Category Archives: Did you know?

Monarch caterpillars are eating all the milkweed!

Did you know?

There are three sites in San Diego County where monarch butterflies overwinter, one in Grape Street Park in Balboa Park,  one in Presidio Park in Old Town San Diego State Historic Park, and one at the University of California San Diego Coast Site on Azul Street.

Surprisingly I have not been to any of them. Next winter….

Meanwhile, though, over at the Botanic Building in Balboa Park, there are two huge milkweed bushes at the entrances to the building. Monarchs, of course, love milkweed. On March 24, the bushes were full of monarch caterpillars, six just in this one picture:

Monarch butterfly caterpillars

By now those caterpillars probably have eaten every leaf on the plants and are nice and comfortable in their chrysalises. Here’s a fresh chrysalis from last year:

Chrysalis of a Monarch butterfly

As the chrysalises age, they turn brown.

Monarch caterpillar chrysalis, September 2011, San Diego

By Memorial Day the bushes will be full of monarch butterflies, flittering all about. Another picture from last year:

Monarch butterfly

Now, let’s learn how to tell the difference between a male monarch and a female.

Male monarchs have a black spot near the rear of each wing. Females don’t.

Here are two pictures to illustrate. The first picture is a male, the second a female. See the black spots on the male’s wings?



Thanks for stopping by! See you next time!

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A short history of (my) pets

Halls of History

I grew up with animals of every kind—ponies, donkeys, dogs, cats, a monkey, snakes, rats, skunks, opossums, raccoons, birds, mice, rats, fish, bugs. If it moved, it interested me.

I always considered myself a dog person, though, simply because my dogs would follow me around, roll over on command, sit, shake, and lie at my feet wherever I was. It was obvious that my dogs loved me. The other animals, no so much.

My first dog was a mutt named Bosco. I don’t have a picture of him. He was an alley dog, roaming wherever he wanted to go. One day he didn’t come home. I’m pretty sure he simply died; he was an old dog at that time.

I didn’t have another dog until I graduated from Texas A&M University and moved to Houston. I got two dogs, both purebred Beagles from the same litter. I named them “Union” and “Pacific” after the Union Pacific Railroad. Yes, I was weird even then. One day I came home from work and my apartment was open with fire, police, and apartment personnel rushing in an out. Union and Pacific had pooped in the bathtub (just like I had taught them to) but then had managed to turn the water on. The dog poop clogged the drain and the apartment flooded. I was upstairs, so water was leaking into the apartment below me and the roof in their unit collapsed. Fortunately everyone had insurance which covered us, but I either had to give up Union and Pacific, or move. I couldn’t afford to move at that point.

Finally, three years later, I did move. My Houston rent had gotten to a dollar a square foot, so I picked up and moved back to College Station where I was hoping to get a job with Texas A&M University so I could get that awesome state-supplied health insurance. I did. That was when I bought a duplex and got two dogs, Penney, a Long-haired Dachsund, and Sugar, a Chow Chow/Besenji mix. The only Chow Chow part of Sugar was her purple tongue.

Penney and Sugar

One day when I was preparing to leave on my motorcycle, Sugar jumped up on the seat. I took a few minutes and left her on the back seat and drove around the neighborhood fully expecting her to jump off and run home. Nope. She stayed. Happiest dog in the world.

Sugar the motorcycle riding dog

Since she was so happy, I took time out each day to take her for longer, and faster, motorcycle rides. Eventually she rode with me on the highway at 65 mph from College Station to Waco, a distance of about 90 miles. She was the best backseat rider ever, keeping her head pinned to my side and watching the road to determine which way she should lean into the upcoming curve.

On April 15, 1993, I left College Station on a suicide journey (see my unsuccessful suicide journey post here). I gave Sugar and Penney to a friend and never saw them again. I also lost contact with the friend, so I don’t know what happened to Sugar and Penney, or how long they lived.

From 1993 to 2007 I was too mobile and too into work to have a pet, although I did have several aquariums, even a 300-gallon aquarium full of African cichlids. Then, on Thanksgiving Day 2007, a black cat came to visit. Jim and I gave it food and water. It ate and drank, and left. Didn’t even bother saying “Thank you!” or “Goodbye!”

On Christmas Eve, it came back. Imagine that, a cat that knows human holidays!Sophie the Black Cat

Jim and I gave it food and water again, it ate and drank, and stayed. We named her Sophie.

