Stan’s Obligatory Blog

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6/9/2018

Spahn Ranch with Atlas Obscura

Filed under: — stan @ 2:05 pm

Today I got to go on yet another Atlas Obscura tour, this time of Spahn Ranch. This was a movie ranch a long time ago, and later was notorious for the Manson Family living there for a time in 1969. And now it’s a county park. A few years ago, I took Lucinda on the Dearly Departed Helter Skelter tour, so this was sort of a companion piece to that.

We walked up the hill to the back of the ranch, where there were a couple of rusted hulks of cars that were stolen and abandoned there in 1969. Apparently, they would steal cars to get the engines, which they used in building dune buggies.

Next, we walked down to the large flat area next to the road. This was where the Spahn house had been. When the land was converted into a park, the county came in and covered that whole area with several feet of new dirt, I suppose to discourage people from hunting for artifacts there. Then we walked down into the creek-bed. There were large trees down there, as well as the famous little cave where Life magazine staged a photo of the Manson Family in 1969. And of course, we all had to get photos sitting in front of the little cave. Overall, there wasn’t a lot here that I hadn’t heard about before, but the whole point was to get to see the places where it happened.

6/3/2018

The Wende Museum

Filed under: — stan @ 7:19 pm

This afternoon I went to a tour of the Wende Museum in Culver City. This is a museum that preserves artifacts from the Cold War. It began as a collection of things from the former East Germany, and has broadened to collect things from all the Eastern Bloc countries. I’d gone there once before, but that was before they had a real location.

They are still in the process of setting up the museum. A good bit of the collection has not yet been catalogued. But they did have two big exhibits out today. One was about Hungary before and after the 1956 attempted revolution. The other was about hippies and the counterculture in the former Soviet Union. Apparently, hippies were a thing there, starting about 1968, and all the way through until the fall of communism.

At the end of the tour, they had a tray of snacks for us, as well as some samples of vodka to try. They had regular Smirnoff, and then a bottle of Polish potato vodka, and a bottle of Russian vodka. And on the way out, I got a photo-op with an East German Wartburg 353 car. Apparently, this was the ‘nice’ car in East Germany. A step up from the Trabant, which was apparently the only other option.

5/26/2018

Earthquake Tour Again

Filed under: — stan @ 7:11 pm

This Saturday was the fourth time I’ve been part of leading the San Andreas Fault tour with Atlas Obscura. The last time I did this was in October of last year, and my partner that time was Morgan from the USGS office. But this time, she was offered a chance to go to a conference in Japan, so Nicholas was my partner for the tour. We also had a special guest along this time. Back in April, Kathleen and I had gone on the Nastie Nellie Oleson Tour with Alison Arngrim in Hollywood. This was tremendously entertaining, and along the way, I told Alison about the earthquake tour. She was interested, but the tour was already sold out. But it turned out that Sandi had held one seat in reserve in case Nicholas or I wanted to bring a guest, so Alison got the guest seat for the tour.

After a quick tour of the Seismo Lab, we headed up to the fault scarp at the McDonald’s in San Fernando. I also went inside to get some iced tea and to use the bathroom. That was where I saw what I can only assume is an unfortunate typo on the soap dispenser.

In Palmdale, we took in the view from the overlook by the freeway, and then climbed up the little hill so we could look down into the famous road cut where the 14 freeway crosses the fault. Then it was time for our lunch stop at Charlie Brown Farms. After that, it was time for Pallett Creek. We knew that the mysterious signs that marked where the fault crosses the road had been recently vandalized after more than a decade of marking the spot. So I’d made a new sign, which we brought along to use for the photo-op, even if it’s not properly planted in the ground. Then we traveled the quarter-mile or so to the actual trench site next to Pallett Creek. It’s not much to see, but it’s a chance to talk about how Kerry Sieh invented the science of paleoseismology there, back in the 1970s.

Heading up into the mountains, we stopped at the road cut near Big Pines to dig in the fault gouge. Then a quick bathroom stop in Wrightwood before heading down the other side of the mountain into Cajon Pass. There, we got to see Lost Lake, a small sag pond on the fault there. I like Lost Lake just because it looks like such an improbable thing. A pond all by itself, surrounded by desert. We also were very lucky this time. To get to the lake, we have to cross four railroad tracks. On the way in, we saw a train that had just finished passing the crossing when we got there. And while we were at Lost Lake, I saw another train come by. But that one finished passing by just as we were leaving. Cajon Pass is one of the toughest stretches of railroad in the U.S., and the trains there tend to be very long, and very slow-moving, so we were lucky to have missed both of them this time.


