Hope and Sunshine, March 2024

A Spring Break Hiking Trip to New Mexico and Arizona

A full rainbow ring is visible around the sun in this image made on the trail at Chiricahua National Monument in southeastern Arizona.
A full rainbow ring is visible around the sun in this image made on the trail at Chiricahua National Monument in southeastern Arizona.

I decided to drive west using a different route than the usual Interstate 40, which lead me on a slightly more direct path to my first night’s stop, Las Cruces, New Mexico, but which also meant driving through less-populated, less-maintained areas. I drove west, then southwest through southern Oklahoma, then crossed the Red River near Wichita Falls, Texas. I followed U.S. 82 to Lubbock, Texas, a drive notorious for what seemed like a thousand miles of nothing, then, suddenly, a huge city.

I continued west into New Mexico, where I found an especially rough-looking stretch of highway, punctuated by litter, tan and bland land as far as the eye can see, and hundreds of petroleum of pumpjacks. The entire area smelled distinctly of crude oil.

This Google Maps screen shot shows hundreds of oil well sites on U.S. 82 in far southeastern New Mexico, in what I might describe as one of the bleakest stretches of land I have ever traversed.
This Google Maps screen shot shows hundreds of oil well sites on U.S. 82 in far southeastern New Mexico, in what I might describe as one of the bleakest stretches of land I have ever traversed.

I came into Artesia, New Mexico, which was nice-looking. A large refinery guarded the eastern approach. After passing through, the scenery changed abruptly into the New Mexico I love, with big skies, desert shrubs, and thousands of soapweed yucca.

Soapweed yucca were a welcome sight compared to oilfield pumpjacks.
Soapweed yucca were a welcome sight compared to oilfield pumpjacks.

In Hope, New Mexico, I stopped to photograph The Hope Store, the most optimistic name for a business I’d ever seen.

Beautiful spring sun shines behind The Hope Store in Hope, New Mexico.
Beautiful spring sun shines behind The Hope Store in Hope, New Mexico.

The route continued into the Sacramento Mountains, yielding gracefully from desert to high country. Before long I was in an area with snow on the ground.

Clouds put on a show for me as I made my way through the Sacramento Mountains of New Mexico near the end of my first day of driving.
Clouds put on a show for me as I made my way through the Sacramento Mountains of New Mexico near the end of my first day of driving.
Higher up in the Sacramento Mountains, there was still snow on the ground, and the air was thin, cold, and fresh.
Higher up in the Sacramento Mountains, there was still snow on the ground, and the air was thin, cold, and fresh.
U.S. 82 on the west edge of the Sacramento Mountains descends steeply into the Tularosa Valley.
U.S. 82 on the west edge of the Sacramento Mountains descends steeply into the Tularosa Valley.
It's worth noting that this sign was completely incorrect, as I was decidedly NOT welcome in Stein's Ghost Town. The entire thing had been walled off with high fencing, "no trespassing" signs, and "no drones" signs.
It’s worth noting that this sign was completely incorrect, as I was decidedly NOT welcome in Stein’s Ghost Town. The entire thing had been walled off with high fencing, “no trespassing” signs, and “no drones” signs.

I dreamed about Abby every night, and thought about her every day, feeling nostalgic about our trips together out west, and missing her so much, but always with gratitude.

Little things on the road always remind me of Abby and our adventures together. About eight years ago, we discovered these tasty pastries at truck stops on the road, and seeing them this time brought back that memory.
Little things on the road always remind me of Abby and our adventures together. About eight years ago, we discovered these tasty pastries at truck stops on the road, and seeing them this time brought back that memory.

Chiricahua National Monument : Highly Recommended

I made my way into Chiricahua National Monument, and asked a park ranger for a tip about a trail with good scenery and moderate difficulty, and she suggested the Echo Canyon trail.

Your host poses at one of the grottos on the first hike of the trip, the Echo Canyon trail at Chiricahua National Monument in southeastern Arizona.
Your host poses at one of the grottos on the first hike of the trip, the Echo Canyon trail at Chiricahua National Monument in southeastern Arizona.

The light was muted for most of the day at Chiricahua, so I made images keeping in mind that I might render them in black-and-white. I also shot bursts of three frames with bracketing turned on, so I could blend them later using High Dynamic Range, or HDR.

