Thursday, December 27, 2012

Shell Beach and Large Numbers

I am sometimes amused or at least entertained by large numbers.  Usually when I see a large number somewhere unexpectedly.  I recently saw a sign at Shell Beach that had a large number where I expected a larger number.  Shell Beach is part of Shark Bay in Western Australia.  I understand it is one of only two beaches in the world made entirely of shells.  I expected a lot of shells but I still thought there would be sand.  I was wrong.  Nothing but shells 5 meters deep (15 feet).  Shell Beach is a few hundred meters wide and many kilometers long.  An information sign on the beach said shells in the millions make up the beach.  I felt that number was a bit small.  With the help of Google Maps and Wikipedia I estimated number of shells to be around a quadrillion.  That’s 1,000,000,000,000,000 (1E+15), a billion million.  

I know the sign was just trying to convey the idea that there are a lot of shells on the beach.  It’s not easy to get our heads around big numbers, so I guess millions is as good as any number for that purpose.  

I like to look at large numbers in different ways to help grasp just how unimaginably large they are.  For example a few years ago I bought a few Zimbabwe One Hundred Trillion Dollar bills on eBay and gave them away for Chinese New Years in red envelopes (紅包, hong bao).  (They are the largest note ever printed.  Hyper inflation in Zimbabwe is another story.)  My nephew was particularly impressed.  He told me that was the coolest thing ever.  I told him if he was given $1,000 every second starting when he was born, in 16 minutes and 40 seconds he would have a million dollars.  However, he would have to live 3,171 years to get one hundred trillion dollars.  

One of my favorite examples of a large number in an unexpected place is a 40 digit tracking number for delivery confirmation from the US Post office.  I had to enter all 40 digits to get the confirmation.  I thought the US Postal service was being pretty optimistic to have 40 digit tracking numbers.  Why do they need so many digits?  Were they thinking they could possible deliver 10,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 letters? If each letter was 1 millimeter thick, a stack of this many letters would be over 1E+21 lightyears high!  That’s beyond the edge of the observable universe.  If each of these letters weighed just 10 grams, the mass of this many letters would be 50 billion times the mass of the sun.  

The sign said shells have been piling up on this beach for about 4000 years.  If that is correct and my estimate is not high by a factor of 10 or more (I tried to keep it conservative), then on average 684,000,000 shells wash up everyday.  One way or the other that’s a lot of little critters living and dying out in Shark Bay.  

Friday, November 30, 2012

Got Bogged Again

Driving north on Indian Ocean Drive in Western Australia I kept looking to the west to see the Ocean.  There were numerous dirt tracks heading out to the beach so I decided to take a break and walk along the beach for a little while.  I turned down one little track and drove a few hundred meters.  I didn’t notice that the track wasn’t the red dirt of the surrounding land but it was white sand.  Well I didn’t notice until I was very near the beach and felt the wheels sinking into the sand.  I realized I had made a mistake and immediately made another mistake.  I tried to turn around by first backing up and trying to make a three point turn.   Well halfway through the turn my front wheels began to sink into the sand.  I tried to rock the car backwards then forward and was encourage because the car did move a little but all I was really doing was getting deeper into the sand.  I was bogged.  I got out and tried to stuff a few rocks and sticks under the front tires.  Just sunk deeper into the sand.  After trying this a few times the front wheels were so deep in the sand that the bottom of the car was resting on the sand.  I found a piece of concrete, a large brick and some old strips of carpet and an industrial type mat/rug that were no doubt left by others who had been bogged.  I also found a few flattened beer cans and started to dig.  

It was bad enough digging in the sand with beer cans under the hot sun but there were also Australian bush flies.  They look like ordinary flies but the are hellbent to suck the sweat off your skin or better yet crawl in your ears or fly up your nose (don’t want to think about why they wanted to do that).  I felt they must have sensed I was helpless and could not even attempt to shoo them away with a wave of my hand.  Digging in the sand with a beer can in each hand all I could do was curse them and occasionally shake my head like an annoyed cow.  When they flew up my nose (which was often) I blew them out with a snort.  

I tried digging out around the tires and stuffing the rock, brick, carpet, mats and concrete under tires a few times but all I got was dirtier, hotter, more tired and madder at the flies.  No movement of the car.  I finally got out the jack and dug out under the car so I could put the brick under the car and the jack on top of it.  Then jacked the car up as high as it would go.  I dug out around the tires and under the car and tried to dig a path in the sand in front of the car.  I put the concrete and rocks under the tires and laid the carpet and mats out in front of the car.  Then removed the jack.  This time I was able to pull the car forward and out of the hole.  But, I was headed towards the beach and immediately got bogged again.  

