Fire Cloud...
An irregular marking on the exterior of Native American pottery: usually resulting from burning fuel coming in direct contact with the vessel during firing

Sunday, 31 December 2006

The One Who Yawns

Two AM - Willcox, Arizona – December 31, 2006

The headlights came on in the Toyota again this morning. We forgot to leave them in the high beam position. I need to compose and mail a certified complaint letter to Toyota . Orion is in the west with Sirius and an oblate moon this morning.

Willcox is literally a whistle stop in the desert, except the long trains don't stop here anymore. They just chug though and whistle about once an hour. Most of them are bearing hundreds of containers with Chinese names on the way to Wal-Mart super centers.

We returned to the Chiricahua National Monument equipped with our new Chinese waterproof boots. The snow had partially melted into puddles and then refrozen on the trails making them very treacherous. At the 7,000 foot level the 25 degree F. afternoon temperature and winds made our Florida winter clothes and lack of gloves seem very inadequate. We decided instead to try hiking Fort Bowie at Apache Springs.

To get to Apache Springs from Willcox, you drive south 20 miles on a two-lane paved road though the desert, then east on a dirt road into the mountains another eight miles. Then you park and walk along a trail two miles to the Fort and then back to your car on another trail.

The first thing seen on the trail of the Fort Bowie National Historic Site is the foundation of a miner’s cabin. Gold bearing veins in granite were discovered her in the 1850s. That discovery did not bode well for Cochise and his tribe.

Further along the trail is a small valley called Apache Pass. A railroad survey team camped here for two days in the 1850s looking for an all-weather transcontinental rail route. Later they found a better route further north. The Butterfield stage company established a stop here on the 25-day, 2,800 mile route from St Louis to San Francisco. Cochise chopped wood here and granted safe passage for the stage line in exchange for gifts. The narrow stage trail ruts are still visible though the valley.

The "Bascom affair" occurred here in this remote empty valley. Lt. Bascom wrongly accused Cochise of kidnapping a settler boy and ordered him held when he reported for questioning. Offended, Cochise bolted from the tent and escaped. Both sides took and executed hostages leading to a bitter eleven-year war.

A wagon train massacre occurred here as well as a large scale battle between the Apaches and California Volunteers. Over 100 soldiers in the graveyard were disinterred and relocated when the fort shut down after Geronimo’s surrender in 1886. The graveyard still contains 37 civilian bodies, including the three-year old son of Geronimo, who was named Little Robe.

Geronimo talked to God on a nearby mountain top. God told Geronimo that he would not die in battle, but that he would die of old age. This prophesy turned out to be true, Geronimo died in a POW camp at Fort Sills in July, 1909. Geronimo was born Goyahkla, "The One Who Yawns," to the Bedonkohe people, a branch of the Eastern Chiricahua Apache. His name was invoked by American paratroopers during WWII.

Apache Springs further on is just a trickle. Water in this desert is rare. The spring is caused by a geologic fault with granite on one side and sedimentary rock on the other. Without the fault there would be no water and no history here.

The last stop on the two mile foot trail is the ruin of Ft. Bowie. This is an extensive complex of buildings including ammunition bunkers and howitzer positions. Morale here was low due to poor food, disease, lack of entertainment, harsh discipline and the ever-present hostile Apaches. Troops were rotated out frequently.

On the trail, something eats birds and berries...

The trail back winds over a high hill covered with desert agave, prickly pear cactus, scrub oak and soapstone yucca plants. The historic site is well done with interesting historic, geologic and botanic plaques to read every few hundred feet.

Happy New Year!

Here are pictures of Apache Pass and the Chiricahua Mountains....

Friday, 29 December 2006

I was born where the wind blew free

Cochise County, Arizona - December 29, 2006

We are about 60 miles east of New Mexico on Interstate 10. We ran into snow flurries on the way in. The TV says there is a severe snow storm on the way. I plugged in a little Wal-Mart heater where the water tanks and holding tanks are located down in the RV basement. The RV Park here has a big workout room, a restaurant, an indoor heated pool and hot tub and a big book exchange. I picked up three new things to read.

