Monday, April 27, 2009

Sunday, April 26, 2009

It's been a few days since my last entry, and a lot has happened! I'm sitting at a hookah bar / coffee house / art gallery right now watching Garrett grade papers for some advanced calculus class. Geez. I hate math.

Anyway, Thursday I ended up spending a large part of the day wandering around campus. I have my dates a little mixed up, but I was in the Physics and Optical Sciences building doing a lot of writing, reading and chatting with friends on AIM. U of A has a "Center for Creative Photography" on campus, which is really just a fancy word for their photography-specific art gallery. They did have a cool exhibit going on that was free and open to the public, so I walked around that for a couple of hours while waiting for Garrett to get off work. ---> The photographer whose work was displayed is Linda Connor, and it was a very cool exhibit. Check it out at the link listed above.

Thursday night Garrett and I went to this Salon that some of the hardcore science guys organized. It goes on every week during the school year and takes place at a pub on University Blvd. They get free appetizers and cheap drinks in a reserved room in the back. It was an intellectually stimulating discussion (I guess that's the whole point of a Salon, right?) and I really enjoyed myself.

The bike rides have been great. During the week we've been riding up to campus (it's about a 3-4 mile ride each way) and in the evenings after class and local activities, we ride back home. The weather here seems to be perfect most of the time, and I'm really starting to wish I'd bought a nice road bike a few years ago. Traffic in this city canbe pretty ridiculous, and they really like to randomly close major intersections. In most cases, riding a bike seems to be the thing to do.

Friday night the Physics guys typically meet up at a bar of their choosing for drinks and conversation (that's all anyone does here - drink and talk) and we went a little ways off campus to some crappy little bar with writing all over the walls (it reminded me a lot of Soundpony in Tulsa, but without the cool music). We all got pretty drunk, and after a few Guinesses and some hefeweizen that I'd never heard of, we were happily snapping pictures and shooting videos, listening to all of the stories about stupid things Garrett had done when he was drunk at parties (we'll leave the details out), having beer chugging contests (oh, how I missed those), and being somewhat loud and obnoxious. So wonderful. Garrett's friends are all super-fun, and I'm starting to feel like a part of the group after only the first week here. It's certainly going to be sad when I have to leave. :(

We've all had a bit too much to drink - everything is obviously hilarious---->

Yesterday (Saturday), Garrett and I began the day early and drove out to the Coronado National Forest / Mt. Lemmon. It was the coolest thing ever. So, you start at the base of the mountains on the Northern edge of Tucson, and just start driving up this winding road that goes on for about 30 or so miles to the summit at 9,157 ft. At the bottom of the mountain, you see all the cacti and desert vegetation.

The base of the mountain ---->

About a third of the way up that ends, and you begin to see more normal plants and trees. At the top, you have pines. This is, of course, the craziest thing ever. I mean, according to the little plaques that line the vista points on the way up, you end up seeing every type of vegetation that exists from the southern US to Canada on this one single drive up the mountain. I do believe that Tucson and the surrounding area is the only place in the US that has this variety of plants all in one location. Pretty sweet, huh? Anyway, we pulled off the road at a lot of points to take pictures and enjoy the views.

Windy Point ---->

The only time I remember doing something so similar was when my family went to Yosemite when I was 12, and that was over half my life ago. Geez - I really need to get out more. :) The best place we stopped on the way up was Windy Point, which certainly lived up to its name. We got out of the car and climbed around on a bunch of rocks. I'm pretty sure if there had been a place where I could have tumbled to my death, that would have been it. The rocks were pretty slippery, and that wind was a force not to be reckoned with. Once we had walked around there for a bit, we continued our drive to the summit, stopped in a small town called Summerhaven, and continued on another two miles to Ski Valley for lunch at this wonderful German restaurant called "The Iron Door." We had one of the more creative and attentive waiters I've had serve me in a long time, and somehow we ended up getting a free dessert. That was okay by me. (See picture for an example of the super-yummy food)

Yeah, this was awesome - turkey sandwich w/cranberry sauce and cream cheese---->

During the winter, there's obviously skiing at Ski Valley, so they have a small system of lifts that take you up to the top of Mt. Lemmon. We didn't ride the lifts, but we did drive up a short road to the very top where the lifts dropped people off, then proceeded to get out and walk around. We continued our hike to a small ranger station that sits on a ledge and overlooks the mountain range and the city below, and that's where the coolest part of my little tale takes place.

