A Travellerspoint blog

GOING WEST 2007-08-09

Jim and Michael Colyer go west.

Michael and I will see the new side of Las Vegas and go to the Grand Canyon and Sequoia National Park in California in 2007. He wants to stay at New York, New York. If I get a passport again, it will be with Michael. If we travel outside the U.S., it will be to make money, not to lose it.

Las Vegas has changed since I was there in 1993. There are a number of new hotels: New York New York, Mandalay Bay, Bellagio, the Venetian, Paris Las Vegas and the Luxor. These exist for the purpose of making money for the people who own and operate them as do the older hotels. We will spend conservatively and have an experience consistent with what we need and want. My return to Las Vegas may coincide with leaving Vanderbilt. I may rent an apartment for a month in Vegas in August, 2007.

Got to manage money in Vegas, can not gamble. Everybody wants money and everybody will take it if you are damn fool enough to give it to them. Be honest. Be yourself. Know what you are going to do and why. Have experiences consistent with your personality.

Las Vegas has a monorail. It travels the length of the strip, stopping at the hotels.

The Stratosphere is an observation deck.

Larry will be with me and Michael part of the time. We will work things out. I will take Michael to the Grand Canyon and to Sequoia National Park in California. The Tucson Astronomical Society meets at the Grand Canyon for a star party each June. I am hoping the Las Vegas astronomy group gets together in the Valley of Fire for the Perseid meteor shower. I have not been through the Valley since 1979. I will show Michael Hoover Dam.

Michael wants to go on to Hollywood and Rodeo Drive. He wants to see the Hollywood sign on the side of that hill. We will see Grauman's Chinese Theatre and the Beverly Hills Hotel. Michael likes Jay Leno, so we will get tickets in advance for the Tonight Show at the NBC studios in Burbank.
Contact: jim@jimcolyer.com

Posted by Jim Colyer 14:33 Comments (0)


Jim Colyer and the northern lights

I made a study of Alaska. Alaskan towns came from the Klondike gold rush of 1898. I will fly to Anchorage. I want the trip to include astronomy. That means the northern lights, the Aurora Borealis. Nashville-Chicago-Anchorage-Denali National Park-Fairbanks-Anchorage-Chicago-Nashville.

I may fly on 9/11 like I did to Hawaii.

National Parks are operated by the National Park Service which is part of the U.S. Department of the Interior.

One Park stands out.

1 Denali National Park
Mount McKinley is in Denali Park. It is the highest mountain in North America at 20,320 feet. It is part of the Alaska Range. There is controvery about the mountain's name. The state of Alaska calls it Denali. The federal government calls it Mount McKinley after President William McKinley. Denali Park consists of 6 million acres of wilderness. There are glaciers and a sub-arctic ecosystem. There are moose, caribou, wolves and grizzly bears.


1 Anchorage
Go from Anchorage north to Denali National Park by bus or train (Midnight Sun Express). 210 miles to Danali. 4 hours. Anchorage sits on the Cook Inlet, part of the Gulf of Alaska.

2 Fairbanks
Hook up with astronomy people. The northern lights can be seen 240 nights a year from Fairbanks. The best time to see them is from September through April because the sun stays up during the summer. There are red, blue and green waves of light. The lights are caused by the solar wind hitting gases in the upper atmosphere. The earth acts is a magnet, pulling the solar wind toward its poles. All planets have aurorae.

I may hook up with a northern lights tour, maybe with Astronomy Magazine at astronomy.com.

Contact: jim@jimcolyer.com

Posted by Jim Colyer 14:31 Comments (0)


Jim Colyer at the South Pacific Star Party 2002

On Michael's 18th birthday, March 11, 2002, I took American Airlines to Los Angeles and flew Qantas down to Sydney, Australia. We crossed the equator and international date line at about the same place. I got a motel and took a train to Sydney Harbor. I saw the Opera House, Harbor Bridge and The Rocks (Old Town).

My purpose in going to Australia was to see the southern stars and constellations. Monte Wilson of the Astronomical Society of New South Wales picked me up at the motel. We drove through the Blue Mountains to Wiruna, the Dark Sky Site about 3 hours northwest of Sydney, for the South Pacific Star Party (SPSP).

