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A Visit to APO

May 25, 2014 Leave a comment
Apache Point Observatory's 3.5-meter telescope

Apache Point Observatory’s 3.5-meter telescope

[All photos by me on my iPhone, alas. Not the greatest detail (but click on the photos for more).]

Two weeks ago tonight I was packing for a short trip to New Mexico to join in the celebration of Apache Point Observatory‘s twentieth anniversary, as well as the overlapping thirtieth anniversary of the founding of the university consortium (the Astrophysical Research Consortium) that runs the observatory. I departed the next morning, spending most of the day getting there.

It turns out to take a while to get to telescopes, even relatively nearby ones. No surprise, once one thinks about it, given the benefits of remote siting. But it wouldn’t have been such a long trip if there were non-stop flights from Seattle to El Paso. Instead, I flew to Phoenix, changed planes, then on to El Paso, then drove 90 or so miles north through the Tularosa Basin, from Texas into southern New Mexico, until I reached Alamogordo, then 16 winding miles east into the Sacramento Mountains to the tiny historic resort town of Cloudcroft, about 8700 feet up.

There’s an alternative: fly non-stop into Albuquerque on a Southwest flight that leaves Seattle at 6:30 am, then drive 225 miles south and east to Alamogordo before climbing to Cloudcroft. The main problem with this route is staying awake during the drive, after getting up 3:30 am to get to the airport. Gail and I took this approach in April 2008. I was fading before the town of Tularosa, a few miles north of Alamogordo. On the other hand, this route brings you through San Antonio, New Mexico, home of Owl Bar and Cafe and its green chile cheeseburgers, about which Michael Stern wrote,

the unique New Mexico hamburger is what has put this out-of-the-way watering hole on the good eats map. Since at least the early days of atomic bomb tests at nearby White Sands, when scientists used to come here for an explosive meal, The Owl Bar has built such an exalted a reputation that aficionados drive from Texas and Colorado to eat ’em two by two. It is so popular at lunch in the summertime, you may have to wait for a place to sit.

Crusty, gnarled patties of beef are covered with chopped hot green chilies and the chilies are in turn topped with a slice of cheese that melts into them and the crevices of the hamburger. The green chile itself is a flavor revelation; in concert with beef, it’s magic. Customary condiments include raw onion, chopped lettuce, sliced tomato, and pickle chips. This is one glorious package, and while we have never compared it side-by-side to the excellent green chile cheeseburger up at Bobcat Bite in Santa Fe, there can be no doubt that the Owl Bar’s version is among the state’s best. Green chile cheese fries are also available on the side.

Nearby is Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, which Gail and I didn’t have time for in our 2008 trip. Some day. It’s supposed to be extraordinary. But not this time. This time, I went alone, flew into El Paso, and came from the south.

The place to stay in Cloudcroft is The Lodge. On our 2008 visit, the sudden change in elevation left me breathless as I carried our bags up the stairs to our third floor room. This time I was on the third floor again, just down the hall from our 2008 room, but the climb up wasn’t such a struggle.

After a quick dinner at Rebecca’s, the Lodge’s restaurant, I got back in the car for the 16-mile drive to the observatory. A mile out of town, one turns onto State Road 6563, that number being something of an inside joke. If you’ve studied physics, you may know that one of the wavelengths of light emitted by a hydrogen atom is 6563 ångstroms. Hence the road number.

The road ends at Sunspot, New Mexico, home of the National Solar Observatory‘s Sacramento Peak site and the Richard B. Dunn Solar Telescope. Apache Point Observatory was built nearby.

The road takes you up to about 9200 feet. It’s slow going, with lots of curves, but that’s the least of it, as one must be on the lookout for deer and elk, which hang out along the side. I got to APO for the opening festivities: dessert, non-alcoholic beverages (telescope sites can be dangerous; drinking in the dark and wandering into a telescope isn’t a good idea) and, once it got dark, viewing through the 3.5-meter telescope’s eyepiece.

It’s a rare rare day when an eyepiece is attached to a working research telescope. The light gathered by a telescope is normally directed into instruments that can capture the light and convert it into useful data, such as spectrographs. (See here for a list of the instruments available for this particular telescope.) Thus, this was a special treat, befitting a celebration.

