It’s been a couple of week since I was able to do my last post. I’ve been ill for about 3 1/2 weeks and finally began to recover last week. As mentioned before, I had an unfortunate encounter with a kidney stone at the end of September which had to be removed surgically. I was just getting over that when I came down with the worst case of influenza I’ve had in many years. I don’t think it was swine flu because I didn’t develop respiratory problems, but I had everything else that the flu can give you and had chills and fever for five straight days and was flat on my back for six. Although I wanted to eat, nothing would stay with me, and I’ve dropped about 15 pounds or so since this whole ordeal began. I could certainly stand to lose it, so there’s a silver lining for you.
Anyway, I don’t mean to whine. I’m just glad to be vertical again. I got back on my feet (mostly) in time to travel to Green River, Utah last Wednesday to present at the annual Utah Museums Association conference. My intent was to describe how podcasting can be useful for museums and to drum up some interest in partnerships for The Elements Unearthed project. I was pretty successful in making some initial contacts; one museum, located in Monticello, Utah, is in the middle of the uranium mining boom area of eastern Utah during the 1950s-1960s. In addition to many mines in the area, there was a processing plant and tailings pile in the town that has left a legacy of much higher than normal cancer rates. The museum would help set up interviews with families of victims and others who grew up around the tailings, as well as help tell the history of the boom years. We’d coordinate the videotaping with the local school. Although final details need to be arranged, this is exactly one of the projects I was hoping to do. I also made some contacts with museum staff from Vernal, Utah and we talked about telling the history of the gilsonite and phosphate mines near there, as well as the natural gas and oil shale in the area.
Other contacts were to help with a virtual reality 3D display of the Topaz Internment Camp as part of the proposed new Great Basin Museum to be built in Delta, my hometown. The display would allow visitors to pick a barrack in the camp and the display would then zoom in to a 3D model of that barrack and tell the stories of the people that lived there. The person that I talked to about this was actually my high school English teacher, Jane Beckwith. I still remember how hard she had to work to get me to read anything besides science fiction. Somehow reading some old moldy book by the Bronte sisters didn’t appeal to me much then (or much now, to tell the truth) but I have come to appreciate a few more authors since those days; she certainly helped me learn to write which has paid off in all parts of my life since. I was also approached about doing some work with the Great Basin Heritage Area which includes Millard and White Pine counties in Utah and Nevada. WHite Pine County is especially full of mining history. I’ve already done much work on Millard County for the SURWEB project. The State of Utah Resources Web (SURWEB) was set up to document the history, culture, geography, etc. of Utah by having people take photos and add text that could be turned into slide shows by teachers. It was set up in the late 1990s and the programming for the site is now obsolete; the site is currently down but will hopefully be upgraded soon. For my part, I documented Millard and Juab Counties with photos, text, diagrams, illustrations, and 3D models. I then set up a series of Media Show slide shows for teachers, then created similar illustrations and models for the other 27 counties of Utah. It was, in many ways, the precursor to Elements Unearthed; I’ll even use some of the same illustrations and photos. The best part of it was just getting out on the west desert of Utah with my two oldest children and visiting interesting historical and geological areas, such as Crystal Ball Cave near Gandy.
On the final day of the conference I went on a tour of Sego Canyon, an excellent site for Native American petroglyphs and pictograms. The pictograms were in Barrier Canyon style, dating back at least 2000 years. The petroglyphs were in Fremont and Ute styles. We also visited the old coal mining site of Sego Canyon and took photos of the ruins. Here are some photos of Sego Canyon. The painted rock art (pictograms) are most often of a reddish brown color, although if you look at the Barrier Canyon photo you can see a bluish-green figure on the far right. These colors were made from hematite and probably malachite or azurite combined with some sort of binder (we still aren’t sure what), perhaps egg white or blood. Somehow this ancient paint has lasted longer than the modern paint used by restoration efforts. I hope to do an episode on the chemistry of pictograms and petroglyphs and talk about such things as ancient paints and desert varnish.
I am now moving into a very active phase of this project as I start writing the NSF grant, which I plan on submitting by Nov. 15. I need to gain some more partnerships and develop an advisory board and a more complete evaluation plan. Even if I do all that needs to be done and write a perfect grant, my chances are about 1 in 10. But I’ve won out with worse odds than that, and the pay off would make this project happen once and for all; I would have the budget to work on this full time rather than doing video work for clients as I am now to pay the mortgage. Wish me luck!