Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Contest Winner! A Cute Desert Tortoise; Not So Cute Rattlesnakes and Scorpions; Soaring! Boating! Saguaros; Up Close and Personal


I am pleased to announce the winner of last week's "Vote on Ty's Hat" contest. Valerie Molle of Salt Lake City was selected from the hundreds of ballots I received. Valerie voted for my old, dusty, Foreign Legion camouflage hat with the cool neck flap, which only a select few actually preferred over the Indiana Jones hat which My Lovely Bride bought for me. (Now, whenever we hike together, I wear the new model, in deference to MLB's desires...) Valerie will receive this very cool looking stuffed desert tortoise (Gopherus agassizii). These tortoises are very hard to find in the wild, because they rarely emerge from their burrows, except during the summer monsoon season (July-September). But they are long-lived (50-80 years) and survive on grasses, herbs and some varieties of cacti.






We are now staying in Cave Creek Regional Park, north of Scottsdale, AZ, and the daily temps are running 93-100F, requiring that we get out to hike very early. Rudy and Gretchen, our two Dachshunds, get us up at 0530, and after Suzanne's meditation and a quick breakfast, we're hiking by 0715. Other early risers are out on the trail as well - other hikers, mountain bikers and local residents, like this speckled rattlesnake (Crotalus mitchellii pyrrhus) that I encountered in the middle of my hiking trail while MLB was back in Florida. This species is very adaptive to its locale, and five different populations in the Phoeniz area have totally different colorations, depending on the color or rocks in which they reside. This two foot long critter was almost pink, but others are white, brown or even lavender-tinted. Evolution is amazing...



At the end of that hike, I stopped in a restroom to wash my hands, and as I reached down into the sink to rinse them, my eyes caught movement... this striped bark scorpion (Centruroides sculpturatus), the most venomous of American scorpions. The bubbles around him (her) are from the soap on my hands... I picked up a coffee cup out of the trash and relocated this little guy outside. 










I then stopped at the visitor center to let the rangers know about the scorpion, because their stings can be fatal to children, older adults or those with medical problems. (Fortunately, I don't fall into any of those categories.) Mark, the resident ranger and wildlife expert, gave me all the scoop on local snakes, scorpions, Gila monsters, tortoises, deer, coyotes, etc. Mark has been stung 7 or 8 times by scorpions, and fortunately, the worst effects were intense pain and sore arm muscles for 48 hours. 










He also showed me another local resident, a giant hairy desert scorpion (Hadrurus arizonensis), a much less aggressive variety than the bark scorpion. I couldn't believe he was picking it up in his hand, but he assured me that it was safe. Relatively speaking. 













After surviving encounters with slithery critters, Suzanne and I were very fortunate to be able to go soaring (separately) with John Weber, who is an expert pilot of sailplanes and powered aircraft (he has 5 or 6 planes). John has been flying gliders (sailplanes) since he was 15 years old, and put his carbon fiber craft through its paces, taking advantage of thermals to rise from 1,000 feet to 12,000 feet. Here John and Suzanne are about to take off. This model has a retractable propeller that allows the pilot to take off without a tow plane. (The propeller is known to other glider pilots as "the mast of shame" and is retracted shortly after take-off.  If all goes well, it is not used any more except in an emergency, even not to land.) See Suzanne's video at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fZSa5nwX3dw for a great summary of the flight. It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience for both of us. We were amazed by John's ability to find thermals (updrafts) that lifted the sailplane up and up - you can hear the variometer beeping in the background - it's a device that lets the pilot know when he's climbing (higher pitch) or falling (lower pitch). Thank you, John, for an incredible experience!!!









While Suzanne was back in Florida visiting her mom, I got to go on a ski boat ride with Elizabeth and Cyril Boisson and several friends. All of us had lost a child, but as members of Helping Parents Heal, we all know that our kids are always with us - as they must have been on this special day zooming around Bartlett Reservoir. (I did catch some grief from MLB for hanging out with four beautiful bikini-clad ladies while she was out of area...)












