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Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Insane Discover America Tour 2016: Petrified Forest

From the moment you enter Petrified Forest National Park, you realize that you are looking at far more than just pieces of stone-line wood. As you drive, the land unfolds around you, revealing a wide variety of color.

Each color means something. It tells scientists what conditions were like back in the Mesozoic Era, when the continents looked different, and the sea levels were higher than today.

Unlike Utah's famed National Parks, the landscape of Petrified Forest hails from the Triassic Age, long before the later Jurassic Age, famous for its fierce and enormous dinosaurs.

During this time, creatures unlike dinosaurs roamed the Earth. Some, such as the Placerias, demonstrated both reptilian and mammalian characteristics. 

Still, it's the mystery of petrified wood that fascinates us most. What kinds of trees towered above the land so long ago? What forces preserved them so beautifully that they rival the most exquisite gemstones?

The Native Americas discovered its utility long before scientists realized how much petrified wood could tell us about the past. The plethora of shops that sell petrified wood, both inside the park and out, attest to its enduring appeal.

Dragon Dave

Monday, November 21, 2016

Insane Discover America Tour 2016: Mesa Verde

Of all the National Parks and State Parks we visited on this year's vacation, my friend in prison perked up when I mentioned in a letter that we had visited Mesa Verde National Park. He wrote back to say that he had visited there, and asked me to send him a photograph from our trip. His affection for the park in no way surprises me, for of all the great parks we visited, Mesa Verde was the most Human.

Curious about how the Native Americans lived? There's no better place to visit. From pullouts along the road, you'll see a plethora of family homes and small communities dug into the canyon walls.

The rangers offer tours of some of the more impressive communities, most for a minimal fee. It's interesting to listen to the rangers describe these ancient communities. Each ranger finds their own perspective on how these people lived hundreds of years ago. Each ranger wades through the archeologists' field reports, and their understanding of Native American culture, to translate how these first settlers of the United States in terms that current residents can understand.

People travel there from different states and countries. Children proved as interested in how people lived there as adults. Visitors faced only one requirement: they must be physically capable of climbing up and down stairs and ladders. If they did so, they could accompany their fellow time travelers back hundreds of years, for an hour or so.

They could understand the Native American communities delved out duties and social power to the sexes. They could learn about how people saw their world from practical and spiritual perspectives. They could imagine themselves living in these times, sharing confidences with friends, dating people from other families or communities, cooking, singing, and worshipping.

Then they could return to the present, taking with them their understanding of these ancient peoples' simple, and yet surprisingly complex lives.

Dragon Dave

Friday, November 11, 2016

Insane Discover America Tour 2016: Arches National Park

The films "Hulk" and "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade" feature Double Arch. But that's not why I wanted to go to Arches National Park so much. It's hard to explain the allure this place holds for me. All I can tell you is that I really wanted to go there. When I proposed this trip to my wife, my primary objective was to visit Arches National Park. Other stops were gradually added to our itinerary, but Arches was the first and most important consideration. 

I suppose you could say it was on my bucket list.

Some of the arches were easily accessible. Others took more effort to reach. According to the signs and maps, Broken Arch wasn't that far from the parking area. Yet it seemed to take ages to get there. We also had to climb up several steep areas of boulders to reach it. But, like all the arches, it was great to see.

We had planned three days for Arches National Park, but the weather gods ruled otherwise. It rained as we were leaving the first day, and all day the second. So on the third and last day, we returned to see some of the areas we most wished to visit. One of them was Landscape Arch, the longest in the park.

We found a log to sit on, and my wife painted while I sketched. A number of people came by to talk with us, and check out our projects. People were really sociable, low-key, and friendly at Landscape Arch. Maybe the shape of it subconsciously influenced them. Doesn't Landscape Arch remind you of a smile?

Not all the arches were notable for their size, width, or delicacy. This was one of the smaller ones near Landscape Arch. But even if they're not exceptional, they still attract me.

Here's another area that was featured in "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade." We hiked through this area, named Monument Valley. It was awesome to stare up at these long, thin slabs of stone that towered above us. One day, erosion will knock down the existing arches in Arches National Park, but those same forces will have carved arches into areas such as this. But right now, they're still awesome to me.

