Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Meanwhile, on Earth Three, things get worse

These two tweets were next to each other in my timeline today. (And they're not the only ones like it.)

No wonder the young people hate us. On the other hand, they will have the interesting challenge of trying to re-site cities and ports in a land where most of the crops are having to be grown in new latitudes, most all of the trees are dead and there's no usable internet.

That should keep them busy.


Tweets are Sarah Kendzior on dismantling net neutrality in a Trump world and David Simon (quoting Eric Holthaus) on how quickly sea level rise will change coastlines.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Blues and Gospel Train: Sister Rosetta Tharpe and others at Manchester station, 1964

This is the program from which that Sister Rosetta Tharpe song, Didn't It Rain, is taken. You know, the one everyone shares and says it's rare. The film also includes Muddy Waters (a bit) and Sonny Terry and Brownie McGee (a lot).


Many English people study trains and train stations the same way some people study the blues. So unlike most YouTube videos, you get comments like this:
mlw61
Exactly 50 years on. The recording was made on a rainy day in Manchester (UK) on 7th May 1964. There is dispute about exactly where it was filmed, but TV producer Johnny Hamp says it was on Wilbraham Road, Chorlton Cum Hardey in South Manchester. The station was closed around 1959, but still had freight trains rolling through. I think it was closed permanently in 1967 and was knocked down. The site was used as a cycle way, with Safeway opening a store next to it (this is now a Morrisons). Over the last year or so, tracks have been re-layed and it is now part of Manchester's Metrolink Tram Station. 
mlw61Around 11 minutes in, you can hear the rain battering down. Manchester has a reputation of being a rainy city (and here's proof). This lead to Sister Rosetta Tharpe to change the song originally meant for the programme to "Didn't It Rain". Hence the hilarity at the start of the song :-) 
Neil Ferguson-LeeHi mlw61 - can I add to your observations? The station was indeed called Wilbraham Road and did close in 1958 although you are quite right that trains were still running down that line including through passenger trains. Having a TV show there that evening would have been rather disruptive and they would have had to have diverted trains off that line. As it was a Thursday, it must have been extra disruptive.Just one detail: you have got the station confused wit Chorlton-cum-Hardy which is the one next to Morrisons. That one did close in 1967 although at Chorlton Junction (which is where St. Werberghs Road tram stop is), if you turned left then the next station was indeed Wilbraham Road.What would I give to have been there on that night!
(I have no idea why one of them uses "freight" instead of "goods" train though. Maybe that's English now.)

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Dead Weather: I can't hear you (live video 2010)

House of Blues, July 2010. 

I was there!

I love the twin lead guitars. I have to say there's been some drastically crap dual lead guitar playing over the last fifty years, but this works, possibly because Dean and Jack show no signs of even knowing there's someone else on the stage. Off in their own little worlds, reacting to the music. 

I also like the way it's been filmed in B&W by a mole person with a camera that fought every step of the way to only focus on the little light on one of the amps.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Culture, jammed

I've seen this image doing the rounds on Twitter lately, and garnering quite a few "WTAF?" comments. 

It's a picture of a rather raddled looking woman in a dressing gown in a kitchen, with a glass of Smirnoff vodka (the bottle is on the table) and the caption "Every Morning's a Smirnoff Morning."

It's presented on Twitter as a real ad which common sense should tell you Smirnoff would never do. A reverse image search (through Tineye or Google images) would...eventually, after some patience, tell you where it's from.  Most of the hits are people laughing about the Bad Old Days or saying one version or another of "Jeez! Promoting alcoholism. Nowadays relegated to the bin along with tobacco and sexism in advertising. How did they every thing this was a good idea is beyond me!" 

Only one hit on the first couple of pages gives its actual provenance. The "ad" is a piece of "culture jamming" from the early 90's, a fake ad from Adbusters.  The mention is in an LA Times Op Ed from 1992, and does not include the matching picture, only a description. 

Culture jamming. A new dance fad? No, the new dissent in America.
How does it work? Simple. Take a commercial message and turn it against itself. Sabotage advertising, sabotage television.
Just as the entertainment-consumption complex filched America's most cherished images, language and values, so now culture jammers use the same tactics to obstruct their adversaries' ideology. To defend culture jamming as a First Amendment freedom is to support an insurgent idea--and that's precisely what these new radicals want.
Their strategy is to meet the enemy on its own turf. They take space on billboards, in magazine ad slots and on commercial television--they even distribute T-shirts--to plant critical messages in the style of the targeted offenders. Some examples:
* Magazine ad of a riderless horse in a cemetery with the caption "Marlboro Country."
* Billboard ad showing a bedraggled woman sitting at a breakfast table with a glass of vodka in hand. The caption: "Every morning's a Smirnoff morning." [...]
Another source a bit harder to find, Culture Jamming in the Carnival, gives an exact reference for the image:
ADBUSTERS Q., Winter 1989 ­90, at inside cover. Consider another such example: an advertising photo of a high­ gloss and expensive coffin with the caption "Absolute Silence" and the subtext "The birthdays, the graduation, the wedding day ... we were there to toast them all. So from one great spirit to another, here's to the most enduring ritual of all." ADBUSTERS Q., Summer/Fall 1992, at inside cover.
And so there you have it. It's a splash page at Adbusters, a magazine I never bought but often eagerly read in one of those bookshops that had racks upon racks of magazines and a cafe, so you could read the magazines without buying them. Younger people don't remember those because they all went bust in the oughties for some unknowable reason. Adbusters itself is still going strong.

Adbusters' aim - to get people to think about consumer culture, by any means necessary - was admirable and still is, though of course, since it's not possible to do anything about consumer culture it's very irritating.  However, the current air of mild disbelief about this "ad" - were the Bad Old Days really that bad? I guess so! - reveals that the persistence of the memes outside their intended context simply shores up the status quo. Culture is now so distorted, and 'truth' is now so kaleidoscopic that this "ad" becomes just another brick in the wall. Culture jamming just jammed the culture tighter into place.

