Ramble On

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

The New Bridge at Hoover Dam

The O'Callaghan-Tillman Bridge, the new Hoover Dam bypass.
After my business was done in Las Vegas, Mary and I had planned a short vacation visit to the Grand Canyon, with a stay in Flagstaff, AZ.  On our way there, I'd planned a stop at the Hoover Dam so that we could take the tour - I'll post about that tomorrow, and so that we could check out the O'Callaghan-Tillman Bridge on US 93, which was opened in 2010 to replace the old route over the dam.

A view of the bridge from the pedestrian approach -
showing the handrail and the walkway.
The first photo of the bridge was taken from on top of the dam - where the old route went.  Here you can see that the bridge is only 1,500 feet downstream from the dam, and crosses the Colorado gorge at a height of 800+ feet. One of the attractions here - something I didn't know if I could handle - is that there is a walkway on the side of the highway that runs the length of the bridge.  The second photo below shows that feature - Mary and I walked out about halfway.

My final picture with this post is the incredible view of the dam you can see from the walkway.  They have included a lot of interpretive information along the walk up to the crossing - construction and engineering project data, including schedules, amounts of material used, and the firms involved.  Working for a couple of large engineering firms in the past, I enjoyed that part almost as much as they walk across the bridge itself.

The view of Hoover Dam from the new bridge.
We also took in the tour of the dam - that will be my next post.  In the meantime, if you want to know more about the bridge, here's the Wikipedia entry:

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

More Vegas - Sightseeing

The lion fish.  Venomous - and invasive.
Apparently we are seeing more and more
of them North American waters - non-native.
As I mentioned in the post yesterday, I didn't gamble in Vegas.  I thought about it a couple of times, but I won't gamble unless I can comfortably sit down with a bank of 40 hands.  You can figure the math for that if it's a $10 table - I could have played at noon for $5 a hand, but we were too busy then.

A shark cruising by.
Instead, after an excellent lunch at Mandalay Bay (the choice hotel and conference center for the trade show - and I'm inspired to submit a talk for next year since they're going back) we decided to take in the aquarium tour.  This is a pretty incredible feature down there at the hotel, hearkening back to the days when Vegas was trying to become a preferred family vacation venue.  The tour is well worth the money (Mary treated, I don't know how much it costs).

The trippy jelly fish tank.
It's one of those very cool set ups where you walk through glass tunnels with fish swimming all around you.  We saw all kinds of sharks and other fish from every ocean and some of the more exotic fresh water sources.  There was a piranha tank as well - with two docent attendants keeping the foolish in line, mind you!

Here are a few highlight photos.  If pressed, I'd have to say that the trippy jelly fish tank was my favorite.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Road Trips - Las Vegas (2013 edition)

On the strip in Las Vegas.
We're just back from a great trip that combined business with leisure.  It started out in Las Vegas, where I gave my talk:  "The Facilities Master Plan:  Building a Better Business Case."  This part of the trip was sponsored by the company I work for - I've given this presentation a couple of times in Vegas and Baltimore for the group that puts these shows on (www.nfmt.com) - and there were about 100 folks at the talk.

Afterwards, Mary and I visited the exhibition hall, where I visited a couple of companies I was interested in talking with.  There are a couple that I think could be good partners for my company, Markon, Inc.

Title slide to my presentation.

Everybody knows this place - New York, New York casino.
It was already a hot morning in Las Vegas when we walked down to Mandalay Bay from the Tropicana where we were staying.  Still, I managed to get a couple of "iconic" shots on the way - one of New York, New York and one of the Sphinx at Luxor.  It was Mary's first time at Las Vegas, and I was hoping she was absorbing all of this while we walked as well.

Luxor during our walk to the trade show.
I gave my talk and went to a couple of the other presentations on the first morning of our trip - they were quite illuminating and at least one of them was designed to take us out of our comfort zones in the facilities business.  Meanwhile, Mary took a walk along the connecting shopping mall to Luxor and Excalibur, both landmarks on my first trip to Vegas in 1996, when I was driving cross country to Las Angeles for B-School.

After the business part of the trip was over, we grabbed a snack (and Mary grabbed a fru-fru-fru drink back at the Tropicana).  We made plans for the balance of the day and night in Las Vegas and then began to put some framework around our plan for the next couple of days - a road trip to the Grand Canyon.

We spent the evening walking up the Strip - we checked in at a half dozen or so of the well known casinos.  I thought I might play some blackjack or craps, but never made the time for it this trip - maybe next time.  Besides Mandalay Bay, Luxor, Excalibur, and the Tropicana, we ended up walking through New York, New York, Bellagio, Caesar's, Planet Hollywood, and a couple of others.  Dinner was at Caesar's - Central - and while it didn't quite live up to the buzz, dinner there was part of a great memory for us.

