Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Coronado National Memorial

 Having mentioned Coronado National Memorial in my previous post, I suppose I should say a little something about it. It's not a real big park and it's in kind of an out of the way location, tucked on the border about mid-way between Douglas and Nogales, Arizona, but it's worth a visit.

The park was established in 1940 to commemorate the expedition led by Francisco Vasquez de Coronado 400 years earlier, from 1540-1542, exploring what is now northern Mexico and the southwestern United States. CORO has two sister parks in Mexico that also commemorate the Coronado explorations. One of the missions of the park was to help promote a sense of unity between the two countries, a mission that struck me as being just a tad ironic after seeing the Border Patrol vans sitting on that overlook. The overlook was one of the reasons this particular site was selected for the Memorial: it provides viewscapes of the terrain Coronado and his expeditionary force (339 Spanish soldiers, 1,000 Aztecs) traversed.

 The park includes several hiking trails, including one that goes from the overlook to a marker on the U.S.-Mexico, one to the Coronado cave, and one that goes from the overlook to the Visitor Center (or vice versa). That last one is described as "moderate" if you leave from the overlook and "possibly difficult" if you start from the Visitor Center. Which makes sense -- from the overlook you're going downhill all the way; the worst you have to deal with is some wear and tear on your joints because it's always harder on your joints (knees, hips, whatever) going downhill than it is going up. Uphill, of course, you've got to work a lot harder.

Monday, December 26, 2016

Some assembly required

How was your Christmas? Ours was okay, got some nifty gifts, including John Sandford's latest book featuring everyone's favorite character, Virgil Flowers. My sister Cheryl (aka Nerf) had my name in the family gift exchange. She outdid herself this year, gave me a really pretty shawl.

There is, however, some assembly required.
I should have taken the photo before I wound the yarn into balls. It looked really neat as skeins; the yarn is a mix of several different textures and colors, all hand dyed and including fibers like alpaca and mohair. 

I'm intrigued by the square needles. The blurb on the back of the package for them claims they're easier for people with arthritis or carpal tunnel to use. We shall see. 

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Border security

One of the favorite talking points in right-wing politics in recent years has been the need for border security, particularly along the the southern border of the United States. Immigrant bashing and xenophobia by various politicians and commentators always make it sound as though the border with Mexico is totally unsecured, wide open for hordes of, as Donald Trump put it, "not their best people" to come swarming across to steal our jobs while simultaneously being too lazy to work and collecting welfare benefits.

I'm not sure just where the notion that the border is unsecured comes from. There's been a border patrol for decades, there are long stretches of wall now, and it doesn't take long once you're actually close to the border to realize that anyone who thinks it's unprotected just hasn't bothered to do much research. There's a reason undocumented immigrants and drug smugglers die in the desert in fairly high numbers. Every major highway (i.e., a road with pavement on it) has border control checkpoints, some of which feel like they're pretty far north. Out of curiousity, I did a little digging and found that anywhere within 100 miles of the border is considered an area where the Border Patrol can pull over vehicles for inspection. Which means in practice (and in reality) there can be inspection stations anywhere along Interstates 8 and 10, the major east-west routes paralleling the border.
Border control point on I-10 west of Las Cruces, New Mexico

There are also inspection stations on the north-south highways, of course, like US-191, Arizona 80, and similar routes. On the north-south routes, the inspection stations tend to be located only on the north-bound side. On the east-west, they're on both sides. Since deciding to winter in Arizona, we've seen a bunch of them. We just get waved through, of course. Old people driving vehicles with Michigan plates don't fit the profile of someone who's smuggling mojados to work in packing plants in Kansas.

I don't know. To me it just feels weird. Unnatural. Unamerican. I can remember visiting Nogales, Mexico, back when we lived in Tucson in the early '80s. People went back and forth with minimal hassle. We parked in Nogales, Arizona, and walked into Mexico. There were a lot of people going back and forth. Quite a few Mexicans worked and shopped in Arizona, and vice versa. When we were done shopping for souvenirs, coming back into the U.S. took a couple of minutes. It was the equivalent of standing in line to place an order at a fast food place. Now, from what I hear, it can take a couple of hours. Crossing the border in a vehicle always took longer than walking, but it never used to take half a day. Now it can. And for what? To protect us from the possibility of undocumented workers coming in to take jobs no one else wants to do? People picking strawberries in California or cantelopes in Colorado have nothing whatsoever to do with factories shutting down in Michigan or steel mills closing in Pennsylvania, but to hear some people talk you'd think that if we just deported a few more Mexicans and Guatemalans all the jobs would magically flow back to the rust belt.
In any case, I get thoroughly creeped out when I go to places like Coronado National Memorial, a small park that sits right on the border, and see half a dozen Border Patrol vehicles in the parking lot at the scenic overlook. There's a point where when you drive up to the top of a ridgeline, you can see for many many miles in two directions, which is what the vans with the antennas are doing. One is pointed east, the other is pointing west. Lots of wide open space to be surveilled for nefarious activity. I looked at the pod of vehicles and really could not help wondering just how much this type of activity is costing us taxpayers. There were two large cargo vans that are no doubt packed full of electronic gizmos and monitors for high resolution cameras. And there were 3 or 4 additional vehicles (pickups and full-size SUVs) parked by the vans. That suggests there were at least half a dozen guys working there, maybe more. This scene, incidentally, is repeated all over the southwest. If there's a high point that's got decent parking for several vehicles and a clear view towards the border, ICE will have surveillance vans parked there. I can understand the advantages of the site -- photo below is of the view to the west -- but it does seem likea lot of money being invested in a program that seems pretty meaningless given that the number of illegal immigrants coming into this country is now lower than the number of people leaving, particularly from Mexico. 
I keep thinking that this country has become more and more like the old Soviet Union (or perhaps the new Russia). We've got way too much law enforcement targeting the wrong people, less and less personal privacy, and we're treated like mushrooms by the government.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

