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February 19, 2014

Southwest Trip Day 12

Cliff Palace at Mesa Verde

Cliff Palace at Mesa Verde

   Woke up and found southern Utah quite scenic.  I had traveled through northern Utah this summer and the great salt desert was nice to see but rather drab.  This part of Utah, however, is mountainous with a lot of interesting rock structures.  I enjoyed the drive.
   The goal today was to reach Mesa Verde in order to see the cliff dwellings of the Ancient Pueblo peoples.  I arrived around 9:30 am and was told I could make a tour if I started out right away.  In the winter several of the cliff dwellings are closed to visitors.  Partly because there are not nearly as many people visiting, and partly because they are often snowed in.  I was given a guided tour of Spruce Tree House, and as the tour broke up I began asking the ranger tons of questions.  He was very happy to talk about the dwellings and what was known of the peoples who lived in them.
   The dwellings are much smaller than I had initially thought them to be.  There are many rooms, which gives the illusion the buildings are larger than they really are.  However, each room is quite small.  This doesn't take away from the acomplishment.  Those who built these cities were building what had never been done in the area before.  There are many unanswered questions about these abandon cities.  Among them are why were they built when most people lived on the mesa?  And why were they abandon over 500 years ago?
   Standing there gave me a respect for my fellow engineers from ancient times.  They solved the problems of their times in a pronominal way building structure that have lasted centuries.  There is a connection there, like despite the time and cultural difference the designers and I are both problem solvers, engineering solutions for the times we live/lived.  There's a good chance they enjoyed what they did as much as I enjoy my engineering projects.  There is the thought that if somehow we could meet and speak to one an other, we might both enjoy telling stories of how we tackled complex situations.
   After a few hours of exploring I was back on the road.  No other stops are planned until Missouri.  Ended up stopping early at a rest area in Colorado not long after sunset.  After a nap I was back on the road.  Although I had checked the weather and there were no indications it was going to be bad, I ran into white out snow conditions in south eastern Colorado.  It was so bad I couldn't decern the road from the ditch and had to rely on the reflectors on either side to know I was still on the road.  I was driving down the center of the road, but I had traveled more than an hour without seeing an other vehicle.  At one point the snow was so heavy I couldn't see the next set of reflectors in the road.  I relied on the GPS telling me the road was straight.  I would have pulled over anywhere to weight it out, but there was absolutely nothing.  Drove like that for about two hours before the snow let up, and within 30 minutes it was like nothing had happened at all.  Found a gas station with truck parking and turned in for the night.

February 18, 2014

Southwest Trip Day 11

Mountain pass somewhere northeast of Las Vegas

Mountain pass somewhere northeast of Las Vegas

   It was time to say goodbye to Las Vegas and start back east.  I started in a north easterly direction until the Arizona border.  From there it was mostly east crisscrossing the Utah/Arizona border.  My destination was southern Colorado.  I had planned on stopping at a rest area in Arizona but never found it so spent the night at a closed gas station in Mexican Hat, Utah.

February 17, 2014

Southwest Trip Day 10

Vegas Sunset

Vegas Sunset

   Kristy was a little less broken today so we decided to visit the Mob Museum.  I have seen a good number of gangster movies and it was interesting to read about the people these movies were based.  Vegas' beginnings were closely tied to organized crime so it was interesting to see all of this put together in documentary form.
   We finished the day with a tour of Kristy's work place Zappos.  On the 10th floor I did a series of long exposure shots capturing the setting sun I think turned out pretty good. 

