. . . I've been told that I write novels for email messages. Perhaps this is the way to go. I'll try to make each entry, or Gemstone, a "precious" one. On mediocre days, all I might be able to produce is a "semi-precious" entry. In any case, an entry might be a "neat" Gemstone--something that is uniquely mine.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Fall Colors Hike Near Santa Fe

Spent this holiday driving up out of Santa Fe to hike among the beautiful aspen trees in full fall color and to share a picnic with my family. It was a wonderful day.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Food For Thought

Got this from Sparkpeople.com on my birthday. Gave me perspective.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Let Children Learn Evolution

I have always enjoyed Bill Nye the Science Guy. I've shown his videos in my classroom and the kids have always liked watching and learning from them. My own kids love to watch his videos. He's been around for a long time now and I hope he continues his mission of teaching science to the youth in our world.

Here, in this video, Dr. Nye makes a statement against teaching Creationism to kids instead of letting them learn true science....Evolution. It is much easier to make sense of the universe they live in when they do.

Bill Nye: Creationism Is Not Appropriate for Children

Evolution is the fundamental idea in all of life science, in all of biology. According to Bill Nye, aka "The Science Guy," if grownups want to "deny evolution and live in your world that's completely inconsistent with everything we observe in the universe, that's fine, but don't make your kids do it because we need them."
Denial of evolution is unique to the United States. I mean, we're the world's most advanced technological—I mean, you could say Japan—but generally, the United States is where most of the innovations still happens. People still move to the United States. And that's largely because of the intellectual capital we have, the general understanding of science. When you have a portion of the population that doesn't believe in that, it holds everybody back, really. 
Evolution is the fundamental idea in all of life science, in all of biology. It's like, it's very much analogous to trying to do geology without believing in tectonic plates. You're just not going to get the right answer. Your whole world is just going to be a mystery instead of an exciting place. 
As my old professor, Carl Sagan, said, "When you're in love you want to tell the world." So, once in a while I get people that really—or that claim—they don't believe in evolution. And my response generally is "Well, why not? Really, why not?" Your world just becomes fantastically complicated when you don't believe in evolution. I mean, here are these ancient dinosaur bones or fossils, here is radioactivity, here are distant stars that are just like our star but they're at a different point in their lifecycle. The idea of deep time, of this billions of years, explains so much of the world around us. If you try to ignore that, your world view just becomes crazy, just untenable, itself inconsistent. 
And I say to the grownups, if you want to deny evolution and live in your world, in your world that's completely inconsistent with everything we observe in the universe, that's fine, but don't make your kids do it because we need them. We need scientifically literate voters and taxpayers for the future. We need people that can—we need engineers that can build stuff, solve problems. 
It's just really hard a thing, it's really a hard thing. You know, in another couple of centuries that world view, I'm sure, will be, it just won't exist. There's no evidence for it.

Friday, August 24, 2012


Thought, I love thought.
But not the juggling and twisting of already existent ideas
I despise that self-important game.
Thought is the welling up of unknown life into consciousness,
Thought is the testing of statements on the touchstone of consciousness,
Thought is gazing onto the face of life, and reading what can be read,
Thought is pondering over experience, and coming to conclusion.
Thought is not a trick, or an exercise, or a set of dodges,
Thought is a man in his wholeness, wholly attending.

-- DH Lawrence

"The name pansy comes from the word 'pensee,' which means 'thought', and was so named because the flower resembles a human face-- in August it nods forward as if deep in thought. It was believed that pansies could make your lover think of you."

I just got a new tattoo, here in August, of pansies. I'm turning 45 this month and have a lot of thoughts to muddle through. I loved that pansies, one of my all-time favorite flowers meant "thought" and "reflection." With the creative artistic skills of my new tattoo artist, Max, we created a beautiful bouquet to mark this milestone in my life.

Being from the iPhone, this is a reverse photo. It is actually on my left shoulder.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Meet Me in St. Louis

''Meet me in St. Louis, Louis,
Meet me at the Fair
Don't tell me the lights are shining
Anyplace but there
We will dance the 'Hoochie-Koochie'
I will be your 'Tootsie-Wootsie'
If you will meet me in St. Louis, Louis,
Meet me at the Fair.''

- First chorus of the 1904 popular song ''Meet Me in St. Louis,'' celebrating the St. Louis World's Fair of the same year.

Ok. So I don't know what the "hoochie-koochie" was, but I definitely don't want to dance it and become someone's "tootsie-wootsie" but I did want to visit St. Louis, especially the Gateway Arch. We planned an evening flight back home so that we'd have time to get downtown, go up in the Arch, and make it to the airport in time for our flight.

Now for some reason, I thought the Arch was built in time for the World's Fair, which I discovered to be in 1904 and was officially called the 1904 Louisiana Purchase Exposition. Who knew, right? Well thanks to Google, yet again, I found out all kinds of information, the most important is that it wasn't built until 1965. It had originally been planned after the design won an open art competition in 1947 but because of financial backing issues was not built right away. The winners of the design of the Arch were architect Eero Saaurinen and structural engineer Hannskarl Bandel.