A side note about our stay at the Tropicana.  We arrived very late from the airport, and the room we checked into didn't meet the description on the website.  Since it was so late, we decided to take the room and follow-up with the front desk in the morning.

We talked to a supervisor, who asked which room we were in.  She said that our clerk should have known that those rooms can be a problem - and started rectifying the situation for us.  To our surprise, our first two nights at the hotel were comped.

Mary and her fru-fru-fru drink at the Trop.
When she found out we were staying at an airport hotel for our last night in Las Vegas, she asked if we might come back to the Tropicana so they could make it right.  Then she offered a tower suite, with a Strip view - and comped that as well.  For the record, we were won over by the hotel before this, since the Trop has gone through a renovation that makes it a pretty sophisticated place, with shades of South Beach...but this little extra bit of courtesy and professionalism did the trick for us.

I heartily recommend the place for anybody planning a trip - unless you need to stay further up the Strip in the middle of everything - the Tropicana is a nice Hotel Casino that I'm pretty sure we'll come back to!

So I've got a few more posts coming on the trip - we had a nice short getaway with plenty of sightseeing, all of which will follow later in the week!

Friday, September 20, 2013

Half Dome Reprise – Part 3

(Note:  Mary and I are traveling this week – we’ll be in Las Vegas for a trade show and then we’ll head down to Flagstaff and day trip up to Grand Canyon.  I’ll have some posts on that next week, but in the mean time, I thought I might repost this old series about hiking to the top of Half Dome during a trip to Yosemite in 2005. This will be the final post in this series.)

This first photo shows the view of the south face of the Half Dome from Little Yosemite Valley. When we got to the top of the mountain, we learned that there was a group of rock climbers who were making their way up this side while we were on our hike. They are invisible in this photo.

Also visible in this photo is the cable route. It is just to the left of the big pine tree on the right side of the photo, and shows as a faint line on the side of the Dome massif. As we stopped to take this photo, we could make out people up there, but they don’t show up in this view.

The next photo looks at the view that is behind the hiker as he or she approaches the Half Dome’s shoulder – there is a photo looking towards the Dome in Saturday’s post that shows that view. The mountains in the distance are called Clouds Rest.

Next, a rock climber is practicing the sport on the escarpment at the edge of the Dome. The escarpment is visible from the Valley below, but this climber would be invisible from there. The Valley, as seen from this vantage point, is 4,400 feet below! The time of year that we were there is the high season for climbers, as we later learned.

Final photo, the view of the top of the cable route, as you would see it on your approach back down from the peak. From here it appears to disappear off into nowhere…but the climb down is much easier than the climb up. The woods in the distance are part of the hike - characterized by switchbacks and probably 600-800 feet of elevation change.

I’ll close with a brief mention of the relatively new permit requirement for climbing the Half Dome.  When Chris and I did the hike in 2005, permits weren’t required, but NPS and Yosemite decided for safety and preservation purposes it would be best to limit the cable route to the summit to 200 hikers a day.  There are more details on the Yosemite web site under the “plan your visit” tab.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Half Dome Reprise – Part 2

(Note:  Mary and I are traveling this week – we’ll be in Las Vegas for a trade show and then we’ll head down to Flagstaff and day trip up to Grand Canyon.  I’ll have some posts on that next week, but in the mean time, I thought I might repost this old series about hiking to the top of Half Dome during a trip to Yosemite in 2005.)

Chris and I decided we would go out and take on this hike as an alternative bachelor party for him, as his wedding approached later that month. We had prepared for the long hike over the course of the year, relying extensively on the Shenandoah Day Hikes book, which supplied us with four training routes in SNP, and Hiking Upward, a blog-style site that provides a pretty exhaustive review of more than 50 hikes in the Northern Virginia area.

So our hikes included Limberlost, Dark Hollow, and Hawksbill Summit, as well as the New River Falls, all in SNP. On one day, in fact, we hike the first three in succession. We also had an early climb of Sugarloaf in Maryland, and did a couple of the Knob hikes from Hiking Upward.

I figure our longest hike, crafted out of these excellent resources, would have been about 8 miles and included 2,000 feet of elevation. Even though this kind of workout in the heat of August here in Virginia went a long way to preparing me for the Half Dome climb, I could have used a bit more prep. And next time I will be sure to get it!

Now, more photos…the first two, above, are photos of me at the beginning of the hike – we started out while it was still dark. Folks who’ve visited Yosie will know that because of the depth of the valley, the light takes longer to get there – this photo was actually taken at around 7:30 am, something like two miles into the hike.

