Sunday, March 26, 2006

It was forty years ago today...

...that the Rolling Stones played a venue known as Brabanthal in Den Bosch, Netherlands. And I was there. This was my first big rock event. The Stones had made a name for themselves over the previous couple of years and their lone previous appearance in the Hague (Scheveningen) had ended in a major riot where the 'audience' destroyed the concert hall. So this sounded like fun. That day (March 26th) was my birthday (still is, as a matter of fact). My brother Gerard had been able to somehow obtain 4 tickets for this concert and was kind enough to invite me along. He had, under false pretenses I might add, also been able to borrow a Volkswagen Beetle off some guy he knew at work. Not that the car was an absolute necessity, but it sure made getting there a lot easier than having to take public transit to Den Bosch as it was about 100 km away. So off we drove, late in the afternoon, the 4 of us squeezed into the bug. The venue was normally used to auction cattle, so since the place was already a pigstye, I guess the organizers figured this was the ideal place for a rock concert. Not that the word concert was actually used for an event like that back in those days: that term was strictly reserved for classical music events. To call a performance by the Stones a concert would have been sheer blasphemy. Total number of spectators was extremely low as well: 9000. The entrance fee was pretty steep though: 10 guilders, which converted to about $3 US back in 1966. The warm up acts were Dutch groups, among them the Outsiders and the Bintangs, both now revered in Dutch pop history. The late Wally Tax was the leader of the Outsiders, and a legend in his own mind even back then. I remember we made our way in through some kind of small side entrance. The hall was already packed and the concert was in progress. There were no seats, everybody just sort of piled up against the stage. Talking about the stage, it wasn't exactly up to today's standards: very few, if any spotlights, no massive amplifier banks and speakers. The only fireworks would have been Keif smoking on stage. Mick was his usual trade mark self. From the setlist I don't remember much: the only thing that comes to mind is '19th Nervous Breakdown', the end riff where Bill Wyman's bass sonically mimics a person slide into a state of mental anguish.

The next time I saw the boys live was at Sarsstock in Toronto in 2003, 37 years later. Number of spectators: 500,000.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Thank you, vandals...

...for if it wasn't for your destructive behaviour I never would have found out about the Waterford Heritage Rail Trail. You see, some time ago there was a report in the local newspaper about some fences being destroyed on this trail. So, with a little bit of sleuthing, we found out where the trail runs. Turns out it is just about under our nose, well, say 6 km directly east of us, just east of Hwy 24 on Townsend Road #12.

Today, we decided to take it for a test spin. And it's certainly worth exploring. It runs through, as the brochure describes it, a 'pastoral' landscape, consisting of about 60% farmer's fields and the rest bush and thickets. As luck would have it, just 20 minutes into our walk, three deer appeared from behind a low hill to our right. We looked at them, they looked at us, then off they ran, white tails being waved like fans on a summer's day.

The trail is around 6.2 km in length, of which we did the top 4 return. In addition to that, we walked into Waterford and had a coffee/tea in "The Cafe".

Then, on a sidestreet in Waterford, I spotted this door. Seems like the contractor miscalculated the depth of the basement.

Waterford Heritage Trail
Even though the temperature was right around zero again, at times, it felt a lot warmer than that when the sun was out. Could it be true? Is spring really on its way? Nah, don't get too excited.

Monday, March 20, 2006

The answer, my friend, is blowin' in the wind

The new face of Norfolk CountyAlong the northern shoreline of Lake Erie, east of the sleepy little fishing town of Port Burwell, contractors are currently constructing 66 wind turbines. Each of these turbines is capable of generating 1.5 MW (megawatts), so the total project's potential is 99 MW, enough to power 30,000 homes. As a comparison, Toronto's lone Exhibition Place generator is capable of producing .75 MW, enough for 250 homes.

Since this project is now in its advanced stages, we decided today to take a field trip out to

Turbine 52, just west of Houghton Centre, south of Lakeshore Roadthe site, approximately 50 km to the southwest of where we are. The weather was partly cloudy, with the temperature hovering around zero degrees celsius, a little cool for this time of year, but not too bad.

The turbines aren't hard to find, just drive in the general direction and sooner or later they will pop out above the tree line. Then just home in. If you miss them, you'll find yourself swimming in Lake Erie.

Now I must say, these things are humongous. Not only that,

are very big. Produced by GE (General Electric), they are of the SLE type. The hub (i.e. the tower) can reach heights of 61m to 85m. The total rotor width is 77 m. There are about 25 in Norfolk County, the rest is in Elgin County.