Chief Cochise was buried secretly somewhere in the Cochise Stronghold nearby. There is also Tombstone, Karchner Caverns, an underground coal mine tour to see.

The Chiricahua National Monument is one of the mountainous "sky islands" rising out of the vast Arizona deserts.

To establish a National Park requires an act of Congress. National monuments, forests, rivers, historical sites, battlefields, etc, require only the signature of a President. This area was set aside as a National Monument in 1924 by President Calvin Coolidge.

The Chiricahua Mountains were created by a massive volcanic eruption only 26 million years ago. Thick layers of ash were compressed into rock, uplifted, eroded and fractured. The Chicicahua Apaches called this “land-of-rocks-stood-on-end”.

Today we drove 40 miles over flat, dry desert (uplifted to 5,000 feet) to reach the base of the mountains. Six inches of snow, very rare in this dry climate, covered the trees and hills. There is a historical ranch preserved in the monument called the Faraway Ranch. We walked a short distance and got wet boots. Back in town, we purchased waterproof Coleman hiking boots to try again tomorrow. There are over 16 miles of hiking trails in the Monument.

Cochise was born about 1815. He led efforts to repel Mexican settlers until a period of relative peace began in 1850 when the US annexed the area. He was falsely accused of kidnapping a settler’s son and imprisoned after reporting for questioning. He escaped after being shot three times. He took hostages to use in negotiations, but his plan backfired and both sides killed all their hostages. Cochise signed another treaty in 1872 and is believed to be buried in the Cochise stronghold nearby..

Disgruntled Apache warriors, most notably Geronimo, continued raids until 1886. That was the last significant Indian guerrilla action in the United States. At the end, his group consisted of only 16 warriors, 12 women, and 6 children. Upon their surrender, Geronimo and over 300 of his fellow Chiricahuas were shipped to Fort Marion, Florida. One year later many of them were relocated to the Mt. Vernon barracks in Alabama, where about one quarter died from tuberculosis and other diseases. Geronimo died on Feb. 17, 1909, as a prisoner of war.

“I was born on the prairies where the wind blew free and there was nothing to break the light of the sun. I was born where there were no enclosures." – Geronimo

Chirichua Pictures

Tuesday, 26 December 2006

Pancho Villa Invades New Mexico

Columbus, New Mexico

Pancho was a bandit boy, his horse was fast as polished steel
He wore his gun outside his pants
For all the honest world to feel

- Willie Nelson, "Pancho and Lefty"

We drove 100 miles deeper into the vast Chihuahua desert today to see the Pancho Villa museum on the Mexican border in Columbus, New Mexico.

Pancho and 500 of his "poorly-dressed, but well-armed" men crossed the border in July, 1916 at 4:30 AM for reasons that are still not precisely known. This was the last invasion of the continental US by a foreign army. It is believed that Pancho thought of the US as a friend and was outraged that the US allowed a train of Mexican Federal forces to pass though Columbus and deliver a stinging defeat to his rebel forces. The government was busy making friends even back then.

The Mexicans came into the small, dusty border-town of Columbus shooting and burning buildings. They asked for a local storekeeper who was away in El Paso. One theory is that the shopkeeper accepted money from the rebels for ammunition, but never delivered.

The nearby army outpost had 340 soldiers. The soldiers had to break into their own armory to mount a defense. The armory contained a number of French 30-round machine guns which were prone to jam when incorrectly loaded. Eventually, after getting the guns working, the invaders were beaten back. Ten US civilians, 8 American soldiers and 90 Mexican rebels were killed in the melee. The dead Mexicans were stacked in the desert and burned. Those captured were hanged.

Within a week "Blackjack" Pershing and 10,000 soldiers arrived by train to avenge this outrage. "Blackjack" was accompanied by Lieutenant George Patton, a number of "Jenny" biplanes, modern armored vehicles, horses, mules and a number of new "Four Wheel Drive" trucks.

The chase down into the Mexican desert and mountains lasted a year and penetrated 500 miles South into Mexico. The Army never made contact with Pancho's forces and eventually returned to Columbus almost a year later..

