Saturday, December 13, 2014

Retama Holiday Bazaar & Christmas Walk

This is our first Christmas in Retama & let me tell you that these people really know how to put on a party. They really come up with some really interesting ideas & I never hear anybody complain that they aren't having a good time...not even the Grinch (Al). I didn't even have to ask him twice if he wanted to participate in all of these events
Bake Sale

We haven't really done any small craft shows in a long time but this was free, local & sounded like it would be a lot of fun.

It started off with a cooking sale. Everyone was asked to bake something & drop it off before noon so they could be packaged & priced. Al baked is famous coconut pecan cookies. Santa's elves were
My Table
busy taking care of the bake sale & getting people to buy but of course they didn't need too much coaxing. Notice went out after the events of the day were over that they raised over $375.00 from the sale of all the baked goods. I'd say that was a whopping success.

The Holiday Bazaar was great. Perhaps not as successful for the vendors but we all had a great time. I would say there were about a dozen vendors in the club house & each one had some wonderful things.
Al's Table

In the dining area there was Al with his woodworking & me with the gourds & pyrography & we each sold a few things. There was someone who does pen & ink drawings, beaded jewelry. I negotiated with her to buy the one she was wearing so she put my 2nd choice on so she had something around her neck. By the end of the bazaar I had bought that one too.

In the other areas there was oil & watercolor paintings, stained glass, beaded coasters & other
items, woven neckwear, christmas stockings, turned bowls & a few other things I can't even remember.

I believe the event was open to our sister RV Park, Bentsen Palm but only Retama residents could be vendors. Many vendors sold some items but I think there were lookers than buyers. BUT, the bottom line was we all had a great time & that was what it is all about.

I was told there were several more vendors than previous years so that's wonderful that interest is growing.

Julia Hanley on her Segway

Believe it or not our little community party & parade was led by the US Border Patrol & State Troopers. I think they like us because we gave them a feast of holiday cookies a couple of weeks ago. I heard one of them say..."when I get old (did he really say that????) this is where I want to live". No kidding, he knows that we know how to party & have a good time...and a good time was had by all!

It's pretty cool when you have the local authorities coming to your parties!
John Hanley on his Segway

The festivities started at the front of the clubhouse for the judging for the best decorated bike, Segway (personal transporter) car, RV or whatever. First place winners for the best decorations went to John & Julia Hanley.

Then the parade started with a trailer filled with carolers that drove through the community spreading holiday cheer. Leading the parade was John Hanley on his Segway & then followed by the State Trooper & Border Patrol with their lights flashing. The rest of us followed the map given out to us to visit homes in the community that had opened up their doors to
Our community parade
celebrate the holiday. 

Each home had goodies for us to enjoy & of course we were able to tour their home & decorations. Thank god there was only about 6 homes because there was a lot of food (no dinner for us!) it was dark by the time we got to the last house & we were stuffed with all the goodies by the time we hit the last home.

I have to admit we really had a good time We enjoyed all the decorations, the food, the company
Holiday Carolers
& the wonderful people in this community. This is just the start of the holiday season. We still have the Chrismas lunch & the New Years Brunch to celebrate.

It really was a very fun evening & it a wonderful way to visit with everyone. Some people had elaborate holiday displays & lots of wonderful goodies to share. Everyone did a great job & I did not see one face that didn't have a smile on it.

Yes, we do have fun in Retama Village! Doesn't it make you want to come on over to Retama Village & join in?

Monday, November 24, 2014

Earth Born Market

When we were in the Rio Grande Valley last winter we discovered a local citrus
Local honey
farm that had the BEST grapefruit & oranges. The last time we went we discovered it had been sold to a big wholesaler & I was really bummed out.

To my great surprise when we got back this fall I called over there & discovered that it had been sold to a local citrus grower who grows all organic & the new grove that they bought from the previous owners would eventually (in 3 years) would be organic as well. 

We went over & tried some of their organic
Oranges & Grapefruit in
the orchard
grapefruit & oranges & it was wonderful. So, this is now my new favorite place. They also have local jams & preserves, sauces, nuts & lots of other goodies. 

They have samples of the grapefruit, oranges, jams & jellies to try. They also have local honey that is dispensed in jars at the check out counter.