Suzanne returned from Florida and we continued our daily hikes; here she is in the early morning's light at Gunsight Pass on the Go John Trail. (The name comes from the similarity of this rock formation with the iron sights on a Model 94 Winchester.)  After viewing my photos of the boat trip, she said she thought of wearing her bikini for the hike, but prudence prevailed.















Another desert hike took us to Spur Cross Regional Park, where last year we participated in a bench dedication ceremony for Morgan Boisson and Kyle Erickson, two young men who have passed to the other side. We are now friends with their parents, and wanted to spend a few minutes in the special serenity at the top of Mariposa Hill. 












While at Spur Cross Park, we found this incredible saguaro cactus (Carnegiea gigantea), with more twisted arms than an octopus...






















We have enjoyed special friendships here in the Phoenix area - this dinner was at Elizabeth and Cyril Boisson's beautiful home in Cave Creek with its amazing art collection - along with Lynn and Jeff Hollahan and Debra Henson. Suzanne's wonderful assistant Bev was to have flown out to Phoenix for Suzanne's event in Scottsdale the next day laden with supplies like folders and nametags, but she was sidelined by a nasty case of pneumonia.  So, in addition to dinner, we had a "folder-stuffing party" after dessert. Suzanne's marketing assistant, Brenda Baker, was also seriously ill and in the hospital during this period. Fortunately, both Brenda and Bev are recovering after their ordeals.




The big event was titled "Up Close and Personal with Susanne and Suzanne". Susanne Wilson is a medium here in Arizona, whom Suzanne met at the bench ceremony discussed earlier. They hit it off, and over the past year developed a program first presented here in Scottsdale, where it was enthusiastically received by over 100 attendees. Susanne and Suzanne will be holding another workshop at the Hacienda Center in The Villages, Florida, in March, 2018 (details to follow). 





We enjoyed a great dinner with Susanne and her husband Carl, a former Marine who has run several successful businesses and enjoyed sailing in the San Francisco Bay area. We got along very well with this great couple and look forward to their visiting us in Florida.















Speaking of wine... were we? Well, anyway, I would like to acknowledge the fine bottle of Ed's Red from Texas that Ed Reaves presented me back in Kerrville. Who knew that Texas produced good red wines? It went very nicely with Suzanne's pasta. Thanks, Ed (Oh, Ed Reaves didn't actually produce it himself, although I think he may occasionally take credit for it.) Look out, Napa...













Finally, a couple of comments about a sister service from two retired naval officers. We were going through the gate at Davis-Monthan AFB, and the gate guard , a young Air Force guy, checked our ID cards, saluted, and then said something that we had never heard from a tough security force person... normally, a Marine gate guard will say, "Ooh-rah, sir!" A Navy seaman will say "Go Navy, sir!" A soldier will say, "Hooah, sir!" This young Air Force guy said, "Fine and dandy, sir!" "Fine and dandy???" 


That interaction led me to recall this photo...  "Just sayin'..."










Thursday, May 18, 2017

Mr T's Handiwork; Albuquerque; Sandia Mountains; Snow! Tucson; A Hat Contest


At the risk of dating myself, does anyone remember Mr. T from the 80's? The reason I ask is not as a result of losing a trivia contest (actually, I was either at sea or stationed overseas then), but rather a recent experience getting my hair cut. At an undisclosed location (unnamed for my personal protection), I walked in to a military barber shop, saw 7 men waiting, and turned to get a number from the little red machine. Before I could draw my number, a deep bass voice announced, "Sir, there's no wait. Sit down in this chair right here!" Startled, I looked up at a replica of Mr. T from The A Team - huge, Mohawk and wearing solid gold bling jewelry. 








