Monday, August 31, 2015

NFL Preseason - San Diego Chargers at Arizona Cardinals - Day Two

Tickets for this game were exceptionally cheap. Combined, including a parking pass, I spent all of around $40, which these days, is very good. And I thought it could enhance the trip a little bit, add another fun activity at night a time when, usually, a lot of activities for trips slow down (at least when you have a child, right?). So, it seemed like a good idea, although once the afternoon and evening came, it began to feel more like a burden, admittedly. 

It is going to take a little longer to get pictures of this game online, since the cell phone battery was completely dead by the time the game started. There is a reason for it, although I am not entirely certain that it qualifies as a good reason.

Essentially, I had taken so many pictures in Tombstone and of the surrounding desert, that the battery was running considerably lower than usual. Then, there were heavy rains and flooding at some point, and despite being so far away, I flirted with possibilities of using the GPS on the phone to find some alternative routes to Phoenix. By the time we got to Phoenix, the battery was basically dead.

So, I used the better camera, on loan from my girlfriend. 

The drive out from Tombstone to Phoenix is quite long, roughly two hours and a half, essentially. But it was through desolate fields with cactus lining the highways, and mountains (as well as lightning) off in the distance. It rained very hard, until approximately the point where we hit Tuscon, where it looked like it was more or less clearing. By the time we got maybe half and hour past Tuscon heading west, it was sunny and bone dry, and you might never know that there had been essentially a downpour not far from where we were. We enjoyed the cactus, particularly the Saguaros, again. But the temperature gauge kept going up and up as well, until it reached a peak of 108 degrees Fahrenheit. That, from a daytime cool of around 67 shortly after leaving Tombstone. Weird weather! 

But we managed to get through all of that and reach Phoenix, which was cool. We were doing surprisingly well on time, as well, arriving in Phoenix half and hour before the game. But that was when traffic picked up, and there were other complications.

We struggled a bit finding the place. I had not bothered printing out the directions, foolishly, because there was the assumption that I could rely on the GPS, although the battery was teetering on death. I had assumed (wrongly) that the stadium was in Phoenix proper, but it was not. In fact, it was in a town called Glendale. When I asked one of the very few people on the streets (because it was so hot) how to get back on track, he said that I had to get out of the downtown district and onto the highway that we had just been driving on. 

He kept mentioning another highway (it eludes me which one it was at the moment), and so that is what I did. But I was starting to worry a bit, so I pulled over at some convenience store and asked further directions. This time, it was a kid, and he said that I just had to drive down this side road, get onto the highway, and the stadium would be hard to miss. It is really big, he said. 

Feeling better now, this is what I did. We drove for a few minutes onto the highway he mentioned, and indeed, before too long, there were signs for stadium parking. Even better, there was the stadium itself. 

Unfortunately, the game had already started. Also, we had a Blue parking pass, which meant very specific areas only where we could park, and these were as far away as possible (of course). 

We drove past a pretty bad accident (the second such accident that we drove past on this particular day, although the first had been likely due to the heavy rains), found the area, and then got to walking in the rather excessive evening heat. Throughout my life, I had been taught that while desert days are hot, desert nights are surprisingly cool, and so this had become my expectation. But it did not cool down enough to be really comfortable in Phoenix on any of the nights that we were down there, and this was the worst of them (or felt like it, anyway). 

It was a surprisingly long walk, also. There are other things there, other big buildings, that might be malls or businesses, or I do not know what. It seemed like there were a lot of people about, even though the game itself had already started. 

Still, we walked, and eventually, caught our first glimpse of the stadium proper. Indeed, it was huge, and impressive! I mentioned to him that this was the stadium where the Super Bowl that we watched a few months ago had been played, and also, the Giants had won one of the most famous and highly rated of Super Bowls here some years ago (that was why I decided to wear my Giants hat and Eli Manning jersey).

Finally, we got inside. Indeed, this place was very impressive! It was simply huge! I do not believe that I was in as big of a stadium as this one, and possibly never in a building quite so big as this, more generally. The amount of space in there is quite staggering, and it makes the event feel huge.

