Tuesday, February 11, 2020

What is the Tucson Gem Show?

One of the benefits of living in Tucson is being able to attend the Gem Show every year.  The Tucson Gem, Mineral & Fossil Showcase, as it’s officially known, began in 1955 as an exhibition sponsored by a gem club at a local grade school.  There were competitions for different types of collections and the show lasted two days.

Sculptures created from rock formations on display & for sale
The following year the show was held at the Pima County Fairgrounds to accommodate more exhibitors and larger crowds.  Again, the show ran for two days.  Over the next several years, the show grew in size and crowds and in 1972, it shifted location to the Tucson Convention Center.

Booklets advertising various shows
In 2020, there is an exhibition in the Convention Center and also 49 other exhibitions in venues spread throughout Tucson.  The entire Gem Show lasts not two days but two weeks.  It typically begins at the end of January and runs through the middle of February; however, each venue sets its own schedule and many shows run for just one week.  Since moving to Tucson five years ago, I’ve attended the Gem Show annually with my mother, my aunt, and a friend.  It’s an outing we look forward to every year.

Lapis lazuli from Afghanistan
The Gem Show, as it’s commonly called, has transformed itself from purely an exhibition of mineral and gem collections into a marketplace selling gems, minerals, fossils, handicrafts, rare coins and maps, beads, tools for creating jewelry, and jewelry from around the world.  Each show includes numerous vendors.  Many shows are in huge white tents that are visible all around the city.  Most have free entry but the show at the Convention Center has an admission fee.

Jewelry & supplies purchased at the Gem Show
Some venues such as the African Art Village, specialize in products from a particular region.  Having been a Peace Corps Volunteer in Sierra Leone, I was eager to see what that was like so a few years ago, we went there.  There were vendors from many sub-Saharan countries but none from Sierra Leone.  All sorts of wood, basket, textile and other products were available, including shea butter which I used to make soap.  Other venues, such as the Holidome, are open only to wholesale buyers and while free, require registration.  Fortunately, my aunt has a business license because she makes and sells jewelry so I can get into those venues as well.

Trilobites & other fossils are exhibited
Spending an entire day at one of the shows is exhausting!  We wander up and down the corridors looking at all the vendors’ exhibits, frequently stopping to examine things that catch our eye.  We get lunch from one of the food trucks outside.  I inevitably end up buying jewelry I didn’t know I needed but decide I can’t do without.  I also buy materials for making earrings – which I’ve been doing for over 30 years – and necklaces, which I recently started making.  Then, we go on another day to a different location for more fun.

All kinds of rocks and minerals are available
The Gem Show brings vendors and visitors from all over the world to Tucson each winter.  Around 65,000 people attend so it gives a huge boost to the local economy.  There is also a smaller Gem Show in September.  Many of the same vendors participate in that show, too.  Every year I have a great time and I am glad I live in a city which hosts such a great event.

Sunday, December 22, 2019

From Swords to Plowshares: The Vista Sunwheel in Catalina, Arizona

Yesterday was the Winter Solstice, or Yule, in the Northern Hemisphere.  I went to the sunwheel at Vista de la Montana United Methodist Church in Catalina, Arizona, to watch the sun set.  It’s a tranquil area behind the church with a few benches on the perimeter.  I was there at the Spring Equinox as well.

When I was there in the spring, Jim, the person who constructed the sunwheel, explained its purpose to me.  (There’s also brochure about it that’s available in a box attached to a signpost.)  He explained that this sunwheel is modeled after Native American medicine wheels.  They were, Jim said, astronomic tools used to highlight the passage of the seasons.  They are sacred structures and are found in many Native cultures, according to Jim.

Find out what a sunwheel is & why there is one in Catalina, Arizona | PicturingTheWest
Sunwheel at sunset
As with others, the sunwheel in Catalina consists of an outer stone circle with a diameter of 61 feet.  Emanating inwards are lines of stones, which meet at a center cairn, measuring 11 feet in diameter.  Depending on the time of year, when the sun rises or sets, the rays line up with one of the lines in the circle of stones.  I have to confess that I didn’t quite understand how it all works.

Nevertheless, it’s a very impressive site.  What makes it even more remarkable is that it is built on top of a missile silo.  The center cairn was the opening through which a Titan II missile would have been launched if the United States had been under nuclear attack. 

Southern Arizona was home to 18 Titan II missiles during the Cold War.  These intercontinental ballistic missiles, housed in underground silos around Tucson, were part of a network of 54 nuclear-armed warheads that were in operation from 1962 – 1987.  Site #18 was the missile in Catalina; it's the one just above the text that says "Mt. Lemmon."

Find out where a Titan II missile silo is now a sunwheel | PicturingTheWest
Location of Titan II missiles in Tucson; click here for an interactive map
Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Tucson operated the silos, which came online here in 1963.  Little Rock Air Force Base in Arkansas and McConnell Air Force Base in Kansas also hosted 18 missiles each.  The ICBMs in Tucson went offline in 1982.  Below is a map of where all 18 missiles in the Tucson area were stored.  At one of them, in Sahuarita, you can visit the Titan Missile Museum, which is a National Historic Landmark and education center.  I haven’t visited yet but will get there eventually.

