Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Old Adventure in Willcox, Arizona

I first joined ATC Associates in  November after 4.5 years with another environmental consulting company. Not long after I started with ATC, I was sent to perform some respirable/silica dust monitoring at a zeolite mine in Bowie, Arizona with a co-worker. It's pronounced Boo-ee by locals (apparently), but I chose to say it like David Bowie. David Bowie makes me think of the movie Labyrinth, which makes me think of Muppets, which makes me very happy.

So the manager at the site told us that there was not much in Bowie in the way of food/gas/anything. We thought he was just being hyperbolic or funny ["hyperbolic" links to one of my favorite blogs, Hyperbole and a Half]. Turns out that it is true - Bowie has a gas station that is open at pretty random hours and a post office that is impossible to distinguish from the rest of the low-rise buildings, and nothing else. We somehow found the post office and met the contact there at 5-ish in the morning.

Then I hopped in a truck with a complete stranger (he's super nice, but still!) and my co-worker attempted to follow us through a giant dust cloud kicked up by our tires in the pitch black and freezing early morning. The mine itself was nothing more than a shallow hole in the ground with no power or running water. The miners basically scraped off the overburden (dirt that is overlaying the zeolite vein) with a diesel-powered Bobcat, exposing the zeolite vein. Then the workers manually scraped the residual dirt and ash (zeolite forms from volcanic ash + alkaline groundwater) with picks and then sledgehammered the vein into smaller pieces. The workers pretty much broke rocks all day long.

Co-worker and I figured,"Surely there's a McDonald's or Burger King or something in Bowie that we didn't see on the way in," so around lunchtime, we found our way back to Bowie. Like I said above, no food and the gas station was closed. We made the decision to drive to the nearest town (about 40 miles away from where we were) and visit lovely Willcox, Arizona.

We were beyond stoked to see the following:

Co-worker decided that she absolutely HAD to eat there and take pictures. How often do you get a chance to eat in an old dining car? The restaurant is called The Dining Car and the BBQ is pretty tasty.

I vaguely remember getting a pork BBQ brisket and about a gallon of Pepsi, with some green beans or something. By the time we got to Willcox, I was so hungry, I might have even settled for Carl's Jr. (personal note: I do not like eating at Carl's Jr...ever)

Walking back to the Jeep after stuffing our faces, we saw this:

We think it used to be an old phone booth (Cold War era), and it is located next to City Hall. I wanted it to be a time machine or one of those super-secret spy entrances. Nothing in it seemed functional and it was made of really sturdy metal. Maybe a voting booth? Or a telegraph station?

We also saw a sign at the entrance to City Hall which made both of us chuckle. And re-listening to Ace of Base's The Sign while typing this is also making me laugh, since it was the second tape I ever owned, and I have every song memorized to freakish perfection.

And that ended our adventure in Willcox, Arizona. We headed back to the mine and spent the afternoon driving between the mine sites and trying to find a spot where our cell phones would at least pick up a roaming signal. We drove back to Tempe, Arizona and as soon as I got home, I took an extra-long shower and washed my clothes twice (no power and no running water at site + Industrious Hygienist's obsessive need to be clean = minor spaz attack).

On an industrial hygiene side, the *primitive* methods of mining used at the site (pretty similar to a chain gang a la Les Miserables, not including the Bobcat) resulted in minimal respirable dust exposure to the workers and silica levels barely above the laboratory limit of detection.

More manga coming soon - they take forever to draw, but I just bought this awesome software called Manga Studio Debut that will make it easier and faster. All I have to get now is a graphics tablet and I will be all set!