Friday, November 29, 2013

Arizona Sonora Desert Museum

One of our favorite places as you might know is the ASDM or Arizona Sonora Desert Museum.

We had arrived in Tucson, staying for first night in our usual High end RV resort where the laundry room just a few steps away so we could do laundry, clean up, etc then move out to west tucson to be near the museum.  We had an appointment with an RV dealer to get the slide out aligned the next morning so I headed over there in rain whilst Sraddha went out in search of our next campsite.

She returned with good news that we had a wonderful spot at the county campground just south of the museum.  Our favorite site there and one of our all time faves to boot!

The work on the RV took most of day so we went shopping and also hit the local Costco in search of one of our favorite junk food "Costco Crack" we call it which is actually a Chicago mix of kettle corns.  We love to eat this while watching football.  Yes we do have some vices.  Hehe..

It rained much of Saturday and Sunday so we hunkered down then went out to the museum for a while.
Monday cleared off so we began our daily early morning visit to the museum which included the 10 AM Raptor free flight.  I love being there at 0830 when they open because it is really quiet.  The little birds are still viewable and photographable.  Once free flight is over the school buses arrive with little kids and the place gets busy and noisy so we usually depart.

We met this wonderful couple, Loren and Paul who were on vacation and avid wildlife photographers who shot with the small Micro four-thirds cameras.  they were there every morning like us so we got to spend many visits and hope to see them again.  More later on Paul who is a drummer for broadway shows traveling around the nation.  He will be here in Tucson late February with the tour of Wizard of Oz so I hope to attend and also we can do some more photography.

To tantalize you below are a couple pix I shot with the big camera using my 70-200mm lens.  you can see many more of these photos on my personal photo sites.  My flickr site address is here.  Even more shots of ASDM are here on my real photography site.

Harris Hawk.  They fly in families

Prairie Falcon


REd Tailed hawk
We had thanksgiving in our RV and watched football of course.  We are so thankful for this experience and for all of you who read this blog.
Off to New Mexico for annual visit to Bosque Del Apache Wildlife refuge.
PS  the slide out did not get fixed so we have an appointment with yet another dealer when we return.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Las Vegas Nighllife!

Oh Boy.  We needed some service on the Jeep transmission from a Jeep dealer and also some work on RV so decided to head to las Vegas area.  The city itself is just a big small city.  The people were gracious, real and wonderful.  We are not night owls and do not like noise and bright lights.  We like quiet and soft unless it is nature.

We found the jeep dealer and while it was being serviced we test drove the new Jeep Cherokee.  Wow what a nice vehicle.  Memo to Kent:  Keep an eye on this one for future....

Then there is "The Strip".  A friend had recommended we visit the Bellagio so we decided, after fixing the jeep and RV to visit.  We drove down to the strip, found the Bellagio (hard to miss even in LV) and looked for parking.  All around are big parking garages.  OOPS!  Our Rocket Box is 2 inches to high to get clearance. What to do?  we drove down back roads and finally found a shopping mall about 1 mile distant where we could park.  Get out and walk.  Ok.  we like walking.  but on the strip it was different.  I have been to Hong Kong, New York, London etc.  Lad Vegas another world.  Fantasy land.

Chihuly exhibit in Bellagio Lobby
We finally made it to the Bellagio and were amazed.  Walked all around the area gawking at the amazing art and tasteful decor.

Looking straight up
Then we tried to find a place to eat dinner.  Gulp!  Those who know me, know I like my food well prepared and don't mind spending for good food but the prices were ridiculous.  In addition the smoke from the casino bothered me.  So we left.

Outside on the strip we walked along the lake and watched the fountains dance.

Bellagio fountains dancing

We wanted to go to the Apple store to download the latest IOS update for free using high speed wifi.  this was over in Circus Circus shopping mall. Maybe we can find a nice quiet restaurant over there? Big mistake.  We walked and walked and walked some more and finally found the APple store way in the back.  downloaded the updates but the restaurants were...meh!

We finally found our way back to car, both with headaches from the smoke.   We departed, I looked on Yelp and we found a Macaroni Grill late evening about 0930. Whew Food at last.

We had our Vegas fix for this lifetime.  Sure we might go back again sometime for repairs and there is some cool places nearby but I don't think we will go to the strip anytime soon.

Now back to nature and reality.

- Blessings from the Road

Miscellaneous Death Valley

Rummaging around on my iPhone for a few more pix from Death Valley I found these.  Tho DV is in the rear view mirror this year, we have fond memories and may visit again in February with some photo friends.  Will see.  Again these are iphone pix.  not my good ones which can be found over on my flickr account.
Me at Teakettle Junction, my temporary "office"  on cell phone
We visited a ghost town just east of DV.  not much there but this old Caboose was somewhat preserved.  Think the Black and White perspective makes it look more interesting than the color version.

Some desert rats must be nearby in this photo.  Maybe up in those rocks waiting to ambush poor unsuspecting tourists like us.  Better git to gittin'.

Many years about this area was tumultuous under sea then compressed.  Makes for interesting designs in this canyon.

Ah, the Mesquite Dunes.  Too bad people had to walk along them.  I did.  see my tracks?
So varied and interesting the various geologies.

Driving along the valley floor in the RV.
We camped at Stovepipe Wells where we had an expansive view of the valley and a lot of space around us away from people.  Almost secluded.

