Wanderlust

I don’t travel as much now as I used to. I seem content to go back to places that I’ve visited before rather than to strike out in a new direction. That seemed to be okay for now — as I am almost through my seventh decade — but I need to re-think that just a little.

My mother  did not travel much. Living and working  in St. Louis, she was pretty far from the wonders of the world. She went with a neighbor family to see Pikes Peak in an shiny new touring car sometime in the 1920s — crossing Kansas on what passed for roads and camping along the way. She and a bunch of girlfriends drove to Biloxi and the Gulf Coast in the 1930s. (Whoa– how daring!) She wasn’t a driver so she rode in the rumble seat and got sunburned.  I only know that because she kept a little travel journal complete with grainy Kodak photographs. We travelled on family vacations beginning in the late 1950s and when she and my dad moved to Virginia in the 1970s they travelled around the east coast. On her first airplane trip, out to California to visit her brother and sister-in-law, she visited an old Spanish mission and pried up an original clay floor tile and brought it home as a souvenir. Maybe it’s good that she didn’t travel to some places. Is that really the Holy Grail in the pantry?

richard_halliburtonBut I get some of my “wanderlust” from her. She was a big fan of Richard Halliburton, an almost unknown name today but at the time, back in the 1930s,  he was almost a rival to Charles Lindbergh. He was a dashing and fearless figure who travelled the world over and published stories and books of his travels. She scraped money together to buy his books and when he came to town she was in the audience. She went to see Lindbergh, too, but she seemed to be more impressed with Halliburton. He was almost a roaming evangelist for travelers…good looking and articulate — and single. He managed to turn travel into a career and made good money at it. His personal life was a little edgy by her standards, had she known, but back in the day much of that was kept private.

As I was recently going through some family books, I came across her old 1937 copy of Halliburton’s Book of Marvels: The Occident, which covers many of his travels and adventures in North and South America and Europe. I remember poring over that book as a kid and wanting to go see all of those places that were pictured. Looking through it now, especially the old black and white pictures,  I wonder how much things have changed. He was writing before WW-II but made reference to the damage that was done during “the Great War”.  Hitler was  in power in 1937 and Halliburton pretty much ignored the existence of the German state except to mention the damage the Germans did in shelling Rheims Cathedral (complete with photographs of the burning church). My dad trudged all over western Europe in WW-II from London to Paris and Berlin with an eventful stopover in Bastogne and was much less impressed with the place.

As I paged through the book this time I see that I’ve managed to visit a number of places he covered in 1937. Some are pretty commonplace today. He goes gaga over the Golden Gate Bridge and the Bay Bridge in San Francisco. Chapters are devoted to Boulder Dam, Grand Canyon and Niagara Falls…people still are impressed with those. New York City gets a chapter with emphasis on the Empire State Building. Washington DC gets a chapter. It turns out I’ve staggered through all the places in the US that he featured in the book with the exception of Fort Jefferson in the Dry Tortugas out in the Gulf west of Key West, Florida. I just never took the boat ride. There are a lot of places in the rest of the book that I haven’t visited. I’ve been to Machu Picchu and his pictures from the 1930s are interesting compared to what it looks like today. I’ve been maybe a couple hours away from some of the places but didn’t get there. I recall reading his account of  Vesuvius and Pompeii as a kid and even wrote a report for school based mostly on the book but I never managed to get there — just a few miles down the road from Rome.  There are a few places I’ll not visit — monasteries, mostly, but there are a number that still beckon…Iguazu Falls and Rio de Janeiro could be one trip. Athens and Istanbul could be another trip.

richard-halliburton-elephantHalliburton was a great self-promoter and he seemed to be awestruck with almost anything he encountered along the way. His prose was gushing in praise for everything and sounds silly today. He found all sorts of people to happily pose in native costumes for his photographs but he seemed to really like being photographed riding elephants. There are a lot of those.

Undaunted by the first hostilities of WW-II, Japan and China were at war, Halliburton had a Chinese Junk, the Sea Dragon, built in Hong Kong  in 1939 and planned to sail it across the Pacific to San Francisco. How tough could it be? Halliburton and a crew of six Americans set off in March and ran headlong into a typhoon. The ship was last seen some distance west of Midway Island struggling through the storm. It was never seen again.  Initial reaction was that this was a publicity stunt — Amelia Earhart had gone missing two years earlier so nobody was dumb enough to try this without some back-up plan…right? Eventually the navy went out looking for the Sea Dragon or some evidence of wreckage but nothing was found. Halliburton was declared dead in  October, 1939. Germany had invaded Poland the previous month so there was not as much attention paid to his disappearance. My mom was probably heartbroken. Rumors persisted for years that he actually was alive and living like a native in some remote location but none of the crew ever turned up. Eventually, in 1945, some wooden wreckage washed ashore near San Diego that could have been from the Sea Dragon but, after so many years of war in the Pacific, it could have been from almost anything.  I might travel a little more but I won’t be trying that.

