Wednesday, 31 August 2016

Blue-billed Duck at Kelly's Swamp

I had a few minutes to spare in the ACT so took myself to Kelly's Swamp, hoping that a Buff-banded Rail would brave the rather average weather and put in an appearance.

On arrival at Cygnus, my hide (blind, for anyone in the US) of choice, the first thing I found was a pair of reading spectacles.  Rather try to describe them I took a phone-photo of them and posted a message with the photo to the COG chatline.  Within minutes I had a reply complaining commenting that I had not submitted any observations.  I explained that I was delaying as at least one birder would currently be unable to read the post.  (The glasses have now been reunited with their owner.)

The following should assuage any residual concerns.

Members of the Rallidae were well evident.  Unfortunately they were restricted to what a well known local naturalist has in the past referred to as "the eternal 3: Dusky Moorhen; Eurasian Coot and what is known currently as Australasian Swamphen.

Now growing up in England - where weather like today is normal - I always described cool, overcast, showery days as "Lovely weather for ducks."  I have since been told that ducks actually hate weather like this, and certainly there were not many around today.  I stuck to Cygnus hide as i didn't want to walk further in the rain and had only logged 1 Grey Teal and 2 Pacific Black Ducks when an unusual shape caught my eye.

The famous Kelly's Swamp Blue-billed Duck was still around and became Bird of the Day
 This image sort-of shows the stiff-tail which is diagnostic of this genus.
The bird's behaviour was quite interesting as it didn't stodge around on the surface as I have usually seen them do, but after few seconds out in the rain it would dive and swim a fair distance in a few seconds before coming up again.  One of its subaquatic forays was from A to B in this image, taking only a few seconds to do this.
It then vanished from view for several minutes before emerging at C.  I am curious as how it made this traverse.  Did it swim, above the water between the reeds, or did it maintain its preferred modus opernadi of swimming underwater?  Or did it clamber, Bittern-like, through the stems of the reeds? 

Tuesday, 30 August 2016

Cyanicula caerulens starts to happen

This marks the third year I have monitored colonies of Cyanicula caerulens, the small orchid which some folk call "Blue Fingers", on our block.  Last years action is covered in this post.

This first sighting is 4 days earlier than last year, but they are easy to overlook when in small numbers, and I may have missed the first emergence last year.  However, it is safe to say they aren't late, which is to be expected after what I expect will come out as a relatively warm, wet Winter.

Does it always rain on Wednesdays?

The weather for Wednesday 31 August 2016 is again looking rather damp.  In the last few weeks it has appeared that it always rains on Wednesdays.  Or at least it is always forecast to rain on Wednesdays!  Is this true?

Fortunately I have a database that can address this in terms of what actually happened (especially since I have discovered an ACCESS function that delivers the day of the week from a date!)  I can't do anything about the forecasts x day of the week since BoM doesn't release to the public their historic series of forecasts.

Cutting to the chase, the answer is that as far as I can tell rain doesn't occur more frequently on Wednesdays than other days of the week. Nor is the rain on Wednesdays heavier than for other days (on average).  Another conspiracy theory bites the dust.  However: check the Update towards the end of this post.

I began by looking at records for our house from 12 November 2013 up to July 31 2016.  That is a period of 995 days.  Determining when it rained is a tad tricky, since condensation from a decent fog registers as 0.2mm.  Thus I have said it rained if my weather station has recorded >0.2mm of precipitation.  On that basis I have recorded rain on 244 days (24.5% of days).  Here is the distribution by day of the week.

day
# Rainy days
Sun
31
Mon
30
Tues
30
Weds
42
Thur
36
Fri
35
Sat
40
At first glance it looks as though Wednesday is an unusually wet day.  However the difference is not statistically significant.  

Another way of looking at this could be the average amount of rain on a Wednesday:
day
Average mm
Sun
2.66
Mon
1.51
Tues
1.70
Weds
1.89
Thur
1.44
Fri
1.56
Sat
2.25

While lagging behind the days of the weekend Wednesday is a little higher than other weekdays.  However the average of averages (if that makes sense) across the 7 days is 1.89 - so Wednesday is right there!

But wait, there's more.  Not a set of steak knives, but another set of data, collected by another Carwoola resident from 1 January 1993 until 29 February 2016.  That is  8460 records of which 19.3% had rain: obviously some drought(s) in there!  Here is the information on number of rainy days per day-of-the-week from the longer term series.

