Sunday, July 31, 2011

Desert wildernesses

There are large sections of the US that are mostly uninhabited, but they don't have to be. People can live perfectly well in Kansas and Alabama, for instance. No one has to truck in water, like they do to southern California, to support the population. But for whatever reason, very few people live there.

On the other hand, there are also plenty of places where there's good reason no one lives there. I think we've driven through a lot of them this summer. You can see fresh volcanic action from Yellowstone all the way to the Nevada/California border, for example. Hard to plant crops on straight obsidian, you know? These places are dry and rocky and completely alone. Take Craters of the Moon, for example. If you drive across southern Idaho on the 20, you'll go right over the top of Craters of the Moon, and see some seriously weird landscape. It's part of the Oregon Trail, and I have no idea how they managed to pull wagons over this. The ground is covered with bottomless cracks and glass-sharp volcanic rock and lumps and ropes of hardened lava. It's like being on the moon.

Drive a little further, closer to Mountain Home, Idaho, and you find these strange rocks coming out of the hills all over. It reminds me of Nemrut Dagi in Turkey.

Eastern Oregon is an interesting place. (Kind of uh, subtle, too.) You hear the word Oregon and you get excited about rain and jungle and green. But eastern Oregon is NOTHING like that. It's a vast expanse of dried grass and low hills, and there are very, very few people. Mostly the only settlements are around occasional rivers or creeks, and those places are irrigated. But the rest is dry.

If you want to go from Boise to say, Sacramento, you have to go through Nevada. The northern end has dry grass, as opposed to the Vegas area, which is mountains of dead, dry rock. If you love the desert, this state is for you! Northern Nevada has the population metropolis of Winnemucca:

When you get out of Winnemucca and onto I-80, you'll see tons of white sand and salt at the sides of the road. People have picked up blackened rocks all the way across 80 in Nevada (and through the salt flats in Utah as well) and drawn pictures or printed words for your viewing entertainment. They are usually on flat ground, so it's hard to get a good picture. This was my best shot:

Then there's the central valley of California. It looks like this:

Again, just blank, faceless yellowed grass for miles upon miles upon miles--but if you just add water, you get enough acres of crops to feed the nation.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Santa Barbara, CA

This is a really beautiful area on the southern coast of California. It used to be just a regular town, but then it was "discovered," and now movie stars and singers, as well as Arabian shieks, have mansions here.

Santa Barbara boasts one of the historic California missions that the Catholics built up and down the coast:

Naturally, this heavy early Spanish presence means a lot of Spanish architecture:

Being on the coast is always nice:

Especially if you go to UCSB, which sits RIGHT on the ocean:

You can see some interesting things up in the hills, too. Like this Chumash cave painting site. Apparently there are others, but their location is not publicly known, so as to preserve them from vandals.

There's also Knapp's Castle, whose ruin sits on the hills straddling Santa Barbara and Santa Inez. The temperature/climate difference on either side is huge. Santa Barbara has the lovely, moderating ocean climate, while Santa Inez is just hot and deserty.

Typical plants of the hills:

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Charleston, SC

There have been whole books printed full of photos of Charleston, so one tiny blog post isn't going to cover it. But here's a sampling of what you can see there. Suffice it to say that it was one of only three American cities to have a city wall at some point, it figured heavily in both the Revolutionary and Civil Wars, Blackbeard the pirate once held the harbor for three days, demanding medicines for his crew, and a number of its buildings and nearby plantations have come up on a screen near you (Boone Hall was in the miniseries North and South, for example). Enjoy!

Waterfront Park:

Old Exchange and Provost Dungeon, where pirates were kept in the dungeon, and where (at another time), George Washington was entertained at a ball in which he danced with all 200 ladies present:

St. Michael's, where he attended church:

The Citadel:

Magnolia Cemetery, where the last soldiers of the Civil War were interred in 2004:

Sweetgrass baskets, a local craft that has direct ties to west coast Africa:

A church on James Island, complete with live oaks and Spanish moss:

Boone Hall:

Rainbow Row, downtown--used to be warehouses, then in the 1930s some ladies decided to "restore" the area--making this very scenic, and a whole lot nicer than it was originally:

Charleston is famous for its ironwork. Perhaps you have heard of its famous ironworker artist, Philip Simmons? I don't know who did these gates--but they are very typical of the town.

Single houses were built sideways on their lots because for a time, they figured taxes based on your streetside length of your lot. To get around this, people built their houses one room wide:

Obviously, not all residents had economic concerns in mind:

And some were just nice row houses, like in Europe:

If you get the chance to visit (or live in) Charleston, you really should!