Saturday, April 30, 2005

Blue as Far as the Eye can See

After days in the desert, it is very refreshing to be here and Malibu Beach RV. We're camped up on a hill overlooking the ocean. I'm pretty much stuck here for the most part. We dropped the Jeep off at the dealer in Thousand Oaks to get the damage repaired, but it won't be fixed for another couple of days. Debra comes by every day to take us to eat and she is enjoying taking Mary Ann off to their exercise place.

But I get to watch the ships and boats and kayaks making their way across the water. Down the hill, across a mountain trail, is Malibu Seafood, which is a great place for outdoor picnic table style fish. I even got the laundry done yesterday.

Upcoming: The three of us are going to take a little car trip up the coast. Since I'm a hermit, and I suspect my daughter is too, this ought to be interesting.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

My email to Seth

I honestly don't quite understand what you want, so I'll just ramble and maybe you can cull something out of it.

I've been fascinated by space for a very long time. I can remember the Ranger 7 spacecraft in 1964, which was just a rocket with a camera aimed at the moon. I had no way of landing. It just sent video frames as it crashed into the moon. I was 14 at the time and can remember that it was on TV that morning, and I was late or almost late getting to school as I waited for the images to appear on the screen. I still carry that last image, of a dimpled cratered surface, in my memory. The sequence of the last few frames, giving the mental image of approaching the moon has been one of the important points in my childhood.

As far as the presidents involved, and the politics, at that time, I could care less. I wanted to go into space, and as the realities crept in -- astronauts had to have perfect vision, and I wore glasses -- I just wanted men in space.

As the regular progression of space exploration happened, I was right there, watching TV, soaking it up.
I can remember Apollo XI and the landing. I can remember that, at that time, I had just been working long enough to have paid my income taxes, and feeling immensely happy that I had a tiny part in the events on the screen.

Nixon made a phone call to the astronauts, I think. At the time, I thought it was a little inappropriate. The astronauts were doing the real job and the politicians were just side issues.

The winning of the race to the moon, while not important to me, was the end of America's space program. I hadn't realized how the politics behind it all were necessary for the funding. When the Apollo missions ended, it was a personal betrayal. People didn't understand how important it all was.

I can remember watching the movie Apollo 13, and after walking out of the movie house, seeing the full moon overhead, knowing there was no one there, and maybe there wouldn't be in my lifetime.

I am a science fiction writer, and I wrote a novel that took place just the east of Mare Crisium. That was my claim to the moon. I mapped and plotted and lived on that one spot of the moon. Now, when I look up at the moon, I see my spot, my piece of the moon. It's probably all I'll ever get.

Death Valley

This was going to be "Desert Bloom -- Death Valley". The flowers were there, but it was a different jeep trip.

At the floor of Death Valley, there are flowers, but we arrived past the peak of the bloom. Mary Ann had done her research and knew that the flowers were still vibrant at higher elevations, so she charted us a course up out of the Death Valley Basin, through Nevada and back down by way of Scotty's Castle.

It was a good loop. Once we reached the 2000 - 4000 foot elevation, we were stopping every few miles for her to take more pictures. I even got some time to work on my story. On Highway 95, while she was lying in the dirt, trying to get some very close up pictures of some purple flowers so tiny that most people wouldn't see, I was watching a dry lake bed that was hosting a series of very dramatic dust-devils. Some of them were the most tightly formed and tallest one's I'd ever seen. They were carrying the dust up, easily 1000-2000 feet, based on what I could estimate from the mountain range on the other side. They reminded me of the ones seen on Mars. Very tight and well-defined.

The drop back into the basin going to Scotty's Castle proved to be the best flowers of all. Dramatic yellow flowers filled the valley.

But it was here that Mary Ann let me know she had more planned for us.

She had traced a route that left the pavement and headed up towards Eureka Dunes, supposedly a bigger dune field than the one near Stovepipe Wells, where we had camped.

The instant we left the pavement, I had to sigh. The road was washboard. I could barely go ten miles per hour before the wheels were bouncing all over the road. But, that's where she wanted to go, and we'd done crazier things before.

It was a long road. I started experimenting, trying to find the right speed and the right track to minimize the vibrations. We stopped a few times to get pictures of flowers that she hadn't seen in other places in the park.

But by the time we were 15 miles down the road, she gave me the chance to turn back. I should have taken her up on it.

At mile 17, I was trying a new trick, keeping the right wheels up on the shoulder of the road. It was doing a great job of minimizing the vibrations and allowing me to drive faster. The shoulder wasn't really graded like the main road bed, so it had some rocks that I had to avoid, but I was doing okay. Except for that last rock.

