Stan’s Obligatory Blog

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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.


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

7/8/2017

Mt Baldy, 2017

Filed under: — stan @ 8:06 pm

I’ve been trying to get Lucinda to go and hike Mt. Baldy with me for a while. And since she’s off to college in the fall, today seemed like a good day to do it. The plan was to start at Manker Flat and take the Bowl trail up, and then come down by way of the Devil’s Backbone and the Baldy ski area service road.

It was going to be very hot down in the valleys today, but it was pleasantly cool at 6,100 feet at Manker Flat. We hiked the first 2 1/2 or so miles to the ski hut, and we took a break there. Then the trail went across the bowl, and then up the steep side of the ridge. We rested a bit at the top of the ridge, and then started up the last 1,000 or so vertical feet to the summit. At that point, we weren’t going very fast. But we were still moving. I kept an eye on the GPS to see when we were close to the summit. When we got there, we took the obligatory picture with the plaque, and then we sat down and had lunch.

After resting a bit and looking at the view, we started back down the ridge. I made a point of taking a picture of Lulu on the knife-edge ridge part of the trail.

We finally made it down to the ski lodge, where we got some ice and cold drinks. We briefly considered taking the chairlift back down, but in the end, we both wanted to actually do the entire hike. So we started down the service road. The road isn’t very steep, so we were able to make good time there, and it only took a little more than an hour to do the 3 1/2 miles back to where we started. It was a long and tiring day, but it was fun. And it was a nice treat to spend the day with Lucinda.

Route map and elevation profile

4/22/2017

Revisiting a bit of history

Filed under: — stan @ 3:09 pm

Today was a special short ride to go back and see the roads that were the course for the Acton Road Race, which was one that I rode in 1978. I wrote up the story of that day some years ago, but I’d never been back there until today. I’d only had a vague idea where the race was until last year when Kathleen and I went to Animal Tracks in Agua Dulce. That was when I realized that the start and finish line for the race was on Escondido Canyon Road, just north of the overpass over the 14 freeway.

I had a look at the map and mapped out the course. There aren’t that many roads up there that go through, so there really was only one way for it to go. And as it turns out, the loop was only 22 miles, rather than the 24 they told us it was on race day. And my recollection of it was that it had some climbs, but I don’t recall any major scary downhills. But today, seeing it in person for the first time since 1978, I find it amazing that I rode those descents in a full-speed racing pack and really didn’t think anything of it. It really was fun to be young and fearless.

The part of the course I really wanted to see what the big climb on Sierra Highway. That was where I lost contact with the pack on the last lap, but managed to catch up. This was the only race where I ever lost contact but was able to catch it again. And certainly the only race where I caught the pack after being dropped and went on to place in the top ten. So it was fun to see the site again. And since Jen was along for the ride, I got to tell the story again, even if telling a 39-year-old bike racing story made me feel a bit like Grandpa Simpson. But the important thing was that I had an onion on my belt…

Since there wasn’t really any place to leave the car near the starting line of the race, we parked at Vasquez Rocks and rode from there. And after riding the loop, along with a quick trip through Agua Dulce to get some cold water and see the sights, we went back in to Vasquez Rocks. I wanted to find the place where Captain Kirk faced off against the Gorn in the “Star Trek” first-season episode, “Arena”.

27 miles.

Route map and elevation profile

2/28/2017

Visiting the Nevada Test Site

Filed under: — stan @ 8:59 pm

I first met my friend Gordon at our first job out of college, back in 1982. We were at McDonnell-Douglas in the department that dealt with modeling nuclear weapons effects. So we read and thought about nuclear weapons quite a bit in those days, and we both thought that it would be interesting to get a chance to see an actual nuclear test. Since above-ground testing ended in 1962, and even underground testing ended in 1992, it’s just not possible. But going to see the place where they did the tests back in the 1950s was the next best thing.

The tours of the test site are given once a month, and they fill up fast. I signed us up for this tour last July. And Tuesday morning, we headed over to the Atomic Testing Museum for the tour.

There were about 45 people on the tour. We all got on the bus for the long ride out of town to the test site. On the way there, we passed by Creech Air Force Base, where we saw a drone flying around and practicing touch-and-go landings. A little bit farther out, we finally got off the main road and entered the test site. The streets in that part of the base were all named for nuclear test series’ from the 1950s. Tumbler, Snapper, Ranger, et al. We had a snack stop there, and then we got back on the bus to head out to Yucca Valley.

On the way to Yucca Valley, our guide pointed out some old wooden benches next to the road. He said these were the benches that spectators sat on to watch the early tests at Frenchman Flat.

