Thursday, April 12, 2007

Spring Break

Instead of my usual Spring Break bacchanal where I, uh ... break my, uh ... leg ... hey, wait a minute, I never did have a Spring Break bacchanal! What the fuck!? So, after suffering years of not having any Spring Break, I decided to take it to the limit this time: work a coupla days and then visit grad schools. SPRING BREAK 2007: OFF THE FUCKIN HOOK

First visit was Idaho State University in lovely Pocatello, Idaho (aka Pokey-tello, Poke-a-fellow, etc). Given my late notice of a visit, I was expecting maybe a half-hour of face time with my potential advisor. Instead it turned in to a six hour tour of me meeting most of the department. Cool! They were diggin' my mad GIS skeellz and I was digging their, um ... really nice mineral case? Frankly their research wasn't exactly along my lines of inquiry. Their geomorphology faculty, while sharp and interesting, were more focused on current surficial processes than long-term landscape evolution and the stratigraphy/sedimentology guy didn't seem keen in taking on another master's student. But to their great credit, the department has a pretty great atmosphere and all seemed to have good communication with each other. The greatest downside, wholly outside of the control of the university, is the town itself. It's not a terrible location (right at the boundary between the Basin & Range and Snake River Plain) but it's a pretty downtrodden place. My best comparison is a small version of Akron, Ohio and I couldn't get a decent vantage point for a photo anyway. It's three hours from Jackson Hole, two-and-a-half to Salt Lake, and three from the mountains of central Idaho--not to mention the Uintas, Absarokas, Wind Rivers, western Montana ... dammit. Of all the schools I've applied to, they seem the most interested. I guess we'll see in the coming months.

Anyway, the next stop was just an hour or two south in Logan, Utah: Utah State University. The weather was still shitty but the views opened up a bit. Two words: holy crap. That damned campus sells itself. Campus sits up on a shelf (the Pleistocene beach of Lake Bonneville) at the foot of a range and looks out over a big valley. These are the mountains behind it:

And this is the view across the valley:

I was sprouting a mountain of my own. OH BABY.

They guy I've been in contact with at USU is studying the long-term geomorphology of the Colorado Plateau and how the rapid erosion of the landscape has contributed to uplift. It's a project that interests me but he already has his students set up for Fall. I'm hoping to get a provisional admission for the Fall to finish filling the sizeable gaps in my undergraduate record, whence I can get accepted in Spring 2008 as a graduate student. Eh? Eh??? Yeah, it's kinda half-baked, but he seemed interested in my GIS experience and my obvious drive to go through with this. Toward the end of my time there he turned and said, "GREs and grades and all that are okay indicators of success for a graduate student. But the surest sign of success," he turned and looked me in the eye, "is if you really fucking love geology." It's about as close as I've ever come to kissing a man. So if all of you who've asked about rocks on any of our various road-trips could write him letters about how much I really fucking love geology, I think it'd tip the scales in my favor. Anyway, I think it's my first choice school at the moment but I don't know that my chances there are so great. Again, we'll see in the coming weeks.

Funny thing about that last visit: after finding out I was parked nearby, he asked for a ride to his lab.

Heh heh heh. This photo was taken later that day on the interstate but you probably get the idea. We somehow crammed both of us and the lab researcher in to Zippy and cruised downtown for coffee. Coffee for Mormons is like garlic for vampires, so we were free to cuss and spit and compare pentagram tattoos. It was a bonding experience.

After Logan I headed south through the snow showers and spent the night at Zion. There's something about camping that puts me to sleep at nine and gets me up at five--so the next morning I was heading up to Observation Point before most people were awake. Awesome.

The sun just started breaching the top of the canyon as I started up in the cold. Given my utter lack of exercise the past few months, I was surprised to find that the way up was far easier than it was the first time I'd done this hike--March 26, 2001, almost exactly six years ago. Why do I remember that? It was the day I arrived in Cedar City after driving cross-country to be a dishwasher at Bryce Canyon National Park. Four days later I spent what I still consider to be the best birthday I've ever had: up to my elbows in a dish pit. So I got to spend this birthday revisiting a landscape of my memory.

Birthday fashion.

The view north. It was great to spend a half-hour at the top watch other early-risers warily scramble up Angel's Rest a few hundred feet below me on the opposite side of the canyon.

