prickly.

winterwalkcAn overturned old deer blind lies next to a Live Oak.  The low sun provides interesting shadows.

winterwalkdAt the bottom of this dead oak is a deep hole – probably a fox lair.

winterwalkeOne area of our property has some Post Oak trees.  Those are not common here, so the soil must have just enough sand to suit their needs.  Post Oaks are finicky and don’t like human interference.  But their leaf production is prolific.

winterwalkiBare branches with a pretty form.

The small sign beside this tree is one of a Burma Shave style of old road signs.  Our group states that “Life is too short to live in the Metroplex.  Amazing Grace Ranch.”  Although we lived in the metroplex of Ft. Worth/Dallas for over 30 years, our personal lifestyle choice now embraces country living.

winterwalkhThis wagon is from the 1880’s.  Love to muse on where it traveled and what it meant to the survival of someone.

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winterwalkgThis iron brace may have been added later.

Beauty is all around us, even in stark winter.

“Nostalgia is a file that removes the rough edges from the good old days.”  Doug Larson

Natty Flat

Nothing says road trip like a stop at a local attraction.  As a kid, we always headed west for vacations to visit Indian ruins and natural wonders like the Painted Desert.  As we traveled those long, straight highways through sage-strewn flat land, we looked for the huge billboards advertising an Indian Trading Post coming up.  They promised unusual exhibits like dozens of live rattlesnakes or the real saddle of some famous outlaw.

In reality, it was a tourist trap full of trinkets probably made in some factory back east.  But we loved the chance to get out of the car and spend the allowance money we had been saving, taking lots of time to wander the aisles and look at everything.

nattyflat9Natty Flat is not exactly that sort of tourist place.  It started out as a small Barbeque restaurant and a store to sell western goods.  Those are not cheap trinkets, either.

Two brothers were ingenious in combining several talents for this enterprise.  One owns the restaurant, where the BBQ really is outstanding.  The other runs the store, which sells furniture as well as other western goods.  He also makes most of the furniture.  The over sized rifle in the picture is one of his creations.  It has already been sold so don’t hanker for it.

nattyflat8Red cedar, which is plentiful in the area, provides the materials needed for his craft.

nattyflat7This rocking chair is the main landmark for Natty Flat.  The telephone pole gives prospective for its height.

nattyflat6 Throw in a little western decor and it draws the people in.

nattyflat3Behind the windmill is the store.

nattyflat5They do a good job of putting a few brightly colored annuals to add more interest.  The Prickly Pear Cactus blooms also pop.

nattyflat4Petunias make this water trough attractive.

nattyflatThe owners’ sense of humor is evident in several places.  The above sign is hard to read, so here goes:

This rock never fails.  It’s 100% correct.
Here’s how it works.
If it’s wet, it’s raining.
If it’s dry, there’s fair weather.
If it’s dusty, there’s a dust storm
If it’s white, it’s snowing.
If it’s swaying, it’s windy.
If there’s a shadow under the rock, it’s sunny.
If you can’t see it, it’s foggy.
If it’s jumping up and down, there’s an earthquake.
If the bottom is under water, it’s a flood.
If it’s dry and still, just wait a minute, and it will change.
If everything is moving and you’re not, you’re drunk.

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nattyflat1These really are the restrooms for the restaurant.  But they are not the traditional holes of an outhouse.  Just a modern day toilet inside.

Note the pretty Yucca blooms beside it.  Flowers make anything look good.

nattyflataAmong Purple Sage, Prickly Pear, and a dying cedar is an old decaying wagon.

nattyflatbRusty metal and Prickly Pear is the perfect depiction of West Texas.

See more at Natty Flat.  It’s just south of I 20 at the Stephenville exit.  I think it’s worth a stop, especially for the grub.

“Keep away from folks who try to belittle your ambitions.  Small people always do that, but the really great make you feel that you, too, can become great.”  Mark Twain

Prickly Pear: Pest or Prize

Even though we grumble and grouse about them, they ain’t going anywhere.  And that’s not for lack of trying.

pricklypear9I am talking about the Prickly Pear Cactus.  They are ubiquitous on vast areas of the southwestern US and northern Mexico.

pricklypear7All true cactus species are native only to the Americas, but have been introduced to other places.

Prickly Pears are also called tuna for the fruit or nopal for the paddle.  Nopal is an Nahuatl word.  Nahuatl was the language of the Aztecs, and several varieties of it are still spoken in central Mexico.

pricklypear6These plants have been around a long time.

pricklypear4This is actually the time of the year when they take center stage and shine with their bright yellow blooms.  We even comment on how pretty they look in the fields.

top12sprayBut as I mentioned, most people try to get rid of Prickly Cactus.

Nine years ago my husband received a government grant to spray 23 acres of cacti with a potent pesticide.  Why does the US government care about cactus?  Because they are water guzzlers in arid area.  Land needs to be cleared of cacti so that crops or grasses for grazing can be grown.

