Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Seven Minutes

One of the greatest moments in science and engineering is upon us. Check this out.... 

You can follow the story here. Mark your calendar - August 6, 2012. 

This certainly beats watching current and former Olympic athletes in a pissing contest....

Wednesday, July 18, 2012


I just left a funeral. Never fun, right?

So, any opportunity for some light humor is always worth it in my opinion.

I spied this car in the parking lot. Despite the license plate, I would argue the car is from Boston....

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Day 16: June 29 - Home By Dark...

A quick trip through the campground after sunrise brought us home in sense.  The Ovenbird and Acadian Flycatcher were still there.  Add Carolina Chickadee and Eastern Wood Pewee and we knew we were not far from Detroit.

Lunch was in Indianapolis.  Thr3E Wiseman Brewing Company is a must.  Golden Zoe IPA, Snow Bunny Blonde, and the Two Lucy’s Blackberry Wheat (#1,284 – 1,286) were just a few of the many on tap.  Damn good.  The Blackberry Wheat especially. The only thing missing was the cheese sampler to go with it.  Fancy pizza-snob pizzas with fancy beers.  Pretty cool . 

Aside from the horrors that I would call “drivers in northeast Indiana and northwest Ohio”, we made it home.  It took us a few extras HOURS as a result of dumb drivers (MERGE!  DAMMIT, MERGE!), but we made it. 

The facts go something like this:
Bird Species Recorded: 146 species (at least…)
Life Birds for Paul: 5
Life List for Paul: 662
Total North American Ticks for Paul (sum of all checklists): 5,589
Life Birds for Natalie: at least 85 (seriously)
Life List for Natalie: unknown at this time
Total North American Ticks For Natalie (sum of all checklists); unknown at this time

Arizona Birds List: 172 (from 153)
New Mexico Bird List: 47 (from 42)
Oklahoma Bird List: 28 (from 17)
Texas Bird List: 273 (no change)

Life Beers: 28
Total Lifetime Beers: 1,286
Breweries Sampled: 9
Breweries Visited: 6

New National Parks Sites Visited: 6

Gallons Of Gas: 135
Miles Driven: 5,272.9 (excludes episodes when  Joe or Marge were driving)
Miles Per Gallon: 39.1 (not a typo!)
Average Vehicle Speed: 51.9 mph

Illegal Aliens Crossing Border in Arizona: 2
Actual Aliens in Roswell: 0

Natalie and I would like to especially thank Joe, Corrine, Marge, Diana, and Laurens for a great trip!

Day 15: June 28 – Betrayal(?) and a Long Drive

After packing up and leaving Shamrock, the Mississippi Kites seemed to be all over the place.  With much of their insect chow sitting tight, the  Kites seems to have nothing to do except sit around. 


After a short drive across some beautiful land (really), our final major destination of the trip involved what is absolutely one of the darkest chapters in American History. 

In the early morning hours of November 27th, 1868, a village of Southern Cheyennes, under the leadership of Chief BlackKettle, was attacked by the United States 7th Cavalry under Lieutenant Colonel  George Custer.  Utilizing a four-pronged attack strategy, the village was surrounded before the sun came up.  Over one hundred years later, reports of Native American fatalities still vary. Custer claimed 103.  Cheyenne accounts are as low as 29.  Some call it a massacre while some call it a battle.  Calling it what you choose, the site is now under the National Park Service as the Washita Battlefield National Historic Site.  (It is pronounced “WASH-a-taw” by the way, not “Wah-sheet-ah”.)

In any case, history does not disagree on the subject of who died.  Woman and children were involved.  That is a fact.

Many stories can be told here. Two things come to my immediate mind.

George Custer.  I won’t call him a hero.  He was not.  (He WAS an excellent Civil War Calvary Field Officer, but that is a different story.)  He was, however, a  soldier doing what he was told to do.  That is how the Army of the 1860s functioned.   It is not much different than the military of today. If you are told to do something, and you do not, there will be repercussions.  The killing of woman and children was not his idea. When he discovered that his soldiers were killing non-combatants “without mercy”, he ended it.  It’s that simple.  History shows this. 

It should also be mentioned, that while many people today see him as villain, his peers also thought he was a giant turd.  The loss of Major Joel Elliot illustrates this clearly.

One of the four prongs of the attack was led by Elliot.  When he observed Indians fleeing east along the Washita, he followed them. His group (over 20 men) was quickly surrounded by Indian reinforcements from a neighboring village and killed.  Most American fatalities on this morning where from this incident.

Concerned with the now suspected increase in Cheyenne resistance, Custer ordered a withdrawal from the field.  A preliminary search turned up nothing.  The bodies of Elliot and his men were not found until a second search conducted weeks later.

He left the battlefield with no understanding of his immediate subordinate’s situation.  He had not a clue.

Sure, some thought he acted in the best interest of the group.  (After all, he would get a taste of what being surrounded feels like a few years later, right?)  Others, even those under his command, thought he was horrible and they let it be known.

