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

Saturday, 27 January 2007

Are We There, Yet?

Route 66 Museum - Elk City, Oklahoma – January 27, 2007

You walk in and slide behind the wheel of a pink ’56 Cadillac convertible. The leather seats are surprisingly comfortable and roomy. The signature “bullets” are on the front bumper. No seat belts, of course. Step on the gas pedal and a video of a two lane road unfolds though the windshield. Engine and tire bumping noises accompany the slow road trip. After about five miles, a loud child’s voice from the rear asks, “Are we there, yet?”

Route 66 is the symbol of the freedom to go anywhere you want to go anytime you want to do it. The small towns along the route allowed people to meet each other and experience exotic locations like the Petrified Forest and Painted Desert. After the Interstates were built it became entirely possible to drive from the Atlantic to the Pacific and never see anything at all.

Here you can also watch parts of “The Blob” from the back seat of a red’59 Chevy convertible with the strangely curved fins. There are drive-in theatre speakers.

Next you watch a 15 minute video that traces the development of transportation and highways in America. Route 66 earned the nickname, “The Mother Road” It leads from Chicago to Santa Monica.

Motion sensors note your presence and tell you stories as you walk though the extensive museum. There are stories about the Oklahoma dustbowl and about the “Jackrabbit Café”, last stop for 177 miles in the Arizona desert. There is an old recreational vehicle from 1929, a marvel of airy woodwork and windows.

There is a large agricultural museum in the complex with old tractors, washing machines, combines, farm trucks and many windmills. This is not surprising since Elk City is clearly an agricultural center with many tractor dealers and other businesses that exist to support farming.

Here are a few
Route 66 Museum pictures

Friday, 26 January 2007

Breakfast With the Chief of Police

Somewhere in New Mexico, January 26, 2007

We pull into a small town in New Mexico. There is a small diner open for breakfast. We walk over an icy four-lane highway and go into the restaurant.

There are four patrons who warmly welcome us and ask us to sit at their table close to the heater. One of them is C_____, who is dressed as a working cowboy with jeans, a flannel shirt and a faded jacket. We speak to them and exchange life stories. They all live in the small town. One-by-one, everyone leaves except C_____ and the cook who is the owner.

C_____ appears to be about 50 years old. C_____ asks me about my Pink Floyd T-shirt and expresses a love for the early Floyd albums. We discuss rock concerts we have attended. He ticks of eight or nine groups. I mention a few including the free “love-in” nude "flower power" 60’s concert we attended with Jerry Garcia and Timothy Leary in San Francisco.

We begin to discuss Ken Kesey’s “One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest” and Tom Wolfe’s “Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test.”. We both hint at a brief love of hallucinogens terminated reluctantly by impending maturity.

C_____ tells us about his trips to the Mediterranean on an aircraft carrier. I tell him about seeing the Pacific in a C-124. The cook comes out and tells me that C_____ is the Chief of Police and has been making several movies with a Hollywood film crew.

C_____ explains us that there are 180 people in his town and it’s pretty boring. He says most of the people here are ranchers and haven’t really adopted big city attitudes. They have computers and DSL, but are very old-fashioned in many ways. Until three years ago he was the elected sheriff of the entire county.

He has been working with film crews doing remakes of “The Hitcher”, “Texas Chain-saw Massacre” and “The Birds”. The Hitcher is one of my favorite all-time movies. He tells me to look out for some surprising plot changes but offers no plot-spoilers.

We pay the bill and say goodbye. I tell him I seldom have an opportunity to discuss my history of drug use at breakfast with a Police Chief. He says that he would just as soon not have his constituents know about his.

Mrs. Phred and I fill the RV with gas on the way out of town. A blacksmith is shoeing a horse in the snow-covered convenience store parking lot. We both agree that breakfast in small town America often provides interesting experiences and memories.

Wednesday, 24 January 2007

Stallion Gate - Trinity Site

On the Road to Roswell – January 24, 2007

We camped last night in the Lake Lyman State Park in eastern Arizona. The thermometer outside read zero degrees Fahrenheit at 5 AM. We’re up at about 6,000 feet in the desert on a huge uplifted plateau area that covers much of Arizona and New Mexico.

There are no TV signals here so we can’t watch the Australian Open. We play scrabble and Mrs. Phred wins 338-202. Yesterday we saw the old Wigwam Motel on a short segment of Route 66 in Holbrook, Arizona.

