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Grand Canyon & Tuba City Arizona

 

The Grand Canyon is one of those places that you can't understand without going there.  It's like skydiving.  You can't appreciate it until you do it yourself.  In this case it's difficult to get that twinge of acrophobia (from the Greek: ἄκρον, ákron, meaning "peak, summit, edge" and φόβος, phóbos, "fear") from a photograph.  And it's amazing that in highly litigious America in national parks one's safety is one's own responsibility. So people can and do jump, with no safety line, across gaps to isolated rocks with thousand foot drops.  Most of the edge is completely unfenced and when it is it's often a stone wall that people sit up on, back to the drop, to be photographed. 

The canyon is huge and is truly one of the wonders of the world.  We stayed overnight in a lodge in the park and ate in what was once one of Harvey's iconic establishments - see Santa Fe earlier.

 

 


The Grand Canyon - Click on this picture to see more
 

 

Tuba City - Navajo Reservation

Our next overnight stop was to be the 'Quality Inn Navajo Nation' in Tuba City in the Navajo Reservation a tribal area of 27,413 sq miles, occupying portions of north-eastern Arizona, south-eastern Utah, and north-western New Mexico. Tourism and native arts are important sectors of the local economy, after mining and agriculture (mainly sheep grazing).

The local trading post was packed with treasures ranging from sand art to weapons like bows and arrows with hand chipped stone points. Difficult to take onto a plane.  Immediately adjacent to our hotel was a museum displaying native hand crafts and lifestyle that was also very interesting. 

The Nation is largely self governing, with traditional leadership organised around matrilineal clans or kinship groups. Thus children are considered born into the mother's family and gain their social status from her.

Perhaps this is the reason that alcohol is banned; the nation has resisted the temptation to allow the gambling and casinos, embraced by other tribes; and a display panel headed 'challenges' listed concern about brighter children leaving home and the antisocial behaviour of some young people who come and go.  It sounded familiar.

After breakfast we had a dam to visit.  A day earlier we'd crossed the Colorado river at the Hoover Dam.

In its day, 1936, the Hoover Dam, with  2.5 million cubic metres of concrete enclosing 35 billion cubic metres of water, was the largest engineering project in the world.  It remained so for decades. Last time I was in Las Vegas, 25 years ago, we drove over the top of the Hoover Dam but that's no longer permitted and the road now goes over a bridge nearby.  High walls, against the high wind, mean that the dam can't be seen while driving. 

In contrast, the Glen Canyon Dam is a destination in its own right, with a Visitor's Center and a tour program. It's also on the Colorado River and is 316 feet longer and almost as high as the Hoover but with only 1.7 million cubic metres of concrete the dam wall is quite a bit lighter (see the comparisons panel in the photo album - click on the picture below).

Glen Canyon Dam was completed in 1963-64 and is a more modern dam than the Hoover.  Its strength, over its longer length, is derived from its catenary arch design, like a concrete arch bridge on its side, with the canyon sides acting as abutments.  This is great in a canyon where the walls form part of the same deep geological structure and are stable.  It's not so great if the strata may move of crack in an earthquake.

 


Glen Canyon Dam - Click on this picture to see more
 

The tour was well worth the drive and a short wait.   Both dams were built to provide water management and security but much was made of the Hoover Dam's hydroelectric capacity that in 1936 was a phenomenal 2 gigawatts.  That was when a lot of people in the region still had fuel stoves and kerosene lamps and it seemed an awful lot.  But by the time the Glen Canyon Dam was built a moderate sized coal or nuclear plant could easily surpass this and the cost could no longer be justified on the grounds of electricity generation.  Nevertheless the Glen Canyon Dam has a generating capacity of 1.3 gigawatts (about 520 large wind turbines or three times this number when availability factor is compared).

The turbines have recently being upgraded with more modern computer-designed and machined stainless steel turbine runners and wicket gates to provide more energy from less water flow.  One of the alternators was also in pieces for maintenance.  For those of us who find such things interesting, as everyone who uses electricity should, there are photos of the turbine hall with the alternators and of a replaced runner and wicket gate in the album above. 

 

 

 

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Travel

Berlin

 

 

 

I'm a bit daunted writing about Berlin.  

Somehow I'm happy to put down a couple of paragraphs about many other cities and towns I've visited but there are some that seem too complicated for a quick 'off the cuff' summary.  Sydney of course, my present home town, and past home towns like New York and London.  I know just too much about them for a glib first impression.

Although I've never lived there I've visited Berlin on several occasions for periods of up to a couple of weeks.  I also have family there and have been introduced to their circle of friends.

So I decided that I can't really sum Berlin up, any more that I can sum up London or New York, so instead I should pick some aspects of uniqueness to highlight. 

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Fiction, Recollections & News

The McKie Family

 

 

 

Introduction

 

 

This is the story of the McKie family down a path through the gardens of the past that led to where I'm standing.  Other paths converged and merged as the McKies met and wed and bred.  Where possible I've glimpsed backwards up those paths as far as records would allow. 

The setting is Newcastle upon Tyne in northeast England and my path winds through a time when the gardens there flowered with exotic blooms and their seeds and nectar changed the entire world.  This was the blossoming of the late industrial and early scientific revolution and it flowered most brilliantly in Newcastle.

I've been to trace a couple of lines of ancestry back six generations to around the turn of the 19th century. Six generations ago, around the turn of the century, lived sixty-four individuals who each contributed a little less 1.6% of their genome to me, half of them on my mother's side and half on my father's.  Yet I can't name half a dozen of them.  But I do know one was called McKie.  So this is about his descendents; and the path they took; and some things a few of them contributed to Newcastle's fortunes; and who they met on the way.

In six generations, unless there is duplication due to copulating cousins, we all have 126 ancestors.  Over half of mine remain obscure to me but I know the majority had one thing in common, they lived in or around Newcastle upon Tyne.  Thus they contributed to the prosperity, fertility and skill of that blossoming town during the century and a half when the garden there was at its most fecund. So it's also a tale of one city.

My mother's family is the subject of a separate article on this website. 

 

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Opinions and Philosophy

Renewable Electricity

 

 

As the energy is essentially free, renewable electricity costs, like those of nuclear electricity, are almost entirely dependent on the up-front construction costs and the method of financing these.  Minimising the initial investment, relative to the expected energy yield, is critical to commercial viability.  But revenue is also dependent on when, and where, the energy can be delivered to meet the demand patterns of energy consumers.

For example, if it requires four times the capital investment in equipment to extract one megawatt hour (1 MWh) of useable electricity from sunlight, as compared to extracting it from wind, engineers need to find ways of quartering the cost of solar capture and conversion equipment; or increasing the energy converted to electricity fourfold; to make solar directly competitive.

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