Thursday, July 19, 2012

Westcliffe, CO

Dear Family and Friends.

It's a tradition.  If it's mid-July, it's time for us to go to the High Mountain Hay Fever Bluegrass Festival in Westcliffe, CO.  Last year's report, for a walk down memory lane, is here.

This year was different.  My sister, Verla, borrowed my banjo a few months ago with plans to learn how to play and then come to Westcliffe for the festival and campground jam sessions (she already plays guitar and fiddle; she hadn't done much banjo playing, so left it home; didn't want to pay a baggage fee for it or a guitar).  We've had a busy spring and summer on the road, notably in Las Vegas for the arrival of Julian and Landon, then a trip to west Texas, so Susie opted to stay home and let Verla and me have a sibling weekend.  She spent some quality time with son, Matt, and wife, Suzy, in Rio Rancho.

(Speaking of the twins, Landon and Julian, or vice versa, here's a July 4 picture.)

So I soloed in Tuzi for the first time on an extended trip, driving to Westcliffe (a six-hr. trip) on Monday, July 11.  No problems.  Bluegrass music played loud kept me alert and entertained.  Tuesday I drove the PT Cruiser to the Colorado Springs airport to pick up Verla.

Wednesday we took a two-hour trail ride - Verla is a big horse fan.  Some scenes.

Verla is on Blaze, I'm on Trevor - is that any name for a horse?.

Mostly we rode at a walking pace, occasionally a trot, just a few loping paces.

As we rode through one meadow, we flushed out first a doe, then her fawn.  Just after that there was noise in the nearby woods.  A coyote had jumped the deer.  Some of our group saw the coyote.  Doe and fawn fled in opposite directions.  We don't know what happened after that, but hope our presence scared off the coyote.

Our guides: Wendy and Barb.

While waiting to start our ride, Verla visited with Wendy, told her we were here for the bluegrass.  Wendy said you need to talk with Barb, she's active in local music activities.  Just last night they had both been in a jam session in a local restaurant.  After the ride, I asked Barb: Is there a jam session tonight?  The answer was, Yes, 6:30 at the Methodist Church.  So, we went.  

There were about a dozen people there.  Barb was the leader with vocals, fiddle, and guitar.  She and Verla traded Barb's fiddle and guitar back and forth.  One of the regulars was a fantastic harmonica-playing lady.  There were a couple of other festival visitors and several regular pickers and singers.  We went around the circle two or three times taking turns choosing songs.  Verla's choice of John Denver's Follow Me was one of the hits of the evening.  Click the link to hear this great love song.  I picked Red River Valley, Faded Love, and Irene, Good Night (after they threatened to end with a rock song, California Dreamin', or some such).

Wendy, Barb, and Verla.

Thursday morning Verla and I hiked one of the many trails in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, about a five-mile RT hike to Venable Falls.  It was a good day for wild flowers and butterflies.  Some pix.

Some spectacular columbines on the stream bank.

The falls were nice, too.

The festival started Thursday evening with four Colorado bands.  The next day, things got serious.  Here's the scene at 630am as fans line up to plant their lawn chairs in choice spots when the grounds open at 730; music starts at 10am.  (In the tent there are wedge-shaped sessions: some with festival folding chairs; some without, so the rush is to plop your lawn chairs in a prime spot in the open area.  There are rules, though.  If a personal lawn chair is unoccupied when a band's set starts, anybody can sit in it and remain through the set at which time the owner can ask for his or her chair for the next set.  The one day we didn't go in early, Verla and I took advantage of this policy to sit just a few rows from the stage.

Friday and Saturday the festival runs from 10 to 10.  Nuthin' like 12 hrs. of bluegrass.  One of the host bands, The Sons and Brothers, opened.  This band originated as Dad and three sons, all from Westcliffe.  Dad, Frank Wolking, tragically died of cancer four years ago.  Since then the Sons have added Uncle Fred, who plays the guitar, usually electrified, and a drummer and a fiddle player.  They do a mix of bluegrass and western music and have become what the emcee called the Sons and Brothers Big Band.  Go here for a youtube video from 2009 as the band closes the festival doing the Soul of a Man as a tribute to their Dad. 

