Arid Adventure, Part 3: Down the Grand Staircase to Lake Powell

TRIP DATES: June 11-12, 2018 | Slideshow | Photo Album

The highlight of our trip would come at the lowest point in our looping journey: a walk through the Antelope Slot Canyon near Page, Arizona. So we needed to make our way south out of Utah down to the Glen Canyon Dam which impounds Lake Powell. The terrain meant we would have to drive a long arc west, south, and then back east.

Scenic Highway 12 continued to impress as we traveled west toward Bryce Canyon. A few small towns dot the arid Bryce valley. After we found that Foster’s Family Restaurant in Bryce was now the UpTop Steakhouse and only open in the evenings, we backtracked to Tropic for lunch at Rustler’s Restaurant.

Tropic was named by pioneers seeking to promote it as a more temperate location than its competitors. In the late 1880s, the Mormon farmers in the area diverted water from the East Fork of the Sevier River into the often-dry Paria River drainage to irrigate their fields. They dug, mostly by hand, a 15-mile ditch which still runs today. We saw the Sevier River’s water flowing through the Tropic Ditch near the Mossy Cave Trail at the north end of Bryce Canyon.

Tropic Ditch

The surrounding hillsides had the characteristic look of the famous eroded amphitheaters of Bryce Canyon National Park a few miles to the southwest, which nature carved out of the pink Claron limestone of the Paunsaugunt Plateau. Unlike the Grand Canyon, Bryce was not carved by flowing water, but instead by frost-wedging and chemical weathering.

Claron limestone erosion

For 200 days a year the temperature cycles above and below freezing in that area of Utah. During the day, melt water seeps into fractures only to freeze at night, expanding by 9%. The ice exerts a tremendous pressure of 2,000-20,000 pounds per square inch. Over time this “frost-wedging” shatters and pries rock apart. In addition, rain water, which is naturally acidic, slowly dissolves the limestone, rounding off edges and washing away debris. This creates fins of rock jutting out from the cliffsides, which then erode into free-standing hoodoos.

Red Canyon hoodoos

Road Arch at Red Canyon

We shopped for trinkets in Bryce and then continued our journey west. A dozen miles across the northern end of Bryce Canyon, Highway 12 runs through Red Canyon, the western edge of the valley, with its own erosion of the Claron limestone. The road passes through two manmade arches in the rock, which were fun to drive through.

Too soon we left Highway 12, and the rest of the drive to Page was uneventful. We followed highway 89 down the Grand Staircase, a term Clarence Dutton coined for the steady descent, layer by layer, through the sedimentary rock formations from Bryce Canyon south to the Grand Canyon. The pink cliffs of Bryce give way to grey, then white, and eventually the Vermilion Cliffs we had driven by the previous summer, ending in the chocolate cliffs that form the top layer of the Grand Canyon.

The high desert we drove through heading back east in far southern Utah towards Lake Powell was quite inhospitable. It became even more desolate as we dipped south into Arizona. It would never occur to one to stop and stay in Page, Arizona were it not for the formidable Glen Canyon Dam and associated natural and man-made wonders.

High desert of southern Utah

The 710-foot high dam was built by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation from 1956 to 1966 and has always been controversial. Edward Abbey wanted to wreck it in The Monkey Wrench Gang, and Marc Reisner delineated its downsides in his superb history Cadillac Desert. The level of Lake Powell fluctuates considerably, but it has never recovered from a drought in the first years of the 21st century. While its full capacity ranks it as the second-largest man-made reservoir in our country, global warming and the increasing demands on the Colorado River mean it could eventually become a “dead pool” that can no longer generate hydroelectric power.

Lakes Mead and Powell have not recovered from the drought of 2000-2005

We were glad to arrive at the Days Inn in Page, where we had a nice dinner at the Gone West restaurant. The next morning we drove to the Wahweap Marina for an Antelope Canyon boat cruise. Wahweap is a Paiute word meaning “bitter water” and dates back to when the mineral-laden trickles of water in the area were unattractive. Now all that and much of Glen Canyon is subsumed under the cool clear waters of the lake.

There was quite a crowd in the marina waiting to board the boat, hiding from the brutal sunlight outside. We sat on the upper deck by a retired couple from New Jersey. They were fun to visit with and in the middle of their own adventure out west with some other retirees. I wore my Tilley hat, of course, but made the mistake of wearing shorts and forgetting to protect my legs with sunscreen. The heat and sunlight were intense, leaving me with an itchy sunburn by the end of the 90-minute cruise.

Castle Rock

Our boat took us past the dam and Castle Rock. All around us were the red cliffs of the uppermost layers of Glen Canyon and the “bathtub ring” of mineral deposits from back when the lake was actually full decades ago.

Lake Powell’s bathtub ring, with walkers for scale

We zoomed by the cliffs and eventually headed up Antelope Canyon. Our massive vessel cruised up the winding canyon, following a much smaller boat. I was surprised at how far we could make it up the winding and narrowing canyon formed by Antelope Creek.

Our course up Antelope Canyon

Desert varnish stained the walls of the canyon, reminding me of the stains at Echo Amphitheater near Ghost Ranch in New Mexico. This natural patina is primarily clay particles with iron and manganese oxides.

Desert varnish in Antelope Canyon

The weathering in some places exposed the layers of sedimentary rock, created hoodoos, and in spots yielded bright orange sand. There were quite a few houseboats on the lake, although for me the intense heat and sunlight, with little vegetation, left me with little desire to linger.

Sedimentary rock layers

We returned to the marina and struggled to cool off inside the resort before heading back to Page. That afternoon we laundered clothes, and I bought some aloe vera gel for my sunburned legs. The next day we would revisit Antelope Canyon via a guided walking tour through its upper slot canyon.

Slideshow | Photo Album

Arid Adventure, Part 4: Antelope Slot Canyon >

< Arid Adventure, Part 2: Escalante

Posted in photos, travel | Leave a comment

Arid Adventure, Part 2: Escalante

TRIP DATES: June 9-11, 2018 | Slideshow | Photo Album

The Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument is a rugged region of canyons, arches, plateaus and cliffs. Established in 1996, it was recently reduced and broken apart into three separate monuments. We visited the northeast part of the region,  spending a day driving south from Salt Lake City to a casita west of the small town of Escalante. We stopped briefly along the way to visit the northern tip of Capitol Reef National Park and then enjoyed the amazing scenery along Highway 12 from there south and west to Escalante.

Our route from Salt Lake City

Capitol Dome at Capitol Reef National Park

A reef sounds rather out of place in this dry desert land, but locally it refers to a rocky barrier to land travel just as ocean reefs can bar travel on the sea. The national park is a thin strip of land running north-south which encompasses the Waterpocket Fold, a 100-mile long monocline which is an S-shaped warp in the rocks likely formed as continental plates collided to create the Rocky Mountains. Pools in the eroded rocks capture rainwater, and a colorful section near the Fremont River is called Capitol Reef because of white sandstone dome formations that resemble the domes placed upon many capitol buildings.

