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June 24, 2005

New Mexico

I'm in New Mexico right now for work, and I'm buzzing. Many of you who know me know that I'm not a coffee drinker, and sitting here now drinking a mocha java shake (flagged on the menu as having a high caffeine content) of which I've only consumed about 1/4 makes me absolutely amazed at all of you who drink coffee regularly. Holy cow, how do you do it? This drink is delicious, but I don't know that I'll make it through. I'm already feeling wowed.

Yep, New Mexico. I was just going to download my picture so I could post some here, but my camera is in my car. Take my word for it, then, that the driving has been absolutely beautiful and that (for those of you who have not explored New Mexico) this is fascinating, raw country. I am enamored. I was last time I came to New Mexico, too. I love it.

Bummer about the camera being in the car. I'll tell stories later, I guess.

Posted by beth at 9:14 PM | Comments (1)

Albuquerque

On Thursday, I slept in. Then, I followed the directions Nate had given me when I was half asleep to find an internet café. I probably would have done just fine had I started going the right way from his house. Some advice from the cashier at a gas station and one city map later, I found my way to Central, which I later learned was the most populated street by billboards for a stint in the early ‘60s, as part of Route 66. As I got out of my car, a policeman approached me. “You’ve got a flat,” he said. Oh, yeah—wasn’t I going to check for that a while ago? I looked. No denying it. Flat flat very undeniably flat. Definitely not even just low. “Do you have a spare?” he asked. I think he was going to offer to help me change it, which would have been great (I’ve gotten over some of my macho don’t-treat-me-like-a-girl attitude—I guess it’s given way to my laziness) except that I couldn’t be bothered. “It’s a rental,” I said. “I’ll just call the company.” And I did. And they sent someone. And he changed the tire. But the spare was one of those temporary deals, a funny, little mini-looking tire which is not made to go far or fast. Certainly not to go to Boulder. I called the rental agency again, and they sent me to a tire shop in town, the other direction down Central. The idea was to patch the damaged tire and send me on my way with the same car. I sat in the waiting area and read their copy of Latina, a fashion magazine celebrating Latin American culture, until I got word that the tire was not fixable. Rim damage. “It’s not your fault,” the guy helping me said. “You couldn’t know that the air pressure was low.” I went with that. (Oops.) Not long later, I got a call from the friendly Boulder branch of Enterprise to say that the tire store didn’t have any of the appropriate tire in stock, and that the local Enterprise didn’t have any of the appropriate car in. So I was stuck with my little tire for another day. Lucky I was planning to stick around Albuquerque anyway.

Sick of driving around, I went back to Nate’s to wait on his porch. For three hours. I started to work, but my butt got sore (no chairs), so I laid down. Took a nap. Woke up groggy and hot. Sat up again. My butt got sore again. Talked to Nate, who was running late, and followed (sort of) his directions to a park near his house, where I sat and passed the time on my computer. Was approached by excited dogs hoping I was using the table for eating. Nate lives just by the university, and by golly there are some pretty houses and lawns. If you’re ever in Albuquerque, it’s worth walking (or at least driving) around the university area to check out the neighborhoods.

I sat on Nate’s porch again until my butt got sore again and then relocated to my car, where I felt a little silly but was more comfortable.

Nate came home in his rickety van and we headed to dinner. Again, I had skimped on food, having eaten only a slice of quiche at around 10 at what must be the most expensive restaurant in Albuquerque. I don’t think even restaurants in Boulder charge as much as this place did. Still, I was able to get online, so there’s that. I had decided to try to stick around Albuquerque until Sunday, but got word from the office in Boulder that I had some significant responsibilities back there to tend to before Tuesday, and to check my e-mail. Turns out equipment for my next project has to be shipped Monday, Tuesday at the latest, so I decided to compromise and still stay here a couple more days but get back in time to go into work on Sunday to get things together so that Monday I’m only trouble-shooting.

Dinner. Right. Nate and I had a very mediocre Mexican meal. Nothing compared to the meal of the night before in Socorro. Then, we rented a movie and lied on our bellies on his bed watching it on his computer. “Sideways.” Not us—the movie. Didn’t love it, didn’t hate it. Loved chatting with Nate afterwards and sleeping.

Posted by beth at 1:25 AM

June 23, 2005

Pie Town

Wednesday morning, off to Pie Town. I-25 runs south from Denver through Santa Fe and Albuquerque and then through Socorro, where I turned west onto 60 to cross open rock-chunky desert-y unpopulated New Mexico. I stopped in the thriving metropolis of Magdalena, the largest town for quite a while, for gas. Near Magdalena is a ghost town called Kelly, once a mining town, but much of Magdalena seems to be a ghost town as well. Across the street from the shiny Conoco is an old gas station, pumps still present but long abandoned.

