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Posts Tagged ‘road trip’

Hiking the pāhoehoe and ‘a’a in New Mexico

Posted by O'Maolchaithaigh on November 9, 2011

For many years, I’ve traveled by the lava flows around Grants, New Mexico. I’ve stopped to smell the lava occasionally, and even picked the tunas, the fruits of the prickly pear, as they are known around here, which grow near the lava by the highway. I’d never hiked through the lava fields before, so when a hike came up to do so, I jumped at it. Now, hiking through cold lava is not as easy as it sounds. The smooth flow, pāhoehoe, is not bad to walk on: mostly flat, good traction. The ‘a’a is not so easy. Much of the later half of the hike was on ‘a’a, the sharp, strewn rocks blown out of the volcanoes, including loose gravel-like stones.

 El Malpais is a national park.

There is a trail, (a very loose term), through the badlands. It is 7.5 miles long. Seems easy, right? Well, people do get lost and die in there. In fact, human bones found scattered on a lava flow in El Malpais National Monument have been identified, just last year, as those of James Chatman and Crystal Tuggle, father and daughter, who never came back from an afternoon walk there nine years ago. See? It is so easy to get lost in there. The trail, such as it is, is marked with cairns throughout. Sometimes the cairns are no more than ten feet apart, sometimes, 20 to 30 feet apart, when the trail is obvious. Usually, it is not, so the cairns are placed liberally along the trail, showing the way through every twist and turn.

There’s one there, in the upper right corner, next to one of my hiking companions. Now, this one is fairly easy to spot, but do you see a problem? The cairns are simply piles of lava rocks. On a rise like this, fairly easy to spot, silhouetted against the sky. Imagine that you are walking through a field of lava and all of the cairns are about two to three feet tall (max), composed of rocks the exact same color of the background. Here are two cairns in a row; can you spot them?

The advice the park service gives is to always have the next cairn in sight before you leave the one you’re at, and I wholeheartedly endorse that. Occasionally, this takes a bit of reconnoitering, but there is always a cairn alongside the trail in the direction one needs to travel. Looking at the photo above, you might be tempted to say that one needs only follow the other hikers, right? Wrong. Suppose you’re a slower hiker, or you stop to pee or take a photo. The other hikers are gone, around a bend, down a hill, or behind a pile of lava somewhere. You then have to navigate on your own until you see them again. Sometimes you walk right past a cairn, if you glance up at the wrong moment, so you have to backtrack a bit and try again. Imagine doing this right after a snowstorm. It had snowed the night before, but fortunately, it was light, and tended to melt as the day wore on.

 

Helpfully, the park service has provided wooden posts for some cairns, sticking straight up through the center of the cairn, but even these have a tendency to fall down, due to the really intense winds blowing through there.    This one was near one end of the trail.

There were piles of these poles here and there, so I assume it’s an ongoing project for the few rangers that have kept their jobs. It’s unfortunate that the National Park Service has felt the brunt of the many cuts in government over the years.  I guess we need to keep raising our Congress people’s salaries, and keep paying them for life, and make sure they have top-of-the-line free medical care.  Well, at least they think it’s more important, for them, even if they don’t think it’s important for the rest of us.

Anyway, you came here for pictures, yes?

Here ya go – (click on one to view larger, then use your keyboard’s arrow keys to scroll through):

As I told the hike leader, it was one hell of a hike. Although I was tired and aching by the time we finished, (just under five hours including two 15-minute breaks), I really enjoyed this hike. The views were always outstanding, and the experience, on the whole, was fantastic! It’s one of the best hikes I’ve ever done. On the way home, we stopped at the ‘WOW’ diner in Milan, near Grants. Their menu is just as unique and varied as the lava fields are. With three pages of dinner entrées, I may never experience everything on their menu, but I intend to try. (There are still lots of hikes in the area.)  It is the perfect end to a perfect hike.

Posted in hiking, Life, My Life, photography, rambling | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

Dreaming of a Woman Again

Posted by O'Maolchaithaigh on September 10, 2011

Haven’t had many dreams that I remember in some time. Maybe it’s because I sleep poorly. At any rate, my ex-wife was in my dream this morning. I hadn’t seen her in four years until just recently, when I spotted her dancing at a Salsa event one night. That was something we always did, mostly every week for fourteen years, so it upset me to see her dancing, knowing we could never dance again. She was on my mind for weeks after that, almost all the time. Spending time recently with my siblings and cousins, and laughing with them, broke the spell, and I hadn’t thought about her as much.

