Thursday, January 30, 2014


National parks' names are abbreviated for, well, abbreviation's sake: the first two letters of the first word in the name and the first two in the second word so, for example, Petrified Forest = PEFO. Andersonville, having only one word as its name, uses the first four letters: ANDE. Yellowstone is YELL. Glacier National Park uses the rather rude sounding GLAC. Rocky Mountain, on the other hand, is fun to say: ROMO. Well, I am now cooling my heels and my wheels in Carlsbad, NM while major surgery is being done on my rig (oh, yay, the joys of home ownership!) and took a trip to the Caverns yesterday since it was on the agenda anyway. You can maybe see where this is going. Carlsbad is a national park and it has two words in its name, so its unfortunate abbreviation is CACA. There, I got it out of my system and can get on to the show.

A man named Jim White discovered the caverns in 1898, at the age of 16. According to Wikipedia, when he was out hunting stray cattle he saw "a plume of bats" in what "appeared to be a volcano or a whirlwind but did not behave quite like either." (The Wikipedia article is quite interesting, and a quick read.) Caves continue to be discovered even now. 

I toured the Kings Palace and The Big Room, which took several hours. The paths go on and on. Access is via a 750-foot elevator descent and fortunately they don't make you walk out either. The Kings Palace portion was guided by a Ranger and the The Big Room was a free-for-all. A couple of times I was so alone that all I heard was a hum from the lights and dripping water. 

Many National Parks' signs are wooden, but maybe to make up for this park's unfortunate abbreviation, this one is from a colorful slab of stone.

I was the goody-two-shoes who volunteered to bring up the rear of the tour, but only so I could be the one lagging behind to photograph everything.

When Jim White began to explore the caverns he carried a ball of twine to help him find his way out. As he went deeper the ball got bigger and unwieldy. Next he broke off parts of the formations and placed them on the ground, pointing his way out. When he realized the tourist implications of broken formations, he started leaving smudges from his kerosene lantern on the walls.

I have 39 photos that I've kept and processed but will subject you to only a few. The caverns are nearly indescribable in their complexity, variety, and mystery and it was so easy to take way too many photos.

The lights cast weird colors on the stones. I've tried to neutralize them as much as possible but sometimes the color persists. Algae has been a problem in the Caverns, and that may be what the green is below, but the incandescent lights are being replaced by LEDs, with an added benefit of the gradual disappearance of the algae. It has something to do with the gases emitted by incandescents.

We had a Wookie at Big Bend in the form of a yucca, and here we have Jabba the Hut. Come on, didn't you think the same thing?

Cathedral-like rooms open on all sides. There are miles and miles of caves that have not yet been explored.

In some areas there was a riot of formations, as though the ceilings were dripping with gold.

There was a trend for a while, and it may still be going on, for celebration cakes (birthdays, etc.) to be towers of unstable-looking, angled layers. This formation immediately made me think of them.

Another view from my vantage point of bringing up the rear.

Miss Havisham's wedding gown. I'm so literary. Either that, or I have an over-active imagination.

There were many overhead formations of skull-crushing or skull-piercing attributes, but we were assured that nothing has crashed in a hundred years.

I think the draperies are the most beautiful of all.

This one was almost directly overhead and flared outward like a blossoming flower.

Some are so thin they're translucent.

Then there was this odd, flattened pattern. This was on the self-guided part of my tour so there was no one to ask how they were formed.

 Finally, a little bit of everything.

I'm waiting for the bill for my repairs, which should be done tomorrow. I'm still trying to count my blessings wherever I can find them. The part that's being repaired could have failed in the middle of nowhere or on I-10 through Houston, not only being darned inconvenient but could have caused a bad accident. The people here at this family-owned and -run repair shop have let me stay in my home on their property, plugged in and with access to water. I feel they're being fair and honest in their dealings with me. It could always be worse.


Thought of the day:

I lay in the bed in the hospital and said, "let's see what I have left." I could see, I could speak, I could think, I could read. I simply tabulated my blessings and that gave me a start. (Dale Evans)
I lay in the bed at the hospital and said, 'let's see what I have left.' And I could see, I could speak, I could think, I could read. I simply tabulated my blessings, and that gave me a start.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Deep in the heart of Texas

It's been a combination of long hours on the road, no electricity, and no internet (in Kerrville, Texas? Seriously?) that's kept this space blank for a few days, but hold onto your 10-gallon hats. I've been to Big Bend National Park and, while I don't know this for a fact, would guess it's bigger than some states. It took me 12 hours from the time I left the campground in Marathon until I returned, one tired little doggie. 

Uninspiring but included to show the plant, a yucca I think, because it makes me think of a Wookie. With a topknot.

