Quote of the Moment

"It's never wrong to hope, Byx," said my mother. "Unless the truth says otherwise."
- from Endling #1: The Last, by Katherine Applegate

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Home to the Cold

Temperature and health, unfortunately...

Okay, so I'm back from my little excursion back east. The weather on both sides of the Cascades was dry and sunny and warm... until this morning, when the clouds moved in. Also this morning, my nose started itching in that manner that presages the onset of a cold; I grabbed Airborne on the way home, but I think I started too late to completely avert the disaster brewing in my sinuses.

How was the trip? Pretty good, actually. I made fair use of the Little Black Critter, since we had wifi at both places we stayed. Made a tiny bit of writing progress, but heck, I was on vacation, so I'm giving myself a pass on slacking.

Now, on to the trip in photos. (Yep, knew ya wanted this...)

We headed out midafternoon on I-90, destined for the wild and exotic town of Cle Elum east of the summit.

Lake Keechalus
Two things tell you you're past the summit (aside from the roadsigns): you start seeing pine trees amongst the Douglas Firs, and you pass the Lake Keechalus reservoir. (You also start seeing rivers that flow "backwards," towards the east, but that's tougher to photograph from a car moving at 70 MPH.)

Home Away From Home (Night 1)
The other place we were staying claimed it had no vacancies on Saturday night, so our first stop was here. (Actually, it made us drive through "town" so we at least saw where food places and such were, so it was just as well we were here first.) It was small - so small that one had to squeeze past the edge of one bed to the bathroom through a gap less than a foot wide - but clean. Since I had the Little Black Critter with me, I actually made use of the unexpected wifi to annoy people online.

Retro Look
Nothing says "retro" like the old-fashioned "lean"....

The Cover-Up Uncovered
As the inn slowly filled for the night, a semi with a peculiar load pulled up for a spell. Clearly the government is using these to lure and trap invisible radioactive man-eating moths created by failed experiments with retroengineered spacecraft propulsion technology. Or maybe it's just something they use on a farm.

Only In A Town Like This...
Need I comment?

Anyway, Saturday night was spent mostly decompressing in the inn, with a Safeway sandwich and chips for dinner.

Today we planned to move to our second- and third-night lodgings and poke around the area a bit more. It was my sister's birthday, and she wanted to find a place to sit in the woods for a while. Easier said than done...

Breakfast at the Cottage Cafe
The "hot breakfast" advertized by the Travelers Inn was not, actually, an in-house breakfast. Instead, we were given a coupon to redeem for a free breakfast at the cafe next door. (The hotel across the way also advertized "hot breakfast" on their sign, and I suspect they have the same arrangement. It makes sense, actually, and is probably more cost-effective than providing food directly.) With the breakfast we got a free hot beverage; since we're not coffee or tea people, we opted for the hot chocolate. It came with a generous helping of whipped cream; by eating my way through the center, I got a bit of a hot chocolate volcano going, which I thought was worthy of a photo. This says more about my photographic sensibilities than I probably intend it to... And, yes, it was a darned good breakfast.

Into the Woods
Winding back past Roslyn (where they filmed parts of Northern Exposure) and Ronald (even smaller), we hit what we thought would be a great place to get out and sit in the woods. Turns out that most of it is just campsites, and most of the campsites were occupied. The rest required a day use fee, but nowhere did we find where to pay it. We finally found picnic areas near the Wish-Poosh boat launch on Lake Cle Elum, where it told us what the cost was and where we could go without being charged for camping.

Out in the Country
Beyond the inn, the road wound on roughly parallel to the interstate; it was the "scenic" way between major towns, so we travelled along sceeing what could be scene. It was such quintissential farmland that I felt obligated to take quintessential farmland photos. (This photo and the next were actually taken when we pulled off for photo ops on the way back, so I wouldn't get creamed by cars going 50-60 MPH just to shap a few pictures.)

More Country
The road wound onward past that until we decided not to follow it any longer. We turned around in the middle of nowhere where there was a small store and an espresso stand. Even though there wasn't a town for miles and miles, the espresso stand had a line. If you build it...

Tacky Roadside Gift Place
Okay, not only is it a fiberglass cow (complete with udders), but she's standing placidly over a barbecue... this is just wrong in so many ways... The store she was at inexplicably specialized in Southwestern art. Nothing I needed, and no local postcards to be found. The whole of Cle Elum was devoid of local postcards, evidently.

THE Retro Burger Joint
Yep, big juicy retro burgers served here. Yep, we ate. Yep, it was good and probably horrible for us, too.

Telephone Museum
A little museum of old-time telephones, not much bigger than our house but still decent to walk through.

