Sleepless in Las Vegas

Seldom am I so amazed that I am speechless or at a loss for words…

After visiting twenty-nine U.S. National Parks, four Canadian National Parks, a dozen National Monuments, numerous State and Provincial Parks, and driving thousands of miles of scenic byways over the past twenty-nine weeks,

captured on:

Leah and I have yet to discover a place that is so captivating that we didn’t want to leave…until now.

Rainbow Trail panorama (2)
Leah and me

Valley of Fire State Park allowed us the chance to finally exhale, after America held its collective breath trying to make sense of yet another senseless killing spree, when a maniacal sniper opened fire on a crowd of 20,000 innocents a ¼-mile away.

We were 4½ miles out of harm’s way, staying at an RV resort off I-15 at the time, and wondered about the incessant sirens screaming past our open windows after 10 pm that fateful evening..

“I can’t believe how much crime they have here,” Leah exclaimed.

“Wouldn’t want to live here,” I offered.

Switching on the TV, all stations were locked on breaking news of an active shooter at the strip, but details were sketchy with the story developing by the minute. We quickly realized that we were listening to the soundtrack of a massacre: SWAT teams, police, EMT, and ambulances were sprinting past our Airstream–in and out of the danger zone.

Originally, we booked a couple of days in Vegas to decompress, and intended on exploring the strip in search of available show tickets once the Airstream was unhitched. But the prospects of casino crawling quickly faded after an afternoon of relaxation by the pool. Then again, we figured there would always be tomorrow.

Yet by morning, as the tragedy at Mandalay Bay unfolded, the thought of unthinkable loss left us gasping for air.

Leah summed it up: “It doesn’t feel right having fun when we’re surrounded by so much pain and suffering.”

We needed a getaway. We took off for Red Rock Canyon to escape the inhumanity, and clear our heads.

Callico 1

Keystone Notch Trail

Red Rock Canyon panorama

It was a small dose of nature for the day, and helped to heal our heavy hearts.

The following day, we moved our Airstream fifty miles east, to the Valley of Fire, where we found the perfect antidote to murder and madness. We found a place where we could breathe,

rainbow road (4)

and the only sound at night was silence.

The park has an abundance of features and formations.

Beehive2
Beehives
Arch Rock1
Arch Rock
Elephant Rock
Elephant Rock
Silica Rock
Silica Dome
Atlatl Rock
Atlatl Rock
Mouse's Tank
Mouse’s Tank

But the hiking trails off White Domes Road offer the biggest reward.

Rainbow Vista  gave us an opportunity to scramble over rocks with more colors than a box of Crayolas.

Roadside formations1 (2)

Roadside formations2 (2)

Roadside formations3 (2)

Roadside formations4 (2)

Roadside formations5 (2)

Roadside formations6

A loop through the deep red sands of White Domes transported us to the 23rd century set of Star Trek: Generations.

monolith (2)

White Dome Trail2

slot canyon2

Slot canyon4

canyon opening

keyhole (2)

A stroll through Fire Canyon during late afternoon gave us the impression that each rock radiated from within.

Fire Canyon (2)

rock foot

Magic light

Fire Canyon Arch

sundown

But I was unprepared for the exhilaration I felt after reaching the Fire Wave.

FW8

FW7

FW3

FW1

FW9

FW2

FW6

FW5 (2)

I’ve adopted Valley of Fire as my Muse. Even now, when I close my eyes, I believe I’m  living in Candyland–a magical world where the cliffs look like candy, and all the residents of the world are tolerant of each other. 

This post represents a milestone of sorts, as its #100 in my series of posts for Streaming Thru America–a blog intended to showcase and celebrate the diversity of beauty throughout the country. I dedicate #100 to all the victims, and their families, and I salute the first responders, the good Samaritans, and the medical personnel, who continue to fight for the living.

Close Calls

We arrived at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar for the Air Show, but couldn’t park any closer than one mile from the tarmac–where all the action was happening. I suppose if we wanted to upgrade from free to VIP status, we could have enjoyed preferred parking privileges closer to the airfield, but it was a beautiful day for a walk through a military base in sunny San Diego.

I was directed by Marine plebes to a general admission parking lot bordered by McDonalds and Chipotle. Leah and I opted to carry our own lawn chairs and snacks in lieu of paying for grandstand seating or any of the other enhanced options intended to pamper guests, including: a shaded lounge, gourmet food stations, a hosted bar, a commemorative coin, and less-frequented Porta Potties. But bringing our own chairs to the air show gave us more flexibility to move around the base. Besides, it was a beautiful day to schlep a heavy metal chair in a bag through a military base in sunny San Diego.

I think we were midway to the airfield, and steps away from the first security checkpoint when I saw something that deserved a second look through my camera. I peered through the viewfinder to discover the low-battery warning flashing in the frame before the screen went dark. Of course, it was my intention to exchange this battery with the battery charging inside the truck before we headed out, but I guess I was distracted by the notion of walking through a military base in sunny San Diego on such a beautiful day.

Leah found cover under a tree, while I dropped my chair and water bottle and hiked back to the truck to recover the freshly charged battery. Twenty minutes later, I rejoined her and we crossed the road where we were greeted by three security officers in camouflage fatigues.

The ranking officer addressed Leah first. “I’m sorry to tell you ma’am, but you can’t enter a secure facility with that fanny pack around your waist. For everyone’s security and protection, all bags…unless they’re clear…are prohibited.”

It was no use arguing with three people in uniforms on their own base, but Leah objected, “But I’m only carrying my water, my wallet and some snacks.”

The officer continued, “Your choices are to surrender it here and I can let you pass now, or return it to the safety of your vehicle if you still want to own it.”

And that’s when I remembered the graphic that caught my eye before my camera failed.

be-clear-header.jpg

“Do you have any idea how far it is to our car?” I interjected.

“I’m aware, sir, and there’s nothing I can do about that. Clear bags are the rule for everyone’s safety and protection,” he reiterated.

“I’ve just about had it with this air show!” Leah exclaimed, and stormed away. But she never got very far. She was delayed at the crosswalk by the marine directing traffic.

“I have an idea,” she said sotto voce, as I caught up with her.

We crossed back to the other side of the road, and turned into a nearby barracks parking lot away from view.

Leah removed her black waistpack and emptied the contents. Out came the water thermos, the wallet, and a baggie of pretzels. She loosened the chair bag drawstring, and stuffed the waistpack deep into the chair bag with the fragile pretzels sitting on top.

Cinching the drawstring, “I’ll be damned if I’m gonna give them my fucking bag!” she exhorted. With her water in hand and wallet in pocket, we crossed the road for the third time.

I proposed, “They’re never gonna believe that we ditched the pack in the truck and made it back this fast. So if they ask, we tell them that we handed it off to a friend to hold for us. Okay?”

Leah indifferently, “Whatever.”

When we approached the security team, Leah mimed that the pack was gone. “Are you gonna let us in now?” she mocked.

