Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Back to Basics

Location: Livingston, TX

I made it back to my home base in Livingston. This is a down-time period -- I'm getting my medical and dental checkups, vehicle inspections, and taking care of whatever bills and paperwork are left over from my accident. I still had paperwork from Blue Cross and the Littleton Fire Department (for the ambulance ride) to complete. I'm expecting a few more bills to come in, although I've taken care of the big ones -- the hospital charges alone were over $22,0000, but I only had to pay them a little over $500 -- glad I have insurance!

Regarding the ankle, I'm almost back to normal. I don't use a cane or ankle brace anymore, but I do limp a bit, especially when I'm tired. I did go to line dancing for the first time yesterday, and made it through most of the dances. I sat down a couple times to rest when I was getting tired, or when certain steps bothered me. I still tire easily, but my stamina is increasing day by day.

The temperature here has been in the 80s during the day, and cooling off nicely at night. A cold spell came through yesterday, and the temps dipped into the 30s last night. While I won't get much sympathy from a lot of you "up north," the temps should be back up in the next few days, in time for Halloween. I remember many chilly Halloweens when I was a child in Michigan -- our Mothers always made us wear coats over our costumes, which was just a mood-killer! But here the little ghosts and goblins should be just fine.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Fort Worth Stockyards

Location: Fort Worth, TX

Click for Larger Image of Cow StatueThe old stockyards in Fort Worth have seen a renaissance - the train roundhouse, the pens, the longhorns, and even the cowboys and girls on horseback are all still there. But today the roundhouse area is a touristy blend of BBQ restaurants, boutiques, western stores, and neo-quaint decor reminiscent of a sideshow. The pens stand empty, the longhorns "perform" in a twice-daily cattle drive through the streets, and the cowboys and girls are city employees.

Click for Larger Image of Longhorns Beginning the Cattle DriveIt's a fun place to spend an afternoon, and the real history of the area is still there if you look for it. For example, when the cowboys and cowgirls round up the longhorns for their trek through the streets, they have to pass directly under a sign for "Armour," the meat packers (enlarge this photo, then look under the "Stockyards Station" banner). Guess it's a good thing those longhorn can't read!

Click for Larger Image of Pens Click for Larger Image of Fortune Teller Machine 
Click for Larger Image of the Longhorn Pen Click for Larger Image of Longhorn Nose Picker

Did I mention you should be careful where you park?

Click for Larger Image of Be Careful Where You Park

Dealey Plaza

Location: Dallas, on the way to Livingston TX

Click for Larger Image of Dealey PlazaDealey Plaza is famous for one thing -- the assassination of President Kennedy on November 22, 1963. Everyone who is old enough to remember the event knows exactly where they were when they heard the news. I was in the 6th grade, home sick, and upset about it because I was missing a going-away party for my homeroom teacher who was beginning her maternity leave. I had been watching some game show or other -- at that time, it was all that was on morning weekday TV and watching it was a sick-day treat. So I saw the coverage from the beginning, when the announcer first came on to tell the world that the President had been shot in Dallas, Texas as his motorcade passed through a then-unknown place called Dealey Plaza.

Click for Larger Image of the Fatal Shot SiteToday, Dealey Plaza looks much the same as it did then. The giant, white, and seemingly purposeless Works Progress Administration walkway still provides a quiet backdrop to the infamous grassy knoll, where a rumored "second gunman" hid behind a fence to its left; the Texas Book Depository, where Lee Harvey Oswald created his 6th floor snipers nest still rises at the curve of road overlooking the motorcade route; and people still line the street, just as they did in November 1963, but now they come not to see a political spectacle, but rather to see two sad "Xs" painted in the street -- the first marks the site of the non-fatal shot to Kennedy's throat, and the second the fatal shot to the head. The photo to the left was taken standing on the "X" marking the fatal shot.

Click for Larger Image of WPA WalkwayAnd inside the Book Depository, where photography is not allowed, is the Sixth Floor Museum -- a meandering path of displays that covers "Everything Kennedy." They begin with boyhood photos of Jack and later photos of Jackie sparkling in gowns and tiaras, they move on to politics, the election and inauguration, then flow into the missile crisis and the space race, and end, of course, with the assassination. Diagrams show the path of the motorcade through the Plaza or the path of the "magic" bullet through both John Connolly and Kennedy. Story boards outline the life and death of Oswald, trying to explain his motivation for the assassination, and why some feel he was not a good enough shot to do it all by himself. At the end, videos discuss the Warren report, which found that Oswald acted alone, and mention more modern acoustical evidence that "may" show there really was a second shooter in the grassy knoll.

