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A Break on the Red Loop

October 12, 2014

My weekend was virtually consumed by the composition of complex documents to help the district’s teachers with new state appraisal requirements. But Wendy and I took a break on Sunday afternoon to enjoy the 3.26 mile Red Bike Loop at Osage Hills State Park.

Wendy on the trail (click image for slideshow)

We passed the new Osage Trail blazes which redirected the route westward. Wendy noticed an unusual growth high up on one of the trees, and I asked her to pose to provide scale. A flower she picked had a little critter on board, and when we reached the grotto pool we took a break. I was drinking water instead of my usual trail Fanta, enjoying the rippling little pools of water as a thin stream poured across the rocks.

Uphill climb

One of the original red metal Osage Trail markers was still in place and we wound our way up the hillside. On the downslope, Wendy noticed several bunches of small mushrooms.

Mushrooms

I am very grateful that Fall Break has arrived, and Wendy and I will head out on Friday for Poteau for some hiking in southeastern Oklahoma and/or southwestern Arkansas.

Click here for a slideshow from this day hike

 
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Posted by on October 15, 2014 in day hike, photos, travel

 

Roaring River Wrap-Up

October 4, 2014

Wendy and I needed an escape from the stress of work. We had both been working into the night, week after week, to do all that needed doing in our teaching and school-related duties. We’d seen little of each other this work week, as I spent three days at workshops in Tulsa while she had special education training and meetings. So we were both anxious to get out on the trail for some much-needed exercise and stress relief.

Roaring River State Park in Missouri is where I fell in love with hiking, and its Saturday forecast called for sunny weather with a high around 60 degrees Fahrenheit. Perfect! In April 2013 we hiked two miles there on the most impressive short trails: Deer Leap and Devil’s Kitchen. A year later, we walked a 4.5-mile loop on the Firetower Trail. That left three trails Wendy had not experienced, and I knew how to link them so I could readily meet or exceed her demand for a real work-out. So we left Bartlesville around 9:30 on Saturday morning, heading out for what would be a 5.85-mile hike along the Pibern, Eagle’s Nest, and Springhouse Trails.

Trail Track (click image for slideshow)

We reached the park’s Emory Melton Inn by 12:30 p.m. A fun new addition to the Inn were some huge lounging bears. Wendy and I enjoyed our now-traditional lunch beside the windows overlooking the forested knobs of the countryside. I had a French Dip while Wendy had a Frisco Melt. The food was good, but we were feeling it as we clambered down the hillside to the park store for trail drinks and then walked across the very narrow Highway F bridge across Dry Hollow to Campground 1. We walked west through the campground to the south trailhead of the Pibern Trail near the entrance to the Paradise Valley RV Park off Dry Hollow.

Pibern Trail

Wendy on the Pibern Trail

The Pibern Trail was built by the CCC in the 1930s as they were harvesting construction material. It climbs up the western slope above Campground 1 to track northward below a tall bluff carved by the usually-dry rocky streambed that tracks northward all of the way alongside Campground 1 and onward toward Cassville. Back in December 2011 I bushwhacked way up that streambed clear out of the park.

Wendy posed on a small bridge, and we followed the trail northward along the bluff. A short side trail led to a small cleft in the bluff, and some trees had distinct fungal growths. The trail climbed to approach some of the most impressive sections of bluff before turning about.

All along this hike, Wendy was searching for rocks with embedded crystals, recalling the beautiful find she made back in April on the trail near Onyx Cave a few miles away from Roaring River. She found a rock with some nice crystal ribbons and a rock with a screw-shaped fossil imprint.

Bluffs on the Pibern Trail

The trail turns back south at an area of tilted and fallen slabs which I call TumbleTown, descending steeply beside a waterway to reach the rocky streambed below. Wendy took a snapshot of me in front of TumbleTown, and I did the same for a couple who had made the arduous ascent to reach us.

Streambed at north end of the Pibern Trail

Down in the rocky streambed, I took a panorama with my new iPhone 6, which I’d been using for some of the snapshots along the trail. The trail briefly followed the streambed before re-asserting itself on slightly higher ground to the west for a beautiful walk through the trees. We were singing as we walked along the sunlight-dappled path.

We passed a tree with several bumps and a birdhouse, and reached the north end of the trail at the very end of the road for Campground 1. I don’t like the long walk along the asphalt road beside the campsites, preferring to just follow the dry but very rocky and bumpy streambed. That provides nice views of the carved and forested bluff as you traverse rocky and leafy ledges and sculpted bedding planes, but you need good hiking boots for that option.

Walking the streambed

We passed a tree with much of its rootball exposed; it probably won’t survive the next flood. We passed under the low bridge into Paradise Valley, where some kids were playing in the streambed. One asked knowingly if we’d just finished the trail. Wendy and I then walked up Dry Hollow to the park store. The old walkway across Dry Hollow was destroyed in a flood, and the south streambank is too steep to climb. So we had to again cross on the pitiful Highway F bridge. Missouri should prioritize replacing that very narrow bridge, which is barely wide enough for campers and trailers and is dangerous for pedestrians.

Murder Hill

Wendy had told me she wanted a workout on this trip, and boy-howdy, I had one ready for her. The climbs along the Pibern Trail are nothing compared to the long steep climb alongside Highway F up the hill leading south out of the park towards Seligman. My family has always called it Seligman Hill, but if you walk it, it is Murder Hill.

Elevation Profile

As we climbed and climbed toward the top, Wendy commented, “I’ll only hate you for a little while.” We finally reached the top, which has a trailhead for the Eagle’s Nest Trail. We were grateful to be leaving the highway and very glad our climb was complete.

