Sunday, November 14, 2010

Bering Glacier

After many years in my career as an environmental consultant I finally made it to Alaska. Opportunities came but then went with project cancellations or over-commitment to some other project. With good fortune I found myself on an early morning flight to Anchorage skirting the western Canadian coast and southeastern Alaska (the “panhandle"). It was mid-September and the weather would turn out fantastic for the week I was there in Anchorage. This post focuses on one small aspect of the trip and maybe on future posts I will talk about other trip details.

I have to admit that I have a big picture idea of Alaska’s geography but the details and native Alaskan names for places leave me dazed and confused in a similar fashion like place names in Hawaii. Whereas native Alaskan words seem heavy in consonants, Hawaiian names seem heavy in vowels. The words all sound the same in the respective languages.

The plane was very light and so we were allowed to change seats once we were at cruising altitude. The good stuff was all to the right side of the plane as we flew up the coast. One feature that really caught my eye was a huge glacier flowing from an icefield, terminating in an iceberg-filled lake separated from the Gulf of Alaska by a thin spit. The lake itself was drained by short river that paralleled the spit and eventually found an exit to the Gulf. The spit and the river that aligned with it indicated the direction of the longshore current; in this case from east to west (or, in the photo, from right to left).



It turns out that the glacier was the Bering Glacier, the largest glacier in North America. The iceberg-filled lake at its terminus is Vitus Lake. And the short river is the Seal River. The Bering Glacier is fed by the Bagley Icefield, the largest nonpolar icefield in North America.

Bering Glacier and Vitus Lake were named after Vitus Jonassen Bering, a Danish navigator who served in the Russian Navy. Bering was credited with being the first European to discover Alaska and its Aleutian Islands as well as the Bering Glacier that bears his name. These discoveries were made during what is known as the Great Northern Expedition. In 1741, the expedition anchored off Kayak Island, just a little to the west and out of the picture to the left. It was here that the ship’s naturalist, Georg Wilhelm Steller, would explore and take notes on the plants and animals he observed. Here Stellar was the first to record the raucous blue bird that bears his name, the Stellar’s Jay, one of my favorite birds who kept me company in the upper elevations of southern California’s mountains and now feasts at our bird feeder in the Puget Sound lowlands.

A fascinating read on Stellar is “Stellar’s Island” by Dean Littlepage.

STELLER'S ISLAND: Adventures of a Pioneer Naturalist in Alaska


Monday, October 25, 2010

Talking Points

Just got back from dinner at the Martin Hotel here in Winnemucca, probably the most famous Basque restaurant for a hundred miles. Of course, a hundred miles from here puts you in the middle of nowhere with yet another hundred miles to get to someplace else.

At a Basque restaurant, it’s country style seating so you get to sit with people you’ve never met.  Naturally, I was at a table sitting between two retired couples and the conversation touched on politics. There is quite a heated Senate race here between Harry Reid and the batshit crazy Sharron Angle. It’s more intense than even the Murray – Rossi race (my Starbucks pseudonymn is “Dino” for now; “Dino, your grande nonfat latte is up”).  The old folks don’t like Reid and one of the men said the incumbents aren’t following the Constitution. So “what part of the Constitution” I ask. Oh, gun rights. So “can you name any recent gun control legislation?” I ask. “Oh, they’re trying, they’re trying.” Look old man, try giving me some facts instead of barfing up Tea Party talking points. I didn't really say that.

Fortunately, we got on to other conversation and they were really genuinely nice people.  Both couples were touring around the west.  One of the couples just got back from hunting deer in Idaho.  Wolves are eating all the deer and elk because that's what wolves did before white people killed all the wolves.  I didn't jump on that topic.  At least there's more vegetation now that wolves are eating the herbivores.  We ended up talking about dogs and stuff, much more pleasant. 

