Wednesday, November 28, 2007

11/28/07 Grand Canyon Mule Ride

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Dave and I fell into a different pace with Mel and Sarah gone. He began studying math for his High School Exit Exam and I worked on my writing. We both started taking Mayim on very, very long walks. Dave took over the role of making dinner and I did the dishes. We watched science shows in the evenings.

We talked. We talked some more. Since I don’t know much about vampires, werewolves and shinmas, I needed a lot of background to get caught up. We talked more. It was interesting to have a conversation with him – it was like talking to an adult. I was surprised at how much he has matured and the kinds of the things that are on his mind.

On one of the walks, I found a way to get down a way to get down to the river at the edge of the Thousand Trails preserve. Since we weren’t in the park anymore, I’d let Mayim off her leash. As we walked along, I looked back and Mayim was rubbing her face on the ground. Bad sign, she’s been known to roll around in goose droppings or deer poop. Then she started rolling on her back. So I walked back to see what disgusting thing she’d been rolling in and I realize in horror that she is covered with giant stickers larger than big jelly beans.

She has giant stickers on both sides of her muzzle, in the pads of her feet, in her tail and on her back. These are the most awful stickers, the spines feel like needles and they are completely embedded in her fur. I didn’t realize how bad the stickers were, so I took the ones out of her muzzle closest to her eyes first. The poor dear, she was standing with those stickers between her toes, while I worked on the stickers on her face. My fingers were burning from sticker pricks, but I knew I couldn’t stop. We were too far away for me to carry her back to the RV so I could use gloves. I would have given anything for a pair of scissors because I was ripping her fur out with each sticker.

I finally got her back to the RV, gave her an all-over grooming, and used scissors to cut them out of her tail. At the end, I was brushing her beautiful heart-shaped ears, and I found one in her ear. Mayim has suggested we stay on the paths for a while.

The feeling of longing about the Grand Canyon didn’t go away. I decided to be impetuous and call the mule ride desk. They could get us in on Wednesday! I booked for the two of us, got lucky and got a room with a twin bed and a double bed at the Bright Angel Lodge for a great price, and scheduled Mayim at the Grand Canyon’s kennel.

Dave and I packed up for an overnight trip to the Grand Canyon so that we could make the early meet up time for the seven-hour mule trip. It took longer to get to the Park than we’d planned, so we called ahead to the kennel. The staff assured us not to worry about it, that we could check her in at the hotel. Ummmm. No. The hotel front desk staff was clueless.

Fortunately, we went to the kennel ourselves, called the emergency number on the door and got her checked in by a Grand Canyon Fire Fighter. A handsome fire fighter, imagine my delight! He was more than glad to talk about fire fighting in the Canyon, his opinions about the Southern California fires, and the importance of controlled burns until Dave suggested that since Mayim was checked in, we could leave now. Thanks, Dave.

We went to dinner at the Arizona Steak House. Dave was extremely happy – steak with chocolate cake for dessert!

Our room at Bright Angel Lodge was perfect except the walls were extremely thin. We could hear the guy in the next room singing! Yikes! We were glad that they didn’t have tv’s in the room so all our neighbors went to bed early. Dave’s CPAP breathing machine mask broke and he and I were both worried about him snoring the night away, but he was a good roommate.

We set three alarms so we would sure to be up on time. No problem, we packed all our stuff, had a giant breakfast and went to meet our mules with our special water-filled boda bags and yellow rain slickers.

At the head of the Bright Angel Trail in the Stone Corral, the supervisor of the mules spent 30 minutes describing the ride, the pain that we would experience in our knees and other parts of our anatomy and how he would refund our money if we backed out now. He assured us that this was not the easy way to see the canyon, hiking was much easier and riding the shuttle bus was easiest of all.

There were only five of us on the one day trip – everyone else was going on the two day trip – and I watched the couple in front of us blanch from the description of the aches and pains. I thought they were goners for sure; I was positive they would get a refund, but they didn’t.

Our mules Bubba and Cory were very strong and capable. The trip was amazing and I’m thrilled with the pictures of the Grand Canyon as we went out to Plateau Point overlooking the Colorado River 1,300 feet below. Dave had a great time too. It was a lifetime dream fulfilled for me.

At lunch time we found out that the couple was on their honeymoon! The husband had refused to go hiking on his honeymoon, so his new wife scheduled the mules. The two were not horseback riders, were hesitant to be firm with their mules and the mules knew it. I didn’t see them ever put their weight in the stirrups to make the ride a little easier on their rears. They were miserable at the end of the ride.

Watching those two get off their mules first made Dave and I a little hesitant to get off at the end of the ride. I won’t say we hopped off our mules and were fine, but we were better than we’d hoped. We picked up Mayim and drove home the two and half hours to the RV. We didn’t really want to, but you must shower after a 7-hour mule ride, and we collapsed on our beds. We were both still stiff with sensitive tail bones the next day, but the following day we were mostly fine.

On Friday we’d been inside due to a heavy rain storm. It started raining this morning and rained through the next morning -- the storm dropped 3" in our area and many roads were closed due to flash floods. I stayed in the RV and Dave went to the clubhouse. Since Mayim couldn’t get a long walk, I played a rousing game of fetch with her in the RV. In the evening, I heard a fan running that I didn't know what or where it was -- every few minutes the noise would pulse and turn on and off. I couldn’t figure out what it was.