Capitol Reef viewed from the International Space Station

We didn’t have time to explore or hike in the park, but did drive over to its northern entrance to take in Panorama Point and the Goosenecks Overlook. Highway 24 runs along the base of the stacked red layers in the Mummy Cliffs. A side road took us to a parking area, with a short slickrock trail leading up a rise for the views. Slickrock is smooth, weathered sandstone which sheds water instantly and can be dangerous to hikers as well as horses wearing iron shoes, but is fine for bikes and jeeps. In this area, the sandstone was either slickrock or heavily pockmarked.

Highway 24 around the Mummy Cliffs

Wendy patiently waited while I scampered about taking in the vistas atop the slabs and ridges of sandstone. Then we drove to the Goosenecks Overlook, where she shied away from the quite windy overlooks 800 feet above Sulphur Creek. Over the past six million years the creek has cut its winding way deep into the rock.

Sulphur Creek has cut through the Moenkopi Formation of mud and sand from shallow seas and floodplains of 245 million years ago, on down through the Kaibab Limestone deposited in shallow seas 270 million years ago and which is the top layer of the Grand Canyon 160 miles to the south. The creek has further penetrated to the White Rim Sandstone formed from coastal sand dunes 280 million years ago. This carved layer cake of deposition is quite beautiful, but we were both drying out in the hot dessicating wind.

Sulphur Creek at the Goosenecks

So we were glad to hop back into our Ford Fusion for the drive along Highway 12 towards Escalante. We found relief from the heat as we drove from the desert up into the forests of Boulder Mountain, climbing from 6,300 feet to over 9,000 feet through large stands of aspen, pine, spruce, and fir. The Larb Hollow Overlook provided a view of the Henry Mountains, the last mountain range to be added to the map of the United States back in 1872. 350 bison roam freely there, one of only three free-roaming and genetically purebred herds left on our public lands. We could see the Lower Bowns Reservoir in the distance as well as jutting rock formations.

Larb Hollow Overlook

The road descended from the mountain to the town of Boulder, and then ran along the Hogback, a razorback ridge of slickrock high above Calf Creek to the west and Boulder Creek to the east. We stopped after that impressive if somewhat harrowing drive to view Calf Creek’s canyon.

Calf Creek Canyon

We crossed the Escalante River, taking a panorama from the south canyon wall, looking down upon a yurt perched on a ledge far below.

Escalante River Canyon

It was late by the time we passed through Escalante and reached Slot Canyons Inn, where I had rented the Moonrise Casita while a wedding party had commandeered the remainder of the inn. We were truly remote, with no reliable internet or cell service. That remoteness frustrated our news routines, but did provide dark skies which we could view from the entry deck’s recliners. Wendy treasures privacy and fashioned a blind of paper towels for one high window. I thought she was being a bit paranoid until later in our stay when a small drone buzzed about overhead. Those darn paparazzi follow us everywhere! 🙂

Moonrise Casita

Longhorn cattle, Holsteins, horses, and even a bighorn sheep grazed in the small pastures around the casita. At night Wendy would tuck herself in a space under one of the gables for her nightly coffee while reading the latest book by David Sedaris. By day I sat up in the bed or reclined out on the balcony to read Pride and Prejudice, my follow-up to reading Jane Austen’s Emma six summers back. It was disconcerting to look up from my book and be transported from a search for husbands for Mr. Bennet’s daughters in Regency England to a sunny Utah pasture.

Our big outing from Escalante was an incredibly bumpy ride 12 miles along the washboard Hole in the Rock road to the Devil’s Garden. It is a collection of hoodoos and arches in the Entrada Sandstone. The hoodoos form at the intersection of the Cannonville and Gunsight Butte members of the formation. The upper Cannonville layer has more clay and silt, so it erodes away, leaving pillars of the Gunsight Butte layer.

Granger and some hoodoos

Erosion changes ridges into standalone hoodoos, which are taller than a man. One group reminded me of Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, standing high on the rocks over a dry gully.


There were a few other visitors wandering amidst the rocks and admiring the thin and thick arches. No doubt we were all glad to be afoot after enduring the bone-rattling ride to get there.

Arch at the Devil’s Garden

Hole in the Rock above Lake Powell

We were not tempted to continue down Hole in the Rock Road to its canyons, instead struggling back north along the 12 miles of rough road to Escalante. Along the way I pondered how the road gets even rougher if you turn south for the 50-mile journey that ends in the Hole in the Rock itself at Lake Powell.

In 1880, an expedition of Mormons trying to settle in southeastern Utah widened that narrow crack in the canyon rim above the Colorado River to reach a ford. The drop to the river was nearly 2000 feet with an average grade of 25 degrees, although some places were as steep as 45 degrees.

Construction of this passageway was very difficult, plagued by lack of wood, forage for cattle, bitter cold, and diminishing food supplies. Blasting powder and picks were used to widen and/or fill various sections of the crevice. At the lower part of the Hole, a road was constructed on the side of a sheer cliff wall. Although a three-foot shelf had already existed, an extension to the shelf was formed by driving two-foot stakes into the rock and piling vegetation and rocks on top. This portion of the trail was nicknamed “Uncle Ben’s Dugway” in honor of its engineer, Benjamin Perkins. After six weeks of picking, chiseling, drilling, blasting, and digging, the Hole-in-the-Rock road had been completed. Even after they finally crossed the Colorado, the pioneers had another 120 miles of arduous travel before they reached Bluff, Utah.

Hikers at Hole in the Rock above Lake Powell

One-third of the Hole in the Rock slit now lies beneath the waters of Lake Powell. The Hole was only used for a year before the settlers shifted the route a few miles over to the better Hall’s Crossing. The incredibly rough “modern” Hole in the Rock Road to the area is one of the most traveled in the monument, but is still hellish despite being graded 20 or more times each tourist season.

The terrain in this region is unforgiving. Later in the week Wendy and I would take the modern route 191 through Bluff as we traveled from Page, Arizona to Moab, Utah. The modern roads make long sweeping arcs to avoid the rough mesas and canyons on either side of the Colorado River.

Upon returning to Escalante, we purchased the most normal food we could find at a hipster grocery. We had already sampled the two major restaurants in town. We had a kindly server at the Circle D while the best thing about Boots Cafe was its large taxidermied bear.

This was the most remote area we visited during our vacation. The lack of services and sparse population allowed me to fully relax, knowing that I was truly away from work. Both Wendy and I preferred to avoid the crowds by shunning the pay areas of the multiple national parks along our route.

The next phase of our trip would take us past Bryce Canyon down to Lake Powell in Arizona, where we would take a sunny boat tour and a shaded guided walk through a picturesque slot canyon.

