Tuesday, July 31, 2012

The Fuzz

When I went to the Anaheim comic book convention in March, I bought a felting kit to make a felt dog.

Sadly, my resulting dog looked like shit. I'm not very good at felting.

I saw the same vendor at San Diego Comic-Con, and he demonstrated to me how to make the dog and then gave me some replacement dog-body parts.

Which my friend Stuart then carried in his pack the rest of the night, since we were all going to a party on Sunday night and I had only a teensy phone-and-wallet-sized bag.

The cotton-y white stuff went with Stuart all the way to Brooklyn, and now I have it back.

So I guess get to try to make another felt dog soon.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Bundt Carrot Cake

Only 109 more days until National Bundt Day.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Catching Up

While I went to wander around San Diego, my camping gear went home by UPS.

And I networked and spoke on panels, hung out with old friends and made some new ones, went to parties, and mostly, sought out iced coffee. And when I got home, late one Sunday night after actually taking a taxi home from the airport instead of public transportation (work was paying and it was 11 PM), the Newark driver careened along the New Jersey Turnpike spur, high over the belching, sprawling metallic underbelly of New York, the sprawling infrastructure that runs the region. My hair tried to break free of its clip, the little wisps whipping around in the wind of all the taxi windows being down.

"What exit?" The cabbie asks me. "Columbus?"

"Yes, 14C."

"No, Columbus." I see his confused glance in the rearview mirror. He's forgotten that 14C is both Columbus and the Holland Tunnel.

"Yes, Columbus." He'll work it out. I turn my attention to the view.

"My god, this is ugly," I thought as we whizzed by the oil refineries and port. "Imagine what newcomers to the US must feel, what immigrants think when they take taxis from Newark Airport to the Holland Tunnel."

They must be shocked.

But I love it. I love the dirty mechanical hideousness below the highway, the ugly that holds up the beauty of the nearby gleaming skylines. Giant machines run New York, huge cranes and containers, "Oil Heats Best," a toxic wasteland dotted by friendly communities of people who do not make eighty, a hundred thousand a year, the working class who know too well the PATH train and the buses of New Jersey Transit.

I always see this panorama, whether I take the Airlink, the bus to Newark, a taxi, or get a lift from a friend.

And it's hideous, so hideous that it is stunning. I love it. If only we were going over the Pulaski Skyway as well, I think, as we race along toward the tunnel. 


Guess which flight was mine?

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Me and Chip

Here's me and my old friend Chip at a group meal in San Diego. I've known him since he was a wee lad in his late teens in Austin. Photo by Shannon.

But I Really Want An Octophant

My octopus necklace was a hit in San Diego.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

The Con

The question I heard most often at Comic-Con:

"Marie Javins! What are you doing in this country?"

Har har. 

But there are worse things to be known for.

And so I worked during the mornings, then wandered over to the con. I had booked at the last minute and ended up at a hotel out past the San Diego Airport, which sucked in many uninteresting ways, but overall, I was glad to be there, back among my tribe and with my friends of many decades.

People even attended the panel I was on.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Maybe Bloomberg Has A Point

I headed into Vegas, where I checked into Imperial Palace, a crappy Strip hotel that was only $27 a night but there was a reason for that. Tired, old, and with a huge check-in line on the edge of the casino, where I had to wait an hour for the key to a prepaid room—you get what you pay for, but I could have paid the same and stayed a few blocks off the strip in somewhere far more user-friendly.

Next time.

And if I'd stayed off the Strip, then I wouldn't have been stuck in the slow-moving sludge, unable to walk outside due to the huge fumbling zombie-like masses that trundled down the sidewalks. And I might not have come face-to-face with the obesity problem in America, which is on display here on the Strip.

I retreated quickly. This was worse than being in front of Penn Station on hockey night.

