Author Archives: Jeff C

Turquoise Midway: The State Fair of New Mexico

I went to the fair in Albuquerque on a photo project.  I’d missed the pig races and the calf scramble, so I was left to wander around the vendors and games and midway.

Regular followers of this blog will recall my post from a few weeks back about the police department raffle of an assault rifle I saw in northern Texas.  Thus I was especially amused to see that even in New Mexico, your five-year old can play a carnival game and win an inflatable AK-47 in the colors of the American flag.  Stating the obvious:  New Mexico isn’t very far from Texas.

I wound up spending so much time at the “Spin Out” ride (below) I forgot to get myself a corndog.  The efficient, solo ride operator was moving loads of passengers safely onto and off of the ride like clockwork.  I watched about 15 cycles, so I had the whole process memorized.  Predictably, he was way too busy to stop and let me take a real ‘portrait.’

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I ran across this guy on the way back to my car as the night was winding down.  He was sitting there counting money.  He said his name was George Jones.  When I asked if he could sing, he said everybody always asks him that.  He also said that he coudn’t sing worth a damn.

The Way Out West: San Francisco and Santa Cruz, CA

I was a week early and about a billion dollars short of being able to compete in the America’s Cup sailing race, which started Saturday in San Francisco bay.  (I also lack the requisite sailing know-how).  But the  fog parted long enough last week to let me watch the USA Team (Oracle) practicing for the big event.  Those boats can go 50mph!  They have a 140-ft-tall vertical rigid “wing” rather than a traditional canvas sail, and they essentially just fly along a few feet above the water with a tiny surfboard-sized fin sticking into the surf to keep them on track.   

 

I spent a week sightseeing and visiting friends in San Francisco and in Santa Cruz, which is 60 miles to the south, on the north side of Monterrey Bay.  The San Francisco Bay area is hardly the furthest point in the U.S. away from Texas (or Oklahoma) – at least if you’re just measuring miles.  But the people and the ‘culture’ may be as far from ‘Texan’ as anywhere in America.  There are a surprising number of white men in dreadlocks.

Rest assured that every restaurant menu in Santa Cruz will include the words “sustainable,” “local,” “organic” “gluten,” and “GMO.”   I went with friends to a vegan café where every item on the menu had a name like “I Am Renewed” and “I Am Accepting.”  Ironically, the “I Am Fulfilled” was a smallish vegan salad.  I had the “I Am Transformed” (which tasted a lot like a black bean taco), with a side of “I Am Refreshed.”  (And I Am NotMakingThisUp).

AND:  The Mexican food restaurants do not serve chile con queso!! It’s anarchy out there, I tell you!

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The urban-looking pictures are San Francisco; the lighthouse, the giant redwood the seal and the coastline are around Santa Cruz.  The fancy place in the first two shots is the Palace of Fine Arts.  The iconic row of “Painted Lady” houses is at Alamo Park.  In the orange sunrise shot, that’s Alcatraz you see peeking through the fog.  The graffiti truck and the American flag are in China Town.  All the nighttime shots are of (and around) the Ferry Terminal and the Bay Bridge to Oakland.  A big thanks to my Costa Rica / Leadville buddies Peter and Jana Thomsen for hosting me in Santa Cruz, and to their niece Kasondra for being my tour guide in San Francisco.

Wichita FALLS: We’re Not in Kansas, Toto.

A company in Wichita Falls sells T-shirts reading :  “We’re Not In Kansas.  We Never Were.”  Apparently, a good chunk of the U.S. population doesn’t know which state they should look in (Answer:  “Texas”) to find the place.

For the tenth year in a row, some good friends and I were among the 14,000 or so riders in town for the Hottern’ Hell Hundred bike ride – the biggest 100-mile bike event in the country.  In the spirit of Hottern’ Hell Weekend, I was even more amused by another T-shirt option:  “Wichita Falls – A City in Heat,” but Dorothy’s “Not in Kansas” line from The Wizard of Oz won out as the more-fitting title here:  It doesn’t much resemble the Land of Oz, but Wichita Falls can feel like a very unusual place.

Near the finish line of the race, the local Wichita Falls Police auxiliary was holding a fundraiser — raffling off an AR-15 semi-automatic assault-style rifle.  Five bucks a ticket.  Need not be present to win.*  Proceeds benefit the Wichita Falls Police Department.  You won’t see THAT in your big fancy cities.

A few hundred yards away, on the side of the race course itself, was a nightclub (not open during the race) called Texas Playgirls, whose claim to fame is apparently that it is “now … the cheapest topless bar in Texas.”  I guess they know their target market.  This reminded me of a conversation with the desk clerk at our LaQuinta a few years ago:  Someone commented that Hottern’ Hell weekend (when 14,000 road bikers converge on the town from all over the country) must surely be the craziest, busiest time of the year in smallish Wichita Falls.  She disagreed, insisting that the ‘swingers’ convention earlier that month had been just as busy.  Who knew?!

A couple of years back, a Wichita Falls cab driver told us about her “Puke Fee” (charged mostly to intoxicated airmen from the local Air Force base):  “Fifty bucks; seventy-five if you get any on me.”  When I asked if she got much argument when people learned about the fee, she responded (emphatically), “Oh, they all know the Puke Fee!”  Of course they do.

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This year’s race was pretty run-of-the-mill for a Hottern Hell.  No mosquito attacks; no wrecks; no delusional riders.  It was hot (sometimes it isn’t!) but not crazy hot (sometimes it is!).  The biggest innovation this year was the addition of Bjorn Hegelman to our team.  Bjorn is a 6’7” German (now U.S. citizen).  Lest there be any doubt, that’s him in the middle of the picture below.  Bjorn is a former German pro basketball player.  It can be tough for  big guys to adapt in the cycling world, and Bjorn has only been riding for a year or so.  But apparently being strong as an ox has at least some advantages and gave him a pretty decent head start.  Our group had one of the fastest, strongest, most solid rides we’ve ever done – at least for the first 90 miles or so when the (metaphorical) wheels did start to come off just a little.  Funny how it’s always that last 10 miles or so that are the toughest.