Slideshow | Photo Album

Arid Adventure Part 3: Down the Grand Staircase to Lake Powell >

< Arid Adventure, Part 1: Salt Lake City

Posted in photos, travel | Leave a comment

Arid Adventure, Part 1: Salt Lake City Metro

TRIP DATES: June 7-9, 2018 | Slideshow | Photo Album

Giving up a lifetime of summer breaks was part of the package when I became a 12-month school district administrator. But Wendy is still a classroom teacher with summer breaks, so when I mapped out my use of my limited vacation days beginning in July 2017, I made sure to save back enough for a 9-day June vacation for the two of us. In July 2017 we had driven out to the Grand Canyon in Arizona with friends, and Wendy had wanted to visit a slot canyon at the north edge of the state. But our itinerary that year could not accommodate that addition.

So when she again mentioned wanting to see a slot canyon in northern Arizona, following that up by sharing with me online photos of beautiful scenery in southern Utah, I formed a plan. Neither of us had spent any time in Utah, so we would fly out to Salt Lake City and loop our way south to Escalante, lowering the lasso enough to later reach Lake Powell and Antelope Canyon before heading back up and over to Moab as our last stop before returning to Salt Lake to fly home.

Flight & Rental Car

Having only nine days for our tour meant we would need to fly, rather than drive, to Utah. We flew from Tulsa to Salt Lake City in First Class on a Delta Bombardier CRJ-700. The trip was uneventful, although both of us got put through a millimeter-wave body scanner at the Tulsa airport, and Wendy had one leg patted down. I snuck a glance at it on occasion for the rest of our trip, just to be on the safe side. 😉

When I rented a car for our honeymoon a couple of years back, Hertz had failed to honor my prearranged discount. So for our long drives through Utah I was determined to work with a different rental company. I ended up with a good deal from Thrifty, which they fully honored.

We did have a long wait at the rental car counter at the Salt Lake City airport on a Thursday night. We were fourth in line with only one agent, and the couple just ahead of us, who took turns chasing down their wandering toddler, kept having their credit card declined. We didn’t run into that trouble, although that prompted me to file a travel alert  with my bank, something Wendy had already done for her own card.

Our Ford Fusion Hybrid rental car

Overall, it took over a half hour for us to finally secure a Ford Fusion Hybrid. I’d never driven a gas-electric hybrid vehicle, so it took me awhile to become accustomed to our second-generation Ford Fusion. I loved its 45+ miles per gallon efficiency, but the large battery reduced the trunk space so much that our largest piece of luggage had to be transported in the back seat. The car was also more sluggish than what I am accustomed to, meaning I had to be cautious about passing other cars on two-lane highways. I did enjoy its coaching on my acceleration and use of the car’s regenerative braking, which helped me increase its efficiency.

Salt Lake City

Years back I read Jon Krakauer’s well-written Under the Banner of Heaven: The Story of a Violent Faith, which told early stories of the Latter Day Saints and their Mormon theology. So I knew about Brigham Young leading the largest sect westward to settle at the Great Salt Lake. I presume many of the folks we met throughout Utah were Mormons, given they comprise 63% of the state’s population. Wendy and I were both struck by how most of the tourists we saw were Asian, followed by a formidable showing of Germans, with a few Australians and Brits in the mix.

Salt Lake City Terrain MapSalt Lake City appears to sit in a bowl with the Wasatch Range to the east and north and Oquirrh Mountains to the west. When I first saw the latter name on a terrain model at the Utah Museum of Natural History, I had no idea how to pronounce it. Only later did I find out you say it as you would “oaker”.

Our coolest weather of the trip was in the city, with us staying at a Holiday Inn Express near Temple Square downtown. Around us were many hipster bars, something that surprised me, given the Mormon prohibition on alcohol. Some research, however, revealed that only half of the city’s residents are members of that faith.

An uncomfortable chaise longue

I did not care for most of the hotel’s decor. It was mid-century modern revival, with an uncomfortable low-back couch and hard chaise longue (that’s the French spelling). Our suite was spacious, but the large kitchen area had a dozen or more empty cabinets, and the living room needed a coffee table. Wendy compensated with our usual travel trick of turning an adjustable ironing board into a narrow low table.

Wendy, however, admired the gray and orange color combination in the seat backs of the hotel breakfast area, which was spacious and had a separate food area offering hot items such as crispy bacon, scrambled eggs, mini omelets, and good cinnamon rolls.

Downtown & Temple Square

We set off the first morning to walk the few blocks over to the 10-acre Temple Square. We passed a passel of signs out in front of the convention center. They were an art installation called Point of View designed by Maine artist Aaron T. Stephan. Wendy and I both were prompted to think of Signs by Five Man Electrical Band. The “You are here” element when you face the installation head on is a nice added touch.

Point of View by Aaron T. Stephan

The Temple Square is surrounded by a 15-foot high wall. Within the grounds is the imposing 222-foot high quartz monzonite temple, built from 1853-1893, as noted by a large panel on its eastern face. We could not venture inside, something reserved for Mormons who are baptized and receive a temple recommend after multiple interviews. A 12-foot tall golden statue of the Angel Moroni adorns the tallest spire. The entire Temple Square features well-tended flowerbeds and plantings.

Salt Lake City Temple

We viewed the temple from the south and northeast, as well as facing head-on toward its eastern façade.

Beehive House

Nearby we went around Brigham Young’s Lion House of 1856, with its 20 gabled bedrooms for some of his plural wives and their children. It is adjacent to the Beehive House, his 1854 home, named after the sculpture which adorns its top. Utah’s nickname is the Beehive State; Young called the territory he and his fellow Mormon pioneer settled Deseret, which the Book of Mormon says was an ancient word for honeybee.  In 1881 the Deseret News explained, “The hive and honey bees form our communal coat of arms…. It is a significant representation of the industry, harmony, order and frugality of the people, and of the sweet results of their toil, union and intelligent cooperation.”

Eagle Gate

While Young’s dreams of a State of Deseret did not come to pass, the Compromise of 1850 brought Utah territory, which became a state in 1896 after a ban on polygamy was adopted by the church in 1890, with the prohibition incorporated into the state constitution.

At the Eagle Gate next to the Beehive House we turned back to return to our hotel. I will confess I dislike the 1960s mid-century modern version of the gate, even more than the hotel’s decor. I realize the historic versions of the gate were made obsolete by street widening, but their more conventional pillars seem far less threatening than the current arachnoid creation. More to my liking was part of Dennis Smith’s Counterpoint bronze figure set, with a mother twirling her daughter about in the air.

University Hill

Pi in The Pie’s underground location

We later drove due east to what I thought of as University Hill, where the University of Utah is draped across the lowest slopes of Mount Van Cott. We ate lunch at The Pie Pizzeria‘s underground location, where legions of university students had scribbled their graffiti across every wall.

Nearby was the Natural History Museum of Utah, filled with skeletons of dinosaurs and other ancient life, along with many quite lively young humans. It was fun to see workers picking away at fossils, including the skull and lower jaw of a Teratophoneus curriei.