Day
# Rainy days
Sun
241
Mon
233
Tues
223
Weds
233
Thur
229
Fri
231
Sat
240

The average number of rainy days per day-of-the-week is 233 so Wednesday is spot on the money.  Again the weekends get a little more than average.

Update
After the initial posting of this topic I was asked about a shorter term view "An interesting table would be rainy days this winter."   As I define Winter to be June -August (incl) answering this had to wait until the end of August!  But here is the requested table:

Day # Rainy days
Sun 3
Mon 5
Tues 7
Weds 8
Thur 4
Fri 6
Sat 3
.. and here is the requested data as a chart, with a summarising trendline added:
The trendline has an R2 value close to 705 so shows a pretty good fit.  In summary, there does seem to have been a bit of bias towards Wednesdays being the rainy day.  This is probably emphasised by several Tuesdays also being wet, getting one into a soggy frame of mind before Wednesday.

Another way of looking at this issue is the percentage of days in a period on which it rained, and the percentage of Wednesdays on which it rained.
Time period   % of  days with rain   % of Weds with rain
Since 1993 19.30 19.28
Since 2013 24.50 29.55
Winter 2016 39.13 53.26

Monday, 29 August 2016

More sights and sounds of (nearly) Spring

According to my definitions of the seasons (contained in this post) Spring in Carwoola is September and October: not too many frosts (so can't complain about the cold) and not too many days over 30oC (so can't complain about the heat).  It isn't quite here yet but one can almost smell it.

I went for yet another walk to check on the blue orchid situation but the answer was still nil.  However a few of the native(ish) plants in our garden are beginning to flower.  Foremost amongst these are some commercial varieties of Grevillea.


 Although expert advice says don't rely on them to attract a diverse range of birds they do do a good job of bringing in honeyeaters, with Eastern Spinebills being favourites at the moment.

A couple of days later we did a dog walk around the block and found some goodies.

The first is the Just-in-time Nancies (Wurmbea dioica).  Nothing at all to do with current debate in the madhouse at Barton.
 Then Frances noticed a raft of Drosera sp.  They are the bright green patches.
Here is a close up.
Their vernacular name is Sundew, from the drops of liquid exuded to lure unwary insects into the sticky leaves.  In this case I suspect the liquid is more likely raindrops, of which there was a good supply,  Note that whatever the liquid is, a number of insects are definitely 'was'.

Getting back to the original timeline, further up the block I was pleased to see these little fungi appearing all over the place.
I call them Omphalina chromacea, but that shows I am an old stick in the mud and not a trendoid mycologist who would call them Lichenomphalia chromacea.  It appears the name change reflects them always forming an association with an alga - and the combination is defined as a lichen.  (Apparently the lichen in named after the fungal component - although this seems to be controversial.  Context seems rather important here!)  Obviously a soggy Winter, such as we have had is good news for algae and lichens.

There was also a fair bit of rustling in the bushes (fortunately of a leggy variety) so I turned over a few rocks to see what was there.  Initially, scorpions (Cercophonius squama) was the answer,
 This one beat a retreat: and I certainly wouldn't challenge those claws.
 Incidentally such finds - as well as legless items - are why it is always a good idea to turn the rocks so that the rock is between you and any inhabitants.  We developed this as a practice when wading coral reefs in Tanzania - home of inter alia stonefish

Of a less threatening nature was this Striped Skink (Ctenotus robustus).
 Birds are becoming vocal.  This Fan-tailed Cuckoo ...
.. called continuously for about an hour.  I suspect it was showing the Striated Pardalotes who really deserved the vernacular name of Headache Bird.

Saturday, 27 August 2016

Pyromania Day 2016

As the weather has been pretty damp recently, but looked to be fine with light winds on the 27th I decided that would be a good day to ignite my pile.  I should note that before moving out here I was unfamiliar with the term pile: its UK equivalent would be 'bonfire'.

However we get a quite a few prunings over a year that are too big to go through the chipper but too small to saw up for firewood.  On the pile.  There are also quite a few weeds that I don't want to put in the compost since I suspect that will survive the experience (like cockroaches after a nuclear holocaust..  On the pile.  Finally I collect bags of nasties such as serrated tusssock and St John's Wart (sic) up the block.  On the pile!

