Tuesday, December 31, 2013

New Year, New Volunteer Assignment, and a Little Search and Rescue

Today was our final day to work at Enchanted Rock State Natural Area.  At 2.5 months this has been our shortest gig ever and the time really flew by.

The weeks of Christmas and New Years turned out to be incredibly busy.  It seems that lots of folks decided that climbing "The Rock" and camping here overnight was just the way to end their year.  They came within just a few minutes of closing the park one day as virtually all of the parking spaces were filled and folks were waiting up to an hour out on the highway to get in!

Here is a picture of Enchanted Rock during a busy afternoon.
Enchanted Rock on a Busy Afternoon
With all of these visitors came some extra excitement.  After hearing about "rescues" for the first two months I suddenly got introduced to a few. The first was the report of a lost 72 year-old gentlemen.  His family had lost track of him somewhere on the rock, so one of the rangers and I grabbed our backpacks (water, food, flashlights, etc.) and headed up. The ranger was a few minutes ahead of me and found the gentlemen almost immediately. He didn't know he was lost, he'd just decided to head a different direction! Nevertheless, the family was relieved to get him back.

A couple of days later we got a report that a young lady had  injured her ankle and wasn't able to come down on her own. So three rangers and myself headed up to her with a rescue litter, strapped her in, and carried her down to the parking lot. Coming down the rock carrying a litter is tough because the whole operation is about five feet wide with the litter and two guys on each side.  The trail, on the other hand, is only about two feet wide, so we were walking on really difficult and uneven ground. While we were bringing her down we got another call on a lost hiker. The park called in the local search & rescue team since we were otherwise occupied. About the time that team arrived the lost hiker was found.

Finally, today the Gillespie County 911 received a call from two hikers who found themselves on a precarious ledge and wanted to be rescued.  Problem was they didn't know where they were, and gave descriptions such as "the sun is to our left and we can see a white building". The cell connections here are lousy and we couldn't make contact with them again.  We only had one ranger on today, so he took a truck around back while I went up the rock looking for this pair. Fortunately, the ranger met up with one of the other park hosts who has participated in rescues before (Carol), picked her up, and took her around back as well. He turned Carol loose in the most likely area and darned if she didn't walk right up to the lost hikers in a spot where they've found folks before.  Carol is a 64 year-old lady that just ran a half-marathon, and you definitely want her on your team when it comes to search and rescue!

Teri and I visited our next stop (Inks Lake) yesterday and located our assigned site.  So we'll pack up in the morning, make the short 45 mile drive to our new park, and start a new 3-month adventure.

So stay tuned, and Happy New Year!


Friday, December 27, 2013

Finished "Our" House

It took longer than we thought it would, but we've finished painting the Assistant Superintendent's house. You might recall from previous blogs that we volunteered to take on the task of painting a house here at the park.  The Assistant Superintendent position is currently vacant, so this was the perfect time to get the house fixed up. It started out as a simple project, but got complicated when the old popcorn texture began peeling from the ceiling.  So in addition to painting the house we ended up scraping and re-texturing three bedrooms and two bathrooms.  Fun!!
Assistant Superintendent's House, Enchanted Rock
Once the painting was done, we had to rehang all of the doors, including the big sliding closet doors in the bedrooms.
Hanging the Closet Doors
I had some issues getting the closet doors to work correctly. The first pair that I put up just wouldn't slide correctly.  I fussed around with them for too long and finally gave up and went to lunch.  When we returned Teri noticed that two of the brackets had the number "1" on them, and the other two had the number "2". I'd assumed that the brackets were all the same, but they weren't!!  Once that discovery was made things went so much better...
Two of these things are not like the others!!
Finished and Working Well
The carpets in this house need to be re-stretched and cleaned.  So we were able to pull them up to paint around the walls.  We had to get them re-positioned before we left, so there was some tugging and pulling. 
Adjusting Carpet
Fixing the Carpet in the Closet
Overall we think that the job went very well and the park folks are pleased with the finished product.  If we hadn't had this big house to paint we're not sure what we'd have done to occupy our time here.  Thank goodness for special projects!
Finished Kitchen
Finished Bathroom
We hope that the new Assistant Superintendent appreciates our hard work!!


