Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Yes, we wanted rain....

For the past two days, we've had buckets of rain for relatively short periods of time. It's amazing to watch on radar as the cells move in and out. Yesterday's rain came in two cells separated by less than half an hour. The first was unusually heavy; it was a pounding that made me very glad I was inside.

This morning I was at my desk, fortunately looking somewhat busy when my boss walked in. She works in the Valley, a good 30 minutes away, and I don't see her often. It turns out that she can't get to work via her regular route today or for the undefined future because Highway 140 between where I live and the park entrance is under a rockslide.

Last October, as the story was told to me, an RV was traveling 140 in this area and scraped its roof against a rock overhang that extends over half of the road. HH and I eye that overhang when we drive that road, and speculate whether or not the trailer could pass underneath, because there is no sign indicating clearance. When the RV connected with the rock, sparks flew and started a fire up the mountainside. The fire grew to at least 200 acres, and an airplane pilot died while flying over to drop retardant.

The fire left the mountainside bare of vegetation, and the past couple days' rain brought it down. I got this photo from the grapevine. I don't know the photographer's name, but she was driving along the road when the slide occurred. No one was hurt but lots of people had to do some walking to get out of the area because their cars were trapped in the debris.

My guess is it's not a matter of shoveling the rocks and mud off the road; the slope will have to be stabilized and the road itself repaired. There are other entrances to the park, of course, but they're all spaced far apart. What a mess to be faced with at the height of the tourist season.


Thought of the day:

Behind every cloud is another cloud. - Judy Garland

Friday, July 17, 2015

Fresno's not bad at all

We often head in the direction of Fresno when we set out to explore on the weekends. People in the office speak disparagingly of the city but I don't understand why. Voldemort (the ex-husband) also made jokes about it, but he also said Flagstaff, which I love, was a dump, so that should have told me something. Maybe because HH and I usually live so far away from "civilization" that any decent shopping sends us into ecstasy, but we think there's a lot to like about Fresno, other than the summer heat.

A couple weekends ago we went to tour the Forestiere Underground Gardens, and to follow a driving tour of National Register buildings. I took several photos of the gardens but none of them turned out to be worth keeping, so I'll jump right in to the driving tour. Unless you like architecture, you should bail now.

The building below isn't on the National Register but we passed it on the way to one that was, and I walked back to get a better look. Our first sight of it was from the right side of the building, which reveals its triangular shape designed for a triangular lot. If not for its shape, I probably wouldn't have looked twice. It was built to be a fire alarm station in 1917 and is now a 911 call center.

This is the building we were driving to when I saw the fire alarm station. It was the home of Herman and Helen Brix, completed in 1911. Brix tried his hand at farming but gave it up to go to Alaska, where he made some money in gold. Meanwhile, oil was booming in California and when Brix returned he invested in oil properties and made his fortune, adding to it with investments in Fresno property. The historic Fresno website describes the house he commissioned as "a brilliant example of a period-inspired Italian Villa, the only residence in Fresno built in this lavishly-embellished style." Brix's home is now home to a law firm. It's so good to see a building as lovely as this being maintained.

Holy Trinity Armenian Apostolic Church was the first church built in the tradition of Armenian church architecture in the United States, and the first designed by Fresno's first Armenian architect, Lawrence Karekin Cone (Condrajian). It's the dome that sets this church apart as Armenian. It wasn't open and no one was around, so I couldn't get in.

Most of this description of the Kearney Mansion was taken directly from the Historic Fresno website: Martin Kearney (1842-1906) was a substantial contributor to the agricultural development of both Fresno County and the state of California. He devised a subdivision system whereby fencing and irrigation for all the lots in the colony were provided cooperatively. This enabled middle-class purchasers to start farming without the tremendous financial outlay otherwise necessary. 

Rudolph Ulrich, a landscape architect from New York, laid out the design for this park and the boulevard leading to it. Over the next fourteen years, Kearney turned a flat, barren landscape into what The San Francisco Chronicle called the "most beautiful park on the West Coast." At the turn of the century the park may have contained more species of trees, vines, shrubs and roses than any equal area in the United States. The eleven-mile boulevard leading from downtown Fresno to the park was lined with alternating eucalyptus and palms, interspersed with 18,000 white and pink oleanders.

