Thursday, December 29, 2011

Dark Shadows in the Desert

Sometimes I try to imagine the world of the Positive Thinker, as the term is typically used in popular culture as defined by squishy, trendy social science and by boob toob commercials. How bland and sugary it must be! 

Although I mock dualistic religions and political philosophies on this blog, the truth is that I love dualisms aesthetically. Nature, like a movie, is no better than its villain. This winter I've been having fun imagining Malevolences looming over and threatening the landscape:


Unfortunately this buzz only lasted until I could glance at the cause:


The most exciting time to hike is early in the morning, when gaps in the sky island threaten you with Plutonian and diabolic cold and uncertainty.

Monday, December 26, 2011

The Moral Equivalent of Football

Watching the glorious Green Bay Packers last night, I had some questions about how football should be interpreted. How far can we carry the analogy between football and war? How literally we can see it as mock war? The football team is an army, dominated by its commander-in-chief, its American Caesar, the quarterback. It has kicking (artillery), running backs (mobile armored divisions, or cavalry in the old days), and passing (an air force). No navy, though. The cheerleaders' job is to quicken the animal spirits in the fans, a job for which they are admirably, uhh, suited; their equivalents in the political and military arenas are the talking-heads in the media, whose job it is to promote the popularity of the war with the public.

There is a well-defined front in gridiron battle. It is symmetrical warfare. The team moves the ball into enemy territory. Getting through the goal posts of the enemy is like seizing a national capital. When fans pull the goal posts down after a victory, it is the equivalent of burning, raping, and pillaging the conquered enemy.

The team scores points by success at offense. It doesn't literally score any points for itself by success at defense. Of course you could say that preventing the enemy from getting points is the algebraic equivalent of scoring positive points for your own team, but somehow that's just not the same as literally and visibly scoring points in defense. I wonder if you can score positive points at defense in any sport?

Besides the absence of a navy, unless you count floats in the parade at half-time, the analogy breaks down in other ways. For one thing, the NFL season is laughably short: early September to the end of January. Why shouldn't it go on and on like a presidential campaign or a war in the Mid-East?

Football has an offensive team and a defensive team. In the political and military spheres we have a Department of Defense and a Department of Homeland Defense. Two departments of defense. Aren't we a bit naive and overconfident to try to get by in this dangerous world with no offensive military capabilities?

A breakdown in the analogy like that is bad enough, but football's greatest failing is that it asks fans to pay for it, whether they're at the stadium or at home on the couch. I don't know how patriotic Fox News viewers can tolerate this, but at least Fox network does its duty in rectifying this situation by carrying free broadcast NFL games every Sunday. The government should finance NFL football to make it free to the fans. (It does at the high school and collegiate levels.) Every American who takes God and Country and Football seriously should work to rectify this dreadful situation. Until then we must conclude that NFL football is un-American.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Better Than a Stick in the Eye

It was so cold in Silver City NM that we only had one good birding year. Sensible birds go to Arizona in the winter, but not to dry lunar settings like where I am now. The best refuges are along creeks in southeastern Arizona. I miss photographing these rascals. Of course to do it right you need a five pound camera, a one-foot-long telephoto lens, and a tripod. You must also be willing to go where the birds are, rather than the other way around. So I'll never be a real birder. Still, it's fun to get what I can. It's remarkable how much variation there is in the color of red-tailed hawks.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Doubts about the Human Race in Phoenix

People who aren't completely accustomed to airline travel sometimes feel affected by the big picture when they take off and leave the trivial earth-bound details behind, or rather, below. A calm perspicuity can set in at 35,000 feet. But at times perspicuity is troubling rather than calming.

In a famous scene in the classic film noir, The Third Man: Joseph Cotton and Orson Welles ride alone to the top of a Ferris Wheel type ride at an amusement park in post-World-War-II Vienna. The cynical and ego-centric Welles character stops the ride at its apogee where they can look down at small objects, people, crawling around on the surface of the earth a hundred feet below. He asks the Joseph Cotton character, 'Would he really mind if one of those ants stopped scurrying, because it died from the watered-down penicillin that Welles was smuggling in Vienna?'

It is thought-provoking, and yet troubling, to come in from a solitary camp in the desert and hit the outskirts of a monstrosity like Phoenix.



I choose a route that stays at the periphery where growth is most noticeable, as it is for trees. What a shame to see all that valuable agricultural land being turned into traffic-ensnarled highways, big box retailers and their even bigger parking lots, and lackluster housing subdivisions. The sense of loss was intensified since I had followed the Gila (HEE-lah) River down from its headlands in southwestern New Mexico, down to this remarkable floodplain called the Valley of the Sun.

At times like this I want to renounce my more-or-less libertarian political view and support a mandatory one-child policy, as in China. But such thoughts are soon pushed aside as being too ugly, as if the absence of such a program produces anything other than ugliness.

If you were to pull any of those frantic Christmas shoppers aside, and ask them why they are going through this madness, most individuals would smirk in agreement with you that the whole thing makes no sense. So then, why do they do it? The answer is of course 'because Everybody Else is and I must be like everybody else or I will be missing something'. Such is the control that the media has over the demos. And such is the folly of treating human individuals like they really are individuals, rather than as undifferentiated biological modules in an ant colony. If we renounce the idea that human Individuality has significance, then how do we justify Democracy?

Thursday, December 22, 2011

A Cliff-Hanging Tail


The sky islands of southern Arizona are great places to camp, hike, and mountain bike; thus we've returned to them, after three years off the road. We had a strange experience here, four winters ago. In fact I am looking out the window at the exact spot on the mountain, as I type. 


It was just a couple months after the little poodle had been rescued above Book Cliffs near Grand Junction, CO. I've edited this oldie-but-goodie. Tonopah AZ...

Walking right from the RV's front door of our solitary boondocking site, we headed for the nearest mountain. These small mountain ranges can be quite photogenic; even better, they are finite: you can look at them from a variety of angles on one day. It was topped off with a cliff and caprock that almost made it look like a mesa. A large hole in that cliff had attracted my eye for days.

It got steeper as we approached the cliff, so much so that I had to scramble on all fours. At the foot of the cliff the little poodle froze in place, perhaps because he thought it was too steep or because his hiking boots were curtailing him a bit. Since I didn't want to baby him, Coffee Girl (the younger and larger dog) and I kept going to the hole in the cliff to see what it actually was. The walk was cold and dark in the shadow of the cliff. 

But where was the little poodle? He was only a hundred yards away, so I wasn't too worried. But maybe I should find an easier way down for him. As we descended there was still no sign of him, despite my calling. Then I started blowing the whistle, which also failed.

By now I was getting worried. I shifted horizontally, back to his last location at the foot of cliff. Anxiety boiled into anger and panic by now. He was so close -- why didn't he just bark to help out! (And everybody thinks that a quiet dog is the ideal dog!) At least he could only go in one direction, since the cliff was vertical. 

Something caught my peripheral view. It was on a small saddle of a rocky ridge: oh no, ghastly teddy bear chollas!




Then I saw a half dozen...what? Coffee Girl saw them at the same time. Off she ran, downhill at full speed, right through those horrible teddy bear cholla. She reached a saddle about 100 feet lower where five desert bighorn sheep huddled in a dense pack, apparently paralyzed as to what to do.



You seldom get a chance to see Ovis Canadensis nelsoni this close, so I fumbled with the camera while she did her puppyish best to harry them. They were not frightened by my voice since they were focused entirely on her. Apparently they were practiced in the art of defense against coyotes. Then they walked towards me with a close-packed, military precision. I couldn't believe they didn't see me!  

Coffee Girl was so interested in the sheep that she forgot about the teddy bear cholla. Finally her luck ran out. Then she dutifully limped up the ridge to me, like a brave warrior, wounded in action. She had segments on all legs, which were easy to flick off with a comb. Her mouth was in pretty good shape, showing once again what a few minutes of dog saliva can do to cholla spines.