Tuesday, December 24, 2013

A Few More

Our last post showed some of the birds that we've enjoyed at our feeder. We've had a few more since then.

Western Meadowlarks, like the previous Rock Wren, are primarily insect eaters.  But this particular Meadowlark was spotted near the base of the feeder.

Western Meadowlark
The Lark Sparrow is easy to identify, at least as sparrows go, by their distinctive face pattern.  We have several that frequent the feeder. 
Lark Sparrow
Another sparrow that visits the feeder is the Lincoln's Sparrow.  Identification is more difficult as they don't have a strong facial pattern. But the fine breast streaking and buffy "mustache" are good field marks.
Lincoln's Sparrow

We also saw a Black-throated Sparrow and a Verdin today, but were out working in the park and didn't have the camera. Maybe next time!


Saturday, December 21, 2013

Out Our Window

We put up a bird feeder when we arrived here at Enchanted Rock State Natural Area. There is a lot of natural food here so we haven't been overwhelmed by birds, but we've had a few visitors.

We've seen several sparrow species, but the Chipping Sparrows are most common by far.
Chipping Sparrow
We have a small pile of rocks and firewood below the feeder, and this has become a good area for the birds to poke around in.
House Finch
There are several types of doves, but the little Inca Doves are my favorite.
Inca Dove
We had Tufted Titmice at our home in Elgin, but in the Hill Country they are all Black-crested.
Black-crested Titmouse
This pair of Northern Cardinals look like ornaments on a Christmas tree!
Northern Cardinals
Our most unusual feeder birds have been Rock Wrens.  They don't eat the seed but seem to enjoy hopping around in the wood and rocks below the feeder. Maybe there are a few bugs down there.
Rock Wren

Monday, December 9, 2013

Remember the Telephone Game?

The game where you whisper something to one person, they whisper it to someone else, and so on.  The last person says what they heard, which is never the same as the starting phrase. Here is our own local version:

In yesterday's blog I reported that a purchasing freeze had been enacted here and we weren't sure when (or if) we'd get more paint.  We went in to touch base with the Park Superintendent this morning, and explained our dilemma regarding paint and the  purchasing freeze.

He looked at us kind of funny, and explained that there was no purchasing freeze. The actual message was that because of the incoming freezing weather, normal purchasing rules had been suspended to allow parks to more quickly react to frozen/broken pipes, pumps, etc.  But what ended up being passed around the maintenance section was that a purchasing freeze had been enacted. I guess that both explanations have the words "purchasing" and "freeze" in them!!

So it seems that we'll get the paint we need to finish the job. I suppose it is a good thing that we asked,,,


Sunday, December 8, 2013

More House Painting

In my last post I said that we'd be finished with the house in a week or so.  As it so often turns out, I was overly optimistic!

We had a deer control hunt here last week, and helped with taking hunters out and bringing deer back.  So that took up the middle of the week.  On the last day of the hunt (Thursday) a big cold front blew in and iced the entire park up.  The water is shut off at the house we're working on, so we've been holed up in the trailer since Thursday.  The final straw is that we need two additional gallons of paint to finish, but the park has been placed on a spending freeze so we don't know when (or if) we'll get more paint.

However, we've made a lot of progress and thought we'd share more pictures.

