Sunday, April 1, 2007

Home at last!

We didn't finish until late on Thursday night. After listening to two presentations and one session of the scientists comparing and arguing, we were exhausted. They didn't post the rides to Las Vegas.
Fortunately, Tracy and I got a ride with Liza, the gal in charge, her two sons, and Rafael, a scientist/professor from Mexico City, Mexico. Liza took us directly to the Hilton and dropped us off. Ah, if I could have only seen Barry Manilow!
We had no problems checking in and it was quite nice to have a nice soft bed, several pillows, television, and a bathroom within walking distance of the bed, and HEAT!
We ventured out and got a day pass for the monorail in Las Vegas. It was really convenient. We wanted to try to meet up with some other teachers who were also in Vegas for Friday.
Tracy and I rode the monorail to the end and started walking. We ate lunch at a Harley Davidson restaurant. It's like a Hard Rock Cafe for Harleys. Quite interesting.

I called Jim and he was going to try to round up the other teachers and meet us. As we left the Harley place, he called and we met up about half a block away. We had Tracy and I, Jim from New York, Naomi from Massachusetts, Skip from New Hampshire, and a grad student from Georgia. They ate at a French restaurant and I just listened.
We then headed to one of the casinos with a beautiful flower exhibit. It was pretty spectacular and the flowers were real. They also had a butterfly garden.

We tried our hand in the casino and almost immediately, Naomi won $60! What fun!

We wondered around to some other places and two of the guys had to get to the airport to catch their planes. Jim and Naomi decided to go to a comedy show. Tracy didn't want to go, so we went back to the Hilton. I checked through the Manilow store, but didn't buy anything. I really wanted to come back with less than I took with me. I did pretty well, too. I left my pillow, blanket (a free one I got in Pittsburgh for signing up for a credit card that I'll cancel as soon as the information comes), flip flops ($1 at K-Mart), hat ($3 at WalMart), and my towels (old and raggedy).

We went to the casino at the Hilton and I settled with a poker video game that occupied my time for almost two hours until I finally lost my $5. In the end, I think I broke even with the gambling.

We got up Saturday and packed up to head to the airport. The cab driver was really nice. His mother was a teacher and he told us about going on field trips with her to Washington, D.C. Our flight was uneventful. It was nice to have a direct flight home. We got into Pittsburgh at about 8:00 Saturday night. By the time we got the car at the Microtel, we were on our way to West Virginia by 9:00 with all of our luggage. Yeah!

Tracy's husband met us in Nestorville, so I didn't have to take her the whole ways to her home. I got home at about 11:30 Saturday night.

I learned a lot scientifically last week and met some fantastic teachers from around the country.

My roommate was adorable. She was lots of fun.

My roommate, Danielle

I enjoyed the time in Las Vegas. It was a clean and beautiful city. I was surprised at the flowers and greenery that was there. We certainly didn't see that at Zzyzx!

The next Spaceward Bound is scheduled for Antarctica. Don't think I'll be applying for that one. If I froze in the California desert, I don't think I'd ever thaw out there!

Thursday, March 29, 2007


Thursday, March 29, 2007
I slept in until 6:15 this morning. I'm going to have a really hard time next week. That's 9:15 for the time my body's used to and it's four hours later than when I normally get up. Ugh!
I spent the day in the lab again. It has been so much fun doing all of the DNA diluting and testing. The two scientists who have been in there have been so patient and taught me so much. I told them if they ever wanted a lab assistant, I'd be tickled to come and help them.
At lunch time, Tracy and I decided to take a walk. We ran into two of our ten roommates who were geochaching. We joined them. I had my GPS receiver. Tracy found the one cache that was eluding the three of us. We also found another geocache while we were on our walk.
It warmed up a little today, but the wind was still awful. I really was not prepared for the weather here this week. It's a good thing I spent most of my time in the lab. Otherwise, I would have really frozen in the field.
If anyone has messages they'd like to send me, please feel free to post them. I've enjoyed this. We head to Las Vegas tomorrow (hopefully in the morning). I've never been there, so it will be another new adventure! Maybe I'll even win something with my $20!
My "suite" at Zzyzx.

Scientist, Elaine, and I spreading the DNA on the gel.

Tracy and I took a walk at lunchtime and found Sheila and Christy geocaching. We joined them!

Look at these vortex gizmos.

Look at all this great lab equipment to test for DNA!

Look what is growing from our sampling from Tuesday and Wednesday!

Preparing this DNA is fun stuff!

We prepared the DNA to go into the thermal cycler.

Hector and Mrs. Chippy became fast friends.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Tuesday and Wednesday

Today turned out to be a better day than I ever imagined it would be. I woke up at about 4:30 AM and finally decided to make the trek to the bathhouse to go to the bathroom Then I thought I’d go ahead a get up. I downloaded pictures onto my computer, got online with no problem, checked my email, and added to my blog. Breakfast was OK.
Maite, Jon, Luther (who brought his own robot), Missie, Ben, Jane and I all began working on programming the robot. There were battery problems, so we never did get to do much actual running. We saw Naite’s presentation, took a photo-op on the desert near Zzyzx, and saw some video Luther had. I talked to Jane for a good while this afternoon. She said she was impressed that we actually deal with gifted students in our school. They have no program. I was surprised to hear many schools around the country don’t.
Some of the teachers just got back and shared their experiences from today. I helped two of them set up a blog.
It’s supposed to be 58 degrees here tomorrow. Darn! I came here because I wanted warmth. It’s warmer at home!

