Broken Spoke – George and I played tourists on Saturday. After some sleeping in and visiting and listening to music with our most excellent hostess Sharon Sandomirsky, we headed out to hear a fine set from my friend Sophia Johnson and her band. Later we went to the world-famous Broken Spoke. What a place! The history and music seems to emit from the rough-cut floor boards in this ageless place. George signed up for the Texas Two-Step dance lesson before the band revved up, then we both enjoyed the Derailers. They were pretty good and played non-stop for more than two hours. Lots of smiles on the dance floor, though we left before the end. We had our fill of Austin fun for the evening.
Waltz across 500 miles of Texas… nuff said?
Terlingua – I have always been fascinated with the “ends of the earth”: Key West, Shetland, Alaska, Ushuaia (look it up!), and now Terlingua, Texas.
Sure, there are more remote and exotic destinations in the world, but few places with such forlorn mystery, such lush desolation, so much unattainable potential. It’s an official Ghost Town, for heaven’s sake!
I discovered Terlingua a few years ago at the suggestion of Texas songwriting stalwart Butch Hancock. He lives near here and recommended a visit. When I finally got here, my overwhelming reaction was, “This?!?” But a few hours later, while jamming on the expansive front porch of the general store, it all became clear. I said to myself, “This!!”
George and I spent the morning in Big Bend, drying out from the devil storm we had last night. Then we drove out of the park to Terlingua. Things were a little quiet there by comparison with other visits, but we could still feel the magic. My gig was at the Starlight Theatre in “downtown” (LOL) Terlingua.
I played a small, but intimate concert, while people were eating…
I shall return!
Big Bend! One of the most beautiful and imposing places on earth! George took some great photos, but pictures cannot convey the gargantuan scale of this place. It is difficult to grasp how far away an object might be or roughly how high a rock cliff or a mountain ridge would actually measure. Not that it matters! In many cases the successive ridges and valleys tail off into a purple horizon.
Plenty of wildlife to be seen. This javelina and a bunch of his buddies were rooting around by the side of the road when we happened by. One even came into a neighboring campsite the next morning! They are very bold and dangerous.
George fiddling up a storm – we were nearly swept away by a powerful late-afternoon boomer that swept through the park. George wanted his picture made while playing his fiddle on a mountaintop in west Texas. He sounded good!
I love this place!
Tuesday was a hard day. We left Artesia late morning, thinking that we had a relatively short drive ahead of us and an easy gig at a library in Alpine, Texas, that evening. Well, turned out our three-hour drive took closer to seven hours, and I was almost too exhausted to play my gig that evening.
As we headed south out of Artesia, we encountered heavy traffic and long delays. This is oil country, and they are dead set on making the most out of every drop, pint and barrel they can find. We were passed by several trucks (or maybe several times by the same truck) hauling pipes and pipeline supplies. My educated guess is that fracking is somehow in the middle of this new oil boom. It looks very industrial, the drivers are aggressive and the police are writing tickets.
I also forgot there was a time change heading into Texas from New Mexico, which ate up another hour.
We arrived at the public library in Alpine, Texas, a little after 5. They waited for us to set up their PA system for them, and unfortunately their publicity efforts were either rather modest or just plain ineffective. I sang to about 10 people. Fortunately, we sold a few CDs in the process.
Tomorrow is another day…
On the road again, to quote Willie Nelson. George and I saw about 300 miles of New Mexico today, from Albuquerque to Artesia. We started out on Albuquerque’s Central Avenue, which includes the remnants of old Route 66.
Lots of free-market association with this venerable old highway, including this sign for a Mexican restaurant. Sadly (to me, anyway) the old road takes you through some pretty sketchy stretches as you head east out of town. A little bit of Americana, I suppose.
Speaking of Americana, some clever highway engineers fashioned the rumble strips on Route 66 just east of Albuquerque to play “America the Beautiful!” I’m serious! There are a couple of small signs that suggest that you drive 45 mph in order to “hear the music.” No further explanation. When I drove 45 mph, we began to hear the car vibrate and soon recognized the melody. What a hoot! Then the guy in front of us slowed down and knocked us out of tune.
