Tuesday, September 28, 2021

Flannel Weather


Dry leaves, cold wind, sprinkles of rain. Fall is here and it feels like it.

The season makes me pensive. Of course, I'm pensive most of the time anyway, so I guess it is a moody pensiveness.

Friday, September 24, 2021

Progress Check-up


I'm trying to decide if I'm practicing my personal philosophy of always trying to get better. Lately if feels like I'm really just trying to keep things going. This is especially true with my job. I may feel a little better next month after a couple of conferences where I will learn new skills.

Around the house I think I have made some progress. I own too much stuff, and the stuff I own isn't well organized. There are too many things sitting around taking up floor space: boxes, cheap bookshelves and stands, old computer equipment. I'm trying to focus on throwing out or recycling things that I won't really use, and storing things I will use off the ground and organized so that they are easier to get to. It's working so far. I've put up some new shelves and hoisted a kayak off the garage floor.

Next up: hooks to hang up my ladders. After that, buy new tall book shelves so I can empty the old short shelves and hopefully consolidate into less square surface area. I can give away or throw away the small, cheap bookshelves, some of which I've had since I was a child.

It's a process.

Thursday, September 23, 2021

Refinance Hell


Over the years I've owned two, well, two and a half houses now. As a consequence of fluctuating interest rates and progress against the principal, I've been through several rounds of refinancing. Every time it was to lower my mortgage payment and hopefully ensure, if not hasten, my retirement.

It's a huge pain in the neck, and for some reason seems more complicated than getting the original loan in the first place. Maybe that's a false impression, but it sure seems like things haven't gotten easier. I realize we may be factoring in some increased regulation that was created after the financial crisis of 2008, but part of the problem is the customer service.

Just by looking at the paperwork, I can see how much money the lending company probably makes. In my case, it is tens of thousands of dollars in interest alone, not to mention that we have a fractional reserve banking system, which means that they can loan money they don't have. But I still have to pay it all back, which puts us into mid six figures in my case. This is why banking is so profitable. Their ability to lend for a profit is somewhat of a privilege conferred by government.

You would think the finance company would at least be friendly and helpful, but instead they are terse and demanding, like they are doing me a favor. I realize I am borrowing money from them, but they are also making a lot of money off the deal, so they should at least be polite.

They need my business to make money. I could easily go to another finance company. Customer service 101.

Unfortunately they all act the same. If I go to another company the behavior will be similar. It's infuriating.

Tuesday, September 21, 2021

Cable TV Why?


Ah pixelation, right in the middle of every big play! Such quality!

The only reason I still have cable TV is to watch sports, and every time there is a big play, the image jumps and pixelates. This particularly happens on the cable-only channels. The signals from the broadcast networks are usually fine. Obviously this has to do with the complexity of the motion and the compression algorithm of the digital signal. When I watched analog cable back in the 90s, the images were technically lower resolution, yet easier to watch. You could actually see the action. What a disgrace.

Worse yet, in some cases I have been able to watch games glitch free on my laptop from the very same providers. I turned off the TV and went to the internet for the same coverage but a better image. But that is hit or miss. Sometimes I have been completely cut off from the internet video.

I know I need to cancel traditional cable and just to go internet, but that's a pain too because you have to get a bunch of different accounts with a bunch of different companies. And anyway the same thing sometimes also happens with internet video. Why is twenty-first century technology even stupider than it was back in the twentieth?

Monday, September 20, 2021

Lynx Lake Hiking and Paddling


Lynx Lake from the Northshore overlook. The Bradshaw Mountains are in the background.

I scouted out Lynx Lake a few years ago, shortly after I moved to Arizona. It's a small reservoir in the Bradshaw Mountains just outside Prescott, Arizona. The Bradshaws are the centerpiece of the Central Highlands of Arizona, an area of high mountains and valleys roughly in the middle of the state. The area is rich in history and features beautiful landscapes and a moderate climate.

Prescott was an early capital of Arizona and calls itself the "Mile High City," just like Denver, Colorado. Although the urban zoning in the area leaves something to be desired, the terrain is amazing. I enjoy Prescott and considered moving there when I was planning to head west almost a decade ago, but there were no jobs for my skillset. I can still enjoy it from Flagstaff because it is only about a 90 minute drive from my house. Now that I work from home full time, I suppose I could move there, but I don't think I want to be farther from the Grand Canyon.

