Roadtrip Day 4: A Hike

March 30th, 2008

We got up moderately early, packed the kids up with breakfast junk from the hotel buffet, and headed out to the park. It was in the low 50’s but it didn’t feel cold; we’re at 3000+ feet up here, and that really seems to affect the perception of air temperature. I had running shorts and a running t-shirt, anticipating (correctly) that I’d be running back from a finished-up crew to the van.

We opted for the “Juniper Cliffside Trail.” The trails on the parks department map are not very clearly described or marked. In this case, we started on one side of the river (the Prairie Dog Fork of the Red), and found we needed to ford the washed-over road crossing to continue. Wet feet. The trail is a multi-use foot-bike-horse trail, and a few squads of bikers – and one of runners – passed us along the way.

The lower reaches of the canyon are “Quartermaster” formation Permian sediments. The white bands are gypsum, in the form of selenite or alabaster (and something else I can’t remember). Up close the white bands look like masses of brilliant thin crystals all lined up vertically next to each other. The gypsum precipitated out over layers of sediment during dry periods of the late Permian, when the world climate was going bonkers due to the conglomeration of continents into Pangea. As the soil dried, got somewhat re-wetted, and dried again – a lot – the gypsum sort-of filtered out of the sediments and was left as those distinctive white stripes.

Above the Quartermaster layers are two groups of late Triassic sediments, the Tecovas group and the Trujillo group. Those consist of random shales, conglomerates, and sandstones in a weird variety of colors. In particular, a pale purple and a greenish-yellow layer can be seen all over the place. On the trail (which is almost completely in Quartermaster territory), occasional arroyos have washed down the grey-green, yellow-green, and purple-grey sands and pebbles to mix with the red and white Permian sediments. It’s really cool to see. The water erosion on the cliffsides give a thoroughly Georgia O’Keefe look.

I can’t resist cheap compositions with gnarly dead trees. The place was easy pickings for that sort of stuff today.

The kids were pretty good about the whole thing. When they’d exhausted their energy, I left the camera bag with Elaine and headed back down the road. About two or three hundred yards out, I heard a couple of panicked-sounding screams of “Mike! Mike!”. I stopped to verify, and then realized I had no choice but to run back. An annoying minivan showed up to mask any further sound as I ran back up the park road as fast as I could (not fast). When the fam came finally into view, they were just strolling along. Pat saw me and came back to tell me that Elaine wondered whether I had the car keys. I expressed dissatisfaction with that motive for a distress call in a way that apparently made Elaine a little upset. I felt bad about that after I found out the effects. It turned out we hadn’t gone that far, because even with my slow running pace it took no time at all to get back to the van, though it had taken two hours to get where we got via the trail.

I sat around the pool watching Allie and Pat “swim” in the pool while Elaine and Christopher returned to the museum. Christopher came back in a couple hours to construct a “replica” of a historic firearm he’d found at the museum. It’s good that he’s satisfied with the most vague topological similarity between his realizations and the actual originals.

We went back to the park in the late afternoon one more time, just to have a look. It’s a really nice park, and with the museum as icing I think it was a nice trip. It’s really far, true, but Canyon is a surprisingly nice little town (compared especially to Lubbock, which had us wondering whether things would keep getting worse as we went north). We ate at a Thai-Laotian (yes, really) place last night, and at the little “Something Different” place today we had a good lunch and a flawless free wireless connection.

Roadtrip Day 3: Cool Museum, Make-Believe Hikes

March 29th, 2008

Local temperature was 34 degrees this morning, and the plain outside the hotel was loosely fogged. Our day started relatively late, due to this enormous multi-room suite and its black-out curtains. We headed out to the Panhandle-Plains Historical Society Museum to make it in before the crowds. We were successful.

This museum is large. It’s billed, in fact, as the largest history museum in Texas. It’s reminiscent of the randomness of the Witte Museum in San Antonio or the Texas Memorial Museum on the UT campus (in the latter case, its former randomness – it’s been rationalized in the recent past). The collections include paleontology, geology, Plains Indian anthropology, petroleum production, sea shells, stuffed birds, stuffed plains animals, Indian art, Western art, firearms, cars, old gas pumps, WWII memorabilia, “pioneer” living, local ranching history, and the Texas Revolution. If you’re ever in Canyon TX, it’d be ridiculous not to visit.

After a diffuse lunch period we headed back to the canyon. With our fresh new annual pass we breezed in and drove down to the canyon floor. We had no explicit goals. The day had cleared up and gotten sunny and warm.