A large truck pulled up beside my puny rental car and the man driving motioned for me to roll down my window, which I did. He wore a white cowboy hat and looked much more local than I did. "What kind of car is that?" he asked. I had to check the keychain. "Ford Focus," I replied. "That's a Ford, is it?" "Yeah, I guess it is." "Nice looking car. How long have you had it?" It seemed a bit odd that a man driving such a big truck would admire the little very out-of-place (obviously not local) rental. He was from El Paso, has a trailer on some land in Datil (pronounced, more or less, dawdle, like what you do when you're not in a hurry) down the road a ways, and was staying just out of Magdalena vacationing. Just kicking back. Just enjoying. "What's your name?" he asked, before pulling away. "I'm Beth," I said. "My name's Googie," he said. "Very nice to meet you."

Googie went inside and I pulled away from the gas pump to do the same. I hadn't had breakfast yet, and it was lunchtime. I was hoping to find some breakfast food inside the mini-mart, but I don't know what I was thinking. I ended up buying a polish hot dog. I'm embarrassed to admit it, but it's true. Polish hot dog with a couple squirts of ketchup, buck-seventy-five. Although the man nearby buying nachos with his daughter said the chili at that place is great. A bit of a kick to it, he said, but not too strong.

I somehow got sucked in by Googie on my way out. I waved good-bye, and he motioned me over to the table he'd taken up residence at while waiting for the line at the counter to shorten. Here, have a seat! he said. No, I've got to get on the road, I said, and he said oh, come on, sit down and eat your hot dog. I sat. He pulled a napkin from the dispenser in the center of the table and put it in front of me. “There’s a napkin for you. Want anything to drink? Some water or anything? I'll get you some water.” Nah, I've got some water in the car, I said. Thanks, though.

Googie went on to tell me more of his story. His job is like a paid vacation, he said. He gets to go to beautiful places and see the country. He cleans small scale sewer systems, getting sent off to small towns and working with others to flush the pipes. He described a bit of the process to me. He worked a bunch of small communities on the California coast, undiscovered by tourists, just the sunset on the water and the ocean and the moon over it all. He works a few months a year—I’m guessing he’s mostly retired. He’s got that look and air. And Googie's got a great attitude. I'm somehow sent these people every once in a while, who spout universal wisdom while I’m wandering around. Life's too short, he said. I love what I do. People work all their lives in something they don't like because they think they need the money, but it's better to make less money and do something you like. If you don't like it, why do it? I'm just out here having fun, he said.

Googie's just enjoying life. I thought about going back into the mini-mart with my camera to take a picture of Googie, but I figure I'll remember him. He is a slightly shorter man, with a weathered face and stubby, weathered hands, and a crooked bite, and of course his white cowboy hat. “Nice talking to you,” he said as I was leaving. “You’re a sweetheart.”

After Magdalena, I went straight through Datil and past the Very Large Array (VLA) (what a technical name, eh?), the line of dishes shown in "Contact", to Pie Town. Turned north on the dirt road right before getting to downtown Pie Town (two cafes and a gift shop) and parked at another huge dish. Near the base of the dish is a small building, and out of the building stepped a medium-sized, pleasant-looking man with a great mustache. I'm Beth, I said, from UNAVCO. I'm Lonnie, he said, and Lonnie proceeded to help me with everything I needed to do. I'm one lucky gal. Nelson, the other man working to maintain the dish, wandered in and out of our progress, checking in and asking questions and offering suggestions.


[Panorama of the site. Unfortunately, the biiiiiiig dish is just out of view. To the right, our GPS antenna. To the left, the building housing the support equipment for the dish and the two employees that maintain it. We just piggy-back off their resources to run the GPS equipment. The GPS site is part of a permanent, continuously-operating, global network of reference sites.]

I changed out the receiver, which Oivind, back in the UNAVCO office, thought was the problem. No luck. The new receiver was still not tracking satellites. Lonnie came outside to help me change out the antenna, which took some effort. We had to cut off wire cables and a lock securing the antenna to the concrete pad which held the monument. Advice: Get the right tool to cut wire cable if you ever have to do this. I don't know what the right tool is, but the wire cutters we were using just were not doing the job. Well, they did eventually, but it took a while and some effort. The lock, on the other hand, broke with just one try with the bolt cutters. Funny how these things work.


