Category Archives: North America

Gila Cliff Dwelling National Monument

The drive to this national monument in the Gila Wilderness Area is scenic, steep, narrow, twisting and beautiful.  Diane was stressed and her arm rest suffered.  The mountain highway approaching the monument has steep sections of 10-12% grade for several miles, and large drop-offs with no guard rails. A lower gear is necessary in sections to avoid burning out one’s brakes.  Larger vehicles, including bigger RVs, need to take an alternate route, which is still challenging.

At an elevation of 6,700 feet (2,040 meters), it was cool but sunny when we arrived in the late morning.  Snow was visible nearby, but had finally relinquished the trails a few days prior.  The cliff dwellings are accessible by a short but steep hike up Cliff Dweller Canyon, which was apparently a challenge for some prairie dwellers who were departing and complaining when we parked in the almost empty lot.  The south-facing cliffs, sun kissed even in winter, quickly became visible as we climbed among the ponderosa pines.

Large alcoves like caves in a brown cliff from a distance

Cliff Alcoves

The Gila Cliff Dwellings were built and occupied by the Mogollon people during a short 25 year period about 700 years ago (1275 – 1300 CE).  The Mogollon normally built pit houses or surface pueblos but, breaking with tradition, the Tularosa Mogollon built inside the 5 cave alcoves of this canyon.  It is not known why the dwellings were abandoned after such a short period.

Cave mouth closed mostly by white bricks whie tourists looking up

The Second of Five caves

Of the 46 total rooms, most of the walls are still standing.  There were believed to have been occupied by 10 to 15 families.

A large cave half filled with a hite brick wall

Cave Three

The dwellings were a practical place to live.  They were protected from the weather, and their exposure allowed the low sun of winter to enter while keeping out the higher, hotter sun of summer.

The interior of a large cave with brick walls and structure visible

Inside Cave 4 and 5

Cliff Dweller Creek, at the bottom of the canyon, provided a convenient source of water, and the nearby Gila River valley was a good place for hunting, gathering, and growing food.  Of the 32 species of plant remains found in the caves, 24 were native (e.g. grapes, berries, acorns, nuts) while the other 8 including corn, beans, and squash were cultivated.

Very small corn cobs in a basket

700 Year Old Corn Cobs!

Visitors are welcome to enter and explore the caves.

Diane's upper body wearning puple fleece visible over wall in a cave

Diane exploring

Patrick in red shirt and jeans standing on a walkway in Cave 4 & 5

Patrick in Cave 4 & 5

Ladders and walkways are provided to move about the caves.  Scrambling around the cliffs reminded me of our visit to Petra, though this was on a much smaller and more primitive scale.

Patrick seated on a large wooden ladder made of poles that is exiting from a cave

Patrick descending

The first European contact with the Gila Cliff Dwellings was by Henry B. Ailman who was living in Silver City at the time, about 45 miles away.  Legend has it that in the summer of 1878, Ailman and some friends were on a jury list. To avoid serving, they organized a prospecting trip to the Gila River where this site was discovered.

Diane in purple tshirt and beige pants with Gila Cave 4 & 5 in the background

Gila Cliff Dwelling National Monument is an interesting place to visit.  The beautiful drive, the remote location, the natural splendour, and the hands-on exploring of a historical site made for an really enjoyable day.

City of Rocks

After a night camped beside the stables at the fairgrounds in Safford, Arizona we headed east into New Mexico.  We crossed a desert where yucca, straight out of Dr. Seuss, dot the roadside, and arrived at City of Rocks State Park in the afternoon.

Tall strange y-shaped plant with hairy body, green leafy top, and stalks sticking up into the air

Roadside Yucca

We really didn’t know what to expect, but were immediately impressed when we saw the rocks rising from the desert in the distance.

A desert with rocks in the distance

City of Rocks from a distance

The best thing about the park is that access to the rocks isn’t restricted in any way.

Diane posting on path with rocks rising behidn her

You can hike among them,

Car campers among the rocks

camp among them,

Patrick standing on high rock

and climb them.

The desert landscape is even more beautiful against a vertical backdrop.

