Feb 22 2008

Living it up, down in Death Valley

Death Valley is known for its highs and lows: the highest temperature recorded on the planet and the lowest elevation in North America. It’s also known for its once bustling mining towns and strange geology. We felt it was worth checking out.

Christine, Sam, Rece, and I — we really should make up a name for our group, since we travel all over the place together — set out on a 3-day, 2-night journey to view Death Valley National Park. With a rented 4WD SUV, and a few bags and cameras in hand, we made our trek across the desert.

As usual we brought along our GPS receivers, loaded with geocache coordinates along the way. The first of them was at the oddly named Zzyzx exit, followed by Baker and its oh-so-many sights.

The last 3 trips we’ve made out to the desert have given Christine reason to get excited about the prospect of visiting (and eating at) the Mad Greek in Baker, CA. Unfortunately for her, it has always been too far out of the way to justify the long detour. This time our route took us right to Baker, home of the Worlds Tallest Thermometer and also the Mad Greek restaurant (one of their many locations – but she had to go to THIS one).

Having filled our bellies with decent enough Greek-style food, I pointed the 4runner north, towards Death Valley. We stopped quite a few times along the way, either after spotting a point of interest (we stop for almost all historical markers on all of our trips) or to hunt for a geocache.

We’ve come to learn from our past trips that travel time is usually at least double of what it would be if the distance was covered without stopping. So it was already a known variable in our plans that we probably wouldn’t be entering Death Valley on the first day. This proved to be true and drove on to our first night’s stay in Pahrump, NV. I’ll admit that this was probably due a good part to the name of the town, but it was also the closest lodging that probably didn’t have a Norman Bates type of person running it.

Our hopes for word-play were dashed after discovering that we could not stay at Terrible’s Casino (they didn’t have a hotel at this one). Here’s a short list of some possible fun phrases we were unable to use:

  • We stayed at a terrible hotel in Pahrump, NV.
  • The hotel was terrible — and so was the casino!
  • After a terrible night’s stay, we awoke and enjoyed a terrible breakfast.

Then another catastrophe: the Nugget Hotel & Casino was more expensive than other places in town and had no more non-smoking rooms available. So we couldn’t say we stayed in “Pa’s rump nugget” or anything silly like that. We had to settle for the Saddle West Hotel & Casino, which wasn’t a bad place to stay — it just had a boring name, comparatively.

Day 2 began about as planned and we filled up at the buffet breakfast at our hotel. After backtracking to Shoshone, CA, then turning north we reached the southern most entrance to Death Valley. We thought areas of California state highway 395 were remote and desolate, but they seemed pretty crowded compared to Death Valley. Sparse desert hills for miles and miles — the only living creatures were a few crows.

We arrived at Badwater Basin, one of the lowest points in Death Valley (there are a few other points a few feet lower, but they’re difficult to get to) and found one of the largest groups of people we’d see for the rest of the trip. (As introverts, Christine & I enjoyed the lack of people.)

Continuing on our northern route through the park, we stopped at the Devil’s Golf Course, Artist’s Palette, and Furnace Creek Visitor Center (central hub for the park).

Our primary destination for Day 2 was the Devil’s Racetrack (also known as Racetrack Playa) , which is located in a remote part of the park far up in the northern area. The Racetrack is a natural oddity that I just couldn’t miss. You can read more about it here. The road was 27-miles long and washboard gravel/dirt which added to the adventure. I think I took about as many pictures here as I did all at the other areas we visited in Death Valley combined.

With sunlight soon to be gone, we departed the Racetrack and made much better time on the way out than we did on the way in, having discovered that the bumps smoothed out more the faster I drove. How fun is that?

Driving into the night, we again had to modify our very flexible plans and change the town where we’d be sleeping. Beatty, NV turned out to be the closest option. Apparently it was better that we arrived at night when we drove through and decided to stay at the local Motel 6 — daylight revealed a different mood. The town seems to be in a slow, but steady decline. It had obviously seen better days when tourism brought more people through. But now it seems a little sad — or at least I felt a little sad for the town.