About this time a lady walked down the road to watch her kids sail by in a few sail boats out on the Indian Ocean, looked like some kind of race or practice.  I asked her if she would drive while I pushed.  That just sunk the tires in deep again and she had to go to keep up with her kids and walked back to her car near the highway (note to self: locals don’t drive down these tracks).  

I wasn't planning to go on any 4X4 only roads this trip,  just well maintained dirt tracks like this one.
So I rented a small economy car.  
I was bogged a second time and to get out I had to drive through the sand pit that I had just dug myself out of.  It was hot, I was tired and covered with sand.  It was in my hair, in my ears, in my shoes, and stuck everywhere to my sweaty skin.  The bush flies were all over me like flies on... well, you know.  I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to get out of this one but I wasn’t ready to go for help.  

I went straight to the jack method.  Digging, snorting, cussing, jacking the car up, moving rocks, carpet, mats and concrete.  And I got the car moving in reverse.  Instead of backing out down the road which didn’t seem to promising, I steered the car off the road and into the grass and small shrubs and drove around the big sand pit.  When it looked safe I backed on to the sandy track and turn around and drove back to the highway.  

I stopped at the highway to brush some of the sand off me and pour myself some water from my 10 liter jug.  It had taken me an hour and a half to dig myself out.  As usual a few bush flies followed me back into the car.  Outside they are obsessed with flying up my nose, crawling into my ears or tormenting me by walking around on the inside of my sunglass lenses.  But as soon as they are trapped in the car they panic and try to get out.  There was one buzzing around the driver’s side window.  I smacked it with the back of my hand and squished it dead then pulled back onto the highway.  

Didn't take any pictures of the beach at this place or of my bogged car. Didn't even walk along the beach there.
These beach photos were taken earlier that morning at a the beach in Cervantes.  

Thursday, November 1, 2012

We're Only Immortal for a Limited Time

“We’re only immortal for a limited time” - Neil Peart

That line from a Rush song kept going through my head on the day I became mortal.  

I recently began reading Neil Peart’s book “Ghost Rider.”  The book begins with that line and it reminded me of the day I became mortal, although I am constantly reminded of that day by lingering aches and pains. 

It happened in 1998.  I had just gotten a new mountain bike and decided to start racing again.  I had never raced mountain bikes but I raced road bikes when I was much younger (before bike racing was cool).  I had been riding a mountain bike for years but really had not developed any skills for going downhill.  This became obvious in the first few races.  I could keep up with most of the riders going uphill but I fell way behind on the downhill sections.  I raced in a small local race that was held once a week on a course just 10 minutes from where I live.  I rode the trails there almost everyday in the summers but I had always avoided one section of the trail that was part of the race course.  It was a big sweeping turn that was very steep, narrow and full of loose dirt and rocks.  One side of the lower section of the turn was lined with scrub oak and small Rocky Mountain Maples.  Before I started racing I would sometimes watch the race at this turn because that’s where the most crashes were.  I also studied the techniques riders used to make it through this turn.  When I thought I had it figured out I rode it a few times before I started racing to make sure I could do it.  

After a race or two the competitive nature in me took over and I wanted to get better so I could compete (win).  I started pushing myself much harder when I was training.  One evening I had completed 3 or 4 laps on the course riding as fast and aggressive as I could.  I was worn out but I need to push myself to get better and I decided to do one more lap.  The turn was near the bottom of the course and I was always a little nervous going into it but I had learned that it should not be ridden tentatively.  The center of the trail was full of deep dirt and rock so I tried to ride high up on the edge to stay out of the loose stuff.  The track edge was not flat so in addition to the straight ahead steepness, there was also sideways steepness that kept trying to pull the bike in to the dirt and gravel which makes it much harder to control the bike (at least for me).  As I entered the bottom section I was struggling more than usual to stay up out of the loose dirt so I rode as high as I could on the edge of the trail.  Small branches brushed my left side every time down this turn but this time a branch hooked my bar end and jerked my front wheel just enough that I lost control.  For a fraction of a second I stayed on the bike struggling to regain control.  Then gravity and momentum  took over and sent me helplessly flying over the handle bars and I landed in pile of stones in a washed out section of the trail.  My right shoulder and head took most of the impact.  My helmet was ruined but it did it’s job and saved my head.  I knew immediately my clavicle was broken... and I was mortal.  

The trail has changed since 1998.  I remember more trees on the right side and it was not as washed out and exposed on the left side.  The bottom of the trail has been redirected, it used to turn more and ran where the orange leaves are on the lower left.  I became mortal in the pile of rocks under the orange leaves on the lower left.  