And the travelogue continues: Waimea Canyon, Koke'e, and Napali Coast Wilderness State Parks

Waimea Canyon
Okay. I know the Electoral College behaved more or less exactly as we realists knew they would and maybe I should be doing an "I told you so" post, but I figure that it makes more sense to go to a happy place right now. I'll do the equivalent of telling visitors to sit, enjoy a cup of hot chocolate while ignoring the blizzard about to destroy us all, and oh, by the way, do you mind if I set up the Carousel projector and bore you with more slides from the Hawaiian vacation? Just ignore the Cossacks kicking in
 the door.

Kaua'i isn't a very big island, but it does have a fair amount of variety and an amazing amount of jaw-dropping scenery. The Waimea Canyon is known as the "Grand Canyon of Hawaii." It's not very long (it is a small island), but, wow, it's deep and dramatic. To get to the overlooks, you get to drive up -- and up some more -- and still more up -- a two-lane blacktop road that has more than its fair share of hairpin turns. As you're going up and kind of wishing for some dramamine, the thought may cross your mind that at some point you're going to have to go back down. Try not to think about it. Take my word for it -- the views of Waimea and the leeward side of the island will make the faint hint of car sickness worth it.
There are a number of places where you can pull over to admire the view on the way up (or down) as well as two larger overlooks that come complete with restrooms. The first overlook also includes a food vendor: a fruit stand that also sells some cooked foods like pork dumplings and lumpia with a banana filling. And there were chickens, of course.

The second overlook seems to be more or less at the head of the canyon. It was interesting. It was high enough up on the island that in one direction you could look down the canyon; from another overlook a couple hundred feet away you could see Ni'ihau, aka "The Forbidden Island," an island that is privately owned and was closed to most outsiders for generations. Or maybe I should say theoretically you could see Ni'ihau. Rain over the ocean meant visibility wasn't the greatest. You could something was out there, but you couldn't see it real clearly.

The same family has owned Ni'ihau since 1864. At one point, the owners were so secretive they didn't even allow relatives of the workers on the island to visit. In recent decades, though, the owners have figured out significant revenue can be generated by catering to visitors with fat checkbooks. Among things, a person can go on "safari" to hunt feral pigs and sheep. The cost for a few hours of helping to control what have become nuisance animals on the island? $1750 per person plus $120 for the rental rifle. To be fair, that price includes the opportunity to take both a sheep and a pig, lunch, the services of someone else to do the actual gutting, skinning, etc., and packing everything neatly for shipment to the taxidermist. And when you're hunting on an island that doesn't get much traffic, at least you don't have to worry about some other hunter shooting you instead of a sheep.

But, as usual, I digress. The winding, twisting road continues to climb to Koke'e State Park. This park, like many others in the Islands (and the U.S. in general) was developed by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s. It actually still has wooden buildings used by the CCC, which is surprising considering what a major problem termites can be in Hawai'i. No photos of the buildings, though, as it was pouring rain at that point. The weather was pretty typical for what we experienced while we were on Kaua'i:  it would be raining like crazy for about half a mile, then there'd be brilliant sunshine, then more rain, maybe some fog, more sunshine. We kept going on the road to where it eventually ended, an overlook of the Napali coast. A major portion of the north end of Kaua'i is protected as a wilderness park.

I have been told by various people that the Kalalau trail in the Napali wilderness park is one of the most amazing trails on the planet. It is described as "difficult, but worth it." The original trail was another CCC project in the 1930s. From the descriptions I've heard and photos I've seen, I've no doubt it is indeed amazing. It is also not a trail that a person who gets nervous about heights just stepping on to a step stool is likely to ever attempt. Breathtaking vistas aren't particularly enjoyable when you're trying to figure out how to negotiate a trail without having to open your eyes. I have seen the trailhead by Ke'e Beach; I've looked down on the coast from the overlook. That's going to have to do it. I like to hike, but I recognize the limitations imposed by age and spinal stenosis.
I do regret not walking any of the trail, but the portion right by the trailhead was a steep grade up and super slick (it had rained even more than usual for the island with the wettest spot on earth), we didn't have hiking staffs with us, and the grips on the Tevas aren't what they used to be. I wimped out. Life is too short to spend any of it being the reason a SARS team with a stretcher gets called out to carry an idiot  hiker off a mountain.