The lower reaches of the canyon are walled and floored with orange-red Permian sediments, highlighted by white bands of gypsum. Above that are multi-colored Triassic sandstones and shales. The top is capped by relatively recent “caprock” limestone and caliche. The scrubby vegetation was in various stages of dormancy, but the stark twiggy look was dramatic and “classic.”

The dark twisty trees in this image:

reminded me of the witches from Macbeth. What would Shakespeare have thought of landscapes like this? The harsh light beaming down on our baby hikes over forty or fifty yards of wild terrain wouldn’t have done for those witches, but the terror thorns, the twisted, scraggling shrubs, and the abrasive polychromed crags would possibly have seemed too fantastic to believe. I have to wonder what it’s like on moonlit nights.

The Triassic strata include (in the Trujillo group) layers of “banded” sandstone. Up close it has a shiny gray look, but from a distance it looks dull gray to blue-gray to an almost malachite green. These rocks are pieces that have tumbled down from an original altitude a hundred feet or more up the slope.

The plan is that we’ll head back in the morning for a real hike. We’ll see how that goes.

Roadtrip Day 2: Gliders and a Canyon

March 28th, 2008

After the long day on Thursday, we went to bed pretty early. Everybody woke up at about 5:30. By 6:00 nobody could maintain the charade of trying to sleep, so Elaine got the kids out the door for the dee-luxe breakfast buffet at the Days Inn. The breakfast area smelled strongly of petrochemicals, as it was primarily inhabited by oilfield service workers. Several semi-toxic packaged sweet rolls and bowls of cereal later we were ready to head out. The sun wasn’t yet up.

The Caprock Escarpment comes into view a few miles south of Post, TX. After Post, highway 84 rises up onto the plateau that is the High Plains of North America. The top-level rock strata is the Ogallala Formation, a fairly recent deposit of more-or-less rocky sediments formed from the broad downwash from the rising Rocky Mountains, stretching south to north across much of the country. The topmost layer is a hard quasi-limestone caliche that’s what was originally called the “caprock”, as it sits atop the typical bluffs that appear up and down the edge of the High Plains.

An interesting thing about this day is that it began about 40 degrees colder than it was Thursday afternoon. Thus upon reaching Lubbock we stopped at a Starbucks (with idiotic for-pay wireless) and then sought out a WalMart so that we could pick up more clothes for the kids. Lubbock is – partisans, please pardon me – a horrid place. For some reason we attracted beggars consistently. After a trip to a cold, windblown Prairie Dog Town (pop. 1)

we headed out, hoping to figure out a way to avoid the place altogether on the way back. However just outside the pale we notice a sign for a museum at the Lubbock airport. We spun around to go there after seeing a pretty good-condition C-47 parked in front. The museum is the “Silent Wings” museum, and it preserves the story of USAAF pilots who flew the various transport gliders employed in WW2 for airborne assaults. Inside the museum was, among other very well-done exhibits, a complete CG-4A WACO glider.

We soon found that the glider was set up such that we could climb inside and look around – somewhat astounding, given the fact that the things required delicate care when new.

The museum was a great find overall. We headed out and got to Canyon at lunchtime. After some pizza for the kids we drove out to the park. The van was low on gas so we didn’t want to drive down into the low part of the park, but we stopped at the point you can take this picture:

Palo Duro Canyon looks to be a pretty spectacular place. It’s a hard thing to capture with photography. I hope to go back over the next couple days, and I want to try and capture small stuff that evokes the visual impression of the big stuff. We’ll see.

On the way out of the parking lot we saw this tricked-out extreme Land Cruiser, apparently ferried here from Switzerland.

Roadtrip Day 1: Fossils, Bombers, Windmills

March 27th, 2008

San Saba is a ways away from places that are a ways away from places whose locations you know. Specifically, it’s about 20 miles west of Lometa. It’s a nice town, the “Pecan Capital of the World.” There’s a park there around a millpond. I saw no mill, but there was a bridge.

West of San Saba to Richland Springs, then north across Wilbarger Creek, then west about 12 miles, there’s a roadcut through some Pennsylvanian sediments. We stopped and looked around. Within about a minute Allie had found a slab of fossilized stuff about 8 inches square.

Little chunks of fossilized crinoids were all over the place, sometimes separately and sometimes in little concretions like that. About 3 vehicles passed us during the half hour we rooted around.

