The Derby

May 29, 2013

Diane and I went to The Derby.  Not the Kentucky Derby, but Derby Lane in Saint Petersburg, Florida.

The exterior of a large white building with palm trees in front, and large lettering "Greyhound Racing.  Derby Lane"

Derby Lane Entrance

Derby Lane is a racetrack too, and we were there on the same day as the other derby in Kentucky.

A sign on the side of the racetrack encouraging people to come to Derby Lane on Kentucky Derby day

Kentucky Derby Day Advertisement

But there weren’t any horses present.  Derby Lane is a greyhound racing track.  Opening in 1925, it was the first commercial greyhound racetrack in the United States.

Dog racing isn’t something I’ve ever been exposed to, another experience I’ve only seen in movies and on television.  In most regards, it is similar to horse racing.   The  greyhounds parade to the post with their handlers.

Greyhounds being led down the track by their handlers

Parade to the post

Each fit, beautiful dog walks up the track wearing coloured race silks and a muzzle.

A grey greyhound walking with a handler

Greyhound walking

Spectators get a good look at each dog, and have a last chance to place their bets.

Patrons lining up to place bets at the gambling windows

Place your bets!

The dogs are loaded into starting traps and wait, trembling with excitement, for the doors to open.  The dog handlers run back down the track.

The dog handlers run back down the track to the place where the dogs will finish

The running of the dog handlers

And they’re off!

Greyhounds released from the starting gate

And they’re off!

The greyhounds chase a mechanical lure known as a ‘rabbit’ around the track.

5 dogs chasing a white lure extended on a pole out onto the track

Chasing the rabbit around the final turn

The dogs are extremely fast.  Greyhounds can reach up to 70 kilometers per hour (43.5 mph) within their first 6 strides, and accelerate faster than any other land animal on the planet except the cheetah.  The fastest dogs win and place, and the rest of the pack follows.

2 greyhounds crossing the finish line

The finish

Greyhound racing is a controversial form of entertainment.  The number of states that allow greyhound racing is declining; several states instituted specific bans in the 1990s.  Florida has about half of the 30-40 commercial greyhound race tracks remaining in the United States.

According to the Human Society of the United States, greyhound racing is considered inhumane because of the industry’s excessive breeding practices, the sometimes cruel methods by which unwanted dogs are destroyed, the conditions in which some dogs are forced to live, and the killing and maiming of bait animals (like rabbits) during training exercises.  The Greyhound Racing Association of America counters that excess dogs are humanely euthanized by licensed veterinarians under American Veterinary Medical Association guidelines, that the greyhounds are well treated, and the use of live lures in training and racing is prohibited.   Recently doping has also emerged as a problem, which the industry is actively working to prevent by introducing urine testing.  Attempts are made to recover urine samples from all greyhounds in a race (there’s a job I don’t want), not just the winners.

A sign on the racetrack fench saying, "Adopt a Fast Friend..."

Adopt a greyhound

A racing greyhound’s career begins at about 18 months of age, and ends some time before they reach 6 years of age.    Prior to the formation of adoption groups, thousands of retired greyhounds were killed each year in America.  Today, thanks to the efforts of greyhound adoption groups, the majority of retired greyhounds are adopted, but many are still destroyed because there are not enough homes to accept them.  In addition, many greyhound puppies that won’t be competitive are ‘culled’ at a young age.

I was surprised to learn that greyhound racing is legal in Canada.  Dog racing is unregulated in Canada, except for the general animal protection legislation that applies more broadly.  Only horse racing and the parimutuel betting associated with it are legislated in Canada.  There is only one permanent greyhound racing facility in Canada, the Calida Greyhound Race Track in Sylvan Lake, Alberta.  Only pool betting is allowed there, which means that the track makes no money from the gambling, so it is not subject to gaming legislation.

