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

Wednesday, 30 April 2008

Desert Drive

Southern Utah Desert

Hi. How you doin'?
I just got back into town,
I was out in the desert for awhile
Yeah. In the middle of it

Hey, listen, man, I really got a problem
When I was out on the desert, ya know
I don't know how to tell you
but, ah, I killed somebody

It's no big deal, ya know
I don't think anybody will find out about it, but...
just, ah...
- The Doors know
We went on this drive
46 miles of unpaved road..,

We walked up into a box canyon
then, it..ah...just ended

We found a cave under a cliff
and desert wildflowers and strange stunted trees
we walked a mile into, like, a slot canyon
I walked out alone

Some of the mesas looked like, ah...
Variegated confectionaries
and, ah...
It's just that...

I'm worried that, ah...
somebody might find the body

So's a slideshow of some Utah desert scenes...

Tuesday, 29 April 2008

On the Borderline

Lake Powell, Arizona

We're parked about 100 feet from the Utah border. This seems to be the houseboat world capital. The big lake winds though 100 miles of sandstone canyons which used to be the Colorado River. The water flowing out from the dam is now clear and a constant 47 degrees. The 173 million tons of red sediment that used to flow downstream is now deposited in the upper reaches of Lake Powell. The fish downstream are probably confused by all this.

We're taking a modest raft trip from the base of the dam to Lee's Ferry about 20 miles down the Colorado. That's probably the last place to get out before Bright Angel in the Grand Canyon National Park.

We'll be heading up to the Capitol Reef National Park and then Moab from here. We've made a reservation to park the RV when we fly out to visit the grandchildren.

I found a hike to a slot canyon for today. To see it you need a rope so you can rappel down 40 feet into the canyon. Mrs. Phred has expressed doubts about my rappeling ability.

Lee's Ferry is where the big 6 and 10 day raft trips though the Grand Canyon begin. The picture below is a supply raft, which will accompany a group of rafters that are due in by helicopter from Las Vegas in the afternoon. At the end of the trip they will be airlifted out.

Here are a few pictures of Lake Powell and Lee's Ferry.

Sunday, 27 April 2008

The Creatures Who Throw People Down Cliffs

Lake Powell, Arizona

Lake Powell is a huge lake created on the Colorado River by the Powell dam. It is about 100 miles long and winds though spectacular desert sandstone canyons.

The red sandstone rock here crumbles in your fingers. The softness allows the wind and rain to carve mysterious shapes.

Just to our south is the town of Page, Arizona. Page has tennis courts. We will get in a couple of sets this morning before meeting our Navajo guide to go into Antelope Canyon. The pix here are from our last visit to the canyon.

Downstream 20 Miles is Lee's Ferry, considered to be the beginning of the Grand Canyon. The raft trips there last from 3 days to 2 weeks. They tend to be booked up a year in advance. We'll check into it, but we don't expect much.

This land was confiscated from the surrounding Navajo Reservation when the Federal Government decided that a dam and lake would be a good idea. Apparently, these treaties can be unilaterally renegotiated. In the Navajo Nation, not walking near the edge of cliffs is taught as a taboo so that the creatures who throw people down the cliffs won't grab you. I respect that.

Friday, 25 April 2008

Monument Valley

Navajo Tribal Park, Arizona
We decided to go back for seconds today. It would be great to catch a rainbow or impressive sunset behind the monuments, but it was not meant to be.

We were out hiking in the canyons this morning and caught this desert wildflower.

This rock is called "Mexican Hat". It appears to be well-balanced.

Mrs. Phred is standing on John Ford Point. This an outcropping with a panoramic view where John set up his cameras to film John Wayne in "Stagecoach".

The spire on the right is called the "Totem Pole". It has a diameter of 75 feet at the top. This is where Ray Charles and his grand piano made a commercial.

What a place of amazing beauty. I would live here if I were lucky enough to be a Navajo.

We had dinner at the trading post. The red wine was non-alcoholic since no intoxicating beverages are allowed on Navajo land. I had a green chile and pork stew with traditional Navajo bread. Mrs. Phred got a strange pepper with her meal. It was sweet on the tip and got hotter toward the stem. They played soft flute music though the meal as the sun went down.

Wednesday, 23 April 2008

The Meaning of Home

Goulding's Trading Post, Monument Valley, Utah

This is Susie. Susie is 91 years old. She is a Navajo. Susie never went to school and speaks no English. Here Susie is washing some wool from her herd of sheep. After the wool is washed, combed and rolled into twine, it then has to be dyed, using native plants. Then Susie will spend seven months making a 2'x5' rug from the dyed wool. Susie has 42 grandchildren who take turns coming out to help her with her herd and bring her water and other supplies.