“I’m sorry for the inconvenience, ma’am. I hope you enjoy the show,” he stated sincerely.

“Isn’t there some kind of shuttle for senior citizens?” Leah intoned, playing the sympathy card.

“If you cross to the other side of the road, there’s a golf cart that will carry you and your things to the gate for 3 bucks a person,” he answered.

“How far’s the gate from here?” I asked.

“Straight up this road, ’bout half a mile,” security responded.

Leah outraged, “Are you kidding? Six bucks for half a mile? No way!”

“You’re right,” I reminded myself. “It’s such a beautiful day for a walk, lugging a heavy metal chair through a marine base in sunny San Diego.”

After arriving at the airfield gate, we were stopped by a second security detail dressed in pressed khakis and carrying guns.

“I apologize, but those chairs can’t enter this facility because they’re in bags,” an MP declared.

“You’ve got to be shitting me!” Leah unloaded. Emphatically, “Then why didn’t those boys down the road stop us at the time. They saw us carrying these bags over our shoulders,” she declared.

I covered my face to hide my grin. This was turning into a huge clusterfuck.

I took a breath. “What if we took the chairs out of the bags, and carried the chairs to the airstrip?” I suggested diplomatically. “Then it’s just a chair and a bag, instead of a chair in a bag.

They looked at each other and shrugged. “No problem, sir.” Followed by, “Please enjoy the show.”

We stripped the bags off our chairs, with Leah being especially careful to reposition and secure the waistpack into the folded seat.

“Thank you for that, now may I please see your IDs?” stated the second officer.

Leah dug her wallet out of her pocket, thumbed through her cards to locate her licence, and handed it to the third officer, who scanned it with his portable reader.

I was incredulous. “You’re not gonna believe this…” I started out.

Leah was glaring at me.

Continuing, “…but my wallet’s in my truck parked a mile down the road, and I’ve already had to go back once to get a fresh battery for my camera. So, there’s no way of showing my ID unless you guys wanna drive me back,” I lamented, “even though it’s a beautiful day for a walk through a military base in sunny San Diego.”

He looked the two of us over. I desperately communicated telepathically that he was putting my fate in Leah’s hands, and that he needed to show some sympathy and mercy.

Surprisingly, the marine announced, “Don’t worry about it. Just enjoy the show. Beyond this point, no one’s gonna hassle you for ID.”

Taken aback and winking, “Thank you. You may have just saved my life.”

After clearing checkpoint two, we advanced to the third and final security detail whose job it was to scan our bodies. We emptied our pockets onto the tarmac, and stood with arms and legs locked in a frozen jumping jack, while a soldier ran his wand up and down and around.

“All clear,” he announced.

We collected our belongings, and shuffled along with full arms.

“That was a close call,” I whispered.

“You’re telling me,” Leah laughed. “They would have found my camping knife in my pack.”

We weaved our way around small pockets of people–on the left side of a thinly populated grandstand,

Grandstands

and settled three deep from the front fenceline to see what everyone else had come out to see–the elite precision flying squad known as the U.S. Navy’s Blue Angels.

While clearance can be a serious issue when pulling a trailer–and I’ve had my share of close calls with our 28 ft. Airstream: like backing into a sleeve of an RV site with little to no front-end swinging-room; or negotiating a tight parking lot; or backing out into a busy road after inadvertently turning into a dead end–it still can’t compare to formation-flying in a $60 million aircraft with 22,000 lbs of thrust with only six inches separating the wingtips of two F/A-18 Hornets.

duet

After fueling, the fighters lined up in take-off order,

Blue Angel lineup

and took to the sky in a burst of thunder.

delta formation

A variety of formations quickly consumed an hour of time…

2 up 2 down

2 up 2 down1

breaking off

and approximately 4250 lbs of fuel (or roughly 600 gallons) per plane.

4 abreast

banked formation

The Department of Navy estimates an average running cost of $11,000 per hour to fly each plane,

landing

with a yearly operating budget for the Blue Angels at $35,475,000.

side by side

While I’m far from militaristic, it’s impossible to ignore the skill set and nerves of steel of the U.S. Navy’s most accomplished pilots, and their ability to control a mighty military machine for the purpose of entertainment versus destruction.

And that’s what I call a beautiful day in sunny San Diego!

4 across

 

Channeling the Islands

We are sitting on the water, bobbing on small swells in our yellow kayak while waiting to explore some of the many sea cave options available to us on the southeast edge of Santa Cruz Island, the largest of four northern islands–Santa Rosa, Santa Miguel, and Anacapa being the others–that comprise Channel Islands National Park.

pace setter

With names like Limbo, the Green Room, Neptune’s Trident, Flatliners, and Boatwreck, these grottoes suggest something ominous and sinister to less-accomplished sailors like Leah and me.

The unconventional road to Channel Islands crosses the Santa Barbara Channel from Ventura Harbor via a dedicated ferry chartered by Island Packers.

Island Packers

After boarding the vessel with day trippers and overnight campers, we embarked at 9:00 am for a 1 to 1.5 hour cruise, depending on encounters with sea creatures,

hauling on a buoy
layers of hauled-up sea lions

pair of bottlenose dolphins

dolphin jump

and immense cargo ships entitled to “right of way”.

NYK with dolphin

NYK Argus
layers of containers

Unfortunately, there were no whale sightings, despite being a regular occurrence during summer months, since humpback and endangered blue whales enjoy feeding beneath these krill-rich waters.

After disembarking from Scorpion Anchorage, a short trek past Scorpion Ranch reminded us that this island was once privately owned and operated as a sheep ranch before the National Park Service acquired the eastern parcel during the 1990’s. Machine wrecks layered with rust bordered the road past the ranch house.

dead tractor

dead truck

After layering into our kayaking outfit,

what a couple

we eventually met up with forth-year guide Marc,

Marc the guide

who reviewed safety maneuvers and rowing tips by the launch point.

kayaks

We entered the water at Scorpion Beach,

Scorpion Beach.jpg

and paddled along the southeastern edge of the coastline toward San Pedro Point, where we visited a handful of caves, each one unique and posing a different challenge: whether it was leaning low while paddling to avoid low-hanging rocks from shrinking ceilings; coping in absolute darkness; guiding the kayak through keyhole passages; or timing our exit to avoid being pummeled by surging water.

entering a cave

approaching sea cave

into the cave

sea cave (2)

inside the sea cave

And of course, there were plenty of seascapes along the way.

mooring

rock crops

cove

After two hours in the water, we traded surf for turf, and hiked the canyon loop trail for commanding views of our surroundings. From the Anacapa Passage…

Santa Cruz Island

past a kelp forest…

Kelp forest

…from a wildflower patch…

Anacapa Island

to a chalky cliff at Cavern Point…

Cliff edge

…with a lookout to Prisoners Harbor…

Prisoners Harbor

…and crossing paths with an indigenous creature…the island fox.

fox in repose

Island fox

After meeting a multi-layered sea challenge of kayaking, we boarded the ferry and returned to Ventura–where terra firma meets the ocean, and it’s steady beneath our feet.