Their fresh squeezed juice is the best I've ever had & a couple of ladies who had never been there before tried it & couldn't believe how much better it is than store bought....can't imagine why!!!
Organic Oranges & Grapefruit

If you look behind the refrigerator case where the juice is stored you can watch them as they are squeezing the juice & putting it in containers. It's very cool to watch the process & it's squeezed fresh throughout the day.

You can either pick the fruit from the store or you can go out to the orchard & pick your own. 

The owners are wonderful & it's definitely a family business, mom & dad, grandma & the kids are all involved.

They grow a lot more than what I have here so you might want to check them out.

If you are in the area check them out. They are on the corner of Taylor & 3 mile Rd in McAllen. It's worth the drive!

Earth Born Market
4508 N Taylor Rd.

McAllen, Texas 78504
Earth Born Market

Sunday, November 2, 2014

National Butterfly Festival

This weekend is the National Butterfly Festival & today was community day so
Al & his new friend
admission was free between 9 am-1 pm. 
We got to the festival bright & early to avoid crowds but it turned out not to have a big crowd in the morning. It was starting to get busy by 11 am but by then we were about ready to leave anyway.

It was a chilly morning (58 degrees) so the butterflies were slow to come out & play but it didn't take long before they were flying all over the place. 

We discovered 4 species of butterflies while we were there & the only one I can remember the name of is
Butterfly unknown species
the "Queen". The Queen looks a lot like the Monarch but it has black around the edge of the wings. We have a bunch of those in our yard but Al & I thought they were much for our knowledge of butterflies.

Al got really lucky when a little butterfly (unknown species) landed on his finger. The little critter had no desire to leave either & stayed put as I was snapping photos. It was a tiny little critter but so
Another unknown

I took lots of photos & even bought myself a new hummingbird feeder from one of the vendors. I then had to go buy another shepherd's hook to hang it because I was running out of room on the other ones.

I joined the Butterfly Center so I can get in free anytime I want. I plan on going back & checking out
Green Jay
the butterflies when it's not busy & perhaps I can actually learn more about the ones visiting our area. 

I was told that the Rio Grande Valley is the largest butterfly & bird habitat in the world. They all stop here during their migration but seeing what we had in Retama last winter it appears that many don't migrate any farther than this area because we still had plenty of them here in December - the end of February but they don't fly around quite as much. The average temperature here in the winter is the mid 70's so they can survive
Green Jays relaxing
but they aren't as prolific.

Besides butterflies they also have a bird feeding area & it was swarming with green jay's. I never even knew there was such a thing but they were beautiful.

Next weekend is the annual Birding festival in Harlingen. It is celebrating it's 21st year & I am dragging Al there to check it out.

The Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival is recognized by the American Birding Association, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Texas Parks & Wildlife, and birding experts throughout the nation as a leader in the field of ecotourism. The Festival has served as a model for events around the world. It has been touted in national, international, and specialty publications—The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, Audubon, Southern Living, Bird Watcher’s Digest, WildBird, Australian Birds, Birdwatch UK—and more.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

The New Bushes Are Planted

Granted we don't have a big yard but we are trying to make it beautiful &
Compact Jatropha
enjoyable while we are here.

We got approval to add bushes on either side of the patio & the beds were prepared, irrigation set up & the bushes were planted. These were bushes we chose for color & to attract butterflies & birds. For the back of the patio I chose orange mahogany Esperanza which is a nice two toned flower that hummingbirds & butterflies love AND so far I am the only one in the community with these colors. 
Right now the Esperanza doesn't even look like they are there but they really are & there are even a few flowers on them.

On the side I chose red compact Jatropha which will provide some shade & privacy & of course attract the hummingbirds & butterflies & they have already discovered them even as small as they currently are.
Knock Out Roses

The small planter bed in the front was cleaned out & all the "wild" brush & weeds were removed. I chose Red Double Knock Out Roses & they already look beautiful just small but it won't be long before they grow up & fill in.

Right now the bushes look kind of pitiful but it won't take long before they are looking good. Since the temperature here during the winter is typically in
Back Patio
the 70's there's plenty of time for them to grow while we are here. 

I also got permission to put up hummingbird feeders & darned if we didn't have a visitor the very first day. I have one in the back patio in the middle of the Esperanza & I have one out front so that I can watch the butterflies & hummingbirds while I am working. The one out front had a visitor within minutes of putting the feeder up on the hanger.
Butterfly bushes 

The butterfly bushes in the front are already established & getting lots of butterflies. It will be interesting to see how many butterflies find our place this year with all the new flowering bushes we have. 

