Thursday, June 24, 2010

Long Week

Drive to Utah. Attend wedding reception. Attend baby blessing. Attend family reunion. Fly to California. Look for a place to live. Fly to Utah. Drive to Idaho. Attend wedding reception. Pick up extra baby for three weeks.

Whew. It's been an exhausting week. Let's start from the top.

The week began with my cousin's wedding. The reception was held in my aunt's back yard, and seemed to go very well. If there's one thing my extended family is good at, it's making up food for large numbers of people. It's a skill honed over years of family reunions, but even so I was impressed with the spread (can you tell I'm a guy?).

Child's one disappointment was that the fudgeballs on toothpicks turned out to be meatballs on toothpicks, but not before I rescued one that was about to go into her mouth (after first putting it there). The six chickens in the backyard also enjoyed the reception, or so I gathered from their delighted pecking at the continuous stream of food conveyed from the tables to their coop by numerous small children.

That was on Saturday. On Sunday, we attended the baby blessing of a small niece. She was very well-behaved for a two-week-old and the blessing went well.

That evening, we discussed the placement of two small children (1 1/2 years, 6 months) who are currently parentless due to their parents being in jail (for the umpteenth time). If anyone tries to tell you that drug use affects no one but the drug user, feel free to laugh in their face. I could probably list 500 people (by role, if not by name) whose lives were negatively impacted by the drug use of these parents.

Of course there's their children (who deal with physical and emotional neglect, if not abuse, which will probably destroy the rest of their lives, as well as future generations), their friends, parents, siblings, a constant stream of people they steal from to sustain their drug habit (including parents, friends, and family members), judges, lawyers (actually, maybe it's a positive impact there!), policemen, jail employees, drug program employees, religious leaders, landlords/motel employees...that's just off the top of my head.

I could rant on for several more paragraphs (and started to, before erasing it), but that's probably a topic for later. Moving on with the week...

Family reunion! For a change, the weather was sunny instead of rainy, but for some reason my extended family apparently has a fascination with alpine retreats. Just once I'd like to camp at an altitude lower than 8,000 feet. The scenery might be nice, but it's frigid at night. Not so bad when you're snuggled in a double-wide sleeping bag with your wife, bad when there's a baby sleeping between you who hates being under covers. Worse when your allergies kick in the moment you step out of the car, and apparently morph into some sort of cold, complete with fever and hyper-sensitive skin. Add to that the dry alpine air that dries your lips to the point that it hurts to smile, and you don't have a very relaxing vacation. Ah, the good ol' days of Missouri, with the warm air, warm lake, warm river, and chipmunks that don't pee on your air mattress...

But I shouldn't dog the family reunion too much. It was nice seeing everyone again, and...well, yeah, that's about it. When you're trying to deal with two squirmy kids, both of who need constant holding and one of which will stick any alpine detritus she can find into her mouth, everything else is mostly a blur.

Wednesday morning we drove to Salt Lake City, flew to Long Beach, rented a car, drove to Carlsbad, and checked into our motel. Kudos to Child for putting so much effort into our itinerary; everything went very smoothly. The company was paying for the trip, but in an effort to keep costs down we stayed at a Motel 6 for $55 a night. Granted, that price didn't buy us amenities such as a toilet seat lid, alarm clock, a working TV, or a continental breakfast, but they threw in morning coffee and the soothing sounds of the nearby interstate for free.

Our daily activities in Carlsbad consisted mostly of driving, eating, and looking at houses and apartments. We hooked up with a real estate agent who went far, far out of his way to accommodate our brief stay (I guarantee his commission, should we end up purchasing a house through him, will not have been worth it). We found a few possibilities, but I think we're going to end up just renting for a few months after we first move there while we continue looking. It's very hard to purchase a house when you're living in a different state, and I don't even want to try.

My mental view going to California was a picture that consisted mostly of traffic and gang wars. Although we didn't see any overt gang members, Child claimed she heard gunshots during one night and the traffic was everything I feared. Every road seemed crowded, and even though people complain about Utah drivers, they have nothing on California drivers. Because of the thick traffic moving at high speeds, if you have to change lanes, you just have to swerve out in front of another driver. The hope is that their car is enough more expensive than yours that they don't want to get in a wreck, and so slam on their brakes to let you in.

