formerly "The View From Up Here"

Formerly titled "The View From Up Here" this column began in the Liberty Gazette June 26, 2007.

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June 30, 2015 Mom's Museum

The Liberty Gazette
June 30, 2015
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Linda: My mother stepped off the jet way and made her way through the airport maze where I was waiting eagerly to greet her.

"How was your flight?" I asked. Everyone always asks that first.

Mom isn’t a fan of regional airlines. She calls them "small planes". Funny, she’s flown with me in our plane, which is significantly smaller than a regional airliner. I think she is more comfortable in our four-seater simply because she’s with me, or us, however the case may be.

"The whole plane shakes and rattles," she answered with the disgust that would have made the CEO of that airline shrink into nothingness had he or she been Mom’s child. And who could blame her? The overhead bins chattered annoyingly and shuddered the whole trip, she said, and she could feel the plane’s engine vibrations right through her seat, as though she were the gremlin riding outside on the jet’s wings in that 1963 episode of Twilight Zone.

"What were you flying?" I asked, hoping to find a way to explain it to her satisfaction. After all, Mom likes to be curious – she says the cure for boredom is curiosity, and there is no cure for curiosity – and would, I presumed, most certainly have listened to the passenger briefing and looked at the safety card in the seatback on front of her. There on the card she would have seen what kind of plane she was in; during the briefing she would have heard the flight attendant mention the make and model.

She probably did do those things, read and listen, because Mom likes to learn things. What she didn’t do though was remember the alpha-numeric sequence that identified her carriage. She may have heard something like EMB145 that day, or B737-700 on another flight another day. But to her those are just meaningless sets of letters and numbers that are only important for the pilots to know. And probably the mechanics, too.

"It was the kind of plane that has those wings that bend upward at the ends," she replied, pushing her arms slightly outward, bending back at the wrists with her palms faced away from her.

"Winglets," I replied. "Those are winglets, and they are on a lot of different kinds of airplanes." As the words came out I worried that I might have sounded condescending, which would be a horrible way to treat my mom. "They help aerodynamically and the result is fuel conservation," I hurried to add in a soft tone in case she might be thinking my last words were a bit snippy. I smiled. "But most people don’t even notice them."

My mom is smart, and she’s not a pilot or engineer, so these aren’t the kinds of things she would have come across. Nor are the purposeful design of winglets anything she likely remembers today, because like alpha-numeric airplane model codes, none of that is what she’s retaining for that "someday" that might happen, when, if, she ever loses mobility and can no longer go out for adventures of her own.

"My mind is my museum," she told me several years ago, "and I am collecting beautiful memories for my museum so that one day if that is all I have, I will have plenty."

I am certain winglets won’t make the cut in Mom’s museum, and I am just as certain that among the thousands of beautiful things there will be poetry and song, laughter and friends, walks with dogs, sunshine, flowers, pearls, and family. And maybe the closest thing to winglets will be a lovely flowing gown she once wore while standing in a Spring breeze.

June 23, 2015 City of Liberty Airport Manager moving to Panama (Feature article)

The Liberty Gazette
June 23, 2015

by Linda Street-Ely

Two of Liberty’s most gifted community leaders, airport manager Jose Doblado and his wife Debbie Mabery, have said their good-byes and headed south, to their new home in Panama. Jose’s shoes will be big ones to fill, as evidenced by his loyal service to Liberty, and recognized by many for his dedication, including Texas Southern University, College of Science, which awarded Mr. Doblado this year with the Distinguished Alumni Award.

In early 2012, Jose Doblado, then a new graduate from TSU’s Aviation Management degree program, accepted the position as the new airport manager for the Liberty Municipal Airport. His goal was to revitalize and upgrade the 140-acre Liberty Municipal Airport, a goal shared by the Texas Department of Transportation, which holds the purse strings for all aviation grant funding on both the state and federal levels.