The three sons also did a set as The Wolking Brothers.  Here's a picture.

One of the most popular groups this year was the Tuttle Family, from Palo Alto, CA.  Here's a picture of the family, plus a friend of the family, the young girl playing the mandolin.

The mandolin player is AJ Lee and I came across a website calling her "California's Hottest Singer."  She's just 14, but I think this video, made a year or two ago demonstrates her potential.  I should also mention that the other girl in the band, daughter Molly, is quite a talent, also, having won a major song-writing contest.  The two boys are fine musicians, but a bit shy about it.  Dad had a good time and a good sense of humor.

The other host band is the Dry Branch Fire Squad.  This band was formed by Ron Thomason in 1976 - back east.  I heard them when we lived in Washington D.C.1975-77 and I got interested in bluegrass.  He moved to Colorado around ten years ago to raise and train horses in the Westcliffe area.  Ron, on mandolin here, has been most responsible for inviting the bands and groups for the festival - this was its 10th year.  

He said this year, an old-time music group had agreed to play, but he had not heard from them in some time.  He made a call.  Oh, we're not coming, they said.  Well, weren't you going to tell me?  We thought you'd hear, they said.  So, to fill the hole in the program he recruited his 'significant other,' Heidi Clare, to come and play.  More on her below.

Here's a sample of the Fire Squad's old time, Appalachian music.  They always do a gospel set on Sunday morning. 

Heidi (I'm not sure of her last name now; Clare is probably just a stage name play on words.  Susie says it may be her middle name), who is a great old-time fiddler, used to be in one of my all-time favorite groups, the Reeltime Travelers, now unfortunately disbanded.  But, she has moved on big time.  She is spending a year, I believe, at U Cal San Francisco as Artist in Residence in the medical school, doing research on music and the brain.  She gave a fascinating workshop on this topic.  Part of it was about the subtle ways that band members communicate to the audience and to each other while they are performing.  She and a banjo player demonstrated.  She had given the same demonstration to a group of neurologists and brain specialists and said they were excited, they could see the neurons firing.  

Heidi also told about being in a dementia facility, finding it impossible to talk to the patients and get any reaction.  She started playing the fiddle.  By the end of an hour everybody was singing and dancing.  I know my Mom could still sing, Praise God from whom all blessings flow, ... when all other communication skills were gone.   There's something about music and the brain.

Another example.  In a facility Heidi visited there was an elderly man, George.  Again, no response to conversation.  George had been a dancer in his younger days.  Heidi asked Ron, who was visiting, to play a waltz on his mandolin.  Heidi and George started dancing.  She said it was a miracle.  George was in full control, she didn't have to lead, he made all the right moves and steps and swept her around the room.  Amazing!  I think we all had tears in our eyes.

Here's a link to Heidi's website.  Heidi included a couple of Reeltime songs in her sets.  Here's my favorite Reeltime Travelers song, Halelujah, and Heidi's mournful fiddle breaks are a major reason why.

Speaking of dancing, one evening there was dancing in the workshop room.  Verla danced, I listened to the music (Sons and Brothers were playing) and took a couple of pictures.

Before the morning sessions started we took some drives around the area.  Some pictures.

This is Lake Deweese.

 We stopped for horses.

And barns.

 And cemeteries.

This cemetery and some mine tailings are about all that remain from what was the mining town of Rosita, back in the late 1800s.

This marker is for mother and daughter, both of whom died right after the daughter was born in 1888.

The inscription for the mother, Ettie, age 19, wife of Max Lessing, read,

She like the rose bloomed a few days,
But now lies silent in the grave.
She will not return to us,
But we may go to her.

Those pioneers had such a hard life.

I never get tired of taking shots from the RV park or from the festival grounds.

Afternoon showers entertained us two or three days.

Here are downtown hollyhocks.

We left Sunday morning after the Dry Branch Fire Squad's gospel set.  Plan was to go to Denver to spend the afternoon with Jeff, Valerie, Malia, and Macy, then I would drive Verla back to the Colorado Springs airport, for an 800pm flight and I would return to Westcliffe.  

