Michael Christie Returns to the Podium Sunday, Mar 30 2014 

Conductor and music director laureate Michael Christi returned to the podium of the Phoenix Symphony this weekend for another example of innovative music. Christie’s encouragement of the Phoenix Symphony Commissioning Club resulted in the premier of The Returned Soldier, Symphony No. 3, by Australian Matthew Hindson. The composer puts to music the inner turmoil of a returning veteran suffering from post-traumatic stress. On his home page he says, “Physical injuries are horrific, but mental scars can remain just as potent for years. As a school student I was taught of the shellshock affecting returning soldiers from WW1.” Last week I read Dalton Trumbo’s classic anti-war novel Johnny Got His Gun for the first time. Hindson’s symphony musically captures the brutality of war and how one might search for some sort of peace.

German cellist Daniel Muller-Schott displayed his technical brilliance and exhilarating passion in Tchaikovsky’s Variations on a Rococo Theme, Opus 33 (original version). The mellow sound from a cello is deeply satisfying. Muller-Schott showed the range of his instrument, from deep guttural sounds to the very highest pitch. Unfortunately, his performance had to compete against several coughing audience members. His encore turned his cello into a large guitar with his plucking pizzicati.

Ottorino Respighi’s symphonic poem Feste romane (Roman Festivals) was yet another special treat for our ears. The first movement, Circenses (Circus Games) depicts a gladiatorial battle to the death. The trumpet fanfare was played from the loge 1. Strings and woodwind suggested Christian martyrs standing against the snarls of beasts which ends with violent orchestral chords emanating from the percussion. In the second movement, Il giubileo (The Jubilee) we hear church bells announcing the fifty year papal tradition. In the third movement, Lottobrata (Harvest Festivals in October) a French horn solo celebrates the harvest. In the final movement, La Befana (Epiphany) the trumpets sound again. A melancholy solo trombone can be heard among Roman songs and dances. Altogether, another great evening of music with the Phoenix Symphony, and a reminder of the outstanding contributions from Michael Christie!

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Apex Trail & Ron James Approach Trail Sunday, Mar 23 2014 

Apex Trail Vista

Apex Trail Vista

We explored two new trails yesterday in the Willow Lake area. We were the first to park in the Willow Lake boat ramp parking area. After hiking 0.3 miles on the Approach Trail, we took the Canyon Trail, a loop which we have hiked in both directions. This time I climbed the 0.5 mile spur, the Apex Trail, for nice views of the Dells and a glimpse of Willow Lake. The trail is marked with white paint dots on the slickrock. The towering granite spires and massive rock mesas provide incredible views from below and on high. We are fortunate to live in proximity to such treasures. Back on the Canyon Trail I took another detour on the Ron James Approach Trail. After traversing through mountain vegetation, one climbs to a saddle which has a connection with the Constellation Trail. The final side trip was taking the Basin Trail, a loop off the Canyon Trail which we had previously walked from the opposite direction. We were disappointed to discover that someone had damaged our front bumper while we were hiking and did not leave a note. It is difficult to imagine the scenario that resulted in the damage. About eight other cars were disbursed in the large parking area and none of them was the obvious culprit. I need to remind myself not to be too bothered by the small stuff.

Guadalupe Mountains National Park Monday, Mar 17 2014 

El Capitan

El Capitan

Guadalupe Mountains National Park,¬†located about 55 miles southeast of Carlsbad, New Mexico and 110 miles east of El Paso, Texas, was created in 1972. It is an ancient marine fossil reef formed 250-270 million years ago that now towers above the Texas desert. In the nineteenth century Butterfield stagecoaches carried the mail on the first transcontinental mail route near these mountains. We picnicked near the Visitor’s Center enjoying the views of the mountains, including El Capitan which rises 8,078 feet above sea level. Guadalupe Peak, the highest mountain in Texas, at 8,749 feet sits to the north of El Capitan. This national park must be explored on foot. We picked up a flyer on day hikes that we may attempt on a future trip. Guadalupe Mountains National Park is a little known rugged and remote wilderness area.