We were lucky: just as we got there, the giant crane used to assembled the turbines was raising the nacelle for Turbine 52, which, as we all know, is positioned just west of Houghton Centre and south of Lakeshore Road. The nacelle is the giant box that contains the generator and the gearbox to which the rotors are attached. Rasing the nacelle was a fairly quick operation, all in all it took about 20 minutes. Obviously, these people had done this before. No sooner was it positioned in place or we could hear the ratchet air wrenches being used to tighten the bolts fastening the nacelle to the tower. In order to prevent the nacelle from slamming into the tower on the way up, two cables were attached to a dozer winch, which slackened while the nacelle was being hoisted.

We stuck around for a while, hoping to see the rotors going up as well, but no such luck. So we drove around a bit, eating the lunch Anne had lovingly prepared in advance. Most of the turbines are somewhat far from the nearest road, usually 2 to 300 m, but there is one on Concession Road 2 ENR, which is only 50 m max into the field. This road is the first one west of Norfolk County Road 28 and runs parallel to it. We stopped at this particular turbine and with the Sigma 10-20 mm set at about 17 mm, I was able to get the whole turbine in the shot, while virtually positioned directly underneath it. Way cool.

Across the road, I framed a ready-to-go turbine between two weather beaten tTurbine 36 under constructionrees.
The Lakeshore tends to be very run down at this point, hopefully, these turbines will give it a well deserved economic boost.
The turbines aren't in operation yet: electrical lines still have to be run and I'm sure there's lots of testing to be done. Supposedly they'll deliver their first power to the grid sometime in April.

I sure hope it works and that it is a profitable venture. Allow me to be a bit skeptical: where we are, wind seems to be something that only occasionally kicks up a storm (pun intended). Most of the time calm days seem to prevail. But then, I've been wrong before...

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Things you can do with a bathroom window

Enjoyed the glorious March sunshine this morning, it was a perfect day, cloudless and windless. I let the sun stream on my face while taking a walk in the forest, among the towering oaks, pines and maples. Buds are starting to develop, though there is still a long way to go... Birds are starting to get excited. Common grackles and robins have returned in the last week and now the mornings are a cacaphony of sound, grackles carrying the main tune.

Red bellied woodpecker (female)After the walk I had lunch, and while eating this in the sunlit chair in the living room, a bird of an unusual kind visited the bird feeder in the front yard. I rushed to my camera bag, fired up my trusty Rebel and took about 10 shots with the Tamron 28-300 mm through the bathroom window.

Looking through the 'Birds of Ontario' book helped me make the identification: a red bellied woodpecker, rather rare in Ontario. It's a female. Whether or not the male is close by, I do not know. This species reaches the northern limits of its habitat right around Toronto, but is quite common across large portions of the US. In Ontario, it's only found in areas with large tracts of Carolinian forests. It is supposed to be found year round, but I ain't never seen no such critter before.

Update: the male was at the bird feeder this morning (2006/03/20). However, it got away before I was able to get a shot of it.

I did a quick copy from the camera into Picasa, then minor edits in Photoshop (cropping, sharpness, noise)

(By the way, you guys do know that double clicking on the picture produces a larger version?)

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Arizona Trip Wrap Up

Well, actually, we did more than just Arizona. If you care to study the map to the left (which you probably won't), you'll see that we visited, in this order, Nevada, California, Arizona, Mexico, New Mexico, Utah and Colorado. The majority of time of course was spent in Arizona.

I did some quick queries in Visual FoxPro and came up with some interesting statistics gathered by the logger:

- total records generated: 232, 570
- total distance travelled: 5,390.03 km
- highest elevation attained: 2,480 m above sea level on SR 152 between Silver City, NM and Truth Or Consequences, NM
- lowest elevation attained: -14.70 m (below sea level), south of Yuma, AZ near the Mexican border)
- average speed: 82. 877 km/h
- top speed: 133.307 km/h (allright I admit it, I was speeding)

About the car: Saturn Ion, on a scale of 1 to 10, I'd rate it a 6. It being a brand new car, you would not expect any mechanical trouble and we didn't experience any. However, ergonomically it is poorly designed, the usual North American approach to looks over functionality. All those rounded lines really cut back on the amount of interior space available. The car's overall responsiveness to accelerating, steering and braking were not more than average, in fact, getting back into my Toyota Echo was a real joy. I couldn't readily track gasoline consumption, so I'm not sure what it was like, but again, compared to the Echo, it would not be good.

