Painted Desert

Painted Desert

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Two down

Well, here I am. I still don't have internet at home [or, didn't, at the time I wrote this section of the blog], so I am writing this from a Starbucks, but the internet should be coming soon.


When we last left me, I was homeless and carless, uncertain of where exactly I was going to go that night. Some phone calls revealed that I did in fact have a long-lost cousin living in Denver, and cousin Kate, whom I had not seen in a decade or so, took me in for a few nights. Here, a photo of grey Denver as seen from near Kate's house. Incidentally, this is the same location from which I watched that sunny jazz concert over the summer...


The woman at left is Jess (also seen in the tubing photos of the "Golden intermission" post), who has rescued me from the streets! She happened to need a roommate, and I am very grateful to have forged this particular friendship over the summer (as if I wasn't already... who else was going to go tubing with me?). So, I am no longer homeless. However, the day after I moved in, Jess left town for a week, and I had to rely on buses for a bit longer.

I spent Thanksgiving with the folks I lived with in Golden over the summer, with three students from the Middle East, and after dinner we had Arabian coffee with cardamom and baklava. Then I went to say goodbye to my car.


To recap, the car, which (after $1100 of repairs) had basically become undrivable and would require hundreds of dollars' more work to even diagnose the remaining problems, was sitting on the lot of a mechanic in Golden. I brought my backpacking pack with me to Thanksgiving and the next day I was at the mechanic's, packing up all the camping crap that was still in the car. I couldn't fit it all in and hid some stuff in the bushes. As it was, my pack probably weighed about 40 pounds. I took the bus home.


Not only is my backpack full of crap, but there is also crap strapped to the outside, and more crap in the milk crate by the bench, all mine. But note the mountains in the background. It is nice to come over a rise in the city and see them there, a reminder of how close the wilderness is.

My new home is exceedingly nice on the inside, with 2 bedrooms, 2 baths, laundry room, fireplace, etc. It is also very nicely decorated (which I had nothing to do with... okay, everything except for my room is very nicely decorated).


Within a few days, while searching the internet from the library (an hour's walk away from home), I had found a car on Craigslist that I could afford. I called the owner and she said I could come on by. I put the address in to Google maps; it was a 20 minute drive. Oh, wait, I need to take the bus. Two and a half hours by bus. Two and a half hours??

For me, the bus system in Denver was life-saving, in that, well, I had no car. Also, there are bus stops absolutely everywhere, and the fares, while not cheap, are at least manageable. But the bus system was also soul-destroying, because... come on, two and a half hours to go ten miles? (That is precisely my walking speed on level ground with no weight in my pack, now that I think about it.) It takes so long because there's no direct route; I needed three buses to get there (thankfully, transfers are free).


Counting out money to buy the car.

Anyway, I liked the car, a Mazda Protege, and returned again the next day to take it to a mechanic, and the next day to buy it. These days were gruelling. In fact, any day I wanted to get something done involved getting up at sunrise to walk to Starbucks (half an hour away on foot) so I could look up location and bus route information, another half-hour walk back to the apartment, a walk to the bus stop, a 2.5-3 hour ride on multiple buses, a couple hours to do what I wanted, and another 2.5-3 hour ride back home. By the time I bought the car I was just about tearing my hair out. The first thing I did with it was go up to my storage unit and get my bike, so that even if my luck remained bad and something horrible happened to the car, I wouldn't be so dependent on the bus again.


This remains my most reliable vehicle. Also see my new apartment building, with the highway in the background. Not the most ideal location, but it is exceedingly cheap. Also, hey. Quick access to the highway.


This is the car. It is the most generic-looking car ever. I have been having special trouble finding it in parking lots. Once I tried for some time to get my key to work in the lock only to realize I was attempting to unlock someone else's car.