I had never broken any bones before.  I had always been active, played many sports and my body had been banged around plenty.  I even had a reputation for crashing a lot when I raced road bikes.  One time even face planting in the road (my eyes were open the whole time, I can still see the asphalt coming towards me at impact, my face was the first part to hit), I got up after my head cleared a bit and my eyes began to focus, straighten my handle bars, chased down the leaders and beat them all in a sprint at the end.  I didn’t even have a bloody nose, I had never had a bloody nose.  Never had stitches (maybe I needed them but I never got them).  I got hurt plenty but my bruises never turned black and blue, my sprains never swelled, my bones never broke.  It wasn’t just injuries.  Bad things in general just didn’t happen to me.  I wouldn’t let bad things happen to me.  I felt I had control over things.  

I always knew in an intellectual way that I was susceptible to bad stuff just like everyone else and some day I would grow old and die.  But all that seem so far in the future that it would never happen in my lifetime.  

As I lay in the rocks I realized there were more injuries but I didn’t care about the pain.  It was the damage to my psyche that hurt.  Upset that I had lost control over things, mad that something bad happened to me.  As I walked my bike down the mountain I yelled “Damn it!  This shit doesn’t happen to ME!”  I yelled this very loud quite a few times.  If there was anyone within 100 meters I’m sure they would have heard it.  As I think back I can’t believe how arrogant, self centered, cocky and delusional that was.  

When I got to the paved trail and was trying to get back on my bike a few riders stopped and asked if I needed help.  I was covered in dirt, scraped, bleeding and obviously could do nothing with my right arm but hold it close to my body but I said “No.  I’m fine.”  Slowly I rode home one handed and mumbled to myself "This shit doesn't happen to me?" 

I didn’t check my collar bone too closely on the mountain because I though the bone may be poking through the skin.  It wasn’t.  It also wasn’t the most painful injury I received in the crash.  A deep bruise on middle of my left thigh was the most painful.  It didn’t turn black and blue, there was no external mark at all.  My left hand also hurt much worse than my collar bone.  It was probably broken in two places but I never got it x-rayed.  Those injuries along with the cuts, scrapes and bruises healed up but two other’s have not.  

About two months after the crash I was at a follow up visit with the orthopedic surgeon and I mentioned to him that my right ankle wasn’t shaped like the left.  I had sprained it a little in the crash but it didn’t swell up and I hadn’t thought much of it.  He order some x-rays.  A few minutes later he walked into the room with the x-rays in his hand and said “You must not feel pain.  Most people would still be on crutches with this kind of injury.”  He showed me where two ligament had pull completely off the bone and taken pieces of bone with them.  He explained that I no longer had two of the ligaments that attached my foot to my leg.  The pain in this ankle came later.  It’s still with me and I am sure it will be with me till I die, which is the second injury that hasn’t healed... I’m still mortal.  

Footnote:  After realizing that I wasn’t going to live forever and that my body might even deteriorate so that I can’t do everything I would like to do while I am alive, I felt a sense of urgency to do some of those things I “Alway wanted to do.”  The first thing I did was to go to Australia for three weeks.  I am about to go to Australia for the fourth time which means I should have some new photos share soon.  

And finally, my little tragedy that rocked me out of my childish self delusion of being in control and indestructible is nothing and insignificant compared to the terrible tragedies in Neil Peart’s life that lead him write “Ghost Rider” and begin it with a line from a song he had written many years earlier “We’re only immortal for a limited time.”

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Fall in Color and in Black & White

The aspen trees in the Unita Mountains have just started to turn yellow.  I took a few photos of the leaves on the ground.  It was early afternoon and the light was not good for photography but it was a beautiful day.  I am posting a few color and black & white photos of my hike.  Hope this season is beautiful wherever you are too.   

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Costa Rica in Black & White

Manuel Antonio

Everywhere I go I seem to make friends with cats.  
This one became my good friend for a few days in Monteverde, Costa Rica.

 Manuel Antonio

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Costa Rica Colors

The dominant color in Costa Rica is green.  
Things that are not green appear extra vivid in Costa Rica. 

Red-Eyed Tree Frog

When taking this photo an old local man tapped me on the shoulder and told me 
"There are real girls down on the beach."

I love paper bark trees.
The colors and patterns
are so interesting.


 Violet Sabrewing - The largest hummingbird in Costa Rica

 Eyelash Pitviper

 Cemetery Entrance

 Arenal EcoZoo (El Serpentarium - El Castillo, Costa Rica)

Leaf Cutter Ants

Playa Domincalito

 Street Art

Red-backed Squirrel Monkey

You know you're in an interesting place when sloths and monkeys might be seen crossing the road.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Get out the shovel and start diggin'

This post is about how my blog got it's name.  I know it's crazy to post a long story that as no photos.  It's crazy to post a long story.  I am sure few if any will actually read it but it is something I enjoy sharing and re-reading.  I originally wrote it in a notebook journal I kept on my first trip to Australia.  I later tried to put it into a more presentable story.  As I re-read it before posting I found more grammatical errors and I am sure I didn't find them all. I am sorry I couldn't capture the wonderful voices and accents of the travelers around the camp fire and share them with you.  

