CDRI Desert NewsFlash
The pond at the base of the quarry on the CDRI site photographed from Hwy 118. Photo by Seth Hamby.
Please join us!
CDRI BBQ & Auction Fundraiser
Saturday, September 25, 2021
We've got an exciting line-up for this year's fundraiser, which we're looking forward to sharing with you! To keep the risk of spreading the Covid virus to a minimum, we want to remind everyone that the event is outdoors!
We are keeping the maximum attendance to 120 (down from 225-250 in past years). We will display all auction items outside of the Powell Visitor Center along the wrap-around porch. Additionally, we request that guests wear masks if they are close to others not in their group.
Martin Stringer will lead the Live Auction, and Rick Ruiz and El Grupo de la Paz will provide music. Lisa and Mark Sanchez of Sanchez BBQ will cater this year's event, serving brisket, sausage, and all of the trimmings.
The Live Auction is bursting with fabulous offerings. We hope you come ready to bid big for a win-win for you and for CDRI. Items in the Live Auction are listed below:
Original Fine Art by
David Loren Bass
Mary Lou Saxon
Hotel Saint George, Marfa, TX
Marfa Garden Casita, Marfa, TX
The Crepe Myrtle Cottage, Fredericksburg, TX
w/Wine Tasting at 4.0 Cellars & The Grape Creek Vineyard, Fredericksburg, TX
Cool River Cabin, at the Native American Seed Farm, Junction, TX
Birding Adventure, Alamo Inn, Alamo, TX
Cibolo Creek Ranch, SSW of Marfa, TX
The Lodge Resort & Spa, Cloudcroft, NM
Alpine Guest Quarters, Alpine, TX
Willow House, Terlingua, TX
More Great Offerings
An evening of classical guitar by Stephen Bright, Cathedral Guitars
A year's supply of coffee from Big Bend Coffee Roasters
Your choice of two 25-gallon trees, Jim Martinez Landscape
Antique "Skinner" Lamp
And the Cherry on Top
CDRI's Education "Paddle Raise"
Tickets are $25 per person.
Please keep in mind that there is a limited amount of tickets remaining.
CDRI’s BBQ & AUCTION
Thank you to the following donors for their contribution of $250 (and more) to help the fundraiser get off to a great start.
Judy & Stephen Alton
Martha Atiee & Michael Carter
Veleda Boyd & Don Coan
Liz & Rick Culp
Lanna & Joe Duncan
Kristin & Tom Feuerbacher
Beth & Larry Francell
Ralph & Marilyn Gruebel
Pamela Hall & James Duerr
Rick Herrman & Margaret O'Donnell
Marfa National Bank, Marfa, TX
Jane & Guy McCrary
Clint Parsley & Alex Albright
R. Edward Pfiester, Jr.
Rebecca & Sam Pfiester
Susan & Jerry Pittman
Lana & Robert Potts
Cameron & Rick Pratt
Cecilia Riley & Mike Gray
Sheri & Grant Roane
Ron Sommers & Charles Mary Kubricht
Daryl & Mary Styblo
Suzanne & Steve Tuttle
Teresa & Jim Weedin
Cathy Wright & David Leet
2021 BBQ & Auction Sponsorships
Thank you to the following corporate sponsors
for their support, ensuring a successful fundraiser!
Fort Davis State Bank
Permian Basin Area Foundation
Ste. Genevieve Winery
Thank you for your generous support!
Last month, we reported that several Texas Foundations had generously donated to CDRI since January 2021 for a total of $57,000 to date. This month we've placed individual donors in the spotlight.
Thank you to each of you for supporting us in so many ways -- from in-kind donations in 2021 like the Canon camera donated by Alan Wintz to trees for the Botanical Garden and landscape design from Jim Martinez to extensive graphic design work donated by Jim Fissel. We also received Yucca plants from Hoven Riley of Comanche Yucca and a large variety of plants from David Scott of JOSS Growers.
Your admission fee supports CDRI, as do your purchases from the Gift Shop. And, your CDRI membership is another way in which so many of you support CDRI. Thank you to each of you.
In 2021, we have also been the fortunate beneficiary of cash donations from the individuals listed below. These donations help us with our day-to-day operations, while some are designated explicitly for educational purposes.
We are grateful to each of you for your generous support. Your gifts show us that we must be doing something right, and they encourage the CDRI Team to raise the "bar" to an even higher level.
From all of at CDRI, thank you very much!
2021 Individual Donors
(Donations to the 2021 BBQ & Auction Host Committee are not included in this list)
The Dan & Sharon Flatley Charitable Fund
Beth & Larry Francell
Vince & Wanda Geraci
Phyllis & David Hardy
Joyce & Don Shanks
The Gregory S. & Cathy E. Taylor Charitable Trust
An Anonymous Donor
Robert A. & Margaret Anne B. Ayres
Robert L. Dunagan, Jr.