Did I say the food was delicious at the Martin Hotel?  Chicken noodle soup, salad that comes with beans (the Basque way is to top your salad with beans), tender beef tongue slices in gravy, mashed potatoes, and corn.  I had pork chops, three of them, breaded and boneless.  I chased it all down with two Ruby Mountain ales, although the meal included some red wine in carafes.  Dessert was bread pudding with whipped cream.  It was Monday and the place was packed.  Lots of cowboy hats, laughter, and conversation.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Wood Recycling

I learn a lot about the natural world just hanging out on the patio grilling burgers and drinking beer. This time of the year, the great Pacific dampwood termites swarm, the fertile winged ones rising into the skies to start new homes in the fallen trees and branches rotting in the deep forest beyond our back fence. Their flight seems strained and clumsy on oversized wings.

I watch a dragonfly dart through the air along a straight path then suddenly switch direction looping back and doing it again along the same path. In one instant it deviates slightly from its chosen path, grabbing a hapless flying termite in midair, and then continuing along the same flight path. A few seconds later, the dragonfly drops the termite, which flutters downward slowly at the pace of a downy feather onto the patio, the gossamer wings no longer beating a struggling flight. I examine the fallen termite and observe that it seems generally intact but is missing its abdomen. This leads me to believe that the dragonfly simply eats the tender abdomen and casts away the remaining hard parts that include the head, thorax, legs, and wings.

Trees fall in the forest; they rot in place, broken down by fungi and termites. Termites swarm and take flight, most ending up trapped in spider webs or snagged in midair by the colorful and graceful dragonflies. This is how wood gets recycled in the natural world. Sure, I’ll have another beer. Barley and hops get recycled, too.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Seal Pup

The edge of Puget Sound is a mere 700 feet from my front door as the Northwestern crow flies.  On quiet mornings or evenings I can smell the salt air.  I usually take a walk the beach with my dog Ranger about every weekend, unless the tide leaves little beach exposed.

Sometimes I will see a seal slowly raise its head just above the water maybe 50 or so yards out.  They watch me as I walk the beach then slowly dunk down again.

At this time of the year, the mother Harbor seals have given birth.  They will leave their newborn pups on the beach while they go off and forage.  It is very important to understand that the pup is not abandoned and is best left alone.  Ranger spotted this one before I did but I was able to call Ranger back before the pup panicked and broke for the water.

Another sign of fall are the Heerman's gulls having made their annual migration northward from the beaches of Baja California.  They'll head south again before winter's wet and chill hit.  These gulls are all gray with a beautiful red beak. 

Monday, September 6, 2010

Pigeons, Windows, and Ectoparasites

Warning: This post is not for the squeamish. It contains graphic photos of a dead pigeon.

Pigeons or technically Rock Pigeons (Columba livia) are ubiquitous in the urban environment of temperate latitudes. Its natural habitat is open and semi-open environments with cliffs, usually on coasts, in western and southern Europe, North Africa, and into South Asia. The urban environment provides similar cliff-like structural elements on buildings as well as abundant food sources (don’t feed the pigeons). I’m not a big fan of pigeons but I can appreciate their adaptability.

Window strikes kill between 100 million and 1 billion birds in North America each year (David Malakoff, Audubon magazine, March 2004). Because glass is transparent and reflective, the birds see a reflection of the outdoors and try to fly through what looks like unobstructed open space. Like a science fiction force field, they are immediately repelled. We have birds occasionally strike the windows of our home, most recently a Red-breasted Nuthatch (Sitta Canadensis), who did recover but remained dazed on the ground for more than a few minutes. Some birds do not recover and it’s always a sad moment when this happens.

I had some field work last week at a vacant car dealership, the kind of place with large showroom windows and the perfect environment for pigeons. Below the large windows, I noticed a dead pigeon on the ground with a trail of dried blood trickling from its beak.

It was an obvious window strike. If you look close at the next photo, you can see the faint impression of two bird strikes on the window. The impression shows the body and outstretched wings in flight.

I took a close-up photo of the pigeon’s head. I could see a few specks but without my geezer glasses they were just specks. When I downloaded the photo, I noticed that some of the specks were actually insects, bird lice.