View from the north end

I found out that the Arch was all part of an idea to renew an economic downturn by bringing people to the downtown riverfront area of St. Louis. Those old 1947 designs were still in play and somehow the funding was found (with the National Park Service involved this time), and it became part of a whole concept of the "Jefferson National Expansion Memorial" that also holds the Museum of Westward Expansion and the old Jefferson County Court House on the park grounds. According to the National Park Service website linked here:
"The Arch reflects St. Louis' role in the Westward Expansion of the United States during the 19th century. The park is a memorial to Thomas Jefferson's role in opening the west, to the pioneers who helped shape its history, and to Dred Scott who sued for his freedom in the old courthouse."
Which leads me to another question....Who was Dred Scott? (Wikipedia to the rescue!) Two trials of his case, in 1847 and 1850 were held in the old courthouse in which Scott sued in court for the right to be a free man in the state of Missouri. It went to the Supreme Court because nobody could figure out if Scott even had the right to sue, having no rights as a white man does. In the Supreme Court ruling in his case, they determined that people of African descent brought into the U.S. and held as slaves (or their descendants) were not protected by the Constitution and were not U.S. citizens. Scott was considered a free man in other states but when he moved to Missouri he wasn't. His case retains historical significance as one of the worst decisions ever made by the Supreme Court. In fact, some argue that it was this case that began a pathway toward the Civil War. In any case, it was credited with launching Abraham Lincoln's political career and ultimate election.
Looking straight up
The Arch is 630 feet high and 630 feet wide from leg to leg. It is the tallest memorial in the United States and the tallest stainless steel monument in the world. The base of each leg is an equilateral triangle with each side 54 feet long at the bottom and narrowing to 17 feet at the top. (The legs are wider at the bottom).The Arch is hollow to accommodate a tram that takes riders up to an observation deck at the top. It consists of a train of 8 egg-shaped cars that seat 5 people and takes about 4 minutes to get up (3 minutes to get down). They open up to the top observation deck where we were able to look down on St. Louis and the Mississippi River. Absolutely amazing! 
View from the top down to the Old Courthouse
According to poet Calvin Trillin from Kansas City, Missouri, when being compared to poet T.S. Eliot, a St. Louis native:
"Some have questioned whether St. Louis really was the Gateway to the West....I'm from Kansas City where people think of St. Louis not as the Gateway to the West but as the Exit from the East."

That's another way of looking at it I guess. In any case, I can check the Gateway Arch off of my Bucket List now!
Me with the arch in the background

Saturday, July 28, 2012

The Largest Cave in the Lakes Area

After a day out in the sun and heat and on the water (we rented a pontoon boat and tube for the afternoon yesterday), we decided to stay out of it all and explore Jacob's Cave in Versailles. Jacob's Cave is the largest cave in the Lake of the Ozarks area, 1/2 mile long, 70 feet down, and completely accessible for people with disabilities and baby strollers. It was the first commercialized cave in the area, opening in 1932 to tourists. At that time, people walked on wooden planks and used kerosene lanterns to explore.

A beautiful "room" at the end of the 1/2 mile trail
According to the Jacob's Cave home page (linked above):
"Jacob's Cave is famous for its depth illusion, reflective pools, ceiling sponge work, prehistoric bones (mastodon), bear, and peccary), and the world's largest geode. On the mile-long tour you will see every type of cave formation imaginable, from millions of "soda straws" and massive stalactites and columns, to delicate helictites. Evidence of six ice ages and three earthquakes can be seen in the cave. The temperature remains a constant 53 degrees inside the cave."
Cave "pearls" which actually do form around a tiny bit of sand
If you are interested in the cave formation and geology, visit this link: Jacob's Cave Geology. Of course I found it totally interesting and was glad to have something to read about the cave--much more impressed than information NOT available from the first cave we visited. Basically, the rock the cave was formed in is from the Silurian period 430 million years ago. The Silurian Sea was full of coral reefs and marine wildlife which created the dolomite rock that the cave was dissolved into. About 45 million years ago the area uplifted, forming the caves in the Ozark Plateau. Three earthquakes occurred in the area at 45 and 17 million years ago with the most recent being the New Madrid event in 1811-1812 at 8.1-8.3 magnitude on the Richter Scale. This event is written in every geology text because it is highly unusual to have such large earthquakes in the middle of a continent. The New Madrid earthquake was so strong that it forced the Mississippi River to run backwards for 6 days before changing its course when it started flowing toward the ocean again.
A column that has been fractured by the New Madrid earthquake
Jacob's cave was discovered by Jacob Craycraft, a miner in 1875. He may have gotten a map to the cave drawn by Spainards and found in the local library by Jacob. As Jacob was prospecting for new minerals he came across an animal hole along a fracture line and began digging, exposing a larger entrance that led him through the same 1/2 mile that makes up the cave tour. He autographed a stalactite with lead pencil, which still can be seen in the calcite. The cave has been known by man for 120 years and available to the public for 45 years. Click here for more History facts about Jacob's Cave.
Many soda straws decorated the cave ceiling