I was lucky. The weather was great all 3 nights. I got to stay in the house, referred to as the "White House" because they let Americans stay there. There was a couple named Tom and Lucy from Texas who proved invaluable. Lucy actually grew up in Louisville around the Bardstown Road area.

I saw the southern stars. I saw the Southern Cross and the Coalsack next to it. I saw the Magellanic Clouds. They were fainter than I thought. I saw the bright stars Canopus, Alpha Centauri and Achernar.

Tom kept finding galaxies and nebulae in Tony Buckley's 20 inch. We looked at Jupiter and Saturn. Orion was upside down. Scorpius got straight up in the sky. The hub of the Milky Way in Sagittarius was high and prominent. I looked into our galaxy's thickest part, something I only saw along the horizon in the early 1960s.

The constellations were abstract. Tracing out even Argo and Centaurus would have taken more time. Seeing Scorpius overhead is what stayed with me, that and Scorpius and Orion in the sky at the same time.

The southern sky is more glorious than the northern because you also get the bright winter stars you see here.

I was impressed at how close Canopus is to Sirius and how the Southern Cross is not that far below Scorpius.

Treasurer Max Gardner drove me back to Sydney. He took me to his fabulous home and showed me some of the city. Sydney is beautiful. They drive on the left side. We crossed the Harbor Bridge.

Max explained that Australia is part of the British Commonwealth, that the Queen is the head of state. Australia is a constitutional monarchy.

I noticed a book about Alaska in Max's bookcase and wondered if that would be my next venture.

Crossing the Pacific again, I noticed how close we came to Hawaii.

I arrived back in Nashville on March 18, 2002. One week. Sydney is halfway between the equator and the south pole.

Australia email:

I will be flying to Australia on March 11 and will be there for one week. I found an astronomical society on the Internet based in Sydney. They host and international event once a year, and I will attend. I will see the stars and constellations which can only be seen from the Southern Hemisphere.

It hit me like a bolt from the blue the way Sweden did. Impulse seems to work. One day, I drove to the airport and got a roundtrip ticket. It cost about $1375 counting everything. Before 9/11, the price was about $1900. So, it came down enough to make a move. I found ASNSW, Astronomical Society of New South Wales, in the Internet. They have a dark sky site at Wiruna, which is a 3-hour drive northwest of Sydney. I began emailing 3 of the main guys in the group. Tony Buckley recommended motels in Sydney. He is trying to get me a ride from Sydney to Wiruna. That will help. This is an astronomy shindig which goes on for 3 days. Last year, 400 people showed up from around the world. So, I plan to learn everything the average person would want to know about the stars and constellations of the Southern Hemisphere. You would probably be interested in the night life of Sydney since you have spent time in Toronto. I suspect Toronto and Sydney have some things in common. They are both large. The flight to Australia is a killer. I will be exhausted when I arrive. I will seek out my motel and a long sleep. I will call Tony. I will roam the Sydney streets until it is time to head to Wiruna. One place I want to see is the Sydney Opera House by the Harbor. ABBA stood there when they toured Australia in 1977. Oh well, I only missed them by 25 years.

My first night at Wiruna was glorious. I walked out of the house and looked up at the night sky. The stars were brilliant. The Milky Way blazed. I saw stars and constellations I had never seen because the tilt of the earth in its orbit is such that the U.S. never dips low enough. We have to go to the Southern Hemisphere. I know you do not like astronomy but if you had been there, you would have felt the excitement. I saw the bright stars Canopus, Alpha Centauri and Achernar which I had known of since I was 16 but had never laid eyes on. I saw the Southern Cross. The Cross is a symbol to Australians much like the kangeroo. The hub of the Milky Way gets high overhead, and I was able to look straight into it, the center of our galaxy. It makes one realize how small and insignificant we are. The Australians are great observers. They were calling me to the telescope every few minutes to see some deep sky object, a nebula or galaxy. We looked at Jupiter and Saturn. My main interest was in having a naked-eye experience with part of the sky I had not seen. I could absorb only so much. The second night, I went to the observing field. People were camped out in tents. Telescopes littered the field. I mingled, talking to lots of people about lots of subjects. I had some wine (called port). It made me sleepy, and I napped in the back of Tom and Lucy's car.

