CT To CA — We Have Arrived On The Left Coast

The Eagle has landed. Helaine and I are sitting in the lobby of the hotel we’ll call home for the next twelve days. The room’s not ready yet. Oops.

Our trip from St. George was mainly uneventful. We expected I-15 through the Virgin River Gorge to be scary. It was the last time we drove it. We’re winding road veterans now.

The cliffs are as steep as anything we saw in Colorado and Utah. They’re very close to the road and very tall. Very. Still, it was NBD!

We left early to try and beat the Sunday evening Las Vegas to Los Angeles traffic. It is legendary.

Don’t misunderstand. We still saw plenty of traffic. South of Vegas the road was jammed, but we were still doing 60 mph.

Three more states today. Here’s the full list:

  • Connecticut
  • New York
  • New Jersey
  • Pennsylvania
  • Ohio
  • Indiana
  • Illinois
  • Iowa
  • Nebraska
  • Colorado
  • Utah
  • Arizona
  • Nevada
  • California

We pulled into our hotel at 3:23 PM PDT. We’re now settled in and VERY tired.

Here are the final stats:

Total time: 5 days 2.5 hours
Total mileage: 2,862 miles
States entered: 14
Gas used: 151.5 gallons
Miles per gallon: 18.9
Speeding tickets: 0
Fastest speed before realizing how fast I was driving: 95 mph

Doppler is settled in on the sofa in our room. She is calm and sweet as she was for the entire trip.

We close on our new California home this Friday. Thanks for tagging along

CT To CA — Spectacular Country

Good morning from St. George, Utah. We’ve now driven 2,486 miles. We’re starting to feel the effects of this long journey. Helaine and I got to our hotel room and collapsed.

Lots of folks having been asking about Doppler. She’s still not eating well, but is otherwise fine. She has shown great adaptability, sleeping all day in the car, then sleeping a full night once we’re in the hotel. She ran up-and-down the long hotel corridor last night to let off some steam.

On our way out of Avon, CO we filled up with the most expensive gas of our trip, $4.05. No time for comparison shopping.

We weren’t on I-70 long before we crossed a tunnel and headed into Glenwood Canyon. This stretch of highway was incredibly controversial when built. Glenwood Canyon is beautiful and environmentally minded Coloradans wanted it to stay that way.

“Most of the people in western Colorado see it as having preserved the canyon.” He further stated, “I think pieces of the highway elevate to the standard of public art.” – Denver highway architect (via Wikipedia)

The highway is built with the westbound lane above the eastbound lane to minimize the footprint. Below both is the Colorado River.

How often do you get to drive while looking down at whitewater rafters? On Saturday we did!

This was originally a rail route. Active tracks still run alongside the river.

The topography flattens as the highway heads east toward Utah. This is the portion of the trip I’d been most looking forward to, Glenwood Canyon having been a major surprise.

Between Fremont Junction and the junction of SR-24 near Green River, Interstate 70 crosses a geologic feature called the San Rafael Swell. The construction of the freeway through the swell is listed as one of the engineering marvels of the Interstate Highway System, with one engineer claiming this section as “one of the most significant highway construction feats of its time”. The construction of I-70 through the swell required boring through many solid rock canyons, cliffs, and mountains. The swell is noted for its sheer canyons and rock formations and is home to a large amount of exposed dinosaur remains. This includes the largest known collection of Jurassic era dinosaur remains at the Cleveland-Lloyd Dinosaur Quarry at the north end of the swell. – Wikipedia


Wow! I pulled into a few scenic overlooks to get a few shots like this one from Devils Canyon. A family, also stopping and taking pictures, asked it was the Grand Canyon? Sometimes you just hold your tongue.

We’ve had excellent cell service through the entire trip. Central and Western Nebraska had only slow data access (Edge), but we could make calls. As we drove through the Swell we lost everything. This is a lonely, desolate, strikingly beautiful place.

Local TV news this morning had a story about an overnight crash in this region. Four are dead after the driver fell asleep, swerved across the center divider and flipped the car. The speed limit is 75 mph. Signs warn about “Drowsy Driving.” This is an unforgiving area.