One Army Veteran said, "It was like hunting a bear, we hoped we'd never catch it. The Mexicans would jump on their horses and ride all night, eating jerky. We had to form up our army and lumber along 10 or 15 miles a day in slow pursuit".

After visiting the museum we had some really good tacos and enchiladas at the "Pancho Villa Restaurant". Looking at the wall decorations, I could tell their sympathies, like mine, were with Pancho, who was never caught.

Saturday, 23 December 2006

“Peacocks can’t fly above 7,000 feet” -HST

Aguirre Springs, New Mexico – December 22, 2006

We went hiking in the rugged Organ Mountains northeast of Las Cruces today. The hike today started at 5,500 feet and rose to 6,800 in a four mile loop that took us over three hours. The hike included a close overlook of the White Sands Missile test facility at the base of the mountains. The views and vistas were stunning as we climbed though the snow and boulders. From 6,500 feet we could see the White Sands National Monument white sand dunes 40 miles distant.

We stumble upon animal tracks and excrement in the mud and snow and try to guess what left the signs. Sometimes I see only Mrs. Phred’s footprints ahead in the snow and realize we are off the trail again.

We were listening around 1 PM Mountain time for a sonic boom from the returning shuttle, but it was decided at the last minute that the shuttle could land at Canaveral, rather than diverting to the White Sands Space Harbor below.

On the hike, looking down at the government base in the desert, I wondered if we might be seeing a secret base, even the fabled Los Alamos. Big things happened here in New Mexico from 1943 to 1945.

“…And these atomic bombs which science burst upon the world that night were strange even to the men who used them.” - H. G. Wells, The World Set Free, 1914

Trinity Site, where the world's first atomic bomb was exploded at 5:29:45 AM on July 16, 1945, is open to the public only twice a year--on the first Saturday in April and October. Trinity is located on the northern end of the 3,200-square-mile White Sands Missile Range below us, between the towns of Carrizozo and Socorro. Visitors need to make a 170 mile drive with no services available. We can see the Southern end of the missile range from our perch.

A one-hour visit to Trinity’s inner fenced area will result in a whole body exposure of one-half to one milliroentgen. In comparison, flying coast to coast in an airliner gives an exposure of between three and five milliroentgens on each trip. Smoking a pack a day adds 40 milliroentgens of exposure in a year.

The heat of the blast melted the desert sand and turned it into a green glassy substance. The green glass is called Trinitite and can still be seen in the area. At one time Trinitite completely covered the depression made by the explosion. Afterwards the depression was filled and much of the Trinitite was taken away by the Nuclear Energy Commission. The remaining Trinitite is still radioactive and should not be picked up as a souvenir.

Los Alamos, New Mexico itself is in a remote location 200 miles north of the White Sands missile test area, about 40 miles west of Santa Fe. It’s near the Bandolier National Monument which contains archeological remnants of Indians that once inhabited the area.

Here’s a link to an album with way too many pictures of the Organ Mountains, cactus in the snow and wild Texas horses.

Friday, 22 December 2006

1,000 Things to See Before You Die

Ink's Lake State Park, Texas - December 19, 2006

The Space Shuttle would be visible in the northeast right now, if not for the sudden overcast. We are northwest of Austin near LBJ’s old ranch.

This is a beautiful area, Texas hill country, complete with lakes. We are on the shore of a lovely lake. Imagine living on prime lakefront for $20 a night, all utilities included. We like it here. The geography is very unusual. Rain is expected tomorrow. Traffic going though Houston and Austin was very taxing.

My copy of "1,000 things to see before you die" has five entries for Texas. This hill country area is one of the five, especially during wildflower season. There are somewhat less than 999 to go, due to prior travels.

I agree with a few of the 1,000 things in the book, but the omissions are stunning. Where is diving to see the sunken ships in Truk lagoon? Where is the pink and purple candy cotton wonderland between two cloud layers at dawn at 8,000 feet over the Pribilof Islands? Where is the South Dakota Tractor Museum? What about the Southern Cross and the Aurora Borealis?

We had to drive to another county to buy wine because this one is "dry". The buxom blonde behind the liquor store counter on the county line had the TV going. Her two young sons were both playing behind the gated counter with a young pit-bull. There were empty Burger King wrappers on the counter, so I know she fed them. She sweetly wished me a good week and "Merry Christmas" as I left.

