December 25, 2006

Auf Wiedersehen, Alaska!

The time has come to say goodbye to the little computer for at least two weeks. Today, besides being Christmas, is also the day we need to pack all of our belongings into a space no bigger than a small walk-in closet. We're still under some delusion that most of it will actually fit. If not, there's always the post office.

Anyway, I may have an opportunity to post on here once or twice while on the road or while we're in port during the week-long ferry ride, but there are no guarantees. I also don't know how long it will take to get internet hooked up in our new place after we arrive on January 7th. So, suffice to say there may not be many updates for the next several weeks.

However, when I am back up and running you can expect all sorts of neato desert pictures and stories. Until then, I hope you all have a wonderful holiday season and a safe and happy new year!

December 23, 2006


Sonja officially said goodbye to the Alaska Sealife Center yesterday. As a special treat she got to help train the harbor seals yesterday. This is Shila and Qilak targetting and shaking for food. They train them to do all these tricks to make doing health checks easier and less stressful for the animals.

I don't think she's going to miss the monotony of the lab work too much, but there definitely were a few perks to working there. Such as getting sloppy sea lion kisses from the girls, Kiska and Sugar.

On the other hand, Woody, a 2,000 pound male Steller's sea lion, wasn't all that impressed.

We'll still be in town for another week, but the time is ticking away. Unfortunately, the weather today isn't quite cooperating. We've decided to postpone loading the trailer until the gale-force winds calm down a bit. We'd rather not carry a three foot snow drift all the way to Arizona with us.

The Christmas Bird Count was also postponed for a day. But the forecast isn't all that promising for tomorrow either. It wouldn't matter that much with either cold or snow, but birding in the wind is darn near impossible.

December 22, 2006

Everybody Loves Squids!

Spent the day driving to Soldotna to pick up our U-Haul. Talk about great weather for loading a trailer. The forecast calls for 6-12 inches of snow between now and Sunday, with 15-30 mph winds and temps in the teens (with windchills well below zero). At least we don't have to worry about driving the dang thing anywhere until Tuesday. For the time being all we've got to worry about is fitting everything we own into a space that's only 5'x8'x6'.

In other rather exciting news (at least if you're a nature-nerd, like me), some Japanese researchers caught and filmed a live giant squid off the Ogasawara Islands, south of Tokyo. There's a video of it at This new one seems to be a little big bigger than this one caught near San Diego in 2005.

So it's not quite as impressive as it would have been had they found a 60 foot squid attached to their line. But it's still way more exciting than anything my brother and I ever caught.

Finally, I thought I'd post a video demonstrating the proper technique for freeing a buddy from the tentacles of a giant mechanical squid.

Always remember, use your arm blasters and go for the eyes!

December 21, 2006

Happy Solstice!

Today is that magical day during our planet's annual circumnavigation of Sol, our very own star, when said star is the greatest distance from the celestial equator. Tomorrow, days begin to get longer in the northern latitudes, while down south summer begins to wane. This is a somewhat bittersweet solstice for us, though, as it may very well be our last in the Land of the Midnight least for a while.

To celebrate this unique day in the astronomical year, and furthering the trend of copying everything Patrick does, I've decided to continue a meme originated by Faux Real. Basically, you go through the entire year and post the first sentence of the first post for each month. Why? I'm not entirely sure, but humor me. It does seem like a cool way to look back at the previous year. Since I started my blog in February, I get to skip January. Woohoo! The big question, however, is should I start from the beginning or work my way backwords? Well, because I tend to think linearly, let's start at the beginning:

February: What fun!

March: The wind has been blowing like crazy from the north the past three or four days.

April: Today I got to see just how far Exit Glacier has moved in the past couple months.

May: You can't really see them, but there are about 75 Common Mergansers swimming around off the end of that last boat in line (the one with the two orange bumbers hanging off the end).

June: Having our weekends off together, even though mine fall on Sunday and Monday, is definitely a plus this summer.

July: Ok, I know... it's been over a month since I last posted.

