Oct 27

Antelope canyon exploration

Category: Arizona

Recently I attended a meetup Kayak/Hike trip to lower Antelope canyon arranged by local Flagstaffian Kyle.  He did a great job and there were a lot of cool people on the trip.  Here is a brief description of what we did:

Start at Antelope Marina and kayak to the beginning of the canyon via the Colorado River. Kayak through the upper canyon until you are beached at the trailhead of Antelope Canyon. From here we will hike until the canyon ends. Afterwards we will kayak back to the marina.

As we got further and further along, the canyon became more twisted and beautiful. A narrow twisting slot emptied us out into a fork; we went left. This eventually led us to a series of wet troughs filled with opaque water; there was no telling if they were 2 inches or 6 feet deep until we waded into them.  Several of them were neck-deep or worse, and at one point we encountered a slippery wall requiring a rope. We turned around after encountering a second such wall and deciding that although we could climb it, we didn’t have enough time. The red rock, shadowy canyon depths, spectacular sandstone formations, and the total silence of the slot canyon’s depths create a breathtaking experience.

To do this properly, we’d need to stay in Page and start early.  Next time…




Oct 26

Hart Prairie Hummingbord Moths

Category: animals,Arizona

Here’s a post from another visit to Hart Prairie.  A group of friends watched the sunset and enjoyed one another’s company. It’s things like this that really make me love where I live: beautiful surroundings and great people. The most salient feature of this visit were all of the hummingbird moths who were making the most of the late fall flowers. They are enormous plump moths with cute faces.


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Oct 26

Picnic at Hart Prairie

Category: Arizona

A little while ago, I picnicked with some friends at Hart Prairie.  The weather was perfect and it was classic Northern Arizona: incredible beauty accessible in only a few minutes. Grown-ups, kids, and dogs were all satisfied.

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Oct 24

Introducing Lindsey

Category: Family

It is time to introduce Lindsey to the family… a trip east was made, and EVERYBODY was visited.  I do mean everybody. I didn’t get pictures of everybody though, for which I am sorry.  I became overwhelmed with events! We visited my Dad and his family, my Aunt and her family, my friends from college, the dinner party involving my Mom’s husband and friends, the ship I have volunteered with for over two decades, my friends in Maryland, and even my workplace. Somehow we managed to find time to spend a day and a half just being tourists.


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Sep 18

Asus RT-N16 Router repair

Category: Tech-y

I have an Asus RT-N16 router and after years of perfect service encountered intermittent operation; the unit would operate for hours at a time and then turn off randomly.  It would turn itself back on after some time, perhaps 20 minutes.  This behavior continued to deteriorate until it would only stay on for perhaps 10 seconds. It felt like an overheating problem, but I was incorrect. As with all problem-solving nowdays, I first consulted the ‘net and found this link.

The capacitor pictured in the link looked perfect, and when I used my ‘scope to examine the quality of the DC power rail it looked fine, but having lots of spare capacitors and nothing to lose I replaced it anyway, and it was fixed!

Moral of the story: capacitors don’t have to be visibly damaged to be faulty.  They don’t even have to stop working to need replacement! Also, the quality of the DC power rail is a tricky thing to use, because if the power supply is adequate for most purposes but fails under a particular kind of stress, you will have to a) figure that out and b)  observe it while that even is occurring; this can be an elusive thing. It’s possible that had I measured its capacitance, it would have been fine; it could just be that its ESR had risen to unacceptable levels and failed under the high-current demand imposed when the unit’s transmitter quickly used a lot of power. This is a typical failure mode for capacitors; as they get older they still function, but have poor ripple rejection despite having their original value in Farads.

I didn’t have a capacitor of the same physical size, so I removed the defective one, soldered jumper wires and installed a physically large 2500 uF unit where there was room in the chassis a few inches away.  It’s been working perfectly for weeks now.


Aug 3

Work Trip to Coastal Oregon, Seattle and British Columbia

While on a work trip to coastal Oregon, an urgent need arose for me to be in the middle of Vancouver island.  I got there about 24 hours later by driving to Portland, Flying to Seattle, and taking a ship to Victoria, then driving to the work site in the hinterlands. Strangely enough, for such a whirlwind trip, I had an oddly relaxed schedule that allowed me to make a few stops and enjoy things along the way.  First, the Oregon coast:

I even had time to stop at cape lookout state park for a couple of miles of hiking:

A little cliff climbing at the end of the cape!

I made it down to the bottom, where I was rewarded with this:

While in Seattle waiting for the ship to Canada, I spent some time at the Pike Place market. It was a beautiful fall day, and there were lots of people out on the promenade.

To my utter delight and surprise, a carrier group was doing a drive-by,complete with aircraft of various kinds, and escort ships of varying nationalities!

Then, it was time to get aboard the Victoria clipper for a hop across the Strait to Victoria, BC, Canada.  Seattle looked great in the background.

Mount Rainier looks great on the horizon.

The clipper really rocks- it throws up a spray that creates a little rainbow!

