Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Happy Birthday To Me

I'm 55 years old today. How'd that happen???

In recent years, my birthday has become more of an occasion to take stock of my life, where I've been, and where I'm going than an occasion to celebrate. And that has especially been the case today----could this be my last birthday?

If it is, I really can't complain. I don't want to boast, but I honestly feel I've had one hell of a life. Let's see, I've written a bunch of books and magazine articles, co-founded a successful technical publishing company, lived in New York City, San Diego, Las Vegas, and in north and south Texas, gone scuba diving and snorkeling in the Florida Keys and Hawaii, hiked across the crater floor of an active volcano, survived a few earthquakes, visited ghost towns and petroglyph sites in the deserts of the American southwest, climbed the highest mountains in CA, AZ, OR, and NV, saw a few eclipses, meteor showers, and even the aurora borealis, was on Coast to Coast AM four times, saw Jimi Hendrix perform live, contacted over 100 countries via ham radio, arrived in Kiev, USSR in 1986 the day after Chernobyl blew (we didn't know about that until a couple of days later). . . . . . geez, I've had all sorts of opportunities to see, do, and experience things a lot of people can only dream about. I know I've been very lucky, and I'm grateful to fate for dealing me so many interesting cards throughout my life. And, best of all, I've had incredible love and support from my friends, family, and wives.

I don't have a damn thing to really complain about on this birthday. Yes, I wish I didn't have cancer, but we're all going to die of something someday. And I'd rather have a shorter but more eventful life than a longer, duller one.

The biggest challenge I've had to deal with of late has been accepting that I'm no longer in control of my life. I always thought I could plan for things and make them happen; life was a chess game in which the right moves would bring about the desired results. It's been difficult to get used to the notion that some rogue cells within my lymphatic system and on my liver are going to determine what's going to happen to me in the future and there's nothing I can do about that. But even if I can't control what's happening inside my body, I can control how I react to those events. My spirit can't be broken unless I let it be broken.

As Joe Walsh, guitarist for the Eagles (and ham radio operator WB6ACU), once sang, "life's been good to me so far." Life certainly has been good to me so far, and I think it still has some very good things still in store for me.

Happy birthday to me! I'm planning on having a couple of azul margaritas tonight!

Sunday, September 23, 2007

My Favorite Ghost Town In Nevada

For most of its history, mining has been the biggest industry in Nevada. Mining is the prototypical boom-or-bust industry; when the vein of gold or silver ore at a given location is depleted, that's it-----the surrounding community dies. As a result, Nevada has numerous outstanding ghost town sites. Nevada's dry desert climate helps preserve its ghost town sites, and does the isolation of many of the sites----once you get out of the Las Vegas and Reno metro areas, it's not at all uncommon to be over 100 miles from the nearest gas station or hospital.

My favorite ghost town in Nevada can be reached via a 2WD passenger car, but it's a very long way from anywhere. It's Belmont, Nevada, the former seat of Nye County. It's located about 50 miles east of Tonopah, NV, off state route 82 north after exiting Highway 6. When you get out here, there is no mobile phone service, no stores, no gasoline, and you can only hear a couple of stations on the AM and FM radio dials. You can literally drive for hours without seeing another car. Better make sure your car is in good working condition and you have a spare tire before heading out to Belmont!

Belmont was founded in 1865 when silver was discovered in the hills around it. It grew rapidly, getting a post office in 1867 and reaching a population of over 4000 by 1872. Belmont was a more substantial town than many mining centers; many of its buildings were made of brick and it boasted of an opera house known as "The Cosmopolitan" and, at one time, three newspapers. Because of their sturdy construction, many of the building are well preserved even today.

Because of its growth, Belmont was named county seat of Nye county in 1874 and an impressive courthouse was built there. The courthouse still stands (although it is now closed) and is a remarkable sight! The jail was located in the courthouse's basement. In 1875, two strangers arrived in town and killed a local merchant, H. H. Sutherland, in a gunfight that began as an argument. An angry mob descended on the jail, overpowered the local sheriff and tied him up with ropes, and then lynched the two strangers from a ceiling pipe in the basement jail. "Rough justice" was more than a figure of speech in Belmont!

Alas, the good times didn't last long for Belmont. The silver mine production began to tail off in 1878, and by 1880 miners----and mining equipment----began to relocate to more promising locations in the Carson City and Virginia City areas. The post office closed in 1889, the county seat was relocated to Tonopah and the courthouse closed, and in 1901 the last surviving business----a newspaper called the Belmont Currier----closed down. The last remaining residents left soon thereafter, and Belmont's short, wild life was over.

Today Belmont sleeps quietly. There is a small bed-and-breakfast outside its limits, but the isolation of the site meant I was the only visitor on a fine August afternoon. The Belmont town site is on public land and may be freely visited. It's out of the way but well worth the trip.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

My Favorite Ghost Town In California

I love visiting the sites of ghost towns and have visited quite a few in California, Nevada, Arizona, and Texas. I'm going to start posting photos of some of my favorite sites here.

Many criteria go into making a ghost town a favorite of mine. Certainly how well a site is preserved and how scenic it is plays a big role, but I also have a bias toward places that aren't that well known and are difficult to visit-----if a ghost town can be visited in a family sedan, odds are that it will soon be vandalized and receive a coating of graffiti. Remote places also give you an idea of the isolation the residents endured; on those days when I've been the only visitor, such sites almost take me back to those distant times.