I took some photos of the new bushes so I can see the difference in the yard now & perhaps next season.

So, now that the inside of the coach house is more livable with a new AC system, tankless water heater & a few upgrades to the bathroom we have a very nice little home to enjoy.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Back in Texas

We are now back in Texas & even though it's been in the 90's all week we are glad to be here.

We arrived on Tuesday & yesterday I had already been out to the weekly breakfast with the doesn't take long to get into the swing of things here.
Mitsubishi Mini Split AC

Yesterday we suffered from the heat because we were getting the coach house ready for our new air conditioner that was being installed today. Yesterday Al removed the wall mounted AC & patched the hole in the wall, added the texture to the wall & painted so it would be ready for them to install the new AC today. The new unit is a mini split AC/Heater is ductless & has an external condenser. The inside unit mounts to the wall & the outside unit sits on a concrete slab. It's much like a mini version of a regular household central air conditioner. This new AC is fabulous...quiet & it doesn't seem to have any problem keeping the coach house cool. Instead of saying "you want me to do what????", this unit says, "no problem".
Mitsubishi Mini Split Inside Unit

The photo on the right shows the condenser, inside unit & the remote control. The photo on the left shows the wall mounted unit. It's about 31 inches wide & the vent rotates up or down & can be set to do it automatically. Friends who own this same unit say it's the best they have ever had. One of our neighbors has 3 of them installed in his house in Michigan & he loves them.

Tomorrow we are getting a new tankless water heater installed & we will be all done with our list of "home improvements" to the coach house. Friends of ours who have the same AC & water heater said they lived in the coach house all summer & were very comfortable.

Lots of fun stuff to do this month & there still aren't many "Winter Texan's" here yet. The big events for the month are the Italian Dinner & the Oktoberfest celebration.

On the 21st we are having our new bushes put in around our patio & then we are off to the Couples Lunch at the Blue Onion restaurant.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Cheyenne, Wyoming

Our trip down to Cheyenne

We stopped at a roadside parking area which was right outside a very large
Face Carved Tree

ranch so that we could stretch & the dogs could relieve themselves.

I don't remember exactly what town it was in but it was in Montana north of of Billings, MT.

Right by the fence around the ranch were two displays, one of which was a very unusual tree that had been carved & decorated. You can see the main carving was of a face & all the little limbs that had the ends of each limb decorated as a face.

Thursday, August 21st

This is the last leg of our summer vacation. We have both been to Cheyenne
Trading Post
before but I decided it was time to try something different so we are staying at a working ranch. It's called the Terry Bison Ranch RV Resort. I'm not sure I would call this a resort but that's just me. It is a ranch & it does have an RV Park & it is just that, an RV park. Gravel sites with a little space in between & other than the bison, horseback riding, the other animals & a small lake if you want to fish there's not much here.

Stuffed Bison
We were tired & needed to hang around to get a large rock chip (actually it turned out to be 2 rocks) fixed so we just went over to their restaurant for dinner. I can't say it was a bit pricey because it was outrageous...$31.99 for a Bison Sirloin ('s raised right here on their ranch). I ordered a bison meatball sub for $13.99 but we did get 10% off which still made it overpriced ;)

The first photo is of the buildings up front which houses the trading post (gift shop), laundry, etc. The next photo is a stuffed buffalo inside the trading least I think it is stuffed ;)

Originally we were going to stay 3 nights but since we have appointments to get some work done on our coach when we get back we decided to stay only 2 nights so we have some time to unpack & gt settled before heading to Albuquerque with the coach. We were mostly interested in checking out the ranch so we will get our Bison tour in the morning & look around so we will be satisfied & we can say we were here.
Train for Bison Tour

Since we really only have one full day here we were limited as to what we could do while we were here so we opted to take the Bison Train ride. The photo here is the train we were on which was just a regular tour without any meals. They have a few different ones including a heated one with windows for the winter tours & a train with dining cars for the breakfast & dinner tours. This one also has windows...probably to keep all those nasty flies out...& there are a lot of flies around here & not all of them are on the poor buffalo.

A little about the ranch

The company started in 1993 when Ron Thiel originally bought the Terry Ranch for the purpose of raising Bison. Dan Thiel, the son of Ronald and Janice thought it would be a great idea to start a company that would allow people to be able to get up close and personal to the "great North American Bison". Of course after over 1 year of red tape "Jan Thiel Inc." dba Terry Bison Ranch Resort became a reality.

