Sunday’s Ride

What a blast. I did some more exploring today. Turns out the old airport by my house is much larger than I previously thought. Originally I only figured 150 acres, but now I’m thinking 3 times that big.

They’re turning it into a sub division, but for now it’s all mud and very little else.

You can’t really tell, but just to the left in this picture is a 25 foot cliff. I found myself on top of a dirt mound and no way to turn around. After fighting with the bike about 10 minutes and nearly calling my brother for help, I was able to get the tires out from being buried (immediatly after I started moving again). The bike itself isn’t too heavy, but I’m only 5’8″ short with my boots on, and they sunk into the dirt pretty bad.

where do I go? My entrance to there was barely a foot wide, and all the dirt was too soft to ride in. Lots of heavy lifting.

My shadow almost covers the room I had to avoid falling!

At the bottom. I was still breathing hard from carrying the bike and wanted a break.

My playground

another angle

The old Tower and Austin’s skyline

One last stop before heading home (and dumping the bike)

After getting back on I decided to ride through one last mud puddle filled with ruts. The bike went one way and I the other. We were only 25 yards from pavement! This time I did have to call my brother though. He got my truck and picked us up. The bike wouldn’t start – not even a sound.

Got it running later. Turns out it was the clutch saftey switch. Back again tomorrow?

oh, all the pics and higher resolution can be found here

Where do I work?

Since you asked I’ll tell ya. I work at the University of Texas for the Geosciences department. I am a technician in the Paleomagnetism laboratory and pretty much do all the operational things. Until this point the job has been mainly construction and a little calibration, but early next week we will start to do actual science.

Applications went in a week ago for graduate school, and I hope to be accepted to start in the fall. At that time I’ll start receiving benefits and salary. Until then I will be working here in the lab 30 or so hours per week.

What is this?

This is the magnetometer. It’s a very expensive and sensitive instrument used to measure the magnetic field that a rock contains. Knowing the magnetic field can tell us how old the rock is and where it formed latitudinally. There are actually a great deal more things that can be learned, but I am just getting started. Tell you more later.

The magnetometer has been around for some time, but what is changing is the way we “run samples” Used to be, one sample could be measured at a time, and a lab technician had to be there constantly to change samples. Our system, based on the first one at CalTech (and only the 7th in the world) now does that automatically. My boss, Jack Holt, used this technique to earn his Doctorate at CalTech and is now implementing the system at UT. His advisor came down to help us get is setup.

This here is our automatic sample holder/changer. We can hold 180 core samples. They will be in the places marked with black numbers. Those marked with red numbers are empty holes. There is a glass tube near the right top of the screen. It is attached to a vacuum system and picks up each sample one at a time and lowers it into the magnetometer.

Here are the furnaces we will use to bake the samples. Once they have been measured our next step is to demagnify them. This is useful in determining several properties of the rock including succeptability and mineral content. Those can in turn tell us much more about how they formed.

The lower furnace can create magnetic fields along with heating up the samples. This way we can impart a sample with a new field if we choose.

And lastly the lab from a father back view. You can see the computer used to operate all of the machinery. The magnetometer is inside a doubly shielded room that is completely surrounded by metal twice. This reduces the strength of the Earth’s magnetic field giving more accurate results. Also it shields the samples in between measurements.

To the top left you can see a blue tube. This is what raises and lowers the glass tube. It has two motors one for up/down, and another to rotate the glass tube and sample. Attached and barely visible is a flexible white hose. This hose transfers the vacuum from another room next door to our glass tube. Having it next door reduces the noise level. Also in the other room are two chillers, one water chiller and one cryocooler. They help keep the magnetometer at 4 degrees Kelvin where it’s coolant, liquid helium, can stay in the liquid state. If this thing heats up we lose accuracy in the measurements.

That’s a tour of the lab. Hope you enjoyed it, and stop by anytime.

and if you want to see larger photos you can find them here.

A little Change up. Dinner time

I had a great dinner tonight, Fajitas, homemade.

And just to make Chief think about it I used the cast iron skillet my dad gave me and my brother. It’s older than us, but still makes great food.

Oh, and I’m proud to announce that even though my kitchen isn’t that clean, I have a gas stove!

here goes

and the cleanup

shore was yummy.

Grand Canyon Day II

Grand Canyon Day II

previous stories here.

This was a pretty cool adventure I found myself on. It started a little earlier than planned since the giant black birds that surround the camper’s area were loud and up early. It was the second night in a row for me sleeping on the ground; the night before had been at the Petrified Forest and quite surreal with absolutely clear skies and not a sound to be heard.

The sky at the Grand Canyon was clear too. I suspect that happens a lot in Arizona. One neat thing about the canyon is that there are trees surrounding it. Somewhere in that dry desert there is a line above which trees can grow. I reckon that the line is about 7 thousand feet, and each time I approached that altitude trees started to appear. It had happened in Colorado, the day before in Flagstaff, and once again as I approached the park. One important thing to remember is that the canyon is very deep, nearly a mile, and it takes quite a height above sea level to allow it to have carved away so much.

I made a quick breakfast of oatmeal on my portable stove. It was nutritious and warming although I didn’t need the heat as much. It got cool at night but not cold, and would spend the day in shorts and a t-shirt. This was partially due to not traveling that day and another part due to having only dirty laundry. One of my goals would be to find laundry service.

There is really so much to tell about this particular day, so let’s try. I was in the far eastern part of the park on the southern rim. The view was amazing to the north, although a thick haze diluted it a little. Overnight the canyon had filled with the smoke of a forest fire on the opposite side. When the temps cool that smoke falls and fills up all that volume. It detracts from the seeing but not the overall beauty of the place.