The next photo is an extreme enlargement showing one of the lice.

Pigeons, and probably most wild birds, harbor an attractive mix of ectoparasites. The one in the enlarged photo is likely a slender pigeon louse (Columbicola columbae). The slender pigeon louse belongs to a group of lice known as chewing lice, specifically to the Superfamily Ischnocera, who feed on the downy part of feathers and softer fur. The slender pigeon louse eats the fluffy parts of the pigeon’s feathers. Think about this the next time you’re inclined to feed pigeons.

Friday, September 3, 2010


At this time of the year, as summer wanes, the rim of Puget Sound is ringed in bright yellow flowers of Puget Sound gumweed (Grindelia integrafolia). The gumweed seems to thrive in the breezy salt air and sandy soil that fringes the Sound. It is a harbinger of fall and of the dull gray days to come.

The lives of gumweed and a drab grayish brown moth known as the Hooded Mountain Owlet (Cucullia montanae) are intertwined. It was the colorful caterpillar curled inside a flower that caught my eye as I walked the sandy flats at Meadowdale Beach.

The Hooded Mountain Owlet moth flies in July and August. The caterpillars feed on gumweed then pupate underground. There is only one generation per year.

Puget Sound gumweed ranges from British Columbia to northern California, seldom straying too far from salt water. It is a member of the sunflower family (Asteraceae), whose members include such familiar plants as dandelions and many others.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Season of the Dragonfly

I have lived in the Puget Sound region for almost 20 years. I grew up in southern California on the edge of encroaching suburbia 20 miles east of Los Angeles. Nature was close in a subset of the Puente Hills. The change of seasons was subtle. The rains came in winter turning the hills emerald green then they baked to a soft golden crust in the rainless summer. I knew the names of the plants and animals.

When I first moved to western Washington I did not know any of the signs that marked seasonal transitions. Each year has taught me something new. I have a better understanding of the seasonal signs. I can easily rattle off the names of all the trees growing in the Puget lowland.

Summer here brings many more sunny days than the rest of the country would suspect given the popular myth of gray, rainy Seattle. But our climate here is really a modified Mediterranean climate, with the winter taken to an extreme in rainfall. The summers are generally sunny with moderate temperatures in the high 70s and low 80s (Fahrenheit). The summer days are long at this northern latitude.

Midsummer around my house is Dragonfly season. On sunny days, the largest of dragonflies, the darners patrol the broad open stretches of lawn and garden, catching and devouring smaller insect pray on the wing.

My favorite dragonfly of our garden is the Cardinal Meadowhawk (Sympetrum illotum). It is a brilliant cardinal in color. It usually rests on a conspicuous perch with wings folded downward, a characteristic of the meadowhawks.

 Dragonflies spend the juvenile portion of their life cycle in water as nymphs. Our neighborhood has several small streams that flow from upland areas into Puget Sound, which is only a few hundred feet from our house. These streams are ideal habitat for dragonflies.

Adult dragonflies are the ultimate sky predator, having a head almost entirely covered by a pair of compound eyes and legs that bristle with spikes that form a perfect basket for scooping up smaller flying insect prey.

Dragonflies date back to the Carboniferous period, 300 million years ago, when Meganeuron was cruising the skies with a wing span of 2.5 feet. Imagine seeing that!

The next seasonal transition is the swarming of the Pacific dampwood termite and the corresponding rapid growth of the European garden spider.  This is a sure sign that the coming of fall is close.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Modern Medicine II

I've never had a "doctor" as in "whose your doctor?"  The only time I see a doctor is my annual occupational physical, which I dread.  It's a pretty comprehensive physical that includes blood work, spirometry (blow!), EKG, chest x-ray (which they always manage to screw up), and a hearing (which I fail because I used to listen to rock ... LOUD! ... what?).  Every year it's a different doctor and sometimes it's a female doctor sticking her fingers under my testicles and asking me to cough.  Based on my random sampling, there are no cute female occupational physicians.  The attractive female physicians become OB-GYNs, like the two that delivered my boys.

