Oh, LED!

November 19, 2017

The Black Friday 2017 shopping season is almost here, and if you’re thinking about a new television, there’s one I can recommend based on recent experience. I splurged on a 55″ LG OLED television last month, which I was able to get at Black Friday-level pricing.

I should note that I can’t boast that Meador Manor has a true home theater. Unlike some rich folks, we don’t have an elaborate home theater room with a big expensive screen, projector, surround sound, fancy seats, or lighting. We just have an entry-level surround sound system in our living room, hooked up to a television that sits on a stand. We mostly stream movies from Amazon or iTunes, share YouTube videos via Airplay, and have a regular Blu-Ray player. But, nonetheless, our new television is pretty impressive.

Currently you can buy the same television for “only” $1,500, but if you’re like me, you need some good reasons to plunk down that sort of cash! So I’ll outline for you what I had before, why I chose this unit, my initial impressions, and the additional forthcoming upgrades it has prompted.

What to look for in a new television

My 40″ Sony LCD TV

In 2010 I upgraded from a 30″ HDTV cathode ray tube television television to a 40″ Sony KDL-40HX701 LCD television that cost $800. I’ve been very happy with that television, but it is considered small by today’s home theater standards, and it can’t support the higher resolution, higher dynamic range, and wider color gamut that have become available for some movies in recent years.

Mind you, Wendy and I rely on our iPads for most of our video watching, only turning on the big system to share a movie or a video clip with each other and for my weekday morning workouts to old aerobics videotapes. Meador Manor has not had cable TV service since 2008, when I switched to internet-only service. While I do have an antenna I mounted on the chimney back in 1995, and it pulls in many HDTV broadcast channels from Tulsa, we almost never tune those in.

So why in the world did I just spring for a new television that cost me $1,600, and is still $1,500 at Black Friday prices? As usual these days, the answers are acronyms: HDR and OLED and DCI P3; but I didn’t buy it for its other major abbreviation: 4K UHD. Below I’ll make some sense of this blizzard of acronyms and their meanings for my older Sony Bravia KDLHX701 and the new LG OLED55B7A television.

Display type (important): LCD vs. OLED

Old Sony set: Its pixels work by having placing a thin-film-transistor liquid-crystal display (LCD) in front of a cold cathode fluorescent lamp. So it creates darker areas, including its attempt to display black, when its liquid crystals are energized and untwist, so that far less light passes through two perpendicular polarizing layers. The color is provided with red, green, and blue filters. Some light always leaks through, so “black” on these sets is a dark gray, limiting its contrast.


New LG set: Its pixels are organic light-emitting diodes (OLED) which directly emit light when energized in what is called electroluminescence. The different colors come from organic compounds in the diodes that produce yellow (i.e. red and green) light or blue light. Color filters allow these to be manipulated to produce red, green, blue, or white light. Since each pixel is self-illuminated, when one is turned off you get a true black with incredible contrast. This creates a much more pleasing image, even though OLEDs cannot reach the highest brightness levels some LCD sets can produce. My new set reaches 1,000 nits of brightness in its highlights, which is quite good.

Dynamic range (important): SDR vs. HDR

Old Sony set: Its backlit LCD produces standard dynamic range (SDR) images, meaning it has a typical brightest-to-darkest ratio for its pixels.


New LG set: Its OLED technology gives it high dynamic range (HDR), so there is a greater difference between its brightest and darkest pixels. It supports both the HDR10 Media Profile and Dolby Vision HDR standards, which are the two most common standards for transmitting high dynamic range information in a video signal. Supporting both standards allows me to not worry about that latest format war.

Color gamut (important): Rec. 709 vs. DCI P3

Color gamut refers to the range of colors a set can produce. Older HD televisions like my Sony set provide the range of colors in the Rec. 709 standard, but newer sets can offer a broader range of colors, which is also called a “wider color gamut”. My new set covers 99% of the larger DCI P3 color space standard for digital movie projection, so that’s good enough. Someday we’ll have sets that cover the even larger “Rec 2020” color space, but there’s no telling when that will be.


Resolution (unimportant): 1080p HD vs. 4K UHD

Old Sony set: Its 40″ diagonal screen has 1920 x 1080 pixels, which is the top resolution of standard high-definition (HD) television.  As for how it builds up each image and how often that is refreshed, it can show typical high-definition videos with 1080 progressive scan lines with 24 frames per second for most movies (actually displayed at 60 frames per second via a duplication process called 3:2 pull-down) or 60 progressive frames per second for videos, while also supporting the lower-level HD resolution of 720 progressive scan lines and the old-style NTSC television signal’s 480 scan lines which interlaces half of them at 60 frames per second for an effective 30 full frames per second.


New LG set: Its 55″ diagonal screen has 3840 x 2160 pixels and can show ultra-high-definition videos with 2160 progressive scan lines. It scales up the older lower-resolution standards as needed.

Whereas switching from standard definition to high definition was important for a sharper picture, this change is NOT.  At a normal viewing distance from any reasonably sized television, our eyes simply cannot perceive the increased resolution. At Meador Manor, we sit eight feet from the screen. So we would have to upgrade to a screen size of 80″ or more to actually perceive a difference between HDTV’s 1080p and UHD’s “4K” resolution of 2160p.

Screen size and viewing distances

So you really shouldn’t buy a television just for 4K resolution and certainly should not ever waste money on an expensive 8K set. Cameras are the same way, where the number of megapixels is now generally so high you don’t need to worry about it. Computers went through this sort of shift long ago: we used to be able to tell a computer would be faster because it had a higher clock frequency (various megahertz and then gigahertz numbers), but that has stalled out and now you have to think about how many cores are in a chip and how a solid state drive is the key to fast performance.

The bottom line? If you already have a large LCD HDTV, don’t upgrade unless you get a set that supports HDR and wider color gamuts, and you should shift from LCD to OLED technology to really get a visual bang-for-your-buck.

The initial experience with our new 55″ LG OLED TV

The big new OLED TV arrived a couple of weeks ago. I knew it would be incredibly thin, except for the lower portion with the electronics, but it was still startling to compare it to the older LCD television. However, since we don’t mount our TV on the wall, the thinness is not a feature we really care about, while the reduced weight was certainly nice for moving it about.

Hooking up the system components was easy, even though my old audio receiver lacked HDMI ports, since I could use optical audio out from the TV to the receiver and the TV itself had plenty of HDMI ports for the Blu-Ray player, Apple TV, and more. It has built-in support for Amazon Prime video, so I didn’t need to plug in my older Amazon Fire TV Stick, and I replaced my 4th-gen Apple TV box with a new Apple TV 4K box for $199 to ensure any iTunes movies we rented would be the best available.

My new 55″ LG OLED TV

Example images from various sources

To try and illustrate the imagery the set can provide, I set a tripod on the couch with my Canon EOS Rebel T6 digital SLR camera and used a Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS II USM lens to take some shots during the day with daylight streaming in from open blinds on the left side of the view. The TV actually looks better in person than it does in the shots, since the camera picks up pixellation that is not perceived by the human eye when actually viewing the set, and its own sensor interacts with the incoming light differently from human vision.

My first views were of 4K HDR screensaver videos on the Apple TV 4K, which were stunning for both Wendy and me. The extra resolution doesn’t matter for watching something from the couch, but 4K is so high-res you can get within a couple of feet from the screen and not see any pixels. The high dynamic range and wide color gamut of the OLED set means it finally lives up to the hype about seeming like a window looking out on the world, given the limitations of the human eye.

Apple TV 4K Screensaver

You can try viewing one of the Apple TV 4K screensavers on a computer monitor using YouTube, but you have to be sure to click the settings gear icon at lower right, pick Quality, and select the 2160p 4K version, and of course the monitor or device you watch it on may not actually reach 4K resolution. Notably, the YouTube versions do NOT support high dynamic range.

I loaded up a preview of The Martian on the Apple TV 4K, which claimed to be streaming in both 4K and with HDR. I tried to capture a shot showing how HDR allows for very bright and very dark imagery in the same shot, without blowing out all of the highlights or losing the shadow details. Note that this is an effects shot, so it was NOT actually rendered in 4K resolution.

iTunes preview of The Martian in 4K HDR

Amazon video is built-in to this LG television, so I got a shot from the 4K preview of Wonder Woman from that. However, the video and effects in that film were not true 4K. Again, the banding you’ll see in the shot below is not perceivable when you view it in person.

