Sunday, August 26, 2012

Alf Museum of Paleontology

This weekend we took an overnight trip to Pasadena, and on the way, we stopped in Claremont to visit the Raymond M. Alf Museum of Paleontology--a much-anticipated visit. It's been too long since I've had a prehistoric camel fossil fix!

This small but mighty museum is located just off the 210 on the campus of the Webb Schools, a private high school with an international student body. The exhibits present an impressive collection of fossils in the context of the earth's history, extending far back into deep time.

Raymond M. Alf was a teacher at the Webb Schools and a passionate paleontologist who began collecting fossils in the 1930s. The majority of the fossils on display were found by himself and his students on field trips to Barstow and other sites in the southwest, from Utah and Wyoming to Montana and Arizona. Webb students still go on fossil-hunting trips.

Above: a nearly complete camel skeleton, c. 15 million years old from the Barstow area. Only the head is missing. Intact finds like this one are extremely rare--most fossilized camel skeletons you see in museums are composites. Due to its fragility, the find is still encased in plaster.

The museum is nationally known for its collection of fossil footprints and trackways. Above: an exceptionally long and well-preserved camel trackway, with a modern camel skeleton to show the size of the ancient animal who made the tracks.

The museum has far more to offer than just camel fossils--it presents the entire history of life on Earth. Above: Alf himself with his hand on the footprint of a proboscidean--an ancestor of present-day elephants c. 15 million years old, Barstow area. The actual trackway is in the museum's collection.

Above: a reptile trackway from Seligman, Arizona, c. 250 million years old. Below: a fish with a smaller fish in its mouth from the White River Beds, c. 50 million years old.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Coyote Pups

My neighbor Karen Sanford took these great pictures of a couple of coyote pups in her yard last week. Their mom left, but these two hung around--eating fruit! Those are nectarines on the ground, put out for the birds, and the pups are scarfing them up.

They also spent some time under the fig tree--not only eating figs off the ground, but also pulling them right off the branches.

Who knew that coyotes had a sweet tooth? I didn't. Since this incident several people have told me, "Coyotes will eat everything." I never would have thought that "everything" included fruit!

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Desert Magazine/Dezert Magazine

In the days of old, Desert Magazine was regarded as the iconic publication of the desert. Just in case there's anyone who hasn't heard yet, I want to help spread the word that ALL back issues of this classic magazine are now available online for FREE! Just click here!

The person responsible for this generosity is John Grasson, Editor/Publisher of the new Dezert Magazine, a very classy online publication which you can check out at the same link.

The glory years of the original Desert Magazine were 1937 to 1958, when founder/editor/publisher Randall Henderson was at the helm. Thanks to Wikipedia for this summary: "The magazine focused on the desert country of the Southwestern United States and Northwestern Mexico, and covered a broad range of desert subjects including: regional travel and exploration; the visual arts of painting, drawing, and photography; prose and literature; cultural history; prospecting and mining; natural history including geology, wildlife, and flora; river running, and 'lifestyle' – human interest stories."

The new Dezert Magazine features some spectacular photography and articles in the grand tradition of its predecessor. Grasson says, "I am trying to keep Randall's legacy alive with the new Dezert Magazine. We published our first printed edition last month and will continue to do so on a quarterly basis."

Sunday, August 5, 2012

A Book By Pablo Neruda

For years I have loved the poems in Pablo Neruda's book The Stones of Chile. My English version of the text is in a collection called Isla Negra (White Pine Press, 2001). But I have always wanted to see the original first edition, which features images by Chilean photographer Antonio Quintana alongside Neruda's poems. It's not an easy book to find, but this summer I located a copy through Abe Books.

This Spanish edition, published in 1960, has photos of the rocks that Neruda wrote about, like "The Lion" above. Other titles include "The Bull," "The Dead Sailor," "The Blind Statue," "The Great Stone Table." Here is an excerpt from the "The Lion":

A great lion arrived far afar
it was huge as silence...

It found only solitude.
It roared of shyness and hunger:
it could eat only air,
seafoam unpunished by the coast,
frozen sea lettuce,
breeze the color of birds...

Melancholy lion from another planet...

In the introduction to this book, Neruda says, "I came to live in Isla Negra in 1939 and the coast was strewn with these extraordinary presences of stone and they spoke to me in a hoarse and drenching language, a jumble of marine cries and primal warnings. Because of this, the book, adorned with portraits of creatures of stone, is a conversation that I open to all poets of the earth, so that it may be continued by all to encounter the secret of stone and of life."

While in very good condition overall, this book arrived imbued with a thick, musty old book smell. I couldn't look through it without sneezing. But there is a cure! I found this online. Here's what you do: Get a plastic box with a tight-fitting lid. Fill the bottom with kitty litter. Put the book in an open cardboard box inside the first box, then close the plastic lid. Leave it there until the smell is gone. It works! No more sneezing!