At Jeff's I decided to check on Verla's flights and print her boarding passes.  Ironically, the flights were from COS to DEN, with a change to a flight to OKC.  The tickets were bought before I thought about going to Denver for a brief visit.  I got online and found, apparently, that the flight from COS was delayed from 800pm to some time the next morning.  Didn't make sense, so I called Expedia, with whom I'd booked the flights, and the airlines.  Spent lots of time on hold.  Expedia told me things were all right, but I wasn't convinced.  Couldn't get any airline info directly.  Part of the problem is that the flights were booked through US Air, but operated by United Express.  We had a confirmation code for one, not the other. 

After about an hour of frustration, I decided to take Verla to the Denver airport, about 45 minutes from Jeff's in the opposite direction from COS and Westcliffe.  We left Jeff's early enough that I could get back to Westcliffe at a decent hour, so that cut short our visit.  Here's my only picture of the M&M girls.

 Somehow, they always end up jumping on me and each other when I'm there.  We have a good time.

Anyhow, all went well.  Verla got her flight to OKC (and didn't get penalized for not flying from COS to DEN as one helpful person told me would happen during my marathon phone-athon), I got back to Westcliffe about nine.  Next morning I hitched up and was home in early afternoon.

Had a great week.  Now, we're off to Las Vegas tomorrow for a weekend there.


Rob and Susie

Wednesday, July 04, 2012

Fort Davis, TX

Dear Family and Friends:  Daughter-in-law Suzy Hinkle's parents organized a family reunion to coincide with the Fort Davis, TX Independence Day celebration this past weekend.  They invited in-laws and step-in-laws so we decided to load up Tuzigoot and head down for the festivities.

Fort Davis is in that flange of SW Texas bounded on the south by the Rio Grande and the north by New Mexico.  It's 200 miles east of El Paso, 400 miles west of San Antonio.  The town grew up in the mid-1800s around the military post, Fort Davis, established there, up against the Davis Mountains, to protect trails and settlers in the area.  The Davis behind all of this is referred to as Jeff Davis, as in Jeff Davis County.  Mr. Davis was the U.S. Secretary of War when the fort was established.  We know him better as Jefferson Davis, who went on a few years later to become President of the Confederacy.  Guess there's never been enough Union sentiment in Texas to change the names.

The Fort, nicely preserved, is now a National Historic Site.  I went out early in the morning before it officially opened and got some pix of Officers' Row, which I particularly like.

Now, some family history.  Suzy's parents, Elizabeth and Alan Anthony, lived in Fort Davis and raised their kids, Suzy and Tommy here.  Alan taught history at Sul Ross U, just down the road in Alpine.  Elizabeth taught first grade in FD.  They were pillars of the local Methodist Church, made lots of friends.  A few years ago they moved to San Antonio, so this was a real homecoming for them.

Suzy and Matt have three children.  The youngest, Andrew, is working this summer at the Prude Ranch (slogan, Come see us.  We'll keep a horse saddled for you), located just a few miles out of FD, where he is a camp counselor, riding herd on a group of 6-9 year-olds.  Kaci, their daughter, lives in NYC, but she was able to get away, fly out to Albq, then ride down to FD with her parents.  Their other son, Tony, is in the Army, stationed in Fort Hood, some 450 miles away, but he could not get leave ... so everyone thought.  Except Kaci, with whom he had been in contact.  Kaci was staying with us in Tuzi and as soon as everyone left for the night, she spilled the plan to us.  Tony was en route.  We sent him directions to the RV park and kept in touch.  He got to FD about 130 am.  Next morning we drove over to the house in which Matt and Suzy were staying to surprise them.  Here's a bit of the happy scene.

 Next, the parade.

Lots of good ole Americana.  Horses, kids, bicycles, motorcycles, tractors, trucks, floats ... .

Here's an unusual truck belonging to the University of Texas.

 Part of our party.

Mercifully, it was a cloudy morning.

