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Rust Never Sleeps & ‘Winter Is Coming’ At Ping Wind Farm

December 14th, 2014 · Tags:Cities · Satire · Wi-Fi


PingFarm Fog 2014 sized

Heading north out of Fort Worth toward my two favorite playa lakes in the world, my little SUV crossover was filled with great expectations … and camping gear. The Panhandle weather was unseasonably mild and sunny. November can be a beautiful time of the year, north of “North Texas” … plush, green winter wheat everywhere, white fluffy cotton bolls exploding all over the fields and just about as much autumn color as New England has foliage … albeit the golds, reds, oranges, and yellow hues are packed into the grains of every head of maize, corn and grain sorghum from fencerow to fencerow.

FARM13 Sorghum sized

My expectations included a great sunset followed by an equally stunning sunrise, the cedar- and mesquite-powered aroma of a campfire, moonlight bright enough to cast shadows and a billion stars, ever so clear and sparkly, all in their places where I had left them on the last trip.


The forecast said “lows in the 40s.” I answered, “I can do this.”


The tent was pitched on the property I like to call The Ping Wind Farm, a nickname originally referring to the tendency for blowing dust. But as of late, windfarm is no longer a discouraging word because much of the Panhandle is fenced in by monstrous wind turbines, adding silhouettes in the foregrounds of striking sunsets, lowering global emissions and raising aspirations for farm-town economies. Things are changing. Me too. Rust never sleeps. Who knows what tomorrow brings? Will I always have the same fervor for the place? Will I have access? Taking all that into consideration, it was time to go hang out on the farm. For me, it’s a ritual as vital as swimming upstream. Revisiting my roots. Scuffing my boots below the topsoil to reveal rich nutrients beneath. Seeing the old things in a new way, but through more experienced eyes. Poking around in the piles of junk on the old place only to discover so many treasures of the past.


FARM14 Johnso Grass sized


When the tent was secured, I read some weather reports and tossed handfuls of dust into the air to check the wind patterns. I dug a small fire pit and built a fire — strategically placed north of the closest crop, with a natural firebreak provided by the bare dirt banks around a dry pond. The warm weather was supposed to hold up, which probably meant winds from the southwest. I maintained the fire very cautiously to protect the extremely flammable crop nearby. And to demonstrate that vulnerability, I took my knife out and cut off one stalk, and pitched a head of sorghum into the fire. They burn quickly and as you may know, the tiny round grains will pop, like tiny kernels of popcorn. Thank God I’m a country boy.


For the casual camper on the Ping Farm, there are hundreds of new conversation pieces. Those giant windmills (mentioned above) are about 3 miles north, but the blades are visible on a clear day — at least two-thirds of the time. But every other half-second, the three blades spin down below or right at the horizon … only to pop back up above the horizon in the next blink of an eye. It’s a cool farm boy visual effect, for sure. The bases of the turbines are out of sight, just rotors, slicing the sky. That’s during daylight. As the winds diminish at sunset, the rotation slows, and the “hide-and-go-seek” game the blades play also slows down in the pastel last light. Then the blades disappear all together in the night … only to be replaced by red lights blinking on each and every windmill lining the highway. Hundreds if not thousands of blinking red lights … so apropos this time of year, like Christmas decorations in the Texas sky. The windmills stretch for about 50 miles, I think, from Wildorado, Texas west to the New Mexico line.


Vega Windmill Wildorado


I did not expect visitors, but — speaking of rotors — the last time I camped out on the farm, I spotted a private helicopter, or at least a small unmarked helicopter cruising low over the area farms and ranches. This time, as soon as my little fire started emitting earthy, woody, full-bodied aromas and a little smoke, I heard the telltale “WHOOP WHOOP WHOOP” of a heavy-duty military transport helicopter way, way off in the distance. Please understand that this farm is seven miles from the nearest town and probably three to five miles from the nearest neighbor. (No Wi-Fi hotspots to borrow …) There had been silence. The farm is between Amarillo and the New Mexico line … nowheresville, to borrow a term. Then I heard it coming. I could hear it, but couldn’t see it … at first. It had a rotor at the front and one at the back. What is that, a “Chinook?” Well … I saw two of those over the farm, flying due West, in flight paths running parallel, spaced out over a half-mile spread, at 15-minute intervals. First thought: “Am I busted? I thought the burn ban was lifted in the county.” Then, I thought there could be a military operation … maybe some training exercise from a base in Central Texas or New Mexico, or something … But the choppers were gone as quickly as they had appeared, never returning my waves or acknowledging the reflecting signals I flashed to them from the ground, using the sunlight and the glossy face of my iPhone. I knew I should have learned Morse Code. Regardless … very interesting …


Thank goodness, it was the wrong time of year for snakes, so I had no visitors of the rattling variety. I hoped I would get a visit from the lonely coyotes who often howl and bark at night in that part of the world. But you know what?


FARM14 Coffee Camp sized


Some sort of low pressure system or something pulled in and the air was saturated with moisture, and the temperature dropped. Weather sites indicated the temps were in the 40s nearby, but I was down at the bottom of a hill, and in a playa lake. I guarantee you it was below 40, thus explaining a thick crusting of ice on my windshield and the thick frost on the skin of my tent. Brrrrrrr…. The coyotes had more sense than me, and were not out hunting. No prairie serenade for me. Wonder how many years they had hunted out there. The family farm has all kinds of critters and also has the remains of what was once a buffalo wallow back in the days of open prairies — migrating herds would cool themselves in the mud.


For a few hours, I braved the cold and tried to recognize a few of the more well-known constellations. On previous sojourns, I had spotted a satellite and at least one “shooting star.” Then, bam! Shooting star … met my quota.


