Water, Water, Where?


Today, I drove about fifty miles to watch a play especially produced by my friend, King Hill, for the Gem Theatre in Claude.  I almost did not go because of high winds and blowing dust.  Between 8 and 10 this morning visibility was so low  it was impossible to see the horizon.  High wind and blowing dust warnings started yesterday.   Now, as I write this, these warnings have continued for more than 24 hours.  Red flag warnings flash across the TV screen. Thankfully, not quite the dust bowl extremes, not yet anyway.

Originally, a green sea of grass covered all the land where I live in the Panhandle of Texas, the Llano Estacado. Immense herds of buffalo roamed free.  This prairie grass protected the land from erosion.  Rivers and an occasional canyon interrupted this endless sea, including the Canadian River, Palo Duro Canyon and the network of canyons running into it.  Once the Spanish brought horses, Kiowa and Comanche ruled this sea for more than a hundred years.  Under a full moon, the Comanche reigned by night raids from Nebraska to Mexico.

What happened?  Plows brought by people from the East dug up the grass.  These people planted the crops they knew, wheat, corn.  They settled in towns and homesteaded the country. They brought cattle and in some areas developed gigantic ranches.  Hunters killed all the buffalo except a few the famous rancher Charlie Goodnight and his wife managed to save.  Remnants of this southern herd now live at Caprock Canyons State Park near the tiny town of Quitaque, Texas.  Those who farmed dry land farmed.  In a normal year crops grew, the people prospered.  In dry years dust blew because there was no grass to hold the dirt.

Today, giant pumps pull water from the aquifers, the Ogallala, the Santa Rosa. My well is 400 feet deep, some are nearly 900.  More and more people move here from other parts of the United States.  They want lawns like the ones they had where it rains forty inches a year.  It does not rain much here, twenty in a good year, ten in a bad year.  These aquifers lose much more water to irrigation in a year than are replenished by rain.  Farmers grow corn,wheat, cotton, and milo, all irrigated.  In some places where  the water became to saline for crops, the pumps sit abandoned.

Today, I drove by miles and miles of dry, thirsty grass, perfect fuel for the wind driven wildfires which sometimes start this time of year.  In other places irrigation pivots rained water on immense emerald fields of wheat.  I could not help but wonder how much of this water evaporated in the sixty mile an hour wind.  As I finish writing this with the TV on  weather watching, I see Fire Weather Watch, High Wind Warning, Red Flag Warning flash across the screen. I hear the wind roar and heavy outdoor furniture slide across the patio.  I’ve seen wildfires, had a half mile of cedar post fence burned down.  All it takes is a tiny piece of cigarette thrown from a truck or car, a flash of dry lightning.  They predict three more days of this.

I love the space, the vermillion sunsets, the intense blue of the sky.  I watch my neighbors water, water, water their new houses in the country.  I think about those pivots irrigating in the wind, and I wonder what will happen when all the water’s gone.

 

SAM_1369

 

 

 

 

Apocalyptic Planet-Part Five: Civilizations Fall


Whether it is my innate ambition, something my parents instilled in me, or something else unknown, I try to learn something new every day.  Craig Childs starts this chapter of his book by talking about a Phoenix landmark.  Back when I travelled to Phoenix regularly, I knew this place as Squaw Peak.  Now its name Is Piestewa Peak.  The name change is probably a good thing.  I never knew before reading this how dreadfully pejorative the word squaw is.  Basically, it means Indian bitch as well as other things related to the privates of women.  All languages seem to possess an accumulation of dreadful words geared to putting women down one way or another.  Slang words for the private parts of a man rarely mean anything pejorative, at least not that I know of.  The new name, a Hopi name, a blessing word, is a word that calls water to this place.  Not a bad idea in Phoenix or most of the Southwest for that matter.

The name Phoenix fits.  Underneath modern day Phoenix, an ancient city lays buried, a quite sophisticated city with ball courts, temples, irrigation canals.  This city existed at least a thousand years ago.  Its inhabitants grew corn, cotton, beans, and agave.  Farmers, hunters, carvers, all sorts of artisans and merchants apparently lived there.  Now they are called Hohokam taken from an O’odham word meaning “ancestors”, the “ones who have gone”.  We find forgotten cities all over the world, Palmyra, Machu Picchu, Angkor Wat.  What causes these sophisticated civilizations to fall?  If you read a bit, look further, you find common themes:  environmental decay, resource depletion, conflict, disease, social problems.  Angkor Wat fell because it could not maintain its complex irrigation network.  Ur in Iraq fell because a drought caused its port to dry up.  Usually, the demise of particular civilizations occur over time, e.g.Rome.

