February 9, 2015


We decided to escape the Minnesota cold this winter by heading to the Yucatan peninsula of Mexico. The visit was mainly spent hanging out in fun cities and exploring Maya ruins. We went to the cities of Valladolid, Merida and Campeche. Each is an old colonial city with their own personality.

Valladolid is the smallest of the three cities, and it is only an hour or two west of Cancun. The hostel we stayed at had a beautiful courtyard complete with lounging hammocks. This area of the peninsula has thousands of cenotes, which are freshwater sinkholes carved into the limestone. We biked to a cenote about five miles from town, which was very fun until David's bike got a flat tire about a mile away. We decided to carry on and had a lovely dip and shoved our bikes in the back of a taxi to get back to town. We also visited a calm and beautiful cenote right in the center of town.

Emily swimming in a cenote in the center of Valladolid. This one is over 100 meters deep!
The seaside city of Campeche has a 400-year old walled center with stone forts to protect it from pirates. The walls and forts are a UNESCO world heritage site, which is pretty special. There are a bunch of parks and lots of of colorful colonial homes with huge rooms and high ceilings.
There were lots of awesome original VW Beetles still on the streets.
One thing that struck us about both Campeche and Merida was the plethora of awesome murals and street art.
Typical street in the walled area of Campeche. The large white building in the back is one of the cities oldest churches, which borders the zocalo (main park).
Merida is the largest city in the area, with over a million residents. It has tons of delicious restaurants and lots of interesting museums. One of our favorites was the folk art museum. Although we showed up only 30 minutes before it closed, we had enough time to check out a room packed full of nativity scenes made of every imaginable material and theme. On Sundays, downtown Merida's streets are shut off to cars. There is bike route for about five miles stretching through brick streets to the wide boulevards north of downtown. Thousands of people come out to ride, mostly families, but also tourists and, as we observed, a group of young men lowrider aficionados blaring 'The Lion Sleeps Tonight'. After we rode bikes around for a couple hours, we people-watched in the many parks, which are lined with cafes. A few of the parks had stages set up for bands, and couples danced in the front as kids bugged their parents to buy them ballons and churros from street vendors. As the evening approached, the zocalo was transformed into a major venue with several stages. When we returned that evening, the square was packed with about 10,000 people who came to see the free concert. Not a bad place to enjoy a strawberry paleta - a dessert kinda like a popsicle, but much, MUCH, more delicious. 
On a bike ride on Sunday in Merida.
We also spent three days in a small town of a couple thousand people a few hours south of Merida called Santa Elena, which we mostly used as a base for exploring nearby caves and ruins. There, we also saw one of the craziest things I have ever witnessed in my life. It happened to be the week of Santa Elena's patron saint (San Mateo) festival, and there was a big celebration with rides, tons of foosball tables, and food in the town square. The town church, which is this huge, hundreds of year old building, is on a hill above the square that is accessible by steep stone steps. During the evening, the banners and other things associated with San Mateo are removed from the church (accompanied by a band) and paraded around town. As this was happening, we noticed that the band and everyone else in the square (excepting the town’s entire population of adolescent boys) had moved up to the second half of the staircase. I don’t know much about traveling, but my one general rule is to never be the only one doing something. So we followed the crowd up, which proved to be a great decision, because a kid wearing a huge paper mache bull on his head packed with fireworks started running around the square. He chased the rest of the boys, and the fireworks were going everywhere – into power lines, into the crowd, etc. It was the closest to being in a war zone I ever hope to be. But it was awesome. We asked at our B and B, and it is called the Torito (little bull) and happens every year. I found a video of it online from a couple years : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k57_I5MIstk

There were about twenty foosball tables set up in the town square. I teamed up with a local kid versus David and another kid and we creamed them*. *Disclaimer: result may have varied from stated outcome.

We went to six Maya ruins total on the trip. Most were at their peak populations from around AD 600-1000, during the Classic and early Post-Classic periods. Some of the cities were very large, with populations of about 50,000 people. It was amazing to see huge cities with only a fraction of their buildings exposed and the rest covered in jungle. The most impressive site we went to was Uxmal, which is a UNESCO world heritage site and has massive buildings with beautiful carvings. Other ruins were also fun, as we were typically the only ones at the sites walking though the jungle from building to building.

View north from the Governor's Place at Uxmal.
The arch at Labna. Just beyond this arch was a sacbe, or raised road made of stone that the Maya built connecting cities.
David takes a break at Uxmal. Some buildings at the sites were restored, some were cleared off but still ruble, and others remained covered in thick jungle.
Many of the site we went to had buildings constructed in the Puuc style. One of the most common decorating motifs of this style is the Chac (Rain God) mask, this building was covered in hundreds of the masks.

March 20, 2014

Desert Adventures

Emily and I had a super fun trip to Death Valley recently.  It was a trip that we had looking forward to for a while.  We were intending on going two weeks earlier, but with torrential rain imminent in the forecast, backpacking up slot canyons created by flash floods seemed like not the best idea.  After I completed my 10 day work week, we had four days off to play. 

