Showing posts with label Petrified Forest National Park. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Petrified Forest National Park. Show all posts

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Settling in

Last night I spent a pleasant hour with the other volunteers, sitting in a circle, drinking wine and hard lemonade, talking about nothing. Well, not exactly nothing. I learned not to mention Obama. There are three couples here, our four rigs lined up side by side. They will all be gone by mid-June and I hope more are coming in because the volunteer coordinator said operations can't continue without volunteers. It seems to me that the visitor center is entirely staffed by volunteers, and I know a couple of them at least are also rovers: they head out to the trails and points of interest to interact with visitors and answer questions. I watched my neighbor, the one who lent me the heater, draw in a crowd at the visitor center like an ice cream truck in a neighborhood thick with kids. It was something to see. This man was a linguist in the Navy and later a preacher, talents he put to good use. It's obvious how much he enjoys staffing the desk.

The geology of the park dates to the Triassic era and someone asked him when that was. I had to look it up myself and learned it predates the Jurassic era and sometimes it's called the Dawn of Dinosaurs because they started appearing then. I don't remember how many millions of years ago it was but it's a lot. The volunteer surprised me and probably everyone else there with his answer, saying he's a creationist and then he referred them to books on the shelf that would answer the question. You could almost hear a pin drop and then the crowd broke up. On one hand I think he could have answered the question along with a disclaimer but on the other hand I admire him standing by his values.

While we were sitting there one of the rangers on patrol stopped for a few minutes. Someone asked her where she'd been at one point last year and she said she'd been at FLETC. That's the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center in Brunswick, Georgia and where I met the ex-husband. We were there in 1977 and '78, which I mentioned to Mel, the officer. She went blank for a split second and then said she hadn't been born yet. Thank you for that, Mel. Neither were my kids but somehow that seems different.

Theft of the petrified wood is a big problem here. Some estimates put theft at 12 tons a year, and at 150 pounds per cubic foot, that amounts to 160 cubic feet if my math is correct. Assuming people aren't heaving logs into their cars, that's a lot of small chunks going into pockets and under seats. Mel told of a couple on their honeymoon who were caught with 125 pounds of it in their van. Their uncle said it was ok to take it and they took his word for it. I wonder if he ponied up the $2100 fine for them. Another person was reported by one of the volunteer rovers who saw her put a piece in her pocket, and when Mel showed up she asked the woman if she'd taken any pieces. When she said no, Mel said she felt justified in asking her to empty her obviously bulging pockets. Probable cause, after all. I don't know what that fine was.

Today I walked back to the Painted Desert Inn and learned of a trail that leads into the valley. It's an elevation change of about 300 feet in maybe 2/10th of a mile. Steep, slippery with gravel, and just beautiful. When I get the Internet straightened out this week I'll be able up to upload some photos. I saw the steepness and decided to go for it, thinking my mother, god bless her, would never have been able to walk a trail like this one at the age I am now. I was sucking wind on the up-slope, mind you, and my heart was pounding loud enough to hear, but I could do it and it makes me very grateful for my health.

Thought of the day:

 Health is the greatest gift, contentment the greatest wealth, faithfulness the best relationship. (Buddha)

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Home is where Grace is

I drove up Highway 60 from Mesa to Petrified Forest National Park on Thursday to start my volunteer job a few days early. Highway 60 is a spectacular dotted road to travel, with the geography changing from giant sand-colored boulders fitted neatly together and rising hundreds of feet high to sweeping expanses of terraced mountains lightly covered in green. Bridges have delicately-arched supports crossing chasms that plummet to unseen depths. The horizon can be at hand or far distant with ever-lighter hills and mountains fading away. I will be driving this road again because it's one to travel at leisure and I didn't have that luxury
this time.

Not only did I want to take 60 north because it's dotted but because it passes through Show Low, Arizona. I like the name. Show Low, Show Low, Show Low. See what I mean? Show Low is much bigger than I expected and I stopped for some last minute things, including strawberries at 99 cents a quart and baby spinach at $1 a bag. I have room for neither in my fridge, and already had strawberries and spinach, but the deal was too good to pass up, so dinner was a quart of strawberries. Today will see the demise of a good part of the spinach; I see a stir fry in its future. I wish I'd also taken advantage of a propane fill because I found out I can't get propane at the park but have to go to Holbrook, a good 30 minutes away. I use propane for my furnace and water heater. Furnace, you say? Oh, yes! I had the a/c on in Mesa the day before and Thursday night I turned on the heater. I love all four seasons; don't you? I just don't like them all to show up within 24 hours.

I did manage a couple of stops along the way to get some pictures of the Salt River tumbling through a deep canyon. I had been playing tag with a small motorhome for some time and at one point we both pulled over to let faster drivers go ahead. I was at the first stop, snapping away and admiring the view, when a guy came down the stairs to the platform where I was standing. He turned out to be the driver of the other motorhome and we agreed the view was beautiful. It's amazing what you can learn if you just say hello. Divorced; originally from Brooklyn but moved to south Florida as a child and never lost the Brooklyn accent, but did manage to refine it a bit to say bathroom instead of batroom; had a girlfriend named Kathy for 10 years but broke up with her when she didn't "get" the relationship or something, I'm not clear on that; travels three to four months at a time on roads he plots out in advance; was in construction but is now retired; named Emil but pronounced A-meeul because that's the Italian pronunciation; wanted a Roadtrek van like mine but balked at the price of a new one; and wanted to leave Florida but now has a granddaughter who is like "a gas station for [my] heart"  and he can't leave after all. I got all this in no more than 25 minutes split between the two pullouts, and OMG, he was good looking. When that thought went through my head it was immediately followed by, "Thank God! I'm not dead after all!" Oh, and he turns 60 in July. I forgot that one. I've found most people will talk and talk if you just let them. It was a pleasant 25 minutes, admiring two views if you get my drift.

