Friday, October 31, 2008


Sunday, October 26, 2008

Mine All Mine

You may remember that, some years ago, I mentioned that there's a copper mine just outside of the city here, and that I made an off-hand promise to visit this mine. I may also have mentioned that the only thing I had heard about this place is that they had trucks there with big wheels. Well, before I went, I did a little research, because I'm from the South and I've been to a monster truck rally, and if big wheels were all this place could offer up, then I wasn't going. Turns out this place is called Bingham Canyon Mine, and it's one of the ten largest man-made holes on the planet. A superlative like that is enough for me; I jumped in the car and headed out.

The internet map said 'drive south.' That's what I did. Eventually things stopped looking urban, and then stopped looking suburban, and then started looking secret military test site. There was very little in the way of directions out on site, so I just kept driving towards the big thing in front of me.

I was confronted by this sign. After an hour's deliberation, I flipped a coin and turned left.

Kept driving. Traveled up hills and through switchbacks. Paid a guard at a guardhouse to get through a big gate. He told me to keep an eye out for the Visitor's Center. I kept driving, and was soon confronted by this sign:

Again, I thought carefully... and when that didn't yield any results, I flipped that same coin, and turned left. Parked in a small lot next to a fence, and when I looked over the fence, I saw I was on a ledge overlooking the mine itself:

Wow that is one big hole in the ground. Certainly looked like one of the biggest ten.

This is the left side of the hole. I flipped a coin to see which side to photograph first.

This is the other side. It was quite amazing to see the whole thing at once.

The inside was buzzing with these little Tonka trucks. Seemed to me that if they wanted to move a lot of dirt, they should be using bigger trucks.
Behind me was the Visitor's Center. It had been on the left the whole time. I stepped inside and checked out a bunch of dioramas reminding me that hardly anything in the world would be possible without metal from this very mine. My TV. My radio. Even airplanes would not be possible without the copper, aluminum, and molybdenum outta this big hole. I'm just going to type that word again, just because it's fun to spell: molybdenum.
Watched a short propaganda film about the mine. It took me through the mining process, from finding trace amounts of copper in grand amounts of dirt to sifting and boiling the metal to cooling it into sheets and refining it. One of the more amazing things that I remember is that even the tallest building made by man wouldn't reach out of the top of the mine. That is one big hole.

On my way out, I noticed several displays I had missed while I was busy being amazed by a big hole. This was one of the first carts used to truck ore out of the mine.

Don't laugh at at its prehistoricism... you could have had to use this.

Also found that big damn wheel Creedence and everyone had been talking about. Again, it had been on the left. So I guess those trucks in the mine weren't all that small after all.
So now I've been to a hundred-and-fifty-year-old two-mile-deep hole in the ground. That's pretty cool any way you look at it. Except maybe if you look out of it. Then you'd have a long walk ahead of you.

I've Heard Of A Dummkopf, But...

I'm a firm believer in the idea that you should always plan out a sign before you engrave it. At the McDonalds in O'Hare, they do not share my beliefs.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Many Tags

This pilot here doesn't want his bag mistaken for a non-pink-tagged bag.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Slow Pumpkin At Play

Usually at pumpkin carving time, I go for either an Ernie or a Bert. You know, a squat and round one or a tall and ovoid one. In both cases, I try to find one that's in pretty good condition. But this year, I saw one that looked like another pumpkin had punched it in the not-face. Well, I just couldn't leave it in that kind of domestic situation, so I swept it up and, when it came to design time, I just let the rumpled contours guide me. And you know what? It came out pretty good, if a little 'special.' So here's to those roughed-up pumpkins neglected in corners of pumpkin patches everywhere... may you all find your outer face.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Jackson Hole

Jackson Hole, Wyoming, is perhaps the most amusingly-named place that we fly to. That said, it is also tied with Sun Valley, Idaho, for its reputation as having the most needy and posturing residents*. I mean, you know you're going to get some feather-boa Juliet Alpha who wants sparkling water light ice with a twist of lime if you're going to L.A., but Sun Valley? Where is that? Anyone found Sun Valley? Anyone know where it is? And so, it was with a little trepidation that I approached my first overnight in Jackson Hole.

First off, it's beautiful, and you can tell even before you hit the ground. It's clear why people of all annoyance levels would live/vacation/retire here.

The drive from the airport to town wordlessly steals 'Big Sky' status from Montana. And also, you can see Sheep Mountain, which is also known as 'Sleeping Indian.' Here he is. Shhh.