I-70, which starts in Maryland, ends in Eastern Utah at I-15. We headed south, joining cars and trucks heading to Las Vegas and Southern California. The landscape flattens somewhat and there’s farming alongside the road, albeit heavily irrigated farming.

As I said, we’re in St. George, Utah. It’s a pretty town known for its stark red rock formations. We’re only a few miles from the Arizona border.

Today, we’ll head into Arizona and through the Virgin River Gorge. This is another twisty, mountainous stretch of Interstate we’ve driven before. The Arizona portion of I-15 is less than 30 miles long, but it’s unforgettable. It’s not a drive for the faint hearted.

We’re leaving early today to beat the storied Las Vegas to Los Angeles Sunday night traffic. Tonight we’ll be in our temporary quarters in Irvine.

CT To CA — Are We Tired!


I was planning on a blog entry about today’s journey through some of the most spectacular scenery in the world, but it will have to wait. We are incredibly tired!

Meanwhile, I did want you to see the road sign above. It’s from the terminus of I-70 in Utah.

How often do you get to choose between Heaven and Hell?

The Disappointing Doctor

Then there’s the Robert Jarvik we see in the ads. Dr. Jarvik is in his early 60s. He is shown, out alone, rowing a racing scull. It’s not really him. It’s a more physically fit body double!

Dr. Robert Jarvik, inventor of the artificial heart that bears his name, is taking heat for promoting Lipitor in TV ads. It was a story on Good Morning America and in the New York Times this morning and on our newscast here in Connecticut tonight.

There are a few problems with Jarvik’s TV spots. Though a degreed physician, he has never practiced medicine or is even licensed to practice.

His recommendation might be from the goodness of his heart, but the fact he earns well over $1,000,000 from Pfizer, Lipitor’s hard to spell manufacturer, makes it suspect at best.

Then there’s the Robert Jarvik we see in the ads. Dr. Jarvik is in his early 60s. He is shown, out alone, rowing a racing scull. It’s not really him. It’s a more physically fit body double!

I have a vested interest in this whole affair. I take Lipitor every day. My dad had heart disease and I’m hoping to minimize my risk through chemistry.

I don’t want to think it’s being sold like a burger at McDonalds or new car. This is, after all, medicine. It should be sold because it works best, not because it’s immensely profitable.

Lipitor aside, I don’t like seeing prescription drugs marketed directly to consumers. I don’t need to hear about oily discharge or erections lasting longer than four hours.

I spoke with my friend/physician Steve last night. He doesn’t like this either… but we’re too late. I can’t imagine turning back the clock on this recent form of consumer commerce.

Thinking about Dr. Jarvik and this story reminded me of something I’d heard years ago. I went online to check it out.

Dr. Jarvik owes much of the success of his artificial heart to the work of a medical trailblazer – Paul Winchell.

Something of a renaissance man, Winchell was also an inventor who held 30 patents, including one for an early artificial heart he built in 1963 and then donated to the University of Utah for research. Dr. Robert Jarvik and other University of Utah researchers later became well-known for the Jarvik-7, which was implanted into patients after 1982.

In case you’re too young (and seemingly, everyone is nowadays), Paul Winchell was a ventriloquist. With his characters Jerry Mahoney and Knucklehead Smiff, “Winch” was a staple of 50s and 60s TV.

He was also the voice of about a gazillion cartoon characters, including Tigger in Winnie the Pooh.

I thought it was OK for Paul Winchell to pitch Tootsie Rolls while I was growing up. I don’t feel the same way about Jarvik’s pitch now that I am grown up.

From 37,000 feet

I’m writing this while flying over Colorado. We’re at 37,000 feet.

On my way west, we were averaging a bit under 400 mph. With the wind at our back, Flight 265 is doing 570 mph! The pilot says we’ll be 20 minutes early to Midway.

Back at LAX, the gate agent called “boarding in five minutes.” I shut down my laptop and began to pack. My laptop had other ideas.

Without warning I was installing update 1 of 6!

