IMG_20140718_194035 There are roads, and then there are ROADS. On every road trip, there should be at least one of these epic roads that one has to travel.
At least, that is the rule that Jason and I live by. For us, in 2010, Beartooth Pass was THAT road, a road so epic that it was the destination itself, not the several national parks we stopped at on the way there and back. In 2012, the steep curves and sharp vistas of the Road to Paradise in Mt Rainier NP, and one could argue even the Tioga Pass that took us into Yosemite, were those roads. In this journey, the road trip of the summer of 2014, the epic road was Going-To-The-Sun, the fifty mile main artery of Glacier National Park.

This was probably the most anticipated of any of the epic roads we had traveled, as well. I had been dreaming about this road for years, maybe two to four. I had bookmarked the virtual geocache stops along it, traced it with the mouse cursor, showed Jason videos on YouTube of other people driving it, and plotted where we were going to stop and what we were going to do there. The names given to the various points thrilled me: Weeping Wall, The Loop, Siyeh Bend, Sun Point.

What I didn’t plan on, during all this anticipation, was how I would feel if weather rained, or in this case burned, on my dreams of stunning mountain views. There were wildfires in the neighboring states all around us during this ONE particular day that we finally made our way there. Smoke drifted for hundreds of miles and left a dark mist all over Glacier NP on July 18 of this year. It was a lesson for me in how to handle disappointment, that is for sure.

I wasn’t the only one, either. That night, when we made it to our campsite, I talked to a fellow traveler who came to the park from New York in an RV with her husband, and she said her husband was so pissed off about it that he wanted to pull up stakes and leave, now, even though they had driven for days to get here and meant to spend three days in the park. We meant to spend three days in the park, too, and luckily, by the next day, the smoke had moved out of the area and we were able to enjoy the views. We drove halfway back up Going-To-The-Sun and back to get to Logan Pass to go hiking, and it all worked out in the end. That first day, though, I had a hard time letting go of that lump of frustration that something I worked and saved so hard to be able to see was just covered up by a haze.

Here are some of the pictures that we did get along the way, all taken with my cell phone.  Jason didn’t even bother to get his camera out of the car. IMG_20140718_195609 IMG_20140718_195555 The road itself was not without its adventures, though, despite the smoke.  Making our way past the dripping Weeping Wall was fun, as well as the twists around Big Bend and some of the smaller bends.  The road got narrow, and there was enough snow and ice to keep things interesting. We did have lunch at Lake McDonald Lodge like I planned, but it was so late it was really more like an early dinner.

We decided to splurge and eat in Russell’s Fireside Dining Room, although in retrospect, I think I would have been happier just buying sandwiches from the deli mart and sitting by the shore to eat and watch the birds.  We walked up to the lake and identified answers to the virtual geocache there, marveling at the pink and gray rocks in the water. We stopped at a few viewpoints along the way, taking pictures to also claim those finds, and then took a short walk along the Trail of the Cedars.
The forest there was interesting enough to deserve its own post, so look for the pictures in the next entry.

A parting picture: IMG_20140719_101740

Bryce Canyon National Park: Submission or Serendipity?

By the time we got to Bryce Canyon that Sunday night in July, I was really darn sick.  We were also extremely hungry.  We had driven pretty hard to try to make it to our place to sleep for the night, and hadn’t time to stop for food.  We had driven past a Subway in some little town which my son pointed out longingly, but we assured him we would be able to eat once we arrived at Bryce.

We had food in the cooler, but it all involved cooking on the camp stove, which was more time consuming than just buying food.  I thought when we checked in at the Ruby’s Inn Campground, where we had a tipi reserved for the night, we could just cook on the picnic table in front.  It just kept getting later, though, so late that the campground office was closed for the night.  I could see people inside, and knocked at the door.  The two female clerks shook their heads in annoyance as they counted the day’s income, but the manager did come out to give me the slip for which tipi to go to and how to check in the morning.

Now there was the issue of food.  I was probably too sick to prepare our food over the camp stove, we decided.  We drove back up the road a few miles, where we had seen a restaurant with people inside it, but as I walked to the door, they told me they were closed.  Never mind the people inside playing pool…but I am guessing at this time of night, the place turned into a bar instead of a restaurant.  The Subway over here had just closed down as well.  The restaurant attached to Ruby’s Inn…also with people inside…also turned us away.  Ridiculous.