About accommodation: for the price you pay, the hotels and motels are a real bargain. They are also readily available, whether in the north or the south, so booking ahead is not really required unless you intend to visit a really small town, such as Kayenta, near Monument Valley. Accommodations are clean and well kept wherever you go. Most have continental breakfast thrown in. Staff, for the most part, are very friendly, with a few ignoramuses thrown in here and there to keep you on your toes.

Roads: Arizona, New Mexico and Nevada have excellent roads, some of the best in North America. Oddly enough, gasoline in these three states is a lot cheaper than in California ($2.30 US vs. $ 3.10 US), yet the roads in California (at least the ones we drove on) were in a lot poorer shape. I'll leave it to the pundits to analyze why.

Food: we bought a cooler the first day in Vegas and then stocked up on food at Von's, which is associated/owned by Safeway. A friendly cashier inquired whether we had a loyalty card, upon which I answered no. She thought for a sec, and decided to get us one, and it is a good thing she did, because it saved us money 'big time'. It works like a discount card: after the final tally, you swipe the card and like a slot machine, the cash register starts working away, calculating the varying discounts on each item you purchased. This usually adds up to about 33% of the total, causing the customer to leave the store sporting a huge smile, which is exactly what Safeway wants. So everybody's happy, supposedly. Anyway, this allowed us keep the grocery bill down to reasonable levels.

With the cooler topped up, we had excellent lunches and munched on things like carrots and fruits while driving. Not having to search for a place to eat, then ordering and finally eating lunch, saves a huge amount of time. We usually ate dinner at a middle-of-the-road restaurant, which are normally easy to find and priced very reasonably.

Weatherwise we were very lucky in that it was a dry winter: normally Flagstaff and other places north get a fair amount of snow. Except for a dusting in Kayenta, we didn't see any.

Arizona and the surrounding area are certainly very unique in their landscapes and are well worth visiting. The highlight: Monument Valley. We thoroughly enjoyed our trip, from start to finish. I'd love to do Utah next, but for that it would have to be a little warmer overall, e.g. October. Sounds good to me!

Just some observations about Arizona that perplexed me a little:

- recycling seems to be non existent. Whereas in Ontario we fanatically recycle newspapers, plastic, food scraps, cans, etc, none of that appears to be happening in the Great Southwest. The only reference to recycling we found was in the Grand Canyon where the signs announced 'The National Park Service proudly recycles'.

- although Arizona gets something like 300 days of sunshine a year, there was very little done to capture any of this in terms of solar energy devices. A few traffic signs, the odd house, but nothing more. Makes ya wonder...if not here then where? What it definitely establishes is that conventional fossil fuels are too cheap at this point in time.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Lake Havasu City, AZ to Las Vegas, NV via Laughlin, NV

I'm doing this post from the Las Vegas airport. Our flight is delayed by 2 hours, so it won't leave till 1:00 in the morning here. Fortunately, there is a free wireless connection here at the airport so I won't be bored.

To offer evidence for the rant in my previous post, I render this photograph, which I snapped just as we were leaving our motel in Lake Havasu City. This boat was parked at the condo next door over night. The owner or driver had to take a couple of stabs at getting it out the gate and onto the road. And let me tell you it by far is not the biggest one I saw.

But enough of that. We were heading for Laughlin (pronounced Lofflin). Since we had come down from Laughlin on Friday, I wanted to take a different road to get back there again, just for the heck of it. This was to take south to Parker, then west over the Colorado River into California to the hamlet of Vidal Junction, then north on 95 till we would turn east on 163 just after we crossed the Nevada state line. 163 then leads straight into Laughlin. Roughly this is a rectangle.

Overall, that was a mistake and a waste of time, let's be fair. The drive to Parker is nice enough, but into California the desert becomes somewhat monotonous and the state of the roads is such that the driver really has no time to sight see. Furthermore, there is an awful lot of traffic on the road.

Anyway, one bright moment did occur when I spotted a desert golf course. Literally no grass, just dirt. Some people were out on the course as you can see. I wonder if they knew the location of the sandtraps. At least they wouldn't have to replace any divits...

The other interesting bit is that once again the approach to Laughlin becomes a long descent down a mountain slope. Though it isn't winding or twisting, nonetheless it is a long slope which finally delivers you to Laughlin. This time we stayed at the River Palms, a slightly older hotel, though still in very good shape.