Please, don’t turn me off until I’m done, my laptop screamed in big letters from a font I’d not chosen. No one asked me. If they had, I’d have said “later.”

I semi-closed the lid, slipping my finger between the keyboard and screen to keep any switches from killing the power. That’s the way I boarded the plane. Helaine and Stef, reading this, are glad they weren’t around. Another embarrassing Geeky Greg moment.

This flight is around half full. My rowmate, A middle-aged woman, is dozing in the aisle seat. I’m at the window. I chose the right side to see any prettiness associated with the sunset, which should soon be happening.

Our country is beautiful from this altitude. Yes, the sophisticated traveler takes the aisle seat to have easier bathroom access. He’s too cool to look out the window. I need the scenery.

We took off from Los Angeles and headed out to sea. After a few miles we turned north, paralleling the Pacific Coast toward Malibu. There was fog this morning. It covered the ocean near the shoreline, penetrating inland to the first foothills. Things must be slow on the PCH today.

Inland, a layer of haze made the ground a little less distinct. I could also use the “S” word – smog. There’s some of that too.

Already above 10,000 feet, we made a sweeping left 270 degree turn, finally heading east. A few minutes later I started seeing snow capped mountains. They weren’t far from LA.

Nearly all that’s between Los Angeles and Las Vegas is desolate. Sometimes you’ll pick out a road etched into the vast expanse of dirt. Cryptically, every once in a while a geometric pattern shows up. Are they housing tracts, surveyed but never developed? Way out in the desert, it’s easy to wonder why this land would be considered for anything.

I saw Lake Mead, but not nearby Las Vegas. The Grand Canyon appeared out my window, just a bit south of us. A few minutes later, I saw the bane of my last trip west. It was the gigantic Navajo Power Plant near Page, AZ. Close by was the Glenn Canyon Dam. Have I really been here enough times to start picking out landmarks from above?

I shot a few photos of Monument Valley, looking south from the Utah side. The plane wouldn’t be there long. We were heading toward Colorado.

There is plenty of snow out here. Originally, I thought what I saw was a light patch. Then I realized the trees and bushes poking through the snow was why it never looked solidly white. The slopes of the Western Rockies looked like chocolate cake with powdered sugar sprinkled on.

Below me now, the mountains have disappeared. It’s Kansas. It’s flat. As far as the eye can see, there are rectangular fields. Sometimes the fields are interrupted by perfectly round patches where an irrigation system rotating on wheels or tracks has made its presence known.

I’m not sure where the water comes from. So far, the vast majority of river beds I’ve seen have been dry.

I’m tired. I’ll be exhausted by Hartford. I’ll need the rest of the weekend to recuperate from my vacation.

Blogger’s addendum: When first published, this entry was full of typos and poorly formed English. That’s what happens when you write against time, trying to finish before the battery gives out. Writing offline without a spell checker didn’t help either! It’s mostly fixed now

Roseanne For Rosie

Don Kaplan writes in today’s New York Post:

Roseanne Barr has emerged as the top contender to replace Rosie O’Donnell next year on “The View,” sources say.

A rep for Barr says she has not been approached.

The Post’s headline, “Ro-Placements” is perfect.

I thought I might weigh in on this, having seen Roseanne perform about a month ago at New York, New York in Las Vegas.

If (and this is a huge if) Rosie is leaving because of her outspoken behavior, Roseanne will be no different. She was not shy on stage. There are lots of people, policies and lifestyles she has opinions about.

If, on the other hand, ABC is looking for another Rosie, this might be a master stroke. As I said, she’s outspoken. She is also fast and funny with excellent comedic timing.

As with Rosie, I don’t see Roseanne as a team player. I can’t imagine Roseanne and Barbara Walters sitting in the same room with Barbara asking Roseanne to come as their new savior – though she’d have to. I can’t imagine them having a meal or traveling together – and they won’t.

Barbara Walters is New York affluence – a woman who never learned or needed to drive. Roseanne is a semi-conscious parody of her own classless Utah upbringing.

Roseanne Barr would be an excellent hire.