We walked along and down the ridgeline, past the completely overgrown homestead of Miss Jeanne Wallace, the Mountain Maid, which one can only identify from the lilac bushes and yucca still growing in the area. We followed the upper part of the trail loop, which has a pretty winding section in the trees, before descending alongside Roaring River to return to the Emory Melton Inn. Wendy got a shot of some nice red leaves.

Eagle’s Nest Trail

The Last Trail

Wendy’s goal for the day was to hike six miles, and we had done a bit under 5.5 miles by that point. So I took her along the park’s newest trail, the short but steep Springhouse trail just south of the Inn. That means Wendy has now been on every trail in the park, hiking everything except for the lower part of the loop on the Eagle’s Nest Trail and a small connector between the Deer Leap and Firetower Trails.

It was a steep climb to the small trail loop. As we completed the loop and turned at a fork in the trail, Wendy laughingly said she was so very thankful when we turned left and down, rather than right and up. That last hike had brought our mileage up to 5.85 miles, which our calves and hamstrings said was quite enough for the day.

We freshened up and drove to Monett, where TripAdvisor led us to The Family Room Steakhouse, where we each enjoyed a tasty KC Strip with shrimp. The homemade mashed potatoes were peppery but yummy. The green beans, however, were noticeably spicy. Wendy commented on that to the friendly waiter, who found out that the cook had accidentally used cayenne pepper. The waiter provided a free slice of chocolate meringue pie to cool us off. It was a great way to end our day trip, and I’m sure we’ll return to that restaurant in the future, since The Rib in Cassville is long gone.

I’m no fisherman and I lost my interest in camping long ago, but the trails at Roaring River make it a favorite retreat for Wendy and me. We are so glad autumn has arrived, bringing with it the prospect of many more day hikes.

Click here for a slideshow from this day hike

 
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Posted by on October 5, 2014 in day hike, photos, travel

 

Back on the Trails

September 14, 2014

Osage Hills Thistle (click for Osage Hills slideshow)

A week into September 2014 the summer weather abated, allowing Wendy and me to venture out for our first hike since our vacation in New Mexico in early July. On a Sunday morning we headed west out of town to Osage Hills to hike four miles around the Bugle Loop on the Tower/Lake, Cabin, and Falls trails. We admired colorful thistle on the Tower trail and an intricate spiderweb above Lookout Lake. We lunched trailside on my favorite hiking meal, a QuikTrip turkey & swiss sandwich on berry wheat bread, before walking down to the Sand Creek falls. The water was running high from recent rains, and an extended family was enjoying the flow.

The next Sunday we drove to Owasso to have lunch at El Fogon, which was the top-rated Owasso restaurant on TripAdvisor. Wendy enjoyed her carnitas with corn tortillas while I dined on my typical order of steak fajitas. Then we drove east to the 120-acre Conservation Education Reserve at Rogers State University. I had visited it five years earlier, but back in 2009 I did not track my route. Before we left town to drive to Owasso, I’d done an extensive web search for a detailed map of the reserve, eventually tracking down a nice online GPS map created by students at the local vo-tech; I had exported and saved that map to guide our hike.

RSU Day Hike (click image for RSU Reserve slideshow)

This time the tracker was running as we entered the gate near the Terra Lab to circumnavigate the reserve on its Butterfly Loop, Southwest Trail, Wetland Loop, and Weather Trail for a total walk of 2.75 miles.

The butterfly garden was buzzing with bumblebees. Wendy got a shot of the fish and a frog in the pond, and a bloom. We were then driven onto the Butterfly Loop by the approach of grandparents with grandchildren.

Bumblebee

A glade with benches featured a trailside tree which had been fully consumed by bagworms. The trail wound around the southeast portion of the reserve, with another group of hikers in close pursuit. We lost them when we turned off onto the Southwest Trail, which had a profusion of yellow blooms.

Southwest Trail

A muddy pond had a turtle swimming along with only its eyes and snout protruding from the water. A meadow had sumac, while the wetlands featured small cattails and plenty of bugs. The big pond featured a windmill and extensive plant growth in the water teeming with tiny fish. A couple of dragonflies flew by and settled down, intent on, er, coupling.

Dragonfly Couple

It was a nice but still rather warm walk; I’m eagerly awaiting even cooler weather for future outings.

Click here for a slideshow from the Conservation Education Reserve

 
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Posted by on September 14, 2014 in day hike, photos, travel

 

Down in the Salt Mine

September 2, 2014

Labor Day weekend 2014 found Wendy and me 650 feet below Hutchinson, Kansas, touring part of a salt mine. It was the highlight of our first out-of-town trip in my new 2014.5 Toyota Camry XLE, which replaced Princess, my 2001 Toyota Camry LE.

Trip to Strataca (click map for slideshow)

Princess replaced by Silver Fox

Silver Fox

I was sad to have to let Princess go, as she was the best car I ever had. But with over 236,000 miles on her and repairs this month exceeding her bluebook value, it was time for me to move on. I drained the car fund I’ve been building for four years and, with some help from my always-generous parents, traded Princess in for Silver Fox. Yes, the new car is silver instead of white, and I picked that name since the car reflects my mid-life desire for some flashy luxuries, such as leather heated seats and a moonroof.

The most useful new luxury is linking my iPhone wirelessly to the car’s sound system via Bluetooth. That is more convenient than the wired option I installed in my old car back in February 2012, since the phone automatically links with the car when I get close to it, allowing me to control the music on the car’s dashboard touchscreen and conduct hands-on-the-wheel phone calls. I like the latter feature, since avoidance of visual-manual interactions with a phone when driving improves safety. The car has its own voice recognition system, but even after completing its voice training, I found the iPhone’s Siri to be far more accurate in interpreting my commands. I still keep my iPhone mounted high on the dash with a holder that attaches to an air vent, since I still rely upon its TomTom GPS app for navigation, and Toyota doesn’t yet have Apple CarPlay.

