Myrtle Beach Notes, Vol.1

October 26, 2009

 In the course of my job search, I decided to contact a few former business acquaintances and explore the employment opportunities elsewhere.  For various reasons, we elected to visit South Carolina.  A very good friend offered us the use of his condominium in Myrtle Beach, and that made the trip feasible.  So Sally, Andy, Sally’s parents, and I packed up the van and headed south.

 The first day we travelled through Ohio, West Virginia, and into North Carolina, stopping in Winston-Salem.  It rained incessantly throughout the entire journey.  Southern hospitality prevailed at the Holiday Inn Express, where we spent our first night out.  Although the Winston-Salem property is not of the newest design, the staff was courteous and friendly, and their service more than made up for any deficiencies in the facility.

We stopped at the Huddle House for a quick lunch, consisting of a chopped pork barbecue sandwich and onion rings.  I wasn’t expecting much from the BBQ, since Huddle House is a chain, albeit a small regional one. However, I was amazed to find that the chopped pork here is the real thing.  The sauce was sweeter than one would get further south, but very smoky, with a strong hint of spiciness.  The meat was slow-cooked, and the crusty burnt ends were chopped up along with everything else, resulting in a product that most Northerners wouldn’t even recognize as what they call barbecue. 

 We finally got a chance to walk on the beach and pick up a few shells the following morning.  Haven’t found any shark teeth yet, but we did get a chance to photograph some of the plant life, etc.

We had lunch north of Myrtle Beach, at Mama Jean’s Home Cooking, where we got some more barbecue, this time with the more familiar South Carolina vinegar-based sauce.  Again, the meat was sumptuous, and the coleslaw and hushpuppies completed the feast.  Magnificent!

After lunch, we checked out an antique mall and did some shopping. We decided to look for pizza near the condo, and luckily, found the Mellow Mushroom a stone’s throw away. Their pizza is incredible, loaded with toppings on a garlic-parmesan crust I can’t begin to describe. As Yogi Berra used to say, “Don’t miss it if you can.” Or something like that.

Gotta do some business tomorrow, but I’ll be posting more pics as the week progresses!

 


Saguaro National Park – A Forest of Cacti

June 14, 2009

As we entered Tucson on Friday afternoon, we drove through the Saguaro National Park, a unique preserve full of saguaro and 21 other species of cactus. There are numerous types of wildlife, including javelinas, gila monsters, mountain lions (didn’t see any, fortunately), and many others.

The gallery I’m posting shows some of the best photos I got – the overall trip is so overwhelming that it’s difficult to document in a few shots. At the Visitors’ Center, we had a rare chance to see some javelinas that had simply crawled up next to the observation window and fallen asleep! Sighting a baby javelina is a fairly unusual thing, so we were pretty excited.

We couldn’t spend too much time in the park because of our schedule, and besides, the heat was unbelievable. However, we really enjoyed the short trip through the forest. Next time, we hope to come here in May, when the cacti are in bloom!


From Pinos Altos to Tucson, via the Rex Allen Museum

June 14, 2009
Last look at our little home away from home

Last look at our little home away from home

We left Pinos Altos around 11:00 a.m. on Friday to head back to Tucson. Along the way, we stopped for lunch at a randomly selected town that turned out to be Willcox, AZ. Willcox has two claims to fame. On July 6, 1900, Warren Earp, the brother of Wyatt, Morgan, James and Virgil Earp, was shot and killed in the Headquarters Saloon right here.

Warren met his fate right here (er, inside the gift shop)

Warren met his fate right here (er, inside the gift shop)

The saloon burned down in 1940, but there’s a plaque on the street corner to commemorate the occasion. Of course, the plaque now hangs on the outside wall of a craft shop which bears no resemblance whatsoever to the Headquarters Saloon, but you can still “come in and stand where Warren Earp was shot on July 6, 1900”. Yes, there’s a sign in the window of the shop inviting visitors to do exactly that. We didn’t go in.