Friday, November 10, 2017

Edgar Varese: Deserts (documentary 1966)

An hour long documentary on Edgar Varese.

Described as (translated by Google):

Movie of Gérard Patris and Luc Ferrari. "Great Rehearsals" Ionization, Deserts

This show is primarily a tribute to the musician Edgar Varèse who died in the United States on November 6, 1965 at the age of eighty-two years, a few days before the scheduled date for the filming of the repetition of one of these works. Through the testimonies of personalities who have known him, the extraordinary vitality of this composer has evolved for more than forty years, in an almost total isolation, a revolutionary sound research. Ferdinand Ouelette, his Canadian biographer, traces the life in Paris and New York of the musician. Iannis Xenakis, Olivier Messiaen, Hermann Scherchen, André Jolivet, Pierre Schaeffer, Pierre Boulez and Marcel Duchamp evoke the personality and work of this sound architect. All these insider witnesses also recall how much this brutal music 
In the second part of the show, Bruno Maderna conducts a rehearsal of "Desert". The conductor wrestles with the score, striving, with great skill, to bring the orchestra's instrumentalists to a proper understanding of the required sound materials and their temporal organization. Finally, he directs the execution of a fragment developed from this rigorous, aggressive, powerful, and revolutionary work of the sixties. 

http://www.ubu.com/film/varese_documentaire.html

(Can't embed so you'll just have to click the link!)

Friday, November 03, 2017

Koi at the Mission, San Juan Capistrano

The Mission, San Juan Capistrano, has huge koi in ornamental fountains who live in their little world forever cut off from us. (And us from them.)


Sunday, October 15, 2017

Hurricane Ophelia vs. the Great Storm of 1987

It's 30 years since the Great Storm of 1987, which took place on the night of 15-16th October. It's uncanny that the first hurricane to reach Category 3 so far east is about to hit Ireland on the anniversary of the Great Storm.

I was living in a tower block in East London at the time and I remember the wind whipping up during the evening and the subsequent rather sickening and anxiety-producing *swaying* of the tower block as the wind hit it. Even so I managed to sleep and awoke in the morning to find every fence and billboard down and strewn across the streets. All over southern England, trees were down, including famous and ancient oaks such as six of the seven at Sevenoaks in Kent.  Specimens of rare and exotic trees in Kew Gardens were lost along with thousands of more prosaic town trees lining streets.  Gales reached 115 mph. It was not, however, a hurricane, as its formation didn't meet the criteria for such a thing.

I hadn't prepared for it, partly because the weathermen on the telly famously didn't warn us, and partly because you don't get hurricanes in the UK, so I had no idea wind could be so destructive.  Waking up to feel the astonishingly clean air (it had, after all, been completely refreshed over night) and see the devastation, I was taught a salutary lesson.

Now, exactly 30 years later, Storm Ophelia is about to make landfall in Ireland, and ready to go on over Northern Ireland, Scotland and Northern England. It will be weaker - a tropical storm rather than a hurrican - by the time it hits, but winds of 100 mph are expected. One hopes people have heeded the warnings because these things are destructive.

Friday, October 06, 2017

Housekeeping: All pictures on this blog now reinstated...

Well, every one I could find, anyway.

A couple months ago Photobucket decided overnight to charge $399 a year for hosting photographs for blogs and message boards. All pictures on affected sites disappeared and were replaced with an ugly black square demanding money to have the picture restored.  It would have been much better to simply have the pictures disappear, rather than have ransom demands appear all over the blog. The black squares didn't contain any useful information, like which Photobucket folder the original picture was in, for example. This meant that the only way to patch up the blog was to read every entry, decide which photo had been between which paragraph, find it in a sea of unsorted downloaded photos and replace the black square with the correct photograph.

I had about 1100 to find and replace over 1600 blog entries.  It's taken so long that if I'd paid myself minimum wage to work on it, I would have spent more than the $400. But that would only have solved the problem for a few months, before the next year's fees were due. I found all but 30 or 40.  In some of those posts I've left a note that the link died and there is no picture, and in some cases I deleted the post entirely.

Additionally, more than 500 YouTube links had broken in the past ten years, just due to the natural turnover on YouTube. I've found almost all of them on another uploader's channel and relinked. More than nine or ten years back, I didn't spend any time on this, so the very early posts on the blog have those empty video containers. If you come across one and you can't find a re-upped version, let me know in comments and I'll see what I can do.

I didn't check very many of the text hyperlinks. Where I had time, I fixed broken ones or linked to the Wayback Machine where I could. If I couldn't relink, I left a note. However, there are literally thousands of links that I didn't check. There's probably an app that will point them all out to me. If you know of an app, let me know.

In some cases where there's a sequence of pictures, I made an effort to put them in the right order but there may be errors. For example, I have a fairly long analysis of Jimmy Page's eyes in the movie The Song Remains The Same.  Thumbnails (not Jimmy's thumbnails, the pictorial ones) were linked to larger versions and to gifs or clips. I hadn't annotated any of them. I had to simplify those, and one hopes I got the right screen cap with the right description. If anything's unclear, once again, let me know in comments.

Another thing I found was that, over the years, I've written some thoroughly goofy stuff. The temptation to just delete them (especially some of the early ones which have had literally less than 20 views) was almost overwhelming but I just let them be. Just as retweets are not endorsements, my patching up a four-line post about some minor long-forgotten online battle is not an indication I'm still carrying that grudge.

Here's to the next 1600 and obstacle course of platform changes!


Thursday, October 05, 2017

Cymatics - music visualization by Nigel Stanford

Cymatics - visualizing music using Chladni's figures, that standing wave pipe with the flames coming out of it whose name escapes me and the ever-fresh High Ball Stepper-ish Putting Stuff on Speaker Cones So It Leaps Up.