At any other time this would have been an interesting experience, but I wasn't in the mood. Where is that damned little fool of a poodle!? The worst thing about losing a dog is not knowing how to proceed. I decided to try to return to the exact spot where I last saw him. And there he was, at the foot of the cliff. He was motionless, except for the shivering. Had he even moved for the last thirty minutes? Once he got going he actually enjoyed glissading down the volcanic talus with me and Coffee Girl, who was enjoying the romp of her young life today.

I was furious with him for not barking to help me locate him long ago; but then we would have missed the desert bighorn sheep.


Monday, December 19, 2011

A Condensed View of a Rainy Desert

As the modern Brownie camera keeps getting better, will the electronic camera industry be a victim of its own success? Customers could become jaded enough to expect a technological marvel for $99, and then just shrug at it, almost with indifference. In fact that day is already upon us: the camera I use for this blog is the Canon SX110, purchased three years ago. Its successor, the SX130 was on sale at Walmart and Target for $99, as a loss leader presumably.

Camera technology is good enough; it's only the photographer that needs improvement. (Oh sure, there are utilitarians and mindless rat-racers who can't get enough megapixels, but they are just kidding themselves.)

It's sad enough to see the marvelous results of the camera industry taken for granted, but what about the nuanced skills of photographers, themselves? Will their viewers learn to shrug with indifference at superb photographs since everybody has an excellent camera these days, and if that isn't good enough, then photoshop it to death with software. Can't anybody do that? How much fun would the sternly virtuous art of girl-watching be if every woman went in to the cosmetologist, plastic surgeon, and high-end clothing store and spend unconscionable amounts of time and money on her appearance? Yawn.

Perhaps that's why I was admiring the Nikon 1 camera the other day. Although digital bits and bytes have an inexorable tendency to become uninteresting commodities, other things such as polished metal, glass, and interchangeable lenses maintain a certain mystique.

The solution to this commoditization and devaluing of photography is to develop a different sensitivity to beauty; a wider appreciation of the little things that are out there everywhere, under foot. Basically I'm preaching the Granny J Principle. I miss her.

I walked to downtown Wickenburg the other day after a couple days of rains in the Sonoran desert. I'd underestimated how interesting little things can be after a rain; for instance, rain drops hang on palo verde twigs like water balloons clinging to a barbed wire fence. And I forgot my camera!



The next day Coffee Girl and I were out walking early in the morning. I saw bright, tiny glints of reflected sunlight hanging from a finely textured plant. It was delightful; they were like low-density Christmas tree lights despite a bright Arizona sky! But how could it be photographed?


And then another night of rain in the desert, followed by another morning walk. The smell of a rainy desert is so distinctive. The twigs are oddly black from the rain. Astonishingly, a carpet of high density grass is popping up from the decomposed granite "soil".

What a violent contrast there is between pendulous drops of rain and the gnarly spiked twigs that they hang from and yet shouldn't.  Looking through the drop lets the hiker do what Lewis Carroll did with his Looking Glass. What would the Sonoran Desert look like if we could crawl into one of those drops, and pop out on the other side. What marvels might be found: centipedes and snakes, gila monsters and killer spiders. With enough imagination we could write it all up, and make it into a classic of children's books, except that nobody would believe it.


Potentially there was a whole new Sonoran Desert to imagine and then photograph. What kind of background would be best? Should the background be in focus or deliberately fuzzy; or should I just pretend that an out-of-focus background was my intention? (Would they buy that?) By now I was running around shaking with the camera.  Let's see now, how do I adjust the aperture stop? Oh crap, maybe I should just put it in Auto mode and hope for the best!



O Woe, wouldn't Lewis Carroll have put an iconic saguaro cactus in the rain drop! Maybe next time.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Dancing on Christopher Hitchens's Grave

Several years ago I skimmed Hitchens's God is Not Great. Disappointment, rather than disagreement, was the book's main effect on me. It is sophomoric for a modern intellectual to pose as Voltaire or Thomas Paine and rail against traditional religions. Why don't they show some real guts by taking on the conventional belief systems of the intelligentsia itself? These are well known, but seldom acknowledged and never criticized, by conventional intellectuals who want to stay popular within their own coteries. (They have to make a living after all, so they don't want to be on the receiving end of the subtle blacklisting that a Marxist or Green apostate would receive from an editor in the publishing industry or a reviewer at the New York Times.)  

None of the obituaries that I've read about Hitchens really inspires me to read any of his books. But the threshold is far lower for magazine-length articles. A fair number of them are free and accessible at Salon.com. Indeed, it was refreshing to read him railing against the Liberal-Left's darling, Michael Moore, of whom he says: "It is also a spectacle of abject political cowardice masking itself as a demonstration of "dissenting" bravery."

So far I've only scratched the surface. Hitchens might be the kind of writer that does me a bit of good as long as I agree to disagree with him 80% of the time.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

The Next Life of Certain RV Bloggers

It is very satisfying to rise to the challenge of walking in generic (non-national-park) deserts and finding things that interest you. You have to use every angle that you can think of. You can't just be passive and expect the sheer optical pop-titude [*] of the place to wow you into a state of entertainment. (This is one of the False Doctrines of the Desert that some blogs preach. grin.) In the Wickenburg AZ area Coffee Girl and I went to work on the generic Sonoran desert landscape.

Imagining the topography as time lapse, accelerated photography is one of the great advantages of arid land, since geologic layers are exposed. Except for crumples in the earth and lava expulsions, much of the topography is formed subtractively -- that is, erosively -- from layers upon layers that have different erosion rates.


This caprock is only four inches thick; it overhangs about one foot. The mesa is only 20 feet over the lower lands adjacent to it. And yet this numerically humble caprock illustrates the process of topographic development as well as a bigger or prettier mesa would. "Process of development", rather than the supposed static perfection and holiness of the "cathedral of nature", is what nature is all about.

Soon a female kestrel flew overhead but I didn't have time to photograph her. Later, Coffee Girl responded to some bovines; she is a cattle dog after all. It's not difficult to distinguish her beef-bark from her more-serious coyote alarm and growl. She also is learning to leave cattle alone, at my command. But I let her take to the hills when she saw a deer buck. 

What's this white-breasted bird, facing the warming morning sun?  It let me walk up almost to the foot of the saguaro cactus, one of the tallest in the area, perhaps 30 feet high! This reminds me of something.
  

Perhaps in this raptor's earlier life it was one of the prophets of the Syrian or Egyptian desert; one of those ostentatious self-flagellants who was eventually canonized, men such as St. Anthony or St. Simeon Stylite (as in 'stylus'.) They were said to stand in their towers for years without ever coming down.


(from this Wikipedia article.)

At this time of the year there are many such wandering prophets of the desert in places such as Quartzsite or the Slabs. The original saints sometimes put their respective towers within talking distance of each other so they could argue theology. The modern desert saints are more likely to thrash through the polemics of Simplicity, frugality, mobility, generators versus solar panels, glass mat batteries versus flooded, etc.

The original Stylite, St. Simeon, is said to have held his ground -- or rather, his air -- for 39 years. Perhaps the modern desert saints are lucky that the BLM imposes a 14 day limit, when they must then...


[*] from David Seltzer, screenwriter of Punchline, starring Tom Hanks and Sally Fields.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

iDrones on Sale at Walmart?

Zero Hedge is a financial blog that I sometimes scold myself for reading: it is doom-and-gloomy, hot-headed, and sensationalist. But perhaps a person has to tolerate a certain amount of kookiness from a blog or a person in order to get something other than predictable, Establishment cheerleading and conventional thinking.

