Friday, September 17, 2010


Just outside the small town of Ajo, Az. We were looking for Big Horned Sheep at sundown. What? You don't see the woolly creature? Neither did we. But if you look closely....
 Hopefully, by left clicking on the image, you can see the photo in a larger format.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Monica and I have taken several trips to New Mexico recently. 
The natives call their State the land of enchantment. 
Monica and I call it the land of dichotomy. 
And, it is charming. I'll explain....
New Mexico is steeped in the stories of off world visitors. It can ignite the imaginations of those who believe in UFOs and alien conspiracies. Just think of Area 51 and Roswell. Its' landscape often lends itself to what our imaginations would conjure up as an alien landscape.
Are the stories true?
I don't know.
But what is true is the important research being performed today at the Very Large Array (VLA) near Magdalena NM. Its' scale and presence are as alien as you can get, yet it carries the very human traits of curiosity and quest for knowledge into the "out there."
In a nutshell, the facility consists of roughly twenty seven of these dishes (minus the small earth creature we refer to as "Monica.")
The dishes are set on rail road tracks and the tracks are in the shape of a giant letter Y. Each of the three sets of tracks making up the Y has nine dishes on it, which allows the scientists to move the dishes as close to, or as far from each other as they need. This spacing enables the array to focus on very small or very large areas of the heavens. Each track is NINE miles long, which probably engendered the "Very" in the Very Large Array name.
So, exactly what is going on here? The dishes are listening for the light waves that originated in celestial bodies throughout the universe. Well, you say, big deal. A telescope can see light waves, right?

Only up to a point. The dishes are focused on the invisible (to us and optical telescopes, that is) radio wave part of the light spectrum. Light waves, like x rays and microwaves and infra red light, etc.. Because the dishes are able to detect this otherwise invisible information and because the dishes can penetrate solid (visible) objects, they can see further into the universe and thus much further back in time than normal telescopes. Almost back to the "big bang"(in astronomical time of course) which created the universe. This array is the largest array of several that are located around the globe and they are all connected to each other via computers. By all means, beam yourself into this facility if your visiting the area. I think you'll enjoy it as much as we did.

Up above, I used the word "dichotomy."
Because, while New Mexico thrusts your imagination into the future, its' towns and people pull you back into the present and past.
Looks like a picture out of a Disney interpretation of typical middle America. But it's not a representation at all. It's the Town Green in Socorro NM. And yes, those are real Girl Scouts holding the flags and real local politicians proudly thumping their breasts about a wonderful local accomplishment. Don't ask what it was, but I'm sure it must have been really good! 
And just as the VLA shoots you into the future, the San Miguel Mission near town center transports you back to the Seventeenth Century
This is by no means a wealthy town, but this Mission is clearly venerated and meticulously maintained by the locals. Built around 1615 to 1626 by the local Native Americans, under the direction of Franciscan Monks, extensive renovations were performed in 1816 (probably constructing over a portion of the older Mission.)
From the outside, it's a beautiful structure. 
And the inside has been just as lovingly restored. The purple gauze placed over all the interior religious relics (due to Lent) serves to soften and make the restored works appear even more dramatic than they normally would have.

And then, dichotomy strikes again.
As much as San Miguel Mission has been preserved, there are relics of the past in New Mexico that while celebrated, are left to rust!
In the dusty and funky (see the picture above) old town of Magdalena (between the VLA and Socorro) lies the long abandoned ghost town of Kelly.
Big and booming while the mine was producing its' load (of what I've no idea) and just as quickly abandoned when the mine shut down. These towns are celebrated but not maintained, but they're really interesting to find and explore (note: some are on private land and you must respect whatever local customs prevail. And be CAREFUL out there. You can get hurt. These ain't no amusement parks.
Kelly has a church that must have been used in the recent past, because it's not completely falling down.
Some of these towns are not easily gotten to. We wanted to go to the larger ghost town of Riley, about twenty to thirty miles north. But we were warned that we would have to ford a stream just before arriving at Riley and due to the unusually heavy snows and subsequent melt, this would be difficult. Even for the monster trucks that the locals drive! We didn't attempt it. I think you must have an all wheel drive vehicle with some decent ground clearance for many of these adventures. 

Which leads me to the next picture (what a segway!!)
Not for nothin, but we finally bit the bullet and bought an all wheel drive vehicle with decent ground clearance, a Subaru Forester. So far, it has exceeded all of our expectations and opened up an all new genre of exploration. 