There was a time when I fully agreed with John Madden and Pat Summerall, about how the game should be played in the elements, preferably on real grass. But admittedly, once we got inside, and could feel the nice, cool air-conditioning, I had to admit that this was better this way, inside of a dome. If there is one criticism that I have of the stadium, however, it is that it does not allow more of the Arizona sunlight than it does. This is one nice aspect of Arizona, and it always seemed to me that they could have found a way to incorporate the sun more in the designs, perhaps with a glass roof and slightly lower walls, or something. Just my personal slice of opinion.

Another thing that was surprising was that it seemed like all of the stands in the stadium were full. Surely, there must be clusters of empty seats somewhere, although I could not exactly see where these were. It sure seemed like a packed house.

For whatever the reason, there were people wearing jerseys of other teams not playing in this game. Admittedly, I was included, with my Giants jersey. But I saw numerous people wearing 49ers jerseys, a few wearing Cowboys jerseys, and then some others, as well. Broncos, Vikings, Bears, Eagles, Lions, and, of course, Chargers and Cardinals. That was a little unusual, although it really was only a bit more than you might usually see at an NFL game or, more generally, at a sports event in general.

The Cardinals were winning, 6-0, when we took our seats, although they had had the ball when we entered the stadium, and now the Chargers had the ball (again, I need to emphasize the size of the stadium here). I caught a glimpse of Carson Palmer, the once legendary quarterback of the Cincinnati Bengals who had moved out to Arizona, where he was finishing his career. 

Both of these teams had realistic shots at qualifying for the playoffs, although not necessarily in going anywhere or doing anything once there. San Diego fans, however, have been particularly enthusiastic about their team's chances this season, and I could see why. This figures to be a tough team, and could well give Denver a serious run for the money for the AFC West Division title this season. 

The Chargers were able to get a touchdown in response, although I believe that the extra point was missed. Since the NFL has been experimenting with longer extra point kicks during this offseason, there have actually been quite a few misses. 

There was a time when I would go to such events, and make a point of arriving early (to the extent possible) and never dream of leaving early, usually even hanging around until there were few people left, and we were among the last ones remaining. But those days are mostly gone, particularly when it comes to NFL preseason, and especially since this was a trip out west to Arizona. We had hotel reservations in Flagstaff, which was still a couple of hours and change away. So, we left well before even the third quarter was fully over, thus avoiding traffic. 

We were on our way to Flagstaff.

But the Chargers wound up winning the game, 22-19, off a last second field goal. This took place while my son and I were well on our way to Flagstaff, as we watched (and to a lesser extent, felt) the temperatures continue to plummet as we climbed higher and higher altitudes. 

At one point in Sedona, up in the mountains, I stopped, having heard that you can really see a rich amount of stars in the sky. I had done similar the previous night, somewhere in between the drive from Nogales to Sierra Vista. But tonight, it was even clearer and more amazing! You could really see why they called it the Milky Way!

The desert already had offered us some amazingly clear night skies to enjoy. How could either of us know that this would be the last time that it would be clear enough for us to enjoy it?

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Tombstone & Cochise County, Arizona - Day Two


This was one of the main attractions that I wanted to see. Here was the land where some of the most legendary chapters in the history of the old west took place. The names that made that history here are legendary, and stretch across a vast span of time, as far as the Americas are concerned, anyway. They include Francisco Vázquez de Coronado, a Spanish Conquistador from the 1500's. They also include fierce native warriors, particularly the legendary Geronimo and Cochise. The natives fought until they could not fight anymore, and it was in the mountains of Cochise County where they fought the ever encroaching whites, earning a feared status in the process. The names also include Wyatt Earp, Doc Holliday, and John Slaughter. In the 20th century, Pancho Villa became the first (and so far only) man to invade the United States, and it was in Cochise County where he crossed Mexico into Arizona, which was a new state within the United States. Woodrow Wilson responded by sending American forces into Mexico to retaliate with an invasion of his own, but the Americans never did catch Pancho Villa.

What a fascinating bit of history!

One of my guilty pleasures is the movie Tombstone. I know that it is a bit silly, and surely quite embellished, but it remains one of those movies that I pretty much watch anytime that it is on.

Cochise County essentially epitomizes the West, on so many levels. It is a land of ranching, and a land that has aspects of both greenery and the desert. It is a fairly large county, occupying a decent stretch of southeastern Arizona, and borders Mexico to the south. It is a land of mountains, and fairly strange weather, as it was significantly, even shockingly cooler here than just a couple of hours to the west, in the desert as one approached Phoenix. On the day that we visited Tombstone, the morning began to feel a bit heavy with heat, until storm clouds approached. Much like in an old western, there were storm clouds brewing and the ominous sounds of distant thunder, and it grew overcast and quite cool. I rather appreciated it, as it seemed to make the visit to an old western town feel somehow more real, more in the spirit of the visit, if you will.