Deadly Bumbleberry Jam

I almost forgot about this until I read Patrick Smith’s “Ask the pilot” column on Salon.com&#185. He was writing about the airport security procedure where you have to limit your liquids and gels to 3 ounces and then make sure they’re packed away in a quart size plastic bag.

Patrick writes:

There you have it: Tiny containers of hand sanitizer in zip-lock bags are harmless and approved. Those not in zip-lock bags are dangerous contraband. Meanwhile, the TSA still cannot justify its methods of confiscation: If certain liquids and gels are taken from a passenger, the assumption has to be that those materials are potentially hazardous. If so, why are they tossed unceremoniously into the trash? At every checkpoint you’ll see a bin or barrel brimming with illegal containers. They are not quarantined or handed over to the bomb squad; they are thrown away. In effect, the agency readily admits that it knows these things are harmless. But it’s going to steal them anyway, and either you like it or you don’t fly.

He’s right. Helaine and I are living proof.

While in Springdale, Utah, Helaine bought some Bumbleberry jam as a gift for our neighbors. It was a little thing. A gesture of thanks for their checking our mail.

She threw the jam in a bag and we proceeded to Las Vegas… where before leaving, I got good and sick.

Trust me, no one was thinking about the jam.

When we got to McCarren Airport for our trip home, the jam jar showed on the X-rays. It was confiscated and then (and I watched as it happened) tossed!

So, I’ll ask the question Patrick asked. If certain liquids and gels are taken from a passenger, the assumption has to be that those materials are potentially hazardous. If so, why are they tossed unceremoniously into the trash?

Glen, Margie and the boys would have enjoyed the jam.

&#185 – Of all the sites I frequent, Salon has the worst, most intrusive, P.I.T.A. method of extracting some revenue before you can read the text. I still go, but I’d go more often if it weren’t such a hassle.

Viva And All That Stuff

From zion to vegas

Helaine packed before we had breakfast at the hotel. We like Springdale and like the Best Western there. I usually associate Best Western with a lesser class of hotel. It’s not true here.

Yes, the room was nice. Yes the staff was friendly and helpful. OK, it’s our third hotel in a row with bad water pressure and bad shower heads. No one’s perfect.

What sets this place apart is how it’s built for its locale. At the end of every hallway and beyond the lobby are outdoor areas for sitting and watching the mountains. The rest of the hotel just fits too.

From zion to vegas

We left for the bus stop and I started taking pictures. A nearby mountaintop, around 3,800 feet higher in elevation than the town, was snow covered! It is only mid-October.

We hopped the shuttle to the Zion National Park entrance, flashed the pass we’d bought yesterday as we passed through in our car, and hopped on the park shuttle.

Both the town and park’s shuttle are paid for by the National Park Service. It’s a great idea. The road through town and the road in the park (where virtually no other traffic is allowed) were uncongested. We never waited more than a few minutes for transportation.

From zion to vegas

Our driver in the park was Kristine. Since we had her coming and going, I can tell you she doesn’t have an incredibly deep repertoire, but she was anxious to talk about the park, its sights and its history.

With the overnight rain the ground was a little soggy. Water flowed in many, though not all, the brooks and streams we saw. Low clouds hung over the mountains.

From zion to vegas

If this was our only day at Zion, I would have been upset. However, yesterday we saw how the mountains looked in bright sunshine. Today was a contrast, a more moody look.

We took the shuttle to Weeping Rock. This was our original fair weather plan. We wanted an easy hike which would give us a nice vantage. This trail ran about 1/2 mile, though at a significant incline.

From zion to vegas

We got off the bus and looked around. We were alone in a canyon with walls thousands of feet tall. It was majestic and humbling. I can’t imagine how the first settlers, Native Americans and Caucasians, found their way here. I can understand why they loved its beauty.

I checked. No cell service. Sorry to ruin the moment.

We walked to the trail’s end, at an overhang at the edge of a sheer rockface. Water from last night’s rain came dripping from the overhang, and flowing in a few small, but long, waterfalls.

