Category Archives: Museums

DAY 106 – 12/29/2012 Carlsbad Caverns, Oh My! ?

I have no particular interest in caverns.  Went spelunking once in the 80’s with a machinist co-worker.  We entered a little slit of a grassy hole in West Virginia, slithered between a few cracks I wouldn’t be comfortable with now, descended about 80 or 100 feet into the ground to a rocky platform, where ropes would be needed to go any further.  Each of us wore a carbide lamp, so we turned them out.  DARK.  Cave-dark.  Darker than anything I’d ever seen or since.  Never had the need to do that sport again though!

Jane too wanted nothing to do with caves, holes, caverns or closed spaces of any kind.  Jean-Philippe (our trusted advisor again), assured us that it would be more like a cathedral or auditorium.  Well lit and not constricted at all.  I worried that it would be a light-show or organ music background.  I don’t usually like a natural wonder that gets over humanized or commercialized.

But here we were, driving North on the only road that made sense for where we were headed in Colorado.  Even that roadrunner and coyote gave us chuckle as if to say, “we were on the right road at the right time”.  And smack along the way were two more National Park sites where we could use our Parks Pass.  Quadalupe Peak looked beautiful and is the highest point in Texas.  We had arrived too late in the day to hike the whole round trip to the summit.  We don’t feel the draw to become “peak-baggers”, just love those tough hikes when the time is right.  So as we left, both of us looked likely to mosey on into the cavern at Carlsbad, New Mexico.

Access is from a mountain ridge with a big parking lot.  A big, full parking lot.  We sort of forget that this is a holiday week.  Lines snaking along ropes led to a smiling ranger who graciously gave us our tickets “free” after checking my I.D.and National Parks Annual Pass.  While waiting we read about several options including 4-6 hour King’s Tours with a ranger, but also some shorter options.  A glaring flat screen message blinked through some sales options and also a Big Red Warning to expect LONG WAITS at the elevator to come back up!

We saw another option even though we had only arrived just after 2:00 in the afternoon.  Hiking in or out through the natural entrance was allowed.  The overall distance covered would be about 1 ½ miles each way and descend over 750′ into the cavern.  Cool! It was going to be like hiking an upside-down mountain!  We’d much rather hike than ride an elevator anyway.

100_7528

The entrance has been kept nearly the same as when it was “found” by white explorers.  There IS evidence of Native American use, but not very deep and not very conclusive as to who, when and how much.  Shards from pottery from varied sources have been inconclusive.  were they “real finds” or discoverers looking for attention?

100_7531

The only way to descend any great amount in a short distance is with looping switchbacks.  And those switchbacks did LOOP!  The surface was asphalt, dry and very grippy.  The trail about 40″ wide and lined with a nice steel rail everywhere it counted.  True to word, the place is “cavernous”.  BIG, HIGH, WIDE in places.  Mostly dry and a general constant temperature, but a welcome 90% humidity, particularly after weeks of desert dryness at less than 30%.

Describing the formations is about as silly as the process of naming some of them.  Kinda like cloud-watching metaphors.  I’ll let the pictures do their magic, leave out my 1000 words.  Suffice to say, we went all the way down into and around the big room and enjoyed that hike back out!  Jane continues to impress me with her growth as a hiker.  She really rebuilt her heart after that darned chemo (It had snuffed her cardiac Ejection fraction from a baseline of 72% down to below 50%, and a healthy normal average is about 65%).   We were passed by only one guy, a runner, all sweaty and breathing hard. Jane paused only about twice on 2 of the many, many stone benches on the way back to our world.

– David

100_7560

100_7554

100_7537

DAY 105 – 12/28/2012 McDonald Observatory in the Davis Mountains of Texas

We found out a couple of months ago that many scientific celestial observatories are open to the public on Friday and Saturday nights. How could I have lived my whole life never knowing that fact? Oh, well, I know now. So, I’d been trying to coordinate an observatory night into our schedule.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

On our last night in Texas, we visited the McDonald Observatory in the far west. www.mcdonalobservatory.org It’s part of the University of Texas, Austin and is used to research the chemistry of stars and planets. White dwarf stars, the composition of gas clouds in space and supergiant stars, among other things. The two immense telescopes are used for research. We were going to look through the smaller, though still awesome to us, telescopes.

top_mcd_logo

We signed up for a Star Party. Sounds good doesn’t it? McDonald Observatory is at the top of a mountain.

Not our photo. We were driving up the other side of the mountain.

Not our photo. We were driving up the other side of the mountain. And it was getting dark.

So, in consideration for our fellow attendees, we started on the road up an hour early, so as not to cause a mile-long traffic jam behind our slow-moving rig. Marfa (we finally named our 4Runner) did a good job dragging the Tramper up the mountain as the sun set.