This was not entirely unwelcome, as I had read online reviews of Tombstone, some people had mentioned how hot and uncomfortable they were while watching the gunfight show at the O.K. Corral.  That was a bit of a worry to me. But it need not have been, because it barely broke 70 degrees Fahrenheit! In fact, as we were driving back towards Phoenix after visiting Cochise County, it dipped down to 67 degrees Fahrenheit, and there was some seriously heavy rains that caused flooding on some local roads (I believe that it was route 80, on the way to I-10). But by the time that we got maybe an hour or so west of Tuscon, the sun was blazing, and the rental's temperature gauge read 108 degrees Fahrenheit!

What a huge difference! You would never know that parts of Arizona that we had been too earlier in the day, and which were a fairly easy drive from bone dry Phoenix were facing severe flooding. On my cell phone, there were several Severe Flood Warnings. Bizarre.

Anyway, after the late night that first day there, I was kind of hoping that day two would be a little calmer. On the itinerary was possibly a chance to visit Sierra Vista, the town where we were staying. We were staying there because the hotel, with pool, was around $30! It was in close proximity to both the Mexican border, as well as to Tombstone, but was far cheaper than hotels either in Tombstone or Nogales, although the hotels in Nogales, Mexico were quite cheap as well.  The only reason that I did not book a stay there was because I was not sure they would even let us in, and also, rental cars on not allowed into Mexico, which made me unsure of how to get there.

In any case, we did not get much of an opportunity to explore Sierra Vista, since it seemed like a better idea to let my son enjoy the swimming pool. He was in there for a long time, and I took a nice, lengthy swim, as well. It made my back feel great! In fact, we were able to go into swimming pools more days of the trip, for which I am glad, especially for my son's sake. But my back, and the rest of me, too, really were not complaining much, either.

After that, I took a shower, and we got going towards Tombstone. My son was excited about it, and I was glad. He and I shared an enthusiasm for some old westerns, which I had at least partially grown up with. There were plenty of reruns of old western movies on quite often, and I also grew The Legend of the Lone Ranger:

Yes, the cartoon version of the Lone Ranger. There were figures that I collected, and that Lone Ranger theme music still can stir something of the child in me at times. There was the French comic (keep in mind that I am a dual citizen of the United States and France) Lucky Luke, the fictional, fastest draw of the West cowboy. A good guy wearing a white hat, of course, and his trusty horse. There were other western movies, and I had those cheap plastic cowboys and Indians figures, which of course gave a false, distorted version of what the Wild West was all about. Later on, as a sort of spin off to the fantasy games like Dungeons and Dragons, there was a Boot Hill game that really captivated my imagination, although I never actually obtained a copy for myself. But yes, the old west, or Wild West, figured fairly prominently in my youth. 

Still, it captured my fertile young imagination, this whole idea of what the Wild West was like. And now, my son was growing up with some of these same things. I had allowed him to watch Tombstone prior to the trip, and he had both long looked forward to, and thoroughly enjoyed, the Lone Ranger movie a few years back. Plus, there were other westerns that he enjoyed, such as Shanghai Noon, and possibly a few others. Add to that an unfortunate longing for and strong knowledge of guns, and he was definitely excited. I kind of knew ahead of time that he would want a toy gun coming out of this visit to Tombstone. 

So indeed, the Wild West had been part of his upbringing, at least to some extent, even if the Wild West did not loom as large, in the minds of younger generations, the way it had my generation, let alone the generation of my parents. 

Of course, the Wild West used to be much, much bigger in the American psyche. Enthusiasm for it had died down over the decades. Less and less movies and television shows focused on this era, and I recently heard (probably during the whole Lone Ranger movie controversy) that Westerns these days were considered toxic, almost a guarantee of box office failure.

So be it. But we were out West, and both my son and I enjoyed those old westerns. We were intrigued, particularly since we were in cactus country, in Arizona. Tombstone was the real deal. This was the quintessential small, Wild West town, where the biggest shootout in Wild West history had actually taken place. We both sensed that this was going to be fun.