The town itself is rustic and small, wrought from wood and deer antlers. And when I say antlers, I mean antlers. This is where deer go to film deer horror movies. In the center of downtown is a square garden, and at each corner is an arch made of antlers. Lots of antlers.

How are there still deer here?

Along the main drag are shops and restaurants. You can buy turquoise, fur, and silver. You can stop in at a diner and get a burger. Or have a drink at the Million Dollar Cowboy. I think it's great fun to ask passers-by where the Million Dollar Cowboy is, because the sign out front is nearly as big as the bar itself. I think it's fun, but it usually embarrasses the crew. It's summer in this picture, so the mountain at the end of the street is green... but in winter, that's where you ski in Jackson. Snow King resort is what that is, and the hotel in which we stay is right at the foot of it.

The hotel is cowpoke chic, like the rest of town. The view from the balcony is amazing during the day.

And also at night.
So now I see what the big deal is about Jackson Hole. Seems to be a great place for poor, rich, or nouveau riche. I'll probably board there this winter. But if I order anything to drink, it'll be a regular damn Coke, and screw the lime.

*Now if you live here, then no, I'm not making fun of you. But I bet you know the people I am making fun of....

Thursday, October 16, 2008

The Maine Thing - Day Two

TEMPORAL NOTE AND APOLOGY: Now see, here again is how my life works. I just recently had a computer crash of some magnitude, and I backed up all my photos onto a CD. And when I got my computer back online, I went in to grab the pictures of Day Two, and they were gone. Day One is fine. All the pictures I'd already posted are fine. The really really cool ones I was going to post here about this trip, on this particular day... gone. Destroyed. Forever. Or so I thought. Because of my ridiculous OCD tendencies, I had backed them up in several thousand places and then forgotten where all of them were. It has taken me this long to find one. Sorry, and thanks for sticking with me. Prepare for Day Two.

Woke up and jumped immediately back on the road west, headed for the Cog Railway. Again, navigating only with Google Earth running on my laptop in the passenger seat, I managed to make it all the way back to New Hampshire.
Stopped in a town called Conway for two reasons. First was that there were a lot of old shops to peek into. Antiques. Copper weathervanes and such. Had a great time. Second was that the entire interstate system of New England chokes down to one stop sign in Conway, and you pretty much have to stop there.
Noticed some things I hadn't seen on my way through the day before. The stop lights in New England flash at you. In addition to the red light that tells you not to go, there is a white strobe about the luminance of the sun. It does get your attention... and then it permanently blinds you. Not sure that's an effective tactic. Also, the people there have a thing for stone wheels. Every third lawn has a giant stone doughnut poking up out of the grass next to the driveway. Not sure what that's about, but I'm not going to push anyone about their lawn decorations when ours are rusted out cars on blocks. There are Canadian flags all over, which is something I had never thought about before, but it makes sense... Canada is right there. And finally, every two hundred feet, there is a moose crossing.
Passed through all the national park lands again. Zoomed by Silver Cascade, and made mental calculations to see if I could take the Railway trip and make it back to finally climb that waterfall before dark.

Made it to the Cog Railway just before zero hour. The place is a log cabin-type museum/gift shop at the bottom of Mount Washington. The trains are just outside and the railway leads up the mountain.

The first train they ever used there has been retired, and stands as an exhibit next to the tracks. Here is 'Old Peppersass,' in all its awful repainted glory. You know, with a name like Peppersass, you get the feeling it must have been a hoot hanging out with the guys on the railway way back when in the 1850s.

The trains in use now look the same, kinda like old-timey coal engines (because that's really all they are), and are built back-end high, so they stay level as the tracks incline. Ours was the Waumbek. Not a lot of regular folk names for these trains, really.

They each push one train car, and when it was time to go, we all loaded up into ours.

Inside, the cars look as old-timey as the engines; small thin bench seats, sliding windows with brass latches, and wooden plank floors. The engineer in the car gave us a short history of the railway, the engineer in the train fired it up, and we were off.
Well, off I guess in name only. The Cog Railway trains move at an astounding two miles an hour. The trip up, in addition to being no small feat of old-timey engineering, is an hour-and-a-half-long endeavor, during which the train periodically ducks into short dead-ends so that the other trains coming down the mountain can barrel past. Apparently old-timey engineers hadn't researched braking systems all that well. We'll get to that.