As requested, I scheduled an appointment with a bona fide "doctor", what you would refer to as a family physician.  He seemed gravely concerned about the clot in my calf and he didn't like the whole aspirin thing I was doing as suggested by the ER dude.  I gathered from our conversation that it sparked some of dialog among the various professionals who I've had the pleasure of seeing over the last week or so.

Conveniently there was an opening at the ultrasound place.  Again, I took my pants off, laid down on a tissue paper-covered table, while an attractive young women rubbed a thingee over my leg and talked into a microphone.  Modern medicine isn't all bad.  The downside was that the clot was still there.

Back I went to my official doctor, who is actually turning out to be an OK guy.  Modern medicine convinced me that the Warfarin blood thinning therapy was the way to go.  It would be for three months until my body figured out that my calf was healed up and needed to back off the clotting alert.

I scheduled an appointment with the blood-thinning clinic where the nice nurse started me on 7.5 mg a day.  I got the prescription filled and headed home.  It was lunch time so I decided to make a tuna melt.  While slicing cheese with a mandolin slicer I sliced my thumb open.  I know it's bad when you look at it once and think maybe it isn't real then look a second time and see all the blood and you know it's real.  So it was back to the clinic with my thumb wrapped in a couple sheets of Brawny paper towels to get my thumb sewn up.

I have now been on the Warfarin diet for almost two weeks.  I go in every few days to have my clotting factor checked.  Normal is a "1" but I need to be between 2 and 3, the ideal range to reduce further clotting but not so thin that my skull fills with blood.  I made a lame chart in Excel which shows my daily Warfarin dose in milligrams (mg) and the measured clotting factor.  I showed my chart to the nurse and she said "You must be a computer expert!"  Geez, it's really quite a lame chart.  I think I'll add a 3-D effect for my next appointment and really blow her mind.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Modern Medicine

I mentioned in earlier blog entries that I strained my left leg calf muscle doing some canyoneering near Moab. It was just a simple jump but an ungraceful landing. It felt like the worst Charlie horse of my life. In retrospect, I really ripped some muscle tissue. To make matters worse, the rest of the vacation involved a lot of driving and walking, especially in Las Vegas. One week later my calf swelled up like a stuffed sausage and stayed that way.

Three and a half weeks later my calf was still swollen but at least the pain had subsided to the point where I could walk normally and I again resumed my three days a week gym routine. I had good mobility and near full strength but the swelling was still there. I decided I should see an orthopedist for an evaluation and scheduled an appointment.

I had x-rays done at the orthopedist’s office. Bones looked good according to the orthopedist. The orthopedist had me do a few movements to demonstrate strength and mobility to verify that nothing else was ripped, like an Achilles tendon, the other optional injury. Injuries to the musculoskeletal system usually have options. Tearing calf muscle tissue is a better option than tearing an Achilles tendon. Just like when I fractured my tibia 14 years ago skiing. The other option there is to tear knee ligaments. Fractured tibia was the better option. Bones heal. Ligaments don’t. The bottom line was time would heal my torn calf muscle. The orthopedist gave me a prescription for a compression sock to squeeze the swelling juices back where they belong, probably to the little beer keg I have going on in my belly area, just where I need it most.

My orthopedist was concerned about blood clots in my leg since muscles, when torn, tend to bleed. I was sent over to the neighboring hospital to have ultrasound done, which included both legs, an added but probably unnecessary bonus. I nice young woman had me lay back on a bed in my underwear while she moved this thing up and down my legs and looked at a screen. She found the swelling mother lode, a 3.5 by 6 cm fluid-filled cavity in my calf muscle. Unfortunately, the nice young woman also found a small clot in a vein in my calf muscle, the technical diagnosis being deep vein thrombosis, DVT for short. Off to the emergency room, ER for short.

