Friday, July 12, 2013

Guess where I am!!

I'm back at the post office! Yes, just when I thought I was done with the nightly trek down the road, my internet connection at the van has gone haywire. Maybe someone can 'splain this to me: the computer shows it's connected but at the same time says there's no internet access. One of those things that doesn't make sense, like fat free ice cream. It's against everything that's good and holy.

But on to something more interesting. There's a group of kids here, toiling like mad under the noonday sun, building a 1.1 mile trail from the visitor center to one of the turnouts on the road to the Painted Desert Inn. The group is part of an organization called the YCC, the Youth Conservation Corps, and let me say how happy I am I don't have to work as hard as they do.

When I say they're building a trail, I mean they're hacking out brush, digging a foundation, and laying a trail base that won't wash away in the monsoons or blow away in the dry season. 

I walked the partially completed trail at the end of my morning walk today and took a few pictures. 

This looks back toward the Visitor Center, out of the frame to the right, and shows the initial work done to dig the foundation.

There was an employee meeting yesterday and the Superintendent singled out this team for recognition. The youngest just turned 15. Another member had heart surgery one Friday and was back at work on Monday. A friend who sat with me at the meeting worked with the crew for a week and had nothing but good things to say about each of them. 

Rabbits must like the new easy trail through the prairie. There were tracks everywhere in the soft soil.

They're picked up in town in the morning and spend the entire day in the field.

Fortunately they don't have to do all the work by hand.

Now this is what I call a real Port-a-Loo.

When you hear someone bad-mouthing today's kids, remember the ones who are working here. I don't know how much they're paid, if anything, but it would take a lot of money to make me work as hard as they do, under the conditions they're working in day after day.

Thought of the day:

Children are likely to live up to what you believe of them. (Lady Bird Johnson)

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Monsoons, baby!

We have arrived in the rainy season, finally. Finally, for a lot of reasons: it's been so dry, which is saying a lot in a part of the country that gets maybe 9" of precipitation a year; it's been so brutally hot and even the little rain we've had so far is a respite, despite the humidity it brings; and just because I love a good storm. I missed some rain when I was in Tucson last week but it made a curtain call today. And it was awesome!

I sit with my back to a wall of windows when I'm on the computer, which is always these days, except when I'm standing at the copier. I live a scintillating life. But this afternoon, as I swung around to put another article to bed in a box (yay!) I looked out and across Interstate 40 to a full-out pounding rain on the horizon. Within a couple of minutes it had crossed the freeway. Raindrops so fat I thought they were hail. Rumbling thunder. Black, evil skies. Trees tossing and whipping with the wind. Rain blowing like a wave across the pavement. Then it was over, leaving a sheen of wet and the most marvelous organic smell behind. Not just wet earth, but a blend of earth and vegetation and fresh.

This is the beginning of the monsoons, which I thought was pretty funny when I heard the word in context with a short-grass prairie, but that's what they're called. I finished work, went home to Grace and got out the camera. The rain was done, at least for a while, but the sky kept taking bows.

A faint rainbow hugged the bottom edge of a brooding cloud in the northeast while rain poured down all around it.

This is one of the weird things that I've noticed about the rain here, that you can be in the dry center of a circular curtain of rain. People are doing rain dances, praying for rain but it usually seems like it's over there.

One of the things I love about storms like these is the strange, glowing light.

Ragged clouds kept forming and dissipating, a never-ending show.

This session has dripped a little more rain this evening but I'm waiting for the next powerhouse. There's nothing like a good thunderstorm.


Thought of the day:

Let the rain kiss you. Let the rain beat upon your head with silver liquid drops. Let the rain sing you a lullaby. (Langston Hughes)


Saturday, July 6, 2013

A slow week

I haven't been at work all week, having gone to Tucson to get the van fixed. It is. I think. Time will tell. I had a power converter installed in place of the power inverter (you really don't want to know), a move that saved me about $1500 but still cost $500. Oh, the joys of home ownership.

Here's what had been going on at the park, now that the library work is more or less done, and I'm quite sure it's still waiting for me since I've been gone. I moved on to digitizing the Triassic Library. It has a more formal name with many multisyllable words like vertebrate and paleontology, so I just stick with Triassic Library. It consists of papers - published articles, theses, dissertations, manuscripts - that have to do with the Triassic Era which, if you've been paying attention, predates the famous Jurassic and is known as the Dawn of the Dinosaurs.

