Tuesday, November 18, 2008

West Texas Wonderment


I just returned from a fun-filled weekend getaway to West Texas with my three friends, Andrea, Gene and Bobby. We stayed at the McIvor Ranch in Fort Davis, which far exceeded my expectations. Run by Scott and Julie McIvor, the McIvor Ranch is a working ranch with cattle, goats, horses, chickens and more. Gram’s House is a wonderful 3-bedroom, 2-bath house that belonged to Scott’s grandmother. The d├ęcor is very warm, with wood flooring, dark wood doors, a fireplace and a retro kitchen with black-and-white tile and an old Formica-topped dinette.

Andrea and I shared a room toward the back of the house, which had its own bathroom, decorated with light yellow tile, and a sea foam green tub and sink. But, the feature that really captured my attention was the toilet seat and cover. It was clear plastic with a variety of barbed wire samples inside of it – oddest thing I’ve ever seen. It was definitely worthy of a picture!


We met Scott McIvor, a real cowboy, when we arrived around 4:00 PM. The first thing I noticed about Scott was his mustache. Well-groomed, it grew very long, past his bottom lip, concealing his mouth. As I was pondering whether he has to part his mustache down the middle to eat and how his wife kisses him, I heard a familiar clink-clink-clink. Where had I heard that sound before? I looked down at Scott’s boots and saw the spurs. And, while we were gone, Scott brought us one and a half dozen fresh eggs. Delicious!

The four of us unloaded the Suburban and changed into our cold-weather gear. I was so glad I had packed my Sherpa hat, wool scarf and gloves, because as we ascended into the Davis Mountains, it got colder and colder. Our destination was the McDonald Observatory, owned by the University of Texas at Austin. We attended the Twilight Program and the Star Party.

The Twilight Program began with an introduction and overview from a senior staff member, who took questions. I asked, “What happened to Pluto?”, referring to astronomists no longer considering Pluto to be a “planet", which was followed by laughs from the crowd. The speaker smiled and explained that after further research, objects in the sky larger than Pluto, which also orbit the sun, had been discovered, yet were not considered planets. Hence, Pluto had been re-categorized as a “dwarf planet” or a “plutoid”. He further commented that the public seems to be mourning the loss of Pluto as a planet and some have even been adamantly incensed, citing a class of 5th graders who sent him hate mail after hearing about the re-categorization of Pluto. Reminding us that in the 1930s, astronomists determined that Sirius, previously thought to be a planet, was actually a star, the speaker said we’d get over the Pluto situation. Easy for him to say!


The Star Party was conducted by Shannon Rudine, Public Affairs Specialist, who happened to be an old college friend of Andrea’s during her days at Sul Ross University. Unfortunately, we had a full moon and a cold front had blown in a flurry of clouds. But, the night sky cleared long enough for Shannon to point out several constellations, such as the Southern Cross and Cassiopeia (or Cornucopia, as I preferred to call it), Venus and Saturn. It was so interesting and later, we were able to look through different telescopes to see a double star cluster, the moon, Jupiter and its orbiting moons.


On Day 2 of our adventure, the four of us returned to the McDonald Observatory to tour the Frank N. Bash Visitor’s Center and view the two gigantic telescopes - the 107-inch Harlan Smith Telescope and the 360-inch Hobby-Eberly Telescope.

After the tour, we headed to the Woodward Ranch, just south of Alpine, for an afternoon of rock hounding. The Woodward Ranch is the home source of Red Plum Agate, which is a beautiful stone. They have over 60 different kinds of agate and gemstones occurring naturally. We were given the “Geology 101” course and were led through the rock shop, shown samples of the raw material and what it looks like once its polished.


We spent a few hours filling our buckets with what we hoped were precious treasures. Having been to Woodward Ranch before, Gene (pictured above) helped the rest of us distinguish between the treasure rocks and the regular rocks. Tray Woodward, the owner of Woodward Ranch, sorted through our findings and set aside the rocks that had no value. The valuable pieces were placed back in our buckets and weighed. Four pounds of rocks cost $8.00. Lucky for us, Bobby has a rock tumbler and the tools to cut the rocks, so we are excited to see what our treasures really turn out to be!

On the last day of our trip, we stopped at Fredericksburg on our way back home. Andrea and I had never been there before. Arriving mid-afternoon, we meandered through the quaint shops downtown before they closed and then stopped at a local restaurant for refreshments and a snack.

There was so much more to do in West Texas in the Davis Mountains and not enough time to do it all. It is certainly worth a repeat visit, but next time we’ll stay longer!

Wish Upon A Star, Y’all!

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