Yucca plant on desert with rocks in the background

The rock that forms the City of Rocks was created 35 million years ago by the eruption of a nearby volcano.  Over the millennia erosion sculpted the rock into its present form.

City of Rocks is a small, unique state park, not more than a few square miles in size.  The dirt road around the rocks is a bit bumpy, but still accessible by motorhomes.  Most of the campsites are primitive, without any hookups, but there are some bathrooms.  Some of the spaces will accommodate even large motorhomes.

Large motorhome parked amonth the rocks with nearby bathrooms as viewed from across the desert

Large motohome among the rocks

We found a nice spot up against the rocks facing nothing but miles of open desert.

Our motorhome against a backdrop of rocks as viewed from acsross the desert

Our campsite

In the evening we attended a star party, where astronomers gave a guided talk about the crystal clear night sky of New Mexico.  They pointed out the visible planets, major stars, and constellations using a green laser, and we looked through 2 telescopes, including one which is permanently mounted in a small observatory in the park.

Like cloud gazing, looking at the rocks brings images to mind.  What do you see here?

A grey rock against a blue background that may resemble a face to some

What do you see here?

The Gun Show

In my continuing quest to learn about America, I went to a gun show in Phoenix.  For many U.S. citizens, especially those in the Southwest, guns are a key element of the American identify.  The right to own and bear arms is guaranteed by the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.  Many Americans have a strong and outspoken affection for their firearms, and gun culture remains a very visible and hotly debated aspect of American life.

Yellow billboard with black writing adversing the Gun Show

Gun Show Advertisement

In the wake of the latest school shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in December, the U.S. Federal government and many state legislatures are debating gun laws (though not all of them are trying to restrict them).  I heard that potential changes to the gun laws were resulting in increased sales of firearms and ammunition, especially items that might be restricted like assault rifles and large ammunition magazines, so I wanted to see for myself.

The show had hundreds of vendor booths packing 3 large buildings plus an outdoor display area.  There were a lot more women and children in attendance than I would have guessed.  For many, it was a family outing.

White sign with black letters saying :No Loaded Guns in the Show"

Sign at the entrance to the show

I was surprised to see that you’re allowed to bring your own firearms into the show, the only safety requirement being that they be unloaded and a very thin zip tie be put around the trigger.  Many attendees were carrying firearms around and signs listing the guns in their backpacks that they had to sell.  Ammunition was sold in 2 areas separated by plastic flagging tape, a symbolic division at best.  There was no visible security, though I’ve never heard of anyone shooting up a gun show.  Does this add weight to the gun advocates case?

Handguns on a table

Handguns for sale

Note – Sorry for the poor image quality.  Photography was banned at the show so these pictures were taken surreptitiously.

Vendors were selling everything I could have imagined related to hunting and personal protection (e.g. rifles, shotguns, hand guns, targets, ammunition, knives, etc.) plus a lot of stuff that I didn’t expect to see for sale:

  • exploding targets
  • survival gear (for the prepared and the paranoid)
  • 3-D human shaped targets
  • concealed carry clothes and purses, each with one or more slots to conveniently carry your concealed hand gun(s)
  • brass knuckles, pepper spray, stun guns, and tasers
  • firearm themed jewellery, and
  • toy guns for the kids
A lont of long guns for sale, laying on a table

Yes, that’s a Thompson machine gun in the foreground

Although I’ve never been to a gun show before, it seemed like there was a general sense of paranoia about the place.  Training courses offered at the show with names like, “How to Survive when the Bad Guys Come” may contribute to this.  I had a helpful guy explain to me how to kill someone with a keychain. I understand hunters and target shooters, but why is everyone here so afraid?  Perhaps I can’t relate because I’ve never lived in a situation where I felt threatened.

