Painted Desert

Painted Desert

Thursday, May 29, 2008

The trip

Welcome to the first entry on my summer paleo adventures. I'm writing for a diverse audience now including, among others, paleontology grad students and family members who know nothing about the field, so I doubt these entries will be a perfect fit for the readership, but I hope they'll be interesting. As with my stories, I don't intend to do much editing, the better to get the entries up here.
As some of you know by now, the trip out west was remarkably uneventful, with one major exception. But before I get to that I'll give you some of the highlights:
I picked Katie up at 6:00 AM in Kingston. It was cold. It had been dreary lately… well, you all know that… and we were both thoroughly sick of the cold. On a whim, I said, "I'm sick of this. Let's go to the desert southwest." Katie said, "Yeah. Right now."
Pennsylvania is an exceedingly boring state to drive through. As the etymologists among you must know, chief among Pennsylvania's characteristic virtues is its, well, woodedness. There are lots of trees. Six hours of trees, pretty much. Or at least it seemed like that.
We spent the first night in Columbus with one of Katie's friends, a linguist who has been studying Balkan dialectology. When I heard this I thought she was saying "Vulcan gynecology," which I suppose could be an intriguing subject but it was probably for the best that it was never really touched on in Star Trek.
The next day we drove to Lebanon, MO, where we stayed at a campground called "Fort Niangua River Resort." It took us half an hour to check in and fill out forms, and in the end the lady waved her arm vaguely and said, "Okay, you can camp over there somewhere." There were no numbered sites. There was some grass and a couple picnic tables.
In the morning I was awakened at 5:30 and I lay in my sleeping bag thinking of appropriate slogans for Missouri. Like, "Missouri, land of very loud birds," or "Missouri: where unseen animals making mooing noises move through the woods at ungodly hours." The other odd thing about the state was the roadkill. We'd been seeing deer since we started in RI, but in Missouri, the roadkill was all… turtles. Sometimes very large turtles. Snapping turtles like great steel helmets that I couldn't even figure out how a vehicle could run them over.
Before we got to Oklahoma, the roadkill started changing to armadillos. I had never seen an armadillo before, and have still never seen a live one.
Somewhere in Oklahoma we were listening to the radio and hearing about the tornado-spawning storms. I thought it would be cool if we could see a tornado. Katie didn't think so.
As we drove into Texas, the person on the radio mentioned how the storm in the panhandle was producing tornado warnings. Katie pointed out that storms produce tornadoes; people produce warnings. I offered that perhaps a very sensitive storm might produce warnings. "Sorry I'm making tornadoes again! I can't help it, it's all this heat and humidity and low pressure… it just happens every time. I'm sorry. I'm having a bad air day."
The Amarillo KOA campground… sorry, kampground… had a nice blackboard outside the office that welcomed our party, and we were greeted inside by a cheery blonde woman in a bright yellow polo who told us that the latest news had the storm passing to the north of us. But that if things did get hairy we could spend the night in the bathroom.
We pulled into our campsite. The winds were something like 20-30 mph at this time, and Katie said to me, "Maybe we should just sleep in the bathroom." I said no, that it was good practice to put up a tent in a windstorm, in case I ever had to when I didn't have the option of staying in a bathroom. (Note that this was my practice, and Katie's brand new tent.) We guyed the tent out and just as we were driving the last stake in, the wind picked up and the first raindrops hit me so hard I thought it was hail. In a matter of half a minute the wind had escalated to 40 or 50 mph and gusts were flattening the tent completely. Rain started coming down at a 30 degree angle. The sky had become a dark brown color. This was clearly the time to head for the bathroom.
Wet families and dogs were already gathered inside. One woman held the door shut as the wind outside escalated to a howling 75 mph. Katie was understandably anxious about her tent, and I consoled her by reminding her that there was a barbed wire fence just downwind of the campsite, and if the tent blew away, surely it would catch on that.
Occasionally the door would be opened and we would peek out to see tree limbs in the road, and the tent still hanging in there.

A nearby man was talking about how they'd be evacuating people out of the campsites in Palo Duro canyon, which—he said—would have a 40-foot-high wall of water rushing down it in a storm like this. This was of some interest to us as Palo Duro had been our first choice for camping, but was eventually ditched for being too far from the highway.
After about an hour the storm let up enough to venture outside. It had not spawned a tornado in our area. To the east the sky was still brown, with a giant double rainbow arching up into space. The tent was still there. (We shall have to write to Marmot about this.) We slept in it with no further problems.
The next morning we visited Cadillac Ranch, at which several cadillacs have been planted in a field (at the same angle as the Cheops pyramids, I'm told) and may be spraypainted at will.
Katie picked out the color as well as the message you can read below:
We also put our names on the cars.
On our drive across New Mexico, we encountered a funeral train on the highway:
As well as a very unusual rest area:
And by the time we got to Arizona, I was so tired I didn't even hooray. We were impressed by the apartment, though, which is giant compared to the one we had in March. It's ridiculous, especially as Katie and I are the only ones living in it so far. The living room dwarfs the furniture in it.

In the next entry, you'll hear about our first days on the job!


Weary Hag said...

First - you must delete sindhu's rude adclip below. Tch.
Now ... you're amazing. What a fun read ... felt like I was there, except safe and comfy. You could have left out the bit about the ex-turtles though. That part made me sad beyond belief.

Jo ... hope you continue to take good care and enjoy documenting your progress. I would love a summer filled with Jo-jots.

Had great fun hanging out before you left and am looking forward to another such adventure upon your return.

The apartment? It looks like you moved into my first place in Vegas back in '80. They make 'em spacious and white out in them thar hill, and apparently use the same furnishings.

But you know what they say... 'tis better to have more room than less. Or didn't that little bathroom party in Texas teach you anything?

Miss you.

Fat Carol

Miss Audrey Lee said...

You're my hero for diggin' up dinos this summer!!

Spinning Girl said...

I am live-blogging my comments as I read.

I too have driven across Pennsylvania, and found it dull, except for one thing: sunrise in the Poconos. Now that was spectacular! How sad I am that CT wasn’t one of your stops, but I will survive, reading your wonderful stories and feeling like I am digging in the dirt with you.

Do vulcans have vajayjays? I hope they aren’t ridged, like their foreheads. Oh wait, those are klingons. Maybe now we finally know what that weird Vulcan hand signal is …

I’m not surprised you saw so many dead armadillos. I’ve a seen a live one, in Florida, and guess where it was? In the middle of the road, staring at me, waiting to get hit (he didn’t).

Just a wow on the strom, the funeral, the Cadillacs, and the rest room with the quiz.

I’ll return soon to read more!!