Kristin & Tom Feuerbacher
R. Edward Pfiester, Jr.
Susan & Jerry Pittman
The Wes & Victoria Bannister Fund
Hallie D. Ferguson
Steve & Patricia Rosencranz
Austin Cactus & Succulent Society
John & Jean Dorbandt
William Cassell & Ann Repp
Thank you very much!
Interview with CDRI Gift Shop Vendor, Chris Ruggia
With our August Desert NewsFlash, we began a new series where we interview one of our Gift Shop vendors each month. We work with a remarkable group of vendors who help us maintain a very special Gift Shop, so we thought our readers would enjoy getting to know them one by one.
We began by interviewing Ellen Ruggia of Alpine, Texas. This month, we are interviewing Chris Ruggia, Ellen's husband, and also one of our Gift Shop vendors.
Tell us about yourself.
Where are you from and how did you end up in West Texas?
I grew up all over North Texas and went to art school at UT Austin, where I met my wife, Ellen. We moved to Alpine at the end of 1994 so she could take biology classes at Sul Ross.
We sell 3 of your Jack – Adventures in Texas’ Big Bend comic book series, and we sell Night of the Grasshopper Mouse! Did “Jack” come first? And, what was the inspiration behind choosing Jack as your main character?
The longer, 3-part “Jack” story was first serialized online (and for a while in the Big Bend Gazette) with each page as a chapter. When I was only midway through the first part, I wanted to have a printed book to share alongside the web episodes so I did the stand-alone story of “Night of the Grasshopper Mouse.” So the Grasshopper Mouse was the first book, but the first half of Part 1 was done before that!
As for the selection of Jack as the main character, it came while I was looking at a book on the ecology of the Gulf Coast. I needed a character who would be new to the Big Bend, so we could learn about the area along with them. And I found that black-tailed jackrabbits are native across the entire state, from El Paso to the Gulf, so I imagined Jack as an unlikely transplant to the desert.
What kind of research did you have to do to be able to write about Jack and the other desert animals in the series?
I did some preliminary reading, and then I interviewed some scientists for ideas. The late Dr. Scudday, who at the time was professor emeritus at SRSU, and John Karges, conservation biologist for the Nature Conservancy, were both a huge help in identifying promising species to make into characters. Once I selected some of the animals, I read a lot more. David Schmidly’s “Mammals of Texas” was a big help, as well as articles from quite a few scientific journals that John Karges loaned me, or I accessed at the SRSU Library. The information I was able to find helped me develop both the personalities of the characters and the kinds of situations they would encounter.
Did you have a particular age of reader in mind when you began writing your first “Jack” comic book?
Not really, no. I wanted it to be accessible to young readers, but also something that I myself would enjoy as an adult. Of course, talking animal comic books just look like they are for kids, so they are probably my primary audience, and I have really enjoyed getting reviews over the years from my friends’ children.
Your drawings are very creative. And, Desert NewsFlash readers may not know that you also designed the “Dinomito” graphic for the CDRI Mining Exhibit. What other graphic design work do you do?
Ellen and I do design work for quite a few clients in the area. Our biggest job is a contract I have to serve as Director of Tourism for the City of Alpine, and we also work with the Museum of the Big Bend to help them promote their events. Occasionally, we’ll have an illustration project as well. I recently did a drawing for the Brick Vault brewery in Marathon for a specialty beer glass that I really enjoyed.
What keeps you busy Monday – Friday?
Juggling projects between the City of Alpine and our other clients keeps us very busy, as well as our own art studio projects – like the mural in downtown Alpine that Ellen designed which just recently completed the fundraising stage, and various paintings, drawings, pattern designs, etc…
Do you have other hobbies?
I guess my primary hobby would be playing music. Mainly, I play lead guitar and sing with The Swifts in Alpine, but recently I have also been joining in with Drs. John & Katie Ray’s “Old Rugged Choir”, a large group playing country gospel music at 2nd Sunday brunches at the French Co. Grocers in Marathon.
What do you enjoy most about living in Alpine?
I love the closeness to the landscape, that you can leave town so quickly and be surrounded by the Chihuahuan Desert. And I love the people, the art and music communities, and the enthusiastic friends that love and support them.
Visitors to the Nature Center can find your terrific comic books for sale in the CDRI Gift Shop. If they want to visit with you about your design work, how may they contact you?
We are usually pretty booked up for design work, but I would encourage people to check out my website at chrisruggia.com if they are interested in seeing my latest paintings and drawings. And if folks would like to learn more about the mural project, they can go to vastgraphics.com/mural.