Picking away

Wendy loved the wall displays of gems and minerals. I enjoyed the panorama from the upper deck of the museum.

Wasatch Range from the Natural History Museum’s roof

Seer Bonnet

We also ventured to the Utah Museum of Fine Arts. Angela Ellsworth’s Seer Bonnet made me uncomfortable with its thousands of pearl-tipped steel corsage pins creating a beautiful exterior but sharp and dangerous interior. In Ellsworth’s reimagined history, Joseph Smith received prophetic powers via a seer stone while his multiple wives received their own visionary and revelatory powers from their seer bonnets. When I was a little boy my tiny maternal grandmother, who had a hardscrabble garden in Paoli, Oklahoma, used to have me wear a bonnet while I hoed weeds. I am most grateful she did not have me wear a seer bonnet!

Gilgal Garden

A stop on the morning we left town to head south to Escalante was the Gilgal Garden. From 1947 to 1963, Thomas Battersby Child, Jr. filled his backyard with 12 bizarre sculptures and over 70 stones engraved with scriptures, poems, and literary texts. Child was a masonry contractor and a Bishop of a Salt Lake ward of the Latter-Day Saints. In the Bible, Gilgal was the camp where Joshua ordered the Israelites to place twelve stones, one for each tribe, as a memorial after they crossed the Jordan River.

Child identified large stones which he had transported to his garden to be sculpted, adapting an oxyacetylene torch normally used for welding into a tool for reshaping stone. He hired artist Maurice Edmunds Brooks to assist with the project, fashioning a sphinx with the head of Joseph Smith, an offputting shrine to Child’s wife Bertha, and other tableau, including a full-size standing sculpture of Child himself with symbols of his ward and his trade, including brick pants.

Thomas Battersby Child, Jr.

“Priesthood” includes a rock arch formation with a keystone with letters Alpha and Omega on it, which are symbolic of Christ’s words: I am the beginning and the end. The granite boulders are for recorded messengers who helped restore the Gospel to the earth, such as Peter, James, John, Elijah and Moses. Cast books include The Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, and Pearl of Great Price.

A cave featured two human hearts, one red to symbolize life and the other white for death, with two hands descending like stalactites. This symbolizes the baptism of the dead, one of the more controversial practices of the church, which is why it invests heavily in genealogical research and records.

Daniel II

A hillside with giant dismembered body parts called “Daniel II” depicts King Nebuchadnezzar’s dream of a large giant emerging from a mountain, topped by a boulder, which comes down to destroy him. It symbolizes the end of all man made kingdoms.

The engraved figure of a man holding an unsheathed sword, with a huge boulder in place of his head, is part of the Gilgal tableau. That could be symbolic of the Gibeath Haaraloth (Givat Ha’aralot): the hill of foreskins where all of the Israelites born during the Exodus were circumcised. Enough said, eh?

The most striking sculpture to me was an old man’s head on the ground near a huge grasshopper, with a nearby well missing its wheel and a broken pitcher. The symbolism is from Ecclesiastes 12:5 and 12:6.

Ecclesiastes 12:5 and 12:6

Child recognized that his art was eccentric, stating, “You don’t have to agree with me. You may think I am a nut, but I hope I have aroused your thinking and curiosity.” He certainly succeeded, with me pondering his works 55 years after his demise.

Next door a large condominium complex was under construction on the sites of former residences. The Gilgal Garden was threatened with the same fate in 2000, only spared from development by a $679,000 investment by the county and various donors. Volunteers and nonprofits have rejuvenated the property, repairing vandalized pieces and planting the garden with many beautiful roses and other plants.

Wendy was delighted with the rose beds and how the gardeners had labeled the various hybrid teas on display.

Wendy and the roses at Gilgal Garden


Salt Lake City is part of the Wasatch Front, a long metropolitan area stretched out along the western side of the Wasatch Range of mountains where 85% of the population of Utah resides. South of there is Provo, known to me as the home of Brigham Young University (BYU) and the birthplace of the WordPerfect software I relied on for over 30 years. I first learned to use WordPerfect at the University of Oklahoma in 1985 and always found it superior to Microsoft Word. While I no longer use WordPerfect itself, I still regularly use the vector drawing portion of the Corel Presentations software which was born from it.

Over the decades I had many superb students who were Mormons. They often chose to receive their higher education at BYU. So I thought it would be interesting to finally glimpse its campus. Our journey south to Escalante included zooming down the massive Interstate 15 past Provo, so we turned off there to visit the art museum on the campus.

I liked the directive at the campus entrance: “Enter to learn; go forth to serve“. The nearby art museum had a striking piece, Gabriel Dawe’s Plexus no. 29, consisting of almost 80 miles of colored filament threaded between the Museum’s mezzanine walls and oculus. I presume the symbolism of the flood would occur to many believers, although I found the display somewhat incongruous given the modern association of the rainbow with the gay pride movement and the Latter-Day Saints’ condemnation of homosexual behavior. Wendy’s shot showing one of Robert Indiana’s Love sculptures under the rainbow only reinforces my bemusement.

I was hoping to see what was described by previous tourists as a nice Escher exhibit, but that was closed. Wendy and I were more than adequately compensated, however, by the inventive, funny, and varied works by Nina Katchadourian on display.

Lavatory Self-Portraits in the Flemish Style

Her Lavatory Self-Portraits in the Flemish Style were quite hilarious. Beginning in 2010, Nina started taking photographs and shooting videos in airplane lavatories, with tissue paper toilet covers and the like adorning her head in the style of 15th-century Flemish portraiture. We could put on headphones and watch her lip-syncing to various songs by groups one definitely does not associate with 15th-century Flemish art.

Songs of the Island: Concrete Music from New York

I liked her Songs of the Island: Concrete Music from New York, in which she collected bits of discarded unraveled cassette tapes found in the gutters of the Big Apple, cleaned them up, and spliced them together into a mix tape that is both a wall art installation that shows where she found them and an audio experience in which you can hear the bits of reggae, salsa, Indian pop, punk, rhythm and blues, country-rock, old-school rap, metal, and Vietnamese music she found on them.

The Genealogy of the Supermarket

Her delightful The Geneaology of the Supermarket was a huge wall covered by a family tree of fictitious and fanciful relations among various grocery advertising characters. She adds local images to each installation of this piece, so it is alive and growing. Wendy and I guffawed at discovering how Uncle Ben and Aunt Jemima were siblings, the Green Giant and the Land o’ Lakes Butter Maiden were married and the parents of the Argo Corn Starch maiden, and Mr. Clean and the Brawny paper towel guy got married and adopted the Gerber Baby and the Sunbeam Bread girl. Clearly the Mormons at BYU do have a healthy sense of humor.

Did you know that the Green Giant and Land o’ Lakes Butter Maiden were the parents of the Argo Corn Starch maiden?