But the main thing is, two down--the first two in this elegant grand plan for my life:

1. Home
2. Car
3. Job
4. Relationship
5. ???
6. Profit!


I am writing this section of the blog from Connecticut, to which I have returned for the holidays, and have learned that we now have internet back at the apartment. This is a hard-won development that required a week and a half of misery, at least twelve calls to customer service, and four (4) visits by technicians. I drew the above cartoon (on which you should be able to click for more detail) in an attempt to reinvigorate Jess, who at the time was sprawled prone on the floor, her head turned slightly to one side so that she could continue to say "uh huh" to the customer service rep on speakerphone some distance away.

The problem turned out to be very simple--Dish Network had made use of the cable line that was last used by Comcast, but there was another line Comcast could hook up to--but the fact that not a single Comcast customer service rep nor technician could figure this out was slightly disturbing. It took Jess and I compiling the various scattered bits of info offered us, plus the insight of a Dish technician who also came out, to figure out the solution ourselves and instruct yet another technician in how to implement it. (Per our genius, our internet now comes down through a hole in the ceiling of the laundry room, rather than out through a cable outlet, but that's okay.)


The weather in Denver has been quite warm and I have ridden my bike a lot; here, a hawk at the state park that is a 15 minute ride from my apartment.

But I left Denver a few days ago for D.C., which is not warm.


Despite the bitter cold, there were still insane half-naked people who insisted on playing soccer in the snow of the mall.

I was there to visit some friends...


With me above are Katie's friend from middle school, Katie, and my friend from elementary through high school (whom some of you will recognize as Diana). Though I was impossibly sick with a cold while in D.C., I managed to see many things, like the Natural History Museum, three art museums, the cafe at the National Museum of the American Indian, the Botanical Gardens, the Air and Space Museum's Udvar-Hazy Center, and the Library of Congress. I also saw Pink Floyd's The Wall. Now I am in Connecticut for the holidays, but before I left D.C. I obtained from Katie a very important document that is necessary to complete the story of our October travels, and which I hope to treat in my next post.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Worst-case scenario

When the oil leak was first discovered in my car a couple weeks ago the outcome I dreaded most was not an expensive repair, specifically, nor even the need to find a new car, but a scenario that dragged on for weeks of waiting without a place to live, false diagnoses, and struggling to find somebody in Denver who knows how to take apart a Toyota carburetor. This was the worst thing I could imagine, the last thing I wanted to happen. Of course, this is now what is happening.

And of course, it's not really the worst thing that could happen to me. I am in good health, my family and friends are well, and I have yet to be the victim of a theft or assault, or even a really bad joke. Unless you count the past couple weeks, I mean... the car troubles are only one source of misfortune, but I don't think it's prudent to get into all the details at this time. I have simply found myself at the end of a string of misfortunes.

My car was rendered into a drivable state by the 2nd mechanic I took it to, and so, having basically worn out the kind friend who took me in for 2 days and ended up having me for 2 weeks, I determined I'd return to camping for a little while. Not the most comfortable thing in the world now that temperatures are below freezing some nights, but with my 0 degree bag I'm not exactly in danger of hypothermia, just a certain amount of tossing and turning. Anyway, it's free, and with more car expenses on the horizon, saving money has become even more important to me.

However, as I drove around yesterday checking out places to camp, the car became more and more sluggish, until I couldn't get it to top 15 mph. So I gave up and had it towed to the garage of a Toyota expert whose name had been passed to me. He is the 5th mechanic. I know he can't take a look at it for a few days and, if the repairs are affordable, won't be able to get them in until the following week at least. Spent last night with friends who don't really have room for me, and at the moment am, phone in hand, proceeding through the (very short) list of other people I know in the Denver area.

Temporarily carless, homeless and jobless, which is not a situation I've ever found myself in, it's kind of a struggle for me to keep in mind the fact that I am not particularly down and out, comparatively speaking. I am not ill, broke, saddled with debt or children, in jail, or addicted to anything, just enough of a control freak to be as stressed out as if I did have those problems... the fact that it's easier for me to endure camping in the snow than to endure asking a friend for couch space is kind of a silly issue, but what can I say? I am perhaps too attached to the goal of self-reliance. If the goal I'd had in mind all this time were, say, to become a more flexible person, then I could pass all of these travails off as fodder for the crusade.

