Sunday, December 28, 2008

Back to Seattle – Thursday 12-18-08

I got up early enough to have another round of hotel waffles, which I brought back to my room. I called Delta at the appointed time of 8:05 am, three hours before the 11:05 am flight I wanted. Sure enough, I am on hold for almost a half hour. But I got a seat, center seat, no problem, only an hour and forty-five minute flight. Oh, and the departure is 20 minutes late. No problem, I’m on.

Gear packed, I head to the airport. Drop off car. Kiosk – boarding pass. TSA, “Any liquids?” I’m thinking quickly if toothpaste is considered a liquid. “No”. No laptop either. Starbucks. Gate. All is well, still 20 minutes delay. Then it becomes an hour delay.

The boarding begins after the hour or so delay. We get cozy, buckle in. My seatmates on either side are a nice average size and friendly. Ah oh, the captain is at the front of the plane preparing to make an announcement. Whenever there’s a captain’s announcement, it always starts with “Folks …” The announcement is that SeaTac is closed temporarily because of blowing snow and stuff. We won’t push back until it opens, which will be in about two hours. So ‘folks’ you can deplane if you want, but stay close to the gate in case we get to shove off sooner.

I take a chance because I’m starving after all the delays and head down the concourse for some food. I find the Wall Street Deli and order up a ham & cheese (provolone) on sourdough. I have to say that it was a great sandwich. Wall Street Deli is now on my list of approved airport eateries.

I munch my sandwich, read, and briefly chat with some familiar passengers. The news from home is not good and I’m wondering if I can even drive home whenever we finally dock at SeaTac. It’s 27 miles from SeaTac to Edmonds and it’s been snowing heavy.
Two hours later we’re boarding. I got to my row and there were totally different people sitting there, two young women and a young girl in my center seat. They asked if I could move because it’s the young girl’s “first time flying.” Geez, they gave me such a pathetic, pleading look, as if I really cared where I sat because I already had a crappy center seat. Apparently, they had it all worked out and there was an open aisle seat a couple rows up. An aisle seat, score! It was next to a young couple flying with a six-month old baby girl. I’m a dad and crying kids are like background noise even though my two boys are well past the crying baby stage. I had an aisle seat and noise canceling headphones, I was set. The baby didn’t cry that much at all and the young couple were very nice.

Salt Lake to Seattle is a relatively short flight, maybe an hour and forty-five minutes. We landed smoothly on SeaTac’s new third runway (34L), my first time landing on this runway. I glanced out the window and indeed there was a ton of snow everywhere. I deplaned and after a short walk down Concourse A, I realized I had left my jacket under the seat in front of me. I went back to the gate and after almost all the passengers had deplaned, the first officer emerged with my jacket.

All carry-on luggage allowed me to skip baggage claim and head straight to the shuttle stop. I plant myself and my baggage a respectable distance from the curb, yielding room for folks to walk by on the sidewalk. Some clueless man comes up and plants himself and his baggage right in front of me, him standing about a foot in front of me. I had at least a ten foot radius of space around me before he showed up. I wasn’t moving, he’s a twerp, and I’ve had a long day. After a few minutes he had to step back to make room for folks to get by with their luggage, and so he bumps into me. I look into his face, which is now six inches away from mine, and say “Hi”. He harrumphs a little and moves a comfortable distance away from me.

The Doug Fox shuttle shows up and I’m the only passenger. The roads are covered in packed snow. The Doug Fox parking lot looks like a vast mogul field of buried cars. My Corolla is buried in about six inches of snow. I grab the snow shovel from the trunk and dig her out and also a path back to packed snow. Will she start? She’s 19 years old with 240K miles and has been sitting in the lot in subfreezing temperatures for over five days. I pump the pedal a few healthy times because she has a carburetor. She slowly cranks, nothing yet. I give up and release the key for another try when she comes to life. First time! She’s a keeper.

The roads around SeaTac are covered in packed snow but drivable. I get on the freeway and it’s a little better. I keep to about a 35 to 45 mph pace, like the majority of people on the freeway. A few folks go too slow and others too fast. In my head I’m planning the least hilly route home.

