Wednesday, August 6, 2008


Well that post sure shot up my hit meter! I have heard that, as W would say, "Mission Accomplished." Hopefully that will improve the safety and security of the PCVs and all Palangis on TBU, especially after the alleged arson over there.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Auric Adventure

Summer in Arizona. Lots of sun, lots of heat... Wonderful.

As I explore my new digs I am enthralled with the local history. Rather than buy a coffee table book, I decide to check it out in person.

Miners explored these mountains, panning the washes and tunneling into the mountain sides. I have managed to dig up records from the 1800s until today and a bunch of the claims are in my GPS.

It is Sunday morning. I stop in Cave Creek and have breakfast in a saloon full of scruffy motorcycle people. Probably look a lot like the prospectors that founded this town.

My first stop is Three Fools Placer. This was probably the first gold strike in the area. As a placer it is just a bunch of gravel in a wash that happened to have some gold mixed in with it.

I find the wash, it is now someones back yard. I laugh. I wonder how often they see color as they dig to plant a new bush and assume it is fools gold. I also wonder who the three fools were that named the claim.

Not wanting to trespass I drive my little Honda Fit off the paved road up toward the Tonto National Forest. I park, take a bearing from my GPS and head up a hill. My first stop is the Phoenix Gold Mine. This is a big mine that was seriously mined in this century, but has been closed. I pass the mine and discover some of the original shafts that preceded the mine. A huge horizontal shaft heads into the mountain, much of the entrance is blocked by a recent cave in. Other shafts penetrate the area.

I traverse some canyons and cross Cottonwood Creek. Up the hill and I see the remains of the Cottonwood Creek Gold Mine claim marker. I peer down a deep vertical shaft, spooking a giant owl. The owl dives for the bottom of the shaft and turns into a side tunnel. I wonder how many animals fall into this open hole. I see tailing above and hike up the loose rocky hill. Beneath a desert palo verde tree is a horizontal shaft leading deep into the hill. (See photos)

I have my WalMart LED headlamp and the usual hiking tools including heavy gloves and a camp shovel. In I go.

The tunnel is full of desiccated cholla balls. These are balls of cactus quills. They quickly cover my hiking boots. I pass a small cave-in and head into the dark. The shaft is perhaps four feet wide and less than six tall. There is dried animal poop everywhere and the strong smell of a carnivore. I assume mountain lions have made this thier home. Nests on the walls house mice. There noses peek out at me as they try to see the source of the light. The walls are loose rock. If I bump them large pieces fall. This freaks me out a bit, as I'd rather not make this my permanent resting place.

I scurry out, covered in sweat. I had expected the mine to be cool, but this one was not.

Climbing up the hill I spot an unusual piece of quartz. It turns out it is an Apache arrowhead. Apaches hid here as they raided settlers in the mid 1800s.

Up the hill further I go. At the top of a nearby peak I find a big deep square shaft heading straight down. I peer over the edge, it looks bottomless. I drop a small stone... it takes three seconds to hear a thump.

Unlike the other shafts these walls are straight. Clearly a newer dig. This is the valcarce Claim registered to the Department of Energy (DOE). It was a thorite mine. Thorite is a mineral containing both thorium and uranium. All kinds of stuff in them thar hills.

All-in-all I found ten shafts this morning.

How do I take it to the next level? I'd like to find an Apache mine. The most famous legendary Apache mine in our area is the Lost Dutchman. Now we're talking an adventure!

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Holy Meteor Crater Batman!

I hear my daughter up and about at 06:00. This is unheard of, at least four or five hours too early.

She's up because we are off on an Arizona Adventure.

We stop at the local McDonald's for a coffee and McMuffin, actually the first time I've eaten there since returning from Tonga. We peruse a WalMart road atlas and decide that today will be a visit to Winslow Arizona.

We cruise up I17 towards Flagstaff. As we go we gain altitude. Terrain changes from Saguaros to shrub junipers to flat dry expanses with nothing bigger than a weed. Volcanic mountains leap from the flat plains, many still sport expanses of snow, a sight for those of us used to 115 degree heat.

