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Ode to Oven Racks

Posted by Sumiki , in AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA, Life, Other Stuff, Sumiki's Dad, twiggy, Writing Jun 08 2013 · 76 views

poems by sumiki and sumiki's dad: back by popular demand

It's hard to snack on an oven rack
(it's not easy to do)
It's hard to pack an oven rack
(I don't know what to do)

It's hard to stick a tack in an oven rack
(without sticking your finger)
It's hard to comb an oven rack
(without, you let it linger)

It's hard to take a nap on an oven rack
(you fall right through between)
It's hard to hug an oven rack
(unless you don't want your spleen)

It's hard to date an oven rack
(because they're just so flat)
It's hard to sled on an oven rack
(because you'll just go splat)

But it's easy to cook on an oven rack
(it's what they're made to do)
And it's easy to bake on an oven rack
(because they exist for you)

next time, we write about smuffin slappers


The Great American Road Trip II - 24 - Mr. Sandman

Posted by Sumiki , in Life, The Great American Road Trip Jun 07 2013 · 48 views

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We had a hard time getting to sleep last night, due in equal parts to excitement, over-tiredness, and altitude. After route planning for a bit, we eventually dozed off.

I awoke at 6:30 and got my dad up - my mom had already awoken and was getting some things out of the car. We ended up leaving the hotel a little before 8:00 bound for the Great Sand Dunes.

The roads there - especially Colorado 150, which leads to the park entrance - are ridiculously straight, continuing in the ancient lake bed valley where Alamosa lies. It was so flat that we could see the city in the distance, a good 20 miles away.

I was expecting something like the White Sands of last year, but the Great Sand Dunes are unlike anything else. They seemed small from a distance, but we were a good four miles away from them. The curving peaks and solidified-wave formations of the dunes look like they jut up against the mountains behind, but they were not, as they instead jut out for miles ahead of them. While we could, at one point, see the entirety of the dunes, that was not due to their smallness but rather due to our extreme distance from them.

We then officially entered the park and stopped at the visitor center, where they have a small interactive diorama with sand in it, and turning a handle changes the direction of the wind inside and you can sort of shape the mini-dune by wind direction. (It was probably intended for kids but we had great fun watching it do its thing.)

We continued the route to the dunes and passed two very dark mule deer. At 8:55 we parked in the parking lot, which did not have very many people in it - definitely less than we had anticipated, as it's a cooler environment in the morning.

Since I came in with White Sands experience, I expected something almost completely different from what we got - mainly the distance from our car to the first dune, which is a mile-long hike that feels like so much longer. It also crosses Medano Creek, which we had to ford sans footwear. The sand is not of consistent texture either, ranging from soft, mushy beach-like sand that sucks at your feet until you sink six inches down to bits of rocky clumps that dig into your feet. Most of the walk to and from the dunes were on the latter, and most of the dunes were of the former.

After fording Medano Creek we kept trudging for what felt like the better half of forever. The 7,515-foot elevation got to us before we even got to the dunes. We went up and sledded down the first dune, which due to its small grade was unimpressive. We then spotted the next dune over, which we appropriately trudged up.

I don't know how far down the hill was, but it was long and steep - perhaps 120 feet at the very least. We waxed up our sleds and proceeded to careen down the hill at breakneck speed.

Of course, the way the boards are designed, it's incredibly hard to get any sort of balance, stability, or control. Any attempts at controlling the direction of the board led to immediate wipeout - first by my dad, who did a faceplant into some (thankfully cold) sand, and then by me, as my board got wobbly and stopped suddenly when one side dug into the sand. I didn't do nearly as good of a wipeout as dad; he got an enormous amount of sand out of his nose and ears, whereas I only had an enormous amount of sand in one ear.

We sucked on our large water bottles and rested a good bit, as the sand dunes are incredibly hard to walk up. The kind of sand that the dunes are made of is very soft and you only stop when you get to a wetter kind of sand a few inches down, which - combined with the over-7,500-foot elevation - makes going fast hard. It's a good workout, though, and the slides down the dunes were totally worth the effort.

(As far as dune slides go, my dad had the worst wipeout and the longest run while my mom nabbed the straightest run - and on her first go, at that. I had a hard time getting balance as my sled kept wobbling around, but my wipeouts were about as fun as my slides.)

By 10:00 we'd done all we felt up to on the Dunes and trudged back to the car, interrupted by a number of breaks for water sipping. We got back to the car at 10:38 and rolled back out of the park. (Good thing, too - the sand was not only getting hot on our bare feet, but the crowds were starting to come in. The measly-looking Medano Creek apparently is the local answer to the beach, and folks came in with beach clothes and equipment - very few sleds, however.)

After dropping off our boards at the sports equipment place, we got back to the hotel where I surveyed the insane amount of sand on my body. Sand stuck to my sunscreen-sticky arms and plastered my face, ears, nose, and hair - even though I wore a hat the whole time. Sand was all over my chest and lodged itself around my mouth and in my facial hair, which made it look incredibly dark. Getting a shower was an interesting proposition, as the sand and old sunscreen turned the water into a kind of slush and I was afraid of being responsible for a backup should I wash it all away at once.

After we all got cleaned up as thoroughly as we could, we moved our Santa Fe reservations up a day and began the drive down to New Mexico. We passed by silos which featured murals on their sides and the oldest church in Colorado before it began raining in hard drops - hard enough that the smell of petrichor was thick, even inside the car. Concerned about the possibility of hail, we got out of the storm and continued south, where we entered New Mexico. (That makes it the second time this trip, if you count Four Corners.)

The rain made the temperature plummet from 73 to 51, but it increased to 65 as soon as we got out of it. New Mexico is distinct due to some "half-and-half" landscapes we saw - green rolling hills interrupted by scrubby, arid pastureland. It seemed too organic to have been irrigated to look that way, and we pondered the origin of such a strange landscape before we saw the half-dried creek in the valley. We saw yellow blooming sagebrush as well as random rock formations akin to tan versions of some of the Arches scenery, but these were rather few and far between.

(It was here that my dad had the following dialogue with himself, all spoken slowly in an accent of indeterminate origin: "I'm from New Mexico." / "What do you do in New Mexico?" / "I chase a little beaver around a tree." This had us laughing inordinately hard.)

We began entering the more populated area around Santa Fe and found ourselves in the city, where we entered road construction. This usually would not be so bad, but the knocking we'd felt in the engine for the past few states finally came to a head - my dad reported that he "felt something pop" and the engine light came on. We got diagnostics run while on the go and were told via the OnStar guy that there was a misfire in the engine - which would account for the knocking. The guy advised against speed, hauling things, hard accelerations, and steep hills - all things that our car has done pretty consistently on the trip.

Add the fact that we had experienced this in road construction - and the New Mexico drivers were letting in morons who sped past the lane-closure warning signs, thus slowing the pack down - made it kind of scary. We got connected by phone to the dealership, but the call got dropped before we could say much of anything.

The engine didn't sound any worse than it had in the previous thousand miles, but we arrived at the Santa Fe dealership. My dad stayed in the repair area to check the car in while my mom and I went into the dealership to see about the possibility of a rental car or shuttle. We ended up talking to a receptionist whose mother is from Greensboro, NC - yet another NC connection. (It was also her first day on the job and didn't know her coworkers' names very well, which led to some hilarity when "Kevin" turned out to be called "Keith." This "Keith" character ended up saying "you ladies" when referring to my mom and me, which led to even more hilarity. He was ridiculously apologetic for his slip-up after he realized what had happened.)

We ended up getting to know the dealership characters, who were quite the bunch. With nothing else to do and a co-manager bent on trading our car in, we looked at a few new cars, which were surprisingly nice - better than our current ride in some aspects, while inferior in others. We ended up meeting two fellows named "David" who worked there - one of which had a practically trademarked catchphrase I can't repeat on this site, while the other was even newer than the receptionist, but played up on the humor in his newness by saying things such as "a walk-around is car-salesman talk for when ... you walk around."

As it turned out, the third cylinder had misfired, but everyone there was incredibly friendly and promised that, if possible, they'll have it done by noon tomorrow. If the engine turns out to have more extensive damage, we might just have a new ride for the journey home.

Instead of a rental car or a shuttle, they actually let us use one of the sexy-looking cars we tested out, which was incredibly nice of them. I actually drove it a bit around the hotel parking lot, and it handles quite well.

We ate at a mexican restaurant just a short walk from the hotel called the Blue Corn, which was half-brewery, half-restaurant. I had a huge chimichanga with some interesting limeade, while my parents got fajitas. (When the server asked me what kind of sauce I wanted, I remembered something the receptionist had said about "christmas" - half red chili, half green chili. I ordered this and I'm glad I did, as the green chili was delicious but the red chili less so.)

When we got back to the hotel, we decided to stay an extra day in Santa Fe. We were able to extend our reservations and got some drinks from the small pantry area near the front desk. We also were interested in sampling the pecan pie that we'd gotten at Serious Texas Barbecue in Durango, Colorado and had been lugging around in the cooler for three days, so we inquired about acquiring some forks. We were told that they would be delivered to our room, which thereby put ourselves in the unique position of having the first-ever hotel fork delivery. We prepared for this moment by having my dad open up the door before the front desk lady was prepared for that to happen and by my act of taking a picture just as her eyes got big as my dad presented the pecan pie to her to prove that it actually existed. It was quite hilarious.