Amazon Wonder Woman preview in 4K

The TV upscales lower-resolution signals, so I connected the chimney-mounted antenna I erected back in 1995 and pulled in a 1080p HDTV broadcast from a Tulsa station. It looked great.

Over-the-air HDTV broadcast

So what about a simply terrible legacy video source? The unit has to deal with that each weekday morning when I play back an episode of Everyday Workout from one of my quarter-century-old videotapes. From 1993 to 1997 I recorded episodes off the Lifetime cable channel onto VHS tapes, cramming 10 or more episodes onto each tape by using the low-quality EP/SLP mode that recorded six hours of video per tape.

Inputs on the new TV

At first I tried the weird combination dongle that came with the TV to connect my VCR’s composite video cable and RCA stereo audio cables into a single yellow port on the back of the TV. The sound worked, but the video would not show up, no matter what settings I adjusted.

So I gave up and ran a 75-ohm coaxial cable from the VCR’s output into the matching Antenna/Cable In port on the television. That worked great, but I also needed to connect the outside aerial to that same TV input, since my old VCR can’t understand modern broadcast HDTV signals. Using a cheap splitter in reverse to connect both sources into the television yielded a picture, but with terrific interference. A cheap hardware coax A/B isolation switch solved that problem, with me punching one button to connect to the VCR and another to connect to the antenna.

1993 VHS EP/SLP recording playback

As one would expect, the image from the old videotape was extremely soft. After all, when upscaling a VHS tape, the TV is taking an input with an effective resolution of 333 x 480 pixels at best and scaling that up to 3840 x 2160 pixels. In this case things were even worse since the source tape was recorded in the worst-quality mode. So I was impressed by how well the TV plays back marginal legacy sources, and my morning workout videos look better than ever.

Actually using the thing

The webOS 3.5 Smart TV software for selecting content and services is pretty handy and easy to use with the included Magic Remote. The remote is gyroscopic, so you just wave it around to move the cursor, and it supports voice commands. You select sources, from Live TV to a connected device to online streaming services, by pressing a button and picking a blade icon from a scrolling set at the bottom of the screen. There is a promotional video that illustrates the interface.

LG Magic Remote

The remote offers only partial control of the audio receiver and doesn’t control the Blu-Ray player or Apple TV, so if you have a surround sound receiver and other devices, you will either need to use multiple remotes or try using an expensive universal and programmable Harmony remote from Logitech or the like; more on that later.

A button on the remote lets you quickly navigate commonly used settings with the cursor, and of course you can also dive into the setup menus to burrow deeply into various obscure settings. I had to do that to deal with a picture and sound synchronization issue with the Apple TV 4K. My old audio receiver is needed for surround sound, but it lacks any HDMI ports. So I had to feed the Apple TV’s HDMI output to the TV and then send the audio from the TV to the receiver via digital optical cable. That pathway delayed the audio output, so I had to manually adjust a delay setting in the TV menu system, using trial-and-error, to get the picture and sound to synchronize. I was certainly glad the set included the ability to fix this sort of problem.

Our first movie on the new television

The first movie Wendy and I watched on the new television was not a modern 4K HDR movie. Instead, we continued to draw from long lists of movies each of us has compiled, alternating between each others’ lists for our movie nights. This time it was time to pull something from my list. Her list had yielded The Hurt Locker last time, which was pretty violent and intense. So I retaliated by picking the violent but very dated and oddly paced Rollerball, a 1975 Norman Jewison science fiction dystopia that fascinated me in my youth. It certainly wasn’t in 4K or HDR or the like, but I was still surprised on how good it looked on the new television.

We streamed a HD version from iTunes that probably originated from the movie’s Blu-Ray reissue. The picture was so sharp and clear that it looked more like what I associate with television soap operas than the grainy and fuzzy film transfer I recalled from watching it on old broadcast TV and on VHS or DVD. I was startled to see for the first time the wood grain on the ramps in the arena, and the closeups of the garish eye make-up on the females in the movie were disturbingly clear.

1975’s Rollerball

Given my experience with old sources, I’m confident that new movies shot in HDR and wide color gamut will be truly stunning on this set, while 4K resolution won’t really matter much when you sit back to watch, but it is there if you want to get ridiculously close.

Additional upgrades to come

My 2007 Logitech Harmony 880 Remote is outdated

If I tried to use all of the remotes for the various devices in our system, I’d have five of them splayed out on the side table. But since 2007 I’ve used a Logitech Harmony 880 programmable remote control to simplify things. With my old system, I could control almost everything, except the Amazon Fire TV Stick, with the Harmony remote. One button would turn on the television, receiver, and any other needed device and set both the television and the receiver to the appropriate inputs.

Faced with the new television having to serve as the HDMI hub, I pulled out my old MacBook Air laptop and legacy Harmony software to adjust the programming on the Harmony remote, which was updated by plugging it into the laptop with a USB cable. A lot of tweaking got most things to function, but there are still glitches with the audio source and muting when switching functions.

My 2003 Panasonic audio receiver is also outdated

That and the lack of HDMI support in my old audio receiver prompted me to order a newer Harmony Companion remote control and a new Sony audio receiver. I’ll set those up and then report on them in a later post.

The bottom line

If you already have a big LCD HDTV, upgrading to an OLED television like this with HDR and a wider color gamut might be worthwhile, but don’t waste your money on a 4K LCD television that lacks those extra features. And, as always, be aware that upgrading one component in a system of devices may lead you to upgrade additional ones as well.

That’s it for now; I have a new receiver and universal remote to unpack and set up!

Posted in HDTV, movie, technology | Leave a comment

Exploring Oxley Nature Center and its History

October 29,2017

This autumn has been unusually warm, so the fall colors are coming very late, and Wendy and I have not been on the trails as much as we had hoped. We walked the Lookout Lake loop at Osage Hills some weeks back, then the short loop at the north end of Table Mound up at Elk City Lake. This weekend we made some loops at the Mary K. Oxley Nature Center in Tulsa, winding our way along 2.6 miles of the many short trails in the north central part of Tulsa’s 2,832 acre Mohawk Park.

I had fun trying out the new online version of Google Earth that works in the Google Chrome browser. Here’s a spinning 3D view of our trek you can view in Google Chrome.

My acquaintance with the Oxley Nature Center began years ago, when my friend Carrie Fleharty took me to its Redbud Valley area, located five miles to the east of Mohawk Park. The Tulsa Audubon Society has a nice online history of it. In 2009, I took my first walk at the main area of the Oxley Nature Center in Mohawk Park, and over the years I have walked most, but not all, of the many little trail segments at the main area in Mohawk Park and the nearby North Woods area.

My walks in the main area at Oxley Nature Center

The trail segments live up to their billing. On this visit, Wendy spotted the Blue Heron Trail Loop on the map and wanted to backtrack a ways to take it, in hopes of seeing one. We had gotten very close to one in Tulsa’s Centennial Park back in September.

Blue Heron in Tulsa’s Centennial Park

Sure enough, we saw two herons as we walked along Lake Sherry on the Blue Heron Trail. One was close enough for a telephoto 20x zoom shot or two.

Blue Heron on Lake Sherry

We saw plenty of squirrels and birds along our walk, and a possum crossed our path along the Flowline Trail. Two groups of deer flanked us on the Flowline Trail as we reached the Whitetail Trail. It was a nice outing, marred only by the steady booms from the Tulsa Gun Club a mile to the east. I see the club is closed on Mondays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays, something to bear in mind for more peaceful walks, although there will still be the occasional roar of jets taking off from the nearby airport. The airport noise is what eventually drove the Nature Center’s namesake, Mary K. Oxley, and her husband to leave their nearby property and move to Florida.

Amy Marcoux, Oxley Nature Center Naturalist

Thinking of Lake Sherry and Bob’s Trail and the rest, I began to wonder who they were named after. A little online research led me to a series of articles that Amy Marcoux, the center’s naturalist, wrote a decade ago in the park newsletter, which was only recently discontinued. Thankfully the Audobon Society has an online archive I could peruse.

The March/April 2006 newsletter told the history of Redbud Valley Nature Preserve.  It was the first Nature Conservancy project in the state, with the group purchasing the land for $80,000 in 1969 on the condition that the debt be paid off with locally raised funds. By March 1973 the debt was repaid, in part due to a lengthy campaign by the Tulsa Tribune newspaper. Oxley Nature Center took over management in 1990, and in 1992 the City of Tulsa purchased additional acreage. It is a hidden treasure well worth your time. Here’s May 2012 album of my visit there with Betty Henderson, and here’s a November 2013 album of a visit with Wendy.