Get out the shovel and start diggin’
I wish I could re-live the night I spent at Palm Valley during my first trip to Australia.  Of all the places I visited, that is the place I think of most.  However Palm Valley is the one place I will likely never go again.  I have already returned to most of the places I went to on my first trip and plan to visit them all again - but not Palm Valley.  
I never planned to go to Palm Valley in the first place.  I planned to go to Boggy Hole.  Boggy Hole is a permanent billabong (water hole) on the Finke River.  The water attracts many animals that I wanted to see including dingos and reptiles.  I had read about the difficult “4x4 only” road to get to the remote billabong.  It sounded like the perfect outback experience.  
Both Boggy Hole and Palm Valley are campsites in Finke Gorge National Park in the Red Center of Australia.  I had arrived in Alice Springs that morning and rented a Toyota RAV4 to explore the outback.  After I loaded up with groceries I headed out to Tnorala (Gosse Bluff).  The pavement soon ended and I was on a dirt road in the outback.  The hills and mountains around were rather small with many flat areas in between.  The soil and rocks were all red.  It was similar to southern Utah without the spectacular mountains and rock formations but everything seemed new.  The dessert oaks, spinifex and other plants were so foreign they made the landscape very unfamiliar.  I didn’t have to get close up to tell they were different.  I could see it from the car.  The sky seemed new.  Even the horizon was new though I couldn’t quite figure out how. 
It took at least 3 to 4 hours to get to Tnorala.  I had passed a few vehicles along the way but once I took the turnoff to Tnorala I was the only one out there.  Tnorala is what is left of a crater where a comet impacted 142 million years ago.  It is a sacred site to the Aboriginal people who also believed it was formed by an extraterrestrial impact.  They believed a group of women were dancing across the Milky Way.  One of the women put her baby in a wooden carrier which later fell off the dancing area and crashed into earth then transformed into the circular rock formation.  Inside the crater there was only one short trail.  Being a sacred area, hiking off the trail was prohibited.  I didn’t stay there very long.  
I don’t know if it was the slower speeds traveling on the dirt roads or my poor judgment of distance on the map but it seemed to take a very long time to get to Hermannsburg.  Hermannsburg was just a dot on the map to help me get my bearings; a general store, a few trailers and most importantly a gas pump.   Just down the road from Hermannsburg was the turnoff to Boggy Hole where I planned to camp for the night.  I saw the sign identifying Ellery Creek.  I knew the road to Boggy Hole was near.  A mile or two past Ellery Creek I figured I had missed the track and turned back.  I pulled off the road at Ellery Creek and checked my guidebook and maps.  It turned out that the creek bed which is almost always dry, is the road.  I put the RAV4 into four-wheel drive and started down the creek bed. 
It was difficult to navigate the creek bed.  It was rocky with many shrubs and trees growing all over.  At first I could tell where other vehicles had traveled and I tried to follow the same route.  In other places I didn’t have a clue where to go.  I had to pick my own route.  A time or two I had to back up and try a different path.  In places the sand was very deep.  I could feel the tires sink deep into the sand and was lucky the SUV kept moving forward.  I knew if I came to a stop in the sand there would be no getting out.  The sun was just about down and I was making very slow progress.  I had traveled only a few km and it was still about 30 km to Boggy Hole.  I figured I would probably get stuck in the sand in the light of day.  At night I would have no chance of making it.  I knew of another campsite in Finke Gorge National Park, Palm Valley.  The guidebooks said the road to get there was much better.  I decided to play it safe.  I turned around and headed back to the main road.  I had to drive back towards Hermannsburg to the turnoff to Palm Valley.  At the beginning of the dirt road to Palm Valley a sign warned “Four-wheel drive only” but the road wasn’t bad.  It was just about dark when I arrived.  The campground was full of strange safari type vehicles and tents everywhere.  I felt out of place in the little RAV4.  The vehicles were like none I had ever seen.  They were big 4x4s customized for the outback.  Some even had large tents that popped up out of the roofs.  The beds were on the top of the vehicle.  They were all funky looking with supplies randomly attached all over.  Many had what seemed like whole dead trees strapped on top or on the back for firewood.  All were carrying large plastic containers for gas and water.  Many large tents were set up all over the campground.  I couldn’t find any level ground for my only camping gear, a sleeping bag and a short, thin Therm-a-Rest pad.  I could only find one spot to park the RAV4.  I decided I would sleep in the RAV4.  
It didn’t long to set up camp.  I just had to fill out the registration form and leave it along with a fee in the box by the entrance.  I then grabbed my jacket and flashlight and set out on one of the trails to find a quiet spot to watch the moon rise.  I knew the moon was a few days past full so it would not be too late rising.  I walked to up a small hill a few hundred meters away from the campground.  There I found a nice sitting rock so I sat down and looked up at the sky.  I was in awe looking at the sky.  Venous and Mars were out and the Southern Cross was very prominent but it was the stars that knocked me out.  More stars than I could imagine.  The Milky Way was so bright.  The sky was so clean and there was no light pollution around.  I later learned that the southern hemisphere looks into the center of our galaxy, while the northern hemisphere looks away from the center.  There are many more stars down under.  There were two bits of the Milky Way that were broken off from the rest and far removed from the main path.  I found out later these bits are not part of the Milky Way but our two nearest neighbor galaxies.  The Aborigines have a great emu in the sky that is formed from a dark spot (where there are no stars) in the Milky Way.  Unlike constellations that I know of the great emu looks exactly like an emu.  My neck hurt looking up for so long.  It was already sore from snorkeling and diving but I didn’t want to stop looking up.  I saw a few large slow moving meteorites cross the sky as I began to contemplate the universe.  
I always ask “Why?” when I look into a sky full of stars.  Why is there anything at all, matter, energy, space, time?  And if these things didn’t exist what would there be?  Would it be large or small?  What would be on the other side?  I have come to the conclusion that since my brain is finite it has limits and boundaries and since it does exist at least within some type of reality, I am not capable of imagining nothing at all nor can I picture infinite space and time.  I tried to imagine what some of the other worlds out there must be like.  What are their landscapes like?  What types of life make their homes there?  I realized I can’t even imagine all the life and landscapes that are on this planet let alone others.  These are things I have thought about for as long as I can remember when looking at the stars.  However this night a new question was on my mind.  
A few months earlier I was at work with a few friends talking about our approaching mid-life crises.  I mentioned the movie “City Slickers.”  There is a line in the movie that went something like “Have you ever looked in the mirror and said this is the best I’ll ever look, this is the best I’ll ever feel and it’s not very good?”  A few days later one of my friends brought the movie in for me to watch again.  As I watched it something about the movie connected with me.  Something made sense which hadn’t before.  It was what the characters were doing.  Going to a dude ranch to play “Cowboy” for a few weeks.  I didn’t want to go to a dude ranch but I felt I needed to do something like that.  I kept thinking about it until I realized what it was... Australia.  I’d always wanted to go to the Australian outback.  I needed an adventure and this was it.  The main character in “City Slickers” returns from the dude ranch having found his “One thing that matters.”  I wasn’t looking for what mattered.  I was trying to figure out where it was that I was trying so hard to get to.  