Mrs. Phred and I took a ride in the early 70s up to Tallahassee on a borrowed fast motorcycle to visit a was two in the morning and we were visiting and listening to a quadraphonic ghost repeater radio station floating over the gulf from Panama City...a lovely song came was called "Stairway to Heaven"...There's something about the first time for everything, including Texas Hill Country.

Here are some Texas photos. Mostly algae covered rocks. The rocks are Texas gneiss, high grade pink and gray metamorphic rocks melted deep below the earth. There are also shots of Texas ranch gates, and a few of the small town of Llano, Texas.

It was overcast and the pictures were drab so I punched up the images color warmth, shadows and highlights to create an artificial reality as it should have been.

Thursday, 14 December 2006

Stalking the Wild Rougarou

Crawford, Louisiana – December 14, 2006

The Rougarou is found in the swamps and bayous of southern Louisiana. The name may also be spelled Roux-Ga-Roux. The Rougarou is half-man, half-wolf and half-alligator. It is thought that a person may sometimes become a Rougarou by breaking Lent seven years running. We were able photograph one of these rare Cajun creatures at a Jeb’s crawfish farm in Crawford, Louisiana.

Jeb is the 4th generation of his family to farm crawfish and rice. He has a funny looking boat that has a pusher attachment. These boats can run in shallow water or on dry land. Jeb farms 400 acres of crawfish single-handedly. The crawfish may burrow into the earth about eight feet during the hot dry summer and are harvested from December to May when water returns to the fields. Jeb rotates his fields and splits the crop between rice one year and crawfish the next. His boat has an ingenious mechanism of rollers which sends the little ones back to grow and puts the big ones in a sack. Here are some photos.

Crawfish (or crayfish or crawdads) are similar to tiny lobsters. One of Jeb’s biggest problems is crawfish rustlers and employee embezzlement of crawfish. For this reason he works alone. As a side note, if you ask the Florida Department of Wildlife for a lobster stamp for your fishing license you just get a blank stare. You have to ask them for a crayfish stamp, which is strange because it is a license to catch spiny lobsters.

The previous generations of Jeb’s ancestors were avid collectors of antiques and old automobiles. There are several houses and warehouses stuffed full of unusual antiques and old cars on the farm. Jeb has hired a curator to sort things out and to give tours while he harvests the crawfish, and the sorting looks like a monumental job, only just begun.

The people in this area are very friendly to strangers and they, and the music and food are totally unique to this part of the U.S. Last night we went to a roadhouse for seafood gumbo, crawfish etouffee and a concert by the Lafayette Rhythm Devils.

There was a large dance area and the ladies sat on benches and waited for a gentleman to invite them to dance what I believe to have been the “Cajun Two-Step”. Cajun music is very heavy on the fiddle and accordion, but the Devils also had two electric guitars and a drummer. The vocals are French-American and instantly recognizable as a distinct and upbeat musical genre.

This area was spared by Katrina, but Rita blew through a few weeks later and destroyed and damaged many homes. The graves here are above ground and many coffins and bodies floated far away. It is a tradition here to paint the graves every year, so finding a recognizable relative in the swamp who had been buried twenty years earlier must have been traumatic.

I received some positive answers to my requests to volunteer with rebuilding efforts South of New Orleans. Unfortunately I discovered today that G-mail put them in my SPAM folder last week, so I need to sort that out.

Monday, 11 December 2006

Sucking Crawfish Heads

Abbeville, Louisiana - December 11, 2006

This is Cajun country. The Cajuns are of French ancestry and were rounded up in Nova Scotia and expelled in 1755. They settled in Louisiana and are known for fantastic crawfish gumbo and zydeco music, featuring the fiddle and the accordion.

There are lots of things to do here. There is the McIlhenny Tabasco hot sauce factory to visit for a two-hour tour and the agrifactory where crawfish and rice are grown in the same fields. It takes three years to make the Tabasco sauce. It's marketed in 100 languages and the entire world supply is produced on 2,300 acres on an island just a short distance away. Just down the road in Abbeville are eight municipal tennis courts (scores 6-0. 6-1 in favor of Mrs. Phred)

In Morgan City, 60 miles east, there is a 110 foot tower with 61 carillon bells cast in Holland (a photo op) and an oil rig museum.