We head east following the route of the infamous Route 66. We turn at Meteor Crater road. In we drive across a flat red martian landscape. A prairie dog stands to watch us, then bolts for his burrow.

Ahead is a gray ridge rising from the red expanse. It is the ejecta from the crater.

We pay our $30 each and explore the museum and take a walk around part of the rim with a local guide. Most of the employees are Navajo. I am happy being surrounded by big brown friendly tattooed people again.

The crater is huge. The Washington Monument could stand in the bottom and not poke out the top. For a hundred years the consensus of the world's geologists was that it was a volcanic crater like the others in the area. A mining engineer found evidence that eventually proved that it was an impact crater, but the scientific community called him a fool for fifty years because they has a consensus. Sound familiar?

NASA trained the Apollo astronauts here and still trains their new astronauts in the crater.

The impact released the equivalent of 20 megatons of energy. Not too far up the road in New Mexico is another crater, this one at the Trinity Site. This is where the first atom bomb was tested. It released about one thousandth of the energy of the meteor. We are disappointed that we can't go stand in that crater, but it is only open two days a year, so that will have to wait until October.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Arizona Desert

It rained here a few weeks ago and the desert is blooming. The cactus in the foreground is a fishhook barrel. That is a saguaro in the background.
Here's a fishhook barrel flower up close and personal.
This is one of the trails that leads to the gnarly singletrack I bike.
Well, this is the American west. The desert is full of shells, including these from assault rifles. Go second amendment!
Lots of big boulders for Jason to climb.

Camelback Mountain - Look close in the center of the photo and you'll see a Chuckwalla lizard sunning on a rock. I am a kindred spirit with these lizards.

Another shot on Camelback. Again, look at the silhouette on the rock at the top. Zoom in and you'll see another Chuckwalla.


I am living the life. It doesn't get much better than this.

I'm sure I'll eventually gt bored and feel the need for some jet setting, but for now I'm really enjoying the chance to get back in shape after Tonga. I'm still amazed how good it is to take a shower where the water is clean and goes down the drain. The other thing is how dry it is here. Even when I sweat like a puaka I'm still dry. No problems with fungus here. I think the Peace Corps should send Bria here for rehab.

I've been climbing a local "mountain" a few times a week, and mountain biking way out in the desert on other days. Camelback Mountain is in the middle of the Phoenix area and is covered with hikers when its cool. I like to climb in the afternoon and there is almost no one there.

I mountain bike in the Sonoran Mountain Preserve at Pima and Dynamite roads. Parts of this are civilized and parts are really remote.

I've included some pictures for your viewing pleasure. Click on them for lots of detail, unless you're in Tonga, there they'll take to long to load!

Thursday, May 29, 2008


Buzzz Buzzzz

I wake briefly about 01:30 to the buzzing of a mosquito. WTF? This is the first mosquito I've encountered here in the Sonora Desert. The evil little bloodsucker feasts on my hand and that is the end of that. At least I know that it isn't carrying The Dengue.

I am up a bit after 6. The 46" LCD has CNBC yakking prior to the opening bell. Americans are focused on all the bad news about oil. I don't understand, oil is still dirt cheap here. I am paying about $3.75 a gallon to feed regular into my new Honda Fit. Politicians are talking about a moratorium on gas taxes. These are the only taxes I'd like to see raised. Oh well, different perspectives.

I hop on my Fuji full suspension mountain bike and pedal over to the Doctor's office. I have my fasting labs for my post service physical. After my second bloodsucking of the morning I scarf a banana and cycle to the super upscale Kierland Shopping area. I read the Wall Street Journal and suck down a couple of half caffs. I am the only person in the place using a 'for here" cup.

I have been going crazy knocking out all the things that need to be done when moving to a new town, country and hemisphere. I now have a nice two bedroom appartment in Scottsdale. My daughter spent the weekend and has her room pretty much set up. I have a pool with a sandy beach and a couple of hot tubs. Through my open windows I hear falling water from fountains.