We hit a few other state parks in our amblings, most of which were fairly small, like Spouting Horn. It's more like a point of interest. Waves force water up through an old lava tube; end result is something that looks kind of like a geyser. It is absolutely amazing how many humans are willing to stop and stare at water and rocks. Spouting Horn is supposedly the second most visited site on the island (the Kilauea lighthouse being number one). Once again, I wonder how "they" know. Granted, the parking lot was full, but even so. . . I find it hard to believe that this particular attraction draws more gawkers than some of the easily accessible waterfalls.

Then again, we didn't bother to go look at any of the waterfalls, not even the one the tourist brochures say was used in the opening scenes of "Fantasy Island." The waterfalls we saw were all by accident, like the ones shown above in Waimea Canyon. Spouting Horn, like the Waimea overlook, had vendors. There's a long, L-shaped pavilion where various purveyors of souvenirs and tchotkes have booths. Some of the stuff was really neat, some was remarkably overpriced, and some was just plain odd. Typical tourist offerings, in other words.
 There were also chickens wandering around, of course, and there were signs up admonishing visitors to not feed either the feral chickens or the feral cats. Only saw one cat in our one week on Kaua'i, but we definitely saw chickens. There were chickens in downtown Waimea wandering around by the Captain Cook memorial (Waimea is where Cook allegedly landed first in the islands before proceeding to another island -- Oahu? -- where, IIRC, he ticked the Hawaiians off enough that they killed him).

And there were chickens at the Fort Eliabeth historic site just across the river from Waimea. The fort was built by the Russians. When you see the plans, you can tell the Russians expected any trouble to arrive on the seaward side. When you see the fort (or what remains of it), it's a little harder to get a sense of what it looked like when built. Lots of jumbled rock walls in what was obviously a strategic location, but without the interpretive signs you'd have trouble telling what had been what.
It was in Waimea, incidentally, that I noticed something I've never seen in any other state in the U.S. We drove past the post office, and all the boxes were on the exterior walls, similar to the ones pictured below. That made me curious so I started looking -- and sure enough. Every post office I saw was set up the same way. The photo below is from Princeville.
There's an overhanging roof to protect the boxes from rain, but other than that they're totally accessible 24 hours a day every day of the year. Fascinating. I know there are social problems in the Islands, but obviously no one worries a whole lot about thieves breaking into mailboxes there.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Book Review: In the Lena Delta

In the Lena Delta, George Melville's account of the U.S.S. Jeanette's 1879 doomed voyage of exploration in the Arctic Ocean, is an amazing book. When the Jeannette was crushed by ice on June 13, 1881, and the crew forced to use sleds and boats to reach the Siberian mainland, Melville found himself leading the only group that survived. As I told the S.O., it's hard to imagine anyone surviving the ordeals Melville did while still maintaining a detailed formal record of their trials and having a sense of humor about it all. Every so often Melville expresses some righteous anger, but overall he remains unruffled by whatever diasters befall them.

The crew of the Jeannette had been trapped by the ice for over a year but, just as other Arctic expeditions that suffered similar experiences optimistically hoped, they believed that as the seasons changed, the ice would eventually open enough for their ship to be freed. Either that, or the ice would carry them close enough to either North America, Asia, or Europe that they would be able to easily make their way to land. That didn't happen. Instead the Jeannette drifted with ice for hundreds of miles in basically the middle of the ocean until the inevitable happened: the ice crushed it. They had known this was a possibility so had prepared for it. The expedition had four boats, sledges on which to haul the boats over the ice, and 48 sled dogs. They had routinely been using the dogs and sleighs for hunting on the ice (they shot both seals and bears) and for taking scientific observations so were used to working with them. Captain George W. De Long calcuated their position and from it determined how many days were required to reach help. He ordered rations packed into the boats that he believed were sufficient provisions to reach the Lena delta in Russian Siberia.

The Lena River flows for hundreds of miles in Siberia and is deep enough for steamship traffic. Captain De Long had charts showing the delta region and knew the native Yakut people had villages along the different branches of the river. He was confident that if they made their way to the delta, they could quickly find a settlement, contact representatives of the Russian government, and arrange  for transport of themselves and the expedition's records back to the United States.  

After abandoning the sinking Jeannette, the men traveled hundreds of miles across the Arctic Ocean, alternating between dragging the boats over the ice and sailing when open channels were available. The Jeannette sank at what was probably the worst time of year:  the beginning of the Arctic summer. Ice floes were rotten, there was standing water and slush to drag the sledges through, the men had to repeatedly alternate between trying to walk through slush and standing water that left their clothing soaked or to sail through open leads that turned into dead ends. Melville describes men sinking past their waists in the slushy water. It was impossible to ever totally dry their clothing. Provisions such as pemmican stayed edible only because they were sealed in watertight containers.

They began with four boats, but wound up abandoning one because being dragged caused enough damage that it was no longer seaworthy. Provisions and the crew from the 4th boat were divided among the remaining three, one commanded by Capt. De Long, one by Lt. Charles Chipp, and one commanded by Engineer Melville. This resulted in the three remaining boats being overloaded. Fresh water was hard to obtain; many of the men were unable to resist the temptation to drink sea water and became ill. Covered with sores from their wet clothing chafing, their boots and moccasins totally worn out, the men nonetheless persisted.

