Archive | January, 2013

Clean Coal

Navajo Generating Station Page Arizona

On a cold and cloudy day, billowing steam from the giant 2,250 megawatt coal-fired Navajo Generating Station gives the impression that this otherwise pristine desert landscape just outside Arizona’s Glen Canyon Recreation Area is really an industrial wasteland. On a clear day, though, the steam and fog dissipate to reveal majestic red rock buttes and a yellowish band of smog drifting downwind from the plant as far as the eye can see.

A Chaotic Kaleidoscope of Color

Yuma Balloon Festival Balloons in Flight

Regional festivals are something we never think to include in our trip planning. It’s an ongoing blind spot of ours. Mostly we roll into town and discover that we missed an annual extravaganza by a couple of days or weeks. Unless, of course, the event happens to be the big Harley Davidson Rally in Sturgis, South Dakota. Apparently if it’s the kind of gathering that inspires news segments contrasting this year’s criminal violations with those of past rallies we show up just in time.

Our luck in these things isn’t always bad, though. In Yuma, Arizona, an equally colorful event of a completely different variety awaited us. Every November for the past 22 years hot air balloonists from around the region descend on Yuma for a weekend of floating and plumage flaunting. Without planning it, we somehow arrived in Yuma the Friday before liftoff.

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Of Donkeys and Asses

Oatman Arizona Begging Burros

I think I’d prefer “ghost towns” if they had more, you know, actual ghosts. I’d be happier still if they simply had fewer living people. It’s not that I generally prefer ghosts to people it’s just that the folks we’ve encountered in such places have been particularly unfriendly. Unfriendly enough to make us long for poltergeists in comparison.

It’s a strange thing, really, because you’d think they’d be happy to see tourists roll into town, almost like carnies eyeing fresh marks. It’s not as if some other industry supports the community. Whatever reason people had for originally settling there is long since gone. Now they survive solely by hawking bad meals and memorabilia to people like us.

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Sheep, Flock, Livestock, Animal

Sheep in Yuma, Arizona

Thar be Dragons

Ancient map, old map

In medieval times cartographers often placed dragons and sea serpents in uncharted areas of their maps. While they may not have literally believed these regions to be populated by monsters, they understood them to be dangerous. Explorers went anyway.

I was reminded of those old maps by two wonderfully complementary essays from National Geographic that caught my eye this week. The first, Restless Genes, tries to explain this penchant for exploration.

“No other mammal moves around like we do,” says Svante Pääbo, a director of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, where he uses genetics to study human origins. “We jump borders. We push into new territory even when we have resources where we are. Other animals don’t do this. Other humans either. Neanderthals were around hundreds of thousands of years, but they never spread around the world. In just 50,000 years we covered everything. There’s a kind of madness to it. Sailing out into the ocean, you have no idea what’s on the other side. And now we go to Mars. We never stop. Why?”

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