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Land of the Laughing Water

Today’s adventure started early this morning. I got everyone up early so that we could beat the heat and go explore some trails and ruins at Ha Ha Tonka State Park, named for the Native American words for “land of the laughing water”. It was extra good that it was overcast today so when we left the hotel at 8 am it was 80 degrees. What a welcome relief!
What drew me to the Ha Ha Tonka State Park was the descriptions I read about on the state parks and in the vacation guide. Geologically, Ha Ha Tonka is classified as having “karst” topography, meaning the landscape is characterized by sinkholes, caves, underground streams, springs, and natural bridges. I had to see this in person, this geological wonderland, having only read about this kind of landscape and seeing examples in my geology textbooks. 
View from 250 feet up of Lake of the Ozarks
Caves and springs are formed primarily in the limestones and dolomites that make up most of this bedrock in these Ozarks. At the earth’s surface, rainwater combines with the carbon dioxide given off by decaying vegetation and forms a weak carbonic acid solution that moves down through joints, crevices, or fractures in the rock, dissolving it. The dissolved openings are the caves and spring conduits that make up the karst topography. We saw a huge (70 feet wide and 100 feet high) natural bridge/arch (depending on if you walk over the top or through the bottom) with a layer of 550 million-year-old dolomite covered in sandstone, and what is boasted to be Missouri’s 12th largest spring. We walked into the Colosseum sinkhole which is 500 by 300 feet, created when a huge cavern collapsed.
The natural bridge/arch
Something else about Ha Ha Tonka that I thought would be interesting to see is the ruins of a burt-out stone shell of a “castle” built by a wealthy Kansas City businessman/grocer, Robert M. Snyder and his family, at the turn of the century. The mansion ruins sit on a 250-foot bluff and overlooks the Ha Ha Tonka Spring and the Lake of the Ozarks. Construction began in 1905 that included the mansion, carriage house, 80-foot water tower, and a greenhouse. Unfortunately a year later Snyder was killed in one of the state’s first automobile accidents. Snyder’s sons finished building it but in 1942 the entire interior was gutted by fire when sparks from a chimney ignited the mansion and carriage house’s roofs. Then in 1976 the water tower was burned by vandals. So all that remains today of the businessman’s dream are ruins.
The front side of the mansion
The spring, a constant 56 degrees
Of course, at Ha Ha Tonka, I also wanted to see the lush landscape that once concealed moonshiners and counterfeiters in the hills! We didn’t get to visit them, but there were two caves used as hideouts by criminals in the 1830s, Counterfeiter’s Cave and Robber’s Cave.

This afternoon's plan? Spiderman!

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Ozark Caverns, a Winery, and a Little Dinner Cruise

What do two geologists do while in the Cave State? Visit as many caves as possible while they're there, of course!

Today we explored Ozark Caverns at the Lake of the Ozarks State Park. Unfortunately, we could not take cameras into the caverns because the park is guarding against "white-nose syndrome", a fungus that has devastated bats throughout the northeastern caves. This white-nose syndrome was first discovered in Missouri so to minimize the risk, they are really being strict. So I took pictures of the museum display boards.

Ozark Caverns entrance
According to a brochure (yay, a brochure!) found in our hotel lobby,
"a walk through Ozark Caverns is a journey into an environment where geologic process can proceed unhindered by many of the erratic, erosive forces that shape the surface landscape in the protected cave environment; dripping and seeping water can redeposit carbonate materials in the form of soda straws, helictites, stalagmites, and a host of other geologic wonders that can be seen in Ozark Caverns. 
Angel Showers, an unusual cave phenomenon, is a featured part of the Ozark Caverns tour. The never-ending shower of water seems to come out of the solid ceiling of rock."
Photo of Angel's Shower from the museum wall. There are only 4 showers like this in the U.S.
Something truly cool was seeing bear claw marks left in the sediment fill that came into the cave thousands of years ago. (I'll just mention that we read of many small critters that inhabit the cave from frogs, salamanders, bats, and little bitty invertebrates in the little museum). Middle son did count 11 bats while we were in the cave. Creepy little critters. We were told that the cave was about 300 feet below the surface and we walked about 1/4 mile in (1,400 of the 3,400 feet of passageway). We used lantern light to walk through the cavern instead of the traditional "lighted path" method--truly cool, but oldest son was disappointed that the cave features were not lit up.

And what do two geologists do after "doing" geology? Seek out the local winery for tasting, of course! We found one just down the road from the Caverns called Seven Springs Winery, which boasts of having 160 acres of vineyards. We tasted some Missouri wines and found them quite tasty. It was interesting to learn of grape varieties that I've never heard of before such as "Norton," "Vignoles," and "Rougon." They used a blend of grapes for their wines rather than a pure grape wine like "Pinot Grigio," "Chardonnay," or "Merlot." that I'm used to. The blends tended to be toward the sweeter end of the spectrum, which was really good. We got a couple of wines to take back to the hotel with us.

A large tasting menu with pretty wine glasses at Seven Springs
We spent the afternoon at the lake swimming for a bit before heading out to the Bagnell Dam strip and our dinner cruise on the Tom Sawyer Paddleboat. The food was good, being "picnic" fare with fried chicken, ribs, ranch beans, potatoes au gratin, cole slaw, and rolls. My youngest had 3 pieces of chicken himself. If only it weren't so darn hot, then it would have been a perfect cruise. I think it was still 100 degrees when we left the dock at 6:30 this evening. Sweat rolled down our faces and backs until we got into the air conditioned car!

The paddlewheel at the back of the Tom Sawyer
Thankfully, nobody complained about following our lead today. I get to be "Tour Guide Barbie" or "Cruise Director Julie" when we go on trips together and I take my job seriously! Tonight's plan? Stay in the cool air conditioned hotel room!

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Bridal Cave

Today we went to visit Bridal Cave in Camdenton, Missouri, about a half hour south of where we're staying here in Osage Beach. Of course we left early in the morning so that we could try to beat the heat of the day with being out and about and not in the water like we were yesterday. Yesterday we spent hours at the lake, then ate lunch, then spent more time at the pool, then middle son and I went to the lake again. It was the relaxing day we intended for our first day here. But today a little bit of exploring!

The Bridal "Veil" in the Chapel
Bridal Cave was discovered by the Osage Indians centuries ago. It lies beneath Thunder Mountain and is said to be the site of the legendary Native American ceremony in the early 1800's. In keeping with the tradition of the Native American Legend (which I will include below), the cave can be reserved for a romantic wedding chapel. Of course, it costs money to do so. If we had such money we'd have arranged for my in-laws to renew their 50-year-old wedding vows.