The carillon bells are closed on Monday and the gates are locked, so we have crawfish gumbo and wait for the 2 PM tour of Mr. Charlie in Morgan City. Mr. Charlie is the first offshore drilling platform. It was constructed from 1952 to 1954. It’s a submersible platform capable of drilling in depths of up to 40 feet.

Mrs. Phred and I are the only people who show up for the 2 o’clock tour. The platform was retired in 1992 and sold for $10. It is currently used to train oil service workers. The company that sold the rig now pays the new owners thousands per worker to train new hires. The old rig is amazingly complex and I listen intently but only understand and absorb a small fraction of the drilling technology. This training program is said to have reduced oil rig worker turnover by 49 percent.

Today rigs float in place in deep water and thrusters keep them in position by monitoring GPS signals.

We are staying in Betty’s RV Park. Betty has a class act in a Louisiana bayou. She has 15 RV sites situated around her house. Every evening at 4 she has a social cocktail hour. We were advised by other travelers to stay here to get a taste of her gumbo, which is made from chicken, sausage, jalapenos and vinegar. I am told that her small RV Park is rated as one on the 25 best in the U.S.

I refuse to suck crawfish heads, but I really like the tails.

Friday, 8 December 2006

Roadside Relics

Port Sulfur, Louisiana – December 8, 2006

It's crisp and clear here where we are camped on the Tchefuncie River in St. Tammany Parish, which flows into Lake Pontchatrain. Big cypress trees line the banks and grow out in the river shallows. The big lake has a 25 mile long arrow-straight causeway leading south to New Orleans, where the levees broke.

Cryin' won't help you, prayin' won't do you no good,
Now, cryin' won't help you, prayin' won't do you no good,
When the levee breaks, mama, you got to move
- Led Zeppelin

Katrina rolled over the Louisiana bayous 100 miles southeast of New Orleans on the way to smash the Mississippi coast. There wasn’t much on the news about this area and I wanted to see and document what happened.

We drive though New Orleans, past the convention center, and 80 miles down the peninsula toward the Gulf. There appear to be very few repairable structures. Large shrimp boats ended up in fields. FEMA trailers are everywhere. Katrina came though this area at full strength. The refineries and heliports that carry workers to the rigs are about the only things that are repaired.

At the very end of the peninsula a sad collection of broken music boxes, a porcelain Santa, and various small figures are placed on a seawall. A boy’s bicycle and an upside-down SUV are in the rubbish near the seawall.

We drive back to New Orleans and have dinner in the French Quarter. This is Friday night so we want to try the mango daiquiris. The businesses in the quarter are back, but the tourists don’t yet know that the city is open for business. We were the only diners in the restaurant we chose.

Thursday, 7 December 2006

Living in Infamy Forever

New Orleans - December 7, 2006

December 7th...another one of those days that will live in infamy forever...or at least for a little while.

We spent yesterday in New Orleans, checking out the disaster and the recovery efforts. We had lunch in the French Quarter in a garden courtyard. I had jambalaya and shared a salad with Mrs. Phred. The French Quarter shows little sign of the Katrina disaster. It’s on relatively high ground and was not flooded. There is no obvious wind damage.

The French style 2nd and 3rd floor balconies are decorated for both Christmas and for the Mardi Gras coming up in February.

The business district is a little worse for the experience. The trolley cars are not running yet and there is an occasional small business, obviously smashed and looted, that remains shuttered. Soaked drywall is still being replaced in other ground floor businesses.

In the suburbs, the extent of the devastation is mind-numbing. There are literally hundreds of miles of homes on the beach that are simply gone...washed away... and untold square miles of damaged and destroyed homes and businesses in the sprawling New Orleans suburbs. FEMA trailers are parked everywhere next to damaged and destroyed houses and the countryside is dotted with clusters of FEMA trailers in formerly vacant fields.