We moved 8 months later and took her with us, all the while trying to make her into an indoor cat. Didn’t work. When darkness came, she would howl like a coyote until we let her out. She always came home, though, until the morning of September 20, 2007. No Sophie. A phone call at 7:30 a.m. No one calls me at 7:30 a.m. It was the worst phone call ever. A neighbor a couple of blocks over had found a black cat that had been hit and killed by a car. She had moved the cat out of the road, saw the collar tag, and called me. I went to retrieve the body and give it a proper burial, out near the house we had just sold, her old neighborhood.

Sophie grave

I was so devastated with the loss of Sophie, and how she died, that Jim and I immediately went to the El Cajon Animal Shelter to get another cat. We wanted an older cat that was an indoor cat, but I also wanted a cat that would let me hold it and pet it. We found Zoey, but she wouldn’t be ready to adopt until the next day. We were there 10 minutes before they opened, signed the adoption papers and paid the adoption fee, and brought Zoey home. Three hours after she arrived in our home, I captured this picture:

Zoey the Cool Cat

That was when I renamed Zoey, adding “the Cool Cat” so that she became Zoey the Cool Cat.

At first, having a 100% indoor cat was difficult. One of the reasons why I never considered myself a cat person was because cats like to jump up on things, climb on things, climb up things, and study gravy by knocking anything and everything to the floor. About the same time that I was getting really frustrated, a new show made its debut on cable: “My Cat From Hell” featuring Jackson Galaxy. I will admit that I judged a book by its cover and as soon as I saw Jackson, I said, “No way!” Yes way.

I learned from Jackson that cats are vertical animals. They like to climb. Once I was able to accept that and help Zoey the Cool Cat (ZCC), she and I became much better friends. I catified my house so that ZCC has vertical places she can go with no questions asked. I even have a special cat shelf in front of a window in each room. She loves them.

Zoey the Cool Cat on her window shelf

I also found out through Jackson Galaxy and “Pets Rule” at SeaWorld San Diego that you can train cats. I had never believed that. ZCC can go anywhere she wants except the top of the railing on the balcony (don’t want her falling off), the grand piano (just no), the leather sofa (don’t want cat claw holes in the leather), the kitchen counters (that’s where I prepare food), and the top of the refrigerator. Actually, she can go to the top of the refrigerator if she can figure out how to get there without making an intermediate stop on the kitchen counters.

Cats will react to a loud clap and a loud NO, usually by jumping down and hiding. Jackson taught me to wait about a minute and then give them a treat to let them know that I still love them, but it’s far enough away from the clap/NO so they won’t connect being bad with getting a treat.

Also, when you find cats somewhere you don’t want them to be, pick them up and put them someplace where it is okay to be, along with some loving words, a soothing voice, some petting or head butts, and a treat. You can get them to go where you want them to go by leaving treats there. Just don’t leave too many; otherwise, they’ll think that’s their eating spot.

Make it easy to get up and down. It’s more easy for cats to go up and not so easy for them to come down. I have catified my home so that it’s just short jumps from here to there, both up and down. In the window shelf picture, it’s a short jump up to my desk and then another short jump to get to her window shelf. She comes down the same way because they are short jumps. ZCC prefers those spots where she has to make a short jump. So, floor or bed? Bed. Floor or chair? Chair. Chair seat or chair back?

Zoey the Cool Cat

One thing it took me a little while to discover is that ZCC, and most cats, prefer the old and smelly to the new, so I never have spent money on a cat tree or cat toys. If I want to spice up ZCC’s life, a box or sack from the store is all she needs, and her favorite cat toy are the red rings from the gallon milk jugs. She’s easy.

Red Rings

Zoey the Cool Cat and her red ring

Zoey the Cool Cat and her red ring

Zoey the Cool Cat in her new sack

Thanks for stopping by! See you next time!

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This post approved by Zoey the Cool Cat

They still need to make the same amount of money

Did you know?

Humanity has known for several days—alright, several millenia—that water is necessary for survival. Then we learned how to save water for future needs, such as showers, cooking, brushing our little teethies. Then we learned how to transport it to areas that didn’t have much of it, like deserts, like, uh, Southern California, like Los Angeles and San Diego. The average rainfall for San Diego currently is 10.15 inches. Heck, I have been in many thunderstorms and hurricanes in Texas that dropped 10.15 inches of rain in 24 hours!

I’m not a big fan of rain, but I am a big fan of water since I like to take showers, cook, and brush my little teethies, not to mention garden. We know that because of the Mediterranean climate that San Diego has, all we need to do is provide water and virtually anything will grow here. There even are two redwood forests here in San Diego County—one at the San Diego Zoo and one at Safari Park—which survive simply because they get the water they need.