Susie lives in a hogan made of cypress logs and red mud. She doesn't have electricity or running water. The hogan has a doorway facing east and a square hole in the roof for light and for the chimney of her wood-burning stove. In the picture above, Susie is partly in sunlight from the roof opening.

Tom brought us here. Tom is about my age. As he talks, we learn that Tom is one of Susie's sons. Tom has spent his entire life in this valley. Tom has five brothers and a sister. He grew up in a hogan like this and went out every morning to herd sheep. Tom probably has no difficulty with the concept of "home".

Well I'm here to deliver
I hope you can read my mail
I just escaped last night
From the memory county jail
-Neil Young
In a flippant mood, I tell people that home is where my wheels are. We've been driving around for 2 1/2 years with no fixed address.

When I think of home and what it means, I have to separate past home, present home and future home. I was born in Ithaca, New York. When I go back there, I feel that I've gone home. Cayuga lake is 55 degrees in July. When you plunge into the lake the cold water in your nose will tell you you've arrived home like an aging salmon returned to spawn.

Mrs. Phred and I have been married 42 years (there's that number again). We've lived in a number of homes. The longest stretch was in a home in Tampa where we watched our son grow up. It was a friendly place and the neighbors often gathered for evening porch parties and shared wine and appetizers. The little kid next door liked me and brought me copies of his all his new "Captain Underpants" books. I made copies of his favorite music on my computer for his friends. He helped me bottle wine. It was home: a place of shelter, comfort and family.

Right here and now, in the present, home really is where my wheels are. Mrs. Phred is here. When we wake up we have to always remind each other where we are today. Some present homes are more interesting, others less so. Forgive me gentle readers, but home is where the heart is.

There may be other future homes, but my ultimate home is a dark, forboding island off the coast of Oregon. It is an abandoned light house where they store urns in what currently passes for perpetuity. My friend, Andy, has made a sacred promise to me. Wherever I die, he will fly in and pack me in salt and wrap me in a tarp. Then he will rent a mule and a wagon and take me to Oregon to be cremated and stored on my island.

On the balance, home and love are similar concepts. Everyone talks about them, but the definitions are slippery.

There is one spire here where they took a helicopter and put Ray Charles and a piano on the top.
If you come to Monument Valley, book a tour with a Navajo. You get into the Navajo Tribal park and see things and places you couldn't see on your own. It's hard to stop taking pictures. Here are 148 pictures of Monument Valley. If you examine them all, consider getting a life.

Tuesday, 22 April 2008

The Canyons of the Ancients

Hovenweep National Monument, Colorado/Utah Border

Cortez has four nice tennis courts just next to the municipal library. In the Firecloud Vs. Firecloud match, I lost 6-1, 6-1. I'm starting to think I'm overmatched. I had better luck in the library, where they sell surplus books by the pound (four pounds, four dollars).

After tennis we drove to the Canyons of the Ancients, a large area with over 10,000 indian ruins. We hiked a 3 mile loop at the Hovenweep National Monument around the rim of a canyon with numerous ruins. Hovenweep is a Ute word meaning "deserted valley".

These dwellings were deserted in 1276 A.D., about the same time as those in Mesa Verde, Chaco Canyon, Bandlier and all the other ancient ruins we have visited in this four state area. It's a dark mystery. Perhaps some kind of mass hallucination was the cause. Maybe some unknown but very dangerous creaturs awaken from a long hibernation every few thousand years and slaughter villagers indiscriminately. Maybe it was climate change or UFOs.

The square towers are unusual. The have small windows allowing sunlight in on the solstices and equinoxes.

We're heading to Monument Valley in the middle of the huge Navajo Reservation. That's the place with all the weird spires where they used to make cowboy movies. "Forrest Gump" stopped running there on highway 163. "Easy Rider" had a few scenes from the valley early in the movie. Clark Griswald's station wagon fell apart here in "National Lampoon's Family Vacation". Robert Blake played an Arizona motorcycle cop here in the movie "Electraglide in Blue". We'll camp at Goulding's Trading Post in the Reservation and hope for some good pix.

The Greatest Invention

Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado

The canyons and mesas of the Four Corners region are filled with thousands of ruins built by eary Anasazi Indian inhabitants. Some of the most visited are here in the Mesa Verde National Park in the Southwest corner of Colorado. Though dendrochronology, the study of tree rings, the constuction of these dwellings can be dated very precisely.

