Sunday, December 28, 2008

Super Cool Car

Texas Gal and I decided to boycott the holidays and head up to Sequoia National Park for a winter camping expedition. In preparation for this, despite my already having decided to drive the 4WD Jeep, I needed to make a last-minute chain purchase. Apparently, even if you have 4WD, chains can often be required.

Chains. At the ready - in a big pile in the back...

With everything all packed up, we drove into the park and set up camp just before dark (oh... 4:30?) on the 24th. We were almost the only souls there. This was not surprising. After dinner (stew!) I was urging the fire to be more fire-like and less a giant smoke factory. I was complaining about the suckyness of the wood when Texas Gal pointed out that the reason it wasn't burning was more likely the rain. As the rain pressed on and we got soggier, we packed it in by around 7 and retreated to the tents. This would likely have been more effective if either (or both) of us had been bothered to strap our tent flies down in preparation for a torrential downpour. We had not done this, and after relentless rain through the night and well into the morning, I finally emerged and ran for cover in the Jeep to dry off. Eventually Texas Gal joined me and we tried to figure out somewhere to go that would be less wet. Up the mountain was decided, because, as I pointed out - if it's raining here, an elevation gain should give us snow instead - and then we can go snowshoeing! Well, it turned out that a torrential downpour at our camp translated to a blizzard up the mountain. This should not have been a surprise...

1st attempt at chain-putting-on. Turns out that draping them over my tires is a far more effective method.

So, we had to break out the chains - while the sign can often read "4x4 with snow tires ok" this time it read "no exceptions". On the first chain attempt, one fell off almost instantaneously. This discovery went something like: "why are the chains only making noise on one side?" Apparently when the instructions told us to "drive 1/4 mile and then tighten" they meant "tighten, drive 1/4 mile then tighten again". So we went on a hike in the blizzard (that the coyotes were even trying to escape) to retrieve the chains from down the hill.

No exceptions!

"Feed me!"

*sigh* The expedition in the blizzard proved essentially pointless - when there's almost no driving visibility, it turns out that trying to snowshoe when ice crystals are penetrating your retinas is also not enjoyable. After a silly lunch of soup make in the only "protected" place we could find - the doorway of the men's toilet at the campground - we retreated and drove around aimlessly for the rest of the day until we could justify crawling back into our soggy tents for the night.

The morning of the 26th brought reprieve with the rain having turned to snow overnight. We had a light dusting on and around the tents in the morning, and with the exception of the previously enplaced wetness, the site was dryish. I used Pi's borrowed shovel (thanks!) to dig out the picnic table and make some oatmeal and coffee. Yessssssss - FINALLY! With the snowshoes loaded, snacks aboard, and chains at the ready we were set for what we had come for.

A thin layer of snow covers the day and a half of rain sog on everything.

The "draping over the tire" method.

Moro Rock. Promising! (Closed)

As it turns out the sound of the chains reverberating around the empty uninsulated cavernous back of the Jeep is something like a hundred leaden-hoofed tap-dancing jingle horses following close behind. This is when you are driving on the order of 6 mph. By 11 mph you have somehow angered these horses, and they have also somehow become loud vampire zombie leaden-hoofed tap-dancing horses ravenously chasing you. They have also multiplied ten-fold. Flap-a-wakka-WAKKA-flap-a-WAKKA-WAK-A-WAK-A-WAKKA-wakka-wakka-flap-a-WAK-aflappa-WAK. Over 11 mph the sound was deafening and brain explosion was imminent, so I kept to 11. And pulled over frequently to let the quieter vehicles pass by.

Finally some snowshoeing amongst the big beautiful red trees was had, after we drank in our fill, we "zipped" on back down to camp... at 11 mph. Just as the snow started to thin and I could actually see some signs of tarmac ahead a couple of ladies waving frantically at us caused me to go from a crawl to a halt. I rolled down the window. They cautioningly said "you have to slow down, slow waaaaaaaaaay down, this road is treacherous" - or something to that extent - as Texas Gal and I looked at them quizzically from the 4WD Jeep equipped with ravenous vampire horse chains that had been moving at a speed barely faster than I walk, they continued with some pretty impressive attitude coming from women in a sedan "well maybe in your super cool car you'll be fine". I responded with "... uhhh .... thanks?" and continued to loudly rumble my way down. Had the chains not been so noisy you would have been able to hear us roaring with laughter for the next hour as we "raced" along in my "super cool car".

