Saturday, March 21, 2015

Wildflower heaven

I have given up on the internet in the park. Last week we drove to Beatty, about 40 minutes away, so I could post. And eat Mexican food. Today we're in P'rump for a haircut, groceries, and wifi at the library, except they turned off the wifi at 5:00 when they closed. No kidding. But we have LTE full strength on the phones, and if that's not my idea of technology bliss, I don't know what is.

Long-time Death Valley folks have called this wildflower blooming season the third best in memory. I, of course, have nothing to compare it to, but have been thrilled with what I've seen so far. I have never seen any of these flowers before. The newness, the diversity, and the extent of all these blooms have been an ongoing treat.

Three weeks ago a couple of friends and I headed to the south end of the park. Apparently that's where flowering begins. Our plans were to see what was in bloom and then head over to a canyon for a hike. We drove to a historic site called Ashford Mills and wandered down the hill behind it to the Amargosa River. It was flowing; that's how much rain we've had, and it was funny to hear everyone get excited, me included, when one rainfall was reported at a quarter-inch. That's approaching flood status. 

There was such plenty at the river we never made it to the canyon. 

No name for this one.

This is a five-spot, named for the five red spots inside. The flowers are globular and open when the sun warms them. The color is luscious, and I love the way the petals overlap, like leaves on a camera's shutter.

This is an outstanding specimen of a shredding evening primrose. It was about a foot from end to end.

Its flowers:

Why is it that whatever guide you consult to identify an insect, plant, bird, or animal will never have what you're looking for? I couldn't find this interesting beetle.

A little detour from living things - isn't this amazing?

One of my favorites, the desert chicory. It is weak-stemmed and is usually found growing up among other plants for support. I think it might be my favorite because my mother said her wedding dress was the color of chicory, not this one but the lovely purple-blue flower found growing as weeds in the Midwest. To my mind, chicory is chicory; this is just a pale cousin. 

Here's an example of one being supported by another plant's framework. 

Desert dandelions have the color of lemon mousse. Gorgeous!

This poor desert gold is being devoured but I don't know what insects they are.

Every other plant has "desert" in its name. Here are two views of a desert plantain.

The orange curlicue is parasitic and is called dodder. Here it's growing on a five-spot and it's still skimpy, but there are examples along the road that are so thick they look like mats.

A gravel ghost, another of my favorites. Its leaves are a gray-green rosette that lie flat against the ground, almost invisible against the gravel and sand it grows in. Its stem is thread-like; how it holds up the flower head is a mystery. Seen from a distance, the flowers seem to hover in the air, waving gently in the breeze. They are lovely. See how similar it is desert chicory. I have to check the leaves or see the red in the middle to tell the difference.

Thanks to water in the river basin, every once in a while we came across these floral still lifes. The purple flower is a sand verbena. They were plentiful. The other plant is a brown-eyed evening primrose.

There were millions of these caterpillars, pure eating machines. The horn is at the tail end, and it took me a while to figure that out.

They ate everything in sight, climbing flower stems to eat the bloom.

You can see tracks in the sand of the wash where sand verbena were growing. We thought it was insects or mice, but it is caterpillar tracks. It turns out the verbena are the caterpillars' primary target. Someone who went to this same area a week after we did said the verbena were all gone, eaten to nothing. It makes me wonder how they propagate.

In some areas we noticed a lot of little black, hard pellets that looked something like mouse droppings. Then we started seeing fresher stuff, and this is what made me realize the horn is at the rear end. Here is likely your first view of caterpillar poo; remember, you saw it here first.

This pretty plant is a devil in disguise. The spines are somewhat flexible, but when the plant dies and dries,

it turns into this cactus-like weapon. It's tiny, a couple of inches across. Climbing over rocks or plopping down for a rest requires a scan of the area for its spines. Next to it is a cricket or something.

A sand verbena before it was a meal. Interesting how the flower is one big petal.

Another still life of verbena, shredding and brown-eyed evening primrose, and five-spot.