I tried turning off the heat, I turned off the electricity to the RV at the outside pedestal, I tried starting the engine on the RV to see if that made a difference. I could still hear the noise. I called Mel who suggested I turn off the batteries that run the RV and he mentioned that the batteries operated the emergency lighting and the stairs so I’d need the flashlight. So with my cell phone in one hand and the flashlight in the other, I went outside the RV to see if I could hear it from the outside.

Who would think, when the batteries are off, the stairs come in. So I fell three feet out of the RV. For a short few minutes I thought I broke all my toes on my right foot, but my pride was the only thing hurt. But still I couldn’t figure it out, so I went next door and asked the husband to come over to help me track down the fan noise.

When he came over, I demonstrated turning off the house batteries and had him stand in the dark where I could hear the noise best. He said that the noise was coming from the duffle bag Dave was packing to go back to Orange County. We opened it up and his travel toiletry bag was making the noise. It was his toothbrush! Mayim must have stepped on the bag when we were playing and turned on his chargeable toothbrush! Now my pride was more than wounded. Not only did the guy next door know I was an idiot, I had to call Mel back and tell him.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

11/21/07 Grand Canyon, AZ and Thanksgiving

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Having the entire family together in Cottonwood was a treat. We’d been to this park before, so we didn’t feel that we had to explore the area -- we took it easy instead. This park doesn’t have WIFI at the RV’s, only in the clubhouse, so it wasn’t long before the kids abandoned Mel and I. Mel hadn’t taken a break since he last left us and he really needed to rest and recharge. It felt good to putter doing small chores and to catch up with one another.

Mel was certain that a trip to the Grand Canyon was a must. After all, it would give him a chance to try out the GPS (like Mel needs a GPS to find the Grand Canyon). I’ll admit that I need it, but Mr. Map was just trying to think of a good reason to get me in the car for a 2½ hour drive each way. Finally, he “guilted” me – what kind of parents were we if we’d been to Arizona twice and hadn’t taken our poor deprived children to the Grand Canyon. He won that round, and I packed a lunch and got in the car.

However, I had grown cavalier about being in the desert and the warm temperatures back in Cottonwood. As we got closer and closer to the canyon, the temperature kept dropping. It was now in the low 60’s and I hadn’t brought any warm jackets. Fortunately, Dave, Sarah and I have been cold for so long that we were able to be comfortable in our lightweight jackets even though it was windy.

We made a gasoline and drink stop nearby the park and found that the market carried Mother’s Cookies, Mel’s favorite. Unfortunately, we had to share the iced oatmeal cookies with the children. We almost went home that way so we could get another pack!

The most amazing thing happened when we hopped out of the car and trotted over to the edge of the canyon. Mayim went to jump up on the wall to sit, like she had done a few days earlier at Zion while we were waiting for Mel and Dave to get back from their hike. I certainly wasn’t expecting her to jump onto the wall. Mayim certainly wasn’t expecting a 7,000 foot drop on the other side of the wall. She got down very quickly – or I pulled her off the wall – or a combination of both.

Sarah was with me, and at the same time, probably from imagining that we were about to lose Mayim to the depths of the canyon, she started to experience terrible vertigo. She was panicked. She turned grey and a light sheen of sweat covered her forehead. She backed away from the rim across the path and held on to a tree like the path was going to crumble into the canyon any minute. After we pried her loose a half hour later, she was unwilling to do anything more near the canyon edge.

Mel and Dave separated from us and went on a photo safari. Sarah and I enjoyed a bus ride (never leaving our seats or getting close to the edge) and spent the rest of the afternoon at El Tovar’s historic hotel drinking tea and eating desserts.

Mel had always wanted to go on the East Rim Drive to see the Desert View Watchtower at sunset. Sarah was a trouper, she wanted to put as much distance between her and the canyon as possible, but she agreed to go. The Watchtower was built in 1932 as a replica of a prehistoric Indian tower and has a magnificent view of the Grand Canyon.

The drive took us longer than planned, sunset was earlier than we’d thought casting shadows in that area of the canyon and in general, we were prepared to be disappointed. When we got to the parking lot, another driver needed a jump and we had cables, so it looked like Mel would be out of luck.

I decided I would handle the stranded motorist and keep Sarah with me away from the edge. Mel and Dave hurried out and got some fantastic pictures -- Mel thinks they were worth five hours worth of driving. Sarah found a tumble weed and had great fun letting it blow around and then catching it again. Tumble weeds are so cute the way they bump along.

All-in-all, it was a memorable day. I can be glad that I wasn’t able to get reservations for the mule ride for us – Mel was too big and who could have known that Sarah would have problems with heights. But the day left me with a feeling of longing, like I hadn’t spent enough time in the canyon and that I wanted to enjoy it some more…

The next day was Thanksgiving. We decided to dine at the community meal. The food was tasty, the price was reasonable and there were no dishes to wash. At the time it seemed perfect. Then in the early evening I found myself pacing the RV kitchen, opening the fridge and looking for … looking for … finally, I realized, I was looking for Pumpkin Pie. There is no leftover pie if you go out to eat! Next year, we might eat out, but we’ll buy a pie for snacking on later.