I am back at the motel after the star party. Things have gone great. The Australians have treated me with hospitality. I am satisfied with the trip. My plane leaves tomorrow at 12:30 P.M. It will be March 18 here but March 17 in the States because of the International Date Line.

The spit roast was Saturday night. The food was good. The astronomy on the last night was a summary. I had done it. Sunday morning, I began looking for a ride back to Sydney. Max Gardner, the treasurer for the group, agreed to give me a lift. In Australia, they drive on the left side of the road like they do in England. I could never get used to that. Max and I talked on the return trip. I was told Australia is part of the British Commonwealth. It is a constitutional monarchy with the queen as head of state. Max is 70-years-old and a retired businessman. He owns his own observatory. We went to his home for dinner. I met his wife. Max gave me a scenic tour of the best parts of Sydney before returning me to my motel. The sun setting across the Harbor was beautiful. I hated to leave and was grateful for the hospitality. The next morning, I took the shuttle to Sydney Airport. I had a long way to go. Someone said there had been a bomb scare in L.A. I got tired on the return flight but kept coming. It is 12 hours and 7500 miles from Sydney to L.A. This time, the airport in L.A. was crowded. It was on to Dallas/Fort Worth. I caught the plane to Nashville. I took Grayline to West End and walked to my apartment at Vanderbilt.

Australia was a success. I did what I went to do. I saw what I went to see. I flew American Airlines out of Nashville through L.A. International. I flew Qantas down to Sydney. We crossed the International Date Line and the equator at about the same time. I was confused as to what day it was. I arrived in Sydney in the morning, got my motel and took a train down to the Harbor. The famous Sydney Opera House sits in the Harbor. I walked all around it and toured the general area. I saw what they call the Rocks, which is simply the Old Town. Coming back on the train, there was a fatality on the track. We had to get off the train and walk to the next station. I accompanied an Australian woman through the crowded streets because she knew the way. Suddenly, she yelled. I looked, and a man had been hit by a car. We hurried to the accident. He was Oriental. He lay motionless. He was hurt bad, maybe dead. People gathered around, so we went on. Back in my room, I talked by phone to my contacts from the Astronomical Society. The next day, Monty Wilson picked me up at the motel. We drove for more than 3 hours through the Blue Mountains northwest of Sydney. We came to a small area called Wiruna. Wiruna is an aborigine word meaning "sunset." It is the astronomy club's dark sky site, the location of the star party. Monty saw that I got a bed in the house (facetiously called the White House because they let Americans stay there). They took care of me. I met a couple from Texas who had lived in Louisville. Tom was a dentist. Lucy had lived in the Bardstown Road area and gone to Atherton High School. We 3 and a couple from Hawaii were the only Americans out of 300 stargazers. I got the prize for coming the fartherest.

I made it. It was a positive experience. As you said, the Australians are very friendly. They took good care of me. I was given a bed to sleep in the 3 days and nights at the dark sky site. There was free food, and the star party itself was satisfying. They said the weather was better than anytime in its 10 year history. I saw the Southern Cross and the bright stars Canopus and Alpha Centauri which never rise in the U.S. Scorpius got straight overhead. I could see directly into the hub of our Milky Way galaxy. Awesome! Scorpius and Orion were visible at the same time. I came the fartherest of the 300 people who showed up although there was a couple from Texas. These people are serious observers. Big telescopes littered the field. They were interested in deep sky objects. I was interested in a naked-eye experience with a part of the sky I may see only once. I had to do it and I am glad I did. Sydney is a beautiful city. That is something I rarely say. Stockholm had an odor. I walked around the Opera House which ABBA visited in 1977. I thought about Agnetha. I liked her because she was young and beautiful. Youth and beauty fade. The night before I left, an ASNSW member named Max took me to his home and fed me. He drove me around the scenic parts of Sydney. The Harbor was glorious in the setting sun.

