March 27, 2007
Sunflower bread ad
Photo by pinkiesblues.
Let's Hope Al Gore Endorses This
Sex Toy Recycling, probably a bit NSFW. You send them a used sex toy and they give you a five dollar credit to apply to future purchases. They sterilize your toy, grind it up, and re-use the materials to make fresh sex toys.
We can't say we haven't had any rain now. Today substantial precipitation fell throughout the area. If I walked out in (which I did) I would get actually wet! Now that the clouds are beginning to part, it looks like snow on Mt. San Jacinto got down to about 3,500 feet or so.
Little Petroglyph Canyon
This past Sunday I visited Little Petroglyph Canyon as part of a trip organized by The Living Desert. This little canyon, only about 1.2 miles long, deep inside the China Lake Naval Air Warfare Center, contains the greatest concentration of petroglyphs in the western hemisphere. It's an effort to get there, most of which is due to (very appropriate) restrictions placed on the area by the Navy. But it was all SO worth it. There are THOUSANDS of petroglyphs there. And they exhibit a wide variety of styles from across a period of thousands of years (since the ice last retreated) and different ancient cultures. There are so many petroglyphs that I could simply plant my feet and photograph many different ones just by twisting around a little this way and that. Sometimes, on a first quick glance, I would think a rock had no petroglyphs, but after a few seconds to relax and allow my eyes to adjust they would begin to pop out of near-invisibility.
I have MANY photos and I have only begun to edit them. I'll let you know when I've got them all uploaded, but until then here is a panorama taken from the point where we enter the canyon itself from a side wash. Viewed full size you will be able to see a few petroglyphs.
The restrictions on visiting the canyon are multiple, changing, and not always clear. One rule that is clear is that the Navy can cancel any visit at any time with no explanation and no recourse. Some of the confusion is due to the fact that while the Navy is the real authority in the area, the Navy has the China Lake Police Department which, as best I could gather, looks and functions just like a municipal police department would, but works for the Navy to handle security and general police functions. The police officers are regular civilians, not military personnel. The China Lake Police have their rules too, all security related.
So, if you're going to visit, you'll have to hook up with a group tour organized by one of the non-profit organizations on an approved list. If you don't already know of one in your area, the Maturango Museum in Ridgecrest (the city at the gates to the China Lake base) is the place to go. Tours are only on certain weekends in the spring and fall. You have to register well in advance and provide a lot of identifying information so the Navy can run a security check on you. You have to be an American citizen, or maybe a permanent resident alien (I saw contradictory rules on that). There will be no more than five vehicles in a group (or six, depending on which rule you read), so carpooling will be maximized. No campers or buses. You will not wear short pants!
The short pants rule got popped on us just as we were about to leave our motel Sunday morning. I had to go back and change. A couple of guys had brought no long pants. The police at the base explained that last year somebody got a boo-boo on their leg while wearing shorts and a brouhaha erupted. I'm guessing somebody wrote their Congressional representative or some such nonsense. So the Navy did what it could do: terminate all visits to the canyon. Behind the scenes negotiating by responsible people led to the re-opening of the canyon this year with a long pants rule.
Upon entering the base everybody gets out of the cars and should be prepared to show proof of identity and citizenship (or legal alien residency) while the vehicle owners produce registration and proof of insurance. All doors, hoods and trunks are opened wide so that the vehicles can be searched while you stand off to the side for a lecture on security and protection of the canyon. Really, at least half the rules are simply to protect the canyon, and they've worked well. There has been very little vandalism there.
To reassure the apprehensive potential visiter, this security procedure is NOT being conducted by TSA. These are real police who are very pleasant and professional, who listen to questions and answer them. There were no strip searches on the pavement, much to my disappointment.
We then proceeded in our cars, as a group, on the 45-mile drive to the canyon. Each tour must be accompanied by volunteer, official escorts, who are civilians from the communities nearby. We had three. They knew the way and traveled in the lead vehicle. All cameras and binoculars were to remain "locked up" until we reached the parking lot at the canyon itself. But, since most SUVs don't have a traditional lockable trunk, the police told us to keep gear like that in the rear storage area, out of easy reach. We had been given cue sheets to explain some of what we saw along the drive. But if the rules are to be strictly adhered to, I am not to tell you anything about what I saw, especially the area where they were researching some sort of laser missile weaponry to be used against alien UFOs. What made it interesting was that they had a couple of old (captured in the 1950s) alien UFOs to use as test targets. But it was a Sunday, so there wasn't much activity anywhere except on the golf course.