Yesterday I met with the volunteer coordinator to do the new job thing, including meeting the woman I'll be working for, who showed me the piles o' work to be done and I'm as happy as I can be. If that's not enough, the washer and dryer are free, there's a fridge for overflow food that won't fit in my little shoebox so I can actually stock up when I go to town, I have a nice neighbor who's lent me a small heater so I don't have to run my furnace, I get a small daily stipend for meals, and I can check out a government car to explore the park. Did you hear that? I don't have to unplug and disconnect Grace to drive around the park; they let me
take a car from the pool! So I did and spent a couple of hours seeing a tiny fraction of the park. 

If not for the nonexistent wifi in the RV area, it would all be pretty darned good. I don't mean weak wifi; it really does not exist even with a booster I have. I'm typing this standing at a trash can with the laptop on top, outside the visitor center. Five bars of signal strength and it seems like dial-up. I have pictures to upload but nothing's happening. I'd forgotten how slow dial-up is, not saying that's what it actually is, and how maddening it is to wait and wait. I'm up against my roaming limits for the month because it seems Sprint has no towers within 100 miles of anywhere I've traveled so far. In addition to which, I called Sprint about just that last night and was told I'm not allowed to use my hotspot if I'm on roaming so I guess I'm looking at Verizon and paying more every month, but I have to have the Internet and one faster than snail speed. Ten years ago this would have been a minor inconvenience; now it's like not having electricity.

This place is beautiful, not in the heart-stopping way of Arches or Bryce Canyon, but in the way of broad vistas interrupted by oases of color and depth and texture. Half a million visitors a year come to this remote place to view the horizon meeting a sky punctuated by clouds lined up like ships in port, or the blue Mesa of varicolored teepees of bentonite clay, or the chunks of agatized or opalescent petrified wood lying around like so much litter. It will take me all of the weekends of the five months I'll be here to see everything. How lucky can I get?

This morning I took a long walk, the first one in way too long, out to the Painted Desert Inn. Round trip was about 5 miles and I didn't die despite an elevation of about 5800 feet. One of my goals of being on the road full time was to see all the National Historic Landmarks and this one fell at my feet. The Inn has had a rocky life, having been built on unstable soil. The whole area here is bentonite clay. All the buildings have the same problem and maintenance is ongoing and relentless. Bentonite clay acts like kitty litter. It expands when it's wet and contracts and cracks when it dries out. I'm no engineer but I don't think that makes for an ideal foundation.

I'm off to visit Verizon's website to see what the damage will be. I know it won't be good. Donations accepted.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

I know!

I know it's been forever. Hell broke out in my life, again related to being Suddenly Single at Sixty, and it's taken me a while to find my way out. Winston Churchill said, When you're going through hell, keep going. That's what I've been trying to do, keep going. The second hell took me back to the beginning of the pain and the fear, and let's mention anger and an overwhelming feeling of betrayal, and I've had to make up lost ground.

It's a little better. I have the best friends in the world, better than I could have ever hoped to have, and they have carried me through when I've been incapable of moving, let alone thought. So thank you, all of you, and you know who you are. I can't ever hope to repay you for your love and support.


A few weekends ago I took my van, who I'll introduce you to a while later, to the Oregon coast for a couple of nights. One of them was spent at Fort Stevens State Park, near Astoria. While I was there I talked to a campground host about volunteering. Campground hosts greet visitors, get them signed in for camp sites, answer questions, do light maintenance, deliver firewood, light duty like that. In exchange, they receive a free site with full hookups for water, electric, and sewer. It can save the hosts a minimum of $20 a night at state parks. The more popular parks charge more. There may be a minimum length of duty, like a month, but in many cases the host can stay for the season. This is a good deal if you really like the area you're volunteering in, and you're not just assigned, you choose the campground you want. Some have more competition from volunteers than others, as you can imagine.

I'd known about this kind of volunteering for some time but it hadn't yet trickled back into my brain since I decided to cruise at 60, and talking to this volunteer got me thinking. One of these good friends I mentioned above told me she met volunteers doing work like this at Glacier National Park and thought I might be interested in one of these short-term jobs. When I got back to the house I started searching the website, just looking for what was available. It's late in the season for the hotspots like Yosemite, Yellowstone, Point Reyes, or Glacier, but there are still lots of slots for other places.

So here is what is amazing, and proof positive that God does shine his light down on me, or that a net will appear if you just take the leap. Petrified Forest National Park advertised for a librarian to organize and catalog their collection, minimum commitment of two months. I have a masters degree in library science and worked several years as an archivist, which turned out handy because they have work in that area too. And maybe in the museum, working with the collections manager. I am thrilled. So excited. Pleased as punch. I start at the beginning of May and am their woman until the end of September.

I admit to being nervous about heading out to parts unknown with no agenda, just following the lines on the map. I know it's the dream of a lot of people to be able to do exactly that, but I've never done it before on my own and I was scared. It was way more than being nervous. But here is a compromise, a transition that will give me a purpose to my days for several months. I couldn't be more pleased, plus I still get the free RV site with full hookups. What a deal.