I made it. I had 3 wonderful nights viewing the stars of the Southern Hemisphere with some very serious Australian astronomers. They took good care of me. I was driven around Sydney by a 70-year-old businessman who said he recalled the Americans saving Australia from the Japanese. He took me to his home and fed me. I walked around the Sydney Opera House and rode across the Harbor Bridge which is in all the pictures. Sydney is beautiful.
Contact: jim@jimcolyer.com

Posted by Jim Colyer 14:29 Comments (0)


Jim Colyer is loose.

Mauna Kea (White Mountain)

In "Swim With Dolphins," I wrote, "I wanna see the stars, Mauna Kea's calling me." On September 13, 2003, I stood atop the extinct volcano 13,750 above sea level. "This is a beautiful sight," I thought. The mountain was brownish and stark, barren of vegetation. There was a Mars-like surrealism. I watched as the sun set above the clouds. The stars blazed. The Milky Way, the plane of our Galaxy, arched brilliantly overhead. I was on the Big Island of Hawaii in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. It gets no better than this. Hawaii is at 20 degrees northern latitude, so the north star appears lower in the sky and the constellation, Scorpius, higher than from Kentucky/Tennessee although nowhere near as high as from Australia where it gets straight up. I sensed the curvature of the earth. Mars was at its closest. It looked like Jupiter. I wondered why it was less red than when it was farther out. Our guide said, "The increased sunlight hitting its surface neutralizes its redness." The moon rose. I like astronomy and got to see a bit of everything. 13 telescopes spread across the summit of Mauna Kea. There are two Keck domes and the Japanese telescope called Subaru. Subaru is Japanese for "The Pleiades." The University of Hawaii and Caltech run Mauna Kea. It is the only large observatory I have seen. I was above 40% of our atmosphere's oxygen, 90% of its water vapor. It misted at the visitor's center on the drive up. Rainbows were everywhere. I felt invigorated. Beauty heals.

Waikiki Beach

I stayed two nights at the Waikiki Grand. I explored the beach area. I walked to the top of Diamond Head Crater at the end of Waikiki Beach. Diamond Head is an extinct volcano. It is a state monument. It was named by British sailors who mistook shiny minerals for diamonds. It looked like a short walk from the beach. Wrong! It was a long, arduous trek. My arthritis screamed. I kept going. The perimeter of the volcanic crater circled me. I kept climbing. I went through tunnels and cave-like features. It was worth it when I reached the top. I looked down on Honolulu. Ocean and sky were everywhere. The crater is not unlike Meteor Crater in Arizona except that it is of vocanic rather than meteoric origin. It was an exhilerating experience. Some nice people gave me a ride down.

Pearl Harbor

I went to Pearl Harbor, to the USS Arizona Memorial. The battleship, Arizona, is below water. The memorial is a white structure built over it. It is a National Park. About half the men who died at Pearl Harbor were on the Arizona. The ship is their tomb. I thought it ironic they were killed by their own ammunition when the Japanese bomb hit. I noted the parallel between Pearl Harbor and 9/11.

I have seen 42 states and 7 foreign countries on 3 continents.

Hawaii email:

Plans for Hawaii are proving problematical. No surprise. The Sweden and Australia trips came after long periods of preparation. I went to sites about Mauna Kea. The volcano is over 13,000 feet and the weather can be severe. It is not easy to get to. Mauna Kea is on the Big Island. I started thinking I should hook up with an astronomy group like I did in Australia. I found the Hawaiian Astronomical Society (HAS) on the web. I tried to email HAS but can not because the computers here at Vanderbilt are not set up for it. I am still not on line.