A few accomplishments.
As manager, Jose oversaw the $700,000 construction project of twenty T-hangars, several ramp improvements, security fencing, and terminal updates. He also refurbished two 12,000-gallon fuel systems purchased for the airport. Now, as a result of Jose’s work, income from hangar rent and one of the ground leases should be $241,200 per year when all hangars are occupied, plus the income from another land lease on a privately owned hangar. That’s a staggeringly successful jump from the receivable $7,920 of just three years ago. Under Jose’s management, average monthly fuel sales increased from $5,200 to $17,000, another testament to his hard work.

Services available, number and quality of hangars, and the number of take-offs and landings at any given airport in Texas are some of the important measurements used by the TxDOT in awarding grant funding. That’s why the building and renovating, the fuel tanks, the numbers, are all significant. During the past three years, Jose has nearly tripled the number of based aircraft, from nine to thirty-four, and increased airport traffic by providing clean, safe facilities and personal service.

Not all municipal airports can claim the level of expertise which Liberty has received from Mr. Doblado, who minimized airport expenditures by completing most maintenance work on fuel systems, facilities, and equipment himself, and using the services of city employees instead of outside contractors, saving city taxpayers tens of thousands of dollars. Volunteers have been eager to step in and help, too, thanks, they say, to the friendly and welcoming nature of the man who came to help make things better for everyone.

Building an image.
Visiting pilots and based pilots alike have raved about the level of customer service and attention to the airport since Mr. Doblado came to Liberty – people have come here for a reason, and that reason is Jose. As manager, he has hosted fly-in events and children’s tours and mentored three Texas Southern University seniors who completed their aviation degree program internships at the airport.

Repeat customers have been coming from all over the country to buy fuel here – meaning they spend money in Liberty, contribute to the local economy, and do not require any on-going services such as schools, hospital, or library. They land, hand over money, and then leave. And for the last three years they have received a warm welcome as they entered Liberty’s front door to the world.

National recognition.
His efforts have been recognized across the state, and nationally, as well wishes poured in from all over. William Gunn, who worked with Jose to complete an airspace study for an existing hangar on the airport, commented that, "On a site visit to Liberty, it was a pleasure to meet Jose and his wife. The service I received to fuel my aircraft and use the terminal building for my short visit was excellent; it was obvious Jose was proud of his position and was willing to assist in any way."

As a member of the TxDOT Aviation Division, Mr. Gunn says he is "lucky to visit many of the general aviation airports in Texas. Liberty certainly stands out as one of the excellent ones in the state thanks to Jose’s dedication. Any pilot who looks at the comments placed on the web site will see the exceptional number of positive statements made about Liberty and the service Jose has provided. I am sorry to see the Liberty airport lose his services but wish him and his family well."

Yasmina Platt, of the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, the largest aviation organization in the world, offered her thoughts as well. "Jose has done an great job with the Liberty Municipal Airport in such a short period of time, and with relatively few resources. He will be an important asset wherever he goes, and the aviation industry is fortunate to have him as a friend and supporter. We hope Liberty will continue the momentum Jose brought to the airport."

The locals who have found a good friend in Mr. Doblado say that in the relatively short time he’s been in Liberty he developed positive relationships in the aviation community and improved the image of airport on a nationwide scale by promoting safety and providing consistent and friendly customer service to all.

Getting personal.
Jose and Debbie even furnished the city’s airport terminal building at their own expense, so that Liberty could have the best possible facilities to offer visitors to our city. It’s been important to the couple to represent their hometown to visitors and neighbors alike in the most friendly and professional manner. As Debbie reflects, "I have really enjoyed volunteering for the past three years at the airport. You never know what the wind will blow in each day. However, the best part has been the people of Liberty. I have met so many kind, interesting and helpful people. The conversations I have had and the people I have met will always be a part of me. I will miss this special place."

For Jose, each day here in Liberty has been filled with unexpected challenges, interesting people, and rewarding moments, and that, he says, is why he enjoys his work. "The hours have been long and the work has been nonstop, but it is all worth it when I see multiple aircraft operating at the same time safely on the field."