Childs notes that human patterns often follow animal patterns, or at least mammalian patterns.  For example, when over population occurs, behavior changes.  Parental care and cooperation become replaced with aggression, violence, competition for resources, dominant behaviors.  These types of behaviors are particularly detrimental to females and the young without whom the society (or animal population) cannot replace itself.  Generally, in animal populations, when this occurs, reproduction slows for several generations and the imbalance corrects itself.  For humans, it is not so simple.  Hohokam bones indicate mass starvation and malnutrition.  Other civilizations, e.g. the Anasazi, seem to have disappeared without a trace.

Today, most of the world’s largest cities have immense infrastructures that keep them going, miles of underground sewage tunnels, water mains, etc.  Here in the US in our oldest cities, much of what we take for granted is very old and deteriorating.  New York City and Chicago have water main systems that some experts claim are near collapse or at the very best badly in need of repair.  Doubtless such conditions exist in old cities throughout the world, most of which are much older and larger than the majority of cities in the US.  Yet, they continue to prosper.  Have we passed a point when civilization cannot fall?

Childs completes this discussion by describing his visit with his wife to Guatemala.  They visited all the best known Mayan sites, visited with natives.  His wife managed to get invited to a Mayan fire ceremony, a renewal ceremony.  History books tell us the Mayan civilization is dead, ended.  But it is not.  The Mayan culture still exists.   At least six million still live in the Central America.  What would have happened to Mayan cities if the Europeans had not brought epidemic diseases and better fire power?  We will never know, of course, but no matter how many civilizations rise and fall, change continues and humans continue to inhabit the earth.

The new question is this:  can this planet we live on sustain the ever increasing numbers of humans who inhabit it??

Sacred Corn


SAM_0035   In the summer on hot, humid nights, you can hear the corn grow.  My great grandfather, my grandfather, and my father grew corn.  I grow corn in that same rich loess soil of Northwestern Missouri.  Soil laid down by Ice Age glaciers thousands of year ago.  Only on a few hill tops, here and there, will you find non glacial soil. Repeatedly, daily, I walk by the sacred corn plant of life painted on my hall corner.  This sacred corn corner houses three corn maiden kachinas and a drum decorated with corn maidens.  I give thanks to corn for my house and the life I lead.

Corn Song

I sing the song of ancients:

pueblo peoples,

Anazazi, Hopi, Zuni.

I sing the song of an America long gone.

Maya, Aztec, Tolmec.

I sing the song of life:  colors of the rainbow

golden, red, white, blue.

I sing the song of now:  thick, endless

identical rows.

Pioneer, Monsanto,

anhydrous ammonia,

atrazine.

I sing the song of hope and joy:

an ancient reclaiming,

a klaidescope of colors,

butterflies and fireflies.

I sing the eternal human song.

SAM_0913

SAM_1489

This is a Navaho kachina.  Kachina are actually Hopi, but Navaho artists now make kachinas as well.  The first corn maiden kachina I bought.

SAM_1490

Spotted corn kachinas, on the left, are unusual.  It took me years to find one.  The kachina on the right was created by R Pino, who is both Hopi and Navaho.

SAM_1491

Every year Pendleton runs an art contest among Native American students.  The winner’s art work is transformed into saddle blankets.  This design, created by Mary Beth Jiron, is the latest in this Student Series. There are three corn  maidens  on each side of the blanket, representing the different varieties of corn grown by native peoples, yellow, red, blue, white, black, and spotted.

Apocalyptic Planet-Part Four: Seas Rise


As I write this title, it seems a bit counter intuitive that one of the first things I saw this morning was a newspaper discussing many small cities around the Texas Panhandle which are running out of water.  And on the TV news as I write this, the city of Amarillo announces measures being taken to curtail water use, followed by a detailed discussion, explaining how one of these smaller towns plans to address the lack of water.  Drought expands while ice melts and seas rise.

Childs explains sea behavior by comparing it to pouring water back and forth among a bunch of pans.  Ocean behavior varies from place to place.  Louisiana has been losing seacoast at the rate of twelve meters per year and large parts of the Nigerian coastline has lost as much as thirty meters per year, one of the fastest losses on earth–erosion.  The moon causes tides twice a day changing sea levels on the average of two meters each time.  Historically most sea level changes are long term changes.  A major cause of sea level change is temperature.  Half the current sea level rise can be attributed to thermal expansion.  Water warms and spreads out.  Not only does heat expand near the sea surface, but now also expands into depths not previously affected.  Findings by two oceanographers, Purkey and Johnson, indicate an increase in ocean heat 16 per cent greater than previously thought.  Oceans are the largest reservoirs of heat on earth.  Once heated, their size makes them slow to cool.

