Fascinating courtly intrigue and bloody power games set on a generation ship full of secrets―Medusa Uploaded is an imaginative, intense mystery about family dramas and ancient technologies whose influence reverberates across the stars. Disturbing, exciting, and frankly kind of mind-blowing.” ―Annalee Newitz, author of Autonomous

Sunday, January 31, 2010


TUESDAY: It was like a scene out of a Science Fiction movie, the kind of big extravaganza
Ernie calls a Sci-Fi Eye Fry. We drove West on I-40 and saw the apocalyptic steam cloud frozen in the cold air over the energy plant outside Holbrook. There was actually nothing apocalyptic about it, but we were playing Mahavishnu's album, Apocalypse, on the car stereo, so we couldn't help confabulating a little bit. Besides, we knew we were on the way to a site that must have seemed like a little piece of the Apocalypse when it formed: Meteor Crater.

Every time I’ve been on I-40, my traveling companions haven’t wanted to see Meteor Crater, voting me down. This time it was just Ernie and me, and we were in accord. About 50,000 years ago, a big iron meteor slammed into the sedimentary rocks of the floodplain/ancient ocean in Northeast Arizona and made a fascinating crater. A big trailing chunk that probably broke off when the meteor impacted the atmosphere was found in Canyon Diablo (the Devil’s Canyon we passed through on our first day?) and is on display in the Visitor’s Center. It’s a roughly egg-shaped chunk of 97% iron, maybe 2 1/2 feet from end to end, and weighs almost 1500 lbs.

I want it.

Since it was January, we couldn't take the hike all the way around the rim, due to snow and ice -- Alas! But we were able to hike about 1/10th of the way around, still a good distance, which gives you some idea how big the crater is. Its big enough that it can actually fool you in terms of how deep it is. You have to look at the postage-stamp-sized fenced area in the middle of the bottom, where the original drilling site is. Daniel Barringer owned the mining rights -- never found the iron he thought must be buried beneath the surface, but the Barringer family have acted as stewards of the site ever since.
We were told geologists are allowed into the crater. Another good reason to be certified as one of those creatures. I took lots of pictures and vowed to return.

There were three places I had never been prior to this trip: Meteor Crater and Sunset Crater were fascinating, but the place that captured my heart was Walnut Canyon -- and we almost didn’t go there!

We were planning to drive straight to Flagstaff, but when I saw the sign for Walnut Canyon, I said, “What the heck, you want to see it?” and Ernie said “Why not?” It’s one of those whimsical decisions that turns out to be good fortune. The canyon is close to Flagstaff, it's a hidden treasure that you find at the end of a little forest road. There, you can see the edge of the extensive sedimentary strata in this part of Arizona. The Canyon is layered (from bottom to top) in cross-bedded sandstone (Toroweap/Coconino) that used to be sand dunes next to an ancient seashore, weathered by wind into rounded shapes with swirling lines, topped by layers of Kaibab limestone from when the sea extended farther inland. The creek has worn the canyon down several hundred feet, and the water carved natural caves into the limestone, so it made a good place for cave dwellings.

Walnut Canyon is a little paradise whose South-facing wall is warm in the winter, and where you can find junipers, ponderosas, and desert plants (including cactus) living side-by-side. The canyon is still visited by descendants of the people who used to live there, for festivals and religious observances.
We we bundled up for the 45 degree weather when we started down, but it felt like spring on most of the trail, thanks to the direct sunlight.

We decided to drive to Sunset Crater because it was also close and it was only about 3:00 p.m. We took the Lava Field trail and were astonished -- lava that’s only about 1000 years old! It’s a massive flow of wild shapes, and the contrast with the snow is interesting. The volcanic cone sits above, partially collapsed, its ashy side still too sterile for most plants.
We got lost on Historic Route 66, in Flagstaff, trying to find our hotel. But finally we stopped and begged for enlightenment, and got back on track. Ate good comfort food at the Galaxy Diner, and went back to the hotel to decompress (in pajamas).

