Sunday, July 11, 2004

2 July
Moab, UT

After sleeping in a campsite tucked away in the Colorado River Recreational Area, we started in on Arches National Park at 9 AM. (The one time we actually get to a national park reasonably early in the morning, it's the one that you're supposed to hit at sunset.) Did five hours in the heat, saw lots of rock formations and sagebrush and harvester ants, thought seriously about stumbling off to Canyonlands, then realized that one of the things we often forget to do on vacation is relax. Found a motel in Moab that, while not actually cheap, had a pool and didn't charge more than one limb at a time. On the way back from dinner, we were strolling past a beautiful flower garden in front of a café when we were buzzed by an enormous beetle. I reached out with cupped hands and caught it in flight; it was a beautiful scarab an inch and a half long, with black, white, and tan stripes and reddish-tan fan-shaped antennae. (I wish we'd had the camera with us, but unfortunately we didn't; no cool bug shots this time.) The beetle began to stridulate loudly and piteously; we figured maybe it had a few cousins armed with tire jacks stashed in the vicinity, so we released it quickly into the shrubbery.

I've decided I like Moab. The restaurant guide handed out to tourists at the info station contains a quick description of how to go about getting a drink in Utah. Not that I've been especially interested in alcohol on this trip, but I had a margarita with dinner, just to say "I can".

3 July
Mesa Verde National Park, CO

Great to see the change over time in the architecture of the mesa/cave-dwelling Ancestral Puebloans. Anyone who doubts the capability and tendency of all human cultures to change should spend a day there. After an hour or so of heavy thoughts, though, I could imagine the folks represented in the dioramas as laughing and making small talk as well as engaging in the hard work of hunting, farming, and building. Rick and I started joking about a hypothetical Puebloan landlord and his neighbor:

"Yeah, those young guys renting my spare room are a real headache. Noisy. Last night they broke into the kiva and smoked all the ceremonial herbs. Drummed on the walls all night."

"Aw, y'know, don't be so hard on them, Screaming Hawk. When we were young, we used to sneak herbs out of the kiva too."

"Yeah, I suppose so. Hey, remember when we had that pet mountain lion cub living with us, and we didn't want old Broken Spear to know about it ...?"

And, of course, I wonder if the first users of masonry construction used to engage in nostalgia about the old wattle-and-daub pithouse that Mom and Dad built ...

4 July
Chama, NM

This morning, we visited the historic 1920s coal-powered train that departs most mornings from Chama (and represents this small town's main tourist attraction). Skipped the rodeo, but did take time to chase ants. Picked up some red ants in my fingers and looked at them through the loupe, then realized they were myrmicines by their double petioles and the fact that they were trying heroically to sting me and were certainly large enough to do so. They did not succeed - let's be thankful for fingertip calluses -- and are pickled in an epi tube now, along with the Formica and Polyergus I picked up next to the dirt road. There's also a boxelder bug outbreak going on here, which made me feel right at home.

Odd thing about Chama: The churches here blast their electronically amplified sermons and hymns right out where they'll wake up late sleepers all over town. I wonder if they're trying to share a fervent religious experience - or just compete with one another.

Postscript: Fireworks in the evening, on the outskirts of town. Wendy and I decided that this should be the only use of gunpowder, ever.

7 July
Albuquerque, NM

On the way down from Chama, we helped rescue a little gray poodle named Cricket who had accidentally been left at a scenic rest stop by her owners. A half-dozen picnickers cooperated to track down Cricket’s family and make arrangements for her to be picked up. (Hint to those traveling with pets: A phone number on the pet’s collar can make all the difference.) Cricket rode to her rendezvous on the back of a big yellow motorcycle. I suppose she could in principle tell her grandchildren about this, but given that she had obviously been very well cared for, she was undoubtedly fixed. (Further note to pet owners: Yes, it is the responsible thing to do, but dunno about the purported side benefits; as an example, getting fixed hasn’t make me any more tractable.)

We're camped out in Wendy's place here, after spending a couple of days at her summer rental in Chama (thanks, Wendy, for your extreme patience!) Today's road trips: Petroglyph National Monument, and then a hike to the top of a small volcanic peak. Found a nice cool cave near the summit; it contained a placid brown millipede about 4 inches long, plus the remnants of a large Pogonomyrmex mating flight. (Plenty of pogos around here, as well as a colony of very - er, antsy little dolichoderines in front of the apartment building. Unlike us, these ants are smart enough to stay in their homes at high noon.) Also, there were some tarantula hawk wasps (the state insect of New Mexico) buzzing around the paths leading to the volcanoes. I didn't see any actual tarantulas, but the wasps had to have been searching for baby food.

