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September 18, 2005

Making it Home

I've got one more bit to blog about before I call this trip done. My last day.

So Jay finished his bit on Friday night, and headed west. I needed to do my bit Saturday morning, and then was free to head off. Under my own command and timeline, I slept in a bit and left the hotel around 9:30. Worked on the site (including a trip back down to the hardware store) from about 10 AM to 4 PM. A few glitches. Definately some frustration. Eventually, though, I was done. And, as I already have said, free to go.

[KAYO, finished.]

So I went.

I wasn't sure how far I'd make it, but I wanted to put as many miles behind me as possible before dark. For morale, but also so I could see as much of the drive as possible. I drove for three hours straight without stopping, and felt great. A huge, orange moon rose to guide me. It was huge and orange and beautiful and magical and I tried to take a picture of it.

Behind me, the same amazing triangular rock slabs I took a picture of on my drive out (see September 8, 2005) glowed white in the moonlight.

I finally stopped, not because I needed to or wanted to--I really wanted to keep going while I was in a groove--but because I saw a sign that demanded I stop. I was driving through the San Rafael Swell, where my friend Erica and I had gotten lost in the desert last year, and I knew there was a place where I-70 runs close to the canyon we were hiking. I had meant to look at a map to figure out the spot so I could check it out on my way back, but hadn't done so and it was dark anyway. But then, like I said, there was a sign. The sign read "Devil's Canyon Overlook." Holy ****! I exclaimed. This was it. The canyon that Erica and I got lost in (or, actually, once we were out of), and it was even labelled. I had to pull over, and even though it was too dark to really appreciate it, I took a picture.

I walked to the edge of the canyon that I had been down inside, and tried to soak in the quiet and the stillness. All I could hear was the highway. Still, I paid my tribute, and I look forward to returning to that turnoff and trying to figure out just where our wanderings took us. The overlook is only accesible going eastward.

After that, it was just driving. I hopped back in the car and drove, drove, drove until I almost ran out of gas just inside Colorado and then again until I was fighting to stay awake and stopped to get a hotel room in Eagle, Colorado. But, they were booked. So I got back on the road. Surprisingly, the break had been sufficient and I was fine the rest of the way home. So I cruised on back to Boulder, parked the huge truck in my parking lot, took a much-needed shower, and was able to sleep in my very own bed. For four hours. Then, I woke up and managed to make it to my frisbee games at 10 AM. Whew! I was even there early, at 9:30, which never happens. Amazing. I was even able to play the two games, and didn't feel sick until I arrived back home afterwards.

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Home, safe and sound, and happy about it. 4:55 AM, showered and in bed and done checking the location of my frisbee games tomorrow and ready to go to sleep. I will try to post pictures of the past project soon. Ah, Utah, Nevada, California, and Arizona.

Happy belated birthday, Dad!

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September 17, 2005

Free to Go

I'm free! the last site is in and is logging data and is online. Hooray. Now I can call it a day and head northeast on highway 15, back towards Boulder. We'll see how far I'll make it tonight. I could sure use a shower and a change of clothes--I'm still in the stuffy boots and the same dirty tee-shirt I've worn for every day of field work--but I'm going to hold out. I want to hit the road and get some miles under me. Hooray!

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I had plenty of time on my drive tonight from a site somewhere east of Kingman, Arizona to St. George, Utah, via Las Vegas, Nevada in that somewhat surreal drive-at-night mode for thoughts and feelings to waft through. It seemed that every song that came on (random shuffle on my Ipod) was related to my experiences in Antarctica, and I became sad that I'm not going down this season. Since deciding not to go, I have experienced several fleeting moments of sadness, starting about a month ago, but tonight I felt a persistent sadness, deep and true. The stark, familiar landscape, the community, the routine. The experience. It's hard to believe, tonight, that I have chosen not to go back this season--and that I'll likely never make it back there. How can I actually actively *choose* to not go back to such an incredible place? I thought of my office with the IT guys next door, the parties that can be counted on and planned for every year (bring 70s clothes for the disco party in October, a Halloween costume--or at least an idea, dress-up clothes for Thanksgiving and Christmas), the penguins out at Cape Royds and the seals out on the sea ice, the monstrous skua, the white, the black, the brown, the blue. And the red of puffy parkas.