As I sat on my rock looking at the night sky I was trying to determine just where I was trying to get to in life.  When would I be there?  When could I quit trying?  When could I rest?  I felt there must be some point in life when I would have proved my worth.  I would have done all I needed to do and I could stop worrying.  I could stop struggling.  I would “Be there.”  I tried to define for myself what this point in life was.  I knew it wasn’t a physical place and death was not what I had in mind.  There must be a time and place where I won’t need to do anything else.  I felt I was struggling to get somewhere in life but didn’t know where.  Well, the stars were of no help with this question and the moon was late.  
I had been on the rock for at least an hour and there was still no sign of the moon.  Occasionally a dingo would howl. Then all of the children in the campground would howl in return much louder than the dingo.  I also heard outbursts of laughter coming from the campground.  It began to sound like a party.  I decided to walk back and get a bite to eat and see what was going on.  I didn’t make it back to the RAV4.  
At the edge of the campground many people had gathered around a large fire.  A ranger was giving a lecture about the area.  He was talking about the floods this area sees as well as the fish and parasites of the area.  He was just about finished when I got there.  I stood at the back of the crowd of people that had packed in tight around the fire.  After the ranger finished most of the crowd when back to their campsites.  A few dozen people stayed by the fire.  It was cold and like me, most of them did not have a campfire.  I made my way as close to the fire as I could to warm up.  The conversation soon turned to vehicles.  There was talk of Combies, Falcons and a lot about Land Cruisers.  The Land Cruisers they talked of didn’t look much like the Land Cruisers driven by my neighbors back home. One couple told of how they have been traveling for 6 years.  Two years earlier they were in England and somehow intercepted a special Toyota that was headed for Africa.  They drove it from England to India then shipped it to Southeast Asia.  After traveling around there they shipped it to Australia and were still traveling.  “Good on ya” repeated another lady who was delighted by their adventures.  
The conversation eventually turned more toward tracks (as the roads and trails in the outback are called).  They exchanged information and advice about tracks in the area.  One lady talked about how nice it was when they came to a stretch of bitumen track (bitumen is what they call a paved road).  For some reason out in middle of nowhere on the dirt tracks there would be short sections of bitumen usually less than 1 km long.  I couldn’t figure out why they were there and neither could the other travelers.  However this lady quite liked the smooth riding on the bitumen sections “It’s quiet enough to actually have a short conversation. Then before you know it you’re back on the dirt and you can’t even hear yourself think.”  
Eventually someone asked the ranger about the track to Boggy Hole.  “Is it really that bad?”  The ranger explained that he didn’t think it was that bad but he does spend most of his time pulling out vehicles that have gotten bogged along this track.  They all began exchanging stories about getting bogged or helping some other bloke that got bogged.  The ranger was asked if he had ever been bogged.  “No, never ‘round here mate.”  He said he had been bogged in Queensland in that “Terrible black soil.  Just 3 drops of rain is enough to get you bogged up there.”  They all agreed that everyone gets bogged in Queensland.  The ranger was standing with his arm around his son who must have been about 10 years old.  One man kidded with the boy and asked him “Are you a ranger in training?  Have you ever been bogged?”  The ranger encouraged his son to tell us if he had been bogged or not.  The boy seemed too shy to speak so his father helped him out.  “He was once drivin’ with me dad when me dad got bogged.  Me son told him to ‘Get out the shovel and start diggin’.’ So he must a’ bēēn bogged before.”  
I had many questions I wanted to ask these travelers.  How do they get time to travel like this?  Do they have homes and jobs?  Where are they going?  I didn’t dare speak though.  I didn’t want to change the conversations at all.  I knew if I opened my mouth there would be questions about me.  What d’ya think your doin’ out here with that tiny Toyota?  What brings you half way around the world and back o’ beyond all alone mate?  I just wanted to listen and hoped no one would notice me.  
Eventually I noticed the eastern horizon beginning to light up.  I stepped away from the fire, turned my flashlight on and headed back to my rock on the hill.  As the moon crept closer to the horizon the trees silhouetted on the mountains began to glow.  They looked like trees in the morning after a light snow.  I watched as the moonlight lit up the surrounding mountains.  The edge of the mountain’s shadow finally reached my sitting rock and the moon was up.  The moon changed everything.  It’s light spread across the sky washing out all but the brightest stars.  It was now so light it seemed like day compared to the complete darkness that had covered Finke Gorge just minutes before.  I could see details of trees and rocks on the mountains across the valley.  It was late and cold when I walked back to camp.  
Most of the campers had gone to sleep by then.  I laid the back seat down in the RAV4, rolled out the pad and sleeping bag and went to sleep.  I never warmed up and woke up often but I had no complaints.  It was a great night.  As the sun began to lighten the sky I could no longer sleep.  I decided to get an early start to my next destination, Kings Canyon.  I took a quick and very cold shower at the campground (there was no hot water).  Then packed the car up and backed out of my campsite.  As I passed the other vehicles I thought I should take some pictures of them.  I didn’t.  I figured I would take pictures of them at the other places I was going to visit.  
As I drove to Kings Canyon I kept thinking about my question “Where is it that I am trying to get to?”  I also thought about the conversations around the campfire.  There was something very strange about the conversations.  Here were all these travelers who had been on the road a long time.  They just gathered together for a short time around a fire to stay warm.  They talked about their vehicles.  They talked about various tracks, smooth tracks, dirty rough tracks and down right difficult muddy tracks.  They talked about getting bogged, others getting bogged, helping others who were bogged and sometimes digging themselves out.  But none of them mentioned where they were going.  No one asked anyone else where they were going.  It was as if none of them had any destination at all.  They were just traveling for the joy of traveling.  I realized my good mates around the campfire had provided me with the answer to my question.  There are no destinations in life only tracks with campsites along the way.  The tracks are sometimes paved with bitumen, smooth easygoing.  Most of the time the tracks are dusty, bumpy, dirt tracks that rattle your brains.  Sometimes the tracks get too sandy or rocky, maybe the weather changes on you, or maybe the water crossing is too deep and you find yourself bogged.  Many times a good mate will show up to pull you out.  Other times you just have to “Get out the shovel and start diggin’.”
At Kings Canyon the track turned into a bitumen highway for the rest of my trip.  Once I hit the bitumen the crazy outback vehicles disappeared.  I didn’t see anything like them again.  I had missed my chance to take pictures of them.  I later realized that I hadn’t taken any pictures at Palm Valley at all.  I am glad I didn’t.  Photographs often become our memories of places we’ve been.  Although I love photos, two dimensional, carefully cropped images never truly capture an experience.  I have notes of my trip in a spiral notebook and I have what I can remember of Palm Valley in my head.  That’s perfect.  I would love to re-live that night at Palm Valley but I can’t.  I can’t even go back there.  I would be too disappointed.  It could never again be as good as I remember it.  I’m sure there would not be as many stars as I remember.  The moon would not be as bright, the fire would not be as warm and the vehicles not as strange.  The dingos may not even howl.  I could not be treated to fireside stories as wonderful as those I remember.  No, I will never go to Palm Valley again.  Next time I’m takin’ the track to Boggy Hole…and I’ll pack a shovel.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Transit of Venus