Suddenly, I’m dreaming about her this morning. In my dream, I run into her at a party at a friend’s house in the mountains. She asks me to go home with her, so we are driving up this steep mountain road to her place, somewhere deeper up in the mountains. She was always a drinker, so she has concocted a way to drink while driving. She is wearing one of those camelback water bags that hikers use, except that it is filled with wine. She attempts to take a drink from the tube but is having a hard time getting it to stay in her mouth. She is driving, and I realize she is drunk when she swerves across the road into the opposite lane of traffic. It is very late at night, so there is no other traffic, but there is some light snow on the highway, left over from an earlier storm. I am not concerned, as she has slowed way down, aware she is in the other lane. When she gets the wine tube in her mouth and takes a long swallow, she attempts to move back into the right lane when we see headlights behind us. So, she stops the car, on the left side of the road on the shoulder.  When the car passes, I look at her, realizing that she never used to drive when drunk. It was always my job to drive her home. I am wondering why I am not driving. I am wondering why I am with her at all, except I know I am still sexually attracted to her. Jokingly, I tell her that drinking WHILE driving will make them throw the book at her. She tells me to get out. It is cold, the wind is blowing powdery snow around the highway. I can’t believe she is serious. I tell her I was only joking. I want, after all, to go home with her.

All this thinking wakes me up: wrong part of the brain for dreaming, I guess.

I am left wondering why I would have a dream like that! Of course, the car ride could have been a metaphor for our marriage, but I don’t know why I would invent such an elaborate story. Perhaps I am correct, and it was a metaphor.

In a car = in the marriage

Worried about car ride = worried about marriage

Not in control of the car = not in control of marriage

Unwilling to get out of car = unwilling to get out of marriage

Warning her in car = telling her I was unhappy, wanted counseling

Cold, snow, mountain = there be monsters outside marriage

Pissed her off; she says get out = pissed her off; she said I had to go

I guess I never resolved that whole thing. I need to let go; thought I had.

Posted in Dreams, Life, love, madness, marriage, My Life, relationships, sex | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

pɐoɹ ǝɥʇ ƃuıssoɹɔ ʇsoɥƃ ǝןɐd

Posted by O'Maolchaithaigh on August 7, 2011

˙ǝɯ punoɹɐ sɯɹɐ ǝsoɥʇ ɟo ssǝuʇɟos ƃuoɹʇs ǝɥʇ sı sɹǝʇʇɐɯ ʇɐɥʇ llɐ ˙uǝʇʇoƃɹoɟ sı ǝɔuǝıɹǝdxǝ ɥʇɐǝp-ɹɐǝu ɹno ˙ɯlɐɔ ɯɐ ı ˙sǝɥɔuı ʎq ǝʇoʎoɔ ǝɥʇ ssıɯ ǝʍ ˙ǝɯ sǝʌɐs ʇɐɥʇ ǝɔuǝsǝɹd ɹǝɥ sı ʇı ˙ǝɯ sɹoɥɔuɐ ǝɥs ˙ʎʇıɹnɔǝs ˙ʇlǝq ʇɐǝs ɐ ǝʞıl ʇsǝɥɔ ʎɯ punoɹɐ sɯɹɐ ‘ǝɯ puıɥǝq ɐʎɐɯ ˙ɹǝʇsɐsıp ɹɐǝu ˙ɥdɯ ǝʌıɟ-ʎʇɟıɟ ʇɐ ǝlɔʎɔɹoʇoɯ ˙puɐs ɟo ɹoloɔ ǝɥʇ ‘ǝʇoʎoɔ ɐ ˙pɐǝɥɐ pɐoɹ ǝɥʇ ƃuıssoɹɔ ʇsoɥƃ ǝlɐd

Posted in motorcycles, My Life, poem, poetry | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