It was just as well we ran out of time and couldn't hike in the canyon. Clouds were gathering and darkening. While we headed home it started to rain. Good news for more flowers like these desert gold.

So what do these caterpillars turn into? Sphinx moths! If not exactly like the one I wrote about from Petrified Forest, they will be similar. I hope I'm around to see them, and in the numbers the caterpillars promise, but probably not. It's getting hot and we're not long for this wonderful park. While I hate to leave (and have already committed to coming back next winter) we have a couple of weeks left and then we're headed to Yosemite for summer camp! I never would guess that I'd be lucky enough to snag a spot there, but I got the last one and will be working for the new park librarian for several months. Just as I was confirming my work there, I also heard from Grand Tetons and North Cascades. I'm tucking those away for other summers.


Thought of the day:

Weeds are flowers, too, once you get to know them. - A.A. Milne

Saturday, March 14, 2015

The dam tour

And more to the point, the damn internet here. But I digress.

When HH and I made the trip to Boulder City, Nevada a few weeks ago to see the dam, we wanted to take both tours offered - the workings of the dam and inside the dam itself. It was packed with people that day and all the inside-the-dam tickets were gone but we were still able to take the other tour. We have to stop going places on Saturday.

First we had to run the gauntlet of security, emptying pockets and going through a metal detector. HH lost his pocket knife, like he's going to overpower someone with a 2-inch blade, then, because of metal body parts, got his thrill of the day with a pat down. 

There were signs of no food! no drink! but I defiantly finished my Jolly Rancher right under the nose of the ticket seller and even got the Senior price when I told her I was within shouting distance of 62. 

Next, we were herded into a queue to wait for an elevator, and when it appeared we were ordered into it with instructions given in the bored and exasperated tones of someone who's said them 27 times that day, to line up side by side and don't leave spaces. It was a lesson in sardine-ism. Gosh, it was all the pleasures of flying and cost a fraction of the price!

Disclosure: any information in this post that sounds remotely intelligent and knowledgeable is from HH, Wikipedia, or the Bureau of Reclamation's website. Believe me, it's not from me. 
The elevator opened into a tunnel that led to a glassed-in space that overlooks the power station. 
The water rushes into the turbines, which revolve at an insane rate of speed, generating electricity in the coils which is then sent out by cable.
There are acres of terrazzo flooring here - more on that later down. The level we were on had beautiful inlaid Native American designs. It was too crowded to get any photos, though.

This is an armature, the central part of the dynamo that rotates within the magnetic field that comes from the red things on the cylinders in the photo above, which are magnets. It's been removed from the dynamo for repair or something. Not shown is the turbine that sits on the central shaft and which causes the armature to rotate. 

After the water works its magic of electricity, it is discharged out of pipes like this. [3/16: I have been corrected. That's an intake pipe.] That's all I know, and only because HH told me. Otherwise, I am ignorant to the utmost about things like this and don't care if I ever understand how it works.

This is the building we were in, seen from the top of the dam. HH has been here and seen water spewing out between the pillars under the building but water levels are so low these days that only exactly what is needed is let through the pipes and the discharge is minimal.

I'd heard you couldn't drive across the dam anymore, but there were plenty of cars going across. I have no idea what this bridge is for.

What I loved was the art deco styling throughout, including this railing in the visitor center.

Along the top of the dam are a couple of ticket-sales windows, now out of use, and two loos.

This is the lobby of the women's room. How about that color? The actual loo is upstairs. I ran up the stairs to see if it, too, was cool, but it was just a loo.

The visitor center and dam look like they're growing from the rock.

Another view of the dam. Those little towers are the two restrooms and the ticket offices. 

Gordon Kaufmann, the supervising architect to the Bureau of Reclamation, was brought in to redesign the exterior of the dam from its original Gothic design. He streamlined it into elegant Art Deco.

