Stan’s Obligatory Blog

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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.


8/18/2017

Salmon and sloths

Filed under: — stan @ 9:30 pm

Today was an odd day. It was mostly traveling from Mt St Helens down to central Oregon to see Newberry Volcano. And along the way, we went to see a salmon hatchery on the Lewis River, also a sloth rescue, and we met up with my aunt Karen for dinner.

We started off at the salmon hatchery. One of the guys who worked there gave us a short tour of the facility. He said that the salmon would be returning starting in a couple weeks. At that point, the fish get diverted into the tanks there, and then they are sent into the sorting room. Wild fish are separated out and put in tanks to be taken up river in trucks. The hatchery fish are taken and ‘artificially spawned’ to create the next generation, and the fully-grown fish end up being given to food banks.

Our next stop was the sloth center in Ranier, Oregon. They took us on a short tour, and then we got to have a close-up meet-and-greet with some of the sloths. They gave us a little bowl of cucumber wedges to feed to the sloths. And they said that we could pet the sloths while they were (slowly) chewing on the cucumbers.

We had to pass through Portland, so we met up with my aunt Karen for dinner there. This was the first time I’d seen her since 1994.

The last part of the journey was up and over the mountains between Salem and Bend. We saw some nice lenticular clouds over Mt Jefferson there. After that, we descended down the eastern side of the mountains, and into a tremendous cloud of smoke from some big forest fires that were going on there. The city of Bend was completely enclosed by the smoke. We were going to be staying a bit south of there, right outside the Newberry National Volcanic Monument. I’d run across a USGS fact sheet about this volcano at my office, and it sounded like an interesting place.

8/17/2017

Visiting Mt St Helens

Filed under: — stan @ 8:51 pm

Our first destination on our trip was to go see Mt St Helens. As it turned out, we got there early enough on Wednesday afternoon to be able to go to the south side of the mountain and do a little sightseeing there. We went and saw Lava Canyon, the path of a big lahar from the 1980 eruption, and also the entrance to Ape Cave, which is a long lava tube cave. We didn’t have flashlights, so were weren’t able to go explore inside.

Lava Canyon was very pretty. It’s a steep canyon, so there were lots of waterfalls. We walked down one side of the canyon, and the crossed over on a suspension footbridge. Just like on Tom Sawyer Island at Disneyland. Except the bridge at Disneyland isn’t 100 feet above the water, and it doesn’t have a broken board right at the start to inspire confidence. This bridge kind of gave me the willies. But we made it across just fine.

The next day, we took the road up the Toutle River valley to the main Visitor Center, and to Johnston Ridge. Along the way, we saw the Bigfoot statue that was made out of cemented-together ash from the 1980 eruption. We also stopped at the Weyerhauser visitor center, where we found out that the trees they are farming there are all genetically modified to grow straighter, taller, and faster than regular trees.

At Johnston Ridge, we took in the view of the crater. We saw the trunks of trees that were blown over by the blast of the 1980 eruption. I zoomed in on the lava dome inside the crater, but I wasn’t able to see any steam coming off of it. The docents said that steam is sometimes visible when the temperature is right. We also saw a small group of elk down in the valley. One of the docents had a small telescope so we could see them, but my 300mm zoom lens just couldn’t quite bring them close enough.

After taking in the view of the crater, we went back down the road to the Hummocks. There is a trail through this little bit of terrain so that we can see the little hills and valleys that were created by the front end of the big landslide that began the 1980 eruption. The trail was a bit over two miles, and it went up and down and around, with signs along the way explaining how the terrain there was basically created in an instant.

On the way back, we stopped for a moment to again marvel at the GMO-forest. The trees are all so identical that looking at them made us feel like our eyes were going blurry, even when they were perfectly focused. It was impressive in a weird way.

Route map of the Hummocks Trail

2/27/2017

A day in Las Vegas

Filed under: — stan @ 10:12 pm

Monday was our only full day in Las Vegas between the stair climb on Sunday morning and the Nevada Test Site tour on Tuesday. So Gordon and I spent the day playing blackjack. It was entertaining, much like when we used to play back in the ’80s. Then that evening, we went downtown to Atomic Liquors. And that was our day.

1/21/2017

Can you spot the theme here?

Filed under: — stan @ 2:08 pm

As I tell everyone, we’re really quite appalled by what’s happening in our country now. So we joined up with a few hundred thousand of our best friends and went to downtown L.A. to yell about it.

9/5/2016

Visiting SkySpace

Filed under: — stan @ 4:36 pm

Today’s a holiday, so we went downtown to see the new OUE SkySpace on the 69th and 70th floors of the U.S. Bank building. I’ve climbed the stairs in this building many, many times, but it felt weird to be going there for any other reason. We’d made reservations online, so when we got there, we were able to go right on up. They have three floors dedicated to this, which seemed a bit odd. The entire 54th floor was just sort of a waiting area with photos and artwork to look at while waiting for the elevators up to 70. But fortunately, it wasn’t crowded, so we were able to go right on up.

