Thursday, October 30, 2014

Another gem in the Park Service's crown

On my way back from Madison last week (or so) I passed a sign for Chiricahua National Monument on I-10, and later looked it up. When I read that it's the Land of Rocks or something, I told HH I knew where we were going on Monday, one of my days off.

It's about a three-hour drive over, partly on the interstate, partly on state roads, and is another of those places that's in the middle of nowhere. But it's the kind of nowhere that even if it wouldn't suit full time, it would be a calming, centering place to go for a a couple of weeks now and then. My goodness, we have a gorgeous country.

The entrance sign gives no hint of what lies beyond.

The first stop was the Visitor Center, a CCC-built stone structure.

There was something about the interpretive exhibits that was familiar; the style and the font niggled at the back of my mind. They're really well done, informative in a simple way without being dumbed down, and not too many words. That sounds funny but no one wants to stand there and read a placard full of words. Too much information, too much time. These, though, are classic.

Chiricahua is the first place I've heard the term Mountain Islands or Sky Islands. They're vast mountain ranges that are isolated from each other by valleys of grassland or desert. From an informative website I learned that these areas encompass most of Arizona’s biotic communities - tundra (in Arizona!), coniferous forests, deciduous forests, desert, chaparral, grassland, and thornscrub, which I had to look up and means an intermediate zone between desert and tropical forest. Arizona doesn't strictly have a tropical forest but it does have the intermediate zone. 
More information from the website: "Sky Islands are among the most diverse ecosystems in the world. As the meeting point between desert and forest, they offer a blend of tropical and temperate climates that can sustain many creatures, and are often the location of streams and other riparian areas. The Sky Island Alliance notes that the region harbors a diversity exceeding anywhere else in the U.S., supporting well over half the bird species of North America, 29 bat species, over 3,000 species of plants, and 104 species of mammals." Ahh-mazing.

One more old-fashioned sign, below, which is just as on-point now as when it was made, back in the late 50s - early 60s. I told a ranger how much I liked the exhibits, and she said they're pretty old, which is when I realized these are Mission 66 projects. 

Post WW2 America hit the roads in droves, visiting national parks in unprecedented numbers. The parks had been underfunded for years (jeez, sounds familiar) and were not equipped for this new visitation. Long story short, Mission 66 poured money into the parks' infrastructure: employee housing, roads, utilities, and most visibly, Visitor Centers. The idea was to have it all done by 1966, the 50th anniversary of the Park Service. Some of the projects have already been destroyed, like the Cyclorama Building at Gettysburg, a real shame. It was, coincidentally, designed by the same architect that designed the Painted Desert Community Complex at Petrified Forest, which included the Visitor Center, employee housing, a clinic, and a school building.

What these displays reminded me of were oversized ones at Petrified Forest hanging on the walls in the archeologist's, paleontologist's, and Resource Manager's offices. They were being thrown away several years ago and the paleontologist went dumpster diving to rescue them. Of course the content is not the same, but the style is unmistakably similar.

An exhibit case that tells a brief story about the Chiricahua Apaches looks pretty good for being almost 50 years old.

And some pretty birds.

This cute little whatever-it-is was parked outside the Visitor Center. I was going to say they ran out of letters but I think it's more a matter of running out of vehicle to put the letters on.

Then we headed to the drive through the park, oohing and aahing all the way.

This formation is Cochise Head, with an eyelash made from a 100-foot Douglas fir. Or so they say; I'm not sure I see it. The formation is made from welded tuff, a rock formed from volcanic ash.

A nearby volcano erupted at least nine times with the resulting accumulation of ash and pellets of molten pumice reaching 2000 feet. And then proceeded to erode.

I'm not entirely happy with these photos. I used a fancy adjustment on my camera without testing it first, with the result that these look flat to me. I couldn't do a lot with them in processing. That'll teach me.

 This is a CCC-built overlook. Doesn't it look like a castle?

Way over on the right of the overlook is what I thought was a telescope. It's not but it's an ingenious scope of a different kind. These curves are cut into an arc of steel and have a caption of what the view is. Move the scope to each curve and zero in on a different view. Low tech, high cool.

This is the view when the scope is nestled in the arc above the "rounded peak" caption above.

The CCC were a productive bunch. Here are statistics from a Visitor Center exhibit about them. I've seen their work in nearly every park I've visited, especially in the southwest.

I think, though, that the Value of Work statement might be a mistake. Instead of $21 today, I'm sure they meant $21 billion.

Eighty-six percent of Chiricahua National Monument is designated Wilderness. The Wilderness Act of 1964, (making it 50 years old this year), defines it as "an area of undeveloped Federal land retaining its primeval character and influence without permanent improvements or human habitation, which is protected and managed so as to preserve its natural conditions . . . ." Which means no development, no roads, no porta-loos, no concessions. I think it's pretty nice that 53% of all Park Service lands have been thus designated.