There were a lot of T-shirts for sale with slogans like:

  • “It’s a right not a privilege”
  • “In God we trust, but carrying a gun doesn’t hurt”
  • “Armed Patriot”
  • “Power to the People”, and
  • “We don’t dial 911” (i.e. we shoot first and call the police later)

Large black rifle with legs sitting on a table

I was shocked to see the following for sale:

  • magazines that hold up to 100 rounds (there is no limit in Arizona)
  • Kevlar body armour
  • semi-automatic pistols that look like a sub-machine guns (they’re only called a ‘pistol’ because they don’t have an obvious front hand grip)
  • targets with zombie versions of Hillary and Bill Clinton, Barack Obama, Michael Moore, Saddam Hussein and Osama Bin Laden (note that only the last 2 are already dead), and
  • a lawyer offering his services (for after you shoot someone)
A large yellow sign with a skull and crossbones saying "Blackgunstuff.com, Your 1 Stop Assault Shop"

Tactical Weaponry Dealer

There was a heavy emphasis on tactical equipment from companies with names like “Death Dealer Tactical”.  Why do people need weaponry intended for soldiers and SWAT teams?

Assult rifles lying on a table

Assault Rifles for sale

They were selling military hardware and gun accessories like:

  • Pistol grip shotguns
  • Assault rifles, with or without LED lights
  • Bayonets (a bit old-fashioned in my book)
  • Drum magazines that hold up to 100 rounds
  • Military-grade body armour with heavy metal strike plates that can withstand fire from a .308 (I was told, “you’ll hardly feel it”)
Snipre rifle on tripod legs with a white background

50 Calibre Sniper Rifle

For me, the most astonishing items I found being sold were huge .50 calibre sniper rifles, each with a maximum killing range of over 1 mile (1500 – 2000 meters).  Yes, these things are legal in the United States!

6 rifle cartridges in front of a U.S. dollar bill to compare sizes

They fire the bullets on the left

I asked what would be required to purchase one, besides a lot of money.  “Only a 1 minute telephone background check”, I was told.  “You can buy it and be shooting in 15 minutes”.  Scary.

Held on the Arizona State Fairgrounds, this is one of 52 gun shows that Crossroads of the West holds each year in Colorado, Utah, Nevada, and Arizona.  Children under 12 are free with an adult.

Our Unplanned Route

This trip has been an ambition of mine for a while.  Although not officially on my Dreams List, it’s something that I’ve been thinking about for several years, and it will provide an opportunity to fulfill other dreams that are on my list.  Initially, I had only the vaguest of ideas.

Map of Canada and the United States with an red oval surrounding most states and provinces with the words "See This" in the center

Initial Concept

We left home with only the vaguest of routes in mind.  Head south to the warm weather as quickly as possible.  Turn left in Southern California.  Visit family and friends in Arizona.  Continue East until Florida.  Turn left again.  Drive North until we cross the Canadian border.  Turn left somewhere in the Maritimes.  Drive West until we return home.  Along the way, stop as appropriate.  That was it.

Map of Canada and the United States with lred lines around the perimiter of the Unisted States and going through the Canadian provinces

Version 1 of Route Plan

Our only constraints are:

  1. Canadians can stay for a maximum of 6 months less a day in the United States for immigration and taxation reasons
  2. we want to be home in British Columbia before the Canadian winter makes travel difficult.

The basic idea is to follow the sun while circling and seeing as much of Canada and the United States as possible.

Before leaving home, I made a list of the things that I wanted to see, those that I could think of off the top of my head.  I also searched the Internet for ideas of places to visit (e.g. “top travel destinations United States”).  I combined several of these Internet lists into a spreadsheet.  I also added in the UNESCO World Heritage Sites from both Canada (16) and the United States (21).  I sorted my list by state and province, and hoped that I might get to as many of these places as possible.

Now that we’ve been on the road for a while, we’ve had some time to think and some excellent advice that has allowed us to refine our route further.  The overall plan hasn’t changed, but now we have an expanded list of places to visit, attractions to see, and even some places to stay.  The details remain to be worked out.  We try to roughly plan a route as we enter each state, but not the day-by-day details.  We’d rather take it one day at a time.  And of course, everything is subject to change.

We have also gained a few contacts in various parts of North America, people who can give us their local suggestions.  We would really like your input also.  Please leave a comment with your North American travel recommendations — places to visit, routes to drive, ‘must-see’ attractions, favourite restaurants, places to stay, etc.   If you have a friend who can provide us with recommendations on any of these, please forward this post to him or her. We would be very grateful.  I look forward to blogging about some of your favourite places!