I've had really fun times in Vegas, but not this time. Being alone here didn't suit me at all, as I couldn't laugh and just ignored the obesity and sluggishness around me. I thought about the reputation of comic book fans as I was going to Comic-Con in San Diego tomorrow, and then I thought about how people at Comic-Con were way healthier and less obese than the walking future health problem epidemics on the Strip.

And then I went to a restaurant in a casino, where I got a huge portion of unhealthy food for a small amount of money. I pushed it around on the plate, picked out the avocado and ate it, and then depressed, went back to my shitty room to fall fast asleep.

Tomorrow I would rejoin my tribe at its regularly scheduled gathering, already in progress.

Riding With A Ranger

I packed up my campsite quickly on Wednesday morning—I've gotten good at this, by doing it in shifts. The trick is to divvy up the work by packing up the sleeping bag and mat before you leave for your shower. Then after your shower, you can have a leisurely breakfast, load up your cooking gear and collapse your tent, then you can go about your day.

I enjoyed my shower and breakfast. Showers are *so* wonderful when you're hot and dirty and traveling. I struggled to fold the tent up right for storage—the tent and all the camping gear was going home in a box today, and I was going back to Vegas to drop off the car and fly onward to my comic book event in San Diego.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

In Which I'm Like A Lighthouse for Snakes

I got off the Zion shuttle bus at the Canyon Junction stop and walked along the Pa'rus Trail, on my way to the third bridge to catch the sunset.

The lighting was dramatic and perfect. The photo skills I'd learned back in Page's slot canyons helped me get a good shot, and then I happily walked the last mile or so back to the Visitor Center.

A couple and their kid were hiking in front of me, and I stopped because they'd stopped.

"Rattlesnake," said the dad. The mom peered over the side of the walk at a rattler. He was long and rattling away, telling us to back off. I hadn't heard that since I was a little kid in the country in Virginia, on vacation with my family.

"Don't get too close," I said. No one was going anywhere near him, but I couldn't help issuing a warning.

Sunset at Zion

On to Zion

Here's the thing about Zion. If you're heading from Bryce back to Vegas, you must go through it if you don't want to drive the slightly longer route via Kanab. The state road goes right through the park.

And right through a long tunnel, past amazing canyon scenery, and oh, it'll cost ya to go on this road. Twenty-five bucks National Parks fee.

I'd bought an annual pass at my first NPS stop, back at the Grand Canyon. These are worth it if you're going into three National Parks a year, and heck, they're worth it anyway. Support your National Park Service. This is one thing that America has undisputedly done well. A guy I knew last year had driven across the country and said the National Parks were deteriorating due to budget cuts. I don't know what National Parks he was talking about. The ones I've visited on this trip were as deliciously homegrown as always, with dedicated staff and volunteers and the right balance of commerce and nature.

A Helluva Place to Lose a Cow

I followed the long single ribbon of asphalt out of the Grand Canyon National Park's North Rim, through the rain.

In time, the morning chill evaporated. The rain stopped. The temperature rose.

And then I was sweating in 100+ degree temperatures again.

I overnighted in Kanab, Utah, a small town that benefits from being the largest small town near some great movie backdrops. I checked into a Best Western, showered, turned the A/C on high, did some laundry, and left only (twice) to go to a nearby restaurant owned by a guy from Matawan, New Jersey (home of the Jaws shark incident).

The following morning, I drove up to Bryce Canyon. I'd camped here in 2002 with my Aussie ex. We'd both been dehydrated and worn out, me from riding a mule into the Grand Canyon and him from hiking down the canyon to the Colorado and back in one day ("That warning not to do it is a challenge to an Australian!"), so we'd taken short hikes in Bryce.

Monday, July 09, 2012


Check out my new little camping stove that I got at REI in Vegas.

I'd been planning to only pick up a $10 gel stove—I already have a single burner that goes on a Coleman propane bottle at home, but it was too bulky to fit in my bag. But this was on sale for $29.95, and it fits in the small red plastic triangle for transport. You have to buy new fuel on landing as you can't take the fuel canisters on the plane, but that's the same for all camping stoves.