The hill in just front of us in the State Park has a number of ancient Indian petroglyphs carved into the rocks. The lake is covered with a sheet of ice.

The air is very clear. The combination of altitude, dry air, low temperature, no moon and lack of air and light pollution bring out the stars as they must have appeared 100 years ago. The nearest small community, Edgar, is 20 miles distant. I saw a couple of shooting stars this morning.

We head for Roswell, New Mexico, 350 miles distant, the site of the famous flying saucer crash in the 1940s. The alien crew member’s bodies are stored at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. The crash was “covered up” as being merely a wayward weather balloon. I learned this fact by talking to other old Air Force air crew who all knew someone who knew someone who had actually seen the bodies.

We pass the Very Large Array of radio telescopes in New Mexico. These are the largest array of radio telescopes in the world. We have been to Arecibo in Puerto Rico, but that is just a huge single radio telescope, rather than an very large array.

We pass the Stallion Gate leading to the Trinity test site where the first A-bomb was exploded in 1945. I slam on the brakes and walk 300 yards back to the historical marker. Trinity is only open to the public two days each year. The bomb turned the desert sand to melted green glass called tritinite. The Atomic Energy Commission scooped it all up after the war. We see a novelty shop offering tritinite a few miles later. Probably they are just selling old recycled and polished coca-cola bottle glass.

Later we enter the “Valley of Fires” black lava field. it covers thousands of acres. Cactus grow in the cracks and fissures. I remember camping here with my 13 year old son, who is now much older and now has five children of his own.

Next we pass though Lincoln, New Mexico. That’s where Billy the Kid was held in jail and made his escape by stealing a gun and killing one of his jailers on a trip to the outhouse. I want to see the museum again and spend longer reading Billy’s letters to the territorial Governor. Asteroid Lil lives there. I’d stop and say hello and visit the museum again, but we have no cellular broadband signals so there is no way to contact her today and we want to get to Roswell and watch tennis. We fail to spot her wayward buffalo on the way through..

Here are some pictures of the drive to Roswell.

We find an RV park in Roswell about 16:30 with cable and watch Gonzalez beat Nadal like a gong….like a red-headed step-child...he was beaten comprehensively and in detail...perhaps Gonzalez has a slim chance against Federer if he walks over Haas like he trounced Nadal.

Monday, 22 January 2007

Slipping the Surly Bonds of Earth

Grand Canyon, Arizona – January 22, 2007

We drove to the Grand Canyon this morning to get some nature shots. The 100 mile drive was interesting with black ice on the road in many spots and lots of blowing snow on the road.

Visibility at the Canyon was amazing. We can clearly see a mountain 250 miles distant. The North rim is only ten miles distant and the Colorado River is a mile below. We can see some green rapids below that are an eight on a scale of ten.

The weather this time of year often goes down to minus 30 F at night, but today it’s sunny and about plus 30 F.

We have hiked here on the rim extensively the last two visits, but we only have a three hour window today to get back to Sedona before dark. So we drive 50 miles along the rim, stopping only to take pictures at viewpoints, no hikes. I become very interested in the black ravens that wheel and soar all along the rim. Sometimes they fold their wings and dive straight down toward the river, apparently for the sheer joy of flying. For a minute I envy them, but they never get medical insurance or corned beef and cabbage.

Oh, I have slipped the surly bonds of earth
And danced the skies on laughter silvered wings;
Sunward I’ve climbed and joined the tumbling mirth
Of sun-split clouds and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of—Wheeled and soared and
swung High in the sunlit silence

Taking their pictures is a little like keeping a Japanese Zero in your gun sights. Some of the raven pictures over the Canyon are very pleasing.

We have lunch in the Grand Canyon Bright Angel Lodge at 3 PM and drive three hours back to Sedona. I’m not confident initially about the pictures, but they are very pleasing when I see them on the computer..

Sunday, 21 January 2007

Greggery Peccary Invented the Calendar

Sedona, Arizona – January 21, 2007

This morning before dawn there was a heavy snowfall accompanied by loud thunder.