The second one is Chris at a stop we made at the top of the Nevada Falls. The trail leads up through the gap behind him, which goes to what is known as Little Yosemite Valley. There is a backpacking campground up there, available only during the summer.  At this point we were about ½ of the way through the outbound portion of the hike, and probably had only covered about 1/3 of the total elevation change.

Also, there are two photos of the waterfalls that highlight the hike – the Vernal (317 feet) and Nevada (594 feet) Falls. These two falls are within a mile of each other…but it is a steep mile - almost 1,000 feet of elevation change!

There is a fairly rigorous hike called the Mist Trail along the Merced River that takes you up to the Vernal Fall. One part of the trail, which walks along a cliff, is shown in the final photo. During the spring melt, these falls are really a show – I was lucky enough to be there during June and caught an incredible view from Glacier Point, shown here.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Half Dome Reprise – Part 1

(Note:  Mary and I are traveling this week – we’ll be in Las Vegas for a trade show and then we’ll head down to Flagstaff and day trip up to Grand Canyon.  I’ll have some posts on that next week, but in the mean time, I thought I might repost this old series about hiking to the top of Half Dome during a trip to Yosemite in 2005.)

The post starts with a map highlighting our route to the summit.  My friend Chris and I did the hike as an alternative to the traditional bachelor party, and it worked out nicely for that purpose.  We’d trained over the course of the summer by hiking several routes in Shenandoah National Park and on Massanutten Mountain, but none of those hikes quite prepared us for the altitude challenges we’d face – I guess we never quite tested ourselves on anything quite this long either.  Still, we made it, and we share some fond memories of the event.

The first photo shows a view of the mountain from Mirror Lake in the Yosemite Valley. The vantage point for this photo is accessible from most of the lodging and camping sites in the Park; it is a short walk from one of the bus route in the Valley. There is another vantage point that is always crowded with people. Which I find ironic, because it looks like blissful solitude abounds, but most likely the shot is being taken while the photographer is surrounded by 50 or more people! Of course I have a photo or two from there.

The next photo is the view as we approached the summit, about a half mile away and something like 600 to 1,000 feet left to climb. We did this in October 2005, while the trail was under construction and only open Friday through Sunday. The number of people in this photo is probably only 20 to 30 percent of the people who might be on this hike in the summer while school is out. 

The third photo is of the famous cables. This route is open from April to October every year – our hike was the last week in 2005. In 2010, NPS and Yosemite set a policy limiting access to 200 permitted hikers a day – check the Yosemite web site for details.

It is said that this route is unscalable to the average hiker without the cables. There are horror stories about people falling down, but the majority of folks can do this without much trouble. More likely there are traffic jams and the like that make this tough, as opposed to accidents. Not to say, there haven’t been any.

This last photo is Chris and me at the summit. It was a great feeling and a great place to be. While our training hikes were throughout the Shenandoah Valley, we’d not encountered anything quite like this (4,500 feet of elevation change, 17 mile round trip, etc.). As we started to climb the cables, clouds passed over and a wind started up, quickly dropping the temps to the mid-50’s, so we put on the long sleeves for the final ascent. Soon as we were up, the temp got back into the high 60’s and those duds had to come right off.

There are two more posts in this series to come.  Enjoy!

Monday, September 16, 2013

Backyard Hops - A Final 2013 Update

I plan for this to be the years final update about the two hops rhizomes I started in the backyard at Alexandria this year.  I have a few more chores to take care of with them this fall, and then I plan to transplant them in the spring, but I'll move onto other topics for the blog - especially since brewing season will be upon us!

The photos here are of the Goldings bine.  I actually planted three varieties - Goldings, Willamette, and Centennial, but that one didn't show.  I ended up with Goldings and Willamette bines, and actually had flowers on the Goldings plant, but not enough to use.  Even so, I was pretty happy with how that turned out.

If you look at various resources about hops, they will tell you to expect a mild and earthy effect from the Goldings hop, and that it does well in mild, moist climates - and okay in hot climates.  Virginia is somewhere between all of those, so I expect the plant to do well.

My placement of the Willamette was not optimal, but the plant did make it to seven feet or so (compared to the Golding which made it to eight feet).  I'll move it next year when I transplant it - apparently, the plant does well in all climates; and it is used as an aroma hop with an earthy, spicy character.

As I have mentioned, I didn't expect much out of the hops this year, since the first year they spend a lot of energy establishing their root systems.  Next year, I should get a crop large enough to brew a batch or two - and then the third year, I should be up to a full yield of a pound or two dried from each of these plants.  I will use them to brew and also to exchange with some of my brewer friends.