Taking it on the chin — Mountain Biking in McDowell Mountain Park

Our friends Kevin and Annette flew from Vancouver to Phoenix to visit for a few days.  They’re active people, so we planned 3 full days of mostly outdoor activities.  On Day 1 we hiked Pinnacle Peak, the ‘Grouse Grind’ of Scottsdale, though it’s not as challenging.

A rocky double peak with desert leading up to it and a dirt trail in the foreground

Pinnacle Peak viewed from the back side trail

That afternoon we enjoyed the Fountain Hills Festival of Arts and Crafts, a twice annual outdoor show, where we consumed a giant bag of kettle corn (OK, it was mostly Kevin and me).

On the morning of Day 2 we headed out to McDowell Mountain Regional Park, a popular place for mountain biking in the Phoenix Area.  With the addition of 2 borrowed mountain bikes (thanks!), we had enough for 4.  We had a few hours to ride and so we headed north on some trails that I had explored a few days earlier named Wagner, Granite, Bluff, a short section of Pemberton, and Rock Knob.

Everything was going great.  It was sunny and the temperature was perfect for cycling, a lot warmer than Vancouver!  The trails were good and the terrain moderate.

A desert landscape with small mountains in the background and a sign post intersection in the foreground

Great mountain bike trails!

We climbed gradually as we pedaled further and further away from the campground where we began our ride.

A trail in the desert with Diane riding her mountain bike on the left side and small rocky mountains in the background

Diane riding

We turned around at the park boundary, aware that we had to get back in time for our planned afternoon activity.

Patrick riding his mountain bike on a dirt trail with a large Saguaro cactus behind

Patrick cruising

The return trip was mostly downhill.  Easier and faster.  Aside from a small section as we crossed a little valley, it was not difficult.

Kiving riding his bike down a short dirt hill with desert in the background

Kevin coasting

Everyone was having a great time, stopping to pose for pictures along the way.

Kevin and Annette posing with their bikes

Annette and Kevin posing

Diane was having a good time too, enjoying her first mountain bike experience.

Diane stradding her bike and holding another

Diane smiling

Then, with less than a mile to go, things took a turn for the worst.  While making a left-hand, off camber turn, Diane drove off the trail.  Her front tire slide in the loose gravel and she fell forward and to the left.  Luckily she avoided serious injury to her hands and body by catching herself with her face.

Picture of Diane's face after her crash, bloody chin, lip, and nose

Diane bleeding

Diane was a great sport about the whole thing, despite the sand embedded in her chin and the blood running down her neck

Diane standing with blood on her face

Diane bleeding AND smiling

She was very concerned though about bleeding on her precious Blacka Chicken jersey.  She splashed some water on her face and cautiously rode back to the car where she changed and cleaned up a bit in the campground restroom.  Kevin had a large bandage in his backpack which she put over her chin.  Her top lip started to swell as we drove back to Scottsdale.

We arrived in Old Scottsdale just before game time.

Green Scottsdale stadium sign showing names of teams play

First game of the non season

We had tickets to see the ‘World Champion’ San Francisco Giants play the Los Angeles Angels in the opening game of the Cactus League, the series of baseball games that take place in Arizona during spring training.

Diane with a bandage on her chin and Annette talking to the park staff

Annette and a bandaged Diane entering the stadium

We had great seats about 10 rows back on the 1st baseline.

Wide shot of baseball stadium taken from 1/2 way down 1st base line

Take me out to the ball game

At the end of the 3rd inning, Diane and I went to the ball park’s first aid room.  They used distilled water to clean her wounds, but didn’t have a good replacement bandage.

First aid attendant cleaning wounds on Diane's face

Diane’s new dermatologist?

Instead they used a giant gauze pad and some white tape, creating a small Santa Claus beard.

Diane's new and not improved bandage

Diane’s new and not improved bandage

Remarkably unphased by the whole thing, Diane bought a hotdog afterward to take back to her seat.  Eating that hotdog with the ‘chin sling’ in place was quite a feat.

Kevin, Anette, and Diane with new chin bandage standing in the stadium bleachers

Still having a good time!

Except for the bike crash, it was another great day with our friends.  I was very impressed with how Diane handled with whole thing.  She even went out to a honky-tonk, greasy-spoon for dinner that evening!

