Changes, August 2019

Not much really new, a year on; mostly minor corrections for boo-boos in the html and css thanks to careful validation with the w3c website, with new links to sites which have disappeared or changed their url. However, I am about to return to Arizona, and should have some new bits here, sometime in late May.

That last sentence should have read ‘sometime in mid-September’. Oh well. In the spring of 2019 I returned to Arizona to visit my brother. In addition to things around his town (Cottonwood, also Jerome) we decided to get radical and take a major trip up to southwestern Colorado, to visit Mesa Verde National Park. Mesa Verde is, of course, famous for its cliff dwellings; it has just the right kind of rocks to develop shallow caves, and serve as building stone as well. There are also the ruins of lots of top-of-the-mesa buildings, and the whole thing is one of my favourite places in the Southwest, although it had been many years since I was last there. Since only he drives, we would have arrived in Colorado with him already exhausted. So we came up with an expensive and somewhat bizarre path: take a shuttle van down to Phoenix; get on a small plane (eight passenger capacity!) with but one propeller, and fly up to the airport at Cortez, Colorado; rent a car and drive the 45 minutes to the Park, where we stayed in the only facility allowed within it – rather basic, but we weren’t there for the accommodations. It was hotter than I would have liked, but tolerable, and no rain. We enjoyed it immensely; the only disappointment was the closure of one of the most famous cliff dwellings, Spruce Tree House, due to concerns about the cave roof collapsing. I would have been willing to risk it, but…

A side trip to Canyons of the Ancients Visitor Center & Museum, further north, near Dolores, revealed a very nice museum. Getting out to the Canyons of the Ancients National Monument would have taken too much time, and an off-road vehicle, but it looked like a very intresting place, especially for those who like to hike. Mesa Verde, like Yellowstone, has suffered from several major fires in recent years, and given the very slow growth of high-desert plants, it will be many year before the scars are covered up.

Dead Horse State Park, Cottonwood, Arizona

Canoeing at Dead Horse State Park, Cottonwood.

Red Rock State Park, near Sedona, Arizona

Red Rock State Park, near Sedona, Arizona; the house formely owned by Jack Frye, president of Trans World Airlines from 1934 to 1947. Given the romantic name ‘House of Apache Fires’, apparently by Mrs. Frye, it is currently in rather poor condition.

One of the burned area of Mesa Verde National Park

One of several large burned areas in Mesa Verde National Park. The fast-moving fires were virtually unchallenged by the few available firefighters and their sparse equipment. Lightning strikes are believed to be the cause of the fires.

Spruce Tree House

The beautiful Spruce Tree House, which was unfortunately closed (due to concerns about bits of the ceiling which appear to be thinking about falling), from the opposite side of the canyon.

Cliff Palace from afar

The largest of the easily-accessible ruins, Cliff Palace, from the opposite side of the canyon. On the right, where the buildings start, you can just make out a tour group listening to a park ranger. Barely visible, about a quarter of the way across the cave from the left, is one guy in a fluorescent-yellow safety jacket. He is one of a group of people working on clearing a large fallen boulder which was blocking the normal entrance for Cliff Palace tours (the only way to see the palace in recent years). Usually a tour would descend the left-hand side, walk across the width of the cave, and ascend the right side, which uses almost vertical ladders for much of the way – with the altitude, it was a struggle.

Left-hand buildings of Cliff Palace

The buildings on the left end of Cliff Palace. Little space was wasted in the caves. The horizontal row of dots along the front of the central buiding are the ends of the timbers – whole tree trunks – upon which a floor rested.

Plastered tower, Cliff Palace

Although the building stones are clearly visible now, originally many (perhaps even most) were smoothed with adobe, or even plastered, as this square tower in Cliff Palace shows.

Square Tower House, Mesa Verde

Square Tower House: the actual tower which gives this site its name is off the picture to the right, but as you can see, there is more than one square tower. It can be visited on a strenuous hike from the top, but the tours were not yet running when we were there.

Changes, April 2018

This is the second update to the site, which first went on-line in late 2012. On this page you will find more recent events, as well as links to new bits on other pages. Photos on this page are by me, unless otherwise noted. The content of the previous ‘New’ page (February 2015) has been moved to First Update.

Dino trip

It was my 70th birthday in 2016, and my wife gave me a spectacular present: a journey with three friends to some of the major dinosaur museums in Wyoming, Montana and Alberta. Since I no longer drive, the SUV chore was divided up among my brother; my best friend from high school; and a fellow early-music enthusiast whom I met at university but did not get to know until several years later, when we both played in various ensembles. I was often the navigator, although I admit not a very good one, as I often got too interested in the countryside to pay attention.

The trip involved a lot of miles—more car travel than I had over the preceding several decades, but I only got car sick (once a major problem for me) during the curves and hills involved in getting around the bottom of Glacier National Park. We couldn’t go through the park because they close the Going to the Sun Road during the winter. (For good reasons, apparently!)

