Monday, May 5, 2014

Keep the circus going

The weekend gave us just about perfect weather. Sunny and warm, it was irresistible, and I went for a hike both Friday and Saturday, Friday to check out the corrections to the Red Basin GPS coordinates that I whined about because I nearly died, and Saturday to a new wilderness area called the Devil's Playground. Neither, however, is what I'm showing today.

My HH told me about an accident at a Ringling Brothers show, where half a dozen performers fell about thirty feet with no net. Not to diminish the terrible accident, it nonetheless reminded me that I never finished processing the photos I took at the Ringling Mansion, called Cà d'Zan, in Sarasota in January.

The estate includes the mansion, an art museum, and a circus museum. Admission was $25 and I'm still kicking myself that I didn't ask if they're a member museum with the Detroit Institute of Arts because it would have gotten us in free. I've had a membership at the DIA for many years, my little way of supporting that wonderful place that I have fond memories of visiting over the years. Anyway, I did not ask, and that's another thing I will never make the same mistake about again.

The art and circus museums' photos aren't processed yet but I just finished the ones from the mansion, so on with the show. Isn't that slick, how I slid that right in?

The house sits at the back of the property, on Sarasota Bay. The day we went was very cold and windy. We had layered up on the clothes but it was not nearly enough with the temp in the 30s. (Well, I'm sorry, but it was Florida and not supposed to be below 70.) The gray sky persisted all day and I could only imagine how gorgeous this place would be under blazing blue.

This is the West Ballroom which common sense tells you that there then has to/should be an East Ballroom, but we didn't see it. I struggle along with none, so two seems over the top.

The gilded ceiling features twenty-two dancing couples from different countries. The canvases were painted by illustrator Willy Pogany in his studio and applied to the ceiling in 1926. He also painted the ceiling in the third floor Playroom but it wasn't included on the tour. Small world - in my prior life I collected children's books and had at least one that was illustrated by this artist.

They're really lovely and bright, still.

The Ringlings and the architect referred to the central living space as "the Court." It was the focal point for entertaining. The crystal chandelier was purchased from the old Waldorf Astoria, which was to be destroyed to make way for the Empire State Building.

It is said the enormous room was made intimate by the choice of upholstery and arrangement of the furniture, but this does not feel intimate to me.

This exquisite beaded dress and handbag were on exhibit in the Court. I have done lots of beading in my time which gives me an appreciation for how much work this was, in the sense that it took a lot of time, not that it was tiresome. At least, I hope the seamstress enjoyed working on it. I would have loved doing it. My guess is the dress weighed thirty pounds, but it sure was beautiful.

I'll skip the photos of the kitchen. Cool old appliances and all that, but the architecture is what's really impressive.

The western exposure, which faces the bay. It was modeled after the Doge's Palace in Venice.

The colorful details were everywhere, from the tiles to the graceful stonework. The style is called Venetian Gothic. I thought it looked Moorish.

There was not a plain façade to be seen.

To the left in this photo is a sliver of what I would call the patio but it must have a fancier name. It seemed to be acres in size and had steps down to water level for those guests yachting in.

Here is the detail from the top of the window bars, what I call the coat of arms.

All of this is on the western side of the house, what a visitor arriving by water would see.

This is a close up of the marble (?) circular steps on the north side of the house.What a gorgeous pattern.

Here I'm circling around to the front again. The detail everywhere is just amazing.

 A closer view of the top of the tower, a very classy widow's walk.

Under-window ornamentation, times two.

Tucked away where most people would never see it was this fairy door. Full size, but still a fairy door. From where it was placed I think it was a service entrance.

All the way around the house to the south side entrance to the "patio," a miniature version of a guard station, topped with Nefertiti.

As pretty as it is, it still isn't a place I'd want to live. To me it's a showplace, not a home, not where you could schlepp around with bedhead, in stretchy pants and ratty slippers. It's fun to see how the top 1% of the 1% live, but made me appreciate my comfortable home, my little 30-foot trailer, and the good guy I share it with.


Thought of the day:

Keep the circus going inside you, keep it going, don't take anything too seriously, it'll all work out in the end. - David Niven

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Utah's complementary colors

My HH took me to Monument Valley in Utah for my birthday. It was a perfect gift and we had a very good time. I was there for an hour or so a couple of years ago, but staying overnight made all the difference in seeing the place.

