The Cattle Guard

It’s the time of the season for our neighbor to start baling our hay.  As you can see, the fields are lush and green this time of year.  And very tempting for the cattle grazing in adjacent pastures.  You may recall a post entitled Invasion of the Corn Snatchers from last year, wherein I recounted the destruction of one of our wildlife feeders by a marauding herd of hungry cattle that breached our fencing.

When we find neighboring cattle on our land, it can usually be traced to a failure of the barbed wire fencing which surrounds the property.  The black line on the topographic map above depicts 2.25 miles of barbed wire fencing that separates our property from the land of neighbors who run cattle.  Fallen trees or old, brittle fence wire usually account for the intrusions.

Yesterday, we had a different problem.  A few cattle were roaming along our entry road, but there were no breaks in the fencing.  How were they getting in?

This photo shows the (not so) Grand Entrance to our property.  It is a county road, protected by a pipe cattle guard.  The red arrow that I have added to the photo points to the corner of the cattle guard that neighboring cattle were jumping over in order to reach our tempting hay fields.  There clearly needed to be an obstruction added to this side of the cattle guard, to prevent the cattle from hopping the guard with impunity.

Additionally, when I inspected the guard itself, I noticed that years of accumulated leaves and debris clogged the underside of the guard.  The cattle guard is supposed to present itself as a deep, dark, mysterious place to the cattle that make an approach.  The buildup of debris under the guard spoils the effect, and the cattle are no longer spooked by the device.  It needed cleaning, pronto!

With shovels and rakes, and after much sweat and toil on the part of Retta and myself,  the job of clearing out the underside of the cattle guard was finally completed.  Now, to address the problem of insufficient side barriers.  What could we use to block the side of the cattle guard?

Here is a photograph taken 7 years ago in our paddock area, back in the time when we still had a cattle squeeze chute installed.  Notice at the front of the chute there is a red head gate in place.  The head gate is used to hold the head of the cow still, thus immobilizing the animal (usually for veterinary work).  When we removed the squeeze chute from the paddock, we retained the old head gate, just in case we needed it for something in the future (you just never know when a cattle head gate will come in handy)!

Well, the head gate finally came in handy!  By propping it up against the tree, we have eliminated the easy path that the neighboring cattle had used to hop across the cattle guard.  Notice, also, how the underside of the guard is empty and clean – and once again spooky to the cattle.

It isn’t a pretty solution, but it does have a rustic, yard-art type of feel to it, especially knowing that it was once a necessary piece of equipment used here at the ranch.

Problems Plague Previously Prolific Poster!

Help! I need your input to try and debug a misbehaving blog.  Here is the problem.  When I surf on over to my blog URL, I should see a web page that looks like the screen capture seen here –

Unfortunately, that is not what is showing up on my screen.   Here is the page that I usually see these days-

The page does not appear to recognize any formating – the header does not line up correctly, the side-bar has been pushed down to the bottom of the page, the background has disappeared, and the photographs have failed to load.

If I hit the refresh button on my browser, after a few iterations I might get some of the pictures to load, but the header remains missing-in-action, as seen above.

Sometimes, several of the photographs will load correctly, but others will not, as seen in the screen capture above.

And at yet other times, I see a partial header, with no photographs loading, while some of the page formating remains in tact.

I need to try and isolate the problem, but since I have no other computer access beyond my home network, I cannot see what my blog looks like to other readers.   Here is where I need your help.  If you have stumbled across this page by any chance, please leave a comment telling me if the page is formated correctly for you, or whether it is messed up on your screen.

This problem occurs on my computer using either Internet Explorer or Firefox, so I don’t think it is a browser problem.

I am using the standard default Wordpress Kubrick theme, using only a few of the standard sidebar widgets, with no modifications, so I doubt that the Wordpress theme is the culprit.  Also, with enough browser refreshes, the page will eventually load correctly, so this seem to indicate that the problem lies outside the theme templates.

My trouble shooting instincts are telling me that this is somehow related to my web host, and that I will have to deal with their tech resources to solve the problem, but before I embark on that path, I want to try and eliminate the possibility that my satellite Internet provider is not somehow to blame (you would be surprised how many things satellite Internet service screws up)!

