For my birthday, my wonderful wife sent me off to Texas for a few days to hang out with my best friend for a few days. He has been my best friend for 16 years but, since we finished school in 2006 and I came back to California from Texas, I have only seen him 6 times. We talk all the time, but distance keeps us from spending time with each other. Not only did she send me out there, she bought tickets to one of my favorite Texas country stars. Needless to say, my friend and I were both excited for a weekend of no work, no kids, lots of barbecue and music and time hanging out together.
The one drawback was I had to fly out to Dallas first and I am not a fan of flying. The way I have coped with this is by sitting by the window and trying to figure out where we are by the landmarks visible below. This trip was no different, though the smoke and a bunch of storm clouds did obscure the view of a good portion of the trip. However, what I did see, especially in our local area, was quite interesting. Hopefully it is interesting enough to endure a few pictures of Texas too…
I flew out of Medford, which was even smokier than it was here in Mount Shasta. However, shortly after takeoff I spotted Mount McLoughlin poking up from the top of the smoke. At 9,493 feet, it was a good barometer for how high the smoke layer extended.
After flying over the Marble Mountains and Russian Wilderness, I finally had a good perspective on Mount Shasta. Several thousand feet of the mountain rose high above the smoke. It seemed like an island of clarity amidst a sea of chaos. Several other landmarks were visible, including the Whaleback, China Mountain, Mount Eddy and Porcupine Peak. The visibility, such as it was, of much of the Trinity Divide was evidence that the smoke was actually a bit better than it was in southern Oregon. It was good to see the mountain after its obscurity in the smoke for several days.
Next up was the Trinity Alps. These were surprisingly smoke free, which is remarkable considering how close they are to the Carr Fire. The area visible in this image includes Granite Lake and Gibson Peak near center and Siligo Peak with Deer and Summit Lakes in the center bottom. Middle Peak and Echo Lake are further to the right. Trinity Lake can be seen in the upper right hand corner.
Shortly after the Trinity Alps, the plane flew past the Carr Fire. Here the western edge of the fire can be seen burning down toward Trinity Lake and the town of Lewiston. I could see planes diving low and dropping clouds of red retardant on the fire. It was a pretty dramatic sight.
Once we left San Francisco, the smoke and clouds quickly closed in, making for a really bumpy flight. When things cleared up, the first landmark I was able to make out was Navajo Lake, which is near the Four Corner. The lake, formed by impounding the San Juan River, is mostly in New Mexico, though the upper most part of the reservoir extends into southern Oklahoma.
Next up was the Truchas Peaks, the 2nd highest collection of peaks in New Mexico and the southernmost 13,000 foot mountains in the Rockies. These towering summits lie in the heart of the Pecos Wilderness, one of the great wildlands of the Southwest. The darker ridge running vertically at the bottom of the image is the Trailriders Wall. It is probably my favorite spot in New Mexico. If you ever get a chance to explore this area, I strongly encourage it.
I finally landed in Dallas where my friend picked me up. I hung out that evening and I met his kids for the first time. The next morning we took a lap around our old campus and then headed south into central Texas, to the Hill Country, where he has a ranch. We spent the rest of the day shooting and driving around the old roads that wind around the property, which is several hundred acres in size. I spent a lot of time down there when we were in school together and it was a place with a lot of great memories.
When I first moved to Texas, I had different perceptions of beauty in the natural world. My time there broadened my sense of what what beauty was, where to find it, and how to appreciate it. Naturally I prefer mountains and other such environments but it was good to get back into a land more subtle and be reminded of the value of the great scenic palette we have in this country. The sunrise we watched from the bluff was particularly magnificent.
After leaving the ranch, we headed to Lockhart, Texas, where we planned to feast on BBQ for lunch. On the way, we went through Luckenbach, which is, though a bit of a tourist trap now, still sort of the center of the Texas country music scene (Gruene Hall is the real heart of Texas country, of course). Once in Lockhart we had lunch at all three of the great barbecue places, Blacks, Kreuz Market and Smitty’s. All were amazing but Kreuz was far and away the best. If anyone is in that area and likes BBQ, stopping and having some brisket is a moral imperative.
That night, we went to New Braunfels and watched Wade Bowen. It was a fantastic show. In my assessment, he is the top of the heap in the current Texas music scene. A few samples, if anyone is interested, can be found here, here and here. After that, it was one more day to hang out with my friend, head back up to Dallas and get ready to leave the next morning. It was a quick but great trip.
My predawn flight let me watch the sunrise from the air. It was magnificent. However, smoke covered much of the Southwest. It began halfway between Dallas and the New Mexico border an continued, for varying degrees, all the way to San Francisco Bay, where it came to an abrupt halt on the eastern edge of the Bay. San Francisco was crystal clear.
Near the end of the flight, we made a dramatic crossing of the Sierra Nevada. The bulk of the smoke covering the Great Basin was held back by the mighty mountain range. The morning light, mixed with the thin smoke over the Sierra turned the range pink. Range of Light indeed. Special credit to anyone who recognizes where this is. There are a number of good clues if anyone is a real geography nut and wants to figure it out.
The smoke was really thick all over California, but once again, Mount Shasta rises above it. I sure will be glad when this all blows away. Though it is small consolation, this stuff is everywhere, from Texas to California, so it is not like we are particularly afflicted.
I just want to offer a special thanks to my amazing wife for such a fantastic and selfless birthday gift. I am blessed beyond words.