Purkey also notes that even in the depths of the seas, waves transfer heat.  However, because of the size of the Pacific, an event that occurred forty years ago in the southern Pacific will not reach the northern Pacific for approximately those forty years.  Thus, the warming and subsequent ice melt we see in the north Pacific started in the south Pacific forty years ago.  Another scientist, Carl Wunsch, notes that earth changes remarkably without human intervention.  Nevertheless, he recommends humans do something to reduce carbon dioxide emissions as a precautionary measure in addition to discouraging people from settling in low lying areas.  Unfortunately, rising seas do not bode well for much of the earth’s population who live in exactly these low lying areas:  all of Bangladesh, Venice, Shanghai, New Orleans, Bangkok, the Marshall Islands, and many US coastal cities to name just a few places.

St. Lawrence Island north of the Aleutians provides a perfect example of what is happening.  Sea ice breaks up too early, fish species they used to see are gone replaced by new ones they never saw before, and the population of seals and sea lions has altered.  Cancer rates in the villages there have risen dramatically caused in part by the toxic poisons concentrated in the meat of the seals, whales, and salmon they harvest from our polluted oceans.  In 2008, they brought a lawsuit against Exxon, Chevron, and Mobil, claiming that these companies are the world’s major contributors to global warming.  They want these companies to pay for moving their villages to higher ground.  Sea rise necessitates the move.  They lost in District Court, but the case is under appeal.  The court cited that the chain of events causing their predicament is too long to lay blame in one place.  Childs notes that we really need such places to endure, places where people know how to lead minimalist lives, places where people know how to survive.

Day Trip to Marvin Lake and Canadian, Texas–Part One


Two weeks ago, I joined the local Native Plant Society group for a trip to Lake Marvin east of Canadian, Texas, near the Oklahoma border.  Lake Marvin is located in the Black  Kettle National Grassland  which includes land in both Texas and Oklahoma. This national grassland’s name comes from the Southern Cheyenne Chief by the same name.  An aging chief, he had attempted to make peace with whites and had been guaranteed protection by the head officer at a nearby US Army Fort.  He, along with old men, children, and women was massacred by Lt. Colonel Armstrong Custer and his troops in Custer’s first great “success” as an Indian fighter.  It was an easy battle; the Indians had been assured their safety at this encampment.  They were totally unprepared.  Black Kettle attempted to meet the soldiers and flew a white peace flag as well as a US flag over his teepee. He and his wife were mowed down in a barrage of bullets.  The massacre is called the Battle of the Washita because the Indian encampment was on the Washita River which flows through the grassland.

Those of us who live in the Panhandle of Texas become accustomed to the lack of trees and semi arid climate.  It is always a huge surprise to find those rare spots with numerous trees, water, and thick vegetation. Lake Marvin and much of the area near Canadian provide a total contrast to what we usually see.  JR  Bell, an expert on native grasses and plants, lead the hike around Lake Marvin, a manmade lake constructed for conservation purposes in the 1930’s on Boggy Creek.   Regretfully, I failed to carry a pen and pad to write down the name of all the grasses, some of which exist in the area where I live and others I had never seen before.  Perhaps some of you who read this will be able to identify the various grasses which include blue grama, side oats grama–the state grass of Texas, little blue stem, and two other species of blue stem, switch grass, buffalo grass, and wheat grass.  Unfortunately, Johnson grass, a non-native,  invasive species, also grows near the edges of the lake.

SAM_1321

The hike began near what was once the water’s edge before silt and drought made the lake half its original size.  Johnson grass, the outsider, is not too difficult to identify because of the bright maroony red on the leaves.  This enables an non-expert like me to differentiate among Johnson grass and a few other similar looking species.  While I tried to listen and watch grass identification, rather quickly I realized that without pen and paper remembering all of them would be impossible so I focused on photographing the natural beauty surrounding me.

SAM_1326

SAM_1323

No one told me the origin or purpose of the abandoned buildings up the hill from the lake.  The change in flora one sees by facing the hill rather than toward the lake is amazing.  One could almost draw an imaginary line with certain grasses and shrubs on one side and totally different ones on the other.  The magic key, as always, is water.  Where I live, two hours away, no sage brush grows.  Here on the hillside, it grows everywhere with various grasses, some rather small and semi hidden, interspersed.

SAM_1328

I learned several keys to identifying grasses:  seed heads, texture of leaves and stems–some rough and others smooth, size of leaves and stems, some variations in color.  Height helps but does not necessarily determine differences because the same grass species can vary depending on amount of water and type of soil.  The amount and size of the trees continually astonished me, like this tunnel through the trees, something I never expected to see in the Panhandle.

SAM_1330

Where I grew up in northwestern Missouri, huge black walnut trees grow everywhere.  I recall exploring the walnut grove on the farm repeatedly as a child.  I certainly never expected to see them on this little trip.  Suddenly, astonished me stood there surrounded.