One of the tragedies of the Jeannette survivors is that the crew managed to make it to open water where it was possible to sail the remaining distance to Siberia and then encountered a ferocious gale. During the storm, the three ships were separated. The last sight Melville had of the cutter commanded by Lt. Chipp was of it being swamped by a huge wave, rolling over, and sinking. Melville wrote that he hoped he was wrong, but he was certain Lt. Chipp and the men with him had drowned. The seas were simply too rough for either of the remaining boats to attempt a rescue; they had barely enough control over their own boats to prevent them from being swamped, too.

De Long had instructed Melville and Chipp on where to meet him if they were separated before reaching the delta. After Melville and his men made landfall, Melville managed to make contact with the local people. He tried to communicate to them that they needed to find Captain De Long and the other survivors from the Jeannette, but language differences meant nothing happened quickly. Because he and his men had survived, Melville hoped that De Long had been equally fortunate in being able to make contact with the Yakuts before provisions ran out. The Jeannette sank in June, but it was September by the time the survivors reached the Delta and winter was quickly setting in. Without local help, any survivors would quite likely starve to death.

In October, Melville learned that two survivors from De Long's boat had made their way up the river and been found and helped by local people. Unfortunately, the same communications problems that beset Melville hampered them. They hadn't been able to communicate that there were more men in need of immediate help. In the end, with no word coming from any natives of white men being found and his own search for them unsuccessful Melville recognized that Captain De Long and the men with him were dead.

Melville then convinced the Russian authorities to provide the supplies he needed to mount a search for De Long and the crew members' bodies.. He knew they were dead, but also recognized that if the bodies and the expedition's records were not found before the Spring thaw they'd most likely be lost forever. The Lena delta was  subject to massive flooding when the snow and ice melt; anything not placed 60 or 70 feet above the river's normal level would be washed away. His search was successful, although the local people complained that his obsessive insistence on pushing both men and dogs to the verge of total exhaustion had ruined every good sled dog in the region. He had the bodies moved to the top of a hill and interred there.

After returning from burying De Long and the other bodies he'd been able to find, Melville began the long journey home. As he was leaving the Lena region, he met several journalists who were hoping for exclusives on the story of the Jeannette. Melville apparently didn't give them enough to work with. After he returned to the U.S., Melville learned to his horror that the search for sensationalism had led the reporters to open the tomb so they could prepare sketches of the deceased. And we think the tabloid reporters and paparazzi are bad today? Apparently some were totally shameless 130 years ago, too. If it bleeds, it leads, and if the blood is frozen solid, then a sketch of the corpse will do.
Admiral George Melville

As I was reading this book, I kept wondering just who was this Melville guy?! No matter what gets thrown at him, he just keeps going. He describes having his clothing freeze so solidly to his skin that when he makes the mistake of trying to remove his moccasins or leggings, big chunks of skin get peeled off, but he just re-wraps the raw areas and harangues the other men to keep moving, too. His feet and legs become so swollen from infection and frostbite than he can't walk, but even when he has to be carried on a sleigh he manages to intimidate the natives he's hired as helpers to keep going. Then when he's finally back in the United States, safe and solid on dry, warm land, what does he do? Insists on being assigned to the Greely rescue mission, an assignment that sends him right back to the Arctic, albeit on the eastern side of North America instead of the west. The Jeannette had sailed north through the Bering Strait; Captain Greely was assigned to a ship that sailed north between Greenland and Canada.

George Melville was a Civil War veteran as well as a talented mechanical engineer. He invented several improvements to steam engines and boilers. He established a laboratory at the Naval Academy at Annapolis for testing equipment, particularly engines, and at the time of his retirement with the rank of admiral was the Chief Engineer for the U.S. Navy. The Navy honored him for his service on the Jeannette expedition by bumping him up 15 slots on the promotion ladder, which boosted him to a commodore's rank in the 1880s. In addition to his military service, he was active in professional organizations and served as the 18th president of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers.

Melville was married and had three children. I found myself wondering just what sort of little hellions his kids were because at various points in the book he makes comments indicating he's not overly fond of little barracudas. At one point he says he'd rather sleep outside in subzero weather than share a native hut if there were children in it; at another he refers to small children as "the little rats." He also notes that nonetheless the Yakut children are better behaved than most of the ones he known back in more civilized regions. He married in 1867; twelve years and several children later he's on a boat heading off into the Arctic on what promises to be a lengthy (at least 2 years) cruise. I've known guys who were anxious to get out of the house away from the little woman and the spawn but deciding to go on a Polar expedition seems a little extreme.

In addition to the description of the Jeannette expedition, the book includes a brief report on the relief expedition to find Captain Greely and Melville's thoughts of what would be needed for a successful expedition to the North Pole. All in all, a fascinating book. There are times when Melville manages to make Shackleton seem like a slacker.

Shameless self-promotion (sort of): This book belongs to the Baraga County Historical Museum. I was about to list it on Ebay (it definitely doesn't fit into the museum's mission) when I decided to read it first. Now that I've finished it, it is going up for sale online. The book is an original first edition from 1884 and is in pretty good condition. There is shelf wear, the corners of the covers are a bit bent and I did spot a page that at one time had been dog-eared, but overall there's no significant damage. All the plates (maps and illustrations) are intact. On ABEbooks there are copies of similar vintage and varying conditions with prices ranging from $33 to $201. If you're interested in owning a first edition, make an offer. 

