August 3, 2008 – Envirothon Part 3: Competetion and Wrap-Up

The competition was extremely strict and regulated.  The first day was a training day.  They took all 57 teams (representing different states and provinces) to an undisclosed location, which was the Flagstaff Arboretum.  There were 5 stations, for each of the categories.  Wildlife, Forestry, Aquatic Ecology, Soils and Land Use, and Current Issue (which was the Recreational Impact on Natural Resources).

There were official people at each station with little headsets that regulated exactly when it started and when it stopped.  Once it was over, the speaker was cut off, so everyone would get the same amount of time.  We also had official notebooks and couldn’t bring anything but water and the “Learning Logs.”

The next day was testing.  They took us to another undisclosed location, Catarac Lake, and tested us over the 5 stations.  Then, Thursday was the trip to the Grand Canyon.  Friday we had training for our oral presentation in the morning, then we were sequestered in a room with only the 5 team members for 8 hours.  There were people that were essentially prison guards, to escort us to the bathroom and drinking fountain.  Everyone was given the exact same supplies.  At one point, our scissors broke, and it took 2 hours for them to check the scissor’s policy and get back to us with a new pair.

The next day was the oral presentation.  It was a 20 minute speech about a recreational and restoration plan for a park in Arizona.  Our group, being musical, incorporated Beatles music in both the introduction and conclusion.

This is a team photo on the last night, at the awards banquet and dance.  Our team gets along, most of the time, but we can get on each other’s nerves, as we did at the competition.  By the end of the week, we had decided that we had enough team bonding for a while!

Here are Iowa, Illinois, and Idaho, the “I states.”  Indiana was not included in this.  Over the course of the week, these 3 “I” teams became pretty close.  Whenever we saw each other we’d yell whatever state they were, or “I power!” or something to that effect.  We also had our “I” state symbol- holding up the pinky.  So when Idaho got 10th place, all of the “I” states were going crazy, and holding up our little “I” signs, as did Idaho on stage.

Many of the state champion schools were special charter schools, or special science and technology magnet schools, or college prep schools.  We were just a normal public school – we weren’t expecting to do extremely well, but we finished 21st out of 57.  We were very happy with those results.  We did our best, and could not have expected any more.

It was an amazing experience to find about 250 other “environerds” like ourselves, very refreshing.  We all had some amazing discussions about invasive species, cryptogamic soils, and watersheds, which was very refreshing!

one year ago…”Mousehole Days”

August 2, 2008 – Envirothon Part 2: Touring Arizona

This is at Oak Creek Canyon, near Sedona, the first of many team photos taken.

Here’s Sunset Crater.  A volcano that exploded relatively recently.

Here are two team mates by a large chunk of volcanic rock.

Here are the San Francisco peaks, visible from everywhere in Flagstaff.  The highest is at 12,000 feet or so.

My lifelong dream of going to the Lowell Observatory was also satisfied on this trip.  This telescope is 128 years old.  It was the telescope that first found Pluto, and was the telescope that was used to provide evidence for an expanding universe.

This is at one of the ancient ruins in the area.  It was amazing to me that these structures could still be standing after so many years!

This is at Wupatki.  It’s my new house.

This is the Grand Canyon.  We journeyed here during the competition, on our one free day.  It was gorgeous, and we had several nice hikes while learning about its environment and recreational impacts on it.

one year ago…”Thingamajig Thursday #82″

August 1, 2008 – Envirothon Part 1: The Long Road to Flagstaff

Our journey started long ago, after qualifying for regional and then winning the state contest.  Over the summer we busily fundraised and studied for the competition.

The journey to Arizona was a bit more eventful than we had bargained for.  At  6 am, the day we were scheduled to leave, we received a phone call, saying that our plane had broken, and that we would not be able to leave.  Later, when our advisor called the airline back, we discovered that another plane would be able to take us.  So, we journeyed to the Cedar Rapids airport, a 5 gate complex, to catch our flight.  When we arrived, we discovered that our flight would be late, due to bad weather.  This would leave us a 15 minute window to board our connecting flight in Minneapolis.  After checking every other possible flight combination and receiving about 5 different boarding passes and flight assignments, we decided to take the risk of spending the night in Minneapolis.

Soon, we discovered that our flight had been delayed, even more.  To the point that we would miss our flight by more than 45 minutes.  Luckily, we were able to convince the airline to put us up in a hotel for the night, for which we were extremely grateful.  We also got food vouchers for breakfast.  We worked really hard to raise money to go, so this saved us more than $150 overall, which was pretty thrilling.

Here I am on the first flight, displaying the information cards that everyone has memorized after their second flight.