After we made our tour we stopped for a picnic lunch and were visited by some gray-breasted jays.

It was time to leave when we were presented with this.

Thought of the day:

If future generations are to remember us with gratitude rather than contempt we must leave them with more than the miracles of technology. We must leave them a glimpse of the world as it was in the beginning, not just after we got through with it. - Lyndon Johnson

Friday, October 24, 2014

Two cats, one car, three days

Well, I made it home just fine, and in three days, not the four I'd planned. The cats were good as gold the entire trip, the rental car got good mileage, and I didn't crash or nothin'!! I'm just a girl and I did it on my own!! You wouldn't believe the number of people who were incredulous I made the trip by myself.

The first day I was out of Madison at 5 a.m., doubting the GPS for about the first hour because it lead me down county road after county road in the pitch dark but it sure enough got me to Kansas City, where my friend Cheryl lives. I was in time to watch the Royals win the fourth game of four in the playoffs. I'm so out of the loop on any kind of news that I 1) had no idea the Royals were in the playoffs and 2) that there were even playoffs going on.

The GPS took me off the freeway, predictably empty mid-day because of the ball game, through this neighborhood and that, and when I made the turn onto her street, I laughed out loud. Yeah, she lives on this street. I sure know how to pick my friends.

The original nineteen homes were built between 1897 and 1917. The entrance, or gate as I called it, was made in 1897 of white Arkansas limestone. Until 2001 this remained a private street, often referred to as "Lumberman's Row" because of the lumber and construction tycoons who lived there. It is on the National Register of Historic Places.

Cheryl doesn't have the biggest home on the block but it's surely the prettiest. Her living room - it's like being in a tree house, with the light coming in all those windows, filtered through trees on the brink of color change. The guest room is downstairs and comes complete with a massage chair that was just what I needed after the past couple of long days. Her home is as welcoming as the nicest B&B I have ever been in. I wanted to camp out until they threw me out.

Before a marvelous dinner that involved sundried tomatoes soaked in red wine, we strolled the neighborhood, where she has lived for 31 years.

I wish I'd taken more photos but I felt like such a voyeur, gawping at all the big houses. Here's what I did get, this first one with a wonderful deep porch.

The arched shelter over the front door is glass panels, fringed in front with more glass.

My favorite thing on this house is the wide dormer; it entirely makes the house. The stone is also very nice and is used on another house across the street.

Pretty, with the kind of porch I wish I could tack onto my movable house.

What do you do in all those rooms?  But I have to say I really like the second-floor rooms surrounded with windows.

More of that pretty stone.

The next morning I was out the door by 6, fortified with two cappuccinos made by Cheryl's husband, and aimed for Dalhart, Texas but once there I kept on going. The hotel I had booked was ickily less than desirable, it was only about 2:00, and was much too hot to leave the cats in the car, so I kept driving until I got to Albuquerque, about 850 miles that day. The next day was an easy 450. Because I prepaid for gas I took the rental into the Tucson airport on fumes, very good planning on my part, if I may say so. Insurance on the rental car was $50 a day because I don't have personal car insurance, mostly because I don't own a car, so I also took the car back pretty grimy and cat-hairy, what I thought was a fair exchange. The long day on Thursday saved me a day and about $400 in travel costs. The entire trip was much less arduous/miserable than I expected it to be.

I missed being able to stop wherever I wanted, the national historic sites like the Amana Colonies and Chiricahua National Monument, and museums like the Negro Leagues Baseball and American Jazz museums in KC. But I did make a stop in Hatch, New Mexico for a ristra. When I first went to Arizona via New Mexico a year and a half ago, I drove through Hatch but for whatever reason didn't stop. This time I pulled over at the first roadside stand and bought a small ristra of adobo chiles from this man. I've already used chiles from it twice.

There is nothing like getting out, getting away, to appreciate our beautiful country. 

From the plane window I saw sinuous curves of lakes;  fingers of rivers and streams meandering for miles; shadows of clouds passing over the landscape in so similar a color to the water that it took a second look to see which darkness was which; starkly angular lines of plowed and planted fields; the soft roundness of treetops turning color; identical Monopoly houses lined up one by one; sheep grazing on emerald fields.

On the road, crisp autumn colors against an improbable blue sky reminded me of going to a cider mill when I was a girl; there were achingly beautiful shortening days with the snap of early morning cold that is so distinctively autumn, so indicative of winter on its way; rolling rows of dull gold harvested corn in fields of dark, rich soil. 

I love a road trip.


Thought of the day:

You got to be careful if you don’t know where you’re going, because you might not get there. - Yogi Berra 

Monday, October 13, 2014

Two cats in a car for four days. Lord, have mercy.

