Category Archives: Travel

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.

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.

Switzerland 2013: Jungfrau

More pictures from the “Jungfrau” region of Switzerland.  The area — south of Interlaken — is named for its tallest, snowiest peak.

A few times during the past couple of weeks, I was on a bike, just laughing aloud – seemingly for no good reason.  I think it sometimes just struck me how ridiculously great it was that I’d somehow found my way onto some of the most beautiful hillsides in the world, coasting my bike in zigzags down the path like a 12-year-old.

My friend (and riding buddy on this week’s rides), Scott Humphries, reported that he’d heard me singing a couple of times as we descended.  I’m sure he did.  Much like normal people do in the shower, on a bike I often sing whatever song pops into (or sticks in) my head.  So this time “Edelweiss” (the Sound of Music song about alpine flowers), and 38 Special’s “Hold on Loosely” were in my repertoire – the latter being a pretty decent ‘80s Rock primer on how to manage the handlebars of a mountainbike during a bumpy, difficult descent (“hold on loosely; don’t let go; if you cling too tightly, you’re going to lose control”).

Admittedly, the long, steep uphill climbs are not nearly as lighthearted.  Those usually involve me monitoring my heart rate and trying to manage my breathing in synch with my pedal strokes.  But the already-stunning views from the mountaintops are twice as satisfying when you know you earned it by getting up there under your own power.

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Scott’s and my last (very long) Swiss bike ride involved a couple of significant navigational errors and a steady afternoon rain, the combination of which resulted in our decision to call it a day and load ourselves and our bikes up for a train ride back to Grindelwald.  A very sweet, very talkative 70-year-old lady – a native of the area — asked to sit with us.  The train car was practically empty; she sat with us because she wanted to talk.  Her monologue brushed on weather, geology, politics, sports…you name it.

At one point, she lamented the tour groups that come through her town for a one-day, prescribed visit to the single most famous tourist sight in each region, then pile back on their bus to do that again in the next city.  She thought they short-changed themselves – and her country:  “They don’t even see it.”  Having spent the prior two weeks covering just about every trail and path in the area, I was delighted and contented to know that I had avoided that mistake.

 

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Lest anyone think I’ve totally lost my mind (or that I lost it in ways that were not previously obvious), rest assured that the craziest-looking trails in these pictures were from HIKES – not bike rides.  Neither my nerve or my bike-handling skill is sufficient to attempt those paths on wheels.  Many of the destinations can be reached by train, gondola, hike or bike.  Most of the hikers (not us) take a train to the top and then just walk down.

And our treks on foot were hikes — not real mountain climbing (e.g., with ropes or picks).  Scott and I wondered why we didn’t see any climbers attempting the impressive rocky north face of Mt. Eiger — the one that looms directly over Grindelwald.  It’s been done, apparently, but the statistics on the number of folks that had died trying explained why we didn’t spot any brave souls up there last week.

In the grid of pictures above, the ferry boat is on Brienzersee, one of the lakes surrounding Interlaken.  The flowery bridge is the famous, ancient one in Lucerne (halfway to the Zurich airport).  In the second big picture from the top, that little clump of buildings on the green hillside with all those roads going to it is Klein Sheidig – at the top of a 3,000 foot climb I did three times on the bike and once on foot.  The snowiest pictures are of the Eiger glacier – part of the UNESCO World Heritage site that covers much of this area.  That’s Scott Humphries in several of the pictures.  Believe it or not, he swung by Grindelwald on his way home from Croatia – where he’d been on a biking trip with his wife, Stacy.  He was a reluctant but cooperative model:  mountain pictures can be a little ‘blah’ without something in the foreground, and often he was the only choice available!