Scanning the heavens, I saw many a passenger jet headed to some West Coast destination. Then I spotted another visitor … “a close encounter of the third kind.” Or so it seemed. It freaked me out for a little while. So few people claim to see these … why me? I watched a light that was probably 400-500 miles to the southwest moving through the sky at what must have been a high rate of speed. But so weird … it was not flying in a straight line. That’s what caught my eye. The tiny light would zig zag one direction, then the opposite, as it progressively moved further away from me. It’s erratic flight looked like the way a moth or a butterfly flits back and forth … never in a straight line. Yes … totally freaking out. “What is it?” “Am I seeing a UFO?” Then it disappeared.


I didn’t know how I would explain this to my friends, without losing all credibility. I kept analyzing and of course looking for anything more in the sky above. After watching several more jets fly over, I formed a theory. Each plane had a strobe light flashing, and alternating from each wing. From a great distance, maybe those two blinking lights appear to be one, and when they alternate, it creates the illusion of a flight path change. That’s all I could come up with. Still …


Regardless, after that I was done. I smothered the fire and crawled in the tent and read “A Song of Fire and Ice” Book III (Game of Thrones – “A Storm Of Swords,” … freezing off my arse while I read about frozen, dead, white walkers … “winter is coming” … and all that) until I just could’t take the cold any longer. Man that George R.R. Martin is lengthy … but who am I to talk? Ha. I was reading my e-book version on an iPad, and because of gloved fingers, had to turn pages by touching and dragging my nose across the screen. Ha … nice visual. It was a long night wrapped in a sleeping bag, wearing jeans, long johns, thermal sox, gloves, a coat and a wrap around my ears … and I was still cold. (The iPad and a 3G kept me up-to-date with all the important matters of Facebook and Twitter, while roughing it on the farm without Wi-Fi, I might add.)


I awoke before five, not because I am so inclined, but because I was too cold to try to sleep any longer. I did lay there for another five minutes because I am inclined to be lazy. Then I popped up, and fired up version 2.0 of the campfire. It was the greatest thing ever. I enjoyed the warmth for an hour and a half, before breaking my fast with bacon, eggs, pan-seared toast and cowboy coffee. That’s when I heard my next visitor. Actually, I heard several …. a pack of coyotes was yelping and howling a little bit, miles away. Then a lone wolf … er coyote sounded off to answer them from what must have been only a few hundred feet from my tent. I could hear it so clearly, but couldn’t see it. (I howled back, but the critter was unimpressed.) Later a few mockingbirds sang from the tall grass of the pasture. They probably sounded more like a coyote than me. The entire playa lake was submerged beneath the most dense fog I have ever seen in The Panhandle. My red tent, perched on a dirty berm of a pond was surrounded on all sides and above by a white cloud. It looked like some science fiction, “Twilight Zone” scenario, where the rest of the world was just gone, and I was marooned on what looked like an island. Nothing else existed — or so it appeared — but a white cloak and the 100-square feet around my red tent. Yes cool!

FARM14 House sized

FARM14 Windmill Frame sized


FARM14 Trike sized


The fog lifted around 11 a.m. and I went about my business of climbing around discarded, rusty farm implements, toys, tools and such … taking photos for anyone who cares.


As I got in my vehicle to drive away, I heard one more visitor … again, overhead. This was pretty rare. An Osprey — the revolutionary fixed/non-fixed wing hybrid aircraft flew right over our farm house … er shack. Dang it … the camera was already packed. Later in the day, watching the local TV news, I was reminded that Ospreys are assembled in Amarillo, 50 miles to the east, at a Bell Helicopter facility. Probably some test flight. Well … that explains that.


Later in broad daylight, one large, furry, really healthy looking coyote crossed over the country road as I drove along toward Landergin Switch … near an old building that I have heard was once a Pony Express Station. (Can anyone confirm?)


FARM14 Backroad sized


After a brief visit with family, I headed back to Fort Worth. From that drive, I have but a few things to share. Do you know the road — U.S. 287 from Amarillo to Fort Worth? My first point: Don’t do it. At least not all of it. If time permits, your car is serviced well and the sun is shining, take the back road from Claude, Texas to Estelline, Texas. Not only will you pass through Turkey, Texas, “Home of Bob Wills” you pass cool, but tiny Lake Mackenzie and some of the most interesting rock formations. It’s basically a high-speed driveby of the Palo Duro Canyon lands back there. Awesome!


In Childress I talked to a nice farmer gentleman who pulled up across from me on a fuel island of a tiny little convenience store with really nasty restrooms. But that’s not the good part. He was driving a pick up and pulling a flatbed trailer. On the back of the trailer were several heavy duty steel cages … filled with four or five recently captured feral hogs. He caught them “just south of town” and was going to sell them for 40 cents a pound. Squeal … “Them’s your pigs!” (Name the film … I digress …)


Lastly, I want to point out the oddity that is 287 through Memphis. Seen that? At some point in the town’s history, the highway evidently was widened. Rather than moving the football field, the road simply takes out one corner of the land surrounding the field. The highway passes just beside one corner of the stadium’s bleachers. I surmise that after a touchdown on the field of the Mighty Memphis Cyclones you can kick for one extra point, and also potentially cause a six-car pile up as the ball flies out into the highway … Well sort of. Pretty stubborn those athletic boosters, not budging an inch, when the road came through. Same thing at a local grain storage facility. Rather than move the building, they simply cropped off and redesigned one corner of the building. Ha … I always imagine the granary bursting … and tons and tons of corn piling into the street … and cars diving headlong into the pile … “Corn. Corn.” (Game of Thrones reference …) I digress.


Know what I sayin?