Sunday, July 15, 2007

More creatures

Lately, I've been pointing the camera at anything that moves. There's a lot of things that move around here, and not all of them stay outside...

Here's some more giant crickets. The first chap was on my Jeep tyre when I spotted him, then he jumped to the garage floor.

This green one was clinging to a drainpipe.

One of the local cats on the prowl :-)

Here's a big giant toad! I think this is the guy from the hole. He spent the entire night outside our front door. He wandered off in the morning, enticed out by the sprinklers coming on, I imagine.

There's at least two toads in the hole now (we're just waiting for some peas to go with that) - I've seen them in there. I reckon it's more of an underground chamber these days; who knows how far they've dug? I just hope they don't take out the entire underneath of our wall.

This is a Cicada (I think). Any rate, it sits in trees and makes the most enormous racket all day and all night. There's thousands of them out there. You know the tropical jungle crickety-type noises you hear on films? That's these guys. We have lots of trees, ergo we have lots of cicadas. They're hard to spot; I got lucky the other day and found this guy on a low enough branch that I (a) spotted him at all and (b) could photograph him.

And lastly, the one you've all been waiting for - Scorpions!
Here's one running across our kitchen floor. He didn't like the camera flash.

Here's another one on the stairs, with a cent beside it for scale. British pennies are about the same size as American ones. And this chap was about 2mm shorter in length than the kitchen one; most of the ones we have seen are around these sizes. We did see a little baby one, only a centimeter (1/2 inch) long. It was almost cute... but not quite cute enough... ;-)

Monday, July 09, 2007


A quick post, mainly to show some photos.

It's still been raining every day here. The usual pattern seems to be thunderstorms in the afternoon, and by mid-to-late evening the stars are out again.

Friday was mostly sunny, but some clouds built up during the late afternoon. Suddenly a huge storm appeared. We had gone out to find something to eat and ended up in La Salsa, in the mall next to I-35. During our meal, the heavens opened. I have never seen so much rain fall, and so quickly. The parking lot turned into rivers feeding a lake (guess where we were parked?!) Making a dash for the car got us soaked of course, but luckily we had brought the Jeep rather than the Golf. Driving home was interesting to say the least, as every road was waterlogged, some parts with water cascading over the road surface. We had to make a long detour home as a train decided to park itself over the level crossing. And of course there's always some twat who wants to go faster - not content with my bimbling along, mindful of the atrocious road and weather conditions, a red truck caned past me. He didn't get past the train either though so boo sucks to him!

We spent the weekend shopping for homebrew components. Unfortunately Alan's brew barrel lid cracked open so the current batch of beer has gone flat as a pancake. We had to go and buy a keg and CO2 system (Happy birthday Alan!) in an attempt to rescue the beer. We'll need to force carbonate it to make it drinkable. We've got a chest freezer on the way too so we can cool the keg properly and now we will be able to do lagering also.

Saw the film 'Transformers' over the weekend, it was very good.

Anyway, on with the photos. In the grand ongoing vein of 'Things spotted in the garden', we have:

A Turkey Vulture! Alan spotted this on the electric pole yesterday afternoon. We see these quite often, soaring around, but don't often see one landed.

All the rain has brought out these weird creepy mushrooms all over the mulch in our flower beds. Eeew.

Here's one of the frogs I was on about the other day. We noticed a big hole had appeared under our gate post. Next time it rained I investigated and found this chap inside it. He's been there a good few days now. I think it's either a Texas Toad or Gulf Coast Toad, not sure.

Here's one from a few days previous, in the flower bed. This guy later burrowed into the mulch. This is a different species, this looks almost more frog-like rather than a toad but I'm still unenlightened as to exactly which type.

And a gratuitous deer shot; there had to be one!

We've also seen Painted Buntings in the garden, these are tiny bright coloured birds; red underneath with blue and yellow on top. Will try to get a picture soon but they're hard to catch.

Here's a giant cricket. He's about two inches from head to tail.

Remember the rain I keep talking about? Here's a storm front moving in, the other day.

Here's the sunset later that night. You do get some big skies around here at the moment.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Vegas and beer

In the last instalment of this meandering diatribe, we were just about to leave for Las Vegas. And so we did fly there, alongside a huge thunderstorm which was magnificent from the aircraft windows. Too bad it wasn't on our side of the aeroplane or I'd have tried to get some pictures. Bright white lightning on top, bright orange underneath the cloudbase.

