What I did on my summer vacation August 21, 2007Posted by caveblogem in Other.
I can’t believe all of the things I saw and did in just three weeks.
I flew to the Sacramento area and stayed with Mum and Dad for a while, swimming and playing a little golf and seeing some old friends and relations. Then me and my wife and son headed down south to visit my wife’s sister and see some of the sites and visit some other people. We saw the La Brea Tar Pits, which was very cool. We spent a day at Disneyland, which was really fun (my son is at a perfect age for amusement park rides). Played some croquet with my niece and nephew down there, too. Then we headed to the Grand Canyon, which was much more interesting than that insipid Kasdan film of the same name. Then Mesa Verde, which was also quite stunning and interesting. Then we continued north to Buena Vista, staying at a wonderful B&B for one night, right on the Arkansas River. Next day we went to Cripple Creek, where half of the places in town are named after a distant relative of my wife (and son). This is an active mining and gambling town at more than 10,000 feet elevation. I had wanted to see Leadville, (because it was described so interestingly in Angle of Repose) but we didn’t have time. Cripple Creek definitely satisfied my appetite for high-altitude mining towns, though. We also saw The Garden of the Gods (um, some interesting rock formations on the outskirts of Colorado Springs). Then we finally made it down to a mere mile or so above sea level to see my brother, Prairie Flounder. It was a wonderful visit. Such hospitality!
Prairie Flounder was working a fireworks show the Saturday after I arrived (he is now a Senior Pyrotechnician) and he convinced the show’s organizer to let me help. After filling out some paperwork for the federal Department of Explosions (or something like that) I became a “Dud Spotter,” the lowest rung in the hierarchy of pyrotechnics. My job was to watch the fireworks go up into the sky and make sure that I knew how many came back down without exploding and approximately where.
The show was for the Beef and Bean Day celebration for the Northern Colorado towns Johnston and Milliken, which are reasonably close to Casa Flounder. We started setting up the show at about 1:15, on a pretty hot Colorado day on a road between a cornfield and a field that had been barley, almost ready for harvest, but that had accidentally been set afire by youths playing with fireworks–see picture below, click to enlarge).
I got to help wrap some “cake” (premade bundles of mortars that have complicated efffects and are electronically fired) in plastic after a safety lecture that had me a little terrified (see picture below of Prairie Flounder fusing a finished cake–click to enlarge).
Then we took it easy and came back in time to shoot the mortars into the sky. Here’s a picture of a five-inch shell, which makes an indescribably loud noise when it explodes out of the mortar (the little tubes on top are “tails” which trail smoke and/or flames, allowing you to see it fly through the sky–click to enlarge).
When I say “indescribably loud” it is not a figure of speech–or even a cop-out. When these mortars go off it is not really even a sound, in the conventional sense. I was wearing ear plugs with ear-muffs over them. Despite that, I could hear people around me quite clearly. The explosions didn’t hurt my ears at all–they went “whumpf,” just like in the movies. What the movies do not convey is that the shockwave almost hurts your skin. Imagine that, all at once, all of the clothes you are wearing attempted to flee, at 350 miles per hour. The weight of your body stops them, of course, since the blasts weren’t fierce enough to actually tear fabric (perhaps next year). But it is a very jarring sensation, even so, this flapping. And it happened a hundred or so times, if I remember correctly. It looked like this:
but brighter and louder. For the full effect one should flog oneself with a flaming buffalo hide when one sees the flashes.
I really tried hard to spot duds, but I didn’t see any. When we searched the fields after the show (in a line of at least ten people, all with flashlights) two of them found little “stars,” which are smaller than marbles, and probably wouldn’t injure anyone if they stepped on one. I don’t know. As we were about to clean up a family of three came riding down the dirt road on their bicycles. It was pitch dark by then. I can’t imagine why they would have been doing that. The child with them appeared to be under 10 years of age. Perhaps they were looking for duds, too.