PS – It occurs to me that if you are experiencing the same problems with this web page as I am, than the screen captures above might not show up – ain’t technology fun? ;)

The Land of Fire and Ice

Not long ago, while traveling in northwestern New Mexico and looking for scenic alternatives to Interstate 40, I picked up an informational pamphlet extolling the virtues of New Mexico’s Scenic Route 53, also known as the Ancient Way – a traditional route between the Pueblos of Zuni and Acoma.  Examining my map, I saw that this route passed many interesting locations, far more than I could take the time to explore on this particular trip.  But I did manage to devote a few hours at one worthwhile destination – the Land of Fire and Ice.

The Fire

El Malpais National Monument is situated along Scenic Route 53.  As a land feature, El Malpais – “the badlands”- is used locally to refer to lava flows.  Within El Malpais National Monument are many volcano craters, onetime sources of the area’s lava flows.  One such crater, Bandera Volcano, lies on the Continental Divide, and hiking to the site is an easy mornings stroll through the clean mountain air.

The trail to Bandera Volcano begins near the parking lot of this old trading post, built in the 1930’s, when the Zuni Mountain Railroad was operational and logging operations were underway in the area.  Today, the trading post sells jewelry, pottery and artwork of the local tribes.

Scattered around the grounds of the old trading post are various outbuildings, visitor facilities, and relics, such as this old wagon seen at the trail head.

Soon, the trail leads up the side of the crater,  passing beneath the limbs of ancient trees, which include Ponderosa and Piñon Pines, Douglas Fir, and Alligator Juniper.

There are many spots along the trail to Bandera Crater where the vista overlooks much of El Malpais, the Cibola National Forest, and the Chain of Craters Backcountry Byway, as exemplified in the photograph above.

Because of the hard, rocky terrain, trees cannot establish a deep root system.  This results in trees that mature to be twisted and gnarled.  Trees such as this can be seen in many places along the trail.

The trail eventually passes a rest stop, where the breeze blows cool, and the scenery is delightful to view as one relaxes for a momentary breather.

Continuing along the path, the trail rounds a bend, and you are suddenly presented with your first glimpse of the Bandera Volcano crater.

Further along, the trail ends at a viewing overlook, where the cinder cone crater can be seen in it’s entirety.

The Ice

From the old trading post, another trails heads off in the opposite direction from the Bandera Volcano.  This one leads to a feature called the Ice Cave. 

The trail to the Ice Cave passes several more examples of the twisted, gnarly root systems exhibited by the local trees, as seen in the photograph above. 

After a short stroll, the trail leads to the entrance to the Ice Cave.  And what is this Ice Cave?  It is part of an old lava tube that was formed in the eruptive stage of the nearby volcanic crater.  As the surface lava cools and crusts over, the lava beneath continues to flow.  This creates a pipeline known as a lava tube.  The Bandera lava tube is considered to be the longest lava tube in North America, at 17.5 miles in length.

The entrance to the Ice Cave begins by descending steeply into the cave via this initial set of covered stairs.

Once you reach the bottom of the initial set of stairs, you still have to negotiate the second flight of stairs.  This second flight is uncovered, as you can see above.

Finally, you can descend to the viewing platform located at the bottom of this third set of stairs, in order to view the ice at the bottom of the cave from a close distance.

This is what the ice at the bottom of the Ice Cave looks like.  It is a sheet of ice 20 feet thick.  The temperature of this cave never rises above 31 degrees Fahrenheit.  Rain water and snow melt seep into the cave, adding to the ice each year.   The deepest (and oldest) ice in the sheet dates back 3400 years.

The Ice Cave can be considered a perfect natural icebox – 20 feet of ice contained in a well insulated cave shaped to trap frigid air.

Hmmm…… I wonder if I could build something like this back at the ranch? 

Convertible Bench/Table Construction Plans

In a previous post entitled A Benchtable  (October, 2007), I showed photographs of a convertible bench/table that I had built in my workshop.  Since then, Karl, Kostas, and Sylvia have requested plans for this indispensable piece of outdoor furniture.  I have tweaked the design a little bit since the first prototype, and have built a few for testing in the field (literally, in a field).