The only problem is I don't go camping all that much unless I'm actively traveling. And I tend to view camping more as an economic practicality when on the go, not as a destination unto itself. It's not all that much fun when you do it alone. Especially not in the humid misery of summers in the Northeast.

The other piece of my coffee essentials (because ultimately, this stove is intended to feed my morning caffeine addiction) is the mug. I've bought these mugs with matching coffee press screen for almost ten years now, and while they are harder and harder to find, they are perfect for travel because of their compact size. I've searched for more of them for years—they do break when you lean too heavily on the tab that drives the press—and was almost convinced there were no more of them in the world, when I stumbled over a stash of them in a store in Tasmania.

I bought nearly the entire stock.

I'm sure I'll use them.

Ranger Walk

I packed up camp quickly on Monday morning, then headed to the Grand Canyon Lodge for a morning nature walk with a park ranger.

"People worry about mountain lions," explained Ranger Gaelyn, "but the problem here is squirrels biting people when people try to feed them."

We were out  looking for the local version of a squirrel, the Kaibab Squirrel, with its big bushy white tail.

Somehow, I ended up talking to an older woman who was traveling with her husband and adult daughter.

"We saw you in Page," she said. "You know the German guys you were talking to at the campground? We were on the other side from them."

Sunday, July 08, 2012

The North Rim

"There's a trail that starts here," said the park ranger, circling a spot on the map he handed me. "It goes along the rim from the campground to the lodge."

I headed over and sure enough, then campground was right on the edge of the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. What great real estate. 

I walked along in my inappropriate footwear, grateful for the National Park Service's well-kept trail and resistance to commercialization. I sat down on a log halfway through the 1.2 mile trek. 

What a view. 

I could look at this for hours, I thought. 

But my mind started to wander, and anyway, I had to get to Grand Canyon Lodge to make a reservation for dinner. 

The lodge has giant picture windows and multiple terraces. In the summer, you can admire the view. In colder months, you can sit inside the lodge and stay warm while looking at the orange and golden hues of the canyon. But the lodge only holds so many people for dinner, so if you want to be one of them, you have to book ahead.

The other options are pizza or junk food at the general store, so I didn't want to screw around.

I got my dinner booking, then walked back to camp for a while. I drove back to the lodge at night, since I'd be attending a lecture on Toroweap—an obscure part of the canyon—afterwards and didn't want to walk home in the dark.

Dinner was decent, but the views from the dining room were amazing. I started to fall asleep during the lecture, and slowly drove back to my tent under the ponderosa pines.

What a perfect spot in the world.

Here are some more photos of the last few days. I'm totally sold on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. Almost no one was there and the access to the canyon is just amazing.

Add it to your short list.

From Page to the North Rim

I stopped by River's End Cafe on my way out of town to pick up a sandwich. Where I was going was a tourist trap, so food was going to set me back a fair bit.

I headed out of Page into the glaring heat of the Sunday morning, taking a left onto 89 and heading south along a road that wound through low points between giant orange rocks.

Eventually, I turned right onto 89A, pointing my rental car at the dramatic, towering Vermillion Cliffs. The road zipped closer and closer to them, and then suddenly, I was at Navajo Bridge and Lees Ferry at Marble Canyon.

Saturday, July 07, 2012

U-Turn in the River

I cowered in the air-conditioned coffee shops of Page during the height of the day. The best one—by FAR—was River's End Cafe, tucked away in the corner of a rafting supply and booking store. I had to wait for two tour buses to pull away, but I was able to get a table in the corner next to an outlet (good for my laptop, and they had wifi too), a hummus and veggie sandwich, and an iced latte.

When the sun started to go lower, I headed a few miles south down 89 to this, Horseshoe Bend. It's a place with no safety rails, the kind of place where people's common sense has to keep them from careening down into the Colorado.


But stunning.