Lure coursing and sighthound racing are also practiced as an amateur sport across Canada and the United States. Oval, straight, and track racing are popular (apparently particularly in the Lower Mainland of British Columbia where I’m from) for all sighthound breeds, not just greyhounds.  Canada also has a small greyhound adoption association, the Northwest Canadian Greyhound League located in Grande Prairie, Alberta.

Diane didn’t enjoy the dog track.  I saw and learned what I wanted and we left.

Diane sitting in the stands, not looking very happy

Diane wasn’t impressed

Parking and entrance to The Derby greyhound track are both free.  Those of you who believe that greyhound racing is a violation of animal rights can rest comfortably knowing that Diane and I didn’t leave any of our money there.


Diving the Rainbow River

May 27, 2013

When I turned 16, the first two things I did were get my driver’s license and my scuba diving certification. Years of Jacques Cousteau as a child (I was even a member of the Cousteau society at one point) had me thinking that I might want to be a marine biologist.  That passed, but the desire to dive and explore remained.  In the many years since, I have dived (dove?) in British Columbia, Hawaii, and Thailand but always with years passing in between outings.

I wanted to take a scuba refresher class with hopes of doing some diving down in the Florida Keys.  The manager at the American Pro Dive shop in Crystal River asked Diane if she would like to try diving.  At first she said no, but apparently she enjoyed snorkeling with the manatee enough to consider it.  After a retreat to the RV for lunch to consider it, she returned to the shop the same afternoon.  We made arrangements to do a combined class, a refresher for me, and Discover Scuba Diving (DSD) for Diane.  Win-win.

Diane at the counter in the dive shop

Diane signing up

We arrived at the dive shop just after lunch the following day.  Our very young instructor Rich wore a beanie but was very professional.  After getting geared up, Diane watched a short video while I tried to figure out the cheap underwater camera that I’d purchased to record the event.  We also met our captain Zac who ate his lunch while the video played.

Diane standing on 1 foot putting on a wetsuit in a room full of wetsuits and diving gear

Diane getting geared up

We both took the short Discover Scuba Diving quiz.  I kept thinking that since I was doing a refresher course, that I should have received something more or different, and a record for my log book (which I don’t have with me anyway), but I basically did the same as Diane.

Driving the Dream Machine, we followed them and our dive boat about 20 miles to K.P. Hole Park in nearby Dunnellon.  The park charges $5 admission per person which is common in American state and some county parks.

A pontoon boat with cover being pulled by a white pickup truck

Chasing our dive boat

The very clean Rainbow River is fed only by underground springs.  It is very popular with kayakers and inner tubers, who float down the river enjoying the water, the wildlife, and the sunshine.  The county helps to keep it clean by banning disposable drink containers of any kind on the river (a $75 fine).

Diane sitting on a bench on the pontoon boat while the captain stands at the helm at the rear

Heading up river

We headed up river, enjoying the scenery, while Captain Zac gave us the safety lecture.  We put on our wet suits and got ready to go.  Diane was nervous.

Diane standing beside Rich in their wetsuits while Patrick completes putting his on

Getting ready

Zac anchored our boat near the river bank and took pictures while we were in the water.

Diane, Patrick, and instructor Rich standing in shallow water in full scuba gear

Class in session

Rich led us through the basic scuba drills starting from the beginning…

Diane and Patrick with faces in the water while instructor looks on

Breathing with only your face under water

Patrick, Diane, and instructor just below the surface of the water

Breathing while sitting on the bottom

We then progressed through other skills like using the buoyancy compensator, regulator remove and replace, mask clearing, and equalizing the pressure in one’s ears.  The pace was fine for me, but I thought rushed for Diane or anyone who hadn’t done this before.  Diane had to try the full mask clear twice and seemed a little apprehensive, but did well.

Diane, Patrick, and Rich posing for a photo just before heading downstream

Posing (Patrick on left, Diane on right)

After a quick photo op, we headed down river.  Rainbow River is a drift dive, where for the most part you can just let the current carry you along.  Very relaxing.  The river is shallow, varying from 3 to 23 feet deep, which is great for a beginner.  Plenty of opportunity to practice ascending and descending.