From zion to vegas

A few more pictures and we were back at the bus stop, waiting for Kristine (or someone like her). Helaine and I decided Zion National Park was the most beautiful of our stops.

From zion to vegas
From zion to vegas
From zion to vegas
From zion to vegas

Back at the hotel, Helaine checked at the front desk to make sure our directions toward Las Vegas were correct. The desk clerk told her to take the left at the first traffic light and then added, “It’s 17 miles away.”

We also got some traffic tips: They seriously enforce the speed limit in the next few towns. “They even ticket locals,” he said. I heeded his warning as we headed out through the Hurricane Valley. It’s tough to drive 40, 35 and even 20 mph in a school zone (where the kids were, after all, in class).

From zion to vegas

Moving away from Springdale, we still saw mountains alongside the road, but they just weren’t up to Zion’s standard. The bar had been set high.

From zion to vegas

We drove Route 9 through Virgin (of course we shot the sign) and Hurricane to I-15. Helaine hoped our time on twisty mountain roads was over. Not quite yet. There was still the Virgin River Gorge to transverse.

From zion to vegas

The speed limit went from 75 to 65 and finally 55 mph. There were yellow signs, signifying caution, everywhere. Steep grades – yes. Strong crosswinds – of course. Sharp curves – what then?

The mountains were bleached white, sharply formed and perilously close to the roadway. We crossed bridges marked “Virgin River” at least a half dozen times, maybe more.

Helaine gripped whatever she could find and hoped for the best. She helped me down the mountain pushing against the imaginary brake so many right seat drivers subconsciously use. Then, finally, we were out.

Utah gave way to Arizona and then Nevada. The highway settled down to a flat ribbon with desert wasteland on either side. Though Helaine was happy to be on a low straight surface, this was the most boring part of our drive.

We approached Las Vegas from the Downtown side, passed the Stratosphere Tower and got off at Spring Mountain.

We are here and ready to start this very different part of our adventure.

There is one problem. Our room buzzes! I’ve already sent for an engineer, but so far, no help has arrived and the buzz continues.

Let the buffets begin!

One Day – Two Destinations

From Antelope – Zion

We started the morning in Kayenta, Arizona, just outside Monument Valley. I’m sure the people of the Monument Valley Region are very nice, but I wish Kayenta was more respectful of the natural beauty that surrounds it. There are no nice photos to be taken in Kayenta, because the scenery is interrupted at every vantage.

We headed out of Kayenta, west through Northern Arizona toward Page, home of Antelope Canyon, our first destination of the day. As has been the case since Gallup, NM, we were on two lane blacktop with 65 mph speed limits.

This is an Interstate free zone!

From Antelope – Zion

From time-to-time I wanted to pass the car in front of me. That meant waiting for a clear spot, hoping Helaine would cover her eyes, running it up to 85 mph, and swinging into the oncoming lane.

There aren’t a whole bunch of places to do that in Connecticut. Actually, there aren’t a whole lot of places to do that anywhere. It’s a lost art. Thankfully, everyone keeps their headlights on day and night.

From Antelope – Zion

As we sped west, we passed through a bunch of little towns… actually, more like settlements of a few houses. The speed limit would drop to 55 mph for a hundred yards or so and then back to 65 mph. Next.

What kind of life do people have here? We were curious in an anthropological way. Is it a life to be loved, or do kids wait for the day they can escape?

From Antelope – Zion

Forty miles from Page, and driving parallel to its single track, electrified railroad, we got our first glimpse of the gigantic Navajo Generation Station. Two of its three stacks were blowing something white skyward.

I’m hoping it was steam, though I doubt it. There were separate cooling towers for that.

From Antelope – Zion

As we got closer, and the sheer size of the plant became apparent, Helaine started singing, “One of these things is not like the other. One of these things just doesn’t belong.”

Whatever I said about Kayenta goes doubly for Page. I know we need to generate electricity. I wish there was a less invasive way. After all, this huge power plant also needs huge transmission lines to take the power away.

We were in Page to visit Antelope Canyon. It is a slot canyon. Don’t worry, until recently I didn’t know what that meant either.

