Monday, January 31, 2011

The Museum of Jurassic Technology

This weekend we headed out to L.A. to see one of our favorite bands, Les Savy Fav, play at the Echoplex. If you're not familiar with Les Savy Fav, check them out on Youtube and you'll see why we'd drive all the way from Phoenix to see them. It was terrific.

The next day, on the suggestion of a friend, we visited the Museum of Jurassic Technology. It's in Culver City. Housed in an unassuming building, the museum displays artistic oddities and far out concepts of art, science, and philosophy. My two favorite exhibits were the collection of superstitions called "Tell the Bees: Belief, Knowledge, and Hypersymbolic Cognition: An exhibit of pre-scientific cures and remedies" and Micromosaics of Harold "Henry" Dalton.  From the "Tell the Bees" exhibit I learned what sin eating was and how people used to salt and burn their lost teeth. Really fascinating.

This is from the Harold Dalton exhibit. Dalton made works of mosaic-like art so tiny you need a microscope to see them. They have a room with two rows of microscopes set up and you need to look through the microscope to see the artwork. There were lots of other cool exhibits too and it didn't take too long to see everything if you didn't let yourself get overwhelmed with reading.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Birds and Animals of Oak Creek Canyon and Northern Arizona

Oak Creek Canyon is located near Flagstaff and Sedona, Arizona. If you're not familiar with Arizona's different climate zones, you might be surprised to learn that it's not all desert nor all hot. Areas of higher elevation, such as areas on or above the Mogollon Rim (the edge of the Colorado Plateau) are much cooler, temperate zones that host lots of flora and fauna familiar to folks from cooler climates. Some areas even get lots of snow!

This nifty postcard includes a key to identifying the birds and animals on the back:
oak creek postcard back

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Bat Murder

The U.S. has recently encountered mysterious instances of animals, mostly birds, dying together in huge numbers. No one knows what killed the birds. These incidents have occurred primarily in the southern States.

Here in Arizona we've seen the unfortunate wildlife deaths, too, but we know the cause - it's the work of assholes. For example, a little while back some piece of shit name Edwin Jess in Bullhead City, AZ murdered a great blue heron with a golf club. He just walked up to it and smashed it with the club for no reason. He was golfing and the bird had the audacity to sit near some water on the course, a mistake it paid for with its life. The bastard didn't really even get in trouble.

The newest chapter in Arizona's moron-assault on our animal population is particularly sad. Thousands of bats have made Tucson's man-made structures, like bridges, their homes. Most of these bats are Mexican free-tale bats. Each one of these little bats is about as big as your thumb and weighs 13 grams. They eat tons of insects and pests, like mosquitoes, ironically repaying us for dropping our concrete world down on their desert. Many Tucsonans love the bats. We've gone down to the bridges at dusk to watch thousands of bats pour out and other people are often there too, watching as they drop down, swarm under the bridge, and then shoot off into the night. It's pretty impressive.

However, last month some scumbag killed 80 bats with a BB gun. Just shot them while they were sleeping under the bridge. AZ Game and Fish were offering a $750 reward for information leading to the arrest of the killer. An anonymous donor has upped the stakes, adding an addition $1000 to the reward. Even if the killer isn't caught, this is terrific news. It's important for the community - local, state, and regional - to send the message that we will not tolerate reckless losers killing our wildlife. If law enforcement understands that we care about these crimes, and that leniency will anger and disrespect the community, perhaps we will see more prosecutions and fewer instances of wildlife destruction. If we can nurture this mentality and extend it to Mexican wolves and other controversial species, then we'll really see an improvement in conservation efforts; apathy kills as many animals as bullets.

If you have information about the bat murder, here's what you can do:
Per AZGFD -"Individuals with information should call 1-800-352-0700, anonymously if need be, and reference OGT# 11-000017. Calls will be taken 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Information may also be provided through www.azgfd.gov/thief."

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Canyon Lake/Boulder Canyon Trail

Canyon Lake is a man-made lake contained in what used to be a canyon west of Phoenix. It's not hard to get there. Just follow the Apache Trail (or AZ Route 88) past Apache Junction and past Lost Dutchman State Park. It's a windy road that snakes through some of the most beautiful country in the Phoenix area.

Across the street from Canyon Lake is the trailhead for the Boulder Canyon trail. The trail leads you into the Superstition Wilderness and all the amazing things those mountains have to offer. Here are some photos from the Boulder Canyon Trail.
valley view
Superstition Mountains
Battleship Mountain
The large, tan rock formation that dominates the photograph is called Battleship Mountain. The formation that looks like a mountain split in two behind and to the left of Battleship Mountain is The Narrows. It's at the end of LeBarge Canyon and the subject of my previous blog post!
lebarge canyon sundown
Ever wonder why you see these colors and patterns on Southwestern pottery or art? Wait until sundown and look at the horizon.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The Narrows

The Superstition Mountains east of Phoenix are incredible. From the spectacular views awarded to those who climb up Siphon Draw to the Flatiron, to the ubiquitous Weaver's Needle, to the many petroglyphs near Hieroglyphics Spring, the Superstitions are full of amazing natural wonders that in other states would make National Park status in a second. In fact, the Supes are part of Tonto National Forest and the much of the mountains are contained in the Superstition National Wilderness.