Confused, I looked at the other customers, all of whom were suddenly intently studying their magazines or iPhones- except one young airman, who looked at me with a smirking "You are doomed, Bud!" expression. I said, "But what about all these guys?" "Never mind them, they're all wusses!" (It's hell being an out-of-towner...) I sat in the chair, and Mr. T's twin asked how I wanted my hair cut. "Medium, not too short, tapered in back... and did I mention 'not too short'?" Well, about 2 minutes later, I was out of the chair with the shortest haircut I've gotten since OCS back in 1969. You know you're in trouble when all of a sudden you feel the wind on your bare scalp - and you're inside! My Lovely Bride looked at me in shock when I got back to the coach, but stifled her laughter out of courtesy. 




Tent Rocks (actually the Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument) between Santa Fe and Albuquerque is a stunningly beautiful area. The spires are reminiscent of the hoodoos of Bryce Canyon. We had a great hike there on a day when few people were around. Those cliffs and spires are from 500 to 1,000 feet high. Kasha-Katuwe means "white cliffs" in the native Keresan language of the pueblo here.













Here is My Lovely Bride in a narrow slot canyon holding up the side walls - can you imagine what this would look like in a flash flood??? Ooog-ley!!!







The young ranger told us that the trail was "moderate", but when we got near the top of the canyon, some rock scrambling was necessary... My Lovely Bride was somewhat less than impressed by the ranger's analysis of this trail, especially since this was supposed to be a "recovery" day after a two-day workshop!  













Albuquerque was our next stop, where we caught up with Jim Pasch, a seriously metaphysical guy who also has a PhD in nuclear engineering. Jim had emailed us to offer to take me hiking, and we met up for a hike in the Sandia Mountains east of ABQ. This was my second hike in rough canyon terrain here, but worse because Jim was trying to kill me... at least, that was my conclusion when he kept finding boulders to scramble up instead of using a perfectly good trail about 50 feet away. Jim had suggested a 15 mile forced march up 4 or 5 thousand feet, but thankfully, Suzanne wanted to meet us for lunch, so it was only a 3 hour ordeal. (Actually it was a blast, even though I was concerned about breaking a leg or two.)





Jim also gave us a tour of his research facility at Kirtland - he is senior engineer working on a cutting edge Brayton cycle project to produce electricity more efficiently. I would have taken a photo of his equipment, but it was located in the nuclear area of the base, and I'd probably be locked up for a decade or three for taking photos, so I'll pass on that. I can post a photo of Jim presenting me with a beautiful turquoise and silver money clip, which he acquired in Madrid - that's pronounced Mad-rid, and is a quaint tourist town near ABQ. Thanks, Jim, for the gift and the hike. Suzanne and I are already looking forward to our next visit!








This terrain is typical of the Sandia Mountains - rugged and rocky. This photo was taken on the Domingo Baca Trail not far from where Jim and I hiked.

















This rock cabin, presumably occupied by one Domingo Baca in the distant past, was semi-hidden up the canyon near a small snow-fed stream that was shaded by conifers. It would be a delightful rustic getaway for a hermit, but lacks a few amenities - like a roof, a door, and plumbing...
















Before leaving Albuquerque, Suzanne and I got
 to hike on the east side of the mountains. We drove up to Sandia Crest (10,680 ft) and found a great hiking trail - which unfortunately was impassable because of dozens of downed trees (deadfalls). Here is MLB standing in a cold wind in a fleece jacket - it was in the low 50s up there where the wind was roaring over the crest of Sandia Peak. 










We dropped a few hundred feet in elevation to the 10K Trail, which was much warmer and more easily navigated... well, except for a few snowy areas that required some post-holing. That's the term for when you sink up to your crotch in soft snow. At least the weather was warm enough to go without jackets, once you got off the windy crest. Also, I was very proud of Suzanne, who is doing very well at altitudes which previously caused her severe shortness of breath and fatigue. (See www.SuzanneGiesemann.com/videos/ for her "secret".)








We were staying at the Kirtland AFB Family Campground, which had no grass for the puppies to enjoy, only rocks, sand and dirt. So we would drive to the parade field every evening at sunset to let Rudy and Gretchen run through real grass for a change. Sunsets here in New Mexico (and throughout the Southwest) are often impressive, and this one was no exception.