This area of the country gets little rain. What they do get isn’t spread through the seasons, but falls in brief deluges which often cause flash flooding.

From Antelope – Zion

Over the eons, a flooded stream, Antelope Wash, found its way to the Colorado River by boring through a hillside. That channel is the slot canyon we visited.

Because it’s carved through sandstone, the walls have smooth curves and a layered look. At certain times of the year (not now) sunlight streams through to the canyon floor as beams of light.

It was unlike anything Helaine or I had ever seen before – beautiful, mystical, spiritual.

From Antelope – Zion

We signed up for a tour at the entrance to the Navajo Park which contained the canyon. The operation of the tour company was rinky dink. However, our guide Carol was amazing.

She knew all about the canyon and, after all these tours, was a camera expert. She spent lots of time showing people where and how to get great shots, even with little point and shoot cameras.

Carol’s expertise will be felt when returning tourists look at their photos and find her masterpieces.

From Antelope – Zion
From Antelope – Zion
From Antelope – Zion
From Antelope – Zion
From Antelope – Zion

We left Antelope Canyon, headed over the Colorado River at Glen Canyon Dam and into Utah. I believe I’m entitled to another wife at this point.

The road settled into a low area flanked by white monolithic rocks, We were in Glen Canyon.

From Antelope – Zion

I know Grand Canyon is larger, deeper and more well known. However, you usually see The Grand Canyon from the top looking down. Here, we were in the middle of the broad flood plain. The rock faces towered over us. I have never felt smaller nor more inconsequential.

From Antelope – Zion

As with the trip to Page, the roads were good. From time-to-time we’d round a sharp bend or go down the side of a mountain steep enough to warrant a sign listing the grade (6% was our personal best).

Helaine isn’t comfortable with heights. This was not her ideal routing.

From Antelope – Zion

We made a left onto Route 9 in Mt. Carmel, Utah and headed into Zion National Park. Of all the scenery we’ve seen so far, this is the prettiest… the most awesome.

From Antelope – Zion

The park road is a narrow two lane affair – definitely not good for 65 mph! It is also the first ‘redtop’ road I’ve ever seen. I don’t know why it’s red. I’ll try and find out more tomorrow.

The road dipped and curved and hugged the side of steep mountains. As treacherous as the road is, there are two places which must be worse, because two tunnels are bored through mountainsides.

From Antelope – Zion

At the second tunnel there was construction, which set us back twenty minutes. It also allowed us twenty minutes to soak in the scenery.

From Antelope – Zion

We’re staying in Springdale, Utah tonight. Everything that was wrong with Kayenta and Page is absent here. This is a spectacular little town, with shops, restaurants, galleries and a free shuttle bus system!

I’ve only been here a few hours, but I’m loving Zion National Park and Springdale.

Tomorrow we’re going to take the shuttle to the park for a little exploring before hopping in the car and heading southwest to Las Vegas.

From Antelope – Zion
From Antelope – Zion
From Antelope – Zion

Vacation Crunch Time

After a few small and even separate trips, Helaine and I leave later this week for the West. We’ll be flying balloons in Albuquerque, driving to Kayenta, Arizona to see Monument Valley, Page, Arizona for Antelope Canyon, and Springdale, Utah for Zion National Park. We finish with some play time in Las Vegas.

That’s a hell of a trip.

Balloon Fiesta

We are not known for packing light to begin with. This is a major undertaking with a few different climates to prepare for.

Helaine is very organized – much more than I’ll ever be. She is now at the ‘worried about anything that might be forgotten’ stage. That will be with her until our first unpacking, in Albuquerque.

Life is much easier for me. My only real responsibility is to round up anything that gets plugged in. That is a larger list with each successive trip. We now bring an outlet strip on vacation!

Some nights we’ll be charging two cell phones and a Bluetooth earpiece, a laptop and camera batteries. That’s five plugs right there.

The main lens on my camera has been acting up, so I’ve rented a replacement from Ziplens in Maine Who even knew you could do that? It’s a very nice Canon lens with image stabilization.