I should make a final note here about a book I got as a resource for the hops growing part of my brewing hobby.  It's the authoritative For the Love of Hops, by Stan Hieronymus.  There's an Amazon link below for reference.


Friday, September 13, 2013

The Barncats

Last year we had those two litters of kittens show up around the property, and we still have a few of them around.  Not counting the cat Mary kept, or the other two that were adopted, I think we still have the two moms and two of the boys from the other litter.  Also, the tomcat responsible for many of them died during the winter and we buried him back in the wood lot behind Hawksbill Cabin.

Mary took care of getting pretty much all of the cats that had survived at that time fixed last October, availing herself of Cats Cradle's services for this purpose.  By the way, a link to them is here:  http://www.catscradleva.org/

After that she kept one, and then fixed up an area under the barn for the others to shelter during the winter.

This had the effect of giving them a home out there, so that's why I call them the barn cats.  Despite their feral nature they do seem to have gotten to know us and the neighbors, and "Momcat" - the gray stiped cat in the photo - likes to hang around whenever Tessie is around outside.  This one is actually the parent of Mary's cat, and they socialize with each other through the window.

Also visible in the photo is one of the two male kittens that survived, whom I like to call Patch.  He's mostly white with one big yellow patch straddling his back, and then the markings on his face.  He's gotten braver since he knows Mary will feed him at some point.

Patch's brother also hangs out, but he's much more timid and only makes an appearance for meals.  We don't see him enough to assign a moniker.  But he's definitely there to freeload with the rest of them.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Pressing the Seyval at Wisteria

Although we'd missed the picking and stomping by the time we arrived at Wisteria on Saturday, there were still other wine making activities going on, so I thought I might pitch in a bit on the odd jobs.  This put me in the middle of some good photo-blog opportunities, so I'm mainly writing the post today to share them.  There were quite a few people around - volunteers and winemakers - doing the real work of the day.

On Saturday, the grapes had all been gathered into the lugs, and when we got there, they were set up to go into the stemmer-crusher.  There is a random sampling that is used to calculate the weight of the grapes for reporting purposes, which translates to yield in wine - and this all gets reported into the Virginia ABC board for statistical and tax purposes.

Then they go into the machine.  They end up in huge vats that will be stored overnight (with ice and in a cooler, to prevent the wild yeasts from beginning fermentation) and then pressed on Sunday.  As a late arrival I just stationed myself in a spot to collect the empty lugs and then moved them over to where they could be cleaned for reuse.

Sunday came and there was a wine club event, which went on around the pressing activities.  We got there midway through the pressing, so I jumped in to help link the press and fill it with crushed grapes.  The juice is collected into a tub, then a pump moves it into the large steel tanks that Wisteria uses for primary fermentation on the white wines.

Just a few odd jobs here and there, I guess, and certainly I benefited from our experience being out for a few of the varieties last year.  When the 2013 Seyval is offered, though, I'll be able to say I helped with that one.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Quality Time at the Vineyard

We had a couple of events planned for the weekend, centered around activities at our neighbors', Wisteria Vineyard.  The harvest season has begun, and the volunteers are moving through the vineyard picking the Pinot and Seyval so far.  More varieties are coming along, and we're hoping to get back out spend some time working with everybody (and enjoying the vertical tastings that are a requisite educational part of this whole thing).

We were too late on Saturday to be part of the picking in the morning, or the other event that was scheduled that day - the annual picking and stomping, a la I Love Lucy.


That's always a great time, and so far we haven't seen any pushing and shoving - or grapes tossing, for that matter.

In the evening, Sue and Moussa had planned a fund raising event for a local charity and we joined the fun.  In addition to having a good time visiting with friends, I was looking forward to having a few minutes to walk around the vineyard hoping for a good photo opp or two - the quality of light in these late summer evenings is incredible, and the fall colors are just coming out.

As it happened, the sheep went out to pasture to have a last minute graze just as the sun was sinking.  There's a bit of golden light in the treetops, and in the background you can see some of the harvest gear staged for future picking (this is the "white" side of the vineyard - the "reds" aren't picked until later this month, which is when we'll be back to get more involved).

You know, a vineyard is a pretty photogenic place.  I'll have to keep that in mind.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Sea of Green Hops

I've been posting about hops a lot lately - it is harvest season, after all.  I've also been reading up on how to process and store them commercially, which is quite a process as well.

So today I am checking in on my Twitter feed and there's a photo from Sierra Nevada about hops being processed in one of their giant kilns out in California.  I've saved that photo off here - mind you, I did not take the photo, it is from their Instagram feed, which I'm following now!

