Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Sand dances

I know I said Scotty's Castle would be the next one up, but it will be a long-ish post and I can't count on the internet to be available for the time it will take to write it. I've been told that when the Christmas crowd goes home this weekend the internet will be back to normal, and do I have my fingers crossed! This is the first park we've been to where connectivity has been an issue. At Petrified Forest I whinged long enough that the Museum Association installed a booster that took the signal from the Post Office and tossed it out to me, but even before that, I could get decent wifi at the Post Office or Visitor Center. At the North Rim, there was great wifi at the Administration building but at the house we had to install satellite internet which was as slow as it was expensive. At Andersonville and Tumacácori we did fine with our own hotspot. But here? Pffftttt.

Instead of Scotty's Castle, I want to show three photos from the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes. HH and I went looking for them with a map the other day and whoa! they were where they were supposed to be. We probably looked right at them the first time we drove their way, but missed them altogether because of the blowing sand. 

Saturday was a gorgeous day and the crowds that hog the internet met us at the dunes. Many people, us included, think desert=sand, but less than 1% of Death Valley is covered in sand.

 I think this is my favorite photo of this park so far.

The park's website says these dunes (there are four others listed on the website) are just 100 feet high but cover a vast area, without saying just how much that is. You can get an inkling, though, by seeing how insignificant the people are in these photos. The photo above in particular, taken from a distance, shows someone as a speck near the bottom of the sunlit curve at the far right.

This is an ever-changing show. The wind that comes through this valley constantly resculpts the lines and smooths the footprints. I read somewhere that seeing them by moonlight is a different experience, and I do believe there's a full moon rising.


Thought of the day:

They dined on mince, and slices of quince, 

Which they ate with a runcible spoon; 
And hand in hand, on the edge of the sand, 
They danced by the light of the moon. 

- Edward Lear, The Owl and the Pussycat

Friday, December 26, 2014

The vastness of place

This post was supposed to be up yesterday - HH will back me up on this - but the internet is a fickle fiend. We have problems almost everywhere we go, and I guess it could be said that it's the price we pay to live in God's big acres, but I love me my internet and it makes me crazy when it's not working better than dial-up or when it's not working at all.

Last weekend we took our first field trip, to an intriguing place called Scotty's Castle, and those photos will be up in the next post if I can get them uploaded. Here, though, are some images of the landscape near us.

I tried walking along the main road for my almost-daily constitutional but there's too much traffic on Highway 190 to make it safe. The park gets a million visitors a year, a figure hard to comprehend when you look out over the vast land and see no one, but they have to come in on one of the roads and 190 is the main drag. I gave up that route after being forced to the uneven, rocky shoulder too many times, and found there's a nice, uphill route right near my house.

We live in the Cow Creek area, which is a few miles from Furnace Creek, where the fancy Furnace Creek Inn is. Above us are the Resource Management offices, the CalTrans maintenance yard, and some employee housing. This photo shows some of the housing on a day the sun finally came out. I stopped to take the photo mostly so I could catch my breath, because even though we're at sea level, it's a mighty hill to climb.

I think these are the Amargosa Range mountains.

To the north are more arroyos, more mountains, more color.

The road continues to go up in a loop through housing. It's a lovely moment when it finally starts its descent and I always think, at that moment, that it's not such a bad climb after all. 

This is on the way down the hill, looking northwest across the salt flats. The flats are miles and miles long; this view is about 25 miles north of Badwater Basin that I wrote about last time. To give an idea of the vastness of this place, look for a whitish speck just below where the blue changes to brown, about halfway between the shrubbery on the left and right. That's a car.

Yesterday we started a drive out to Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes but didn't make it. It's not that we got lost, but that we didn't know where we were going. There's a difference. I was sure I'd seen the sign on the road to Scotty's Castle but it had disappeared and after burning about $15 worth of diesel we gave up and went home. It turns out that the dunes are on the road we first went down but backtracked on because we thought it was the wrong road. Oh, cruel irony.