WEDNESDAY: If you want to Find Flagstaff, look for the volcanoes. But without Highways 89, 180, and 64, and the National Park Service, you wouldn’t find the Grand Canyon until you fell into it.
It’s a lot more obvious on the Eastern end, where the big trees peter out and you can see the distant edge of Vermilion Cliffs. If you drove farther North on Highway 89, you would eventually cross the bridge that spans the Colorado River -- at that point, the canyon is more of a gorge.
The Grand Canyon is so amazing, it should be seen several times. Especially since the first time you see it, it’s kind of scary. I was about 8 years old when my mother and my Great Aunt Hazel took us to see the canyon. I was totally unprepared for it. That’s how I found out I was afraid of heights.
But 11 years later, I went to see it again. I actually felt drawn by it. On a whim, my boyfriend and I drove there overnight, in a 1962 Dodge Dart with a push-button transmission and no back seat. We found out you can’t get a room in a hotel near the Grand Canyon unless you make the reservation months in advance. So we slept in the car.
This time was the third time I visited the Grand Canyon, and this time a passion for geology drew me. I felt nervous on icy edges, but I sidled up to the railing and took dozens of pictures. I looked at those incomparable vistas and couldn’t get enough of them. Some day I’ll hike one of the trails in. I’d like to journey down the river too.
The weather has stayed perfect. The gods of geology are smiling upon us . . .
THURSDAY: After shopping in the Historic District in Flagstaff, we left the land of lava for the land of sedimentary rock -- Oak Creek Canyon. The last time Ernie and I were here was on our first Honeymoon, 20 years ago. That time flew by while we worked hard and barely kept our heads above water. Now we’re caught up, paid off, and ready to shift gears. This time, we hiked in two spots off Highway 89A, one in the Northern part of the canyon, and good ol‘ Slide Rock.
Slide Rock

is going to require it’s own blog entry.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Music For Road Trips

When you see this list of albums I've posted here, you might think I'm trying to tell you that you should like classical music, and that's not my intention. You like what you like -- especially on a road trip. Most people put on music that will entertain them and keep them from getting bored. I'm just trying to suggest another type of music for your car: the Road Trip Soundtrack. How about music that goes with the landscape? And in Arizona, that landscape can be very strange.

I'm not saying you should play an actual movie soundtrack. I would especially avoid the scary ones, like Hans Zimmer's gorgeous, spooky score for The Ring and Bernard Herrmann's Psycho. No, I'm saying that plenty of other orchestral music is great for Road Trip Soundtracks, and here are some that we enjoyed when we took our 2nd honeymoon in January. Driving West on Hwy 60, through /Devil's Canyon and the hoodoos that haunt the road all the way to Globe/Miami, we listened to Debussy's Harp, by Yolanda Kondonassis. It's whimsical mood fit the landscape surprisingly well.

And so did Geoffrey Simon, conducting the Philharmonia in some of my other favorite Debussy works. This is one of the rare albums that doesn't include the usual pieces, like "Prelude To The Afternoon of a Faun" or "La Mer" -- pretty pieces, but not my favorites. What's wonderful about this album is that it contains some of the most fantastical music Debussy wrote, including "Nocturnes."

Vaughan William's Sinfonia Antartica seemed made for the snow-and-wind-swept landscape of the Petrified Forest in January. And His Fifth Symphony always evokes the Grand Canyon for me. His Third Symphony portrays the beautiful, lonely places of the world, including those in Arizona.

Harps of the Ancient Temples is one of the most beautiful albums ever recorded, and we played it several times on the road. It especially fits the places with petroglyphs.

One of the best soundtrack moments we had was unexpected -- it happened on I-40, just outside Holbrook, as we approached the big power plant on the South side of the Highway. The outside temperature was under 40 degrees F, so the steam hung over the power station in a massive formation, instead of evaporating. I had put on Mahavishnu's album, Apocalypse, and it couldn't have expressed the weirdness of that sight better if it had been written for it.

The trip would have been great even without the music, but it was cool to be able to play those albums. We rented an SUV for that trip, Ernie named it Jay Silverwheels, and it had a terrific sound system. It would pause the CD when we got out of the SUV, then start it in exactly the same spot when we started the car again. Totally spiffy.

If you've got a car with a good sound system, you may want to try these. Or even at home. As for me? I had to return Jay Silverwheels. I have to drive my Crudmobile for one more year.


Saturday, January 23, 2010

Segues And Roadcuts

One life ended, another was beginning, and the best way to start it was with a roadtrip. So one Sunday in January, We drove East on Arizona Hwy 60, past the Superstitions, toward Globe and Miami. We couldn't see the Superstitions very clearly, because the morning mist obscured them like Shangri-La, but once we got near Superior we entered some of the most interesting highway scenery I’ve ever seen. We zoomed past the Boyce Thompson Arboretum before I could think about it -- otherwise we would have stopped there. But it’s so close to Phoenix, we made a mental note to visit it soon, and often.

The road cuts and terrain near Hwy 60 reveal the same fascinating and complicated geologic history you can observe in the Superstitions: millions of years of ocean, lake, river and stream, and/or swamp sediment, volcanic activity (including pyroclastic flows and clouds of ash), magma that cooled slowly underground before it was exposed, magma that cooled quickly while it still had gas bubbles in it. Many of these layers have been pushed vertical by magma chambers that formed beneath them as our part of the continent moved slowly over a super-hot spot in the mantle. As the older stuff fractured and faulted, more molten stuff was forced up into the cracks, forming the veins, rich with copper, that attracted the mining companies in the first place.

Erosion from snow, rain, sun, running water, and wind-blown sand have eroded fractured columns along that highway into a fantastical, mad-tea-party sort of landscape. Hwy 60 winds straight into a hoodoo-paradise called Devil’s Canyon. There are no scenic pullouts on that stretch of the road, or I would have taken at least 100 pictures of that canyon (I promise, ultimately I WILL find a way, hopefully one that doesn’t get me splattered like a bug on the grill of a big rig).

The gorgeous display continues until you suddenly see the gigantic open pit mine on the North side of the Hwy, near Globe/Miami. My husband Ernie says it's like driving through Middle Earth and suddenly finding Mordor. The mine isn’t pretty, but it is fascinating -- I'd love to tour it some day. You can definitely see the decline of the mining industry when you enter Miami and Globe -- they’re boom towns gone bust, though they still have some interesting corners. I contemplated renting a place in Globe, possibly even settling there some day -- though it might be like settling at the edge of the world the day before Armageddon. (Armageddon would be a great name for a ghost town . . .)

From Globe, Hwy 60 turns North and merges with Hwy 77, continuing to wind through spectacular geological terrain. I give the roadcuts on this leg of the journey an A+, and I became a bit of a hazard. Geologists are notoriously distracted when roads wind through interesting cuts. It’s a very good thing the speed limit declines to 35mph, or we might have gone over a cliff. The highway descends into the beautiful Salt River Canyon, called the “Little Grand Canyon” because the salt river has eroded it 2000 feet down, exposing layers that formed millions of years ago. This area of the highway has plenty of scenic pullouts, and I used just about every one of them. We crossed the salt river and began to climb again. At one point we encountered a roadcut that exposed a huge, thick layer of limestone. All of these layers have been bent and twisted, and the roadcuts reveal just how much valley fill has settled over the deeper spots.

Eventually our highway climbed up onto the Mogollon Rim at Show Low, a nifty little town that, happily, featured a JB’s coffee shop that served a good omelette with smokey tabasco sauce. In Show Low, Hwy 60 continues East toward New Mexico, Hwy 77 marches North, through geologically unspectacular terrain (except for the roadcuts, which reveal that wonderful stuff is hiding beneath the surface). North was our destination. This is a short drive, through Taylor and Snowflake, to Holbrook, where we checked into the BEST WESTERN ADOBE INN, a comfortable, inexpensive motel. Our room was big and attractive, and the hotel sits next door to a great restaurant, The Butterfield Stage Company. The food is good and the decor gets an A+. We also visited Jim Gray’s Petrified Wood Co., a big rock shop that also sells fossils. It’s a treasure house on the inside, and is surrounded by a giant yard where rocks of all kind are sold by the pound.

Holbrook seems to have a rock shop on every corner -- and they all feature dinosaurs. Why not? Up the road is the Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona's postcard from the Triassic.

MONDAY we headed to Petrified Forest from the South, HWY 180. We stopped at the Park Gift shop and watched the informational video, which quickly traces the history of the park from the Triassic Period to the present.

The impact of early tourists makes me wince -- it was a free-for-all, with rockhounds doing terrible damage. Rockhounds are still doing damage. Hard to believe people can call themselves good, honest, will stand up in church and sing with the choir, but they steal rocks from the park, in staggering numbers. One thing I didn’t know -- Park personnel receive numerous packages from remorseful bandits, stolen rocks enclosed, with letters of apology.

While eavesdropping in the gift shop I learned that Jim Gray, whose spectacular rock shop sits on the corners of Hwy 77 and Hwy 180, is not beloved to the park rangers. He has plundered adjoining lands with a backhoe, rendering them useless as natural settings. The Petrified Forest National Park recently acquired new lands, but declined to buy the ones he has stripped. It occurs to me that scientists require the same “chain of custody” for artifacts and samples that police investigators do. If an object’s context can’t be reliably documented, it becomes irrelevant.

I hate to think about the damage that has been done. But I love the park without reservation. Tons of petrified wood have “migrated,” but a lot of specimens are still buried in the mudstone and sandstone. And, despite its beauty, the petrified wood is just a part of the attraction. I love the melting mounds of mudstone, sandstone, siltstone, clay, and conglomerate, colored by iron, manganese, and carbon. You can also see chunks of basalt in the mix. The vistas seem to go on forever, and it’s almost completely silent.

We couldn’t do the Blue Mesa hike because of ice on the trail, but we’ll try to come back in the spring or fall to try it again. I REALLY want to walk down there.

We were lucky to have photo-gray lenses on our glasses -- the sunlight on the snow was dazzlingly bright, more blinding than the brightest light in summer. This is something warm-climate people can’t know until they experience it.

We saw more wildlife than I’ve ever seen before, friendly ravens (as big as cats) who seemed to be at every turnout, a fearless bunny who was determined to finish breakfast, despite the presence of tourists, and some deer with really big ears. Ernie is the one who spotted the four-footed creatures -- he’s got an eye for that kind of thing.

It’s actually pretty easy to believe this area was a giant swamp/floodplain at one time. It’s a bit harder to imagine the giant conifers that grew to 200 feet in height, and the tropical climate that created them. Bought cool, nerdy t-shirts at the gift shops and posters depicting geology, petroglyphs, and the Geologic Timeline.

We stopped at every site, then returned to the hotel at 4:00p.m. and ate once again at the Butterfield Stage Company restaurant, this time trying the steaks, which were perfect.

Sometimes, you just need to wallow in an experience. Ernie is the guy I can do that with. That’s why I married him.

Two days into our trip -- and it just got better from there . . .

Friday, January 15, 2010

Visit Your State Parks!

I'm sending this plea to everyone, but especially to my fellow Arizonans (because we're probably the only ones who can get out of our houses this time of year). My husband and I just got back from our second honeymoon, a wonderful roadtrip to The Petrified Forest, Meteor Crater, Walnut Canyon, the lava fields of Sunset Crater, the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, Oak Creek Canyon, and Red Rock State Park. And now I have a soap box to climb, I need to shout this and I need you to pass it on.

Visit your state parks! Buy a year pass and use it! And if you have a year pass (or even if you don't), put some dollars into the donation box in the visitor's center!

Many of the state parks in Arizona are about to close because of our crummy economy. Once they do that, it could take a while to get them up and running again. I'm afraid some of them may be sold off to hungry developers, who will turn around and build their Schmuck Manors on them. This is so unnecessary, because it wouldn't take that much moolah from each of us to keep them going. The year pass currently costs $50 ($80 for the National Parks -- buy one of those, too). In March it's going up to $75, still a bargain. You'll spend that much on a night out with your family, and you get way more bang for your bucks at the State Parks, because you can visit them over and over, all year long.

I've lived in Arizona 46 years, and I'm sorry to say that until recently I haven't spent much time at the State or National Parks. This January we visited many places I've been meaning to visit for years, and some I'd never heard of. My two favorites were Walnut Canyon National Park (if the Grand Canyon is too big for you, visit this wonderful little gem) and Red Rock State Park. Red Rock is on Hwy 89, up the road from Slide Rock State Park (one of the few that's earning money), it's on the desert side of Sedona. Turkey Creek and Oak Creek pass through it, plus it has dozens of seasonal creeks and washes. There are several hiking paths that radiate from the visitor's center. These paths are easy to moderate in terms of physical challenge, and the scenery is gorgeous. Like Sedona and Oak Creek Canyon, Red Rock is magical. If you have a spiritual bone in your body, you will pause often to contemplate and commune.

They conduct regular Nature Encounter Walks from the visitor's center too, you can walk with a ranger and learn to see all the stuff you didn't notice on your own. You can take a picnic lunch, make a day of it.

Most people don't think of visiting State Parks in the Winter, but in Arizona it's a great time to go. You don't face the crowds of summer, the temperatures are between 45 degrees F and 70 degrees F. You get to see more wildlife, too. At Slide Rock State Park, Ernie and I were able to walk along the creek much farther, because the water was lower. We encountered only about 20 people on the way (as apposed to the summer mob), and often we were alone for several minutes at a time. Take cash with you this time of year, because the booths at the entrance to the parks often aren't occupied in the off-season months, and they depend on the honor system of payment. Envelopes are provided for cash payments (usually $7 to $10 per car). If you've got a year pass, you can tuck a small donation into the envelope, instead.

Those of you who live in or around Phoenix, you can start by taking Hwy 60 to the Boyce Thompson Arboretum. You'll drive past the Superstition Mountains, one of my favorite hiking spots. Hwy 60 passes some amazingly beautiful territory.

I spent the first half of my life being too busy to see what was under my nose. Don't make my mistake. Get our there and visit! Save our State Parks! I'm counting on you!