Back in the beginning of their history they were serving chuckwagon dinners in an old barn called the Wagon Wheel. Now they have the Senator's Steakhouse where they serve meals. The food was good but the price was really pretty outrageous

especially considering they raise the meat themselves. Oh well, I guess it's whatever the tourists will pay.

Friday, 8/22 - The American Buffalo (Bison) Tour

We opted for the early morning tour to avoid the 60+ kids taking the later
Arabian Camel (Dromedary)

The photos show the animals as we saw them on the ride. The best part of the ride is the buffalo & those were the last of the animals we saw....yes, they save the best for last!

While I think that overall this place is a tourist trap & highly overpriced this train tour was well worth the $12.00 per person price. It was amazing.

Not only did we get to see the Buffalo up close &
Tibetan Yak
personal but we got to feed them & these amazing animals were far more gentle taking the Alfalfa than Allie ever was & some of them weigh over 2200 lbs. Allie weighs in at 65 lbs. Imagine they are more gentle...LOL

We certainly learned a lot. The Ranch maintains a herd of 1400 buffalo. Every year when they send some to processing they "back fill" from the newly born calves that year so they always maintain 1400 at a time. If they have more calves than
older buffalo sent off to processing they send the extra calves to processing.
The goal is to maintain the 1400 buffalo count. They do not do any processing at the ranch. Along with the buffalo they also have a variety of other animals including Arabian Camel's, Ostrich (Dromedary)
, Alpaca's, an Ox that is native to Tibet & of course horses, three of them used strictly as part of their breeding program.

Our tour guide knows his stuff. He gave us a
Me feeding a buffalo
wealth of information about Buffalo & how they live & breed. Amazing.....more about that later.

Everyone on the train was very pleasantly surprised at how easily the buffalo came up to the train. I think we were all a bit nervous about feeding them but our guide told us how to do it & once we each tried it once & saw how easy & painless it was we just kept feeding them Alfalfa until we all ran out. Some of us originally said we didn't want to feed them but once we saw one brave person feed, almost everyone suddenly wanted to do it but only those who opted to before leaving for the ride had Alfalfa to feed the buffalo so the others jut had to watch.
Licking my fingers

The buffalo were so calm & they gently took the alfalfa out from our fingers. The saliva mixed with the Alfalfa was getting all over my fingers covered & one nice Buffalo decided to link my fingers to clean them off. You can see in one of the photos that my hand was almost all the way in his (or her) mouth & it was so gentle I was amazed. It wasn't the least bit scary & was actually a lot of fun. I kind of wished I had more to give them. A man next to me hadn't gotten any Alfalfa because he didn't want to feed them. Hi partner said "look at that buffalo licking her fingers". Next thing I know they are snapping photos of me feeding the buffalo & we were all laughing. I had a great time! Would I do this again...absolutely. This train ride was worth the the trip to the Ranch.

About The American Buffalo

Bull (Male)
Although the buffalo's size and color, which ranges from light to dark brown, vary in different areas of the country, experts generally agree that all American buffalo belong to the same species. The differences in appearance probably result from the variety of environments in which they live.

Like their close relatives, domestic cattle and sheep, buffalo are cloven-hooved. Both males and females have a single set of hollow, curved horns. The male buffalo, called bulls, are immense, often weighing a ton or more and standing 5 to 6 feet high at the shoulders. The huge head and great hump covered with dark brown
Buffalo Gathering
wooly hair contrast sharply with the relatively small hips. The females, or cows, are not as massive. Despite their great size and bulkiness, buffalo have amazing mobility, speed, and agility, and are able to sprint at speeds of up to 30 mph. Our guide told us that they can make hair pin turns & not have to slow down.

In the spring, buffalo begin to shed their heavy winter coats, and soon their hair hangs in tatters. To hasten shedding and possibly to relieve their itching skin, buffalo rub
Close-up Head Shot
against large stones and trees. By late spring, the only remaining long hairs are on the head, forelegs, and hump. To escape the torment of attacking insects, buffalo wallow in dust or sand. Many of the buffalo that came up to the train had insects crawling on their hump and it make me itch just looking at them. Some of the buffalo were scratching their jump along the side of the train car.