I guess I haven't even posted that I won't be going back this season. I have had a slight change of job, which takes me (mostly) out of polar and puts me in etc. This spring was just too cold for me. It was too hard to go from my winter in Antarctica to summer in New Zealand, and then back to dreary in Boulder and then cold cold cold in Alaska--twice. Alaska did me in. Beautiful, wonderful, but just not what I needed after four months of cold. I need variety. So, when a separate group for polar projects was formed this summer, I opted out. By not changing positions (from where I am now to the new polar group), I've changed positions (from mostly polar to etc.). Hopefully I'll still have the opportunity to do some polar stuff, and maybe even head back to the ice--just not for a full season. That would be lovely. When I decided out of polar, I was ecstatic. Ready for a change. What will winter be like in the northern hemisphere? There's skiing, and holidays, and flexibility. Staying, rather than going, seems at this point like an adventure. What will winter be like tucked cozy into my apartment, with free time and personal space?

Speaking of cold places, things are just about wrapped up here in Nevada. I mean, Utah. Jay finished off his tasks on our last site tonight, and I need to do my part tomorrow morning. Then, I'm free. Back to Boulder.

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September 16, 2005


Not all the directions on how to get to the sites were quite as clear as they could have been, so we didn't get quite as early a start as we'd hoped. Jay rushed to get his usual part of the labor done, and took off as soon as possible to meet with an internet provider in St. George. It might take four hours or more to get there, I'd said when looking at the distance between the two sites. It won't take more than four hours, Jay said, as in no way. He looked it up on his computer navigating program. 3 hrs, 59 minutes.

I finished up the site after Jay left, working at a relaxed pace but then running into several problems which cost me quite a bit of time and frustrated me besides. So I didn't get out there until about 5 PM, hours behind Jay. I made it to St. George shortly after he had already left, again doing what he needed to at the last site and then hitting the road. I got in after dark, so decided to get a decent sleep and finish the site in the morning.

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September 15, 2005

Almost Done

In a bold and ambitious move, we checked out of our hotel in Pahrump Thursday morning. We headed off to a storage unit we have obtained several days earlier in which to store all the leftover equipment, and made sure we had everything we needed and were leaving everything we didn't. Only half of the monumnets were in, so we could only put half the network in, leaving the rest of the equipment for the time when the other monuments are done.

After we were done at the storage unit, we headed off to site BATM and finished it up, and went back briefly to site Shoshone as well, just to confirm that the telemetry (via cell service) would not work. Weak cell signal, not good enough. So, we hit the road. Drove back to Pahrump to get the Penske, which we'd left parked behind a pizza joint. As we organized our vehicles, a group--presumably a family--chattered and fussed outside the restaurant near us. Every member had a bike of some sort, which I didn't pay much attention to until they headed out. As a parade. A parade of bicycles and various motorbikes, mostly low-riders, including a low bike ridden by dad with a child trailer attached. Rev rev rev. Headlights on. The made a mostly single-file circle around the pizza place before heading off down the road. There were at least five, probably more like six or seven, of them, and multiple mullets. Pahrump. Sweet.

Jay and I both made it to Kingman, Arizon, which was the jumping-off point for our next site. We were shooting for a pretty early start the next day, hoping to get site KAYO in and then drive to St. George, Utah, to get started on a site there, as well. Optimistic.

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September 14, 2005


We went a few days without putting any sites in due to other, mostly-indoor errands, and got back to it on Wednesday. Our goal was to install another two sites, CRAM and VONS, which we did.