Yes, there is a chance that the town overdoes it. There is no shortage of people approaching you, and essentially asking you to do this, or do that. Visit this place, for the "real" Wild West feel. Take a horse carriage ride (which I regret a bit not doing, if only for my son's sake). Take in the show at the OK Corral, to see a reenactment of the shootout (this, we did do). Visit the Birdcage Theater, which is apparently the only period building still standing from those days, without massive renovations. 

If you are willing to pay, there are just a ton of places in Tombstone to visit. But when each place is asking $10 per person, and you basically have to pay $20 a pop for each thing visited, your energy and enthusiasm to visit places begins to wane, even if these have a legitimate, Old Western historical significance. 

One thing we did do, since I reviewed it online in the weeks and months leading up to the trip, was the O.K. Corral reenactment. The reviews were generally positive, and it seemed to offer a lot of bang for the buck. For $10, you got to watch the show, and visit the actual site of the shootout. Also, there was a movie (it is not just a movie, however, but a rather dated "set" that elaborates on the history of Tombstone, which has earned the name of "The town too tough to die." Finally, you can visit the Tombstone Epitath, where you get a replica copy of the edition that came out covering the shootout at the O.K. Corral. 

Knowing this, I made it a point for this to be our first stop in town.

We arrived just in time, too, about twenty minutes before noon. I got the tickets, then rushed to the bathroom before the show. 

The show is interactive, with a good amount of audience participation. I thought that they might try and involve some individual audience members at certain points, but this did not happen. We watched the play, with the events inevitable leading up to the big shootout, which lasted perhaps ten to fifteen seconds, if that. It was incredibly quick. Also, if you are going, or plan to go, be warned that it is loud. The shots sound real, and it might be surprising the first time that you hear it. There is plenty of smoke as well. Everything is there to make the experience feel a bit more authentic, more legitimate.

Also be forewarned, the actors ask for money at the end, saying that it was a fund that was near and dear to their hearts (at this point, they all took off their hats), and suggested that it was the "Starving Artists Fund," which the actor portraying Doc Holliday suggested was a real thing. The money would go to some much needed acting lessons, which roused a reaction from the other actors portraying the Earps.

It was a fun and funny show, and my son really, really enjoyed it! He was excited, and I was able to get a nice picture of him standing next to the actors playing the "good guys." Doc Holliday is all the way on the left, and Wyatt Earp is all the way on the right, while my son is in the middle. 

After the show, we looked a bit at the exhibits, which are quite informative. You learn about not just Tombstone and the O.K. Corral, but all about the beginnings of the town, including the brothels, which featured very prominently in the town's heyday. Also, you learn a lot about the Natives trying to fight back against the ever encroaching white culture, particularly emphasizing the legendary Geronimo, and the fierce Apaches. 

There are plenty of picture taking opportunities everywhere you look, and my son was able to find some spent bullet shells (I'm guessing these are blanks, although I cannot say for sure). 

We watched the movie and visual presentation explaining the history of the town of Tombstone (and the region more generally), and eventually went to the Tombstone Epitath, where we each got a replica copy of original newspapers. The one I chose covered the fight at the O.K. Corral, while my son chose another one, which escapes me at the moment. 

Of course, we went to the O.K. Corral store, and my son was definitely eyeing the toy guns. He initially wanted one of the big shotguns, and I am glad that I managed to talk him out of it. After some debate, he settled for a smaller handgun, a Billy the Kid gun. I kept telling him that in real Old West shootouts, you needed a smaller gun to have a chance at being quicker then your opponent. Also, it would be a lot easier to pack home, when the time came. I also got him the first rocks and minerals of the trip, including some Pyrite (also know as Fool's Gold) and even a couple of bottles of very tiny fragments of real gold and silver (or so it was advertised). Got myself my first piece of petrified wood (more on that later), and some other things. Even got myself a shot glass with a crystal gun on the side, which was kind of cool for about $4. 

We dropped some of the stuff off in the car, then resumed our visit to Tombstone. We went to the Birdcage Theater, although I opted out of the tour there, since I felt that we had spent enough money in the town already. Later, we went to Boothill Cemetery, although again, we remained outside of the gates, for the same reason that we did not pay at the Birdcage Theater. Maybe on the next visit, assuming there is one.

