Life in the third dimension

Ever since my last encounter with John Long, a Bowlus owner who is also an accomplished photographer, I have been more curious about stereo or “3D” photography.  John is one of the acknowledged experts on the subject and showed me the beautiful portfolio of stereo images that decorates his home.

Now back in Tucson, I’ve started to play with 3D photography myself.  Composing a good stereo image is quite different from 2D photography, and it’s fun.  For practice purposes, I’ve been using “3D Camera,” which costs only a buck-ninety-nine.  The photo quality is limited by the iPhone camera, but for learning how to compose a good stereo image it’s quick and easy.

These images are all color anaglyphs, which means you’ll need a pair of those red-green glasses with paper frames.  If you’ve bought a DVD in the past couple of years that is in 3D, there’s probably a pair of those glasses in the DVD case.  If you don’t have a pair of those glasses, the image just looks blurry and crummy.  Click on the images to enlarge them.

This has been an interesting way to document the day.  The weather has been spectacular in Tucson lately, with every day in the mid 70s.  So we’ve been doing outdoor stuff and hitting the events of interest around town.  Today we dropped in on the Flandrau Science Center at the University of Arizona for an exhibit on “gas” (meaning elemental gases, not gasoline).  Sounds boring but it really wasn’t, since they kicked in plenty of neon. Above you can see Eleanor studying a neon sign through a spectroscope.

I’ve learned that shooting people is difficult to do well in stereo unless you have the type of camera that shoots two images at once.  With the iPhone I’m using the “cha cha” method, which means I shoot the left image, and then move the camera a few inches for the right image.  In between the shots, you don’t want anything to move.  As with HDR, still lifes are easier to shoot.

Downstairs in the Flandrau is a permanent exhibit on minerals, which Eleanor and Emma always love for the many fantastic examples.  For them, it’s like a prelude to the annual Tucson Gem Show.  One of the photos here is a display case from the Mineral Museum.

Our next stop was the Sonoran Glass Art Academy, where you can watch glass art being blown.  Emma made a pumpkin with the leadership of one of the staff.  It’s cooling in the kiln now, and we’ll pick it up in a few days.  The photo here shows some of the other pumpkins that have been made.

Once I feel I’ve gotten a handle on stereo composition, I’ll switch to the Nikon D90 and a stereo processing application on the Mac.  This will take longer, but the results should be much better.

I’m tempted to upload more 3D images as I get better at the technique, but I don’t want to freak out the blog readers who don’t have access to anaglyphic glasses.  So don’t expect more here.  At some point I’ll open up a Flickr album for the best shots made with the Nikon and reference that for those who are interested.


Getting Koozie at home

It’s always good to have an uneventful return to home base.  Our last day’s drive was notable only for the headwinds that dragged down our fuel economy (11.3 MPG for the trip, dreadful for this tow vehicle).  We stopped a few times to relax, swat a few flies that had hitched a ride in Texas, and make phone calls, and finally pulled into Tucson about 1 p.m. on Tuesday.

The early arrival was by design; we knew we had a lot to do.  For the past few weeks I’ve been letting some pieces of work slide just because I haven’t had time, and I’m overdue to get serious about projects in the pipeline.  Likewise, Eleanor had been mentally compiling a list of things to do once we arrived, and so we were both dreading the onslaught that would begin the moment we parked the Airstream.

Our neighbor Mike made re-entry a little nicer.  He planted “FOR SALE” signs in front of our house.  You gotta love neighbors who care about you enough to do something like that.  We all had a good laugh about it, but the next day found out that our neighbor Dottie, an elderly lady who is very sweet, thought the signs were real and was a bit upset about the possibility of us moving away.  We reassured her we weren’t planning to leave permanently and later Eleanor said, “Now Mike is on my list [for upsetting Dottie].” But I’m still sort of chuckling about Mike’s prank.

The first 24 hours back were brutal because our “to do” lists kept getting longer instead of shorter.  I reminded Eleanor and myself that we can’t let the magnitude of everything we need to do overwhelm us.  “Look at the next step, not the mountain.”  If we were full-timing, this would have been one of those weeks when we found a good spot to park and sit for five or six days while catching up on everything.  That’s actually nicer, because in that situation we would be somewhere fresh and interesting while we caught up.  It’s a drag to come home after a month-long trip and have a pile of work facing you.  But I’d rather be busy than not, and I do like my job — well, most of it.

Last night was one of those fun opportunities that comes with the job.  David Beaudette, a former HVAC contractor from Michigan, called me a few weeks ago to arrange a meeting when we got back.  He is selling a light-up drink holder called a “Koozielight,” and he’s a fan of Airstreams.  We met up late last night at El Guero Canelo (because hardly any restaurants are serving after 9 p.m. in Tucson on a weeknight) for a little Sonoran chow and a chat.

