Tag Archives: new_experiences

Archaeology Lesson – Lake Cahuilla

You can’t tell the story if you don’t know it. Today we had a bit of staff training to see the things we often talk about at the museum.

The people in this area used to live on the banks of a great lake, sustained by the Colorado River periodically overrunning its banks and gushing into the below sea-level valley.

Today, all that is left of the lake is the Salton Sea, a salt-concentrated shadow of it’s former glory. Originally about 2-3 times larger, the lake provided food and shelter for the Valley’s earliest inhabitants. The current “sea” was actually formed by a dam break in 1905 that allowed the Colorado River to re-flooded the lake bed.

The evidence of people’s lives around Lake Cahuilla is evident almost every where you look. From Ocotillo, we drove old route 80, following the route of the 1926 concrete highway, till we turned up Huff Road, passing rich irrigation-fed farmland. Our guide pointed out known sites: the 1820 Mexican Fort near New River, which would have been a reliable water source and has pot sherds near it, the 1940 L electric Line which has several well marked sites up and down it’s length, and the hundreds of house rings just outside the marked Navy Impact Area, and across from a 50m stone ring whose purpose evades living memory. Site after site was pointed out as we approached our ultimate goal at the circa 1690 shore line of Lake Cahuilla.

The Lake evaporated almost 5 feet every year and was irregularly filled by the river waters. You can see the settlements follow the shoreline up and down the bank. Fish traps, which were built in the shallows, are clearly built at 5 feet intervals as the water receded.

House ring at Lake Cahuilla from circa 1690 (top of image). Notice how sandstones are propped to support the walls, marking it as a man-made feature. The white fishbones at the forefront mark the house entrance.

While monitoring these sites, we recorded two new key artifacts (which of course we noted and returned to their proper place):

This beauty had been missed on other walk-throughs. It is possibly a fish weight (which I know has to do with fishing, but I can’t help you beyond that).

and a sandstone bead which had surfaced in the rains and looks exactly like the size and shape of a cheerio. Which was funny, and cool.

We also saw the water line of the ancient lake, nestled up against the Fish Creek Mountains. That Lake hasn’t existed for a loOOooooong time, but it still leaves it’s mark.



Other great finds of the day:

Desert horned lizard.

Iguana taking shelter under a creosote bush, one of the oldest plants on earth..

and (no pictures)
a loggerhead shrike,
2 night hawks,
and 2 low fly-bys by F-18’s.


Last weekend I found myself with an extra ticket to the Victorian NAIDOC ball, the highlight event that ends a national week of celebrating Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.

Now I’ve attended quite a few Society of Women Engineers banquets and am very familiar with the pomp and ceremony of a formal affair, but I couldn’t help gawking at the Martha Stewart like center pieces.

“Don’t you do this sort of thing in the US?” I was asked, “Not even for your prom?” I don’t know about you, but my prom was nothing like this. Or half as fun.

One friend described what I should expect: “It’s just a black fellah get-together that ends in a piss up”.

Turns out that was pretty accurate. Since this was the Victorian (ie local, not national) ball, it felt more like a formal family picnic. Everyone seemed to know everyone else. There were some out-layers. For instance, I couldn’t decide if the people at my table just didn’t know anyone or if they missed the memo about the point of the gathering – to celebrate. Needless to say, I didn’t spend long at the table trying to figure it out. Things were too interesting everywhere else for me to spend time delving into their personal history.

The evening started out seriously. There were some introductory speeches – the obligatory Welcome which was extra special that evening because the elders leading the welcome had just been honored nationally. My memory fails me on the national Australian honor granted to the first woman, but the second elder I’d been introduced to earlier in the evening and now will never forget: Auntie Carolyn was named NAIDOC Elder of the Year this year. Earlier this week, I found myself confronted with her profile again when a friend showed off the art exhibit she is included in at the Footscray Community Art Center. Auntie Carolyn is one of the three elders involved in the project. Clearly a force in the community.

There were also memorials – Lionel Rose, an influential community leader passed this year.

There was dancing. The big hit of the evening were the young dancers dancing the mosquito dance. The whole room laughed as one while the little ones, aged 5 – 12, faked frantic itching from the unseen pests.

There were more speeches after that based on the evening’s theme of “Civil Rights – Still A Fight”, but local conversations quickly drowned out any sense of organization. The party spirit in the room could not be contained. People amused themselves, ignored the organizers, and waited for the dance floor to open. When they kicked us out of the convention center at midnight, we moved to the Crown Casino where time doesn’t exist and the party never ends. I heard stories that some people continued through to 6pm Monday. I’m amazed at the stamina, but was myself happily tucked into bed by a modest 4am Sunday morning.