It was a beautiful, sunshiny day even though wind was howling and buffeting the house, raising sand that nearly obscured the Panamint Mountains later in the day. This photo was shot after we turned around the second time, as beautiful as it was miserable to be out in.

We're going to give it another shot today, armed with - aha!! - a map.

Our kitchen window looks to the west and the first hint I had that the spectacularity below was beginning, a few days ago, was a glow on our neighbors' rigs seen through that window. This made the dreary clouds we experienced for several days almost insignificant.

Thought of the day:
(This refers to Space, as in Sky, Universe, &c., but also aptly describes Death Valley.)
Space is big. Really big. You just won’t believe how vastly, hugely, mind-bogglingly big it is. I mean you may think it’s a long walk down the road to the chemist, but that’s just peanuts to space. - Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Out of one desert and into another

Two friends have noticed a lull in posts here and my big sister has put the fear of God into me about it, so now that I know people actually read cruisingat60, I'll see if I can dredge up more content.

I finished at Tumacácori the first week of December and we hung around Tucson for a week before heading to Death Valley on Sunday. The week in Tucson, which I hoped to be a nice week of rest, wasn't. It wasn't like I was doing heavy lifting, but the little things that had to be attended to before leaving the kind of civilization that has shopping for the kind that does not, like a haircut, flu shot, teeth cleaning, Costco, and cleaning the carpet and upholstery in the house, sucked all extra time away and it felt like we were on the go all week. Plus, I am determined to learn at least 1st grade Spanish, so estudio español, and that can morph from an expected 20-minute online session to an hour without my even noticing it. There is not enough time, that's all there is to it.

We took two days to drive over, stopping outside Kingman for the night before getting on the Joshua Forest Scenic Parkway between Wickenberg and Wikieup, Arizona. According to the link about the Parkway, "Joshua trees are to the Mojave Desert what saguaros are to the Sonoran – huge, perfectly adapted endemic plants that live nowhere else in the world." When I started noticing the plants, before seeing the sign that identified them as Joshua Trees, I thought they were a kind of yucca (also a member of the lily family), and it turns out they are. Mormons gave them their name, seeing in them the Biblical Joshua's arms reaching toward heaven. These remarkable plants can tolerate a temperature range from 30° to 125°. And did I get one single photo? No. Nada.

But here we are. Neither HH nor I had ever been to Death Valley and even with the advance reading we'd done, didn't have much of an idea what to expect. Our first impressions were along the lines of Wow! and Look at that! and haven't much changed, except we're already tired of the overcast but have been assured it won't last. 

The museum curator, who I'll be working for until the end of April, took us on a tour of part of the park yesterday afternoon. The place is huge, 3.4 million acres, so we saw a miniscule portion of it, and jaw-dropping it is.

One spot he took us to is called Badwater, salt flats at 282 feet below sea level that were thought to be the lowest point in the Western hemisphere until a place in Argentina was discovered to be -344 feet.

 This sign is at the entrance to the flats,

and this, below, is looking in the opposite direction. If you look nearly dead center on the hillside you can see a tiny sign with tiny letters that say Sea Level. As small as they look, the letters are about three feet tall. My boss has rock climbing experience and placed the rigging that the actual sign installers used to haul themselves and the equipment upslope. He said it's nothing but a lot of loose rock up there, so once he was done with his part he got off the mountain and hid behind a car.

Walking out on the flats reminded me of walking on slush, but when I picked up a bit of it, it felt like nothing more than damp sand, gritty on my fingers. All along the walkway that shows in the photo below we saw holes, large divots, that people had dug, just to see what was underneath. What? We also noticed large graffiti carved into it, and he said maintenance crews will come out periodically with water and rakes and try to smooth it out,

and that he really doesn't like going out because every time the walkway is wider and longer, caused by people wandering farther and farther out.