Although there are lakes in San Diego County, there is not a single man-made lake. All of them are artificial lakes, also known as reservoirs. Here is a picture of the Sweetwater Reservoir on April 3, 2010:

Sweetwater Reservoir near San Diego, April 3, 2010

On November 12, 2008, it was announced that capacity was down to 23%, the “lowest level in years.”
February 10, 2013, it was 48.7%.
March 2, 2015, 13%.
January 19, 2017, 12%.
February 9, 2017, 20.4%. So the very wet January has helped tremendously.

California Governor Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency in 2014 due to the drought, directing water agencies to cut urban water use by 25% of 2013 levels. Good thing I cooperated by taking just one shower a week (not really). The public was so good at cutting water use that the water agencies raised our rates. After all, they still need to make the same amount of money, or more, yes?

San Diego has declared that the drought here is over because of the rain we have gotten, the snowpack in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, and the level of the Colorado River. San Diego gets 60% of its water from the Colorado River, 20% from the snowpack, and 20% from its local reservoirs.

The water coming to San Diego from the Colorado River comes via the San Diego Aquaduct, a series of pipelines and canals stretching 225 miles. The water coming from the Sierra Nevada snowpack comes via the California Aqueduct. When I was chasing trains on February 5, I was going over one of our Southern California concrete rivers when I noticed that it was 100% full, almost overflowing. Then I saw a sign telling me that it was the California Aquaduct, so I kept my eye on it and turned off the freeway and the next safe area to take this picture:

California Aqueduct

Now I have to get out and about to see if I can get some pictures of the San Diego Aquaduct.

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Mother & Father Nature are not dumb

Did you know?

Shortly after I arrived in San Diego on April 27, 1993, one of the weekly tabloids ran an exposé on rivers in San Diego and Los Angeles counties. It noted that San Diego was in the process of “Los Angelesizing” its rivers. “Los Angelesizing” means that the river bed was being cleaned of soil and vegetation, and being replaced with concrete. At one point every river in the city of Los Angeles, and many in Los Angeles County, had been Los Angelesized. Here is a picture of one concrete river that I took in Los Angeles County on April 13, 2014.

Los Angeles concrete river

The theory was that soil and vegetation caused the water to slow down and build up, thus being more likely to cause flooding. We thought we knew more than Mother & Father Nature did. Turns out that Mother & Father Nature are quite smart.

When the water flows more slowly, it has a better chance of being soaked up by the soil and the vegetation. When there is nothing to slow it down, it speeds right along until it hits an obstruction, like a curve in the river, or bridge abutments, and that’s where the water piles up and floods. With more water continuing to rush in, the flooding gets worse.

Now that we know the purpose of soil and vegetation, concrete is being removed from the channels, returning them to being rivers full of soil and vegetation, returning them to their formerly natural beauty.

A few days ago I was up in Los Angeles County and saw the Santa Ana River being returned to Mother & Father Nature. In the first two pictures you can see the concrete river bed.

Concrete river bed

Concrete river bed

You can see that the concrete at the right actually was removed. That’s because there is a bridge downstream about 500 feet, so instead of just letting the concrete deteriorate and silt over, they actually removed it, allowing the vegetation to come back more quickly and the soil to absorb the water, slowing it down. Here’s the downstream bridge:

Bridge over the Santa Ana River

Notice the silt and vegetation. If you have ever stuck a branch into a flowing stream, you might remember how the water rushed around the branch. Same thing when flowing water hits a bridge abutment, so you want to slow down the water as much as possible. Soil and vegetation do that.

Unfortunately, many decades ago people didn’t seem to understand that concept, so in some places where they needed to slow down the water, they put in mini-abutments, as in this picture:

Concrete river bed

That might have worked if they had staggered the mini-abutments. Instead, they lined them up perfectly and spaced the rows out evenly so that the water increased in speed each time it rushed around another min-abutment. Mother & Father Nature are not dumb.

I’m not sure when they decided to let this river return to its natural state but I’d sure like to visit it in 50 years to see how Mother & Father Nature have progressed. If I make it another 50 years to age 111, somehow I suspect that I won’t be out & about with my camera…..

Santa Ana River returning to nature

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Goat Canyon Trestle

Out & About—I’m thinking heat exhaustion

Out & About

Pictures copyright 2012 Russel Ray Photos

Yesterday I took a 2½-hour helicopter tour of East San Diego County. My specific purpose was to visit Carrizo Gorge to see this baby:

Goat Canyon Trestle

Pictures copyright 2012 Russel Ray Photos

That’s the Goat Canyon Trestle, built in 1932 by the San Diego & Arizona Railway. It is 630 feet long and 180 feet high, and is the largest wooden railroad trestle in the world. It was built to take the place of a smaller trestle and tunnel that had collapsed in an earthquake. You can see the tunnel entrance just above the center of the Goat Canyon Trestle.