2/10/2018

The Museum of Failure

Filed under: — stan @ 8:21 pm

A few months ago, I saw an item in the L.A. Times about the Museum of Failure, which was a temporary exhibit of products and ideas that were complete and abject failures. It sounded funny. Of course, then I forgot about, and when I looked at the article again, it said that the exhibit was only until February 4th. Crap. But on the off chance something had changed, I had a look at their web site, and it said something to the effect of, “we’re such failures that we failed to close on the 4th, and we’re here for two more weeks”. So we had a second chance.

There were lots of things that were just kind of silly, some were weird ideas that left us wondering, “what were they thinking?”, and some were downright horrifying. They also had a few video monitors up, playing commercials for weird failed products. Like who thought that orange-juice flavored cereal was a good idea?

They had one fairly large exhibit devoted to Donald Trump, who has presided over numerous failed products, a failed airline, and even a few failed casinos.

The lobotomy tools definitely fell into the ‘horrifying’ category. The stories of movies made for budgets in the millions, but total box office gross under $1,000 were just funny. And of course, they had one bit about Olestra, the failed fat-substitute that added the term ‘anal leakage’ to our vocabulary.

All told, this exhibit was hilarious.


10/22/2017

P-22 Day

Filed under: — stan @ 5:01 pm

This morning, when we were riding through Griffith Park, I saw a sign for the P-22 Day Festival. This was in honor of P-22, the famous Griffith Park puma. So after I got home, Kathleen and I went back to the park to go see it.

There were booths with exhibits about wildlife conservation, and mountain lions in particular. About plans to build a wildlife overpass over the 101 freeway, since crossing freeways is one of the most dangerous things that wild animals have to do. The had a stuffed puma that had been killed by poachers so we could see what it looked like up close.

It was an odd little event, but fun in its own way.

10/14/2017

San Andreas Fault with Atlas Obscura

Filed under: — stan @ 7:51 pm

Today was yet another edition of the Atlas Obscura San Andreas Fault Scavenger Hunt. This is the third time I’ve been doing this tour with Atlas Obscura, and it seems to be as popular as ever. This time, my partner for leading the tour was my friend Morgan from the office.

We all met at the Seismo Lab, and we started off with a quick tour of the lab. We saw the lobby exhibits about the history of earthquake study, the media center upstairs, and a small exhibit about Charles Richter and Beno Gutenberg, who started the Seismo Lab and systematic study of earthquakes back in the 1930s.

The first stop of the tour was the small fault scarp next to the McDonald’s drive-through in San Fernando. This is a small remnant from the 1971 Sylmar earthquake.

The next stop was the scenic overlook and the famous road cut along the fault in Palmdale. When we were walking up the hill to look at the road cut, we ran across a tour group of students from Long Beach State. They were apparently doing about the same tour as we were, but traveling in the opposite direction.

We stopped for lunch at Charlie Brown Farms, which is still a deeply weird place. This time, I noticed that they had camel meat in the freezer. I suppose it tastes like chicken…

After lunch, we had a pair of stops close together. One at the signs marking the fault, and then at the Pallet Creek trench site, which was where the science of paleoseismology was born. The signs are kind of a silly stop, but it’s a chance for a photo-op. The trench site is interesting from the standpoint of it being important to the history of science.

Now it was time to go into the mountains. We stopped at the road cut that has the fault gouge on one side, and we showed everyone how the rocks in the sand could be crushed by hand. That’s always popular. Then we continued on to Wrightwood.

The last stop was at Lost Lake in Cajon Pass. Last year, it was suffering from three years of drought, and the lake had no water in it. But this time, it had some water, and was actually a lake.

And that was our tour.


9/23/2017

So then this happened…

Filed under: — stan @ 9:53 pm

On Saturday the 23rd, we moved Lucinda into her new room at Porter College at UC Santa Cruz. This was exciting and sad at the same time for all of us. But the sad will pass and the exciting will take over. So here we go…

8/21/2017

The Main Event

Filed under: — stan @ 8:03 pm

So, after two volcanoes, some sloths, thousands of tiny salmon, and dinner with Aunt Karen, it was finally time for the real reason for the whole trip. The total eclipse, and we had good front-row seats in the back yard of Kathleen’s brother Johnny’s house in Salem, Oregon.

We got stupendously lucky with the weather. It was a perfect, clear blue sky when we woke up. I set up my telescope with the camera on a little portable workbench on the back patio. With the clock drive going, the telescope tracked the sun as it rose.