Oh, and another nice feature of Silver Fox is the ease with which it passes slower vehicles on two-lane highways. Its 4-cylinder engine produces 178 horsepower versus the 136 hp engine in Princess, while still getting highway gas mileage in the upper 30s. I could get even more power and mileage in the hybrid model, but it is more expensive, and the battery pack’s longevity seemed ill-suited to my typical decade-plus of active car use before trading in for a newer model.

Hutchinson by way of Wichita

Silver Fox transported Wendy and me 184 miles northwest from Bartlesville to visit Strataca, the underground museum in an exhausted part of the Hutchinson Salt Company’s mine below Hutchinson, Kansas. We stopped along the way for lunch in Wichita. The first two restaurants we tried were too crowded or closed, so we wound up at Five Guys Burgers & Fries. We’d heard about this chain but never been in one before. Our food took awhile to be prepared, but was delicious.

Strataca Entrance

We arrived in Hutchinson after 1 p.m. I drove around town to show Wendy the Cosmosphere, which we planned to visit the following day. I’d been there previously and would have shared it on this trip with Wendy, but she was catching a cold as we headed out, and that, along with plenty of homework for both of us, meant that we cut our trip short the following day and saved the Cosmosphere for a future return trip.

But neither homework nor head colds kept us from being transported 650 feet down to the huge salt mine below Hutchinson. Our first stop at Strataca was around 1:30 p.m. to purchase tickets. Strong winds of over 30 miles per hour pelted us with sand as we made our way from the parking lot, so I was glad the earliest we could descend was 3:20 p.m. That gave us time to do some shopping, and, upon our return, to strategically park my new car to avoid most of the blowing sand.

Back to the salt mine

We then waited in the above-ground lobby for our group’s descent on the elevator, reading posted quotations. One from Isak Dinesen appealed to me:

The cure for anything is salt water – sweat, tears, or the sea.

The museum occupies a tiny portion of the immense salt mine. The active area is mined by the Hutchinson Salt Company, a successor to the original Carey Salt Mine of 1923. They mine over 500,000 tons of rock salt annually, primarily for use in de-icing roads. The Carey mine has grown to over 980 acres, with inactive areas leased to Underground Vaults & Storage. They store various items in leased space roughly equivalent to 35 football fields encased in solid stone, more than 45 stories below ground. The entire played-out portion of the mine, however, is equivalent to almost 740 football fields, stretching miles in each direction. If linked end-to-end, the mined rooms would stretch over 150 miles. The temperature is a steady 68 degrees year-round, although large fans have to be used to circulate air brought down through the shaft. Abandoned areas of the mine are closed off so that they don’t have to waste energy moving air around in those spaces.

Down we go

Wendy before a wall of rock salt

Throughout our visit we had to wear hard hats along with small rebreather kits strapped at waist level. The roof of the mine can peel, although they inspect the public area daily and knock down any loose bits. The trip down took 90 seconds in a newer double-level elevator that was constructed by the underground storage company and the county historical society. The original 1923 shaft is still in use by the mining company. We stepped out into a long wide tunnel through the rock salt, lit by roof-mounted lights.

The museum is a big U formed out of several of the interconnected rooms in the mine. The tour is self-paced, with displays in each room showing the various types of mining technology used here since 1923. Since it is so laborious to get mining equipment down the small shaft, it is never hauled back up and out. That meant we had examples of the original equipment to see, along with short video clips explaining how the equipment was used.

We examined display cases and passed fellow tourists taking selfies; the underground museum is equipped with WiFi, so you can keep in touch with the world above even with 45 stories of rocks above your head. Wendy and I took turns posing by the mine’s walls of rock salt, which include occasional pure salt veins formed by water flow.

Down in the salt mine

Different eras of mining technology

Salt saw

The mine originally relied on rails laid on the floors to move its electrical machinery and to haul the workers and mine materials. We passed an old train that transported workers and saw how they use large saws to undercut a fresh face. This provides a nice level floor and allows the rock to collapse when it is blasted loose. Deep holes are drilled into the face, and explosives are inserted. In the old days they used dynamite, and there were lots of empty dynamite boxes in the mine, but today they use ammonium nitrate and fuel oil. The chunks of rock salt used to be shoveled by hand into train bins to be hauled to a crusher and lifted. The blasting saved some effort, but workers still had to manually shovel tons of rock.

Eventually they abandoned the use of rails, switching to diesel vehicles. On display were an old car and a pickup which had been dismantled and brought down the shaft, and then reassembled and welded back together. My favorite was a 1940 tractor which got stuck in a farm shelterbelt back in 1958 and abandoned. In 1994 a mine supervisor bought it for $60 and had workers cut it loose from tree that had grown up through it. They disassembled it and brought it down into the mine, put it back together and cleaned the carburetor, and put it to use. Since Star Trek: Voyager was popular at the time, they named the tractor after the eponymous ship in that show, and even labelled its battery holder as the warp core.

Voyager tractor and its warp core

The mine today uses front-end loaders running on bio-diesel to scoop up blasted rock salt into a crusher. The crushed rock spills out onto an extremely long conveyor belt for transport to the original shaft.

Front-end loader and conveyor belt

Storage

Dean Cain’s Superman suit

A fun area of the museum displays the history of the storage facility. I laughed at the incongruity of the 1959 Miss Salt Queen contestants. The mine was originally mostly six feet high, but the storage areas were raised to 10 feet. Today they use big cutters to lift the ceilings for storage areas, and this creates firmer ceilings and beautiful patterns in the rock salt. The much-appreciated bathroom facility they added in 2012 has walls which show the difference between the lower blasted mine area and the cut upper section.

