Fires close to our home from Steve Elfring

April 20, 2011 § Leave a comment

Believe it or not, these are actually “good news” images as the forest
service folks managed to do burn-offs of much of Black and Spring Mountains
to the north of the Observatory.  With the burning of Guide Peak the night
before these latest burns radically reduce the chance of more break-out
fires like we had on Black on Sunday afternoon.
Frank Cianciolo
Sr. Program Coordinator
McDonald Obs. / Bash Visitors Center
University of Texas at Austin



OCOTILLO by Patt Sims Tierra Grande Chapter‏

April 13, 2011 § 2 Comments

It was a young boy in Boquillas Canyon who formally introduced me to the ocotillo more than 40 years ago. I was walking into the canyon and ahead of me was a young man also walking into the canyon. From maybe 20 feet behind I watched as he reached up to a clump of dazzling red flowers at the end of what appeared to be long, dead sticks and pulled a few off. As I walked by him I stopped and watched as he bit off the base of each flower and sucked out the nectar. Then I reached up to get some flowers and repeated his actions. He laughed at me and then I laughed at him. It was like sucking up nectar from a honeysuckle, maybe even a little sweeter. We then spent the better part of the afternoon walking among the flowers, laughing and sucking out nectar. It was a fine day. At that time I spoke little Spanish but managed to learn a lot about the ocotillo and the roles it plays in the Chihuahuan Desert from this young man.

Few plants can play more on the imagination than the ocotillo. In form it resembles nothing so much as a giant bouquet of dead sticks branching out at ground level and sending as many as 50 stems from three to twenty-five feet into the air. Each stem is armed with spines along its length, making it a rather formidable plant. For most of the year we see only these bare stems, but after a good rain, short, green leaves appear. These are about an inch long and cluster at the base of the spines. When arid conditions return the leaves are quickly shed, preventing the loss of too much moisture from the plant through the leaves. The ocotillo also produces another type of leaf. During its growing season smooth green leaves appear on the new growth. These leaves will curve inward near their bases and change from a soft petiole to a hardened sharp spine one-half inch long. In only a few other plant families do spines develop from leaves.

The ocotillo is well adapted to desert life and seems to prefer the arid gravelly foothills and limestone ridges where little else grows. They may be found as widely spaced individuals or in a large gathering covering several acres. The plant is protected from dryness by a waxy sheath under its bark. The root system is shallow, widespread, and sheathed with a corky substance that enables it to quickly absorb what little moisture may penetrate the ground. It is a sturdy plant, well equipped to survive in the harsh environment of the Big Bend country. Where its only enemy is, seemingly, the wind which will occasionally topple the plant. I have seen woodpeckers pecking at the stems of the plant but only a few times.

Since the ocotillo grows only in the Chihuahuan and Sonoran Deserts it is probable that early settlers to the Big Bend had never seen the plant before. A large number of common names were used to describe the plant, including: coach whip, Jacob’s staff, and candle wood. Ocotillo was an native American name for the plant and seems to be the most popular name today. A few other names, such as vine cactus and candle cactus, gave the misleading impression that this plant is a member of the cactus family. Although it was readily apparent to the botanist that the ocotillo was not a cactus (cactus do not develop leaves after a rainy season), they really didn’t know how to classify it. Eventually they decided to place it in its own family of plants which consists of a few different species of ocotillo and the boojum tree of Baja California. In the spring, whether there has been any rain or not the ocotillo usually blooms. Bright, flame-red flowers cluster about the tips of the spiny stems. There are faintly fragrant with sweet, viscous nectar. There may be as many as 300 flowers clustered on a single stem (though the usual number is about 120). Some plants have as many as 500 clusters of inch -long flowers. After the flowers wither, the seed pod matures, eventually splitting open at the top to reveal silky white seed, each with a long fringe of spirally thickened hair. The wind will disperse these so that they can germinate and produce new plants. The process may be repeated several times during the year because this plant is in tune with rainfall, not seasons.

Man in the Big Bend found many uses for the ocotillo. The seed could be eaten, the flowers made a soothing tea. A poultice from powdered roots relieved pains of arthritis and rheumatism. The wax found under the bark of the plant was used for tanning hides. Bundles of dried ocotillo stems were used as torches, the wax in them producing a bright flame. This same wax was used by later settlers as a furniture varnish. The ocotillo was an important building material, whether woven into walls or laid flat and covered with mud for a roofing material. The plant was, and still is, important as a fencing material, often the cut stems, when placed in the ground, take root to provide a living fence, leafing out after summer rains and then blooming.

Today ocotillos are disappearing from the Chihuahuan Desert as ranchers, seeking a cash crop, sell their ocotillo to landscapers. Trucks loaded with thousands of pounds of ocotillo plants can be seen leaving the desert every spring, making our desert just a little bit more deserted. I am glad ranchers have an income, and I’m glad others throughout the country find the ocotillo attractive. But this plant is part of the Chihuahuan Desert so I hope some will always remain.

Our off-grid home….