We suited up for the outdoor Star Party. The weather was unseasonably cold. Lows in the teens!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

We had a large, jolly group on this Christmas break weekend. Ten more folks and we would have had a record crowd! We sat in an outdoor amphitheater. The nearly full moon was the brightest light for miles around. Low, red lights were all the artificial light there was on the mountain. Even the surrounding towns had ordinances forbidding excessive outdoor lighting.

So, even though the shining moon masked lots of stars that night, we still had a beautiful show above us.

The Star Party began with a lecture in the amphitheater.

This isn't our photo. It comes from the McDonald Obs. website. We just don't have the skills to take a pic like this!

This isn’t our photo. It comes from the McDonald Obs. website. We just don’t have the skills to take a pic like this!

The astronomer giving the tour of the sky had a green laser pointer that seemed to extend a line all the way up to the individual star he was talking about! He pointed out Jupiter and the zodiac constellations. I have imagined that I saw red and orange in Orion’s left shoulder this whole trip as we gazed at night into starlit skies in the wild places. I got validated at the Star Party. Betelgeuse is actually a red supergiant, with visible color!

Again, not our photo. This one is from the Sol Company website "Betelgeuse"

Again, not our photo. This one is from the Sol Company website “Betelgeuse”

Belatrix is his right shoulder. Also, I finally saw Polaris, the North Star.

This one is from Instructables.com. It shows what we learned, that the North Star is constant, while the other constellations "rotate" around it.

This one is from Instructables.com. It shows what we learned, that the North Star is constant, while the other constellations “rotate” around it.

After the lecture, we went around to ten different telescopes focused on amazing things in the sky. We saw Jupiter’s bands of clouds.

(not our photo)

(not our photo)

We saw four of Jupiter’s most visible moons. Io, Callisto, Ganymede and Europa.

Jupiter moons

We saw the surface of the moon.

NOAA photo

NOAA photo

As it was not quite full, we saw a profile of one surface.

Waldo_Jaquith_-_Dark_Edge_of_the_Moon_(by-sa)

Wikipedia photo

We saw the Andromeda galaxy, the closest galaxy outside out Milky Way.

Although we couldn't photograph what we saw, we tried to find photos that most closely resembled what we viewed through the telescopes

Although we couldn’t photograph what we saw, we tried to find photos that most closely resembled what we viewed through the telescopes

The Orion nebula.

images

After we had seen our fill, we went back to the Tramper for the drive down the other side of the mountain. We met a UT policeman who drove by to tell us he liked our trailer. He was the only security for miles around and he suggested a picnic spot off the mountain road where we could camp for the night. Not what we expected! Security usually makes sure that no one camps where they’re not supposed to, not encourage us to do it!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

It was a lovely spot. The next morning, we hit the road, bound for New Mexico.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

On this highway across the desert, within three minutes of each other, we saw a coyote and we saw a road runner! No joke! It was coincidentally ironic. (Can you use those two words together?). Maybe they were engaged in the classic cartoon battle?!

wile-e-coyote-and-road-runner-pack-1949-2010-img-2987640

– Jane

DAY 97 – 12/20/2012 Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center in Austin, TX

We are always inspired by people who dedicate their energies to preserving and protecting nature. President Lyndon Johnson’s wife, forever and affectionately known as “Lady Bird”, began conservation efforts very early in her life in Texas, culminating in the creation of the  Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center in Austin in 1982.

100_7445

She used her public platform as First Lady to “introduce people to the beauty and diversity of wildflowers and other native plants”.

100_7475

The day we visited the Center was chilly but beautiful.

100_7474

Because of the season, there were very few flowers in bloom for our visit.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Indian Blanket

But, thankfully for us, there is more to the Center than just flowers.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

100_7500

Lady Bird, and the Center, were into “Sustainable Landscapes” before sustainable landscapes was a catchword. The Center is a model for green roofs as well as water conservation, a must in arid Texas.

Pipeline leading from the water-collecting cistern

Pipeline leading to the water-collecting cistern

LB travelled all over the country during her husband’s term in office and until the end of her life in 2007. She won the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Congressional Gold Medal for her work in beautifying our nations highways with wildflowers.

Behind the Center, on 279 acres, is a showcase for her beloved Texas landscape. Gravel walks and numerous informational plaques explain how this place is kept in harmony with nature.

100_7506

The Texas environment was shaped by frequent wildfires.  Now, those fires are suppressed, allowing forest to develop and overwhelm the native savannah. Livestock grazing and farming increase damage to the countryside. The Center showed us Texas as it used to be (in many places, it still is).

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

There are resources at the Center and online for those who want to create a more natural landscape in their own backyard.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

We went away with some good ideas for when we get back home.

Ground glass mulch!

Ground glass mulch!