Another excellent goal would have been "to be very comfortable with waiting and uncertainty." (Of course, it is not too late to adopt either of these. My forebrain is quite aware that life is about learning how to let go of control, not learning how to control everything; it's the other bits of me that have a problem recognizing this.)

Anyway. Whether the Toyota is fixable or I must buy a new car, my travel money will be wiped out, so this is the end of the travel blogging (for this year!). My current "adventures" don't have quite the same photo-readiness, but I will continue to blog on them. I did a funny thing and attached some more photos from last month to the previous blog entry, instead of writing a new one, so if you've already read it, go through it again to see the new photos.

Now, back to finding a place to sleep tonight.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Down and out in Denver

I was supposed to be in the Grand Canyon at this time, but shortly after the last blog post was written a large oil leak was discovered in my car. I am trying to get BP to pay, but in the meantime I have been stuck at a friend's place waiting to hear estimates back from various shops and then waiting for the parts to be ordered... work will commence tomorrow... I suppose I could have my car back tomorrow night, but there is the additional problem that it suddenly became very hard to start the morning I took it in to the shop and this problem has not yet been diagnosed, let alone worked on. So I do not know how long I will be here in limbo.

Watching the snow fall on Denver from my little prison. Katie and I took all of last month to get through Harry Potter 3, taking turns reading to each other in the evenings. I read Harry Potter 4 in two days, waiting, then read Krakauer's Into Thin Air today (it's very good, by the way). It took a long time to decide whether to repair the car (which has 175,000 miles on it... yeah, I know it's a Corolla) or to take my remaining money and buy a new one. In the end it seemed to make more sense, economically, to repair this one... it is remarkable what even another used car with only 150,000 miles would cost if I wanted to replace mine... and it means I will still have money to continue traveling, if I wish.

I am reevaluating the scope of my November/December travel plans in light of the repair expenses but at this time am still hoping to visit at least a couple more parks before the holidays. Best case scenario, the car and I will be ready to go tomorrow evening; worst, it will still take a couple more weeks to diagnose and fix the starting problem. I have been really languishing, mostly just reading to try to keep from worrying, not really taking advantage of being in Denver. Because I wanted to be in Arizona right now. I spoke of flexibility in the last entry... apparently I'm only able to be flexible if I'm already on the road. Right now I'm just sad and angry at being stuck here.

But, while I am posting, here are a bunch of photos from the first half of last month that got cut from my previous posts.


Our initial drive into Canyonlands.


A picture Katie took of me doing a yoga pose in front of some odd blocks of sandstone at Canyonlands.


A strange wall at Canyonlands. This was in the backcountry, I thought it might have been some kind of horse corral. The hilarious thing about it was that the builder(s) had used five different materials. From left to right, they are: barbed wire (difficult to see on far left); wooden boards; corrugated metal; sandstone slabs stood on end; and sandstone blocks piled into a wall.


One of the interesting geologic features we found on the trail. Katie said she thinks these are mud cracks (seen in side view) filled in with sand (all of which was later distorted, giving some of the cracks a lightning-bolt shape). The climate at this time, more than 200 million years ago, may have been becoming dryer.


On one of our long hikes, while I keep rushing on because of the thunderheads building on the horizon, Katie keeps stopping to look at fossil wood and bone in the Chinle Formation, the same formation she did her master's thesis work in in Arizona.

Katie and a pile of petrified wood.


Me and a view of the White Rim, which stands above the inner canyon.


A picture Katie took of me in the Joint in Canyonlands.


Katie in the Joint. I don't think I included this one in my previous post, though now I'm not sure why, as it's a great shot of the narrow canyon. Perhaps it was because Katie's expression didn't match the pure geologic delight of our surroundings. As far as that goes...


Katie threatens me for taking a picture of her painting her nails. I was fascinated with the process, never having painted my own nails, and especially with the fact that she was choosing to do this the night before we were going backpacking. And that she was choosing to paint them bright canary yellow.