I suppose it is okay to tell you that as we began to gain elevation we saw many VERY healthy Joshua Trees. They looked very fat and green. A few were blooming. When we eventually got up on Wild Horse Mesa we were treated to the view of several wild horses browsing on the vegetation. As much as we wanted them to run across the desert in a great herd adverstising a car or cigarette, they stood placidly and stared back at us. There are wild burros in the area, but we saw nothing of them except their scat. Raymond, our lead escort, said he could tell the difference between burro and horse scat, but wouldn't share the details with us. Dontcha hate that kind of thing? There's quite a difference between wild and domestic horse scat, but I couldn't see any difference between burro and horse...except that burros like to use one spot multiple times, creating great piles.
We had been given many dire warnings about the condition of the road to the canyon. The climb would be tremendous, the dirt would be washboard, the descents would be dangerous. None of it true. Easy, pleasant drive.
Arriving at the canyon there is a small gravel parking lot, pit toilets, and a picnic area. On the subject of toilets, you can use the one at the police building where you enter the base, and you can use this one at the parking lot. Otherwise, no free urination in the wild is allowed (and we needn't mention the similar ban on defecation, do we?). Nonetheless, we were urged to keep ourselves well hydrated, but if you have to pee, you have to request an escort to walk with you back to the pit toilet. We didn't learn that requirement until we were getting our security review upon arrival on the base. Too late to slip on diapers, I think. On the plus side, the men's toilet at the canyon is a two-fer. Good vision and steady aim will help you hit that little plastic urinal way down, down there. It must have been surplus from a submarine.
Despite all the many warnings, one thing they don't warn about enough is the actual hiking conditions in the canyon. Easy enough for me, but we had along at least one person with knee replacements (didn't do well), another with hip replacements (did great), some who had interpreted the footwear requirement (hiking boots, or good athletic shoes) to allow them to wear old, smooth soled sneakers. The floor of the canyon is mostly granite and sand. The granite is a beautiful bluish color, smoothed into curves by millenia of rushing water. As you descend the canyon, there are three waterfalls [translating from Desert to English, a "waterfall" is a place where water would fall, if there were water] that can be descended. These are rock scrambles and you will have a bitch of a time if you wear those slick soled old athletic shoes. Fortunately, whatever material they use in the soles of hiking boots is almost (ALMOST!) magnetic on granite. But if you are able, YOU MUST DESCEND THOSE WATERFALLS! Below each waterfall the quality and quantity of petroglyphs take big leaps. Unfortunately, our escort would not let us descend the third waterfall. He may have been concerned for our schedule (we had to be off the base by 5 PM), but he didn't say. He did say there wasn't much of interest below that third waterfall. But he had said a similar thing at the upper end of the canyon. We had gone up just a couple hundred yards when he told us there wasn't anything very interesting further on, but I kept going and kept finding interesting stuff. Nonetheless, we were by this time good followers of instructions, so we all cooperatively headed back up canyon, climbed the falls and got to our cars.
The rules in the canyon to protect the petroglyphs were quite strict. No tripods (monopods are okay). Walking sticks had to have rubber tips. We were not to touch the rocks in any manner at all...and once I saw the canyon itself, I realized that rule refered to the rocks along the side with desert varnish on them that might contain petroglyphs, because obviously we had to walk on the smooth rocks on the floor of the canyon. In a few spots, rocks with petroglyphs were very low and almost horizontal, very nearly on the floor of the canyon, and easy to step on if you're inattentive. On the other hand, in a few places pockets of sand and vegetation have accumulated among the boulders allowing you to walk a few steps up closer to the petroglyphs on the sides of the canyon. I would recommend a telephoto lens (as you should know by now, I'm not much of a telephoto guy) and a monopod. If not a telephoto lens, then lots of megapixels will help. At least one side of the canyon will be mostly in shadow, and due to security restrictions you will not have the leisure of waiting for the light to be right. You will have to make do with what light you have. Flash photography is allowed.
No glass containers are allowed anywhere, but I did see a few shards of beer bottles in the wash leading to the canyon. Naturally, it is all pack in, pack out, but one man in our group thought that there really should be a trash can at the picnic area. A couple of us tried to point out the problems with that idea, but he would have none of it. It's a bit of a wonder to me that a trip like this would attract people who seem to have no (or extremely little) experience in wilderness areas.
BTW, some of the petroglyphs used by Erich von Daniken in his book Chariots of the Gods are in Little Petroglyph Canyon. These are the anthropomorphic figures with heads that look like space helmets. You may recognize them among my photos, when I've got them all uploaded.
I am not going to try to discuss anything about WHY there are petroglyphs, or why so many are in this spot. Those questions (plus how and who) will be discussed forever by professionals in the field, and you are welcome to go Google your questions and see how many different theories there are. I, however, thought that the place looked like an art school. If that was, indeed, part of its function it would help to explain why petroglyphs here are similar to petroglyphs in so many other farflung areas.