I Brake for Rhinoceros

Posted by O'Maolchaithaigh on June 8, 2011

Warning: I brake for rhinoceros. That’s what the bumper sticker on the pickup in front of me said. What I found odd was not that this was on I-25 between Albuquerque and Santa Fe, but that I thought rhinoceros should be plural, like rhinoceroses or maybe rhinoceri. I didn’t know that the plural of rhinoceros is rhinoceros, because I was surrounded on all sides by cactus plants known in the aggregate as cacti. So that seemed a good bet. Braking for rhinoceros didn’t seem as odd as the highway signs that say things like Caution: Watch For Water or Gusty Winds May Exist. There is even a large official-looking road sign near my house that says: Lizard Crossing. True enough everywhere around here, but try seeing one on the street ahead of you in the explosively bright afternoon sun with waves of heat shimmering over the road.
The idea that one brakes for rhinoceri tickled me, as tumbleweeds often seemed just as formidable charging across the highway. Some of them grow to enormous size, and, just as often, dozens of them blow by right in front of you. Tumbleweeds may seem innocuous blowing along, but not when you’re traveling between 70 and 80 miles per hour on a highway with traffic flowing anywhere between 60 mph and 110 mph, and several of them appear directly in your path. You can’t swerve into the other lane, because a long line of vehicles are backed up behind the Winnebagos there, and you can’t suddenly brake, because then the idiot behind you, traveling at 110 mph expecting you to get out of their way, will just plow into your ass.
So, sometimes you continue right along, hoping that the tumbleweeds will be knocked up over your hood and into the idiot behind you. For inexplicable reasons, at least part of the tumbleweed will end up under your car, wedged under the muffler or the heat shield. Unfortunately, tumbleweeds, at this stage of their lives, are ridiculously dry, and the underside of your car is pretty damn hot, so it is not unheard of to have one catch fire under there. Tumbleweeds are a good reason to carry a fire extinguisher in your vehicle. What I really need is a bumper sticker that says: I Brake For Tumbleweeds.

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40 Years and a Retirement Hike

Posted by O'Maolchaithaigh on November 2, 2009

After spending nearly 40 years of my life working, post high school, I retired from my last job after 25 years there.  unm_logo

In high school I flipped burgers, but after leaving high school, my first real job was running equipment in a physics lab at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland. JHUPhysicsLab-1 It was a good job, working with a machine that used x-rays to measure molecular spacing in crystals, like silicon and germanium, which would prove vital to computers later on.  It was, however, boring and repetitious, but I took night classes for free there.  I stopped working full time to attend the University of Maryland Baltimore County UMBC_Seal for two years, but continued working part time as an independent contractor.  I simply typed up a bill for my time every week.  As good as that was, I was also involved in anti-war and anti-government protests, as well as volunteer work with a free clinic, caduceus classes with a chapter of the Black Panthers, Free Breakfast Program and experiments with sex and drugs, so college work seemed irrelevant.  The University finally told me my grade-point average was too low to continue, so I’d have to drop out for a couple semesters.  Instead, I left town with my bicycle, riding through parts of Michigan, Canada, Wisconsin and North Dakota.  Short of money, I took my second real job, as an electrician’s assistant for a large mid-western carnival: Murphy Brothers Mile Long Pleasure Exposition. Murphy Brothers 001 I spent a full season with them, running cables to rides, troubleshooting, and maintaining the generators.  Then, when my final pay was stolen by Toothless Lester, so he could go on a binge, I stayed on and worked small fairs in Oklahoma and Florida.  Florida in winter is nice, and I got to swim in the ocean in December, but the ride I was with didn’t get enough business, for the four of us it took to set up and run, for us to eat all that well.   I split to Virginia to visit people I’d met in Canada.  The only work I could find there was helping out on a small goat farm, so I passed on that, and hopped a train back to Baltimore.

I got another job at Johns Hopkins LogoJhu after a short search, and this time I was preparing genetics and developmental biology laboratory materials for the pre-med students there.   That job got short circuited when a graduate student opened a drawer in a chicken egg incubator, and left it open.  The large rotating drum full of dozens of drawers full of eggs then tilted forward, and the drawer slid out.  It didn’t have far to go, and could have slipped back in, but ventilation was maintained by aid of a wooden blade revolving around the drum.  The graduate student was long gone by the time the wooden blade slammed into the open drawer, jamming the whole device, and causing the premature hatching of 50 to 60 chicks.  I was blamed.  As it was, there had been complaints from the students of contaminated agar plates, which was also blamed on me, even though the students did not follow instructions very well, and violated every protocol they were given to prevent contamination.  Another job down the tubes.  I knew exactly what to do: get on the bicycle again.  This time I left Baltimore directly, and rode west to Arizona.  After hiking across the Grand Canyon and back, I ended up in Scottsdale, Arizona, working for a crafts foundry run by Paolo Solari, a visionary architect building an “Arcology” in the desert.  I made bronze wind-bells, melting bronze, ramming clay/sand mixtures around molds and then pouring the bronze, cleaning up the raw products, assembling and even selling them. arco-santi-bells Sometimes I helped out by giving tours to tourists and other visitors.  It was a fine job, but I met some bicyclists traveling through who were doing advance work for a cross-country bicycling/networking trip.  I agreed to join them when the group arrived from California.