The house is a basic rectangular form with walls of two-foot-thick unstabilized adobe brick, covered with a thin coat of plaster for waterproofing. Between the thick walls and the covered porch on all sides, the house would have stayed quite cool.

The Meux Home was built in 1889 by Dr. Thomas Meux (1838-1929). During the Civil War he enlisted as a private in the Ninth Tennessee Volunteer Regiment of the Confederate Army. After four years he left the service as an assistant surgeon with the rank of Captain. The Meux family moved to Fresno in 1887; the house was built in 1888. Meux established his medical practice the following year and served as a physician from his office and home the rest of his life. The home was continuously occupied by the Meux family for eighty years. It was later acquired by the city of Fresno and is presently open to the public as the Meux Home Museum.

The old Fresno water tower 
is is my favorite building on the driving tour. It made me think, Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let down your hair.

This may be the first time I've seen one of these markers. It was near the door - An American Water Landmark, significant in the history of public water supply. There was probably one on Boulder Dam but if so, I missed it.

The water tower was built in 1894, replacing two wooden tanks. It stands 100 feet tall and holds 250,000 gallons. The second and third floors were designated for the Fresno city library. I'm no civil engineer, but I am a librarian, and two floors of books with 250,000 gallons of water just waiting to cascade onto them doesn't sound like a good idea.

Across the street from the water tower is this fire call box. I remember versions of these from when I was a kid, and was surprised to read on Wikipedia that they're still in use - apparently not this one, though.

Above the Gamewell name you can see the fist holding lightning bolts, the company's trademark. Amazingly enough, the company is still in business. A little history of the Gamewell boxes from Wikipedia:
The first practical fire alarm system utilizing the telegraph system was developed by Dr. William Channing and Moses G. Farmer in Boston, Massachusetts in 1852. In 1855, John Gamewell of South Carolina purchased regional rights to market the fire alarm telegraph, obtaining the patents and full rights to the system in 1859. John F. Kennard bought the patents from the government after they were seized after the Civil War, returned them to Gamewell, and formed a partnership, Kennard and Co., in 1867 to manufacture the alarm systems. The Gamewell Fire Alarm Telegraph Co. was formed in 1879. Gamewell systems were installed in 250 cities by 1886 and 500 cities in 1890. By 1910, Gamewell had gained a 95% market share.

There were many more buildings on the tour, but to HH and me these were the most interesting. 

Getting to Fresno takes a couple of hours of driving through some of the most intensively farmed land I've ever seen. There are oranges, almonds, olives, and grapes to the horizon in all directions. It's easy to see how devastating the ongoing drought - there's a 26-inch rain deficit so far - could be to the area's economy and the country's food supply. Keep your fingers crossed for the strong El Niño that's predicted for this winter. 


Thought of the day:

How will we know it's us, without our past? - John Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath

Monday, July 13, 2015

Listening to the ancients

While a GPS can talk you to an unknown destination, there's nothing like a good map to give you ideas about where to go in the first place. I like unfolding one onto the table or opening the atlas and scanning the route ahead, looking for red-lettered names of attractions of one kind or another. I compare it to browsing the shelves at the library or paging through a newspaper as opposed to hoping a title online will leap off the page and shout, Read me!

So it was with the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest near - kind of - Bishop, California. Just about a year ago I went to Cedar Breaks National Monument in Utah and saw some bristlecones there. They're the oldest living thing on the planet, as much as 5,000 or so years old, and while I don't know the statistics, I can't imagine they're thick on the ground anywhere. So when I saw the forest's red letters on the map and we were going in that direction anyway, we decided to make the drive about 20 miles off the highway on a road designed to induce carsickness. 

As gross physical specimens, bristlecone pines aren't strong in the beauty department. One of their methods of adaptation to harsh growing conditions is allowing parts of themselves to die off in order to conserve energy for the plant as a whole. The result is a motley collection of dead and living wood. 

Even the living parts can't be described as robust.

Where their beauty comes into focus is in the details.
Every year the trees add growth just under the bark. When it's dry the rings are narrow, while adequate rain is indicated by wider rings. Even so, their slow growth means that some trees have one hundred years of growth compacted into a one inch space of rings.

