Sunday, June 28, 2015

Goodbye, God, I'm going to Bodie

There has been a lull in the activity at my house. HH was gone for over a week, and the two weekends I had by myself were filled with hanging out in the house in sweats, studying Spanish, reading, getting in early-morning walks, and binge-watching Friends on Netflix. There's not much blog fodder in any of that, but golly, I love streaming.

He's back and yesterday we went over the mountains again, this time to Bodie, the site of a gold mining town that was known as the "most lawless, wildest, and toughest mining camp in the West." Bodie is on the National Register of Historic Places, is a California Historic Landmark, and was made a California state park in 1962. 

Founded in 1859 by W.S. Bodey and E.S. "Black" Taylor, it became one of the richest gold and silver strikes ever. The mill was established in 1861 and the town began to grow, starting with about 20 miners. Over 25 years, one source says it yielded almost $15 million in ore, another says $34 million.

According to Wikipedia, "the district's name was changed from "Bodey," "Body," and a few other phonetic variations, to "Bodie," after a painter in the nearby boomtown of Aurora, lettered a sign "Bodie Stables." The website DesertUSA disagrees, saying that the change in spelling of the town's name has often been attributed to an illiterate sign painter, but it was really a deliberate change by the citizenry to ensure proper pronunciation.

By 1879, Bodie had a population of 5000 -10000 people (every source has a different number) and around 2,000 buildings. Toward the end of the 1870s, some of the single, get-rich-quick miners had moved on to new horizons and families moved in, along with robbers, more miners, store owners, gunfighters, prostitutes, and people from every country in the world. At one time there were reported to be 65 saloons in town. Among the saloons were numerous houses of ill repute, gambling halls, and opium dens – an entertainment outlet for everyone. There’s a story about a little girl whose family was moving from San Francisco to Bodie; depending on who tells it, she wrote in her diary either “Good, by God, I’m going to Bodie.” -or- “Goodbye God, I’m going to Bodie."

California coined the term "arrested decay," which means the structures that were in place in 1962 when Bodie became a state park will be maintained as they appeared in that year, but only to the extent that they will not be allowed to fall over or otherwise deteriorate in a major way. By putting new roofs on the buildings, rebuilding foundations, and resealing glass that is in window frames, the State is able to keep buildings from naturally decaying. Nothing, though, can stop the wildfire and lightning strikes and time that have destroyed all but a hundred or so buildings, nor can anything now protect the land from the cyanide and mercury used indiscriminately in gold processing.

Except for the stamp mill, farther down the page, and the area of the poisoned land, visitors are free to wander the town. There might be a building or two that's open to walk into, but generally, to see inside, you have to climb on a rock or a log to peer through the grimy windows. It has the effect of a visual eavesdropping on the lives of Bodie's former inhabitants.

I took a ton of photos and got them all processed. Some I left in color, when conversion to black and white just didn't look right, but the following have the look of the past that I hoped to convey. Some have no commentary from me; I think the buildings can tell their stories just fine, on their own.

Electricity was introduced in 1892 when the Standard Company built its own hydroelectric plant thirteen miles away. This pioneering installation marked one of the country's first transmissions of electricity over a long distance.

The Methodist church:

The sky wasn't this dark and forbidding; I did this because I liked the effect.

The windows in all of the buildings have probably not been cleaned in decades. My initial thought was, great, there goes my photos, but the results were perfect: the mists of time, and all that.

Everything in every building is as it was left. For whatever reason, when people left Bodie they took themselves and nothing else. HH thinks it might be because the furnishings belonged to the company, not to the inhabitants, but we don't know. I for one am astonished that it wasn't cleaned out by thieves decades ago.

I once paid almost $1000 for a dresser like this one, and now wonder who that woman was. I did it because it was similar to one that my grandmother had; why was that so important?

That's a bone. Don't ask me.

One of four or five fire stations but the only one left.

I think this was the jail.

The general store.

We toured a stamp mill, the last one of nine remaining. It was the processing facility that pulverized ore to particles as fine as sand. Inside this building were, among other machinery, 350-pound cylinders, called bosses, attached to the end of a long rod. The rods were lifted by cables powered by an engine, and dropped about twenty feet onto double-fist-sized rock, ninety times a minute, twenty hours a day. The noise must have been the stuff nightmares are made of.

This didn't strike me as eerie until I uploaded it to the computer. Once I saw it on the bigger screen, I would not have been surprised to see a face in the shadows, just beyond the curtains, looking forward through time at me. 