All in all, a fun day for us both, although especially for my son. This was the highlight of the trip for him. Nothing else that we did, including visiting the Grand Canyon, including the Petrified Forest, or the Indian ruins, or the mountains around Flagstaff, or the crystal clear night sky with all of the stars around Sedona, and not even all of the swimming, could compare favorably! Tombstone was his lasting memory! I was pleased that it made him so happy!

As for me, I enjoyed it, too. Admittedly, it was a bit cliché, and played up a bit. But if you like the Old West, it is also a lot of fun, and can be quite educational. Also, if you have children, or at least a son, make sure to prepare to either get your son a toy gun, or be prepared to try and talk him out of it. Plenty of candy, too!

Finally, take in some of the surrounding scenery! Some amazing fields stretching out to the distant mountains, with various specimens of cactus. Really cool, and so very western!

Surprising Video of Dick Cheney Making Sense

Yes, as rare as footage like this is, here is a video of former Vice President Dick Cheney actually making sense.

The problem is that he is discussing the wisdom of showing restraint regarding Iraq, and specifically not foolishly invading the country. This video, of course, came nine years before the ill-fated invasion of Iraq, which he accurately predicts in this video would lead to a quagmire.

Makes you wonder, doesn't it? 

Please watch the video, and share it on other social media, like Facebook, if so inclined. Amazing video!

Watch: The 1994 Video Dick Cheney Doesn’t Want You to See by Omar Rivero • June 23, 2014:

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Nogales, Mexico - Day One

Nogales, Mexico

To be honest, this side excursion began to be more and more of a priority as the trip neared. I love traveling, exploring new things, new places, new experiences, new countries and customs, languages and circumstances.

So, the delays to Phoenix early on made me nervous, because I just was not certain if we would make it to Mexico that day, and that meant I was not sure if we would make it at all, because the next day would likely be too complicated. 

Yet, despite the delays (serious delays, at that), we did eventually make it. And surprisingly quickly, to boot.

We left Phoenix right around 3pm, roughly, right after landing maybe around 2:30pm or so. I immediately looked up the directions and headed towards I-10 towards Tuscon, where we would transfer onto I-19 towards Nogales, Arizona. On the other side of that town is the town of the same name in Mexico. We arrived maybe around 5:30 or so, and immediately parked and headed for the border crossing.

The drive was not bad, and for us, full of marvels. First of all, we enjoyed the newness of this desert landscape. The temperature gauge read 110 degrees, and we had felt it in Phoenix, as well as whenever we rolled down our windows and felt excessively, uncomfortably warm air pouring in. But we also enjoyed the site of all of the cactus plants that we saw on the side of the road, particularly the saguaros. This helped to make a decent length drive feel a lot shorter.

And here is where it got amazing! I had looked up the requirements for bringing a child into Mexico without both parents being present. I am the father, yes. But since he is still a minor, it required more than the standard passport or other documents. What we needed was a notarized letter in both English and Spanish, signed by both parents, specifically granting permission to enter the country. It was a struggle, but we did manage to translate and notarize such a letter, with considerable stress, at that.

But when we got to the border, we went through a turnstile, and just like that, we were in Mexico! There was a sign welcoming us to Mexico, and I took a picture of my son there. But there was an absence of lines or even officials. We walked through a hallway, and I was looking for whoever was going to question us. But we kept walking, reached a gate, and noticing that everyone before us simply walked straight through and onto the streets of the Mexican town, we did the same.

Now, we were in the city proper, and not just hoping to get past the border patrol, or anything. That really, really surprised me.

Just like that, there we were, inside of Mexico proper. But I had not stopped at an ATM, and we had limited money. I thought it might be nice to visit some sites, do a little souvenir shopping, and grab dinner. Despite it being later than I wanted it to be, we actually managed to do all three of those things, indeed.

I had spoken to a friend who had also visited Mexico (numerous times, in his case), and he mentioned that one thing that will stick out is the poverty. It is present, and it is clearly different from the still first world status that the United States enjoys (at least for now). Indeed, some homes and neighborhoods looked quite beat up, and even the touristy sections looked....well, more or less impoverished. Being so close to the United States, I thought it would have been a lot closer to looking and feeling like the U.S..

