Thursday, November 14, 2019

Above ground next

After touring Carlsbad Caverns, I had some extra time and I really didn't want to just hole up in my motel room, so I headed south out of New Mexico into Texas towards Guadalupe Mountains National Park. Guadalupe Mountains is an extension of Carlsbad Caverns, except, this is above ground. In other words, the limestone marine fossil reef that's below ground in New Mexico, is above ground in Texas, forming the tallest mountains in the entire state of Texas.

The park is primarily a wilderness area, so there are very few roads in the park, either paved or dirt roads. Consequently, you really need to be prepared when you visit this park. The original plan was to camp here, then head up to Carlsbad Caverns and explore what I could here. As luck would have it, this would have been the only place where I would have camped on this road trip, so I opted to leave the camping gear at home and just motel it on this trip. Although the campsites are first come first served, this park has a lot of visitors in the off season because the climate is fairly mild and it would have been problematic to even find a good campsite. So it ended up being a day trip.

I explored the visitors center, took in the National Park movie they offer, then decided to explore what I could in the time I had left in the day. I actually drove out of the park further south and to the west to get some great views of El Capitan, which is the main piece of rock at the end of the exposed mountain range. I'm not sure if you can actually see Guadalupe Peak, which is the highest point in Texas, from the road. I believe the tall peak to the right of El Capitan in the sign photo is obscuring Guadalupe Peak. There is a trail leading to the top of the peak, but that's a good 8 hour round trip, so I opted for a hike in McKittrick Canyon, which is very near the northern border of Texas and southern border of New Mexico.

I ended up hiking the nature trail at McKittrick Canyon, which was a short loop trail, which was very enjoyable and allowed me to get a feel for the entire park, but if I'd had more time, I would have worked my way back up into the canyon as there was a lot to explore there. As noted above, had I camped there for a couple of extra days, I think I would have also hiked to the top of Guadalupe Peak. Eventually, I can see myself coming back here, possibly in the next five years. I'll be in somewhere in Texas in 2024 for the next solar eclipse of the sun and this might be a good starting point. Hike a day or two, then work my way down to Big Bend National Park, then further east to view the eclipse. More road trips down the road.

Friday, November 8, 2019

Going underground again

Last month, I went on an epic 10 day road trip through four states. The second day was devoted to driving from Tucson, Arizona to Carlsbad, New Mexico where I would spend the next couple of days exploring both Carlsbad Caverns National Park and Guadalupe Mountains National Park to the south in Texas. I'll write about Guadalupe Mountains in another post later on.

The drive over to Carlsbad was rather uneventful, outside of getting into town after dark and having the Jeep basically sucking on fumes. No services on the road and I'm already 100 miles in with 130 to go and the sign says, next services, 100 miles. Ok, I can make that. Yeah, well the distance approximater in the Jeep doesn't take into account hilly terrain where the gas mileage and thus the mileage range of the vehicle will go down. Going up and over the Guadalupe Mountains tested my nerve, but the Jeep made it down the north side of the Mountains and into town where I was able to fill up the tank with about a gallon of gas to spare. I could just see my wife, had she been there, but I'm glad she wasn't.

The next morning, I got to the park fairly early, as I wanted to have a lot of time to explore the cave. I'd been there one other time in, I believe, 1983, but I don't remember much of it as my friend and I went through quickly since we had other things on our mind and places to go. I had no place to go that day since this was one of my destination stops. Still, I arrived and the cave wasn't open yet, but I got in line and got my ticket (which was free because of the National Park annual pass my daughter and son-in-law bought for me as a Christmas/retirement gift). 

I got my phone disinfected to prevent the possibility of carrying in white nose syndrome to the bats and began my journey into the darkness. I chose to use the natural entrance as opposed to the elevator mainly because I wanted to have a more natural experience. Taking the natural entrance also allowed me to see the swallows that nest at the entrance take off in the morning. Here's a video of them I took that day

Coming into the caves is like descending an 80 story building, but mostly on a paved pathway. Many of you know that I hurt my knee back in August, so this would be a serious test of my knee, but it passed with almost flying colors. Going down is always more difficult than going up on knees and this was no exception. By the time I was down at the bottom, my knee was barking at me, but it stopped once the path leveled out.