- Blessings from the Road

Monday, November 25, 2013

Sand dunes in Death Valley

Still catching up on blog posts from Death Valley.  Where are the google balloons for wifi when you need them?  (answer is "in New Zealand, dummy, the USA would never allow them here").

Near Stovepipe Wells campground where we stayed in NW death Valley lay these enormous Mesquite Flat Dunes.  Turns out Death Valley has 5 different kinds of dunes.  Didn't know there were that many and don't know the differences yet but these dunes were really cool.  We could hike about a half mile out to them from the road so on 3 different mornings we got up early before dawn and hiked out to different locations.  I photographed many shots with big camera and took a few with iphone.    here they are.

- Blessings from the Road

Big camera ready to shoot.

Yes that is me hiking along a ridge.  I took the photo at same time.  pretty cool huh?

Don't we cast a long shadow?

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Sunset over Racetrack Playa

As we departed the Racetrack we were witness to one of the most amazing sunsets.

Literally 360 degrees in all directions

We stopped the rental jeep and just oggled in awe as this whole scene evolved and evaporated in front of us

We drove home in the dark.  Just amazing
- Blessings from the Road

The Racetrack

Ever since I recently saw a photo of these rocks racing across a mud lake, I wanted to visit this place.  The road is really, really rough and the park ranger advised us not to drive our jeep with whimpy two ply tires.  I doubt he gets a cut but we ended up renting a full size Jeep Rincon with 10 ply tires. One of the most jolting rides I have ever experienced. An expensive day but unique and worth it. Read to the end for the punch line.

Halfway there at Teakettle Junction.
Actually one of few places you had cell service.
That's me talking to a colleague back at Ananda Village

The Racetrack Playa, or The Racetrack, is a a scenic dry lake  with "sailing stones" that inscribe linear "racetrack" imprints. It is located above the northwestern side of Death Valley.  
approaching the playa

The playa is exceptionally flat and level with the northern end being only 1.5 inches higher than the southern. This occurrence is due to major influx of fine-grained sediment that accumulates at the north end during wet season and then the clay mud dries out and cracks into a mosaic pattern,  easy to walk on when dry.
Sailing Stones

These sailing stones are a geological phenomenon found in the Racetrack. Slabs of dolomite and syenite ranging from a few hundred grams to hundreds of kilograms inscribe visible tracks as they slide across the playa surface, without human or animal intervention. The tracks have been observed and studied since the early 1900s, yet no one has seen the stones in motion.

The sailing stones are most likely moved by strong winter winds, in the upwards of 90 mph, once it has rained enough to fill the playa with just enough water to make the clay slippery.

Another alternate hypothesis builds upon the first. As rain water accumulates, strong winds blow thin sheets of water quickly over the relatively flat surface of the playa. Sheets of ice form on the surface as night temperatures fall below freezing. Wind then drives these floating ice floes, their aggregate inertia and large area providing the necessary force required to move both small and large stones.

Regardless of how, it is pretty amazing to see.

Is this? yes it is Oyster shells from an ancient seabed

That's me all right.  Another long shadow!

Photographing the rocks

And here is the photo

Sunset over Racetrack Playa.  
The drive took almost 3 hours in the rental jeep one way.  In hindsight we could have done it in with Mr. Toad in about 4.5 hours and saved a whole bunch of money.
- Blessings from the Road

Scotty's Castle

Well unfortunately when you click on the photos it takes you to the whole picasa album beginning from the beginning.

At the north end of Death Valley is something you just don't think you would see.  Back in the 1920's a rich Chicago businessman had begun construction on a huge winter home. Construction began on Scotty's Castle in 1922, and cost between $1.5 and $2.5 million. Prospector, performer, and con man Walter Scott also known as “Death Valley Scotty”, convinced Chicago millionaire Albert Johnson to invest in his gold mine in the Death Valley area.

 A unique friendship had formed between this conservative insurance executive and this rogue cowboy and this businessman had become smitten with the west. His wife was from the bay area and when she came to visit this oasis in the desert she told him that, if he wanted her to visit again, he would have to build her a castle.  Literally!  More can be found about Scotty's castle here.

We drove up the north end of the valley and took the tours.  Two tours.  The main tour showed us the story of Scotty and the main building and the underground tour showed us behind the scenes.  Fascinating.
The springs of Grapevine Canyon provided the water supply for the ranch and were used to generate electricity. The springs, located about 300 feet (91 m) higher than the villa, generated enough water flow and pressure to turn a Pelton wheel, which ran the generator that furnished the villa's electricity. The power was regulated and backed up by a large bank of nickel-iron batteries in the house's tunnels.
Batteries used to store electrcity generated by a water turbine using water from spring.
Kept the lights on all day and night.

Each door  and gate had individually black smithed ornaments
The walls were over 2 ft thick in most areas so provided cool summers and warm winters inside

Construction was completed on the main building and served as a wonderful respite for many of the Hollywood set back in the 30's.  

Courtyard inside castle
Construction ceased in the 30's when a full government survey of the park revealed Mr. Johnson's land claim was actually 5 miles to the north.  He spent several years negotiating with Congress to obtain a variance to build and finally gave up and moved to Los Angeles for his health.  The National Park Service took over, and now maintains the place for all to view.  Kind of a desert Hearst Castle but on smaller scale.

Tile from Southern California

wood stove in kitchen.  Love the tile everywhere
The building on the left is the guest house which also houses a huge pipe organ still playing music
Courtyard from above

-Blessings from the Road