Sign with words "Shallow Area" with a bird sitting on top

Shallow

The river bottom is sandy and mostly covered in long grass, which bends gracefully downstream.  The visibility is amazing.  Crystal clear water allows you to see over 100 feet (30 meters).  There are lots of fish and turtles.

We drifted down 1 mile of beautiful river for about 40 minutes.  I took pictures of Diane to record the event.

Diane diving just above gras with a blue water background

Diane in the grass

Diane scuba diving and pinching her nose to equalize her ears, with only blue water in the background

Diane equalizing her ears

Diane with black wetsuit and yellow framed mask with a blue water background

Diane looking like a pro

Closeup of Diane's face wearing a scuba mask with bubbles

Diane — It’s time for my close-up Mr. DeMille

Diane asked to come up at one point, “just so I knew I could”.  Despite the wet suits, we both got a bit cold by the time we were ready to board the boat.

Diane, Patrick, and Rich floating on the surface just behind the pontton boat

Fun’s Over – Ready to board

Diane was happy.

Diane sitting on a bench on the pontoon boar wrapped in a multi-coloured towel

Diane smiling

Until she saw the alligators.  You see, there are almost no bodies of fresh water in Florida that don’t have alligators.  And snakes.  We passed 2 alligators on the way back, both about 4 feet long.

Alligator floating on the surface in the weeds

Let’s go swimming!

Alligator head among the weeds

Time for his close-up!

Diane said that if she had known about the alligators in advance, she wouldn’t have done it.  Perhaps that’s why Zac and Rich didn’t point them out until after her first scuba dive.

Oh, and I had a great time too.  Now I have visions of Diane and I scuba diving together in exotic, crocodile-free waters around the world.  Diane’s not so sure.

Patrick on the pontoon boat wearing black swim trunks

This guy needs a tan!


River Road Slavery

May 7, 2013

At the River Road plantations that we toured, there was only a brief mention of slavery, despite the fact that each of them relied on the forced labour of approximately 200 slaves.  Although both plantations retain some slave quarters, and the topic received an obligatory acknowledgement in the guided tour, not enough information was provided about this critical aspect of the plantations.  It would undoubtedly interrupt the sense of fantasy and glamour that these mansions and their beautiful grounds tend to evoke.

Slavery existed in the United States from the early days of the colonial period.  Slavery had its early roots in indentured servitude, where people of all races could pay off their debts with their labour (for example, the cost of their passage to the Americas).  Over time, as more captive slaves were imported from Africa, state laws were passed that racialized slavery, restricting black Africans and their descendants to slavery. By the time the United States sought independence from Great Britain in 1776, slavery was firmly entrenched.  By 1804, all states north of the Mason Dixon Line had either abolished slavery outright or passed laws for its gradual abolition, but slavery continued to grow in the South with the expansion of the cotton industry.  The fledgling nation became polarized into slave and free states.

The United States and Great Britain both prohibited the international slave trade in 1808, but the domestic trade in the United States continued and expanded.  The South was vigorously defending slavery and supporting its expansion into the new American territories. After Abraham Lincoln’s election, eleven Southern states broke away to form the Confederate States of America.  This led to the Civil War, during which (not before) the abolition of slavery became a goal.  On January 1, 1863 President Lincoln unilaterally freed the slaves in the territory of his opponent, the Confederacy, by issuing the Emancipation Proclamation.

Black and white photo of Abraham Lincoln's head and shoulders wearing a black suit

Abraham Lincoln

This decree was based on the president’s constitutional authority as commander in chief of the armed forces, not a law passed by Congress. It proclaimed all those enslaved in Confederate territory to be forever free, and ordered the Army to treat as free all those enslaved in the 10 states that were still in rebellion (3.1 million of the estimated 4 million slaves in the United States at the time). The Proclamation could not be enforced in areas still under rebellion, but as the army took control of Confederate regions, the slaves in those regions were freed rather than returned to their masters.  After the war, the 13th Amendment, effective December 1865, abolished slavery throughout the entire United States and its territories.

