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All posts for the month July, 2016

I mentioned back before the trip that I hoped to find the birth record of an ancestor while I was in Salt Lake City. I figured it wouldn’t take that long, but it ended up taking about three hours. Alex is very patient. I may have found the record (we do know that the birth date and the first three letters of the surname match what I know about the ancestor), but it’s in Russian and I don’t speak Russian.

Afterwards, we spent a few hours in Temple Square, which seems much larger than I think it actually is. Officially, Temple Square is ten acres, which is three times the size of Main Plaza here in San Antonio. However, just outside what I think is the official Temple Square is a reflecting pool and then there is another probably ten-acre parcel with other buildings on it. At any rate, the other parcel looks to be the same size as Temple Square.

Since we came in from the Family History Library, we, of course, approached through the Temple Street entrance, in between the Assembly Hall and the Tabernacle. There are so many trees in Temple Square now that the impact of the Tabernacle is somehow lost. I was very taken by the Assembly Hall, though, and took lots of pictures.

We walked around the fence around the Temple (not being Mormon, we didn’t have, erm, a prayer of getting beyond that fence) and discovered a reflecting pool and, beyond that, office buildings for the church, the Joseph Smith Memorial building (which used to be the Hotel Utah) and a fountain (see image). Even farther on, you find the two homes of Brigham Young, the Lion House and the earlier Beehive House, both named for sculptures that are part of their architecture. The Lion and Beehive Houses were designed by the same architect who designed the temple itself.

Salt Lake City Temple and Fountain, 2016

The front of the Salt Lake City Temple silhouetted behind the fountain, 2016

The temple points “towards Jerusalem,” which means east. I once looked up the shortest possible distance from my home to Mecca and found that I would have to face northeast (more or less), so I suspected that was true of the temple and Jerusalem, as well. And it is. The temple should, technically, face northeast. But that’s not the actually odd part. No, the odd part, to me, at least, is that the temple is on the eastern edge of the square, so that when you approach the temple from the square itself, you are walking up to the back of the building. I wonder how many non-Mormon businesspeople and tourists staying at the Hotel Utah looked out of their hotel room window and had similar thoughts.

I’m something of a science buff. I’m no expert on anything, really, but I like to read articles on science topics. I’m not sure when I first heard of Pando. It’s a quaking aspen colony in the Fishlake National Forest and it’s the most massive single organism in the world (that we know of at this point, at least). Not the largest in area — that’s a fungus in eastern Oregon — but the, one source I read says, “heaviest,” which is I guess accurate in Earth’s gravity. Mass, though, isn’t just weight. It’s the amount of “stuff”  that compose the object.

Pando has one root system and thousands of stems.  The scientists suspected that Pando was one big tree and once they could examine its DNA, they saw that every cell of every stem for over a hundred acres had the exact same DNA. And not like all Cavendish banana plants have the same DNA (though they do). From what I can tell, the epigenetics, the changes in the expression of the genes, are the same, as well. And that would basically not happen from cloned plants.

Pando 2016

Pando in the Fishlake National Forest, near Richfield, Utah, 2016

On the slightly less uplifting front, Pando may be dying. It’s had a good run; scientists estimate that it’s 80,000 years old at a minimum, but people would like to help extend its life. They’ve fenced off portions and are experimenting on them to see what it would take to keep the tree alive. So I guess I’m glad I got to see it when I did.

While we were down there, we decided to check out Fish Lake itself. And Fish Lake was amazing. It was the bluest lake that I think I’ve ever seen. I joked with Alex that they put Ty-D-Bol in the lake. Unfortunately, Alex is too young to remember Ty-D-Bol so the joke was lost on him.

So we drove around the lake for a while, marveling at the blue color (which is, of course, totally natural, the blue color is something to do with limestone in the water) and taking pictures. Then I girded my loins for the trip back to Salt Lake City.

Why did I have to gird my loins?  Well, we drove down from Salt Lake City immediately after landing and getting our bags and rental car. This trip is how I discovered that the seat of the car was incompatible with my seat. As a result, drives that Google Maps said would take seven hours tended to take nine or more. I ended up having to stop every hour and a half to two hours to rest my rear end.