I opened the window once, which was a bad idea in two ways. First, it's a coal-fired train, which meant that pungent demon-scented coal smoke came pouring into the car and made me public enemy number one amongst the passengers. Second, it's a coal-fired train, and little bits of laser-hot coal spit from the engine and fell on me. So, stinky and Swiss-cheese burnt, I learned that Mount Washington is best observed from behind a closed window. And through one of those windows, I got to see that all those little bits of coal had piled up along the track during its long life; at certain points, the bits were feet deep.

You're at a fairly steep angle the whole time. The small buildings alongside the tracks were built back-end high as well, and all had signs on them that read THIS BUILDING IS ACTUALLY LEVEL.

The front of the car is amusing. There's a doorway but no door. You can claw your way to the front of the car and breathe the fresh coal air while watching the tracks pass under you. The car engineer is outside on the small deck, kicking her legs off the railing.

There's also a bridge. It was the highest or longest or something in the country. I forget exactly what the superlative was that the engineer used, but she could certainly tell you. What I do know is that I sure didn't want to fall off of that bridge.

The scenery was amazing. The trees I had seen while driving were all mixed together color-wise, but from the mountainside, they appeared to group into great swaths of yellow or red or green. You can see the whole valley behind you, and another to the side of you, and past the other mountains in the distance, you can see more valleys, probably in Vermont and New York.

Further up, into what seems like the clouds, the terrain changes into rolling hills covered in wheaty grass and gray rock. Several cairns of stones stand in the mist, serving as landmarks for hikers. Very ethereal.
Struck up a conversation with a fellow from Newfoundland. Now, before I met this guy, I pronounced it like you do... NEW-found-lund. With the air of the slighted, he explained to me that it's actually pronounced New-fund-LAND, and that if you don't say it that way when you're actually there, the locals won't understand you. Also met two Indian doctors from Boston, and they were towing a tiny brown baby that climbed all over me.

At the top of the mountain, there's a small concrete outpost. There are a few radio towers, a restaurant, and another gift shop. The coolest thing up there is a sign that says you're at the top of Mount Washington, and the elevation. It's the highest place east of the Mississippi, I think I remember them saying. What is definite is that it's 6,288 feet in elevation, and that for the first time in my mostly Southern life, I finally made it to a summit of something. I have proof.

A word about the top of the mountain. One of the selling points of this tour is that you can see four states from the top on a clear day (I didn't know they were tiny states until I started driving through them, but that's still cool). When I drove through the day before, it was clear. The day after, when I was leaving, it was clear. But...

... the day I actually went up, it was so foggy that you could barely damn breathe. I was lucky to see my shoes.

But of course, that made for some really mysterious-looking pictures of the radio towers.

The weather here is supposed to be a big deal. Whoever tacked up this sign should really go hang out in Louisiana during hurricane season.
We loaded up again for the return trip. I had been wondering on the way up how they were going to handle this, but all those thin benches faced forward on your way up. Were we going to face backwards for ninety minutes on the way down? Nope. Those clever train builders built seats that transformed; the back of the seat slid down to become the seat, and now they all faced down the mountain. It was really cool, and you never saw so many confused people as they entered.

The car engineer had work to do on the way down. See that wheel there? That's the brakes. The only brakes there are in the car. She had to work the wheel all the way down so the weight of the car didn't overwhelm the train. She talked a lot on the way up. Not so much on the way down.

The sun came out when we were halfway down. Illumination only made the landscape more beautiful. This picture doesn't convey how big it really is. This trip is really worth the trip. I recommend it.
At the bottom of the mountain, we all disembarkated, and while I was debating whether or not to return to Silver Cascade, I noticed a wooden bridge halfway hidden away across the tracks. Intrigued, I slipped away from the crowd and across the bridge. A sign identified the trail beyond as Jewel Trail, and just a few steps into the woods, I was in the wilderness.

It was so quiet, I had trouble picturing the railway I knew was right behind me. Sat down on a log a few times and just listened to silence. Every now and then a bug chewed on something or a bird flew by.

The trail crested a hill and forked. I heard the sound of water and followed it.

Found another bridge. I have always wondered who builds these things. They're all usually constructed in the same style and out of the same kinds of wood, no matter what region of the US you find them in. I mean, when a road's getting built, you see who's doing it, and it's right there next to another road, but who hauls a bunch of timber way out into the forest and knocks together a bridge over a stream you can easily cross? I love that people do that. Maybe it's not people. Think it's elves? Or maybe really clever turtles? I dunno.