He paused to reflect on the day they first saw the airport, and explained that, "Improving the image of Liberty Municipal Airport has brought me great satisfaction because I knew I was adding value to the City of Liberty and Liberty County."

The couple has moved to Panama, in Central America, but before their good-byes, Debbie expressed their hopes and dreams, not only for themselves, but for Liberty as well. "Jose and I want to be closer to his son and start a new adventure in our life. Jose will probably continue his career in aviation at Tocumen International Airport in Panama City. I plan to volunteer and write. As for the Liberty airport, it is like our baby, and we hope and pray the next person has even greater passion for this place, and these people, and continues to make great improvements."

June 23, 2015 Greetings, from the Front Door

The Liberty Gazette
June 23, 2015
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Linda: The color of a front door is known to convey a certain type of message. A red front door means "welcome" in many cultures, including our own early American tradition, where tired travelers would know the home was a place where they would be welcomed to stop and spend the night or rest. Without color, how can a front door show signs of welcoming?

Often claiming space on this page are the words, "An airport is a community’s front door." Nothing could be more true than to say that Liberty has enjoyed the benefits of having Jose Doblado and Debbie Mabery as caretakers of our front door for the past three years.

The importance of the front door is understood throughout the country. The Robertson County Chamber of Commerce touts their airport as serving industry, calling it "our ‘front door’ one of the best in the state of Tennessee." When folks in Hall County, Nebraska committed to improving their airport, they gave it a new identity: "It’s becoming a real front door of Grand Island." In small towns and big ones all over the country there are airports, and they are there even for people who don’t fly.

You can search the archives of this column at, for stories about how airports create jobs and income, save lives, help enforce laws, and provide a destination for passengers, freight, and potential business investments. Our very own Liberty Municipal Airport, with its humble beginnings as a grass strip built by Benny Rusk and Earl Atkins is today one of our city’s principal resources because what the airport does best is serve people who don’t fly.

The complex study commissioned every few years by the Texas Department of Transportation lists important facts about economic impact of public-use airports in the state. Analysis is made considering operating characteristics, such as airport employment, and take-offs and landings, as well as population density. Key operating expenditure estimates on a per-flight operation basis is then calculated to provide additional data, with a multiplier figured in to come up with the economic impact the airport has. While the figures that will reflect the tremendous contributions of Jose and Debbie are yet to be published, before they came to Liberty the airport was generating approximately $1.4 million in economic activity. No doubt we will see a sharp rise in that figure when the same analysis is made for the years 2012 to 2015.

Your airport, which Jose Doblado has managed, and Debbie Mabery has volunteered countless hours to improve can be a key factor in the decision of business leaders – those who provide valuable local employment – to locate in the area. As a vital part of our local economy, this piece of land is the first impression of the city when a prospective industry official lands, enters the terminal building, and is greeted by someone. The next person to take on this job will likewise represent the City of Liberty; will be that face that greets people at the "front door". That person will need to work with TxDOT and the FAA, with visiting and local pilots, with vendors of fuel and other services, with repair companies and engineers, with local emergency service providers, and the local communities which the airport serves. The bar has been raised.

We encourage you to visit your airport. You can park just a few steps from the door to the small building, you won’t have to show your government-issued identification, take off your shoes, be X-rayed or patted down. You might even catch some of the hangar tenants hosting an informal get-together, and be invited to see small airplanes up close.

June 16, 2015 To the sun

The Liberty Gazette
June 16, 2015
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely 

Mike: The long night is nearly over. On takeoff our Learjet pitches up steeply, rocketing skyward into the firmament. Flying fast in a mountainous region during the darkness before dawn, altitude is a friend. Climbing away from Reno-Tahoe International airport at more than 6,000 feet per minute we clear the rocks handily in a couple minutes. At twelve thousand feet we are cleared to fly direct to our final destination, Salt Lake City. Rolling into a steep left turn eastbound the jet responds like a sports car. Less than 15 minutes from leaving the ramp we are settled in, cruising almost seven miles above the earth at nearly 80 percent the speed of sound.

