52 States in 8 Months

Is eco-friendly traveling possible in the United States?

Posted in Rapid City and Yellowstone, USA by Ulf on May 16, 2009

bild8601Last week I received a postcard from Spain (Thank you, René!). This is René’s comment on photo on the postcard:

Eine Ansicht von Mitteldeutschland in 50 Jahren, wenn du mit deinem Audi/Airbus/Boeing weiter so viel CO2 ausstößt wie bisher *g*.

Alright, reasons enough for me to start a new journey! I’ll go to Iowa to visit some relatives; afterwards I’ll go to Rapid City to see the Mount Rushmore, and last on my list is the Yellowstone National Park. To make sure I don’t use any Audi, Airbus or Boeing I’ll only use trains and buses to get from one place to the other, so that’s Amtrak, Greyhound and Jefferson Lines. I have to go about 8000km, which is about one week of continuous traveling. I’ll be back around March 28.

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Mesa Verde and Four Corners

Posted in Las Vegas to El Paso by Ulf on May 13, 2009

March 28 was a day full of highlights. Everything started with the Mesa Verde National Park near Cortez, CO. It is about the Anasazi, an Native American culture who lived in the area of Arizona, Utah, Colorado and New Mexico. I might also refer to them as Pueblos or Ancestral Puebloans. Well, the last one is to complicated, I won’t use it again ;-).

Now, let’s cover the history of those Pueblos in three lines:

  1. It is assumed that they entered the area roughly at A.D. 1, when we started today’s calender. At first they were alcove dwellers, living in small caves in the mesa mountains (Mesa translates to “Tafelberg”, which is a mountain with a flat top and usually a very steep hillside).
  2. After a few hundred years (maybe A.D. 500?) these Anasazi moved to the mesa top where they started to build funny houses. You’ll see pictures in a few seconds.
  3. Once the Ancestral Puebloans (yes, I used it!) sufficiently proved that they could build housings on the mountain top, they went back to the caves of their ancestors and built houses there. That’s where the really cool stuff is today, you’ll also see pictures :-)

Let’s start with the pithouses that were build on top of the mesas. The oldest one which we saw dated from around A.D. 675. It actually consisted of two houses. Now, you might think that this is one pithouse with two rooms, but the archaeologists are pretty sure that the second part of the house was built after the first one burned down.

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Actually, many of the pithouses burnt down sooner or later. But that’s just fine since the Pueblos had just learned building houses out of wood. You can’t really expect them to build fireproof houses immediately.
However, they already knew how to ventilate their houses, so one could see quick progress:

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A few hundred years later (maybe A.D. 800) the Pueblos build most houses on top of the earth and not below it. However, there were houses called “kivas” that still went underground. These kivas were religious places, but also used for social gathering. Most kivas we saw had a round shape:

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While most houses were still made of wood around A.D. 900, the Pueblos had learned to use bricks by A.D. 1000. And it took them only another 75 years until they used double row masonry:

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I somehow get the feeling that those Pueblos build better houses than most Americans do today (they are still using compressed wood here…).

However, at around A.D. 1200, the ancestral people moved back down the mountain, because they had a great idea: They built houses from stone in a place where wind and weather couldn’t damage them: In the caves and below the rock overhangs of the mountains!

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Some of these small towns have 50 rooms plus a couple of kivas, so these were really large installations! Are you already astonished? You haven’t even seen the large one, Cliff Palace. Having 150 rooms and 23 kivas, this is the largest cliff dwelling in North America:

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Luckily we are in free America and not in Europe, so we were allowed to actually walk into one of these sites and see it with our own eyes! :D If this was in Germany, then we wouldn’t be allowed to do it! Thank you, America!

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Wow! Wow! Wow! We were completely astonished!
And we were hungry, so we went to the local Wendy’s ;-). Was this when I tried the “3/4 lb. Triple with Cheese” menu?
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Next on our route was the Four Corners Monument (in the Four Corners area), the only place in the United States where four states meet. It is inside some Indian reservation, either Navajo Nation or Ute Mountain Ute Indian Reservation … or maybe they even belong together? Anyway, we had to pay about $12 or something to get there, but it was worth it!
We could be in four states at the same time! Even though Colordo’s flag was missing…

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My plan was to break the law in four states at the same time. I though about drinking alcohol in public, which seems to be prohibited in most places in the US. Now, I asked some Indians if they would sell alcohol to me, but they told me that nobody would have alcohol in that reservation. Wow! That completely changed my mind about Indians!