We did get out one day mountain biking on some challenging trails in the Elena Gallegos Recreation Area near the Sandia Tramway. Here is MLB charging up a hill, less winded than I at that point...












Much of the trail was rocky, and most of the narrow turns had strategically-placed cactus to keep you alert. (Fortunately we survived without any cyclist-to-cactus impacts.)














Tucson was our next stop, where Suzanne worked with Dr. Gary Schwartz and his lovely wife Rhonda on research with the spirit world for the development of  the Soul Phone. Of course, I got out for a couple of hikes - the first, solo, was the scenic Bear Canyon/7 Falls trail, which took me up (where else?) Bear Canyon, a rocky, strenuous hike that brought me to seven dry cascades, but with several pools which still held water. (The teeny black thing at lower left that looks like an ant is actually another hiker.)













On our second day in Tucson, Suzanne and I hiked the Telephone Line Trail, on a much warmer day than my previous day's hike. I felt pretty good, and after about ten minutes, realized I was getting ahead of Suzanne. Then she called out from about 25 yards astern, "Ty, come here for a second, please." The 30 pound piece of rock she placed in my hands to carry for the rest of the hike was just too big to put in my backpack, so I agreed to throttle back a bit... plus, I didn't want to sleep on the cold, hard ground that night...















We were pooped by the end, and no-see-ums were munching on My Lovely Bride. Seems that her Boy Scout husband had neglected to bring insect repellent... oh, gloom and sorrow. But I did get her to laugh when we stopped at the park bookstore. She hasn't liked my desert hiking hat very much, so she picked out a new one for me. I would like to prove to her that my taste in haberdashery is just fine, so I'm taking votes on hats A (the first two photos of my really cool camouflage Foreign Legion-style cap with the flap covering my neck) and B (the third photo of the stylish chapeau that MLB prefers). 









Please send your votes with a line or two of justification for choosing the hat you like most to TyGiesemann@gmail.com  The winning entry may get a camouflage hat like mine or something equally cool... like a stuffed ground squirrel...



Speaking of.... I tried getting one of the locals to vote on my hat, but he was very shy and taciturn...







Monday, May 8, 2017

Fort Sam; Wimberley and New Braunfels Events; Adios, Ya'll! Santa Fe; Snow! Ten Thousand Feet!!!


The 2017 Messages of Hope Tour continues west. After Houston, we moved on to San Antonio, spending a few days recharging at Fort Sam Houston. "Fort Sam" is a favorite of ours, mainly because of the atmosphere created by hundreds of young combat medic trainees, both Army and Navy. Yes, the Navy sends some hospital corpsmen here - those that are destined to serve with the US Marine Corps, particularly in front-line combat units (such as the infantry, affectionately known as "grunts"). Corpsmen (like chaplains) serving with Marines even wear Marine uniforms. Class units of 20-40 soldiers and sailors marched to and from classes and meals, and we happened to be riding our bikes around base during the Friday graduation ceremony. The roar provided by hundreds of loud "Hoo-ah" and "Ooh-rah" shouts was energizing. Earlier, we had passed a football field stacked with duffel bags and sea bags; then an hour later we passed that same field crowded with young men and women and their proud families, picking up their gear to start the trip to their first real duty assignment. For some it might be just down the road here in Texas at Fort Hood or Fort Bliss; others might be flying over to harder front-line combat tours in Afghanistan, Iraq or Somalia. In any case, all of these young soldiers and sailors are prepared to put their lives on the line for the rest of us Americans. So the next time you see a military person in uniform, please give them a thank you.


Another great activity here is riding the bike trail along the San Antonio River, which is part of a National Historical Park. There are eight missions along this beautiful, well-maintained trail. Our turn-around was at Mission San Juan Capistrano, founded in 1731 by Franciscan priests. Construction was completed in 1756, and the mission seems little changed from that era. 