Outside the fire season the rules say that one should advise the Rural Fire Service (RFS) and your neighbours at least 24 hours before ignition.  I range them on Thursday and all was good.  The guy on the line asked what I was planning the send up and I summarised the above.  He commented that someone said they'd got a small pile to go, but it emerged it was 25m x 4m x 6m: not really small.  I assured him my lot was more like 5 x 2 x 2,  Here it is before lighting up.
 As well as the dampness from rain the morning of the 27th was quite foggy as just about visible in the background to this image showing the moment of ignition.
Demonstrating how quickly fires can pick up this next image was taken 54 seconds after the previous one. 
 The rate of  'catch' was doubtless assisted by my having put a couple of bits of old bike inner tube on top of the paper I used as a fire-starter.  (In the customary sogginess of an English Spring when working on a farm we used to put an old car tyre under our bonfires.  That would be a bit stinky for a rural residential area!)

Forward another 5 minutes and we hope that where there is smoke there is fire.  I hope the smoke has lifted before it gets to our neighbours: when I notified them I did say it was likely to be smoky for a while.
Although I have commented on how quickly it caught there wasn't an absolute pyroclaust as there has been other years.  That was probably a good thing since those blazes always concern he about embers going for a flight..

After 50 minutes things had pretty much calmed down.  I was a bit worried that some of the longer branches might 'bridge over' the fire but they dropped as hoped.
By latish afternoon everything was very quiescent.

Thursday, 25 August 2016

Spring things - mainly

I have been a bit busy on things other than blogging the last few days so here are a few bits and pieces from today.  The starting point was probably going  outside to check on the Cyanicula caerulens situation which resolved in the negative (it is still a few days early).

On the way to discover this, I caught up with a few flowers around the garden I missed earlier in the week.  Beginning with some Hellebores growing beside the deck.
 Then a mixed bunch of snowdrops and jonquils.
 Some white jonquils.
Frances picked a bunch of these for in the house but their perfume was so strong they got exported outside again!

Heading up the block I noticed quite a large bush of Acacia gunnii.  This is an understated wattle in comparison with most of the others around here.
Of the mauve beans around the block I have had trouble finding much Hardenbergia for the last few years.  No idea what has happened to it.  The common one today was Glycine australis. - oops, no, Hovea heterophylla.
 Back at the ranch the Tawny Frogmouths are rebuilding the nest in the same spot as last year.  They have about 10 days more construction- probably 8 more carting material and then two nights of compressing it.
 The Pied Currawongs are unfortunately also rebuilding.  The red line marks the boundary between last years nest and the additions.
 I wonder if the Scarlet Robins are thinking of nesting here this year.  Whatever it is nice to see the male   ...
 .. and the female in our Pistachio tree.
 As we went out towards Queanbeyan we saw an Echidna walk across the road.  It was probably thinking about mating, as well as wondering where the next termite mound was to be found.
 Many of the above were about breeding - the last image isn't: I think.
My objective was to go and get a hair cut.  There was a bit of a wait  and then another guy came in with his Short-haired Pointer.  It was a lovely dog and I was patting its head when the next thing I knew it joined me on the lounge!  Only in Queanbeyan.

A small dog investigated my trousers very closely when I got home.

Sunday, 21 August 2016

A tour of the West (part 2)

This continues our travels in the Summer of 1981.  The first, Southern, leg is here.

Our stay in Denver between the trips turned out to be a bit traumatic as the toilets stopped flushing.  Well, sort of: the water went into the pan but didn't flow out.  We got a plumber in and it emerged that the main line to the sewer system had been blocked for ages and basically the pipe had eroded so that the soil against which the basement emptied was liquified.  Fortunately a friend of the people we'd exchanged with offered to supervise getting this fixed while we went off on our second trip, in a Northerly direction.

This began with a trip up the Valley Highway (aka I-25) to I-60 where we went West.  I think we stopped somewhere near Rawlins WY at a KOA which was very desolate.  But then the whole area is desolate: like a giant sized version of the road from Cooma to Nimmitabel.  The next day we headed North through forest to Jackson Hole and the Grand Tetons.
Now that is what I call a range of mountains.  My memory is that we just looked at views for the day.  Overnight it got a bit cool, despite being late July, or possibly even August.  We had only erected the small nylon tent as that was quicker to put up and take down, which meant the three of us were a bit crowded.  In fact Ingrid's head was against the side of the tent and we found in the morning that she was frozen in situ!  This was a good excuse for not emerging from her sleeping bag as directed: I really regret not having a photo of her with a disc of ice on her scone.