This mine is the largest single storage facility for movie and television film internationally, thanks to its consistent 68 degree temperature and 35-40% humidity. A display illustrated the storage racks, and they had several movie costumes on display, including the Mr. Freeze costume and infamous “nipple” Batman suit from the 1997 movie Batman & Robin. I was a fan of Lois & Clark back in the 1990s, so I enjoyed seeing a Superman costume worn by Dean Cain.

Wendy with Dorothy II from Twister

Old animation drawings are also stored in the mine, and it was neat to look at original Bugs Bunny and Sylvester drawings. I was already familiar with data records storage in salt mines, since my mother worked for a savings and loan in Oklahoma City which stored records in a mine near Kansas City. The mine storage areas hold a variety of stored data records, and Wendy was impressed by the huge old IBM System 38 computer on display. Above it was a nice display of evolving data storage technologies, reminding me of my recent post about my own digital storage changes. It was amusing to see that the big IBM computer tape reels we used to always see spinning back and forth in old movies only held about 140 megabytes of data. My desktop computer currently has instant access to over 35,000 times that much local storage.

We came across the Dorothy II prop from the Twister movie; we’d seen the Dorothy I and other similar props in the Oklahoma History Museum last November. I enjoyed seeing old 35 mm film movie editing equipment used to view, cut, and splice films back in the days before digital editing.

Train and tram rides

We had purchased tickets allowing us to ride an electric train for a narrated 15-minute ride through parts of the mine dating to the 1940s and 1950s. We saw how they used to plug up spent areas with old dynamite boxes to control air circulation. There were areas where the floor had heaved up or a part of the roof had collapsed, and some of the old mine rails and cars. The mine is ever-so-slowly closing up under the pressure of the overlying rock; a study by the nuclear energy folks showed it might seal up in 36,000 years. The slow buckling of the mine was part of the reason why protesters successfully fought against having the salt mines used for nuclear waste storage, worried that waste might eventually be introduced into the overlying aquifer. That aquifer was a barrier to the construction of the shaft we took down into the mine; they punched through it by freezing the surrounding area during the drilling before lining that portion with concrete to keep the water out.

Other “remnants” of mining we saw along our excursion included a trash pile and portable toilet; they really do leave stuff down in the mine! We then took a tram for a “dark ride” through parts of the mine without electric lighting, but the low light levels and steady motion meant that the only shot I got was of an abandoned old car.

Heading up and out

As we left the mine, I posed with a pickaxe, and then we boarded the elevator for the ascent. Back outside, I looked at the small electric train engine once used for switching services at the Carey Salt Mine’s evaporation plant and mine. The wind was still strong and dust-laden as we drove back to Wichita, passing through large clouds of dust reminding us that this area was part of the 1930s Dust Bowl.

Dust storm outside of Hutchinson

Along the Arkansas in Wichita

We spent the night at the historic Drury Plaza Broadview Hotel along the Arkansas River in downtown Wichita. We were on the 8th floor in a nice spacious high-ceiling room with a great west view of the river. Wendy got a great shot of the sunset before we headed out to eat.

View of the Arkansas from the hotel

Wichita’s Old Town district seemed the best bet for finding some nightlife on the Sunday night before Labor Day, and we enjoyed pizzas at the Old Chicago Pizza & Taproom.

Spangles for lunch

The next morning Wendy’s cold had worsened, and so we opted to head home after lunch rather than drive back to Hutchinson’s Cosmosphere. Our first attempts for Labor Day lunch failed, since family restaurants were understandably closed, so we wound up at one of the many Spangles joints around town. Outside there was an old Chevy plunging out over the building’s entrance, and inside we found a Mustang Mach I, Phillips 66 signage, and good burgers.

We enjoyed our trip and look forward to returning to Wichita and Hutchinson in the future, but although we certainly enjoyed our tour at Strataca, we won’t have to go “back to the salt mine.”

Click here for a slideshow from this trip

 
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Posted by on September 2, 2014 in photos, travel

 

Art Civi et Reipublicae

August 6, 2014

Recently I was in Norman on the campus of the University of Oklahoma, where I earned my bachelor’s degree over 25 years ago. I’ve been drawn to Norman on school-related business a few times over the years, but usually I only have found time to drive quickly by the various new and renovated buildings and campus improvements. My tourism has focused on the Sam Noble Museum of Natural History, which replaced the old Stovall museum in 1999.

But this time I had several free hours and my interest in art lured me back to the Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art. When I was an undergraduate, it was called the Fred Jones Jr. Memorial Art Center and restricted to an early 1970s building with outdated and somewhat dark and uninspiring galleries. Back in 2000 the university received the gift of the Weitzenhoffer Collection of French Impressionism, consisting of 33 works of art by Degas, Gauguin, Monet, Pissarro, Renoir, Toulouse-Lautrec, Van Gogh, Vuillard and others. It is the most important collection of French Impressionism ever given to an American public university, and in 2005 the new Lester Wing opened and became the home of that collection while providing much more space for other works of art.

OU’s Museum of Art (click image for slideshow)

I toured the wing before 2010 and liked the architecture but was underwhelmed by the Weitzenhoffer Collection, as I am not overly fond of Impressionism. So I had moderate expectations for this visit, but was happily surprised to find that the older section of the building had been expanded with several more gallery levels in the Stuart Wing, filled with a large collection of southwestern art and several temporary exhibits.

