Archive for the ‘Alaska’ Category

PeFo Phytosaurs

Saturday, February 9th, 2019


After a ridiculous 35 day government shutdown our National Parks are finally open so I hurry up to Petrified Forest National Park from Tucson where I’ve cooled (?) my heels for two weeks.  As a former NPS ranger, and now also retired from 35 years of dentistry, I’m anxious to get back into the saddle, so to speak.  National Parks allow volunteers to help out and I’ve always been interested in geology and paleontology.    PeFo supplies me with a simple campground and a magnetic sign for my car, and it’s a short walk to the office……

There are two labs, of sorts;  a paleontology prep lab (my assignment) and a demonstration lab which is available to visitors who can interact with the paleontologists a few days a week.  The staff here is incredibly educated not only in educating the visitors, but extending the science of the upper Triassic fossils in northern Arizona–chiefly Phytosaurs here at PeFo.

I spend most of my days looking through a dissecting microscope picking apart matrix from bone fragments, then carefully assembling the pieces into a complete anatomical structure.  The matrix is chiefly bentonite with calcite crystals and other exotics which are easily teased from the bones.  Take a look:

The whitish matrix is removed with a tungsten-carbide tipped tool.  The bone is a whitish mineral-replacement material surrounded by a thin iron oxide residue which allows separation.  It’s tedious to say the least and this prep lab houses thousands of specimens that need to be cleaned and reassembled–which is why I’m here.  My undergraduate degree was in Geology so here I go!

My first project was to prep and assemble a Phytosaur femur.  Phytosaurs were pre-dinosaurs and looked something like 25′ crocodile except more terrifying.  This was a small one which I named Otto.  Each black/white scale is 1 cm–which took me three days to assemble–about 35 pieces.  See below:

Some are extremely small.  I can’t say how detailed this process is but every piece of bone and matrix must be separated and later screened.  The right hand dot is about 1 mm wide.  The two trapezoid pieces to the left would amount to a large grain of sand in your shoe.  Everything is eventually accounted for.  For those who know me, this a good practice for patience, although not unlike dentistry….

My second project is to dissect out bones in what was thought to be skull fragments, but turned out to be a vertebrae with rib sections.  This specimen was cast in the field by an open “jacket” –a plaster mold poured over a partially excavated find.  It is separated from the earth matrix, brought to the lab and then taken apart.

Half way through, bones emerge.  The matrix flakes away however some of the bone material is very flaky and must be stabilized with a glue cut with acetone.  This is the test–separating matrix from bone!

Along this road to discovery, I uncover a small bone fragment about one inch long–still don’t know what it might be.  It broke in several pieces as I teased the matrix away.

Here the bone fragments can be seen as the matrix is removed.  Fractures are common and frustrating but with glue can be stabilized until exposed.

One can only stare through a dissecting scope for so long so I catch a ride with the road patrol rangers–you’ve seen them–cruising around our parks keeping track of everything.  I did this for 7 years in Grand Teton National Park and loved it.  So, after nearly 50 years am back in the saddle again.  Today, I took a drive into the Eastern Expansion area–a recently acquired region east of the hourglass of PeFo.  It’s amazing country with hints of 100 year old cattle grazing (fences, wells) to ancient Puebloan civilizations.  The scenery is exquisite.

Land forms are bizarre and the colors and geology amaze.  This is near the Blue Mesa stratigraphy which is upper Triassic.  There were no birds then, only reptiles anxiously competing for dominance.  Here and there, petrified logs are perched on tops of mounds of debris.  Utterly amazing.

Here is a 4′ diameter log emerging out of the surrounding debris; this was once a teaming jungle near the equator.  The ground is littered with beautiful fragments; we literally walk through a jewelry store.

Google Earth shows stark differences between each side of the Petrified Forest National Park boundary–here at North Rainbow Forest.  Log miners have stripped everything leaving nothing but tire tracks and pilfered sand.  This is the reason we have National Parks.

A small debris field of iron rich quartzite or chert pebbles exfoliating from the cliffs above–each like a gemstone and undisturbed.

A Marscape perhaps.

An ancient log slowly releases it’s chemistry back into the cauldron called Earth, to be recycled.  I am lucky to happen by–another million years and it would be gone…..  Below is the loop drive beyond the Painted Desert Inn, built in 1920 and remodeled by the CCC in 1938 when the bentonite foundation started swelling and fracturing the building.  This vista captures old and new.  It’s a privilege to be able to work again in our national parks–I hope you visit them and support them.  Stay tuned!

Boot Hill & Botched Borders

Friday, January 25th, 2019

Boot Hill was established in 1878 according to this monument and was closed just six years later in 1884 because it was full; one hundred seventy four are identified in a brochure guide–admittance is $3.   It was a segregated cemetery with different quarters for the normally deceased, bad hombres, Chinese (Row 10) and Jews.  It took Judge C. Lawrence Huerta, a full blooded Yaqui Indian to get the Jewish quarter recognized after 100 years of disrepair–in 1983.