Without having done something illegal in any of these states, we continued our journey. You only know half of the adventures of March 28 so far…

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How do I make gray pictures look nice?

Posted in Las Vegas to El Paso by Ulf on May 12, 2009

A few days ago I published a grayscale picture, and Flo & Mascha asked my to post-process it a little to make it look more “punchy”.
Normally I do not do any post-processing at all with the pictures you find on this blog. There are a few exceptions, for example when my lens wasn’t clean or when I stitch a bunch of single pictures together to create a panorama. And this will be another exception.

Here is the original picture. It came already from the camera in “gray scales” (can you say this?), so all I did was stitching two shots together:
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Flo proposed to increase the contrast a bit. I increased the contrast by 10% and 20% in the following two pictures (100% would yield a b/w picture):

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Instead of changing the contrast, Flo mentioned “raising the black point”. In the next two experiments, every pixel with a brightness of 0.1 or less (0.2 for the second one) is mapped to 0, yielding a total black. The remaining color scale (0.1 to 1.0 or 0.2 to 1.0) is linearly distributed between 0 and 1. Flo, is that what you had in mind?

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My amateurish eye thinks that the pictures do already look “more interesting”. Furthermore the 10% increase in contrast is comparable to the 0.1-to-0 mapping, while the 20% increase in contrast shows far less effect than the 0.2-cutoff.

Since the picture was taken around 9am which is neither dawn nor dusk, Flo proposed increasing the brightness. That step has to be combined with the increase in contrast, I think. Here is what comes out when I increase the contrast and the brightness by 20% each:
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Or well, we’re in America. Let’s go big. +50% brightness, afterwards putting the black point to 0.2:
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Thank you for you advise, Flo and Mascha. I think that the place really got more lively now (although “dull” would have been a pretty good description of my first impression of this place *g*). Luckily there are a lot of pictures from the South West coming up — landscapes where any post-processing could only make things worse (feel free to prove me wrong).

PS: In the case you had other changes in mind, feel free to prepare your version of the picture and leave a comment.

EDIT: The first gimp’ed image came it! Fabi, a nice chap I met in Miami, proposed using the GIMP “Color Curves” function to spice my picture up. The S-shaped mapping function he used also increased the average brightness in the resulting image and increased the contrast. There is something I really start to like about this GIMP function: I understand what I’m doing. If I say “increase the contrast by 20%”, then my only guess would be that they apply some nonlinear transformation until some numerical indicator of the image’s contrast changes to a certain value. Not very specific. The function which Fabi proposed however will directly show you which input color is matched to what output color! Now, this is his result:
seagray_fabiAnd I do not only like the method, I do also like the result. Fabi was more courageous to allow really bright areas in the sky, and I think that this was a good idea. It created a more visible contrast between the sea and the sky.

Winston, Chloride, T or C, Las Cruces and Mesilla

Posted in Las Vegas to El Paso by Ulf on May 11, 2009

When we returned our rental boat on the Elephant Buttes lake, we were told that “New Mexico is neither New nor Mexico”. Well, at that point we couldn’t compare it with Mexico yet. But to convince us that New Mexico isn’t new we were told to visit some of the ghost towns near by. That sounded good, because we were just about to visit a couple of other cities in that area. At first we drove through Winston, a place which still has a post office (second picture). This is where we dropped a lot of the postcards which we wrote during our trip… I was quite surprised when I heard that they actually arrived!

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I just found out that Winston is already considered a Ghost Town according to ghosttowns.com, but the place which we actually wanted to see is called Chloride. You can also find it on ghosttowns.com, and on Google Maps. Right, Chloride is the place where the road ends. They did a lot of silver mining there in the 19th century, so that’s maybe why chemistry-related names were chosen for these towns.

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Now, you can obviously see that this place hasn’t been totally abandoned. There are still a few people living there, and they call it a ghost town because in earlier days it was a much larger settlement with a few thousand inhabitants. One of the people in this lonely place is Don, a former rocket engineer who used to work on control systems for aircraft navigation. Sounds interesting, doesn’t it? Nowadays he runs a little museum and tries to keep the place in shape.