California has a surprising number of ghost town sites in its mountains and deserts, and my favorite is Cerro Gordo. Cerro Gordo is located in the Inyo Mountains at an elevation of over 8500 feet; access is via a graded dirt road off Highway 136, midway between Death Valley National Park and Lone Pine, CA. The road proved a challenge for my 4WD Toyota 4Runner; a passenger car doesn't have a chance in hell of making it to Cerro Gordo.

But the trip is worth it. Take a look below at the American Hotel in "downtown" Cerro Gordo. This view is looking west across the dry bed of Owens Lake to the Sierra Nevada range. The American Hotel is a two-story structure. On the ground floor is the kitchen, dining room, and gaming parlors; on the second floor are four private rooms and a large open area where guests slept on cots. It might not sound luxurious, but it beat sleeping outside in the middle of winter at 8500 feet!

The only residents of Cerro Gordo today are two caretakers; the entire site is privately owned. The photo below shows the posted rules for visitors that you see at the front entrance to the site. As you may be able to discern, admission is $5 (or was when I visited in 2002) and you stay in your car and honk until the caretakers arrive to collect your money and admit you. Yes, the caretakers pack guns and trying to sneak in is definitely not a good idea.

Cerro Gordo provides numerous jaw-dropping vistas; the contrast between the crumbling structures and the backdrop of the Sierras and the Owens Lake drybed is spectacular. It also supplies a near-constant wind coming up from the Owens Valley. I hate to think of how cold that wind must have been on winter nights!

Cerro Gordo came into being around 1865 with the discovery of gold and silver in the mountainsides around the site. Growth was explosive; by 1875 over 4700 lived in the town. While many of the miners were single and lived in communal tents and crude rock shelters, some families lived in substantial homes. Note the horse "hitching posts" in front of the one below!

With so many single miners around, there was also plenty of prostitutes. I was told the buildings below were former brothels. Violence and gunfights were common. To prevent the gold and silver bullion from being stolen as it was transported down the mountain, it was smelted into 400 pound bars carried on wagons drawn by horse teams. The weight of the bars made it impossible for them to be stolen by thieves on horseback, and robberies were rare as a result.

The mines were connected to Cerro Gordo by an extensive tram rail system; remnants of tracks and cars surround the town site. A portion of the tram system is shown below. There are also ruins of a smelter, mine shafts, etc. to explore. One day really isn't enough time to see everything there is to see.

By 1877, the production at Cerro Gordo's mines began to sharply decrease; by 1895, the post office had closed and only a few people remained. There were brief flurries of renewed activity----especially with zinc mining in 1911-----but by 1930 Cerro Gordo was totally deserted. Now only a couple of caretakers, several interesting buildings, and a lot of memories remain. I'm glad I had the opportunity to visit it.

Monday, September 10, 2007

I Got A Haircut Today

First one since April, in fact. My hair finally recovered to the point where I needed one.

My hair is still thin in spots, but there are no bald spots or patches. Even I have to look carefully to see the impact of the chemo. I look like myself again, and my now-thinner body looks "healthy slim" instead of "sickly slim."

I treasure these moments when I feel and look semi-normal again. I can almost delude myself into thinking everything is going to be okay!!

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

I Used To Live In New York City. Everything There Was Dark And Dirty.

Okay, so I stole the title of this post from the song 12:30 by the Mamas and Papas. But it's true; 25 years ago tonight I was living in a "duplex studio" apartment in New York's Greenwich Village. As I look around at my barn, horse pasture, two horses, compost heap, etc., it all seems like a dream now.

I long had a fantasy about being a writer living in Greenwich Village. While that didn't come true for me, I did become a book editor living in Greenwich Village when McGraw-Hill hired me to be electronics books editor for their professional and reference division. When I arrived in New York (from my first residency in Texas), I immediately went apartment hunting in the Village and luckily found a newly remodeled building at the corner of Bleecker Street and Broadway. The building was Bleecker Court at 77 Bleecker, and I signed a lease for apartment 727E less than 48 hours after arriving in New York. (It wasn't until I had lived in NYC for a while that I realized how lucky I had been!) 77 Bleecker was converted manufacturing space, and my apartment, consisting of just one large space and a separate bathroom, was on two levels connected by a staircase. Upstairs was the kitchen, bath, closets, and dining area; downstairs was my bed, sofa, desk, and television. On the lower level were floor to ceiling windows that gave me an astonishing view of lower Broadway. And it also had a doorman! Below is the outside of my old building; I took this photo on my last visit to NYC.

My old neighborhood has gotten badly gentrified over the years. I loved the character and soul it had when I first moved in; it was mainly an Italian neighborhood with a few Chinese restaurants and Korean grocers. The Grand Union supermarket is where I bought most of my food, and there were small hardware stores, dry cleaning shops, etc. nearby. The Bleecker Street Cinema showed quirky films cheap----like a double feature of Mean Streets and Taxi Driver-----and the Bottom Line had some great shows. Bleecker Street had legendary venues like Le Figaro and Cafe Wha? for food and entertainment; I felt very alive each morning as I walked down it to the West 4th Street subway station along Sixth Avenue. Most shocking of all on my last visit was the absence of the twin towers of the World Trade Center. I remember how they glistened red from the reflected sunset in the autumn twilight as I walked home along Bleecker after work. On those evenings when the sky was clear, they seemed mystical against the darkening twilight sky. It's depressing to think that I nor anyone else will ever see that sight again.

Eventually I met and married Tina, and I moved from 77 Bleecker to 205 Third Avenue into a building called Gramercy Park Towers. But that is a story for another post. . . . . .