Saturday, December 28, 2013

Desert Botanical Garden and Chihuly Glass

Karla and I were married at the Desert Botanical Garden on January 8th, 2000. Every year, we go back for a visit of the gardens. This year, there is also a Chihuly glass display at the garden which is a nice addition to the cacti.

Quite a while ago, Phoenix modified Priest Road with a traffic circle at the entrance to the Desert Botanical Garden. It is a nice sustainable change that does seem to improve traffic flow; at least there is no waiting at street lights. The botanical gardens also upgraded with waterless urinals which really make a lot of sense in the desert. They also had these at La Posada.

At the entrance to the botanical garden they had a vertical cactus wall display shown  below. This was a nice system that is just a couple inches thick and the cacti grow in individual cells.  The plants are watered from inside the wall making a very nice display.

The glass displays are worked in with the cacti and usually make a nice compliment to the plant forms throughout the garden. The vegetation throughout the garden is a great example of the Sonoran Desert.

Sustainability in Phoenix

We spent a wonderful holiday season in phoenix with 70 degree high temperatures and wonderful sunsets.  Over the past week we have observed many sustainable modes of transportation and sustainability initiatives throughout the city. I wanted to show a few of those here. One of the first things that we saw was a hybrid car taxi service which we now see all over town. 
Phoenix has recently invested in a light rail system that is expanding through town (which is evident from construction in multiple places around town). This mode of transportation has been well received.  I had the opportunity to ride the first weekend that the light rail opened in December 2008 and had over 11 million riders in its first year.

We saw this truck while driving the roads in Phoenix.  I had not heard of America Textile Recycling Service before.  It looks like an interesting recycling model. After reading their website, I still could not tell if you could recycle textiles and shoes that were at the end of their wearable life.  I have been looking for a place to take old cloths that have extreme wear and holes in it.

I had the opportunity to help my mom take her electronic scrap to an e-scrap recycle day.  They seem to have a couple of these a year that travel around the valley so that a close event (like this one seven miles away) happens just a couple of times a year.  That makes the ISU Recycle Center look pretty good with their daily e-scrap drop off service.
One thing that Phoenix has going for it are the nice sunsets and did I mention the 70 degree December high temperatures.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Arrived in Phoenix

After five days on the road and 1,650 miles we finally arrived in Phoenix.  It is nice to be out of the car for a while and to catch up on things like this blog. Check out the Organ Pipe Cactus in the foreground and the palm trees in the background.  The only native palm trees in Arizona where actually in a canyon north of Yuma Arizona in the southwest of the state, but they are a popular landscaping tree that can survive our climate.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Drive to Phoenix: La Posada Sustainable Menu

We visited La Posada Hotel & Gardens ( in Winslow, Arizona for lunch on our drive to Phoenix. We have visited this location before and it is a great hotel, that is pet friendly, with a sustainable menu. They source local produce when possible and and sustainably harvested fish. We had an excellent lunch followed by a walk with the kids through their straw maze in the back yard while we watched some trains to go by.

Sabbatical Activity: First Grant Submission

I had been working on a grant application to the US State Department for the Global Innovation Initiative for the past month.  With a flurry of activity from our hotel room in the evening of our first night on the road, followed by email correspondence with our international collaborators at 1am and 4am on December 16th, and a very Herculean effort by our Office of Sponsored programs in the wee hours of Monday morning (and Sunday evening) my first grant proposal of my sabbatical was submitted.

The grant is called "Dendrochronological Pollution Reconstructions from Urban Areas in China" for $248,822. It includes co-PIs Dr. Qihao Weng from ISU, Mr. El-houcin Chaqra from ISU, Dr. Qi-bin Zhang from the Institute of Botany - Chinese Academy of Sciences, Dr. Bing Xu from the Beijing Normal University, and Dr. Iain Robertson from Swansea University in the UK. If funded, this work will be mapping pollution, population, and weather effects to determine pollution hazard in and around Beijing.  From that map, we will sample trees in and out of the pollution plume to examine the chemical history preserved in the trees through X-ray fluorescence analysis of the wood chemistry combined with stable isotopic analysis.  We hope to reconstruct about 100 years of pollution history around Beijing through its growth with the industrial revolution, transition to automobile traffic, and changes for the 2008 Olympics. 