August: For Alaskans, the month of August means hiking, relief from mosquitoes, salmon runs, berries, and an end to the explosion of wildflowers that sprout up during July.

September: Ok, a lot of you have been wondering what's new with that whole dead whale on a cruise ship thing from last week.

October: Nothing new to report on the job hunt, so I figured I'd just post a picture of Harvey.

November: I'm already sick of being unemployed.

December: That's right, we're moving to Arizona!

So there it is. The year in review as told by my blog. But to finish out this post, I thought I would take advantage of a new feature over at Comedy Central, the ability to embed clips from The Daily Show into your blog. So this is an experiment to see how well it works, but also a chance to share Jon Stewart at his very best.

Happy Solstice!

December 20, 2006

Geeks Rejoice!

That's right, Christmas came a few days early this year for geeks around the country with the release of this new teaser trailer (click on one of the links for the trailer on the right). Well, this probably only applies to geeks who grew up in the 80's and were completely obsessed with everything even remotely robotic. And the coolest robots out there were the Transformers. It wasn't just a simple cartoon. They weren't "only toys". Nope, Transformers became a way of life for any prepubescent boy who didn't want to get the snot kicked out of them on the playground (not that this strategy worked all that well for me anyway).

Now, my little brother and I didn't have the world's largest collection, but between the two of us we owned the majority of the cooler Transformers. The only regret I have is not pestering my mom enough to buy one of us (preferably me, of course) the be-all, end-all of robotic majesty, Optimus Prime. Thankfully, however, Mom was smart enough to know the difference between Transformers and their infinitely less-desirable cousins, the Go-Bots. As a result, Chris and I never had to experience the horror of asking for Starscream on our birthday only to end up with Leader-1.

Of course, this new movie will definitely generate a resurgence in the popularity of the original movie (including the infamous "swear word" scene), toys and cartoon. And I'm sure there will be all sorts of new toys produced. But I'd bet all three of my extended version Lord of the Rings Trilogy DVD boxed sets that the cheap new plastic toys will never compare to the quality of the dye-cast metal originals.

However, the toys were only a small part of the Transformers phenomenon. They wouldn't have been nearly the success they were without the cartoon:

Watching the episodes now makes me wonder if consuming mass quantities of Count Chocula and Hostess Cupcakes had an effect on me beyond simply rotting my teeth. Why did I love this arguably mediocre show so damn much? Why did I eat, live and breath anything even remotely associated with Autobots or Decepticons? I'm not sure I'll ever be able to answer these questions. But I do occassionally still find myself humming the cartoon theme song. And I think the fact that I could sing along with that video without missing a single word or voice inflection is pretty impressive.

I think it's safe to say that I will be waiting in line at the most kick-ass theater in Phoenix when this new movie is released in July. I think I'll even have a t-shirt made just for the occasion that says:

Bah weep graaagnah wheep ni ni bong!

December 19, 2006

Two of My Favorite Things

Patrick, over at The Hawk Owl's Nest, recently posted a couple videos that brought back a lot of really fond memories for me involving two of my favorite things growing up: John Denver and The Muppets. I can vividly remember riding in the back of the family station wagon when I was around seven years old demanding that everyone in the car be subjected to listening to one of two 8-tracks: John Denver's Greatest Hits or the soundtrack from The Muppet Movie. I'm sure my older siblings probably remember having to decide between hearing "The Rainbow Connection" for the eighteenth time that day or experiencing one of my temper tantrums (which, if I remember right, often involved throwing whatever food was in my hand at the moment). I must have ended up winning that argument a fair number of times since both of these 8-tracks died long before that station wagon did, along with the only 8-track player our family ever owned.

Anyway, while the Muppets have been downgraded to a mere novelty for me, John Denver remains one of the most influential musicians in my life. His songs have inspired me ever since I can remember hearing Rocky Mountain High for the first time. Most importantly, it was through John Denver's music that I met the most important person in my life (if you haven't heard that story and you want to, send me an email). So, to follow Patrick's lead, I decided to post my own JD-Muppet duet that I dug up on YouTube. This is from the same 1979 Christmas special, I think, with John singing "Poems, Prayers, and Promises" (one of my favorite songs) with a Muppet accompaniment.