Two people I talked to asked if I'd been to Bodie before. When I told them no, they both said it's a place that calls you back, and you will return. I understand what they meant. It's a fascinating place, and every glimpse through a window is just one of many stories. It's not a museum or a curated presentation of what we think life was like; it's time and lives frozen in place. Yes, I'll be back.


Thought of the day:
...a sea of sin, lashed by the tempests of lust and passion. - Reverend F.M. Warrington's take on Bodie, 1881

Sources: Bodie dot com website
California State Parks brochure

Saturday, June 20, 2015

A Cold War relic

It seems like ages ago when HH and I went to the Titan Missile Museum south of Tucson. We were there at the beginning of October, when we first went to Tumacácori, so it's been about nine months. I coulda birthed a baby in that time. What a nightmare to even think about.

Across from the museum entrance is this framework for a Christmas tree, complete with the Bethlehem star up top. 

The sign on the fence reveals that this thing is an antenna, and says there's a danger from high frequency radiation so I stayed across the parking lot. I'm sure they're joking.

A gigantic rock near the entrance is a five ton chunk of azurite and malachite from Morenci, Arizona that was donated by a local couple. Not to be a cynic or anything, but what does this have to do with Cold War missiles except as a tax deduction for the donors? There must be a connection I don't know about.

A sign at the museum tells how the one lone missile remaining in the silo survived.
In September 1981, the Reagan administration decided to deactivate the TitanII ICBMs. Over the next few years the missiles were removed from the silos and placed in storage for use in launching satellites. In order to assure the Soviet Union that the silos were being deactivated according the the SALT treaty each silo was first stripped of useful equipment and then the top 25 feet of the silo was blown apart using 2,800 pounds of explosives. After being left exposed for several months so that Soviet satellites could verify the destruction the remains were filled in and covered to look as much like the surrounding area as possible. Only one silo escaped destruction to become the Titan Missile Museum.
Entrance to the silo is by guided tour only. The tour we took led us about 35 feet underground, beginning in a literal hole in the ground called the Access Portal. Signs at the top of the stairs warned about rattlesnakes so I was sure to not be first down the steps. From there we passed through the Blast Lock Area with a concrete and steel door that weighs three tons, then walked down a corridor... the Launch Control Center. The tour guide asked for a volunteer to sit at the command panel. He chose a boy who turned out not to speak English, so this man, below, elbowed his way forward and took over, but he didn't get to do anything.

It looks like a lot of empty space, doesn't it, less complicated than the cockpit of an airplane? The simplicity belies the strict regimen that was adhered to by the staff that monitored it in in 24-hour shifts. The website Roadside America says this:
The scariest part of the Titan Missile Museum is not the missile itself, but the antiquated equipment on which our national security once rested. It looks marginally better than the creaky instrument arrays in old science fiction movies[,]
...with analog dials, toggle switches, and a punch tape reader to feed the coordinates into the guidance system. All low-tech but high-power.

Wikipedia's article on the museum says the closest the missile came to being launched was when Kennedy was shot. Suspecting the Russians, whoever was in charge of such decisions ordered that the keys used to launch the missile be placed on the tables at the launch consoles in preparation. Just in case. The keys were not placed in their switches.

Most of the area is a mandatory No Lone Zone, both for safety and security. There were many fail-safe measures in place.

All of the normally stationary parts of the launch area are mounted on springs, and the walls aren't attached to the floors, allowing them to move independently, thereby protecting the complex from attack. In other words, if it was struck first, it should still be able to retaliate. I'm not sure about the science of that. Wouldn't it have been vaporized?

Roadside America calls the paint color Asylum Green.

After the interesting session in the Launch Control Center, we were taken over to the silo.

The advantage Titan II had over earlier missiles came from its fuel. Earlier missiles relied on liquid oxygen as part of their propellant, which boils away rapidly at normal temperatures, so it couldn't be stored aboard the missile. It had to be loaded just prior to launch, which took time.

Titan II used two chemicals that were stable at around 60 degrees, so the missile could be stored in the silo, ready to go at any time, and could launch in less than a minute.

Each of the 54 Titan II missiles - 18 each at Little Rock, Wichita, and Tucson - had a 9-megaton warhead that could be delivered to targets more than 6,000 miles away, and was capable of taking out a 900-square-mile area. Its top speed was about 16,000 miles an hour. This is the only remaining missile silo; all the others were demolished.

After the underground guided tour, we were allowed to roam around aboveground by ourselves.

The security at ground level included these motion-sensing devices, installed at four corners of the grounds. They were called AN/TPS-39, shortened to "tipsies" (from the TPS part of the name) by the crew of the complex. Over the 25 years the program was active, there was never a serious security issue.

Looking down at the top of the missile.