Enough about amphibious carpentry... here's the stream already.

I spent about half an hour there in the trees, marveling at what was here before people were, then I clambered back to the car, Silver Cascade forgotten.

Set Vermont in my sights and hit the gas. Saw the opposite sides of all the mountains I had driven past the day before. The trees were still amazing, just east-facing.

Cruised by a small graveyard built on a hill. It was so interesting that I had to stop and wander through it. Some of the death dates ranged back to the 1870s, and several women were referred to as 'dau't'r' of someone or other on the headstones.

Made it back into Burlington just as dusk fell. Encountered a fresh car accident. Now, I've driven some cars pretty hard, but how exactly do you do this?

Also discovered that in Burlington, they don't know what's to the left.
Drove around the city for a while, making a lot of right turns. The place looked a lot like Portland. George Washington-looking architecture and lots of statues. Finally found my hotel. Did you know that Motel 6 is also Econolodge? I didn't.
The next day I dropped off the rental car and headed back to Salt Lake, three states and one quest down. I may head back next year for the leaves. But I may skip the lobster.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

The Maine Thing - Day One

So you may have noticed that Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine are now not missing from the WTHIB Map over there on the right. If you haven't, then I'll just come out and say it: Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine are now not missing from the WTHIB Map over there on the right. I recently headed north and east for three days (again, L.M. is responsible), and this is half the story of those days.
This was actually supposed to be a four day trip. Day Negative One was scheduled for Austin, where I would attend a Scottish wedding at a castle. Let me say that again... a Scottish wedding, at a castle. That would be the second time in a month that I would get to legitimately wear a kilt. The reason I didn't get to go to this wedding is that a dumb gate agent let the plane to Austin go to Austin with two empty seats on it and me off it, after I had listed for the flight. "Oh, Ah'm so SAWRY!" If I see that lady again, I'm going to throw a building at her.
So, back to Day One. I got up early the next Colombian morning and flew to Denver, and then to Burlington Airport, which is on the western border of Vermont (by the way [and I'm only telling you this because I didn't know], Vermont is the one on the left side... New Hampshire is on the right). I had secured reservations for the two following nights, but this was prom night or something, and my reservations for this night were: the Burlington Airport. After a harrowing little-sleep evening, I jumped in my newly rented PT Cruiser knock-off and blasted east.
The plan was sketchy at best... go east. As I said, this whole trip is my mom's fault. After I told her I had been thinking of going to see the leaves change in New England, she scoured the web and found info on something called the Cog Railway in New Hampshire. It's a coal train that creeps up Mount Washington, and the view from the top was supposed to be spectacular. When I have no idea what to do, I'm pretty bad off, but when I have very little idea what to do, I can usually manage, and so that scant info was all I needed to jaunt off on another quest. Since I wanted to hit all three states while I was out there, I planned to start on one side, drive to the other side, and then drive back; it was a coin toss that sent me to Vermont first instead of Maine.
So I went east. You may remember me talking about my Bad Physics Days, where actions usually governed by physics stack up against me so comically that it's easy to believe whoever's in charge hates me. Well, for every screw there is an equal and opposite re-screw, and where I get karmic remuneration is navigation. I never need directions when I go somewhere I've never been. Every time I jump in a car and just drive in an unfamiliar place, I unerringly beeline straight to my destination. That has to make whoever that is in charge of the B.P.D.s absolutely bonkers. So when I say I went east, that is exactly what I did. The night before, I just got on Google Earth, memorized some interstate numbers and reckoned some driving times, and when I got in the car, I just went.

Immediately I saw why they make such a big deal out of the place. There wasn't much color yet because of the early morning fog, but the fog itself was fantastic. The road cut through a lot of rock formations, which made for great scenery. Lots of crows. Lots of covered bridges and barns. It was like driving around in a Stephen King novel.

Somewhere in there I passed through Montpelier, which is the capital of Vermont. And then, a little over one hour later, I crossed into New Hampshire. That's right... I traversed an entire state in an hour. Coming from where states are five and six hours across, I was not prepared for states you can see across. How weird.

Once I got into N.H., the colors started to appear. It's amazing, worthy of all the talk. Brilliant yellows and oranges right next to vivid greens. I knew the colors would be beautiful, but I just didn't know how much of them there would be. In Louisiana, when they say, "Hey, come outside, look at this cool thing!", it's usually cool, but about five feet long. These trees went on forever. From far away, the mountains looked like big piles of Trix. Not the newfangled kind, the tri-color classic from the 80s. There's a cluster of national park areas along the middle stretch of 302 in N.H., and I stopped along the way to admire that rock face up there. And when I turned around, there was a waterfall. Where I'm from, you have to drive for hours and then hike for days to get to a waterfall.