Bang! A hundred yards later, Mary Ann said, "We may be in trouble." I could smell it too. Oil. I stopped the Jeep immediately, but before I could turn off the key, I could see that the old pressure had dropped to zero. I got out and looked. Oil was spilling out on the ground. The rock had knocked a hole in the oil pan.

It was two hours to sunset, and this was Death Valley. There was no cell phone coverage, and we were in one of the most deserted locations in North America.

Surprisingly, I was up-beat. Yes, we were stranded, and it was likely no one else would be on this road before tomorrow. Yes, we had eaten our lunch. Yes, we hadn't planned for an overnight and there were no coats or blankets.

Still, we didn't do anything crazy. We reviewed our supplies. We had several water bottles, and cans of nuts to eat. I had left a sweater and cap in the Jeep, and she had a pullover jacket. If it didn't get too cold, we should be okay. I opened the hood on the Jeep as the universal sign of car trouble.

When Mary Ann started to worry, I went and found some more flowers for her to take pictures of. Once she had things to do, she was okay. I toyed with several ideas, from hiking back to the pavement, to taking the oil pan off myself and seeing if I could patch it, but those were clearly long-shots. I concentrated on going with the flow, being up-beat, and knowing that it would all turn out okay. Besides, it would make a good Blog.

Sunset came, and immediately it started getting colder. I bundled up, and waited. We were close enough to the commercial air lanes that jet noise would cause me to jump up and check for activity every few minutes. Most of the time I couldn't even see the jets. Mary Ann voted against staying out in the desert all night. I voted with her. It passed. We sat in the Jeep and waited, listening to the growing noises of animals and insects.

I have good hearing, and being so far away from any mechanical noise, I could hear things miles away. Perhaps I could even hear an occasional truck from over the mountains in Nevada. Maybe.

Finally, about an hour after sunset, I looked up, and there on the road ahead, I could see dust and headlights. "A car is coming," I told Mary Ann, while I turned the headlights on and off, signalling.

"Where is it?" she asked. The headlights had vanished. I looked and told her it was probably just out of sight. The road went up and own over the hills. But I was confused. I had heard engine noise before, but I couldn't now. I hadn't imagined it.

I walked a half mile up the road, and there was no sign of a car. Realizing I had walked off without the Talkabouts, I walked back and told Mary Ann that I suspected that the car had pulled off somewhere and that I was going to look for it. I took one of the radios and headed out. Just a minute later, she radioed that she had spotted a light. That was promising.

Down the road, I saw relatively fresh tracks in the dust. A vehicle heading towards us had stopped, turned around, and headed back. I followed, and shortly found a side road. The same tracks when that way, so I followed, and before too long, I saw a light. I radioed Mary Ann and told her where I was.

In a place as deserted as this. I realized it wouldn't do to pop up and startle people, so I called "Hello!" before I approached. Jim and his mother Janis were just making camp. I told them my problem, and he was glad to help, but I felt sorry that they were being put to this trouble.

After they had re-packed, and gotten Freckles the dog back in their car, they came up to where we were stranded. Mary Ann went with them to arrange the towing, while I stayed with the Jeep. It was either me or Freckles. There wasn't room for both of us.

As the lights of the car vanished into the distance, I relaxed, listened to the night noises and pulled all the available coverings over my head to conserve heat.

I was startled by a light behind me. It wasn't time for rescue. I climbed out and stared for a while at the rising full moon. I would have watched it longer, but it was cold.

About the time I expected, a light appeared on the far horizon. I turned on the Jeep's tail lights and waited. It was Mary Ann and the rescuers. Things hadn't worked out as planned. The tow truck wouldn't arrive until tomorrow and they were worried about me and brought a sleeping bag. But, as we talked Jim noticed the tow bar on my Jeep and offered to try to pull be back with his car. After some manual repositioning of the Jeep, we connected and Mary Ann and I rode in the Jeep while being pulled back over 17 miles of washboard road.

It was hard to keep my hands off the steering wheel, but I was dead tired. It was by now, 2 am. Jim drove us all the way back to Stovepipe Wells, where we could hook up the incapacitated Jeep when we left. Mary Ann talked them into staying at the Stovepipe Wells hotel and we all agreed we'd sleep late.

It was so nice to sleep in my own bed, even though I was starting to get a fever chill. (Better now).

Lessons learned? God does take care of you even when you're stupid.

Saturday, April 23, 2005

Desert Bloom -- Sedona

It was a dusty, dusty day.

The weather forecast was for thunderstorms, but as we headed out for a jeep tour and Mary Ann's photos, it was a clear day. She mapped out a path from the little newspaper she got from the park station. I hated the first section. It was a well-traveled path next to the red rock cliffs, and there were dozens of Pink Jeeps (jeep tour company) coming and going along the same route. The roadway was fine powder from all the traffic and we were soon coated in the stuff. And that means Mary Ann's camera gear too.