The business of the day was going a few more miles North to bag a camp site at Yellowstone.  We had been hearing stories of having to be in line by 8am to get a site,  My memory is that we did OK.   We spent 3 or 4 days there looking at things like the Hot Springs and ...
...of course the geysers.
The two main memories I have from here are both bear related.
  • On a Ranger guided walk he had just finished saying there were no bears in the area when I drew his attention to a pretty fresh looking pile of poop.  "What is this?" I asked.  He went rather quiet and then said "It looks like a Grizzly scat, so we won't walk through that clump of trees!"  A side effect of this was that when Frances returned to her school next term and some little turkey sneered "Does a bear shit in the woods?" she was able to say "Yes.  And I've seen it."
  • We did actually see a distant Brown Bear and without a telephoto lens I couldn't gt a snap so was edging closer.  Then a voice rang out "Could you get a little closer, we want an action shot!".  I retreated rather swiftly, having got a photo with a tiny brown dot in the centre.
We then went to Glacier National Park which is a bit unusual in that the habitat stretches across the 49th parallel and both the US and Canada have adjoining National Parks, with the same name!  We only went to the US element - about which I can remember little except it bucketed down with rain, soaking the tent.

So the next day we went across the border (with much less trouble than we usually received crossing from New York State into Ontario later in our lives) into Canada.  I remember driving through some little burg with an RCMP detachment who were doing a musical ride performance.  Being cheapskates we watched through a hole in the fence.

In fact we weren't just being cheapskates as getting access to money was a continual challenge through the year.  This was mainly because Visa and Mastercard refused to mail us cards in Australia and were going to take some inordinate amount of time - ending after we had left for our year away - to arrange for them to be sent to our bank.  So we only had American Express cards (which were hardly accepted anywhere out of major cities) and cash.  (At the supermarkets in Denver we usually paid by cheque, but nowhere in the US would take a cheque (or as they amusingly spelt it "Check") drawn on an out of state bank or Savings and Loans.)  How things have changed - when we lived in New York in 2005 I think I wrote about 20 cheques in 20 months, using a credit card all the time.

We drove to a Holiday Inn in Calgary, our destination for the next couple of nights.  They had a heated basement (as you would, somewhere that has many nights of -40oF (or C - they are the same) in Winter) so I basically erected the tent over the car to dry it out.  The incidents of note here were both Ingrid related.
  • We went up the Telecommunications tower and when we descended Ingrid was close to the door when it opened and her fingers got jammed between the door and the side of the lift.  Fortunately myself and another guy were able to push on the door so that she got her fingers out.  When this was reported to the attendant on the ticket desk her response was along the lines of "Sorry.  That happens a lot.  Had another one last week."  What is it about the word 'lawsuit' that doesn't travel across the 49th parallel?
  • On looking at the morning paper Ingrid saw a photo of Lady Diana Spencer as she then was crying.  She asked "Why is the pretty lady crying?"  We explained it was because the paparazzi had been annoying her.  This led to the story of her being the daughter of a baron and she she was going to marry the Prince and would be Queen one day.  (OK, it didn't turn out quite that way but, hey, I'm not Nostradamus.)  We realised this sounded just like a fairy story to her and it became a small obsession with her.
On, on to Lake Louise.  As we checked in at the campground the ticket seller commented that a bear had been trashing the bins in row F but we would be OK.  She then booked us in to row I.  Hmmm.  I asked if it was a Grizzly or Brown Bear and was told that they hadn't got around to checking.  I repeat, "What is it about the word 'lawsuit' that doesn't travel across the 49th parallel?"

Oh well, if they're laid back I might see what can be done about a photo.  So holding Ingrid by one hand, and my camera in the other, off I go to Row F.  There is a clear track of garbage heading up a hillside so we follow it.  Down the other side and the used burger wrappers etc are still clear so up the next hillside.  About this point my brain rejoined me so we trotted back to the campsite, sans photo - but still with two full sets of body parts.

The other thing that happened in Lake Louise is that Ingrid showed how she had understood our comments about the financial difficulties outlined above.  This arose when we were looking around a Chateau near Lake Louise and she spotted a wishing well into which folk had pitched some coins.  "Look" she said"We needn't be poor any more!"  We explained things hadn't quite got to that stage yet.