I sat around the ER waiting room for awhile then got checked in by a nice lady RN, about my age. By this time, I was getting used to filling out forms because by now I knew all the answers. The nice RN wheeled me in a wheelchair down to Room 21 in the ER. A young guy RN came in and chatted with me and then a less younger guy Physician’s Assistant (PA, in case you’re following along the acronym trail) came in. The PA explained the two schools of treatment available, first there’s the aspirin diet for a week then they check you out again on the ultrasound, and hopefully the clot is not getting bigger and ideally is being absorbed like a bad Star Trek episode. Second treatment option is the blood thinning therapy involving a week of Heparin injections, which they will train you to do, after which you take Warfarin (rat poison) pills for three to six months while they monitor you every day for the correct dosage to make sure you don’t bleed internally like a rat (too much) or clot up (too little). As far as I was concerned, the second option was not an option. The PA said the fact that the clot was in the lower leg was good because lower leg clots rarely go anywhere. The PA said he’d discuss it with the ER doctor hidden behind some curtain somewhere in the ER not to be revealed. The PA came back a few minutes later and said that the ER doctor was down with the aspirin therapy. Whoo hoo! I was out of there.

The next day, I picked up my compression sock, measured and fitted by the pharmacist. Amazingly, within a couple days my left calf looked almost normal in size. Strangely, my belly felt a little tighter.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Vacation Days 15, 16, and 17: 4th of July and the Long Road Home

I figured I'd better wrap up the vacation before the memories of it begin to cloud over and fade away.

Day 15 (Sunday) was Independence Day in the good ol' U.S. of A. It was another lazy day in Simi Valley, lifting myself up off the family room sleeper sofa, and pouring a cup of fresh coffee prepared by my dear sister-in-law as she had done over the last several mornings. I was guessing it would be a somewhat bittersweet relief for her when we're all finally gone. Soon the family was all gathering here again, sitting around the patio, engaged in conversation, the conversation somehow a little more subdued on this day after the previous days of boisterous banter and laughter.

My brother-in-law (our Simi Valley host, one of three here), the expert griller, grilled up rack upon rack of baby back ribs, grilling and smoking them slowly. My brother-in-law has the admirable trait of grabbing hold of an interesting hobby or endeavor, focusing on it like a laser beam, and becoming an expert. Grilling is one of his specialties. Needless to say, the ribs turned out fantastic.

Personal fireworks are banned in Simi Valley as they are just about everywhere now. The danger of fire is particularly acute in southern California. We were relegated to watching from afar the fireworks display down at the local high school. The view from my sister and brother-in-law's backyard overlooking Simi Valley is pretty nice and we got view of the fireworks display.

Our planned departure was the next day. We had packed and had most of our gear stowed in the vehicle ready to roll at 5 a.m.

Day 16 (Monday), the observed day-off holiday had us on the road north by 5:15 a.m., not bad for our family. The traffic was light leaving LA, with most folks heading inbound after their long weekend. We were quickly over Tejon Pass on the Grapevine and soon sailing through California's Central Valley punctuated by a couple Starbucks stops. We stopped in Redding at a Carl's Junior then climbing through the mountains around Shasta, Weed, Yreka, up and over Siskiyou Summit. When we reached Roseburg, it was time to stop. We checked into a Best Western that overlooked the South Umpqua River.

I was in Roseburg back in 2006 for a work project and, as a result, I became fond of it, an old logging town now given over to tourism of sorts. It was nice to drive around the town a little. The building I looked at in 2006 was a closed-down tire store being viewed at by United Rentals for expansion of their existing rental facility next door. The building is now a Goodwill store and United Rentals has left town, perhaps a sign of the bad economic times.

Back in 2006, I had flown into Eugene and driven the rest of the way down to Roseburg. On my way back to Eugene to catch my flight, I took the slow way back to explore and look for old teepee burners, those icons of the Pacific Northwest used to burn off sawmill wood waste. Air quality regulations in the 1970s put these burners out of commission but there are still a few around.

This one is located at Drain, Oregon

Photos of Wigwam Burners / TeePee Burners

Day 17: Home. The drive north from Roseburg to Edmonds went quickly. We were home by 2 p.m. It was good to walk in the door and smell the smell of your own home. It was good to be finally home.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Vacation Days 12, 13, and 14: SoCal Family

These three days were devoted to family and doing a few local things. Mixed in was good food and genuine relaxing.