Stewart Lodge
Where we stayed for the second and third nights of our trip; yes, that's the freeway on/off ramp right there. And a Safeway right across the road. There's also a swimming pool practically in the middle of the parking lot, where we spent some time that evening. And, near as we could tell, it didn't fill up on Saturday night despite what their website said... Bigger rooms than the Travelers Inn (not tough to do), but it was perhaps the dimmest hotel room we've ever stayed in. Still, it did the job.
Later that night, we swung out to the boonies to look at stars. We parked by an old fence that creaked eerily in the night wind, along the kind of country road you'd break down on and never be seen again. Still, it was nice to see starry skies more like I remember as a kid, as opposed to the light-polluted nights we get around here now. We saw a falling star and the moonrise, then headed back to the lodge.

Today we planned to strike further east to explore Ellensburg and perhaps the Ginkgo Petrified Forest State Park, which we've heard about but never managed to visit before.

Getting Drier...
Fewer trees, even pines, and more brown than green show we're getting further east.

They Sound Serious
The museum part of Ginkgo Petrified Forest State Park had some serious warnings for would-be petrified wood thieves; the museum had dozens of logs of the stuff all over the place.

A helpful sign if ever there was one...

Another Useful Sign
Didn't see any, though...

The View, A Log, and Petroglyphs
That's the mighty Columbia River down there... beautiful. The petroglyphs were saved when the dams along the Columbia flooded their original locations. Apparently, the art resembles no local tribes; the closest match is similar art found around Mexico, so the makers probably migrated through.

The Gift Shop That Time Forgot (And Proof)
And, yes, those chunks of petrified wood are about as big as they look. Anyway, inside they had a variety of rocks, including local petrified wood. The owners have mineral rights to a private stake near the park, and sales here actually benefit the state park without robbing the park of any remaining petrified wood, so it works out.
As we made our purchases, the lady at the checkout told us that today would be a great day to visit the Wild Horse Wind Farm, not too far away. It just opened in April, she said, and on a clear day you could see Mount Rainier. From Eastern Washington? We were skeptical, but after lunch we figured we'd check it out, since it was (relatively) near. First, though, we'd hit the Interpretive Trail two miles away, where they had some petrified logs protected in their "native" state.

The Winding Road and The Caged Log
The Interpretive Trail claimed to be only a 3/4 mile loop, along which fifteen petrified logs were to be seen, each protected by a cage and labeled as to the species. Well, in the heat, with the climb, it felt much, much, much longer. Along the way, I snapped a picture of the road leading out to it... and on to the wind farm. The petrified log is - or was, I suppose - a walnut. A whole different landscape then; nothing taller than sagebrush grows here now, and even it seems to struggle.

Windmills and The Mountain (with Perspective)
The windmills didn't look so big when we first saw them on the hill. Then we got closer... and closer... Still, impressive as they were, we doubted we'd see Rainier. Round about the time we reached the entrance to Wild Horse Wind Farm (leading to another three-mile climb to the interpretive center and conference hall - and I gotta say, you have to hate your employees to make them attend a conference all the way out here), though, we turned around and saw an old friend from west of the mountains. Yep, there's Mount Rainier coming out to say hello. The last picture is a feeble attempt to show just how big the windmills are. There's something fascinating and creepy simultaneously about the sight of them turning... and the sound.

The Ellensburg Phoenix
Painted on the side of beautiful old block of buildings in the Historical District. Next time we come to Eastern Washington (if there is one), we ought to stay in Ellensburg instead of Cle Elum. It had more restaurants and better gift shopping, plus it had some museums and such to do without trekking all over the state roadway network.

No, no photos worth reprinting here. Today was the day I woke up with the itching nose and uncontrollable sneezing fits of an oncoming cold. It was also our last day. We checked out, hit the Cottage Cafe for hot chocolate and one last breakfast, then headed home via a couple scenic stops along the way. It's tough to hold a camera steady when you're chilled from unaccustomed cloud cover and cold wind and tired from sneezing half the day away.

Speaking of days slipping away, Tuesday's done just that, and I gotta go to work tomorrow if I can even crawl out the door. (Vacations, especially unexpected ones, don't pay for themselves, after all...)

Typos and link issues will be checked tomorrow. I gotta post and get to bed ASAP, as it's nearly 10:30.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Waiting For Departure

In a few hours, I'll be headed off on a vacation I didn't even know I'd be taking. Three nights in the mountains, to celebrate my sister's birthday. She wanted to get away for her birthday, so she picked a place more or less at random and decided she was going there. With the car issues, I didn't even know if I'd be going, but since I can't exactly do much else right now I figured I might as well ride along and navigate. (Yes, she wanted me to go along originally; I just wasn't sure I wanted to go.) Room's already paid for, anyways, and I can't pretend I couldn't use a bit of a change of scenery, even if my bank account is much lower than I'd like it to be for a vacation. Besides, the things I ordered for her birthday are on backorder at Amazon; I'll buy her a cake or something while we're out in lieu of an actual gift. (Aren't you glad I'm not your lazy, cheapskate little sister?)