The herd of wild javelinas left tracks behind our RV again. Javelinas travel in social groups of 6 to 12. They forage just after dark and before dawn for roots, berries, birds, rodents and snakes. The javelina, also known as a peccary, is a small hairy pig which burst upon the evolutionary scene about 32 million years ago and is thought to have migrated to South America about 9 million years ago after the Isthmus of Panama formed. They have strong musk glands above their eyes and on their backs. They rub together to establish a herd scent, allowing them to identify each other despite poor eyesight.

Frank Zappa wrote a 20 minute song titled “Greggery Peccary” about a clever young javelina that drives a red Volkswagen and invents the calendar. The calendar, upon release, immediately causes confusion and chaos, as people suddenly can keep track of time, figure out how old they are and plan ahead, making life aggravatingly mechanical.

The sun cooperated today, allowing us to take a long hike in the virgin snow of the nearby Red Rock National Forest and get the Sedona photos I had been hoping for.

We plan to drive to the Grand Canyon again tomorrow, hoping for sunshine, snow and photo ops…and maybe a hike on the rim.

Javelinas in the Snow

Sedona, Arizona - January 20, 2007

I was a little afraid to drive the Toyota this morning in the snow and ice so I walked a mile uphill on a nearby road to a "Red Rock" national forest trail without Mrs. Phred.

The trail had about three inches of fresh snow and no footprints. Walking back into the desert/forest, sounds seemed strangely muffled by the fresh snowfall. I could hear the snow crunch under my new waterproof Coleman hiking boots (made in China). Rabbit and coyote footprints were in one spot. The trail was hard to follow in the snow, but it was easy to backtrack to the bad turns by looking at my own boot prints.

Low-flying gray clouds swirled around the red rock spires all day. Tomorrow should be clear and sunny. I paid for two more days here hoping for some good sunny pix.

We went to see "Babel" with Brad Pitt later in the day. When I hit the brakes three inches of snow from the roof slid onto the windshield and blinded me. These are the things the don't teach in High School driver's education back in Florida. Next time I'll clear off the roof.

I walked outside in the early evening and saw three hairy black pig-like figures silhouetted and walking on the white snow behind the RV. A few minutes later I got a clear look at one in front of the RV in much better light. They were Arizona javelinas.

We went to the Desert Museum in Tucson last spring. I got some nice shots of rattlesnakes eating mice, javelinas, coyotes and lovely desert flowers in season...Come to think of it, javelinas clear up the mystery of the piles of scat filled with berries and dead birds we’ve been seeing on desert hikes. Of course…hairy pig omnivores like us.

I never bothered to make an album of those pictures because we went to the Pima Air Museum the same day and I was too excited about the airplane pictures. Here are a few belated spring desert pictures, including javelinas.

Friday, 19 January 2007

Winter Wonderland

Sedona, Arizona – January 19, 2007

It’s lovely outside. Heavy snowflakes are coming down. The road into Sedona from Flagstaff is 30 miles of switchbacks as the elevation drops from 7500 feet to only 5000.

This is one of the most scenic areas in America. The people here seem to be all thin, fit, well-heeled, attractively dressed and intelligent looking. I feel out of place. They are definitely not typical American Wal-Mart people. The houses here are striking.

The local grocery store has a Starbucks section and four isles of fine wine. I feel smug that I don’t buy bottled water or $5 coffee, but in an amazing coincidence my old business partner sends me a Starbucks gift card today for sending him a new client.

Denny Doherty died today. Only one of the four members of “Mammas and Pappas” group is now still alive. I listened to “California Dreamin’” in early 1966 on a radio in Air Force Officer Training School while making up my bunk at 0430. I always liked that song.

All the leaves are brown
And the sky is gray
I've been for a walk
On a winter's day

Princess Firecloud and I went on a lovely hike today. We started near an imposing chapel built into the mountains. When it rains here the hiking trails turn into very difficult red mud.

The local businesses include many fine restaurants, psychics, vortex advisors, purveyors of magic crystals, Hyatt time shares, and art gallerys.

Here are a bunch of Sedona Pictures..way too many...when the sun is out the red rock spires are was cloudy today so I punched up the pictures with Google's Picassa....

Thursday, 18 January 2007

The World’s Largest Antique

Lake Havasu City, Arizona – January 17, 2007

We saw and drove over the world’s largest antique today. It is the London Bridge in the Arizona desert. It hardly seems right to buy the heritage of a formerly great empire and use it to support a shopping center. The whole thing is embarrassingly American. I wonder if Captain Bligh’s tombstone in London might also be up for grabs. It’s my personal favorite London landmark.