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On the pictures you’ll find a mechanical lawn mower (both Don and I believe that it doesn’t work), some advertisement for cheap guns (around $3, but you have to pay another 40ct for your first 50 bullets) and a dynamite detonator. Yes, we arrived in the Wild West! :-)

Next on our route was Truth or Consequences, or “T or C” as the locals call it. Visiting this place was on my To-Do-list ever since I saw it on a map for the first time. Originally called “Hot Springs”, the town changed its name in 1950. It adopted the name of a game show. There are some things which can only happen in America, right?
A few years ago they even made a movie called “Truth or Consequences, NM“, but from what Wikipedia says it must be really really lousy: “in its widest release the film appeared in seven theatres”. That says it all.

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There was not much to do in T or C, so we went on to Las Cruces and Mesilla. Both towns are very close to each other. In the 1840s there was the American-Mexican war which ended with the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. This treaty defined the border between the United States of America and the United Mexican States. Mexico had lost about 55% of its pre-war territory. Unfortunately the maps were not very accurate in those days. On the official map of the treaty, the position of El Paso was shifted by about 40 miles, so the territory conflicts went on. In 1850 the Mexican government sent settlers to found Mesilla, claiming this territory would belong to Mexico. This was somehow true because the Rio Grande formed the border between the USA and Mexico in this area before the Gadsden Purchase. Now look at what happened to the Rio Grande in the 19th century:
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This explains why Mesilla is a part of Las Cruces today :-D. Just as all Mexican or pseudo-Mexican towns, Mesilla has a city plaza with a church next to it. Sounds familiar, right?

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After having seen Mesilla we went back to Las Cruces, crushed into some cheap motel and fell asleep (we got up at about 4:30 in the morning since we had to bring Andi and Matthias to the airport, that’s why we were quite tired).

An elephant butte near T or C

Posted in Las Vegas to El Paso by Ulf on May 10, 2009

One of our aims during the Spring Break Holiday was to use as many kinds of transportation as possible. I used a few buses, one train, a taxi, roughly five planes and three rental cars. Is that all? No, we also wanted to rent a boat. This is why we went to the “Elephant Butte Lake” in New Mexico. It was quite cloudy, and I remembered one of Flo’s tricks for making gray landscapes look more interesting: Just take a grayscale picture!
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The first marina we went to didn’t lend any boats, but they sent us to another marina. This is where we rented a pontoon boat for 1.5 hours. This is very simple in the US since your credit card is your boat driver permit… The lessor gave a quick introduction on landing, and it turned out that these boats are absolutely easy to control. So we rev’ed the engine and hit the sea:

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The Elephant Butte Lake is an artificial reservoir with a dam producing about 5 MW on average. If you look at the Google Maps pictures, you’ll see that the water level changes a lot. Just open the previous link and zoom out a little bit. You’ll notice that quite a few rocks become islands as the water level rises. When we were at that place, we actually didn’t notice that the water level was that shallow. It’s good that they have these “hazard buoys” to tell us where not to go :-).

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But what about this Elephant Butte? At this time of year it is actually an island, and a the locals claim that there is a goat living on it. I guess it is a ghost goat ;-). Anyway, this is Elephant Butte:

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Unfortunately we didn’t see the goat, but from all stories we had heard we were too frightened to land on the island and to look for it. Instead we floated around it, and looked for the perspective from which Elephant Butte looks most like an Elephant. Did we find it?

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Today’s “State of the Society” address

Posted in Europe, USA by Ulf on May 6, 2009

Germany. A Spiegel article pointed me to an interview with Ursula von der Leyen, or “Zensursula”. You can find it here. Now look at what she says roughly 3 minutes after the file starts:

“Wir wissen, dass bei den vielen Kunden, die es gibt, rund 80 Prozent die ganz normalen User des Internets sind. Und jeder, der jetzt zuhört, kann eigentlich sich selber fragen: Wen kenne ich, wer Sperren im Internet aktiv umgehen kann? Die müssen schon deutlich versierter sein. Das sind die 20 Prozent. Die sind zum Teil schwer Pädokriminelle. Die bewegen sich in ganz anderen Foren. Die sind versierte Internet-Nutzer, natürlich auch geschult im Laufe der Jahre in diesem widerwärtigen Geschäft.”

Mir fehlen die Worte. I think that I’m among the 20% internet users who know how to circumvent web filters, so our Zensursula publicly claims that I’m in a group of criminals. WTF??? Luckily she also admits that web filters can be easily circumvented by those criminals, which is one of the reasons why the proposed change to the Telemediengesetz should be dropped.

