Eagle-Watching on Mentor Marsh

April 11, 2010

Mama's taking a rest before embarking on a hunt for food

An eagle’s nest is still a rare thing to see in this day and age, so when we heard that there was a mated pair of eagles nesting in the Mentor Marsh, Sally and I decided to see if we could get a few photos.  We found the location of the nest easily – it’s quite visible from Rt. 44 near Headlands Beach State Park.  The Mentor Marsh is home to numerous wildlife species, but this pair of eagles are recent residents.  They first nested here last year, according to a local photographer that I met today at the site.   Approaching an eagle’s nest is highly illegal, as they are still endangered, so I want to stress that these photos were taken from FAR away.  As a result, the digital shots are pretty low quality – I had to use a digital zoom factor of 48x to get them.

I also took a few film photos with my old Nikon and a 300mm zoom with a 2x telextender, providing an effective focal length of 600mm.  I haven’t got these photos scanned yet, but I’ll add them to this post when I get them.

It’s really quite moving to see our national symbol in the wild.  Let’s hope that bald eagles are around for a long time!

Out and about

Dad is doing much of the babysitting

Here's a closer shot of the female eagle

Preparing for takeoff!


Cleveland is a More Beautiful City than You Remember

October 1, 2009

As I was reading Sally’s blog about the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame candidates for induction, I got a twinge of regret.  Not for myself, but for the people out there who wonder why the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame is located in a dirty, dingy, sooty, pollution-ridden, poverty-stricken town like Cleveland.  The answer is simple: it isn’t.  It’s located in a beautiful downtown venue on a truly gorgeous (and clean) lake, surrounded by historically significant, breathtaking architecture.

Not the Cleveland you remember?  OK, I’ll give you the fact that Cleveland had some truly bad years before the cleanup began.  When I was younger, the Cuyahoga River caught fire, the downtown buildings were stained with soot, and Lake Erie fish contained so much mercury that only the truly brave would dare eat them.

But that was then.  When I moved to the Cleveland area, the Rock Hall, Jacobs Field, Gund Arena, the Great Lakes Science Center, and the Flats renovation had just been completed.  Browns Stadium was under construction.  Now Jacobs Field is Progressive Field, the Gund Arena is the “Q” (for Quicken Loans), and the Flats area is undergoing its second resurrection, this time with upscale apartments to bring a sense of community to the area.  Those who bemoaned the failure of the downtown renaissance simply missed the point – it’s a work in progress that will take years to complete, but the city will be better for having made the effort.

The new construction in the downtown area should bring more attention to the beautiful and historic Burnham Mall, planned in 1903 to bring neoclassical (“Beaux-Arts”) architecture to Cleveland.  Its brainchild, Daniel Burnham, was the architect responsible for Chicago’s “White City”, the buildings constructed for the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, otherwise known as the Columbian Exposition.  In any case, Cleveland’s Burnham Mall still stands as a landmark that you shouldn’t miss when you visit the city.

A sightseeing tour of downtown Cleveland can be done in two ways: by trolley or by boat.  The trolley tour cruises the downtown and provides close views of the Mall, numerous public buildings including Burnham’s Federal Reserve, the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument on Public Square, and the War Memorial Fountain (also called the Fountain of Eternal Life).   You can obtain information on trolley tours at http://www.lollytrolley.com/ .  I’ve taken the tour and I highly recommend it.

But the trolley can only show the view from the street, and much of Cleveland’s beauty is best seen from the water.  The Goodtime III, Cleveland’s largest excursion ship, operates from the North Coast Inner Harbor at the East 9th Street Pier.   A trip on the Goodtime III includes a winding trip up the Cuyahoga River through the Flats to the industrial area of the old city.  Practically every iron bridge design known to mankind is visible on the cruise: lift gates, knife gates, swing bridges, etc.  The Cuyahoga twists and turns through the old neighborhoods, providing a historic look not otherwise possible.

If you get the chance to spend a few days sightseeing in Cleveland, give it a try – you’ll be amazed at what the city has to offer.  Furthermore, if this has piqued your interest, check out Cleveland on Foot, an excerpt from the book by Patience Hoskins.  The book is an excellent guide to hiking in the Greater Cleveland area.  The excerpt describes the architectural marvels of the downtown area – check it out.


Bounding through Brown & Adams County in Search of History

September 23, 2009

A couple of weekends ago, Sally, Andy and I visited my mother in Brown County.  We decided to take a jaunt around the area to visit a few of our favorite places, and hopefully, to find a few new points of interest. 

This crypt occupies the summit of the hill, shaded by a large tree

This crypt occupies the summit of the hill, shaded by a large tree

Brown & Adams Cty Sept 3, 2009 009

Georgetown:  A Beautiful Tomb

Our first stop was the Georgetown Cemetery, where we encountered this very interesting and elaborate crypt in a prominent location.  The marble statue at the apex of the roof is still beautiful in spite of (or perhaps because of ) the patina she has acquired over the last 90 years. 