February 15, 2014

Southwest Trip Day 8

Hoover Dam

Hoover Dam

  The first stop today was the Hoover Dam.  It and the bypass bride are both engineering marvels and I wanted to see them.  I passed over the bypass bridge but was unable to see anything from the traveling lane.  The turn off for visiting the dam was a few miles afterward.  Seeing the substation on the Nevada side starts to give you an idea of the amount of energy produced by this colossus.  Most of my trip has had limited numbers of people because I am traveling in the winter, but not the dam.  The site of the dam is pretty impressive.  Looking down from the dam's edge the vertical lines create the illusion of motion.  Some people may not like it (the fear of heights), but I kind of wanted to grab a skateboard and ride the gnarliest quarter pipe in the world.
   There is a lot to like about the dam.  It was built in the 1930s when there was nothing else like it at the time.  The architecture of the dam is art deco, and I love art deco.  We tend to think of the technology difference between then and now, but I don't think there is much we could do today that would have made the dam easier to build.  Safer most definitely, but easier I don't know. 
   One thing I noticed was the water line of lake Mead—quite low.  After some reading I see this is a problem.  The lake is the lowest it's been since the 1950s having been in a fairly steady decline since 2000.
   After visiting the dam it was time to visit Kristy.  We went to get some food and then decided to do some roller skating.  Unforchently within five minutes of being on the floor Kristy took a really nasty spill, bashed her head, cracked some ribs, and bruised both hands.  Like a trooper Kristy wanted to keep doing evening activities, but after we walked around downtown to find ice cream the pain was really kicking in.  She was finally talked into going to this doctor to find the extend of her injuries and was pretty beat up the rest of my visit.  Sorry little sister!

February 14, 2014

Southwest Trip Day 7

Sunset at the Grand Canyon

Sunset at the Grand Canyon

   Started my day with Meteor Crater.  Just like it sounds, it's a meteor crater and a giant hole in the desert.  Dug in about 10 seconds around 50,000 years ago it is an other science spot to appease nerdness.  Even being there it is hard to apreshate the size of the crater because there is nothing else around by which the size can be compared.  The visitor center had a lot of good information and I read about what was known about the meteor that produced this hole.  They had a large chuck of the meteor on display.  It's only the second meteor I've ever touched (the first was at the Adler Planetarium in Chicago).
   I had wanted to visit the Petrified Forest, but it would have been too late by the time I had arrived, and there was nothing else in the area.  So I had to skip it. 
   Driving through Flagstaff, Arizona was kind of nice.  It wasn't shrubby desert like the land around it.  Must be the higher elevation as there were tall pine trees and more life.
   My next stop was the Grand Canyon.  There are many times in my life were I am awestruck, and the Grand Canyon was one of those times for me.  I had been told one cannot appreshate its size unless actually present, but I was still supprised at how true that really was.  Having seen many beautiful things in many different places there is still nothing like what I saw at the Grand Canyon.  I arrived late, but in time to visit a several stop and I would stay through sunset.  It quite literally moved me to tears.  I have no words to adequately can describe the site before me.  I have shot many beautiful sunsets, but nothing compared to this.  Magnificent.
  Continued west and finished at a truck stop just before Kingman, Arizona around midnight.

February 13, 2014

Southwest Trip Day 6

Col. Richard Bushong with a B-17

Col. Richard Bushong with a B-17

   Woke up to a very cool landscape in the morning.  I usually find a truck stop to shower at every other day while traveling, and got clean and ready for my day. 
   My first stop was the Pima Air & Space Museum.  In hindsight I should have planned to stay the entire day at this site.  They had one of everything, and it was all cool.  I was like a little kid in a candy store.  The first plane that awed me was the SR-71 Blackbird.  I had always wanted to see one up close.  It is quite large (compared to the U-2, the other common spy plane) and you don't really get an appreciation for the size of the engines until you see the size of the back end.  Some 160,000 horsepower from each engine.  We still don't know the exact preformance specifications of this aircraft.  Their display said above 75,000 feet and over mach 3.  Quite the machine.
   There were several other planes I had wanted to see on display as well.  They had a B-36 (the first strategic bomber capable of delivering any of the nuclear weapons in the U.S. arsenal), and it's successor the B-52 bomber (of which they had 3).  They have one of the few Super Guppies, a weird looking modification of a C-97 used my NASA to transport over sized items.  So many neat planes, and I just didn't have time to see everything.
   I did want to see the B-17 before I left, and I got a very unexpected treat.  Just as I arrived, Colonel Richard Bushong started a talk about when he flew a B-17 during WWII.  It was really an honer to be able to listen to this man talk, and be able to ask questions.  My question (although I had many) was about the length of the missions he flew, which I found were between 8 and 11 hours.  Col. Bushong survived the war.  Six of the seven planes he flew did not, and sadly neither did many of the crew members he served with.  While I could have listened to the colonel all day, I still had one more place I needed to visit.  I left a lot of things unseen, but I guess that means I have to come back again.
   My last stop was the Titan Missile Museum.  It is an important piece of Cold War history.  If the button had been pushed, this is one of the places that would have launched their missiles either starting World War III or ending the world.  It's a combination of fascinating and scary.  The policy was called Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) and we weren't bluffing.  The U.S. had the means for the complete annihilation of the Soviet Union, and they likely had similar means.  Some say it was policy that prevented the cold war from turning hot, others think we got lucky that the USSR collapsed before it happened.  Being in the missile silo really brings home just how real MAD was.
   My last stop was to visit Lisa.  Due to the holiday and schedules we only had a couple hours to chat, but it was nice to see her in her new desert home.
   Turned in at a rest area in Mazatzal.

