The Petrified Forest and the Painted Dessert

Posted in On Tthe Road, Photography Tricks on July 31st, 2011 by MadDog
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Once in a while in my life Dallas calls to me. Not the city. It is a typical American megalopolis, sprawling across the flat Texas semi-dessert as if exhausted by the heat. The torrid weather wave has been torturing most of the heart of North America for some time now. No, the city does not call me. It is urgent business with the International Service Center of Pioneer Bible Translators which caused Grace and I to pile into Charmaine Cossette, her miniscule Chevy Aveo for a one-week road trip across the baking southwest.

The visit to my former place of torture (I have been a bad boy on several occasions) went well. Things are different now. I would call the two days of confabulation exquisitely productive. More to come . . .

On the way from Dallas back to Sedona, we decided to savor a bit of the ragged beauty of this part of the world. Amidst hundreds of thousands of square miles of boring dessert lie pockets of breathtaking beauty. Old Teddy Roosevelt had the wonderful idea to grab huge chunks of American soil for National Parks. It was one of the smarter ideas any politician has ever had. The conjoined parks we visited were the Painted Dessert and the Petrified Forest. Here is a shot of Grace Preval (recently changed from Grace Flicker) decorating one of the plainer areas of the park:

The lighting was terrible. It took considerable thinking to set my Canon G11 to get the best shots. Here I used a fill flash to put some light on lovely Grace. Boosting the contrast in the background made the rainstorm stand out.

I’ll back up a bit to show you a couple of shots from Tucomcari, New Mexico, a rather small town along the old Route 66. The town was once billed as “The Gateway to the West”:

It seems to me to be pretty much the middle of nowhere, but, to be fair it does serve as a rest stop for those who are on their way to somewhere:

I took advantage of the poor lighting and blustery sky to get some nice panoramas. Here is one of the Painted Dessert:

The two parks are really one geographically. The petrified wood is prevalent all across the landscape. I was amazed how much of the stuff there is. Here is a typical overlook:

In these shots, if you click to enlarge, you can see big chunks of petrified tree trunks strewn all about, especially in the gullies. Most of them appear as red squarish shapes:

We intended to visit the Meteor Crater near Winslow, Arizona, but the weather turned very foul, dumping much needed rain on the barren, parched countryside. We’ll save that for another time.

As we came down out of the mountains nearing Sedona, we stopped so that I could work up one more panorama. This one, as do the others, covers more than 180°. You can make out the Mingus Mountains in the far distance:

Much of the land we saw brought back memories of Sicily, but the colors are much more vivid here. We have some other great landscapes to explore before I return to Madang in November. I like it here.

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It’s Me Again

Posted in On Tthe Road on July 22nd, 2011 by MadDog
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Early tomorrow morning we are up for a road trip to Dallas. It’s about a sixteen hour drive from here, so we’ll be staying over in Amarillo, Texas, a town which I never expected to see. Life seems to be teasing me lately with constant surprises. At least none of them are bad. I can’t help thinking about how miserable I was only a few months ago

Last October, only a little over a month after Eunie died, I took this self portrait of a man overcome by grief and loss:

When I looked at it, I kept seeing the expression as “pensive”. Now it looks terribly sad. A great deal has changed since then. Though I still grieve for Eunie every day, I’ve traveled half way around the world staying with wonderful friends along the way who have helped me to heal and see that there is a future for me. I’ll never get over the loss of my wife and best friend of forty-seven years, but I’ve been given a vision of a future in which life can be good again. Whereas death once seemed a total loss, it now feels more to me as a change of condition. In my present situation, staying with Grace, Eunie’s life-long best friend, She is not physically present, but nevertheless alive in our memories. She seems close to me now, whereas before I could not even unlock the treasure chest of memories.