With the arrival of the breeding season in mid-to late summer, the herds become restless. The bulls, aloof most of the year, now drift among the cows and calves. Noticeably quiet at other times, the bulls bellow hoarsely and become quarrelsome. Many fights occur over females, and the combatants, with lowered heads, paw the earth defiantly.
Calf Resting

Cows give birth usually every year to one tawny to buff-colored calf. Most of the calves are born between the middle of April and end of May, but some arrive as late as October. At birth, the calves have only a faint suggestion of the hump they will develop later. Buffalo begin grazing (primarily on grasses) while still very young, although some may continue to nurse until they are nearly a year old. Buffalo may live to be about 20 years of age. Among the small herd of Buffalo that were greeting us there were several calves. Buffalo calves are born weighing between 35 to 50 pounds. Bulls will grow to 6 ft at the hump and may weigh as much as 2,400 lbs. Cows (female) will grow to about 5 ft at the hump and can weigh over 1,000 lbs. 

When buffalo (bison) are born they do not have horns, but do have buttons, which will grow into horns on both males & females. Unlike antlers on deer or elk, bison only get one set of horns.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Great Falls, Montana

Our First Day Friday, 8/15/14

This stop was on Al's bucket list because he wanted to see the Great Falls. Unfortunately our first day was a bust. A severe storm was chasing us down the road. We made it to the RV Park in enough time to set up, disconnect the car & bike & head for cover. 

This quite a storm but thank god did not last as long as anticipated. There were VERY heavy winds & hail. It was impressive but it died down before dinner time & Shadow survived although if you asked him he would have told you he was sure he was going to die & thank god there was no damage to our motorhome.

Saturday, 8/16

We headed over to the Charles M. Russell Museum. It was very interesting but
Entrance to the museum
I was a little disappointed that there was so much art in there from other artists. But it was very interesting & I loved the bottom floor exhibit of the bison, the magnificent headdresses & other western wear.

About the museum

The C.M. Russell Museum is one of the nation’s finest museums of American Western art and the home of the most complete collection of Russell art and memorabilia in the
1916 painting
world. There are many other museums that contain 
his art but this is by far the most complete collection. Many of the pieces of art on display are on loan or donated to the museum. The permanent collection of more than 12,000 objects also includes the works of such well-known 
artists as O. C. Seltzer, Winold Reiss, J. H. Sharp,E. E. Heikka, E. I. Couse, Olaf Wieghorst, Henry Farny, and Frank Tenney Johnson. The Browning Firearms Collection and The Bison: American Icon, Heart of Plains
Part of the Bison Exhibit
Indian Culture round out 
the museum’s outstanding offerings. There was also a collection of western art by lesser known artists.

In 1953, the C.M. Russell Museum opened in a single small gallery housing the personal Russell collection of Josephine Trigg, a close friend and neighbor of the Russell family.  The museum over the years & it's current capacity of 
approximately 70,000 square feet.  The museum campus now occupies a full city block that includes Charles M. Russell’s home and log studio, which together were designated a National Historic Landmark in 1966. Accredited by the American Alliance of Museums.

About Charles Russell

One of the headdresses
Charles Marion Russell (March 19, 1864 – October 24, 1926), also known as C. M. Russell, Charlie Russell, and "Kid" Russell, was an artist of the Old American West.

Charlie Russell was an accomplished painter, sculptor, illustrator, and a gifted storyteller. Russell was born in St. Louis, Missouri. As a boy, he crafted his own expectations of the American West by filling his schoolbooks with drawings of cowboys and Indians. Shortly before turning 16, he arrived in Montana, where he spent eleven years working various ranching jobs. He sketched in his free time and soon gained a local reputation as an artist. His firsthand experience as a ranch hand and his intimate knowledge of outdoor life contributed to the distinctive realism characteristic of his style.
Russell's home

In 1896, Russell married his wife Nancy. He was 32 and she was 18. In 1897, they moved from the small community of Cascade, Montana to the bustling county seat of Great Falls, where Russell spent the majority of his life from that point on. There, Russell continued with his art, becoming a local celebrity. Russell was not skilled in marketing his work, Nancy became his manager
Russell's studio
and was responsible for making Russell an internationally known artist. 
She set up many shows for Russell throughout the United States and in London, creating many followers of Russell.