Here is the Legend of Bridal Cave:

Centuries before the paleface found his way into the Ozark Mountains, this vicinity was inhabited by the Osage Indians.  Within the Osage tribe many smaller tribes were formed.  The following incident is a legend which brought romance and tragedy to this section of the Ozarks and gave the names to many places as they are known today.
Conwee, son of Chief Neongo of the Big Hills (a tribe of the Osage group, which lived on the north shore of what is now known as Ha Ha Tonka State Park), fell in love with Wasena, daughter of Elkhorn, Chief of the Little Hills, who lived on the north side of the Osage River near the junction of the Niangua, and greatly desired that she become his wife.  Neither Wasena nor her father looked with favor on his intentions, Conwee however was not to be discouraged.  He left his camp at Ha Ha Tonka one dark night with a number of his braves, crossed the Osage River near the junction of the Niangua and kidnapped Wasena and her companion, Irona.  Hastily, recrossing the Osage River, Conwee started back to Ha Ha Tonka.  As dawn approached and threatened to reveal them to their pursuers, they decided to stop at the cave, now known as Bridal Cave, and conceal their captives.  After a short time in the cave, Wasena eluded her captors and ran swiftly toward a high cliff that towers two hundred feet above the Niangua River.   When Conwee had her almost within his grasp. she reached the edge of the cliff and without even a backward glance sprang over the the brink into the valley below, choosing death rather than life with one she did not love.  From that day forward this cliff has been known as "Lover's Leap".
The fate of Wasena's companion, Irona, was very different.  She had long loved Prince Buffalo, another son of Chief Neongo of the Big Hills Tribe, and brother of Conwee.  After a period of mourning over the death of Wasena was ended, Irona and her Prince Buffalo chose to be married in the cave where she and Wasena had been held captive in the beautiful stalactite - studded room now known as the Bridal Chapel, and gave the name "Bridal Cave" to the scene of the nuptials. from "Indian Romances" by Col. R.G. Scott
Now, I give you this story here because I learned it from the Bridal Cave website. If I  hadn't visited the website, none of us would know the story behind the name. When listening to the tour guide, she said nothing about the Native American legend. She also said nothing about the geology of the cave nor the names of the cave features we saw. She never described what we saw: draperies, soda straws, stalactites, stalagmites....she did, however, mention that the water dripping down in the cave takes seven years to reach the formations from the surface and that the cave is 250 feet below Thunder Mountain. Another thing I could not believe was that there were no pamphlets of any kind describing the geology, history, formations, or anything. I asked. I guess they don't read pamphlets in Missouri.

The RockWall
But, aside from my complaints including hearing the guide mispronounce the mineral name manganese and the rock shop misidentifying a rock that was obviously a schist as adventurine the mineral (the mineral was in the schist but only as inclusions), the cave itself was quite beautiful. There were a number of "rooms" with fantastic draperies and columns and at the end of the trail there was the gorgeous Mystery Lake, which the guide claimed to be 35 feet deep. At the bottom of the lake were some timbers and a ladder that nobody knows how or when it got there.

So yes, visit Bridal Cave, but do some research before you go and learn about cave geology and formations so you'll know what you're seeing when you tour.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Ozark Mountain Daredevils

Many years ago when I was young, I used to listen to all kinds of great music with my dad. Today I think of the band, “The Ozark Mountain Daredevils”. Anyone heard of them? I honestly cannot think of a song that they sang at this time (although my dad could probably hum a chorus and I’d remember immediately). What made me think of this 1970’s band (yes, I’m dating myself) is that my family of five plus my in-laws are off to become Ozark Mountain Daredevils ourselves. We’re off to Misery! Er, Ah, I mean Missouri (having to correct my 11-year-old on the pronunciation of the state we’re about to visit). We’re going to beat the heat and humidity with fun and adventure in the great Cave State, also known as the Show-Me state, entered into the union on August 10, 1821 as the 24th state. Home to such personalities as Walt Disney, Yogi Berra, T.S. Eliot, and Harry S. Truman (not to forget Mark Twain, of course).

Now when I found out that Missouri was our vacation destination about 6 months ago, I was not too sure I’d have a good time. After all, I only heard of negative things like heat, humidity, and lots of bugs, including those bugs that I have only heard of but have never seen before: chiggers and noseeums. (I made it worse by Googling “chiggers” and got even more freaked out from the photos and descriptions of the biting little freaks). But now, armed with bug spray, sunscreen, and a map to multiple cool dark caves, I’m ready to go! I should note here that it is only due to my in-law’s generosity that we are able to stay at their Time Share for free for the week. Did I mention that we’re staying smack dab in the middle of the state, about 3 hours west of St. Louis? No? Well we are going to be staying at Lake of the Ozarks, a many-fingered, 90-mile manmade lake that was made when engineers dammed up the Osage River in 1931. The Bagnell Dam is a 148 feet high concrete gravity dam and was built to generate hydroelectric power.
The Lake of the Ozarks is divided up into 4 regions
So Google and I became fast friends, yet again, as I typed in search words: “Lake of the Ozarks” and up popped a multitude of websites. The most informative was funlakevacationguide.com which provided a pdf of this summer’s vacation guide to download--a plethora of information, places to go, things to do, caves to explore.... I learned that the Lake of the Ozarks is at the edge of the Ozark Plateau that extends from southern Missouri and northern Arkansas (yes, Google helped me locate this forgotten state--it’s right below Missouri) and is nestled between the Missouri and Arkansas (just passed it here in the car!) rivers. The lake has more than 1,000 miles of meandering shoreline and based on a map, it reminds me of a fancy calligraphy-like “S”. I also learned that it is a perfect premier vacation spot for water skiers, speed boaters, jet-skiers, fishing, swimming, parasailing, and pretty much any other water sport that you can think up. Too bad we don’t participate in any water sports, coming from the dry state of New Mexico. “I only dog paddle” is the phrase that comes to mind, spoken from the eloquent Fezzik from one of my favorite movies of all time,  The Princess Bride.