All accompanied by real music that sounds a bit like Jean Michel Jarre's famous Anodyne played in a Chicago House Style.



Won't catch me walking around a Tesla Coil in chain mail I can tell you that!

Wednesday, October 04, 2017

Josh Homme and Dean Fertita on Jools Holland

It's nice to see Dean Fertita become a star after his stint with the Dead Weather. To be honest I could do with more Dead Weather instead but them's the breaks.



















This clip from Jools Holland is only available for 29 days from October 4th, 2017. It is, however, viewable internationally, unlike the show itself on iPlayer.

Link: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p05hznkt

Sunday, October 01, 2017

Men for the Debs' Delight

Growing up in England, I was always acutely aware of the class divide - that people from working class families in the north were not expected to make anything of themselves, and, in order to prove the point, were mostly not allowed to make anything of themselves.





I can well remember visiting the home of a college-mate boy from Beaconsfield, who told me afterwards, with little to no regret in his voice, "Mummy told me not the bring the girl with the awful accent to her house again." This wasn't Lord Beaconsfield's house, or Sir Baron Smugly of Beaconsfield's house, it was the house of the class that's normally called "middle" in England. (Though in the US it would be "upper".) I remember him once boasting that the house had "half an acre" which was admittedly more than my parents' council maisonette had, but wasn't exactly impressive landholder level. Nevertheless, they were better than me, and not only knew it but were happy to tell me so.

There was a time in the late sixties and early seventies when it seemed this sort of thing was dying out.  People with accents were allowed on the BBC, a few working class people got rich, entrepreneurs were encouraged, Mick Jagger hung out with posh birds and so forth. I held a semi-firm belief that a meritocracy might blossom. No such luck; though I don't live there anymore, the word I hear is that the Establishment is not only back in force, it never really went away. It just pretended for a while, until people like Boris Johnson could walk the streets safely.

This pictured Guardian article contains the passage: Peter [Townend, of Tatler] is widely credited as being the man who single-handedly kept the debutante “season” going for decades; he would suggest to parents that their daughters should be debs that year, and wouldn’t they like to host a party? I was what was called a “debs’ delight” – one of the men chosen by Peter to attend all these balls and dances.There would be two or three a week for the three months of the season, in London or at someone’s house in the country. All the men and girls were supposed to be available. It was a bit like the Young Conservatives used to be 20 years ago, a bit of a matchmaking thing.

The pictured event is from 1982, when Kitchen Sink writers and rock stars living in Cheyne Walk were a thing of the past. 

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Wyoming Road Trip Day 11: Scottsdale-Orange County

August 26th

We took a normal car to Scottsdale for breakfast and had very large but not particularly special pancakes at the Breakfast Club, or perhaps BC Café. I wasn’t sure which name they preferred. Apart from the Venusian temperatures, Phoenix is a normal city and Scottsdale, while not exactly normal, is at least an upscale version of normal. After thousands of miles often with 100 miles separating one living thing (a pronghorn) from the next living thing (a cow) the proximity of so many people was enjoyable because it was familiar, but you can see why neither Soleri nor the many Native Americans we passed in the last two weeks wanted to live there.

We returned the RV, which necessitated me learning how to use Lyft so we could get back to the car. The getting-a-ride part of it seemed suspiciously easy. Easy enough that I fear that, as I once butt-dialled my boss while talking loudly in a bar, I may eventually butt-dial a fleet of Lyfts to a distant destination. Once back at the car, we made a detour to get my boarding pass printed on paper (smart phones may be clever but they do run out of battery at the worst times) and spent the rest of the morning at Phoenix Art Museum, which was very nice but unfortunately marred by the fact that I got suddenly dizzy and had to sit down. It’s not a great art museum. It’s collection seems a bit random, more like a magpie’s nest than a curated assembly. One standout is the room of doll’s house rooms crafted by a woman who obviously had too little to do, as she had put together more than a dozen tiny rooms of different historical periods and nations.

Phoenix Art Museum's brochure is a folded piece
of typing paper.  STB's comment, "Well, I
normally just go on the free day each month."

Since we’re both old and cranky, it can be difficult to find art to satisfy both of us. For instance, STB doesn’t like Chinese art because he can’t stand jade. Or maybe soapstone. Something that’s invariably present, anyway. There was some sort of conference or teacher training going on there, so wherever you might normally expect to find exhibits there was a gaggle of people chattering and eating sandwiches. I treated them as installations and walked round them stroking my chin. Perhaps one of them put a hex on me because I sure caught a bad case of vertigo a few minutes later. We cured that by going to the café and eating lunch.

At the airport, the Global Entry magically worked and I went through without having to remove any of my clothes. I had arrived plenty early; since I didn’t feel particularly well there was no point traipsing around the city and anyway, I hate being in a rush for a plane. With plenty of time to spare, I sat down and tried to put an icon for Lyft on my phone screen. I expected it would be as simple as thumbing a Lyft. It proved to be so difficult that it occupied the entire hour (and even now there isn’t an icon on the screen).  At least I didn't have to re-sort my entire baggage - since Global Entry had worked, I could just heave the unopened bag into the overhead compartment.

OC Smog layer seen from the plane

Orange County, as usual, was first visible from the plane as a thick yellow-brown layer of smog blanketing the mountains. People often think of Californians as tree-huggers who just want high-gas-mileage cars and high speed trains because we have some vague unexamined love of the environment. In fact, we're just trying not to choke on the air.

Eventually finding the Lyft App on my phone even without an icon, I confidently signaled for a ride and got possibly the only person in Orange County who does not know where to pick up at John Wayne Airport. I eventually talked him back round the one way system, got in, politely listened to him fretting about the possibly of missing the unbelievably important Floyd Mayweather vs. Conor McGregor fight and then…

Home sweet home.

On unpacking my bag, I found the tumbled-together toiletries had leaked into my t-shirts. Contents had shifted in flight.