The view from the top of Mt. Lemmon (the trees were burned by a massive fire in 2003) ---->

Where the lifts end ---->

So, as we hiked up to the station, we saw two old guys standing around talking, and I asked them if we were allowed to take the stairs up to the station and look around and take pictures. It turns out that one of the men was the guy who lives there 5 months out of the year and watches for fires, helps stranded hikers, etc. His name is Glynn Thompson, and his official title is "conflagration detection specialist". He and his friend (who also had a great story, by the way) invited us inside and entertained us with stories of the fires he had seen, where he had traveled and worked, and even a few jokes for good measure. :) I made a comment to him that if I lived in a remote cabin 5 months out of the year, I'd probably be tempted to write a book. He then handed me a small card with his name and info on it that listed the details of a book he wrote. The book is entitled "The Raving Eunuch Monks" and Glynn was the recipient of the 2008 Schopenhauer International literary award for said book. It's on sale at Amazon. He has another book that's due to be printed in October of 2009. Whoa. Talk about a kick ass story. He invited us to drop by again if we were in the area, and I'm thinking we just might take him up on that offer. I'd like to bring a video camera up there and interview him...maybe write up a piece for a local indie paper? That would be fun.

Driving back down the mountain at sunset ---->

We're tired, but awfully happy ---->

After we drove down the mountain and got back home, we had a sushi dinner and went to the arcade. I got a chance to play DDR (that's Dance Dance Revolution for all you non-nerds out there) at a real arcade for the first time in years, and it was GREAT. I'm still pretty decent, just a little more out of shape than I'd like to admit. ;) we're to today (Sunday), and I'm sure you've had just about enough of my rambling for one evening. Today was a little less eventful than some of our other days, but still completely awesome. We went out to the Coronado National Wilderness (not to be confused with the aforementioned Coronado National Forest), and shot guns. Mmhmm, we just stood around firing guns all afternoon. We took some videos (which I'll attempt to edit and post either on here or on Facebook at some point), and it was freaking cool. Towards the end of our shooting party, Garrett pulled out the strongest bullets he had for his biggest gun, and cautioned me against firing it because it would kick pretty damn hard. I, of course, did not listen. It wasn't nearly as bad as I thought it would be, but was still apparently entertaining for all the men standing around to see little old me holding that big gun and screaming with joy after it went off and (didn't) hit the water bottle I was aiming for. Yep, I'm just that good.

I look at bit too happy, but I'm not quite sure why ---->

So....we went to Arby's for a late lunch, Garrett left his wallet there (and went back later to get it), we did some laundry, I met his landlords, we drove out to the coffee shop, and now we're back to where I began this post. Whew. Aren't you glad I waited 4 days to make this ridiculously long entry? :)

I hope everyone is well. Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

First off, HAPPY EARTH DAY! I'm so glad I'm spending time in such a beautiful place on this holiday. So on that note, let's recap yesterday and everything that's happened so far today. I'm sure you're dying to know. ;)

Yesterday was my first official full day in Tucson. In the morning Garrett and I woke up and drove to the top of Sentinel Peak for a great view of the city. The mountain is situated right by Garrett's house on the southern side of the city, and the road goes up one side of the mountain and wraps around in a loop. After that little drive, we went on another short excursion to a neighboring mountain. I should note that all of the mountains here in Tucson are covered in many different varieties of cacti, all of which are absolutely stunning (and a bit scary - ouch!). It's a real trip to be driving up the side of the mountain and seeing cacti where the trees should be. Garrett tells me that the Saguaro cactus is very rare and there are strict laws protecting it here in the state.

After we got done with the drive, we went back to his house and had some yummy roast beef and swiss sandwiches, chips and fruit, then set off with our swimsuits to Tanque Verde Falls for some light hiking and swimming. Really, the "Falls" part isn't completely accurate - Tucson doesn't get a lot of rain this time of year. The hike didn't take too long, and the place was completely deserted because of the time of day we ended up going. That was the best part by far - no noises except for a cool breeze and the sound of trickling water falling over the rocks. We found a nice swimming area where the water was clear (and f&^%ing freezing, I might add), and stayed there wading around for about an hour or so until more people showed up.

We left the area in mid-afternoon, and after all the sun exposure and hiking, we decided we'd just go back to the house to rest and relax a bit before going out and meeting some of his Physics friends for dinner.

The place we ate a was called 1702. It's a little pizza parlor close to downtown, and apparently Garrett and his friends have a regular Tuesday meetup there. I know I'm certainly looking forward to being there once a week while I'm here. :) The pizza was amazing - they give you a slice that costs about $8 and you literally need two hands to pick it up. Of course, they also put it on a tray and provide you with your own personal pizza slicer, so I don't think you're supposed to eat it with your hands... ;)

Oh, and the beer selection was superb. I'm thinking I should move to Tucson just for the beer. They had a great sign up on the wall for this one beer I'd never heard of called "Delirium Tremens" with a big pink elephant on it. Apparently, I was the only one that found that to be ironic and funny, since no one else at the table seemed to know what DT's were. I guess PhD Physics dudes don't know everything... ;) Does anyone remember the funky pink elephants from that one scene in "Dumbo"?

After dinner, Garrett and I went to the liquor store to purchase a couple bottles of the aforementioned beverage, went back to his place and sat out on the lawn in the backyard. It was so relaxing being able to wind down at the end of a long day with a cold beer in my hand, good company, and a lovely view of the lights of downtown Tucson in the distance.