The lake is located within Prescott National Forest and is over 6,000 feet above sea level. The surrounding peaks tower over 7000 feet and the slopes are covered with a combination of Ponderosa pine forest and ecotones (transition ecology) with some desert species. Even though it is near Flagstaff, somehow the forest has a slightly different look and feel, and I like it. I decided I wanted to paddle the lake in one of my kayaks several years ago but kept putting it off until last Sunday.

Glassy water in a cove on the south end of the lake. I saw plenty of waterfowl and schools of minnows swam beneath.

I ran late but still managed to arrive at the lake by 10 am. I floundered around and didn't find the boat ramp immediately but fortunately still beat most of the crowd and was able to get a parking spot at the South Shore access point. It is a fee area but the host accepted my America the Beautiful interagency pass (an annual pass for federal lands). I took my time and headed out onto an almost glassy lake. There were a lot of people fishing so I kept my distance to avoid user conflicts. There were fish jumping, riparian areas in every inlet, and waterfowl and birds of prey cruising over the lake.

The view northwards towards the dam and Prescott.

Most of the time I live in a neutral mood. I've been accused of being an unhappy person, and it is true I'm not persistently happy but I experience brief periods of joy, usually when I'm outdoors exploring, and this was such a morning. I felt exuberant!

A view of the Bradshaws from amidst the aquatic plants. You can see the waves kicked up as the day got windy.

I could feel I was out of shape for paddling, but still enjoyed the relatively easy circuit around the 53 acre lake and found myself wanting to continue exploring. I decided to hike the loop around the lake.

Found the lakeshore trail after a misfire. You can see some of the dense undergrowth in one of the tributary ravines, unusual for Arizona.

I made a navigational error at the beginning and took a dead-end trail up to the campground, but eventually found the Lake Shore Trail and hiked it in the clockwise direction. The first mile was crowded but eventually I crossed the dam and got onto the more wild eastern (river-right) shore. I enjoyed the transition from pine forest to chaparral in sunny, rocky areas. The views of the Bradshaws are better from that side of the lake. I saw a couple of turtles and a lizard.

Much of the trail is paved on the west side, but the eastern side is single track.

The view along the spillway. You can see there is quite a drop on the other side. I assume the lake must be quite deep in front of the dam.

Excellent views all along the trail!

Turtle. There were two but the smaller one fled.

I can't identify the species of this lizard.

A little feel of the desert on the eastern side of the lake.

The view upstream in the dry stream bed of Lynx Creek. People pan for gold in the creek.

The lake is gorgeous and the hike is easy and scenic. It was busy on the weekend so a weekday would be better. I recommend visiting if you are in the Prescott area.

The paddle:

The hike:

The hike:

Tuesday, September 14, 2021

Hiking Picture Canyon


Pictographs at center on that flat rock. These used to be difficult to find but they put up a sign along the trail.

A quick search indicates I haven't written about Picture Canyon yet. This is an oversight. It's one of the best places to visit, despite being near the sewage treatment plant and the mall. One of the benefits of being downstream of the sewage plant is that water flows through the canyon year round. It is one of very few places around Flagstaff that you can see flowing surface water. There is even a waterfall at the head of the canyon!

The waterfall in Picture Canyon. I probably have better photos of it but I guess this will suffice.

Picture Canyon lies in the streamed of the Rio de Flag where it flows through a volcanic slot canyon. The "pictures" are pictographs left by native Americans hundreds to thousands of years ago. There is a simple trail system that interlinks with the Arizona Trail.

I once toured Picture Canyon with a group led by a US Forest Service archeologist, who pointed out the pictographs. These are now well marked with interpretive signs and hand made trails. He said that archeologists don't really know what the signs mean. This is interesting because local native Americans tend to say that they know exactly what they mean. For instance, native Americans say wavy lines indicate water. A spiral is said to refer to migration. I watched a full length lecture on the matter and I think the archeologists and historians are just being cautious. There are examples where traditional beliefs about past events have proven false so they are saying they can't be certain about it.

A view along the slot canyon back towards the waterfall. Sorry about the photo being washed out, it was midday and I'm not a real photographer.