The park is vast, empty land punctuated by greatly differing terrains, from these gentle swells... rougher intrusions...

...isolated monoliths...

...and the twin peaks of the Mule Ears formation.

Muted tones against a brilliant sky...

...and monotone eruptions add depth and contrast to unending vistas.

A shot that's probably been taken a million times, but pretty wonderful anyway.

The trickle of the Rio Grande, the only place I saw water outside of a drinking fountain. That's Mexico on the left.

Smaller in scale but no less compelling are close views of the vegetation that manages to exist in this desert landscape.
An empty seed pod

I couldn't find the name of this flower with two distinct colors and fuzzy buds.

A version of prickly pear cactus bears these fuzzy pods that beg to be stroked, but will impale you as much as the more common cacti spines.

The skeleton of a prickly pear cactus.

Rainbow cacti usually grow as a single stem but older plants may branch. Their spines range in color from rosy pink to orange.

These four seed pods in varying stage of disintegration are from the same plant.

The agave plant, with which I am intimately familiar after digging and transplanting more than 100 last summer at Petrified Forest. Here's the interesting thing: those are holographic-like ghostly spines on the leaf in the back. You can see them but they have no depth or dimension.
This leaf has not yet unwrapped itself.

The central leaves have separated and are just unfurling.

These two photos are of a damaged agave leaf. Interesting texture.

One more damaged agave leaf, showing its fibrous internal structure.

 I came across an unexpected, isolated cemetery.
The grave of pioneer Nina Seawell Hannold, who died of uremic poisoning contracted during pregnancy, and who asked to be buried overlooking the spring where she read to her children in the shade of the cottonwoods.

Then there was this beggar of a roadrunner, looking for handouts instead of being off killing lizards.

Night was fast approaching as I made my way the final 70 miles back to my campground. I'd thought I might like to volunteer at Big Bend next winter but the distances between everything are too vast. It's 40 miles from the park boundary to Marathon, a tiny town, and park headquarters are another 30 on top of that. It's a beautiful place, one that I'm happy I visited, but just too far from anything for me.

Thought of the day:

Big Bend is a land of strong beauty — often savage and always imposing. It is magnificent. The bold mountains rear abruptly against the endless blue sky with traceries of white clouds. The “Long Look” never fades. The enticing view to the horizon ends in a haze of gray or blue or brown as the sky eats up the land. The land disappears but the sky is still there, the forever edge of the world that is always inviting.
(Lon Garrison, 1983; (served as the second superintendent, 1952-1955)

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

27 hours and counting

I spent most of today in a foul mood, so bad I even passed up a chance to stop at the Houston Art Museum (where there's a Bougeureau! and a Botticelli!) and until just a little while ago couldn't understand where it came from. I've been brooding all day about tomorrow being another of those anniversaries I wish I could ignore/sleep through/drink through, and just couldn't make the connection between it and my mood. I'm self-aware, no doubt about it. But we all know that none of that stuff works because sooner or later something would remind me of it or I'd wake up or sober up, so it's another day I have to tough out and just get through.

So what is tomorrow? One year ago the ex-husband filed for divorce and I was idiot enough to actually drive with him to the courthouse so he could file the papers. Of course, at that time I was still also idiot enough to not read the signs that he had another woman in the wings (Ha ha, good one because she's a flight attendant. Get it?), that I believed the thick smear of BS he was spreading over my every waking moment, and that he was a poor wounded soul who was in so very much psychic pain.

It's been two steps forward and a huge slide back for me some days and I really, really hate the sliding ones. They bleed me dry and leave me exhausted. Only 27 hours to go until I have just one more anniversary to get through, the big one on April 23rd. Do you think he thinks of these days too? Right. Another good one.

Thought of the day:

I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel. (Maya Angelou)

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Eat dessert first or even instead of

I am stopped for the night in Lafayette, Louisiana at a Walmart that allows me to stay for free. Not all Walmarts allow parking so I always make a point of going in and buying something when they do. Tonight I need white chocolate. More on that in a bit.

As the saying goes, though, there's no such thing as a free lunch so I'll be without electricity tonight. Last night I visited friends in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, parked in their church parking lot and was able to plug in, but visited with them so late that I didn't work on any of the approximately 527 photos I've taken and done nothing with yet. With no power tonight they're still not getting processed but I think there are some good ones there. On my way into Hattiesburg I stopped in Mobile and photographed the cathedral there, took some photos at my friends' church (he's the pastor), then found the cathedral here on Trip Advisor and had to stop. It turns out that I hit the trifecta in one Lafayette city block - a magnificent piece of architecture with dazzling stained glass windows, its own cemetery out back (with Louisiana's distinctive above-ground burial vaults), and a museum. What an enjoyable couple of hours.