Perhaps it was the time of year, but I remember that there didn't seem to be as much reverence of the majesty of the place the last time I was there. I'll blame that on summer tourists. I remember it being so much more crowded back then and there wasn't as much time to just look around at the immensity of the cave formations. Coming in the off season was definitely the way to go. I was able to wander the trail in a logical fashion so I could see all the main formations as well as take my time in reading the various information kiosks set up along the trail. I'm not sure I can adequately describe the enormity of the place. It's huge. To give you an idea, if you look at the second photo, the drapery seen there is probably 50 feet tall. It's very hard to see the scale of this place, but I do know that once you're down in the Big Room, it's basic layout is much like a giant cross that's larger than the Capital building in Washington, D.C.

Once I had walked the entire trail, I ended up down near the elevators and decided at that time to take advantage of them going to the surface. I think many of the cave explorers that day, did the very same thing - walk down via the natural entrance and then come back to the surface via the elevator. 80 stories in just about 2 minutes. The last photo was taken along the Big Room trail and it's called the Chinese Theater. I really like the way this photo turned out, especially with the darkness of the non-lit areas around the edges of the photo.

Once up at the surface again, I chose to wander around the visitors center for a little bit, before I headed back to the Jeep. From there, I went out to find some lunch. I'd spent the better part of three hours underground and it's really amazing how you lose your sense of time, when you don't have any reference like the sun to tell you the passage of time. After lunch, I drove south into Texas to explore the same general area, but the above ground part in Guadalupe Mountains National Park.

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

A new voting experience

This morning, I wandered over to my polling place to vote.  The city where I live had one thing on the ballot, whether to raise the sales tax within the city boundaries. Lots of signs all over the city expressed the two side adequately and I choose (as is my prerogative) to not tell you how I voted.

First, I don't like to vote absentee ballot. I like to go to the polling place and "ink" my ballot. From the looks of things, it looks like I won't be inking my ballot in the near future. They had two electronic voting booths and a woman was trying to find people who wanted to try it out. Apparently, the county of Los Angeles is moving toward this for the next election, meaning the primary in the springtime, and they were testing it out. By the looks of it, they need to work out more kinks in the system. Either that, or the voting machine just didn't like me.

I had my sample ballot's barcode scanned which brought up the pertinent information about me and then the precinct worker put a sheet of paper through a printer which printed my electronic ballot and told me to go over to the voting booth and follow the instructions. So I did. I got one step in and there was an internal code 103 error. Neither worker knew what that meant and they couldn't clear the machine without rebooting it. They also had to open up the machine in order to get my ballot.

Once someone had voted at the other machine, I asked if I could vote on that machine with my ballot. Sure.  So I went through the procedures again and the machine gave me the same error. Until I retired this past spring, I used to teach computers at the middle school. Thinking to myself and troubleshooting, my ballot caused two different machines to error, indicating that it's not the machine, but the ballot that's the problem, especially since it was taking other people's ballots and allowing them to vote.

So now, the precinct workers voided my ballot and we decided to go through the process again with a new printed ballot.  I figured I'd be their Guinea Pig this morning to help them out, although I heard both of them vent their frustrations that they'd not gotten any kind of training on these machines. That, in itself, is a very bad thing if they're planning on rolling these things out en masse next spring.

So a new ballot was printed, I went over to the machine, started the process and got the same error message - Error 103.  Troubleshooting again, now it appears as if perhaps it's not the ballot, but the machine at the source doesn't like me for some reason. Needless to say, we didn't go through the process on another machine after that, my ballot was again voided and I went over and voted the "old fashioned" way, by inking my ballot. 45 minute after I'd walked into the building, I was walking out with my "I Voted" sticker. At the moment, I'm not impressed, nor am I satisfied that this could stop willful hacking of the system. I may end up going to absentee balloting in the future.