– Jane

 

DAY 89 – 12/12/12 in New Orleans

On 10/10/10 we first visited New Orleans for a wedding and fell in love with the city. So it was kind of appropriate that we came back on 12/12/12.

Our first day in the Crescent City was a cold and damp one. We discovered on our previous visit that the best way to navigate around New Orleans was by bicycle. Rarely does less-than-ideal weather prevent us from our biking plan. So, off we went.

Roadway through the levee

Roadway through the levee

Getting a late start from our campsite at St Bernard State Park, we rode two ferries in, had lunch and visited the Insectarium, then rode two ferries out.

Missed that one! The ferry heads out across the Mississippi.

Missed that one! The ferry heads out across the Mississippi.

The ferries were necessary   because a bicycle can’t go over many of the Mississippi River bridges. The river snakes through New Orleans like the Grinch around a Christmas tree.

On the ferries, we had an opportunity to chat with some of the locals. We got some interesting inside info on the city, and Katrina.

Bikes and pedestrians only on this ferry.

Bikes and pedestrians only on this ferry.

In varied accents (Creole, Cajun, Southern and folks who talk just like me) we heard stories about the wrath of the storm seven years ago. Ginger spent several months in Georgia, away from her wrecked home.

A cold ride

A cold ride

The would-be river boat captain told a story about the flow of mighty Mississippi that day. The boilermaker, charming as could be, didn’t talk much about Katrina, but his love for his home was evident in his story about industry along the banks of the river.

In the Butterfly Room at the Insectarium in New Orleans. Butterflies fly around you and land on you!

In the Butterfly Room at the Insectarium in New Orleans. Butterflies fly around you and land on you!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Moth display

Moth display

Back home via ferry

Back home via ferry

Day two dawned clear and sunny and quite a bit warmer. We took off on bikes again, skipping the fun but time-eating ferry and driving in to a cheap ($5.00 per day) parking lot just outside the French Quarter.

My daughter, having recently travelled to New Orleans, recommended Betsy’s Pancake House on Canal Street in the Mid City neighborhood.

12:12 on 12/12/12

12:12 on 12/12/12

Betsy’s was yummy. Grits and blueberry pancakes were consumed as the clock read 12:12 on 12/12/12!

Next up was City Park and the Singing Oak. It was magical, standing under the massive tree, hung with wind chimes of all sizes! All tuned to the pentatonic scale.

Here’s a better video of the Singing Oak:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2emTYIHg3bw

Checking out the Mayan art in the New Orleans Art Museum

Checking out the Mayan art in the New Orleans Art Museum

It being Wednesday, the New Orleans Museum of Art was free, so of course we checked it out.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERANext up was a bicycle tour of the French Quarter. Bourbon street was hopping at two in the afternoon! The party, apparently, never ends.

100_7300

Jackson Square

Jackson Square

100_7323Lastly, we took refreshments at Cafe du Monde. Cups of Cafe au Lait were raised in memory of my dear mom, who loved the beignets and coffee so much she would visit the Cafe more than once on each visit to New Orleans.

On the way back to St Bernard park, we went over the Claiborne Street bridge.

Katrina's legacy.

Katrina’s legacy.

I had read about Brad Pitt’s work for Katrina victims and hoped that we would see some of the houses that his foundation is building.

We were strongly advised not to bike or drive around the Ninth Ward. The pale green house in the middle field is one of Brad Pitt's houses. Note the plethora of solar panels on the rebuilt houses!

We were strongly advised not to bike or drive around the Ninth Ward. The pale green house in the middle field is one of Brad Pitt’s houses. Note the plethora of solar panels on the rebuilt houses!

If you click on the bottom photo to open it, you can see the rebuilt Ninth Ward.

www.makeitright.org

– Jane

DAY 67 – 11/20/2012 Foxfire, Mountain City, GA

Driving into Georgia, we saw the word “Foxfire” on the map.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA It conjured up some old memories. What started in the ’70’s as a book was now the Foxfire Museum and Heritage Center.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I’m so old I remember when the very first Foxfire Book came out.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Hippie folk everywhere avidly read about life in the past; specifically, about the ways and traditions of rural Southern Appalachia.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Today, what began as a school project is now a center of learning and a functional museum.

Here's David, trying out the stilts. I would have hurt myself!

Here’s David, trying out the stilts. I would have hurt myself!

The proceeds from the sales of books and magazines funded the preservation and construction of log cabins arrayed in a community on the mountain.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

We visited Foxfire on a beautiful Autumn day. www.foxfire.org

– Jane

PS: Here’s a bonus video. I love things that make noise so I was thrilled to ring the church bell in the little Chapel. Most of the video was shot sideways. To learn how to make it straight would take me until next year at this time, so I put it in as-is. Turn up the volume so you can hear the bell!

(David, ever the Physical Therapist said “Good body mechanics, Jane!”)