He created more than 2,000 paintings of cowboys, Indians, and landscapes set in the Western United States and in Alberta, Canada, in addition to bronze sculptures. He worked in both oils & watercolors but as his work evolved his oils became much vibrant and alive.
Russell's studio inside
He was known as 'the cowboy artist', Russell was also a storyteller and author.

These last photos were all taken on the inside of his studio. I loved the construction & the cozy feeling of the studio but I couldn't stay in there very long because of the strong smell of wood treatment in the building.

I believe the photo below of his studio fireplace was probably where he warmed his hands in the
Studio Fireplace
winter so he could paint ;). After all, it does get VERY cold in Montana in the winter...or so I have heard!

While Russell's work is very good, my favorite western artist is still Frederick Remington. We saw a lot of his work at the Amon Carter Museum in Fort Worth when we were living in Texas the first time. 

Sorry Charlie, but Freddie is still my all time favorite western artist!

Sunday, 8/17/14

The Great Falls.....

The main reason we made the "treck" to Great Falls was because Al wanted to see where Lewis & Clark traveled. So, yes we traveled over 350 miles to see these falls!

Lewis and Clark and the Great Falls Portage 

Lewis was thrilled to see the enormous waterfall, the Great Falls of the
The Great Falls
Missouri. It was 900 feet wide and 80 feet high with 
a "beautiful rainbow" just above the spray. Lewis called it "the grandest sight" he "ever beheld." More importantly, it meant that he and Clark had chosen the right fork in the Missouri River. All winter long they had been talking with Native Americans about a water route across the west. The Native Americans had described the territory in detail, including important landmarks like the waterfall in front of Lewis.

Now it was time for the portage (the carrying of goods over an obstacle): Lewis and Clark's expedition party needed to carry their canoes and supplies around the waterfalls. Before they saw the Great Falls, Lewis and Clark thought the portage would be less than a mile. As Lewis scouted further, he found four more waterfalls and realized that the portage would be much longer.
The Great Falls Close-up

The Corps would have to hike 18 miles to get around the five waterfalls. They left their heaviest boat and equipment hidden near the base of the falls. The other canoes and supplies were carried, dragged, and pushed. The Corps created makeshift wagons. When the wind was strong, they attached the boat sails to help move the equipment.

The ground was rocky, uneven, and hard. Prickly pear cactus' were everywhere. The Corps wore through their moccasins every two days. The intense heat of the summer sun was interrupted by violent storms, with thunder, rain, and hailstones the size of eggs. Swarms of gnats and mosquitoes pestered them. Rattlesnakes and grizzly bears were a constant threat.

Finally, after nearly a month of hard labor, the portage was complete. The Corps and their equipment were on the other side of the falls. They built new boats to replace the one left behind. They started back on their journey on the Missouri River on July 15, 1805. They were more than a month behind schedule, but happy to be past the Great Falls. Their next challenges were to find horses and make it over the Rocky Mountains!

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Missoula, Montana

We have breezed through Missoula many times but this is the first time we actually stopped long enough to look around.

Tuesday, August 12th

Our plan was just another overnight stay but we developed problems with our coach steps & needed to stay overnight. I spent a lot of time on the phone with Tiffin Tech Support & the original plan was that he was going to arrange for the local dealer to fix the steps. Terry walked us through some trouble shooting & by the end of the day we hadn't figured out the problem & we lost cell service before we could try something else so we had to wait until morning to try anything else. Between the step problem & the threat of thunder storms for the next few days at Glacier National Park we cancelled our reservations there & we would figure out what to do after I talk to Terry in the morning.

Wednesday, August 13th

This morning Terry & I chatted & after discussing the results of what Al did late yesterday Terry was pretty sure that the motor on the electric steps was dying. We both discussed options & it was a unanimous decision that we would just enjoy the rest of our trip. If the steps died again Al would disconnect them, lock them in place & we would use a step stool to get in & out until we get back to New Mexico.

We decided to stay here for a couple of extra nights & check out the area to see if we wanted to return next summer & stay longer. We both decided this was a nice place to hang out for a while next year.

We just poked around town this morning checking it out & I spent the entire afternoon catching up on work that piled up the last few days & getting orders processed to ship in the morning.

Thursday, August 14th

Our first stop was the Smoke Jumpers Center. This is the main center for the
Smokejumpers Center
USA. This center which has the base camp, training & research. All the other centers are only base centers. Smokejumpers are wildland firefighters who specialize in parachuting to fires in remote areas.