But now let’s take a look at the history of Mohawk Park and the Nature Center itself.

The Town of Mohawk

The newsletters from May 2006 through February 2007 provided background on the early history of the park, and I edited those into a single Mohawk Park Early History file. It revealed that there was a town called Mohawk that began north of Bird Creek in May 1906 to serve the Halsell ranch.

W.E. Halsell

William Eclectious Halsell, a young Texan married to a Texas girl of Cherokee descent, came to the area in 1880 and established his right, as an intermarried Cherokee, to use the Cherokee range. He was a mover and shaker over in Vinita and went on to operate the largest ranch in the Tulsa area, extending from the Creek line north almost to Bartlesville and from the Osage line almost to the Verdigris. His Mashed O brand was known throughout the southwest. He sold the Bird Creek Ranch to his son, Ewing, in 1899. The town of Mohawk had a post office from 1906 to 1915, but then was no more. A feedlot was established on the ranch land north of the creek in the 1930s, and the ranch operated until 1970.

Park Origins

In 1920 Tulsa built Spavinaw Lake, 60 miles northeast of the city, with a pipeline carrying the water to the Mohawk pumping station. The park land was originally acquired between 1922 and 1928 to accommodate a 500 acre reservoir, which is now Lake Yahola. The Bird Creek bottoms was considered a swamp. When Will Doolittle, who was the first parks department superintendent, first saw Mohawk Park in 1926, it was under three feet of water.

The park originally just sported the reservoir and a polo field, but the Tulsa Gun Club was established in 1926 and the city officially acquired all of the area land in 1927 for less than $300,000. A bond issue provided park equipment and started development of what is now the Tulsa Zoo. My father remembers going to Mohawk Park Zoo about 85 years ago when he was a young boy living in Dewey.

Overflow water from the Mohawk Reservoir was diverted to Flat Rock Creek, Coal Creek, and other low water areas. Outlets into Bird Creek were dammed at the north end, creating 10 miles of lagoons, and a two-mile levee along Bird Creek was built at the park’s northwest boundary.

The Fish Hatchery

The park became a game refuge, with stocking of bass, crappie, and perch in the lagoons. In 1931 the water department built 12 ponds that evolved into a fish hatchery, with 14 more ponds built in 1933 by the FERA and CWA depression-era programs in association with highway construction. 14 more ponds were added in 1934-35, bringing the hatchery area to 10 acres. By 1935 the system reached 33 acres, raising half a million bass, crappie, bream, and sunfish fingerlings each year. The hatchery operated until the late 1950s, but serious flooding from Bird Creek and other problems led to its demise.

Today, the Blue Heron Trail circumnavigates one of the old fish hatchery ponds, and the Woodpecker Trail goes through the old hatchery area. Concrete drain boxes from the old hatchery are still visible today, with rubble from drain boxes, culture pools, and walkways still visible near the present day Teaching Shelter.

Mohawk park in the 1930s also sported a seven mile bridle trail and two polo fields. The Riding and Hunt Club counted Tulsa’s Waite Phillips, William G. Skelly, T.K. Simmons, C.W. Flint, and others among its members. The park also became the home of Mohawk Golf Course in 1934, which was originally 18 holes and later doubled to 36. In 1934 a 70-acre Bird and Wildflower sanctuary was established in what is now the 804-acre Oxley Nature Center.

Mohawk Park in 2017

CCC Projects

CCC Lake

The largest urban CCC project in Oklahoma began in October 1934 at Mohawk Park, with about 200 men living in the camp and others walking to work. They dug out by hand a large drainage area to form the 70-acre Recreation Lake, now called Lake Sherry in honor of Dick Sherry, who helped found the Oxley Nature Center. Two reinforced concrete footbridges were built across Coal Creek; one remains at the south boundary of the Oxley area. By the time the camp disbanded in October 1937, they had also built shelters, tables, and other structures and cleared bike, bridle, and nature trails.

CCC Canoe House

Oxley Nature Center’s Origins

Philip Nelson presented a plan for a nature center to the city parks department in 1972, and part of a 1972 bond issue was allocated for it. But Nelson moved away, and the project went dormant.

In 1974 the Tulsa Audubon Society and its president, Dick Sherry, worked to get the nature center idea off the ground. But it lacked sufficient and available funding from the bond issue, so the non-profit Mohawk Nature Center Development, Inc. was established in 1975 to raise funds for a master plan created by the National Audubon Society. The group then raised funds for a shelter, trail system, and more.

John T. Oxley

John Thurman Oxley and his wife, Mary, contributed $200,000 in 1977. John was born in Bromide, OK in 1909.  As a young man, John had a second job in a photography studio owned by Mary K. Yetter’s father. John and Mary dated, often renting horses at Mohawk Park to ride the Roosevelt Bridle Trail. They married in 1935. John eventually graduated from the law school at the University of Tulsa and began a long career in the oil industry. He and Mary later lived at 36th Street North and Memorial with several barns and corrals for their many horses. He became a polo enthusiast, playing at the fields in Mohawk Park. He was the playing captain of eight national teams and led the first American team to win England’s Gold Cup.

Bob Jennings at Redbud Valley in 1981

With the Oxley donation, the improvements began, and the Tulsa Junior League offered to start a volunteer program. Robert G. Jennings was hired as the park’s first naturalist in 1977 and directed the center for 25 years. Bob’s Trail and B.J.’s pond by the visitor center are named for him. But in his first years there, the center still lacked a visitor building.

In 1979 the Mabee Foundation offered a challenge grant. That, with another major gift from John and Mary Oxley, funded the construction of the Oxley-Yetter Interpretive Building. It opened in 1981 with a classroom, wildlife viewing area, hands-on exhibits, restrooms, drinking fountain, gift shop, offices, and work areas. As each part of the project was finished, the non-profit turned it over to the City of Tulsa.  Once the physical improvements were in place, the Mohawk Nature Development Inc. changed into the Mary K. Oxley Nature Center Association, Inc.

Bob Jennings at his retirement party

In 1992 the Nora Warren Memorial Bridge across Coal Creek was built by the Friends of Oxley group to provide easier access to Blackbird Marsh, which has a 600 foot boardwalk. An observation tower between the marsh and Lake Sherry was built by the Friends of Oxley in 2001.

Bob Jennings retired as the center’s director in 2002, receiving a tree section at his retirement party called “Bob’s Stump” in recognition of the “From the Stump” column he wrote in the center’s newsletter. He passed away in 2004. The Interpretative Building was remodeled in 2007 and 2008.

I’m grateful to all of these people, and many more, who created the Oxley Nature Center in Mohawk Park. It, along with Redbud Valley and the North Woods unit, are wonderful oases in north Tulsa.

Posted in day hike, photos, travel | Leave a comment

My 10th came 8 years after my 9th

September 9, 2017

I’ve finally replacing the 2009 desktop computer in my home office, which was my 9th home computer system since 1980. The old thing still has plenty of life in it, but it can’t run Windows 10, and I’m ready to move on. I had extended the life of my old system by replacing its spinning hard drives with speedy solid state drives. But my old system is not compatible with Windows 10: I tried dual-booting with that new operating system years ago when Microsoft was giving it away for free, but my system always freezes up a few minutes into using it. I presume some driver in the system is not compatible with my old hardware.

A 150 year-old system?

2009: Velocity Micro Vector Z35

Eight years is a long time for a computer nerd to keep a system. Some claim that would make my home desktop equivalent to a 150-year-old person. But I figure the solid state drives were like giving a granny bionic limbs; they kept her going quite well!

With that boost in 2014, the Velocity Micro Z35 I bought in 2009 has lasted longer than any of my other nine desktops since I began using computers 37 years ago. The previous record holder was a 1993 machine by Gateway 2000, which held out until 2000…naturally! I have often bought higher-end desktop machines so they would last longer, and back in 2009 I invested about $1,800 in what was then a high-end system.