Breaking the Silence, by Alexandra Fuller, photographs by Robin Hammond

When I saw the previous article on Wrangel Island, my first thought was that this was going to be an article on global climate change. To my pleasant surprise it wasn’t. Then I turned the page and found an article on the other recurring theme of these issues, unrest in Africa.

The unrest, this time, surrounds the then-34-year-old reign (all things considered, I hesitate to use the term “administration”) of Robert Mugabe, President of Zimbabwe. In, apparently, the interest of full disclosure, Fuller tells us that she lived for a time in what was then Rhodesia and that her parents were active in keeping the white minority in power. She introduces Mugabe with these two sentences: Robert Gabriel Mugabe exuded an air of conciliatory magnanimity. My mother wasn’t buying it.

This sentence bothered me. I spent the rest of the article looking for bias. Granted, Fuller describes her parents’ efforts as “a questionable cause,” but still, I am not sure what purpose the sentence about her mother serves.

The rest of the article is largely a chronology of the reign of Mugabe and a look into the things that the people of Zimbabwe are doing to rebel against Mugabe.

Our Fertilized World, by Dan Charles, photographs by Peter Essick

I spend too much time surrounded by faux science pro-“organic” propaganda. The opening sentence of the blurb: If we don’t watch out, agriculture could destroy our planet, had me prepared for more of that sort of thing. The little voice that asks whom the writer would let starve to get the organic utopia he wants was just getting warmed up when Charles outright admits that our culture depends on the existence of artificial fertilizer.

Our Fertilized World is not so much pro-organic as anti-overfertilization. We see some of the studies being done to find better ways to fertilize it without overfertilizing.

Next up in National Geographic articles (to be posted on or around July 31, I think?), the little voice in my head is really, really bothered by nitrogen being given an atomic number of 123. And 127.

After a couple of months of dithering, I started a Tumblr today. I’m not sure what the posting schedule will be, but I’ll be posting pictures that I take on my various trips around and outside of San Antonio there. I’m beginning with a picture that I took from the airplane as we landed in Salt Lake City.

Now to see if I can figure out how to add the Tumblr widget to the home page of this blog . . . .

I’m running these out of order.  I missed two, so I’m publishing this now and will follow up with Comanche Lookout and Cibolo Nature Parks in another week or so (maybe longer if I do end up exploring downtown San Antonio for Pokéstops in the next few days).

I have to admit that I haven’t spent that much time at Concepción Park. Alex and I explored a little, and it seems to be a nice addition to the neighborhood around there, with a swimming pool, a playground, picnic tables, and sports fields. Unfortunately, it is relatively low on shade and the only walking trail is only 0.5 miles (0.8 km). Alex and I were at the park primarily as a parking lot for the Mission Reach part of the San Antonio River Walk.  Concepción Park, including the attached Sports Complex, are around 76 acres, which isn’t that large, but by my estimate, it’s around a mile along the river, which took us two tries, since we had our elderly dog with us the first time. We had to stop so that she would have the energy to make it back to the car.


My family and I have spent many happy hours at Friedrich Wildnerness Park (post to follow later). One day when the now-ex and I were heading home from Friedrich, we passed a sign for a Crownridge Canyon Park. Curious, we turned at the sign and got utterly lost trying to find the park.  We did see a wild turkey, however, when we accidentally drove into the parking lot of the Palmer Course at La Cantera, so there’s that.

This was back around 2006, in the days before everyone had Google Maps on their phones so we turned around and headed home. We figured out that we missed a turn onto Babcock and made another attempt a while later, but didn’t see the park then, either, due to having missed yet another turn that we didn’t know about.

I finally found the park for the first time sometime around 2009 or 2010 after my divorce and when my dad moved in with me and it really was worth the effort.

The area which is now Crownridge Canyon Park was, at one time, purchased by a company that wanted to put houses in that area. However, that land is in the Edwards Aquifer Recharge Zone and is also part of the nesting range of the Golden-Cheeked Warbler, both of which are pretty compelling reasons for the city to buy the land and mark it for public use. Eventually, from what I can tell, there is going to be one greenway including Crownridge Canyon, Friedrich, and the new Rancho Diana parks.

Crownridge Canyon is a great place for birders. As I mentioned, the golden-cheeked warbler and turkeys are both endemic to the area. The park also has bushtit and the last time we were there, Alex and I saw a really pretty (and still unidentified) blue bird in the parking lot.

