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April 2011

The envelope from Logan came while I was in Chicago. Inside were three letters - the one from the teacher explaining the project:

"Dear Uncle Robert and Aunt Wanna,

In third grade we read a book entitled, Flat Stanley. In the story, Stanley is flattened by a bulletin board, but not hurt. This is the first book in a series that explains how Stanley Lambschop accidentally became as flat as a pancake....

As a class project, we are sending Flat Stanley on an adventure to a different community, state, or country. Each student got to choose who they wanted to send their Flat Stanley to...."

...

Sincerely,
Mrs. Blair

and one letter from my great-nephew Logan:

Dear Uncle Robert and Aunt Wanna,

Can you please take my Flat Stanley with you and show him around and then mayby send a letter back with him.

Love, Logan

and another letter from his friend Kaleb:

I wold like you to take care of Stanly take him were you go pleas. Take pichers and stuff like that pleas. And keep him like for a wek and mail him back to Groveton Indian Scool.

Love
Kaleb

I had heard of the Flat Stanley projects several years ago when a friend had a visit from one, but this was my first personal experience. You can read more about Flat Stanley online; just Google it.

There are so many neat places to go and things to do around El Paso, but our time was limited, so we decided that the best thing to do was to show the Stanleys what each of us enjoy most - our wonderful Franklin Mountains State Park, and my hobby of miniatures.

One of the things I discovered was that our spring winds were too high for the Stanleys, and I was afraid their little heads would be torn off! So, I did some tweaking, using the scanner to make a new back for each one, thus enabling me to insert a toothpick so they would have nice straight necks. Believe me they were grateful, as who wants the prospect of having one's head separated from one's body!

The first of us to "take Stanley were you go please" was Uncle Robert.

Our state parks are dependent on volunteers to help take up the slack from disappearing revenues, and the state parks in the El Paso area have some terrific people who give freely of their time, knowledge, and expertise to keep these special wild and/or historical spaces going. One of those people is my husband, Uncle Robert.

From the time he was a little boy hiking with his dog and building bike trails through the woods behind his home in East Texas, to now, my dear husband has loved the out of doors. He is part of an active, interested and interesting group of people who enjoy what he does - riding his mountain bike, hiking and exploring, as well as helping out in whatever way he can when the rangers need something done.

Early every morning Uncle Robert makes coffee and brings me a cup in bed. Then he works the crossword puzzles in The El Paso Times newspaper. Flat Stanley Logan waited patiently (I think Flat Kaleb was still sleeping).

This is the Flat Stanleys' first time to go with Uncle Robert. He is just going out for an afternoon visit with the rangers at the park and to check out some trails.

The Stanleys have a great view on the dashboard as they head out to the park. Unfortunately, there are no more pictures from that day but they got to meet at least some of the park's rangers and had a look around.

Before their next trip with Uncle Robert, the Stanleys did some exploring to see what Aunt Wanna does to entertain herself.

Looky here! She hopes to have this dollmaker's table on her website soon.

You need to add this glass of water with the lemon and lime slices, Aunt Wanna.

We're wondering what she's going to put into this purple glass egg!

They kept thinking they heard mooing noises from the den.

Well, no wonder! This is MooMoo's Cow Shop! Just look at all those cows!

Wonder what she's going to use that interesting dome for? I sure hope she washes it first, Flat Stanley Logan says.

It's been quite windy lately, but the weather is cooperating so Uncle Robert is finally getting to go for a ride. Here is Flat Stanley Kaleb in Uncle Robert's shirt pocket, on the day of their first mountain bike ride...

and Flat Stanley Logan riding atop his Camel Back. This holds water and other items. (Flat Logan pointed out that Uncle Robert's collar was messed up, too.)

Notice that blue tube? That's what Uncle Robert drinks from so that he doesn't have to stop riding; he doesn't even have to open a bottle. Isn't that cool?

Here the Stanleys have climbed into the back of the van to check to see if everything is ready to go.

This is a heavy duty tire on Uncle Robert's bike. It has to be because of the desert vegetation and sharp rocks that he rides over.