I actually slept until the alarm went off this morning. It was stinking cold. I’m glad I took a shower last night.
We had pancakes for breakfast and they were really good. The bacon was really delicious.
I took a trip to view some rocks, lava tubes, and to witness ancient volcanic action in th Mojave. I was almost completely frozen! The temperature wasn't much above 50 degrees and there was a wind advisory.
As we were leaving Zzyzx, one of the teachers in the van said, "Isn't this desert beautiful?" I looked out, scanned what I saw, and said, "I'm from West Virginia and when I left everything was starting to get really green. Beautiful trees, grass grows and we even have to mow it, and it's warmer there right now than it is here. No, I don't think a wide expanse of sand and mountains with no trees is very pretty."
Our first stop was interesting, with a geologist explaining how the different volcanoes in the area affected the landscape that we saw.
We saw petroglyphs along a lava flow.
After we left there, I got a ride into Baker and got to see "Alien Jerky" and a close-up view of the world's largest thermometer.
When I got back to Zzyzx, I wandered over to the lab. Wow! What fun! I worked with some of the soil samples from the transect (the path they use to take samples from wettest to driest). We got so involved, we ran into dinner time and said we'd be back after dinner. I was still working on it last night at 10:00 PM.
This morning, after the webcast, I headed for the lab again and did even more. I was able to extract DNA from some of the soil. Fascinating stuff!
At least the lab was warm! I couldn't even stand to try to shower last night. I did get up and shower this morning, but it was so freezing cold!
The weather warmed up some today, but I still think it's cold.
So far, I haven't seen a lot of bugs and no snakes. I've been lucky. There are 12 people in this room, if you can call it a room. I ended up in the smallest room (there's room for a bunk bed and for one person to get closet.....and I have my stuff stacked at the bottom of my bed) with a really fun roommate. She's a very young teacher from Albany, NY.
We collected some rocks and took GPS readings at the various sites today.
This is volcanic rock with silt in the center. It's believed that sometimes some of the volcanic rock from the bottom of the strata actually pushes up towards the top as a result of the action of the sand and silt.

This was once a waterfall. It's between two volcanic lava flows.

Petroglyphs on the side of the lava tube.

Geologists extracting samples from a lava tube.

The world's tallest thermometer in Baker, CA

Alien Fresh Jerky in Baker, CA

Eileen and Tracy testing for bacteria in soil.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Robots and Rovers!!!!!

Today, I've been working with robots and rovers! Maite, a scientist/engineer from NASA Ames, helped us with a prototype that will run on rough terrain, like the moon and Mars. Luther, a teacher from Columbus, GA, brought the robot that his students have built and worked with and showed us how it works. He also showed us some fantastic video that his students have created using his robot. I've learned so much.

Getting to Zzyzyx

We left for the airport bright and early. There were a lot of people going through, so we spent a long time in security.
The flight to Phoenix was pleasant. We got in a little late because of the fog in Pittsburgh. We had to run to catch our last flight.
Once in Las Vegas, we met up with 8 other people waiting for our van ride. We waited a long time and there was lots of traffic on the way here.

A view of the Nevada snow-capped mountains.

Hector really enjoyed looking out the window in the plane. He thought the cookie they gave us as a snack was pretty lame, though.

Hector sitting in a palm tree, getting some of the Mojave Desert sun.

Where we're staying here. Jsut kidding! This actually is an old mineral spa that was started here many years ago. Our lodging is cramped, but at least it's warm.

A view of the desert at Zzyzyx.

Testing the gas for the hot air balloon.

The hot air balloon, ready to go.

Pittsburgh pictures

Pictures from our our adventures in Pittsburgh.

Dinner at Hard Rock.

Standing on Mt. Washington.

A view of Pittsburgh from the Incline.

Getting ready to ride the Monongahela Incline.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Pittsburgh - My favorite city

We got on the road right on time and got to Pittsburgh at about 6:00 this evening.
The first thing we did was ride the Monongahela Incline to the top of Mount Washington. Hector was a little scared at first, but actually enjoyed it once we got going. It looks like it's such a long way up there, but it really doesn't take long. We took some pretty great pictures on the top from the observation deck.
After we got back down on the Incline, we headed for Hard Rock Cafe. It was the first time I'd been to the Pittsburgh Cafe. I LOVE Hard Rock. Hector was pretty impressed with his first visit. Unfortunately, they didn't have any hats or shirts to fit him.
Before we checked in to the Microtel, we made a quick stop at Target to pick up some last minute items to take with us, like antibacterial wipes. We're going to be spending all day on the desert every day and decided we needed something to get the germs off!
We plan on getting the shuttle at 5:45 in the morning to head to Las Vegas with a short stop in Phoenix.
Once I can download some pictures from today, I'll get them online for you. Hector donned his goatee for Hard Rock so he'd look cool.