Ventura Pier

 

Knock, Knock

We are anchored at RV site #1 at Pine Mountain Lake Campground in Groveland, CA, the closest town (albeit 24 miles away) from Yosemite’s western gate. The sites at PML are terraced on a steep hilltop better suited for mountain goats, although there is 50 amp power and a water bib, should goats ever feel the need for air conditioning and a shower.

The pop-up caravan at site #2 has just packed up and pulled out, leaving us completely alone and feeling somewhat relieved. After being cramped for so long at so many “RV resorts”, it’s nice to enjoy the breathing room that comes from having space on both sides of our home, when more often than not, RV parks keep us closer to neighbors than a Grey Poupon commercial.

Yet, despite the constant flux of RV park populations, and the proximity of rigs from stall to stall, there is an unwritten code of ethics that’s very reassuring–where neighbors seem to respect the property of others that typically extends beyond the footprint of one’s camper. Unattended grills, bikes and lawn chairs are a large part of open-door living at campgrounds, and are seldom disturbed by others.

However, when left alone, the isolation can be disquieting and peculiar, leaving us to wonder what it’s like to be on our own.

After breaking camp by mid-morning, the enervating 100 miles of stop-and-go driving from June Lake, over the Tioga Pass, through a crowded Yosemite NP to our final destination at Pine Mountain Lake took up most of our day. Ordinarily, after setting up, a secluded mountain setting would invite us to open our windows for a crisp cross-breeze of fresh air, but Groveland had served up a helping of haze with a side a smoke, giving us little choice but to button-up the Airstream to protect us from the effects of fires in the forest.

Leah was first to bed, while I spent some time editing photos for the blog. I don’t know exactly what time I fell asleep in front of the computer, but I was startled awake at 11:30 pm by a knock on the door, followed by a weak plea for help.

Shaking off the groggy feeling, I turned up the lights and fumbled to unlock the door. Had I been more coherent, I probably would have ignored the distress call, and filed it under “too weird for worry”. But instead, I reacted otherwise.

“Are you in some kind of trouble?” I asked, cracking the door a few inches.

A disoriented rail of a woman with pulled-back hair and dressed in black spandex workout gear was standing by my door.

“I’m lost, and I need a ride home. Can you please drive me to my house?” she pleaded.

“What are you doing here?” I asked, growing increasingly suspicious of her request, and feeling angry that I may have put Leah and myself in jeopardy by answering the door.

“My husband and I had a disagreement and he dropped me here, and I have no way of getting home. I live on the mountain, but I don’t know where I am, so could you please drive me home?” she reiterated.

She didn’t appear upset–just confused, but so was I.

When Leah and I began preparations for our year-long adventure, a common question among friends and family was, “Are you taking a gun with you?”

My response was always the same: “Are you fucking crazy?” But now I’m not so sure.

“I’m not from around here, so I don’t know how to get you home,” I asserted. But what I was really thinking was: “You’ve got to be kidding if you think I’m leaving Leah behind, while you ambush me outside the Airstream or on the way to your home.”

“Then will you let me use your phone so I can call someone?” she suggested.

I anticipated the question. “I’ll be right back,” I announced, closing the door. I reached for the phone I recently replaced two weeks ago, switched on the exterior light, and re-opened the door to find her drinking from a large water bottle. I wondered what else she was hiding on the other side of my door.

“Since we don’t know each other,” I volunteered, “how ’bout I dial the police for you, and you can ask them directly for help?…”

She hesitated as I entered 9-1-1, “…Cause it sounds to me like this warrants a call to the police.”

“Sheriff’s office, what’s your emergency?” answered dispatch.

Switching the phone to speaker, I offered, “I’m calling from Pine Mountain Lake Campground in Groveland, CA. A woman has knocked on my camper door who claims that she’s lost and unable to find her way home. Are you able to help her?”

“Is she still there?” asked the dispatcher.

“She is, and she’s asked me to drive her to her house somewhere nearby,” I confessed.

The dispatcher took over. “Are you alright ma’am? Are you hurt in any way?”

The stranger responded, “I’m okay. I just don’t know where I am is all, and it’s dark, and I don’t know how I’m gonna get home.”

The dispatcher continued, “Can you tell me your name and where you live?”

“My name is Amber and I live at 20247 Longview St.,” claimed the knocker.

“Were you born in 1964?” asked the dispatcher.

“Yeah,” responded Amber.

“Well, this office is not a taxi service, Amber, but if you like, I can offer you the numbers of a few local cab companies who can get you home,” suggested the dispatcher. “Is that a good option for you?”

Amber, dazed, “Sure.”

To Amber, “Be right back.” I let the door slam behind me, and I scrambled for a pen. The dispatcher dictated phone numbers for three taxi services and signed off.

Getting back to Amber, “I’ve got three choices here. Which number would you like me to call?”

“I don’t have the money for a taxi. Can you just tell me the direction to the main road?” asked Amber.

“Ferretti Road is at the bottom of the hill. You can’t miss it,” I declared, and double-locked the door.

From the “bedroom” Leah called out, “What the hell was that all about?”

“I don’t even know where to start, but I hope she’s gone,” I asserted.

“Maybe we should bring in the bear spray from the truck as a precaution,” Leah recommended.

“Only if you get it,” I replied.

“Fuhgeddaboutit! I’m not stepping out there,” exclaimed Leah.

At Leah’s suggestion, I called Pine Mountain Lake Association security, who completed a sweep of the property, but came up empty. Their promise of an increased patrol through the night was reassuring, but the peculiar notion of ever enjoying peace and quiet as a solitary guest in a campground now seems highly overrated.

Gallery

Thank You for Not Smoking

Waiting…patiently.

Waiting…purposefully.

Waiting…painfully.

When will this smoke finally dissipate? I already know the answer…the question was rhetorical. As of today, 74 fires are burning out of control across the western part of America.

fire map of Western states
Current Wildfires

Extreme Smokey

Fires are currently active in nine states throughout the West, according to the National Interagency Fire Center. Here is a breakdown of the acreage burnt so far in active wildfires reported by the National Interagency Fire Center since Aug. 28:

  • Arizona, 1 wildfire, burning 48,443 acres
  • California, 22 wildfires, burning 354,316 acres
  • Colorado, 1 wildfire, burning 1,405 acres
  • Idaho, 19 wildfires, burning 248,141 acres
  • Montana, 26 wildfires, burning 544,583 acres
  • Nevada, 7 wildfires, burning 111,379 acres
  • Oregon, 9 wildfires, burning 146,418 acres
  • Utah, 1 wildfire, burning 5,097 acres
  • Wyoming, 2 wildfires, burning 4,766 acres

For those active fires reported on since Aug. 28 it amounts to 1,464,548 acres actively burnt or burning.