When we got to 70, we walked around, looking at the view in all directions. That was kind of nice, since when we get to the top of the building at the stair climb, we’re only able to look north and west. Then I walked down to 69 to see Kathleen go down the SkySlide.

I did take a moment to paw forlornly at the door to the staircase.

It was fun having the outdoor observation decks on the east and west sides of the building. And it was novel to be able to look down on all the other tall buildings that I’ve climbed in the past. So I guess this is probably the most fun I’ve had in a tall building that didn’t involve climbing stairs.

8/20/2016

Gyoza 2016

Filed under: — stan @ 3:54 pm

It’s Nisei Week in Little Tokyo, and that means it’s time for the gyoza eating contest. We’ve been there before, and it’s always simultaneously hilarious and horrifying.

In a departure from the format of previous years, they added a few side contests. One was a short one featuring some of the girls who were in last year’s Nisei Week court, as well as one pitting LAPD officers against LA County firefighters. Those were all entertaining, but were just a warm-up for the main event. Lots of the big names in competitive eating were there, and once the ten minutes began, it was obvious that they’re all professionals. The plates held 25 gyoza each, and empty plates started stacking up in front of the top eaters as their heads bobbed up and down and they did little shimmies and jumps to try and pack the food down as they ate. And of course, in the final seconds, they stuffed their cheeks like chipmunks to try and pack in as many gyoza as possible. I guess that’s the competitive eating version of a sprint to the finish.

In the end, Matt ‘Megatoad’ Stonie was the winner again, and by a convincing margin. He was the only one to go over 300. The full results are here:

http://majorleagueeating.com/news.php?action=detail&sn=970


8/6/2016

Pangolin

Filed under: — stan @ 9:36 pm

We went to San Diego this weekend to visit my father, and since it’s summer, we also went to the zoo to see the pangolin. The San Diego Zoo is the only place in the western hemisphere to see a pangolin, and they only bring Baba our for 15 minutes a day, and only in summer. I’d taken Lucinda there to see the pangolin last summer, but Kathleen wasn’t able to go that time. So this was her chance to see one of the oddest animals ever.

We got to the zoo a little early, so we walked around and looked at some other animals while we waited for it to be pangolin time. Then we headed over to the children’s zoo. At 1:30 one of the keepers came out with Baba the pangolin. She put him on the little tree and platform they made for him so he could eat. She said that they feed him a slurry of cat food and ground-up insects, all mixed with vanilla-flavored Ensure. Yum. He seemed to like it all right, and it gave us a chance to see his famously-long tongue. After his 15 minutes were up, Baba climbed down off the platform and just started walking back to the building where he lives. This was interesting, since it’s the first time we got to see how he walks on the ground.

After pangolin time, we headed over to the Australia exhibit to see the Tasmanian Devils. As usual, they were all sleeping.

Finally, we walked down the hill to go see the hippos. A few years ago, we got to see a baby hippo there, so we wanted to go back again. And while we were there, we got to see fresh hippo poop. That always makes my day…


7/11/2016

A Weekend in Las Vegas

Filed under: — stan @ 9:34 pm

Last February, when we were in Las Vegas so I could climb the Stratosphere Tower, my old friend Gordon came out from New Jersey to visit. We used to go to Las Vegas a lot back in the ’80s to play blackjack. So this was a fun little excursion to remember the Old Days. In the process, we went looking for prime rib, and ended up at the Orleans, which turned out to also have a pretty good low-key blackjack game. While we were there, Kathleen signed up for their players club, and they sent her an offer for two free nights at the hotel. So that was our adventure for this weekend.

We drove out there on Saturday. When we arrived, we checked in to the hotel, and then I went downstairs to play some blackjack. I’d resurrected the practice program I wrote back in 1990 and played with it a bit this past week, so I was able to remember Basic Strategy this time. I had two losing sessions, took a short break, and then I got lucky and ended Saturday up by a little bit.

After dinner on Saturday, we headed downtown to go to Atomic Liquors. I stopped to take a picture of the big neon sign across the street that announces, “Llamas stay for free!”. Atomic is a little dive bar where people used to sit on the roof to watch the nuclear tests back in the 1950s. Now it’s a bit of a hipster hangout. Apparently, living downtown seems to be an up-and-coming thing in Las Vegas, just like it is here in L.A.

Sunday, I spent almost the whole day playing blackjack, and ended up down by almost $100. But that’s not bad for as much time as I spent at the tables.

On Monday, I went down to the casino before breakfast and quickly got cleaned out of a further $100. At that point, I took a short break before trying again. And this time, the magic worked. I had three good sessions, and in the end, I basically broke even for the weekend.