I decided to ride west to the main headquarters and also “town” center. On any given day thousands of people would come visit our largest natural landmark, and it became quite a sight. As I rode I took every overlook and snapped a lot of photos. That is every overlook allowed. Due to the high volume of people some places only permitted bus traffic. You had to park your car or bike back at the ranger station. That was somewhat frustrating.

The canyon is so immense one can hardly believe what others say. And there is no good way to appreciate its size or wonder except by going there yourself. Everyone should go there at least once in his or her life. GO. When you do go you’ll probably notice what I did, that English isn’t the only spoken language. I heard French, Russian, Chinese, and many other languages. People really do come from all over to see it.

I made my way through the overlooks talking to people when I stopped. One couple was riding their beemer motorcycle from New Jersey to California for a job. They had taken the long route and were enjoying their sights. He planned to fly back upon completion and she take another route. We kept in contact for a few months after meeting. Instead of going through the middle of the country like planned she headed a more southerly route through New Orleans which was recently devastated by hurricane Katrina.

I met other people too. At the laundry mat there while waiting I got into a discussion I will never forget. On the left of me sitting, waiting also, was a shorter man with big round eyes and glasses. CNN was on the news, and a clip about birds as pets came on. The newscaster spoke of how they behave around people and that they could even communicate with owners more than just repeating words like parrots can. Something prompted me to speak up negating that comment, and I found myself against a wall. This man to my left started telling me about his pet bird, saved from an accident outside and brought in to recuperate. The bird was a songbird and I cannot remember more except for the extraordinary story this man was about to tell me.

His bird could tell him things. It would dance in a pattern or sing a song when it wanted food or out of the cage. He said he knew what the bird wanted. About this time another fellow came up on the right. He was much taller than either the first man or I with a long neck, narrow head, and long nose. He wanted to tell me a similar story of his pet birds. This is when I started to realize something was wrong here. This fellow on my right actually looked like a bird, and when I turned left I realized that guy too shared features with our feathered friends. I was trapped between bird brains!

Believe it or not this was one of the strangest conversations I’ve ever had. It was impossible for me to not smile and laugh when I came to that realization. They must have thought I was crazy, but the sci-fi channel couldn’t have written this story. And it’s all true.

I made it through though, and once the laundry and I were clean again and I had eaten my lunch, I made my way to the visitor center to look around. A ranger gave me some advice as to which trail to hike, and from there I took the shuttle to the remaining overlooks I couldn’t before.

The trail I planned to take was called OooAhh or something similar, named after OooAhh point. It took hikers far into the canyon without much elevation change providing quite a nice vantage point. The point was only about one mile or less down the trail but it was steep, and in the middle of July quite hot. I had a liter bottle empty from lunch that I planned to fill at the trailhead. Someone had told me there was potable water there for hikers. Upon arriving however there was a different story. Some volunteer was at the top of the trail and told me not to go. He said it was too hot, and he had rescued people already that day. I almost believed him, but didn’t. He gave me a water bottle to carry so I’d have enough even though that one was empty too. This was right before telling me that there was no available water and begging me not to take the trail, and even if I had two full bottles of water it wouldn’t be enough.

some of the hike

Well, it turns out he was just bitter, and there was water after all. So I started down taking pictures all the way now carrying two and a half liters of water, far more than I needed, on that great trail. The trail itself was quite nice and well kept. I saw people both coming up and going down. To those coming up I asked the line my dad always used in those situations, “is it still there?” They must have though I was crazy on top of stupid carrying all that water.

I reached my destination without knowing. All views there are amazing, no one really better than the other and walked farther down till I found some wayward hikers. These fellas had broken the rules. Dave and Kevin were their names. They and some friends of theirs had traveled from New Mexico to hike across the Grand Canyon in one day. That included about 12 miles down and 14 miles back up on the other side. This was strictly forbidden. They had long since run out of water and only barely made it to the shade where I found them. Salt was crusted on their faces from sweating so much, and they looked pretty near if not past exhaustion.

At this point quite willing to help out a fellow, and much greater hiker, I was pleased to share my vast quantities of water with them unloading my burden at the same time. They were thankful, and allowed me to accompany them on the way back. They were very happy to hear it was only another mile plus some to the top. Some of their friends had already finished the hike and promised to return with more food and water. Some friends hadn’t made it so far, and they would have to wait for them to catch up. I cannot remember their whole stories, but somewhere along the way everyone ran out of water, and a lot of extra hiking had to be done to help those people out.

So, after making friends with a squirrel and rehydrating, we headed back slowly. They were as interested in my story as I was theirs. And there was plenty to discuss. Along the way we met their friends coming back with Gatorade, and we rested again, one of the many times. Finally the group reached the top, and we parted ways. I rode the shuttle back to my bike and then headed east again toward my tent. On the way I stopped to see how they were doing. The last group of their friends had finally made it to the top, and everyone was safe. I said my goodbyes quickly because a ranger threatened to give me a ticket for parking there, and I dashed off to try and make it to camp before dark.

I think it was ramen soup that night for dinner and much lonelier than the night before. My buddy Leon had ridden on, and the camp was quiet. It was a wonderful day I’ll never forget. I was tired and went to sleep with a smile on my face.

There were many great photos from that day. The rest start here.

Thanks for reading.

Howdy folks

Just checking in. No story this week although I meant to.

Went to work today for the first time after the new year. The job is great. Pays better than I’ve ever been paid before, very flexible schedule, and it’s scientific! All things are good here over all. I just finished moving into my brother’s house, now mine too. We’re roommates again, the first time since 1998. We get along well, and that’s a plus. Something great about it is that he has many friends in town and introduces me to them. That way I get to meet a lot of people and don’t have to sit at home if I don’t want to.

Everything is great. No story this week, but next week I’ll have a good one for sure.