Tag Archives: travel


Last night I attended a discussion on the yonis that dot our desert. Yonis are naturally occurring rock formations recognized as fertility symbols – gives new meaning to the term “mother earth”. When you see one, you’ll know. What I didn’t know is that there is some controversy over whether or not they are traditionally significant, despite their current celebrity.

“How can archaeologist imbue cultural significance on a symbol when there is no oral history to back it up?” asked the archaeologist. A fantastic point. No matter how long you stare at the crevices and chips and flakes of a rock, it is not going to share its secrets – or lack their of. We are dealing with 10,000 years of history and just as many years of erosion. And anyway, it’s women’s business. You don’t need to know.

Women’s business. I’ve thought a lot about women’s business and men’s business over the last few years. The sanctity of women’s business. The difference between a girl and a woman, the high regard for a mother.  Do you discuss these things with your sons? Would you ever tell a stranger? Do you explain these things, or are they just present?

The lecturer told this story: A local tribe charged the last heir with carrying on the family knowledge. They taught him everything and he in turn taught it to his children. His daughter is attributed to have said that if yonis were culturally significant, he would have told her. But, the group wondered, would the aunties have shared women’s business with the young man during his teaching? No one in the room was qualified to answer. The lecturer also told of a woman in the southern tribes in Mexico who described a fertility ceremony involving yonis, but she had never seen it done. No one else would talk to the lecturer regarding these matters. Research stalled. It would take longer than the lecturer had to give to even have a prayer of opening up the conversation.

Small stories

Just going through the pictures I’ve accumulated:

In-house pest control and conservation on baskets:


The sunrise leaves me with one more reason this place is next closest thing to Australia:

cause this:



isn’t far from this:



One difference: no sun-kissed Ocotillo like this in Australia


And one of our neighbors introduced me to the rarely seen desert tortoise. She has them as pets:


This is me at the midway Museum back in February, pushing buttons like a little kid:

"Uh, these don't work anymore, right?"


And, lest we need reminding, the most successful exhibits aren’t always the newest:



Off Duty…

… or not. Just this week I explained to a Board member that you are never “off” on this job. You are always building partnerships and relationships, and proliferating and promoting the Museum’s mission.


But there are no rules as to where all this work takes place. You can promote the museum and propagate the mission at house warming parties, which is where Jenica and I headed to on Superbowl weekend. Natalie (former BLM intern who worked at the museum with us)’s family had moved across town in Garden Grove, in the greater LA area. On the drive up the exit signs started to elicit a lot of “LONG BEACH, THE Long Beach?!” from my side of the car.


That weekend, I made the two girls take me to a beach – Huntington Beach – so I could experience California beaches (which were a lot like NJ beaches, but with palm trees and stronger waves) and stick my toes in the ocean. I’ve officially gone coast to coast.


Huntington Beach, CA


Location, Location, Location.


Taking similar advantage of our surroundings on our staff trips to Balboa Park we’ve been learning the history and exploring the buildings. Balboa Park, a 1,200 acre public park, was the home of the 1915 Panama Exhibition (kind of like the World’s Fairs, but celebrating the opening of the Panama Canal). The Exhibition building are now museums, and what exquisitely housed museums they are:


Botanical Gardens, Balboa Park


The Botanical Gardens was this week’s bonus. I think I love that building. Reminds me of the Isabella Gardner Museum in Boston (did I ever tell you how I gave tours there at the After Hours event every Third Thursday? I’m pushing for a similar event at the IVDM. I can see it now….Ocotillo blossom champagne cocktails…)


Orchid Display, Botanical Gardens



Another fun detour happened while attending meetings in town and stopped for groceries on the way back to remote Ocotillo. In the Walmart parking lot there was a very conspicuous van on which was written “No cash, food and clothing only”. Having just purchased several bags of crazy discounted chips, I went over to share some with the van inhabitants. Their journey started in Texas and they now ride coast to coast picking up anyone who needs a hand. There are ‘only’ four people living there now, I was told. Can you imagine the relief it must be to be offered a proper meal and place to stay while you are down on your luck? It’s an interesting envelop, but I can respect the work they are doing.