I signed up for the first viewing. This would allow me to turn in early. But it also meant I wouldn’t view in full darkness. For our session, the telescope started with Mars, then was turned to Jupiter, then the moon. And since it was still early in the evening, the telescope mirrors were still adjusting to the outdoor temperatures, so the images were a bit blurry. Still, they were dramatic. Two of Jupiter’s moons were in the field of vision. The moon details were spectacular. Mind you, through a telescope of that size, the moon is pretty darn bright. One had to avoid looking directly into the center of the eyepiece.

Looking down into the 3.5-meter mirror, which you don't realize you're looking at because, you know, it's a mirror, an extremely well polished one at that.

Looking down into the 3.5-meter mirror, which you don’t realize you’re looking at because, you know, it’s a mirror, an extremely well polished one at that.

I headed back to the Lodge shortly after coming down from the telescope. The next morning, after a green chile and egg breakfast at Rebecca’s, I drove back for a day of talks at the National Solar Observatory’s visitor center. The morning talks featured history, the afternoon’s astronomy, with a two-hour break for lunch, walks, and conversation. I’ve been involved with the observatory for eleven years, but much of the early history was news to me. The lunch break allowed me to revisit the solar telescopes. Then it was back to the Lodge, for rest, a reception, and the festive dinner. The next day, I retraced my route–down to Alamogordo, into El Paso (with some time to kill driving around downtown, along the Rio Grande, and fighting through some closed roads and detours to get to the airport), then flights to Phoenix and Seattle.

I wouldn’t have minded a little extra time. In 2005, on my first trip to APO, I took a later flight out of El Paso. That gave me enough time to head west into the heart of the Tularosa Basin from Alamogordo for a stop at White Sands National Monument before driving to El Paso, and enough time in El Paso to park at a McDonald’s a few blocks north of the border and go through a small outdoor market next door to the McDonald’s. Some day we’ll go down for a more leisurely visit.

I’ll close with more photos.

In the one below, you see the “secondary” mirror of the 3.5-meter telescope. Light is collected by the huge 3.5-meter mirror at the bottom, reflected back up to the smaller secondary mirror at the top, then focused more narrowly and sent to the tertiary mirror below, which diverts the light into one of the attached instruments.

Secondary mirror

Secondary mirror

In the next photo, we look out through the opening of the building housing the 3.5-meter telescope, with other telescopes in view down the hill. The unusual-looking telescope to the right, partially obscured by a tree, is our famous 2.5-meter Sloan Digital Sky Survey telescope.

The view from the 3.5-meter

The view from the 3.5-meter

Next is a view from a lookout point on Sacramento Peak, just to the side of the Richard B. Dunn Solar Telescope. It was a little too hazy, so you can’t get that good a look at the Tularosa Basin and white sands below.

Tularosa Basin from Sacramento Peak

Tularosa Basin from Sacramento Peak

Finally, here is the Dunn solar telescope. Most of it is below ground. Solar telescopes are a whole different beast from ordinary optical telescopes.

Richard B. Dunn Solar Telescope at the National Solar Observatory

Richard B. Dunn Solar Telescope at the National Solar Observatory

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Categories: Science, Travel

When You Know You’re Old

April 17, 2014 Leave a comment

PanAmTerminal

I wrote four posts last Sunday about our visit to New York the week before on the occasion of my mother’s 94th birthday. Left unwritten was this one, in which our trip ends with an unexpected gift.

You may be familiar with the once-glorious Pan Am terminal at JFK, pictured above. On Pan Am’s death, Delta took it over. Under the numbering system developed for JFK’s different buildings, it became the prosaic Terminal 3. It also became a dump, though no less so than its neighbor, Terminal 2, which Delta also uses. Flying Delta to JFK, you knew you had arrived in hell, especially in contrast to the new terminals (5 and 8) that JetBlue and American built.

And then there was the old international arrivals terminal, which in an era when only Pan Am and TWA, among US carriers, flew overseas, and from their own terminals, was where all the foreign airlines came. It received its own facelift a few years ago.