At the museum I also admired the far more traditional, and quite beautiful, Le Premier Chagrin (The First Grief) by Daniel Ridgway Knight. This lovely painting of two French peasant girls was crafted in 1892. Wendy was kind enough to locate a print of it in the art museum’s gift shop for me. It now adorns a wall in my man cave at Meador Manor, across from Tamara de Lempicka’s Portrait d’Ira PerotThe digital version below does not do it justice, but provides a facsimile of its touching beauty.

Le Premier Chagrin by Daniel Ridgway Knight

Eager for lunch, we asked girls working at the museum for a recommendation. That led us to CHOM burgers, where the food was quite tasty even if owner Colton Soelberg admits that “Chom” itself has no meaning at all.

That concluded our adventures in the metro area, with us heading south for the scenery of the tip of Capitol Reef National Park and the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, which we will share in the next post about our Arid Adventures in Utah and Arizona.

Slideshow | Photo Album

Arid Adventure, Part 2: Escalante >

Posted in art, photos, roses, travel | Leave a comment

Forgotten verses

June 22, 2018

In one of those dreams that returns from time to time, I wander through what is purportedly my house, discovering levels and wings that I either had forgotten about or long neglected. It is somewhat disappointing to awaken and realize there are no forgotten rooms to be remembered or revisited.

Some songs offer a similar, but quite real aspect. Consider these lyrics:

She said, ‘I’m home on shore leave,’
though in truth we were at sea
so I took her by the looking glass
and forced her to agree
saying, ‘You must be the mermaid
who took Neptune for a ride.’
But she smiled at me so sadly
that my anger straightway died.

Sound familiar? Can you identify the rhythm in those lines? How about this:

If music be the food of love
then laughter is its queen
and likewise if behind is in front
then dirt in truth is clean
My mouth by then like cardboard
seemed to slip straight through my head
So we crash-dived straightway quickly
and attacked the ocean bed.

Still nothing? Then let me throw in the chorus that falls between those verses:

And so it was that later
As the miller told his tale
That her face, at first just ghostly
Turned a whiter shade of pale

Yes, those are the third and fourth verses of Procol Harum’s Whiter Shade of Pale that were not part of the official recording yet vibrate the air at some of their live performances.

I am interested in how one can, as the above video does, use the entirety of the song to form a somewhat more coherent narrative than with its popular truncated version. However, I still regard the song’s nautical references more as metaphors about a negotiation that ends in a sexual act than being about a man and woman on a ship.

Let’s look at some more forgotten verses, which you have a much better chance of recognizing:

On the shore dimly seen through the mists of the deep
Where the foe’s haughty host in dread silence reposes,
What is that which the breeze, o’er the towering steep,
As it fitfully blows, half conceals, half discloses?
Now it catches the gleam of the morning’s first beam,
In full glory reflected now shines in the stream,
‘Tis the star-spangled banner – O long may it wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave!

The flag that flew over Fort Sumter

Of course that is about the flag above Fort McHenry, for that is the second verse of our national anthem, with two more to boot which most of us would struggle to recite, let alone sing to the old drinking song Anacreon in Heaven.

This sort of thing reminds me of church hymnals with their plenitude of forgotten verses. As a youth, I was always intrigued when Charles Mohr, the choir director at Western Oaks Christian Church in far west Oklahoma City, would have the congregation sing some of the forgotten verses of popular hymns.

Just as I Am from 1835 has seven verses, but how many times have all seven been sung? Alan Jackson selected verses 1, 3, 4, and 5 for his rendition, as did Tennesee Ernie Ford.

Just as I am – without one plea,
But that Thy blood was shed for me,
And that Thou bidst me come to Thee,
-O Lamb of God, I come!

Just as I am – and waiting not
To rid my soul of one dark blot,
To Thee, whose blood can cleanse each spot,
-O Lamb of God, I come!

Just as I am – though toss’d about
With many a conflict, many a doubt,
Fightings and fears within, without,
-O Lamb of God, I come!

Just as I am – poor, wretched, blind;
Sight, riches, healing of the mind,
Yea, all I need, in Thee to find,
-O Lamb of God, I come!

Just as I am – Thou wilt receive,
Wilt welcome, pardon, cleanse, relieve;
Because Thy promise I believe,
-O Lamb of God, I come!

Just as I am – Thy love unknown
Has broken every barrier down;
Now to be Thine, yea, Thine alone,
-O Lamb of God, I come!

Just as I am – of that free love
The breadth, length, depth, and height to prove
Here for a season, then above,
-O Lamb of God, I come

That seventh verse is often omitted, as the first six appeared as a poem in 1835 and the seventh came a year later, but from the same author, Charlotte Eliot.

And, of course, like The Star-Spangled Banner, a poem can be set to alternate tunes. If you know the hymn as popularized as Billy Graham’s altar call, you probably know the Woodworth version. But here’s the alternate Saffron Waldon version:

Let’s shift back to something secular, although this one is now associated with a Christian holiday. Riddle me this:

Now the ground is white
Go it while you’re young,
Take the girls tonight
And sing this sleighing song;
Just get a bob-tailed bay
Two-forty as his speed
Hitch him to an open sleigh
And crack! you’ll take the lead.

The middle lines of the verse rescued you, I trust. That is the fourth verse of Jingle Bells, although I reckon you might, like me, only truly know the first verse with perhaps a dim recollection of the occasional Fannie Bright enlivening the Christmas season.

But do you feel reality shift a bit when you discover that the song was intended for the Thanksgiving season, not Christmas? And please note how some of the words of the first verse have changed since its composition in 1857:

Dashing thro’ the snow,
In a one-horse open sleigh,
O’er the hills we go,
Laughing all the way;
Bells on bob tail ring,
Making spirits bright,
Oh what sport to ride and sing
A sleighing song tonight.

Time has not even left the well-worn chorus fully intact:

Jingle bells, jingle bells,
Jingle all the way.
Oh! what joy it is to ride
In a one-horse open sleigh.

I notice that in many versions they don’t add the “Ha ha ha” I learned to insert after “laughing all the way”. I do find these variations fun…or should I say joyful?

We’ve seen a tune substitution, so let’s consider lyrical substitution as well. Consider this verse:

When you were lonely, you needed a man
Someone to lean on, well I understand
It’s only natural
But why did it have to be me?
Nights can be empty and nights can be cold
So you were looking for someone to hold
That’s only natural
But why did it have to be me?