But at the far corner in the Sixth Floor Museum is the spot that everyone really came to see, where a Plexiglas cube protects the corner window from being disturbed. Inside the cube, boxes are stacked in a seemingly random fashion, originally there both to conceal Lee Harvey Oswald and to provide a solid rest for his rifle. You can't go into the cube, but you can look out the window next to it. And what you immediately see is not the buildings of Dallas, or the traffic below, or even the green of the grassy knoll -- what you see are those two sad "Xs" painted in the street, and you can't help but wonder just how good a shot one would have to be to hit those targets.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Guadalupe Mountains and Carlsbad Caverns

Location: Southeastern New Mexico/Western Texas

Click for Larger Image of the Guadalupe Mountains

250 million years ago, the land that is now the Guadalupe Mountains was under the water of a shallow sea. The mountains were created when countless organisms, such as seashells, algae and sponges, died and fell to the bottom where the limy parts of their bodies were "cemented" together forming a huge underwater reef. Fast forward to 10-12 million years ago -- the sea was long gone, but the reef, now buried under layers of sediment, was uplifted and the sediments eroded to reveal it once again. Guadalupe Peak, just visible in this image as the lighter peak directly behind the dark foreground peak, is the highest point in Texas (8749 feet).

Click for Larger Image of Carlsbad CavernsCarlsbad Caverns also developed from this reef. As the reef was pushed upwards, rainwater mixed with hydrogen sulfide-rich water from oil and gas fields in the area to form sulfuric acid, which ate away the limestone of the reef and created the caverns we see today.

Click for Larger Image of Carlsbad CavernsOnce the caves were formed, drops of water infused with carbon dioxide (a weak acid) picked up minute amounts of calcite from the limestone and, as it trickled through the rock into the caverns, deposited this calcite to form both the stalactites (the formations hanging from the ceiling of the cave), and, from the solution that dripped off the end-points of the stalactites, the stalagmites (the formations rising towards the stalactites). Billions and billions of drops later we see these rock formations that have now taken the shape of cones, pillars, and slender, fragile straws.

Here are more images from inside Carlsbad Caverns:

 Click for Larger Image of Carlsbad Caverns Click for Larger Image of Carlsbad Caverns Click for Larger Image of Carlsbad Caverns Click for Larger Image of Carlsbad Caverns

Thursday, October 16, 2008

How to Start A Conspiracy

Location: Roswell, NM (actually a couple days ago -- I have been without internet!)

Click for Larger Image of Newspaper Article

  • 1947: Send up one weather/spy balloon
  • When it crashes, begin to panic because its secrets may be made public and the Cold War aggravated
  • Rejoice when the locals help you out by thinking it is an alien space ship instead of a military secret, ripe for the picking -- this is one story you won't need to invent
  • When things get out of hand, as you should have realized they would, fess up to the balloon thing to stop the panting hoards from demanding that you produce a spaceship and the rumored alien body
  • Oops, no one believes you now. Did you really think they would?
  • Finally, quit trying to deny that you have an alien spaceship in custody, and that the aliens are the source for the formulas for Velcro and Teflon (aliens must need sticky and non-sticky simultaneously, it seems). If you are NASA, stop wishing it really was true -- you'd get more funding than a Bridge to Nowhere if you really had that baby locked up in a shed somewhere!

Click for Larger Image of Store Window61 years later, the conspiracy theories surrounding the Roswell crash site, a flat, otherwise unremarkable piece of farmland outside of town, are still funding the tourist trade -- stores sell alien dolls, alien refrigerator magnets, alien shot glasses, "alien crossing" signs, alien t-shirts, and alien blow up dolls to name just a few of the dollar drainers. Aliens and spaceships charmingly decorate self storage lockers, taxidermists, streetlights (just the oval eyes!), coffee shops, and RV parks. The International UFO Museum and Research Center will let you look at the all the evidence of visitations, in Roswell and elsewhere, for a few bucks, and they even graciously devote one small board to the skeptical viewpoint. If you want more of the "other side's" take, check out these links:

The Skeptics Dictionary
The UFO Skeptic's Page
National Capitol Area Skeptics: The Condon Report (be sure to check the acknowledgments page, you might see a name you know) and the Symposium on Unidentified Flying Objects.

Click for Larger Image of Stores 
Click for Larger Image of UFO Museum Click for Larger Image of Walmart 

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Hail Storm

Location: Camping World, Albuquerque, NM

We were scheduled to be at the Balloon Festival through Sunday's mass ascension, but the weather forecast put a crimp in those plans. A hurricane called Norbert stirred up the weather on the Pacific coast and sent a whole bunch of bad weather heading straight for Albuquerque. We had been camped on a dirt field that would have quickly turned to mud with only a little bit of rain -- so we decided to forgo Sunday's mass ascension (which likely would have been canceled due to the wind), and move the rigs today to Camping World, twenty miles south, where I have an appointment to have some electrical work done on my rig Monday.

Click for Larger Image of Hail Waves on Parking LotShortly after we got here, the weather, which had been cloudy to partly sunny, suddenly and dramatically changed -- within a minute, rain was pelting the rigs and the visibility had shrunken to only a few feet. Then the hail began -- pea sized pellets combining with the rain to form a shallow river in the parking lot. The wind gusts were somewhere around 50 mph, and it forced hail and water into rivulets that actually flowed across the parking lot! Once it had passed, we watched the storm continue on a straight line to the festival field where we had just been parked. Looks like we made the right decision!

Once the storm had cleared, we had a beautiful sunset -- this is the view from the parking lot at Camping World, looking towards the mountains:

Click for Larger Image of Sky After The Storm

Balloon Fiesta!