Fortunately, none of the Titan II missiles were ever launched and now the site in Catalina has been transformed into a place of peace.

Thursday, September 19, 2019

Photographing Birds in Madera Canyon, Arizona

Madera Canyon is located in the Coronado National Forest, about a 90-minute drive south from where I live in Tucson.  It is a world famous location for bird sightings and is especially known for its varieties of hummingbirds.  There are hiking trails and picnic areas but only rudimentary facilities, and there is a daily use fee.  It’s an easy day trip from Tucson.

Since Madera Canyon is at an elevation of almost 5,000 feet, it is particularly nice to go there during the summer as an escape from the heat of Tucson.  I recently went to Madera Canyon with the local photo club I belong to.  They have done outings to Madera Canyon in the past but this was the first time I was able to go.  We drove down and arrived around 9:30am at the Santa Rita Lodge’s Bird Viewing Area.  This is a great place for photographing hummingbirds because a series of hummingbird feeders is lined up and it is easy to set up a tripod.  There are also a few benches and a covered area that make it comfortable for when you want to get out of the sun or take a break from using your tripod. 

I set up my gear and started shooting.  I won’t go into the details of what settings and lenses I used because that is not the purpose of this post.  But I will say that since this was the first time I’d ever tried to photograph hummingbirds, and I am still learning how to use my new camera, I was very glad there were experienced photographers who could help me when I had questions.

I am not a birder so I have no idea what kind of hummingbirds I saw.  I just tried to get photos of different varieties of birds and of birds in different positions.  These photos show some of the many images I took.  While they may not be professional quality, I am happy with them.

In addition to hummingbirds, we also saw turkeys.  At one point, I counted 13 of them!  I also saw a woodpecker, which was nice.  Here are a few photos of those birds.

Now that I’ve gotten a taste of photographing hummingbirds, I want to keep trying so I can improve my images.  I will definitely return to Madera Canyon to photograph hummingbirds again.

You can see a few more of my hummingbird photos on my Instagram account HERE.

To find out more about Madera Canyon, please click on the links below: 

Visiting Madera Canyon
Information from the USDA Department of Agriculture: Forest Service, which oversees the area

Friends of Madera Canyon
Detailed information for visitors

Types of Birds Seen in Madera Canyon
Info provided on Santa Rita Lodge website

Santa Rita Lodge's Bird viewing Area
Scroll down the page to see the location of the viewing area

Monday, August 26, 2019

Deadwood Pass

This 1933 black-and-white film is only 62 minutes long but it packs a punch.  Tom Tyler (whose real name was Vincent Markowski) plays Tom Whitlock, aka Tom Saddler, aka the Hawk, in Deadwood Pass.  He's an escaped convict, though the movie doesn’t say from which penitentiary.  He returns to his old gang, hiding out in a place called Deadwood Pass, to retrieve the treasure he hid before he was caught and sent up for 20 years.  Well, that’s what the audience is supposed to believe.

Although the technical quality of the move wasn’t great, by which I mean there was some background static and tiny spots and faint lines in frames, especially in the beginning, there were a few aspects that made Deadwood Pass interesting to watch.  The plot was clever and had some good twists and turns.  However, much of the film consisted of typical Western movie scenes: a stagecoach chase, girl meets boy and they flirt, a saloon fight, a Mexican dancing girl, a shootout, the sheriff and posse riding to hopefully save the day.

What I most liked about Deadwood Pass was the role of the Mexican outlaw.  He turned out to be more than a stereotype, even though he wasn’t played by a Latino actor (Merrill McCormick).  It was amusing when he was first called Felip and then, later in the movie, Felipe.

Butch Cassidy was the leader of the gang in Deadwood Pass but there was nothing to identify him with the historical figure.  The other gang members weren’t identified by name.  At one point, Hawk wears Butch’s hat and coat, rides into the nearby town, and is mistaken for Cassidy.  You’d think an outlaw with the reputation Butch Cassidy had would know better than to wear clothes that made him instantly recognizable.

And you’d expect a movie named Deadwood Pass to be set in or near Deadwood, South Dakota, but this Deadwood Pass was clearly located somewhere else and, in fact, the movie was filmed in California.  The one thing it had in common with ASJ was the lookout at the entrance to the pass, like the one in Return to Devil’s Hole.

The dialog was often clich├ęd and there were often long stretches without any dialog at all.  Also, I was struck by the lack of background music.  Deadwood Pass was clearly a movie made between the silent film era and before talking movies really came into their own.

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Heaven's Gate

Review of Heaven's Gate | Leslie Silverlove
I’ll make this short.  Unlike the movie, which seemed interminable because I watched the director’s cut which ran 3 hours and 39 minutes long.

I know that revisionist history says Heaven’s Gate, about the Johnson County War in Wyoming, is a masterpiece.  And I watched it for that reason and also because several ASJ episodes in the 3rd season dealt with the Johnson County War (Bushwhack!, What Happened at the XST?, Witness to a Lynching). 

But I just couldn’t get into it; the action moved waaay too slowly for me.  It was also hard to keep all the characters straight.  Also, some of the scenes strained my credulity and just didn’t seem realistic to me.  I especially didn’t like the ending.  On the other hand, the cinematography was beautiful and the set design was great.