January 2008

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January 31, 2008 - Thursday

I spent the earlier part of this week watching low clouds flow over the valley while listening to rain drumming on the roof. We got 3.5 inches and finally the creeks are flowing and Sherilton Valley Pond is full. That makes 11.5 inches for this season and hopefully we'll get some more before things dry up in April.

February is gold panning season in our mountain back country and today I got a jump on the crowds by starting a little early.  Living in the  area gives me an advantage over the flatlanders who come up on the weekends. Of course I've already scouted the best spots and I should have my gold pouch full before the first tourists hit the creeks this Saturday.

I'm sure you already know how to pan for gold but just in case, here's a quick summary.

  1. Fill the pan almost to the top with sand from the edge of the creek.

  2. Dip the pan's edge into the stream and fill it with water

  3. Hold the pan with one hand and swirl it to mix the sand. Any gold will start settling toward the bottom of the pan.

  4. Continue until much of the pan is empty leaving only huge chunks of gold.

  5. Never admit to finding anything and always be watchful for claim jumpers.

January 24, 2008 - Thursday

From my weather stationLots of weather related activities going on in the valley.  It's still relatively early in the rainy season but so far we've surpassed the amount of rain we received for the whole season last year. Cold days with nights below freezing and occasional snow flurries. King Creek has been running intermittently and two weeks ago, because of flooding, they had to temporarily close the road out of our area.  For me, these are fun times especially after a monotonous summer with weeks/months passing without a change.

Rob Krier, the weather reporter for the Union-Tribune came out yesterday to interview me for an article he's doing about weather station hobbyists like myself.  I had to make it clear though, that I in no way try to pass myself off as a meteorologist. My main interest is in the technology and getting it to function reliably.  No small feat when trying to get computers, network links, cameras and satellite connections to mesh and upload consistently.

Sherilton Valley Pond - Dry - 2007Catherine and I have also been lending a hand in trying to get water flowing back into the Sherilton Valley pond. Like most ponds in the back country, it was man made back in the cattle ranching days. When all the channels and canals are open, it fills and provides a source for water during summer brush fires.  But last year it didn't fill at all and this year, the culvert that diverts water from the nearest creek is plugged.  Rich Bottari who has been here since the valley was subdivided, has been trying to clear sand from the culvert. So far he has it partially running but before it runs clear, we'll need to see a few more inches of rain to provide enough water volume to completely flush the pipes.



I've received several responses about my downbeat ecological critique in the last entry and one reader suggested that I read The Golden Spruce: A True Story of Myth, Madness, and Greed by John Vaillant. It's a historical account of logging in the Pacific Northwest and the irreparable damage caused by the multinational lumber industry. These days it's no secret that "clear cutting" causes irreversible damage to the environment but the book describes how that knowledge became known.  Vaillant tells the story of one "disturbed" individual who lost his way when he tried to draw attention to the problem.

A subject I mull over when considering the "end justify the means" policies of groups like Earth First, Greenpeace and PETA.  And as someone who fits in the sympathizer column, I gotta admit that sometimes I do think that "the result justifies the deed".

January 14, 2008 - Monday

All quiet except for the Santa Ana wind blowing from the north.

I finished The World Without Us by Alan Weisman so excuse me while I go slit my wrists. He uses an interesting tactic (what would the world be like without us) to basically say "man bad, nature victim". I get it, I've gotten it for years. I'm a cranky misanthrope so when I'm told that the world's problems can best be summed up as corporate greed and over population, I don't disagree.

Jeez, I guess I'm just tired of feeling guilty (for my contribution to the problem) and discouraged because I don't see any realistic solution. Corporations aren't going to become enlightened unless there's profit in it and people are going to keep reproducing. To further rub my nose in it, Weisman goes on to make a case that even if the human race were instantly raptured off the planet, it's probably too late for nature to recover. We've so thoroughly screwed things up that many of the effects will last till the sun goes nova and the earth is burned to a cinder.

Where did I put those razor blades?

The book I'm reading now is, The Human Experiment: Two Years and Twenty Minutes Inside Biosphere 2 by Jane Poynter. So far it seems to be about a bunch of rich, cliquish, narcistic, neo-hippies who tried to form a commune. As with most communes, they disbanded after getting into fights about who was going to do the dishes.

Ok, Ok, that's pretty harsh. All things considered, I'm glad they did it. It was a noble experiment and many things were learned. It was something that had to be done and now we can move on, building on what we learned in Biosphere 2.

And today's photo is a snapshot taken during this morning's walk in Biosphere 1.

January 6, 2008 - Sunday - Arizona Trip

I had almost a dozen waypoints programmed into my mapping software but in the end, we only hit three. Five days isn't enough to see Southern Arizona and rather than trying to cover it all, I probably should have just focused on one area.

Our first stop was the Kofa Wilderness Reserve which is a large area midway between Yuma and Quartzite on highway 95.  It's a beautiful desert area and we drove 16 miles down a bumpy wash board road to get to our campsite.  Even the littlest bumps are enough to shake the RV to the core and though I kept the speed down to 8 miles an hour, I was still concerned about jiggling something loose. The end result was good though as we ended up in an isolated section of the park with no other visitors and no lights in the night sky.

And we spent two nights in the reserve and explored the area during the day hoping to see some bighorn sheep. No sheep though we did find a half dozen abandoned mines. For the most part mining ended at the end of the 1800's though we did notice some recent digging going on in a few spots.

By the third day I realized we were short on time so I headed for Oracle which is the home of Biosphere II. Most people will remember the experimental project that took place between 1991 and 93 when 8 people lived in the self sustaining dome for two years. A huge project with noble intensions but eroded by intellectual infighting and bickering.

More pyramid than dome, the structure is huge (3.15 acres). In spite of the setbacks, it seems to me that a lot was accomplished by the venture. Even though the cliché "you learn by your mistakes" comes to mind, I think the project was by no means a failure.  Unfortunately I had a sense that the Biosphere's days of important research are over. The University of Arizona took over maintenance this year but their research plan seems forced and more about public relations than substance.

Biosphere II

The tour of this facility was excellent. Maybe it's my background in University maintenance but the behind the scenes infrastructure on this structure is fascinating. Luckily we were the first visitors that morning and our tour guide gave us an exclusive visit to some of the out of the way areas.  We were able to duck low and travel down an underground tunnel to one of the huge domes that houses the diaphragm used to compensate for air pressure changes. This was also the site where one of the original inhabitants returned to sabotage the second phase of the study. Did I mention that there was some infighting?

A basketball court sized room with floating roof that adjusts the biosphere to ambient air pressure.


Cath on the road to Quartzite