Any one who donates, gets to write on the bus:


San Diego Maritime Museum

Maritime Museum

Maritime Museum

On the way out of town (I took a red eye) we stopped by the Maritime Museum to waste a few hours.


See here the Indian Star and a USSR submarine in the same shot. Pretty neat. I also spent a lot of time  in the private Gauguin exhibit trying to decipher the french of Le Sourire with the gallery attendant.


We also saw the ship featured in Master and Commander. AND a replica of a ship built around the time of the Harold. Basically it was a “look, that’s the type of anchor outside the TCMN” type of trip.


Duplicate of Harold

Pretty close to Harold


It seems like all I can talk about is the Turks and Caicos, but give me a break… beach front property! When will that ever happen again, I ask you? Anyway, it was a good day in San Diego before flying home.


Mixing Work and Pleasure in Yuma

Hard day in the office. I tagged along on someone’s errands into Yuma, AZ and managed to turn it into a work day. while my buddy was on a conference call, I explored the Yuma Quarter Masters Headquarters. This was good for two reasons: 1) I got another history lesson on the area, and 2) I made a contact at both the Headquarters and the BLM in Yuma. Seems like a small accomplishment, but there is nothing small making contacts who have been in the area for 20 years when you have been there for a week. These are useful people to know.

Yuma Quartermaster's Headquarters

Yuma Quartermaster's Headquarters

Plank Road over the dunes

Plank Road over the dunes

We also happened upon an artist with her shop open (almost nothing is open on Monday in Yuma – we did not know that). Since it was a lazy day she showed off her kiln, talked a bit about the firing process, and showed us some pieces in process. She was even nice enough to throw something for our cameras.

Check her out on Facebook – Colorado River Pottery. Vermonters will find her work familiar. She’s lived back east!

Colorado River Pottery in Yuma

Colorado River Pottery in Yuma

Geology Lesson

Native American Trail

Trail marked with a line

“Basically you are standing on the Grand Canyon,” our guide explained. The Colorado River winds through the canyons way north digging deeper and deeper into the rock and washing stones to the end of the line. Every 1,000 years or so, the end of the line was the Imperial Valley. The Valley is below sea level vis a vie the Grand Canyon rocks were under our feet as we walked. This flooding was a natural flushing cycle, reducing the salt in the area, filling the Salton Sea with fresh water and fish and providing food for the people who lived along its banks. Here you can see a trail clearly worn by the marching of thousands upon thousands of feet as they walked from the mountains to the waters edge.


In the 1900’s, a big rain caused the might river to burst the dikes of the Alamo Canal and the rush of water once again began filling in the Sea. Then we built the Hoover dam, the river was tamed, and now the salinity of the Sea is a problem. Cause and effect people.


Also in the early 1900’s the Mexican revolution inspired the building of the All American Canal. The Alamo canal followed the shape of the earth, allowing gravity to do most of the work and let the waters trickle down the hill sides and into the fertile Imperial Valley silt. That path just happened to cross the border into Mexico. The unrest was risky to the American desert farmers, so we built the All American Canal. It has recently been re-lined. Look at how they diverted the water.

Diverted All American Canal

Diverted All American Canal


Other things I learned:


– This area MOVES. The San Andres fault runs directly through the valley. The part of the highway that cuts over it has been known to shift up to three feet. You can watch the real time evidence on   http://earthquake.usgs.gov/earthquakes/recenteqscanv/


– Way back in the day, the Imperial Valley was part of the California Gulf. “This was the ancient Gulf of Mexico,” I was told by our guide.


– There is a geothermal anomaly here. Magma runs close to the surface. You can observe steam coming off Hoover beach. There are also several hot springs. We stopped at one. There was a group camped across who come here each winter to enjoy the spring and the desert environment. When we returned for a night time dip, a group of Navy boys (who were actually men) from the local base arrived around the same time. We swapped stories. If it was a competition, they would win: Prince Charles is training at the base.


Imperial Valley Hot Springs

Imperial Valley Mineral Hot Spring

- The The Algodones Dunes, near El Centro were the site of filming for Luke’s home planet of Tatooine. I HAD to get picture of this. I was threatened with getting left behind if I didn’t make it to the car before the driver, so I sprinted up a nearly vertical mound of sand for the best possible view. Enjoy it.