A $225 Chromebook versus a $2,600 Surface Book

My portable options

I recently spent $2,600 of my own money on a top-of-the-line Microsoft Surface Book, thinking I would want that for work. But I’ve found that I can happily use my district-supplied $225 Chromebook at meetings and for presentations. I simply don’t use the pen or touchscreen of the far more powerful Surface Book, love how easy it is to carry around the small Chromebook, and prefer to use multi-monitor desktop systems in my work offices. So I considered using my additional $150 purchase of a Surface Dock and video adapters to hook my Surface Book to the desktop monitors and keyboard in my home office instead of buying a new desktop CPU. But I decided to keep the Surface Book ready at hand at work, trusting that it will eventually prove useful when I’m working away from the office. At home my mobile needs are fully met by my iPad Air 2, which has even superceded my sixth Kindle, a Voyage, as my e-reader of choice.

Costly or cheap? CHEAP!

My new Dell XPS 8910

My tremendous overinvestment in the Surface Back left me in no mood to buy a top-end home desktop computer. So my new system is a fairly cheap one that is a generation behind the current leading edge: I took advantage of an online deal to get a Dell XPS 8910 for only $600.

It has a decent microprocessor, plenty of RAM (although I’m still going to double it to 16 GB), and a decent but not spiffy graphics card; I’m not a gamer. I’ll scavenge my existing solid state and optical drives to replace its spinning hard drive, but I am going to build up from a clone of its fresh install of Windows 10 Pro. A detailed comparison of my old and new desktops is at the end of this post for my fellow nerds.

Moving from Windows 7 to 10

I was prompted to finally switch because I’m now using Windows 10 at work. Almost all of the school district’s computers still run Windows 7. With Microsoft ending security updates for Windows 7 in 2020, any new machines we buy really need to be Windows 10. Like corporations, schools are loathe to update operating systems since that inevitably incurs additional training and support needs, plus there may not be updated drivers for our many old peripherals.

So I decided to be a guinea pig and move to Windows 10 in my work office, noting the incompatibilities I encountered. The good news is that I’ve seen no problems with any of our usual services and have found that, with perseverance, I can print to various older devices around the building…no thanks to the simplified (meaning dumbed-down) printer setup in Windows 10. I actually hedged my bet by having my work systems dual-boot to Windows 7, but I find I never use the latter.

Spinning vs. solid state

For me, solid state beats hard drives

I also pushed the district to buy new systems with solid state drives. I was impressed by how the solid state drive in my 2010 MacBook Air made that system really fly. So in 2014 I upgraded my desktop computer’s storage to solid state. That dramatically improved boot time and extended the usable life of the system by several years.

During my last year in the classroom, the old computer at my teacher desk truly foundered, taking forever to boot up and often lagging in playing videos and more. I know the old and slow spinning hard drive in it was the culprit, burdened with the usual Windows cruft from years of installing different programs. So I’m determined that we shift to solid state drives in the district. Our increasing reliance on Google cloud services and its new Drive File Stream reduces my concern over the limited capacity of the solid state drives we can afford.

If it ain’t broke, why fix it?

I’ve come to like Windows 10, although I make little use of its improved start menu, built-in apps, or Cortana features. Windows 7 certainly doesn’t seem antiquated. So why switch? It really isn’t confusing to use Windows 7 at home and Windows 10 at work.

Well, my old system still has an old processor and graphics card. So I can tell the difference in its responsiveness compared to my newer machines at work, especially if I’m rendering video or other processor-intensive tasks. And the build-up of Windows cruft in my home system from many years of playing around with programs is immense.

The simply dreadful Outlook Web App

But perhaps the strongest motivation is that the upgrade would allow me to use the Windows 10 mail app to access my school email. You see, our district still uses the ancient Exchange Server 2010 for Outlook. That means we’re stuck with the simply dreadful light version of the Outlook Web App on a Chromebook or a Windows 7 computer since the full version of the old Outlook Web App is no longer compatible with modern web browsers.

I am pushing Tech Services to finally address this issue, either by upgrading our Exchange Server or finding a way for us to use Outlook in Office 365. But I’ve waited years for them to fix this, and I’m simply done. Years of having far better access to email and my appointments on a phone or tablet than on my home desktop machine have taken their toll.

Ultrawide vs. multiple monitors

Dell Ultrawide Monitor

Since I saved a bundle on the desktop upgrade, I decided to try using an ultrawide monitor. I’ve used two monitors at home for years: currently I have a 24″ ViewSonic that is 1920×1080 pixels in a 16:9 aspect ratio and an old Dell that is 1280×1024 pixels in a 4:3 ratio. And at work I’m spoiled with two big 16:9 monitors. I love having different apps on each screen, which greatly improves my productivity.

But I was intrigued by the ultrawide LG monitor that TechMoan, my favorite YouTube guy (should I admit that Miranda is my favorite YT gal?), recently demonstrated.

So I decided to buy a used 34″ Dell UltraSharp U3417W with 3440×1440 pixels in a 21:9 ratio for $589. It reportedly has great color calibration out of the box, and it will be interesting to see if I like having one huge wide curving screen. I hope its Dell Easy Arrange layout controls are useful, but I will of course have the use of Windows 10’s Snap Assist.

10/6/2017 UPDATE:

I’ve had some time to use the new computer and monitor, and both have worked out great. The monitor is beautiful, and I like how Dell’s Display Manager lets me divide the screen into areas and simply drag windows to them, which then snap to fit. I like the continuity of working in Windows 10 both at home and at work.

I love how the new system is almost silent, making it practical to set it on the credenza beside my desk. That keeps it off the floor and hopefully will reduce the dust that accumulates inside it.

I haven’t really tested the increased processing power of the new system; that will probably have to await some future video editing.

IMG_8073 (Edited).JPG

My iPad Air 2, Dell UltraSharp U3417W, Kindle Voyage, Dell XPS 8910, Asus Chromebook Flip, and MacBook Air

Comparing my 9th and 10th Home Desktop Computers

2009 System 2017 System
Brand Velocity Micro Dell
Model Vector Z35 XPS 8910
CPU Cost $1,796 $600 (plus $76 RAM upgrade; replacing hard drive)
Microprocessor Intel i7-920 with four 2.66 GHz cores (2.93 GHz max), 8 MB Cache; 4.8 GT/s bus; 130 watts Intel i7-6700 with four 3.4 GHz cores (4 GHz max), 8MB Cache; 8 GT/s bus; 65 watts
RAM 8 GB DDR3 SDRAM 2133 MHz SDRAM 8 GB (2x4GB) DDR 2133 MHz SDRAM (doubling to 16 GB with $76 second set of RAM cards)
Motherboard MSI MS-7522 (X58 Pro-E) ?
Graphics Card AMD ATI Radeon HD 3450; 512 MB NVIDIA GeForce GT 730; 2GB DDR3 memory
Primary Storage Two 1 TB 7200 rpm Raid 1 SATA HDD replaced in 2014 with a Crucial M550 1 terabyte SATA solid state drive (SSD) with 500 GB USB 3 external SSD Will replace its 1 TB 7200 rpm SATA HDD with same solid state drives
Optical Drive Original 20x DVD+/-RW Dual Layer Burner with LightScribe Labeling replaced in 2015 with Asus 24x DVD-RWB1ST 8x DVD burner
Operating System Windows 7 Home Premium (Service Pack 1) Windows 10 Pro
WiFi none 802.11a/b/g/n/ac
Bluetooth 4.0 dongle 4.2 built-in


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So, do you miss it?

September 2, 2017

So, do you miss teaching?

That is the question I am asked repeatedly now that I’ve concluded 28 years of teaching physics at Bartlesville High School. I’m still at the school several times each week supporting the rollout of student Chromebooks and the Canvas learning management system, but the only classes I have taught since May have been computer lab training sessions for teachers. So I get that question from district employees, former students and their parents, and other folks I encounter in the community.

My standard response has been, “I’ve been too busy to even think about it.” My new role leading districtwide technology and communications has indeed kept me scrambling: I was working 60 hours each week throughout August. But on Labor Day weekend, a couple of weeks after the intense start of the new school year, I finally have some time for contemplation.

No, I don’t miss teaching.

Don’t get me wrong: I loved teaching physics. I landed my dream job back in 1989 and had a rewarding career in the classroom. But there are several reasons I am content with my transition to administration.

One is that my interests and reach had long extended beyond the walls of the classroom. I’ve held demanding side jobs in the district for decades and earned my master’s degree in administration back in 1999. Teaching physics was always job one, but I had many others. The bars below my career timeline visually summarize my other long-term commitments.