Yesterday we drove a 100 mile stretch of historic old Route 66 looking for photo opportunities. There are still a few small businesses trading on the nostalgia of this historical period. Brolean has recently submitted a nice Route 66 entry to the H2G2 edited guide.

When Perseus cut off Medusa's head, the red winged horse, Pegasus, sprang spontaneously from the blood soaked ground. Rollie Free drove a Vincent Black Lightning with a Pegasus on the gas tank to a world record speed in excess of 150 MPH in September, 1948, on the Bonneville Salt Flats...he was wearing a bathing suit..I got my first bicycle that month.

We drive old Route 66 between Kingman and Seligman, Arizona. The map shows a 75 mile gravel road to the north leading to the Grand Canyon at a spot tourists don’t often visit. What the hell. We have a Toyota rental car while our Toyota is being repaired. We decide to do it. 25 miles down the gravel road into the Haulapai Indian Reservation we stop a friendly tribal policeman and ask advice about the road.. He says the road turns to mud in five miles and suggests that a four wheel drive truck might be a more appropriate vehicle. We turn back.

Here are a few more Route 66 images, including a blown ‘56 Chevy V-8 engine with two four barrels and some old Ford flathead V-8s. My first car was a ’50 Ford I bought for $50 in 1959.

In tennis today, Mrs. Phred and I played three sets near the London Bridge. Scores were 6-1, 6-1 and 6-2., her favor. I make some good shots, deep return of serves she can’t touch, but I’m still hopelessly outclassed. Even a blind pig finds an occasional truffle.

The repairs on the Toyota are not covered by Warranty. It seems that the original dealership improperly installed an aftermarket security system that shorted out the headlight assembly switch. I’m writing to the “Toyota Experience” center to request binding 3rd party arbitration on the repair cost. If the arbitration costs are more than the repair, there is still a point to be made here.

Sunday, 14 January 2007

The Ghost in the Toyota

Turtle Mountains, California - January 14, 2007

Today we bumped down a sandy desert washboard dirt road for ten miles to a "wash" lined with cottonwoods for the hike. I turn off the key and the Toyota horn begins to blare continuously...I wiggle the steering wheel and it stops...I walk away and it blares again...the road is recommended for 4 wheel drive only, but I grew up driving Florida sands...

We saw an old motel in Needles named the ”66 Motel”. It’s lost in time and space. Route 66 was a great American TV program which ran from 1960 to 1964. Tod Stiles' (Martin Milner) father dies and leaves him a shiny new Corvette. He and Buzz Murdock (George Maharis), take off to discover America, in search of adventure.

Guest stars included Rod Steiger, Martin Sheen, Buster Keaton, Robert Redford, and Robert Duvall. Most of the cities on Route 66 were featured during the four year run. The crew of 50 included two tractor trailers and two new Corvettes every year.

Maharis made headlines when he was busted in 1974 for engaging in a sex act with a male hairdresser in a public bathroom in LA; he had been arrested previously on a charge of lewd conduct after propositioning a vice-squad officer in a Hollywood restaurant restroom.

We have only two liters of water and no cell signals. It is ten miles back to the paved highway. If the horn or lights come on by themselves again while we are on the hike and kill the battery, we will have to walk out...discretion prevails...we stay with the car...I'm getting old and too cautious...we drive though Lake Havasu…the green trees and water is nice after 40 days in the desert…I was starting to have visions and a list of new commandments.

The negative battery terminal on the Toyota is now disconnected for the night...Mrs. Phred's idea...everyone has moments of genius...the smarter people just have them closer together...

Friday, 12 January 2007

Anza-Borrego Desert Park

Borrego Springs, California - January 12, 2007

We float over the Anza-Borrego Desert badlands in the Toyota listening to a California English disc jockey…he plays a haunting song by P.J. Harvey…she whispers:

Big fish, little fish
Swimming in the water
Come back here
And bring me my daughter

We’re not in Kansas anymore…

We pull into Borrego Springs and buy Australian Boomey Shiraz wine and a new supply of JB Weld Epoxy.