Tomorrow: we spend a day in Santa Fe. Featuring an independent minor-league team and a number of delicious restaurants (the dealership receptionist said that you "really couldn't go wrong" with Santa Fe food), our extra day in the US's oldest capital will not go to waste.


The Great American Road Trip II - 23 - Passing Out

Posted by Sumiki , in Life, The Great American Road Trip Jun 06 2013 · 71 views

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My dad had gotten up around 6:00 in the morning and went to get our brakes checked out at the Durango dealership. It's fortunate that he did so, as he reported the engine light blaring at him every mile or so - a repeat of the oil-light false alarm we got outside of Kamloops, British Columbia. After a series of scares he got to the dealership, where they checked the engine (which has been knocking a little bit), the brakes, and the oil. They did an oil change and reported that everything was fine with the engine and brakes - the brakes sound strange and the engine is knocking simply due to the altitude. (Brakes apparently accumulate more dust at higher altitudes.)

And boy, did we have altitude today. He got some intel on the over-10,000 foot Wolf Creek Pass en route to Alamosa from almost everyone he could, and learned that it was easier than the 10% grade of Teton Pass and didn't have nearly as many curves. It was, however, quite long and very high up - but their advice was to stick the car in third gear so we wouldn't have to ride the brakes.

We left the hotel a little after 11:00, and stopped at Serious Texas Barbecue so for lunch. We rolled through Durango's historic downtown and saw a number of old buildings before getting out of the town and on towards the epic Wolf Creek Pass.

Between Bayfield and Chimney Rock we hit the 6,000-mile mark and our trip odometer reset.

We entered more forested areas and passed Colorado's Chimney Rock (the namesake of the town and also apparently a National Monument in its own right) and within short order had arrived in Pagosa Springs, the last town before Wolf Creek Pass.

We entered the San Juan National Forest, but before we went over the mountain,. we stopped at a pullout called Treasure Falls. Run by the National Forest, the trail goes up a number of switchbacks before taking you over a bridge for a fantastic view of a large waterfall. We walked down to the rushing stream below it under a rock overhang and touched the frigid water before getting back on the trail and descending down the switchbacks to the car.

Then we went over the mountain.

The car was doing all it could to get up over the mountain. The grade wasn't really all that steep, but the altitude did a number on the engine's ability to combust fuel. We got to the top safely before pulling off the road to let the engine cool down. Conveniently, this was at the Continental Divide at 10,850 feet above sea level - over two miles high. The air was pretty thin and I got a bit winded just walking around. Trucks that passed the pullout were clearly having troubles going up and down alike.

The engine did not overheat and cooled to a more normal temperature as we got back on the road, which we did earlier than we'd wanted to due to the beginnings of rain. It did nothing more than sprinkle, however.

So we went down, and we just kept on going down. Alamosa is at roughly 7,000 feet above sea level - so we had to come down 3,000 feet from over two miles high.

There were some curves - including curved tunnels through the sides of mountains. It seems like it'd be more trouble to build the tunnel than to just keep on blasting out the roadway. We eventually leveled out but kept winding around the sides of mountains before finally settling down into a valley, where we mostly paralleled a small, but rushing, river.

We went through small towns on the way to Alamosa, but the big driving fun was over for the day. We arrived at our hotel at 3:20 and got checked in.

(Our room features a locked circuit breaker, and I'm not entirely sure why.)

The land around Alamosa is not part of the plains that define the eastern half of Colorado, as we're not out of the Rocky Mountains yet. Its flatness - and fertility - is due to the area being an ancient lake bed. After so many mountains, it's good to have some flat roads for a while.

Equal parts hungry and tired, we ate at a decent local Italian restaurant in town. Their personal pizzas are good but filling, and we had our leftover pieces boxed to take back to our room for lunch tomorrow. (En route to the restaurant, we'd stopped by a local sports-equipment shop and rented two sand sleds.)

After a few nights of not getting much rest, I'm looking forward to good sleep tonight.

Tomorrow: we get up early to sled on the Great Sand Dunes, the largest sand dunes in North America.


The Great American Road Trip II - 22 - Cliffhangers

Posted by Sumiki , in Life, The Great American Road Trip Jun 05 2013 · 69 views

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We left the hotel a little before 11:00 and got on the road to Cortez, Colorado. We passed through more rock formations similar to Arches or Canyonlands, saw swirly grass patterns and passed by a tourist trap called "Hole in the Rock" (though there are a great many holes in rocks in that area of the country), and encountered a bit of road construction but not enough to slow us down considerably.

A bit after noon we entered Colorado, a state I've never been to before until today; we hit all of Colorado's surrounding states last trip. The scenery featured a bit more trees than the consistent scrub-brush of Utah, but was not all that different altogether. Within the hour we were in Cortez and turned to backtrack slightly along a 38-mile route to our first destination of the day: the Four Corners monument, the only place in the United States where four state corners meet. It's officially on an Indian reservation, so we paid the nominal fee to get in.

There were more people there than I had anticipated, but getting parked and walking to the monument (which is essentially a large circular plaque on the ground) was still easy. This means that this trip also features Arizona on the list of states/provinces - we got to 25 last year and we're aiming to get to at least that number this time. (So far, we're at an even 20, so I don't think getting to 25 will be a problem.)

(Side note: roads through Indian reservations are generally not very good. They're bumpy - as if the asphalt was poured directly on top of the terrain sans grading - and feature an insane amount of potholes. It always seems to be like this and I don't know why. We did run into road repainting - something the road very much did not need!)

While our route did not take us to the official borders of Monument Valley, we got near there enough to see rock formations similar to what is found there. After Arches, though, I'm not sure what much Monument Valley has that could be better.

We went back to Cortez, as that was the only way in and out that did not involve even more desolate roads than the ones we traversed. We finally found the Colorado welcome center, which, I have to say, is the worst welcome center I've ever seen. It was clean and all, but they simply do not make it easy to find. The sign is practically camouflage and there are no road signs to point it out. However, they did not, for some reason, have an official Colorado road map. I don't understand why - they're a freaking welcome center. What welcome center doesn't have maps?

We got gas on the outskirts of Cortez and went a few more miles up the road to Mesa Verde National Park, the famous site of ancestral Pueblo homes constructed inside large holes in the mesa cliffs. The park was a bit different, as most of the tours up into the famous archaeological areas were led by park rangers. We discussed getting tickets for these, but with our feet still very sore after the many hikes in Arches yesterday and with all of us (for some bizarre reason) not having gotten enough sleep after said hikes, we skipped the longer tours. I didn't feel too bad about doing so, as we were later informed by a park ranger that the free tour of a dwelling called Spruce Tree House was better than the ranger-led tours as it was in better condition than the other, larger dwellings. (The same ranger told us that some bear had been spotted in the park recently - just our luck. We didn't see any, though.)

Soon we were on the road through the park, and climbed up a huge number of switchbacks up to the top of the mesa, where the views out over the flat fields below were insanely cool. We didn't do any trails aside from the paved walk down to Spruce Tree House, which was basically a very small town consisting of three or four extended families living in stone-and-mortar dwellings halfway up a sheer cliff underneath a massive overhang. Average ancestral Puebloan size was roughly five feet, life expectancy was around 30 years old, and the infant mortality rate is estimated to have been about fifty percent. The windows and doors on the now-crumbling structures were quite small, and even if folks were allowed inside them I don't think very many people could fit.

Circular underground ceremonial rooms, known as kivas, were sacred places for the Puebloans, and a reconstructed kiva was provided. I squeezed through the small hole down the slightly slippery ladder into the cool circular chamber - quite a nice place to beat the heat when you're dealing with southwestern temperatures.

The Puebloans used the area behind their dwellings, where the overhang joins with the cliff, as a refuse area, where trash and animal carcasses were incinerated. (Soot can still be seen to stain the overhang as it goes back.) These unsanitary practices likely led to the poor conditions described earlier.

With the heat becoming stifling and the lower halves of our bodies complaining after the effort they collectively expended yesterday, we headed back up the trail, where we saw an incredibly cute chipmunk nibbling on tree leaves.

Barely able - and totally unwilling - to get out of the car further, we went along a small loop trail until we could get to a good view of the Cliff Palace, the largest of the Puebloan dwellings. The fact that these things are constructed literally inside the cliffs - and that the Puebloans had to climb up and down tiny handholds and footholds in the rock face daily - made them very impressive.

(We also saw a wild turkey in there, and he was a big one.)

As we went out of the park and descended the steep curves and hills, we spotted a group of wild horses. The descent out of Mesa Verde never just stops, as the roughly thirty-mile drive was almost all downhill. I was tired enough to sleep through a good portion of it, but was awoken to taking some scary turns at some equally scary speeds. The brakes did their job, but they've taken such an incredible beating on this trip that we're going to have to give them a check-up before we go up to 10,000 feet and down again en route to Alamosa, Colorado.

We arrived in Durango and checked into our hotel. We'd seen a place just about a block from the hotel called Serious Texas Barbecue, and it came with high recommendations from the hotel staff.

This place is little more than a shack with a couple of additions to it. Its dive-like qualities are emphasized by its old wooden construction and highly rickety nature, as well as the many Texas-themed signs stuck to pretty much every available open spot - including many that referenced "Kinky for Governor." When we asked about who this "Kinky" fellow was, and why he felt the need to run for the Governorship, we got the response of "ah ... Texas."