Hill Country Water Cycles

Oscar Alvarado, Hill Country Water Cycles, 2005 (you can see the rocks of the stream off on the right-hand side)

The park has a public art display, Oscar Alvarado’s Hill Country Water Cycles, which consists of a wall and floor mural and also a model stream created with collected rainwater. The drive up to the park may be worth it just for the artwork.

Crownridge Canyon has 1.8 miles of hiking trails in a sort of figure-8 shape. The bottom loop of the 8, which is 1.3 miles, is kind of steep, but paved, so people with quite a bit of upper-body strength should be able to make the path in a wheelchair. The top loop, which is 0.5 miles, is steeper and is unpaved, so it may be unpassable by wheelchair users.

On Beyond 100, by Stephen S. Hall, photographs by Fritz Hoffmann

On Beyond 100 is largely about centenarians (people who live to be 100 or  more) and people who have conditions that might lead then to become centenarians. Two under-100s who are likely to reach highly advanced ages interviewed for this article, for example, are young men with Laron syndrome, which leads to short stature but also to a reduced risk of cancer and type 2 diabetes.

Hall also discusses the idea that caloric restriction leads to longer lives. This seems to work in mice and I actually had a teacher who was experimenting with it.  He did live to be 80, which is a respectable age, but is hardly the age he wanted to reach. And, further studies in caloric restriction show that it’s not so likely to work in primates as it seems to work in mice.

One thing that emerges from these studies is that men tend to have a larger chance of having genetic conditions that correlate highly with longevity. It seems that women centenarians greatly outnumber male ones not because of some inborn advantage, but because they take better care of themselves, including seeking out medical care.

The take-home, for me, at least, is that while science searches for genetic and hormonal pathways to longer life, and I do seem to be in better shape than most of my female ancestors were at my age, it also behooves me to also take care of my body.

Russian Refuge, by Hampton Sides, photographs by Sergey Gorshkov

In this article, we visit a Russian island with the very un-Russian-sounding name of Wrangel Island. Wrangel Island was named for Ferdinand von Wrangel who was born to a German family in Russia. Wrangel attempted to find the island in the 1820s, but failed. This was probably a good thing for his own longevity, since it took another 60 years for someone to actually land there and live to tell the tale. That someone was an American expedition.  Since Americans were the first to land there and return, Wrangel Island was for a time thought of as part of the United States.

In the 1920s, Russia claimed ownership of the island and forcibly moved a colony from Siberia there. Their descendants stayed there until the 1970s, when Wrangel Island became a nature preserve. Perhaps there will be eco-tourism there someday, but that day is still quite a ways off.


In other news, I hope to take Alex downtown tomorrow to check out the Pokéstops and see if the people who played Ingress found any historical markers, public art, etc., that I have missed on my many trips downtown. I may also try to catch a few Pokémon while I’m there, too.

I’m not a big fan of computer games.  I play those Bejeweled-style things where you match up three or more matching items, sometimes when I’m stressed out I play a few rounds of Sudoku as a sort of aid to meditation, and I’m experimenting with Papa Pear Saga, but I’m about at the end of my interest on that one. I’ve always been kind of curious about video games, though, and have kind of wanted to try more.

And if there’s one thing I like to do, it’s go places and walk around.  If I can meet new people in the process, that’s a plus. So, when I discovered the existence of Pokémon GO, I figured that I could go places and walk around, meet new people, and possibly satisfy some of my curiosity regarding video games.

I downloaded the game the day before we left on our vacation and went around the block capturing my first few Pokémon. I giggled the whole time.

San Antonio International Airport has quite a few Pokéstops (and that’s where I figured out what the heck those things were and how to use them; I gotta tell you, “Flying Manbaby” had me really confused for quite a while). Also, the Pokéstops are apparently left over from another game called Ingress, where they marked points of interest, and they completed a remodel in 2014.  Somewhere along the line, the interesting part of some of the Pokéstops got lost, I think.

Nevertheless, I did make some progress in figuring the game out while we waited.  I also caught my first Pokémon of the trip almost as soon as we landed.  There was a Ponyta on the baggage carousel. That was pretty exciting, if I do say so.

