Tuesday, November 19, 2013
Leaving Albuquerque, we pointed the rig northwest and landed in Las Vegas for a night. While there we met up with friends from Heinz’s enlisted days for pizza and beer. After three hours of MUCH laughter, and lots of “hey, remember when…, and “whatever happened to…, we left the restaurant vowing to get together again soon.
The next day we moved on to Death Valley to meet Keith and Jesse, friends from our Edwards AFB days, for a weekend of camping and motorcycling. We stayed at the Texas Springs Campground (outside of Furnace Creek), and yes, there was in fact a natural spring in the oh-so-dry valley.
Looking out across the campground toward the Grapevine Mountains.
What a great place! Death Valley is known for being an area of extremes. Temperatures normally reach or exceed 100 degrees from mid-May to early October. On July 10, 1913 a temperature of 134 degrees was recorded which stands as the hottest air temperature ever recorded on a properly sited and maintained thermometer anywhere in the world. The highest ground temperature recorded was 201 degrees at Furnace Creek on July 15, 1972. The maximum air temperature for that day was 128 degrees.
Late October and it’s still above 90!
On Saturday and Sunday morning Heinz, Keith, and Jessie pulled out their motorcycle gear and took off to enjoy some male bonding time.
They started out heading to Badwater, the most visited area in the Valley. This is the lowest point in the western hemisphere - 283 feet below sea level. In addition, there are year-round pools of water in one of the driest places on Earth. The area got the name Badwater because the pools, while spring-fed, are in a saltpan so the pools contain saltwater and are not fit for drinking.
The boys at Badwater.
The area surrounding the pools is called Badwater Basin and is covered with saltpan polygons. Evaporation has fashioned these saline tiles into a surface that stretches as far as the eye can see.
Salt pan polygons at Badwater Basin.
Salt crystals in the polygons (notice the fine crystalline hairs of salt).
Fissures in the salt pan.
From Badwater they rode over to Artist’s Drive - considered one of the most scenic routes in Death Valley. The road is a 9-mile narrow, one-lane, one-way, paved road. It winds through hills with multiple colors… red, pink, yellow, green and purple – one can really make out the colors on a section called Artists Palette. The reds, pinks, and yellows are formed by iron salts in the rock. Green comes from mica while manganese causes the purple shades.
Road leaving Badwater.
Multi-colored rock formations at Artists Palette.
Heinz checking out the colors.
Leaving Artist’s Drive it was off to Zabriske Point. Surrounded by a maze of wildly eroded and colorful badlands, this view is one of Death Valley’s most famous. There is a 2.5 mile hiking trail that goes to the top outlet of Golden Canyon, a portion of the yellow foothills of the Panamint Mountains.
Eroded rock formations along the Panamint foothills.
Volcanic rocks top many of the formations.
From Zabriske Point it was off to Dante’s View. This mountain top overlook is more than 5,000 feet above the floor of Death Valley. The view towers directly over Badwater and the sweeping view of the valley and surrounding mountain ranges is breathtaking.
Harmony Borax Works was the central feature in the opening of Death Valley and the subsequent popularity of the Furnace Creek area. After borax was found near Furnace Creek Ranch in 1881, William T. Coleman built the Harmony plant and began to process ore in late 1883. When in full operation the Borax Works employed 40 men who produced three tons of borax daily. During the summer months, the weather was often so hot the processing water would not cool enough to permit the suspended borax to crystallize.
Getting the finished product to market from the heart of Death Valley was a difficult task, and an efficient method had to be devised. The Harmony operation became famous through the use of large mule teams and double wagons which hauled borax the long overland route to Mojave, CA. The romantic image of the 20-mule team persists to this day and has become the symbol of the borax industry in America.
The Harmony plant went out of operation in 1888, after only five years of production, when Coleman's financial empire collapsed. On December 31, 1974, the site was place on the National Register of Historic Places. There are however still other borax mining operations in and around Death Valley to this day.
Well preserved wagon used to haul Borax to Mojave.
On to Titus Canyon – a 27-mile, high-clearance vehicle, dirt/gravel road through the Grapevine Mountains. Along the way, there are rugged rock formations, a ghost town, petroglyphs, wildlife, rare plants and a canyon narrowing down to a one-lane pathway – a pretty spectacular ride! Of course to see all that, a motorcycle rider would have to divert one’s hyper-focused gaze up from the approaching rocks, gulleys, and patches of sand about to go under ones tires (and potentially causing said motorcycle rider to drop his bike) – something Heinz was apparently too nervous to risk (that's according to him, not me, ha!).