We adhered to a strict regimen of as much hiking in canyons as possible interspersed with copious ice cream and treats from the general store. 
The view from above looking down at the valley floor.

The highlight of the trip was an overnight in Fall Canyon, famous for its smooth-sided narrows.  During the entire hike we were dwarfed by walls rising thousands of feet on all sides.  After a few miles we hiked up the walls of the canyon to bypass a dry fall.  After that we didn't see anyone else the rest of the trip.  

Emily and our friend Molly in the narrows of Fall Canyon.

Molly is the tiny ant in the bottom of the picture.

This is where we had to turn around.

This is a short class 4 climb to bypass a 18-foot dry fall with perfectly smooth sides.

Our other backpack was to a place called Echo Canyon.  Most people drive the 4x4 road that runs through almost the entire canyon.  Most people with a truck that is.  We tortured the Honda Civic to the first couple miles and then hoofed it on foot, carrying massive amounts of water for that day and the next (only 20lbs that trip, 25 the other).  We had good weather and relatively cool temperatures, although as we were leaving on Sunday the thermostat had made it up to 95.  It was great to get some quality desert time in before we head back to the midwest (aka flatlands) for the unforeseeable future.  
Eye of the Needle lit up with the last suns rays.

This guy was in some rocks that I was sitting on.  Luckily I didn't suffer his wrath.  Emily wished we would have brought a tent that night!

We hiked to an old abandoned mining camp with tons of old junk lying around.

February 22, 2014

Old and Older in the Bodie Hills

Although the mountains of the Sierra to the west here in Bridgeport are beautiful, David and I have both really come to appreciate the small canyons, streams and peaks of the Bodie Hills, which are directly out our back door to the east. Their rolling hills, scale, solitude and beauty is a perfect storm for exploring. Oh, and it doesn't hurt they they contain some of the best archaeology in the region. All the cool old stuff back there is the result of two different times and cultures, although a similar reason.

Bodie Hills with the Sierra in the background
Sunset over Bodie Hills
First, the Bodie Hills are jam packed with natural obsidian deposits. Obsidian, or dragonglass for you Game of Thrones nerds, is the best stone to make tools out of on earth (and probably in the solar system). It is super sharp, and in fact is still used for surgeries. So for the last 10,000+ years, people have been coming to the Bodie Hills from what is now California and Nevada to quarry obsidian. Not only are the natural obsidian deposits fun the look around for and very interesting, but there is just gobs of obsidian flakes and artifacts that people have been leaving here for millennia.

One of the Bodie Hills obsidian sources
Second, the Bodie Hills were extensively mined for gold and other minerals from the mid-19th to the mid-20th centuries. In fact, at the height of the gold boom, there were about ten times more people living in this area than there are now! In the 1860s book Roughing It, Mark Twain wrote about the mining towns in this area. These people left behind standing structures in cities, the largest of which was Bodie, which had a population of about 10,000 at its peak, and more brothels and saloons than you could shake a stick at. Bodie is now preserved as a state historic park, but there other ghost mines and town sprinkled throughout the hills. There are also smaller settlements of just a few houses to stumble upon.

One of the stone structures in the Bodie Hills
One of these little spots is in a little side canyon not too far from our house. I checked it out the other day, and found some really interesting artifacts. The historical sites I am used to are mainly campsites from dudes who were ranching or cutting down trees in the 1920s and 1930s. They usually leave behind things like milk cans, tobacco tins, beer bottles and coffee cans. The little area in this canyon didn't have any of those things, but had really thick bottles, lots of cans with interesting modifications, and some pieces of kinda fancy ceramics that made me think of some pictures of Chinese artifacts I've seen. I looked up information about this stuff back at the house, and it turns out the bottles are from the 1880s, and the ceramics were part of a porcelain rice bowl. My previous conception was that the Chinese-Americans living in this area were usually low-wage workers under close surveillance by their employers. So it is neat to think that some Chinese people could have been making a go of it in a relatively remote canyon.
Piece of the Chinese bowl

January 10, 2014

Midwest and the Mountains

This fall and early winter was jam packed with gallivanting around the Sierra and the midwest. Our first trip to the midwest was for Eve and Jim's wedding, where a great time was had by all. Jon, Leah and Ira were also able to make the trip!
The beautiful bride and your nuptial correspondent dancing. 
Back in California, my work was disrupted by the government shutdown. For the National Parks, it really was a huge waste of money and time. As was living at the busiest entrance to Yosemite, I saw firsthand the tourists that had come from around the world to see the Park and were unable to enter. Furthermore, the shutdown was bad news for lots of local businesses, and many workers at hotels lost their jobs.

Meanwhile, on the East Side, David was hard at work tracking down fox poop. He was finally able to move out of the trailer he loved so much (sarcasm alert) and into a more spacious and warm bunkhouse. We continued hiking and exploring hot springs on the East Side, although we stopped backpacking as much as the weather got colder. David also came to visit me a couple times in  El Portal, and we did a few hikes around Yosemite Valley and made lots of delicious dinners.
David's potato harvest from the Bridgeport community garden.
Halloween: Weird dancing dude and a panda.
We headed back to the Midwest right before Thanksgiving, as my job ended and David got five weeks off for the holidays. We spent Thanksgiving with David's family and Salty(Devin), who made the trip from Chicago. South Bend got a foot of snow as we all worked together to prepare and eat a delicious meal. We also got to hang out with some of David's cousins, aunts and uncles and sample some delicious family recipes.