I’ve traded emails with Lee who owns the business. It’s nice to help a small businessman just getting started and his product is really scratching an itch with me.

The camera is very important. We’ll be going to one of the most photogenic events on Earth – Albuquerque’s Balloon Fiesta. From there everything up to Vegas is naturally beautiful, or awe inspiring, or both.

And Vegas… please. At one point, Kodak might have paid for it to be built.

Of course I’ve got 21st Century concerns. Will there be Internet access? Actually, yes – even at our hotel in tiny Kayenta, AZ

Will there be cell service? Not so much. It’s nearly impossible to know where there will or won’t be access. The maps are awful. It’s almost as if the cell companies want it that way. And user submitted information about cells is old and often subjective.

We’re renting a car for the drive. I’m hoping it’s got satellite radio. Kayenta, for instance, is over 80 miles from the nearest radio station.

The rental company gave me a definite maybe! Many full size cars (a rental car exaggeration) have satellite… not all.

This trip promises to be the kind you remember for a lifetime. What will we see? Will the weather cooperate for our balloon ride? Will this much time together be enough for Helaine to pull out a gun and shoot me?

Anything’s possible. One more day to tie up loose ends and then I’ll be writing you from the road.

A Spot In The Sun

It looks like a speck of dust on the surface of the sun. But this spectacular picture shows the space shuttle Atlantis alongside the International Space Station (ISS) silhouetted as they orbit the earth. Here’s the full size original picture (warning – it’s huge).

As a photographer, my question is, how did they mask out the Sun’s incredible brilliance to still catch detail of the shuttle and ISS? Digital cameras (possibly film cameras too) just don’t have that kind of dynamic range (difference between brightest brights and darkest darks).

Blogger’s addendum: Here’s more technical info on how the picture was taken: Image of the solar transit of the International Space Station (ISS) and Space Shuttle Atlantis (50 minutes after undocking from the ISS, before return to Earth), taken from the area of Mamers (Normandie, France) on september 17th 2006 at 13h 38min 50s UT. Takahashi TOA-150 refractor (diameter 150mm, final focal 2300mm), Baader helioscope and Canon 5D. Exposure of 1/8000s at 50 ISO, extracted from a series of 14 images (3 images/s) started 2s before the predicted time.

The photographer’s website is here.

Click here for the full photo.

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About This Vacation Thing

The western vacation is months away – so I won’t dwell on it incessantly. Still, I’ve been doing a lot of web browsing about where we’ll be going and it’s very exciting… and weird.

Here’s the June-July cover of the Canyon Country Zephyr from Moab, UT, which bills itself as “All the News That Causes Fits!”

Hey, when your contact address is spankme2times@excite.com, you know fine journalism can’t be far behind.

I think of this part of the Southwest as conservative and staid. Maybe I’m wrong – at least as far as Moab, UT is concerned.

How Vacations Are Born

We have plans for the fall – to go to Albuquerque during the Balloon Fiesta. Helaine has been there once. I’ve been there twice. Clicky (my camera) has never been there.

That makes Clicky sad.

Somehow my parents found out and said, “We’ll come too…” until they couldn’t. Something going on with their condo neighbors. I’m not totally up on my Floria happenings.

We were thinking the vacation would be Albuquerque followed by Las Vegas. We could fly to Vegas, or maybe drive. It’s a l-o-n-g drive.

Today, some modifications began to take shape. “What about Monument Valley, I said?” We could drive to Monument Valley in Southern Utah and stretch the one day drive to two.

You might not know Monument Valley, but you’ve seen it. It’s been in a zillion movies with its iconic road driving through the nothingness toward red monoliths rising from the valley’s floor.

Nothingness is the perfect description – Monument Valley is near nothing! If you zoom in far enough on Google maps, you end up with a solid colored background and nothing else.

The closest ‘real’ town is Kayenta, AZ, about a half hour’s drive away. Helaine has already made a reservation in one of their motels.

As long as we were going, she wondered, what about the other scenic stops along the way? If you check out that part of the country, there are many more National Parks and scenic outlooks than people.