That's his helmet in the background; very important for any bike rider but particularly for a mountain biker who is on steep, rough terrain. Uncle Robert carries a pair of shorts and his special shoes that snap onto his bike pedals. He changes back into his regular clothes and shoes if he wants to go somewhere else before returning home.

They didn't take a very long ride the first day because the Stanleys did not have their helmets yet. Maybe they didn't want to look like this! lol

Flat Stanley Kaleb was the first to put on his new helmet. This is a boy who practices bike riding safety and he wants to be ready for the next bike ride!

Okay! I'm ready, too!

The State Parks have a master plan where they decide where they want bike and hiking trails to go. Uncle Robert has done some of these trails. First he walks the terrain to see which route will be best, both to give the bike rider a good ride and the hiker a good view, but also to do the least damage to the environment. Nowadays people know more about how to build good trails that won't get washed away or cause unnecessary erosion.

In the summer of 2006 Mother Nature awakened and decided the arroyos needed cleaning out. In the floods that hit El Paso that year, they were deepened and widened by the massive flows of water that cascaded down the mountains, and some of the trails were severely damaged.

This is the logo of the Borderland Mountain Bike Association, known as BMBA. Uncle Robert is a member.

 

This is a crew of volunteers who gathered to do trail maintenance on the beautiful Sotol Trail that Uncle Robert GPSd, flagged and did a lot of the construction himself. Bikers really like that trail.

(If you look very closely you can see the Flat Stanleys perched on Uncle Robert's shoulders.)


Here Uncle Robert and his friend Mike Rossen get their gear ready. Mr. Rossen owns a local bike shop and is a big supporter of the Franklin Mountains State Park.

This is how Uncle Robert dresses when he works on a trail; heavy cotton shirt so that his arms are protected, work gloves, and a cap with a snap-on back that protects his neck and ears from the damaging rays of the sun. The back pack he is wearing here is different from the one he uses when he rides his bike, where he wants to keep it as light as possible to make his riding easier.

These red leg protectors are called gaiters; they protect the wearer from the dangerous spines of desert plants, as well as from possible snake bite. Notice Uncle Robert has made them handy tool carriers, too.

He is holding a McLeod trail building tool, a forest fire tool common in western American mountain ranges. It has a large hoe-like blade on one side and a tined blade, like a fork, on the other. It was originally for raking fire lines with the teeth, and cutting branches and sod with the sharpened hoe edge. The McLeod is useful for slough and berm and tamping or compacting tread. According to LIGHTLY ON THE LAND, The SCA Trail Building and Maintenance Manual, "Slough is the name given to soil, rock and silt that has accumulated on the inside of the trail, narrowing the walkway. Berm is debris that has built up on the outside of the tread, forming a barrier that prevents water from sheeting quickly off the trail. Both can become overgrown with vegetation. Their removal is among the most frequent and important tasks facing maintenance crews."

This is what the volunteers were doing on the Sotol Trail that day.

.

This tool is a mattock, a kind of pick axe that is used to chip away at rock, break up tough roots, pry rocks loose from the ground, etc.

Ready if you are, Uncle Robert!

Uncle Robert and the Flat Stanleys lead the volunteers as they head off the for the day's work, with the all-important water in their Camel Backs. The Ranger at the end of the line, carrying a McLeod, is also carrying a bucket, which is used to transport material to fill in the holes left from rock removal in the trail tread.

Often the tread, which is the actual travel surface where the tire rubber or hoof or foot meets the trail, is only 15 to 18 inches wide. The trails are kept as narrow as is safe and practical in order to do the least amount of damage to the terrain. Quite often a trail is routed so as not to disturb endangered plant species or artifacts from people who were there long ago.

When Uncle Robert talks about building trails, he often makes this comment, "There are several important things to consider when building a trail. You want it to be sustainable, scenic and fun, and the most important three of these considerations are erosion, erosion and erosion! Don't make the trail a canal that causes water to flow down it."

Here is a quote from a USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) Trail Construction and Maintenance Notebook. "Remember: Your most important tool is your brain - use it."

Nap time! Working on mountain bike trails is EXTREMELY tiring work!

