This blog was originally created to showcase my photography. That kinda stopped happening. Shooting (guns and images) is still my passion, but I'm a writer at heart, so that seems to dominate, regardless of what I try to do.


Monday, July 24, 2017

Attempted Recovery of Wood from Location 3

Joe and I went to Location 3 yesterday to attempt to recover some of the petrified wood we found. After a lot of brainstorming, we decided the best way to try would be to use a come-along and some tow straps. Of course, that would just help us get it up the bank. Getting it into and back out of the truck was a different struggle for which we hadn't yet devised a solution.

After looking at the mammoth task of recovering one large log, I decided to look around and see if maybe we could find something smaller to satisfy our hunting urges in case the recovery was a bust.

I walked the same bank I'd walked a month before, and found something that had been uncovered since then. It ended up being a nice chunk with lots of big areas of opal inclusions. They were on every side, but this one had the best color. Hard to tell from the photo, but it's very rainbow-y.

In my wandering, I also found a neat little piece with two branch nodules sticking out. It's covered with a bit of algae, so it's going to need some cleaning, but the shape is really neat and the color is pretty rich. It's going to look wonderful once it's all fixed up.

After I found that, I came back and Joe was still surveying the log. At that point, I noticed another piece of wood sticking out just at the water line, and started digging by hand, wrecking my nails. Oh well. That's the price you pay.

I kept digging. And digging. And digging. And using big splashes of water to remove bank mud and wash sediment downstream. And kept digging. What started out as a 4" piece of wood peeking out from the sandy bank ended up being this:

My size 6 1/2 boot on a piece not yet fully uncovered

We wrapped that one with a tow strap, hooked it to the come-along, and wrapped another tow strap around a fallen tree on the opposite bank. Sad to say, no matter where we wrapped the strap, there never seemed to be the right amount to use the come-along properly. Even as we were stretching everything tight, this huge thing wasn't moving even a little. It was at that point we realized more digging was necessary and we hadn't even thought about how to move it closer to the point where it would go up the bank near our entrance point. So, with that large disappointment, we moved on to the log we originally came to retrieve.

Again, my size 6 1/2 boot on the log

With this one, we made quite a bit of headway in the beginning. We got it to an area where we could pull it up on the bank but then we got stuck. It was at that point that we realized we were going to have to wrap a tow strap around an I-beam of a bridge, but it was completely encased in hard mud and roots. We worked on chipping away at it for awhile, but to no avail.

Tow straps in place before moving the log

There is one log specimen that's been completely uncovered and we know we can move it. There's that big light grey chunk and we still don't know exactly how big it is and we haven't been able to move it. Then there's the third log we still haven't had the chance to completely uncover and it looks significantly larger than the first two. That's going to be a job in itself just to unearth it. We got it partially done one day, then it rained and was covered up with sediment again, so that's what happened with that one.

Unfortunately, on this day, we had to admit defeat. We simply didn't have the means to do what we'd set out to accomplish. This is due in part to a lack of sufficient anchoring points, a treacherously steep and soft, sandy bank, and exhaustion from heat, sun, and physical exertion. 

One challenge we are facing, also, is that every time we make a trip up or down the bank, a little bit more sand is displaced. I fear that if we have to keep making treks, it's going to be impossible to get down there at all. Basically, this means we have to find a way to be successful on our next trip. We're running out of summer and running out of ideas. We've considered enlisting the help of two very strong friends to see what they can do to help us out. It may mean just wrapping the pieces with the tow straps and tugging it all the way up, probably with the help of a come-along in some spots. We have a couple of other ideas as well.

My father suggested we just abandon the mission. He suggested that we were going to hurt ourselves trying to do it and it just isn't worth the physical injury. He's right on that point. However, if the pyramids could be built, Stonehenge assembled, and the Easter Island heads erected, there has to be a way for us to do this, even if we have to use some sort of ancient technology.