A very few of you might recognize that is from ABBA’s Why Did It Have to be Me? on their Arrival album, the album which more successfully featured their biggest hit in America, Dancing QueenHere’s how the song goes for those unfamiliar with it:

Now I’m a big ABBA fan who bought all of their albums on vinyl back in the day. So imagine my surprise when I heard a rare B-side of theirs called Happy Hawaii, which goes like this:

Early this morning I drove in the rain
Out to the airport to get on the plane
Hey Honolulu, we’re going to happy Hawaii
Alice has been there, she said it was fun
Swimming and surfing, enjoying the sun
Hey Honolulu, we’re going to happy Hawaii

After all I’ve had to go through
I’m making no plans (making no plans oh-ooh)
But I, but I believe love gives me a second chance

Guess I’ve been working a little too hard
Need a vacation, I’ll send you a card
From Honolulu, a greeting from happy Hawaii

It’s so exciting, why should I pretend
In a few hours the plane will descend
Hey Honolulu, we’re going to happy Hawaii
I can imagine the beach and the sand
Walking with someone and holding his hand
Hey Honolulu, we’re going to happy Hawaii

After all I’ve had to go through
I’m making no plans (making no plans oh-ooh)
But I, but I believe love gives me a second chance, mmm

I’ve got a feeling the dream will come true
Somebody’s waiting and I’ll forget you
Hey Honolulu, we’re going to happy Hawaii

Do you sense the similarity? It goes far beyond that:

Yes, they completely rewrote the lyrics during the song’s development and gave it a weird Fats Domino vibe for the released version on the album.

I started this post remarking on my dreams of lost rooms. But dreams can sometimes turn into nightmares. There is a forgotten verse of Big Rock Candy Mountain or Hobo’s Paradise that, once you hear it, will change your understanding of the song.

Here’s the version as released:

But perhaps you grew up with the bowdlerized versions where the cigarette trees bore peppermints, the streams of alcohol transformed into lemonade, and there were no lakes of whisky, just soda water fountains? Burl Ives had ridden the rails, but he cleaned up the song considerably, although perhaps his tobacco-chewing pipe-smoking grandmother – who taught him scores of Scottish, Irish, and English folk ballads – led him to leave in the cigarette trees:

Now, those vices are not shocking. But there was a final verse that was understandably omitted. I warn you: don’t read on unless you are prepared for a rude awakening as to what the hobo in the song was about. Here’s the missing final verse Harry McClintock performed when busking with the song in the 1890s:

The punk rolled up his big blue eyes and said to the jocker, “Sandy
I’ve hiked and hitched and wandered too, but I ain’t seen any candy
I’ve hiked and hiked till my feet are sore, I’ll be god damned if I hike any more
To be buggered sore like a hobo’s whore on the Big Rock Candy Mountains.

Oh, dear. Perhaps some forgotten rooms are best left unexplored. But don’t let the occasional odd turns stop you, for there is much delight to be found in the variations of verse and song.

Posted in music, video | Leave a comment

All Good Things…

June 22, 2018

All good things… was the series finale for Star Trek: The Next Generation

The title for this post comes from the final television episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation, which ended its run in 1994 after seven years and 178 episodes. It was a great series finale, something the iconic original Star Trek series in the late 1960s never got in its three-year run of 79 episodes.

One’s mind fills in the rest of the title: must come to an end. We can trace the idiom back to Geoffrey Chaucer’s poem Troilus and Criseyde of the mid 1380s:

He song; she pleyde; he tolde tale of Wade.
But at the laste, as every thing hath ende,
She took hir leve, and nedes wolde wende.

And while all good things must come to an end, some good things have a very long life. Chaucer’s poem is still with us over six centuries later. Other things have shorter, if still meaningful, lives.

18 years ago I decided to self-publish my Inquiry Physics: A Learning Cycle Curriculum, which was an elaborate refinement and extension of work done by others in the 1980s at the University of Oklahoma and Norman High School. I was initially prompted by requests from other physics teachers for my materials. Over the next 18 years I never advertised that work, relying solely on word-of-mouth and internet searches to drive any sales.

For a couple of years I sold the curriculum as a thick binder of papers with an optional CD-ROM disc. Then I simplified to just selling it on CD-ROMs for a dozen years, updating the curriculum seven times over the decades to incorporate corrections and additions. For the past five years it was a download-only product. Its most recent iteration had 19 units with 213 pages of teaching suggestions, 26 hands-on labs, 98 other student assignments, 175 pages of sample notes, and several multimedia presentations, all compressed into a 600 megabyte archive.

In 2008 I donated all of my net profits to that point, which was only $1,000, to the John Renner Science Education Center at OU, since Dr. Renner’s program under the stewardship of Dr. Ed Marek was where the original learning cycles came from. Coincidentally, that was when a six-year boom in sales began, peaking in 2014 with almost 100 sales and about $2,500 in revenue. That wasn’t my profit, since in addition to website expenses, sales became large enough in the 2010s that I had to file extra tax paperwork, obtain business licenses, and pay over 15% self-employment tax each year on the proceeds.

Inquiry Physics sales chart

I spent most of the profits of the final decade on purchasing website domains for the school district, school-related equipment and materials, and similar pro bono work. Sales declined after 2014, partly because I decided not to update the curriculum for the AP Physics 1 exam which debuted in 2015, only providing a correlation guide. My public retirement from teaching physics in 2017 likely precipitated a drastic decline in subsequent sales.

Since sales in the first half of 2018 have declined to 2009 levels, it is time for another good thing to end. I remain uninterested in updating the curriculum, and by ending sales now I can avoid dealing with self-employment taxes and paperwork next spring. Plus the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision in South Dakota v. Wayfair sets the stage for cities and states to begin directly collecting sales taxes on internet sales rather than hoping consumers will pay use taxes. It wouldn’t make sense for me to invest the time and effort in arranging for the collection and payment of those additional taxes on such meager proceeds.

But over the past 18 years I am surprised and pleased that, without any advertising, I was able to sell 578 copies of my curriculum to teachers in 48 of the 50 states and 14 foreign countries. (The holdouts were North Dakota and Wyoming.) I know almost all of the sales were to teachers, as I verified purchasers’ online presence at school websites. So I can safely presume portions of my materials have been used to teach many more students than the 2,663 I was blessed to have in my own classes from 1989-2017. To help protect the integrity of the assignments for the teachers who still use them, I will not consider releasing the curriculum into the public domain until after I retire from education in 10-15 years.

This is not a tale of a small business destroyed by government taxes. It is the story of a cycle. Just as there is a learning cycle, there are cycles in a business and in a career. This marks the end of my physics cycle, but I’m only one year into a new one revolving around technology and communications.

Life is good, even though…

Posted in physics | Leave a comment

Down the rabbit hole to find what came before

February 25, 2018

Granger MeadorFaithful readers of this blog will know that my largest focus over the years has been on day hikes and related photography. But I also offer healthy if less popular dollops of technology, some home repairs (which are my most longest-lived popular posts), music, a smattering of school-related politics, and occasional embedded history. The last topic is my focus here, prompted by the rabbit-hole of web-based exploration I fell into this weekend.

My interest in local history is no doubt somewhat influenced by my father’s love of the subject. He was born in Dewey, just north of Bartlesville, but spent his teens up in Independence, Kansas and eventually worked for Cities Service Gas in Oklahoma City for about 30 years, so I was born and raised in OKC. Dad is 93 at this writing, and both he and my mother are avid readers, so I was destined to become one too. I love to buy books for both of my parents, who have never embraced the Kindle e-readers like I have.