With T3 beyond repair, Delta decided to invest in a huge extension to T4, which opened last May. They still use T2, while T3 is now a ruin. The T4 extension is a huge arm running perpendicular to the main entry building for as far as you can see, and then some. We flew into the end gate last summer and walked/rode the moving walkway forever to get to baggage claim.

The terminal’s new Delta Sky Club is far past the wing’s midpoint, which suggests that the extension isn’t finished, and that is indeed the case. Last November, I dropped Gail and Joel at T4 for their return to Seattle and then took the post-security shuttle bus from T4 around to T2 to catch a flight to Chicago, giving me a good view from the tarmac of the continued construction. When the extension is completed, the club will no doubt find itself at the midpoint.

Anyway, here we were, two Sundays ago, at T4, just through security, with a long walk first to the Delta wing and then to the farthest end of it for our Seattle flight. Or maybe not quite the farthest end, since we were going to stop first at the club.

As we made the turn from the main terminal area to the Delta wing, one of those beeping shuttle vehicles was headed right at us, the kind with a few rows of bench seats that ferries passengers with mobility problems out to the gates. It was returning passenger-less, and I was trying to get out of its way when suddenly the driver pulled alongside to ask what gate we were headed to. I gave him a number just short of our actual gate, one by the club. He said hop on.

Hop on? Did I look like I needed a ride? How old do I look anyway?

Well, who cares? This was too good an opportunity to pass up. And there was plenty of room on board. Gail got in one row, me in the one behind. Joel looked at us like we were insane and kept walking. Then we were off.

I had to record this, at the least so I could show Joel what he was missing. I got my phone out, took a photo, then switched to movie mode. You can see the result below. We asked the driver to pull up to the club entrance and we jumped off.

If this is what being old is like, I’ll take it.

Oh, bonus viewing: see if you can spot our son as we pass him. I didn’t even notice him when we went by, but he’s there, in the video.

Categories: Life, Transportation, Travel

The Race

April 13, 2014 Leave a comment

cablevision

One of the pleasures of travel is the opportunity it affords to discover how similar life is in other places. And how different.

Take cable, for instance. Here in Seattle, we live under the Comcast monopoly. A few years ago, they rebranded all their services under the Xfinity label. Back at my parents’ house in New York, Cablevision runs things, and they brand their services under the Optimum name. I have no idea why cable companies decided to invent stupid names for their consumer services.

In any case, when we were in New York last week, we decided to help with some cable box problems. I called Cablevision, described the issue, and was told that we should exchange our DVR for a new one at the nearest Optimum store, in Roslyn. We disconnected everything, put the box in our rental car, and drove off.

Once in the store, I was amazed to see that it was a clone of our Seattle Comcast Xfinity store. Long line. Lots of customer service reps behind computer screens along a long counter. Piles of cable and DVR boxes behind them. Wait your turn, walk up, describe problem, turn in box, get new box with new power cable. It was like a parallel universe, with only the store name changed.

Except for one thing. The race. This I haven’t seen in Seattle.

When we drove into the Optimum lot, I passed up some parking spots close to the front door, parked out of the way, Gail and Joel got out, I fussed with the rental car a bit, finally getting out and locking up, during which time a woman had driven into the lot, parked, and gotten out with what looked like a bill and cash in one hand. There was a bit of drizzle. I looked over to see Gail and Joel waiting for me rather than heading in to get on line. Suddenly, the woman was off and running. I told Gail to go ahead, which she did. But she wasn’t going to run too. Clip clop, clip clop the women’s shoes rhythmically pounded as she passed Gail and entered with a yard to spare. Amazing.

Of course, we ended up standing in line just behind the race winner, who kept her head rigidly facing forward, suitably embarrassed I’d like to believe. Her reward? She was taken about two seconds ahead of us, with several spots opening up at once.

The new DVR we were given didn’t solve the problem. In that regard, the trip was a waste. But we did enjoy the new lesson in human behavior. Next time we go to the cable store, we’ll be wearing running shoes.

Categories: Life, Travel

The Good Life Gets Better

March 16, 2014 Leave a comment

cadburykitkat

Last April, in my post The Good Life: Cadbury Fingers, I wrote about the arrival from Edinburgh of our friends Tom and Carol with four boxes of Cadbury Fingers. Let me quote again from the Cadbury website.