Leah and I have been in the fire zone for over a month–always one-step ahead of the next outbreak–but fire finally found us at Yosemite National Park. Today, the evacuation of Fish Town was lifted, but steps are still being taken to prevent fire from invading Yosemite’s sacred Mariposa Sequoia Grove. Fortunately, Merced and Tuolumne groves remain unaffected.

tunnel tree (2)

roots

fallen tree1

fallen tree

The air is filled with smoke. It’s impossible to ignore…it permeates everything. And nothing stays clean overnight after the ash quietly coats every surface by morning. With the winds blowing, mountains appear…

Tioga Peak (2)

twin peaks

Mt. Dana

Mt. Hoffman

and disappear under a gauze of gray in minutes.

El Capitan

Cathedral Rocks

Fairview Dome1

On a good day, the sun will sometimes break through,

smoky sun

if only to tease the highlights from the shadows.

Tenaya Lake

kairns

tree balanced on rock

Bridalveil Falls2 (2)

But the sky is fickle…

smoke clouds

It leaves us waiting …and wanting more, with no guarantee that the sun will return–until it means accepting the best of a bad situation.

ElCapitan

Perhaps waiting has value if it slows us down, and gives us a little more time to appreciate what’s in front of us.

El Capitan and Cathedral (3)

Fire in the Hole

I’m standing on the rim of the Cinder Cone volcano at the northern edge of Lassen Volcanic National Park, and steadying my camera against sustained winds whipping across the crater. My biggest fear at this moment is not for my safety, but being unable to properly memorialize my euphoria in a sharp photograph.

While there is no comparison to the energy of B.F. Loomis’s exposure of Lassen Peak’s 1914 eruption,

lassenerupt

the thrill of standing on the precipice of a monument created by the forces of nature…

cinder cone

should be testament to Lassen’s National Park worthiness.

But getting to Lassen Peak was a thrill of a different kind. If the shortest ground distance between two mountains is a crooked road, then 50 miles of US-299 through the Trinity-Shasta National Forest qualifies as a marathon winner of zigs and zags, and unlike any other road I’ve driven since our trip began more than five months ago.

It had to be the most rising-and-falling-and-winding-and-grinding-kind-of-road that went on and on for more than an hour. Rarely would 100 feet of straight road pass us by before we’d follow a familiar pattern of maneuvering to the right and then pulling the truck to the left and then turning the wheel hard to the right, and leaning around the bend into a corkscrew, only to continue all over again.

The drive was exhausting, but at least we left the smoke behind us. We were now basking in sunlit blue skies without a single cloud.

The park was uncrowded, and it didn’t matter why, but I suspect that families were now tackling teachers’ homework.

After an orientation at the Visitor Center, we strolled around Manzanita Lake for centerfold views of the mountain.

Lassen Peak and Manzanita Lake

Taking the highway deeper into the park, we passed Helene Lake,

Lake Helen and Lassen Peak1

offering a peek at Lassen’s desolate peak.

Lassen Peak and snow.jpg

Since the trail to the summit rises 2000 feet in 2.5 miles without shade–which is not my idea of fun–we continued to Bumpass Hell, named after an early 20th century guide who stepped through the crust of a fumarole while doing his job.

The namesake trail provided commanding views of Brokeoff Mountain and Diamond Peak.

overlook

We found it odd to be crossing snow in the middle of August under a searing sun,

summer melt

but the park receives snowfall averaging 40 feet per year at the higher elevations.

Once over the ridge, the sweet mountain air was replaced with the pungent scent of sulfur bleeding from a hellish valley of hydrothermal activity:

Bumpass Hell

complete with requisite spurting mudpots,

mud pop

hissing fumaroles venting from angry rocks,

P1070500

and brilliantly colored hot springs…

hot springs

Bumpass Hell2

mineral rocks

Bumpass Hell1

…collecting in a milky stream of hot minerals.

Sulphur Spring runoff

Absolutely gorgeous!

The road to the south entrance of the park took us past the defunct commercial Sulphur Works,

Sulphur works3

Sulphur works1

boiling mudpot

before we u-turned to catch the westerly light on the Chaos Crags,

Chaos Crags

and fawned over the stillness of Reflection Lake.

Reflection Lake

It would be hard to top this day, unless it was from atop the Cinder Cone, and that’s where we traveled the following day.

After a drive through dense forest and pastureland to the northeastern corner of the park, we turned onto a dusty hard-packed road terminating at Butte Lake, where a delta of trails branched out for a closer inspection of the Fantastic Lava Beds…

Fantastic Lava Beds

–a heap of sharp and shiny lava rocks rising to heights of 50 feet or more–forming an impenetrable barrier of blackness.

Lava beds and ash

We trudged through shifting black sand bordered by groves of Ponderosa pines for nearly two miles, until we reached a clearing with a view of the cone.

trail

“I don’t think I can make it,” Leah admitted. “It’s too steep for me, and it’s completely exposed, but you should go for it.”

The winding trail up the side of the cone was sloped at a 35% grade, the sharpest possible angle that cinders can stack before rolling downhill. It was going to be very challenging. The ascent over crushed cinders mixed with coarse sand was harder than I presumed. With every step, the gravel swallowed my boots to the ankle.

slow and steady climb

But I was undeterred. The power to continue came from the constant revelations brought by every foot gained along the way,

Lassen peak and lonesome tree

and the promise of something more spectacular by climbing even higher.

Lava beds and Butte Lake

I could follow Leah–becoming increasingly smaller–as she took the detour around the cone, just as she was watching me shrink in size from the base of the volcano.

from the base
glare from Leah’s iPhone

After scrambling most of the 750 feet to the trail’s vanishing point, a whirling wind confronted me from the blind side of the cone, stopping me in my tracks, but offering an amazing overview of the Painted Dunes and Lassen Peak in exchange.

Lassen peak and painted dunes panorama

I imagined a walk through the dunes, taking time to examine the explosion of color, while wondering if camera sensors were sensitive enough to record such an array of wonder.

painted desert1

And then I reached the top of the cone!!

cinder cone crater

The wind at the top was relentless, but so was my need to circle the cone. Nothing was more exhilarating than having the cone to myself (although I would have willingly shared the summit with Leah had she been able). The magical feeling of surveying the terrain from all sides was awe-inspiring.

the cone

cater and peak

And then I discovered that the Painted Dunes continued on the other side of the volcano.

painted desert4

painted desert5

painted dunes

I really didn’t want to leave. But after exploring the area, the only thing left to do was to take the long trail down to share the experience with Leah, and yield the cone to a new arrival.

the long climb

 

 

Ohh, Shiny!

Water falls are my kryptonite, and an easy source of distraction for me. I can easily get lost in them. Whether it’s following its flow from source to destination, or studying the water as it ricochets against the rocks, the falls are guaranteed to captivate and provide inspiration for a photograph.

But equally as special are the details worth discovering if we stop time and look more deeply into a moment of gravity–examining colors, patterns and subconscious imagery that are unavailable during normal viewing.