New Mexico’s personality is ever changing, at least it appears that way from my vantage point behind the wheel. From vast stretches of endless scrub brush to towering mountains, back to barren flat lands.
One very pleasant surprise is the area surrounding the small town of Cloudcroft. Located on top of a mountain within the Lincoln National Forest, this wooded wonderland reminds me more of east Tennessee than southern New Mexico. Lush pine forests, cattle grazing, fruit trees, and cool breezes. It appears like Brigadoon, then gone.
We pulled in for the night in Artesia, about 50 miles shy of the Texas border. I was struck by several impressive pieces of public art, including this amazing bronze beauty commemorating the cattle drives of the 1880s. I think these longhorns were headed for the IHOP!
Adios, Ghost Ranch! George and I each had a great time and hope to return to this magical place in the desert of northern New Mexico. Special thanks to Layne Kalbfleisch for her vision and her kind hospitality during our stay. See you next time!
We started the day at a worship service, celebrating Pentecost Sunday. I led the group in singing “Spirit (Bend Close to Me)” – a song I wrote about 15 years ago with my dear friend Ralph Blizard. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kBMMkXtXSs8
After lengthy farewells, George and I headed south to Albuquerque, where we met with Bill Groll, my Webmeister for the past decade and a half. Bill moved from Texas to New Mexico about 11 years ago, and we haven’t seen each other since. We had a swell visit and didn’t hardly mention business!
We were the surprise recipients of a complimentary night at a beautiful Airbnb in Albuquerque. A woman and her daughter were with us at the Ghost Ranch, and they apparently felt some kinship toward my son George and me. In any event, they decided to treat us to a nice place to stay and a delicious meal. Thanks so much, Angela and Anna!
Busy day at the Ghost Ranch! Saturday was our final full day at this wonderful desert oasis, and it seems we never stood still. Breakfast was at 7:30, I led the morning song session at 9, then had my songwriting class at 10. Actually my student, Ron, and I agreed to work separately from 10 – 11, so our class time really started at 11. We put our heads together and came up with a song by 3. Here are the lyrics:
George was busy all day getting ready for the evening student and staff showcase. He is pictured above with his band, Black and Blue Bluegrass. He sang “Love’s Gonna Live Here” and played the mandolin. In the picture are (from the left) Tim on banjo, George on mandolin, Ellen on guitar, Cooper on bass, Betsy on banjo, Ruth on guitar and Lewis on fiddle. They did a fine job!
Staring into the afternoon sun with my compadres Bill Kirchen (left) and Rob McNurlin. I’m having a blast working and hanging out with these guys!
Bill Kirchen and Rob McNurlin lead the morning song session, along with Erin Youngberg on bass and her husband Aaron Youngberg on banjo. I am scheduled to lead this session tomorrow morning.
Songwriting student Ron Walker performs at a bluegrass student coffeehouse session on Friday evening. I have enjoyed working with Ron this week. On Friday afternoon, Ron and I held our class nearby at the spectacular Echo Amphitheater, located about five minutes away from the Ghost Ranch. Very inspirational!
Friday night dance at the Ghost Ranch. Rob and I traded off between the bass and guitar. Here I am on the bass, Mike Gallagher plays the banjo, Rob on acoustic guitar and Bill on electric guitar. This dance was a highlight of the week for me!
George with his new hat. Tired boy after a busy day!
Things were in full swing today at Ghost Ranch. Students and instructors are here from all over the country teaching and taking workshops in bluegrass guitar, mandolin, fiddle, banjo, honky tonk guitar, and songwriting as well as various arts and crafts. There is even a class in hiking! I am teaching the songwriting class. George, my travel buddy and photographer, is immersed in the mandolin class. He was too busy to take any new pictures today, but we can promise some fresh images tomorrow.
Check out www.ghostranch.org