Stars above still glow but in our ascending view the pitch black sky transitions to hues of dark green and blue to a purple-red then a pale-orange glow as our eyes finally lower to a silvery-white crescent along the curve of the earth. The sun has not yet peaked over the horizon but there is enough light to illuminate the uneven blankets of clouds below and before us. The race is on. Will we reach our beginning descent point before looking full force into the brilliant light, or will we dig out our Ray-Bans so that we can at least see the instrument panel? Moving from winter to spring and summer, the sun wins most of the time, but along the way with the changing weather we are treated to some incredible views of this magnificent wild world that envelops us.

Having spent thousands of hours flying at night I have seen many sunsets and sunrises: sometimes a glorious view, but sometimes painful to look into the fireball for aircraft one cannot see. My first routes took me east with the morning before dawn and west with the night, arriving after sunset. When I was finally assigned a north-south route, I rejoiced.

Once, while flying northbound at 35,000 feet, I watched a rocket launched from California’s Vandenberg Air Force Base as it climbed from the still dark surface of the earth, up into the rising sunlight, crossing that divide between night and day. The bright glowing light of the rocket’s exhaust changed to a fanned-out spray of its vapor trail and then, boom, disintegrated, showering down toward the earth, its gases turning to ice crystals refracting light until it once again dropped into darkness.

When the sun is low on the horizon the jet’s contrails (water vapor exiting the engines) cast a long shadow on the clouds. At the front end of the shadow is a brilliant light caused by the sun’s rays bending around our aircraft. As we get closer to the clouds, in the middle of this halo-like light is the silhouette of our Learjet. This phenomenon is known as The Glory. I stifle an urge to make a UFO report.

And then there is the vague, early morning half-light illuminating the highest peaks in the Cascade Mountain Range as we top out on a flight from Oakland to Seattle. Crisp and clear is each tall peak in the two-hundred-mile visibility. I pull out my thermos and have a cup of joe as the world wakes up.

June 9, 2015 The New Idea

The Liberty Gazette
June 9, 2015
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Linda: The first person ever to land an airplane on an aircraft carrier was Eugene Ely, a highly skilled civilian pilot. Eugene had been traveling the air show circuit performing feats of great danger and thrill when he met a Navy captain who was convinced it would be possible to take off and land an airplane on a ship. If there was only one person in the world who would do it, that would be Ely.

First, the take-off. The year was 1910, and the ship, the Birmingham, a cruiser on which a sloping wooden platform was specially built for the experiment. Eugene flew off the ship and landed ashore, triumphant in his ambition in spite of limited vision through splattered goggles onto which ocean water flung from the wooden prop as it splintered when it glanced the water. Amazing that he kept the airplane flying.

Then, the landing. Only six months later the Navy was ready for Eugene to prove their supposition that a plane could also land on a carrier. This time they picked the USS Pennsylvania. Even with Ely’s reputation as a great and natural flyer, and even though an early version of arresting cables was put in place to catch hooks on the bottom of his airplane to stop him from going in the drink off the other end, most onlookers could not fathom a successful outcome to this daring attempt.

Yet successful it was, and the sirens and whistles of all the ships in the San Francisco Bay where this historic event took place celebrated at the birth of Naval Aviation.

For several years this type of flying improved, in terms of airplane design, pilot training and skill, and ship building, making Naval Aviators who landed on carriers a symbol of great flyers. And it all began with a great pilot named Ely.

Mike: About this same time Air Mail was reaching its hey-day, when along came Postmaster General Harry S. New, who had an idea. Air Mail pilots were made up largely of former military pilots, and the job they did was high risk. Surely the pool of masterful skill was already present – to be a pilot in those days was to be on the cutting edge of everything that was simultaneously dangerous and technologically advanced.

New’s idea was to build landing decks atop railroads. This would bring landing planes much closer to the urban business destinations of their passengers, and to ground transportation in the cities.