There are boxes and boxes of these papers. Many of them have already been scanned and turned into searchable PDFs by staff members, but lots remain boxed and still need the work done. This is the bulk of the work and I've already removed and processed several boxes, maybe six or eight:

In the boxes are these folders, each holding an article or other paper. This box also has an entire journal that needs to be scanned. That's the item at the front of the box.

More papers are housed in in these and many more binders still in the regular library.

When I remove the papers from the boxes and stack them up for scanning, I get several piles like this.

My job is to scan all the articles, either on a super machine that I can bulk load and which will save the scans to its own server, and which I can retrieve from my desk, or by hand on a desktop scanner, page by single page, depending on the fragility of the originals and other factors that would prohibit them from bulk scanning. Guess which one I prefer.

After scanning I convert them in a two-step process to PDFs and then to searchable PDFs. It's not the most scintillating work but it beats unemployment or cleaning bathrooms.

I have at least a half-dozen piles of work in different stages of completion stacked up around me in a system known only to me and God; if I'm hit by a bus no one would know what to do. So far, no bus, and the work is proceeding apace: as of a week ago, I had 388 articles converted, stored on the computer, and backed up to an external drive.

I don't know how many articles there are and it's a piece of information I have declined to have revealed to me. It's just best for my mental health not to know.

Thought of the day:

You know you are on the road to success if you would do your job, and not be paid for it. (Oprah Winfrey)

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Out of the frying pan

One day last week I returned to Grace after work to find the air conditioner off. I did the switch-flip routine that I learned how to do for $90 plus gas a while back, but it didn't restart the a/c. Nor did it turn the refrigerator back on or give me overhead lights. In fact, anything that has to have 12 volt power is nonoperational. This wasn't too bad; there's a community fridge I can use in another building that I toted everything down to, I still had power in the outlets so I could run a fan, and I had a good supply of batteries for flashlights.

But when the temperature hit triple digits this week I knew I couldn't put it off anymore. 

It was miserable and even though it cools off nicely overnight, I still had to get from quitting time to pretty late in the evening before the temp got tolerable inside Grace. I juggled some working days to be able to take a few days off and made haste for Tucson on Friday evening. Once again imposing myself on a friend, I hope to, have to, get the problem resolved.

I again took beautiful highway 77 but because this time I didn't get pulled over for speeding, I used the time I would have spent with a trooper to take a few pictures at Salt River Canyon.

Late afternoon sunlight cast such a soft, lovely glow on the canyon. I'm glad I stopped.

Driving this road makes this six hour trip something to look forward to, but here's the irony: I left 110 degrees in the park for this in Tucson:


Thought of the day:

The idea of wilderness needs no defense, it only needs defenders. (Edward Abbey)

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

All the sexy work librarians do

The work I was doing in the library is about done. I've (well, my boss and I) weeded the collection by about a third. I pulled what I thought should go and she gave the yea or nay. She learned not to cruise by the library; if I saw her in the hall it was "Oh, Pat!" because I needed decisions made. Outdated books, stuff way outside the scope of the collection, such as books on Ford's Theater and table tennis, I kid you not, multiple copies - it was all ripe for the picking, and I did.

Here's an idea of what it looked like when I started, three solid walls of books and periodicals.

I inventoried and boxed the periodicals, making them ready to offer to other libraries in the Park Service. The list went out today and we've had takers on two titles so far. Hallelujah. Boxes will be exiting the library which makes me very happy.

Here's a first draft version of the culled and reorganized shelves. I had to shift shelves two or three times to make more room and, golly, that's fun; all of those books picked up and moved yet again, up and down the ladder, up and down.

The books in the boxes on the bottom shelf, eleven in all, are going. I've also tossed a ton into the recycle, NPS publications that are now online, that kind of thing. The pile on the bottom shelf, all the way to the right, is a drop in the bucket of the books I pulled for Pat to decide on. She got to really hate my calling her name, I know it.

I also had separate piles that were made up of books that were on the shelf but were not on the inventory. Like the ones I weeded, she had to decide whether to keep or pitch those. She had the harder job in this whole endeavor by far. All I did was sling books around but she did the brain work.

Here's one wall, mostly cleaned up. The Superintendent wanted to be able to pull the screen down and leave it down, so I did my best to keep the books clear of those shelves. You can see a cord to it just to the right of the books. I had to do a lot of shifting of books but I managed to keep it clear.