February 12, 2014

Southwest Trip Day 5

Very Large Array

Very Large Array

   The first destination of the day was the Very Large Array radio astronomy observatory.  Most people have seen it, even if they don't know what it is called or what it is used for.  As a Carl Sagan fan I knew it from Cosmos.  Others know it from the movie Contact.  The site is like an icon for astronomy, and as such I was on pilgrimage.
   Rather lazy getting out of bed this morning and slept until 8:00 am.  Had stopped in Lemitar, New Mexico and was about an hour away from my destination.  As I drove through the very empty country I recall seeing one of the dishes of the VLA in the distance and yelled out "There it is!" 
   I stopped on the way in to take some pictures, then went to the visitors center.  All around were signs asking people to turn off their cellphones.  We were in the middle of nowhere and had no service anyway, so it's not anyone was going to miss a call.  The antenna are so sensitive they can hear the beacon from a cellphone even if aimed upward just from having a cellphone on the grounds.  The array was configured in a mix with two legs in the B configuration, and one in the A configuration.  The A configuration is the most spread out, and B is the second most.  They were actually moving dishes that day, although I didn't see any moving while I was there.  So I am not sure if they were acquiring any data or not.  Because they listen to radio frequency they can see the stars during the day even if we cannot.
   The visitors center is free and begins with a video about the array.  They had Jodi Foster (the star of Contact) narrate the video, and I learned the site has actually been used for several media events (movies, music videos, ext).  The array itself has recently been upgraded to cover a wider range of radio frequency, and a more powerful data processing center.  Each dish produces 109 GBit/sec of data, and all 27 dishes are fed into a computer that has to continuously put 2.9 terabits/sec of data together.  All this data is saved to disk and analysis.  The sensors in each dish have to be cooled to 15 °K (-432.67 °F or -258 °C) so the heat from being a black body radiation doesn't interfere with readings.
   To me visiting this place made the trip worthwhile.  I could have gone back home that day and been happy.  It was really a privilage to stand next to this interment.  Science engineering at it's finest.  Makes me feel I need to work harder so that one day I might contribute my abilities to helping projects like the VLA.  Very inspirational.
   My next stop was to be at White Sands National Monument.  However, some dummy at White Sands Missile Range went and crashed a drone in the park.  275 square miles of desert, and they had to crash in the only part of it open to the public when I was in town.  The closest I got was pulling over on the side of the road were a dune was escaping the park.
   Stopped at a rest area in Texas Canyon around 11:00 pm.