The grand finale was fire trucks.  I couldn't get Blogger to upload my video.  So, go to my facebook page and click the fire truck to watch and hear the video.  Watch to the end to see scavengers chasing candy.

We watched the parade from across the street from the school where Elizabeth taught.  After the parade we took the opportunity to get a schoolyard picture of four of the six grandchildren of the Anthonys.

From L to R, Kaci Hinkle, J. T. Anthony, Tony Hinkle, Mary Anthony.

Next, down to the courthouse for lunch and browsing.  Andrew had been in the parade with his Prude Ranch kids.  He didn't know Tony was here until their float came by our group watching the parade.  We caught up with him at the courthouse.

Here's a shot of the courthouse the day before the crowds arrived.  Quite elegant.

Andrew told us about a place in nearby Marfa that serves wonderful specialty grilled cheese sandwiches, but only after 930 on Friday and Saturday nights.  We had already planned to see the Marfa lights Saturday night, so this would be on the way.

Here's the sign on the place.

 Here are the electronic wonders.

J.T. said it was spooky having all these faces staring at you (same face on all the small TVs).

Here's the Food Shark Dining Car, where we ate.

Interior picture, courtesy of Matt.

As you might know or have guessed, Marfa has become an artsy, funky place in recent years.

Those lights behind us are Christmas lights, but they look like Marfa lights.  Next stop, a viewing area a few miles east of Marfa.

WE SAW THEM!  Lights would appear, bob around, then disappear.  Here's a picture from the linked website.

One theory is that the lights are refracted images from car headlights on a nearby highway or from lights on various ranches.  Seems like somebody could check that by recording traffic on the highway and sightings from the observation area and seeing if they match up.  Counter claim is that the mysterious lights were observed in the 1800s before car lights existed.  Others say swamp gas, or natural gas escaping from underground (that theory should be checkable).  Some say extra-terrestials coming and going.  Alan Anthony says it's cowboys out there riding around with high-powered flashlights.  New theory that just occurred to me.  The astronomers at the McDonald Observatory in the Davis Mountains are playing games with their big mirrors.  Or, maybe Area 51 in Nevada has something to do with it.  Whatever, the lights attract attention.  Must have been 30-40 people out there at 11pm observing the phenomenon. 

Sunday was church, lunch at the Lodge in the Davis Mountains State Park, then a reception where friends of the Anthonys could come by and visit.  (The sixth grandchild in the Anthony clan, Michael Anthony, arrived about noon to complete the family register.  Sorry I don't have a picture.)  I do have a picture from outside the house where the reception was held (and where the bulk of our reunion group stayed) that I like.  (You might guess that I focused outside the house because the house was so full of strangers, but that would be wrong.)

The linkage that started all this (I should say half of all this) is that Matt's roommate at West Point was from Fort Davis.  He fixed Matt up with a date with Suzy Anthony, so Suzy from Fort Davis flew to West Point, NY, met Matt from Albuquerque, and the rest is history.  Matt's roommate before Suzy lives in the area and he and his parents were among the reception attendees.

Monday we headed home by an eastern route, through Carlsbad and Roswell in NM (rather than the I-25/I-10 route through El Paso we came down by).  A couple of years ago we drove the "loneliest road in the US," US 50 across Nevada, but I think the 95 miles from Roswell to Vaughn has to be the most desolate.  In Nevada you're traversing range-and-basin country, so your view changes.  Not so here.

There are mountains on the distant horizon, but obscured by smoke from fires in the Ruidoso area.

The other side of the highway looked like this.

I like the wide open spaces, but this is a bit much.  Not even an interesting cloud to grab your attention.

Susie said when she and Manny lived in Roswell, she drove this route by herself twice a week en route to and from Las Vegas where she was taking summer classes at Highlands U. toward an M.A. degree.  She had two year old Jeff with her and was seven months pregnant with Matt.  She didn't realize how brave   (or stupid - Susie's insert) she was.

We had a great time in Fort Davis.  Glad we went.  Glad to be home again, for a while.

Happy Fourth!

Rob, Susie, and Tuzigoot (all shown here).



Landon and Julian.  Heidi sends us daily pictures.