Friday, December 16, 2016

Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge

I know I mentioned the Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge and Daniel K. Inouye Lighthouse in a previous post, but the lighthouse is nifty enough that the Refuge deserves a separate post. The Refuge is, of course, managed by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. I'll confess that this is the first NWR I've visited that had me seriously wanting to volunteer. Fish is notorious for making its volunteers actually work, e.g., do active trail maintenance, mow lawns, and generally earn your "free" RV site. Toss in the fact that Wildlife Refuges are usually located in the middle of quite literally nowhere and my usual reaction to seeing the listings on Volunteer.gov is usually "Interesting, but not interested."

Kilauea Point, on the other hand. . . Kaua'i is a little out of the way in terms of where we live now, but I rhink I'd be willing to make the sacrifice. Unfortunately, I don't think it's possible to drive the Guppy there.

The lighthouse itself doesn't seem particularly tall -- it is only 52 feet in height -- and is done in the Classical Revival style popular with the Lighthouse Service 100 years ago. Land for the light station was purchased from a sugar company and construction began in 1912. It went up quickly considering the hassles involved in lifting material up a cliff. The second order clamshell-type Fresnel lens was lit for the first time on May 1, 1913. That lens, incidentally, seems truly humongous when viewed from the ground. (Side note: I tend to buy note cards when I hit gift shops in visitor centers; I still write actual letters. There were cards with a great photo of the lens, but I could not bring myself to buy any because on the back the lens was described as looking "like a beehive." On what planet do beehives look like clamshells?)
Construction, as usual with light stations, was not easy. At the time there was no practical land access to the site; materials were brought in boat and hoisted up an approximately 110-foot tall cliff to the tip of the promontory. One assumes that at one time the light station included all the usual ancillary buildings, but today all that remains is the tower, a building close to it that housed a radio beacon but has been repurposed for informational displays (it was the lighthouse visitor center until a new one was built in 1988), an oil house/paint locker, and two keepers' quarters houses set well back from the light station. Because the primary focus of the site is the wildlife refuge, most of the informational displays in the information building and various waysides around the public area focus on the birds -- albatross, nene geese, shearwaters, frigate birds, and others -- that have rookeries in the refuge. There was no information (at least none that I saw) on what the light station looked like when it was first built or who the keepers and their families were. This type of information might be shared when the lighthouse is open for tours, but that only happens twice a week on Wednesday and Saturday, and we were there on a Friday.

The refuge is pretty nifty in itself, of course. It's done a fine job of preserving habitat for various sea birds. Thanks to a multi-million dollar fence, the nesting area is protected from predation from rats and cats so ground-nesters like the nene geese and albatross are increasing in number. 

The Kilauea Light is reportedly the most visited site on Kauai. I'd love to know how anyone knows that. Every place we went that was any sort of a tourist attraction, right down to the scenic overlook of the Hanalai valley, had enough people there that parking was tight. So who's doing the counting and how? I'm also curious as to exactly when the powers-that-be decided to name the lighthouse after Senator Inouye. It would be nice if they did it while he was still alive, but odds are it happened after his death. Way too many of the honors people receive happen after they're too old or too dead to enjoy them.

Totally (almost) irrelevant bit of trivia: Actor Ben Stiller and his wife, Christine, have donated over $100,000 toward preservation of the lighthouse. There's an honor roll of donors; the Stillers are the only ones who have gone over $100K so far. 

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Another of life's little mysteries: Bisbee, Arizona

Looking downhill toward the center of town in Bisbee, Arizona. 
How did Bisbee, Arizona, go from dying mining town to artist's colony and major tourist attraction? Good question. We did a brief visit to Bisbee the other day, briefer than it probably merited because we were actually more interested in visiting Coronado National Memorial and then shopping in Sierra Vista than we were in exploring in depth the charms of a historic district that comes close to being vertical. At one time, Bisbee was a booming mining town with one major drawback.There isn't much level ground. Everything ended up perching on the very steep sides of a canyon.

This verticality does seem to be a standard feature of mining towns. Virginia City, Nevada, has many buildings where on one side you walk in at ground level, go up or down a couple flights of stairs, walk out the building on the other side and once again you're at ground level. Ditto Houghton and Hancock, Michigan, although not quite as dramatically. You don't have to climb staircases (or at least not very many of them) to go straight up or down hills. In Bisbee, a person would either have to go a long way around or be prepared to do a lot of stair climbing. Residents there definitely have lots of opportunity for cardio.
One of several art cars I spotted in Bisbee. This one happened to be political in theme; the others were more eccentric.

But back to the mystery of Bisbee evolving into a tourist attraction. Why and how? It's not really on the way to any place else except maybe Mexico. Did it become an artist's retreat when Sedona got to be too expensive? It's still possible to live fairly cheaply in Bisbee. The historic cliff dwelling houses can be a tad pricey, but if you go out not far from "Old Bisbee" prices drop dramatically. There's a lot of commercial space in the historic district that probably rents relatively cheaply for artists galleries. It must, considering just how many "galleries" there are.