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The Shadowed Wall

The Shadowed Wall
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What lives were once protected
behind these shadowed walls?
What joys were shared and hopes declared
and private pains endured?
What voices spoke to say a prayer or
comfort childhood fears?
What buttons sewed?
What wondrous weavings wove?
What feasts enjoyed? What cheerful toasts proposed?
What missing friends or long-lost parents mourned?
Like brushstrokes on canvas, these past lives
paint shadowed lines on old forgotten walls.

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A reflection on a visit to Plaza del Cerro in Chimayo, NM

 

 

San Lorenzo Canyon

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI stopped at San Lorenzo Canyon (a BLM Recreation Area) on the same day that I scouted out the road to the Sierra Ladrones  Mountains. This was just sort of an add-on side trip and I had no idea what I was going to find. This seems to be a well-kept secret unless you live around Socorro, New Mexico.  But, hey, I’ll drive fifteen miles just to eye-ball a natural feature any day.

Getting there is a little tricky. Coming south on I-25 out of Albuquerque, take Exit 163 and cross over the interstate. This is San Acacia. Look for the frontage road heading south and turn right (south) and continue driving a couple miles. You will see two small underpasses that cross to the west side of the highway. Take the second underpass and follow the dirt/gravel road west several miles. There are several dirt roads…stay on the one that looks most travelled. You will eventually come to a sign  pointing the way to the canyon. These back country roads might require high clearance and four-wheel drive if weather and road conditions have deteriorated. It’s  about 5 miles on the dirt road. I’ve included a map at the end of this post that might help. There’s an alternative published route from a few miles to the south if you are in Socorro.  The area can be reached by taking the western frontage road north from Lemitar (along I-25) and driving about 5 miles. At that point, visitors follow a maintained dirt road west which will go to the main canyon. Google maps do not seem to be current in this area. Sevillita National Wildlife Refuge is just to the north of San Lorenzo Canyon (Strangely, the refuge office/museum is not open on weekends).

At any rate, it takes some effort to get there but it is well worth the trip. You might see other visitors as the place is locally known. There will be some evidence of horseback riders along the canyon road.

I only scratched the surface during my visit and I didn’t venture very far off the road. There are trails going this way and that so it seems like people just ramble up the canyon as they please.  Rather than having me babble on, I’ll just post some pictures and add a few comments.

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If you see this, you are on the right track. This is a pretty classic example of a geologic unconformity with horizontal layers of sedimentary rocks laid over a bed of eroded tilted layers. This is exposed as part of the Rio Grande Rift zone.

The first view of the canyon doesn’t give much of a hint as to what follows..

Things start to get interesting…

Hoodoo you think you’re foolin’?

 

There are a few brave survivors showing their blooms — and the invasive Tamarisk.

 

 

I mostly had the place to myself on the day I visited.

Alcoves, arches, a slot canyon and rock shelters line the route up the canyon. There are some springs, I’m told, up near the head of the canyon where you might see some wildlife.

Watch the sky — don’t get caught by a flash flood.

I only spent about an hour at San Lorenzo Canyon but this could easily be an all day trip in the right weather. There are no facilities so bring plenty of drinking water.

 

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Wandering Toward the Outlaw Mountains

cropped-p61200291.jpgIf you take a look at the header image on this blog you will see a huge expanse of New Mexico desert, green from a rare period of frequent rains, and in the distance a shadowy hulk of a mountain. The mountain is a cluster of mountains called the Sierra Ladrones, the Outlaw Mountains, and they are about forty miles off in the distance from the camera.

These mountains are isolated from any other mountain range and are considered a “massif” in geologic terms. They sit like an island, complete unto themselves. Unlike many of the other local mountains, the Sierra Ladrones are not volcanic but are an up-thrust of Precambrian rock that somehow, through ancient tectonic movements, managed to rise above the surrounding surface and withstood erosional forces over the eons of time. Ladron Peak reaches 9,176 feet in elevation, some 4,000 feet higher than the Rio Grande valley to the east. Monte Negro, a secondary peak, rises to 7,572 feet. Most of this is BLM land but Sevillita National Wildlife Refuge includes part of the southeastern slope.