Germany. The petition against internet censorship in Germany is approaching 40,000 signatures (Edit: we have more than 40,000 now). Another 10,000 and the Bundestag will have to deal with it. Please sign it.

United States. The Washington Post writes that the servers of the Virginia Prescription Monitoring Program were hacked, and about 35 million medical records of 8 million Virginians were stolen. Virginia has a population of about 7.6 million, so they have probably been storing data for quite some time, and you can now get the names and addresses of basically all Virginians along with their Driver License numbers, Social Security Numbers and so on. And the best thing about this: in Germany we’re also introducing the Elektronische Gesundheitskarte. The name might be a bit misleading since the data is stored centrally. Storing it only on the card doesn’t seem to be appropriate because cards might break or get lost. My guess is: The first large hacks will occur about 5 years after the eGK has been introduced. Unless we can stop the card, which would be the better solution.

The White Sands National Monument

Posted in Las Vegas to El Paso by Ulf on May 2, 2009

My parents will not be very happy about this blog post. I took more than 200 pictures on March 30, and I could not resists putting about 35 of them into this post. Everything started with our great breakfast in Las Cruces: We went to Burger King (I think this was my first time in the US), and it looks as if I had an “Croissan’wich”:
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After our nutritious breakfast we hit the road. For a long time everything looks like … well, just as everything looks like in New Mexico, but then there was this white dune in our way:

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We had arrived at the White Sands National Monument. And since we are in America, there is a road directly leading to the place we wanted to see. Although seeing the road sometimes wasn’t that easy. They have to plow the road constantly to make sure the dunes don’t cover it.

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Just like every good National Park, White Sands also has restrooms in the Park, sun shades, picnic shelters and also something which looks a bit like a large campground. Or maybe just a spot to test how much lateral acceleration your rental car can stand?

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Now, I’m afraid I can’t show you pictures of the most beautiful spots. The problem is that my camera somehow refuses to take pictures at that place. It was really strange: I pressed the release button, but nothing happened. However, once I pointed the camera at a darker spot (maybe my clothes or my hand), then it would suddenly change its mind and take the picture. Well, not the picture I wanted, but some picture of my clothes or my hand.

Still, I managed to take enough pictures to prove that we were there:

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There is an interesting story about the dead Yucca plants which you see here and there. They’re actually killed by the sand dunes, but not in the way that you expect. The soaptree yuccas, just like all other plants, usually grow in the interdunal flats. But as a passing dune begins to bury the yuccas, their stems start growing rapidly upward. This way the leaves will usually remain above the sand. Now, the problem is: Once the dunes pass, the yuccas collapse under their own weight and die. Still, it is a good way of surviving much longer than most other plants that don’t survive their burial with sand in the first place.
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Now, since our car had quite some fun in the desert, we also found a lot of things to do with white sand. Apart from putting it into a bottle and stealing it, of course. Mascha: We left a large STK logo in White Sands. Paul has pictures of it. Just that you know that we went big :-).

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Please have a look at the picture in the lower left corner. You’ll notice that there is a constant sand storm just over the ground. I was wearing long trousers which turned out to be very good — Paul was always complaining about the sand pricking into his legs.

Coming back to cars, did I mention that I encourage all automobile manufacturers to use White Sands for their ad campaigns? If GM wasn’t going bankrupt in the these days (only Chrysler is quicker), I would start making up slogans for our Chevy Cobalt and put them into these pictures:

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Now, even after leaving the National Monument we were still in the White Sands Missile Range close to the Holloman AFB. We didn’t see any German Tornados, but there were a couple of F-22 Raptor planes flying low-altitude manœuvres above our heads. That can really distract you from driving, especially on the long, empty and straight roads in New Mexico.

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When I saw these planes I thought about weapon guidance systems. I mean, can there a better method for detecting planes than watching for dark spots on the sky? Why on earth should one rely on active radar or heat if the planes are so clearly visible? (Unless, of course, the guidance systems are also supposed to work at night…)

We couldn’t spend to much time down there since we had to get back to Albuquerque. Both Paul and I had to catch our planes in the next morning (I already wrote about my private, state-sponsored flight). We drove through Alamogordo (having trouble pronouncing it? try Alamo-Gordo), and then we once again entered the everything-looks-the-same-New-Mexican-landscape. Don’t be fooled by how Alamogordo looks, it really is the only city in that area.

