Sunday, May 27, 2012

Solo celestial work retreat

You may have heard on the evening news that parts of the western US were scheduled to see a fairly rare annular solar eclipse last Sunday evening.  If you lived along the most central path of the total solar eclipse that occurred on February 26, 1979, but you attended a grade school that did not place any value on science education and therefore confined you and your classmates to the classroom to read a book while your fat teacher when outside to view the perfect total solar eclipse, you might take this passing celestial phenomenon more seriously.  I have wanted to see an eclipse since I was denied the opportunity in 5th grade, so when Watcher alerted me to the coming eclipse and gave me a pair of special eclipse viewing glasses,

I set about arranging my schedule to be in the path of annularity.   Salt Lake City would see only a partial eclipse, but my field area in Utah's West Dessert was in the path.  I needed to go fix some of the surface flow monitoring sites and weather conditions looked fine, so I checked out a vehicle, threw in my new 0-degree sleeping bag, packed some trail mix, and off I went to chase an eclipse.

I needed to go as far south in my field area as possible to see the annular eclipse, which worked out perfectly because the sites in that area were the ones I needed to visit twice during this trip.  I also had promised a colleague I would investigate a small but important water source in that area for him.

Sunday at 6:10 PM I arrived at my chosen camp site.  A small knoll in Hamlin Valley, with a backdrop of the Mountain Home Range and a great view of the western sky and the southern Snake Range. 

I set up my camp for the evening, which consisted of a cot, cooler, and camp chair,
Solo solar camp.

and settled in to view what the cloudless sky promised to be a perfect annular solar eclipse.

In an annular solar eclipse, like a total solar eclipse, the moon travels between the sun (big round white circle in the diagram below) and the Earth (below right), casting its shadow on Earth in a narrow path as the three bodies move through space.

But because the moon is farther from the Earth in an annular eclipse (C, above), entire disc of the sun is not obscured by the moon as viewed from Earth, so the observer sees a "ring of fire" around the round black moon.

At 6:21 PM I looked at the sun through my special glasses and thought I could ever so slightly see a tiny bit of flattening on the lower right side of the sun.  I looked again every 5 or 10 minutes and watched as more and more of the moon "bit into" the round sun like a Pac Man. I didn't have the special filter for my camera, so these pictures are not mine, but here is what I saw. The color is about right.

At one point I said out loud to the coyote that watched me drive in, "That is totally !#$@ing awesome! This is amazing."  Between glances, I looked around at the landscape, growing dimmer and dimmer.  The light was eerie because the shadows were sharp, but nothing was very well lit.  It was as if there was just less light, which is exactly what was happening.

I also had time to make a pinhole camera, which I had never done before.
Eclipse viewing platform. Pinhole camera (box) to the left of the chair.

I wanted to see the eclipse from every possible angle, and it worked.  Every 10 minutes or so I would look into my "camera" and see the round sun turning into more and more of a crescent.  

 Tiny projection of the sun inside my homemade pinhole camera.

Finally, at 7:30:29 PM the whole moon fit inside the sun and the ring was complete!!!!!

I felt a very happy bubble that had been building up since 5th grade burst in my head.  I am not kidding - relief and elation are not too strong of words.  To be there, alone in the wilderness realizing a lifelong dream was pretty damn cool.  How is that for a science geek?

So I sat there for 4 minutes and 9 seconds watching through my special glasses as the ring shifted slightly from one side of the sun to the other.  Awestruck.  And then the total part of the eclipse was over and the moon was moving out, creating a Pac Man facing the other direction.  I ate my salad for dinner between gazes at the sun and glances into the pinhole camera.  I tried to see the crescent shadows reported by others

but could not see any, probably because there was no dappled shade for miles around!  While I was hanging on to view the very last remnants of the eclipse, a cloud moved in front of the setting sun.  It was fascinating to watch how quickly the cloud moved across the sun compared to the moon.

After the show was over, I had a few minutes to hike around a bit before nightfall. The night was cold and clear and I was happy to have my Marmot Ouray sleeping bag to snuggle down into on my cot.

Now for the work part

So the trip was memorable mostly for the eclipse, but there were a number of other cool things too.

Wild Horses

Monday morning I went to investigate Gip Seep in the Mountain Home Range.  The BLM manages this seep as an important water source for wild horses.
Gip Seep

I have seen horses in this area before, but never this close!