Bisbee does work hard at attracting visitors. They have various events and festivals on a regular basis and make sure they're well-advertised in a pretty wide area. The weekend before we were there, they had a race with a course that involved running up and down the gazillion stairs in town. No doubt it attracted a fair number of participants because runners tend to be a masochistic lot who love a challenge. There was another event scheduled for this past weekend -- we missed it because we were there on a Friday and the event was set for Saturday.
Flies on the exterior wall of the mining museum in Bisbee

Maybe one of the charms of visiting Bisbee is that if you want to stay there your lodging options are totally non-franchised. There are a fair number of hotels, inns, bread and breakfasts, and every single one of them is in an old building: the historic Copper Queen Hotel, the Copper Inn, the Inn at Castlerock, and a dozen others are all old construction. Very old construction. Ditto dining opportunities: no chains, just local restaurants, cafes, and brew pubs all occupying space in historic buildings. Old Bisbee is a National Historic District so buildings may get repurposed but they're unlikely to get torn down. If you want to escape homogenous American culture, mass marketing, and strip mall architecture Bisbee might be one place to do it.

Note to self: the next time we decide to play tourist somewhere, make sure camera battery is fully charged so it's possible to take more than 3 pictures. I was unable to take any photos of the nifty industrial archeology elements, like the Lavender Pit, because by the time we saw them the camera battery was too low.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Chiricahua National Monument

I'd been curious about Chiricahua National Monument for awhile. Long before The Kid applied for and got her promotion and transfer to the southeastern corner of Arizona, I did an application through volunteer.gov for a campground host slot at Chiricahua National Monument. At the time I didn't know much about it other than (a) it's located in southern Arizona, (b) it stays snow-free enough that their campground is open year-round otherwise they wouldn't be looking for winter campground hosts, and (c) they were advertising on volunteer.gov.

Unlike most of the volunteer.gov applications I've done, which seem to vanish into an electronic void never to be heard of again, CHIR did a fast response. I got a nice note from the volunteer coordinator at the park that was in essence a FOAD but phrased quite politely: the VIP slot had been filled, but thanks for applying. I did an equally nice note back saying that if they had a cancellation, keep us in mind. That was back in the fall of 2014, I promptly shoved CHIR to the back of my mind until we got down here. That's when it turned into a "must visit it and get that NPS Passport stamp."

Yes, I fear I have turned into one of those visitors that annoy park staff: the visitor who doesn't really give a rat's patoot about what resources a park might happen to have -- historic buildings, gorgeous scenery, good hiking trails -- but just heads straight for the passport station at the Visitor Center, stamps his or her little blue book, does a 180 back to the parking lot, and heads for home.

Okay, so I'm not quite that bad. I do usually do one lap around the gift shop area to pick up a magnet or a book, do a quick perusal of the park information (e.g., walk through whatever museum-like area they have), and then exit. And at CHIR we did do the scenic drive up to two lookouts and amble over a fairly short trail that had signage at various points explaining just what we were looking at.
Nifty overlook that had a wall that to me felt much, much too low.
We also did a drive through of the campground. I do believe the phrase "narrow escape" would be fit quite nicely. Having seen it, I am so relieved we never got a call to go there. On the positive side, it did have potable water available. On the down side. . . can I start with it's a flood plain in a part of the country notorious for flash floods that can hit with zero warning, the spaces were small, and the whole campground felt super claustrophobic. It was also booked full that weekend. Why is a mystery, because having seen it, I certainly have no desire to ever camp there. It also supposedly had a campground host, but once again (just like at Cochise Stronghold) where that campground host was hiding was a mystery. There was a popup camper on one of three sites identified in the Visitor Center as campground host locations but no signs of life and for sure no signage right in the campground telling campers where the host could be found. Strange, but not my problem.
CCC-constructed fire lookout perched on a mountain top.

As for CHIR itself, it's not bad.The terrain is interesting. As one might surmise from the name, it's a chunk of the Chiricahua Mountains. Over millennia wind and water carved the rock into interesting formations referred to as "hoodoos." Some sections of the park have more than others, but the scenery definitely isn't boring. There are good hiking trails of various lengths and difficulties, and, for people who have horses, there is at least one equestrian trail..The Kid and I talked about going back one of these weekends and having the S.O. drop us off at the trailhead on one end and then meeting us at the other. Thanks to arthritic knees and a bad ankle, the S.O. isn't up to doing long hikes anymore, but theoretically I still am. (Side Note: Over 40 years ago doctors started warning me that if I didn't lose weight I'd end up with bad knees. At this point, when I've definitely slid into geezerhood and have a bunch of other things wrong with me, my knees are the one thing that seem to be functioning just fine. I may be fat, but I can walk just fine. It's a mystery.)

We also talked about going back and timing it so we could hike the trail to a fire outlook constructed by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s. The trail curls around a mountain top and includes a tunnel. I would have liked to hike it, but we all agreed we lacked adequate water and it was getting to be a little late in the afternoon. No one wants to be walking down from a mountain in the dark even if it is on a well-marked and decently maintained trail.

