Sunday, June 30, 2013

Out of the frying pan

One day last week I returned to Grace after work to find the air conditioner off. I did the switch-flip routine that I learned how to do for $90 plus gas a while back, but it didn't restart the a/c. Nor did it turn the refrigerator back on or give me overhead lights. In fact, anything that has to have 12 volt power is nonoperational. This wasn't too bad; there's a community fridge I can use in another building that I toted everything down to, I still had power in the outlets so I could run a fan, and I had a good supply of batteries for flashlights.

But when the temperature hit triple digits this week I knew I couldn't put it off anymore. 

It was miserable and even though it cools off nicely overnight, I still had to get from quitting time to pretty late in the evening before the temp got tolerable inside Grace. I juggled some working days to be able to take a few days off and made haste for Tucson on Friday evening. Once again imposing myself on a friend, I hope to, have to, get the problem resolved.

I again took beautiful highway 77 but because this time I didn't get pulled over for speeding, I used the time I would have spent with a trooper to take a few pictures at Salt River Canyon.

Late afternoon sunlight cast such a soft, lovely glow on the canyon. I'm glad I stopped.

Driving this road makes this six hour trip something to look forward to, but here's the irony: I left 110 degrees in the park for this in Tucson:


Thought of the day:

The idea of wilderness needs no defense, it only needs defenders. (Edward Abbey)

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

All the sexy work librarians do

The work I was doing in the library is about done. I've (well, my boss and I) weeded the collection by about a third. I pulled what I thought should go and she gave the yea or nay. She learned not to cruise by the library; if I saw her in the hall it was "Oh, Pat!" because I needed decisions made. Outdated books, stuff way outside the scope of the collection, such as books on Ford's Theater and table tennis, I kid you not, multiple copies - it was all ripe for the picking, and I did.

Here's an idea of what it looked like when I started, three solid walls of books and periodicals.

I inventoried and boxed the periodicals, making them ready to offer to other libraries in the Park Service. The list went out today and we've had takers on two titles so far. Hallelujah. Boxes will be exiting the library which makes me very happy.

Here's a first draft version of the culled and reorganized shelves. I had to shift shelves two or three times to make more room and, golly, that's fun; all of those books picked up and moved yet again, up and down the ladder, up and down.

The books in the boxes on the bottom shelf, eleven in all, are going. I've also tossed a ton into the recycle, NPS publications that are now online, that kind of thing. The pile on the bottom shelf, all the way to the right, is a drop in the bucket of the books I pulled for Pat to decide on. She got to really hate my calling her name, I know it.

I also had separate piles that were made up of books that were on the shelf but were not on the inventory. Like the ones I weeded, she had to decide whether to keep or pitch those. She had the harder job in this whole endeavor by far. All I did was sling books around but she did the brain work.

Here's one wall, mostly cleaned up. The Superintendent wanted to be able to pull the screen down and leave it down, so I did my best to keep the books clear of those shelves. You can see a cord to it just to the right of the books. I had to do a lot of shifting of books but I managed to keep it clear.

Some of the periodicals I inventoried are on the shelves below the countertop. The recycle bins hold some of what's going. Eventually all that space will be clear.

I've put shelf labels up and made logical separations in the call numbers on the shelves, leaving lots of space for additions to the collection as well as making looking for something easier and more productive. Lots of people have come into the library and oohed and aahed over the remake. I take my bows and leave out the tip jar.

One last job for Pat will be to scan the shelves for books I didn't know enough to pull. She's going to hear "Oh, Pat!" in her sleep.

Thought of the day:

Less is more. (Mies van der Rohe)

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Puerco Pueblo solstice - at a way more reasonable hour

This morning I set out for Puerco Pueblo, an area of the park that contains a village that was home to Ancestral Puebloan people from about 1200-1300 A.D. The culture was formerly known as Anasazi, a Navajo/Diné term meaning 'enemy ancestors,' but because of the negative connotation that term is now avoided. These Puebloans are believed to be the ancestors of today's Hopi and Zuni, who consider the site a Traditional Cultural Property. It is also home to the one solstice marker I knew about and the window was closing on the time it would still be relevant.

What you can't see at the bottom of the poster, created by a hugely talented employee, a graphic designer, is "A Public Service Brought to You by Ancient Puebloan People and the Sun."
I got to Puerco at about 0820, just in time to see a family from Austin ready to pile back into their camper and move on down the road. I roped them into viewing the solstice with me. Also a couple from Dallas and Nottingham, another family from Philly, a single man from I don't know where, and a final family from Green Bay, if their shirts were any indication. It was a blast. I know next to nothing compared to the real interpreters that rove the park, but I never let something like that stop me.