Oh, the car... I suppose you've figured out by now that the Mighty Taurus hasn't returned from its unplanned vacation at the auto shop. Well, the shop got to it on Thursday and - big surprise - it started fine for them. Since it came in on a tow truck, though, they believed that it was, indeed, not a healthy car. They just can't do much until it acts up for them. So they're using it as a shop errand car and waiting for it to stall out; shouldn't be more than a week or two, given its track record. I'm starting to wonder if it's not the electrical system, which has been suspect for a while. Over time, the keyless entry, driver's side rear auto window, and half the stereo speakers have ceased to respond to controls, so maybe it's progressed to hit the spark plugs or some other vital engine component. Or it could be a worn wire short of some sort that only happens when the wires hit the wrong thing in the wrong way, which might explain why it happens when the car stops and things presumably shift in the engine compartment. (Dad had that happen on an old Oldsmobile of his.) Or it could be something freakish, like the late Ford Fairmont's trick where it developed a high pressure leak in the water lines that was aimed directly at part of the engine; when the car got hot and pressure climbed, the water killed the engine, but it evaporated so quickly it was almost impossible to catch, and after a rest the car started up normally. Dad scratched his head over that one for a while until someone noted that one side of his engine was suspiciously cleaner than the rest of it, and he finally managed to pop the hood quick enough when it died once to catch the sucker in the act; repairing the hose cured it. I can only hope the Taurus can be dealt with so cheaply.

In any event, the shop's welcome to use the Taurus for as long as it takes for them to figure out what's wrong. I can no longer trust it myself until Something is done. (We did remember to tell them about the intermittent coolant leak, at least - it seems to have nothing whatsoever to do with the stallout, or any other cause I can determine, but once in a while the coolant level drops enough for me to see that it's dropped, and I'd just as soon not have them blow my engine while trying to fix the frellin' thing.)

Well, it's closing in on 2 PM, and theoretically my sister's going to be home by 4, so I'd best double-check my packing efforts.

Oh - was too lazy to post drum pics last time, so here they are, since the board I posted them on is dead save for one other regular.
Dolphin Front and Back
Dragonfly Front and Back
Phoenix Front and Back
Since the store seems sluggish, I'm thinking of painting up a few to try on eBay, just to see how they do. Just as soon as I get back...

Monday, July 14, 2008

At Least There's AAA

The Mighty Taurus developed a little attention-getting trick a month or so ago. For no earthly reason, it would die at a stoplight. A bit of a fight, and it would start up, and the next several trips it would run fine, but then it would pull its stalling out routine again. We've already done the tranny thing - the last time it pulled this, there was a leak in the transmission - so we moved on to the next thing on the list, the fuel line. Last Tuesday, we had the fuel filter replaced, since we realized that in the decade or more we've owned the Taurus we haven't dealt with the fuel filter. It came home and ran better than it had for quite some time. It looked like we'd solved the mystery.

You know where I'm going with this, don't you?

Oh, yeah. Dead in the middle of the road at a stoplight, not even in the curb lane. No warning at all, not even the token shudder or RPM dip that so often heralded disaster in previous stallouts. And it would. Not. Start. Again. Period. The more I tried, the more tired the poor starter became. I could almost hear it crying.

At least it picked a beautiful day to die.

Fortunately, no testosterone-crazed, cell-phone-distracted SUVs came up behind me, and a cop helped push me off into a nearby parking lot (where I managed to slide the Taurus into the only shady slot available.) Also fortunately, I had brought the family cell phone. Yes, we have only one in the entire family - I know, hideously outdated and impractical and all that, but at least we have the one for just such emergencies. Also also fortunately, I'm a AAA member. Bare-bones basic, of course, but it's at least a number to call, and I was within ten miles of our usual shop so it was free towing.

So, anyway, the car got to the auto shop without mishap, and is now waiting there to be dealt with for the second time in a week. And I got a nice, long walk in getting to the freebie-around-town bus station, so I could swing by Mom's workplace and ask to borrow her car to get myself and my groceries home. Since I'm typing this up, obviously she let me borrow it.

Hopefully I'll move some of my new drum ornaments to help pay for this. (Already posted pics on the usual boards, and am too lazy to repeat now.)

On an unrelated note, we saw WALL*E the other day. Highly recommended movie, with a lot going on and several fun refs for sci-fi buffs. I'd have enjoyed it much more if not for a very loud kid whose parents wouldn't keep her out of the theater; they kept bringing her back in to annoy everyone at the top of her lungs. She officially ranks as the second most annoying child I've ever suffered through a movie with. (The first is still the kid from Pocahontas who literally ran up and down the aisle yelling at the top of her lungs for over half an hour; her mother looked on lovingly, apparently unable to hear the numerous complaints from other patrons.)