When we arrived at the Phoenix airport, a day late, we discovered that they had given away the van we had rented, and given us an SUV instead.  This was a rather problematic arrangement, because there was no trunk space, and only enough seats for the 7 of us (team members and chaperones).  Thus, we had an extremely uncomfortable 3 hour ride from Phoenix to Flagstaff completely piled with luggage and unable to move.

But, the one thing I can say about the trip there was that it was extremely eventful, and not at all ho-hum.

one year ago…”Bridges”

January 6, 2008 – Leaving for Home

We left the house very early this morning, and I had just a few photos of the house we rented.

Not many houses have a better view than this out the kitchen window!


The house was great for us – there were 4 bedrooms, 3 bathrooms, along with a large kitchen and great room for hanging around.  We’ve had great luck renting houses instead of hotels on vacation.  It’s cheaper and better as you can “stay on your feed” and cook meals as you wish.  This house was well stocked and was a good base for our travels. We’ve had good luck finding houses and cabins, including this one at the vacation rental by owner web site. Interestingly, after we left, the caretaker commented to us, they liked our organic jams we left (from high hopes gardens) and her mother was (and still is) one of the pioneering organic farmers in Pennsylvania!

I was a bit worried we wouldn’t be able to drive out as some dry washes cross the road and in high rains, the road is flooded and there is only one way out.  With a day and night of light rain, I was a bit anxious about getting out in the early morning to catch our flight. I walked out the front door in the morning darkness and there was light hail, rain, and it sounded like a raging river.  I quickly got Linda and we drove to the place where the temporary streams cross the road to see if that was where the noise was coming from, which would mean we would miss our flights – but there was just a little bit of water flowing across the road – the roar must have been from Oak Creek down the hill a bit further.

one year ago…

January 5, 2008 – Rain in the Desert

The unseasonal weather held off until our last day.  Rain. I was tempted to stay in the house and read or just be lazy, but I ended up walking over to Cathedral Rock to see if the rain brought another mood to the landscape.


Here’s a wet prickly pear cactus with drops of water – a welcome event.


The kids spent some time in the hot tub in the back yard – they used the umbrella usually used for sun as a rain umbrella.


Cathedral Rock in the rain.


The beginnings of dry washes filling up with water.


It was such a neat time to see the water cascading off the red rocks, that I called the kids on the cell phone and told them to walk down to meet me.  They, too got to have a good time – we just followed one dry wash up the mountain and came down another, exploring all the ephemeral pools and small waterfalls.


The whole family, dressed in various clothes depending on age and sensibilities – from Martin in his winter coat to Emma in a T-shirt!

one year ago…

January 4, 2008 – Hanging Around Sedona

After a bit of driving the last few days, today we stuck to Sedona to look around.  Our first stop was Red Rock Crossing, which was just around Cathedral Rock from our house, but about a 20 minute drive by car because there just aren’t that many roads, and only one crosses Oak Creek Canyon near Sedona.


The first treasures we came upon were a group of rock cairns down by the creek.  Originally constructed for trail markers in remote areas, they seem to pop up in many places, and once you see one, you want to make one yourself.  Soon a village of cairns appears.  But not to worry – the next big rain will knock them all down and the cycle will repeat itself – we like to think of it as biodegradable folk art!


Here the kids start building their own.


Martin ponders, well, I’m not sure what he is pondering, but it looks like a good place to do it!


Here’s our entire group – it was fun to have both grandmas join us on this trip.


You might remember Emma up in a tree at Sunset Crater a few days ago – here she is at it again (with Martin in training behind her!)


Later in the day we hiked up Long Canyon trail and Emma found another tree over a dry wash.

one year ago…

January 3, 2008 – The Grand Canyon

No trip to Northern Arizona would be complete without a look-see inside the Grand Canyon!


This is the view from the south room near the Desert View observation station. With an elevation of 7,000 feet, the rim of the canyon is not warm in January, but the crowds are not so overwhelming.


Oh, the horrors of the abyss!


We even saw some obligitory wildlife, including this cow elk along the road to Hermit’s Rest.


I don’t get to post many photos of Linda and I unless we’re on vacation, so here’s another one.  This was my third trip to the canyon – a few years ago with Linda and back in college on a geology field trip we hiked to the bottom.  To this day, the orange I ate upon getting back to the top was the most flavorful and delightful “meal” I’ve ever enjoyed!

one year ago…

January 2, 2008 – Cathedral Rock, Montezuma’s Castle and Tuzigoot

Linda and I started the day with a pre-breakfast hike to Cathedral Rock.


The trail to the top was very steep and we elected to go back for breakfast rather than go to the top!


The earth-colored arrow shows the location of the house we rented for the week – on the Back-o-Beyond road, with stunning views of Cathedral Rock.


We drove south today to visit Montezuma’s Castle, another ruin of cliff-dwellers.


Linda and sis yak it up with the park ranger.


The view from another ruin – this time from the top of Tuzigoot National Monument.