As we traveled around the Salt Lake City area, I caught more Pokémon and Alex helped me figure out reliably get a Pokéstop to cough up its pokéballs, eggs, etc. (you spin the center circle by swiping). I didn’t bump into any other grown-ups playing Pokémon GO in Salt Lake City, though. A few kids, but no adults.

We didn’t have phone or internet service in Yellowstone itself, unfortunately, so I will never know what Pokémon or Pokéstops I would have seen there.  However, so many people were playing in our hotel in West Yellowstone that I caught a number of them in my room, where I still was on roaming, but at least I had access to the hotel’s wi-fi.

We stopped for lunch in Jackson on our way from Yellowstone to Vernal, Utah.  I had phone service there, but the Pokémon GO servers were busy, so I never even saw a damn Pokéstop on that part of the trip.

We had service again in Vernal, Utah.  I caught a few in the hotel and hit a few Pokéstops in Dinosaur National Monument and again on our half-hour return to Salt Lake City.

I caught my final Pokémon of the trip at the gate at the airport for our return flight. It was another Ponyta. That made a nice bookend to the 2016 vacation Pokémon.  I know that those two Ponyta and everything in between it were from that trip.  Now, to wee if the Chicago trip (18 days away!) will bookend itself so nicely.

This weekend, I hope to visit an actual park, rather than just picking up stray Pokémon in the parking lot at work, and possibly to return to Alex and my project of trying to walk the entire Riverwalk. We’re down to Mission San Jose, so two more missions and we’re done.

And I only cracked a National Geographic open once.  I’d better get going on that.

It was a great trip, even if I did end up spending quite a lot of it behind the wheel of a car.  I’m not a huge fan of driving, but I figured I could handle a couple of days of long-haul driving. I totally underestimated the size of Yellowstone. You could drop San Antonio in the middle of the park and there’d still be about 19 miles in every direction left over. So, yeah.  I spent a *lot* of time behind the wheel of the car.

I did take nearly 700 pictures, though. Well, since I was driving for quite a lot of the time, Alex took probably one in five as my agent. I’d say, “Ooh! That’s pretty/interesting/whatever! Get a picture of that!” and he’d pick up my phone and snap at least one picture, sometimes several, to get the subject from different angles as we drove.

I’m supposed to have a new post out tomorrow, and since I’m behind on the National Geographic reading, I guess that I’ll probably write about Temple Square in Salt Lake City, since that was our first destination on the trip.  Well, it was our second, but the first was the Family History Library and while I think I may have found an ancestor’s birth records I can’t be sure that I did, so I’ll probably mention it in passing, rather than dedicating a whole post to it.

Or should I talk about playing Pokemon Go? Since I love to see new things and really love walking, I figured that Pokemon Go would be a good thing to try, and so I tried it on this trip. I should have been asleep half an hour ago now, so it doesn’t matter which I will do, I’m certainly not going to get it done now.

So, since I’m not sure how to tackle over the 200 parks that I haven’t covered yet (many of which I haven’t even visited yet), I guess I’ll do this alphabetically.

First of the ones I’ve visited, I guess, is Alamo Plaza.  I didn’t even realize that Alamo Plaza was a park until I saw it on the San Antonio Parks and Recreation website.  While Alamo Plaza has a fair bit of history — it was part of the mission complex for Mission San Antonio de Valero (the Alamo’s original name). Today, though, there’s really not much to Alamo Plaza.  I don’t think that the Alamo itself is actually part of the park. The Alamo is owned by the Texas General Land Office and not the city.  The plaza itself is largely paved with limestone. People gather there to socialize and street vendors (notably, if I recall correctly, raspa (sno-cone) vendors) sometimes have carts set up there. There’s a gazebo and the cenotaph, which is a giant monument listing the names of those who died in the battle of the Alamo. Also, Alamo Plaza is where the city sets up the city Christmas tree.

2015 San Antonio Christmas Tree

The 2015 city Christmas tree for San Antonio, Texas in Alamo Plaza.

Bamberger Nature Park is in a completely different part of the city — the northwest side. At nearly 71 acres (28.7 hectares), Bamberger is considerably larger than Alamo Plaza. I seem to recall that seeing a sign saying that before it was a park, Bamberger was a part of some family’s farm.  I thought I took a picture of the sign but can’t find it now.