To this day, some historians argue that the 7th Cavalry, under Custer’s leadership, was a fractured group of soldiers fighting with (not for) a leader they did not like and could not trust.  Those same historians argue that the Battle of the Little Bighorn ended as it did as a result of tensions that began to arise in November of 1868 in present-day Oklahoma.

In the meantime, as Natalie and I left the Visitor Center, I almost tripped on a grasshopper the size of a hot-dog. Okay, it was not that big.  Maybe the size of an index finger?  Really. Holy crap. Big.  Mississippi kite chow for sure.

After viewing the battlefield not far from the bluff that Custer himself used the morning of the battle, we stood for a moment and listened.  No gunshots. No screaming. Just Scissor-tailed Flycatchers, Northern Bobwhite, and Lark Sparrows.  An Eastern Meadowlark, too.  We moved along.

Nightfall has us setting up camp at Robertsville StatePark in eastern Missouri.  The bird sounds in camp where now really familiar again. Ovenbird. AcadianFlycatcher.  No owls. Sleep was good.

Day 14: June 27 - Checkered Shirts and Beautiful Cherts

The drive through New Mexico was beautiful, but pretty uneventful. Lunch time found us at The Big Texan in Amarillo. (That would be Texas, by the way, as a restaurant called The Big Texan in Missouri would probably be pretty stupid, huh?) 

Home of the “72-ounce steak for free” (if you can eat in an hour!), this place is everything you would expect Texas to be.  The hats. The checkered shirts.  The drawl.  “Extreme Texasness” as Natalie declared.  All fine and good, but the beer was the best part.  The Honey Blonde Ale, Texas Red Amber Ale, Palo Duro Pale Ale, and Rattlesnake IPA were my samples (#1,279- 1,282).  All were average except for the IPA.  Well above average in my book.  A “5”.  The Buffalo Burger was damned good, too!

After short hop on the road north of town, one can find a rather non-descript looking mesa.  Atop this mesa one finds a stunningly beautiful flint (also known as chert).  If one chunks it into a workable size and then wacks it with a skilled hand, the edge can now be as sharp as a surgical scalpel.  Various Native American cultures, beginning 13,000 years ago, would use this flint on various objects - spears or arrows, for example.  These tools, made from the stone from this mesa, have been found  across the Great Plains and Southwest.  The Alibates Flint Quarries National Monument was created to set aside this amazing landscape. 

The actual quarries still remain.  Once four to eight feet deep, these locations have mostly filled in over time. They are now only feet across but with noticeable depressions.  In those very locations, for a period spanning 10,000 years, various divisions of Native American culture literally mined the flint they eventually used to make some of the most spectacular projectile points on the continent. How cool is that?

Unfortunately for us, we did not have access to the mesa’s top.  Keeping an eye out for the well-being of the visitor, the Park Service does not allow access during episodes of extreme heat. It was near 100 degrees, so we were not allowed to the top.  That sucks, right?

Let’s contrast that with the policy at Fort Bowie in Arizona.  The visitor center, as you might recall, is only reached after you walk 1.5 miles across the desert. In June.   Vehicles with handicapped passes are allowed in via the maintenance road.  So you have two different extremes for the same issue.  In one case (the Fort), if it is hot and you want to see the site, tough it out or forget it.  In the other case (the Quarry), if it is hot, you are not allowed….for your own good.  Can someone explain that to me?

The evening was spent in Shamrock, Texas.  We were lucky to secure lodging.  Yes, in Shamrock, Texas on a weeknight. Apparently, this is the time the oil field operators need the lodging.  They head home for the weekend.  The parking lots were all full of pick-up trucks representing various contractors.

 Mississippi Kites were all over town….

Day 13: June 26 – Stone Castles and Stone Forests

After bidding farewell to Marge and Diana, Natalie and I knew it was time to start heading home.  With west-to-east travel working against us now, and knowing the drive west was exhausting, we opted to break it up a bit and do some sight-seeing so there would not be long stretches in the car.

Heading north out of the greater Phoenix Area, and marveling at the lenticular clouds along the way, Montezuma’s Castle was the first stop.  Not to be confused with White Castle, this location has nothing to do with Montezuma (the Aztec Ruler) and was not built for defense.

Constructed around 1100AD, the Sinagua (SIN-uh-wah) are thought to have built this structure in the cliff face so they would not gobble up valuable farming real estate in the valley below.  With an array of farming skills and a vibrant trade with other groups in the region, a permanent settlement made good sense.   The south facing structure would get valuable winter sun.  Sadly, this location was picked over by treasure seekers decades before it became a National Park site in 1906 (Thanks Teddy! You da man!).  Official archaeological work was never done.  To this day, no one is allowed up into the “Castle” aside from staff excursions that are only done twice a year.  