The early (and easiest) stretch of Titus Canyon.
Oh crap! You mean I got to ride this lousy road up, over, and through those mountains?
Yes, sometimes you ride somewhat “through” the mountain.
With Heinz surviving Titus Canyon (Keith and Jesse are WAY more adept riding in dirt/gravel), the boys rode over to have lunch at Scotty’s castle.
Scotty’s Castle is a two-story Mission Revival and Spanish Colonial style villa located in the northern part of Death Valley. Built in 1922, at a cost somewhere between $1.5-$2.5 million, the villa has a very colorful history. Prospector, performer, and con man Walter Scott, convinced Chicago millionaire Albert Mussey Johnson to invest in his Death Valley gold mine. Initially angered when the gold mine turned out to be fraudulent, Johnson was fascinated with Scott, and the two men struck up an unlikely, and lifelong friendship. The villa was built as a winter home for Johnson and his wife, but was mainly occupied by Scott – who apparently always needed more money from Johnson to keep building the house.
Scotty's Castle. (photo courtesy of Wikipedia)
After lunch, it was on to Ubehebe Crater, a large volcanic crater possibly formed as recently as 300 years ago. At over 600 feet deep and half a mile across, it is the largest of the volcanic craters in the park. When hot magma rising up from the depths reached groundwater, the resultant steam and gas explosions threw cinders over incredible distance. On the rim of the crater, the layer of cinders is as much as 150 deep.
Ubehebe Crater. (photo courtesy of Wikipedia)
One might think that this is not really a lot of ground to cover on a motorcycle in two days, but Death Valley is rather large and spread out, with vast distances between locations – so the boys did a pretty good job getting as many sites (and miles) in as they did.
Our evenings were spent with the four of us gathered around the picnic tables eating some pretty good food, sipping margaritas, telling tall tales and discussing the state of the world and how we would improve it. With no city lights to interfere with our view, watching the sun go down and the stars come out, was simply spectacular!
Monday morning the four of us piled into Jessie’s pickup to explore Echo Canyon. The 10-mile dirt/gravel road starts with deep, bumpy gravel and ends as a rough dirt road suitable for a 4-wheel drive vehicle only. It travels down Echo Canyon to several abandoned mine sites and some truly rough, yet dramatic rock formations.
Mid-section of Echo Canyon Road.
The boys checking out the vistas…
…and an abandoned mine shaft. L to R: Keith, Heinz, and Jessie.
Rusting bed springs at an abandoned home site close to the mine shaft, deep in Echo Canyon.
Streaks of oxidizing iron in the canyon walls.
The sides of Echo Canyon.
Monday afternoon Jessie and Keith headed home and back to work. Sorry guys, but Heinz and I relaxed, read, took a nap, had a couple more margaritas, and generally took life easy.
Tuesday saw the two of us on the BMW with Heinz showing me many of the sights he’d seen over the previous two days.
Come on, come on, we've got lots to see yet!
In the morning, we rode over to Badwater Basin, Devils Golf Course, Artists Way, Zabriske Point, and had lunch on Dante’s View. In the afternoon, we headed north to Rhyolite, a ghost town and once Death Valley’s largest community. From 1905 to 1911 Rhyolite had a population of 5,000 to 10,000 people and supported 50 saloons, 18 stores, 19 lodging houses, a school, a stock exchange, and an opera house.
Signs of human habitation slowly returning to nature.
Hotel front steps.
On the way to Rhyolite we stopped by the Goldwell Open Air Museum. This is an eccentric collection of seven outdoor sculptures crafted by a group of Belgian artists. The museum’s purpose is “to preserve and support artistic exploration in and of the “Amargosa Desert”, an area along the eastern edge of Death Valley National Park. There is no explanation for any of the sculptures, so the viewer is left to make their own interpretation of the meaning. I'll leave to your own interpretation.
"da Vinci's Last Supper".
"Woman", carved woman high on top of a wooden pillar.
"Figure with Bicycle"
"Pink Woman", made of cinderblocks painted pink and yellow.
We loved Death Valley, and since there is so much more to see and do, we have already put it on our “someday we gotta go back” list. But based on temperatures we encountered in October, we’ll probably not be going in the middle of summer.