From the 16th to the 19th centuries, an estimated 12 million Africans were shipped as slaves to the Americas (South, Central, and North). Of these, only an estimated 645,000 were brought to what is now the United States.  But by 1860 the slave population in the American South had grown to four million.   Of the 1.5 Million total households in the 15 slave states, nearly 400,000 held slaves (one in four), which was 8% of all American families.  The great majority of slaves worked on plantations or large farms, cultivating cash crops like rice, tobacco, sugar and cotton. By this time, most slaves were held in the deep south, where the majority worked on cotton plantations.

A small building with a tiny front porch

Slave Quarters for 2 families

Slaves could gain freedom only by running away (which was difficult, dangerous, and illegal), or by rare manumission by owners, which was regulated by states and became increasingly difficult or prohibited.  Slaves resisted through non-compliance and rebellions, and escaped to non-slave states and Canada, facilitated by the Underground Railroad.  Even after abolition, freed slaves in the South were forced into second-class legal and economic status through Jim Crow laws intended to enforce racial segregation and white supremacy which persisted until the civil rights movement of the 1960s.

The terribly scarred back of a black slaves, seated with no shirt on

The first African slaves were brought to Louisiana in 1708.  On the River Road, and throughout Louisiana, slavery was governed by The Code Noir.  Passed by King Louis XIV in 1685, it defined the conditions of slavery in the French colonial empire.  Among other things, it also restricted the activities of blacks, forbade the exercise of any religion other than Roman Catholicism, and forbade Jews from living in French colonies.  Ironically, it required that all slaves be baptised in the Roman Catholic church (they were apparently still concerned with their immortal souls while disregarding all their earthly human rights).  The Code Noir outlawed torture, but institutionalized corporal punishment like beating, disfigurement, and execution (not much of a difference in my book).

A small grey and white building with porch out front and a museum sign on the lawn

River Road African American Museum

One place that I learned about slavery was at the River Road African American Museum in Donaldsonville.  Founded in 1994, this small museum is a labour of love of one woman, Kathe Hambrick.  She created the museum to celebrate the culture and contributions of African Americans in Louisiana, and to provide a more accurate historic account.  Like me, she noted that the plantation tours which bring thousands of people to the area provide little information about slavery.  Unfortunately, her museum is sparsely attended, and was only open by appointment when we visited.

Some small black dolls in front of a wall with signs saying, "White", "Coloured"

Museum Artifacts


Are Canadians paying too much? What can we do about it?

May 2, 2013

Canadians pay more for most retail goods than Americans living just across the border, despite the fact that the Canadian dollar has been near or above parity with the U.S. dollar for several years now. We are constantly reminded of this when we see American advertisements on television, when we shop online, when we buy books and magazines that have 2 different prices on the back cover, and when we visit the United States. My recent investgation into this matter (Are Prices Higher in Canada than in the U.S?) confirmed my suspicions. The price differences in certain product categories are glaring – gasoline (20-35% higher), automobiles (other than economy models), groceries (especially dairy and poultry products), alcoholic beverages, etc. Are we being gouged?

Our unelected Canadian Senate recently looked into this matter, releasing its study on the reasons for price discrepancies for goods between Canada and the U.S. (The Canada-US Price Gap).  They did not look at the price of services, which are harder to compare, nor supply-managed goods (e.g. eggs, poultry and dairy products, which we definitely pay more for but are a political hot-button issue). Although their report was anything but definitive, they concluded that in many cases retail prices are higher in Canada, and the reasons for this difference include: lower economies of scale, a higher level of retailer concentration, higher transportation costs, higher Canadian tariffs and taxes, the high volatility in exchange rates, and different regulatory requirements (like bilingual packaging and product safety standards). For its part, the Senate recommended that Canada review its tariffs, better integrate safety standards between the 2 countries, and consider an increase in the minimum threshold at which low-value shipments from the U.S. are taxed. One of the biggest reasons for price differences that they identified is country-specific pricing by international manufacturers who charge more in Canada simply because Canadians appear willing to pay more.