At any rate Zero Hedge outdid themselves recently with some comments about President Obama asking for the errant drone back from Iran:
"We've asked for it back. We'll see how the Iranians respond," Obama said at a news conference. Obama said he wouldn't comment further "on intelligence matters that are classified." Great, the only problem is Iran will never return it, as they have already indicated, for the simple reason that it has already been reverse engineered 5 ways from Sunday somewhere deep in the bowels of one of China's unpopulated cities, which just doubles as a very populated military intelligence base. The only good news is that within 6-9 months every American will be able to buy a personal stealth drone for an [Every Day Low Price] at their friendly neighborhood Wal-Mart. Our only concern is whether FoxConn [who manufactures the iPad, etc., for Apple] will be able to handle the supply of both iPads and straight for re-export drones: it would be ironic if this massive military embarrassment ends up as being a catalyst to short Apple. [changes were made by Boonie]
Indeed, what consumer wouldn't be able to put his own personal iDrone to constructive use in his daily life, commuting to work, or at the office? Recall the lyrics of Gilbert & Sullivan's Mikado, "I've got them on the list, I've got them on the list, and none of them'd be missed..."

Well OK, now that we've had our fun: how geopolitically significant will it be now that the Sabre-Rattlers of the West are driving Iran into closer and closer relations with China? I wish I knew more about the military and geopolitical situation at the Strait of Hormuz and at the Chinese-built oil port in southwestern Pakistan.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Off-Target at Walmart

The other day I was migrating through the monstrosity of Phoenix when I stopped in at a Target store. Since nobody knew me in town I wouldn't lose face by being seen in such an unmanly store. And besides, I had recently bought my newly beloved netbook from them, and at a loss-leader price too. Seriously, as long as Target offers a 45-day return policy on electronics, compared to 15 days at Walmart and other places, it is worth giving them the benefit of the doubt.

There was a time when I wasn't so kind to Target. Financial analysts used to heap praise on Target because it 'knew how to distinguish itself from Walmart'. Maybe they were right: Target was useless and Walmart was my favorite place to shop; and that is quite a distinction. What did Target offer that Walmart didn't, besides wide aisles? And who goes into a store to buy aisles? Target offered the same cheap Chinese crap that Walmart did, except at slightly higher prices since it selected things that were a little prettier and more stylish to pull in their silly female customers. Target offered no hard goods for guys.

But today Walmart is on the down slope of its history. Imperial over-reach, I guess. And here I was, ogling the Nikon 1 cameras in the Target store. Metal and glass; now that's sexy. Back in the van in their parking lot, I paused and watched Target's customers arrive.

After seeing a statistically meaningful number of such customers, it is completely sane to want to come back as a woman, in my next life. An attractive woman. I have sometimes bemoaned the decline of girl-watching as a healthy, virtuous, and Catonic sport in this decaying country: there's simply no material to work with. But the women walking into the Target were pleasant-looking, respectable, and believable. They weren't 17-year-old girls, either; they were 30-40 year old mothers and wives. It feels so good to walk away from a store and think that our species really does have a future.

Contrast the look of the average Target shopper with the anthropoids over at Walmart: sociology, history, and evolution have yet to offer a satisfactory explanation for the appearance of the average Walmart shopper, who is just a huge, waddling bundle of ugliness and human deformity. The only guess that I will offer is that they are the result of some kind of miscegenation -- partly biological and partly cultural -- that occurs from a toxic brew of too much fast food, diesel fumes from their pickup trucks, meth labs, radon outgassing from revival tent walls, welfare state policies, public schools, tattoo parlors, rap music in elevators, and ghetto or barrio values promulgated by endless television bottom-feeding.

And so I'm going to go a little easier on those nice-looking Target shoppers. When you look at the cars most of those well-appointed women are driving, only the most politically-correct would deny that there is a noticeable correlation between female appearance and affluence. Oh dear, what an awful thing to say, 40 years after the modern women's movement began around 1970! Well then you sit in that parking lot for 15 minutes and do some statistics with your own eyes, and tell me what your explanation is.

But who can blame them for wanting to go into a store and not feel ashamed of themselves or not gag at the mere sight of the other customers? Years ago, I might have been bothered by this correlation of female attractiveness and affluence. Getting older isn't all bad; I mellow. This is just one more example of Samuel Johnson's experience: "As I know more of mankind I expect less of them, and am ready now to call a man a good man upon easier terms than I was formerly." And in this case, let's cross out 'man' and put 'person'.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Marc Faber's Prediction of War

I haven't said too much on politics lately, perhaps because the financial recklessness and lies of our leaders and central bankers leave me speechless. Also, all that really needs to be said about politics, has already been said by Mencken:
The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary. (Gutenberg.org)
That would seem to cover the big news story these days, the saber-rattling with Iran. It's unusual to see so much agreement between Europe and America on an issue, and that alone should make one suspicious. In America the saber-rattling with Iran will be a mainstay of the seemingly-interminable presidential campaign.

It's an old idea actually: the Republicans think that the populace sees the Democrats as foreign policy sissies and that this should win votes for the GOP. In order for this to really work there needs to be an official bad guy, a Bogeyman, who hopefully can be compared to Hitler. All the usual suspects are behind this campaign for war. The war drums are being beaten loudest by the Yahwist wing of the Republican party, that is, neo-cons, Rapture Christians, and AIPAC. Such groups are proud of being super-patriots; but to which country?

Of course the Democratic president could fight back by out-sabre-rattling the GOP. But that could cause oil prices to climb, which is recessionary of course. Then the GOP would blame the Democrats for high unemployment and energy costs.

But what if saber-rattling's Nielsen ratings go down, with repetition, and the grand poobahs on both sides of the pond keep threatening the Iranians a little more each month until the world finally stumbles into war, as it so often has? This might be bad news for the sheep and peasants of each country, but it could be wonderful for the bankers and politicians. Financial chaos, high gasoline costs, and recessions would offer the grand poobahs the cover to do more of what they want to do, the only thing they know how to do, print money. The worse the news is, the more the American sheep will rally around their mighty Sword, the President, and the GOP will have been outfoxed. (No pun intended.)

What interests me is seeing if three years of deficit explosions have sobered Americans up. Do they still see trillion-dollar-wars as something that can be thrown easily onto the national credit card? Or have they come to fear reckless and endless wars in the Mideast more than the Islamic bogeyman du jour?

In the case of Europe, the politicians and un-elected bureaucratic elites need to distract the peasants from their crimes and assaults on the democratic principles of modern Western civilization. Like their American co-criminals, they could sense opportunity in major war: 'let no crisis go to waste.'

A year ago Marc Faber, a popular commentator on business channels and websites, predicted that the outcome of the financial crisis would be war. He meant big War, presumably, not just the smaller operations in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Yemen, etc. These other conflicts were rather modest after all, taking a decade to run the credit card up by a trillion dollars. At the time I thought that he was going over the top with that, and that he was just trying to be controversial and entertaining, which is what these news channels are all about, after all. It now seems as though he should take a bow. But he hasn't been as visible lately in the usual places.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Crossing the Kindle Threshold

No, I didn't go out and buy one, the gadget that is. But I did follow through on a commenter's suggestion of downloading Kindle ebooks from Amazon onto my netbook. I chose a freebie of course. Buying books is a "bridge too far".

I firmly rejected the option of reading the eBook in the over-hyped "cloud" since that requires an internet connection, the very thing I want to liberate myself from. Instead, I opted to download the Kindle eReader onto my (Windows PC) netbook and to do the same with the eBooks themselves, since an internet connection is only needed during the downloading process, itself. Soon I was using it on a free classic, Samuel Johnson's Preface to Shakespeare. By his own admission he could write a preface to anything, even a cookbook, and the preface would be more popular than the book, proper.