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I have been fascinated by the Sierra Ladrones and always look for them when I venture south from Albuquerque. They play hide and seek. Now you see them — now you don’t. That’s because of the terrain and the Interstate 25 highway route that follows the Rio Grande south to Socorro and Truth or Consequences…that’s where the people live, after all. Not many people live up near the Sierra Ladrones; only a few isolated ranches and a few ranchers running cattle on open range. It would be a hard place to raise a family, albeit a beautiful place.

On a whim, I decided to see if I could get close to the mountains and maybe find a way to get up into them. I’m no mountain climber or even an endurance hiker so it would depend on finding a road. After a little searching on Google and my highway map I found that Socorro County Road 12 would be the way to get close. There are a few webpage accounts of hikers and climbers venturing up into the mountains and there is a wilderness study area described on one webpage — CR 12 seemed to be the preferred route. This is an unpaved road running from Bernardo, past the “ghost” town of Riley to Magdalena, on US 60. The sign says it all.

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The route out of Bernardo follows a portion of “old” Highway 60, or maybe “old” Highway 84 depending on the map. There’s not much there — a KOA campground and a rickety bridge over the Rio Puerco.  This is the paved part…okay, mostly paved…but the pavement runs out just past the bridge where you take a hard right onto CR 12. You are pretty much on your own from here. I think I saw three ranch trucks all day until I got back close to the interstate.

The road is certainly unpaved and for much of the early portion it has a jarring wash-board surface that almost makes you want to turn around. Maybe that’s intentional to keep the faint-hearted folks out. After that it gets better and turns into a bumpy but reasonably well maintained dirt and gravel road.

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This is mostly BLM land. Some of it it fenced and some is just open range. I didn’t keep track of my mileage but after about five miles or so you encounter power lines.   I lost track of the number of cattle guards I crossed but there were plenty. If you do see an approaching rancher’s truck you will see the dust long before you see the vehicle.  There was always a wave.

 

I’ve said often enough that I have the curiosity of a fourth grader even though I’m almost sixty-seven. I can’t remember the last time I took a walk and didn’t find something that caught my interest. A lot of times my pockets are full of rocks or seeds or something that warrants closer attention. When I’m out walking I’m looking at plants and the geology, mostly. There are animal tracks and burrows and places where some unseen drama took place. Luckily, I’ve not yet encountered a rattlesnake…yet.  Mostly there were lizards, a few birds and a desert cottontail. The ground was desert sand and dust. It made me think of decomposed tuff or volcanic ash, probably blown in over the centuries from the ample number of ancient eruptions. There is an active magma body under Socorro and TorC that fuels the local hot springs.

I paused at a dry arroyo but there was no exposed bedrock. About a third of the rocks I saw strewn around on the surface was milky quartz — sometimes an indicator of a nearby vein of some type of ore. Where I’m from I’ve seen that with a little silver and tungsten ore. There were also some nice examples of reddish feldspar-rich granite. I always wonder how these fist-sized rocks appear out of nowhere.

Some of the plants I know, like the Apache Plume growing wild through the area. They sell that as a popular ornamental and out here it looks healthier than in my yard. There was a woody, yellow-flowered bush that I didn’t recognize. It seemed to be full-grown at about three feet tall.  Most prominent is the cholla forest stretching all the way to the mountain. Some were in bloom and being visited by bees…who manage to survive out here somehow.

There doesn’t seem to be much available for cattle to eat or enough water to keep them alive. They seem to do quite well, anyway. I saw several young calves running through the cholla and a small “herd” staring at me on one of the tracks leading off of the county road.

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As I said, I was out here wandering with no particular agenda or goal. I had no expectation of actually getting up into the mountains but was just looking for a possible route. I got a late start and it was well into the afternoon and I was twenty-some miles out on an unpaved road. It was a gorgeous day and it lifted my spirits…I’ve been a little glum lately.

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From the higher elevation you can look back towards the Rio Grande valley and see the dark colors of the river bosque and the wetlands and across to Black Butte and the mountains beyond the valley.

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Clouds were building by the late afternoon and it was time to head back home. The danger is more from lightning than from rain but there are some arroyos that would be subject to flash flooding. I’m satisfied that I’ll be able to continue this trip at a future date. There will probably be a part two at some point.

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Trinity – April 2, 2016

The word “Surreal” comes to mind. It is an absolutely gorgeous day. A man is taking a selfie while standing in front of the rough stone obelisk that marks the spot…the very spot…where the first atomic bomb exploded. This is “ground zero” at the Trinity Site. There are thirty or forty other people waiting patiently for their turn to take a selfie at the same spot or to take pictures of their loved ones standing at the ground zero marker. This is only the beginning of what is to come. While you are there experiencing it, it seems nearly normal but on reflection on what this place is and what it represents it descends into almost a dreamlike experience.