We’ve spent the past two weeks hanging out in northern California as Heinz and I have had some medical/dental appointments, as well as other chores to attend to. But along the way, we made time to get together with some friends for dinner, an outing to a local winery, and a trip to Pacifica to try our luck at crabbing (none - luck and crabs!).
Fall colors at the winery.
Cathy and Bert.
Crabbing off the pier in Pacifica.
Morning fog off the Pacifica pier.
Along the way Heinz has also been doing some maintenance on the rig. It’s the end of the year, and our home is due some preventative maintenance (oil and fuel filter changes, lube, major service of the generator, etc.), as well as the rather big job of changing out a cracked exhaust manifold. He also did a major tune-up on the motorcycle (oil change, valve adjustments, brake bleeding, fork seals, etc.), as well as other odds/ends around the “house”. Yes, even without a traditional house to tend to – you still can’t escape the dreaded… chores!
Time for an end-of-day clean up!!
For a while now, we have been talking about spending a Christmas in Germany. I love Christmas time (Germany has some incredible Christmas markets), and Heinz wants to show me where he grew up. Well, we finally are going to make it happen this year. Heinz’s sister will be joining us in a few weeks to visit family, do some sightseeing, and shop at the many Christmas Markets throughout Germany.
While Suzi is flying with a commercial airline, Heinz and I are going to try our hand at flying through the military Space-Available (Space-A) system. The Space-A system is designed to allow active duty military or retirees to hitch a ride on military aircraft that have extra… you guessed it… space available. The flights are mission-dependent, and fly to many stateside and overseas locations..
We’ll be trying to fly out to the east coast sometime in the next week (hopefully), and then try to catch another Space-A flight to Germany after Thanksgiving. I say hopefully, because one never knows with military flights - sometimes they have lots of Space-A seats available, and sometimes they have none; sometimes airplanes take off on time, and sometimes they’re delayed; sometimes new flights are added to the schedule, and sometimes flights are cancelled at the last minute; and sometimes flights land at an airport far from your destination due to maintenance problems.
But that’s all part of the adventure, with one trading uncertainty and time (waiting for a flight that might, or might not happen) with a free passage to/from (in this case) Germany. This is also our chance to get more acquainted with the military Space-A system. The last time Heinz flew Space-A was back in 1985, and things have certainly changed over the years. This is our chance to get the up-to-date details of Space-A travel, and if this trip works out as expected, Space-A may well be a way for us to travel overseas in the future.
Needless to say (but I’ll say it anyway)… I won’t be posting for a while, as I don’t plan to haul the computer along on this trip. But when we get back in January, I will be posting again on our adventures.
In the meantime, here’s our “friends of the day”:
Dragonfly in Death Valley along the Texas Spring.
A hitchhiker . He hung on for ½ a mile, until 35 mph got the best of him!
Come-on-man, help a brother out…Toss me a bite – just a little one… paaaleeese.
Tuesday, November 12, 2013
I know it’s been quite a while since I posted, and I would love to use the excuse that I’ve been busy. Unfortunately, as busy as I have been, there was still time to post and I was too lazy and distracted by important things like watching football (Go LSU, Chiefs, and Saints), Formula 1 racing, and Project Runway. But I’ll catch you up in two episodes: the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta followed by Death Valley and Beyond.
After leaving Shreveport back in late September we drifted over to Albuquerque once again – we had planned to get together with family during the balloon festival. We settled into the FamCamp on Kirtland AFB and looked around for things to do. First up was checking on concerts in the area. We lucked out with Los Lonely Boys and War playing at a local casino and John Mayer at an open amphitheater.
We showed up at the casino in plenty of time for me to do a little playing on the slot machines, using up my self-allotted $20 and rejoining Heinz. Imagine our disappointment when we learned that Los Lonely Boys had canceled due to injuries sustained by one of the band members when he fell off a stage. But the venue booked a local band to open the show and they were pretty good. Then War came on and we rocked out to all those oldies but goodies that we’d grown up with.
A couple of days later we bundled up, grabbed a blanket, and headed out to the Isleta Amphitheater to see John Mayer. We sat up in the grassy area surrounded by teens and young adults who were VERY familiar with his music and tended to sing along, loudly. But it was a friendly crowd and we had fun.
Gathering for the evening.