I get off the freeway in Lynnwood and the roads are real slippery. I slide uncomfortably well at a signal, almost sliding into the intersection. I won’t do that again. I get to the neighborhood and at the last little hill there’s a Prius sitting halfway up the hill with his flashers on. I stop a little more than a hundred yards away and wait. This is a hill that will need a running start for momentum to carry me up the last hill, basic Newtonian physics. I grow impatient waiting for the Prius to back down for another try or give up. I get out and walk up to the Prius. The gentleman rolls down the passenger window and tells me in a Middle Eastern accent that “I lost traction.” Great. I walk back to my car. Finally the Prius backs off and turns down a side street. Now’s my chance. I get up a good head of steam and hit the hill. I’m up it, no problem. In two blocks I’m pulling into the garage. The whole family comes out to greet me. I am ecstatic! I poor a beer and relax.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Hittin’ the Bricks with a Quick Walking Tour of Ogden – Wednesday 12-17-08

The Brick Guys met me at my hotel at 8:30 am. I was ready to roll, fortified by hotel waffles, baked to three minute perfection in those wonderful self-serve hotel waffle makers. I followed them up to Ogden on a beautifully clear, cold Wasatch Front morning. We traveled in separate vehicles because I had stay up there a little longer for some records review.

We spent the morning touring another brick place of which I can’t say much more. Suffice to say, I’ve learned a ton about bricks. After the tour, the Brick Guys and I had lunch at Jeremiah’s, home of the best burger in Utah, and it was. I enjoyed the Brick Guys, refreshingly non-Mormon.

I said goodbye to the brick guys and then did some additional review of the surrounding area before heading into Ogden. I needed to review some city directories because EDR’s product is so weak. I had no clue where the library was located. Without a laptop it’s back to the old fashioned way, looking in phone books or just wandering around, maybe asking directions. Oh how I was missing my laptop. I could find the location of the library in about 10 seconds on my laptop. I parked near the county offices and just started walking around. After a few blocks of wandering I found the Weber County Library and this being Utah, they had a fine collection of city directories.

I left the library and walked around a little. The ground and some sidewalks were still covered by crusty snow. I had never given much thought to Ogden, my perception being just a place on a map, overshadowed by Salt Lake City. Like any new town for me, walking the place yields volumes. I had been here in Ogden in early September and became instantly enamored with this railroad town and its remarkable collection of buildings. On this tour I strolled by the beautiful homes of the Jefferson Avenue Historic District, the Art-Deco style U.S. Forest Service Building constructed by the WPA, and the gothic Saint Joseph Catholic Church. Other buildings that must be seen include the Ogden/Weber Municipal Building, Ogden Union Station, U.S. Post Office and Courthouse, Peery's Egyptian Theatre, and the Eccles Building to name just a few.

Evening was wearing into darkness and I had to get back to Salt Lake. I stopped on the way in Bountiful for Starbucks and Costco gas. At a Barnes & Noble, I picked up another one of those Arcadia Publishing’s Images of America books on Ogden. I love these little books.

Back at the hotel room, I tried to score an earlier flight out of Salt Lake. I spent close to a half hour on hold with Delta to find out that it would be about $250 to change my flight unless I called three hours before the flight I was trying to get on tomorrow, in which case it would be only $50 to change my flight. I prepared for another thirty minute hold in the morning and went to bed.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Elko to Salt Lake – Tuesday 12-17-08

I had an 8:30 am flight out of Elko to Salt Lake. We’d had a little overnight snow in Elko. I pulled out the old Costco card again to scrape the ice off the car windows. Fortunately, it was pretty much just snow on the car windows, very little ice. The roads were OK. I took I-80 to the airport, bypassing town.

Elko Regional Airport is a nice little airport. The terminal is a relatively new building with lots of wood, exposed beams, and capped with a green metal roof, classic Western ski lodge style. I check in at the kiosk with only carry-on luggage, no human interaction. I observe those with checked-in luggage have to submit it to TSA where they do a physical inspection by opening the bags and rummaging about.