Drive to Phoenix - Biogeography of the Midwest to Southwest

Driving across the Midwest, I am always impressed with the extent of the grasslands and really enjoy the beauty of the southwest as we get into New Mexico and Arizona. We had been driving through grassland for a long time and then start to get into hills with pinyon-juniper woodlands.

We crossed through historical tallgrass prairie, shortgrass prairie, and then into the arid southwest with high plains area and then finally dropped down into the Sonoran desert with its iconic Saguaro cacti. Much of these changes is controlled by the moisture gradient across the west due to the rain shadow from the Rocky Mountains (Brady, N.C and Weil, R.R. 2008. The Nature and Properties of Soil. Fourteenth Edition.  Pearson Education).
This gradient also controls the soil orders across the US.  We started our drive across Illinois seeing dark black soils that are Mollisols.  As we drove across Texas we saw deep red soils from the B horizon that likely had a lot of iron (Brady, N.C and Weil, R.R. 2008. The Nature and Properties of Soil. Fourteenth Edition.  Pearson Education).

The San Francisco Peaks (above Flagstaff Arizona) are 12, 633 foot tall peaks on the Colorado Plateau that are an old stratovolcano.  Around the base of the mountains is a Ponderosa pine forest and then it grades up to a spruce-fir forest at the top of the mountain.

Drive to Phoenix - Wind Turbines in Texas

Driving through Texas we saw many wind farms.

When we stopped at a rest area in Texas, they had a nice display on wind power generation for Texas, New Mexico, and Oklahoma presented by Alternative Energy Institute at West Texas A&M University ( This lead me to some further searching online where  I found the American Wind Energy Association report from 2012 that has updated information for the entire nation for wind energy production (Data from AWEA 2012 Annual Wind Industry Market Report Summary). The map below shows the number wind turbines by state up through 2012. reports the amount of all forms of alternative energy production by state ( Maine has achieved 100% of its energy needs through alternative energy. This is a great interactive map where you can hover over a state or click on it to get information about its alternative energy production. 

Traveling across the United States, I have been impressed with the amount of wind power capacity that has been installed over the last decade.

Drive to Phoenix - Oklahoma City

Our second night, we stayed in Oklahoma City. I have been taking student trips through Oklahoma City for years, but I have never had the time to stop and see the Oklahoma City National Memorial. The outdoor monument was very well-done and had a strong impact. It is nice that you can access the outdoor portion 24 hours a day and 365 days a year. The museum was pretty intense with many of the displays reliving the moment of the explosion and the news coverage quickly following the event. Our time there was complicated by having two kids with us that were tired from a long day of driving so we quickly went through the museum.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Starting Out

From January through December of 2014, I will be taking my second sabbatical.  Some of the time I will travel alone and some of the time my family will travel with me.  We left Terre Haute, Indiana on December 14th in a driving snow storm with our Subaru Outback packed full with my wife Karla and our two sons, Big L (who is 3 and a half years old), Little L (who is one and a half), and our 14-year old dog Paddington.

We are spending the Christmas Holiday with our parents in Phoenix Arizona.  From there, I will fly to Australia where I will teach at a dendrochronology fieldweek from Jan 3-11, attend the WorldDendro conference from Jan 13-17, go on a post conference tour in New Zealand from Jan 21-25, and visit a colleague in Queensland in northeastern Australia from Jan 26 -31. I will return to Phoenix for two weeks and then the whole family will fly to Rafina Greece for three months on the beach about 30 minutes from Athens.  From there, I will travel to many tree-ring research laboratories throughout Europe including three in Northern Italy, many in Germany, the Birmensdorf lab outside of Zurich Switzerland, Slovenia, and the Czech Republic. We also plan to take a cruise of the Fjords in northern Norway near the end of our stay and possibly attend the TRACE (Tree Rings in Archaeology, Climatology, and Ecology) conference in the highlands of Scotland.

Those plans take us through about the end of May. Along the way, I hope to publish at least three articles and submit a number of grants. I will be giving a series of talks and visiting sustainability programs throughout Europe.  My family will share in adventures as we travel some parts of the world.  I hope that you come along for the ride.