Mustang by Luis Jeminez

I noticed Adrian Arleo‘s ceramic Lead (Woman with Two Horseheads) with its odd striations, but Luis Jiménez‘s Mustang (Mesteño) with its glowing red eyes and blue-and-white body was a standout. Those eyes really add something to the fiberglass work. In the same gallery one will find the related lithograph. Both of these works relate to a larger one outside the Denver airport. Perhaps the Mustang is as evil as its red eyes make it appear: the artist was killed by a piece of the torso which fell as he sculpted the larger statue at his studio in New Mexico. His two sons, working with others, finished it.

Far less intimidating were a number of black-on-black pots by Maria Martinez, the San Ildefonso pueblo artist Wendy and I learned about during our stay in Albuquerque on the first of July. A wedding vase from 1929 and a huge lidded jar from 1967 showed the variations in her work with other artists over the decades.

Miniature Platter by Rebecca Lucario

Two small ceramic works by Rebecca Lucario of the Acoma pueblo were particularly striking in their studied intricacy. A miniature platter was covered in “eyedazzler” patterns which she painted with yucca grass and black slips, and a nearby vase showed similar creativity and attention to detail.

José de la Cruz “J.D.” and Sofia Medina, of the Zia pueblo, produced a nice Polychrome Jar with Dancers in the 1970s which depicted several different dancers on its white painted surface. I turned the corner from those happy scenes to be confronted by a Skeleton Figure Mask from Mexico.

Another sort of ambush was depicted in Henry Farny‘s Suspense, of gouache on paper from 1890. In it, an Apache waits in hiding to attack his adversary. I loved the expression on the Apache’s face.

Suspense close-up

The much larger Yeis in Chanting Procession by Tony Abeyta depicted three dancers in the cermonial guise of the Yéi or Holy People of the Navajo, likely involved in the Nightway ceremony of healing.

A large and quite striking oil painting was Hopi Snake Dance by Cornelia Cassady-Davis in 1897. The dancers are caught mid-step with snakes held in their mouths and hands, having just rounded a sacred rock. This painting once graced the El Tovar hotel on the rim of the Grand Canyon. You feel like the dancers are coming right at you as you stand in front of this fine work, being transported to the depicted surroundings.

The Stuart Wing

These works and much more grace the airy yet warm Stuart Wing. The more intimate Lester Wing has recreations of several rooms of the Weitzenhoffer home in Oklahoma City. So Impressionist paintings are joined by 18th century English furniture, Chinese export porcelain, and other antiques which Clara Weitzenhoffer left to the university. The dalmations I could well live without, but in the dining room I liked the bold lines and colors of Raoul Dufy‘s Paddock.

During a tour with Wendy of the museum, she pointed out Shoson Ohara’Nandina and Flycatchers in Snow from 1929, saying it reminded her of photos I’ve taken of my own nandinas in wintertime.

Bird on Sphinx

Having completed a tour of the interior, it was time for exterior sculptures. Out front, a bird was happily chirping atop Fernando Botero‘s typically bulbous Sphinx bronze, which squats outside the entrance to the Lester wing, its curves contrasting with the linearity of the building.

I’m not fond of that sculpture, a gift of Jerry Westheimer. Wendy and I both prefer the granite Interlocking Triptych by Jesús Bautista Moroles, which Westheimer also donated, grateful that it is the backside of that one sees from inside the Stuart Wing, and not the backside of the Sphinx. Across the street is Boyd House, where OU’s President Boren resides.

On the opposite side of the museum one finds Glenna Goodacre‘s white marble Bather, which is quite lovely, but quite still in contrast to the swirling liveliness of Kim Walker Ray‘s The Dance, a bronze ballerina tucked away on a small plaza for the Don Reynolds Performing Arts Center located south of the museum.

The Dance

A statue by Paul Moore of the university’s longest-serving president, George Lynn Cross, sits out in front of Evans Hall, the beautiful administration building of 1912 which anchors the north oval. Its Cherokee Gothic architecture is echoed in many of the university’s academic buildings, influencing the much more severe 1982 Neustadt Wing which is now the main entrance to the Bizzell Memorial Library. The E.T. Dunlap clock tower out front was a final construction project under the leadership of the somewhat controversial university president Bill Banowsky back when I was attending OU in the 1980s; we wags unkindly termed it “Banowsky’s Last Erection”.

Banowsky’s Last Erection

David Levy’s clippings

I ventured inside the library, where the large room filled with card catalogs back in my day now brims with computer terminals. But I was glad to find not everything had changed. Decades ago I prowled every corridor and stack of the library and was amused by how the door of professor David Levy’s office in a back hallway was plastered with funny newspaper headlines; the professor has retired, but the clippings are still there.

The latest wing at the art museum is just another example of how OU’s facilities continue to expand and improve, living up to its motto of Civi et Reipublicae: For the benefit of the Citizen and the State.

Click here for a slideshow from these visits

 
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Posted by on August 6, 2014 in art, photos, travel

 

Kicks on 66, Days 9-11: Relaxation and Return

July 6-8, 2014

Day 9 Map (click map for slideshow)

Blooms

The day after our climactic day hike and flamenco performance, Wendy and I took it easy in Santa Fe. We had an unappealing breakfast at the Flying Star Cafe in the Railyard and walked to the plaza. A stop along the way at the Hilton let me shoot a nice piece of corridor artwork. At the plaza we indulged in cookies and a shake at the Häagen-Dazs. Then we found a place to sit at the plaza amidst beautiful blooms. Wendy tipped a beautiful busker who was playing “Yesterday” and “Blackbird” on a guitar.

I’d considered finally walking along the famous Canyon Road and its galleries, which I’ve never seen, but it was a Sunday, and I figured they might be shut. So I saved that for a future trip and instead walked with Wendy along the northeastern part of the Paseo de Peralta, an old street which encircles downtown. I liked seeing some of the old buildings. It was a sign of the times that the grand old Scottish Rite Temple was up for sale; its 1901 Moorish Revival look doesn’t blend too well with its surroundings, but it is a striking building. Declining membership means the local chapter lacks the cash flow to maintain it.