Snowshoes. Much more "super cool" than my car, but whatever.

A select few tree photos from my little snowshoe treks.

That evening I managed to get a fire started with our soggy wood and soggy paper and soggy firestarter etc. It took a LOT of coaxing, but once it got going it was fabulous. We shared beers with neighbouring tent campers, both PhDs in biology, one from Columbia and the other a Scot. That day really made the whole expedition - of course the next morning I pulled my frozen tent-shaped fly off and chipped away at the ice in order to fold it up and pack it away...

Turns out chains also make a lovely accessory.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

more December romping adventures

Before heading off to the big red trees for a winter camp, a couple more geo-related strolls (involving rock hammers) were necessary.

Pegmatitic granite from the Lake Isabella dump site. Rainbow behind the Lake Isabella dam. Inquisitive cow in the Kern Canyon. Snow-capped Sierra Nevada as seen from the Red Rock Canyon desert. Opalized vesicular basalt. Very low water in the Kern River. Metal joshua tree "sculpture" on hwy 395. Red dunes at Red Cinder Hill. Me down in Fossil Falls.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Gnat Bakes a Pie

Yes, I made a pie without disaster. It's apple, obviously. Or dinosaur. The crust VOLUME was the only real issue (also obvious) - but besides not being particularly attractive, it was delicious.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

End of Year Adventures

Ahhhh, exams being over and fun needing to be had, the geology club (and their fearless empire-building leader) set out on epic adventure of "nerds in the wilderness".

Day 1 was a gorgeous day in the desert, and considering the date was December 12th, we were surprised by the warmth. The clouds were neat looking too.

The plan was to take Mesquite Canyon up into Red Rock Canyon State Park to get to Burro Schmidt's Tunnel, a different route than I usually go. We had 3 vehicles, countless cameras, a Middle East Feast, water, tow strap, emergency contact, energy, rock hammers and a bottle of dilute hydrochloric acid.

Some things were quite different: puddles of water, signs (usually when I go I don't see any signs... so this is an improvement I guess?), the original cabin was boarded up - so no one can get in anymore...

The mummified rat and separated soy sauce also seemed to be "new" - or at least uncovered - the 2nd and 3rd built cabins on the site seem to be undergoing "renovations" of a sort. Of the sort that involves removing scads of mattresses and other garbage, but leaving behind old soy sauce and dessicated rodents.

Other things, like the tremendous views, remained the same - breathtaking as ever.

After visiting Burro Schmidt's tunnel for the zillionth time, I suggested we visit the Bickel Camp, which I had actually never stopped at before. An old time prospector who overlapped in time partially with our old friend Schmidt, he was slightly less nutty and actually mined gold and sold it, rather than digging a tunnel from nowhere to nowhere.

Gas can collection that I was intrigued by.


56 years of canned beans.

Walt himself. Quite beardy. The remainder of the day was spent trying to not get stuck in the middle of the desert, which had a surprisingly wet sandy floor that day, which was remarkably difficult for our token 2 wheel drive truck to cross. Also, the "roads" would randomly be punctuated by a cliff or ravine or massive rock or fence or something inconvenient for even Snaggletooth (the Geomobile Jeep) to navigate.

The next part of the end of year geo club adventure series (day 2) was a garnet hunt in the moutains between us and LA. This was appropriate because garrrnets are the pirate ore (yarrr). We hiked up a mountain in a cloud.

It gave pretty spectacular, spooky, fairytale-like scenery.

So did the trees.

And then it actually snowed - which, for some, was their first ever snowfall. For me, it was like "huh, it's snowing... in southern California"

Once garnet hunting was deemed a success (and garnets were found), we continued on with the non-denominational end-of-year pirate-themed geology winter party - with a dino bounce house. For me, my first time in a bounce house - YAY! Thanks to one of the geo club students (El Presidente) who actually owns it (well, her family does).