We now have reservations in St. George, UT for another night.

What was going to be a point-to-point drive is now going to be two days and three nights through parts of New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, more Arizona and Nevada. To someone raised in a Queens, NY apartment, this part of the country is as foreign as the surface of Mars.

Sometimes a wife indulges her husband. This part of the trip is much more for Geoff than Helaine. It’s not set in stone, and we’re very unsure of where to go and what to see, but it’s all coming together.

Well, at least it is in June.

Blogger’s note: My two photos are “Creative Commons” licensed and come from Flickr.com

Paul Winchell

Every time I write about a dead person I say, “no more.” And yet, so many interesting people continue to die. Maybe it’s something about being interesting that hastens death? In any event, I read about Paul Winchell’s death this afternoon.

As a kid I knew him as a ventriloquist; the straight man for Jerry Mahoney. The generation following mine knew him more as the voice of “Tigger” from Winney the Poo or numerous Saturday morning cartoons&#185. Paul Winchell is the guy who first said, “TTFN – ta ta for now” – an ad lib during a Poo audio session!

I also knew he had something to do with a few medical inventions, including heart valves and an artificial heart!

Today, I decided to read about what he had done. Who knew there was a Paul Winchell website? They’ll have to change the slogan, “A living legend.”

I read his story of the artificial heart and there’s something about it that makes me uneasy. Maybe it’s his participating in his own son’s tonsillectomy or surgeries at a research hospital in Utah… I don’t know, I’m just uneasy.

I’ve been an observer in operating rooms in the past. It’s not that he was there, but that he was involved. And yet, if my current attitude would have prevailed, his inventions wouldn’t have gotten out.

Anyway, let’s leave it with me being uneasy and calling it a day.

The bigger story with Paul Winchell has to do with typecasting. Sometimes it’s easy to look at someone who has defined himself to the public with his work and forget that what you know might only be a small subset of the total person.

&#185 – This is similar to the Anne B. Davis method of age estimation. If you look at a picture of Anne B. Davis and say, “Alice,” you’re under 50. If you look at a picture of Anne B. Davis and say “Schultzy,” you’re over 50. Simple. This can also be done with Bob Denver and Ron Howard.

Michael Ross

Here in Connecticut we are going through the painful process that accompanies the first state execution about 40 years. The prisoner is Michael Ross, a man so despicable, whose crimes are so heinous, it’s tough for death penalty advocates or opponents to use him in their arguments.

He has asked that his execution go forward.

Whether this execution, or any execution, is right or wrong will be left for another day. I don’t know, and my gut feeling says there are better places to debate the issue&#185.

What has become astoundingly clear is the cost in time and human effort to bring this to a conclusion. Ross has received stays, all of which have been vacated. In the meantime, each successive question becomes a life and death question and demands a coterie of lawyers, judges and staff.

All the major issues involved in this case have been settled. All the hearings and considerations now concentrate on issues apart from his actual crimes. This morning another technicality has delayed the execution until, at least, Monday evening.

From the New York Times:

One of Mr. Ross’s lawyers, T. R. Paulding, said early this morning that “a question has been raised about a conflict of interest about my continued representation of Michael Ross. I feel it is imperative to address this before his execution can proceed.”

If that seems cryptic, it is. Attorney Paulding didn’t explain what the actual conflict was.

I have heard how expensive it is to execute a prisoner, and now I better understand why. In order to cross every ‘t’ and dot every ‘i’ the process becomes laborious. In some cases, it seems as if the minutiae has trumped the larger points.

In 1977, Gary Gilmore, condemned to die before Utah’s firing squad, attempted suicide. He was nursed to health before he was shot and killed. It’s all quite strange.

Here in Connecticut, I am sad because I feel so ambivalent toward Michael Ross. Instead of an opinion on whether he should live or die, I have concern because of how the system works… or maybe doesn’t work.

&#185 – For that reason, open comment will not be allowed on this entry. I invite you to email me if this entry hits a responsive chord – but it will be an email we two share alone.