We arrived in Vegas quite late and on arrival at our hotel, the Planet Hollywood, we found the hotel bar sorely lacking in proper beer. One of the staff told us of a small bar in the adjoining mall which we found - turned out to be a microbrewery, which was cool.

Next morning, we met Tracy and Paul at the crack of sparrowfart, in time to be picked up by a tour bus which whisked us to the Las Vegas North airport. We were bundled onto a Dornier 228 which seats about 16 people, and flew off towards the Hoover Dam (pretty impressive) and over the Grand Canyon. The scenery here is really very magnificent and better wordsmiths than I have done it due justice over the years. It's damn cool. It's funny, the last time we visited Vegas we flew over the canyon at 30,000 feet and it would have fitted in a single wide-angle shot, it didn't seem as big as people said it was. Flying over it at 2,000 feet made the whole place a LOT bigger - it goes on forever!

We landed at Bar 10 Ranch which is a working cattle ranch right next to the main canyon valley. They are a brief oasis in the Arizona desert - fed by a spring, they have grass and trees. Sticks out a mile.

The majority of our tour group had booked ATV-quad-bike things to ride, however we were in a minibus/van which was a lot less dusty and had air conditioning (woo!). We drove off and eight very slow, dusty, cactusy and rocky miles later, arrived at the viewpoint overlooking the valley.

Click to see a 360° panorama of the Grand Canyon north rim valley

Here's some aircraft-based pictures that show the Dornier aircraft we flew in. The helicopter is used by the ranch to ferry canoeists up from the river to stay in their lodge.

Unfortunately one of the other tourists managed to crash his quad bike on the way to the viewpoint. He was quite badly shaken up, maybe with some concussion, so he rode in the van. A Hummer was dispatched to collect him and one of his friends, which meant there was a spare quad bike that needed riding back. Paul chose to do so, which he seemed to enjoy.

Here's a few more Las Vegas pictures taken during our trip, of the old part of town in the day and the Bellagio Fountains at night. Always worth a look; we like those fountains.

On our return from Vegas, Alan's homebrew beer was about ready for drinking. Woo! He has started homebrewing again, now we have the space to do it. We got a kit for the first one to see if it worked OK with the heat. Seemed to be just fine :-)

Meanwhile, Alan decided to get a mini-mash kit for his second brew. This involves a bag of grain, and a big pot of wort to boil. Ah, how to boil it? Put it on the kitchen cooker. That got it warm, but took forever. Not enough horsepower. I was dispatched to Cabela's to buy a propane burner. Got it home, assembled it, set it up, moved the pot onto it. More horsepower but still slooooow. Eventually got it boiling but only very just. We need a turkey burner. Next time... We got the beer ready but it took six hours! It's currently brewed and has just been transferred into the pressure barrel, so we just need to wait a while now for it to clear.

Beer is being consumed elsewhere too. We stayed in the apartment last Saturday so we could go to the Drafthouse and the Parlor. We also stayed there last night, as one of Alan's buddies from the California office was in town this week with his wife and kids, so we went out with them for some beer at the new Brew & Que place on Barton Springs Road, which was cool.

Latest updates on Things In Our Garden:

Frogs! They seem to burrow down into the mulch in the flower beds in one part of the front garden, where it says damp under the trees.

Lizards! We finally saw one in our garden, a Six Lined Racerunner. Very handsome and cute. It leapt out of the way of the lawnmower today, and scurried off under the driveway. Here's one on the net, this is not my picture, it's from this page.

Talking of lawnmowers, we finally succumbed and bought a gas-powered one. The weather recently has been so wet that we haven't been able to cut the grass, and of course it got to being six feet high and way too much for the push reel mower. So Alan went shopping and we spent three hours cutting the lawn today. Gaah! Still, the new mower is easy to use and hopefully next time it will be a quick zap rather than wading through the jungles of Borneo as it was today.

We've also been bitten to death; all the rain has brought the mosquitos and the little bitey bastards are feasting. Both of us have shins that constantly itch with bites. The gits.

Finally, I went down to Kingsbury aerodrome yesterday to talk with them about photography. I think I'll be making a few more visits over the next few months :-)