Patrick, Diane, and Annette seated at a table with other tables and a country western band in the background

Still going sans bandage

———————

Thanks to Kevin and Annette for joining us, and to Kevin for allowing me to use some of his great photos in this post.

Help Name our RV Contest

We need your help!  We’ve been traveling in our motorhome for almost 2 months but it doesn’t have a name yet.  I read somewhere that it’s best not to force a name on one’s vehicle, far better to let it come naturally.  Perhaps we can help that process along a bit.

Readers of the blog already know lots about our motorhome and our plans (please see the archives in January and February), but here is some information.  Our motorhome is a Solera manufactured in America by Forest River.  The chassis is a Mercedes-Benz Sprinter made in Germany.  Our names are Patrick and Diane and, to the best of our knowledge, we were made in Canada.

The Prize – In addition to the glory of winning and our perpetual gratitude, the winner will receive a prize.

Contest Period – This contest will close on Sunday, March 24th at 11 PM PST.

How to Enter – Leave a comment on this blog posting.  Up to five entries can be submitted by each person.  The contest is open to everyone.

How to Win — A single winner will be chosen by the judge.  The judge’s decision is final and I am the judge.  The winner will be the person who proposes the name that best fits our motorhome and us.  Preference will be given to creative and fun names.

Details — The winner will be announced on the blog and notified privately by email.  The winner will have 7 days to respond with contact information or will forfeit the prize in which case the prize will be awarded to the runner-up.  The prize will be shipped anywhere in Canada or the continental United States.  If the winner lives elsewhere, alternate arrangements can be discussed.

Have Fun!

Paddy Get Your Gun

While visiting our friends Gail and George in their top-secret desert boondocking location outside Yuma, Arizona, I had the opportunity to fulfill a dream of mine.  Something that’s been on my Dreams List for years.  Nothing life changing – more of a guilty pleasure kind of thing.

Gail and George had other friends visiting them with their RVs – a retired tugboat captain and his wife from ‘War-shing-tun’ state, and a retired veterinarian and his wife from Colorado (names withheld to protect the innocent).  We learned that the vet (‘veterinarian’ not military ‘veteran’, at least to my knowledge) enjoyed pistol shooting, and he offered to take those from the group that were interested out in the desert to shoot targets.

Although I have had some experience with firearms, I’m not a gun guy.  I learned to shoot a .22 rifle around the age of 12 at the old Langley Rod and Gun Club.  I fired a shotgun at clay pigeons, flying disks that explode when you shoot them, at a Boy Scout Jamboree (I wonder if they’d allow that today?).  I have even taken the Canadian Firearms Safety Course which teaches gun safety, gun storage practices, and responsible gun use.  But perhaps because I’m Canadian, where handguns aren’t common, I’ve never fired a pistol before.

A small group of us drove out into the desert, which wasn’t far at all because we were already camped there.  We set up targets on a hillside, and took turns shooting.

Looking over the shoulder of a man wearing a couwboy had with targets in the distance on a sand hillside

Looking Down Range

Diane, appropriately attired, watched nervously.

Dinae wearing a cowboy hat and sun glasses

Diane looking on

I fired 3 different semi-automatic handguns.

Patrick shooting a handgun seated with arms outstretched on a table

Please ignore my cowlick, our shower was broken!

I couldn’t hit the proverbial ‘barn door’ with the first handgun, but a  red-dot sight makes aiming easy.

Close-up of hands holding 22 black target pistol with a large sight

.22 target pistol with a large red-dot sight

I couldn’t miss.

Patrick firing a target pistol with a large sight

Firing the target pistol

At this point, Diane was encouraged by the group to give it a go.  Diane had never held a firearm before, let along shot one.  Perhaps peer group pressure was a factor, but soon Diane was in the shooting position.

Diane seated getting ready to fire with others assisting her and looking on

Sweaty Palms

Diane cautiously fired a full clip.

Diane firing the target pistol

Little Diannie Oakley

Luckily this .22 had no kick, otherwise her form may have been an issue.

Diane standing looking relieved with white pickup truck in background

A very relieved Diane

The final handgun was this monster.  A ladies purse gun, still semi-automatic, and surprisingly accurate.  I was shocked that I hit every target I aimed at.