There is no "Edit" tool at the top of the screen; to copy a juicy quote you must highlight it first and then right-button for copy and search capabilities. Thank goodness for that; otherwise I would have pronounced the Kindle eReader worthless. I smiled with satisfaction to recognize certain quotes from this famous preface, such as:
Shakespeare is above all writers, at least above all modern writers, the poet of nature; the poet that holds up to his readers a faithful mirrour of manners and of life.

Johnson, Samuel (2004-04-01). Preface to Shakespeare (Kindle Locations 37-38). Public Domain Books. Kindle Edition.
The copy function automatically dragged over the acknowledgement to Kindle. I'm not sure why this is necessary since this Preface is in the public domain. But to quibble over this would be an example of another famous quote from Johnson's Preface, "the petty cavils of petty minds."

This same classic Preface is available from Gutenberg.org, and downloadable in various formats that make for pleasant reading, including the Kindle format. But I prefer to download books from Gutenberg as plain text files so that I can fully edit them, that is, expurgate them. Such files aren't as easy on the eyes as the Kindle format, however.

In posts past I have argued that expurgation -- or as the reader, Samuel Johnson, was accused of: "ripping the book's heart out" -- is a fundamental qualitative improvement in the process of reading. This notion was unpopular with my readers, who apparently are too comfortable being apologists for the publishing industry and venerating the traditions of reading. Apparently the vaunted Progress that we worship today must be restricted to mere quantitative improvements, to matters of convenience, megabytes, and gigahertz. Nor will all the gadgets in the world bring any qualitative improvement to the content of books.

The Kindle eReader shows up as a shortcut-icon on my desktop; it's a fellow sitting under a tree, reading. If only that were true. This time of year many snowbirds sit out in a chair, outside their RVs in places like Quartzsite or Yuma, reading books. I've never had any luck reading outdoors; there are too many distractions.

Nor can I imagine reading in bed with old eyes. In fact my sleepy eyes can't even watch a DVD movie; the eyes close while the ears rock the baby to sleep.

But perhaps it is more comfortable to hold a tablet in the hand while eReading. A clamshell display might hold the words at a distance not quite perfect; and you must sit erect in an office chair to look at it.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Does 4G Wireless Matter to Travelers?

At the moment I am in the Valley of the Sun, the Phoenix megalopolis. (If only it would run out of water and start shrinking. It would be a better place.) Its only real significance to me is that it is still on the Gila River migration route. But I can't help wondering about Verizon's 4G wireless service, available only in big cities like this. My mi-fi gadget is only a 3G model, so I can't actually sample the 4G service.

It seems like I should be as excited about this improvement as I was when Verizon upgraded from 2G (1xRTT) to 3G (EVDO) a few years back. But back then there was no 5 Gigabyte per month limit. It makes sense that there should be a limit like that, despite the howls of gamers and video-addicts on the tech forums.

So I have no real complaint against Verizon. But it does make a customer wonder what is so great or important about 4G wireless service: the only thing it's good for is watching videos, but if you give in to that temptation, you'll smack up against your 5 Gigabyte per month limit that much sooner. So what good is 4G service to me?

If the telecom company only charges $10 for each Gigabyte past the 5 Gigabyte ceiling (always rounding up, of course), perhaps that's not such a big deal to some people. But this blog is aimed at early retirees or other people who take "alternative lifestyles" seriously; and for most of us, $53 per month for the first 5 Gigabytes is quite enough to spend on the internet.

Why not just buy the couple dozen classic movies that are worth watching for $5 to $10 per DVD disk, and be able to enjoy them without an internet connection? DVD movies, books, MP3 music, and digital photography are all activities a traveler can enjoy without an internet connection. This is too much of an advantage to let go of.

The same argument could debunk the vaunted and over-hyped "cloud". How is it advantageous to a wireless customer to edit photos or do word processing by increasing his data traffic, which he will end up paying for? It's virtually free and significantly faster to use software that is installed on your hard drive. The best of both worlds is probably exemplified by the Kindle, since you only need occasional internet connectivity to put it to use, and lightning speed is not really necessary.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Snowbound in the Arizona Palms

Oh sure, I knew Globe AZ was a bit higher than the Gila River that I was following into the state. But a casino is a good place to wait out a winter storm while watching NFL football. The sun wouldn't come out long enough for a good morning shot of palmas y sierra nevada.


At least the photo proves out the title of this blog. I thought the weather would recover on Monday. I don't mind the cold, but a dog-owning RVer hates precipitation.

So I took off this morning only to find that the small climb to Globe was enough to create a heavy snowstorm. The road didn't actually feel slippery but after my clay debacle of last week I am feeling cautious. So I pulled off into a big box parking lot. There sat a nice-looking pickup and camper, who probably had the same idea. I snickered when I saw the Florida license plates. After all, what sort of moron would drive all that way to Arizona in December and then get stuck in snow? (grin)

Saturday, December 3, 2011

The Public Wi-Fi Experience

It wasn't so long ago that "AT&T" charged $20 per month for wi-fi at Starbucks, Barnes & Noble, McDonalds, and various hotel chains. Now all the wireless telecoms are delighted to give you free wi-fi at such places. Off-loading data to wi-fi hotspots to lessen the data traffic jam at cell towers is a huge trend these days. In theory this should be a nice help to travelers.

Having failed to win any looks of envy (or even respect) at Starbucks with my new $200 netbook, it seemed like McDonalds might promise more success: surely some toothless old man would be impressed with my spiffy new machine; you know, the old boys who find section D of yesterday's newspaper and read it in slow motion while drinking bottomless refills of senior coffee.

Old habits die hard: walking into the store my eyes scanned the walls for an electrical outlet. First, they seem to design public wi-fi places without a single electrical outlet. That must be deliberate; they're not running a public library for internet-savvy elderly vagabonds. (Also, just imagine the first multi-million dollar lawsuit against McDonalds when an oldster falls and breaks her hip after tripping on another customer's power cord.) Secondly, my netbook is low power and can actually operate a few hours without juice, unlike the patio-brick-style laptops of old.

Then I scanned the store for another laptop user. In his area there was something emitting a high-pitched scream; maybe it was coming from the soft drink feeding pens. How could he think over that noise? Maybe it's his hearing.

So I abandoned that section of the store and went to the center, where a huge boob toob was playing CNN news. Carrier IQ has probably worked out a system for correlating clicks on the customers' smartphones and laptops with the TV channel and what the customers order at the counter. But at least the volume was turned up so I didn't have to listen to "music" over the ceiling speakers. And I was so hoping to enjoy a black female vocalist doing a screeching and lewd version of Rudolf, followed by a pseudo-rap version of the Little Drummer Boy (which admittedly is a rather good choice for rap-ification).

Soon I gave up on the center area, ruled as it was by the TV hegemon. That left only the back of the McDonalds. After I got the sticky food debris cleaned off the table, it started to seem like I had finally beaten the system. But every time the door opened I could feel Santa Anna-like wind rushing in to fill the vacuum of a flushing toilet. Also, it was distracting to think of the signs (in Spanish) that McDonalds considers necessary to remind customers to put the toilet paper in the toilet instead of the waste basket.

But at least I was finally getting some work done. Then suddenly I practically catapulted off my bench in the booth. A huge fat guy had sat down behind me in the adjacent booth. His bench was mechanically linked to mine so that the whole structure seesawed. Oh well, you don't go into fast food outlets and expect to see willowy supermodels. I tried to not let it bother me, but I could feel every movement of his. Did I say "movement"? Oh dear, what happens when he gets up and walks toward the restroom door! I fled back to my RV and used my Verizon mi-fi.

Friday, December 2, 2011

The News and Novelty Syndrome

Every Age has not only its own spirit, its zeitgeist, but also its characteristic vices and diseases. The Information Age sucks us into paying attention to too much trivial and trashy "news". For travelers in particular, the same syndrome manifests itself as Novelty idolatry.

