Tucumcari, New Mexico – The Blue Swallow Motel

Posted in On Tthe Road on August 13th, 2012 by MadDog
No Gravatar

I managed to skip posting for the entire month of July. Some may have fretted over my passing, but I’ve simply been in too fine a mood to complain about anything. July found Gracie and I to be wandering Gypsies. A work trip to Dallas was followed in a week by Waterloo, Illinois to visit kids and to report to supporters about my new work as a Media Arts Specialist for Pioneer Bible Translators.

Both voyages were long road trips. We bought a couple of books from Audible.com to ease the road tedium. Conversations take you only so far. A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller, Jr. was an excellent listen. I read it many years ago. We followed that with The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat by neurologist Oliver Sacks. This audo book required a bit more attention, so I had to concentrate on my driving. Grace got a great deal from it, since it was right up her alley.

I couldn’t talk about our road trips to Dallas without mentioning Tucumcari, New Mexico and especially the Blue Swallow Motel. Tucumcari, whose residents number only about five thousand, is what I would call a “wide spot in the road.” Its existence seems mostly attributed to attention to the convenience of travelers. There probably would not be a Tucumcari were it not for the railroad. Here is how Tucumcari came to be, according to Wikipedia:

In 1901, the Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific Railroad built a construction camp in the western portion of modern-day Quay County. Owing to numerous gunfights, the camp became known as Six Shooter Siding. After it grew into a permanent settlement, it was renamed Tucumcari in 1908. The name was taken from Tucumcari Mountain, which is situated near the community.

Yes, the railroad was the famous Rock Island Line of folk music fame. While I’m on the subject, have a listen to a recording of the song by a group from the Italian rockabilly scene, Wheels Fargo and the Nightengale.

But, I digress. Getting back to Tucumcari, a long road trip and where to lay your head, brings up the subject of The Blue Swallow Motel. This goes on my list of amusing funky places to sleep. Built in 1939 when the idea of “motor hotel” meant that you had to have your own personal garage for the family buggy (more later), it has probably fallen on hard times more than once, but has recently been revived but not unduly modified by nice owners Nancy and Kevin to maintain the flavor of the place without excessively destroying the patina of ageless Route 66 cool.

I can’t imagine any better way to express my tribute to The Blue Swallow Motel than this shot, of which I’m rather proud, of the grand automobile entryway done in the style of the Photorealists. Yeah, I know it’s not a painting. I’m not that talented. I’m just a copycat.

If you are ever in Tucumcari and seeking culture you should consider The Blue Swallow. Frankly, it’s not a place you might want to stay for a week if you are accompanied by a lady who takes her beauty shop science seriously. Gracie was certainly amused by the ambiance, but complained that the bathroom had little in the way of “chick space.” This is not your star spangled Hilton. It is, however, immaculately clean and charmingly adorned with furnishings of the period. What it lacks in accoutrements is more than made up for by American Road Trip style.

As are many structures in Tucumcari, The Blue Swallow’s flat spaces are splashed with folksy Americana.

Everywhere you look are scenes familiar to anyone over the age of sixty. The place appeals to the jaded road warrior.

If your car is not much bigger than that of a pre-war chariot you can make use of your personal carriage house, the walls of which are illustrated with more adorable American kitsch.

If you are ever in Tucumcari, at least have a look at the Blue Swallow Motel. I imagine that there is nothing else like it left.

Well, except for the Petrified Wood Station in Decatur, Texas. It dates from the same general era, having received its raggedy coat of rather poor quality petrified wood in 1935. It doesn’t sell gas any more. The owner uses it as his private office.

On our way to Phoenix while the Gladiator Fire was at its peak I got this shot.

We were a long way from the Highway, so I needed all 300mm of lens. The air was very smoky. I had to massage the shot severely with some nice oily Photoshop.

I love wind machines. Parts of the Southwest are littered with them. We see hundreds on our trips from Sedona to Dallas. You can tell when you’re getting close to a big wind farm because the trees are permanently bent in one direction – the prevailing wind. In this shot, the wind was blowing strongly. It amused me that these two wind turbines were turning in nearly exact synchronization.

And now a picture of a squirrel, for no reason whatsoever.

We have one exactly like this living in our big walnut tree beside the garage. I haven’t managed to get a shot of her yet, so this will have to do. This squirrel lives at Montezuma’s Castle, which I hope to cover in a future post. Our squirrel is madly collecting walnuts and burying them in the most unlikely locations.

Also, just because I can, I’ll show you Datura or Angel’s Trumpet, a psychotropic plant that will put you into medical care if you try to get high by eating it. It’s a member of the family Solanaceae, many species of which are toxic and some of which are tasty, including tomatoes, peppers, potatoes and eggplant.

I suppose it is called the Angel’s Trumpet because that is what you may hear if you eat it.

While we’re at it we may as well see a House Finch (a few of which I hear tweeting now through the open patio door) sitting on a still folded blossom of a Saguaro cactus.

The House Finch (Haemorhous mexicanus) is by far the most common bird around our feeder. What they lack in spectacular colors they make up for in numbers.

Finally, a bee feeding frenzy. When the Prickly Pear cacti are blooming the bees get busy.

I count three inside the blossom and one waiting impatiently to dive in.