This little biscuit is a national treasure and with its delicious combination of milk chocolate and crunchy biscuit, along with its compact size, it’s the perfect treat for the whole family. But be warned, one is never enough!

Two nights ago, on the occasion of her latest visit, Carol outdid herself. Yes, seven boxes this time, plus packs of KitKat bars, the British version being far superior to our local variety.

And it’s still true, one is never enough. Thank you, Carol.

Categories: Food, Travel

de Young Museum

December 1, 2013 Leave a comment

deyoungtower

Four weekends ago, we headed down to San Francisco for the wedding of our friends’ daughter Hannah. Years back, I had occasion to be in the Bay Area frequently, whether in San Francisco itself, Berkeley, Santa Cruz, the Peninsula. There was always some reason, from conferences to friend and family visits to stays at the Mathematical Sciences Research Institute. Yet somehow a dozen years had elapsed since our last time there.

That was a memorable trip. The centerpiece was a game at the then-new Giants baseball stadium. It was the weekend that straddled June and July in 2001. Barry Bonds was on his way to a record 73 home runs. Friday night we watched the end of the game on TV as he ran into the wall and injured himself. He would not be playing Saturday. Darn. This rookie phenom from the Cardinals was playing though. Pujols. Albert Pujols. And Bonds came in after all to pinch hit in the 9th inning. All in all, a great game. Except for the sun. We forgot sunscreen and I got pretty well burned.

But we weren’t there just for baseball. We headed to Golden Gate Park on Sunday. Alas, I had missed the news that the de Young Museum had closed at the beginning of the year and would remain closed for years to come.

In 1989 the de Young suffered significant structural damage as a result of the Loma Prieta earthquake. The Fine Arts Museums’ board of trustees completed a project that braced the museum as a temporary measure until a long-term solution could be implemented. For the next several years, the board actively sought solutions to the de Young’s structural jeopardy and solicited feedback from throughout the community, conducting numerous visitor surveys and public workshops.

With extensive public input, the board initiated a process to plan and build a privately financed institution as a philanthropic gift to the city, in the tradition of M. H. de Young. An open architectural selection process took place from 1998 to 1999. The board endorsed a museum concept plan in October 1999, and a successful multimillion-dollar fundraising campaign was initiated under the leadership of board president Diane B. Wilsey.

The resulting design by the Swiss architectural firm Herzog & de Meuron weaves the museum into the natural environment of the park. It also provides open and light-filled spaces that facilitate and enhance the art-viewing experience. Historic elements from the former de Young, such as the sphinxes, the original palm trees, and the Pool of Enchantment, have been retained or reconstructed at the new museum. The former de Young Museum structure closed to the public on December 31, 2000. The new de Young opened on October 15, 2005.

Twelve years later, seeing the de Young was my top priority. Whatever else we did in our free time before the wedding events, we would see the de Young. And so we did.

Gail and I decided to focus on their permanent collection of American paintings, along with some of the American decorative art interspersed through the galleries.

The de Young’s American Art Department is home to one of the finest survey collections of American paintings in the United States. Strengthened by the acquisition of the Rockefeller Collection of American Art, the de Young’s holdings include more than 1000 paintings ranging from 1670 to the present day.

While essentially chronological, the installation of American art at the de Young juxtaposes works from different cultures and time periods to emphasize the historical connections between works in the collection, and includes galleries devoted to art in the following areas: Native American and Spanish Colonial; Anglo-Colonial; Federal and Neoclassical; Victorian genre and realism; trompe l’oeil still life; the Hudson River School, Barbizon and Tonalism; Impressionism and the Ashcan School; Arts and Crafts; Modernism; Social Realism and American Scene; Surrealism and Abstraction; Beat, Pop and Figurative; and contemporary. Also featured are important California collections with national significance, including examples of Spanish colonial, Arts and Crafts, Bay Area Figurative, and Assemblage art.

Joel and Jessica took off in their own direction, joining us for lunch in the de Young Café before splitting up again.

Here are a few highlights, courtesy of my iPhone.