Some of the periodicals I inventoried are on the shelves below the countertop. The recycle bins hold some of what's going. Eventually all that space will be clear.

I've put shelf labels up and made logical separations in the call numbers on the shelves, leaving lots of space for additions to the collection as well as making looking for something easier and more productive. Lots of people have come into the library and oohed and aahed over the remake. I take my bows and leave out the tip jar.

One last job for Pat will be to scan the shelves for books I didn't know enough to pull. She's going to hear "Oh, Pat!" in her sleep.

Thought of the day:

Less is more. (Mies van der Rohe)

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Puerco Pueblo solstice - at a way more reasonable hour

This morning I set out for Puerco Pueblo, an area of the park that contains a village that was home to Ancestral Puebloan people from about 1200-1300 A.D. The culture was formerly known as Anasazi, a Navajo/Diné term meaning 'enemy ancestors,' but because of the negative connotation that term is now avoided. These Puebloans are believed to be the ancestors of today's Hopi and Zuni, who consider the site a Traditional Cultural Property. It is also home to the one solstice marker I knew about and the window was closing on the time it would still be relevant.

What you can't see at the bottom of the poster, created by a hugely talented employee, a graphic designer, is "A Public Service Brought to You by Ancient Puebloan People and the Sun."
I got to Puerco at about 0820, just in time to see a family from Austin ready to pile back into their camper and move on down the road. I roped them into viewing the solstice with me. Also a couple from Dallas and Nottingham, another family from Philly, a single man from I don't know where, and a final family from Green Bay, if their shirts were any indication. It was a blast. I know next to nothing compared to the real interpreters that rove the park, but I never let something like that stop me.

The marker is among a jumble of huge rocks near the people in the photo above. You have to know it's there and, even with signs at the site explaining what and where, it's hard to see without someone pointing it out.

It's the small spiral that's important at this time of year. You can see the ray edging its way closer to the corner.

Above and to the left of this rock is another one with a cleft in it, which casts a ray of light that progresses down the rock face.

There it is, the sun ray making its way toward the spiral.

This area is also home to a former CCC camp, down in the valley below the rocks. It housed about 200 men, coming and going, during the '20s and '30s. The CCC played a huge part in taking the park from National Monument status to National Park. Nearly every man-made object in the park was built, constructed, or dug by the CCC, including the building below which was the original entrance station to the park. The fact that it's at Puerco, nearly half-way through the park, shows how the boundaries have expanded over time, and continue to do so. The building is being restored, more or less, to its original state and will house an archeology exhibit. I was there one day when the vigas, the wooden poles, were being pounded into place by hand.

Back to the solstice marker. Here the ray is moving closer to the center of the spiral.

It's made contact and is moving through the marker.

 A couple more glyphs, out of many, on the rocks in the area.

Here's another building constructed by the CCC. It housed a gasoline pump that sent water from here to the south end of the park, about 13 miles, through culverts dug by hand and machine, sometimes having to blast through rock. For this work they were paid $30 a month plus room and board, and had to send $25 of that amount home to their families. This building is also being renovated or restored, I'm not sure which.

The pump station which sent water to the south end of the park.
Finally, a photo of the pueblo ruins. There were about 100 rooms built around a central courtyard or common area, and housed about 200 people. They made their living farming and hunting, getting their water from the Puerco River and from seeps that occurred around the land. All pretty dry now.

 That was my morning. It was beautiful, not yet hot, and a lot of fun talking to folks from all over.

Thought of the day:

How time flies when you's doin' all the talking. (Harvey Fierstein)

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Outside my comfort zone? Boy howdy, yes.

I wrote, after my sisters' deaths, that there were going to be some changes made. One thing I planned to do was move outside my comfort zone, meaning taking on new challenges, living life the way I wanted to live it and not according to someone else's agenda. Yesterday I did something I'd planned to do and it was incredibly hard and equally stupid.

I got a permit from the Visitors' Center to camp in the Painted Desert. This has been a goal for some time. I packed my stuff in a nice backpack I borrowed and never bothered to throw it on the scale. It was only for a night or two and I wasn't taking anything I didn't really think I needed. In fact, I barely tried the thing on before I drove to the Painted Desert Inn to park before taking the trail into the desert. I set the pack on the floor of the van near the side door, plunked myself in front of it, threaded my arms through the shoulder harness, stood up, and almost fell over. This was not the bad part. The bad part was not admitting how foolish it was to continue.