Prior posts from Wichita Falls are here (2012) and here (2011).

*Yes, of course I bought a ticket.  The guy explained that I’d definitely want to get a scope for it if I won.  I really hope I do not win.

Leadville 100 MTB: Happy Trails, Happy Endings

 

Our seven-man Leadville 100 MTB team had one rider who crashed early on a tough descent and couldn’t continue the race.  Another rider finished, but needed an overnight stay in the local E.R. as a result.  Somehow we view this as fun – and as a successful outcome!   A more obviously happy aspect:  you can make good friends fast in situations like this.  I met one new MRE teammate from San Diego on Thursday evening.  By Saturday night, I was the guy sitting with him in the E.R. at 1 a.m. after we’d finished.

(Just above:  Mike Short with his newest fashion accessory.) 

 

 

This was my second summer in a row spent mostly in Colorado.  The focus – again – was the Leadville Race.   The summer began with a three-week stint roaming Colorado and New Mexico with a Chevy Tahoe, an Airstream trailer, and a mountain bike.  After a detour through central Europe in July, it was back to Colorado for hard-core bike training.  Again, a great group of friends and families (around 20 of ‘us’ in all!) converged on Leadville in August for the race and the Leadville festivities.  My mom and dad were again on hand – reappearing here and there along the course all day long, and standing ready to give me a big hug at the finish.

My race day pretty much repeated the great time I had in 2012 – almost down to the minute.  Others had much-improved times and/or much-improved experiences.  Mike Short, who struggled the most last year and came home without a 2012 buckle, shaved nearly 2 hours off his prior time and finished waaaaay ahead of me this time!  Shane Merz, who struggled for hours last year and finished with just 5 minutes to spare (on a 12-hour cutoff) got to experience the much happier situation of an “easy” never-in-doubt ride.   Team MRE again had two Californians – one of whom (Peter Thomsen) scored a sub-nine-hour extra-large buckle, while the other (Jason Zimmerman) scored a regular buckle and a trip to the hospital.  Scott Humphries had a snafu that delayed his start and put him 10 minutes behind the huge pack and – worse — without any water (or Gatorade) on his bike.  A serious problem.  He confessed to scavenging the race course for some mostly-full water bottles that had been dropped by other riders.  Desperate times.  Despite that craziness, he still beat me this year by several minutes!

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 I was on the bike, not behind the camera, so I didn’t take most of these pictures.  Big thanks to those who did!  I did take the one above, of Mike Short, who scored his first finisher’s buckle this year.  Mike Short’s mom, Dorothy (“Dot”) took the picture of me with my own mom and dad.  That was about 2 minutes after I finished an 11-hour bike ride:  I really look like hell, don’t I!?  At least Mom and Dad look good. 

More pics by Dot Short:

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A few by Michele Merz:

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Some shots (of me!) by the photo service, “Zazoosh”:

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And some race week shots by Peter Thomsen, and race day shots by his wife, Jana: 

Finally:  A few more — including a few from the prior weekend’s Boom Days festivities (which were much better documented last year, thus the sparse coverage here).

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Clovis: Seeking my Inner Cave Man?

How big a nerd do you have to be to spend your birthday poking around a couple of obscure museums and an archaeological site in rural New Mexico?

 Apparently, finding  the bones or fossils of a (“wooly”) Mammoth in North America is a pretty ho-hum affair for archaeologists – even back in the 1930s.  But finding such a beast with a spear-point  stuck in its gut changed  American archaeology forever.  Only humans could make the precise, elaborate spear points like those unearthed at Blackwater Draw near Clovis, New Mexico.  So finding those spears alongside (or inside) 13,000-year-old mammoth bones and fossils showed for the first time that humans were roaming the American Southwest 130 centuries ago.

Near the end of Ice Age, Blackwater Draw was a genuine oasis – a natural spring had formed a freshwater lake that attracted the very-large mammals that roamed what is now eastern New Mexico.  The small lake apparently attracted big game (and early big game hunters) for thousands of years, so amazingly there are 8,000 –year old fossils and artifacts of prehistoric bison hunters practically right on top (in a higher soil layer) of the 13,000 year old Clovis-era bones and spear points.

Since the 1930s, several other, similar sites have been discovered with Clovis-era (about 13,000 years ago) artifacts.  For most of the 20th Century, it was generally believed that these “Clovis” people were the first human inhabitants of the New World.  Very recently, however, that theory has been challenged by new discoveries, including a 15,000 year old site in central Texas.

It’s not clear what happened to the Clovis people – whether they somehow just died off, or whether they’re the direct ancestors of modern Native Americans.  There are no human skulls or skeletons from the era, so it’s also unclear exactly what they looked like.  But we humans have looked pretty much like humans for at least 100,000 years, so Clovis men probably looked just about like “us.”

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The picture on the left is an active excavation at the Blackwater Draw site.  They’ve built a shelter above it, and they’ve left semi-excavated bones in place — in stairstep fashion — to show the extent to which 4,000 year old artifacts are practically right on top of 8,000 year old artifacts, which in turn are right above the 13,000 year old Clovis-era bones.  Each rock sediment layer is another chapter of pre-history history.  The Draw was apparently a happening place for thousands of years.   The picture on the right — from the museum a few miles away — shows some of the actual Clovis-man-made spearpoints removed from the site.