Allen True, a Denver artist, assisted Kaufmann with interior designs and color. True was responsible for one of the dam's most distinctive motifs - the Southwestern Indian designs in the terrazzo floors. Using such sources as an Acoma bowl and Pima basket, True merged Native American geometric concepts with Art Deco design. Many of the Indian designs were based on centrifugal themes, which related to the turbines in the power plant. 

Two Italian immigrant brothers, Joseph and John Martina, installed the all the terrazzo floors in 1936 and 1937 with the help of 30 countrymen. John served as contractor for the job and worked with Reclamation officials. Joe, barely able to speak English when they bid on the job, was in charge of laying the floors. The Martina brothers contracted to install the terrazzo for 48 cents per square foot, for a total of only $51,718. Here is an example of the Native American design on the floor of the lobby in the women's loo.

There are four of the towers, below, altogether; they filter the water going into the turbines. Kaufmann carried Art Deco sculpturing to the turrets rising from the dam face, and clock faces on the intake towers show the time in Nevada and Arizona; the state line goes through the middle of the dam. The two states are in different time zones, but as Arizona does not observe Daylight Saving Time, the clocks agree for more than half the year.

Arizona indeed does not observe Daylight Saving Time, but the Navajo Nation, which has trust lands in Arizona, does. It's fun, if you are easily entertained, to watch the time on your cell phone change back and forth, back and forth, when you go on and off tribal land. 

Across the road from the dam is a memorial plaza. Norwegian-born, naturalized American sculptor Oskar J.W. Hansen designed many of the sculptures on and around the dam. His works include the Monument of Dedication plaza and a plaque to memorialize the workers killed, a couple of photos below. The Wikipedia article is not clear on whether he designed the two thirty-foot tall bronze figures, called Winged Figures of the Republic, each formed in a continuous pour. To put the large bronzes in place without marring the polished bronze surface, they rested on ice and were guided into position as the ice melted.

The memorial to those who died building the dam is another of Hansen's works. There were 112 deaths associated with the building of the dam. The first was J.G. Tierney, a surveyor who drowned while looking for the ideal site of the dam, and the last was his son, Patrick, who died 13 years to the day later.

Another memorial to those who died. Not included in the official number of 112 were those whose deaths were attributed to pneumonia. Workers alleged that this diagnosis was a cover for death from carbon monoxide poisoning, brought on by the use of gasoline-fueled vehicles in the diversion tunnels, and a classification used by Six Companies, the structural architect, to avoid paying compensation claims. The site's diversion tunnels frequently reached 140°F, enveloped in thick plumes of vehicle exhaust gases. Forty-two workers were recorded as having died from pneumonia; none were listed as having died from carbon monoxide poisoning. No deaths of non-workers from pneumonia were recorded in Boulder City during the construction period.

Surrounding the base of the monument is a terrazzo floor embedded with a star map. The map depicts the Northern Hemisphere sky at the moment of President Roosevelt's dedication of the dam. This was intended to help future astronomers, if necessary, calculate the exact date of dedication. The dam, after all, is not that far from Area 51.

Bas relief plaques are inlaid into the plaza's surface, one for each of the seven states that fall within the Colorado River's basin.

More beautiful terrazzo work at the base of the flag pole.

This statue is probably of a "high scaler." While suspended from the top of the canyon with ropes, high-scalers climbed down canyon walls and removed loose rock with jackhammers and dynamite. Falling objects were the most common cause of death on the dam site; the high scalers' work thus helped ensure worker safety. 

The construction site became a magnet for tourists; the high scalers were prime attractions and showed off for the watchers. They received considerable media attention, with one worker dubbed the "Human Pendulum" for swinging co-workers (and, at other times, cases of dynamite) across the canyon.To protect themselves against falling objects, some high scalers took cloth hats and dipped them in tar, allowing them to harden. When workers wearing such headgear were struck hard enough to inflict broken jaws, but sustained no skull damage, Six Companies ordered thousands of what initially were called "hard boiled hats" (later hard hats) and strongly encouraged their use.