Last week me and a friend went for a quick overnight trip into the Superstitions. We originally intended to go to Reavis Falls, but the road was closed so we opted for the Boulder Canyon Trail. Our plans were pretty tentative - just hike in and find a good spot to camp - but we ran into a couple of helpful older gentlemen who steered us to a place called "The Narrows." The Narrows is really an amazing canyon cut through a mountain in an "S" shape. To get there, you need to slog up a wash for a couple miles. Jumping from boulder to boulder with a heavy pack puts your thighs muscles and balance to the test, but it would be a realistic, if ambitious, day hike. Difficulty aside, the reward is amazing. There's a big pool with a little beach in a beautiful canyon. We pitched our tents in a corner of the canyon under the shelter of a tree. Here are some photos I took around the The Narrows. More here on Flickr.


canyon morning

algae and red leaf debris

The color contrasts are caused by algae and leaf debris in the water.

a serpentine canyon

You can see the scale of the canyon walls here. Look the lower left-hand third of the photo. That really little looking fellow is my buddy Chris. Those walls are really high.

up canyon

Lebarge Canyon night view

The Narrows at Night

Friday, January 7, 2011

Campfire Photography

I almost always lug a digital SLR camera with me when I go backpacking. I'll sacrifice other items, like a pillow, extra clothes, or a backpacking chair, to have my camera with me. I'm not a terrific photographer and my camera isn't anything to write home about; it's an older Nikon D50 with an aftermarket Tamron lens, best a grad student stipend can buy. There's probably a credit-card-thin point and shoot camera out there capable of producing great results in the right hands, but I like the control I get with the SLR.

I spent a couple of days out in the desert this week and I'll share some more photos from that hike later, but first I thought I'd put up some campfire shots. I love the light you get from a campfire and I've taken night photos by campfire light before, but the other night I decided to turn the camera on the fire itself. I thought some of the results were worth sharing, so here they are...
campfire 3
campfire 2
campfire 1
campfire closeup

P.S. - If you click on the photos it will take you to Flickr. Click on the little magnifying glass icon on the upper right between the "Newer" and "Older" arrows. That will take you to the lightbox. Kind of a lot of work, I know, but these look better viewed there!

Monday, January 3, 2011

Arizona Sales Tax Token

As a New Englander, it cracks me up when Arizonans complain about taxes. Not only are Arizona's taxes low, they're regressive and misplaced. While there is a tax on food and clothing, there is no tax on mining machinery, salon and spa treatments, donations to private schools, and country club memberships. Like any civic minded community, Arizonans realize that it's better to have nearly the lowest per-student-spending in the country than to inconvenience Cadillac driving Snowturds from Michigan.

Stupid as our state taxes might be managed today, impecunious numismatists can find something interesting in the state's tax history. Tax tokens were common in many states in the 1930's when sales taxes really began to come into play across America. My brother, a very knowledgeable coin collector, gave me this on when I went home for Christmas.  Back then state governments looking to raise revenue from sales taxes faced a problem with the currency. 80 years ago you could actually buy things for a few cents. If the sales tax was 3% and something cost only 10 cents, the merchant couldn't give appropriate change. The solution was to charge the purchaser and extra cent and give them change in tax tokens redeemable during future purchases. Each token was worth 10% of 1 cent, or 1/1000 of a dollar. All those fractions of all those pennies added up for the states that used them, but people didn't really like carrying extra coins and doing all that math, so the tax tokens were soon discontinued. They were coins minted at the state level worth less than a penny. They were fairly common and are still easy to find today. Tax tokens even have their own collectors' society, the American Tax Token Society.

Sunday, January 2, 2011


Happy New Year! I know I'm 25 hours late, but that's about my speed lately. Haven't been posting too much lately. I've been really overwhelmed with work. Also, we moved from Tucson to Glendale, AZ, which is sort of like leaving the Smithsonian Institute to go sit in your dentist's waiting room. Oh, and my scanner is broken. I have a bunch of mint shit to share, but no way to get it from by desk to my desktop. I'll figure it out soon.

In the meantime, check out this video from Internet Archive. The Goddard Space Flight Center* has many of these.They use satellites and computer imaging to zoom from space to various locations of Earth. This one goes to Sabino Canyon in Tucson. Check them out. There's like to be one highlighting your city. They're pretty cool.

*Side note - The Goddard Space Flight Center is named after Dr. Robert Hutchings Goddard, a Worcesterite and son of central Massachusetts like yours truly. He is considered the father of modern rocketry.