One thing about Missouri really caught my attention when doing my research. I immediately perked up when I heard that one of it’s nicknames was “the Cave State”. Yes! It earns its name with more than 5,000 registered and mapped wild caves. For our family plus in-laws, there are three possible “developed” caves that we can tour: Jacob’s Cave, Bridal Cave, or the Ozark Caverns at Lake of the Ozarks State Park. This part of Missouri, the Ozark Plateau, is known for its karst topography, a geologic feature which is marked by subterranean system of caves, springs, fissures, and sinkholes within the limestone and dolomite rock of the plateau that originated in the Paleozoic seas of the Ordovician period 450 million years ago. I hope to be able to explore the many trails that wind in and out of the landscape at the state park mentioned above. And to top off our trip we plan to go visit the Gateway Arch in downtown St. Louis on our last day here.True Ozark Mountain Daredevils, if I do say so myself!

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Spring Break Adventures, Day 2

We got up and got moving fairly early on Sunday morning and drove to Chaco Culture National Historic Park, south of Farmington.

There is so much information on the internet and on the Chaco Culture website about the history, geology, and nature of the national park so I can just summarize some thoughts and interesting information here and if you’re inclined to learn more, just Google it or follow the link I’ve embedded HERE.

Fajada Butte rising out of the valley floor (taken from the Visitor Center)
Cliff House Sandstone on top of the Menefee Formation (horizontal layering)
Fajada Butte rising out of the valley floor as seen from Una Vida ruin
Chaco Culture National Historic Park is located in the San Juan Basin region of northwestern New Mexico. The park's elevation ranges from 6,000-6,800 feet above sea level and consists of three prominent land forms: the valley floor of Chaco Canyon, the Cretaceous sandstone mesas, and a number of side canyons, called "rincons" eroded into the sandstone faces.

From the website, Chaco Culture:
"From AD 850 to 1250, Chaco was a hub of ceremony, trade, and administration for the prehistoric Four Corners area--unlike anything before or since. Chaco is remarkable for its multi-storied public buildings, ceremonial buildings, and distinctive architecture. These structures required considerable planning, designing, organizing of labor, and engineering to construct. The Chacoan people combined many elements: pre-planned architectural designs, astronomical alignments, geometry, landscaping, and engineering to create an ancient urban center of spectacular public architecture--one that still awes and inspires us a thousand years later."
Chetro Ketl, one of the Great Houses (AD 950-1250)
The Plaza of Pueblo Bonito
It is interesting to know that in the valley was a major center of Puebloan culture 1,000 years ago in spite of it’s cold winters, short growing season, and limited rainfall and water, but it was. The Chacoan people inhabited the valley in about the year 850 CE and flourished for 300 years. They constructed massive stone buildings with hundreds of rooms and were unique to other Puebloans.

According to the website,

“The great houses of Pueblo Bonito, Una Vida, and PeƱasco Blanco were constructed [during the middle and late 800s], followed by Hungo Pavi, Chetro Ketl, Pueblo Alto, and others. These structures were often oriented to solar, lunar, and cardinal directions. Lines of sight between the great houses allowed communication. Sophisticated astronomical markers, communication features, water control devices, and formal earthen mounds surrounded them. The buildings were placed within a landscape surrounded by sacred mountains, mesas, and shrines that still have deep spiritual meaning for their descendants.
Casa Rinconada Great Kiva, one of the largest in the Southwest (AD 1100)

In the 1100s and 1200s, change came to Chaco as new construction slowed and Chaco's role as a regional center shifted. Chaco's influence continued at Aztec, Mesa Verde, the Chuska Mountains, and other centers to the north, south, and west. In time, the people shifted away from Chacoan ways, migrated to new areas, reorganized their world, and eventually interacted with foreign cultures. Their descendants are the modern Southwest Indians. Many Southwest Indian people look upon Chaco as an important stop along their clans' sacred migration paths-a spiritual place to be honored and respected.”

Here's some geologic history of the area: During the late Cretaceous period 75 to 80 million years ago, New Mexico was covered by the Great Inland Sea (see photo below). During this time, the Chaco region was situated at the edge of a shifting coastline of the ancient inland sea. The area is covered in layers of thin shale, mud and siltstones, sandstones, and coal seams, all part of the Menefee Formation. There are mesas and buttes rising out of the valley that consist of the more resilient Cliff House Sandstone, part of the greater Mesa Verde Group (with shrimp burrow trace fossils throughout). The Cliff House Sandstone was eroded down 2 million years ago, during the Pleistocene epoch. About 50,000 years ago, the softer Menefee Formation was eroded away, leaving the Chaco valley looking much as it looks today.

Paleogeography of North America about 75 Million Years Ago; box outline is approximate location of Chaco.

Our first stop was to the Visitor’s Center, as we usually do at every park. There we picked up brochures and maps so we could take ourselves on a tour of the valley. There were six major sites located along the 9-mile long Canyon Loop Drive that we stopped at. These sites include: Una Vida, Hungo Pavi, Pueblo Bonito, Chetro Ketl, Pueblo del Arroyo, and Rinconada. We also walked the short Petroglyph Trail.