Our various flights were scheduled to arrive in Denver on October 11, after which we flew on to Casper, where we picked up the car and drove to our first hotel, the somewhat preciously-named C’Mon Inn, which proved to be the most attractive of the hotels on the trip. The next day, after waiting the morning for our missing compatriot to arrive (flying can be a nightmare!), we headed north-west to Thermopolis, home of The Wyoming Dinosaur Center. Thinking ‘tiny town, low-population state, weirdo digging up unknown fossils in his backyard’, I was in for a big surprise: a major museum (albeit in a tiny town), beautifully mounted, and somehow with the only Archaeopteryx in North America. The museum is trying to gather funds for a new building, to replace the industrial-warehouse-feel that they have now, but I’m not sure that they really need that. Highly recommended if you get anywhere near Thermopolis.

Triceratops at the Wyoming Dinosaur Center

Triceratops horridus at the Wyoming Dinosaur Center. Don’t be confused by the label—it refers to a Psittacosaurus which is almost invisible behind the sign – that’s his head peeking out on the right.

lonely steers near Thermopolis

Lonely steers near Thermopolis, Wyoming.

After two hours in the museum, and fortified with some very good ice cream, we headed to Cody for a night’s rest. The next morning we went west to Yellowstone National Park, at first continuing through browned semi-arid cattle country, then climbing into pine forest and exposed rock—and then snow—before decending a bit into the valley of Lake Yellowstone. Strangely, none of us had been to Yellowstone, even though we lived much of our lives in California. I now regret not visiting the area before: it was spectacular, and I could easily have stayed several days.

elk ranch east of Yellowstone

Ranch with a herd of elk, on the way from Cody to Yellowstone.

banded rocks near Cody

Between Cody and Yellowstone we passed through landscapes of brown grass, dark green sage and banded rock formations. And, occasionally, people.

Yellowstone had a major fire in 1988, and it is alarming to still see the fire scars so clearly. A third of the park was burned, thousands of people fought the fire over several months, and only the arrival of fall weather brought the fires under control. Our first major stop was the West Thumb Geyser Basin, with some spectacular small pools.

fire scars at Yellowstone

The scars from the disastrous Yellowstone fires of 1988 are still visible over large areas of the park.

West Thumb Geyser Basin, white and turquoise pools

Milky-white and turquoise pools at the West Thumb Geyser Basin. The various colors of these three-dozen pools come from a combination of water temperature, bacteria able to grow in hot waters, and the geology.

West Thumb Geyser Basin, azure pool

Brilliant azure blue pool, with steam rising from the near-boiling water. This one was my favorite; the intensity of the blue probably will not survive the web.

Of course we had to see Old Faithful, followed by the Midway Geyser Basin with the Firehole River and stunning Grand Prismatic Spring, shrouded in steam. By this time we were losing daylight, and had to cut short our visit, leaving via the north entrance, then heading west to Bozeman, Montana. Actually, we mistakenly headed east for a while…

lonely bison in Yellowstone

I was glad to see that bison heed the road signs when they are wandering the buildings.

Bozeman is a major city, by Montana standards, with close to 45,000 people, many of whom have something to do the Montana State University. For our purposes, nothing needed to exist except a place to sleep and a day for the Museum of the Rockies. Primarily known for its excellent paleontology rooms, the museum also has an interesting collection about the area’s history, rooms dealing with northern Plains Indians, and a special exhibit space which was featuring ‘The Villas of Oplontis Near Pompeii’. Outside the building is a ‘Living History Farm’, and a Center for the Humanities building is scheduled to open in 2018.

Food in Bozeman included buffalo burgers at a raucous student-filled restaurant, and continued the amazingly large size of restaurant meals in America.

Tyrannosaurus heads at the MOR

The Museum of the Rockies displays a very large collection of T-rex skulls. Unlike many museums, they like to make it clear where the original stops and reconstruction begins.

Brachylophosaurus skull

This beautiful skull is from one of the hadrosaurs, Brachylophosaurus.

Gorgosaurus in the dark

This ‘artistic’ photo is the result of the flash not going off. But I like it anyway. Gorgosaurus.

The next day we drove up to Kalispell, gateway to Glacier National Park. The way up was very pretty, via Butte, Missoula and Flathead Lake. Overnight at a Hampton Inn, then a drive through as much of the park as we were allowed: Going to the Sun Road was closed for the winter at Avalanche Creek – the one disavantage of travelling so late in the year. Otherwise, the lack of crowds was a distinct plus.

Since we could not cross through, it was back to the start and then a beautiful drive around the southern end of the park, and up the eastern side, heading for the border crossing at Carway. Entering Canada saw an immediate reduction in the speed limit, and a lot of flat scenery with vast acres of wheat and other crops. The question arose: why are barns usually painted red? We could not think of a satisfactory answer.