Their apparently famous pulled pork sandwiches - featured on Live with Regis and Kelly - were absolutely huge and rank right up there with some of the best barbecue I've ever eaten. It came with some sort of cherry chipotle sauce which tasted less like cherries and more like delicious. Their sweet tea had about a gallon less sugar than our variety, but it was still tea and we got refills. As it turns out, one of the three girls who ran the place (and cooked up the delicious barbecue) was from just outside of Asheville. The more we travel, the more North Carolinians we encounter.

We got a number of pictures of the quirky interior and headed back to the hotel room, where we're anticipating a good, long night of sleep.

Tomorrow: another resting day as we take a short drive over to Alamosa, Colorado, which will serve as our base camp for sledding in Great Sand Dunes National Park. We'll also probably get the car looked at to make sure everything is still in order before we go up to 10,000 feet above sea level - all electronic diagnostics have come back clean, but there's no substitute for having someone who knows what they're looking at check things out.


The Great American Road Trip II - 21 - A Window of Opportunity

Posted by Sumiki , in The Great American Road Trip, Life Jun 05 2013 · 77 views

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After a series of long days and not getting enough sleep, we slept about ten and a half hours last night. My dad had gotten up about 5:00 and walked around the hotel and down the street a bit, where he noted a little restaurant called Sweet Cravings. We'd passed this en route to the hotel but we'd assumed that it was some kind of bakery, but it turned out to be a breakfast-and-lunch place run by an older couple. After his excursion, he returned to the room and continued sleeping.

A little ways into the afternoon we walked over to Sweet Cravings for lunch. The service was a bit discombobulated, and it was packed with the weirdest of folks, but the sandwiches they served were downright excellent. I got something called the Capone Sub (as homage to the Moose Jaw tunnels) - which was basically a mix of a bunch of slightly spicy Italian meats, but it was quite fresh. Mom and dad split two sandwiches - one a turkey bacon sandwich with olives and bacon aioli, and the other was a ham-and-cheese concoction that was, for some reason, called "the Great Escape."

We walked back to our hotel, planning to leave to Arches National Park as soon as we'd done a load of laundry, but the heat - while dry - was absolutely brutal. We'd planned on leaving at 2:00 at the earliest, but the heat reached up to 105 degrees, so we waited at the hotel and got our start a little after 4:00 when the heat was around 90 or so - but there was a bit of cloud cover and the heat was dry, so we were fine.

After stopping at the visitor center and asking a few questions about the nature/time of some of the trails that looked interesting to us, we got back on the road that traverses the park. While we got a somewhat protracted start because of the heat, we were able to get around and do everything that we had originally planned on doing.

The first few stops were nothing more than small pullouts to get good views of some famous rock structures within the park - of which most, ironically, are not arches at all, but more akin to spindles or long thin faces of red rock which rise up disjointedly from the scrub brush below. Some of the names bequeathed to these strange formations are obvious when considering their appearance - "The Organ," "Three Gossips," and "Sheep Rock" all look like what they sound like - upward stripes, three head-shaped rocks side-by-side, and ... well, a sheep-looking thing. Some names, however, made little sense - like "Courthouse Towers" or "Garden of Eden" - the latter was one of the most desolate and non-vegetated pieces of land we saw, leaving a decidedly unapt ring to the name. It was pretty for other reasons, however - rocks jutted up in a series of spires, some interspersed with others. It was not the best scenery in the park, however - we had more places to get to.

A lot of the scenery on the first part of the drive is taken by vast petrified sand dunes, with thin rock layers jutting up at odd angles. They were not the same height as some sand dunes I've seen, but they still had a distinct sand-dune shape to them.

Our first hike was a short one around a famous rock called Balanced Rock - and I'll be darned if that thing's not precariously balanced. The formations around the area have clearly defined geological layers. The layer on the bottom, which goes perhaps halfway up the rock, is not as eroded as the smaller layer above it, which in turn supports the remaining rock which does not erode as fast as either of the two layers below. It looks a bit like a large petrified ice cream cone, with the ice cream on the verge of falling off and splattering on the ground. (However, due to the rate at which even the fastest layer erodes, folks won't have to worry about being crushed by the rock for a long, long time to come.) The rock formations around there have the same general geological structure as Balanced Rock and will, given enough time, erode away to the point where they, too, will be balanced rocks in their own right,

(Balanced rocks are not an uncommon sight around the park, but Balanced Rock itself it the most famous and the largest of any of them, hence the name. However, it was interesting in its largeness and its closeness to the road, not its uniqueness within the park.)

Our next stop was rather long - not a long hike, per se, but we did a lot of climbing around. We had arrived in a portion of the park with many more arches and large coves in the red rocks. Three of them could be accessed by one loop trail. Our first stop on this trail was the North Window, a massive arch etched out of the rock face. The climb up into the arch, so as to be underneath it, was steep but not strenuous, and the views of the epic scenery beyond was well worth any and all expended effort. We climbed down on the other side, which blocked both the sun (which was quickly being shrouded by clouds) and the rain, which was not hard but was sprinkled into our faces by the occasional gust. We climbed up, over, and around huge fallen rocks on the other side until we could climb no more - but the views going out the other way were worth the effort, as we could see into the Turret Arch, which was the third stop of three on the loop.

But before we could get to the Turret Arch, we went to the South Window, which is quite like the North Window - the only difference is that it's impossible to get up under the North Window due to the almost sheer rock face below it. We could get about halfway up, but there were no path possibilities on any of the slippery rocks above, so we aborted the mission and continued on to the Turret Arch.

The Turret Arch was the least strenuous of the three and turned out to be basically a smaller version of the North Window. The relative smallness of the arch made it a wind tunnel, and I barely held on to my hat as I climbed through to the other side and then back again.

We drove just a little farther before traversing our penultimate trail: the Double Arch, one of the most famous pieces of scenery in the park and one of the classic Western backgrounds which has made the vicinity well-known for filming movies. In fact, the Double Arch was where they filmed part of the opening scenes for Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, where the young Indiana escapes from a treasure-hunting gang with some of their loot. We clambered up the rocks underneath the first of the two arches, and dad and I crawled up to look out through the second. The views of the rocks in the distance with sand dunes in the foreground along with rain and sun rays on the horizon was very beautiful, and I could have stayed there for a long time had we not had another trail to get to.

At this point, light was becoming a bit more scarce, as the mountains heightened the horizon and the clouds obscured the sun - but the shade was welcome and surprising. It was also just barely still early enough to start in on the 3-mile (round-trip) hike to see the most famous arch in the entirety of Arches and one of the most evocative pieces of southwestern beauty: Delicate Arch, an arch that is not part of a larger rock wall but instead stands by its own, thinning out on one side to a smaller circumference.

It was the hardest, best, and most gorgeous hike I've ever been on, and going up and down presented its own distinct series of challenges.

Going up was literally all uphill. The trail was not paved and was only dirt for the first little bit. The only indication that you're still on the trail are the ranger-made rock piles known as cairns, which lead you up a long and very steep rock at about a 10% grade. Going up, which ate into my feet, was much easier than going down - but that's another story. After reaching the top of this massive rock - which makes you think that you're closer to seeing Delicate Arch than you actually are - we walked along rocky but relatively flat ground, going from cairn to cairn with little difficulty. (The worst part about this section was stopping and waiting for my parents to catch up. They were rather winded, I think - but still in better shape than anyone else at their age.)

The last leg of the hike was the craziest of all: a walk along a 200-yard narrow cliff. The rock face to our right went straight up, while the rock face to our left went straight down. The trail had been sliced right out of the rock - and slanted inwards so that, should someone fall, that person would bang against the rock instead of tumble off the cliff - but it was by no means an easy walk, as the path had a number of potholes in it, which made it more precarious travel.

But then we rounded the corner and saw Delicate Arch, and it was worth it.

While the trail stopped at the rocky overlook, this did not stop anyone from walking in a clockwise motion on the rather steep curve over to the Arch itself. A few foreign folks actually walked underneath the Arch - but there was a steep drop-off on both sides, the ground looked ridiculously slick, and the wind had just enough of a kick to it to make a trek out there unsteady. I touched the side of it and got some really cool pictures (the redness of the rock increases hue to a fiery red as it reflects sunset light, making it a popular spot at that time), but we had to head back, as the sun was rapidly setting and we had a 1.5-mile walk - mostly downhill - to our car.

Oh, and did I mention that it got very windy and began to rain a bit on us?

The rain wasn't that bad - not any worse than the rain that squirted us earlier, anyway - but the wind was blowing into our faces and occasionally carried sand from places farther down the trail. We made the fastest time that we could, considering the steep downhill treks and the diminishing light, and made it back to our car at 9:00, right when we could no longer have seen much of anything on the trail.

Well, we'd walked, climbed, and meandered around six miles total - at high altitudes and temperatures - so we were very hungry. We had our sights set on a restaurant in Moab that had an excellent menu and good reviews, so we got out of the park as fast as we could (while still being safe) and got into Moab even though we were stuck behind dimwits who went 30 in a 45-MPH zone. (We'd called the restaurant earlier today to inquire about their hours, so we were trying to get there before their 9:30 closing time.) We got there at 9:20 and ran inside, but the lady we talked to was very rude and told us that they "closed early because our servers are sick." (Basically, they closed at 9:00 because no one else was walking in the door - and without changing their window sign.)

