Sky and stars peeking into Antelope Canyon

April 11, 2014

Upper and Lower Antelope Canyon, near Page Arizona, get more visitors annually than just about any other canyon except the Grand Canyon.  They cover only a few miles.

You’re not familiar with Antelope Canyon?  You’ve seen the photos, even if you don’t know the name of the place — it’s a slot canyon, carved as with a wandering knife into the sandstone at the top of the cliffs leading to the Colorado River.

Over at EarthSky, I found a view you haven’t seen before.

Antelope Canyon at night by Sergio Garcia Rill. Stunning contrast of rock painted by light, and stars.  From EarthSky.com.  Visit Sergio’s website and read more about this adventure.

Antelope Canyon at night by Sergio Garcia Rill. Stunning contrast of rock painted by light, and stars. From EarthSky.com. Visit Sergio’s website and read more about this adventure.

Details from EarthSky.com:

Sergio Garcia Rill captured this beautiful image from within Upper Antelope Canyon in Arizona, which is the most visited slot canyon in the United States. A slot canyon is significantly deeper than it is wide. It’s formed by water rushing through rock. Sergio wrote:

During my recent trip to Arizona, I stopped by Page to get a chance at touring the now famous canyons (Upper and Lower Antelope) and I also had a chance to visit Upper Antelope at night.

I couldn’t really get too many shots with the sky (since the openings were very narrow and limited) but I liked this one in particular since I got a chance to set it up and do the light painting myself a couple of chambers behind from where my guide and another participant were working on another shot.

Thank you, Sergio.

Visit Sergio Garcia Rill’s Facebook page.

Click here for info about traveling to Upper and Lower Antelope Canyon.

Readers here may remember Page was the final destination of my late oldest brother, Jerry.  To his credit, he urged me to make a special trip to see Antelope Canyon, because most of the times I visited, it was closed, or impassable.  Alas, I have not yet been to the place.

This is one of the gems of the Diné, the Navajo Nation, and another good reason to get familiar with redrock country.


Snow falling on yucca on White Sands

March 18, 2014

Another great shot from America’s public lands:

One of the world'a great natural wonders - the glistening white sands @WhiteSands_NPS. #NewMexico pic.twitter.com/dbzPpIfSRW

Department of Interior Great American Outdoors Tumblr caption: One of the world’a great natural wonders – the glistening white sands @WhiteSands_NPS. #NewMexico pic.twitter.com/dbzPpIfSRW

One of the problems of touring places like White Sands National Monument is that most tourists arrive mid-day; most spectacular views are probably close to sunrise or sunset, when the sky adds colors other than “bright” to the scene.

Like No Place Else on Earth

Rising from the heart of the Tularosa Basin is one of the world’s great natural wonders – the glistening white sands of New Mexico. Great wave-like dunes of gypsum sand have engulfed 275 square miles of desert, creating the world’s largest gypsum dunefield. White Sands National Monument preserves a major portion of this unique dunefield, along with the plants and animals that live here.

Yes, the same White Sands where the Trinity Project first triggered an atomic weapon, in 1945 — but the blast site is actually about 100 miles north of the National Monument on the military’s White Sands Missile Range. Historical reasons to visit, as well as nature and beauty reasons.

I assume that’s some sort of yucca in the photo; can you tell more specifically?

More, related:


Outlaw flying in the American west

August 15, 2013

Old Jules tells a great story here about cranking up the old Cessna and climbing high enough to watch the vast powers of the U.S. military run training operations in the New Mexico Desert.

Pilots, bless ’em, tend toward the ornery end of the scale.  That’s what you want if something breaks on your airplane.  You want a guy at the stick who says, “Dagnab it, let’s see how to get out of this one safely.”  (Shades of Flight.  A great movie, really — did you see it?)

This is the place to insert the heroics of pilots in various times of stress, Wally Stewart and his crew bringing their B-24 bomber back over the Mediterrannean and dropping it perfectly on the runway, where it fell apart from the bullet holes [See KUED resources here].  That brave American Airlines crew in the DC-10 over Detroit, Flight 96, who lost hydraulic control when the rear cargo door blew out, and after a string of blue talking, brought the plane down safely (one flight attendant died in the explosion). Those United Airlines pilots who brought the DC-10 Flight 232 down in Sioux City, Iowa, after the rear engine flew apart and destroyed all control of the tail and rudder.  That brave U.S. Airways crew that executed a perfect landing in the Hudson River with Flight 1549.

