Dec 132010

The night sky from Badger Springs exit off the Black Canyon highway in Arizona

Shooting stars streak overhead, more wishes to be made. A crescent moon dips below the horizon turning off the brightness of night allowing darkness to take over the sky. With the heavens now blackened the milky way with its ribbon of far-off suns has become the stage, tempting us with the unknown. While the day is the domain of finding familiarity with geography, plants, and animals, it is during the wee hours that the stars, pulling our gaze upwards, have intrigued the imaginations of peoples across time. How many nights over how many years did our ancestors keep vigil with a dedicated eye on the position of these points in the sky? Were they divorced from the day as they scouted patterns, paths, and a return of a meteor or comet that might portend new mysteries?

The night sky from Badger Springs exit off the Black Canyon highway in Arizona looking towards Phoenix

In the dryness of the desert our view of the scintillating magic is only obscured by some fast moving thin clouds and the city light pollution in the distance. High above we look at the red flicker, the blinking speck, and the pulsing distant suns while bright silvery stars hold steady. And although it is winter and we are approaching one o’clock in the morning, the cold found out here is a reasonable chill kept at bay with a good bundling of layers and the snuggle of warm arms and a soft cheek. All around us, stars drop from above, some glide sideways, others aim for the horizon. A celestial rain is outpacing our ability to find wishes needed to be made when so many have already been granted.

The night sky from Badger Springs exit off the Black Canyon highway in Arizona

There is a sadness in stars. Their audience has left them, exchanging unknown mysteries of the universe for certainty in finding a winner watching a favorite team in competition or tuning in to witness the drama of a human tragedy that is sure to grip the viewer and explain any loose ends within the hour. On occasion there are moments when the stars will find the random fan who has ventured into one of the few remaining dark corners of earth to make communion. Maybe they spot a couple out at sea on a moonless night taking in the brilliance of a calm and glassy ocean reflecting starlight that traveled many a year to be there. And maybe it is the invisible stardust that is the glue where after sharing unspeakable beauty the love of two people is further cemented and the stars are still able to celebrate their magic.

Aug 122010

The milky way and a small streak from a meteor just over the horizon during the 2010 perseids meteor shower as seen from Lake Pleasant in Phoenix, Arizona

At 11:00 pm we arrived near Lake Pleasant to watch the Perseids meteor shower while being attacked by a million large winged flying insects and swarms of mosquitoes. Our endurance paid off and we saw approximately fifty or sixty meteors burning up in the atmosphere. Try as I might to capture the larger ones, it seemed my camera was always pointing in the wrong direction – even with my lens set wide at 10mm. By 1:30 I had enough smeared bug parts in my hair, on my neck and arms that it was time to call it quits until November 17th when the Leonids are to make an appearance. In this photo if you click on it to open the larger image you might see a tiny streak on the right of the Milky Way low on the horizon – a meteor!

Jun 272010

Salt River Canyon on Highway 60 in eastern Arizona

Early in our road trip days it wasn’t uncommon to take a single day to explore. The past few years it has become the norm to venture far and wide taking five, seven, or ten days to immerse ourselves in a destination far away. Today we return to form. Out over Globe, Arizona and up through the Salt Canyon the road climbs toward the White Mountain Apache Reservation. We pass through Show Low on our way northeast.

Shiloh Village near Concho, Arizona

Remember Y2K? Here in Concho, Arizona it appears that the nearly deserted Shiloh Village may have been part of that lore. With rusting street lights, underground electricity, and the random fire hydrant, there isn’t much out here – besides Red Rock Ranch & Farms. And this ranch is precisely the reason for taking the 200+ mile drive today. We are attending the 7th Annual Arizona Lavender Festival.

Lavender from Red Rock Ranch and Farm near Concho, Arizona

Lavender is everywhere. Different colors of lavender, shades of purple to snowy white. The festival isn’t a grand affair out here in the middle of nowhere but its intimate enough to be personal and worth the visit. The first folks we speak with are from Terroir Seeds Company, a small family owned operation specializing in heirloom and open pollinated seeds. After signing up for their catalog it was time for the first cooking demonstration using lavender in the kitchen. With about sixty of us crowding around the speaker we were invited to sample a half dozen lavender inspired concoctions including a lavender lemonade mix that led me to think about making a green tea, lavender, and limeade drink after returning to Phoenix.

Lavender from Red Rock Ranch and Farm near Concho, Arizona

Back outside the wind kicked up and gave the appearance that a monsoon was on the way. Out back we snagged two box lunches we had reserved – both meals were prepared using lavender. I had the chicken and lavender wrap with lavender cous-cous, a non-lavender coleslaw, and a lavender ginger cupcake while Caroline had the lavender veggie wrap and the same sides as I. Before leaving we bought a small lavender plant, a cookbook for using lavender in your meals, and a lavender and chili blend called Herbes de Concho. This particular spice blend uses a chili that nearly went extinct from the local area known as the Concho Red Chili, seeds for this chili are available from Terroir Seeds.

Caroline and John Wise in front of the Petrified Forest National Park sign - Arizona

If we are this far north there is no other choice but to visit the Petrified Forest National Park just a few miles up the road. Not that we haven’t been here a half dozen times already, this visit is for Caroline to, you guessed it, get her Junior Ranger Badge. After the obligatory self portrait in front of the park sign we head directly to the visitors center to make the case for why my big kid needs to be a Junior-Senior Ranger. They oblige her and she is quick to get busy working on what lessons will be learned for this honor.