Transit of Venus - June 5, 2012
It was a very cloudy afternoon.  I went outside at work just as the transit of Venus started but there was almost total cloud cover.  A few minutes into it the clouds cleared and I got to see Venus against the Sun for about 5 seconds.  I thought that might be all I would see because heavy dark clouds were rolling in.  On the way home the clouds broke up for a little but traffic was terrible.  I had my camera and binoculars in the car.  As soon as I got home I set up my camera and got this photo as more clouds were rolling in.  Five minutes after I got home there was total cloud cover. Later I noticed clear skies to the southwest so I drove that direction until it was clear enough to see the Sun.  I watched the sunset through binoculars and took more pictures.  It seemed to give a little depth of field to the solar system.  In fact the transit of Venus was used to calculate the distance from Earth to the Sun and from there calculate the distances of the other planets.  Observing the transit of Venus in 1769 was one of the main goals of Captain James Cook's first expedition.  Although moving clouds and Venus against the Sun seemed to create a depth of field it is still difficult to imagine the distances and sizes of the Sun and the solar system.  Venus is just a bit smaller than Earth but it is much closer to Earth than the Sun (Venus is about 30% of the distance to the Sun).  I understand how the distance to the Sun can be calculated from observations of the transit of Venus from different locations on the Earth but I am amazed by the instruments they had 250 years ago to take the measurements.  The world today is so automated it's difficult to imagine and appreciate how clocks, telescopes, sextants were designed and made.  Not to mention all the precise measurements of the orbits of the planets and the calculations (without calculators or computers) that led to the predictions of when the transits would occur.  