I'm flying to Madison tomorrow to pick up my cats. I had them with me when I was thrown out of left my house and was traveling in Grace, my conversion van. They were miserable and I asked my younger kid to come to Petrified Forest to get them and take them home with him. They've done really well there but he can't take care of them now and I'm going to get them.

So I'm flying into Milwaukee, to be exact, driving to Madison, loading the car with some things he's been keeping for me, like my teapot that he had made for me, my food processor, pasta machine, and his KitchenAid mixer and heading out very early the next day. Gosh, does it sound like I like to cook? I actually had a KitchenAid of my own but it was one of those things that technically went missing when Voldemort moved my things from Washington to my son's house, but I can put two and two together and I know where it really is. My son has generously turned his over to me and I am generously giving him my handheld KitchenAid in exchange.

One-way car rental rates are punitive to the point of sadistic. I'm renting what's known in car-rental parlance as Compact, one step up from Economy, and I'm paying just short of $1000, not including insurance, for four days' use. That's about 1800 miles in four days' driving. Why don't I take an extra day or two? Because $1000 divided by four days is $250 a day.

One good, really good thing, that's coming out of this trip, in addition to getting my girls back and seeing my son, is I'm going to be able to spend some time with my friend Cheryl, my Drifting Grace friend I met at the North Rim. She lives directly on my route and has offered the use of the guest room for the night.

Here is the prize at the end of the rainbow, my girl cats, Hyacinth and Rose.

Hyacinth of the golden eyes.

 Rose, who favors being in bags and boxes.

You might wonder how I can tell them apart. Silly question! A mother always knows.

Thought of the day:

Dogs have masters. Cats have staff. - Anon.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

My new favorite place

[Edited 10/12 to correct some dreadful writing.]

I'm always on the lookout for a place I might want to settle when I'm ready to hang up the keys. Flagstaff has been at the top of my list even though it's about 7,000 feet, gets winter, and real estate prices are high; on the plus side it's beautiful country and there's lots to do.

Then I came to southern Arizona. It doesn't get a lot more southern than Tumacácori, about 30 minutes from Nogales, Arizona and Nogales, Sonora, Mexico. Its big, gigantic minus is the summer heat, but at this time of year it's stunningly beautiful with wonderful weather.

There was nowhere for us to park at Tumacácori (a National Historic Park) so the woman I work for, the Chief of Interpretation, has paid for a spot for us at a private park about 15 or so minutes up the road. I love it all, the RV park, the national park, the whole area. The people here are friendly, outgoing, and made me feel welcome from the first. 

Another of the rangers is a friend of our friend Richard from Petrified Forest, which is how we ended up here. Their families were visiting one day and ranger Melanie from Tumacácori just happened to say she wished she could find someone to organize their files. She's been here a year or so and has tried to tackle the mess but there are only so many hours in the day. Richard joked later that when she said that, he started looking around for a hidden camera, and then told her, Do I have someone for you! I soon heard from the Chief here, asking if I could come, even for a few weeks. I was able to shoehorn in a couple of months between the North Rim and Death Valley. I'm already so glad I did.

This is the best little park no one has ever heard of. 

Construction of the Franciscan mission church at Tumacácori took place from about 1800 through the early 1820s. Due to lack of funds, the plans for the structure not only had to be modified, the building was never finished. I'm still learning about the place and don't have a lot of its history down yet, so I hope my initial photos speak for themselves.

The Civilian Conservation Corps, whose work I like to see still in place, and just as I have found in many other places in the Southwest, completed work here. According to The Living New Deal,

“The grounds [of the Spanish Colonial Revival style Tumacácori visitor center, museum, offices and enclosed garden built in 1936] were...developed by the Civilian Conservation Corps enrollees. The visitor center doors were built by CCC enrollees at Bandelier National Monument. Furniture was constructed by CCC enrollees from Chiracahua and Chaco Canyon National Monuments.”

The entrance to the Visitor Center, a building on the National Register, is below. I said to HH that I wish the sandbags weren't there next to the door, but I understand why they are, because I recently saw some photos from a couple of years ago that showed this entire area underwater. Just this week we caught the remains of a tropical storm that inundated us with rain for two days, more than I've seen in a long, long time. 

Below is the mission church. It was never completed due to a lack of funds and was abandoned in the mid-1800s. 

The sanctuary of the church, below, still shows some decorative painting. During its years of disuse, treasure hunters and vandals, as well as time and weather, took their toll. Restoration and preservation are persistent, ongoing projects. This page from the park's website talks of the ongoing work done here and at two other missions that fall under its jurisdiction, Los Santos Ángeles de Guevavi and San Cayetano de Calabazas. Tomorrow HH and I are going on a tour of those two places that, outside of a few days a year, are not otherwise open to the public.

