Big Bend Inspired Piano Improv

The Lost Mine Trail - Big Bend National Park

The Sunday after my trip to Big Bend – I was playing in church (as I do every Sunday) and I had to improvise something to cover the time for communion.  This is a recording of that improvisation.

I’m not saying the whole 6 minutes is riveting – it’s not, but there are parts of it I actually like a lot.  It is always amazing to me how much more free my creativity is when I return from a trip.

[mp3-jplayer play=”true” dload=”true” pos=”rel-L”]

The Petroleum Museum

January 7 journal

12:10 -The Petroleum Museum, – Midland, tx

Looked at 6 different oil and gas ‘traps’.  The traps are classified according to the geological processes which form them.

Anticline, fault, lens, pinch-out, reef, and truncation traps

The first time geology was used to help locate oil sites was looking for lifting of the crust of the earth which indicated a possible anticline trap.  Then geologists started mapping depths

In 1924 oil prospectors starting using a torsion balance to map minute gravitational differences due to rock density below.

Then they started using a magnetometer to measures variants in the magnetic fields caused by different kinds of rocks

The most powerful tool used today is the use of compression shocks and geophones to  map the subsurface.  Strings of geophones are plugged into a truck which records the return of the shock waves from the compression shock to produce detailed maps of density of the rock formations below.

Side note : Geophones are also used in border patrol efforts allowing border patrol to listen in on the activities of geographic areas. (neat to note the crossover uses of technologies)

The reef exhibit is probably the most impressive artistic reproduction I’ve ever seen. It’s real really well done.

The air patrol exhibit highlighted a job previously invisible to me.  Somebody has to fly up and down the oil pipeline and look for leaks.  There’s a job I could get into!  (step one – become pilot)

1:45 – One of the school vans backed into a car in the parking lot here at the museum in Midland.  Looks like we’ll be getting in a bit later today.

The People

The diversity of personalities on this trip is ridiculously AMAZING.

I won’t name names so I don’t violate confidences, but here is a sampling of the characters I’ve come to know over the past week.

One guy who left a six-figure job and a family business to become a law enforcement professional.

A mother of two who worked in a strip club starting at age fourteen, beat cancer and is now finally able to finish her education at the age of thirty-six.

A recent high school graduate whose family fled Lebanon when she was fourteen and Israel bombed her town.  She speaks four languages and is capable of doing much more than she realizes.  We all hope she comes to know how much she is capable of.

An oil-rig worker trained in chemical agent deployment with a tattoo parlor and ten person jacuzzi in his house right next to his tiki bar.

A cruise ship musician that lost 140 pounds in about a year with more stamps in his passport than I will ever have.

A seventeen year old girl who lives alone with five dogs and a cat in a trailer, but has an amazing cable package and beautiful mind.

A waiter at Stevenville’s Hard-8 who says the artist Jewel comes in once a month and always gets brisket. (It is my secret goal to play piano in her band some day.)

A fashion major and an education major who out dressed us all with their sleak fleecy cuteness.

A six foot tall girl from a small town who in the fourth grade had to deal with the fallout from her mom divorcing her dad for another woman in the town.  She says the town was full of beauty shops and churches and neither one would let her set foot in them again.  (This one made me very angry and sad. And I think she should get the heck out of that town.). She loves to dance – even without music playing.

A former illegal alien who swam the river from Mexico at the age of eleven who recently obtained his US citizenship.

A star of the high school drama department with the biggest hair I’ve ever seen and a beautifully Disneyified young perspective. She’s not naive, she just chooses to seek the good and bright in life rather than negative pessimism.

A self proclaimed pothead miffed at the police officer that arrested him for impounding his dog too.  (He was only trying to get to his farm with that weed – and it wasn’t even his)

Two madly in love twenty-somethings celebrating their third month of dating by breaking rocks with a bunch of total strangers.  He’s a member of Best Buy’s geek squad who also happens to be a talented church musician, she’s a future sex therapist.

A former small town police chief turned geologist discovering mind and mood altering effects of metoprednisolone.