After we bounced ourselves silly and legless we retreated to dinner, which included the traditional pirate feast of "fish loaf" (a fish baked into a loaf - kalakukko - traditional recipe). Captain Bear Beard actually undertook this task (and built the elephant pinata) - and went to the extent of shaping the loaf like a fish too. It was excellent. No fish heads were included on the inside. Nor was there bacon, as one of our young pirates does not eat meat. Yarrr.

Logically there were brachiosaur and elephant cookies to be decorated & eaten (thanks Lulu for the brachiosaur cookie/pancake cutter - still comes in handy). Along with loads of other treats.

The evening culminated with games (Apples to Apples & Cranium), and a white elephant gift exchange and white elephant pirate pinata (obviously). It was necessary to use the "double eye patch" blind fold method and eventually finish it off with swords. All in all it would have been tricky to squeeze anything else in, this was one of the best multi-themed adventure-parties I have ever done. Much laughter was involved.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

return of the apples

Some of you may remember this post from last year. An illustration of an apple tree that was supposed to in some way represent a flow chart of scientific method. Well, joy of joys and surprise of surprises, I received the following diagram to illustrate the importance of Newton's "discovery" relative to our current understanding of the operation of the Solar System!
I like it for the following reasons:
a) it includes an apple tree, but this time it is relevant
b) there is a squirrel running up the apple tree
c) the apples are more or less apple shaped


As an aside, but also involving student drawings... how great is this dinosaur???

Monday, December 08, 2008

Quotes from essays on supercontinents

Thankfully (I think) these are not all from one paper. Not included are the ones that rambled about steam from climate change influencing continents and imagery describing boxes of cheezits out onto a table being similar to plate tectonics...

"The reason our continents are the way they are is because an asteroid hasn't hit us. This is just my idea, but a asteroid has destroyed the earlier super continents, what makes our regular continents so different. It is said that one day Greenland will hit Iceland if I remember correctly."

"While seafloors are expanding, abyssal plains are contracting into the earth's mantle because of gravity."

"The erosion processes that took place along the plate boundaries of the continents had made them drift away from one another by the force of the sun and gravity."

"Some scientists think that land masses break up and orbit the globe before getting back together again..."

"The supercontinent cycles has been theorized to have been going on for 40 billion years."

"Since the hypothesis states that when these super continents were formed and broken up by heat underneath them, then isn't that what's going to happen? When of if the ice melted, the surface would become much hotter, and the core would seem as if it were hotter because the ice was gone to cool the top. With all of this heat coming from both directions, would greatly weaken all of the rock underneath and on top of the continents, then maybe the drifting would occur..."

This one frightened and confused me, so it's a long quote - read at your own risk!

"So how did the supercontinent really separate? I believe over the years of construction and destruction of the world then was what we call weathering and erosion today. The colder it got the moisture of the ground changed due to water. Volcanoes played the heat factor and we all know if you take a lot of water to wet the ground it creates mud, and then if then subject the mud to extreme heat it creates cracks in the ground and in my opinion that's kind of what happened just a bigger boom effect. The cracks were so severe it separated the ground and that's how we gotten the smaller continents. Once the Earth's moisture stabilized the continents merged back into the bigger continent known as Pangea. However, it happened again but the last time the Earth's atmosphere never stabilized so the huge continent stayed separated, and the world has been changing ever since..."

Friday, December 05, 2008

Trilobite Cookies!

It's been a looooooong time since I last made these little guys - and besides that I discovered how crappy my oven really is today, I also remember how much labour goes into the cute and delicious bugs below. They are basically a shortbread cookie (with "creative" fork marks) and a dark chocolate face (all the mystery is blown now).

Some of you may remember me having made these for Gronch before. Their eyes were definitely smaller then. I used Reese's Pieces this time, and they look pretty "googly" - also the pack of Pieces didn't have enough for the batch of cookies, so I had to resort to fragments of nuts for the remaining eyes. Oh well. They're still pretty cute!

Sleeping Gourd

Awesome custom order from Etsy that allowed me to get back into my creative brain. Fun!