The San Diego & Arizona Railway is known as “The Impossible Railroad” because of the environment through which it was built—rocky mountains, deep canyons, no water, and temperatures regularly reaching 120°F.

Workers lived where they worked, and regularly reported glowing orbs floating around the construction area at night. There also were many reports of Bigfoot-like creatures roaming the Anza-Borrego Desert, eventually becoming known as the Borrego Springs Sandmen.

In 1977, an engineer thought he saw a bright light ahead of his train, meaning that another train was heading towards his train, so he pulled the brake, derailing his train. Of course, there was no other train.

Wrecked railroad cars

Pictures copyright 2012 Russel Ray Photos

Floating orbs? Sandmen? Trains heading the wrong direction? 120°F? No water? I’m thinking heat exhaustion….

Pictures copyright 2012 Russel Ray Photos

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It helps to have friends in high places

Did you know?

Pictures copyright 2012 Russel Ray Photos

The San Diego Central Library has microform copies of San Diego newspapers going all the way back to the beginning, which is the San Diego Herald from April 1851.

I’m currently going through those newspapers looking for items of interest concerning the history of railroads in San Diego County.

Sometimes an interesting headline catches my attention, usually relating to other interests of mine, like law.

One item from Vol. 1, No. 16 of September 11, 1851, caught my attention because it is titled “Law in California.” Here’s text for Google and the newspaper scan below:

“Law in California—Three men were taken up in Sacramento City, for knocking a man down and robbing him of two or three hundred dollars; they were tried by a jury of twelve men, found guilty, and sentenced to be hanged; which sentence will be carried into exocution [sic] next Friday afternoon. In San Francisco, a man shoots down another in cold blood, the victim dies immediately; the murderer is tried by a jury of his countrymen, and they cannot agree upon a verdict! and the probability is that he will escape punishment. Comments: In the first instance, the three men are [illegible] friendless and unknown. In the second instance, the man is a rich gambler, and claims as his friends some of those high in office in San Francisco.—Marysville Herald.”

Law in California

Pictures copyright 2012 Russel Ray Photos

Now I understand why my wise old grandmother over one hundred years later always told me, “It helps to have friends in high places.”

Notwithstanding Garth Brooks who had friends in low places.

Pictures copyright 2012 Russel Ray Photos

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My favorite railroad car: The Railway Post Office

Did you know?

Pictures copyright 2012 Russel Ray Photos

One might have noticed that many of my pictures are framed to look like postage stamps. That’s because when I was six, in 1966, I discovered a big box in the attic. Full of letters. With beautiful postage stamps on them. I instantly became a philatelist (and a historian).

It was only natural, then, that I combine my interest in stamps with my interest in trains. So although I love locomotives and cabooses, my favorite railroad car is the Railway Post Office (RPO). I had never seen one, much less been inside one, until several years ago when I visited the Orange Empire Railway Museum in Perris CA, about 90 miles up the road from me here in La Mesa. They had Santa Fe RPO 60, built in 1924 by Pullman. Here’s its interior, looking like it did in its heyday with letter cases, sorting racks, and pouches of mail.

Railway Post Office

Pictures copyright 2012 Russel Ray Photos

The Railway Post Office literally was a traveling post office. They were attached to regularly scheduled passenger trains and under contract to the United States Post Office. Mail was picked up and dropped off at cities and towns along the route, and sorted while the train sped on down the tracks. By the mid-1940s, there were 1,500 RPO routes criss-crossing America with 30,000 men (sorry, women) working in more than 4,000 RPO cars. More than 90% of the nation’s mail was handled in RPO cars.

Mail could be picked up and dropped off even if the train was not scheduled to stop. It would slow down slightly and a man would lean out of the car door with a catcher arm and grab a bag off of a special post at the side of the track. Pity the man who was not strong enough or who missed the bag….

Mail that needed to be dropped off was simply thrown out the car door at a designated spot to be picked up and delivered to the Post Office.

Santa Fe RPO 60 was used to sort and distribute mail between Los Angeles and Kansas City on Santa Fe trains #7 and #8, the “Fast Mail & Express” trains. The average crew numbered 12 men. The USPS discontinued the route in 1967.

Back in those days, it was not unheard of for a letter to be picked up at 6:00 a.m. and delivered by 6:00 p.m. Even letters going from New York to Los Angeles might only take a couple of days. In today’s world, even with all this modern sorting machinery and zip codes, a letter going from New York to Los Angeles and mailed this morning might get there a week from today, with luck.

Pictures copyright 2012 Russel Ray Photos

This post approved by Zoey the Cool Cat