David and his business partner Scott Kusmirek drove down from Phoenix and we worked out a deal.  I think we’ll have Koozielights for everyone at Alumapalooza next year, which should be cool for all the Happy Hours under the awnings.  And yes, that’s a real tattoo on David’s arm.  He really believes in his product.

We aren’t even thinking about Airstream travel for a few weeks, at least.  But the Airstream is still in use.  We’ve got it all hooked up to water, sewer and electric.  Yesterday I was wiped out from too much work, and wandered out to the Airstream for a short break.  When it is parked in the carport I think it is at its most cozy state, because the brick walls of the carport muffle sounds from the area, and dim sunlight light to the interior, which invites napping.  The Airstream isn’t going anywhere, but it is still a great place to hang out.  It’s like a little private clubhouse.

It’s also a great guest room.  So part of the work Eleanor is doing right now involves cleaning out most of our stuff, doing all the laundry, and putting a few snacks and drinks in the refrigerator. Then our little carport motel will be open for business.  We may be the primary guests over the next few weeks, since we like going in there as much as anyone, and right now we aren’t being inundated by snow-crazed northerners looking for an escape.  In February, there may be a waiting list …


Rockhound State Park, Deming, NM

Once again I am compelled to start the blog with the phrase, WE ARE FINE.  Yesterday some large dust storms swept across I-10 between Tucson and Phoenix, resulting in several major accidents, deaths, and closure of the Interstate for hours.  We were 300 miles away at the time.  We are coming home from Texas, and so wouldn’t be traveling that section of road west of Tucson anyway.  These dust storms are a serious problem and I hope that some better safeguards can be put in place for travelers so that we never see such a horrible series of pileups again.

In contrast, we were in west Texas last night and enjoyed a very pleasant drive down the last of Texas Rt 180 to the El Paso area.  Normally I hate going through El Paso with the trailer, as traffic on I-10 can be hairy. This time we were well positioned to try the Rt 375 loop around El Paso through Ft Bliss and Franklin Mountain State Park. That turned out to be a great way to go, except for the grade up the Franklin Mountains on the section known as the “Woodrow Bean Transmountain Drive.”  The GL320 didn’t like that.  Most of the time it does very well but with 7,500 pounds of trailer attached it does tend to bog down on grades over 8%.  Like the diesel Mercedes of the 1970s, it will always get there — just not very quickly.

The best thing about this route is that it drops you off very close to Rudy’s.  This is the last stop for Texas barbecue heading west.  We picked up a couple of pounds of brisket since it freezes well, and a bit more to give to friends in Tucson who have been watching our house.  From there, it’s quick two hour drive across southern New Mexico to Deming, where we have parked at Rockhound State Park, a place we have visited before.

The same weather pattern that brought dust storms to Tucson sparked numerous thunderstorms sound of here.  The campground at Rockhound sits on an amphitheater-like slope which gave us a fantastic view of the lightning all evening.  We got rumbles and a few spatters of rain but otherwise it was just a clear balmy night with a show provided by nature.

Eleanor filled up the memory card of her camera taking pictures of the scene (as you can see here, using the bumper of the car as a platform), and trying to capture some of the lightning on video (unfortunately, not very successful).  It was that kind of photogenic night, but I didn’t take a single photo with the D90.  I just wanted to watch it all happen.

From here our next stop is home.  Work has been piling up on me the past few days, and Emma needs to get her orthodontic repair.  For the last few days I’ve had a list growing of things that need to be done in order to make a smooth transition back to home life, and more things that need doing once we are settled.

From prior years I know that the hardest part of coming off a long trip is the psychological aspect.  It’s jarring to suddenly be parked at home after weeks or months away.  Nowhere to go, nothing new to see, just the routine of suburbia.  It can be a little depressing after the sustained exultation of a new place every few days.

That’s why I develop lists and ideas of things I want to do once we get home.  Being busy upon arrival helps smooth the transition, and the list gives us all things to anticipate.  The season is becoming ideal for travel and exploration in southern Arizona, so we’ll definitely look for outdoor things to keep us busy.

The immediate tasks are less interesting.  When we leave the house I use USAA’s “store vehicle” feature on the cars we’ve left behind, which cuts our insurance premium by 60%.  Now that we’re coming back, I need to get online or make a quick call to restore coverage.  Likewise, I’ll call our DSL provider and remove the “vacation hold” on that service, set up a new mail forwarding schedule with St Brendan’s Isle so that our mail comes to the house weekly, and finally put the Verizon Wireless air card on hold since we won’t be using it for a few months.  These little tricks save us hundreds of dollars every time we go on a long trip (or come home), so it’s worth exploring what services you can suspend when you travel too.