On Friday, Mel and I made trips to Home Depot and worked on honey-do projects. He created a quick release water system for me (no drips, no twisting hoses on and off in freezing weather, yeah!), fixed cupboard doors, wired an outdoor antenna for the direct tv for our movable dish and put up my map of the United States. It was so exciting watching him put on the stickers for all the states where we’ve already been.

Sarah and I worked to pack her up to go back with Mel for a three week visit. She is going to visit with her friends, organize her new bedroom (berth) on the boat, spend time with her grandparents and uncles and hang out at the office doing school work. It was bitter sweet, she was so excited to be going back to Orange County, but I am going to miss her very much. Dave and I will come for a shorter visit around December 5th so the entire family can attend Josh Zimmermann’s bar mitzvah.

It was very sad to see the two of them drive off on Saturday. The RV was breathtakingly quiet after all the hustle and bustle of the previous week.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

11/16/07 Zion, UT

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Friday morning at 8:00 am I met with our service manager and found that the RV was completely repaired and we were ready to go after some training on the newly installed Garmin GPS. We gathered Mayim from her luxury kennel experience, programmed the new GPS for Springdale, outside of Zion National Park, and headed the RV south. We were on the road for two miles when the new GPS tried to route us onto a road closed for construction. No problem, when we didn’t make the turn, it rerouted us to the next option. Hip, hip, hurrah!

The mood of the RV was total joy. We were back on the road. We had our dog (freshly fluffed from her grooming at the kennel). We were on our way to meet up with Mel!!! He had left Southern California hours before and he was headed in his suburban to Zion also. It had been six long (very long – very, very long) weeks since we’d been together going through the Columbia Gorge and leaving from Boise, Idaho. The family would be together for Thanksgiving!!!

Thanks to cell phones, we kept track of the other’s progress and it began to look like Mel might arrive before we did. When we arrived in Springdale, we pulled over and parked along side of the road to get our bearings regarding the location of the RV Park. While I was looking up the address, Mel pulled up behind us. What great timing! After he was done being mauled by Dave’s giant bear hug, being jumped on by Sarah, almost knocked over by Mayim, it was my turn to say hello. It was so great to see him!

We went down the road to an RV park at the entrance of Zion National Park. The views were spectacular. The RV wasn’t stocked with any fresh food since it had been in repair for a week and I was scrambling trying to figure what to make for dinner.

Mel said that we were going out – he and Jerry had found a fantastic rustic steakhouse, The Majestic View Lodge, during their last road trip – and off we went, promising Mayim that we would bring her leftovers.

We had so much fun being together and our meals were fantastic. It was great to be with another grown-up and we shared a bottle of wine. Of course, we taught Mel how to play “Cheat,” and then beat him mercilessly since he didn’t know all the tricks. Dave used Mel’s camera to take pictures of the taxidermy and museum. Finally we went back to the RV and having him to snuggle against in the bed made me wonder how I’d slept a night through without him.

The next day we enjoyed Zion National Park. Iron oxide has colored the park’s sandstone vivid shades of red, ochre and white. The park is sculpted by water flow, during storms the Zion’s massive plateaus funnel to gathering points and 3 million tons of rocks and dirt are carried by rain runoff into the Virgin River yearly creating the deep chasms.

There was plenty of hiking available, but it felt nice just being together in beautiful locations near the roads. We packed a yummy picnic lunch with steak bites from last night’s dinner and could have taken a nap of the warm red rocks. The tree’s fall colors contrasted beautifully with the red hues of the rocks.

We did a small amount of hiking near the tunnel on the Zion-Mt. Carmel Highway. Sarah and I found that we preferred paths with handrails in areas where if you slipped, you would plunge to your death. We decided to let Dave and Mel head on without us and that is where some of Mel’s spectacular pictures came from. They are standing over the Kolob Arch – the second longest arch in the world.

Sarah decided she wasn’t impressed by Checkerboard Mesa, even after Mel gave her the 50 cent geology lecture -- she can be a tough audience. However she did enjoy the 1.1 mile-long tunnel with the fantastic views and The Three Patriarchs where she and Mayim frolicked in the nearby river. Dave and Mel were crestfallen when we couldn’t buy any ice cream. Finally we went to a visitor’s center and watched a movie, and left the park promising ourselves that we’d come back during warm weather to do the three mile hike through the water to get to The Narrows, an incredible slot canyon.

We spent another night in the RV park outside of Zion and then headed on to Thousand Trails Valley Verde in Cottonwood, Arizona near Sedona. Mel and Dave drove the RV with the tow car and I drove the Suburban with Sarah and Mayim as my companions. It scares me to think of, but Dave and Mel listened to Dave’s favorite Barrage CD of zippy up-beat violin music for the entire five hour trip.

We stopped to take pictures at Glen Canyon Dam outside of Lake Powell. Maybe it was the low water level, but Mel had been expected something more, and it was sad to watch him be disappointed. That didn’t stop him from taking pictures, as he likes to say “dam pictures.” Fortunately, it was beautiful in other areas on the drive and Mayim is always supportive of a stop.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

11/15/07 Salt Lake City

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There was no way to get lost getting to Temple Square – the buildings create Salt Lake City’s skyline, the signage was easy to follow, and we found a close well-lit parking lot.