The photograph above shows a recently completed benchtable.  From the front, the new design looks the same as the past iteration.

The change is visible when viewing the benchtable from the side or back.  Compare the rounded seat back/table top supports in this new design to the old design in the following photograph:

In this old design, the supports were built with straight lines and sharp angles.  The old design also employed the use of stop blocks on each side to lock the back support in it’s seating position.  The new design provides a more pleasing look, and is locked in place by  5/16″ eye bolts (that also serve to lock the top into position when used as a picnic table).


Click on each of the three thumbnails above for a full-sized mechanical drawing, which can then be printed for your use during construction.

Materials List

  • Lumber             –   2″ x 4″ x 8′        (3 pieces)
  • Lumber             –   2″ x 6″ x 8′        (3 pieces)
  • Lumber             –   2″ x 8″ x 8′        (2 pieces)
  • Carriage bolts   – 5/16″ x 3 1/2″    (8 pieces + nuts and washers)
  • Hex bolt           –   5/16″ x 4″         (2 pieces + nuts and washers)
  • Eye bolts          –    3/8″ x 6″          (2 pieces)
  • Deck screws     –  #8 x 2 1/2″        (32 pieces)
  • Carpenters glue
  • Sealer (or finish of choice)

Cutting List

  • 1 each    –   leg stretcher     2″ x 4″ x 53″
  • 2 each    –   seat slats          2″ x 8″ x 72″
  • 3 each    –   table top slats   2″ x 6″ x 72″
  • 2 each    –   top supports     (per drawing)
  • 2 each    –   front legs          (per drawing)
  • 2 each    –   back legs          (per drawing)
  • 2 each    –   cross pieces      (per drawing)

Assembly Instructions

A)   Cut all parts per cutting list.

B)   Place one rear leg in front of you.  Line up a front leg on top of the rear leg, aligning the bottoms of the legs.  Use the shorter front leg to scribe a mark onto the rear leg, along the top of the shorter leg.  This mark will be used to locate the crosspiece in the next step.

C)  Position a cross piece on top of the front and rear legs (as shown in drawing #2).  When you are certain you have positioned the parts correctly, fasten the cross piece to the legs, using glue and carriage bolts.

D)  Repeat step C for the opposite side, being careful to realize that the sides will NOT be identical, but are a mirror image of each other.

E)  Attach the leg stretcher to the leg assemblies, using glue and deck screws.

F)  Center the seat slats on the cross pieces.  The front seat slat should be flush with the cross piece (as shown in the drawing), with a 1″ gap separating the two seat slats.  Attach with glue and deck screws.

G)  Attach top supports to the rear legs, using hex bolts.  Use a carpenters level to level each support, and tighten the hex bolts.

H)  Center the table top slats on the top supports, leaving a 3/4″ gap between the slats.  Fasten with glue and deck screws.

I)  Double check to be certain that the table top is still level.  Using a 3/8″ drill, drill a hole through each top support, continuing to drill the hole though the rear leg, as well.  These are the holes that the eye bolts will pass through to support the top in the picnic table position.

J)  Now, move the table top to the bench position.  Experiment until you find the back angle that feels comfortable for you, and use clamps to lock the seat back into this position.  Using the upper 3/8″ hole in the rear legs that you drilled in the previous step as a guide, drill a 3/8″ hole into each back support.  Place the 3/8″ eye bolts into these holes to lock the back into the bench position.

K)  Apply a finish of your choosing, and enjoy your new benchtable! 

Devil’s Rope Museum

Ouch!!  A sting from a normal sized scorpion can be very painful – I know this from personal experience.  But can you imagine encountering a foot-long scorpion?  I have come face-to-face with one of these giants, as evidenced by the following photograph.

I ran across this specimen (metallica hadrurus arizonensis) while visiting the Devil’s Rope Museum in McLean, Texas.  And if this one isn’t large enough to frighten you, how about a scorpion the size of a human being?  It must have existed, because I read about it on the Internet – specifically, here.