That was my longest break from working ever, although it involved riding a bicycle nearly every day for six months.  Sometimes we did odd jobs to supplement our communal income, and we all gave workshops in our specialties. ProjectAmerica1976 Mine was bicycle maintenance and repair.  The tour ended, and I tried working for a solar contractor in Philadelphia, but that didn’t work out.  I hadn’t enough experience in carpentry (none with solar panels) to satisfy my boss, who had wanted to have me work unsupervised.  So, I traveled to New York City.  I knew a few people there and had a place to stay.  Then began my fourth major job: bicycle messenger.  I pedaled letters, packages, advertising films and even artwork all over Manhattan on my trusty metal steed. traffic However, I had met a fascinating and very sexy woman in Albuquerque when the bicycle group had stopped there for ten days.  Although I had met several woman in my travels, she seemed like the one.  She wanted me to move there, and I wanted her, so I found my way back to New Mexico.  Unfortunately, there weren’t many jobs available in the Land of Enchantment.  After six months of looking, working odd jobs, and hanging around the unemployment office, I finally got a job at the University of New Mexico as a mason’s helper.  cement_worker For a couple of years I replaced broken sidewalks, mixed hod for block walls, and even laid a brick floor in the University President’s house.  There was also some remodeling and jack hammer work.  I transferred to a job at the Cancer Center for about a year and half, injecting and implanting, respectively, tumor cells or tumor chunks into rats and mice.  Then I would treat them with radiation and drugs, monitoring them, weighing them, and dissecting them. whitelabrats It was OK work, but the Director, and my boss, the Associate Director, took their grant money and moved to Philadelphia.  I had no desire to go there, much less to the east coast, so I was out of work for another six months, doing odd jobs, and even collecting unemployment while I searched for work.  I finally found a good part-time job, analyzing electroplating baths for a printed-circuit board manufacturer, plating which gave me a chance to take University classes again.  I did that for four years, but my quality control position was dropped, and I was looking for work again.  This time I ended up back at the University, working initially with mice, removing their glands for analysis and isolation of immunoglobulins, the wonderful molecules that protect our bodies from disease. Lab_mouse

This time the job lasted 25 years.  It changed continuously though.  I stopped working with mice, and ran machines again exclusively.  There were machines for determining the amino acid sequence of a protein, sequencing for purifying such proteins, generic HPLC for making short versions of such proteins, Peptide Synthesizer for analyzing the total amino acid content of biological samples, aaa and determining the purity of all of the above.  That changed too, as we obtained new machines: first, a machine for creating synthetic DNA.  Cool.  394 Then a machine for determining the sequence of various DNA samples. 3130xl That became my job then: making and sequencing DNA.  Interesting at first, but ultimately boring and repetitive, fraught with problems.  The problems could be fun to isolate and resolve, but dealing with an ever-changing clientele of Ph.D.s, graduate students, post-graduate students, undergraduates, and dealing with all the budget balancing was sometimes frustrating.  As this last and final job wound down, I went through the motions, doing the best job I knew how, but increasingly disinterested.  I could barely force myself to go to work, much less work all day, every day.  In the end, I suddenly decided I’d had enough, and retired.

So, what do I do the day after retirement? I went hiking in the Sandia Mountains here.  Hiking the entire 18-mile length of the Faulty trail from Placitas, New Mexico to Tijeras, New Mexico. palomaspeak It was fun, with beautiful views, a clear blue sky and leftover snowfall from a snowstorm four days earlier. Faulty Trail has a mysterious origin. Diamond blazes appeared on trees marking its route before any official Forest Service recognition, and it was unofficially called the Diamond Trail. Probably an old herding route, it was apparently cleared by a horse club. The Forest Service took it over and renamed it Faulty Trail in honor of the dikes—fissures filled with igneous rock that moved up from a lower fracture and created the limestone blocks—that appear alongside the trail. Working in a laboratory for twenty-five years, however, does not really prepare one for hiking rolling hills 18 miles at almost 8000 feet above sea level, even with some hiking experience over the last year.  I saw wild turkey, Turkey_trackrabbit, rabbittracks raccoon, coonwalking deer, tracks and even fox tracks fox_tracks in the snow and mud.   Many of the trees date to the 1700 and 1800s, and some have been cored and marked with their age,  so that is a wonderful experience.   I even saw a large black coyote near the crest of the mountain. black It was one hell of a long day however, from the meet-up at 7 a.m., to the timely lunch break halfway, to wandering off the trail for a bit, to the final late, forced steps on the darkened trail in the light of a full moon at 7:30 p.m. (2 1/2 hours beyond schedule).  Tired, sore, and as hungry as a bear, I ate, went home, and crawled into bed early that night, and slept the longest I have in fifteen years: 8 and 1/2 hours non-stop!