March 26, 2007
Eagle Mountain RR Hike
Nine of us did a hike on the Eagle Mountain Railroad today and (mostly thanks to moderate temperatures and a bit of overcast) none of us died, if my headcount was correct. The whole set of photos is here, and here are a couple right now.
Army Recruiter Makes Fool Of Self - Repeatedly
Ramode: YOU GO BACK TO AFRICA AND DO YOUR GAY VOODOO LIMBO TANGO AND WANGO DANCE AND JUMP AROUND AND PRANCE AND RUN ALL OVER THE PLACE HALF NAKED THERE AND PRACTICE YOUR GAY MORALS OVER THERE THAT'S WHERE YOU BELONG
March 23, 2007
Photo by Lost America who found piles of food, bottled water and even toothpaste rotting in the desert near Helendale, California. They posted their photos on Flickr, and from there MSNBC picked it up and traced it back to the Second Harvest Food Bank of Orange County who had sent the outdated stuff to a pig farmer there. The pig farmer had been evicted from the land, unbeknownst to Second Harvest, and he left this stuff behind.
Administration Split On Closing Guantanamo
When he first became Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates, along with Condoleezza Rice argued for the closing of the detention facility at Guantanamo. The move was opposed by those bright lights, Cheney and Gonzales.
Anza-Borrego By Jeep
Wednesday I rode along on a Great Outdoors Jeep trip in Anza-Borrego. We started down in Ocotillo Wells (did you know there are a lot of ocotillos there?), made our way up to Arroyo Salado, then Truckhaven, and then tacked on a bonus trip to the calcite mine area. On the way we saw a lot (A LOT!) of flowering ocotillos, three oases (1, 5 and 17), Borrego asters (which I will now admit are different from Mecca asters), and even some dry elephant trees. Go here for the complete set of photos and see below for a few samples:
The Desert Sun confirms the story that the Palmwood project is in default on $3.9 million in loans. Foreclosure could begin immediately.
Here, Desert Local News interviews City Manager Gallant about why the city council voted to move the project forward 10 days after it went into default, and whether the developer will be able to pay the city's legal expenses in defending itself against the suit by the Sierra Club, as promised.
Will We See You In Mexico City?
Saving The World
Wind Farm Visit
This past Tuesday I went to the open visiting day at the wind farm north of I-10 between Indian and route 62. It was, as we all hoped, a very windy day. They had set up some displays inside their visitors center including posters listing various factoids about wind power, some aerial photos, and lots of stuff made by kids. A local school was bringing busloads of young kids out. The kids' stuff was the most interesting. There were a lot of drawings of windmills and pictures made by gluing paper on paper and something I noticed was that 90% of the kids' windmills showed only upward pointing blades, so they looked sort of like trees. This is not a criticism of the kids - they were VERY young. But you know how psychologists ask someone to draw a man or themselves or their home, to gain insights to their mental processes? If windmills were more important to our psyche, would upward pointing blades tell us anything?
There were also little one-page essays by the kids, and I know the kids are just learning to repeat back a few facts they got from their teachers. So I thought it odd that many of the kids said windmills have four blades, because while the number of blades varies, they never have four. Just as many kids also said that windmills provide 30% of the world's power! I could not guess which real world fact got misstated by some teacher to produce this wonderful figure. Maybe 30% is some ultimate, ideal that could be reached if wind power were maximized around the world.
Also available in the visitors center were slickly produced "comment cards." Suppose you had a question or comment on wind power or their plans to put up some more turbines. All you had to do was write in your name and contact info under the banner heading that said "Yes, I Support The Dillon Wind Project!" and put your question or comment in the box. What could be more open and above board than that? I don't think they got many of those filled out, but if you soon see a report from the company claiming nearly unanimous support for the project, you might ask what they base their figures on.
There were also free sweetened beverages and snacks! Once the kids got hold of those, it was much more comfortable to step outside and stand in the wind. Out there they had laid out a lot of old wind turbine equipment; blades, gears, cowlings, generators, all kinds of stuff. You could walk right up and touch anything. They had labeled this exhibit a wind energy nature walk, which I thought was just a bit too sugary, since it was clearly a man made technology walk and the only nature to be found was the wind, the rocks and a few creosote. It was either a joke, or a little hint of a high-tech company being ashamed of its techy-ness.
But the main point was to get the free bus tour of the wind farm and go inside a turbine. That tour was a bit of a disappointment. I don't know if it's the same tour you have to pay for all the rest of the year, but I wouldn't have paid for this. It would have been nice to have been able to travel in some open top conveyance, but a London double-decker bus is the only vehicle I can think of that is both open to the sky and big enough to carry all the people who wanted to go. I also think there might be some risk to be under those blades. Imagine the scene if one of those rare bird-blade collisions occurred overhead at just the wrong moment.