I'm not willing to give up just yet. There's also a part of me that thinks we should contact the local museum, who has the means to extract these gigantic specimens for their displays. I don't know if they will; it may be too much of a hassle for them, they may not think it's important enough, or who knows what other reasons they might have for not having an interest. 

Some of y'all, I'm sure, are wondering why we're putting so much effort into something like this. Maybe you're wondering why we can't just leave well enough alone and leave them in their natural environment. I guess those are valid questions. It just seems like a huge shame to have amazing specimens remain in a location where they can't be appreciated. There were a variety of trees in the area during that time period, and having some scientists examine them and maybe learn something from them can never be a bad thing. If nothing else, being in a museum could give lots of people enjoyment and give them insight into our area's prehistoric history. Plus, they're just super-cool to look at.

So, no, we're not giving up yet, but we're certainly going to have to bring our best game if we expect to be successful. This last trip can't completely be called a failure, because we learned a lot from it. We know we must look at this recovery effort in a different way if we want to get the job done.

Hopefully, in my next update, I'll be showing you photos of what the pieces look like after they've been extracted from the waterway and in the back of the pickup.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Lake Waco Research Shale Pit

The other day, Joe and I took a trip to Waco and went to the Lake Waco Research Shale Pit, which is owned by the Army Corps of Engineers. While it is wide open, you have to obtain a permit to enter the property (the office is literally just around the corner from the site), just in case anybody reads this and decides they want to go. If so, keep in mind that no digging is permitted; it's surface-collection only. The Rockhound Times says you can find "Plentiful ammonites and small snails, as well as the occasional shark's tooth, fish vertebrae, starfish, and echinoids."

It was probably close to 3 when we got there and, although there are no posted times, we figured it was smart to leave around 5 when the office closed. Plus, it was unreasonably hot, no breeze to speak of, and the shade was only available in areas where there appeared to be no fossils. We both wanted to stay and walk further around the pit, but there was just no way. As it turns out, I drank almost all of the water in my Camelbak when I checked later. I didn't even drink that much on our 2-hour hikes in Big Bend in the heat of July.

Within a few minutes, close to the entrance, I found a small ammonite and a shark tooth which, I've been told, is pretty rare. It was just *sitting* there!

More searching turned up another ammonite, a nautiloid, a handful of nearly-microscopic bivalves, a few spiny gastropods, a neat piece of matrix, a piece of coral, and something that I have yet to identify.

Even the people on the fossil forums aren't quite sure what it is. I thought it was an urchin at first but it's missing some of the key markers of an echinoderm. Someone suggested a Glyptodon scute. For those who don't know - as I didn't, until a few hours ago - a Glyptodon was a large, armadillo-looking creature about the size of a VW Beetle. They were covered in scaly bone things called scutes. A quick Google image search turned up pics that look pretty similar to what I found, but I'm still not convinced. There are some differences. This pit seems to be from the Cretaceous, but Glyptodons are from the Pleistocene. But, this thing is about 4" in diameter, which is bigger than 99% of the other specimens found out there and there are sections on a Glyptodon that area that size. So I still don't know.

Anyway, it was a fun day. I didn't even get sunburned!

Some of the better finds from our Waco trip, including the unidentified piece

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Petrified Wood Adventures

Besides being a quaint place to live, my town has a lot of petrified wood in its waterway banks. Since I've been here, this has been what some might call an obsession of mine, hunting for logs and any unusual pieces I can find.

When I was growing up in Southeast Texas near a river, I used to find small, tumbled chunks of petrified wood. I knew there had to be larger pieces in the banks, especially upstream, but had no way to find them as all of the area is surrounded by private property and steep, dangerously sandy mud banks.

When I moved up here, I remembered those pieces of small wood and decided to start looking here because I'm on the upper end of that river.

Rockhunters are, by nature, very secretive about their locations. It's understandable, but frustrating when all you want to do is go out and have a good time.

I can't remember where, but I heard about Location 1, and decided I had to find out where I could go to hunt. I scoured Google Earth, looking for any bridges crossing over and writing down GPS coordinates to each. My first adventure to the Location 1 proved to be an amazing area. I found *so* many large chunks of wood, many with inclusions of chalcedony or agate. Everything was fine until I got run off by some construction workers on the bank who claimed I was trespassing.