The marker is among a jumble of huge rocks near the people in the photo above. You have to know it's there and, even with signs at the site explaining what and where, it's hard to see without someone pointing it out.

It's the small spiral that's important at this time of year. You can see the ray edging its way closer to the corner.

Above and to the left of this rock is another one with a cleft in it, which casts a ray of light that progresses down the rock face.

There it is, the sun ray making its way toward the spiral.

This area is also home to a former CCC camp, down in the valley below the rocks. It housed about 200 men, coming and going, during the '20s and '30s. The CCC played a huge part in taking the park from National Monument status to National Park. Nearly every man-made object in the park was built, constructed, or dug by the CCC, including the building below which was the original entrance station to the park. The fact that it's at Puerco, nearly half-way through the park, shows how the boundaries have expanded over time, and continue to do so. The building is being restored, more or less, to its original state and will house an archeology exhibit. I was there one day when the vigas, the wooden poles, were being pounded into place by hand.

Back to the solstice marker. Here the ray is moving closer to the center of the spiral.

It's made contact and is moving through the marker.

 A couple more glyphs, out of many, on the rocks in the area.

Here's another building constructed by the CCC. It housed a gasoline pump that sent water from here to the south end of the park, about 13 miles, through culverts dug by hand and machine, sometimes having to blast through rock. For this work they were paid $30 a month plus room and board, and had to send $25 of that amount home to their families. This building is also being renovated or restored, I'm not sure which.

The pump station which sent water to the south end of the park.
Finally, a photo of the pueblo ruins. There were about 100 rooms built around a central courtyard or common area, and housed about 200 people. They made their living farming and hunting, getting their water from the Puerco River and from seeps that occurred around the land. All pretty dry now.

 That was my morning. It was beautiful, not yet hot, and a lot of fun talking to folks from all over.

Thought of the day:

How time flies when you's doin' all the talking. (Harvey Fierstein)

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Outside my comfort zone? Boy howdy, yes.

I wrote, after my sisters' deaths, that there were going to be some changes made. One thing I planned to do was move outside my comfort zone, meaning taking on new challenges, living life the way I wanted to live it and not according to someone else's agenda. Yesterday I did something I'd planned to do and it was incredibly hard and equally stupid.

I got a permit from the Visitors' Center to camp in the Painted Desert. This has been a goal for some time. I packed my stuff in a nice backpack I borrowed and never bothered to throw it on the scale. It was only for a night or two and I wasn't taking anything I didn't really think I needed. In fact, I barely tried the thing on before I drove to the Painted Desert Inn to park before taking the trail into the desert. I set the pack on the floor of the van near the side door, plunked myself in front of it, threaded my arms through the shoulder harness, stood up, and almost fell over. This was not the bad part. The bad part was not admitting how foolish it was to continue.

But I did continue. I had visions of falling on the steep trail into the desert.

See the trail down? There are four switchbacks from the rim to the desert floor.

It's an entirely different matter hiking with a day pack than hiking with a tent, pad, sleeping bag, food, water, and all the other stuff you think you need. Let's say 10 pounds versus the burden I carried. But I digress.

My goal was to cross Lithodendron Wash,  a wide dry wash that looks like a highway from the rim but disappears once you're on the desert floor. It turned out all I could do was put one foot in front of the other, got myself turned around, and wound up in the badlands. 

This is where I should have ended up, in the flats. 

This is where I did end up, in the badlands. Don't ask me how.

By the time I got to this point there was no way I was taking another step. I just couldn't do it. I was sure I wasn't beyond the Wash as the rules say campers have to be, but right then I didn't really care. If someone wanted to write me a ticket, maybe they could also help me carry my pack out again.

Another problem cropped up: the wind was blowing like a banshee and I still had to pitch the tent, which I'd done precisely once before, on a veranda, with no wind, and people to weigh in with advice. But I had no choice. If I didn't want to sleep outside with the bugs I was sure would make their appearance sooner or later, I'd better get the tent up. And I did.

Tent up. I managed to do it without it blowing to Nevada.

Then I ate. And ate. I was starved, plus I needed to get rid of some of the weight I'd lugged in, which was incentive enough for me. Drink water + eat food = reduce weight. It made sense to me.

I decided to explore, mostly with the goal of finding my way out the next morning. There didn't seem to be an easy way.

I was pretty much surrounded by terrain like this.

And this.
It seemed every direction I looked gave me the option of one form of an ankle-breaking route or another. I finally realized that I got myself in there and I could very well get myself out. 

