Tuesday, February 22, 2011


In the interest of documentation, I've been visiting the sculpture site when there's interesting and photogenic weather. There was a neat sunset last week, so that was one trip.

And then, just like that, Junuary turned back into February, and things got interesting.

The same series of storms that contributed to this past week's reeediculous skiing and snowboarding also brought a lot of snow and wind to the valley floors.

After the wind went away and the snow starting falling down instead of sideways, I made an early morning trip to Carson and was greeted by quite a sight.

Paolo and I have been waiting for freshly fallen snow on this thing for months now, and we are far from disappointed. The seasons have provided yet another angle on this thing!

Lest you think you're only going to ever see photos of this solitary horse, we're marching along on design and fabrication behind the scenes, about a quarter of the way through the entire scene of 16 figures. So while there's only been the one to show off so far, there's lots more to come.


Monday, February 21, 2011

Sunrise BC Lap

I met Hatchett and Shane at oh-freezing-darkness at the top of a neighborhood in Incline yesterday. They saw -13F driving through the flat from Truckee, but the sun was due to appear and provide some solar respite from the clutches of Thermopolis Brutalis.

First light

Underway swiftly, we were greeted with the pure clean pink of alpenglow on the peak high above, followed shortly by a warm yellow glow enveloping our spot in the trees.

Sir Hatchett, His Squintiness

Lone outpost

Low cloud over Tahoe

Ascending into the abyss

Snow snakes

The views were nothing short of ridiculous, the rich winter landscape brimming with texture and presenting a simple yet vibrant color palette as we climbed high above Tahoe.

Rimed trees

Rime detail with oh-so-black sky


Choosing to drop in a little below the summit of Rose Knob, we switched our splitboards over from Suffer to Slay and leapfrogged each other down the mountain, gleefully drowning in deep snow with every turn.

Hatchett says, "Put me in, coach!"

Hatchett, toeside, on a slope of rippled powdered sugar

Back at the car by a little after 10, I loaded up and headed back down the hill into the realm of Reality, which included traffic backed up over a mile on the highway waiting to turn into the lot at Mt. Rose. Suckers :)


Saturday, February 12, 2011

TV Substitute

Google "hi-def plasma" and you'll be inundated with links at which you can convert your hard-earned dollars into maniacal devices of unbridled mindless entertainment. However, we all get to make choices about the way we live our lives, and it's OK to substitute time in front of the latest and greatest TV for time spent transfixed on a different device, in this case a high-definition plasma cutter. That was nearly a soapbox speech. Moving on...

So this is the beast that brings people's dreams to life, or at least one step along the path to their dreams. Countless projects progress from cocktail napkins to design and finally arrive at a stage where sumthin's gonna git made, and this high-definition plasma is a fascinating example of Stuff That Makes Other Stuff.

Plasma, the so-called fourth state of matter (solid...liquid...gas...), is generated by applying a metric shit-ton of electricity to a jet of gas and is focused down to a beam narrow enough to leave a nice smooth finished cut right where it's supposed to be.

Thanks to its ability to cut through steel like butter, it's been instrumental in the sculpture project. Seven 5'x12' sheets of 3/8" steel are carved into ~120 slices in the matter of a day or so. The plasma jet makes it through 80 linear inches of cut each minute.

It's not as precise as waterjet cutting or laser cutting (and certainly not CNC milling), but some projects are better suited to trading absolute precision for cutting speed.

There's all sort of whiz-bang flashy smoky stuff going on when the plasma is running, and it's pretty fun to watch. There's also an excellent chance I shouldn't be staring at the bright light through a 150mm lens.

The space underneath the table glows red with hot slag as the head makes its way around a sheet of steel with superheated purple plasma. Before long, the edges of each cut start seeping smoke. Fairly surreal.

Once the cutting is done, it's simply a matter of marking the pieces to keep them straight, picking them off the table like gingerbread men out of a sheet of dough, and sliding a new sheet of steel up there.

There's been a lot of planet aligning to make this project work, and it should go without saying that access to this technology and the talented guys who run it has been absolutely instrumental.

Party on!


Friday, February 4, 2011

Winter Black Rock

We'll start this story mid-stream.

On the way back Saturday night, Ethel turns to me and says, "Well, I guess we won't be out here again until Burning Man." I agreed at first and then disagreed, pointing out that -all- of our trips out there are spur-of-the-moment-wild-hair-up-the-ass trips, and that we most certainly wouldn't be out there again until the next time we were out there.