It is a far cry from my life at the campsite in Tonga.

I am getting comfortable with all the excess and the crowds of white people. At Starbucks I sit next to the only black guy in the place. I haven't seen any Pacific Islanders around. I am sure some are in the area, but probably not in this super upscale corner of Scottsdale.

I will chat with several of the PCVs still in Tonga today. I am thankful for google chat. I may also get an email from a Tongan associate. I wish I could contribute more to my old projects, but without the involvment of The Peace Corps. We'll see. I am almost caught up and have the time to update my blog.

I contemplate my friends in Tonga. What have I learned that they may find helpful or at least interesting?

  • Don't underestimate the culture shock. I found it tough to go into a store or be somewhere with crowds of white people.
  • Old habits are hard to break. I have no probkem driving on the right side of the road, but my bike keeps wanting to be on the left. I have some HUGE bruises from a bike crash a couple of days ago.
  • You have no idea how great it is to be able to eat anything you want. Having said that, last night I had Kapa Ika, curry and onions with rice with Mangos for desert. But tonight I plan on a T-Bone and baked tater with a big salad.
  • There is no dirt in the apartment that the vacuum can't suck up in a few minutes.
  • It takes about three days to get clean. You will see your pores slowly clear. Cloths washed in a washer and dried in a drier feel so different.
  • I threw out my stinky sandals from Tonga. My feet are now clean.
  • My sister and her guy were nice enough to tolerate my constant references to Tonga during my decompression. But in general nobody wants to hear anything about Tonga or the Peace Corps. I have pretty much stopped mentioning it.
  • I miss my PCV, Australia Youth Ambassaadar and Tongan friends.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

John Returns to The World

Two of my bags are lost. A helpful New Zealand Air agent chatters through his walkie talkie, then directs me to a back wall, there they are. I clear customs and my sister Ann and her guy Steve are there ready to help me transition from one world to the next. I am wearing jeans. This is the first time I've worn pants since my arrival in The Kingdom last October.

People in LA drive so fast! I am gripping the dashboard of the Honda Element as we tear though the desert to Palm Springs. We dash through town. I think Steve is a maniac. I check the speedometer, we are only doing 40... I know its gonna take a while for me to transition.

Palm Springs is probably one of the driest, whitest, richest places in the world. Couldn't be a bigger change from Tonga.

Everyone is so thin! The women are so beautiful! There are restaurants everywhere!

We stop in a McDonald's. I only get a Diet Coke to help keep me awake after the looonnnng trip. I struggle to order a Diet Coke instead of a Coke Light.

We hit their perfect desert condo, I dump my stuff.

First meal? Outback - A salad (remember those PCVs?), STEAMED BROCCOLI!, a loaded baked potato (I know, it is a root crop) and a real steak. Not exactly a Big Mac and Fries, but it hist the spot.

It has been a couple of days now. I am clean. Really clean. Even my toes are clean. It feels strange. We went to a vegan place last night and ate a great salad. I think about my veggie friends in Tonga and wish I could mail them one.

I stop at a T-Mobile store and scarf a SIM. I am reconnecting to The World. I choose a 480 area code. I have decided to make Scottsdale my Home Base.

I can't help but check on earthquakes in Tonga. I Google the Shaggy concert, no word of riots, I am relieved.

I am thankful I have Ann and Steve to give me a space station between Tonga and Earth to decompress. So now I need to find a place to live in Arizona, buy a car, insurance etc.

Back into The World.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Friendly Islander Hotel - Robbed at Knifepoint!

I am participating in Peace Corps "In Service Training", IST. After 3 days at our usual humble guesthouse we battle logistics to all move to the The Friendly Islander Hotel. Guests stay in individual small huts (fales). The married couples each get a romantic little house of their own. The singles are barracked like sardines. I am assigned to a six bed man-hut with five hard-drinking fun-loving Peace Corps Volunteers. Next door is a four man hut and a four girl hut.

