Sunday, March 30, 2008


We went to the Mullins Center at UMass this afternoon...

We came to see Walking With Dinosaurs - The Live Experience. I wasn't too sure what to expect, having only seen a quick blurb about it on some Discovery Channel show. The thing that made it seem interesting to me is first, that it was all animatronics. Not wire guided puppets, but self contained, self propelled animal robots. Second, they looked like good animatronics. the movement and speed of the robots looked quick and natural. Not choppy and slow like some old Disney World exhibit about presidents, or the Chuck E Cheese band. And they were life-size. This was state of the art animatronics. It looked pretty good, good enough to get some tickets when I heard it was coming around here.

We weren't disappointed. The bigger dinosaurs rode on small man-driven carts underneath, and the smaller dinosaurs had people inside. But, the dinosaurs' other attributes, and the lighting, were enough to make it easy to blank those things out. With a little imagination, you were looking into the past.

Throughout the show a historian/scientist guided the audience through the eons. Kind of an Indiana Jones/ safari type type character. He also provided scale to the immense size of the ancient beasts. The show started out with the Plateosaurus, a herbivore from 216 million years ago. I was impressed with the animatronics. Then they brought out the the popular Stegosaurus, who set about "eating" the vegetation around the arena. But what's a dinosaur show without the carnivores? Out came the Allosaurus, often confused with it's more famous relative, the T-Rex.

The Allosaurus immediately engaged in a life and death struggle with the Stegosaurus, who swung it's spiked tail in stout defence.

The Stegosaurus's plates turned bright red, as blood flows into them when the animal became excited. Hmm. I didn't realize Dinosaur blood was red.

After that excitement, they brought out the gentle but massive Brachiosaurus, or rather a 'baby' Brachiosaurus. Still massive. It wasn't long before the Allosourus came out for another try at fresh meat. This time though, Momma Brachiosaurus came to the young one's rescue. This dinosaur was big.

She heroically chased the Allosaurus away from her young.

Then came a 20 minute intermission, and about 50 million years passed. The show started back up with an example of how the winged Ornithocheirus would glide in between the separating continents, after the break up of the great land mass of Pangaea.

Meanwhile the small, quick Utahraptors hunted in packs...

About this time, flower growth and insects bloomed. Even the dung beetle, which survives today, as our host showed us with a big round dinosaur dropping.

As the carnivores became smarter and more and more vicious, the herbivores began to get more and more heavily armored. Enter the Torosauruses, with their huge horns and shield-like plates behind their heads. Two of them came out, for a demonstration of a young upstart taking on the old leader for control of the herd.

Armored herbivores reached their peak with the development of the Ankylosaurus. Even it's eyelids were armored. It also had a heavy hammer-like appendage at the end of it's tail for defense.

Kind of reminded me of the 'Thing' from the Fantastic Four comics. With all this armor, the hunter/hunted race accelerated yet again, and pinnacled with the development of...wait for it...

The mighty Tyrannosaurus Rex.

The King of Dinosaurs came rushing out in defense of it's baby, a miniature version of herself that had become lost among the Torosaurus and Ankylosaurus. It was funny to hear the young one's plaintive yelps, in between the deafening roars of it's mother.

After an epic battle, it all came to a sudden crashing halt, with the impact of a 6 mile wide asteroid.

Darkness and smoldering fire ensued for millions of years...

Until the small furry mammals came to reign. Meanwhile the dinosaurs, far from disappearing, became smaller and smaller. They became the birds we have flying around today. Ironically, as we exited the building, we were greeted with flocks of geese flying by...

Still here....

Saturday, March 29, 2008

A Holyoke Saturday

Holyoke had some goings-on this Saturday...

First up, they were having the annual 10k Road Race. Its a huge foot race involving thousands of people; part of the St. Patrick's Day Parade festivities in town this weekend, culminating in the huge parade itself on Sunday. We got to the upper end of South St. where it intersects Rte.5, just as the lead group of runners were going by.

We walked up to the corner just as the main group was approaching.

It was a big event, with something like 3500 participants. There were also a lot of people on the side of the road clapping and cheering the runners on. Some of the runners did there best to stand out in the sea of humanity, streaming past at trotting speed.

Some appeared to have sponsors, or maybe they just really liked certain products.