Returning to the airport Friday evening during rush hour on I-405, I found out why Karen (our GPS unit) had taken us by a toll road on Wednesday when we first arrived. Traffic was stop-and-go for about 15 miles on the regular interstate, adding about an hour to our travel time. Watching the estimated arrival time on Karen slowly converge with the departure time of our flight, I simmered in my juices and mentally kicked myself for trying to save the company $4.75 ($4.75 for a toll?! What is this, California?! Oh, right...) but it was too late to change horses at that point.

After exiting the interstate, we made sure to stop at every traffic light on the way to the airport. Finally reaching the airport, we hurled our rental car key at the Alamo people, sprinted to the JetBlue kiosk in the terminal...and found out that our confirmation code didn't work. Neither did scanning the barcode or looking up our flight by our credit card. A desk attendant called for people leaving on the SLC flight, so we ran over to her and she finally got us checked in. We reached the gate at the very end of pre-boarding, so we actually had a few minutes to spare, but that's cutting it too close for my liking. In a normal-sized airport (Long Beach is a small one), we wouldn't have gotten through security nearly as fast.

Arriving in SLC around 10:30 PM, we picked up our car and headed down to Provo to spend that night. It's normally a 45 minute drive, but we didn't arrive at Child's parents' house until after midnight. There was nighttime construction going on along I-15, so the entire interstate narrowed to a single lane for several miles. More stop-and-go traffic. After dealing with it on the other end of our flight, I wasn't particularly happy to see it again--much less in the middle of the night when I was exhausted and just looking to crash in a nice soft bed.

We finally made it, slept for a few hours until Ash decided that it was morning time, then got in the car and drove four hours back to Idaho. After unloading the car and putting everything away, all I wanted to do was nap but it was time to go to the wedding reception of another cousin. At least they had cream puffs.

While at the reception, Child and I picked up one of the afore-mentioned children from my parents (the six-month-old). We'll be caring for him for the next three weeks, then returning him to my parents when we move to California.

It's been a long week.

Sunday, June 06, 2010


Yesterday we finally got around to visiting a scenic wonder in our metaphorical backyard: Yellowstone National Park.

It's an amusing place to visit because you'll be driving along, minding your own business, then suddenly hit a traffic jam of cars in the middle of nowhere. People will be running along the road carrying binoculars and cameras, with new arrivals parking haphazardly wherever they can find a spot and hurling themselves from their cars to join the crowd.

The reason, of course, is that Wildlife has been spotted. A wolf, a bear, or perhaps a particularly scenic buffalo all warrant the mass destruction of several hundred yards of roadside wildflowers if there doesn't happen to be a pullout handy. The downside is that sometimes, you have to have a 200X zoom lens on your binoculars to actually see the Wildlife, so those of us who weren't smart enough to bring binoculars with that magnification are left squinting into the distance trying to figure out if the black spot we're looking at is an elk or a tree stump.

Of course, a lot of the more common wildlife know that their only chance for personal recognition is to make themselves readily accessible. Buffalo were especially good at this, and could be found near the road at many locations. By the end of the trip we were buffalo connoisseurs, only deigning to stop if the buffalo was closer than 5 yards to the road, had particularly well-groomed fur, and perhaps threw in a little song-and-dance number.

At the beginning of the trip, though, we weren't sure what we'd find so we snapped pictures of whatever black stumps we could find:

Pictured below: Roaring Mountain. It was interesting enough, although I didn't actually hear any roaring. Or snarling, hissing, or even grumbling for that matter. Maybe I just wasn't paying attention. It seemed to be a common theme throughout our trip that the sights we saw didn't quite live up to the pictures we saw in the various Yellowstone-sponsored publications. Either Yellowstone has a dedicated Photoshop crew, or we just hit the park at a bad time of year.

Pictured below is another prime example. This is supposed to be Mammoth Hot Springs, which in all the pictures I've seen has brilliant colors and pouring waterfalls. We were lucky to see a trickle of water from one or two pools, and the predominant color was grey. The below patch of dried-mustard yellow was pretty much the only other color we saw. Ash's expression accurately mirrors my own feelings.