The local restaurant has a pool table. Three young men are playing eight-ball. They look Mexican…They play the touch screen juke box…Pink Floyd…Santana…Bohemian Rhapsody by Queen,…The Rolling Stones, “I can’t get no satisfaction”

I suddenly realize they are probably more authentic Americans then me, with probably 10 or 20 generations behind them to my three…

Apparently the desert here blooms with spectacular flowers every two or three years in the Spring…right now its barren and dull.

We find a little resort with tennis courts. For $10 we can play all day. Gordon is the proprietor. He says Borrego Springs is as old as Palm Springs, but it never really took off…

I lose again 6-1. 6-2…

Thursday, 11 January 2007

Dr. Seuss Trees and Poisonous Yellow Smog

Joshua Tree National Park – January 10, 2007

The Joshua trees could have come from a Dr. Seuss book featuring Horton the Elephant or Yertle the Turtle. You look at them and have to wonder what universe you are in.

We drive from the Salton Sea to the Cottonwood Spring at the south entrance in eastern California. Cottonwood Spring produces about 30 gallons of water an hour. It is the only source of water for many miles and helped support gold-mining operations in the area in the Nineteenth Century.

The southern half of the 825,000 acre Park is in the Sonora Desert. After about thirty miles of exploring vistas and exhibits the landscape transitions to the Mojave Desert and the Joshua trees.

The Cholla Cactus forest is right where the Sonora desert intersects the Mojave. If you touch one of them slightly you end up with a fingerful of painful prickers. They are said to jump out at you for this reason. They are also known as "teddy-bear" cactus. They grow where there is a seasonally plentiful supply of rainwater, in this case on the edge of a mountain slope, where, I suspect, rain is periodically produced by the adiabatic process. The Joshua trees are in the Mojave section of the Park.

On the way out of the Park, after driving 60 miles, we pass though the small town of Joshua Tree, where a disturbed 66 year old man gunned down an attorney, his wife and a bystander two days ago.

The city of Palm Springs has an incredible uncountable forest of windmills set up to catch the effect of the Ventura winds from LA. The air here at ground level is a thick, poisonous, impenetrable yellow smog from the big city 125 miles away.

Here are a bunch of pictures of dead Kangaroo Rats, Cholla cactus forests, Joshua trees, windmill farms and strange rock formations that resemble skulls.

Salton Sea Oddities

Mecca, California – January 9, 2007

They made a bad movie here in 1957 about a giant radioactive sea cucumber that menaced the world. There was a strange man-sized piece of gelatinous protoplasm floating offshore last night. The little piles of dead fish on the shore appear to have been sucked completely dry through identical sets of mysterious puncture wounds. The front of the RV is covered with thick, whitish slime, apparently some type of marine secretion.

There are ice crystals in the stratosphere this morning, and one of those huge, bright rings around the moon caused by the reflection of moonbeams at a 22 degree angle through the crystals.

East of San Diego, the Salton Sea sits several hundred feet below sea level in a desert valley surrounded by mountains. The “sea” is about 30% saltier than the ocean. It is the largest lake in California.

This was once part of the Sea of Cortez. About 500 years ago it dried up as the weather became more arid and silt from rivers filled in the ocean basin.

In 1905, the Colorado River broke its banks in Yuma, Arizona and filled in the basin forming a 350 square mile lake. After that a series of hydro-electric dams were built to tame the river. The lake evaporates about six feet a year, but rivers flowing in from Mexico and agricultural run-off keep the lake depth fairly stable.

The lake gets saltier every year, but it has only 10% of the salt of the Great Salt Lake, so it still supports a large fish population and millions of aquatic birds.

The surrounding area is part desert, but much of it is used for agricultural purposes. We see huge fields of lettuce, grapes, date palms and orange trees.

The California Parks Department vehemently denies that the Salton Sea in unhealthy in any way, except for too much salt. Untreated industrial waste and raw sewage flow into the lake from Mexico.

The Parks Department denies that Selenium levels are excessive, although the fish tissue concentration of selenium "has resulted in a health advisory warning to the public". They also deny that the untreated sewage flowing over the international border is harmful, "since most of the E Coli is no longer viable by the time it empties into the Salton Sea"

Notwithstanding, I have pictures of thousands of small, rotted, dead fish on the beach. It does look like the Red Tide on Florida beaches. The beach is made up of thick deposits of what looks like salt water barnacles.

We decide to camp here a few days an explore some of the nearby National and State Parks.

Here are a few pictures of the desert and lake creatures.