Beautiful formations are set against a luxurious sky.
Beautiful formations are set against a luxurious sky.
On more than one occasion, I encountered horses and riders.
On more than one occasion, I encountered horses and riders.
The Echo Canyon trail led to ever-bolder vistas around every corner.
The Echo Canyon trail led to ever-bolder vistas around every corner.
The north end of the Echo Canyon trail included a number of grottos.
The north end of the Echo Canyon trail included a number of grottos.
One of the rules for horseback riders is apparently to dress the part. Nearly everyone I saw wore traditional vests, boots, jeans, chaps, and cowboy hats.
One of the rules for horseback riders is apparently to dress the part. Nearly everyone I saw wore traditional vests, boots, jeans, chaps, and cowboy hats.
Echo Canyon stretches as far as the eye can see.
Echo Canyon stretches as far as the eye can see.
These huge boulders seem to defy gravity.
These huge boulders seem to defy gravity.

Saguaro National Park East: Not Recommended

Most of the eastern unit of Saguaro is designated as wilderness, so it is only accessible on foot. I appreciate wilderness areas, but only a sliver of this end of the park is easily accessible via an uninspiring drive called the Cactus Forest Loop Drive, a slightly claustrophobic drive to a number of bland vistas.

The western unit of Saguaro National Park isn't much more than driving around in this.
The western unit of Saguaro National Park isn’t much more than driving around in this.

This entire end of Saguaro is surrounded by increasingly intrusive suburban sprawl in Tucson, and I felt the entire effort was a disappointment.

The next day I toured the far superior Saguaro National Park East unit.

Pima Air and Space Museum: Highly Recommended

As a licensed pilot since 1993 and a lifelong aviation fan, I knew I would have a great time at this attraction, but it easily exceeded all my expectations. This museum is packed with aircraft of all kinds, some in exhibition halls, but most lined up outdoors. You can use their tram tours, but I had far more fun walking around among the aircraft, including many cold war military aircraft.

The B-58 Hustler was a heavy, fast, very loud supersonic bomber of the early cold war. As inefficient and expensive as it is to operate, those factors combined with the fact that it was very difficult to fly.
The B-58 Hustler was a heavy, fast, very loud supersonic bomber of the early cold war. As inefficient and expensive as it is to operate, those factors combined with the fact that it was very difficult to fly.

When I researched going, it looked bland and littered, but, like a lot of things I look up on the web, it was a lot better in person, and I hope my photographs are better than those I found in my search.

The mighty B-52D Stratofortress wears black paint in the desert sun.
The mighty B-52D Stratofortress wears black paint in the desert sun.
I love giant airliners too, like this Boeing 787, the second Dreamliner to roll off the assembly line.
I love giant airliners too, like this Boeing 787, the second Dreamliner to roll off the assembly line.

It was also super bonus that F-16s, A-10s and C-130s were actively flying in and out of Davis-Monthan Air Force Base just a mile away.

A visitor makes video as he walks past a Lockheed EC-121T, an early airborne warning radar plane.
A visitor makes video as he walks past a Lockheed EC-121T, an early airborne warning radar plane.
The tail of a U.S. Air Force Boeing EC-135J Airborne Command Post is seen set against brilliant blue Arizona sky.
The tail of a U.S. Air Force Boeing EC-135J Airborne Command Post is seen set against brilliant blue Arizona sky.
I got to see one of the most unusual, maybe even a little ridiculous, cold war aircraft, the Convair B-36 Peacemaker. Featuring the longest wingspan of any military jet in history, this aircraft is huge. (Click to see it larger.) It included six radial propeller engines, and four turbojets, earning it the slogan, "six turning and four burning." But according to web sources, as engine fires occurred with the B-36's radial engines, some crews humorously changed the aircraft's slogan into "two turning, two burning, two smoking, two choking and two more unaccounted for."
I got to see one of the most unusual, maybe even a little ridiculous, cold war aircraft, the Convair B-36 Peacemaker. Featuring the longest wingspan of any military jet in history, this aircraft is huge. (Click to see it larger.) It included six radial propeller engines, and four turbojets, earning it the slogan, “six turning and four burning.” But according to web sources, as engine fires occurred with the B-36’s radial engines, some crews humorously changed the aircraft’s slogan into “two turning, two burning, two smoking, two choking and two more unaccounted for.”
I believe my generation was lucky to see so may different attempts to propel aircraft, including the counter-rotating props on this Fairey AEW.6 Gannet Airborne Early Warning aircraft.
I believe my generation was lucky to see so may different attempts to propel aircraft, including the counter-rotating props on this Fairey AEW.6 Gannet Airborne Early Warning aircraft.