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The Trinity Site is open for public visitors for one day only, twice a year (April and October) because it is located on restricted military real estate: that being the White Sands Missile Range. They still blow things up here or shoot things out of the sky. You can’t just drop in and take a gander at where it all began. This is a secure place and you go through a security gate, show identification and follow a precise route and park in a designated spot and walk several hundred yards across the desert to a fenced circular space maybe 100 yards across. You can stop along your walk to purchase a T-shirt.

 

There isn’t much to see. Ground Zero is just a monument and a piece of desert but if you look closely you see that you are standing in a shallow depression. It is gradual but the ground you are walking on is a round saucer with a relative depth of about eight feet caused by the tremendous compression from the blast. The surface was once covered, almost paved, with Trinitite, a greenish glass-like stone created from the quartz and feldspar sand exposed to the pressure and extreme heat from the plutonium bomb. Most of the Trinitite is gone but people are walking stooped over like beach comers looking for shells on a beach. There are examples on display. It isn’t a pretty stone…just a novelty. It is illegal to remove any from the site but they look anyway.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAPositioned along the eight-foot perimeter fence are a series of official black and white photographs with captions explaining various aspects of the test site, the engineering and construction work, the bunkers used for observation and photos of the actual blast. Visitors walk along the fence and pause at each photograph like the Stations of the Cross. Looking beyond the fence you see only desert and mountains and a slight rise…almost a lip…designating the edge of the depression.

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Across the enclosure, parked on its own flat-bed truck, is a full size replica of “Fat Man”, the plutonium bomb dropped on Nagasaki on August 9, 1945. Fat Man was over ten feet long and 60 inches in diameter…hence the name. It weighed over 10,000 pounds.

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Nagasaki wasn’t the primary target on that mission. The flight crew made three bombing run passes over the main target, the city of Kokura, but clouds and smoke from earlier bombings obscured the city so they went to Nagasaki instead.

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The Gadget — Nuclear Museum

At Trinity “The Gadget”, as the first bomb was called, was assembled largely on site and then hoisted 100 feet up on a steel tower and housed in a small hut-like enclosure. The tower was vaporized and all that remains is part of a concrete footing for one of the tower’s legs. I’m surprised that that managed to survive as everything else was vaporized or blown far beyond recognition. The temperature of the blast was measured at 14,710 degrees Fahrenheit. The sound of the explosion was heard in Gallup, New Mexico, 150 miles away. None of the observation bunkers remain. They survived the blast but have been demolished in more recent years. The main viewing bunker was at 10,000 yards – over five and a half miles away. Robert Oppenheimer watched from there but many others, including General Groves, watched from a point ten miles away. Edward Teller watched from a hilltop point twenty miles away. There were a few project scientists at the time that theorized that the blast might be sufficient to ignite the oxygen and hydrogen in the atmosphere…no distance would have been safe in that case.

Once you have made a walking tour of the fenced enclosure and taken your photos while dodging young parents with baby carriages and folks enjoying the bomb site with the family dog, you head back to the parking area. There you board a waiting shuttle bus to carry you over to the George McDonald Ranch, located about two miles from ground zero.

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The George McDonald Ranch and the residence (the 1913 Schmidt House) was the site of the actual assembly of the plutonium device. The residence is a 1700 square foot adobe and stone structure that, as fate and geology and location would have it, survived the blast with only the windows blown out. The building was at the very core of activity as the scientists and engineers assembled the bomb…in what was the master bedroom.

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Over the decades the building was left to deteriorate until it was “rescued” and stabilized in 1982. The National Park Service restored the residence in 1984 to what it looked like in 1945 but it is now in need of further rehabilitation. A crew of volunteers will work on several restoration projects in the fall of 2016.

This had been a working ranch up until 1942 when the entire area was purchased as a bombing and gunnery range. There was a large livestock tank — sometimes used as a swiming pool by the bomb assembly crew — and a bunkhouse.  The windmill tower survives but the stone bunkhouse is in ruins.

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There is a small amount of residual radiation at the Trinity Site after seventy years. The reported radiation (for a short visit) is less than one would get from a cross-country airplane flight or an X-ray…they say. I hope my rash clears up soon…just kidding.

Actually there were a few informational picketers outside the main security gate because of some reported health issues found among local people. Whether those are related to the atomic test or other missle range activity or something totally unrelated is a good question. Across the road from the picketers were people selling (radioactive?) Trinitite samples.