December 18, 2006

It Has Begun

The past couple of weeks have been exciting, and it has certainly been fun thinking about what it's gonna be like living in Arizona. But I don't think the fact that we're moving had really sunk in...until now.

It's official. The first box has been packed. The first shelf has been bared (revealing an uncommonly impressive layer of dust).

Now it has begun to seem real. We've also paid for our ferry tickets and reserved a U-Haul trailer, which we will need to pick up and begin to fill by the end of this week. Personally, I think it's rather impressive that, after nearly six and a half years of marriage, Sonja and I can still fit all of our worldly possessions into a 5'x8' trailer and a Subaru. I think it's a testament to the fact that this will be our fifth move in less than four years. It sort of forces you to limit your accumulation of "things" to what can be easily transported. Sure, we ended up needing to sell a few of the more unnecessary our bed...but that just means that we'll have room to pack the things we really need, such as my Frodo Baggins action figures and both the DVD and VHS versions of the original Star Wars trilogy.

Gotta keep your priorities in line, you know. But we've still got almost two full weeks before we leave. Plenty of time to enjoy what has turned out to be a rather pleasant and snowy December here in Seward.

And lastly, now that my cool Neocounter toys decided to poop out on me, I only have my Little Red Dot map to show me where everyone is viewing my blog from. It's nice to know I've got fans in Iceland and on Baffin Island in the Canadian arctic. It also looks to me as though someone took time out from climbing Mt. Kilamanjaro. I'm still looking for that elusive Antarctican dot, though, so if anyone knows anyone who knows anyone down south, give them a little nudge in my direction.

December 13, 2006

Why I love camping...

Click on the image for a larger version to read the comic.

December 11, 2006

Winter birding in Alaska is anything but boring.

The last couple of days have been refreshingly rain-free. So Sonja and I have tried to take full advantage of it by spending as much time outside with the dogs as possible. I've also become rather obsessed with trying to photograph birds through my binoculars. I don't think Sonja enjoys this obsession of mine nearly as much as I do, however. The looks I've been getting after spending ten minutes trying to get the perfect picture of a Harlequin Duck (something I still haven't quite managed to do) make me think she's going to try hiding the camera before our next walk.

Anyway, here are some of my better photographs from the last three days of birding Seward's coastline. I'm posting a bunch of them, so I'll try not to be too verbose.

Most of the birds out in the bay tend to congregate in large "rafts" like this one. They also usually have more than one species present. Here we've got Common and Red-breasted Mergansers, a Glaucous-winged Gull and a Pelagic Cormorant.

Lately we've seen huge mobs of Northwestern Crows around, too. In fact, they're probably the most numerous birds in Seward right now. And, in case you didn't know, next time you see a flock of these birds you can refer to it as a "murder" of crows. But don't confuse them with any quivers of cobras you encounter.

Here's one of my not-quite-perfect pictures of a Harlequin Duck. They are hands-down the most beautiful duck we have here.

And a rather drab-looking loon of some sort. Probably a Common Loon, but possible a Pacific Loon. I suck at IDing winter loons, anyway, so these are just guesses.

I've recently begun to spot some winter-plumage Common Murres hanging out with the mergansers, too.

The mergansers are a popular bunch. They tend to attract all sorts of other species, including the odd-looking Surf Scoters you see near the top of this photo.

I did manage to get a better quality shot of one of the Gray-crowned Rosy-finches, too.

But birds aren't the only things you get to watch along the beaches around Seward. This otter stuck it's head nearly two feet out of the water when Harvey started barking at it. And this afternoon I got to see what happens when three huge Steller's Sea Lions pop up in the middle of a flock of over one hundred mergansers.

These three actually ignored all the birds. It looked like they had just caught some halibut or something.