  







Our next stop was an Air Force campground at Canyon Lake, north of San Antonio. The recreation area supports Lackland Air Force Base, about 50 miles away. The lake is beautiful, sparsely developed and ringed with hillsides covered with pines and cedars. Suzanne was doing in-person readings every day, so I got out to hike every day. I think I know the woods around Canyon Lake pretty well...










Suzanne's next Texas events were her Adventures in Consciousness presentation at Unity of Wimberley, which has a very friendly and active spiritual community. She also spoke at Unity of New Braunfels, where she gave her Transformative Power of Hope presentation. Here is Suzanne with Rev. Karen Tudor, Senior Minister at Unity of New Braunfels.















Onward to Kerrville, in the heart of Texas Hill Country. Suzanne's first event, the Transformative Power of Hope, was held at Unity Church of the Hill Country. Rev. Patty Edwards was our delightful host here. 

















Suzanne had been invited to Kerrville by Ed and Sylvia Reaves, two extraordinary folks who had attended several of Suzanne's events in the past. Ed and Sylvia made our visit thoroughly enjoyable. Suzanne presented her Serving Spirit mediumship class at the Inn of the Hills, and the attendees were some of the most enthusiastic yet. 












At Ed's recommendation, we went hiking at Enchanted Rock State Natural Area, near Freericksburg, Texas. This massive pink granite pluton batholith (dome) is from the Precambrian Era, and is about 1,082 million years old. Gee, that's even older than My Good friend Bob... Apache and Comanche Indians believed the mountain had spiritual and magical properties, partly because it creaked and groaned at night - modern geologists know that these noises are due to the rock's contracting at night after daytime warming. One historical note: in 1841 Captain John Hays single-handed from the summit fought off a band of Comanches trying to take his scalp, inflicting such heavy losses that the attackers fled. 








Our hike took us up to the summit, where we had a fabulous view of several counties. Then we descended to the Loop Trail, which strangely enough makes a big circle around Enchanted Rock. Who would have guessed? 














We made a brief stop for PT at Fort Stockton, where we met a real character, Rafael (Rafy) Aguirre, who was the maintenance supervisor at the city park where we went for a long walk. When Rafy found out where we were from, he said, "Oh, yes, Florida is a suburb of Texas!" We spent a few minutes laughing about Texas and Florida, and as we departed, Rafy called out, "Adios, Ya'll!" 














Santa Fe! Our next stop is one of our favorite places in the US. Friendly people, beautiful scenery and fabulous Southwest cuisine. We immediately went for a hike in the Sangre de Christo Mountains. Suzanne has always had a problem with altitudes over 8,000 feet, but the mountains called, and she had been doing some self-healing exercises. She's looking pretty good here at 9,440 feet, but can she go higher????










We met a charming young woman from Los Angeles, Sarah, who is a yoga and pilates instructor. She and Suzanne hit it off right away, and we hope to see Sarah at Suzanne's Serving Spirit class in Camarillo, CA, in July. 













Our next hike, the Big Tesuque Trail up to Aspen Vista in Hyde Memorial State Park, was a challenge. Here is our altimeter proving that she made it above 10,000 feet. Unfortunately, heavy snow from last week's storm blocked our path, so we didn't make the summit, but it was still a memorable hike.















As we finished that 6 miler, My Lovely Bride said, "Ty, I could do it all again right now!" "Suzanne, speak for yourself... I'm ready for a glass of Cabernet!"












Tuesday, April 18, 2017

New Orleans; Art Deco; City Park and the Carousel; San Jacinto; USS TEXAS (BB-35); Caught with a Paw in the Cookie Jar


New Orleans provides two opportunities each year on our tour: first, the chance to spend time with my family, and second, the annual foodfest that the Crescent City offers. This trip allowed us to combine these opportunities to sample favorites like gumbo, fried oysters, charbroiled oysters, shrimp and grits, and beignets... if you're drooling, then book a flight to NOLA. We enjoyed a delicious brunch at the renovated Old New Orleans Lakefront Airport on Lake Pontchartrain. The airport (then called Shushan") and terminal were built in the 30s in art deco style, and while Hurricane Katrina damaged the building as well as the rest of the city, it has been restored to its former glory. 