In order to maximize profits, manufacturers attempt to segment the market, creating real or imagined differences that allow them to sell their products at different prices in the two countries. An example of this are car manufacturers who don’t allow their warranties to be transferred between the two countries. Some manufacturers charge Canadian retailers 10% to 50% more than U.S. retailers for identical products. Manufacturers try to justify this by saying that their higher prices subsidize the cost of maintaining operations in Canada and are necessary to compensate Canadian distributors and wholesalers who face higher costs than their American counterparts. But they also openly admit that they charge more because Canadians are used to paying more (which seems like a chicken-and-egg situation to me). Manufacturers may price more aggressively in the U.S. because in order for their brand to succeed globally, it is essential that it be a success in the U.S. American consumers benefit from this effect. In fact, market segmentation allows manufacturers to lower their prices in the United States, effectively subsidizing their prices using earnings from higher profit territories like Canada.

In addition, American retailers are more competitive. They enjoy lower labour rates, higher productivity, and are quick to respond to competitive pressures. Many Canadian retailers have failed to pass along to consumers the benefit they’ve garnered from a stronger loonie.

Ultimately the price gap is about Canadian’s willingness to pay. Sellers simply believe that Canadians will pay more, and they appear to be right. Canadians don’t shop as aggressively as Americans, and aren’t as quick to seek out deals. Canadian retailers and consumers are failing to put the sort of pressure on manufacturers needed to bring prices down.

This situation won’t improve by itself. Neither the increase in the Canadian dollar nor the arrival in Canada of giant U.S. retailers like Walmart and Target has had a significant effect. So, what can we do about it?

  1. Shop Local

    Where possible, buy locally made or Canadian made products that provide good value for the money. This doesn’t solve the problem of higher prices for Canadians, but at least the profits are going to Canadian manufacturers.

  2. Switch to cheaper brands or basic commodities

    As the Canadian economy has matured and we have become wealthier, we consume more and more differentiated goods rather than basic commodities. The manufacturers of differentiated goods are able to increase their prices as long as consumers demand their products. e.g. They can charge more for Pizza Pockets than no-name pizza snacks, and much more than for wheat flour and tomato sauce.

    Canadians can increase competition and lower prices by switching to cheaper brands whenever possible or using basic commodities instead. e.g. Buying generic brands in the grocery store. Buying unbranded products. Buying commodity items like bulk foods, fresh produce, etc. Choose brands that don’t practice country-specific pricing (or that minimize it) and that are competitively priced to those in the U.S. Manufacturers will lower prices if Canadians don’t pay their marked-up costs.

  3. Check prices and shop smart

    The Senate report noted that, “As more Canadian consumers become aware of smartphone applications and Internet sites for price shopping and comparison, and become price-savvy consumers, competitive pressures in Canada will increase and the price for products in Canada will converge to U.S. prices”.

    Compare prices and buy where things are cheaper. Price comparison web sites make this easy (e.g. Shopbot.ca, ShopToIt.ca, PriceGrabber.ca, NextTag.com, Shopzilla.com). Smart phone apps that scan bar codes and compare prices make this even easier (e.g. RedLaser, Google Shopper, Amazon Price Check, Pricegrabber).

    Choose retailers that offer prices competitive to those in the U.S. Retailers will lower prices if we shop elsewhere.

  4. Speak up

    Let manufacturers, retailers, and governments know that you’re fed up with paying more, and that you’re voting with your wallet. Join consumer associations that advocate for fair pricing.