Then I started to appreciate just what I had. One god or another sent me a magnificent sunset in one direction, and a gorgeous nearly-full moon in the other.

That's Pilot Rock, seven miles out. It was the view out of the foot end of the tent.

The moon coming up in the east, out the other side of the tent.

I hit the sack not long after, really wishing I'd packed some Tylenol.

This morning I got up with every intention of getting to the desert floor, hiking out past Lithodendron Wash, and spending another night. Then I put the pack on again. I ate like a longshoreman last night, drank water till I was floating, and it didn't seem much lighter. I decided to cut my losses and head back to Grace up on the rim. The only reason I didn't turn around and hike back out last night was I didn't think I could carry the pack up the trail. It wasn't much lighter this morning but I was ready to leave when I thought of hiking farther into the desert and having to hike that extra distance out tomorrow morning. I was ready to accept my limitations and call it quits.

Looking back at the tent from the far point of the butte, trying to find the shortest way out.
All well and good, except I had a reprise of my Moses act of a couple of weeks ago and couldn't find the trail. There's exactly one way out of the desert, which seems so obvious when you're headed in, and I couldn't find it. I hiked around hills, over hills, and would have gone through hills if I'd been able to. I finally climbed a hill, with that damned pack on my back, and guessed where the trail might be by looking at the trail down the hillside. Oh, I could see it all right, I just couldn't see where it entered the desert floor.

Obviously I finally made it. I slogged my way up the hill, stopping to breathe half a dozen times, got into Grace, and turned the A/C on full blast. All the way up the hill I kept saying, "Just one more step." One after another after another.

I drove back to my campsite, the one with electricity and water, and slept for hours. When I worked up enough nerve to weigh the pack, which of course was somewhat lighter because of everything I'd consumed, it was 35 pounds. I was hugely disappointed. 35 pounds? Am I not fitter than that, that 35 pounds should have nearly crippled me? Pride, pride, pride. I looked online for exactly what packs should weigh and found that for someone my weight, 35 pounds, and more yesterday before the consumables were gone, is really pushing the limit. So pride, stupidity, and ignorance all played a part in this very.... interesting adventure.

When I got back I wrote to a friend to never ever ever ever ever ever let me do this again. Once I got rested and looked at it all more objectively, I decided I may very well do it again. I need to strip out more things than I thought I could, package things differently, and look for lighter alternatives, but I'm still open to the idea. I did this. It was hard but I did it and I'm kinda proud of that.

One last photo. It's my favorite of everything I took.
Gullies caused by water runoff, in the evening light.

Thought of the day:

I figure if a girl wants to be a legend, she should go ahead and be one. (Calamity Jane) 

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Summer solstice, so worth getting up for

I was so very lucky to catch a ride to an early-morning field trip to one of the solstice markers in the park. One of the seasonal rangers knew about this place, offered to lead a hike, and my hand went up like a shot.

We met at a pull-out near the Flat Tops area of the park, which is home to many mesas, which have flat tops. Funny how that works. It was an early meeting, 0430, because we had to be at the petroglyph before the sun rose. And this is what greeted us:

Predawn at Martha's Butte

We hiked through a dry wash to get to the petroglyph at a location called Martha's Butte, supposedly named for Martha Washington.

Exquisite morning light on Martha's Butte

Here's a close-up of the marker, with the rising sun casting a shadow that makes a slow regression across the face of the stone. 

In the photo above, this stone is the one on the right front that shows an arc of light across it. Now look to its right to the stone that has a notch in the top edge. That notch casts a curve in the shadow that crosses the marker. Also look at the fascinating glyph on the left face of this rock. I've never seen one like that. We were speculating as to what it could be. An eagle. A thunderbird. Corn. Of course no one knows. We just appreciate the mystery and beauty of the hidden messages.

The soft morning light is a delight to see. Even bare land like this glows in the low-slanting light.

Back to checking out the glyph. Further movement of the shadow brings the notch closer to the center of the spiral.

And here we are. The shadow connects with the center of the sun-spiral just so. It nestles in perfectly. How long, how many years do you think they watched and plotted before making the marker? How do you think they greeted the longest day of the year, these people who depended on the sun and the rain so they could live? With reverence? With joy and celebration? Another thing we may never know.

Proof positive I hauled myself out of bed at 0300 to be there. You can see the shadow moving off the right side of the marker as the sun rises.

After all the photos were taken, we walked around to the right of the Butte to see these other petroglyphs.

And this one. How wonderful is this?