Name your price for this unusual temple

Across the street from the temple are the beautiful grounds of the Santiago E. Campos U.S. Courthouse. The building was started in 1850 and intended as the territorial capitol, but insufficient funding meant it would not be completed until 1886, by which time a new capitol was under construction. It has beautiful stone walls, and the grounds have lovely tall trees and a nice grass lawn.

Courthouse lawn

Out in front of City Hall we passed the statue of St. Francis and his often-petted prairie dog. The saint appears in various places about the city, which was originally called La Villa Real de la Santa Fé de San Francisco de Asís (The Royal City of the Holy Faith of St. Francis of Assisi).

We passed a VW Westfalia camper, something my father would appreciate, on our way back to our casita. My head ached, so I went out for a stroll around the block, finding a statue at the adjacent hotel of a Hopi maiden sporting immense squashblossom whorls. Princess Leia had nothing on her!

Dinner was a delicious pizza at the adjacent Café Café, followed by us relaxing on our patio for our final evening in Santa Fe.

Day 10 Map

The tenth day began with a wonderful early lunch at Tia Sophia’s downtown. I had beef tacos with Spanish rice, and Wendy loved the tender chicken in her green chile chicken enchiladas. She reported the tamales were good and spicy, if a bit grainy. We enjoyed sopaipillas and honey, bemoaning the fact that we would be leaving behind the wonderful food of New Mexico. Wendy posed for me in a downtown walkway, our last shot in Santa Fe.

Princess the Camry took us southeast to the old Cline’s Corners tourist stop off I-40. The most notable thing was a tremendous collection of horns on a wall. After refreshing ourselves, we headed due east on I-40 back to Amarillo. We pulled off in Santa Rosa to see its famous Blue Hole, an 80-foot-deep pool of 61-degree water which had attracted a number of swimmers. Wendy noted how clear the outflow was.

The Blue Hole at Santa Rosa

Just past Santa Rosa, the interstate divides the ghost town of Cuervo; Wendy thought it must be a fake ghost town or movie set, considering the oddity of driving through it on an interstate. But Cuervo is quite real, as are other ghost towns like Endee, Bard, and San Jon. We were puzzled by the names, but they made sense when we found out Endee got its name from the old ND ranch and Bard was probably a ranch name as well: the Bar-D, which reminds me of the chuckwagon show I saw in Durango back in 2011.

We had dinner at the yummy Blue Sky Burgers in Amarillo. Our evening entertainment was Errol Morris’s memorable documentary The Thin Blue Linewhich saved a man from death row.

Day 11 Map

The final day of our trip was a long drive back to Oklahoma City to have dinner with my folks and then onward back home to Bartlesville.

We began with a great breakfast near our hotel in Amarillo at Ye Olde Pancake Station. Before we left Texas, we pulled off I-40 to take old Route 66 through Shamrock to drive by the restored U Drop Inn, which frankly is the best-looking thing in town. Shamrock, like so many other towns along old Route 66, has been bypassed by the interstate and suffered mightily for it.

U Drop Inn at Shamrock, Texas

The sun was setting as we drove up US 75 to Bartlesville, glad to be returning home, but also wishing that we could spend more time having Kicks on Route 66.

Click here for a slideshow from these days

< Day 8 of Kicks on 66

 
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Posted by on July 21, 2014 in photos, travel

 

Kicks on 66, Day 8: Climbing Kitchen Mesa at Ghost Ranch

July 5, 2014

The eighth day of our big summer vacation was the climax. Or should I coin the term “climbmax” since we ascended Kitchen Mesa at Ghost Ranch?

Day 8 Map (click map for slideshow)

My first hikes at Ghost Ranch in June 2012 were stunning, and I outlined the history of the property in that post from two years back. I loved both the Chimney Rock and the Box Canyon trails, but did not have time to try the third major trail, which leads up to the top of Kitchen Mesa. A year later, I took Wendy out to the ranch, and our hike in Box Canyon was her favorite out of all of the different hikes during our first year of dating. So it was obvious that we had to go out to Ghost Ranch this time to hike together up Kitchen Mesa, the rounded and candy-striped mesa looming over the main buildings.

Hikes with Wendy at Ghost Ranch

We knew the hike would be challenging for us, since we are acclimated to an elevation of 700 feet above sea level, and this four-hour hike through hot desert terrain would climb from 6,500 to 7,100 feet. That included a 15-foot scramble up a cleft in the mesa to reach the top, and the uneven terrain meant we actually had a total ascent of over 1,200 feet.

So we got around early to hit highway 84 north for the 63 mile drive up to Ghost Ranch. We stopped along the way in Española for breakfast at a McDonald’s. We reached the ranch by 9:00 a.m. and checked in, paying the minimal day use fee. A friendly docent warned us about the cleft we would have to navigate to reach the mesa top and provided directions to the trailhead, which is adjacent to the trailhead for the Box Canyon hike we did last year. This time we avoided the long roadside trudge from the Welcome Center to the trailheads by driving around to park at them.

Our hike

As we headed out, our target was directly ahead, backlit by the morning sun. We climbed to a hillside which offered a panoramic view north across the greenery of the Rito Del Yeso arroyo. To the right was the mesa below which one will find the ranch’s Camposanto area, which we had seen the previous year along our Box Canyon hike.