The key to their longevity is cold, high-elevation growing conditions. The trees at Cedar Breaks thrive at 11,500 feet; these trees are at about 8,000 feet. Under those conditions, insects aren't much of a pest and the slow growth means they produce tiny amounts of resinous, hard wood. I remember a ranger from Cedar Breaks saying that a three-foot sapling is probably 200 years old. More water and warmer temperatures could result in taller, larger pines, but they wouldn't be as hardy.

The oldest trees are in the mountains of eastern California, but there are widely scattered groves throughout the high mountain areas of Nevada and Utah. This wood is what's left of a 3,200 year old tree that died in about 1676. 
Bristlecone needles are in a distinctive five-needle cluster.

I walked a short trail to the area with the oldest trees. In 1953, the man who discovered them was taking core samples nearby when he wandered to this spot. He took a sample from one of them and went back to camp for the night, where he started counting rings. He counted back to beyond 2046 BC, making the tree he had just found more than 4,000 years old. There is one in the White Mountains of California, the Methuselah tree, that is over 5,000 years old. Its location is kept secret.

Here is one last living sculpture from the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest.

When I started on the trail it was overcast and spitting rain, but on my way back the sun broke through.

And this is why they're called bristlecones.

I can only imagine the extent of the excitement and wonder at the discovery in 1953, but am sure I felt some part of it while I was on that trail and laid my hand against the ancient tree next to me. I closed my eyes, breathed, and listened, thinking of the ages it had lived through and the storms it had weathered. It was an uncommon, unexpected physical connection with time.


Thought of the day:

Dwell on the beauty of life. Watch the stars, and see yourself running with them. - Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

Monday, July 6, 2015

The desert is calling

When I met my Drifting Grace friend, Cheryl, last summer, she told me about hiking to the bottom of the Grand Canyon some years earlier and wondering, with despair, what she'd gotten herself into. Getting into the Canyon is one thing; getting out is another. (I know this long distance, never having had the nerve to go into the Canyon myself, doubting my ability to haul my carcass out.) But with her hike leader's encouragement and instruction, she not only made it out just fine, but had a great experience from then on. After all that time, she remembered this leader with respect and fondness, and wished she could let her know just what she'd done for her; as Cheryl put it, "She changed my life." Then Cheryl told me who her leader was - Denise Traver - and I said, I know Denise!

Denise's husband, Brad, is the superintendent at Petrified Forest (PEFO) and I met Denise when I volunteered there the first time, two years ago. I had no idea who this nice, nice woman was, other than the super's wife, and only learned of her legendaryness much later, when Cheryl told me that Denise's story (including the fact that she created and led the first all-woman hike into the Canyon) is in the book Grand Canyon Women. I loved it that I could put my two friends in touch with each other again.

I'm on the email list for Denise's website Hit The Trail, which is devoted to Phantom Ranch, Grand Canyon, Sedona, and the Southwest. Denise was a backcountry ranger at Grand Canyon for years. If ever there was a woman who will always have the Colorado River running through her veins, it's Denise.

This is a long work-around to say that I got an email from Denise's website a couple of days ago with the news that the fledgling Petrified Forest Field Institute (PFFI) will begin outdoor programs in August. I was overjoyed to see this, to say the least. PEFO is the gem that people drive right by on the way to the Grand Canyon, the one people adopt a quizzical look about when I say, Don't leave Arizona without going to Petrified Forest!, the one about which others say, Oh, yeaaahh.... I went there when I was a kid, I think. It's world-class but people don't know it, and this is why I was overjoyed - but not at all surprised. More than one person has told me that Brad has done more to open the park to visitors than any superintendent before him; he lives in the park; he hikes the park; he loves the park. This is not just a job to him. So while the news of the Institute is very, very good, I would expect nothing other than this kind of bridge-building vision from him.

The photos here aren't indicative of the classes being offered, just a reflection of my love of the place.

Here are examples of some of the sessions:

Dig with the park's paleontologist, Bill Parker, one of the world's foremost authorities on the Triassic Era. 

Take classes with prominent photographers who have spent decades photographing America's southwest deserts. 

Hike widely different areas of the park with guides who specialize in its geology and natural and cultural history. 