I had brought my laptop to work in a short story, but after the first attempt, I left it zipped up in its protective cover. With nothing to work on, and worries about what the dust was doing to the lenses, I wasn't enjoying myself.

However, the flowers were definiately in bloom. On previous trips to Sedona, it had been just another desert place, one with nice rock formations and a flakey tourist industry. I still think the New Age'ish tourism of the place is a little sad, but with the wet weather, the place was covered with flowers.

By the time we took a few less-traveled jeep trails, where we were only likely to see one or two Pink Jeeps, and seeing the fields of purple flowers and fields of lush green grass, I was beginning to enjoy the place a little more. But next time, we'll need to pack the gear in dust-proof bags.

Saturday, April 16, 2005

At the Radisson

One problem with RV travel is parking. For three days we are staying at the Radisson Hotel in downtown Tucson. Mary Ann is attending a NANPA conference, a nature photographer thing. At these conventions, it's always handier to stay at the hotel and not have to commute from the RV park. Unfortunately any hotel in a downtown area will be using a parking garage, and believe me, our RV could never fit into that 6'3" clearance passageway. Luckily, they have an oversize vehicle parking area. It costs a little more, but it's working out okay. It's right outside the door -- handy to raid the refrigerator rather than pay $1.50 for a canned coke from the vending machine.

Because we're watching our costs, I'm just here, not attending the photography sessions. That gives me lots of time to catch up on some sleep and to work on a few short stories. I took a couple of walks around Tucson, but this is an easy town to give you heat stroke, so I'm doing a little more computer work than usual. I installed Skype today. At least on this hotel wireless, it works great. I'll have to do more testing once we leave here. Where the RV is parked, I'd never get a satellite lock for the Direcway internet. I have tried Sipphone last year, but I was dissatisfied with the connections. It would be nice to have a reliable phone system when we go to Death Valley in a few days. There's no internet or phone system there worth using. You have to bring your own, like we're doing. I'll let you know how it works out.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

The Yellow Desert

In many parts of the world, you can't even see the soil. Grass and trees and fallen leaves are so thick that it takes some digging to see the dirt. Not so West Texas. This is desert land. Every time I've driven the I-10 route from my home in the Hill Country near Austin to El Paso and its gateway to the west, I've seen the same hills and mesas, many of which are only sparsely populated with low sage and scraggly bushes. Often even these look dry and dead.

So today was a breathtaking change. Due to the rains of the past couple of years, the desert lands are literally in bloom. You look off to the mesa, and marvel at the bands of yellow, acres of solid flowers. You crest any of the hills in the land between Sonora and Van Horn and there is color everywhere. Dominant is yellow, but there are large patches of purple (Mary Ann, what's the name of that purple plant?) verbina. White prickly poppies and other flowers of pale green add to the spectacle.

Mary Ann was taking a nap back back in the rear of the RV when I encountered a particularly lush patch. I yelled back for her to wake up, but the acoustics in the RV are far from idea. She couldn't hear me. Finally, I pulled off onto the shoulder and made sure she was awake. This was a sight that could not be missed.

Getting Back in the Groove

Traveling in an RV is a lot like those little hand puzzles that have fifteen tiles and sixteen slots. You have to move the gap around to adjust the tiles into a picture. While our RV is comfortable, at thirty feet long with a bath and a bedroom, we tend to carry along a lot of stuff. You know we have five computers with us (for two people). Mary Ann has two cameras, three tripods, and a large assortment of lenses. The new big lens comes in its own carrying case, larger than a breadbox and just smaller than a set of golf clubs. We have a printer and a scanner, at least four binoculars (one of which is night-vision). This is all in addition to clothes, groceries, and ... oh yes, three file boxes of documents so that we can work on our taxes.

So starting out, we've done a bit of tile shuffling. Move the hair drier to the bed so we can find room to pack the towels in the closet. The external hard drives can live under the kitchen table for now. Can these cleaning products ride in the tub you use for window cleaning?

This will go on for the whole trip, but gradually, the RV settles into Home.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Time to Hit the Road Again

It seems like I've been here at home in Hutto for ages, although it's only been about four months, excluding day and weekend trips. Still, Mary Ann needs to attend a photography event in Tuscon. Death Valley is in bloom due to record rainfalls. Debra may have a graduation event in Malibu ( we still don't know for sure), and I need some serious driving time.

It's the prepartion time for these trips that seem to be my dry spells. With so many random chores needed to be completed in a short period of time, the hours-long times I need for my writing are just unavailable. I haven't even had time to blog in a couple of weeks. Maybe that will change.

But for now, I need to go load my tool kit and the air-compresser into the RV. See you later.