Saturday, July 16, 2011

20 Days and 4675 miles in 3 parts, Part 3

Utah, Hiking, Anne Peairs Wedding, and the drive home
Leaving Twentynine Palms we drove back through the Mojave Desert, past Las Vegas, into and out of Arizona and into Utah where our destination was Bryce Canyon. The drive started in the hot dry desert with temperatures over 100, eventually passed through a mountain pass with snow along the side of the road and ended in the high, dry plateau at Bryce. Bryce Canyon is an amazing example of the effects of wind, rain, and freezing temperatures on a red limestone depost that is nearly1000 feet thick. The result is one of the most amazing displays of erosion and the beauty of nature. I just have to say how absolutely stunning Utah is! Don and I had been to Zion Park just a few years back with Brandy and Will (pre Mikayla) but we had never been to Bryce Canyon. This was our chance. And what a beautiful treat!

Upon arrival at the park, Max and I were able to buy our Senior Pass for access to all U.S. National parklands. Best of all the pass only costs $10.00 and it is good for the rest of our life. There are some advantages to reaching the ripe old age of 62. I'm going to order a book on Amazon that includes all the National Parks in the country. I figure we're going to get the most out of this pass. Maybe we'll start putting tacks into our map in Don's office for "visits" to national parks on our Senior Pass!

When we first arrived we had plenty of time to explore the rim of this canyon. The top of the canyon is at an elevation of about 8,000 feet, and the park provides view points at 5 different places along the rim. There is a hiking trail you can take along the rim, but you are also allowed to drive to each of the points and walk a short distance to the most beautiful views we have seen since Grand Canyon. Now my heart will always belong to the Grand Canyon- it was love at first sight (just like San Francisco!)- but Bryce Canyon needs to be on everyone's "bucket list". It is absolutely breathtaking. Because we arrived in the early evening, we drove instead of hiking the 3 mile rim walk, especially since we had plans to hike into the canyon the next day. I was amazed to find that these formations are not red sandstone, but rather limestone that was formed around 35-50 million years ago when this area was a very large inland lake. Sediments from the surrounding mountains that drained into the lake contained significant amounts of iron and thus the reason these rocks are red instead of the usual gray color of limestone.

Below are a few pictures taken from the rim. For significantly more pictures, you can look at the a comprehensive photo album at:
You really must visit Don's pictures they are well worth the time!

This view was a perfect occasion to use my fisheye lens.

I talked to the Ranger at the information desk and picked out a hike for the next day. I told him we could do a moderately difficult hike of 5-7 miles and he suggested one that fit that description. Now I really should have been paying close attention here- but I wasn't- rather wandering about the visitor center while Don discussed hiking the canyon. I should have AT LEAST read about the hikes that evening in the information that the ranger gave us about the canyon. But I didn't- that was a mistake. See- we could do a "moderately difficult" hike because Don has the stamina to do a "difficult" hike- and I can do an "easy" hike and Don thought probably "moderately difficult" was a rather nice compromise. WRONG! This hike was a KILLER! I stopped so many times- in fact- later Don commented how much "shade" had been on the hike- and I gently told him there really wasn't that much "shade" but since I stopped at every single tiny bit of shade the entire hike it just "seemed" like there was a lot of "shade".

One factor that must be considered is that you start this hike at an elevation of 8000 feet where the air is already pretty thin and drop about 600 feet into the floor of the canyon. It was beautiful going down, but one must remember that you have to climb back up at the end. More on that later. Here are some pictures of the way down. It was called Wall Street, not because it dealt in stocks and bonds, but because it was a path cut out out of a wall and was between two more vertical walls.

Once we reached the bottom, we hiked a short distance to a trail called Peek-a-boo. We had no idea why it had that name, but just that it was a 3 mile hike through some beautiful geology. I also want to mention here that if I had bothered to read the hiking information I would have known that this particular 3 mile hike was listed as very strenuous! As we hiked that 3 mile trail we found that we kept going up to near the top of the canyon and then back down again and repeated this about 4 different times resulting in a change in elevation of 1631 feet by the time we got to the end . And it became obvious that the name, "Peek-a-boo", was coined because each time we arrived at the top of a climb, we rounded a corner or walked through a short tunnel in the rock to see just another unbelieveable view that sprang up in front of us.

We did make it back up to the top after about five and a half hours and just as we were running out of water. I finally just flat out told Don that if he wanted to get me to the top he was going to have to do just a bit of pulling. So let it be recorded that I was rather pulled out of the canyon by Don! It was a very difficult walk for two folks that got into the park on a Senior Pass, and I'm not sure Max would have made it back without a lot of encouragement, but my goodness, it was beautiful.