The Postmaster pointed to New York City’s Bush Terminal (now Industry City, and no relation to the Georges) as a perfect spot to begin putting his plan into action. The railroads that came in to the warehouses at Bush Terminal provided plenty of space in which to build second-story landing strips that did not interfere with the rail traffic. Convenience to depots and business centers would be something over which the public would clamor – according to New.

The landing decks were never built, as far as we can tell, but had New’s plan been successful, we would be able to fly right up and land near Times Square, where Bush Tower, the building that once housed the offices of the Bush Terminal, was just a few steps away.

June 2, 2015 Tugging the C.A.P.E.

The Liberty Gazette
June 2, 2015
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Linda: How ‘bout this weather? We blinked and went from drought-induced burn bans to flood rescue scenes. One of the nation’s top aviation weather scientists, Scott Dennstaedt, enlightens us on the sudden departure from parched, to drenched.

Scott: Over the last five or more years a drought of historic proportion has plagued much of Texas. In fact, the National Weather Service reported that 2011 was Texas’ driest year on record. Fast forward to 2015 and that’s hardly been the case over the last few weeks as a good portion of Texas has received more rain in the month of May than usually received throughout the entire year. Rainfall totals reported to exceed 20 inches have been pretty common. And to cap it all off, Monday last week more than 10 inches of rain fell in Houston causing widespread flash flooding in the city. So what caused this extreme rainfall event?

The phenomenon that was responsible for this deluge of rain is called a Mesoscale Convective System or MCS. Similar to hurricanes, they are very seasonal. Occurring mostly east of the Continental Divide, they start out in the Southern Plains and Deep South during the month of May. As the jet stream moves north through the summer months of June and July, they tend to occur in the Central Plains, Middle Mississippi Valley as well as the Tennessee and Ohio Valleys. Finally, into July and August, they are seen more in the Northern Plains, Upper Mississippi Valley and Upper Great Lakes regions.

These systems are usually severe and can often produce a few tornadoes, dangerous lightning, large and damaging hail and strong straight-line winds. But perhaps the most devastating feature is the torrential rains that can fall from some of these storms since they are often long-lived weather systems. Nevertheless, these convective systems are absolutely necessary since they provide much of the needed rain for agriculture in the Midwest during the summer months.

You’re probably accustomed to thunderstorms occurring in the afternoon. That’s usually the way it happens unless you are dealing with an MCS that will often develop and mature in the overnight hours and persist into the next day. So they are often nocturnal beasts that almost seem to create their own environment to feed on.

In fact, the MCS that flooded Houston last week was born early that morning in western Texas and began as a pair of MCSs. Throughout the morning the two systems tracked east and eventually merged into a single complex of storms setting the stage for a very wet evening in Houston.

This is a very common setting in the Plains where the unique geography of the region favors nocturnal and early morning thunderstorms. During the warm season, this setting promotes a strong flow of low-level moisture northward from the Gulf of Mexico, often referred to by meteorologists as a low-level jet stream. Moisture carried by the low-level jet helps to maintain these systems that often begin during daytime hours on the higher terrain in western Texas and Colorado. Because of the low-level supply of moisture, the MCS can mature and persist well into the nighttime hours.

Linda: Other data Scott analyzes include the index of Convective Available Potential Energy, which last week gave signs of high convective rainfall rates that could produce local flash flooding, which is exactly what happened.

May 26, 2015 First Things First

The Liberty Gazette
May 26, 2015
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Linda: Often Mike narrates his romantic reflections of the life and yearning of a child who would be a pilot. Gill Wilson’s poem "First Things First" is so Mike.

Reverend Wilson was ten years old when the Wright Brothers made their first flight. He became a Presbyterian Minister – and a pilot. As an aviator he founded the Civil Air Patrol and was the first member of the 400,000 member-strong Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association.

