Sunday, June 24, 2012

2012 San Diego County Fair

Another summer, another San Diego County Fair in Del Mar, CA.

© Photo by Noah Unsworth
Tori and I went this Saturday and once we made it inside, we made a beeline to Pignotti's for a meatball sandwich. This year I tried the Meatball and Spaghetti Sandwich. It was good, but the wetter noodles made the normally toasty garlic bread a little bit soggy. Tori ordered the smaller Meatball Sliders to save room for other fair food. I think I will try those next year.

© Photo by Noah Unsworth
I watch the Mark Yuzuik Hypnotist Show almost every fair, but this was Tori's first time. A lot of the show's elements are always the same, but seeing the different reactions from those under hypnosis never gets old. I took this photo showing a great range of activity within one frame. From left to right, you can see three girls rockin' out, a young boy about to perform as Carrie Underwood, two guys playing Patty Cake, a lady re-attaching her butt, and two more dudes howling at the moon.

© Photo by Noah Unsworth
It has been a long time since I have been on a ferris wheel so I wanted to ride the Grand Wheel with Tori at sunset, but the sun had dropped below the horizon before the hypnotist show ended. Since twilight was fading away by the time we made it to the top, it worked out great anyway because we had a wonderful view of the fair all lit up at night.

© Photo by Noah Unsworth
© Photo by Noah Unsworth
© Photo by Noah Unsworth
Since we had extra tickets, we also rode the Sky Flyer. I have always enjoyed the smaller Wave Swinger and this was like an extreme version of it with double seats.

© Photo by Noah Unsworth
© Photo by Noah Unsworth
After the rides in the Fun Zone, Tori and I checked out the Photo Exhibition to look for the class projects she entered. They were hard to find but we eventually discovered that she received a 1st Place Ribbon for the photo restoration of her grandmother as a baby and a 3rd Place Ribbon for her mosaic image.

© Photo by Noah Unsworth
Even though we ate a cinnamon roll and an apple tower earlier, we still had to share one of the new food items at the fair, Deep Fried Trix. It tasted pretty good, like a doughnut with crushed up Trix cereal inside. Here is a photo of Tori finishing it off as we wait in line for some Kettle Corn to take home.

© Photo by Noah Unsworth
The fair was unusually crowded this year. We departed just in time, getting in the line for the shuttle bus before it stretched out across the parking lot behind us. Even then, it still took us over an hour to get back to my Jeep.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Mesa Verde National Park - Pueblo Cliff Dwellings

While camping in the small Colorado town of Mancos for a friend's wedding, I didn't know the Mesa Verde National Park was only seven miles away. When I spotted a postcard in the local grocery store that displayed the iconic Pueblo Cliff Dwellings, I knew I had to visit before I left. After the Saturday festivities, I woke up early on Sunday and drove over to the park before my evening flight home.

On the long winding drive through Mesa Verde, I stopped first at Park Point, the tip of the highest mesa overlooking Mancos. It was a great view from 8,427 feet, but I wished the puffy white clouds crossing the sky on Friday and Saturday had hung around for one more day. Continuing on, I reached the Far View Visitor Center. The name perfectly describes the vista stretching deep into the park from its deck. While there are a few cliff dwellings visitors can walk to on their own, the best ones can only be reached on ranger-guided tours purchased at Far View. With my flight at 8pm, I was able to purchase tickets ($3 each) for Cliff Palace at 2:30 and Balcony House at 4:00. If the park is too crowded, they will limit visitors to only one tour.

Spruce Tree House is the best preserved and third largest (216 wide, 89 feet deep) of the cliff dwellings. Since it is self-guided, I was able to hike the 100 feet down into the canyon and check it out for myself before my tours started. I have always wanted to see the Pueblo ruins since I was a child and Spruce Tree didn't disappoint. Constructed between 1211 and 1278 AD, 60 to 80 people lived in this cave's 130 rooms. (Discovered in 1888.) I took a lot of pictures and I was able to climb a ladder down into one of the 8 kivas, covered underground pits used for ceremonial purposes. To prevent visitors walking on the sacred floor, the park put down a foot of dirt to protect the original surface.

After visiting Spruce Tree House, I cooled off from the 90 degree heat in the Chapin Mesa Archaeology Museum perched on the plateau above. The Ancestral Puebloans lived in the Mesa Verde area from 550 to 1300 AD, but only constructed and lived in the cliff dwellings during the last century before migrating down to Arizona and New Mexico due to severe drought. Besides rainfall, their only source of collected water was from seep springs emerging from a layer of shale a hundred feet down. Most of the park's 600 dwellings inside the sandstone alcoves are located near these water sources at 7,000 feet.

After visiting the museum and eating a tasty Navajo Taco for lunch, I drove south along Cliff Palace Loop where my afternoon tours were located. The one-lane road circles the top of Chapin Mesa with shear drops along the side and nice turnouts to stop and enjoy the view. Before resettling down into the cliffs, the Pueblos lived on top of the mesas alongside their fields of corn, beans and squash. Because of a huge fire in 2000, several areas had large expanses of dead trees creating a very dramatic landscape.

Cliff Palace is the largest and most iconic of the cliff dwellings. The ranger-guided tour started high on the overlook with a great view down the long Cliff Canyon into the famous dwellings below. The ruins were only 100 feet down, but the access path was narrow with uneven stone steps and five ladders. With 150 rooms and 23 kivas, the ranger said Cliff Palace may have been the administrative or ceremonial hub for the surrounding communities. Constructed between 1190 to 1260 AD, 100 to 150 people lived here before it was abandoned in 1300. While Spruce Tree House had been in the shadows, at this time of day the sun lit up the interior of Cliff Palace. Looking through the tiny door of the four-story Square Tower House, a rare pictograph of red paint is still preserved high up the interior wall.