Our good friend The Car, in Gobin Valley State Park at sunrise. I actually took this picture because of the guy sitting in his chair at the top of the hill who was watching the sun rise.


A shot of Little Wild Horse Canyon. When I was there I kept wanting to say Little Dead Horse Canyon, because we'd driven past Dead Horse Point State Park not long before. The story of how the state park got its name is predictably gruesome, but somehow the idea of a little dead horse is even worse.


Small eroded holes in the wall of Little Wild Horse Canyon. I believe there's a name for these, and I'm disappointed I've forgotten this one piece of geologic arcana.


A gigantic dog footprint at our campsite near Capitol Reef National Park. These huge prints were interspersed with human prints, leading Katie to decide that the site was most likely previously occupied by a werewolf. The other spooky thing about the site was that we were right next to a creek that was cutting into a bank of shale, and it was eroding fast enough that all night long we could hear chunks of rock breaking off and falling into the creek with great plops.


Strawberry-rhubarb pie and afternoon tea at the werewolf campsite. It was very civilized, except for the fact that we were sitting on chunks of wood in the dirt. Another thing about this site was that it was in the 70s while the sun was out--we'd be sweating in our t-shirts--and then the moment it set, the temperature would drop about 30 degrees.


The making of pizza on a pita. When we didn't have a picnic table, as was the case at undeveloped or "dispersed" camping sites, the trunk of the car sufficed. By the end of the month it had remnants of every meal stuck to it, as well as a good smattering of coffee grounds and cocoa powder from breakfast.

If I'm stuck here another week I'll do another post with more previously unseen photos!

Saturday, November 06, 2010

Off again


Here's a shot from the convention center. I attended a lot of interesting presentations during the four days I was there, many of which were about geoscience education. Some particularly interesting ones involved eye-tracking cameras to see how students differ from experts in where they looked when examining photos of rock outcrops. I also found this at one of the technical poster presentation sessions:


In this study, students were interviewed on their knowledge about plate tectonics. As I read this, I realized that I'd been one of the interviewed students back at URI (as you can see, the poster's primary author is from Rhode Island) and that I was actually in the majority who got some significant concepts wrong during the interview. Oops. The poster went on to show how simple line drawings were much more comprehensible by students, as opposed to detailed, full-color 3D drawings of the type that textbook makers now seem to prefer. (Oops for them!)

I am heading now for the Grand Canyon, where it will be extremely cold on the rim. I want to hike to the bottom, but I'm not sure if I'll be able to do so... there are a limited number of permits given out for camping at the bottom, and I'm not really in good enough shape to make going to the bottom and back in one day an enjoyable experience. But after that, it's on to Death Valley and 90 degrees, then southern CA, AZ, NM and TX. I could continue traveling through the spring, but don't currently plan to... the places I won't have been yet will either be very cold or rainy, and I'm not sure I would enjoy the experience as much.

Spending two months on the road has not really been difficult... some things have been different than I expected them to be... everything is farther away than I expect it to be, and I don't really feel good after sitting for several hours, nor after seeing how much I've spent on gas; so these long drives have been the hardest part. My other expenses have been more what I expected. Sleeping on the ground every night has been no trouble at all, and living with so few possessions has been great; while it's true I used almost everything I brought with me when I traveled alone, when I put 1/3 of that stuff into storage to make room for Katie, I didn't actually miss anything I'd ditched.

Sleeping in the freezing cold is not a huge problem as I have an appropriate sleeping bag, but it is annoying dealing with the cold and darkness in the morning and evening. What exactly can you do with your time when it's freezing and pitch black from 7 in the evening till 8 in the morning? Katie and I had been sitting in the car to read at night, going to sleep at 9 and getting up at 8 AM... and my body seemed to have no problem with the sleeping, perhaps because there was little electric light to tamper with my biological clock, but it's hard to manage to not have to go to the bathroom for 11 hours straight.