Two women are interred here; their relationship to one another is not evident.  Clearly, the older of the two women purchased the tomb, as it is her name that adorns the lintel over the door.   The names of the occupants and their dates of birth and death are inscribed on tablets beside the steps up to the door.  Who were they?  If you know about Mary Shelton or Mary Cochran, please post a comment and enlighten us.

Mary Shelton

Mary Shelton

 

Mary Cochran

Mary Cochran

Incidentally,  if you visit Georgetown, you should visit U.S. Grant’s boyhood home and the school he attended as a young man, both of which are open to the public. 

 

Ripley, Ohio - destination of many fugitive slaves before and during the Civil War

Ripley, Ohio - destination of many fugitive slaves before and during the Civil War

Ripley: Home of Abolitionism in Ohio

 

After a hearty lunch at the Fireside Restaurant in Georgetown (highly recommended!) we headed down the road to Ripley, Ohio.  Ripley was a very important town in the days prior to and during the Civil War; it was a hotbed of  abolitionist activity, a major stop on the Underground Railroad, and the home of  Rev. John Rankin.  Rev. Rankin and his sons were conductors on the Underground Railroad, providing safe conduct to numerous fugitive slaves on their way to Canada and freedom.   Harriet Beecher Stowe was highly influenced by Rankin’s anti-slavery activities.  Sights not to be missed in Ripley include the Rankin House (check it out at http://ohsweb.ohiohistory.org/places/sw14/index.shtml),  the monument to the first abolitionists in Ohio, and Freedom Landing (right below the monument). 

Witness Tree seen from the riverbank

Witness Tree seen from the riverbankWitness Tree tablet

Freedom Landing

Freedom Landing

 

Commemorative tablet at Freedom Landing

Commemorative tablet at Freedom Landing

The trip to Ripley is well worth the drive – while you’re there, stop at Rockin’ Robin’s for ice cream – it’s a 50’s style soda fountain with great atmosphere.  Word of warning:  the “single dip” ice cream cone is a LOT larger than you’d think!

Adams County Heritage Center and a Brush with My Ancestors

 I have long known that my maternal grandfather’s ancestors were the first settlers of Adams County, Ohio.  Two  Ellison brothers made the journey down the Ohio River in 1790 along with seventeen other men and their families, all of whom had been offered property in return for settling at Massie’s Station, later called Manchester, Ohio.  Manchester was the first white settlement in the Virginia Military District.     Col. Daniel Collier, listed among the field officers of the 2nd Brigade, Ohio Militia in the War of 1812, was an early settler and leader of the community.  His son-in-law, Andrew Ellison was my great-great-great-great-grandfather (assuming that I’ve correctly calculated the number of greats, that is).   Andrew’s family owned a two-story log house on the ridge road (later called Vaughn’s Chapel Road) in Adam’s County built around 1803.  Why did I tell that story?  Well, for two reasons: first off, as a child, I played in that house, which was still standing on the original site right up until the late 1980’s, when it was sold, disassembled, moved to Loveland, Ohio and reassembled (or so I’m told – please contact me if you have info on this matter).   My Aunt Hattie Osman lived there with a flock of turkeys, ducks, geese, and a few score of cats until her death.  On the hill behind the house was the Ellison family cemetery where Andrew and many others are buried.

Plaque on the Heritage Center Building

Plaque on the Heritage Center Building

The second reason for this rambling account is that I recently paid a visit to the Adams County Heritage Center in West Union, Ohio to get a close look at great(x4)-grandpa Andrew’s rifle.  It’s in a glass case, incorrectly labeled as a cap & ball “musket”.  What it is, in fact, is an Ohio made half-stock hunting rifle (muskets are military firearms) of about .45 caliber with a beautiful curly maple stock and handmade iron furniture.  It is a cap and ball firearm, and that fact is troublesome.  You see, for Daniel Collier to have owned the rifle originally, it would have to have been built before percussion caps existed.  It would have to have been constructed as a flintlock rifle, then converted to percussion at a later date.  I’m not an expert, but such things did happen, so I’m assuming the rifle is authentic as represented.   I hope anyone who has information on these items will contact me – it would be nice get the facts straight and save the information for posterity.  