From Bryce we drove 70 miles further northwest to Boulder, Utah where we checked into the Boulder Inn. This was the site of the wedding of Jason Weaver and Anne Peairs, daughter of our good friends, Mary Jo and Don Peairs. Mary Jo was Michael's kindergarten teacher when we first moved into our home in Wyoming, OH, and they have become wonderful friends. Anne and Jason live in Salt Lake and since they are both avid outdoors people they chose this Inn for their wedding. Below is the view from our room.

The Inn is in the small town of Boulder that has a population of about 180 people who are mostly involved in farming. Surprisingly, the resturant at the Inn (called Hell's Backbone Kitchen) is run by two entrepreneur women who have organized the local farmers to supply them with fresh, locally grown food. The food at this restaurant (that we enjoyed at the rehearsal dinner, the wedding reception and breakfast on both Saturday and Sunday) was the best food I had eaten on this trip- and competes easily the the wonderful food we had in Philly as well as Chicago. This place was amazing. Of course I now have the cookbook! You can check it out at Hells Backbone Grill! That first evening they hosted an informal rehearsal dinner with food provided by the restaurant. Anne and Jason seemed awfully relaxed.

As I said, Anne and Jason love the out of doors, so we weren't too surprised that on their wedding day the two of them started off the day with an easy 3 mile run (the elevation here is about 7000 ft). After breakfast, what else but a choice of three different organized hikes into the canyons around Boulder. It was very nice that the three hikes represented three different levels of difficultly. Most of us "older" hikers chose the "easy" hike that simply covered about 3 miles along the rim of the canyon instead of delving down to the bottom and then back up again. Below is the more rigorous group heading down into the canyon.

And below are the more "senior" hikers with their guide leading the way. That's Max in the pink top and big hat right behind our guide. This was my first "guided" hike and what a treat! Our guide had spent his whole life in National Parks (his father was a forest ranger as well) and he really knew his stuff. On top of that he was an amazing flute player. How lucky we were! You can hear our guide play his flute at Hiking Guide Playing the Flute.

And here are some scenes of the canyon.

Those younger hikers who descended to the canyon bottom climbed back out and met us at our half-way vista. Here are Anne and Jason after the early morning run and now a hike down the canyon and back up again.

Of course the wedding was held outside that evening with a beautiful view of the mountains in the background. The thirty odd family members and close friends who attended the wedding were treated to a strolling guitar player, beautiful weather, beautiful views, and what seems to be an absolutely appropriate wedding for these two. The bride was escorted across the lawn by her dad. Ann walked in barefoot looking absolutely stunning!

The wedding was officiated by a friend of Anne's from her Peace Corps experience in Africa. Anne was there 3 years before she came back and completed a graduate engineering degree before being hired by a firm in Salt Lake City! Impressive young woman! Rachel, the friend from Africa just finished seminary in time to marry Anne and Jason- perfect timing!

And the bride was beautiful!

We left Boulder Sunday morning enroute to Denver, CO, for our next leg of the trip. The drive through the Rockies on I-70 east to Denver is another beautiful trip, though by now we'd seen "lots of beautiful" and were mostly just ready to get home and sleep in our own beds! We had about an hour delay due to construction on the western side of the Rockies and then made very good time until just after we passed through the Eisenhower Tunnel and began our decent into Denver. Who would have guessed that "rush hour" in Denver is at its very worst on Sunday evening on the drive down the from the mountains into Denver? It took us 2 hours to drive about 50 miles on the interstate highway. I guess we should have guessed it when all of the cars were either pulling boats, carrying bicycles or kayaks, pulling campers, and loaded down with what was obviously camping gear. The real rush hour in Denver is the one coming home after a weekend in the mountains.

Our final two legs of this trip were not nearly as interesting. From Denver we drove to Kansas City and then the next day to Cincinnati, completing our 20 days and 4675 miles on the road. Now I do want to mention that we made very good use of our time in the car when the view wasn't so "beautiful". We listened to 26 cds of "John Adams" by David McCullough and then finished 10 of the cds of "Franklin and Lucy" by Joseph Persico. So we came back "smarter" than when we left as well.

I don't believe we will ever repeat this specific journey, but who knows. We were glad to get home, sleep in our own beds, use our own shower in the morning, and especially to not have an agenda for the next day.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

20 days and 4675 miles in 3 parts. Part 2:

West to Twentynine Palms, CA
Twentynine Palms, CA is about 1200 miles straight west from Oklahoma City.  Since we started a little late after having breakfast with my cousin Vicki, we chose to take our time and make this trip with two stops so our arrival into Twentynine Palms on the third day would be fairly early.  We stopped first in Albuquerque and then the second night in Flagstaff.  This gave us an easy 4.5 hour drive on our last day.  The further west we went the hotter it got.  When we crossed the Colorado River into California, our car thermometer read 109.  But the drive across the Mojave was uneventful, mostly because there really isn't anything to speak of once you leave Kingman, AZ.  We arrived at the gate for the base where Marianne met us and got us our pass so we could drive onto the base.  From there it was just a couple miles to their new base housing.