Anyway, here I've been in Denver for the past week, thinking about what I'll do when I'm done traveling. This is really up to me; I could travel virtually indefinitely, if "travel" meant staying at one free campsite for the maximum 14 days and then moving on to the next closest one, as retirees with campers sometimes do, making food the only significant expense, but I imagine I'd be a bit bored with that. So I expect I shall settle somewhere, either volunteering for one of the national parks that provides housing for volunteers, or coming back to Denver here.

All these thoughts of settling have been a bit depressing, not so much because travel is necessarily more fun than living and working somewhere particular, but because travel is itself a buffer against depression that I am happy to have. Travel--at least, the kind of travel I am doing--requires constant decisions about where to go, which route to take, where to try to find a campsite, et cetera. More importantly, the consequences of those decisions are fairly immediate. If I choose wrong I am usually going to be cold, or wet, or waste time and gas driving around.

(Choosing a campsite, for instance; BLM land is usually much warmer than National Forest land, being usually at lower elevation, but it's often harder to find a place to pull my little car off the road and camp on BLM land. Their roads are either hugely built up into a mountainous ribbon of gravel bordered by monster ditches, or they're tiny threads of barely passable mud and soft sand. So do I want to risk being cold in the forest, or losing two hours of my day driving around the featureless scrub, perhaps ending up heading to the forest anyway?)

Anyway, all these decisions and their immediate consequences lend a kind of interactivity and vitality to life that it usually lacks, for us here in the developed world, with our schedules and our houses sheltering us from the weather. I think the concept of agency is essential to happiness; we need to feel that our actions affect our environment and vice versa, and we need timely feedback on our decisions to be able to recognize our own agency. Being able to choose where to camp at night, even though it may be a choice between being cold and wasting time, keeps me in the present and connected with my environment in a way that, say, choosing whether to invest in McDonald's or Exxon doesn't. And this can be much more effective at preventing depression than any kind of invented treatment.

Today I have felt good, getting all my stuff together and deciding what to take and where to go for the coming month. Though I have been unemployed since the end of summer, I've gotten tremendous practice at certain skills--well, okay, mostly how to plan for cheap camping. I've also become a lot more flexible (weather is the darndest thing) and I care less what people think of me (we can't all afford campgrounds with showers!) than before I started. I feel good about things today because I have become good at what I am doing, and so, armed with both a sense of agency and a sense of competence, I go forth happily.

I am sad, of course, that Katie has left for the east coast. A funny thing happened before we left. She had contacted the cousin she was going to stay with on her way back, in Kansas, and he said he wouldn't be there--he was at a conference. In Denver. He was staying at the Sheraton--which was where we were staying. So we went out to dinner with him, and then he said he was getting to fly home early, and would in fact be in Kansas to welcome Katie when she drove in the next day.

There have been many other things that happened that I'm sure I forgot to write about... like the deer that hit our car, or how the mountains bordering Hells Canyon may be rising due to erosion (how's that for some geology?), but a blog post can only be so long. Especially without pictures. But here's the final photo from the conference:


in which Katie and I gaze hopefully toward the future, our rainbow glasses on. Or perhaps we are just goofing around.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Splendor


I am writing from the Geological Society of America conference at the Colorado Convention Center in Denver, where I’m currently taking a break from watching presentations on geocognition, or how people think about the geosciences. Time for an update on our latest adventures.

When I last left off, we were driving north through Utah after having visited the five national parks in the southern part of the state. We camped the next couple nights at Antelope Island State Park, in the Great Salt Lake. This place is beautiful, an unspoiled island with a lot of wildlife and great views of the salt lake and the mountains beyond.


The next day, we went to Salt Lake City, to see what there was to do. The answer is: not much. The downtown was almost empty, and (perhaps most tellingly) the city was full of free parking, with even the most centrally located lots costing only $3 a day. We went to a small art museum and to the Mormon temple, which was a very interesting experience in which we spoke to many missionaries without particularly wanting to.



Above, the temple; below, the tabernacle, where the famous choir sings. I had a chance to flip through a free independent newspaper and saw that the Red Iguana had won Best Mexican for the nth year in a row, so we went there for lunch.


