The Big Red Castle in Westminster

Todd and I went motorcycling around the metro area this afternoon. The temperatures climbed into the sixties today. The forecast didn't call for high winds but we sure ran into a few strong gusts. My face got wind and sunburned. We rode as far north as Boulder, and made several stops along the way.

One place we stopped was outside the Westminster Castle. I didn't even know it existed. The building was built in 1893 to house the Westminster University. The university didn't open until 1908 and only lasted ten years; it closed in 1918. The property was sold to the Pillar of Fire Church in 1920. The building is listed as a National Historical Landmark. This picture was taken with my cell phone from the rear of the building on the east side. We should have gone around to the south side, because the building is much more impressive from the front.

The Mysterious White House on 7th Avenue

I have long been intrigued by the big white house on the north west corner of 7th Avenue & Ogden Street. For the longest time I thought it was an old tuberculosis sanitarium, later I errantly concluded it must be the Germain Consulate. This week I learned the true identity and history behind that mysterious big white house.

Twenty Six year old Alfred Cass married Mary Ashton in 1876. They spent time in Nebraska before relocating to Denver in 1888. Alfred quickly rose to prominence in the Colorado Fuel & Iron Co. The widow Mary Cass built the large Colonial Revival house in 1908, five years after her husband died. She died shortly after the house was completed.

It may not be fair to label the second owner of the house, oil tycoon Henry Blackmer, a miscreant. It was never proven he was smuggling bootleg liquor, but Blackmer didn't always conduct business on the up-and-up either. He fled the country in 1924 leaving his son Myron in charge of the house.

The Teapot Dome oil field in wyoming is a mere 60 miles from my home town. Teapot Dome and several other oil fields formed the U.S. Navy's oil reserves. In 1921 President Warren Harding transfered control of some of the reserves, including the Teapot Dome field, to the Department of Interior under Secretary Albert Fall. Secretary Albert B. Fall truly was a miscreant. He had ties to vote fixing, cattle rustling, and murder for hire. In 1922 Fall quietly gave drilling rights for parts of the reserve to Mammoth Oil Corporation and the Pan-American Petroleum & Transport Company. This shady transaction would bloom into the Teapot Dome scandal and ultimately resulted in Fall's imprisonment in 1929.

Henry Blackmer held an interest in the Continental Trading Company which was to receive large sums of money from the oilmen involved in the Teapot Dome scandal. He fled to France when he was subpoenaed to testify and didn't return for 25 years. At the age of 80 and in poor health, he was fined $20,000 in 1949 for contempt of court.

Sometime between 1925 & 1949 the house was converted into apartments, but for the past 62 years the big white house has belonged to the Saint Germain Foundation. Many consider the St. Germain Foundation to be a cult. As symbolic of their "I AM" activity the cult painted the red brick building all white.

Thus ends the mystery of the the big white house on 7th Avenue.

Ferril, Will C., ed. Sketches of Colorado. Vol. 1. Denver: The Western Press Bureau Company, 1911.
Keezer, Dexter M. "Blackmer Will Dodge Oil Trial." Pittsburgh Press, 12 Oct. 1927, Two.
Leonard, Stephen J. and Thomas J. Noel. Denver Mining Camp To Metropolis. Niwot: University Press of Colorado, 1990.
"Teapot Dome Figure Fined." Milwaukee Journal, 2 Nov. 1949, M2.
Widmann, Nancy L. The East 7th Avenue Historic District. Denver: Historic Denver Inc., 1997.
Wikipedia contributors, "Albert B. Fall," Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, (accessed February 22, 2012).
Wikipedia contributors, "Saint Germain Foundation," Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, (accessed February 22, 2012).
Wikipedia contributors, "Teapot Dome scandal," Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, (accessed February 22, 2012).


Playing the field

I thought I had a good understanding of "depth of field"; apparently I was wrong. When I took photography in high school, 40 years ago, we were given an assignment to demonstrate "depth of field" (the area of a photograph that is in focus). I didn't have any difficulty completing the assignment. I was the first one to turn their assignment in, and I got a good grade. However, I have not intentionally shot or made use of depth of field since then.

I have a point and shoot camera that I use half the time, and I have a DSLR that I use half the time. I usually leave the DSLR in full auto mode, but I occasionally switch to program mode to turn off the auto-flash or pin the ISO to a fixed setting; I've never used it in full manual mode. In an effort to develop some technical proficiency with the DSLR, I took the plunge and switched to full manual control. I thought repeating the depth of field assignment I did in high school would be a good way to exercise my brain cells and practice manual control of the camera. It was a good exercise but not as easy as I thought it would be.