I think if you talk with pilots much, you get the idea that they like things a little on the edge.  They don’t develop those cool, steely nerves that save lives by having nothing go wrong, ever, or by not pushing their aircraft where the wonks at the Federal Aviation Administration in Washington, D.C., say aircraft should not be pushed.  We hope they do all this pushing in flight simulators; but we also know better.

Cessnas, and just violating some of the rules, don’t deserve those accolades, really.  These stories tell how pilots might develop the skills the brave guys use later.  But they are stories, nevertheless, and they deserve to be told.  They may not save your life flying, but they’ll enrich your life, and help you get through the stuff here on the ground.

So go read Old Jules’s tale.

Then come back here; here are a couple of stories, true as I remember them (a couple of which really should be tracked down; the American west of the latter-half the of 20th century is full of these stories, and they need to be told).

I told Old Jules:

What’s outlaw in flying?

Two observations.

Years ago, while I was staffing the Senate, my brother, Jerry Jones, who spent a good deal of time in his last 20 years in Page, Arizona, called to ask me to check in on a Senate hearing on some FAA issue or other.  Turns out someone — National Park Service, perhaps? — was asking FAA to significantly tighten rules on flying around NPS stuff, including around Rainbow Bridge National Monument.  Apart from the usual issues of air traffic congestion and safety around conflicts between “fixed wing and rotary wing aircraft” (airplanes and helicopters) in and around the Grand Canyon, there were complaints about small plane pilots flying under Rainbow bridge.  The thing really is massive, and you could put the dome of the U.S. Capitol under it, so it’s about 500 feet high . . . what barnstorming pilot could resist?

A somewhat skeptical group of senators quizzed the FAA and Park Service guys on what the problem was, other than noise and hubbub to hikers (who had hiked a mile from the marina on Lake Powell).  About that time Sen. Barry Goldwater, R-Arizona, shuffled into the hearing.  Goldwater was very protective of grand things to see in Arizona, like Rainbow Bridge, and he was also a pilot.

Barry Goldwater, U.S. Senator (AZ-R)

Barry Goldwater, U.S. Senator, R-Arizona. Wikipedia image.

At some point, one of the officials making a case to yank licenses from pilots who pulled the illegal stunt made a comment that questioned the sanity of any pilot who would do such a thing.  Goldwater sat upright.  You mean any pilot who would do such a thing is crazy? Goldwater asked.  Well, yes — and we don’t want crazy people flying airplanes, the official said.  How about such crazy people representing the people of Arizona and passing judgment on your proposals? Goldwater asked.  Then he said he didn’t want an answer to that, that he had some grave reservations about the proposal, and he left the hearing.

I later caught a conversation with the senator in a hallway, in which someone asked him directly if he’d ever flown under Rainbow Bridge, and he said something like, not enough times that the FAA needs to worry about it.

Brother Jerry started a public service effort in his Page days, Page Attacks Trash, a project to clean up litter in and around Page, on the Navajo Reservation, and in the Lake Powell National Recreation Area (NRA) and Rainbow Bridge NM.  It was a great clean-up effort, got the support of the Salt River Project (who operate the Navajo Generating Station in Page); it was big time.  Iron Eyes Cody, who did the famous anti-littering ad featuring the tear in the eye of an American Indian, sometimes dropped in to help out.

Jerry arranged for some television Public Service Announcements (PSAs) filmed in and around Lake Powell, to fight littering.  One of the spots was shot at Rainbow Bridge.  Jerry’s health had been failing for years, but he’d get his cane and make the hike, just to watch the proceedings and keep it all going well.  They finished the spot, broke sticks (as they used to say in the filming biz), and were walking back to the boats at the marina, Jerry and his cane far in the rear.  Just before the film crew rounded the bend, they heard a small airplane buzzing around and the tell-tale cut of the engine, to lose altitude, before roaring the engine to pass under the stone formation.  One of the cameramen had some footage left, and had the presence of mind to turn on the camera and film the thing.