Another view to the north.

Then we went to a place called the Devil's Golf Course, more salt deposits but in the form of big chunks extending out to the horizon. This can be treacherous walking. The chunks are hard and irregular, and it would be easy to make a misstep and break a bone. I can't wait to go back out and get more pictures! I'll take crutches.

This is the only one of the closer shots I took that turned out halfway decent. I was surprised by the fibrous-looking growths along the edges and suppose they are more crystals growing. When it rains, some of the salt dissolves but as the water evaporates clean crystals are deposited.

We also drove along Artist's Drive, a loop road among multi-colored rock formations, but were losing the light quickly and didn't stop. There are hikes out from Artist's Drive as well as hundreds of miles of other hikes in the park, so I'll be back, hopefully when the sun makes a regular appearance, but I'll never see it all.

Thought of the day:

Each thing in its way, when true to its own character, is equally beautiful. - Edward Abbey, Desert Solitaire

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Surface matters

It is so déclassé to talk about money but it's one of many things I'm grateful for this Thanksgiving. Besides, the older I get the less I care about what's supposed to be right and wrong, and more about what is right and wrong.

Some time ago I read that women are less concerned about losing their looks than they are about not having enough money. I was somewhat younger then with a different view of things and could understand this, but not live in it. It just didn't seem to apply to my circumstances, not that I was ever overly gifted with money but I had enough. Losing whatever looks I had loomed higher on the anxiety list. I'm not proud to say that but I've gained perspective and the ebbing tide of my appearance is not as fatal as I once thought it would be. One, to my bipolar reaction of dismay and delight, I found nobody cares what I look like on the outside. No one. Two, I've earned every line, wrinkle, gray hair, and drooping whatever. This, at least, is what I told myself when applying paint and spackle to my face the other morning and found new wrinkles that appeared, totally literally, overnight. Ditto the solar lentigines, cruelly also called age spots, that spontaneously and concurrently erupted on my face the week I turned 60. I thought I had skin cancer. No, it was just a case of middle age, an untreatable condition.

But I am concerned about money. How many people can honestly say they don't care if they have enough to live on? So when Voldemort notified me a few weeks ago that he was likely losing his job at the end of the year, resulting in a 40% cut to my income, I expected to go into panic mode but didn't. This money wasn't going to last forever; it's just dying an earlier death than I expected, and I never spent like there was no tomorrow. One thing my parents taught me was how to save. I will be just fine on the remaining 60%.

This year, then, I remain grateful for many things:
   Enough money to live on.
   Good health and the health insurance that helps it to stay that way.
   Regular "employment" at our wonderful national parks, which allows me to live a vagabond life.
   My girl cats, both worthless animals.
   The friends I have had and the friends I continue to make along the way.
   My family: the kids, the grands, my sister, my brother, and all in-laws and out-laws. 
   My round-about family: HH's kids, who have treated me like family from the beginning.
   And finally and firstly, my dear HH, the best thing that ever happened to me.

Only one photo today. I'm so far behind. This is a hummer that zipped in and out of the garden at Tumacácori one day, feeding on aloe flowers. I was lucky to find him at rest.


Thought of the day:

I've never been a millionaire but I just know I'd be darling at it. - Dorothy Parker

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Only three colors

I mentioned that the stained glass windows I so admired at St. Patrick in Bisbee were created by Emil Frei, and that that company also made the windows for St. Mary's Basilica in Phoenix. HH and I drove over in late September, and were greatly impressed with the church.

This is the largest collection of stained glass in Arizona, and what a collection it is. HH pointed out that the quality of these windows is better than those in Bisbee, and there's not a thing wrong with those so that's an indication of the perfection of what you see here. It made me think that of course the company would have different grades of goods, something for different budgets. What a smart business move.

It is unclear from the church's website whether the windows came directly from the company's headquarters in St. Louis or were sub-contracted to a company in Munich.

