Monday, September 09, 2013

Hikes, Minerals, Holocaust Memoir

The wind’s really high out right now—there’ll be grapes all over the back porch (either ones which have been blown off, or a carpet of rejects from the raccoons which show up every evening to sample the fruit).  I spotted about three of the raccoons the night I arrived, and casually asked my cousin how many he'd counted.  He said, “Five—but the most I’ve ever seen in the yard was 14.”  I think I would run screaming for the Rockies if I saw 14 raccoons in my yard all at once—that’s an infestation.  The grapes are really tasty, though.  


I went to Red Rocks today to see the amphitheater and do some hiking.  Beautiful scenery—the big pieces of sunburnt sandstone pushing up towards the sky, lots of wildflowers, fresh air, quiet. I went on an easy hike and took lots of pictures.

The CCC did so many cool projects that we are still benefiting from today!  We could probably build a good high-speed cross-country rail system if we all pitched in like it was a Habitat for Humanity-type project.  But maybe that's a little too much like the "voluntary" public work that citizens did in the Soviet Union and currently do in North Korea.

Curvy rocks ahead!  Oh, I saw an electronic road sign that warned drivers to "Watch for Rocks & Wildlife"--both of which must cross the road frequently.
A small bizarre cousin of the US Air Force Memorial--this one was called "Leaves of Grass" after the Whitman poem.


 Right on the edge of the Rockies, where the mountains suddenly rise out of the Great Plains.


Then, after eating lunch outdoors, I drove to the Colorado School of Mining in Golden, CO, to visit their museum, which consists of an extensive and well-organized display of mineral samples from Colorado, the American west, and around the world.  I didn’t know that crystalline turquoise is found in Virginia, of all places!  Or that tourmaline has the relatively unattractive mineralogical name of elbaite, which makes it sounds like it should be marooned on a deserted island in the south Atlantic, rather than being used as a popular gemstone.

They had so many cool specimens!  This isn't malachite, but all the raw samples they had of that deep green stone looked downy, like little bubbles of velvet. I wonder if it is superficially soft to the touch, or if, like a thistle or a cactus, it'll sting you if you try to stroke it?

Other formations resembled sea urchins.

And there was the ugliest crown ever--just because it's made out of nice materials obviously doesn't mean to you end up with an attractive product.  Miss Colorados are annually subjected to this clunky monstrosity.


Downstairs in the museum, they had a little boutique-style display of fossils (the mastodon tooth gave me the shivers—the thing was as big as my foot, and I couldn’t help but be grateful that I wasn’t regularly encountering these big beasts roaming the hinterlands, even if they were gentle giants and subsisted mainly on buttercups).  There was an entire case of trilobite fossils, which reminded me of a goofy moment in my late 20s, when I was working as a photographer’s assistant at a museum at the University of South Carolina. The septuagenarian after whom I trailed around, who taught me how to develop film in a darkroom and how to use an accordion-style large-format camera for cataloging shots, referred to himself as a “troglodyte photographer” (because he eschewed digital technology).  Somehow, the word for ancient cave-dweller and the word for the long-extinct sea creature got confused in my mind, and for months I went around thinking he was calling himself a “trilobite photographer,” though for the life of me I couldn’t figure out why he was identifying with the Jurassic equivalent of a tribble. 
There were also several cases devoted to radioactivity and radioactive substances, some of which are to be found in Colorado.  Just as there was a gold rush or two at the end of the nineteenth century which brought prospectors from far and wide, in the mid-twentieth century there was a mini-boom in uranium prospecting, and Coloradans had acquired a range of Geiger counters and board games which reflected this fascination (apparently Uncle Sam was offering bonuses at first).  And then, a lot of the uranium miners ended up with radon-gas related lung cancers…

It poured rain the full two hours I was in the museum, and is supposed to be cooler and rainy the next couple of days.  I haven’t checked the weather for Colorado Springs, but I want to see Garden of the Gods and Cave of the Winds, so that’s a day trip.  If they did have a state park where you could pan for gold (like Arkansas’s Crater of Diamonds, where you can try to find shiny bits of carbon), I would definitely go. 

I am about halfway through reading Escape from Camp 14: One Man's Remarkable Journey from North Korea to Freedom in the West.  Somehow, despite my lifelong exposure to the horrors of Holocaust history, I am finding this story more emotionally tough to handle than many of those first-hand accounts.  Maybe it’s because the concentration camp in which Shin Dong Hyuk was born and raised is still in existence and people are still dying there; he is younger than I am, and when they mention dates that he was tortured, or relatives executed, I remember what I was doing about that same time, totally oblivious to the awful events halfway around the world.


Lenise said...

Enjoy the remainder of your visit!! Those grapes do look delectable, and the scenery looks amazing!

Hermione said...

Haha, I'm glad you got to meet the racoons! I love all the pictures! The fourth flower one is my favorite. And the moldy looking rock!