“Viva Los Sotoleros” -- Long Live the Sotol-Makers
By Seth Hamby
Derived from the Nahuatl word tzotolin, meaning “palm with long, thin leaves,” the common name “sotol” is used to refer to members of the plant genus Dasylirion. Dasylirion are in the family Asparagaceae, which includes other iconic desert genera such as Agave, Yucca, and Nolina. Sotol is in the lilioid monocot subfamily Nolinoideae, previously treated as a separate family. There are currently 19 species of Dasylirion, all of which are found in Mexico. Three species (D. leiophyllum, D. texanum, and D. wheeleri) also occur in the Sonoran and Chihuahuan Deserts of the southwestern U.S.
Sotol plants are an important desert resource for wildlife and humans alike. They can be found on rocky, well-drained slopes from 450-1800 m elevation, often occurring in dense stands resembling miniature forests. Unlike agaves, which bloom once and die, sotol send up flower stalks (quiotes) each year during the summer months. The ethnographic literature demonstrates that native peoples utilized sotol for many purposes, such as basketry, mats, sandals, cordage, and house construction (jacal). Archaeological evidence shows that at least 30 historic Native American groups built earthen ovens to bake sotol and similar plants for food at least 9,500 years BP.
Somewhere in the distant past, early people discovered that leaving baked sotol and water for a period of time (2-5 days) produced an intoxicating beverage. Since that early discovery, the fermentation of carbohydrate-rich plants has been a nearly universal practice among desert peoples. It is unclear whether the process of distillation was utilized prior to Spanish colonization. After Spanish settlement, localized distilleries called viñatas were common throughout Mexico and the U.S. borderlands.
Up until the turn of the 20th century, sotol (the drink) was considered a local delicacy mainly confined to the areas of desert where sotol plants occur. In 1918, the Spanish Flu ravaged the Americas. Mexico was particularly hard hit. Many people believed that sotol, taken daily, was a prophylactic and treatment for the disease. Additionally, the Volstead Act of 1919 universalized the prohibition of alcohol in the U.S. These two compounding factors contributed to a skyrocketing demand for sotol. The Prohibition-era is considered the heyday of sotol popularity and production. After the end of Prohibition and the crackdown on competitors of the tequila industry by the Mexican government, the practice of distilling sotol faded into history. By the 1980s, only a handful of viñatas remained in operation.
Life at the sotol viñata was humble. Viñatas had to be located near natural populations of sotol, abundant firewood, and a sweet water well. As many as 20 men and their families lived on-site, working every day weather permitted. Large viñatas were able to produce 30- 200 liter barrels per month. El patròn, the owner of the distillery, would then buy all the sotol produced as payment for work.
Sotol has a long history of medicinal use. Curanderas (traditional healers) used sotol as a solvent in tinctures of herbs, barks, and berries to treat a variety of ailments. “Medicinal sotol may be used internally in measured doses, applied externally directly as a liniment or when mixed with grease as a salve, or made into a poultice when combined with mud and herbs.” Specific treatments include influenza, colds, insomnia, congestion, rashes, sore throat, sunstroke, and tuberculosis.
Over the last several years, sotol distilleries have reemerged in Texas and Mexico. Once again, the masses can enjoy the age-old tradition of drinking sotol. Let us hope that these plants are harvested ethically and responsibly. Unfortunately, I have heard anecdotal stories of semi truckloads of sotol being taken from ranches in the Big Bend to distilleries in Austin.
The Chihuahuan Desert Nature Center and Botanical Gardens has all three U.S. Dasylirion species in our collection. We also have handmade walking sticks made from sotol quiotes. Because of the historic drought of 2020, many sotols did not flower. If you have sotol plants on your property, please consider donating the dry flowering stalks to CDRI so that we can make more of our famous walking sticks available to the public. Collecting the stalks does not harm the plant.
Meet one of our Volunteers
Each month, we like to introduce you to either a CDRI volunteer or one of the Directors on CDRI's Board of Directors. This month, we thought our readers would like to get to know CDRI volunteer Annette Carter.
Tell us about yourself.
Where are you from, and how did you end up in West Texas?
I'm from Illinois. After living in upstate New York and later in the heart of the Appalachian Mountains when I was little, my parents returned to Central Illinois, where our ancestors had settled in America and most began farming. With a love for the outdoors, I found my calling and graduated with a degree in Parks & Recreation Management from the University of Nebraska-Omaha. My work in public service allowed me to live in five different regions of the US, including my last duty assignment in Washington State.
When I retired after 30-years of public service, I wanted to live within a day's drive of my daughter. So, when she moved to El Paso, I ordered a camper online during the pandemic and headed to Far West Texas to find a place to live, not too close but not too far from El Paso. Following suggestions from several friends, I moved to Fort Davis last Fall.
What led you to volunteer at CDRI?
An invitation in the Desert NewsFlash to come out to help with the Adopt-a-Highway in April 2021. I helped pick up trash, and we made the 2-mile stretch of Highway 118 look great again. Then, when I was invited to come back on a Wednesday to volunteer, I said, "Sign me up!" Now, I keep coming because every time I come, I learn something new and feel more connected to this place, maybe exhausted, yet always with something new I've seen or heard.