First set of finds from Location 1, skateboard for scale

I went home and looked up the Texas laws regarding navigable waterways and realized they can't do anything about my being there, so long as I enter the waterway from a public area. So there!

The second time I went back, I was able to find a 4' long log with a really neat limb knot. Unfortunately, it had been on the bank quite a while and was pretty bleached and dried, so it split when picked up. But it's still a gigantic, unique find. I also ran across a root ball, probably 3' in diameter, and I'm still trying to devise a way to get that out of the waterway before the area is developed which, considering the way this town is growing, could be any day now.

Log from second visit to Location 1 and the section of rootball

So then I got the idea that I needed to just start looking for other waterways in the area that had easily-accessible banks, and surely I'd find something. I went as far as to get on the Web Soil Survey site to check different outcrops and time periods and elevations, learning what type of substrate I was looking for to find exactly the type of fossils and wood I wanted. It was quite educational.

That's how I ended up at Location 2. Not only did I find veins of quartz (or maybe calcite - jury's still out on that) running through the mud bed, but I found a lot of petrified wood that had started decomposing when it was petrified. Very knarled and full of interesting ridges. I found some pics online after I'd gotten home that showed some amazingly large, colorful logs being extracted from the banks, but it was further down the creek than I'd walked. I still haven't gone back due to current extraction projects to be explained next.

Some of the smaller but interesting pieces from Location 2 and a crystal vein

It was at this point that I decided my garage was getting full of pieces and I really needed to be a little bit more selective about what I was choosing to bring home. No sense in taking everything when others can have the fun, too, and there's plenty there for us all. I began collecting only pieces that had mineral inclusions or visible rings, or some that had interesting, twisty vine shapes.

Not every excursion was successful. I have definitely scouted more empty waterways than I have ones with wood. Even when I didn't find anything, it was an adventure and I had a good time.

In fact, I went to a river that has been touted as *the* place to find not only pristine wood specimens, but arrowheads and other archaeological artifacts. I found close to half a dozen places to access the river and, every single time, I struck out. My guess is that all these people who have found magnificent pieces have access to private land or something, because all I found was sand and mud.

I went to a local museum and they had some pieces on display and they mentioned that they'd been found in Location 3. There are lots of places to access Location 3, so I did my research on Google again and found two very promising spots. One of them became more fruitful than I ever imagined.

Besides finding lots of newly-uncovered short chunks of trunk, I ended up finding two gigantic logs, one of which I'm still trying to unearth. A bit of online research showed that Location 3 is widely-known and many people go there - in fact, my first trip, I found a shovel someone had left behind - and I'm guessing others had found those logs with absolutely no way to extract them.

Two of the large logs from Location 3

I've made two additional trips to Location 3 and brought back some wonderfully-colored specimens that I had to actually dig out of the bank, rather than bleached ones that were just lying out in the sun.

I've contacted some other pet wood hunters from other areas and have brainstormed with them several ways to get the wood up the bank and into the back of the pickup. I have two strategies that I'm pretty sure will work, even with only 2 people. Now it's just a matter of finding the time to plan it out and execute it.

Today, my garage is full of large specimens and my flowerbed is lined with some of the lesser-quality ones. Many of them are almost too heavy for me to lift, and I dread the day when I have to move out of this house. One entire trip for moving will be just a truckbed full of nothing but rocks and pet wood.

My second cousin (or something like that, down the family line) has a ranch near Lockhart. He has lots of petrified wood on his place and has gotten into cutting and polishing. He keeps inviting me to bring my wood down there to him so we can cut and polish them, but I'm still unsure as to whether or not I prefer them in their natural state. I think most of them would look quite nice with the ends cut flat and polished up, but I just haven't found the time to go visit.