Emma and Nana through a window of the ruin.


Mark and Linda at the top of Tuzigoot.

one year ago…

January 1, 2008 – Paint in a Petrified New Year!

Today was another day along the new Route 66, I-40 in Northern Arizona.

The first stop was Walnut Canyon, site of more ruins of cliff-dwellers (visible in the distance just above Emma’s elbow).  The trail to the ruins was closed by a recent large rockslide and boulders.  The national parks geo-hazard team was on the way to assess the possible remedies.  I asked the ranger why wouldn’t they just dynamite the trail clear?  Evidently, they think that blowing stuff up might damage the ruins in the canyon, either from the blast or continuing journey of the house-sized boulders further down the canyon!  So we were limited to the rim trail.

Next stop was the Painted Desert National Park.

These badlands are brightly colored and a delight to the eye.

Nana and Emma and Martin pose in front of the Painted Desert Inn, now a National Landmark.  When the building was originally built, the walls were composed of pieces of petrified wood.  A later renovation covered the original walls with a layer of earth-colored abode – but they were mindful to leave one section unplastered in adobe so the original could still be viewed.

The badlands really vary in colors from many shades of red to grays and blues.

Finally, a six year old’s dream playground – petrified logs as old as dinosaurs! Here Martin contemplates the series of geological events that had to happen to bring these fossilized logs to the surface.

Martin and Emma pose on “Old Faithful” the largest petrified log in the park.

A cross section reveals a galaxy of colors.  In brief, the petrified wood was formed when big trees fell in a huge river and washed down to the delta.  All the leaves and branches were stripped away on the tumbling journey.  They came to rest and were buried by more mud and the final, necessary piece was a layer of ash from a distant volcano.  Then, through time the minerals from the ash and mud above replaced the cellulose one cell at a time.  The petrified logs were then uplifted and the surroundings washed away to be revealed 225 million years later.
one year ago…

December 31, 2007 – Oak Creek Canyon, Sunset Crater & Wupatki

The day dawned clear, crisp and cold.

The first stop was Slide Rock State Park in Oak Creek Canyon. A great natural playground of water, red rocks, deep pools, and smooth red rocks.

Another view of Oak Creek.

Fifteen miles upstream is the top of the canyon wall. Oak Creek is at the bottom of the canyon.

At a Coconino Forest Overlook there were artisans selling their wares. In the middle of the picture, Emma is trying to decide what to buy.

North of Flagstaff is Sunset Crater National Monument. This is the cinder cone of a volcanic eruption “only” 1000 years ago. It’s a little like Hawaii in the winter!

A few pioneer trees have started to grow in the ash. Emma decides to climb up for a better view!

The other direction from Sunset Crater is this view of the San Francisco Peaks, the highest point in Arizona at 12,000+ feet just north of Flagstaff.

These are the biggest ruins at Wupatki National Monument. It was the biggest structure for about 50 miles around at the time of the eruptions at Sunset Crater.

This is another ruin near the Wupatki ruin, the Wukoki Pueblo. These were occupied in the 1100s – about the same time as the Crusades in Europe, to give some Western Civilization context. We had a hard time thinking about living in these dry, windy treeless areas as a home camp.

A shot of some happy travelers at the end of a good, long, day!
one year ago…

December 30, 2007 – Superstition Mountains

Today was a travel day – Des Moines to Phoenix via Chicago. Since most of our time will be spent in northern Arizona and when the kids think of the Arizona desert, they think of the Sonoran Desert, land of giant Sugaro cactus. So we ventured immediately to Lost Dutchman State Park, just east of Phoenix to view the Sonoran Desert.

I think this is a small Sugaro cactus Marty is hiding behind. The kid is so excited for this trip!

Marty and Emma pose by some mature Sugaro cactus in front of the Superstition Mountains.

Emma examines a plant very unlike any near to her home – a jumping cholla – looking very fuzzy this time of year. After a quick late lunch and grocery shopping stop, we headed to our lodging in Sedona.
one year ago…

December 29, 2007 – Fiesta Bowl Competition/Parade

The band raised money for a year for their trip.

Here is the Bobcat Marching Band in the Fiesta Bowl Parade in Phoenix, AZ.

Here is the Bobcat Marching Band on the field. In contrast to most events – the more expensive tickets were furthest away from the field.

Here’s Claire getting ready just before the field show.

A close-up shot of Claire in her uniform. All pictures courtesy of gj.
one year ago…

December 28, 2007 – Claire is Here!

Claire’s band is Marching in the Fiesta Bowl National Band Championships in Glendale AZ.

She’s somewhere in here. GJ is there watching her and when she gets back, we’ll post some better pictures. We were able to watch the performance on the internet last night – it was fun to see them on a big field and venue. Today is the parade, then they relax for some sightseeing.
one year ago…