My career timeline

Another reason I was happy to leave the classroom was that I had met a challenging goal. I told my evaluators back in May 2016 that my teaching goal for my last year was simple: End strong. I was determined that I would not let the huge demands of the transition year hurt my students. I gave everything my all, working 60 to 80 hours a week for months, and it paid off. In July 2017 I found out I had hit a career high with 25 of my students earning passing scores on either the Physics 1 or Physics C: Mechanics exam, beating my 2006 record of 20 passing scores.

A powerful emotional support was a moment of closure a student surprised me with back in May. It put me in the right frame of mind for a new phase of my career.

When I began teaching in 1989, I made the word problems more interesting by making them about the treacherous adventures of Fluffy the Physics Feline. I tortured her mercilessly with lawnmower chases, frozen pond pulls, and more. The kids liked it so much that they gave me a real Fluffy at the end of the year. She sat on an intercom in the room and it eventually became customary for her to be catnapped by kids each year.

When she moved with me to our new lab in 2003, she got her own locking glass cabinet, but clever kids still managed to steal her annually. She has been skiing, to Europe multiple times, been the star of videos, the subject of ransom notes, returned at prom, etc. Two years ago she never came back, and even the town newspaper and magazine carried word of her disappearance. She finally reappeared at the start of the next school year.


Dear old Fluffy was catnapped again during my final school year of teaching, with funny photos on Instagram of her adventures about town and silly notes slid under the classroom door. And then she returned, only to soon disappear again for the remainder of the school year. As classes wound down, I couldn’t help wondering if she would ever return.

At the Class of 2017’s commencement in May, I led the faculty onto the field one last time in my long-standing role as teacher line leader. After the graduating seniors filed by, we took our seats. I knew this was the last graduating class where many students would be my own. Talented students sang and spoke to the crowd on a beautiful Oklahoma evening.

And then in the middle of her speech, Sr. Class President and physics student Shay Stayton surprised me by pulling Fluffy out from behind the podium. She said it was finally time for Fluffy, wearing a glittery mortar board, to graduate. I laughed and grinned at the time, but I’ll confess my eyes can tear up at the memory. It was the perfect ending to my teaching career. Thank you, Shay.

So in June I was ready to clean out and pack up. I took cartloads of paper and rubbish to the dumpster:

To the dumpster!

Over a quarter century of lesson plans

I also tossed over a quarter century of lesson plans. I gave my able successor the physics curriculum I sell, Wendy helped me copy and organize hard copies of all of the quizzes and tests, and I organized a file drawer filled with AP exam packets and resources. So the new physics teacher has access to everything from my classes to use, edit, or discard as he wills. I trust him to make the courses his own.

Some of the items I took to the ESC

I hauled additional items, including Newton, Einstein, and of course Fluffy, to my new office at the Education Service Center.

I see that the median job tenure in the USA is just over four years and that the baby boomers of the generation ahead of mine held an average of a dozen jobs when between the ages of 18 and 48. I only had four jobs during that 30-year stretch. After three temporary jobs during and after my bachelors degree, my first permanent job lasted almost three decades. So I was ready for the change.

The ESC is a far quieter place than the high school. We are very lean, and every administrator has to wear multiple hats to keep the district running in this era of abominable state funding. So there is very little socializing or relaxation; everyone is busy, busy, busy. But I am happily drawn out to the schools on various missions; I’ve already been to all nine sites in the first two weeks of school. Everywhere I go I see teachers, secretaries, custodians, administrators, and other employees putting kids first, fulfilling the district mission: educating and enriching lives.

No, I don’t miss teaching. Everything I do supports it. My wife and I talk about her classes and my challenges every evening. Teaching children remains job one. I am proud to be a Bruin.

Posted in physics, random | Leave a comment

A Grand Adventure, Conclusion: Santa Fe


Santa Fe Plaza with the Hendersons

Day 8 of our Grand Adventure was our final day with the Hendersons, who would be heading back homeward.

Palace of the Governors

Wendy was tired and slept in while I took Betty and John to Tia Sophia’s near the historic plaza for breakfast. Then we walked over to the plaza so that they could peruse the wares on offer by the Native American vendors along the veranda of the Palace of the Governors. On their first pass they did not purchase anything, but later returned for John to purchase a lovely bracelet for Betty.

We walked around the plaza area, seeing the public rooms of the historic La Fonda hotel. Santa Fe bought the property in 1925 and leased it to the Harvey company. For a major expansion, Mary Colter did the interior design and decorating. La Fonda is still operating today and was the most successful of all of the Harvey hotels.

Betty, John, and I also peeked into the Cathedral, being careful not to interrupt a funeral that was underway, and walked through Cathedral Park, which featured a series of large full-scale reproduction canvases of paintings by Goya. The originals are housed in The Prado in Madrid. My favorite art critic, the late Robert Hughes, adored Goya’s work, which I find challenging to love.

All too soon it was time for the Hendersons to head home. Wendy and I stayed at the Hotel Santa Fe, which was adjacent to the Santa Fe Motel & Inn where we have previously stayed in their casitas. The next time we are in Santa Fe we will likely return to Casita 22 at the Santa Fe Motel & Inn, enjoying its privacy and little patio. Downsides to our latest lodging included taking the elevator up and down to the third floor, the lack of an in-room coffee maker for Wendy, an annoying locking mini-bar/fridge, and outrageously priced breakfast options. But the facility was clean and nice, and couldn’t help that each night some idiot on a very loud motorcycle kept zooming along the downtown streets, disturbing the peace.

Museum of International Folk Art

One day during our stay in Santa Fe, Wendy and I visited the Museum of International Folk Art, gaining free admission via the NARM badge on our Woolaroc museum pass; we are both members of that fine institution near Bartlesville.

We skipped the Girard Wing, which we’d toured back in 2014. We focused on a tramp art exhibition displaying art formed from small pieces of wood, often discarded cigar boxes and shipping crates, whittled into layers of geometric shapes having the outside edges of each layer notch carved. This art form was popular from the 1870s to the 1940s.

They had wooden and metal wall pieces, intricately whittled chains and more, works of shells and peach seeds with little rhinestones, and various larger pieces of furniture. I was impressed by Charles Steijen’s crown of thorns frame with photographs of actresses from the London stage, carved in Rhode Island in the 1890s.

Celebration by Freeland Tanner

I watched parts of an interview with Freeland Tanner, who carved the intricate Celebration and Sabrina’s Gift in 2006.

Another temporary exhibit had flamenco costumes. Wendy and I had enjoyed the shows in Santa Fe by Entreflamenco in 2014 and 2015, so we recognized photos of Antonio Granjero and Estefania Ramirez. But what caught my eye was the energetic painting Vicente Romera at El Farol by Roland van Loon and the brooding photo on the cover of the old record album Antonio and his Spanish Dancers. Was it a young Antonio Banderas? Nope, it was Antonio Ruiz Soler, half of a dance duo which gained fame from 1928 to 1953.

Outside on Milner Plaza we revisited the Doris and Arnold Roland Sculpture Garden. Wendy liked Acceptance by Retha Walden Gambaro, who sculpted it as a self-portrait when she was 80. A year later, she sculpted Courage. Gambaro said she considered the “daily observation of spirituality in art forms” during her childhood in Arizona and Oklahoma to be her greatest education. She was born in 1917, with the doctor arriving by horseback, in a one-room cabin in Oklahoma, where Creek Indians had been “resettled” from the southeastern United States in the late 19th century. Her father eventually settled in Phoenix.

Standing Strong, with my Feet Rooted to Mother Earth by Kathy Whitman-Elk Woman

Wendy also photographed Standing Strong, with my Feet Rooted to Mother Earth by Kathy Whitman-Elk Woman. Whitman said of the materials in that work, “I used steel, stone and recycled materials.  I chose these because they represent us as Native women. The steel is tough, strong, resilient; the stone consists of all living beings from Mother Earth; and, the recycled materials are about resourcefulness and taking care of Mother Earth.”

Wendy put me on to a shot of Craig Dan Goseyun’s immense Apache Mountain Spirit Dancer sculpture, which dominates the plaza and is a favorite sculpture of mine. The dancer seemed to be looking out toward the moon visible in the clear blue sky.

Apache Mountain Spirit Dancer and moon

Hike at Hyde Memorial Park Above Santa Fe

During our stay we drove east up into the Sangre de Cristo mountains above Santa Fe for a hike. We’d hiked on the Aspen Vista trail back in 2015, and on the way to the trailhead had passed Hyde Memorial State Park. So I examined its online trail map and decided we might try a short trek up to a waterfall and back.