Wyoming RoadTrip Day 10: Winslow, Meteor Crater and Arcosanti

August 25th


(c) Google

Still in Winslow when we woke up, and we were ready to for breakfast. Remarkably there turned out to be another café in Winslow that is worth a visit. We went to the Mojo Café for breakfast. It’s still in the flat desert with the desultory buildings all around it, and almost entangled in the interstate interchange, but is light and airy and features a very friendly dog, who I suspect is more friendly the more burritos you have on your plate. Lots of trucks seem to stop here and yet it’s more of a hipster coffee bar than the traditional greasy dishes you would expect. As seems to be de rigueur, there was a picture of an actor, Michael Keaton, on the wall. He had apparently eaten here, as had John McCain.



Short drive south to the Barringer Meteor Crater, which just seems to be called the Meteor Crater these days. I’d been here before and the museum/cactus seed-selling store is new and improved but the crater is the same as before – phenomenal. You can see it as you drive up to it, a splash that raised the rim hundreds of feet above the flat desert all around, but you can’t see into it unless you’ve gone round a little maze in the museum/rock shop and gone out the unassuming door. It could be a subtle trick they played to increase anticipation, or maybe the building was built backwards, but you go out of what looks like an emergency back exit door, and suddenly the enormous hole in the ground is in front of you. It’s almost a mile across, (now) 550 feet deep, barely weathered in its 50,000 years on the planet and looking much like the craters familiar from the moon and other rocky planets. The boards explaining the phenomenon of meteors say the meteor was about 150 feet wide when it hit, but the shockwave blasted out about a city-size piece of material. The meteorite (for so they are called if they reach the earth) mostly disintegrated into small, melted droplets and ended up all over the map along with shattered and melted rock, with only smallish pieces ever found at the bottom of the crater. It’s named after Daniel Moreau Barringer, who is presented in the texts there as a man who was driven to get to the bottom of the then-mystery – was this an extraterrestrial impact? – but since the company he formed was a mining company, I am going to guess that although he would be happy with the recent yes answer to the mystery, during his lifetime he was probably markedly less happy with the “blasted into small droplets all over the map” part of the findings.

Rim of the crater stands above the desert - taken from the main road


Meteor crater from the visitors' center
Pic: Barringer meteor crater. Down in that group of white structures right of the center is a six-foot cardboard cut-out of an astronaut. You can't see it. That's how big this is.


Shattered rock and inversions at the rim of the crater

It really is something to behold, particularly bearing in mind that the visible trace of this enormous impact is only a small part of what the meteorite strike did. The shock would have flattened trees and killed animals for several miles around. The force has been estimated at 10 megatons (Wikipedia). The blast was not sufficient to cause the darkening of the skies and massive die-off that’s been associated with the impact that most likely caused the death of the dinosaurs, but it most assuredly was not a picnic for anything living in the region at the time.

After this bracing reminder that even the earth is temporary, we headed off west towards Flagstaff. The desert began to give way to pine trees and the whole atmosphere became almost humid and livable. We didn’t go into Flagstaff itself, but we did want to get into its environs in order to fulfill the accidental prophecy we made to the waitress in Payson what seemed like a year or so ago. Then we took I-17 south to Camp Verde, where we stopped for an Italian meal at the fine Moscato. Camp Verde seemed a little twee, but given the thousands of miles of prefabricated houses and giant metal huts that we’d passed over the last few days a Hobbit village seemed at least to be a little more human. You know what I mean.

We were heading to Arcosanti.

Arcosanti is one of those desert follies that rise like mirages wherever there’s space, solitude and lack of building codes. The archetypal Arizona desert dream is Taliesin West, but Arcosanti runs a close second. Like Taliesin, it was not built by itinerant hippies. Architect Paolo Soleri (1919-2013) designed it. He pioneered the “arcology” (a term he invented), a way to pack in the multitudes who would otherwise live in cities into a small, mostly self-sustaining building. Urban sprawl was his lifelong foe; he envisaged a compact community where living room could be combined with shopping, leisure and entertainment in such a way that neighbors would also be friends and active community members.

Arcosanti hasn’t grown quite as fast as was initially hoped. It’s still a tiny, incomplete dwelling on a mesa. It sustains itself by casting bells in its foundry for sale – its specialty is silt casting (i.e. sand casting). The inhabitants are expected to work on the buildings or in the foundry and appear to replenish their numbers by recruitment of outsiders rather than natural population growth. Having taken the tour there I speculated that this is because you have to be over 18 and under 40 to be idealistic enough and strong enough to do your part in the community. This is made more clear when you learn that the newcomers working for their keep are sent to live in “cubes” at the bottom of the hill. This seems to be based on the idea in Taliesin West, but there the budding architects are required to design and build their own cube, which gives them an accomplishment to put under their belt and also, probably more importantly, an appreciation of what it’s like to live in something they designed. The “cubes” at Arcosanti are permanent, not designed by Soleri, and (I’ve heard; I didn’t go to see them) are less than luxurious.

In more than one way, Arcosanti resembles the society of the movie Logan’s Run, where, you may recall, the society maintains its sustainability by offing people as they reach the age of 30. I wish to stress that none of this was suggested by our guide, who was a very pleasant and knowledgeable young man who obviously loved living and working there. But let’s say, if you use a wheelchair, or have a withered arm or balance issues or pretty much any variation from good health, you’d find it hard to get around Arcosanti. The guide told us that modern building codes are now required for new work on the buildings and this has slowed things drastically. For example, the road on the property is not surfaced and the city cannot send emergency vehicles to the area, which in turn means that their population is capped until that can be fixed. I believe this is bureaucratic nonsense – I’m sure the city hospital has a helicopter and one thing the solid concrete buildings are unlikely to do is burn down – but it’s being used to throttle building at Arcosanti and there’s not much they can do about it.