First Things First

By Reverend Gill Robb Wilson (1893-1966)

The boundary lamps were yellow blurs
Against the winter night,
And I had checked the last ship in
And snapped the office light
And paused a while to let the ghosts
Of bygone days and men
Roam down the skies of auld lang syne
As one will now and then…
When fancy set me company
A red checked lad to stand
With questions gleaming in his eyes,
A model in his hand.

He may have been your boy or mine,
I could not clearly see,
But there was no mistaking how
His eyes were questioning me
For answers which all sons must have
Who build their toys in play,
But pow’r them in valiant dreams
And fly them far away;
So down I sat with him beside
There in the dim lit shed,
And with the ghost of better men
To check on me, I said:

"I cannot tell you, Sonny Boy,
The future of this art,
But one thing I can show you, lad,
An old time pilot’s heart;
And you may judge what flight may give
Or hold in store for you
By knowing how true pilots feel
About the work they do;
And only he who dedicates
His life to some ideal
Becomes as one with his dreams
His future will reveal.

Not one of whose wings are dust
Would call his bargain in,
Not one of us would welsh his part
To save his bloomin’ skin,
Not one would wish to walk again
Unless allowed to throw
His heart into the thing he loved
And go as he would go;
Not one would change for gold or pow’r
Nor fun nor love nor fame,
The part he played and price he paid
In making good the game.

And of the living …none, not one,
Regrets the scars he bears,
The sheer uncertainty of plans,
The poverty he shares,
Remitted price for one mistake
That checks a bright career,
The shattered hopes, the scant rewards,
The future never clear:
And of the living …none, not one,
Who truly loves the sky,
Would trade a hundred earthbound hours
For one that he could fly.

If that sleek model in your hand,
Which you have brought to me,
Most represents the things you love,
The thing you want to be,
Then, you will fill your curly head
With knowledge, fact and lore,
For there is no short cut which leads
To aviation’s door;
And only those whose zeal is proved
By patient toil and will
Shall ever have a part to play
Or have a place to fill."

And suddenly the lad was gone
On wings I could not hear;
But from afar off came his voice,
In studied tones and clear,
A prophet’s message simply told
For this is what he said
And why his hand will someday lead
Formations overhead:
"Who wants to fly has got to know:
Now two times two is four:
I’ve got to learn the first things first!"
…I closed the hangar door.

May 19, 2015 Of Turtles and Hares

The Liberty Gazette
May 19, 2015
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Linda: Stealth as she tried to be, she couldn’t escape my keen eye. We’d tucked our Grumman Cheetah in for the evening, the sun was casting long shadows, but the would-be ninja probably didn’t care. She had somewhere to be and I am certain she thought nothing would stop her. Never mind that the little reptile’s sojourn was taking her between two sets of hangar bays that housed powerful man-made ships that could turn her into turtle soup. Vietnam-era intimidators A-4 Skyhawk and F-4 Phantom, T-33, Huey helicopter, F-100 Super Saber, and the WWII German fighter ME-262 hiding behind metal doors didn’t faze her. If anyone approached she’d just stop taxiing, retract her gear, and rely on her armor. But we saw the bigger danger picture and felt responsible for saving her from ending up a single-use speed bump. So Mike picked her up and carried her away to safety, to the grass beyond the fence where she could lay her eggs, and raise her young.

Turtles don’t usually have crossing guards to help them during mating season, but when they navigate airport property they tend to get attention, how much more so when they traverse an active runway – New York’s Kennedy Airport for instance. And while we shell-less bipods are often irritated by airline delays, whether from mechanical problems, pilot shortage, weather, or the TSA, the diamondback terrapins of Jamaica Bay draw passenger sympathy and seem to encourage that cooperative spirit in us as they parade across Runway 4 Left at JFK Airport, the hallway between their living room and bedroom.

Mike: Critters on a runway make a pilot take notice. During my days at Fort Lauderdale International I recall at least one instance when airliners were waived off from landing as an eight-foot alligator crossed the runway. And then there were the little red crabs – thousands of them. Like the terrapins they creep ashore to lay eggs, effecting a coup like those by the caterpillars we experienced here in South Liberty County a couple of months ago.