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To give you an idea of how boring the whole area is, here is a story which happened in the postal office of Carrizozo. Paul and I both needed stamps, so I went into the post office. The desk was empty, but when I rang a bell, a clerk arrived. I asked her for a couple of international stamps and a single domestic stamp. Well, as you can see, I got the domestic one. However, she couldn’t sell international stamps. I mean, they had stamps, but they store them in a safe, and the person who has the key to the safe wasn’t available at that time. But she had a solution for us: She offered to call the post office in Tularosa (about 50 miles to the south) to see if they have access to international stamps. Well, we were heading to the north, so this was no option for us. Still, it was an interesting experience to see that some post offices can’t sell you the stamps they have…

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One more interesting experience was a car accident. Somewere along the boring road we were overtaken by a police car, and about half an our later we arrived at the place where the accident had happened. And yes, we were the first car in the row, so we had a pretty good view on how the officers recorded the accident. There were three cars involved: The Chevrolet Monte Carlo with the ugly color which you see on the street, and two SUVs which came off the road on the right side. I do assume that the cars which were now in the roadside ditch were overtaking each other. That’s a bit dangerous in New Mexico since looking forward is generally not required while driving.

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The steering axle of the Chevy Monte Carlo didn’t break during the accident. Actually, they could even turn on the engine and drive a few meters with the car. Well, up to the position were the car is on the second picture, because that is where the steering axle actually broke ;-).

When Paul and I arrived in Albuquerque, we decided to visit the so-called “Old Town”. All tourists have to go there, so we couldn’t refuse. They have an empty plaza with a gazebo, and there is church next to it. And a lot of shops for tourists, of course.

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Since Paul and I were hungry, we simply rushed into the first Mexican-looking restaurants at the plaza. We had some do-it-yourself tacos as an entree (translates to “Hauptgericht”), and since I’m a sucker for American-sounding food, we also had to try the “fried ice cream” afterwards.

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You wonder what that is? Now, fried ice cream is just fried ice cream. They put some corn flakes around the vanilla ice, fry it for a second or two and serve it with a lot of cream. Yum yum :-).

My private aircraft.

Posted in Las Vegas to El Paso by Ulf on April 23, 2009

On March 31 I went from Albuquerque, NM, to El Paso, TX. Originally I planned to do this trip by car, but Alamo refused to let me take a New Mexican car to Texas. I have no idea why, but I could not change it. I tried Amtrak, but their proposal to get from Albuquerque to El Paso (266 miles) was taking a train from Albuquerque to Los Angeles (789 miles) and then another train from Los Angeles to El Paso (802 miles). Unfortunately I did not try Greyhound who would have taken me all the way for $20. Instead I booked a flight with Pacific Wings which cost me about $60. According to their website the regular fare is $156.00, but I booked it on cheaptickets.com (or was it expedia.com?).

When I arrived at Albuquerque Airport I found out that the flight was operated by New Mexico Airlines. The check-in process was quite different from what I was used to. There was a little phone on a desk. I picked up, a woman asked me where I am, I said “Albuquerque”. She asked for my name, and then she said “Ok, you’re checked in. Please proceed to gate E something.” — yes, that was it!
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So I went to the gate. Both my pilot and my co-pilot were already waiting for me. They scaled my bag and asked me for my weight. After a few minutes we went to our plane. On the left-hand side picture you can see my copilot (she put on some make-up just for my flight, but I believe she would also have been cute without it).

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Well, they started our Cessna Caravan 208B, and flew me to Alamogordo. We stopped at there for two reasons: For one thing Alamogordo Regional Airport is the New Mexico Airport of the Year 2001, awarded by the New Mexico Airport Managers’ Association. Wow! For another thing, we had to drop one more passenger (an old lady) who I did not mention so far. But yes, on the leg from Alamogordo to El Paso there was just me in the plane, and the two pilots. Still they had to give me a safety briefing in the beginning of both flights, telling me about emergency exits and so on *g*.

Just the fuel for that flight cost about $200 (my own estimate). So how can New Mexico Airlines survive and continue wasting energy? It’s very simple: There is a law in the US which declares NMA as an “Essential Air Service“. The company gets an annual subsidy of 1.6 million dollars. That means that the US tax payers have paid for my stupid flight and my waste of energy. Sorry folks, but seriously I was not aware of these facts when I booked the flight!