Tomorrow I head into Texas and will make a dip down to Big Bend National Park for a look-see before heading north to Carlsbad Caverns National Park and back to Petrified Forest. The ranger I worked for at Andersonville was previously at Big Bend and if it looks as good as the website shows I may ask for help to work there next winter.

Finally, here's the story about the white chocolate. At dinner last night one of my friends ordered white chocolate bread pudding for dessert and shared it around. Had I known how sublime it would be I would have told the waiter to skip the starter and the entree and just bring me three of those. Back when we still operated our magnificent failure of a bakery in Washington we made bread pudding from chopped-up, several-day-old donuts. We let them get good and dry then rehydrated them with a slurry of milk, eggs, nutmeg, cinnamon, sugar, and I don't remember what else, piled the mess into a pie plate and baked it until set. It had a chunky texture held together with a custard "glue." It was really good. The dessert last night was not just really good, it was elegant and its look, flavor, and feel wholly unexpected. Instead of being held together with custard "glue" the pudding had the smooth, almost gel-like consistency and color of traditional egg-based custard. My goodness. It sat in a pool of white chocolate sauce, a creamy mix of melted white chocolate and whipping cream. It was all we could do not to lap at the plate like cats. I hardly looked at my triple chocolate cake. Mind you, I ate it, but hardly looked at it. So I did what any sane person would do - I asked our server for the recipe. He returned with a piece of paper that he set on the table like it was the check but turned out to be the recipe, and got himself a very nice tip.

It will be interesting to see if I can duplicate the recipe. It calls for two double boilers which is pretty funny because I have one sauce pan. Total. We'll see how it goes.

Thought of the day:

The only real stumbling block is fear of failure. In cooking you've got to have a what-the-hell attitude. (Julia Child)

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Traveling on paper

I'm a dinosaur when it comes to travel. I admit I like to use a GPS to get me from here to there without a lot of swearing and backtracking, but I love using an atlas or map to get an overview, to see the lay of the land.

As I was making my way south through Florida after leaving Andersonville I saw the tiny red letters on my atlas that tell me there's something of interest nearby. Let me say that sometimes they might be of interest to someone, not necessarily me. As much as I love museums, something along the line of the national tractor museum is not exactly what I have in mind. But when I was in the neighborhood of Bradenton I saw, off to the east, Bok Tower and Sanctuary. Hooray for Google because I learned it's a National Historic Landmark, and that was good enough for me, but I'd have to catch it on my way back north due to a nonrefundable reservation in Key West.

Yesterday I stopped to see what this place was. A selling point was that the grounds were designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr. It turns out I confused him with his father, the original Frederick Law Olmsted, the man who designed Central Park and the Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1890. (By the way, a very good biography of Olmsted is Justin Martin's Genius of Place: the life of Frederick Law Olmsted.)

The introductory film at the gardens showed an overhead view of the grounds, a view I would like to have seen in person, but from the ground it was still lovely. Stately old trees dripping with Spanish moss were everywhere and camellias were in bloom. And of course, palm trees.

The highlight of the place was, naturally, the tower. It was built from 1927-1929 by Edward Bok. It's 205 feet high and is faced with pink and gray Georgia marble and Florida coquina, a limestone of shell and coral fragments.

Ceramic grilles near the top surround a 60-bell carillon. When I was there the carillonneur must have been practicing for a live concert because there was a lot of music being broadcast, but not one tune from start to finish. It was pretty nonetheless. The bells range in size from 16 pounds to more than 11 tons. The introductory video showed them being played via the use of levers that are pulled and released by the carillonneur as well as a complicated arrangement of foot pedals. The bells are cast on the sharp side of their notes and are fine tuned by lathes that shave off metal from the inside of each bell. I had no idea.

There are carvings and sculptures all over the tower. Herons are at the top, eagles are at the base of the bellchamber. The literature says they were all carved in place

The brass doors depict the Biblical story of Creation. There's a wrought iron fence around the tower, and Edward Bok's grave is inside the fence, just outside the doors, so it's impossible to get a close or straight-on view of them.

It's a beautiful place that gives the impression of being much larger than its 50 acres. Maybe it's because of the miles of orange orchards that surround it, or because of the skillful landscaping, but it's worth the trip of a few miles on country roads to hear the bells.


Quote of the day:
The whole problem can be stated quite simply by asking, 'Is there a meaning to music?' My answer would be, 'Yes.' And 'Can you state in so many words what the meaning is?' My answer to that would be, 'No.'  (Aaron Copland)