Day 12 (Thursday) was beach day. Most of the days here have been marked by the usual SoCal June gloom of morning and late evening low clouds that burns off in the afternoon, the ebb and flow of the marine layer. Today started bright and sunny, a good omen. The beach destination was Zuma. It was sunny but windy, with whitecaps out on the ocean, and what surf there existed was blown out and choppy. The water was chilly not yet warmed up from a summer of heating. The kids (all cousins) ventured out into the surf. I followed, I couldn't resist the temptation of sand, waves, and salt water. I was the only grownup to test the water. It felt good. My strained calf muscle didn't allow me to venture out with boogie board and fins which was a little disappointing.

On Day 13 (Friday) the whole family went kart racing at MB2 in Thousand Oaks. I had never kart raced before. The karts were electric-powered, quick and nimble on the road course. This was a blast. We did two races of 14 laps each, all family going head to head. My brother-in-law (one of three present) is an expert kart racer and cleaned our clocks. I managed a third place on the second race.

Later in the day, my brother-in-law (the racer) grilled some fantastic tri-tip steaks. Five big steaks was barely enough to feed the crowd.

Below, me pulling a pass on my younger son.

Day 14 (Saturday) we headed out to Malibu Creek State Park for a short hike in the Santa Monica Mountains, an area of coastal California frighteningly close to Los Angeles that has been preserved in a relatively wild state as the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area. The hike was a short one along Malibu Creek. The terrain and vegetation is very similar to that I explored growing up in Hacienda Heights conjuring fond boyhood ramblings among the Puente Hills. The area has some magnificently large and twisted live oaks. We also saw a rattlesnake who calmly allowed us to admire him from a safe distance as he slowly slithered away.

We ended the day at Ladyface Alehouse & Brasserie, a brew pub in Agoura. The food was great and the beer was better.

Later that evening, my nephew (jeez, he's like 28 or something) grilled pizzas, all homemade from scratch, including crust.  Super good!

Tomorrow is the Fourth of July, Independence Day.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Vacation Day 11: Ventura Highway

The main destination for the family today was Magic Mountain.  I wasn't looking forward to Magic Mountain because at this point in my life, these rides just throw my neck out and frankly, they scare the crap out of me.  I had the perfect (and legitimate) excuse to duck out of Magic Mountain with my pulled calf muscle causing some pain, especially with an all day walk around Magic Mountain.

My alternative was to take a drive by myself and do some exploring.  The added incentive was to drive my brother-in-law's Subaru WRX, equipped with some special sticky racing tires.  For most of my driving life I had driven nothing but stick shift, except for the last ten years.  I reacquainted myself with manual shifting by making a drive around the neighborhood, gassing up, and stopping at Starbucks to get a latte for the road.  Like an old glove, it comes back.  Running up and down through the gears is such a joyful driving experience, especially in a responsive car.

I hopped on 101 north with Ventura as my first destination.  Growing up and living in southern California for 35 years, I had never really visited Ventura.  Ventura was always the place you passed through on the way to Santa Barbara, Solvang, and other points north.  But there was history there and a mission I had never visited.  I've been attempting to visit all the old missions in California.  Mission San Buenaventura was on my list to check off.

This being a Wednesday, there was plenty of available parking in downtown Ventura.  Mission San Buenaventura was my first stop on my limited walking tour.  This mission (founded 1782) was the ninth of the 21 missions founded in California, the ninth and last founded during the lifetime of Father Junipero Serra, and one of six that he dedicated.  The mission and related buildings are still owned by the Catholic Church and it still functions as a church and school.  I paid a two dollar donation, picked up a brochure, and went on a self-guided walking tour.  The garden is filled with flowers and exquisitely maintained.  I was startled by a padre who emerged right behind me from the door of their private residence as I was taking pictures.  I wasn't sure what to say, not being Catholic and not particularly enamored with organized religion, I just said "Beautiful place you have here" for which he thanked me.  I walked through the church and sat for a moment praying for the safety of my family at Magic Mountain and a speedy healing of my sprung calf muscle.  Weird, because I never do stuff like that.