Somehow we spent over $60 on lunch there, though I don’t remember exactly why, because I collapsed in a kind of nap-coma later and slept for a while in my tent. But that evening and the next morning we had a good time exploring the island.


Shorebirds on the lake, which is quite shallow.


Antelope. There are antelope on antelope island, but mostly we saw buffalo. I thought I was done with buffalo! These were introduced to the island and are the most famous residents.


We also saw this guy. Katie was extremely disappointed because the driver of this vehicle was not, in fact, wearing a vest.

Eventually, we got ready to go for a dip. We couldn’t pass up the opportunity; neither of us had been in the salt lake before. The air was about 70 degrees with a light breeze, which was just enough to stand around in our bathing suits (and goosebumps), though the water temperature was in the 60s. It took quite a while to walk across the beach to the water. It felt like about 10 minutes. The lake basin is extremely shallow. Even once we got to the water, we had to keep walking for a while to get to a place that was deep enough to float. I stopped to take a look at the sand, which is very interesting:


It is made of ooids, or spheres composed of layers of carbonate that have precipitated around a central nucleus (such as a shrimp poop). The only other place I’m familiar with that also has oolitic sand is the Bahamas (though I’m sure there are others).

Katie actually got into the water first… well, I was taken off guard by her courage, I’ve never been able to drag her swimming with me anywhere if it was less than about 95 degrees.


Then I got in. It was quite cold, of course, but we floated around for a few minutes. It is actually a very fun sensation and quite noticeably different from being in regular salt water (the actual ocean averages 3.5%… this section of the salt lake averaged maybe 14%. (Some sections of the lake, cut off by causeways, are up to 25% salt). Despite the cold we had tremendous fun.

On the long walk back to the parking lot I dried off and the salt made my skin sparkly. I looked like a donut dusted with sugar.


Before we left, we went on a drive around the island. Though we had just come from what was obviously a very geologically interesting area (that being southern Utah), the Salt Lake area is also fascinating. In this less-than-fascinating picture, you might be able to see horizontal lines on the hillside:


These lines are terraces that mark the former levels of the lake. During what is colloquially known as the Ice Age, the continent was much wetter, and a huge lake—called Lake Bonneville—occupied this and surrounding basins, with some of the local mountain peaks just small islands in its expanse. Click here (http://www.greaterthings.com/News/daily/2005/09/06/6600916_Bush_behind_Katrina/Lake-Bonneville-and-Utah.jpg) to see a graphic. At its deepest, the lake would have covered all of Salt Lake City, lapping against the mountains above it.

About 14,500 years ago, the lake breached through a pass in Idaho and its level fell 350 feet in a year, releasing perhaps 1,000 cubic miles of water in the first few weeks. The water rushed through the Hells Canyon of the Snake, leaving gravel bars that can still be seen there now—100 feet above the present river level.


Buffalo butts.


We came upon a couple coyotes that were hunting along the road… I guess they were pretty used to cars. Below, an extraordinary video I was lucky enough to capture of a coyote crossing the road in front of our car and pouncing on prey in the scrub:

video


Not only is the area interesting for its Lake Bonneville history, but Antelope Island also has some of the oldest and some of the youngest rocks on earth. Above is a very old rock: 1.7 billion years old. The youngest rocks, deposited as Lake Bonneville retreated, are less than 15,000 years old.


When we got to Twin Falls, ID, to visit one of Katie’s aunts, we found she had put us up in a hotel. Mostly we were interested in the showers as we were still very salty. We visited Craters of the Moon National Monument while we were there. Here is some pahoehoe (ropy) lava frozen in the form of basalt:


And here is a kind of volcanic bomb that cooled in such a way to give it a “bread crust” appearance:


And one of the craters out of which cinders erupted:


And a less-than-illuminating shot from inside one of the (empty!) lava tubes:


All this was a big departure for us, as nearly all of our previous explorations had been made in sedimentary rock. Large sections of Idaho, however, are covered in basalt, some of which has come from the same hot spot that has been migrating east over time to where it now sits beneath Yellowstone. (By the way, one of the displays at Craters of the Moon informed us that the area is due for another eruption sometime in the next 1,000 years, so “now is a particularly pertinent time to visit the park.” I suppose so, if by “now” you mean “sometime in the next 1,000 years.” We should be able to manage that.)

