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Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

Ol’ Robbo – and probably only Ol’ Robbo – is delighted by this article:  State-Owned Bexar County Ranch At The Center Of Latest Warbler Fight.

Short story, the State of Texas buys up a ranch in far northwestern Bexar County, with plans to develop it for residential use as an outer luggshury burb of San Antonio, the profits going into the state’s public educational funds.  Reasonable enough, especially when real estate is booming.  The plans are kyboshed, however, when it is alleged that said ranch contains a micro-environment crucial for the endangered golden-cheeked warbler.  As of the date of the article, the state was trying to unload the property and recover its initial investment.  The bulk of the article describes the debacle and the resultant finger-pointing, due-diligence claims and counter-claims, and questions whether said warbler is even really endangered.

A ridiculous enough situation and one that may be snark-worthy in and of itself, but the reason it got Ol’ Robbo’s special attention is this:  The ranch involved is the one on which we used to hunt back in my misspent yoot!

Yes!  It’s referred to as “Rancho Sierra” in the article, but back in the day it was the Karsch Ranch, the name of the then-owner, a hell of a nice fellah.  (It’s been better than 35 years since I was last there.  I don’t know if Mr. Karsch or his heirs sold directly to the state or whether there have been intermediate owners.)  He sold something like twenty or twenty-five deer leases for hunting the bulk of the ranch during the season, although we also went for wild turkey and Russian boar.  We held a lease for maybe twelve or fifteen years altogether.

The tallest peak in Bexar County (located on the ranch) also gets mentioned, although the article calls it Mt. Smith.  To us, it was known as Flag Top.  I have no idea where the “Smith” came from – I’ve seen the marker at the summit and although this was a loooong time ago, I’m reasonably sure our name was the right one.

Flag Top, then, contained two deer stands.  One was called “Flag Top Road”.  It was a tree-blind on the main trail across the mesa.  (The view out the back over the valley was pretty amazing.)  I helped the Old Gentleman overhaul it when it started falling apart, and indeed it was from that blind that I bagged my first buck.  I was eight at the time.  (I save this little factoid for only the very specialist of my snowflake acquaintances.)  The other one was called “Flag Top North”.  I cannot recall if it was simply a box on the ground or if it was a small tower, but I know it wasn’t in a tree.  It was on a spur from the main track, maybe a couple hundred yards off and right near the summit.  In all our time there I do not recall ever hunting that blind, although we did drive up to restock its feeder now and again and to have a look at the marker I mentioned.

And speaking of driving, it was on this ranch that the twelve-year-old Robbo learned how to drive.  (There are a couple photos in the article that give a sense of the terrain and trails.)  The Old Gentleman got hold of a VW Beetle.  He had the shell, the dashboard, and the back seat removed, and put on a roll-bar, a plywood rear platform and engine box, and oversized tires.   Reasoning that if something happened to him when we were way out in the back of beyond, he insisted that my brother and I learn the trails and, when we were big enough to reach the pedals, how to drive the buggy.  Once I grasped the mysteries of driving a stick, it was loads of fun.

Good times.  Good times.

Incidentally, I myself never saw one of these warblers, but I gather they only visit the old ranch during the nesting season and I was really only there during the winter, so there’s that.

Oh, one other piece of nostalgia?  The article quotes a good bit from one Gene Dawson, an engineer who did some assessment work for the state.  His parents were our next-door neighbors in San Antonio and his mom often invited us to use their pool.  (We did.)  Gene is probably eight or nine years older than me and we never had much contact, but his younger brother Sam, who I think graduated high school a year or two before I entered, was infinitely patient and good-humored about playing with us younger kids in the neighborhood.

Small word, ain’t she?

And you never know when the past is going to come bubbling up again.

A glass of wine with my brother, who stumbled across this article recently and mentioned it to me over Thanksgiving.

UPDATE:  As long as Ol’ Robbo is thinking about it, a few more fun facts about the old Karsch.

The article mentions a couple of springs on the ranch.  I knew one of them and indeed sipped water out of it more than once.  It was located in a small, deep valley known as Wolf Hollow.  The story went that Texas Rangers once got the drop on some desperado camped out there and shot him down, burying him in his boots.

Whether that was true or not, this is: Nestled up against one side of the hollow are or were the remains of an old settler homestead, a hearth built out of stone.  I knew one or two others scattered around the ranch as well.  There was also said to be a settler graveyard, but I never saw that.

An old stagecoach road runs across the ranch, linking Leon Springs and Boerne in the east with who knows what to the west.  I remember one section of it in particular that, instead of trying to go up and over the top of a small hill, followed a contour line on one side around it.

Shortly after WWI, a single-engine plane carrying mail ran out of fuel and crashed on a hillside deep inside the ranch.  When a search party arrived, they found the pilot had broken his neck in the crash.  We hiked in one time to find it.  Of course the canvas had long since rotted away, but the iron framework was still there and remarkably intact.  I kept a piece of rusty aileron as a souvenir.

During WWII, a heavy bomber got lost in a fog and slammed into another hillside, blowing up on impact.  I knew approximately where this happened but never tried to find the actual site.  It was said there was nothing left to see anyway.

Finally, the article also mentions a ranchhouse.  I wonder if it’s the same one we used back in the day?  It was a little house set a bit aside from the rest of the compound and served as the hunters’ HQ.  There was a kitchen, a bedroom with bunks (we never stayed over), and a main room.  In the main room was a large wall map of the ranch with all the deer blinds marked and named on it.  (There were maybe twelve or fifteen altogether.)  The map was overlaid with a clear piece of plastic and a grease pencil was tied to a string next to it.  When you went out, you circled which blind you were going to and wrote your name in the circle.  Not only did this ensure two different parties didn’t try to get the same blind, it also acted as a sort of buddy-system to ensure everybody came back in at the end of the day.  (I think somebody from the ranch came round late in the evening to check the map to ensure the last party got in okay.)

I suppose that if the place does eventually get overrun with McMansions, all this history will be wiped out.  So maybe the golden-cheeked warblers aren’t such a bad thing after all.



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December 2019