And then you see it: the unlikely face in the water, or the unexpected rainbow, or the highlighted pearls of foamy spray. That’s the epiphany. That’s the “Ohh, Shiny!” moment.

Baring Falls detail.jpg

Baring Falls, Glacier National Park

Way Back in the Day

On the recommendation of a film school buddy who’s been Canadian all his life, we doubled back east of Calgary to tour the Red Deer River Valley, hitting many of the Badlands hot-spots before immersing ourselves in Drumheller dino-madness.

We drove for nearly two hours along prairie roads, wondering when the landscape would eventually change from grasslands and rolling hills of yellow flax to familiar slopes of striated colors separated by narrow gullies and ravines.

It wasn’t long before we descended into Drumheller Valley and celebrated a welcome change of scenery.

horseshoe canyon

Badlands mounds

Badlands swirl

“I’m guessing that this would seem amazing if you’ve never seen the Badlands of North and South Dakota,” opined Leah. It’s true that while it didn’t quite measure up to our recent experiences at Theodore Roosevelt National Park (see Oddities—North Unit) or Badlands National Park (see Battle Lands), it was still an improvement over miles upon miles of farms and ranches.

All of which brings up an interesting question about Badlands semantics: When comparing two Badlands, is the substandard Badlands better or worse than it’s counterpart, or are we just spiraling down an oxymoronic rabbit hole?

Anyway, we picked up the Hoodoo Trail toward East Coulee and pulled into a busy parking lot across the road from a “protected area” where interpretive signs and steel railing surrounded what was left of a few limestone columns.

hoodoo group

hoodoos

A forty-something mom was telling her pre-teen son and adolescent daughter that this site was one of her favorites to visit when she was their age, but it was her recollection that there were many more hoodoos at the time.

“What happened to them?” asked Sonny Boy.

“Well,” Mom began, “the weather wore them away, and I guess people vandalized them by too much climbing around, so don’t wander off.” With that, the kids broke free and ambled up the steep slopes with the finesse of bighorn sheep. “Don’t go too far up,” Mom yelled after them, but the kids would not be denied.

Most of the visitors were content to stand on the viewing platform looking up, but I was keen on a closer look.

hoodoo

And while the hoodoos appeared drab in color, the possibility of getting close enough to feel the flaking texture was enough of a reward.

Hoodoo texture

It was while I was working my way back to the viewing deck that I heard a distant cry from the top of the mesa.

mesa top

“MY KNEE LOCKED UP, AND BARRY SAYS HE’S GONNA BE SICK,” yelled the daughter to her mom, “AND I DON’T THINK I’M ABLE TO GET DOWN!”

Mom wondered aloud to herself, “Now what am I supposed to do?”

“Maybe you should call 9-1-1,” Leah offered.

Not wanting to stick around to watch the drama unfold, we headed to a nearby historic site just pass East Coulee on the other side of the Red Deer River.

Atlas Coal Mine

Atlas Coal Mine now serves as a stark reminder of the energy heyday of the early 1900’s, up until the last lump of coal was quarried in 1979. Atlas is also home to the last wooden tipple in Canada,

tipple profile

Atlas Mine tippet

Mine chute

and the source of several recorded unexplained occurrences that have led visitors and paranormalists to conclude that apparitions and voices are as much a part of the physical space as the graveyard of discarded machines that line the entrance to the museum.

On our way back, we passed the hoodoos in time to see an ambulance pull away with who we suspect were the stranded kids on the mesa.

After enjoying lunch nearby at Star Mine Suspension Bridge,

bridge sign

suspension

bridge cable

we stepped into the F-150 way-back machine, set the controls for the Cretaceous Period, and transported 67 million years back in time when being a vegetarian got you killed if you were a dinosaur.

carnivores

We were overwhelmed at the rich assortment of skeletons…

attack

and fossils…

raptor

on display at the world reknown Royal Tyrrell Museum of Paleontology.

Apparently, Southern Alberta boasts some of the richest bone-beds in the world for which experts give two simple reasons: it was a good place to live and a better place to die!

The museum goes on to explain that large herbivorous dinosaurs thrived on the abundance of lush vegetation available to them,

triceratops

which in turn supported the carnivorous dinosaurs’ huge appetite.

T-Rex

And so many dinosaurs during the Cretaceous Period were preserved intact, since the region’s floodplains provided the perfect burial grounds, only to be revealed by Ice Age erosion, and later exhumed by the hard-working staff at the museum.

prep lab

At times, taking five years to prepare an exhibit of a prehistoric crocodile.

ancient crocodile

But despite all the serious science to be found at the Royal Tyrrell, dinosaurs can also support the town economy of Drumheller, and dinosaurs can be fun!

world's biggest dinosaur

Eating Crow

We missed it by one day. The Battle of Little Bighorn lasted for two days, from June 25 to June 26, 1876, but the reenactment only lasted for one day, June 25, 2017. Unfortunately, we arrived in Hardin, MT on June 26. Our neighbors–a retired couple from Illinois living aboard a 2004 Classic Airstream–witnessed the battle scene reenacted with the cooperation and support of Montana’s seven Nation Tribes and a team of 7th Calvary portrayers. Marty and Lil were overwhelmed by the presentation and all the dust. Of course, we would visit the National Monument, but it would seem anti-climatic compared to warplay.

The sky was dark, and rain was in the forecast. It had been two weeks since this area had seen rain, but for us, it’s been dry for five weeks through seven states, so the threat of rain was a welcome way to tame the dust.

The drive to Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument through Crow Reservation was brief, but insightful. Scores of train cars topped with coal sat idly on the easterly tracks parallel to the the road, while the west side of the road revealed worn trailers and abandoned buildings littered with rusted car chassis. The metaphor was so apropos.

The Crow Nation sits atop one of the largest coal reserves in the country–an estimated 9 billion tons. Yet, according to a report written by PERC  (Property and Environment Research Center),

The tribe’s 13,000 members have little to show for their massive energy reserves. Although half of the tribe’s revenue comes from coal, most of it remains underground. Where development does occur, the process is slow and cumbersome. Unemployment approaches 50 percent on the reservation, and tribal members suffer from high rates of homelessness, crime, and inadequate housing.

Nevertheless, a modern medical center and a requisite casino border the National Monument.

holy rollers

Once inside the Visitor Center’s auditorium, adorned by a 40-foot mural across the entrance,

battle mural

a sobering 20-minute orientation film of the battle was introduced by a 65 year-old retired teacher-turned-ranger who asked a provocative question. “This is a very typical crowd who has come to pay their respects to the fallen on this battlefield–both warrior and soldier alike who had risked everything to preserve their way of life. This was a pivotal moment in our nation’s history, that teaches us so much about our values and ourselves, but when I scan the crowd as I do today, I always ask myself, ‘Where are the young people, and how will we manage to archive this remembrance without them?'”

As we walked through the national cemetery,

cemetary

and along the interpretive trail to Last Stand Hill,

LS Hill

the heavy sky befitted the solemness of the scenery.