But back to the Devil’s Rope Museum,  which claims to be the largest barbed wire historic museum in the world, and is the topic of this post.   I visited this museum while passing through McLean, Texas, shortly before writing a  previous post  regarding my pathetic little collection of barbed wire and fencing tools. 

McLean, Texas (pop. 830) lies along the path of old Route 66, which I happened to be exploring this past Fall.  After a delightful lunch stop at the Red River Steakhouse  (a place with real cowboys and cowgirls seated at the tables, excellent rib eye steaks, and great fresh cobblers included with all meals), the Devil’s Rope Museum caught my eye as I was departing town.  Grabbing my camera, I headed inside to see what might be on display.

The museum offers a variety of exhibits related to barbed wire and fencing, as well as barbed wire art, such as the scorpion (as seen in the first photograph), and the woven wire hat, seen here.

This photograph shows one example of the portable wire fence fabrication machines the museum has on display.

In times past, many rural ranchers utilized the top wire of their barbed wire fencing to transmit electrical communications signals (telegraph, telephone, etc.) from point to point.  These ranchers soon became well-versed in the concept of electrical insulators, and began using any appropriate items or materials that might have been on hand at the moment, as seen in the preceding photo.

In those parts of the plains states where timber was in short supply, substitute materials would be found for the construction of fence posts.  The photo above shows a clever seat/hand drill device used to bore holes in stone fence posts – a daunting task, indeed!

This is an uncommon earth auger designed to be powered by a vehicle’s 12 volt electrical charging system.  Perhaps these tools will make a comeback as a result of $4.00/gallon gasoline.

This is just a small sample of the thousands of styles of barbed wire that the Devil’s Rope Museum has on display throughout the building.

Here are some of the various designs and sizes of fencing staples that are on display, along with an explanation of what the different types of staples are used for.

The museum hosts a nice size collection of branding irons and brands, including this example of early land grant brands.

Because the Devil’s Rope Museum is located along old Route 66, the facility includes a small, but nice exhibit pertaining to the Texas portion of Route 66.

On display within this section of the museum is this mock-up of a 1940’s era diner, with all of the appropriate appliances and accouterments.

You may remember reading my previous post about the Big Texan Steak Ranch in Amarillo, Texas.  If so, you may be interested to know that the cast model steer on display at the museum (seen above) is the steer that graced the original location of the Big Texan.  If you look back at that previous post, you will see that the current steer replica is vastly larger than this original one.

In addition to this small sampling of the exhibits at the Devil’s Rope Museum that I have depicted above, I also viewed a special photographic collection pertaining to the Dust Bowl era that afflicted the mid-west region in the 1930’s.  Seeing the disaster that took place, and the human devastation that resulted was a heart breaking experience.  Because I did not take photographs of the exhibit (for copyright reasons),  I have included  this link  to a website containing similar photographs.  It is well worth a click over to the site.

Mys-deer-ious Mystery

Back in September, 2007, I wrote a post entitled A Head Shed? , wherein I mused about finding a complete deer skull (including the racks) in one of our pastures.  I opined that the buck may have been taken down by a pack of coyotes, whereas several commentators posited that the deer may have been struck by a vehicle, or wounded by a hunter far from our property, eventually to wander over here to die.


Well, that post was back in September, 2007.  This past March (2008), while hiking along in the “back forty”, Gracie happened upon this buck skeleton (pictured above).  The bones were picked clean, and mostly scattered in the immediate area.

Since that second skeletal find in March, I have located two additional complete skulls on the property, bringing the grand total to four – all discovered within the past six months.

Considering that the closest paved road is about 2 miles distant from where these remains were found, I think it is highly improbable that all the deer were struck by a distant automobile and wandered, dazed and disoriented, onto our property to die.  One incident, perhaps – but four?  I doubt that vehicular mishaps explain my finds.

It seems strange to me that each of the skeletons I have found is a full grown buck.  I wonder if there is any significance to this, or is it just an improbable coincidence? 

A bad toupee?

Anyhow, no matter what the cause of the demise of these unfortunate Odocoileus virginianus, don’t you think this is an astonishingly bad toupee?