When Will You Open?

The most common question we hear is “When will you open.”  Up until now the answer has been “We don’t really know.  We can’t even guess.”  The reason is that La Kiva was like a giant onion.


We kept peeling away the layers.  We knew we wanted to keep as much as possible, as original as possible and that got in the way of lots of decisions we should have made earlier.  Sadly we kept struggling to keep a totally unrealistic plan in place.  The septic system was a “no brainer”.  We knew  before we purchased it, from our own experience and also the seller declared quite openly that we had to fix the septic system with a new one.  I did underestimate how extensive that would be and so did everyone else.  In exploring the septic system we discovered that much of it had degraded to the point that it was not possible to use nor rehabilitate it and it needed to be dug up and new plumbing installed from end to end.  That led to us lifting parts of the concrete floor simply to find out how bad the sewage system was. In addition we had to create a drain field and add settling tanks and a pair of massive grease traps.  In the end we decided to lift all the concrete floors in the main part of La Kiva, which needed replacing anyway, and install new plumbing throughout and fix the floors at the same time.  As we were new owners, we lost all the “grandfathering” the previous owner had enjoyed so we also had to comply with the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA).  That meant new toilets in a new location.  We gulped because we had naively hoped we could retain the old urinal and the graffiti laden doors and walls.  (My favorite is “Lighten Up Gumby”.)  We took a deep breath and designed a new toilet block that fixed the plumbing problems, did not intrude on the interior and fixed the rest room access  problems for the ADA.

We also knew that the roof needed work and a little inspection showed us that almost the entire roof needed repairing.


This was way beyond nailing a few sheets of tin on top, slapping some black sticky stuff on and being good to go.  When we started work on the roof we found more and more that needed to be done and eventually I just threw up my hands and said “Replace the lot.”  As we dug deeper into the project we found many of the large roof timbers, the vigas, were rotten, degraded or simply not strong enough to be used.  Parts of the roof (as well as some of the walls) were in imminent danger of collapse, seriously.  To fix the roof we first had to remove the old roof.  Ouch.  That revealed no less than three major roofing efforts had been undertaken in the past.  Customers told us that it had always leaked and as we removed it, we could see why.  The basic design was, itself, flawed and could NEVER be made to work.  No matter what we did the roof would continue to leak, unless we redesigned it, and that is what we did.

Roof versions

In the weeks and months that followed, we refined the design and Jack Sullivan and his crew at Porter Construction kept on questioning different aspects until they were comfortable that they had all the bases covered.   Despite this, there was one thing that was irritating them.  We had to replace a lot of the vigas, we had already purchased them and they were on hand.  The old and still sound vigas were going to be re-used because we were striving to keep as much of the “old” La Kiva as we could.

The Vigas Arrive
The Vigas Arrive


This did not sit well with the crew.  They sent a delegation to see me suggesting that I replace ALL the vigas so that it would look good and new from one end to the other.  I don’t speak Spanish and they all do, but over the years I have learned a little.  I can say huevos rancheros and mucho dinero.  In this case I thought that “You can’t make huevos rancheros without breaking eggs didn’t quite work so I went with the other phrase I had learned. “Mucho dinero.”  I waved my arms in dramatic fashion while shouting “mucho dinero”.) from my office door to the delight of the crew.  That was the end of that.  Well, I thought it was and for a little while it worked.   Jacks foreman, Juan, could not leave it alone.  He was in here at the weekend measuring and calculating and on Monday morning that recently sealed can of worms was re-opened.  He had figured out a way to use new vigas throughout by buying only seven additional vigas, in addition to the ones we had on hand.  Not only that, but it would make the roofing easier, quicker and more cost efficient.  Stunned and delighted, I immediately said yes and the additional vigas were ordered.   Thanks were offered and there were smiles all round.  For just a little more money we end up with a much better job and I had managed to satisfy my crew who are trying to do an exceptional job in every way.