We took the 1 hour tour & our guide, Jennifer was so well versed on everything she was great. We started the tour with her explaining the history, all about the equipment they use, what it's made out of & how things have changed over the years. I think the biggest change was in 1989 when women were accepted as Smoke Jumpers. Jennifer explained the requirements to become a Smoke Jumper as well as the physical
Look out
requirements including 90 minutes/day of PT. Each Base camp has work out facilities & equipment as well as dorms for those visiting jumpers who want to stay rather than staying in a hotel.

Before the tour started we looked around in the visitor's center. The smokejumpers are part of the US Forest Service & in the visitor's center was a small room that is a replica of what a "look out" would be like. This is where they look & watch for smoke. It kinda reminds me of our little coach house. It contains a bed, office, kitchen & all it's missing is a toilet & shower. Hopefully they actually have one nearby ;). These have glass windows all
Jumping gear

Also in the visitor's center are figurines wearing the gear for jumping & fire fighting. Jennifer started the tour by explaining the details of the Smokejumper's jumping gear including the protective padding, helmet, material of the jump suit, the two different parachutes, etc. The gear they carry weighs between 80-110 lbs. 

Firefighting Gear
The fire fighting gear is different but it includes fire retardant clothing & all the tools needed to fight the fires. She did mention that they carry bottled water, LOTS of high protein & high calorie snacks. Cargo is dropped down in crates for that that contain food & first aid. One meal that was on display showed it's calorie content was 3500 calories so you can just imagine how many calories they burn off in a 20 hour shift. Yes...a 20 hr shift.

Our first stop was to "manufacturing" where they
Manufacturing Room
make all their own equipment except for the parachutes. Yes, even the guys know how to use a sewing machine. They make the back packs, outfits, etc. using commercial sewing machines. A couple of the jumpers were hanging around so when I asked what kind of material & thread they use they told us most of the material in the clothing was Kevlar & some of the thread was also Kevlar depending on where it was going to be used.

Parachute Inspection

The next area is called the tower because it is so tall. This is where the parachutes hang to dry & for inspection to ensure there are no holes or damage. Each parachute is very carefully inspected using printed procedures that are hanging on each wall. This is done after each use before they move into the next room for repair if needed & folding. I can't remember how high Jennifer said this tower was but it was way up there....
Parachute Repair & Folding

The next room we went to looked like a lodge with all the animal's hanging off the walls. This was where they repair & fold the parachutes. They have specially trained jumpers, called Riggers, who perform the task of folding. Only senior Riggers can do the actual folding & those in training cannot do it alone until they have been properly trained & are ready to fly solo. After folding the chutes they are placed in cubby holes that are labeled by size....meaning the jumper's size.
Chutes opening

In the repair room they had a series of 5 oil paintings done by the same artist. Each painting showed a different stage in the process of the parachute opening.

The next room we entered had displays of the
Food & First Aid Supplies
cargo that the jumpers have dropped down for them once they land. When they jump they carry some snack bars & water but once they land crates are dropped down that contain a wide variety of food, first aid & tools to use while fighting the fires. These crates are dropped down by small parachutes. It was amazing to look at some of the food items include freeze dried food such as: Fettucini alfredo, lasagna, phad thai; MRE's (military meals ready to eat); small canned food such as: spam, tuna, chili, chicken; lots of high protein snacks, power bars, nuts, etc.

USFS Jumper

We walked out to the field where the planes were sitting. There is one plane that remains in the field but Jump aircraft are all fixed wing aircraft such as Twin Otters, Casas, Sherpas, DC-3s. During the fire season a Lockheed Orion P-3 is based at West Yellowstone to support fire-fighting activities in the area. The P-3 is capable of hauling 2,550 gallons of fire suppressing retardant to help slow the spread of fire. The speed, range and carrying capacity of heavy air tankers such as the P-3, P-2V,
ConAir Jet Air Tanker
SP2H, DC-4, DC-6 and DC-7, make them very effective tools for assisting fire fighters on the ground. One of the tankers was parked at the field today. There was a pilot in the USFS Jumper working inside the cockpit while we were there although none of us realized it until he started waving to us. 

Looking at the ConAir tanker reminded me of the movie "Con Air" but other
Ready Room
than the name the only similarity is that both planes drop things. In the movie they drop packages with "unknown" contents & the Fire tankers carry up to 12,000 US gallons (45,000 liters) of water or fire retardant in an exterior belly-mounted tank, the contents of which can be released in eight seconds. You can see the tanker at the bottom of the jet.