I had so much fun walking around, being amazed by all the aircraft, I had lunch at their café, then walked around the whole thing again.

Your host poses in front of a doubly-rare aircraft, the one-of-a-kind NASA SOFIA (Stratospheric Observatory For Infrared Astronomy) aircraft, which is also one of only 45 Boeing 747SP (Special Performance) airliners ever made.
Your host poses in front of a doubly-rare aircraft, the one-of-a-kind NASA SOFIA (Stratospheric Observatory For Infrared Astronomy) aircraft, which is also one of only 45 Boeing 747SP (Special Performance) airliners ever made.
The Aero Spacelines Super Guppy dominates this image looking across the display area.
The Aero Spacelines Super Guppy dominates this image looking across the display area.
Another long view across the museum shows engines, tails, props, and more.
Another long view across the museum shows engines, tails, props, and more.
The Pima Air and Space Museum was packed when I visited, especially since the weather was perfect.
The Pima Air and Space Museum was packed when I visited, especially since the weather was perfect.
The Pima Air and Space Museum is actively restoring aircraft for display, including this work-in-progress Boeing YC-14.
The Pima Air and Space Museum is actively restoring aircraft for display, including this work-in-progress Boeing YC-14.
Most people who like airplanes love the Boeing 747, also known as the "Queen of the Skies." This one is a B747-100 that was used by GE to test engines.
Most people who like airplanes love the Boeing 747, also known as the “Queen of the Skies.” This one is a B747-100 that was used by GE to test engines.
Also on my list of aircraft I love too is fighter jets, like this F-4 Phantom II on the left, and the F-15 Eagle on the right. These jets don't normally have fuzzy vertical stabilizers; these are spikey metal attachments meant to keep birds from landing, and pooping, on the aircraft.
Also on my list of aircraft I love too is fighter jets, like this F-4 Phantom II on the left, and the F-15 Eagle on the right. These jets don’t normally have fuzzy vertical stabilizers; these are spikey metal attachments meant to keep birds from landing, and pooping, on the aircraft.
Nose art on this F-4 Phantom II is meant to look vicious , but the jet does that without the help of paint schemes.
Nose art on this F-4 Phantom II is meant to look vicious , but the jet does that without the help of paint schemes.

San Xavier del Bac Mission: Highly Recommended

By mid afternoon I was at the much-celebrated, much-photographed San Xavier del Bac Mission, a beautifully preserved Spanish Catholic mission church. The mission that survives today was built between 1783 and 1797, which makes it the oldest European structure in Arizona.

One approaches the Mission San Xavier del Bac from the parking area to this grand vista of the front of the main building.
One approaches the Mission San Xavier del Bac from the parking area to this grand vista of the front of the main building.
Spring sunshine fills the west courtyard. The weather couldn't have been more perfect.
Spring sunshine fills the west courtyard. The weather couldn’t have been more perfect.

Ansel Adams photographed this, and wrote about it in Examples: the Making of 40 Photographs. His example was shot from the north court, which was not open to the public when I was there.

The interior of the church is ornate and beautiful, and perfectly preserved.
The interior of the church is ornate and beautiful, and perfectly preserved.
This view of the interior of the church looks south towards the entrance.
This view of the interior of the church looks south towards the entrance.
This view of the Mission looks west from the top of a nearby hill.
This view of the Mission looks west from the top of a nearby hill.
Someone told me that the hill to the east wasn't a part of the Mission, but an easy walk to the top with a tiny bit of scrambling yielded this shot of a large white memorial cross.
Someone told me that the hill to the east wasn’t a part of the Mission, but an easy walk to the top with a tiny bit of scrambling yielded this shot of a large white memorial cross.

The Mission is immaculately restored and maintained, but, like Saguaro, also suffers from metropolitan sprawl.

On my way back to the car, I asked a nice group of cyclists, who were in the middle of riding across Arizona, to make this picture of me.
On my way back to the car, I asked a nice group of cyclists, who were in the middle of riding across Arizona, to make this picture of me.