A small town girl from the wrong side of the tracks that proved everyone in he small town wrong by becoming a respected and loved mentor and teacher.

A lab tech that can out hike most of us to spite the color of her hair.

There are some other hilarious people on this trip that I didn’t get to know well enough, but who certainly made me laugh – particularly this last night in the bunk house.

I am truly thankful for this time getting to know these people. They are truly a wonderful collection of human beings.

Banditos, flash flooding and the Closed Canyon

The next stop on our itenerary was the Barton Warnock nature center.  However, we discovered it was closed. (As Gomer Pile would say, Surprise, surprise, surprise)

We proceeded to try Ken Burns again – nope. – out sick!

So we drove to what turned out to be one of my favorite hikes so far – the Closed Canyon Trail.  A fitting name given our difficulties in attractions being open.  However, luckily for us the name was closed, but the trail was open.

The sun was setting fast.  We were given vague instructions not to talk to any one we might meet along the way.  This gave the descent a small eerie twinge, but didn’t slow us down much.  Close canyon is a trail within Big Bend State Park.  We reached the entrance to the canyon quickly and began exploring deeper and deeper within.

The sun rapidly disappearing and there was a very cool breeze blowing through the narrow canyon walls. It was obvious that this canyon had been cut through 1000 feet of rock by a super strong water force. This water wasnt on the surface today, but the thought of a flash flood added to the excitement of the hike.  A flash flood would easily have carried a group of 20 geology students out of e canyon much quicker than we could ever run.

We continued on further and further until someone shouted that we had to turn back. I really didn’t want to stop exploring, but it was getting darker and with flash floods and banditos fresh in mind – I heeded the call.

Gun Shots and Border Patrol

Santa Elaina Canyon

Santa Elaina canyon. Steep climb and then no problem. Took lots of pictures. Remembered hiking this way on a previous trip and putting my hand on a cactus. The little microscopic splines stuck with me for a long time and clearly left a lasting impression on me.

On the way back I picked up a small bolder and chunked it off towards the river.

The Rio Grande at Santa Elaina Canyon

It didn’t quite make it to the water and it smashed into the stoney riverbank with a sound that very much resembled a gun shot. It was a quite impressive sound. I made another unsuccessful attempt with a slightly smaller rock about the size of a softball which also made a shot like sound.  (Ashton can vouch for me)

About twenty minutes later as we were coming off the trail – we passed two uniformed border patrol carrying an AK47 and other scary looking weapons.

View from river level

Turns out our professor reported hearing gun shots from the canyon area and they were investigating.  A member of our group says he knows gun shots when he hears ’em. I say different, but either way – a pretty exciting day at the Santa Eliana canyon trail.

Return of the Green Gulch

As we neared the head of the Lost mine trail we found ourselves rising in

Green Gulch showing a few medium sized trees.

elevation such that we noticed the emergence of bone fide trees in a field of ancient volcanoes referred to as the Green Gulch.  Trees were once abundant here until the miners virtually striped the landscape of them.  Then in the 1940’s, cattle overgrazed it down to a “desert scrub”.

I forgot what this is called. Natural Tailing maybe?

The last 60 years of protection has led to a slow development back towards thicker vegitation, but its still not what it once was.

Unfortunately we only had time to hike the first 15 minutes of the Lost mine trail, but on the way we saw a mule dear (big ole ears) and the sun was just peaking out over the basalt casting a golden hue on everything.

A Mule Deer

With Averted Vision – the McDonald Observatory

7:32 – arrived at McDonald Observatory

We hurried up to the amphitheater where we could see a brilliant green laser beam gesturing at different points in the sky.  The speaker had a very clear voice and a well rehearsed, easy manner if explaining the cosmos above.

My son Max

Visible above us he showed us a “visible mist of stars” that he explained was our galaxy.  He also pointed out a separate glow that was actually sunlight from our own sun shining on the dust in orbit around the earth called Zodiacal light.  “a very faint and allusive phenomenon to see”. He was singing the praises of our remote location for star gazing.