Patrick shooting a tiny black handgun

Dirty Harry?

Another dream fulfilled.  More of a whimper than a roar, but still plenty of bang.  Live Boldly.

Quartzsite

Quartzsite is a sleepy little town of about 3,000 residents during the scorching Arizona summer, but in the months of January and February it swells to over 1 Million people, almost all of them living in RVs.  Most of these people boondock in the desert, staying on Bureau of Land Management (BLM) lands surrounding the town.

Many white RVs coating the horizon

RVs scattered across the desert

Quartzsite sits on the western side of the La Posa Plain along Tyson Wash.  It’s small, dusty, and poor, with a median family income around $26,000.  On the surface it might appear that there’s not much to see or do, but there are lots of activities that cater to RVers.

Diane standing in front of post office bside a post office box wearing purple fleece with sign behind

Diane in front of the Quartzsite Post Office

Many people enjoy hiking, biking, or riding quads in the desert.  There are also an innumerable number of gem shops, selling rocks, gemstones, and jewellery to rock hounds, collectors, and visitors.  But the main attractions to this tiny town are The Quartzsite Shows.

Quartzsite hosts a steady stream of trade shows during the winter months, primarily in January and February.  The largest of which is the Annual Sports, Vacation, and RV Show, a 9 day RV extravaganza held in the massive show tent just south of town.

Large white tent with multi-coloured flags on top and parked crs in the foreground

Quartzsite Show Tent

There are also gem & mineral, craft, classic car, and several other swap meet type shows, each of which attracts hundred of exhibitors and thousands of attendees.

Aerial photo of large white tent surrounds by motorhomes and other vehicles

Quartzsite RV Show from above

We arrived just in time for the last day of the RV show, something we’d planned to do in order to complete the outfitting of our motorhome.  We bought an aluminum folding table, some nice reclining lounges, and a lot of microfiber (a soft, quick-drying fabric that’s great in RVs for washing and drying just about everything).

Free camping is allowed in the Dome Rock Mountains, which overlook the town from the west.  There are no designated campsites, and you’re allowed to stay for up to 14 days.  We stayed here for three nights.

Patrick seated in front of motorhome in reclining lawn chair with martini in hand

Martinis in the desert!

On our first night at Dome Rock we met Bob and Beth, a nice couple who have been full-time Rving for almost 20 years.  Although they own a couple of ‘stick houses’ and tried to live in one recently, they couldn’t give up their life on the road.  They invited us to visit them at their ‘home park’ in New Mexico.  They also invited us to join the Escapees RV Club, a club that focuses on full-time Rvers, something that we’ll be doing for most of this year.  We joined the next day at the RV show.

A unique  economy has developed in Quartzsite to service the needs of all those seasonal RVers.  Very little is permanent and many things are mobile.  For example, trucks travel around to deliver fresh water and propane and to collect sewage, grey water, and garbage from RVs parked in the desert.  Many businesses selling RV services locate temporarily in the town during the winter months, when the RV business is slow in their cold home towns.  We had some work done on our RV by one such business, Erik’s RV Performance Center located in Sequim, Washington, but currently operating in Quartzsite.

We found that our Solera swayed uncomfortably on uneven ground at slow speeds.  Within a few days of buying it, we turned in to an upward-sloping driveway that had a speed bump at the top of it.  We crossed the bump on the diagonal.  Even (perhaps especially) at a crawl, the resulting sway managed to pop open our microwave door and send the glass turntable flying to smash on the floor.  We also noticed the sway when driving over potholes, when being passed by large trucks, and on cambered freeway ramps. We found this a bit disconcerting and so after some internet research, we decided to upgrade the suspension with Roadmaster RSS Anti-Sway Bars.  Roadmaster had a booth at the Quartzsite show, and recommended Erik’s to install their products.

A bent metal bar lying on the ground in front of our RV

One of our new sway bars

We had the rear factory sway bar replaced with an upgraded, thicker one, and we added an additional, forward-facing sway bar (also at the rear).

Our Solera on an outdoor lift with a technician working benearth

A flying Solera

The new sway bars reduce the initial sway and quickly dampen any subsequent rocking.  Unfortunately they also make noise, an issue that we’re still dealing with.