Balcony House is the park's most adventurous tour as the cliff dwelling is high up on the cliff face with steep drop to the canyon floor below. We had to clamber up a 32-foot ladder to enter and crawl through a narrow 12-foot tunnel before another climb up a 60-foot open cliff face with stone foot holds in the rock and two more 10-foot ladders. Constructed around 1278 AD, Balcony House has 40 rooms and only 2 kivas. (Discovered in 1884.) Standing on the ledge of the cliff dwelling, there is a great view of Soda Canyon. As the ranger was talking about the small spirit hole at the bottom of one of the kivas, four large ravens began swooping back and forth and cawing just outside the cave. She took this opportunity to tell us the Pueblo's creation story that involves the raven spirit. As we were leaving, strong gusts of wind kicked up dust and dropped pebbles on my head.

Mesa Verde was a great way to end my weekend trip to attend Laurel and Nicholas' wedding in the Mancos State Park where most of the other guests were camping as well. Driving from the Durango Airport on Friday, I had enough time to set up my tent and explore the small park before joining everyone for dinner at the Absolute Bakery and Cafe. We all then headed over to the Historic Mancos Opera House to watch Nicholas' band, the Afrobeat Minions, perform. I finally crawled into my sleeping bag around midnight.

The weather on Saturday was beautiful, bright blue skies with large puffy clouds overhead. In the morning, the fathers of the bride and groom served a nice brunch over in the picnic area. (The Chicken and Smoked Gouda Quiche was soooo good.) While waiting for the wedding ceremony to begin at 4pm, I hung out with Melissa and others down at Jackson Gulch lake, paddle-boarding and relaxing in the shade. I also went over to check out Tim who was roasting an entire pig in his wood-burning smoker for the wedding reception. It smelled delicious!

The dramatic white clouds floating overhead with a soft breeze rustling through the trees provided a great atmosphere for the wedding ceremony. It was very musical with drums at the beginning and Nicholas' brother, Michael, closing it out playing the guitar. During the reception, it was my turn to help out with drink-serving duty. After the entire food line passed through, I got a chance to eat and I overloaded my plate. The roasted pig tasted as good as it smelled.

After the reception, the night ended with an open mic talent show, an eclectic mix of singing, poems, dancing and drum/guitar playing by the guests. My favorite performance was Laurel's friend, Amanda, singing a couple of funny songs with her ukulele. The second one was about a mad scientist living on Skull Crusher Mountain who crossbreeds a strange creature (part monkey / part pony / part monster) as a gift that is rejected. (Too many monkeys, not enough pony.)

Monday, June 11, 2012

Flying Trapeze - Planche

I went out to the Flying Trapeze rig with Tori for the second time yesterday and I pulled off my first release trick called the Planche (French for Plank). The Planche involves bringing the legs up so the fly bar is behind the thighs on the front swing and straightening out into a rigid plank on the backend with the bar tight under the butt. After releasing the bar at the top of the swing, the arms are extended in front for the catch.

After a quick ground lesson, I had four swings to practice the position to the net. I was so happy that I was able to straighten out into the plank on my first swing that I forgot to extend my arms out after the release. After the adrenaline rush of the first swing, time slowed on my second so that it felt like forever until I heard the "Hep" command to release the bar and stick out my hands. My technique suffered on my third so I had to release early as my body fell away from the bar. The last practice swing was my best, but I still had some minor flaws with my head and feet positions. Since I was behind Tori in line, I got to watch her work on her swing each time I was up on the platform. She gets so high, swinging over our heads in the seven position.

I was able to complete both of my Planche catches even though I made some mistakes with each. I forgot to look forward from my neutral face on the first and on the second I grabbed the catcher's arms instead of letting him lock onto me. While I was doing my catches, Tori was working on a more difficult trick, the Cutaway Half. To my inexperienced eyes, it looked like there was a flip and a twist involved, but I am not positive. On her first attempt she missed the catch, but was still able to touch hands. With her second try, she was able to complete the grab. Nice!

Next time I come to Trapeze High, they told me I am ready to learn the one-handed takeoff and how to swing higher with added momentum from my legs. While I was very sore after my first trapeze session, today I only have a little stiffness in my upper back. Big improvement.

Here is the video of my first attempt to be caught from the Planche position.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Boating on San Diego Harbor

I went boating with Tori and her friends Saturday on the San Diego Harbor. Tori and Kenny both know how to operate a sailboat, but they are both out of practice so we rented a speedboat instead from a marina near Sea Port Village. A crowded boat is not the best place to eat, but we brought wine, cheese and crackers for a nice snack.

The first picture has Jennine and Corinna in the front as Kenny pilots the speedboat towards the Coronado Bridge with Jill.

Hat Overboard! We lost one, but I caught Corinna's in the crook of my elbow as it flew past.

A view of the Downtown San Diego skyline under the Coronado Bridge.

Underneath the curve of the Coronado Bridge.

Tori cuddling up to me. It was a bit windy and chilly, but we had lots of fun!

A view of several ships from the San Diego Maritime Museum. The Soviet B-39 Submarine, the HMS Surprise from the film "Master and Commander" and the Star of India in front of the Santa Fe Train Depot.

My turn racing the speedboat past the Midway and other active Navy Aircraft Carriers stationed in the harbor.

Tori, Corinna and Jennine huddled under a blanket.

Rays of light from the setting sun piercing the clouds in front of a pirate ship.

After our afternoon on the harbor, Corinna and Jennine cooked dinner for Tori and I at their place.  I was so tired, I fell asleep sitting on the couch.