Guadalupe Mountains National Park, TX

Guadalupe Mountains is one of those worthy national parks that we’ve repeatedly failed to explore adequately despite good intentions.  The park includes some historic sites that we have visited, but the big attraction is a network of hiking trails that have a great reputation and are undoubtedly beautiful.  We’ve never stayed long enough to do the big hikes.

Sadly, this visit will be the same.  Our stop here was on impulse, because we were tired and the idea of sleeping in the midst of the mountains in a national park sounded a lot better than parking in some nondescript RV park near Las Cruces.  Guadalupe has no hookups or dump station, but at $8 a night it’s hard to complain.

The tent area of the campground is pretty nice, surrounded by natural high desert vegetation.  The RV area is an asphalt parking lot with closely spaces sites delineated by white painted lines, and a bathroom nearby.  Our 48-foot combination just barely fit in the length of a campsite space, saving me from having to unhitch.  The fifth wheel guys all had to park their trucks elsewhere.

I can’t recommend the campground on amenities but the access to hiking trails and the views are spectacular.  The morning and evening light plays on the surrounding mountains and changes dramatically with the passage of clouds.

Having just hiked in Carlsbad we weren’t inclined to do much more than take a short walk around the park roads before dinner.  Eleanor had a pork loin she’d defrosted and which had to be cooked, so that was dinner.  She had planned to see a grocery store before cooking the pork, but the closest one to here is about 70 miles away, so she improvised with canned pears, red wine, and onions, and it came out great.

There had been an ambitious suggestion by Eleanor that we get up early and do a quick 4.2-mile hike on the Devil’s Hallway trail, but that was a non-starter.  Or to be more accurate, Emma was a non-starter, waking up slowly.  And then it rained, sealing the fate of our hike.  But we have pledge to visit Guadalupe again sometime (which will be our fourth visit) and really spend a few days to hike the trails.

Carlsbad Caverns National Monument, NM

We aren’t huge fans of the camping options near Carlsbad Caverns, so we devised a strategy:  we’d spend one night at White’s City with full hookups ($33) and then haul the Airstream up to the parking lot of Carlsbad Caverns, about 6 miles away.  A quick look at Google Maps revealed that there was plenty of space in the lot for long rigs, and being a Monday we figured park visitation would be fairly low.

This worked out but the park was far from deserted.  We got one of the last long spaces in the RV area of the lot.  Tour buses had shown up early, disgorging dozens of seniors and possibly a school group or two.

Because we arrived only a few minutes before the 10 a.m. “Kings Palace Tour,” we had to skip hiking down the vast and dramatic Natural Entrance route.  This is the first time we’ve ever ridden the elevator down to the Big Room.  It’s an ear-popping experience equivalent to a high-speed elevator in a 75-story building.

The caverns stay at 56 degrees all the time, and it’s fairly humid.  It’s fine for an hour or so in almost any clothing, because you’re walking around, but even with a sweatshirt I always get cold after a couple of hours.  Sitting on the concrete benches speeds up the chill, too.  We tried to keep moving so we could stay long enough to see everything.  Volunteers were in the cave, meticulously cleaning lint that has accumulated from the 35 million people who have visited, and they were dressed sensibly for the “weather” inside.  You can see them in the picture above, working by the light of their headlamps.

Not many people choose to exit the cave through the Natural Entrance.  It’s a steep hike (on paved trails) about 1.3 miles long, ascending 750 feet.  In fact, we didn’t run into anyone heading the same direction except for a solo Park Ranger.  Halfway through the hike I finally warmed up enough to take off my sweatshirt.  With this route out, we figured our total walking distance for the day was about 4.0 miles, all underground.

Since Emma didn’t yet have a Junior Ranger badge from Carlsbad, we stopped for lunch and she worked on it at the table in the cafeteria.  This is the only Junior Ranger badge she’s earned on this trip, since we’ve uncharacteristically made very few stops at National Parks.

Our “America the Beautiful” pass expired in September too, so we just renewed it while at Carlsbad.  It’s still a great value for anyone who visits more than a couple of park sites each year.  Back home in Tucson it gets us free parking at Sabino Canyon, free access to the Catalina Highway overlooks and parking, and free access to Saguaro National Park.

Our plan from Carlsbad was to head down to I-10 (El Paso) and look for overnight camping near Las Cruces, but after all the underground hiking we were more inclined to take it easier and just crash somewhere nearby.  Forty miles away we arrived at Guadalupe National Park (Texas), which has a small campground, and pulled in to spend the night among the mountains.  More on that tomorrow.