Panorama of Camposanto area

Dinosaur Quarry

We crossed over into the ranch’s dinosaur quarry in the red siltstones and mudstones laid down 205 million years ago in the Late Triassic Period, the beginning of the Age of Dinosaurs. Back then this area was about 1800 miles farther southeast of its present location, putting it near the planet’s equator. 95% of the fossils found were of the small carnivorous dinosaur, Coelophysis. It was 6-10 feet long and weighed 50-100 pounds.

Panorama of the dinosaur quarry

Helpful signage explained the layer cake we saw in the rocks around us. The grey layer atop the cliffs is the Todilto Formation of saline sediments deposited by an inland sea in the late Middle Jurassic Period. The orange and yellow cliffs below it are sand dunes of the Entrada Formation, laid down in the Middle Jurassic about 160 million years ago. The rosy-colored mudstones and siltstones of the cliff base are the Chinle Formation deposited about 205 to 230 million years ago. It was in that period that hundreds of Coelophysis were buried, probably in a flash flood.

Another sign explained that David Baldwin discovered bones in 1881 and mailed them to paleontologist Edward Drinker Cope, who had been through the area earlier and named the fossils Coelophysis bauri. Coelophysis means “hollow form” and refers to the lightly constructed bones, while the rest of the name honors Georg Baur, a German morphologist. In 1947 a field crew discovered a dense bonebed of hundreds of skeletons in the area and excavated large blocks of rock, each containing numerous whole and partial skeletons. In 1981, a century after the initial find, the blocks were collected by various institutions.

It was while Wendy and I were crossing a dirt ridge in the quarry, breathing heavily in the thin and hot air, that a petite tanned mother with two children merrily scampered by. They would go up to the top and be on their way back down even as we low-landers were still slowly ascending the mesa. Rather than being discouraged at our relative difficulty, I took heart that if they could make it up there, then we surely could!

Wendy by a big chunk out of the mesa

A Slow Climb Towards the Cleft

We passed the narrow tip of the northern edge of the mesa as we continued to climb the valley to the east of it. We passed interesting rocks. A rather intimidating chunk of the mesa had fallen away and rolled down, squashing a tree beneath it. The impact with the tree had cleaved off a massive wedge from the chunk of rock.

Spying a narrow vertical slot in the mesa, I teased Wendy by saying we would be scrambling up through it. Of course we could have never managed that. We passed a crude natural amphitheater in the side of the mesa, which reminded me of a much smaller yet similar rockfall at Osage Hills near Bartlesville and the immense Echo Amphitheater near Ghost Ranch.

We steadily climbed in the heat, taking breaks in which Wendy teasingly made some pointed comments about my idea of fun. The beautiful views kept us going. We steadily climbed a ridge of dirt and rock toward the mesa top and suddenly spied the mother and her children clambering down the side toward us. They must have just exited the cleft.

Beautiful views

The Cleft

Their appearance made it easier to spot the way up, but the ranch does have a series of green-painted coffee cans all along the trail to provide guidance. Soon we reached the 15-foot-high chimney cleft we had to climb. Wendy had me pause to pose, and then we made the ascent. It wasn’t as terrible as I had feared, although we did have to go slowly and use all four limbs.

The Cleft

Mesa Top Overlooks

We followed the trail across the mesa top and reached the first overlook. Venturing out there provided a stunning view southwest across the Piedra Lumbre. To the north of the Cerro Pedernal mesa, which Georgia O’Keefe was so fond of painting, was a storm cloud spilling rain onto the desert. I hurried over to the edge to shoot a panorama, with the greenery around the Ghost Ranch buildings far below to my right. Farther to my right I could see the eroding layers of the mesa, with the grey saline sediments on top and the compressed orange and yellow sand dunes below that.

Overlooking the Piedra Lumbre

Selfie atop Kitchen Mesa

We celebrated with a selfie before following the trail northward along the mesa top to where a small grey promontory of sediment marked the second overlook.

I ventured out to shoot another panorama but found the view a ways back, which included the overlook platform, to be just as interesting. Wendy posed at the overlook for me, and then I posed nearby for her before we headed on toward the tip of the mesa.

Second overlook

The surface changed to the grey saline sediment. Being surrounded by that surface seemed unearthly and strange; Wendy described it as a lunar surface. She was fascinated by the white rocks with black veins and the mica glittering in the sun. A lizard scuttled by, and the final overlook we enjoyed provided a sweeping view of the ranch buildings below and the green vegetation along the course of the Rito del Yeso creek.

Ghost Ranch Panorama from Kitchen Mesa

Back Down We Go

The rain was approaching; it was time to head back. We traced our way back across the mesa top to the cleft and carefully descended. We were glad to be headed downslope in the heat, passing cholla cactus blooms. Wendy had frozen water in our bottles back at the hotel, a great idea which provided us with cool water throughout the hike. As we passed the huge chunk of rock beside the trail we’d seen earlier, with shattered wood beneath it, I speculated about which cleft in the side of the cliff it had come from.

Returning to the trailhead

As we walked, we were bracketed by storms. Dark clouds to the east produced a few flashes of lightning and rumbles of thunder, while approaching from the west was the rain storm. Up on top of the mesa, where I could get cell phone reception, I’d checked the NOAA Radar US app and knew the storm to the east was moving away, but the one from the west would eventually arrive over Ghost Ranch.

Nearby storm

We returned to our car, and raindrops began spattering down as we cleaned up and drove back over to the Welcome Center for restrooms and ice cream. A tour was leaving, taking folks to the settings of various paintings by Georgia O’Keefe to compare what they would see with what she captured on canvas. We should take that tour some summer. As we neared the end of today’s trail, I spied the top of Chimney Rock jutting up above the countryside. Although I hiked over to it in 2012, Wendy has not been on that trail.