Carlsbad Caverns Monday, Mar 17 2014 

Carlsbad Caverns National Park

Carlsbad Caverns National Park

Carlsbad Caverns became a National Monument in 1923, a National Park in 1930, and a World Heritage Site in 1995. Jim White, a local cowboy, spent 45 years exploring the cave, serving as a guide, and ardently promoting it. From 1902 to 1958 bat guano mining was allowed. Thousands of tons of this natural, nitrogen-rich fertilizer were extracted for use in California citrus groves. We descended 750 feet on one of two elevators in order to explore the one mile Big Room self-guiding trail. The Big Room is a massive cavern covering 8.2 acres with many unusual formations. The Hall of Giants, for example, has massive speleotherms, the largest in the cave. They were formed through the gradual accumulation of calcite from dripping water. Torchlight and Rock of Ages are two other prominent formations. The Painted Grotto features more speleotherms made from the colorless mineral calcite, but yellow, orange, red, and brown tints from other minerals add some color. The Dolls Theater features small columns and soda straws, delicate stalactites. The Chinese Theater displays columns, stalactites, and stalagmites. Seeing these wonders was enhanced by the extensive lighting system that incorporates 1,000 bulbs and tubes using 19 miles of concealed wires. A complete rewiring is currently taking place at night. While we had a very short wait in the early afternoon for the one-minute descent, we joined a long line to return to the surface before the cave closed for the day. Two more elevators are being renovated. The additional air which entered the Caverns from the elevator shafts affected the cave. Revolving doors leading into the elevators have been added to minimize the damage.

Natural Entrance

Natural Entrance

The next morning we were able to take a ranger led tour of the Kings Palace. This area of the cave is 830 feet below the surface. In addition to the Kings Palace, we visited the Papoose Room, the Queens Chamber, and the Green Lake Room. This trail allows guests to be very close to formations and doesn’t include as many guide rails. On our return to the surface, I walked to the Natural Entrance. Ansel Adams photographed the Carlsbad Caverns in 1936 and 1941. His work from 1936 was rediscovered in 1978 and some of his photographs were on display in the Visitor’s Center. Carlsbad Caverns is an amazing adventure!

International UFO Museum Friday, Mar 14 2014 

Who's the Alien?

Who’s the Alien?

The International UFO Museum and Research Center in Roswell, New Mexico was organized to inform the public about what has come to be known as “the Roswell Incident.” The museum was incorporated on September 27,1991, well after the initial July 4, 1947 incident. The Museum moved to its current location in January, 1997. The exhibit hall presents witness statements, copies of newspapers, the radio announcement, the cover-up, and ongoing research about the Roswell Incident. There is also information about UFO research and study. The alien prop from the 1994 Showtime Movie “Roswell” based on the Randle/Schmitt book makes for an interesting display. Likewise, a saucer from Distortions Unlimited and aliens designed by Jordu Schell adds an extraterrestrial dimension to the museum. Other displays cover crop circles, ancient cultures, and abductions. “The Palenque Astronaut” carving from the Mayan peoples introduces cross cultural questions. I have titled the picture associated with this blog entry which was not otherwise documented. The museum’s library is surprisingly large and includes books, memorabilia, newspapers, magazines, and videos. Roswell schedules an annual UFO Festival around the 4th of July. The Roswell Incident raises interesting questions about whether we have experienced contact with aliens.

New Mexico Museum of Space History Thursday, Mar 13 2014 

Nike Ajax with Launcher

Nike Ajax with Launcher

The New Mexico Museum of Space History, located in Alamogordo, New Mexico, is not too far from the Holloman Air Force Base and the White Sands Missile Range. On July 16, 1945 the Trinity Site, sixty miles north of Alamogordo, was the location for the first explosion of an atom bomb. Its name was derived from the sand that turned into a green substance called trinitite. Earlier, from 1930-1941, Dr. Robert Goddard, who is considered the father of modern rocketry, located his research facilities in Roswell, New Mexico. He advocated “The ideal location for this work…should combine…year-round outdoor working conditions, few cloudy or hazy days…level terrain, low vegetation, [and]¬† adequate transportation facilities…” The early history of the U.S. Air Force space program at White Sands Missile Range (formerly the Alamogordo Bombing and Gunnery Range) included ground-launched missiles, air-launched missiles, rocket sleds, balloons, parachutes, biomedical experiments, and automobile crash tests. On July 20, 1969 my Forest Service supervisor invited me and another fire fighter to his home to watch on his black-and-white television the Apollo 11 landing on the moon. Little did we know then that this program would end in 1972. The walls of the museum are decorated with pictures of inductees to the International Space Hall of Fame. One exhibit being updated, we learned, thought to have been a mock-up of a guidance system was indeed the real thing and was used in four or five expeditions. It contains rare earth metals that would have normally been scrapped. Outside the museum, the Stapp Air and Space Park displays several items important in the history of the space program. The Nike Ajax was the world’s first operational air defense guided missile. It was tested at the White Sands Proving Ground in 1951 and used from 1953-1964. The solid fueled Little Joe 2 was used to test the Apollo launch escape system. The X-37 was used in the deployment and retrieval of satellites in orbit. Our museum admission included an IMAX movie, “Tornado Alley.” The State of New Mexico can be proud of its important role in space history.

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