There's a beautiful building on 7th Ave. that has a row of pillars in front of it; each one has a sphere or globe on the top. This would be the perfect subject for my exercise. I hand-held the camera and focused on the pillar in the center. I took severa pictures from the west and the east. I waited several times while people walked past. For each shot, I pushed the f-stop to one end or the other and adjust the shutter speed accordingly.

I looked at the results on the computer when I got home and was absolutely dumbfounded! Every picture was completely in focus; none of them showed depth of field. I didn't understand why. I went back and repeated the exercise paying extra attention to what I was doing with each shot. I got the same results! Clearly there was something I didn't know. Perplexed and frustrated—I went to lunch.

You can click on a picture to see a larger view.

Over lunch, I pondered the difference between how I did this exercise in high school and what I was doning now. In high school I had used a manually operated camera with a fixed focal length lens. That shouldn't be a problem. I'm operating the camera in manual mode, controlling both the f-stop and shutter speed, and I have the zoom lens set on 50mm. The formats are different. Back then I used ASA-400 black & wight 120 film; today I'm using a DSLR, but the format differences shouldn't be a factor.

I used an old wagon wheel as my subject when I did this assignment in high school. I set the ASA to 400, took a light reading, set the f-stop to f-5.6, the largest apature available, and adjusted the shutter to get the correct exposer. I moved in close and focused on the center of the wagen wheel and snapped a picture, then I changed the apature to f-32, the smallest apature available, adjusted the shutter speed, and snapped again. I got great results! How is that any different than what I'm doing today? Then it dawned on me, I was much closer to my subject than I am today. My focal point is 30 feet away; for a 50mm lens that just as well be infinity.

I took my camera and tripod and went back outside. This time I used a fence close to the apartment building. I cheated a little this time and set the camera to apature priority. I controlled the apature and ISO, and let the camera do everything else. I focused on the fence just a couple of feet away. With the ISO fixed at 400 and the apature at f-32 the shutter dropped to 1/20 sec, hence the need for a tripod. This produced clear focus across the whole picture. With the apature set to f-5.6, distant objects were out of focus and near objects were sharp. I finally got the results I was looking for.

I learned that apature isn't the only thing that controls depth of field. The proximity to the subject also affects dept of field. The closer you are to the subject the shallower the depth of field. Depth of field becomes deeper the farther you get from the subject. The focal length of the lens has a huge affect on depth of field, as does the magnifying power of the lens. A wide angle lens will provide a deep depth of field while a telephoto will provide a much shallower depth of field. A x300 magnifying glass has almost no depth of field while a x20 pair of binoculars has good depth of field.

I'm really glad I did this exercise. I not only became much more proficient with the camera, but I also gained a much better understanding of "depth of field".

Playing with water

I was playing in the water this evening. I can't wait for summer when I can try this on a waterfall. The picture on the top was taken using: ISO-3200, 1/200 sec, f 5.0 freezing the motion of the water (or nearly so). The picture on the bottom was taken using: ISO-100, 1/2 sec, f8.0 blurring the motion of the water.

The bottom picture is how I've seen the world lately. The lenses in my glasses got scratched real bad, and I've been wearing my old glasses. I had an eye exam this morning and ordered new glasses. The new glasses will have larger lenses, photo-grey (progressive), anti-glare, scratch resistent, and have a two year warranty. Soon I'll be able to see the world more like the top picture. I assume that will be a good thing.

Cheesman Park Pavilion

In The Passionate Photographer: 10 Steps Towards Becoming Great, author Steve Simon encourages his readers to increase the volume of their photographic output. He suggests going on picture outings more often—daily if possible. Most novice photographers don't take enough time to explore their subject thoroughly. He wants budding photographers to take more time to explore their subject, and shoot pictures from every possible vantage point and perspective. Practicing more often and learning from mistakes leads to better photographs.

I can let days go by without shooting any pictures and only take a few shots when I do. This afternoon I put Mr. Simon's suggestions into practice. I spent almost an hour in Cheesman Park taking pictures of the pavilion from many different perspectives. After reviewing my work I selected 19 photos to share.

Slideshow does not work on iPad or iPhone.

Cheesman Park is named in honer of Walter Scott Cheesman, a pioner of Denver, whose family donated the funds to construct the neoclassical pavilion on the east side of the park. The pavilion, dedicated in 1908, is the most revered part of Cheesman, and serves as a place for formal and informal public gatherings, weddings, dances, and concerts.

Friday in Washington Park

I read all morning, then did house work. After Lunch, I went for a walk in Washington Park and took some photos.

Little goose mind

I was walking in Washington Park yesterday when I noticed the traffic on Virginia Ave. had come to a stand still, then I saw the flock of geese crossing the street. Most of the geese crossed as a group, but there were a few stragglers that couldn't make up their little goose minds. It was the stragglers that were holding up traffic. The traffic waited for nearly two minutes before something, or someone, spooked the geese and they all took off. I was amazed to see the birds take off nearly straight up; I've always seen them take off horizontally and raise in the air gradually like an airplane.