It was a pretty diverse mass of runners; young, old, dogs, kids in strollers, the fit, and the fat. Some were doing it for the win, some for achieving their personal best, but for most it was obviously just in the spirit of fun and exercise. Amherst blogger Mary Carey is a perennial participant, and took some notes from a runner's point of view, as well as the post-race gatherings.

After the last of the runners went by, we headed out. We passed this group of revelers on their front yard. They had front row seats to the weekend festivities and were making use of it. All it took was a quick toot of the horn to elicit a roaring "Woooooooooo!" from them.

Boston Prophet

We continued on to the Barnes And Noble bookstore, reason number two we came to Holyoke today. We had heard rumors that a guru from the east would be there, meeting with the common folk. We went to seek him out, and hopefully glean some grace and knowledge, from nearness to his magnificence. Yes, Howie Carr was in town.

He was there signing books with Colonel Hunt, of conservative talk radio and tv fame. Both were promoting their new books. Howie's, called 'The Brothers Bulger', obviously about the Bulger brothers. And Colonel Hunt's book, called 'On The Hunt', about winning the war on terrorism. It was standing room only on the second floor of the book store.

Kelly paid her respects to the talk radio celebrity, her personal hero...

Time for lunch. We decided to try a pizza joint nearby on Rte. 202 called Manny's Pizza, at a small shopping plaza called the Holyoke Mini Mall.

Being a connoisseur of pizza joints, I find the measure of a good one lies in the quality of it's steak and cheese grinders. Kelly usually handles the personal pizza taste-test. Chris was on hand today, and tried their chicken cutlet grinder. All three passed with flying colors, with real ingredients, good seasonings, and the all-so-important good bread quality. And the food came out PIPING hot, which didn't hurt either. One curiosity though; what's up with the backwards 'Z's on the banner near the ceiling? Is Manny aware of this?

While waiting for our food, I was reading the local Holyoke Paper, called The Sun. It's pretty good, with some nice, frank writing. On one of the pages, there are photographs of some street-walkers and their johns, who were recently arrested in a sting operation in the Central Business District of Holyoke.

The pictures are presumably there to further embarrass those caught, and further discourage their activities. I'm telling you, Police Chief Anthony Scott should run for Governor.

Happy Trails

We stuffed ourselves. Unabashedly. Afterwards we needed to either work off some of those calories, or take a nap. Luckily, Ashley Resevoir was right nearby, with some scenery and great walking trails. We opted to stay awake, and we'd better, because you don't want to wander off some of these trails.

Saw my first Tree Swallows of the year there, zipping just above the water eating the bugs that were surprisingly abundant today.

I wonder what effect the recent Bat plague will have on the quantity of bugs this year. Will there be infestations? Or will there just be more for the other animals, like the Swallows? Blogger Michaelanne Bewsee has been following the strange phenomenon.

One thing is for sure, the flat, almost unsloped windshield of the Jeep always acts like a big bug collector. Or bug vaporizer, actually. I'm usually able to gauge the intensity of the years bug population by late May...

Messy work, but someone's got to do it.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Worst Case Scenario

I was in West Springfield, and managed to get a look across the river, at the wreckage of a fuel-carrying tractor trailer accident early this morning. The tanker had ruptured and ignited, sending smoke and flames 400 feet high, according to some other people who had been watching. By the time I got there the flames had been subdued, but still burned at the bottom of the hill where the tanker-half of the truck came to rest.

The accident apparently was triggered by a car coming off the 391 exit and entering 91. It collided with two other cars, and the tractor trailer lost control trying to avoid them. The truck cab got hung up on the guard rail and it's fuel ignited, while the tanker part went over the edge and down the hill, igniting also. The tanker was carrying 9600 gallons of gasoline and 1000 gallons of diesel. What a mess.

State troopers and other motorists heroically helped douse the flames on the truck driver, who had escaped from the truck cab and run across the burning diesel to save his life. He was seriously hurt though, and went to the hospital, along with the passenger of the vehicle coming off 391. Amazingly no one else was hurt.

The 'Chicoppee Curve', as it's known, is notorious for accidents. Particularly truck rollovers, with several occurring there per year. (usually seems to be on a Friday too, for some reason). It's simply too sharp a curve for highway speeds. If your not used to it, or not paying attention, it can take you by surprise. Add an entrance ramp right at the end of that curve, and there's your recipe for disaster.

Under The Bridge

On a lighter note, when I was taking those pictures, I noticed some interesting graffiti under the highway bridge (if it qualifies as graffiti.)...

Looks like the Lollipop Gang was here...