The park also includes heritage resources in the form of a former dude ranch. Faraway Ranch began life as a farm established by a Swedish immigrant family in the 1880s and evolved into a guest ranch in the early 20th century. The park has an interesting display in the Visitor Center illustrating how the orginal crude cabin evolved over the decades into a much bigger and more elaborate ranch house. The ranch house is open for tours on the weekends, but unfortunately our timing was off. We were there on a Saturday when tours had been cancelled for that particular day. Maybe some other time -- it would be interesting to see the interior and to hear more about the history.
High dollar NPS earth-moving equipment

There's a tiny family cemetery right at the entrance to the park where members of the Swedish immigrant family are interred. I had the usual morbid thought that hits whenever I see historic cemeteries "preserved" by putting up a fence around the most prominently marked graves and then paving around the perimeter -- just how many people are under this asphalt? -- but no doubt the decision for the fencing and paving was made right after CHIR was established 80 years ago and people weren't quite as cognizant of the possibility of unmarked graves in pioneer cemeteries.
All in all, not a bad little park, definitely worth visiting. Interesting natural resources, interesting history, and out of the way enough that odds are it's never going to be crowded.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

'tis the season

I am feeling slightly less Scrooge-like than usual this morning. We spent yesterday playing tourist, were gone until almost 8 p.m., and as we were unloading the car a group of carolers came rolling through the RV park. Have no idea which organization or church they were affiliated with, but a fellow came running over to hand us a gift bag. I assume that because this is a 55+ park, they figured old people appreciate gifts from random strangers. Nothing elaborate: a word-finds puzzle book, several pencils, and a decent size tube of lotion (because this is the desert and everyone ends up with lizard skin). It was. . . nice. So because I'm briefly in a vaguely holiday mood, here's my favorite Christmas carol.

Friday, December 9, 2016

Totally predictable

The Intertubes are kind of freaking out this morning over President-elect Trump selecting someone from the world of professional wrestling to be part of his administration. I'm not sure why. Of course, the Intertubes have sort of blown up over almost every one of his picks, from Trump's tapping the blatantly racist Jeff Sessions as his choice for Attorney General to a climate change denier Scott Pruitt to head the Environmental Protection Agency. His choice for Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, thinks "difficult" and "hard" do not mean the same thing, which really makes me question the value of a high dollar private education. (She never attended public school; she's the product of church schools from kindergarten through college.) So far as I can tell, to date he's named maybe one person who's not an obvious mediocrity or idiot -- Elaine Chao for Transportation, and that's only because it's an obvious way to kiss up to her husband, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. And each time he names someone, people do the WTF dance. Why?

There is a basic concept in sociology known as "homophily." Like is attracted to like. If you look around at your friends, it won't come as much of a surprise that you have a lot in common with most or all of them. Do you quilt? You're going to have friends who are quilters. Amateur musician? Your friends are going to include other musicians. Have a warped sense of humor? Love "Doctor Who"? You get the idea -- everyone wants to be around people they're comfortable with, where you can be yourself and not stress because you share a common world view and agree on stuff that's important to you. So just what did people expect when a not-too-bright government-hating thin-kinned reality tv star won the election?

Donald Trump is not going to fill his cabinet with the best and the brightest. He may have said he was going to get advice from experts, but his definition of experts is a bit different from what most of us think. For Trump, an expert is someone who's going to confirm what he already believes. He wants people he can feel comfortable around, people who are his intellectual equals or less. He doesn't want anyone at a cabinet meeting who might tell jokes he doesn't understand or who is going to have the cojones to tell him when he's wrong. He wants to be the boss, the guy who gets to feel superior to everyone else in the room. He doesn't want advisers. He wants acolytes. So who is he picking? Mediocrities, losers, and people from the reality tv world. In other words, people like himself. Homophily in action.

Once again, I'm thinking that if nothing else, the Trump administration is going to manage to crowd Warren G. Harding out of the history books when it comes to corruption and incompetence. We live in interesting times.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Just another day in Paradise

Ke'e beach on Kauai's north shore
A couple years ago the S.O. and I were sort of kicking around the idea of a trip to Hawaii. He'd spent a few weeks on Oahu back when he was a migrant aircraft mechanic, but I'd never been to the islands. At some point the Younger Daughter decided to coerce us into using her reward points for a week at aWyndham resort on Kauai.

I confess The Garden Island wasn't on the original itinerary. We'd actually put the Big Island at the top of the list. I didn't even know that Kauai existed. If someone had asked me to name the Islands I might have been able to rattle off four and Kauai wasn't one of them (Oahu, Hawaii, Molokai, . . . okay. Three islands). But a little research revealed that Kauai had its charms. No National parks but lots of state ones. Amazing beaches. Botanical gardens. Plus all the usual Hawaiian tourist attractions like luaus, helicopter tours, guided snorkeling trips, none of which have ever made a list of things I'd actually want to do. Heights terrify me, I can't swim, and we're too damn cheap to pay $100 each for an all you can eat buffet even if it includes unlimited mai tais and hula dancers playing with fire. So it was going to be beaches, botanical gardens, and some hiking. Oh, and the Kilauea lighthouse.