There's a lot to the Hoover Dam story. The websites I linked to above tell it in much more detail and are interesting to read. You'll see exactly where I plagiarized from. Is it plagiarism if I give credit?


Thought of the day: 

This morning I came, I saw and I was conquered, as everyone would be who sees for the first time this great feat of mankind. - Franklin D. Roosevelt, at the dedication of the dam on September 30, 1935 

Friday, March 13, 2015

It's coming!

I promise there will be a post, for the three of you who watch for it. The internet again, combined with the Google blogging platform not working as it should, has kept a post in limbo for several days.

I will have to break down and drive down the road to the visitor center where the wifi is better, and see if I can make it work. Hang in there.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Keane Wonder Mine

The internet continues to be atrocious. Hours can go by without our being able to get a connection. I have a real bone to pick with the Park Service about this. My argument is that the internet is a utility. We're not told we might or might not have electricity, or that the water supply will be overloaded on weekends or when folks get home from work or back to their campsites after hiking. I've heard the lack of infrastructure argument and say hogwash. It's not like the internet was invented in the last decade. Let the leadership in Washington, San Francisco, and Denver poke along on dial-up speed if they're lucky, and then maybe something will be done for the rank and file in the boondocks. Rant over for now.

Going on three months at Death Valley and I finally got to go to an orientation class. The class is only a couple of years old and is only offered twice a year, so actually I'm pretty lucky that I was able to go at all.

The four-day orientation covers all kinds of subjects like who does what, how can I get something done, and where are things. We also get out in the park, escorted by someone particularly knowledgeable, and one day the abandoned mines expert led a field trip to the Keane Wonder Mine. It is usually closed to the public because of unstable land (due to huge areas underground having been excavated and the remaining ceilings held up only with the occasional pillar), and because of traces of cyanide, mercury, and lead that were used for extracting gold from the ore or were byproducts. Why the park thought we wouldn't fall into an unsupported tunnel or breathe cyanide blown around on the wind, I don't know, but am glad no one thought about it too much.

Read the Wikipedia article about the mine. It's brief but interesting.

Keane was one of the most profitable gold mines in the Valley but played out rather quickly. It's noted for its one and a half mile aerial tramway that carried ore down the mountain to a processing station closer to the road. When I first read about the Keane structures being stabilized in the 1980s, in the abandoned mine lands documents I've been processing (up to more than 27 linear feet of boxes so far!), I was already planning a trip, especially because I knew HH would love to see the operation. Then somewhere else I learned acres and acres of land were closed after all.

We were all blindfolded on the trip out to the mine, except for the drivers who took us there, duh. Some of the group elected to stay behind with the cars when Jeremy, the mines expert, led a hike up the mountain from the base of the tramway, below. Being a never-say-die kind of person, I dragged myself along, ignoring the youngsters who were skipping along like mountain goats. We hiked to the top structure seen in this photo. I wasn't first up there but can also say I wasn't last, either.

The cables are still in place, and an ore car or two. There's one on the right of the structure in front, below, not bad for hard-used equipment that's more than 100 years old. Somewhere I read that the Keane is listed on the National Register, or that it's eligible to be listed, but I can't find verification of that now because of the lousy internet.

The view of the valley made the hike up worth it.

It was a gorgeous day, not too warm and not much wind, so we came back unpoisoned.

On our way back down, someone spotted the chuckwalla below. I'd never heard of this animal before I saw photos of it when I was working on all the slides on the North Rim last summer, and had never seen one in person before. This one was about a foot long, placid as can be, enjoying the sunshine as much as we were. What camouflage! Chuckwallas are known for their loose folds of skin and can be referred to as the Shar-pei of the lizard world.

That was a joke about being blindfolded. You knew that, right? It's on all the maps.


Thought of the day:

The battles that count aren't the ones for gold medals. The struggles within yourself - the invisible, inevitable battles inside all of us - that's where it's at. - Jesse Owens