In order to buy and use this spray, he had to take a class and a test for a private pesticide applicator license.

top34sprayerThe spraying was done in the hottest part of the summer.  So it was an uncomfortable job.  But it worked, for a few years. Then other cactus grew, and those fields are filled again with prickly pears.

Nature seems more determined than we are.

pricklypear3Since they are a fact of life here, we choose (most of the time) to enjoy the delicate flowers in the spring and early summer and avoid the thorns.  That means the larger, obvious spikes and the fine hair ones that get embedded into the skin and take a long time to work themselves out.

pricklypear5Some paddles form some interesting shapes, like this heart.

pricklypear8Or fat fingers on hands at the top of this picture.  You might need some imagination for this one.

pricklypear2For such a nuisance, this plant has a delicate, lovely looking flower.

So the question is:  how many are too many?

“A graduation ceremony is an event where the commencement speaker tells thousands of students dressed in identical caps and gowns that ‘individuality’ is the key to success.”
Robert Purvis

Dry, Dry Winter

Those few days that are warm enough to take long walks this winter have been a treat.  Of course, our bodies are not acclimated to the cold like those souls in our northern states.  We are accustomed to the long sizzling hot summers.

blahwinter2The dry fields seen from above take on a golden cast, but they are dry and dusty.  The predictable green comes from our ever present Ashe juniper (Juniperus ashei) or Texas mountain cedar.  Getting rid of these water guzzling cedars has been our mission since we moved here.  Our long sunny days and rocky, limestone soil is an ideal hothouse for them.

blahwinter7While looking for green and art shots, I take this picture of a hunter’s feeder.  Not sure if this counts as art.

blahwinter6For those unfamiliar with feeders to draw deer to a certain spot, the seeds or dried corn fall down into this motorized disperser on a timer that spins out the feed in a wide circle.  The cage protects the mechanism from four legged creatures.

blahwinter4Talk about sad and drab, this old hunter’s blind with its dry curled wood epitomizes our winter without moisture.

blahwinter5A little bit of fluff from some weeds flapping like a flag blown by wind.

blahwinter8Another attempt at an art shot; but it just reveals the bareness of dead grass and weeds with a pile of rocks thrown in.

blahwinterOne living plant that can be always be seen here is Prickly Pear Cactus.  The beautiful blooms will come in late spring and into early summer.

blahwinter3The creeks are so low that algae grew in the fall.  But it’s green.  Although the definition of a creek is a small stream, it’s mostly called a creek here in the southcentral and southwestern US.

blahwinter9Surely this twisted metal counts as artistic form.

Can you tell that I’m eager for spring.  But then I guess most everyone is.

“To shorten winter, borrow some money due in spring.”  W. J. Vogel

Eyes to the Ground

It’s easy to miss some interesting stuff if you don’t look down occasionally, especially on a walk out in the pastures.

pinks2Mountain Pink (Centaurium beyrichii) hug the ground and bloom in the summer.  The mound looks like a perfect bouquet.

pinks3Every year they pop up in this same rocky road through the pastures.

pinksThey need little soil and no water except for an occasional rain.  The recent heavy rains actually killed them off.  These pictures were made before then.

It’s extremely difficult and a lot of trouble to start this plant.  The seeds are microscopic.  “There is a story about Lady Bird Johnson’s planting the seed of Centaurium texense, Lady Bird’s centaury, in 1966.  She had been told it couldn’t be done, but as she collected the seed, she observed that the plants were most often growing on rocky disturbed roadsides where they receive the runoff from the road.  So she planted her seed around her ranch’s airplane runway, with gratifying results.” Native Texas Plants by Sally Wasowski and Andy Wasowski.

anttubes2Whoa, what is this?  After the rains these termite tubes appeared.  They cover a large area.

anttubes3Although most look flat along the ground, the tube shape is seen in this picture.  They are created by Subterranean Termites or just plain Termites.

anttubesIt’s never good to have termites near your house.   These are not.  One good thing about fire ants is that they eat these termites.  But the fire ants that are a problem are around the house.  Okay, that doesn’t help.

horsemintPlains Horsemint or Lemon Beebalm (Monarda citriodora) normally have a deeper purple color than this one.  The layers may have different shades from pink to purple on one plant.

Horsemint appears in spring and lasts through the first part of summer. I wish there were more on our property because large groupings of them are very attractive.

spittleAlthough this may look like a cotton ball or marshmallow, it is a foamy Spittle Bug protective covering.  The soapy glob can be pulled off to reveal a half inch Meadow Spittle Bug or Frog Hopper.  But be careful because they do jump out.

This foamy ball is formed when they suck plant juices and excrete this foamy blob.  More than you wanted to know?

100_0389Let’s end this walk with a common sight on the ground on our ranch.  That would be Low Prickly Pear (Opuntia humifusa).  Definitely be aware of these and not stumble into one.  Those sharp barbs hurt like crazy.  The fine hairy parts around the spikes and on the fruit are especially difficult to pull out.

Thanks for taking this stroll with me.

“I have the body of a god.  Unfortunately that god is Buddha.”          Tee shirt message