This is the main street of Tombstone today–many of these buildings stood 140 years ago when the shootout at OK Corral occurred.  Killed in this shootout were Billy Clanton, and Tom & Frank McLaury at the hands of the Earp Brothers and “Doc” Holliday.


They lie only three feet below the ground (hard-pan prevents deeper burial) so rocks are piled on graves to keep coyotes from rearranging things.

About 75 of these graves are marked with crosses with the word “unknown.”  Others like John Hickey, 1879 read:  “Hicks was shot by Jeremiah McCormick, superintendent of the Lucky Cuss Mine.  A saloon brawl.”  Another was Geo. Johnson “Hanged by Mistake.”  He innocently bought a stolen horse and suffered the consequences.  The classic epitaph: “Here lies Lester Moore, Four slugs from a .44, No Les, no more.” marks Lester Moore’s grave.  Read here for more Boot Hill history.

Bumbling idiots in Washington have now kept our National Parks closed for 34 days so I’m sitting on my heels here in Tucson at the doorstep of Saguaro National Park.  I did visit the Sonoran Desert Museum which is world class.  The Saguaro Cactus (Carnegiea gigantea) are the defining plants in the Sonoran Desert and are generally a protected species.  They grow to 40+’ and live over 100 years.  Weighing several tons, it is mystifying that they don’t topple over.

Another beautiful NPS unit unable to be accessed is Casa Grande Ruins, just southeast of Phoenix.

“Park Closed”

Not only is Saguaro and Case Grande Ruins closed, but so is Tumacacori National Historical Monument (Tumacacori rhymes with quackery) an old Spanish mission occupying three properties (two of which are protected).  I talked with the ranger who is keeping an eye on things; he receives a check every two weeks with zeroes.

This Park unit is located about half way between Tucson and Nogales in southern Arizona on Interstate 19.


I capture the dome and old mission buildings over the wall.  Speaking of walls…….

After my presentation to the Tucson Historical Society in Green Valley, I received a tour of the I-19 corridor down to Tubac (pronounced Tubeck); later driving all the way to Nogales–where I hung out in 1978 while working for the Indian Health Service.  We passed dozens of huge trucks hauling Caterpillar earth movers and huge military trucks–they are all heading down to Nogales to build the wall.  Forget that they are not yet funded–let’s waste some more taxpayers dollars.  Here, about 25 miles north of the Mexican border is another border check-point.  After driving through this (I was racially profiled to pass right on through), I noted two Homeland Security officers chasing a person under the next freeway overpass….    I think we should eliminate all borders with both Canada and Mexico and send down a caravan of 25,000 American RV campers with yapping poodle dogs (and mac & cheese dinners).  That’ll teach ’em.

Katahdin’s Final Trip South

Wednesday, September 19th, 2018

It’s been a great summer in Kupreanof and by mid-August, I make the final jump off the dock with Katahdin and point her south after 16 years of enduring rain and freezing winters.

She’s a bit weary from lack of paint and some rot looms in dark corners.  I spent a month going over every air start valve and put her in order for a week with dental classmate Dennis Welch and we get her running for the first time in 4 years.  The oil change was a two day affair and I thank my trusty friend Chris  Staehli who has a background with Foss, to help out with this unpleasant job.  Next stop, the fuel dock

We take on 1500 gallons of #2 diesel and pay the bill of $4815.75.  She carries 3000 gallons on a good day.  The oil change was 35 gallons topping out at mere $600.

Thanks Chris–he didn’t miss a trick on this 119 year old boat and kept the sticky start valve on time when it balked.  This time, I’m towing a 26′ Munson catamaran with twin Yamaha 150s.  We’re on the noon tide for the 70 buoy markers down the Wrangell Narrows.  This time, we do it without charts.

Our first night is at anchor in St. John Bay on Zarembo Island.   The weather is perfect.

Chris dips the fishing rod to the bottom–to no avail but we stocked up at Coastal Cold Storage in Petersburg and eat well on this trip.

We motor down Clarence Strait towards Ketchikan passing the Cleveland Peninsula where they’ve logged nearly to the shoreline.  Terrible practices in a terrible location–this is native land, I might add and the Tlingit’s want land exchanges because they keep running out of logging money.  Prince of Wales Island on the opposite side (to your back here) is equally denuded of old growth.  Most of this goes to paper pulp.

Ketchikan is in full swing–with all 52 jewelry shops fleecing tourists.  In winter, the town is a ghost town as much of the waterfront is now owned by cruise ship lines.  Modern day gold rush, so to speak.