Sally and Andy on the site of the Headquarters Saloon

Sally and Andy on the site of the Headquarters Saloon

Oh yes, Willcox has another claim to fame, thank goodness. It’s the hometown of Rex Allen, the “last of the silver screen cowboys”, star of many Republic Pictures productions in the 1950’s, and contemporary of Roy Rogers (who was my personal favorite). He was also the star of “Frontier Doctor,” a TV series that ran 39 episodes in 1955 and 1956. There’s a large bronze statue of Rex Allen in a park located in the historic section of Wilcox, directly across the street from the Rex Allen Theater and the Rex Allen Museum.

Rex Allen statue

Rex Allen statue

Rex Allen Theater

Rex Allen Theater

Rex Allen Museum

Rex Allen Museum

The Museum also houses the Arizona Cowboy Hall of Fame, which I got to see for free along with the admission to the Rex Allen Museum (a $5.00 donation per family). The Rex Allen Museum was well worth the 5 bucks, and the AZ Cowboy Hall of Fame was worth what I paid to see it, too.

I was surprised to find that Rex actually grew up on a homestead in the 1920’s and early 30’s , so he was clearly more qualified to be a movie cowboy than my old hero Roy, who came from Ohio. Anyway, the museum contains a lot of memorabilia, including early artifacts from the homestead, costumes, props, recordings, hats, boots, saddles, etc., etc., etc.

Rex's boots & saddle

Rex's boots & saddle

A TV in the back was playing “Colorado Sundown” starring Rex Allen and Slim Pickens.

The movie posters are worth the price of admission

The movie posters are worth the price of admission

Coincidentally, this is the only Rex Allen movie I can ever recall having seen before. Figures.

On the way out, I decided to purchase a numbered bronze commemorative medal struck in Rex’s honor back in the 70’s and still available to visitors. Unfortunately, the guy in charge had no idea “which key fit the lock on the case,” so I had to forgo the pleasure. Apparently those medals aren’t too popular, as he told me no one had ever asked to buy one that he knew of.

In retrospect, the thing I liked best about Willcox was Big Tex’s Barbecue, an actual railroad dining car which now offers some of the best brisket I’ve had outside of Texas. If by some miniscule chance you ever find yourself in Willcox, don’t miss Big Tex’s.


Last Night Under Dark Skies

June 14, 2009

When I titled a previous post “Lugging a 52 Lb. Telescope Across the Country for Nothing, Part 1”, I fully expected that this post would be Part 2 of that story. But this is definitely not the case! The skies were dark and clear, and although the “seeing” was not so good, Sally and I spent several hours stargazing.

My efforts to get webcam shots of Saturn didn’t go well. Thermal convections in the upper atmosphere caused the image to distort, shimmer, float, and otherwise smear all over the place, so I couldn’t get pictures.

I did mount my digital camera on the tripod for this night shot:

Night sky looking toward Silver City

Night sky looking toward Silver City

It’s a little blurred due to the long time exposure, but you can get an idea of what the star-filled sky looks like.

As the night wore on, the visibility got better, and Sally and I used both binoculars and the telescope to explore the constellations, finding a couple of interesting star clusters, the Lagoon Nebula, and a number of other attractions.

Unfortunately, we had to get up early to pack the car and depart for Tucson on Friday, so around midnight we bade farewell to the starry skies and went to bed.


Dark Skies Make a Difference!

June 11, 2009

Last night, I finally got a chance to set up the telescope and view the night sky. The clouds were mostly gone by nightfall, and the temperature was cool but not cold. I was pretty wiped out after yesterday’s trek to the Gila Cliff Dwellings so I only observed for a couple of hours. Since I didn’t set up the webcam, I don’t have any pictures, but I have inserted a couple of Hubble telescope shots of the main things I did see. Unfortunately, my views were not so spectacular as the photos here, since my telescope has only a 6″ aperture, and I’m looking through miles of atmosphere, but you get the idea.

My first impression upon looking at the night sky was amazement at how many stars are visible. After years of living in light-polluted cities where only the brightest stars are visible, the panorama of a truly dark sky reveals a myriad of bright pinpoints of light. Details become visible even in faint deep-sky objects which would be impossible to discern in the city.
Unpacking, setting up the scope, changing the latitude and longitude settings, adjusting the mount alignment, and finally aligning the scope took a lot longer than I expected last night. Tonight will be a lot easier and I should be able to get more done.