We went inside the store at Ruby’s Inn, but hordes of people were coming out at the same time, saying the store was closing as well.  However, one mentioned to us that if you were quick about it, you might be able to grab something and get in line before the registers shut down.  We were literally the last people paying that night, buying packaged sandwiches and chips that we ate sitting around the picnic table by the tipi that now Jason decided we should not stay in.  He was concerned about how sick I was, and about the tipi having an open roof and a door that had stayed pinned open, letting who knows what in.  He was on the phone instead calling hotels seeing if there were any rooms left instead.   There was no luck with any of the hotels close by, but he did find a lady who offered her last room at her hotel at a decent rate back behind us about nine miles back down the road.

So here we were, at the America’s Best Value Inn in Tropic instead of having the tipi adventure I had planned for us.  However, the beds were pretty darn comfortable and apparently we all needed to recharge our electronics AND ourselves.  Jason also kept insisting that this worked out for the best, because there was a laundromat attached to the hotel and we had needed to wash all our clothes.  I kept trying to tell him Ruby’s Inn also had a laundromat, BUT we did get vouchers for a free breakfast at Clark’s next door, so there was that.

In the end, though, I think we spent a little bit too long eating, washing clothes, and packing back up, because we ended up being just like ten minutes too late for the earliest time to rent ATVs to take a ride into Bryce.  The next time slot was full, but they were able to take us at one pm.

This was a hard choice, because the kids really wanted to do the ATV ride, but I knew if we chose to take the slot, we would end up sacrificing the hike in Zion that I had been looking forward to so much.  We even had spent the money ahead of time to buy the equipment that we needed to do the Narrows hike in Zion, but when I put it to a vote, everyone else in our family was willing to sacrifice the Narrows to ride ATVs.  I guess I could have thrown a fit about it or insisted that we follow my agenda, because I was the one who planned the vacation AROUND this hike and wanted to do it so bad, but I was really too sick to even think about going against the flow.  Plus, I was thinking about a discussion Jason and I had about that hike, in which he had questioned my actual ability to do that hike, considering that it is supposed to be hard on the ankles and mine wasn’t quite 100% still.   I still had the want-to, but I might not have had the able-to to go along with this idea.

So I let go, but we still had a little time to kill until the ride started, so we drove into the park and stopped at a few overlooks.  This is the part where later I realized just how sick I was, because I didn’t even think about geocaching.  If I had just thought about it, I would have realized that there were some very easy virtuals we could have gotten, but they were all at the different overlooks than the ones we stopped at.  Kaleb expressed an interest in hiking down among the hoodoos, which I was surprised to hear coming from him, but we didn’t have time for any such thing this visit.  Maybe next time.  Here is the view from the overlooks:

IMG_20140714_114141 IMG_20140714_114202 IMG_20140714_114215Then it was time to go for our ride.  We bought some bandanas to cover our faces to keep from eating so much dust.  However, because we were on the four seater ATV, we had to ride in the very back of the line, so there was a lot of dust being kicked up ahead of us.  One thing I am never doing again, ever – going on an ATV ride in the desert when I had a chest cold.  Despite the bandana, my lungs felt like they were full of chalk after this.

Everyone did had a good time, though, and we saw some parts of the park and Dixie National Forest that we would not have seen otherwise.  We saw some deer.  We had to “rescue” the guide’s dog, who had jumped off his cart after something and then was trying to run to catch up when we got him on ours.  After this, though, we had a scary moment where the ATV shut down on us, with the rest of the pack too far ahead to notice we were not moving, and we got left out there in the middle of the wilderness.  I was beginning to think we would have to walk back to the headquarters, which I was not looking forward to in the heat of the day feeling like I did.  Eventually, the guide figured out to come back for us, and we got the machine going again and made it back okay.

We were all so covered in dust afterwards, and I guess the vehicle repair shop next door is used to this; they allow the guests to come over and blow themselves off in their air hose.  Even so, we were still dusty for the rest of the day.

IMG_20140714_130153 IMG_20140714_130235pic 3So, after this, we stopped at the Subway just outside the park, and paid ridiculous prices (it was something close to $50 for the four of us to eat!) and had terrible service by two poor foreign girls who had no idea how to make the food on the menu.  I am not usually one to complain, but it was bad.