10 days to Hawaii. It is a formidable undertaking. I will have to drive myself. I have a good plan. I can do it. Karen will take me to the airport on September 11. I fly at 2:05 P.M. It is 12 or 13 hours from Nashville to Honolulu. Honolulu is on the island of Oahu. From there, I will purchase roundtrip airfare to the Big Island. Mauna Kea is on the Big Island. Mauna Kea is the 14,000 foot extinct volcano on which the University of Hawaii operates big telescopes, one of the best places in the world to see the stars since Hawaii is 2400 miles off the west coast in the Pacific Ocean. I have a reservation for the night of September 13 to be part of a tour group which will ascend Mauna Kea. We will be on the volcano for sunset and into the night. My Hawaii experience will be astronomy based as the Australia trip was last year. There is a hotel on the Big Island called the Seaside. I will make some kind of reservation with them. I am unsure about accomodations and and may sleep when and where I can. I recall the Greyhound trip west in 1978. I went 6 days and nights before finally getting a room in Salt Lake City. I was dead man walking when I hit the bed. From the Big Island, I will come back to Honolulu and hang out on Waikiki Beach. I will climb Diamond Head, another extinct volcano at the end of the beach. I may visit the State Capitol Building. Hawaii may be a one time thing. I never expect to see Sweden or Australia again. Karen and I had a joke in our travelling days. We said, "Let's look at the son-of-a-bitch and get back on the bus." That is how it is.

I am waiting for Karen to come and take me to the airport. I fly at 2:05. I may spend the night in the airport in Honolulu and fly to the Big Island tomorrow. I have reservations for Friday and Saturday nights at the Kona Seaside Hotel. The pickup point for the Mauna Kea Summit tour is within walking distance of the hotel. There may be only 2 hours of stargazing between sunset and when the moon rises, but that is enough. This is another once in a lifetime thing. Take what you can and move on. My contact at the tour group said the buses are still on strike in Honolulu, on the island of Oahu. That could cause problems. I will deal with it. I may go to Pearl Harbor. I want to stay in Honolulu around Waikiki Beach as cheaply as possible. I will email you through the week if I have access to computers.

Larry & Pam
I made it! I am in Kona on the Big Island of Hawaii. It is definitely close to paradise. The sky is blue. It is warm but not hot. There is no wind. The ocean is beautiful. I have 2 nights at the Kona Seaside Hotel. Tomorrow, we go up Mauna Kea, the 14,000 foot volcano. We will watch the sunset and star gaze. Sunday, I fly back to the island of Oahu and Honolulu. I will be on and around Waikiki Beach for 4 days. I feel relaxed.

I feel I should mention the passing of Johnny Cash. I lay in my hotel watching segments about him last night. He had presence. I will sing his songs karaoke when I get back to Honolulu. Pam, I hope you fly again and eventually are able to make a living outside of those smoky, crazy bars. I go up Mauna Kea in a few hours, the highest point in Hawaii. It is like standing on the edge of our planet looking out into the Galaxy and beyond. You will hear from me tomorrow before I leave the Big Island.

I am in Honolulu on Waikiki Beach. I turned the corner, and there it was---Diamond Head, the extinct volcano. I feel like I am in a movie. I am challenged every minute but making it. I wrote a piece about Mauna Kea which I will email later. My time on the computer is limited. The lady let me use it for free. Everything is expensive here. Gas is up to $2.58 a gallon on the Big Island. Hawaii is beautiful, no doubt. I may stay on the beach tonight and get a room in the morning for tomorrow night. I economize. That is why I can afford to travel. I will find another computer later.

I walked up Diamond Head Crater at the end of Waikiki Beach. It looked like a short walk from the beach. Wrong! It was a long, arduous trek. My arthritis screamed. I kept going. The perimeter of the volcanic crater encircled me. I kept climbing. I went through tunnels and cave-like features. At the top, it was like Mutiny on the Bounty. I looked down on Honolulu. Ocean and sky were everywhere. The crater is not unlike Meteor Crater in Arizona except that it is of volcanic rather than meteoric origin. It was an exhilerating experience even if I am still in pain. Some nice people gave me a ride down the volcano.