February 11, 2014

Southwest Trip Day 4

Cray-1 Super Computer

Cray-1 Super Computer

   Woke about 5:00 am local time.  My first stop was Bandelier National Monument.  I wanted to see the structures of the ancient Pueblo peoples.  Learned the dwellings were in use from around 1100 to 1400 CE.  The rock is compressed volcanic ash which is fairly soft.  Since it is easily eroded, several caves had been created that the native people could enlarge and build upon.  Much of what had been built was gone, but holes for poles used for roof support remained, along with the bottoms of walls.  Individual rooms were quite small, and nothing was said of the lighting they employed.  Walked the grounds until I had warn a pretty good hole in my left heal—the down side of new boots.
   The next stop was Los Alamos, New Mexico.  Having read a great deal about the atomic bomb, and even taken a class on the topic, I was interested in visiting Los Alamos.  I visited Bradbury Science Museum which is run by Los Alamos National Laboratory.  It was a wealth of information and artifacts.  They had reproductions of several war heads (including the bombs dropped on Japan at the end of WWII).  The thing I liked the most, however, was an actual Cray-1 super computer on display.  I wasn't expecting to see it there and was really excited when I saw it.  LANL actually received the very first Cray-1 in 1976.  This may be the very first Cray-1 ever made, but I have been unable to verify this.  I do know it could run at 160 megaflops (million floating-point (math) operations per second), had 8 MB of main memory, and was clocked at 80 MHz.  Today's cellphones have more computing power running in the gigaflops, with gigabytes of RAM and clock speeds in the gigahertz.  In 1976, however, the Cray-1 was by far the most powerful computer in existence.  I had always wanted to see one.
   I wandered the museum for several hours before departing.  A quick stop at the grocery store to restock and I was back on the road.  I had hopped to make it to the Very Large Array radio observetory before nightfall, but I entered the coordinates into the GPS wrong (there is no address).  Tried to find a rest area, but New Mexico has this bad habit of having most of their rest areas closed.  So I found a truck stop around 10:00 pm and turned in for the evening.

February 10, 2014

Southwest Trip Day 3

Exibit at the Museum of Great Plains

Exibit at the Museum of Great Plains

   Now I was in the right part of the country it was time to start visiting places.  My first stop was the Museum of Great Plains in Lawton, Oklahoma (just south of Oklahoma City).  I have read a good deal about the Dust Bowl in the 1930ies and wanted to see if there was a place I could find out more. 
   At the museum I did get my dust bowl information, but I also learned a lot about the Native Americans who had been moved to Oklahoma.  What surprised me was how little time it took for the land of Oklahoma to be destroyed.  Settlement with farming didn't really start until 1900, and by 1930 the poor land practices led to one of the worst agricultural disasters in U.S. history.  Fascinating through.  Also learned about the extinction of the buffalo, cattle drives, the railroad, and settlement of the state.
   After the drive I started west toward Texas and New Mexico.  On my way out of town I found an Army Surplus store.  Since my boots had a couple large holes I decided I'd look to see if this place had a suitable replacement.  Sure enough I found what I was looking for and went about the rest of my trip in a new pair of boots.  Turns out that Lawton is right next to Fort Sill army base which I drove by on my way out of town.
   Driving through Oklahoma and Texas I saw a lot of abandon buildings and nearly dead towns.  While I am use to people living in dilapidated buildings (I have spent most of my adult live in Beloit, WI) I was surprised to see these conditions town after town.  Then I reached Clarendon, Texas—the town of PVC crosses.  As I entered the town (about 60 miles south east of Amarillo), I kept seeing large white crosses.  They were everywhere.  When I looked more closely I could see they were made of PVC pipe, like the type used for transporting sewage.  Along with the classy depiction of the Christian savior's torture device, there were several "end times" billboards.  Turns out I was not the only person who thought the waste water crosses are a little strange and after reading about it I found the 40+ crosses are the work of one man on an apocalyptic preaching mission.  Sounds like he is doing this from his religious convictions and putting his own time and money into it, so it's not some shady faith healer or the like.  One editorial expressed concern the city was sending the wrong message, and another article says the city administration is reviewing policies because of this.  To me the thought was "Yep, I am certainly in the south."
   As I drove I noticed the soil turning red.  While I was officially out of the Ozarks, the land was still hilly.  Pass a lot of cotton fields.  They were all picked, but a great deal of cotton was laying around on the ground. 
   Entered New Mexico just before the sun was completely gone.  This would be my first time in the state, leaving only 3 states left for visitation.  Turned in near at a rest area near Santa Rosa, New Mexico.