After this, we tried to make it to Zion.  I still had a hope that we might be able to make it to the park in time to at least try to do a small amount of the hike I wanted to do, at least get into the Virgin River and get some of this dirt off of us, or see the park from the shuttle bus…something.  We were following the GPS directions from our vehicle’s map, and it seemed like we might barely have enough time…until we got to the point where our GPS told us we had arrived…and we had not.  We couldn’t figure out what happened at first, but then we understood.  We were technically in Zion National Park, but it was a northwest portion of the park called Kolob Canyons.  The name “Kolob” came from Mormon scriptures, meaning “the heavenly place nearest the residence of God”.  We decided since we were here to go ahead and drive through.  It seemed we did not have time to make it the forty miles further south to the actual park, especially since we were supposed to meeting the kids’ dad near Salt Lake City, and it seemed from his messages he was already or almost there.  We had to go.  We didn’t even really have the time or inclination to hike around some of the trails, go see some of the natural arches or find the earthcache there.  We had just enough time to drive around the rim and take these photos.

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Maybe it was one of those things that worked out for the best:  getting a good night sleep in a hotel room instead of the tipi (which probably helped me get better sooner), or having the ATV ride be one of the kids best memories of our vacation.  Maybe the Narrows hike would have just been frustrating or disappointing in some way.  Or maybe I am just trying to convince myself of this to be able to let go of the regret of giving up something that I wanted.

The real comfort, I guess, should be that most of my family (excluding Kaleb, who still would rather go to Wyoming) got excited about Utah and want to go back again.  AJ loved all of it and is willing to give up another intended vacation destination to come back here instead.  Jason got this idea about renting a boat to explore the Lake Powell/Glen Canyon area and he still has not seen the Grand Canyon, so doing the “Grand Circle” might be a trip in our future, and at that time, I can plan to do The Narrows Hike again.

The Supermoon of Moab

Yes, I am still telling stories of our summer vacation. This is a place for us to hold on to them so they won’t disappear from our memory.

When we were in the planning stages of our vacation, Jason didn’t even want to go back to Moab, and especially not Arches National Park. It was great when we went in 2010, but he was a little over it. I had this sense, though, that this was a place that my oldest son would really feel called towards, and I wanted to give him a chance to see it. In the end, I was right. Among the many places in our travels, the most inspiring to my oldest son was this visit to Arches.
He felt a connection to the rock formations, and wanted to be a part of it. We explored the Windows section near sunset, and he had a chance to connect with the Park intimately through its accessibility. He decided that someday he wanted to return to some of the National Park places to have a deeper encounter with rocks, canyons and mountains. Since then, we’ve been hitting the rock gyms and looking for weekend opportunities for him to go test these skills in the hill country with a group. This is important to us, as he is tiptoeing into his teenage years and we want him to have healthy connections with nature.
As we walked down towards the parking lot, we felt a collective gasp among the other park visitors, and turned to look at what they were seeing. The “Supermoon” was peeking through the North Window, surrounded by a cloud halo, and it was so beautiful we all stopped and stared for a while. None of our cameras could capture that incredible display of light and beauty, but we did get this one shot above of the moon over a different formation.
The memory of this view lingered for days after along our visits of other National Park areas. “Remember that legendary moon we saw?” my younger son would ask, and we would all murmur in agreement. These treasured moments in Arches; the inspiration for future goals in which to better explore the wilderness awoken in my older son, and the way the world lit up for a moment in a dazzling display of earth and sky, will forever be a beacon for us to draw us into exploring more of what this country’s National Park areas have to offer.

Yosemite’s Treasure

So, after talking to a friend who has seen my posts, I realized I needed to clarify, for those who might have missed my ButterFingers and a Broken Leg post, that these stories I am posting now are from the past.  They are stories from the road trip that we took this summer.  I am still recovering from my broken leg and am not out hiking around in the West in the moment.  My days are spent on the couch, in my bed, and lately also at my office some days, and at physical therapy the others.  I am hoping I can be hiking again by this summer, and walking again in the spring.  For now, I am stuck on crutches, teaching the muscles of my ankle and leg how to walk again.

I will post the dates of the stories from now on.