Thursday, October 31, 2019


Once again, it's the end of the month, which means it's time, once again for P.J.'s monthly blogging challenge. The theme for this month was liquid. I have to be honest with this one. When I first saw the theme at the beginning of the month, I figured there would be no way that I would be able to come up with anything for the theme, let alone five shots. But, once the month got underway, I saw ways that this would work, so bear with me as I think I'm stretching the boundaries a little bit with this theme, but at least I didn't have to resort to any photos of snow. Snow? Yeah, I actually saw it snow in a city for only the second time in my entire life, but that's another story that I'll tell at another time.

I'm actually doing these in chronological order, which means this first shot was taken on October 20th. Yes, I did the entire theme in less than 10 days. At first, I thought that I might get by with 5 different cave photos, because after all, what creates a cave but water? And so I figured I was done, but I'll not post a bunch of photos of the caverns, because after all was said and done, I was able to come up with 5 different liquid shots. And to also be honest here, this blog entry is sort of a teaser for other entries I'll be writing about next month.

1. Phoenix, Arizona
In my last post, I mentioned that I would be on an extended road trip and I just came back from that one Sunday. The main purpose of the trip was a visit to the Denver Art Museum to see a very large collection of Claude Monet paintings. The collection was only going to be there from October to February, so I figured this would be the best time to go to avoid really bad weather. Anyway, the first day of the trip took me through Phoenix. And, as usual, I spent some of the time on the drive geocaching. I ended up in downtown Phoenix, where there is a large war memorial to all of the different wars our country has been involved in. Part of this park is where I discovered the USS Arizona's anchor. Pulled from the liquid depths of Pearl Harbor in Hawaii, this anchor is on permanent display at this park in Phoenix. Around the base of the anchor are all of the names of the brave men who perished on that fateful day in 1941.

2.  Guadalupe Mountains National Park
This was a new place I'd never visited before and originally, I had planned on camping here, but things fell through on the opposite end of the trip, so I ended up staying at motels along the way. This was actually a good thing because camping was very limited in this park. The Guadalupes are the extension of Carlsbad Caverns, only above ground. I spent most of the morning exploring the Caverns, and after having thoroughly explored them, I ventured south to this national park, just across the border in Texas. This park is mostly wilderness, which means little to no roads and mostly backcountry camping and hiking, something I wasn't equipped for on this trip, but I was able to get a feel for this area nonetheless. 

West Texas is pretty much desert and the Guadalupe Mountains rise like an island out of this desert, providing refuge for an abundance of wildlife and plant life. I took this photo of this prickly pear cactus mainly because I liked the contrast of the brown and greens with the light violet of the flowers on the left. And if you're ever stuck out in the desert without water, you can, in a pinch, open up the cactus and get some liquid refreshment which will sustain you for a little bit.

3. Monet
The reason this trip happened in the first place was because of this collection of paintings. I can't remember where I first heard about this exhibition, but as soon as I knew about it, I started making plans to see it. The exhibition was falling at a perfect time: the fall and winter following my retirement. Since this exhibition was only happening during this time period, I probably wouldn't have been able to see it since I was working during most of that time. That's one of the benefits of retirement. I highly recommend it.

The main building of the Denver Art Museum is undergoing extensive renovation and the museum is in the annex building across the street. This means the collection of artwork on display is small at this time, but they had some interesting works dealing with the study of light. 

The bottom two floors of the annex were dedicated to Claude Monet and his life. Each of the patrons were given audio guides to learn more about the paintings and about different periods of his life. The galleries were arranged in approximately a chronological order. Since he created most of his lily pad and pond paintings near the end of his life, this was the last room of the gallery that I walked through. The way the liquid paint created the illusion of the liquid water in the lily pond is just amazing, in my opinion.