When crabs clamber onto a runway it looks as though the whole surface is moving. My first encounter with one of these crustaceans wasn’t in a runway incursion; it came during my walk-around pre-flight inspection of a Learjet, which suddenly disturbed the substantial, meaty, clawed creature in the grass behind the plane. It stood up tall on all eight legs and spread its pinchers wide and open. Our meeting wouldn’t have been so startling if I hadn’t been kneeling under the fuselage looking into a hatch in the airplane with my head only a couple feet from ol’ Snappy, who apparently had some anxiety about my presence. We respectfully gave each other generous personal space.

Years earlier, upon landing at Long Beach, California, reflection from our landing lights revealed a sea of pink eyes looking back at us. Turns out, the inhabitants of the grassy areas of the airport include a large population of rabbits that are "controlled" by a family of kit foxes. Thankfully, unlike deer, the rabbits scattered and we were able to land without cooking some rabbit’s goose.

May 12, 2015 Skyway Gypsies - Part II

The Liberty Gazette
May 12, 2015
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Linda: There we were playing gypsies again, with about 24 hours to explore the town. Continuing last week’s recount of our Taos adventure, we found the area to be cute and quaintly New Mexico, but with some of the shops too commercialized for our taste. Then we stepped into a gallery to find extraordinary artwork by an inimitable artist: Charles Collins. Go ahead and Google him – he’s called a "Taos Master" and upon seeing his work we understood why.

Mike: We were first drawn by the unusual six-something-foot tall sculpture outside his gallery, wooed in by our curiosity. His beginnings as a potter, and sometimes painter have taken some turns that now include the very physical work of bronze sculpture, but his are not like anything you’ve ever seen before.

Artist Collins believes the vision for his unique work is from God, so he calls the series of sculptures the Mastermind series. What he produces is so captivating and original that the Governor of New Mexico declared a Charles Collins Day.

What we found inside were smaller sized creations of the one that bid us come. Imagine if you will three individual statue-like pieces, about a foot and a half tall, that when placed together like a puzzle create a full sculpted face of someone you’ll recognize. Each is a story, each piece, as well as the whole, a person.

His first was the face of Abraham Lincoln. Pull apart the three pieces and look first at the statue that makes up the left side of his face, turning it around to discover a Union soldier; on the right, a Confederate soldier. Turn around the middle section to reveal the maquette of Hope, the female figure that with strength and courage is the central figure keeping them together. He calls it Lincoln’s Union. In all of the Mastermind sculptures, George Washington, Shakespeare, Beethoven, DaVinci, and Christ, women are the centerpiece, symbolizing, says Collins, the ones who "hold it all together". Each sculpture, created in pieces of three, point directly to the affirmation of his faith, the Trinity of God.

Collins is not at his gallery often and we were grateful to have stumbled upon a real treat visiting with him in Taos’s off-season, when he was much more available.

Linda: We’d only taken a few hours bite into our 24 hours in Taos and already received a warm welcome from everyone we met. The striking pink and orange sunset saw shops to their close, leaving mostly restaurants the only remaining busy places.

As we meandered the sidewalks pleasant sounds reached us, audio waves coming from inside one of those restaurants. Making our way toward the comfortable harmonies, we happened upon a quartet called Screen Door Porch. Now that’s got to be the most fitting name for a group that plays "soulful Americana, roots-rock, and country blues". We found a small round table on the patio where we could watch the musicians through full-length windows, and welcomed the lovely sounds that came spilling out the open door. This was comfy, blue jeans kind of music that makes you think of lazy days gatherings of friends on the front porch, with iced tea or lemonade, a few instruments, and resulting good music.

By nightfall we’d only been in town about four hours yet we felt as though we’d experienced a full day. We’d have half the next day to explore, including the home of Kit Carson, then ride the wind surf back. Impromptu trips are my favorite.