  5. Shop cross-border

    Canadians have a long-standing tradition of cross-border shopping. 75% of us live within 161 kilometres (100 miles) of the U.S. border. The total number of Canadians travelling to the United States by automobile is closely correlated with the movements of the exchange rate. According to Statistics Canada, in 2011 an average of 3.4 million Canadian travelers crossed the border into the United States by automobile each month, including 2.4 million Canadian travelers (69.7% of all Canadian travellers) who made same-day trips (which likely involved some shopping). Duty-free exemptions for Canadians were increased effective June 2012, making it easier to bring back more stuff. Although the duty-free limit for same-day trips is still zero (unlike Americans who get $200), Canada Customs often doesn’t bother with smaller purchases like groceries.

    Shop online. The price advantages of shopping in the U.S. (or even other countries like England) often more than make up for the costs of shipping, a customs broker fee, and duty (if applicable). More U.S. companies offer free shipping to Canada, and downloaded items (like music, movies, and software) don’t need to be shipped at all. Many items are duty-free under the North American Free Trade Agreement, and Canada Customs doesn’t charge duty on items valued under $20 Canadian (an amount which has effectively increased with the rise in the value of the Canadian dollar relative to the greenback).

I can hear some patriotic Canadians squealing, those who believe that we have an obligation to ‘Buy Canadian’. Hopefully I’ve covered that with my Point #1 above. Please note that while we are smart shopping, I believe that Canadians should continue to pay whatever sales or other taxes are required. I believe that in the long run, Canadians will be better off if our manufacturers, retailers, and government remain competitive in the global market. Competitive retail pricing will benefit all Canadians, rather than line the pockets of international manufacturers.


Are prices in Canada higher than in the United States?

April 17, 2013

I’ve noticed that many prices seem to be lower here in the United States than in Canada. Am I imagining it? With the help of my Canadian friend Annette (an experienced shopper), I decided to find out.

Methodology

I selected a basket of 20 common retail items (food, alcoholic beverages, and fuel), and compared the prices for these items in Vancouver, Canada (my home) and San Antonio, Texas (my location when this crazy idea struck me). Annette and I gathered regular retail prices (not sale prices) not including sales taxes from comparable retail outlets (to the extent that they are available in both cities) within a few days of each other. The American prices were converted to Canadian dollars at the current exchange rate. Where quantities or package sizes differed, the prices were adjusted to equivalent volumes.

Findings

The table below shows the items we checked, the U.S. price, the Canadian price, and the percentage difference of the Canadian price compared to the U.S. price.

Product U.S. Canada Percnt
Frosted Flakes (760g box) $3.92 $7.23 84.6%
Cheerios (396g box) $2.90 $5.02 73.3%
Milk (3.78L = 1 gallon) $4.32 $4.56 5.4%
Eggs (12 Large Grade A) $1.71 $2.63 53.5%
Coors Light beer (24×355 ml cans) $20.39 $43.99 115.7%
Corona Extra beer (12 x 330 ml bottles) $13.25 $25.69 93.9%
Yellowtail Cabernet Sauvignon (750 ml bottle, Australia) $5.07 $12.99 156.2%
Woodbridge Merlot (750 ml bottle, California) $8.64 $13.99 61.9%
Coca Cola (12 cans) $3.04 $5.97 96.4%
Coca Cola (2 Litre bottle) $1.41 $1.87 32.9%
Chicken thighs skin-on, bone in (per pound) $5.04 $4.98 -1.2%
Ground beef (85% lean, per pound) $3.25 $6.28 93.0%
Ground beef (89% lean, per pound) $3.79 $7.98 110.3%
Ground beef (93% lean, per pound) $5.08 $9.88 94.5%
Bananas (per pound) $0.49 $0.58 18.5%
Fuji Apples (per pound) $1.70 $1.19 -30.1%
Yellow Onions, medium (per pound) $2.43 $1.28 -47.3%
Russet Potatoes (per pound) $0.90 $0.48 -46.5%
Gasoline (regular, per Litre) $0.91 $1.34 47.9%
Diesel fuel (per Litre) $1.01 $1.41 39.4%

Analysis

Vancouverites are paying a lot more!