So, as life unfolded day by day and month by month, I was guided to a place where I could find peace, comfort and healing. It feels very strange that only three years ago Eunie and I were here together visiting Grace. I remember being stunned by the incredible landscape. Nothing has changed my impressions of it. Here is Bell Rock. I see it every day when running mundane errands to buy groceries or post letters:

Every place you look here you find some outlandish display of handiwork. Here is the view from the parking lot of the local hardware store:

Ridiculous, eh?

Still skeptical? How about this:

Really, it sometimes gives me the giggles.

It appears that I’ve traded fish for birds. There are precious few fish around here. This is a pair of European Collared Doves (Streptopelia decaocto) resting high at the top of a huge pine tree in back of Grace’s house:

I can’t account for all that’s happening to me. It seems as chaotic a process as that which put me into the depths of despair less than a year ago. There is no explanation or rational for it. Grace says that the universe is being nice to me. I suppose that’s as good a summary as any. I tend not to blame things on God. It’s a useless notion. What I do believe is that everything of significance which “happens” is really part of some big plan, the details of which I am not privy to. Things which do happen are somehow necessary to keep the big plan on track. Being born and dying are critical events in the plan and we humans have little control over the timing. We do have a lot of control over many of the details of our lives, so it pays to live wisely, otherwise we waste what we are given.

I could not understand the plan if it were explained to me. God operates on some higher plane than my intellect can envision. I’m reminded of the old Simon and Grafunkel song, Slip Sliding Away:

God only knows
God makes his plan
The information’s unavailable
To the mortal man
We work our jobs
Collect our pay
Believe we’re gliding down the highway
When in fact we’re slip slidin’ away

All I can do is play my part with as much patience an good humor as I can muster. I think that I’m finally doing that again. I don’t think I’m slip sliding away any more. I think it shows in my face:

This is no longer the face of a sad man.

It’s the face of a man who has stopped trying to figure things out so much and is just enjoying the ride. I’ll eventually get to where I’m supposed to be.

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The Red Planet Diner – Sedona

Posted in On Tthe Road on July 17th, 2011 by MadDog
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Nobody, not even residents of Sedona, could deny that it is an eminently quirky community. In fact, that is its primary claim to fame. We have been exploring some of the local attractions. Grace has lived here for seventeen years, so she knows the lay of the land pretty well. One place which attracted my attention from the beginning is the Red Planet Diner on Route 89A, the main drag through Oak Creek Village.

It’s not all that impressive from the outside. It defies the sensibilities of the Sedona Color Police, who insist that desert tones are the only suitable shades for architecture. Sedona is the only place in the world where the golden arches of McDonalds are teal. Aside from the flashy neon sign in front, there is not much to attract the attention of passersby.

Oh, wait. There is one other little thing.  Just off the road in front of the parking lot is a captured flying saucer. As I have heard, the proper term is Unidentified Flying Object. This, however, does not seem to fit, as this object has been clearly identified. It is an Unreasonably Funny Object:

I won’t show you images of the food. I’ve had to many complaints about ugly food here at MPBM. I will, however, say that the menu is typically diner-style. There are plenty of choices and the meal we had was very tasty. They have a decent bar. The service is cheerful and amusing. All of the staff wear t-shirts bearing the greeting, “Welcome Earthlings.”:

It probably the only establishment on the planet featuring an alien restroom attendant:

Alas, there is no jukebox. The selection boxes at the tables have long been colonized by tiny aliens:

Other small aliens float ghostlike around the ceiling while their scout ship hovers silently:

A more robust alien serves as maître d’:

The usual “Please wait to be seated” placard is replace by a more amusing version.

I couldn’t resist posing Grace at the door. Really, someone should talk to these aliens about clothing:

Grace was visibly discomfited by the proximity of a naturalist alien.

I find myself in a place where being far out on the fringes of the bell curve is perfectly acceptable. The presence of many long-haired, freaky people is very comforting. It’s not unlike a warmer Hamilton, Ontario, except for the pervasive woo-woo factor. It will be interesting to see what happens to Sedona when the New Age becomes passé, as it surely will.