I started with Saturn (no photo yet) and was amazed at how sharp it appeared, even at high magnification. I’m hoping to get a webcam exposure of Saturn tonight.

I ran a sky tour to get acclimated to the clearer sky view, and was particularly impressed with these objects:

M81 - Bode's Nebula (NASA Hubble Telescope photo)

M81 - Bode's Nebula (NASA Hubble Telescope photo)

Bode’s Nebula is a spiral galaxy that usually appears as a faint fuzzball in light-polluted skies. Here, I was able to discern the shape of the galaxy and the bright stars around the rim, but I couldn’t make out the spiral arms. With a larger scope, these would have been visible. Increasing the magnification actually made things worse, as it often does with faint objects. However, this is an object I’d be lucky to find from my backyard, much less see any detail.

Sombrero Galaxy - M104 (NASA Hubble Telescope photo)

Sombrero Galaxy - M104 (NASA Hubble Telescope photo)

The Sombrero Galaxy has the shape of, well you get the picture. Through my telescope, the shape was apparent, and using averted vision, I could make out the dark dust lane through the middle of the galaxy. Medium magnification (100X) gave the best view.

Globular Cluster in Canes Venatici - M3 (Wikipedia Commons photo)

Globular Cluster in Canes Venatici - M3 (Wikipedia Commons photo)

This globular cluster consists of a half million stars, most of them too far away and apparently close together to resolve separately. The view of this cluster is the best I’ve ever seen through this telescope. Quite a few of the stars could be discerned separately, and the brightness of the object (compared to what I usually see at home) is amazing.

All in all, last night was a fun start. I only have one more night to observe, so tonight will be a long session. More to come!


Gila Cliff Dwellings, Clear Skies, and Steep Curves

June 10, 2009
Sally on the trail

Sally on the trail

 

Andy made it all the way to the top of the trail, too!

Andy made it all the way to the top of the trail, too!

Today we journeyed up to the Gila Cliff Dwellings to take a short hike up the mountain and see where the Mogollon people lived between 1270 and 1290 A.D. The dwellings are in the Gila National Forest, a couple hours drive from our cabins at Pinos Altos. Along the way, we passed an old adobe house, which is in disrepair but still intact.

Old Adobe House

Old Adobe House

The visitor’s center has several hummingbird feeders hanging outside, with the largest and most diverse population I’ve ever seen in one place.

Hummingbirds at the Gila Visitor Center

Hummingbirds at the Gila Visitor Center

The Mogollons are believed to have intermarried with the Anasazi to form what are now the Pueblo people. I can’t begin to show everything from the trip, but here are a few pictures from the dwellings themselves. The road up to the dwellings is very steep, with switchbacks and sharp curves. The altitude of the cliffs is about the same as where we are staying, around 5900-6000 feet, but the mountains in between are higher, up to 7400 feet above sea level. The whole thing makes for a bit of huffing and puffing when climbing the hills, but it’s worth it!

View of the cliff dwellings from across the ravine

View of the cliff dwellings from across the ravine

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Inside the cave

Inside the cave

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After leaving the main site, I hiked down another trail to a small single dwelling.

This little dwelling is on the other side of the mountain from the rest

This little dwelling is on the other side of the mountain from the rest

We came back to the cabins to eat and prepare the telescope for tonight’s viewing. The sky looks very clear!


Thunderstorms, Rain, Eventual Clearing and Hummingbirds for Breakfast

June 10, 2009

The weather was rough last night, but the clouds are moving out this morning. It is expected to be clear tonight, so the telescope will finally see first light in New Mexico.

Spooky full moon

Spooky full moon

I took a few time exposures from the deck last night to capture the full moon obscured by clouds.

Blue-throated hummingbird at the feeder

Blue-throated hummingbird at the feeder

Today we will be heading up to the Gila Wilderness to view the cliff dwellings in that area. I’ll be posting those pictures later.

There are several distinct species of hummingbird in the area – we’ve seen two. The black-chinned hummingbird is small and mostly green with a black throat. Sally spotted one this morning. No photos yet. The blue-throated hummingbird is more common. I caught a few shots this morning.