The flight to Salt Lake is delayed. Whatever weather disturbance came through Elko last night dumped snow on Salt Lake this morning, delaying the departure of our plane from Salt Lake. I read, wander the terminal, and make a few calls. Two hours later our plane shows up and we run through the usual security gauntlet. Here there is an x-ray machine, which for some reason doesn’t do double-duty with checked baggage.

The clouds were breaking and I walked across the tarmac to the plane with the other passengers. Elko was still freezing cold, the teens. I take my window seat on the right side of the Skywest Embraer EMB-120 twin turboprop. The window is dirty and the engine blocks any aerial photo potential. The women next to me bundles up and wraps her legs in a blanket as if we were going on a cold, breezy sleigh ride. It’s only about a 45 minute flight actual air time in a modern airplane that’s heated.

I try to pick out landmarks during the flight but it’s unfamiliar until we get near Salt Lake. The tall stack of Kennecott’s copper smelter at Magna comes into view. Soon we bank right along the eastern side of the Oquirrh Mountains then make a left U-turn heading north for a smooth landing on runway 34L.

I’m starving after the unplanned delay. Naturally, I find a Starbucks in the terminal and grab a vente nonfat latte and a nutritious chocolate muffin. I walked right to the Budget kiosk (Fast Break service) and get the keys to the car, a Dodge Caliber; such a manly name for a standard car. I go through my usual drill, mirrors seat, controls, and catch up on calls before bee-lining straight down the Bangerter Highway. Roads were clear, relatively, and my MP3 player was blasting.

The project in Utah is confidential and I can’t elaborate yet in any detail on it. Suffice to say it involves bricks. I met the Brick Guys in the afternoon and toured the Brick Place.

After the tour, I dropped off my sick laptop at a FedEx/Kinkos at Jordan Landing for shipment back to the office where the IT guys could work some magic. Conveniently a Bajio Mexican Grill was located right next door. I picked up a Burrito Clásico meal and headed north to the La Quinta Inn and Suites by Salt Lake City airport. This is where I usually stay when I’m in Salt Lake City. I checked in and made my nest. The place isn’t quite as new as it used to be. Maybe next time I’ll check out some of the newer hotels going up nearby.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Walking in Elko - Monday 12-16-08

A town is best experienced on foot to see its buildings, look into its shop windows, and pass its people on the sidewalk. The shops and business yield clues to its economy. Elko is ranching and mining. Elko is a town where the pickup trucks do real work.

On Monday, long after the Houston Guys flew away, I had the luxury of sleeping in. At 8 a.m. I called Avis and reserved a car. I took a cab to Elko Regional Airport and picked up a red Corolla. I made good use of my Costco card and used it to scrape the snow and ice off the windshield.

I spent a good share of the morning driving around looking for a shipping/packaging store for my hard hat and steel-toed boots, which I no longer needed and did not wish to lug them around to Salt Lake City, my next stop after Elko. I finally did the smart thing and went back to my room and looked in the yellow pages. Bingo! One listing, Ship It Postal Services on Court Street. Before I could complete the FedEx airbill, the shop woman had my hard hat and steel-toed boots neatly boxed and ready to ship.

Now I was ready to spend a little time exploring Elko on foot. I parked by the Elko County Library. My first stop weas the Elko County Courthouse, listed on the National Register of Historic Places. I walked around covering several blocks taking pictures of all the intersting buildings and things; casinos, the post office, old gas stations, and an old locomotive in a city park.

I stopped in at Carlin Trend Mining Services, lured in by all the cool stuff I could see through the window; geological supplies, drafting supplies, books, mineral specimans, and other really cool stuff. I walked out with an NBMG bulletin on the geology of Elko County and one of those Arcadia Publishing - Images of America books on Elko County. I love these little paperback books that are now covering many locations across the country. The Northeastern Nevada Museum was closed being a Monday.

It was late in the afternoon and I was getting hungry. I spied a Taco Time next to the C-A-L Ranch Store ("A Ranch and Home Store and So Much More!"). I had to check out the C-A-L Ranch Store before eating. This place had everything; guns, camo, horse gear, stock tanks, hardware, work clothes, and everything Dickies and Carhartt.