After we settled in we went for a walk along the river, with the ultimate goal of getting a drink somewhere. We made a little detour and took the free train at the Ramada Express, very cute and authentic, narrow gauge rail. Still not having found a cheap place for a drink, we were getting awfully thirsty. Finally we struck gold back at our own hotel, where Happy Hour had just begun. Since the drinks were so cheap, we had another and well you get the picture. What they didn't tell us is that Happy Hour turns into Sleepy Hour and while you're at it you might as well stay in bed for the night. So that took care of Sunday nite.

Monday morning we were up bright and early and why shouldn't we be after twelve hours of sleep. We had an early cheep, cheep breakfast, it's amazing how far $ 2.22 can take you. Then we hit the tourist info again to get information on more, you guessed it, mountain walks. Having procured the necessary documents we headed for Lake Mead National Recreation Area, which isn't really a lake, but more of a mountain area. We parked the car at the Grapevine Canyon and found ancient Indian petroglyphs next to graffiti proclaiming that Jason loves Amy.

We actually also found a bit of a creek, the odd thing about it was the higher you went, the bigger the creek became. Reason for this was that the creek ran over a gravelly type surface which absorbed the water as it progressed downwards. Very strange.

Not quite ready to call it quits after this walk, we continued on the dirt road that led us to Grapevine Canyon in the first place. Higher and higher we went, all by ourselves. Naturally I was looking out for geological oddities which I spotted with some regularity. The best one was this huge rock in the middle of a fairly level stretch of ground, sitting there all by its lonesome self. Somewhat below the top of the ridge, I turned the car around, as the road was getting very rough and I din't fancy the prospect of the car hung up on an axle, front wheels spinning useless in mid air, with Anne frantically pushing from behind, me encouraging her from behind the wheel to give it all she got.

About half way back down the dirt road I spotted another rock formation and threw the car into park while doing about 30 km an hour. This it didn't like. However, that's not the reason for mentioning this little incident, for as I got out of the car, I spotted what appeared to be a stick right in front of our car, actually about 10 meters or so. Wanting to make sure it was just a stick, I walked over and discovered it was not a stick but a snake, a live one, not an unfortunate victim of a traffic accident. So I shot some photographs of course. I found out I had to employ a trick in other to get it to stick
out its tongue: any movement would do it. Which I used of course. I haven't been able to identify what kind of a snake it is as of this writing, but you're in the desert so rattle snake immediately comes to mind. However, I've got pictures of the tail and no rattles are visible. Anyway, more on the kind of snake once I find out what it is.

Update: It appears to be some kind of non venomous gophersnake. That's my guess anyway.

At still another curious rock formation, undoubtedly solidified lava flow because of the molten look it had, we actually spotted the town of Laughlin deep down below.

Once back in Laughlin we shopped at the pawn shop and the outlet mall, then went for dinner, extremely reasonable prices. This is the granny/grampa gambling capital of the USA no doubt, but you can sure get some good deals.

Next morning we had to pack to get ready for the flight home that night, so I made sure to make myself scarce for that event. Actually, I hauled several loads to the car, which wasn't all that close. Then we headed out, back to Vegas, just as the rain started.

Halfway there, I snapped a few shots just south of the hamlet of Searchlight of a particular long straight stretch of Hwy 95, I estimate it to be about 25 km or so.

The first people to lay eyes on us after we arrived in Vegas were the outlet mall security staff, because that's were we headed first. However, frantic searching for more than a few hours only yielded a pair of sandals for Anne.

Absolutely famished, we found a Mexican restaurant, where we ordered a bunch of stuff, don't ask me what, I was to starved to really care what we ate. While eating I spotted an employee of Starbucks make good use of the trash bin, so after lunch that's were I gave our trusty cooler the royal heave-ho.

Having a few hours to kill yet before the plane left, I parked the car on the strip somewhere and we went for a long walk, north on Las Vegas Boulevard ('The Strip'). Exhausted from that, we drank a very expensive tea at Bally's ($5.39! yikes), and rested like two bag people on a bench in the convention hall at Bally's. Like school children, we poked fun at whoever went by, especially the guy with the red shoes and tie, it turned out he was the piano player at the fancy restaurant, it did occur to me he looked at lot like Liberace.

We gassed up the car one more time, drove to the airport, couldn't find Alamo, since their car drop off is the only one of the car rental companies nowhere near the car rental return park. But what else is new on this trip, one of the days I'll start using GPS...

Next post will be a wrapup, with good things, bad things, tips and tricks for others to use.