This would be a clearer picture if the window was cleaner

This would be a clearer picture if the window was cleaner


Lugging a 52 Lb. Telescope Across the Country for Nothing, Part 1

June 9, 2009
Split Rainbow over Silver City - NOT a good sign

Split Rainbow over Silver City - NOT a good sign

I awoke this morning to the sound of rain. IN THE DESERT!!!! THE DESERT I VISITED DURING THE DRY SEASON FOR THE SPECIFIC PURPOSE OF WATCHING THE NIGHT SKY WITH MY TELESCOPE!!!!!!

More intense rainbow - cause it's raining like mad over there!

More intense rainbow - cause it's raining like mad over there!

OK, I’m glad I got that off my chest. The weather sucks at the moment, but it’s supposed to clear off tomorrow evening, so in the meantime we’re checking out the local attractions. We started at the Silver City Municipal Museum – ain’t that a catchy name??

Silver City Mu... something or other

Silver City Mu... something or other

As you can see, it’s located in an old mansion once owned by a local mining company executive. Much of the first floor is dedicated to the owner and his wife. I thought that was boring until I got to the other half, which consisted of a display of old wedding dresses from the turn of the century through World War Two. Most of the dresses were owned by society types, and were accompanied by long descriptions of the social credentials of the bride and groom. The photographs of working people were mostly unidentified. I’d make some social commentary here, but I blacked out from sheer boredom at this point and Andy had to drag me upstairs to recover.

On the second floor, the museum has an interesting display of old mining equipment from the days of the silver mining boom (hence the name Silver City, get it?) and more local history, most of which would bore the whiskers off an insurance actuary.

Be sure to drink your... er, radium

Be sure to drink your... er, radium

However, I did find this really interesting old ad for rocks containing radium, which you could soak in water (to make the water radioactive) and then you could DRINK THE RADIOACTIVE WATER to cure whatever ailed you. Like being alive. Anyway, here’s the ad – sure glad I came to Silver City.

Very fuzzy woodpecker

Very fuzzy woodpecker

This evening, Sally spotted an Acorn Woodpecker (we think) and I took a shot from way off. You can almost tell what it is.

Sure hope the weather clears up tomorrow!


Deadly Nightshade, Blooming Yuccas and Death from Sunstroke at the OK Corral

June 9, 2009
Soaptree Yucca

Soaptree Yucca

Our drive down to Tombstone from Tucson was really beautiful. The change in terrain was particularly interesting, as the saguaro gave way to more yuccas, and in the San Pedro river area, lusher vegetation. Sally identified these as Soaptree yuccas.

Pretty but deadly!

Pretty but deadly!

I was fascinated by a low bush with trumpetlike blooms that, upon further research turned out to be deadly nightshade. I now think of this as a portent of the day to come….

We pulled into Tombstone in high anticipation; the historical characters of Wyatt Earp, Doc Holliday, Ike Clanton, and the others who fought at the OK Corral would soon be portrayed by real-life figures in an exciting tableau…………..NOT!!!

1882 Cochise County Courthouse

1882 Cochise County Courthouse

Fortunately, before we descended into the travesty that is Tombstone Historama, we checked out the historical 1882 Cochise County (yes, that Cochise!) Courthouse. The building is now a museum containing lots of artifacts related to the early history of Tombstone and the surrounding county, of which Tombstone was the seat until 1929.

In the walled courtyard a replica gallows stands, with a plaque commemorating the 7 men who were hanged there between 1882 and 1900. Inside are the depictions of a few men who were hanged elsewhere without benefit of due process, not to mention the 1200 “Communist sympathizers and agitators” (read: union miners and organizers) who were legally DEPORTED to New Mexico shortly after the turn of the century. There is no word as to how the citizens of the Territory of New Mexico felt about becoming the recipients of Arizona’s human refuse. But, I digress…

Thirsty passengers arriving at Kate's

Thirsty passengers arriving at Kate's

The next stop, and the one at which we should have spent more time had we known what was coming, was Big-Nosed Kate’s Saloon. Big-Nosed Kate’s is a real saloon (at least to the extent that anything in Tombstone is real) located in the original Grand Hotel building, which was, in the 1880’s, occupied by various notables including the Earps, Doc Holliday, Kate herself, and many others. Today, it is quite changed from its former respectability, and consequently is a lot more fun. Stained glass windows portray Wyatt, Doc, and Kate, looking considerably better than they did in real life. Live music, provided this day by Joe Barr, contributed to the atmosphere. The food (burgers smothered in green chiles, fries, and sarsaparilla in my case) was excellent, and a good time was had by all. If you plan to come to Tombstone, I highly recommend Big-Nosed Kate’s. In fact, if you come here, you probably shouldn’t go any where else. Just have a burger and a beer and head on home.