I booked a room in San Diego back when the convention hotel lottery opened up, but I wasn't sure if I wanted to go to Comic-Con this year. I haven't been since...2006? It's crowded and chaotic and the benefits of going are unclear, maybe even nonexistent. Once this was THE place to go for meeting people, but now that tens of thousands of people attend, it's a crapshoot on meeting anyone at all.

And then I did the San Diego math. Hotel rooms there are way too expensive, and we're long past the point where my various little travel tricks get me something cheap in the face of insane prices. I remember when I could crow about scoring the Hyatt for $70 a night on Priceline. That was a long time ago and doesn't happen anymore. 

So I cancelled my reservation and decided not to go. But then the Kuwaiti company I work for decided to send me to represent our end of things on a panel about the animation made from our intellectual property—you might remember I went to Anaheim for the same reason back in mid-March. 

So I rebooked my San Diego hotel room and sat down to book my plane ticket. 

But if I was already flying out west, I wanted to take advantage of the opportunity to see a few things. And yet, I've been out west so many times...what could I see that was new to me? 

I dug around and found this. 

Slot canyons. 

And so on Saturday morning, I drove out to a meeting point by the "Navajo Generating Plant" in Page, Arizona, where a Navajo guide named Josh put me into a 4WD and took me on a photo tour of three slot canyons: Owl, Rattlesnake, and the famed Antelope Canyon. 

Josh showed me how to use my Lumix point-and-shoot in a way I didn't know was possible, and then he led me into the canyons. We didn't encounter anyone except in the second half of Antelope Canyon, which is the one that gets the crowds. 

The scenery was stunning—I can't think of why more people aren't aware of these canyons, unless it's purely geographic. The slot canyons may be overshadowed by the Grand Canyon, Bryce, Zion, Monument Valley, Arches, Canyonlands, and all the other fun things nature did with rocks and water. 

Here are some photos. 

Out and About

My sold-out flight arrived early in Las Vegas, but by the time I got my luggage and lame little rental car, and figured out how to find the Vegas REI (can't take stove fuel on the plane), I was running pretty late. The drive to Page, Arizona—where I had to be as I'd reserved a campsite and pre-booked a tour for the next day—was six hours. That seemed reasonable when I thought I'd get out of town at 2, but I was leaving Vegas at 3:30. I was already going to be setting up my tent in the dark.

"Not sure this was so smart," I thought as I finally pulled away from traffic and headed out into the Nevada desert.

But I made it without problems, even with stopping for an iced latte en route, even with stopping in the Kanab, Utah McDonald's parking lot to use a little free wifi.

The sky was dramatic and blue, the earth wide with plains flat enough for one NPR station to get me almost to Page. Which is good since 20 minutes into the trip, I found out that the iPod/iPhone USB port in the rental car was missing.

Friday, July 06, 2012

Carrying Around Baggage

I'm heading to San Diego Comic Con for work, but since I'll be out west anyway, I'm flying a bit early to check out some slot canyons in Arizona. I'm also going to visit the North Rim of the Grand Canyon and will spend a night at Bryce Canyon before heading to Vegas to catch a flight to San Diego.

But I am not keen to spend too much money on hotels, and that's a part of the world where there aren't a lot of decent budget options. So I've packed my tent.

What's more, I've packed my tent into this checked bag, along with my Therm-a-rest, sleeping bag, travel pillow, towel, titanium spork, French press mug, boiling water pot, coffee, flashlight, extension cord, and car lighter A/C adapter. Most of my clothes fit into this bag too. I've got one extra zippered pack of clothing in my carry-on along with my laptop, phone, chargers, and a whole lot of paper to do with my freelance jobs.

I can't believe this plan worked.

Sunday, July 01, 2012

Odd Bargain

Colin Powell and John Kerry bobble-heads, cheap at the dollar store. Buy 'em by the bag.

Note the strange RUDY RUDY RUDY on the side of the Colin Powell box, and the Zeus-like lightning bolt. Huh?