Of the 20 items on the list, 16 were more expensive in Canada. 3 produce items were significantly cheaper in Canada (apples, onions, & potatoes), and there was a trivial difference in the price of chicken thighs. All other items were between 5% and 156% more expensive in Canada.

The price differences were the biggest for wine and beer (61% to 156% higher). The probable reasons for this are: a government monopoly on alcohol distribution in British Columbia, high government taxes on alcoholic beverages, and restrictions and tariffs on importing alcohol into Canada.

Grocery items (other than the few that were cheaper) were between 5% (milk) and 110% (ground beef) more expensive in Vancouver, with the remaining 9 items between 18% (bananas) and 96% (Coca Cola) more expensive.

Vehicle fuel was priced 47% higher in Canada for regular gasoline and 38% higher for diesel fuel. This is due, in part, to higher taxes.

I recognize that this was a very limited sample size (20 items, 2 stores, 2 cities, none of which were randomly chosen), and so few general conclusions can be drawn from these results. But it does confirm my suspicions. In my experience, groceries, alcohol, and fuel are consistently more expensive in Canada than in the United States.

Why is this the case? What can Canadian consumers do about it? Stayed tuned for more on this topic.


Civilized Spelunking in Carlsbad Caverns

April 8, 2013

I’ve been in many caves before, but none quite as grand or civilized as Carlsbad Caverns.  There was no desperate clinging to dusty ledges above a river plunging into a dark abyss, no riding an inner tube with only a stick to protect me from the rapidly approaching walls that I couldn’t see despite the penlight held in my teeth, no being bitten by cave shrimp and I crawl on my belly through a subterranean river, and no bat guano squishing between my toes.  There were none of the gaudy coloured lights popular in the caves open for visitors in China, and very little of the damage that I’ve found in unprotected caves like in Vietnam.  Very civilized.

Patrick and Diane seated on a stone wall with the large, dark cave mouth behind us

At the entrance

We chose to hike into the caverns via the natural entrance rather than take the elevator.  It’s a walk of over a mile down a paved but continuously steep switch-backed trail that can be hard on the knees, but hiking down provides a much better appreciation of the caverns’ size and depth.

Diane and Beth standing on a paved path with many swtichbacked paths visible extending into the darkness below them

Diane and our friend Beth at the start of the many switchbacks

The first non-native person known to have explored the caverns is Jim White, a local cowboy.  In 1901 he saw a dark moving column in the sky, investigated, and found a giant stream of bats issuing from the cave mouth.  An estimated 800,000 bats of 17 species live in the caverns, the majority being Mexican Free-Tailed bats.  Evening programs are held at the cave entrance to watch the departure of the bats between Memorial Day (end of May) and mid-October.

Many bats against the sunset

Carlsbad Caverns, located in the Guadalupe Mountains in southeastern New Mexico, is protected as a National Park.  Despite its remote location, it receives 500,000 visitors annually.

The caves were formed when a large, underground limestone deposit, once the floor of an ancient sea bed, was dissolved when hydrogen sulfide (H2S, a colourless gas with the foul odour of rotten eggs) from deeper petroleum reserves mixed with oxygen (02, from water) to form sulfuric acid (H2SO4) The entrance to the caverns was caused by natural erosion from the surface afterwards, within the last million years.

The self-guided tour goes through several large chambers displaying lots of different and hard-to-photograph speleothems (the structures found in caves caused by the deposit of water-borne minerals) like stalactites, stalagmites, columns, soda straws, draperies, helectites, and popcorn.