Great Kiva at Chetro Ketl
Masonry at Chetro Ketl

Apartment rooms in the Great House of Pueblo Bonito
Petroglyphs above Una Vida

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Spring Break Adventures, Day 1

Spring Break 2012!

This year we're mixing a bit of pleasure with business. Our plan is to drive west through our Jemez Mountains, drive north at San Ysidro, and head toward Cuba on our first day with a detour to the Rio Puerco valley and the Cabezon Peak area on our first day. Cabezon Peak is one of the most well-known landmarks in the western part of New Mexico, yet, of course, only I was aware of it and made the suggestion to check it out. All others in the family are coming along, one thrilled and willing (my young geology geek), and one totally against because he knows we'll be hiking again. The other two (the oldest two men in the family) tend to just go along for the ride but always find enjoyment in what we do.

We're stopping at Cabezon on the way to the next day's destination: Chaco Canyon National Park (more on this in my next entry). Then after that we'll be driving to Albuquerque and Socorro to visit universities for my high school junior Monday and Tuesday.

Cabezon Peak is what is called a "volcanic plug" in geological terms. It is the largest and most prominent one in the area with roughly 50 of them that extend to Mount Taylor to the south in the western region of the state. Cabezon Peak is is in the middle of nowhere, NM, between San Ysidro and Cuba, and rises to an elevation of 7,785 feet. Cabezon means "big head" in Spanish. One Navajo myth says that it is the head of a giant that was killed by gods on Mount Taylor, and whose blood flowed to the south to form the Malpais, or "bad land" volcanic flow to the south. Last fall we visited El Malpais south of Grants and found it remarkable.

A volcanic plug (or neck) is formed when magma from an existing volcano solidifies in the pipe (or neck) and then later the surrounding rock material gets eroded away. Since the rock that makes up the plug, basalt, is harder than the surrounding sediment, it stays behind. In the case of Cabezon, the volcanic neck formed when molten lava worked its way to the earth's surface through Cretaceous sedimentary rock layers (shales and sandstone) deposited by an ancient inland sea that covered the area over 65 millions of years ago.

The drive along dirt roads to Cabezon Peak gave us plenty of opportunities to photograph it along the way. The road wound up and around to a road that lead directly to the peak. Once we got to Cabezon Peak we got out of the car to enjoy the view. We decided that we didn’t need to continue onto the smaller, narrow road to gain a closer vantage point since the one we had was already satisfying. Of course, we didn't climb to the top but we did get to experience the amazing sight. While we were preparing to take pictures, all of a sudden, we heard moo-ing and a small herd of cattle started rushing up to us—three big black cows with three babies. They weren’t vicious but they definitely didn’t want us there so we stayed long enough to get a few pictures and then left. It was really cool.

We headed back on the road and headed north to Cuba for a late lunch, then on to Farmington, where we located our hotel and settled in for the night. What can I say about Farmington? Not much except that it is another New Mexico town in the middle of nowhere. I'm glad I live where I live!

Tomorrow: south again to Chaco Culture National Historic Park.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

The Lovers, The Dreamers, and Me

Still, one of my favorite songs after all these years.....

Kermit the Frog

Why are there so many
Songs about rainbows
And what's on the other side
Rainbow's are visions
They're only illusions
And rainbows have nothing to hide
So we've been told and some chose to
Believe it
But I know they're wrong wait and see

Someday we'll find it
The Rainbow Connection
The lovers, the dreamers and me

Who said that every wish
Would be heard and answered
When wished on the morning star
Somebody thought of that
And someone believed it
And look what it's done so far
What's so amazing
That keeps us star gazing
What so we think we might see

Someday we'll find it
That Rainbow Connection
The lovers the dreamers and me

Have you been half asleep
And have you heard voices
I've heard them calling my name
Are these the sweet sounds that called
The young sailors
I think they're one and the same
I've heard it too many times to ignore it
There's something that I'm supposed to be

Someday we'll find it
The Rainbow Connection
The lovers, the dreamers and me

Saturday, March 24, 2012

"The Star Thrower" by Loren Eiseley

I awoke early, as I often did, just before sunrise to walk by the
ocean's edge and greet the new day. As I moved through the misty
dawn, I focused on a faint, far away motion. I saw a youth, bending
and reaching and flailing arms, dancing on the beach, no doubt in
celebration of the perfect day soon to begin.
As I approached, I sadly realized that the youth was not dancing to
the bay, but rather bending to sift through the debris left by the
night's tide, stopping now and then to pick up a starfish and then
standing, to heave it back into the sea. I asked the youth the
purpose of the effort. "The tide has washed the starfish onto the
beach and they cannot return to the sea by themselves," the youth
replied. "When the sun rises, they will die, unless I throw them back
to the sea."
As the youth explained, I surveyed the vast expanse of beach,
stretching in both directions beyond my sight. Starfish littered the
shore in numbers beyond calculation. The hopelessness of the youth's
plan became clear to me and I countered, "But there are more starfish
on this beach than you can ever save before the sun is up. Surely you
cannot expect to make a difference."
The youth paused briefly to consider my words, bent to pick up a
starfish and threw it as far as possible. Turning to me he simply
said, "I made a difference to that one."
I left the boy and went home, deep in thought of what the boy had
said. I returned to the beach and spent the rest of the day helping
the boy throw starfish in to the sea.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

I Am a Woman and I Have These Human Rights

I am posting an article that I read that I thought you'd all be interested in. It is a woman's blog entry written about her feelings on the Republican's War on Women. Whether you're Independent, Democrat, or Republican, you need to read this. Women's rights are being taken away from us every day and I fear that we're headed down a very long, slippery slope back into the days before women had legal rights at all. The article is long, but definitely worth the read.