Nothing lasts forever.

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The Back Yard Birds

Posted in On Tthe Road on July 9th, 2011 by MadDog
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Whoa, it’s been a while since I posted anything. I’m getting lazy, I guess. I’m in Phoenix at the home of Grace’s son and his family. It is hotter than the hubs of Hades here today. Last week the temperature in the Phoenix area topped out at 118°F (48°C). If you’ve never experienced heat such as that, please let me inform you that if you do, you will wish you had not.

The only time I have ever been fricaseed by temperature as hot a that was on a motorcycle ride from Crouch, Idaho (who thought of that name?) to Eagle, near Boise. I was riding behind a friend on her big Honda Shadow. The expression “Billy blue blazes” kept running through my mind. My friend was still wearing her leathers. I was in a tank top and I was dying. It was not unlike riding into the mouth of a blast furnace. I remember looking up in the gullies on the nearby sides of the beautiful mountains and seeing snow. It occurred to me that it might be pleasant to crash into it. I distinctly remember seeing 114°F on a thermometer sign in front of a bank. She claims she saw one reading 118. I don’t dispute that. I was delirious, anyway.

It feels peculiar to be in a place which makes Madang seem frigid by comparison. It’s simply impossible to stay outside for long. We went today to look at new cars, a pleasure I have not enjoyed for decades. What caught my eye was a Nissan Juke, a cute little crossover between a hatchback and a SUV. It’s small and it gets very good mileage. It comes in a all-wheel-drive version which gives it good rough road capacity. It would be very cool to have one in Madang. Dream on, MadDog. I could stand to be out in that car lot for only about ten minutes before I began to think that I might possibly succumb to the heat. Keep in mind that I really wanted to fiddle with that car for a while. It was simply too hot.

I see that I have yet to get to the subject of today’s nonsense. Fortunately, at least in Sedona, nearly a mile high in the desert, it cools off dramatically at night. In fact, it sometimes gets downright cold. It would not be unusual for the daytime and nighttime temperatures to differ by more than 60°F (16°C).

Hmmm . . . I’m still digressing.

A few days ago, in the cool of the morning, I decided to drag out my ancient Olympus SP-590UZ ultra-zoom camera for a little bird watching in Grace’s back yard. There are many species of dove here in Arizona. Some of them are very pretty. This is a White Winged Dove (Zenaida asiatica):

This shot was taken at about twenty feet (6 meters) on full zoom. The Olympus has a “bird watcher’s” setting in the Scenes mode which sets the camera up perfectly for snapping our feathered friends. The only down side is the slight softness of focus at the extreme zoom. I hope that later generations of super-zoom cameras have fixed this. Really though, it’s too much to expect super sharp focus from long zoom lenses on camera which cost less than $500. These are equivalents of 35mm lenses of 400mm or more. Those lenses can cost thousands of dollars. You get what you pay for.

For fun to watch, you can’t beat the homely little House Finches (Carpodacus mexicanus):

They are very fussy and spend most of their time chasing each other away from the food. Grace is very generous with her flighty little neighbors. She feeds them every day. I am amazed by how much food the birds in her back yard consume each day. I would estimate at least a couple of pounds of wild bird seed. Fortunately, large twenty pound bags of this feed can be bought at Ace Hardware for as little as five dollars.

Here is a close-up of two of the little House Finches:

They are not very flashy. They look a bit like a common sparrow, but the big, sturdy finch beak, made for cracking seeds, is a give-away.

I had a bit of trouble identifying this Mountain Bluebird (Sialia currucoides):

I finally found it on the Cornel Laborotory of Ornithology site. This is a very good place to go if you want to identify North American birds.

I have heard several people say that the Mountain Bluebird is a feisty critter. I think this image demonstrates that pugnacious nature:

I have no idea how I insulted this bird. I did not speak a word or make any rude gestures.

Sometimes bird photography does not go as planned:

I was too slow.

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