The clipper arrives in Victoria.

A couple of hours into the countryside…

Some boring telecommunications work done, I returned to catch a flight out of Victoria.  I had just enough time to stop at the famed Butchart gardens. Everything was in bloom.


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Jul 21

Hiking on and around the Matanuska Glacier

Category: Alaska,Travel

On my last day in Alaska for this trip, I drove about as far north from Anchorage as I had south to get to Seward, where I’d hiked near the Exit glacier and kayaked on Aialik bay. My destination this time: the Matanuska glacier.  You can see it from the road, once you get within a few miles of it:

Once you get close to it, you can see how huge the thing is.  Not only is it long, but it’s high.

The bulk of the glacier dwarves the people walking on it. It’s actually much thicker than it looks here; much of it is hidden under mounds of glacier rubble where it terminates.

Here’s a view of it from above – from later in the day, when I climbed Lion’s head, about a thousand feet over the glacier. I had the mountain all to myself, and sat there for an hour listening to the staggering cracks and books of the glacier.In between these noises, it is completely silent, sometimes for 5 minutes, sometimes for hours. As impressive as this glacier is, it is only a shadow of what it was 100,000 years ago, when it probably rose most of the way up to the mountain tops. I am not a religious person, but it occurred to me that an object like this glacier would make a suitable god.  It’s unimaginably vast, powerful, and living on a time scale that I have a hard time comprehending; who knows what secrets lie frozen within it?  At one point, I found a dragonfly partially frozen into the ice.  Was that a recent event, or a primordial one?

Those lakes in the foreground look like they’re on solid ground, but they’re actually on top of the glacier.  The glacier has ground up so much of the surrounding mountains, and has gone through so much melting since the last ice age, that it has a thick layer of rock and dirt on top of it.  When you look closely at the lakes, you can see they they’re basically sitting in ice pits.  Meanwhile, the soil insulated the ice so much that it has looked like this for a really long time; there is a forest on top of it!

Back to the Glacier’s surface: the top side of it has many water features such as lakes and streams, which carve sinuous gulleys into the ice before vanishing into deep crevasses:

Where water or fracturing has polished the surface, it has that wonderful glacial color:

Larger lakes are also found:

In places where the water is saturated with ground-up stone – not just dust, but really, stone flour – it is gray and opalescent.

Proceeding into the fracture zone, where the ice is splintered and broken by the force of the glacier’s movement, you can find perfectly clear, still pools that are suspended high above the surrounding terrain. note the person at right for scale.

The fractured ice represents much of the surface of the glacier, which winds for 27 miles back into the mountains. It’s extremely rugged and dangerous terrain that can swallow people forever. Caution is advised! Can you find the ice climber in this picture (click to enlarge any of these)?

How about this one?

It’s prudent to wear spikes and carry the right gear for this environment; I hired a guide from Nova expeditions to show me the ropes, but next time I’d probably bring my own spikes and go my own way. I found Nova to be a very good deal – the guide was knowledgeable and competent and the price was reasonable. The helmet, though, is not the height of fashion.

The variety of shapes and textures of the ice seems never ending. And once in a while, an enormous groan or artillery fusillade-sound would come from one or another part of the glacier as it crept inexorably and almost undetectably forward.

Last but not least, the hike up Lion’s Head was a real ass-kicker, but it is totally worth it.  It is kind of like climbing a ladder for half an hour, but when you get to the top you can see the glacier as pictured above in the long shot.  Here is a view in the other direction; you can see the car down by the road and see exactly what I had to climb to get to this eagle’s view.

The vegetation on Lion’s head is exorbitant and lush.  Within a shaded glad under evergreen trees, foot-high ferns resemble their tree protectors.

Just like Arizona, there seems to be an insect for every type of flower.

Miscellany: there is a lodge – the long rifle lodge, that is perched at a spectacular vantage point over the glacier.  It is not an expensive or luxurious place, but it has an unrivaled view, specially from the dining room.  I would stay there is a heartbeat.  the food was simple but good, and I loved staring out the window.



Jul 19

Hiking up the Exit glacier trail to the Harding Ice Field

Category: Alaska,Travel

Since my three-day kayaking expedition was cancelled by a big storm, I decided to hike around glaciers instead of row up to them.  In a brief moment of sun I had this view of the Exit Glacier in Kenai Fjords National Park:

Here is the foot of the glacier.  In recent decades it has retreated by about a mile, and at the foot is just a shadow of what it once was. However, it is still huge – several hundred yards across.

This is where the glacier was only in the 1990s.  You can see how the rock underneath the ice was scoured away.

Here are some helpful tips; I particularly like the third one.

Now the rain began, but so did the great views. The microclimate of the hillside i was on was incredibly verdant and covered with happy plants. The trail is 3.5 miles long, and rises 1000 feet per mile.  This is similar to hikes I’ve made in the grand canyon (although this is much shorter). It is what I call an “ass-kicking” hike.

Running water was everywhere.