Let's explore some more while Uncle Robert continues his nap. Aunt Wanna likes fairies, doesn't she? Here's one inside a dome dipping her toe into the water.

She has a stack of bases to use with more domes, including this one from an old anniversary clock that no longer worked.

On another day, the Stanleys were able to visit the Park again, this time with Aunt Wanna along. Here they are heading down the freeway again.

This is the exit to Trans Mountain Road coming up. It goes up and over the mountains.

We have gone under the Freeway and are starting up Trans Mountain Road. If you look closely, you can see a whitish line that stretches up the lower edge of the mountain; that is the road we will be climbing.

We are starting to climb.

We just passed the National Border Patrol Museum

and The Museum of Archaeology, located in the foothills of the Franklin Mountains, both wonderful places to visit, which we hope to see another time.

In the years when El Paso has lots of rain in the winter, the slopes of these mountains are covered with beautiful California Poppies in the spring.

They stretch for miles and miles.

Some years the winds blow the seeds for great distances and you can see poppies along the medians and the sides of the freeway, as well.

This isn't a good picture, but it is a quick glimpse of a very nice overlook point where people can picnic and look down for miles and miles across almost the entire East side of El Paso. There is another overlook like this where you can view the West side of El Paso, which is bisected by the Franklin Mountains.

These are high and rugged mountains, but it is surprising to find that there are places in the mountains where one can find springs and trees, although not like big forest trees. All kinds of wildlife are there, from pack rats to coyotes to deer and antelope, even mountain lions. Believe it or not, Aunt Wanna once hiked with Uncle Robert to a beautiful place called Whispering Springs one Mother's Day.

Unfortunately, Aunt Wanna didn't get good pictures as we passed the highest point on Trans Mountain Road, which is over 5,000 feet, and was referred to as Smugglers Gap before the road was carved through the mountains and opened in 1969.

It was also a bit murky and the plan was to stop on the way home at the overlook on the West side to take pictures, showing the Rio Grande and the entire valley, but we forgot to do it!

Here we have come down the Western side of the Franklins and are approaching the Tom Mays entrance to the Franklin Mountains State Park, where Uncle Robert is an active volunteer. You can read about the park here.

We have left the main road and are turning to go back toward the mountains we just crossed over.

Welcome! Bienvenidos, Flat Stanleys!

The tall spindly plants are ocotillos. Ocotillos are like many desert plants; they can go for long periods of time without rain, but when they get rain they burst forth with tiny green fleshy leaves all up and down the stems and spectacular red-orange blooms. We could see the beginning of blooms on the tips, but it has been so dry that they are late this year.

Normally we would see wild flowers everywhere, like this wild verbena, but we have had so little rain that we saw almost nothing blooming. (These wildflower pictures were made by Dana McCartney, Aunt Wanna's daughter.)

What you see above the sign is the guard rail on the road we just came down as we crossed over these mountains from the East side.

This is what we normally see, with a little bit of rain.

Although he has purchased a yearly pass, Uncle Robert is signing in so that the park can keep track of who their visitors are and why they are there. (We are facing west here because the sun was in the wrong place for a good picture.)

"I see what you mean, Aunt Wanna," says Flat Stanley Logan. "Just LOOK how dry it is!"

This place is very rugged, so people have to use their good sense and not try to go places that aren't approved. That bush behind the sign is greasewood; normally it would be bright green with pretty yellow blooms that look like miniature roses. Greasewood releases a wonderful smell when it rains (so does sagebrush).

"Hmm! This cool air feels GOOD!" Flat Stanley Kaleb says.

Approaching a turn-out to one of the picnic areas on the right.

We noticed a good friend and another very active park volunteer, so decided to change our plans. Hey, Flat Kaleb! Get your head out of the air conditioner vent and join the rest of us!

Richard Love is a superb wildlife photographer. He documents almost everything in the park, including beautiful plants and flowers, but his specialty is birds.

When we explained the visit of the Flat Stanleys, he cheerfully agreed to show us how he spends much of his time. It's just a ways down this Nature Walk.

The park is replacing its old wooden signs with these great welded metal signs

And the base of the sign makes a handy bench to sit on and enjoy the view, as well.