I was feeling very pleased with the world on the last day of November when this (un-edited, un-photoShopped) sunset crowned an excellent day.



I was camped on some BLM land, on the western edge of New Mexico, watching my first Arizona sunset in over three and a half years. For some reason it was important to me not to enter Arizona before December 01. As luck would have it, a winter storm was arriving the first day in Arizona.

On this autumn's migration it was satisfying to have connected the Colorado/San Juan river systems with the Rio Grande, and back again to the Colorado/Gila system with a minimum amount of driving. It was sweet revenge to revisit the place near Grand Junction where I almost lost my little poodle four years ago, and to revisit while he was still alive and could share the revenge.

In just a couple months of returning to the road I've had a change to visit, camp with, and hike with Wandrin Lloyd, the Box Canyon-ites (Mark and Bobbie) and a new RV blogger friend Kurumi Ted.

And yet I felt silly putting this photo cliche on my blog. Gee, do you think there are any sunset photos on Picasa, Flickr, Facebook, etc.?! Sometimes novelty just doesn't count. It's especially important for a blogger not to forget that.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Camping with Somebody Else?

The other day a retired man approached me in a big box parking lot. Initially I tensed up. That's the instinctive response these days, since you expect to be panhandled. But he said that he had noticed bicycling on my tee-shirt. As it turned out, he was a newbie van camper who went on bicycle tours all over the world in previous years. I listened to his stories for an hour or two, as we stood in the lee of my trailer in the cold New Mexican wind. He cycled through third world countries. When he approached a village he was received like an alien from a UFO that had just landed. He never camped in normal campgrounds. (Sigh, I just don't like tent camping or cycling highways enough to do cycle touring like him.)

How strange. No encounter has ever happened like this to me before, as an RV traveler. Of course I gave up trying to socialize with RVers years ago, so it's my own fault in a way. RVers are nice middle-class folks who have worked hard all their lives. They are responsible, law-abiding, and sane about unimportant things. But if you don't overlap with the stereotype, there just isn't much that can be done about it.

I was sad to see that fellow leave the next day. Wouldn't it be nice to travel with somebody like him for awhile? How long has it been since I've done anything like that? But what were the chances that I could travel with a newbie, considering their 300-miles-per-day habits:"whoopie I'm on vacation".

Actually I've had better luck crossing paths with fellow bloggers than anything. This happened again recently, this time with Kurumi Ted. How nice it was to go on daily walks and talks in the desert with another RVer.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Learning New Four-Letter Dirty Words in Geology Class

It's a world of a different color where I'm camped now compared to Moab, which is just a couple weeks in the rear view mirror. Here in the lower Rio Grande Valley the world is grey, brown, and buff, which is rather bland compared to the red sandstone of Moab.

After a night of hard rain it began to dry up.  I needed to go to town to do the usual errands. (Here an RV travel blog should begin spoon-feeding the eager reader with every minute and mundane detail of his errand and shopping trip.) The road was a recently graded county road, with a hard gravel surface. But at one spot the color abruptly changed from buff to "red". Having been in Moab recently, I thought that it was a small area of red sandstone. Still, a slow yellow light began blinking in the back of my head. Then there was a small dip. I was surprised how difficult it was to get back up the hill. Whew! That was close. What the heck kind of sandstone do you call that?

A couple hours later, the errands were over and I looked forward to returning home on a drier road. Once again I was driving through the dip in the red/brown dirt: the slope of the road caused me to slide to the right edge, the lower edge, where water had drained. In seconds the van was up to its axles in plastic gook. You've probably already guessed the dirty four letter word for the day: C-L-A-Y.

Normally I think in terms of geology; but today's "class" was in rheology. Three feet from the right edge of the road, all seemed normal. A few inches closer to the right, and it turned remarkably plastic. My foot would sink in three inches. I made a noble effort with rocking the van and straightening the front wheels, but the combination of slopes doomed me to a shameful surrender, that is, calling my towing service who promised a tow truck in 3 hours.

What was I to do until then? So I walked to the chile farming area about a mile away. Demographic profiling is supposed to be a bad thing, but there are times when you can't avoid it. That works in both directions. If I had had the advantage of being a slightly attractive woman, I would already have been rescued; I could have just leaned against the van, preened and primped a little bit, swished my tail a couple times, and then some silly man would have magically appeared from behind a creosote bush. Actually, it probably would have been a couple of silly men, with each trying to show that he knew more than the other guy.

Let's see now: who should I target? Obviously not somebody with a small or clean car. There was no point in asking a woman. If I'd asked a bourgeois-yuppie-gringo type he would have thought that, if my story were actually true, I should just call my towing service, Platinum Card service, or push the Onstar button on the dashboard; and if I couldn't do any of this, well, I was probably just a recent parolee who didn't even have an automobile and was just cooking up a story to get into his SUV and steal his iPhone.

It seemed like the best bet would be a middle-aged male, blue collar or maybe a farmer: a guy who liked solving problems the old-fashioned way, with his hands and experience and common sense. But was there still anyone like that in America? And could they speak English?

I'm pleased to say that I struck gold on the second try: a middle-aged, male, Mexican employee of the chile company, who was driving an older, non-clean pickup truck. He even grinned when I mentioned the specific road, as if it were well known locally. He had me out of there in a few seconds, and I gave him some gasoline money out of gratitude.

Now, what is the moral of this story? Some gloating readers want to hear me admit that my next tow vehicle should be a four wheel drive machine. But I hardly see how a tow rope and ten seconds of work every five years justifies spending an extra $14,000 on the pickup truck. Or should I change towing services? Nah, none of them provide instantaneous service and if they tried, it wouldn't be affordable. My adventure would never have happened if I had been driving more towards the center of the road, or if I had stopped the van and probed the ground on foot before committing myself.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Forever Un-cool in Gadget Land

It was a thrill for this chronic late-adopter and used-computer-buyer to finally have his first new computer. I boldly squatted in the parking lot outside the Target where I bought my new 11.6" Acer netbook at the loss-leader price of $200 and brazenly challenged a security guard or parking lot Zamboni to even try to kick me out. Nobody dared.

I stayed up until midnight -- real midnight, as in media noche, as in mitternacht, not motorhome midnight of 9 p.m. -- transitioning to the new netbook. I had always feared doing this but it ended up being fun watching functionality and the software breath-of-life appear on a soul-less machine, step-by-step.

At 530 in the morning I practically leaped out of bed, wondering if Starbucks would waken at 6 am. I didn't have to drive far in New Mexico's megalopolis, Albuquerque, to find one. Soon I was ensconced in a chair next to a personable floor lamp, with a scone and a (disappointing-tasting and over-priced) espresso, and pretended to be a hip urban technorati.

Then my bubble burst. This experience was supposed to be a ceremonial ritual to honor the new netbook; I'd imagined urban sophisticates, with their $5 double foo-foo lattes or whatever and their white iPads, casting furtive glances of envy and lust over towards my new machine. But it was not to be. Apparently a bargain netbook from Target educes the same respect from jaded gadget-sophisticates that an entry-level Toyota Corolla would pull out of a NASCAR gearhead.

Why is the tech media so anti-netbook? They look down on them and give all the glory to tablets. Most tablets do have beautiful, high-resolution displays. Great, so you sit in a coffee shop trying to look enviable, blobbing and gooing your wonderful touch-screen with buttery fingers as you eat your toasted onion bagel. Of course you could squander some money on a protective plastic screen; but what does that do to the crispness of the display? And how long does that plastic cover last? (Gee you don't think that's the whole point, do you?)