Easter Sunday

I haven’t been to church in a long while. It’s the only thing that makes me feel homesick, so I avoid it like the plague when I’m not at home. Church was always a family activity – four of us in a row, mom complaining that she never gets to sit next to her husband, Allison silently competing for best singer in the church, dad mentally recounting his latest golf scores, reading Monseigneur’s “thoughts of the week” in the car on the way home. Same ritual every week, always the four of us together.

When I went away to university going the Mass service seemed a bit empty, the preacher was passionate, but not great at homilies, and I missed needling my sister through the service. I gradually stopped attending.

Last Easter I was on Grand Turk. Neal, on request of my mother, dragged me to church at the Lighthouse Church. It turned out to be not so painful. I still don’t know what kind of service it was (never able to remember the denomination of the missionary family who were repairing the Hurricane Ike damage), but we were amongst friends and that was enough. 

It’s strange that the one thing I avoid is the one thing that makes me feel like I belong to something. Traveling has the unfortunate side effect of making you a stranger, but the church is a universal institution. I’ve been traveling alone all over the world and when I need a taste of the familiar, I don’t go to McDonald’s. I go to Church.

The first time was an accident. Somewhere in Paris I stumbled across a Mass while touring a small church. The priest saw that I stopped to listen and waved me into the partitioned area. Afterward, he and I held a broken but genuine conversation. He wished me well on my journey, wasn’t that nice? I felt much less a stranger after having held a conversation with someone other than myself.
Later, during the unusual London snowfall of 2004, I got swept up in a wave of holiday spirit and followed the sounds of vesper songs into an Anglican church. I was instantly recognized as a new face and was welcomed back for as long as I was in town. There you have it, taken in by various denominations – an instant link though we be strangers. Since then, church has become my fall back when I’m feeling out of place.

And man, have I been feeling out of place. Here I am, lost in the urban wilderness of Australia, not sure what to do next, where to go, or how to get there. Boy, do I need to go to church.

So when my landlady offered an invitation to her church a few weeks back, I told her I’d like to go for Easter. Now, my landlady has talked about members of her church being miraculously healed during services, but I figured I’m up to the challenge of keeping a respectfully open mind. Besides, this wasn’t about church, this was about not being alone on the holidays. Nicer to be around people i know with unorthodox beliefs then sit at the back of a Catholic service alone, I thought.

Mustering my traveler’s best of “Easter finest”, I rocked up in an outfit my grandmother would deem “church-acceptable”. (Actually, she would comment on whether or not I looked like a rag-a-muffin, but anyway.)

Right away I was tipped off that this was no church I was used to: it felt more like a rock concert. We walked up to the doors of the Geelong Theatre Company where large and plentiful signs announced “Planetshakers”. Uniformed greeters welcomed you in and copyright signs were posted everywhere (copyright infringement, really? What kind of a show is this?!).  Inside the stage was set up with a 5 piece band, fog machines, and a projector screen displaying a digital clock counting down to zero. The audience is young and hip and not AT ALL concerned with “Easter finest”. Hoodies and leather abound. I feel like I have “boring traditionalist” emblazoned on my forehead. I’m clearly a visitor.

The Hot Cross Bun appreciating couple I met at Good Friday breakfast were present and I went to sit with them and met some of their family while my host sat in the reserved section.

So far my impression is of a close knit community who like to rock. I’m cool with that. It’s good to see so many young people finding a place they can feel involved in. It set me to wondering what they out of this. My first clue hits me over the head as soon as the count down begins – 3, 2, 1! This IS a rock concert. There is jumping and clapping and singing at the top of lungs. Even I can follow along with the words up on the screen. No wonder traditional services are struggling – this is fun. Yay God, praise Jesus! Thank you for the blessings in my life and for carrying me when I think I can’t go any further. The sermon has a familiar and welcome message: trust in the good Lord and things will be all right. Amen.

The sense of spiritual connection in the room was overwhelming and infectious. This was a crowd unashamed in sharing all the joys and sorrows of their hearts -they seemed to pray with their whole bodies; arms raised, voices lifted, passion exuding out of every pore.

This was new for me. Sharing intimate things is not in my nature. But was respectful of their enthusiasm – if we were all this passionate about the teachings of Jesus every day, the world would be a better place. Man, would it be exhausting though.