Now that we've set the tone properly, we can rejoin the story at the beginning.

So the snow is awful in the mountains, leaving our days off full of uncertainty about what to do. Sometime around Wednesday or Thursday, our friend Josh suggested a trip to the Black Rock for one of the weekend days. He assembled a small crew, supplies were gathered, and we met at 3:45 AM Saturday.


You see, Josh and I were both keen to make it a photo trip, and a setting like the Black Rock is an excellent excuse to be there for sunrise. Everybody's plans had conspired to keep us in Reno Friday night and get us back to Reno Saturday night, so it was sunrise Saturday or bust. The other four voyagers consented to get up early so that the two of us could get our rocks off at sunrise. Bless them.

So, yes, we met at 3:45 AM and pushed out of Reno shortly thereafter, Josh piloting the Subie with three sleeping passengers and me piloting the TDI with one sleeping passenger. "Yeah babe, I'm going to stay awake and keep you company," she promised, while simultaneously reclining the seatback to its stop and curling into a little ball facing away from me.

We pulled off the highway onto the playa (tentatively, as we were still unsure of the playa's condition) at about 5:45AM, and the sky was just beginning to show a bit of light in the distant east. The crescent moon had risen less than two hours prior, and its feeble light was enough to cast the entire playa in an eerie moonshine.


The playa is a different landscape in the winter; largely undisturbed, it gathers precipitation and then disperses it, leaving a cracked but very smooth surface. This unearthly smoothness between the cracks allows any light source to cast that sheen.

As light from the approaching dawn began to dominate light from the moon, planets, and stars, Josh and I began scrambling for photos. The light was changing too fast to keep up with; new landscapes evinced themselves by the minute, and I was very aware that I was little more than a spectator to a highly orchestrated show.

Unleashed fire

Finally, the fire on the horizon gave way to that massive bundle of thermonuclear goodness. The sun burst forth from the clouds and instantly changed the landscape yet again. This kept Josh and me pretty busy, but it at least added some much-needed warmth for the others, who were likely sick and tired of our redundant grunting every time the sky did something cool.

The globe reveals itself

Moonscape part 1

Moonscape part 2

After the sunrise had done its thing, we took stock of where we were and the condition of the playa nearby. While our first spot was a bit damp, there was a huge dry area less than half a mile away, so we relocated there and scattered our gear even further. Camp chairs and coolers appeared, as did a frisbee and a couple golf clubs. Oh yeah, and the ice climbing gear. Cue the impossibly ridiculous staged photo session.

Josh sets a piece of pro

The surface of the playa up close is something to behold. It varies from hard-pack crackle-sheen to sticky mud to hazes of pure alkali crystals to micro-eroded landscapes. For being so homogeneous from a material standpoint, its various incarnations are absolutely fascinating.


Crackly sheen

As the sun sped upwards from the horizon, the color palette changed yet again, but it finally stabilized enough for the warmth to outweigh the light show, so the cameras got put away and the frisbee appeared for a pretty lengthy session. As did the golf clubs. I most certainly didn't litter out there, but that stupid little ball will roll for days!

Tough guy

Playa river

As the short winter day wore on, we continued our various wanderings, including a group eyes-closed for 5 minutes walk. A study in sensory deprivation with particularly no consequences (not a thing out there to run into or trip over), by the end we were far more aware of what was underfoot and the sounds that each variety of playa surface made.

Moonscape part 3

Finally, it was time for more staged silliness, so Maggie and Josh went skate skiing in the mud.

Playing in the mud

Barrett plays paparazzo

Which way to the mountains?

The sun was starting to approach the horizon, and the light started getting awesome again, so Josh and I got giddy again and started charging around like idiots.

Moonscape part 4

Stitched with the tilt-shift

Josh as playa voyager

Quite suddenly, the sun broke through the clouds and illuminated a distant band of mountains, including the namesake Black Rock. We got to watch a cloudy afternoon become sunset become glowing twilight.

Sliver of sunset far away

Western cloud show

Eastern dusk

Darkening horizon

Last light on the crackles

Satisfied with our efforts to occupy the day with goodness, we loaded up and made tracks for Reno. We were only on the playa for 12 hours, but what a spectacular 12 hours it was. And I'm still quite certain that we won't be out there again until...next time.


Past Detritus