temple roof
As I imagine the new roof at La Kiva


I seem to be rambling but there is a point to all this.  The project has grown to be way more than was originally envisioned.  The scope of the project kept on expanding as we peeled each layer of onion.  We now have reached the point where we are fairly certain that the only thing ahead is building.  No more tearing down and the design is now such that the Penisaurus is better protected than it has ever been.  It will be backed by a substantial cement block wall and it will be covered by a roof that does not leak  and that will resist a fairly serious windstorm.  The scope varied week by week and sometimes even day by day.  That was an environment in which nobody was comfortable in forecasting an end date.  We still have problems in that the electricity company is so tied by its own bureaucracy that  it is barely able to function.   A simple request to provide a feeder line that is capable of handling our anticipated electrical load and that requires them to install a new transformer, two electrical poles and 150 feet of new wire has taken them weeks and weeks  (around 14 weeks so far) and to date they have made one site visit to confirm what we had already told them.  In that time I have made three trips to the office in Alpine to make certain that it was never me that was holding up the proceedings.  Right now we are waiting for them to approve the easement, which they prepared in the first place and I signed, and that has taken them five weeks.  They would not use the easement that I prepared prior to that because it was not prepared by them.  It wasn’t wrong in any way but they had to prepare their own. I am told that when the “approved” easement does arrive that I can be placed on the waiting list for the installation, so that will be another 2 weeks (estimated) before I get my power.

I’ll probably look like this by the time the new electric service is installed.

It is crazy.  It took me 14 weeks before I could even get on the waiting list.  We don’t live in the tribal region of Pakistan but you would think so.  To add insult to injury, this is a “co-operative” so I am one of the owners.  This added later.  I have just returned from Alpine where the local office for the electric company is located.  They told me that all the paperwork is in their hands and that I am at the top of the list to be worked on, however (don’t you hate the “however”?) because of the ice storm, work is delayed while they replace 111 downed power poles and clear up the mess  and they can not even look at my project until mid February.  Back to the point.  We have now reached a state where people are willing to give me estimates of how long it will take to finish the walls.  That was put at seven weeks when I heard it.  Today that is six weeks.  After that it has been estimated that it will be another one week to complete the roof.  I don’t believe the one week estimate so let’s call it two weeks.  If I am understanding things correctly, that makes it 8 weeks from today before the major building work will be completed and we can start putting the insides back together again.  So then we can install all the new kitchen equipment, coolers, bar equipment and furniture while the electricians do their magic.  At that point we can begin training, testing the new menu and the new equipment and generally start putting together a smoothly working team to provide you with great food at reasonable prices as well as cold, liquid refreshment.  So the bad news is that we will miss spring break by a month at least.

Tentative date for opening is April the 23rd.  That means that we will open on April the 23rd this year (2015) providing there are no earthquakes, tornadoes, sinkholes nor do we have ISIS come streaming  over the southern border and we do not declare war on, or have war declared on us by Mexico.  All the vendors must deliver on schedule and all the equipment must be undamaged and work. We would like to have ONE and only ONE heavy rain to test the new roof, no lightening strikes and no power outages lasting more than 12 hours and all this is subject to us being granted a liquor license.  That should about cover it.  See you all on St Georges day.

Saint George and the Dragon
St. George, the patron saint of England slays the dragon.

Well.  It’s better than being a Don Quixote and pitching at windmills although I think our windmills are a little larger than the ones Don Quixote battled.

The Great Ice Storm

I would like to wish you, one and all, a very happy New Year. It is starting out as a doozy for us.  Between 6:30 and 7:00 on the 6th of January 2015, we got power back after five days without. For those that were in the high Chisos mountains, the storm that started all this began last Wednesday, New Years eve. Freezing rain blew in making travel up and down the mountain to the Basin, hazardous and resulting in the closure of the roads and the application of much grit. For the rest of this area it did not get serious until Friday. The ice accumulation was so great that it made the power lines sag. In one place they sagged enough that a passing truck hooked one and proceeded to pull down six poles. In another event 22 poles were pulled down simply by the weight of the accumulating ice. Those two events led to a huge area of West Texas experiencing an extended power outage. ( I wrote the above based on the information I had at the time.  It seems that it was much worse and there were hundreds of poles down.  See the Alpine Avalanche for more details.  http://www.alpineavalanche.com/news/article_e1c541e0-96cd-11e4-b5e7-abac3ae3d916.html ) With the roads covered in ice and power being out, it did not take much too push it over the edge and make it a memorable event. The time between Christmas and the New Year is popular with tourists in the Big Bend. Many stay on after the New Year begins. This time of year is delightful. I have Bougainvillea flowering in profusion and on the 7th, it reached seventy fahrenheit ( 21 C)  on the patio at La Kiva.


