Tuesday, June 12, 2007

The Lost Tank of Brownsville

I visited the Bamberger Ranch again on Saturday. Generous folks that they are, the Bambergers allowed me the use of the guest quarters once again, so I could drive down in the middle of the night when the roads are free of traffic, get some sleep, then go out and take photos whenever I regain consciousness. If I happen to be present around lunch time, they usually throw in a sandwich and related hospitality. It's a helluva deal.

With the summer heat settling itself in nicely, I did notice one odd thing about this arrangement, however: the guest quarters aren't air conditioned. OK, I already knew that, and I've been through Austin summers without air conditioning in years past (long past, thankfully), so the idea of life without chilled air isn't utterly absurd to me. What made the absence of air conditioning stand-out this time was the fact that I kept hearing the air conditioner in their office kicking-in just outside the open window I was trying to sleep under. Like it was taunting me. It's not hard to understand that an office would need air conditioning. What had me stumped as I lay there in the too-still night air was why one would spend the money to air-condition 80% of a building, but not the other 20% of it. The guest quarters, you see, are part of the same building as the office. Maybe the architecture of the structure contains the explanation, or maybe it's a test. Knowing David Bamberger, it could be a test. If so, I passed this time, but summer is just getting started. If they keep extending their hospitality to me, I may have to donate a fan to the ranch. It'd be a bargain at twice the price, of course.

I was lucky enough to get a free lunch with my visit (and they say there's no such thing), along with pleasant conversation with David, Margaret, her daughter Margie, and various friends. Afterward, Margaret and co. went off for a swim, which I foolishly declined in the name of photographic necessity. I talked with David a bit about some of the areas of the ranch that I'd already visited, and asked him about other noteworthy places. He picked-out two on a map of the ranch; one was an earthen-dammed tank in the "Brownsville" region of the ranch, the other an overlook in the "airstrip" section (so-named because a small aircraft once landed there to the detriment of all concerned). I headed out for the tank, figuring I'd have plenty of time for airstrip afterward.

As far as I know, that tank in the Brownsville section, like several other tanks on the ranch, has no name. I hereby rectify that situation by dubbing it the "lost tank of Brownsville." I take David at his word that he built it out there, somewhere, but I spent hours carefully going back and forth on hot, dusty gravel roads—roads that I'd been warned had eaten trucks which, from the sound of 'em, could have comfortably carried mine in their glove compartments—and carefully picking my way on foot through fields of rocks to descend, with still greater care, into the valleys below to look for that tank, and I never did find it. It's not even a big area of the ranch, but it's very slow going on foot, and bears only an eccentric similarity to the maps, at least if you don't already know where you're going. On the plus side, I did stumble upon a few spots of photographic interest in the valleys I explored, and shot a few panoramas, clouds permitting. I also found where they keep all of their chiggers and was able to give them a good feeding. (Note to the afflicted: doctors can prescribe anti-itch lotions far superior to the over-the-counter rubbish. Believe me.)

By the time I'd given up my search for the lost tank, there was no hope of getting to Airstrip, at the far other end of the ranch, before sunset, so that was that. That'll give me something to do on a future visit; not that I felt I was in any danger of running out of material out there.

Anyway, I'm months behind in assembling panoramas, so I don't have any panos, new or old, to show, but this trip did produce some readily displayed conventional photographs, which I hereby include below for your amusement and possible edification. (And if anyone can identify that dragonfly or the unidentified plants, I hope they'll edify me.)

Monarda citriadora (Purple Horsemint) near Madrone Lake.

Danaus gilippus (Queen) butterfly on Eupatorium greggii (Greg's Blue Mistflower) near Madrone Lake.

Odocoileus virginianus (White-tailed deer) among grass and wildflowers. The wildflowers are primarily Zexmenia hispida (Zexmenia).

Unknown dragonfly on unknown plant at the edge of the thistle field near the windmill.

Papilio glaucus (Tiger swallowtail) feeding from the flower of an unknown variety of thistle in the thistle field near the windmill.

An icon of rural America, an Aermotor 702 windmill, the only windmill left on the ranch, stands just to one side of the highest point on the ranch. Remarkably, the 702 was in continuous production from 1933 until at least 1981. (It may still be in production; the company's history page is not entirely clear on that point.) I've been saying that I needed to shoot a panorama with one of these in it for so long that a friend had suggested that I carry an inflatable model of one, so that I could add rural color to any scene.

My first entry in the Jay Lake Artifacta Americana photo contest.

Rana berlanderi (Rio Grande leopard frog), probably female, at the windmill pool.

Rana berlanderi (Rio Grande leopard frog), probably male, at the windmill pool.

For reasons best known to themselves, these frogs not only come out at the height of the afternoon heat, but regard a photographer standing twelve feet away as a threat from which they have to retreat, while accepting as harmless that same photographer crawling on his elbows and belly at a mere five feet. I suspect that this species likes to humiliate its prey before moving in for the kill. I was probably lucky to escape with my life.

1 comment:

  1. Alison in Austria7:04 AM CDT

    "I suspect that this species likes to humiliate its prey before moving in for the kill. I was probably lucky to escape with my life."
    your posts are wonderful.