Dad loves to read history, and I remember how he created a large timeline going back thousands of years on the back of old gas pipeline blueprints. I also was influenced by the love of history that Edgar Weston, my first cousin once removed, had for the Bartlesville and Dewey area. (I’m no genealogist, so I always have to look up how we were related to get the terminology right. To be specific, Edgar was my paternal grandmother’s brother’s son.)

I still have my old History of Bartlesville and Washington County website running at, and one of my popular blog posts was my web research on the old micro-midget racetrack in Bartlesville. The Bartlesville Area History Museum had an exhibit on Bartlesville micro-midget racing program on display from February through June 2018. The museum is open Monday-Friday from 10-4 and admission is free, but donations are appreciated. I’m grateful for their sharing of history and curation of the fabulous Frank Griggs photo collection, so with my enhanced income as a new full-time school administrator I decided to send in this weekend a check to become a Patron in their Friends of the BAHM program.

Rita Thurman Barnes wrote a fun newspaper column for the Bartlesville Examiner-Enterprise for 16 years. She now writes for Bartlesville Monthly Magazine and has a fun Facebook group, currently called Once Upon a Time in Bartlesville. She shares remembrances and inquiries about things in Bartlesville that once were but are no more. Rita has to enforce some good rules to rein in some of the crankier participants and the nostalgia can get a bit thick, but I enjoy seeing and reading about what came before.

Hilltop Drive-In (photo from elmorovivo at Cinema Treasures)

This week some photos of the old Hilltop Drive-In theater off Nowata Road were posted in the group. I had never seen it, although I had long known where it was because it was shown on old USGS maps of Bartlesville, and I knew the Examiner-Enterprise facility built in the 1990s was on the western half of the old drive-in’s lot. I suppose my interest was also perked because just a week earlier I had been sitting in a studio at the E-E, right about where the screen of the drive-in was once located, sharing with the public about Chromebooks. That geophysical connection perked my interest, and a dive down the rabbit hole.

Earlier, in a comment on a post on the old Penn theater, Kyle Baker had shared a link to  Cinema Treasures, which documents current and past movie houses. So I used that site to see what the old Hilltop looked like and to learn that the screen tower was a pre-fab wooden construction that was erected in only five days. I’ve seen plenty of nostalgia about drive-ins in various movies over the years, but drive-ins were passé by the time I was driving age.

That could have been the end of that dive into history, but then someone now living out of town posted a photo of an old Ben Franklin five-and-dime store and Foodland grocery with the Hilltop Drive-In visible in the background. They asked if the Ben Franklin/Foodland building was still there. Folks speculated the Foodland was now Tumbleweeds Steakhouse and the Ben Franklin store was now a series of smaller stores, but were not certain if the building was actually the same.

The Ben Franklin & Foodland stores once west of the Hilltop Drive-In

I figured historic aerial photography could provide an answer. So I went web surfing and found a 1971 aerial photo showing the Hilltop Drive-In and the stores to the west. I paid a monthly subscription fee and an added photo fee to an online service to acquire a good shot to share with everyone. (The free aerial photo sources from the government are, as you might expect, quite diverse, somewhat awkward to use, and limited. As always, you get what you pay for in our capitalist society, and I was willing to pony up for a good shot.)

The Hilltop Drive-In back in 1971, with the Foodland and Ben Franklin buildings to the west

When I compared that to a modern-day aerial shot, I could confirm that the buildings are probably the same. When I moved to Bartlesville in 1989, they were the big and dusty Walls clearance store. Later it was subdivided and the front façade on the north was thoroughly remodeled.

The same area today

I shared those photos in my comments on the post over on Facebook, and included a street view of the buildings, as they look now, for the out-of-towner.

The Foodland and Ben Franklin buildings today

So a tiny tidbit of local history was explored a bit more. But now I had paid for a month’s access to watermarked 1971 aerial photos, with an added fee to get individual shots I could actually share. No use letting that subscription go to waste, right?

So I looked up the quarter-acre that Meador Manor was built on back in 1981. I wanted to see how the area looked in 1971.

Our quarter-acre lot was at the northern end of a field back in 1971

Well, it was a bit of the north end of a field. Wendy and I live in the sixth addition to Arrowhead Acres, and I was surprised to find that the original loop that was the start of the development was already complete by 1971. It was also fun to see how much smaller Tri County Tech, which is just east of Arrowhead Acres, was back then.

The same area in 2018

Next I targeted the house I lived in back in Oklahoma City from 6th-12th grade. I knew that the Windsor Hills neighborhood had developed in the 1960s on what had been a golf course. The aerial imagery for OKC I could access went back farther than it did for Bartlesville, so I was able to figure out that the house sits on the eastern half of what was once the fairway to the northwesternmost hole of the course.

The golf course that became Windsor Hills in OKC

Floyd Farley designed many golf courses around OKC

On down the rabbit hole I went. I searched for golf course references in OKC and figured out that was the Meridian Golf Club, which golf pro Floyd Farley had designed as his first golf course back in 1941. He built the course on land he leased from the Classen Fruit Farm. (You can see the remains of what Dad recalls as a pear orchard on the western edge of the course.) Of the course he said, “Everybody liked it; it was a natural. I hardly moved any dirt to build it, and the bulldozer bill was only $2,000. It was just a natural piece of ground, but everybody liked it so well and thought I was responsible for it that people started hiring me to build them a golf course. So that’s how I got started.”

Farley was drafted into army during World War II. After his discharge he returned to golf, turning from being a golf pro to designing courses full-time. He subleased the Meridian course, which he owned until 1961 and it became the Windsor Hills neighborhood. Floyd Farley passed away in 2005, having designed over 40 golf courses over six decades, with almost 20 of them in the Oklahoma City area.

OKC developer Anton Classen

Hmmm…the Classen Fruit Farm? That led me even farther down this historical rabbit hole. Surely that was a reference to Anton H. Classen, the land speculator who bought up farmland around Oklahoma City in its early days and developed many housing projects, whose name lives on in the form of Classen Boulevard and Northwest Classen High School.

I knew that Classen had built up streetcar lines to help his developments, and that one line had extended from downtown to almost 23rd and Meridian, at the southeast corner of Windsor Hills. I’ve had fun driving the boulevards winding from my old neighborhood to downtown. If you pay attention to the street layout and the wider boulevards and curves, you can follow the streets quite easily along the old streetcar route, even though no visible remains are present.

An Oklahoma City streetcar

Oklahoma City is spending a lot of dough to revive a small rail streetcar system downtown. This amuses me, given how there was once a major streetcar system throughout the city, with interurban lines linking it all the way to Guthrie, El Reno, and Norman. What goes around comes around!

I found a neat online map of the old lines on the web with an article on the old streetcar lines.