Andrew Ellison's rifle is the lower one in the photograph

Andrew Ellison's rifle is the lower one in the photograph

 

The label is inscribed "Cap & Ball Musket, Powder Horns, Circa 1840, Originally owned by Andrew Ellison (1811-1894), Son-in-law of Col. Daniel Collier, Presented by Stanley and Louise Rowe

The label is inscribed "Cap & Ball Musket, Powder Horns, Circa 1840, Originally owned by Andrew Ellison (1811-1894), Son-in-law of Col. Daniel Collier, Presented by Stanley and Louise Rowe

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Since I’m also a bit of a fanatic about old bikes, I couldn’t help but notice a “Ben Hur” bicycle, circa 1890, stashed away in the back corner of the museum.  It has pneumatic tires, long since collapsed and hardened, wooden rims, wooden fenders laced onto the frame with cotton cordage, wooden handlebars, and an amazingly intact leather saddle with a relief opening in the center.  The relief opening looks exactly like those on modern “men-specific” saddles of today.  If you like bikes, you should check out this unique example of late 19th century technology.

Headbadge shows the name Ben Hur

Headbadge shows the name Ben Hur

 

How about those wooden handlebars?

How about those wooden handlebars?

 

The wooden fenders are laced to the frame with cotton cord, still intact.  Also note the flat tire - pneumatic tires were rare in 1890.

The wooden fenders are laced to the frame with cotton cord, still intact. Also note the flat tire - pneumatic tires were rare in 1890.

 

 

Outside the Heritage Center is a public area paved with bricks, some of which are dedicated to people who lived in the area, or have donated on their own behalf.  One of these bricks is inscribed in memory of my grandmother and grandfather on my mother’s side. 

Grandma & Grandpa Ellison's brick

Grandma & Grandpa Ellison's brick

 It ‘s nice to see that so many former residents of Adams County are remembered here.  Adams County Ohio is one of the most impoverished areas in the United States, with a per capita income of around $16,000.  Those of us whose parents were born there would do well to go back once in a while and think about how hard they worked to help us get to where we are today.


I’m Still Alive, Just Too Lazy to Write!

July 7, 2009

I’ve been very lax about catching up here since we returned from vacation.  The Wednesday after I started back to work, I had to fly to North Carolina, where I spent three days making sales calls with one of our distributors.  Normally this would be an opportunity to catch up on my indulgence in southern barbecue, but not this time!  The day before I left, I broke a back molar, which had to be extracted, leaving me on a liquid and jello diet for the entirety of the trip!   So, the hospitality was great, but the food was nonexistent..

 I suggest you look at Sally’s blog for the account of our day in Ashtabula for the Beach Glass Festival.  It was great fun, and the remainder of the day was equally nice.  We rode about ten miles on the bike trail in Austinburg, then had a picnic in the township park nearby.  All in all, just about a perfect day.

No trip to Ashtabula is complete without a trip to the overlook!

No trip to Ashtabula is complete without a trip to the overlook!

This weekend we took in the Mesopotamia Ox Roast, and annual benefit for the volunteer fire department.  It’s an annual affair, and the food and the flea market make the trip worthwhile.  Mesopotamia is in Amish country, so the horses and buggies are everywhere. 

The Hitchin' Post

The Hitchin' Post

It takes a lot of beef to serve up 15,000 sandwiches in three days!

The smell is amazing!!

The smell is amazing!!

The line for the food is very long, but it moves fast, and the conversation can be very amusing.

Great roast beef, but the sauce could use a little more spice!

Great roast beef, but the sauce could use a little more spice!

Hey, this guy's been to Paint Creek Lake

Hey, this guy's been to Paint Creek Lake!

I particularly enjoyed listening to an obvious city-dweller asking an Amish lady how they keep their horses from breaking loose when they’re tied to the hitching post.  She patiently explained that the reins are attached to a neck rope, and they can’t pull back without choking!  

Hey, cutie, whattaya say we bust outta this place and go sow a few wild oats?

Hey, cutie, whattaya say we bust outta this place and go sow a few wild oats?

The flea market had some cool items, including a few vintage bikes (my particular weakness), but nothing really that interesting.

Once again, check out Sally’s blog for more info and photos.  

 We headed out to Middlefield in search of dessert, and unfortunately found ourselves at a very tempting and well-known locale, Mary Yoder’s Amish Kitchen.  We ordered “Homemade pie” and were asked if we wanted ice cream on it.  We both said yes, and neither of us asked either the kind of ice cream or the price.  What we eventually got was a shot of soft-serve vanilla on top of the most obviously commercially-prepared pie I’ve ever eaten.   Then to make matters worse, the price of that ice cream was almost equal to the price of the pie!  I won’t rant any further about this place except to say this:  Don’t waste your time or your money coming here.  Most people coming to an Amish restaurant are expecting a little place where everything is made from scratch, or at least using minimal prepared ingredients.  This place is one step above the school cafeteria! 

On the 4th of July, I finally got back on the bike for another 10-mile jaunt.  This ride was at Headlands Beach, close to home.  The ride was a little more strenuous than the Austinburg trip, and I’m hoping to get back in shape before the summer is over.  More on that subject to come…..


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!


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