Explore expansion lands with the park's archeologist, Bill Reitze, to document previously unrecorded petroglyph galleries, some with hundreds of rock art panels. Learn archeological techniques while also learning how information from the petroglyphs is used to understand and interpret the lifestyles of the area's prehistoric peoples.

I want one of each, at least. If you go, you might have your own life-changing experience because Denise is leading tours along PEFO's 28-mile length.

The other night HH and I watched an episode of Ken Burns' series on the National Parks, one featuring Petrified Forest. Anyone who has read much of anything here knows how I love that place. The place, and the people there, were a safe and welcoming harbor for me when I desperately needed one. I didn't know how much I missed it until I saw its spectacular scenery again on television. To paraphrase John Muir, The Painted Desert is calling, and I must go

Soon, I hope. Soon.


Thought of the day:

Does it call you, too?

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Bodie in living color

Last weekend my HH and I went to Bodie, the old mining town that's now a California state park on the National Register of Historic Places. To get there from where we're plugged in, we have to go through Yosemite, meaning we have to go through an entrance gate because we live outside the park. We got an early start last week so had no problem on the way over, and were pleasantly surprised to also not find a line a mile long when we returned, re-entering the park at the Tioga Pass entrance.

This weekend we decided to stay far, far away from the park. As the saying goes, we may be crazy but we're not stupid. For a couple of weeks there have been emails at work about heavy crowds expected for the July 4th weekend: come early, expect delays, lots of people, nowhere to park, assume misery. We took their advice and went to see some things in Fresno instead, in the complete opposite direction, but because I haven't loaded photos from that trip yet I'm exhuming a second round from Bodie.

I converted the photos I showed last time to black and white because the monochrome lent an age-old feel to the buildings and landscape; it gave me the atmosphere of unchanged time that was important to my interpretation of the place. I left several in color though because conversion removed, rather than added, character. Herewith I present them, but first, a black and white of Mono Lake, 

and a shepherd, his dog, and his flock. I have never seen this before in my life. This was on the road over Tioga Pass. We noticed green, green fields that looked cropped or mowed to the ground, and soon saw the reason. I'm sure the shepherd thought I was off my rocker - he saw me aim the camera and waved - but I thought, This is a scene that I would expect out of Basque country. It seemed as exotic to me as it was mundane to him.

HH was looking over my shoulder as I was writing this and saw this photo. He said he saw a sign somewhere that said these actually are Basque sheepherders. I went on a hunt just now to find documentation for that, and found that Peruvian sheepherders are also used. 

I also found out that in 1869 John Muir was hired to shepherd a flock from Yosemite Valley to Tuolomne Meadows for $30 a month, which "suited him fine." After one season of seeing the devastation the grazing sheep left behind, he became a fierce critic of what he called "hoofed locusts." Grazing is no longer allowed in the park; this area is on National Forest land.

Now, on to Bodie in living color. 

I wonder how much credit can be given the doors for holding up this wall.

Siding made entirely out of metal strips.

Two views of the same thing. I couldn't decide which to show.

I love old hardware and commonly find unusual assemblies in cemeteries. When I saw this latch, mounted in the middle of a door, I thought it was new, but look at the worn edge of the wood above it. This is an old 'un. ...although it's not obvious how it works: there's no room to move in either direction.

A wood-burl door knob that's on the same door as the latch above.

What a treat it was to find this siding, apparently made from embossed ceiling panels, hidden in an alcove at the back of a house.

It's a Hollywood product. What better endorsement is there?

This rusty roof glowed like copper.

All that remains of the bank. The rest of the building may have crumbled, but no one is getting through the door.

The bank's safe, made by Hall's Safe and Lock Company. This is seen through the bars at the bottom of the door above.

Up the hill from the town is the last of nine stamp mills that pulverized ore into sand. This water tank is next to the mill.

Down the hill.

One of the crushers with five bosses waiting for power and ore to work again. The 350-pound bosses dropped 90 times a minute, twenty hours a day. I feel insanity coming on.

A watercolor scene through a mill window.

Valiant flag irises bloom before...what? What building was this? There's not enough left to say.

I've been trolling the internet, looking at other people's photos of Bodie, and have discovered a couple of things: lots of folks take show-stopping photos of the place, and I saw just a fraction of what there was to see. We really do need to go back.

Thought of the day:

Wisdom begins in wonder. - Socrates