Have you done volunteer work at other organizations?
I don't remember ever NOT volunteering; as a child, my family was volunteering, and so was I. My "kernel of truth" grew as I found an environmental ethic I wanted to share; it led me to my life's work in public service and led to many ways and means of all kinds of volunteer service. I hope I'll find a way to volunteer as long as I'm living.
Why do you think it’s important to volunteer?
In my work in public service, and always in non-profit agencies/organizations, there is never enough time, money, or staff to do everything that needs to be done. Therefore, volunteers and donations, in-kind and giving of one's time, are always needed.
What do you enjoy most about volunteering at CDRI?
When I wake up to a day I'll be volunteering, I know it's a day that I'll be in a beautiful place, making it more enjoyable for someone who comes to visit. Visitors get to see the desert, the geology, the mountain vistas, the plants, and pollinators, on open and clear pathways and trails. Often, they don't see the work we do as volunteers, which somehow makes it all the more rewarding. My mom used to say she worked out her problems digging in the soil of Illinois. It works that way in West Texas, too.
What do you enjoy most about living in Fort Davis and Far West Texas?
Waking up to sunshine 300+ days a year and knowing a great hike is within a few miles in any direction. I always miss Ft Davis when I'm away and am so glad every time I come back. I have not felt that way anywhere else I've lived. It's so good to be
Do you have a favorite memory relating to CDRI?
Seeing the cedar waxwings this Spring! Reading about Cedar Waxwing sightings at CDRI in the March 2021 Desert Newsflash, I planned a visit. Having only discovered Cedar Waxwings arriving in the Pacific Northwest springtime a few years earlier, it was exciting to see them in the Davis Mountains in transit to nesting areas further north. I realized CDRI is not just about preserving and researching desert plants but creating a place to discover the entire Chihuahuan Desert environment -- its geology, natural history, the mining history, and the wonderful birds that migrate through and live in the precious Trans-Pecos!
Do you have any advice for others about making that initial step getting involved, and volunteering?
If you're drawn to the place and its mission, and you believe you're able to commit to doing the actual work, say you will and show up when you said you would. If you really can't, let them know ahead of time. Decide to be a good volunteer & be one.
If you could be a local animal, which would you pick and why?
Every javelina I've ever seen since I came to Texas made me smile; if I could do that for everyone who sees me, I'd be a javelina.
Thank you, Annette, for all you do for CDRI. We enjoy seeing you at CDRI and appreciate your dedication and the enormous amount of work that you do to make CDRI a welcoming site for our visitors.
Note to each of our readers: We encourage each of you to volunteer in your community. Many non-profit organizations rely on volunteer assistance, and there's a right fit for everyone. We're always happy to welcome volunteers to CDRI, where we strive to match your skills and your interests to the varied activities that range from working in the Botanical Gardens to leading guided tours to teaching educational programs to greeting guests at the Powell Visitor Center. For further information about volunteering at CDRI, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Visiting Groups - August 2021
Michael Schramm (far left) and the Davis Mountains Fitness Camp made their way back to Fort Davis for the first week in August. CDRI's Interpretive guides were volunteers, Martin Havran and Nancy Foxworthy.
After their buses sat idle dring 2020, M&M Tours got back out on the road in 2021, stopping by the Nature Center on their way to Big Bend National Park. Volunteer Nancy Foxworthy helped out as tour guide, while Joe and Joyce Mussey were stationed at the Mining Exhibit for impromptu drop-in visits by individuals in the group.
The Southwest Sun Chasers RV Club, El Paso, Texas, met at CDRI to tour the Botanical Gardens. Nancy Foxworthy led the group, and Joe and Joyce Mussey welcomed them to the Mining Exhibit.
Visitors from the Fort Davis Hummingbird Celebration explored CDRI's Botanical Gardens and the Bird Blind over two days. The event is held every other year, with the next celebration scheduled for 2023. Seth Hamby and Lisa Gordon were tour guides.
In closing, we wish a happy retirement for our friend and coworker Susana (Susie) Liddell. Most of you know Susie as the Information Desk Host who brightened the Powell Visitor Center every Monday and Tuesday for the past 13 years. Parting is always bittersweet. Susie will be missed by each of us that make up the CDRI Team. Still, it makes us happy knowing that she will have more time to enjoy her grandchildren, more time for gardening, more time to work on the house, as well as more time to pursue all of the many things that keep Susie busier than anyone we know. Thank you, Susie, for 13 great years!
Until next time,
We wish you happy trails wherever your path may lead!
We're looking forward to seeing you at
the BBQ & Auction, Saturday, September 25!
|Chihuahuan Desert Research Institute, P.O. Box 905, Fort Davis, TX 79734