4. Chocolate Porter
Coming home later in the week, I ended up in Albuquerque, New Mexico. One of the nice things about traveling is checking out the local cuisine. There were times on this trip where I'd eat at a place that I was familiar with because I just wanted a quick meal and there were times when I wanted something a little bit more tasty and different. That night in Albuquerque was one such nice, so I decided to try a local barbecue place. It was recommended to me by the waitress that I try the burnt ends sandwich, a decision which I will not regret. I also have an affinity for dark, very dark beers, the kind you can almost chew. This chocolate porter certainly filled that bill and went quite well with the barbecue sandwich I had. The Nexus Silver Taproom will be someplace I will probably visit again should my travels take me through northern New Mexico.

5. Continental Divide
Finally, on my next to last day of my trip, I traveled from Albuquerque to Flagstaff, Arizona where I would spend my last night. Heading toward Denver, I missed when I exactly crossed over the continental divide, but this spot along Interstate 40 is very hard to miss. With signs on either side of the freeway, it's pretty much a spot where travelers stop and get their photos taken.

It's also the spot, where liquid falling to earth gets separated. Rain and snow falling on the eastern side of the continental divide will eventually make it to the Gulf of Mexico. In this case, the water would flow into the Rio Grande, which forms the southern border of Texas with Mexico. Rain falling on the western side would eventually flow into the Gulf of California and into the Pacific Ocean. Most of the rain that fell here would flow eventually into the Colorado River and through the Grand Canyon.

It's always intrigued me how cartographers were able to graphically map this out and figure out where each little stream would eventually drain. If you've ever looked at a map of the continental divide, you'll see some very interesting details. In southern Wyoming, it actually splits in two, creating a basin where the water doesn't flow to either, but either evaporates of flows downhill to the lowest point in that basin where it percolates back down into the groundwater. Further north, in Yellowstone National Park, there's a lake that literally sits right on top of the continental divide. The lake has two outlets, one flowing to the Atlantic Ocean and the other flowing to the Pacific Ocean.

For hiking enthusiasts, there's also the Continental Divide Trail, a national trail which loosely follows the Continental Divide from the southern border of New Mexico all the way to the northern border of Montana. Somewhere in this area, I also crossed over that trail.

And there's my interpretation of the theme liquid. Some might call this a stretch, but it worked for me. Please check out P.J.'s blog and scroll down to the bottom. You'll see other blogs and their interpretations of the same theme. And as always, feel free to comment. I won't bite.

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Above and below

My last stop on this last road trip was Great Basin National Park. Located in eastern Nevada, it protects portion of the basin and range territory that comprises most of the central part of Nevada. One of the few glaciers in Nevada is in this park on Mt. Wheeler, which is the highest peak, at over 13,000 feet, contained solely within the state of Nevada. The park, which was created in 1986, expanded the original Lehman Caves National Monument, so there's also underground wonders here.

Nevada's Highway construction crews slowed me down quite a bit on the day I drove down to Great Basin.  I probably lost an hour of time just sitting in the Jeep while road construction happened along my intended route. But, many areas talk about how they have two seasons: Winter and Road Construction. At least I wasn't adversely affected by it.

Once I got into the park, I immediately headed toward the campground, as it's first come first serve and it was late enough that it could be filling up, which is was. I think I was able to snag the next to the last campground site, but it was a nice site in my opinion. There was a small stream flowing through the center of the site, so I pitched my tent on the opposite bank. The water wasn't flowing very strong, but this site wouldn't be very ideal during high water instances, but it suited my needs perfectly for the next two nights.

The next morning, I went for a hike out to Stella Lake and then up to get as close to the glacier on Mt. Wheeler as I could. Since I was up above 10,000 feet, the air was thin, but the trail had lots of hikers on it, all enjoying the beautiful mountain air. Once I got fairly close to the glacier, I took some photos, and tried to remember back to the last time I was here about 15 years previously. That year, my two boys and I hiked a little bit closer than this shot was taken and actually walked on the glacier. I would have had to walk a lot further this year to get to the glacier because it's receded significantly over time. It's estimated that if current conditions continue to prevail, the glacier will be gone in the next 20 years. That's sad to think about.