Hyde Park Trail Track

The weather was fairly warm in Santa Fe during our stay, and Wendy was leery of hiking in the heat. I figured it would be cooler up in the mountains, but it turned out it wasn’t that much cooler. Our hotel was about 7,200 feet above sea level, and our hike began at 8,386 feet and climbed fairly steadily to 8,880 feet.

Hyde Park was New Mexico’s first state park. It was named for Benjamin Talbot Babbitt Hyde, whose family donated 350 acres to the state for the park in 1934. He was the grandson of the Babbitt of Babbitt’s soap. He and his brother financed Richard Wetherill‘s excavation of Pueblo Bonito. The park has a picnic area, campground, skating pond, and sledding area. The latter two features were not functional in the summer heat, for some reason.

There were already several cars at the Hyde Park Lodge trailhead when we pulled in at 9:15 a.m. after a breakfast downtown at Tia Sophia’s. Most of the hikers headed for the West Circle Trail, which is more difficult, gaining 1,000 feet of elevation over the course of a mile. Our hike would only gain about 500 feet, but up at that altitude, that was enough for us Bartians; we live around 700 feet above sea level.

Hyde Park Trail

There was a nice map at the trailhead and the trail climbed immediately up the hillside and kept on doing so. A trio of young ladies were on the trail as well, reaching the waterfall ahead of us.  We passed shelters built into the hillside below us, eventually reaching the waterfall trail fork.

That trail climbed more steeply and was quite rocky in places as it wound its way up the mountain along a small mountain stream. We passed a rocky extrusion of pink granite, which allowed the sky to open up a bit amidst the forest. Insects swarmed around the water in the trail here and there.

We finally reached the waterfall, which was a thin flow down a rocky bluff.

Thin waterfall

Both of us were tired and hot and ready to turn back. We retraced our steps, now heading almost always downhill. When we made a pit stop at a toilet below the trail fork, I noticed flowers growing along the banked terraces and was glad to see bees buzzing about them. I’d imagine that on this hike Wendy found a few rocks to add to her collection in our hotel room.

Busy bee

So we managed to get a few short hikes in our vacation despite the heat. I’m eagerly looking forward to autumn, hoping that my new job will allow me to devote more time to hiking on the weekends when my favorite season arrives.

Home via Amarillo

After five nights in Santa Fe, we headed back along I-40 to home. Back in Amarillo, we made our usual stop for burgers at Blue Sky before spending the night. The next morning, we gave Calico County another try. Thankfully our breakfast there was much better than the dinner we’d endured earlier in the trip.

This time we did not stop in Groom, Texas for a break from driving, but I was glad to see the silly leaning water tower near there featured in a tile mosaic at a Texas rest stop.

66 tile mosaic near Amarillo

We again visited my parents in Oklahoma City and spent a night in my hometown before finally returning to Bartlesville, 14 days after setting out on our adventure. I doubt we’ll take any vacations that long for years to come, given my new administrative calendar. But we hope to take some shorter trips, both on our own and with the Hendersons, in the future. Life was meant for good friends and great adventures!


A Grand Adventure, Day 7: El Morro & the Ice Cave

Collection of all photos from this summer vacation

Posted in art, day hike, photos, travel | Leave a comment

A Grand Adventure, Day 7: El Morro & The Ice Cave


On Day 7 of our Grand Adventure we traveled to Santa Fe with long stops to hike at El Morro and to explore the Bandera volcano and its ice cave.

After the commencement ceremony for the Class of 2017, I was approached by Barbara Davidson, who taught at Bartlesville High for many years and now is a valued substitute teacher. Knowing we were headed to the Grand Canyon, she recommended we visit the Land of Fire & Ice, a volcano and ice cave in New Mexico. So in our hotel room in Gallup I checked the route to the attraction and noticed that if we drove south on Highway 602 out of Gallup into the Zuni Reservation, we could divert east on 53 to visit the El Morro National Monument before we got to the volcano. I’d never heard of El Morro, but noted it had a hiking trail, something which appealed to me greatly. So after breakfast at the hotel I led our two-car caravan there.

Day 7 Trip Map

El Morro

El Morro is Spanish for “the headland” and denotes a cuesta (a long rock formation that slopes gently upward and then drops off abruptly) situated along a main east-west trail in what is now west central New Mexico. It is known for having over 2,000 inscriptions along its base made over the centuries by Native Americans, Spanish colonials, and Americans. I wonder how long it takes for graffiti to transform from vandalism into historical artifacts?

El Morro

The Zuni indians have lived in the area for 3,000-4,000 years. Back in 1275 they established the Atsinna pueblo atop El Morro. Atsinna means “place of writings on the rock”, so there were already petroglyphs along the steep outer walls of the cuesta by then. For about 75 years between 1,000 and 1,500 people lived atop the cuesta before the settlement was abandoned.

The Most Famous Inscription

Onate’s inscription

The first European to carve his name on the rock was Don Juan de Oñate in 1605, writing, “There passed this way the Adelantado (conqueror) Don Juan de Oñate from the discovering of the South Sea on the 16th of April 1605.” He had led several expeditions across the southwest, confirming that the region we now know as New Mexico lacked precious metals but could sustain colonists willing to work the land. No doubt he stopped at El Morro because of the pool of water which collects at its base.

You may wonder about the color of the inscription. In the 1920s the first superintendent of the monument went over some of the inscriptions with a hard pencil in an attempt to preserve them, since the soft sandstone deteriorates over time. These days the conservation efforts are less intrusive.

Oñate’s stop at El Morro was six years after he had ordered the Acoma pueblo destroyed in retaliation for the deaths of a party of 12 Spanish soldiers. Hundreds of natives, including women and children, perished in the massacre, and it wasn’t long after visiting El Morro that he was finally held accountable. In 1606 he was recalled to Mexico City as he was laying out the plan for Santa Fe. Oñate was tried and convicted for his cruelty towards the natives and was banished from New Mexico and Mexico City. He eventually returned to Spain to live out the remainder of his life, dying there in 1626 at age 76.

The Inscription Trail

We arrived at the monument around 11:30. After using the facilities and exploring the gift shop, we registered at the desk for the hike, receiving a laminated book on the carvings to be found all around the headland.

Our demanding work schedules led to Wendy and I only going on a few hikes since November 2016. I blame that for my forgetting to activate my iPhone’s MotionX GPS tracking app for the hike. Later I reconstructed the hike by hand in Google Earth.

El Morro Trail Track

Some ladies ahead of us on the paved trail made much of the possibility of sunning snakes, but we never saw any. The vertical cliffs above us had interesting darker patches hanging onto the cliff face.

Pool at El Morro

We soon reached the pool at the base of the headland, filled with water from runoff and snowmelt. Originally there was a basin hollowed out by water cascading from above. The first caretaker of the monument deepened and dammed the pool in the 1920s. A rockfall destroyed that dam in 1942, and a new one was constructed.

Some of the inscriptions overlapped each other, with a mix of petroglyphs and modern writing. A particularly beautiful one was by E. Pen Long, a member of the U.S. Army from Baltimore who was a member of the Beale caravan of 1857-1859. Reportedly he had the use of tools for carving gravestones, allowing him to sculpt fine details in the soft sandstone. Lt. Edward F. Beale′s group was experimenting with using camels as Army animals in the southwest. Beale’s group included 25 packs camels, part of the Camel Corps, and he was quite impressed by their endurance and packing abilities. The Civil War interfered with the project, and it was abandoned. Unfortunately that didn’t prevent me from seeing the regrettable comedy film based on this project, Hawmps!, back in 1976. I’d already suffered through The Apple Dumpling Gang a year earlier, and am thankful that I remember little of either film over 40 years later. If I have to watch a comedy western, please make it Blazing Saddles.

E. Pen Long’s inscription at El Morro

Speaking of humor, some of the inscriptions are funny. One translates as, “The 14th day of July 1736 the General Juan Paez Hurtado, Inspector, passed by here.” Right below this was added, “And in his company, Corporal Joseph Trujillo.” I’ll wager the General had his back turned. You can see many more images and descriptions of the inscriptions in a blog post by Wayne Chatfield.

