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Thursday, September 25, 2008

The Mural Behind Taco Villa in Midland TX

We were traveling around west Texas a couple of weeks ago--me doing my sales thing, Jan reading and taking in the sights of Midland and Odessa, and between calls we made a stop at a McDonald's for a break. While I waited in the car for Jan, I looked over some trees and noticed a very life-like scene of a mountain and a Spanish monastery just past one of the trees in the parking lot of the Taco Villa restaurant next door. The colors were very bright, and the perspective was near perfect--it looked real for a second! We drove across the street and parked the car to investigate.

The mural was painted on a stucco or concrete structure that had been built on the building behind the Taco Villa. I think it was a fruit or produce warehouse, but it was seemingly empty. The effect of the mural, however, was to place the Taco Villa in the middle of a small South American town. The detail and colors were magnificent, and I just couldn't resist trying to capture some of that in the camera.

A couple of things I truly admire about the artist who painted the mural, Debbie Blakely (you can see her signature in the pot in the image below), are the way she made the artificial structures of the building (the drainpipe in the photo above, for instance) blend in with the mural, and her use of painted shadows to enhance the 3-dimensional quality of the painting. Check out the shadow of the ladder in the image below to see what I mean.

The architect on the mural, Kent Taft, also added to the 3-dimensional quality of the mural by making the houses stand out from the streets and background. Real plants mingled in with drawn plants also add to that effect. The stones in the walls, however, are drawn.

I have many favorite areas in this mural, but the image above would be my "most favorite" if I had to make a choice of only one. The way the shadows are drawn fools my eye at least into believing that the lantern really is hanging off the wall. The cat, too, looks like it's sitting half a foot away from the "wall." I also really like the way the door is painted. I had to go up and touch it to make sure it really wasn't old rugged boards instead of paint on concrete.

As I mentioned, the mural was behind the Taco Villa, and Taco Villa sponsored the artists who made it. I think it is interesting that T.V. gets two "plugs" in the mural. The first and most obvious is on one of the pots in front of the woman tending the plant in one of the images above. The not-so-obvious plug, and a pretty humorous one, is in the image just above these notes. Look at the elderly couple walking along the market, and notice the woman's handbag. (You may have to click on the image to see a larger version to really see it.) I thought it was truly ingenious. and it made me smile.

Last image is of the Taco Villa itself. I thought it was fitting that the restaurant should be included in this little essay. I am sorry to say that we did not eat there. And after the events of this week with my job, it looks as though we might not be back that way for a while. The company effected a Reduction in Force (read that as mass firing) and I was a casualty. But have no fear, I will continue to take photos of things and places that interest me (and hopefully you). They just might be a little closer to home for a while.

Till next time, all the best,
Mike Z

Thursday, September 18, 2008

DinoLand at Zilker Park

The big buzz around Austin these days is DinoLand, a touring exhibit of dinosaurs in "natural" settings, with information and educational opportunities for kids of all ages. Jan and I thought it would be a good idea to bring the boys, Sentry and Roland Thomas, to the Dinoland exhibit to see the lifelike replicas of some dino's they had seen in books and on videos.

We got there about mid-day, with the sun shining brightly and Warmly! down on us, and got our tickets at the entrance to the Zilker Botanical Gardens. There was plenty of parking, though it was across the street and a fair walk to get to the Gardens.

Jan's favorite were the bird-like dinos nesting in the tree.

Sentry's favorite was the "egg thief" dinosaur.

Mine was the Daspletosaur (cousin to the T-Rex). We never found out what RT's favorite was.

We saw all the dinosaurs, as well as some parts of the other great exhibits, the rose garden and the Japanese garden. But boy it was HOT! The little guys got cross and the adults (me) got a little aggravated, so we decided not to spend a great amount of time there. We headed home to the comfort of air conditioning. The boys slept very well that night.

Now that the weather has cooled off (low to mid 80's vs high 90's when we went) the exhibit is a good one to take children 4 and up to see. I think you can see from the images that the dinosaurs are pretty lifelike. I was very impressed with the authenticity. There are even some Compies like the ones in Jurassic Park! If your young ones are the least bit interested in dinosaurs, go see it in the cooler weather. It probably won't last! The exhibit is on through November 30, so there is still lots of time.

Till next time,

Mike Z

PS Speaking of Jurassic Park, I still smile when I think of that classic line from the movie, "Unix! I know Unix!"

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Sandhills State Park, Monahans TX

Jan and I traveled together to far West Texas this past week, out to Midland and Odessa. These two towns sit pretty much in the heart of the Permian Basin, one of the first "big hits" in the oil boom of the past millennium. There are still oil wells pumping steadily scattered all about the open fields, though most are not pumping any more. Driving back from Pecos, TX (the subject of a previous post), we drove by the Monahans Sandhills State Park. I had driven by several times, but somehow I was called to stop and see what the big deal was. It might have been because I am re-reading Dune, or it might have been because I have been so involved with water and flowers and needed a change. Either way, we were in for a real treat!

I guess you figured out that I couldn't pass up a flower without trying to shoot a photo of it. The sunflower I recognize, but the second one is a "mystery flower." I have never seen it before, and will have to find out what it is. Thank goodness the rains had come while we were here, 'cause I don't think they'd have been out otherwise.

UPDATE: I sent the photo of the "mystery flower" to several wildlife and conservation websites to help me identify it. First to respond was Kirk Anderson of, who pointed me in the direction of Mentzelia species. Then Nan Hampton (aka Ask Mr Smarty Plants) at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center wrote and said that their resident expert Joe Marcus had identified it as Mentzelia strictissima, or grassland blazingstar. I love that name! Joe said it was a rare find. I am amazed at all the directions this photography hobby has taken me.

As we walked along, Jan got ahead of me due to my constant search for good photos of the sand hills. We walked carefully in the loose sand at the bottom of the hills, but had an easier time of it at the tops. The rain had packed the sand there, and it made the most interesting patterns where the drops fell.

The photo above shows the pattern that the rain made in the sand, overlaid on the wave pattern that the wind had made before. I was very intrigued by the variety and beauty of the sand. It certainly was not all the same! There were so many variations between the troughs and peaks of the dunes, and I wound up short of breath from the exertion from time to time.

The photo above, although a little stark, is one I particularly like because of the tracks in the sand going over the dunes. We did not make those tracks, but we followed them up to the top of the dune to get a view of as much of the area as we could. When we got to the highest one, I turned and took the photo below. Until I did, I hadn't realized how far up we had come.

I trailed behind Jan for most of the trek, and shot the photo below as she waited patiently for me to catch up.

Last photo is my favorite of the hike. As I walked along admiring the pattern that the rain had made in the sand, I almost walked over these tiny footprints made by a much younger visitor to the Sandhills. They made me think of the grandkids and how much we'd like to bring them out here to run and play in the sand. One day soon we will.

I hope you have found this interesting. I am glad we decided to stop and see the Monahans Sandhills. Sometimes the spur-of-the-moment decisions are the best! It certainly worked out that way this week. Next post will probably be the mural behind the Taco Villa, I know you won't want to miss that.

Best regards,
Mike Z