As we walked down the trail we noticed something a bit strange looking off to the side. Wonder what THAT is?

This is an area where rangers, historians, scientists and people with all kinds of specialties make presentations. You can come here for talks, slideshows and movies and learn about scorpions or snakes, or deer and elk, or archaeology or past human cultures, plants and flowers, etc.

And here we are at the Blind; a place where one can sit and watch wildlife.

Designed by Richard Love and constructed by the park, the blind is simple, reflecting the area and suggesting an old adobe structure, melting back into the land.

Gee; that could almost be something out of Star Wars, couldn't it?

Let's go in!

This is where people sign in and take a handout on the Bird of the Month or other materials. People from all 48 of the contiguous United States have visited, as have people from at least 5 other countries. There were people from Germany at the park the week before we were here with Richard.

This was the bird of the month for April, 2011.

Richard explains some of the recent sightings.

He shows a picture from the bulletin board of a tiny squirrel (I can't recall its name at this point).

Richard comes out every day he is in town to put out feed (he lives fairly close to the park). This food is especially important during times of drought.

Here Aunt Wanna is making sure that our Stanleys have a good viewpoint while Richard tells us about everything. There is a bench inside where people can sit and look out. It's a very small space, but sometimes Richard has classes. The local Audobon Society, for instance, often has birders who spend time here. It is just amazing how many varieties of birds, some quite unexpected, have been spotted here in the park.

One of the Flat Stanleys is sitting on the open window ledge. It is remarkably cool inside, too. There is a screen that one can see through which can be pulled down when the insects are an annoyance.

When trees or plants have to be moved on roads and other places, Richard and the rangers have moved them to help create this area for wildlife.

Most of the bigger plants have been moved here from somewhere else.

This tree was moved during the winter and still shows no green; hopefully it will come out. Even if it doesn't, however, it is a great roosting place for the birds, anyway. That's a dove just above the feeder.

Aunt Wanna, I want to go out there and see the birds up close!

Okay, I'm here sitting atop the feeder. Now where did all the birds go?

This interesting item, partially screened by the ocotillo stems, is a rainwater collector.

During the rainy season water is collected and drains into the cistern. The water flows by gravity through an underground pipe from the tank to a small fountain below.

Then there is a solar powered pump that circulates the water in the fountain.

There is a bubbler underneath the rock which is at the top right of the picture. The water sprays against the underside of the rock and then sheets along the rock and emerges as this small trickle into the trough below. It is kept small so that the water won't evaporate so quickly. Notice how the bees like this wetness.

The water trickles along and the excess pools in this container snuggled among the rocks. Richard took his feed scoop to scoop out a lot of bees while we were there!

This water is especially important right now. Richard mentioned a Scotts Oriole that flew in and gorged itself drinking so that he feared it would hurt itself. Then it proceeded to eat the scattered food until it almost popped!

As he was talking, he stopped and looked around. "I just heard a new bird call," he said. He never did spot it, though.

Well, look who is going to get a good view of any visiting hummingbirds! They will be coming shortly, Richard says.

They are very aggressive this year because there aren't any flowers blooming yet (like these) and they want to protect their food source.

And here's one!

This red-headed little bird sitting on a twig on the ground below the hummingbird feeder is a house finch.

This one looks like a different variety.

I have a great view up here, Aunt Wanna! The top of his head is all shiny!

Just as Flat Stanley Kaleb decides to look toward the mountains ...

A bird flies in ...

... here come two more!

Several of these approach.

I believe this is a black-throated sparrow, Aunt Wanna.

And there's a house finch. Guess he's deciding whether to go to that feeder or not.

Lots of these finches gathered as soon as we all quit moving around. We saw doves and several other varieties of birds, although we didn't get pictures.

Well, as it turned out, we didn't get to stay as long as we had planned, even though we came out quite early in the morning.

Aunt Wanna is not supposed to be outside for too long at a time, and even though she spent her time inside the blind, she still needed to get home and out of the sun.

So, we had to say goodbye to our special place, The Franklin Mountains State Park. Like so many parks across Texas and the rest of the country, it is important for all of us to enjoy and protect them so they will still be there for us in the future.