I only started to run in to people on the way back down. Remembering my birthday, I realized that I and everyone I know have pretty much reached their upper limits of maturity. For the rest of our lives we're going to think we're 28 (or 32, or 25) and stuck in an older person's body. Welcome to adulthood. It was a bizarre thought on an otherwise great morning. It was only 11 a.m. when I left the park.

The remainder of the morning and afternoon were spent blowing across southern Nevada at Ludicrous Speed, the whole drive underpinned by a soundtrack of clinking Uinta Breweries bottles and furious engine roar. I arrived at Wildrose Campground in Death Valley that afternoon.

Gawd, I'd forgotten how rough that lonely road is up in the Panamint Range. Each jolt brought a smack of bottles and a wince of pain. The next morning I drove up a bit higher to get a vista on the Sierras but decided to bail on another attack of Wildrose Peak: the trailhead was two miles down a dirt road. Next time I'll definitely bring the truck. Besides, by this time my legs were starting to kill me from the day before ... it felt like a gang of kids had attacked my thighs with their fists.

If you squint you can almost see the snow-covered southern Sierras way in the background.

So I decided to cruise home a day early and take my time in Owens Valley. It's one of my favorite places.

I don't think I could ever get tired of this view just east of Lone Pine:

This is the place where I'd like to be buried. Up to my neck. And stoned to death. Then buried again. It's that good.

I eventually left Owens Valley and continued through that forgotten corner of California and on in to Nevada, then back in to California again. A storm was approaching off the Pacific and there were big lenticular clouds over the northern Sierras. The sun was still out though and I got one last shot of Mt. Lassen and Zippy before pressing on toward Mt. Shasta.

It was a decent trip (2400 miles!), though one that I'd mostly done before. The grad school visits were good but didn't clarify much. I'm optimistic but not counting my luck quite yet. One thing in my favor: I really fucking love geology.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Good-bye, Station Wagon

Recently I drove Clifford the Truck downtown. Tacomas are popular and I got some looks, but they didn't quell my concerns of vague steering, loose shifting, odd gearing, and the inability to whip around corners. I remembered why I bought it. Of course it has all these--it's a truck. Think about Eastern Oregon! And as I began to feel a little better about it, I pulled up to the parking garage window where I know the attendant.
"What's going on man?"
"Not much. I sold the wagon for this truck."
He looked at the truck and then to me and--paused. "But ... station wagons are cool."

Station Wagon, I sing your praises.

You cornered well. Even at the limits of handling, your roll was negligible. Other lesser cars would have killed me (and my passengers) many times over. Few things were as fun as jumping in to you and roaring up Mountain Lake or Ironto or McKenzie Pass and just wailing through curves without much worry. Excitable riders usually calmed down once they experienced your excellent handling.

You held a lot of shit. Drunks? Yes. Bikes? Yes. 1200 pounds of paving stone? Yes (barely). Countless moves, both local and cross-country? Yes. Ladders, luggage, dogs, couches, wheelbarrows? Yes yes yes. You were THE road trip car to carry my friends and I. And your speakers! And moonroof! We moved things in style.

And not only did we move stuff, we went places. You were well-constructed. Not once did you complain about your owner's serial neglect, though in my defense you never didn't gave me cause to worry ... not after getting jerked sideways through sagebrush, or averaging 1000 miles a week for 12 weeks, or gingerly easing down the Rooster Comb or up Pine Canyon on Steens ("how the hell did that car get here??!"), or getting steered in to a guardrail, or suffering a hack homemade stereo-wiring job, or blowing down countless dirt roads at inappropriate speeds, or you-name-it. Were you a higher-clearance car, I easily (and gladly) would have taken you to 280,000 and beyond.

Best of all, you were unsexy. Appreciation comes in boatloads for Zippy and Clifford. But you? You were an ungainly modification of a sensible mid-'90s sedan. Girls never said "I like your car". You were not a hatchback but a stretched, boxy, greenhoused station wagon. In my homeland you were the "anti-car", my proud counterpoint to the SUVs and bumblebee Hondas and tacky bullshit people glommed on to their cars. "What do you drive?" "A station wagon!" The bumper stickers were appropriate. Even at the end, the expectant couple I wanted to sell you to got a giggle from "THIS CAR CLIMBED MT WASHINGTON." It was awesome.

You were ahead of your time, occupying a niche with marginal competition from Camrys and Tauruses. Now Subaru and VW and Mazda and Mercedes and Dodge (Dodge!) have all moved in to your former territory. It gives me small comfort that I sold you here in the Northwest where station wagons are appreciated.

All this for a stupid car.