Monday, July 07, 2008

How I Spent My Holiday Weekend

Since July 4 fell on a Friday this year, and libraries (and their shipping centers) are closed on national holidays, I got an extra day off this weekend. How is it that one suddenly becomes busier when one has an extra day off, even when one only works three days a week?
First off, as the photo implied, I got to see live fireworks this year. Not the big displays, with the big crowds and big noise and big lines to leave the parking lot afterwards. (I found out that apparently this may be the last year they had the megahuge fireworks in the professional displays, sadly, as they are now cost prohibitive to transport because of their explosive categorization. I smell Homeland Security's dirty little hands infringing on my freedom to celebrate our nation's birthday...) My mother's boss lives out on Lake Retreat, a privately owned lake whose residents annually send thousands upon thousands of dollars up in smoke at this time of year. Instead of one twenty-minute display, we got an hour and a half or more of surround-sound displays coming from all sides. There was some question as to whether the weather would cooperate at first. While we were over at Grandpa's having lunch, we saw dark clouds down at her end of the region. But we got the all-clear call later that day, so we went down. We only had a brief hint of a sprinkle, but we sat it out and it cleared off again. This year, I had a new camera and a vaguely reliable tripod, so I managed to get a few acceptable photos of the festivities. Of course, the trouble with tripods is that they don't move well, and with photo ops flashing all around me, even right overhead, things got a bit tricky.
The end of a nice day over Lake Retreat. Little does the lake know what it has coming...
One of the better displays was launched by the people across the way from us, in a house that, by night, would make a great cover to a dark little romance/horror type novel. With the lake reflection, it was like getting two displays for the price of one - and since we got that one for free, it was an extra treat.
And more fireworks shots, two from the people right next to us - exploding over my head as I snapped - and one from a place across the way. (Just think of all the ones I missed, if I managed to salvage these few...)
Things calmed down on Saturday (relatively - I spent it painting up a drum, which isn't ready to be photographed yet so don't ask.) On Sunday, we headed out again to Tall Ships Tacoma, an annual event wherein numerous elder-day sailing vessels come in to town for tours and cruises and generally generating money. Once more, I brought my camera, and once more I grabbed the digital equivalent of a metric ton of shots. Since light wasn't fighting me, I got many more I liked, but fortunately for you I culled it down to the barest of bare essentials to get the point across.
Two ships, at least, returning from cruises with paying customers (not cheapskates like us, who only coughed up the ten bucks to wander the docks and tour the smaller boats.) There's something about seeing those giants gliding down the waterways, even among flashy new yachts and such, that captures the imagination.
A bowshot of the Lady Washington, a replica of a real historical ship. Star Trek buffs will recognize her as the stand-in for the original sailing ship Enterprise in the holodeck sequence from Star Trek: Generations.
Another ship returns from a cruise, this time the privateer Lynx. She was reputed to be the fastest ship of the thirty-odd tall ships in port this weekend, and I'd believe it.
So... would you like to keep all those lines sorted in your head?
Further down the waterway, the fancier premium ships lurked. One of these was the Zodiac; she startled everyone with a blast from her horn before heading out.
A replica of the famous Nina (don't know how to get the accent marks,) who looked rather pathetic with all the other big ships around her. Is anyone else sometimes amazed that our ancestors survived sea travel at all?
This is the replica of the original Bounty used for the classic movie Mutiny on the Bounty. Apparently, it was made 30% bigger than the original to accomodate the film crew and the actors, who were significantly larger than the original mutineers (especially Marlon Brando.) She also appeared in the Pirates of the Carribean movies.
Gotta love the 15x zoom...
And this would be the biggest ship at the festival, bar none. It was also free to tour, but the lines were longer than the ship. Originally a German vessel, the Eagle was taken after the war (when the Allies discovered that belowdecks it was built suspiciously like a submarine in an attempt to secretly train crews) and is now the only sailing ship in the Coast Guard.
Because it was a darned cool ship.
Have I mentioned that I love my 15x zoom?
So it got a bit warm during part of the day... (What? Just because it's a tall ship festival doesn't mean I can't take a picture of a dog.)
Because Tacoma is an active port, the big cargo ships were lurking about all day. I thought it made an interesting size contrast with the Hawaiian Chieftan, a vintage-style replica ship.
And away she sails... Shortly after this picture was taken, she nearly gave the entire crowd a heart attack by firing a cannon (blank, of course.)
Well, I suppose I've bored you all enough with photos to make you very glad I didn't show you any more. Now, I suppose I don't have any more excuses to put off all the stuff I put off by sorting digital images and writing blog entries about them.