 

sculpture CU

The 5-mile drive between Custer Battlefield and Reno-Benteen Battlefield was a time for reflection about triumph and tragedy, victory and defeat, heroism and humiliation. Yet, lighter moments came from a herd of horses who openly grazed by the road,

horses at restgrazing3 horses

at times defying traffic by staring down cars from the pavement. And when the skies could no longer hold on, it started to rain.

We found shelter at a nearby Crow trading post where Leah and I enjoyed a Crow taco made of frybread. Delicious!

taco

The rain abated by the time we finished our meal. Looking west, we saw blue sunny skies which gave us a green light to further explore our surroundings.

Less than one hour away via Fly Creek Road–a gravel pass connecting I-90 and I-94–we passed rolling ranches of grazing cattle and hay field harvests…

hay field

on our way to Pompeys Pillar National Monument,

Pompey Pillar

a massive sandstone butte on the banks of the Yellowstone River. Regarded as holy ground by the Crow people, the rock also represents the only physical evidence of the Lewis and Clark Expedition. William Clark engraved the wall amidst Indian pictographs on his return trip to St. Louis, and chronicled his 150-foot ascent to the top in his expedition journals.

Clark signature

Clark originally named the rock Pomp’s Tower, after a nickname he had given to Sacajawea’s infant son, whom she carried as she guided the famed expedition to the Pacific. It was later renamed Pompey’s Pillar, and dedicated as a National Monument by Bill Clinton in 2001.

pillar plaque

The hungry and persistent mosquitoes we experienced on the trails were worthy descendants of the “misquitor” that so bothered Clark that he couldn’t see to aim his rifle straight.

Our day of American history ended with another downpour on the drive back to Hardin. But we celebrated the brief moment the windshield was free of bugs, and the chassis was free of dust.

via Daily Prompt: Sunny

On Shaky Ground, Part 1

via Daily Post: loop

I know I’ve complained about crowd size at National Parks before, but now that summer is upon us, and we’ve arrived at Yellowstone, it seems as if this park is bursting at the seams. Today, we abandoned our plans to visit the Upper and Lower Falls of Yellowstone’s Grand Canyon because of traffic, and we’re not returning tomorrow.

We started out four days ago, driving to Yellowstone after an overnight stay at Colter Bay in Grand Teton National Park. Unfortunately, the campground was at capacity, without any opportunity of staying an extra night… and we would have stayed had there been a cancellation, despite the broken water valve at our site. (Leah negotiated a $5 discount for the inconvenience.)

It meant there was little time to explore, given our late arrival after driving five hours from an overnight at Rawlins, WY, a whirlwind dust-bowl of a town that features the Wyoming Frontier Prison, a retired state penitentiary-turned-museum as its biggest distraction. Sorry, but we had little interest in “doing time” at a prison.

With limited daylight at Grand Teton, a hike around a portion of Jackson Lake was all we could muster.

Flowers and TetonsLakeviewmoored boats

The transition between Grand Teton and Yellowstone is seamless, with the South Entrance serving as the gateway to both parks along the John D. Rockefeller Memorial Parkway.

Although we were towing the Airstream through the park to our West Yellowstone campsite, we elected to stop at Old Faithful to stretch our legs with a few thousand others.

old faithful crowd

But it was worth it!

people watching eruptionInside Old Faithful

After an abbreviated walk along the Upper Geyser Basin with half the population of China, we decided to call it a day. The setting and throngs of tourists left us uneasy to a “fault”.

UGB6Upper Geyser BasinUGB2UGB4

Arriving at Wagon Wheel RV Campground, an open over-crowded sand pit in West Yellowstone presented its own set of problems. Our designated reserved site had been cut in half. What was once a long splinter of space that would barely accommodate a pull-through trailer with tow vehicle, had now become two sites. Our front-side neighbor pulled through yesterday, leaving me the compromised backside of the plot to back into from the street.

back to back

It was like threading the Airstream through a narrow tube, backwards.

tight

Leah was furious. With no other available space anywhere in the park’s vicinity, we accepted our fate, but not until Leah wrangled a $20 discount for each of our five nights.

The next day, we completed the 70-mile Upper Loop.  Our objective was to take the counterclockwise route to avoid early road construction delays between Norris and Mammoth Hot Springs. To complete the loop, we would need to leave Mammoth by 6:30 pm before the construction crew shut down the road. It took us ten hours to make the circle, but gave us many unexpected thrills.

full bisonBison profile1

We followed the road past Gibbon Falls,

Gibbon Falls LSGibbon Fallsmuddy water

to the Norris Geyser Basin,

Norris prismUGB1

where an Oregon idiot dissolved to death last year by slipping into a boiling spring. Apparently, he and his sister carelessly wandered 225 yards of the boardwalk trail near Porkchop Geyser. The Norris region is home to the oldest and hottest geothermal activity in the park.

smoke and water

There were no remains to recover.

flames.jpg

Our leisurely drive continued uninterrupted, winding through numerous mountain passes and rolling meadows until traffic slowed to a standstill near a swarm of pedestrians who blocked the road with their vehicles parked and running. Parents with children were dashing across the road, weaving through an impromptu parking lot and up a knoll overlooking a valley. I managed to park the truck 50 yards away at a turn-in, and ran with my camera.

black bear dinnerbear2bears

We arrived at Mammoth Hot Springs by 6 pm as the bright sun was casting tall shadows against the terrace wall.

terracesUGB5Mammoth HS terrace1 (2)Mammoth HS terrace

Time at the top of the park was limited. Our newest concern was getting back to West Yellowstone before the road closed. Most of the way back was a work zone, with alternating one-lane traffic slogging through packed dirt until we reached the Norris junction.

That’s when things got strange…

Part 2 coming soon.

Going to the Chapel of Love

via Daily Prompt: Taper

Two weddings were scheduled today, and we weren’t invited to either one of them. To be fair, we didn’t know the brides and grooms or their families, but for now, to view the main sanctuary of the cadet chapel of the United States Air Force Academy, we would need invitations to their weddings.

All we could do was watch the guests file past us to witness a marriage between academy graduates,

wedding guestswhile the rest of us–visitors and tax payers alike–stood outside, trying to imagine a ceremony staged under the soaring lines of this ethereal cathedral.

Time and again, the misinformed and uninvited would climb the stairs to the cathedral entrance, only to be turned away by Ret. Captain Richard Mosbach, class of 1964. “But we came all the way from New Jersey to see this chapel,” Leah implored. “I guess today wasn’t the best day to visit.”

Capt. Mosbach tried redirecting. “Probably not. I was surprised about the day’s schedule when I arrived. I was expecting one wedding today, but not two. So for that reason, the Protestant chapel is closed to the public. However, there are other beautiful chapels on the lower level that are available for viewing.”