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Nothing to Do with St. Louis

Posted in On Tthe Road on September 11th, 2011 by MadDog
No Gravatar

As you may surmise from the title, I’m in St. Louis. I’ve been enjoying myself with Grace’s daughter, her husband and their children. I have felt very subdued for the last few days. I am trying very much to avoid recalling details of life one year ago, as Eunie was dying before our eyes. Grace has wisely helped me with this and bravely avoids adding her own pain and loss to mine. It has helped very much to concentrate on the blessings which have been gifted to us instead of the loss we have suffered. I take a great deal of comfort in knowing that this is exactly what Eunie would suggest, indeed, insist.

Today’s tardy post consists of a few deranged ramblings and some images I contrived over a week ago.  This panorama, consisting of four or five frames (can’t remember and who cares) from the Canon 5D, jumped out at me while standing at Yavapai Vista, about halfway between “High” Sedona (I love that expression) and the Village of Oak Creek, where we live. It’s more or less right from the camera, except for the stitching. I wish you could see it in high resolution:

I brought all of the new gear to St. Louis with me so that I can practice using it and shoot some video of the kids for the family. They will be my wiggly little guinea pigs. I shot a half-hour of footage a few days ago and have patched it into a little movie, which I will display to the general public (you) as soon as I can get Facebook to digest it. I shot it hand-held, because I did not want to frighten the children when I don the SteadiCam gear and make my appearance as Mr. Roboto (Does anybody except me remember Styx? Very funky!):

If you get this rig balanced right the camera becomes weightless. In fact, you can even adjust it so that it takes the weight of your arm. It looks very awkward, but after a while it begins to feel natural and is a lot of fun. I’ll bring it out for the kids later.

Here are a few pitiful images of a . . . uh . . . place, hmmmm . . . don’t know what to call it, in Sedona which has one of the most marvelous collection of kitsch I believe I have ever seen. That may be a slight exaggeration, since I’ve seen a whole lot of kitsch during my strange journeys around this planet:

I think the place is called Skulls ‘Я’ Us. I hate that use of the backwards R. It’s kitschy.

Well, I have to wrap this up. I’ve been three days writing it. I don’t think it will improve with further aging. Several captions come to mind for this image. They revolve around the idea of multilevel kitsch or Reflections on Kitch or Kitch² :

Surely there must be a larger collection of Mexican crockery someplace:

Peeking thorough the hanging chilis they are colorful and cheery, even in the flat light of a cloudy day.

I’ve been thinking about star trails. It calms me. I took the camera and tripod out on the front steps a few nights ago, while I was still in Sedona. I call this a failed shot. It is considerably more complicated than I imagined:

I’ll have to keep trying.


Tags: , , , ,

Seeing Red

Posted in On Tthe Road, Sedona on August 8th, 2011 by MadDog
No Gravatar

Today the subject is pretty much photography, because I’ve got so many other things on my mind that I cannot concentrate on writing. I’ve been trying to gather some images which convey the near-mystical beauty of this part of Arizona. It’s no wonder that Sedona has become a magnet for new age folk. I have to admit that I’m running up against the limitations of my Canon G11. I’m looking for a new camera. It will definitely be a Canon, because I think the brand delivers the biggest bang for the buck in each category.

Anyway, until I get some new gear, I’m still squeezing every bit of lemon juice out of my G11. Here is a High Dynamic Range shot of some red rock:

We’ve had some very blustery weather lately. These late summer storms are referred to locally as monsoons. I find that amusing. A big dust storm is now called a haboob. That term is mildly controversial, considering its origins. The sky has often been dramatic. Here the late afternoon sun strokes the top of one of the huge red rock formations with wine light:

I took that shot from Grace’s car as we were returning from Sedona to Oak Creek Village, a distance of about six miles.

At a family gathering at Red Rock Crossing I snapped this shot of lovely little Tana with a very famous red rock in the background:

Red Rock Crossing has appeared in many western films. You can find a very interesting list of them here.

Did I mention that the weather has been frisky? Here is an image of a huge Cumulonimbus Incus which we drove right through on the way back from a shopping trip to Cottonwood, Arizona:

It seems that Grace’s hobby is power shopping. I find it disconcerting. Shuffling around The Dress Barn for two hours does not thrill me. Next time I’m taking a book.

The weather is presenting me with some radical photo opportunities. Back in Oak Creek Village the late afternoon sun was valiantly drilling its way through the cloud cover:

The next evening presented a different sky from the same location:

Once in a great while I find a scene which makes me very glad that I travel always with my camera. If I had left it at home, I would have missed this seventeen frame panorama of the magnificent display of nature on the highway between West Sedona and Oak Creek Village:

The rainbow is real. I did have to increase the saturation to make it show up better. I’ve uploaded this to my server at 3000 pixels, but the original is over 18000 pixels wide. So, to give you a better view, I created a Microsoft Photosynth Panorama of the scene:

Being critical of my own work, I can see where my camera is letting me down. You can expect only so much from a camera in the less-than-five-hundred dollar price range. Maybe that is going to be fixed soon. It depends on how other things work out.

Life is about to become very interesting . . .

Tags: , , , , ,

The Petrified Forest and the Painted Dessert

Posted in On Tthe Road, Photography Tricks on July 31st, 2011 by MadDog
No Gravatar

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.

Tags: , , , ,

It’s Me Again

Posted in On Tthe Road on July 22nd, 2011 by MadDog
No Gravatar

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.

Tags: , , , , ,

The Red Planet Diner – Sedona

Posted in On Tthe Road on July 17th, 2011 by MadDog
No Gravatar

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.

Tags: , , , ,

The Back Yard Birds

Posted in On Tthe Road on July 9th, 2011 by MadDog
No Gravatar

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.

Tags: , , , , , , ,