Despite Jay cutting his head on the solar panel frame. Whack! That looked like that hurt.

[VONS, not quite done.]

[Desert grasses pushing up through cracks in cement.]

[The view from VONS.]

Another long day.

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September 11, 2005


Before heading off to Death Valley, Jay and I visited a site just out of the town of Shoshone, California. Shoshone is great. I love it. This is the Historical District of Shoshone:

These dwellings are from the early-ish 1900s, cut into the rock, and were occupied by minors and vagabonds, including some wild west big names which have since escaped me.

The site was not too unscenic:

The goal was to upgrade the site with newer equipment, but it turned out the telemetry wouldn't work, so we just gave the site some fresh batteries and headed back to town for lunch and a stroll through the local museum.

There was also a chocolate-filled crepe involved, after lunch. Mmmmmmm.

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Death Valley

I love Death Valley. I was in Death Valley shortly after heading down to the ice for the first time, and the first picture I posted on this blog was taken in Death Valley. Extreme environments, I had said. Being at this site, Roger Peak, reminded me a lot of Antarctica. In fact, much of my desert experience did. No trees, the rocks are fascinating and exposed in big mountains, and there is a raw quiet. I love it. The place IS the place, it's not the people or the constructs. The place is overwhelming, and empty of almost everything except the elements and time.

Up top Rogers Peak was cold. After days of shorts and tee-shirts and air conditioning, we were donning hats and sweaters and coats and gloves. The air was dry and cold, and would be the perfect training ground for typical Antarctic summer weather--the place felt exactly like a warm, calm day in the far south. Amazing.

It seems fitting that, since my blog started with Death Valley before my first trip to the ice, it should end with Death Valley after my last. But it's not going to. Unless this isn't the last of either of those places.

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September 10, 2005

Desert Quiet

We put in another two sites on our second day: ASHM (Ash Mountain) and the ASHM repeater, a site with just a radio to transmit the data from the ASHM site to our master radio.

[Jay works on ASHM.]

[The ASHM repeater site at nightfall.]

[Jay works by headlamp.]

Sometimes, we'd work into the night to get things done and, maybe even moreso, because it was cooler and calmer. The hot wind was the hardest part about working out in the desert in the afternoons.

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September 9, 2005

Field Work

We installed our first two sites, which were just out of Pahrump. And this is how our work went.

When we came to a site, it looked like this:

When we left a site, it looked like this:

Sites are usually back off the main roads on dirt roads on BLM land.

Nevada is a funny place.

I was really hoping to see a desert tortoise during our stay in Nevada, but no luck. So sad. I mean, how cool would that be?

After finishing the first site, RUMP, we stopped in town for lunch and headed off to do a second site, SIXM.

There was already another truck up at the site, which surprised us. Two cousins and one's son, from town, were up there to target practice on a piece of cardboard. We made fast friends, but I was glad we happened to have earplugs with us. Ah, working in the boonies.

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We left St. George this morning for Las Vegas, where we had to run a couple errands. First, to FedEx to pick up a few things. Then, to the DOE office to pick up our badges to get us into the test site for mandatory training on Monday. Inbetween the two, we grabbed lunch--nothing at all Las Vegas-fancy--and after the two we hit the road again. We arrived in Parump, Nevada, around 4:30 PM. Another day of driving. We just can't get enough. Okay, I think we've both had more than enough. We're ready to start actually installing some sites. We decided to take a break once we checked into our hotel after looking at maps and coming up with a plan, and tonight we'll get the equipment ready so we can pretty much just hit the road tomorrow and get crackin'. That will be nice. Nice and HOT. It's been hot hot hot, was 95 deg. when we rolled into town and I think was closer to 100 in Las Vegas. Windy, too. Hot wind over black parking lot pavement. Hot.

I feel like I'm home. We've only been on the road a couple days, but already I'm excited to check in somewhere that we'll be staying more than one night. We can work from here as a home base for a few days, which makes life seem simpler. I like it. I'm happy.