[Lonnie puts new cable on the new antenna.]
Anyway, we got the antenna switched out and went back inside hopefully, to check the lights on the receiver. Still no luck. To make a long(ish) story short, we thought we'd have to replace the antenna cable going from the antenna to the receiver, which heads underground through tubing from the antenna and then climbs up the side of the building, comes in and runs across the building between the ceiling and the roof, comes down a wall and goes under the floor and comes back up to connect to the receiver. Obviously a bit of a pain to replace. However, it turns out that the cable coming in from outside stops at a panel in the wall, and on the other side of the panel a second, shorter cable connects from the panel to the receiver. It was here that Lonnie found the weakness: The connector had come apart, cutting the connection. Lonnie and Nelson did a professional job of repairing the connector while I cleaned up and lights started flashing green and all was well in the world. Way more than you wanted to know, probably, but the end result of all this was that I worked with some great people and we got the site working, but that it took about twice as long as anticipated and therefore I didn't get to the infamous and highly-recommended Pie Town Cafe in time to get a slice of their pie. Turns out they close at 3. All the way to Pie Town, and no pie.

I took pictures instead. And bought a couple Pie Town tee-shirts.


[The Pie Town Café.]


[The Pie Town story, on the other café.]


[The public phone I used to call Nelia, a friend in Socorro. Yep, it works.]


[The (Co)noco.] I mean, it says “OPEN.”]

Then, I headed for Socorro to have dinner with Nelia, Bill, and Rich, who I worked with on Erebus my first season down in Antarctica and who work at New Mexico Tech. I stopped along the way to take a picture of the VLA (Very Large Array, remember?) and, I think, to check to see if I had a flat, because my car was driving kind of funny. I got involved in taking pictures, though, and forgot to check for the flat.

I drove back through beautiful country to Bill and Nelia's house, just north of Socorro in Lemitar. I was greeted before their driveway by Barky, one of the many dogs on the Bill-and-Nelia estate. In the driveway, I was met by the rest. There was a swarm of dogs. A pack. Different shapes and sizes and colors. I was afraid I'd run one, or two or three, over. I parked as soon as I could.

One of my favorite things about visiting Nelia and Bill is their dogs. I guess I should say it’s seeing their dogs, but it’s moreso just the existence of their dogs, because the herd of pets cracks me up. Last time I was there, a few years ago, they had three: Barky, Gri-gri, and Shep. Gri-gri was a found dog acquired I think in her adulthood, and was bad-natured until getting kicked in the head by a horse (Bill and Nelia have several, and Gri-gri, although otherwise a pretty smart dog, likes to chase them). The kick took one of her eyes and caused some brain damage which has made her, according to Nelia, much more pleasant. The poor dog just got shaved by the vet to lighten her thick coat for summer, and she looks a little less than dignified right now, especially with the stray tufts of hair on her tail that the vet missed. Oh, Gri-gri, you’re so ugly! Nelia exclaimed, as we sat on their porch having a relaxing drink before dinner. Poor dog. She looked at us with her one eye as if to prove Nelia’s point. I have a soft spot for Gri-gri, though—she’s not the friendliest of dogs, despite the brain damage, but she’s come up a couple times to me and I like her.

There's not quite as much to say about Barky, although he is also a found dog which looks a lot like a small, scraggly coyote and does this great land shark thing where he pulls himself along the lawn on his belly with his front legs.

Shep had just lost a leg when I first met him, and though he gets around pretty well he still trips and takes full nose-dives (literally) every once in a while. Stairs are hard for him. So are the edges of rugs. So are full out sprints, which he still tries anyway.

This was my first time meeting Princess, who was found as an adolescent in the bushes with her brother near Nelia and Bill's land. Bill and Nelia went back for the dogs after first discovering them, and while Princess was flushed out by the other dogs, her brother was nowhere to be found. Princess is a mix of likely pit bull and boxer and maybe something else, and when found was severely malnourished. Nelia describes her as looking like Golem: A big head with huge, bulging eyes and a ridiculously skinny body, her skin tight against and between her bones. Now, she is a beautifully healthy looking dog, very well socialized and very athletic. When Peter, a grad student at New Mexico Tech and Princess’ surrogate owner, took Princess with him climbing one day, another group of climbers exclaimed, "That dog is ripped!" Princess is a sweetheart. And, she’s buff. "Who named her?" I asked Bill last year when he and Nelia were through Boulder. "I did!" he said without hesitation, and with pride. She looks like she's wearing eye makeup, he said.

There was one more dog running around that I didn't recognize. "Whose is this one?" I asked. "Ours!" they said. I should have known. They just got her a few days ago, from the pound. She is small and high-strung, and is so far healthy (except for a sore paw which became infected from an IV puncture from the vet) but seems to be set on picking fights with Gri-gri, who could tear her up in an instant. So I figure Peach is likely to be missing some member sometime soon, which will make her fit in a bit better with the rest of the clan.