So we shall certainly return to enjoy the hospitality of the Presbyterians who make these wonders accessible to all. I close this remembrance of our visit with a shot of cholla blooms in front of the distinctive flat top of Cerro Pedernal. Georgia O’Keefe painted that mesa many times:

It’s my private mountain. It belongs to me. God told me if I painted it enough, I could have it.

In a way, she got that wish; Georgia’s ashes were taken to the top of Cerro Pedernal and scattered there.

Cerro Pedernal beyond the cholla blooms

Tower on the former capitol

Capitols of Santa Fe

Tired but happy, we returned to Santa Fe and relaxed before heading out for an early dinner. Wendy clearly wanted more of those “best tamales EVER” at Tomasita’s, and we found it was already crowded at 4:15 p.m. The food was great, and we enjoyed people-watching. To walk off our dinner, we ventured over to see the state capitol.

We’d passed through the original capitol of these lands, the old Palace of the Governors on the plaza, a few days earlier. And we had repeatedly passed the “Bataan Building”, with its distinctive tower, on our way to and from the plaza. It opened in 1900 as a cheap replacement for an expensive territorial capitol, which had burned after only a few years of use. The simple three-story box with a modest silver dome grew over the years, and the dome was replaced by the 105-foot tower in 1950. But in 1966 a very different capitol building superseded it, and the old capitol became the Bataan Memorial Building, named to honor members of the 200th Coast Artillery that served bravely – and met a tragic fate – during the infamous battle and subsequent “Death March” of 1942, in the Philippines.

Wendy with the roses

We were curious to see the adjacent replacement capitol, which is quite inconspicuous. As we negotiated the sidewalks to reach it, Wendy discovered another small rose garden, this one nestled amidst the government buildings. She was impressed by the height of several of the bushes. I was more interested in the panels on the nearby Education Building, which had figures in extreme poses.

The grounds of the capitol itself have been described as, “a lush 6.5-acre garden boasting more than 100 varieties of plants, including roses, plums, almonds, nectarines, Russian olive trees, and sequoias.” But the areas we saw appeared neglected and unappealing. We came across Michael A. Naranjo’s Emergence sculpture, which I am not fond of; it makes me think of a game with a hula hoop. We also saw Doug Hyde’s Buffalo Dancer, which was squat and somewhat comic to me.

Having fun with the boys

I was equally cranky about the new state capitol, a three-story roundhouse which is unique among state capitols and hopefully will stay that way. Wendy, however, was in a playful mood. Inspired by our plan to see flamenco dancing that evening, Wendy stuck a rose in her hair and posed by Glenna Goodacre’s sculpture of two boys playing tug of war with three girls.

Entreflamenco

When planning this vacation, I had considered a performance of Carmen at the Santa Fe Opera. But the tickets were quite pricey, and a long four-act Italian opera hardly seemed in the southwest spirit of our trip. So I was happy to see a listing for Entreflamenco‘s performance in the Maria Benitez Cabaret Theatre at The Lodge at Santa Fe. I had never seen flamenco dancing except on video, and was hoping for an enjoyable evening. Wendy was interested yet skeptical. As it turned out, the performance was riveting, and we were so close to the action that we could see every detail, even the sweat flinging and feathers flying off the incredible dancers.

The stars of the show were Antonio Granjero and Estefania Ramirez. Wendy described Antonio as, “a macho Fred Astaire on crack” with his incredible speed and dramatic gestures and poses. He presented as cocky, powerful, and intense. His performance with Estefania began in an embrace, with graceful movements and then a walk apart on the stage to begin their foot-stomping and elaborate separate dances, to finally end in another embrace. His solo finale included incredibly fast and precise foot tapping and much more. Wendy wrote, “He worked like hell and then swaggered to the foot of the stage, nodded to the audience, and said ‘Hey’, followed by huge applause.”

Estefania Ramirez was incredibly intense, with a slight grin only fleetingly crossing her focused face. One dance was in a white dress with red fringe and Wendy aptly described her performance as, “Sassy, intense, very sexy, and confident.” In her guajira performance, she flicked a fan open and closed and back and forth with incredible precision, a very long skirt flipping and swinging. I could barely imagine someone even walking in such a dress, let alone dancing so energetically. Eventually two other female dances joined in, their movements precisely matching her lead.

There were altogether three other female dancers besides Estefania. A blonde resembled Scarlett Johansson, another dancer was slightly reminiscent of Frida Kahlo, and the third was very Indian in appearance and a bit less sheltered in her expressions. All four female dancers danced together near the start of the show, dressed in wonder-bread-like dresses with bright colorful fringed shawls.

Each of the dancers took his or her performance very seriously, and occasionally we spotted some modern moves in the mix. The experience was intense and emotional, with us sitting in the very front, only a couple of feet from the edge of the stage. Wendy said she could smell the sweat as they performed their intricate high-intensity dances with perfect timing and the flicking of precise gestures. She commented, “Our sweat from the hike at Ghost Ranch was nothing compared to the amount pouring off the dancers.” It was not at all off-putting, but made the experience all the more intense to see, up close, how hard they pushed their bodies in their demanding art.

Syncopated clapping by fellow performers accentuated the beat, and we enjoyed the emotional singing by Roberto Lorente and Francisco Orozco “Yiyi”, who also played the drums. Jose Vega Jurado and Alex Jordan were the fine guitarists. It was a delightful evening we shall never forget, and if you are ever in Santa Fe, you should see Entreflamenco in that cabaret. Sit up front!

This fun-filled day was the climax of our trip; we would spend the next day relaxing as we recovered. One more post will close out this travelogue along Route 66.

Click here for a slideshow from this day

< Day 7 of Kicks on 66

 
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Posted by on July 20, 2014 in day hike, photos, travel, video

 
 
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