Saguaro National Park West: Highly Recommended

I asked a young park ranger to recommend a hike in the west unit of Saguaro National Park. At first she told me about the most popular hike in the park, but I explained that I would rather go somewhere more remote, and that difficulty wan’t a factor. She told me the Sendero Esperanza (Spanish for “Hope Path”) trail was her favorite, and had far fewer visitors on it. “Sold!” I said.

Numerous saguaro cactus line the Sendero Esperanza trail.
Numerous saguaro cactus line the Sendero Esperanza trail.
Saguaro cactus can grow up to 50 feet tall and 30 inches in diameter. Many grow arms, but some never do.
Saguaro cactus can grow up to 50 feet tall and 30 inches in diameter. Many grow arms, but some never do.
These ocotillos were abundant on the trail, and featured zillions of super-sharp spines.
These ocotillos were abundant on the trail, and featured zillions of super-sharp spines.
As I ascended the trail on my way to a ridge overlooking the park, the cactus forest got more and more impressive.
As I ascended the trail on my way to a ridge overlooking the park, the cactus forest got more and more impressive.

I rated this end of the park highly recommended, but be aware that it is not far from metropolitan Tucson, so it can be crowded.

I'm not much of a flower-on-the-trail guy, since I have great wildflowers where I live, but I spotted this little patch of red and thought it made sense.
I’m not much of a flower-on-the-trail guy, since I have great wildflowers where I live, but I spotted this little patch of red and thought it made sense.
As I got farther up the ridge, the rolling hills of cactus got more and more scenic.
As I got farther up the ridge, the rolling hills of cactus got more and more scenic.
Afternoon gives way to early evening.
Afternoon gives way to early evening.
This tough little tuff was right beside the trail.
This tough little tuff was right beside the trail.
The only people I saw on this trail were a young couple who told me they were trying to see all 63 National Parks. I asked them to make my picture.
The only people I saw on this trail were a young couple who told me they were trying to see all 63 National Parks. I asked them to make my picture.
Early evening light casts a warm glow on the saguaro cactus.
Early evening light casts a warm glow on the saguaro cactus.
The sun sets behind a hill in the distance.
The sun sets behind a hill in the distance.

Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument: Conditionally Recommended

I rate this park as conditional because it is so far out-of-the-way that it isn’t attractive enough to visit as a destination. Since I was in southern Arizona for visiting other locations, however, I set aside a day to drive out to it and have a look around.

My first stop for the day was Why, Arizona. Lore says that it was first named Y because it is at a Y in highways 85 and 86, but Arizona law requires town names to have at east three letters in them.
My first stop for the day was Why, Arizona. Lore says that it was first named Y because it is at a Y in highways 85 and 86, but Arizona law requires town names to have at east three letters in them.

I took the one-way, sometimes-paved Ajo Mountain Scenic Drive, which was not as scenic as I had hoped, and full of people going about five miles per hour due to washboarding.

Fun fact: going slower makes the ripples of washboarding feel worse. I learned this in 1999 and 2001 on the sketchy county road to Chaco Canyon in New Mexico. I saw a couple of park rangers sail past at 45 mph or more, tried it myself, and discovered that higher speeds let you kind of “float” over the ripples in the road.

This is the organ pipe cactus from which the park gets it's name. I saw this on the Arch Canyon trail.
This is the organ pipe cactus from which the park gets it’s name. I saw this on the Arch Canyon trail.
A large double arch is visible from the trail at Arch Canyon.
A large double arch is visible from the trail at Arch Canyon.

The Monument’s website, and signs at every turn, warned of encounters with illegal immigrants.

According to Wikipedia, “the visitor center has been named in honor of Ranger Kris Eggle. On August 9, 2002, he was shot and killed by a drug smuggler during a United States Border Patrol operation. With a continuing, steady flow of immigrants and drug runners from Mexico, the majority of the park was closed in 2003. After being considered the most dangerous national park, the park reopened the backcountry after surveillance towers, vehicle barriers, and pedestrian fences were installed along the border.”

I never saw anything resembling illegal activity.

The Ajo Mountains are rugged and desolate.
The Ajo Mountains are rugged and desolate.