I had been checking the weather for a few days, mostly because it's been so changeable here, and on Wednesday or Thursday I saw there was a wintry storm predicted for Friday and Saturday. Lots of wind and rain, and if we were really, really lucky, some snow. Spring used to be my favorite season, but it's beginning to wear out its welcome. I checked the hotel website for its cancellation policy and it was 72 hours, so come hell or high water, or snow and wind, we were going.

Friday turned out to be a pleasant surprise. It was windy but warmer than we expected and we even had blue skies. Who would ever think blue and orange would be so gorgeous together?

The enormity of the rock formations is so hard to show, so I try to find something to put them in scale, like the horses in the foreground of this monolith we passed on our way to the park.

The valley is on Navajo land, not part of the National Park Service. There's a fairly new hotel that was built on the edge of the valley, and I mean on the edge. I have a photo of it coming up. This is the lobby with a tall fireplace decorated with kachinas. For some reason I thought kachinas were exclusively Hopi but apparently not.

The View Hotel is one room and a corridor deep, so every room of its three floors faces the view. Hence the name. Our room was on the top floor which features something they call the StarView for great views of the night sky, perfect for long photographic exposures. We wondered what StarView meant, exactly, going so far as to speculate the ceiling was glass, so when we walked in we were disappointed to find a plain old ceiling. What it meant was the ceiling of the balcony was not as wide as the bottom two floors, which gave a wider view.  And how could we complain with a view like this one?

There is a four-mile hiking loop that goes down 900 feet to the valley floor and around the west mitten, the one above on the left. I set out while my HH went to get lunch and turned around pretty soon because the wind was blowing sand everywhere. I put off my hike until the morning so I could see the sunrise from down below and be finished before the wind started. I will spare you the suspense and tell you right off that the spirit was willing and all that.

Instead of the afternoon hike, then, we drove the 17-mile loop road that you can see in the lower left corner in the photo above. There were a lot of cars down there just creeping along and we soon learned why. The road shown in this photo below was as smooth as a highway compared to the other 99%, which could kindly be described as washboard. The speed limit is 15mph and that would have been flying had we been able to achieve it. The only vehicles that managed it for any length of time were the open tour buggies which passed on the right, passed on the left, and left a cloud of dust in their wake. Some of their passengers were wearing masks or bandannas to avoid breathing it all in.

There is the hotel on the rim. On the right is the restaurant and gift shop. There is no bar and they don't serve or sell alcohol. There is also no pool here, something one might expect in a desert destination, but it was explained in the hotel's literature that not installing one was not just because of an ecological perspective - it is the desert and water is a scarce resource - but also honors the elders who live in the valley with no running water. There was a pickup on the road ahead of us with a gigantic tank in its bed, sloshing with water, and I thought I would not look forward to making that trip on that road with any regularity.

But the views were spectacular, of course. This is Merrick butte, named for a prospector who discovered silver in the park. I never knew the difference between a butte and a mesa until I came to Petrified Forest. A butte is taller than it is wide, and a mesa is the opposite. When I realized that mesa translates to table, it all made sense.

The three sisters formation is in the background; it's supposed to resemble a nun facing two pupils.

This is just a part of Rain God Mesa. It's so immense I couldn't get back far enough to fit it all in the frame. The sign in the lower left is maybe four feet tall, so that gives you an idea of the size. Formations in the park are from 400 to 1000 feet high.

Totem poles.

This view is called North Window. Pretty.

We continued to shake our kidneys loose and made our way back to the hotel. The wind got stronger and blew a lot of sand, but it made for some atmospheric views. This might be Mitchell Mesa, named for another silver prospector, and it was to the south from the balcony. The dust casts a haze over the formations beyond.

Clouds accumulated pretty quickly as night approached, which I think are much more interesting to look at than a plain blue sky, as nice as it is to have. Below is West Mitten, East Mitten that looks more like a teapot to me, and Merrick Butte. The curve of the restaurant's patio is on the left.

This was an interesting phenomenon yesterday morning. Haze softened everything and I waited and waited for the sun to go behind a cloud so it wouldn't entirely blow out this view. It's still pretty bright but I like the watercolor rings of color that surround it, not to mention the incredible shadow falling down the face of the mitten.