Algodones Dunes outside El Centro, CA

Algodones Dunes outside El Centro, CA


Dune season has just begun. If you have a permit, you can ride your 4×4 like a mad man up and down the shifting hills. Sometimes nearly vertical climbs. Don’t get lost: People disappear. I was browsing a list of top ten things to bring with you when you camp here. I remember “fire wood” and “lots of water”. I wish I’d kept the list.


– We also saw some of the geogylphs. I like the way this guy puts it: “America’s Nasca Lines”. Most people who ride the desert don’t know they are here. We observed 4×4 tracks in the same area as the lines. This is not to say that if people knew about them they’d be safer. This is one of the big debates in the area: preservationists versus recreationalists … versus energy companies (lots of sun and wind in this valley).


Because I am unfamiliar with the local traditions, I don’t want to share too much. I can tell you that I saw a horse figure, which excites the archeologists because horses were brought to the America’s by the Spanish in the 1500’s or so, so these representations might document the first meeting of these peoples. I wished more than once that I had a cultural liaison to share the real stories. Without the stories, it’s just a pile of rocks.


On the drive from the airport I was pestering Neal with questions. The only information I could find on Ocotillo, where the museum resides, is that it has a population of about 266 and has a staple bar called the Lazy Lizard.

Enduring question after question with the patience of a saint, he eventually turned to look me straight in the eye and said, “Look, you’ve been here before.”

It wasn’t until the sun came up the next day and I could take stock of my surroundings that I really got what he’d been trying to tell me all night. “This is Grand Turk in the desert.”

What I finally realized is that it’s like going to a McDonald’s in another state: you always know where the bathroom is.

After establishing that key point, I’m settling in with ease. The mountains are beautiful in a dry, menacing sort of way. There are several drinking holes, each with their favorite sort of tenant who are as much a part of the decor as the posters on the wall. Grand Turk all over again.

Tonight I’m having dinner with the kind folks who hosted Neal for the first few months while he settled in. They are letting me borrow a car, which is a godsend. It won’t take me to the nearest town 26 miles away, but it’ll get me around Ocotillo. That’s really all I need anyway. Grand Turk people (Ocotillo) don’t go to Provo (nearest civilized town). I’m Grand Turk people at heart and I don’t get to visit these places often. I plan on sitting tight and enjoying it while I’m here. But a car is necessary (or bike, as was plan B). I’m on my own this weekend and the museum is 2 miles away. The nearest ‘grocery store’ is 2.5 miles. A real grocery store is in town (again, 26 miles away), but the Texaco station is supposed to have a convenience mart of sorts where I can get taco fixings. Not exactly fresh Dominican mangos right off the boat, but haven’t I been saying that what I missed most in Austrailia was black beans and chili powder? Anyway, it’s that or pub fare. I here Rose’s burritos at the Lazy Lizard are the best in town, but I don’t fancy eating them every night… hm, actually I should wait till I try them to say for certain.

On the Road Again

Back in the airport.

This is the fun part (well, aside from security checks and all): the anticipation of what lies ahead. Starting something new, something that will have value, propel you forward. Yes, it’s definitely another step forward.

My serivices have been called in again by Dr. Hitch, who some of you may know directed the museum in the Turks and Caicos when I worked there last year. He’s since moved on to a museum in the desert of southern California. It’s still in the start up stages, so this is museum work as you rarely see: starting a new museum. I’ll learn more in the next few days (or hours if Dr. Hitch has his way, he sets a fast pace, but no worries on my ability to keep up!)

My role will be supervising the efforts of a grant writing seminar for the next 6 weeks, with the goal of submitting 9 before I leave. I’ll be brushing up on the first 2 that we definitely want to apply for on the plane. Today is a work day.

An Old City in a New Light

Grand Central and Empire StateA friend from Australia happened to be on holiday in NYC just as I’ve returned to the area. I think she saw the city the right way: ignoring the tourist traps and catching some of the local flavor. But I still wanted to make sure she saw some of Midtown Manhattan.