Some of the other basalt in Idaho is part of the Columbia River Basalt Group, which formed in a serious of lava floods that eventually covered 63,000 square miles of the northwest and is, in places, more than a mile thick. This is one of the largest flood basalt events on the planet.

Twin Falls is in an odd setting. Driving around most of it, all you can see are flattish yellow fields stretching to the horizon. It seems like a very flat place. And then you come upon this:



There are giant, gaping canyons here. People use them for recreation, as we saw.


Above, the “terraces” visible on the canyon wall may be from separate basalt flows.

Next we drove into the Sawtooth mountains, which have been said to rival the Tetons in beauty. We didn’t see very much of them, unfortunately, because we didn’t know what we were doing, but we did go on a short hike that took us up to a couple of mountain lakes. It smelled like winter in the forest, which was completely silent and had patches of snow and ice already. The sky was a heavy grey. When we came upon Washington Lake it was so silent and still I thought the scene only required snow to perfect it. But it wasn’t going to snow because the temperature still felt like it was in the 50s. Then it started to snow.



You may be able to see the snow in these pictures if you click for detail.


We camped that night a bit lower in elevation, though it was still quite cold. One of Katie’s cousins had given her a device called Mr. Heater. Mr. Heater ran on propane and got extremely hot, and we never did find a way to use it in such a way that it actually kept us warm at night without melting the tent or suffocating us from carbon monoxide.

Next we went to visit another aunt who lives in Clarkston, WA, on the ID border. She took us to see some petroglyphs. I think this one is evidence that indigenous peoples developed weightlifting long ago.




The hills here are all basalt too. While here we went to visit the U of Idaho at Moscow, where my brother went to school. The most important thing we saw, though, was her aunt’s kitten, Kato, who was excruciatingly cute and with whom we played quite a bit.



Next we camped outside Riggins, ID. Here, we have made the tent with two backs, in an attempt to use Mr. Heater without melting any nylon, but unfortunately the heat wanted to escape out the sides and not go into either tent.


We were here because we wanted to see the Hells Canyon of the Snake, the deepest canyon in North America, with a drop of over 8,000 feet from the highest point on the rim. Despite these distinctions, neither Oregon nor Idaho has made much of an effort to turn the canyon into any kind of tourist attraction. The quickest way to get to the canyon involved a winding dirt road that was going to take us, by various accounts, either an hour or half a day to ascend to the canyon overlook. The scenery was beautiful on the way up…



Unfortunately, as we climbed in elevation the snow became too deep to proceed through. We were just a couple days too late to see the canyon. We had to turn back. So much for that particular geological wonder.

Next we visited a third aunt in Boise. Boise seems to be a very nice town. It has many beautiful, old houses, and the trees were turning orange… I could have believed I was in New London or Westerly again. It is surrounded by mountains that were just getting their first snow.


A shot of downtown Boise. (Note: the real Boise is not slanted like that.)

When we camped that night on the ID-UT border, I had what was to me one of the funnier moments of the trip.


It’s not immediately evident what has happened in these pictures, but in fact Katie zipped up her jacket without looking and didn’t realize until a bit later that she’d made a mistake. I suspect this is how trends get started. Unfortunately, no one else was around to see it, because it was in the 20s that night and nobody in their right mind was going camping.

Our final bit of the drive back to Denver saw plenty of snow on the Front Range…


But once we got into Denver it was quite temperate. It scarcely matters, though, because we’re spending all our time inside. Here, a shot of the convention’s exhibit hall on opening night:


We were enjoying all the free things that the various companies and organizations were giving away (and the free beer registered conventiongoers got). My favorite were the rainbow glasses. Here, Katie (full name blurred to protect her reputation) and another former URI student show off their frames:


And finally, to revisit that shot through the rainbow glasses, allowing you to enjoy the convention with me in all its splendor: