Day 294 – National Museum of Nuclear Science and History

Day 294 – National Museum of Nuclear Science and History, October 6, 2011

Before I began a long drive from Albuquerque to Wichita
Falls on an extremely windy day;
tumbleweeds bounced across the highway as dust filled the sky; I stopped
at the National Museum of Nuclear Science and History.  The museum included exhibits on WWII, the
Manhattan Project, nuclear scientists, the cold war, the Cuban Missile Crisis,
the falling of the Berlin Wall, and a variety of weapons, some still in use

Not having been interested in history as a teenager, the
exhibit on the atomic bomb, the Manhattan Project, and World War II were truly
mindboggling, especially the numbers of people in multi-millions who were
killed.  It’s hard to imagine everyone in
the Dallas/Ft. Worth metroplex plus millions more being murdered by a government.

The exhibits included information on how nuclear fission and
fusion was discovered, the names of the scientists from all over the world who
recognized the power, and how the decision was made to drop the atomic
bomb.  It also included prototypes of the
bomb and it casing as well as the Packard limousine that transported the

The Cold War area of the museum included a list of Broken
Arrows which is the military code name for nuclear weapons accidents.  There have been 32 accidents involving
nuclear weapons owned by the United States since 1950, all of them occurring prior
to 1970 except one.  The weapons are
designed with safety features, thus none of the weapons detonated.  Two of the accidents occurred in New Mexico…the
state in which this museum presides.

It was interesting to see the difference in the size of the
missiles that are launched from a nuclear submarine versus the size of missiles
launched from planes.  I’m told it is
because the missiles from the submarines are designed to be launched from
anywhere in the world while the ones launched from a plane are flown to a
nearby area.  Another thing I learned is
the missiles launched from a plane (perhaps others as well but I don’t know)
are designed with a parachute.  The
parachute slows the missile from 1,000 mph to 150 mph in two seconds!!  The parachute is made of Kevlar.

For some reason, the falling of the Berlin Wall struck
me.  I think it is because it is one of
the view events I lived through that was included in the museum, yet seems so
long ago, and it wasn’t.  With all due
respect to those who suffered under these conditions and probably feel like it
was just yesterday, it was an event that I had forgotten about, and I even have
a piece of the wall.  I felt bad having
to be reminded of it.

In addition to the exhibits on war and weapons, the museum
also included old hospital equipment, archaic TV’s, and an ancient 1984 MAC computer
complete with a floppy disk drive!  After
an hour or so in the museum, I crossed the entryway that was designed like a
periodic table and spent the rest of the day driving 600 miles to my home state
just as my book on CD is getting very gripping.
I’ll be reaching Dallas before it is over.  I might have to go find the paperback to
finish it.  Only a couple hundred more in
the morning!  ETB,


Days 292 and 293 – Petrified Forest National Park

Days 292 and 293 – Petrified Forest National Park, October 4 and 5, 2011

Well, I didn’t see anything of interest yesterday except
road construction taking place in the rain.
Most the time the road is just blocked off with no one there.  I couldn’t believe a crew was working in the
rain!  I did forget to mention that
while in Kings Canyon I parked behind a car with a Hawaii license plate, and I
recall an Alaska one from Washington.
While I didn’t concentrate on the other 48 states or for that matter consciously
look for Hawaii and Alaska plates, I believe I can say I succeeded at the
license plate game!

Today was actually a very interesting day.  I was spared the strong winds and rains of
yesterday and enjoyed a mostly cloudy sky and a cool breeze while visiting the
Petrified Forest National Park.  I had
expected to make my stop brief as I had already seen petrified wood in the
Painted Desert previously on my journey, but I ended up staying in the park
several hours.

When I hear the word forest, I always think of trees
standing upward, thus each time I get to a petrified forest that tends to be a
barren area with fallen trees of stone, I am automatically slightly disappointed.  I keep hoping to see several standing
petrified trees.  I guess it isn’t easy
for silica-laden waters to cover a standing tree for a period long enough to
turn it to stone.  Regardless, the
Petrified Forest National Park was a pleasant surprise in that there were
several WHOLE fallen trees that had turned to stone.  Most other places, I have only seen a section
or a stump.

One tree included its trunk and roots.  It was known as “Old Faithful”.  The colors on all the fallen trees were magnificent:
swirls of reds, whites, purples, oranges.
In one area called Crystal Forest, trees included crystals with the
stones.  In addition, it seemed like a
few trees were completely petrified.  I
don’t know if that is possible, but the bark was a lighter color and felt more
like wood than stone.

In addition to the petrified wood, the southern portion of
Petrified Forest National Park showcased badlands striped in a various shades
of purple, Indian ruins, and petroglyphs.
There was even a petrified log bridge as well as an old cabin made of
petrified wood.  I would have liked to
spend more time walking to the cabin and through the badlands, but that would
have required about 6.8 miles of walking as opposed to about 2 miles for
which I had a mindset.  I suppose I could
have made time for more walking, but I didn’t really feel like making a long
day for myself or feel like leaving Petey in VANilla for endless hours.

After visiting the Giant Logs, Crystal Forest, Agate Bridge,
Jasper Forest, Blue Mesa badlands, the Tepees (badlands in a cone formation),
Newspaper Rock, and Puerco Pueblo we crossed the historic Route 66 to visit the
northern section for spectacular views of the Painted Desert.  Green valleys contrasted with the orange,
pink, salmon, and rust bands of the Painted Desert as the sun and shadows
accentuated certain areas of the panoramic vista.  The colors were striking.  I can only imagine what it would have been
like on a slightly clearer day…not too bright, but not as cloudy as today.

Anyway, it was an enjoyable midday stop on my drive from
Flagstaff to Albuquerque…ETB


For photographic notecards or key chains, visit,

Day 291 – Sequoia National Park

Day 291 – Sequoia National Park, October 3, 2011

So this morning I left Kings Canyon National Park and headed
south to Sequoia National Park.  On the
way, we passed by the world’s largest Sequoia Grove.  The grove covers five square miles and contains
over 2,100 sequoias larger than ten feet in diameter.  I wonder who counted that.

As we continued on through the forest, we eventually reached
the General Sherman Tree which is the largest tree in the world in terms of
volume, 52,500 cubic feet.  There might
be taller, wider, or older trees, but no other tree in the world has more wood
in its trunk than the Sherman Tree.  Its
top is dead, thus the trunk no longer grows taller, but it still grows wider
adding wood equal to another good sized tree every year.

Its girth is 103 feet, it weighs 1,385 tons and it is
approximately 2,200 years old.  Its first
branch is 180 feet from the ground and its largest branch is 6.8 feet in
diameter.  If its trunk were filled with
water, it would provide for 9,844 baths or one every day for 27 years.  Looking up at the tree for a six-foot human
is about the equivalent of a mouse looking up at a six-foot human.  The General Sherman tree is about 1,000 years
younger than the oldest known sequoia, but is larger simply due to its location
and ideal growing conditions.

After taking the mile roundtrip to the tree, we moved on to
Hospital Rock.  Hospital Rock is
decorated with painted designs by the Patwisha Indians.  Their meaning is unknown.  Hospital Rock was given its name in 1873, 10
years after the Indian village was abandoned.
Alfred Everton was hunting with George Cahoon, when Everton was shot in
the leg upon stumbling over the rifle-set they were preparing for bear.  A doctor treated Everton at this village
site, thus the rocks namesake.

Nearby Hospital Rock is another large rock full of mortar
holes.  Indian women ground acorns with
five to ten pound pestles in these holes.
The tribes in this area depended on acorns as their primary source of
food.  Each family collected one or more
tons of acorns each year.  Before the
acorns could be safely eaten, they had to be leached to get rid of the poisonous
tannin.  Hot water was poured over the
acorn meal in a leaf-lined sand pit until the meal no longer tasted

Since 1865, no Patwishas have lived in this village.  They seemed to have vanished with their
past.  Causes other than war such as
small pox, measles, scarlet fever, loss of hunting territory, and broken spirit
killed or dispersed the Indians.  In fact,
the impact of civilization on Indian cultures and most tribes was
disastrous.  From 1770 to 1910, the
Indian population of central California declined from 32,500 to 3,125.