Our first stop was to the North Visitor Center to see a film on Mormon history called “Legacy: A Mormon Journey.” The movie made history come alive by telling early church member’s stories of their Western march, how they left their homes and trekked across the prairies, their conflicts with the U.S. government, and their hardships to build their new communities. We were lucky to see the film which started showing in 1990, because they were about to superseded it with a new film “Joseph Smith: The Prophet of the Restoration.” I think “Legacy” spoke to us because the early LDS member’s struggles and expulsions seemed to echo Jewish history.

We then took a tour of the building hosted by female missionaries. Only female missionaries work at the Temple Square – they come from around the world and wear name badges with their country’s flag. The visitor’s center can give the tour in 40 different languages. Our first two tour guides were from Guatemala and Germany. All the guides were very sweet and extremely anxious to answer questions about the grounds, buildings and their faith.

I shared with two of the sister missionaries our story when Mel was injured and I was struggling with his heavy wheelchair one afternoon in Corona del Mar. During the many months Mel was wheeled around, I never had any stranger offer to help get him up a curb, open a door or wrestle the wheel chair into the trunk. The day the two young male missionaries stopped to help Mel move into the car and put the chair in the trunk, I was physically and emotionally drained. I’ll never forget their kindness on that afternoon. My remembering led to a longer discussion with the sister missionaries of their personal stories about their calling and how it feels for them to serve.

On the upper level we were awed by a statue of Jesus Christ called “The Christus.” The statue is 11’ tall and is located in a room with large windows overlooking Temple Square. The walls and domed ceiling are painted with clouds, stars, planets and comets. On the lower levels there was a scale model of Jerusalem as it was during the time of Christ with areas that could light up to correspond with New Testament locations. There was an exhibit on ancient and modern prophets downstairs based around the commandment to “love thy neighbor.”

We went to the Family History Library and looked up relatives in their famous genealogical resources. (There were special tabs for Jewish families – relating to Holocaust records which I found interesting… ) The kids really got involved and where my initial search failed, Dave found Abe Malkoff’s death certificate (Mel’s father), Sarah found Edith Malkoff’s recent death certificate, and I found Patricia McCloud’s (my mother). I couldn’t find any death certificate listings in the United States for anyone with the name of “Powel,” but it isn’t the first time I’ve had problems with the spelling of our family name. They were plenty of listings in England and Australia. I wish I’d had more information for the kids to research; they would have dug through records for hours.

The 10 acre grounds were beautifully landscaped -- crews were working decorating with a giant nativity scene and tens of thousands of Christmas lights. As the sun went down, it started to look magical.

The Salt Lake Temple with its six granite spires and the golden angel Moroni is a beautiful piece of architecture -- my pictures don’t do it justice. Brigham Young laid the cornerstone for the giant granite Temple four days after early church members entered the Salt Lake Valley in 1847. It took 40 years to build the Temple. The granite was quarried twenty miles away and was transported to the site by teams of oxen which took four days to make the trip. Since non-church members can’t enter the temple, they have examples of furniture and interiors on exhibit.

We decided to have dinner in the Joseph Smith Memorial Building on the tenth floor at “The Garden Restaurant.” During warm weather the glass roof gets retracted (not on this cold evening) and the view of downtown Salt Lake City and the Temple Square is spectacular. (Because the windows are double paned, none of the pictures turned out…) After dinner we still had an hour to wait before we needed to be at the Tabernacle, so we sat in the beautiful lobby, read books and listened to an accomplished pianist play a black grand piano.

At 8:00 pm we went to the Salt Lake Tabernacle to hear the Mormon Tabernacle Choir practice with a full orchestra and their unbelievable organ with 11,623 pipes, one of largest in the world. We saw a demonstration of the amazing acoustics – the building was constructed so that you can hear a pin dropped in the front of the building in the pews at the back. The choir has 360 men and women and the music made was delightful.

All in all, it was the perfect homeschooling day. We learned, we experienced, we met new people with different ideas, we dined and listened to music.

When we got back to the RV repair lot, our RV was parked and waiting for us. We ran the generator all night for heat, but since there was no one nearby, we didn’t have to worry about noise. We were glad to sleep in our own beds.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

11/13/07 Midway, UT

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Ray, our service rep at Blaire Jensen RV Center, recommended that we leave the RV for a few days to make it easier for them to take the jacks apart and work on it. He’d work on the other eighteen service items (including installing our new GPS) around that critical repair. We asked around for a good kennel for Mayim, packed our computers and clothes, and headed out into Utah. After we dropped Mayim off at the nicest kennel I’d ever seen, we headed south to find the Alpine Scenic Loop which I’d seen mentioned in a tourist guide.

It felt strange to head down the road with no plans or hotel reservations, but the kids were jubilant and their mood was infectious. We headed through Salt Lake City and Provo to Highway 189 to find 607-foot Bridal Veil Falls with the “World’s Steepest Aerial Tramway.” Oops – slight problem, I was using an older travel guide – and the tramway had been destroyed by an avalanche several years before. (The waterfall could have used some more water, but we’ve been spoiled by waterfalls in Oregon, Canada, and Montana lately.) Another geological destination, Timpanagos Cave, a limestone cavern on the side of Mt. Timpanogos, known for its spectacularly water-created colored stalactites and stalagmites, had closed for the winter. We’ll see those next time.