A nice fellow in the motel parking lot pointed out that our back tire looked a bit low on air and he told us where we could get it fixed in town. Coincidentally, the tire shop was next door to the hole-in-the-wall Mexican restaurant we had decided to patronize the night before. Some yummy food and a $20 tire patch later we were headed back towards Death Valley.

A sign along the highway pointed to Rhyolite, NV, a ghost town we had read about while planning for the trip. This was another of our impromptu stops and an interesting discovery. Not only had the town been occupied and thriving a mere 100 years ago, but we also found an open air museum with some bizarre sculptures.

Just a few miles after getting back on the highway we detoured onto Titus Canyon Road. Another 27-mile washboard dirt/gravel road, but this time one-way and through, well, a canyon. Aside from one pickup truck and a mountain biker, we were completely alone. The road brought us by some mines and another old mining (ghost) town called Leadfield. Beyond the ghost town the canyon drive became quite narrow, which made us feel as though we were in an old Western film or an Indiana Jones flick.

With the canyon drive behind us, we made it back to California highway 190 and westward through the park. A few minor points of interest later and we again found ourselves on another dirt road in a desolate area on our way to see the Wildrose Charcoal Kilns. These beehive-looking structures were quite remarkable.

Finally, after leaving Death Valley, our last stop was at yet another ghost town named Ballarat. The caretaker was an interesting fellow with a friendly and playful dog. He pointed out a rusty old truck on display and told us it used to be owned by Charles Manson. We didn’t really believe him until we looked it up for ourselves.

The drive home was uneventful, aside from learning that Carl Kartcher had passed away a month earlier when we went into Carl’s Jr. for a potty break and ended up buying a Captain Crunch Shake – it was the first day they started selling them (and they’re actually quite tasty).

As usual we took pictures. Lots of pictures. You can view them at:

Gabe’s photos

Christine’s photos

Sam’s photos

This entry still feels a little dehydrated.

Jan 29 2008

Pie, family, and nothing at all

It’s a slow day at the office today; a welcome break if you ask me. Right now I’m scanning an old computer for malware and viruses. It’s an old Windows 2000 computer with 128 MB of RAM. (that means it’s horribly slow, for you non-techies)

While the scan runs I’ve checked and replied to all my email, read all my RSS feeds, chatted with the office manager, and now I’m writing this post. Bored might be a word for it, but I’m not really. Relaxed might be a better fit.

Yesterday I installed a second video card in my computer. It’s configured in SLi mode, which means that it’s got a helluva lot of graphics power. While I was at it, I also installed a second hard drive. It’s not configured yet, but I plan on using it to mirror my existing hard drive for redundancy. The computer is turning out to be a real powerhouse. I might even go so far as to install another operating system or two on the unused partition just for fun.

Right now custody of Rece is settled. He lives with me, but visits his mom every other weekend and also has a mid-week visit. It isn’t exactly what I had hoped for, but maybe it’ll work. I’ll be going back to court in March for a hearing to decide on the amount I’ll pay for child support, if any. Right now I pay my ex $230 a month. It doesn’t seem fair, since I pay for everything regarding Rece. Hopefully the judge agrees with this.

One relief for me was that the judge rejected her request for spousal support (alimony). She’s more than capable of working: she has a college education (BA in psychology) and plenty of work experience. She can no longer threaten me with it.

Hmm … that’s all I feel like babbling about for now.  Back to work!

This entry feels detached today.

Nov 26 2007

Gobble Gobble

Thanksgiving weekend has come and gone. Christine, Rece, and I made our pilgrimage (snicker) to Mimi’s Cafe for the annual stuff-your-face-with-turkey fest. As usual, Mimi’s didn’t disappoint.

Quinn flew out (who says turkeys can’t fly?) to drop off his kids after their visit. We managed to get a good amount of time to hang out during his visit. It was nice to have a chance to catch up with Quinn. I’m really looking forward to him moving back to California next year.