First, a painting by Joshua Johnson, the earliest known African-American artist, a freed slave in Baltimore. The image is that of the daughter of a wealthy Baltimore merchant. (This and other descriptions are from the signage in the museum.)

Letitia Grace McCurdy, ca. 1800-1802, Joshua Johnson

Letitia Grace McCurdy, ca. 1800-1802, Joshua Johnson

This next one is blurry. Sorry. It’s by Horace Pippin, another African-American artist, whose grandmother saw John Brown being led to his hanging in 1859. Pippin emphasizes Brown as a Christ-like martyr, with the jury and prosecutor/persecutor recalling the twelve apostles and Judas.

The Trial of John Brown, 1942, Horace Pippin

The Trial of John Brown, 1942, Horace Pippin

Next, one of several John Frederick Peto paintings that need to be seen in person for a proper sense of texture.

The Cup We All Race 4, ca. 1900, John Frederick Peto

The Cup We All Race 4, ca. 1900, John Frederick Peto

Near the Peto is this nearly contemporaneous painting by John Haberle.

The Slate: Memoranda, ca. 1895, John Haberle

The Slate: Memoranda, ca. 1895, John Haberle

Here’s a wonderful Sargent.

La verre de porto (A Dinner Table at Night), 1884, John Singer Sargent

La verre de porto (A Dinner Table at Night), 1884, John Singer Sargent

How about this wonderful Stickley sideboard? I could find a spot for it in our house.

Leopold and John George Stickley, sideboard, 1910

Leopold and John George Stickley, sideboard, 1910

I can’t properly capture this Grant Wood, inspired by Wood’s childhood memories of the annual threshing ritual on his family’s Iowa farm. The accompanying sign suggests that the bisected farmhouse recalls early Renaissance paintings, especially those depicting the Last Supper. Wood thereby endows the farmers with the dignity of biblical disciples partaking of a sacred meal.

Dinner for Threshers, Grant Wood, 1934

Dinner for Threshers, Grant Wood, 1934

Here’s a detail.

deyoungwood2

I’ll end with a painting by William Zorach, who became a friend of my parents late in his life. I remember his visits to our house.

Provincetown Madonna, ca. 1916, William Zorach

Provincetown Madonna, ca. 1916, William Zorach

After viewing the art, we met up and walked to the elevator to go up the tower that contains museum offices and, at its top, a public observation floor. The shot I took of the tower as we left is at the start of this post. Here is the view north toward Marin County.

deyoungview

We left so much unexplored. There’s always next time, which I hope isn’t another dozen years away.

Categories: Art, Museums, Travel

I’m Back

November 17, 2013 Leave a comment
Golden Gate from Lincoln Park, San Francisco

Golden Gate from Lincoln Park, San Francisco

In the five years of Ron’s View, this is by far my longest hiatus. Sorry about that. The longer I go without writing, the larger my list of overdue items and the harder it is to get back in the rhythm. Being in San Francisco two weekends ago (for a wedding) and New York/Chicago last weekend (for family, then business) made it difficult to find time to write. Yet, the trips gave me more to write about. And this weekend had its own major event, which perhaps I’ll get to at some point.

In any case, here I am. Topics I may get to eventually:

1. Paul Schneider’s new book Old Man River: The Mississippi River in North American History, which I finished three nights ago.

2. John McPhee’s Encounters with the Archdruid, his classic of four decades ago, which I’ve been reading intermittently.

3. Ian Rankin’s latest John Rebus crime novel, Saints of the Shadow Bible, which was just released in the UK and arrived by post two days ago. (I couldn’t wait for its US publication in mid-January.)

4. Dinner at Cafe Tiramisu in San Francisco.

5. A visit to San Francisco’s de Young Museum the next day, with a focus on its fabulous American art collection.

6. A Sunday morning drive over the bridge to Sausalito, with an unexpected “grass is greener on the other side” tale.

7. The happy coincidence of our New York trip and the arrival at the Frick of the exhibition Vermeer, Rembrandt, and Hals: Masterpieces of Dutch Painting from the Mauritshuis, which we attended last weekend.

8. The joys of my eleventh annual November overnight trip to the O’Hare Hilton, where I was eating dinner at Andiamo a week ago now.