Nearby the falls was a sign for the town of Sundance. Since we weren’t really headed anywhere, Sundance sounded perfect. Whereas I had pictured a quant skiing town, it is mostly one resort owned by Robert Redford … beautiful, elegant and classy. I could tell by the cars in the parking lot and the grand entrance that it was out of our price range, so we drove on. Further along there was a conference facility for BYU. I stopped in to chat and asked about local accommodations. We were referred to the town of Midway, near Heber, and a resort called “Homestead.”

While we were dining at our new favorite drive-in Sonic (the kids love when they bring the food out to the car – like old A&W’s), we called the resort. “Yes,” they had room and “Yes,” they were running a fall special. Decided we’d take some Limeades to go, we headed out, not expecting much because the price was so low.

When we got there we were stunned – it was a giant resort with hundreds of parking spaces – with only one other car besides our own. The resort was virtually empty! The resort is popular during spring and summer and then again during ski season, but not during November. Even their golf course had closed the week before. The gardening crews were preparing the landscaping for snow and the maintenance crews were painting, cleaning and rewiring with a frenzy of activity. The restaurants were still open since the locals came to eat. They gave us a lovely room with two queen beds, piles of shampoo and personal care samples, and a welcoming giant plush rabbit whose cousins were for sale in the gift shop.

The resort was originally started out as a farm next to a 55 foot, beehive-shaped limestone crater filled with 96 degree water. In 1886, the farmer created a wood plank pool filled with mineral water from the crater, started hosting buggy loads of visitors for therapeutic baths, opened a restaurant where his wife served chicken dinners and built some lodging for out-of-town guests.

Today the crater has a tunnel through the rock wall at ground level with decks and a soaking area used for swimming, scuba diving and snorkeling. It is the only warm water scuba diving destination in the continental US so the place is filled every evening and on weekends with scuba divers studying for their certification. I can’t tell you how funny it is to be taking an evening stroll bundled up in a jacket, gloves and hat against the freezing weather and see people in the parking lot in bathing suits with beach towels carrying swim fins.

I couldn’t resist the opportunity to go scuba diving in Utah! Fortunately, the dive shop could access my PADI certification number online, so they got me suited up with full gear. The hole at the top of the dome let in sunlight and fresh air. The water was heavenly, like diving in a bathtub, and crystal clear. It was great fun to dive 50+ feet in the hourglass-shaped crater. Dave and Sarah used snorkeling gear and stayed near the surface. I taught them how to buddy-breath from my tanks and got to swim a few feet under with them.

Sarah and I were in need of a book store. The closest option was a half hour away in Orem at a Target Super Center. We had great fun buying books, music and snacks for the hotel room. Sarah was especially tickled to pick out a Nickleback CD for Dave and a new pair of earphones for his computer least he forget how much she dislikes their lead singer. Several of her favorite groups had new albums out, so maybe we’ll start to listen to something other than Beatle’s music. Fortunately, I like the Beatles and the new music she bought is pretty nice too.

While we on our shopping spree, Dave walked from the resort to the nearby town of Heber. He’d been walking a few miles each day into Midway, but was ready for some new eating opportunities, so he just kept walking along the roads through the farm lands. He checked in with us throughout the day by cell phone on his trek, but didn’t want a ride. Imagine his thrill to find a shop that sold Magic cards. When he came back to the resort, he was limping slightly. Using the car’s odometer the next day, we figured that he walked more than ten miles!

One of Sarah’s favorite things was feeding the ducks and geese. The restaurant gave her bags of bread for them. They would recognize her and zoom to where she was to get snacks. Our last night at the resort, Sarah and swam in the famed-mineral water pool and sat in the Jacuzzis outside in the rain. We treated ourselves and Dave to some of their homemade fudge. Wow!

After we checked out, we went for brunch at the new German-themed Zarmett Resort nearby. It was beautifully designed and I would love to see it with snow. With full stomachs, we headed back to Salt Lake City, the almost repaired RV and Mayim.

Friday, November 9, 2007

11/9/07 Casper, WY

On our way to Casper, we stopped at the Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument near Crow Agency, Montana. The night before we studied one of America's most famous battles from both sides' point of view -- Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer and the Seventh Cavalry and Crazy Horse and the Lakota/Sioux, Cheyenne, and Arapaho Indian Warriors -- so we could have some historical context.

The 1876 battle itself rose far beyond its military significance to the level of myth. Even though the Indian's won this war, memorialized as "Custer's Last Stand," the event itself was probably their undoing, because the Indians lost their nomadic way of life after their victory.

We were pleased that the Battlefield honored both sides, there were monuments for both sides. The metal sculpture is placed in a granite wall memorializing the Indians who fell. The Seventh Cavalry is memorialized by an obelisk, the battlefield has headstones and a traditional cemetery.

We arrived late into Casper East RV Park. (I'd promised myself that I would never again drive at night. I've got to start getting on the road earlier in the morning, if I have to start driving with Sarah still in bed!) I scuffed the front bumper getting into our space -- another reason why not to park the RV at night.