10 Reasons The Rest Of The World Thinks The U.S. Is Nuts

Posted: 03/15/2012 5:47 pm

This week the Georgia State Legislature debated a bill in the House that would make it necessary for some women to carry stillborn or dying fetuses until they 'naturally' go into labor. In arguing for this bill Representative Terry England described his empathy forpregnant cows and pigs in the same situation.
I have a question for Terry England, Sam Brownback, Rick Santorum, Rick Perry and too many others: I have three daughters, two of them twins. If one of my twins had been stillborn would you have made me carry her to term, thereby endangering both the other twin and me? Or, would you have insisted that the state order a mandatory fetal extraction of the living twin fetus from my womb so that I could continue to carry the stillborn one to term and possibly die myself? My family is curious and since you believe my uterus is your public property, I am, too.
Mr. England, unlike the calves and pigs for which you expressed so much empathy, I am not a beast of burden. I am a woman and I have these human rights:
The right to life.
The right to privacy.
The right to freedom.
The right to bodily integrity.
The right to decide when and how I reproduce.
Mr. England, you and your friends do not get to trade these rights, while "dog and hog hunting," in return for a young man's chickens.
My human rights outweigh any you or the state corruptly and cynically seek to assign to a mass of dividing cells that will eventually turn into a 'natural' person. Personhood-for-zygote based bills and related legislation, like Georgia's and hundreds of others, bills and laws that criminalize pregnancy and abortion and penalize women for being women, violate my human rights.
Just because you cannot get pregnant does not mean I cannot think clearly, ethically, morally, rationally about my body, human life or the consequences of my actions. Just because you cannot get pregnant does not mean that I do not have rights when I am pregnant. I have responsibility but am powerless. You have power but are irresponsible with my rights.
By not trusting me, you force me to trust you. And YOU are not trustworthy.
I gestate humans, you do not. I know how it feels to be pregnant. You do not. I know what happens to a fetus in a womb. You do not. I have carried three fetuses to term. You have not. What I experience when I am pregnant is not empathy. It is permeability. The fetus is me. And the state is you, apparently. But, no matter what you say or do I have fundamental human rights. What makes you think that you, who cannot have this fully human experience, can tell me anything about gestation or how I experience it? Especially when you compare my existence and experience to that of brutish animals.
The rest of the civilized world thinks this country has lost its mind. It's no wonder. Look at this list of frenzied misogyny:
1. Making women carry still-born fetuses to full term because cows and pigs do. This week, Mr England, you supported a bill, the net effect of which, taken tandem with other restrictions, will result in doctors and women being unable to make private, medically-based, critical care decisions and some women being effectively forced to carry their dead or dying fetuses. Women are different from farm animals, Mr. England, and this bill, requiring a woman to carry a dead or dying fetus is inhumane and unethical. By forcing a woman to do this, you are violating her right not to be subjected to inhuman treatment and tortured. And, yes, involuntarily carrying a dead fetus to term, although not torture to you or to a pig, is torture for a woman. It is also a violation of her bodily integrity and a threat to her life and as such violates her right to life.
2. Consigning women to death to save a fetus. Abortions save women's lives. "Let women die" bills are happening all over the country. There is no simple or pretty way to put this. Every day, all over the world, women die because they do not have access to safe abortions. Yet, here we are, returning to the dark ages of maternal sacrifice. Do really have to type this sentence: this is a violation of women's fundamental right to life.
3. Criminalizing pregnancy and miscarriages and arresting, imprisoning and charging women who miscarry with murder, likeRennie Gibbs in Mississippi or at least 40 other similar cases in Alabama or like Bei Bei Shuai, a woman who is now imprisoned, is charged with murder after trying to commit suicide while pregnant. Pregnant women are becoming a special class subject to "special" laws that infringe on their fundamental rights.
4. Forcing women to undergo involuntary vaginal penetration (otherwise called rape) with a condom-covered, six- to eight-inch ultrasound probePennsylvania is currently considering that option along with 11 other states. Trans-vaginal ultrasounds undertaken without a woman's consent are rape according to the legal definition of the word. This violates a woman's bodily integrity and also constitutes torture when used, as states are suggesting, as a form of control and oppression. Women have the right not to be raped by the state.
5. Disabling women or sacrificing their lives by either withholding medical treatment or forcing women to undergo involuntary medical procedures. We impose an unequal obligation on women to sacrifice their bodily integrity for another. For example, as inTysiac v. Poland, in which a mother of two, became blind after her doctor refused to perform an abortion that she wanted that would have halted the course of a degenerative eye disease. If my newborn baby is in need of a kidney and you have a spare matching one, can I enact legislation that says the state can take yours and give it to her? No. We do not force people to donate their organs to benefit others, even those who have already been born. One of the most fundamental of all human rights is that humans be treated equally before the law. Denying a woman this right is a violation of her equal right to this protection.
6. Giving zygotes "personhood" rights while systematically stripping women of their fundamental rights. There is too much to say about the danger of personhood ideas creeping into health policy to do it here. But, consider what happens to a woman whose womb is not considered the "best" environment for a gestating fetus in a world of personhood-for-zygote legislation: who decides the best environment -- the state, her insurance company, her employer, her rapist who decides he really, really wants to be a father? Anyone but a woman.
7. Inhibiting, humiliating and punishing women for their choices to have an abortion for any reason by levying taxes specifically on abortion, including abortions sought by rape victims to end their involuntary insemination, imposing restrictive requirements like 24 hour wait periods and empowering doctors to lie to female patients about their fetuses in order to avoid prosecution. In Arizona, Kansas, Texas, Virginia, Colorado, Arkansas and other states around the country bills that make women "pay" for their choices are abounding.