On Saturday the 4 of us (Christine, Quinn, Rece, & me) found ourselves in front of the TV, watching 28 Days Later and 28 Weeks Later (skip the sequel — it sucks). There’s nothing better than hanging out with the people you care for most while watching end of the world flicks!

This entry is a bit more than thankful right now.

Nov 12 2007

It’s all fun and games until somebody loses an eye.

And too much fun can make you go blind!

In other news … Rece and I had a fantastic weekend together! It all started earlier last week when I got a call from his school. His school counselor wanted to let me know that Rece was now officially an 8th Grader.

Last year was a major struggle for Rece. Most of it could be attributed to his attitude about school. Basically he was being lazy, not doing his homework, failing to turn in what little homework he did get done, and lying about doing it. This was a lot of frustration for the both of us as I attempted to find some way of motivating him or giving him an incentive or to help him realize the importance of a good education. Nothing seemed to work.

This year, his mother and I decided to try a different approach. She was unemployed (and not looking for a job) so we figured it might work better if he went to her place after school so she could be there to help him with his homework and also to just make sure he was actually doing it. This happened up until her recent disappearance, and I was under the assumption that everything was hunkydory … the progress report I received from his school told a completely different story.

Whatever he was doing at his mother’s place wasn’t amounting to a hill of beans. It was apparent that she wasn’t following through on what we had agreed upon. Rece had numerous missing assignments and poor test scores from the very beginning of the school year. It seemed obvious to me that the plan wasn’t working at all. Sherise’s unannounced change of the arrangement due to her disappearance helped with my having to make some adjustments to how Rece handled school and his other responsibilities.

The standard privilege revocation came into play for step one. The next step was a renewed focus on ensuring that Rece was dedicating sufficient time toward homework and studying — and that my involvement in it was obvious and committed as well. I felt that it would be important to show Rece that his success was just as important to me as it should be to him. No longer would I just take his word that everything was fine, but my inquiries wouldn’t be from the assumption that he was being untruthful — they’d be from the angle of “show me that you know what you’re studying”. Since then, I’ve noticed he’s taking more initiative in making up the missing work (for partial credit, at least) and seeking extra credit work to help bring up his grade.

His counselor told me that this advancement would come with additional commitments in the form of after-school tutoring on-site at his school 3 days a week. For me this isn’t a problem as I often worry about him spending too much time alone at home between school and my arriving home after work. There are just too many temptations, too many chances for him to stray and go down the wrong path again. With tutoring, I know where he is, I know that he’s under the watchful eye of a teacher, and that he’s making a concerted effort to focus on his eduction with help on-hand from a qualified person. This is a total win-win for both of us!

In order to celebrate his achievement we went out for sushi one night, went out to breakfast both mornings, went to an arcade, went to the beach, played hours of Lord of the Rings Online, visited the library (yes, the library), and went to the movies (Dan in Real Life is a great movie, by the way). Sunday, on our way home from the movies, Rece said, “This weekend was the best ever!” I’d have to agree.

A nice side effect of changing from a negatively-based mentality to an interactive mindset focused on his success has done wonders for not only his attitude toward school, but in our relationship as well. We haven’t gotten along better than we have over the past month. We have fun and enjoy spending time together. I feel closer to Rece now than I have in a very long time. That’s a wonderful thing.

This entry feels especially good about being a dad right now.

Oct 12 2007


Sherise’s boyfriend and one of her friends went and filed a missing person report at the police department yesterday evening. The friend called me and asked for some details they could provide the police. All I had still locked in my head was her SSN and date of birth.

Sherise’s grandmother is definitely stressed by all of this and seems more than ready to just get it over with and pull the plug. Looks like it can remain a stalemate for another 6 days while they attempt to reach Sherise.

Again, I don’t know why I feel the need to write about this here. It really doesn’t have much to do with me anymore.

This entry is tired from a stressful week.

Oct 11 2007

Death becomes more complicated

I received a call today from Sherise’s grandmother. She told me that the decision of whether or not to take Sherise’s mother off of life support falls to the oldest (adult) child of the patient. So the doctors will leave her plugged into the machines for up to a week before they’ll consider looking to the younger children (22 and 11, I believe) and the mother.