The streetcar lines were often used by housing developers to offer easy commuting to jobs downtown, with amusement parks planted at the end of some lines to drum up business on weekends. Belle Isle Lake was built in north central OKC by Classen and John Shartel with a powerplant to power the streetcar and interurban system. Eventually an amusement park was built there, but it was long gone before I was born. Maybe some of you have shopped in that area, which is now home to Penn Square Mall and Belle Isle Station.

This particular rabbit hole thus circles back, in my mind, to Bartlesville. A few weeks back a former teacher asked me about the interurban in Bartlesville. I sent her to my Bartlesville history website, where I had briefly noted:

The Bartlesville interurban

In 1908 the Bartlesville Interurban Railway opened, expanding by 1915 to operate two loops with 10.1 miles of trolley track connecting the zinc smelters with the rest of Bartlesville and Dewey. Stops included Dewey, Tuxedo, National Zinc Co., Bartlesville Zinc Co., Star Smelting Co., and Interurban Park. A round trip cost about 20 cents and took 45 minutes on the north loop, with half-hour service on the south loop. The terminal, brick power house, and car barn were at Fourth and Comanche. The line, like so many others, was wiped out by auto interests and closed in 1920. Visible remains include the angled Interurban Drive in the Tuxedo area of Bartlesville, with the old line route extending across modern-day Robinwood Park and leading to some old bridge pilings on the Caney River nearby.

I also shared with her that Phillips Petroleum was once part of a conspiracy to kill off the old interurbans and bus lines nationwide in order to boost automobiles and thus petroleum sales. Phillips was one of the companies convicted in 1949 of conspiring with General Motors, Goodyear, Firestone, Standard Oil, and Mack Trucks to monopolize bus sales and related products. The fines were minimal, and it is arguable if the various streetcars and interurbans would have survived anyway given that their owners often did not capitalize them sufficiently nor invest enough in their upkeep. Plus the much greater convenience and enthusiasm for the automobile was a major reason only a few old streetcar lines remained intact over the decades, such as the famous cable cars in hilly San Francisco and the old streetcars of New Orleans, including a streetcar line named Desire.

And so we dig our way up out of this hole, re-emerging into present day Bartlesville. I’ll close this ping-pong history exploration with a shot of the old interurban pilings on the Caney River south of the bridge on Frank Phillips Boulevard and the old interurban foundations found near the Pathfinder Parkway.

I hope you enjoyed this dig to explore what came before. Maybe you have some digging of your own that will interest you. When people ask me what era I wish I were living in, I always say TODAY. That maximizes the history there is to explore and, with the world wide web, makes armchair exploration of it incredibly easy and rewarding. Happy digging!

Concrete foundations of the old interurban line near the Pathfinder Parkway

Interurban bridge pilings on the Caney River near Frank Phillips Boulevard

Posted in history, photos, random | 12 Comments

What Good Am I, Oklahoma?

The Step Up Oklahoma plan to raise revenues to finally address the dire teacher shortage in Oklahoma failed in February 2018 primarily because the minority House Democrats wanted 5% instead of 4% gross production tax for the first 36 months of a well. The Republicans, heavily influenced by the oil oligarchs, refused to go above 4%.

An experienced oil man told Wayne Greene of the Tulsa World that a 1% increase in that tax would be a like a 30-cent decrease in the price of oil over the life of a well. As Greene wrote, “It’s insignificant. It’s less than the rounding error in the pre-drilling projections, my source tells me.”

A significant majority of the House members embraced the Step Up plan, but we need a ridiculously high 75% supermajority to raise taxes in Oklahoma (but only a simple majority to cut them, which is the reason we are in such dire straits). The failure of both parties to embrace an obvious compromise not only killed a desperately needed teacher pay raise to address the teacher shortage, but actually led to another $22 million cut in public school funding to balance the budget. So yet again the schools took the hit from a state revenue failure, on top of multiple past failures that have devastated their budgets.

Greene wrote:

How strange that the marginal difference between a 4 percent gross production tax over the first three years of production and a 5 percent gross production tax over the first three years could shut down any progress.

Logic says that neither side would be fighting if the cause weren’t significant, right? If the distinction for the oil companies’ bottom line is less than the rounding error and the state revenue numbers are less than 10 percent [of the Step Up plan], why would we go to the mattresses?

The only answer I can find is that it’s not about money, it’s about dominance. In the end, this highly technical debate is at least as much about emotions and politics as it is about revenue and policy.

The compromise neither side would embrace earlier this month is obvious. They should soothe the consciences of the ideologues in both parties and the egos of the oil barons by adopting the rest of the Step Up revenue package but increase the GPT to 4.5% to split the difference between the parties’ positions. I’d suggest dedicating the $35 million from the extra 0.5% to increase state worker salaries, which are also desperately low.

Yes, teachers and state workers deserve MUCH more. But this is about COMPROMISE from ALL sides to get over that ludicrous 75% supermajority hurdle. We must stop the bleeding and bind our state’s self-inflicted wounds. It is past time for our legislators from both parties to get off their high horses and shake hands on a compromise to save our schools. That should be the Oklahoma standard.

The failure of our state legislators to reach a compromise has dire consequences for our schoolchildren and the state’s most vulnerable citizens: the poor and the elderly who depend on state services. I ask the legislators who have been voting no, and the partisans who support them, to think about that.

Bob Dylan put it quite well about 30 years ago:

What Good am I

What good am I if I’m like all the rest
If I just turn away, when I see how you’re dressed
If I shut myself off so I can’t hear you cry
What good am I?

What good am I if I know and don’t do
If I see and don’t say, if I look right through you
If I turn a deaf ear to the thunderin’ sky
What good am I?

What good am I while you softly weep
And I hear in my head what you say in your sleep
And I freeze in the moment like the rest who don’t try
What good am I?

What good am I then to others and me
If I’ve had every chance and yet still fail to see
If my hands are tied must I not wonder within
Who tied them and why and where must I have been?

What good am I if I say foolish things
And I laugh in the face of what sorrow brings
And I just turn my back while you silently die
What good am I?

I’ve read that about 40% of state workers now qualify for food stamps, which is abominable.

Meanwhile, the grim state of our public schools is illustrated below:

Enough is enough, legislators. You need to embrace the obvious compromise and GET THIS DONE. If you do not, I guarantee you that parents and teachers will be shutting down the schools across our state this April until you do. We shall wait no longer.

UPDATE: In April Bartlesville schools, and many others statewide, were suspended by a teacher walkout for 8 school days. The threat of the walkout helped prompt the legislature to pass the largest teacher pay increase in state history, ranging from about $5,000-$8,000. During the walkout, another $40 million or so in future funding was earmarked for education. Although Oklahoma teachers will now have a regionally competitive salary for the first time in my career, per pupil funding remains dead last in the region. The state will need to invest even more in its public schools to reduce class sizes and restore lost course electives, etc.

Posted in politics | 4 Comments