Pick Your Own Hops

Earlier in the week I had an email from Dan inviting me to come over and do a "pick your own" thing at his little hopyard.  They were heading out for their late summer vacation to the Pacific Northwest, and he'd already picked quite a bit - two or three harvests, I think - but there were still Cascades on the bines.  I thought it would be interesting to get out there and check this out, plus I could use whatever I got for brewing later.

Dan uses a folding ladder to get to the highest parts of the bines, but I wasn't altogether interested in doing that, so I decided to stay on the ground and pick off whatever I could reach.  This meant I wasn't going to get to the most productive areas in the high branches, but when I got there I found plenty of cones ready to pick.

We were between events at the vineyard so I only had a half hour or so to pick - I took down about a half pound, as shown here.  If I were going to dry them, I would probably get about an ounce of flowers from this, enough for a lightly hopped batch of beer.  I have them in a zip-loc bag in the fridge, hopefully they'll keep a day or two this way.

At another event I met a couple of the local brewers and chatted them up about what to do with the hops - their suggestion was to use them "wet" and add them to the boil at the end for aroma.  I have a two ounce bag of last year's Cascade crop that I can pair these up with, so I think I have a plan.  I'll use all of these field grown hops in an extract-based pale ale, since I can get a brew like that done on a school night.

Times a wastin'!

Friday, September 6, 2013

South River Falls: An Easy SNP Day Hike

Seems like I haven’t been up in the Shenandoah National Park much this year, so on Sunday I decided to take Tessie and head up for a little hike.  I hoped it would turn out better than the last one – we got rained on, and she had the most pitiful look ever in the car after.  We took a little drive to Elkton and took the short drive north to the South River Falls trailhead.

Heatwole describes this hike as 2.6 miles roundtrip, total climb of 850 feet, and about 2:15 in duration – that’s all pretty accurate in my book.  The hike qualifies as a moderately easy one by his rating, and by mine, because I like to see 5.0 miles and 500 feet before I consider a hike moderate. 

Along with not getting to the park as much this year, my exercise has tapered off too.  Where I used to walk Tessie a mile a day and then added 1.5 miles of walking back and forth to the subway, I’m down to the dog walk and maybe ½ mile of walking back and forth to a shopping center for lunch.  With the entire climb facing us on the return trip to the car, both the dog and I suffered on the second half of this one.

We took in some nice forest views on the way down, and I made a video of Tessie as she experienced crossing a stream that was hidden away under some rocks.  I’ll upload that at another time.  The outward leg of the hike ended at the little overlook with a view of the falls.

While Tessie and I took a break there, I was remembering that Chris and I did an extended version of this hike a few times when we were preparing for the Half Dome hike in 2005.  That route goes all the way to the base of the falls, and Heatwole has it as 4.7 miles with a climb of about 1,315 feet – so it still wouldn’t qualify as moderate by the standards I use today, but it was an effective early hike for us as we undertook the preparations for Half Dome.

I think the dog had a good time, despite our struggles on the return, and the time outside certainly inspired me to want to get back to the park more often this year.  I even bought a new annual pass, good until next September!

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

September Brew Plans

I'll brew my pumpkin beer with these winter squash.
 Mary had stayed out at Hawksbill Cabin for the week, and I was able to head out early to join her on Friday for the long Labor Day weekend.  It was the first time we were in town on a Friday Night this summer, so we planned to go to the little musical event in downtown Luray.  We'd been invited by a friend to stop by his house to enjoy the show from his front porch.

Turns out, his house is on one of the original 19 lots that comprised the town of Luray, and he is in the midst of restoring it to acknowledge that history.  It's quite a project and both Mary and I were interested in the details.

Turns out he also grew hops this year, starting with four Cascade rhizomes from neighbor Dan.  He grew a full pound of dried hops, and was generous enough to give me three ounces.  I'm looking forward to brewing with these!
These are the hops our friend grew from first year rhizomes!

Now, it is also pumpkin beer season, with loads of different brews showing up on shelves all over the country.  I've had some good ones already and have a stash going of a few nationally known craft beers, such as Starr Hill's Boxcarr Pumpkin Porter and Southern Tier's Pumking, but I also want to brew one or two myself.  So I went to the farmers market in Luray on Saturday morning with the goal of picking out something I could use in beer, and I settled on these winter squash that I got from Public House Produce.

I bought enough to give me 10 pounds to start with - that should be enough for two batches.  I'm hoping to do an ale and a porter - and to get both bottled in time for Thanksgiving.  I'll keep you posted.