Our next day was an out and back up the Icefields Parkway.  I'd suggest this is one of the most spectacular drives, in terms of scenery, in the world.  While there are places in the Alps which come close they are generally polluted by humanity, whereas this place was largely un-mucked-up.  A sample.
The idea was to go for a snow-cat ride out on to the glacier.  Here is me channeling Donald Sutherland from Kelly's Heroes (and hoping that Ingrid, in the driving seat, can't work out how to fire it up).

Here we are on the glacier!
We had decided that we really should let Ingrid see the Royal Wedding so the next day we fired up the Plymouth and set off for Vancouver where we would stay in a motel.  About 800km on the direct route so off we went.  We ignored all the log drives on various rivers we went past, but did stop briefly, as did everyone else on Trans-Canada 1, to watch a water bomber sorting out a brush fire.  We went straight past the Hells Gates rapids - something I have regretted ever since - and in to the guts of the city.  We were somewhere near Chinatown so went and had a nice meal there.
Somehow or another I got the time differences mucked up (remember there was no internet in those days) and when we awoke at 6AM the business was pretty much over.  (According to timeanddate.com a fixture firing up at 11:20am BST would have started at 0320 Vancouver time: I'm not sure we were in the nick to have got up that early anyway.)

So we went out to check the sights of Vancouver which were pretty much OK, intending to get back to the hotel to watch a replay of  Match of the Day/Decade/Millenium.  I can't remember why, but again we missed the start but did see the drive from the Abbey this time.  (Unfortunately we missed the comment by, I think, a Dimbleby, on BBC about Charles travelling to the ceremony .. "with his very good friends Peter and Camilla Parker-Bowles".  I don't think Dimmers was in full Nostradamus mode either!)

Next stop was Olympia NP in Washington State.  Back into the US with little grief that I can remember to take a ferry across Puget Sound.  We stopped to have a look at Dungeness Spit poking out into the Straits of Juan de Fuca and marveled at the vast array of driftwood: the rivers in this area travel through serious forests and when they are in spate bring down a lot of former trees.
We camped in the rain forest (which of course made it a tad difficult to have a camp fire for cooking).  An ascent was made to Hurricane Ridge, of which my one photo completes this blog.  The main attraction was the moss forest which benefits from the 1250mm of rain per year (about double Adelaide or Canberra but pretty pathetic compared to Sinrahja in Sri Lanka which cops 6,000mm).

We headed on down the coast going from Olympia to Crescent City in a day.  The driving was pretty lurid due to the number of logging trucks on the road all of who seemed to have learnt to drive from Yves Montand in the Wages of Fear - especially the closing sequence thereof!  We stopped a couple of times to check the scenery ...
...and wildlife including a lot of seals and (at Coos Bay I think) a rather ginormous whale (most likely a Gray Whale Eschrichtius robustus).  

The outstanding element of this leg of the trip was going to the mouth of the Klamath River where salmon fishing was happening.  As I understand it the salmon that were migrating up the coast to the Fraser River had turned right about 800km too soon.  This picture doesn't to justice to the horde fishing there.  The guys on the shore were using large lures and were casting out near the boats (who must have felt in danger as these large lumps of metal with ferocious hooks, flew towards them). 
A local law didn't allow fishing within 100 yards of the river mouth and a game warden had stuck a post in the ground to mark the spot.  He was there with a very large gun in his holster to resolve discussion of fine legal points.  One of the guys on the shore suffered a cardiac incident so a 4x4 ambulance had too come and ship.him out.  A very exciting afternoon.

When we left Crescent City we had been thinking about Mark Twains comment that he had spent what seemed like the coldest Winter of his life, while enduring a Summer in San Francisco.  The maximum temperature was about 50oF and we were wearing sweaters and a parka.  As we left the coast the temperature climbed about 1 degree per mile and after cresting the Coast range (stopping a couple of times to remove layers) we called in to a small town to find the store's thermometer was showing 105oF!

We got to Crater Lake too late to get a campsite so went to a State Forest primitive site nearby.  It had everything but water and a nice river provided that.  The next day we were into the official park.  Here we got great views of a Black Bear wandering towards the campground, followed by a Ranger and several tourists.  If my memory was correct he had been attracted by the morning bacon being fried in a nearby diner.