Amphitheater at Arcosanti
Arcosanti architecture
Arcosanti greenhouse


Arcosanti top level

The local view is pleasing and enhances the campus-like atmosphere. The structures are on top of a hill above a creek, with a mesa opposite. The buildings are a sight to behold. The larger domes are sandcasted, just like the bells. The builder mounds sand into a suitable shape, lays rebar over it and pours concrete to the requisite thickness. When it’s set, the sand is hauled away and a roofed space is now built. The straight walls are either tilt-ups or cast in forms. Soleri was an architect – he didn’t guess at the structural strength of his materials, but calculated it carefully. Designed into it are ways to cool in the heat of the desert sun, retain heat in the cold of the night and allow for run-off when it does rain. A grand plan for greenhouses is available, but not yet built. The soaring arcs of the model for the community and the little model of the completed sun-facing glassed-in area look like the futuristic designs of seventies movies – a movie, such as, for example, Logan’s Run. One can imagine lithe young things fresh from a classical play in the amphitheater, dressed in white linen tunics, arguing philosophy and nuclear physics while tow-headed children play underfoot and learn by osmosis. Unfortunately, or fortunately depending on your viewpoint, in this version it is the buildings that are likely to be terminated prematurely.

Mesa: view from Arcosanti

And that, my friends, was the last stop on our little RV tour. We set off towards Phoenix, its approach marked by the increasing numbers of saguaro cactus in the roadway medians, stopping to replenish all the toiletries I’d depleted along the way in Alhambra. Soon the baggy, saggy decomposed granite “mountains” of Phoenix were in view, with their Sorting Hat flump and various holes, and STB’s apartment hoved onto the horizon.

Phoenix Sorting Hat mountains

At STB’s place we had time for an Indian take-out (10 on the hot scale again, of course, because STB forgot I was going to eat some of it) before hitting the non-RV sack.



Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Wyoming Road Trip Day 9: Twin Rocks and Canyon de Chelly

August 24th


(c) Google


After we woke in the RV park in Monticello, I realized there was a Rodeway Inn over the road which, since we didn’t need to dump our wastes or fill up, would have been a more beddy place to sleep. We didn’t think of that the night before. We ate at a hippy café just up the road from the RV park. It sold crystals and healing drops in the side of the place, in that hopeful way that people do when they feel they should branch out of simply offering whatever their core business is. Coffee, in this case. I’m not the right person to ask if there’s much of a market for persuading people who wanted breakfast that they should also stock up on mystic crystals. For all I know the crossover market is immense, particularly in the view of this mountain, whatever it may be. (The map suggests it’s Abajo Peak, of the Blue Mountains, but my mapreading skills are not of the finest class.)

Stephen had a wholemeal bagel, which he thought was a little pointless since bagels are not by any stretch of the imagination a health food, with lox and cream cheese, and I had a melt of some sort with fries, which was a little too much food for breakfast. We retrieved the RV, filled up at the Shell station and drove down the 191. After a while I got a massive feeling of déjà vu, and said, “I think I’ve been here before.”

“Nope, I haven’t, “ STB said.

“I’m sure we have. This is where those giant twin rocks called the Navajo Twins are.”

“The what?”

“Those,” I said, pointing into the rear view mirror, as they had just gone past. “We ate at the café just underneath them. “

He grunted.

“So, let’s go back and look at the Navajo Twin Rocks.”

Twin Rocks, Utah

He turned the vehicle around and we drove on to the vast gravel apron just under the alarming towers of the Twin Rocks. These are two rocks much in the Balancing Rock mode, but less close to collapse. The way they appear together, without any similar formations nearby, means that they do truly look like a pair of petrified giants. There’s a trading post underneath, and since the formation is just on the edge of the Navajo and Hopi Reservations, there’s a chance it is an actual trading post. It’s filled with the most marvelous of Native American artwork, all of which is beyond my budget, but if it hadn’t been, I would have been out of there with a sack of turquoise and silver jewelry (my favorite) and textiles. The owners have made an effort to make the place informative rather than exploitative, with displays giving the history of the various textile designs. One of the brothers…wait, is the store owned by actual Navajo Twins? That would be weird. (Truth to tell, they looked Anglo to me.) One of the brothers captured STB’s ear and pumped him for as much information on engineering courses in US universities as STB could recall. (His English accent is quite um, pronounced, so he clearly isn’t a US graduate, but as an engineer I guess his input is valued.)

“Now do you remember being here before?” I said as we left.

“Not at all,” he said.

We didn’t eat in the next door café as we were pressed for time, but we did have a chance to get coffee and peruse their more touristy offerings. It was made up, mostly, of bags of rocks, cactus seeds, pictures of rocks on postcards and pictures of cactuses on postcards. The sheer number of “grow your own cactus desert” seed packets for sale in Utah and Arizona suggests few of them succeed, if you pardon the pun. If most were successful, the whole of America would be heaving under the weight of saguaro and that plant that’s claimed to be “just resting” and if you only put it in water when you get home it will “bloom” until you get fed up of it, which you then let dry back to “just resting” and store it in the attic for forty years.

Next was the long drive south through the Reservation. I’d spotted that the Canyon de Chelly National Monument was only a few miles off our route and could not remember if I’d been there before. I’d obviously been this way, and the trip had included a long walk in a canyon with ladders up to Anasazi (I think) dwelling places, but Canyon de Chelly didn’t ring a bell.

We stopped in at the visitors’ center and got a map of the canyon’s trails. I vetoed anything that involved driving anywhere near the edge of the canyon as it’s a well-known fact that RVs which have driven 2000 miles upright without significant slipping will tip over or slide sideways if they are within 50 feet of a long drop. This, combined with the fact that we were in the wrong place to get a Navajo guide along the bottom of the canyon, meant that we were limited to the White House Trail. This is a self-guided trail down a sheer cliff face that clearly only goats would be able to manage, and only young goats at that. After the cliff, it traverses the flat bottom of the canyon to a fence where you can see the famous White House (no relation) from a great distance, reminiscent of certain arches we may have visited. (The lack of access to the White House ruin itself is understated in the map.) We parked the RV well back from the cliff and walked over the flat rocks towards the edge. A brisk wind was blowing, which made me nervous. It’s a well-known fact, again, that a brisk wind that is near a long drop is quite likely to blow you arse over tip, off your feet and down the cliff. This despite the fact that no breeze, wind or even gale in my experience has ever so much as lifted one of my feet off the ground. The physics of wind changes near a drop and I feel everyone should know that.