My next stop on the walk was Palermo Coffee where I picked up a latte and a brownie.  I always shoot for the local coffee places instead of Starbucks.

A few notable buildings seen downtown were the beaux-arts Ventura City Hall, formerly the Ventura County Courthouse, built in 1912. 

The beaux-arts Bank of Italy building built in 1924.

And the Renaissance revival First National Bank Building built in 1926.

There was much more to see in Ventura, but I had to hit the road and see a few more places.  I drove up the coast to Carpenteria.  I made a couple quick stops overlooking the beaches along the way.  In the cliffs north of Ventura, there is an angular unconformity.  One of the principles of geology is that sedimentary layers are originally laid down horizontally.  Later tectonic forces may tilt and fold the layers.  A period of erosion may occur and then further deposition may occur after that over the tilted layers.  That is the story seen in this photo.

Carpenteria marked my furthest northern point.  I made an about face there and set the GPS for Ojai.  I am careful to obey speed limits (maybe five over) and I genuinely enjoy relaxed, easy driving.  However, when a big Suburban was kissing my tail, I downshifted and wound the WRX through the twisty mountain road and left the lumbering beast behind.  Whoa!  I was having some fun.

I passed Lake Casitas and stopped at a country store advertising the best beef jerky in the world.  I picked up a drink and some beef jerky and I was off again. 

Somewhere along the way I dropped into the valley of the Santa Clara River and through the small town of Santa Paula.  The valley has somehow maintained its agricultural character amid sprawling southern California and probably hasn't changed much for the last 50 years or more. 

I took a few side roads, criss-crossing the valley to see what I could stumble upon.  I found an old church, which turned out to be the Bardsdale United Methodist Church built in 1898 in the carpenter Gothic style, a beautiful old building, well preserved and maintained, and still a functioning church.

I wound up and over another range of hills that folks from the Midwest would call mountains.  Soon I was back again in Simi Valley.  I made one last stop at the Reagan Library, already closed but the grounds were still open.  Never my favorite president (Iran-Contragate, union buster, etc.) but we survived him and he wasn't that bad, really.  RIP Ronny!

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Vacation Days 9 and 10: Simi Dog Days

We made it into Simi Valley on Sunday evening (Day 8) and stopped at the In N Out at the Stearns Street exit off the 118.  I looked down at my feet and noticed that my left leg was quite swollen from the knee on down to my feet.  I'd been limping along since I pulled that calf muscle last Wednesday on our canyoneering adventure.  Now it had swollen after a lot of walking the Vegas Strip and hours of driving.  It looked and felt like a stuffed sausage.

Day 9 (Monday) was kind of a do-nothing day to relax and recharge at my wife's sister's house.  The weather was typical southern California June gloom with a strong marine layer keeping things a little gray and cool.

Day 10 (Tuesday) we visited my wife's brother and my two nieces in Newbury Park.  We all then did a driving tour up to Point Mugu, stopping at Missile Park and the big sand dune off of Pacific Coast Highway.  The kids climbed up and ran down the dune a couple times.  We stopped for a late lunch at Hook, Line, & Sinker in Oxnard and ordered up a big family basket of fish & chips, complete with a pint of tartar sauce and a quart of cole slaw.  The fish was angel shark and it was most excellent.

When we got back to the Simi house, my wife's other brother and his family had arrived from North Carolina.  The day ended with a big lasagna dinner.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Vacation Day 8: Leaving Las Vegas ... leaving for good

The original plan was to stay two nights Vegas mainly to avoid the frenetic traffic of losers heading back to LA on I-15. screwed up the second night reservation so were were faced with some alternatives ... one, book another night in Vegas ourselves; two, head to Laughlin for a night; or three, head straight to LA.