First, the exterior. I really like Mission architecture.

Enough of that. On to the stars of this show. 

A window at one end of the transept.

Following early church architecture, the north wall of the Sanctuary is of parabolic design to project the voice of the altar speaker to the rear of the church.

The dome lights the crossing of the nave and transept.

The window at the other end of the transept.

The altars, rails, confessional, pulpit, and pedestal were built in 1910 under the supervision of a Franciscan Brother. This is one of the side altars.

The "rose window" over the organ loft at the rear of the church.

The following are the windows that are spaced at regular intervals along the nave. I don't think they need any commentary, so I'll keep quiet.

This is a "plain," placeholder window. Judging from the names, I would guess this is a modern window.

All wooden furnishings other than those noted up above are of solid oak and the work was done by one firm from Cleveland.

Catholics will recognize this as a confessional, but the configuration is a new one to me. What I was brought up with had the priest in the middle and the sinners on either side. This one has just two compartments.

The details make a difference. Imagine sitting here on a cold winter morning with the furnace roaring in the basement and sending up heat through these registers right to your feet. They appear only on every other row, and I'd bet that's how the pews fill up.

This is the other side altar.

The main altar again.

The pulpit with three of the four evangelists.

The entrance to the rectory is at the corner of the block.

It's always nice when the churches are open, but it has been unusual to find them that way most places I go. I find that strange; in New York, crime central, where I'd go by train from DC on long weekends, almost every church was available. Out in the nether lands, not so much.

Thought of the day:

There are only three colors, ten digits, and seven notes; it's what we do with them that's important. - Jim Rohn

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Tumacácori sunrise

It's not quite the same as Tequila Sunrise but you make do with what you have.

A couple of times a year Tumacácori opens at 6 am, three hours earlier than regular hours. Yesterday was one of those days and I lay awake at 5, debating whether or not I wanted to go out in the cold, but I exhibited some backbone and hauled myself out of bed. It was 42° when I headed down the road.

There was one other hardy soul when the door opened at 6 but not long after, other photographers showed up.

One of the jobs I've been asked to do here is cull, name, and move photos into one spot. My favorites are always the historic ones, typically in black and white. This is mine but it looks very similar to those.

The first photos, from when it was still dark, just didn't turn out so what I have here is from when the sun was teasing the horizon and when it finally broke over.

Behind the church is a walled cemetery and a mortuary. Straight ahead of the gate is the opening to the mortuary. It still needed a domed ceiling and additional plastering when the mission was abandoned. Holes for scaffolding remain in the wall.

The cemetery was laid out by the missionaries as a holy ground where their growing numbers of converts could be buried. After the priests left, treasure hunters vandalized the graves and cattle were corralled here. No markers of the early graves remain.

Nearby residents continued to consider this sanctified ground, and when peace came to the valley, once again buried their dead in this ground.

The mortuary is on the left, the sacristy of the church on the right, and the Santa Rita Mountains in the distance.

The last burial was of the infant Juanita Alegria in 1916; her grave is still decorated. Among the photos I've been working on are a few of her grave being painted with turquoise paint but that was some time ago.

Niches in the wall held the stations of the cross, lost to time.

These next two are from the storeroom that stands to the east of the cemetery. It held the surplus grain and crops from the mission garden and orchard.

Urns rest safely in depressions in the bench

A full moon appeared to hover over the dome that rises above the sanctuary of the church.

The sun finally broke over the Santa Ritas to light the mountains to the west, but was not yet high enough to illuminate the church.

This is a longer view of the church, still not yet lit by the sun.

An even longer view now that the sun has risen. The gate in the wall of the cementerio is to the right of the church. The storeroom is at the far right, and a sliver of the mortuary can be seen between them.

Three painters arrived and had their easels set up as the sun burnished the adobe and brick.

A final view of golden light and Arizona blue sky.

Thought of the day:

Carpe diem!