Even if they're not arches.

Dragon Dave

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Donald Trump: On Creation & Destruction

In the film "Two Weeks Notice," attorney Lucy Kelson wishes to preserve her local Community Center. The building is located in the heart of an area her city wishes to "revitalize." Of course, it would be cheaper to knock everything down, but Lucy comes up with a proposal that will save her beloved building, while clearing the way for new construction in the rest of the redevelopment zone. Out of the three companies bidding for the contract, only developer George Wade is willing to listen to her. 

At the moment, he desperately needs of a new attorney. So he agrees to her proposal, which will help his firm win the contract, on one condition: she must come to work for him.

As Lucy's term of employment with George Wade nears its end, he bumps into Donald Trump at a children's charity fundraising event. Trump tells George he's heard he has hired a new attorney to replace Lucy. He says he'll be watching her, and if he believes she's good, he'll attempt to steal her away from George. 

In the movie, Trump is clearly in a playful mood, and engaging in a little friendly rivalry. Trump may be playing a role in a piece of fiction, but his "character" meshes well with the theme of the movie and his real life persona. After all, we're talking about a man who's most famous catchphrase is "You're fired."

It's easy to protest change without suggesting any workable alternatives. It's easy to sweep aside the old in order to create something new. "Two Weeks Notice" poses this question: in our quest to create something new, how much are we willing to destroy? Or are some things worth preserving, even if it makes the task expensive and complicated? 

Dragon Dave

Friday, November 4, 2016

Galaxy Quest: The Rocks Rise Up

What can happen if you don't respect the rocks in a national or state park? Consider, if you will, one example from history. In 1999, Commander Peter Taggart and his crew land on an alien planet to find a replacement beryllium sphere to power their vessel. 

They aren't exactly inconspicuous as they search a rock valley which greatly resembles Goblin Valley State Park. They make unnecessary conversation, and their bickering angers the spirits inhabiting the land.

As a result, the goblins rise up, and wreak their displeasure on Captain Taggart.

By contrast, my wife and I took nothing from Goblin Valley when we visited. We made no loud noises, and above all avoided bickering, to soothe the sleeping goblins. We even paid them homage, by taking some time to sketch and paint their greatness. Thus, we emerged unscathed from Goblin Valley, while the rock creatures Taggart aroused nearly ended his life.

When on travel, respect the places you visit. It's not only safer that way, but you'll enjoy your vacation more.

For more on how Captain Taggart and his crew went wrong, and what they learned from their mistakes, pick up "Galaxy Quest" on DVD or Blu-ray. You'll be glad you did.

Dragon Dave

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Insane Discover America Tour 2016: Goblin Valley

Goblin Valley State Park has one aspect which separates it from all the other national and state parks we visited. There are no carefully marked paths. There are no no-go areas. You can wander wherever you want, and lose yourself among the fantastic sandstone formations.

It's a fantasy playground for the mind. Every step you take reveals new shapes, new forms, that tantalize the imagination. And just around the next cluster of rocks, who knows what you might discover?

It can get a little lonely here. On the day we visited, most of the people wandered around in the area closest to the parking lot. After the first few minutes, we didn't see anyone for hours. It was just my wife and I, wandering among these fantastic shapes, and enjoying our solitude.

All that freedom and solitude can get a little worrisome, however. Without visible landmarks, and clearly marked paths, we found it hard to find our way back. We wandered through valleys, climbed between formations, and often had to retrace our steps. We climbed up hills, but could see no clear way to return.

We fixed our eyes on a distant hill, and moved steadily in that direction. We followed washes, where the rains had carved deep ruts through the soft earth. We clutched hold of our hats as the afternoon winds whipped at us. We spotted a jackrabbit bounding across the desolate terrain. 

Eventually, our sandstone guardians released us. We reached the car, and shook the dirt from our shoes. As we left Goblin Valley, it started to rain. Had we angered those stone guardians by our presence? Had they summoned a storm to send us away?

We were in awe of them, but we were not afraid.

We were never afraid.

Dragon Dave