With the arrival of Weiler, the Kappels were now worthy of a four bedroom house on the base.  The place is really very nice with a fenced back yard, patio area, garage, and a good air conditioner (the best part).  The first action was to unload the piano from the back of the van.  Michael had helped me load it in Cincinnati, but even better help showed up to lug it out of the car and into the house.  The Marines landed!!  Clint and three of his friends showed up to do the heavy work, allowing me to only look like I was helping. Don't let Don kid you- he couldn't resist "helping" so with all these strapping Marines to help, Don was still in the middle "pulling his weight!" These Marines by the way are the Lieutenants that served under Clint in Afghanistan. What a fine looking group!  Gotta admit, it made me proud just to be holding onto the piano with those four Marines.

And it wasn't too long before Reeder was playing "Grandma", her recital song. 

Our arrival was only a couple of days after the movers had arrived with all of their stuff.  Consequently, our visit provided not only the main object of this trip (to see Clint), but also provided Marianne with some help in  moving in, unpacking, putting away, putting together, fixing, painting, and taking care of kids (the last part almost entirely done by Max). I don't think I saw Don "resting" for even a moment.  In addition to painting four rooms, putting together two bikes, a barbq grill (the toughest of his assisngments- but he finished in time for us to cook steaks for supper!), shelving, cabinets....  (I bet it isn't hard for you to decide which color Reeder picked and which color Hayes picked...)

After a nights sleep our first assignment was something more official.  The Colonel in charge of Clint's Battalion was transferring and a change of command was needed.  Now the Marines take these things very seriously and include a lot of pomp and circumstance.   They brought out their vehicles (below is a Light Armored Vehicle (LAV) that they use in their job. The change of command was really impressive- makes you so proud- proud of my son, proud of the Marines and proud of my country!

Next came the men under the Colonel's command (although since it was really hot, they only marched out 30 from each of the five Companies instead of all 120 men that make up a company).  Below is Clint leading his Company in the parade and the Company "at ease" while the outgoing and incoming Colonels said a "few words". 

And they even marched a few horses around the parade grounds.

Best of all we got our first family picture that included Weiler!

But everything wasn't just work and parades.  We did take a little time for some  fun.  Marianne and I blew up the inflatable pool so the kids could cool off.  Unfortunately the pump to inflate the pools was still packed in one of those boxes piled in the house.

And Clint's "coming home" present to Hayes was.... Drum roll please....

And Reeder and Hayes both got new bicycles to ride.

Hayes and I were out "riding" a couple of times and he would always slow when he passed this BIG BIKE!

I asked Hayes if he might want to take a closer look.  He was excited.

Then he told me, "Grama, when I get big I will ride in the middle seat and you'll ride on the back seat."  I do think I might have to decline that- even from this charmer!

And Weiler simply enjoyed being there with everybody and smiling.

And Clint got a brand new grill although the picture below was pre-new grill.  Nonetheless grilling out in the back yard was an almost daily event.

One real downside of the trip was that Clint didn't have a lot of free time.  One would think that after spending several  months working 20 hour days getting ready to go to Afghanistan and then spending 7 months over there working essentially 24 hours a day, the Marines could give a guy a little time off.  Two unfortunate things happened to prevent this:  1) Clint got a new assignment and a new Colonel when he returned and 2) his replacement for his old assignment wasn't due to show up for another month or so. Consequently, Clint was working two jobs while we were there in preparation of a much needed vacation with his family.  But I might mention that Clint started this "vacation" by climbing Mt. Rainer!  How's that for taking a break!

He did get some time to catch up on sleep and holding his new son.

And Clint and I even squeezed a trip in to the park!

So Max and I focused on helping put the house in order and spending some time with Marianne and the Kids.  One morning before temperatures got too high we even ventured out to Joshua Tree National Park for a little hiking and rock climbing.  Reeder and Hayes love to climb on the rocks and they are getting really good at it for kids that are 3 and 5 years old.

OK, so Hayes isn't climbing in this picture, but I couldn't resist this smile. Not sure anyone can resist this smile!

Weiler wasn't quite ready to try out his climbing shoes, but he enjoyed the show and got to climb with Mom.

Weiler even got a good bit of cuddling from Grandma Max.

Part 3 coming next:  Bryce Canyon, Boulder, Utah and Anne Peair's wedding, then home.