SAM_1334

While these trees never reach the size of the ones where I grew up and the nuts remain considerably smaller, here they stood, their distinctive leaves giving them away.  Before I went away to college, every autumn, we picked up the nuts, cleaned them–while the outside is a lovely lime green, the area between the seed and outside, is a sticky, dark brown mess which makes excellent natural dark brown dye, and cracked them to retrieve the meat inside.  Black walnut nuts are much harder than English walnuts and cracking them requires a hammer and something really hard on which to place the nut. After I left home, every year Mom spent hours working on these nuts and brought me at least a pound at Christmas, a true labor of love.  They are especially tasty with in recipes with chocolate or bananas.

SAM_1331

SAM_1332

The hike provided continual surprises, a boggy pool, persimmon trees, a plant whose leaves resembled miniature spectacles, a grass so fine and thick in a glade between the trees that it looked like a tiny patch of fog on the ground, and poison ivy.

SAM_1336

Persimmons.

SAM_1343

This particular tree was loaded with persimmons.

SAM_1339

SAM_1340

Cattails in the background.

SAM_1341

SAM_1342

SAM_1344

When I first walked up to this spot, the fine grass toward the back of the photo looked exactly like a tiny patch of fog nestled in a miniature glade among the trees.

SAM_1346

We took off from the main trail especially to come to this cottonwood tree, one of the oldest, if not the oldest, in the Panhandle. Over a hundred years ago this tree stood as the sentinel for the overland trail that went through this area.  The military, ranchers, and Native Americans all used the trail across this area of the plains.  The tree’s height enabled it to be seen for miles and helped travelers keep on their way with accuracy.  Once we reached the end of the main trail, some of the group took off in their vehicles while a few went on around the lake.  It saddened me to see so much of it dried up and old tires sticking out of the dried mud.  However, along the way, we saw numerous trees I could not identify.  The bark of this tree is particularly distinctive.

SAM_1347

This field trip coincided with the fall festival held annually in the small town of Canadian which gets its name from the Canadian River which flows beside the town.  The town is unique in the number of large, elaborate Victorian houses there.  Several of us ended the trip at the local elementary school with a big craft fair and a barbecue lunch.

Geronimo: A Manly Legend, No Women Allowed!


Geronimo: A Manly Legend, No Women Allowed!.  This is from a blog I follow.  If you are interested in Native American history, this is definitely a must read, complete with photos of the Apache women who have totally been left out of most tellings of the Geronimo and Apache histories.  I also recommend the story by Leslie Marmon Silko, my favorite author, which relates another view.  The story is, “A Geronimo Story”.  It can be found in her book, Storyteller.  There is a belief among some that the real Geronimo was not the person captured and imprisoned.  Supposedly, the Apache tried to tell this to the whites, but they refused to believe it.

Blackwater Draw-Part Two


The ancients hunted here at the shores of a lake

nearly 12,000 years ago.  In 1929, an amateur

archeologist discovered an ancient spear

point lodged in bone.  I walk the mile long trail

down into the depths.   Caliche, gravel,

larger rocks strewn by millennia.  For

thousands of years Clovis, Folsom, and Portales

Man left remnants of their hunting life.

The scattered cottonwoods whisper in the wind,

timeless voices call me, beckoning.

Who were these people?

What did they look like?

Where did they come from?

In whose gods and goddesses did they believe?

Doubtless hunger drove them to this place of water

and plenty.  Columbia Mammoths, giant sloths, dire wolves,

saber toothed cats  gathered here for thousands of years.

The diggers found an obsidian spear head with a

bison whose horns spanned seven feet and

mammoths twice the size of elephants.

Saber toothed cats competed with these

ancient ancestors at this place, all driven by

hunger, thirst, and instinct.  I wonder how

these people overcame danger, fear?

I walk the mile long path, stand in the shade

of these cottonwood trees , read the signs that

tell me what diggers found at specific spots along the trail.

The cottonwoods whisper to me.  They

tell me ancient tales of hunger, strife, fear,

beauty, love, endurance.  I hear the ancient voices

calling.  They tell me ancient tales of woe, war,

weaponry, courage, and community.  My

skin tingles strangely in the summer heat.  Now

this land is dry, a desert, the water that sustained

teeming life evaporated in the crystalline air.

Twelve thousand years from now who will stand here?

Will this place exist?  Will someone wonder the meaning

of our bones, who we were, what we believed?