P1090909  P1090900

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The biggest room in the caverns, uninspiringly called ‘The Big Room’ but also known as ‘The Hall of the Giants’, is almost 4,000 feet (1,220 m) long, 625 feet (191 m) wide, and 255 feet (78 m) high at the highest point. It has a floor area of 357,469 square feet (33,210 m2) and is the third largest cave chamber in North America and the seventh largest in the world.

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The caves are cool but comfortable.  The self-guided tour travels a paved path, most of which is wheelchair accessible.  If you’re seeking a civilized spelunking expedition, Carlsbad Caverns is a great place to visit.

Posing Underground

Posing Underground


The Roswell Incident

April 4, 2013

In the first week of July 1947, a spacecraft containing extraterrestrial life crashed on a ranch northwest of Roswell, New Mexico. Many people believe this.  Known as the Roswell Incident, it has been the subject of controversy and conspiracy theories since the 1970’s.  What is not in doubt, is that something did happen in Roswell.

There is evidence that something unusual happened here many years ago, but exactly what remains unclear.  On July 8, 1947 the Army issued a press release stating that military personnel had recovered a ‘flying disk’ that crashed near Roswell.

Rowsell Daily Review newspaper front page saying "RAAF Captures Flying Saucer on Ranch in Roswell'

Front page news

Later that day, an Army press conference was held and the debris shown was instead said to have come from an experimental weather balloon.

Front page of Roswell Daily Record with headline "General Ramsey Empties Rosweel Saucer'

Change of Tune

Of course, this wouldn’t be the first time the U.S. military has covered something up.

Aircraft Identification Chart showing that all planes are spacecraft are weather balloons, nad a weather baloon is swamp gas

Aircraft Identification Chart

In the 1970’s interest in this incident was rekindled, and further investigations and interviews were conducted by UFO investigators and the U.S. Air Force.  The Air Force reports concluded that the debris was likely from a top-secret project utilizing balloons to monitor Soviet nuclear tests, and that reports of recovered alien bodies were likely innocently transformed memories or hoaxes.  Many UFO proponents dismiss these findings, and offer their own evidence to the contrary.

Perhaps something did happen in Roswell.  Even today, aliens occupy the town.

Patrick standing beside large green wood carving of an alientholding a cell phone

E.T Phone Home — we both share the same physique

The townspeople don’t seem to mind their presence at all, in fact, I think it might be good for tourism in this remote New Mexico town of about 50,000 people.

Little green man driving a old wagon

Our taxi driver

White coloured male and femaile aliends made of paper in a window dressed as newlyweds

Newlyweds

There is even evidence of alien technology, though it didn’t appear to be in operation on the day we visited.

Diane croching beneath a silver model of a flying disk with little blue alien figures beside

Diane and flying disc

Today, Roswell is home to the International Roswell UFO Museum and Research Center.

I had the distinct pleasure of being escorted through the museum by my new friend Bob, an intelligent and thoughtful guy with a technical and military background who is also a UFO believer.  Bob, who spent a week in the museum’s research library before he came to his conclusions, was keen to show me around and answer my questions.

Rows of boxes containing UFO research materials around a reading table

UFO Research Library

I was thrilled to be visiting the museum with a believer, and a knowledgeable one to boot.  Diane wasn’t quite so excited, and was probably thinking about the nearest Starbucks.

Diane standing in front of flying disc and aliens

Is it over yet?

The museum provides the full chronology of the Roswell incident, laying out all the evidence in favour of a real alien encounter and a military cover-up.  In the short time I spent there, I wasn’t convinced that this was an alien encounter, but whatever happened, the military handled it poorly.

The museum also provides plenty of exhibits to encourage you to encourage you to think beyond the hard evidence.

Aliend body suspended in a glass case

Is it real?

I really enjoyed my visit to Roswell.  If you are a UFO believer or just UFO-curious, a lover of kitsch, or a student of America like me, this museum is not to be missed.

What do you think happened in Roswell?  Did they really recover an alien spacecraft?