Starting at the beginning, they got us 10 gallons of paint and we rounded up whatever brushes, rollers, etc. we could find.  They had no masking tape at all, so Teri and I donated a roll that we had with us from a previous project and ended up buying two more just so we could do a decent job.
Paint and Supplies
The first thing that we had to deal with was what we call "The Green Monster".  It seems like each house we've painted has been customized by a previous owner to include one or more very dark walls.  And the park/refuge always wants the walls returned to a neutral eggshell color.  Covering up these dark walls is a challenge. It seems like there should be a policy on leaving the walls white!!
The Green Monster
The kitchen shared the dark green color, along with a lighter green on the cabinet and drawer fronts.
Kitchen Cabinets - Removing Doors
Our first task was to tape the edges so we didn't paint the floor.  They didn't have any type of masking material but told us we could use boxes of plastic bags that they didn't like.  They actually worked pretty well. Here is Teri using the plastic bags and our own masking tape to get us started on The Green Monster.
Teri Taping and Masking
They had five gallons of Kilz primer left over from a previous project.  This thick primer is used to cover stains and dark paint. It took us two coats of Kilz and two coats of paint to cover the dark green areas.
First Coat of Kilz
Teri and I make a good painting team.  She is more detail oriented, so handles most of the taping and tedious work like the kitchen cabinets.  I am less patient but fast, so I do a lot of the higher, bigger work.
Working up High
The bedrooms and living area were carpeted, but we knew that they intended to re-stretch and shampoo the carpet once we finished painting.  So I just pulled the carpet away from the walls so we didn't have to mask the bottom of the walls. That saved us a lot of time.
Carpet Pulled Back for Painting
We decided to leave the kitchen cabinet doors and drawer fronts their original light green color. The doors have a wood panel insert that we didn't want to paint, and Teri thought that the light green would work well with the eggshell.  She was right and it gives the kitchen a bit of color. Teri applied two coats of primer and two of paint to all of the cabinet frames, shelves, and surrounding area.
Finished Cabinets
Finished Kitchen
We have most of the house done and are anxious to finish before we leave at the end of the month.  We may just go buy the last two gallons of paint ourselves.

We have found a significant difference between our Fish & Wildlife Service volunteer sites and the Texas State Parks. When FWS says they don't have money to spend, they still manage to buy everything they need for a project. Here at Enchanted Rock there is a lot more scrambling around to find older materials, mix paint from old cans (remember our deer blind project) and make do with (or without) whatever you can find. There may be a message in there somewhere...

Stay tuned for (hopefully) final pictures from a completed house.


Sunday, December 1, 2013

I Hate Popcorn!!

Actually, I like the eating kind of popcorn. But that stuff used to texture ceilings in the 60's, 70's and 80's has risen to the top of the list of things I hate!

We volunteered to paint the inside of the Assistant Superintendent's house here at Enchanted Rock State Natural Area. The position is currently vacant, but is expected to be filled by mid-December. They want to get the house freshened up before their new hire moves in, and since Teri and I have become such experienced painters we volunteered. We kind of need to stop doing that, I think!!

Things were going very smoothly until I started to roll paint onto one of the bedroom ceilings. The popcorn texture immediately started pulling off of the ceiling, and the harder I tried to avoid it the worse it got. We got the park staff over to the house and all decided that the popcorn texture needed to be removed. So, I've now scraped popcorn texture from the ceilings of three bedrooms and two bathrooms.

Scraping Popcorn Texture from Ceiling
The popcorn flaked right off of about 50% of the ceiling area, but was stuck like glue to the other 50%. We decided to re-texture the ceiling with a much finer sand texture, which meant that the ceiling had to be very smooth before new texture could be applied.  So lots of scraping, wetting, more scaping, joint compound and sanding later, I was ready to apply the new texture.
New Ceiling Texture (Sand)
The new sand texture was mixed with Kilz Primer and a little bit of joint compound. The result was a thick textured paint that was rolled onto the ceiling. Two coats later we were ready to actually paint the ceiling (again) with the finish coats.
Rolling on the New Texture
We'll have the entire house finished in another week or so. We'll have a follow-up blog showing more of the fun!!


Thursday, November 21, 2013

Vernal Pools and Islands of Vegetation

I already described how Vernal Pools support Fairy Shrimp on Enchanted Rock.  Another result of the Vernal Pools are islands of vegetation that form up on the bare rock.