I was excited to get to Casper because we were scheduled to go Curling! Yes, Curling -- the Olympic sport where two teams compete sliding sixteen 40-pound curling stones down the ice at a target at the other end of the 150' playing surface, similar to lawn bowling. Each team gets eight stones and tries to slide them onto their target area called the house without going past the tee lines. Because you don't get any points if you slide past the house, it is important to underslide the stone, then two sweepers with brooms help direct the stones by polishing the ice which makes the stone go further and straighter. They make it look so easy.

Dave, Sarah and I learned how to slide the stones. Dave was by far the best, his stones regularly went the straightest -- but he overshot the house regularly. Sarah was good at getting the closest to the house but was often too far to the right or left. Sarah practiced with the better players learning the brooming techniques which win the games by guiding the stones to the right location. Mine went up the middle, but weren't close enough to the target area (there is a minimum line you must pass) to get counted. Plus, I fell twice, clipped my thumb between the broom handle and the ice, so I've got a bruised thumbnail now.

The Curling team in Casper is only a year old. The curling stones are hand carved and very expensive. Casper's stones are a loan from a city in Scotland (where curling was founded in the 1600's). It was quite surprising to see the stones put in a commercial refrigeration unit -- the rocks are kept frozen when they aren't in use. At the end, the entire class gets rewarded with hot chocolate or cappuccino.

That night we had a lovely dinner at the local Elk's Lodge -- an all-you-can-eat spaghetti dinner with salad and garlic bread. I had two cocktails and the kids had soft drinks. The bill was $18.00 and we sat there for a couple hours playing our favorite card game "Cheat." Sarah was always the best cheater, because Dave would fumble with his cards, furrow his forehead, and then play his turn hesitantly. Now, he is so good at cheating both Sarah and I rarely call him on it.

The next night we went to go see a play "My Three Angels" at the local community playhouse. The play was set on Christmas Eve on Devil's Island off the coast of French Guiana. The angels were convicts who use their "unique skills" along with the help of their pet snake "Adolf" to help the hard-pressed family who runs the local general store. The play was hysterically funny -- we had to shush Dave to laugh less as he was about to fall out of his chair.

The next morning we got ready to go to the Salt Lake City area where we had an appointment at Blaine Jensen RV for a series of minor repairs. There was a very strange message in the driver's panel -- "Error System Voltage 14.0, Threshold 13.4" and the RV Jacks wouldn't retract. I got the dealership on the phone and they gave me lots of great instructions starting with disconnecting and reconnecting the batteries to the RV.

I started to imagine electrocuting myself and went in search of help. The son of the RV Park owner was a mechanic -- I was more than glad to turn over the instructions to him. Of course, nothing he tried worked. Finally, he brought the jacks up by hand which took several hours. He tried to use his high powered drill, but after it began to smoke, he did the rest by hand. (I bet his arms were sore the next day!)

When he finished, we tried to move the RV, however the automatic jack panel in the RV didn't recognize that the jacks were brought up, so the extremely loud alarm kept beeping. He disconnected the panel managing the jacks and the silence was wonderful. (I probably would have taken a hammer to the panel if I had been forced to drive the six hours to Utah with the alarm beeping.)

After he was all done, he walked next to my tow car and noticed that there was a giant bubble on one of my tires. He insisted that we weren't driving anywhere on that tire -- even to the tire store. He took the tire off, went to a tire store to get a replacement tire and put it back on.

By then it was too late to travel, so we boondocked on the side of the park since the park was full and we didn't have a space anymore. We didn't dare take the slides out since we had disabled the jacks, so it was cozy.

When we started out early Sunday morning, I was extremely worried about our ability to make it to Salt Lake with an electrical problem and hopeful that we wouldn't end up on the side of the road. It didn't help matters that it rained six of the seven hour drive that wound its way through the mountains at the end as it was getting dark. Sigh... We arrived safely at the RV dealership where the repairs would be made and used one of their guest spaces with power and plumbing.

Monday, November 5, 2007

11/05/07 Bozeman, MT

When we arrived in Bozeman, we were looking forward to some "big city" life and activities. Bozeman is a lovely town of 29,000 people, the 5th largest in Montana, and about 90 miles north of West Yellowstone.

The first day we were there, Sarah and I relaxed from the previous days driving at the Bozeman Hot Springs. The nine mineral hot spring pools are heated between 59 and 106 degrees by a geothermal well. We were like Goldilocks -- the hottest pool was too hot; the coldest pool was too cool; and the rest were just right. We loved the feeling of the water on our skin, especially in the two waterfalls. The pools were chlorine-free, but the minerals still made our eyes red. We enjoyed soaking very much and planned to come back many times, but our days in Bozeman were too full and we only went that once.

Sarah's days as a vegetarian came to an end one night as I was cooking B-B-Q Chicken for Dave and I and she was served a tofu stirfry. She decided that she would eat a limited amount of chicken and fish. We all realized at the same time that now she could go back to eating sushi.

Small problem, we hadn't seen a sushi restarant since Portland, so we were all very excited to go out to "Dave's Sushi" in Bozeman. We sat at a table and my back was to the sushi bar. Sarah commented a couple times that "this isn't like the sushi bars at home." I assumed she was referring to the eclectic group of students from Montana State University with their goofy hats and six layers of clothing. Finally I turned around to see what she was looking at -- there wasn't a single Asian working behind the bar or anywhere in the restaurant -- one of the guys making the sushi had dreadlocks. After we got over the shock, we had a great meal. I guess it really doesn't matter who makes the nigiri-sushi!