Silver Cascade is about two hundred feet off the centerline of 302.

There it is, a waterfall, right on the side of the road. There are dead animals on the side of the road where I come from.

This is looking back from it, toward the road. It's right there. The cool thing was that, even though it was so close, all you had to do was get in far enough and it was like you were miles away from anything. I had met the allure of New England.
I met a cute girl from Boston there, and she took this picture of me:

If you're that cute girl, yeah, I'm talking about you.

This innocuous-looking picture is actually a steeply-angled view up the fall. I thought seriously about climbing up there, but decided that I would like to break my skull on the second day of a two day trip, and not the first.

Managed to get back into the car and continued. Found the Cog Railway at the base of Mount Washington. I wasn't able to get a ticket for it for this particular day, so I did a fly-by instead, in order to find it better the next day when I did have a ticket. You could see the trains themselves from some distance off, chugging and smoking up the mountain. Passed through a town called Bethlehem. No, another one. The speed limit there is 35 mph. All I'm saying here is that, if you ever drive through there, you should remember that. Moments after my warning, and about an hour after I got into New Hampshire (including a stop at Dairy Queen), I set wheel in Maine. Having driven through Texas, I decided I could really get into this small state business. Maine is where the lakes started to happen.

This here appears to be a ski resort, but during hibernation.
Eventually I caromed by this tree. It was so breathtaking that I actually stopped on the side of the road and took this picture:

That is one orange tree. Made me look over my shoulder for Samara, and if you get that, you're as cool as me.
I had secured lodging in Portland, and when I got to the hotel, I was ready for a nap. A night in an airport and three states in three hours... wouldn't you be?

Woke up in time to hunt lighthouses at sunset. A goofy cartoon map of Portland I stole from the front desk led me a to a dock where was a lighthouse. Actually, it was more like a lightstub. This thing was maybe thirty feet tall, and had a name like 'the Pug' or something, I don't exactly remember. It stood guard at the end of a pier made of huge rocks. Amazingly, I made it all the way out (to touch a lighthouse with the same hand I touched a pyramid with) and all the way back in the dark, with not a single broken ankle. It was dark, like I said, and that's why I got no pictures of it. But it was real, I swear. One day I'll have to go back and hunt down one of those hundred-foot jobs that watch for Nor'easters and plesiosaurs, but for now, the Pug will have to suffice.
There was a restaurant right there are the foot of the Pug (or rather, the Pug was right there at the foot of the restaurant), and I decided that was the place I would finish off another long-standing quest of mine, which was to eat a lobster, in Maine, within sight of the Atlantic Ocean. And thirty minutes later, right there on the water, I tore into one.

It kind of sucked. No seriously, I don't know if they cooked it wrong, or if I've been spoiled by Louisiana crawfish, but this thing tasted like butter when I dipped it in butter, and that begs the question: what would it have tasted like not dipped in butter? Sadly, I was not brave enough to find out, and Nietzsche is not here to help us. So, quest ended, and knowledge gained: if a hot chick ever buys me lobster on the first date and expects me to put out, she will be disappointed.
After that, I toured downtown Portland. A really annoying thing about street signs in New England is that they tell you what street you're crossing, but not what street you're on. This way, you can drive for miles knowing exactly where you are, but having no damn idea where the hell you are. But with my karmic GPS in full swing, all I had to do was not think about where I was going, and I always ended up there.

This is an important guy (or girl... whoever it was was Roman and in the dark) holding down a pedestal next to the moon. Since the name of the city is emblazoned right there on the pedestal, I assume this is the very spot Portland was invented. And I guess it caught on, because they made another one in Oregon.

Here's a great and official-looking building. No idea what it is. But that tower at the top sure is ornamental.
On the advice of the front desk clerk whom I stole the cartoon map from, I grabbed dessert at Becky's Diner. Lobster is available there (as it is at every corner drugstore... it is Maine), and it was about a hundred and seventy bucks cheaper than where I ordered mine. So I drowned my sorrows in one of the best ice cream brownie sundaes I've had. I recommend this place.
Then it was back to the hotel to charge up for the next day's worth of driving, train-riding, and mischief.