Blackwater Draw–Part One


Annually, I make a pilgrimage to this ancient place where people hunted on the shores of a lake nearly 12,000 years ago.  It continues to be the oldest evidence of human habitation in the Americas.  For a large part of the twentieth century it was a gravel pit.  The gravel mining created both positive and negative consequences.  Without it, the bones of giant bison, mammoths, dire wolf, saber toothed cat and camels might never have been discovered at all.  However, because the owners of the quarry refused to stop mining, some portions of the site were destroyed by big swoops of the excavator machines.  Frequently archaeologists worked simultaneously along with mining operations, continuing within sight of each other.    Various groups, including some private individuals, attempted repeatedly to buy the site to save its precious stash of bones, artifacts, and ancient wells.  The owners refused to sell.  Finally, in 1978, Eastern New Mexico University purchased the site and continues archaeological excavation there.  They also run the nearby museum adjacent to the university football stadium.

If you expect something wondrous and grandiose, you will be severely disappointed.  A small building houses a teensy museum, restrooms, a few sweat shirts and posters and books for purchase.  An individual sits by the door to take your meager entrance fee–at most five dollars–and answer questions.  These individuals explain they are majors in disciplines related to the site, archaeology, paleontology, anthropology, that sort of thing.  A simple gravel trail traverses the site and a smaller trail goes to an ancient well–16 have been found at or near the site–and to a dig inside a building where you can observe the layers unearthed, which group of people left which type of artifacts, and actual bones of mammoths, giant bison, and other animals from the end of the last Ice Age.

People react differently to such sites.  I always remain entranced, overwhelmed, reflective, thinking to myself, “I am walking where people walked and hunted and went about their lives more than 11,000 years ago.”  The most ancient evidence of people is labeled Clovis Man–Clovis, NM, is just up the road.  They never found human bones of these people here , just their spearheads stuck in the ribs and shoulders of mammoths which stood 15 feet at the shoulders.  The people who came later made a different type of spear, called Folsom points.  These people, Folsom Man, lived later by 1-2 thousand years.  Another site, called Folsom, is near the tiny town of Folsom, NM, farther north at the edge of the mountains.  This site is on private land and tours are available only twice a year.  Although I visited the town last year, I have not visited this site.  Other people arrived later and although the collection is smaller, their spearheads remain available for viewing at the nearby Blackwater Draw Museum on the main road between Clovis and Portalis, NM.

When I look at the list of animals who lived here at the end of the last Ice Age, I feel amazed because they include both camels and horses as big as our horses now.  Both of these became extinct as did the saber toothed cat with the humongous canine teeth and the dire wolf.  Giant sloths lived until modern times but nowhere near New Mexico.  How could all these animals live here?  It was wet and green then.  Until the last couple of decades, bodies of water of varying sizes have drawn animals and people to this area.  Giant fields of irrigated corn and dairy farms lowered the water table sufficiently to eliminate any evidence of water.  At the time of Clovis Man a large lake covered the site.  Later, during a 3000 year drought, people dug the ancient wells to reach water.  Because this remained the only place for hundreds of miles with a supply of water, people came.

The trail begins just to the northwest of the tiny building and goes along the top for a couple of hundred feet before it drops down into the gravel pit remains.  The gravel was below all the layers containing human artifacts and ancient animal bones so the pit is wide and deep.

SAM_1302

SAM_1301

If your sight is good, you can read this.  The primary source of food for Clovis Man, giant bison and Columbian mammoths, came here for the water.  Archaeologists  theorize that hunters often killed these huge animals while they were in the water where it was more difficult for them to escape and move quickly.  In one place on the trail, evidence of a five bison kill complete with spearheads makes one think just how difficult and dangerous this hunting activity must have been.  I stand there, think about my own 5’4″ height, and wonder what it would be like to have a Columbian mammoth close to me.  Doubtless many died from injuries during such activities.

SAM_1304

The train meanders along the bottom of the gravel pit.  This year, plentiful rain grows abundant grass.  During the last several years, little rain has fallen as evidenced by all the dead trees and bushes scattered around the site.  Normally, this area is semiarid with less than 18 inches of rain per year.

SAM_1303

If spectacular scenery appeals to you, do not go here.  Most of the bones and artifacts were found in the layers at the sides of the pit.  As you walk the trail, markers indicate the location of findings.  Few human remains are found at such sites because these were not permanent settlement places.  Ancient peoples roamed the land in search of water and food.

SAM_1305

Signs, such as this along the trail, illustrate different places where specific bones and artifacts were found.  They also explain the different types of artifacts, their specific uses, and the history of the site.  Maps, like the one on this sign, help the viewer hone in on specifics in relation to where one is standing.  The photo illustrates archaeologists in action during site digs.