I  recently played with an iPad for the first time in a coffee shop in the boutique mountain hamlet of Ouray CO.  My friend, a former IT professional man, surprised me by confessing that he didn't know how to do real, ten-fingered typing. That explains a lot about corporate IT departments as well as the hype and hysteria about touch screens. Although it was fun to play with it for a couple minutes I will remain a clamshell and keyboard man. Something about touchscreens suggests a regression from a second grader to a pre-literate day schooler who expresses himself by finger-painting.

Buying a new gadget has a way of pulling a sucker into a concatenation of expenses the same way that buying a puppy does. ("Honey, just imagine how cyoooot Fi-Fi would look in this darling angora sweater; and it's on sale for only $90!") In fact despite my boast of being a bang-for-the-buck, no nonsense type of consumer, even I went into the big-box gadget pushers the next day and fawned over "accessories." (But I wouldn't have done that if my pride hadn't been wounded at Starbucks.)

There were $80 "genuine leather" protective covers for the iPad at Walmart for gawd's sake! A cynic might have expected that this entire aisle (!) of iPad ecosystem junk was made in China for 50 cents a pop. But apparently it was being made by hand by old world craftsmen of the kind who used to make shoes in Italy or watches in Switzerland. (Youngsters are probably unaware of the panoply of cutesy, expensive add-ons and gotchas that were sold with the Palm Pilot back around year 2000. Isn't it ironic that tablet mania gets so much credit for being "new".)

Still stinging from that morning Starbucks rebuke I turned up my nose at all those over-priced cases, bags, keyboards, ad infinitum, which were supposed to turn your iPad into something more productive than a vending machine for the iTunes store or protect it from a fall from your cream-cheesey fingers onto Starbucks' granite floor -- imported from the Dolomite mountains, you know. (This wasn't too hard; the netbook has an 11.6 inch display, while the iPad accoutrements are made for a 10 inch machine. I measured them just to make sure. Blush.)

Finally I got my rightful revenge: an 11.6 inch netbook is the same size as a standard piece of paper, which is 8.5 by 11 inches; therefore many standard office supplies, even from the kiddie school supply aisle, can be used to store and protect my netbook. I ended up buying a padded mail envelope for a dollar. But it was made of genuine paper and plastic bubbles.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Naked Hiking Follow-up

The geology and plant life of my current boondocking location makes for some uncomfortable walking, at least in places. The other day I howled because of something jabbing me in the foot; I had just stepped on a rock with a sharp, pyramidal point. But the pain occurred a couple more times over the next day, and always in the same spot of the same shoe.

Why was I being so stupid? Something was embedded in the sole of that shoe. I just wasn't used to getting punchadas (or pinchazos) all the way through a sole. It's a mesquite thorn, if I'm not mistaken. Lots of them are growing nearby. This is what you get for hiking in trail sneakers instead of real hiking boots with a nylon or steel plate in the sole.


And yet I have a friend who has lived in the Southwest for 15 years and hikes everywhere in sandals.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

UFO Abducts RV Camper: Authorities REFUSE to Negotiate!!!

(Yahoo News: Unnamed location, lower Rio Grande valley, New Mexico, North American continent.)

Either something has changed on the internet, or I have just gotten around to noticing it: there is a race to the bottom with news headlines. They are becoming pure tabloid, especially the "What's New" tab on yahoo mail. But I've noticed the same trend in more serious news sources.

But who am I to fight progress? After all, we live in the modern Information Age, and therefore, all change represents progress.

OK seriously, I was taking the dogs out for their sunset walk when I looked to the east and saw this shadow. I guess it was a shadow of the hilly ridge in front of it, but the angles didn't seem right. It was unusual enough that I stopped and gawked. When I realized that it was towards Roswell NM, I had a good laugh. (As usual, click to enlarge.)

Monday, November 21, 2011

Should I Go to an OWS Rally?

No matter how much a person might like their mobile lifestyle, there must be times when it seems frivolous and vacuous: when it degenerates into "channel surfing with gasoline". In the back of his mind, the traveler might yearn for experiences more substantial and challenging than mere sightseeing. But it would still be nice if mobility enabled these deeper and richer experiences.

For instance, during the Arab Spring, I was in the habit of reading bicycle touring blogs. Most of them were pretty boring: "...yesterday I was there, today I'm here. This morning I had instant oatmeal instead of corn flakes for breakfast." Then they photographed the oatmeal.

In contrast, one of these cycle tourers was staying in a Bed and Breakfast in downtown Cairo, right next to Tahrir Square where all the demonstrations took place. What an experience he had!

Driving to an "Occupy Wall Street" rally could be one of those experiences, and one that an RV is uniquely advantageous for. The famous ones are a long way from where most RVers are, at this time of year. But there are smaller rallies, closer.

Does this imply that I support the "OWS" movement? I'm not sure because of the wide variety of grass-roots opinion in it, and because of its overall vagueness. There is something about it that reminds me of "Howard Beale's" famous rant in the classic movie, Network.

But no matter what your politics you should be relieved that there is enough grass-roots guts left in this declining country and the para-militarized police force is still restrained enough, that peaceful protests are still feasible, although just barely. (You are probably aware of  the famous You Tube video of pepper spraying peaceful protesters at the University of California, Davis, who were sitting down.) What a marvelous article Glenn Greenwald wrote recently on this topic.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Challenge for an Old Engine


The previous day I had climbed a steep hill in first gear, and wondered if my old engine was going to make it. What would I do if it stalled? Could I back the van and trailer down the hill just by using brakes, and without jack-knifing the whole thing? This could be a personal best for my 1995 Ford V-8 engine. Near Deming NM.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Back in the Bosque

Early settlers, be they from northeastern Asia or the Iberian peninsula or northwestern Europe, must have had an easy choice with river valleys like the Rio Grande. The soil is so rich and deep. And there are huge cottonwoods for shade. What a remarkable strip micro-climate it is! Sometimes the Chihuahuan desert starts only a stone's throw away. It is almost as bleak as the Mojave. (It's really only the Sonoran desert that can be rightfully accused of being pretty. But I do like the smell of sagebrush in the Great Basin desert.)

The cottonwoods get giddy in the bosque, the Spanish word that gets used a lot along the Rio Grande. (I need to buy a real dictionary with accurate etymologies. The online freebie I'm using says that the English word, bosk, which means the same thing as bosque in Spanish, comes from an Old Norse word that gave us the word, bush. I don't believe it. Bosk, bosque, and the French bois are too much alike.)


It is fun to visit the lower Gila or Rio Grande valleys and then read Toynbee's chapters on the civilization of the lower Nile or of Mesopotamia.


Thursday, November 17, 2011

Naked Hiking Still Legal in American Southwest

It must have been a slow news day today. The BBC featured a story that really was more Yahoo style: the Swiss court has upheld a canton's law against naked hiking.

The BBC's Imogen Foulkes in Geneva says naked hiking is an increasingly popular pastime in Switzerland.
However, Appenzell is a deeply devout and conservative canton - it only granted women the right to vote in 1990 - and the influx of naked hikers has offended many local people, she adds.
The new ruling applies to the entire country.
Naked hikers may now have to look for another country which offers them a warmer welcome, our correspondent says.
Come to the American Southwest, I say, to all the oppressed perambulating naturalists. We offer you the freedom to live in harmony with nature as well as the opportunity to develop deep tans.






 



Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Appreciating Ugly Desert Arroyos

Surely there are some famous scenes from movies in which a statue becomes a living, moving human being. The idea is simply too cinematic to have been overlooked. But for some reason, a classic example of that doesn't come to mind.

When you walk through a desert arroyo (dry wash) you have the rare opportunity to see the normally slow process of erosion work on a human time scale. In that sense the landscape becomes alive for you.

The topography of the Southwest is dominated by differential erosion, but it is too slow to watch "live". In an arroyo you can see how foot-deep water has undercut a bank, probably during a flash flood in the late summer. This can produce an undercut several feet deep. Eventually the overhanging bank above the undercut collapses, producing a rather vertical wall.