No longer able suppress my hunger I picked up a combo burrito meal at Taco Time. I took my meal back to my hotel room and started to do some actual work. I wrote up a summary of the mine and mill tourand put some photos and captions together. I emailed these off to our office doing the coordination of the project and deliverables. All was going well until my laptop crashed about 10 p.m.

Snake Mountains Romp - Sunday 12-15-08

I met the Houston Guys for breakfast at the Elko Red Lion, having made the chilly two block walk from the Holiday Inn Express. The Houston Guys were The Client and The Company Man. We engaged in the usual preliminary small talk about our kids, where we lived, and where we grew up. Turned out that all three of us are geologists and our kids are all boys. The Client is originally from Fresno and he carried the girth of a former football player. The Company Man is straight of the Texas oil man mold. One of his sons is Army Special Forces and another is a Navy Seal. Football is big in Texas. I like these guys but their Texas lifestyle affirms my conviction that I will never, ever live in Texas. Ever.

With breakfast over, we piled into an SUV and headed east on Interstate 80 for Wells. The Company Man took the helm, The Client shotgun, and me the back seat. Given my moderate hearing loss, I was in and out of the front seat conversation. The northern Nevada scenery was mostly hidden by clouds but the base of the Ruby Mountains was visible, teasing at what lay in their higher reaches.

In Wells, we met the Mine Manager and his Mine Assistant. The Mine Manager is a jovial guy, another old geologist. The Client and I interview the Mine Manager about operations, permits, and other environmental issues.

Meeting concluded, we piled into two of the mine's rigs, which were a bit more substantial 4-wheel drive units than the SUV rental unit that brought us thus far. The Company Man and Mine Assistant pile into one rig. The Client and I ride with the Mine Manager in another rig. The Client naturally takes shotgun. On the drive the talk turns to hunting and guns. I don't hunt and I don't own a gun so I have little to add to the conversation.

I observed a fault scarp paralleling our highway to the right. I mentioned it to break things up a little. The Client seems impressed and admits that his field geology is a little rusty. The Mine Manager mentions the devastating Wells earthquake whose epicenter was near the observed fault scarp we were passing(Thursday, February 21, 2008 at 06:16:02 AM; Magnitude 6.0).

The talk goes back to hunting and guns. The Client mentions that he had done a lot of hiking but never saw much purpose in it until he had a gun in his hand and, with that, he had a purpose. I guess I never needed a purpose to be outdoors, especially to shoot animals with high-powered rifles. Just being outdoors works for me. I have nothing against hunting and I'm sure I could do it. The idea of being stealthy and stalking prey appeals to me. Right now, it's not a priority in my outdoor pursuits.

We left the main highway and headed up into the mountains on the mine haul road. We made stops at the mill then farther up at the active mine and then up and over the crest to the inactive mine. At each location, we got out of the vehicles for a quick look around. It was bitterly cold and windy. Higher up at the mines it was snowing. I was comfortably attired in synthetic layers with a parka shell as an outer layer. The Houston Guys had blue jeans and jackets. They didn't take the cold very well.

On the drive down from the mountains, The Client spotted a herd of about a dozen mule deer. I had to give him credit for the hunter's eye.

Back in Elko, I met the Houston Guys for dinner and football on the teevee. It was the Giants at the Cowboys, so the Houston Guys had a heightened interest in this game. I didn't share that level of interest but there was beer involved. The Company Man had chicken wings and I think The Client snuck over to the buffet. I had a beef dip from the bar. The Company Man and I worked our way up to three beers. After some subtle goading from the Houston Guys during the day, about Seattle people wearing Birkenstocks and the perceptions of the Confederate flag, I was finally ready ready to show my hand, fortified by beer. But the Houston Guys had a 5:30 a.m. flight the next day and so excused themselves early for the evening. I walked back to the Holiday Inn in a lightly falling snow.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

On to Elko - Saturday 12-14-08

I made SeaTac in plenty of time and parked at Doug Fox. I was the only passenger on the shuttle bus. The driver said that Saturdays were traditionally slow. I checked in at the kiosk and magically two boarding passes spit out, one for Salt Lake and one for Elko. Security was easy. TSA at SeaTac is friendly. I picked up a grande nonfat latte and a chocolate chip muffin at Starbucks.