The below picture was the best part of Mammoth Hot Springs, and it wasn't even at the Hot Springs proper. It's from the little loop that goes behind and above the main hot springs.

For lunch, we stopped in the little town by Mammoth Hot Springs, where three doe elk had smartly positioned themselves near the picnic tables to take full advantage of lunching vacationeers. Their migration patterns seemed to be dictated by the flow of tourists rather than the seasons, and about the time that lunch finished they moved off across the main square to take up a new position by the botique stores to catch the after-lunch window-shopping crowd.

Ash's hightlight of the trip was the strawberry she got to eat at lunch. Would that we all were satisfied with so simple a delight.

Some of the buffalo were clever enough to bring along the kids, knowing that tourists are unable to resist taking pictures of baby-anything. (Child took dozens of pictures of a "baby geyser," which I would have classified as a gurgling golf-hole but since it was 1/10th the size of a normal geyser, it was apparently much more attractive. I don't pretend to understand.)

On the plus side, I did manage to catch a shot of the elusive 8-legged buffalo. Seldom seen (i.e., photographed less than 500 times a day), he slipped across the road like a 2000 pound shadow before fading into the grass a few feet from the roadside.

The obligatory Old Faithful shot. Our timing was excellent; it began to erupt right as we walked across the field towards it. Other than that...yeah. Old Faithful. In its defense, it's probably kinda hard to live up to the hype it gets.

The Fountain Paint Pots. Bubbling mud holds a strange fascination for me. Maybe I should see a psychologist. I think it's because geyers are all up in your face, shouting, "Hey, here I am, everyone look at me," while mudpots are more like, "Heh heh heh, you have no idea what I'm plotting beneath this opaque, mysterious liquid, but I'll give you a few cryptic hints in the form of a sulphuric-smelling bubbles."

Yeah, I should probably see a psychologist.

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Monkey Business

Friday afternoon (5/28/2010), Child and I left Idaho and drove the four hours down to Provo. There, I dropped her off at her parents' house and drove another four hours down to southern Utah. In the North Wash area, some friends and I hiked a canyon known as "Monkey Business."

I'm not sure if some of the people want their names posted, so I'm going to leave them off. (I've become a little more sensitive to this issue as of late...)

Sometimes it's hard to tell where a canyon really begins. Most of the time, a few shallow gullies through the desert come together into a wash, which eventually turns into a canyon. The wash we started down came to a nice, abrupt drop-off, though, albeit one that could be hiked around and downclimbed.

I liked this multi-level shot. Traffic jam in the canyon. Actually, someone else was taking a picture from the front, but for some reason I liked this better. I think it gave a better idea of the 3D nature of canyons.

So the below picture isn't anything particularly spectacular, but it amused me. It looks like S. is squeezing through a tight spot, which he is...only this picture isn't right-side up. It's sideways.

The picture below is actually the correct view. He's lying on his side, squeezing under a boulder.

I realized after picking my favorite pictures from this trip that none of them were just normal pictures of the canyon. It's like anything you do a lot: the activity itself becomes a little ho-hum, and it's just the little out-of-the-ordinary things that become interesting. Anyway, I scrolled through the pictures and found this one just to show off the canyon itself.

This picture was taken by one of the girls that came on our trip, and I just liked it for some reason. It doesn't have the pretty orange and reds of some of the other parts of the canyon, but it has a very...canyony feel to it.

One of the most common canyon creatures you'll see are small lizards. Like the canyon frogs, they have the ability to climb straight up the walls, and they're fun to watch as they scurry around.

This was one of Child's favorite pictures so I threw it in.

I liked this one. We reached a narrow section of the canyon that was easier to stem over than go through. A lot of the time, the group was spread out so much that it was hard to get a picture of more than a couple people at a time, but this time I managed to catch them all together.

This is what's known as a "guided rappel." The trick is to guide the rappeller into the pool of water.

And everyone's least favorite part: the climb out. This climb is known as the "Kelsey Exit," named after the man who first found it, I believe. I've actually been up it once before while leaving a different canyon, and it has only gotten worse. The rock is primarily rotten sandstone, so everything you touch is sandy and slippery. Not only is it steep and hard to climb, but you constantly feel as if your handholds and footholes are going to break, crumble, or slide. Not fun.

But it finally came to an end. Freedom!