Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Day Infinity: Return to E-ville

Day Infinity: Return to E-ville

My idea of an amusement park story is getting adventurers to go tour environmental disaster areas. After all, if the entire Great Barrier Reef gets killed, which seems like an extremely lively possibility, what are you going to do with all that rotting limestone?
Bruce Sterling

Pics: Faves from prior trips

Week Four Observations

Book review: Zeitoun, Dave Eggers, Audio book. It’s been out for a while, neither of us had read it though THB did attend a City Arts and Lectures where the Zeitouns and Dave were on stage discussing the contents of the book. For those of you out there who don’t know anything about this Kafka meets Katrina story (it takes place in New Orleans), let THB summarize it for you: “Brownie, you’re doing a great job” is probably right up there with “Mission Accomplished” when it comes to the least observant statement ever uttered aloud by a US President. Recommended.

Final Observations
1. We made it, agreeing that audio books do wonders for filling dead time as we drove to and from the red dirt circuit, day after day after day after day, and that great scenery and love of art works wonders with the rest of the time. Clearly, DB has a very forgiving nature if she could still look benevolently upon THB as he came up with hikes in heat, day after day after day after day.
2. Top park/lodging/eating experience: a tie between Zion/Desert Pearl Inn/Whiptail Restaurant and Capitol Reef/Boulder Mountain Lodge/Hell’s Backbone Grill. BOTH HIGHLY RECOMMENDED! You could make an entire trip out of these two stops and be very very satisfied.
3. Nearly 5,000 miles and the 2000 Lexus held up beautifully; gotta love the engineers that thought you needed four cigarette lighters to make it to the store and back.
4. Adjusting our itinerary turned out to be important, and as flexibility is not one of THB’s most obvious attributes, DB gets a ton oh credit for initiating the thought that maybe, just maybe, there was another path to the Rockies (and back).
5. While THB did not expect many children (that’s the point of leaving after Labor Day), it was a shock to see how many foreigners are coming to the US to see the NPs. If it wasn’t for some tours of retirees coming from Arizona, it might have been just the two us trying to learn French and German to talk to other visitors. Of note: France is having major trauma now over the idea of raising pensioned retirement age from 60 to 62, so it may not be an accident that this group was over-represented: they have (govt) money and health and time to travel.
6. Reiterating an earlier observation: you can have a great trip if you follow our itinerary and just go to the non-NP parks. This part of the country is loaded with awesome scenery, drives, hikes, vistas, and quirky little spots in the in-between spaces.
7. We spent two days in LA and the first few hours presented quite a shock: the number of cars on the road, the amount of ambient noise, and the pace of the life here is way more than our systems could handle…and we grew up here and know what it is like!
8. We knew ahead of time that Great Basin NP would be at serious altitude. We didn’t realize that the rest of the trip would also be between 6,000 and 8,000 feet pretty consistently. It wasn’t debilitating, it was usually noticeable. And, of course the Rocky Mountain NP was at some serious altitude, and was debilitating at the peaks!
9. Overall, the food was better than we expected (we had very low expectations), and also not really very good by Bay Area standards. In general, the NP lodges are very mediocre and, in some cases, as their season wore down to closing, limited and lousy. Arranging to bring a car cooler and eating some breakfasts in the room and eating many picnic lunches in the middle of hikes was a good idea and practice. We also noticed that by skipping fries and most desserts and thus eating less, we kept the food depression to a minimum.
10. Favorite Alzheimer moment: We finish up the hike in Mesa Verde and are heading to the car to drive back to the lodge and THB feels in his right front pocket and the keys to the car aren’t there. Hmmmmmm…UH OH!!!! As we keep walking towards the car, we realize the spare key is locked in the car (not such a bad thing). We keep walking and THB realizes the keys are in his back right pocket. How can that be? Must have been fooling with re-arranging items in the car before the hike and somehow slipped the keys in there…okay, that makes sense, how did THB lock the car after all that fooling around? It’s a mystery…and at least the keys weren’t lost.
11. Damn, watching baseball on TV is slow death. At least the Giants are winning games.

The final pop Quiz:
1. How many miles did THB and DB drive on this trip:
a. Exactly 4,789.2
b. None, the trip was faked just like the moon landing and we stayed at home the entire time
c. Just enough to visit every possible, west of Denver, red dirt NP ever designated
2. Why should THB and DB have listened to A Sunburned Country on this trip?
a. Duh, pretty clear that the interior of Australia and the Southwest have a lot in common: vast, hot, red, and Mars Landing training sites
b. Suffering from sunburn and sunstroke, there was chance for getting some sympathy through the radio speakers
c. So much talk of dangerous snakes and bugs would’ve put our minds at ease
d. All of the above
3. If you had to pick a guide for the day, the primary attribute you would be looking for is:
a. Ability to check the gas gauge before setting off
b. Ability to fall asleep at a moment’s notice and hard to wake up
c. Ability to find the way back to the start without getting lost
d. Ability to play the flute and drum
4. Which of the following items are NOT essential for this type of trip:
a. Binoculars (assuming you have essential tremors)
b. Two pairs of jeans
c. GPS (assuming you are incapable of listening to and following the directions)
d. Woolen things (three!) to cover your ears when it gets cold
e. Ability to select hikes that are fully exposed to sun
5. Why was Blondies such a great spot to eat:
a. It’s the only place on the entire trip we ordered a milkshake, and it was GOOD!
b. The locals are proud of their isolation and eccentricities and happy to talk to you about them
c. It was really the only choice in Hanksville, which is about 2 hours from anywhere, and it was noon
d. All of the above
6. Identify the prior trips of the pictures!