Afterwards we went to Barnes and Noble. Right next to the book store was a movie theater playing "Across the Universe" which Sarah really wanted to see. We checked, the next showing started in four minutes. Dave decided to hang out at the book store; Sarah and I quickly bought tickets and hurried to our seats.

The movie was a romantic musical without much plot set in the late 1960's told through Beatles songs. Sarah loved everything about it: the love story, Jude - the cute male lead, the choregraphy, the goofy way they made the story fit the music (yes, Prudence did come in through the bathroom window), and the history of the era (the Detroit Riots, Vietnam and the draft, hippies, summer of love, artists and muscicians making a go of it in Greenwich Village, and anti-war protests). There were surprise guest appearances by Bono and Joe Cocker -- but I didn't believe it was them until we saw the credits.

It was a very happy movie and we left humming the Beatles music. Imagine our thrill when we went to Barnes and Noble to get Dave and managed to get the very last CD of the music. The woman behind us was very disappointed... Sarah is very much looking forward to seeing the movie again.

Marc Zimmerman and I have discussed teaching 20th century history through music. Watching Sarah's fascination with Don McLean's "Bye Bye Miss American Pie" and this movie, I think it is an idea that I need to bring to reality. It's time to start brainstorming about music, movies and history. Did you know that Sarah is writing music lyrics set to a friend's music? She's very private about it, but the little she has let me see has been very impressive.

On Halloween Sarah and I went to a lecture at Montana State University "Witch's Brew: A Brief History of Plant Medicine." The speaker discussed the myth of the scary mean old witch, plant medicine history, and the power of local Montana plants for healing. Healing with plants is a theme in Dave and Sarah's role-playing adventure game, Runescape, that they like to play on the computer so it was very interesting.

I looked for things to do for Halloween for days. In previous years Bozeman had multiple haunted houses, but this year none. I could find plenty of college parties and little kid events, but nothing in between. I had given up, gone to the store to buy cookie making stuff for that evening and when I came back there was an emailed invitation from a unschooling family with three teens and three younger children in Livingston around 40 minutes away.

We went to the Bates' home for dinner and then to their church. Dave and Sarah helped their teens run the game booths. Then the kids went trunk-or-treating in the church parking lot. It is too cold to trick-or-treat house-to-house in Montana, so the parents decorate and light their trunks, set up pumpkins, etc. and then the kids go from trunk-to-trunk in the parking lot.

We were fortunate to spend Shabbat with the Sharber family in Bozeman. Many thanks to the local Chabad Rabbi Chaim Bruk for setting it up for us. Rabbi Bruk is the only full-time rabbi in Montana. I found him by searching on "Montana" and "Jewish" on the internet. I love the quote in the local newspaper from him, "We're the Jewish Peace Corp and this is the 'No Jew Left Behind' program."

Robin and her daughter made the three of us very welcome in their lovely home not far from where we were staying in the RV. Too bad it was Shabbat, I would have loved to have taken pictures of their picturesque red barn, beautiful home, horses and german sheperd Belle. The meal was fantastic. When Dave saw the beef roast come out of the kitchen, I thought he was going to hug Robin. We haven't had such a lovely meal since we left on the trip. It was great fun to hear about procuring kosher meat in Montana and learning about her gourmet carmel business. The teens laughed and laughed while they played cards -- it was like music. It was sad to have the evening end, but we were all tired from a long week with late nights.

The next morning Sarah and I went to study at the Rabbi's home (not enough men for a regular minyan and service), but a well-attended and interesting study session. Sarah was still worn out and we spent a quiet afternoon back at the RV.

Dave was with Stan Bates and his older sons going deer hunting. They met up with another family and went to the shooting range and then out to hunt. Dave had an interesting and enjoyable day even though his group didn't catch a deer. The other family was hunting for deer to be used at the local food shelter, and they brought in four deer. Dave was lucky to be introduced to the sport by Stan -- his hunting philosophy and ethics made it a valuable day in Dave's life.

The next morning Dave and I got up early to volunteer at a Big Brother/Big Sister fundraising event called "Bowl ... for Kids' Sake." We were charged with handing out the t-shirts for the different teams of bowlers. Dave helped me sort hundrends of t-shirts by size and moved around the heavy boxes. We met nice people and it was fun to hang out in the bowling alley. Dave enjoyed the free pizza and unlimited soda.

When we got back to the RV, Sarah was feeling better so we headed off to the Museum of the Rockies. Montana and Wyoming are famous for their dinosaur digs and the museum was top notch. Unfortunately, my camera batteries gave out and there are only a few pictures. Two of them are a model of a giant jurassic sauropod that lived in the sea and the actual fossil. Another favorite was the clutches of dinosaur eggs. There are no pictures of the terrific exhibit "Masters of the Night: The True Story of Bats." Did you know that bats actually have good vision? Some hibernate, they live in trees, bridges and under eaves in buildings, pollinate like bees, eat fruit, and some eat as many of 1,000 insects a day!