Graffiti at the tip of the headland

Wendy’s vertical panorama

As we rounded the tip of the cuesta, there were many inscriptions both high and low, including some that were boxed. Ones ending in U.P.R. were carved by a Union Pacific Railroad survey crew that came by in 1868. That project wasn’t carried through, since the Santa Fe Railroad went through 25 miles north of El Morro, ending its place as a stopover on the route west. Otherwise, El Morro might today be adjacent to I-40 and would no doubt have even more graffiti.

Wendy took a neat vertical panorama shot of the tip of the monument with her iPhone, with the sun glaring down. That illustrated how it was getting pretty warm, and both John and Wendy decided they would prefer not to continue the hike up to the top of the cuesta to view the pueblo ruins. So they took a side trail back to the visitor center while Betty and I forged onward.

The Mesa Top Trail

We passed a nearly vertical smooth face of the monument, unmarred by old graffiti. Up near the top edge of the cuesta we could see a huge slab of rock that would someday separate and fall.

Cavelike openings

Cavelike openings in the side of the wall are formed when rain atop the mesa enters cracks in the rock, runs down the joints, and comes out of small openings on the side. The seeping water and freeze/thaw cycles weaken the sandstone and forms large holes. The sandstone in this area is only sand grains held together by kaolinite clay, since it was never buried deep enough for pressure to fuse the grains into more solid rock.

A slab about ready to go

We rounded the point where the huge slab of rock will someday collapse and the trail began climbing to the top of the mesa in a series of switchbacks. Up top we had a panoramic view of the broad flatland separating El Morro from another mesa, with the highway running between them.

Eroded flatland around El Morro

The flatland was formed when water gradually wore away the softer rocks of the Chinle formation, with the harder sandstones of El Morro and the other mesa resisting the erosion. More than ten thousand feet of sedimentary rocks have been removed over the last few million years to form this landscape, which was under the water of an ancient ocean about 100 million years ago. 40 million years before that, the sand that makes up El Morro was accumulating on a broad desert-like plain.

This geologic history explains the color variation in the layers of El Morro. The dark upper layers are ocean sands, while the light colors below that are from earlier stream and dune sands of the desert period. The valley floor also has a veneer of volcanic basalt that was laid down 100,000 years ago. To the east is the Chain of Craters area of El Malpais National Monument, including the volcano we’d soon be visiting. The most recent eruptions there date back 3,000 years.

Box Canyon at El Morro

Up top we could see how El Morro is a hollowed out headland, with a box canyon eroded behind that. The trail ran along the top of the remaining headland around the box canyon to eventually reach the excavated pueblo ruins atop the far side of the cuesta, although there were unexcavated ruins on the near side as well.

Pillar in the box canyon

A huge pillar of uneroded stone remained near the center of the box canyon. We walked along the rim, following a marked line across the stone. Tilted shrubby trees grew up top, and we crossed the long joints in the top which erode to create the cuesta’s sharp vertical headland. To our left was a panoramic view of the countryside.

Pueblo indians enlarged potholes on the top of the mesa to capture rainwater, in addition to relying on the pool at the base of the cuesta. Parts of the trail ran along the joints in the rock. I had Betty pose in one joint and at a saddle connecting the two halves of the headland.

Betty at the saddle of the trail

Kaolinite layer hoodoo

We passed by the end of the box canyon, with its flat floor displayed below. The top of the formation had a white layer that had eroded in one spot into a hoodoo. The park service has carved steps and stairways into this layer in various locations, making the trail more accessible and fun. The white layer was its own trail marker, leading us over to the Atsinna ruin. Betty gamefully tagged along behind me as I eagerly scrambled over the rock face.

Steps carved into the kaolinite layer

As we approached the excavated ruins, we could see the line of white stone behind us. This white layer is bleached Zuni Sandstone, formed when active erosion and weathering over 50 million years attacked green clay minerals and feldspar, altering them to white kaolinite clay. Iron dissolved and percolated to form dark crusts and bands lower down. The removal of the iron and alteration of the green clay produced the white bleached zone. Kaolinite is used in many products, including paper, toothpaste, light bulbs, cosmetics, and the old formulation of Kaopectate I grew up with. I will never forget its chalky taste.

We finally reached the ruin of the Atsinna pueblo. The entire pueblo, mostly unexcavated, is about 200 by 300 hundred feet long and parts of it probably were three stories high along the north side. The pueblo was terraced down to the south, providing a southern exposure. In 1954 twelve of the rooms and both a round and a square kiva were excavated by Richard B. Woodbury and a Zuni work crew. The entire pueblo probably had more than 800 rooms.

The excavated part of the Atsinna Pueblo

Today’s hikers are actually walking on the second level of the pueblo, about ten feet above the original ground level. The ground level was filled with debris from the collapse of the upper stories after the settlement was abandoned.

It is speculated that crop failures may have led to that decision, since the people seem to have moved west and founded Zuni villages known in historic times. There, around the present Zuni pueblo, the growing season is longer and irrigation can be practiced.

The pueblo had a commanding view of the lands to the east. We could see the Visitor Center below, where Wendy and John were patiently awaiting our return.

View from Atsinna Pueblo

A conquistador’s pareidolia profile atop El Morro

We followed the trail down the side of the cuesta. Pareidolia, our mental habit of seeing faces in nature, had me seeing the profile of a heavily beaded conquistador at the right edge of a formation atop the hillside above us.

Wendy and John were relaxing on the porch at the Visitor Center, having visited with the ranger and conversed with each other while Betty and I sweated our way across the top of the cuesta. I had water while hiking on the trail and at the visitor center, but I was yearning for a cool soft drink, which the monument did not offer. So I was glad the Ice Cave and Bandera Volcano tourist attraction was only a 25-minute drive to the east, as I knew they offered snacks at their trading post. We left El Morro at 2:30 pm.

Ice Cave & Bandera Volcano

Back in the 1930s a trading post was built here with a saloon and dance hall. They mined ice from the ice cave to cool the beer! In 1946, Dave and Reddy Candelaria began operations as a tourist attraction, halting mining of the ice.

While the others in our party explored the artifacts, rocks, pottery, and so forth in the trading post, I found the soft drinks at the rear and enjoyed a cool and freshing can of Coca-Cola. We paid to hike the trails and opted to do the crater trail first. That way we could recuperate from a warm hike up into the crater of the volcano by visiting the cold ice cave.

Trails at Bandera Volcano and Ice Cave

The crater was northwest of the trading post. The trail went past a spatter cone. When a surge of hot air rushing through lava forms surface tubes and minor vents, it splashes out when the air breaks through to the surface, forming this sort of blow hole.

Climbing the side of the cinder cone

Soon we were slowly circling and climbing the side of the cinder cone. John commented on how the benches all along the trail were always placed in full sun, making them less than desirable on a hot sunny day like we were having.

Eventually we rounded to where we could see where the side of the crater had blown out. The trail led on past jagged lava formations, and the ladies briefly sheltered in a trailside lava overhang.

Leaching lava

Beside the trail we could see colors from various elements leaching from the lava. White areas were calcium, yellow were sodium and sulfur, and red was iron.

The El Malpais region has 29 volcanoes, and Bandera is the largest. Its cinder cone developed 10,000 years ago. Then a massive lava flow broke out on one side and extended 23 miles across the landscape. The extinct crater is about 1,400 feet wide at the top and about 800 feet deep.

Bandera Crater

Panning for gemstones

We made our way back to the trading post to enjoy its restroom and some cool drinks. Before setting out to see the ice cave, Betty bought a couple bags of dirt spiked with gemstones, arrowheads, and more. She and John have expertise in panning for gold, and Betty showed Wendy how to pan for the gems using a the large sluice set up beside the trading post. John and I sat in the shade nearby and chuckled as Wendy delightedly panned for her rocks.

Then we took the shorter trail south to the ice cave. A long wooden stairway led down into the cave, which was in part of the Bandera lava tube. When molten lava pours out of a volcano, the porous lava is a great insulator, so the surface hardens while a pipeline of lava flows beneath. The Bandera tube is 17.5 miles long, and most of it has collapsed. I had a memorable adventure back in 2009 hiking over a mile through an intact lava tube at the Newberry monument in Oregon.

The Ice Cave

The cave temperature never rises above 31 degrees Fahrenheit because it contains a 20 foot thick well of ice that has accumulated in a well insulated cave shaped so that the frigid air is trapped. The Pueblo indians knew this as Winter Lake and mined the ice. The thick ice is green with algae and its deepest layer dates back 3,400 years. Mining of ice before 1946 left an ice wall against the back of the cave that reached 12 feet high, but since then the floor has risen as ice accumulated, the rate varying with annual rainfall.