Back on the job walking arroyos, near Socorro NM, it was fun to see the best examples of freshly fractured overhangs that I've ever seen.




Now imagine no more flash floods occurring. The normal evolution of the bank of the arroyo would be to become V-shaped, wider at the top than at the bottom.

"But these are just simple shapes," you say, "and they're not pretty enough." But development of the natural world is the issue here, not prettiness. Keep in mind that the microelectronic chips in your digital camera (and elsewhere) are based on processes analogous to what you are seeing in the arroyo:

  1. A complex pattern is put on a glass photo-plate. This pattern -- which would make a Google Earth map of the desert Southwest look simple -- will eventually define all the zillions of transistors and connecting lines that are etched into or added onto the silicon wafer.
  2. Ultraviolet light is shined through the photoplate, and leaves a latent image of the pattern in a thin layer of photo-sensitive polymers that have been spun onto the naked silicon wafer.
  3. That photographic pattern is developed and etched away in places, but not in other places, according to the desired pattern.
  4. The silicon wafer/photo-polymer combination is dunked in acid; the unprotected areas of the pattern are etched away preferentially. Thus the pattern has now been transferred to the "topography" of the silicon wafer.
  5. Pattern after pattern on layer after layer is performed similarly until the microelectronic chip is finished.

Then the customer expects the whole miracle for virtually free, except the protective leather case that has the customer's initials on it; and off he goes to a national park, the 4,939,385th visitor for 2011, and looks for a purty picher that is essentially free.

At any rate I will continue to get some enjoyment looking for analogies between erosion in the arroyos, Southwestern topography, and microelectronic chips. It gives me something to think about while I saunter along on the loose gravel, while my dog blasts along like a flash flood turned into flesh, and while I look for an interesting bird or plant or a hateful coyote.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Crony Capitalism at Its Best


...meaning its worst. It's always a little surprising to read about the "visual pollution" of windmills or solar panel installations and the locals' objections to them. I think they look "cool". But maybe the novelty would wear off soon and I would want to go back to looking at the landscape proper. (Then again, nobody uses that argument for getting rid of highways, suburban sprawl, or power lines.)

This installation is near Deming in southern New Mexico. The first thought was, "Oh how pretty." The second thought was, "Aren't they supposed to move or something?" Apparently a 10 or 15 mph breeze just doesn't do it.


There was a wry irony to it. Here they were -- the great Green dream machines -- producing diddly squat in one of the windiest states in the USA. Wouldn't it have been delicious and naughty if a Prius had been parked at the nearby store, with all the canonical and stereotypical bumper stickers, and I had engaged them in a discussion of these stationary windmills. My guess is that what they literally saw would be less important to them than what it represents symbolically.

Or would that have been too snotty? RV travel offers a good chance to observe first-hand the Two Culture Gap, and I'm not talking about the one that CP Snow made famous a couple decades ago. I'm referring to the Red State/Blue State divide in modern America.

Personally I've noticed more snotty behavior on the part of Blue Staters than the other way around. Possibly the worst thing that he/she sees in the lowly Red Stater is their addiction to out-dated and traditional superstitions. The Blue Staters have outgrown all that, you know.

Imagine what fun Sir James George Frazer (The Golden Bough) would have with these modern tridentate Deities, sitting there uselessly except for the promise of Global Salvation and a Higher Moral Calling that they offer to liberals.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Impressions on Mind and Mudstone

Lower Rio Grande valley, New Mexico. Why is it that we know so little about how the vaunted gadgets and machines of our Age work? Perhaps that says something of our educational system; or maybe it is just inherently difficult to approach science and technology in layman's terms. Some people probably think technical subjects are uninteresting since there is nothing personal or emotional about them.

But there must be some explanation for stopping dead in my tracks when I saw this shadow on a shale rock on some BLM land recently.


My goodness, it looked identical to the fossilized leaves on a shale rock that belonged to an impressive rock-collection that my father "inherited" from a retired school teacher, back when I was a kid. One of my siblings turned out to be the real rockhound, but I was interested in them too.

At first the sheer size and color of the quartz crystals and geodes made the biggest impression. (Think of the razzle-dazzle that you find on the tables at Quartzsite AZ in the winter.) But the purely visual buzz wore off soon. I thought the fossils were more interesting and significant in the long term.

When I said "looked identical", above, it brings to mind the word 'reminiscent.' The dictionary says the Latin root is 'mens', the mind. Why are fossils interesting to people? Is it the connection between past and present or is it the challenge of trying to visualize a radical, but unbelievably slow, process of transformation?

But today I was only looking at an ephemeral shadow of waning November light; back then, as a kid, there was something about fossils and their transformation that was reminiscent of the old retired teacher, who once had a job similar to what my father had now -- I mean, then. Would my father really get old like that and retire? Would I?

The transformation of boy to old man is not as radical as that from living leaf to an intaglio on a fossil, but it's big enough. And it was the transformation to light and shadow, on today's hike, that formed the link.

This is drifting a bit from the starting point of this post. I'll get back to the theme next time.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Reunion with Desert Arroyos

BLM land near Soccoro, NM. It's hard to believe that I was hiking at San Juan mountain altitudes less than a month ago, near Ouray CO.


How could an outing along the Rio Grande possibly stack up well compared to hiking several thousand feet above a boutique mountain town that is visited by people from all over the world? Fortunately outdoor pleasure is not influenced all that much by sheer size. Also, this blog is dedicated to promoting a tacto-centric hedonic ethos of the outdoors versus the opto-centric obsessions of the mass tourist.

Here it is chilly most of the time, but I liked it except for the first day, when the cold wind was a bit unpleasant. (But hey, it's winter in New Mexico.) Besides, the unpleasantness just made our reunion with the arroyos of the desert more delicious.

I really appreciated one reader's comments about the under-rated outdoor pleasure of experiencing warm sun and cold air against the skin, simultaneously. That was even more the case on our first arroyo walk; we were camped on a windy ridgeline (to have line-of-sight to a cell tower)...


...and were relieved to jump into the first arroyo (dry wash, dry gully). Immediately I noticed the wind dying down and my black pants and shirt heating up.

I was flash-flooded with pleasant reminiscences now that Coffee Girl and I were back in arroyo-mode. The ridgelines have a sharp and harsh texture, which you might not notice walking; but put your hand down on the ground, with some pressure on it. A poor dog has to run on that dreadful stuff. This used to cause problems for my little poodle in the old days. (He decided to rest today.)

But we were foot-loose on the alluvium now and, oh, how dogs love that stuff! They have pads, you know, not hooves. As always, having a dog along enhances the pleasure because it functions as an extension of your own central nervous system; it makes you more sensitive to everything.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Frozen Tumbleweeds at the Four Corners

When winter really hits, there's nothing subtle about it, and I was running for my life now. As feared I hit snow near 7000 foot altitude around Monticello UT; in fact the Utah state highway snowplows were already working the road there. Let's face it: pulling a trailer in the snow is a fool's mission. I was relieved to get out of the snow by the time I was down to 6500 feet.

At Bluff UT, on the San Juan river, I was at the fork in the road: migrate from southwestern UT, using the Virgin and Colorado rivers, or use the Rio Grande in New Mexico. I chose the latter because I hadn't done it for years and I wanted to postpone going to the usual, hackneyed, warm spots in Arizona for as long as possible.

As always I looked forward to seeing ShipRock. It's a rival of Monument Valley, but not as popular. Monument Valley has been a photo cliche since John Ford's westerns of the 1940's. Why do people even go there and photograph it? But ShipRock has no park built around it, nor is there a campground or gift shop at its base. It has maintained its dignity, while everything else has sold out to the tourism industry. Besides, the geology is completely different.