SAM_1307

Cliffs, like the one here, surround the site.  In these small cliffs each layer indicates a different age of human activity by not only the type of sediment but also by the type of artifacts and animal bones found.  Just beyond this particular cliff at the west edge of the site, irrigation pivots run in a huge corn field.  The grey at the bottom of the cliff indicates an immense pile of dead, dried, tumble weeds.  This is dry country.

SAM_1308

Approximately three fourths through the trail, the site mangers have erected several structures.  This one is the most primitive.  Others are modern with picnic tables and in one place I saw a giant sand box.  Guessing, I think it must be used to illustrate how one sifts through layers of soil to carefully remove spearheads, bones, pottery, etc.  This is the perfect place for a field trip, not too long, but full of geological and paleontological information.

I go here usually once a year.  If you ask me why, I may articulate something about how it has the oldest artifacts and bones found in North America.  The real reason??  I am not quite sure.  This place fascinates me, connects me with something ancient and wondrous, something undefined and mysterious.

Family Roadtrips


During my childhood, my father took us on regular road trips.  The first one occurred when I was three.  He actually drove all the way from northwestern Missouri to Monterey, Mexico, via Padre Island and back.  Every year we took at least one, sometimes two.  Later in life, I truly realized the value and magic of these family road trips.  Although my daughter, grandson and I take short road trips to New Mexico in particular, we had never taken a really long one until two weeks ago when we left Amarillo, Texas, headed for Carmel, California.

At our first stop, Old Town, Albuquerque, for lunch, we experienced a most refreshing and delightful drink which I plan to duplicate the next time I invite friends over for dinner.

SAM_1176

This feast for the eyes and mouth consists of water infused with pineapple and strawberries.  It tastes best after letting it set to allow the fruit to meld into the water.

We spent the night in Gallup, but arrived too late to visit the galleries and shops so headed to a little Italian restaurant where my grandson, D’mitri, donned a black shirt which reads Got Mafia.  Friday morning we headed to Window Rock, capital of the Navaho Nation.  Since D’mitri’s great grandfather was Navaho, D’mitri’s interest in this stop remained high.

SAM_1178

SAM_1179

SAM_1180

After strolling around the park here, we stopped to visit the ladies selling the jewelry they were making on site.  As a person a bit obsessed with corn plants, I could not resist a pair of turquoise earrings that look exactly like tiny ears of corn.  D’mitri had to have a necklace with a soccer ball pendant which he wore the rest of the trip.

SAM_1183

After the morning at Window Rock, we drove off across the Navaho Nation and the Hopi, headed for the North Rim.  We stopped off and on to visit vendors along the side of the road.  The dwellings throughout the Navaho Nation seemed scattered across the landscape with many hogans next to or close to what appeared to be a main house.  Horses roamed in the semi-arid fields.  The Hopi area, however, held a different view with no scattered dwellings.  Everyone seemed to live in villages along the way and I never saw a horse in Hopi country.  Finally, we crossed the mighty Colorado River at Navaho Bridge from which I took this photo.

SAM_1186

The road follows the base of the cliffs of Vermillion Cliffs National Monument.  We could see them looming large long before we arrived.  Huge rocks appeared to have tumbled off the cliffs and lay near the road.  I kept wondering if they ever fall and hit cars.

SAM_1188

SAM_1190

SAM_1189

We finally made it to the Jacob Lake Inn near the North Rim of the Grand Canyon.  We arrived too late to go to the Grand Canyon  so took a hike through the ponderosa pines supposedly headed to a lake.  Dry, hot weather apparently turned the lake into a mere puddle.  We barely made it back before dark, disappointed.  The next morning we drove the forty some miles through heavy woods interspersed with giant meadows to the North Rim.  If you have never been to the Grand Canyon, its size and grandeur remain impossible to convey via photos.  Perhaps due to the rather warm, dry conditions, a heavy haze hung over the Canyon all day.  We took a few tiny hikes, only to discover just how very much out of shape we are.  Additionally, the altitude affected D’mitri quite negatively, making him more tired than customary.  Nevertheless, determined to not miss out too much, I took several photographs from Imperial Point.

SAM_1191

SAM_1192

SAM_1193

SAM_1195

SAM_1197

SAM_1196

Flowers exactly the same as grow where I live on a little canyon in the Panhandle of Texas grew along the path.  We spent another night at Jacob Lake and then continued toward Las Vegas.  The fastest route drops off the Kaibab Plateau rather dramatically with spectacular long views, the depth and breadth of which no ordinary camera can capture.  We ate a late breakfast in Hurricane, Utah, a bit after the infamous Colorado City, Arizona,  where the houses appeared quite large with high walls around many of them.  Then off to Las Vegas, Nevada, to meet an elementary school classmate, Craig Prater,  whom I had not seen in years.  He treated us to a fabulous lunch at the Mandalay Bay, took us to a shopping area down road, and he and I attempted to catch up for all those years while Ema and D’mitri shopped.  We marveled how two children who attended a rural school (at first it had only one room and then later two) eighteen miles from any town of more than a couple of hundred could attain what we have attained.  He produces films and travels all over the world.  I have lived, worked,  and traveled to many different places.