Well, the Park Service and FAA were outraged to hear of the event.  They subpoenaed the film footage, and blew up every frame to see if they could get the tail number on the airplane.  To be honest, I don’t know how that turned out.  I do know that on my wall I have a large photograph of my late brother, two by two-and-a-half feet, waving to the cameraman, with Rainbow Bridge in the background.  That frame didn’t have any useful information, and the law gave him the photo.

The Rainbow Brigde National Monument

Rainbow Bridge National Monument; no, I wouldn’t try to fly a plane under it, either. You could, if you had to, but the authorities would probably track you down like a woodpecker and yank your license. Wikipedia image

Two:

The West Utah Desert remains desolate. On the border between Nevada and Utah, there ain’t much of nothin’. A few roads connect a few ranches, but there’s a good reason U.S. 50 and 6 out there is known as “the loneliest highway in the world.” Bandits might be regarded as welcome company out there sometimes.

Anyway, it was expensive to run copper wires out there, say, 50 miles, to an isolated ranch house, or a lone gas station, or some other building said to be a business. So mostly, AT&T didn’t do it. People who lived and worked out there just had to get along without phone service. Enter a guy named Art Silver Brothers (I think; my memory fades, too), who figured out that radiophone service worked okay. Give people a radiophone — a device which existed then, but which required several pounds of gear and a lot of juice, relatively — and they could dial up the “local” grocery store to check to be sure the milk was good this week, before driving 50 miles to get some dairy whitener for the coffee.

A photo from Beehive Telephone in 2012, showing their service area.

A photo from Beehive Telephone in 2012, showing a part of their service area in Utah, or Nevada, or both. The company still exists!  On their website, they say:  “

Art strung wires where he could, using REA-installed power poles, or fence poles, or whatever he could, and thin, light copper wiring. His Beehive Phone Company was one of the last truly independent phone operations in the U.S., serving a grossly underserved area with patchy service. He didn’t get rich doing it.  He was the company’s only employee most of the time.

Stringing copper over 50 miles for one phone, a company can have difficulty maintaining such lines. Art had a pilot’s license, and he learned he could spot downed lines and other trouble from the air . . . and it was just one step to landing his small airplane on the local road, fixing the problem, and taking off again.

Well, that got the ire of the FAA. They said he shouldn’t do that. They argued that he was impeding traffic an imposing dangers. He said he was keeping lifelines open for people in far-flung places, and it was not a problem for traffic on roads where there might be two vehicles a week passing by. FAA paid for traffic studies on a bunch of those roads; and they enlisted the FCC to try to shut down Silver’s operations.

Remember, part of the system was wired, and part was radio. Turns out that in those pre-cellular days, the radio frequencies Silver used were in the “emergency” spectrum — radio frequencies used by cops and firefighters in places where cops and firefighters existed. FCC took to taping the “phone conversations” of Art’s customers, and in yet another hearing in the Senate, charged that Art was abusing emergency frequencies. The star audio was a tape recording of a woman ordering a significant amount of liquor from a liquor store that served probably six counties in eastern Nevada. FCC argued that obviously was not an emergency, and it amounted to an abuse of spectrum, and it was enough of an abuse to shut down the phone company.

Art finally got his chance to explain. Someone quizzed him about that liquor order, and whether that was appropriate use of emergency radio spectrum.

Well, Art started, the woman making the liquor order was the owning madam of [a] western Nevada brothel, set way in the hell in the middle of nowhere. “And I gotta tell you, if you run a whore house, and you run out of whiskey, that’s an emergency.”

Those were good days to attend hearings in Washington. The Tea Party has ruined all that.

That’s my story; the true facts are probably better.

More:

Jerry Jones and Rainbow Bridge

A bad snapshot of the picture on my wall, Jerry Jones waving from the path in Rainbow Bridge National Monument, moments after a small aircraft flew under the Bridge.


Boy Scout died in fall from Utah’s Gemini Bridges

July 19, 2010

Tragic accident at a spectacular site in Utah’s desert.

A Scout from Wisconsin attempted a leap from one part of a natural bridge to another, lost his balance and fell to his death.  According to the Salt Lake Tribune in Salt Lake City:

A Wisconsin Boy Scout died Saturday after falling 100 feet from Grand County’s Gemini Bridges.