Here is the Lake: its 26 miles around and is the remnant of a caldera.
We were again heading for home and came across this outstanding example of culture.
I think it was somewhere round here where I saw the greatest RV assemblage ever.  A large Winnebago with a tinnie on top, towing a glider trailer, towing a larger power boat.

A brief stop was made at the Craters of the Moon NP, a volcanic site ...
... and (after narrowly avoiding Salt Lake City) on to Dinosaur NM.  We camped here for a couple of nights so that we could have a really good look at the dinosaur quarry.  The outstanding event here came the following morning when Frances was struck by Montezumas Revenge.  I headed off the 20 miles to the nearest pharmacy to get some blocker (possibly Lomotil).  By the time I got back to the camp I was also affected - and only just made it back in time!   My suspicion is that we didn't have the fire hot enough when cooking the previous night and the hotplate had previously been crapped on by something.

However the blocker seemed to cut in quite quickly and we decided to head back to Denver using US 40 - a little shorter than I-70 and with more country towns with khazis along the way.    We got home without an unusually high number of stops, and found the plumbing work had all been fixed and all was well with the world.

I will conclude as I started with a nature shot.  These are Mountain Goats: according to the note on the back of the photo, seen on Hurricane Ridge Olympic National Park. I can't remember seeing them there at all: my memorable sighting was in Glacier NP but possibly I didn't have my camera that day.
So that's all folks.

A tour of the West (part 1)

A friend from my time in the UN sent me some photos of her family trip along Route 66.  They did this is a large camperwagon rather than a Chevy Corvette (apparently the kids jacked up about being offered a trip in the trunk).  It seems to have been a very good trip for them and most interesting to see their photos.  It was also educational for me, as I found out the German for rocking chair (schaukelstuhl, since you ask).

They did 7200 miles in 30 days - a pretty serious bit of distance.

This made me think of the trips we did in 1981 when living in Denver.  Frances initiated that idea by getting a book about the National Parks of the West  and marking interesting places.  I then worked out a route on a Rand-McNally Road Atlas (GPS was unknown then  - as were iPhones, personal computers and the internet).  From memory, taking nearly the whole Summer school holidays we covered about 10,000 miles in 70 days.  Here, approximately,  are our routes:
That map comes from Google Maps (GM) and goes along Interstates where possible.  GM reckons it totals to 6087 miles (9739kms). We used minor roads quite a bit, as at a detailed level Interstates weren't where we were.  By way of example, this map shows our route (plain blue) and the GM view (red highlit).
Our route in this example, was about 25% longer than the simple GM one:  add in some side trips and it is easy to get up to close to my remembered distance.

Anyway this caused me to reflect a little on our trip and with our friend's encouragement here is a summary of the voyage. It has been astonishing how doing this has caused me to remember (hopefully not too inaccurately) details of the trip.

I'll start by recalling that Ingrid, at the age of 4 years, handled the travelling really well.  Occasionally we had to entertain her by:

  • tales of the wicked witch who took naughty girls (occasionally the tales were accompanied by banging on the roof of the car to simulate a broomstick landing);
  • my famous impressions of Bluebottle and The Famous Eccles from the Goon Show; and
  • explanations of the descent of Princess Diana from a line of robber barons (this was mainly in the Northern leg so see part 2 for the justification of this)

As will be noted below some of the nice spots don't get a photo as they had faded over time and were thus unscannable.  We traveled in a Plymouth station sedan, owned by the family with whom we exchanged jobs and houses, which got the job done, despite being woefully underpowered.

Because this is supposed to be a Nature Blog I'll start with a photo of nature: namely a Golden-mantled Ground -Squirrel (Citellus lateralis).  I'm not sure where the photo was taken but the species is common through the higher country of the West.
 Our first camp was at Trinidad CO and was memorable for our first sighting of a rattlesnake, which duly rattled at us before all parties departed in peace.  Our next was on the banks of the Rio Grande outside Taos NM.  It was memorable for having some nice, albeit only thigh deep, swims.  We checked out the art scene in the town and visited the Pueblo where the gate-dude didn't believe I didn't have a camera!

A pleasant stop at Santa Fe (much nicer than Taos) from which I can remember the Native Americans (possibly Pueblos) running an artefacts market in the Plaza and Hummingbirds everywhere.  These days I would have two blog posts at least about this city but that was then.