And these ships aren’t getting any smaller.  Up to six of these behemoths will crowd in Skagway–a town with a winter population of about 450 people, down from the normal 1000 summer population.  Each of these ships carry up to 5000 passengers making way for the Heisenberg effect.  The Heisenberg effect refers to those research occasions in which the very act of measurement or observation directly alters the phenomenon under investigation.  These tourists can’t even find Ketchikan.  It’s here in Ketchikan we pick up Chris’s wife, Molly who joins us through all the exciting crossings to come.

We must clear customs so a stop in Prince Rupert is next–on the south side of the Dixon Entrance.  We hang out on Annette Island waiting out a gale wind and the crossing is quite comfortable–the first of three open ocean crossings.

Some of the best paint on the boat……  The Munson waits patiently.

After Prince Rupert, we motor down south through some of the most beautiful parts of the Inside Passage–Grenville and Finlayson Channels.  We anchor half way through this two day transit.  Here a Holland American boat passes.

The topography is spectacular–once all this was covered with glaciers several thousands of feet thick.  This land is still rapidly rebounding from these glaciers that left over 10,000 years ago.

A light house greets us at the southern terminus near Klemtu.  Our next open water is Milbanke Sound which is only an hour and a half. Bella Bella lies beyond.

A Western Towboat passes pulling a barge on the approach to Bella Bella.  There was a drought here this summer and at Shearwater, there was not a drop to be had.  All the restaurants were closed, the cisterns dry.  Petersburg had only 42″ of rain at this time; half of normal.  We’ll get 120″ on an average year.

Our travels take us down Fitz Hugh Sound past Namu and we once again anchor in Safety Cove to wait out another gale force storm passing through Queen Charlotte Sound.  Heavy smoke adds to the coastal fog.  The next morning we leave at 5am only to encounter huge swells so we high-tail it into Rivers Inlet and hide behind a sand spit encountering a half dozen small sports fishing boats.  We hail one down and discover a plush lodge about 6 miles east.  Our second night is spent there.  To the south, the visibility goes to zero due to the BC forest fire smoke–535 fires we hear which brings Justin Trudeau out to Nanaimo for a visit.

Thanks to our radar, we find the place and return to the Katahdin, bouncing on the hook and drive back to the south end of Goose Bay for a perfect anchorage.

Duncanby Lodge is a first rate destination sport fishing lodge and we really appreciated their help in the satellite internet to watch the weather.  With 1.7 meter sea data, we decide to get an early start in the morning after two nights here.  It was a wild ride hugging the coast around Smith Sound and Cape Caution in less than 1/4 mile visibility.  Eventually the swells subside and we turn off the radar and glide into Alert Bay after about 14 hours.  About 1/2 hour before anchoring, the high pressure relief valve blows so I run down and assess the situation–a plugged unloader valve–and I have the spare (and a rebuild kit)!  Chris, of Foss Towboat fame, is impressed.

It’s a crew change as Chris & Molly have to get home–so the next day we anchor in northern Desolation Sound, Big Bay (which is now all private), Savery Island, then make one bee-line down to Pender Harbor where they catch a Dehavilland Beaver home to Lake Union in Seattle.  My new crew arrives the next day–so I clean up the boat and do laundry.  Pender Harbor has grown in the 15 years since I last visited there.

Enter new crew–which is actually the crew that drove up in 2002 to Haines with me.  Ted Wilson and Rick Reese and their spouses Holly Mullen and Mary Lee Reese.  These guys were on the Grand Teton mountain rescue team also so we have great reunion. Our first night at anchor is one of my favorites on the BC Coast, Buccaneer Bay between the two Thormanby Islands.  There is always a nice sunset here……  On the Georgia Straits (Salish Sea?) crossing, it is calm so I bake two strawberry-rhubarb pies and two dozen Tollhouse cookies.  We even have ice cream.

Our second anchorage is a two day stay at Ladysmith–one night on the hook and one at the dock where we water up.  There I host my cousin Marguie and her husband Robin on board (we do a chicken barbecue feast) and catch up all things cousins do after a 10 year hiatus.  I promise to visit them in Vancouver in November and will.  Above we’re finally tied up in front of the Empress Hotel in Victoria where there’s a boat show……

From Ladysmith, we motor south at 315 rpm and negotiate the Samsung Narrows and pull into Victoria about 3pm and get a coveted space at the dock.  The Katahdin’s engine is a direct reverse meaning that there is no transmission, nor clutch, so the engine must be stopped and started in both directions to maneuver.  Here’s a link to download a short video of the engine running:   Movie Katahdin Engine

And here’s a shot of the crew–15 years older and wiser.   Everyone flies home from Victoria except Ted who helps me across the Juan de Fuca Straits into Port Townsend where I haul out……stay tuned for that adventure!