This makes me think of Japan in late 1945. I have my own thoughts about the causes of the relatively slow pace of recovery and other thoughts about the public policy of providing insurance for mansions built on the edge of the ocean.

If your house is destroyed or damaged, why not just rebuild like the Japanese?
- First, you need to wait to see what government assistance, if any, will be provided. So get in line.
- Second, if you have insurance, you need to wait and negotiate a settlement amount with them. So get in line.
-Third, you probably don’t have any money or a job and the government didn't help and the insurance didn't pay.

What a spectacle. Fifteen months and very little rebuilding or even refuse removal are evident. Even a superpower needs competent leadership to get things done. They don’t make them like Franklin D. Roosevelt anymore.

Wednesday, 6 December 2006

Storm Surge

Biloxi, Mississippi – December 6, 2006

Biloxi is on the Gulf of Mexico about 100 miles east of New Orleans.

I’ve volunteered online to work this winter in the recovery effort in three different places. No takers yet.

The beach in Biloxi stretches to infinity in both directions. The land slopes up very gently at the waters edge. Katrina generated a 30 foot storm surge which scrubbed away almost all the structures along the beach for several blocks inland.

Life has returned to normal a few blocks inland from the Gulf. The only visible sign of Katrina is that all the roofs appear to have brand new shingles and many houses and businesses appear freshly painted.

The beach is another story. There are a few building steel frames standing with no walls or roofs, but for the most part it’s just mile after mile of building foundations. Many signs offer beach front property at bargain rates. Major bridges were demolished and are still not rebuilt.

The oak trees have taken on a strange appearance. All the leaves and small branches were stripped off. The new growth is very thick and close to the stubby trunks and limbs that were left by the 140 mph winds.

Very little reconstruction has taken place along the beach strip. The exception to that rule are the beach casinos which appear fully restored.

They found another body in a New Orleans attic last week. That brought the official body count to 1,697. The government's sad response to the disaster brought the realization that the first limit of power is competent leadership.

Tuesday, 5 December 2006

The World is Yours

Destin, Florida – December 5, 2006

Tony: "Me, I want what's coming to me."

Chico: ""What's coming to you?"

Tony: "The world, Chico, and everything in it."

-Tony Montana

We are moving west and stop at Destin on the beach between Panama City and Fort Walton Beach. I’ve driven back and forth on the 200 mile beach road between Tallahassee and Pensacola dozens of times over the past 40 years.

At first there were a few fishing villages and a handful of sleazy motels on the beach.

The growth lately seems exponential. There are ten story condos lining the beach in both directions. The sleepy two-lane road is now a clogged six-lane and there are two factory outlet malls within walking distance.

Still, even with all the growth, the wide white sand beaches and brilliant blue water are still beautiful.

Monday, 4 December 2006

Saint Joseph‘s Peninsula State Park, Florida...On the Beach

This park is on the “forgotten coast” of Florida’s panhandle. The uninhabited peninsula curves nearly 30 miles into the Gulf of Mexico. The last ten miles are white sand dunes, pines, beach and marsh. Shells litter the beach.

I’m trying to detox. It’s been four days since I’ve had any tobacco or alcohol. To compensate, we hang out here and take long walks on the beach. The beach stretches a long way.

Quitting is easy. I’ve done it hundreds of times. The hard part is not starting again.

At 5 AM yesterday morning the full moon sank into the Gulf to the west. I took the tripod to the beach and got some interesting moon set shots.

The nearest town to the east is Apalachicola. It’s always been a small commercial fishing village. We went to a small fish market and bought flounder for dinner yesterday. The flounder was very fresh and very good.

To the west is the town of St. Joe and its paper mills. The town smells bad but it has a tennis court which is empty. All the cars are parked at the churches. I lost 6-1, 6-0. It’s nice to be able to wrap my hand around the racket easily once again after the operation for the Dupuytren’s contracture last month.

I put on my old fins and have a long swim before dinner. It’s not uncomfortable, but I prefer warmer water.

This is the home of the endangered St. Andrews beach mouse. Some 240 species of migratory seabirds have been identified here and the wildflowers provide food for the amazing migrating Monarch butterflies.