Thanks for being such a good sport, Uncle Robert! We wanted to do so many other things, but we ran out of time and it was fun while it lasted.

Look, everyone! The Texas State Parks gave Uncle Robert and Mr. Love an award for all the work they do!

That's another award behind Flat Stanley Logan, but it's carved on green glass so it's hard to get a picture of it. The picture on the right is Uncle Robert hiking up to a plane crash site several years ago. Notice he didn't have a beard in those days.

Another one! Shhh! Don't tell Uncle Robert we got these pictures because he would be embarrassed.

Well, as long as we're exploring, let's see what's behind these doors.

Oh, cool! A Wizard's cart; we'll have to check that out sometime.

And here's a Mouse House in a Holey Rock. Uncle Robert said he ran into one just like this in the mountains where we have been lately.

Aunt Wanna has some special pieces in this wall curio cabinet.

For example, this beautiful piece of crochet was made especially for Aunt Wanna by her friend Rita, who lives in Germany!

And this beautiful pillow was made by her friend Hellie, who lives in The Netherlands, as part of a Swap.

Here is the second pillow of the pair.

I think this zebra table is cool! Aunt Wanna says it was made by her friend Alice Zinn.

Looks like that cat is checking it out, too.

So this is where you work on your minis, Aunt Wanna.

Nice place to lean back if you don't mind sliding a bit!

My, my, Aunt Wanna! What a mess!

No wonder you got this award!

Well, you can call it creative, I guess .... lol

Well, all good things must come to an end, and it was time for the Flat Stanleys to return to their classroom.

There were so many things we might've done, but couldn't because of time and circumstance ....

The Wyler Aerial Tramway is a part of the Texas park system. Ride it to the top of Ranger Peak for a spectacular view of three states and two nations.

Hueco Tanks is a state park and historic site east of El Paso, an area of rugged rock formations.

It contains ancient petroglyphs and provides unique climbing experiences for people from all over the world.

There are old missions in the Lower Valley which are still active. This is La Mision de Corpus Christi de San Antonio de la Ysleta del Sur, not too far from where we live.

There are many museums in El Paso, including three on Ft. Bliss: The 3rd Cavalry Museum, and The U. S. Army Air Defense Artillery Museum, and

The Old Fort Bliss Replica Museum, which shows the fort as it was in its second location in the late 1800s (minus the utility wires lol), at what was then called Magoffinsville.

The Magoffin Home was built in 1875, about that same time.

It is a State Historic Site, but is presently closed for renovations.

In addition, there is The Museum of Art,

The Museum of History,

The Insights Science Museum, a great place for children,

The Holocaust Museum

,

The International Museum of Art,

and The Chamizal National Monument.

The Centennial Museum

and Desert Gardens are both located on the campus of The University of Texas at El Paso.

Perhaps on a future visit ....

In the meantime, Aunt Wanna and Uncle Robert hope other people will enjoy all the great things available for those who, like Flat Stanley Logan and Flat Stanley Kaleb, visit El Paso.

NOTES from Flat Stanley Logan and Flat Stanley Kaleb:

In order to dress us in clothes from this area, Aunt Wanna needed to make us smaller. She used her scanner to do this, then she cut the figures out, front and back, and glued them together.

See, this is how tall we actually are.

And now here is a reduced Kaleb in his sombrero and serape, only 4 1/2 inches tall, which is not too tall for a boy his age.

And here is smaller Logan with his cowboy hat and deputy marshal's badge.

Making the Stanleys smaller in order to fit the clothing to them is called reducing them to scale, something Aunt Wanna does all the time.

Aunt Wanna made up a series of photos for the teacher, Mrs. Blair, and sent them along with the original Flat Stanleys and the smaller Flat Stanleys back to Groveton, TX.

So Long and Hasta La Vista from El Paso, Texas!

..................

NOTE: We received a nice thank you letter from Logan on May 18, 2011. His teacher Mrs. Blair added a note that everyone enjoyed the project and the class's Flat Stanleys visited NC, SC, V, WV, AZ, LA, FL, CA, TX, OH, IL, Canada and AL.

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