We opted for option two, Laughlin, on the lower Colorado River, another gambling town.  We had big breakfast at the Golden Nugget and hit the road.  We take US 95 south.  The road climbs and passes through Searchlight, an old mining town, hometown to Senator Harry Reid (D-NV).  A left turn took us down to Laughlin where it was 107 degrees.  My younger son commented "It's an imitation of Las Vegas and Las Vegas is an imitation."  That sealed it for us.  We decided to push on toward LA, with maybe an overnight stop in Barstow.

We paralleled the Colorado River along it's western side and picked up I-40 at Needles.  From there, we gathered speed toward LA.  We blazed through the inhospitable looking town of Barstow.  It's amazing how LA sprawl has spread to the High Desert.  People with barely the means to qualify for a home mortgage bought there first homes in places like Hesperia only to tragically losing them when the bubble burst.

Before we knew it we were crossing Cajon Pass in the greater LA.  We made a quick stop in Rancho Cucamonga to look at the first house I bought and later joined by my wife.  Times were different then, much better.

We took the 210 across the alluvial fans that emanate from the San Gabriel Mountains ... Rancho Cucamonga, Upland, Claremont, Azusa, Monrovia, Arcadia, Pasadena.  Our last hurdle was Rocky Peak before reaching our destination in Simi valley to spend a few days with my wife's sister's family.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Vacation Day 7: Fear and Loathing

We left Kingman in the morning after breakfast at the hotel that included the universal waffles from the ubiquitous hotel waffle maker.  The Comfort Inn where we stayed was adequate and I'm being nice.  It was kind of a smaller hotel and I suspect of cheap construction as some of the doors were rather ill-fitting.  This building was not built to last.

We made a bee line course northward on US 93 that follows a straight shot down the center of a valley known as Detrital Valley because it's filled with, and I'm not making this up, detritus.  Our initial destination was Hoover Dam followed by Las Vegas.

When we reached Hoover Dam it was 11 am and already 105 degrees.  We parked on the Arizona side and walked across the top along with a few hundred other tourists.  The dam is, without a doubt, a marvel of engineering.  The Art Deco details are pretty cool, classic 1930s.  The modern bridge that spans the canyon is nearly completed.  It was $8 to access the visitor center.  We decided we'd seen enough already.

It was on to Las Vegas.  We made a stop in Henderson for lunch at the Sunset Pizzeria.  The pizza was excellent.  Henderson is the nice suburb of Las Vegas.

We had reservations at the Golden Nugget downtown.  We arrived, parked, and checked in.  It's a nice hotel but everything above and beyond your room you pay extra.  I decided not to opt for the $12.99 internet access.  The pool was closed because of some biohazard, probably a drunk guy that barfed in the water I was guessing.  The boys opted out of the pool because they didn't want to swim around with drunk old people.

We strolled around downtown along an arcade street, checking out the shops, kiosks, and the strange people tha Vegas attracts.  In a way, it's a rather sad place.

After our late afternoon stroll we drove down to the Strip and parked at Bellagio.  The interior of Bellagio is incredible, awesomely beautiful, but like everything in Vegas, it is excessive and unreal.  We walked down the Strip and dropped into the Harley-Davidson Las Vegas Cafe.  The food was excellent.

After dinner we walked further, spending far too long in the M&Ms place, where you can buy anything and everything related to M&Ms colorful candy, plain or peanut.

We walked down to Luxor, a must see according to my brother-in-law.  It is impressive and excessive, like everything in Vegas.

The strip was buzzing with all manner of people.  Pretty girls in tight dresses, guys looking for girls, cougars, and even familys with small children in strollers (I don't get that ... please parents, grow up and act like parents).  On every corner, presumably illegal immigrants hired for this express purpose, are flipping cards to you of naked women you can have in your room in like 20 minutes, if you can hold out that long.  It's amazing that you can walk around with drinks, some with huge drinks.

I don't get Vegas.  For sure, I don't like it.

The following photographs represent interesting people observed in Las Vegas.