After getting back from my hike, I then purchased a ticket for an underground tour of Lehman Caves. There are typical formations in this small cave.  Stalactites hold tight to the ceiling, while stalagmites, might reach the ceiling. The cave, however, is most famous for its shield formations. These shields are two disks with a thin layer of water in between them. The water drips along the edges forming the cave formations.  Carlsbad Caverns, in New Mexico has a grand total of 2 shields in the entire cave. Lehman Caves have over 300 shields and it's a tiny cave system compared to Carlsbad Caverns.

The park service is, at the same time, trying to combat White Nose Syndrome, which is a fungal infection that is fatal to bats. It's very contagious and has killed millions of bats in the eastern United States over the past 5 years. It has been identified in California, but no bats have been affected yet in this state, but the fungus has been found on brown bats in the state of Washington.

The rangers were relying on the honor system, but I felt that the people who were entering the caves were abiding by the rules set out. I have been in a cave in Idaho, so I had to disinfect my iPhone since I took it into the cave. I brought a second set of shoes on this camping trip, so I just wore the other shoes for this tour. They had ammonia baths for shoes if you didn't have a second pair to wear in the cave. Soak the soles for five minutes and you'll be okay.

Next week, my plan is to be in Carlsbad Caverns. I know I'm going to have to disinfect my phone again, but since then and now, I've purchased a new pair of shoes, so I'll be good to go for this trip. Hopefully, this infection will not spread much beyond where it is located now.

Friday, October 11, 2019

Craters of the Moon

There are a variety of things that I enjoy about road trips. Visiting places again to rekindle the enjoyment that I had the first time around is one of them, but I think visiting new areas and exploring things I haven't seen before is even more exciting. That's one of the reasons why I decided to visit Craters of the Moon National Monument on my first road trip this summer.

The park, which is located in Idaho, has been on my radar (bucket list) for quite some time. My time in Idaho, previously, had been limited and I'd never gotten this close to the monument before, although I suppose you could argue that my youngest and I could have stopped there while heading up to Yellowstone National Park, but I guess the lure of the geysers was stronger than the lure of the lava fields. This trip, Craters of the Moon was going to be one of the central pieces of the trip, one where I'd spend a longer period of time to really explore the park.

I got there early in the afternoon, since I only had to drive from Pocatello, Idaho. While on the drive, I stopped here and there to find some geocaches, but I wanted to get to the park early in order to secure a good camping spot. First come, first serve sites area always unpredictable. Many times previously, when I'd visited Cedar Breaks National Monument, I had my pick of the campground, but this trip when I stopped there, the campground was almost full. Needless to say, I wanted to make sure I had a campsite.

The campground is one of the coolest campgrounds I've ever encountered in a national park or monument. I believe the park service just literally bulldozed spots out in the middle of this huge lava field. Many were very secluded, with high rock walls all around, which was very important, as those rock walls cut the wind that whipped through the campground and park during the day.

I got a pretty nice campground and then went around and explored what I could that afternoon. I drove outside of the visitors center area over to an overlook that gave me an incredible view of the lava fields that formed the park. From this vantage point, it was very easy to see the different fields and to tell which were older, based upon the size and amount of the vegetation. The older fields had Limber Pines growing, while younger fields had small sage and plants, or perhaps very little at all.

I then came back into the main area of the park and drove the loop drive, stopping at pullouts here and there to work on several earth and virtual caches that were present in the park. The virtual cache took up the most time because it wanted me to get information from different points around the park, so I decided to concentrate on that. Even so, as I worked on one part of that cache, I ended completing another earth cache which was located at the top of a huge cinder cone in the middle of this particular area. 

The views from the top of that cinder cone were amazing as you can see from the second photo. I actually went back and forth with myself whether I wanted that second photo to be in color or black & white, but as you can see the color side won out. Whenever I take landscape shots, I always look at them as to whether they'll look good in black & white, mainly because I'm a big fan of Ansel Adams' photography.