There are another set of pictographs further downstream below the slot canyon. But once I'd seen all the pictographs, the riparian nature of the canyon became more interesting for me. Since water flows all year round, the bottom of the canyon is green and features relatively high biodiversity (for the Southwest region). I often see waterfowl as well as many other birds, dragonflies, deer, and even aquatic life. I've seen minnows at Picture Canyon before, but on my most recent trip I saw large crayfish (crawdads). I grew up with these back east but it's the first time I've seen them in Arizona.

Crawfish and minnows in the Rio de Flag! The one in the photo is about 6 inches long.

We had an excellent monsoon season this year, especially in July, and you can see evidence of higher flows by the cane being knocked down.

The hike is fairly easy, although many who come to Picture Canyon are tourists from lower altitude, and in that case I would say it is a little more difficult than it looks. From the parking lot, the trails start off flat but eventually transition into rolling terrain, whichever path you take. The trails tend to be sandy with a few rocks. The vegetation is in the transition zone from the pine forest of the Coconino Plateau to pinyon-juniper forest, and there are even a few desert species. Since Picture Canyon is in the river bottom and is downstream of Flagstaff, it is usually relatively warm compared to other parts of town, and is occasionally uncomfortably hot during the summer. It's a true microclimate.

A view of the terrain surrounding Picture Canyon. The hill in the background is an extinct cinder cone volcano. The valley between is the flood plain of the Rio de Flag. This photo also shows the transitional nature of the forest, with ponderosa pine, pinyon-juniper, meadow, and even some desert species on the sunny hillside.

Picture Canyon is one of my favorite places to hike around Flagstaff, and it's free. Recommend!

Monday, September 13, 2021

Skittles Unicorn


Lime is my favorite! Although now that I finally got an entire pack of lime, I realize it would have been better as a lemon-lime pack. They complement each other so well . . .



By IMP Awards, Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=51683157

I finally got around to watching the Christopher Nolan film Dunkirk. It's visually stunning, and I suspect captures much of the feeling of the events of that World War II battle. I think it particularly portrays the fear and dread among the Allies after the Nazi victories of 1940. The air battles are spectacular, and I suspect realistic. Otherwise, I found a few flaws in the movie.

The dialog contains too many cliches, and there is a near total absence of leadership among the rank and file, which I imagine to be historically false, even under the desperate conditions of the Dunkirk evacuation. I usually dislike singling out individuals for criticism on the internet, because I imagine they might read it and be hurt. But in this case I have to criticize the casting of James D'Arcy as Colonel Winnett. He possesses none of the military bearing that I associate with military officers, especially not a colonel. British officers are sometimes colorful but D'Arcy came across as weak and emotional. I've never seen a British officer like D'Arcy's Winnett. Kenneth Branagh is ok as Commander Bolton, though some of the dialog was not equal to his substantial talent.

On the whole, the movie is spectacular, and I recommend it. I especially think it is valuable for American viewers, because it explains the historical British interpretation of Dunkirk as a success rather than a defeat. In the United States, the Dunkirk operation is usually perceived as a humiliation of the British military. This is a bad take, born of nationalism. Germany forced Britain to evacuate mainland Europe, but this was probably more the fault of the French army than the British. The French simply moved too slowly to respond to changing conditions on the front. In Britain, it is perceived as the moment that Britain turned a corner against the Nazis and began planning the counter-assault, even before the Soviet Union and United States entered the war. In my opinion, this is a more truthful interpretation.

Dunkirk is a visually splendid history lesson. It has a few minor flaws but is still worth seeing.

Sunday, September 12, 2021

Salsa Brava


Chicken Dorado Street Tacos with the salsa caddy in the background.

Salsa Brava is a popular Mexican restaurant in Flagstaff. It's somewhat "famous" from having been featured on Guy Fieri's Food Network show Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives. I make my own judgments about such things but it is a well-known establishment. I've only been there a few times and not recently but decided to revisit this weekend since I was in the mood for chicken tacos.

I think the best thing about the restaurant is the salsa caddy they deliver when you arrive. If I remember right, before the COVID-19 pandemic, there was a salsa bar, but this is still pretty good. There are enough chips for up to a group of four and the salsas are interesting. They deliver three levels of heat but also vary in ingredients. The mildest is a pico de gallo which appears to be made with chopped tomato, onion, cilantro, and a small amount of mild green chili. I couldn't taste citrus so I'm unsure if that is included in their pico though it is normally included. The medium salsa is a pureed tomato salsa with green chili and bits of chopped cilantro in it similar to the standard in American-Mexican restaurants. The hottest is a pineapple habanero which is sweet with a burning heat just enough to raise a mild sweat on your face. It wasn't the hottest salsa I've eaten but it was respectable and the flavor was unique compared to other local eateries.