Gate A12 is about the farthest gate at SeaTac. I took my time walking. Getting on the plane a young woman was sitting in my window seat. I was polite and she politely let me take my assigned seat. She had dyed blonde hair and I’m sure a boob job. Her friend showed up as the last passenger and so seats were exchanged so the two fake blond friends could sit together and the one who traded the seat sat next to me. She was another young woman attired ‘organically’ for lack of a better term. Normally I’m not chatty on planes and for the first portion of the flight I had my headphones on and my nose into Nevada mining regulations. But during the beverage service we began to chat and she was very interesting. She had left Bellingham where she had been making large puppets, the kind that are held up by long sticks. She was traveling to Santa Barbara for a few days then on to Alaska for a few more days with family. After that she had a one way ticket to Puerto Vallarta where she was entertaining at a large hotel there. Did I mention that she was a juggler and I’m sure a good one. She had spent four months over the summer in Europe, bicycling, and getting by being a street entertainer. She clearly was an environmentalist, having participated in tree sittings in the redwoods. She asked me if I thought the rainforest was the single most important resource on the planet. Trick question maybe but I gave a long answer, oxygen, climatic influence, deforestation, etc. Our conversation made for a quick flight and soon we were in Salt Lake, going separate ways.

I had two hours to kill in Salt Lake before flying on to Elko. Salt Lake had a big dump of snow that morning and it was cold getting off the plane. I picked up a tall nonfat latte and a ham & cheese sandwich at Starbucks. The sandwich was awful but I was hungry. I caught up with the family by text and a phone call from my wife. New computer at home, yeh!

Finally it was time to board for Elko. The plane was a small EMB 120 twin-turboprop. Only nine passengers were on board. There was an issue with the fueling truck that caused about a 40 minute delay. They finally brought out another fueling truck. After taking on a load of fuel we taxied to the deicing ramp for a glycol bath and then we quickly got in the air.

It was a short, quiet flight to Elko. The Holiday Inn had no shuttle but they called a cab for me. While waiting for the cab, I chatted with the Red Lion shuttle driver, an old guy about 70 years old. He told me that the Holiday Inn had been owned by ‘Mr. McCaskey’, a big hotel owner in the Intermountain West. The Holiday Inn was sold after ‘Mr. McCaskey’ died. The old guy told me about the fantastic woodwork in the Holiday Inn and turns out he was right. It’s a beautiful hotel, clean and new. Stephen at the front desk checked me in. He saw my book about Stonewall Jackson’s campaign in the Shenandoah Valley and we talked history.

I finally got to my room and made my nest. I’ll be here three nights. Tomorrow the mines of the Snake Mountains.


The Winter Storm Warning for western Washington was lifted yesterday afternoon. The low pressure tracked 100 miles farther north than originally predicted and the cold Arctic air is bottled up temporarily over central British Columbia, giving us a reprieve. The cold air will spill out this afternoon. My drive to SeaTac this afternoon should present no problems as far as snow, perhaps an icy spot here and there. I fly into Salt Lake tonight to make a connection to Elko. Salt Lake is under a Winter Storm Warning as the same Arctic air mass pushes a strong cold front into that area. Forecast for Elko tonight is 30% snow showers, down to 17 degrees; tomorrow 40% snow showers, up to 27 degrees. Things will be different up in the Snake Mountains where I'm headed on Sunday.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Jaws of Winter

A Winter Storm Warning has been posted for western Washington. Tomorrow afternoon I fly to Elko, Nevada to look at some mine and mill sites somewhere in Elko County. The sites are located up in a mountain area at elevations approaching 8,000 feet. Then Tuesday I leave Elko for Salt Lake City where I'll be looking at an industrial site in Ogden. Both projects are confidential at this point and I can't provide any more details. The initial hurdle will be making it to SeaTac tomorrow, especially if we get 6 inches of snow overnight as some have predicted.