There were some parts of the service that gave me pause. I didn’t know until I got home and did some research, but Planetshakers is a pentacostal church and there were some roads down which I could not follow. The big annual conference was last week and the congregation was still high on the Spirit. On the projection screen we watched “City News”, local stories and news clips, where one man told how he regained his sight while praying at the meeting. I’m all for miracles, but I still feel curious enough to want to see his medical charts. The rest of the crowd didn’t seem burdened by this type of thought process. In fact, the preacher, whose sermon I was enjoying up to this point, told the crowd “don’t think”. Now, I understand that he meant to say trust yourself, trust your gut, trust that God is leading you, but that’s not what he said. He told a group of 14 and 16 and 18 year olds not to think. Religion, without though, gets you a one way ticket to Haley’s comet.

Even so, I can see how people get caught up in services like this. A friend always says “people want to be a part of something bigger than themselves.” How true it is!  There was I surrounded by this tight-knit community, a stranger in a strange land, going through relationship issues, trying to plan out my next stage of life and having trouble doing it. The preacher says: “Who needs me to pray for them? Who is having trouble and needs help?” My right arm started to tingle and seemed to shout, “raise me. Raise me! Raisemeraisemeraiseme Raise Me!” I started to get emotional. Suddenly I don’t like this sharing thing anymore and I want to escape this circus. Introspection is for the dogs.

The preacher continues to gave over the crowd, patiently waiting for us stubborn sinners to breakdown and admit we aren’t “right with Jesus”. How does he KNOW? The tingling in my arm gets stronger, but I’m contrary by nature and, hey wait a minute, before this moment in time I thought Jesus and I were just fine. I started to think about magicians who you know are some how manipulating you but you just aren’t sure how….. or the hand of God was upon me – your choice.

I didn’t sign up to receive the newsletter, earning me a patient but chiding look from the woman for whom I’d politely agreed to fill out the newcomer card. The preacher had WAY better game. He probably could have gotten me to sign up for a retreat, the way my insides were turned upside down. That which I rely on to be a comfort had prayed on my vulnerabilities. Ok, ok, exposed my vulnerabilities. Either way, I wasn’t a fan.

Hot Cross Buns

Good Friday and Easter Monday are public holidays here. This year, Easter weekend falls on ANZAC weekend (add a public holiday for that = 5 day weekend.) Everyone is escaping to the country or gathering with family.

My new landlady has a special Good Friday tradition passed down from her grandmother: hot cross buns for breakfast. Everyone is invited – neighbors, friends, family, new tenants from far off lands. Currently the kitchen is full of the sounds of happy stomachs and sticky fingers.

I was told, by an elderly gentleman who looked like a kid in a candy store, that you can’t get buns this nice anywhere else. He was right – nothing like homemade buns to start the Easter holiday. Though, for a holiday that is held in such high regard (no footy is played today out of respect), it feels weird to be enjoying myself on this most solemn day of the Christian calendar. I guess we could say that watching two adorable grand daughters play with the new kitten is celebrating what Christ died to save, but I think it’s more fair to say that the public holiday takes anything solemn out of the day. Secular folk eat fish instead of meat, but for no other reason than “your supposed to”.

International Airshow

RAAF F18E/F Super Hornet.

Last weekend’s big news was the 2011 Australian International Air show held at Avalon airport here in greater Geelong. Held every two years, the show features military displays of power, historic planes, international trickster personalities, and really, really loud jets.

I know this because I had front row seats, which was pretty amazing since I was leaning toward not going at all. Friday morning I was longingly gazing at an airshow flyer wondering for the millionth time if I was passing up the opportunity of lifetime. By Friday afternoon I was acting like a wide-eyed kid oo-ing and ah-ing over unmanned drones.
Unmanned drone.
Inches from Nikolai Timofeyev’s plane.
Earlier that day I happened to sit on the right bench at the right time. Waiting to catch a train turned into a friendly chat with a gentleman who had an extra admission ticket to the show. We decided that we could help each other: he needed company, and I needed a ticket. I think I got the better end of the deal. We spent the rest of the day salivating over the military vechicles and frantically snapping photos as F-16 zipped passed and best-in-the-world pilots showed their stuff. We watched Matt Hall (Aussie with impressive moves), Kent Pietsch (South Dakota trickster), and the awe inspiring Nikolai Timofeyev, whose plane I was close enough to touch and who is touted as a “multiple winner of the World Unlimited Aerobatic Championship”.
Here’s a look at Pietsch attempting to land on a moving truck:

I also really enjoyed the historic planes. My grandfather would have flipped to see these WWII babies in the air. The announcer counted off how few Kitty Hawks (27), etc. were flying.