But where was it? The sky was still stormy and visibility was poor. The temperature (in degrees F) and the wind (in mph) were both between 30 and 40. Frozen tawny tumbleweeds rolled across the deserted highway. Just then:


I had to smile. The Four Corners of the Southwest was far away. I was in the Atlantic, off the coast of Brazil on a wooden Man-of-War in the year 1804 or so. That is where the remarkable movie, Master and Commander, starts. The officer-of-the-watch thought he saw a ship in the fog bank. They beat to quarters, just in case. The captain, played by Russell Crowe, came to the bow and searched the fog with his brass telescope. Indeed, a deadly ship was espied, which the men named the Phantom.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Given the Keys to the City

When I was visiting Mark and Bobbie, of Box Canyon Blog fame, in Moab UT, I was surprised to learn how far back their familiarity with the region went. They were here when Edward Abbey was. They liked the area better than I did, so I tried to let their attitude rub off on me. But it wasn't easy. I had to pass through the town of Moab on my way south, hoping to beat the snow in Monticello UT; maybe I should stop in Moab to do laundry?



In tourist towns it's always wise to get one block off the main drag. A traveler always goes into a laundromat with some trepidation; it really is my least favorite part of traveling. But this place seemed good for some reason. Management was new, the machines were in good repair, and -- most astonishingly -- they weren't charging tourist prices.

A bicycle touring blog expressed it this way after visiting Yellowstone or Grand Teton national parks and the towns that service them: he felt like a chicken going through a modern poultry processing plant. That is just what I expected from Moab UT.


The owner of the store had been outside and saw my rig. On his own initiative he mentioned that he and his wife had an RV and sometimes desired a free and safe place to park when traveling. He told me that I could stay in their parking lot for the night if I wished. In all my years of traveling, that is the first time I received generosity like that. And in Moab of all places!

Monday, November 7, 2011

Great Laptop/Netbook Deal for a Traveler

Act fast if any of this pertains to you. November 12 is the last day!

How nice it was to be shopping for a new laptop when the old one isn't quite dead. What an energy hog the old laptop was, consuming 4 amps DC during normal operation. And I use it many hours per day! It's hard to find power consumption data on the internet or on the boxes at the stores since nobody really cares except a traveler who is running down his coach batteries. Fortunately I got some good numbers from tdhoch of RV Sabbatical, who has a Kill a Watt device for measuring power consumption in watts. (I use a resistor-based DC current sensor in the line between RV frame ground and the negative post of the battery.)

Going through a Target recently (blush) I noticed a superb deal on an 11.6 inch netbook by Acer, model Aspire One AO722-0473. You can't get it online at Target since they are using it as a loss-leader to drive the consuming masses wild and bring them into the store. It would have been an excellent deal at $300, the regular price, but it is only $200 until 12 November 2011. Unlike the shabby 15 day return policy offered by Walmart and others, Target offers a 45 day return policy. When it comes to electronics, the return policy is quite important.

I have transitioned over to it and love it. Obviously it is not meant for power users. I just need it for web browsing, typing this blog, light photo editing (Picasa), and word processing (Windows Notepad). I don't play computer games or stream videos, although it is supposed to be quite good at the latter. (By definition, a netbook lacks an optical drive.) The internet connection will usually be the weak link in the chain -- not the computer itself. Above all else, I want it to use little power.

And it does! It uses 1.1 amps DC (just under 13 watts) for standard web browsing. Just think how reducing your power consumption by this much reduces your needs for solar panels, generators, and batteries. As an added goodie, it was nice to finally get an electronic gadget that doesn't come with a 5 pound power brick.

It is small enough to easily carry to a wi-fi hotspot, but still has a full-size keyboard. I was led to worry for nothing about a lot of things by the tech reviews on netbooks. Those reviews were probably written by the digital equivalent of gearheads.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

More About Moab

It's hard to predict what a mesa is like when you see it from only one angle, say, from your campsite, or when you blast by it in a car. So the second day at our Moab campsite, we headed off to circum-ambulate the neighborhood mesa. It did not disappoint.


I hope I never outgrow the discomfort that comes from slot canyons, mine shafts, caves, and canyons, since it was this very discomfort that gets most of the credit for the effect that this canyon had on me, besides the usual credit that goes to the very act of walking.


There are far more famous photo icons of Moab (Monument Valley, etc.) than what was here, but it's always more fun to personally discover an un-famous area.


It surprised me how smooth the sandstone cliff faces were. They were 200-300 feet tall and quite vertical; but looked at from above, the cliff formed a circular reflector that made it easy to hear each car pass on a highway about a mile away.

When Coffee Girl and I retreated from the mouth of the canyon, the usual canyon-creepy feeling started to decline and I became relaxed. Although we've all heard echoes from cliffs I had to try out the acoustics here. The echo was the clearest and loudest that I've ever heard, enough so that it made me giggle.

Recall that famous scene, towards the beginning of Lawrence of Arabia, when Lawrence sings at the cliffs (Wadi Rum in Jordan). It was only the fact that I was male that kept me from ululating like the Arab women in the movie do.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Lay's Potato Chips of Sandstone

A big part of the art of camping is stepping away from the 'looked over', and wandering amongst the 'overlooked'. The best way to do this is to camp where the scenery is subtle or mediocre in the immediate foreground, but more promising in the distance. Naturally that provides the incentive to go for a walk, right from the RV's door.

But you still go with low expectations. You have to try to be interested in what there is to see, and you have to look for ways to experience it beyond mere 'looking'. Usually, the surprises are on the positive side.

In that spirit Coffee Girl and I took off on a day that was supposed to be dreadful, but in fact, was delicious: what a luxury it is to leave the wide-brimmed sombrero at home, and welcome the sun's warmth onto my face, while enjoying the bracing chill.

We encountered the thinnest lamellas of sandstone that I've ever seen. They were fragile and nearly exfoliated.


Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Vexed by the Snowbird VolkerWanderung

As my travel-blog friends took off this morning I had plenty to exult over. If they hadn't been here in Moab, which they had a lot of experience with, I might have blown through town without even stopping. The area is best for tourists and vacationers, not full time travelers. A camper would have to love crowds, fees, and restrictions to feel comfortable here. It is also over-rated as a mountain biking mecca. There is too much loose sand in much of Utah.


So I deferred to Mark and Bobbie, resulting in superb locations and hikes. OK, I admit it: the scenery was 'breathtakingly beautiful,' but more for the topography than the "red" color. It isn't "red"; it's red-brown, terra-cotta, the same color as a cheap clay pot. Why do people make such a big deal of the color?


Off they went to southwestern Utah to warm up, while leaving me here, wondering about how to dignify my autumn migration by heading downriver, some river, any river. It's not as easy as it sounds.

Why not just grab a Rand-McNally and choose the most direct interstate highway? Folks, that's not how it's done, especially after rereading the first part of volume 1 of the abridged version of Arnold Toynbee's A Study of History. He gives a lot of emphasis to the clash between civilizations and the volkerWanderung of famous tribes through history. (Umlaut on the o.) My head filled up with romantic mush about the volkerWanderung of the snowbirds.

But it's not complete mush. A full-time traveler, who thinks of his lifestyle as a serious profession, needs to see a drama in his seasonal migration. That's a completely different mindset than a vacationer who is aiming for standardized, tourist-industry entertainment. How then can I do the best possible job at this, this autumn?

The cause of most of the vexation is that there are only three large rivers that head south in the Southwest; there is a lot of high altitude land between these rivers. Going to the Virgin River (near Zion and St. George UT) and then following the Colorado River south used to be my standard route. But it's hard to find something new.

Thus it was so pleasing this morning when Coffee Girl and I got into arroyo wanderung, something you just can't do in Colorado, since the streams there have water in them! We left right from the RV door and stumbled onto an interesting area. The best part of the hike was walking an arroyo up to its "source".