The wind gets more brisk the closer you get to the edge


At the well-marked top of the clearly marked, three foot wide, machine-made, handrails provided, path down the cliff I began to have severe doubts about its safety. I may have mentioned this out loud at the time. The path then went inside the rock for a few yards and continued winding on down with the occasional bench for resting, steps cut in the steep bits and so forth. I felt this was even less safe, and may have mentioned it again. Also we were now a few feet lower than where we’d parked, and I suggested that since it was going to be all uphill on the way back, getting too far down might be a problem. At this point STB gave up on me. Once he was out of sight round a bend, I realized that the path was actually super wide, with a good footing provided by that irritating road gravel national parks dump on top of their native rock, and was well supplied with wildlife in the form of lizards and birds, trees and grasses and was in fact a delightful easy-peasy walk. It may be that I’m not so much afraid of heights as I am of other people around me on foot when I’m near heights, which would explain why things like sky trains, planes and parachute jumping are not at all worrisome for me. Since I’d spent so much more time getting down than STB had, and since I was still not sure I could climb very quickly, I kept an eye out for STB’s blue shirt and tan shorts coming back on the path on the canyon floor. I was about two thirds of the way down when I saw them, and began the slower walk back up.

Canyon de Chelly


Canyon rock


The man swiftly climbed up and drew level with me, and of course it was some other idiot wearing similar clothes. I stopped and craned my neck trying to find the real STB in the distance when a screaming, whooping call from above startled me. A few seconds later a Navajo man appeared. I pinned myself against the rock to let him past but he turned and buttonholed me and began a line of smooth patter such as I haven’t heard since I last went to Brick Lane market in London. It’s hard to describe the breathlessness and density of the spiel, but here’s an attempt.

“Whoo! Yeah! My grandmother lives down there. I’m just going to see my grandmother. I’ve just left school for the day and I’m bringing her some things. Some milk and things and things for her cows and her sheep and some things. I go down to the bottom of the canyon two or three times every day, bringing my family things. My family live down there and I just go down there and bring them things. I don’t even use the path, I just go vertically down the cliff. I can get down there in about five minutes. I do it three or four times a day.”

And so forth. He told me of his family’s orchard, which does not fruit so much now ‘they’ have damned the river that used to flow through the canyon, that his people built the ruins and he understands the meanings of all the petroglyphs. Did I want to see his paintings? He did paintings of the canyon with glyphs and sold them, but only out of sight of the park rangers, but if he sold them he could bring mor things to his grandmother…

“Why do you have to keep out of sight of the park rangers?”

“They don’t allow us to sell things?”

“Why the hell do they care?”

“They call it soliciting,” he said, as though that answered the question.

Anyway, as I’m sure he does a dozen times a day, once the mark is engaged with him, he knows there is likely to be a sale. He brought his pictures out of his rucksack. I picked one out, and swallowed the price rise he then laid on “because it’s 3D”. It’s a nice little painting, and I’m not sorry I bought it. The pigments used are...wait for it…acrylic paint. So not exactly the techniques of his fathers’ but the colors are well chosen and the stone it’s carved and painted on is a nice size and weight for an ornament. He explained all the glyphs he’d used (all of which I quickly forgot again), then signed and dated it and posed for an authentication photo. “Not made in China,” he grinned, which for the first time made me wonder if it was made in China.

Artist and painting

Suddenly he let out another earsplitting whoop and jumped down the cliff. He did indeed go vertically down without using the path. He talked up some other tourists and then came running back up to me.

“You know, you can see original petroglyphs on this trail,” he said.

“Where?”

“There.” He pointed directly behind my head. On the rock face were painted foot-soles, going upwards. I had completely failed to notice them while going down the trail.

“It marks the path,” he said, reasonably, though that remark left open whether the Navajo just ran up the sheer rock face at that point, since this was prior to the machine that had carved the tourist path.

His painted rock

Just then I saw a blue shirt and beige shorts below, and sent him vertically downward to sell something to STB. I carried back on up the path and heard his enthusiastic songs and shouts all the way up as I walked.

“I’m cured of fear of heights,” I told STB when he reached the top, having not bought anything from my grandma-doting new young friend.

(c) Google

Now we had to finish going south across the Reservation to the Arizona part of I40, which if you remember is also basically Route 66. The 191 would seem to have that taken care of and although it’s a fairly boring road, at least it’s wide and well-metaled. About half-way through the reservation it does a little hink, which means getting off it on to Indian Route 8 for a couple of miles. That’s at Ganado, which we decided was a good place to eat, but at the only place with a sign, the not-very-Navajo Burger King, the power was out. No gas or burgers when the power’s out.

Rain at Chinle

Reservation vegetation

After Ganado, IR 191 starts again, but Google was determined for us to take other Indian Routes to finish up in Winslow, AZ. Although this would have taken us to no doubt fascinating places like Greasewood, Indian Wells and Castle Butte, it would also mean smaller roads, we were in a larger vehicle, it was dark with impending rain, and it was a billion miles to anywhere with a gas station. We ignored the Google lady as she increasingly demanded we take cattle-rut after cattle-rut to U-turn, double-back or otherwise get on to the road she had originally wanted. I checked the map about five times to make sure the 191 really existed and really went to the I-40. By the time she was practically screaming for us to turn around, STB checked the map as well, just to make sure. After a while she merely grumbled and then shut up entirely.