Anthony Alvin, 18, of Green Lake, Wis., was with a Scout group at the Gemini Bridges rock formation, which is on federal land northwest of Moab, deputies wrote in a press statement. At about 9:30 a.m., Alvin tried to jump from one span of the double bridge to the other span, six feet away, when he fell backwards, dropping 100 feet to the bottom of the bridges.

Rescuers rappelled off the bridges and found Alvin had died. His body was lowered down two separate cliffs to the bottom of Bull Canyon, deputies wrote.

Erin Alberty

Anthony Alvin was a member of Troop 630 from Green Lake, Wisconsin, in the Bay Lakes Council, BSA.  The Troop has years of experience in high adventure trips.  This was a transition trip for Alvin, moving from Scout to leader.

High adventure Scouting takes teens to outstanding places with some risks.  Strict safety rules protect Scouts and leaders from most accidents.  Jumping the gap between the two natural bridge sections is a leap that experienced rock climbers and Scouters should advise against — and probably did — precisely because of the dangers of minor mishaps, 100 feet or more in the air.  A six-foot gap would look eminently leapable to a capable young man.

This is a picture of Gemini Bridges from below:

Gemini Bridges, near Moab, Utah - NaturalArches.org image

Gemini Bridges, near Moab, Utah, from below. Image from NaturalArches.org image, photo by Galen Berry.

NaturalArches.org includes details about many of these natural spans in the desert Southwest, in Utah and Arizona.  For Gemini Bridges we get this warning note:

These magnificent twin bridges are a popular 4-wheel drive destination on BLM land northwest of Moab, Utah. A few foolhardy individuals have lost their lives here. One person fell to his death while attempting to jump the 10 feet between the two spans, and in October 1999 a jeep and driver fell 160 feet off the outer span.

From atop the bridges, the gap between the two can appear deceptively small — see one view here.

Gemini Bridges from the trail, on top - PaulandKate.com

For safety’s sake, no one should attempt to leap the gap without proper rock-climbing safety equipment in place and in use — and frankly, I’m not sure how it could be secured even then, in the sandstone.

Redrock country brings out the worst in otherwise adventurous-but-mostly-sane people.  Even rock climbers will act irresponsibly.

Four-wheelers and off-road vehicles frequently climb these trails — despite the dangers, the area offers a huge playground for people out of the jurisdiction of the National Park Service or National Forest Service, each of which discourage excessive vehicular risk taking.   Several sites extoll the glories of conquering these deserts with gasoline-power.

Irresponsible jump at Gemini Bridges, from rockclimbing.com

Irresponsible jump at Gemini Bridges captured on film, from rockclimbing.com

The photo at the bottom shows a memorial plaque to the four-wheeler who lost his life off of Gemini Bridges in 1999.  So long as people make monuments to people who pull daredevil stunts, others who have less experience, or even more sense, will be tempted to try the same daredevil stuff.

Go to these wild and beautiful places.  Please remember they are treacherous, however, and stay safe.

Tribute to Beau James Daley, who died when his jeep plunged off of Gemini Bridges, Utah

Tribute to Beau James Daley, who died when his jeep plunged off of Gemini Bridges, Utah

Also at Millard Fillmore’s Bathtub:

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Annals of global warming: Talking reason; how does the Colorado flow?

February 14, 2010

From the introduction to Colorado River Basin Water Management: Evaluating and Adjusting to Hydroclimatic Variability, Water Science and Technology Board (WSTB), National Academies Press (2007):

The 20th century saw a trend of increasing mean temperatures across the Colorado River basin that has continued into the early 21st century. There is no evidence that this warming trend will dissipate in the coming decades; many different climate model projections point to a warmer future for the Colorado River region.

Modeling results show less consensus regarding future trends in precipitation. Several hydroclimatic studies project that significant decreases in runoff and streamflow will accompany increasing temperatures. Other studies, however, suggest increasing future flows, highlighting the uncertainty attached to future runoff and streamflow projections. Based on analysis of many recent climate model simulations, the preponderance of scientific evidence suggests that warmer future temperatures will reduce future Colorado River streamflow and water supplies. Reduced streamflow would also contribute to increasing severity, frequency, and duration of future droughts.


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