Finally, after a good afternoon of exploring, I went back to camp, ate dinner and walked around the campground marveling at all the stars I could see in the night sky. Many of the parks in this area of the country have been designated "Dark Skies" parks, because of their remoteness to city lights. Few of us ever see many of the stars in the night sky anymore due to light pollution, so it's always nice to get out in an area where you can see the Milky Way galaxy at night. Unfortunately, I couldn't see the Milky Way for very long, since I happened to be there during the full moon cycle for the month and the moon, once it rose, pretty much washed out much of the sky.

The next day was spent exploring the far reaches of the loop drive and areas I hadn't been able to get to the previous day. I went on several hikes, including the tree molds trail, where I got some nice landscape shots and was able to see some tree molds created by the lava flowing around trees and preserving their outlines. I also got to see where the lava fields stopped flowing near some splatter cones. One splatter cone was called Snow Cone, because it had a large snow dome down inside of it.

That evening, I was treated to a spectacular sunset. After dinner, I decided to head out to one of the parking lots on the loop drive so I would have a large expanse of area in which to move around and take some photos. The evening sky did not disappoint. I have several others, but I think this one, is by far and away the best of the bunch that I took that evening.

Craters of the Moon is one of those parks that if you're going to see it, you really want to go see it, mainly because it's far off the beaten path. It's uncrowded and if you get there early on a trail, or stay late, you pretty much have the place to yourself. I got on the Tree Molds Trail around 8 in the morning, hiked the two miles or so all the way out to the end of the trail and encountered one other person the entire time I was on the trail. Another trail that I walked after dinner and before sunset had no one on it and it was like I had the entire park to myself. It made it very easy to get lost in the beauty of the earth and forget about the crowds. This is someplace I'd visit again.

Thursday, October 3, 2019


This is another geocaching post, so if you're not into it, you can skip this one. One of the overlooked geocaches that are out there in the world are webcam caches. The premise behind a webcam cache is you go to the posted coordinates and there's a webcam nearby. You either get a friend from home to go on the webcam's website and grab a screenshot with you in the photo, or you grab one yourself using your smartphone.

Webcams aren't allowed anymore, mainly because there's no container involved. The ones that are still around have been grandfathered into the system and they are few and far between. After doing a search on the geocaching website, there are 255 active webcam cache around. I have logged 8 webcam caches, with two that have been archived, so I have the possibility of finding another 249 more. 

I used to own one, but had to archive that one, because the owner of the actual cam kept moving it to new locations and finally disabled it. That tends to be the big reason why webcam caches get archived; the actual camera becomes obsolete.

Finding webcam caches would take me all over the planet and would keep me busy for years. According to the map, you can find webcams on 5 of the seven continents, with none being found in Asia or Africa. Yes, there's a webcam down in Antarctica. 

I've signed a challenge cache challenging me to find and log 25 webcam caches. When I signed it, I'd only found 6, so I'm two closer than I was when I signed the challenge back in December of last year. The photos from the last two are the ones on this page. The first one was taken on the central coast north of Morro Bay, CA. It's very hard to make me out, but I'm that vertical figure right in front of the dark car in the parking lot on the left. If you look close enough, you can a small white dot just to the left of me in the photo. That's an actual seagull that I could have reached out and touched. It didn't want to move, so I just had the photo taken with it.

The second photo I had help from a friend of mine in taking the photo, since the webcam can be remotely controlled from the website. I texted a friend and she took over the controls of the webcam and there I am standing on the corner in Pocatello, Idaho. It doesn't have the same ring as standing on the corner in Winslow, Arizona, but the shot was taken and I was able to log the cache.

I just need to find 17 more webcams so I can log that challenge cache. I guess I need to get down to Balboa and get that one. There's also one in Tucson, Arizona where I'll be passing through in a couple of weeks, so that one's on the list too. This challenge is going to take me a little bit longer to finish than some of the others.