Miffed at the lack of pleasantness - amplified by our hunger - we rolled down the street past closed restaurants. However, Moab Diner was still open, so we ate there. I had the chicken-fried steak they ran out of yesterday, and nabbed the last of the white gravy. (I also got a refill of their lemonade for free, which isn't supposed to happen.) I cleaned off my plate, and we all got ice creams.

I suspect we'll sleep well tonight.

Tomorrow: we visit Four Corners - the only place in the U.S. where you can be in four states at the same time - and hit Mesa Verde National Park - the biggest archaeological site in the U.S. - en route to Durango, Colorado.


The Great American Road Trip II - 20 - Beating a Dead Horse

Posted by Sumiki , in Life, The Great American Road Trip Jun 03 2013 · 75 views

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The day started out with an adventure in getting across the street.

We had originally planned to stay in Provo, which is on the southern edge of the Salt Lake metropolitan area. However, since Orem has a minor-league team known as the Owlz, we switched the reservations just ten minutes north to that city. As it turned out, our hotel was literally across the street from the stadium.

Which, of course, you can't just get to normally.

We had to take a myriad of turns and navigate a seemingly impassible series of bizarre traffic circles and meaningless one-way streets. It took many harrowing minutes, but we finally circled back around and found the stadium parking lot.

Then we couldn't get a pennant - they were moving in to the stadium after the college season (they share the field) was over. We caught them about ten minutes after they had all gotten into the offices, and boxes were literally everywhere. Most of the Owlz merchandise - including hats and pennants - were in a large moving truck and inaccessible. They were nice and scrambled around to find something to give us - so we walked out of there with a red Owlz bag, free of charge.

We reluctantly rolled back onto the road and were caught back in the labyrinth of the dreaded Salt Lake roads, which featured unreasonably hard-to-see stoplights and very few road signs. We eventually were able to escape Salt Lake and traversed I-15 southbound before forking off on US 6/89 in Spanish Fork. We got exceptionally close to some windmills as the red rocky outcroppings stereotypical of Utah started to become more prevalent.

Then came the road work.

There were miles upon miles of marked-off lanes when there was no reason to mark the lanes off - and in fact the lane that was marked off looked rather better than the one we were driving in. Of course, these lanes were marked off with barrels that intruded into our lane to the point that we were concerned that the car would clip them - and no one was working on road construction in the marked-off lane!

Between intermittent and entirely pointless road work, getting stuck behind slowpokes who sped when you tried to pass them in a passing lane, and watching morons fly past RVs in oncoming traffic when a passing lane is about two seconds ahead of them, the scenery slowly morphed into the kind of reddish landscapes one thinks about when considering southern Utah - basically like Mars but with sagebrush, cattle, and a breathable atmosphere. In addition to cows, sheep, and occasional horses, we saw a small llama herd.

Considering the unforeseen circumstances on the road, we made decent time. We kept going up and down more hills and wound through passes both natural and man-made. Mesas - flat as pancakes on top - became much more prevalent. We passed over Soldier Summit and then Helper, so named because the town would provide extra engines to help trains ascend Soldier Summit. We exited in Price - the last town of any real size before Moab - for gas, but then began trucking along again.

The amount of traffic going both directions on that road is staggering - mainly, I would imagine, due to the route being the most direct from the Moab region and its National Parks up to Salt Lake. For many stretches - especially the last stretch before the merge with I-70 - the road is ridiculously flat. There is also no civilization out there - for about 20 or 30 miles there were no towns, and I don't even recall seeing ranches. It's utter nothingness, and the only sign that you're still on Earth is the fact that there's some driver in front of you about to do something nutty.

Over this time the temperature steadily rose through the 80s and finally to 90. I drove for a bit on I-70 as the temperature got up to a 94-degree high, but it soon leveled off to high 80s-low 90s temperatures.

Soon enough we found ourselves off the Interstate and, after a while on US 191, followed the signs for Canyonlands National Park. We turned on Utah 313 and wound our way into the vast series of red canyons which constitute Canyonlands and its vast outskirts.

Canyonlands, made a National Park in 1964, was formerly part of vast ranch land. The overlooks and trails in the park's vast domain afford spectacular views of gorgeous scenery. Canyons are inside larger canyons which in turn are inside even larger canyons, all of which can be seen from the top of a large ridge known as the Island in the Sky.

(Before we even got to the official park entrance, there was a pullout for two rocks nicknamed the Monitor and Merrimac - and I'll be darned if they weren't the petrified images of the famous ironclads themselves. The two natural mesas - one larger than the other - is exceptionally similar to a famous photograph of the two warships.)

Canyonlands has a lot of much longer trails, but we did not pack the equipment required to hike them. We did quite a few of them, though, and stopped at nearly every lookout point for more views of the layered canyons below us. Surprisingly, there is, at one point, prairie - right on top of the Island in the Sky. Ranchers used to use steep dirt trails that wound their way up the sides of the sheer rock cliffs to get their herds up and down from pastureland to water. Mining operations in the region were halted when the National Park was established, but the pathways they cut though the bottom of the canyon has left scars across the surprisingly fragile land. (Certain types of soil are extremely delicate and can take up to 20 years to regenerate fully after being stepped on.)

Our next major stop was Mesa Arch, a popular location for sunrise pictures. The low-lying arch is still distinguishably an arch, and it looks quite like a natural bridge. I could have looked at the scenery - with the canyon layers and snowcapped peaks off in the distance framed by the gentle curve of the Arch - longer than I did, but the midges through there are awful. Instead of just banging into us like the midges at Lake Huron tried to do, these midges had some sort of pre-game meeting and arranged an attack plan: crawl into our ears.

I felt things crawling around as we got back to the car. I think I got all of them out, though ... if not, they're probably stuck on the inordinate amount of wax I excrete daily.

The main difference between these midges and the Huron brand is that these will not attack you if you move around fast enough - but as soon as you slow down or stop they're there, just waiting to nab you.

The dry heat of Canyonlands meant that mom and I - chronic sweaters - did not sweat our usual gallon and a half. In fact, I barely sweated at all, which was an entirely new experience. (Good thing, too - though we brought lots of water bottles, we didn't bring enough. The water conservation was a welcome surprise.)

Our next stop after Mesa Arch was a spur road that took us out to a controversial geological formation - a great big crater-like hole in the ground with greenish badlands on the bottom. Its bizarre shape and nature makes the massive formation - called Upheaval Dome, for some reason - a point of contention among geologists, who don't have a real idea of how the place came to be. It was a rather steep haul up there, but the view of the Dome is worth it, with the rock face we were standing on top of extending out in almost a complete circle - the only thing that would prevent a hypothetical hike around the entire rim is a significant gap in one side.

We got back on the main road and within short order reached the end: Grand View Point, an overlook resting on the southern end of the Island in the Sky. It was the most spectacular overlook we'd stopped at up until that point, offering a vast view of most of the rest of the Canyonlands backcountry, an uninhabited territory with no roads and few trails. Though the old mine roads could still be seen - and will still be there for a good long while to come - they afforded a nice scale to the vastness that was before us. We would have stayed there longer and hiked around a little bit, but the midges were multiplying and were beginning their ear canal excursions even while we were on the move.

On the way back we saw the same scenery, but in a different light as the sun began to set. While not at sunset itself - which I hear is quite dramatic - it cast the canyons and their jutting formations in a new light, including making a large mesa behind a smaller mesa way out in the distance look like a shadow instead of just a larger mesa.

After meandering our way along the curvy route back through the park, we found ourselves at the exit within short order. Our last stop of the day was not in Canyonlands, but was due to be in Dead Horse Point State Park, so named for a possibly apocryphal tale of an abandoned corral. The view from Dead Horse Point itself is quite possibly more stunning than any overlook in Canyonlands itself. From the overlook we could see the entirety of the Island in the Sky - which is what the fellow North Carolinian at Grand Teton told us we could see. The midges were less prevalent at Dead Horse Point but there were still enough of them to warrant a brisk walk back to the car.

Tired and hungry, we hit the road to Moab and ate at Moab Diner. I had a burger with green chili sauce while my parents got steaks with an interesting side called sweetwater potatoes - basically sliced-up, cooked potatoes with cheese and bacon bits on them. Since our waitress blanked on giving us our salads, we made up for it by getting free ice cream, which we ate on the way back to the hotel.

We arrived at the hotel where I spied a large hill behind it. I climbed it for a great view of the sunset behind the mountains. My dad climbed up after me and we considered climbing all the way up the hill and seeing if we could see a bit of Arches National Park, but we only got about halfway up until we turned back due to the increasing darkness.

Tomorrow: we spend a day in Arches National Park before doubling back and spending another night in Moab.


The Great American Road Trip II - 19 - Soda Pop

Posted by Sumiki , in Life, The Great American Road Trip Jun 02 2013 · 71 views

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A little after leaving the hotel, we hit the 5000 mile mark. Whether this is the halfway point or something a little after that remains to be seen.