Anyway, these are some of the things I’ve seen during the flight. First of all, there is the Trinity site. It must be somewhere on the next picture. It is the place were the USA tested their first atomic bomb, about 2.5 weeks before they dropped a bomb over Hiroshima. If I had done a better job while planning the trip I could have visited the Trinity site on April 4th. They do only open it twice a year since it is in an active missile testing range. But since I was in the area four days earlier, I could only see it from about 10 miles away.

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The next two pictures show Alamogordo Airport and a bit of that area. I’ve probably taken the pictures for a very simple reason. Alamogordo simply is the only seriously inhabited place between Albuquerque and El Paso. And if they didn’t have the Holloman Air Force Base, then Alamogordo most probably wouldn’t be inhabited at all. Btw: There are about 700 Germans in Alamogordo. The German Luftwaffe uses the US facilities as a training site since they don’t have good test grounds for the Tornado in Germany.

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Near the Holloman Air Force base you can once again find strange stuff somewhere in the landscape. This is how some strange stuff looks from the top, and this is what another one is like on Google Maps. This was my view:
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Somewhere close by there is a really dense system of roads in a place where I would not expect any roads. Once again, I don’t know why. Maybe they searched for oil at this place?

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Or maybe they train invading $ARABIC_COUNTRY$?

Can you freeze milk?

Posted in Las Vegas to El Paso, Newark by Ulf on April 22, 2009

Two days before our spring break holiday started, I bought a new gallon of 2% fat milk and opened it. Stupid me, two days are not enough to seriously use a gallon of milk! I ate cereals for breakfast and dinner, but there was no chance to get rid of it.

Therefore I decided to use the milk for an experiment: Can milk be frozen? Okay, obviously it can. But will it still be tasty after unfreezing it?
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The simple answer is: Yes, absolutely no problems at all.
I neither saw nor tasted a difference to fresh milk. Especially there were no clumpy pieces in the milk (as someone else who did this experiment said). It was really just fine.

Being a total illiterate in Mexico, or the contrasts of Ciudad Juárez

Posted in Las Vegas to El Paso by Ulf on April 19, 2009

My most important reason for going to El Paso was crossing the Rio Grande, and therefore going to the United Mexican States, or simply Mexico. In fact, just next to El Paso there is the City of Juarez in the state of Chihuahua, or in Spanish Ciudad Juárez. It can easily be confused with Ciudad Benito Juárez, another Mexican city which also got its name from Benito Juárez, a former president of Mexico.

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On the pictures above you can see that there are quite some lines at the border, but that’s of course only for the direction into the US. I did not go through any border check at all when I entered Mexico, so I don’t understand how they can complain about weapons from the US being carried over… (btw: something between 17% and 90% of all weapons seized in that area come from the US). Anyway, this is how the Rio Grande looks. I don’t know where the name comes from. It can’t be the size of the river:

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The first impressive thing I noticed in Mexico was a large message on the mountains, saying “Cd Juarez la biblia es la verdad léela.” It’s on the right-hand side picture above, but you can also see it on Google Maps. It translates to “Ciudad Juárez, the bible is the truth, read it!”.
However, there were more Christian missionaries approaching me in El Paso than in Juárez. Those Americans always wanted to invite me to their service. In Juárez instead they always wanted to sell sightseeing rides with taxis. And they tried to sell medicines (or drugs?) and girls, too, but that was not what I was looking for in Juárez. Instead I was looking for post cards! Simple postcards! But I could not find any. Finally some nice chap approached me, who luckily was quite fluent in English. In fact I was really surprised when he didn’t offer any taxi ride :-). He took me to some old market where I could choose between 8 or 10 ugly postcards, and only one of them showed the city itself (at night). Each postcards cost $0.80 (USD) or $10 (MXN), so I only bought three or four of them. My guide also took me to the local post office where I wrote the postcards and sent them to Germany. In the post office my guide finally got a small tip for a simple reason: even if I had managed to get some post cards, I would have never found this post office without his help. Just look at it:
2009-03-31_14-34-43-springbreak-7546-ulfIt looked better from the inside than it did from the outside, though. But does anyone of you know how the Mexicans can identify this as a post office? Is there anything special with the ornaments on the walls??