SAM_1198

SAM_1200

After Las Vegas, we drove to Mojave, California, for the night. The only  scenery on this drive is through a canyon on the Interstate.  We experienced high winds and a sand storm and arrived after dark.  The next morning we solved the mystery of the hundreds of red blinking lights on the hillsides, wind turbines.  From there it is a rather short drive,  a couple of hours, to the Trail of 100 Giants in Sequoia National Monument.  To say we experienced amazement is an understatement.  What a magical forest so wet and dark and alluring after miles and miles and miles of hot desert.

SAM_1204

SAM_1205

SAM_1207My daughter, Ema, and her son, D’mitri really enjoy clowning around and what better place than surrounded by the largest trees in the world.  The squirrels here also “talked” a lot and we tried to get close.

SAM_1209

Usually, I frequently dislike photos of me, but this one is an exception.  Although not large, this tree stood out as so unique I could not resist a photo shot.  Even with the best camera, I doubt a photo of an entire sequoia tree is possible.  You have to see them to obtain the full effect.

SAM_1210

We wanted more time with the trees, but needed to make it to Carmel by evening so headed down the mountain toward California Hot Springs.  Altitude is everything here.  In ten minutes the golden hills replace giant trees.

SAM_1218

Then, in an hour or less, we were driving across the Central Valley past miles of vegetables and at least three types of trees in huge orchards or groves.  The only tree species I was able to identify was almonds.  I wanted to take pictures, but did not desire to arrive in Carmel at my college roommate’s house in the dark so I kept driving.  No quick road exists that crosses California except way to the south.  This still astonishes me.  Two lanes with heavy truck traffic take a long time to get from one destination to another.  We decided to cross on 198 through Coalinga to San Lucas which resulted in a fun, scenic drive with lots of twists and turns.  Much to our surprise, huge pine cones lay everywhere beside the road.  It seemed strange that these cones came from a tree much smaller than the Sequoia.  Ema and D’mitri collected some to display at home.

SAM_1219

Finally, just before dark we arrived at the Rinaldo’s.  Suzy and I roomed together at Grinnell College at the ages of 18-19.  David attended Grinnell also.  We only see each other once or twice a year but can pick up conservations as if it were a few moments ago.  They live in the Santa Lucia Preserve.

SAM_1268

SAM_1258

Every morning this deer casually ate California poppies and ran away only if I went outside too quickly.  One morning I took a long walk up one of the few roads on the Preserve.  I love the live oaks and learned they are very fire resistant so residents are allowed to let them grow close to their houses.  Everything else, except for a few native grasses and plants–no trees or brush, must be cleared for 150 feet all around any house.

SAM_1259

SAM_1265

SAM_1264

SAM_1262

SAM_1261

I commented on the radiant red colors I saw in the leaves of an attractive plant only to find out it is poisonous oak and if I touched it, the result would not make me very happy.  It must love this particular environment because it grows everywhere.

One of my favorite restaurants is at the Hacienda at Santa Lucia Preserve, not because of the food, but due to the impeccable service and enchanting atmosphere, what I imagine to have existed in old California.  D’mitri says it is his favorite fancy restaurant on the trip.

SAM_1221

SAM_1223

SAM_1228

SAM_0103

In the dark, driving back home to David and Suzy’s, we saw a bobcat, several deer, wild turkeys, a skunk, and another animal we could not identify.  The next day we ladies went shopping in Carmel while David and D’mitri took a ride in the Porsche and swam.  No one can go near Carmel surely and not drive the glorious drive south to Big Sur.  D’mitri loves water so we stopped at two different places along the way.

SAM_1238

SAM_1239

SAM_1241

D’mitri became quite alarmed when Suzy told him many of the bushes along the path are poison oak.  David informed us that a really wonderful beach existed down the road if we could get in.  Off we drove to Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park.  They only allow so many cars into the park at once so we had to wait until someone left.  It was worth the wait.  This beach does not allow swimming; people have drowned here.  Nevertheless, who cares; the drama of crashing surf, giant holes in rocks worn by water, and trees shaped by wind and erosion make it magical.

SAM_1245

SAM_1252

SAM_1251

SAM_1250You cannot go down highway 1 without stopping at Nepenthe.  This restaurant’s views alone are worth going there, plus a gift shop full of finds from all over the world.  The wine list and hamburgers finish off the list of why you must stop here if you are anywhere near Big Sur.