We followed secondary roads as we meandered our way back to the Idaho border. The roads were scenic and followed the zigzagging Snake River as we passed by tall mountains. Many birds were present in the region, including a number of osprey, who made their distinctive nests on the top of telephone poles (when the tops were flat) and on specially-made poles when the telephone poles were not conducive.

(For some reason, there were hilarious - and official! - signs along the side of the road that designated some part of the Targhee National Forest as "Lunch Counter Kahunas." You can't make this stuff up, folks.)

As we neared crossing the border back into Idaho, the land flattened into a stereotypical land of dairy. Black and white cows munched grass and lounged around, and signs advertised cheeses. We crossed back into Idaho via the small community of Freedom.

We looped back into Idaho via a scenic but bizarre road that went due west before a series of crazy hairpin turns (for what reason I can't fathom; there was no obstacle to prevent the building of a more gradual turn) which took us south over rolling hills of roller-coaster proportions. The Idahoans took the road at a snail's pace, but the nature of the road - with blind curves and hills - meant passing opportunities were rare. This was not a problem for an enterprising Utahan in a black SUV, who passed the slowpokes on the aforementioned blind hills and turns. He was lucky that no one was coming in the other direction.

The scenery was quite gorgeous, and at one point featured a conglomeration of almost every kind of scenery we'd seen on the trip: rolling hills with scrub brush, prairies off to the distance, mountains beyond that and snowcapped peaks poking out from behind them. To the side was a lake of considerable proportions, complete with islands.

Lava-like rocks were common along the side of the road, and a number of mounds of black rock similar to the a'a lava of Craters of the Moon. We didn't pass by close enough to any of these nearly circular piles to get a good look, but if I had to bet, I would say that they were formed from some sort of volcanic activity.

As we rolled on towards Soda Springs - the only Idaho town of any real size east of Pocatello - we saw a number of unlabeled mines with large barbed-wire fences and a little too much security to not be suspicious. I suspect that these are mines for some kind of precious element - possibly uranium, due to its high quantity in this region. One was a phosphate mine and was one of the closest to town - but it, too, had quite a bit of security.

We got to Soda Springs and filled up the tank, then followed the signs for Geyser Park. The geyser is from a naturally carbonated spring, one of a number in the Soda Springs area and the namesake of the town itself. However, back in the late '30s or so, the original geyser hole was filled in with concrete and a somewhat random tree stump, then rerouted through pipes to a new location. They then rigged the system to open it up every hour on the hour to let off steam. The National Park Service actually sent a letter to the town soon after they did this, requesting them to shut the geyser off as it was "interrupting Old Faithful" - but they were more concerned about the potential tourist competitor to Yellowstone. Fortunately for them, that did not happen.

Well, we'd arrived there at the bottom of the hour and had some waiting to do until it exploded again. We walked around the entire geyser area, which mostly consists of yellowish-orange travertine that is left behind by the geyser's stinky mineral water. Seagulls seemed to enjoy the water, however, and fought over various puddles on the travertine.

While waiting for the 2:00 eruption, we met a couple from the Netherlands who were on vacation in the US, along with the woman's Austrian sister and a biker dude that turned out to be her son. Small and uncontrolled kids ran around on the slippery, puddle-filled travertine around the geyser with only token parental supervision. They were obviously local but knew something we didn't about the temperature of the geyser; we stayed where the wind wouldn't blow the spray into our faces under the impression that the volcanic activity that fuels the geyser would make the water hot. It apparently was not, as the kids ran around in it with abandon and were not scalded for their efforts. The geyser spewed for about ten minutes and reached a hundred feet into the air.

Near the geyser is a small hut which housed part of the Ground Observation Corps, which was a volunteer force dedicated to watching the sky for enemy planes near holes in the radar system. It was discontinued in the 50s when radar was significantly improved, but Soda Springs has preserved their little hut for geyser-goers to see. Also, on a mountain overlooking the geyser is a slag pile from the phosphorus mine: molten rock that's added to the pile by being thrown onto the pile from a specialized truck. The resulting bright red-orange flow is basically man-made lava; if it was actual lava, then we'd have been in a world of hurt.

We left Soda Springs and its slanted light poles bound for I-15. As we went west our temperature steadily increased through the 70s and, before we got on the Interstate, to 80 degrees for the first time on the trip. (We'll have to break out the shorts tomorrow, I think.) In addition to our newfound sunniness and warmth, we saw what we think was a marmot scurrying across the road.

The portion of I-15 in southern Idaho is indistinguishable from northern Utah. Nothing is there to break up the drive until we got to the exit that gets to the Golden Spike memorial where the Transcontinental Railroad was linked together. As soon as we consulted our maps and realized that the historical site would be well over an hour round-trip - and on some unpaved roads to boot - we turned around and topped off the tank before hitting the road again to the Great Salt Lake.

The temperature rose and rose some more until it hit 90 degrees around 4:30. We took I-15 through the city, possible because the traffic was not backed up due to it being a Sunday. The traffic, however, was filled with the most insane of drivers who seemed to display an active disdain for turn signals, the brake pedal, and consistently staying in the same lane. We passed the time by making jokes about the ridiculous billboards in the area, most of which had to do with various aspects of body image.

We checked in at our Orem hotel which has no automatic doors and features a dimly lit and jittery elevator. (The rooms are clean, though, so I can't really complain all that much.) Tired, with very little on our stomachs, and with no local establishments open, we went over to the tart-smelling IHOP next door. (I'm pretty sure most places in Salt Lake smell funky - everything both last year and this year, new and old alike, features a similar smell.) The food was mediocre, but we needed the sustenance.

Utah is not my favorite state, but it's hardly my least favorite. I have a distaste for most metropolitan areas, and Salt Lake is no different, but the gorgeous scenery of southern Utah more than makes up for Salt Lake's relative blandness.

Tomorrow: we traverse the state to Moab, the jumping-off point for Arches and Canyonlands National Parks.


The Great American Road Trip II - 18 - Rockies and Bullwinkle

Posted by Sumiki , in The Great American Road Trip, Life Jun 02 2013 · 98 views

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After waking up and making ourselves look at least somewhat presentable, we steeled ourselves for going out and getting a hotel breakfast. After the burned toast debacle of last night, we were concerned that whatever breakfast we got would be inedible.

It was not inedible - it was undrinkable! We all got coffee and modified it with a number of creamers and sugars, but upon sampling it we all nearly puked due to its extreme bitterness - sort of like what I imagine liquified anthrax would taste like. I put seven packs of sugar and about ten tiny cups of creamers in mine and it still was quite tart. They did not provide enough creamers, so we ended up stealing a bowl off of another table. (I got an omelet with pretty much everything in it, and upon the reaction of apprehension by our waitress, I looked at her and said "when it comes to omelets, I do not mess around.")

After 11:30 we left the hotel and got gas amongst a great number of thugs, something I did not anticipate from Idaho Falls - although we do have a peculiar habit of getting into the bad side of town. After a few jolts courtesy of the curb-like apparatus they claimed to be an exit, we found the stadium of the Idaho Falls Chukars. They're a short-season A team as well, but are in the Pioneer League as opposed to the Northwest League which we've been visiting in recent days. To our surprise, they were playing an American Legion game there (the city owns the field), but the Chukars store was not open.

But all hope was not lost, as the teenage girl who sold game tickets at a fold-out table near the front entrance called her dad over, and he took us up the stairs to the bleacher level. The Chukars General Manager worked the scoreboard and was the PA announcer for the Legion game, but the aforementioned dad filled in for him and the GM led us back down to the store. We discussed our experiences at previous Pioneer League stadiums such as Missoula - which he agreed was an organizational mess on every level. We ended up getting a hat and pennant for seven dollars, as they were both on sale. (The pennant, ironically, cost more than the hat.)

(My dad's idol, Tampa Bay Rays manager Joe Maddon, managed the Idaho Falls squad in 1981. This, of course, immediately made them awesome.)

On the road again, we got out of Idaho Falls and saw some of the same scenery we'd seen yesterday, albeit a little more verdant. We took Idaho state routes which took us through Teton Pass to the Wyoming border.

This road is terrifying.

Grades were steeped at a consistent 10% as we descended Teton Pass towards Jackson Hole - which is not as much a hole as it is a valley - for about five miles. Add near-hairpin turns and motorcyclists who pass while traveling on them going mush too fast for their own good and you get a scary - but thrilling - ride. The views of the Tetons around and the valley ahead make for some of the most spectacular scenery of the trip.

To help the car lose speed, the brakes were held down almost constantly and all the windows were rolled down. Amidst the din of the wind rushing in, the passing of the cars, and the pointing out of scenery, I plugged in the iPod and played epic orchestral music. It was barely audible but it fit what we were seeing,

The road was much better when we got down into the valley, and we breathed a collective sign of relief when we did so. We worked our way into Jackson and tried to find our hotel.

This was not an easy proposition.

The phone number we had for the hotel was misprinted in our booklet and led to some daycare somewhere, which we'd discovered in the Idaho Falls room. We wound our way up and down the street it was supposedly on until we were at our wit's end trying to find it. We ended up rolling into a residential district until we asked for directions from an excitable female citizen. She informed us that we'd been going in the wrong direction, and that it was near the middle of town.

Unfortunately, this took us to a different hotel. Aggravated, we pulled into another hotel, and my dad went inside to get directions to ours. He emerged with an enormous map, which - properly unfolded - would probably have filled up half the car. I managed to fold it back down into a reasonable size to give directions, and we soon found the hotel - hidden on the other side of town. (We'd have found it sooner had we taken a right off of the Teton Pass highway.)