I'm reading Geology of Colorado Illustrated (Foutz, 1994). The author give a description of glaciation while he is describing the geology of the Rocky Mountain National Park region. He points out that Saint Mary's Glacier, north of Idaho Springs, isn't technically a glacier. A glacier moves downhill as more snow and ice collect at the rear of the glacier. Saint Mary's Glacier doesn't move. It is actually a snow field that doesn't melt, because it is protected in a narrow shaded gulch. I'll have to go up there sometime, if for no other reason than to say I've been there.

Easy reading

I woke to a fresh blanket of snow this morning. Normally I do trail maintenance at the refuge on Tuesday, but with heavy snow fall over the weekend and fresh snow this morning, no one will be working on trails today. I stayed home, paid bills, typed up club meeting minuts, and read.

I didn't think I would like eBooks or the Nook, but I've read 5 books since getting the Nook, and I've really enjoyed it. I can't identify what it is about the Nook or eBooks that seems to make reading easier; it may be psychological or perhaps the device helps to keep my attention focused. I finished Denver Inside and Out yesterday and have started reading a book about the geology of Colorado.

There was a story on the news about a jogger being attacked by a coyote in Boulder. The Boulder animal control put down two agressive coyotes along the same trail yesterday. I sent the story on to my superviser at the refuge. Historically, coyote attacks on humans has been rare, but with urban encroachment coyotes are loosing their fear of humans and becoming more aggressive.

Old School

I'm reading Denver Inside and Out (the Colorado Historical Society, 2011). The book is a compilation of short essays, each written by a different researcher, on a different topic of Denver's history. The third essay, by Shawn Snow, details the establishment of the first schools in Denver.

A factoid I will try to remember is: Owen J. Goldrick started the first school in Denver on October 3, 1859. Goldrick's school was a private school located in a cabin along the west banks of Cherry Creek in an area now called Auraria. I wonder if it is coincidental that Auraria now hosts two universities and a community college. The first free public school in Denver opened in December of 1862.

A lot of these interesting little factoids can be found on the internet If you have the interest and know what to look for. I like having information collected, fact checked, collated, and presented in an interesting, organized, and consistant manner the way books do.

My third poem

A new day is dawning,
sun in the sky warming,
snow on the street melting,
birds in a bush chirping,
dog in the park running,
I'm on my walk puffing,
ate all the cookies gorging.

A broken record

I stayed in Friday and let it snow while the apartment manager busied himself shoveling sidewalks. It snowed all day Friday; it didn't stop snowing until 8 o'clock Saturday morning. The city of Denver recorded 15.9 inches of snow breaking the February 1912 record of 14.1 inches. It never got very cold. After the sun came out Saturday it warmed enough to melt some of the snow.

I went for a walk around the neighborhood in the afternoon. The neighborhood looked to be in good shape. Most people had shoveled their sidewalks, but the streets were still a mess. Walking was easy except when crossing the streets where the gutters had filled with snow and slush. I didn't see any broken tree limbs; the strong wind we had a few weeks ago already took care of that. Some parts of the city lost electricity for a short while, but the apartment never lost power.

I had the pleasure of seeing a couple of mountain chickadees up close while on my tour. They didn't stop to pose for pictures, but you can see one of the birds perched in the bush in this picture.

Suck It In

My doctor offeres evening classes that promote healthy living and discuss health care options. I attended his last class about core strengthening. He invited a Physical Therapist to describe and demonstrate some simple exercises that anyone can do at home, without any equipment, to strengthen their core muscles.

The therapist described core muscles, in layman terms, as those muscles between the chest and thighs including: the abdominals, back, pelvic floor, hips, and transverse abdominis. Many core muscles aren't obvious because they are hidden underneath other muscles. The transverse abdominis is hidden by the rectus abdominis (six-packs). It fits around the hips like a corset and keeps us upright and stabile so we don't wobble around.

All of the demonstrations the therapist gave help strengthen the transverse abdominis along with other muscles. The simplest exercise that can be done by anyone, anytime, anywhere is simply to "suck it in". Don't suck it in all the way - just half way, and do not hold your breath! I have to concentrate on breathing in and out while holding my tummy in. This simple exercise can be done in bed, while standing in line, while driving, while on a walk, or while doing other strength exercises. The exercise not only strengthens the transverse abdominis muscle but also trains the muscle to act on its own voluntarily.

I've gotten very lax with my daily exercises. Days may go by without doing my exercises; it's simple laziness. I still go for walks frequently, but not every day and not far or long enough. I need to come up with strategies to motivate myself to exercise and walk daily, and I need to loose those 20 pounds I gained over the winter.

Did you know the average life span of a black-tailed prairie dog is 7 to 8 years?