(c) Google

We left the 191 and joined the I-40 at Sanders, which on the map is marked in a little white square, meaning not part of the Reservation, I guess. Once on that road, it’s just a few miles to get back into white mapland. (Wait, who chose the color scheme pinky-red for reservations and white for non reservations?) We would then scoot across the Painted Desert, which is a little baby national park, and then on to Winslow. We couldn’t remember why Winslow is famous, and a rather creaky recital of town names from Route 66 (the song) didn’t pull it up. As brains do, after consciously forgetting about the town name, brain came up with “standing on a corner in Winslow, Arizona” – and from that it was a short memory sprint to remembering it was from The Eagles’ stupendous hit Take it Easy. One of rock’s many songs about ogling beautiful women on the street, it’s also one of many songs with an Arizona setting. I once made a fairly long detour off the Interstate to go to Benson, Arizona purely because a song about it was the opening theme to John Carpenter’s Dark Star. I suppose that Arizona’s proximity to California means that Hollywood types and canyon-dwelling rock hippie types often fetch up here with little to do but drink, take drugs, creep the women and noodle on the guitar.

Unlike the spots with town names on the map for the last several hundred miles, Winslow is a regular town, again. Like much that grows up near an Interstate it was large and had things like zoning laws. We quickly found a café – more of a restaurant really – called the Brown Mug Café and went in there. It seemed a plain, normal sort of a place but when we sat down, there was a familiar face looking down from the wall and a “Harrison Ford, the actor, ate in this booth” sign next to it. So my ass has sat where Han Solo’s ass has sat. Perhaps this is further evidence of my earlier statement about Arizona being the place where Hollywood-dwellers simply fetch up due to proximity.

Han Solo was here


I had really good fried chicken and forty cups of coffee. Then we tootled off through Winslow – which still was not displaying any positive attractive qualities – to the Walmart on the oddly-named Mike’s Pike Street. Did Mike fish for pike? Did he use a pikestaff? Was it a turnpike? Outside of the national parks there are no informative boards beside the highway to tell us who did what and why.

And so, yet another night in the RV.



Wyoming Road Trip Day 8: Into Utah and Arches National Monument

August 23rd

We turned into Arches National Monument and sat in a fairly long line of cars waiting to enter. As the car in front of us paid and drove off, the teller’s shutter came rattling down and a cardboard sign saying “Pay on way out” appeared. It was 11:59 am and I guess lunch is very important in these parts.  We drove on in.

Arches general view

Arches contains miles of car trails. Armed with the provided map, we started up the sheer cliff (or so it seemed to me) that was the entrance road to the park. There was a lot of screaming every time we came to a corner. It was coming from me. At the first vehicle turn out it’s possible to see the major layout of the rock formations, which if you squint a little bit did look like carvings of sheep, gossips, teapots and so forth. It’s frankly bizarre to see them just standing there, looking very much like Shelley’s Two Vast And Trunkless Legs of Stone standing in the desert. Just as strange are the “Petrified Dunes” and, when we eventually came across, them, the famous arches themselves.

Even though the Lady Who Hands The Map To You had gone to lunch, we had managed to procure a map from somewhere and on the map is a demystification. They aren’t the work of crazed settler stonemasons or even the local trickster gods. Apparently – and this is much harder to believe in than any trickster god – the area used to be covered by a sea, which dried up leaving a giant salt pan. Dust and sand blowing in over millions of years eventually formed rocks over the top of the salt bed, which ultimately grew up to a mile deep. The salt bed, not surprisingly, was not up for this, and started to flow, in some areas pushing the rock up into domes and in others collapsing and letting the rock fall and crack. Due to some peculiar conditions in the area of the park, the long fissures in the rock wore down until the rocks were arrayed in what the brochure describes as “fins”, which is probably accurate if you think of fins on a heat sink or car rather than on a fish. These parallel “fins” further wore down into towers in some places and, where undercut, arches in other areas of the park. Areas which were to prove to be much further away. The brochure/map does rather undermine itself, in the way that salt beds undermine a rock, I suppose, by finishing the story with, “- probably. The evidence is largely circumstantial.”

The evidence may be circumstantial, but it is also humongous. At the next stop, when you could climb up to the base of the first big Thing (its cute name has fled my memory), the overwhelming feeling is of size. I’m used to the Cow and Calf at Ilkley, so it’s not like I’ve never met a rock before, but freestanding ones of that size hanging around when all the material that used to join it to its friends has disappeared without trace is quite unusual.

Base of the first giant tall thing in Arches


Next up was a short puff from another turn-out to Balancing Rock. No surprises here; it’s a rock that is balancing. Once again, it is gigantic. It may be cheating a little to have a type of rock that weathers differently from the rock below that stays where it was (above) while most of the surrounding rock disappears being called “balancing” – it’s more hasn’t fallen yet. It’s still remarkable. It used to have a companion, called Baby Balancing Rock or somesuch, that stopped balancing in the seventies and fell with a crash. Its debris is still at the foot of Balanced Rock. Amusingly, the low wall built to keep tourists off the Biological Soil Crust had already unbalanced and also lay in a pile at the foot of balanced rock. There’s clearly more to balancing than is known in yer philosophy.

Balancing Rock

Biological Soil Crust (the cutesy name they’ve come up with is Cryptobiotic Crust, which sounds like a vegan low-carb pizza) is the life of the top layer of the desert, which they say is made up of cyanobacteria, lichen, algae and fungi, although I thought cyanobacteria, algae and fungi together were lichen, but whatever. This rather minuscule living layer is unsurprisingly slow growing and easily disrupted by the grinding feet of over-eager photographers. There are signs everywhere reminding you not to do so. Even the vertical faces of the rocks are stained with “desert varnish”, which looks as though someone has let cooking stains drip down the rock, but are the result of cyanobacteria remorselessly attempting to get minerals and energy by oxidizing various metals in the stone.