A beer on the front porch to unwind, very nice and relaxing with the weather just right and the lighting lovely, and then off to dinner at The Hat (El Sombrero), a great Mexican restaurant in Socorro. All I'd had to eat that day was the hot dog with Googie, and a few too many pieces of mini-mart popcorn, so the food was, to me, the best ever. Plus, I ran into Ethan, one of my housemates from last summer, who I've seen once this year. Go figure. Gotta go all the way to Socorro to catch up with the guy.
After dinner, we went over to Peter's house for mojitos. Peter is a grad student at New Mexico Tech who is working on Erebus, and is the one who is Princess' surrogate owner—he house-sat for Bill and Nelia just after they acquired her and his job was to civilize her. There were three other grad students over at Peter's, one of which also lives there and another of which has also house-sat at Bill and Nelia's. Geology departments tend to be pretty friendly in general, but I think the group at New Mexico Tech is particularly tight. It was nice to see.

Back at Bill and Nelia’s briefly afterwards to say goodbye and to get my car. I hung out a bit on their back porch a bit before leaving, talking about their dogs and watching one of their two cats rub against anything it could—our legs, the doorway, a chair, the dogs. The dogs were mostly unaffected, except for trying to sniff the cat’s bum as it walked by, usually on its way to another dog or leg or headed back around in a circle to make another pass at the same dog.

I headed out for Albuquerque that night, and despite my huge dinner had to eat more handfuls of popcorn to stay awake. Nate woke up just long enough to come to the door and then we both crashed hard.

Posted by beth at 1:15 AM

June 22, 2005

PIE1

Okay, got the pictures. So here's my story. And I'm sticking to it.

The first chance I had to check my e-mail when I got home from my last trip (Barrow, Alaska, and Portland and Seattle), there was an e-mail from my supervisor telling me I would be fixing a continuous site called PIE1. There was a link to some information about PIE1. I poked around on the web (our internal website) to see if I could figure out where I was headed. All I could tell was that it was in North America.

At work the next day, I got the details. Pie Town, New Mexico. Of course. (???) I was to replace a receiver and an antenna and hopefully the site would start working. It's about two hours of work, I was told. And a 16 hour drive (round-trip). Sure.

So I rented a car and headed out on Tuesday of the following week. Before leaving Boulder, I found it necessary to obtain a way to play my iPod in the car. This took over and hour and trips to four stores. Sheesh. Needless to say, I got a bit of a late start. I know, surprising. Drove south on I-25 on the edge of storms most of the way. Grey-blue day.


[Driving in New Mexico.]

I made good time, though, and could have made it all the way to Socorro, my goal, but stopped to visit a friend from Antarctica in Albuquerque at 9:30 and ended up staying there for the night. I called him from Santa Fe and jinxed myself by saying, “I’m just leaving Santa Fe… need to stop for gas before getting too far, that is if I can find a gas station between here and Albuquerque…” Soon after, I realized I was out of Santa Fe. I think my call had distracted me from the rest of the city and, therefore, the gas stations. A friendly voice on the radio described the location of an upcoming bluegrass festival, saying ‘...out of Santa Fe past the gas station…’ I hoped I was headed in the direction he described, and at the top of a hill squinted out into the line of lights leading over the desert in the falling night for a bigger, brighter, more colorful light, but the outlook was pretty bleak. My tank read empty and a yellow light shaped like a gas pump came on on the windshield. I was started to feel a little tense. Took the next exit hoping to find something, but a sign said the nearest something was nine miles away, and the road was small enough that the nearest something may have been a ghost town or a rest stop. I pulled over to look at my map. Nothing was looking promising between me and Albuquerque, so I turned around and headed back up hill, cringing at the gas it was taking to go up. I strained to see the upcoming signs: Nope, just a campground. Yes, gas! Exit 156b. Sweet. I took it. And didn’t see any big bright glaring horrible but so longed-for gas station sign. The road curved into darkness. Curved. And then there was another sign. Gas station. Three-and-a-half miles. Three-and-a-half miles! Could I make it? If not, I’d at least be pretty close, and there were enough other cars on the road that it probably wouldn’t take long to get help. I could probably even avoid a call to AAA. But what if the gas station was closed? Sometimes these po-dunk gas stations are.

It wasn’t. It was open. And I filled my tank. I filled it full. And I felt good. Satiated. Relieved. I’d make it to Albuquerque after all, and I’d only lost about half an hour.

By this time, night had fallen completely and the rest of the drive would be made in darkness. I was treated to a lovely, orange day-before-full moon rise.

And, my friend Nate was there to greet me at his house in Albuquerque with a long embrace and some beers on his front porch.

Posted by beth at 1:11 AM

June 11, 2005

Columbia River Gorge

I'm in Washington! It's nice. I love it here. Holy cow, it's beautiful. I spent a week in Barrow, Alaska, which I'll post about some other time, and now am at Skamania Lodge, a beautiful conference center about an hour outside Portland along the Columbia River. I have a cold. I am very sniffly. And I'm hungry, too, the latter of which I can take care of because it's lunchtime.

Posted by beth at 8:03 PM | Comments (1)