I hiked the Arch Canyon trail, a one-mile in-and-back affair, but as the trail head sign noted, when I got to the end of the trail there was a hiker-made trail that was supposed to lead to the arches. It was immediately as steep as any trail I’d ever hiked, and, as it climbed up the mountain, got looser and looser with rocks and gravel. I got to a point where I was exhausting myself, and felt the way down would be a treacherous descent, so I turned back.

At the end of the official trail is this steep, slightly unsafe hiker-made trail that blunders up gravelly switchbacks and loose rocks.
At the end of the official trail is this steep, slightly unsafe hiker-made trail that blunders up gravelly switchbacks and loose rocks.
Arch Canyon cuts deep into the Ajo Mountains, though I was unable to find a photographic element to express the vast distances involved.
Arch Canyon cuts deep into the Ajo Mountains, though I was unable to find a photographic element to express the vast distances involved.
One of the few genuinely colorful items on the Arch Canyon trail was this small cactus.
One of the few genuinely colorful items on the Arch Canyon trail was this small cactus.
I made a point to drive to the U.S.-Mexico border to photograph the border wall, and to be able to say I had been there.
I made a point to drive to the U.S.-Mexico border to photograph the border wall, and to be able to say I had been there.

Biosphere 2: Recommended

I got up early in Tucson and headed northeast, with the idea that I would visit Biosphere 2, an experimental Earth science facility constructed in the late 1980s to study how to build an independent ecosystem with space travel in mind. Oddly funded and poorly, and sometimes fraudulently, operated, it fell on hard times. Eventually, it was purchased by the University of Arizona.

This handsome metallic parabolic dish greets visitors near the entrance to Biosphere 2.
This handsome metallic parabolic dish greets visitors near the entrance to Biosphere 2.
Although handsome and enticing, this dome at the top of a tower was home to the facility's library, but was seldom used because it was accessed by a steep, unventilated stairway.
Although handsome and enticing, this dome at the top of a tower was home to the facility’s library, but was seldom used because it was accessed by a steep, unventilated stairway.
Biosphere 2 is much larger than I imagined it would be, probably because I had only ever seen it on television decades ago, and standard-definition broadcasts weren't noted for their spectacular detail.
Biosphere 2 is much larger than I imagined it would be, probably because I had only ever seen it on television decades ago, and standard-definition broadcasts weren’t noted for their spectacular detail.
The spiral stairway leading to the library was visually enticing.
The spiral stairway leading to the library was visually enticing.
One reason photographers like me remember Biosphere 2 being smaller than it really was came from the ratty tv news helicopter shots of it. Touring it in person tells a different story.
One reason photographers like me remember Biosphere 2 being smaller than it really was came from the ratty tv news helicopter shots of it. Touring it in person tells a different story.
Biosphere 2 is educational, but I only visited it because I was in the area. It's not really a destination.
Biosphere 2 is educational, but I only visited it because I was in the area. It’s not really a destination.

Central Arizona Drive: Recommended

I drove for much of the rest of the day through what seemed on the map like it would be scenic and interesting, but also avoiding the Phoenix metropolitan area.

This view looks north from El Capitan Pass in the Dripping Springs Mountains.
This view looks north from El Capitan Pass in the Dripping Springs Mountains.
Bridges, like Roosevelt Lake Bridge over Salt Creek, are fun to photograph.
Bridges, like Roosevelt Lake Bridge over Salt Creek, are fun to photograph.
Some dude gestures as he makes images of himself at Roosevelt Lake.
Some dude gestures as he makes images of himself at Roosevelt Lake.

I made my way up Arizona 77 through the Dripping Springs Mountains, through Globe, Arizona, then into the Tonto Basin, past Roosevelt Lake.

Beautiful blue skies are reflected in the waters of Roosevelt Lake.
Beautiful blue skies are reflected in the waters of Roosevelt Lake.

As I continued, the day got increasingly windy. By the time I was passing the Mogollon Rim, I was still enjoying the scenery, but staying in the truck and out of the driving wind.

Montezuma Castle National Monument: Conditionally Recommended

I found myself at Montezuma Castle National Monument later in the afternoon. It is very small by National Park standards, and not really a destination, but I was right there, so I felt it would be a nice quick stop. The images of it on the internet fail to capture the scope of the ruins in the cliffside, and without a person up there for scale, I had the same trouble.