I think there were two groups of them.  While I was measuring water quality and flow at the seep (2000 uS and less than 1/6 gallon per minute - not a big water source for a herd of horses and some elk) one group of horses came to drink.  The stallion was not happy that I was hanging around their water source, and pranced back and forth while his brood mares and colts hung back.  I pulled back under cover of the junipers, but they wanted nothing to do with that place while I was there.


Flow measuring

OK, so maybe this part is not as glamorous as solar eclipses or wild horses, but it is kind of a fun and important part of my work.  I measured stream flow in three ditches before the local ranchers rerouted water into a different irrigation ditch and then again after the reroute.  By doing this, I am checking to see if the permanent flumes we have installed to continuously measure the flow are reading accurately.  I have no action shots of this brave hydrogeologist, but here is one of the streams and the flume we have installed.

Next, I got to use some leaky hip waters to muck around in this spring pond

and dig out a bunch of branches recently deposited by Mount Wheeler Power Company into the pool.
I am always a little leery of what might be attached to the end of my hoe when I bring it out of this pond.

I also visited the other 6 monitoring sites for routine maintenance.  It makes for a lot of driving because the sites are so spread out and all the roads are gravel.

Camp 2

No celestial phenomenon occurred during my second night out, but the camp spot was just as remote and the wilderness just as blissfully lonely.

After a very long and dusty day in the field Tuesday I headed for home to see my sweet, sociable husband.  Celestial solo retreat complete.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Race report: 12 Hours of Mesa Verde v. 3. part II

Saturday was race day.  Drew and Jim got up crazy early (5 AM) to go to Denny's for breakfast, while Shelly, Leslie (who had crashed with us at the last minute) and I tried to get a few more winks of sleep.

We elected to have me do the LeMans start, since I had not done it before.  The likelihood of me having to do 4 laps as opposed to Drew's 3 would be higher if I started, which was OK because Drew raced for 8 hours the previous weekend.

I was ready to roll by 7 AM

and my bike was staged where I could find it.

We lined up and the start gun went off!
photo courtesy of Dusty P.

At the LeMans start, I felt like I was in a heard of stampeding bison.

After everyone got on their bikes, the furious pedaling began.  This created some dust.  I did not like this part, and fell pretty far to the back of the herd.

photo courtesy of Dusty P.

With several hundred racers all trying to race the same singletrack course, there were massive delays and long, long conga lines.  I got stuck in a couple of really bad ones, and was barely putting out any effort.  This cost us big time.  As I came into the start finish area,
 photo courtesy of Milissa M.

the clock ticked 1 hour 41 minutes, which put us in only 19th place out of 25 teams.  We figured that was because most co-ed duo teams opt to have the guy start because, in most teams, the guy is much faster than the girl.  But still, my poor competitiveness early on in lap 1 did not help.  We were expecting to move up throughout the day.

And we did.  Drew had a good first lap, then I went out on lap 2 and logged my fastest time yet in the three years I have raced MV (1:33:58).

Other Revolution team members were having some problems with crashes and mechanicals, but Cousin Milissa was riding well and looked awesome in her disco outfit coming out of the disco tunnel.

photo courtesy of Nancy W.

Lap 3 for me was uneventful but solid. Lap 3 for Drew was his best yet.  He finished lap 3 with 1 hour 25 minutes left on the clock, so I went out for our final lap.  By this point I think we were in 10th or 11th place.  

As I came across the finish line at 10 minutes after 6 PM,

we had, in true Jordan fashion, whittled down our competition to end up in 9th place.  Drew and I both felt very good about our endurance and lack of big crashes, so we celebrated at the free pasta feed and complimentary Colorado brews.  We hung out to see some of our teammates take high honors in the solo and duo categories, and then headed back to the rental house for a soak in the hot, hot tub and much needed bed rest.

The next day we packed it up and hightailed it back to SLC.  That was one fun race!

Friday, May 18, 2012

Race report: 12 Hours of Mesa Verde, v. 3.0, part I

What do you do for Mothers Day when you don't have kids or a mother that lives locally? Race the 12 Hours of Mesa Verde for the third year in a row! This year Drew and I joined forces as Team Stone Fox and Bunny for this disco-themed, ultra fun mountain bike race on the Phil's World trail system near Cortez, Colorado.
We started last week early with a couple of nights stay at the condo in Moab. We intended to do some easy rides, but maintenance chores took up the entire stay. It was very lovely in Moab though, and we had a few moments to enjoy the nice weather on the patio.