By comparison, my family in Minnesota was “enjoying” -15 F (-10 C) . It doesn’t take a genius to work out that if you can afford the time, the Big Bend is the place to be at this time of year. While that is true most years, this year was different. The ice storm blew in and made driving hazardous and within a couple of days, gas supplies ran out.  Still, not a disaster.  We are used to power outages stretching into a second day, so no big deal.  It becomes a big deal when the generators start running out of fuel, the tanks at the local water company start to head precipitously close to empty, gas stations have no supplies and restaurants close their doors.  So what happens next? All the tourists with enough gas to leave, leave. Some left because they had been kicked out by the hotels, some left because they had been living in a tent, up a mountain and some left because the offerings from restaurants became more sparse as time went on . It reached the point that when it got dark everything closed, well almost everything.  Just a handful of places managed to keep up some sort of service but with everyone either leaving or conserving gasoline there were not many takers.

Josie and I had expected to spend Christmas at La Kiva but when we learned that our construction crew were taking two weeks off and heading to Mexico, we took the opportunity to head North, for the holidays. We had a great time with our children, three grand children, dogs, great food and surprisingly mild weather. We returned on Saturday after numerous gate changes and delays and we finally found ourselves in Midland, almost three hours later than our schedule. It looked like we would be home by 1:00 am. We received a call from a friend. “No gas, no electricity, not much food and no telephones. Stay in a hotel if you can find one.” We elected to head straight home anyway, largely because all the hotels were full or closed.  Normal service was resumed between 6:30 and 7:00 on the sixth. I can not be more certain because the power was flickering for about half an hour and at 7:00 the cell phone burst into life and let me know that I had 145 emails in my in box.

I think I need to make a T shirt. I SURVIVED THE GREAT ICE STORM OF 2015 AT LA KIVA Although in truth it was almost half done when we got home.

Some Of The Crew Christmas 2014

Our crew is all back and working. We got our first delivery of 2015.  It was supplies of mortery, cementy stuff and lots and lots of cement blocks and a few other necessary things for doing manly feats with walls and steps and stuff. It’s rather exciting.  Looking at all the pallets of cement blocks it’s as though we got a giant Lego for Christmas and all we have to do is to assemble it as La Kiva. We seem to have run out of things that need taking down and we are consistently building up and that is a good feeling.  Ooops.  I spoke too soon.  The site foreman called me to check out the patio door lintel.  I blanched.  How can I check out the lintel when it is under the viga’s and a rock wall some eighteen inches high?  The answer came quickly.  It used to be under the rock wall and vigas. The rock wall had already gone.  I reviewed the lintel, gave my blessing and was about to move on when I was taken to another area of the rebuilding.  The cold room door was the issue this time.  They explained what they planned to do and I explained why they couldn’t.  Fortunately the frame for the door had arrived just hours before so I was able to explain the way I had designed it and demonstrate with an actual door frame.  Smiles and nods all around and then it was the turn of the kitchen door.  I marked out the exact location and got more smiles and nods of approval.  At this point I paused and surveyed the scene.  There are walls going up all around and it is happening fairly quickly.  We still have some rock walls to build and they will take more time, but even so, we expect to be finished with the wall building and ready to put a roof on in seven weeks.

The new bar is looking good, though when Gumby, La Kiva’s long time bar man, called in to check on progress, he declared the bar to be too low. I grinned inwardly as I knew something he didn’t. What ensued was some frenetic activity in which a piece of bar top material of correct thickness, texture and width was procured to ensure that the test was performed on a finished height bar.


A regulation height bar stool was located and positioned close to the traditional location of the bar vulture and cheap beer was produced from my secret stash. Gumby instantly objected and summarily dismissed my selection of cheap beer, substituting instead his own choice of cheap beer, from his own stash. He then proceeded to test the new bar by leaning, slumping and draping himself in a variety of poses and from both sides of the bar. After long and careful consideration, Gumby pronounced the bar as being at a suitable and proper height and probably no more than a few millimeters different than the height of the original bar. While this may come as a surprise to many, Gumby being one of them, it was no surprise to me. You see, I had measured the height of the original bar so I didn’t need to lean, slump and drape to know that this was as good as it got for authenticity. Now I suppose that Gumby is going to read this, or one of you will tell him and then he will know that it was not just a happy chance that the new bar ended up being close to the height of the old bar. I planned it that way from the beginning and in addition he will now know that I can read a tape measure and the new bar is EXACTLY the same height as the old bar.  OK.  That’s enough ragging on Gumby.  Fun as it may be, payback is a b***h.

One final update.  We have started work on rehabilitating the old campground.  While we were off enjoying ourselves in the arctic tundra, William was doing sterling work in the tent campground.  He has cleaned up most of the old parking places and has started on the actual camping spots.


Despite what you see, don’t all rush on down with your tents.  We have a lot of work to do before we can declare the campground fit for visitors but at least we have made a start.