Quartzsite is a mecca for RVers, a pilgrimage site where the desert blooms with fiberglass coaches each winter.  It’s a unique place where you can be among others with the penchant (some say affliction) to live the mobile, warm-weather lifestyle.

Geek Alert — The Computer History Museum

We visited our Kiwi friends Alistair and Dallas in Mountain View, California.  Located in the heart of the Silicon Valley near the Googleplex, their comfortable home has fruit trees and chickens in the back yard, and our motorhome just fit in their driveway.  They were gracious hosts, even though they learned of our arrival on short notice through this blog.

Friends posing with large beer bottle

Is all Kiwi beer this size?

On our way out of town we went to the Computer History Museum.  My career was (past tense?) in computer consulting and outsourcing, so I was excited to check it out.  Diane, not so much.

The Computer History Museum explores the history of computing and its ongoing impact on society.  It has the largest collection of computing artifacts in the world (over 90,000) including hardware, software, documentation, photographs, and video.

The museum has had various incarnations over the last 20 years, but settled in to its current building (previously occupied by Silicon Graphics) in 2003.

Front of Computer History Museum building with signage

A very cool exhibit at the museum is The Babbage Engine.  In 1834, Charles Babbage designed Difference Engine No. 2, an automatic computing engine, but failed to build it.  It was designed to tabulate polynomial functions based on the method of divided differences, which Diane demonstrates here:

Diane pointing to a blackboard with a tables of 2 simple polynomials

Babbage died insisting future generations would prove his idea was sound. His difference engine was faithfully built to plan in 1991, and during a demonstration in the museum, we saw it function exactly as Babbage predicted.

Diane standing in front of large metal, mechanican device

Much bigger than an iPad!

A current special exhibit at the museum is Going Places: Google Maps with Street View.  You can get up close to the mobile devices they use to capture Street View images.

Patrick standing in open doorway of brightly coloured car with large mast with camera equipment on the top

A Google Maps Street View Camera Car

Patrick seated on a large tricycle with a tall mast with camera equipement on the rear

A Google Maps Street View Camera Bicycle

The museum’s main exhibit is Revolution: The First 2000 Years of Computing.  It covers the history of computing in 20 galleries, from the abacus to the Internet, with informative and interesting displays.  Leveraging their subject matter, the entire exhibit is also available online.

Some highlights for me included:

Diane seated on bench of a 2 meter high cyclindrical computer

A Cray-1 Supercomputer with convenient built-in bench seat

At 135 MFLOPS  the Cray-1  was the best known and most powerful computer in the world when I began tinkering with personal computers in 1981.

Diane standing beside a white and orange pedestal computer

A $10,000 cutting board

Neiman Marcus introduced a kitchen computer based on the Honeywell 316 in 1969 as part of a continuing series of extravagant gift ideas.  It stood on a pedestal and had a built-in cutting board.  Entering recipes would have required a 2-week course to learn to use the device, using only toggle switch input and binary light output.  At a cost of $10,600 each, none were sold.

A greet circuit board in a open-topped wooden case

The Apple I, signed by Woz

One of only 40 to 50 Apple I computers in existence, now worth about $50,000 each.  This one is signed by Steve Wozniak, the co-founder of Apple Computers.

A small wooden box with a button on top and a cord extneding

The first mouse?

A red, hand-held toy with white buttons

I owned a Merlin

A black-faced, white box with toggle switches and lights on the front

The first personal computer

The Altair 8800  is considered by many to be the first personal computer.

A telephone handset sitting on white cradel

An early acoustic coupling modem

Balck computer sitting in front of a black and white television

Do you remember the Radio Shack TRS-80 nicknamed “Trash 80’?

My visit rekindled the excitement I felt in my youth, when I first got my hands on an Apple II computer at my high school (thanks Mr. Sutcliffe) and wrote my first program, a text-based adventure game called “Prince Pat” – lame, I know.

A beige Apple II computer with keyboard, flat top, and Apple logo

The Apple II — the first computer I programmed

After reading this ode to tech, you may think that I’m a nerd, but if you’re in the San Jose area, I would still recommend a visit to the Computer History Museum.