There isn’t a whole lot more to Bamberger Nature Park than there is to Alamo Plaza, only in the other direction. Where Alamo Plaza is all built up, Bamberger Nature Park is largely unimproved. The only real change made to the park are 2.5 miles of hiking and biking trails. These trails connect to the Leon Creek Greenway. I’ve been there twice, once intentionally in December of 2014, and the other one in the spring of 2016 when I made a wrong turn on the Leon Creek Greenway. Both times, it was a very nice place to take a nature walk.  Even if it was a little chilly in December.

I started writing this, thinking that Independence Hall would have been our first stop once we got our bearings, but apparently we went to Christ Church first.  I considered bumping this back and running Christ Church first, but that puts this post as launching after we get back from Utah/Montana/Wyoming/Colorado, and I really need to queue up the posts for when we’re gone first. By the way, assuming that our flight out goes as planned, as you read this, Alex and I are in a rental car driving from our hotel in Montana to Dinosaur National Monument.

Alex and I didn’t get to Independence Hall in 2015. After the debacle of getting to Rome in 2014 caused us to lose somewhere in the neighborhood of $100 (you’ll hear the whole story later, but for now, bad weather caused us to miss our connection out of Atlanta, which put us into Rome 10 hours late.  Unfortunately, I’d only booked the train tickets about six hours after our plane was due to land, so we missed the train (with nonrefundable tickets) by four hours), I hesitated to book too much in advance on the 2015 trip. Even buying the train tickets to Philadelphia made me nervous, and that part of the trip was planned for the Saturday of a trip that started on a Tuesday. Long story short, we walked around Independence Hall and I gave Alex the $0.05 lecture on the significance of the building, but we never actually got inside.

Fortunately, I have gotten into Independence Hall. I cannot remember if we got our tickets ahead of time or not, but I suspect we didn’t. This was the days before everyone had Web access in their homes. I do remember that we bought our Statue of Liberty tickets the morning of the trip out to Liberty Island, so we probably picked up the Independence Hall tickets the same day as that tour, as well.

For those not in the United States (or for those in the United States who have forgotten their United States history), Independence Hall stands in Independence National Historical Park, which also includes (but is not limited to) other sites such as the Liberty Bell Center, the First and Second United States Banks, and the President’s House, the archaeological site of the presidential mansion from the final years of the presidency of George Washington and the early years of the presidency of John Adams. The President’s House, which was excavated in the early 21st Century (and thus we may have walked right over it without knowing it in 1988), is also a monument to the African-Americans who lived in enslaved conditions in colonial days. Particular focus is put on Oney Judge, who had been “on loan” to George Washington and who escaped from the President’s House on May 21, 1796.

Independence Hall was the first capitol building of the United States of America. It served as the meeting place for the Continental Congress.  The building is probably most famous for being the site where the Declaration of Independence was signed, though it is also where the Constitutional Convention was held.  Originally, the founders passed something called the Articles of Confederation, which lasted for about eight years.  When their first attempt turned out to be a big failure, Congress reconvened and passed a whole new set of laws providing for a whole new arrangement for the government, and that is the constitution that the United States of America has today.

Independence Hall has changed much over the intervening centuries.  They added a clock to the side of the building, then removed the clock, then put the clock back up.  They apparently completely gutted the building at one point. The interior that we have today is relatively recent — the National Park Service did a major renovation on the building when they took it over. The project took from 1951 until 1973. I’m looking for pictures of what the building looked like prior to the renovation. I have a horrible thought that it might have had one of those drop ceilings with the foam acoustic tiles, but perhaps since the renovation started in 1951, the building was spared that indignity, at least.

Independence Hall, 1988

Independence Hall, 1988. You can’t see it, but the Centennial Bell (in the steeple) was ringing as I took this picture).

We stayed in a hotel close to Independence Hall while we were in Philadelphia, and so I got used to hearing the Centennial Bell ringing. Knowing that it would be the last time I’d hear that sound for quite a while (it ended up being, what? 27 years?), I took the above picture as it rang on our last day there.

On the tour, they talked about the history of the building, including the renovations.  It’s still neat, though, to stand in the building where such important stuff happened. And sure, you’re not standing in exactly the same place as the founders stood when they did their founding, but at least you’re looking out the same windows?