It was disappointing. While the chapel’s presence is so dominant and dramatic across the campus landscape, it’s really the interior that sets it apart from being a vertical stack of seventeen tapered arrowheads…chapel ext 2 pointing to the heavens.

chapel 2xt

Reluctantly, we followed signs to the ancillary chapels beneath the looming aluminum panels. Ground level is home to a Catholic chapel, a synagogue, and a recently dedicated Buddhist temple. Additionally, a Muslim reading room occupies the chapel basement. Square footage has been appropriated according to academy demographics: 400 Catholic parishioners, 100 observant Jews, and 25 chanting Buddhists.

 

We happened upon an impromptu lecture/sermon delivered by the Academy’s Jewish chaplain emeritus, and foremost authority on the nine priceless Shlomo Katz paintings of biblical depictions that line the temple’s circular hall.

Katz

All of it was special, but still, it was the Protestant Chapel we came to see. Leah and I ventured around the perimeter of this revered and Historic Landmark,

side viewand surprised Beth and Ivy–two of the bride’s cousins hanging out by the handicap access–sharing a cigarette and some giggles.

“Don’t worry. You’re secret’s safe with me,” I reassured. “All I ask in return are invitations for us, so we can see the inside.”

Leah continued, “We came all the way from New Jersey to see the chapel, and I guess today wasn’t the best day.”

Beth commiserated, “That’s a bummer.”

“Do you want me to take a picture for you?” offered Ivy.

I’d never met this girl before, and I couldn’t tell you if she was a reliable and responsible person, but on the spur of the moment, I shed my Lumix from around my neck, and handed it to Ivy without hesitation. I preset the camera to auto-focus and auto-exposure, and showed her very basic operation functions, before sending her off to document the chapel interior.

That’s when Capt. Musbach approached us for the second time. “I see you’re still here, and you’ve made a connection with the wedding party. Follow me!” he ordered.

He took the inside stairway to the back entrance behind the altar, and led us out to the edge of the chapel’s first arch. Beth and Ivy met us behind the wall to return my camera.

“I think I got some really cool shots for you. Do you wanna see?” she gushed.

“That’s okay. I’m certain whatever you shot has to be better than anything I was unable to shoot,” I confessed. “Thank you so much,” I intoned while replacing the camera around my neck, “And your secret’s safe with me.”

We stood in awe, bowed by the beauty of the chapel’s simplicity within the context of it’s complex geometry. We chatted with Capt. Mosbach for twenty minutes under the cool glow of sky-lit stained glass. As one of five volunteer docents who “works” every Tuesday and Saturday, he fed us factoid after factoid about the cadet chapel, making it abundantly apparent about this allegiance to the Academy, his fondness of the campus, and his affinity for sharing personal and academy history with strangers like Leah and me.

Just asking a simple question about the pipe organ housed in the choir lift at the top of the nave begets a five minute discourse about the 83 ranks and 67 stops, controlling 4,334 pipes.

pipe organHowever, more than 200 pipes don’t work due to continuing water damage caused by stained glass tiles that have leaked since the dedication in 1963.

stained glass ceilingJust as Capt. Mosbach was expounding on the the controversy surrounding Walter Netsch’s modernist design–when first unveiled by Skidmore, Owings, and Merrill in 1958–a couple of tourists arrived at our location with the intention of looking around.

Capt. Mosbach immediately switched over to door security protocol, and stated emphatically, “This area is closed to all public traffic while a wedding is in progress. So you’re going to have to leave, please.” Then he returned to his story, never missing a beat.

After fifty-five years of hosting weddings and ceremonies, the cadet chapel is to be shuttered at the end of 2018 for a complete interior overhaul. However, the chapel’s exterior will continue to remind us that man-made monuments are no less inspiring than the mountains that surround us, and can be a great catalyst for kindness.

Our thanks to Beth and her cousin Ivy who provided the photography below, and to Ret. Capt. Robert Mosbach who brought the pictures to life.

chapel int organ2chapel alter

 

 

 

Drop-Dead Gorge(ous)

After spending eleven days exploring “The Mighty 5”, I believe I’ve inhaled enough red dust to qualify for the first NASA Mars mission. Utah’s red dust had infiltrated everything, leaving a veiled matte finish on every surface: inside the Airstream, inside the truck, inside our undies, and inside our lungs. Leah and I were more than ready to move on to Colorado’s cool, crisp mountain air. Or so we thought…

We also thought we were leaving the heat behind, but unseasonable high temperatures followed us across state lines, where records have been set. All we’ve heard thus far, is “It’s not supposed to be this hot until July and August.” And at the other extreme, ski resorts in Utah and Colorado have experienced a late spring ski surge, with the Rockies holding onto three feet of snow that fell three weeks ago, resulting in officials closing the east side of Rocky Mountain National Park, and posting avalanche warnings throughout the high country. If only the climatologists responsible for this hoax would go back to being less fake, then the rest of us would know how to prepare for normal weather.

Nevertheless, our first stop in Colorado has been encouraging, thus far. During our stay, the temperature at Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park reached eight degrees over average for this time of year, which translated into a comfortable 90°F for us, down from customary triple-digit readings we endured while in Utah. It meant we could sleep with open windows at night, although it left us vulnerable to drifting cigarette smoke, and prone to a crying baby, a chatty family, a barking dog, and an occasional late-night motorcycle arrival.

Our visit to Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park afforded us two different perspectives: from atop the rim…

silhouette

and the water’s edge.river view

The scenic road above follows a serpentine road with several stunning overlooks that highlight dramatic changes in the cliff face,wall detail

wall colorsas the roar of the Gunnison River echoes against the sheer walls of gneiss and schist.

long view of canyon

painted wallfissuredragon pointThe river’s pivotal role in carving out 2 million years of metamorphic rock has resulted in canyon walls that plunge 2700 vertigo-inducing feet at Warner Point into wild water that has been rated between Class V and unnavigable.

Gunnison River down the canyonCU Gunnison rapidsThe view at Dragon Point showcases brilliant stripes of pink and white quartz extruded into the rock face, personifying two dragons who have symbolically fused color into a somber Precambrian edifice.dragon wall

The view from the bottom up accentuates the towering spires laced with lush and vivid flora.ridgelinespiresridgeline1and focuses on an untamed water system that’s required three dams to slow the erosion of the canyon floor.

Ford and damAccording to Park Service statistics, left unchecked, the Gunnison River at flood stage would charge through the gorge at 12,000 cubic feet per second with 2.75 million-horse power force. Dams now provide hydroelectric energy, and have created local recreation facilities for water sports, including Blue Mesa Reservoir, Colorado’s largest body of water.

Black Canyon can be seen in one day, but a drive to the Curecanti National Recreation Area, 50 miles away, can easily turn into a two-day love affair with solitude and wilderness.

Hoodoo You Trust?

What a difference a day makes. Leaving Zion behind for Bryce Canyon gave us cooler temperatures, cooler tempers, and cooler views–now that we left the maddening crowd behind and were no longer limited by what we could see (Keeping an Eye on Zion).