We headed out and onwards to Abilene, which we skirted on its southwest side. We stopped after joining I20 at an exit labeled “Tye”. The Conoco truck stop sported a gift shop filled with weird dolls. After gassing and washing up, and after the inevitable purchase of some Silly Putty, we walked out to the sound of something in the sky. There flew a B1B, back to its home at Dyess AFB. Three or four more flew in one after the other, while a C-130 flew over, a couple thousand feet higher, in the opposite direction. It was pretty cool.

There are a lot of windmills – big ones – on hills southwest of Abiliene and out basically all over the place along highway 84 northwest out of Sweetwater. They looked a lot bigger than the ones I remember from northern California, but maybe I’ve shrunk since then.


March 21st, 2008

wasp photo

I hooked up my homemade “ring flash” Amazon box the other day and took some pictures of emerging flowers. I wasn’t happy with any of them in the on-camera preview, but I finally got around to uploading them. This wasp one looked terribly blurred and over-exposed on the LCD, but it looks fine to me now.

The pear blossoms in which this wasp was cavorting have since dropped off the tree; it only takes a couple days. It’s not our tree; it’s in the neighbor’s yard. It produces a tremendous number of pears. They don’t taste like anything at all when they’re ripe off the tree (July), but my brother-in-law told us to put them in the refrigerator for a couple weeks. After such treatment the pears get a lot sweeter.

This wasp was a little thing; the blossoms are at most an inch across when they’re open.

I got an OK picture of a mutabilis rose blossom too. The background is black because the ring flash doesn’t cast enough light to expose stuff not really close to the lens.

rose photo

“We Are Not Shed People”

March 1st, 2008

Backyard sheds are an important part of suburban American life. With a shed comes obligation, however, and some are not up to the demands of shed ownership. In particular, I am not a worthy shed owner.


Our shed was, as sheds go, a pretty nice shed. It had been added to the home (we think) by its original owner, perhaps at the time the house was finished by the builder. The outside walls were finished with similar wood siding to that on the house; the inside was left without real walls. We used it to store a shedful of stuff that we didn’t want, didn’t know what else to do with.


One thing our shed did for the local ecosystem was provide a home for small rodents. This I discovered surprisingly recently. As a grossly unqualified shed owner, I hadn’t been in the shed for at least two years. A large rose bush with gigantic, murderous thorns had grown completely over the shed door. Before that the last thing I’d done was replace the shed doorknob with a new one. Since that time, mice or rats, or both working as a team, had gnawed a classic cartoon-like access portal at the bottom of the bush-hidden side of the shed. Our dog – a “rat terrier” as unworthy of her title as we are of “shed people” – had been showing a lot of interest in those bushes and that area, but had never come anywhere close to actually getting a rat. One afternoon, as I walked out with Gypsy, she and I both heard a brief rustle, and I turned to see a rat on a low holly branch. Gypsy saw it too, and sprang to the attack by cleverly running the opposite direction towards the area where she really suspected the rats to be.

No Shed

At that point I wondered, “Where is that rat going?” Only then did I think to check whether there was another way into the shed besides the inaccessible well-locked door. The next day we cut the rose bush back and checked inside. There amidst the unwanted detritus steaming away in the shed was what must have been some of the most valuable prime rat real estate in the area. We didn’t see any rats at that point, and the dog couldn’t find any either, but it was clear that they’d made much better use of the shed than we ever had.

Rat Check

About $800 later, we’re shedless. It was somewhat embarrassing taking the pictures. There I was, an affluent yuppie unable to maintain a shed in his own back yard, taking pictures of guys forced to wear breathing masks to protect themselves from the rodent filth I’d allowed to accumulate. It made me feel contemptible, but as I was depriving myself of a shed I contented myself that that was appropriate punishment. I don’t deserve a shed.

We’ll put flowerpots on the slab, or something. Flowers and herbs I can take care of, usually. The rose bush will be a lot happier anyway. I don’t know where the rats will go. They were of course seriously traumatized, and to some extent I feel kind-of bad about that too.

The Gaff

February 23rd, 2008

I’m writing this from the main dining hall of The Gaff, the #1 cyber pub in Port Aransas, TX. A well-known local just walked in to a shout of acclaim. The owner then told us about the Thursday pirate raid pub crawls they do from here.

I don’t have much to say – or, actually, I could probably stay in this place and write a few bad novels over the course of a season. I did however feel compelled to blog from here.

The pizzas just came, as did Allie’s pirate-sized meatball sandwich, so I sort-of have to wrap this up.