On Thursday we headed over to Cortez and checked into the VRBO house we had rented for the weekend.

 Wow, what a beautiful house! Two bedrooms and a gourmet kitchen.

Outside was a hot tub, greenhouse, hammock, and observation deck looking out over the valley. 

Nice place to base the weekend and spend time with our friends Jim and Shelly. This was a far cry from last year's adventure in Bobke.
Thursday evening we took a lap on the race course and remembered why we love this race; the 16.5 mile loop is one of the funnest 16 miles you can ride on a bike!
 To those readers that don't mountain bike, this next picture may look a little boring, but if you bike you can recognize the fast turns and little bumps.  To be truthful, this section was just somewhat fun.  The real fun parts were so fun I couldn't stop to take a picture.

After the pre-ride we had dinner at the brewery (poor service and mediocre food, but good beer) with teammate Doug and honorary teammate Jeff before heading back to the house to meet Jim and Shelly.
On Friday, Jim, Shelly, and Drew pre-rode the course while I fulfilled a 3-year desire to go to Mesa Verde National Park.  My cousin Milissa from Colorado and her clan (hubby, his siblings and their spouses and child, who we met at the Pierre's Hole race last year) were going in, so I tagged along on two ranger-led tours.

First, we went into Cliff Palace, the largest of the Ancestral Puebloan People's dwellings.

To access the site, we descended some cool stairs.

Up close, we learned that they built this site around between 1190 and 1280 and occupied it for only 60 to 100 years before they moved on. What made them move is a mystery, but theories include prolonged drought that made the Mesa top non-arable, resource depletion (soil, large animals for hunting, trees for building and firewood) and/or warfare (probably due to resource depletion).
Archeologists think Cliff Palace, with its 129 rooms and eight kivas, was home to about 60 to 90 people. 

 The kivas (below) were ceremonial pits. They had roofs, but those are gone now so we can see into the structure.  The thin vertical rock to the upper right of the central fire pit is a deflector stone which deflects the draft coming down the ventilation shaft behind it.  Another ventilation shaft is positioned on the side close to me, which created air circulation.  The little round hole on the floor a few feet down and left of the fire pit is the sipapu, or symbolic entrance to the underworld.  

As a hydrogeologist, I found it interesting that both the very existence of the alcoves in which the dwellings were constructed and also the water source for the inhabitants is due to the particular hydrogeology of the mesa. The rock overhanging all the cliff dwellings in the park is the Cliffhouse Sandstone Formation. Underlying the sandstone is the Mancos Shale. Precipitation falling on the mesa top percolates through the porous sandstone until it reaches the impervious shale and then it must move laterally. Where it emerges on the cliff wall a seep spring is formed. Over millennia, erosion and freeze-thaw cycles break down the sandstone and create the alcove. The seeps provide enough water for small communities.

 In the picture above the darker area at knee level is one such seep.  Here is another view.

To exit Cliff Palace, we had to climb up some narrow rock steps, next to which were the real hand and foot holds pecked into the rock by the Ancestral Puebloans.  I tried them out, but I have bigger feet than they did.

Next was Balcony House. To access this site, we got to climb a big ladder.

Balcony House is a smaller site and about half the alcove was devoted to storage of grain, water and food behind a big masonry wall. Our guide was convinced this was for defense purposes.

 On the other side of the wall were the living areas.

 Ranger dude showed us the metate and mano corn grinding stone sets and explained that the sandstone grit incorporated into the corn upon grinding is what killed many of the Indians by grinding their teeth down to nothing.

It is truly amazing how well preserved these ruins are. The only work that has been done is to stabilize about 20% of the walls. The juniper wood is still structural, the plaster still has color, some of the art and decorative paint (below, orange) is still visible, as are soot stains (below, black) from the fire pits.

 A cute shot of Christian and Milissa

before we exited through a skinny tunnel

and climbed a ladder and crazy trail to exit the Balcony House site. 

Back in the day, there were no ladders or even ropes - everyone entered by climbing down this steep cliff using hand and foot holds.  How did they do that carrying baskets of grain and water?!

The tours and the park were really fabulous!

Next up: the race.