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September 8, 2005


Wednesday, we drove from Green River to St. George. On the way, I stopped at view spots overlooking the canyons of the San Rafael Swell. Holy cow.

Jay and I met up in St. George, a town in southwestern Utah, and headed up to check out our first site. We parked the Penske, headed up in the big white truck, found the site near the top of a hill and decided to start installing it (it was already 4:30), drove back down to the Penske, loaded up the appropriate equipment into big white, drove back up--and found the gate to the top of the hill locked. Hmmm, no locked gate noted in the site description.

[Loading our rig. From Penske into big white.]

Since it was already 5:30 by that point, we called it a night and I went to fetch the key so that we'd be able to go straight to the site on the way home. I got the key from Ray, a man whose number was noted on the sign and who told me, when I went to get the key from him, that St. George was established during the Civil War because of a shortage of cotton since the south was preoccupied. Folks from Salt Lake were sent to St. George to grow cotton. And that, he said, is why the region is know as Dixie--Utah's south, not because of values but because of cotton growing.

Ray also told me that about two years ago some boys tooling around the top of the very hill where we have our GPS site found a body sealed off with rocks in a cave. Nobody knows what the story is of how the body got there, but Ray said the general understanding is that the body is from the 1930's, the man was not from St. George and was probably from the east. All this because of the man's shoes. They were expensive shoes available only on the east coase in the '30s. Interesting, eh?

Jay and I stayed in St. George. We ate Japanese food and then too much ice cream.

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September 7, 2005

Basin and Range

Another month, another project.

Due to a switch-up at work, I got put on a project to install a bunch of permanent, continuous GPS sites in and around southern Nevada with Jay, another UNAVCO engineer. The project is called the Yucca Mountain Expansion project. Does the name Yucca Mountain ring a bell? We'll be working partly within the weapons test site in Nevada--a restricted area, I learned today, the size of Rhode Island.

We're driving two vehicles--a ridiculously large white truck owned by UNAVCO (a Ford F-250), which is what I'm driving, and a ridiculously even much larger Penske rental for transporting all the equipment, driven by Jay. I'm glad he wants the big rig. Even in big white, I'm taller than anything on the road besides real trucks (e.g., semis) and need tons of space in which to turn and don't fit into a normal size parking space. Sheesh.

[Our travelling wharehouse: The back of the Penske truck, loaded with GPS gear.]

On Tuesday, we drove from Boulder to ....er.... where did we end up? Green River, Utah. Beautiful drive. Glenwood Canyon = awesome.

[My start picture. I was trying to raise an eyebrow to look doubtful, but I just look grumpy.]

[A lame picture of Glenwood Canyon. Doesn't do it justice.]

The sun set on us once we got to Utah, but the moon was enough to keep me going. A sliver, straight ahead.
Here's my attempt at a picture of it, while driving. I know, I know, I shouldn't take pictures while driving. I didn't look through the viewer, though, which is partly why the picture stinks. I don't even know which bright spot, if either, is the moon.

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September 6, 2005

Labor Day Weekend

I decided a week or two ago that it’s time to get to know Colorado. I realized how little I know about where I live and became interested in Colorado’s natural and human history. So, although I’m leaving tomorrow for a few weeks for work, I couldn’t resist going backpacking this weekend with my friend Nicole, from work, and some friends of hers. We left Boulder Saturday morning and got back early this evening, and inbetween the two hiked the Gore Trail through part of the Gore mountains.

The Gore mountains are made up of metamorphic rocks (rocks that have been changed by heat and/or pressure, in this case deep under the Earth’s surface) which were exposed by erosion as the whole area was uplifted. The rocks were then sculpted by glaciers that have long since melted away.

[Rock sculpted by glaciers.]

[The gentle U-shape of the valley just right of center is a tell-tale sign that a glacier has been here.]


And that was Labor Day weekend, 2005.

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