In the next week or so I'm going to get back down to Location 3 and see what I can do about extracting a log or two. I have a feeling it might be an impossible task, no matter how plausible my tactics may seem from home. The banks at that waterway are ridiculously steep, and nothing but soft sand covered with vines and underbrush. Even when I get it up on the flat land, I still have to get it *into* the truck, and back out when I get home. If I had to guess, I'd say the one piece I've completely unearthed is probably close to 200 pounds. The other...well, I still don't know. I've yet to uncover it all the way and I have no idea of its actual size. The last time I was there, it had rained a week before and all the digging I had done was undone with sediment deposition from the water rise.

I'm having a great time looking, even if I end up leaving a truckload of specimens behind. I feel like, while I want to be the proud new owner of all the pieces I can find, it's not fair. Others deserve to have a part in the fun too and, truthfully, I don't *need* all the pieces I find. I've even considered donating some of the larger ones to the local museum so they can put it in their display.

But, until the time when a decision like that must be made, I will continue hunting and trying to find a way to get those three huge pieces out of the waterway and up into the bed of my truck!

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Another Year of Photo365 Failure, but More Winning to Come

I'm disappointed in myself. I committed to another year of Photo365 and, although I made it further than other years, I still fell short of even the halfway mark.

What contributes to a failure? I asked myself this a few weeks ago when I was having a discussion with a couple of friends about how their same challenge was going. One had already dropped off, and the other - who is in many ways a professional - was still on the bandwagon. We explored some ideas and it basically comes down to one thing: losing inspirational opportunities.

For me, it was the monotony of seeing the same things every day as I attended classes. Then, I would come home and pretty much do nothing but study for the remainder of the day. I mean, seriously...how many pictures of sleeping dogs can I possibly take before it becomes a situation similar to "phoning it in?" The same with the amazing sunrises and sunsets I would see each day. I suppose it would technically count, but even I was bored with that.

I wanted more creativity in what I was photographing, and I was having a hard time finding it. I could always have done some more abstract photos of things around the house - something that exhibited interest - but I just didn't find that coming to me.

There's nothing about this photography failure that makes me happy, although uploading it to both Facebook and Blogger took a little more time than I wanted it to, but I really expected more of myself. It's called a "challenge" for a reason. Not just because it's hard to do every day without fail, but because it stretches your creativity and challenges you to come up with new and interesting ideas, each day for an entire year.

Another sad truth is that, besides the Facebook posts, I'm well aware of the fact that nobody looks at this blog. It felt like a waste of time to upload them here, although it was part of what I felt I needed to do. That's partially why this blog even exists.

I have taken some really great photos since I dropped out of the challenge. More nature-inspired, more opportunistic situations, more photos of traveling and finding interesting things about the local culture (like when I went to Chihuahua this year). They just didn't happen in the days following the last post I made about my fish.

Theoretically, I could start over again today and consider my challenge to get all the way through another 365 days until I reach July 9 of 2018, but there's something about that that just doesn't feel official enough.

That's not to say that I won't do it.

I have an amazing trip to Big Bend National Park coming up and expect to get some absolutely fantastic photographs there. Maybe that's what I need to get back into it and find the resolve to just start on a random day and follow through for 365 of them, regardless of my start date.

I guess I could also cut myself some slack and work on the honor system: taking a picture each day even if I'm not able to post them for a few days after.

The summer break has given me many opportunities to start over and maybe that's what I should do. I feel like I need to do this for my creativity's sake, as well as to push myself into being a better photographer. In the name of convenience, I'd been taking all my photos with my phone which, I realize isn't the mark of a "bad" photographer, just one who realizes that, many times, those photos turn out better than what I can take with my 10-year old DSLR.

So, this is my official statement in saying that I will make an attempt to just start over and make an effort to follow through on my initial commitment, even if that means I had to take a hiatus before due to my own perceived limitations.

If you're still reading, you can expect to see a few photodumps every once in awhile showcasing whatever it is I managed to capture in the days preceding.

Yes. That's what I'll do. From the fantastic to the mundane, I'm going to accomplish it, regardless of my perception of interest to others.