I forgot the sunscreen!

I forgot the sunscreen!

I didn’t have the advantage of the above advice, so we headed down the street, which is filled with touristy attractions designed to separate you from your money. Here’s what Doc Holliday really looked like!

At Sally’s insistence (gotta make sure she takes the blame for this!), we proceeded to the Tombstone Historama, which is a complex that includes a museum, a theatre with a diorama and movie presentation (narrated by Vincent Price) that has to be seen to be believed.

Truthfully, at this point, I wasn’t too bothered by the experience, since the diorama alone is worth the 9 bucks it costs to get in. The diorama was apparently constructed sometime in the mid-60’s, and it looks as though it has been neither cleaned nor maintained in the intervening 40 years or so. When Morgan Earp gets shot, the legs of his little figure collapse beneath him, but the string that is intended to pull him backwards doesn’t work, so he simply sits down with his knees bent in two different directions. Apparently there were a lot of Morgan Earp fans in the audience, because I was the only one who laughed when he went down….

After the theatre presentation ended, we were herded into the OK Corral. I’m not kidding about that. We were HERDED into the outdoor “museum” consisting of a few buggies and a hearse, plus a single room containing an elaborate tribute to the Michigan lawyer who bought the entire property in the early 60’s and “restored” it to its currently decrepit state. At this point in time, around 1:30 pm, we had 30 minutes to kill before the live-action gunfight took place, and there was absolutely no shade to be found. We stood around in the blazing sun, sand beneath our feet reflecting the UV rays into our faces, as the walled yard slowly filled up with more and more bewildered tourists. The outdoor theatre in which the gunfight was to take place was closed off by two large doors. These doors were to open at 1:45, at which point we would at least be in the shade.

But the doors did not open at 1:45. In fact, the entire crowd stood out in the blazing sun for 30 full minutes before the doors finally opened. Now, 30 minutes in the sun is not usually a big deal, but standing on sand in Tombstone at 1:30 in the afternoon will put a hurt on you in a hurry if you’re not adequately protected. I was not. Many of the others were not either. So a few of us got nice sunburn to go with the show, which I assure you is not worth the 9 bucks admission charge, even without the sunburn.

Wyatt, Doc, Virgil, Morgan and the gang trapped inside a wrought-iron fence

Wyatt, Doc, Virgil, Morgan and the gang trapped inside a wrought-iron fence

While broiling in the midday sun awaiting deliverance, we were treated to an animatronic portrayal of the famous gunfight on the actual site of its occurrence. Six manniquins, dressed in long dusters, wide-brimmed hats, and boots dried out in the sun until their toes pointed skyward, stood on the very spot the fight took place. Unfortunately, the animatronics of 1965 aren’t very impressive. In fact, until I waked right up to them, I didn’t think they were moving at all. But upon closer inspection, and during the fifth or sixth repetition of this engaging display, I noticed that when Wyatt spoke, his head moved slightly. And when the fight took place, the figures’ gun hands moved slo-o-o-o-w-ly into position before the sounds of the shots were heard. Since no one actually fell when shot, it wasn’t very exciting.

But finally the doors opened and we were freed from the glare of the sun. Seated on bleachers beneath the shade of a canopy, we awaited the dramatic real-life portrayal of the event.

Doc recites Shakespeare while drunk

Doc recites Shakespeare while drunk

If your idea of living history is Doc Holliday introducing the scene with a Shakespearean soliloquy, Wyatt and Virgil portrayed as a pair of brutal, uncaring louts, and the whole event viewed as a murderous assault on a family of unassuming cattle ranchers, then you may like this little play.

The Earps mercilessly murder the innocent cowboys

The Earps mercilessly murder the innocent cowboys

However, it’s a bit too politically correct for my taste, and I’m sure most of the 5 to 8 year-olds in the audience had a rough time figuring out why the men wearing the badges were murdering the good guys. At least that’s the way it looked to me.