And I couldn't pass up posting this picture of Harvey.

December 08, 2006

A Charlie Brown Christmas...sort of.

So, we only get two channels on tv. One of them alternates between all of the major networks somewhat randomly. The main concept of this strategy for a channel is to allow people all across the state of Alaska an opportunity to watch all sorts of different shows. Not a bad idea, right? Well, the bummer is that you simply cannot plan on watching anything. That, and if the guy working in the control booth gets bored, everyone in Alaska has to watch Montel.

The other channel is WGN. Why WGN? I still haven't figured that out. It's not all bad, though, since a couple months ago they decided to begin back-to-back broadcasts of one of the best shows on TV every single night: SCRUBS! Needless to say, Sonja and I are huge fans of Scrubs. We actually own season 3 on DVD and have rented seasons 1-4 through Netflix. I tend to be a bit more fanatical about watching it than Sonja, though. She thinks it's because I have a man-crush on Zach Braff. I honestly don't know why she thinks that. I mean, I haven't watched "Garden State" in at LEAST a week. Now, I'm not denying that I tried multiple (*cough* 37) times to add ZB as a friend on MySpace, but come on, who wouldn't want to be Zach's BFF? . But a man-crush? What-ever!

Anyway, what was my point? Oh yeah, so I was searching to see if last night's episode of Scrubs had been posted on YouTube, yet (which it hasn't, by the way), when I stumbled across what may possibly be the greatest dubbed-over version of A Charlie Brown Christmas EVER! That's right, it's A Charlie Brown Christmas as performed by the cast of Scrubs! All I can say is, "YouTube high five!"

If you're a fan of the show, watch it. You'll love it. If you're not, you can use this time to pick all the nuts off of that cheeseball in your fridge. Whichever you choose, I'm sure you will find satisfaction.

And for those of you that haven't figured it out yet, you can actually watch these videos right here without ever leaving my blog. Just click on them once, then click on the little play button in the lower left corner of the box. No need to be clicking away from my blog to watch them in YouTube. That's right, we be jammin' now.

I'm Dreaming of a DRY Christmas!

Or at least a dry latter half of January, cuz I don't think we're gonna be getting a dry anything anytime soon while we're still in Seward. Remember that post from Sunday where I mentioned that it started raining? Well, guess's still raining. Although having it turn into snow each night does provide some pleasant variety. But by noon it's raining again. In fact, I don't think we've had five minutes sans-precipitation all week.

See, THIS is why we don't like living in Seward. Sure, the mountains are pretty, and the ocean is cool with all of its assorted slippery things with fins and flippers, but enduring six months of nonstop rain, sleet, slush and ice is enough to drive anyone nuts. There are only so many ways to make putting together the same puzzle entertaining, and I don't think Sonja would enjoy playing the latest version I thought up: "Guess which piece is missing!"

We are definitely in the mood for some dry desert sun! Four weeks and counting until we pull into our new driveway in Rimrock, Arizona. We've already got a place all lined up. It's a three-bedroom "Mission 66" house we'll be renting from the park service (if you've got Google Earth on your computer you can see it for yourself by searching for this address "5505 beaver creek road, rimrock, az"). And it's already fully furnished, so we'll be able to get rid of some of our more undesirable belongings.

Regardless of the weather here in Seward, however, we've got plenty to keep ourselves busy over the next couple of weeks. Aside from packing there are four or five different holiday/going away parties we'll be attending. And then there is the Christmas Bird Count, which is always fun despite the weather. And to get in the mood for the count we've already been able to spot some rare birds in town. The feeder next door has had a flock of Gray-Crowned Rosy-Finches visiting all week, and there was a report of a single "Bering Sea" variety mingled in with the rest. So this afternoon I braved the cold, slush and rain to try to get a photo of it. The results were mixed, but I did manage to snap this blurry shot of what might be the individual of interest.

If any of you think you can make a positive ID on this Rosy-finch, just post a comment and let me know. In the meantime, I'll try to get a better picture tomorrow.