The best preserved ruins are those built in caves or cliff dwellings sheltered by rock overhangs. As we drive the rim of the mesa we can see a half dozen examples of these.

The Indians here lived on top of the mesas for thousands of years. During a 20 year period ending about 1276 A.D., they retreated to cliff dwellings and then abandoned these within a ten year period. The reason for the retreat and exodus is thought to be a 23 year drought which decreased food supplies and increased warfare over scarce resources.

A major source of food was corn. They used a "dry farming" (no irrigation) method, planting in wet, low-lying areas where water pooled in the spring after the eight-foot snowfall melts.

The development of Maize (corn) by an early Mesoamerican geneticist probably happened sometime between 10,000 and 6,000 BC in southern Mexico. This development has done more to enable a population explosion to six billion than any other human invention.

From the 1938 to the 1960s, Mangeldorf's 'Tripartite Hypothesis' on the origin of corn was widely accepted. He believed that corn was developed from a cross between an undiscovered wild Maize and the plant Tripsacum.

In 1968, George Beadle, in retirement, began to provide convincing evidence for his own 'Teosinte Hypothesis', which simply believed that Maize was developed from the plant Teosinte. Today scientists generally accept the Teosinte Hypothesis because of advances in the study of genomes.

Sunday, 20 April 2008

The Million Dollar Highway

From Ouray to Durango - Colorado

The thermometer read 15 degrees this morning at dawn. The campground is empty and silent except for us and several hundred birds chirping about spring. The piles of snow are beating a slow retreat.

The hike we took yesterday was an odd mix of deep snow and slippery, gluey mud. We went up a trail called “The Pinnacles” for about an hour before turning back.. Sometimes we would break though the snow crust and sink to our knees. Sometimes our boots would pick up several pounds of mud where the snow had melted. One of the things to discuss on a hike is the tracks and the scat. We saw lots of deer sign and a few bear tracks. This is the time that the bears are coming out of hibernation with new cubs, looking for breakfast.

I learned that they took out a 56 pound lake trout from the frozen lake where we are camped last year. The fishing here is reported to be the best in Colorado. Soon they will be releasing several million eleven inch sockeye salmon from the upriver hatchery. That explains the giant trout. Trout are very aggressive eaters and love little fish. We made a special trip to Gunnison to buy a fishing license. The sporting goods store was a rat’s nest of fishing tackle, deer antlers and snowshoes. A good pair of snowshoes goes for $125. I fished for about an hour and didn't catch anything. I scraped up some loose dirt and buried two boxes of worms in the ground and added a little water. They won the worm lottery...never give up.

We moved today. We drove from Gunnison to Montrose, then down though Ouray to Durango. Rand McNally thinks the winding 75 miles from Ouray to Durango is the best drive in Colorado.

The high mountain passes go up to 12,000 feet. It's good to be back to 6,000 feet after a week at 10,000 or more. The air that we breathe is 21 percent oxygen. However, the amount of oxygen available for your lungs is a factor of partial pressure of oxygen and is measured in torr. As altitude increases, the available oxygen pressure in torr decreases. The percentage of oxygen in the air is always 21 percent no matter how high you go, but it’s 21 percent of a smaller total air pressure. At sea level the partial pressure of oxygen is 21 percent of 760 torr, while at 10,000 feet it is 21 percent of only 199 torr. The older you get, the more susceptible you are to lack of oxygen at altitude. In the Air Force, we had to strap on our masks for anything over 8,000. Rapid heatbeat, rapid breathing, headaches and decreased mental acuity are a few of the early symptoms. Death is the last, most serious effect. I lost consciousness in about a minute at 23,000 feet in the altitude chamber...what a nice way to go...Euphoria, followed by nothing. They should use these on death row.

We want to see the ruins at Mesa Verde tomorrow and maybe take a hike or two.

It might take a couple of days to explore the Canyons of the Ancients. There are over 6,000 ancient pueblos up on the desert mesas. After that, there is a trading post in the desert we want to see. It's over in the "four corners" area on the Ute reservation in ther high desert.

We got satellite TV back in the Curecanti National Recreation Area (Direct), but no cell phone (ATT) or computer air card (Verizon) service. I learned how to record TV programs yesterday. The receiver is now set to record all future “South Park” programs until the disk is full. “Dr. Who” was on yesterday with a new Doctor that I didn’t recognize. Dr Who, I guess.