I will surely write more about some of these items.

Categories: Books, Travel, Writing

Nantucket Notes

September 15, 2013 Leave a comment

wauwinetview

Our annual stay in Nantucket came to an end a week ago, and six weeks ago we flew back from New York to Seattle. In past years, I always had a lot to say about our time in Nantucket. This year, not so much. But I think that’s more a function of the general slowdown of Ron’s View this summer than the lack of items to write about.

Early in our Nantucket week, I had written most of a post on our first dinner there, at Topper’s. Before I could finish it, we had eaten another dinner out, and then another, and another. Suddenly I had half a dozen posts to write about Nantucket restaurants. I seem to have given up. Which is too bad, because I really wanted to say a few words about our dinners at Ventuno and Company of the Cauldron, our two favorite restaurants on the island.

Then again, I don’t have much new to say about either of them. Ventuno opened two summers ago in the location of our previous favorite restaurant, 21 Federal. I wrote about it at the time, then again last year. The first post made reference to our sitting not far from John and Teresa Kerry. They didn’t make it this year. Or we didn’t see them anyway. I’m sure he was occupied with Syria. We did sit at the table they had occupied, and had a fabulous meal.

Well, I may as well say more. Here’s a link to the menu. To start, we shared the polpette (meatballs) and the fritelle de ceci (chickpea fries). Then we split an order of pasta: the strozzapretti with chicken sausage, broccoli rabe, and pecorino. Though I don’t think we had broccoli rabe, online menu notwithstanding. It was some other green. Gail followed with the duck breast, while I had the Nantucket fluke, but again not as described on the menu. It was placed on top of the most delightful mix of beans and vegetables. For dessert, the bomboloncini: bittersweet chocolate doughnuts, a small scoop of ice cream, and chocolate sauce.

As for Company of the Cauldron, each night they serve a fixed four-course meal at a fixed time in a gorgeous setting on the lower level of an old building, lit mostly by candlelight. Menus are listed online each week, but our week is long gone, and I’m going to have a hard time remembering what we had. Bread and hummus await. Then the first course. Gail, you’ll have to remind me in the comments section. Then a salad with goat cheese. Then halibut. And then an apple and crust dessert of some sort. A perfect meal, despite my inability to remember or describe it.

Not that our meal at The Pearl the next night suffered much by comparison. We shared golden pork and shrimp potstickers and Vietnamese lettuce wraps. Then we had the Lemongrass & Cilantro BBQ Beef with a side order of fried green tomatoes.

That was Saturday, eight days ago. Earlier in the day, we took our not-quite-annual bike ride from Wauwinet to Sconset, seven miles to the southeast. Gail’s bicycle chain came off two miles into the ride and I didn’t seem to know quite how to get it back on. Fortunately, Joel was just a phone call away. With the time zone difference, we called him a little early, but he was kind enough to answer the phone, and able to tell me what to do. We were thus fortunate to continue our ride.

Sconset is such a lovely village to wander in, with its great beach and superb views out over the ocean, not to mention the unbelievable homes that line Ocean Avenue. After a light lunch at the Sconset Cafe (closed already for the winter, I see at the website), we wandered down Ocean Avenue a ways, coming back to shop at the Sconset Market, check out The Chanticleer (some day we’ll eat there), and go into an art gallery before climbing on our bikes for the ride home.

Maybe I should add some photos.

At the top, a view from the inn where we stay, looking out over the east end of Nantucket Bay, with the ocean just beyond the thin strip of land you see that separates it from the bay.

Here is a shot looking up Main Street in town, away from the harbor.

nantucketmainst

We always make it a point to stop in at the Nantucket Historical Association‘s Whaling Museum. (We’re members.) We made it our first stop when we got into town this year and took some photos from the rooftop deck. Here’s one, looking out over the entrance to the harbor.

nantucketharbor

And one more, looking back toward town from Straight Wharf.

nantucketwharf

Clicking on any of them should yield a higher resolution photo.

Below are two pictures of lower quality that I took in Sconset with my iPhone. The Atlantic from Ocean Avenue:

sconsetoceanview

And part of Sconset’s small commercial area, including the cafe to the right.

sconset

Categories: Travel