After hours up in the sun, we all loved the cold air down above the ice. We could feel a dramatic shift in temperature as we descended below the overhanging cave mouth. It was startling to see icicles hanging from the lava given the hot day above us. I got a shot of little domes of ice formed by water drips.

Onward to Santa Fe

It had been quite a day, but we had missed lunch and were hungry. So at 5 p.m. we set course to find dinner on I-40. I wanted something filling, so we ended up at the Pizza Hut in Grants. The train track was nearby, and when one of the many trains we had seen throughout the trip rumbled toward us, Wendy whimsically gestured for the engineer to blow the horn. She was overjoyed when he obliged.

Our party arrived at the Hotel Santa Fe at 9 p.m. Wendy had fun arranging the petrified wood she had purchased, along with the gemstones and arrowheads she had panned, in one corner of a countertop in our room. Kion guarded her treasures.

Kion guarding Wendy’s treasures

The next day would be the last day of our vacation shared with the Hendersons, as they would be heading home in the afternoon while Wendy and I stayed on for a few days in Santa Fe.


A Grand Adventure, Conclusion: Santa Fe >

A Grand Adventure, Day 6: Winslow & Holbrook

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A Grand Adventure, Day 6: Winslow & Holbrook


After breakfast on Day 6, it was time to begin the homeward journey. We still had new sites to see in the days to come, including a hike at a monument we had never visited, a volcano and ice cave, and a visit to Santa Fe. But Day 6 was focused on rocks for the ladies.

Both Wendy and Betty love stones, including petrified wood. We had whetted their appetites with our visit to the north end of the Petrified Forest a few days earlier. It was time to take them to Holbrook, Arizona near the south end of the Petrified Forest. That town has several rock shops that boast ample amounts of legally acquired petrified wood from the region outside of the national park.

Day 6 Trip Map

Taking it easy in Winslow, Arizona

So we headed south on Highway 64 and then east on Interstate 40, back through the south end of Flagstaff toward Holbrook. That was a 172 mile, 2.5 hour drive. So we made a couple of pit stops, including my decision to pull off at Winslow, Arizona. I was influenced by a song by Jackson Browne and Glenn Frey:

Well, I’m a standing on a corner in Winslow, Arizona
and such a fine sight to see.
It’s a girl, my Lord, in a flatbed Ford
slowin’ down to take a look at me.

I was fortunate to see Glenn Frey perform Take It Easy with the Eagles in Tulsa’s BOK Center back in 2013, thanks to board of education member Rick Boswell, whose family generously invited me to join them at that stop on the History of the Eagles tour. The song was the group’s first single back in 1972. Little did the Boswells and I know in 2013 that we would lose Glenn Frey in January 2016 due to complications from rheumatoid arthritis.

Back in 1999, Winslow built Standin’ on the Corner Park on a street corner, with a mural and a statue of a young man with a guitar. That was enough to get me to drive the historic Route 66 through downtown, which was bypassed by I-40 in the late 1970s.

Standing on a corner in Winslow, Arizona

There was a crowd of people taking photos on the street corner, with Take It Easy playing on a speaker. I didn’t want to stop and fight the crowd for a picture, but was able to capture a shot of a new statue leaning on a nearby lamppost…one of Glenn Frey which was erected in June 2016. Take it easy, Glenn.

The Hendersons were separated from us in the traffic in downtown Winslow. It took awhile for us to rendezvous, and  I took the opportunity to look at La Posada, the last of the great railroad Harvey Hotels. It was built in 1929 as the final link in a chain of hotels for the southwest tourist trade. Architect Mary Colter considered it her finest work.

The Great Depression and the end of the passenger train era doomed La Posada, and it closed by the end of the 1950s. The railroad auctioned off its furnishings, which Colter had hand-picked, in 1959. By then she was 89 and sorely disappointed, saying, “There’s such a thing as living too long.”

The railroad hid the building’s interior beauty, partitioning it into office space. It eventually tried to get rid of the property by offering it to the city for $1 in 1992, but the city declined. Local residents Marie La Mar and Janice Griffin applied for and received a $350,000 federal grant to save the building. When asked how they expected to raise the required matching funds, they replied, “By the grace of God and the spirit of Mary Colter.”

College student Allen Affeldt answered the call, securing seed money from a backer to provide the $150,000 match required for the grant. Affeldt, his wife, her brother, and a college friend moved into the hotel and began to restore it. Years of work have brought La Posada back to life: “The gardens are back, guest rooms are open, and fireplaces, faux-adobe walls, arched ceilings, and period furnishings await the visitor.”

La Posada Hotel in Winslow, AZ

Wendy posed by the charming entry to the grounds. The pastel front facade is beautiful, with a lovely desert garden out front, complete with braying donkey. The cool interior looks great, too, with much attention to detail.

Artwork is featured in multiple public rooms, with many intriguing works by Tina Mion. I was struck by the often humorous political content in her Ladies First series of paintings of the wives of U.S. Presidents; this was art with a message. Her The Ace of Clubs painting of Mary Todd Lincoln was quite striking, with its slot machine imagery regarding that troubled soul.

Mary Todd Lincoln painting by Tina Mion

Holbrook Rock Shops

Dinosaurs in Holbrook

It was too soon after breakfast to stay for lunch, so we left La Posada and headed east to Holbrook, where we had lunch at Tom & Suzie’s Diner. My initial plan after lunch was to let the ladies scrounge through the rocks at the Rainbow Rock Shop while John and I enjoyed the silly dinosaurs outside.

Sadly, the dinosaurs were there, but owner Adam Luna was not. John inquired at a western wear store on the corner, and reported back that the rock shop had reportedly been closed for months. We did not despair, since just down the road was a large and professional operation, Jim Gray’s Petrified Wood Company.

Jim and Cathy Gray started the Petrified Wood Company more than 48 years ago. They own the mineral rights to several sections of land near the Petrified Forest National Park. They do their own digging, cutting and polishing, creating full rounds, tabletops and bookends, and more. Their family-run huge store is packed with beautiful stones of all types, with quite reasonable prices.

Wendy and Betty had a blast, scouring the comfortable air-conditioned store before venturing outside to spend a long time in the hot sun trawling through hot piles of unpolished rough cut petrified stone, priced at two dollars per pound. John and I moseyed around inside the cool store, and he mentioned enjoying watching a fellow have a huge petrified stone loaded into a pickup, with what appeared to be his wife nearby. She was watching the operation with an expression that told its own story. Fortunately for John and me, Betty and Wendy selected small stones as their acquisitions.

Through the Petrified Forest

Crystal City rocks

It was a few miles eastward on Highway 180 to the south entry to Petrified Forest National Park. We had only covered its northern tip in our earlier visit, so now we would drive all of the way through the park to see more of the landscape. We stopped at the Crystal Forest Museum & Gifts just outside the park, not to shop, but to pose by their pyramidal display of stones and crystals.

We had spent a long time at the rock shop, and it was getting quite warm, so we did not stop to walk around sites in the Petrified Forest, but dallied along the drive through park, snapping photos of the varied terrain.

Driving through a weird eroded terrain

Mounded ash layers and eroded ash sediments formed banded hills of grays and blacks and browns, sculpted by time.

Eroded layers in the Petrified Forest

Out by I-40 we saw a 1932 Studebaker shell placed where historic Route 66 once ran through the park. The Mother Road was decommissioned in 1985. It was superseded by I-55, I-44, and I-40, and over in California by portions of I-15, I-210, and I-10. I like to think it took six interstates to replace that one two-lane road from Chicago to Los Angeles, which was dreamed up in the 1920s by Tulsa’s Cyrus Avery.

1932 Studebaker on the remains of The Mother Road

We made our way back onto I-40 to resume our eastward trek. Wendy captured a shot of one of the trains passing through the landscape as we drove onward across the state line into New Mexico. We stopped in Gallup for dinner at The Cracker Barrel and spent the night at the Best Western Plus Gallup Inn & Suites. The next day we would make our way to Santa Fe, stopping along the way to visit El Morro and a volcano with an ice cave.


A Grand Adventure, Day 7: El Morro & the Ice Cave >

A Grand Adventure, Day 5: To Desert View & Marble Canyon

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