The sound of Gregorian chanting, rising and falling, fills the nave. The recorded music is quite a powerful tool to give a sense of place and time. I told HH after I visited for the first time that it's a sacred place. It has a presence. As I've said before, I've been in magnificent cathedrals that have had no more impact on me than places of physical beauty and then there are these precious pockets of spiritual life.

There is also a nicely done museum here, with this diorama showing the interior of the church as it used to be. A push of a button to the side plays more of the Gregorian chant.

The dome over the sanctuary does not show from the front. I've seen photos of its restoration, maybe ten years ago.

Behind the church is the mortuary and cemetery, no longer active. The last burial was of a one-year-old girl in 1916.

This is the view from the far end of the cemetery looking south toward the mortuary and sanctuary end of the church.

There is a most delightful courtyard and garden between the visitor center and office area where I work. Fortunately the loo is through this garden so I always can manufacture an excuse to be out there. One morning more than a dozen volunteer gardeners were weeding and planting and connecting drip watering systems, just before the sky opened with its natural watering system.

This is a view from a corner of the garden, looking northwest. The visitor center is at left, the covered walk leads to the office at the right, and behind it is the way to the church grounds. A trip to the loo requires a circumnavigation of the garden. Just to keep an eye on it, you know.

I'm scheduled to leave at the end of November but hope to stay one more week for Fiesta. The time will fly; it always does when I don't want to go.

Thought of the day:
When the image is new, the world is new. - Gaston Bachelard, The Poetics of Space 

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Star gazing

We hung out in Tucson for a couple of weeks after leaving the North Rim, waiting for approval to head south to Tumacácori, where we are now. While we were waiting we did some sightseeing around the area, including the basilica in Phoenix where there are more stained glass windows by Emil Frei (coming soon).

We also headed to Kitt Peak National Observatory one day. I'd heard of this place but so sketchily that I didn't have a clue where it is. Now I know.

It's a long, long drive up a mountain, up to where the air is clearer at about 6900 feet. Not as clear as in decades past, but better than at a lower elevation.

This was my first glimpse of some of the "twenty-four optical and two radio telescopes representing eight astronomical research institutions," as shown on the sign near the entrance. It's an impressive place. 

The glass-tile mural on the outside of the Visitor Center was made by Juan Baz from Mexico City; it incorporates Mayan astronomical designs and a representation of one of the oldest observatories in the Americas, dating to 900-1000 AD: the Caracol at Chichen Itza in Yucatan, Mexico.

Every once in a while when I was a kid, like maybe once, my classmates and I were taken to Cranbrook Institute of Science in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan. I remember objects like this one, and how cool they were, but absorbed not one iota of science from any of them. I still don't know what it is or how it works or what its significance is, but it's still pretty cool.

This sun clock's polished sphere represents the sun. The image moves 15° an hour (15*24 hours=360°). Isn't science marvelous? Maybe I'm finally old enough to absorb some of it. Its designer is Stephen Jacobs.

Here is another clock in the form of a sun "dial." The shadow of the small ball on the curved plate gives the local solar time (vertical lines). The shadow also tells the approximate date (horizontal lines), except as I read it, it said it was March something, so obviously science just doesn't stick to me. Maybe you have to use deductive reasoning to know it's fall and not spring. Hmm.

We timed it just right to prevent an employee from going to lunch so he could show us the works of one of the telescopes. I was able to look through this one at the sun to see eruptions along the edge and spots moving across its surface.

The sum of my knowledge about this next one is that it's a solar telescope but is also used for daylight observation of the moon, studying the effects of meteor strikes. HH  tries his best, bless his heart, to explain how it all works but I'm just a girl and don't get it.

 The Peak has a lovely 360° view of the surrounding country.

We took an elevator to the top of this one, the Mayall 4-meter telescope,

to get a bird's-eye view of many other telescopes at the observatory.

It was amazing to me that there were no security checkpoints, no metal detectors, no admission charge, no keepers of the gates, at any of these buildings. Some of them were locked but the ones that were not were wide open to visitors.

Inside the Mayall was a series of construction photos, three of them reproduced here.

It was completed back in the day when this was a hotspot for astronomical observations. The Hubble has made these somewhat obsolete although researchers can still reserve time. Understanding the very little that I do about how these things work, and understanding a little more about the possibilities, the limitless boundaries that have never been explored, I wish I'd had a better education. The more I travel, the more I know how little I know.

Thought of the day:

It's like the universe screams in your face:
"Do you know what I am? How grand I am? How old I am? Can you even comprehend what I am? What are you compared to me?"
And when you know enough science, you can just smile up at the universe and reply,
"Dude, I am you!"
- Phil Hellenes