So, we rode in a regular intercity sort of bus which, due to someone's oversight, had no PA system. Chris our tour guide could speak loud enough that we could hear him pretty well (when the other PR guy in the back wasn't talking over him), but the real problem was that city council member Yvonne Parks was on our bus seated near the front. (And, BTW, I was horrified to see that she wore the same purply-maroon outfit later that night at the city council meeting). So of course our tour guide gave her additional attention, but when he did that it became a conversation between the two of them, that only a few people in adjacent seats could hear. So a lot of the tour was us just riding around in a bus with less visibility than I get in my own truck.
But we did really get to go "inside a turbine," which means stepping through the door at the base of one of those shafts. Much to my disappointment, only about 20 feet over our heads was a steel floor which, while I can appreciate the safety it provided us, didn't allow me to stare all the way up the 250 feet or so to the top. It was also disappointingly quiet, well-lighted and clean in there. You've got some great big electronic box taller than a man, some big fat cables coming down from the turbine and going into the box, and a little computer that looks just like an eMachine sitting on the floor. Our guide pointed to it when I asked where the humans who actually controlled things sat. Turns out they sit not far away and communicate with the turbine via the little eMachine, which I am sure was not running Windows.
After going "inside the turbine" the guide said we would go see two areas where they were proposing to put some new, bigger turbines. One area is right about here in this Google satellite image (you can see the service roads were laid out long ago), and the other area is a little closer to DHS right about here. I expected the bus to reach a spot and we would either sit in the bus or (even better) step out while our guide pointed out the size of the area and maybe made a few other comments. But no, we just drove up Worsley Road, until the driver did a big three-point turn using an intersecting road, and then drove back down to Dillon while the tour guide described nothing. We were left a bit mystified, wondering if the bus driver had made a wrong turn, but eventually our guide explained that we had indeed turned around near the proposed site. Then as we cruised along Dillon, heading east to Indian, he pointed out Devers Hill about half a mile north of us and said the other proposed location was just behind that hill. We didn't get any closer than that.
When I have visitors from out of town I give them a windmill tour that's a hell of a lot better than this one, and I can get them right to the base of some big ones. I can't get anyone inside a turbine, of course, but now that I've seen how uninteresting that is I feel a lot better about my limitations.
Here's my complete set of photos and below are a few samples.
March 22, 2007
Last August I ran across some mysterious white buckets in the Covington section of Joshua Tree. Today on our journey to see the Joshua Tree blooms I stopped to look at them again. Nothing seemed to have changed, but when I moved some rubble off the top of one of the buckets I found this sticker, which at least gives me a vague idea what they're for...but now how it works.
Joshua Tree Blooms
Despite the drought, the Joshua Trees are blooming. Maybe it was this cold winter that made them happy. I went out to the Covington section of Joshua Tree National Park with Tom to get a few photos.
Another Printing Advance
I hope you haven't gone out and bought one of those new Kodak printers I wrote about a few weeks ago, because here comes a much bigger advance at a lower price. Silverbrook Research announced new technology that will allow a $200 printer to produce 60 pages per minute. There will also be a $150 photo printer that puts out 30 photos per minute.
And they don't screw you on the ink. An ink cartridge for these printers will hold about 50 milliliters of ink, about 5 times the amount in cartridges in use now. The cost for a cartridge will be less than $20. Cost per page for color will be under 6¢.
Available later in 2007.
Save William Morris
In the sort of move that I thought was only supposed to happen in America and other third world countries, the council of Waltham Forest has cut the budget of the William Morris Gallery which will force the gallery to close on weekdays. You can sign this petition to express your displeasure:
We strongly object to the current plans by the London Borough of Waltham Forest for considerably reduced weekday openings of the William Morris Gallery. We also object to removal of the curators of the Gallery's important collection - one of the largest collections of William Morris material in the world. Access and interpretation are crucial to the success of any museum, and to reduce both is unacceptable. The Gallery is a vital international, national, and local asset to Walthamstow, and should be maintained accordingly.
March 21, 2007
I guess we had high winds last night, but usually very strong winds will disturb my sleep somewhat and I had slept soundly. So, this morning when I stepped out my back door I was surprised to see one of my chairs out there had been moved several feet. Usually they are stable as rocks even in the highest wind. But the real surprise came when I drove down Indian to Palm Springs and saw that every wooden utility pole for about half a mile had been snapped off "like a toothpick." I would have thought it was a tornado, but we certainly didn't have the weather to support anything like that. Maybe there was just one bad pole that went, and the extra stress coupled with very high winds caused the damage to spread down the line.
Yesterday morning it had looked like rain fell somewhere further down the valley, and this evening returning from Anza-Borrego we actually drove through some rain on I-10. It looked like rain fell in the high desert as well. It's the first rain for us this year.