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Quick View of Canyon de Chelly

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI’m posting this partly to cement my commitment to return to Canyon de Chelly on a better day when I have more time. I decided to visit almost spontaneously as I was driving home from Flagstaff. I already had motel reservations in Gallup and the drive from Flagstaff was so short that I would be there by 11 AM. What to do?  I already went through the Petrified Forest and Painted Desert — you can see that here . Sitting in a McDonalds in Winslow, I looked at a map and my watch and figured I could make it to Canyon de Chelly just for a quick visit and then go on to Gallup. I’ve never been to Canyon de Chelly.

One of my few complaints about family vacations as a kid was that my dad figured that if we couldn’t see something from the car window as we drove down the highway it wasn’t worth seeing. I’m just the opposite and I dilly-dally my way across country and purposely make advance motel reservations about four or five hours apart. As they say, we may never pass this way again.   But…here I was trying to squeeze in a side trip that deserved much more time.

So off I went.  It took a little longer than I anticipated to get there so that left me with maybe two hours to see what I could see and then get back on the road for Gallup. I stopped at the Visitor’s Center and got advice and a map. I would only have time for the south side of the canyon. The advice was to go all the way to Spider Rock and then work my way back.

I quickly learned that looks are very deceiving at Canyon de Chelly because you lose proportion and context a little. You don’t realize how high the canyon walls really are…and how far down it is to the canyon floor. This is especially true in my case just coming from a visit to the Grand Canyon.

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Spider Rock is over 700 feet tall from the floor of the canyon… and you are looking down on it. I was raised in St. Louis and learned to gauge tall things by the height of the Gateway Arch.  Spider rock is almost 100 feet taller than the Arch.

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The day was moving on and it looked like maybe we would see some snow. I headed back along the south rim road and stopped at s few spots.

 

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Ansel Adams photo – book cover

It was a cold day and I’m certain that I missed several places along the way. I finally reached White House Ruin overlook. If you are familiar with Ansel Adams you will probably recognize White House Ruin. You can easily find his photograph just about everywhere.  I’m guessing that this is now one of the most photographed spots in the west but it is hard to capture it. Adams was on the floor of the canyon looking up at the ruin. When you get there you expect it to be larger and almost expect to see it in black and white. There is no easy access to the canyon floor…and you usually need a guide or Navajo escort because this is a sacred place. Most people don’t climb down the long trail to the canyon floor to take a picture. It is a long way up again. So…the first challenge is that you are close to a mile away and the ruin is quite small.

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In Adams’ iconic photograph you only see the upper ruin in the rock shelter. There is another ruin on the canyon floor pressed against the rock wall that is as big or bigger than the sheltered one.  Adams found a vantage point that concealed the lower ruin so he could focus on the white ruin tucked into the rock shelter. I don’t know much about his method or equipment but he must have had plenty of time and patience. This was two generations before the birth of digital photography.

 

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My day was running out and I had to get on the road. I wasn’t quite sure of the route back to Gallup. I will come back here and spend more time.

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The Canyon & Waiting for the Snow

We are supposed to get snow today and tomorrow but the forecasts are a little confusing. They make it sound like a major catastrophe is bearing down on us and then we get an inch and a half of snow and it is gone in six hours. This is New Mexico where the weather is mostly the same from day to day within the slow seasonal cycles so anything that varies from the norm gets a lot of attention.  I’m actually hoping for a little snow — not eight inches.

I recently spent a couple days at Grand Canyon — just before Christmas. That is a wonderful time to visit because there are so few people there and the snow decorates the canyon walls. So, as I await the coming blizzard (or snow shower) I’ll post some Grand Canyon pictures.

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The weather was a little unsettled first day at the canyon but the second day was clear with a beautiful blue sky. The lack of clouds or atmospheric variations tended to wash out the depth of the canyon and it was hard to get good distance photographs. I was there partially for the architecture of the 100 year old park buildings so I enjoyed that as much as the canyon shots.

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While not exactly empty, the park is not anywhere as crowded as it is in the summer and you can take as much time as you want and see it on your own terms.  One thing I noticed in the snow is the foot prints of the other visitors. They apparently ignore the safety railings and climb out on the farthest and most precarious perches. This is dangerous in warm and dry conditions but in snow and ice it is a little foolhardy. Sometimes the footprints went out to the edge but didn’t come back. I wonder how many people go missing.   Anyway, the park was mostly empty except for me, several bus loads of Chinese tourists and some hardy winter backpackers.

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Well…the clouds have moved in so I guess it will start snowing soon. I’m ready.

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