We checked into the hotel room and relaxed for a few minutes before heading out for Grand Teton National Park a little after 4:00. We rolled north and, soon after officially entering Grand Teton, the hills to our left dropped away and we saw the Teton range in all its glory.

They're quite like the Canadian Rockies in the sense that they're very large, very rocky, very jagged, and, of course, snowcapped. In a way, though, they're prettier, as prairie-like flatness extended all the way to the base of the sheer rock cliffs. Sagebrush was the predominant plant, but there were quite a number of trees and groves, especially as we continued north.

Wildlife is also prevalent within the park; scenery is only half the fun. We spotted some buffalo out in a field, complete with calves, but we didn't spot anything else before the visitor center, which affords a stunning view of Grand Teton, as well as Mount Owen and Middle Teton, which flank it. The peaks look different from different angles, but from every angle, they somehow continue to be distinguishable.

While in the visitor center (which has awesome architecture designed to evoke the shape of the Tetons themselves), we purchased a new annual park pass from a fellow at the desk who had the personality of lye soap. He was so boring I felt personality seeping away from me as I stood across the counter from him. (The park passes pay for themselves while on the road. Our last pass was purchased in Zion last May, and Craters of the Moon was the last day on which it was still valid.)

We continued on the road to search for wildlife and ogle at the insanely gorgeous scenery. While the peaks around Jasper were epic, we were almost too close to them to fully appreciate their majestic grandeur. From a distance, we could see most of the chain in one fell swoop, from hilliness on both ends to increasing levels of jaggedness in the middle. My mom and I relaxed and enjoyed the scenery, but my dad was bent on the idea of seeing a moose. (I don't know why he was so anxious; my parents lived in Alaska for two years before I was born and, while there, saw two moose commonly enough to name them Charlie and Euell.)

Within the park's flat areas there were a number of ranches - mostly private, with a dude ranch stuffed somewhere in there. We pulled off at nearly every overlook to marvel at the delicious scenery. There was a valley in the flat ground leading up to the Tetons, and within this valley lies the meandering Snake River, which we've crossed a number of times including at the Oregon-Idaho state line. (Its name neither come from its winding pathway nor is an indicator of its wildlife, but in fact comes from a term the Shoshone Indians use to describe themselves.)

We could have spent the whole day at some of these pullouts, but we had more of the park to get to and so we drove onwards. In addition to more Teton beauty we caught sight of more small buffalo herds and groups of pronghorn. The main corridor through the park is a large loop which, upon looping around and rejoining itself at the visitor center, comes rather close to Grand Teton and its neighboring peaks.

Finally, as we'd gone about halfway around the loop, we got to the pay area which we bypassed with our park pass, but we used the opportunity to ask the guy there about places to see moose. He suggested a few good places which we appropriately marked on the map. (He was from Virginia but admitted to being "one of those guys" - i.e. a Yankee transplant.)

We passed by large Jackson Lake and continued on, stopping at turnout after turnout for epic picture after epic picture. The turnout at Mount Moran pointed out its distinct "black dike" - which is a 150-foot vertical lava flow caused by the lifting of the mountain plate and lowering of the valley plate. Moran also has five of the park's eleven glaciers.

As we continued on towards Jenny Lake we saw what may have been four female moose. We're not sure - they may have easily been elk - but there's a good chance that they were moose. I was quite pleased at this, but my dad remained relatively unfazed and was focused on seeing a bull moose.

We saw some elk and pronghorn as we continued to loop back around and entered a place called Moose. As is the tradition with places with "moose" in their name, there were no moose to be found - rather, the area is filled with a number of tiny little prairie dogs. (I'd seen one earlier in the day, but it got scared, went into his hole, and filled it up from the inside.) These prairie dogs are smaller than the ones we'd seen near Devils Tower last year but were still distinctly prairie dogs, rushing around and madly stuffing their faces with various plants. They hid when we got too close but popped right back out when they believed us to be gone.

It was around 7:00 by this point, but this day was not going to end until we'd seen a bull moose - and by golly, we were going to find us a bull moose even if it was the last thing we'd ever do. Both the guy with the soap personality and the Virginia transplant recommended a spur road off to the right of the main loop called Antelope Flats Road. This was essentially a road to access private ranches, small communities, and unpaved roads that service the adjacent Bridger-Teton National Forest. We stuck to the paved loop and saw even more buffalo before looping back around. In addition to the buffalo, we saw more pronghorn, and then some sort of bird of prey mid-flight, but we still did not see a moose.

Then, as we rounded a corner, we saw a bunch of cars parked along the side of the road and a bunch of people out in the field taking pictures. We asked a guy who was getting back to his car what was going on down there, and he told us that there were two male moose.

That's all we needed to hear.

The field drops off almost a sheer dirt cliff down to a creek, which split off from the Snake River which was further into the valley a little farther ahead. The first moose we saw was a rather large specimen, lumbering his way through the trees and sampling nearly every one he ran into. The world was his salad bar, and he was taking full advantage of it. A fellow tourist pointed out an even larger moose with a bigger rack, but he was barely visible as he was laying down behind some tall grasses. We followed the moving moose for a good while, but soon traveled back to watch the larger one in the hope that he'd eventually get up. A number of families - some with smaller children - came out into the field, but the more interesting moving one provided us with a way to get them out of our hair.

We stared at the larger moose for a good half-hour, waiting on him to do something except flop his ears and look around. I got a tad bit bored and did the Gangnam Style dance for the moose, who proceeded to get up and walk along the same path as the previous moose.

I must be the Moose Whisperer.

We followed the bigger moose for a while until he was obscured by a large clump of trees, at which point we were contented and got back to the car.

No more than a mile up, we saw more parked cars, and got out to see an even larger moose, this time only perhaps a hundred feet away from us in the valley. He ambled over in our general direction and appeared to have allergies, as he scratched his nose with his hind leg and sneezed twice, which my mom mistook for a grunt. He walked a good halfway up the side of the valley, enough for us to think that he might walk across the road, but he doubled back and went back into the valley.

While we were watching the moose, we ended up talking to a fellow from North Carolina, in the area on a vacation with his family. He'd been down in Moab, Utah - where we're going - and recommended Dead Horse State Park, which is near Arches and Canyonlands, two National Parks we're going to see.

After bidding each other good travels, we continued on the road and arrived in Jackson around 9:00. Hungry, we found a local place called MacPhail's Burgers. The business was a lifelong dream of the owner's grandmother, and the business was opened by her grandson just a few years ago. As it turns out, the owner/chef was born in Greensboro, and one of his servers is from Charlotte. (The amount of NC folks we've run into on this trip is staggering.)

With only a short drive back to the hotel, we decided that it would be a messy proposition to eat our burgers in the room, so we ate them in a patio area outside the front door of the hotel. While cold outside, the burgers and gas-fueled fire warmed us up, and the smell of our burgers was enough to get a couple to walk over and ask us what we were eating. We described the place to them and gave it our full recommendation. (I got the bleu cheese burger and it was even better than the bleu cheese burger I got just a few days ago. The custom dipping sauce for the hand-cut fries was good enough to drink, and everything was fresh and juicy.)

Tomorrow: we zig-zag our way down to Orem, Utah, just a little south of Salt Lake City.


The Great American Road Trip II - 17 - In Thu Volcanoe

Posted by Sumiki , in Life, The Great American Road Trip Jun 01 2013 · 67 views

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After breakfast, our destination for the day was Craters of the Moon National Monument, halfway between Carey and Arco in the middle of Idaho, which might as well also be the middle of nowhere. This was the first day in a good long while where there was neither rain nor the threat of it, and we spent the sunniness and breeziness of the day to our full advantage.

Soon after leaving Mountain Home on US Route 20, which took us all the way through the Craters into Idaho Falls, we saw a full-blown Abrams tank with a plaque that read "in honor of those who served." The landscape was an open range, like Nevada or Utah, but hilly and scrubby. Signs often warned of an open range, and though we saw no farm animals on the road, we saw them near the road without being fenced in. We saw the Sawtooth Mountains, snowcapped as they were, to our north, and climbed a set of very large hills until we finally settled into the rhythm of the long, straight plateau.

While we drove on the a long, straight plateau, the mountains to our north and south could still be seen - but the north more so. Along with massive irrigated fields for crops, ranches were abundant, and wildlife was more prevalent than I had anticipated. In addition to a number of pronghorn, we saw two eagles - I'm not entirely sure, but I think that they were bald eagles.

(It was around this point that my dad called Craters of the Moon "Creteor Mater," a mangling of "Meteor Crater," which we saw last year.)

A little before 12:45 we officially entered Craters of the Moon, and as soon as we did, the landscape was markedly different. The Craters are not really craters, but are actually the remains of a gash in the Earth's crust, which left behind a trail of solidified lava. (The same volcanic activity that caused the lava flow in the Craters has, due to the shifting of tectonic plates, moved underneath Yellowstone and is the cause of that park's famous geysers. Within the next few thousand years, geologists believe that Yellowstone will itself erupt.)