I went to Pearl Harbor, to the USS Arizona Memorial. The battleship is under water. The memorial is a white structure built above it. Over half the men who died at Pearl Harbor were on the Arizona. This ship is their tomb. I thought it ironic that they were killed by their own ammunition when the Japanese bomb hit. Lunacy of war! Vietnam era aside, I noted parallels between Pearl Harbor and 9/11. We were plainly attacked in both cases. I voted for Gore but approve of what George Bush is doing in the War on Terrorism and in Iraq. He rose to the occasion. The endgame is to hunt down and kill Bin Laden. Hard line for a Gore liberal! I am not going to Iraq and I do not want my son there. There is no draft. No one is in uniform today against his will. It is Bush's coalition of the willing. I advise those in Iraq to defend themselves.

Hawaii Trip
I got my e-ticket from Expedia.com. The number is 17379616446. I am flying Delta. Roundtrip airfare is $559.60 from Nashville to Honolulu.
They will bill my AmSouth account from my Check Card. I will carry my passport for the picture. Karen will take me to the airport and pick me up. I roll September 11 at 2:05PM and return September 18 at 10:15AM.

BNA - Nashville
HNL - Honolulu
7 days.
13 or 14 hour flight.
Hawaii is 2400 miles off the west coast.

I will beeline to Mauna Kea. I will be at the airpot. Get roundtrip fare from Honolulu to Kona and back. Roundtrip from Honolulu to Kona International Airport, Big Island, $139.

Hook up with tour group run by Mauna Kea Summit Adventures.
It is part of Paradise Safaris. I am in touch with Kay Prettyman by email. Mauna Kea Summit Adventures toll free number - 1-888-322-2366.
Make reservation 2 or 3 days in advance for Mauna Kea summit using
form online at website.

Where will I meet the tour group? Will they take pick me up at the airpot and take me back?

Mauna Kea
Mauna Kea is an extinct volcano on the Big Island. It is over 13,000 feet. It is an Hawaii State park and one of the best places in the world to see the stars. The University of Hawaii operates telescopes at its summit. The Keck telescopes are famous. Mauna Kea means "white mountain." The weather can be severe. Mauna Kea Summit Adventures provides parkas and gloves.

Waikiki Beach
Hawaii is composed of 132 islands. 6 are important: Oahu, the Big Island, Kauai, Maui, Lanai and Molokai. Oahu is called the heart of Hawaii. Honolulu and Waikiki Beach are on Oahu. I will stay close to the beach area.

1 Honolulu - Honolulu is the state capital. Honolulu Harbor.

2 Waikiki Beach - Diamond Head Crater
Diamond Head is an extinct volcano at the end of Waikiki Beach. It was named by British sailors who mistook shiny minerals for diamonds.
The first people to inhabit Hawaii were Polynesians who sailed east.
The British under Captain James Cook found Hawaii in 1798. Cook was killed by Hawaiians during his second trip. Missionaries came.
The United States annexed Hawaii in 1898 as a possession. It became a territory in 1900 and a state in 1959.

Contact: jim@jimcolyer.com

Posted by Jim Colyer 14:28 Comments (0)


Jim & Michael Colyer in Atlanta

Michael and I drove to Atlanta and back on January 10, 2006. We went straight to the Sun Trust Plaza. Sun Trust Bank started in Atlanta and has its corporate office there. We went to the top floor of the building. There seemed to be Sun Trust branches on every corner as we drove around town. Sun Trust is the 9th largest bank in the country, in 8 southern states and Washington, D.C. It has 1100 branches with assets of $88 billion and deposits of $55 billion. Michael and I talked about his job. He is thinking of working full time as a Financial Services Representative while Sun Trust pays toward his MBA. With his Master's, he can become an Investment Representative. I wanted this trip to be oriented toward Michael's career. We meant to get a hotel but started going from place to place and realized we could get everything in and be back in Nashville that night. We walked through town and spotted the CNN Center. We ate at Arby's inside. A guy in a shop told us Larry King did his show from New York, Washington, D.C. and Los Angeles. Michael and I talked about Ted Turner. We crossed Centennial Olympic Park to the Georgia Aquarium. The aquarium opened in November and is the largest in the world. We saw thousands and thousands and thousands of fish. There were no great whites but there were whale sharks that get as long as school buses. We drove through the suberb of Buckhead before heading back up I-75 and I-24. We had a good time and a learning experience.

Posted by Jim Colyer 14:26 Comments (0)

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