The amphitheater as the sun set.
After a week by ourselves, family started drifting in. First to arrive was Heinz’s sister, Suzi. We toddled around Albuquerque and Santa Fe showing her the sights.
Santa Fe doorway.
It's fall and the trees were changing.
Santa Fe Marketplace.
Back street in the oldest part of town.
Two days after she arrived we headed for the Balloon Fiesta Fairgrounds for our first of many visits. The Fiesta is a yearly nine-day festival of hot air balloons, now in its 42nd year. Starting in 1972 with 13 balloons as part of the celebration for KOB Radio’s 50th anniversary, it has grown to be the largest hot air balloon gathering in the world. The Fiesta now limits the number of participating balloons to 600. This is down from an all time high of 1,019 in 2000. The Fiesta Board decided to limit the number due to population growth in the city and a corresponding loss of landing areas. On any given day during the festival, up to 100,000 spectators may be on the launch field among the balloons to observe inflation and take offs, an opportunity that is rare at other balloon festivals.
Welcome to the Balloon Fiesta!
The Fiesta is a truly international event. Pilots and their balloons came from almost every state in the U.S and 17 other countries. There were balloons from Ireland, England, every province in Canada, France, Poland, Switzerland, Costa Rica, China, South Africa, Germany, Lithuania, Italy, Mexico, Thailand, Belgium, Brazil and Croatia. Many of these countries had multiple pilot entries.
We got up early (at 4:00am) so we could catch the Dawn Patrol lifting off at 5:45am. The Dawn Patrol is a group of five or six balloonists that take off before dawn to check wind conditions aloft. It’s a great chance to see balloons lit up in a dramatic fashion.
Dawn Patrol taking off.
Heading out to check the wind conditions.
After watching the early takeoff we headed over to the food booths to try a green chili breakfast burrito and snag some hot chocolate to try and warm up. It was around 43 degrees with a light breeze blowing. I had no real interest in drinking the chocolate - I just wanted to hold the hot cup!
Heinz bundled up against the cold, but determined to get the shot.
Dawn was beautiful and more balloonists were beginning to set up, so off we went to wander around and snap a LOT of photos. All of the pilots and crews were super friendly and would answer any of our questions as they worked. This is my photo documentary showing how a balloon is unpacked, readied, inflated, and takes to the air.
Dawn over the Sandia Mountains.
Crew arriving with balloon and basket loaded.
Unpacking the envelope (the balloon portion of a hot air balloon).
Envelope stretched out and almost ready to inflate.
Prepping for inflation and final check of rope positioning.
Crews begin by inflating the envelope using large box fans. Note the basket lying on its side at the right side of the photo.
Blowing up the envelope with the fans takes around 30 minutes.
Pilots will let the occasional photographer inside the envelope to snap a shot. Heinz weaseled his way into this one.
After inflating the envelope with the box fans, the pilot starts up the burners to heat up the air already trapped inside.
Close up of the burners.
Hot air causes the envelope to begin rising off the ground.
As the envelope begins to rise, the basket begins to tilt upright.
It’s a balancing act for the pilot at this stage.
While the pilot and part of the crew are raising the envelope, other crew members are controlling the movement of the inflating fabric.
Once a pilot is ready to take off, the “zebras” clear the area in front of the balloon of observers in order to provide an open pathway for takeoff as balloons move both forward and up during lift-off. These safety personnel got their nickname years ago when the Fiesta Board got a good deal on umpire uniforms for them to wear. Over the years each has personalized their outfit, with the only consistent item being the umpire shirt and jacket.
Taking off with the ground crew controlling the side-to-side movement of the basket.
Grace in the air.
Wandering around the grounds was amazing. The three of us stared, clicked our cameras, ooh-ed and ahh-ed, pointed, laughed, and had an absolute blast.
Suzi and Teresa enjoying the show.
Heinz aiming for the pilot's perspective.
Walking among the balloons.
Morning ascension, only about 300 balloons went up this day.
On Tuesday, Tash and Ryan flew in from Pennsylvania and now we were five. We headed over to ride the tram up Sandia Peak to watch the sunset, but were too late and were still on the road as the sun dropped behind the distant hills. No problem, we just headed home and pulled out a new card game that Suzi had brought along, Cards Against Humanity. This is not a game for the faint of heart, the easily offended, or the tender ears of children. I’ll let you look up the game on the Internet – it was LOTS of fun!