Before heading home, we went to see the Atomic Testing Museum. We’d gone there before, and it’s an interesting place, so I wanted to go again. It turns out that the place I was born, Dugway Proving Ground in Utah, was one of the four finalists when the AEC was first deciding on where to do nuclear testing. Yikes.

After the museum, we headed home. And in the end, I got to come home a winner. I had brought $500.00 to gamble with, and when it was all done, I came home with $500.50. Yay!

4/15/2016

Harry Potter World

Filed under: — stan @ 9:41 pm

Today was a special treat. Kathleen and I went to Universal Studios to see the new “Wizarding World of Harry Potter” there. Just for the experience of it, she sprang for the full “VIP Experience” tickets. We got there about 8:45 or so and checked in. Then we went up to the room where they had breakfast for us. While we were there, our tour guide came and found us, and at 9:15, we set out on our tour.

Our first stop was the “Harry Potter” area. As part of the “VIP Experience”, we got to to the front of every line, which was kind of fun. Our first stop was the “Flight of the Hippogriff” ride. This was a small roller coaster, and not terribly exciting. It was about like the “Gadget’s Go Coaster” at Disneyland. But there was nothing wrong with it.

After that, we headed into the main Harry Potter ride. And on the way in to the ride, we got to walk through parts of Hogwart’s, and to see Dumbledore’s office and the Potions classroom along the way. The ride itself kind of defies description. It’s sort of a combination of a real ride and a motion simulator ride. To put it in Disneyland terms, it’s sort of like if you mashed up “The Haunted Mansion” with “Soarin’ Over California” and “Star Tours“. It was very well done.

Next was a visit to Ollivander’s to shop for wands. Which was apparently a very popular thing to do. The shop had a long line to get in. But the little show was entertaining. Then we moved on to our next stop, which was the “Despicable Me” ride. The trophy over the door going in to the ride was funny. This was another motion simulator ride. I’m usually not impressed by motion simulators where just the seats move, and the movie screen is fixed. But this one was good. Even with the screen fixed, it was a convincing effect.

Next, we headed down the hill to the lower lot for the “Jurassic Park”, “Transformers”, and “Revenge of the Mummy” rides. The Mummy ride was the one that Lucinda and I rode eight times on the cold and rainy day we spent there back in 2010. The “Transformers” ride was pretty good, but amazingly loud. I had to make some makeshift earplugs before I could stand it.

Then it was time for lunch, which was included in the VIP package. And the lunch was actually quite good. Considering that you’d probably have to spend $20 for a burger at a theme park, this lunch probably would have cost upwards of $50 each. It was really quite good. And after that, we headed down for the studio tram tour. But instead of waiting in line for the regular tram ride, they had a small tram for just two of our groups, which was about 24 people total. They took us around to see all the regular tour sites, as well as a few that aren’t on the regular tour. They took us inside one of the sound stages to see the hospital lobby set that they built for the TV show “Heartbeat”. It was pretty big, and had a lot of detail. I asked them if they had to take more time building TV sets now that TV has gone HD, and they said that they did. I’d gone to see some sets from “Star Trek: The Next Generation” back in the ’90s, and they looked pretty rough. But this set looked real enough that it looked good even up close.

We saw their collection of movie cars, and the flood set. Then they took us to Wisteria Lane, where we go to get out and go inside Bree’s house from “Desperate Housewives”. They said that most of the houses there were just exteriors, although a few had interiors. The one we went in had just a little bit of inside decoration. Just enough that they can open the front door and it looks like there’s an interior. But on a practical level, it had a bathroom, which was useful.

The next stop was the prop warehouse, where we got to see an enormous collection of all manner of props, most of which were used in any number of movies and TV shows. The only one they pointed out specially was the Evil Queen’s throne from “Snow White and the Huntsman”, which everyone wanted to get their picture sitting in. After that, they took us up the hill to the “Psycho” house and the airplane crash set from “War of the Worlds”. We got to get out there for pictures with the house, as well as the crashed airplane. Getting up close, it was obvious that the airplane was not a prop made of styrofoam and plastic. Looking into the tail section, I could see the aft pressure bulkhead, so it looked like they’d made this set out of a real airplane. They told us it was an actual junked 747 that they bought and had hauled there, and then cut up into pieces to make the crash set. And while we were looking around there, I saw a small pond and building behind the plane crash set that they said was the “Site B” raptor breeding facility from “Jurassic Park”.

After the tour, we all headed back up with our group and saw the special effects show. At that point, it was about 4:30, and we were turned loose to go do whatever we wanted for the rest of the day. Kathleen and I went back to Hogwart’s and rode the Harry Potter ride again, and I rode the Hippogriff roller coaster a couple more times. Then we did the Simpsons ride, and the Mummy one more time. Being able to just walk right up to the ride without waiting in line makes the whole theme park experience much more fun.

Overall, it was a fun day.

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