We got on our way in driving sleet, in late April mind you, but there's a tradeoff for everything, like these dramatic views.

We made a bit of a detour on our way home to Navajo National Monument, and ran into snow there and even more farther south, almost back to Petrified Forest. Today is windy. Again. With sustained winds of 20 to 25mph. With gusts to 45. Are you reading a big sigh between every sentence fragment, because that's what I surely intend.

I got here a year ago yesterday, if I remember correctly, doing a lot of whistling in the dark, pretending to be brave, determined to be brave. I'm not going to belabor the point of how far I've come, literally and figuratively, again, but it's another anniversary that is remembered, another one to line through on the calendar.

Thought of the day:

Thank God, they cannot cut down the clouds! - Henry David Thoreau

Thursday, April 24, 2014

And lived to tell about it

The park is opening wilderness areas to hiking, areas that were part of recent park expansion but not accessible to the public until they'd been surveyed for archeological and paleontological evidence. The surveys are done and now the park has a few more hikes that are more challenging than existing ones because they're somewhat longer and are over wide open areas, not on paved paths. They fall under a hike category called Off the Beaten Path. 

One of the areas is called Devil's Playground and access is restricted to five permits a month. Sunday's weather was as perfect as it has been in a long time, so as soon as the Visitor Center opened I headed over to get a permit, only to find out that the allotment had already gone out for April. Bummer. My next choice was a repeat of the Red Basin hike that I went on when the trail was being plotted a while back. I'd already loaded the coordinates into my GPS and this one doesn't need a permit so off I went to Blue Mesa to park near the trailhead. On my way south I spotted four pronghorns not far off the road. Some people here see them frequently but this was only the second time I have. I couldn't get all four in the frame but these two are beauties even though it looks like they're shedding their winter coats.

I parked at Blue Mesa and walked back about a half mile to the start of the trail and almost immediately went off Off the Beaten Path. My track wove here and there, following whatever looked interesting, not much keeping to the directions on the trail flyer, when I found this piece of petrified wood, below. It looked like an arrowhead to me but what usually happens when I find what I think is something good is that it turns out to be just a rock or just a piece of petrified wood. I marked the spot with the GPS even so and took several photos of it to show to the archeologists.

It's not an arrowhead but what they called a biface, a tool used as a knife. It apparently was about twice as big at one time as what's in my hand, being a more symmetrical triangle, but it broke along the edge nearest my fingertips and this is what was left. Score! A real artifact!

The colors and textures here continue to amaze me.

The country is spectacular. If not for my camera, I would have no way to describe what's out there and have anyone believe me. Do you have the vocabulary for this? I don't. There are geometric forms like those in the background, and organic ones like those up front, within yards of each other. How does this happen?

Prickly pear cactus doesn't grow to the huge size here that's seen in the Sonoran desert but it's no less formidable. There was a new bud growing on one paddle and the whole thing was more than protected by a vicious maze of spines. This plant stood about a foot tall.

By now I've seen a good amount of petrified wood but only an occasional knot.

The view behind me, again with the incongruity of shapes, and a snip of serendipity with the lizard sunning on the rock.

 Here he is again. Look at that sleepy eye.

 More petrified wood, in luscious, not-to-be-believed colors.

Off in another direction was this slope slick as ice with tiny stones.

Still more petrified wood. The top edge of this piece is what first caught my eye because it looked like a chunk of charcoal. When I picked it up for a closer look, the translucent white blade, about twice as long as shown here, revealed itself.

This is an interesting conglomerate. Others I've seen have been just rocks glued together, but you can see this one has petrified wood pieces in it as well.

I was dallying and hadn't gotten very far at all on the six-mile trail, but everywhere I looked was something that stopped me in my tracks. These rocks were a foot or two across, not the pebbles they appear to be here.

This is my favorite sighting of the day. Two flat-bread shaped slabs, fitted together like peas in a pod, and elevated off the earth with a few pebble offerings carefully settled between them. It was contemplative perfection.

An endless supply of incongruity. Who thinks up this stuff?

This is more of what I expect a conglomerate to look like. The stones look like it would take just a nudge to break them free, but they're cemented in place.

 A robber's roost or hoodoos in the making?