We took a day trip to the Los Alamos laboratories, where the nuclear weapons that finished WWII were developed.  I have few memories of what we saw there in the way of the history of the place, but do remember that it was very hot: somewhere over 100oF. Despite this there were many folk out jogging at lunchtime.  (In many areas visited on this trip the daytime heat was pretty extreme but I don't remember it stopping us doing much.  Being a lot younger than we are now, and being used to Adelaide Summer temperatures, explains that.  Also there were generally some cool shady hills to retreat to!)

We continued on to Bandalier National Monument to check out the ruins of the old Pueblo culture.

Our next destination was Carlsbad for the Caverns.To get there we passed through Roswell NM.  I am nowadays astonished to reveal that we made it through there without being abducted by aliens but in 1981 the conspiracy theories hadn't really got traction.  (I am awaiting with bated breath for The Donald to claim that not only were the aliens real but one of them was actually Barack Obama's dad.)

We made it to the Caverns and did a cave tour.  I recall this being a deluxe cave tour in which we descended by lift (elevator in Donald-speak) rather than ladders.  Apparently the vertical distance is 230m so that was probably a Good Thing.  Here are a couple of photos.

We then basically headed across the bottom of the US.  In those days, unlike we would now, we didn't have any interface with the Border Patrol (and I don't recall any warnings about illegal immigrants).  Our first stop was at Alomogordo which had a space museum.
Nearby is the White Sands NM.  Apart from the white sand which was very spectacular.  The area is known as being close to the Trinity Site where the folk from Los Alamos tested their work.  We didn't go there - I suspect in 1981 it wasn't open to the public.

We headed westwards across the bottom of New Mexico turning off to enter Chiricahua National Monument, which is actually in Arizona.

Historically the area is known as the preserve of the band of Apaches led by Cochise and Geronimo.  To the East it is basically a sandstone area with escarpments and river valleys.  On the western side it is a volcanic area with many pagodas (in Arizona called "Hoodoos") of volcanic tuff.  I recall walking in the hoodoos feeling very glad I wasn't trying to track a guerrilla band of Native Americans through there!
Biologically the area is known as one in which wildlife normally found in Mexico can be seen.  This is because the animals travel along the relatively well vegetated mountains rising above the desert floor.  Our example of this was a Trogon which was very exciting.  Also exciting was having fireflies around our camp (at a site in one of the valleys) in the evening.

We crossed the route of the Butterfield Stage Company to visit Tombstone, one of the famous gunfighter sites of the Wild West.  We didn't hang around for the re-enactment of the Gunfight at the OK Corral!   We did visit their version of Boot Hill:
The inscription on the stone reads "Here lies Lester Moore.  Four shots from a 44.  No Les no more."

We didn't camp the next couple of nights but stayed in a motel in Tuscon, mainly because it was just too hot.  My memory is that it was over 90oF by 8am.  We went out to visit the Saguaro NM and marvel at the cactus.
(That snap was taken on a second visit, in 2006, but things hadn't changed much in 25 years.)

Our next destination was the Grand Canyon.  To get there we hit an Interstate and passed through Phoenix at about 10:30.  Through the smog and heat haze we could just see an electronic sign outside a bank giving the temperature as 115oF.  (How on earth do old folk with cardiac conditions live in this stuff?  No wonder they all vote Republican: their brains have fried!)

I can't remember whether the car had air conditioning or not.  I doubt it.  The route basically crossed mountain ranges  - quite cool and vegetated - then dropped into valleys which were desert and extraordinarily hot.  Eventually we passed through Flagstaff and on to the Canyon.

The first sight of the Canyon was a blink through a gap in the mequite and was absolutely breath taking.  The main campsite was full so we had to book a site there for later nights and go to a motel room for the first night.  A nice little earner for the private sector concessionaires - who at that stage were still the Fred Harvey Company who first developed the area.

After a day spent en famille (that is not one of the famille in the image - Frances never owned a tee shirt like that) doing the South Rim...

.. on the next day I was up at 6 am and ran down the Bright Angel Trail through the Indian Garden campground to Plateau Point, from where I could down another 1,000 feet to the Colorado.  This took an hour and was 6 miles from, and 3200 feet below, the start point (I was fairly fit in those days).  I drank a quart of water as I ran down to Indian Garden and another quart going out to the point and back - which is effectively flat. By the time I got out to the Point my guess it was already well over  90oF and got a lot hotter, especially where the sun reflected off the cliffs all around the Trail.