Petrified wood against a fluffy white cloud sky in Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona

Our first trail is just outside the visitors center and you may or may not know of all of the signs that tell visitors to stay on trail, well they apparently rarely mean what they demand. What is wrong with these incompetent nincompoops, were they born yesterday, did they forget their brain in the car, or did their children siphon off the remaining intelligence through their incessant pestering, complaining, and various neuroses? Hey wife, get to work as Ms. Junior Ranger and get those people off the log and back on trail. Right, fine, I’ll be the Ranger Man here and give you the example of how its done. “Hey you, yeah you, do you see a trail over there? Can you read? Do I need to pull out my tazer, zap you and drag your convulsing body back on to the trail?” Yep, that’s how I did it, sort of. Alright in truth, that was the dialog in my imagination before the more polite words of, “excuse me, you need to return to the trail, the sign behind us says, STAY ON THE TRAIL” fell from my mouth.

Petrified log at Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona

Now free of our National Park good deed work we get to the more important task of enjoying our time learning new things about the Petrified Forest we hadn’t known before. Caroline sits in the middle of the trail inspecting rocks. Rocks that used to be trees. Rocks that in some cases still look like trees. Such as this one where a knot is still visible, I’m guessing there may have been a branch of the tree connected here some jazillion years ago. All of the petrified trees here have fallen over, in one particular tree at the base of the root structure you can see the gravel the root system was holding on to as the tree toppled. Today if you visit the Redwoods, the Sequoias, or Olympic National Park you can see the exact same situation in the roots of more recently felled trees. Natures time frozen in stone.

Petrified wood at Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona

Oh, the desire to have a souvenir, to have a massive piece of petrified wood that is way too big for our small abode. It wouldn’t matter that it is too big, it would compete with my attention for the internet as I sit for hours in my purpose bought chair that would be used solely for staring at the intricacies of how the minerals in the trunk of this tree overtook the organic material replacing it with colorful stone. Maybe we could buy one of those polished slices the size of a dining table, they can’t be much more than thirty, forty thousand dollars.

Detail of glass ceiling panels at the Painted Desert Inn National Historic Landmark in Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona

The Painted Desert Inn, once a trading post, then an inn and restaurant, is now a museum. Last time we came through it was being refurbished. Today it is a gleaming nostalgic example of what we lose as we rush to modernization. Route 66 used to deliver visitors right to the door of this beautiful National Historic Landmark. The Civilian Conservation Corps built the Inn between 1937 and 1940 but by 1963 the Fred Harvey company closed it and by the mid-70’s its demolition was proposed. Only by a raucous public outcry was the building saved. The painted glass panels above are in the ceiling and are all original – this building is a treasure.

The now dirt roadbed where the historic Route 66 once was at the Petrified National Park in Arizona

Speaking of old Route 66, while most of it is gone supplanted in large part by Interstate 40 here in Arizona, there are small still paved segments still navigable. Here in Petrified Forest there is this stretch where the mother road once flowed. Just to the left of those old telephone poles the roadbed is now long gone but the poles and a sign bring attention to passersby that this world famous road was once here.

The sign for the 66 Motel in Holbrook, Arizona

The nostalgia has us hankering for a chocolate malted in an old style diner on good old Route 66 so we aim the car for Holbrook and wouldn’t you know it, the first old fashioned diner is owned by a Hindu who doesn’t have malteds or apple pie and ice cream on the menu. Caroline remembers a Dairy Queen further in town and so we go that way. On the way over we recognize the first ever motel we stayed in some 10 or so years ago, the 66 Motel. There’s a back story to this adventure back then. I was horrified at staying at a cheap motel, all the stories of bugs, filth, noise, etc., but for Caroline it was all about the neon, Route 66, the nostalgia and Americana of it all. So after relentless requests to stay at one of these dives, I finally gave in, choosing the cheapest place which is also the furthest from the freeway, the 66 Motel, rooms from $16.95 – I take the room without a look at it. Turns out, this wasn’t so bad after all and so it went that from that day on Caroline and I have taken to the cheapest motels America has to offer. And after more than 400 nights in these places, we have only had to leave 3 that were disgusting beyond description.

Mar 082010

Double rainbow as seen from the parking lot of Paradise Valley Community College in Phoenix, Arizona

Yesterday saw some heavy rains, even a small bit of hail. While this double rainbow should have been a highlight, it in fact turned out to harbor evil leprechauns with a pot of nasty electronics. After pulling over to grab this photo and admire the refracted sun light in the rain to the east, we left the parking lot of our local community college and not 100 feet down the road it felt like we ran over an old coyote. We even turned around to look for something on the road, well in slowing down and turning around I figured out what happened – our transmission was broken by those leprechauns that moments before were darting in and out of the rainbow. Our car was stuck in 3rd gear which made for some slow acceleration from a stop. Over the next week I heard all methods and diagnoses of how my transmission was going to to put back together again. Twelve garages offered twelve different solutions ranging in price from expensive to painfully expensive. Turns out that the last people I wanted to trust, my dealer, correctly identified the problem and quickly fixed the tranny by replacing a malfunctioning computer unit, that was covered by our warranty. So maybe the clouds did hold a silver lining and the pot of gold wasn’t so far out of reach.

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Sep 032007

A rainbow north of the 10 freeway near Riverside, California

Everywhere we go we are seeing rainbows, what’s going on here? On our way home, just like last week, we spot a rainbow; not just any rainbow, it’s another double rainbow. With this kind of luck we figure this must be some kind of sign to follow the rainbow to find the leprechaun and claim our pot of gold, but you know how that ends.

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