Our last stop was the "ready room" which is where they have all their gear stored & ready to head out when called into action. The ready room contains lockers & cubby's holding everyone's gear. This room opens directly out to the air field where the planes are. The guys were busy hustling & bustling getting gear checked & put away so that they are ready to go at a moment's notice.

Smokejumpers Jumpsuit & gear

I found a close-up of the jump suit that the Smokejumpers wear. Jennifer had
Smokejumper's Jumpsuit
described the suit in great detail & I had a chance to touch & feel it. The suits have padding in several areas including the neck, shoulders, knees, elbows to protect from hard lands in rocky burn areas. The collar is high to protect their neck from damage if they hit tree branches. They wear a helmet with a protective mask that serves to protect their face from damage due to tree branches. It looks a lot like a football player's helmet & mask. The material used in the jumpsuits is Kevlar & it can be in orange or yellow. The main parachute is on their back & can either be square or round. The round gets into tighter spots but they have to make a choice & can't change their mind. They also have a reserve parachute in the front. Each jumpsuit has lots of pockets to carry tools & a safety ladder.

One thing that is not listed as an official requirement is that you should be an adrenaline junky because it was obvious after meeting some of these guys & listening to Jennifer that everyone of them lives for the job.

Jennifer explained all the requirements to be a smoke jumper:

Jumpers must be in excellent physical condition and possess a high degree of emotional stability and mental alertness. The job often involves prolonged periods when smoke, heat, and short supplies of food and water take their toll on your physical stamina. The safety and well being of each smokejumper on an assignment depends on the ability of each individual to pull his/her own weight.
Smokejumpers must pass the standard firefighter's Work Capacity Fitness Test (pack test) at the arduous level. All smokejumper candidates are required to pass the standard smokejumper physical training (PT) test on the first day of smokejumper training. Candidates must do 7 pull-ups/chin-ups, 45 sit-ups, 25 push-ups, and a 1.5 mile run in less than 11 minutes. The test is taken in one time frame with 5-minute breaks between specific exercises.
Remember, these are just the minimums. Much more is required during rookie training. For instance, one of the most demanding physical requirements of the job is the gear pack-out. Smokejumper gear and tools weigh up to 115 pounds per person. Smokejumpers must be able to carry this gear to the nearest trail, road, or helispot after suppressing the fire. This may be a distance of 10 miles or more in rough terrain. During training, smokejumper candidates are required to demonstrate their ability to pack 110 pounds of gear a distance of three miles in 90 minutes or less, over a level course. These are all the MINIMUM requirements.
In addition to passing the physical training test, prospective smokejumpers must meet the following requirements:
Age: Must be at least 18 years old. Although they need to have 2 years fire fighting experience & the minimum age to be a firefighter is 18 so in fact they cannot qualify to become Smokejumpers until they are 20 years old.
Height: Must be not more than 77 inches or less than 60 inches tall without shoes.
Weight: Must weigh at least 120 pounds but no more than 200 pounds without clothes.
Hearing: Must not have acute or chronic disease of the external, middle, or inner ear. Using an audiometer for measurement, there should be no loss of 25 or more decibels in each ear at the speech frequency range. A hearing aid is not permitted.
Vision: Must be free from acute or chronic eye disease. Corrected distant vision must test at least 20/20 (Snellen) in one eye and at least 20/30 (Snellen) in the other. Individuals must be able to read printed material the size of standard typewritten characters. Glasses or contacts used for eye correction are permitted.
Mandatory retirement age for federal firefighters would go from 55 to 57 in a bill approved today (8/14/14) by the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee.  
During the spring training period for new smokejumpers, and refresher training for experienced smokejumpers, they practice the basics of their craft such as aircraft exiting procedures, parachute maneuvering and emergency procedures, parachute landing rolls, timber let-down procedures, parachute and cargo retrieval, and tree climbing. 
Some training sites even have "virtual reality" parachute jump simulators to provide on-the-ground practice, with an experienced smokejumper at the computer.
I have always had a great respect for the smoke jumpers but visiting the center gave me a whole new perspective on what life as a Smokejumper is really like. You really gotta be a type A personality that just thrives on that adrenaline rush.

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