We still haven’t heard anything from Sherise. Nobody knows where she is or how to contact her. So this ordeal has become even messier.

It seems odd to be writing about this. I don’t know what else to do. It’s frustrating to see it happening from my perspective and I can only imagine it is even more frustrating and painful for members of her family who want closure.

This entry just wants it to be over.

Oct 10 2007


Sherise’s mother suffered a brain aneurysm on Monday, October 10th, 2007 at approximately 3:30 pm. This effectively ended her short life of 53 years. The many tubes and medications that the doctors had stuck into her did nothing to bring her back. Her pupils were unresponsive, she did not respond to any pain stimulus: her brain was dead.

Yesterday Rece and I went to the ICU to join her family in their time of need. Rece wanted to see the grandmother he never met. We went into her ICU and saw her in the hospital bed with tubes and devices connected to her failing body. He was sad, but it seemed as though it was in reaction to hearing of a death of somebody he didn’t know. I found that to be one of the many saddening things about the visit.

In a way I’m glad he didn’t get to know her. She was full or pride and hate and spite. She was physically abusive to her daughter as she grew up, then, as an adult, was verbally abusive until I stepped in and told her that it had to stop. And stop it did … she broke off all contact with us while Sherise was still 5-6 months pregnant with Rece. Over the years she made deliberate efforts to avoid us and exclude us from events where she would be present. In this effort she was successful. It was difficult for Sherise to deal with, but I sincerely believe it was for the best.

Sherise still doesn’t know that her mother is gone. On Sunday, while Rece was spending his every-other-weekend with her, she left “to run some errands” he told me. A few hours later he left to return to my home, as planned. Sherise had not yet returned by the time he had he left. When her grandmother called me about what was happening and tried to reach Sherise, I was unable to provide any additional contact information, so I immediately left work and went directly to her home. I was greeted by her live-in boyfriend who appeared very concerned, asking if I had seen Sherise. He told me that the last time he had seen her was when he left for work on Sunday, while Rece was there. She had disappeared … again.

He shared with me that a couple of weeks earlier he confronted Sherise about her unpredictable behavior (more disappearances). He said that she admitted to having a drug problem and that it was “meth” that she had been on. Undoubtedly this is likely the reason for her recent absence in her normal life. It is also the reason for her being unavailable to learn of her mother’s passing.

I’m shocked by the death of Amy Victoria McManama (Lewis) and the news of Sherise’s descent into the world of drug addiction. At this point my job is to provide the best home as I can for Rece.

This entry doesn’t quite know what to do with it all.

Jul 3 2007

She did it again

A friend of mine suggested that I document all the times that Sherise (Rece’s mother) flakes out on him. So I figure that I’d just go ahead and do it here.

Rece dropped by his mother’s place this afternoon to spend time with her, but she was on her way out. He said that she indicated she’d be home around 7 or 8 in the evening and would see him then. He had to catch up on some of his chores, so I left him at home so he could do them while waiting for her to pick him up.

At around 9:30 pm he called me to let me know she called to tell him to come by her place around 11:00 am tomorrow. She didn’t call earlier, so he would know that she wouldn’t be there, she called hours after he had waited all night for her to get there. How shitty is that?

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

So to keep up with the documenting part, and since I’m already in that mode now, I’ll also mention about how 3 weeks before Rece’s school year ended, she and I had a sit-down talk about what he was going to do over the summer. Seeing how she was now between jobs, she’d have plenty of time to spend with him. We had agreed that I’d give her money to pay for the additional costs this would result for her. This was supposed to begin the Monday following his last day (which was a Thursday — 6/21/07).

The weekend before his last week of school was supposed to be her weekend with him, but I hadn’t heard from her since our meeting 2 weeks earlier. The week went by without so much as a peep from her. I was worried about what Rece was going to do, so I checked into a local teen camp. A couple of spots were still open on Friday, so I was prepared to enroll him if she ended up flaking out.

