18 November 2004 Mike D here.

And on the 9th day, They Rested

After eight long workdays since arriving at New Harbor (and 11 days since our last day off), during which time we were busy creating dive holes, taking cores, cleaning up experiments, chipping ice and generally toiling in general under the mid-day sun, we were granted a day of rest. Of course the perpetually-running Hotsy required feeding every 4 hours, but other than that we were free to do whatever we pleased - including sleeping in.

As we were all taking advantage of this rare opportunity, Jennifer – who was on Hotsy duty at 0930 –frantically awoke everyone in their tents, ordering us to immediately get dressed and start cleaning up camp. Two minutes earlier she happened to be in the kitchen and received a phone call alerting us that the station manager of McMurdo and a couple of Distinguished Visitors were making an unannounced visit and would be arriving by helicopter in 5 minutes. Fortunately this gave us just enough time to jump out of our sleeping bags, hastily tidy up, and pretend that we’d been awake and working for hours. Stacy rose to the occasion (literally and figuratively), meeting the guests at the helicopter pad, followed by a meet and greet with the team and then a grand tour of the facilities. If our morning breath and bed-head betrayed us, our guests didn’t let on.

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Stacy keeping the Distinguished Visitors in line and on schedule.

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The tour was going fabulously until Stacy took an unintentional bath – clothes and all – into one of the dive holes she was showing off to the guests. Legend has it that she launched back out of the water not unlike an Emperor penguin being chased by a leopard seal. Fortunately she was none the worse for wear save a slightly red face. Unfortunately our guests were far too polite to take pictures of the event, and the best evidence we have is Stacy in her post-dip attire, dripping all over the kitchen floor.

Our fine guests left shortly thereafter, no doubt chuckling to themselves as the helo whisked them off to another exotic location in the Dry Valleys and beyond.

So on with the rest of the day. We were all pretty well plum-tuckered-out from the past week’s work and the premature awakening this morning, so most of us laid low and caught up on email, personal hygiene, camp chores, and the like for the rest of the day.

Nerds on their computers, inside the cave-like Jamesway.

Andrew, in pre-coffee mode. Note the Cheez-its, power food to keep his finely tuned dive physique in tip-top shape.

Jennifer daringly took the day to get caught up on her sweater knitting project, considering that she's 135 degrees of latitude from her knitting consultants in Gustavus, Alaska.

Bob's hair was getting a little out of control, so Stacy had to take a little off the sides and buff him up.

I, being far ahead of the curve with respect to personal hygiene, had more free time than the other folks, so I wandered around camp taking some pictures.

Kathy's tent site: not a bad view to wake up to in the morning.

Close-up of Mt. Erebus' crater

A pair of South Polar Skuas have been hanging around camp, vocalizing at all hours of the day. They don't appear to be after our food (as skuas often are), so the consensus is that they're exhibiting courtship behavior.

Having no natural predators on land, skuas - like most Antarctic wildlife - generally don't seem to mind being approached by curious humans wielding cameras, provided their immediate personal space isn't violated

For some unknown reason, the Dry Valleys attract seals and penguins, which die of starvation and become mummified in the cold, arid environment. One theory is that the exposed, ice-free dirt and rocks in the Dry Valleys lack a bright reflection in the atmosphere like ice-covered surfaces do, thereby producing the same atmospheric effect found over open water. The animals may cue on this atmospheric effect and think that they are headed towards open water. Mummified seals and penguins have been found over 10 miles inland from the coast. Two mummified Weddell seals are present on the beach near camp, and the one pictured above is known as "surfboard seal" for its resemblance.

The other mummified seal near camp. Using radioactive carbon dating techniques, seals like this have been shown to be thousands of years old.

A dead - but not yet mummified - Adelie penguin. This poor guy probably died sometime in the last year, but his flesh wasn't too tough for the skuas to still gnaw off some edible scraps.

We capped our day off with a contentious scrabble game in which group consensus, rather than a dictionary, was used to resolve challenges. Despite this handicap, yours truly managed to eke out a glorious victory despite two lost turns for words of questionable existence.

Good night!

Daily weather stats: Maximum temperature: a balmy 34° F Minimum temp: 23° F Minimum windchill: 16° F Maximum wind gust: 12 knots Sunset: none

Lets see the next day!