The Craters are bizarre. Sections of the lava were highly rocky, with jagged black rocks piled high on top of each other. This lava, which we learned later is called "a'a," is famous for its impassability and sharp jaggedness. It looked quite like magnified dirt. Other sections, called "pahoehoe," were smoothed over, and looked like frozen black waves. We did not learn of these technical terms until we stopped at the visitor's center, where we saw a golden squirrel scurry across the parking lot. Originally we'd mistaken this squirrel for a kind of chipmunk which is only found in the Craters area, but as it turned out the squirrel was also distinct to the region.

After asking a few questions about the nature of the park from some rangers - the first Idahoans who finally seemed to know what they were talking about when it comes to the Craters - we rolled on into the main section of the park, which mainly consists of a one-way loop around the most interesting area of the lava flow. There were small patches of grass and the occasional tree, as well as many wildflower species, but all of it was growing - somehow - on the lava flow itself. We walked out on a few paved trails and saw a few places where the lava had boiled up and burst through the surface, leaving cracks in the lava flow similar to large cracks in old asphalt. Also left over from these ancient eruptions are monolithic hunks of rock, which were epic to behold.

The next stop was a loop trail called Devil's Orchard - aptly named, considering the large dead trees in the area. The trees did not die due to natural causes, but were in fact poisoned by the park rangers, who wanted to get rid of a plant they had deemed ugly and had thought was a parasite. They later realized their mistake, but it was too late to save the trees. In addition to more of the lava flow, the dead trees made the area creepy, but were interspersed with small, colorful wildflowers. (It seemed to me that the colorful flowers were rarer, as well as prettier.)

The bushes of the area also have a distinctly odd smell - not bad, but due to their abundance it's quite strong and takes a few minutes to get used to.

The next stop of our Craters excursion was an quarter-mile, steep hike up a black, gravelly slope called Inferno Cone. The park's brochures claimed the hike up was .2 miles and its elevation as 6181, but we were mere feet below 6000 feet at the visitor's center and the Cone was clearly much higher, leading me to believe that these numbers are either gross underestimations or the product of a vast typo conspiracy. More on this story as it unfolds.

The views from the top of the Cone were splendid and well worth the effort to climb the somewhat slippery slope in the altitude. One could see the entire lava flow all around, and then flat nothingness beyond, interrupted on the horizon by buttes, extinct volcanoes, or - occasionally - hills. It was quite scary seeing as we were standing on top of what was essentially a glorified pile of solidified lava gravel, but everything was fine.

While on top of the Cone, we met a group of brothers who were motorcycling around the country from locations as diverse as Oregon and Arkansas. One of the brothers got a group picture of us if we agreed to take a group picture of them, which I did - and the Arkansas guy said that "he wasn't from Arkansas," but had moved there - "you can tell because I still have all my teeth." I added the fact that I knew he wasn't from there because he actually wore shoes. As it turns out, they're heading towards Grand Teton, which is where we're headed. We may run into them again.

The way down was slippery and I had a hard time stopping myself; I found it very hard to get traction on the gravelly surface. We eventually stopped ourselves about halfway down and saw a few pieces of pumice with sparkly blue flakes inside. Yet another had silver and gold flecks embedded in it. All of the gravelly surface feels like pumice, so it'd probably float if given the chance.

We made it down the epic hill and journeyed to our next stop, which was a short, steep, paved trail that literally led into a volcano. Thankfully extinct (as are all the volcanoes in the park's vicinity), it was still cool to be able to look down into the same dark, jagged shaft where lava once flowed in order to erupt from the top.

We skipped one of the longer trails (which also happens to be one of the most uninteresting, from what we gathered) in order to spend maximum time on one of the park's many highlights - its lava tubes. The tubes vary in size and are hidden from view or access until the tunnels naturally decay and collapse in on themselves. It is then, and only then, that explorers can go into the unique lava tube caves.

The first cave is known as Indian Tunnel, which is the largest and is easily accessible via a set of metal stairs. We descended down into a large hole and eased our way down an impressive pile of rocks until we reached the tunnel floor. The tunnel is a good thirty feet high and about that wide, and bends around a tiny bit along the way. This would have been a quick journey, but we had to clamber over massive piles of loose rock - the result of cave-ins many, many years ago. There are no trails over these piles and you are left to your own devices to navigate through them successfully, and would have been impassible had it not been for the fact that, when the rocks came down, it left a massive hole in the ceiling. These were scattered pretty evenly throughout the tunnel and let in enough light for us to mostly navigate sans flashlights. The end of the tunnel is a bit of a squeeze, but we managed through it and worked our way back to the trail by following the conveniently placed sticks.

We then walked a little ways to Boy Scout Cave, but its entrance was blocked by a large bickering family, embroiled in an ongoing and seemingly never-ending debate about whether or not to go into the cave. When it became clear that they would not let us pass (and we didn't want to hear their drivel anyway), we continued on to Beauty Cave.

Beauty Cave is very dark and we could only get about twenty feet into the cave itself before we had to turn back. The darkness there is no match for our flashlights, which are not known for their feebleness. The only thing of note in Beauty Cave is the tendency for its cold, still air to make your breath turn into an unmoving fog as you exhale. Also prevalent in the section we could see were flat sections of ice, ranging from foggy and opaque to crystal clear - so clear, in fact, that we really had to watch our step getting out. You couldn't even see it in some places.

We backtracked to Boy Scout Cave and, sans yapping family, we decided to do what we did in Beauty and see how far we could get. My dad and I had to crouch and duck to fit over the loose rock and under the tight overhang, but we made it to the cramped bottom intact. Due to both its relative smallness and the prevalence of reflective ice in the cave, dad and I navigated a good halfway into the cave, trying to simultaneously not slip on one of the many icy patches on the floor and not hit our heads against the cramped ceiling. I'm convinced that we could have made it to the other end of the tunnel and emerged somewhere in the lava fields, but, almost simultaneously, two things happened.

One: there was a family ahead of us that was turning back - for what reason I can't fathom; the entrance is the scariest part of the whole thing.

Two: my dad's head lamp light went out. Previously in the day, my mom's head lamp had gone out.

With only his small handheld flashlight and my head lamp - with whatever charge it had left in it - to guide us, we got out of there while we could still see what we were doing. Excited, we decided to go a little ways inside Dewdrop Cave, but, as the trail guide pamphlet had said, you can see most of that cave from the trail. With miles of walking behind us, we'd seen all we wanted to see in Craters of the Moon and hopped in the car.

We looped around out of the park and continued on US-20 to Arco, where they have a peculiar tradition of painting the last two numbers of the year on the side of a mountain near the town. We supposed that these were graduation years, as none of the previous years were erased. Also in Arco are various murals, the painting of which seems to be a theme of western towns.

Twenty miles outside of Arco we rolled past the building which housed the first nuclear reactor in the United States. We would have stopped there had we gotten out of Craters earlier, but the free tours had stopped at 5:00 and it was after 6:00 when we rolled past.

Most of the drive from Arco to Idaho Falls consists of sheer nothingness, dotted occasionally with what appeared to be research laboratories. The nearly completely straight road took us all the way to Idaho Falls, where we were buzzed by a yellow crop duster as visions of the Hitchcock classic "North by Northwest" played in our heads. Within short order we'd checked into our hotel.

We were hungry, tired, and considering that the hotel chain we're staying in usually has pretty good - if not excellent - dinners, we decided to eat there. After our nightmarish experience in Grand Forks we were anxious to see if that was an outlier in terms of quality. My mom and I ordered the club sandwich, while my dad got some chicken - two foods that are hard to screw up. Right?

You'd be wrong. About halfway through our salads (which had bleu cheese bits on them and were quite delicious), I smelled something burning. Specifically, food burning. Specifically specifically, bread burning.

Our bread.

It was somewhat edible, but certainly not tasty. I ended up taking most of the meat, cheese, and lettuce out and making small wraps out of them.

The meal was not totally wasted, as they had the most delicious strawberry lemonade in the recent history of forever. By our third refill, we jokingly requested that they bring an entire pitcher over - which they did. They didn't think we were going to finish it.

We - by which I mean me and my dad - drank it all. As the waiter came to clear the table, I told him that we'd need another pitcher. Unfazed, he moved to get another one before we had to stop him and explain we were joking around.

(During the meal, the only other folks eating - an older couple at the next table over - noticed the presentation of the pitcher to our table. Soon after my dad refilled his glass, the man turned and said "I don't usually count these things, but isn't that your seventh glass?" As it turns out, they were originally from Portland, Oregon, and are heading to Grand Teton as well.)

Tomorrow: we cross into Wyoming to see Grand Teton National Park, possibly on a road that has, amongst other hazards, a 10% grade for three miles in both directions. No word yet on whether or not we'll traverse it.


The Great American Road Trip II - 16 - Boy Oh Boise

Posted by Sumiki , in Life, The Great American Road Trip May 30 2013 · 38 views

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We left La Grande at 10:38, in 53 degrees with lots of clouds, though it thankfully was not raining. The rolling hills around us were mostly filled with cattle peacefully grazing on ranches. We saw mountains - some snowcapped - all around, but we drove for a good ways in the vast, flat valley before getting to them. The snowcapped peaks were mainly to our left and were part of the Blue Mountain range.