The speaker showed us the nearest galaxy to us called the Andromeda galaxy that you can see with the naked eye, but you can’t see it when you look straight at it.  You have to view it with “averted eyes”.  In other words if you look right at it – you miss it.  You literally have to see it out of the corner of your eye (or periphery).  The concept that there are things that you can only see when you’re not looking at them is a beautiful thing to think about.  There are all kinds of metaphorical truths hidden in that. It’s a very Harry Potter kind of magic.  It was true the slurry in the dark above us disappeared when you looked straight at it, but if you looked off to one side of it – it became visible.

After the brief lecture I had the opportunity to view 6 different celestial magnifications through some expensive looking telescopes.  I was fascinated!  After that I lay down and stared upwards and though about how much my son Max would have loved the stories about the stars and the beautiful view and of course the really cool green laser beam!

Princess Cactus

Stopped for lunch in the Rio Grande valley camp area

1:10 depart

The Hot springs heat source is 1500 feet below the ground heated by the earths core. The one we visited was commercially developed as a resort destination in the 1920’s.  On the way to the pool, Mrs. Valle explained that the 16 million year old Crutatious period outcropping we were walking past was of mostly limestone and some shale deposits.

a limestone and shale outcrop on the trail to the Hot Springs

Layer upon layer exposed by the erosive effects of the Rio Grande during a period of much higher river levels.

2:32 Saw volcanic peak that has been eroded away. We’ll hike that tomorrow.

Seeing a lot of pink cacti. My three year old daughter Rose would love it. I bet she’d call it princess cactus.  It makes me think of the strawberry cactus that blooms her in the spring.  I used to eat the fruit off of these when I visited as a kid.

Princess Cactus?

3:30 – our date with Ken Barnes was postponed when we arrived to find his gate locked and no one minding the store.

3:44 we went up the road to a ghost town/tourist trap called Triluingia which had an abandoned Cinnabar mine which had been capped by the railroad commission.

5:40 Steakhouse was closed (a pattern is emerging)

5:50 – Dinner at City Li hts (It’s possible it’s just missing a G, but it’s more charming this way)

6:50 – Departed very full for the McDonald observatory (take 2)

The Singing Mexican – Boquillas Canyon

January 4th, 2011
7:29am departed Prude Ranch
7:52am Saw a herd of Elk which were reintroduced in the 1980’s.  Looks like their doing just fine.
9:20 Viewing beautiful Chisos mountains Occitillo plants are abundant
On the drive we saw majestic columnar basalts.  (My iPhone didn’t do them justice)

9:53 sparking reflections of Gypsum all over

Boquillas Canyon

It was a little chilly starting this hike up over a embankment into a canyon carved by the Rio Grande.  On the way a fellow student’s much keener eye spotted a prime example of a conglomerate

A conglomerate is a sedimentary rock formed from multiple rounded rocks which have bonded together over time to form one.

which is pictured here.

Extensive irrigation use and damning of the Rio Grande has really sapped the flow of the Rio Grande.  IMG_0667However, the evidence of the once much more powerful river is all around and it is not difficult to picture it twice is far across or more.  Quite a grand river for sure.

As we reached the river a voice singing in Spanish echoed off the canyon walls.  In the middle of the path was a cup and a rock that read,

Donations for singing Mexican

“Donations for the singing Mexican. Victor” under the name Victor was the name Jesus crossed out.

Victor was perched on the Mexico side of the river singing load enough to echo all through the canyon.  It struck me that Victor was really demonstrating true musicianship there on the canyon bluff.  I’ve heard a ton of refined music in concert halls, recital halls, practice rooms, and restaurants and some of it is very powerful, wonderful music.  However, Victor had something raw that often is missing in the music that surrounds us almost 24/7.

Audio clips from the canyon:

Victor sings Cielito Lindo

Victor speaks to Mr. Poston

Victor sings De Colores

Victorio sings Cielito Lindo across the Rio Grande on the Mexican side.

Three Strikes and We’re Out

January 3rd, 2011

4:00am – I left my sleeping wife Mary and three children and flew out the door towards Weatherford. I packed everything I needed last night so I slipped on my clothes and took off.