I ordered the Chicken Dorado street tacos for an entree. The "dorado" part refers to the grilled corn tortilla (dorado = golden). The chicken is pulled and the taco came with lettuce and shredded white cheese. These were satisfactory for chicken tacos but I won't say they are the best in town. They were good.

Side dishes were refried pinto beans and Mexican rice. The beans were delicious and the rice was fine, although their menu says corn rice and I didn't see any corn in it.

The service was messed up, and my server did not attend my drink and then assigned food orders to me from the table next to me. This caused my bill to be almost three times what it should have been. I suspected a problem since the (different) server tried to deliver the food to me after I had already eaten. I insisted on an itemized bill and she realized her error, but even if she made a mistake, I think the other server should have reported the issue to her. Restaurant service 101. I still tipped adequately because I sympathize with food industry workers but that's a down check against the restaurant and perhaps the management. Maybe she was new?

My verdict: Salsa Brava has fairly good food, but is perhaps a little overrated since it was on the Food Network. On this particular occasion, the service was a wreck. This is why I usually go to other places in town.

Wednesday, September 8, 2021

Walker Lake - Cinder Cone Hikes Infinity


Walker Lake. As an Arizona lake, it is really more of a pond. You can see the bowl shape of the crater of an ancient volcano.

Flagstaff sits roughly in the middle of the San Francisco Peaks volcanic field. As a consequence, most of the mountains around here, excepting the mesas and the buttes along the Mogollon Rim, are volcanoes. Many of these can be hiked.

Some of these are beautiful, others are ugly, but even the ugly volcanoes usually have beautiful views if you are looking to the distance.

Humphreys Peak from the rim of Walker Lake. Humphreys is the highest mountain in Arizona.

Walker Lake is such a place. The "lake" is by Arizona definition: a pond standing in the middle of an extinct cinder cone volcano. The trail isn't an official, marked trail, but apparently is known to enough locals that there is a beaten path around the rim of the crater. That said, it's difficult to find the trailhead. It's off FS 418 and then another side turn in the midst of yet another spider's web of fire roads, both marked an unmarked. If the hike had not been led by someone from the local hiking club, I don't know that I ever would have found it.

Volcanic mountains and prairie from the rim of the Walker Lake cinder cone.

The views from the rim of the crater are spectacular, both into the crater and outward toward the surrounding terrain. With the rainy monsoon season, there was water in the lake and plenty of wildflowers. Views went far into the distance. You could see Humphreys Peak in the near distance, many other cinder cone and lava dome volcanoes, open prairie, and the Kaibab Plateau in the distance. It's a lovely hike.

Lake level view from within the crater.

You can also hike down into the crater, but the trails are not easy to identify. Based upon a large number of elk tracks, I would say they are really game traces. We saw a couple of small snakes in the grass, none with rattles.

Unfortunately I had difficulty with my Garmin watch, so I didn't capture the track. This has happened before a few times, much more than when I was simply running Strava on a cell phone. Very frustrating. The watch has excellent battery life, which is why I bought it. It also has a huge feature set, which contributes to the complexity. The user interface design is also somewhat stupid, in my opinion. For instance, pushing the button to start recording a new track often results in informational messages popping up, letting you know what recent software packages were installed. Sometimes you have to advance through several such messages to actually get it to start recording. As far as user interface design, that's pretty stupid. There might be a way to disable it but I've been too frustrated with it to take the time.

Forget the watch. Go for the hike. It's short but excellent.

Tuesday, September 7, 2021

Lost On Observatory Mesa


This is a photo from shortly before I got lost. It's supposed to have the Naval Observatory in it but the resolution isn't good enough in this photo.

I decided to take Labor Day off and bicycle up on Observatory Mesa. This is the area of land above Mars Hill and behind the Lowell Observatory, where the dwarf planet Pluto was discovered. It's a gigantic area of pine forest, meadows, and open prairie, threaded through with fire roads.

I started on urban trail that starts by the city work yard on Route 66 West and then climbed one of my favorite bicycling hills on the Railroad Springs Trail. It features good scenery and isn't too difficult, although I was definitely slow, carrying extra water, spare inner tube, bike tool, pump, and a new medical kit. I was prepared to explore.