Gorgeous afternoon sun shines on the approach to Montezuma Castle National Monument.
Gorgeous afternoon sun shines on the approach to Montezuma Castle National Monument.
Montezuma Castle National Monument preserves this beautiful 20-room cliff dwelling.
Montezuma Castle National Monument preserves this beautiful 20-room cliff dwelling.
I was really glad to get out and stretch my legs on this very short, paved walk at Montezuma Castle National Monument.
I was really glad to get out and stretch my legs on this very short, paved walk at Montezuma Castle National Monument.

I arrived in Flagstaff in time for Indian food for dinner, then bedded down listening to the forecast that called for 5 to 8 inches of snow in the morning.

I grabbed this from my radar app. It shows a deep band of snow centered on the Flagstaff area when I got up in the morning.
I grabbed this from my radar app. It shows a deep band of snow centered on the Flagstaff area when I got up in the morning.
Eastbound on Interstate 40 out of Flagstaff, Arizona; the skies were gloomy, the wind cold, and snow from the night before clung to my truck. This image reminds me of the cover photo of the Bruce Springsteen album "Nebraska."
Eastbound on Interstate 40 out of Flagstaff, Arizona; the skies were gloomy, the wind cold, and snow from the night before clung to my truck. This image reminds me of the cover photo of the Bruce Springsteen album “Nebraska.”

Abandoned Little Painted Desert: Conditionally Recommended

I saw this on an Arizona recreation map, a short distance north of Interstate 40 on Arizona 87 northeast of Winslow. Despite feeling like I had accomplished all of my goals for the trip, I still felt like making pictures. This is another stop I can only recommend if it is along your route.

Arizona 87 takes on a broody, bleak look. I consider this among the best images I made on this trip.
Arizona 87 takes on a broody, bleak look. I consider this among the best images I made on this trip.

Despite the former attraction’s focus on a colorful desert overlook, the bold, cold, windy morning clouds urged me to work with the idea of rendering the images in black-and-white.

Here is another frame of Arizona 87. I shot this in howling, ice-cold wind, but had the highway almost entirely to myself.
Here is another frame of Arizona 87. I shot this in howling, ice-cold wind, but had the highway almost entirely to myself.
Graffiti is art, as is my image of it, on a yield sign at the entrance to the abandoned Little Painted Desert scenic overlook.
Graffiti is art, as is my image of it, on a yield sign at the entrance to the abandoned Little Painted Desert scenic overlook.
With the usual colors of the Painted Desert muted by moody skies, I rendered this in black-and-white.
With the usual colors of the Painted Desert muted by moody skies, I rendered this in black-and-white.
Black-and-white blueberries? Sure, but why would anyone dump a full carton of blueberries in the middle of an abandoned scenic overlook? I will grant that the brand name does have the word "scenic" in it.
Black-and-white blueberries? Sure, but why would anyone dump a full carton of blueberries in the middle of an abandoned scenic overlook? I will grant that the brand name does have the word “scenic” in it.

Sometimes travel itself becomes the goal, and though I had many great destinations, this trip also had many great stretches of road.

This abandoned church on U.S. 60 in eastern New Mexico was looking especially textural.
This abandoned church on U.S. 60 in eastern New Mexico was looking especially textural.
Here is another view of the abandoned Church in Eastern New Mexico. Like many of the images I made on this trip, I shot three different exposures, and blended them into a High Dynamic Range (HDR) image.
Here is another view of the abandoned Church in Eastern New Mexico. Like many of the images I made on this trip, I shot three different exposures, and blended them into a High Dynamic Range (HDR) image.

I believe I accomplished all of my goals on this trip, and that it exceeded all my expectations, and it was an amazingly fun time. More than once I found myself smiling and feeling happy just because I was there.

The sun sets behind a forest of cactus at Saguaro National Park near Tucson, Arizona.
The sun sets behind a forest of cactus at Saguaro National Park near Tucson, Arizona.

3 Comments

  1. Richard, your trip “photo logs” never disappoint!!
    Great text paired with beautiful and breathtaking images.
    I loved everything you shared as I
    “traveled” the American Southwest with you.
    Thanks for posting so many gorgeous and inspiring images.
    Superb work, Richard R. Barron, but exactly what I have come to expect from you through all these many years. of following your work and admiring your skills as a highly talented photojournalist.

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