Category Archives: USA

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.’




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!



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.

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.”


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.

Italy’s Dolomites and the Alpe di Suisi

This is the hike I was taking while someone was back in town bashing in my car window and stealing my passport and my other camera (and lenses).  I’m trying not to think about whether the hike was “worth it.”

The Alpe di Suisi in northeastern Italy is Europe’s largest “high alpine meadow” — which means it’s an enormous mountain-top pasture that doubles as a ski area in the winter.  This time of year, it’s mostly covered in yellow flowers.  Surrounding it are mountains of the Dolomite range — a southern part of the Alps.  You can take a ski lift up to the grassy plateau area, and from there it’s a 3-hour (each way) hike to the top of one of the nearby mountains.  In the U.S., if you hiked that far up mountains you’d be alone up there with nothing but the wind and the Powerbars you’d carried up there yourself.  Here (as in Switzerland, you get to the top and find a restaurant and hotel — without a road in sight and supplied by a miles-long pulley system that raises casket-sized baskets to the top.

It’s a great, beautiful area — these pictures really don’t do it justice.


There’s a squarish picture in the batch above with the green diagonal hillside on the lower right and rocky mountain walls behind.  The far upper left-hand corner of that picture was the destination of the hike and the site for that restaurant.  There was a lot going on on the Alpe di Suisi:  the Italian military was doing paratrooper practice jumps, for example. 






Yellowstone: 35 Years Later

A quick trip to Yellowstone and the Tetons with my Uncle Tommy and Aunt Barb



It was my uncle Tommy McCreight who first put a real camera in my hands — back in the 1970s.  And by bringing me along on their family car trips to places like Yellowstone, it was Tommy and my aunt Barb who taught me to travel.  As someone who now spends fully half his time traveling the earth with cameras in his hands, it’s fair to say those two made a big impact.

Every August, Barb would load up their green Ford van with her own kids (Dede and Dana), my sister and me, some of her inlaws and usually another kid or two.  This fact should figure prominently in Barb’s application for sainthood.  Tommy would load an arsenal of cameras, and we’d all hit the highways.   Tommy took pride in the astounding distances we could cover, so the days started early.  I don’t think we ever had an advance reservation at a hotel or motel; we never knew where we’d wind up, but as often as not, it was Yellowstone.  Tommy says he’s been there 23 times.

My cousin Dede emailed me a week ago, inviting me to join them (Tommy, Barb, Dede, Dana, Dana’s three kids, and Dannon’s boyfriend, Garrett Ford) on their first trip to Yellowstone in at least a decade.  I hadn’t been since about 1978!  I’ll surely never be able to repay Tommy and Barb for the patience and generosity it took to invite my sister and me along back when we were kids, so instead I just got to tag along with them one more time, 35 years later.

We had a great time.  It had been a long time since I had the chance to spend more than a couple of hours at a time with Tommy, Barb and my McCreight girl-cousins.  Dede and Dana are now Dr. Dede (physician) and Dr. Dana (dentist).  We laughed about all the things that had changed in the last 35 years — and laughed even more about all the things that hadn’t really changed a bit.


I generally lack the both the know-how and the heavy-duty equipment for serious wildlife photography, but the McCreights are huge wildlife lovers, so I had to give it a try.  Results were mixed:  for some reason my pictures of relatively docile grazing animals are conspicuously better than my more-distant shots of flesh-eating predator species.  The coyote you see was eating a baby elk – nature at its goriest.  The curly-horned animals are bighorn sheep – not to be confused with Rocky Mountain goats.  We spotted that Moose out the window of a restaurant at lunch.   The waterfall you see in multiple shots is Lower Falls.  The steamiest pictures are at the Grand Prismatic Spring, which is an amazing sight that was almost entirely hidden by foggy steam on the cool day we were there.

Photo credit for the shot with me in it goes to my cousin and long-time fellow photographer, Dana (McCreight) Ellis.  I must have been standing uphill from Tommy and Barb because I’m not as tall as it looks there.  Dana was mostly successful in her scheme to avoid being photographed herself.  That’s Dede in the orange coat.  Creighton is in stripes.  Dannon and Taegen are the twins:  Dannon is in the tan coat, usually standing next to Garrett (who is often in camouflage).