After our morning in the park, we headed south to
Bakersfield, took advantage of the showers at 24 Hour Fitness, and then turned
east toward Barstow…on my way home. Many thanks to all my followers…I will be sure to make a
final post upon arriving in Texas…ETB,

Day 290 – Kings Canyon National Park

Day 290 – Kings Canyon National Park, October 2, 2011

Over the past year, I heard that Kings Canyon and Sequoia
National Parks are as pretty as Yosemite, but without the crowds.  Before returning to Texas, I thought I would
see about that and drove 50 miles east from Fresno to the Northwest entrance of
Kings Canyon National Park.

My first stop was to see the General Grant Tree, a giant
sequoia.  In fact, it is the widest known
sequoia, forty feet across, and the third largest tree in the world in terms of
volume.  It stands 268 feet high, weighs
1,254 tons, and its circumference is 107 feet around.  Its largest branch is 4.5 feet in diameter
and its first branch is 129 feet from the ground.  A few interesting facts about the tree:

  1. If its
    trunk were a gas tank on a car that got 25 mpg, you could drive around the
    earth 350 times without refueling.
  2. It would take 20 people holding hands to circle
    its base.
  3. If its trunk were filled with basketballs, it
    would hold 159,000; and 37 million ping pong balls.
  4. President Calvin Coolidge proclaimed the General
    Grant Tree to be the Nation’s Christmas Tree in 1926.  In 1956, Dwight D. Eisenhower designated it a
    National Shrine; a living memorial to those who have given their lives for our

After taking the half-mile walk through the sequoia grove, I
steered VANilla along what seemed like an endless road…up, down, sideways,
left, right, snaking, winding, curving.  It
wound thirty miles through the forest and skirts the canyon’s edge all the way
down to the river.  The best way to
describe the road is to post a picture of the signs attached to water troughs
that say “Do Not Drink…For Radiators Only”.

The cliffs reflecting a myriad of shades; browns, greens,
greys, were dotted with trees and towered above the river below.  I followed the river all the way to Roaring
River Falls where I took a short walk along a paved trail through the trees to
a waterfall that surged between granite walls.

After visiting this waterfall, we retraced our steps toward
the entrance and stopped at handful of overlooks on our way.  Many of the overlooks are actually in the
Sequoia National Forest as the Kings Canyon Scenic Byway passes through forest
land to reach the park.  One of the stops
in the forest land was Grizzly Falls.
Because it was in the national forest and not the national park, Petey
got to take the short fifty foot walk to see the water bounce and spray over
the rocky ledge.

From this waterfall, we briefly stopped at a cave, but it
required guided tours which left on the hour for $13.  I’ve seen enough caves over the last year, so I
opted out of waiting half an hour.  At
the gift shop; however, a sign stating “You Break It, You Buy It” caught my
eye.  At first, I thought REALLY.  They have posted a sign like that for junky
souvenirs?!?  Then I saw geodes and a
vice.  People who want a geode can pick a
rock and break it open…and of course buy it.
I thought it was clever.

It seems like signs entertained me today.  I found another that said, “Caution Ice”.  The one beneath it said, “Cream Ahead”.  The sign was in the shape of a double dip

While the park was lovely, I wouldn’t compare it to
Yosemite.  Kings Canyon’s peaks are
jagged, while Yosemite’s are smooth, polished, and very unique.  I’ll be curious to see Sequoia National Park
tomorrow.  I have found a campground
close to the border of both parks.  It is
an ideal location except for the fact two forest fires are burning within the
park…one very close to the campground.  I’m
not too excited over the smoke!  Oh well,
it’s my last few, fulltime days in nature…I’ll make the most of it.  ETB,

Day 289 – Yosemite and Beyond (Part 5)

Day 289 – Yosemite and Beyond, October 1, 2011

Well, I survived the forest fires, fear of active bears, and
camping roadside last night, though VANilla reeks of smoke and dead animal
smell.  Whew, I hope it goes away
soon.  I returned to Yosemite for one
final visit.  First I swung through the
valley to take advantage of the only shower facilities in the enormous
park.  I couldn’t believe how low the
Merced River was flowing.  In May, it was
swelling out of its banks.  Today,
sandbars were poking up in the middle of the river.  Many of the waterfalls appear to be seasonal
as well, as I didn’t notice some of them today.
For a waterfall lover, the best time to visit Yosemite would be as soon
as all the roads open.  I believe this is
generally in May, though this year due to the heavy winter, I believe it was

After my shower, I headed toward the southern portion of the
park where we followed Glacier Point Road 17 miles to Glacier Point parking lot.  A four-mile, round trip trail that changes
over 3,000 feet in elevation each direction leads to Glacier Point.  Under different circumstances, I would have
opted in, but with a late start, Petey in VANilla, and a wound that still needs
more time to heal, I chose to enjoy the vista just fifty yards from the parking
lot.  The overlook provided a remarkable
panorama of Half Dome, Nevada Falls, and Vernal Falls even on this smoky day.