The other living things visible in this completely inhospitable desert (not a café in sight) are dwarf, stunted, twisted, blasted junipers, which would look eerie or disfigured in most circumstances but here are plainly the result of trying to hang on to life with no rain and only the occasional cyanobacterium to eat. Some have given up and their ropelike dead trunks are used to line the trails to keep us away from the Biological Soil Crust, and some seem to be doing well. They are in it for the long haul.

Trees of Arches

Eventually an actual visible arch was promised, but it was some miles away. Nonetheless, we decided to hike to the view as I was suffering from arch shortage by this point. The main hike was three miles, beyond the reach of my travel-swollen feet and the other was, I forget, maybe half a mile. It turned out to be half a mile horizontally but at least three miles vertically, so there was a great deal of whining on my part as we trekked over the broken rocks up a giant hill. At the top, you could indeed see an arch – it was about two miles away. I took a photo. My first arch! To be fair, it was right on top of a ridge, looking like a Science Fiction teleportation gate to some unexplored binary a billion light years away.

Arch on the horizon

Although the landscape around here is almost an unbroken red – as is indeed the greater part of America, at least in my experience – there are much smaller areas of green rock. I knowledgeably assumed these were stained with copper but someone eventually explained that these, like the red rocks, were colored by iron salts, but reduced iron rather than the oxidized red. Ferric iron oxide is red and forms in well-oxygenated areas. The green areas are ferrous iron, formed in low oxygen areas, but a fairly long google search wouldn’t tell me ferrous what. Sulfide? Ferrous iron dissolves in water but precipitates out when oxidized. Even more irritatingly, the informant we eavesdropped on did not choose to let on within earshot why ferrous iron ions on the surface of the desert would remain green and reduced. I would assume they’d oxidize within years. But then again, my first guess was copper ions, so who am I to second guess the park geologists.

Green, green ferrous ions of Arches

Back in the RV we ate more of our thinning supply of Indian snackereenos and drove on, past the Fiery Furnace, a hellscape that glows convincingly red at sunset, which alas was not what time it was when we were there. Some miles further on despite the blevy of complaints I’d emitted at the first trail, we stopped again to take a walking trail. This time we were headed to an actual arch! There was a park warden stationed at the beginning of the trail to remind us that we only had two hours left before the park closed. Why does the park close? Are there gremlins roaming it at night? It was 1.6 miles to Landscape Arch, which doesn’t sound very much, particularly given the American distances we’d been driving, but as usual it drove me nuts within the first half mile. We asked a ranger if we’d actually see an arch, and he pointed to a stooped man coming out of a faint at the top of a burning rise and said, “See that man? You can see Landscape Arch from where he is.” We yomped on, and on getting to the top of the rise and recovering from my own lack of oxygen, I looked around and failed to see the Landscape Arch. I could see the ranger, though, half a mile ahead and he waved at us. “Sorry,” he shouted, “I meant from here!”

The space between two "fins"


“Everything in this park is a lie,” I said firmly and walked the trail some more. After a while, the trail went from desert and rocky to wooded and hilly and after an even longer while I realized that part of the landscape to the side was moving past my peripheral vision faster than the rest of the landscape, as if it wasn’t part of it. I shrugged this off as evidence of lack of oxygen but the feeling didn’t go away, and I stood still and looked at it straight on. Standing above the hillside, but camouflaged by dint of its color, was a Brobdingnagian stone arch, delicate and fair and quite unlike the vast slabs of sandstone I’d seen elsewhere. My mind mentally switched in the image on Utah license plate – it was the same arch! It was quite worth the effort we’d undertaken to get there. According to a sign, it had been accessible on foot until recently, when a bit of stone had dropped out of one end. I can imagine the fear that must have engendered in the park staff as they contemplated one of their arches hitting the hillside in pieces, but the remainder stayed up, looking ever more impermanent and wispy.  To prevent the inevitable moaning that would occur if the rest fell on someone, you now can't leave the trail and go thump it to see if it as delicate as it looks.

As we took it in, we realized we could see another, redder, arch on the horizon in the distance, but we had now had our arch and turned back before the gremlins were loosed upon the land.

"Varnish" stains on a fin - cyanobacteria metabolites


A fin head on
Flora

Fauna

An everlovin' arch!
Pic: Landscape Arch. Yes, it is difficult to tell the foreground from the background. It's almost as hard when you're there, unless you move your head from side to side. The delicate thread of rock across the top is the very top of an arch. Everything else in the picture is behind it.


Next arch up

Desert varnish

At the exit, there was nobody taking fares from those of us who had entered during the lunch break. A brief investigation didn’t reveal anyone who looked like they were officials, so we shrugged and drove on out.

Not even part of the National Park. Utah's just like this.

Hey, does anyone know where Hole In The Rock is? I can't find it.

Arch found in the wild

It’s a relatively short drive – 12 or so miles – from this exoplanetary landscape to the relative normality of Moab. Our phones were working again and detected a Chinese restaurant on Main Street, which we found hidden behind a collection of fountains, some drier than others. It’s called the Szechuan, and was once again considerably better than local South Orange County fare. It had a number of Chinese people at the tables, which is always a good sign, and served up a very nice Ma Po Tofu. I love Ma Po Tofu.

Rather than stay in Moab we drove off to Monticello (no relation). Luckily we weren’t required to be able to pronounce it, because I certainly couldn’t. We got a place at the Mountain View RV park on the main street. (It seems there’s quite often room for a 30 Amp “rig” even when the larger slots are filled up.) Mountain View has its own little library of books left by travelers so we annoyed the owner for half an hour choosing which book to borrow. Delightfully, the RV park had a laundromat so we were able to empty the giant bag of washing and refill the backpacks and roller-bags. It may indeed have had a mountain view, but it was dark when we ventured out to the gas stations opposite to score coffee and Cheesy Wotsits. (No sev, alas.) A customer in the gas station with us asked the attendant “what that mountain over there is”, and the attendant was completely stumped, so I guess the mountain of which we might have had a view is not all that and a bag of chips.



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