At the petroglyph site, there were various warnings against defacing the historic carvings, and one was accompanied by a photograph of some damage once done by a visitor. Seems that some folks who once visited the site couldn't resist using an ancient carved image of concentric circles for target practice with some firearms they happened to have handy. Remembered the old Darwin Award entry about the drunk guys who found a large millipede on a rock, fired a handgun at the bug at close range, maimed themselves with ricocheting bullet and rock fragments - and, of course, missed the fortunate millipede, which undoubtedly had done nothing to provoke such un-genteel behavior. Perhaps this entire habitat should be renamed Laughing Millipede Rock.

8 July
Clinton, OK

Albuquerque has made us realize how much we miss Wendy (and her husband, Lawrence, who was away taking care of some family things). Thanks, Wendy, for putting us up - and up with us - for so many days!

Drove 8+ hours from Albuquerque through the Texas Panhandle (Motto: "Interstate, Schminterstate! You Can't Escape Historic Route 66!") to this small Oklahoma town. Found a Mom and Pop motel that was incredibly cheap, clean, and comfortable. (Mom and Pop themselves appear to be in their late twenties at most.) Ate dinner at a tiny family-owned Mexican place and got to try out my feeble and rusty Spanish on the server. Accidentally-on-purpose overtipped her and felt very good about it.

Despite all the driving, it was such a good day that I didn't have the heart to pickle any more ants.

9 July
Rolla, MO

Creeks are for territorial fishes, puddling butterflies, and lots of little black-shelled molluscs. Creek shoes are for creeks. Recreational areas in the Mark Twain National Forest are for creek shoes. Fallen logs across creeks are for ant nests (cute little red-headed Crematogaster are not found in Michigan!)

We had originally planned on driving past Rolla, but the creek walk got us into town after 7:30 PM. So after checking into a motel in Rolla, where the desk clerk was very nice but didn’t believe there were any local restaurants that did not dangle from chains, we called Ben. And, wonder of wonders, he was home, and hosting Brandon, another traveling quizbowler, that night. Ben’s response to the phone call was priceless. I’m as proud of the “What the HELLs?” elicited by my call as I am of the “Seek HELPs!” that Ben growled at me one December in Chattanooga, right after I identified Saturday Night Fever from the names of the actors playing two minor characters.

So the four of us went out to dinner at one of Ben’s favorite places instead. For those readers who know Ben, no further explanation of the evening’s ambience is necessary. For those readers who do not know Ben, no further explanation of the evening’s ambience is possible. Ben, if I ever again forget how much I miss seeing you at tournaments, I’ll have to call you up just for a few more “What the HELLs?” Oh, and thanks again for confirming for me that one of the widely cited papers in my field seems never to have existed. I sought help, and you were there.

10 July
Indianapolis, IN

Our 15-year-old nephew is now 6’1” and has become partial to shiny shirts with blue flames and lime-green sci-fi creature logos on them. He does card tricks, plays Blink 182 covers on his Strat copy, frequents Internet cafes, and is capable of reading five novels in 10 days. He is also capable of persuading his aunt and uncle to stay one day later than previously planned, so that Uncle Rick can go to his computer-game birthday party.

Our 10-year-old niece now has big round piercing studs in both ears, and can’t wait until she’s allowed to take them out and wear real earrings. She enjoys wearing Pink Panther logo T-shirts and spiderweb-turquoise Navajo jewelry, is figuring out the secrets of keyboard jazz improv, and can both understand and demonstrate the complicated topology of twist-and-clip headbands.

Our 4- and 2-year old great-nieces are old enough to be amenable to suggestions that they not step on bugs just to watch them die. The older one seems to produce endogenous caffeine and is enamored of her aforementioned teenage uncle’s equally aforementioned Strat copy. The younger one is mastering both the high- and low-fives.

The plants in my father-in-law’s garden are so tall that Rick is considering snooping around them with his radiation detector.

All in all, not a bad last stop on the way home.


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