Kilauea Lighthouse. When it was built, there was no road access.
The light station is now part of a National Wildlife Refuge. Right after we got to the resort we attended an orientation session that included information on local attractions, warnings about being careful at the beaches (pay attention to the lifeguards, don't swim unless there is a lifeguard, etc.), and sales pitches from people trying to sell us on the idea of helicopter tours or high dollar luaus. That's when we got told that supposedly there was an albatross rookery that the public wass actually allowed to get close to, which is definitely not the norm. Usually when birds are nesting there's a huge buffer zone between them and gawkers. The info about the rookery turned out to be tour operator hype -- you need binoculars to see the birds' nesting area -- but it was interesting seeing the lighthouse. That sucker has a humongous Fresnel lens of a type I'd never seen before: a clamshell.
Nene geese

But, speaking of birds, if I recall correctly, the state bird of Hawaii is the nene goose. The goose is endangered. I find myself thinking that they got it wrong. The state bird should be the chicken. Feral chickens are every where. I started drafting this while we were still on Kauai. As I tried typing, kind of experimenting with doing a blog post using the smart phone, I was being serenaded by multiple roosters. Yesterday I heard an odd noise right outside the door. Turned out to be a hen with four or five half grown chicks. We went looking for a Kmart Sunday afternoon. Turned out to be part of a good sized shopping center. We had lunch in the food court. The chickens outnumbered the pigeons.

One of several roosters in the parking area for Ke'e beach
We were staying at a nice resort -- Wyndham's Ka eo Kai in Princeville -- but there were chickens wandering around there. There were chickens near the airport, chickens wandering the right of way along the highway, chickens at the beaches, chickens in the state parks. Every time we stopped at a scenic overlook for  Waimea Canyon there were chickens. Occasionally there were signs up reminding people not to feed the feral chickens or cats, but not often.

I have to say that for feral birds they were remarkably good looking chickens. Chickens apparently found an ecological niche to exploit in the Islands after arriving with the Polynesians a millennia or two ago and are thriving despite the cats and rats that must dine on eggs and chicks. I'm guessing those two predators are what keep chicken numbers low enough that although the chickens are numerous, they haven't totally overrun the Islands. I never saw a hen with more than 2 or 3 chicks at the most, and I know chickens are capable of having much bigger broods than that.

Sleeping Giant (aka Nounou Mountain)
So how was our brief expedition to Kauai in general? Not bad. The scenery was spectacular, of course. That's a given when you go to Hawaii -- all those volcanic peaks make for some dramatic backdrops, which is why the Islands have long been popular with filmmakers. The north shore of Kauai shows up in the film "South Pacific" as they approach Bali Hai, and one of the more dramatic waterfalls and the Na Pali coast (also the north shore) are highlighted in "Jurassic Park." The opening sequence for "Fantasy Island" included a shot of waterfalls on Kauai. The north and east sides of the island are the windward sides so get huge amounts of rain (the wettest spot on earth is supposedly on Kauai); there's a lot of lush tropical growth. When you drive south and west, things turn drier. You go from rain forest to cactus in just a few miles.

The resort we stayed at was one of the older ones in Princeville. According to Wikipedia, up until the 1960s, the area was a cattle ranch. In 1968 it was sold for development and became a planned community of condominiums, upscale resorts, and definitely not cheap single family homes. And golf courses. Lots of golf courses. The resort we stayed at, Ka eo Kai, was originally named The Ranch. I'm guessing, based on construction style and general layout, that it was built in the 1980s. It's been updated and is quite nice, but you can tell it's Not New. The unit we stayed in, for example, was a studio. I'd be willing to be that when the resort was built, the designers planned the square footage based on full-size beds being used in the bedrooms. When they updated, times having definitely changed in what people's expectations are, they put in a queen. The square footage didn't change, though, so the end result was a room that now felt a bit on the small side considering what  the average cost per night runs. On the other hand, the bathroom was humongous -- I think we could have parked the Guppy in there.

We did sample some local cuisine. The S.O. tried the loco moko, which involves two hamburger patties, two eggs fried sunny side up, and gravy. It looked odd, but he said it wasn't bad. It must have been edible -- he ate all of it. It's apparently popular -- we noticed most of the patronized by the locals eateries had it on the menu. I was curious about the saiman with spam (another item that was on a lot of menus) but ran out of time. Spam is popular in Hawaii, possibly because it's comparatively cheap, and saiman (a noodle soup) even more so. I did not know so many varieties of Spam existed until we shopped at the Princeville Foodland. And it was such a good price on Spam (it was one of the few cheap grocery items I spotted) that I came really close to buying a few cans to bring home. (Money saving tip for anyone traveling to Hawaii: Foodland will give you the sales prices without you having their shopping club card if you just give them your phone number. You don't need to sign up for the actual card unless you plan on being there long enough that you actually want the various other perks that come with it.)

One thing that struck me while we were in Hawaii, given the recent election results and some of the truly vile racist stuff that's emerged while President Obama has been in office, was that Hawaiian society encapsulates everything racist whites fear. The population is incredibly diverse, whites are a minority, and the overall attitude is laid back and very much "live and let live." No wonder so many of them insisted President Obama wasn't a U.S. citizen. To them, Hawaii would indeed feel like a foreign country.