After driving two hours through riveting scenery along 89 North, we arrived at a KOA in Cannonville bordering on the edge of nowhere, approximately 20 minutes past the National Park. We dropped the trailer and headed back to the park to get our nature fix. We followed the 18 miles of park road to its conclusion, and walked the Bristlecone Loop Trail, a thousand year-old alpine forest where the remains of a 1600-year-old bristlecone stands watch at the edge of Yovimpa Point,…Bristle Cone Pineoffering panoramic views of the Colorado Plateau going as far back as the Grand Canyon’s North Rim. Clear days at Bryce can offer the longest views anywhere on the planet–beyond 100 miles away, thanks to the amazing clean air quality.

Yav Pointvolcano on the mesa

lookout3

But it was the Rainbow Point lookout around the other side of the ridge that put smiles on our faces and brought the color back to our slack-jawed cheeks, giving us an early preview for the next day’s hike.

Rainbow point

It was our first look at Bryce Canyon’s hoodoos–the world’s largest collection of stone chessmen formed by ice and water erosion–and they were magical.

Working our way back, we stopped at one of many scenic overlooks hugging the road side. Looking over a log rail, seemingly within arm’s reach was a formation called the Natural Bridge, an 85 foot span that is really a natural arch. So why it’s called one thing when it’s really another makes it just a bit confusing. Is it a bridge that’s an arch, or an arch that’s a bridge?  Ask a ranger and you’ll get two different answers. Okay?

better bridge

After pull-overs at Sunset Point and Sunrise Point, we were certain that the next day’s hike should take us deeper into the Amphitheater for a more intimate and detailed experience.

sunset trail panaramasunrise trail

Passing through Tropic, Utah on the way to KOA, we detoured for groceries and a visit to TruValue Hardware to possibly resolve a nagging situation since we left New Jersey: how to adapt a quick connect hose between our Weber Q 2200 LP grill and the Airstream’s LP service port.  While it may appear mundane to the average urbanite, the ability to bypass the LP tank, and connect directly to the trailer makes it a no-brainer and a classic time-saver for RV set-ups.

Thus far, at every newly arrived location, I’m constantly reminded of the additional time required to set up the grill, when I know my time could be better served by drinking a cold beer or replying to reader comments from a blog post.

Whether the weathered attendant behind the check-out counter could help me remained to be seen. I clearly demonstrated to him how the hose to the Airstream port and the fitting coming out from the grill needed a compression union to make the desired connection, and what I got instead was a lecture.

He led me to a wall of grill accessories and told me that what I was looking for was impossible to find, and I was better off buying his $65 kit to connect my grill directly to my tank.

“But I already have that,” I objected. “That’s how I do it now. I’m looking to circumvent the tanks and draw LP directly from the trailer through the quick connection. This part of the hose (I wagged it closer for him to see) feeds directly into the trailer,” I implored.

“So I got fittings around the next aisle over,” admitted Mr. Malcontent, “but I’m not gonna show ’em to ya, and I’m not gonna sell ’em to ya neither.”

“Why not,” I wondered.

“Well, I’m gonna tell ya,” he started, “and you’re probably not gonna like the answer, but those damn Democrats, especially Obama made it impossible for you to do what ya wanna do.”

He paused, waiting for a reaction–maybe to take my political temperature, but I let out a little more rope. “I don’t follow you,” I  reasoned.

“Well, Obama spent eight years in office loading down OSHA with more and more rules and regulations, that you practically need a doctor’s note just to take a shit,” he claimed. “Maybe, you come back when there’s not so many rules.”

Leah arrived in the middle of our transaction holding groceries, and heard part of the exchange. “Let’s go! We gotta get back to refrigerate the milk.”

I left the hardware store in disbelief; it was like a Twilight Zone moment. “How does he stay in business?”

“He doesn’t need your money. Remember, this is Trump country,” she asserted.

All of yesterday was forgotten, when the next day we dropped into the Amphitheater from Sunset Point,a treethrough the Navajo Loop Trail following the steep switchbacks…

Navajo switchbacksto Wall Street, where enormous Douglas firs have balanced in the rift for over 750 years, like sacred totems,wall streetand views of Thor’s Hammer are something to “marvel”.

Thor's hammerBeyond Twin Bridges (another iconic hoodoo formation),

twin bridges 1another series of switchbacks dropped us to the Amphitheater floor. Rather than continue the loop, we opted to cross into Queens Garden, for cake and a spot of iced tea.

Along the way, we met the Queen’s subjects…

subjectsstanding along side the Queen’s castle…

castleas Queen Victoria looked on high.

Queen VictoriaIt was a “monumental” hike out of the canyon that left us tired, but enthused by the energy surrounding us. Perhaps it was hoodoo voodoo?

all this is mineBut one thing that we both agreed on… we were ravenous after spending time in this imaginary Fairyland world.

raven

But dining out in Cannonville, UT can be a bigger challenge than hiking the Bryce Canyon rim trail. With only two food vendors in a town with a population of 168, we chose i.d.k. BBQ, a food truck with limited acclaim from social media. I don’t know how they got their name, but it was the only game in town, so we thought we’d take a chance.

Originally, Leah was skeptical. “BBQ in Utah?” she doubted. “From a food truck, in the middle of nowhere?… Really!!? Remember, there’s only one toilet in the trailer.”

“Why not?” I countered. “How bad can it be? In a town this size, there must be someone who could cook.

But first we had to find this truck. After cleaning up from a day drenched in fairy dust, we were ready for a night on the town. Boarding the F-150, we literally turned the corner into “town”, and rode four blocks on Kodachrome Drive until we knew it was time to turn around. How could we have missed it?

We turned around to cover our tracks, looking hither and yon for any semblance of a food truck, until we came back to the same turn that carried us into town. Nothing… except the Sinclair station that reminded us that filling up was a good idea before we hit the road tomorrow.

“So what are we gonna do about dinner?” Leah asked.

I shrugged. Standing at the pump, I scanned the horizon, and spotted a flapping BBQ sign just pass the Sinclair stanchion. That’s when I spotted the truck tucked behind the corner motel.

idk bbq (2)Shades of Eat and Get Gas.

We rounded the corner of the truck, only to meet proprietors Emily and Kevin Clark and their four-year-old daughter cleaning up for the day.

“Sorry, we’re outta food,” he lamented.

Maybe it was our fallen faces, or maybe a little hoodoo voodoo, but Emily was soon offering us Kayla’s dinner in a closed container.

“It’s a pulled pork potato,” she proposed.

“What’s that?” Leah wanted to know.

“You’ll like it,” was all she had to say.

“I feel bad about taking your daughter’s dinner,” I responded. “What’s she going to say?”

“Don’t you worry ’bout her,” countered Emily. “She’s been wantin’ pizza anyway.”

After exchanging $20 for a monster baked potato drizzled with cheddar cheese and smothered with a pound of pulled pork, with a side of cole slaw and two warm cups of peach cobbler topped with whipped cream, we drove back to the Airstream for one of the most delightful and serendipitous take-out meals since we pulled out of Jersey.

Trust me.