December 03, 2006

So Much for Winter...

It started raining today, beginning what may end up being a repeat of last year's soggy December. Hopefully not, though. I was rather enjoying the cold and snow. At any rate, I'm glad that we took advantage of yesterday's beautiful weather to take the dogs to the beach. Here are some pictures from our day.

This is a scene I don't think we'll be seeing the likes of in Arizona.

A rock. And some ice. Kind of a cool perspective, I think.

We spotted a lone Barrow's Goldeneye floating out in the bay. There was a raft of Common Mergansers behind him in the distance, and I think I remember seeing several Harlequin Ducks fly by. And of course there were the ever-present Glaucous-winged Gulls providing a nice chorus of cackles for our walk, but overall it was pretty quiet yesterday as far as the birding went.

As we left the beach at around 2pm, I turned around to snap a photo of the sun setting over the mountains and the bay to the south. The evidence left behind of our fun and energetic romp in the snow definitely put a smile on my face. While standing on the beach, with the gentle waves lapping at our feet and a solitary sea lion swimming by, Sonja asked if I was going to miss the ocean. Yeah, I think I am. I'll miss watching Harvey dive for rocks while an otter watches from offshore. I'll miss chasing Luna around the beach trying to prevent her from licking dead jellies. And I'll miss watching a Crested Auklet, a rare visitor from the Pribilof Islands in the Bering Sea, looking like it's trying to cough up a hairball. So yeah, I think I'll miss living three blocks from the ocean.

At the same time, though, I am very excited to begin exploring the red-rock canyons and deserts of the Southwest. Arizona holds its own unique wilderness adventures for us to experience, and both Sonja and I are looking forward to seeing what lies ahead.

December 01, 2006

And the Winner Is...

Montezuma Castle National Monument

That's right, we're moving to Arizona! I accepted the position of Interpretive Park Ranger for both Montezuma Castle and Tuzigoot National Monuments. All the waiting, stressing, and unemploying has been worth it. Particularly since, out of all the parks that I've applied to in the last six months, this one topped all of our lists of places we wanted to relocate to. Not only are the two park units I'll be working at (three, if you also include Montezuma's Well) very cool, and a nice change of pace from Kenai Fjords, the area is full of nifty opportunities for Sonja, as well.

Sedona, for instance, is the location of one of the world's mysterious energy vortices. Always a bonus, I say. It is also a big hippy hangout, so there will be lots of yoga-ing and health fooding available. And we'll be less than an hour from Flagstaff, home of Northern Arizona University, which apparently has a rockin' music degree program. The area is also home to Kunzang Palyul Chöling, a Tibetan Buddhist center in the Nyingma tradition.

But I think I am most excited to see one of these:

Or maybe a couple of these:

Did you know they actually have tarantula migrations in Arizona? That's gonna be way cool to see. But what I'm actually the most excited about is the opportunity for Sonja to see her first one of these:

Except bigger. With real feathers. And more alive.

So we've still got a month to go before we move from Seward. And there are a lot of things to figure out still, such as deciding whether to attempt driving a U-Haul truck down the Alaska Highway in January while pulling our car behind it, or splurging a bit on a ferry ride down to Washington. The latter would cost about $1,500 more, but we'd bypass 1,876 miles of remote and wintery mountain driving. Oh yeah, and we should probably pack, too.

November 25, 2006

A Walk in the Clouds

It was a really nice day out today. So nice that there was no way we were going to waste the opportunity to take the dogs on a nice walk in the forest. It was especially nice to have a break from the gale-force winds that have been blowing through town for the past couple of weeks. It was rather cold, however. We didn't last that long before we decided we'd rather be inside drinking hot chocolate than out in the woods freezing our butts off.

We also had a little competition to see who could look the most wintery. Sonja's took an early lead with the frosty hair and the ice crystals covering her hood.

But it's hard to compete against a frozen beard.