SAM_1255

Time seemed to run rapidly; with only one day left, we decided to head to Moss Landing to see the seals.  Much to David’s astonishment, not only did seals lay all along the beach, but a large number of sea otters were playing in the water, rolling over and over, splashing.  David had been there many times and never seen anything like this.  The sea otters delight the watcher with their playful antics.

SAM_1271

SAM_1272

Unlike the ever playful sea otters, the seals just lay still like large rocks along the beach.

SAM_1274

Early on a Saturday morning, Suzy and David fed us waffles to fortify us for the long drive to Flagstaff, nearly 700 miles.  We crossed over to Salinas, then down 101 and finally through Bakersfield where we found a delightful, rather elegant Italian restaurant for lunch.  The good looking waiter chit chatted and provided excellent service, three pluses when you go out to eat.  As we cut across the middle of California, headed for I-40 eventually and neared Tehachapi, Ema decided to call D’mitri’s other grandparents who have a house there. When we went the other direction almost a week before, they had been vacationing in France.  To our surprise, they answered and asked us to stop for the night.  D’mitri’s excitement was contagious.  He expressed special delight to have his grandfather to himself for hours instead of needing to share him with other grandchildren.  The Herreros live on a hillside with a breathtaking view for miles.  Unfortunately, the haze prevented proper photography so I gave up on the idea of capturing the endless panorama.   However, this presented itself as the perfect opportunity for family photos.

SAM_1278

SAM_1280

SAM_1285

The California desert never comes to mind when I think of California.  I always fly to San Francisco or Oakland and visit friends or conduct business.  Unlike the glorious red rocks and drama of southern Utah and northern Arizona or the saguaros of  southern Arizona, the California desert maintains an endless pale tan color with only a few tiny plants.  Thanks to air conditioned automobiles, you can drive for miles, escaping the intense heat.  When we finally stopped at a Dairy Queen for a refresher, D’mitri and I stepped out of the car and were nearly knocked over by the hideously hot wind.  In general, I like heat, but this seemed overwhelming.  When we drove off, I asked Ema about the temperature.  She looked it up on her smart phone, 118.  The only truly beautiful I sight I saw (and I think nearly everywhere possesses some sort of loveliness) occurred when I drove over the mighty Colorado River, surrounded by the only green for miles.  After this heat, the cool, green beauty of Flagstaff enchanted us.  We settled into our hotel room, then drove off to our third Italian restaurant in two days, Oregano’s.  Instead of the usual coloring books, puzzles, etc. offered to children, this place gives them pizza dough to mold.

SAM_1287

As we drove home, I noticed how terribly dry it is once we dropped out of the mountains around Flagstaff.  Off and on we crossed areas where there had been enough rain to create a pale green.  Apparently, it had not rained west of Albuquerque because it still looked like brown winter just as it had eleven days before on the first day of the trip.  East of Albuquerque we encountered such an intense downpour with some hail that I could not see to drive.  I pulled off the road and waited. From Albuquerque to Amarillo, in the eleven days we were gone, it had rained enough to make the mountains, foothills, and high plains a lovely soft emerald.   We had missed the hot, 100 plus week and came home to rain and cooler weather that lasted several days.  In one week, the weather had changed from record highs to record lows, the typical extremes one learns to live with on the Llano Estacado.

DNA


Several months ago I decided to participate in the Human Genome Project through National Geographic.   When I called to order the kit, the young man reminded me that as a woman, I would receive only one half of my ancestry, the female half.  Since women do not have a Y chromosome, a woman can only trace her female family line through her mitochondrial DNA.  He suggested I use my grandson’s DNA so I would receive complete results.  Of course, that meant that in the end, I would have to factor in what I knew about his father’s family and deduct that to determine my own.  After the Geno 2.0 kit arrived, we took his cheek swabs and mailed them off.  This week when we returned from an 11 day family road trip, the results arrived.  With the results came detailed explanations of human migratory history and even comparisons of populations with DNA most like his.  Although none were close, the top two groups were people in Bermuda and Mexican Americans.  Luckily, the information contained a detailed explanation of the people of Bermuda.  The Native American results I expected since his great grandfather was Navaho.  Other parts came as somewhat a surprise. Once again I am taking a poetry class and now working on publishing a book of my poetry so I decided to write a poem about this experience.

The results loom before me on

the computer, percentages:

Northern European, Mediterranean,

Native American, Neanderthal,

sub Sahara African, South African–

as in the Bushmen in the Kalahari,

Northeast Asian, Southwest Asian.

Suddenly, calculations move through

my brain.  I look again, add, subtract,

recalculate, stare, ponder. Is there

a family secret I missed?  How will

I know, from whom?

Everyone I could ask is dead.

SAM_1183