The Gaff is everything you could want from a run-down beach hangout. The menu has like four things on it. The weirdly efficient bartendress puts the pizzas together and they were approx. of BB’s quality. Pyramid Wheat on tap. Belt sanders used in periodic belt sander races decorate the grimy windows. There’s an enormous bigscreen tv that doesn’t seem to work properly. They have free wireless, and this paean is good evidence of what a fine idea that is.

We walked in, and for some reason the kids immediately started exploring all 1000 square feet of the place, with many declamations of “Classic!” as the piratical denizens paused (briefly) from their beer-cigarette cocktails.

After sitting down, Pat loudly announced, “This is just like Las Vegas!”


February 16th, 2008

I planned something maudlin. This rainy day swept into my head on a sharp cold wind, and there roiled bleak clouds of pathos. I wanted to write about the ephemera of memory, of tattered recollections I’d pay dearly to restore, of Friday parties, of lazy trips to Grapevine, laughing drives along the Secret Back Way, cuddling up with boxes of beer. I wanted to capture a thousand memories of a thousand moments, a thousand smiles.

I decided that was all dust, blown away. I won’t fail to take that sort of thing seriously when it’s happening any more. I’m a coward who hides behind a cheap cynical mask. I’m not an interesting coward so that’s not worth writing about. I stifle my desire to appreciate and wonder because I’m afraid about what happens when it ends, but I’m the only victim of that.

So, no more blah blah blah.

O Freunde, nicht diese Töne!
Sondern laßt uns angenehmere
anstimmen, und freudenvollere!

From somewhere came into our house a potted Lily of the Valley, Convallaria majalis. (There are various sad legends associated with the flower, but I don’t want to get into that now.) It started blooming a few days ago, so I carried it up to the improvised studio and took a bunch of pictures.

The leaves and flowers contain all sorts of scary-sounding chemicals that have something to do with heart attacks. I’m not sure if that means you should keep the plant around so that you can stuff a handfull of it into the mouth of a quivering patient on the floor. Somehow, even if it’d be effective, I can’t imagine how you’d explain it all to the paramedics.

With the lights all set up I got some good pictures of the kids too, but I’ll save those.

Swimming the foreverness of a slow morning

February 14th, 2008

One of the things that has contributed to the crack-up I’ve experienced (publically, now, and I’ll let you know eventually whether I recommend that) is a lack of patience. Conditioned by years sitting as I am now at the helm of an Internet-wired computer, I’ve gotten used to leaping instantly from wanting-to-know to knowing. The future, however, doesn’t send much e-mail.

It’s been hard to write this. I’ve been thinking a lot about being nuts, but for the past few days I’ve been feeling so not-nuts that the topic seems pointless and uninteresting. I keep testing myself with the various stimuli that for months fueled the darkness and confusion in my head, and while I still get twinges sometimes, they’re not making me stupid.

It’s definitely the case that I’ll never dismiss claims by my female friends that body chemistry is affecting their behavior. The only chemicals I have to worry about are whisky and cheese, and I don’t think they had much to do with most of my issues (though behavior-wise the drink hasn’t done me any favors). I’m such an emotional wimp that I can be driven into a bad state by a little world-is-changing stress, so I imagine that scary hormones would make me a complete wreck.

So this inability to know what’s going to happen – the natural state of existance, of course – gets on my nerves. Other stuff does too, and I know now that I’m really a giant baby. I don”t know how to improve that situation. I’m getting used to it, maybe.

Anyway today I went to a concert, sort-of. I think really you’d have to call it more of a church service fragment. I don’t know what you call those. I don’t consider myself a religious person, or a spiritual person, but I do consider myself a person. Being a person is strange and hard and amazing. For a while I was doing a really bad job.

Then, during this concert, a segment of poetry reading included the lines

I can only agree to open arms
of acceptance to imperfect friends,
explain as cogently as I can
that they are most certainly
alright as they are.

As the beneficiary of such commitments over the past few weeks, I found it suddenly very hard to keep my composure. I’m one imperfect friend, let me tell you. Sometimes I don’t even know why I feel I can think of myself as a “friend” to my friends. They’re such nice people, and I’m humbled by their support for me. Years ago, my home was often a focal point of activity among a circle of friends. I like cooking, and I cooked for friends who couldn’t or wouldn’t. Sometimes we’d just do nothing. For whatever reason this happened a lot less after we moved to Austin: I was working harder, maybe, or just getting older.