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Annular Eclipse - May 20, 2012

Annular Eclipse May 20, 2012 taken at Old Iron Town Junction, Utah
There are much better pictures of the eclipse all over the internet but these are mine.  I didn't really have the right equipment for photographing the sun/eclipses or at least not very good equipment. However, I did have a great location.  I had been planning this for months and was lucky the weather cooperated.  I went with a bunch of family and we had a great time.  We went west of Cedar City, Utah to Old Iron Town Junction.  Using a great app on my phone I found a clearing in the junipers with some nice rocks for sitting on and it was right on the center line of the eclipse path.  The app helped me find the center line not the clearing.  We all had eclipse glasses and I had two binoculars with solar filters.  My brother and I had our cameras with makeshift filters.  It was something I'll never forget and hope I have a chance to see another annular eclipse (hope to see a total solar eclipse soon too).  

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Nara, Japan

 Sarusawa-ike, Nara (Kofuku-ji in the background)
This wasn't a very interesting photo originally.  The sky was white with high thin clouds.  I noticed the artist had painted the sky blue anyways.  So I decided to do the same with my photo.  

Wednesday, April 4, 2012


Saint-Maurice-aux-Riches-Hommes, France
I love this photo.  This version reminds me of a painting too.  I tried to create a slight painting appearance in Photoshop.  I like the original untouched photo just as well but this is the one I usually show.  I'm sure I like it more than others do because it reminds me of the beautiful little village where it was taken.  

Monday, April 2, 2012

Impressions of Weeds

This photo reminds me of a painting.  It's not Photoshopped except for the frame.  Early last summer I broke my clavicle when the top buckle on one of my roller blades popped open sending me summersaulting into bushes and rocks on the side of a hill.  I began taking short hikes in the evening since I couldn't ride my bike as usual.  It had been a wet spring and the grasses had grown very tall.  Some of the grasses were blooming.  Very small flowers dangling from the little brushes at the top.  I had never seen grasses bloom like that before or maybe just never noticed.  Some of the grasses were reddish orange and looked wonderful in the evening light.  When I first saw this patch of grass I took a few pictures with my phone and was surprised how much I liked them.  I went back the next evening with my camera.  I used a slow shutter speed to capture the motion of the grass blowing in the wind.  I like the feel of this photo but I am not sure if others will like it or not.  