But it really didn't. I mean, we were just about the only white faces around, and hardly anyone spoke much English at all. Not sure why that surprised me, but it did. I had to flex my extremely feeble Spanish-language skills, and put myself to shame numerous times in the process. To make myself understood a little more, I sometimes spoke in French, hoping that would help.

It didn't.

Nogales is not a rough neighborhood like many seemed to expect it to be. Some Americans seem to automatically assume that Mexico is really run down and dangerous, but I did not really find it that way. There were run downs neighborhoods, and a lot of people approached asking for help, asking for money, or trying to get me to go into their stores. Several times, guys went up to me and whispered in a confiding voice that they had whatever medicine I was looking for. This, of course, is because Mexico, like Canada and many other countries, has cheaper healthcare products than the United States does. It is also the reason why Nogales, against all odds, is known for having a lot of dentists, because Americans can go there and get there teeth taken care of for cheaper than they can here in the States.

We walked around a bit, taking in the atmosphere. There was an attractive old church, or perhaps not even that old. There was a square with a monument that looked appealing. Mostly, though, there were just a bunch of closed places of business, and they seemed mostly geared towards tourists. And while we were there, it appeared that we were pretty much the last of the tourists in Nogales for that day, as night was fast approaching. In fact, we stopped to eat just before hitting the border, at a place where we could watch the cars flocking in from the United States being more closely examined once they were with Mexican border patrol guards, even though the people were still getting in very easily into the country on foot. Much like with us, these people were simply walking in, with no border guards present. I am guessing that they had some kind of cameras or something trained on pedestrians walking in, because surely it could not be as easy to enter this country as it appeared, right?

Having had such an easy time getting into Mexico, I thought that maybe we would be given a rough time upon trying to re-enter the United States. But this was not really the case. There was a line, sure. A long one, at that. But once we got to the border patrol, he just asked us the purpose of our trip, mostly focusing on the Arizona part.

Just like that, we were back in Nogales, Arizona. By then, of course, it had been dark for some time. Hell, it was dark while we were eating (well, I was eating, although my son shied away from the unfamiliar food, and simply had a fruit smoothie). We really had only been there for a few hours, while I had expected to spend the better part of an entire afternoon and into early evening there, initially. But under the circumstances, I could not complain. We had managed to get some souvenirs for folks back home, and had enjoyed our admittedly brief stay. For my part, considering all of the conditions that I had seen online that were supposed to be requirements for entry into Mexico, I was still just glad that we were there, however brief the visit, even though it still felt stunning that it proved as easy as it wound up being.

We got back to our car (there was a brief moment when I was unable to find the keys on me, but it turned out that I had placed them, for whatever reason, in my shirt pocket as we approached the car, and this had simply slipped my mind (yes, I can often be that forgetful, unfortunately).

After a bit of confusion in trying to find out way out and headed towards Sierra Vista, we managed to find our way. My son requested some rock music, and I pulled into some small gas station with a convenience store attached, and fished out the cd's in the back. Played some Temple of the Dog, and asked my son if he knew who this was. No answer. I asked again, then turned on the interior lights briefly after again getting no answer.

Lights out. The day had been long, and he was asleep.

Seal of Mexico on a park bench near the American border. 

An attractive water fountain on the streets of Nogales. 

The line trying to get inside of the United States was long prior to getting dark, although it for some reason shortened considerably once it was fully dark out. Not sure why, and if this was a fluke, or some strange, regular occurrence. 

You can easily glimpse inside of the United States from the wall, although you cannot access it through here. 

Viewing the wall across this stretch of the border dividing the two countries from the Mexican side. 

This was our first real glimpse of Mexico as we rounded a corner. If you look closely, you can see the wall marking the international border, separating the two countries. Very close to us was Mexico, and off to the distance (on the left side of the picture) you can see the wall cutting across the landscape like a scar. I had wanted to spend a bit more time in the area initially, before all of the delays, in order to take more pictures of this wall, which reminded me a bit of the Berlin Wall. But, alas, I only got the views that I got while rushing to try and get into Mexico as early as possible.

A closer view of the wall, on the upper left corner of the photo.

One of the views of Phoenix from the air that we had. I think that I just missed one where there were a lot of blue pools in the backyards, which I imagine would be nice if you live in phoenix during this time of the year. What fascinated me also was the contrast between scenes such as this, where green lawns are evident, and the brownish that dominates immediately outside of inhabited areas.