We rode the bus all the way through that valley and over a small pass to get to Yucca Flat. There, they took us to see the site of the last prepared underground test. It was put together and ready to go in 1992 when all nuclear testing was stopped. So we got to go inside the tower and see the test rig, complete with a small dummy warhead at the bottom and all the instruments to record the explosion mounted above it. The whole thing was suspended over the hole, ready to be lowered down for the test.

Continuing on in the bus, we stopped for our one photo-op of the tour. The guide had a camera, and he took a group picture of us on the observation platform at the edge of the crater left by the Sedan test in 1962. This test was supposed to be a demonstration of ‘nuclear earthmoving’, and there was actually a proposal to use this to dig a harbor in Alaska, and even talk of using nuclear bombs to dig a giant roadcut for Interstate 40 in California.

Getting back on the bus, we headed back toward Frenchman Flat, with a short side trip to see one of the houses that was built for the Apple 2 test in 1955.

We stopped for lunch at the cafeteria at the test site. In the hallway there, there were large photographs of some of the tests.

After lunch, we got back on the bus to go to Frenchman Flat. We saw the nuclear waste dump site there. And then we went to see the remains of the buildings and other structures built for the 1957 Priscilla test. The railroad bridge with the bent steel girders was particularly impressive.

That was the end of the tour, and the bus headed back to Las Vegas. As always, one must exit through the gift shop, so we got to go to the Atomic Testing Museum’s gift shop at the end. It was an interesting and entertaining day.


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.

2/26/2017

Scale the Strat 2017

Filed under: — stan @ 6:52 pm

Today was the 2017 edition of the Scale the Strat stair climb. Up the core of the Stratosphere tower to the observation deck. That’s 1,391 steps and about 805 vertical feet. I’m not really trying to go fast at these things any more. My goal for the day was just to make it to the top without stopping, and to average at least one foot per second vertical.

When we lined up, I made sure to get toward the back of our group, since many of them were planning on going considerably faster. When it was my turn to go, I started my watch, and then started up the stairs at a fairly relaxed pace. For some reason, the climb seemed shorter this time. It’s only about 20 flights to get to the first rest area, and then 23 more to get to the second. Then 21 more to the top of the tower core, and then it’s just 7 short floors to the finish. In the end, my time was 13:20, which is exactly 800 seconds. So I made my goal, and even though I was coughing for a good bit of the rest of the day, it wasn’t too bad this time.

After getting cleaned up, Gordon and I went downtown to play some blackjack at the Fremont and at the El Cortez.

Here’s my chart of the staircase.

2/11/2017

The Santa Susana Field Laboratory

Filed under: — stan @ 2:22 pm

Some months ago, I ran across some information about Boeing giving tours of the old Rocketdyne Santa Susana Field Laboratory. This is the bit of rugged terrain in the hills west of Chatworth that I’ve seen lots of times from the window of an airplane on its way to landing at Burbank. But I didn’t know that they offered tours. So this was a chance to see some aerospace history, as well as an infamous bit of nuclear power history.

Rocketdyne built the engines for nearly all U.S. ballistic missiles, from the earliest ones with engine designs based on the German V-2 rockets, all they way through the Saturn V and on to the Space Shuttle. And most of them were tested on the stands at Santa Susana. They tested engines all the way up to the J-2, which powered the second and third stages of the Saturn V. The F-1 engines for the Saturn V first stage were tested out in the desert at Edwards Air Force Base.

Not all of the test stands are still there, but the small one where they tested the engines for the Atlas missile, and the large one where they tested the J-2 were still there. At the first stand, we got a short talk by a Rocketdyne retiree who was there in the 1950s, and worked on the Atlas project. He told us about how they did the tests, and how they calculated everything on slide rules.

A lot of what goes on at the site now is related to cleanup from the old days. Apparently they used a lot of trichloroethylene to clean the rocket engines between test firings, and a fair amount of it got spilled on the ground. They told us that studies have shown that most of it soaked into the sandstone underneath the site. That’s good in that it kept it from going into the groundwater. But it’s bad in that it makes the solvent essentially impossible to clean up. So there’s that…

The other big piece of sightseeing was the site of the Sodium Reactor Experiment. That’s an infamous bit of nuclear history in that the reactor suffered a partial meltdown in 1959. For something that’s just over the hill from the San Fernando Valley suburbs, that’s a pretty terrifying idea. There’s basically nothing left of it on the site any more. Just a flat plain where the building housing the reactor used to be. In any event, it was interesting to see the site, and it’s appropriate in that I’m signed up to take a tour of the Nevada Test Site when we go to Las Vegas at the end of this month.

So all around, it was an interesting morning.


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