And this one! I've never seen anything like it.  Look at the size of it, and the variety of forms. I saw at least three variations on the sun: the spiral, a partial circle with rays, and a solid circle with connected rays all the way around. It's magnificent.

We hung around taking group shots, reluctant to head to work on this gorgeous morning. That's Kevin, my ride this morning, shooting two-handed, and the long-legged group looking back.

Thought[s] of the day:

I'll tell you how the sun rose a ribbon at a time.  (Emily Dickinson) 

and another one:

We don't say 'good morning.' Well, now there's a way to say it in O'odham, but we never used to say it. Everybody just knows it's a good morning. Things like that are understood. (Danny Lopez, Tohono O'odham educator)

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

One more look at Canyon de Chelly

I used a different camera than what I'm used to when I went to Canyon de Chelly last week. Since 2007 I've used two different Nikons and became a DSLR snob. Yes. I admit it. Point and shoots were for amateurs. I'm far from being a pro but I wasn't going to use something that never had to have a lens changed. I have several lenses for the Nikons, fancy specialty ones among them, and the entire entourage probably weighed 30 pounds. I didn't carry everything every time but I have them just in case. There was a certain cachet in pausing to change lenses. It made me feel smart. What a bunch of hooey.

I got to the point I wasn't carrying the heavy Nikon anywhere anymore. Maybe it's a concession to my age, maybe I've gotten smart. I like to think it's the smart option. I always had my iPhone with me anyway so that's what I used for photos, but it was too much of a swing toward minimalist. I needed something in the middle. So Friday at Canyon de Chelly and Saturday at Blue Mesa I used a new Lumix point-and-shoot model and I can't tell the difference in the quality of the images.

I don't need a tripod because this model has stabilization up and down, left and right, and at cross angles. It has GPS which I wish I'd had when I found the arrowhead in the Painted Desert. It has other features I haven't discovered yet but right now I'm happy with what I do know about it. If I get nostalgic about shooting based on aperture or shutter speed I can choose that but I'm pretty happy with the idiot side of the dial.

Here are the rest of the photos I decided to keep from that day trip. It can be so hard to show scale. Keep in mind that people live in the canyon, the roads you see in the pictures are not footpaths but carry vehicular traffic, and the trees are full-grown.


Yep, all from a point-and-shoot. I have a Nikon D300 and a slew of lenses for sale. Not for the faint of heart or body.

Thought of the day:

May your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most amazing view. May your mountains rise into and above the clouds. (Edward Abbey)

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Blue Mesa, redux

On Saturday I made another swing through Blue Mesa. It's not as easy to get to as the Painted Desert so I can't get there as often, but storm clouds were a-brewin' on the horizon and I hitched a ride.

There's not much to add to these images. Blue Mesa tells its own story.

This is on the road in, the one that takes you back 3 1/2 miles. The sky wasn't too dark yet but I could see promise in another part of the sky. I heard sky booms here, just a couple, and from far away.     

Nothing here at all except those bands of purple.

Gathering clouds but not much promise of rain there.

Here we go. This is more like it.

The rain stayed at a distance. A few sprinkles, drama happening in the clouds, but nothing like I'd hoped for.

The monsoon season is imminent. I've been promised by those in the know and I'm counting on it.

Thought of the day:

Excuse me while I kiss the sky. (Jimi Hendrix ~ Purple Haze)

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Canyon de Chelly

On Friday a friend and I drove to Canyon de Chelly National Monument, a couple of hours away from Petrified Forest. This place and Chaco Canyon, over the border in New Mexico, have interested and drawn me for some time with their reputations as places of spiritual significance. I had plans to go to Chaco this spring before reporting to Petrified Forest, but learned that Grace would likely tear out another water line on the road in, so I've delayed a visit there for a while.

Canyon de Chelly is spectacular. Overlook after overlook leads to wide unfenced vistas of deep, sheer-walled canyons. It's dramatic and, yes, another place I've felt a presence of something outside of and more powerful than myself.

My last post, about the Painted Desert Inn, used a song sung by Dawn Boy on entering White House. I didn't know what or where White House was, but was delighted to learn it's here in Canyon de Chelly. I will return to spend more time, take tours of the canyon floor, and hike in to see White House. I hope to feel the connection Dawn Boy felt, the one that prompted him to sing such a love-filled psalm.

I've processed just a few pictures from that road trip. Like all other photos I've taken on this path of discovery, this path with heart I've been traveling, they don't do this special place justice or begin to show the soul-touching beauty, but they're the best I could do.

Thought of the day:
“If a man is to live, he must be all alive, body, soul, mind, heart, spirit.”  (Thomas Merton, Thoughts in Solitude)