I join a group who walk to the only Korean Restaurant in The Kingdom. I order cheap and it is a darn good meal. We walk back to the isolated "hotel" in the darkness.

A few minutes after returning to my hut at The Friendly Islander Hotel one of the men from the next hut walks in. "Can someone help me? I think I am going insane. I can't find my backpack." Although his sanity can often be questioned, it is not in this case today. Their hut has been robbed. Passports, high end laptops used in the training, cell-phones and irreplaceable (here) backpacks are now the property of a HCN. HCN is Peace Corps speak for Host Country National. The Peace Corps, like Big Brother, uses it's own 'speak' as often as possible.

I am the island security coordinator, so I hang around as we bring in the Peace Corps Security Officer. He is a totally competent and squared away Tongan. While serving in the Tongan military he trained with the US Marines. He is one of the staff that I trust.

The influential owner of the The Friendly Islander Hotel keeps saying something to the effect that this is the first time this has happened! I believe that she is in charge of the National Censorship Committee that censors the Government TV and Radio, so I do not believe her.

He calls the police. They are on a first name basis. Out comes two CSI investigators. I recognize them from a break-in at a married couple's house a couple of months ago. In that case they were able to recover almost everything.

They look like a couple of guys you'd see hanging around the at the corner, but they are 100% squared away.

They start with "this is the third time we've been to this hut." This confirms my opinion of the censor's credibility. The Friendly Islander Hotel is a smorgasbord for robbers.

The perps came through the bathroom window and left via a bush road directly behind our huts. Very low risk theft.

The near feral PCVs are agitated. One of them accidentally uses his hut's key on the wrong hut. It works. In fact all our keys work in all the other huts. Security is really looking up!

We fight to move to a secure place. No beans. The security officer is able to move the people from the burglarized hut, but we are to stay. I can hear him pleading our case in Tongan. I guess the Peace Crops manager he is asking. He talks for ten seconds and listens for two minutes. This manager (an assumption on my part) is known for using her lips to listen.

I hit the bed about 12:30. I leave the light on in the hut and cover my head with a towel. I am out.

I wake to a drunk PCV rummaging through his stuff. A hut with six guys in it is noisy. The noise continues so I sit up, ready to slap somebody. Some moron has turned off the lights. There is a huge man with a twelve inch knife going through my stuff. He is NOT a drunk PCV. He has my watch in his hand.

The huge bear turns, drops the knife, and dives head first out the now open window. He is big. The window is small, but he quickly wiggles through and crashes to the ground. His weight breaks the water line to the house and it starts to spray. He is gone.

I am shouting to wake the others. Something like "There is a man in here with a knife!" They are PCVs. Only a few wake.

I call the Security officer. My mobile tells me it is about 05:15. My watch will not be helping me ever again. Then I trot over to the girls hut.

They sliding glass door is wide open. I wake them and make sure they are OK. They are. They just left their door open. Unwise in Tonga.

By now we find that someone, probably a DIFFERENT robber has robbed outside our hut too. Our shorts/swimsuits are gone. Even a pair of old flip-flops have been stolen.

Our security officer arrives so fast I know he has smashed the speed laws. Heavy rain starts. Our friends the police are still on duty. I send out volunteers to check all our huts.

The police arrive. They are concerned about the knife. Usually burglars don't have one. They take it for prints.

I've lost most of my meager possessions including my passport, spare glasses, and most of my clothes and underwear. Plus my irreplaceable backpack etc.

This time we inform the Peace Corps that we are leaving. When it is time for breakfast we take all our possessions with us. No one will leave anything in a hut, or leave one person unattended. The nickname for The Friendly Islander Hotel is now Rape Village.

We find out from the police that one of the cars we identified in the area last night has just been involved in an armed robber near my house. So now there is a potential gun connection. Hmmmmm....

One of the PCVs in my tiny hut is still asleep. He slept through the robbery, through the police investigation and as far as I know is still asleep. We will have a hell of a story for him when he awakes.