Now that is worth retiring for.

Posted in Bicycling, hiking, Life, My Life, Travel | Tagged: , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

A Comedy Duo

Posted by O'Maolchaithaigh on December 29, 2007

abbottcostello.jpg You think of comedy duos, you think of Abbott and Costello, Laurel & Hardy, laurelhardy.jpg Cheech and Chong, cheechchong.jpg or maybe Burns and Allen, burnsallen.jpg depending on your age. However, I think my parents were one of the best comedy acts I’ve ever seen. The driving trip was their specialty.

Somehow, they always thought, first off, that waking up three, four, or all seven kids hours before we usually got up was a good idea. Sure, they’d warn the older ones we would all have to get up early, and there was always a strict deadline to be on the road, like 5:00 am sharp. Of course, that never worked, but it never deterred them in the slightest. They’d drag us all out of our dreams and make sure we dressed, or were dressed. My mom went on to make the sandwiches and boiled eggs, while my dad was doing things to the car. There was barely enough light to see when we all finally stumbled out to the car, and fell back asleep, but not before we were told to pee now or forever hold our pees. That rarely worked either. Somebody always had to pee, of course, before we’d gone a mile or two. That was easy enough when we stopped for gas. I never saw us go anywhere without having to stop and put in a whole two dollars worth of gas.

family.jpg However, on the return trip, all of the younger kids were asleep, and we were not allowed to stop for any reason. Me and my brother John were usually awake or woke up on the way back, and we always had to pee. My mom was prepared for this after a few such trips. She carried a mason jar with her, and she’d pass it back to us when we had to go. canning-jar.jpg We’d fill it up, and she’d open her door just enough to pour it out onto the road. Woe onto any of us if we lost time or gas mileage because we had to stop. It’s pretty embarrassing to pee with your parents listening a foot away, but having to pass that jar of hot piss to your mom just seemed really odd. We handled it carefully too, since the thought of spilling any in the car seemed terrifying. stationwagon.jpg

Going or coming, my parents were always fun to watch. If my mother was driving, my dad was always reaching over to grab the steering wheel – to straighten out the car, he said. He was nervous watching someone else drive, and couldn’t stand to see her not drive straight down the center of the lane squarely between the lines. Eventually they would teach me to line up the edge of the hood with the highway stripes, and that would put me dead center. I don’t know why it was so vitally important. Of course, since we couldn’t stop, sometimes the driver would fall asleep, and start to drift, so I can understand how grabbing the steering wheel came about. If my father was driving, he rolled the window all the way down, even on a cold night, to help keep himself awake, and we’d freeze our nuts off in the back seat. Even with that, I remember waking up when the car went off the road onto the shoulder. That was nerve-wracking, since the shoulders often sloped down away from the highway, and the car could roll over. My parents always managed to straighten the car. I learned from that that you don’t panic, you keep going, and gradually slow, until you can pull back on the road smoothly. Worked for me one time, but I never went off the road again after that. Nowadays I stop as soon after dark as I can, eat dinner and hit the sack. steering_wheel.jpg

By far the best part of the whole routine was watching them trade drivers. Remember, they couldn’t stop the car, even to pee, so stopping to switch drivers appeared to be out of the question too. One of them would suddenly say, “Grab the wheel,” and the other would do it. Then would begin the incredible acrobatics, as one person slipped under as the other climbed over, all while one person held the wheel and the other kept a foot on the accelerator. Keeping the car straight always seemed to work OK; the hard part was transferring power to the pedal. “Get the accelerator!” “I can’t, your foot’s in the way.” “Well, I can’t let go.” “Well let go now, damn it.” And suddenly, they’d be completely on their own part of the seat, and I’d relax. It was the best show I ever watched, and it played a couple times each trip, each and every time. Loved it.

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