She flaked out. Sunday night (6/24/07) came around and she still hadn’t contacted us. We had managed to get hold of her boyfriend earlier in the week and he said that he hadn’t heard from her since they had an argument over a week earlier.

Monday morning I drove Rece to the teen camp and enrolled him for 2 weeks.That Tuesday I got a cryptic text message to contact her on a new number (which turns out to be a new boyfriend’s phone). I do, leaving a message, to which she returned to tell me about being sick and her boyfriend woes. She says that she’ll be picking Rece up the next morning, but I inform her that since she didn’t contact me, I was forced to make other plans. At first she was very upset, thinking that I was penalizing her … but she eventually calmed down and realized that I was only acting in Rece’s best interest.

So this is the mom that my son has to deal with. He loves her dearly and gives her every benefit of the doubt when she flakes out on him, or picks him up hours later than promised. I feel badly for him, but I know that I shouldn’t try to rescue him from it. He needs to experience it and see how she is for himself.

This entry is frustrated at it all.

Mar 12 2007

Piss-Poor Parenting

I just felt the need to rant about how Rece’s mom seems to have no concept of time or of how important it is for her son to have a decent night’s sleep on a school night.

Sherise asked if she could take Rece on Saturday night and have him over for the day on Sunday so they could do something fun (since the last time he was over, all they did was run errands and such). This is all well and good, as I really want Rece to have a good relationship with his mom. So we sat around on Saturday night waiting for his mom to pick him up. At around 9:30 pm she calls and says that she “totally forgot” about it and wondered if it’d be okay if she could just pick him up the following morning. We arranged for her to come pick him up around 8:00 am on Sunday morning.

I have no idea if she actually picked him up on time, as I was still asleep. I was just happy to discover that she had actually picked him up and that he’d be spending some time with his mom.

On a side note: I’ve had this on-going joke since I first got to know Sherise that there is “real time” and then there’s “Sherise time” — which is neither linear or consistent, nor does it have anything to do with how the rest of the world uses time. If she says she’s on her way and will be there in 10 minutes, she’ll show up 30-45 minutes later. If she says she’ll pick up/drop off Rece at a specific time, she’ll show up between 1 and 2 hours late. There’s always a reason, there’s always an excuse to why this happens. After knowing her for over 15 years, this is something I’ve just come to accept, as it obviously won’t ever change.

So on Sunday evening at around 10:30 pm my patience wore thin and I tried calling Sherise to see when she’s planning to bring our son back home. She said that she didn’t realize it was so late (apparently both her cell phone and computer had still not updated for DST) and that she’d have him home within about 30 minutes. At 11:30 pm he had still not arrived home so I sent her a text message that read as follows (punctuation isn’t perfect when texting):

It isnt cool to keep Rece out until past 1130 on a school night. Hes going to have a rough day at school tomorrow.

She called back and at first was apologetic, but I wasn’t going to let it slide. I just talked over her excuses and said that she needed to bring him home immediately. She hung up on me at that point.

Rece finally showed up at 12:12 am, looking exhausted. In fact he gave me a hug and said, “I’m so tired”. I got a brief summary of what happened during the day, which I found to be rather disappointing for him — but that’s another story — and I sent him off to bed.

Rece effectively had around 5-1/2 hours of sleep before having to wake up again. For a 12-year old, that’s just not enough, especially for the start of a school week. He was obviously not doing so well: forgetting a lot of the basics (like brushing his teeth, making his lunch, flushing the toilet, etc) and even took off for school without his backpack (which he’s never done before). Hopefully the poor kid manages to get through the day without too much trouble and that he’s able to get to bed early tonight.

This entry wishes Rece’s mom was a more responsible parent.

Feb 27 2007

Geology Humor

Gabe: Rece, you rock.

Rece: No, you rock.

G: Yeah, but I’m a sedimentary rock.

R: Are you trying to say that you’re flat?

G: No, I’m just saying that I have multiple layers.

This entry thought it was funny at the time.