Having children of course changed things. It’s pretty easy to focus inwards, particularly in my case, gaining a complete clan in one step. The feeling of distance from people is something I got used to without even noticing it. I’m tired, my wife is tired (and her ears ring from every long day with three kids around), and it’s just so easy to be insular. What has that cost me?

Am I Depressed?

February 5th, 2008

That title isn’t really a question; it’s a joke. See there’s this guy, or there was this guy maybe, named Dan Ashwander, who was pretty, well, nuts, and he wrote this book called, Am I Insane? So I made the title of this blog post, “Am I Depressed?”. Funny.

Actually it is kind-of a question. I don’t know what it means to be “depressed.” other than the colloquial “gee I’m depressed because my sandwich got wet.” I’m sure that real depressed people who are unfortunate enough to land here probably think I’m a total poser. My apologies, really. My apologies also to anybody who’s wondering why, like the rest of the American population, I don’t go see a doctor who’ll tell me whether I’m depressed or not and send me on my way with a sack of pills appropriate to either answer. That’s not the kind of thing I ever imagined myself doing back when I wasn’t wondering whether I’m depressed, and I still have this quaint, feeble idea that clinging to that conviction gives me some connection to my ordinary sane self.

The chronic feeling that there’s a hedgehog inside my chest is so familiar now that I’m startled every now and then when it temporarily abates. When that feeling is strong I literally cannot eat, so of course the consequent lack of bodily nutrients only makes everything worse. My powers of rationalization and self-policing are all haywire, and I have periodically realized that the “good sense” I’ve been repeating to myself is completely wrong. That makes the hedgehog happy, of course, but it’s really starting to piss me off. Now I’m typing this, and I know that what I’m doing is burdening various nice people with having to think about me and this stupid rodent.

I have this sophomoric concept of the “meaning of everything.” I figure that the universe is just here, and there’s no rhyme or reason to it. Yet here I am, thinking, “Here I am,” and thinking about thinking, “Here I am.” Thus maybe those things go together: the universe is here to be thought about by creatures sitting there thinking, “Here I am.”

I asked Pat one day, “Pat if a big tree fell down in a forest, and there were no people or creatures near enough to hear it, would it make any noise?”

“Probably not,” was his immediate answer. That, I felt, strongly supported my theory. The universe needs me to think about it. It struck me back a while ago, while listening to a lecture about dromaeosaur taxonomy, that during the Mesozoic the Earth was covered with millions and millions of creatures running around gnawing on plants and eating each other, and yet none of them, nobody anywhere, was thinking about that reality, or thinking, “Here I am.” How did the world manage to exist? Day after day, year after year, like a model train setup in a store window, just existing without awareness. Well, I “reasoned,” maybe it works for there to be creatures somewhere, anywhere, thinking, “Here I am,” and thinking about thinking, “Here I am.” Maybe that makes things work out for the universe as a whole. Indeed, maybe me thinking now about the poor lonely Mesozoic is what made the Mesozoic exist.

Therefore, we have this obligation (so my infantile philosophy goes) to keep things rolling by thinking, “Here I am,” and by thinking about thinking, “Here I am.” It’s consequently important to be supportive and charitable to all those other people who need to be thinking, “Here I am” – my kids, wife, friends, and ultimately everybody. I now find myself in this situation where I’ve dropped the ball and kicked it into the neighbor’s yard. I’m leaning on kind normal people, hell virtually slobbering on them, stepping on their feet as I emotionally stagger around, and I have no business being such a mess. It’s totally unreasonable and horribly embarrassing. I know objectively that I’m not a super-being, impervious to mental maladies, but honestly it’s humiliating. Of course, feeling humiliated and weak doesn’t help my overall outlook.

OK so I don’t know where I’m going with this. The rodent is still there. I’m getting better at keeping a grip on things, and filtering out wildly inappropriate self-advice, but it takes a lot of energy and I can’t keep it up all day. I’ve never responded to stress this badly. I think the best I can do for now is sincerely apologize to the people who seem so inexplicably willing to put up with me. This really has got to stop, so please believe me when I say that I’m putting everything I can into snapping out of this funk, and I vow to make it up to everybody somehow eventually.

I should note in closing, as I proofread, that it’s extremely important to me that nobody take this too seriously. My innate fear of pain is a giant bulwark of strength, regardless of anything else going on in my head, so it’s absolutely not the case that I’m in danger of damaging myself. I’ll get better.