WWII fighters taking off with the You Yangs in the background.
Boomerang, KittyHawk, Spitfire (or Mustang?), Sea Fury.

The agile RAAF C-130J. J-version “goes further and carries more.”

I’d have to say my favorite plane was the surprisingly graceful transport carrier. They are designed to get in and out of small places so despite their size the pilot was doing loops worthy of Top Gun. Suddenly that whale of a plane looked more like a dolphin.

Then there was the Connie at sunset burning fuel like a madman, but making it quiet a show. Of course I don’t have a picture of that. (More on the Connie below.)

I do have this picture of me infront of a transporter. I tried out the rather uncomfortable seats while other people waited to get into the cockpit. It can fit two tanks. Cool! I touched everything I could get my hands on. The next time I see one of these it’ll be in a museum.
View inside the transporter.

My friend and I also toured a few vehicles and chatted with the pilots. We spent a considerable amount of time with the pilots of the Avalon Helicopter, which will be retired this year after 35 years of service. I got to see it fly Sunday afternoon and got all excited like a little kid “I sat in the cockpit!” She was a big hunking Navy rescue chopper and made the other choppers, giving joy rides on the edges of the show, look like ants.

Westland SeaKing Mk 50 “Avalon”, exterior.

This was the best one to watch take off:

The announcer warned that if you thought the F-16’s and F-22’s were loud, hold onto your hats: this jet could ruin your child’s hearing.

USAF B-1B Lancer, heavy bomber.

When it passed by you could feel the air vibrating through your entire body and were deafened by the enormous woosh of the engines. It was thrilling. I’m not big on souvenirs, but after that baby I had to buy a hat that said “Feel the Power”. Oh I felt it.

Deafening whoosh!

I spent the rest of the weekend staring out the windows as jets flew past, until Simon had had enough,
“Didn’t you just see those yesterday?”
Come on, man. Really. How can you get tired of watching a bunch of free-wheeling pilots show off their best stuff??
Here’s a sample of the aerobatics… and noise:

I biked over with a picnic on Sunday and found a nice spot across the road from the airport to watch the action. It was fun to try and snap photos as the planes zoomed passed, sometimes just grazing the trees. Almost better than being there. But I’m still glad I got to go.

Gloster Meteor F8: 1945-1970’s. Saw that yesterday.
RAAF BAE 127 Hawk?

Areobatic jets. RAAF F/A-18As from No. 77 Squadron.

Roulettes in formation, the Royal Australian Air Force’s areobatic team.

RAAF AP3-C Orion, long range Maritime Patrol and Anti Submarine and ASW aircraft.
Didn’t see that yesterday.

And what is that?
Southern Knights aerobatic team in their Harvard’s?! (training aircraft since 1935)
Didn’t see that yesterday either!


VH-EAG “Southern Preservation” Super Constellation, AKA “Connie”, in the day time.
Historically, a similar plane model was part of the first civilian trans global fleet, operated by Qantas. This actual plane was a military transport vehicle for the US from 1955 – 1977. It was renovated at ridiculous expense to complete the Australian historical fleet. It is dressed in Qantas colors, with its pet name “Connie” replacing the company name.
It is one of the stars of the show. It operates with flames protruding from it’s engines and is an impressive start to the evening show. It burns 500 gallons of fuel per hour. They had a less than stellar safety record, but were the first pressurized cabins making flight comfortable for civilians. One served as a presidential aircraft for Eisenhower.

I have to send an immense thank you to my new friend who saved me from missing out on discovering my inner pilot. I think dreaming was the theme of the weekend. Every child within earshot of those jet engines wanted to be a pilot and every adult wanted to do it all over again so they could give it a shot.

WWII Boomerang over the You Yangs.


1950’s fighter planes in the air.
Gloster Meteor F8, DH Vampire, CAC 26 Sabre.

Sabre close up.

WWII Navy Sea Fury with Roulettes.
The Roulettes are the Royal Australian Air Force’s aerobatic team.

Close look at a Harvard training plane.
Pilots say hi, on board a F-18.


Black Hawk.

From the French fleet.
The big boys.
Radar plane. There are 5 of these in the RAAF fleet.