November 24, 2006

The Little Tin that Could

We received a strange piece of mail today which offered a warning that some of the spices in our home might be *gasp* expired! According to this letter, from the totally unbiased McCormick and Company, the average lifespan of common household spices is approximately two-three years. It cautioned every homeowner to examine their spice rack carefully and verify that none of the spices contained therein are past their prime (they also offered "helpful" advice on which brand of spices to purchase in order to replace the ones you will invariably be throwing out). They even described some of their older packaging to make the search for dangerously elderly spices that much easier. Apparently, McCormick stopped packaging their spices in those familiar little rectangular tins (except, oddly enough, for black pepper) in 1991.

Well, I had a strange suspicion that I'd seen just such a tin in our own spice collection, so I decided to take a peek for myself and find out if any of our beloved spices had lost their oh-so-fresh feeling. The results of my search were shocking, to say the least. As well as a bit entertaining.

Exhibit 1: A rather suspiciously bedraggled tin NOT containing black pepper. But wait! This is a tin of Schilling spice. So, despite the fact that I do not recall ever using ground oregano while cooking, let alone purchasing this tin, we may not actually be in danger of owning 28 grams of 15 year old ground oregano. You cannot imagine the relief I felt at this point. That is, until I turned the tin on its side.

Uh oh. Not only was this tin manufactured by the aforementioned McCormick and Company, it was made the same year Sonja was born. Somehow, this little tin of oregano has accompanied me since I was four years old. While I certainly don't remember spending my weekly candy allowance on oregano, the evidence is irrefutable. Obviously, I must have inherited this tin from the kitchen of my youth at some point. And considering the fact that I didn't start accumulating my own spice collection until I moved into my own apartment in college (sometime around 1996, if I recall correctly), that means this oregano was already 19 years old when it was given to me as part of what I vaguely remember as a "starter kit" Ziploc baggie full of assorted spices and condiments. Gee, thanks, Mom.

Fortunately, I am not very spice-savvy when it comes to preparing food, a fact I attribute to growing up in Minnesota, where the primary spices used in everyday cooking are ketchup and salt. So I think it is safe to assume Sonja and I have never ingested any of this dangerously expired oregano. I can't begin to imagine what might have befallen us had this not been the case.

We then had to decide what to do with this rather historic spice tin. We certainly couldn't just throw it away. I mean, aside from the obvious environmental implications of tossing it in the trash, this little tin has somehow become a part of who I am. Trashing it now would be like throwing away Grandpa-Dog! And that certainly wasn't going to happen. So the choice was actually rather simple. We opted to stick it back in our spice box and try to forget about it for another 29 years. We figured if it was this exciting discovering a tin of 30 year old oregano, imagine how ecstatic we'll be to find a tin of 60 year old oregano!

It was about this time that Annie decided to come investigate what all the fuss was about.

After a few exploratory taps...

...and a sniff or two...

...things got rather exciting. It was then that we learned yet another interesting factoid about McCormick's ground oregano from 1977. Oregano is a perennial herb belonging to the mint family Labietae, a group of plants that also includes Nepeta cataria (a.k.a., Catnip).

The next ten minutes involved a great deal of swatting at the tin and knocking it onto the floor, rolling around, perturbed looks (see above), and just general chaos on the kitchen table.

Eventually, however, amends were made and Annie finally came to terms with the fact that the "little tin that could" would continue to be a part of the family for many years to come.

November 22, 2006

The Eagle Has Loitered

It's that time of year again. Time for every eagle within 100 miles to converge on humanity. There must be better grub around town than there is along the coast during the winter, and the eagles have figured out how to take advantage of it. In most parts of Alaska the dominant "urban" bird is the Common Raven. However, along the coast the number of city eagles often approaches, if not surpasses, the number of city ravens. Such is the case here in Seward. Case in point, on the way to the grocery store this afternoon I counted 37 eagles and only nine ravens (one of which is outside our apartment eating a french fry as I type this). Considering that the store is only a mile from our apartment, that's a lot of eagles.