Murals by Xavier Gonzalez ring the second floor and recall the early days of commercial aviation. Of note, Amelia Earhart stopped at this airport on the way to California to begin her tragic around-the-world flight. 












City Park was a jewel when I was growing up, and remains a favorite for locals to spend weekends with family. The "lagoon" you see here from a gondola is ringed by live oaks and cypress trees, and provided a great place for a young kid to learn to canoe, fish and catch turtles...












My sister Karen was also anxious to ride the Carousel - Debbie rode with her on the flying horses. Carousel (merry-go-round) aficionados might appreciate that this ride built in 1906 contains 56 animals -  53 horses plus a lion, a giraffe and a camel, many of which were created in 1885. 30 of the horses are flyers, but there is no brass ring on this carousel. 











Our last night in Sin City found us at a movie, The Zookeeper's Wife, with my sister Lynn. Movie fans will notice one unique feature found in this picture of the movie lobby - a full bar, complete with beer, cocktails and daiquiris... only in New Orleans!












Thanks to Gayle Hancock, Colette Sasina, Barbara Miller, and Judson Emens for the replies on my request for floral help - the purple and gold flower in last week's blog was indeed the giant blue iris (Iris giganticaerulea), and is the Louisiana state wildflower. (Judson's strange sense of humor suggested that it might be the rare LSU Fighting Iris, not to be confused with the Notre Dame Fighting Iris found in South Bend, Indiana. (MOAN!!!)









From New Orleans, we headed west to Houston - normally a five hour drive, but one that took us ten and one half hours due to I-10 being closed for a semi-trailer fire. One five mile stretch took us four hours to navigate. Once in Houston, we spent an afternoon visiting two historical sites. The first was the San Jacinto Monument. To get there, we took a free ferry across the San Jacinto River. The monument is 567 feet high, 12 feet taller than the Washington Monument. 









History buffs will recall that the 1836 battle of San Jacinto followed the defeat and massacres of Texans at the Alamo and Goliad. Outnumbered and outgunned, the Texians met the Mexican army under General Santa Anna (self-described as "The Napoleon of the West") and in 18 minutes had routed the enemy. Santa Anna surrendered and agreed to evacuate all Mexican troops from what would become the new Republic of Texas.










The WWI/WWII battleship USS TEXAS (BB-35) was our second stop - she is moored just a half-mile from the monument. Having served aboard USS IOWA (BB-61), it was a thrill to visit TEXAS. What was amazing was that as soon as we stepped aboard, we caught the unmistakable scent of a Navy warship - a mix of hydraulic fluid, paint, electrical insulation, and maybe a whiff of gunpowder.











We had a personal tour of Turret 1 with Jim Moon, a volunteer docent, who gave us a lot of inside information about the ship and its weapons. Here Jim is at the breech of the right gun, describing the ramming sequence of the powder which propelled a 1,500 lb projectile 35,000 yards from the ship to its target.












Suzanne and I enjoyed walking around the lower decks and seeing how much ships have changed since Texas was built to the present day. This was a berthing area where sailors (all men) slept. Each man had a small locker nearby of about 4 cubic feet to hold everything he owned. Not much privacy here!












Finally, a word about our wonderful Rudy... normally he is a very well-behaved dog. He is never fed from the table, and hasn't eaten any people food, even a bite of cheese, since he developed a food allergy over a year ago. We never leave food out, but as the saying goes, "Hope springs eternal." Suzanne and I were going out to the grocery, so we told the pups that we would be back soon, and they both assumed their normal places in their beds for a nap. We closed the door of the coach and got into the car. I then realized that I had forgotten my sunglasses inside. I went back in to find our beloved Rudy on the top of the couch, about to step on the counter where we had just fixed lunch; he had a look of, "Oh, shucks... I've been caught!" I could almost hear Gretchen snickering from her bed...  Anyone who thinks dogs' faces aren't expressive has never seen a guilty look like this one on our Rudy.