Vernal Pools are shallow depressions that temporarily hold water after rain. Algae grows in the water, and organic matter also get trapped.  In addition, blowing sand and stone fragments are also trapped in these pools. In the image below a Vernal Pool is drying out.  You can see the algae and other material left on the bottom.
Drying Vernal Pool
Over many years enough sediment and organic matter might collect in a pool to support plant life.  Grass seed blowing across the rock will find its way into the pool and sprout. In the middle pool below you can see grass sprouting on the left side of the pool.
Vernal Pool with Vegetation
Once grass starts to grow the depression catches even more sediment and organic matter, and larger plants gain a toehold.  Cactus and Yucca seem to be the next plants to sprout.
Prickly Pear and Grass
Yucca and Grass filling Vernal Pool
With enough time the soil and vegetation will deepen, and may eventually support small trees. Unfortunately the tree in the image below seems to have succumbed to the drought. 
Vernal Pool with (dead) Tree
Who knew that these shallow depressions in rock could eventually support an entire plant community?


Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Vernal Pools and Fairy Shrimp

One of the interesting micro ecosystems here at Enchanted Rock are the Vernal Pools up the rock itself. A Vernal Pool is a shallow depression that fills with water after rain.  Most of the pools will only hold water for a few days, but the deeper ones will stay full for several weeks.

Vernal Pool on Enchanted Rock
The deepest Vernal Pools host a tiny crustacean known as Fairy Shrimp. They are similar to Brine Shrimp or "Sea Monkeys" that we might have seen as children. The Fairy Shrimp have a very short life cycle, and their eggs persist in dried out pools for months. The eggs lay in the bottom of dried out Vernal Pools until it rains, at which time they hatch. The shrimp grow quickly and reproduce, laying eggs before the pools dry up. Fairy Shrimp are slow-moving and tasty, and they can't successfully exist in water with fish or other predators. Hence their need for short-lived Vernal Pools.

Vernal Pool with Fairy Shrimp
The Fairy Shrimp can blend into the bottom of the pools. Can you find the three Fairy Shrimp in the photo below?  They look like tiny gray tadpoles.
Fairy Shrimp
Here they are circled.
Fairy Shrimp - circled
Check back for another blog that will discuss life at the Vernal Pools.


Sunday, November 17, 2013

Finished Our First Assignment

We've been here at Enchanted Rock for 4 weeks.  It has taken a while to get going on projects.  We only have to work 24 hours a week for the site.  That means we both work 2 days a week, 6 hours each of those days. 

Our first couple of weeks we spent our time checking cars for parking permits, cleaning the bath houses, and checking campsites for permits.  That left the remaining five hours to pick up trash.  We finally convinced the staff that we were willing and able to do much more to help out.  

Finally, we got our first project - painting 21 deer blinds and making repairs to any that needed it. We hopped right on that project.  The hunt here in the park is the first week in December so we were under a deadline to finish.

While painting, we found two wasps nests, one mouse nest with several hairless babies, and one bull snake.

Most of the blinds were in pretty good shape but there were a few repairs to be made:

Even though we ran out of paint twice (and had to create custom blends by scavenging partial cans of leftover paint), we completed our tasks this past week. 

On to the next project!

Friday, November 15, 2013

Hole - In - One !

After just a little over a year of playing disc golf, Mark got his first hole-in-one today!
Can you see the basket?  It couldn't be seen from the tee:
It is really tucked into the middle of two giant pecan trees:
The disk is laying on the left side of the basket:
It's customary to write your name and date on the rim of the basket after a hole-in-one:
Mark wrote his name in pencil so that it would eventually wash away. 
He will always remember his first ace!

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Veterans Day

Those we love don’t go away
They walk beside us every day
Unseen, unheard, but always there
Still loved, still missed
Still very dear.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Enchanted Butterflies

Teri and I took a hike around Enchanted Rock this morning, and were surprised by the number and variety of butterflies that we saw.  There are not many flowers blooming, but those that are seem very popular.

Dainty Sulphurs and Common Mestras are everywhere.  We saw hundreds of them moving about.
Common Mestra
Dainty Sulphur
Some of the large flowers were attracting more than one species of butterfly.
Black Swallowtail and Queen
Queen and Monarch
We saw singles of a few species.
Common Buckeye
Common Checkered-Skipper
Variegated Fritillary
Vesta Crescent
We are expecting our first freeze next week, so the number of butterflies will decrease soon.  We will enjoy them while we can!