Location: Albuquerque, NM

Click for Larger Image of BalloonWe made it to the Balloon Fiesta! We are parked about a mile from the fiesta grounds, so a lot of folks are walking there for the events. That's a little beyond my abilities right now (although I am walking around the rig without a cane and only limping a little), so I needed to take the shuttle buses to get to the field. This has been the most frustrating part of the festival -- there are no official shuttle stops (just flag-'em down!), there are too few buses serving the campground for the return in the evening, and signage leaves a lot to be desired. But that's the only bad thing -- the rest of the fiesta has been wonderful.

Click for Larger Image of Glowdeo BalloonsWe took the shuttle to the field for the nighttime "Special Shapes Glowdeo" -- the "character" shapes are inflated, but remain tethered, and lighted with the propane burners so they softly glow. There were all sorts of shapes -- to mention just a few, a flying pig, a witch, a cactus, a castle, a monkey, an alien, the Energizer Bunny, an eagle, the Orient Express (complete with its own train whistle), and, oddly, the Brandenburg Gate!

Click for Larger Image of AscensionThe next morning, we were able to see the ascension right from the campground. We were in the middle of multiple ascension sites, so we could see some balloons take off and drift away from us, while others flew directly over us. The special shapes took off first, then the more traditional teardrop-shaped balloons.

Yesterday was not all good news, however -- one balloon, a special shape that looked like an upside down pyramid, ran into power lines. The basket caught on fire, and the co-pilot was killed. The pilot is in the hospital with serious injuries. We did not witness the accident -- it was several miles away, but we did see the balloon take off with the other special shapes. Balloon accidents are rare when compared to the number of hours flown, but when they do happen the basket occupants have little protection and are often badly hurt or killed.

Click for Larger Image of Special ShapesClick for Larger Image of Inflating Balloon Click for Larger Image of Inflating BalloonsClick for Larger Image of Glowdeo Ballons Click for Larger Image of Launching Balloon

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

ALMOST Made It Out of Colorado!

Tuesday was supposed to be the "back on road again" day, but it was not to be.

This was the plan: my last doctor's appointment was scheduled for 8:30, after which we'd go pick up my rig from storage, then head south towards Albuquerque and the Balloon Festival. We are supposed to be there no later than 3 PM Wednesday, and it is around 400 miles from here -- so a leisurely 200 miles each day should get us there easily.

My biggest fear had been that the doctor would be called away for emergency surgery, and I'd have to reschedule the appointment. But the appointment went off without a hitch -- I am doing fine, I have no restrictions, and, instead of the big, chunky boot, I now have a lace-up fabric-and-velcro brace that goes under my shoe. I still limp a little, and sometimes use a cane, but I am definitely walking!

The problem started when we got back to John's rig, got everything put away for traveling, and began to withdraw the slides. Actually, we never even began -- they didn't move at all. Thinking the coach batteries might be low, we hoped they'd retract if the engine was on -- but when we tried to start it, all we heard was "click...click...click." Not good. Since there was no turnover at all, John suspected the solenoid, and called road service.

At this point, it was about 10:45, and we still had time to get my rig and make 200 miles. We were given a 2 1/2 hour window for the service call, which would push it a bit, but we were still okay. We started to suspect we would not be leaving when, at 1:30, the technician called because he couldn't find the address. We are camped on South Federal, and he had been given the address as North Federal -- so he was clear on the other side of Denver!

He finally got here, discovered the problem was the engine battery, we got a new one (free, as the old one was still under warranty!), and were ready to go -- except it was now after 3, and we still had to get my rig, hassle with Denver rush hour traffic, and then not be able to get very far in daylight. So we decided to wait until today to pull out. As we can't easily make 400 miles and get there before 3, we're going to be a day late. But I'm sure there will be balloons left in Albuquerque when we do get there!

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Red Rocks

Click for Larger Image of Red Rocks From a DistanceThe redish rocks at the base of the mountains in the photo to the left are a part big of the Denver park system. If you are anyone of import, musically speaking, you have performed here, at Red Rocks. At the visitor center, an entire wall chronicles the monthly headliners, beginning in the 1940s, and looking like a whos-who in the music industry.

Click for Larger Image of Red Rock's EntranceThe amphitheater's seats are nestled in naturally occurring rock, creating what is considered to be one of the best acoustical amphitheaters in existence. The rocks were formed almost 3 million years ago, and then uplifted to the tilted angle we see today. These rocks are part of the same formation that can be seen at Garden of the Gods and the Flatirons, and are called the Fountain Formation.

The concert season here ended about a week ago, but, being a city park, it is still open for people packing picnic lunches, tourists, and exercise fanatics (while we were there, a woman -- in blue, right of center in the panorama below -- was hopping on each seating row, hitting the floor and doing a push-up, and then moving to the next row. She worked her way down from the top, and then back up). The view is fabulous -- the skyscrapers of Denver can be seen peaking out from behind a hill to the near left, and I'm sure that concert-goers are treated to a lovely sunset as they watch the lights of the city come on. I'm sorry we missed the last concert, but if I'm ever back here during the summer, I intend to catch one or two.Click for Larger Image of Red Rocks Panorama