Just as I was preparing to leave the parking lot, a Ferrari
Club pulled in.  At least ten different
Ferrari’s hummed to the end of the parking lot.
I hope they didn’t have to follow an RV up the winding road.  That wouldn’t have been any fun for the
drivers!  On our way back down, we made a
final stop at Washburn Point before making our way to Fresno for the evening.

I see why Yosemite is always full.  It isn’t very far from large California
cities and frankly its commanding and unique landscape is inspiring.  In Fresno, VANilla is going in for some TLC
before we make two unscheduled visits to Sequoia and Kings Canyon as we depart
the Golden State.  Technically, I have
completed all the scenic road trips listed in my Reader’s Digest book with the
exception of the ones in Alaska and Hawaii.
My blog and adventures will be coming to an end within the week…ETB,

Day 288 – Yosemite and Beyond (Part 4)

Day 288 – Yosemite and Beyond, September 30, 2011

From Reno, I followed Highway 385 south to Mono Lake,
located just east of the Tioga Pass entrance to Yosemite National Park.  Mono Lake, nestled in a basin of sagebrush
bordered by volcanic peaks is over 760,000 years old, making it one of the
oldest lakes in North America.

The lake has no outlet.
For thousands of years, streams have carried their minerals into the
lake and evaporation has removed water from it.
As a result, the mineral content has risen to almost 10 percent.  The salty waters afford swimmers a delightful
sensation of buoyancy.  While fish can’t
survive in these alkaline waters, it is still one of the most productive lakes
in the world.  It supports millions of
brine shrimp, alkali flies, and migratory birds.

In fact, Native Americans who lived in the Mono Basin
collected the abundant alkali fly pupae and used them as one of their main food
sources.  The Kutzadika’a traded with the
Yokuts for acorns.  The Yokuts called the
Kutzadika’a the Monache meaning “fly-eaters”.
Monache was shortened to Mono by the early explorers in 1850 and it is
how the lake got its name.

A picture of the lake’s tufa is what attracted me to the
area.  Much to my chagrin, due to the
snowy winter, I believe the lake’s high water level covered much of the tufa, but
there was still some to be seen on its southern shores.  These strange calcite formations are formed under the water’s surface when carbonates in the water combine with calcium from fresh water springs that feed into the lake.  Over time, the hardened minerals pile up
forming knobs and spires.

After visiting Mono Lake at 1,951 feet above sea level, I
followed Tioga Pass road through the eastern entrance of Yosemite up to 9,945
feet, the loftiest highway pass in the Sierra Nevada.  The drive led me through golden meadows, past
numerous alpine lakes, beneath the shade of evergreens, and offered spectacular
views of some of the park’s many granite peaks and domes.

This notecard may be purchased at

We made brief stops at a handful of pullouts along the way
including a visit at Tuolumne Meadows, Tenaya Lake and Olmsted Point.  Tuolumne Meadows is the largest subalpine
meadow in the Sierra Nevada. Numerous streams wind through the golden
grasslands attracting a handful of deer.

Tenaya Lake, once named Pywiak (lake of the shining rocks)
by Native Americans, is surrounded by massive granite domes, a rock climber’s
paradise.  Its blue waters and sandy
shores offer a lovely place for picnicking and fishing.  Petey and I simply admired the view.

Olmstead Point is named for famed landscape architect Frederick
Law Olmsted (1822-1903) when Tioga Road was opened to automobile traffic in
1961.  Olmsted is best known for his
design of New York’s Central Park.  He
was the chairman of the first commission to manage Yosemite Valley.  The overlook affords commanding views of
Tenaya Lake and its surrounding peaks.

In addition, a geologist pointed out to me the most
fantastic part of the view from his perspective; the glaciations evidence and
a checker board pattern.  Chambers of
magma deep within the earth slowly crystallized over 100 million years to form
hard granite rock.  Over time, erosion by
rivers and glaciers formed and polished the rock.  In addition, large rocks toppled down on the
bedrock as ice melted away.