The next morning we were up at 4:00am again and were heading out to the festival grounds by 5:00am for the Dawn Patrol. It was “Special Shapes” day and we were determined to get some great photos.
Darth Vader: the ground crew for this balloon dressed as storm troopers--Belgium
L to R: Gizzmo--Texas, Spyderpig--New Mexico, Teddy--Indiana
Ryan focusing in on…perhaps a balloon?
Gus T. Guppy--Minnesota
Tash is captivated by the hummingbird.
Mr. Z--New Mexico (in mid-inflation).
L to R: Scuba Diver--Brazil, Aaron--Quebec, Canada, Ladysun--France.
Sarah the Witch--California
Ryan, Tash, Teresa, and Suzi having a great time.
Joey Little Bee--New Mexico and Ully Little Bee--Vermont, kissing in mid-air--quite a demonstration of precision flying.
Cameron Doll--Great Britain
We spent the rest of the day checking out Old Town in Albuquerque and doing a little light shopping. That night we managed to get over to the tram in time for sunset. But, it was not to be. The tram was closed due to high winds. So we sat by the parking lot and watched the sunset from the foothills.
Waiting for sunset. (photo courtesy of Ryan)
Sunset from the Sandia foothills.
On Sunday, we were joined by Jess, Pete, and their little joy, Nora. And so we were eight. Of course, when they arrived we all smiled politely at Jess and Pete, grabbed Nora away from them and took turns passing her around.
Meeting Tante Suzi for the first time.
You're never too young for your first ride.
Saturday morning it was up at 4:00am yet again to show Jess and Pete the wonders of the Balloon Fiesta. With quite a bit of yawning and a bit bleary eyed, we tumbled out of the cars at the festival site, and headed straight for breakfast, introducing them to the joys of those green chili breakfast burritos.
Ah, breakfast of champions.
After breakfast, it was off to the grounds to wander around the balloons. It was a day with a mass ascension. The goal for the day was to launch 600 balloons in 1½ hours. Amazingly, it was accomplished.
Wow, what are all these people doing up at this hour? And I don’t know what all the hoopla is about “Special Shape” balloons – I’ve been pulling off this alligator thing my whole life long!
Heading out on the Dawn Patrol.
Marriage proposal via balloon. (She said yes.)
An amazing sight, looking straight up.
Wow! How incredible is this? Jess, enjoying the sights.
Heinz's bragging about his "great shot".
Tash, dwarfed by balloons.
The mass ascension begins, 600 balloons launched in less than 2 hours.
The gang. L to R: Pete, Teresa, Jess holding Nora, Heinz, Suzi, Tash, and Ryan.
That night we went back to the festival site for the Night Glow. This is an event where many of the pilots inflate their balloons while remaining tethered. They then proceed to continue to burn fuel to keep the envelopes inflated as the sun goes down and they are illuminated in the dark.
Starting the burn for the Night Glow.
Night Glow magic.
An impressive sight.
Fireworks after the Glow.
On Sunday, Jess, Pete, Nora, and Suzi sadly headed for home. But, never fear, we soldiered on with Tash and Ryan for two more days. We talked a lot of smack while playing UNO; laughed long, hard, and loud; and poked around Albuquerque and Santa Fe.
Tash (far left) checking the jewelry on offer from the Indian craftsmen in front of the Governor’s Palace in Santa Fe.
Religious antiques for sale.
Ryan, Tash, and Teresa chilling out in Santa Fe.
Some the boots for sale around town were beautiful, and expensive, ranging up to $5,000 for a pair.
Rosaries hung on a tree outside the Loretta Chapel as prayer offerings or thanks for prayers answered.
Dia de Muertos (Day of the Dead) painted skulls. Celebrated from Oct. 31 through Nov. 2, this is a time for family and friends to gather to remember and pray for those who have died.
Tash and Ryan left us on Tuesday and the rig became eerily quiet again. It was ABSOLUTELY TERRIFIC having the family together and having so much fun. Thanks to all for coming.
I have one other fascinating photograph for you to drool over before I add our friends of the day.
Yep, you read it right…$2.97 for unleaded gas!! This was shot in Albuquerque.
And now, here are our friends of the day:
Dragon on a housetop in Santa Fe.
Hopper T. Frog--Utah
Peg Leg Pete--Illinois