But I did continue. I had visions of falling on the steep trail into the desert.

See the trail down? There are four switchbacks from the rim to the desert floor.

It's an entirely different matter hiking with a day pack than hiking with a tent, pad, sleeping bag, food, water, and all the other stuff you think you need. Let's say 10 pounds versus the burden I carried. But I digress.

My goal was to cross Lithodendron Wash,  a wide dry wash that looks like a highway from the rim but disappears once you're on the desert floor. It turned out all I could do was put one foot in front of the other, got myself turned around, and wound up in the badlands. 

This is where I should have ended up, in the flats. 

This is where I did end up, in the badlands. Don't ask me how.

By the time I got to this point there was no way I was taking another step. I just couldn't do it. I was sure I wasn't beyond the Wash as the rules say campers have to be, but right then I didn't really care. If someone wanted to write me a ticket, maybe they could also help me carry my pack out again.

Another problem cropped up: the wind was blowing like a banshee and I still had to pitch the tent, which I'd done precisely once before, on a veranda, with no wind, and people to weigh in with advice. But I had no choice. If I didn't want to sleep outside with the bugs I was sure would make their appearance sooner or later, I'd better get the tent up. And I did.

Tent up. I managed to do it without it blowing to Nevada.

Then I ate. And ate. I was starved, plus I needed to get rid of some of the weight I'd lugged in, which was incentive enough for me. Drink water + eat food = reduce weight. It made sense to me.

I decided to explore, mostly with the goal of finding my way out the next morning. There didn't seem to be an easy way.

I was pretty much surrounded by terrain like this.

And this.
It seemed every direction I looked gave me the option of one form of an ankle-breaking route or another. I finally realized that I got myself in there and I could very well get myself out. 

Then I started to appreciate just what I had. One god or another sent me a magnificent sunset in one direction, and a gorgeous nearly-full moon in the other.

That's Pilot Rock, seven miles out. It was the view out of the foot end of the tent.

The moon coming up in the east, out the other side of the tent.

I hit the sack not long after, really wishing I'd packed some Tylenol.

This morning I got up with every intention of getting to the desert floor, hiking out past Lithodendron Wash, and spending another night. Then I put the pack on again. I ate like a longshoreman last night, drank water till I was floating, and it didn't seem much lighter. I decided to cut my losses and head back to Grace up on the rim. The only reason I didn't turn around and hike back out last night was I didn't think I could carry the pack up the trail. It wasn't much lighter this morning but I was ready to leave when I thought of hiking farther into the desert and having to hike that extra distance out tomorrow morning. I was ready to accept my limitations and call it quits.

Looking back at the tent from the far point of the butte, trying to find the shortest way out.
All well and good, except I had a reprise of my Moses act of a couple of weeks ago and couldn't find the trail. There's exactly one way out of the desert, which seems so obvious when you're headed in, and I couldn't find it. I hiked around hills, over hills, and would have gone through hills if I'd been able to. I finally climbed a hill, with that damned pack on my back, and guessed where the trail might be by looking at the trail down the hillside. Oh, I could see it all right, I just couldn't see where it entered the desert floor.

Obviously I finally made it. I slogged my way up the hill, stopping to breathe half a dozen times, got into Grace, and turned the A/C on full blast. All the way up the hill I kept saying, "Just one more step." One after another after another.

I drove back to my campsite, the one with electricity and water, and slept for hours. When I worked up enough nerve to weigh the pack, which of course was somewhat lighter because of everything I'd consumed, it was 35 pounds. I was hugely disappointed. 35 pounds? Am I not fitter than that, that 35 pounds should have nearly crippled me? Pride, pride, pride. I looked online for exactly what packs should weigh and found that for someone my weight, 35 pounds, and more yesterday before the consumables were gone, is really pushing the limit. So pride, stupidity, and ignorance all played a part in this very.... interesting adventure.

When I got back I wrote to a friend to never ever ever ever ever ever let me do this again. Once I got rested and looked at it all more objectively, I decided I may very well do it again. I need to strip out more things than I thought I could, package things differently, and look for lighter alternatives, but I'm still open to the idea. I did this. It was hard but I did it and I'm kinda proud of that.

One last photo. It's my favorite of everything I took.
Gullies caused by water runoff, in the evening light.

Thought of the day:

I figure if a girl wants to be a legend, she should go ahead and be one. (Calamity Jane)