Back in Chicago, we met up with lots of friends. One highlight was having dinner at Breanne's. Whenever we manage to get ourselves invited to her awesome house, we know we are in for a treat.

Breanne is a genius at preserving food. 
David and I parted ways in early December. Sara and David took a road trip out East to Pittsburgh and Maryland to visit family. David reports that highlights of the trip were "quality brother and sister time hanging out in the car, a nice dinner with a lot of awesome family in Pittsburgh, seeing Connor's basketball game, decorating Lara and Eric's house for Christmas together, doing a bunch of fun yard work, and going to an awesome science museum".

Meanwhile, I traveled back to Portland to defend my thesis. I was really nervous for the talking portion, so I was pretty excited to have that behind me. Leah and Jon came out for the presentation, it was really nice to have them there. I stayed in Portland another week after the defense. Although I was pretty busy with finishing touches, I was able to hang out with Leah, Jon, Ira, Chris and my other Portland friends a fair amount. It is always fun to check in on my old haunts when I'm back in Portland, which inevitably involves sampling a lot beer and good food.
Title page of thesis. Five years in the making.
We were both in Minnesota for Christmas. It was super fun to take Ira and Everett(Eve's son) sledding. We got to babysit Everett for a night, with Brenda coming in as reinforcement. We also were part of a tamale making party, making over 100 for Christmas Eve dinner. Our trip to the midwest wrapped up in Chicago, five days later than originally anticipated due to crazy weather and airline incompetence. We experienced record low temperatures in Chicago, but made the best of the situation by preforming a set of groundbreaking scientific experiments guided by our fearless leader Ellen, including blowing bubble and throwing pots of boiling water in the cold. 

Although our midwestern adventures were wonderful, we were both very happy to finally arrive at out new home in Bridgeport, California. We are renting a room in a beautiful strawbale house at the foot of the mountains. The house has a great kitchen and a woodburning stove for heat. David met the owners of the house volunteering at the community garden, as they are both super nice. We're both very excited about the cozy house and hiking and snowshoeing in the gorgeous surrounding mountains and forests.

The living room windows look straight out to the Sawtooth Range.
Nice big dining room table for all out delicious dinners. Wood burning stove is behind the table.  
Great view when washing dishes.
Sunset over the Sawtoothes from the backyard. 

September 7, 2013

Another Season in the Sierra

As summer turns to fall, David and I have been reminiscing about the summer and how lucky were are to get to spend so much time in such a special place. It is so neat to live out here and watch the seasons change, especially in the high country where the summer is so fleeting. It is already getting chilly and the leaves of the trees are changing colors in the mountains. Since we haven't really put any pictures of the summer up yet, here are some photos of where we've been throughout the last few months.

Late spring runoff.

Backpacking for David's work. Fox poo, here we come!

Stone tool on ridgeline we were surveying for fox poo.

Dosy Basin, at the campsite and time to make dinner! 

David and Marty in Lundy Canyon/
On a backpack over Mono Pass, we saw these red and white mountains in the distance. Turns out they are called the Red and White Mountains. We immediately decided to go there soon.  A couple weekends later we took a long (20 mile) day hike to McGee Pass in the Red and White Mountains. We were rewarded with incredible views and a dinner of Thai food back in Mammoth. 

View of Red and White Mountains from Mono Pass.

Almost to McGee Pass, Red and White Mountains.

The different kinds and color of rock is super cool. 
The Rim Fire this summer has been pretty crazy. It is the largest fire ever in Yosemite and one of the largest in California. It will impact natural and cultural resources in much of the northwest section of the Park. Historically, low-intensity fires occurred every 10-20 years in this area. However, 150 years of fire suppression has caused really heavy fuel loading.
View of the Rim Fire from Tuolumne.
Over Labor Day weekend, we headed to King's Canyon National Park for a two night, three day backpack around the Rae Lakes loop, which was amazingly beautiful. It is similar to Yosemite, but more rugged and less people. I had never been backpacking in King's Canyon before, so it was a real treat.

David is excited to make dinner. 

Waterfall at Bubb's Creek.

July 20, 2013

Ghost Town

David's family is visiting from Indiana, and we are staying at a comfy house a the base of Lundy Canyon on the eastern side of the Sierra, not too far from where David lives for his job. Most days have been consumed with eating good food and playing bannanagrams, but today we took a stroll around Bodie, a 19th century ghost town in the California State Park system. This former mining town contains dozens of standing buildings, many still with furniture and other household item. 

Bodie is surronded by sagebrush and hills, just east of the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range. 

Inside of an old church, with an organ. The dry climate has helped preserve the structures and their interiors.

Bigfoot spotting.