Directly across the gorge I could see the naked black rock scoured clean by the glacier in years past, and a small spillover of ice from the ice field.  The ice field is an inland sea of ice that sits in an elevated basin; the glaciers are ice falls, analogous to waterfalls. While flowers are blooming below, at altitude on the ice field, it is virtually winter, and cold air flows down with the ice.  Hikers here encounter freezing rivers of cold air that can come in hammer blasts.

Now it began to rain in earnest.  At first it was just a heavy downpour, but soon it felt as if I were ringed with people playing fire hoses on me.  Whenever I climbed over a ridge and was exposed to the cold wind coming off of the glacier and the ice field above, things were pretty uncomfortable. Eventually I reached an overlook where everyone else on the trail was turning back. You can just see the top of the glacier behind me.

I stayed dry for several hours, but eventually I felt a squishing sensation in my shoes and knew something had gone wrong.  I spent some time cursing my gear before realizing that i had left the underarm vents open on my jacket, allowing the cold rain to drip down my entire body; I was completely soaked.  I kept going.

Soon I crested the top of the mountain and encountered even worse weather.  When I took off my rain jacket to put on extra fleece, my t-shirt froze instantly.  Visibility soon dropped as well, but i could see the start of the Harding ice field!

Up here (around 3500 feet) there was essentially no vegetation; it looked like what I’d expect to see at 14000 feet down in the states. Now, I was even more soaked, and completely exposed to the so-called catabatic winds (essentially, ice-chilled air) coming off of the ice.  There was no shelter, the rain was unrelenting, but I was only half a mile from the end of the trail… I kept on for a while.

Eventually, I felt the beginning of blisters in my water-softened feet, and I realized that mother nature was going to win this time. Reluctantly I turned back.  My fingers were so cold I could barely move them; I fumbled and dropped my camera over a ledge.  Cursing helplessly, I watched it tumble over and over, entering a waterfall stream, which carried it hundreds of yards down a steep cliff of slippery wet gravel and decomposed shale.  It stopped just short of plunging over a cliff ind into the crevasses of the glacier below.

Grumbling, I went down after it.  Later I took the picture above of the place where the camera fell. It took me about 30 minutes to make the round trip.  Damn.  Now, completely cold and annoyed, I headed back to the warmer part of the trail as fast as I could.

Screw you, rain!

Despite the difficulty, it was a great day.  I staggered back to the car and sat in the back seat long enough to completely cloud the windows with my breath before changing out of my sopping wet clothes. Relief!

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Jul 18

Kayaking in Aialik bay

Category: Alaska,Travel

two weeks ago I went kayaking in Aialik bay, in Alaska’s Kenai Fjords national park.  I was supposed to go for three days, but a big storm washed those plans away.  Still, I was able to go for a single fantastic day. I left from Seward, where I used the services of Miller’s landing, a campground and adventure guide service that rents kayaks and provides water taxi service.  They have some backpacker’s “cabins” that are the most reasonable accommodations in the area, at $50/night, although they are basically glorified sheds with beds and heaters – not for those who require amenities of any sort. The Seward region is absolutely beautiful; the town sits on Resurrection bay, which is surrounded by typically gorgeous Alaskan mountains. Otters frolic in the bay and you are guaranteed to see a least one if you spend 15 minutes walking by the water.

All of the water in this region has a spectacular color caused by the particulates from glacial streams. When the sun hits it, it is an incredible aqua color.

The real fun began early in the AM the next day, when we boarded the water taxi for Aialik bay. On the way out, we passed small, rugged islands where sea lions lounged, and where a humpback whale appeared to be scratching itself on rocks – something I’ve never seen before. Here you can see a fin sticking out of the water between the rocks:

Otters were everywhere, and occasionally, seals would surface and observe me; some Dall’s porpoises were playing in the bow wave of the water taxi that ferries kayaks out to the bay from Seward. It rained constantly and the approaching storm made it heavily overcast; the temperature was in the 50s.

We got close to the Aialik and Pederson glaciers; at Pederson we saw an apartment-sized portion of glacier calving into the bay. I didn’t get it on camera, but with a fusillade of thundering cracks it fell off of the glacier, found its buoyancy and rose to twice the height of the glacier’s top, and then disintegrated and collapsed into the water, causing the millions of fragments of floating ice already in the bay to engage in a grumbling commentary as they rubbed against each other.


For miles in front of a glacier, there is a sea of scattered ice debris.

The glacier itsefl – this one is Aialik – is an imposing wall whose scale is difficult to represent because of a lack of objects for comparison.  I’d say it’s about 200 feet tall and 3/4 mile wide.  It constantly creaks, cracks, and groans, and every 10 minutes or so, there is a shower of ice that sloughs off and splashes into the water.


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Jul 8

Pictures from my first two days in Alaska in the summer of 2014

Category: Alaska,Travel

I don’t have time to annotate these – maybe I’ll do it later – but here are the images from the Chugach mountains around Alaska and Resurrection bay around Seward.

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