We also went to the museum's Taylor Planetarium production of "The Skywatchers" about mankind's fascination with the sky. The show started with the pyramids and Stonehenge and humans efforts to understand the sky, the invention of the telescope, the Hubble Space telescope and concluded with current thoughts about the universe.

On the last day, we joined the Bates' family in Livingston for Boffer Wars with local homeschoolers. The kids make weapons based on middle ages swords and shields from pvc pipe, foam and duct tape and then play games like "capture the flag" while whacking the heck out of one another. They played in the local heated gymnasium until they were all worn out. At the end there were plenty of hugs all around. It was a great way to end our stay before we moved on to Billings, Montana that night.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

11/01/07 Yellowstone National Park

We entered the Yellowstone National Park on the first day via the North entrance outside the town of Gardiner. The signage at the T-intersection was a little confusing and while I was considering our options, a deer appeared on the other side of the street, looked directly at us and began heading toward the right. She was so beautiful that we decided to follow her while Sarah whipped out the cameras. Then the deer turned the corner to a graceful arched entrance with the slogan "For the Benefit and Enjoyment of the People" and bounded through the entrance of the park. Unfortunately, we weren't fast enough to get a picture of the deer, but you can see that the Northern Entrance Arch is as lovely today as when President Teddy Roosevelt dedicated it in 1902.

It was snowing when we entered the park, a welcome change from the rain on the drive up, and while we were admiring the rocky snow covered hillsides, we were thrilled to see a dozen Bighorn Sheep.

The Elk at the Albright Visitor's Center were camera savvy -- they were obvious professionals who were used to having their pictures taken. The exhibits inside the Visitor's Center showcased the wildlife, Native Americans and story of the park. In 1872 President Ulysses Grant signed into existence the world's first national park, Yellowstone National Park, dedicating 2.2 million acres of wilderness. Opportunists, vandalism and poaching put the new park at risk and the US Army was called in to bring order to the park. It was the US Army that built the road structure called the "Grand Loop" of the park.

It was our plan to follow the Grand Loop but a portion was closed for repairs. Instead we decided to go toward the North East corner of the park, Tower Falls, because we heard from the ranger that there was good wildlife viewing, especially Bison who like the winter range. It was 32 degrees and the snow was falling in big fluffy flakes. As we climbed in elevation we had the park to ourselves, so we were startled when we came across emergency vehicles for a 4x4 that had skidded out of control and flipped. I was driving judiciously with the snowy conditions, but I drove even more slowly after seeing the accident. As the snow continued to fall, I had to decide whether to put on my snow chains or go back to lower elevations. My hatred of chaining up won out. As we headed back, we saw our first herd of Bison! There are about 4,000 Bison in the park these days; it was my hope to see more of them.

We headed back to the Mammoth Hot Springs. When we were at the park ten years ago, the travertine formations were gorgeous and vividly colored in turquoise and oranges. At this visit, the springs were not active, so they were a little bit of a disappointment.

As we continued South toward the Norris Geyser Basin, we were rewarded with a sight that more than made up for the lack of water at the Hot Springs. We got to watch one of the reintroduced Yellowstone Grey Wolves on the hunt! There are about 300 Wolves in the park now. This one was out for a stroll, then broke into a quick run, made a giant pounce and caught his prey. We couldn't see the prey, he had his back to us, but it was quite a sight watching his happy tail wag back and forth with joy.

There were more Bison in this area of the park. The park was especially beautiful with the flowing warm streams with green grass growing along their banks like springtime instead of a chilly November. As the park was re-vegetating from the 1988 and 2000 fires, there are adorable little trees flocked with snow everywhere.

Dave and Sarah had a blast throwing snowballs in Emerald Spring in the Norris Geyser Basin. Most of the thermal features in this area are more than 200 degrees so the snowballs never had a chance! The clear blue water caused by the minerals combined with the yellow sulfur deposits lining the pool to make a beautiful emerald color. Because it was so cold the color was mostly hidden by the rising steam, but every so often the steam would clear and we would get treated to the vivid color of the pool.

We came back to the park two days later and entered through the West Entrance. All of the snow had melted -- it was like we were at a different park. There were Elk and Bison everywhere!

We were mostly in the park to see the Upper Geyser Basin which possesses 60% of the world's geysers. Within the one square mile there are 150 geysers. Our timing was perfect -- we only had to wait for 20 minutes before we got to see Old Faithful erupt! The eruption lasted for several minutes -- it was amazing watching boiling water spray up 150 feet.

We went to the Visitor's Center next and enjoyed watching their film about the geysers. Sarah was alarmed to learn that the Park is centered over the Yellowstone Caldera, the largest supervolcano on our continent. We had great fun teasing her every time we went by another spraying geyser.

We spent the rest of the day in West Yellowstone visiting the "Grizzly Discover Center -- A Bear and Wolf Preserve," eating pizza for dinner and watching IMAX movies. The Bear and Wolf Preserve was interesting -- we can now tell the difference between black bears and grizzly bears. For dinner we ate pizza and played "Cheat." I'm wild for IMAX movies. I forced the children to watch "Yellowstone," "Wolves," and "Bears." We ate Sarah's favorite flavors of Jelly Belly candy and huckleberry ice cream. It was a long drive home on the dark mountain roads, but we were listening to a Spencer novel by Robert Parker, so the time passed quickly.