If I were running a tourist attraction dedicated to the events of 100+ years ago, I think I’d try to at least portray the principal figures in a more sympathetic light. Yes, I know that Wyatt Earp was not lily-white. In fact, he was primarily a professional gambler, and wasn’t really interested in being a lawman in Tombstone. And I’m sure the cowboys had their good points. But this play is just ridiculous, and if I were a descendant of the Earps, I’d be suing for slander.

If you go to Tombstone, try to keep your sense of humor. A couple of beers at Big-Nosed Kate’s definitely wouldn’t hurt. And don’t forget the sunscreen!


Arrival in Tucson

June 9, 2009

Our trip from Cleveland to Tucson being uneventful, we picked up our rented minivan (a severely stripped Dodge Caravan with manual everything, but a bargain at $44.95 a day!) and headed across town to the Holiday Inn Express.  I was a bit wary about the hotel, but my fears were unfounded.  Both the room and the amenities were far beyond my expectations.  The hotel employees were friendly and courteous, and the free breakfast was excellent.  I’m really impressed by this place.  The outdoor hot tub was a great way to loosen up the kinks of full day on the plane!


Headed for the Dark Skies of New Mexico!

June 4, 2009

My newest avocation is amateur astronomy, so when my wife, Sally, suggested we vacation in New Mexico this year, I was overjoyed.  The night skies of New Mexico are some of the clearest and darkest to be found in the United States.  Given the opportunity to spend 7 nights observing under these most coveted conditions, I resolved to be ready to make the most of it.

 I quickly decided that I needed a larger telescope for this trip, since my little 60mm go-to scope simply wouldn’t gather enough light to do the job.  My larger scope, a 5” Newtonian on a Dob mount, was a bit too heavy to transport on an airplane (mostly due to my inept carpentry and a heavy dose of over-engineering), and besides, I wanted a tracking mount for astrophotography.   The ideal scope, I decided, after much research, is the Celestron C-6S Advanced GT, a 6” Schmidt-Cassegrain on an equatorial go-to mount.  For those not familiar with telescopes, this model has a computer that can locate objects in the sky, and then “track” the object, keeping it in the field of view by compensating for the apparent motion caused by the rotation of the earth.  But this telescope was, frankly, beyond the bounds of my meager budget.

My C6-SGT

My C6-SGT

 Fortunately, however, I am a bit of a packrat.  Some sympathetic souls would call me a “collector”, but my wife clearly prefers the less respectable term.  I have managed to accumulate a collection of photographic material that dates back to my 13th birthday, a number of coins, knives, firearms, and, as luck would have it, a few toys from my childhood 45 years ago or thereabouts.    One of these toys was a spaceship known as Fireball XL-5 in its original box.   Off to Ebay it went without a moment’s hesitation. 

One of my former interests was scuba.  Unfortunately, I now suffer from asthma, so diving is prohibited.   Off to the auction site went my regulators, bags, dive light, gauges, weights, BC vests, and another full set of equipment that had belonged to Sally, who was quite happy to see it all go (she never cared much for scuba diving)!

 Now there was lots more room in my storage space, but the auction results would determine whether or not I could afford the new Celestron.  As luck would have it, several collectors were very interested in the spaceship, and the scuba gear sold quickly as well.  I ordered the Celestron as soon as the payments cleared the bank.

 After much practice assembling and disassembling the scope, mount, tripod, and controls, I think I’m ready to venture forth.  We’ll be flying out of Cleveland on Sunday morning, connecting in Houston, and arriving in Tucson, AZ on Sunday afternoon.  We’ll spend the night in Tucson and drive out early Monday, with a short stop in Tombstone (who could miss a chance to see the site of the gunfight at the OK Corral?) and thence to Los Pinos Altos, near Silver City, NM. 

 If you are reading this, and you have any suggestions about what to see in the daytime, where to eat (we love southwestern food), or anything else that strikes your fancy, please post!  Also, if you’re experienced with astrophotography or webcam astro-imaging in particular, please post any suggestions you may have.

 

Dana Kennedy  June 3, 2009  9:44:59 PM


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