The Next Post…

The next post was going to be titled ‘House of Bugs and Motor Mouse’, but that will be the next one, ‘cuz this one is in real time.  Like, it’s happening right now, tonight, as we speak (as it were).

     We are now in Hanksville, UT.  This morning we were in Mesa Verde National Park, where we spent 2 nights and where the House of Bugs happened.  And the mouse.  But that’s a different story.  We drove and drove today, including doing the loop around Natural Bridges National Monument, which has three really good, world class,  bridges.  There’s a viewpoint for each bridge just a short walk from the loop road on the mesa.  These offer an excellent photo op.  Each also has a 3/4 to 1.2 mile very steep (mostly stairs cut into slickrock) trail down into the canyon to a point directly under the bridge, which allows you to take pictures that look nothing like a natural bridge.  The camera is just too close and the perspective is just wrong.  However, underneath one of the arches I found a daddy spider carrying around a dozen baby spiders on his back.  Here he is (and please, no cracks from the peanut gallery about the camera being too close and the perspective being wrong.  It’s a spider.  The camera has to be too close and the perspective is going to be wrong.  Can’t be helped).

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If you are insufficiently creeped out, you might want to click on that picture so you can zoom in on the baby spiders’ eyes.

     Laura suggested that we RUN back up each of the three trails, so we wouldn’t have to exercise.  I got to thinking about that on the way up and would have asked, “How is this not exercising?”, but at the time I couldn’t speak.

     Which is how we ended up in Hanksville, a tiny town out in the middle of Nowhere, Utah, set in an otherworldly landscape.  We pulled into the RV park in town and saw this:

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Yes, that is exactly what it looks like.  it is a planetary rover wanna-be. And then it struck me, this was Hanksville!  Hanksville is the closest town to the Mars Desert Research Station (A 4-person habitat suitable for launch into space, set in what the Mars Society lovingly calls a Mars Environment Analogue – a place on Earth that is, for the most part, uninhabitable.  The ACTUAL ADDRESS of the MDRS is ‘2200 Cow Dung Road, Hanksville, UT.  Now do you believe me? ).  The Society holds a contest every year open to University student teams in which they have to build a rover that then competes over three days in a variety of tasks.  They have the competitions at the MDRS.  Attending this is on my bucket list, and we had arrived, by chance, at the end of the first day.  Glory be!  This year there were 31 teams entered (and it turns out, 8 of them had been disqualified this first day) from all over the world.  The team shown above are from Egypt, and they were trying to get their rover to pick up a pair of vise-grips, ostensibly because the tool had been dropped by an astronaut and he couldn’t be bothered to pick it up himself so he’d radio’d back to Earth to ask Mission Control to have the rover pick it up and hand it to him.  Or her.

Link to the MDRS:  LINK

     The RV park was rife with teams and their ‘bots.  The restaurant was filled to capacity with teams.  These are all young engineers.  I could tell which ones were the teams whose robots did well that day because they were drinking beer and playing frisbee.  Those whose robots had done poorly were drinking beer and re-writing code and adjusting screws.  Not the Egyptians, though.  They were just re-writing code and adjusting screws.

     The thing is, these are all enthusiasts.  And it doesn’t matter what an enthusiast is enthused about, if you get them talking about their subject, it’s usually interesting.  Like us and our Tesla.  We are unapologetic e-wackos.  So we quickly set up the tent, had dinner, and then went around and chatted with the teams.  I had lots of questions – What does your rover weigh?  How did you do in today’s tasks?  Where are you from?  What kind of batteries do you use?  How do you communicate with your rover?  And on and on.  And you know what?  The answer was always the same: “IS THAT A TESLA!!?!”  These are young engineers, after all, and unlike a significant percent of the general population we have met in our travels, these people all know what a Tesla is and they all want to gawk at one.  So I have spent the evening talking more and listening less, and have promised 30 college students rides in the car after tomorrow’s activities.  And 6 judges.

     Tomorrow, Laura and I will get up early and will (attempt to) drive the Tesla, with its suspension set to ‘very high’,  several miles down a rough desert road which is recommended for four-wheel drive only.  Whether we make it or not, we should have some good stories to tell.

Oh, here’s an arch:

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