April 11, 2011 § Leave a comment

Posted: January 22, 2011 | Author: marie french | Filed under: green homes, homes for sale, managed homes, off grid home, organized solutions, sustainable solutions, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Modify: Edit this | Leave a comment »When John and Marie met they shared similar goals of living off grid in the mountains amongst nature and all of her glory. It was in Terlingua, Texas that their dream was realized, and the family John Marie and their two girls moved to far west Texas. Amongst the Christmas mountains nestled against the red iron oxide rocks they found a small home that John painstakingly renovated, and added on to create a totally off grid Sante fe style home.  It is made with rastra block construction, and the studio and detached car port are made with papercrete. The insulation capabilities of these green materials is amazing.  The buildings are a sand color stucco and blend into the mountain scenery.  There is a 7KW PV producing 35KW a day,


solar system that powers every imaginable electric unit including AC. The solar system sits above the car port with the extensive battery power concealed in a small area building with in the car port. The batteries can support a much bigger system than it currently supports as John felt it would be great to be able to add-on wind or more solar power if we wanted.  John being a stickler for detail and a perfectionist at heart keeps the systems and designed the systems to perfection.

People move to the desert for the weather, but you soon realize you are in fact in the desert and one of the biggest worries in the desert is water.  John took care of that measure as well. Two wells are on the property that produce all of the water anyone in the desert could need, with a water filter, and tankless hot water heater.  There is also 18,000 gallons of water storage that can in itself be used for drinking and bathing as well as watering plants, your own food garden and any animals you choose to have on the property. Speaking of animals frequent visitors include; mule tail deer, road runners, quail, warblers, hummingbirds, cardinals, and many other birds far too many to mention them all, honey bees, javelinas on occasion. Another beauty of the property is the fact that it has an aerobic septic system, called a hoot system that turns black water to grey water. So nothing is wasted on this property.

This property is so well thought out. John designed and made sure every plug had a reason and every pipe was well covered. No worries of your pipes freezing or you water being lost. Every detail of this house was painstakingly designed and constructed with John’s hand into every system. His attention to detail shines through in this house and every system is spotlessly clean and organized.

The main house is a 3 bedroom, 2 bath house with a main community room, loads of bookshelves, and a kitchen dining area. This house gives you the feeling of family and comfort.  Each room is so well thought out.  There is plenty of closet space, the bathrooms are spacious, slate floors throughout the house for easy cleaning. Stucco walls, open windows, and french doors, high ceilings, and custom furniture that can be sold with the house, a full pantry, and a full length basement.  Every part of this house has a purpose and can be used in so many different ways

The wrap around porches on the artist studio/guest house, and main house is the ideal place to grab a cup of coffee and look out over the scenic vistas.

There is an unattached art studio/guest house which has heat, and water hook up, and the office is the building next to the main house.  There are saltillo tiles throughout the studio and office, double doors, and plenty of light.  The total square footage of the property is about 1600 sq ft.  not including the 2 car covered car port, which can be converted into another stand alone space.  The perfect spot for a writers retreat, artist retreat, hunting retreat, second home, vacation home,retirement home, or family compound. Perfect for horseback riding, off-road bike riding, hiking and rock climbing, hunting is close by in the Christmas mountains and just about every kind of outdoor activity imaginable.  Close by you can go river rafting, and hike the Big Bend National Park.  Collect fossils, and learn about the Pictographs, and Native Americans camp sites.  The state park is just down the road for more hiking and adventures. The sheer beauty of the area will astound you.

This house is appraised at 25% more than the asking price so it is a real bargain for that special person who cares about the environment, and where they live,  the natural beauty, and want to have a special place to call home. For more information email

So you didn’t think we had culture in Terlingua Texas-THINK AGAIN!

April 10, 2011 § Leave a comment

Look at these fabulous dancers…..

Creative Co-horts…..

April 3, 2011 § Leave a comment

I would like to introduce a very special person..Sandy Smith.  She is a local Terlingua Texas resident who exudes the creative spirit that this blog is about.  She has taken a space and filled it with unusual West Texas finds, and she is a fabulous leatherworker…Just take a peek and I think you will agree…

Here are a few questions I asked Sandy and these are her replies…Enjoy…WHat is your creative pursuit??

Do you have a favorite quote? A few, but can’t think of even one at the moment.

What is your guilty pleasure? CHOCOLATE!

What do you listen to when you create? All kinds of music

Do you play an instrument and if you don’t what would you like to play? No, fiddle or stand up bass

Who is your favorite artist or artists? Changes according to my mood.

When is your favorite time of day? Daybreak

Why do you make art? It makes me happy!

What is on your workspace right now (physical objects)? All kinds of little trinkets that I have collected arranged on a shelf area so I see them all every time I look up from my work.

What is your favorite movie? Notebook, Excalibur, The Dirty Dozen

What inspired you to make art? Not sure

What’s your best piece of advice for artists? Let projects unfold the way they want to.

What is your least favorite technique that you still use anyway? Hand lacing leather

How do you recharge your artistic batteries? I change mediums, When I feel like I can’t lace another piece of leather, I change to mosaics or sewing. Projects should be fun.

Is there any advice you would like to share that was helpful to you in making art and creating? Don’t get discouraged. I often have an idea in my head and the end product is completely different. I try to just go with it.

Where Am I?

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