I kept my pace moderate so I could extend the mileage. My fitness slipped a little recently due to travel and an ankle issue, but I still wanted to get in a long ride and explore some new ground beneath completely blue skies.

I forgot to close the valve on my back tire and had to stop to inflate. Often I don't even bring a pump when I'm riding from my house, but something told me I should bring on this particular ride. Good thing I did, or I would have had to turn back early.

The urban trail eventually intersects with A1 Mountain Road (FS 515). It is possible to drop onto single track in the area, but that emerges into a suburban neighborhood along the Highway 180 corridor, so I turned left and followed the road. This cruises through pine forest for about 3 miles and passes a couple of tanks, brimming with water after the very wet monsoon season. The grass was green, and there are even still deep puddles in the road.

Sweeping views from the large prairie on A1 Mountain Road! There is an optical illusion here that the prairie leads up to the base of the peaks but Fort Valley must lie in between.

After a while, the road climbs a little and emerges into an expansive prairie with views of Humphreys Peak and A1 Mountain. It's one of my favorite places around Flagstaff.

After I gained confidence in the tire, I decided to explore some, but I changed my route, thinking it would be easier and safer to turn south off A1 Mountain Road, rather than north. This was incorrect, as I was lost within about 20 minutes or so. The unmarked road I took headed along the south rim of the mesa, but soon turned back into the forest. I made right turns thinking this would direct me towards the main road eventually, but instead, it headed me off onto a "peninsula" of the mesa. This wasn't clear to me at the time and I only figured out what happened when I got back home and had a chance to look at the GPS track on a large map.

I rode the unmarked double track back into the forest, at one point thinking I was headed north when I was actually headed south. I figured this out when the road ended along a canyon. I started back tracking but couldn't remember exactly which branch of roads I had come down. I finally had to take a few minutes to use the Strava maps in my phone to figure out a route back to the main road. I'd had plenty of water with me but no food and I admit to feeling a little dread for a while.

After I got back to the road and verified with the digital map I started to feel better, and it's a net downhill back to my house for several miles from there. I ended up doing about the mileage I wanted, over 15 miles, and I learned a thing or two about the topography of the mesa. I've had an obsession with maps since I was a small child, but I still find I can't necessarily navigate that well until I've been over the ground in person.

Once you get up there, it becomes clear just how large a piece of ground it is. It must be several square miles. It isn't great to be lost, but after reviewing the maps, I think it's unlikely I would have been lost forever, the area being bounded by interstate highway and neighborhoods in three directions, but it still wasn't a good feeling to not know my way for 20 minutes or so.

It's a beautiful place, and I now feel like I understand the character of the "front" of the mesa and look forward to exploring the more northerly areas in the future. For the immediate future though, I have other things on my agenda. It might have to wait until next year.

I think my next idea for Observatory Mesa is to hike up the Tunnel Springs drainage from my house. I think it will be a good 6 mile round trip. There is no official trail but I've seen other people doing it and curiosity beckons. I'd like to do that before winter.

Friday, September 3, 2021

The Jet Noise Controversy Carousel


Natural Law: at least once a year there must be a local controversy of people complaining about being "in the flight path" of the local airport. 

I'm never going to understand people who move to a city with commercial air service then complain about hearing jets. You will hear jets anywhere within 10 miles of an airport that has jets. This encompasses cities of almost any size. Larger cities tend to have multiple airports and airports with several runways.Your options are to live in the city and enjoy the conveniences, or live far out in the country.

Pick one.

Thursday, September 2, 2021

Three Seasons In One Month


The San Juan Mountains in Colorado, September 2017. The leaves had already started changing.

Generally I like autumn. I like the crisp air, the changing leaves, the harvest imagery, and the general aesthetic. You can go hiking or bicycling without sweating to death. I like Thanksgiving. It's the most positive holiday on the calendar, in my opinion. What could be better than taking an entire day for gratitude?

But I'm not a fan of the short days. I like to have time to do things outdoors after work, and that time evaporates in the fall, and it doesn't come back until late February. The prolonged darkness depresses me. And autumn leads to winter, my worst season.

It's September, a short and changeable month. We sometimes get snow here in September, and I wouldn't doubt some has already fallen on the high peaks at night over the last few days, we just couldn't see it by day. The month starts with summery weather, but by the 30th, we've often experienced the weather of three seasons.