A little bit after 11:00 we crossed the 45th parallel for the fourth and last time on the trip. Now closer to the equator than the north pole, we passed by Baker City as we began to climb the mountains in earnest. The hilly, arid landscape is highly reminiscent of Nevada, but also a bit Badlands-like. Also present in the area are cement plants, of which we saw a few.

As we entered the last Oregonian county before the Idaho border, the time zone changed back to Mountain Time and we lost an hour, completely skipping noon. (My dad said that this was okay because he "wasn't hungry anyway.")

Curvy parts of the road could be seen from the crests of hills, with three miles of highway condensed into perhaps a little over a mile as the crow flies. We skirted around these hills of epic proportion, given scale by tiny-looking three-trailer-long trucks traveling the other way.

It was not raining constantly, which had been one of the defining themes of our trip so far. Instead we saw rows upon rows of clouds that looked to us like they were stacked on top of each other. Within short order we entered Ontario, Oregon, the last city before the border, where we saw an Ore-Ida plant. It was there that it occurred to me that the name of the company came from the first three letters of Oregon and Idaho.

My blind was mown.

After re-assembling the bits of my cerebral cortex we found splattered over the interior of the car, we entered Idaho. We stopped at their welcome center which offered a grand vista of the Idahoan plains. With the 75 MPH speed limit, we made good time through the fairly metropolitan stretch of highway bound for Boise. We stopped for a much-needed gas-up a few miles before hitting the stadium of the Boise Hawks, a short-season minor-league team in the same league as Vancouver and Everett.

We encountered someone that I assume was a sales guy, who gave us two free magnets as he ran off somewhere into the front office to see about the pennant situation. We got a pennant as well as a really cool hat, which we were led into a hidden shed to get. (As well as getting the aforementioned magnets, we snagged a discount on the pennant and hat as well.)

As we were heading out of the stadium, my grandmother called on the car's built-in phone, which scared the living daylights out of us. Despite this, we successfully navigated out of Boise towards Mountain Home, which is about as far from Boise as Boise is from the border. This trip was relatively uneventful, save for old tractors used decoratively along the side of the road as well as a wide-load modern tractor being towed by a truck cab going 80 MPH. We made it to Mountain Home, where we visited the visitor's center before heading to our hotel.

(Side note: Idahoans are very friendly folks, but none of them ever seem to have visited any of the parks in their state - which is strange considering that Craters of the Moon is rather famous for its geological weirdness, the fact that it's not very far to drive, and the fact that everyone we asked should have known more about it considering they worked in various visitor's centers.)

We checked in at our hotel where we received a great number of recommendations for various restaurants in the area by the incredibly bubbly girl behind the front desk. We ate at a local pizza place, where mom and dad got personal pizzas and I got a gigantic burger with bleu cheese on top. (I like bleu cheese now; bleu cheese is cool.)

Tomorrow: Craters of the Moon National Monument, as well as probably some ice caves, en route to Idaho Falls.

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He's the lord of all strangeness. - Ignika: Nerd of Life

How awesome is Sumiki on a scale of 1 to 10? - Waffles
42. - Black Six

[He's] the king of wierd, the prince of practicality, the duke of durr! - Daiker

Sumiki is magic. - Cholie

Sumiki says, "Do I creeeeeeep you out?" Yes, he does. - Waffles

Sumiki is a nub. He's cool, but he's still a nub. - Ran Yakumo


"What is a Sumiki?" You may ask. But the answer to that is still unknown, even to the Sumiki itself. - Daiker

Ah, Sumiki. - Electric Turahk




Sumiki is best snickerdoodle. - Takuma Nuva


BZPower = Sumiki + McSmeag + B6. And Hahli Husky. - Vorex


What's a Sumi? Does it taste good? - Janus


I would have thought Sumiki wanted to reincarnate as a farm animal. - Kraggh




Sumiki: the horse_ebooks of bzp - VampireBohrok


Everything relates to Sumiki. No really, everything. - Daiker


He's in worse mental condition than I thought. - Obsessionist


I'm just wondering why I'm looking at some cat dancing ... I suppose the answer would simply be "Sumiki." - Brickeens


I was like a beast, screaming through the mind of Sumiki at the speed of sound. I.. I wasn't strong enough to stop myself. What I saw was the end of infinity, through which one can see the beginning of time, and I will never be the same. - Portalfig


I imagine the 13th Doctor will be rather like Sumiki, at the rate we're going. - rahkshi guurahk


I was quite sure Sumiki had another set of arms stashed somewhere. - Bfahome


Note to future self: don’t try to predict Sumiki, he’s unpredictable. - Voltex


Let's be honest, I would totally have picked my main man Sumiki to lead my goose-stepping night killers anyway. We tight like that, yo. - Xaeraz

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Every week, I post a new "Tuesday Tablescrap", a small MOC not worthy of a topic, but something to post and inspire me to build more.

10/25/11 - Duplo Flower
11/1/11 - Slender Man and Masky
11/8/11 - Bizarre Black Spaceship
11/15/11 - 2001 Monolith

11/22/11 - My Little Slizer 50
11/29/11 - Punching Bag
12/6/11 - Thunder and Escorts
12/13/11 - Three Concepts
12/20/11 - Kaxium Alternate
12/27/11 - None (Christmas Break)

1/3/12 - Daiker
1/10/12 - None
1/17/12 - Volant
1/24/12 - Nidman's Chute Shoop Shop
1/31/12 - None (Brickshelf down)
2/7/12 - None
2/14/12 - Atomic Lime
2/21/12 - Spearhead
2/28/12 - Glatorian Kahi
3/6/12 - Seeker
3/13/12 - Skyscraper
3/20/12 - Microphone
3/27/12 - Toa Vultraz
4/3/12 - Flammenwerferjüngeres
4/10/12 - Umbrella
4/17/12 - Lime Beetle
4/24/12 - Special - Flame Sculpture
5/1/12 - None (BZPower down)
5/8/12 - Purple Ninja
5/15/12 - The Original Sumiki
5/22/12 - 7/24/12 - None
7/31/12 - Tahu
8/7/12 - None (BrickFair)
8/14/12 - Special - Chess Set
8/21/12 - Heavily Armored Wasp
8/28/12 - Spaceship Drill
9/4/12 - Scuba Vehicle
9/11/12 - Orange Guy
9/18/12 - Strange Flying Thing
9/25/12 - Goblet
10/2/12 - None
10/9/12 - Aim .............................. Down
10/16/12 - Gold Bot
10/23/12 - Teal Mech
10/30/12 - Special - Teal Mech (#2)
11/6/12 - Bits and Pieces
11/13/12 - Two Spaceships
11/20/12 - TARDIS Interior
11/27/12 - Christmas Creep
12/4/12 - Toaraga
12/11/12 - Fireplace
12/18/12 - Abstract Duckling
12/25/12 - None (Christmas)
1/1/13 - Black Bot
1/8/13 - 1/22/13 - None
1/29/13 - Handheld Rhotuka Launcher
2/5/13 - 8/6/13 - None
8/13/13 - The Hinklebot
8/20/12 - Special - Post-Apocalyptic Piyufi

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Formerly known as the Bring Back Teal Club, the Unused Colors Society is a club that serves to promote colors that are little-used or discontinued, such as teal, old purple, or metallic blue.




ToM Dracone
-Toa Lhikevikk-
Dirk Strider
Toa Flappy
Lime Paradox
Toa Robert
The X
Dave Strider
Akuna Toa of Sonics
Commander Helios
Popup2: The Camel
~Shadow Kurahk~
~System Of A Down~
Kohrak Kal17
Jackson Lake
Thunder on the Mountain
Ackar's Follower
Bitter Cold
Doc Scratch
Mendicant Bias
Darth Eryzeth
Toa of Vahi
Makuta GigaDon
~Toa Drokonas~
Progenitus Worldsoul
Toa Kuhrii Avohkii
Bohrok Kal
Toa Neya 2011 Edition
~prisma son of dawn~
.: WoLVeRINe :.
Alternate Velika
Schnee 1
Brickeens (again!?)
The Great Forgetter
Thomas the Tank Engine
Jonah Falcon
Oh my miru
Element lord Of Milk.
Lexuk Toa Of Insanity
Michael J. Caboose
knuckles chaotix
The Bean
Lord Kaitan de Storms
Toa of Dancing
Toa Arzaki
The Oncoming Storm
Lego Obsessionist
Toa of Pumpkin
Teal Armada
Toa Zehvor Blackout
Mr. M
Mylo Xyloto
Lord of Ice
Gamzee Makara
Zarayna: The Quiet Light



Vorex: Keeper of Time


Toa of Smooth Jazz



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rahkshi guurahk
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If you learn one thing in life, learn this:

You should never, ever question why demons would possess a soda.

just a heads up - Cthulhu would probably eradicate mankind before bringing back Bionicle
so yeah, all I'm saying is, please think twice about this okay

nothing gets democracy flowing like erratic capitalizatION

[the NSA] couldn't say no when I offered them an ostrich farm in exchange

Sumiki -- nice try but we all know Toa Mata Nui stuffs its bra




You have a great understanding of history, but don't forget, war, murder and other poor decisions are also huge characteristics.

Also a long line of really great hats.

Shhh, I'm trying to focus on the negative to justify my dislike of history.

have we mentioned hats

To be fair, I am the one responsible for the invention of Mafia in the 1320s by seventeen bored italians locked in a mine shaft.
It's a long story.


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