5:30 – Arrived at a dark and cold Weatherford College parking lot and joined a cluster of cars awaiting the arrival of our instructor for a prompt departure at 6am

6:38 – departed campus in three suburban’s and a cargo trailer.IMG_8167

Geologically we are traveling from the cretaceous period to the Pennsylvanian period

Approaching the town of Ranger we were told that this was the site of former coal mining sites during the 1920’s

9:00am Exit 270 – Stopped for fuel at a Shell station

9:26am mm(mile marker) 247 – Mr. Poston pointed out Gypsum mining for use in sheet rock production. Along the way we also observed countless wind turbines

9:58 – unexplained humidity caused windows to fog at mm210

10:12am – mm194 – Our vehicle inexplicably ran out of fuel and we had to pull over to the side of the road while another vehicle ran to get a gas can full of fuel.

10:41am on the road again – observed clay outcrop as accelerating up to speed

10:47am exit 188 returned borrowed gas can from Fowler’s station and stopped for fuel!!

11:07am  Beginning to see remnants of Pleistocene lakes. mm174

11:29 am entering Permian basin. Evidenced by clusters of oil rigs. Mm151 IMG_0698

11:42am Stopping for fuel exit 138
lunch at Jack n the Box

1:00 on the road again. Poston said he was going to "Eeeaze own" and I had to translate for Dania, a Lebanese student who was not prepared for Mr. Poston’s significant Texas drawl. He was saying that he was going to Ease on (down the road presumably), but it sounded more like Eeezown.

1:20 mm109 visible meteor crater? – I didn’t see it, but it was claimed to exist.

1:40 mm86 All around there are great dunes of sand like the sahara dessert – except with varying degrees of dessert grasses. These are the Monahans sand dunes which are the remains of an ancient shallow sea having ground up Gypsum into a beachy sand.

2:04 still seeing sand dunes! It is flat for miles and it really is easy to imagine this all being underwater long ago

2:07 Yucca plants begin to emerge and Davis mountains are visible in the distance mm56

3:03 pulled over by fuzz Apparently Mr. Poston did not see the speed limit change and the local highway patron felt the need to pull us over to inform him. Mr. Poston is a former highway patrolman and teaches criminal justice courses at Weatherford College, so this was something of a humorous moment for him – especially because half of the students on this trip a from the criminal justice program.

3:27 Davis mountains made up of primarily Rhyolite, a form of Granite

3:43 Differential weathering and lichens (which break rock down into soil again.

5:00 – settled in to our bunk house. The males are in one half of a bunk bed house at the Prude Ranch. The girls are sleeping on the other side of our bunk house named Harmony.

5:20 – we humorously discover that there are two bars of cell phone reception to be had if you stand in a very specific spot but he telephone pole out side about 50 feet from our bunk house. Otherwise, there is no signal whatsoever. This led to some rather humorous, Can-you-hear-me-knows as we wandered a rounded looking for the mysterious wandering cell phone reception.

6:00 – Ate at Cueva de Leon Restaurant IMG_0651

6:40 dinner finished headed to observatory – The city of Fort Davis has a low light system of illumination and residents are strongly encouraged to keep light emissions to a minimum so as not to impede the astronomical research efforts by the nearby McDonald observatory.

6:50 – the observatory is closed. We’re not having the best of luck today. Hopefully we’ll be back tomorrow evening for a star party

7:34pm arrived back at the bunkhouse. A contingent of male students has hiked off into the wilderness. Mike trombone playing friend, Mike, and a couple others opted not to risk it and have remained back at home base. Mike says he saw a coyote walk across the field. Maybe I’ll see him as I hill down the hill in search of WiFi to post this blog…

Tomorrow starts at 6am!

Update: After I posted this blog and headed back to the bunkhouse we all saw a huge havalina hobble into the darkness followed by a lone coyote howl.  I grabbed my digital audio recorder and hit record just in time to record a large gaggle of coyote’s howling.  click here to hear the coyotes howling at the injured and squealing havalina.  (The voices you hear are Constance and Tiffany)