I expected the museum to be a National Park Service Historic Site but it's not; it's run by a nonprofit foundation. Many of the volunteers are retired engineers and scientists. The two guides we had, one at the introductory film and the other underground, were knowledgable beyond the canned presentation. In addition, the museum's director is a former Titan II Missile Combat Crew Commander, and gives her own separate tour, from the perspective of a commander.


Thought of the day:

I don't know why you use a fancy French word like detente when there's a good English phrase for it - cold war. - Golda Meir

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Mama got a new set of wheels

When we were still at Death Valley I started to get the itch for a 4-wheel-drive vehicle because so much of the park is inaccessible without the traction of the two extra wheels. We of course had a truck; it was HH's dowry when we started cohabitating, but it was only two-wheel-drive.

It seems the vehicle of choice in those parts is the Subaru. They're small, 4WD, have high clearance for the rough backcountry roads, and one of the models is long enough to allow full-length sleeping in the back. I started getting Subaru envy and even looked at them at a dealer in Las Vegas.

If this was going to be my solution, it created the problem of transporting it when we're on the move. Two drivers? Tow it behind the trailer? Towing flat requires a standard transmission, and it turns out that the Subaru model that's long enough to sleep in is no longer made that way. The other alternative, maneuvering a 65-foot rig through traffic, wouldn't be fun under any circumstances, so I was back where I started.

Then HH had the idea of getting another truck and that's what I did. I found a sweet Dodge Ram in Fresno that had just about everything I wanted and we went over to get it.

Here she is:

It's a 2012 diesel model and had just 19,000 miles on it. One thing we really wanted was a short bed on the back. When we were at Big Bend a while ago we talked to a man who was driving a short bed pickup with a 5th-wheel hitch in the back, which I had no idea could be done. Someone came up with a brilliant hitch that slides when you make a turn, giving an extra sixteen inches so the corner of the trailer doesn't crash into the cab of the truck. When a fellow volunteer told me about the damage he got when he forgot to manually release his hitch, it convinced us to spend a little more to get the version that automatically slides and returns to its normal position. It's a miracle to behold.

We also got the model that mounts under the bed of the truck. This allows us to knock out four pins and remove the hitch, leaving a completely flat truck bed, perfect for camping. Amazing. HH, clever man that he is, also bought a hoist that that hooks onto the hitch and swings it out and to the ground. We were going to remove it when we got here, to save a couple of hundred pounds extra weight, but because it's now fire season it's better to leave it installed so we can make a quick getaway if needed.

After that was done, we installed a rollup tonneau cover that cuts down wind resistance when we're not towing and is fastened open with straps when we are. Finally, after two disastrous online purchases of running boards that didn't fit, we had the right ones installed in Fresno a couple of weeks ago. That's all just on the outside.

In general, I'm not interested in mechanics. If something does what it's supposed to do, that's all I need to know. I don't care about how or why, just that it does. But this truck has the best transmission of any vehicle I've ever had. I can't explain it but it tows like a dream and when we're not towing I can use a manual override to the automatic transmission that's particularly effective, to keep from having to use the brakes on the many downhills around here. It's a heck of a truck.

And how does it do on backcountry roads? I wouldn't know. I never had a chance to take it into the wild beyond before we left Death Valley. Next winter for sure when we go back.


Thought of the day:

You might be a redneck have spent more on your pickup truck than on your education. - Jeff Foxworthy

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Yosemite wildflowers, weeds, and naturalized invaders

After the stellar floral performance at Death Valley I had high hopes for Yosemite as well. There were already blooms in motion when we got here in early April, some I'd seen elsewhere and some new. Early on, I went out to the Hite Cove Trail, known as being one of the best for wildflowers, and stayed on it that day until the crowds got too thick and the display thinned. Later I was told it was a poor year for Yosemite flowers, that in good years entire hillsides are covered in California poppies, which surprised me because it seemed like there was a lot to see.

So, in no particular order of bloom, here are some of my favorites. It's been pointed out to me that if I can't identify what I call wildflowers, which to me means anything in bloom in fields and along the road, it could be that they're considered weeds or have naturalized from people's gardens. 

This must be a weed, just like the one following it, because it's not in my book.

This pretty thing blooms near the one above. 

Most likely a Bruneau Marispoa lily, Calochortus bruneaunis.

Harvest brodiaea, Brodiaea elegans. Sierra Indians relied on all the brodiaea for food. The bulbs were dug early in the spring and steamed, roasted, or eaten raw. The flavor is sweet and nutty, not unlike water chestnuts. Or so it's been written.

There were a lot of these golden dragonflies on the Hite Cove Trail when I went in early April. 