Our target was the town of Brooks, outside of which is Dinosaur Provincial Park, one of the most important dinosaur locations in North America. In addition to a small museum with some very nice exhibits (many of the finds from here are actually on display at the Tyrrell Museum), the real star of the park is the badlands and the ability to walk through it (although many of the trails were closed for winter). Or is it walk through them? Is badlands a singular or a plural?

Late in the afternoon we headed off to Drumheller, with the next day spent at the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Paleontology, a world-class museum. The main reason to visit Alberta, as far as I am concerned! Exhibits cover both pre- and post-dinosaur times, but it is hard to compete with the 40+ displays of the Dinosaur Hall. Outstanding.

At the end of the day it was off to Calgary, getting slightly lost on the highways encircling that city, but eventually finding our B&B. Next day (October 19) to the airport, and going our separate ways. Thanks, guys, for a very memorable time.

On the web:

And if you are interested in travelling the region to see dinos, take a look at the Montana Dinosaur Trail.

Chasmosaur at the Royal Ontario Museum

Of course I don't have to go far to see dinosaurs: our own ROM has a pretty good collection (including the splendidly-named Wendiceratops). This is Chasmosaurus.

Dale Chihuly

The famed artist in glass had a major exhibition at the Royal Ontario Museum, the second half of 2016. A few photos are given below, but it would take a much better photographer than I to do justice to his works. The low light levels in the basement main display area showed off the glass wonderfully, especially since many of them were lit from within or below the shapes.

Chihuly glass garden

A garden of glass at the Chihuly exhibit. I liked the contrast of the black & white plants with the bright – even garish – colors of the other sections.

Chihuly orange bowls

These deep orange bowls were in a dark room of the exhibit, seeming to glow from within. Difficult to get a sense of scale; these were two feet and more in diameter.

Chihuly red forest

A forest of brilliant red trees, growing like parasites from birch trunks.

Chihuly bowls on plank

Beautiful pale brown bowls on thick wood planks (spruce?). Lit from above, the caustics from the glass interact with the grain of the wood to make interesting areas of detail.

Blue Whale at the ROM

In the spring of 2014, two dead blue whales (a endangered species estimated to number only 250) washed up on the shores of Newfoundland, and set off a train of flensing, tissue gathering, bone collection, and really, really bad smells. It was quickly decided that the Royal Ontario Museum would fund the recovery of the entire skeleton of one of the whales, for later mounting at the ROM. Three years later, a special exhibit opened, featuring the huge mounted skeleton; its plasticized heart, showing every detail; and lots of ancillary information. We went in June, and enjoyed it very much – though I cannot imagine where they will put the beast after the special display space makes room for the next feature.

Return to Arizona

In the Fall of 2017 I went for another visit to my brother in northern Arizona. We had day-trips to several interesting places near Cottonwood: Tuzigoot National Monument, Montezuma Castle and Montezuma Well, Flagstaff, Prescott for its Victorian houses, and Sedona/Oak Creek Canyon.

Tuzigoot National Monument, Arizona: view from the hilltop site

The view from the hilltop site of Tuzigoot, overlooking the valley of the Verde River.

Tuzigoot National Monument, Arizona: view of the museum from the ruins

Looking back at the museum from the ruins, Tuzigoot.

Montezuma Castle National Monument, Arizona: view from the valley floor

The commonly-shot view of Montezuma Castle National Monument. Unfortunately, this site was discovered by whites in the nineteenth century, and was looted of most of its small artifacts.

Montezuma Castle National Monument, Arizona: flowers along the valley floor

These surprisingly luxurious flowers are common along the valley of Beaver Creek. The bloom is about four inches across.

Montezuma Castle National Monument, Arizona: sycamore tree bark

The bark of Arizona Sycamore trees (Platanus wrightii) has these wonderful variegated patterns. Given enough water, they will grow up to 70 feet tall.

Montezuma Well, Arizona: view aross the sinkhole, almost 400 feet across

General view of Montezuma Well, several miles from Montezuma Castle. On the far left side are the ruins of several dwellings tucked under the rim of the sinkhole. In a very dry region, this is a major source of water for irrigation (not good for drinking, as it is saturated with carbon dioxide – natural soda water! – and is high in arsenic. Used by farmers since the eighth century.

Montezuma Well, Arizona: invasive pondweed

Although interesting to look at, the large mats of invasive pondweed are actually a major nuisance, costly to keep under control. The barely-visible white dots in the dark water are bubbles of carbon dioxide coming to the surface.

Museum of Northern Arizona pottery display

The Museum of Northern Arizona is renowned for its collection of Native American ceramics and other artefacts.

Museum of Northern Arizona Dilophosaurus mount

The MNA also has this Dilophosaurus, made famous by the first Jurassic Park movie…

Museum of Northern Arizona Therazinosaur mount

…as well as this Therizinosaur, with its huge hands, lurking in the entrance hall.