The 4.5 miles back from the Gardens was a bit of a challenge.  I walked with a German guy and we refilled our bottles 4 more times as we went up.  I think we took about 4 hours to do the hike: the least pleasant bits were having to stand - in full sun - on the outside of the trail while the commercial mule teams laden with the obese and lethargic went by.  On finishing I went back to our tent and had a nice sleep for about 3 hours until Frances returned from further tourism.   I don't think I needed to piddle for the next 36 hours.

Next stop was the North Rim.  To get there we drove along a fairly deserted road, with just the occasional Navajo ramada attempting to sell souvenirs to tourists (we'd already given at the Rim).  At the point where the road crossed the Colorado we went to photograph the underside of the bridge.  Due to the reflection off the bridge it was unbelievably hot down there: I think we ran back to the car, fearing actually burning like a bug under a magnifying glass.

My memory is that our next stop was Zion National Park.  Again the entry was mind-blowing.  In this case the road traversed some astonishing sandstone cliffs and then entered the valley in the guts of the Park through a tunnel.  At various points windows had been blasted to the outside, giving glimpses of the stunning scenery.  No photos have survived - possibly the reflectivity of the cliffs made the snaps susceptible to fading?

The highlight of this stop was getting an offer from a Mormon lady to look after Ingrid for the afternoon so that we - along with her husband and older kids (and some other folk) - could to a Ranger-guided walk up the Virgin River to the Narrows.  This walk can't be done if there have been thunderstorms further up the catchment.  When a flash flood comes down it can carry rocks the size of cars.  The walk was incredible: we walked in the River, at times up to our waists in white water to a point where the canyon was 1,000 feet deep and 30 feet wide.  It was nice and cool in there.

When we emerged and got back to the campground I wondered if the aliens had descended and taken everyone. (Of course they were all back at Roswell channeling David Duchovny.)  The place was absolutely deserted.  Then we went to the swimming hole on the River: literally everyone was in there sheltering from the 110+oF heat.

Next day it was a short trip to Bryce Canyon.
This was sort of a cross between Zion (for rock colour) and Chiricahua (for the hoodoo structures).  I didn't find it too exciting.  The most interest aspect was chatting to an American family who had driven from LA that day (~500 miles).  This wasn't to much stress for the father of the family as his job was flying B52s for the USAF.  He had done a number of supply missions to Pine Gap in Australia (from memory, flying non-stop from California).  He commented that they always had a few crew who had never seen a kangaroo, so once out of Sydney traffic control he would drop the plane to about 500 feet and go wildlife spotting!

I think it was while we were here that we went to a restaurant and found out about Mormon liquor laws.  Frances wanted a Margherita but while the guy could bring her the mix to the table, she had to walk over to a bench in the corner of the room - which was a licensed outlet of the State Liquor Board - and get an unopened miniature of tequila.  (The miniature had enough tequila for two drinks, and a second glass of mix could be delivered, so the process actually increased the amount of booze consumed.)

We were now on the homeward leg and drove across the Painted Desert the next day.  We crossed the end of Lake Powell - noting some graffiti at Glen Canyon Dam to the effect that "Powell would have loathed this monstrosity".
The next bit of interest was driving through a pretty intense thunderstorm, which got a gully beside the road running with water.  Eventually we, driving at about 60mph, caught up to the front of the flood going at about 30mph.  This is the only time I have actually seen a flash flood in action!

Our aim was to get the Mesa Verde NM near the only place in the US where four States (CO,NM, UT and AR) meet.  The main interest at Mesa Verde is the cliff dwellings left by the Anasazi.  As it is very dry anyway, and the dwellings are sheltered by the cliffs, they are pretty well preserved.
Getting to them was quite entertaining!
Apparently the Indians didn't use ladders but climbed the rock.  In the case of the women, with a few gallons of water balanced on their shoulders!

I'd pass on that!

The next day we went through Durango: another Wild West gunfighter place.  The sign at the entrance to the town read something like "Welcome to Durango, home of Louis L'Amour and the Sackett family.  Check your guns and lock up your womenfolk."

We passed through on the road to Silverton, which is known as the Million Dollar Highway.  Three reasons are offered for this:
  1. The road bed is made of highly mineralised rock which is worth a million dollars a mile.
  2. The road was difficult to build, costing $1 million per mile.
  3. The scenery is spectacular so the views are worth $1 million.
I think we then continued up to Interstate 70 and across the Rockies to home.

That is enough for one post.  The second half is here..