Getting to the gap in the fence, according to the trail directions, was supposed to be early on in the hike, but because of my wandering I was nowhere near it. I decided I'd better put a hustle on and skipped the coordinate for the gap and inched my way under the wire in another place. As I was about to stand I saw this view from my belly and had to take a picture of it. I did not take a picture of all the little bunny poop inches from my nose. At least they're vegetarians.

Hoo, boy, this was amazing and it just doesn't show as I wish it would. I've been many, many places in the park where bluffs and mesas have shed boulders and I've not really given much thought to standing under them, but this one was sending out danger vibes. There was something so unstable about it. It could have been the accumulation of the boulders close to the base but also tumbled off at a distance or because the very top stones looked as though a breeze would send them down. I couldn't put my finger on what was unsettling about it but it wasn't a place I'd pick out a rock to have a picnic on.

That is, until I saw this shell shape and had to get close just long enough to get a picture. Then I hustled myself away.

This is a close up of the base. Stalactites, right? I've never seen them out of a cave. And look at the river of debris spewing out from within. It's like something out of a fantasy.

The hike leads to clam beds that go back about 200 million years, if I remember right. I showed pictures of them before but not like these. Gorgeous.

This is the sand castle at the entrance to the slot canyon of Red Basin. It was such a beautiful day.

Another view from the opposite direction.

This explains pretty well why it's called Red Basin. There was no standing water in the wash but we'd had some rain a few days earlier; there was a section where my shoes sunk about three or four inches, which immediately made me think of Tarzan movies and people dying in quicksand. The mind is a marvelous thing, isn't it?

 An artist's dream. I wish I could paint.

The turning point for the hike, which takes you back to the start, is right after a gigantic petrified log broken into several pieces, so large it can be seen from way up on Google Earth. The diameter of one of the sections is about shoulder-high on me. I stopped there for a quick lunch and then quickly proceeded to get lost. 

The hike directions say to go north and then go west, and then you should see the fence line that takes you back to the start. Really? How far north? How far west? What freakin' fence line? The only fence I saw was down and in a tangle. I explored out in a few directions but definitely not west because it led directly into badlands (and did it mean west-west or north-west?). East-west made as much sense as anything else. And, joy, I was getting low on water. 

I'd been out about five hours by then and got a text from the HH asking where I was. Oh, lost, I said and when he asked if I need help I immediately shouted, as much as one can shout via text message, NO! I'm well aware when I'm out in the hinterlands that I'm there alone and am very careful as to where I put my feet, but the pain of breaking a bone would be nothing compared to the humiliation of having Dispatch send in the troops to rescue me. I could only imagine the humiliation of having someone drive say a quarter-mile off a road that would be obvious to a blind person to come pick me up on Sunday. No thanks. I have to work here. I see these people every day.

My plan was to navigate back to the gap in the fence that was the first or second coordinate listed for the hike and off I went, very happy to see the GPS say it was only a mile or so away, but at the same time wondering just how much zig-zagging I'd done because it should have been much more than a mile. Well, yes it should because where the coordinate took me was about 100 feet from the sandcastle shown above, nowhere near the start of the trail, more like near the end. It was an incorrect coordinate. Crap-a-mighty. What now?

Did I mark the location of the car when I parked it, as I usually do? How about the trailhead, did I mark that? Nooo!!! I forgot and really thought the directions would work. I will never make that mistake again.

What I did was navigate back to the artifact I found, the thing I thought could be an arrowhead, because I knew the coordinate was right and it was near the start of the trail. I had to go cross-country about a mile and a half, over hill and down dale, through knee-high shrubby grass, all the while looking for snakes because they live here too and it was a warm sunny day, the kind they like. 

It was all I could do to pick up and put down my feet when I came across this jackrabbit which did not move other than to lay its ears flat on its back as I made my way around it.

I was interested, still, in Making Art by taking more photos as I neared the trailhead, but what it really was was an excuse to stop for just a minute. My last shot of the day:

That last half mile or whatever ungodly distance it was from the start of the trail to the car was unending. I saw all kinds of happy park visitors frolicking among the petrified wood and curled my lip at them. Didn't they know I almost died?

Thought of the day:

I have a deeply hidden and articulate desire for something beyond the daily life.  - Virginia Woolf (thanks, Laura!)