Fast forward to this morning. If all my mornings here in Tucson could be like this one, I'd be happy to just stay here indefinitely. We woke up to a gorgeous clear blue sky, got dressed and ready for the day, got our things together and set off on our bikes to make the 3-mile trek to the college. On the way we stopped and had breakfast at a lovely little cafe, grabbed some maps and brochures at the Tucson visitor center, and then made our way around the art galleries of downtown to the main street of the U of A campus (which is totally awesome, by the way). Garrett took me around and showed me a couple of his labs and offices, the student union and the optics building (which is where I'm sitting now as I type). I'm sitting in a large patio area of sorts, with a great view of the main campus plaza complete with mountains in the background.

I didn't bring my D300 along with me yesterday or today, mostly because I'm going to be here for a month and I made a little promise to myself that I would try and spend the first few days focusing on things without having a big camera between myself and the scenery. That, and I'm making a mental note of all the cool locations that I want to photograph so that I can return with the express purpose of getting a well-composed shot (proper lighting, angles, blah blah blah). Luckily, Garrett has a nice littleCoolpix that he's been carrying around, and I always have my iPhone...

I miss my Tulsa friends, but I couldn't be happier right now. This trip is going to be so good for me, you have no idea. :)

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Well, I left Oklahoma about 3 weeks earlier than I had originally planned. I can't say I regret the decision. I'll have less money to live off of, but I think I'm going to get used to this whole frugality thing. :)

I arrived in Tucson yesterday night around 8:00 pm. The drive took a total of 2 days. The first leg of the trip lasted for about 9 hours: Tulsa to Roswell, NM. There wasn't really much to it, seeing as how Oklahoma is rather uneventful in its entirety and the Texas panhandle has nothing to offer except for the pungent odor of cow crap. Lovely. It was cool once I crossed into New Mexico. The highway from Portales to Roswell was quite dark and a little on the boring side, but I made it to town around midnight and found my host's house with little effort.

Jeff was an extremely friendly and accommodating host (he made me dinner and breakfast!), and I'm so glad I was able to get some decent sleep before hitting the road the next day to do the whole 9 hour thing all over again.

The next morning I got up pretty early and roamed around a small strip of downtown Roswell just long enough to see the UFO museum and to talk to one of the owners of the gift shop next door. Roswell is a pretty cool little town.

I left Roswell on highway 70, which was a nice combination of canyons and long stretches of grassy hills all the way to Las Cruces. I stopped in a few places to take pictures (of course) and had lunch along a wonderful section of highway that had a distant view of the white sands a little outside of Alamogordo.

The White Sands National Monument was amazing. It was miles and miles of snowy white Gypsum sand as far as I could see, bordered on the east by a grassy plain and on the west by mountains. I stopped for about 2 hours to hike around one of the dunes and drive into the heart of the park where the roads disappear and everything is covered in the fine white dust. It was surreal being there - the sand was cold just a few inches beneath the surface, there was barely a breeze, and there were no sounds except for the faint humming of a fly every now and then. Absolutely amazing. I highly recommend that anyone traveling in New Mexico take the time to stop and see it - you won't be disappointed.

After leaving the White Sands I stopped taking pictures for awhile. I felt like I needed a steep dose of caffeine and the road seemed endless once I left the scenery in New Mexico. I crossed into Arizona around 6:00 pm or so, and from there I only had a couple hours to go before arriving in Tucson. The road leading into the city had some pretty nice rest stops with beautiful rock formations, but I was distracted on the phone, and all I really wanted at that point was to get out of my car and get some good food in me. I found Garrett's house with a little help, and he and I had a lovely reunion after almost 3 years of not seeing one another. All in all, it was a full and satisfying day, and I'm glad I made it here alive and with minimal problems. More to come soon!

Monday, April 13, 2009

After not a lot of consideration, I've decided to submit my letter of resignation at my stifling, boring, makes-me-want-to-vomit-every-morning-when-I-wake-up job and leave Tulsa for the summer to drive to Oceanside, CA. The first part of my planned route is Tulsa ---> Tucson, AZ via Amarillo, TX and Roswell, NM. I plan to stop in Tucson for a week or so and visit an old college friend, take a side trip to the Grand Canyon, and do some major hiking, rock climbing, etc.

This whole "leave spontaneously for a cross-country trip" thing is quite uncharacteristic of me. I'm a planner. I'm responsible. I'm a realist. I'm trying to save up enough money to go to Europe in 4 months, and I have a non-refundable plane ticket for a flight that leaves Tulsa on August 6th. All I know is that recent events in my life led to a culmination of sorts, with the only visible next step being "get as far away as you can, and do it as soon as possible." So here I am counting down the days, hoping and praying that everything works out for the best.

If you feel so inclined, keep up with me on this blog. I'm going to do my very best to keep it updated, assuming that the desert heat doesn't claim the life of my beautiful Macbook (::crosses fingers::).