Friday, March 30, 2012

Sound of Silence

Racetrack Playa at night

A few years ago I drove to Death Valley over the Fourth of July weekend.  I wanted to feel the heat and take a few night photos. I got there in the evening an hour or two before the sunset.  I walked out on the sand dunes a little ways where the temperature was 122 degrees in the shade (yes, I had a thermometer with me).  I had plenty of water but after about 30 minutes I was getting worried about the possibility of heat stroke.  I was alone and there were not many people in the park so I cooled down the best I could on the shady side of a dune.  Then walked back to my car as soon as I could.  Not even stopping to take any pictures.  Then I drove to the Racetrack Playa.  I got there well after dark and I was the only person there.  I set up my camera and began taking photos leaving the shutter open 15 to 30 minutes at a time. While I was waiting for the long exposures I laid down on the playa and watched the nigh sky through binoculars.  I noticed a faint sound that I didn't recognize.  It was a soft intermittent sound.  I thought it sounded kind of like two small blocks of wood bumping together way off in the distance.  I sat up so I could hear the sound better but it stopped.  I laid back down with my binoculars and the sound soon returned.  I thought it might be an insect or a small animal but I had never heard anything quite like it.  I sat up but the sound stopped again.  I would set up my camera for a shot without noticing the sound but after I opened the shutter and went back to star gazing the noise returned.  It was driving me nuts because I couldn't figure out what the strange sound was and every time I tried to listen carefully for it, it would stop.  This went on for about two hours.  Eventually I sat up and looked at the mountains in the distance through my binoculars.  There was a little moon light but I could see nothing but the outline of the horizon.  However, this time the sound didn't stop.  It continued.  I listened very carefully trying to pinpoint where the sound was coming from.  It was about this time I realized the sound was my eyelashes brushing the lenses of the binoculars when I blinked.  I put the binoculars away, gazed up at the sky and listened to the sound of silence.  

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Longshan Temple

This is my entry for the Photo Roulette Round 39 with the theme of Local Character.  This round is being hosted by Travel with Kat. It was taken at the Longshan Temple in Taipei.  I still hear the chants that were being played at the temple that day every time I see this photo.  I was waiting to get a photo or two with no one in the background when this girl and her mother placed incense in the urn.  The girl lingered a while to watch the incense burn.  

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Introvert in Chesler Park

It is great that I live where I can wake up early and drive to a place like Canyonlands  National Park, hike for 8 1/2 hours and then drive home and sleep in my own bed.  Yes, it was a long day but I needed to get out and enjoy the nice weather.  I listened to the audio book "Quiet - The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking" while driving down and back.  I found it interesting but being on the introverted side myself, I instinctively already understood most of the ideas in the book.  I hiked the Chesler Park/Joint Trail loop by myself and saw only about 20 other people on the trail.  Some people seem to think it's strange that I go do things like this alone.  Maybe I'll suggest they read "Quiet."  It's a great way for me to recharge.  I know it's not for everyone but I need the solitude.  
The Chesler Park/Joint trail loop is about 11 miles.  I did a variation of the loop that added about 1.5 miles to it.  I read that there was only about a 500 foot elevation change and expected an easy hike.  It was easy in that there were no difficult or steep sections but it was like climbing up and down stairs or ramps for about 10 miles.  I am feeling a little sore today as well as a little sunburned.  I knew I had a tube of sunscreen in my day pack but I didn't know it was nearly empty.  I didn't have enough to go around.  The weather was perfect, about 80 degrees.  The sun was out early and behind thin clouds in the afternoon.    
Photography was not the purpose of my trip.  I just wanted to get out in the sun and become more familiar with this area.  I did, of course, pack my camera gear with me just in case.  The light was not good most of the time and I didn't take many photos but the area was spectacular.  You can click on the panorama to see it a little larger.  There are not any slot canyons in this area but there are a few narrow cracks in the sandstone that the trail goes through.  
Hope you have some great hiking trails near where you live too.  

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Jianchuan Photoshopped - Part 2

This cobbler practicing his craft on a street corner caught my attention.  I try to be a discreet when photographing people on the street.  If that's even possible.  I take pictures of them, I just don't want to be in their faces.  Don't want them to notice me or change their behavior.  I wish I could be invisible and get any angle and as close as I want but I can't so I do the best I can.  This wasn't the best angle but it was the best I could do without being noticed.  I was lucky to get a shot without other people or cars passing by. 

The original was okay but nothing special.  I found the colors in the background and on post distracting from the man and his equipment.  Cropping and converting it to black and white help that.  Then I created another layer to add the Chinese characters and give it a distressed look.  I like how it looks like an old photo from the 1930's.  I wished I had been more patient and waited for some fashion conscious  young women to walk by wearing stylish new shoes to contrast with this old cobbler and his equipment. That would have been a much more interesting story. 

Most photos I take are more bout documenting a place and time than they are about art.  They help me remember the places I've been and experiences I've had.  I try to make them the best photos I can but they don't mean anything to anyone else. In fact most are never seen by anyone else.  It's fun to take some of these photos and see what I can turn them into with Photoshop.  Sometimes they're worth sharing.