Evening is coming earlier and earlier, too. I took this picture of the setting sun shining on Mt. Alice approximately 3.5 minutes ago. In an hour it will be almost totally dark. It's still a bit on the chilly side (I think the high today was around 7 degrees), but at least the wind is dying down a bit. It's just no fun going outside when the wind blows a constant stream of dust and dirty snow in your face.

And finally, still no word on any jobs (can anyone else see a pattern forming?), but I do have another interview next week. That, at least, is something, right?

Have a happy Turkey Day! Or, as they say in Istanbul (not Constantinople): A! evet. Biraz da üzüm almak isterim!

November 16, 2006

That's no moon, it's a space station!

Just cuz I think this is really funny.

November 14, 2006

Guess What I Am?

So, I was bored and decided to try to take one of those internet quizes. Cuz, you know, they're so insightful. Well, I figured I'd find out what kind of mythological creature I am.

The results were...insightful:

You Are a Mermaid

You are a total daydreamer, and people tend to think you're flakier than you actually are.
While your head is often in the clouds, you'll always come back to earth to help someone in need.
Beyond being a caring person, you are also very intelligent and rational.
You understand the connections of the universe better than almost anyone else.

What Mythological Creature Are You?

Oh, and I am not a mermaid.
I'm a mer-MAN!

November 13, 2006

Get Your Kicks on Route 66

Our trip to the southwest was so exciting and fun-filled that it will take three posts to cover it all. So, if you start here and continue reading through the next three posts you should end up with a fairly clear picture of what took place.

Our first stop was Albuquerque for the National Association of Interpretation's conference. However, since Sonja wasn't particularly interested in attending sessions discussing a survey of the future of interpretive coursework in academia, she decided to go hiking. A wise choice, I think. Although, truth be told, I did rather enjoy the aforementioned session. Anyway, Sonja spent Wednesday exploring Petroglyph National Monument.

In addition to petroglyphs left by generations of people over thousands of years, Sonja also saw some more...recent...additions to the area. The photo below was not taken in Petroglyph National Monument, however. Where else but Albuquerque could you hike to the top of a volcano and see a 20-foot plywood cut-out of Jesus with a red mohawk and carrying a giant penny?

Next on our agenda was to enjoy as many meals at the world's most best restaurant ever, otherwise known as Los Cuates. We even dragged a bunch of interp-type people along to watch us gorge ourselves on chili rellenos and sopaipillas. Next to Sonja's smiling (?) face is Kristy, a friend from Kenai Fjords National Park who also attended the conference.

Then we have, from left to right, Holly from Bandalier National Monument, Andy from Organpipe Cactus National Monument, Sonya from Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument, Meghan and Lori from the Grand Canyon, and the shiny half of Nate's head from Sheridan, Wyoming. Altogether a rather happy group of parkies.

And, the sopaipillas! You know you're in New Mexico when you sit down at a table and see a bottle of honey waiting for you in anticipation of the sopas you know will be coming.

Mmmmmmmmmm.... nothing like dough made with lard and deep fried then smothered with honey to end your day!

Below you will see all seven of us Freeman Tilden Award nominees. I'm in there somewhere, too, along with Corky Mayo, Chief of Interp for the National Park Service, and Laura from the National Parks Conservation Association. They lined us all up there prior to announcing the national recipient so those of us who didn't win wouldn't feel like complete losers.

That's right, I didn't win. The actual winner is the first guy on the left. He's from Wyoming. Although I was disappointed, I must admit that the consolation prize was pretty darn cool, too. Doesn't everyone always dream of owning not one, but two ballpoint pens with a wrinkley bust of Freeman Tilden on the top? I know I sure did!

Actually, I didn't get two of them. One is Sonja's. And I suppose it doesn't really count as a consolation prize since they gave one to every person who attended the award ceremony. But it's still cool, though.

And finally, to finish out the New Mexico/Arizona section of our journey is a picture of Meteor Crater in Arizona from 29,000 feet. Just cuz it's neat and cuz it looks like a big zit that just got popped.

Or not.