We reached Yosemite on July 1, after hiking around the Mono Lake area and getting a little dehydrated.  I think the youngest boy was just wiped out from the rough night in the tent the night before, because he fell asleep pretty soon after we got into the park.  So, regrettably, the only views of Yosemite were ones we got from the car window and a few parking lot stops.  We kind of wanted to go hiking, of course, but also we were all worn out from the morning and also thought there would be time for that the next day.  We had miraculously gotten camping reservations in the park and were headed to the Valley, hoping we could find a place to wash the pee out of the youngest’s sleeping bag.
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The above shots were on the way to the Valley.
So the first problem with Yosemite was this: everyone loves Yosemite. We were certainly not alone in the park. Our early stops had a lot of people around, but once we got into the Valley, there was no breathing room at all. Our search for a place to get some food and wash a sleeping bag were fruitless. There were no parking spots available in all the lots we were trolling around in. We were short in patience and high in frustration. Finally we decided to get out of there.
On the way out of the park, the adults in the vehicle had made the decision that we would forego our camping reservations for the night and head for a hotel, due to the pissy sleeping bag and the sheer exhaustion we were feeling. But little K missed that part of the conversation, and when we pulled up to Crane Flats to sit in the line at the campsite headquarters just to tell them they could give our site to someone else, we discovered the second problem with Yosemite.
The second problem? Bears. No, we didn’t see any, but the bears are notorious in this park for raiding vehicles for food. I had read so many warnings about this before we got here that I had been OCD about keeping the rental car food-smell-free this whole trip. I had talked to the kids about this, probably to the point that I caused them paranoia as well. How much it was affecting them, though, I didn’t know until this moment, when we pulled up at the site.
Suddenly, the little one was awake, and screeching, and holding his stomach. He told us his stomach hurt, hurt so bad. NO, he had to go to the bathroom really bad, that was it!, he says, but he was crying and distraught. I ended up getting out of the car and walking up to the ranger shack to ask them if I could just walk him to the bathroom in the campsite, and they told me that actually it would be faster to walk to the nearby gas station. I let them know about our canceled reservation, and a horrible scene then ensued in said bathroom, as I tried to insist my son actually use the bathroom and he tried to tell me that he didn’t have to and he was suddenly fine.
And maybe he was right, after all. Because he was fine, as soon as we started putting distance between us and that campsite, and I came to realize that his stomachache was really just a case of extreme anxiety about camping there, due to his picking up my bear preoccupation and distorting it into a actual phobia. Arktophobia or ursophobia, depending on who you believe.
I think it was safe to say that although we were all excited about the idea of a nice hotel room in San Francisco, he was easily the most excited of all of us.
Here are some of the views we did get in before we left.
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Also, one last clarification. In my last three entries, the Mono Lake MonoMyth series, I was trying to use elements of our journey to represent parts of the “hero’s journey”, or “monomyth”. This is a literary device described by Joseph Campbell that allegedly is evident in some of the classic stories of our times; Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, The Matrix. Ancient religious figures were held up against this story frame and it could be diagrammed the same way: Buddha, Moses, Christ. In a way, it could be said to be a classical structure of a myth.
Well, in this framework, towards the end, the hero is said to obtain a “boon”: a great gift that is bestowed upon the hero. Part of the quest of the hero is the decision to share this boon with the rest of the world, or keep it to themselves as a sacred secret. In the words of Campbell: “This miraculous energy-substance and this alone is the Imperishable; the names and forms of the deities who everywhere embody, dispense, and represent it come and go. This is the miraculous energy of the thunderbolts of Zeus, Yahweh, and the Supreme Buddha, the fertility of the rain of Viracocha, the virtue announced by the bell rung in the Mass at the consecration, and the light of the ultimate illumination of the saint and sage. Its guardians dare release it only to the duly proven.”

Well, in our case, our journey did have a boon, and I don’t know if I can put it into words yet the meaning of it. But it was this moment that made the whole journey worthwhile for me and my oldest son; standing in Yosemite Valley, looking up at the face of El Capitan. I told him stories about men who had climbed it before, and he looked me in the eye and said he would like to be one of those one day, that he would like to learn how to climb so he can come back one day and conquer this mountain.
I have a mountain or two of my own that I have been inspired by, so I hope he does, and I hope this boon is something that came alive in him this day that we have yet to see fully materialize. I do know, though, that even now, a half a year later, if you ask him, like I did just now, what his favorite part of his vacation was, he will tell you, “Yosemite.
El Capitan.”