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Day 34: Canyon de Chelly, National Monument to Petrified Forest (NP #14) and Kingman AZ

Day 34: Canyon de Chelly, National Monument to Petrified Forest (NP #14) and Kingman AZ

Mr. Rickey, I'll put more people in the park than anybody since Babe Ruth.
Dizzy Dean

Pics: Fitness center (with water cooler, towels and no clock), utility box, shots in Canyon de Chelly and Canyon de Muerto, and the Petrified Forest

Book Review: The Lacuna, Barbara Kingsolver, Kindle edition. First half of the book is very good; the protagonist is in action with Kahlo, Rivera, and Trotsky in Mexico. Then in the middle, it takes a turn and is filled with faux book reviews, newspaper articles, etc., and slows to a crawl (unless you like to skim, which is very easy to do on a Kindle). In the last portion, the protagonist becomes somewhat of a depressive recluse writer and then gets caught up in the post-WW2 loyalty scares. All the innocence of the first half of the book comes back to haunt the protagonist. And, a “gun” (the lacuna) is presented in Act 1 and sure enough someone gets “shot” in Act 3. This is my first Kingsolver book, doubt I will give her another try.

Chinle is full of dogs on the loose, most without collars. They are everywhere, Officer Briskin: in the streets, in the parking lots, at the pool, lying in the sun, laying in the shade, with collars, without collars, families roaming together, large dogs, some medium size dogs, not too many small dogs (except puppies), dark dogs, light dogs. They are everywhere. They are friendly, almost comatose for the most part, not afraid of cars. Oh, and the cows are also roaming free, just like in India. And, the horses run wild around town, too. Calling Officer Briskin!

Up early to ride the elliptical, very early. Sure enough, in comes a woman of a certain age that appears to be in such good shape that a half-marathon before breakfast is the norm. Night before, manage to see 75% of a baseball game for the first time in over a month, and the hated Yanks manage a comeback by doing everything right for 8 batters in a row. They are an offensive machine, or as a depressed A’s fan might say: they hit the ball hard, a lot, game after game. (You can tell the trip is winding down when there is a whole paragraph of sports/fitness news instead of NP stuff, and that followed an entire paragraph on the local animal control situation, all preceded by a book review.)

Breakfast at Holiday Inn of blue corn pancakes (above average) and cinnamon french toast, coffee, $23.

We had been arranging a full day tour of Canyon de Chelly with a local guide, requiring many e-mails and phone calls. We arrive yesterday and cannot get hold of him to finalize pick-up time, even visiting his office. No calls back, no commitment on time. This morning we arrange a tour through the Holiday Inn, for a 1-3 person ½ day tour, getting a third person by offering a woman in the gift shop a spot with us (she pays 1/3 of the $150). Works good for us and for her. As we are getting ready to leave, at 8:58, our original guide calls (which means he’s not there to pick us up early) and I explain we’ve already committed to a guide that is there ready to go. No problema…

Turns out the new guide is terrific, he grew up in the Canyon, left for school and spent time in Chicago and Idaho, now back for 15 years leading tours. Lots of local knowledge, and very good about encouraging questions. Our vehicle is a four door 4WD, and the entire trip is in the sand of the canyon washes. We can talk while he is driving, a plus. Pics include what was missing in Monument Valley: a snack stand in the canyon at a convenient turnaround spot.

Lunch at Subway, tuna and turkey and swiss, iced tea, $12.

Then we hit the road, and visit the Petrified Forest, just off I40. We do the scenic drive, look at the petrified logs, and continue on to Kingman, AZ, and a Hampton Inn. We arrive at 6pm, having gained an hour by leaving the Navajo Reservation, which stays on Utah time. The Reservation is 27,000 square miles, holding approximated 300,000 Navajo, per our guide.

Our arrival in Kingman was accompanied by bizarre weather: what looks to us like a dust storm is enveloping the town, and as we approach it starts to rain lightly, the temperature drops from 80 to 63, the wind picks up dramatically, then rain hard, then lightning within a mile of the car, rains even harder, streets are flooding, and the sun is out the entire time. Second time for rain on the trip, on the last day of NPs.

Dinner at a steakhouse: porterhouse 1/3 the size of the hunk in Omaha, ribs for DB, soup and salad, WITH alcohol (drink, wine, beer), $65. As we leave the restaurant, the moon and stars are out, it is now 70 degrees, only the puddles in the parking lot belie what was going on 1.5 hours ago.

Friday, October 15, 2010