We compromised on the day I accompanied them around the City. I visited the Brooklyn Museum of Contemporary African Diaspora Art (showing a moving exhibit of Aboriginal Art by a Victorian artist) and she had dinner at Le Bonne Soup, a long time family favorite. MoCADA posterHard to tell who got the good end of that deal. The exhibit, while very small, was intimate and moving. The most prominent installation was a video of people of Aboriginal decent repeating “I forgive you”. This made me very uncomfortable as I thought they were talking to me as the ‘white man’. My friend felt like they were talking to her, essentially forgiving her for not looking more Aboriginal. Heavy stuff.


Before we met up in Brooklyn, I hopped off the train to check out the Occupy Movement. There wasn’t much going on at Wall Street, as the action has been moved to Zucotti square, but there are a dedicated few still carrying on. My friend and I went to visit the square on our way up town. Our hearts are with you, Occupy, even if we aren’t brave enough to live in a tent.Occupy tents



It occurs to me, long after the thing is done, that my blog is missing a lot of the good stuff. I did this in the TCI too. Shame really, the stories in my head are so much richer than the ones on the net.

On the flight home I’m reading The Geography of Bliss by NPR correspondent Eric Wiener (another book written by a journalist – my new favorite genre.) The gist is that lucky Eric gets to investigate the happy places of the world. Though, to be fair, he also visits Moldova, supposedly the least happy country on earth. It does sound rather depressing. Not rather – it sounds exactly like a destitute, troubled, and forgotten former Soviet republic. But the rest is pretty focused on happiness; what it means, how to quantify it, and why ping pong balls are necessary to Bangkok’s happiness factor.

One part in particular spoke to me: something called “cultural fit”. Some people have profound moments, Eric explains, where they realize they would be happier in places other than where they are born (he doesn’t mention it, but I notice all the stories he cites are from Westerners). In the journalist world, these folks are referred to as having “gone native”. (p. 179)

Interesting aside: An American, on hearing that 90% of Bhutanese who study abroad return to Bhutan even though they have “seen what they are missing” (enjoy a more Westernized life, as it were) commented: “Now, why would they do a thing like that?” (p. 90) For an American ex-pat living in one of the happiest countries on earth, that seems like a sad statement – the poor dear is clearly missing out on all that happy.

My point is, I realized I’ve never documented some of my proudest “fit” moments in Australia. When I got my Victorian driver’s license, for instance, I felt like I’d officially arrived.

More instances: My computer’s power cord needs a converter… in the US. I don’t watch sports but I love watching Aussie footy. Heck, I don’t gamble, but I put money down on that last game. Every encounter with a New Jersey driver has me desperately wishing to just get back “home” – a term I now use interchangeably for separate continents, but in this case refers to a place where road safety is a national priority and completely manageable because there are only 2.2 million people to monitor.

Someone had told me in the TCI they thought I’d gone native, so maybe it’s just the “when in Rome” mentality, but ever since I saw that rhinoceros beetle in Cairns 3 years ago, my fascination for Australia has grown.

AND I could go on and on about my fundamentally non-western view of the land. I don’t know any indigenous people in the US … not anyone close to their roots, anyway… but that’s the majority of who I know in Australia. It skews my view in very interesting ways that I should have dissected in a blog long ago. One of the first things I knew about Melbourne is where the sacred sites stand.

I hold little love for Sydney and as I flew in today I caught myself rather viciously thinking that it was a town of unappreciative (and anti-Melbourne) folk who don’t deserve to inhabit the beautiful patch of land they were lucky enough to take over. I thought a similar thing flying into LA. Imagine those majestic hills without the straight, non-native tree lined suburbia cutting across it. How often do we think of the “before” of our native lands? Before us.

But I digress (is there really a point here anyway?). All I wanted to point out is that I’m not done with this country. At the hot springs the other day we met a group of hostel jumpers listing off their incredibly interesting and ambitious travel plans. How jealous was I?! Their Aussie time was just beginning, and mine was nearly done. There were so many things I hadn’t done yet. The young travelers commiserated, having only been 2 weeks in the country and still awed by Aussie awesomeness (still a paradise).

“Don’t worry,” I told them, “I’ll be back.”

They seemed surprised. Maybe they’d agree with Eric who pointed out, “Our time abroad is supposed to be a fling. Nothing more.” (p.178)

But sometimes, a place just fits.