Now, on to caveat emptor,
FOOD. Many of these small towns have very limited food choices. Magdalena for example, has two restaurants open for dinner, provided it's between Thursday and Sunday.
Except Saturday.
Then it's one.
Now, I'm not saying that the food is not good. Quite the contrary. Considering the size of these towns, it's fine. And as long as you like steak, order anything on the menu. Provided it's steak (OK, I'm exaggerating a little bit, but not too much!)
The place pictured above is in Datil, on the other side of the VLA. We went there because it was Saturday and on Saturday.....well you know.
Good steak. 
But you'll have to eat under the unrelenting stare of the deer above the table. 
I don't think the deer approved!

Still more blog postings to come about our trips to New Mexico, Arizona and adventures with the Subaru.
And don't forget. As always. just left click on any picture with your mouse to see a full size version.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Sweetwater Wetlands, Tucson

What is this aquatic scene,

Doing here in the middle of the Sonoran Desert?

It's a short story. This beautiful oasis of plentiful water is the Sweetwater Wetlands reclamation project, located withing the city limits of Tucson. Truth be told, the water comes from waste water and if the wind is blowing just right, you'd know that without an explanation. However, this is a brilliant use of the scarcest of all elements in the desert and we should be imagining many more such novel approaches to deal with environmental issues. If we could only be as resourceful and decisive as this in our dealings with energy problems, we'd be far better off. But that's an entirely different flight of thought.

Speaking of flight (apologies about this segway, couldn't think of anything else) Monica suggested we do some birding on New Years Day and she directed us here because it was so close to home and we'd never been before. I know the term "delightful" is used capriciously, but this time the word fits perfect.
It's all about the birds!

Monica and I aren't even novice birders, but we live in such an avarian rich environment, we're constantly  enthralled by the beauty of these creatures. When we arrived at the wetlands, the first bird we saw was this one. To you and me, a lovely little thing. But nooooooo. Not just any lovely little thing. It was an Albino Flycatcher. Now don't ask me how we knew that, ask the gent who was standing near us who was in a state of excited agitation. He was the one who told us that this was a very rare sighting. Honestly, I've googled and searched for an albino flycatcher in our books, but I've not seen one. Could he have been wrong? Sure. Did it diminish our delight (that word again?) Nope, not one bit.

Next up, a colorful bird perched in a tree almost directly above us on our walk. I've no idea what it is. Where the heck was that expert guy when we needed him?
By the way, this wetlands isn't a small area. It covers 18 acres of reclaimed desert on the shores of the Santa Cruz River. The Santa Cruz is about the only river that I know of in this area that flows south to north and it was also about the last river to have a constantly flowing stream of water. Not so anymore, other than around this site. Now it relies on the summer monsoon storms to make it flow.

Now, this is another very rare sighting! She's called the Monicus Surfaris Spigelmanitis. According to old archives, she is native to Brooklyn New York and some years ago migrated 2400 miles to Tucson. By all accounts, she is thriving in the Sonoran Desert.

No, not Duck!
I mean, this is a duck.
I obviously don't know what kind, but it was really enjoying that leisurely paddle through the water.
Really beautiful reflections on a delightful day.

The question that constantly came to my mind was, where were these aquatic birds coming from? The surrounding area is desert for countless miles. You wouldn't think of these birds as being native, yet they certainly weren't imported here. At one time during times of plentiful water (and that wasn't as long ago as you might think, maybe several hundred years?) these birds must have been native. It only goes to show how forgiving nature can be, if given the chance. Here's four ducks, er, two ducks and two reflections, chatting away on a boggy log. Looks like the one on the left has a lot to say.

Undoubtedly,  the most striking bird of the day was this Vermilion Fly Catcher. He (yep, I'm certain it was a male because the males are the more showy of the type, the better to attract the female) was constantly flying back and forth between two trees. At first I didn't understand why he was imitating the Times Square Shuttle, just flying back and forth. Finally, Monica put things (very gently) into perspective for me. She mentioned the name of the bird again, pausing and enunciating the part that sounds like "fly catcher." OK, I've got it now, by golly. He was flying back and forth to catch flies!

Finally, the Vermilion Fly Catcher IN FLIGHT!

Now, you've no idea how many shots I took before I actually got this one. But hey, it's digital, so nothing wasted except some virtual pixels.
And don't forget, for a closer look at any of these pictures, simply place your cursor over the photo and left click!

To all, we hope your New Year will be as delightful a year as the start of our New Year was to us.