8. Allowing employers to delve into women's private lives and only pay for insurance when they agree, for religious reasons, with how she choses to use birth control. In Arizona, which introduced such a bill this week, this means covering payment for birth control as a benefit only when a woman has proven that she will not use it to control her own reproduction (ie. as birth control). As much as I am worried about women and families in Arizona though, I am more worried about those in Alabama. You see, as recently revealed in a public policy poll in Alabama, conservative, evangelicals who support "personhood" related "pro-life" legislation and are fighting for their "religious liberty" -- 21 percent think interracial marriage should be illegal. So, what if they decide that an employee involved in an interracial marriage should not, by divine mandate, reproduce? Do they switch and provide birth control for this employee? Do they make contraception a necessary term of employment for people in interracial marriages? This violates a woman's right to privacy. My womb is one million times more private than your bedrooms, gentlemen.
9. Sacrificing women's overall health and the well-being of their families in order to stop them from exercising their fundamental human right to control their own bodies and reproduction. Texas just did that when it turned down $35million dollars in federal funds thereby ensuring that 300,000 low-income and uninsured Texas women will have no or greatly-reduced access to basic preventive and reproductive health care.
10. Depriving women of their ability to earn a living and support themselves and their families. Bills, like this one in Arizona, allow employers to fire women for using contraception. Women like these are being fired for not.
You presume to consign my daughters and yours to function as reproductive animals.
This is about sex and property, not life and morality. Sex because when women have sex and want to control their reproduction that threatens powerful social structures that rely on patriarchal access to and control over women as reproductive engines. Which brings us to property: control of reproduction was vital when the agricultural revolution took place and we, as a species, stopped meandering around plains in search of food. Reproduction and control of it ensured that a man could possess and consolidate wealth-building and food-producing land and then make sure it wasn't disaggregated by passing it on to one son he knew was his -- largely by claiming a woman and her gestation capability as property, too.
This is not about freedom of religion. If it were, we would, for example, allow Christian Scientists to refuse to pay for coverage of life-saving blood transfusions for employees. Religious freedom means I get to chose whether or not to be religious and if so, how. It does not mean that I get to impose my religion on others. Paying for insurance is part of the way we compensate employees, even when they use their insurance in ways we don't agree with and are in contravention of our own personal beliefs. I think that it is stupid, dangerous and immoral to chain smoke, especially around children whose lungs it irreparably harms. But, I still have to pay for an employee to have access to lung scans, nicotine patches and oxygen tanks. I do not get to say that my religious beliefs, which include keeping bodies as healthy as possible, make it possible for me to withhold payment of this employee's insurance. Guaranteed coverage of contraception and reproductive health care has overwhelming benefits for society, including reducing unwanted pregnancies and abortions. By inserting your religious beliefs so egregiously into government legislation and my life, you are imposing your religious beliefs on me. You don't like mandated insurance coverage for basic reproductive health humans with two X chromosomes? I don't like being bred by state compulsion like Mr. England's farm animals. I have a MORAL OBJECTION to being treated like an animal and not a human. You do not have to use contraception, you do not have to use birth control. But, that does not mean you have any right to tell me that I cannot if I chose. That is my right.
Property, control, sex, reproduction, morality, defining what is human. Sounds a lot like issues surrounding slavery 170 years ago. It is no surprise that of the 16 states that never repealed their anti-miscegenation laws, but rather had them overturned by the Supreme Court in 1967 more than half have introduced personhood bills. Like anti-miscegentation laws, anti-choice laws and bills that humiliate women, that treat them like beasts, that violate their bodily autonomy, are based on ignorance, entitlement and arrogance. These laws are not about "personhood" but "humanity." That women of color are massively, disproportionately affected by these assaults on their bodies and rights should also come as no surprise - their rights and their bodies have always been the most vulnerable assault.
This is about keeping women's wombs public and in other people's control -- the exact opposite of private and in their own control.
And, yes, I do know how complicated the ethics, bioethics and legal arguments related to these decisions are. You, apparently, do not. If you were truly concerned with sustaining life and improving its quality or in protecting innocent children, you would begin by having compassion and empathy for living, born people that require and deserve your attention. You feed them, educate them, lift them from poverty and misery. You do not compound these problems as you are with twisted interpretations of divine will. Only after that do you have the moral legitimacy to entertain the notion of talking to me about my uterus and what I do with it. By then, fully functional artificial wombs should be available and you can implant your own, since you are so fond of animal analogies, as was completed with this male mouse. What you are doing is disgraceful, hypocritical and morally corrupt.
And, no, I am not crazy. I am angry.
Mr. Santorum, Mr. England and Mr. Brownback and Mr. Perry you should consider not clinging so dangerously and perversely to the Agrarian Revolution ideas. Birth control and safe abortions are life-saving technologies. These archaic bills and laws, wasteful of time, money and lives, obscure an enduring and unchangeable truth: safe and effective family planning is the transformative social justice accomplishment of the 20th century. They will not go away. This is a revolution, too.
In a 1851 speech in which she argued for equal rights for women, Sojourner Truth said the following: "The poor men seems to be all in confusion, and don't know what to do. Why children, if you have woman's rights, give it to her and you will feel better. You will have your own rights, and they won't be so much trouble."
Do you, Terry England, Sam Brownback, Rick Santorum and friends even know who Sojourner Truth is?
This post has been updated since its original publication.