Birding was not particularly strong. With the heat of the day, much of the bird activity had died off.  Of note where the Cliff Swallows that had built their mud-jug nests in the cliffs.  There is no doubt in my mind that these birds were the same one sharing the cliffs with the Sinagua.  Well, not the same birds…the same species….

The Sinauga did not disappear, by the way. Historians suggest they simply left over time and became a part of other cultures of the region.  In this case, there is a sharp difference between “disappear” and “assimilate.”

With the Verde River literally right below them and Montezuma Well not far, the Sinagua had more access to water than many people would think. Unfortunately for them, the Flagstaff Brewing Company, in Flagstaff, would not be around for another 900 years.  The Great Golden Ale, Weisspread Wheat, Bubbaganouj IPA, and Blackbird Porter (#1,275- 1,278) were all excellent, with the Wheat and Porter being especially good.   I had no complaints about raspberry turkey sandwich, either!

Pressing on from Flagstaff, a mandatory detour was made through the Petrified Forest National Park.  Early Europeans traveling the region literally tried to burn the trees, more or less oblivious to the fact that the trees (growing there 250 million years beforehand) had been petrified.  Our drive through the park was punctuated by gray skies and the occasional rains shower and lighting shot in the distance. But that did not stop us from enjoying the time.  No way.  

The vibrant colors, when the sun broke the clouds, were enough to make us say “Wow” as often as Mitt Romney changes his mind.  The view of “Newspaper Rock” showed more ancient graffiti while walking in and around Puerco Pueblo was simply tremendous.  Built around the 1200’s (or so) this was actually a large community housing perhaps 125 people.  The Kiva, resembling a primitive hot-tub, was used for religious ceremonies.  (Reports that Hugh Hefner used the Kiva as a hot-tub hundreds of years ago can not be confirmed or denied by archaeologists. Maybe his Bunnies were just Jack Rabbits.)  By 1380, everyone left after the structures were burned. No one knows why.  

Like Montezuma’s Castle, the place was not particularly birdy.  Rock Wren.  Ravens.  A Phainopepla.  That was about it, really. But so what.  800-year old rock carvings?  Cool.

With any storm (that aroma!) comes the possibility of a rainbow. Folks, we saw the fabled double rainbow. While my picture does not show it well, it is there.  For the record, we did not have the same reaction as this guy.

With the sun setting behind us (and the park now closed preventing evening photography at the Painted Desert), we pressed on to Grants, New Mexico for the night.

Day 12: June 25 - Relaxation and Frustration

After a casual morning, the bulk of the day was spent in and near Sedona.  Sadly, again, Diana could not join us. 

If one is looking for great scenery, great food (like the Secret Garden CafĂ© or Taos Cantina), and has high hopes of acquiring a locally-crafted coffee mug per some childish vacation rule, this town is wonderful.  Tlaquepaque (Tuh-LOCK-uh-POCK-ee) is great for artists and allowed me to secure yet another mug for my collection.

The Oak CreekCanyon Brewery is here. While we did not visit the brewery, their brews are available throughout town.  I recommend the Pale Ale (#1,273).  The Pale Ale (#1,274) from the Grand Canyon Brewery was pretty well done, too.  

On the other hand, if one wants to get swept up in the nonsense that is New Age stupidity, book your flight to Sedona now.  Astrology. Palm readings.  Oh goody.  Maybe you could go find the vortex at the Airport or Bell Rock and strengthen your masculine or feminine side.  Maps will get you there.  Oooooooohh.  It is even claimed that these spinning bundles of energy explain the twists and turns of a juniper tree branch. Yes, that’s right, folks!  Mystical tornadoes from Oz, that you can’t see, twist trees! 


Now if only real tornadoes would carry these hucksters away, or least pilfer their voter registration cards from their wallet or purse.  Rational, honest people are  trying to cure cancer and deal with a host of other worldly woes. Stop your nonsense. You are perpetrating a fraud. Go directly to jail. Do not pass go and quit collecting 200 bucks from the folks you bamboozle.  Stop it. 

Just north of town sits Slide Rock State Park.  Originally one of the regions first homesteads (European, anyway), the enterprising Pendley family (their home is pictured below) managed some impressive irrigation projects to allow the growing of produce in the valley.  Before long, vacationer cabins were built and it became a destination for those fleeing the heat. By the 1980’s, the State of Arizona bought it for use as a park.  

After cooling our feet in the racing waters (that have carved slippery chutes that give the park its name), we enjoyed a short hike along the cliff trail.  (No rails, by the way.  If you walk over to the edge, it is a 20-foot drop to the rocks below.  L-a-w-s-u-i-t?).  While not really bird-productive, the park provided Natalie with her life bird Say’s Phoebe.  It was putting on a show on the walk back to the car.  The viewing distance was less than 30 feet.  

Even though I suck as a photographer, the gorgeous red rocks of the region make for some wonderful colors as the sun sets.  

If you really want to see what Sedona can be through the eyes of non-idiot photographers, go here

In any case, Nat, Marge and I were back in Scottsdale after nightfall.