From the overlook, we continued west to a spur road leading
to a trailhead to May Lake.  The poorly
maintained, narrow road wound through the forest two miles to a parking area
which led to a variety of trails.  I took
the trail to May Lake which basically ascended 1.2 miles up to the lake.  The view of the lake was somewhat
anticlimactic relative to the views the zig zagging trail provided of the
granite peaks blanketed in dark clouds, yet reflecting still reflecting light
from the sun in the west.

I had planned on making May Lake my final stop before going
in search for a campsite outside the park.
The ranger at Mono Lake suggested that the park was full and that I
could camp anywhere along Evergreen Road just outside the northwestern entrance
for free.  As I headed west along Tioga
Pass Road, I came to a screeching halt.
VANilla was one of many cars in a line that ended up stretching more
than three miles.  The road became our
parking lot for three hours as firefighters and rangers managed a forest fire
that was started by a lightning strike a week ago.  Park visitors threw Frisbees, skateboarded,
and even jogged in the open lane while we waited to be cleared through the
smoke and flames.  Others skipped into
the woods to relieve their bladders while some drivers simply gave up and
turned around.  I guess they didn’t need
to get to the western side of the park, as exiting and going around the park
would have taken longer.  After I edited
some photos and read a bit, Petey and I had dinner in VANilla and took a short
walk before we were finally directed in the dark through the burning forest.

We eventually made it outside the northwestern edge to
Evergreen Road where we found a spot to pull over.  It was not exactly how I had pictured
it.  Others were pulled over as well, but
we were more or less stretched out along a two lane highway.  With the thought of active bears, a fire
burning, and on a roadside, I expect it will be a restless night…ETB,

Day 287 – Mount Shasta – Cascade Loop (Part 5)

Day 287 – Mount Shasta – Cascade Loop, September 30, 2011

Another park that was closed due to snow in May when I was
in the northern California area was Lassen Volcanic National Park so as I head to
south to Texas, I have revisited the park, this time on a beautiful day at the
end of September.

The landscape in the park is extremely varied.  As I passed through the northern entrance of
the park, I passed by beds of pumice which looked like rocks from the
moon.  I made a few quick stops before I
finally settled on taking a hike to Kings Creek Falls.  Judging by the cars, it looked like a popular
destination.  Having said that, given
summer is over and it was a Thursday, there weren’t that many.

The hike was lovely.
The three mile roundtrip passed through a meadow, crossed several dry
creeks, and then descended rather steeply to the falls area.  Hikers were routed via the horse trail as the
cascades trail was considered too dangerous.
I was still able to turn up river to admire the tumbling waters before
turning downriver to see the waters spill over the steep cliff.

As I was headed toward the falls, I met Ron, Sylvia, and
Teresa from Redding who were finishing up for the day.  Upon my return to the car, I caught up with
them again as they had just finished exploring a side trail.  They found a very rare wildflower which I
can’t recall its name while trying to snap a photo of some deer.  Sylvia had been wanting to see the flower for
years.  She was so excited that she took
me to see it.  Knowing how I feel when I
see elusive wildlife, I commented, “This must have made your day”.  She responded, “It made my year!”  It was a very small white flower with green
lines running up the petals.  I would
have never known it was something so special.

After my hike, we made a few more scenic stops at Bumpass
Hell, Emerald Lake and Sulphur Works.  At
Bumpass Hell, I met a couple from Palo Alto who talked me out taking a three
mile walk along a boardwalk to an active hydrothermal basin to view mudspots and
fumaroles.  I wasn’t that gung ho and
when they commented, “We’ve been to Yellowstone enough”, I thought the same
thing.  I’m glad I didn’t take the hike
given Sulphur Works which was roadside had a few.

Emerald Lake, so named for its color was also roadside and
simply gorgeous.  It used to be home to
the Cascade frog, a species whose population has declined dramatically.  In the 1920s, there was a frog for  nearly every yard around the lake.  Now
the lake is devoid of the species.
Researchers are asking citizens to inform them any time one is located
so that they may determine what is causing the decline.

From Lassen, I headed south to Reno where I stayed for the
evening.  Tomorrow, I plan on visiting
the parts of Yosemite that were closed due to snow in May.  ETB,