Also several moths foraging -

One of my favorites, the delightful fairy lantern or white globe lily, Calochortus albus. Inside the flower, at the base of the three petals, are tiny nectar glands that attract pollinators. Above the nectar glands are silky hairs that gently brush pollen off a visiting insect, pollinating the plant. There are fourteen species of this plant in the Sierra.

This, surprisingly, is the beginning of the seed pod for the fairy lantern. How it goes from the tender, fragile globe above to this succulent-like lobed structure would be an interesting progression to watch.

A mystery from last year's bloom.

This is Mustang clover, Linanthus montanus. It's not in the clover family, but you can see the similarity to clover in the dense head from which the flowers form.

Dried remnants of some flower from last year, like a candelabra.

I don't know this one. It's not a good photo but all there is of this little butterfly-looking flower.

Blazing star, Mentzelia lindleyi crocea. I've seen large patches of it on hillsides along my commute - what a traffic stopper!

Simple dried grasses have elegant forms, like a classic ballerina pose.

This is an annual poppy, Eschscholzia caespitosa. It's similar to the California poppy, E. Californica, the state flower, which is larger, more robust, and has a prominent red ridge at the base of the petals. All California poppies close at night and on cloudy days, presumably to prevent the pollen from getting wet.

This Western Blue Flag, Iris missouriensis, was along the highway I sometimes walk to work, just one lone flower, always in shade, and I took a million photos in hope of getting one usable one. Later, more bloomed in the same area but they were still always in deep shade, so this took some processing time to lighten it and give it contrast.

When an insect lands on a sepal, it crawls into the center of the plant toward the nectar, brushing against the style and thus rubbing another plant's pollen onto it as it picks up a new load. Some Native Americans used the leaves, woven into mats and lined with cattail "down" for baby diapers.

Pine violet, Viola lobata. These are sparse, at least where I've seen them. The description in my book says the lowest petal extends into a spur that holds the nectary gland, with the veins acting as nectar guides in the same way as the veins do on iris blossoms.

One of my favorite photos is this one of a backlit succulent about the size of a silver dollar.

There are many flowers I have difficulty identifying. They look similar to what's in my book but sometimes not a perfect match. This is one of them. It may be a Smooth Woodland Star, Lithophragma glabrum. I just give up after a while.

Baby Blue Eyes, Nemophilia menziesii. The explorer John C. Fremont wrote that "the blue fields of nemophilia and the golden poppy represent fairly the skies and gold of California."

At first glance this looks much like Baby Blue Eyes but, nope.

Possibly Mountain Jewelflower, Streptanthus tortuosus. 

Here is Twining brodiaea, Brodiaea volubilis, an amazing plant that twines around other plants to four or five feet. It will continue to twine, grow, and bloom even if severed at the base.

This unusual plant is Miner's Lettuce, Claytonia perfoliata, and is named for John Clayton, and early American botanist who collected plant specimens in Virginia. Which doesn't explain why this California plant is named for him. Its leaves are edible and are eaten as a salad. Good to know!

Not sure about this one, either, but the color! Just eat it with a spoon.

Maybe a monkeyflower. Sure is pretty, whatever it is.

Chinese houses, Collinsia heterophylla, are some of the most unusual flowers I've encountered. Can you see how the tiers might resemble a pagoda? 

This is heartleaf or purple milkweed, asclepias cordfolia. What's interesting about this plant is that it doesn't turn its face to the sun; it droops at about 45 degrees. It could have been given a name that includes penta, because of its five sepals, five petals, and five concave hoods. Native Americans extracted material from this milkweed to make rope; the plant was also used as a contraceptive and a snakebite remedy. Larvae of the monarch butterfly feed on its leaves. I've seen fewer than a dozen monarchs here. I hope there are lots of larvae munching away.

Farewell-to-spring, Clarkia williamsonii, is so named due to its late spring flowering. We have seen acres of hillsides in a wash of pink from these flowers.

One day, it seemed, these flowers popped up out of nowhere. They occur in large stands, not as individual flowers, and remind me of something out of Dr. Seuss. They're a variety of Argemone, a prickly poppy, but I can't tell which one. Most of the prickly poppies I've seen described say they're 2-3 feet tall. All of these are 5-6 feet.

Live-forever, Dudleya cymosa, is a succulent perennial that I saw coming out of almost bare rock along a road I walk between home and work. They were in poor show this year and this is the best I could do. I'd heard of this plant and so was glad to see one. 

Fiddleneck, Amsinckia intermedia. I think. Or caterpillar plant.

There are more in my arsenal. Be warned.


Thought of the day: 

A weed is a plant that has mastered every survival skill except for learning how to grow in rows. - Doug Larson