Saturday, March 27, 2010

Ruidosa; Chinati Hot Springs

On Tuesday, after a long day of vaulting and plastering, we went on a field trip to the little town of Ruidosa and a nearby "resort," Chinati Hot Springs.  That is, Chinati Hot Springs is fairly near to Ruidosa, but neither Ruidosa nor Chinati Hot Springs is near anything else.  It took about an hour and a half to drive from Presidio to the tiny hamlet of Ruidosa.

There was an adobe church there that we wanted to look at.  It is being restored, slowly.

The view toward the mountains from inside is very beautiful.  Too bad it will get closed off when the church is fully restored.

I had driven through Ruidosa several times before and never saw a soul so I assumed nobody lived there. I was wrong.   The whole town turned out to talk to us.  The inhabitants are:  a schoolteacher who has lived up the road for fifty years and taught school to the children of Ruidosa and Candelaria years ago, when there were more people around;  a contractor lady who is working on the church and lives across the street from it; and an innovative builder who has built a house out of tires, bottles, chicken wire, and cement, next door to the church.

He also has an art installation along his fence, made out of doll body parts.  It's a little scary.

Undeterred, we continued on to the Chinati Hot Springs.  This is a very laid-back, affordable, family-style "resort" built around some ancient hot springs.   A volcano erupted here 35 million years ago, and caused some unique geology that pushes very hot water to the surface here.  You can stay in one of the rooms here, you can camp at one of the sites, or you can be day-users like we were that day.

On the day we were there, though, the air was so cold that the big public tub was just lukewarm.  Usually it's so hot that you have to get out once in a while to cool off. But we couldn't stand to get out at all.

Fortunately, there was beer.  And GOOD beer!  Notice Tom's choice of beers.  Milwaukee's Best is the official beer of Brangus Lane, and of this blog, then, of course.

Eventually we had to get out.  It was freeze-assing cold.  I ran up to the bathroom, changed into dry clothes, went and got the car, turned the heater on full blast, and brought it tub-side so that the sissies in the tub could stand to get out and run to the warm car.  There, they quickly peeled off their wet clothes, trying not to ogle each other too much.

According to an article in The Big Bend Sentinel, the hot springs are for sale, and there's some concern that a private buyer might close it to the public.  But people who have done this in the past have been cursed.  For example, Donald Judd bought it in 1991 and closed it to the public.  He died in 1994.  Just sayin'.

All this can be yours for $1.2 million.  The owner wants to sell it to somebody who will "take it to the next level."  But as Dave Sines, the caretaker of the springs says, "There is no next level."

We had our supper in the nice group kitchen, with some other spring break enthusiasts.

The stars at night
Are big and bright
Deep in the heart of Texas.

Monday, March 22, 2010

The Desert Smells Like Rain

When it rains in the Chihuahuan desert, all of a sudden there is a wonderful fragrance from the creosote bushes that fills the air.  The rain fell all around our site while we were working on Tuesday afternoon.  We could see it all around the horizon.

I worked on the vault some on Saturday and Sunday, but the truth is, masonry is not my forte. I had a hard time keeping the angle of the adobes right.

So on Tuesday I worked on the plaster.  Also, on Monday Tom and I and a friend went to Marfa in the afternoon, and I arranged to show some black and white photographs about the work of the Adobe Alliance in Marfa next fall, during Chinati weekend, in Building 98.

My other job was to do the cooking for the group.  We had many pleasant lunches under the ramada.

But the house really glows in the late afternoon and evening as the sun goes down.  Then, it was truly magical to sit under the ramada and have supper watching the mountains in the distance change colors.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Adobe Workshop: Sunday

Work continued on Sunday unabated.  I thought you might like a little orientation to the house and its spectacular setting.

Here is a drawing of the house. The main building has four Nubian vaults, connected by a large hall with a flat roof.  There are two vaults to the west of the hall, and two to the east.  The hall runs north-south.

(The courtyards were built a bit different than the drawing shows.)

Here is a view of the south elevation of the house.  A pleasant ramada shades the back patio.

Here is a view from the east, showing the domed guest house and the east courtyard, off the kitchen.

An agave allee leads from the ramada on the south side to a fire pit.

The house is off the grid, so it is powered by solar panels and a windmill.

The views from the roof are especially spectacular.  You can see another house with adobe vaults and domes in the distance.

Ok, back to work.

Work continued on the parapet on Sunday.  A cool pulley was rigged up to get the plaster up to the roof.

Mud continued to be slung at the parapet and smoothed down.

On the west side of the house, emerging masons worked on the vault over the new office space, under the guidance of El Maestro.  Also we got our old scaffolding back so we could fit under the vault.

Progress on the vault was slow but sure.

More Adobe Building, part I

Last week Tom and I went to West Texas, near Presidio, to work on an adobe building, the same one I was working on last fall.  We worked on the Nubian vault for the new office building, and we re-plastered the house.  The workshop was organized by the Adobe Alliance.

Traditional adobe buildings require re-plastering on a regular basis.  This house had not been re-plastered in several years, and torrential rains and hail last fall had damaged the plaster and stripped a lot of it off.

Also, the Nubian vault over the new office room was not completed last fall, so we were working on that as well.

Here you can see the end wall, and the unique angle at which the adobes are laid up to form the vault, when making an adobe Nubian vault. 

Tom and I got there on the second day of the workshop.  The other workers had spent the previous day testing some adobe samples, with different mixes of sand, clay, straw, and prickly pear juice.

On Saturday morning, we studied the samples on this little building to see which one cracked the least.  If there is too much clay in the mix, the plaster cracks.  The sand prevents cracking, but too much sand can make the plaster not stick well to the walls.  All clay and sand are different, so adobe plaster workers have to experiment to determine the right mix for each situation.

The photograph below shows how the domed guest house.  You can see how the rains have washed away the plaster on the windward side.

The plaster workers began re-plastering on the parapet of the house.

The job involved sweeping away debris that was loose, and then splashing water onto the parapet with a wet brush.  Then the plaster could be slapped onto the mud parapet and smoothed with the hands.

By the end of the day, the plaster crew had finished re-plastering the parapet, and they had started on one of the vaults.

Meanwhile, the vault crew was attempting to erect a scaffold to fit under the vault in progress.

This scaffolding, while very nice, was too tall to fit neatly under the vault.  We couldn't reach the top of the vault easily, so we ended up getting the old scaffolding that we used last fall the next day.

Still, we got a few new courses up on the vault.

We mixed the mortar for the vault in a wheelbarrow, using just screened  clay and sand, and water.

All this work made us tired.  Theo photographed his mom and me and Tom, resting in the living room.

Of course it also made us hungry.  I cooked a pork loin for supper, with a cream sauce.  I had bought a big one at Costco in Houston, and I froze it for the trip to West Texas. In order to fit it in the freezer, I had to bend it a bit.  So when I took it out of the cooler on Friday night, it looked like this.  (Some viewers may choose not to look at this picture, as it involves violence and nudity.)