I snapped a few pictures of the sun through the solar filter just to see what it looked like, and to get the camera settings right. I’d used the filter before for the transit of Venus, and also a partial eclipse in 2012. But since I’d never seen a total eclipse before, I knew that I’d be guessing about the settings when that time came.

First contact was about 9:00AM or so, and it looked just like every other partial eclipse I’ve seen over the years. We just watched as the Moon slowly marched across the face of the Sun. It wasn’t until it was probably 90% covered that we could really notice that the light was getting dim, and right at the end, it got cold, too. But then, when the actual moment of totality came, it was like a switch was flipped, and I suddenly realized just why people travel all over the world to chase eclipses. It was really quite spectacular.

I pulled the filter off the telescope, and took some photos. I’d set the camera for ISO 800, and started with a guess of about 1/60 second exposure. Then I increased the exposure on each shot, just to see what it would look like. Because I’d forgotten the remote shutter-release thingy at home, I had to set the camera on a 2-second timer. That way, for each picture, I’d press the button by hand, and then the telescope and camera had two seconds to stop wiggling before the shutter tripped. For a last-minute workaround, it worked reasonably well. And besides, the enforced wait between pictures gave me some time to just look up a the sky, slack-jawed at the sight of the solar corona.

As the Sun started to reappear, I snapped a couple more pictures, and by sheer luck, I got a reasonably good picture of the ‘Diamond ring’ effect right at the end of totality. All told, it was a good time, and was easily the thing that made the whole trip worthwhile.


8/20/2017

Lava River Cave

Filed under: — stan @ 5:25 pm

Today was our last day at Newberry Volcano, and we got up early to go and see Lava River Cave before it was time to head back to Salem for the eclipse.

The cave opens at 9, and we got there a bit before that, just so we could be in the first group to go tour the cave. The rangers gave a short talk about cave safety, and then we picked up our rental lights and headed down to the entrance. Even though it’s August, the inside of the cave was an even 42 degrees, so it was actually pretty chilly.

The cave itself was pretty big. Most of it was just easy walking. There were just a few places where the roof was low, and we had to stoop a bit. The floor of the cave was covered in sand. The rangers said that the sand was actually ash from the eruption of Mt Mazama, about 7,000 years ago. That eruption left a thick layer of ash over the whole of what is now central Oregon, and the ash was washed down into the cave by rain over the years.

The walk through the cave was about a mile to get to the end. The cave went on, but the ceiling was very low, and the sign said to turn around and go back. So that was our little cave adventure, and now it was time to head back to Salem to see the eclipse.

8/19/2017

Newberry Caldera and Lava Butte

Filed under: — stan @ 8:52 pm

Today was our day to play tourist in the caldera at Newberry Volcano. We were staying in a little bed-and-breakfast place, and while we were having our breakfast, we saw couple of bucks wandering by. Then we headed over to the volcano. The first stop was at Paulina Falls. This is the western edge of the caldera, and it’s where water from Paulina Lake drains out of the crater. From there, we went to the visitor center. They had a stack of the USGS fact sheets about the volcano. I told the guys there that it was that fact sheet that got me interested to come there and see it.

Our next stop was the Big Obsidian Flow. This is one of the newest lava flows, at only about 1,300 years old. Apparently, obsidian was an ideal material for making arrowheads and other cutting tools in the ancient world. And it’s usually hard to come by. But this lava flow had lots of it. So the people who lived around here were able to collect it and trade it for other things. The signs along the trail said that arrowheads made from Newberry obsidian are found all over the western U.S.

After the obsidian trail, we went to the East Lake Resort for lunch. We also walked along the shore of the lake a bit, looking for hot springs. Apparently, the two lakes are both fed by hot springs that just sort of seep out of the lake shores.

The next stop was Lava River Cave. This is another lava tube cave. It’s open during the day, and the rangers there rent out lights to use in the cave. But when we got there, there were too many people already there, and we couldn’t get in. So instead, we went on the main visitor center at Lava Butte.

Lava Butte is a small cinder cone volcano. It formed in an eruption about 7,000 years ago. It’s also surrounded by a large lava flow that came out at around the same time. We took the short trail through the lower part of the lava flow. After that, we rode the shuttle bus up to the top of the cone. There, we walked the short trail that goes around the rim of the crater. By this time, the wind had shifted a bit, and the air wasn’t as smokey as this morning. Since we missed seeing the cave, we made plans to come back first thing in the morning to see it before heading back to Salem.


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