Anyway, after the postcards were on their way I started my discovery tour through the city. I’ll start with the things which really put a smile on my face:

  • There were quite some places in the city which looked really great. The bus station for example: I haven’t seen such a nice bus station in America so far. It was large, there was a lot of artwork and they planted trees :-).
  • The local market! It was just like being on some small market in Stuttgart-Vaihingen. They did even give the weights in kilograms, a unit which most Americans do not understand ;-).
  • And the area next to the church was also a surprise. I had visited Old Town Albuquerque and Mesilla (near Las Cruces) which both had nice plazas right across from some church. In the center of both these plazas there were little gazebos. However, since there were also a lot of parking lots, many restaurants and gift shops, I thought that these plazas in Old Town and Mesilla were both just built for tourists, to create some Latin American atmosphere.
    Well, Juárez also had such a plaza! And in contrast to what I had seen in the two American places, this one was really crowded (although you won’t see this on the pictures I took). I really enjoyed being there, there was so much “laziness” in the air ;-).

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Sounds good what I wrote so far, right? Well, I was lucky. As you probably know, there is a drug war going on in Mexico right now. The locals (well, those in El Paso, because the locals in Juárez don’t speak English) told me that since about a year there were between 10 and 15 murders each day. Mostly execution by shooting, but hangings and decapitations were also regular. And the local police is so corrupt, they won’t do anything about it. WTF??? But anyhow, I was lucky: Just one month before I came, the federal government sent the military which has now taken over control. This meant that there was a military patrol about every 5 minutes on each place. And some places the frequency was even higher. This has really helped! The public killings have stopped, at least during daytime. It’s not hard to believe that the people were really happy about having the military in town…

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Actually I was supposed not to take any pictures from the military, but I didn’t care. One of the soldiers has even tried to tell me not to take any pictures, but as most other Mexicans he just couldn’t speak any English at all. Poor chap, but yo no hablo español ;-). Finally some other pedestrian translated what the soldier said, but at that time the soldier had already given up ;-).

Earlier I wrote about “quite some nice places”. Well, then there have to be “some not so nice places”, too. And indeed, there are. The majority of my one-mile-radius-discovery tour took me through poor and devastated areas. Suddenly Mexico was really looking different from what I was used to in the US. Still, one thing was interesting: In those areas, more people could speak English! And when I told them that I was from Germany, everybody immediately named one or two German cities (sometimes Hamburg, sometimes Frankfurt, …, but never Berlin). Well, good for them! I would not have been able to name a number of Mexican cities aside from their capital.
Anyway, these are some of the photos I took. I’m not sure if they really show “poor” places, or if the people simply don’t care about how their houses look. I guess the latter might be true as well.

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Now finally some more or less funny notes on Mexico:

  • Yes, there are still many of the old VW Beatles driving around.
  • Most of the gully covers have open holes. But why?? Just to make it easier to misuse them as garbage cans?
  • Some drivers seem to have changed the wiring of their horns, so that the horn is always on unless they press the button. The driver of the green bus made an awful noise for more than two minutes. At the same time he only got about 10-20m forward.
  • Some newsstands were selling (or renting?) VHS cassettes with recordings of the latest Hollywood highlights “Conan”, “Tomb Raider” and “Josie and the Pussycats” (which is from 2001 and therefore the most recent film in this list).

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Having briefly talked about prices in the beginning of this blog post, I also noticed the price for Viagra is 145.90 Pesos for “100mgc/1”. I guess that this is the price for one tablet of Viagra 100. In the United States one pays about $16 to $23. This proves one other observation I made: The prices right behind the American border are no different than the prices in the US itself. I had a look at one clothing store. It was selling its stuff for 90 to 200 Pesos which is about $7 to $15. That’s just what I would pay in the US. After 4pm Burger King charged $80 to $150 pesos (6 to 11 USD) for their menus. The menu for 150 Peso included four papas, four refrescos and a bunch of burgers (either res or pollo). I doubt even an American could eat that on its own, so that really was a family deal (or “arma tu combo familiar” as they say, which sounds rather brutal). And yes, as you have noticed, those Mexicans also gave the time in the strange 12h system, and they also abbreviate their currency with a “$” sign.

So, that’s all I can write about Mexico at this time. At about 3pm I decided to go back to the United States, so I crossed the Río Bravo again and waited for about 30 minutes until I was back in the United states. To my very surprise there also wasn’t any real border check in this direction. I only waited for 30 minutes to show my passport, and then I was back in the US.

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Damn, why didn’t I smuggle some weapons into Mexico and some drugs back to the US?